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surfing the stardust

Archive for the category “general musings”

“JEEZ I CAN’T FIND MY KNEES”

This is about Bob Dylan’S 30 minute long “2016 Nobel Lecture in Literature” which was just provided by Bob on June 4.  
 
– This is NOT his 10 minute acceptance speech which was delivered by a woman in Stockholm at he ceremony.
– This is NOT about the content of Bob’s speech…it is about his delivery.  

But,  before I write about this I want to acknowledge to whom I am sending this.  
 
They are all people whom I believe (with one exception) have enjoyed with me and, in some cases, loved Bob’s music. 
Humor me please, here are my friends to whom I am sending this with fond memories of our joint experience of Bob Dylan’s work

     – Lawrence (Laddie) Davaney – my first cousin and oldest friend and he who, in summer of 1963, first introduced me to Bob Dylan’s work on a summer’s evening on a porch in their rental house in Los Also Hills
     – Kathy Sheehan – we went together to Dylan’s December 21, 1965 “Highway 61 Revisited” tour- his first electric shows
     – John Farnan – We spent hours studying the lyrics and crafting them into parts of our philosophy and theology papers at Santa Clara
     – Pete Borelli – we sang these songs in our apartment as we began to learn how to play the guitar; later we’d sing these songs as “buskers” in the streets and subways of Germany.
     – Greg Quintana – Bob’s civil rights song were the music that helped us shape our thinking and propel actions in support of the movement 
     – Dan Pisano – with whom I went to my second Dylan Concert – with Maria Muldar..later we got kicked out of Original Joes. This concert does not seem to show up on concert lists
     – Russ Rottiers – with whom I went to the “Gospel Tour” and waited for Bob to “play some folk songs”
     – Adam Welch – Nick and Jen’s cousin who is as close to a Dylan scholar as I know and who, with his Mom, has seen more concerts than me.
     – Jenny and Nick Greeve – two fine children who learned to love Bob despite his rough and crumbling voice
     – Frank & Mary Gill – who set up a fine concert last week where Joan Osborne sand 90 minutes of Bob’s songs
     – John Miner – who has shared that his one goal in his twilight years is “workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat right outside of Delacroix
     – Rich Bader – with whom I’ve seen several Dylan concerts and his mother Mildred who worked for Dylan for 30+ years as his accountant (a great picture of Mildred and Bob many many years ago attached below)…Mildred was one of Margo’s favorite people and we loved our visits with her in New York.greev

OK – here’s  the link to Bob’s Lecture:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TlcPRlau2Q  

Here are my thoughts on it: While the lecture content is wonderfully written and ties together much imagery which runs through 50 years of his writing, there is little that a serious fan will find new.  It does show his thoughtfulness in reading and contemplating classic literature.  Most of the lecture is devoted to 3 novels:  Moby Dick, All’s Quiet on the Western Front, The Odyssey.

However, what I found most lovely was how Dylan talks throughout the lecture. How he uses his voice; how he caresses words or spits them out, and varies his vocal instrument continuously.  This is particularly rewarding give to that old saw “Good Songwriter but HORRIBLE singer”.

The arrays of sound mechanisms a person can use produces an individual “print” that is, like fingerprints and eye appearance totally unique to each individual.   These include attributes such as pitch, tone, air sensation, articulation, modulation, timbre, dynamics, intensity, accent, emphasis, length of hold, frequency level, shape of vowels, impact of consonants, their looseness or tightness, vibrato, etc etc.  In addition to the physics based variations there is the note structure of how sentences and phrases are constructed.  Ending on a high note, ending on a low note, how many notes might be used in a single syllable – all these can be varied.

I saw two fine concerts in the last month with Frank, Mary, Russ, Rich, and Abe where different musicians devoted hours to singing Bob Dylan songs:
     – Old Crow Medicine Show’s rendition of the Blonde on Blonde album
     – Joan Osborne’s concert of about 15 Dylan songs at The Aladdin Theatre.

While it was nice to hear these terrific songs, their interpretation in ALL instances was, to my taste, inferior in their quality of singing to the originals.  The words were the same, the bands were top notch, the venues were terrific. But I left longing for the originals and their moving, emotional, rendering which Bob created.  
Bob’s singing of most of these songs adds SO MUCH to the emotional impact of the lyrics, that to hear a whole set by someone who is not able to duplicate or expand on his phrasing merely reinforces the extremely controversial claim that Dylan, in his prime, was a great singer.  A rough, scratchy, raspy tone with annoying timbre’s and a bit too much nasal sound – yes he was;  but never the less GREAT in his ability to communicate the depth and type of feeling that he wants the song to communicate.

Rather than pontificate on what was missing I encourage each of you to listed to Bob’s lecture.  Set aside 30 minutes, put on a good set of earphones, and listen to his voice as it flows over the rich words – it is magnificent.

Here is the link again as kindly provided by our friend Ralph Henkhaus https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TlcPRlau2Q  
BobandMildredBader
and here is Rich Bader’s mom Mildred back in the days that they were a team:
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Joe, Castiglione della Pescaia, summer, 1985

…There was a small garden behind the fisherman’s cottage, but only 50 steps from the beach. You could sleep there in a warm afternoon and hear the waves splash on the sand. Large Italian Stone Pines spread their canopy and their long needles carpeted the sandy ground. Joe parked the VW bus under the trees, safe and snug behind the rock and cement walls, then he pitched the tent.Unknown-3

He and Sharon and Dan and Martin would walk on the short path by the north wall between our terra-cotta roof and the villa that belonged to the Sienese family, (where Jenny’s friend Francesca would call out to her at midnight), past the red tile covered porch and through the flowering Oleanders, out the gate, across the long stretched, tree lined, “Malecon” called Via Roma, to Bagno Netuno, where the boys would lie in the sand, or eat panini’s that Marta would cook, and watch Tessa and the other 13 year old Tuscan girls who flirted with them and other young men.

Joe came back from Sienna with tales of the Palio – long hours with little water packed into the center of that most beautiful of the most beautiful squares of all mankind; sitting on the Campo stones baking, the unsymmetrical shell with hundreds of “nonnes and nonnis” hanging from ancient, towered windows of ochre and umber walls, the Contrade flags barely moving, just as they have for 800 years; measuring the slow, slow movement of the shadows of the Torre del Mangia and wondering if it would get to them; hoping for the horses to start their run, soon, Dear God, “soon before we all pass out”.

Joe and Sharon, and Dan and Martin, and Waynette, and Jenny, and Fran, and baby Nick – we all celebrated two days later the Fourth of July on the red tile porch under the ancient beams and pines and the mulberry trees on the Malecon. Perhaps burgers & chips but certainly red wine & gelato, later, down the Via Roma at the late night gelato shop with the pink, fringed umbrellas. And the next morning our heads hazy, we walked on the short path and across the beach-walk, and with bare feet in the warm morning sand, walked into the soft, salty Mediterranean Sea, flopped onto our backs and floated on that most beautiful blue water, looking at that most beautiful blue sky, and thinking and thanking for that most beautiful life.

Joe – his first sabbatical!

We were warriors once, and brave. We were the front line for our learned friends who moved atoms and counted electrons and would soon build Five Trillion devices each and every day. We were building, as Andy said, perhaps the most significant company in history. And our goal was the best company in the world. We built it on fairness and compassion, honesty and integrity, science and results, visibility, and insatiable measurement; and we delivered each day and looked at each other each day and judged and discussed whether we had measured up that day and how we would do better. And Joe was one of our leaders – learned and fair, honest and welcoming, kind and trusted. Smart Guy!images-3

You know, if you ask around of your friends and acquaintances “Who has heard of the Palio in Siena?” you will find lots of folks know about it and “want to go” – but it is not easy, it takes a commitment, it takes persistence and creativity and imagination, it takes self confidence. You will find damned few of your friends and acquaintance who have actually made it. Oh, lots will have sat in Al Mangia with a glass of white and some olives and put hands in the fountain, and climbed that tower, and watched those shadows, but they never really made it, to the Palio, to watch the Contrade ride on the slippery cobble stones..though they wanted to.

