June 3, 2013

BOWYER: Never was a skating song like ‘Josephine’

Ken Griffin recorded a lot of good skating songs and Janie and I skated to all of them, along with a lot of other good skaters who frequented Nick and Evelyn Rozzi’s roller skating rink at Spencer Park. Anyone who skated there in the late ’40s will tell you, we were a pretty sharp bunch of skaters. We didn’t just skate around the rink, we danced around the rink. No one was satisfied just being a skater, we all had to know the steps to the special numbers.

When Nick called an “All Skate” anyone could skate, and a “Couples Skate” meant two people could skate together. A “Fox Trot” really meant a fox trot on skates and when he called a “Waltz,” those of us who could waltz did so. That’s when things really got pretty. Nick would put on a waltz played by an orchestra that played it the way it should be played and we would glide around the floor on our skates doing the waltz step. People used to come and stand outside the opened windows to listen to the music and watch us perform the dances.

It seemed none of us were content just to skate, I know I wasn’t. During the summer of ’49, I was just a mop learning to dance skate. If Nick ran a dust mop over the rink when he closed up, he was wasting his time because I took all of the dust home on my clothes. I probably spent more time on the floor than I did on my skates, and I always reminded Janie after we were married that during that time, she never picked me up once. Her reply was that she hadn’t come to the rink to pick a country hick up off of the floor. Janie was straightforward and a little bit blunt in those days. (But nice.)

I progressed, however, and after I could skate as well backwards as I could forwards, I started working on the dance steps. I still had a lot of time yet to spend lying on the floor, but I finally could skate well enough to ask a girl to dance with me. We never fell, so it was a successful effort. The summer passed and I finally became a proficient skate dancer. There were still some who were better than I was, but I was improving all of the time. Those were some of the best times I ever had, skating with all of those pretty girls. One night though, I met Janie and settled on one partner. I don’t know if that broke any hearts or not, but I doubt it. Didn’t matter anyway.

What got me to talking about this is a disc of instrumentals I bought. While I was driving down to Monticello listening to it, they started playing “Josephine,” and suddenly I was back at the old roller rink skating with Janie. If ever a song was written to skate to, it was “Josephine.” There never was a song with a better melody or a more perfect rhythm for skating.

It was everyone’s favorite song and the things you had never done on skates, “Josephine” gave you the courage to try. I took some of my worst spills skating to that song and there were more people lying on the floor when that song was being played than at any other time. I don’t know what it was about it, but if you have never listened to Wayne King’s orchestra play “Josephine” make it a point to listen to it sometime. I will guarantee you if you have a dancing bone in your body, you will be keeping the rhythm somehow.

It was a good memory for me as I drove on to Monticello listening to “Josephine,” “The Swedish Rhapsody,” and some of the other tunes on that disc. When you hear a song with a pretty melody and a jumpy rhythm that makes you unable to sit still, that’s good music, and there isn’t enough of it anymore. I can remember, when screaming three of four words over and over at the top of your lungs wasn’t considered music and it didn’t sell. I call those the good old days.

It was good to think of the old skating rink and remember all of my old friends and the night I met Janie there. Skating is good, clean fun and if you are willing to spend a little time lying on the floor, you can become good at it. My advice is, if you are going to skate, don’t be satisfied just skating. Buy your own skates with good trucks on them and go for it. Show off, that’s what life is all about. I did and I gained 48½ years of happy marriage out of it. Janie didn’t take to me right away. In fact, she admitted she thought I was a show off and a smart alec, which I was, but I wore her down. I’m not saying you will be that lucky, but you never know.

Don’t be content just to skate, that’s not where the fun is. The fun is in being an excellent skater who owns the rink when the skates are on.

Joe Bowyer is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached via email at                                         

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