Chapter One - The Roadhead Chronicles
By: Mike Marino
No one saw it coming. No heard it coming. No one could utter a sound until it was too late.
The horrific flash of light, and blast of heat ate them alive, as flesh evaporated, making the dead disapper in a vaporized instant while the living stumbled numb through the rubble that once was their city, their life, their future. They walked slowly now, quietly, a ghost population of broken spirits peering out from empty, hollow, irradiated eyesockets and watched in pure disbelief as the debris filled cloud mushroomed and rose high above the grey landscape on celestial wings of pure, mad and atomic science. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 1945. The atomic jaws of a hungry hell had opened wide and swallowed them whole.
Nuclear nightfall settled over the Land of The Rising Sun, Facism fell on it's narcisstic, Aryan face as underground bunker bullet took out the addled Adolph, and the swastika exploded and landed in a heap of rubble onto the streets below. Germany had been delivered an Allied goosestep to the groin and Mussolini was turned into unrecognizable hamburger as he hung upside down on a pole swinging in the Italian breeze.
The war to end all wars had came to an abrupt end in a nuclear blast of energy that would usher in a new age. A positively political post war era that would see the downfall of old enemies and witness the rise of new ones. The gates of the Buchenwald's were now open, but the prison gates of the new Soviet state were beginning to close tight in secret Siberia behind the concrete veil of an Iron Curtain, and across the watery expanse of the Churchillian Atlantic Ocean, the former colonies were giving hard birth to a new American empire of temporary peace and prosperity. It would be a timebomb of right/left politics and youthful rebellion in music, movies and attitude. It was an age of fins and chrome, drive-in movies and drive in restaurants, it was the birth of a generation that would revel in a neon nighttime world where pop culture and chrome would meet asphalt and art. It was the birth of the Roadhead Generation.
1946. Johnny came marching home, and Rosie the Riveter wasonly to happy to see him. He put down his rifle, and she laid her toolbelt on the floor and the baby boom was on. It was time to rock, roll and rule. It was an age of atomic energy, burgeoning jet propulsion technology, rocket science and the good old fashioned asphalt blood sport of drag racing where nukes and nitro fired our fertile imaginations, and the result was a greased up and gassed up semi-fabulous Fifties. The decade was locked and loaded and ready to fire a warning shot over society's head. That shot, fired point blank, would find it's mark, and kick some serious asphalt with mechanized machismo with a show of motor, muscle, and heavy-metal. St. Georges's in rolled up t-shirts, fighting, slaying, polishing, loving and worshipping, all at the same time for God's sake, Detroit's finely tuned, fire breathing dragons that rolled off the assembly lines 24 hours a day, non-stop.
Barking beast machines of Great Lakes steel fully loaded with crowns of chrome, enough horsepower to light up the Bikini Atoll, and those fins, those big, wonderful magnificent fins. It was sex and steell, steel and sex. Fin to ground ratio's became reason for asphalt envy, and damned if it wasn't engine eroticism at first sight.
The radio's played loud, frozen dials set to 10 greaseball decibels as ducktails and ponytails moved to the rhythymic beat, in synch, and blended their voices as they sang along to the hormone harmonies of their youth. The radio's rocked, the cars had class, Brylcreem did you with a little dab, and the hula wiggler was the grass skirt queen high priestess of the dashboard. She ruled the realm from her windshield throne and hynotized us with fuzzy dice that hung from the rearview mirror, swinging to the movement of the car with the precision of an automotivem etronome. The culture of youth had experienced it's first fender bender, ok, it was more than that, it had collided head on in a demolition derby with the engineering creature-marvel-monster, Automobilius Asphaltius, and together they would create a world of burning rubber, rock and roll, and V-8 wonder wagons, and in the process create the ideal Roadhead Garden of Eden smack dab in the middle of the chrome-magnon galaxy.
The times, they were certainly a' changin', Mr. Dylan, as Brando and Dean replaced Hope and Crosby's lighthearted screen romps with angst laced films of rebellion and restlessness. The image of the family sedan and suburbia had been sideswipped by the "Wild One"'s Harley and that fabled and fabulous, although rebellious '49 Merc drove to the black leather jacket edge of the cliff in a race to nowhere.
