I Was a Teenage Rock ‘n’ Roller

 

I’m in my dotage now, so old and out of touch that young people look right through me, an invisible man. But there was a time when I was opaque. That was in the 1950s and I was a teenager in Compton, CA, about the same time that teenagers were being invented.

I did my part toward that invention. I put a lot of pomade on my hair and wore a ducktail for a while, and I used teenage slang; words like “made in the shade” (doing well), “going Hollywood” (wearing sunglasses), and “bitchin’” (something that’s good).

But it was music where I helped the most to shape that definition. I listened to Elvis, The Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly on the radio. I talked smugly about the guitar licks of Les Paul and the shuffle rhythms by Bo Diddley (Bo Diddley). I knew the lyrics, and still do, of “Chantilly Lace” (The Big Bopper) and “Yakety Yak” (The Coasters). And I actually shelled out some of my pinsetting money for a couple of Fats Domino albums. Loved the Fat Man.

But the closest I came to being a part of the new teenage rock ‘n’ roll zeitgeist was when I bought a Little Richard album, Here’s Little Richard (1957), the one with a photo of Richard, the quintessential rock ‘n’ roller, with his big hair, sweaty face, and open mouth that looked like he was screaming. My mom visibly shuddered—or at least I liked to think that she did — when she‘d come into my room and see that album lying face up.

I bought that album after I saw the movie The Girl Can’t Help It. In a scene I’ll never forget, Jayne Mansfield, with that impossibly small waist of hers, gets up from her table at a swanky Hollywood night club and, her pneumatic breasts ajiggle, sashays her way across the floor on her way to the powder room. Little Richard accompanies her walk, standing up at the piano on the stage, by singing/shouting out the song, “She’s Got It!” Forget Olivier’s St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V. Mansfield’s stroll to the bathroom makes all other movie scenes pale by comparison. It haunted my adolescent dreams for a long while.

In 1956, I tried Compton Junior College for a couple of semesters before I dropped out. Then the Army drafted me in 1958 and that was the end of my life in Compton (I never came back to live) and my rock ‘n’ roll days, such as they were.

Yours truly,
The Invisible Man

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I’d like this post if I could see who had written it.

    • #1
  2. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I’d like this post if I could see who had written it.

    I don’t understand. 

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I’d like this post if I could see who had written it.

    I don’t understand.

    What are the last three words of the post?

    • #3
  4. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I’d like this post if I could see who had written it.

    I don’t understand.

    What are the last three words of the post?

    Ah. 

    • #4
  5. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    KentForrester: I put a lot of pomade on my hair and wore a ducktail for awhile

    This screams for a picture . . .

    • #5
  6. Kay of MT Member
    Kay of MT
    @KayofMT

    When my hair is properly cut, I still wear a duck tail.

    • #6
  7. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Stad (View Comment):

    KentForrester: I put a lot of pomade on my hair and wore a ducktail for awhile

    This screams for a picture . . .

    Seconded

    • #7
  8. Barfly Member
    Barfly
    @Barfly

    Straight outta Compton.

    • #8
  9. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    When my hair is properly cut, I still wear a duck tail.

    Ducktails aren’t all they’re quacked up to be . . .

    • #9
  10. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    I thought a visual aid might be helpful . . . if you know what I mean

    • #10
  11. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    But what did you do for social justice? :)

    • #11
  12. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    I thought a visual aid might be helpful . . . if you know what I mean

    Gumby, I’m really confused.  My memory of the film shows a clear picture of Mansfield walking to the powder room to the lyrics of The Girl Can’t Help It.  But then I found a clip of the opening shot of the film, with Mansfield walking down the street to the lyrics of The Girl Can’t Help It.  Then I found a clip of Mansfield walking to the powder room to the lyrics of The Girl Can’t Help It;  I don’t know what in the hell is going on.  Then I found the clip you found with Mansfield walking to the powder room to the lyrics of She’s Got It.  One thing is certain:  One’s memory is better than the thing the memory is based on.

    • #12
  13. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Barfly (View Comment):

    Straight outta Compton.

    Barfly, I lived in Compton before it became cool — and dangerous.  By the way, a few years back, I got together with an old friend from the Compton days. I tried to talk him into going back to the neighborhood to see what’s changed.  My old buddy was a tough guy, big with some muscles, who had spent his working life in manual labor.  He told me he wouldn’t go back because it was too dangerous for whites to wander around. 

    Compton is now a dangerous and ugly place.  Most of the stores downtown have bars in front of their windows.

    • #13
  14. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    I thought a visual aid might be helpful . . . if you know what I mean

    Gumby, I’m really confused. My memory of the film shows a clear picture of Mansfield walking to the powder room to the lyrics of The Girl Can’t Help It. But then I found a clip of the opening shot of the film, with Mansfield walking down the street to the lyrics of The Girl Can’t Help It. Then I found a clip of Mansfield walking to the powder to the lyrics of The Girl Can’t Help It; I don’t know what in the hell is going on. Then I found the clip you found with Mansfield walking to the powder room to the lyrics of She’s Got It. One thing is certain: One’s memory is better than the thing the memory is based on.

