The Night I Became a Teenager
In the fall of 1975 I went to a birthday party. It was a time when we were quite impressed with ourselves, my friends and I. We had the right clothes - overalls and carpenter pants, Frye boots and Huck-a-Poo shirts, and we were, for the most part, unsupervised most of the time, free to smoke cigarettes and pot and drink cheap beer. We were so young, but, due to our proximity to New York City and the availability of money and free time, we were a lot more sophisticated than we should have been.
The birthday party was big. Lots of older kids showed up, then left, boys with corduroy pants and long scraggly hair, the last of the hippies, about to become obsolete. Everyone smelled vaguely of weed and wet wool, our skin pink from the cold air of Long Island. Outside was a large pool and an even larger yard with lots of dark places for couples to make out.
Was there anything more thrilling than the first inkling of being a teenager? Those days when you knew your childhood was over, when you felt like your friends were all that mattered, when every glance from a boy you liked meant something. Anything seemed possible, from love to adventure to fame to happiness. You knew the answers to everything could be found within your group, your friends, your people during long nights spent figuring it all out as you talked into the wee hours, amazed at how insightful and smart you were. At the end of the party those who remained were our inner circle, a group of 20 or so boys and girls. We sat in clumps in the big, glass-walled den, playing with each other's hair, writing on each other's jeans, laughing and rolling around as only teens do - the need to be physically connected to each other as strong as the need to be always talking.
There was a last bit of innocence to us that night, even as it was disappearing like our breath in the cold night outside. None of us knew what lay ahead for us - from marriage to divorce, drug addiction to financial crises, car accidents to cancer - we only knew that at that moment, on that October night, we were invincible. The stereo played the Beatles, and when Ringo began warbling "I Get By with a Little Help From My Friends" we all began to sing along with him. We were too young to have seen the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, even too young to remember the sorrow when they broke up in 1970 - but their music was part of all of our record collections, alongside Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell, Loggins and Messina, Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, and so many more. We were children of an unnamed time, the tail end of the baby boom. Though we liked to think of ourselves as children of the sixties, we were 5 years old when Woodstock happened, and none of us could remember when Kennedy was shot. We were, in some ways, not Boomers at all.
And then at 11:30 that night we took a step into our futures, as we watched, together, the debut of a new show called Saturday Night Live. All of us knew we were witnessing something completely different, and all of us knew it was for us. I can remember thinking that we were watching something completely and utterly different, without even knowing why. We were just 14 year old kids from Long Island, but we got it. We loved the Beatles, but they belonged to our older brothers and sisters. Our teen years would be defined by many things, including Disco, Saturday Night Fever, A Chorus Line, the dawn of Punk Rock, our parents journeys down memory lane on Happy Days, and a culture of sexual freedom that would crash and burn quickly as the 80's began.
We felt a terrible loss at the deaths of two of our cultural icons, John Lennon in 1980 and John Belushi in 1982. Saturday Night Live was our show, the late Boomers, watched with friends in a haze of pot smoke or alone, after a long evening at home waiting for the phone to ring. The Beatles were our collective memory - Saturday Night live our collective future. What a gift on both ends.