“Well-Known Local Orchestra Available for New Year’s Eve due to cancellation.
Dial 5-1595 or 3-4454”
– Reading Eagle, Dec 6, 1952
I wouldn’t say there was panic in the air, but the guys were a little agitated. And understandably so. We had been looking forward to the New Year’s Eve gig for weeks and we had added two new songs onto our set list so that we could play for over an hour.
It was Tommy who delivered the bad news. I could tell right away that he was upset because he just threw his saxophone case on the floor, and real hard, too.
“What’s buzzin’ cuzzin,” I said, but he said nothing, just whirled that case of his into the corner. That startled me because Tommy, who wasn’t my cousin, never threw his saxophone case.
“Boys,” he said, “I have some bad news. New Year’s Eve is off.”
“What do you mean,” Billy asked. “We’ll just keep on saying it’s 1952?”
That was a joke. It must have been. That’s what I thought then, and that’s what I think now, even though you never knew with Billy. He was either the stupidest person I ever knew, or the smartest person I knew.
“No, you, Mickey Mouse. Our gig is off. Daddy said he’s not going to let us play at the Shoemakersville fair.”
“Why?” I asked him.
“He said that – and I quote – we were just too darn loud. He said he heard us rehearse the other day and thought his ears would fall off.”
“Ain’t that a bite,” Billy said.
We sat there for a while, all four of us quiet. There was Tommy, Billy, me, and Larry, who sat behind his drum set, twirling the drumsticks.
Tommy took it the hardest because it was he who had delivered the good news in November and now it was his Daddy who had put a stop to our promising career. The promising career of the Birdz, that is. The z, by the way, was my idea, and I was proud of it. I made sure to point it out to everybody. I can’t remember who came up with the bird part, but it might have been Billy. It wasn’t Tommy, that much I know.
He wanted to call us Tommy and the Boys, only the boys didn’t want to be the Boys (even if Tommy insisted on calling us boys).
But I digress. The pressing matter at the band meeting was that we needed a new gig, and we needed to book it fast. With just a little over three weeks to go, there was not a second to waste. I think it was Larry who came up with the idea of putting an ad in the paper. We all agreed it was a super duper idea – but that was about the only thing we agreed on.
Tommy took charge as usual.
“Gene, take notes,” he said and cleared his throat. I grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper from my schoolbag and nodded to Tommy that I was ready. (I’ll type it below just the way he wanted it to look, but will leave out his instructions, to keep it short).
He rambled on, and once he was done, I wrote the ad and read it out loud to the others:
“Here’s your chance to be the FIRST to hear the NEW Sound of 1953 by the Birdz, the pride of Shoemakersville, Pennsylvania. Available for a New Year’s Eve SPECIAL but act FAST! The Birdz will leave for a nationwide tour and only have one date to spare…”
“That ain’t true, Tee,” I said.
“Oh, does that rattle your cage? Let me clue you in on something: It could be true. Do you want to have a gig in Nowheresville instead?”
Billy and Larry agreed with me. They also had some suggestions of their own, but mostly they seemed interested in getting their names into the advertisement. This is what the final draft looked like, 40 minutes later:
“They are Billy, Larry, Tommy, and Gene, and they are the BIRDZ, the pride of Shoemakersville, Pennsylvania. Tommy and the other boys have created a new sound for 1953 but you have a chance to hear them already in 1952 if you ACT FAST and book them for a New Year’s Eve SPECIAL. These talented musicians are on their way to stardom. DO NOT MISS OUT.”
Billy, Larry, and Tommy were real pleased with that – and granted, I did have a way with words – so they got real angry with me when I said that we couldn’t afford an ad that big.
“Even if we pool all our money, I think we can only afford about 15 words. Right now, that would be ‘They are Billy, Larry, Tommy, and Gene, and they are the BIRDZ, the pride of’,” I said.
“The pride of what?” Billy asked.
Nobody answered his question.
“OK, so scratch that about Tommy and the boys,” Larry said.
“And the sound of 1953,” Tommy said.
“And Shoemakersville,” I said.
“Take our the BIRDZ, too. Nobody’s heard of us. I mean, your old man has, Tommy, but he just said no,” added Billy.
We also cut the bit about stardom. And the last sentence. I sat quietly for five minutes, drafting a new ad. This is what I wrote:
“Well-Known Local Orchestra Available for New Year’s Eve due to cancellation.”
The others liked it and just fifteen minutes later we had agreed on whose phone numbers to put on it. Tommy wanted his there but he also didn’t want his father to pick up the phone, so we put in Larry’s parents’ number in the ad instead.
The other number was ours.
Now we’re just waiting for the phone to ring.