This story is about a song, a New York City public school, an energy-releasing lunchtime activity, and a unique policy by school officials that kept the peace during some rough times.
Growing up in the Bronx during the 70s was a rough adventure for most city kids. Gangs, violence and an economic downturn made it a hotbed of insecurity for the people who were struggling to make ends meet.
During 1976-78 I attended JHS 125, Henry Hudson Junior High, in the Bronx.
The neighborhood was a racially mixed group of working-class families, and I witnessed many in-school and after-school fights and beat downs.
I had my share of conflicts myself, especially with my personal nemesis, a kid named Kevin, who constantly picked on me and caused me grief almost every day.
During one lunch period, my backpack disappeared and I found it in the trash with all the discarded food.
I was so mad. And who was standing right there laughing? Kevin, of course.
I lost my mind and went at him. We were wrestling on the floor when we were pulled apart by the teachers and sent to cool off.
No principal’s office, no suspensions — they just broke it up and told us to stop. This happened so often it’s all they could do.
Nowadays things are different and we would probably have been detained by a school resource officer.
What did administrators do to diffuse the volatile dispositions during lunch periods?
They let us dance!
I am unsure if this was suggested by students, but a phonograph and speaker were provided, and kids brought in their favorite records.
I personally did the “Robot” thing made popular by Michael Jackson and the song “Dancing Machine” to the “Theme from SWAT.”
Then there was the track that only the best dancers were allowed to take the floor and set the place on fire as we all watched and cheered them on.
“The Mexican” was a progressive rock anthem recorded at Abbey Roads Studio by the British Band “Babe Ruth” back in 1972.
It’s driving drumbeat and funky bass and rhythm were perfect for the freestyle dancing that was being born at this time, as it was on its way to be one of the most influential songs of what was to become hip-hop.
The energy that was released by kids dancing to this tune and all of the spectators cheering them on was amazing.
We forgot about our conflicts and struggles and enjoyed being together and free during this short time during our lunch period.
Little did we know that we were witnessing and participating in the birth of the musical and cultural revolution of hip-hop.
“The Mexican” was one of the songs that was covered multiple times and used in so many songs that influenced that generation and the next.
Along with Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” and The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” and “Apache,” these songs influenced and shaped the hip-hop music and culture.
Of course older songs from years before influenced the breaks and the beats of these tunes, and I do not want to misrepresent or disrespect the original artists who came up with these riffs.
“The Mexican” and the other songs represent how some kids of the Bronx during the late 70s at a school on Pugsley Avenue honed their freestyle moves during lunch periods and blew off steam instead of fighting each other.
Looking back, I wonder if the administration that allowed this really understood or realized the importance this activity had for the sanity and sense of freedom for these kids.
I know I still listen to “The Mexican” today and think back to this time as the beginning of an exciting and influential period in music and dance that is still with me today.
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