Ike was in the White House now, victorious in Normandy, and today fearful of the complexities posed by a military-industrial complex. The boomers were multiplying like rats as procreation reached meltdown levels and the seed of social rebellion was firmly in the ground, taking root, waiting to spring from the earth. The birth race was underway and there was no stopping it now. Not today, and certainly not tomorrow. Quite frankly, the nuclear nightmare of Hiroshima had shown a stunned world, that perhaps there wouldn't be a tomorrow afterall.
There was an Arctic blast of political chill in the air as the Cold War was heating up. We were told that when the big boom and blinding blast light up the sky like the Fourth of July, to simply stop..drop..and cover! Nobody thought to tell us that in reality we would melt like a cheese sandwich on white toast. Our parents were feverishly stocking the backyard bomb shelter for the inevitable nuclear nightfall that would darken the skies forever and a day. Commies, pinkos, socialists and bolsheviks were hiding under every American virgins bed and behind every suburban red, white and blue bush. Better dead than Red!! Atomic secrets were flying out of the top secret backdoor faster than flying saucers at Roswell. Spies everywhere. Real life and imagined Boris Badenov's looking to do us in, until the insane Senator from Wisconsin, Big Joe McCarthy came along to serve as our maitre'd of patriotism and fear.
The Russki's were pounding their shoe on the political podium, and the We Will Bury You message was driven home everyday on radio and television until we were sick and tired of it's gutteral growling. On the other side of the globe, the United Nations was bogged down in a Korean stalemate, and France, once gilt and gold, was being reduced to beans and franc's as they got souffled in the rice paddies of Indo-China, a place most Americans hadn't heard of yet, but soon would become all to familiar with.
The hell with those Russki's and their bombs and their Sputnik and their borscht. We have bombs too. Bigger and better ones from what I hear. So, what, me worry? Besides, they're not here yet. They're thousands of miles away in some frozen tundra, and it's Saturday night, cruise night, and we still have two bucks worth of gas to burn up in the Chevy!
The infant child television was also an influence to be reckoned with. In those pre-historic, black and white, fuzzy screened, just smack the thing hard days of Uncle Miltie, the television became Master of the living room, that managed to cast a hypnotic spell over an entire nation of willing TV tray slaves. The blank screen flickered to life and allowed the world into our homes.
Most cool. Why that's Tod and Buz getting kicks on Route 66, in a freakin' Vette no less, no more. Two highway hipsters ghost gliding through the studio backlots dressed up in full America's Main Street drag. The Mother Road sticking it's tongue out from downtown Chicago and giving the country a 2,000 mile two-lane roadway/highway French kiss all the way to LA. More than 2000 miles all the way. Hope and Crosby on the road. Kerouac and Cassidy on the road. The Roadhead and the Dharmabum on the road. Nothing like that at all, not deep, no depth. Just two cool guys with an even cooler car. Knights of the Road.
The Royal Family was growing. Milton Berle was the Court Jester, who was King and Queen at the same time. Rough or rouged, crowned or gowned, he was the brightest star in the Texaco sky. Then there was Lucy and Desi. Lucy and Desi. We all loved Lucy, but not as much as did Desi. On screen, they made us laugh until we cried. In private they fought like pitbulls on steroids, but the Redhead and The Cuban will always be the Royal Family of comedy.
While Lucy and Ethel were ploting against Fred and Desi, Fess Parker was Davy Crocketting a trail through the Disney forest of marketing leaving a trail of merchandising breadcrumbs for the children to follow, smiling broadly as he killed him a b'ar when he was only three. While Davy roamed the forests of TV land we swallowed the whole coon-skin cap pill and in the process began choking on a Disney marketing furball the size of California!
The radio also left it's indelible mark on the times and if one word can sum up the Fifties, that word is rockandroll!! The fision and fusion age had melded together to form a slag heap of music with a pretty steady back beat. The mediums and the messages were all undergoing McCluhanesque surgery, including music, including rock and roll, and soon Bill Haley and the Comets would liftoff from the launchpad of America's cultural menapause. Rock 'n roll was here to stay, any which way you choose it, but sometimes, that back beat, you could loose it.
