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Blue Collar Rockin' Presents
By Mick Polich - 11/18/2007 - 02:36 PM EST

Saturday night – a tradition every week that ends the work week for most folks.

Lives have been known to change, to transform……..

Culture plays a role…

Music plays a much BIGGER  role (at least for me)….

I can’t begin to tell you how much Saturday night in America, especially an autumn evening, as I begin writing this article, has meant to me in my short life…….

There is a long, long lineage in my life that salutes “ Saturday night”; some of which you might relate to  – of small towns, and burger joints, hot rods and broken hearts, football heroes, and fuck ups..… hearts won and lost. This pattern is passed down from generation to generation.

And, as regular readers would attest to, where would I have been 15, 20, 25 years ago???

Of course, you cats KNEW I would have some ‘ backstory! ‘

Letter jacket, football, cool, crisp, Midwestern autumn nights,  hangin’ at Mc Donald’s or Nellie’s Red Barn, watchin’ all the life scenes of my friends go down, takin’ it ALL in…..

Yep, friends just livin’ out their life stories, every day: in the parking lots, back roads, dirt highways,  everything in small – town  Iowa….but plenty of grist, angst, funk, sex, love, and……life.

Autumn is my favorite time of year - always has been, always will be…..

I always seem to feel a surge of creative energy and power during the fall months. And, of course, some of my most memorable, creative trances-into-actions happened, and continue to happen, on Saturday nights! When did I become aware of  ‘Saturday Night ‘? Many, many moons ago, as you well suspected. 1965, 1967 – my mother has passéd away, I was living with my glorious saint-of-an- Aunt Boots, cousins Becky, Muffin,  and sometime-uncle…. Porter Wagoner (R.I.P.-thanks for the music, sir!), Johnny Cash on t.v., later, “The Midnight Special”………….very cool, influential….local horror movie shows, the news, Vietnam, Batman, Motown, pop culture…it swirls and swirls into a pop vortex……

Pick it up, fast forward to Carney, Iowa…….pig roasts, Italian  dances, the onset of Junior High, Labor Day fests for our small ethnic neighborhood, in fields of old-gold, crested alfalfa….potato salad and Old World salami….horseshoes,  and the Damsite Tavern’s jukebox blasting “Venus” by the Shocking  Blue….. just a few memories – you got ‘em, too. Not all our small town events were on Saturday, but man, the Saturday night feel was there!

Then, a few years into junior high, high school……“Saturday Night Live” – our altar, meeting place, and confessional get-together for our generation for awhile… yep, “Monty Python”, please, throw that into the mill…….hmmmm, this guitar thing…music?  Yeah, I could definitely get into this  - what? You get to go out and gig on Saturday nights? Very cool, indeed!

I  STILL feel I need to do something of significance on a Saturday night… still get a tingle like I need to be somewhere,……like playing music in some small-town, back-roads bar, crankin’ a Fender Strat thru a 60 - watt Concert amp… tubes burnin’ and throwin’ down sound, gigging with my buds…………thank you forever for helping me give my music to these people…yeah, damn!!!  Don’t realize it now, but I’m trying to give something back to the Heartland…blue-collar folk just makin’ their way to the end of another week…yeah, I helped out…helped them make thru another week, and give some hope…

O.k., Dear Readers, how many of you can name at least ONE significant song  that transformed your life during your FORMATIVE YEARS, conjuring up good/bad Saturday night memories??

Ooohh! Oohh, me,  Mr. Kotter,  ME!!!!

O.k.., check me – “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper,  ANYTHING off of “Toys In The Attic” and “Rocks” by Aerosmith, “Funeral For A Friend” by Sir Elton John, Wings…what? Wait a minute…WINGS???!! “Jet”..o.k., sure, yeah..ooh, wait, the King of Kings, Phil Lynott…THIN LIZZY!!! Are you kidding me? “Cowboy Song”, “Jailbreak”, “The Boys Are Back In Town”, “The Rocker”???!!! THIN LIZZY, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!!!!  At that point, entering teen hood, you knew that you had soundtrack to your life. Obviously, this is my soundtrack – what’s YOURS????

