Errata Literary Magazine
Bucks County Writers Workshop
Jingle Jangle: A Film Treatment Levittown 1963 by John Wirebach
Imagine that it's 1963 and John Kennedy is in the White House and Martin Luther King is on the job and Vietnam is somewhere in Southeast Asia. Hang down your head Doctor Tom Dooley who told us about the night the Viet Cong burned the mountain. Imagine that you're in a rock and roll band that plays some Buddy Holly, some Everlys, some Del Shannon... You only know three chords but that's what rock and roll is all about.
You get the picture.
You're going out with this fine looking girl who irons her blonde hair and who hangs around the Cellar coffeehouse in Levittown listening to folk music by Peter, Paul and Mary clones, Kingston Trio Wannabees, Chad Mitchell Trio clowns, and Pete Seeger purists. A real Hootenanny. Their idea of a band is the Kweskin Jug Band.
There are mostly college kids in the Cellar crowd and a few old left-wingers who remember the Weavers and Woody Guthrie and HUAC, and they all even organize weekend workcamps to help poor folk fix up their houses and attend Quaker meetings. Ask not what your country can do for you...
An art teacher named Bud Grossman, who plays a guitar, and sounds a bit like Burl Ives, MCs the Cellar. He's tall, thin, wears sandals, looks a bit like Martin Landau, supports liberal causes, and drives a VW beetle before it's cool.
Part of you understands what the Cellar means: A hangout distant in nuance and imagination from the high school cliques and gossip about all tomorrow's parties. It's a place for heady talk and earnest arguments about the beats and C. Wright Mills and existentialism and Henry Miller and Lennie Bruce and little boxes made of ticky-tacky, Freedom Riders and civil rights and the new singers Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs.
When you're not playing music you're a jock. You play football, basketball and baseball for the high school. If you aren't one of the kids that dominate the high school's social scene, at least you're welcome among them. Anathema to the outcasts at the Cellar.
Between the old lefties talking at the Cellar and attending Bergman, Fellini and Antonioni films with European standards at the Strand, it widens your horizons and suggests another life. They offer lesson plans in how to be an outsider, which sounds awfully exciting and romantic.
But rock and roll? Really. A lot of Cellar dwellers laugh at you because you can't fingerpick. Three-chord rock is too dreary for words. Buddy Holly might have been all right but he's history. These people are divided between Woody Guthrie purists and Kingston Trio popularists, and it seems to matter to them. About the only thing they agree on are no electric guitars in the Cellar.
You listen to Howling Wolf on the PA.
"That's electric," you say.
"But it's not rock and roll. It's Chicago Blues. It's authentic...It's folk music."
"What is Folk Music? How about kids writing songs in their house..."
"They're suburban kids. They're not authentic"
Rock and roll is music for the Jives, the kids who hang out at the drive ins along Route 13, talk like their cars are part of them, and want nothing to do with school. Kids born to run. On target to be trailer trash. Badlands.
The few high school kids at the Cellar hang with the Conservatives and run the school, both the high school and the community college. They dress in button down shirts and khakis, wingtips are not frowned upon but loafers are more common.
The good thing about these groups is that it's solely appearance and voice, and it's easy to fake so everybody can fit in one or another of the groups, if they want.
The bad thing is that these groups actually mean something to high schoolers. Just last year, jives and conserves rumbled at Brook Pool and several people were badly hurt. The press screamed. The fights bothered people to the extent that local liberals held meetings and high school administrators held assemblies to discuss the matter. Juvenile delinquents.
You are by nature and grades a conservative. But you feel the kids at the Cellar are too precious for words. You would be a jive but you can't stand teased hair and DAs, although you have spent some furtive time with some jives singing old doo-wop songs when no one is around to see or hear.
You might be a Beat. There are a few around Levittown, and you do have a beat friend or two. Like Michael, who knows girls that believe in free love and you have a car so you can pick them up, very important in a time when no good girl does it until after at least a year of steady dating.
But listen to jazz? Be serious. Bird lives, say the signs at beat clubs. Who is Bird, you wonder? Your girl says, I don't know why I hang around with you. You're so retarded. She's getting hit on by college guys at the Cellar. Guys that can fingerpick. Guys that get Sing Out Magazine. Guys who have been to Greenwich Village and Gerde's Folk City.
Then one day she goes to a Bob Dylan concert.
Remember this is 1963 before Dylan was the icon he became in the later 1960s, and through one means or another, he comes home with her. He doesn't want to go to the Cellar, "Heard it all, man." So she takes him to meet her boy friend and his band.
From outside, they hear the band doing a Little Richard number and Dylan perks up. He used to play Little Richard songs with his band. He joins in on a Buddy Holly song. He listens to an original. Finally, he plays his latest composition: Mr. Tambourine Man.
You listen, then chord it out on electric guitar. The bass player swoops under the melody, the lead guitarist, the fellow who can play more than chords, arcs arpeggios around it all, and the drummer does four-four, and Dylan sings while the girls dance.
And the camera jingle-jangles like the guitars, following you back to a moon rising over Levittown, and evening's empire returning, while Diem persecutes Buddhists, Oswald stalks Kennedy, and all those not busy being born are busy dying.