My 15 Minutes of Rock-n-Roll Fame

A drummer, a wannabe guitar player, and a novice piano player walk into 5th grade. What happens next is pretty funny.

The year is 1976. Ricky Emerson, Chris Tate and I are in Mrs. Haugh’s 5th grade class at Lipscomb Elementary School. I don’t fully remember how we decided to form our band, but I think it was the result of our class talent day. Ricky was a guitar player, except that he hadn’t actually purchased his guitar yet. He did, however, show the class how he would hold his fingers for certain chords once he had the guitar. I was maybe two years into piano lessons, and I played a roaring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. Chris was a drummer. He had a real drum set and had been playing for a while. He may have been the only one of us who really knew what he was doing.

Some time after that day in class, we learned that the school would have a talent show in the Spring. With stars in our eyes, we decided to form a band so that we could rock that talent show.

Our first practice was at Chris’s house (because that’s where the drums were). We didn’t practice anything, but we did spend some time choosing our music. Chris was a huge Beach Boys fan. He had all of their records. Ricky and I must have been ambivalent about it, because we went along with the choice of Beach Boys music. (Or maybe, none of us had any other records). We settled on Barbara Ann, then went home.

I don’t remember how many times we practiced, but it wasn’t many. I do remember that our school principal, Jesse Frank, let us use the school’s Guidance room after school hours to practice. Chris’s mom would bring the drums, and Ricky and I would sing “Barbara Ann”.

As the talent show neared, Ricky still didn’t have a guitar, and we never thought about adding a piano to the mix. Our band consisted of a drummer and two lead singers.

Yeah, I know.

Word spread about our band, and we were feeling pretty good. We could hardly contain our excitement on Talent Show tryout day. Sometime during school, in the afternoon, there would be an announcement for all interested parties to come to the office and try out in front of Mr. Frank. Mrs. Haugh was super excited for us and was prepared for us to leave the classroom. As soon as the announcement began, we leapt out of our chairs and headed for Mr. Frank’s office. Our classroom was the closest, so we were the first ones in. We weren’t in his office for two seconds before Mr. Frank declared, “You guys are in! You don’t even have to try out!” I guess he was also excited about our band. We went right back to class and informed everyone that we were in. The applause thundered.

Somewhere between Try Out Day and the actual Talent Show, we changed songs. Instead of singing the well-known “Barbara Ann”, we decided to sing the monstrously popular Beach Boys hit, “Long Tall Texan”. Oh, you haven’t heard of it? That’s OK. No one has. In fact, if you look on Apple Music, there is no original recording of this song. There is a live version sung by the Beach Boys, and one remake on an album called, “20 Silly Songs to Make You Smile”. Yeah. We picked that song.

You won’t be surprised to learn that the build-up to the Talent Show was way better than our actual performance. For weeks, we were ‘the band’. The guys who would rock the Talent Show. Our friends would peek into the Guidance room to watch us practice. We loved the glory.

On Talent Show Day, I think we were the last to perform, building the anticipation. The school gym was (sort of) packed. And as the drums were pulled out to the stage, Mr. Frank loudly pronounced, “And now…The Band!”

In addition to being guitar-less and keyboard-less, we were also nameless. Apparently, we didn’t think to come up with a cool name for our band. But the cheers were strong and the crowd was wild. (The 5th grade girls were crazy for us). There was only one microphone on stage, so I had to borrow Mr. Frank’s. In the midst of him turning around to hand it to me, he unknowingly somehow turned it down, or even off, so when we began our a cappella-plus-drums version of “Long Tall Texan”, my voice was never heard. (“I only heard Ricky singing” was a frequent comment in the days that followed).

It must have been awful, but the cheers were big and we basked in our short-lived fame.

We never practiced or performed again. That’s probably what made it great.

In the many years since, I’ve occasionally thought about that moment. What happened to the guys in the band, you ask?

I quit piano lessons soon after. Chris and I were marching band geeks in high school (I played a mean trumpet). But Ricky eventually got his guitar and his band “Rampage” still lives on in Brentwood High School legend. He still has a band to this day. I saw him play at 12th & Porter a few years back in Nashville, and he still puts on a great show.

I’m pretty sure he credits his success to The Band.

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Laziness Breeds Creativity

In my early college years, my roommate Chase and I lived in a small dorm room. In an attempt to create more space, we bought a bunch of 2x4s and nails at the local Handy Dan, and we built frames that raised our beds about six feet off the floor.

I have no idea where we got the circular saw or the hammer we used, but we worked for hours building those bed frames, and we used concrete nails to fasten them to the concrete block walls.  Upon completion, we now had a lot more floor space, and two cool cave-like spaces under each of our beds. We built a ladder for climbing up, added rope lights underneath, and somehow acquired some brand new carpet. All of a sudden, we had a little palace going on in there.  We also bought a phone, which we mounted to the upper frame so that we could reach it from the beds.  The school-supplied phone became the “downstairs phone”, and our new phone became the “upstairs phone”. (Who would want to climb down from our cool beds just to answer the phone?)

