Many moons ago, my greatest luxury was my black and white television — small as can be with wooden side boards, three knobs along the frame, and a V-shaped antenna piercing the air. I had gotten it just after my folks and I moved into our New York City pad fresh from the open road, and was the first one I had laid my hands on since my previously unfortunate TV-smashing incident that I’ll share some other day.
When we weren’t living out of our Jetta, I woke up early on Sunday mornings to flip through our three channels. With the world still snoring, I plopped cross-legged on my unmade bed and reached over to turn on the set, only to be blinded by a light of grey flurries. I fiddled with the antenna that had jumbled the picture to oblivion, while also trying to keep mum for fear that I’d be caught red-handed in the twilight hour. After unscrambling it and battling with the noise for a good ten minutes, I dared not move a muscle and disrupt the shabby signal. It was a real pain most days, sometimes forcing me to wonder why I subjected myself to this every week. But other times, it was well worth the effort, as I later came to find out.
Between disorienting static, I heard faint chatter and some applause — that was when I knew I was getting close — and finally the announcer came on to introduce the program loud and clear. The Ed Sullivan Show it was called, and boy, did it blow my mind to the clouds. With its impersonators and comedians, magicians and acrobats, it was something different altogether—something ingenious in a youngster’s world. I could safely say that that was one of the first places where I encountered mainstream poetry readings. But the biggest thrill of all were the musical acts, the great jazz boppers and rock ‘n rollers who could strip a tough hoodlum to a vulnerable ninny, who could convince spectators to commit to the most foolish of acts just like I had fallen under their spell.
I saw Buddy Holly on Ed Sullivan for the first time that night crooning “Peggy Sue” in that rockabilly way of his. It sent tingles down my bones as I imagined myself there, among musicians in the smoky room that Polly Bergen later sang about. He jerked this way and that, The Crickets followed and played off of his grunts, yelps, and smooth vibe. He sang with an ease that had me and hundreds others swooning on the floor. Next on to conquer were Tony and Sally Demarco, the riotous Jean Carroll, and Sam Cooke, and before I knew it, the program was over and Ed Sullivan had signed off with his signature “Good night!” wave. I turned the set off, silently crept into bed as if nothing had happened, and awaited the rise of the sun when the world would shed all ecstasy and return to the blandness of its everyday routines.
Week by week, the program became something of Sunday ritual, a treasured gem I looked forward to peeking at. Each broadcast promised entry into a strange territory where I became a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character that no one in the daylight world knew about—that was, until the morning my sister walked in. At the time, the show was just shifting into high gear with the introduction of The Everly Brothers, and I had lost all sense of volume control. Forget the landlord below, the folks across the hall, and those sleeping in the next room—I was entranced and I let the world know it.
“Wahoo, play on! Play on!” I shouted out when I heard a light knock on my rusted, metallic bed frame.
“What’s going on?” Silvia growled half-asleep and fully cranky. “What’s all the ruckus about here? Must be something big to wake me up.” Her yawn died halfway as she caught the tail-end of the performance. “Hey whatcha watching this so early for? I caught this last night.” “You can’t be serious!” I said. “And here I was thinking I had this all to myself, the fool I am.”
If there was anything Silvia and I had in common, it was our shared urge to explore, be wild, tread a path we paved ourselves, to find that something that could speak to the depths of our souls, and music did just that. Before, we’d stay up for hours in caffeine-crazed jam sessions where we let loose like two screws. What a trip. And here was yet another ride the two of us could jump on together. That was all we both needed.
The next few weeks were all the more explosive. We sat and watched, sweated, listened to, even bopped out to the performances of The Rolling Stones on The Ed Sullivan Show, Animals, and Pacemakers. Euphoria took over when we saw the way they’d trained those guitars to follow their every command, tempers flared when they were pulled off the stage—Silvi even went as far as to throw pillows at the door in a fit of anger. We jumped off chairs and sang into the night so loudly that the neighbors started talking. “We can hear them singing all the time, you know” they’d alert our parents after a day at the job, to which they’d reply with, “Ah, they’re probably just bickering, but you can count on us to bring a prompt stop to that.” But it was far from over.
We probably reached our peak the night The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show debut appearance took place. The small band from Liverpool, England was broadcasted live for the first time in America. That time finally knocked us to our knees. The maniacal atmosphere, the blaring music, it spoke to us like nothing else did before. I closed my eyes and could still feel the yearning in “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, the charm in “All My Lovin’”, and of course the madness that we craved in “I Saw Her Standing There”. These guys were the real deal and this was a taste of the good life. After we finished jamming, we collapsed on whatever furniture was behind us in a trance that would last forever.
These wild stints of ours lasted for a few years before we once again took to the road, never again to return to that flat or watch the show. But we left with a knowledge that set us wilder, freer, wiser into the days of tomorrow, and whenever I look out into the sunset, I still see it. I still see the shell of a vaudeville America bursting with life through the set.
American writer and poet Veronika Carnaby carries a vintage charm about her that transcends well into her written works. Recognized for her Beat-style prose and innovative voice, Carnaby’s pieces have gained international recognition after appearing in such publications and functions as SESAC Magazine, SXSW, and the SESAC New York Music Awards, among others. Channeling the caliber of her greatest influences, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan, Carnaby infuses her writing with a poignancy and passion for literature, music, and twentieth century culture.
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Official Website: http://veronikacarnaby.blogspot.com/