My earliest memories go back as far as when I was three years old, watching my crib being dismantled and moved to permanent storage. That would have been 1963. I can also remember being a music fan since about that time, even before The Beatles played their first Ed Sullivan Show. My Mom and Dad both worked, so I often traveled from our North Syracuse home to stay with my Godparents, my Aunt Connie and Uncle Nick, at their home in Westvale. Uncle Nick's sister, my Aunt Anna, lived with them, which meant that Aunt Anna's record collection also lived with them. Whenever I stayed with my Godparents, I would wait in the afternoon for Aunt Anna to come home from work; when she arrived, I would pounce with my regular daily request: "Records, Aunt Anny! Records!"
So music was my first passion. I've been a music fan literally as far back as I can remember, so much so that as a toddler I would pick up random 45s from our home collection and pretend to play them on my hands; I'd memorized which label represented which record, so I was able to sing the appropriate song for each 45, even though I hadn't yet learned to read. My other interests--cartoons (especially Popeye), Baron Daemon (Syracuse's popular local vampire TV host), hide-and-seek, even Mary Rose Tamborelli, the pretty little girl who lived across the street from Aunt Connie and Uncle Nick--could not compete with my love of "The Twist," "The Night They Invented Champagne," various Broadway show tunes, Percy freaking Faith, or whatever 45 caught my interest at the J.M. Fields department store. Music ruled. And music has remained a passion ever since.
1964, of course, belonged to The Beatles. I didn't own any Beatles records; I didn't need to, because The Beatles were everywhere, and in a good way. As I wrote in a previous blog entry: I was four years old when The Beatles first visited America. On paper, that means I was too young to have been a Beatles fan at the time, but who are we kidding? In 1964, everyone knew The Beatles, even a four-year-old suburban kid, and especially a four-year-old suburban kid with teenaged siblings. The Beatles were everywhere, on TV and on the radio (AND HOW on the radio!), on bubblegum cards, magazine covers, posters and a million miscellaneous Fabmania products--I had a Beatles wallet. When A Hard Day's Night opened later that year, I was there at the North Drive-In in Cicero, NY to see The Beatles' cinematic debut--and all the girls in all the cars (including ours) were screaming at the screen. COOL!, I thought.
My other passion is comic books--specifically, superhero comic books. That interest doesn't go back quite as far as my love of music, but I can't recall exactly where or when it started, either. The Popeye cartoons I loved on TV were, in a way, superhero stories, as were the Flash Gordon movie serial chapters that Baron Daemon showed on his afternoon TV show. The Adventures Of Superman was still being shown in reruns, and I remember watching those, too. (I also remember that I didn't realize that Clark Kent and Superman were [SPOILER ALERT!] the same person--let's face it, I was a dumbass.)
Everyone loved Superman. C'mon--faster than a speeding bullet? More powerful than a locomotive? Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Well, case closed. I had older siblings--my brothers Art and Rob, and my sister Denise, whom I called Nina--and one of them must have brought comic books into the house at some time.
The earliest comic books I remember seeing were two from 1965, a Lois Lane reprint collection (80-Page Giant # 14), and the 16th issue of an odd DC Comics title called Metal Men. My sister Nina probably read them both to me. With the Lois Lane book, I was fascinated by seeing TV's Superman and his supporting cast in a comic book. And I think I was particularly weirded out by one of the stories, "The Shocking Secret Of Lois Lane!," which depicted our poor Lois wearing a bulky iron mask to conceal the fact that her beautiful face had been magically turned into a cat's head. Wayne Boring's claustrophobic art style seemed to make this extra creepy, all for added impact on this impressionable five-year-old.
Metal Men, by contrast, was just plain goofy fun: bickering robots with super-powers and human personalities, saving the world from an outer-space invasion. One panel from that Metal Men comic book became a classic fave rave in my house, as the Metal Men fought off robot termites, prompting the Metal Man named Mercury to quip, "You're not going to throw ME into an antipasto!"
I laughed. I laughed and laughed and laughed. For a long time thereafter, Nina would occasionally wrestle and tickle me, and threaten to throw me into an antipasto. I think she may have finally stopped just after I graduated from college, but I wouldn't put it past her to try again, even now. And I'd probably still squeal with laughter, just as I did when I was five.
These are happy, happy memories from 1965. But '65 also gave me my first taste of heartbreak, when my Godmother, Aunt Connie, passed away. Aunt Connie absolutely doted on me, and I was just crushed when she was gone. The death of a loved one isn't easy to deal with at any age--really, I'm not all that much better at it now--but it's really hard for a little kid to understand and process. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that I found out about Aunt Connie's death from some friends on the block, who blurted out the news to me before my parents had been able to figure out how to tell me themselves.
And I had a lot of trouble with this. I spent the rest of the '60s living in fear that my parents would be taken from me, that I'd lose them just as I lost Aunt Connie. Maybe this fear made me want to look for heroes, for powerful good guys who could protect little boys from the ravages of a cruel world. I'm not sure I buy that explanation, but I dunno; if The Beatles' success in America is attributed in part to Americans seeking relief from the sorrow of JFK's assassination, maybe a kid from North Syracuse sought out superheroes to forget his own tears and sadness.
As this kid turned a weary six years old in 1966, a hero was coming. All the way from Gotham City.
NEXT: 1965 sings, and 1966 brings heroes!