The fall of 1969 was the perfect time for an eager college freshman to grow a mustache. So much else was new, too.
Stony Brook University's campus, even in its early years, seemed like a small metropolis. And it was time to take charge. No parents to navigate geographical or academic routes. I was making my own decisions: the chicken with broccoli, or pizza and fries.
On campus, live music beckoned thousands of first-year students to join the cool upperclassmen in the gym. Most of the concert tickets were free, covered by the annual $70 student activity fee. Others cost a buck or -- for a supergroup -- a hefty $4.
That freshman year, American rockers such as the Allman Brothers Band, Jefferson Airplane and Chicago came to SBU to entertain. A fair share of English rock bands came, too -- The Who, Pink Floyd, Traffic and the Moody Blues. It was intoxicating stuff for a kid from the Bronx who hadn't been exposed to live concerts, and, as years passed, that music became a nostalgic connection to my college years.
So when I turned 60 earlier this month, I figured that seeing the Moody Blues for the first time in 43 years was the perfect way to celebrate.
Back in '69, our dorm was so new that for the first month, we had to sleep on couches in other dorms until ours was habitable. By November, though, we were entrenched in our new homes, and the frequent weekend concert became a bonding mechanism. I wore my dressy brown bell-bottoms to the Moody Blues concert and was joined by four friends from our unnamed dorm in Kelly quad.
The musical tastes of many new students had been groomed by radio disc jockeys Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie on WABC or the "Good Guys" on WMCA, led by Dandy Dan Daniels. Boom boxes, cassette tapes and CDs were oh so tomorrow. Concerts were events.
Few of us were familiar with songs played at the shows by most of the bands; college curricula weren't the only things we were learning. So as our boyish hair neared our shoulders, our understanding of rock music grew deeper, too. And, like first loves, you always keep a warm spot in your heart for your first concerts.
A few weeks ago, when I prepared to see the Moody Blues again, I brought out my stash of old LPs and also turned my Camry's CD changer into a jukebox dedicated to the band. Hearing "Legend of a Mind," the band's tribute to LSD guru Timothy Leary ("Turn on, tune in, drop out"), reminded me of the '69 concert, where several students pointed out the man who jumped onstage to play the tambourine for that song; it was Leary himself.
Long after the college concert ended, their music had an impact on me. "Nights in White Satin" has kept up residence in a special corner of my being, forever associated with a boy-to-man ritual. After several aborted moves over a few weeks to slow-dance with a girl, any girl, it was that song that gave me the courage to finally direct one young lady onto our dorm's small, circular impromptu dance floor.
Countless dances later, I found myself at the circle-in-the-round at NYCB Theatre at Westbury. Tickets were no longer free; with the $20 service fee, one ticket cost more than the 1969 activity fee for a year's concerts.
And instead of a relatively quick stroll from my dorm-away-from-home to the gym-turned-concert-hall at Stony Brook, my wife, Joy, and I drove 25 minutes from our home of 20 years to a packed parking lot. Couples made up most of the audience that wore various forms of dress, from up-to-date casual to old college. With a nod to the '60s and '70s, someone wore a T-shirt that read, "I'm a Recovering Hippie."
Moody Blues merchandise was hawked in a corner of the theater lobby. Want a black shirt with front man Justin Hayward (singer, songwriter and guitarist) emblazoned on it? Thirty bucks. Four decades earlier, the only merchandise sold on campus was in the bookstore.
The show itself revived ancient memories while spawning new ones. This time, instead of sitting some 50 rows back on a folding chair, surrounded by three walls of students on sneaker-scuffed bleachers, I reclined in a cushy eighth-row aisle seat. A crowd of mostly baby boomers whooped and hollered for three of the five 1969 members still with the band. The group was complemented by four fresh faces, but it didn't matter. You don't forget a first love, even if she's had a little work done.
In unison, fans waved glowing cellphones like candles. Clearly, we weren't in the '60s anymore; we were the ones in our 60s.
After the half-hour intermission, my wife noted, "Justin changed."
"Of course," I responded, "he's 65."
"No," she explained, "I meant he changed his clothes."
Yes, age lingers in the mind. Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge drew cheers by announcing he had just turned 71. "Forty-five years ago, my hair was brown, my teeth were white, and this meant 'peace,' " he said, holding aloft two fingers, forming a V. "Now my hair is white, my teeth are brown, and this [the V] means Viagra. But if you think about it, it's still sex, drugs, and rock and roll."
In reciting "Late Lament" before Hayward's much-anticipated "Nights in White Satin," Edge intoned the line "Senior citizens wish they were young," prompting the applause of one silver-haired fan. Then, while the band performed "Higher and Higher," an overhead video showed the American moon landing -- another first for 1969.
Yes, that was quite a year, and so far, it's been quite a life. And if the Moody Blues can change with the times, so can I. I'm regrowing the mustache I shaved off before my wedding two decades ago. Sometimes, what once seemed old can actually be quite new.