Cole Parker

Chapter 11


When the dance was well past it’s halfway point there was an announcement to the crowd that the competition for the best act with a ‘50’s theme was going to be held in the auditorium, starting in 15 minutes.  Couples were told to begin making their way to the auditorium.  The auditorium was at one end of our school and the gym was behind the other end of it so there was a medium short walk involved, getting from one to the other.  Accordingly, kids began leaving the gym, making their way towards the auditorium.


All the groups that were going to perform were herded to the auditorium by two of the adult chaperons, and once there led backstage.  There, we were greeted by Mrs. Cameron, who told us she had to line up the order of the acts.  There was immediately some squabbling about this, so she decided to put numbers in a hat and have them drawn out randomly, the number drawn relating to the position of the act.  One person from each group would draw a number.  All except us.  Adam and I were going to be the last act.


Mrs. Cameron was very much in charge and not a bit flustered by the fidgety teenagers flitting around her with questions and anxiety and excitement almost tangibly emanating from them.  When the groups had started politicking for the positions they wanted in the show, she’d firmly told everyone that, as Adam was the only one who’d requested a piano, his act was going to be last so the piano could be rolled onto the stage for our performance only when everyone else was finished and wouldn't have to be rolled off again before a following act.  That meant we’d go last.


The groups made their individual last minute clothing and hair adjustments as the crowd noisily filtered into the seats in the auditorium.  When they’d all arrived and were seated, Mrs. Cameron stepped out on the front of the stage in front of the curtain, announced the acts and their order of performance, admonished the crowd to be supportive of everyone and show good sportsmanship and good manners so there would be no hurt feelings to ruin a fun night, and then announced the first act.


Standing in the wings with Adam, I watched the performers going ahead of us with interest.  The first act was a boy who sang a medley of pop songs from the ‘50’s.  He’d managed to find recorded accompaniments without the words of the songs he wanted to perform, probably downloading them from a karaoke website, had edited them together on tape and used that for his backup music.  He was pretty good, had a pleasant voice and sang with a good feeling for pitch and the style of the music.  He showed no nervousness, and in fact seemed to enjoy being in front of the crowd.  I was impressed.  He had enlisted an off-stage helper to control the tape recorder.   The helper stopped it after each song so the performer could wait through the applause before announcing the next one.  He sang his repertoire in chronological order, announcing Nat King Cole’s Mona Lisa, from 1950, as his first selection, followed by Frankie Laine’s 1952 theme from the movie High Noon, Do Not Forsake Me.   He followed this with That’s Amore, the 1953 hit by Dean Martin and finished with the ballad recorded by both Perez Prado and Pat Boone, Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, a huge 1955 Hit Parade favorite.  Because I loved music of that era and these were all big hits, I knew them all.  I couldn’t tell if the audience knew them, but the applause was enthusiastic, which made me feel good.  The kid deserved it.


The next act consisted of two senior boys, one thin, one heavy-set, who reenacted Abbot and Costello’s famous Who’s on First comedy routine, an act that was performed countless times on radio and TV in the ‘50’s.  These two had obviously practiced it long and hard because their timing was perfect, their actions copied exactly from the original, and they really sold the performance.  The routine is longer than what is normally shown in film clips, and they did the entire act, getting all of the nine men on the team involved.  The thin guy even rolled his eyes and showed his exasperation with the dumbness of the chubbier one, just like Bud Abbot showing his disgust with Lou Costello’s stupidity.  They had the audience roaring with laugher and they too got generous and prolonged applause when they finished.


I looked over the Adam and said nervously, “Both those acts were really good.  Now I’m getting nervous.  I thought the acts would be very amateurish, but these haven’t been that way at all.  They’ve been really professional and showed a lot of practice.”


Adam smiled up at me.  “Don’t be nervous,” he said confidently.  “I don’t care how well they do.  We’re going to kick butt.  Trust me.” 


The next act was three girls who announced they were going to sing songs originally performed by two of the leading female groups of the ‘50’s.  They too had recorded instrumental music to perform to.  They sang The McGuire Sisters Heart of Stone and Sugartime, and followed that with The Chordettes Lollipop and one of the top hits of the decade, Mr. Sandman.  They sang very well together, their voices blending like they’d been practicing and performing together for a long time.  The songs they sang retained their appeal a half a century later and typified the style and tonality of songs of those days.  The audience again responded to them enthusiastically with sustained applause.


