A Midwesterner under the Influence of Rock and Roll
by tonydoug wright
If you’ve read my previous articles, then you’re aware that while the story remains the same, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.
From sixth to eighth grade, my friends at St. Antoninus the Beheaded Catholic School in Springfield, Ohio introduced me to numerous rock artists. During the late 1970s and early to mid 1980s, I was raised in a pop house, so my knowledge of rock music was very limited. The radio dial in the family car was set to the local top forty station or to the oldies station although my parents begrudgingly agreed to let my sister and I listen to the local top forty radio station because they were under the impression that the artists of the 1980s only sang about sex, sex, and more sex. If a song like ‘We Don’t have To Take Our Clothes Off’ by Jermaine Stewart was on the radio, then my mom would frantically turn the dials on the radio find a new station because she did not know that the song had a decent message. In her mind, it was another horrid pop song filled with innuendo and she was not going to be fooled by one Jermaine Stewart.
Back at home, my parents’ vinyl collection featured a few rock gems. My mom owned Meet the Beatles, Introducing the Beatles, and a few of their singles. She also had two or three early Rolling Stones singles, but to my mom, 1965 was the cut-off point for her rock collection. Mom’s post-1965 rock selections included The Monkees debut album and the original soundtrack for Hair. The bulk of my parents’ vinyl collection was filled with great pop music from labels such as Motown and some unfortunate disco selections.
My dad was not a rock fanatic. I remember tales from old friends about their fathers going to see Hendrix or The Who in concert, but rock music was not my dad’s thing. I remember going to a department store in Springfield with my dad and he told me that he was going to purchase a cassette. He said I could buy one as well. I picked up Purple Rain by Prince, and when I met up with my dad, he was proudly holding a copy of Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down. It was up to me to discover rock on my own.
Johnny Pleather, a friend at St. Antoninus the Beheaded Catholic School, was the class rocker. He introduced me to hard rockin’ bands like AC/DC, Van Halen, and The Cult. Pleather was something of a genetic freak because he had a beard and a receding hairline by the sixth grade. I was more than likely the catalyst for his beard growth, because in fifth grade I almost broke his jaw, by accident, while playing football. Pleather had the largest knot under his chin for months, and it eventually sprouted some facial hair. A mix between a greaser and a roadie, Pleather brought his boom box to school on a daily basis, so he would play some killer rock selections before school and during recess. Pleather used to play the air guitar when the music was blasting, and when the music was off. We would be standing in line for lunch, and Pleather, with a chewed up pen in his mouth, would start playing air guitar for no reason. I’m not sure what song was playing in his head, but Pleater would kill it on the air guitar.
A downside to Pleather was the fact that he had a limited supply of rock. He was by no means a collector, so it was typical that he’d play AC/DC’s Who Made Who (the soundtrack to Maximum Overdrive) for a month. It was time for someone else to step up and bring some fresh rock to St. Antoninus the Beheaded Catholic School.
Charlie ‘Dusty’ Rhodes was a transfer student and arrived during the middle of our sixth grade year. Rhodes didn’t say much, but was a really laid back guy. He was something of a human sloth because he moved and spoke slowly. My teacher placed his desk near mine, so we quickly became friends. I was hanging out at Rhodes’ house one day and noticed he had a shoebox full of cassettes, a goldmine of new artists and the majority of tapes he owned were from a band called Led Zeppelin. Rhodes said I could borrow one of his tapes, I decided to pass on Led Zeppelin, so it was a decision between Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd and Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols.
I was not familiar with either group, but I found the cover of Dark Side of the Moon to be very interesting, so Rhodes said I could borrow the tape, and when I got home, I gave it a listen. It was quite the musical experience for my thirteen year-old ears. I was familiar with smooth pop and a little bit of hard rock, but this was something different. There were odd noises, background voices, explosions, clocks ticking, alarms ringing, and a cash register. From beginning to end, it was a fantastic musical journey.
I owned a ghetto blaster, so I would plug in my monster sized headphones, and listen to Dark Side of the Moon in the living room. My bedroom would have been the ideal listening location, but my parents demanded that I be in the living room when they were in there watching television because, God forbid, I miss the bonus round on Wheel of Fortune or miss the nightly Ohio Lottery drawings. Apparently, the twentieth century family decided that bonding was a time well spent in front of the television.
