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A place to rock

If there is a universal need among teen-agers, it is for a place to rock -- a place to congregate with like-minded kids of the same age without adult intervention and scrutiny. Teen-agers need a place to call their own, where free expression is encouraged and responsibility is learned.

Unfortunately, in America there are few such places. Teen-agers left to their own devices will do drugs and fornicate, adults believe. Unchaperoned, they will fall prey to their naturally destructive impulses. Without Mom or Dad around to pick up the mess, pay the bills and lay down the rules, teen-agers will certainly descend into chaos.

Still, kids find a place to rock.

In Jackson, Tenn., where I was a young teen-ager, we met at the Dairy Queen parking lot then found freedom in the only places available -- in the woods surrounding the town or on dark rural highways in fast cars. A boy named Donnie, barely 16, lost his arm taking a curve on one of those highways at full speed, looking for a place to rock. As an older teen, I lived in Memphis where the banks of the Mississippi River became our refuge and where, with little difficulty, we found places to rock -- some safe, some not.

When I first heard that there was a place called the High Life House just a block away from my house, I imagined a den of decadence. Pot-smoking definitely, else why the name? When one of my three teen-age sons told me he was going to a show there on a school night, I gave him the third degree: Who lives there? What kind of music? Is it legal?

He walked to the house, a big, square, turn-of-the-century place surrounded by a quiet neighborhood of bungalows, cottages and a brick firehouse, and when he hadn't returned by midnight, the agreed upon curfew, I took off to find him. The night was cold and the sidewalks wet as I marched to the High Life House, my parental indignation rising with every step.

Outside, the band loaded equipment into a van and a group of kids stood around talking. I knew those kids, nice kids, neighborhood kids with good parents. I stood at a distance and quietly asked if they had seen my son. One of them went inside and returned five minutes later with my sleepy-eyed 16-year-old. He had fallen asleep on a sofa, reading.

Reading at a rock concert? What kind of house was this anyway?

In weeks to come, my son became a regular and a friend of the residents of the High Life House. They were older, college kids who saw the need for an independent music venue in Colorado Springs, and started booking bands to play in their basement. The concerts were regular and well organized with bands passing through from Kansas, California and Tennessee. The guys who lived there shared favorite books and authors with my son. Eventually he started studying guitar and joined a band that practiced at the High Life House.

When my daughter's band came through Colorado, in the middle of a cross-country tour, they played the High Life House. Finally, I had the chance to peek inside without intruding.

A huge crowd filled the sparsely furnished rooms. A table was set up in the kitchen for selling CDs and T-shirts. Cigarette smoke was thick but there was no hint of pot. Groups stood around mingling, like adults at a cocktail party but with no cocktails, smiling, laughing and talking. Music was the preferred subject.

In the basement, I found a place to listen, smashed against a stone wall. Behind the band stood a massive old furnace with tentacles of tape-wrapped heating ducts rising to the low ceiling. The sound was loud and overwhelming. My son's band performed. My daughter's band performed. Kids poured into the basement, filling every inch. The room grew warm. All eyes were riveted on the performers and each song was applauded with enthusiasm.

Back upstairs, after the break, everyone stood around talking, their voices energized by the volume and pace of the show. I slipped out the back door and left the late-night hour to those younger and more energetic.

My son had found a place to rock.

-- The High Life House is now officially closed; the organizers hope to open an above ground venue in the near future. Thanks to them for creating a responsible independent music venue where Springs kids could safely rock.

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