Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scouting, music are intertwined

Before Jim Morrison became a rock legend, he
was a mischievious Cub Scout in San Diego.


Seeing Jim Morrison's Cub Scout shirt displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reminded me how scouting and music have been linked in a number of ways.

Some critics have questioned why a collection of music artifacts would include the youthful uniform, but I knew right away.

The dark blue long-sleeved shirt illustrated that before Morrison became a rock icon, he was just a kid, doing the same things millions of other boys were doing.

Yes, years before Morrison formed the legendary Doors rock band, famous for hits like "Light My Fire" and "Hello I Love You," the singer and poet was an ordinary scout.

Inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame in 1993, Morrison belonged to Pack 17 in San Diego, where his father was stationed in the Navy.

According to author Stephen Davis, the young Morrison was "asked to leave after he refused to follow directions and was unruly with the den mother."

While I didn't share Morrison's insolent attitude, I was in Cub Scouts during my elementary school years, too.

I continued with Boy Scouts in the early 1960s as a member of Troop 444, sponsored by St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, all the while listening to rock 'n' roll on the radio.

Just like the cliche says, pop songs of the day provided a soundtrack for my scouting activities.

When I made the requirements for the rank of Tenderfoot in June, 1963 an unusual foreign song was topping the chart in the United States.

Performed by Japanese singer Kyu Sakamoto, the track was called "Sukiyaki" and took the country by storm. Titled "Ue O Muite Aruko" (I Look Up When I Walk) in Japan, the song's name was changed to something easier to pronounce for U. S. disc jockeys.

When I earned my Second Class badge three months later, "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels held the No. 1 spot based on sales and airplay. Comprised of two New Jersey sisters and their friend, the Angels were the first white female group to have a No. 1, following in the footsteps of the Chiffons, Crystals and Marvelettes.

In Sept., 1964 when I was awarded First Class status, the so-called British Invasion was in full-force. The Animals were firmly enscounced at the top of the charts with their smash "House of the Rising Sun." Fronted by vocalist Eric Burdon, the Animals had 17 more hits over the next four years including "See See Rider" and "San Franciscan Nights."

Thirteen months later when I advanced to the Star rank, the Beatles advanced to the top spot in pop music with "Yesterday," one of their greatest hits. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, "Yesterday" is the most covered song in history, with over 2,500 versions. A notable take by soul singer Ray Charles make the Top 40 in 1967.

Actually, Paul McCartney is the only member of the Beatles to appear on their recording of the song. The tune's simple arrangement did not require the services of bandmates John Lennon, George Harrison or Ringo Starr.

I learned later that McCartney had been a Boy Scout, too. He was a member of the 16th Allerton Group Aiden Troop.

McCartney mentioned his scouting past when talking about a planned concert in Tel Aviv in 2008. "It's the same as always, I'm rehearsing. I was a Boy Scout. 'Be prepared,' that's the motto," the former Beatle told People Magazine.

In fact, scouting was founded on McCartney's home turf of Great Britain by Lord Baden-Powell back in 1907 and went international three years later.

Consequently, more than a few well-known musicians have scouting in their background.

Besides McCartney, Britain can brag about former scouts David Bowie and David Gilmour, who have both done very well for themselves in the rock 'n' roll realm.

As a member of Pink Floyd, Gilmour is featured prominently on their legendary albums, including "Dark Side of the Moon" and "The Wall."

Bowie, meanwhile, is known for his hit singles "Fame" and "Let's Dance," both No. 1 chart entries. In fact, Bowie composed "Fame" with John Lennon, Paul McCartney's former songwriting partner in the Beatles. Lennon is also credited with background vocals on Bowie's smash hit.

All three Britishers have been elected to the rock hall. Bowie and Gilmour were inducted in 1996 while McCartney received the honor as a member of the Beatles in 1988 and as a solo artist in 1999.

In addition, Mississippi-born Jimmy Buffett, who struck gold with "Margaritaville" in 1977 and continues to attract thousands of "Parrotheads" to his concerts, has scouting on his resume.

Country music stars George Strait and the late Eddie Rabbitt were also scouts when they were boys. A Texas native, Strait charted 35 No. 1 hits on the country chart between 1982 and 1999.

A keen weather observer, Rabbitt wrote "Kentucky Rain" for Elvis Presley and reached No. 1 in 1980 with his own recording of "I Love a Rainy Night." Born in Brooklyn, but raised in New Jersey, Rabbitt died of cancer in 1998 at age 56.

There's no word whether any of these famous scouts earned the music merit badge. I didn't try, lacking the gifts of melody and harmony.

Scouting slipped into the past as I moved through my teenage years, but I continued to enjoy listening to rock 'n' roll.

So, my wife Sue and I thought it was imperative we attend the official opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland on Saturday, Sept. 2, 1995.

Once inside the pyramid-shaped facility, we were awed by the displays showcasing rock greats like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Animals and so many others.

The visit reminded me that a number of rock stars were scouts and that some pop songs recalled my own years in scouting.

Sue and I lingered at the exhibit featuring artifacts from the Doors and Jim Morrison, their charismatic leader. We saw some of Morrison's drawings and letters and his first poem, "The Pony Express." We looked at his baptism certificate, report cards and high school diploma.

We noticed Morrison's original lyrics for "Not to Touch the Earth," part of a 133-line poem called "The Celebration of the Lizard," recorded for their "Waiting for the Sun" album.

Despite the fascinating ephemera, a seemingly insignificant Cub Scout uniform captured the essence of the display for me.

It was a dark blue long- sleeved shirt, just like those belonging to millions of other boys, except this one was once worn by Jim Morrison, rock icon.

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