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Monday, 06 July 2009

My First Rock Concert

By Emilie Babcox of A Stranger Every Sunday

In 1965, I was a shy seventh-grader in a small school in Illinois. My best friend had suddenly moved to California, and the loss was devastating. I didn’t have a wide circle of other friends to turn to, and suffered agonies of social embarrassment over simple things like finding someone else to talk to during recess.

I had noticed a group of girls who seemed to always be laughing together, passing notes in class and having fun. There were six of them and I wished desperately that I could somehow become part of that group.

I don’t know if they saw me staring at them or if perhaps I had somehow cracked an acceptable joke in their presence, but one day one of them passed a note to me in class! Inside the note was an invitation to join their “club,” which didn’t have a name.

One of the rules of the club was that each girl adopted a pseudonym, the name of her favorite rock star. Apparently this clever ruse would make it impossible for any teacher who happened to intercept our notes to discipline us for note-passing, as it would be impossible for teachers to figure out the real identities of John, Paul, Ringo, Davey (Jones), Mickey (Dolenz), and Peter (Noone). (The group was heavily Beatles- and Monkees-centric, with a Herman’s Hermits fan thrown in.)

Getting that note was one of the happiest days of my life. I, too, loved the Beatles and the Monkees – but most of all, I hungered and thirsted to be part of a group of friends.

At the time I was in love with the song Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers, so I chose Gerry as my pseudonym. At once I was caught up in a thrilling round of passing notes to my new friends, being invited to their homes for sleepovers and nonstop talking whenever we could get together. It was heaven.

One day Paul (Dawn) sent everyone a note with an extremely exciting message – Herman’s Hermits were coming to play a concert in Chicago and her mother had agreed to take us all! (Paul’s mother was unusually generous about our enthusiasms.) None of us had ever been to a rock concert and we felt that we were taking the next big step into the exciting world of American teendom.

When we arrived at the concert venue, I was stunned to see thousands of girls lined up at the entrance, most of them wearing mini-dresses and white go-go boots. These girls had long, straight, ironed hair, pale lipstick and heavy black eye makeup. Girls my own age!!!

They looked impossibly glamorous. We were still wearing anklets and ordinary shoes, and clothes our mothers had bought us at Sears. We wore no makeup and our hairdos were a variety of ordinary, somewhat curly, 12-year-old girl hairdos.

These elegant creatures stared back at us with what seemed to us like well-deserved scorn. Our little group was flabbergasted. Somehow we had never entertained the thought that ordinary American girls could dress up like mod British birds – and get away with it!

The concert itself paled in comparison to the revelation that girls our age could look like that. Oh, we jumped up and down and screamed for about an hour during the concert (it was impossible to hear the music), and had a generally good time. (By the way, the opening act was an unknown band called The Who, but of course that meant nothing to us Herman’s Hermits fans.)

On Monday morning,Paul and Ringo came to school wearing white go-go boots, which caused a sensation. By that afternoon the school had announced that go-go boots were banned (I can’t remember how they justified this decision, but everyone seemed to accept it.) Nevertheless, with or without go-go boots, the great dress code wars of the era had clearly begun.

Within weeks, girls were wearing ever-shorter skirts to class and everyone was trying the ironed-hair look. I bought my first tube of lipstick, an ultra-pale pink that I thought made me look remarkably like Jean Shrimpton.

Many years later, when my kids were in high school, I told my son, Chris, about our seventh-grade club. He gave me a Gerry and the Pacemakers tape that year for Christmas - one of the best presents I ever received.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I remember my grandmother shortening my mid-knee length skirts about 5-inches (circa 1966-67). My mother was furious!

Great present from your son. I'm impressed that he was in high school and actually listening to your stories...How did you do that?

My 56-year-old daughter has never forgiven me for not letting her have white "hooker boots." She used to roll her skirts at the waist after she left the house to go to school because I wouldn't let her have them as short as she wanted them.

Yearning to be a part of the 'IN' crowd is the longing of every youth. I never made it and feel deprived to this day.

Eventually we learn that those teenage longings are shallow, but the hurt of not belonging remains.

I was too old for Rock Concerts, but standing in front of the bandstand when Harry James was playing is a memory I will never forget.

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