Monday, September 30, 2013

Homecoming: 1972 when Michigan was greased and ready to kick ass!

The annual event known as Homecoming takes place this weekend in Ann Arbor for students and alumni of the University of Michigan. But it ain’t what it used to be.
I’m going to make several assumptions that should hold true. There won’t be any kind of homecoming dance and no one will be crowned Homecoming Queen (or King). Various classes will gather the night before the game for drinks with bald-faced lies tossed like paper basketballs at the office. Women who continue to work out to maintain their girlish figure will be wearing the tightest outfits (just to let everyone know they still have “it”) and men with the Rogaine touch will be stroking their hairline all evening long.
Hopefully, some annual traditions will never die – the Mud Bowl (which would be 81 years alive in front of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity), the Alumni Band and cheerleaders taking the field, and perhaps … a Saturday concert. The Alumni Association will hold 37th consecutive giant tailgate party at the Indoor Track Building this year. If you want to attend, it’s just $40 for an adult ticket (member) and $60 if you’re a non-association member.
The School of Kinesiology (among many others) will have a full weekend schedule for its former classmates, while this year’s Honor Classes will be 1963 and 2003, complete with a Thursday night banquet.
It’s when the older classes migrate back to school, marvel at how much things (other than the foliage) have changed, and how much has been unaltered – asking what happened to all the old retail landmarks now victims to the ongoing recession.
Such as wondering what happened to the Campus Theater on S. University which mainly showed foreign films and those kind of art house attractions which were not deemed to be “mainstream;”
Discovering the brand new fancy-ass mall was Briarwood Mall on I-94 (as opposed to “Arborland,” located on Washtenaw Ave. and U.S. 23, across from the Holiday Inn I remember staying when I returned for Homecoming) is ancient by modern standards;
And knowing if you wanted your parents to bivouac at a classy joint, well, there was the Bell Tower Hotel on Central Campus and Campus Inn (on Huron. Or there was Weber’s Inn, off campus on I-94, but an institution for decades.
There was Ulrich’s and Border’s and the University Bookstore (inside the lower floor of the Union, and where someone could get the best prices on records, i.e. vinyl LPs).
Bimbo’s served pizza and pitchers of beer for $1.75 with a Dixieland jazz band to boot. The Village Bell just had the best cold beer in the basement and there was the Pretzel Bell for food. The best deep dish pizza was ALWAYS at Thano’s Lamplighter, next to the stately Michigan Theater (which had the biggest pipe organ anyone had ever seen).
And Pizza Bob’s made the best sub sandwiches in the world (meaning even a student could afford one at any time).
But Bimbo’s disappeared long ago, the P-Bell closed in 1985 and the V-Bell became a Pizzeria Uno outlet; nothing remains the same as it exists in your memory.
In fact, looking at a campus map, damn near half the buildings were non-existent in the early 1970s. No one called it “South Campus;” it was just the MAIN (or Central) campus (since North Campus was relatively new). What used to be open space now appears to have Monopoly-like hotels and houses sitting everywhere.
Yes, things were SO much simpler back then … but that’s not the point of this story.
For Homecoming in 1972, the University Activities Council (UC) wanted to do something different by going “back to the future” (years before the movie was ever conceived). It was the time of Vietnam, Richard Nixon, rallies on the Diag to protest anti-marijuana laws and the imprisonment of local radical John Sinclair.
It was only a few months removed from the Chicago Democratic Convention riots and this small blip on the news called “Watergate.”
It was, in reality, not a tribute to the past, but something of a satire.
The entire weekend would contain a 1950s-theme with two concerts (Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen on Friday and Stevie Wonder on Saturday – each at Hill Auditorium), the regular activities (notably the Mud Bowl) … and this added event on Thursday night – a 1950s sock hop at the Michigan Union Ballroom.
The reputation of a group of students, mostly out of Alice Crocker Lloyd Hall, who did lip-synching shows to songs from that golden era of rock ‘n roll (the 50s and 60s), had snowballed. What was an end-of-semester joke actually grew to a viable performance “band” – although no one played a single instrument and all music was recorded on tape off scratchy 45s (well before Britney Spears or Milli Vanilli ever decided to fake their way through concerts … or wishing Miley Cyrus hadn’t ever been born).
The male activists were known as Jimmy and the Javelins (of which I was a happily guilty party) – named in that fashion because half of the major doo-wop/pop groups had some reference to cars in their names. Oh yeah, no one among us was named actually Jimmy; instead we had “cool” names like TOR, da Prince, Big Jocko, Penguin and The Kid.
We were also joined by female counterparts, Chastity and the Belts (I believe that reference is obvious), a trio of “nice” girls in beehive hairdos, a ton of makeup and short, gold-male skirts named Chastity, Princess and Big Mama.
In reality, the members were myself (known as TOR for reasons that require a book worthy in length of Tolstoy), Ron Hummeny (da Prince), Mark Wachter (Big Jocko), Jeff Hirsh (the Penguin, after his affiliation with the Pittsburgh Penguins), David Heilbronner (the Kid), Leslie Rogers (Chastity), Susan Mickel (Big Mama) and Jean Peduzzi (Chicky or Princess).
In their adult lives, they became financial advisors (Ron), television reporters (Jeff), small-town newspaper publishers (myself), renowned orthopedic surgeons (Dr. Dave … and co-inventor of Bone Doctors barbecue sauce – the best!), investment banker (Leslie), executive assistant (Susan) and medical school professor-research scientist (Jean).
Our schtick was simple; do comedy routines or dance steps to classic songs for about three hours – just as people used to see on “American Bandstand,” “Tiger Beat,” “Hullabaloo” or “Shindig.” We usually did 3-4 sets, at 45-60 minutes each, and in between, the students would dance to MORE “stacks of wax from the backs of the racks.”
We performed at many dorms on campus (West Quad, Mary Markley, Mosher-Jordan, Alice Lloyd, East Quad), about every other weekend, and were paid enough money ($125 split many ways, depending on how much help we received for that show) to buy nasty Omega pizzas (nicknamed Omigosh Pizza) for the next two weekends.

