Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Back Pages

A sign of age is that we start talking about it.   But what the heck, I’m allowed.  

I was watching PBS last night.  One of those shows they put on and then keep interrupting to exhort you to contribute money.  In return, they give you something.  Last night it was DVD/CD’s of folk and folk-rock artists from the 60’s.  The show itself was emceed/conducted by John Sebastian – The Lovin' Spoonful?  Singular solo performance at Woodstock (please, if you’ve never seen it, rent the movie!)   It featured old clips of Judy Collins (beyond gorgeous, at 20) and Pete Seeger, of Tim Hardin and Bobby Darin (If I was a Carpenter, Reason to Believe), of the New Christie Minstrels (Green, Green and If I Had a Hammer) and just to let you know it wasn’t all good, Rod McKuen, a best selling “poet” who published popular pabulum and treacle under titles like “Listen to the Warm”, doing a truly god awful sung/spoken version of the abysmal Seasons in the Sun. 

The Kingston Trio.  Peter, Paul and Mary.   Harry Bellefonte.  I knew these performers and their songs by heart because my mother had all the albums and my brother and I would listen to them for hours.  We even did a very nice duet of Bellefonte's "He Come From De' Glory" for dinner guests.

And then there were tapes of recent live performances.  All these icons now approaching 70 and still going.

The Limelighters bringing tears to the audience’s eyes on Dylan’s Blowin’ In the Wind (only genius).  And then bringing down the house with “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight.”.  (They didn’t do my all time favorite – “Have Some Madeira, M’dear” – which is a ditty about a guy trying to seduce a girl by getting her drunk and succeeding only in getting blasted himself – sounds far too familiar). 

Barry McGuire, now looking and sounding like an aging Hell’s Angel, doing Eve of Destruction, which might as well have been written yesterday, and killing it.    

And then, the evening’s only stinker, The Youngbloods doing Smile on Your Brother ( come on people now, smile on your brother, let’s all get together and try to love one another, right now.)   Talk about treacle.  Didn’t like it then, like it even less now 

But then, to redeem it!  Yes!   Roger McGuin of The Byrds, Rickenbacker in hand (John Lennon played one), his high reedy troubador's voice sounding exactly the same as it did 40 years ago, performing Seeger’s Turn, Turn, Turn and then following it with My Back Pages.   I was so much older than, I’m younger than that now.   Knocking the guitar solos totally out of the park.  Memories of Eight Miles High and Mr. Tambourine Man.

It was awesome. Radical!   The sixties!   Amen, Brother!  And it got me thinking, what are my musical back pages?

The Beatles, of course.  Than the Stones.  The Animals.  Sound of Silence.  Jefferson Airplane - White Rabbit - on the car radio.  Lp’s.   Stereo turntable.   Jimi Hendrix heard for the first time in a friend’s basement.   My father taking my brother and me to see the Woodstock (see John Sebastian) at a movie theatre in New York’s Greenwich Village – we were embarrassed because he was wearing a jacket and tie – he was embarrassed because the movie showed naked young people dancing in the mud.    Richie Havens.  The Who.  Country Joe and the Fish.   (And it’s one, two, three, what are we fightin’ for?  Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn, next stop is Viet Nam...)  It's a Beautiful Day (White a golden cage... on a winter's day... in the rain!).  Santana.  Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Janis f’ing Joplin!   (Ladies and Gentlemen - pease welcome -- Big Brother and the Holding Company!!!)

Wavy Gravy (look him up).

Seeing the second ever US performance of Led Zeppelin at the Oakdale Dinner Theatre.   Seeing Jim Morrison arrested at the New Haven Coliseum for lewd behavior.  Missing Cream because it sold out completely.  The unlikely concert team of The Moody Blues (Knights in White Satin - sucked)  and Black Sabbath (say no more, iron man) at the Hartford Civic center.  A cloud of dope hung over the arena.

Rod Stuart on the Hartford Green.  The Association on The Smother’s Brother’s show (yuch).  Meat Loaf at Toad’s Place.  The great local band in Connecticut was Tri-Power and had the first drummer I ever saw use – ludicrously cool - double bass drums and a lead guitar that could play anything.

