Friday, April 11, 2014
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore."
When a gang of bad-juju biker thugs swinging pool cues and shoving shivs into drugged-up fools are ostensibly "security" at the Rock festival, it's time to holler, "Feet, beat the retreat!"--at least that's what I decided late in the afternoon of December 6, 1969, at Altamont Speedway in the Northern California foothills 30 or 40 miles east of the East Bay urbs. (Probably not much more than a hundred thirty miles north and east of the sleepy coastal town of Monterey, but worlds apart in time and species.)
In the wake of Monterey's blissed-out Pop Music festival, would-be copycat events--large or small, outdoors or in--were mounted at venues across America. The middle
The Old World was stirring too, with the new Rock Music shaking Europe's cultural roots, students rioting in the streets of Prague and Paris, and the Rolling Stones doing their damnedest to prod London past No Satisfaction and Devil Sympathy on to Street Fighting meant to stretch from Carnaby to Fleet. By 1969, Brian Jones had
A mammoth free concert with such a potent line-up called for a sizable security force too, but the last-minute negotiations to settle on a site, and the massive overnight staging effort required after that, meant that some "creative" approach to security would be needed. Participants and critics and fans alike have argued ever since as to who should get the blame for what ensued...
Several months after Monterey Pop I had begun doing some minor writing for the Rock mag that had started a couple of weeks before that festival; Rolling Stone (as was, early on) seemed content to accept my sometimes esoteric record reviews, and I was soon writing too for Boston's equivalent mag titled Fusion and for Seattle's underground newspaper, The Helix. I was scheduled to do an interview piece on Creedence Clearwater Revival for Fusion on December 5th and was able to secure
We were four jolly journalists in the car driving east on show day--Greil, his friend Langdon Winner, me, and Sandy Darlington (later the owner/producer of New England's excellent Folk Legacy Records). We joined the miles of cars ascending to the Speedway: the sun was out, and two or three hundred thousand Rock fans were gathering, like iron filings to a magnet or, more accurately, lemmings drawn to the cliff edge.
Once admitted backstage, we each set off independently, planning to compare impressions later. I wandered about taking mental snapshots and talking with, among others, Burrito Brother Gram, Johnny Winters' twin brother Edgar, and (I think) their manager, whose name I've forgotten but who was stylishly garbed in boxer shorts and a kimono. Even more dapper was the birthday suit worn by a stoned fat Latino guy, who was stumbling about confusedly like a curly-nobbed Humpty Dumpty on stilts. (This lad reappears later.) I didn't realize it then, but I was seeing a sad representation of the Altamont audience.
Around 2 p.m. I heard Santana warming up on stage and crawled under and through the metal platform and out to the area right front of the stage near one stack of amps. People had been sitting on the ground, but now no one could hold a space without standing up and then being pushed forward, packed tighter and tighter. There was no area reserved for the Press, just a crushing, unruly crowd, the milling front ranks of a sweeping downward hillside avalanche of tens of thousands. And these weren't the happy hippies of Monterey Pop and San Francisco Be-Ins; this was a hostile mob of restive zombies, cloudy- or empty-eyed, mean dispirited creatures zonked on acid, meth, bennies, poisonous grass... who knows? But shoving and dissatisfied and spoiling for a fight.
They soon found it.
This much is known: the Grateful Dead had friends among the Frisco contingent and likely recommended them. The Stones had used a mild-mannered motorcycle club as security at a London event... Hyde Park, was it? The Bay Area headman--headsman? skullman?--and the Stones' advance man-cum-road manager reached an agreement: in exchange for $500 in beer, a phalanx of Hell's Angels, some thirty or so, would protect the stage and the Stones from any overeager encroachers. Armed with fists, knives, biker-chains, and sawed-off pool cues (whipping overhead they looked plenty damn full-length to me), and fortified by beer and bottles the Angels were ready to rumble.
From my vantage point and notes jotted down: (1) Santana's set, oye como va, amigos, brings minor scuffles only, weapons not yet required. The mob's leading
(2) Minimal turbulence for the Flying Burrito Brothers' brand of catchy Country Rock. A few of the walking dead actually attempt to dance.
(3) The afternoon drags on. More thirst. (Water bottles were not yet appendages in 1969.) More warm beers. More mystery drugs. More zombie jamboree.
