I grew up in a very rural area of Kansas, the Flint Hills in Chase County, about halfway between Wichita and Topeka – more than 1500 miles from the Pacific Ocean. I was a pre-teen and teenager when Jan & Dean were introducing the world to the California lifestyle and surf music.
Since Jan’s untimely death, I have been reflecting on this period of my life and the influences that Jan & Dean and their music had upon my teenage years. I have been a lifelong fan, who like so many other young girls, loved these two tanned, good looking surfin’ guys and the happy music and fun they sang about.
My hometown had a population of about 1,000 people in the early 60’s and as I said it was very rural with most of my contemporaries listening to country music and enjoying the rural lifestyle and agricultural interests. There were just a small handful of kids, like myself, who liked this new music from California. The first time I heard “Sidewalk Surfin’” I knew I HAD to have a skateboard, but you could not find them out here in the “middle of nowhere.” One of my friends was a “transplanted” California kid who had to move back here to live with his grandmother because he had gotten in trouble with the law in San Diego (looking back this was sort of an early form of “house arrest”). His friends back there bought me my skateboard and sent it to me. In 64-65, I owned one of the two skateboards in Cottonwood Falls and probably all of Chase County. I was now in “heaven!” I had my skateboard, my little transistor radio, “my music” and yes, my California friend. I have lots of great memories of hours spend listening to the radio and skating down the driveway and street in front of this kid’s house.
I listened to all the rock and roll music of the era, but none had neither the effect nor influence on me that Jan & Dean’s music had. I dreamed of spending all day “catchin’ waves and hangin’ ten” and then spending the evenings on the beach with a bonfire, listening to that wonderful music. Instead, I had to make do with a swimming pool, skateboard and my treasured little transistor radio. Oh I didn’t mention it before, but I had numerous wipeouts but no broken bones. I never was very good on my skateboard but I had lots of fun trying.
My memories of April 1966 are not so happy. I don’t remember for sure how I heard about Jan’s accident, but it was probably over the radio after school on the 12th or the next day (back then it always took time for news to reach us out here). I do, although, remember that I was heart broken and I cried and cried. I remember being so concerned about Jan’s condition with the limited news I had . I also cried for the possible lose of “my music.” During those difficult days, I asked God over and over again to please let me take Jan’s place. I knew that he had so much more to give the world and many more songs to sing. I also knew that my taking his place would only affect my parents and grandmothers. Looking back on it, my thoughts and feelings at that time might appear, to some, as foolish; but how else could a 16 year old girl feel about someone whose music and persona were so important to her.