Here are the opening scenes from the third chapter of Cool Nation:
They came out and the crowd, girls mainly, were screaming, and the screaming got louder, then they took up their guitars and started to play but you couldnï¿½t hear it for the screaming, and when they shook their hair and sang into the mikes the screaming just got louder, and louder. The first song ended and the screaming went on and the second song started and the screaming never stopped and when they finished they all bowed, then Ed Sullivan came out and tried to regain control over a thing that not even he had ever seen before, or likely believed possible.
The band left the stage and gradually the screaming subsided into orgiastic moans and hysterical weeping, all of them as if mourning the passing of something or some presence or some event but no one seeming to know what.
Seth and I were on our bellies, watching the black-and-white. We heard Stephanie and Jean weeping behind us. I turned.
ï¿½Oh stop it. Theyï¿½re just a band.ï¿½ But they wouldnï¿½t stop.
ï¿½What do you know? Jean said. ï¿½You arenï¿½t old enough to know anything. And they arenï¿½t just a band. They arenï¿½t.ï¿½ She went on crying. ï¿½They arenï¿½t.ï¿½
Dad was looking at her from his rocker, Mom from her end of the sofa, Dad holding his Kansas City Star in his lap.
ï¿½What do you think?ï¿½ Mom asked him. Allen, my younger brother, was on her lap, and waited open-mouthed for his answer.
ï¿½Not much. I saw it when they brought Presley out. Itï¿½s the same as that.ï¿½
ï¿½It sure doesnï¿½t sound the same.ï¿½
ï¿½You mean the music, or the screaming?ï¿½
ï¿½Well.ï¿½ He picked up his Star and went back to reading. ï¿½It is. Itï¿½s all hype. Only this time itï¿½s Limey hype.ï¿½
ï¿½They do a pretty good job of it.ï¿½
ï¿½They ought to. They learned it from us.ï¿½
My mother went back to her Edgar Cayce, bouncing Allen as she read.
My sisters went back to their crying.
Seth and I watched them, then left the room. Weï¿½d seen all we wanted to.
We went down into the half-dark of the basement, to Jackieï¿½s room, walking across the shuffleboard tiles to his door, from beneath which a bar of light shone and through which the jamming sound of his music pounded. He only listened to bands like The Beach Boys or Smokey Robinson or, of course, Elvis. It was Marvin Gaye he was listening to now.
I knocked, he didnï¿½t answer. I knocked again, he didnï¿½t answer. Then I opened the door just enough to see his flailing maniacism as he danced, shirtless, before the mirror, spinning, hitting the floor, bouncing back up, spinning and stopping and spinning back the other way. We watched him, the tattoo on his arm, the insane driving motion of his legs, the power of his madness.
Seth pulled on my arm. ï¿½Come on,ï¿½ he said. He, like everyone, was afraid of my brother, afraid of him as I had never been. ï¿½Close it, Pete. Close it.ï¿½
Silently I did, and we went back up the stairs. We would not be seeing Jackie that night.
We waited around until they came back on, their appearance signaled by the screaming, then we watched until they bowed again, then we watched the more familiar, if entirely contrived world of Bonanza, and afterward I walked Seth home.
ï¿½Good-night, Sethy,ï¿½ Dad said.
ï¿½Good-night, Seth,ï¿½ Mom said.
He told my parents good-night.
Silky saw us going and got up to accompany: her job. Yes she was a collie, a tricolor like the one on TV, loving and always with me and obedient and although not as smart as the one on the screen she was smart enough. I had grown up with her by my side; she would later die with me at hers.
What else can you expect? It was that time in the Sixties when it still felt like the Fifties, when neighborhoods were neighborhoods and dogs often roamed with children and we were allowed, at age seven, to walk to the candy store on State Line or the one on Mission Road without my mother ever once worrying would someone stop and take us, or stop and sodomize us, or just shoot us from a passing car for sport. The thought would never enter her mind, or ours.
