“ . . . It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.”
And so Ren McCormack, sporting spiked hair, skinny tie, and teenage angst, saves a generation of small town teenagers from a lifetime devoid of music and dance and defines an era for us all. He was our rebel in tight faded jeans and Adidas dancing through life defying the authorities whose purpose it was to rob us of our freedom of expression!
Cut to Fall 1975. It was probably the scariest evening of my young life. My first Barboursville Junior High School dance. My first dance ever. I wore a hand made lavender dress. It had short sleeves and an empire waste with velvet and lace trim, and I knew I was rockin’ the look. Unfortunately I had pudgy cheeks (the very same acorn pouches I’ve been unable to get rid of to this day), a full set of braces, and long hair parted on the side that still showed remnants of the summer’s experiment with Sun-In hair lightening spray. So, “rockin’ it” may have been a stretch of the imagination, but a girl sure does feel pretty in lavender.
At that point, the only thing I really knew about dancing was what I’d learned on “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train”. While I’d never really practiced my moves, I had an inkling that I could pull off the awkward twisting those kids on Bandstand were attempting, but I knew I was too inexperienced to groove with the likes of Don Cornelius. But more to the point, I was horrified at the thought of flopping and gyrating like a fish on a dry dock in public! I had to go to school with these people and I certainly wasn’t going to do anything that got me stuffed in a locker. I deduced that I was fairly safe. I was, after all, a 7th grader with braces. I could make an appearance, pretend to fit in, and then quietly slip out the door before attracting attention as the only girl who didn’t dance. Then on Monday I would simply claim to be a nonconformist, appearing to be mysterious and radical.
But there was Jack O’Shea, Huntington WV’s celebrity DJ. Set up on the far end of what was on most days our lunchroom, he was spinning his vinyl, wielding his weapon of terror at me. Threatening. Intimidating.
Before I knew what was happening Peter had asked me to dance. To my astonishment I heard someone who sounded a lot like me accept his invitation and I turned around to see who it was. I came face to face with the celadon painted cinder block wall that in it’s full fluorescent splendor made our daily lunches look like cheese mold. I had ignorantly accepted simply because I was unprepared for the invitation and didn’t yet know how to decline gracefully. This was not going according to plan at all.
Peter was my best friend’s older brother though and I trusted he had no intention of spilling pig blood on my head or pants-ing me in front of the whole school so I followed him to the dance floor. I wish I could say that a poignant song burst forth from the speakers, defining this life-altering moment, but I can’t. I don’t even remember the song. What I do remember is that something extraordinary happend . . . . and I danced. I didn’t think about it. I didn’t have the chance to choreograph my moves, and I didn’t even need to. Jack Oshea’s weapon had worked its magic and I was swept away by the beat, and I danced! Before the evening was over Peter had danced with all of us girls more than once, giving us that little push in the direction of confidence we all needed.
I would see Peter often after that evening yet we would never dance again. But Jack O’Shea and I would dance again and often. I had overcome my fear of the spinning vinyl and my inner performer had been unleashed. Block parties, school dances. Jack and I were a team from then on.
Jack’s fame was sealed in my heart when, after relentless pressure, he played the single “Hair of the Dog” at another Junior High dance. Classic rock. Nazareth screaming “Now your messin with a . . . a son of a bitch! Now you’re messin with a sonofabitch!” The crowd went crazy. It was like legal anarchy. We could sing the word without penalty. We weren’t SAYING it. We were SINGING it! We all took our turn at requesting the song that night. For one short evening we were 13- and 14-year-old rock and roll rebels. And Jack patiently acquiesced, knowing that our resistance would be a memory come morning.
Jack was always there it seemed; at Barboursville Pool, Guyan Estates Pool, and Dreamland, where we spent our lazy summer days listening to WKEE in the background and counting on Jack to remind us to turn so we wouldn’t burn. We earned our drivers licenses and he was there, playing our favorite songs as we blasted the radio for our first solo drive. We went to Davidson Record Shop to buy 45’s of our favorites. And we called in our song requests to the station, sitting by the radio with our cassette tape players in hand, hoping to time the intro of the song with the push of the “record” button.
I’m 47 years old now. My turntable has been in storage for years, my cassette player a tired icon of the past. Today, I play my music on an Ipod. And if you ever listen with me, you’ll hear the likes of Nazareth, Boston, Kansas, Peter Frampton and so many more artists that I first came to love through Jack O’Shea’s influence. He had made music cool, something our music teachers had tried desperately and so often failed to do with Mozart and Chopin. He saved a generation of small town teenagers from a lifetime devoid of music and dance.
These days I find myself spending more time in high heels and cross-trainers while my dancing shoes gather dust. But there are still those rare moments . . .. like when “Billy Jean” lures my husband onto a dance floor to kick off a party, or when I might be caught behind closed doors getting down with my own bad self to “Let the Music Play.” The hook of that familiar beat will forever call, reminding me of a time when the music worked it’s magic . . . and I danced.
See, it was our time to dance. We thought we were the first, that we were blazing a path, but it’s really the way it’s always been. It was simply our turn to celebrate life.