The Beatles

WDBS: Duke Broadcasting 1969

The Fun Stuff 

As College students, we thrived on music. Music empowered our thinking and played to our politics along with our desire to break the stifling social mores of the 1950s.

The 1960s were also a time when musical icons were virtually in reach and not the untouchable superstars of today. We felt as though they spoke for us, that they were one of us and were truly an integral part of us.

For example, Linda Ronstadt and The Stone Ponies gave a lawn concert where the student body could sit at their feet. The Beach Boys gave a concert in a warehouse and then danced with the Duke girls when they finished. Hopefully that’s all they did: just dance, dance, dance. Pete Seeger sang at the Duke vigil and then mixed with the crowd. Janis Joplin gave a concert and then pleasantly agreed to an interview at the campus radio station, WDBS. After she sobered up. 

At some point, one of my roommate Arthur’s connections got him an hour-long spot on the station at a time when beside Jazz, Classical, and Be-bop, the most radical music being played were the banal love ballads of The Beatles or the inane tunes of Herman’s Hermits, while the ballads of summer freedom and surf bumming were belted out in endless succession by the Beach Boys

The power structure running the programming was principally represented by conservative, preppy Frat boys who had little desire to let the radical, freaky hippie elements get their hands on a radio microphone.  Conservative broadcasting was the backboned cultural history of WDBS.

Somehow Arthur slipped under someone’s radar screen and came up with the idea of combining a talk show with an agenda that would play some of the more radical music of the times such as the protest songs of Bob Dylan or the endless psychedelic modulations of groups like the Grateful Dead. Their song “Alligator” running at  over sixteen minutes long was destined to break the mold of the more typical three-minute sentimental rhapsody.

Arthur was also a great advocate of the traditional blues represented by the old black masters Muddy Waters, Big Momma Thornton, Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. He also liked the hard driving electric blues of the new wave White groups epitomized by the likes of John Mayall or Paul Butterfield.

As such it became Arthur’s personal mission in life to raise the musical consciousness of Duke University.

wdbs

(WDBS: Duke radio control room circa 1969)

Even the bad-boy Rolling Stones, although established, were somewhat anathema and did not enjoy the same reputation of the clean-cut mop heads; or their copycat spin offs.

Hymns about Mrs. Brown’s lovely daughter did not juxtapose well to a subliminal reincarnation of a Willie Dixon song about a wayward little red rooster who is having a sexual dalliance in another hen house, when instead he should be taking care of business at home.

When the Stones toured and gave a concert at Raleigh, it did not even sell out. Arthur begged me to go to the concert with him, but I waffled because at that time I was a Beatles fan. I was stupid about it, or temporarily depressed; stayed home instead and then had to suffer through the recapitulations of how great the show had been. Now you cannot even come close to getting a Stone’s ticket, even if you can afford it.

For the intended radio spot, Art recruited Buck and me to join him to create a humorous side show routine that would satirically poke fun at local or national society as well as to promote the music we liked. A few radical political agendas were also on the table.

Buck portrayed a character known as “Funky Farm Fella.” You can imagine how that went down on Tobacco Road.

I do not recall Art’s or my character portrayals, but only vaguely remember that I probably had little to say as I undoubtedly championed the cause of ‘dead air time.’ Playing the long version of the Grateful Dead’s “Alligator” was great. No one had to talk, and as far as I was concerned it would have been just as easy to play uninterrupted music.

Art could spontaneously run his mouth, whereas I could not. But then again, he was in pre-law and I was in pre-med. He liked to talk and he liked to hear himself talk. Enough said. Lawyers are bad enough just by practicing their craft, but when, God forbid they go into politics, there has already been plenty of time to practice saying nothing of substantive content in twenty-five thousand words or more.

But the campus hierarchy, the sponsors, and the local citizens were not yet ready for self-reflective mind expanding humor, long psychedelic songs, protest music, black blues, and white blues; all being accompanied by offset timing of cornbread corn-fed homegrown commercials.

Local businessmen who were less than sympathetic to the cause of racial equality, integration, or ending the Vietnam war were not too keen on the overall content of ‘The Funky Farm Fella Show.’

After several broadcasts, the hate mail poured in, the sponsors revolted, and the conservative preppie Frat boy in charge of programming shit his pants when our broadcasts ruined his relaxing Scotch and cigar evenings at home. He lost no time giving us the old Vaudeville hook. Lateral arabesque and Exit stage left.

