On this date in 1974, we saw Eric Clapton at the Cow Palace. The opening act was a band called Ross, about whom I remember nothing (they were label mates of Clapton at the time). Clapton was touring behind 461 Ocean Boulevard, which suffered, as every album he ever made after 1970, from not being Layla. Still, it was a good album in the laid-back mode that Clapton eased into around that time, with a hit single in Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff". Clapton was finally off heroin.
For the concert, Clapton almost disappeared. He wore shades and, at least part of the time, a floppy hat. His band:
George Terry - Guitar Dick Sims - Keyboards Carl Radle - Bass Jamie Oldaker - Drums Yvonne Elliman - Backing Vocals
My memory is that he let Terry take too many solos.
43 years ago, we attended our first Day on the Green. (I eventually attended five. My second featured Robin Trower, Peter Frampton, Dave Mason, Fleetwood Mac, and Gary Wright. The third had The Who and The Grateful Dead. The fourth, Peter Frampton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Santana, and The Outlaws. Finally, my fifth and last had Led Zeppelin, Derringer, and Judas Priest.)
First up was Jesse Colin Young, who was at the peak of his post-Youngbloods career. I remember him being enjoyable. Here he is from late 1973:
Next, we got Joe Walsh and Barnstorm. This was just before they broke up, with Walsh going solo and eventually joining The Eagles. Again from 1973:
The co-headliner was The Band, who we had seen just a few months earlier with Dylan (the tour album, Before the Flood, had come out the previous month). From The Last Waltz in 1976:
Finally came Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. If you want to hear the entire 3+ hours, you can click on this link:
We saw them near the beginning of the tour, which was a reunion of the foursome. They were supposedly not happy with the results of the tour, playing in giant stadiums ... ah, but they got lots of money! As was often the case at Day on the Greens, people took toilet paper rolls to the top row of the upper deck and slowly unrolled them ... the best ones would completely unravel and float across the sky towards the center of the stadium. When CSNY began the acoustic part of the show (a bad idea in itself), the crowd had been there for many hours, and heard some great music. CSNY wasn't really doing it for me, at least, and I remember a guy sitting next to me shouting, when Crosby was admonishing us to quiet down for the acoustic stuff, "Sorry, Dave, the toilet paper guy's got you beat!"
Let me get one thing out of the way at the start. I have never seen Hair, on stage or on screen. My memory is vague on this, but I think a lot of my friends went to see it in San Francisco, where it first ran in 1969, continuing on for a couple of years. I didn't go with them. You'd think Hair was right up my alley, between my love of rock and roll and my status as a wannabe hippie. But I am not a big fan of stage musicals in general, I didn't think the music in Hair was anything like the rock I loved, and what kind of hippies are there going to be in a play, anyway?
I suppose one day I should see it.
Meanwhile, I did have one encounter with Hair, a tale I have told many times. Here, I'll pull a quote from the first year of this blog, in 2002, slightly edited:
In January of 1981, a friend and I played hooky from work on Reagan's first Inauguration Day to attend a Punk Inaugural Ball at the Mabuhay, headlined by a drag band called Sluts a-Go-Go. It's been more than 35 years, but one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.
I've often wondered what was the primary force that brought me to tears. Was it simply that I was amongst "my" people? Was there something brilliant in the performance by the Sluts?
Whatever. To this day, I can get choked up by any and all versions of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In", including the actual finale of Hair, which is "The Flesh Failures (Let the Sunshine In)". I don't know why, any more than I know why I was so taken by the Sluts a-Go-Go version in 1981.