Rockandroll-a eventually led to payola. Takin' cash, fakin' the hit's and the "catch you on the flipside" cool and groovy radio hipsters whose voices puked with exageration and urgency, were caught up in an avalanche of controversy that buried their careers, and it wasn't long before the AM dial hung it's head in shame. The industry was dirty, mean, and dispiriting, but the mighty Wurlitzer rocked on. Jumpin' jukes firing head shots from a full metal jacket of rhythym, blues, jazz and big band deep into the very souls and depths of white American youth, as race music, the negroe sweet voice, grabbed us by the throat, mixed it up with a pinch of backwoods rock-a-hillbilly, a dash of swing, and badda bing, badda boom, it was time to give birth to the bastard child of inbred musical parentage. Rock N Roll, Baaaaby!!
45 rpm's, three plays for a quarter, and the beat goes on. Down to the juke joint you go in, as the music launched like a rocket and was about to break the Tin Pan Alley milquetoast sound barrier. It was all about energy and sweat, harnessed and then unleashed. Little Richard, resplendant, regal, raucous and downright rock 'n roll ravenous, bangin' the 88's and screaming across the sky like some flambouyant out of control, off the path meteor shower. Chuck Berry, with no particular place to go, still searched high and low for Marie, still lost in Memphis. Even, the mighty duck walkin' Uncle Chuck was fighting the perennial battle royale against the mighty tag team of un-cooperative seatbelt and bra strap.
A musical cattle drive was also underway from Lubbock, Texas, as Peggy Sue's bespeckled, horn rimmed musical boyfriend, gave us heaping plateful's of our buddy, Holly's famous American Pie, until the plate fell with a crash from the table and landed with a deafening silence in a cornfield one cold, below zero Iowa night. Memphis, too, was beginning to go into musical orbit with Beale Street blues cats and rockabilly strays circling the Sam Phillips Memphis Sun like planets in perfect synchronicity, while blue seude shoes tapped to a hillbilly beat. A spectral vision was rising from the muggy musical mist swamps of Tupelo, swiveling and sneering, the gold lame truck driver who would one day become simply, The King. Viva Las Vegas!!
The rock and roll syringe was laced with it's boom boom beat narcotic and was looking for veins. The drug was having it's narco effect around the world, hooking the skiffle junkies of jolly olde England. One young man, from Liverpool, John Lennon, heavily influenced by this leather jacketed rebellion, was forming his first group called the Quarrymen, who by the 1960's would change their name and in the process, change music forever.
...meanwhile, back in the States. The Pez and Hulahoop generation was embracing this new music like a long lost lover. It was, and still is, the three chord trinity Holy Grail. We told Laura we loved her, and gave her one last kiss, as she smiled sweetly and took her last breath in our arms amidst the twisted and tangled metal wreckage, once a car, now unrecognizable. Our teen angel was gone, dead, zero to 60 in 14 seconds. Thank God the car was insured! However, amidst all the angst and the anger, Danny and the Juniors still had a positive outlook and invited us all to the Hop to dance the night away and forget our cares and woes.
As the AM Radio got louder and louder, the night got darker and darker, until it was so dark, deep dark, deep blue/black dark, that pure magic happened. The sun would set in a fireball glory of blaze orange, and the silver screen fired up the night like a roman candle. Damned, if it wasn't time once gain for another big screen, teen screamin' Saturday night in Teenage America!! You had your best girl, the price of admission and your own certified, bonafide, and modified pleasure wagon mo-sheen, complete with a trunk full of hidden treasure, that included beer and buddies, tucked away and hidden to cheat the gate. The celluloid migration was underway as the cars lined up, getting their ticket to paradise. Then once inside, the angling, the search for the perfect slightly tilted angle and the best speaker you could find. "Yeah, right here. This looks good, this is the spot." Then you slowly move into position, a cruise ship coming into port with a load of passport visitors. Finally berthed, the drive-in was the one place that you had all to yourself. Along with hundreds of others, who also had the place to themselves.
It was a time and a place of intense rivalry between the Leather Jackets and the Letter Jackets, Grease vs.Jock, that shared a common Saturday goal of getting to first base any way they could. The thrill of victory, the wolfman howl of delight as the figure hugging forces of the mighty bra were defeated at the gates of lingerie Jericho. The winning armies staring in awe and amazement at the treasures within, dumbstruck, staring upwards from the base of the sexual mountain, gazing at pristine peaks to rival the Rockies. Formidable, stately and majestic. Revered. Eureka!! You made it to Magic Mountain and you were confident that you were the freakin' Lewis and Clark of the back seat corps of discovery.
