Fast Times at Medfield High School – Part I
In 1963 at Medfield High School two distinctive groups of teens showed their separate ideas of our culture as related to education, music, fashion, and legacy – the college-bound Collegiates versus the blue-collar trade-bound Greasers.
A somewhat similar split between the Mods and the Rockers was taking place in the 1960s in Great Britain and other parts of the world. The Mods considered themselves clean cut and upper-class, and they dressed in expensive sport jackets with ties, fancy new white dress shirts, dark slacks, and stylish, expensive Italian shoes. They rode around on motor scooters, and their hair was combed in the ivy league style of the day.
The Rockers were a surlier group of young men who wore black leather motorcycle jackets with black turtleneck sweaters, black pants, and black engineer boots. They combed their hair into a slicked-back, greasy Pompadour. They rode around on motorcycles, à la Marlon Brando in the movie, The Wild Ones.
Those Brits – especially when they got into fights – were celebrated in the news and clearly showed the divisions of the youth culture across the pond. The Mods and the Rockers greatly influenced other counter-culture movements around world, especially the United States. The continental drift was moving in a westerly direction and New England was sure to become a receptive participant that included plenty of Elvis, sideburns, beatniks, rock ‘n roll, r&b, folk music…and especially Beatlemania.
In 1963 some Medfield High School juniors were fortunate enough to go on a field trip to England, where they what their counterparts were up to in London. When they returned to Medfield a week later, they started similar movements in their home town.
A significant difference, though, was that Collegiates and Greasers were mostly opposed to violence. Yes, there were occasional fights, but not at the level of what went on in England.
However, these two groups were anchored in a world of externals, thinking that clothes made the man. It was all about being in the “in” crowd. Clothes and appearances were a kind of security blanket, where some basked in the cool and hip adulation of other like-minded students. All of that gathered a great significance where one would be accepted or rejected and to be forgotten. The latest line of prep school clothes for college-bound, scruffy-looking teens were bought from a clothing store over at Shopper’s World in Framingham or Swenson’s in Walpole. Compared to Californians, the only thing missing from the east coast collegiate lifestyle was a surf board slung under their arms or secured on top of a “woodie,” a station wagon with (usually fake) wood paneling on the sides.
To complete their dress code, Collegiates wore madras shirts, first designed and imported from Madras (now Chennai), India. (Here’s a madras history with some amusing wrinkles. )
Madras was a very different kind of colorful plaid and usually worn with white Levi slacks in warm weather along with Levi corduroys and a tennis sweater in the colder winter. Penny loafers with white socks were in style with a new copper penny tucked into the front of the shoes. Before long, many prep-school teens at Medfield High were wearing madras shirts that were very fashionable in color and tailored at the waist.
The Greasers wore dark cloths, almost like a precursor of a Goth style, with dark shirts and sweaters and continental black slacks with pointed, black shoes or black engineer boots with the brass buckle on the outside. Their fashion statement was designed with simplicity. Dark clothing was definitely in vogue, a casual style for them.
There were also a small number of students who remained apart from the fashion trend while dressing in whatever they wanted and remaining somewhat independent of the two groups. Those students aspired to following a laissez-faire lifestyle, going with their own dress code in the mid-sixties.
A small number of students in both groups drove their own cars, most students rode the buses to school or walked to and from Medfield High.
Although there wasn’t any serious violence taking place between these two cliques, they were all influenced by Hollywood movies of the day. The kids watched Rebel Without a Cause and admired James Dean and how he stood up to a confrontational, somewhat violent group of teens who challenged him to a dangerous game of chicken in their cars. There was also a movie in 1963 called Lord of the Flies that had two groups of young boys, with one maintaining a civil demeanor, maintaining a pacifist lifestyle, while the others devolved into a gang of killers residing in the jungle of a small island.
The novel’s theme promoted the idea of evil, spontaneous corruption, and the book was required reading in Medfield High’s English classes. Although the Collegiates and Greasers never resorted to extreme violence, some Medfield teens pondered the message of living in a similar microcosm of the novel.
When Beatlemania hit in 1963, everyone enjoyed I Want to Hold Your Hand and couldn’t wait to hear the song over again on the radio. The Beatles became a cultural phenomenon with their first LP record and many other records that followed. Their different hairstyle came to be called the “mop top;” it became very popular along with Nehru jackets, collarless sport coats originating from India that were a fashion staple of longtime Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. There were many other English bands, like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, and the Animals, who all became very popular during that time; many still remain popular. The Beach Boys were a favorite band that started out on the west coast with In My Room, Surfer Girl, Help Me, Rhonda, and I Get Around, among the many. That band encouraged and ushered in other west coast bands like the Doors, Jan and Dean, and Jefferson Airplane that played surf and psychedelic rock, as well as folk music with Bob Dylan and Chicano rock with Richie Valens.