The fourth act was two popular seniors, a guy and girl who were singing duets from some of the famous musical comedies that ran in the ‘50’s.  They sang songs from Oklahoma!, The Pajama Game, Kismet, My Fair Lady and South Pacific.   They sang well together, but their skill didn’t seem to match that of the previous acts.  The music, while wonderful music, was Broadway comedy music of the ‘50’s and not the high energy, amplified music so familiar to today’s teens.  Balancing that was the fact the performers were good looking popular kids, so the audience responded to them.  They were more popular and hotter at our school than any of the previous performers, which gave them a decided advantage in the competition.  The applause was just as heavy as it had been for the acts than had come before them, even though to my ear they hadn’t done as well.


It was our turn.  I was nervous.  Adam didn’t look nervous at all, just calm and confident.  There was a pause while the piano was rolled into position.


We’d spent a lot of time discussing our act. We had a full fifteen minutes, and we wanted to use all of it. We talked about all the numbers we wanted to do, and the shape and quality of the act and, to my chagrin, we ended up dumping the Bernstein number. It was great, really wonderful music, but for the competition, we wanted more upbeat music, and Somewhere wouldn't fit with the rest of the music we wanted to include, and would make the mood more somber. We didn’t think the audience would be into that.


We’d decided to model our act on a ‘50’s variety show, The Colgate Comedy Hour.  It had been a weekly TV show that aired on Sunday nights and had been the first network show to be broadcast in color.  It had featured a different host each week and had different famous entertainers of that era performing skits, singing songs and interacting with the host.  Frequent hosts had been major stars like Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Donald O’Connor, Eddie Cantor and the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.


We’d enlisted Bobby, my constant lunch table friendly foe, to be the show’s host.  He was going to be Milton Berle, complete with one-liners we’d obtained from the Internet and a script Adam and I had worked on together.  Bobby was perfect: he was a well-liked kid at school with an effervescent personality and extroverted nature.  The chance to be on stage in front of a crowd of fellow students had appealed to him.  In our practice sessions, he’d been a natural, all energy and smiles. 


The curtain opened showing a stage empty other than for the piano and a large banner with glittery letters reading The Colgate Comedy Hour pinned to the back curtain.  An offstage amplified announcer introduced Bobby as tonight’s host, Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle.  Bobby walked on stage in a tux, told a few jokes that got good crowd responses, then announced our first song.


“And now, folks, our first singer of the evening, Mr. Richie Valens singing his two Hit Parade favorites, La Bamba and Donna.”  I walked on stage dressed as Valens had dressed, no longer feeling nervous but instead almost bouncing with a lot of adrenalin-induced energy, and with Adam’s piano as a backdrop, began singing Donna, a song Richie, a major teen idol in the ‘50’s, had written to his girlfriend of that name, a song that had been a big hit.  On the flip side of the record was La Bamba, a Mexican traditional song that Richie rewrote in the rock ‘n roll style.  It too had become a teen favorite and it’s catchy beat and lyrics were still enormously appealing.  Adam had adapted the music so the first song flowed into the second with just a few measures of transition inserted between them.  The audience seemed to like the love ballad segueing into a vigorous rock ‘n roll foot tapper and came alive, moving in their seats to the music.  A few brave souls even began to participate in the repeated chorus refrain.


When I’d finished, I bowed and moved off-stage as Bobby announced that Roger Williams would now be performing his major hit, Autumn Leaves.


As I quickly slipped into a different costume, Adam played with feeling and nuance, through touch and ability getting the piano to produce the emotions the song demanded, and while I was getting accustomed to his skill, obviously the school kids had no idea.  When he finished the sentimental ballad, there was moment of silence before the audience erupted.


Bobby then announced my next number.  We’d given much thought and discussion to what to perform for our act.  We’d decided we couldn’t begin to do justice to even a small percentage of the vast quantities of popular music from the ‘50’s in the short time we had, and what we should concentrate on instead was just putting on a great show for the audience, performing stuff they’d like, rather than trying to be representative of everything of the era.  There was a whole lot of great music in the ‘50’s, a lot of it love songs.  Those were great ballads, but our kids hadn’t grown up with ballads.  They’d grown up with heavy metal, loud and pulsing and acid.  I’d thought singing all ballads would be a little tame for our audience.  So I’d wanted songs with more energy, which is why I’d already done La Bamba.   Now I was going to sing another song with spirit.  Bobby announced it: “We now have Bill Haley doing his gigantic hit, Rock Around the Clock.