Joe did. He delivered.

THE BACKBEAT YOU CAN’T LOSE IT – Part 2

In late summer of 1967, when I got my orders for duty station returning from Vietnam, it was to Yuma Proving Grounds, in Yuma, Arizona.  I asked my father if he could do anything to change it and, after pulling a few strings, my orders were changed to Oakland Army Base, California, where I was to be the Billeting Officer.

Yuma Proving Grounds

Yuma Proving Grounds

“ARE YOU JOKING”?  one minute I was looking at hanging out with Frank Gill in the hottest place in the USA, 40 miles from Mexicali, and the next minute I am on my way to the Bay Area, 45 minutes from home.

As my first September nights back at my parents home began to settle me into the quiet peacefulness of Menlo Park, and I began to reconnect to my classmates in Santa Clara and San Francisco, I realized that their were some pretty cool new things going on – lots of pot, rock music, a colorful new sense of art, and freedom to play. At night I went out into the folks backyard for a smoke and enjoy the evening and when I went back in I listened to a radio station that played really good music with no ads – KMPX (and Russ the Moose Syracuse on KYA).

The third night home I went down to the old U to Gibby’s apartment.  After a half hour of chit-chat Gib asked “Have you listened to Sergeant Peppers?” … I had in fact heard parts of it in June ’67 while totally out of it on Singha beer and thai sticks in a bar in the packed, dirt, streets of Bangkok on my R&R.  Mama-san had come and told all of us sitting, out of our minds, “This is the New Beatles Album”.  All I had heard in my beer soaked haze was “A Day in the Life” and I remember thinking – “this is noisy avant-garde crap; the Beatles are done as a R&R band”.  Well, back in Santa Clara, Gibby turned down the lights, got some munchies out, and we sat down on the floor.  I pulled out some of those filtered numbers I had pick up on the way to my last flight out of the war, and after lighting up, listened to Sergeant Pepper’s in a whole new way. That was my introduction to the new music scene that I had largely missed while away at basic training in Virginia and running convoys to the Cambodian border.  Later that evening in the warm glow of the Beatles I went over to Kathy Sheehan’s – we had been in love two years before but had sadly grown apart as I headed for the Army – we lay on the floor, happy to look into each other eyes, and listened to Glen Campbell singing the great ballad “Gentle on My Mind”.

Soon I moved into my own billet in the army BOQ in  San Franciso.

Ft Mason - home after BinhDinh Province

Ft Mason – home after BinhDinh Province

It was on the cliffs of Fort Mason, where the Alcatraz fog horns played in the immense amphitheater created by the Berkley Hills, Sausalito, and Pacific Heights.  I could walk thru the eucalyptus and costal pine grove down to Aquatic Park and Ghirardelli  Square and catch the cable car up through North Beach and downtown.  Heaven after AnKhe and Pleiku and the long road to Cambodia.

I had set up the high end Japanese stereo system I’d gotten at the PX in downtown QuiNhon – Teac reel to reel, Pioneer turntable and massive wooden 5 way speakers, Sansui integrated amp-receiver – all in a 200 sq ft studio in old WW2 barracks…just a bed and sounds.  I had bought my first new 33 rpm record – “Piper at the Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd with the massive hit “See Emily Play”…hot stuff.  We were ready to get rockin’.

The Summer of Love had tailed off as Fall ‘67 came and the action was going to be in the clubs and dance halls instead of the fields of Golden Gate Park.  We’d heard about a dance hall where some serious rock bands were playing concerts produced by a group of young new promoters who called themselves “The Family Dog”.  Pete and I headed over there one night in late October to check out the new scene.

The Avalon Ballroom

The Avalon Ballroom

The Avalon Ballroom was up and over the VanNess Hill between it and Polk Street on Sutter.  On that cool evening, the weekend of October 27,  a band called Quicksilver Messenger Service, with the incredible John Cipollina on lead guitar, was headlining; along with Sons of Champlin and a young fellow who is still playing today named Henry Saint Clair Fredericks or as you know him “Taj Mahal”.

The pounding music, smell of incense, and liquid light projections created an all absorbing atmosphere.  We wandered around the back and sides of the dance floor.  Everyone was dancing, individuals bouncing in rhythm, spinning, waving, arms in the

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

air, groups form and disperse, not much touching beyond a hand to the arm or a caress of a long silk scarf twirling around the girls in long flowered dresses with the ever changing, multicolor lights bathing the faces..  We wandered up into the balcony that surrounded 2 sides of the floor.  There was something new for me here  – small stalls selling all sorts of hand made crafts – candles, jewelry, slogan buttons, peace signs, mobiles, god’s eyes, tees, and scarves and caps and oils and pipes and papers…nice to wander through the new age souk.  I’m sure you know what I mean…in my first visit to an SF music hall since Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable a year and a half earlier, I was captivated by the scene and the music and was ready to dive right into the unending stream of songs being played from Haight Street to Santa Cruz. **

What can I say about John Cipollina…?  I’ve always felt the name Quicksilver came as a result of the fluid sliding notes and whammy bar of his guitar.

John Cipollini

John Cipollini

With his shoulder length hair and tall, slim shape he was the poster star of the San Franciso band scene.

As we went through the next 11 months Pete and Louie and Patti Pere and I would see him a dozen times.  The Sons of Champlin were also a mainstay but I never connected with their sound.  Taj Mahal comes to Portland annually and I often see him. Twenty years later I was walking through the back alleys of Kathmandu when a gringo stopped me to comment on my tee shirt..it was of the Dinosaurs – a classic “all stars” band composed of SF musical whiz kids from the ‘60s..Barry Melton, lead for Country Joe and the Fish,  Peter Albin bass player for Big Brother, Spenser Dryden of the Airplane on drums, Merl Saunders the great organist for Jerry Garcia Band, and Cipollina waving his Gibson out in front.  The Himal traveler & I chatted about how great it was to see these old guys still cranking; connecting though music 10,000 miles away at 5000 feet above the plains of the Ganges.  Cipollina died in ‘89  Dryden in ’05, Saunders in ’08, Albin still playing with this years version of Big Brother, Barry Melton is an attorney in Lake County.

Two weeks later we went back to the Fillmore for a dance concert with the band that I was most interested in hearing – Pink Floyd.  It was their first tour to the US and we saw them their second night, November 9.

Pink Floyd's first US tour

Pink Floyd’s first US tour

You realize how new they were when you realize they were playing second billing to Procol Harum.  As exciting as the Floyd was I was stunned by a band out of Chicago named HP Lovecraft after the early 20th century horror writer ( The Dunwich Horror among many).  Their version of “Let’s Get Together” is my favorite as is “Wayfaring Stranger”.

Pete and Louie and I and Patty Pere working as a Playmate at the Playboy Club –  we lived in SF for the better part of a year..from the end of “The Summer of Love” until Pete and I took off for Europe and North Africa in August ’68 and Lou went back to finish school until he graduated in January and came over to Spain and bailed me out of the police jam on the Rock of Gibraltar ( see post dated Jan 26, 2012).  I moved from Ft Mason to Page Street on the edge of the Haight, then Lou and I got a small house down by the beach in the Avenues.  I got into trouble with the Army for playing too much and moved back on base. Life was a constant search for new experiences and new sources for pot.  With my army butch cut getting dates was hard but we’d occasionally get lucky.  I did volunteer works and took some meditation and drawing classes, read Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows… Life was exciting and good, and rock music was still the constant beat.

