I was 14 in the summer of 1975, when Olivia Newton-John ruled the airwaves. I had already started drinking alcohol, mainly beer, because socially speaking I was a train wreck. Being in the same area code with a girl shorted out my heart, body, and mind. Only when I was buzzed enough not to feel much of anything could I so much as speak.
Fourteen was, and I assume it still is, an incredibly awkward age. You’re certainly not a kid, and no way are you an adult. You just entered teenager status, and if you were like me, high school loomed in the very near future like an iceberg waiting for the Titanic.
Fourteen was also the number of hours I worked a day. Seventy dollars a week was what I got for chunking watermelons, and considering I worked from before dawn to after dark sometimes, my social life didn’t exist anyway.
On Saturday nights, I would smuggle an eight pack of Miller ponies into my bedroom, drink them as fast as possible to catch the best buzz, and listen to the radio with an earphone stuck in one ear. I would die a virgin. At age 14, I was sure of this. High school would be impossibly hard, and I would wind up doing field work for the rest of my life, which would likely be two, maybe three years, at the most. I would never go anywhere, do anything, or have a girlfriend. I would work, drink, and repeat this endless cycle
At fourteen, drinking, these were my thoughts.
Olivia Newton John came out with the song, “Please Mister Please” that summer, and it spoke of things beyond my experience. I had no idea what “good Kentucky whiskey” might have been. I also had no idea why a song might trigger a memory of someone, and why that would be devastating.
Bruce Welch, co-wrote the song, and who would have a relationship with ONJ, attempted suicide after their breakup, but I had no idea about that at the time. The thing that grabbed me most about the song was it told a story, and even if I couldn’t understand some of it, the setting was familiar.
“In the corner of the barroom stands a jukebox, with the best of country music, old and new, you can hear your five selections for a quarter, and somebody else’s songs when yours are through”
The jukebox was a rite of passage. At fourteen, I had my own money and could play music I liked, instead of hitting mom up for a quarter, which was pretty good money in 1975. I didn’t know it at the time, but as good as the song might have been, the fact it was well written was the draw for me.
Olivia Newton-John, when she sang simply, sang best, and writing is a lot like that, too. She died today, and I listened to that song, and now, it reminds me of a woman, finally.
What song is it you would rather not hear, because of the memories?
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit.
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