“Our standard rate for a sock hop was $125, split among all the Javelins, Belts, and our sound guys, which worked out to about $10 apiece. I think we were able to squeeze $150 out of UAC. Big time!”

“When we started, we worked (or performed) for free. Our first paying gig was Mosher-Jordan, where we were paid around $50 – total, not apiece. We hit triple digits ($125 or so) when we played West Quad. In honor of all the great 1950s DJs, that was our first (and only) journey into the world of payola.

One of our “roadies” Gary Kreissman (Gary the K), who, as I recall, either did some backup announcing for us, or worked as one of the sound people, was friends with one of the West Quad council members, who ‘booked’ us to play that dorm. And we had to kick back a share of the big proceeds to said dorm council member … every act has an agent, right?” – Jeff Hirsh

It was nothing but fun for everyone, and apparently it caught the attention of the UAC planning committee.
Jeff and Ron were the “performers” representatives with the UAC group, meeting at places like the Lamplighter.

“Don’t remember much about the meeting, but the pizza was good.” – Ron

UAC offered the challenge and we accepted, with some trepidation, because there was a massive difference between the basement of Mosher-Jordan, or West Quad, and the spacious Union Ballroom, used for major musical events dating back to the 1930s.
There was even a black-and-white booklet published to help promote the entire weekend. Inside was a half-page photo of Commander Cody and Stevie Wonder, but for Jimmy and the Javelins, there was a full-page spread.
A large newspaper ad was placed by UAC in the Michigan Daily, with copy reading, “UAC and WCBN present A WEEKEND OF GOLDEN MEMORIES.” It then announced the station’s plan to broadcast 24 consecutive hours of oldies, followed by the All-Campus Sock Hop, featuring the Javelins and the Belts (with a Javelins photo).
Jeff hosted a three-hour, late-night oldies radio show at WCBN, which helped with the publicity.

