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BOWLING GREEN - Mike Toth gives Sen. John Kerry three stars out of five - not for his presidential qualifications, but for his rock album.
At the moment, the Bowling Green State University student is standing in an office on the third floor of BGSU's Jerome Library - standing because there's almost no room to sit in this room full of stacks of vinyl albums, CDs, stereo equipment, and rock memorabilia.
Next to him is 21-year-old Aaron Kato and acting DJ Bill Schurk, who doubles as sound recordings archivist for the library.
Mr. Schurk hits a button and on comes the twang of a bass. It is Mr. Kerry starting off "Guitar Boogie Shuffle," and if it sounds a little tinny, that's because it's echoing all the way back from 1961. That's when Mr. Kerry and some prep school friends in Concord, N.H., cut an album as the Electras - named after a Buick - and played at school dances.
"You can picture a bunch of drunk high school seniors dancing to this," Mr. Schurk says.
The CD, mostly instrumentals similar in style to the Ventures, is a reissued version of the Electras' original album, of which about 500 copies were made. Some of those are selling for as much as $2,000 these days.
Mr. Schurk bought his copy for the library online a couple of months ago for about $15 and will make it available for listening by the public as soon as it is catalogued.
"In two years is anybody gonna care?" he said. "Whatever happens to this, I felt that we should have a copy of the CD."
At the moment, he and the two young men randomly invited up to his office for a quick listen are digging it. Track three is a song called "You Can't Sit Down," and it has a solid bass that starts out "thunk, thunk, thunk."
"Listen to that bass line," Mr. Schurk says, head bobbing up and down.
The others stand quietly, Mr. Toth's arms crossed and Mr. Kato's down by his sides. Neither knows that they're listening to a garage band featuring Mr. Kerry, who still plays the guitar and, according to a campaign spokeswoman, occasionally travels with an acoustic guitar while campaigning.
Mr. Kerry is not the first presidential candidate who rocked - Bill Clinton famously played the saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992.
Selections from the Kerry songs pass by - some slower, others jazzier, a cover of "Three Blind Mice" and even a version of "Summertime Blues." It's simple, fun fare, and the makeshift audience gives it high marks.
"I thought a lot of the upbeat songs were really cool," Mr. Toth says. "I would never guess these guys were 18." Mr. Toth, 20, would know. He has been in bands since the eighth grade and currently is the drummer in a new alternative/punk outfit called Highland.
"I like that kind of music," says Mr. Kato, of Toledo's Old West End, giving it 3 1/2, maybe even four out of five stars. "It's good to listen to when you're just hanging out."
The experience causes him to reflect on the evolution of rock in the '60s to now. "You went from all this high school dance stuff to mosh pits," he says.
Then the secret is revealed.
"You're telling me that John Kerry ... " Mr. Kato's voice, full of surprise, trails off, and he laughs. "His parents probably didn't approve and probably said, 'You're never gonna go anywhere in life with that.'●"
Want to listen to selections from the Electras CD? Check out www.theelectrasrockandroll
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