Adam began wailing away on the piano and I began singing/chanting the lyrics of the song, “One o’clock, Two o’clock, Three o’clock, Rock!, Four o’clock. . . .  The song is fast and lively.  It was one of the first rock ‘n roll genre hits.  Our audience loved it!


Bobby then announced the great rock ‘n roll piano sensation Jerry Lee Lewis.  Adam stood up, bowed, and then began his rendition of another two-songs-in-one combination, Great Balls of Fire and A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On.  Adam played the piano standing up, hammering on the piano keys in the style of Lewis, gyrating and prancing around as he pounded the piano with machine gun-like chords, while I stood to the side with Bobby’s microphone and sang the lyrics.  The pace and style of the songs caught the audience unawares.  To most of the audience, all this music was an entirely new experience.   For the first time they were hearing the roots of the music they’d grown up with.  They were rocking in their seats, tapping their feet, moving to the music, and the look on their faces was one of awe.


After these two pieces were performed together, Bobby did a couple more jokes, keeping the crowd alive while I used the time for my final costume change, which was somewhat more elaborate than the others.  For our final piece, we’d felt we had to do something by Elvis.  He was a ‘50’s phenomenon and retained his star status even today, long after he’d died.  He’d of course sung both ballads and rock numbers, but in keeping with the energy we’d already produced on the stage, we didn’t want to dampen the furnace at this point.  We’d talked this over, and had had trouble deciding, because I loved some of his ballads so much and I wanted at least to sing one of them.  It was Adam who hit on the solution, and he quickly put together three of Elvis’ hits into a medley, beginning and ending with high-energy songs and sandwiching a ballad in the middle.  


Bobby glanced at me and I cued him I was ready, so finished his joke and announced out last pieces.  “For our final number, we give you none other than the King himself, Elvis Pressley!  He will sing to you three of his greatest hits, All Shook Up, Love Me Tender, and Jailhouse Rock.


I came back on stage dressed and made up as Elvis, with long black sideburns and an Elvis look-alike wig of long dark hair correctly styled, wearing clothes like he’s worn at concerts.  Adam began playing and I rocked through All Shook Up, dancing Elvis-style in the middle, shaking my hips suggestively, twisting, emulating what I’d seen on tapes of Elvis performing.  Without stopping, Adam segued into the much slower and more emotional Love Me Tender.  This was the song I really wanted to sing.  I loved the lyrics, and the deep baritone style fit me well and I could really emote with the song.  I looked poutingly at the girls in the audience, and sang as seductively as I could, really getting into the song, feeling it and meaning it.  I tried to look at just one girl for a while and sing just to her, then move to another and sing to just her as if she were the only girl in the world and the music was just for her, from me. 


And then I was snapped out of my concentration on the music and communicating with one single girl at a time.  I couldn’t believe it when the girl I was singing to, and then a few more, suddenly shrieked, something I’d seen happening on tapes of live Elvis performances.  I didn’t lose my place or my composure, thankfully, and just moved to looking at another girl, who then shrieked as well and began pulling on her hair, tears flowing down her cheeks!.  Thankfully we were very close to the segue back to the anything but sentimental Jailhouse Rock.  We arrived there, and I began that song, losing the bedroom eyes and again doing jiving and sexually explicit dance steps to the music.  Adam was playing with abandon, I was roaring out the lyrics, and then in amazement I saw kids were out of their seats dancing along with me!  The entire area between the front row and the stage filled with dancing youngsters.  As the music played, they danced.  It was spontaneous and joyous and like nothing I’d ever been part of.  


When the final chord had been played and the song was over, the crowd went wild.  They were cheering and shouting and clapping and it was just pandemonium!. And it went on and on.  Finally, the cheering turned into chanting, the chants finally becoming recognizable as a word being repeated over and over.  “Encore!  Encore!  Encore!  Encore!”


Mrs. Cameron walked onto the stage and held up her hands.  Slowly but surely the crowd quieted and settled back into their seats.


“As you know, this is a contest, and there have been five great acts.  It wouldn’t be fair if we allowed one group to do an encore.”  This was met with boos, but Mrs. Cameron plowed on.  “Hold on, hold on, let me ask Greg a question.  Greg, after the voting, would your group agree to do an encore for the audience?”


I stepped up next to her, looked at the crowd and replied, “We’d be happy to do that, but only if we have a calm vote so we can give everyone who performed here tonight a fair chance.  I think every act was truly great, and I personally want to commend all the other performers.”  I began clapping my hands, looking backstage, and the audience joined me.  One by one, the other performers walked on stage till everyone was standing there, bowing, and being given a standing ovation by the crowd.


