Wednesday, June 17, 2009



Do you remember where you were when you first heard that Kennedy had been shot and killed? (Either Kennedy?) Do you remember where you were when Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first fake step on the Moon? Or where you were when Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear? Do you know where you were when the major American events of the 20th Century's second half occurred? How about June 17, 1977? Do you know where you were on that day? I know where I was.

On the afternoon of June 17, 1977, 32 years ago this very day, I graduated from Santa Monica High School (SAMOHI). Ever see James Dean’s second movie “Rebel Without A Cause”? SAMOHI played the part of Dawson High in that famous film. (That seal Jim accidentally stepped on and caught hell for? It’s still there.)

A few hours after the graduation ceremony, I and a hundred or more SAMOHI graduates were riding buses to Disneyland for the Grad Nite ’77 celebration. I was with my buddy Eric and at one point in the evening, having just gotten off the Matterhorn ride, we heard a band playing the song “MOONLIGHT FEELS RIGHT” from a temporary stage set up between the Matterhorn and the It’s A Small World rides. I said to Eric, “Man, that sounds exactly like the real song; let’s go see.”

“Moonlight Feels Right” had gone to number three on the Billboard Top 40 chart in July of ’76 – America’s Bicentennial. It was a monster hit less than a year old which everyone had heard and even Lawrence Welk liked. The band on stage, STARBUCK, was playing the song so perfectly that I was sure they must be the original artist. Eric and I caught the last half of “Moonlight” and then Starbuck launched into their closing number “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rocket”, with its dual-drumming finale. I was so enthralled by what I’d seen that the next day – my first full day as a high school graduate – I went out and bought Starbuck’s two LPs, “Moonlight Feels Right” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rocket.” For the next couple of years, I nearly wore those licorice pizzas out.

In 1988, I sold off my turntable and record collection and began buying compact discs instead. Since those first two Starbuck albums have never been released on CD, I went 21 years without hearing those great old tunes… until last Monday.

To me, songs like “Moonlight…”, “…Rocket”, “One Of These Mornings”, and “Benny Bought The Big One” represent that borderland between my childhood and my adulthood. I discovered them while still a teenager, but in the last 24 hours of my total freedom; that blink before I was forced out into the world. Next up: find a job; become a responsible, contributing citizen in “this world.” Damn! Don’t you hate it when that happens?

So, I have as much sentimental attachment to these songs as I have to any music ever recorded. I’d been waiting since ’88 for someone to finally release this music in the CD format. There have been numerous bogus releases in the past, repackaged Starbuck demos and songs remixed beyond all recognition, and I was taken once - separated from my bucks by some pseudo-Starbuck product called “Backtracks.” Well, I finally got tired of waiting for someone to release the first two albums in their original entirety. So, recently, I surrendered and bought a kind of ‘Best Of’ compilation from Starbuck’s leader and principal songwriter Bruce Blackman.

I received the disc last Wednesday but I waited until Monday, my day off from work, to play it. I wanted to really reminisce; I wanted to do it right by digging those old songs in the old ways, like while drinking some Southern Comfort and cola, such as Eric and I did in our rebellious underaged drinking years. (Southern Comfort and cola: Yuck! Imagine 70 proof pancake syrup. Tiggers don’t like that icky sticky stuffs!) You know, I wanted to recreate the entire atmosphere - take a little trip in the Waybac Machine to 1977 and rediscover my lost youth. I even dragged out my high school yearbooks and viewed the old places and the young faces I once saw daily.

Awww, what happened to most of those boys and girls? I know what happened to a few of them: some died; some went to prison; and some, like me, are both dead AND in prison. (Oh, you didn’t know I’m incarcerated? Sure! I’m doing 40 To Life for impersonating a man who cares.)

Look here in these yearbooks: There’s a picture of Party Marty - killed in a car accident. There’s photos of Ty and Kelly - both death by suicide. There’s a picture of me - Sheesh! Look at that hair! Ahhh, and there’s a photo of Jean Gonzalez. AHHHhhhhh… Jean. I was so hot for her in 1975 that I was admitted to a hospital burn unit! But she was a senior the year I was a sophomore and I knew she was 20,000 Leagues out of my league. I occupied the desk right next to hers in Public Speaking class and I wasn’t going to give up that spot to ANYONE for ANY reason! Period! You want that seat? You’ll have to pry it off my cold, dead butt!

I’ll never forget the time Jean lip-synced to Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You” in front of the Public Speaking class. Gee, that was a bird-tweetingly bad song! But, oh my gosh, you shoulda seen the way her sexy body moved! Just swaying up there, slowly gyrating. Ooh, mama! I gave her two standing ovations. Future TV star Heather Thomas may have been one of the school’s Homecoming Princesses, but Jean was my queen. Of course, for all I know, Jean – wherever she is today - could be twice divorced with 2.5 grandkids and carrying 40.5 pounds of extra weight. (Hmmm… I’ll take her!) But no matter what she may or may not be today, let me tell ya, in her day, that girl was hotter’n a Phoenix Summer and cooler than a cold shower. (Hmmm… I’ll take one!)