Now (4) Jefferson Airplane takes off, propelled by Grace Slick's edgy whine. The phony revolutionaries re-engage the zonked. Two Angels insist on riding their bikes through the crowd left of stage. The fights are real, pool cues whirling through the late afternoon light. The naked fat guy gets clobbered in the face and is led away, his nose streaming blood. I'm feeling the crowd's sullen paranoia myself...
Too much happening. Grace harangues the fighters, then Marty Balin leaps off the
Backstage the chaos is better controlled--roadies and technical worker-bees bustling about, medical volunteers tending to the casualties from drugs and the fighting out front, still small clusters of curious musicians and their groupies, photographers and journalists and other hangers-on standing about, blocking the paths between tents and trailers, trading rumors, a few of which will prove to be true: some woman has given birth... the Grateful Dead arrived but, told about the continuing violence, decided that distance was a wiser course than performance...
No sign of my car mates, so I drift about alone, eavesdropping on the hushed conversations and scribbling impressions of this weird and heavy day, as late afternoon yields to twilight and then to night. It will be a tense and seething two-hour wait before "live" music resumes.
So far, so bad.
* * * *
In still-to-come final Part 3: casualty numbers rise, the film Gimme Shelter demands attention, and the naked fat man almost sings.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
And besides, the wench is dead.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the Age of Aquarius, it was the decade of assassinations; it was the era of peaceful resistance, it was the epoch of patriotic fervor; it was the season of possibilities, it was the years of Vietnam; it was the Summer of Love, it was the Winter of Our Discontent: we had the Great Society and Democratic Revolution before us, we had the Entrenched Establishment and Republican Power against us, we had only a stoner's hope of succeeding...
There was a time when I would glibly say, "I went to Monterey Pop by accident, and
First wife and I had driven down to the Bay Area; the 1967 Summer of Love seemed the right time to celebrate our years-delayed honeymoon by spending a long weekend in San Francisco--no flowers in our hair then, but discovering that something called "The Monterey Pop Festival" was that same weekend convinced me that we should try to attend. Only the last-day matinee concert by sitar master Ravi Shankar had tickets left, but that suited me fine: it got
The picturesque town was chockablock with cops and flower children, townsfolk and festive fans, oldtimers and curiosity seekers, costumers and craftsmen, amateur musicians and business professionals--tens of thousands of hippies and straights alike, and all coexisting in peaceful harmony. That Monterey looked like a mix of early Newport Jazz and later Renaissance Fair, and probably was. Rock Music was still coming into its own, not yet dominating all, and exhibiting no sign
Monterey Pop, thanks to the energy and persuasive blandishments of (record producer) Lou Adler and (Mamas and Papas leader) John Phillips, became a charities money-raising event, with the performers collecting no fees. It functioned instead as a display venue for groups from the East Coast, West Coast, and England to present themselves to their fans, to the press, and to one another. Just consider the acts then unknown or little-known that appeared: Jimi Hendrix, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Who, Canned Heat, the Butterfield Blues Band, Otis Redding with Booker T. and the MGs, Jefferson
The "headlining" acts--though not singled out as such--were those with actual hits: Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and Papas, Lou Rawls, the Byrds, the Association, Buffalo Springfield, Eric Burdon and the Animals, and Dionne Warwick (who canceled). There was a separate musicians' area, but no one was hassled when celebrities mingled with us common folk; I saw Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Art Garfunkel, Mike Bloomfield, and probably failed to
Anyway, the afternoon Shankar concert was an amazing set of three ragas, each one alternating between peacefully spiritual passages and manically high-energy sitar-and-tabla astonishments that left the crowd roaring with delight. (No wonder director D.A. Pennebaker made that out-of-chronology performance the visual and musical climax of his Monterey Pop documentary film.) We walked out feeling elated and exhausted--truly high on life.
