“Renegade” – My Gateway Drug

The plaintive words transport me in time: “Oh Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.”*  Apple Valley, Minnesota.  1970s.

Nancy was one of my best friends from birth until she moved.  Her family attended Annunciation Church.  (A Nut’s Creation as we liked to giggle.)  I knew they were “Catholic” and that made them different in some exotic, intangible way.

Our house sat sandwiched between Nancy’s and Brucey’s.  These proximity friends served different purposes.  Brucey and I were mudpie masters, hiding under the boughs of a blue spruce tree.  I can picture the space at the base of the tree.  The crunch and smell of the needles.  The tree is long gone, or maybe I made it up.  Brucey skipped the state before gender became an issue with playmate preference.

Nancy’s next older sister, Jane, adored gymnastics.  She became our coach, teaching us backbends, roundoffs, cartwheels, and backhandsprings.  “You’re so limber!” she’d say as my youthful spine contorted into an arch.  Jane coerced me into temporary silence after daring me to try an aerial, a cartwheel without hands.  I landed on my face, blood dripping from my nares to mingle with my tears.

Nancy and I built forts, massive room-consuming blanket forts.  Here’s the scenario: Two orphan children shelter in a flimsy structure, trying desperately to avoid the searchlights of the nebulous bad guys who are hellbent on rape and pillage (whatever that meant.)

I remember playing in Nancy’s room when her sisters allowed it.  Three sisters, two rooms, and Nancy was the youngest.  The Room Sharer.

She moved to Apple Valley around our eighth birthday.  We’d already adjusted to the daytime separation of public vs. “Catholic” school.  Nancy might as well have moved to Tibet.  My bare feet could no longer trot over to her house in thirty seconds.  Phones were a different sort of entity in those days, used when one actually had something to communicate.  I called Nancy a couple times on our rotary dial, wrapping the cord around a wall so I could perch on the stairs.  Her number started with a 4, strange in my world of 8s.  Truth be told, we had nothing to say.  Our activity-based play perished in the translation to remote interaction.

We reunited for a couple sleepovers.  Nancy’s new house felt all wrong, too horizontal.  The low ceilings and sprawling layout were foreign territory.  I’m sure her parents were present in some capacity but I have no memory of any interaction.  Nancy and I ate Cheetos and watched Roadrunner.  Meep Meep!

One of the older sisters, either Mary or Sue – probably Mary – Sue was the serious one.  Anyhow, deeply embedded in her teen years, Mary had acquired a new record and her excitement transcended the taboo of interacting with her bratty baby sister.

We entered the inner sanctum, Mary’s garden-level bedroom, and watched her reverently place the vinyl on the player.  She gently laid the needle in the betwixt-song gap.  “Oh Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the long arm of the law.”

My only prior experience with pop music came in the form of Neil Diamond and John Denver.  Otherwise, I subsisted on a steady diet of classical music and show tunes.  “Renegade” became my gateway drug, prepping me for junior high, WLOL, and years of Casey Kasem’s Weekly Top 40.

“Oh Mama, I’m in fear for my life…”

Musical Moment


* The copyright to “Renegade” belongs to Tommy Shaw and Styx.

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5 Responses to “Renegade” – My Gateway Drug

  1. Nice piece, Anne, and a catchy title! The phone cord, in the days before even cordless phones, brings me back.

  2. Francesca says:

    Classical music and show tunes! You and I might have grown up in the same house.
    I didn’t discover the rock station until sixth grade. I felt outraged when it turned out my mother listened to it while we were at school.
    I remember being so baffled by “I Shot the Sheriff” about that age: What was going on here?

  3. Jay says:

    I was musically inept and had to be led to the right music by friends. I didn’t dare like a band on my own until I was nearly 30.

    But my parents were this weird in-between generation, too old to be hippies but too young to be Sinatra / Showtune people.

    So I grew up listening to their Beatles albums, first the Capitol ones, then, the apple branded ones, that looked like actual green apples, in the sticker at the center; one side the outside of the apple; the flip sized an apple cut in half with the seeds showing.

    As we aged, we found other things. The first Doors album, virtually unplayed. The White Album, long ignored, suddenly became very important.

    I remember skipping over the George Harrison song, looking for the Lennon McCartney, because, you know, 3 minutes of sitars was not something that 8 year old me could endure.

    The big double album Jesus Christ Superstar was my introduction to Christianity, as I’d been raised an atheist. Judas screeching that he’d be dragged through the slime and the mud scared the crap out of me.

    George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was the last album of theirs I discovered and loved. Our cats liked to find and throw up on things, when I was growing up, so one side of one album remained new for me 15 year later, when I got everything on CD and then MP3.

    I got over youthful me’s dislike of sitars. The Lennon McCartney now seemed a little cloying. Sgt Pepper somehow a little too produced, a little too… much.

    I grew up in a sea of prog rock, imbibing very little punk or new stuff, turning backwards instead, into that vanishing golden age, already nostalgic, in my 20s, in the 80s, for the culture that was evaporating around us. David Bowie a coffee achiever. Just say no. Sigh.

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