I could have cared less. Having worked at the station had allowed me the opportunity to meet Janis Joplin when she gave a concert on campus, and if nothing else was an experience I could use to beef up what was a very slim resume for Medical School applications. Not that the Dean of admissions would have cared much about the Janis part.

Since there was not enough airtime behind us to generate the campus support needed to launch a sympathetic protest, we went out with a simple little whimper. Nor did we possess the courage to commandeer the microphones, lock ourselves inside the studio, and go out with an atomic SWAT team bang.

One exposure to the Billy-club wielding, tear gas heaving policemen had been sufficient for me to let the cause of free speech linger for others to champion.

  • Hey Funky Farm Fella; did ja abber ebber see a mule?
  • Nope; Nabber. And while yer at it I’d sure ‘preciate another helpin’ o’ them fine home cooked mountain oysters.
  • Cummin’ right up bub. Fried pig balls, along with some fine grits, okra, and hushpuppies, too. Ain’t nothin’ like it on God’s green Earth.
rednecks

Well, he’s got him a house on the hill

He plays country records till you’ve had your fill

He’s a fireman’s friend, he’s an all night DJ

But he sure does think different from the records he plays.

Well, he don’t like the young folks I know

He told me one night on his radio show

He’s got him a medal he won in the war

Weighs five hundred pounds and  sleeps on his floor

He’s a drug store truck drivin’ man

He’s the head of the Ku Klux Klan

When summer rolls around

You’ll be lucky if he’s not in town

(Gram Parsons and Roger Mc Guinn)

From the article: “Remembering WDBS” by Jeff Miller: Duke 1968-1970 www.geocities.com/wdbs56ol
Red Neck http://www.bangitout.com

School Daze 2: Freshman Year at College 1965

School Daze 2

The freshman dormitories on the men’s campus at Duke are on the quadrangle west of the Chapel. They are a long series of structures resembling Gothic row houses; and are arbitrarily divided into sections that are lettered in alphabetic sequence. Contrary to this generic lettering, the upperclassman Independent Houses have proprietary names of identification, like Canterbury, while the Fraternity Houses have the customary Greek nomenclature such as Alpha Tau Epsilon. This seems to emphasize your relative worthlessness as you start your academic career and seems modeled after the nameless rank-less military plebe class at West Point.

When my parents dropped me off in front of my new home, the freshman dormitory simply known as “J House”, then hurriedly unpacked the station wagon, put all my things in my room, and abruptly headed home, I had a panic attack. Although I should have been elated at the arrival of my long anticipated emancipation, instead I felt nothing but instantaneous homesickness.

To make matters worse the dormitory interior was crypt-like with narrow sunless hallways, tiny rooms with narrow windows, and even narrower beds. The two young men expected to co-habit the room, whose parents were trying to save on expenses, could immediately feel a pervading claustrophobically interpersonal angst. The housing was nice looking on the outside but akin to living inside a medieval tomb. In addition I had to bunk with a roommate who had been arbitrarily assigned to me.

He was a nice enough, but a very straight-laced person who was in college under the Reserve Officer Training Commission (ROTC), a factor that required him to wear a Navy uniform most of the time. I suppose it was the natural progression after Boy Scouts and did nothing to help my previously ingrained distain for uniforms.

The good thing was that he spent a lot of time out of the room, which was fine with me. However to this day I do not know if this was because of his ancillary military obligations and studies, because I was giving off unfriendly vibrations, or because of the constant taunting of the dormitory political liberal, Arthur, who in salutation would repeat his last name over and over again making it sound like the croaking of a nocturnal marsh frog.

  • Brrrrent, Brrrrent, Brrrrent.

Freshman dorm relationships in general tend to be a bit like a group of vacationers stuck together on a long tour package. After a lot of random interactive shuffling about, the various personalities sort themselves out, and then cliques form. The absurdity of it all is that even though you are now buddies, if you met the same people on the street or at a cocktail party, you would never even give them the time of day. Eventually the re-sorting evolved and everyone either joined a fraternity or moved into an Independent Dormitory.

But during that first college year, the blend of disparate souls can make for a significant degree of diversity, camaraderie, or interpersonal tension and hostility before it does eventually re- shuffles. Perhaps this accounts for the origins of the “birds of a feather” Fraternal system in the first place. Better to be with an asshole identical to ones self than to be a diametrically opposite asshole who in relative terms is a real asshole. Our dorm was no exception.

