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"We'll all be gone for the summer; we're on safari to stay."
-- The Beach Boys (Brian Wilson)

“If everybody had an ocean” – those lyrics reverberated from our car radios (AM station of course) in the summer of 1963 and resonated with images of teenage carefree enthusiasm for life. Indeed, the heartland where I lived didn’t have an ocean, but this was our year for that most coveted of teenage possessions – a driver’s license. Mine was obtained in the spring of 1963 and by summer I routinely had the family car (a 1959 bright red Plymouth) for going on dates or cruising the streets of Lincoln, Nebraska with the guys. Unlike many of my peers, cars were not really my thing and I’ve always considered them as no more than a means of transportation. But when you’re sixteen, getting behind that wheel meant more independence than you’d ever experienced before. For most of 1963, life was a lighthearted adventure – especially when viewed from the perspective of years of adulthood filled with much greater responsibilities than a looming algebra test. 

And 1963 did indeed begin with some magic as I had my first “date” with Judy. It really wasn’t much of a date – just a meeting at a couples party at a friend’s house. But it led to phone conversations and eventually real dates (the drivers license) and a “steady” relationship that lasted through the spring months. But when summer approached I made what may have been one of my biggest adolescent blunders when I broke up with Judy as I determined a “relationship” was too constricting for all this new teenage independence we had at our fingertips. Not being tied down seemed like a great idea, but by the end of the summer I made a decision that dating took too much attention and infringed too much on opportunities for poker night and / or searching for a pool hall that would allow teenagers to play and / or practicing basketball or tennis in order to make varsity my junior year. My adolescent blunder would eventually be rectified as I would ask Judy out again our junior year – of course she turned me down. But then a year later I tried once again (obviously there was something there). She accepted. We dated our senior year. We dated through three years of college. We got married and four kids and thirteen grandkids later, we’re still happily married.

In 1963 my musical taste ran toward what might be called “traditional rock and roll” (somehow that seems a contradiction in terms). I was a big fan of The Four Seasons (“Walk Like A Man” and “Candy Girl”) and although now I’m a little ashamed to admit it, liked Bobby Vinton, especially “Blue on Blue.” The Crystals were always a favorite (“Da Doo Ron Ron”) and, of course, The Beach Boys. Their 45’s were played regularly on my stereo and the radio was always turned up when a Beach Boy song was playing. I didn’t find too much I liked with the new Motown sound – didn’t really care for “Fingertips” by Stevie Wonder and it wasn’t until years later that I found I liked “Come and Get These Memories” by Martha & The Vandellas and “Can I Get A Witness” by Marvin Gaye. (The Supremes, The Temptations, and The Four Tops were on the horizon.) And for the most part, I wasn’t into “Hootenanny” – for the record, I had no clue that “Puff (the Magic Dragon)” might be about marijuana – had little clue as to what marijuana was. There were some country sounds I liked – “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash and “Detroit City” by Bobby Bare were favorites.

One of my favorite all-time television series debuted in 1963 – “The Fugitive” starring David Janssen. For four years Lieutenant Gerard pursued Richard Kimble across America while Dr. Kimble pursued the “one armed man.” The title narrative told it all: “The Fugitive, a QM Production—starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble: an innocent victim of blind justice, falsely convicted for the murder of his wife ... reprieved by fate when a train wreck freed him en route to the death house ... freed him to hide in lonely desperation, to change his identity, to toil at many jobs ... freed him to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime ... freed him to run before the relentless pursuit of the police lieutenant obsessed with his capture”* (narrated by Robert Conrad). I continued to be a fan of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (Mary Tyler Moore!). Sunday night it was usually time for viewing “Bonanza.”

In movies, 1963 was a great year as it produced one of my all-time favorites, “The Great Escape.” It featured two of my favorite actors with James Garner playing Robert Hendley, an American who was shot down while serving in the RAF and became the “scrounger” for the escape artists; and Steve McQueen who was ultra cool as Virgil Hilts, an American who taunted the Germans at every turn but ultimately lost in the motorcycle chase that ended with him coiled in barbed wire after a failed attempt to jump the barricade. There was also “The Birds” – a Hitchcock thriller, and “Tom Jones” – pretty sexy material for 1963. And 1963 was the first time we met Inspector Clouseu -- "The Pink Panther."

Maybe the biggest event of 1963 came in the form of a movie in late summer with the release “Beach Party.” We couldn’t wait to get to the drive-in to see it. From the promotions on the radio and poster advertising, we could see it had everything that life was about at that time: surf music, summer fun at the beach, Annette in a two piece, dancing parties, Annette in a two piece. But the movie was somewhat of a disappointment. The surf music wasn’t bad, but the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, or even The Surfaris, weren’t there. Dick Dale was okay, but we would have preferred the sounds we’d been listening to all summer. Just imagine if the kids would have all been called to a party by the sound of Jan & Dean, “we’re going to Surf City, gonna have some fun!” The plot was silly; the teen lifestyle portrayed was a little sideways (at least for those of us that were teens at the time). Annette was good – but a bikini would have been better (these were the standards of a sixteen year old boy).

So, while the teens in the streets of Birmingham were being washed away by power hoses and attacked by snarling dogs, while the great march on Washington was taking place and Martin Luther King, Jr. was proclaiming “I have a dream;” I was preoccupied with a teen beach movie. I was totally unaware that the United States had backed a military coup in Viet Nam, and didn’t even know where Viet Nam was. The political and global events of the day were mostly off my radar. That all changed in November.

For my generation, there is one moment in time that we all share. I was walking down a hallway at Lincoln High School. A student walked out of the American History offices and told us the President had been shot. We went into the office and gathered around the radio to listen, eventually hearing the tragic news that President Kennedy was dead.