Now, in middle - age, the Saturday nights on the bandstand are few and far between for me, but the SPIRIT of Saturday night lives on as I try to make it happen every day for everybody who I encounter in my ever – emerging music world: my students, my customers, fellow music ministry musicians, my family. Does it work everyday? Oh heavens no - the POTENTIAL is there, but sometimes the forces that be in the universe won’t let it happen. And sometimes it’s me, because I can be a grumpy bastard at times (must have been saving it up from when I was afraid to be, living in YouthLand 15,20 years ago…). But, you realize, hopefully, that time is tight, and life is short, so, as my mother-in-law says, just put some lipstick on, and a smile on your face and in your heart, and go out into the world (gosh, but I don’t have a lip gloss color to match my tiara ….).

Most of us can remember what we did, saw, and heard on Saturday nights as far back as childhood. The night just seems part of the American vernacular of culture and time since we established the five-day work - week. Work and play can pretty much be thrown into the Kitchen Aid, spun around, and be the tasty mix for a lot of free-world peoples with established working societies. In the Midwest, influences from both coasts roll in with a force, slamming us like a WWF cage fight sandwich – we took what was left from the deluge, added our cultural bindings, and came up with another heady stew. While surfing was a foreign concept to me, being anywhere from 20 miles to Camp Dodge for the big ‘community’ swimming pool on base, or 3 miles from North High’s pool, which was pretty much off-limits at the time for a little 7-year old white kid from the north Des Moines suburbs – segregation was still a unspoken, yet highly visible form in the second largest insurance capital in the country. The Beach Boys –couldn’t understand the surf part of the music, liked the car talk (but why are they worked up about a drag race in “Don’t Worry, Baby”? Maybe a metaphor for something…..else? Naw, I wasn’t that advanced of a thinker back then. Just gimme back my Spiderman comic books and get the hell outta here…..). But since I wasn’t a swimmer (that would come by self-teaching later), I just couldn’t relate.  But, I do remember the Boys being part of the already –old “Saturday Night Oldies Show” on KIOA AM (yes, youngsters – at one point in life, AM radio did play music – I know, I know, it’s like revisiting early Greek history on Thursdays at third period, but take it as it lays….). Little did I know that in about 10 –15 years, I would be playing half the oldies set list in bars with horrible fashion sense, but such as it was, Chuck Berry, the Four Seasons (how could anybody sing that high? Those are not guys – those are WOMEN! Or fake guys!!!), doo-wop, and the Ventures, would embrace my Saturday nights back in the mid to late 1960’s….

Hit the forward cue on the CD player up to junior high/ high school, circa 1971 – 1977 : as all things of mystery, music, along with school, teen - aged  life, and girls, were things to be discovered, savored perhaps in a way only you could express with few years of life experience, and drawn to some early conclusions in yer still-budding mind. Well, what the hell, we lived in the mid-section of America, so there were ‘X’ – amount of things you could discover (running with the bulls, out, climbing up a mountain to a Buddhist shrine for enlightenment, no, not really….. tearing thru trails and dirt roads on Honda mini bikes and Schwinn sissy – barred chopper bicycle copies, some hidden ‘adult’ magazines in somebody’s barn… also for me, underground comix and newspapers, yeah, that was more like it…) 

Junior high were my best ‘high school’ years ever – I say that because those years, if based on discoveries and life mysteries solved, were more of a grab bag for me of stuff happening that would impact me forever in outlook, good and bad. I was SO glad to go to a public school – yeah, at the time, parochial school really was one long, Endless Bummer in retrospect – getting beat up several times a week for being a non-sports playing geek didn’t help my ‘people pleaser/lap dog’ attitude that is just NOW starting to shake itself loose from my psych (balance, Luke - the Force must remain in balance!!!). As I probably mentioned before, my last ‘good ‘ football year –we won a lot of games – happened in 9th grade (oooh yeah, baby – 9th graders, KINGS and QUEENS, loved it! Well, smoke ‘em if and when you got ‘em, because it ain’t a metaphor or a template for life, ya know…..). Winning at sports, at the time, was a big thing to a young person – as was discovering music, as was figuring out where the ‘hang’ was on Saturday night.