Living next to me in a single room was a good-natured carefree soul from Pennsylvania, Doug, who was totally unperturbed by the world as he let everything roll off his back. He was passionate about golf, and despite his lack of a legacy, got into a fraternity simply because of his athleticism.

Across the hallway was a highly neurotic Jewish pre-dental student who could not get going in the morning unless he repeated his bathroom rituals in a predetermined properly correct order. He could easily be tortured by simply placing one of his previously and neatly aligned pairs of shoes out of line, or by moving his toothbrush two inches to the right. One day he actually had a near nervous breakdown when he lost his Mezuzah. It was the first I had ever heard of this uniquely religious good luck charm and its loss caused the small world of our dormitory came to a screeching halt until the item was finally relocated, then once again placed above his doorway, with all of its associated blessings and mystical protections happily restored.

We had to find it or he would still be perseverating to this day:

  • I lost my Mezuzah. I lost my Mezuzah. I lost my Mezuzah. Where’s my Mezuzah?

He eventually joined the small Jewish fraternity that consisted primarily of intellectual nerds, and was never seen by us again; although I subsequently learned he has made a fortune in cable television but not in amalgam dental fillings or in realigning crooked teeth in some glitzy northern New Jersey suburb.

Being Jewish at Duke University may have fulfilled certain admission quotas, but generally speaking, the Jewish students were a targeted minority. Being a northern Catholic with an Italian last name this made me look good by comparison.

Perhaps it was no accident that the Jewish fraternity house, the Tao Epsilon Phi, (The TEPs) was physically adjacent to the football athlete’s Fraternity house, the Alpha Tau Omega (The JOCKs); such that  on many a liquored up Saturday night it would not be infrequent that these frustrated animals would crash through the barrier door in the basement separating the dorms and proceed to use the Jewish “dweebs” as footballs.

That is if they were not first entertaining themselves or their sorority sisters by their unique tradition of group mooning out the windows or  throwing a television set off the dormitory roof and then gleefully screaming as the screen and neon tubes disintegrated as the appliance completely disappeared into a pile of tiny silver dust particles. The authorities would usually turn and look the other way or slap some inconsequential punishment on the cheeky offenders.

Administrative authorities also turned their other cheeks to the jock’s generally poor academic performances and the fact that their sorority sisters wrote most of their term papers. But after all, what is a major University if it does not have an athletic program, even if the athletes themselves do not really go to school, or in order to matriculate will enroll in specially designed classes such as “Citizenship 101” or “Advanced Primitive Tribal Face Painting”

This particular course comes in especially handy for them on football game day when they put that idiotic black paint under their eyes, a ritual ostensibly designed to keep reflected sun glare from bouncing off their mirror-like steroid induced shiny skinned faces and temporarily blinding them.

  • Sorry coach. I flubbed it cause I couldn’t see the ball. I forgot to wear my war paint.

So what if Duke Football at that time ranked consistently in the bottom ten percent of all Division I colleges. Since the team consistently gets pummeled into the gridiron every Fall Saturday afternoon, their tactics and tendencies to beat up on TEPs may have in reality been nothing better than a simple case of Kick the Dog Syndrome. It certainly was not an example of putting the elements of “Citizenship 101” into daily practice 

In general it seems strange that many Division I colleges continue to maintain both football and basketball programs, but that very few seem to excel in both simultaneously. I was told once that it all revolves around solicitation of alumni donations backed up by a perpetual hope that someday, no matter what, the monetary support will bring in a National Championship. Duke football fans will be dead three times over before that ever happens again. 

At Duke, an equally strange curiosity was the fact that there seemed to be an inverse proportion between the size of the athlete and the size of his unusually diminutive girlfriend, which gave rise to our jocular reference to their imagined sexual encounters as being “spinners” or “propeller jobs.” All in all I suppose that is probably better than the imagined sexual implications attached to the fall and spring Fraternity classics known as the “Greek Games.” 

Further down the hall, in J House, lived another Jewish student, Dan, who was the antithesis of the obsessive pre-dental nut case. He rarely studied, eventually flunked out and later enrolled in a smaller college that was easier to survive academically.

