One of the best years of my life was between Summer 1999 and Summer 2000, the majority of which was made up of my senior year of high school. Like everyone, I couldn’t wait for high school to be to be over at the time, but it’s funny how much we romanticize that time 14 years after it ended, probably because we never have to go back to it. Knowing this time would soon be gone forever, and with only the limited promise of community college waiting for me on the other side of graduation, I vowed to soak up all the fun I could before full-on adulthood overtook my life.
The biggest perk to being a high school senior is how age is finally on your side. Yes, you can now be licensed to operate a ton-and-a-half box of steel and plastic. Bravo. What’s the biggest perk of driving a car on your own? You get to pick the tunes, of course!
My first car was a 1998 Ford Contour, a midsize 4-door number with a handful of bells and whistles that seemed like a reasonable place to start. My friend Ed had a 1983 Lincoln Town Car, which was the size of a small cruise ship and had all the cutting edge technology of its heyday: hand crank windows and pop-up locks. Our lunch period was near the end of the school day and on more than a few occasions, we’d skip our last two classes and take a long lunch before heading home early. Fast food, pizza, subs…all the food a growing boy needs. It’s pretty amazing to think of how much food you can take in and process as a teenager with zero effect on your body. These days, if I have more than three slices of pizza in one night, none of my jeans fit the next day.
Ed had a box of cassette tapes in his car (here’s a link to cassettes on Wikipedia for the “under 25” crowd). It was a mish-mash of old country, punk compilations, and classic rock. At the beginning of one of our midday excursions, he pops in the soundtrack for Dazed & Confused (more enjoyable than the movie, for my money) and I’m immediately sucked in from the opening notes of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” by Rick Derringer. I wasn’t alive in the 70’s but this album serves as a reliable glimpse into teenage pop radio from that decade. Groovy cheese like Foghat’s “Slow Ride” and The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” falls comfortably in between undisputed classics like ZZ Top’s “Tush” and Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” the album’s closing track. It was also the first place I heard Nazareth’s “Love Hurts,” which became something of a personal anthem for me during the next two years, but I won’t bore you with that.
To this day, whenever I hear “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo,” I can still picture Ed in the driver’s seat of that Lincoln: bouncing to the music, singing along to the lyrics he knows (and faking through the ones he doesn’t), hand hanging out the window tucking a lit cigarette between puffs. The song brings me back to that sweet spot between youth and adulthood when both overlap, especially when you’re on the brink of high school graduation and so much of life is ahead of you. Even though the whole album is stuffed with great tracks, just hearing this tune is enough to…well, “light my fuse.”
By the way, we’ll be returning to explore more of Ed’s box of tapes soon enough.