They were playing our songs
The three of us were children of the fourties, but we had left the campus when the trouble began. We were born of men back from the war and the women who waited for them to come home.
We barely remember Korea. My daddy was gone two years, and I really never knew why. The name Harry Truman rings a vague bell. The thing I remember most about Ike was how the people down home cursed him for spending too much time playing golf at Augusta.
Kennedy was ours, but we lost him in high school. Vietnam was festering during our college days, but on a sleepy Deep South campus, it would take longer for the explosion of dissent to finally come.
After school one of us — ordered to do so — went to the fight. The other two, lucky as hell, stayed home and learned about making a living.
We made the same fraternal pledge fifteen years ago. That tie still binds us somehow. One of us is losing his hair. Another has put on a few pounds. I get down on my back occasionally and don’t sleep as well as I used to.
Monday night was a reunion of sorts. It was rare we can be together as a threesome for an evening out anymore.
But this was special. They were playing our songs at a club called the Harlequin. We wouldn’t have missed it.
First, you must get this picture: The year is 1964. The band is black and loud. Beer cans are illegal on campus. There was such a thing in those days, however, as “Humdinger” milkshake cups. They would hold two full cans until they became soggy and fell apart. A date must be selected carefully. She must not mind beer on her skirt. There were a lot of good women like that in 1964.
And the band would play until midnight, time to beat the curfew back to the girls’ dorms. The frolic before was always grand and glorious because, as that campus anthem went, we came to college not for knowledge, but to raise hell while we’re here.
Our music was a soulful strut. Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, “Stay;” The Isley Brothers, “Twist and Shout;” The Temptations, “My Girl;” The Drifters, “Save the Last Dance for Me;” Marvin Gaye and the classic, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.”
And two more groups, hallowed be their names: The Atlanta Tams. The Showmen.
We were on the edge of our seats Monday night. And then, there they were. Four black men from Norfolk, Virginia. Four black men who can dance and sing and take you back where, the Lord knows, you never wanted to leave in the first place.
The four black men called The Showmen who put “39-21-46” on a record years ago.
“We’re gonna take the roof off this place,” they said, and they did.
The Tams were next. “Atlanta’s own Atlanta Tams,” announced the announcer. They have aged, the Tams. But their voices still blend in perfect, deep harmony, and when they sang “What kind of Fool?” everybody in the house was nineteen years old again.
As is custom, we went down front to the stage before the night was over. We sang and we danced along. Our parents did the same to Big Band swing. A group of teenyboppers went crazy over a child named Shaun Cassidy at the Omni the other night. Who knows what sound will attract our children?
But does it really matter? Music, any kind of music, is memories and sometimes hope for the future. Music can soothe, music can hurt. Music can be lost loves and old friends. Music can give advice worth heeding.
“Listen to that,” said one of us to the other two Monday night. “They’re right, you know.”
The Tams were singing. It was one of their old songs. You have missed something if you have never heard it. Three fellows bound for middleage gathered in every word: “Be Young. “Be Foolish. “Be Happy.”
Plenty to do: