Ted Myers, Making It: Music, Sex & Drugs
in the Golden Age of Rock
Making It: Music, Sex & Drugs
in the Golden Age of Rock
Blog: Ted Myers’ blog
Publisher: Calumet Editions
Date: April 13, 2017
Length: 318 pp.
Chapter One: Since I Don’t Have You
Perhaps I was scarred at an early age by my inability to make Janie Schindelheim love me. She was the prettiest girl at P.S. 40, our elementary school, a building that was already a hundred years old when we went there in the 1950s. It stood across First Avenue from Stuyvesant Town, the red-brick labyrinth of a housing project on Manhattan’s East Side, where Janie and I grew up. We were both ten years old. She was in my fifth grade class when I first noticed her.
Her brown hair was flecked with golden highlights that would catch the sun. Her pouty mouth made her look grown-up and sexy, even at ten. She had this amber, translucent skin, and when her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, as it usually was, you could see little blue veins in her temples.
Sometimes I would hang around outside her house on the off chance she would come out to play. One snowy day I got lucky. I was outside the back entrance of her building, freezing my ass off, and then there she was, melting my heart in her winter coat and knitted cap with the pom-pom on top. I acted casual, like, “What a coincidence, seeing you here — right outside your building.”
“Let’s make snow angels,” she said.
Then we lay on our backs in a patch of virgin snow and flapped our arms and legs. Boy, I wouldn’t have been caught dead making snow angels with anyone but Janie Schindelheim.
This experience gave me hope and a sense of delicious anticipation of things to come. At that age your capacity to hope, your boundless optimism, has yet to be crushed by the deluge of disappointments life has in store.
The high point of my relationship with Janie came in February of that year, 1956. She made me a valentine in class and gave it to me. I was walking on air for weeks. And that was as close as I ever got to making her mine.
Janie turned into Jane. We went through junior high together, then high school. But she never gave me a second glance. She always went out with the older, handsomer guys. One day, when we were in tenth or eleventh grade, she and her boyfriend of the moment (whose name and face I have conveniently forgotten) and me and my sort-of-girlfriend, Dora, a Polish immigrant with big blue eyes and a gap between her front teeth, cut school and went to my parents’ apartment to make out. Both my parents worked, so we knew there would be no one home. Janie and her guy went into my sister’s bedroom and closed the door. Dora and I were in my room.
What a strange feeling it was to be making out with one girl and to know that the girl of my dreams— and she had never ceased to be that — was right in the next room making out with — or maybe even fucking — some other guy.
Jane was two-timing Whatshisname with a guy who lived in our neighborhood, Harold Doolin. I was appalled because I knew him. He was older — big, tough, and good-looking — and a neighborhood bully. When I was eight he chased me with his cap gun and when he caught me, instead of pointing it at me and pretending to shoot me with it, he grabbed my arm, held it close against my skin and fired, burning me. Yes, even as a child, Harold Doolin was malevolent enough to figure out how to hurt someone with a cap gun.
One day, about a week after the make-out session, Harold and a buddy of his cornered me in an elevator and beat the shit out of me. As the blows landed on my face I heard a high-pitched ringing in my ears, like a sound effect in some B science fiction movie. Blood trickled from my nose and mouth. I kept asking “Why? Why?” But I never got an answer.
I don’t know when it dawned on me — somebody had seen me, Janie, Dora, and Whatshisname go into my building together. It got back to Harold and he assumed that I had been with Jane. So, not only did I not get the girl I wanted, I got a beating for doing something I desperately wanted to do and never did.
In all those years I never proclaimed my love for Jane; never gave her the slightest inkling. She always treated me with cool indifference, and I acted the same. I was too afraid of rejection, especially that rejection. I knew she would turn me down, knew I wasn’t handsome enough. That was a reality I couldn’t face, so I just kept mum.
Jane grew up, moved to San Francisco, and married Jann Wenner. They started Rolling Stone magazine together on a loan from her father. In 1995 Jann left her for a guy.
* * *
In 1992, shortly after I had completed production on my first compilation project for Rhino Records, Troubadours of the Folk Era, I met Holly George-Warren, who at the time was a staff writer for Rolling Stone. I asked her if she knew Jane Wenner, and she did. I gave her a package for Jane: the three CDs, which chronicled the urban folk revival of the 1950s and ‘60s, and a short note. I wrote it by hand and made it sound as casual as I possibly could. I told her about my job at Rhino, my wife and my two kids, and told her to look me up if she was ever in LA. I congratulated her on her great success and added some quip, like “I think you are the only person I know who has a publishing empire.” Holly delivered it, but I never got a reply.