And almost immediately met a young man trying to sell his evening concert tickets--not at some scalper price but for maybe $5 apiece. Wife and I looked at each other and said, "Hell yes!" ...which is how we were present for the three defining, star-making sets of Sunday night: (1) Big Brother and
The Mamas and Papas tried, but the temporary weekend world of Monterey Pop was all a-buzz, satiated and dispersing by then. Pennebaker's eventual edit rearranged the three days for maximum effect, omitting some bands and shuffling the ones shown. (Two sequel
I recently watched all three parts of Pennebaker's blanket coverage, and was pleased to be reminded of on-stage moments not seen at the time and off-stage good vibrations enjoyed and remembered. The weekend seemed as placid and lazily happy as it's been painted--the festive, grass-shared, "stoned soul picnic" atmosphere that the subsequent Woodstock and
But soon Woodstock ballooned and loomed over us, and ended beached in flotsam and jetsam, like some gigantic White Whale with no Ahab--or too many petty ones--to re-launch and steer the o'erladen ship on its intended (r)evolutionary course. (Instead the nation's youth soon settled for Starbucks and the pursuit of personal wealth--Ronald Reaganomics in place of Gregory Peck.) Meanwhile, near the end of 1969, the terrible events at Altamont
But there's one thing left to point out regarding Monterey Pop... the dark shadow lurking at the edges of all that "good day sunshine" euphoria. Careers were kicked into gear, yes, but within months Otis Redding and Brian Jones (the one Stone who came) were both dead, and then over the next several years, so too were Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Papa John Phillips and Mama Cass Elliot, Keith Moon of the Who, "Pigpen" from the Grateful Dead, Al Wilson and Bob Hite (both from Canned Heat), Mike Bloomfield (Electric Flag) Mike Clarke (the Byrds), and probably others who attended, plus Jim Morrison (the Doors), Gram Parsons (the Flying Burrito Brothers), John Lennon, and even Elvis... who didn't.
I had not thought Rock had undone so many.
* * * *
In Part 2, coming in a week or three, we journey cross-state from this Alpha fest of music to Altamont's Omega of murder. So much peace and love might have been an illusion, but Hell's Angels as security? Are you kidding me? Whose bright idea was that?
Monday, March 10, 2014
First, some background: I lived in Izmir, Turkey, from 1956 to 1958. We few American teenagers pooled our small stack of 45s for group listening, and one hepcat brought r&b magic unknown to the rest of us, copies of both "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea" and the staccato, driving "Mona." The latter immediately became one of my forever favorites... which may explain why, when I went off to college in 1960, my first musical move was to swap my Wailers Tall Cool One LP for some other dormie's copy of Bo Diddley's debut album...
In the 1970s I was writing and agency-producing radio, TV, and print ads for Rainier Beer; I was proudest of my specialty, our long series of music parodies, from Tom Waits to the Johnny Burnette Trio, Elvis to DEVO, Los Lobos to the Supremes. When I learned that Chess Records legend Bo Diddley was coming to
I wrote some sketchy lyrics, booked studio time, and eagerly awaited The Man.
At the appointed time, Bo breezed in wearing black sunglasses, black shirt and slacks, and a rakish black mini-Stetson, carrying a black electric guitar--no amp, no case--a Telecaster (I think), and not one of his familiar shaped or hand-built versions. He heard the idea, sneered at my lame lyrics, plugged directly into the board, and quickly laid down two minute-long takes of his own instant-substitute
Bo was usually droll and raucous and deadpan-funny: "You look like you been whupped wid a n'ugly stick"..."Uh, I ain't got nuthin' t' do wid it, but I b'lieve that fella's right!" Maybe he'd been channeling Chuck Berry (cash up front, no discussion).
The ad ran for a few weeks but, sadly, caused no stir. I guess that Boat had sailed.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Country, with Americana The recent Grammy Awards agreed with my pick for Country album (we don't often match), choosing the saucy, sexy debut disc from "pert 'n' purty" Kacey Musgraves, her album boldly titled Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury B0018029-02, I think) and exhibiting sufficient white trash talk and post-Miranda attitude to launch another ready-for-primetime Nashvillainous career. Some titles here--"Blowin' Smoke," "Step Off," "Keep It to Yourself," "Stupid"--tell that part of her tale: smart lyrics, fine tunes, a solid opening salvo. As Miz Kacey concludes, "It Is What It Is."
Plenty more salvos in my choice for across-the-boards album of the year: Divided & United (ATO Records 2CD set #0882188429) which commemorates/celebrates 34 pieces of "popular" music from the 150-year-old American Civil War/War of
And after that exhausting sentence, let's just point to several of the most striking discoveries and performances awaiting your attention... Loretta Lynn launches and amazes with "Take Your Gun and Go, John." Del McCoury immortalizes "Lorena,"
Reggae got Soul Despite fine younger artists like Etana, Tarrus Riley, Morgan Heritage and such, 2012's releases in honor of Jamaica's half-century of independence continued to adumbrate and dominate most of my listening. To hear some of the island's all-time best, lend your ears to (1) VP Records' 3CD set VPCD1962, Out of Many: 50 Years of Reggae Music, sending 51 hot & solid cinders--from Lord Creator to Lady Saw, the Skatalites to Cocoa Tea, Alton Ellis to Mr. Vegas, Junior Byles to Gyptian, and Eek-a-Mouse to Elephant Man... BlueBeat, RockSteady, Dance Hall, Roots & Culture...
