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November 5-Silver Spring
by Lenny Hughes
It's literally "old home week."
Lewis returned to our childhood stomping grounds Thursday for two shows at Live Nation's relatively new Fillmore theater.
Frankly, for some reason, I get nervous when the show gets close to home. I live in Hyattsville now, which is drastically close to Silver Spring, the town where we starry-eyed band of brothers came of age. (You can read all about it in Lew's fine autobiographical "Nothing's Sacred.")
The sold-out shows at the Fillmore (which Lewis opened first, before a more-formal gala that featured Mary J. Blige) seemed especially emotional, climaxing last night when some fans gave Lewis a box of exotically flavored candy corn. He nearly lost his mind. He ranted about the flavor, the ingredients, and even the very idea that they should try to improve the noxious confection.
Candy corn rant
So much candy corn
You should check it out on lewisblack.com/live. If you're not a member of the F.U.C.K.U. fan club, you can still see it for a few more hours. Of course, if you're wise enough to have joined, you can see it any time you want, along with the scads of other perks afforded members of the inner circle.
Silver Spring dredges up a slew of old feelings and memories. From my hotel window, I could see the water tower that marks the spot where the WSSC ran a toxic project that filled the air with the pungent aroma of rotting corpses-and who knows what it did to the environment? Compost from human waste. What a boon to ecology.
It had a personal effect on me, because it evicted my family and I from the glorious house above Paint Branch where I grew up (if one could say I have grown up).
In the foreground you can see part of the brick-and-concrete edifice of the old Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOL), which ran all sorts of weird experiments across the creek that sometimes turned bright orange or day-glow green from tributaries that ran through the campus. Ironically, perhaps, it is now the national headquarters of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Lew's dad Sam worked at the NOL until he got fed up with manufacturing war machines, and walked out to become an artist. You may recall the stage set for "In God We Rust" was designed from one of Sam's masterpieces.
The Blacks lived in the Silver Spring suburb of Hillandale, across the street from NOL. I met Lewis at Springbrook High School in 7th grade. The school gradually morphed from a junior high to a high school as we aged, so we all had the pleasant experience of staying in the same place from 7th to 12th grade.
Names of some of our classmates are still hanging around town. Lois Weller was the daughter of a local drycleaning mogel. Beverly Strosnider's family ran a hardware store that yet survives in the era of multinational Home Depots and Lowes.
Weller's Dry Cleaning
Joe's Record Paradise is owned by our buddy Joe Lee (class of '65), offering classic vinyl in age of CDs and computer downloads. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to a visit. I got hung up in a great old used book store (Silver Spring Books on Bonifant), finding some cool old histories and chatting about books and the Rockford Files with Tim Smith, the slim-faced clerk, a drummer who played with Charlie Byrd and Keter Betts some years back.
The thriving record store back in the '60s was Super Music City, then located in the one of the last vestiges of the old Silver Spring, the low-slung strip mall, saved by the desperate efforts of the local Art Deco Society, sprawling in the shadow of high-rise hotels and the Discovery Channel headquarters across the street.
Art Deco strip mall
Around the corner is another of the society's triumphs: the old Silver Theatre where we saw shows like "Dr. Strangelove" and "A Hard Day's Night" when they were originally released. The place is now home of the American Film Institute, and is coincidentally (perhaps) showing Ron Howard's new Beatles documentary.
Silver Spring was one of the few shopping meccas in those days. The now-defunct Hecht Company anchored the district, across the street from JC Penney's where we all did our "back to school" shopping. Penney's is now the Fillmore.
You might get the impression that I'm not a fan of the massive development that's choking up the Washington area in general. A depressing spectre of the future is a display on Fenton Street of the planned Purple Line, a "light" rail line that awkwardly links Bethesda and New Carrollton. Who in either of those places would want to visit the other place? Meanwhile, the Metro system is crying for more money, threatening to close stations and raise prices in the face of trying to rebuild the deteriorated existing system.
Here's a good idea: kill the Purple Line, which is an environmental disaster at best.
Future Purple Line
Purple Line Route
But not all is depressing about a visit to the old home town. Our buddy Don Smith and of course his lovely wife Phyllis came to the show. Don brought me scrolls of our class pictures as a donation to my famous Hugheseum. In one from 1961 you can see tiny Muppet-baby faces of Lew, Don, Cliff Figallo and I, looking defiant of the Springbrook establishment among the throngs of our classmates.
Don & Phyllis Smith
Looking at 1961 class pictures
My newest friend Sandra Magera also paid a visit. Coincidentally, she works at the FDA, and had no idea, when I first met her, of the connection between her place of employment and the former worksite of Sam Black and his co-workers at the NOL.
We're pulling into Philadelphia now for the last show of the weekend. The trees are peaking, the air is crisp, and slowly fading are the memories of Silver Spring and candy corn.