Keeping a promise I made in 1982 to my mother, who left us on the 20th of November at the age of 70. #georgelucas #oldiesbutgoodies
This may be the most important show I will ever produce, children of the revolution. This is what is called an “open letter”: a message intended for an individual, but that is nonetheless widely distributed intentionally. The individual in question is George Lucas, and in always keeping my promises to my mother, I told her back in 1982 that I would thank him for something, at her request.
Mr. Lucas, this story begins a little earlier, in 1977. Momma took me to see that Wizard of Oz thing you did with the robots at the Hawthorne Mall, which I loved, and then that better Shakespeare flick with the man from Lady Sings The Blues in 1980 at the Vermont Twin Vue drive-in. At the latter, Momma kept saying things like, “BILLY D! BILLY D!” and “Ooh baby, I love his threads.” You have to admit, Mr. Williams was pretty soave bolla in that one.
So, in 1982 at the age of 13, it was my turn to take Momma to “the show”, as we used to call it. I had a little extra money from homework I would do for other students, and in Redondo Beach, where we were living at the time, there was a budget theatre near the pier called The Strand. They had these $1 matinees on the weekends, and the film they were showing on the day I took her was American Graffiti.
All I knew Mr. Lucas was that you were the creator of this film, and really knew nothing about the plot, but I totally recognized all the actors: Ron Howard from Happy Days, Harrison Ford from that robot movie with Billy D., Cindy Williams from Laverne and Shirley, Suzanne Sommers from Three’s Company, MacKenzie Phillips from One Day at a Time, Richard Dreyfuss from Close Encounter of the Third Kind and of course, Wolfman Jack from hearing him on the radio. I thought to myself: is this like that Poseidon Adventure movie we saw on TV at grandma’s where you cram a whole bunch of big name stars into it? I eventually found out it wasn’t, with my not knowing you helped launch all of their careers.
My mother was often alone in raising the three of us, and most of the time, she worked as a cleaning lady, as Dad was often in jail or just plain nowhere to be found. She was over-the-top excited that I was going to take her to see the film. She never got the chance to see the Graffiti during it’s initial run in 1973 or it’s re-release in 1978. She always gave to us first, and she couldn’t stop telling her friends how proud she was that a man was going “treat her right for a change”.
Well, before we went out that Saturday morning, Momma got a little “litty-titty”. (Right now I can hear my brother and sister in the back of my head, who told me they would be listening to this program, saying out loud: “No, not our mother. Never.” And then busting out laughing and falling on the floor. Telling the T baby, because as Momma once told me, “the Devil is a LIE!”)
As soon as the film started with the opening number, “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets, it…was…ON. She sang. She laughed. She sometimes yelled back at the screen, as if the characters could hear her and she was was RIGHT THERE with them. She even actually got up several times, grabbing me by the hand and we danced in the aisle.
By the end of the film, she was crying so much she had raccoon eyes from all that Maybelline eye liner and mascara she would wear. “All you alright Momma?”, I asked. While wiping down the black streaks with a napkin she had in that massive, leather purse with 150 pockets in it, she exclaimed, while sobbing uncontrollably, “I’M HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE!”
Momma was never a hopeless romantic, because if there is one thing I learned from her, there is nothing hopeless about love. She did make me promise her one thing as we walked home: “Remember baby, when you’re president (I know, right?), you tell that nice man thank you from your Momma.” (I didn’t have the courage to tell her until 2011 that I never wanted to be president, but the Duke of Earl. Regardless, I went along with it and didn’t dare argue, because Momma was someone who actually could defy the laws of physics and literally slap someone unto the middle of next week.) “Of course I will”, I told her.
I knew the songs in the film from their repeated playing at home when I was young. I didn’t realize their significance to American culture until years later, and I am certain that some of the younger folk following this don’t understand, either. Rock and Roll, a mid-1950’s music genre created by African American vocal groups, was a revolution: it was the first time that white people, especially young white people, had been exposed to Black culture en masse outside of stereotypical racist caricatures. American Graffiti has been recognized by the Librizzle of the Congress as being historically and culturally significant, which also means that the music in that film, which is SO MUCH a part of it’s magic, is also a part of this truly amazing accolade.
Years later, I reminded her about this moment in our lives. What was so special about the movie? Well, it seems Mr. Lucas, you and Momma had something in common. I don’t know who came with the film’s fantastic tagline, “Where were you in ’62?”, but that person deserves an award. You see, both you and my mother were teenagers living in California valley towns during that time. She went on to tell me that this was EXACTLY the way it was, and it brought back so many outtasite memories.
I wasn’t around in ’62, but I do remember where I was in ’82. On behalf of myself, my family and of course, the one and only Mrs. Anna Brown, thank you, sir. I have compiled a program of music from that time, some of it from your film, and other sides from that era that Momma loved.
I hope that the children of the revolution who are hopefully listening and reading along find as much needed joy in it right now as I do, and as Momma did. It was a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but still that close.
- Dedicated To The One I Love, 1959, The Shirelles
- Why Do Fools Fall In Love, 1956, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers
- Duke Of Earl, 1961, Gene Chandler
- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, 1958, The Platters
- Little Darlin’, 1957, The Diamonds
- Yakety Yak, 1958, The Coasters
- For Your Precious Love, 1958, Jerry Butler & The Impressions
- Ya Ya, 1961, Lee Dorsey
- Try Me, 1958, James Brown and The Famous Flames
- Last Night, 1961, The Mar-Keys
- I Only Have Eyes For You, 1959, The Flamingos
- Gee Whiz, 1961, Carla Thomas
- Surrender, 1961, Elvis Presley
- Do You Wanna Dance, 1959, Bobby Freeman
- Stubborn Kind Of Fellow, 1962, Marvin Gaye
- Chantilly Lace, 1958, The Big Bopper
- I Count The Tears, 1960, The Drifters
- I’ll Try Something New, 1962, The Miracles
- Those Oldies But Goodies (Remind Me Of You), 1961, Little Caesar & The Romans
Love to you all.
Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr.
Host, Producer, Audio Engineer and Writer
#rockandroll #georgelucas #billydeewilliams #harrisonford #ronhoward #americangraffiti #cindywilliams #suzannesommers #richarddreyfuss #lucasfilm #oldiesbutgoodies #missyoumom #artlaboe
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