There will NEVER be as rich a period of  R&R live performances as in that period in San Francisco. Week after week after week we’d pick a venue and go see the now legends performing at the Fillmore, Winterland, the Polo Field in GG Park, and The Carousel Ballroom, Avalon.  The Holy See, Brotherhood of Lights, and Glen McKay’s Headlights did the visuals. Bill Graham and Chet Helms that year produced hundreds of shows –  Janis Joplin every few weeks, The Dead all over the place, the Airplane, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Santana, The Youngbloods, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Who, Steve Miller, Paul Butterfield, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, BB King, Albert King, The Chambers Brothers, Chuck Berry, Canned Heat, Electric Flag, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Floyd, Traffic, BST, Country Joe, Jimmy Page led Yardbirds, Steppenwolf with John Kay…all these boys and many more played multiple times, some of them dozens of times, then, in the height of their creative genius.

And this music scene was accompanied by an explosion in a new style of illustrative art with posters blasting in electric colors the tasty musical treats available that weekend.

Stanley Mouse poster

Stanley Mouse poster

Original poster art by the likes of Nicholas Kouninos, Mouse Moscoso, Stanley Mouse sell for upwards of a grand today. If you have favorite bands from that era you should take a look at Bill Graham’s collection sales site: http://www.wolfgangsvault.com .

One of the things many of us have learned over the years is the importance of life sports and actives that we can do with our kids.  As Jenny and Nick entered their teenage years, way up north in Oregon we skied, played golf, hung out in and on the salty sea, explored lots of countries…we’ve kind of kept count of many of them.  In the 90’s we’d count the number of ski days; in the last decade with Nick the number of scuba dives.  In their teen years we’d see thirty or forty bands in a year – the kids were as committed to Rock and Roll as I was. Jen introduced me to Dave Mathews, The Cranberries, Duran Duran, Del Amitri; Nick’d recommend ska bands, took us deeper into Reggae, Phish, and more of The Dead and developed a serious love for Bob Dylan ( I’ve seen Dylan play about 12-15 times – many of them with Nicky).   But there was never anything comparable in scope and amount of  music we’d experience in those 10 San Francisco months between October 1967 and August 1968

I have been asked by my kids, after a few glasses of beer, what I would call out as the 10 Best concerts – I’ve modified this to be more like the Top 14 Rock experiences.

of course you know this one

of course you know this one

Here they are, not in order of preference.

Paul McCarthy Band, at Wembley Auditorium, (with Robbie McIntosh & Hamish Stuart doing the “Medley”) (maybe 1995?)

Bruce Springsteen’s 3 hour, 26 song,  non stop blowout, with Margo Ann, Rose Garden, Nov 28, 2012

Eric Clapton at Royal The Royal Albert Hall, “From the Cradle” tour with John & Judith Woodget … all classic blues songs – 1994

Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Tour,  Dec 1965, with Kathy Sheehan, San Jose Civic … first electric tour

Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Pete and Lou, at the Fillmore, Feb 1968

Cream, at the Fillmore,  with Pete and Lou, Mar 7, 1968

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, 1990, with Michelle DiPietro, at the Memorial Coliseum, “Ragged Glory”

Santana and Rusted Root, with Waynette and Kaywood and our kids, Portland Waterfront, circa 1996

Dave Matthews Band,  with Nicky’s gang, at the Gorge, July 1999

Jimmy Buffet & The Coral Reefer Band, with Waynette, playing till 2 am upstairs at a San Jose bar, circa 1979Unknown-4

Buddy Guy release party for “Slippin’ In” at Legends Bar & Grill, S. Wabash, Chicago, 1994

Hot Tuna, June 2008 at Cal-Neva Lodge, North Shore, Lake Tahoe

Neil Young, Solo Acoustic concert, with Nick, Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium, a master class in guitar playing

Bob Dylan with Brad J., and Adam, playing at the Roseland Bar in 2000 

I’d like to think for a few minutes about Hot Tuna.  This is the band that Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy formed when they broke up Jefferson Airplane.  Jorma and Jack had started playing together in high school, way back in the late ‘50s.  I first met Jorma when we were going to Santa Clara University at the same time.  He was giving guitar lessons and workshops and I was fortunate to go to a workshop where he taught us to play a 4 finger picking style “Freight Train”.

Nobili Hall, SCU

Nobili Hall, SCU

The Airplane had also gave one of their first concerts in a large Nobili Hall classroom.  One night we “underage” college kids were trying to get in The Matrix with our fake id’s but failed, but as we walked away the smell of burning bacon came out of the alley way and we chatted for a minute with the band who were taking a break. We loved the Airplane – “Takes Off” was one of the few albums I had in Vietnam and I played it on a tiny portable 33rpm battery powered record player.  Jack and Jorma have continued to build on their base of “folk rock”.

Jorma and Jack

Jorma and Jack

Hot Tuna plays in two separate versions – electric and acoustic. and they tour in one or the other guises.  Jorma & his wife, with lots of frequent support from Jack,  have what has to be a way cool “music ranch” about 70 miles south of Columbus Ohio on the road towards Roanoke Virginia.  They have concerts, workshops, lessons, old rockers abound – players in concert, this year, in the wooded hills include Marty Balin, John Sebastian, David Lindley, Janis Ian, GE Smith, Crai Chaquito – amazing – they are essentially sold out for 2014, and it’s only February!.  There YOU CAN GET BEGINNERS GUITAR LESSONS OR BASS LESSONS FROM 2 OF THE GREATEST ROCK MUSICIANS OF ALL TIME!! https://www.furpeaceranch.com

Jorma and Jack – they are living their lives the way God intended us to live.

As I write this I wonder “what is Rock and Roll”?

I don’t mean in the usual sense of jazz & blues met Appalachian, and pop ran into race records, and Rickenbacker, and Gibson, and Les Paul invented and perfected the axe, and Leo Fender came on with more and more powerful amps, and Owsley, besides making powerful blotter acid, also built the worlds largest concert sound system for the Grateful Dead – “The Wall of Sound”,  not to be confused with the wife murderer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” for the Ronnettes and the Crystals,  etc., etc.,.

I mean, why did it develop when the technology and cultural vectors were there, so ripe for convergence?

Having both been born in Philadelphia, and given my Mom (Phyllis)’s gregarious personality, both my parents had a wide group of friends spread out across Philly, DC, and NJ. They’d get together with Old Fashion’s and Manhattan’s and hang.  They’d sometimes drag us kids to Ocean City NJ when we were staying with the Davaney Clan in Stone Harbor or Avalon to visit Phyllis’ pals “the Dollaway sisters” who had a high end dress shop on the Boardwalk.  One late afternoon/early evening we found ourselves in the sister’s living room in a nice clapboard beach house a couple of blocks set back from the shore. Mom was playing the piano and the whole group of 50 somethings were leaning on the baby grand with cocktails in hand singing Rogers & Hart’s classic ballad “Blue Moon”.  When someone else took over tickling the ivories Mom came over to me and said something like “this is the way we used to do it, all the time, when we’d get together”…and that went for the “Black Bottom” as well.

Music fills our hearts and fills our souls.  It’s great to sit and listen too but even better if you can get up and shake it with some friends and hopefully some cute gals. It can be simple ditties or grand operas, with no story or with 15 hours of exposition as in The Ring. It starts with some guy in a bedroom playing E, A7th, B7th and ends up with half a million people at Woodstock or Glastonbury or listening to KINK over the web on Santorini; or 5 guys singing Dion songs and smoking Winston’s in Charles Hutchen’s ’61 Chevy.

So R&R is kind of like Viennese Waltzes were in the late 18th Century, Clapton and The Beatles like  Johann Strauss and Fils; The Who’s “The Wall” or “Tommy” like Die Fledermaus.  You know,  I LOVE Wikipedia .. check this out on the beginnings of the Viennese Waltz in about 1790:

“This (waltzing) action also required the dancers’ bodies to be very close together and this closeness also attracted moral disparagement. Wolf published a pamphlet against the dance entitled “Proof that Waltzing is the Main Source of Weakness of the Body and Mind of our Generation” in 1797.” ”

and

“The advent of the Waltz in polite society was quite simply the greatest change in dance form and dancing manners that has happened in our history”[4] we need to realize that all European social dances before the waltz were communal sequence dances. Communal, because all the dancers on the floor took part in a pre-set pattern (often chosen by a Master of Ceremony). Dancers separately, and as couples, faced outwards to the spectators as much as they faced inwards. Thus all present took part as dancers or as onlookers. This was the way with the country dance and all previous popular dances. With the waltz, couples were independent of each other, and were turned towards each other (though not in close contact). Lord Byron wrote a furious letter, which precedes his poem The Waltz, in which he decries the anti-social nature of the dance, with the couple “like two cockchafers spitted on the same bodkin.” ”

..as my friend Darrell Owens (the spy) likes to says “ you can’t make this stuff up”

So this has rambled on long enuf..

