Loud, it turned out, wasn’t too terrifying, and following my first step into a real rock concert with Herman’s Hermits, I stayed interested. Of course, for the next year plus I was in Dexter, Maine, and that did not offer a lot of musical possibilities.
So what I found interesting had to come from outside town. 1966-1967 was my senior year in high school, and when I wasn’t chanting the mantra “I’m leaving here I’m leaving here” (I wasn’t alone – the hands-down favorite song of my entire class was the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” written by the Brill Building stars Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill but perfectly translated by Eric Burdon’s voice into a working class anthem), I spent time at the public library.
One of the things I read there was Time and Life, the popular news magazines of the day, and in one of them I saw an article about this event in San Francisco called the “Be-In,” which was attended, I learned, by about 20,000 hippies. There were lots of pictures of pretty girls with flowers in their hair, but the picture I really remember was of a rather homely fellow with long hair, a guitar, and an Uncle Sam hat playing to those girls. His name was Jerry Garcia and he was going to have an impact on my life.
Not longer after, guys I knew in Dexter began putting together a band, which I would see that spring and summer, called – what else? – the Love Generation. They were fairly primitive – I remember the keyboard player had the notes on his Farfisa organ written on a strip of tape – but fun.
Even in Dexter, I recall, they’d shut the street down and have a band on a flatbed truck play – if only to keep the teenagers from getting too crazy.
College – St. Lawrence University – was a vast improvement on Dexter, and my musical education proceeded. There was a Sunday night jazz show hosted by a guy named Bob David, for instance. Bob really knew his stuff, and I started hanging out at the radio station (KSLU) to listen to him comment about musicians and the evolution of things while the music played.
I started substituting for him, and eventually inherited the show. I also had my own Thursday night show where I played everything from Billie Holiday to that band from San Francisco led by Jerry Garcia. They’d put out an album in March, which I got to listen to when I started hanging around KSLU in September. There was this song called “Morning Dew,” which I thought was the best thing on the album, and I played it a lot.
But for what it’s worth, the music of that fall of 1967 was another album. The Beatles had put out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in June. By September, it was ubiquitous. And I’m being literal. It was not possible to walk the length of my dormitory that fall – say any time between 9 am and 2 a.m. – and not hear it being played at least once, if not three or four times.
We swam in that album in a way that I don’t think any other single piece of music has managed in my generation. And having just witnessed my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons go to great lengths to see Paul McCartney shut down Candlestick Park here in San Francisco, it’s fair to say that the Beatles have endured in ways no other band could achieve.
I remember three bands from college (aside from the vast universe of American rock, 1967-1971, which we all listened to in recorded form). There was M.E. and the Others, a fairly slick cover band. There was a band whose name I’ve lost that included Pete, the guy who had the folk music show before the jazz show – they were a little rawer and I enjoyed them more. Finally there was the Electric Elves, a Beatle cover band from Rochester, I believe, who were remarkably good.
But the only major live show I remember from college – if you look at a map you’ll see how far Canton, NY is from …oh, anywhere – was Jethro Tull. And that was an accident. I was not a wealthy student, and I couldn’t afford a ticket. I was sitting in the student union when the boss of the union, a friend of mine, came back to his office to get the band’s pay. He saw me and asked why I wasn’t at the show. When I said I lacked the $, he said he needed a bodyguard and to come along. I ended up standing immediately behind the drummer – the stage was 3 feet high – and I’ll remember his snakeskin boots until the day I die.
Ian Anderson wasn’t half bad either – it was a great show.
And my next big show would come in graduate school, at Springfield Civic Center, and involve those guys from San Francisco. And the arc of my life would bend forever.