Back In Seventh Grade For A Moment

There are several records from the mid-1960s that – no matter where I am or what I am doing – grab me by the shoulders and drop me back in the hallways of South Junior High School here in St. Cloud. They do so just long enough for me to say “Oh yeah,” as I recall some little snippet or another of junior high life. And then I come back to wherever I was.

One of those records is the Yardbirds’ second-biggest hit, “Heart Full Of Soul,” which was at No. 14 on the chart – two weeks away from its peak at No. 9 – the day I walked through the doors at South to begin seventh grade. And unless I’ve missed one, “Heart Full Of Soul” is the only record from seventh grade that puts me back in those hallways. There are others – maybe four or five – that take me back to South, as I said above – but they were popular when I was in eighth and ninth grades.

So what comes back when I think of walking the halls of South with a heart full of soul? I remember – as I wrote about once – playing the character of Faversham Lightly, Jr., in the school play in spring. I recall spelling bees in English class, my absolute mechanical incompetence in shop and being tabbed to help other kids with their current events questions in social studies. I remember several crushes, none of which came to anything more than a wounded heart. And in the spring, I got a five-stitch scar at the corner of my mouth.

That was the day I stepped on a kid’s foot as I got on a school bus. It was March 31, 1966, and I was heading over to my friend Brad’s house after school. We were going to hang around with his little brother, talk about James Bond and model cars and stuff, and then Mom was going to come pick me up. Since Brad no longer lived on the East Side, that meant taking a different bus than I normally did. And as Brad and I got on the bus, I accidently stepped on another seventh-grader’s foot. And his friend took offense.

When Brad and I got off the bus, so did Foot and Friend, and they blocked our way to Brad’s house. They were a little larger and more athletic that we were. I shrugged and said I was sorry for stepping on Foot’s foot. That wasn’t enough, and they moved closer, crowding Brad and me. I kicked one of them in the shin – not hard, just a “Get the hell out of my way” tap. And Foot’s Friend launched a kick to my face, cutting me just outside the left corner of my mouth. As the blood flowed, Foot and Friend fled.

I called my mom from Brad’s, and she took me to the doctor, who closed the wound with five stitches. I don’t know if Mom called the school, but early the next day, I was called down to the office, and the assistant principal – the guy in charge of discipline – asked me who did it. I told him, acknowledging my “get the hell out of my way” kick as part of the confrontation. The kid who kicked me was called in, we both got a lecture and we were told to shake hands. And that was that.

Except . . .

There is a German word, schadenfreude, defined by Wikipedia as “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” If I’ve even indulged in schadenfreude, it’s generally been on the innocent level of being a sports fan. I love to see Ohio State’s football team lose, and the same holds true for the University of North Dakota’s hockey team. And the Dallas Cowboys. For things in the everyday world, however, I’ve generally not delighted in the misfortunes of others.

But sometime after my stitches came out, Foot’s Friend came to school with two silver teeth where his upper incisors should have been. The tale spread that he and Foot had been messing around with a tent in one of their backyards and some kind of chase had ensued. Foot’s Friend had tripped over a tent rope and had his front teeth knocked out by a tent peg. He’d have the silver teeth until adulthood, when he’d get permanent replacements. I never said anything to anyone, but I admit that I was quietly pleased.

Then sometime during my college days, about ten years after all those things took place, I was wandering through the bar called the Grand Mantel on a Saturday afternoon. I happened to see Foot’s Friend sitting alone at a table. I nodded and waved – it had been a long time since seventh grade – and he waved back and motioned to a chair. I sat down, noticing that he was drinking a beer with a straw. “How you doing?” I asked as I settled myself at the table.

“Not so good,” he said through clenched teeth. “I broke my jaw in a fight, and it’s wired shut for another month.”

We talked for a few more minutes, and then I moved on, once more quietly pleased and feeling only the tiniest bit guilty about it.

A Six-Pack from the Ultimate Jukebox, No. 16
“Heart Full of Soul” by the Yardbirds, Epic 9823 [1965]
“Incense & Peppermints” by the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Uni 55018 [1967]
“On The Way Home” by the Buffalo Springfield from Last Time Around [1968]
“Get Together” by the Youngbloods, RCA Victor 9752 [1969]
“Hold Your Head Up” by Argent from All Together Now [1972]
“September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, ARC 19854 [1978]

I mentioned records from eighth and ninth grade that plop me back at South? “Incense & Peppermints” is one of those. I’m on the edge of the gym, watching the girls as they dance away the last minutes of lunch hour. One of the dancers is wearing a silver skirt – short for the time – along with silver boots and chartreuse hose. The song – which spent one week at No. 1 – plays on, and we guys watch. Now, more than forty years later, “Incense & Peppermints” is one of those records that can loop in my head as a persistent earworm, and it sometimes takes an act of will to turn it off. Nevertheless, I still like the song – atmospheric and a little spooky yet – a great deal.

