A Word about the Music of the 60's - to flag up some good memories....
Like all of us getting ready for ReUnions, we are looking at life from “both sides now” – thank you Joni Mitchell.
A “high school” ReUnion is going to be a chance to re-live (at least in memory) that period of time. A ReUnion of re-living people could HIT our self-image and consciousness-blazing saddles the hardest. Perhaps only second to Getting Married, a ReUnion is life-changing.
I am stewing over the Chronology of our Class:
What was happening when we came in?
What was “there” while we were there?
And what foam came down the moving wave of its afterwards?
1968 was in many ways a turning point for many things. Certainly the race riots, four political assassinations, the Apollo manned missions to the moon, Dutch Elm Disease, and the USSR invasion of Czechoslovakia, caused life as we loved it to change. http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/1968.html
There were many things “happening”. And until the late 60's nobody ever said “have a nice day”, or “what’s happening?”. Food was fast (McDonalds), and Cars were faster (e.g. Corvette). Politics and photography was polarized and Polaroid. Summers were still endless and people had vacations, and could remember when “The Mom” did not have to work. But of all the things “happening”, you have to really appreciate the fact that music just EXPLODED.
"Far Out" - AND THERE WAS MUSIC.
Our generation put unprecedented emphasis on Music. Not to sing, or play, but to listen to. Within a generation, we went from people who knew hundreds of songs “by heart” (hootenanny, caroling, canziones), to paying money to listen to Rock Stars playing in Coliseums. Why was the music so important? In this way?
We were born into the realm of mothers sending us for piano lessons, and dreaming of the glamorous life lived by the “Rat-Pack” – a nice metaphoric description of the entertainers’ actual (not-so-glam) life at the time. You could hear the “stars” in small clubs – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, and some wonderful female participants, including Shirley MacLaine, Lauren Bacall, Angie Dickinson, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland. All of them could remember lines and tunes, write, sing, dance, talk, mime and mimic and act – and as part of a group with a mission bigger than their egos. We have not seen their likes since.
I remember coming into the musicality of the age with revenant “Hootenannies” and Sing-a-Longs. Folk music brought us together. We were led by talent, not by Tyrants. People like Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Odetta, Marion Anderson, and Pete Seeger were our guides.
Pete Seeger still lives, perhaps the greatest American of his generation – although Black-Listed from TV, in 1963 his amusing protest single, “Little Boxes” (written by Malvina Reynolds), was number one in the nation's Top 40's radio hits. His compositions remained the anthems of our age for a decade – Kumbaya, Turn Turn Turn, We Shall Overcome, If I had a Hammer, Long Time Passing. In the 1960s, Seeger toured college campuses extensively. He usually accompanied himself on a custom-made acoustic 12-string guitar, modifying an instrument of Mexican origin associated with black bayou blues balladeer, Lead Belly.
Other widely-beloved folk performers included three very independent women:
Joan Baez (daughter of Mexican/ Scot immigrants, 3-octave vocal range) "Blowin' in the Wind" - when she married David Harris in late 1967, it was reported as “the wedding of the century”. (Baez, performing while visibly pregnant - “Diamonds and Rust”, “The Night they drove Old Dixie Down”). Remember the way she sustained long notes--almost breathing into the tone, and sometimes lightly yodeling between registers. She never "oversung", never showed off her voice, but the emotion was "strong"--she had no mercy when singing about cruelty or war. We often wept.
Judy Collins (father was blind, she started as a child prodigy at classical piano, son suicide) “Send in the Clowns”, “Wildflowers” - stunning purity and sweetness of her soprano, accompanied by her acoustic guitar playing. Her 1968 album: Who Knows Where the Time Goes, with Stephen Stills (of Crosby, Stills &Nash). She was the major interpretive folksinger of the '60s.
Joni Mitchell (Canadian immigrant) - singer-songwriter folk-rock scene in Southern California, divorced and launched her solo career in 1967. One of the best female guitarists, famous for her open tuning and innovative harmonic technique – including polymodality, chromaticism, polytonality, and strict pedal points.