Last Monday we went with Frank and Mary to our wonderful Oregon Symphony doing Beethoven’s 7th Symphony.  UnknownThe last movement is a drummers delight with supersonic beats and split second shifts – Ludwig notated “forte fortissimo” which I think means “Stronger than the strongest” or “kick the snot out of it”; “Bacchic Fury”, “whirling dance energy” – Beethoven called it “one of my best works” ; Wagner said it was “the apotheosis of the dance”.  Our kettle drum player – Jonathan Greeney absolutely NAILED IT! He was shaking & twisting and dancing way back there behind the woodwinds – laying down the beat with those big sticks.

…he coulda been Buddy Miles or Ginger Baker if he wanted to,  but why,  when you can play like that on the 7th?

The last week I have been making playlists for a sailing trip this summer.  My last 2 playlist ventures have received “mixed” reviews from the listeners.  They will not let me off the hook however – Big Bubba says I’m on a CAP.  But Geri and Karen are helping me and in that process I’ve learned a ton about “newish” current singers..guess what? There is great new stuff being played now a days: Drake, Daft Punk, Robin Thicke, Barbara Lynn, Adele, Fleet Foxes, The Lumineers, Kyle Minogue, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Lorde, Gwen S., Lana Del Rey, the list is endless  ..the beat goes on!! Greece awaits In’shallah.

…with that I close with the sagest thoughts in music…

to paraphrase Billy Joel: “It’s all rock and roll to me”

and Neil: “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World”,

and Danny and the Juniors: “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay”..

Ciao Amichi

** footnote: Andy Warhol started his artistic life drawing ladies shoes for an advertising company.  His family emigrated from Slovakia in 1914 to Pittsburg where his dad was a coal miner. Warhol studied art Carnegie Mellon.  He was 35 years old in 1962 when he burst onto the scene in ’62 with his first New York solo show at Stable Gallery. 

Warhol advertising illustration

Warhol advertising illustration

Unbeknownst to many Warhol was a pioneer in rebirth of Dadesque films in the 60’s. Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable, playing on those spring evenings at the Fillmore on Geary was a sensory happening.  The new concept of “light shows” was taken to a new level with this production by Warhol.  Projected on the walls were 16 mm B&W movies – one of a cat sleeping, another of a man in a rocking chair eating an apple, crazy stuff.

Rockaway 1956

In the cold steel evening of early winter I could see down at the end of the block a kid lying in the gutter while another kid kicked him in the gut.  The attacker’s body pumped up and down as his leg swung the heavy engineer boot again and again.

engineer boots

engineer boots

On our street there were only catholics and jews and I thought for a minute that one of the jewish kids was taking the beating.  But it would be rare that the underlying tension would take such a visible and identifiable persona.

 

I mean the underlying tension between the jews and catholics wasn’t anything special.  There were ONLY catholics and jews in these towns.  There was ALWAYS a violent aura in the neighborhood. And it was directed against whatever convenient target happened to appear in the material or imaginary world.  Sometimes it was the jewish kids but it was also kids from other schools, kids from other neighborhoods, kids from our own catholic school who happened to piss someone off.  I once got chased down the block by a mother swinging a garrison belt at me because she thought I pushed her kid (which I didn’t).  I was 9 and she was a big, ugly adult – didn’t stop the belt from flying.  But it would be rare that there’d actually be a fist fight between a catholic kid and a jew, let alone that it would degrade into the beating that kid was getting – for some reason I think that level of a beating would be overstepping the line.  I don’t know why I feel that; I may be wrong.

“Rockaway is a glorious peninsula of wide white beaches and an Atlantic Ocean that sometimes comes thumping in with enough waves to make it a favorite surfing place. 

The Rockaways

The Rockaways

At one end, in the 140’s, wealthy people live on the oceanfront and the blocks running up to it.  At 126th Street a boardwalk begins that is crowded and popular.  But Rockaway goes until Beach 1st Street.  It starts running down in the 90s where the streets turn into junkyards and the houses are three story summer homes now turned into packed rooming houses.  In the middle of this desolation is Beach 84th Street with enough parking for a convention.  They drive from all over to get here for the beach is splendid”.   this is Jimmy Breslin writing  in his entertaining crime novel “I Don’t Want To Go To Jail”.

In January 1952 we moved from Nolan Street in Falls Church Virginia, where Dad worked at the Pentagon, to Zuckerman’s apartment building next to Fort Hamilton in Bay Ridge Brooklyn.  Then in 1956 Dad got stationed in Thule, Greenland for a one year assignment.  He put Mom, Kay, Meg, and me out in a 2 bedroom walkup at Beach 132nd Street in the Belle Harbor section of The Rockaways.  The houses on the street were wood and shingle comfortable homes – some enormous in size – some just tiny.  We were a block from this beach which was indeed splendid.

We were in the ocean every day from mid-May until school started after Labor Day.  When my father came home to visit he’d ask us to

our beach

our beach

swim out 50 yards to the sand bar and dig up fresh clams which he’d pry open and eat on the beach blanket.

Life was idyllic in mid-50’s Norman Rockwell style.  The Dodgers had just won the series and the subways were safe for 6th graders to ride alone.  We’d go in the usual gang down the Flatbush subway line into Brooklyn Heights to swim in the great saltwater pool at the famous Hotel St George.  All evening in the fine weather we’d play stick ball in the streets, or stoop ball, or box ball, or other games using the 230px-Spaldeenpink rubber “spaldeen” ball. There were versions of kick the can or ringolevio which enlisted the whole crew.  When the deep snow fell to 6 to 20 inches, as it did about 3 time each winter, we had an ingenious way to compensate for the lack of sledding hills.  First you’d get some of the parents to drive their car up and down the street several times to pack the snow down.  Then all the kids would wave for cars to turn onto 132nd off the boulevard.  One of the kids would stop the car and ask the time, meanwhile the others would get on their knees holding onto the rear bumper and as the car took of you’d slide down the whole block.

But within the neighborhood the kids were tough on each other.  Not a week went by that someone wasn’t fighting someone in a front yard on the grass, fists flying in wild roundhouse swings, but there was little damage done.  I was targeted for a period of a couple of weeks.  Each day of the guys would try to pick a fight with light but annoying punches and shoves to the arms and chest.  The others would gather round with taunts and jeers – I didn’t want any of it.  I wasn’t afraid but I didn’t understand this different code where everyone had to be fighting someone – these were my friends.  One lunch time, as I knew the guys would be waiting for me on the street, I decided to cut through the back yards and driveways.  As I came out from a side alley across Beach 132nd from the house 3 or 4 of the guys jumped me out of the bushes.  The old guy who lived downstairs in our house jumped off the porch yelling “get outta here you little snots” and the guys took off.  I knew that there be no respite until I faced them.  Shortly thereafter as we played a pickup football game up in Neponsit the fight started.  I put the antagonist in a kind of reverse full nelson and held him yelling “I’m gonna killya, I’m gona killya”  that was about the only way I could get my heat up.  Of course the pack thought this was crazy and were rolling on the ground in hysterics.

But it was almost always fights within our group.  Some one was always irritating somone else and the guys loved to mix it up.

