Help Me, Rhonda, Get into a Chevy Monza
I was in third grade, sitting in Mrs. Harrison’s classroom at the table in the reading corner by the windows. I was rocking back and forth and singing to myself “I know…. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it…” I didn’t realize I was singing it until she put her hand on my arm and asked me to stop. I was a diehard Stones fan at age 9, because my sister Margaret was one at age 23. Marg had come home from college and brought home her Stones and Clash records. I used to spend hours in her room listening to them while she was at work and I marveled at the handwritten liner notes on The Clash’s London Calling. She had tickets to see The Clash and I was insanely jealous. She had them inside a case on her dresser that also had ornate exotic looking chopsticks in them. I used to open the case over and over to stare at the tickets, careful to close them back into the case so I wouldn’t lose her chance to see them live.
Margaret had a rust brown Chevy Monza. The Monza logo on the glove compartment was glued on upside down, and we used to joke about it. She didn’t have a tape deck in the car, just the standard AM FM radio. She had a handheld tape recorder that she’d play her cassettes on. This was back in the days when we used to make tapes of our vinyl records so our music would be more portable. And we had to figure out whether to buy a 60 or 90 minute tape depending on how long each side of the record was. We cruised around, no thought to seat belts, and listened on the tinny little speaker.
I used to buy 90s and record songs off the radio. That took a great deal of perfect timing, in that you had to position the tape recorder beside the radio and press record and play at the same time and hope you wouldn’t catch the DJ talking over the beginning or the end of the songs. I recorded using my Fisher Price tape recorder positioned beside my clock radio, I would dive across the bed when the opening bars of a song I liked came on and frantically press the buttons. I had to be completely silent while it was recording. It was impossibly annoying when someone came into the room and immediately started to talking to me as I was recording from the radio.
“You just ruined the whole song!” I’d howl and stomp out of the room.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know!”
When Margaret was still in college I wasn’t sitting in her room staring at Mick Jagger posters. Instead I was in the shared room that belonged to my brothers Kaz and Walter and listening to whatever they were into. Walter loved the Beach Boys when I was very young, like I was 5 and Walter was 12. My parents had this gigantic console stereo in the living room, and they probably had some kickin' parties with it before they became parents. The top of the cabinet hinged open to reveal a turntable and slots to the right where you could store your records. Margaret had collected a massive amount of 45s. There was some way you could stack them up and they would automatically drop when one song was over and the next record would drop and the needle would position itself and drop onto the record. I used to try to listen to the 45s at 33 speed to hear them sing in slow motion. I used to play radio station with those 45s and probably annoyed the crap out of my parents playing the same songs over and over. I later became a college radio DJ and learned how to do it the right way.
But Walter played his Beach Boys on that stereo in the living room. I remember spending hours sitting on the couches with him listening to the Beach Boys. I loved that about being a kid. I miss spending time just sitting around and listening to music like that. Help Me, Rhonda, to get back to the time when I’d sit around and just listen.
Kaz was edgier than Walter in the music department. While Walter sang in chorus in school, and in the choir at church, Kaz had an electric guitar and he played the shit out of it. Kaz is the kind of guy who can hear a song on the radio and be able to pick up a guitar and play it. And he listened to all kinds of insane guitar heavy rock like Iron Maiden, Ozzy, etc. I remember after school one day we went next door to hang out in our neighbor Josh’s room to listen to Blizzard of Oz when I was 8 and it had just come out. I was mildly scandalized by the depiction of Ozzy on the cover with the upside down crucifixes.
But then I learned to play a bit of guitar. I couldn’t play the scorching 80s metal solos like Kaz could, but I could keep a decent rhythm. I had a keyboard, and I used to tap out a bass line for him. I played an orchestral string sound to back him up as he played Silent Lucidity by Queensryche. He and I went to that concert together. Kaz would play his guitar for hours after school and after work and all the time. I still feel homesick when I hear Iron Maiden.
Then it was driving with Christine. We’d go to get an ice cream, or to the mall. We’d drive to the further mall in Holyoke just to go a bit further. Her radio was cranked and we bounced around from 96 WTIC, 99 WPLR (if it came in, as it was far away in New Haven) 102 WAQY, 106 WHCN, 107 WCCC and that other 107 from Worcester that also sometimes came in. We sang it all on the top of our lungs. Duran Duran. 38 Special. Tom Petty. Heart (though she hated them). We sang all the best that 1985, 86, 87, 88 had to offer. I liked it better at night because the headlights of the oncoming cars were my spotlight, and I sang directly to them.
If I was asked which moments of childhood I’d go back to, it’s all of these. I would love to drape myself on the passenger seat in Margaret’s Monza and smirk at the upside down logo while Mick sang about Ruby Tuesday, or lounge on the couch while the Beach Boys told me don’t worry, baby. I would love to follow Kaz on my keyboard to Mother by Pink Floyd one more time, or sing into Christine’s hairbrush to the oncoming cars.
Thank you all for those amazing memories.
added on 05.13.18