The Rusted-Bucket Brigade

Mixed emotions were quite obviously the prevalent state of mind among those making their way into the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, for a performance by “The Golden Boys” on a Sunday afternoon in September. On the one hand there was the joyful remembrance of Bobby Rydell, Fabian and Frankie Avalon as American Bandstand and Mickey Mouse Club teen heartthrobs that had drawn a crowd of mostly gray and white-haired sixty and seventysomethings to the show in the first place. Accompanied by that, however, the sobering realization that the years have passed all too quickly. For them, and for the rest of us. This immediately became apparent as my music-loving sidekick Joe Cutroni Jr. of Worcester and I headed toward our seats in a top row of Section106 (nearly to the rafters as was the case when we were in attendance for Paul Anka and then Tony Orlando and Dawn, in fact, but with a good view of the stage). A woman could be seen heading against the grain, asserting to an usher as she did so “I’m afraid of heights.” Then came Bobby Rydell’s revelation at the outset of his solo gig that “I am happy to be here. I am happy to be anywhere. I am a double transplant, liver and kidney, four years ago, thanks to Julie from Reading, Pennsylvania. If you care anything about me, when you renew your driver’s license the next time, become an organ donor!” So the evening went, Bobby Rydell saying, facetiously, to warm applause, “welcome to ʽThe Rolling Bones’ tour;” Fabian studiously peering into a glass of water sitting on a stool amid the orchestra and asserting as laughter resounded throughout the hall “those are Bobby’s teeth in there,” Fabian telling Frankie Avalon “we’re going on the Ed Sullivan Show a week from Sunday” and Frankie responding “oh, I can’t wait” (as if in wishful-thinking-fashion such innocuous primetime family entertainment still existed), Fabian asserting with mock alarm— as one of about a dozen women doing ʽThe Twist’ with him gravitated lower and lower on his body—”what the hell are you doing?” Fabian instructing her after she’d kissed him on the cheek and prepared to descend the stairs to the floor “be careful.” As he, now much frailer, would be, coming and going. I was thinking, as I watched these three “boys from the same neighborhood of South Philly” render the classics that had made them famous, of the 45s they had produced that I had listened to growing up in Endicott, New York, and of the turntable Marie and I were about to purchase for our grandson Mikey—an Oxford High School senior—so that he could play the vinyl records (including those of The Beatles, who he likes) that is he suddenly interested in. I wanted to picture Bobby Rydell, Fabian and Frankie Avalon as I had seen them in black-and-white in the Fifties, when Fabian was having his shirt literally ripped from his back by screaming girls as he tried to push his way into a car, as Frankie appeared with the late Annette Funicello in “the beach movies” (clips of which were telecast on screens to the right and left of The Golden Boys), as one or the other of them was introduced to millions on TV by Andy Williams or Dick Clark. It was impossible not to draw comparisons. Frankie Avalon (Francis Thomas Avallone), though 76 (Bobby Rydell is 74, Fabian 73) was decidedly more spry than his friends, leaping onto and off of a platform as he said to the crowd “meet our drummer, my son Frank (53)” and descending into and meandering among the crowd. “We all age differently,” Joe said to my observation that Frankie Avalon seemed in better shape. If only I could alter the lyrics to the opening stanza of the Barry Manilow song that Frankie Avalon turned into a signature hit. It went “Hey, Venus, oh, Venus/Venus, if you will/Please send a little girl for me to thrill/A girl who wants my kisses and my arms/A girl with all the charms of you.” My version would start out “Hey, Venus, oh, Venus/Venus, if you will…make us young again.”

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