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By Jack Kolkmeyer

GENRE: Drama, Musical

It is all about black and white, especially in 1959 in racially segregated Pittsburgh, so that the only way a teenage, Italian-American boy can love a teenage, African-American girl is in a song of their making, a very groovy song.


Rockinitis takes place during the heat of the infamous, 1959 steel strike; the resplendent harmonies of Pittsburgh’s unique doo wop music legacy; and the shifting emotions of ethnic diversity and racial segregation in the last of the pre-Civil Rights years.

The film opens on Y2K, January 1, 2000 in a radio station in Santa Fe NM where a DJ and his assistant are celebrating the change of the century by playing music from all recent musical eras and on all media…CDs, vinyl, cassettes, 8 tracks. The come upon a tape reel of a song called The Spin. The DJ recognizes it and remembers the story of the song.

Angelo “Angel” Rosetti and Deserie Roberts, the two main characters, cross paths as 17 year old, rhythm and blues singers brought together by one of the idiosyncratic DJs of the city. Angel is a handsome, glib, groovy, Italian-American crooner looking for a musical way up. Deserie, of Jamaican and African-American ethnicity, is a talented and attractive singer looking for a cool way out. They both are not only good singers but also great dancers.

Initially, they strike up a friendship because of the interest of a local DJ in their talents and their mutual interest in singing and in music events held throughout Pittsburgh. They manage to surreptitiously spend some time together and then strike a forbidden chord, as they fall in love one beautiful summer afternoon along the banks of the Monongahela River. While Pittsburgh in that late 50s’s and early 60’s had mixed race singing groups like the Del Vikings of “Come Go With Me” fame, it was a very geographically separated and ethnically segregated city.

And so the antagonists in the story, ethnic Pittsburgh and some of their own family and friends twist them in challenging new directions.The raging steel strike creates bitter animosity at every level of social Pittsburgh, especially for Angelo’s family as his father works in management for Pittsburgh Steel. Angelo works part time for his Uncle Pete in a popular Pittsburgh restaurant but the uncle and his cousins, essentially the Pittsburgh “mafia”, also virtually own the music and jukebox business in Pittsburgh at that time and become distraught that Angelo would want to pursue a music career with a trendy DJ named Sonny Boy, a Jewish record store/recording studio owner who rents from them, and a “colored” girl. But Angelo persists against the odds, made even more difficult and dramatic for him because one of Deserie’s friends, a would be suitor, also has it in for him, and in fact, attacks him and warns him to stay away from “his” girlfriend and their neighborhood.

But Angelo persists, in large part because of the support of his father, and Deserie’s mother, a nurse and part time jazz singer, but also, of course, because of his love for Deserie and his desire to sing rhythm and blues music, especially with her. Angelo, Deserie and a couple of their close friends win an acapella singing contest put on by their DJ friend which affords them the opportunity to make a record in a small little studio owned by the Jewish tenant of Angelo’s Uncle Pete. But the two begin to recognize their fate as star-crossed lovers and realize that their only chance to be together rests with their chance to create and record their hip, new dance song, “The Spin”, rooted in the past, but years ahead of its time. The session includes all of the friends finally brought together by Sonny Boy, Deserie’s mom, Mr. Cohen, Angelo and Deserie’s sax playing uncle, Melvin. The session is a real gas and they record several songs including The Spin that turns out to everyone’s groovy delight.

Unfortunately, just after the recording is made, Angelo’s cousin, Louis, is directed to set fire to the record store and studio and it appears that the master tape has been destroyed. To make matters even worse, Uncle Melvin is killed at the steel mill in a savage racial attack, just as the steel strike is ending. All seems hopeless as the song is apparently lost in the ashes of the late 50’s. Angelo and Deserie realize the futility of their situation and bid a tearful farewell at a popular amusement park. Their senior years in high school continue on, separately.

However, all is NOT lost, as the Santa Fe DJ, at the opening of the film, turns out to be Angelo himself and he rediscovers the song, gets to play it on the air and remembers his great love for Deserie Roberts.

The emergence of The Spin in the new millennium charges the story with sentimental strength and a new “Southside story” spin on Romeo and Juliet. The Spin finally finds its way onto the airwaves and, who knows, maybe it becomes a hit after all.


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