Spirit of '76
Eight children, two working parents, limited income – who will watch the kids after school? Daycare and nannies were out of the question, along with a babysitter who would charge the going rate, so four days a week, my mother depended on her niece, my Aunt Jackie.
Aunt Jackie was in her late teens/early twenties, with long, straight black hair parted right down the middle, with stray fly-aways here and there, Janis Joplin style. She was a child of the 60s, absorbing as much hippie culture and flower power as she could in our small Midwestern town, miles away from the communes in San Francisco and sounds of Woodstock. Her manner of dress reflected her youth, with long, colorful beads, and smock tops over blue bell-bottoms. While Aunt Jackie may have looked like she was trapped in the 60s, she kept herself very current with the music of the 70s.
And that’s where she took a special liking to me.
Aunt Jackie was a cool babysitter. She kept us safe, kept us in line, but also allowed us to be kids, something my step-father rarely let us do. We were allowed to laugh at the dinner table, play games in the living room, have talent shows where we lipsynched to our favorite 45s on the family stereo. And since my older brother and sisters were already junior-high ages, Aunt Jackie could lavish some extra attention on my little sisters and the middle kids, including an eight-year old me.
Aunt Jackie noticed that while all the other kids spent hours outdoors playing, running and swimming, I was happy to stay in my portion of my shared bedroom, reading comic books and listening to my same 45s over and over. Allowance day on Fridays was a big deal in our house…that meant I could take my weekly dollar and save it for our next trip to Clarkins or Uncle Bill’s Department Store where singles were just 99 cents each. The 99-cent price point was a particular torture for me, since with sales tax, the total was $1.04, that extra four cents continually eluding me. I can’t tell you how many times my sad, puppy dog eyes thru thick, horn-rimmed frames got the cashier to forget about the sales tax and let me run off with my newest vinyl treasure.
Aunt Jackie noticed my love of music and the pitiful selection of 45s I was stuck with, so one day, she showed up carrying a big, cardboard box for me. As everyone milled about the house, she sat on our couch and called out for me to join her.
“Johnny,” she said, “I brought you a few things, but before I give them to you, you have to promise me a couple of things, okay?”
“Okay, Aunt Jackie,” I replied, a little unsure of what was going on.
“You like the DeFranco Family, right? And ABBA?”
“Well, I’ve brought you some new records to listen to, okay? But you have to promise me you’ll be very careful with them, ‘cuz I want them back someday, okay?”
“Okay!” I squealed, already dying to snatch the box from her hands and tear upstairs to begin listening to them.
“And you also have to promise me something else, okay? These are really new records, okay, stuff that isn’t too popular here yet. So your Mom and step-dad may not get it, okay?”
“What do you mean?”
Aunt Jackie paused for a moment, not sure if she should continue or not. Gathering her wits, she smiled and pulled out an album. She opened the gatefold sleeve, revealing a lanky man in a blazing red and blue leotard, sparkling with glitter, his hair an artificial, fiery red blaze., his face fully made-up, topped off with a blue lightning bolt across one eye that reminded me of my favorite Saturday morning TV show, “Shazam!” I heard the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.
“This is a guy named David Bowie,” Aunt Jackie explained. “He started what they call ‘glitter rock’. There’s a whole bunch of bands in England making glitter rock and, I don’t know, but I just thought you’d really dig it, okay?”
“…okay…” I sat, rapt.
“Thing is, you know how your Mom and step-dad are really into the church thing, right?” She rolled her eyes. “If they see this stuff, they’ll get really mad at me for giving it to you and they’ll take them away from you and you won’t be able to listen to them anymore. But, I think you can handle it, right?”
“Yes! Yes!” I agreed. I understood what she was saying, yet I couldn’t wait to hear what this alien creature sounded like.
“I brought you a bunch of other stuff, too. Some Suzi Quatro, Nick Gilder, Sweeney Todd, The Sweet. But here’s how we’ll do this.” She began taking the records out of their sleeves. “We’ll keep the records in these sleeves instead, okay?” From the box, she produced some camouflage record covers…The Partridge Family’s Second Album, The Carpenters Yesterday Once More, various K-Tel compilations. “You get it?”
“Yeah, it’s like when I sneak up to watch ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman’ on the little TV upstairs!”
“Exactly!” Aunt Jackie laughed. “See, I knew you could handle it.”
I thanked her and ran upstairs putting the one that intrigued me most, “Aladdin Sane”, on my tiny Emerson turntable with the built-in mono speaker. After that, it was onto the candy-coated glam confections she gave me – Nick Gilder’s underage hooker opus “Hot Child In The City” and his slinky ode to getting laid “Here Comes The Night”, Sweet’s pounding, non-sensical “Blockbuster” (the line about “long, black hair” still reminds me of Aunt Jackie), Suzi Quatro’s über-butch remake of “All Shook Up”. I would sit listening for hours, watching the Bell Records or Chrysalis Records logos spin endlessly.
Aunt Jackie never asked for her records back. And my parents never heard or found them.
Thanks, Aunt Jackie.