When I was thirteen years old, I had just moved back to my native New Jersey from Virginia where my father had been working on the Chesapeke Bay on a clamming boat. The men in my family had been doing it for generations in NJ, but there was an opportunity to take to the next level down South. The move was tough on me, as I had been immersed in surf, skate, BMX culture that turned into a slow moving, country bumpkin, hesher culture faster than I realized. I was in the minority for the first time in my life, as the majority of the population was black. I tried to fit in, but it was difficult. I was nicknamed ‘The Yank’ and on top of it, my school was next to a Perdue Chicken factory that slaughtered chickens all day and night with an ungodly smell that comes back to me as I write this. The one and best thing that I took away from this strange, alien world, was music. The only record store in this one stop light town was also predominantly black, so although they stocked Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, there was plenty of soul, funk, reggae, and different music I’d never been exposed to. I took this back to NJ with me in 1984 when we moved back midway through my freshman year. As I sat at the lunch table getting busted on by my so called friends about the move, my lack of style, and my new class schedule, I wondered if my parents’ decision to move back to New Jersey was really the best thing despite my struggles in Virginia. My high school here in NJ was so overcrowded that we had to do split sessions and took classes in the middle school during the morning, getting bused the second half of the day to our actual high school.
I navigated through the hallways filled with multiple pregnant girls in Van Halen concert shirts and grope filled make out sessions up against lockers.
Here were tortured by upper classman burn outs who had just got done power dragging off Marlboro Reds in the smoking lounge (yes our school had a smoking lounge) and carried boom boxes blasting Black Sabbath through the halls. So the first half of the day we did most of the core study classes, the second in the high school was gym and electives. As I navigated through the hallways filled with multiple pregnant girls in Van Halen concert shirts and grope filled make out sessions up against lockers, I’d eventually end up in my history class taught by Mrs. Tramontana, wife of one of the English teachers. Large in stature, her booming voice sent terror through most of her students. I remember walking into the class the first day and sitting down in one of the few empty seats in the back. Seeing a few semi-familiar faces, I was also recognized by a few. One was a girl I had a crush on in seventh grade, who I became friends with. She was one of the more, let’s say, developed young ladies in my grade, and throngs of hormone raging thirteen year olds were drawn to her like moths to a light. Yes! I knew someone and I could have a conversation. Before I could even get a chance to open my mouth and speak, one of the burn outs I mentioned before, plopped a boom box on my desk. Bob H., was a bully, a hesher, had all kinds of questions for me. “Where you been man?” What’s your deal? I see you know big tits over there.” Dude was relentless. I stammered and stuttered a few answers, and when he found out I was living in Virginia, he decided to pour it on. “Did they have this down there?” He proceeded to push play on his one speaker boom box. What came out was a life changing moment. Rock guitars. Hard Beats. I’m talking about Run DMC’s “Rock Box”. At this point I could care less about how hard it was at this school, what I had to deal with now on a daily basis, or what insults or bullying tactics were coming from Bob H. This was incredible to me, and as I looked over to my crush, she was down too. She even jumped in: “You don’t know ‘Rock Box’?” I didn’t, I confessed. As this conversation went on, the door slammed. Tramontana goose stepped to her desk. She announced: “We have a new student, and Mr. Harvey if you want to get anywhere in this school or life, you’d be better off staying away from Mr. H (said bully)”. I nodded, and after she ordered the boom box to be shut off, we got down to class. I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. or the next day, or the next. I begged my parents to take me to K Mart to get this cassette over the weekend. They did, and I bought it with my own money. Music was never the same again in my life. High school didn’t change much. There were still the daily horrors of being an underclassman in the ’80’s in high school, but at least there was my Walkman and Run DMC, making these experiences more palatable. A teen soundtrack filled with hard beats, rock guitars, and tales of this far away place called Queens, NY. For the first time musically, I felt alive and invincible. Although I wasn’t by any means, Rock Box indeed changed my life and set me out on a long journey through music that still continues today.