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Summer of 1962

by David Soulsby, author of the novel "Somewhere in the Distance"

 

Is it really almost 50 years since I was a gangly 16-year-old-coming-on-17, as I was at the start of the summer of 1962? Where has the time gone? Rewind back all those years and golden anniversaries are everywhere, some personal, others universal …

That summer, there was a sense of expectation, anticipation and a fair amount of       trepidation. The expectation centred round the first major school exams: those that decided how the rest of your life might pan out. Pass enough of them and things, we were told, would be rosy: wave the certificate of success high in the air. Fail, however, and the future could be less fruitful.

Anticipation centred on the seemingly endless wait to hear how well or otherwise you’d done. And that’s where the sense of trepidation came in: everyone in my circle of school friends was in the same boat. We spent that summer on shifting sands. One moment we would be confident that we’d come through with flying colours, the next moment we’d be fretting that we’d be flops, castaways on the sea of uncertainty. Going out to work at 16 was not a bad thing for everyone, but for some, sadly, it meant that they were less likely to reach their full potential.

Throughout that summer we were listening to Ray Charles’ I Can’t Stop Loving You, and Bobby Darin’s Things, while Elvis serenaded us with She’s Not You. But the song that seemed to perfectly capture the mood of the season was Brian Hyland’s Sealed With A Kiss. It was a simple ditty, sung by a clean-cut guy who oozed charm and sincerity. The song was in stark contrast to the rawness of the blues and the explosiveness of raucous rock ‘n’ roll that my friends and I loved, but we embraced it all the same. Some labelled it bubblegum gum, while others called it saccharine and soft-centred. Well yes, it WAS just a simple pop song, but just so infectious and innocent. Pop music was often maligned but its innocence and frothiness was what gave it its appeal.

Sealed With A Kiss was the song that we heard all the time on Radio Luxembourg while caravan holidaying in the first week of our summer break. We’d managed to persuade our parents to let us go off by ourselves, unsupervised and on trust. For us, it was the first sign of nearing young adulthood. We were on our own, free, within reason, to do what we wanted. It was our first taste of real freedom.

Ray Charles had been a big hero for a few years: I’d gotten into his music via a friend whose parents had most of his early blues and jazz-influenced stuff from before he hit the mainstream. For my pals and me, he was the defining singer: he could do anything, blues, gospel, jazz, and ballads, pop. He had it all and we loved him. We spent many an evening listening to our collection of his 45s.

Bobby Darin had the looks and the presence: he captured our attention because he had style and managed to make the most of his talent, which was giving often ordinary lyrics a sense of fun and gravitas. The girls thought he was cute and cuddly. We, the boys, simply liked his music. 

 It was a summer of self-discovery and growing self-awareness. My school friends and I were beginning to find our feet. Adulthood was looming fast, seemingly just around the corner. Sure, we were still very much answerable to our parents, still very respectful of them, and still not quite mature enough and experienced enough to stand on our own two feet. But we were changing, slowly but surely moving away from their way of life, their views and ambitions. We were just beginning to etch out our mark on the social and cultural landscape. We weren’t exactly in revolt, far from it, but we did recognise a deep desire to do things in a different way to how we’d done them up to then. Our mark may have been a tiny scratch in the vast landscape of things, but it was made and would deepen eventually into a chasm.

It was the summer I first read Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms and I wanted to be writer myself, sights set on becoming a journalist. Even then, the idea of writing a book of my own was fermenting, not that I thought I would be a Kerouac or a Hemingway but I was determined nevertheless.

Those exams? Well, I didn’t do as well as I ‘d hoped, but the passes were good enough to allow me to carry on my education at a higher level. I knew I hadn’t done my best, which was disappointing, but I didn’t let it hold me back. Returning to school, it was matter of buckling down and getting on with my education.

We were shocked by the death of movie goddess Marilyn Monroe in early August. It came out of the blue and brought home the fact that we were mere mortals and that fame and celebrity didn’t protect us from the inevitable. A sobering thought when you’re so young.

Those exams? Well, I didn’t do as well as I ‘d hoped, but the passes were good enough to allow me to carry on my education at a higher level. I knew I hadn’t done my best, which was disappointing, but I didn’t let it hold me back. Returning to school, it was matter of buckling down and getting on with my education.

On the music front, a fresh-faced kid called Chris Montez was hitting the big time with his lively Let’s Dance and two new groups were making their debuts on major record labels — both would go on to be huge. They were The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

And as the leaves on the trees started their decay to autumn hues, I hit 17 and celebrated with my friends by seeing the movie in Lawrence Of Arabia. I recall still enthusing about the film over the next days when the news bulletin alerted us to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The standoff between America and Russia made us uneasy in what was a major event in the Cold War. As we held our breath the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Fortunately, the Russians stood down and we could breathe again. 

In a few weeks time I’m off to see a Sixties show with Brian Hyland and Chris Montez, along with Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits fame, on what promises to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Really looking forward to it.

David Soulsby lives in Romford, Essex,David Soulsby England, and is now retired after 46 years as a journalist. During his career, he worked on local and national newspapers and magazines, and in the Sixties met many of his musical heroes, including Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sonny Boy Williamson, James Brown and Mel Torme. He’s now freelancing as a writer and proof-reader, working from home. He’s the author of Somewhere In The Distance, a novel about four friends growing up in the Sixties.

 

 

 

 Somewhere in the Distance

 

 

 

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