By Verónica González

Joseph Torres was a huge fan of The Beatles when the British group played at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium on August 28, 1966. Even though he was unable to attend the concert, he recalls it as “an exciting period.” Music has always been an important part of life for the 69-year-old resident of the Linda Vista Senior Apartments.

Torres has lived the majority of his life in the “beautiful” neighborhood of Boyle Heights and in his interview, he gave an understanding of what life was like in the 60s for a teenager. From cruising down Whittier Blvd and going to shows to falling in love, his contagious passion and love for the community and music is evident.

This interview was edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview here:

Verónica González: Can you say your name and when you were born?

Joseph Torres: My name is Joseph Torres and I was born in Los Angeles, in LA County General Hospital, in 1951, in beautiful Boyle Heights.

My parents are originally From Juarez/El Paso, Texas. Then they came to California in, I guess, the early 50s. And that’s where we lived in Boyle Heights, most of my life, in the City Terrace area, Lincoln Heights. And we moved around, the San Gabriel [Valley] for a while, but then I came back to Boyle Heights, and that’s where I’m now.

VG:  What high schools did you go to?

JT: I went to Salesian High School for one year. It’s an all-boys school. Are you familiar with Salesian High School?

VG:  I’ve heard of it. Yeah.

Joseph Torres. Photo by José Torres.

“We didn’t have the internet and phones like we do now, so our main thing to do was to go on dates and meet girls and go out to the shows. We were just typical teenagers, and it was just wonderful listening to the music. And the clothes we wore in those days were very nice.”  

JT:  I went there for one year, but I said to myself, no, no, I got to have some female companionship. So I left that school and went to Garfield High School in East LA. That was in 1966 I believe. And then I went to Roosevelt High School after that, cause Garfield High School was too far for me to travel, cause I was out of the district. I went to Roosevelt High School in 1967, 68, and 69 and graduated from Roosevelt in 1969. They’re wonderful years to be in high school. Most beautiful years to be in high school.

Jennifer López: And why do you say that those are the most beautiful years to be in high school?

JT:  Oh, well, I mean that the teenage years are your formative years and well, in those days, music was very important and we were listening to music and falling in love. We didn’t have the internet and phones like we do now, so our main thing to do was to go on dates and meet girls and go out to the shows. We were just typical teenagers, and it was just wonderful listening to the music. And the clothes we wore in those days were very nice. I always think it’s wonderful when a teenager can appreciate their high school years cause when you get older you reminisce and you think about, “oh, high school, like this, I remember that” and it’s just a wonderful period of life. It’s a magical period in life. It really is.

Boyle Heights resident Joseph Torres during interview with BHB students Verónica Gonzalez and Jennifer Lopez. Screenshot from Zoom call.

VG:  So what musical artists were really popular during that time?

JT:  Have you got two hours? There were so many… The Beatles, The Doors,  El Chicano in East LA, we had Thee Midnighters in East LA, The Rolling Stones. We had The Supremes and the soul, James Brown. There’s so many I can’t even name them. There’s so many. This is right before disco era. This is late 60s. And that’s when we had Woodstock. And a lot of things are going on, a lot of hippies and the mods were around.

The hippies would dress, real casual, little casual, but the mods were dressed real nice and their clothes was real nice. And you could, a mod could have long hair. And the hippies had long hair, but the mods dressed more formal, and the hippies dressed more casual. But we all got along.

And then on Saturdays and Fridays after high school they had the school dances and football games, and they still do now, well not with the COVID. But we do that and then go cruising down Whittier Boulevard every Saturday and or Friday and that’s how we spent a lot of our time.

VG:  Would you say that the community then was more unified than now?

“I see more pride in Boyle Heights [now], I see shops and stores that sell things that glorify Boyle Heights, and like t-shirts and sweatshirts and pins and a lot of stuff. And we’re getting more recognition now.”

JT:  Not necessarily, no. If anything, I think it’s a little stronger now. Because I see more pride in the Boyle Heights, I see shops and stores that sell things that glorify Boyle Heights, and like t-shirts and sweatshirts and pins and a lot of stuff. And we’re getting more recognition now.

I moved here back to Boyle Heights and I’m like, two blocks away from my old high school. And I look out my window and I could see my high school, my building, and it just brings me so much joy just looking at it. 