In our world there were all the usual derogatory terms and they were always used freely – wop, kike, mick, spic covered the 4 types of people that we knew of.  “Spic’s” were the Puerto Rican’s but they didn’t live in our part of The Rockaways but there were lots of urban lore about them and they were the

every kid's dream

every kid’s dream

legendary source of our 2 most desired weapons: switch blades and Zipguns.  Of course the word nigger or coon was pretty much unheard of; there were no black people living in these neighborhoods or anywhere close.  I cannot recall every seeing one in the year I lived in Belle Harbor except for the guy that drove the express truck up and down the boulevard.  But every other type of slur  from scum bag to little snot to queer was in the air – and we were only 11 years old. It was Brooklyn and it was Queens and that’s how everyone acted.  Everyone was looking for an target and thinking about starting something just for the fun of it.

I don’t think there was anti-semitism in our group,   We kids, at age 11, 12, or 13 didn’t really know what was different about a Jew or a Catholic.  We just knew that there were some classifications.  I remember meeting my first “protestant”.  She was a cute 12 year old girl standing on the corner of Beach 132nd and Rockaway Beach Blvd.  I curiously asked her the first question one always asked a new kid: “Are you Catholic or Jewish”?  She replied “Neither, I’m Episcopalian”.    I went home and promptly asked my mother “ What’s an Episcopalian” – she said “That’s a protestant”.  OK, I’d finally met one..she was cute!

Sure the nuns had told us more than once that “The Jews killed Jesus” but we also knew “Jesus was a Jew” – I don’t think we really cared.  We had to memorize the catechism, serve mass, learn the latin, wear the cassock and surplus.  But I wouldn’t say we were religious at all.

our church and school

our church and school

It wasn’t that much longer until we realized that, according to the nuns, french kissing would damn us to perdition, ie: eternal hell fire.  No one believed that.  I think that what was going on was that every body was always looking for some trouble to get into and it didn’t really matter what group you were part of, the trouble would be directed to the other clique.

You hung with the guys you went to school with and we went to Saint Francis de Sales, a catholic nun place.

The nuns were vicious in a way that would land them in jail today.

The Nuns

The Nuns

One afternoon we made so much noise running up the metal school stairs after recess that 2 nuns lined up forty 7th graders up against the wall.  One nun started on each end and slapped the boy twice hard in the face: left slap then right slap; bam-bam, bam-bam, bam-bam… they crossed in the middle so each kid got 4 good ones.  The poor punk in the middle got four in a row.  Believe me they could punch!

As a good friend, Kathleen Rottiers,  said last night at dinner “The kids ran the neighborhoods” – that was sure true in Queens and Brooklyn as it was in Palo Alto.

In the early fall of 1956, when I was 11 in 6th grade,  P&G introduced Comet Cleanser.  They had a brilliant idea and on a Tuesday, hired a battalion of people to walk the streets and put a small canister in a red net bag on each and every doorknob in New York City.  Our guys, led by the 7th and 8th graders promptly came behind and stole those red net bags and cleanser canisters.

Friday evening, after the Boy Scout Troop meeting let out at 8pm was the time for roaming the streets.  In the Eisenhower 50’s New York was very safe and 6th graders didn’t have to come in until 10 or later.  So about 20 or 25 of us catholic kids began to move through the streets, peeling off the stickers from the Comet can tops and throwing the cans at passing cars. Unknown-5 At one point a city bus came by and it was pelted with 20 or 30 cans.  As the cans spun in flight and bounced off the targets the light green cleanser powder shot out in massive clouds –  all over the windshield, side windows, and top. Bizarre sight!

Then one of the guys said, “Let’s go get Joanne’s’s father”.  Now “Joanne” (name not remembered) was a nice 8th grade girl at our school.  Of course she was catholic; she was also terrifically pretty and tall.  All the guys were infatuated with her but she was shy and that hit us a “stuckup” ( a common misinterpretation that has led to more hurt feelings that most anything I know of).  Joanne’s father was a cop – and from his formidable size was obvious the source of Joanne’s tall & shapely figure.  He had roughed up some of the boys – not bad but just to let them know to watch how we treated his girl.

They lived right on the magnificent flat and sandy beach.  There was a small 3 foot concrete wall blocking the sand from pushing up their sidewalk.  We all squatted down behind the wall and opened a couple of canisters each.  One of us snuck up to the doorbell, rang it, then scooted back over the wall.  The cop came out the door onto the stoop and looked to the left and right.  At that moment 20 or more snot nosed punks let lose with a barrage of tiny Comet cleanser cans.  The hit him on the head and chest, the slammed into the door and walls behind him, and most beautiful of all, they landed on the small slanted roof over his head and Unknown-1rolled down powdering his head and shoulders like a Restoration Duke’s wig.

After the pelting stopped and as he waved his arms trying to clear his sightline and get the dust out of his nose and mouth we all burst into cheers and raucous whinnys.  Well it took him no more than 3 seconds to collect himself and then, with a bellow that could be heard across the Atlantic, the race was on.  We boys took off running for dear life up the beach.  We ran and ran but he kept coming. Normally we kids had little know alleys and gates to cut through when we needed to make a get away – but we weren’t in the blocks – we were on the miles long clear beach. The cop kept coming.  I was next to a buddy named Peter Larkin.  Peter was a bit overweight and wasn’t the most athletic..he kept saying “ I’m not gonna make it, I’m not gonna make it, I can’t keep it up”.  I said “Come on Pete you gotta make it, he’ll beat the hell outta you”.  Well as we went up the beach we faded into the beach front streets and yards and before long were out of danger.

About 3 weeks later word spread that the police were looking for some kids who had climbed the wall into the grounds of Temple Beth-El, a conservative synagogue down near 121st St and damaged the grounds, throwing rocks and breaking some of the windows.  We knew it was some of the 7th or 8th graders from St Francis De Sales who had done the damage the night of the Comet cleanser.

In the last years several tragedies have hit that community.  Last summer Hurricane Sandy decimated many of the homes.  At Breezy Point, part of the peninsula maybe 3 miles further out towards the west tip of the peninsula, at least 80 houses burned to the ground.

Beach 130th Street after Sandy

Beach 130th Street after Sandy

Scores of houses in Belle Harbor were damaged or destroyed.  This community suffered one of the nations most concentrated losses in the 9/11 attacks.  59 people from The Rockaways died, 70 counting summer and former residents – mainly Irish Catholic firefighters and Jewish and Catholic Wall Street traders.  Then On November 12 – 2 months after the World Trade Center collapse, an American Airlines Airbus A300

Houses destroyed by AA Flight 587 - Beach 130th Street

Houses destroyed by AA Flight 587 – Beach 130th Street

crashed on take off from Kennedy into Beach 130th Street – its ruined nose pointing directly towards our homes – coming to firey rest barely a block away.  5 of of the neighborhood were killed along with 260 people on board.

It’s been 57 years since I’ve met or talked to any of my close friends from there.  About 6 houses up from our duplex was the McManus family.  That is their house in the bottom center of the plane crash picture – 5 from the corner.  This was a classic Irish family with at least 4 boys all running upstairs and downstairs in the large 3 story home.  Peter was the oldest and toughest kid in the area.  He was my sister Kay’s age and they were friends – I heard he’d become a detective. Brian was one of the younger ones – he was a close pal of my little sister Meg – they were in 3rd grade and we have a good picture of him holding a cross bigger than he in an Easter procession.  I ran into him fortuitously when I went out, during a New York business trip in 2001, to see the AA crash.  Marty was in my class and he was, without a doubt, the leader of our pack. He was fearless, energetic, and full of charisma.  The only competition for him as the hefe was Joey Gardner who lived up in Neponsit.  We’d all hang out in the warm glow of the McManus house after shooting hoops in the cold winter evenings in their driveway.  There would be a veritable passel of guys from 8 to 15 hanging out in the many rooms.  Thoughts of Louisa May Alcott come to mind.  Mischief and adventure would be in the air until dinner bells were rung and we had to scoot.  When I went there in ’01 I talked to Mrs McManus – she remembered my little sister – she must have been quite a woman raising all those guys.  Marty works for the Bishop of Brooklyn as the Comptroller of the Diocese. I am pretty sure it was him in the engineer boots in that cold winter evening, but maybe not.  We’re having lunch in January and I’ll ask him.

