When we were dismissed from elementary school, many of us would leave through the back end of the playground where a dirt path established by a big earth mover gave way to a field which had three characteristics:

  • It caught fire every year and we were only to blame one or two of the years.
  • It was posted as an arboretum by some community agency, yet there were no trees to speak of, just huge ruts and dirt clods and tall weeds which (see above)
  • It adjoined the back field of our house and the Wells’ house, with an easement running down the two property lines lined by chain link fence: The Path

We could, since our field met the school field, skip the path and go home through the back gate, but we often wanted to linger along the path with our friends. This allowed us to spectate any fights that had been called out earlier in the day, trade the secrets children cultivate, claim to have read and completely understood page 28 of Mario Puzo’s forbidden novel The Godfather, arrange horse rides, sleep overs and make fun of Russell Wells’ shoes.

This was 1972. A couple years prior, my mom had distinguished herself at the local high school where my older brother and sister attended by establishing a drug clinic on campus that specialized in pro active education programs and recovery resources. Part of her research on this project involved massive deconstruction of youth culture, usually in the living room with my older brother and sister, plus the posse of their friends thrown from their parents’ homes and welcomed into ours, throwing platter after platter of pop music onto the magnavox and explaining lyrics, context, and, more often than not, just holding silent while ears filled with the sound of American psychedelia: swirly distortion pedal phase shifting mind curling music of the Doors, Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly.

Iron Butterfly was sending pop radio into a crisis with it’s tremendously long and tremendously successful track: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, clocking in at 17:05 (a whole side of proper vinyl). After my sibs had abandoned it for Chicago and Blood Sweat & Tears, my mom kept returning to this album and developing a monumental thesis about the work and its cultural significance, all the while enjoying, with a pure soul, the title track’s musicality. Listen! she would say. Listen to the arrangement! We’d listen,
and nod in complete agreement. She’d jump up and crank the magnavox to baffling point. Yes, mom. Turn it up as loud as it will go. That’s how it’s supposed to be heard. You can hear the arrangement! she’d shout. Listen to that! We were completely into it. The music was big enough for everyone, then: little kids, middle kids, scary teens starting over on methadone, and moms. All comers. All ears.

But as we walked The Path that day, a vibration that started right about the end of school property began to swell and articulate. It became rhythm right about the point where our old barn foundation was, and was definitely rock and roll by the time we passed the in-law apartment off the back of the garage. We all fell silent and turned our eyes to the main house at the end of The Path, spilling onto the blacktopped street. Iron Butterfly, my brother correctly identified. You could see the chorus pulsing in the plate glass windows. In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, he completed, sullenly.

Ummmm, said Bradley Hart. When your mom hears that she’s gonna be mad. Oh yes, we agreed, quite angry, god save us, but we had to go at once.

The O’Kane children hopped the fence and streamed into the house, running for the magnavox and pouncing on it, snapping the volume off and whirling to face Mom, who looked up from her vacuuming with a look of disbelief. Turn that thing down, we shouted at her, hands on our hips. You’re
embarrassing us!

She explained: This is vacuuming music. I have to turn it up in order to
hear it over the vacuum.

This made quite a bit of sense. We put the record back on. We cranked it all the way up. We positioned the arm up on the turntable to insure infinite replay. The vacuum started up once more and my mom flashed an OK signal. Then we fled the house for the back yard, pretending we couldn’t hear the commotion, but falling into step with the beat during our play. Contagious. Big enough for everyone.

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