Continuing a look back at my first exposure to a number of rock 'n' roll acts and superheroes (or other denizens of print or periodical publication), some of which were passing fancies, and some of which I went on to kinda like. They say you never forget your first time; that may be true, but it's the subsequent visits--the second time, the fourth time, the twentieth time, the hundredth time--that define our relationships with the things we cherish. Ultimately, the first meeting is less important than what comes after that. But every love story still needs to begin with that first kiss.
My introduction to Batman, my favorite comic book character, came in the person of Adam West, star of the 1966-1968 Batman TV series; I wrote about that here, so we don't need to cover all that again. For now, suffice it to reiterate that no TV series ever had as great and as lasting an impact on my life as did the campy, twice-weekly adventures of The Dynamic Duo in 1966.
But that's just the first part of a first impression. Where did I go from there? Well, the massive nature of Batmania '66 made the Caped Crusader as ubiquitous as The Beatles had been just two years before. There was so much Bat-merchandise everywhere you turned; the J.M. Fields department store had a small section devoted exclusively to Batman tie-in stuff, and I still have the Batman wastebasket I got there.
One of the most intriguing Batman products would have to be the bubblegum cards. There were two entirely different series of Batman cards; there was a series featuring stills from the TV show, capturing images of Adam West and Burt Ward capturing Gotham's Most Wanted, and there was another series with painted, pulpy images of Batman and Robin battling their deadliest foes. Oh God, those painted cards were awesome, and I sprang for a complete set of reproductions a couple of decades ago. Those cards, with their hints of an unknown wonderland of Batman adventure, were my first teasing taste of (excuse the expression) a Batman beyond what I'd seen on TV.
(I recall a similar feeling of Bat-discovery in, I think, a tie-in from Hostess or some other sweet treat distributor, which carried images of Bat-villains I'd never seen, like The Fox, The Shark, and The Vulture; I got another sideways glance into Batman's vast rogues gallery with coloring-book appearances by The Bouncer and Blockbuster.)
I can't quite remember my first Batman comic book story. I have a vague memory of a battle with The Joker involving giant tubes of paint (which would have been from a 1966 Kelloggs promotion), and that may or may not have been my first. If not, then the honor probably goes to a 1966 Signet paperback, collecting Batman reprints in black-and-white. Most of the reprints were from the '50s--I particularly loved a Joker story called "The Crazy Crime Clown!"--but the first story in that book was a reprint of Batman's origin story by (uncredited) writer Bill Finger and (too-credited) artist Bob Kane, as it appeared in Batman # 1 in 1940 (except for, y'know, the expensive color part). I still have that paperback, and if that's where my Batman comics-readin' started, then I picked a hell of a great place for my Batman to begin.
Subsequently, the first bona fide Batman color comic book I owned was Batman # 184, purchased off the rack at a grocery store in Aurora, Missouri in the summer of '66. I've purchased a few more Batman comic books since then.
THE BEACH BOYS
As I've said before, it took me a little while to become a Beach Boys fan. But there was a Beach Boys LP in the family library when I was a kid: Surfer Girl. As hard as it may be to believe, the title track from that album is the only Beach Boys song I remember contemporaneously. I know, I know--I was there (in my role as me), and I have difficulty buying the idea that I wasn't aware of "In My Room" or "Surfin' USA" or "Help Me, Rhonda" or "I Get Around" or "Our Car Club." Well, okay, maybe that last mental omission is understandable. But how could I have missed the entirety of The Beach Boys' '60s output in the '60s? Beats me. All I can tell you is that I didn't start listening to The Beach Boys at all until the mid-'70s, and I didn't become a big fan until much later.
But I got there. As a teen, I borrowed my cousin Maryann's Beach Boys records (along with her Dave Clark Five, Searchers, Beatles, Animals, and Rolling Stones collection). I got a copy of the cultural prerequisite 2-LP set Endless Summer via the RCA Record Club, and I figured I was permanently set with all the Beach Boys I'd ever need. Probably more than I'd ever need--the only track missing (in my view at the time) was "Good Vibrations," and I could live without that if I had to.
(I think I may have been surprised to learn that "In My Room," a track included on Endless Summer, had originally been done by The Beach Boys. I knew it as an early '70s single by local singer Nanci Hammond, whose cover of the song received significant AM radio airplay in Syracuse. It was the follow-up to her earlier local hit, "You Were Made Just For Me," and I confess that I preferred "You Were Made Just For Me" to "In My Room." At the time, man, at the time!)
In high school, I knew a guy named Larry Siedentop. Larry was a big fan of The Beach Boys, probably the only one of my peers who was really, really into them (though I do recall that another friend, Mary Saur, also liked The Beach Boys, but not as fervently as ol' Larry did). Larry spoke of The Beatles and The Beach Boys with equal reverence, and to me, that was just crazy, freakin' nuts. Those square, decidedly outta-fashion California beach bums on a par with the brilliance of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? That was like telling me that Up With People! was a peer to Bob Dylan. Sure, even my self-conscious efforts to make myself into a cooler-than-thou proto-hipster couldn't deny the pop savvy of The Beach Boys' best hit singles, but c'mon!
