Approaching 40: Greased Lightning

Sometime in 1977, my parents took me and my brother to see Star Wars. We saw it at a drive-in theater the first time. I don’t remember a lot of the details. Later we saw it again in a regular theater and I remember it much better. One day, quite possibly in the summer of 1977, my mom took me to see Grease with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. I say it was the summer because it was a daytime movie, a bright and sunny day. That much I remember very clearly. I don’t remember much about the movie, but not long after, we acquired1 the Grease album. And it was indeed an album, a ’33 with all of the songs from the movie2.

We listened to that album endlessly and I learned all the words to all of the songs. And I would sing them often and loud. Now, I was just repeating the words that I’d heard in the album. Most of the time I had no idea what I was actually singing about. I look back on the song “Greased Lightning” with particular horror in this respect. I don’t know why, but I always had a deep-seated fear of even pretending to recognize profanity in front of my parents, let alone utter it. My brother had no such compunction. But there I was, 5 or 6 years old and singing (and even trying to imitate the dancing) to “Greased Lightning”:

With a four-speed on the floor, they’ll be waiting at the door,
You know that ain’t shit, we’ll be gettin’ lots of tit, greased lightning…

My parents must have been so proud. And then, to add additional luster (or tarnish) to that pride, I’d ring out the line:

With new pistons, plugs and shocks, I can get off my rocks
You know that I ain’t braggin’, she’s a real pussy-wagon, greased lightning…

Interestingly, “Greased Lightning” is one of a few songs that remind me of two completely different eras in my life. There’s the one that I’ve just described, at 5 or 6 years old. And then, in my senior year in college, I went through a period of listening to the Grease soundtrack when walking to and from my classes. I remember walking back from class on a Friday afternoon with massive thunderheads piling up behind me and the air completely electric. I barely made it into the apartment before the downpour started, accompanied by wild lightning and thunder (and even some hail). It gave an entirely new meaning to “Greased Lightning.

  1. The way I remember it, the album was a Hanukah present. I received The Macmillan’s Children’s Dictionary and my brother got the Grease album.
  2. At the time I had no notion that it had been a book and a musical, too.

One comment

  1. For years my wife sang the various songs from Grease without actually knowing the words (or at least not paying attention). It wasn’t until out daughter went to see a stage production a few years that I pointed out those lyrics to her.

    I first saw Grease at a drive-in. It began to rain during the song “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and to this day it throws me that it isn’t raining in the film when Olivia Newton John is singing that song.


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