 

UPDATE TO FAR ROCK..6 MONTHS LATER:  Margo and I had lunch with Marty McManus in January..it was long and lazy italian near the dioceses headquarters.  It was wonderful to reminisce about old friends.  Marty still lives on the same Beach 132nd street and one of his sons lives in their old house.  He is an articulate, gentle, hard working father of 4 (I believe).  His older brother Peter has died.  As have his parents. But he is surrounded with family and friends from the old days.  He told me who the protestant gal was and on summer days on the beach sees her and Suzanne DiBogio ( I think I have the name right) on whom I had my first crush in 1956.  His younger brother Brian, whom I met up with again after the AA crash just missed their house had recently written some thoughts as well that parallel my bemusement with the Jewish Catholic relationship in NY City ’50’s, the pondering of which first started me to write this.  Here is what Brian has written about those times in Belle Harbor:

It’s My Turn
Where’s the story?

By Brian J. McManus
Denis Hamill’s story about playing stickball with the kids he grew up with on 11 Street inBrooklyn reminded me of when my family used to spend the summer months at one of our boarding houses on Beach 114 Street in Rockaway Park in the 1950s.

Our family owned two boarding houses, each with fifteen single rooms about 30′ x 25′ in size, with a small fridge, stove and usually three kids and two parents per “flat.” No one locked the doors and never once in the 65-plus years did we have a theft or break in.

There were only two other “exclusive” beach blocks in all of the Rockaways similar to Beach 114 during that time, and those were Beach 113 and Beach 115 Streets.

Each of those blocks had about 22 of these summer boarding houses. There must have been more than 100 kids who came from the Bronx, Inwood, Brooklyn and Queens who came to these three blocks for the summer.

At age six, you could leave the house by yourself and walk two minutes and be in the ocean (neighbors kept an eye out for each others’ children).

Within a few feet of our backyard on the 113 Street beach block, Esther lived with her husband Harry and their two boys, Bernie and Seymour. My parents referred this hard-working Jewish family of European decent as a “devoted” family. My parents were Irish Catholic. They referred to families of “our own kind” as ‘good families.’ “Devoted” was much more special than “good.” It is as close as you can get to “saintly” without being canonized. Over the years, I noticed that my parents had given the “devoted” name to only a very few select families—and they all happened to be Jewish.

Harry and Esther’s family was in the “devoted” category and we all knew why. Their two boys, Bernie and Seymour, were always helping their mom and dad with the 13-room boarding house they owned by cleaning the rooms and bringing the laundry down for washing every day. We never, ever saw them lounging on the beach. They worked all day long.

In our house, a family of six boys, there was no such thing as an “allowance.” Period!!! If one of my five brothers or I needed a baseball glove or comic book, we earned the money! Rockaway was the perfect spot for enterprising kids to do just that. The 300,000-plus people that took the trains and buses to the beach daily left thousands of bottles for kids to pick up, wash, and bring to the A&P for the deposit. The deposit money supplied me with everything I needed every day, plus a dime for my saving account. I bought Spalding balls, an occasional hot dog, bait for fishing, ice cream, movie tickets, you name it.

Gathering soda and beer bottles from garbage cans along the beach was easy enough for a six year old to do. There was only one catch: We had to get all the bottles we wanted off the beach before the NYC Parks Department garbage trucks passed, emptying every garbage can in sight by 9:00 p.m. That meant that we, kids, had to leave the house right after dinner to go rummage through the trash for bottles. There were no recycling bins, so you had to go through all kinds of garbage to get to the bottles.

After a night of digging through trash cans at age 6 or 7, we had to wash the bottles the next morning and take ’em to the A&P to collect the deposit. The 8-ounce bottles had a onecent deposit, 12-ounce bottles for 2 cents, while beer bottles—the Ballantine, Rheingold and Schaeffer quarts —raked in a nickel per bottle. In hindsight, it was an exciting and incredible experience, with the smell of the ocean, the sound of waves crashing, the stink of the garbage with seagulls screaming overhead, and the occasional breathtaking sunset.

Bernie and Seymour collected bottles for deposit money along with us but their aspirations were super high! While my daily goal was about 25 bottles— with my record of up to 100 bottles— Bernie and Seymour consistently collected ten times that many—i.e. 500 to 1,000 bottles per day.

Bernie and Seymour would head for the beach just when everyone would head back to the city and spend about three hours hauling huge quantities of bottles back home, only to head back for more. In the morning, they would wash out each bottle and pack them in boxes. You had to wash the sand out of the bottles or the supermarket wouldn’t accept them.

Bernie and Seymour would run a production line, washing hundreds of bottles out in the morning. By the time I had my 25 bottles, or so, in a wheel cart ready to go for my deposit money, Bernie and Seymour would have cases and cases of bottles cleaned and ready to go. They would have already made several trips on foot to the supermarket to cash in all they collected, and had several more to go.

I used to watch in awe. We would try to guess what they were going to use all the money for. We all figured they’d buy a Schwinn Black Phantom bike, a “high-end” record player or perhaps they were saving for their college education. This went on for days and weeks until Labor Day arrived. We prepared to move back to our winter homes. Just as we were checking to make sure that everything was securely shut, we heard the loudest scream ever. It was Esther crying and howling and we all thought Bernie or Seymour fell off the roof.

My mom, dad, brothers and all the neighbors went running to our backyard to the top of the six-foot wooden fence to see what had happened. To our surprise, there was a huge yellow ribbon wrapped around a brand new washing machine AND dryer with a “To Mom, love Bernie and Seymour” card. My mom had a slight tear in her eye, knowing how hard these kids worked and the meaning of it all. I was amazed beyond words. I will never forget that day. For years later, we would always give Bernie, Seymour and their mom a most “devoted” hello. Yes, mom and dad (now in heaven), that was the day that I finally learned what “devoted” really meant.

 

 

The Backbeat you can’t lose it…part 1

I was standing in line to go see Edward Albee’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf , or perhaps it was The Tempest, or Waiting for Godot, performed by Santa Clara University’s Clay M. Green Players, with Kathy Sheehan and some other of my pals when I heard Terry Grundy and some of the “Honors Program” guys talking about some fellow named Andy Warhol.

ImageClay himself

They were amused by the fact that Warhol was interested in how so much of the world is “plastic.”  Having never heard of Warhol we chatted about him, asking a lot of questions.  It turns out that he was going to be doing the “light show” for a rock dance-concert that was going to happen in a few weekends at an old dance hall called the Fillmore Auditorium in The City.images-3

When that May 27th, 1966 Friday evening came around several of us including Kathy, Greg and Sharon Quintana, maybe Dan and Pete, and a few more trucked on up the Bayshore.  Now, I loved rock and never missed a dance or live band party if I could help it.  Our college weekends had been replete with frat parties, barn dances, concerts, pier dances, and concerts.   Kathy and I had recently made the difficult choice between Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Tour playing in the old San Jose Civic or the Rolling Stones playing the next weekend in a church hall out on the east end of East Santa Clara Street, deciding to spend the 12 bucks each on old Bob. Joan Shirley and some folks had recently put on a dance with Jefferson Airplane in a tiny auditorium in Nobili Hall. That was the first time I’d seen people dressed in white dancing in the electric glow of blacklights, Joan dancing like a May Queen twirling florescent white ribbons from her ballet dancer arms. But I had never seen anything like that night at the Fillmore.

