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"The Squid, Smooth and Green, Blues and Light Band" Plays Rock & Roll Tonight!

September 12, 2017

I heard loud music. I was Downtown where West Broad Street’s one-way going east. The noise was coming from down by the Train Station. There still was regular train service in Quakertown back in the late Sixties. There apparently was some 'event' going on. I trotted down to see what was happening. A four-man rock-group was playing in the station parking lot. Standing in front of them was a six foot tall, silver monstrosity. It was plugged into a long extension cord and flashing colored lights. The band was called: The Squid, Smooth and Green, Blues and Light Band.

My Boy Scout buddies and I, with help from local design-artist and assistant scoutmaster, Jon Roberts, built and operated the Black Orchid, a dance-hall/younger kids’ hangout. It was on the third floor of the Hinkel Building, across from Sines 5 & 10. We had ‘dances’ there every weekend--$2 a head. The Banks of Doom and Days End, were great local bands, but we were always on the lookout for new ones. For contacts, we’d check at King Arthur’s Court—the big disco up on 309—and some clubs in Allentown.  I'd never heard of The Squid, Smooth and Green, Blues and Light Band.

I listened to them for a while, while staring into the The Squid’s mesmerizing “face.” It was two car bumpers welded together and standing on end. Inside were wires, electrical gadgets and lights that strobed and shot out colored beams. The Squid had a frosty Plexiglas front and a wooden back towards the players. The flashing didn’t follow the music but it had sort of a pattern. They were pretty good, so I tried to book them at the Black Orchid.

The band was from down in Bucks County near Newtown and a couple years older, in college. They smirked at my ‘Boy Scout's budget' first offer but finally said they'd play. We scheduled for a couple of weeks later. We ran out of space on our weekly-flier with: “Introducing: The Squid, Smooth and Green, Blues and Light Band: This Saturday at the “Black Orchid." (as seen at the Train Station). Fantastic Light Show! THE SQUID!”

You got into the Black Orchid at the breezeway between the Hinkel Building and the ‘yellow’ building on 3rd Street between Broad and Branch. On Broad, under the “HWH 1909” keystone, there’s an alcove and a doorway to a story-and-a-half stairway. Then, go down the hall past an apartment and a couple of offices and on up another stairs to the top, 3rd floor. Pass some cloak rooms and cross a hallway, and you were in the dimly lit, wildly decorated Lounge.

The Lounge had a high-ceiling and tall windows that looked down onto Branch St. The walls were painted an odd shade of purple and had wide strips of mirror-like foil wallpaper relecting your image back at you. The room was scattered with sofas, lamps, tables and stuffed chairs.  The soda and snack stand was in the left front corner. The stage and dance-hall, with huge black orchids painted on the walls, was through doors to the right.

It was tough getting The Squid upstairs, but we managed without damage or injury. Insurance had insisted on electrical upgrades. The stage was no longer powered through an extension cord plugged into a light socket dangling by a cloth-covered wire from the crumbly, plaster ceiling. We had plenty of good outlets, now. The Squid lit up the whole place; sent colored lights bouncing around the room. We noticed, though, if you stared right into it too long you felt a little woozy.

We averaged a hundred or so kids at the Black Orchid each week. With a new band (and a 'Fantastic Light Show' promised), we got 200 that night. We ran out of soda and ice, which was a real bummer, since it was brutally hot and muggy. We cleaned out the soda and ice coolers at the Quakertown Drug Co. down the street, but that didn't last long, either. Everybody seemed to like the music, though.

But, during a slow song, I gazed out across the dance floor. The Squid was pulsing away, flickering colored lights off the heads and faces of the full-house. Oddly, few dancers were paired-up. They were oriented toward The Squid.  People in front were staring into the machine, bobbing their heads and pumping their arms like it some strange, teen-rock line dance.

We never had big trouble at the Black Orchid, but that night one of the ‘regular’ guys fainted. It was the heat, probably; or his energetic ‘dancing’, or the fact we had no ice or soda. Then, soon after, two girls who everyone accused of 'getting high’ all the time, half-fainted, too. A lot of people didn’t come back after intermission.

Watching an only half-full dance floor with The Squid  blinking away--especially during romantic songs when the necking couples had colored lights dancing over them—made me just as woozy as staring right into it. I found a chair and sat, facing away from the stage, and watched the shadows of clutching dancers and patterns of color swirl across the big black orchids that Jon Roberts had accentuated with multi-colored day-glow paint.

Wondering how they stood it, show after show, it dawned on me that the band never actually saw The Squid's lights. They were always behnd it, just saw what I was seeing at that moment--the effect on the crowd and room. The next song was a rocker, perked everyone up, but, before long, the crowd had lined up again. Some were back to staring into The Squid. When I found one buddy standing alone in a dark corner, staring up at the lights moving on the walls and waving his hand like Lawrence Welk guiding a song, I got an uneasy appreciation for The Squid.

It wasn’t nearly as hard getting the equipment back downstairs and into their van. But, it was the last time I ever saw The Squid, Smooth and Green Blues and Light Band. They each went off to different colleges—had formed the band and built The Squid back in high school. I couldn’t get them to perform at the Black Orchid again, or in the “Battle of the Bands” we tried to organize at Quakertown High School.

I’ll never forget them, though . . . The Squid, anyway. It was a discomforting but fascinating apparatus. Sometimes, I can still feel that wooziness I got looking directly into it. Sometimes, I get an image of those kids lined up looking into the lights, dancing. I still remember that one, younger kid freaking out. He yelled at The Squid, shook his fist at the frosted glass, gave it the finger and stormed out. I  still wonder about the fainter. He was 'dancing' like mad, sweat running down his flushed face one minute, and the next, he was collapsed. His eyes were glassy as he lay on couch in the Lounge with a bunch of teenage girls hovering around him.

 

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