Here are a few of those versions. First, the original version, a medley from the musical at the Tony Awards:
The Milos Forman film ... apparently this has a different ending than the stage musical:
A more recent version, on The View, for those of you who wondered what it would be like if Barbara Walters got swept up in hippiedom:
For the past 300 days, I have posted a Facebook link for my cousin Jonathan that goes to a video for a song from the past (almost entirely 1960s). Here are the 300 songs, with as many links as I could grab again on short notice (and, if possible, matching the links from the original posts). I'll continue to update this post over the next week or so until all of the songs have videos. All of these songs come from my ever-evolving Spotify playlist, "FM", which can be found here:
Here is the first record actually released by Phillips on Sun, Johnny London, "Drivin' Slow" b/w "Flat Tire", from 1952:
From 1953, Rufus Thomas with an "answer record" to "Hound Dog", this one called "Bear Cat" (Joe Hill Louis on guitar). Phillips tried to claim this was a separate song, but he ended up settling, with Leiber/Stoller getting writing credit:
Next, "Mystery Train" by "Little Junior's Blue Flames" (Little Junior Parker), also from 1953 ... this would later be covered by Elvis:
And speaking of Elvis, his first single, from 1954, "That's All Right" b/w "Blue Moon of Kentucky":
I just finished Joel Selvin's book on Altamont, and then watched Gimme Shelter again. The concluding section of the book discusses Gimme Shelter. Selvin is less interested in assigning blame than in getting to the details behind the legend ... by the time we get to the movie, we've come to know many of the people who turn up in that movie, and have a better understanding of where they were coming from.
First, a few words about Selvin’s book, since I’ve written a lot about Gimme Shelter in the past. The book is long, detailed, and seems to be well-researched. Selvin was well-placed to write the book, being a Bay Area native who has had a long career as a music critic, and is an author of several books on music. In his afterword, he notes that “I knew better than to go to Altamont”, then offers the observations of friends who did attend (“[M]y friends knew nothing about what had really gone on. They had a good time ...”). This mirrors my own experience ... I had friends who went, and they returned speaking joyfully about “Woodstock West”. (In later years, they talked about how awful it was ... the vagaries of memory.) The book works in part as a warm-up for the movie, filling in what was largely left unreported in the film. But the movie is never far from Selvin’s mind:
That movie became the accepted account of the day, the official record of history, despite the fact that the Rolling Stones themselves were partners in the film’s production.... The story needed to be told, as fully and completely as possible. The tangled threads of the movie and the concert needed to be unbraided.
Selvin may be up to more than handing out blame, but he does make himself clear. “[W]hen all the facts are presented, it’s hard to see true responsibility lying with anyone but the Rolling Stones.” And he connects this to Gimme Shelter:
[W]hy did the Rolling Stones go through with the concert? That crucial decision – and the underlying determination that went into it – made the difference in everything that happened at Altamont. There is only one plausible reason: the final scene to the concert movie. There is no other good explanation for why Jagger and company proceeded with this concert in the days before the show as it unraveled in front of their eyes.... It is simply not true that this free concert was some magnanimous, beneficent gesture. The Stones wanted something out of the deal, and what they wanted was a big finish for their epochal movie that they hoped would document their magnificent return to glory.
What the book Altamont does is place the above in context. He doesn’t absolve everyone other than the Stones, but “The Hells Angels needed to be portrayed as they were – real people with names who were placed in a treacherous, untenable situation – not cardboard cutout villains. The role of the Grateful Dead and their ultimate betrayal by the Stones needed to be detailed.... The massive use of toxic drugs was not examined.”
So, Gimme Shelter. I have huge emotional reactions to the film every time I see it. Over the years, I have a more solid appreciation for the techniques and vision of the Maysles. But maybe "appreciation" is the wrong word, as is my reference to "Maysles". For on this watching, I decided the true artist was editor Charlotte Zwerin.
My friend Charlie Bertsch wrote a strong piece on the movie a few years ago. A big portion of that essay is devoted to refuting Pauline Kael’s take. She resisted the pull of “direct cinema”, emphasizing the “manipulative possibilities of filmmaking”. Charlie responds, “[T]he Maysles’ approach ... demands witnessing events without knowing how they will turn out”, as if this precludes the possibility of manipulation.