    Who cares?  Just watch Jayne walk and enjoy the show . . .

    • #14
  15. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    By the way, Jayne Mansfield met a horrible end in a car accident.  Most people think she was decapitated, but actually, according to Snopes, the top of her head was sheared off.  She was sitting in the backseat with her children, and she was hurtled through the front window.

    • #15
  16. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    I just remembered.  Somewhere in my mother’s old stack of pictures (stack of old pictures?) is a picture of my stepfather with Jayne Mansfield sitting in his lap.  I can’t make out the venue, but I believe my parents told me she visited (possibly performed at) the Raleigh Country Club one time.  For years it rested in a frame on a bookshelf in the house I grew up in.  If I get off my fat butt, I’ll go see if I can find it.

     

    • #16
  17. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    By the way, Jayne Mansfield met a horrible end in a car accident. Most people think she was decapitated, but actually, according to Snopes, the top of her head was sheared off. She was sitting in the backseat with her children, and she was hurtled through the front window.

    That’s why semi trucks have Mansfield bars now…

    • #17
  18. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Stad (View Comment):

    I just remembered. Somewhere in my mother’s old stack of pictures (stack of old pictures?) is a picture of my stepfather with Jayne Mansfield sitting in his lap. I can’t make out the venue, but I believe my parents told me she visited (possibly performed at) the Raleigh Country Club one time. For years it rested in a frame on a bookshelf in the house I grew up in. If I get off my fat butt, I’ll go see if I can find it.

    Stad, I hope you can find it.  I’d love to see it.

     

    • #18
  19. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    What is the music of your youth?

    Share a few pieces of music of any genre in your own playlist. Sign up to write about “Music that makes me . . . .”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #19
  20. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    KentForrester: But it was music where I helped the most to shape that definition. I listened to Elvis, The Everly Brothers, and Buddy Holly on the radio. I talked smugly about the guitar licks of Les Paul and the shuffle rhythms by Bo Diddley (Bo Diddley). I knew the lyrics, and still do, of “Chantilly Lace” (The Big Bopper) and “Yakety Yak” (The Coasters). And I actually shelled out some of my pinsetting money for a couple of Fats Domino albums. Loved the Fat Man.

    You’re six years older than I am, but these are my teenage years songs too. I loved Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill. Thank you for posting this Kent. I’ve been singing these old and wonderful songs all morning here with a smile on my face at my desk in blue Seattle. 

    • #20
  21. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    This is a YouTube video of Jerry Lee Lewis singing Great Balls of Fire, but I don’t know how to make it appear on this screen: https://youtu.be/j4NquCaWIQI. He was playing it on American Bandstand which my sisters and I rushed home from school everyday to watch. Everybody I knew watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

    • #21
  22. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    I’d like this post if I could see who had written it.

    Kent and the boys back in the day, stylin’.

    • #22
  23. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I was a little tyke and would have received a “good talking to” had a drop of greasy kid stuff showed up in my hair.  A lot of my fifties memories are tied to dances my father supervised at our local community center, which I think were pretty close to what were called sock hops.  It’s possible that my lifelong fondness for doo wop started at these, since I recall the great version of “You Belong to Me” by The Duprees, and questions about whether some of the dancers were getting just a little too close.

    • #23
  24. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Straight  outta Compton, Kent. 

    • #24
  25. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    This is a YouTube video of Jerry Lee Lewis singing Great Balls of Fire, but I don’t know how to make it appear on this screen: https://youtu.be/j4NquCaWIQI. He was playing it on American Bandstand which my sisters and I rushed home from school everyday to watch. Everybody I knew watched Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

    • #25
  26. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    @arahant – how did you do that?

    • #26
  27. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    All you have to do is take the long URL and put it on a separate line all by itself. By the long URL, I mean the one that says youtube.com/etc., rather than the shortened version that says youtu.be/etc. From there, the software behind Ricochet and the browsers should do the rest.

    • #27
  28. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):

    All you have to do is take the long URL and put it on a separate line all by itself. By the long URL, I mean the one that says youtube.com/etc., rather than the shortened version that says youtu.be/etc. From there, the software behind Ricochet and the browsers should do the rest.

    If you paste the link in, be sure to “break” the link by selecting it and clicking the “Break Link” button (or hitting <Shift><Alt>S). Then post the comment.

    • #28
  29. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    All you have to do is take the long URL and put it on a separate line all by itself. By the long URL, I mean the one that says youtube.com/etc., rather than the shortened version that says youtu.be/etc. From there, the software behind Ricochet and the browsers should do the rest.

    If you paste the link in, be sure to “break” the link by selecting it and clicking the “Break Link” button (or hitting <Shift><Alt>S). Then post the comment.

    I never seem to need to do that, although your mileage may vary.

    • #29
  30. Old Buckeye Inactive
    Old Buckeye
    @OldBuckeye

    @kentforrester: …Jayne Mansfield, with that impossibly small waist of hers…

    The measurements given online for her are 40-21-35. I don’t know where someone’s innards could be located within a body with a 21-inch waist. 

      

    • #30