At the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards, William Shattner performed Elton John’s song, “Rocket Man,” in spoken word while smoking a cigarette … and no one in attendance apparently thought it was funny enough to laugh out loud. I have to believe that many people in the audience wanted to laugh, but they didn’t, not so much because it would have embarrassed Shattner, but because it would have embarrassed them. Today we are so conditioned to be voyeuristic that life can seem like a movie to be watched and critiqued. Thanks to our collective post-doctorate levels of mass media consumption, we have become expert observers and shamelessly outspoken analysts. This performance today would result in spasms and waves of loud and uncontrollable laughter. The man who immortalized Captain Kirk is laughing all the way to the bank in 2011, with an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion thanks to his role as a self-mocking pitchman for Priceline.com. Now Shattner is in on the joke, and it’s paying off.
Hey kids, video games are fun. But real life is funner. Kids used to do all sorts of crazy stuff back in the days before video games, just to pass the time. Anyone who was there knows that kids of the seventies, the children of the original Me Generation, were pretty much left to their own devices. Assuming you survived, it makes for more interesting stories than the one about hitting a record score on “Call of Duty: Black Opps” that today’s kids will bore their children with twenty years from now.
My buddy, who I’ll call Mark, was one of those wholesome midwestern boys who got away with a lot of shit but never got into any real trouble. Apparently quite a few of these characters exist.
Mark really, really liked Steppenwolf in a way that smart eleven-year-old boys totally geek out about stuff they love. Back in the early seventies, Steppenwolf was going to play in the very same wholesome midwestern city where he lived. So in an earnest, wholesome sort of way, Mark decided to go see them. But unlike kids of today, Mark didn’t have to worry about “negotiating” with his parents about a rock concert. Why not? Because it never dawned on him to consider telling them in the first place.
Kids these days go to rock concerts with their parents all the time. But back then, it didn’t happen. Couldn’t happen. Might as well have been illegal, and it was a lot more fun that way.
If your parents were hip, they liked jazz. If they talked about stuff like France and Shakespeare, they listened to classical music. No parents liked rock and roll. but they didn’t really hate it either. They just didn’t notice.
Sure, they might have been a bit “concerned” about the older teenagers down the street with the greasy long hair who listened to that loud music and probably smoked drugs for all they knew. But being the Me Generation, parents of the seventies were too busy focusing on themselves to really care much either way, which was just fine by us kids.
Anyhow, back to Mark and those innocent days of yesteryear. Mark and his young friend Larry carefully mapped out their Steppenwolf adventure in a matter-of-fact kind of way. According to the plan, on the night of the concert the two young boys would say goodnight to their moms and dads, enter their respective bedrooms, wait a few minutes, and then quietly sneak out of their houses to meet at a bus stop a few blocks away. (Back then, kids knew that parents tended not to “check in” on their kids once the door was closed. In the seventies, parents actually enjoyed being adults and valued the opportunity to forget that they were parents whenever possible. And more power to them.)
The night finally came. The rendezvous was successfully executed.
Exuding confidence, the two youngsters boarded a city bus that took them to the arena downtown where the Steppenwolf concert was about to get underway.
The air here smelled peculiar, but the kids couldn’t put a finger on it since they had never seen marijuana and barely even knew what it was. Pot might as well have been heroin or acid. It was all the same to them. The suspicious teenagers down the street who Mom worried “didn’t seem to have any college plans” seemed like choir boys and girls compared to this crowd, who looked like hippies out of an old Hawaii Five-0 episode. But instead of robbing banks and swatting at violent hallucinations, these young men and women were just talking and laughing and by all appearances having a good time.
The boys wait patiently in line to purchase their tickets. Finally, it’s their turn.
“We’d like two tickets to the Steppenwolf concert,” Mark asks in a polite prepubecent voice.
The two kids get a double-take from the gruff guy with missing teeth in the ticket booth, but there isn’t an official rule against kids going to rock concerts. And a guy selling tickets to a Steppenwolf concert in the seventies has better things to do than give a shit about it either way. So in they go.
Children are literal about stuff. When Mark and Larry decided to see Steppenwolf, they meant they are going to SEE Stephenwolf. You know, sit down and talk with the band. When they arrive, it’s still early and the concert isn’t going to start for a while. So the two boys walk down the isle to the stage and scamper up the stairs like a couple of chipmunks all the way to the green room.
Roadies are everywhere and a couple of big guys are at the door. Mark and Larry walk right past them. The roadies do a double take but figure the kids must be with the band. Rock stars have a lot of kids in the seventies. Kids they don’t even know about.
Bingo. The boys are inside the green room. Musicians and groupies are everywhere. Pre-concert energy in the air. The kids take it in for a few moments. Lead singer John Kay is talking to someone. Suddenly, his eyes meet Mark’s.
“Everybody be cool!” Kay shouts. Suddenly, there is complete silence.
Kay walks up to the boys and hunches down.
“What are you two doing here?” he asks.
“We really like your band and we wanted to come talk to you and hear your music,” Mark exclaims politely.
More silence. And then …
“We’ll that’s just great,” Kay says with a big smile. “Come on over here and sit down!”
Kay proceeds to talk to Mark and Larry about the songs they like (“Born to be Wild, Magic Carpet Ride), plays some licks and shares a few laughs with the boys. After ten or fifteen minutes, he says, “the concert is going to begin pretty soon, so you boys should go get to your seats now.” The kids thank Kay and the rest of the band and head back down the isle to their seats.
Mark and Larry have fun listening to all their favorite music at the Steppenwolf concert. What a great time, they tell each other. They grab the bus home, part ways and sneak back up into homes and bedrooms. And lived happily ever after.
Well, that might be a stretch but heck, at least they lived.
Remember kids. Video games are fun. But real life is funner!