In the ’70s I smoked weed in the crowd of the UT-Austin Special Events Center as Jackson Browne sang and bounced basketballs off the stage into his audience.
Then for a decade I drifted away from rock and folk music in favor of classical.
On my 50th birthday, 1998, I bought a Jackson Browne CD to get in touch with my younger self and found that I listened to it over and over. My other half, Todd, patiently expressed surprise that anyone could hear the same CD hundreds of times, thousands, and still want to hear it again. I couldn’t get enough of “The Pretender,” “These Days,” and especially “Running on Empty.”
Working the library reference desk on a slow evening, I googled Jackson Browne expecting to learn that he was from Texas, since his voice has a twang, at least to my ear. Instead I learned that he had lived in the LA area since the age of three, and–I couldn’t believe the next thing I learned–had moved to Fullerton, my hometown, before high school. What I read next I positively did not believe: he graduated from Sunny Hills High School, my high school, in 1966, my graduating class. An internet mistake, I figured.
Home from work, I went straight to the wall of books in our bedroom. “What are you doing?” Todd asked.
“I’ll tell you in a minute.” I perused spines until I pulled off the shelf the 1966 Helios, my high school yearbook, carried it to the dining table, and found his picture: Clyde J. Browne. “You won’t believe this,” I told Todd. “Jackson Browne was in my high school graduating class.”
I stared at Clyde J. Brown’s picture. Who was he?
I came up with no memory.
After days of thinking about it and intervals of staring at his picture, I managed a theory that he might have been a wiseguy in art class. (Art class was full of wiseguys.) Was he in the class where Mrs. Jones made the mistake of stepping into the supply closet with her key in the doorknob and found herself locked in for most of the hour?
Nothing is written under Clyde J. Browne’s senior photo. Under my photo it says ” Band” and “Latin Club,” my sad effort to seem like I did something in high school, an effort made all the sadder by the fact that I had quit band after freshman year because I got a D in it and had never gone to the Latin club banquets because I was too self-conscious to wear a bed sheet as a toga. I figure Clyde J. Browne didn’t have anything under his name because he was readying himself to become a rock star. That and because he probably didn’t give a fuck.
In my twenties, when I listened to rock and folk music as much as anyone, I was a huge fan of Jackson Browne. How could I not have known he graduated from high school with me? On the night of the discovery, I phoned my sister who’d started high school two years after I’d graduated. “Do you know that Jackson Browne was in my class?” I asked, and was surprised to learn that she didn’t. “Doctor My Eyes” became a hit, and Jackson Browne a rock star, during her high school years. Isn’t that the kind of thing kids in high school talk about? I knew that a girl in art class worked at a Winchell’s where one of the Righteous Brothers bought doughnuts.
This is one of many cases in which truth wouldn’t work in fiction. If I wrote about a protagonist graduating high school with a soon-to-be rock star and not knowing it until 30 years later, readers would say that’s not believable. So when I write about Jackson Browne and me, we’re gonna be best buddies.
(Top photo and that below are from Helios 1966; photo in the middle from Helios 1965.)