But, as many my age can attest to, whenever we hear certain songs – be the syrupy saccharine drivel of the  ‘ manufactured ‘ groups of the late Sixties/ early Seventies ( Edison Lighthouse, the Spiral Staircase, or Steam, anyone? )  to suburban – issued rock/boogie of the 1970’s ( Aerosmith, Kiss, Sabbath, BTO, Rush, etc. ) – music brings whatever images, sounds, smells, feelings, and thoughts along with it, and more than likely, a few memories of some Saturday night parties ( gosh, do you think our parents suspected anything? Um hum, right, baby….). For our parents, grandparents – same thing: Al Martino, Jack Jones, or Dean Martin can bring some ‘hey, now yer talkin’ ‘ comments from my dad, while Bing Crosby and Rudy Valee could go back to my grandparents (if that were the case – both families had a lot of kids, just scrapping by with farming and raising animals, not a lot of time for music, as was the lot of Depression-era Midwesterners, but hey, they managed a few good polkas and some folk tunes on occasion….). But given the fact of the modern work week, Saturday nights have established themselves as the night for milestones to happen, lives to change, hearts to break, and music to be made…

Even though I haven’t played consistent Saturday nights since the early 1990’s, I STILL feel I need to be on a stage at 9 p.m. at a small club some times!!! 

If it’s an Irish pub in Dublin, or a disco in Beirut, the spirit of music, dance, and the life ritual lives on across the world on Saturday nights. Again, I think we can make that spirit happen at other times, other places – it’s a collective state o’ mind, chillen!!

As adults, that spirit dwindles and fades, and we seem to think we need to go back to the strengths and foibles of our youth to re-capture the feeling. One lesson I observed early on in life (and it’s just now starting to reach me) was capturing a family moment in time that made me want to be a musician. 

1975 – Carney, Iowa – literally the one-horse town. A single country road with a few arteries, sliced in two by a highway, creating the classic Americana small-town quadrant: northwest corner, Charlie and Rosie’s Bar, southwest corner, Tom Harkin’s field where we walked beans to clear the weeds out for money before harvest, northeast corner, St. Michael’s Church, built near the old mine shaft that my grandfather worked in when he first came to America, and the southeast corner, home to Frank Tamsey’s deli – luscious Italian breads, and, of course to this day, home to the best, sliced bologna I’ve ever tasted.

Well, I had a buddy, Jim Salak – his old man worked with my old man at John Deere, different departments, but when you worked at Deere, you ALL worked at Deere together. I knew Jimmy from the annual hog roast we would have in the town around Labor Day – dig a pit in this big alfalfa field, spits up, hogs on to cook overnight, next day, bring the horseshoes, bocchi ball set, food, jukebox and small wood dance floor from the bar, and all the families around town, and have some fun (yep, also the best pork I’ve EVER tasted…). Jimmy came from a large, Catholic family –man, probably nine, or ten kids - and damn near ALL of the family played a musical instrument and sang. They would gather ‘round in their kitchen - guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, and voices – and just COOK on bluegrass, country, and folk tunes. Jimmy played the stand up, or ‘doghouse’ bass with the family jam, then he would play his electric Rickenbacker bass with our little ‘garage band ‘ when we got together to play music (an entirely different story, but fun nonetheless). Ya see, Jimmy’s folks used to have a radio show back in the day until they wanted to get married and start a family, so a more practical means of income and security had to be secured, thus Jimmy’s dad went to work at Deere.