At the same time, Rock and Roll was sizzling. We actually saw Elvis Presley perform and become the King. But in Orange County we had a special variation of R&R, that sort of started in Southern California – the Surf Bands were everywhere. “Pipeline” was an irresistable, and frankly obnoxious, “wipe-Ooooouuuut !” Almost anytime, anyplace.
In the 60's, Rock & Roll matured into a full-bodied all-year everywhere throbbing river of infinite immersion. It was no longer bass blues arpeggios, with candy cane lyrics and swivelling hips. By the late sixties it was a wall of sound rolling out of stratocaster canons into the drug-haze of Woodstock. Let’s look at the details:
By the 60's we entered the first of many flowerings. Bob Dylan, started acoustic and ended electric. People would karaoke him before there was karaoke, memorize long poem-songs. In 1965 he rolled out “Like a Rolling Stone”.
The acoustic folk-rock musical traditions of successful bands like The Lovin' Spoonful were re-interpreted by new groups “going electric" and looking for a dirtier sound. For example, the Grateful Dead pulled terrain from everywhere–folk, jazz, country, gospel-- to make an incredibly eclectic synthesis featuring electric instrumentation for outbursts of passion, apocalyptic apotheosis, and dirt. The “Wall of Sound” was developed for the Dead (75-tons of amplification-- eighty-nine 300-watt solid-state and three 350-watt vacuum-tube amplifiers, generating a total of 26,400 watts RMS of audio power – the largest portable sound system ever built).
By the late 60's, historians like “Patrick the Lama” tell us we were at the Golden Age of psychedelic music. Bands were migrating down from San Francisco. http://members.tripod.com/lysergia_2/LamaReviews/lamaMain.htm
Electric music is the vernacular of the second half of the twentieth century, to use Pete Seeger’s old term. And this amplified language ran "psychedelic" for a few beautiful years in the late 60's. It was still rock, but the riffs included “far out” explorations of the mind, and the senses, and feelings no one had really interpreted before.
In 1968, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix played together. Separately, they led the way for later bands, combining guitar feedback powered by overdriven amplifiers with brilliantly original expansions of traditional blues (B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Elmore James) and rhythm and blues guitar skills ( Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper). Hendrix would mondegreen entire songs - deliberately misinterpreting and creating distortion in every part of the track – e.g. “Purple Sky” [kiss the sky, kiss this guy]. Hendrix's rendition of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is a complete departure from the original, and includes one of the most highly praised guitar arrangements in modern music.
In 1968, the Doors album, Waiting for the Sun " Hello I Love You " was so simple and complex that it created a kind of religion of its own. The Doors, the Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane became moving cathedrals of Rock & Roll, spewing a catholic catharsis.
The Cream (Eric Clapton), and Pink Floyd (with original founder Syd Barrett), embraced psychedelic music fully, becoming two of the first truly specialized psychedelic bands. Sometimes a band would switch from one “sound” to another. The Beatles did this with each album. Country Joe and the Fish suddenly dropped their tempo and came out with really psychedelic masterpieces, like "Bass Strings".
I remember Country Joe in 1966 performed an upbeat but shocking protest song in a raw jug band style. Just one year later, the piece changed dramatically – put into lower tempo, delayed vocals, added reverb, studio reversed cymbals, electric organ, traveler lyrics, and a continuous blues guitar solo which together turned the piece into a mind-blowin’-in-the-wind "psychedelic" track.
Curiously, almost all the popular bands were almost all male. The perfect pitch drummer, Karen Carpenter, was sort of the exception that proves this tune. At the same time, so many solo female vocalists of our generation were exceptionally strong.
1. Aretha Franklin - 1967 single, "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)", a blues ballad in gospel style. "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" in classic R&B. Her feminist version of Otis Redding’s "Respect" brought her superstardom. Then the album, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, reached million-seller status, followed by top ten singles hits including "Baby I Love You", "Chain of Fools" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman".
