Have you ever had certain songs remind you of people or a time in your life because, for whatever reason, the song is so closely associated with that person and/or time?
Ok, maybe I’m the only weirdo, just indulge me.
Driving around Iowa I’ve had a lot of opportunities to listen to oldies stations on the radio (it seems like every city has such a station, which is great) and I found myself thinking back to times and people in my past that I associate with certain songs.
Jonathan Flores and I met in 1963, the year “Louie Louie” was released by The Kingsmen, in the third grade when he moved into the area with his newly divorced mom and his little sister. We were the best of friends through the summer after sixth grade, before we each went off to different junior high schools. But for those 3 1/2 years we were Batman and Robin, The Green Hornet and Kato, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, and all three of the Musketeers rolled into two. Every day after school we were at each others house; on the weekends we alternated spending Friday and Saturday nights at each others house and during the summers we built tree houses, designed secret forts and rode our bikes all over the part of Hialeah we lived in, sometime venturing outside that area without telling our parents (as boys are wont to do) and enjoying the kinds of adventures that boys create in their minds (with the help of TV shows and comic books). We flirted (though we had no idea that’s what we were doing) with the same girls and fought other boys. We were both very smart, but I was smarter. I was the biggest, but Jonathan was the good-looking one. Years later, when remembering him, I would realize he looked like a young, dark-haired Marlon Brando. Of course the girls knew that all along.
In the sixth grade, we were the only two sixth grade boys (Barbara Zembach or Zemback and a girl who was killed in a car accident later in high school were the only sixth grade girls) in a special advanced class (I told you we were smart, lol) of 10 students. The others were 3 students from the fifth grade and 3 students from the fourth grade. The school administration had no spare classroom for us, so we were sent to a nearby elementary school made up of black students. I think that experience served to shape my thinking about the evil of racial discrimination in the years to come. We were the only 10 white students (well, one of the fifth graders was Asian) in a school of black students. WE were the minority and we saw every day how it felt to BE the minority. The first few days we were there, there were fights. We were jumped walking to school, during school and walking home from school. Jonathan and I could handle ourselves and had kicked some ass, but the girls and younger ones were hurt a few times when walking home after school, so Jonathan and I devised a plan. Every morning the 10 of us met several blocks from the school and walked to it together and every afternoon we walked home together. While walking in the area around the school We were in a line with myself in the front (I was the biggest, remember?), Jonathan at the back and everyone else safely between us. After trying us a couple of times and failing, the other kids pretty much stopped bothering us physically. But they were always mouthing off to us and making threats.
When the school administration finally figured out what was going on, they decided it would be better for us to return to our own school. With no rooms available, they set up a classroom for us on the stage in the cafeteria and kept the curtains closed. Whenever there was an event that needed to be held on the stage, we had to push our desks and classroom equipment off into the wings where it could not be seen.
It was one of those events on the stage that will forever make me think of Jonathan when I hear “Louis Louie.”
Toward the end of the year in sixth grade we had a lot of special things happening to celebrate our “graduation” to junior high school. One of those events was a talent contest and, never liking to be in the spotlight, I shied away from participating. But Jonathan had no such compunctions. These were the years when rock and roll was everywhere. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many, many others filled the AM radio dial. Jonathan gathered some of our friends who could play guitar and drums, formed a small band with himself as lead singer and set to practicing. None of them were great musicians and Jonathan, while the best singer of them all, was not a really good singer. But it was fun. By the time the contest rolled around the group had decided that the song they did the best job performing was “Louie Louie.” I remember Jonathan had slicked his jet black hair back except for a curl that fell across his forehead and wore a tight shirt that he unbuttoned, tight jeans and “Beatle boots.”
When Jonathan started singing and gyrating like Elvis, the girls went wild. They screamed like he was Paul McCartney and I expected to see training bras flying though the air at any moment. It was, in a life of too few such things for him, a very special moment for my friend.
When we started going to different junior high schools in the seventh grade we still stayed in touch, but we were never as close as we had been before and by the time we were in the eighth grade our contact was almost non-existent. New schools, new people and new interests served to accomplish what had seemed impossible a few scant years earlier. The Dynamic Duo had faded into memory.
In the eleventh grade I called Jonathan one day to see how he was doing. A day or so later he drove over to my house with a friend of his named Rocky and we talked and tried to catch up. He was about to drop out of school to work full time and his life seemed to center around drinking, drugs and girls. Rocky did not seem to be the best influence on him and he gave me a bad feeling. Still, it was good to see my old friend and we promised we would stay in touch and get together again.
It was a promise that would not be kept because it was the last time I saw Jonathan alive.
A couple of months later I was driving to pick up my girlfriend on a Saturday morning when a radio news broadcast mentioned a shooting the night before and I had to pull off the road to pull myself together after I heard the announcer say, “…killed was Jonathan Flores, 17…”. In a drug deal gone bad, He and Rocky had been shot in an alley in Coral Gables. Jonathan was dead, killed by a bullet to his heart. Rocky was in the hospital with bullet wounds.
I went to the hospital and Rocky told me what had happened. He and Jonathan and a couple of girls were in the car at a stop light when a two guys walked up and asked them if they wanted to buy some drugs. They parked the car on the street, left the girls in it and followed the guys into the alley where it turned out the guys, who pulled guns, just wanted to steal their money. Jonathan hit the one closest to him and turned and ran but the other one shot him in the back, the bullet piercing his heart. The ME said he was dead before he hit the ground. I truly hope it was that fast for him and that he didn’t suffer. Rocky was shot in the arm and leg before both guys ran away.
It was difficult for me not to beat the crap out of him as he laid there in the hospital bed, and that was probably the only reason I didn’t. Right or wrong, I blamed him for the death of my friend.
But whenever I hear “Louie Louie”, I see Jonathan on stage, singing, smiling and having fun. And I smile a bittersweet smile at the memory.
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