[D]uring my personal musical eclipse, after the novelty of the stereo and before I ever met Carl, my brother had a band. This was eventually to become a sort of secret band. He and at least some of the other band members had regular jobs, like working for the state, etc., and I’m not sure whether everybody they worked with knew that on weekends they would go home, dress in shiny white lamé suits, and play rock and roll at one or two high schools.
I remember the early days, when they were just learning to play together and they’d practice in my house, piping their guitars through that old stereo. They would listen to popular songs and try to figure out which notes were which so they could play them. (Apparently, sheet music was invented some time later.) I remember them learning to play “Wipe Out” by the Ventures (originally recorded by The Sufaris). As a little kid, I heard them play it over and over again so many times that I learned it. I can still play it on a guitar.
The name of the band was to become Adrenalin, and the logo was an anatomically correct heart with a fist jabbing into it.
Their contract stipulated that a) no one was allowed to go near the volume controls or to complain about the noise, and b) the band members would not leave the stage. This was a compromise that worked in the sorts of venues they played in, mainly high schools. The big fear among high school administrators was that the band members would wander around among the students snorting coke and shooting up heroin during the breaks. By remaining on stage, they would assure the school principal that this was not happening.
I only saw them play once. My friend Carl and I went out to the Berne Grange Hall, up on The Heldeberg, one evening to see them. I remember my brother, in his white lamé suit, holding up a Jimmy Hendrix album and saying, “If any of you can tell me who this is, you win the album.” (Silence.) “OK, now we’re going to play a song by this guy.” (Silence.) They play the song. No one knows. Adrenalin gets to keep the Hendrix album for one more week. At least.
Of course, that was during the eclipse of the 1960s, the period after the 1960s when people were forgetting about the classics but before the first of many revivals. Dylan, Hendrix, Joplin, The Stones were all either inactive or freshly dead and largely forgotten by 13-year-olds. But of course, that did not last.
So for seventh grade, I went to a new school, and not far into the first semester, I met Carl, who was to become my best buddy for several years, though somewhat off and on. Carl was musical. He played the guitar acceptably well and was into collecting albums.
Both he and I were working-class kids in a school where almost everyone else was noticeably better off. Many of the kids in this school had professorial or otherwise upper middle class parents. Carl’s parents were divorced, which was kind of odd in those days, and his father, with whom he lived, worked at the Motor Vehicles Department. My father had a nascent career as a civil servant that had not quite taken off yet. Carl had an older sister, who was old enough that she was never around. In fact, Carl’s home was almost always empty, and Carl had a handful of ways to get into the house even when he did not have a key (which was most of the time). So many days we’d leave school and head over to Carl’s, break into his house, and settle in for some music listening time.
Carl was into Neil Young big time and a few other musicians. Jackson Brown was pretty big for him. Over time he built, with quite a bit of help from me, a stereo made of multiple different components. We learned to solder. We built the speaker boxes in shop class. We got kits and parts from Radio Shack. Every couple of months, some component or another would be yanked out and replaced, and the old component cannibalized for parts.
Some time in there Carl and I added a new element to the mix. Beer. We would save up until we had one dollar, then we’d go to the corner store and buy four one quart bottles of Hedrick’s Beer. One gallon in total. Then we’d bring that back to Carl’s place, listen to music, and finish off the beer.
Sometimes they’d be out of Hedrick’s so we’d have to get Dobler, which was almost identical inside but two pennies more outside. If we were short on funds, we would end up with only three quarts and change.
Beer was for the bedroom, where we’d listen to music, but if we went to a concert, we’d bring wine. It was easier to transport and did not go flat after opening. Boone’s Farm. One dollar a bottle.
Ah, the memories. New Riders of the Purple Sage concert. Lebanon Valley Speedway. Three quarts of Boone’s Farm. Under the bleachers. Puking like a dog. Those were the days.
My life for several years could have been characterized as having Carl as my best friend to whom I would always return between episodes of other things, periods of being linked up with other people, a girlfriend here, a marriage there, a new job now and then. And Carl’s stereo was always there, ever evolving, never being really all that good but never costing all that much, never quite working perfectly, never quite being broken. Right up until the end.