His favorite pastime was to have everyone come into his room, turn off the lights, lie back on his bed, then pull up his legs and ignite his farts with a butane cigarette lighter. He could fart at will and we all laughed hysterically as he entertained us with a repetitive flame throwing demonstration that could have made him a comfortable living in any carnival side show: Methane Man: The Human Flame Thrower.

Of course this is not to say that we neither discouraged him nor did we ever think we were not freaky ourselves when we attempted to measure the distance of the flaming eruptions with a ruler. These activities can be lumped into the general classification of: ND-SN-FBS: No Date-Saturday Night-Freshman Boredom Syndrome.  

Because Dan had no problem hanging cartoons up in the dormitory lounge for public review one of his most legendary achievements was to sponsor the first annual “Gross-Out Art Contest,” an event that nearly got him expelled when one of the contestants submitted a picture of Donald Duck giving Jesus Christ a blow-job. He was an advocate of freedom of the press, having taken some inspiration from the radical contemporary author’s Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs who were breaking down the barriers of literary censorship on a national level with books the likes of “Howl” and “Naked Lunch,” while at the same time Bob Dylan was breaking down the barriers of racial segregation by questioning the morals and mores of polite society or centralized government with his music.Dan was also a natural born stand up comedian, who because of not having a car or other monetary means, traveled back and forth to New York by hitch hiking with a handmade placard stating:

Dan F: A laugh a mile

He always got a ride.

 

Dylan

(Bob Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Allen Ginsberg)

Another standout was the good natured Georgia boy, “Buck”, who had an innate sense of humor, an open curiosity about the world, was always too quick to fall in love, but who also had a tendency to be easily influenced and easily led astray. Sometimes I think the world was simply a little too much for him. At one point he had to temporarily drop out of school when he retrieved his mail, only to find a note written by his parents to this effect:

“Dear son; Had enough, decided to quit, sold the house, moving away, and sorry but now you are on your own. By the way, this also means you get no more money. Pay for school yourself. Love, Mom and Dad.”

He then decided to either sell or to give away all his possessions, as he became a passionate follower of the teachings of the transcendental meditation icon, Maher Baba, who had concurrently been made famous by the Beatles. Although he was only following his own soft, kindly heart, and truly did believe he could make a difference in the world by following the pacifist trail, we all thought Buck was a little crazed with his fascination for the squeaky impish rodent-voiced little Indian prophet.

Even though cultural issues in America were then turning out to be quite troubled, as America’s youth was beginning to turn away from materialism, most of us seemed to be able to smell the phony little rat wrapped up in the white Sari. We were also still a bit mercenary and not quite at the stage where we were about to think twice when we absorbed all of Buck’s cast aside 33 speed records into our own vinyl collections.

As it turned out Buck was but one of the many, including the Beatles, who were hoodwinked into believing that this great teacher was going to reveal the long awaited key to salvation, but who then were equally and horribly disappointed when on his death bed the Baba’s highly anticipated pre-advertised final words of holy revelation were:

  • I was Rani, I was Shiva, I was Krishna, I was Vishnu, I was this one, I was that one. I am also Maher Baba. I will die, but I shall return.

Why should any one who knows anything about Buddhism or Brinkmanship have been disappointed or even remotely surprised at this wondrous, ever so profoundly clever yet fraudulent revelation? After all, if one believes in reincarnation the Baba did not tell a lie, did he?

Sadly, several years ago I heard that Buck had gone on to become a high school teacher who in being well loved by most but apparently not by all in Atlanta, Georgia, was subsequently shot to death one day in class by a disgruntled student. Perhaps his biggest flaw was that he was the kind of person who could never even hurt a fly and that the disgruntled student probably took his offbeat sense of sarcastic humor without the necessary grain of salt.

In dorm life as well as in societal life, as might be expected, there is always an alpha personality that rises to the top and tends to lead the pack. In J House, his name was Arthur, a pre-law student from Trenton New Jersey, who had an insidious ability to insert his views, to make them predominant, and to cast an air of arrogant condescending superiority.

He was extremely intimidating and liked to prey on weaker personalities while attempting to turn them to his point of view, or if he could not, then spent a great deal of time torturing the intended victim until he at least raised a reactive response. Then when all else failed, his final tactic was to simply raise his voice higher than any one who might be trying to propose a countervailing argument.

My ex-wife also liked to use the torture tactic as she consistently misinterpreted peace and quiet as meaning a lack of interest or lost love. Equally confusing was her belief that having a nasty loud argument meant I was actually taking a sincere interest in our relationship.

