Saturday, November 13, 2010

Excerpt: Boys Don't Lie: A History of Shoes

I'm kind of getting antsy to show you guys what I've been up to. For those of you playing along at home, I've spent the better part of the last eighteen months working on this book, an authorized band bio of pop idols Shoes: hours and hours of interviews with everyone I could find, context reading, writing, rewriting, rewriting again. As with any creative project, I'm probably never going to be truly happy with it, but I'll toss up a few pages here and there to get your feedback.

OF COURSE, IN THE SPRING of 1964, a lot of other things were changing for these boys on the brink of adolescence. The British Invasion was well underway, and the radio was the portal to this unexplored world.

Even though Zion itself was straitlaced and pretty isolated, Jeff remembers, “[it] was within radio reception of Chicago. And Chicago’s AM radio in the early and mid-sixties was a phenomenal influence on every red-blooded adolescent that imagined [himself] to be a pop star. It was a type of schooling that ingrained itself into your subconscious and fed your imagination.” Significantly, as Jeff has noted elsewhere, “New Beatles songs [were] coming every few weeks and two new Beatles albums a year groomed us on pop music.”

John recalls that it took him some time to warm to The Beatles: the night they were on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, he was torn over whether to watch them, since he was caught up in a multi-part Disney series—Dr. Syn, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh—which conflicted with the program. In the end, he skipped everything except The Beatles’ performance, watching Disney until his mother called him in, then returning to the basement for his own show.

Despite his own childhood conflicts, John remembers the before-and-after effect of The Beatles clearly: Before the Beatles, “I thought the radio was, more or less, a source for oddball novelty songs, where the singer was either obsessed with sinking the Bismark, pleading with General Custer for mercy or bragging about a Neanderthal named Alley Oop.” But afterward,

It was like a five-alarm brushfire when ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand,’ ‘She Loves You,’ and ‘Please Please Me’ were unleashed in America… All at once, the floodgates opened and every song from every band on the radio resonated with feverishly-sung melodies and lapel-grabbing guitar licks…. Talk about an embarrassment of riches─the AM airwaves were just dripping with tingly, jangly treasures and I’m fairly certain this is where we subconsciously learned about song structure and the mystifying appeal of aching, heart-twisting lyrics.

Gary, always an iconoclast, has less idealized recollections than the Murphy brothers’: “Any music fan who grew up in the ’60s will tell tall tales of a utopian period where all was good. ‘Imagine randomly pressing the buttons of your car radio and hearing nothing but glorious pop music 24 hours a day!’… [But] I guess we all tend to have selective memories. All that great music still had to share radio airspace with the same kind of junk that we’ve always had to endure.”

But even he admits that it was clear there was something special going on: “When it started, it was truly magic.” In his new neighborhood north of town, Gary recalls, he was the oldest kid around: “I had no one to learn from,” he explains, “no one to play me records.” But he had befriended a kid in his class who did have older brothers, and that’s where he began to hear The Beatles and the other bands of the British Invasion.

That’s the age where it imprints you. I was still kind of forming my tastes, and I was impressionable, not mapped musically. The Beatles began the blueprint that became the standard of what was important to me.

The first Beatles song Gary remembers really connecting with was “I Feel Fine,” which was released in November 1964, a full year after some of the songs John identifies as being influential for him. But Gary moved more quickly than John into the desire to make music himself, requesting and receiving both a guitar and lessons for his twelfth birthday in January, 1965. It was a short-lived adolescent whim, however: the lessons didn’t last long and the guitar was soon put in a corner to gather dust. For the next several years, reports friend Ed Erickson, “He didn’t play anything more complicated than a record player.”

He fed it with the Beatles, of course, and a stack of unusual records his father had acquired from a friend who stocked jukeboxes. “It was like the radio, only not as popular,” he notes. The stack of singles, maybe a foot high, included some adult standards, like Perry Como and Andy Williams, but also songs from the British Invasion, like the Nashville Teens’ “Tobacco Road.” There were also some genuinely obscure records, such as “Stop! –Get a Ticket” by The Clefs of Lavender Hill. “Years later, when I mentioned that I knew some of these weird little songs that had been cycled out of jukeboxes in the mid-sixties, [Bomp! founder] Greg Shaw was wowed. But it’s just what I had available.”

BY THE FALL OF 1964, THE MURPHYS were acquiring records at a steady clip as well, usually in pairs. “You could never buy either one of us a gift without buying one for the other as well,” John notes, “so we always got them two at a time.” Christmas 1963 had brought John “The Little Drummer Boy” and Jeff “Jingle Bell Rock,” for example. John had seen Johnny Cash on television, and begged for the “Ring of Fire” single; Jeff got the New Christy Minstrels’ “Green Green” to be fair.

But their grandfather took them, that fall, to Goldblatt’s, a local department store, where they gazed so longingly at a rack of Halloween novelty records, 99 cents apiece, that he instructed them to choose one each. The two immediately put their heads together. If Grandpa was willing to spend two bucks on them, they reasoned, they might be able to coax him to three, and then they could get a Beatles’ LP!

He bought their argument, and the record, the Beatles’ Second Album. Jeff recalls that the first track, “Roll Over Beethoven” skipped, “which drive us crazy. But the cover had this cool plastic ‘moving picture’ glued on the front, with pictures of the Beatles hidden in the flowers on the bottom.” Though he’s not completely sure how he came into sole possession of it—“but we traded records with each other a lot,” he recalls—Jeff still has the record.

Book available for preorder here: street date first quarter 2011.


steve simels said...

"Stop-Get a Ticket."

Not bad at all.

NYMary said...

It's kind of cute, isn't it? But waaaay obscure.

Rick Gregory said...

Great stuff Mary. I wrote an online article (for Audities) on Shoes 14 years ago, after just one long interview with Jeff. The things I found most intriguing were the Murphy brothers' father just up and leaving the household (with the Beatles serving as their surrogate father), as well as the black guy across from La Cabane who had some 100 dogs. I'm particularly interested in what happened during 1978 and the recording of the lone Bomp! single.