I went out for a ride today and ended up at my favorite store, Giant Tiger. It’s one of those places that has a little bit of everything for a little bit less than you would pay at Metro or Zehrs.
While I was wandering around, a song came on the system that I sang to myself all the way back home.
The song was Garden Party by Rick Nelson. Of all of the recording artists who got famous in the 1950s Rick Nelson and Buddy Holly were my two favorites. Rick was #1.
Rick, of course, got uber-famous as the youngest son of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, on the Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a completely vanilla family show, that was neither a comedy nor a drama but was watched religiously by millions in the early days of the boob tube.
At the end of almost every show, Rick got to play a song at the high school dance or the malt shop or wherever. And after the show went away, he went to have a pretty amazing career.
Garden Party was one of the last hit songs that Rick had, back in the days where there were hit songs. It was a kind of sad lament to fame, and how it can actually stifle creativity because everywhere you play the audience only wants to hear your big hits.
Rick’s career went great guns for about 15 years then fizzled for a decade or so and he was just on the comeback trail when he tragically died in a fire on his private plane. It was rumored there were drugs involved but that never got played up because Rick was a serious icon and people didn’t really talk about shit like that back then.
Rick Nelson’s music was a little rock and a little country, way before country rock was a thing of any significance. And as a performer, he had everything going for him. He was a great looking dude. He wrote a lot of his own songs. And he didn’t mind the grind that is the recording/performing business.
The one thing I remember most about Rick Nelson was that no matter what he was singing, he always kept a sort of poker face. He never got too crazy up there. He was a good boy that even the bad boy loving girls were attracted to.
That time in my life, when Rick’s songs were all over the radio, along with Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Gene Pitney and Roy Orbison, was all about discovering sex with real live girls. And it wasn’t really sex in the absolute sense. It was just kinda heavy petting, but it was all exciting as hell.
And these guys were the soundtrack to all of that.
That, of course, all changed in 1963 with the assassination of John Kennedy. All of a sudden we realized that there was evil in the world and it was going after the good ones on a regular basis.
Even though I lived in Canada, it was a border town next to a significantly large US city (Buffalo), and because our media, such as it was at the time, was all American, we were, for all intents and purposes, Americans by proxy.
That was the end of the innocence for me. I was sixteen and growing up very fast. One of the things we held onto the tightest back then was the music.
As I grew older in the sixties and got interested in writing, my musical taste drifted to the folk side with Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Tim Hardin, Eric Anderson, Simon & Garfunkle, and the late, great Phil Ochs. These folks were the soundtrack of the early days of the Boomers growing up and becoming a force in society.
It’s funny how hearing a song from the early days of your life can trigger a whole domino chain of memories that, in today’s mile a minute world, really drive home how much simpler a time it was back in the fifties and early sixties.
I often wonder what the world would have been like if Kennedy had been allowed to run the US for two full terms, and Bobby, his brother could have followed him.
A lot of people don’t think dynasties are a good thing. But back then, I would have taken either of those guys over slimeballs like Richard Nixon in a heartbeat.
In as song called ‘The Boy In The Bubble,” Paul Simon testifies that “Every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.” Technically that’s not true. Every generation sends a bunch of them and people are free to choose who their biggest hero might be.
When this stuff first started, for a lot of people that was Elvis….But for me at least it was Rick Nelson.
Here’s Rick’s Rolling Stone Biography: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/artists/rick-nelson/biography
Jim Murray is an experienced advertising and marketing professional. He is a communication strategist, writer, art director, broadcast producer & mildly opinionated op/ed blogger.
He is also a partner at Bullet Proof Consulting. www.bulletproofconsulting.ca
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