The summer after I graduated from high school, friend Jon invited me to go to a Friday softball game with him. Just a pick up game. Not a league or anything.
Jon’s dead now. He had a heart attack at the age of 30 and because he was young and healthy, the hospital didn’t rush to figure that out until it was too late.
But back then, when I was still 17, I started hanging out with this group of young men and women. Judy and Susan and Allison and Jennifer and Jill (who ended up dating Jon for a time) and Margy (who ended up being the first girl I dated, but only for a couple of months because I was so flippin’ clueless about the whole thing and she gave up) and Jon and Rick and Fred (who all the girls, or most of them anyway, both secretly and not so secretly lusted after) and a series of other people who kind of rotated in and out.
We’d play softball on a Friday evening, gathering at Bertha Henschel Park. Rick could hit the ball a mile, out on to the street and then some. Then we went to Denny’s and invariably back to Jennifer’s house because her parents were cool. Or clueless. When we got there, they would retire to their bedroom and let us have the family room.
There was the magic sofa where every once in a while things happened. Sometimes those things remained secret. Sometimes they didn’t. The table where we played endless rounds of Trivial Pursuit and other games. Including quarters at which I was a master. We drank a lot at Jennifer’s house.
Jennifer. Who now suffers, in her mid-50’s from early on-set, aggressive dementia. It’s a tragedy no matter who something like this happens to. But Jennifer? The life of the party. The reason we had parties. She is a fragment of what she once was.
These times went on for years. Weekly get-togethers. Fun times that just seemed to last forever. We played softball and went to Denny’s or Luis’s afterwards for years, didn’t we? But that’s not how it went. It couldn’t have. The next year, Judy went off to Berkeley where Susan already was. Margy faded away. Jill went off to Indiana. Jon to Santa Cruz. Fred and I had a falling out. And a couple more years and I started dating my psycho ex-girlfriend from hell who did a lot of damage to this and to that.
We still got together when we could and maybe that’s what I remember. I mean for years we got together on New Year’s Eve in the family room at Jennifer’s house and spent the night and people threw up in the bathroom and things happened on the magic sofa. And plenty of times in between when the out-of-towners came home for a break or a weekend. We found this great place near Santa Cruz that had condos that were right on the beach and went there every year for a few years. And we were young and having fun and it went on forever.
There was a TV in Jennifer’s family room, back in the days when TV wasn’t much more than a 19-inch box, and we watched so many movies there. The three I remember the most are Eddie Murphy’s Delirious — a film of one of his stand-up comedy performances before he really hit it big. It’s pretty much just about the raunchiest 90 minutes you’ll ever see. And we ate it up. Over and over and over again. To the point where we all could pretty much recite the thing from beginning to end. Hey Ralphie, why don’t you come on over here and … well, you gotta watch the movie.
And The Big Chill — I thought then and I still think that we watched that movie and imagined ourselves growing up and ending up like the characters in that movie. There is a scene in the movie where the William Hurt character takes a leather jacket off of a hanger. The sound of that, which is impossible for me to describe, convinced me that I needed a leather jacket. I have had several since. Sadly, not a one of them has made the sound of the leather jacket in that movie.
And Purple Rain.
I watched the movie with these friends and I look back now and think how odd it is — this bunch of white (except for a couple that were Asian) middle class, college aspiring (yes, we were all pretty much in college or headed there and we were all middle class and we’ve all done relatively well at achieving the middle class American dream) youngsters who just absolutely loved this steamy, sexy, funkalicious, rockadelic movie and its soundtrack.
A couple of days ago, I listened to Purple Rain and the song that is below over and over again on my drive to work. I don’t know why. I love the songs and have now for more than 30 years. I don’t know. I think it was something I needed. For a couple of reasons. First, the idea of going crazy is something I crave. Just letting loose and saying “what the fuck, I don’t give a damn” and just letting it rip. And then I listened to Purple Rain and heard something in it I probably never got way back then. It was just a cool song with some great guitar riffs and the movie was sexy. You know. It’s actually more than that.
Second, listening to these songs reminded me of this incredible thing that music can do. Movies. Books. These things that take you back to a different time, a different moment. These songs will always take me back to a period of my life when I had this group of friends who filled my time with fun, with experiences, with friendship. Things weren’t perfect, there were some rough patches, but they remain with me today. We get together every once in a while now and it’s all good. Except for Jennifer. She’s getting worse and it’s tough. And Jon. He’s gone.
So, do me a favor. Listen to this next song for Jon and for Jennifer, and for memories, and for the idea of friendship that lasts a lifetime. (My apologies for the poor quality — live recordings just aren’t as good as the studio version, and this is the best studio version I could find.)
Crank it up. Go a little crazy. Punch a higher floor.