But now, even a slow-to-the-epiphany guy like me can look back and recognize how right Larry Siedentop was. Forty years later, I prefer Pet Sounds to Sgt. Pepper; that's a turnaround in opinion that would have been inconceivable to me in 1976. I finally appreciate the greatness of The Beach Boys. Hell, I'm even okay with "Kokomo," which makes me uncool, but I don't care. And I'm going to see Brian Wilson live in less than two weeks! So much for first impressions, I guess, or even some subsequent impressions, too. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on, and it certainly took me a while to catch a wave.
And I like "Surfer Girl" now. I love "Surfer Girl" now. I mean--look at her!
Quick Takes For B:
The Beau Brummels: It's weird to realize that I don't remember The Beau Brummels at all from the '60s, even though my sister Denise went to see them at the State Fair on a double bill with the legendary Gene Pitney. You'd think I would at least remember their animated turn as The Beau Brummelstones on an episode of The Flintstones, but no! Instead, I heard "Laugh, Laugh" on an oldies radio show in 1976 or '77. A rock station in Utica, WOUR-FM, had a flat-out terrific Friday night oldies show called (I think) The Time Machine, and that gave me an opportunity to deepen my affection for The Kinks and The Yardbirds, among others. I heard "Laugh, Laugh" one Friday night on WOUR, and the song has not left my All-Time Hot 100 since then.
Chuck Berry: I don't know if it was WOLF-AM or WNDR-AM that started playing "Johnny B. Goode" in regular rotation in the early '70s, right alongside your Badfinger and your Temptations. Maybe both stations did it. I didn't know it was an old song; I just knew that I liked it a lot. Somewhere in there, I learned a lesson that's an integral part of our format on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio: it doesn't matter if a song's old, or new, or borrowed, or blue, as long as it's a great song. And great songs should be played with other great songs, without regard for their date of origin. That's what radio oughtta be.
Black Canary: Though a (non-powered) super-heroine from the '40s, DC Comics revived The Black Canary for sporadic use here and there in the '60s, and eventually made her one of the line's core characters. I first saw the name and image in a house ad for The Brave And The Bold # 61 (August-September 1965), which appeared in (I think) an issue of The Adventures Of Jerry Lewis. The ad promised the super-heroic team of Starman and Black Canary, which caught my interest, but the issue was long gone from the stands by the time I saw that ad in '66. My first true Black Canary adventure came in the summer of '68, when she appeared with her fellow members of The Justice Society of America in a two-parter running in Justice League of America # 64-65. (But my favorite Black Canary appearance came in The Brave And The Bold # 91 [August-September 1970], when she teamed with Batman and--more importantly!--had the chance to be rendered in pulchritudinous splendor by the incredible Nick Cardy!)
Blackhawk: Another character from the '40s, and a character DC had purchased in the '50s from a publisher called Quality Comics. DC kept this aviator's title going until 1968. But I never read it; it wasn't really a super-hero book, so I wasn't interested. I picked up the very last issue, Blackhawk # 243 (October-November 1968), a coverless copy I found at Van Patten's Grocery in North Syracuse. I (much) later learned that the final two issues of Blackhawk were a back-to-basics attempt, trying to return the character to his former glory; DC's stewardship of Blackhawk up to that time was and is widely regarded as a waste, at least until those last two issues. I discovered the real Blackhawk via Golden Age reprints in the '70s, and my favorite run is a revival in the '80s, written by Mark Evanier and usually drawn by Dan Spiegle; I would buy a trade collection of that run without hesitation. Hawk-a-a-a!
Blondie: Reading about punk rock in Phonograph Record Magazine in 1977, I was taken by Mark Shipper's description of Blondie as "like Marilyn Monroe backed by The Dave Clark Five." Okay, I'm in. I was still reluctant to buy the LP without hearing something first; when I got to college that fall, I pestered WBSU DJs in Brockport to play "X-Offender" for me, and I was hooked at first listen. Plus that Blondie girl, that Debbie Harry? Man, she was cute!
The Brave And The Bold: Someday I'm going to devote an entire Boppin' (Like The Hip Folks Do) to my love-hate relationship with The Brave And The Bold, a long-running DC title that went through many phases and philosophies over the course of 200 issues. It had once been a tryout showcase for proposed new comic book series; the most successful B&B tryouts were a pair of concepts called The Justice League of America and The Teen Titans. But B&B was a super-hero team-up book from # 50 through its farewell at # 200, with just one Sgt. Rock World War II tale in # 52 standing as the sole exception. From 1967 through the book's termination in 1983, it was specifically a Batman team-up book. My first B&B was # 70 (February-March 1967), teaming Batman and Hawkman. I never learned where my copy came from; it turned up one day, alongside an issue of World's Finest Comics and an issue of Mighty Comics, in a pile of magazines in our bathroom at home. Did my Dad buy it for me? Did my Mom? Maybe one of my siblings? I still don't know, but I sure loved this. I'd previously seen the alternate Earth-2 incarnation of Hawkman in the preceding summer's Justice League-Justice Society team-up, but this issue of The Brave And The Bold was my introduction to the familiar, regularly-published "real" Earth-1 Hawkman.