The only thing more confusing than our pubescent drives and urges, was the fact that we worshipped and idolized those that were even more confused than we were, by their own times, their own legends. James Dean, rocketed out of the midwest cornfields of Fairmont, Indiana, where cool was born, in a '49 Merc destined to imbed himself forever in the American psyche. Yeah, he was our rebel without a cause, until he Porche'd out without a reason on one of many lonely stretches of California asphalt. Rebellion was resplendantly personified in the Magnificent Marlon, as Brando bravado filled the screen with dirty jeans and a black leather attitude. "The Wild One" himself, being asked, "Watcha rebellin' against, Johnny?" (Insert Brando sneer) as he leans against the jukebox and answers, "Whatcha got?"
The Silver Screen lit up like Alamagordo, New Mexico, at point zero and from it emerged the king lizard of atomic cheese. Godzilla!! Atomized and amphibious, the G'ster roamed and crushed the great cities of the world, and the screams of the populous could be heard in 14 different languages and 30 plus sequels. Nothing could not stop the cheesy effects and bad lip synching. Godzilla met King Kong, Rodan the Flying Monster, and even Mothra, him, her or itself. Holy mother of Godzilla, there was "Son of Godzilla", "Mecha-Godzilla", and even, "Yadda, Yadda, Yadda-Zilla". Godzilla, though, was not alone as ruler of the night time big scream screen. The Black Lagoon held it's own creatures and secrets of unfathomable terrors, and Pedras Blancas had it's own share of atomic agony.
Invaders from Mars mated and dated George Romero zombies, making it a threesome mutant monster menage-a-troix with Ed Wood backyard creations, and if your name was Barbara, you knew at some point "they were coming for you". The movie mutations were not just figments of an atomic future to come. Politburo politics also had a subliminal message as the Body Snatchers invaded small town America and the only thing between the Russki Redstar hordes, Soviet slavery, freeworld servitude to the Slav, and the loss of truth, justice and the American way of life, was Kevin McCarthy.
There were werewolves, and then there were teenage werewolves. Lovable leather jacketed fuzz balls who always did some sort of canine destruction at the prom. Eventually, these gassed up mutant greasers gave way to the era of hot rod flix and hot rod chicks. Collision course youth in an asphalt race to destruction. Chicky runs...drag strips..spawning a whole new generation of future horsepower kings who were mesmerized by the big screen portrayal of these modern day mechanized Sir Lancelots of the torque wrench.
The food was worse than the movies, and, yeah, the speakers sucked, but in our minds, we had it all in the palm of our hands!! Eventually, the flick ended..the screen went dark, the engines turning over and the headlights popping on like a hundred oval eyes waking from a slumber. The movie's over, and you missed the ending and most of the middle. Hell, it was hard enough to make out with the sounds of Tokyo being crushed beyond recognition in the background, but it didn't matter, you just had the time of your life, fueled by the promiscuous passion pit promise of paradise by the dashboard light. The movie ended, the screen went blank, and eventually, Dean was dead, and still, no one had heard of Vietnam as they drove from the parking lot, not realizing that hot summer drivein night that one day soon many of them would end up in a hotter place called Da Nang a few years later, and the real life monster movie of war's reality would haunt them for the rest of their lives, in a movie in the mind that would never end.
The movie may have ended, but after engaging in the battle of the backseat, it was time to refresh the horses, and the Battle of the Bulging Belly Busters got underway. Heading out to White Castle, (yeah, they're an acquired taste) for those famous gut bomb sliders that dive bombed the frail human digestive system, a seek and destroy colonic mission causing more havoc than the fire bombing of Dresden in WWII. Little square patties, onioned and flattened on the grill, little steamed buns and $.15 cents, and you had it made. There was always Big Boy's for the more refined taste, as though we had any taste at all. It was a cruisin' parade ground through that parking lot with that crazy statue of Big Boy that had that Wayne Newtonesque hairdo sweep going for it. He stood proudly, rotating and holding a giant burger aloft, his torch, his beacon for the masses, at times a Statue of Caloric Liberty, at others merely a deranged, high priest of grease in those corny checkered pants. There were chili dogs, footlongs, french fries, mama burgers, papa burgers, baby burgers, and big, giant, chilled frosted mugs of rootbeer.
The drive-in was a proletarian paradise of pavement, pompadours and poodle skirts, but there was an air of royalty in she who reigned and ruled over the fast food kingdom.