But Charlie also points us in the direction of what is really happening in Gimme Shelter when he rightfully praises the work of editor Charlotte Zwerin, “who earned co-director billing for the brilliant editing she did after filming was complete” [emphasis added]. He singles out scenes of Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts looking at footage from the film, which he calls “a brilliant idea for which Charlotte Zwerin gets the credit”. But if the Maysles want to fall back on "we don't stage stuff", those scenes would seem to contradict that idea. Jagger and Watts were invited, and filmed, by the filmmakers to watch the footage, which didn’t happen “naturally”.
Ultimately, the truest statement in Charlie’s piece is this: "The finished product’s success depends entirely on how the raw footage is edited together." No matter what the circumstances under which the Maysles worked, the film is made when Zwerin gets her talented hands on it. And film editing is as crucial, and as vulnerable to manipulation, as the shooting of the original footage. The Maysles may not have had a preformed idea of what they wanted the events to show, but Gimme Shelter requires that someone edit the footage. Charlotte Zwerin, whether working on her own or with the direction of the Maysles, manipulates the raw footage into the movie we see today. We can argue what Gimme Shelter is saying, but we can’t argue about the role the filmmakers had in making that statement. Michael Sragow, who Charlie quotes, is half right when he says “Gimme Shelter is not about manipulating events – it’s about letting events get away from you.” The latter part is true, which is one reason I find the movie so disturbing. But the first part is false.
Not the band, the album: Big Brother and the Holding Company. It’s the much-disdained debut, a year before Cheap Thrills hit #1.
The production is crappy. The band recorded a single in September of 1966 that did nothing, and then recorded ten more songs at the end of the year. Nothing much happened until the band blew people away at Monterey in June of 1967. By August, Mainstream Records, who had the band’s contract, finally released the earlier songs in a rather haphazard manner. The album, which contained only ten songs and ran barely over 23 minutes, contained eight of the later songs, along with the earlier single ... two other later songs were released as a single. Columbia Records then took over the band’s contract and re-released the album with all twelve songs.
As I recall, the general feeling at the time was that Big Brother and the Holding Company didn’t capture the group’s live sound. Heard today, the thin production and psychedelic guitars make the album sound a bit like a lost garage rock classic. But there probably isn’t enough Janis to satisfy the new fans who thought it was Janis Joplin and Her Band of Amateurs. Columbia did what they could. Here’s the original album cover:
And here’s the Columbia re-release:
In the meantime, the band did a short program on the local public television station just as Cheap Thrills was released that included this incendiary version of “Ball and Chain”:
The “underground” FM station took to playing this version at least as often as the one on Cheap Thrills. Meanwhile, Monterey Pop, which featured yet another fiery version of “Ball and Chain”, didn’t come out until December, and I don’t believe there was an audio version of the festival until 1992. Whatever ... both the public TV version and the Cheap Thrills version are great. (And just to show where many minds were, in Monterey Pop, the mid-song guitar break is edited out.)
At this point, that first album was almost forgotten, not a bad trick considering it was only a year old. Which is unfair, for there is some good stuff on there. “Down on Me” was an almost-hit that Janis carried with her into her solo career. “Woman Is Losers” is another good Janis showcase. “Light Is Faster Than Sound” is a cheesy pseudo-sci-fi effort. The version of the all-time classic “Coo Coo” is solid. And “All Is Loneliness” is special.
Still, it probably says something that I spent so much of this post about the first album talking about other music.
And at the wedding, I recited the lyrics to this song:
I scare myself just thinking about you I scare myself when I'm without you I scare myself the moment that you're gone I scare myself when I let my thoughts run and when they're running I keep thinking of you and when they're running what can I do?
I scare myself, and I don't mean lightly I scare myself, it can get frightening I scare myself, to think what I could do I scare myself -- it's some kind of voodoo and with that voodoo I keep thinking of you and with that voodoo what can I do?
but it's oh so so so different when we're together and I'm oh so so so much calmer; I feel better For the stars have crossed our paths forever and the sooner that you realize it the better then I'll be with you and I won't scare myself and I'll know what to do and I won't scare myself and I'll think of you and I won't scare myself and my thoughts will run and I won't scare myself