No one is looking at the old photos on display in the hall. No one is grabbing a piece of the cake decorated with “50” in orange and black, the school colors. No one is even at the bar getting a drink.
Everyone at the St. Louis Park High School class of 1965 reunion is fixed on the band on stage at the Sheraton Minneapolis West.
“Fifty years ago, all six of us were at your all-night graduation party,” Lauren Siegel, singer of the High Spirits, announces midway through the opening number. “And we’re all still here.”
Before you can say “there were 850 students in our class,” the hotel ballroom’s dance floor is jumping. Women dancing with women. Guys twirling gals around and around. These people are 68 years old!
By the time the High Spirits get to “Turn on Your Love Light,” these Social Security types are standing on chairs to get a view of the band.
“Love Light,” an R&B chestnut by Bobby “Blue” Bland, was turned into a regional rock hit by the High Spirits in the spring of 1965. No. 1 in Kansas City, Top 5 in the Twin Cities. Not bad for a band of teenagers still in high school.
And this performance is not bad for a bunch of sixty-something musicians who haven’t played together since a one-off reunion in 1997. A big secret had kept the lead singer offstage.
“At this point, it doesn’t matter if they’re good. This is the coolest thing ever,” said Rollie Troup, who was in charge of entertainment at last Saturday’s reunion. “The theme is ‘Party like it’s 1965.’ And we’re doing that.”
Jay Hoffman worked up a sweat on the dance floor. “I closed my eyes and I was in 1965 with them,” he says of the High Spirits. “Music conjures memories.”
Classmate Parrel Caplan flashes back to junior high when there were sock hops in the cafeteria every day at lunchtime — “just like ‘American Bandstand.’ There were no inhibitions. We just danced.”
Mimi Fisher couldn’t leave the floor. She doesn’t even like high school reunions, but “this was the best reunion ever.”
• • •
Three days earlier, the High Spirits were sitting in a circle in drummer Doug Ahrens’ basement in Chanhassen.
It was their first rehearsal with lead guitarist Owen Husney (SLP class of ’65), who lives in Los Angeles. The other players, all of whom still call the Twin Cities home, had been practicing for a few weeks.
The jokes bounced back and forth.
“What do you call a guitarist without a girlfriend?” asks Husney, a one-man vaudeville act. “Homeless.”
After each song, the High Spirits critiqued their performance. Tempo bogged down there. Husney messed up the chords for the bridge. The keyboard solo should come before the guitar solo.
Even though this show will be only eight or nine songs in 35 minutes, the High Spirits — who were active only from 1965 to ’67 — took it very seriously, even rehearsing the introductions of the musicians.
“What if the band starts playing,” proposed rhythm guitarist/ear-nose-throat doctor Rick Levinson (class of ’66), “and I go, ‘And now the artist formerly known as Cliffie Stone — Lauren Siegel!’ ”
That is what stood in the way of High Spirits reunions — the band’s lead singer transitioned to a woman in 2002 and has not appeared onstage since.
“I wasn’t ready,” Siegel said over lunch a week before the reunion.
But she had gender reassignment surgery in 2011 and now finally felt confident.
“I can do this,” she proclaimed. “I’m 69.”
Except she had to decide what to wear.
“It won’t be a dress,” she promised with the knowing smile of someone who spent nearly a decade as a record-label promotional rep, working with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and the Grateful Dead.
“It’ll be very rock ’n’ roll.”
• • •
Siegel hits the stage like a rock star: knee-high boots, tight pants, tie-dye top over a lacy blouse with a little cleavage.
“We’re gonna rock and [expletive] roll,” she roars.
“Lauren has so much charisma,” beams Sharon Siegel, Lauren’s third wife and longtime soul mate.
“I used to be your man,” Lauren sings in the blues standard “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and the crowd whoops for obvious reasons.
Even though Siegel graduated from St. Louis Park in 1964, she feels closer to the class of ’65. She even attended their 40th reunion as a woman wearing a skirt.
“No one was not accepting her this time,” says Troup. “I didn’t hear anything negative.”
“God bless Caitlyn Jenner,” Caplan points out. “People are more understanding.”
Siegel’s son and daughter have come to see their dad perform. So has their mother, Siegel’s second wife. (Both parents walked their daughter Ashley down the aisle at her wedding three years ago.)
Husney’s older son, Jordan, a New York software entrepreneur, flew in to watch his dad and pals relive their youth. He waxed wise after their set.
“We’re in a culture that celebrates kids’ accomplishments,” he said. “To see my father in front of his high school crowd, I feel like a man out of time. How often do you see hundreds of people cheering for your father in a school context?”
His dad is best known as Prince’s first manager, but has had a long career in the music business as a promoter, manager and repackager of music. But classmates point out that Husney is one of many successful grads from the Class of ’65, including Bob Stein, Gophers football All-American and former president of the Timberwolves; investment banker Todd Morgan, who is married to actress Rosanna Arquette, and professor and award-winning author Alan Weisman, who flew in from Massachusetts.
Classmates came from all over the United States and from Singapore, Norway and Israel, too. A total of 212 folks showed up.
That didn’t include the High Spirits’ guest list of 40 friends and relatives. Some local music fans even paid $20 just to see the “Love Light” hitmakers, though they could have stayed to hear the Rocker Brothers, a party band featuring another ’65 alum, Barry Siewert, a former DJ for KDWB.
St. Louis Park High has a history of turning out successful musicians, including two members of Prince’s “Purple Rain”-era Revolution, keyboardist Matt Fink and drummer Bobby Z, both of whom attended Saturday’s reunion.
“These guys [High Spirits] were all my heroes,” says Z, aka Bobby Rivkin (class of ’74). His big brother David — a Grammy-winning producer/guitarist himself — was in the High Spirits at one point, he said. “They rehearsed in our basement.”
After witnessing the spirited set, Fink (class of ’76) opines: “This was a piece of Minneapolis music history. They were better than in the old days. I saw them when I was 7 or 8.”
Just like the old days, Siegel is getting lots of post-performance hugs from women. “She is one courageous broad,” offers Marilyn Horowitz.
After another embrace from an admirer, Siegel looks at the next band taking the stage and becomes wistful.
“The tough thing is,” she says, “we’re done now.”