January 25, 2018

What I Say

In 1960 or ’61, I was in the eighth grade, stuck out in a little whitebread suburb of Boston, perfectly happy & content listening to Elvis and The Kingston Trio. Then Charley moved to town. Charley was from East Boston, but unlike most all of the other people from East Boston (or “East-a Bost”) who moved into town, he was not of Italian origin, but Greek, though Charley had a bit of the wise guy (and “Wiseguy”) about him, and hadn’t shed his big city attitude. But he had a good sense of humor, and a pretty good heart, so he found his way into our small town junior high circle fairly painlessly. He brought some interesting expressions, and mannerisms, and a few dirty pictures that he’d copped from somewhere in his childhood and managed to secrete from his parents, but more importantly, he brought Ray Charles to us. It was the beginning of Ray Charles’s career, and he was news to us entirely, and “What’d I Say” was electrifying in the same way that “Tutti Frutti” and “Great Balls of Fire” had been a couple of years earlier. You sit up and say “What’s THIS then?” when you hear one of these guys for the first time – whether the Killer or Janis Joplin or Dylan – there’s usually a shudder of unrecognition when someone outside the box comes along. Charley had a party, early in the 8th grade term, to sort of introduce himself around etc. At that party we heard Ray Charles, and a few of us WASPy types were puzzled and a few were too good to be bothered with it, but most of us ate it up.

A couple of years later (late ninth grade), I fell, for the first time, arse-over-teakettle in lust with an adorable little blonde named Susie (Susie M. if you must know more details). It was at a dance of some kind, in the parish hall of the Congo church. Susie and I danced a few times together, mostly slow tunes of course, not because I couldn’t dance fast but because for me the point of dancing was body contact with one’s partner. Then on came a brand new release – “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” Ray Charles’ first significant departure from the R&B/Soul stuff he’d mastered then reinvented. And now here he was reinventing Country, taking this old Don Gibson chestnut and breathing something into it that no country singer could. And Susie and I danced to that record, and when it was over we held onto each other for dear life, and we were in love, and ICSLY was our song, and it’s our song to this day, though I’ve no idea in the world where she might be or what she might be doing. In memory she’s forever in my arms, thirteen years old, smelling like a garden in paradise, and Ray Charles is singing … “I’ve made up my mind….”

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Nice little microcosm of the times, I say as someone who didn’t live through them. And a lovely ending…

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  2. Love this.

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About Dean Quarrell

Mr. Quarrell was born in 1946, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He has so far survived various public schools, community college, university (his baccalaureate degree is in English but written in Latin), the US Air Force, and various employment, including 30 years in the software industry. He lives and writes in New Hampshire.

Category

Writing, (noun & verb)