To further add to all this tsunami of change of the early to mid-sixties, there were different places where all teens, regardless of any student affiliation, could go to dances in many surrounding towns and Boston.
One such place was the Stoughton Armory near the center of Stoughton. Before going to the dances, some of the teens from Medfield would practice perfecting the latest dance moves beforehand, in the privacy of their homes, in order to avoid any spastic embarrassment on the dance floor. If teens wanted to see and partake in the latest styles along with all the sometimes sexually suggestive dance moves, the Stoughton Armory was the place to go to on Friday nights.
After leaving the Stoughton Armory at 11 pm, most everyone from Medfield started going to the new McDonald’s nearby, back then a small food stand where they could buy a hamburger for just 15 cents, and French fries for only 10 cents along with a 10 cent Pepsi. Or if they wanted, many Medfield kids could go to the Howard Johnson’s on Route One in Walpole that was still doing a great business before their demise in the early 1980s.
One of the other dance floors that attracted both Medfield Colligiates and Greasers was the Lakeview Ballroom in friendly town of Mendon. In that town the mood among all teens was strictly non-sectarian and non-judgmental, welcoming any teen who didn’t mind dancing the twine. If you don’t recall the twine, here’s a refresher.
At the Lakeview you could line dance to the sounds of Liar, Liar-House on Fire by the Castaways, or Hot Pastrami by The Dartells, Wolly Bully by Sam the Shame and the Pharaohs, Land of 1000 Dances by Cannibal and the Headhunters, and the many other records with similar themes.
The Lakeview Ballroom had to be the citadel of the Greasers because it was one of the few dance floors that lustfully welcomed blue jeans, pegged slacks, big Pompadours with plenty of Vaseline Hair Tonic or Wildroot Cream Oil, black turtleneck pull overs, with black pointed dress shoes, perfect with leather soles for fast, aerodynamic dancing on the Lakeview wooden floor.
This was the place to join the tribe with the vibe, along with any other teens who wanted to just go dance and listen to great rock ‘n roll.
Some of those favored dance floors went far beyond the boundaries of Medfield and other towns close-by. The Rexicana, nicknamed The Rex, was a dance floor located in the town of Marshfield, Mass., very close to Cape Cod with its very own salty air, sail boats, cranberry bogs and beaches. Many of the high school kids from the south shore were there and dancing to mostly the sounds of the Beach Boys and other west coast groups. This establishment looked a lot like the sound stage of American Bandstand. They also played the music of the times including Leslie Gore, Petula Clark, Neil Sedaka, and the Four Seasons along with many of the English groups.
One aspect about the Rex, definitely different from the other dance halls was the presence of a very heavy-set man, who looked like a bald sumo wrestler with a mean scowl on his face, dressed in a white outfit, who had an advanced black belt in the martial arts. He was obviously the bouncer for the Rex, a karate expert who could be called upon if anyone got out of hand.
On their return trip home from the Rex on a Friday night in 1965, two recent Medfield High grads saw a horrible, head-on collision on Route 128 in Weymouth. None of the passengers were wearing seat belts. Three boys were being taken to a nearby hospital with very serious injuries. Across the highway were the passengers of the other car – all lying dead in a wooded area. It was a devastating, unforgettable sight. Many Medfield students heard about the deadly accident and were inspired, at least temporarily, to stop drag racing, a dangerous but popular pastime in the 1960s.
Another teen nightclub for Friday night dancing was at Moseley’s on the Charles at the Dedham-West Roxbury line. Teens danced to local bands, including the Premiers singing Farmer John, I’m in Love with Your Daughter. There was a dress code at Moseley’s, with the guys in sport jackets and ties with dress shirts and slacks with casual shoes. The girls were all wearing beautiful dresses and formal shoes, defining their feminine mystique.
Weekend dances took place at Medfield and Millis High, where many students moved to the new dance called the Twist, by Chubby Checker, but they quickly moved on many other dance crazes. Many other singing groups became popular. Soul music became the passion from Detroit’s Motown, with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Orlons, the Four Tops, and many others.
Sometimes WBZ’s Carl DeSuze and Dave Maynard did deejay honors. They were very personable and friendly as they spun 45s from Elvis, the Iseley Brothers, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Jackie Wilson, the Dave Clark Five, the Animals, the Beach Boys, Question Mark, and the Mysterians.
To be continued…