It was that time: convertibles and unlocked doors and ï¿½Moon Riverï¿½ playing on your parentsï¿½ Hi-Fi; neighbors you knew and street games at night and the escalating but distant war on the evening news; families that seemed complete and unified and neatly whole but of course werenï¿½tï¿½being human; and always the certainty that America could do no wrong. It was that thing that weï¿½ve since lost, along with our national innocence, and will never get back; that thing that we all want back but this time without the naivetï¿½, without the innocence. It was that time, but it wasnï¿½t going to be that time much longer. You could almost feel how it started to change in one harsh, frost-bound February night, and how it would soon change forever. No band from Liverpool did that. We did. Then we adopted them as a symbol of it all, which perplexed them almost as much as it confused us, then we blamed them, then in the end we killed one of them. But that of course was all much later.
Seth and I went out into the frozen night, down the back steps and across the brief pasture.
We passed the little barn and I heard Nancy Jane, Blaze and Shasta snuffling inside. Nancy stuck out her head and I said, Hey, darlin. She watched with equine indifference as we crossed the acre that served as our backyard. In Indian Heights in those days you could have horses in your backyard if your yard was big enough. Ours was big enough. The house, naturally, was big too.
It was a house on the order of Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best, but bigger even than those. Thatï¿½s how Indian Heights was: big post-war houses, two-acre lawns, dull complacency, hidden addictions, overt prejudice. A white paradiseï¿½or a white hell, if you prefer. It even came with a guarantee from Neuman Realty: no Jews or blacks would ever be allowed to move in. That was their policy. Years later the Neuman brothers went to prison for fraud. That was their karma.
Donï¿½t get me wrong though. Iï¿½m not ungrateful to my parentï¿½s generation for having built a nation of Indian Heightses. Iï¿½m certainly not ungrateful for having grown up among its broad streets, its lush yards, its air-conditioned houses. If Iï¿½d been raised in the soiled want of The Depression, then hardened in the gore-spattered hell of The War, Iï¿½d have built a nation of Indian Heightses too. But I wasnï¿½t, and I suppose thereï¿½s also a reason for that.
Seth and I crossed the pasture. The elms, enormous and overspreading, rose up above us like titans or guides or silent guards, and walking beneath them I always felt a secret presence and certainty. I felt as though they watched over us.
The elms bordered the pasture fence and the fence was made of split-rail oak that had come from the Ozarks in some long ago before my birth, when Dad and Cary had brought it up here on a truck and split it. Cary didnï¿½t split wood anymore. They had him in the asylum in St. Joe, and he was not the only one of us destined to go there. Some kids used to ask me, in that snotty Johnson County way of theirs, what it was like to have two crazy brothers. I never answered them. Mom told me not to.
Seth and I ducked through the fence and jumped the stones across the creek and walked up the hill into his parentï¿½s backyardï¿½the big white house and swimming pool and tennis court and hydrangeas. Mrs. Drummond was from California, and when she moved here to marry Mr. Drummond she essentially rebuilt what she had had left behind in Orange Countyï¿½she hated it here that much. Seth didnï¿½t. He had me and I had him and we had the world, and to us that was all that mattered.
We stopped at the back gate. ï¿½Did you like them?ï¿½ I said.
ï¿½Oh yeah. Did you?ï¿½
ï¿½Do you think your dad will let you grow your hair that long?ï¿½ Meaning to the collar and eyebrows instead of just a crew cut.
ï¿½Iï¿½ll be lucky if he gets me the boots,ï¿½ I said.
ï¿½Did you ask for them?ï¿½
ï¿½What did he say?ï¿½
ï¿½That only greasers and Mexicans wear them.ï¿½
I didnï¿½t ask if Sethï¿½s parents would let him grow his hair that long, or get him Beatle boots, or anything else. That was already assumed.
ï¿½Well,ï¿½ I said. ï¿½Iï¿½ll see you at school.ï¿½
He opened the gate to the stockade fence, closed it, and was lost within the depths of the Drummond compound. I said Come on, girl, and Silky brought her nose out of the bushes and followed me home.