No other record company, not even Germany's venerated (but oh so expensive) Bear Family, does as good a job keeping the spirit--and reality--of '60s Soul Music
(1) A Road Leading Home: Songs by Dan Penn (Ace CDCHD 1370), whether written solo or in collaboration, offers a splendiferous harvest of hits Penned by the top white-boy Soulster, including "Dark End of the Street," "Almost Persuaded," "Rainbow Road," "You Left the Water Running," "Do Right Woman," and "Like a Road Leading Home," as interpreted by Irma Thomas, Percy Sledge, James and Bobby Purify, the Drifters, Ted Taylor, Esther Phillips, and so many more. Likewise, (2) Rolling with the Punches: The Allen Toussaint Songbook (Ace CDCHD 1354) features Lee Dorsey, the Meters, Millie Jackson, the Judds, Aaron Neville, Solomon Burke, Bonnie Raitt,
Woody'n you, Bob? Last year was the hundredth anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth, and the Guthrie Foundation celebrated by moving West to those Oklahoma hills folks used to sing about--and by issuing a few special repackagings honoring the works of Woody, most importantly the 6CD+DVD set on Rounder Records called Woody
As for Bob the temporary acolyte, he's well-served by Columbia/Legacy 2CD set 8883 73487 2, Volume 10 in the legal bootleg series, titled Another Self Portrait (1969-1971). When the original Self appeared way back, there was great consternation; critic Greil Marcus infamously thundered, "What is this shit!?!" Calmer fans speculated that Bob had lost his edge in the motorcycle accident, or was passing off studio rejects to satisfy his contract for so much "product," or was thumbing his nose at the Columbia Records bosses, or...
Looking back now, listening to this ear-opening array of alternates and rarities, it seems more likely that Bob was trying to get back to his Greenwich Village roots, pay belated homage to early folk mentors, take a gentler, post electric-rock
Friday, February 21, 2014
The Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII on my birthday, February 2, 2014--a terrific gift, thanks, and the first complete football game I've watched in over 20 years.
A week or so later, some lines kept popping up in my head, and then suddenly I remembered that, 48 years ago in 1966, ten years before Seattle's football team came into existence, I predicted the 'Hawks victory...
Well, sort of.
I was a fledgling poet at the time, and one day I got the idea to write a poem honoring the fierce sea hawk found in Western Washington... meaning the osprey: a good-sized fish-eating bird considered both rapacious attacker and staunch defender; a sharp-taloned, swoop-and-grab, fish-catcher hawk depicted in Northwest Coast Native American woodcarving--a swift and determined totemic creature deemed worthy to stand beside Eagle and Orca and Bear.
Anchored on sea-winds,
easily riding the air,
the fierce osprey balances,
mortally sharp and sure.
Talons arced, he stands--
a baleful barb, off-white--
poised there to cry praises
of his haggard sun's stare
or shriek the lure of night.
tangent to sky and sea,
then leaps to hurtle freely
down turbulent piles of light.
A greying blur, the osprey
plummets! Slashes a way,
fighting each buffet of air,
piercing through to his fish
that turns in water-light.
No liquid-dream barrier,
no bubbling gift of tongues,
can check his streaming glare.
The fish hawk dips and catches.
Now screaming arrogant songs
he strides back up the wind,
feeling the elements flow--
his air that burns all finned
and seaward things to ashes.
the writhing catch flashes.
