Photo of my brother Kevin Allard at age 10 on December 25, 1975
by Gargs Allard
I was one of those kids who was into a lot of retro things, but I wasn’t too conscious of it other than I knew what I liked when I heard it. As a result, I often overlooked the music of the day, while many of my peers overlooked the music from the past. For example, when my same-age friends were listening to the punk rock and new wave of the second half of the ’70s, I was listening to the hippie music and acid rock of the late ‘60s. Soon after I entered elementary school and the third grade, I became friends with older kids from middle school in my neighborhood who I had just met over the preceding summer. Imagine, if you will, being 8 years old in 1972 in Northeastern Connecticut and having many of my main friends who were just becoming teenagers. What music do you think I might have been exposed to?
Perhaps my youngest musical memory was in the backseat of a Chevy Impala convertible in 1966 or 1967, when I was no more than 2 or 3, with my sister Lorna, then around 17, and her boyfriend Tim (who was both a cabinet maker and a marijuana dealer) in the front seat, as “Got to Get You Into My Life” by the Beatles came out of his supped up speakers located on the back dash of the car. With the music blaring, I got really into it as I watched in surprise as another convertible drove up beside us and a funny-smelling cigarette was passed from moving car to moving car. I later innocently told my mother what had happened and my sister denied it to both of our faces.
Some of my musical memories that followed were from music class with Mr. Garret from the 3rd to 8th grade. Mr. Garret was a black man with straight dark hair and a pressed grey suit teaching the universal language of music to a practically all-white school. He would sit in front of us and looked at us over his shoulder from his side, propped in front of a large piano his stoic expression never seemed to change. He handed out music books and mimeographed copies of songs he had hand chosen for us and had us sing the lyrics along with the music that he played. Even though he was quite strict and didn’t let us come close to him personally, he could play well and I liked the music he selected for us to sing. He taught us “Blowing in the Wind,” “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza,” “Hold ’em Joe,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Zoom Past Mars,” “Seventy-Six Trombones,” and so many more I can’t recall at the present moment. By the time we were ready to graduate from middle school, he had us rehearse and sing “The Goodbye Girl” by David Gates of Bread fame for our ceremony, back when Richard Dreyfus was in seemingly every big movie. It was quite a tear jerker, especially for the girls.
I was also introduced to a shitload of music on the school bus from 1st grade all the way through my senior year in high school. “Shaving Cream,” “Convoy,” “The Monster Mash” and “The Streak” were all novelty songs that I particularly liked before I hit the age of 10. Around that time, “Run Joey Run” by David Geddes and “The Night Chicago Died” by Paper Lace were played regularly on the radio. Other favorites of mine included “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns, “Seasons in the Sun” by Terry Jacks and “Jackie Blue” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
I often hung out in the too cool for school Wayne Sperry’s basement like many older kids in the neighborhood did. While all the teenagers smoked pot and made out with their girlfriends, at 8 or 9, I was allowed to stay there if I was quiet. As a result, I just sat there silently and listened intently to the music they blasted. Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” “Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” and the debut Aerosmith album got a lot of spins.
One older friend, named Joe Miner, used to take me to his house and play me what he called “the real good stuff.” He turned me onto Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, and the Beatles. I poured over the albums and memorized all the lyrics. By the time I was 10, my younger brother Kevin and I started collecting our own records. Joe sometimes came to my class after school to hang out, This surprised a fellow third grader who said, “You do stuff with that kid?”
Dylan’s “I Shall Be Free # 10” and Chuck Berry’s “School Days” particularly struck a chord with me.
In 1975, we were still heavily influenced by pop music. “Love Will Keep Us Together” by Captain and Tennille was really big at the time and my brother and I loved it. As were songs like “My Eyes Adored You,” by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons and “Fly Robin Fly” by the Silver Convention, which was one of the first disco songs I ever seriously listened to.
In 1976, when my brother and I really got into rock ‘n’ roll more seriously, I still can recall the chill going down my spine from hearing “Hotel California” in the car of our friend Phil’s mother for the first time. My brother Kevin, Phil and I all looked at each other and said “Whoa!” I looked up the word “colitas” in the dictionary but the closest word I could find was “colitis” and I was sure a colon condition wasn’t what Don Henley was referring to as rising up through the air. Later, when I found out it was slang for weed, the seed was then planted that I would have to try smoking colitas some day myself.