Art’s political philosophy was inherently to the left side of liberal. He was also far ahead of me intellectually as he had already been versed in literature I had never even heard of, lording over our conversations with ideas and quotations he had extracted from the likes of T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, William Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac; to name few. He also had very broad musical interests, and despite the intimidation factor, was instrumental in elevating my awareness to considerably more expansive horizons than those attached to my insular introverted upbringing.

Finally and ultimately then, there was myself. A nerdy, conservative northern boy, who originally intended nothing more than to go to school, to study hard, to get into medical school, to subsequently have a life and career that would basically run predictably on auto pilot; with a lucrative almost guaranteed income.

Nice house. Perfect wife. White picket fence. Two perfect kids playing in the yard. Dream on.

I could have never possibly guessed that God had somehow sent my own personal devil, Arthur, to test and to tempt every value I had ever known, or that the War in Vietnam had already set the substrate for my not unwilling journey into largely uncharted waters. I was about to be tested on my ability to tell the difference between black and white. In fact the entire country was headed in a direction that would not allow for any shades of gray whatsoever.

It was 1965 and Lyndon Johnson had just committed the first 200,000 Marines to an escalating firefight, in a geographically divided Southeast Asian country, despite a foreboding forewarning by the fleeing French who had already abandoned the contest that it could never be anything but a no-win situation.

This was a war being proffered by a paranoid super power interfering with a foreign struggle for independence, in a place it had no business to be, and which nearly resulted in tearing the United States to shreds by igniting a domestic civil war of opposing philosophies and moral differences. It was a conflict that in this country was about to cause a borderless internal division having nothing to do with the Mason-Dixon Line and a conflict which ultimately gave Ho Chi Min the ongoing fortitude to see his mission fulfilled and his own visionary dream for his country won and finally realized.

It was a contest that shortsighted American politicians had failed to realize, could only have been successfully accomplished or completed by genocide, an idea that might have actually crossed the minds of some Washington politicos, except for the small fact that the Vietnamese people were not about to go quietly and gently into that good night.

 

Black and White

 

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune

The Titanic sails at dawn.

And everybody’s shouting

“Which side are you on?”

And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot

Fighting in the captain’s tower.

While calypso singers laugh at them

And fishermen hold flowers.

Between the windows of the sea

Where lovely mermaids flow

And nobody has to think too much

About Desolation row.

(Bob Dylan: Desolation row)

Dylan, Robertson and Ginsberg: Source  robbie robertson.com
Poster www.ragtime-society.de/Video/Deutsch/cover.htm

 

Good eggs. Genetics and Environment

Good Eggs

Eggs are what they are: Genetic repositories for half the DNA code. The other half of the binary code comes from a sperm; the combination of which results in a seed or an embryo. Then there is the third component, environment, all of which has contributed to the long, lingering scientific debate about the influence of environment versus genetics on the development of any living creature. Because genetics comprises two thirds of the issue, I often lean in favor of that factor playing the principle role.

Also because I worked in an egg barn and saw my fair share of them, I can also say with a fair degree of certainty that although in the minority there really is such a thing as a bad egg.

By counterintuitive reasoning there should be little debate as to the existence of the occasionally random bad seed or bad sperm as well; or what happens to a flooded or an un-watered crop. Farmers know all about blighted seeds, floods and drought.

Layered on top of this is the fact that environment can certainly be a huge modifier in the process of growth and development of any organism after its birth, a factor accounting for why an impoverished or disadvantaged child can grow up to be a pillar of society, or why a child of privilege can grow up to be a serial killer.

After all plausible rationalizations and excuses are set aside however, the bottom line is that no matter how you slice it, dice it, dissect it, or even crack it, some folks turn out to be really good eggs while others are just plain rotten ones.

At least when one is candling chicken eggs, the bad ones can be identified and trashed before they get to the commercial public market or made inert by being baked into a pie. For human beings the issue is not that simple because reproductive biology is based on completely random events, resulting in the four possible combinations of good or bad eggs combining with good or bad sperm.

Once again in this scenario, for the most part the fortunate preeminent combination would be: Good egg + good sperm = highly favorable chance for having a good kid. This can occur paradoxically, even if both parents happen to be bad.

