As I mentioned last week, my research involves reading newspapers on microfiche machines at the Spokane Public Library. My eyes scan the pages of the Spokesman Review and the Spokane Chronicle looking for advertisements for rock ‘n’ roll music at local venues like the Armory, the Coliseum, Grafmiller’s Big Barn, or Nat Park. I also read headlines as they scroll past, and at times find stories that involve rock ‘n’ roll in some sort of fashion.
While looking for a couple of Spokesman Review and Chronicle stories that Spokane Natural underground newspaper editors’ Russ Nobbs and George Maloney mentioned as they were getting up in the face of the Spokane’s establishment authorities, I came across the kind of story that gives rock ‘n’ roll its anti-social reputation in the American cultural stream.
In 1968 two Spokane Valley teenage boys were in juvenile court convicted for their behavior and were due to receive their sentences.
Two teen-agers who stole microphones and other equipment from Spokane Valley churches for their rock ’n’ roll band were found to be delinquent yesterday.
The two were among several bandsmen arrested in connection with thefts of sound equipment from three churches. Others of the group also were involved in other burglaries, the court was told.
The two sentenced had been expelled from their jr. high schools. One said he had been expelled from two schools and dropped out of the third in the past year.
One of those expulsions was because he and another youth had poured gasoline on a school official’s lawn then setting it afire.
The other boy’s sentence was suspended and told to stay away from his former associates.
The behavior had a precedence in rock ‘n’ roll, but it seems to be manufactured in Hollywood.
Rock ‘n’ roll in the fifties quickly became associated through the medium of the movies with anti-establishment behaviors. The juvenile delinquent film often involved hot rod racing, motorcycles, girls willing to have sex in the back seat of the hot rod, boys fighting each other, and the musical score reflected this rebellious youth with the appropriate rock ‘n’ roll tune, a type of music that was quickly gaining traction through portable record players in every teenager’s room along with a collection of seven-inch 45 rpm records.
This type of cross-media pollination worked in favor of the rock ‘n’ roll performer in that the movies were watched by hundreds of thousands of teenagers at drive-in theaters across the country like Spokane’s East Trent Drive-In, the Autovue, or the Y-Drive-In. This in turn helped sell records for the musicians and bands, and helped push their single 45 rpm record up the Billboard Hot 100 list for the summer. A record company worked to make these connections between the music, the movies and television. It was all marketing of rock ‘n’ roll to teenagers. It worked. Rock ‘n’ roll is now forever linked with the bad-boy image. It might be said that not all rock ‘n’ roll music can be connected to juvenile delinquency, but maybe all juvenile delinquents listen to rock ‘n’ roll, at least according to the mid-century modern, straight-to-drive-in, teenage movie.
I can’t help but wonder who those two Spokane Valley boys were, and if they had gone on to either become rock ‘n’ roller musicians, life-long criminals, or settled down, got married, and found a job that they are about ready to retire from now.
In the teenage drive-in movie version, the one expelled from three schools would go on to become a self-destructive, wild lead singer who dies early in his career in a fantastic flame-out somewhere in punked out rock ‘n’ roll New York.
“Two Church Burglars Adjudged Delinquent.” Spokane Daily Chronicle. 21 February, 1968: 20.
Copyright © 2013 Robert G. Schoenberg