THE MOST REASSURING adolescent phenomenon since long before the Beatles is a Vancouver-based organization that calls itself the Teenage Underground—a sort of anti-fan club for youngsters who don’t like rock ’n’ roll.
It started (naturally) as a radio station’s promotion stunt. As the idea grew, it developed into a CIA-style task force whose members were pledged to fight rock ’n’ roll the way James Bond fights SMERSH. Today, with three thousand card - carrying members, the Teenage Underground has become a year-round cultural lobby.
Its sponsor is CHQM, an FM-AM station that specializes in “quality music” i.e.: mostly semi-pop selections, plus a sprinkling of the classics) and attracts listeners so affluent that when the station recently offered cut-rate mink stoles for $350 plus a Coty perfume label, it drew seventeen buyers.
CHQM loathes rock ’n’ roll and therefore never expected to attract much of a teenage audience. But when, at the height of the Beatle craze last summer, the station started broadcasting appeals for the formation of a teenage underground, the response startled the promoters. Eight months later, applications are
still trickling in from as far away as Southern Rhodesia.
“It sort of got away from us,” says QM’s president, Bill Bellman, “and we had to start thinking up things for all these kids to do.” First, the station designed a membership card—each with its own 00 number, just like James Bond’s—on which members pledged to “honor Mom, The Flag and Leonard Bernstein.’ Then, as the ranks swelled, CHQM started issuing secret assignments on what it likes to call its “clandestine radio frequency”—stunts like slipping Nelson Eddy records into juke boxes or staging minuet dance parties. Members were assigned to either the Bach Battalion or the Beethoven Brigade, and identified by specially designed T-shirts (a local department store sold seven hundred).
The Underground made its biggest show of force last September with its entry in the Pacific National Exhibition’s opening parade. In it, mammoth likenesses of Bach and Beethoven and scores of banners ("We Like Ludwig”) were displayed by an elite guard of T-shirted Undergrounders. Significantly, the parade was on the same day as the Beatles’ memorable concert in Vancouver.
Since that appearance, the Teenage Underground has mostly stayed underground. But the station still arranges special member rates for film festivals, serious jazz concerts and productions of Vancouver’s Playhouse Theatre company. “The Underground may not be a major factor in keeping us going,” says Lee Butcher, the company’s administrative director, “but every little bit helps.”
Bellman, who first considered the Underground simply a stunt, is now deadly serious about its potential. “It seems there are plenty of teenagers who are fed up with popular trash,” he says.“Think what would happen if we got them all organized.”
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