Unfortunately any other combination, including the worst possible combination of all: Bad egg + bad sperm will never be favorably modified by having a good mother and a good father; or the good fortune of being raised in a favorable environment.

This combination results in a bad kid, and as portrayed in the macabre William March story, “The Bad Seed,” in which two good, kind and loving parents who had a bad kid; a bad kid can be simply no more than that: Just a bad kid.

 

Eggs

(Grades: AA, A, and B)

I am the egg-man. I am the egg-man. I am the Walrus. Coo-coo-ca- choo

(The Beatles)

Photo © www.wiley.com

High School Friends and The Beatles (1960s)

Richard

My friend Richard, the co-conspirator for making saltpeter bombs, was the original latch key kid. He was the only person I knew in High School whose both parents had full time jobs, meaning that neither of them was home when he got out of school.

Richard had to let himself into his house, which also meant that he basically had free run of the place for several hours until his mother got home. To me this would have been a personal dream come true, as there was almost never a time I was without some sort of parental supervision. But for Richard, this freedom and the responsibility that came with it made him as independent in mind and spirit as anyone I knew at the time.

He never had to do any house chores, thus sublimating the free time by having numerous personal concurrent projects and hobbies, which for the most part never included doing homework. On paper, he was an average student. But in mind and spirit he was a teenage Renaissance man. Making gunpowder with me was only the tip of the iceberg.

His father, a newspaper photographer for The New York Daily News, had a darkroom in the basement as well as a large collection of eight-millimeter movie reels, with some of these film clips not being straightforward documentary or archived news stories. Richard had discovered a few reels featuring strip-tease artists hidden in the racks and would then invite several of the guys over to watch them at a charge of 25 cents a head.

He claimed that one of the videos was a clip of the movie actress Gail Storm before she made it big in Hollywood. But the film quality was so poor that it could not allow validating that one of the original porn Queens had successfully gone straight. On Saturdays we would bide our time by watching nudie films or more mundanely dress up as Japanese POWs, then take and immediately develop the goofy pictures of ourselves pretending to be in captivity after WW II.

Richard also had other distractions like a beautiful fish tank; some cage bound pets such as hamsters, turtles, snakes, and tarantulas as well as a large HO model railroad setup that took up the greater part of its own dedicated room. He would spend hours doing most of the detail work on the train set himself which resulted in a miniature work of art, complete with customized train cars gliding through beautiful landscapes.

I was jealous of Richard’s train set and wanted one of my own, but could not afford it on my allowance. My father also categorically refused to begin a new collection, as years ago he had already started a Lionel train set for my brother and me. But I always thought of Lionel trains as being non-detailed, awkward, bulky, and too oversized in reference to its elegant miniature HO counterpart.I also hated the fact that the tracks had a very unrealistic middle third rail while the ties were too widely spaced. To me, it looked stupid.

Also because there never seemed to be enough room in our house to set them up, they lay dormant in boxes until the day that my cousin Byron, my brother and I made a huge train track ramp running all the way down the basement stairs. We then proceeded to essentially wreck the entire set by running the engines and cars down the roller coaster ramp into the basement walls. Although we were reenacting the wreck of the Old 99, I wish now that I still had that early 1950s Lionel train set in mint condition, and could take back the fateful afternoon we all played Casey Jones at the throttle.

Then again, I never did seem capable of saving the potentially good stuff; as I usually cluttered up both my mind and my storage bins with worthless crap, like insipid memories of what might have been or a 25-year collection of pharmaceutical company memorabilia that turned out to be almost worthless.

Richard, being far ahead of the curve, also continuously tinkered with things, trying to invent or reinvent mechanized gadgetry. For example, he was never satisfied with the existing gear ratios on his three-speed bicycle, or the tire sizes that he always tried to alter in order to gain speed or mechanical advantages. Racing bicycles came along thirty years later.

He was also an expert in building and flying remote control balsa wood airplanes. Or sometimes we would build model race cars, and using small captured frogs as drivers because they looked just like tiny men with race helmets on their heads and goggles on their eyes, would spend hours running them down the hill on the road outside my house. Sometimes we would set the cars on fire with lighter fluid to simulate a crash; an act of now regretful lack of respect for animal rights as well as something else I wish I could also take back again or do over. Live and learn.