I have no contemporary memory of Buffalo Springfield’s “On The Way Home.” It was the lead track on Last Time Around, an album put together as the band was fragmenting, according to All-Music Guide. But I first heard it, as far as I know, in the autumn of 1972, when a copy of Retrospective, a Buffalo Springfield anthology, came to my house from my record club. The song closes the first side of Retrospective, and the driving music, the bittersweet lyric and the “woo-ooo” that opens the record all got my attention. Even now, having delved into the Springfield’s diverse – if slender – catalog over the years, I think that “On The Way Home” is the best thing that talented but short-lived band ever recorded.

I’m not sure whether this actually happened or whether it’s a construct from several sources, but it’s an evening in late September or early October 1969. I’m propped up on my bed, pillows behind me, reading. The only light in the room is the lamp on my nightstand, pointed at my book. Just a few feet away, the windows are open, and the sounds of an early autumn evening come through the screens: leaves about to fall rustle in a light breeze; the footfalls and laughter of kids heading home echo in the quiet of Eighth Street; a car makes its way down Kilian Boulevard, tires whirring on pavement; from the southeast comes the rumble of a train approaching the nearby crossing, its horn cutting through the twilight. And from my old RCA radio on the nightstand, I hear the Youngbloods’ “Get Together,” and it remains for me an autumnal song if ever there was one. (The record was originally released in1967, when it went to No. 67; it was re-released in 1969 and went to No. 5.)

As a member of the Zombies, Rod Argent wrote – and helped record – some of the best songs of the British Invasion. Two of the Zombie’s three hits – “Tell Her No” and “She’s Not There” – came from his pen entirely, and he co-wrote the third hit, “Time of the Season,” with his bandmates. In 1972, Argent had a hit with a track from his self-titled band’s first album. With its swirling, thumping sound, Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up” might not have been in the same league with those earlier compositions and records, but it wasn’t far off. An edit of the album track was released as a single and went to No. 5 during the summer of 1972; the album All Together Now went to No. 23 that fall. In the spring of 1973, I saw Argent in concert when the band opened for the Doobie Brothers in St. Paul, and “Hold Your Head Up” had turned into a long jam that went on for nearly twenty minutes.

There are no associations for me with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” I only vaguely remember hearing it on the radio. But it’s lively and it shows off the group’s talents well, I think. And there’s nothing wrong with sliding a record in the jukebox just because it sounds good. They don’t all have to carry a story. “September” went to No. 8 (No. 1 on the R&B chart) during the winter of 1978-79.

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3 Responses to “Back In Seventh Grade For A Moment”

  1. Larry Grogan says:

    I’m a HUGE Buffalo Springfield fan, and ‘On the Way Home’ is about as close to a perfect single as anything they made. The string arrangement in the song is amazing.

  2. Yah Shure says:

    Whew! I thought you were setting the stage for the Shaggs’ “My Pal Foot Foot.” Thank you *very* much for proving me wrong!

    That’s a great half-dozen. I’m another big Springfield fan, and even bought the “On The Way Home” 45 in spite of already having it on the LP. When are they ever going to re-release the nine-minute “Bluebird” from the 1973 double-LP ‘Buffalo Springfield’ compilation?

    I heard the Zombies do “Hold Your Head Up” on a live benefit broadcast on XM a few years back, and it just soared with Colin Blunstone’s added vocal presence. The long Argent album version had always tested my patience, and the commercial single was poorly-edited. The promo 45 was a wee bit shorter still, but was edited in a far more intuitive manner.

    I’m still chuckling about Foot’s Friend. It must have taken a great deal of self-composure on your part to keep from cracking up at the Mantel that day. Those straw-sippin’ swigs cannot have done wonders for his street cred.

    Oh, and it’s always nice to know there are others who share no love for America Steam. 😉

  3. Paco Malo says:

    I must beg to differ about a personal favorite Buffalo Springfield tune. I’ve got to go with “For What It’s Worth”.

    Maybe it’s that I first heard the song embedded in Stephen Stills’ uptempo piano medley on CSN&Y’s live album “Four Way Street”. I didn’t hear the studio version until much later, but the mesmerizing music and timeless lyrics — I heard a political news analyst on MSNBC use the opening lyrics just this week — make it an unforgettable song for me.

    Yea, “There’s somethin’ happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

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