I never was cool.
That’s right, I never was cool. I blame that fact on my lack of radios. I grew up in a home with a grandma who couldn’t hear well. She was 75 when I was born and whenever anything like the TV or record player or radio would be played, she’d say “turn that noise box off!” This upset my mama and everybody knows when mama ain’t happy ….
So anyway, that explains why there was little music in my childhood home. My brother had a radio. No doubt he bought it himself with his lawn mowing money. He was 7 years older than I was and he had money to burn. It literally almost did, too. One night he left his radio on all night. He fell asleep to the music. His radio was one of those neat ‘50s radios about the size of a box of Premium crackers. It had a dial on the outside and tubes like funny looking light bulbs on the inside. It was covered in shiny plastic and though I never was allowed in his room, I think it must have sounded really swell. That is until he fell asleep and the tubes got so hot it melted the plastic and was within an inch of burning down the house. I don’t know if he ever was allowed to get another radio.
I wanted to be cool and everybody knows you have got to be able to sing along with the latest rock and roll music to up your coolness factor. I had another strike against me because of where I lived. You see we lived on a little country road in the woods just beyond the reach of the TV station that aired Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. It was only about 30 miles away from the station, but in those days it was like living off the grid. Not only did I not have a radio, but I couldn’t even watch the TV show that would teach me all the things I needed to know to succeed in life…well, life as a kid anyway. My friends, Cindy and Dee, lived just about 5 miles away from my house, but they were within the viewer range of Bandstand and they were soooooo cool. Cindy had the added advantage of having a Dad who was a DJ so she could go in his music studio (yes, he had one in the subdivision) and listen to all the new cool music, which he got for free. I was there once and I saw it with my own eyes.
Finally as a pre-teen, I rebelled. I asked for a radio for my birthday. Well, it was my birthday and my parents were really good people, so I got my radio. It was a transistor radio. Black, about the size of three DVDs stacked together and it played on batteries. Of course, after the melted 1950s version my brother almost burned down the house with, I wasn’t getting anything that plugged in. But it was a radio and if I went out on the porch and sat in the swing, I could listen until the batteries went dead or my mama yelled at me that I was going to go deaf with that thing up to my ear all the time.
I did have batteries long enough to figure out who the cool rock singers of the day were and that was a start. So for Christmas, I asked for a stereo. Again, it being a Christian holiday, and my parents being good Christians, I got my stereo, but I can’t remember any records that went with it.
Back in those days, however, you could go to Riches Department Store on Henley Street in Knoxville, Tennessee, and into a sound booth of their record department and listen to any records you wanted to before you bought them. My mama took me there and I listened to as many as I could and then chose one-I wish I could remember which one. It would make this story much more interesting. Whatever it was, I remember it was an LP. That stood for long playing and it was 33 1/3 RPMs. You got about 14 or 15 songs on an album, but half were on the other side so to hear all of them you had to take the record off the spindle and turn it over.
Not long after I got my stereo for Christmas, they came out with new technology. Isn’t that always the way it is. Today as soon as you got the iPhone 4 they came out with the iPhone 5 and you had to have a different plug to charge it. Well that was the way it was with the new record players and records. They came out with 45s and there were little record players with spindles about as big around as a half dollar but 6 inches tall. If you had a stereo that played LPs you had to get these little round discs that fit into the hole of the 45. The little discs had a corresponding center hole that fit the skinny spindle of the stereo and you could play your 45s on it if you switched something on the stereo to 45. If not, the sound was stretched out to slow motion sound like someone screaming in your nightmares. Every one of your 45s had to have one of those little discs or you had to take it out and put it in the next 45 in order to play it. To me, this was not an improvement in technology and I’ll bet they made a fortune on those little discs. Beside you only got two songs on a 45 and the flip side usually was a flop.
So my only hope after that for being cool was that I was about to turn 16 and I could get my driver’s license. With a radio in the car, I could drive around, doing coolness research, and learn all the words to the songs that my cool friends already knew and could dance too. Also I could learn the new language of teenagers—words like groovy that meant swell which was now the antithesis of cool—so I was really excited.
But, as good as my parents were, this wasn’t a Christian holiday or a birthday present because cars weren’t given as a birthright to 16 year olds in my family. No I had to drive, when allowed at all, the family car. My daddy had planned ahead for this eventuality and he had never bought a car with a radio. Too distracting he said. It’ll cause a wreck. Sound familiar, kids? Yes, my daddy was ahead of his time for sure. He would have been right there with the anti-texting people for sure.
He was right, of course. I managed to almost get us killed the day I got my driver’s license even without a radio blaring, but that is another story. Needless to say, my hope for even a moderate coolness factor died then and there. I was out of sync with the rest of the teenagers of the world and I have never been able to catch up. I have never known what to say, which clothes to wear or how to dance, all because of my lack of radios.
I have become content in my lack of coolness, though. What is cool for girls my age is botox or face lifts. I am glad not to be cool enough for anything that involves needles or scalpels. And as a 66 year old, I have finally grown into my first name.