Once when he was in his late teens I saw a ridiculous looking gadget on his bed. He had dismantled the fish tank pump that ran on a piston drive and had attached the rotary component of it to a small leather pouch that he said he could use to masturbate with just by lying in bed without having to actually do any work with his hands. He said he could read a comic book while the gadget did its thing. Although I have no clue as to what might have happened to the fish after he cut off their oxygen supply, I guess his little machine probably lifted him to such a personally hedonistic Ozone level that the loss of a few innocent guppies really didn’t matter anyway.

On Halloween he would dress up in theater quality Vampire suits, hide along the pathways where smaller children were walking, then jump out, scaring the daylights out of them by holding them up for candy ransom. He also rigged his mailbox with a remote speaker inside, along with a pulley to open and close the door flap so that when a younger child would come up his walk way for trick or treats, it would play a recording of ghostly moans or werewolf howls. This would make the kids run away screaming in terror. It was mean spirited; but it was also very clever, as he hardly ever had to dole out candy at the door. Trick. No treat.

In 1963 when the Beatles stormed America, he started his own band when he latched onto the idea that the new music would be popular on the pedestrian level. He got me interested in the guitar, taught me some primitive chord sequences, and although I didn’t join the band I did continue self-taught play.

Not to be intimidated by the Beatles popularity, he simply stated:

  • If they can do it, then why can’t I?

His vision was prescient as the world then saw a tidal wave of new groups making recordings. Eventually he convinced the school administration to let his band play at a few high school dances. Although the music was terrible it didn’t matter because he was having fun doing what he wanted to do. Then suddenly as if by magic, his image changed, he was no longer perceived to be a geek, the girls seemed to really dig it and before he knew it he was fighting them off.

At about the same time in 1964, Richard’s father, who was assigned by the newspaper to photograph one of the Beatles first American concerts at New York City’s Paramount Theater, had been given some front row tickets as perks. An ecstatic Richard asked me to accompany him and his father, but my mother put the kibosh on my equally excited enthusiasm.

I was sixteen at the time and although I would be with an adult, numerous cajoling whiny pleas fell on completely deaf ears. She did not want me to be in New York at night, because after all, it was thirty miles away from home. So she pontificated:

  • Everyone knows it’s a dangerous place. You might get kidnapped.
  • But Mom, please, please let me go.
  • So what part of “no” don’t you understand; the N or the O? Besides, it’s a Sunday and that’s a school night, too.

This disappointment was lumped into the same category as her throwing away my mini loaf of Howdy Doody Wonder Bread, along with all my TOPS baseball cards. Kidnapping, I secretly thought might even turn out to be blessing in disguise. It is also doubtful in the retrospect of knowing how popular the Beatles eventually became, that she would reconsider and let me go to the show anyway.

Most adults thought the Fab Four to be just another passing fancy, while most parents could be collectively quoted as saying:

  • Stop listening to that stuff. That music is going to rot your brain. And look at their silly looking clothes; tight silver suits, pointy toed black ginzo shoes and those ridiculous haircuts. What do they think they are Pageboys or something?

Perhaps, or better yet, because little could anyone remotely guess in those early days of their first appearances, that one day soon The Beatles would in fact become venerated as lving musical legends and eventually go on to be Knighted by their Queen.

Pageboys, eh?

 

 

Beatles paramount theater

 

Oh Mommy, Mommy

Please may I go?

It’s such a sight to see

Somebody steal the show. 

Oh Daddy, Daddy

I beg of you

Whisper to Mommy

It’s alright with you.

 

Cause they’ll be rockin’ in Boston

In Pittsburgh, Pa.

Deep in the heart of Texas

And round the Frisco Bay

All over St. Louis

Way down in New Orleans

All the cats wanna dance with

Sweet little Sixteen

 

(Chuck Berry: Sweet Little Sixteen)

Photo source www.rarebeatles.com

A difference of musical opinion: The Beatles and The Stones

 Rhythm                                                           Blues

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you somethin’                                     Well I wish I was a catfih

I think you’ll understand                                               Swimmin’ in the deep blue sea

When I say that somethin’                                            I would have all you good-looking women,

I want to hold your hand.                                             Fishin, fishin after me.

I want to hold your hand.                                             Sure ‘nough, a-after me.

I want to hold your hand.                                            Sure ’nough, a-after me.

 

 

beatles                                     Rolling Stones

(The Beatles)                                                              (Rollin’ Stone: Muddy Waters)

Beatles/Stones Photo source www.poster.net

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones (1960s)

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones

The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were nothing more than accidents waiting to happen.

