Rock and roll music has shaped American identity for over half a century. The music and its derivative culture have influenced, motivated and riled up multiple generations of jean-clad, puka-shell wearing, long-haired Americans — including ethnically hyphenated ones like myself.
Rock is perhaps the most representative of American art forms — encompassing and fusing multiple fabrics of the American tapestry. The cultural experience and lifestyle that is rock exudes the free sprit and daring (if not rebelliousness) of our nation’s character.
South Florida was marked by rock’s unmistakable imprint. Those of us reared here distinctly remember concerts at the Hollywood Sportatorium, spring break in Fort Lauderdale and an abundance of WSHE-FM car stickers that read, “SHE’s only rock ’n’ roll.”
In Miami, one of the United States’ most diverse and transient regions, rock ’n’ roll seduced the first generation of American-raised offspring of parents from somewhere else, much like jazz had done in the roaring 1920’s in other American cities. The music of the Stones, Springsteen and Hendrix did more to forge my sense of Americana than any politically laced propaganda or jingoistic sloganeering.
I am part of the last generation to live during the age of rock gods. By the time I was old enough to save up my lawn mowing allowance to buy the new AC-DC album at Specs (recently defunct), rock lore had already taken root in South Florida. From the Beatles’ arrival to Jim Morrison’s arrest in Coconut Grove for “indecent exposure” and the legacy of the radio rivalry between competing rock stations (WFUN vs. WQAM), Miami was laden with rock history.
Growing up with rock in South Florida in the 1970’s and 1980’s meant you were swept up by the concert wave. While the Miami Baseball Stadium and the Orange Bowl occasionally served as venues for rock shows, the arena that symbolized the Mecca destination for rock tours was the Hollywood Sportatorium. Located west of everything on Pines Boulevard, the arena looked more like an abandoned airplane hanger than a stage for world-renowned performers — yet “the Sporto” and its rudimentary set-up hosted many of rock music’s legendary acts.
“Pines Boulevard back then was a two-lane road and that was the only way to get in and out of the place,” reminisced famed South Florida rock jock Steve Stansell. “However structurally shaky and technically suspect the place may have been, it’s where a lot of great South Florida rock memories were made.”
Thanks in large part to older cousins and friends who were old enough to drive, I took in a hearty number of concerts — Rush, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, ZZ Top, Blue Oyster Cult and the Police are a few that come to mind.
Years ago, I opened an old trunk where my mom had stored some of my prized possessions from my youth. As I sifted through Little League trophies and spelling bee certificates I came upon several iconic concert shirts that I wore so many times they were faded almost beyond recognition. They also had a distinct smell to them, a cross between the mold that had accumulated and the 30-year-old marijuana they had been exposed to. While I don’t condone the use of drugs, I admit
(unlike some cowardly politicians) to having smoked and inhaled a joint or two while listening to the music.
This week, as I kicked around old stories with my friend and rock ’n’ roll conduit, Mike from North Broward, I remembered that Mike was the first among my group of friends to get “wheels” — a handed-down, beat up, very “used” jalopy that his parents gifted him when he turned 16. Before we checked the tires or the brakes, the first thing Mike and I did to the “green machine,” as we affectionately referred to the car, was to place a WSHE sticker on the back window so as to let the world know that kids in Hialeah had also “sold their souls to rock and roll.”