ImageWe have this poster in our collection but before proceeding,

I want to back up a bit and also hover for a minute…

The hover is all about rock and roll being the rhythm line for my life.  Whether listening to the Airplane in rotten canvas tents in BinhDinh, sitting in the mess tent ripped on Thai sticks listening to Otis Redding while watching Rodriquez bake the bread and cake for the morning convoy, dancing in the Fantasio Club in Amsterdam (still rocking out even today), dancing in the Albers Mill, Portland waterfront with my 50 year old sister Kaywood and Waynette as Santana and Rusted Root played a combined set with no less than 15 musicians, at least 7 percussionists and 5 guitarists, or introducing Jenny and her friends to a guy named Stevie Miller at the amphitheater at the Oregon State Fair ( “Gosh dad, I knew every one of those songs he played”) dancing the bop with Margo Peter at WA to Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King records, or out under the Washington stars with Nick and the boys while Dave blew the Gorge apart, every time slice has a song list and every song can call back a memory.  I write this as I listen to my Pandora channels in the Idaho woods: Mary Wells, Buddy Holly, James Taylor, Bob Dylan .. amazing long tail for these ancient rockers.

I first started listening to Rock and Roll when living in Belle Harbor, Queens, New York.  My mom, older sister Kaywood, and little sister Meg had a wonderful little apartment a block from the beautiful Atlantic beach. We were there while my dad was stationed up in Thule, Greenland as Commander of the Army troops there who were building a vast battle cave complex under the ice cap ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_TUTO ). This was in late 1955 to early 1957.  There was the enormous controversy in late summer ’56 on whether we’d be allowed to watch Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show.  By then R&R was a fait accompli in our family, although not approved.  If my father had been there it might have been a different story but at this point Mom had more to worry about as Kay was entering high school and head over heels with a fellow named Frosty and I was running ‘till midnight with the (6th grade) McManus gang.

I had gotten one of the little transistor radios and would listen under the covers with my beagle “Penny”.

Image…the radio!

We didn’t listen to WINS and Alan Freed then since they didn’t play R&R at night.  The station that really introduced most kids to rock was a powerhouse out of Buffalo called WKBW – 1520AM.  They had a host of crazy DJ’s headed by Dick Biondi and a late night jock named Russ “The Moose” Syracuse.  Syracuse came to San Francisco in 1962 to be the all night R&R DJ at KYA, before KMPX revolutionized radio.  Ben Fong-Torres acknowledged Syracuse’s influence thusly: “ …long before Tom Donahue hooked up with KMPX, Syracuse was a hero of what came to be known as “the counterculture”, and when some radio people talk about the true beginnings of free-form radio, they talk about the Moose.” ( http://bayarearadio.org/people/syracuse.shtml#listen )  But in 1956 Queens The Moose was loose in Buffalo and all the guys were listening! ( my old friend Louis Branson, subject of another posting – The Rock Of Gibraltar, Jan 26, 2012 – would be a DJ under the moniker “The Ginger Man” at KMPX in 1968)

Image

New York Rock was all about Doo-Wop…If you look at the Top 100 Billboard songs of 1956 you gotta throw away Theresa Brewer, Nelson Riddle, Perry Como, Mitch Miller, Eddie Fisher, Gogi Grant and their ilk..sure they were fun to listen to but they were not Rock and Roll..you see the names of the great black R&B rockers.  Sure Elvis had 5 songs in the Top 100 but the Platters had 4  – AND one in ’55 when Elvis was nowhere! There is Frankie Lyman, Clyde McPhatter,  The Cadillacs, The Diamonds, Fats. Not in the Top100 yet but playing nightly were the likes of The Coasters, The Drifters, The Dell-Vikings, The Bobbettes, Little Anthony with the Chesters and The Duponts, etc.,etc.  and these were the guys that really turned us on.

As my dad came back in February 1957 we moved from New York, where I had gone from First to Seventh grades, to an army base near Williamsburg, Virginia where I would complete junior and senior high with the Sisters of Mercy nuns at Walsingham Academy.

It was there one evening in  fall ’57, on an olive drab bus making the rounds to drop the kids off from a dance evening at the post Teen Club, that I felt myself, in a warm glow of camaraderie, move from kid to teenager.  I don’t think I had ever yet danced with any girl.  At 12 I was much too shy, but I can still feel the evening, gazing at the lovely, wonderful, unreachable, mysterious, young ladies and then watching and listening to them from a scrunched up corner of the bus.  Of course rock and roll was all about young love!! …Sonny James had told us that for every boy in this old world there was a girl; and then Tab Hunter had covered it and told us again.  And it would be that way until Bob Dylan pulled Paul Butterfield and Al Kooper off the streets, hooked up his Strat, and cranked out Highway 61 Revisted – but that was almost a decade in the future.

The names and hazed faces and blurred figures are still here.  The ones kissed and the ones admired, worshipped and dreamed of from afar. The ones danced with on a non touching Stroll or Hully Gully or the ones held tight or even with both hands wrapped around their backs.  Jo Cady and Jo Daugherty, Barbara Ross and Barbara Sturm, Patty Bammer and Barbara Butts, Lynn Albano, Trish Holden, Olive McShane, Cheryl Lirette, Margo Mullin, Marguerite Stouffer and especially Margo Peter.  We’d gather every weekend and it was always to dance, dance, dance

We all remember them – everyone has their favorites.  Probably most impactful were Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard..WILD STUFF!  then Buddy Holly, Dion, Gene Chandler,  The Shirelles, Mary Wells, Rosie and the Originals,  The Chiffons, Sam Cooke, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Connie Francis,  Big Bopper, The Coasters, The Drifters, Jimmie Rodgers, Chuck Berry,  The Fleetwoods, Santo & Johnny, The Impalas, The Crests, Four Season’s; country Ferlin Husky, Everley Brothers,  Marty Robbins, Brenda Lee…man! seemed like the list never stops.

My father was  a sweet fellow – gentle and kind.  He loved music – classical music; he played the piano as did Mom – Bach, Beethoven, Strauss – and played the organ for Sunday Mass.   We often listened together to the Metropolitan Opera Saturday Matinee.  They taught us to love and appreciate the great composers.  But he didn’t like this music – Dad called it “that Jigaboo music”.  Like so many of his generation he had a blind spot to racial prejudice.  So we couldn’t really listen to this stuff in the house.

But then something happened that changed Mom’s whole view and made her a believer – Big Time.

In early 1958 a guy named Dave White wrote a song for him and his 17 year old partner in a Philadelphia doo-wop group.  Dick Clark heard it, suggested they change to name from “Do The Bop” to “At The Hop” and the first Named Dance, mega-hit, R&R, song cum dance was born.  The Bop version of the Lindy Hop/Swing, which had been the basic move since Elvis’s explosion, was quickly swamped by an array of new and reborn steps, moves, and rhythms. Right behind The Hop was The Stroll,  Cha-Cha, Mashed Potatoes, Hully Gully.  Then the big one The Twist and all of its developments and evolutions driven by  Chubby Checker, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, and Gary US Bond.

Dancing was now all the rage. Mom was trying to do The Hop – organizing “Twist Parties”. These were harmless since the boys didn’t hug the girls.    Dad didn’t have a chance.

Image

“Dance, Dance, Dance” ( Stevie Miller Band, 1976), that was it for the next 8 years. We danced in the school cafeteria, at the school gym, at the Officer’s Club and the “? Mark Club” where we’d have Christmas Balls with the girls in ball gowns and the college boy’s would wear their West Point/Citadel/VMI uniforms,  Winter Cotillions, Summer Cotillions (where it was chic to wear a White Sport Coat, Bermuda Shorts, Plaid bow tie, and Knee socks).  Our high school only had 100 kids so everyone went to the Prom.  Sunday evenings were CYO meetings starting with bible study and ending with  dancing to Jackie Wilson and the Bog Bopper.  There was a sophomore gal who lived in the street behind us who every afternoon on the bus home would collar me and demand I come over to her house to practice the latest dance steps while we watched American Bandstand.  At the army fort we kids had gotten a new, bigger, Teen Club, with a stage, dance hall, and pool tables.  This was in southern Virginia and white kids didn’t yet have R&R bands but the local black musicians could wail away.  Our senior year spring dance band was called “The Arabian Knights”  from Hampton.  It was the first live band ever to play in W.A. and they were all black guys.  There was one black girl in the school and we considered ourselves integrated – what did we know then? They played Ray Charles’ “What I Say” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”.