Even though Rock and Roll in the United States had been suppressed nearly to the point of extinction, the powers that be failed to realize that this music had already infected the rest of the world. They were also afraid to admit to themselves, or more likely were mired in a great collective denial that it was not already too late to stop it.

On the West Coast, the Beach Boys were beginning to sing about the carefree California lifestyle of surfing and drag racing. Then like a second invasion of Normandy, the ghost-like musical heritage of American Rock’s prior generation had crossed the Atlantic to liberate the minds of a few scruffy street musicians who passionately decided to revive it.

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had neglected to become vaccinated against this musical “cancer,” so when the music got under their skin and then into their blood, it germinated, grew and blossomed. Then before long these musicians changed the world forever.

The two bands formed by these individuals had scooped up the ashes from the funeral pyres of J. Edgar Hoover’s rampage through the American music industry. And being geographically enough at arm’s length from the oppressive American political climate, had then been able to resurrect an unstoppable Phoenix.

It was the equivalent of a musical Second Coming.

Then just like God and the Devil, it soon became obvious that the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were diametric polar opposites.

The Beatles dressed in neat, uniform cookie-cut suits with tight pant legs and black pointed leather boots. They played original, clean lyrical music with a somewhat tame, polite demeanor, and curtsied when they finished a song. The Mersey beat music was new, fresh, and pleasant; having a peculiarly unique sound that had never been heard before, albeit interlaced with a few haunting Buddy Holly tunes or similar refrains.

The Stones appearance on the other hand was scruffy, wild, more colorful, more individualized and more outlandish. They played a venue of recycled Black American Blues, which eventually became blended with their own unique style of raunchy Rock.

Having a raw edge, they were rougher and tougher than the Beatles Yet for some intangible reason, possibly rooted in White repression and repressed bigotry, it seemed easier for the American public to accept an English band playing “The Little Red Rooster” than it would have been to embrace the on stage presence of it’s original black author, Howlin’ Wolf, who had composed the song over a generation before.

It was actually this contrasting style in both appearance and in musical venues that created the basis for the ever-escalating popularity or the two groups, as adolescents seemed to identify with or to gravitate more to one than to the other.

Although the bands were cast somewhat as polar opposites, cults and subcultures were beginning to develop as they generated great immediate controversy, along with universal fear in the minds of the White middle class. It was a sneak attack on the soft underbelly of America, only because they became so enormously popular so fast.

Ultimately no matter how it was sliced , the unifying element that portended the new corruptive ruination of America’s youth was not so much what these groups sang, how they sang it or whether the clothes were nice, neat or scruffy and disheveled.

The principal feature predicting a new rallying point for America’s youth was imparted in a key part of the haberdashery which had nothing to do with the clothing. It was something America’s youth could identify with, and something which would allow for a unique form of adolescent rebellion that would particularly yet definitively distinguish the old from the young without the limiting rebellious outlaw image that had been cast by the motor-cycle riding James Dean or by the crazed ramblings of the disaffected author Jack Kerouac.

What was uniquely different resided on their heads; that awful decidedly sexy styling that flopped and shook, partially covering their eyes and ears as they pranced around on stage, occasionally looking like a kennel of shaggy sheep dogs. It was the Pudding Basin haircuts that finally put the audience over the edge as it caused hysterical mass frenzies in the teenaged female population.

Shaking manes and cute suits had replaced the Duck’s Ass slick back coif and the Elvis pelvis as the new sex symbol for the girls, while bawdy blues with a raunchy casual delivery had created a new masculine icon for the boys.

Viewed either as a blessing by some and a curse by others; meaning either as repayment for the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II, or as the penultimate revenge for the British Army’s defeat in the U.S. Revolution, history had now come full circle with all the favors being returned. But this time the troops on the beachheads were armed with guitars, drums and amplifiers instead of cannons, M-15s, machine guns and tanks.

The genie was out of the bottle for good. The Liverpool Mop-head Mods and the British Bad Boy Rockers had invaded America.

Rock and Roll

Rock n’ roll is here to stay,

It will never die.

It was meant to be that way,

Though I don’t know why.

I don’t care what people say,

Rock n’ roll is here to stay. 

We don’t care what people say,

Rock and Roll is here to stay. 

(Danny and the Juniors)

 

Photo source. The Lindey www.swingdanceshop.com