One Saturday afternoon, I walked up the road to see if Jimmy was at home. As I turned into the driveway, I heard a collective sound of several voices, singing in these great, fused harmonies – is that a mandolin, guitar, and banjo? I made my way up to the kitchen entrance, and walk into one of those great family jams - my future best friend, John, Jimmy’s brother, on banjo, George Salak, their dad, on mandolin, and Jimmy’s sisters and mom on guitars and vocals, just burnin’ on a bluegrass tune. Every musician has their defining moment that makes them WANT to be a musician – well, pardner,  that was MINE!!!

You hear of small town tragedies, though, staining pastoral memories like this – the things you want to hold onto in your head, the good stuff, can get inked up. Jimmy, John, and I played in one band together – my first band ever –in the summer/fall of 1975. Then Jimmy proceeded to play mostly bluegrass with his doghouse bass, with a band he formed with some family members and in-laws. About that time, most of had already discovered drinking, being the legal age in Iowa was 18 at the time. We discovered the bar, the roadhouse, the V.F.W. – sometimes quiet places, but always with interesting characters. Our favorite place was right in our town – you could walk there – called the Damsite. One evening, Jimmy was walking back to his house, late – he had been up at the bar. Jimmy didn’t make it - he passed out in the middle of the main road to which the side road to his house was attached. Unfortunately, one of Jimmy’s cousins turned the corner in his vehicle – I think those boys had been out partying, too – didn’t see Jimmy, ran right over him. Massive internal injuries – he died right there.

Jimmy’s presence was a big link to my music journey; I’ll never forget him, as well as his brother John, who’s one of my best friends to this day. We all had our Saturday night connections – the stuff and memories that formed us, the stuff that we barely escaped and learned from, and the music that swirled like a continuous life soundtrack in the back ground as we grew up, older, married, kids, houses, divorced, moved on, and suddenly realized hey, you’re fifty years old – NOW, LOOK AT YOU!!! But… it’s o.k.: just because you’re older, the meaning of Saturday night doesn’t diminish with time,right?

But, inescapably, the heart and feeling of Saturday nights, especially in Anywhere, U.S.A., carry on – passed down like a tradition embedded in our DNA –it just has to happen. One of the great things is the creativity, art, and music produced not only on a Saturday night, but any night, any bar, any club, art gallery walk, gazebo, state fair, or sidewalk. It’s with your neighbors, your corner shops, your town events, and yes, that little bar on the corner with the crazy bands that play weekend nights – just trying to give some people relief, comfort, joy, fun, and a sense of place. 

If I delved into my formative years in gigging for a living in music, this article would continue on into the next two columns with Saturday night reflections. But, given these few recollections, you have already gotten the idea of why Saturday night, from not only a recreational standpoint, but a cultural and social view as well, means so much to so many. We all interact more on the weekend – it’s   suppose to be free time, get together to party, get your house work done, etc. But weekends, especially in America, are like a holy shroud – to be revered and enjoyed, cast up as an immaculate, sacred time period in which many rituals and ways of living are passed…

My own Saturday nights at this point are no less sacred, but very pointed, indeed. As afternoon passes into early evening, “A Prairie Home Companion” is on the radio – not only a reminder of days passed, but of future days to help us remember why this format of radio is still very valid. The wonderful hues of red into gold as the sun start to lie down into the Western horizon -  our 12 year old-Lab Retriever, Sam, gives me his all-knowing look of wisdom and friendship as we still on the back patio of our Texas home. I still get inklings and scratches of needing to be some place with an instrument in hand, some small-town bar with colorful characters, as I crank out whatever music may be needed at this point, or whatever original music I can be fortunate enough to create, and re-create for an appreciative audience. I still get a Saturday night feeling in my heart, and there are probably more hearts of Saturday night left for me on a bandstand, bar, gazebo, or busking on a street corner, at some point in my life. It’s a journey, my friends, it’s a journey - spiritually and musically. But we can have fun, trying to make every point in our lives meaningful ‘ Saturday night ‘…..

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