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James R. Stout

Dirt Claude and The 7th Sounds

              The end of my 7th grade year couldn’t come quick enough for me. It had been a horrid year. It still is my least favorite year of my 12 years in grade school. In fact, no other year comes close. There may have been small parts of other years that were bad, but those didn’t last long and generally speaking the school years were good. But 7th grade was a mess. The why of it is hard to explain. It wasn’t like there was one single event that caused the whole year to be bad. There was just a lot of unpleasantness and there was also some biology involved. I started the school year with high hopes. The school district that I lived in had junior high schools (not middle schools) and there were three grades in junior high. These were 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. I had finished 6th grade in fine form, but it had been a year of changes. Puberty hit me upside the head that year and then given 6th grade meant you were the “freshmen” of junior high all made it a year that was just kind of mixed up. But it wasn’t a bad year. I had a lot of fun that year. Even so, as September of 1968 came around and 7th grade began I believed it was going to be a better year. I would no longer be in the lowly 6th grade, I began my teenage years turning 13 on September 9th, and it just seemed like things would get better and better. WRONG!

            Let’s start with the biology. I hurt my right foot in early October while playing football in our front yard with some neighborhood kids. It didn’t seem too bad at first, but it got bad enough that by December it required a minor out-patient procedure that wasn’t any fun at all. In the meantime, I had hobbled around for nearly 3 months. Then, shortly thereafter I was building a small tree house and I caught my left forefinger on a large splinter and ripped off the fingernail. That hurt like crazy. It also meant that I was unable to wear a baseball glove, play the guitar, and other things for about a month while it healed.

            While all of this was going on, I also had a major falling out with a friend that I had spent most of 6th grade being best friends with. It was a stupid misunderstanding and mostly it was a lie told by another person in which I supposedly said my friend’s mother could go to hell. I never said that. What had happened was this other person told me that my friend’s mother had said something negative about me and I said, “Hell, I don’t care.” I meant it more like “Yeah, so?” I didn’t believe this guy anyway. Well, he goes and tells my friend the lie and suddenly I’m the worst person in the whole wide world. The friend became an enemy (his feelings, not mine) and wanted nothing more than to smash my head with a rock. I tried to make peace with him, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Stupid kids’ stuff, but it had the effect of making me a pariah in the eyes of all of the mutual people we knew. Well, I made some new friends, but I was also gun shy about making any close friends. So, I didn’t. It turned into a very lonely second half of 7th grade.

            To cap it all off, my grades suffered that year. I struggled in math. The teacher was a coach and I think he only taught math because he had to. He didn’t offer to help me to understand what we were studying. For the first time in my life I made an “F”. Showing my parents that report card was one of the hardest things I had ever done up until then. Furthermore, we were forced to take a foreign language that year. I chose French. Well, that class got off to a bad start. There’s no French name for Randy (although there is an adjective of it that I won’t repeat here), the name I go by mostly. The teacher assigned me a name instead of me getting to choose a name. I probably would have chosen Jacques or something. She named me “Claude”. A dumb sounding name. Well, all the guys in the class started calling me “Dirt Claude”. Given I am a rather introverted kind of guy, this caused me great embarrassment.

            Finally, the subject of girls must be broached. There were a few girls that I really liked a lot. But I was shy. All of this other nonsense didn’t help. There was this one girl that I had a huge crush on, but I never had the guts to hardly talk to her. The funny part is about 4 years later we were in a class together in high school and were talking one day and she tells me that she had had a big crush on me back in 7th grade. What a difference 7th grade would have been had I known that little fact then!

            All of this may sound like petty little nothings and I suppose it was by today’s standards. But at the time it made for a miserable year for me. However, there was one thing that made the year bearable. The music. There was some of the best music of all time released in those nine months of 7th grade. How about an example? The following songs, all now considered classic hits, were in the Billboard Top 10 the SAME week in May 1969.

  1. Aquarius/Let the Sunshine

  2. It’s Your Thing

  3. Hawaii Five-O

  4. You Made Me So Very Happy

  5. Time Is Tight

  6. Sweet Cherry Wine

  7. The Boxer

  8. Get Back

            I could list another 30 classic hits that were in the Hot 100 that week. Songs that you still hear on the classic rock stations today. Records that still sell well today to people who are in the 3rd generation since my generation. That school year songs such as “Hey Jude”, “Galveston”, “White Room”, “Touch Me”, “Midnight Confessions”, “Wichita Lineman”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Proud Mary”, “Bad Moon Rising”, and so many more were hits. The music saved me that year. When I started feeling down and all the stuff that was happening would weigh heavy on me, all I had to do was put on a 45-rpm record or turn on the radio and my spirits were lifted. Those songs had great melodies, great harmonies, incredible virtuoso instrumental performances, lyrics that meant something, and for the most part you could dance to them too. Most of them were also positive songs. They were love songs or were in some way life affirming songs. They were songs of hope and joy. And, they didn’t all sound the same. They weren’t the same beat with lyrics that are crude or mean.

            Life at 13 is hard enough without the soundtrack of the year being filled with negativism. As bad as that year was for me, I am able to look back and listen to some of the best music of all-time and enjoy it despite some of the memories associated with when the songs were new. To the artists of that time I say thank you. Maybe you were just trying to make some money, meet girls, and avoid a 9-5 job, but you had some great talent and you left a legacy that is positive and uplifting. You worked hard despite it appearing you were just having a good time. But then, you were having a good time. I’ve heard it said many times and I’m not at all sure who said it first, but the saying is true. If you have a job that you love, then you’ll never work a day in your life. Unfortunately, some of those artists ended-up out of the record making business and some of them likely had to work 9-5 jobs for years after their days in in the sun. But at least they had their days in the sun and in the process, they have left us with little 3-minute gems that sparkle bright enough to give us moments in the sun 50 years later. Can you dig it?

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