VG: I heard that you were like a really big Beatles fan.

JT:  Yes. 

VG:  The concert at Dodger Stadium that was like in August [1966]…

JT:  Yes. Yes. Yes. I remember. I remember vaguely, I think it was on a Sunday or a Saturday. I didn’t go. I was living on Wabash and City Terrace. And the tickets were five dollars. Can you believe that? Five dollars! But I do remember that when they did play at Dodger Stadium.

And I was 13 years old when they came out on Ed Sullivan, and everybody’s watching Ed Sullivan, The Beatles, and we went to school the next day and everybody was… it was just an exciting period. Everybody’s letting their hair grow like The Beatles and wearing Beatle boots and trying to dress like the Beatles. And I still do to this day. Kind of, like, favor the Beatle look a little bit.

VG: Were there any other concerts that were really big that you attended?

JT:  Oh, yeah. I saw The Doors at the Hollywood Bowl. I saw Santana at the Hollywood Bowl. This was like back in the 70s. Santana. The Doors. I saw Creedence Clearwater. I saw the Rolling Stones at the Forum. Oh, geez. I saw The Moody Blues. I don’t know if you’ve heard of any of these groups. Because how old are you, about your early 20s, teens?

VG:  I’m 17.

JT:  You’re 17, so you probably haven’t heard a lot of these groups, but I saw most of the groups of the 60s and I went to maybe about 25-30 concerts.

VG:  Yeah, I have some of their CDs too at home.

JT:  That’s when the psychedelic era was coming around. That some music that just blew my mind. There was all kinds of different music  coming in the 60s, in the 70s, and then the 80s and the 90s. And here we are in the 2000s and there’s still new music. We all have our favorites. My favorite is when I grew up from 1964 to about 1975, was the prime era for the music that I enjoyed.

VG: A lot of the bands that you mentioned, they’re actually like making a comeback. Are you happy about that?

JT:  I’m totally stoked because I go on the internet a lot and look at a lot of these bands, the old bands and the music like Thee Midnighters and El Chicano, The Beatles and then I look at all the comments, a lot of young people your age and go, “Oh, that’s, that’s real music, and we wish we could have lived in those days.” It makes my heart feel really good when I know the, you know, the youth of this era appreciates the 60s and the 70s quite a bit.

VG: Did you have any jobs after school?

JT: I worked for Pacific Telephone. That was in the 70s through about the 80s. And then I went to work for Bank of America, downtown LA. And then I retired from there and that was about 10-15 years ago.

VG:  Would you say that like those jobs influenced or formed like your point of view or perspective of life?

JT: Not really. No, the jobs had nothing to do with my outlook on life really. 

VG: No?

JT: I think my outlook on life is pretty well established in my teens in high school.  

“I would stand in front of the mirror in my room and play a fake air guitar out of wood and cardboard and my parents would look and be like ‘you alright?’ And then I guess my dad, he knew how much I loved the guitar  and that Christmas he surprised me with an electric guitar.”

VG:  Besides music and 60s fashion, did you have  other passions, things you would do for fun?

JT:  I play the guitar. Oh, that’s music too. I play guitar quite a bit. That’s my number one passion. Music really.

VG:  The guitar, how did you learn? Did you teach yourself?

JT:  When the Beatles came out, I wanted to be like the Beatles. So I got a wooden stick and a piece of cardboard and cut a cardboard carton the shape of a guitar and attached it to that stick to make it look like a guitar. You know what I’m saying? 

VG:  Yeah.

Boyle Heights resident Joseph Torres in front of his son’s furniture store in El Sereno. Photo by José Torres.

JT:  I would stand in front of the mirror in my room and play a fake air guitar out of wood and cardboard and my parents would look and be like “you, you alright?”. Yeah. And then I guess my dad, he knew how much I loved the guitar, The Beatles, and that Christmas, he surprised me with an electric guitar. And that was a big sacrifice for my father, to buy me an electric guitar. When he gave it to me for Christmas I cried, because I loved it so much, what they did for me. And from then on since then I bought, you know, numerous different guitars and I’ve always had, I still play the guitar. Sometimes I go to the… to the park and I have an acoustic guitar now, sitting in the park and enjoying myself out in the sun just to relax.

