A small circle of friends
June of 1967 meant the end of many things for me, and also new beginnings. For one thing, it was the end of school. The rest of my Heights High class graduated that June, but I left two or three weeks earlier. I was done.
I had been trying to quit since, well . . . kindergarten—literally—but I started my campaign in earnest when I was in ninth grade at Roosevelt Junior High. Of course, it didn’t happen till I turned 18, in late May of my 12th-grade year (though I waited another week, till all Heights Choir activities were completed).
It also meant the end of one of the main music groups I had been in since sixth grade, a folk trio with two friends, Steve and Marty (I’m leaving out all last names, and some first names, here). We had performed together for all those years. Steve had gone to college a year earlier, but the group didn’t officially end till we all left town. Marty went off to college. I took off for New York. Though we’d been in this folk music trio together, when we continued our musical careers I did rock music, Steve went into bluegrass, and Marty became a conductor of orchestras and choruses performing classical music, mostly in the Cleveland area. Then Steve started playing jazz, which, as a retired veterinarian, he still does in the state of Washington. And I returned to folk music.
The rest of my close inner circle of friends scattered.
For all of June ’67, I played at a folk club in Chautauqua, N.Y., accompanied on wind instruments by my friend and classmate Walt. In July we opened for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys for five nights at La Cave in Cleveland, and in August we played a club in Dayton. Then Walt went to college in Arizona. After I moved to NYC and started recording and producing for a record label, he joined me there for a few months, playing on some recordings, before returning to Arizona. He came back to Cleveland Heights for several years, but gravitated back to Arizona, where he still lives, creating visual art and playing music professionally.
My girlfriend all through high school went to college and soon began an intimate relationship with one of her professors, effectively ending our relationship. She then started following some semi-famous Indian guru, who advised her to change her name and go with him, and many other of his followers, to Kansas. She now lives in a hot area of Southern California. Until about a decade ago, I talked to her every few years and she always seemed a little confused. Nice, but confused.
Another friend, classmate and former bandmate, Tom #1, also quit high school. He became a junkie and, according to another friend and classmate, John, Tom #1 is, or was, living under a bridge in Phoenix, dealing, or maybe not, with mental-health issues. At least he had sense enough to move to a warmer climate.
That guy, John (who, when we were in high school, used to talk in his sleep, quoting Shakespeare), became an author and speaker and moved to New England. You may have read one or more of his books.
Another friend, classmate and former bandmate, Tom #2, started out engaged in various shady dealings I won’t delineate, but in the early ’70s he discovered the Hindu religion, which seemed to replace that other stuff in his life. He’s still involved with Hinduism and appears happy, dividing his time between the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii.
A friend, Phil, with whom I played in bands in high school and beyond, remained a professional musician, and then a comedian and actor. He became a successful voice artist and songwriter in L.A., working on several children’s TV shows. Then, at 50, he started school to become a cantor, a career he has enjoyed, in a large L.A .synagogue, for the past 20 years.
Another friend from elementary school through high school (and, of course, a former bandmate) surprised all of us, at the end of high school, by joining the military, stationed, first, in Germany and then in Vietnam. He got out and came back to Cleveland, becoming a male stripper for a while, before getting involved in the retail food business. He continued that in Northern California, where he became a wine expert and worked in that business for many years. Now living in Northern Washington state, he recently stayed at my house here in Cleveland Heights, where we discussed all of these people in greater, juicier detail.
There were about 1,000 kids in my class at Heights High. They all have stories. Everyone does. But the ones of those who were teenagers, and, especially, musicians, in the late ’60s, it seems, may be a little stranger.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.