Alice Cooper kicks off his gig at Carolina Rebellion, May 2016
(Photo by Samir Shukla)
By Samir Shukla
It is summer. It's the full sun, skin sizzling, cannonball into the pool, July time of summer. The school year has faded and kids are doing what kids have been doing during summer vacations for decades. I reminisce about my youthful summer days about this time of year every year, if for only for a moment. Sometimes it's as long as my kids' patience holds listening to their old man's oft-repeated summer tales.
This year, especially, after attending a recent concert, the wondrous summers of past come to mind. A couple of classic songs during that concert opened the flood gates of memory.
Rocker Alice Cooper's anthems “School's out for Summer" and “I'm Eighteen" had faded from the musical memories of late, until I saw Cooper perform live in early May this year at the Carolina Rebellion music festival in Charlotte.
The unmistakable opening guitar riff of “School's out for Summer" immediately transported me back in time to high school days. The guitars, bass, drums and Cooper's snarl lodged in my head and jumped back to the days of AM and FM rock radio stations.
High school was, well, high school. For me it was informed, among other twists of fate, by the experience of my family arriving as immigrants just a few years earlier. My high school years were split between the last couple of years of the 1970s and the first couple of years of the 1980s. A decade ended and another began. I also spent nearly half my high school years in New Jersey and the second half in North Carolina. In the political arena, it was the time when southern peanut farmer and Governor Jimmy Carter was upended by the Cali smooth actor and former Governor Ronald Reagan in the battle for the White House.
The juncture of the two decades, the juncture of the Yankee north and the mellow south, the juncture of India and America, the political discourses of the left and right, Bollywood and Hollywood, desi music and hard rock, all meshed into the mind of a skinny high school kid.
We were kids as kids were, singing along to the rock anthems of the era while listening to them on the crackly radio sitting in our living rooms or cars, learning to argue politics, and for recent immigrants like me, coming to grips with our Americanness while trying to hold on to our heritage, the otherness.
When Alice Cooper and his band blasted through those two songs during the concert, I felt the earth actually revolve under my feet. Maybe it was the cheap beer, but mostly it was the music, the words, and the fragments of memory coming into focus.
High school days that began in New Jersey and ended in North Carolina reverberated yet again on that recent May evening with Cooper's summer anthems pinging back and forth among the teens and the pony-tailed old geezers, all rocking and singing along. A couple of forgotten high school classmates seemed to appear for a moment in the dusty outdoor venue, as if a mirage, singing along with me about end of school and beginning of summer. About “living in the middle of doubt," as Cooper sang in the song “I'm Eighteen."
The tribulations and good times of those formative high school years all condensed for a moment into that live jam. The mirage ended the minute the songs ended. The forgotten classmates, the mirage, swirled away into the dust and the darkening night. It was time and space spinning, fading and reappearing, rocking along with the old and the present.
It was almost exactly thirty-five years since I graduated from high school and heard Alice Cooper perform the songs live for the first time.
Radio ruled in high school. It was our escape. There was no internet, of course, or cell phones or social media or digital streaming instantly playing back songs on demand. We were recipients of what the DJs would play on our favorite stations. It was a time when calling the station and requesting a song meant something when they actually played your request. Every day I would tune in to different stations listening to rock music. I absorbed Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, and Queen, among many other bands, to formulate my high school soundtrack.
The Clash, Bob Marley, and the Ramones would help complete that soundtrack that segued into college years. Among those bands and rockers crept Alice Cooper.
I remember riding in a friend's beatup car in early high school when “School's out for Summer" came blasting out of the speakers. I felt my head jerk back and forth as my friend bore down on the accelerator in sync with the guitar riffs. It was the first time I heard that song and it was instantly added to the soundtrack.
Yeah, in those endless summer days of youth, you felt you were never going to get old. The 30s were way far away enough, forget thinking about your 40s and 50s. They were never going to happen. In high school you would live forever. Old age was far in the distance.
Music connected the dots and lines of youth; it spoke the sound of humanness. It still does and always will. Any concert or performance I go to, I close my eyes for a few minutes and see if the music alone takes me somewhere. No flashing lights or the tightly coordinated dancers or the performers' clothes or their hair or their antics matter. I tune out the visuals. If the music alone lifts me off the ground, it is the only thing that matters. If it takes me back to a beloved time, a crazy time, a sad time, a happy time, or further into the future of possibilities, that's what matters.
The soundtrack of high school was irreplaceable in the formative imaginings and dreams of youth. Oh, how those lyrics and warm music touched and affected the psyche, to create memories that reawaken decades later.
So crank the phone or computer, the car radio or whatever that you listen to music with today. Turn it up loud. School's out for summer. Indeed.