2. Tina Turner - “What's Love Got To Do With It?” R&B/Rock/Pop-fused “Private Dancer”
3. Janis Joplin (d. 1970) - April 10, 1968, invaded Anaheim Convention Center, with a relatively obscure group called "Big Brother and the Holding Company."
4. Bonnie Raitt - her eponymous debut album came out in 1971, singer and bottleneck guitarist at a time when there were very few. Her second album, Give It Up, was released in 1972 to universal acclaim. "Nick of Time" , "Something to Talk About", "I Can't Make You Love Me".
5. Joni Mitchell - "Both Sides Now", "Clouds", and "The Circle Game."
6. Billie Holiday (d. 1959) - “Bless the child” - her melisma may still be heard in R&B singer Mariah Carey, or any “American Idol” today.
7. Linda Ronstadt - “You’re no good” and 3 multi-platinum albums: “What's New”, “Canciones de Mi Padre” and “Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind”.
8. Diana Ross/ The Supremes/ The Temptations - "Where Did Our Love Go" · "Baby Love" · "Stop! In the Name of Love" · "I Hear a Symphony" · "You Can't Hurry Love" · "You Keep Me Hangin' On" · "Love Is Here and Now You're Gone" · "The Happening" · "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me".
Powerful women kept the heart and intimacy in popular music.
In 1965-1967, The Beatles were recording psychedelic rock with tunes like "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" , and the Summer of Love anthem “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band”. They proceeded to lead the entire popular genre, each album anticipated for “familiar novelty” – so aligned with our lives that each cut seemed tailored to our counter-cultural creation myth. " Hey Jude ", “Norwegian Wood”.
Simon & Garfunkle - The 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, refined their folk rock-ballad sound in 1967, "The Sounds of Silence," "Mrs. Robinson," "Bridge over Troubled Water," and "Homeward Bound". The Bridge over Troubled Water album was released in January 1970, with Garfunkel's soaring vocals on its title track . The album includes other top-twenty hits: "El Cóndor Pasa", "Cecilia", and “The Boxer”.
Other R&R voices kept us dancing – Jackson Browne, Tom Paxton, Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg, Eliza Carthy, Bruce Springsteen, Roger McGuinn, Indigo Girls, Dick Gaughan, Martin Simpson, Odetta. Blood Sweat & Tears re-introduced an entire brass section.
1964-1967 - “The British Invasion” - Arrival of The Hollies [still playing!], Dusty Springfield (with her late 1963 hit single "I Only Want To Be With You"), The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Animals [whose signature song is arguably the best version–beginning with A-minor chord arpeggio – of “House of the Rising Sun”, which is arguably the first US blues-rock tune], Cilla Black, The Dave Clark Five, Petula Clark, Donovan, The Who, etc.
Note also the films in 1964 “A Hard Day’s Night”, and the Sean Connery “James Bond”, and Julie Andrews “Mary Poppins” films.
Not to be confused with the “Second British Invasion” in the 1970's – David Bowie’s ballad – "Space Oddity" – the story of Major Tom, who becomes lost in space, and the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Police, Dire Straits, etc. The Rolling Stones big US tour was 1972. Bob Marley - mid 70s. By 1983, well over 50% of the Billboard Hot 100 in America were by overseas artists.
1964-1971 - Big Sur Folk Festival. When I was there, everybody had a bedroll, and some kind of instrument – a guitar, or a conga. (I was the only “folk trumpeter”). Beautiful batiks spread out under the trees of the Esalen Institute. Everyone danced like children, and many of us were.
In 1969, Karen Carpenter, a drummer with perfect pitch, signed with A&M Records, with her piano prodigy brother Richard, as "The Carpenters". She sang most of the songs on their first album, Ticket to Ride. Their next album, 1970's Close to You, contained "(They Long to Be) Close to You" and "We've Only Just Begun" which was broadly construed. They peaked at #1 and #2, respectively (the latter was written by Paul Williams).