Dark Side of the Moon was on heavy rotation and Rhodes would always remind me to bring the tape back to school. It was tough returning Dark Side of the Moon, but I had made a copy. Now my ghetto blaster had one tape deck, so recording was a bit tricky. My parents owned a small tape player, so I strategically placed the ghetto blaster towards the tape player, and that was my home recording method. The sound quality sucked, so I decided to buy Dark Side of the Moon on cassette using the funds I had collected doing menial chores around the house.
During my junior high days, I used to hang out at Pleather’s house because he had an impressive collection of video games and Playboy magazines. I thought it was paradise despite the fact that his home should have been condemned because it was borderline unfit for human habitation. I informed Pleather that I really liked Dark Side of the Moon and he liked Pink Floyd as well, so he asked me if I had ever listened to The Wall. I had no idea what he was talking about. Pleather said it was another album by Pink Floyd, so he played it for me on his brother’s “super awesome stereo system”. I was beyond impressed and Pleather was kind of enough to make me a copy of The Wall.
Like Dark Side of the Moon, I listened to The Wall constantly. I did not know anything about the band’s history or members, but all I knew was that they made great rock music.
My interest in Pink Floyd followed me from sixth grade to high school. It was there that I encountered one Lenny Pestman, my high school nemesis. Pestman, an elfish little bastard, was a fan of Pink Floyd and his love of the band put me at a personal crossroads. Although my nemesis was a fan, I put my hate of Pestman into Pink Floyd, and they sadly took a backseat to some other artists. Pestman was a problem during my freshman year, but as high school drug on, he and I rarely crossed paths. Pink Floyd returned to heavy rotation and all was well in the universe.
I decided that I was going to earn a varsity letter my freshman year of high school. Football and basketball were out of the question due to the politics involved, so I chose the wrestling team. During the mid to late 1980s, I watched professional wrestling religiously. My weekly viewing schedule included the WWF, NWA, AWA, and World Class Championship Wrestling. When I learned that we had a wrestling team, I thought that I’d learn a few suplexes and a few submission moves, like the camel clutch or the Von Erich claw. Also, I’d use my hatred of Pestman to fuel me through some matches. The coach quickly informed me that high school wrestling was nothing like professional wrestling. Oh well. I got my ass kicked my freshman year, but those beatings led to a varsity letter.
I wanted to wrestle my sophomore year, but the school had hired a new wrestling coach, a moron, so I decided to retire from wrestling. Fortunately, the school wised up and hired two new wrestling coaches during my junior year. Danny O’Limerick and Jimmy ‘Horse’ O’Malley were the new coaches and they had a laid back approach to coaching, which was just my style. I ended my retirement and made my way back to wrestling.
The team was a rag-tag group of slackers. We were Generation X. We did not care. One of the guys on the team was a burnout named Ben Morocco and he was a Pink Floyd fan. One day, Morocco discovered I liked Pink Floyd, so he handed me a copy of a tape titled Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I looked at the tape with a blank expression. Morocco was appalled that I knew nothing about Pink Floyd. Apparently, Morocco thought I was a poseur. It was time for me to do some research on Pink Floyd.
I attended a Catholic high school, so I was surprised when I discovered that our library had an encyclopedia of hard rock and heavy metal. There was an entry for Pink Floyd, so I decided to brush up on my history. I felt wiser knowing their history and decided to read a majority of the encyclopedia. Never again would I be in the dark when it came to the history of a rock band. If there was a discussion about Rainbow or Judas Priest, then I would add some interesting bits of information from the encyclopedia.
Dark Side of the Moon was the first rock album that I discovered while hanging out with my friends. This discovery was the first of many and I owe my friends from St. Antoninus the Beheaded Catholic School in Springfield, Ohio a thank you for opening my eyes to the world of rock. As a rock fan, I decided that proclaiming you like an artist is one thing, but to proclaim your admiration and back it up with some history, is another thing completely. Dark Side of the Moon is still an album I listen to regularly, and I do remember the moment when I discovered a copy of it on cassette in Charlie ‘Dusty’ Rhodes’ shoebox. I don’t know whatever happened to Rhodes or Pleather, but I know that one day I’ll see them on the dark side of the moon.