* * *
There was another girl in elementary school and junior high, with none of the mystery or allure of Janie Schindelheim, but a sweet, good-natured girl named Carla Wise. I didn’t think much of her at the time, didn’t think she was very pretty but, in retrospect, she was quite pretty. She was petite, had very white skin and freckles, lovely red lips, and a turned-up nose. But she had this unruly mop of frizzy black hair (a “jewfro”!) and that just wasn’t cool in 1958. Carla pursued me shamelessly. She used to show up outside my window and yell up to me at all hours of the day and night. One day at school she cornered me in the cafeteria where you return the trays.
“Hey, Teddy,” she said, trying to sound casual, “I’ve got two tickets to the Dick Clark Saturday night show. It’s this Saturday. Wanna go?”
The Dick Clark Show was a spin-off of American Bandstand. It was broadcast live from a New York theatre every Saturday night. It was more of a concert setting, as opposed to Bandstand’s “dance party” format. The artists all lip-synched to their records, but I didn’t care. I jumped at the chance to see The Diamonds, Jimmy Clanton and the pièce de résistance, Ritchie Valens, doing his double-sided hit, “La Bamba” and “Donna,” in person. Little did I suspect that he and one of my biggest all-time idols, Buddy Holly, would both be gone in just a few weeks. That concert had a profound effect on me.
Was it not scoring with Janie Schindelheim that had set me on this road, or my admiration for the pop stars of the 1950s? Truth is, when I convinced my parents to get me a guitar and lessons at age thirteen I was motivated as much by the desire for popularity as a love of music. Ask any rock musician why he got into it and, if he has a shred of honesty, he’ll admit it was to ‘get chicks.’ I wasn’t tall, athletic, or handsome, so learning how to play and sing was a natural shortcut for me to the attentions of the opposite sex. And it worked.
* * *
I started out playing folk songs on my nylon-stringed classical guitar, but it wasn’t long before I convinced my parents to get me an electric guitar and an amp. My first electric guitar was a gray sunburst, solid-body Supro. It was inexpensive, but to me incredibly cool. As luck would have it, I had a good ear and a natural gift for picking up and replicating songs I heard on records and the radio.
During eighth grade at Junior High School 104, by far the best guitar player in the school — the best musician, for that matter — in fact, the most talented person in the school — was a blind Puerto Rican kid named José Feliciano. José played the shit out of his nylon string guitar. He was trained in classical, flamenco, and various Latino folkloric styles. He also sang really well. He was a monster. José loved to perform and was often called upon to play at school assemblies — and he never failed to blow my mind.
After I got my electric guitar, José told me if I let him play it for the upcoming talent show, I could back him up on rhythm guitar. I immediately agreed, secretly hoping that Janie Schindelheim would be watching. The show was a success. José and I played — appropriately enough — “La Bamba.” He wailed on the electric guitar parts, teaching my guitar some tricks I hoped it would remember, and I played acoustic rhythm guitar and sang harmony. Being up there in front of all those people was a heady experience. There was the worship and adoration I had always craved. I scanned the admiring faces in the crowd, hoping I would see Janie Schindelheim. Lots of people came up and congratulated me afterward, but not Janie.
* * *
1959 was a seminal year for me... literally. In February I was shaken by the deaths of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. That same month The Skyliners hit the charts with “Since I Don’t Have You.” That song really struck a chord in me. There was something heart-rending and very different about it from the rest of the doo-wop and rockabilly that dominated the airwaves. Looking back, I think it was that unexpected and emotionally evocative third chord change, and the melody that went with it, that made the song stand out. When I saw The Skyliners on TV, there were things about them that were different too: they had a girl in the group, and one of them was playing an electric guitar — unusual for a doo-wop vocal group. “Since I Don’t Have You” seemed to go with the sense of loss I felt with the sad news about Buddy and Ritchie, and it became embedded in my consciousness.
“It is such a delight when someone opens a small window on what was going on in music back then... such an incredible time of creation... Ted Myers' book on this 'golden age' of rock and roll music reveals just what it was like... enjoy, I did...” — Graham Nash, founding member of The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash
[Back cover blurb]
For those too young to have lived it, or too high to remember it...
Turn on, tune in, and ride along in the front car of the rollercoaster life of Ted Myers, as he chases his dreams of rock stardom through the '60s, '70s and '80s. Although he never quite makes it, he has many wonderful and not-so-wonderful adventures, and rubs shoulders with some of the true icons of folk, rock and pop culture, including Bob Dylan, James Taylor, The Who, Procol Harum, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, Chevy Chase, Timothy Leary, and even Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
Copyright © 2018 by Ted Myers