The Singer Not the Song
But the Little Girls Understand
16 came into my life in the summer of 1966, when I moved to San Antonio. The city seemed very foreign and suburban compared to New Orleans' atmospheric charm and beauty, and I didn't know a soul. I was supremely bored in that sullen manner that identifies adolescence and whiled away the hot days listening to the radio and reading the teen magazines I charged to my parents' account at the neighborhood drugstore. Carnaby Street and anything with the faintest whiff of Limey origin was hot. I devoured every magazine with anything about England and pop music, but 16 was the best. They knew what I wanted: photos and dreams. I wrote an elaborate essay to win a date with the Monkees' Peter Tork, because I imagined him as the perfect boyfriend -- cute, smart, good sense of humor, plays in a band. Dear 16, the essay began. I recently departed my beloved England where my father worked on Harley Street and we have moved to Texas. It is so uncivilized here, but I have found one thing makes life truly bearable -- the Monkees.
I was so saturated in my fantasy world by the time school started, I began eighth grade speaking with a fake English accent, complete with details gleaned from magazines. I had decided I would be more interesting if I were mysterious. Mysterious meant foreign to me and England happened to be The Place. I changed my professor father's previous place of employment from Tulane to Oxford and began spinning the web. What in hell made me think I could get away with this? As it happened, I was one of several students who did this, only to be tripped up by a true Brit. Fortunately, the teachers who were so charmed by our lilting accents and tales of Mod and Merrie England mercifully forgot our continentalism when the accents went the way of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich after the first week.
Nevertheless, if the real world wasn't living up to my standards, I'd bloody well make it conform. Thus, my allowance was funneled into buying singles and issues of 16 and other teen magazines, with which I covered the walls of my bedroom with pictures of my beloved Monkees, Raiders, and Rolling Stones. This was my refuge, my haven, and I stayed there after school and evenings, hidden from the painful reality of a new junior high school in a new city where I felt out of place and rejected. It was here, in this shrine of post-pubescent pathos, that I hid from the bad grades, the miserable days in class, the damning notes from my parents asking to see my teachers, writing essays that were never finished, trying out makeup I wasn't allowed to wear. Unrequited love at school meant public jeers if anyone saw the names I furtively scribbled on book covers. At home, Davy Jones' declaration of love comforted me and hey, Herman wanted me to be his bird! Dear 16, I wrote. If I win the contest to spend the day with Mark Lindsay, I just know he would fall in love with me. My father's yacht is big enough to sleep all of the Raiders.
My paper world crumpled the day I got caught with a slam book. Slam books were a particularly cruel invention in which a notebook containing the names of students was passed around for the purpose of soliciting anonymous comments. Predictably, these could get cruel and taunting, especially for those unfortunates who had to slink past the gaggle of cheerleaders and pack of jocks whose self-appointed purpose was to stand outside the cafeteria during lunch and loudly criticize those who did not meet their standards. The only antidote to being the object of their hoots was if someone geekier walked by and distracted them. As a first-class dork, I hadn't yet learned to turn that rejection into rebellion -- I hadn't quite gotten what the protest and rebel songs were about yet, and I yearned harder for their superficial acceptance. Naturally, I believed a slam book would be the key to my popularity.
Instead, it brought me infamy, as the math teacher collected the slam book from Glenda Goolsby, who promptly rolled over on me and squealed. The teacher turned it over to the principal, who called my parents in for a conference. My parents, in turn, blamed rock & roll and stripped clean the walls of my bedroom. I came home that afternoon filled with dread and found my world gone. The men don't know, but the little girls understand, I'd heard sung in some croaky old blues song. Suddenly it made sense.
"Earth-shattering" is a mild term for the way I felt. Destroyed. Devastated. My parents had invaded the double life I had fancifully created for myself, took my albums and 45s, my stacks of magazines, my radio and record player, my writing, every shred of evidence of my other, imagined but more exciting life. It hardened my little girl's liquid heart in a moment, surrounding it with a hard candy shell. I would never again be so innocent.
"Lies," bellowed my father, waving the slam book with a fierce look and pointing to a magazine essay I had been writing the night before. This one was to win a trip to England. Dear Mod Street, it read. As I recently moved to Texas for my health, my fondest desire is to see London once more. The doctors don't recommend travel, but if I win, I trust Mater could persuade them.
"Lies," hissed Mater, giving me a withering stare.
I wanted to die.
The infatuation with 16 ended not long after my parents sterilized my room. The next time I got in major trouble, it was for sneaking out of my bedroom window to meet my boyfriend. Now that I was in ninth grade, 16 seemed just a tad too gushy for increasingly discerning tastes more atuned to Jimi Hendrix and Cream than the Monkees and Raiders. The next stop for 16 was David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, and the Jackson 5. I would be off on Laura Nyro, Fairport Convention, and always, the Stones. I kept getting older, 16 stayed the same age.
The punk British invasion of the late Seventies got the same warm welcome from me as the first one, this scene all the more delicious for having lived through the Sixties. 16 magazine had long dropped off my radar, but every punk zine I picked up, from Austin's Sluggo to England's Sniffin' Glue to Seattle's Chatterbox, consciously rejected the mannered rock journalism of Rolling Stone and gleefully emulated the worshipful abandon of 16. After seeing a picture of Leif Garrett taped to the wall of Raul's stage at a Huns show, I rushed out and bought an issue of 16, sending away for T-shirts for a few friends and me. The red-and-white logo, unchanged since my pre-adolescence, announced that 16 magazine keeps me on top of the stars! I wore mine soon after, meeting John Cale at his hotel to do just that.
Gloria Stavers didn't live to see her work acknowledged the way it deserved to be. By the end of the Seventies, she was probably beginning to be affected by the cancer that finally killed her in 1983. She didn't see the Eighties wave of teen idols like Debbie Gibson and New Kids on the Block, this version of teen dreams molded by MTV, but she would have known instinctively how to present them. She would have known how to keep the mystique of N' Sync and Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys sparkling until they did what all teen idols eventually do -- grow up into adults.
In Who's Your Fave Rave?, the loving but unflinching book about life at 16, former editors Danny Fields and Randi Reisfeld reveal high regard for Gloria Stavers. Dave Marsh gushes in his introduction about her intelligence, her looks, her savvy. But I don't remember her getting that kind of acknowledgment in her lifetime. I remember 16 being sneered at by the music press at large for its unabashed worship of all things young and pretty, for its unconditional embrace and acknowledgment that teenage love is real. It was the anti-standard for rock criticism, but its acceptance of an impressionable readership who simply loved and wanted to be loved made its enthusiastic approach guileless. That understanding existed because of one woman.
Sic transit Gloria Stavers.