I saw my first rock dance concert  with a name band in a small hall at the Newport News shipyard in the fall of 1961.  It was Joey Dee and the Starlighters – man they were slick and the music was fast, fast.  As they reached about the 5 minute mark of the “Peppermint Twist” the drummer was pounding so hard he fell off his stool – but didn’t miss a beat as he continued to drum with his butt firmly planted on the wooden floor.

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My next big live concert was a sedentary one in 1962 in Virginia Beach with Ray Charles..god, we wanted to stand up and dance so bad but NO DANCING signs covered the dome. Can you believe it?

Summer  and the beach were made for Rock and Roll or was it the other way…no matter – The summer scenes up and down the Eastern Seaboard were much, much different and much more exciting than they were on the West as I would sadly find one foggy chilly, windy Sunday at Half Moon Bay. We’d hang out with our Davaney cousins at the Jersey Shore watching our sisters swing dance together on the Avalon Pier, trying to build up the nerve to ask a strange girl to dance to “Sea Cruise” by Huey “Piano” Smith and “Sleepwalk”;  beach houses on Isle of Palms or Folly Beach South Carolina. Spring Break parties at Pauley’s Island or SAE houses in Florida; drinking 3.2 Beer at the Virginia Beach Pavilion when 18 was still the drinking age.  I remember well one beautiful early summer evening at a fair in Williamsburg, sitting on the car hood with Margo Peter, Margo Mullen, Bill Cross, Cary Peet, and Dave DeWald singing “Runaround Sue”.  And a wild blowout on Folly Beach Pier with half pints of BoubonDelux and Mary Francis Medlin. Each season new songs would celebrate the mysteries and pains of those summer romances: “ You Belong to Me” by the Duprees, Theme from “A Summer Place”  “See You in September” by the Tempos,  “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters, and later “Summer in the City” by John Sebastian and The Loving Spoonful.

ImageFolly Beach Pier, South Carolina

So life went as a teenager – dating, parties, drinking, driving, stories, pranks, and all nighters to make the GPA –  from Williamsburg VA, to Charleston SC, to Menlo Park CA and finally to Santa Clara U as I turned 19 in 1964.

My cousin Laddie Davaney was one of those really, really smart ones. His sister Sheila had a PhD in Theology from Harvard and published 11 books.  His elder sister Debbie is a brilliant community leader, mom, and married to one of the top financial guys in Chicago.  But Laddie was different – his live has been devoted to contemplation of Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein – at least I think I have that right – Lad often keeps his own counsel.  In the summer of 1964 Lad and his mom, Helen, my father’s younger sister, had rented a house in Los Altos Hills to have a short return from their recent move to Chicago and visit old friends.  One evening I was over there and sitting on the porch in the lovely California evening when he asked if  I had ever listened to Bob Dylan.  I answered no – I had heard his name but had really been listening to jazz most of the last 2 college years, outside of the parties that is.  So Lad turned it on “With God on Our Side”, then went on to “Only a Pawn in Their Game”, “Masters of War”, and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.

I was immediately captivated.  I recall be struck by how long these songs were – how could a song be about these subjects, and be so long, and yet not boring, and be full of so many words, and rhyme so well? And while his voice was pretty raw, his poetry and topical ideas were something, really, that I had never heard of.   And that was when Rock & Roll became about more than Summer Love and Break -up-then-Make-up.  Of course it took about a year for that transition to happen – more of an integration, as represented by him and The Beatles, sitting in a hotel room in England getting high.  And without “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street”, R&R might have indeed died in those few years of ’63, ‘64, and ‘65

If you look at the Top 100 for 1963 you see that the rot of bubblegum pop was rampant – # 1 Song “Sugar Shack” (ugh)!, Top 15 including “Blue Velvet”, Skeeter David, “Hey Paula” “SukiYaki”, Lesley Gore, Andy Williams.  But, if you look at the Top 100 for 1965 you find the Top Eleven included 4 British bands with 2 genius groups, (The Stones and The Beatles), 2 Soul genius groups (Temptations and Four Tops),  “Lovin Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers, “Help Me Rhonda” by the Beach Boys, and “Wooly Bully”  was #1… need I say more?  – OK so Herman’s Hermits were in there and number 12 was “King of the Road” but, who’s counting?

And if you by any chance missed that transition you also were probably destined to miss “The Sixties” and all that meant and means socially, artistically, and politically.

My sister Kay graduated from high school in ’59 – I in ’62;  As she went through college and to Vietnam as one of the first Army nurses, she had firmly moved on from R&R to Andy Williams, Ferante & Teicher, Steve Lawrence,  Robert Goulet, Pat Boone,  FRANK, The Lettermen, Henry Mancini, Percy Faith and the soft sounds of innumerable silken singers and classical music. She was mad about a pianist named Van Cliburn.  In those 3 years between us was a musical gulf as big as the Ritz.  I suspect Kay never danced to Satisfaction nor owned an Eric Clapton tape.

Van Cliburn then: Image and nowImage

In 1963 I had begun the weaning process from the decaying R&R as High Fidelity and Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond made jazz accessible and stupendously listenable ( I was a campus radio DJ for a 2 hour, late night,  jazz show in late 1964) BUT was jerked back by this intersection of  three forces

  • British Bands playing US Blues,
  • Bob Dylan bringing serious topics, folk sensibilities, and a disdain for superficiality,
  • and The Beatles/George Martin supreme creativity

In 1965 this intersection bloomed with the new generation represented in the Top 100 by not just the aforesaid but also Yardbirds (Clapton & Beck & Manfred Mann), Moody Blues, Byrds,  Marvin Gaye, Sonny & Cher, The Supremes, The Animals, Smoky Robinson,  James Brown, 3 Dylan covers, and Bob himself with “Like a Rolling Stone”. It was also the year of the last “commercial pop” album by The Beatles “Help”, and the “major step forward in maturity and complexity…which embraced deeper aspects of romance and philosophy” (and lots of pot) which was “Rubber Soul”.  It was also the year Dylan created a scandal at Newport and his first electric album. Also Ken Keysey’s first “Acid Tests” with The Warlocks playing…which takes us back to standing in line at the little theatre at Santa Clara University.

This ends Part 1…it’s a lot more info than I imagined and I got no work done on it in Russia, A’dam, or SF Bay

stay tuned, if you enjoy, for in my room, gentle on my mind, Bangkok 1967, Stanyon Street 1968,  the Airplane,  The Matrix, The Family Dog, Otis Redding in VN, guitar lessons, Pete, me, Joan Baez, Jim Murphy guitar, Kathy, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and my Top 10 Live Concerts of my experience (so far)

new year jan 2010

stumbled across these thouhgts from a couple of years ago:

I cannot or could not envision when I was young that I would live a life so interesting and exciting as I have led.

But in the grand scheme of things life, while full of the grand complexity of the universe, has for my friends and me seemed to resolve itself into the drive for a good, cold beer and a bit of fun and games.

There are 2 things that have been consistent in my observation of my friends like Russ, and John, and Mike, and Frank, and  Tim Sweeney, and Pete Borelli, and Dan, and Greg, and  since I was 12 – we men love you women and we like to party.

In a sense “ we were young once..and never really grew old”

There has been one thing in my life that has made me most happy – that is unconditional love from 3 people: Nick, Jenny and Margo.

Beyond that I have at least once every day felt the cool wind or the warmth of the sun, or the moist touch of a spring rain on my face.

Rivers to love – Zambezi, Deschutes, Columbia from Lake Invermeer to the Cannery Pier Hotel,  Mekong, Roanoke, Warwick, James, roaring fork of the Clackamas, Moldau, Main,  Rio Pacuare, Salzach on Christmas morning…

Walks to cherish – down from the Chola pass with AmaDablam up above, the saddle of the ridge at Kleine Scheidigge, the park from Bellagio on the shore of Lake Como, from Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock and back, morning walk along the Atlantic at Nags Head NC., hike into Jefferson Park under Mt Jefferson, around the point in the medieval city of Spoleto…

the end of a road

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