We had a small black-and-white TV in our room, which had a screen not much bigger than my laptop screen. It had no remote, of course, so to turn it off, you had to push a small knob. That wasn’t a problem before we built the bed frames.

We would end almost every night by watching David Letterman, and we would watch it from the upper perch of our new, awesome beds. Once Letterman was over, neither of us wanted to climb down, turn off the TV, then climb back up. So we came up with a plan.

Before climbing up to our beds for the last time of the night, we would turn on Letterman, turn out the lights, then gather the items we would need for the nightly ritual of turning off the TV. This consisted of shoes, a baseball, an oversized replica of a penny (about 3 inches in diameter), a nerf football, and whatever else was convenient. We would stack all the items on our beds, and climb up for one last time and enjoy watching Letterman.

When Letterman ended, the contest began. We would take turns throwing the various items at the TV, trying to hit the knob just right so that the TV would turn off. Yes, we are very aware that the contest took longer than it would to just climb down and turn off the TV.  But what’s the fun in that?

Many times, we were successful. Never did we break the TV. And for the nights when our efforts were unsuccessful, we had a trade-off schedule on who had to climb down to turn it off. “It’s your night, man“, were often the last words before bedtime.

Good times in Pittman Hall.

Scaring Chase

While in college, one of my favorite things to do (besides studying) was to find ways to scare my roommate, Chase. He scared easily and reacted hilariously, which only fueled my desire to scare him as often as possible.

He made it easy on many days because he was always singing as he walked down the hallway, so I always knew when he was about to enter our room.  Usually, all it took was for me to stand right next to the door and make some kind of loud noise when he walked in. He jumped and yelled like a girl every time. Those were good, but let me tell you the best one.

My favorite time to scare Chase was right after he brushed his teeth at night and was about to get into bed.  He’d be in the bathroom attached to our room, and as long as I heard the water running, I knew I had time to hide. Our room was maybe 15 feet by 20 feet, so it’s not like there were many places to hide, but I would always find one (including hiding under a pile of dirty clothes). I would usually turn the lights off, which was a dead giveaway of what was about to happen, but it almost always worked anyway, which made it funnier.

This particular time, I chose to hide inside his closet.  Our closets were built-in and had two sliding doors, and they were about six feet wide and two feet deep.  One side of the closet held a 5-drawer dresser, and the other side was filled with hanging clothes. Again, not much of a space in which to hide. I turned out the lights and climbed in behind his clothes, and slid the door closed.

He came out of the bathroom, saw the lights out, and immediately said, “I know you are hiding in here and you are going to try and scare me. I’m just letting you know that it’s not going to work this time.” I could hear him moving around the room, scouting the various spots where I could possibly be hiding.  Throughout his search, he kept speaking loudly, telling me how he knew exactly what was happening and that he would not be scared this time.

After checking my closet, he stood in front of his closet and said, “I know you are in my closet.  There is nowhere else you can be.  I know you are in there and you are NOT going to scare me.” Fortunately for me, he opened the other sliding door first. I see his hand reaching in and he’s feeling around inside the closet, declaring again that he knows exactly where I am.

I didn’t make a sound as I swung my arm down and clamped my hand on his wrist. For a guy who knew exactly what was going on, I’m pretty sure he peed a little as he screamed like a girl.

Good times in Pittman Hall.

Paintball in Pearls

Almost thirty years ago, a few friends and I decided to check out the new paintball craze, and we booked a half-day session in north Atlanta.

I don’t think there were indoor paintball places back then. This place was outside, and was probably a thirty-acre (or more) wooded area, perfect for a little weekend warrior activity.

I should mention that none of us had any experience at this. We had no knowledge and no equipment. We were just looking for an adventure.

We followed a dirt road into the woods and found the check-in point, which consisted of a few tables set up under the trees, manned by a few guys not much older than we were. There were about fifty guys standing around, and that’s when we realized that we just might be in over our heads.

We had only heard of paintball. It looked like everyone else belonged to the local paintball militia. These guys had their own guns, with holsters and ammo packs. They had professional (and cool-looking) helmets, and most of them were decked out in cammo. Then we saw GI Joe: a fifty year old guy in total camouflage and face paint, holding a semi-automatic paintball rifle with a scope, and wearing a strap filled with replacement CO2 cartridges and dozens of sleeves of paintballs.

We rented our equipment from the guys behind the tables, and as we stood there with our civil war-era paintball pistols and wearing welding masks, we thought: We’re dead.