Well, I knew the SoCo and cola was doing its thang real good-like when I dropped the track listing card that accompanied the Starbuck compact disc. The card fell out of my hand in slow motion and I went to catch it and missed… five times. Ha! And I’m ordinarily not very unathletic. (Yeah, try writing a sentence like that the next time you get the idea you’re a gifted athlete.) Eventually, the Starbuck songs, the high school yearbooks, and the SoCo combo had my mind floating and all my hair seemed dark and perfect! I haven’t felt that good since… since… well, since 1977. The crow’s feet were gone, the grey in my hair was gone, the arthritis in my joints was gone, my vision was 20/20, and my virginity was restored and… perfect! My gosh, if we can bottle that feeling we’ll make a trillion dollars! We’ll call it “Southern Comfort.” That’s taken? OK, then we’ll call it “Love Potion Number Nineteen Seventy-Seven.”

Listening to Starbuck and staring at those faces from the past was bittersweet; color me a shade of Melancholy. Life was so young then and everyone’s future was so full of promise. We were at the starting line of Life and we knew things would change for the better. So much for Hope and Change. How did I get here?

My 1977 yearbook records the answers to questions posed to graduating seniors that year. According to my answers, thirty-two years ago, my hobby was “Playing Sports”, my future plan was “Theatre”, and the animal I most identified with was a “Lion.” Now, my hobby is “Blogging”, my future plan is “Breathing”, and the animal I most identify with is a “Jackass.” How DID I get here?

If someone could have told me in 1977, while I was standing there at Disneyland watching Starbuck play, that 32 years later I’d be sitting in this Phoenix house, staring out the window at a palm tree and a saguaro cactus and remembering high school as “The Good Ol’ Days”, I would have replied, “Nah. That’s somebody else’s future, not mine.” Oh well, I still have most of my hair and virtually dozens of brain cells. In some ways I’m a very wealthy man.

At one point, while listening to these half-forgotten Starbuck songs and being lost in thoughts of the past, I saw a little bird fly over the saguaro and I cursed Bruce Blackman for leaving the song “Little Bird” off this compilation. And then, naturally, that made me think about how all the dogs and cats that were on this planet when I was watching Starbuck play at Disneyland in 1977 are now dead and gone. [I don’t explain if you don’t understand.]

One wish and one suggestion reappears over and over again in my students’ autograph books from the ‘70s: 1) Stephen, good luck with the girls! 2) Get over your shyness. Well, I finally gave up on girls, but I’m still working at overcoming my shyness. (How’m I doing?)

What about the songs? How do they sound to me now? Think of Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Jimmy Buffett and Carmen Miranda versus the Monkees in a pineapple and coconut fight on Maui. In other words, I love them! God knows I love ‘em! To some ears these tunes may sound really dated with their heavy synthesizer use and even a couple appearances of the Framptonian talk box. But I may actually dig these songs more now than I did in ’77. Singer Bruce Blackman has remixed all but a couple of these songs (thankfully, he didn’t mess with “Moonlight…” or “One Of These Mornings”) and in some instances, he even inserted newly recorded sections into the old songs. Being a purist, this would have irritated me even more if it wasn’t for the fact that most of the additions actually improve the songs.

“Don’t You Know How To Love A Lady?” is an entirely new recording, however. Now a countrified piano lounge ballad, it was better in its original uptempo form. (Sorry, Bruce, you screwed that one up. You can’t sing “You tell me that all I am is a belly full of beer; a pile of bones wrapped up in masculine veneer” as a ballad! Sheesh!) That boo-boo aside, Bruce Blackman shows again that he has a unique knack for crafting a memorable pop song. It’s a wonder Starbuck didn’t score half a dozen major AM radio hits in the late ‘70s! Yeah, it’s pure pop cotton candy fluff, but it sho is sweet. (Try it with the SoCo and cola!)

A couple of the songs are painted a shade Saudade. And “One Of These Mornings” is just downright Goldenshadow. You know, sort of the way the Carpenters’ 1973 hit “Sing” is Goldenshadow? [I don’t explain if you don’t understand.]

Well, I’m sober again and living in the present again. Damn! Don’t you hate it when that happens? (How did I get here? No, REALLY?!) And I ain’t got nuthin’ else to say, so I’ll close now, but not before asking y’all the same question that Bruce Blackman asks just before the drum solo in the song “Rock ‘N’ Roll Rocket.” This is the question that changed my life:


~ Stephen T. McCarthy

Santa Monica High School, or Dawson High to James Dean:

My 1977 Grad Nite ticket stub:

Disneyland’s 1977 Grad Nite program:

Starbuck pictured inside the 1977 Grad Nite program:

An out-of-focus cell phone photo of the picture of Jean Gonzalez in my 1975 high school yearbook. [I don’t explain if you don’t understand!!!]:



DiscConnected said...

The saddest line ever posted on your blog:

>In 1988, I sold off my turntable >and record collection

And the meanest:

>Oh well, I still have
>most of my hair

Have sympathy for your follically challenged brethren!


Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Not that there's anything wrong with... Kojak.

"Who loves ya, baby?!"

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

John in Tucson said...

Oh wow do I ever have some great memories of the Summer nights of 1977 when this song had major airplay here in Tucson ! I had my first real girlfriend and a very close group of friends and we would ride around in my GF's 68' T-Bird up to Mt Lemmon and in the foothills just enjoying the life of a teenager. Good times indeed. Thanks for bringing this song back to life for all of us Steve.

- John in Tucson (formally of Phoenix)

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Hey, thanks for your kind comment.

Yeah, those were the days, eh? And, hey, how cool is a '68 T-Bird? - the car alone would make any times memorable.

Glad you enjoyed the drive down Memory Lane, Brother!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'