“Maybe it was the radio station connection with myself and the Prince, which somehow got us on the Homecoming roster. The Daily ad might have been a ‘make good’ from UAC. Even though a big photo of the Javelins was in the Homecoming program with ‘sock hop’ above the picture, looking at the schedule of homecoming events on the inside front cover, the Sock Hop is not listed at all. The ad may have been a way of publicizing what was only semi-mentioned in the program.” – Jeff

We had no clue as to what would happen, but we concocted some plans.
One was the crowning of the first Homecoming “Queen” since 1957 (if I remember). Going along with the theme, it went to the trashiest dressed girl.
We even solicited the services of Detroit’s most famous disc jockey/radio personality, Robin Seymour (Bobbin’ With the Robin”), who did the honors of crowning the “beauty” and introducing us to the crowd.
By the way, Seymour is still with us as the 85-year-old lives in Los Angeles and heads a successful production company.
And what a crowd it was! Somehow 5,000 party-goers jammed into that ballroom; everywhere we looked there were nothing but students, trying their best to dress like James Dean (“Rebel Without a Cause”) or Marlon Brando (“The Wild One”). Stores reported empty shelves where Brylcreem, Wildroot or Tres Flores Brilliantine was stocked all over Ann Arbor (as we discovered early on, Vitalis did no good).
The Homecoming Queen contest, from a field of five, was won by Jennifer McLogan, who later became a television reporter in New York with WCBS.
Second place went to Ann Cole, the daughter of legendary General Motors executive-engineer Edward N. Cole. She showed up in a motorcycle get-up (body-hugging neck-to-ankle leather) and tried to influence the audience by throwing “cigarettes” to the crowd.  Ann’s “interview” question was, “What was the most interesting thing you’ve ever done in the back seat of a car?” It was THAT kind of beauty pageant.
     Our collective memories might be filled with cobwebs, but a little prompting brought out these responses.

“The biggest thing we had going for us at Homecoming is that our event was free,” Jeff remembered. “Plus we had built up a certain degree of notoriety at our various dorm gigs in previous years. It’s amazing … we were either ahead of the nostalgia craze, and helped create it, or at least we were smart or lucky enough to jump on board.

“It’s incredible to consider the changes in just a few years in Ann Arbor, and our role in that. When I was a freshman in 1969, anti-war fervor was at its pitch, there were struggles over race, and class (socio-economic, not 8 a.m. versus 10 a.m.). By the fall of 1972, things had changed so much we could even be Homecoming performers.

“Now we are having nostalgia for the mock nostalgia we helped create! I do recall Prince saying to that crowd, “You’re not the biggest crowd we’ve ever performed for, but you’re definitely the best.” – Jeff

“I remember girls throwing underpants on stage. I remember taking measurements to sew the guys’ (imitation) gold lame vests a couple of weeks before. The Kid had to have a full vest, pulled overhead, not a cardigan.

“Prince tapped out our entrance ‘The Stripper drumbeat’ on the microphone when Chastity and the Belts made our way onto the stage. I remember a lot of joint efforts in songs, when one of us would play the girlfriend for a Javelin, or one of the guys would play a boyfriend for a Belt.

“I remember Big Mamma bleaching brassy strands of her real hair (far enough back and under so it couldn’t be seen in normal life) while I wore a wig in a beehive and Chickie wearing a ratted up red haired wig.” – Leslie Rogers Manix

“I received an audio clip of the WCBN broadcast of the Union Ballroom Sock Hop. It’s only about five minutes long, but ends with me screaming at the top of my lungs “GREASED AND READY TO KICK ASS – JIMMY AND THE JAVELINS!” – Ron Hummeny

“The New York Times covered the sock hop and interviewed my real parents. When asked about their daughter’s pseudonym, they said, ‘Oh, Chastity ... at home we call her ‘Chas.’ They also used a pseudonym ... instead of using their real, unbelievable names (Eulalla and Will Rogers), they were Myrna and Richard McFarlan.” – Leslie

“I used spray-on streaks; the brassy-toned frosting was my civilian look. There were a few costume changes and perhaps a Motown set. That’s all I’ve got; the hair spray fumes must have prevented my memory neurons from firing. But if you can’t stand the grease, get out of the frying pan.” – Susan Mickel

“I had more stuff in my hair than most people use on an entire automobile; and those flammable lame´ vests.” – Mark Wachter

“I remember on that night how Big Jocko had women SCREAMING at the sight of him on stage, (wearing the skimpiest red trow), doing “Great Balls of Fire,” complete with emphatic pelvic thrusts at all the proper notes. It was his big solo number.