1967 - “The Summer of Love” - 130,000 young people migrated to San Francisco. “Hippies” also gathered in cities across the world at the same time – millions came out dressed in the “uniform” of bell-bottom jeans and long hair. A defining moment, whose failure was not then apparent, in an attempt to redefine cultural reality and the underlying unity of all humanity .
1969 - Woodstock - three days on a Bethel dairy farm in upstate New York, the biggest party in history on 600 acres with 500,000 mostly young people left remarkably to their own devices and virtually no disturbances in spite of rainy and uncomfortable conditions.
Many of the "descriptions" and books published laterly miss the point that a lot of effort was put into this -- the message of it as well as its execution.
The effort was to change the things that the young people thought needed changing. All unjust things were addressed by this generation. But the beauty of Woodstock was that these "changings" were not directed or even expressed: The event itself was a political statement, deliberately skipping the attempt to control or tell people things unnecessarily. This is a generation that showed what can be done when cultural social justice free-speech and emergent moon-landing stratocaster technology mix.
The Life-changing line-up included:
Folksingers (Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie [talking blues], Hardin, Sommer, John Sebastian);
International multi-genre (Incredible String Band, Sly and the Family Stone, Canned Heat, Crosby, Stills & Nash &Young, Santana, Joe Cocker, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Sweetwater, Keef Hartley Band, Blood, Sweat and Tears);
Indian ragas and talas (Ravi Shankar);
Gospel doo-wop (Richie Havens),
Blues (Johnny Winter, Paul Butterfield Blues Band);
Happening head bands (Quill - which has since disappeared in obscurity);
Psychedelic jam bands (Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix Experience, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish ); and
Classic Rock and Roll [now considered "retro rock"](Sha-Na-Na).
The late 60's also saw the rise of intense new performers like Stevie Wonder - who now holds the record for a solo artist, 26 Grammies. Mid-60's – "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", "With a Child's Heart", and "Blowin' in the Wind", a Bob Dylan cover, "A Place in the Sun", "I Was Made to Love Her", “For Once in My Life", and our 1968 anthem, "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day". But he had not yet even gotten into his “classic” production period.
And then, somehow, we lost it. The Golden Age. Self-inflicted wounds, and then angry “performers” and mega-wealthy labels taking over the manufacture of “popular”. Music became industry, driven by greed and the mysterious attraction of manufactured "stars" to the herd of convention. The lip-synching ship was launched and “stars” would fill huge venues up with egos, illusion, and literally, “noise”. Nobody knows the words. And the words are no longer poetry. Consciousness-raising is not a thing to do.
Concerts are no longer about talent. Huge venues are sold-out to suckers and weak-minded dead-heads with too much time and money. The ticket prices alone tell you it is about greed. The Industry executives boast about their victims, their conquests, the market share they seized. Performers orchestrate victims -- mosh pits, denigration rap, grunge, the rape and fire nightmare of Woodstock ‘99, all-night boners “hittin’ it, and workin’ it, and doin’ other stuff to it". Digitization re-tooled the acoustic vulcanized rubber voice-overs with a “texture” of trance banging hypno-minimalia jumble-bum metal acid gear. Bobble heads famous for being famous. The musicians are somewhere in glassed-off rooms taping for shows they will never see, performed by "front" groups assembled by the Labels. Hard to believe this is a description of the Music World.
And yet, Pete Seeger still lives! And in the last decade, the industry has been collapsing to the raw origins of the Internet. The collapse is temporary. It is just a matter of a little time for the greedy predators to take over the Internet.
- Did Socrates say "Know Thyself", or was he misunderstood, as all are. Show Thyself is all we can do. The knowing is unknowable. I am filled with joy. It can't be helped.
Became a Farmer, Builder, Musician, Tank Commander, Librarian, Lawyer and Minister. I have failed at many things. And now retired. Filled, just filled, with Joy.