When I thumb through the pages of my past, I’m a girl again, and all the lost freshness and playfulness of adolescence is mine once more for a moment.
I push back the curtains as a gaggle of teenage girls walk by streaming hip hop music from an iPhone. My mind takes me back to “American Bandstand.” I picture myself at Joy Johnson’s house on Sanders Street.
It’s a 1962 weekday afternoon after school, and there’s a gathering of us girls there. We’re all crowded into the den laughing, talking, eating and doing the twist with the teenage dancers on the 27-inch, black-and-white console TV screen.
That may have happened only once, but it’s clearly imprinted in my memory bank as a common occurrence. In those days, teenagers flocked to the television set to watch “Bandstand” the way kids these days are drawn to Harry Potter, “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” movies.
“Bandstand” introduced us to America’s youth subculture. When it went national, teens all over the country experienced the same language, the same dress and the same dances.
The music was new, and millions of kids were hearing it at the same time as the show was beamed to family rooms across America.
We were fascinated by the show’s poofy-haired dancers sashaying side-by-side with swiveling hips. To us, those average teenagers were stars.
Our taste in music was formed by “Bandstand.” To Dick Clark, the beat was the important thing. And he taught teenagers to judge popular music by its rhythm and force. Forget the words. Clark thought if you couldn’t dance to it, it wasn’t music. Maybe that’s why I don’t pay much attention to a song’s lyrics.
As a 16-year-old, I hated the cardigan-wearing crooners my parents liked. I turned the radio dial to WBAM, The Big Bam, and bounced my way around my bedroom to “Sittin’ on la-la, waitin’ for my ya-ya.” And “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.”
I sat in a booth at Barney’s Cub Café listening to “She’s so fine, do-lang, do-lang” on the tiny, wall-jukebox. And I worked up a sweat gyrating to “Rockin’ Robin, tweet, tweet, tweedle-dee-dee.” The Twist was the perfect dance for me — nothing to learn or remember, no fancy steps. In fact, there were no steps at all. We only needed to twist.
At our senior prom, the girls wore Old South strapless, formal dresses with billowing hoop petticoats underneath. We danced to Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” and the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” as if we were dressed in gym clothes. I remember it as the best of times.
I hope those teenage girls who strolled down the street in front of my house listening to their music will remember that moment happily.
Words from Paul Simon’s “Bookends” mosey through my mind. “Time it was and what a time it was…a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago…it must be...preserve your memories…”
Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.