The summer before third grade (1984) I went to a sports camp. It was what you would expect: basketball, football, baseball, kickball and capture the flag. All mixed in with the baboonery of 8 to 13-year-old boys. There was one kid, “Flynn” who stood out. He wore tank tops that showed off his prematurely developed muscles, had cool 80s hair, and had a swagger that a kid 4 years younger would want to be around. To my recollection, he was going into 6th grade, which sounded old….and cool. I wanted to be in his circle. Every day I would go into camp looking for him, wanting to be on his team, and sit at his lunch table. To my recollection, he wasn’t that athletic, just more mature than the rest of us. Shit, for all I know he was going outside ripping cigs while all of us kids were sucking down our Capri Suns.

I got to stay up all night talking to him, learning from the master.

But my and Flynn’s relationship all changed when the camp announced an overnight outdoor camping event. I don’t know how it happened, but Flynn and I agreed to be in the same tent. Now you must put yourself in my shoes – this was like winning the cool lottery. Flynn was “the” guy, and I got to sleep in his tent? I got to stay up all night talking to him, learning from the master. I can’t overstate my excitement at the time.

Honestly, I don’t remember much leading up to the event. I know we sat next to each other on the bus, but I couldn’t tell you where it was in the state of Ohio. I don’t know how many other kids were there, I don’t recall activities we did there, and I have only a few vivid moments with my equivalent of the Fonz.

At some point, we had to set up our tent. Of course, I had no idea how to set up a tent. I slept in a bunk bed. And despite camping several times on my farm, that was the minor leagues compared to this real shit I was involved in. I was his assistant. I remember him moving through the setup like he had done these many times before. My eyeballs must have popped out of my 8-year-old head when he pulled out his pocket knife. This wasn’t the swiss army knife I had in my drawer at home. The one whose only utility to me had been the slide-out toothpick. No, this was a real knife. In fact, he cut the hell out of his hand with it at one point and didn’t even wince; there was B.A. Baracus, Hulk Hogan, and then Flynn.

Van Halen 1984, signed by Eddie Van Halen, Alex Van Halen, David Lee Roth, and Michael Anthony

The tent was set, and we went to dinner. After dinner, we two cool guys left the rest of the nerds and geeks in the dining hall to hang out. I don’t remember if it was seconds or minutes before Flynn pulled out his Playboy. I had never seen one before and the only boobs I had ever seen were in a Duran Duran video I watched in my best friend Colin’s basement. I don’t remember what feelings I had looking at it, or what I was even looking at. But it was awesome.

Only to be eclipsed by something more awesome (awesome was a really big word back then). Ian pulled out a medium-sized boombox, selected a cassette, dropped it into the slot, and pressed play. And from those two speakers came a sound I had never heard before. The dramatic synthesizers provided a soundtrack for the fireflies to dance to and for the pages of the Playboy to turn. And as that track faded out, a new set of sounds faded in with the distinct wail of David Lee Roth. Song after song introduced me to a rebellious side of me I had never felt before. Eddie’s guitar work had me maturing and becoming more badass by the second. Flynn was showing me what it meant to be a man and he was the coolest guy I had ever hung out with…or so I thought. 

Van Halen Poster
The poster I bought immediately after going on my camping trip with “Flynn”

Are you for real, it’s so hard to tell,

From just a magazine,

Yeah, you just smile and the picture sells,

Look what that does to me

Like the songs you hear on King’s Passage? Then check out the KP Jukebox playlist on Spotify!