“Even when there was no performance, we would hang together as much as possible. Once we boarded a U-M bus, headed to North Campus, but driven by Mark/Jocko, we simply sat in the very back, chowing down all the Omega pizza we could and laughing our heads off, driving Mark crazy from the scent.

"Seriously, those WERE good times.” – Chuck/TOR

“I also think that as much fun as we had, there was a certain degree of sadness, or at least wistfulness, knowing that was our last show. My guess is we’d all do it again in a second if we could.” – Jeff
We wound up outdrawing BOTH Stevie Wonder and Commander Cody. The Associated Press carried a story on its nationwide tickers (published in the Detroit Free Press and New York Times) about this less-than-serious Homecoming crowning and event.
But others actually took it seriously, much to our chagrin. And in what should have been termed “A lip-sync too far,” the Javelins/Belts Lip-Sync Revue made an ill-fated excursion to a REAL performance venue – the famous Roostertail Club (off Jefferson Avenue, right on the Detroit River), where the Gold Cup hydroplane races drew more than 1 million fans on both banks (Canadian and American) of the river.
 We flopped, literally, as one of us fell off the small stage provided (a combination of small risers which were not secured together, and had to go to the hospital for stitches. That audience didn’t get the joke; those people thought we were legitimate.

“My wound was a three-inch gash over my eyebrow, which was dutifully stitched up using no. 6 baling wire at University of Michigan Hospital. I remember lying on the examination table in emergency as the doctor looked down at my greased-up hair, my Notre Dame High letter sweater, my leather pants and my Cuban heeled shoes with the gold lame accents and said, ‘you just come from a hockey game, or what?’

“I had no idea hockey fans were so stylish.” – Ron

Later in the spring of 1973 (at the end of regular classes), we held our “farewell” concert at the same venue. It was one of the first activities ever to be taped for the fledgling campus cable TV station.
Again, for our final show (which started at 8 p.m. and lasted well past midnight), it was a full house … until the end. Their energy, and ours, just ran out, which was probably appropriate for what was offered.
Graduation was taking its toll; like a Roman candle, our time in the spotlight fizzled away – to be forgotten by succeeding generations.
I remember sitting on the edge of the stage (as the rest of the group helped pack up the equipment) and stared at the emptiness of the facility. My female compadre, Leslie/Chastity, sat next to me and gave me a gentle hug, softly saying, “You were great tonight.”
I turned to her and responded, “I miss it already,” with a kind of chagrined Charlie Brown smile.
We’ve remained friends for all these years, although no reunion tour will ever be planned. As said, we’ve become investment bankers and counselors, lawyers, doctors and surgeons, professional assistants, research scientists, television reporters and retired newspaper publishers. We have children and a few of us experience the utter joy of grandparenthood.
Our children have enjoyed long belly-laughs when viewing photos from our efforts – mostly at the girls’ hairstyles and the boys’ greasy, cheesy looks before anyone called themselves “The Fonz.”
And … Michigan celebrated a happy Homecoming victory at Michigan Stadium, whipping Minnesota 42-0 in a completely unmemorable contest. There were only 84,190 fans at the game (I was there; I just don’t have a single memory of that game); the smallest crowd of the 1972 season. I’d like to think that several thousand students were MIA because of sock hop exhaustion.
We reunited back in the early 80s at the Holiday Inn, did none of our old Javelin routines but talked about it until the early hours of two mornings. Other than a few individual meetings, that was the last time we’ve been together as a group.
But for one shining moment, we can say that we held the elusive spotlight at a University of Michigan Homecoming. Or … as we would always conclude our shows, shouting … “Grease for Peace!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tor.
I happened upon your post.
Great stuff.
If I remember correctly (and who cares if I don't?), there was a Homecoming Parade with the theme "All That Meat and No Potatoes." That was the title of a song from, I think, the 1920s or '30s.
The parade featured dancing potatoes -- women in black tights and burlap sacks.
I also remember a 'float' with a guy throwing raw meat to the onlookers. Dogs along the route found it very exciting.
The Javelins the Belts put on a great show -- or at least a show.
I was one of the DJs at 'CBN for The Weekend of Golden Memories. I was known -- or, more accurately, called myself -- Cousin Bobby or de Cuz.
Commander Cody has the song, Too Much Fun. That's a great way to describe Homecoming '72.