What It Was!

Elvis in full 1956                                                                         credit: unknown

You begin in a little room in a little house in a little neighborhood. You get to know your neighbors a few at a time. They are Sparr, Mruz, Vannis, Hawkins. Up the street, the Allisons. Over on Krameria, there’s even a kid from New York named Jerry Cohen. He knows about the Brooklyn Dodgers and people say he’s a Jew. Turns out the Sparrs are Jews, too. The DePriests are called Negroes, so are the Wagners. People say your uncle Freddie Bacca is a Mexican. Little Ernie and Puddy across the alley are shorter than you are and you’re only six. They are called midgets. You don’t know what all that matters, but it means different. Your family is Catholic, which might be strange, too. There’s a lot to learn.

The neighborhood gets a little bigger and you start to get around. There are kids everywhere, lots of them. Someday they’ll be called Baby Boomers, but now they’re just people you want to know. They live in little houses bought with the G.I. Bill by working class people after the big war. The dads go to work, the moms stay home, the kids have a ball.

Every Sunday, you went to your grandparents’ home on 5th and Meade for dinner. They had a television, little green screen in a great big console, but there were no programs. You’d turn it on and stare at the Indian Chief test pattern. One day in 1952, the screen changed and on came Gene Autrey all duded up, riding Champion, strumming his guitar, singing “Back in the Saddle Again.” It was absolutely astonishing.

Another day, a few years later, you and Doug Allison are in his bedroom listening to the radio and on comes Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis Presley!

Turn it up! Louder! We’re playing it full blast and jumping up and down on his bed, screaming at the top of our lungs, pounding on each other with pure joy.

His mother comes in, big busty blond in a slip, hair in curlers, hands over her ears, screaming, “Turn it down, turn it down!” Over and over.

We can’t hear her. We can’t hear anything but Elvis. Nothing was ever the same again

an excerpt from

What It Was: Growing Up in Colorado When the Music Mattered

by James Pagliasotti (c) 2019 All Rights Reserved

You can buy it here


  1. Hi James, Just finished “What It Was” and enjoyed it immensely. I am born-and-raised in Denver (1955) and am a life-long music fan. I used to read your column in the “Post.” Spent a lot of time at Tulagi ( during the Chuck Morris years) , Ebbets Field and the Rainbow Music Hall. KFML remains my all-time favorite radio station. Loved your stories about Denver/Boulder in those years. Spent one, mostly abortive semester at CU Boulder (spent more time at Tulagi and on the hill than I did in class) and spent a few years at UCD aka UCLA (University of Colorado at Lawrence and Arapahoe). Lived in East Denver in elementary school and remember seeing Sonny Liston walking his Doberman on the Monaco parkway. Not sure if I was more afraid of Sonny or the dog. Had a few encounters with Buster Snider and Chuck E. Weiss (Chuck E. was much nicer). Again, enjoyed your book and the memories that it brought back.
    Cheers, John Ivey

    1. Hey, John. Thanks so much for this comment. It’s so cool to hear from people who shared all those experiences, the East Denver scene, the Busters and Chuck Es of that world, not to mention Sonny and his dog (I was dumbfounded when this kid named Cassius Clay kicked his ass), all the great music, and those days in Boulder where school took a back seat to all those adventures of the street. Really glad to hear from you and hope you’ll keep in touch.

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