I mentioned that most everyone was wearing camouflage. Well, as we had never done this before, we didn’t know that the paint from the paintballs easily washes out of your clothes. We assumed that whatever we wore would be ruined by splotches of house paint, so we showed up in whatever crappy clothes we were willing to throw away after our paintball adventure.

My brightly colored flannel shirt was a bad choice, as it didn’t quite blend in with the Georgia pines. My friend Tim, though, wins the prize. He shows up wearing a sky blue denim jacket, popular in middle school in the 70s, complete with a coast-to-coast collar and pearl button snaps.

That jacket won the day. If we had to turn around and go home without firing a shot, the day would have been a complete success just for the non-stop jacket jokes we hurled at Tim that morning.

Anyway, the day was awesome. The fifty guys were split up into two groups, and we played a version of capture the fort in the middle of the woods, all why trying not to get shot. We looked stupid, but we had a blast.

Our rented guns were terrible, though. The shots would go straight for thirty yards, then begin a beautiful arc to the right. I’m pretty sure if there had been enough CO2 firepower in the gun, I could have shot myself in the back, because the paintball would have traveled in a full circle. Needless to say, I don’t think I hit anyone that day.

If you did get hit, you had to hold your gun over your head and walk out of the woods saying, “I’m hit, I’m hit”. You were required to sit out for five minutes before rejoining the battle. (FYI: GI Joe took us out multiple times that day. We were easy targets).

My friends and I stuck together during the battle, and at one point, we found ourselves trapped at the corner boundary, under heavy fire. We hid behind trees and bushes and fired off our arcing shots, but we didn’t last long. There were four or five guys from the other team about thirty yards away, anxious to take us out.

In a span of about one minute, all of us were hit, except for Tim in his pearl button jacket. We shook hands with Tim, told him to fight to the end, and we held our guns over our heads and began the walk of shame, leaving Tim to fight alone.

We had to pass the enemy on our way out, and this is what we heard one guy saying to his buddies as we passed by:

“Jacket is the only one left down there. We can easily take him out.”

Apparently, Tim’s jacket made quite the impression. Hearing him called Jacket was infinitely better than any joke we could have come up with that day.

Fun with Handbells

I spent a lot of time at church when I was growing up.  (Still do now, if you’re wondering).  Back then, there were activities on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights, with a few other things thrown in now and again.

For a couple of years, one of those activities was the youth handbell choir.  Yeah, that was a thing.  So much so, that we had two of them.  There are only so many handbells (maybe 3 octaves?), so we split our group into two different handbell choirs.

If you’re not familiar with handbells, they are actually hand-held bells, one for every note of the scale.  Kind of like a piano, but all bells, and you ring them by shaking the bell.  Duh.  They look like this.

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So anyway, because we had two youth handbell choirs, there was the ‘good’ choir, and the ‘bad’ choir.  (That’s what those of us in the good choir called them.  We were only good because we could read sheet music a bit better than those in the other choir, but we didn’t call them the bad choir to their faces.  Weren’t we nice?)

Because I like to find the funny in most things, I actually remember two funny things about youth handbell choir.

The first happened on a trip to our state handbell festival.  Yeah, that was a thing, too.  The good choir traveled on the church van to Knoxville to compete against other youth handbell choirs.  We stayed in a hotel and everything (4 to a room, of course).

As my handbell buddies and I were getting all dressed up for the festival, we were trying to tame our 80s hair.  You know…the big, full, butt-cut mullet.  Two of my roommates were brothers, and they introduced me to hair spray for dudes.  I didn’t know that dudes used hair spray, but as we already were using hair dryers, I guess it was cool.  They warned me of the one drawback.  The hair spray smelled like cherries, so we were going to smell like girls.  While we played handbells. In the handbell choir.  (Thanks, Jeff and Barry)

The second funny thing also includes Jeff, but it happened during handbell practice at church one evening.  The good choir had already finished practicing, and the bad choir was at the tables.  The handbells were stored in a separate room behind the practice area.  Jeff and I were the last ones from the good choir putting up bells that weren’t being used.  Jeff spied a few high-octave bells (like F-sharp or B-flat) that weren’t being used for practice, because they didn’t fit the key signature of the song.

He gets this goofy grin and picks up two of the bells, and hands one to me.  I knew exactly what he was thinking.  As the other choir was playing through the song, we rang the bells from our hidden location.  The result is like playing two keys of a piano that are right next to each other.  It doesn’t sound right.  We threw in a few rings here and there until we heard the director stop the practice.  “Somebody is playing the wrong note!”, she says.  “Let’s try it again.”

Of course, we did it a few more times, causing more stops and starts, and lots of consternation to the director.  Then we snuck out the back.

Who knew handbell choir could be so much fun!

 

Buzz Kill

Early during my freshman year in college, I took notice of a beautiful girl walking down the sidewalk.  In fact, I took notice every time I saw her after that.  I was dating someone at the time, so it was nothing more than admiration from a distance.  (I would have been too scared to introduce myself, anyway).

