Nothing but memories here today. No politics. No analysis. No dissent. Just memories plain and simple. Very fond memories.
This has been a banner year to indulge our appetites for celebrating anniversaries, especially those weighty ones like 50th anniversaries. We got off to a good start with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ last public concert, from the roof of Apple Studios. We have just finished (mostly) a celebration of the moon landing, and Woodstock’s 50th lies just ahead.
I have been in pretty much of a 50th anniversary frame of mind most of the year due to my involvement in a Woodstock 50th anniversary documentary film. A number of people who attended Woodstock were interviewed and our voices are used as the narration. The film was completed earlier this year and hit art house theaters starting in April and airs on PBS starting in August. So that’s been on my mind a lot. (More coming on the film in August. Meanwhile, it’s this one: Woodstock: The Concert That Defined a Generation and the filmmakers’ page is here.)
And then there’s been my recent planning for a trip back East to party with the friends I went to Woodstock with. And that planning is what really flipped the memory switch. That’s because the trip will include a short visit to Ocean City, NJ, the location of my own endless summer 50 years ago — summer 1969.
I was 17 years old, just graduated from high school, and living on my own for the first time — in a beach resort town. And I was a surfer.
My housing consisted of a bed, a small chest of drawers, and a straight back chair in the attic of an old house. There were seven similar furniture clusters in that attic.
My job was doing food prep for Chris’ Seafood Restaurant. I made coleslaw and potato salad by the vat load. I breaded fish, shrimp, and scallops. I made the stuff you stuff clams with, then I stuffed the clams. Then I breaded them. Ditto crab cakes.
It was an early start — 6:00 or 7:00 am — and we worked until noon.
Then I would surf for the rest of the day.
You don’t have to be a surfer to understand how utterly rare it is to have an opportunity to do something, whatever it is, something profound to you, something that touches your core — to do that every day.
Evenings were spent on the boardwalk, of course. If you’re a Jersey kid, and summer vacation always meant a week or two in Ocean City, then the boardwalk was the ultimate destination. Oh, the beach and swimming were all great fun, but the boardwalk defied gravity.
My summer of ‘69 boardwalk tribe was a hodgepodge of surfers, restaurant workers, and people we met on the boardwalk. There were usually ten or twelve of us on any given night. The gathering place was near the Music Pier.
As a result of a combination of the immediacy of the Music Pier and the discovery of a number of Skee Ball prize kazoos among us (an inventory we quickly expanded), we ended up forming a Boardwalk Kazoo Orchestra.
We performed just about every night that summer. Our repertoire was mostly Beatles stuff. Everybody knew the songs. And the crowd loved it. Who wouldn’t love a 20-piece kazoo orchestra? We put out a hat for donations and by the end of the summer we had enough money to rent two adjacent motel rooms and fill both tubs with cold beer. We must have had a couple hundred people at that party. To this day I do not understand why we did not get shut down.
My endless summer ended abruptly. A friend had managed to purchase a ticket to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, the upcoming concert that was getting so much buzz. He and another friend were going. Did I want to come along and try to buy a ticket there? Of course I do.
When I told my boss at Chris’ that I was quitting starting now, she asked why. “I’m going to Woodstock.”
I went back to Ocean City only once after that, to gather my few belongings from the attic.
And now I’m returning, almost 50 years to the day after I left.