In late ’70s New York City, kids forming underground bands often drew from the Ramones and their brethren. Punk rock rejected the sanitized mainstream music of the era, seeking to recapture the excitement of pre-Beatles rock n roll.

Long Island native Slim Jim Phantom took a different path when he formed Stray Cats with Brian Setzer and Lee Rocker in 1979. He had discovered rockabilly, a style of music that predated rock n roll. Rockabilly in 1979 seemed out of place, at least on the surface, but upon further examination, it made just as much sense as punk. “[Rockabilly is] the most American music,” says Phantom, who plays drums. “Gene Vincent wasn’t affected by the British. Eddie Cochran wasn’t affected by the British.”

Sometime during the summer I turned thirteen, my neighbor, who was about three years older, began wearing corduroy pants with little flying ducks embroidered on them.

When a friend strikes out in a bold new direction like this, it can be a scary ordeal for everyone around him.  It can also present a number of opportunities.  Realizing that the onset of the mallard-inspired cords would likely usher in the obsolescence of all things non-preppy, I petitioned for and became the grateful beneficiary of a number of his now-unwanted possessions.  Specifically, his copy of The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty.  And most importantly, his copy of the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman.

My life hasn’t been the same since.