E-mail: Bud Williamson
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Bud has put a unique spin to his English assignment, writing this piece and posting it, along with a few photos, on his Facebook page. He claims it to be a far cry from a lengthy "autobiography" rather more cloely resembling a "What I did over summer vacation" assignment - briefly recalling a turning point in our lives when we had the world on a string and anything was possible.
Yesterday -- Thursday, June 1, 1967
"Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. . ." That melancholy lyric by Paul McCartney takes me to another place and time when I was growing up in a small town along the Sangamon, a river that was transcribed by Edgar Lee Masters and where Abraham Lincoln built a boat. It was also a time when I went to high school in Springfield, a city that has yet to become the utopia envisioned by our noted alumnus Vachel Lindsay.
Vachel Lindsay's Utopian Springfield from the year 2018. It shows how terrible we are at imagining what the future might be like or would wish it to be henceforward a hundred years. One of Springfield High School's distinguished alumni and harbinger of beat poetry.
Looking west, to the right of the Capitol beyond the trees is the white limestone Waterways Building with its colonnade, where my father worked as a civil engineer. And a few blocks down the street is Springfield High School.
I was a member of the 50th and largest class ever to graduate from Springfield High School. This year the class of 1967 will celebrate its 50th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the building that was barely large enough to accommodate all of us. While we were there in the shadow of the Illinois State Capitol, we studied to the noise of hammering, bird calls, and odd organ notes, throughout the installation in the auditorium of the massive Barton theater organ from the demolished Orpheum Theater.
The new Springfield High School in 1917.
My senior yearbook and a center spread introducing the students section of the yearbook.
Quite a handsome fellow on the lower left, don't you think? ;-)
Little did we know that a member of our class would later become mayor of Milwaukee, and that another would delight children of all ages with his novel "Frindle." Another classmate would be inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame after leading our high school basketball team to a third place finish in the IHSA Boys State Basketball Tournament in Champaign. A buddy and I camped out first in line the night before tickets went on sale, and the reward for our vigilance was courtside seats right behind the cheerleaders in the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois.
The Senators take 3rd place!
June 1, 1967 -- The graduating class of 1967 outside the Illinois State Armory.
Photo from "The State Journal-Register"
On the same day I graduated, Thursday, June 1, 1967, The Beatles Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released, a harbinger of the "Summer of Love" and the cultural revolution that was to follow. During that summer and the next I was the manager of Riverton's municipal swimming pool, one of the best summer jobs under the sun for a young person in his late teens. It was time to work and save for college expenses after spending the previous summer vacation in California and San Francisco, one year before the happenings that made the history books.
My Sgt. Pepper's album from 1968 -- Inside the gatefold cover.
The San Francisco Chief streamliner.
My return trip was hampered by an airline pilots strike, so I traveled across country by rail on the San Francisco Chief streamliner. Not being able to sleep on the train, I spent one night in the club car rapping the entire time with Allen Ginsberg, who was on his way to New York and was "grounded" along with everyone else. "The entire time" meaning when he wasn't reciting poetry into a Wollensak tape recorder he had on his lap or being hassled because of his long hair by a group of USAF recruits headed for Chanute Air Force Base and destined for Vietnam. We talked at length about the influence of "The Congo" and other poems and adventures of Vachel Lindsay as he was an early precursor of the Beat Poets.
***audio on Lindsay begins ~ 31:40
Some light reading was delivered from Amazon..; illuminating for some.
So this day, Thursday, June 1, 2017, the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, has evoked some fond memories of the halcyon days of my youth. I'm sad that those days are gone forever. But I will be forever grateful that those days happened at all, and that today I'm still here and able to indulge in reminiscence. The memories have not faded or become distorted over the decades. The details are still sharp and clear. But, "I've got to admit it's getting better, A little better all the time."*
*from The Beatles album "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".
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Someone who read my Facebook post asked me how old Ginsberg was when I met him, and I said he was around 30, or so I thought. Actually he was 40 and old enough to be my father. His beard and long hair would have made it difficult for anyone who didn't know him to guess his age correctly. He asked me where I was from, and when I said Springfield, Illinois, it brought his attention to Vachel Lindsay, about whom I was well versed (pun intended) and the discussion went on from there long into the night.
Allen Ginsberg circa 1966 from a Historical Essay by James Sederberg.