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James R. Stout

Take A Sad Song

            7th grade began for me on September 3, 1968. I turned 13-years-old six days later. I was initially excited about the new school year because I would no longer be in the lowest class in junior high. However, the year turned bad quickly and it was a year that I prefer not to think about. But I can’t help myself. The reasons for this are tied to the things that saved the year from being a total loss. For this blog entry, I am going to focus on those good points and leave the bad stuff for another time.

            To begin with, being 13 is hard on everyone. It doesn’t matter what era you were in when it happened. It’s at the very least an awkward year. You’re still a child and sometimes it’s hard to leave behind the pleasures of our childhood, but then you’re also going through puberty to some degree even it started before your 13th birthday or not until later. The changes were being felt. Boys tend to be all elbows and knees about the time they are in their 13th year. I can’t speak for girls, but I am sure that there is some of that for them as well. The truth is girls start being of much more interest to guys during that year. They certainly were for me. What were the things that allowed me to have something fond to look back on for that year? Let me tell you about them.

            First, there was baseball. MLB wasn’t like it is today. The game was still mostly pure in those days. The big story that year was the Detroit Tigers. They had a heck of a team. The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t exactly slouches. These two teams met in the World Series about a month after 7th grade began. It was a great series. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals out-dueled Denny McClain twice in the series. It looked like the Cards would win it there for a while. But the Tigers also had Mickey Lolich pitching and he won 3 games out of the 7. Denny McClain had been something of a phenom during the season by being the first pitcher to win 30 or more games in a single season in over 30 years. Not since the days of Dizzy Dean had we seen that kind of numbers. The Tigers ended up winning the series in 7 games. It was a terrific distraction from the other stuff going on around me. As it turned out, it was the last year for Mickey Mantle to play and the rookie season for Johnny Bench. It was also the first year that my hometown team, the Houston Astros, would come in last place.

            Second and probably the most influential thing in my life at the time, was the music. It was an incredible year for music. And it wasn’t just one genre that was firing on all cylinders. It was truly a classic year in most genres. 7th grade started the day before “Hey Jude” ascended to #1 on the Billboard Chart where it would stay for 9 weeks. The months of my 7th grade, September 1968 - May1969 had an incredible number of classic recordings. And I bought as many 45 rpm records of those hits as I could afford. It was the year we first heard of Creedence Clearwater Revival via their hits, “Suzie Q”, “Proud Mary”, and “Bad Moon Rising”. Besides “Hey Jude”, the Beatles also gave us “Get Back”. Tommy James and The Shondells gave us “Crimson and Clover”, “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, and “Sweet Cherry Wine”. Glen Campbell crossed-over with both country and pop hits, “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston”. Donovan gave us “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Atlantis” while Elvis Presley gave us his comeback record, “In The Ghetto”. There were country classics such as “A Boy Named Sue”, “Stand By Your Man”, and “Harper Valley PTA”. I think that I bought all of those records and then some. It was a time when musicians and actors, for the most part, kept their political beliefs and leanings to themselves. This allowed us to like their work without it being colored by their beliefs. Oh, there were a few who spoke out, but for the most part it was all about the music. Whenever some of that negative stuff that was happening around me during that year started to get me down, I just put on one of those records and things were suddenly better. I danced to the records in my room and lip synched to them with a comb. I also started to play the guitar. I was lousy at first, but in my mind, I wanted to be like one of those artists that I listened to.

            Finally, reading became a great escape from the “stuff” that got me down. I started reading books like “Ivanhoe”, “Robinson Crusoe”, and a series of books sponsored by Alfred Hitchcock that were mysteries written for guys my age then. They were known as “The Three Investigators”. It was about three friends who begin to solve mysteries as a team. The boys were all about 13 or 14 years-old. I also started to pay closer attention to the lyrics of some of those songs. In particular, “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel was very influential to me.

            Life that year was difficult. I can’t put it any other way. There were some physical ailments that I suffered, a bully, the awkwardness of puberty, and the loss of a friend that I had to contend with. School was a horror for me due to the above-mentioned things and because I was struggling that year in two of the subjects, math and French. I got my first ever F that year. But all of those things, as bad as they seemed at the time, were overcome with one of the positive things that I have mentioned. I think about my granddaughter who will turn 13 in January. She’s in 7th grade right now. She no doubt is facing some of those personal issues that all of us do at that age, but she’s also facing the effects of Covid-19 and a nation in serious decline and unrest. Just the Covid-19 thing has been hard on her. She is homeschooling which means her friendships are now via a computer. She, like all of us, is having to wear a mask when going somewhere. At an age when your appearance is so important to you it must be difficult to have to wear a silly looking mask. But then she also has the worry of catching this thing and that must be a heavy thing for a 12-year-old to bear. She loves her younger siblings and it shows, but I can only imagine (given I was the youngest kid in my family) what it must be like to be the oldest of 4 with one of them being only 5 months old and another 2 years old. She is a great aid to her mother with this regard, but she’s still just a child herself. To her credit, I have never heard her complain. She loves her little siblings and it shows.

            Here’s the point. We all go through times in our lives when things aren’t the best. There will always be things that get us down or make life more difficult. But if we focus on some of the things that make us happy, then it will make those bad things not seem as bad. That’s what I did 52 years ago and have been doing ever since. Yes, even now. As crazy as this world seems to be getting, as difficult as the physical ailments that any 65-year-old goes through, the joys in my life are those grandkids, my daughter and her husband, my sister and brother-in-law, and the handful of friends that I stay close to. Oh, and there’s still that music. I can still listen to those songs and feel good. What was it Paul McCartney said in “Hey Jude”? “Take a sad song and make it better.” We can learn from those simple words.

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