VG:  Do you have any children?

JT: I have one son. He’s 50 years old, and he’s doing very well. He owns a Mexican Chicano furniture store and he goes to Mexico like three times a year with his wife, and they bring all kinds of beautiful furniture to the store. It’s pretty popular. It’s called Buena Vista Furniture. You might want to look it up on the internet. It’s called Buena Vista Furniture, and that’s my son’s store, Jose Torres.

VG:  Living in Boyle Heights, what was the memory that most stuck with you?

JT:  There are so many. There are so many of my memories.  Walking to school, walking to school with my friends and meeting them after school and then there was a street called Brooklyn and Soto, but it’s now Cesar Chavez and Soto, but that was like our, how should I say, Melrose Avenue or even, what’s the one in Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive. So Brooklyn and Soto was our main drag to buy things…

At Whittier Boulevard there’s a lot of stores on there to buy clothes and theaters and that’s, you know what I remember, and I enjoyed walking, just walking around town, walking around the neighborhood, riding my bicycle around Boyle Heights. There was, in those days they had a teen post. I don’t know if you’ve heard of teen posts, like social clubs where teenagers could meet. There were Teen Posts and every neighborhood, like, I had, like a club where you could go play ping pong or pool, somewhere safe where you could go associate in other words, and that would last for the summer, a couple of summers.

VG:  What does Boyle Heights mean to you? And what do you love most about it?

JT: Most of all about Boyle Heights I love is that it’s home to me, because I moved out of the area for oh, maybe like I said 15-20 years, but when I moved back to Boyle Heights, like two years ago, three years ago, it’s like I came home back to my birthplace.

I love walking around and seeing the old places where I used to go shopping. I even look at little nooks and crannies. I say, “oh I even remember that little crack on the street, on the door, over here in a certain place.” And yeah, “I remember going off that hill” and Boyle Heights and I love the culture. I just love it all. I love this. It’s home to me. The people, the food. Everybody’s so friendly. I know we have our, there’s some problems I hear about Boyle Heights, but no more so than any other place. You know, it’s a wonderful place for kids to… Well, some people say it’s not the best place for kids to grow up, but I’ve never had any problems.

JL: Yeah, we turned out fine. I think we’re okay.

JT:  There you go. Keep it up yeah. You don’t go looking for trouble. It won’t come looking for you.

My outlook on life is number one: love everybody, respect everybody. And I am anti-war.  That’s my number one thing. I want everybody to come together like John Lennon in the song: ‘Imagine all the people sharing all the world, living life in peace.’”  

Joseph Torres

JT:  I actually had a question. So I know you said that your outlook on life was formed in your high school years?

JT:  More or less yes.

JT: So what is your outlook on life?

JT:  My outlook on life is number one: love everybody, respect everybody, and I am anti war. I even tell my friends or their children “try not to go to war,” because it’s just, you know, I discourage people from joining the military. That’s my number one thing. I don’t like a lot of stuff that’s going on around the world, wars and stuff like that, so I want everybody to come together like John Lennon in the song that he has: “Imagine all the people sharing all the world, living life in peace.” A lot of people take that song wrong because they think it’s a communistic song. It’s not a communistic song. It’s a song of unity. And that’s my outlook on life. Imagine all the world living together.

VG: Yeah, I agree.

JT: Thank you.

VG: Thank you for letting me interview you.

JT:  Keep up the good work. Keep up the good work. I appreciate what you have done in interviewing me, I really do, thank you so much. Enjoy life! Enjoy life! And like I said, you’re in your teen years, enjoy the next 10 or 15 years as much as you can and have a good time. I know the generation now is kinda limited with the COVID but god gives things and he takes away, but he’s going to give your generation a lot more. Ok?

JL:  Hopefully.

JT:  Oh, hopefully. And that’s all I have to say right now.

Boyle Heights Beat reporter Jennifer López contributed to this story.

This is an abridged version of an interview recorded as part of “Voices/Voces,” a storytelling project that aims to connect youth reporters with Boyle Heights and East LA elders.  Voices/Voces was a 2020 finalist in (and partially funded by) the LA2050 Grants Challenge. It is also partially funded by the Snap Foundation.

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Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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