Hail the swinging geniuses!

By TED WIDMER  |  May 25, 2011

But to rule Rhode Island is a complex fate, and the sheer effort of maintaining sovereignty usually results in utter obscurity everywhere else. Despite their box office success, the complete output of the Young Adults during the 1970s amounted to exactly one 45. But what a single it was. "Complex World" b/w "Beer" was on heavy rotation (back when records did, in fact, rotate) on my turntable from the moment I found it for sale in a T-shirt shop. I was still in high school, and everything about it piqued curiosity. Its only illustration was an old Polaroid of two women sunbathing. You could see the date on the photo — July 1969 — what did that mean? The moon landing? Inside, the record was modestly identified as a product of "GENIUS RECORDS." And that was it. A few thousand plays later, I thought it ranked somewhere above the Sistine Chapel in artistic achievement.

The party had to end, of course, and the Young Adults closed up shop around the time the 1970s did. There was no place for them in Ronald Reagan's America. But the legend grew, and was sustained by occasional side projects, and a brief reunion for four shows in 1987, to supply background for a film that revolved loosely around one of their concerts. To this day, it is unclear if they have ever broken up — to declare the band finished may simply have required too much effort, or maybe they possessed an innate sense that they would survive against all odds to rock again. And so they will, this week, for three nights in Pawtucket. 

>>READ: "The triumphant (three-night only) return of the Young Adults" by Jim Macnie <<

In so doing, they may breathe new life into a rather tired slogan that is used too all frequently in Rhode Island. "Renaissance City" was trumpeted as a motto for Providence about a decade ago, as the city briefly enjoyed a spurt of prosperity before suffering from the economic gout that has been crippling our economy for years now. That always struck me as a misnomer, because it ignored both the present doldrums and the fact that it was tremendously exciting to come of age in the '70s, well before the so-called Renaissance. Back when things were medieval, there was no shortage of entertainment as this ailing but proud city offered up a limitless parade of eccentrics, corrupt politicians, mob bosses, performance artists, and swinging geniuses. The Young Adults reveled in that sideshow, and wrote about it, and made it feel bigger to come from Rhode Island.

The architect Sir Christopher Wren, a Renaissance man if there ever was one, did not leave a gaudy monument for himself. Instead, at his final resting place in St. Paul's, a stone says simply, "Si Monumentum Requiris — Circumspice [if you seek a monument, look around you]." The Young Adults may only have recorded that one single during the 1970s, but it was more than enough. In their wake came a wide variety of disciples, eager to wield a dark Providence humor against the pieties of our time. The Farrelly brothers were big fans. A huge number of cartoonists, humor writers, graphic artists, and other creative types came out of their audiences, emboldened. When I started playing in Boston rock bands, I was standing on the shoulders of the Young Adults, and on their platform shoes as well (Jeff Shore lent me his pair, and they served heroically until they were stolen after a New York gig, effectively ending my rock career). God knows how many others there were. Or, after this weekend, how many new ones will follow. They will not be so young — or so adult — but they will be home. It will be good to go back to the old neighborhood.

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