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Senior Year

Senior Year, 1963: The Prom

Senior Year, 1963: The Prom


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The Prom, 1963, a high school south of the Mason-Dixon Line: Memphis, Nashville, Charlotte or maybe even Jacksonville. That Irishman Jack Kennedy is still alive. The Beatles' first two singles, "Please Please Me" and "From Me to You" are out, but Beatlemania is six months away, still. A violent war for equality rages: civil-rights marches and Klan counter-marches, sit-ins and cross burnings, intrepid disobedience and cold-blooded murder.

Once the gymnasium doors close for the evening, all this chaos gives way to a far more insular, but no less earth-shattering, brand. Underneath a ceiling soaked in soft pinks and blues, with balloons floating lazily like drunken bubbles, couples and friends say goodbye to their little world. Some are going to college, others are entering the workforce, and a few are enlisting they'll find themselves in a place called Vietnam by next year. Tears are common. But let's face it: there's no derailing the party train. These kids are about three things tonight: dancing, boozing and necking.

Time has forgotten just how diverse musical tastes were in the South in the early 1960s, as art travels places politics and people simply cannot. This dance might consist of nothing but white kids, but the disc jockey's record collection transcends color and class. One minute they shake it to the funky R&B of Rufus Thomas' "Walkin' the Dog"; the next, the girls cling to their boyfriends' shoulders while Skeeter Davis croons "The End of the World," an epically melodramatic weeper that dominates both the pop and country hits charts. Then there are those exotic Ronettes, as well as all the funny, but wildly catchy, surf music from California: Jan & Dean and a swell group called The Beach Boys Dennis, the drummer, is dreamy.