About John A. Jackson
Being able to recall life before rock and roll as well as after—the “after” has been so much more fun—I consider myself a vanishing breed of dinosaur.
I was born in Flushing, New York (now home to the New York Mets). In 1949, when I was six, my family moved to suburban Long Island. The “Island” was then a land of potato fields, just beginning to be devoured by the new post WWII vision called “suburbia.” It was a path soon to be traveled by thousands, including the likes of rock stars Lou Reed and Billy Joel.
Suburban solitude touched me deeply. In less than a decade I lost my first two girlfriends as their families abandoned Long Island. Even worse, I lost my beloved baseball team—the New York Giants—when they headed to San Francisco in 1957.
During that heartbreaking stretch, a proverbial Zeus-tossed lightning bolt struck me. In this instance, “Zeus” was a guy named Alan Freed, who played records on his late-night WINS radio program called “Rock “N’ Roll Party.” In the words of fellow suburbanite Lou Reed, “my life was saved by rock and roll.”
High school, college, and a public school teaching position on Long Island followed. Then came marriage and “instant” family (a set of twins!).
It was the early 1970s, a time when America’s baby-boomer driven culture took to ubiquitously exploiting the “Fabulous ‘50s” in film (“American Graffiti”), on TV (“Happy Days”), and in person (Richard Nader’s “Do-Wop Revivals”). All of which got me to thinking: “Whatever happened to Alan Freed?”
I knew he’d been run out of New York during the disk jockey payola scandal of 1959-60. Then I’d lost track of Freed’s life while trying to get my own in order. “Well,” I unsuspectingly thought, “I’ll just go to the library and borrow ‘the book’ about the notable deejay’s life.
Uh-uh! To my utter surprise and disbelief, no such book existed. Freed, deemed a persona non grata by the then-stodgy gatekeepers of American culture, had been “disappeared.”
“Okay,” I inwardly declared in defiance. “I’ll write the book about Alan Freed!”
It was a ridiculously absurd notion. Aside from my high school English classes, I’d had ZERO formal instruction in writing. My most able composition lay in a smattering of college term papers.
No matter. Working nights, weekends, and vacations for over a decade, I managed to write the book. It took another five years as an agent-less, first-time author, to beat the near-insurmountable odds and have my work published.
In the process, I discovered two things about myself: 1) writing was extremely gratifying (and hardly felt like work), and 2) evidently I was pretty damned good at it. (The Freed book subsequently won two literary awards and was made into a movie.)
I never quit my “day job,” but I did decide to try my hand at writing another book. The rest, as the saying goes, is history…