Over the following three years, I saw her almost every day.  Yet even when I became a single guy again, I was too afraid to introduce myself.  Because of her beauty, I had immediately classified her as out of my league, although I really didn’t know anything about her.

Somewhere along the way, I learned her name, as well as a few bits and pieces of information about her.  (I’ll call her Jenna in this story, but that’s not her real name).  She was even in one of my classes once or twice, but I never spoke to her.  I spoke about her to my closest friends, though.  They agreed she was beautiful.  They also agreed that I was a chicken.  And they absolutely agreed that she was out of my league.

For three years, I watched from a distance.  Not stalker-watched.  Just watched.  Over time, it became a joke with my friends. Whenever we talked about girls, they brought up Jenna.  (Or maybe I did?)  When it was time to find a date to a party, they suggested I ask Jenna.  Then they would laugh, knowing I never would.

For three years, I had created the perfect woman in my mind, and it was Jenna.  Yet I never spoke to her.  Until this happened…

I was in the cafeteria, walking my tray to the trash, and there she was.  Jenna.  Walking straight toward me, and even looking right at me.  My heart started pounding just a little bit.  Could she be coming to talk to me?  She waved.  I didn’t want to take my eyes off of her, yet I needed to see if she was actually waving to some really cool guy behind me, so I slowly turned my head enough to see behind me, but still keep her in my peripheral vision.

There was no one behind me.  My heart started to pound a bit more as she continued to walk toward me.  I’m not sure, but I might have been frozen in place as she walked right up to me.  She stopped just inches away, looking me right in the eyes.  Her sweet voice said, “Are you Keith Kirkland?”

This is what I said in my mind.  YES!.  YES!  I am Keith Kirkland!  You actually know my name?  I can’t believe that you are talking to me!  I’ve noticed you for a long time and I’ve always wanted to introduce myself.  Are you really talking to me?

This is what I said with my (cracking) voice: “Yes”.

I waited for what seemed like an hour. Waited for whatever sweet words were going to come out of her mouth, now that she had finally noticed me after three long years.  I looked into her eyes as I relived all those moments of watching from afar.  I thought about what I would tell my friends, thinking that the joke is really over.

She finally broke the silence, and the long-awaited words out of her mouth were this:  “You bounced a three dollar check to our sorority when you bought a balloon-a-gram from us last week and I need to get that three dollars from you.”

You know those downward-moving musical sounds you hear on game shows when someone loses?  Yeah, that’s what I heard right then.

I never got to talk to her again.

C’mon Get Happy

I was a kid in the 1970s. One day I’ll get around to writing down all the fun (and funny) things that the 70s bring to mind. The clothes and the hair probably warrant a few stories by themselves. 

This one is about the music. In particular, the music of The Partridge Family. My brother, two sisters and I would enjoy watching the TV show. But we really loved the Partridge Family record album we had. The real thing, too. A 33 1/3 LP record album, complete with hisses and skips that we knew as well as the songs. 

We loved the songs so much, that we didn’t just sing them. We would perform them. We set up in my sister’s room with a record player and homemade instruments. An old wooden tennis racquet was the guitar. A cardboard box and some sticks formed the drums. A small toy electronic keyboard was the piano. 

The best was the microphone. This was a wooden xylophone mallet with a red head on it. Taped to the end of the mallet stick was a long piece of yarn to make the microphone cord. The other end of the yarn was taped to a plastic leg taken from our Toss Across game. It had a groove in it that held the “microphone” just like a microphone stand. This leg was taped to the dresser within easy reach of Keith Partridge. 

We all wanted to play the part of Keith Partridge. (Who wouldn’t?) I recall some hefty battles over this issue. I, of course, believed that I should be Keith…because my name is Keith. My older sister, Amy, thought that she should be Keith, just because she was the oldest. Joy and David wanted to be Keith, too. (This sometimes led to someone running to Mom for a resolution. Upon returning from the talk with Mom, the answer to the inevitable question “What did she say?”, was always: “She told us to work it out ourselves.” My mom is wise, because we all learned early in life how to work out our differences).

After deciding who would be Keith (we took turns), we would all get into position with our instruments and freeze until the designated record starter dropped the needle on the LP. 

That initial crackling sound of the record was exciting. The show was about to start! The microphone sat in its Toss Across stand until the perfect moment when “Keith” grabbed it to begin singing. 

Sometimes we would perform the whole album. Sometimes just a song or two. But oh, what great times we had making such great music together!

I have that Partridge Family album in my music library. Every now and again, when I put my library on shuffle, one of those songs pops up. “Rainmaker”, or “Echo Valley 2-6809”, or “I’m on My Way Back Home” (my favorite). I always sing along. 

And I’m always Keith.