I was number 32 in 1971’s military draft.  The closing days of Viet Nam.  Cat Stevens, Yes and The Pre-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers.   Doors and Jimi, always.  Bob Seeger.  Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  Early Elton John   Stills, Crosby, Nash and Neil Young singing about four student protesters dead in Oh-hi-o.  My roommate liked to drink Iron City beer and sing along to Earth, Wind and Fire.   I liked to pretend I was playing drums to The Who’s Tommy.   Our favorite song at college dances – do they still have those? – was Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water.   It was a great, mindless song to dance to drunk.  You’d form what today they call a mosh pit, scream the bridge at the top of your lungs and then run outside and puke.  I’m sure the girls were impressed.

Punk hit New York just around the time I did.  I missed Max's Kansas City.  CBGB’s.  OMFUG.  Didn’t get it.  Disco was truly and completely horrible.  Bad clothes, worse music.    So was Neal Diamond.  So was the remake of A Star is Born.   Eric Clapton’s Cocaine fueled the night.  I went to Studio 54 once.  I felt like a burro at a sperm bank.   I sought refuge in Van Morrison.  My own personal marching music was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, used by Peter Weir for his film, Gallipoli (starring a very young Mel Gibson) and then used by Oliver Stone in his film, Platoon.    Very tragic and most dramatic.  Like me.

I hated and hate musicals.  All musicals.  On general principle.  I also have always hated the studio band, Boston.

For awhile in the 80's I was into Windham Hill.  It seemed a good way to make women think you were sensitive.   This WH period ended for me when some maudlin director used George Winston as the coda to a play of mine.

Somehow everything changed irrevocably and forever with MTV.   Music videos?   Sounded like an oxymoron (something both sharp and dull) sort of like Jumbo-shrimp. 

Suddenly it seemed to be all about glitz.

Duran-Duran and Boy George had to be invented by British publicists.  Dancing, harmonizing little boy bands like Backstreet Boys and *NSYNCH (Huh?) were the music equivalent of tapioca pudding, made for People Magazine

Classical music was becoming more and more appealing.

Hated hair bands.   Warrant, for God’s sakes?  Poison?  Ratt?  Night Ranger?    K-k-k-kill me.  Guys with attitude who seemed to be looking for a fight but would be destroyed by a high school lineman.   The only thing good about a Van Halen or Motley Cru video was when it was over.  Didn’t like Michael Jackson.   Sneered at Janice and George Michael.  Steve Perry of Journey sounded like a castrati.   Axel Rose sounded like he had a hernia.  The B-52’s and REM just annoying.   I liked U-2 (or was it three?)  but Bono's sunglasses were also annoying.  

Music should be heard and not seen!

But then, I'm like that guy who complains about polifics and doesn't vote.  I don’t listen to popular music much anymore.  I don't really deserve an opinion.     Still love the Boss – Springsteen.  The  Foo Fighters (Dave Grohl, a throwback)  grabs my attention.    I do have an unlikely and odd affection for  Everlast and could watch Will Ferrell play the cowbell on Don’t Fear the Reaper at least once a month.

But really, after PBS last night, give me Judy and Joni and Joan and Roger and Bobby Zimmerman and Art and Paul anytime.  Give me – blast from the past – Aztec Two Step.  Give me Jim and Jimi, Janice and Grace, Jorma and Eric, give me John, Paul, George and Ringo (no wait, you can keep Paul after 1980)

Now those are lyrics, I’ll say!  Now that's a melody!  That is how you play electric guitar - anna one, ana two....that, my friends, is a-rockin’!

Because here's the thing.  In my mind, I'm 30, full of piss and vinegar and lust, still moving forward like Jimi’s Voodoo Child (Slight Return), still, like Jagger, not getting any satisfaction – at least not enough.   Like George Thoroughgood, Bad to the Bone.  Like Eric Burden, misunderstood.  Like Phil Ochs, who’s not marching anymore, I’m an activist.   Like the Clash, I’m an anarchist.   Like Dylan, I’m a poet.  Like Tim Hardin, I can steal a girl’s heart – hopefully Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell’s – and like Roberet Plant, get her to squeeze my lemon just by singing her a song. 

Back pages.  Turned seasons.  Just a rolling stone blowing in the wind.

Thanks PBS.

1 comment:

  1. Stephen…love this post. And I'll be thinking of you kindly when the hordes come to get you for your sin of besmirching Michael Jackson.