A little over 40 years ago this year I completed my last semester of high school in 1974 at Murray High School in Murray, Utah. In many respects, it seems like just yesterday, but then there are other pieces that make it seem like it was ages ago. I am amazed at how quickly 40 years has passed!
The year 1974 marked a new direction for me and my life as I took many avenues towards the location where I am now, 40 years later. I had no idea in 1974 what the next five years of my life would bring me and how that five years of my life would have a profound impact on the direction and course that the rest of my life has taken me.
Within a year of my graduation I had gotten a new full-time job and I was traveling quite a bit for Alta Distributing, which was a record and tape rack jobber. This began to fulfill my wanderlust of being able to travel on the road while at the same time fulfilling my joy in music.
During my senior year of high school I had begun learning about the Mormon church. Most of my friends during my senior year were LDS members and all lived in my general neighborhood. They were amazing examples to me and treated me like a brother which was a defining note in terms of my eventually joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in January 1975.
My graduation in May 1974 marked an unusual event for me as it was the only time in all of my school years that both my stepmother Marjorie and my stepfather Joe attended a school event of mine together. One or the other had, on occasion, been to one of my band concerts or other events, but never had both of them shown up together at any of my events until my graduation. The fact that they attended my graduation is absolutely a fond memory for me. I can even remember the steakhouse that they took me out to after graduation that night for my graduation dinner.
Within a year of my graduation I was kicked out of the house for my following the teachings of the Mormon church. Over the years my relationship with my step parents had bounced up and down. Though never terrible, there was never that real close feeling of being part of a truly connected family. I can’t blame either Marjorie or Joe, as they had many troubles in their lives. They had troubles between each other and then they had the challenges of trying to raise a pretty much dysfunctional family.
The year 1974 also created memories in relationship to the music that was popular back then as well as some of the movies during that period. There was a great hit by Bachman Turner Overdrive called “Taking Care of Business” which had become popular in 1974 and has remained one of my theme songs throughout my life. Disco began making its moves in 1974 as well and I was (and continue to be) fond of that music genre to this day.
It was during the spring of 1974 that I had my first dabbling into J.R.R. Tolkien works. I had to read “The Hobbit” in my English class that spring and I don’t believe that I had ever become so engrossed in a book as I did with “The Hobbit” in 1974. Soon thereafter, and also during that semester in school, I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. Needless to say, I was enthralled by the Lord of the Rings and by J.R.R. Tolkien’s other writings. Even back then, despite the great advances in movie technology, I had to wait over 30 years for the first real Lord of the Rings movie to appear. Interestingly enough, at that time the musical group Chicago had released their sixth album and one of the songs on the album was “Wishing You Were Here“. I listened to that album many many times in 1974 and many of them were down in my deep dark bedroom that had no windows as I read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Even today when I hear that song, as I did back then, it makes me think of Bilbo Baggins wishing Gandalf were there in the lonely cave as he was being chased by Gollum.
I had my first ventures into arena rock concerts in 1974, attending shows such as Loggins and Messina, the Doobie Brothers, America and Billy Joel. That year Elton John released his album Yellow Brick Road and had a tour associated with it, including one stop at the University of Utah’s arena. I was able to attend that show, and it turned out to be one of my most memorable concerts of all time. It was also in 1974 that I saw a group called Steppenwolf perform in Salt Lake City. At that time the lead guitarist was named Bobby Cochran. Little did I know back then that 35 years later I would be friends with that same Bobby Cochran and would be traveling with him as he performed with Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours. I am grateful to be friends with Bobby, who is a guy and an amazing guitarist. I have thoroughly enjoyed the time that I have spent with him in our travels.
As my schooling in 1974 came to an end, I had become a fairly accomplished saxophone player on both the tenor and baritone saxophones. I was taking lessons from a well-known jazz musician at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. I actually had dreams of joining a band very similar to Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears, and practiced my heart out to do so.
But, at that time, little did I know, that my life would change dramatically upon being baptized into the LDS (Mormon) Church. My dreams of becoming a professional rock musician faded away. Within a year from my baptism in January 1975, I was called on a mission and went to serve the church in Nagoya, Japan.
That two years of my life in Japan ultimately changed the entire direction of my life. After serving from 1976 to 1978, and upon my return to the states, I have spent a good part of the last 35 years involved in full-time work with Japanese-related businesses and even returned to Japan for four years with my family in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Indeed, Japan is an integral part of my life now and something that did not even occur to me as a senior in high school 40 years ago.
Upon my return from Japan, I initially attended Brigham Young University and it was there that my met my eternal sweetheart Julianne Bateman. Just a little over five years after my graduation from high school I was married to her and my life once again took a whole new wonderful direction for me as I began a family of my own. In about one month (as I write this) I will celebrate my 35th anniversary with this wonderful woman!
As a senior in high school I had not even had a girlfriend. In fact, I didn’t even have my first kiss until I was already graduated in the summer of 1974. There is no doubt that I had hidden crushes on a couple of cute girls in high school, but between my insecurity in dealing with girls and the fact that I was not a member the Mormon church, I had a few hurdles in front of me that kept me from getting anywhere with any of them. I certainly was not a shy person. I never have been. But I was really scared to death to ask any girls out on a date because I was afraid of rejection. Ironically, in my later years, probably about five years ago, I had occasion to visit Salt Lake City. During that visit I was able to drop by and see one of the girls that I had a crush on and had become friends with through church. She has had a difficult life as she has struggled through a couple of marriages, but is still the sweet girl that I knew back in the mid-1970s. I told her at the time of my visit that I had a crush on her in high school. She told me that she knew that, and wondered why I had never asked her out on a date. She told me that she would have most certainly gone out with me on a date back then. Oh well, we both went our directions and I am very happily married to my wonderful sweetheart and she too seems to be happy in her current situation.
Another major discovery from 1974 was my finding out who my birth father was. That too was a life-changing experience for me. I had been disenfranchised from my natural mother for many years, and as an 18-year-old I had decided that it was time for me to reach out to her. Fortunately for me, in 1975 I was able to contact my real father and speak to him on the phone, which I did a couple of times. I am grateful for that experience as I never got to meet him. When we moved to Kentucky in 1992, I was finally close enough to Cleveland to try, but by the time I had an opportunity, he had already passed away…in fact, it had only been two weeks prior to my plans to go up there. Nonetheless, over the last few years I have grown very close to my Laurienzo sisters and brother in Cleveland as a result. I have also visited my father’s grave.
Finally, as I think back on this 40 years since 1974, I must openly say that I have been very, very blessed. I still have friendships from 40 years ago that mean a great deal to me. During that 40 years I have ventured overseas numerous times, I have had wonderful experiences with jobs, I have met people from all over the world, I have been married and had five wonderful children and now nine grandchildren.
I have been blessed to be able to develop a number of skills that I never imagined I would have back then (indeed, some of them, such as internet work and web design were completely unimaginable since they didn’t yet exist!!). Some of the skills I have acquired over the years include the ability to write, photography, travel, singing and music, the ability to make friends wherever I go. And yes, I have become friends with rock stars and have actually toured with a band (Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours). I still am associated with that band, so even my high school dream of being in a band partially came true.
It is amazing how one’s life can take so many turns and go in a direction that one could never dream of as an 18-year-old graduate of high school.
Life is truly awesome! But it’s only getting better!