On the nacreous beach below
I chafe my cold bones
and wish for sea hawk wings--
to soar; to fall... A man
past reach, I grope for dying
fish among the stones.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
But first... I had planned to write during 2013 a longish piece celebrating sideman-regular, sometime-leader, guitar-slinger extraordinaire Sonny Landreth, master of his own unique brand of amped-up electric slide and scorpion-sting steel—devilish-difficult, prowl-and-howling silver-sliver slices of slide, with tailing grace notes
And now, on with the show (categories are capricious, quality reissue sets welcome, and write-ups per whim and vim):
Blues & Gospel Going out on a limb here, and sawing it off right at the trunk, the most exciting 2013 Blues album is a 45-years-after-the-fact, newly released,
Gospel pick is a surer thing, Brit 2CD set, Fuel label 302 061 961 2, The Jewel Records Gospel Story. On a Louisiana state map Shreveport (in the northwest Ark-La-Tex corner) is diagonally opposite and worlds away from near-Gulf, music-rich, Creole-politan New Orleans. But bomber-based, redneck-rich Shreveport did in fact have Leadbelly on Caddo Lake and Fannin Street; Blues-blooded Buddy Whosit, singing sub-sheriff and Jimmy Rogers acolyte; the Louisiana Hayride, great radio rival to the Grand Ol’ Op and the early stage for Elvis, Hank, various Johnnys, and a slew of lesser Looz-yanna lights; cool rocker Dale Hawkins (“Susie Q” and “Crossties”) and hot picker James Burton (guitarman for Rick on TV and Elvis on tour); crisscrossing railroads ("Flyin' Crow leavin' Port
This Gospel ship casts a wide net and hauls in two-to-four tracks each by an amazing array: the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and the Original Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Soul Stirrers and the Brooklyn Allstars, Clarence Fountain and Willie Morganfield, Ted Taylor and the Violinaires, Dorothy Norwood, a very young Aretha Franklin, and a heavenly host of other house-wrecking harmonizers. The home they save could be your own.
Jazz to the World Three new-but-old Jazz albums proved especially worthy of
Just for fun and Just in Time, from an earlier, happier Time signature altogether, (3) Bennett/Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (Columbia/Legacy 8883718042) sidled into stores with little fanfare, though fans of
World Music's too much with us; late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our wallets. So mostly I seek out the stringed (or related) instruments--plucked, strummed, or slid? not to fret--zither to sitar, erhu to oud,
It was that last that I listened for in 2013... and I heard two fine new CDs keeping the strings loosened right: (1) Malama Ko Aloha (Keep Your Love) on the Ohe label (#8738) by veteran key-man Keola Beamer, largely involving his soundtrack for a PBS program with guests including Geoff Keezer and R. Carlos Nakai; and (2) Slack Key Travels by young slacker Jeff Peterson (#PP007 on his own label), quite prolific and inventive, with at least one
Rockin', Rapt "Go with what you know," a wise person said. What I don't know about '13 Rock would fill Seattle's lost landmark, the old Spanish Ballroom, chockablock with CDs, 10,000 or more. But let's pretend I watched the four late-night talk shows for all twelve months, sampling the artistry of (4 x 5 x about 50) a thousand bands/singers touting their latest musical product... I'd still be casting my vote for Rock album of the year to Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt, on Monkeywrench/Universal with some unreadable number. (The Deco mini-book
Meanwhile, "plentiful but pitiful" would be my admittedly biased three-word summation of the dictations and depletions of Rap... save for the unexpected fuzzy-friendly, globe-trodding, G-for-Gigantor pair known as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis--those local-boys-make-goodwill-Thrift-Stores-buyable and their Heisted double-disc set well-meriting the 2013 Raptor Prize and all the merry soupcons of success.
Soundtracked, Classically From the flickering projector-lit world of darkened home theaters, bleary-eyed cinemaniacal filmgazers, and sought-after soundtrack
And (3) La-La Land/20th Century Fox Limited Edition LLLCD 1251, the expanded original score (by James Newton Howard) from Lawrence Kasdan's haunting story of several questing, sinning "spirits," their lives crisscrossing one another in the City of Lost Angels. Some Hollywood movies are spectacularly grand; a great many others falter in bad judgment, too many falling into the faultline canyon of bad taste; but Kasdan's Grand Canyon highwire-walks across
No dearth of (ho-hum) Classical releases rehashing the same core 300 compositions, but only one album--several years old that I found used--became the bridge over troubled water soothing my sorrow-filled mind and scarred, scared soul: Austrian/Catalan/French/whatever label AliaVox AV 9805, La Folia 1490-1701, with phenomenal viola da gamba Grandmaster Jordi Savall and his cohorts-in-support winningly cavorting 'round the courts and composers (Corelli, Marais,
Part 2 adds Country with Americana; Reggae got Soul; Woody'n you, Bob?