When I was young I went to quite a few schools in the Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton (A.B.E.) area of Pennsylvania's northeast region. My parents separated when I was a small child of 4 or 5 years old, moved around a lot and I moved back and forth between them. When I was about 9-10 years old I attended 5th grade in a small town called Catasauqua, a town that could easily be in a Steven King novel. I attended Catasauqua Jr High School, home of the Rough Rider. Catasauqua, which’s means thirsty earth, from the Lenape word Garroshacki, was a working class town. We called it Catty. Catty was a punk town. Punk rock was the music. The pogo was the dance. And, I learned a lot about music that year.
My education started with music class. It was the 1978-1979 school year and I started the year living five blocks away from the school. I was a good student and once I got to school I enjoyed being there. I remember my music teacher being young and attractive. My aging mind has misplaced her name some time ago but my music teacher must have been in her mid to late twenties. I'll call her Miss M for the sake of the story. I’m pretty sure she got the lyrics to all her favorite rock songs, heavy on the Beatles, copied them and made song books for every child in the class. Miss M was the conductor, piano and a very good guitar player. The upright piano in the room, an electric keyboard and an acoustic guitar were her instruments. Once seated and quiet we would warm up with a catchy Caribbean folk song called "Tingalayo, come little donkey, come".** She would run us through this song once or twice and get us in harmony. Once she was satisfied we were all singing she would pass out the songbooks.
I didn't realize this at the time, but these songbooks were amazing. We would start out with a few Beatles songs. Bungalow Bill** was always in the repertoire. Bungalow Bill got us going. I remember how she would conduct us to sing quietly through the verses and have us singing so loud during the chorus. It was the perfect song for all the children to sing. It even says it in the song, "All the Children Sing".
We would usually do several Beatles songs before moving on. We sang Here Comes the Sun, Maxwell's Silver Hammer, Carry that Weight, Eleanor Rigby, Good Day Sunshine, Hey Jude, Rocky Raccoon, Black Bird, Penny Lane, Norwegian Wood, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and so many more. She was definitely a Beatles fan. But wait, the class was an hour long, so we had about 45 minutes of the hour for singing. So after a few Beatles songs we moved on to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, David Bowie's Space Oddity and Kansas's Dust in the Wind. Miss M was brilliant. It was like she was practicing for her night gigs while a class of 10 year olds sang her favorite songs. We sang it all. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, America, Rolling Stones, John Denver and I could go on and on. Leaving that class was like a sugar high. These were the artists and songs my parents listened to and I knew all the lyrics. My mother enjoyed my singing but her friends not so much. I remember being told to shut up on a couple road trips with my moms friends. Miss M made it seem like all adults wanted to hear me sing. That wasn't the case.
Besides my father, Miss M had the biggest role so far, when it came to music in my life. In late fall of 1978 I went to my first dance. Not your usual dance, a Catty dance. A Catty dance was flyered all over town. It was like a show. Someone made cool graphics, someone printed up the flyers on fluorescent paper and someone plastered every telephone pole in town with them. When I look back, it was reminiscent of the wheat pastings in New York and London during the punk seen of 78-79. A Catty dance was usually held in the basement of one of the thirteen churches. Maybe to try to save the Young’s souls of those attending. Most of us in the 5th grade had older siblings that had records and stereos to play them on. I had an older sister who must of been in 10th grade at the time. She had all the good music. Punk is a look and a lifestyle. She wore the necessary clothes, safety pins and combat boots. I had not taken on a persona or style at this age but I was watching. I didn’t know what to expect going to my first dance. It wasn’t a dance that you asked someone to. It was a dance that you showed up at with a group of friends. We all wore white t-shirts, tight jeans, sneakers and if you were lucky a leather jacket or pleather jacket decorated with all kinds of metal pins. It must have been a sight to see a bunch of ten year old punks streaming into the basement of the local church. It could have been an adolesent ADHD support group.
The dance would start at 7pm and end promptly at 10pm. It was usually sponsored by the school or church where it was held. Some of the nuns and parents would chaperone. An older boy, maybe in 10th grade was the DJ. He was the older brother of one of my friends. The music started on time. The Dead Kennedys were up first. After the opening song it was non stop punk. The slow songs, which there were few, where well needed breaks from all the pogo'ing. All the punk bands were played, from the Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols to Devo and Blondie. The B52's released Rock Lobster that year and it was a big hit. This was my kinda of music. The basement was hot and kids were bouncing around everywhere. The nuns and parents kept "the Dance" from getting to out of hand. By 10pm we were exhausted. Soaked with sweat, thirsty and hungry, we filed out onto the street walked home and collapsed into bed.
1978 was a pivotal year for everything I know now. It molded my young mind. The second half of the school year was a little different. Next week, the story of 1979.