Friday Firesmith – B-17

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? 

Take Care,


Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

10 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – B-17”

  1. Yes, 14 sucked majorly.
    At 14 you hear “You’re old enough to know better” and “You’re not old enough to do that”, sometimes in the same lecture.
    Dawn to dusk in the fields, fresh air and sunshine, putting in hay on two farms 15 miles apart owned by brothers who were milking near 500 head most of the time. So haying was a constant job weather permitting.
    Plus the guy that did the mowing would get drunk and just keep going till dark or ran out of gas. Once it’s cut, you’re committed regardless of weather. This is earlier, 1958, so 90¢ an hour but no drinking and a carton of cigarettes was less than $4.
    There are a lot of songs that bring things to mind some happy times, and a few extremely embarrassing times usually from my own stupidity.
    Then the songs firmly tied to wives and lovers. It’s tough when a happy song most everyone likes comes on but is hooked to a heartbreaking memory. People look at you funny if you turn it off. I pity the folks who get bad memory vibes from songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Stairway to Heaven, or Radar Love.

  2. Wait: a song in 1975 said the jukebox was a quarter, but a few years later, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts said only a dime was needed to play the rock ‘n roll music they loved. True, the quarter gave you 5 songs and the dime only one, so there is that.

    When I was 14, I still had a paper route. 6 days a week–afternoons during the week and mornings on Saturdays. I don’t remember how much I was paid, but it did feed my arcade game habit.

    One song for me is “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” by Bonnie Raitt. When that song came out, I was dating a much older woman (I guess she would be a cougar these days). The relationship only lasted several months, but the break up was amicable. I think of her each time I hear this song on the radio.

    Another one is “That’s What I Like About You” by the Romantics. That was the only fast song I could dance to; I still think of the girl I was dating when it came out each time I hear it.

    • Wow Tim, you had Mrs Robinson. A lot of guys envy you, I do.
      Pop music keeps changing and you hear a lot of grousing about the crap these whippersnappers listen to, not like the great music fro bank in (name a decade).
      The truth is it’s not the music, it’s the people and experiences we tie to songs.
      It can be the worst song ever written but if it was playing the first time you had sex it will be a favorite forever.

      Mmm… Mrs Robinson… shiver.

  3. Bruce, farming was a great way of life, just not a great way to make a living. I knew a guy who walked in on his wife shooting up while she was listening to the Beatles, and could never hear Abby Road without remembering that moment.

  4. Tim, Raitt’s “I can’t make you love me” was one that was a breakup song for me and a redhead I was dating. I saw Raitt live in Atlanta in 1997, and when she sang that song it gutted me. She’s awesome live.

  5. I’m sure I Want to Know What Love is may be a perfectly acceptable song to some, for me it equals a really bad time in my life when I was too naive. My first husband said that was our song, silly me believing he loved me. Now when I hear that song I change the music instantly.

    • Chick, I dated a girl in high school who was a big Barry Manilow fan. “Mandy” was the song she loved the most and later on in life, named her daughter Amanda. I never liked the song but after we broke up I couldn’t listen to it. Still can’t.

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