The fifties were a great time to be growing up. The post-war economy was booming, and for the very first time, young adults had money, and Mr. Businessman wanted it. First, he renamed us “Teenagers,” and then he started manufacturing the clothes we liked, made movies about us, and then began recording the strange new music which our parents hated.
It was while doing homework in the kitchen one evening that I heard that same strange music that Barry’s sister had played again. However, this time it wasn’t coming from a record player, it was coming out of the radio.
One two three o’clock
four o’clock rock.
Five six seven o’clock
eight o’clock rock
When “Rock Around The Clock” played on the radio, everything changed and would never be the same again. Before long, you heard the Crew Cuts, the 4 Lads, and the Diamonds mixed in with the old sound of Patti Page and Perry Como. As good as this new music sounded, I’d soon discovered that most of their tunes just watered-down versions of a bigger and much badder sound.
When the school year ended, and I graduated from the eighth grade, we left my grandfather’s house and moved into our brand new home in Transcona. Not only did I leave North Kildonan behind that summer, but I also left that shy, quiet fourteen-year-old guy behind too.
Unfortunately, being a jack of all trades type, my Father had purchased the stripped-down version of our new house. What this meant was, as his assistant, I got to help construct a garage, a bedroom in the basement for me, a concrete driveway and sidewalks, a fence, plus sod both the front and backyard.
These construction projects, unfortunately, took up most of my summer. It was also during our building time that he always reminded me what the house rules were. Don’t bring the police to the front door, don’t tarnish the family name, and stay away from the “bad girls.” I understood the first two, but the “bad girl” part was ludicrous, you sure as hell weren’t going to get lucky with a good girl.
Also, according to my Father, all crime began at midnight, so to keep me from temptation, he initiated a midnight curfew.
The only break I ever got was when my Dad was sick, and I now figure that he must have been suffering from what we know today as acute depression. On those days, I got to wander over to the nearby park, where I hope to meet someone who would play a little ball with me.
Finally, I met a guy over there by the name of Peter Proskurnik but had no idea that he was about to change my life.
Pete said that he be glad to play catch with me after he practiced his accordion, and I remember thinking, “Why the hell would anyone want to play the accordion?” True to his word, he was back in no time, and while we were tossing the ball around, he asked if I’d like to go with to Teen Canteen that night? When I asked him what Teen Canteen was, and he said that it was a dance, it didn’t sound like much fun to me because the only dances I was aware of were polkas and square dancing. However, since he was kind enough to play ball with me, I decided to go.
When we arrived at the East End Community Club later that night, the Canadian summer sun was still high in the sky. But when the door closed behind us, we were then thrust into total darkness. We must have looked like a couple of blind guys who were in desperate need of white canes and a seeing-eye dog as we groped our way towards the dimly lit entrance ahead.
Upon entering the hall, I noticed that the only light was coming from all the colored lights that were everywhere. However, now, I no longer cared about seeing all I cared about was the thunderous sound blasting out of the four giant Hi-Fi speakers that were hanging on the wall.
The raw sexuality that was pouring out of them and into my soul was making it very difficult to breathe.
I spent the rest of the night frozen in front of one of those speakers listening to the likes of Jimmy Reed, Fats Domino, Big Joe Turner, Little Richard, Tiny Bradshaw, Little Willie John, Muddy Waters, and Wynonie Harris.
At some point, Pete must have sent some girl over to ask me to dance, but I remember thinking, “Hell, I don’t wanna dance, I want to make other people dance, and I wanna do it for the rest of my life.”