My mother used to bring my brother and I shopping and we’d always stop off at some Italian restaurant owned by Greeks in romantic Willimantic, Connecticut like Papa’s or Mama’s. There, before our grinders and pizzas were ready, we got lots of quarters from our mother and played songs like “The No No Song” by Ringo Starr and “Please, Mr. Please” by Olivia Newton John to our hearts content.
I think my tendency to gravitate toward the past was partly because I like to see where things come from, partly because I have a certain since of innate gratitude in my bones, and partly because I always disdained the “unenlightened masses” swarming around the latest trends, even if it happened to be what I would later concede as good music. Another reason was my sisters were a generation older than my brother and I and we started hearing music from them from the time, I assume, we started hearing in my mother’s womb.
I liked some of the newer groups that were hitting it big by the mid-1970s, like Boston and Queen, but if I had my way, I would have been much happier to turn the clock back to the 1960s.. By the time I was a teenager and my friends were listening to Blondie, Devo, and the Talking Heads, I was smoking lots of reefer and listening to Steppenwolf, the Youngbloods and the Beatles’ “Revolver” over and over again.
Many of the popular artists of the late 1970s, who I love now, like Billy Joel, the Bee Gees, the Clash, the Ramones, the Talking Heads or the Police, I resisted then to some degree, or I liked them but wouldn’t admit it. In fact, it wasn’t until I heard the song “Refugee” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “Damn the Torpedoes” album on a Saturday Night Live episode circa 1979 that my attitude finally started to change.
When he hit the stage, I was startled. The energy from both the crowd and he and his band was raw and electrifying. The hooks were magnetic and the lyrics were clever and above all, totally rebellious but in a witty and seemingly wise way all at the same time. I felt he got me and we never met. And that voice- like a modern Dylan and Roger McGuinn, but with a fucking bad-ass attitude. Not as angry as Elvis Costello per se, but a presence not to be denied. And not clueless and downright stupid like a Johnny Rotten or a Sid Vicious.
“Who the hell is Tom Petty?” I thought. Later, I heard his story of determination and defiance against the record industry behind Damn the Torpedoes and it dawned on me how Petty was carrying the torch of the truly thoughtful yet irreverent attitude of rock ‘n’ roll from his idols, like the Beatles, Dylan and the Byrds onto the next generation, while flipping the bird to the proverbial “man.”
It was Petty who opened up the floodgates of my mind for me and allowed me to accept new music as viable and not reject something simply because the crowd was into it. While that’s harder now, considering the sometimes sorry state of mainstream music, I have continued to keep an open mind because of Petty, who himself has continued to make great relevant music and sell out arenas and amphitheaters around the country as he pushes toward the age of 70.
When I read this article to my friend, who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he noted that before my generation, all the kids rejected their parents’ music and accepted whatever was new, but because music from the Beatles-era was so timeless, I was probably in the first generation where a healthy percentage of us looked back to find our musical inspirations. Tom Petty helped me to continue to look forward.
That defiant and thoughtful music is what, to me, rock ‘n’ roll is all about, no matter what era it is from. It is also what my life has been all about – by choice or by force, always going against the grain, thinking outside the confining boxes and following your heart no matter what the drones and non-critically-thinking working bees of the world may prematurely judge.
It means giving my association to others and choosing whether I take theirs from them or not. It is like music that honors the past and stays fresh and relevant into the future, whenever and wherever it is recorded.
To me, that is the real spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, no matter what sub-genre and sub-sub genre you may want to classify it as. It is as Jerry Lee Lewis said in the film History of Rock & Roll, “Rock ‘n’ roll is rock ‘n’ roll.”
It is all that and much more, actually, because while everyone defines rock ‘n’ roll differently according to their own relative viewpoint, I think Tom Petty put it best in the song “Have Love, Will Travel” when he said, “How bout a cheer for all those bad girls?/And all those boys that play that rock and roll?/They love it like you love Jesus/It does the same thing to their souls.”
Photo of my brother Kevin Allard at age 10 on December 25, 1975Share on social media