Were You At the Hollywood Teen Fair? they ask in print, as if to remind me and all of us who were there.
Yes, I was there at the Hollywood Teen Fair. At the Palladium. On Sunset. Just so you get the full gist of it, that's where the weekly Lawrence Welk television program originated from.
I went to the FIRST one, the Teenage World Fair in 1962. I was too young to drive, so my Dad dropped me and a friend off on his way to work.
Al Burton came up with the idea of the Teenage World Fair probably because there was a World Fair in Seattle that year and the Space Needle had been in Life with some regularity. (And how as a young person could you not think, "So they've got a space needle? Big deal. We have a record needle, because Los Angeles was nearly the recording center of the world, or so it seemed at the time.) Al Burton was also producing a tv music show that a person I knew appeared on. At that show, someone announced onstage the fair would be coming soon. Al was quite young to be a tv producer then. I thought so even at the time. As I was quite young, what would I know? I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the fair because Al as producer of the show was bossy and wouldn't let me run to the stage at the tv show. He seemed to have read my mind. He pointed his finger in warning at me as I stood up for the charge and I looked over and saw him shaking his finger at me and realized he was right, and so I sat down. Later backstage, I'd asked him for his autograph as he was watching me ask other people for autographs and it seemed like he wanted me to ask him for his, so I did. As the producer of the show.
But I ended up going to the Teenage World's Fair. I barely remember any of the fair except someone introduced me to a reporter, who told me and my friend we didn't seem like the other kids at the fair. That was probably because the young friend who I had taken with me usually introduced herself both with her name, and a followup sentence, "And my dad's an attorney for the ACLU and he collects Bessie Smith records."
But what the heck? We weren't just like the other kids there? Ummm, I kind of suspect I hoped that writer was right. That we weren't. Hey, I kind of knew that, anyway, looking at the kids. I was trying to become a folk singer or beatnik at the time, anyway. But I figured these men who were ruling Hollywood either ordered you around or made weird comments. Maybe I was right about the way I regarded them, as scant as the experience had been.
That reporter soon became famous as Tom Wolfe, but that's just an obligatory namedrop (I am writing about Hollywood after all). This is my own true story. I am willing to bet that Jan & Dean or some such were there at the teen fair onstage, but I honestly don't remember the music acts.
The fair was all so sweet and innocent, just like the you tube video and even the accompanying music though out of season seems strangely apropos. A little better heeled and age specific than the LA County Fair in Pomona. But I thought the fashion shows and beauty pageant angle were a bit odd even at the time. The cuisine was the usual carnival fare. The car show was interesting, and I was able to impress my young new friend that I already knew about Von Dutch and his pin striping, and for years prior, because I was so, you know, street wise about some things.
I'd walk around the cars and look at the tail pipes and say I was looking for the rollers, until I found some. Then I'd explain the cars were lowered so much they'd put rollers on the tail pipes so they wouldn't drag when they went down driveways or over railroad tracks. Though, I would add, sometimes they'd go fast and hit an unexpected bump and a little spark! would fly. And the long chrome feelies, and the inevitable fuzzy dice the car owner's girlfriend would knit with angora yarn with dots made of little skulls. Three hundred coats of lacquer paint, all hand rubbed between each coat, the paint so strangely reflective and deep just staring into it made you feel you were looking to the other side of the universe.
Back to the musician I had seen at the television show who I'd got to know a bit and such. His hit record, one hit record, had made enough money for him so he never had to work all the time he went to college. I told these things to Frank because it was important to know that it was possible to make money with music, and not just other people from distant Philadelphia like Fabian and Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, all the Philadelphia ones on American Bandstand broadcast from Philadelphia, but people from other places who you actually met and knew.
Frank was funny. I'd be staring at a photo of that musician holding his black Gibson f-top, and I would sigh a bit falling in love with him and his music and yammer what I had been told by the musician about the guitar, and how it was good for jazz and rockabilly and rock and roll and all kinds of music, because it had a wonderful fretboard and why he thought it was the Gibson fretboard was so great. And Frank would be staring intently at the photo and he would be falling in love a bit, but with the guitar, and he'd eventually go out and buy one just like it.
The Hollywood Teen Fair became a big deal, and for many years. You probably know that Captain Beefheart's group performed there in 1965 and won a guitar. Isn't that absolutely great?! Truthfully, I wouldn't have gone to the Hollywood teen fair in 1965 even if I'd known that gig was happening. All those three years later, I felt I was "too old" to go to such a thing. And I was trying to pretend I was becoming a beatnik in Venice. And it was lucky I didn't hear about it then after the fact, with some people I knew performing there and not inviting me, or it would have given me one more reason to leave Hell-A.
¶ 1/13/2011 04:48:00 PM