Destined for legend, she was more regal than Marie Antoinette could ever hope to be in her let them eat cake lifetime. Queen Elizabeth paled in comparision to her. She possesed the beauty of Cleopatra, and the magic of Aphrodite and was Queen of the Asphalt Amazons. She had power to spare and could whip Xena in a fair fight, and for an air of sheer mystery and adventure, Laura Croft, Tomb Raider was a rank amateur. She was all that and more, much more, more than much more. She was the angel of the frosted mug and extra napkins. She was...The Carhop.
There was, of course, Venus in blue jeans, and then there was the goddess in Capri pants, who absolutely, ice cream floated gently past our windows. Tray aloft and laden with treasure, a graceful vision, compelling, haunting and capturing our attention and opening the doors of our vivid imaginations. Hell, she was better than a cheerleader, better than the queen of the hop. She was so much more, she was in fact, our rootbeer muse and we succumbed to her magic spell and were never the same again.
The drive-in was also the grand concourse of the souped up coupe's. Shining beasties from the '32 legends, to the fashion statements of Fifties finned flair. Mirror polish and chrome and exotic cherry colors, these powerful road steeds had big, beautiful barking engines, alive and growling with machismo, ready to tear apart the next contender with pit bull tenacity. Roaring and revving, look, but don't touch. It was an unwritten Roadhead rule that you never, ever touch one of these wonder machines unless you owned it, or the boys got testier than a Texan chasing rustlers across the high and the low plains.
Ducktails and ponytails in full rut, answering the mating call of the wild to ensure the backseat survival of the species. Greasers and frats, hipsters and square's, neon night sinners and saints, roadheads and dharmabums, all vying for attention in the spotlight of Saturday night. Preposterous pompadour hairdo's, ratted and sprayed, and as impenetrable as the Great Wall of China itself, and those wildebeast greaseball waterfall's, cascading Niagra's piled high to dizzying, death defying Brian Setzer heights, threatening at any moment to topple over and crash to the ground.
The drive-ins, the carhops and hot, sweaty summer nights. Godzilla and The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, Dean and Brando. All took their place on the stage to create the concerto of pop culture. Music poured with the intensity of hot oil from every radio, the beat blending harmoniously with the backseat fury that was let loose in the 45 rpm rythym of the night. The guage would soon drop, heading for "E", and "empty" would be Groucho's secret word as our gas would run low, and time would run out. The days of teen dreams would soon move down the food chain of memory and become nothing more than just that, a backseat full of fading memories.
In time, and soon out of step, the innocence of American hi-fidelity nights of Brylcreem dreams, last dance songs and fresh fin's of Bel Air's would face the final curtain. The wet head was dead, the fin began to retract, withdraw and disappear into automotive obscurity, and soon, very soon, too soon, the first body bags full of America's young and dead, would come crashing home to American shores on a tsunami wave of death from that far away land of Vietnam.
Nobody saw it coming. Nobody heard it coming. Until it was too late.
Vietnam, the land that no one had ever heard of before, was making itself known, loud and clear. It was a killing field that destroyed the illusion of youth and it's dreams, and both were now washing ashore on a beach, cool, moist sand, now drenched in young, rich, red, warm American blood accompanied by a new war reality. We? We were no match for it's powerful riptide and surge, that raced on shore, then retreated, and like a vacuum sucked all our dreams, all our youth and all our innocence far, far out to sea.
FIFTIES AND SIXTIES POP CULTURE DUMPSTER DIVING!
PURPLE HAZED & DOUBLE DAZED!
Mike Marino writes in an offbeat and irreverant style with a beat and a cadence that is all his own. His writing style has been compared to John Dos Passos, John Steinbeck and Terry Southern and one reviewer likened him to Frederick Lewis Allen on acid! Readers and critics call the book "wickedly wonderful", "delightfully weird" and "automotively sexy."!
Classic Cars, Rock n' Roll, Elvis, Drivein Movies & Route 66!
Kerouac, The Beats, Haight Ashbury, Easy Rider & Vietnam!
Not the usual look at the era, instead It's written by someone who lived it and spent a life of being on the road from his beach bum days in Honolulu to the glitz and dangers of the Sunset Strip in LA, and his purple hazed and double dazed days in North Beach and the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco.
MIKE MARINO AUTHOR