I’d like to say that everything changed at that moment, that I, along with my peers suddenly woke up to the world around us and became more involved; became more our adult selves. But it really didn’t work that way. Sadly, I remember one of our biggest concerns was whether or not we would have basketball practice. But even in our teenage world, there was a sense of loss. As we watched the events of the next week unfold on television, we were profoundly saddened by the pictures of the grieving family, we were shocked by the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, and we bowed our heads with the rest of the nation as the funeral procession moved through the nation’s capitol. 

At year’s end, I remember a trip to Omaha (I actually got to drive) to visit a discount store (there were no K-Marts in Lincoln at that time) and I bought three albums: “The Best of the Drifters,” “The Shirelles Greatest Hits,” and “The Ventures Play Telstar.” I was inclined to buy the Ventures’ version because I liked all the other songs on the album. The purchase of the other two albums illustrated that I was already a devotee of the “oldies.” And all three were indicative of a change from 45’s to albums. Also, it shows a trend that would continue: I tended to buy albums that either had multiple “hit” songs (usually greatest hits albums), or those with other tracks that were covers of successful records by other artists. To my chagrin, that was a mind set that I had a hard time shaking -- I never did own a copy of “Sgt. Pepper.”

Obviously, my teenage life hadn’t changed much – the assassination of President Kennedy hadn’t propelled me to sign up for the Peace Corps, or to become actively involved in protesting civil rights violations. I was listening to music, playing basketball, going to post game dances, and hanging out with friends. And yet, somewhere deep inside (I can almost hear Don McLean singing**) there was lethargy – a feeling that Patty Paige would express – “Is that all there is?” 

The teens of America started hearing about this phenomenon called “Beatle Mania.” At first, I thought it was a little silly – kind of like those girls of the fifties screaming over Elvis. When 1964 began, I heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the radio, but didn’t run out to buy the 45. But like nearly everybody else, I sat in front of the television on February 9th, 1964 and watched as Ed Sullivan introduced the Beatles. And like nearly every other teen, I was blown away. It wasn’t just the sound – I had heard the record. It was the performance. It was their energy. I went right out and bought two Beatle 45’s. When I think about it now, I wonder if there was a kind of pall cast over our lives after the Kennedy assassination and perhaps that pall was lifted when Paul & George leaned into the microphone, shook their hair and did their Little Richard “OOOOOOOOOO.” Maybe it is somewhat revisionist, but I believe our teenage bon vivant returned to us at that point, and maybe was the starting point of a new generation.

Certainly, the world didn’t turn on a dime with the dawn of 1964. But American culture was being bent in a new direction. The fifties, the “Elvis Era,” had died and a new era was born. I consider myself a child of the fifties – they were my formative years and my life has fit the pattern that was laid down for me – education, marriage, family. I never got to Woodstock, literally or figuratively. My response to the Vietnam war was avoidance. Although I followed the new trends in dress and embraced the new music, my core values were too solidified for me to become a flower child. Although I would intellectually embrace the civil rights and anti-war movements, I would not take to the streets in protest. Although I would tend to agree with counter-culture that saw our world as too materialistic, I would not turn on and drop out. I would vote for Nixon in 1968 (not a teenager at the time, but something I consider another blunder). I would vote for McGovern in 1972.

But in 1963, that was all ahead of us in a world we couldn’t imagine. We hadn’t even heard of the Rolling Stones, hadn’t seen a mini-skirt, couldn’t conceive of a movie like “Easy Rider.” Our music was the “fun sound” that oldies stations trumpet today. We had no idea that our “rock and roll” would become the “rock” music that would urge us to “please come to Chicago, or else join the other side." We can change the world.”*** In 1963, it was “the end of the innocence” (“but somewhere back there in the dust, that same small town in each of us”)****; life was our endless summer with nothing but good times ahead. Indeed, “If everybody had an ocean.”

*These are the words used for a majority of "The Fugitive" seasons. The segment in the audio at the top of the page were from the first episode."
**Don McLean in “American Pie” would write, “something touched me deep inside, the day the music died.”
***Words from “Chicago” written by Graham Nash in response to the 1968 Democratic Convention held in Chicago and performed by Crosby, Stills & Nash
****”The End of the Innocense” by Don Henley

No car of my own, but the car I drove was a 1959 Plymouth -- wow -- look at those fins!
From our high school yearbook -- Joe & Judy, 1963.
"Walk Like A Man" was The Four Season's third consecutive #1 record -- I wasn't alone when I declared them one of my favorite artists in 1963.
I had no idea that Peter, Paul & Mary might be singing about marijuana.
"The Fugitive" ran from 1963 to 1967. Inspired by Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," was in black and white until its final season. It received a Grammy for Best Dramatic series in 1965.
Charles Bronson and James Coburn were also favorites from "The Great Escape."
Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon were familiar faces in 1963 -- Annette from her Mouseketeer days and Frankie from his Bandstand days. "Beach Party" had a natural appeal to teenagers.
The Drifters were always one of my favorite groups -- they had two top ten hits in 1963, "Up On The Roof" and "On Broadway." This album introduced me to some of their earlier records, such as "There Goes My Baby."
Our whole generation knows exactly where they were when they heard about the assasination of JFK.
I found The Venture's versions of "Telstar" and "The Lonely Bull" to be quite satisfactory.
The Beatles popularity had exploded in 1963 -- above, Paul and George appear in an October show in Sweden.
When the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan the next February, I tuned in mostly out of curiosity. By the end of the performance, I was a fan.
The sound of The Beach Boys evokes the memories of fun in the sun in 1963 -- things would change after that summer.