I had a flashback while witnessing a performance a few days ago in the Durham Performing Arts Center as a fill-in guest of a friend after her daughter couldn’t use one of their season tickets.
For many years I’ve been aware of the history behind The Million Dollar Quartet, but I hadn’t known until this last Tuesday how closely it coincided with my own discovery of rock and roll.
My flashback was triggered when I learned that, coincidentally, I was viewing the DPAC performance on the very night the event had occurred years ago, December 4th, 56 years ago.
The musical is based on documentation, including recordings and photographs such as the one shown in this blog, of a night when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis came together for what would be one last time with Sam Phillips at Sun Records for a jam-session at the dawn of their hall-of-fame careers.
I realized, reading the screen (shown in this blog) as the audience filed into the theater, that the original event had occurred in 1956 exactly 26 days before I first felt the the sensation of rock and roll music.
My family was spending New Year’s Eve in a small motel suite with the doors to each side-by-side room facing a sidewalk and parking. I was eight days away from being 8 1/2 years old.
My first introduction to rock that night of December 31, 1956 wasn’t over the radio because the stations picked up by many towns in 1956 and even through my high school years had to go off-air at sunset.
Instead, I first heard the joy of rock and roll that night when someone in the adjacent room was playing a hit by Elvis Presley on a small portable turntable playing through an open door while it seemed that every guest in the facility was mingling outside in anticipation of the New Year.
Spontaneously everyone began dancing, including my 5-year-old middle sister and I. Who knows, but maybe hearing that very new music that night may have been why fusions such as rockabilly, country-folk and country-rock music have always kept perfect time with my internal metronome.
That specific date and hour at the close of 1956 were seared into my memory by more than this new genre of music. Unable to reconcile my grandparent’s refusal to embed the transfer of the generational ranchland my parents worked after WWII, my parents were in the process of moving away from away from the Yellowstone-Teton-Idaho nook of my origins.
That motel was in another state entirely and the vehicles parked in front of the motel included not only our two-tone DeSoto but also our two-and-half ton truck filled with our belongings. The next day, after having explored the Bitterroot Valley, my parents began to create and work a new farmstead of their own.
We stayed close with my grandparents but we wouldn’t return to live in our homeland until 7 years later.
Any follower of this blog, especially any posts with the keyword “personal” or “family” history knows the significance of this transition on me even as a nearly 9-year-old. Ironically, the stubbornness of my grandparents about establishing a will, recreated a situation identical to what they had experienced themselves when my great-grand-parents died without a will and they were forced to painstakingly reassemble homesteads.
Maybe that’s why I was so eager to break that cycle and developed my first will before I was even thirty-years-old.
Coincidentally, at its essence, the musical I saw last week is about the painful break-up of formative relationships as people grow and move beyond those who help spawn them.