At that point Mrs. Cameron took over and told the crowd they would decide the winner by their applause.  She called forth the acts by order of their appearance and asked for an audience response for each one.  When she arrived at Bobby, Adam and I, the response was tremendous.  There was no doubt at all whom the crown favored.


“The winners of the contest, then, are Greg, Adam and Bobby.  The applause started again, but I put up my hands to stop them, feeling foolish but then powerful as the audience did indeed quiet down.


“Do you want an encore?” I asked.


“YES!”  was roared back at me, mixed with scattered clapping.


“All right.  We worked on one more number which we didn’t perform.  This is all we've got, guys.  No more after this.  We’re now going to do the popular, comical Sheb Wooley song from 1958, Purple People Eater.


 For this song, we used the stage mike and Bobby and Adam both joined me in singing it.  Adam played, Bobby and I crouched down so we were on his level, and we sang the song that had been on everyone’s lips at the end of that decade.  Many of the kids in the audience were at least somewhat familiar with the lyrics, especially the chorus:


       It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
       One-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater
       A one-eyed, one-horned, flyin' purple people eater

 Sure looks strange to me.


We finished to laughing and whooping and great applause.  We bowed over and over, and despite some further cries of ‘Encore!’, we just waved and made it clear we were finished.


 I was ecstatic.  We’d won!  We’d worked hard, and we’d done it.  I was aware that the main reason was because Adam was so talented, but still, it had been a joint effort and we’d done it.


“Greg, you were fantastic!” said Adam.  “Yeah,” enthused Bobby, standing next to us at the back of the stage. “That was incredible.  Even better than practice.  You really got into it.  I’d swear I was hearing Elvis live.  How’d you do that?”


“I didn’t feel like I was doing anything differently, other than I was really concentrating.  I was really into it.”

      “It was different, though,” said Adam.  “You just filled up the stage with your presence.  It was as if you really were Elvis, all personality and magnetism and charisma.  As Bobby said, you were incredible.”


“So were you guys.  Adam, you’re just too good, whether you want anyone to know it or not.  And Bobby, you got everyone in the right mood and ready to like us as much as they liked you.  I think we were all good, and we can all celebrate.  The act won, and we all played important parts in the act.”


On that note, we all went back to the Prom.  When we walked into the gym, people mobbed around us.  It was as though we were celebrities.  I wasn’t used to the attention, and I could see it was uncomfortable for Adam as well.  As soon as we could, we started deferring the attention and trying to back away.  The well-wishers would have none of it, though, and they even started asking me to go sing some Elvis songs with the band.  It was only the fact that with the entertainment portion of the Prom now behind us, the dance was winding down to a close and so, with people getting ready to leave, we were afforded an escape.


We met up with Tim and Steve and their dates at our table, and it was just shortly after that it was announced the band was playing its last number.  Adam looked at me, I looked back, and he rose.  It was a slow song.  He wanted to dance to it.  What could I do?  I also rose, and walked with him to the floor. 


“You don’t want to do this, do you?” he asked me softly.


“Adam, I want to do this right now more than anything,” I said sincerely, and without a lot of thought, realized I meant it.  With that, I opened my arms.  He stepped into them and it just seemed natural when he placed his right hand in my left hand.  My right arm encircled his slender body, his left hand found my shoulder.  He moved closer to me.  Then the music took over and we were dancing. 


I was unconscious.  I just danced.  Unlike my many semi-trances, I wasn’t thinking of anything.  I was simply being.  I was experiencing having the boy I loved in my arms, in public, dancing in a romantic setting.  No thoughts at all.  Just being.


Neither of us spoke.  We just danced.  We moved together naturally, more swaying than wandering the floor.  Other couples were doing the same thing, dancing the last dance without moving around much.  I looked at Adam’s eyes.  They were closed, but slowly opened, as though he knew I was looking at him.  He stared into my eyes for a moment, and I stared back, trying to read his depths.  When he spoke softly, he said just the right thing.


“This feels good.”


And then the Prom was over.  The music ended, the lights came up a little, and all of a sudden the mood had changed and we weren’t in romantic night club but in the school gym.  People headed towards the door, the room got louder as everyone was speaking at once, and not in the hushed tones of a few minutes ago.


The Prom was over, but my excitement wasn’t.  Even as I was dancing the last dance with Adam in my arms, I knew the tingle I was feeling wasn’t just from dancing with him.  I knew part of it was coming because I was thinking ahead.  I was thinking I was about to spend the night with him again.






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