1308 1/2 W. Hickory Street, Denton Texas, Spring, 1963: The movie ‘Hatari’ was unmemorable, but the Henry Mancini song called ‘Baby Elephant Walk’ had been on the radio for weeks and weeks and weeks.
That warm day, an abundance of visitors from the HobNob to my minuscule apartment somehow drove us all to clamber up onto the flat roof. We also had beer. That may have been part of it.
On the front edge of the flat roof, with our feet dangling two stories above Hickory Street, we lined up to tell stories and watch the students and passers-by across the street on the campus.
Michael Murphy had brought his guitar.
You may remember Murphy from later, because in 1975, along with Linda Ronstadt, John Denver, the Carpenters, Doobie Brothers, and Ozark Mountain Daredevils, his pop single was at the top of the charts with lots of airplay across our great nation. His song was about a horse and a blizzard, and some mountains in Nebraska. The song was called ‘Wildfire.’
(Want to hear it? It’s on this musical video from a tv performance.)
That song haunts me still.
Odd, too, because back on that day when we were all sitting along the edge of the roof, Murphy had earlier come busting into the HobNob, grinning and giggling and just beside himself. He’d just sold his first song, for actual money. He’d made $50. That was a *lot* of money.
For a song!
He’d sold his song to the New Christy Minstrels.
Murphy was a handsome kid then, with a square jaw, blonde hair, an engaging smile and a friendly manner. We didn’t know just how good he was. But he was focused. He was going somewhere. And I guess selling an actual song, for actual money, to an actual known group … well, maybe this was something that consoled him, drove him forward, perhaps he heard fate whispering in his ear, ‘You can do this. You can do this. Just keep on.’
But on that day, as was common, he’d brought his guitar, and after he scrambled to the roof, we passed it up to him, and so, sitting on the roof above the street, he played for us, and we sang snippets of popular songs.
The sun was warm, and we had beer and comraderie. I suppose school officials would have been horrified, but nobody noticed us there despite our catcalls and hooting and laughter.
Down below, an ongoing parade of people walking provided more amusement.
Then a very rotund girl came chugging up the sidewalk. It wasn’t that she was fat, though that was unusual in those days. It was something prissy about the way she walked. She was swinging her shoulders as she came, walking all prissy, and moving right along.
From the guitar, suddenly we heard a tune we all knew. Baby Elephant Walk.
We fell apart, laughing.
And that’s how we’ll remember that day, on the edge of the roof above the street, with friends and laughter in the warm sun, and the Baby Elephant Walk.