SECTION THREE

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COLUMN 101, JANUARY 1, 2004
(Copyright 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)

RETROPOP SCENE:
THE '60s: A MINISKIRT FOR MEN, THE BEATLES, THE MONKEES & BOB DYLAN LOSES ANOTHER SONG


THE MONKEES

[The following first appeared in Cheetah.]

NEW YORK, 1967 - Scrooge McDuck is in mourning.  Crewcut Benson has just come home from two years of VC hunting with his duffle bag half-full of grass.  A lady in Paducah, Ky., says that Mars is taking integrated couples.  Smog is blowing in the face of New York.  California department stores are selling electrical bananas.  A group in London is planning to knock off Big Ben and Andy Warhol is coining uptown silver.

What's happening in the music business?  Someone has designed a miniskirt for men.

Eighteen-year-old Suzanne Tumbler, who used to paper the walls of her room with pictures of Paul McCartney, Brian Jones, and her high school principal, has split from her mother's $50,000 California ranch in Basking Ridge, N.J., to go to work as a salesgirl in a New York psychedelicatessen, one of those charming little boutiques that specialize in anything you need to take drugs and be happy.  She's been disinherited by her millionaire father because she'd rather live with her unemployed long-haired boy friend than finish her high school education in a convent her father has picked out for her.

"There isn't the same excitement in the music scene that there used to be," she recently said while being interviewed for a job as a topless waitress by Gregory Smith, a notorious Macdougal Street hawk, "I mean there's no more of this kid stuff.  I mean even Murray the K has grown up." Murray the K survived his short-lived career as the Fifth Beatle to become a respectable disk jockey on WOR-FM, a New York Station that broadcasts rock-and-roll for adults, "The entire music industry has matriculated to a point where everybody is articulating in a different way," says Murray, who began to talk like that after he started writing books.

Suzanne Tumbler's father has become a regular listener to WOR-FM after having divorced Suzanne's mother. He tuned in by accident one day, and, mistaking it for WQXR's dinner music, he now listens endlessly while riding in his chauffeur-driven limousine with his girl friends, each of them at least old enough to be Suzanne's twin sister.

* * *

NEW YORK, 1963 "If the establishment knew what today's popular music is saying, explained one musician, "not what the words are saying, but what the music itself is saying then they wouldn't just turn thumbs down on it.  They'd ban it, they'd smash all the records, and they'd arrest anyone who tried to play it."

* * *

NEW YORK, 1964-- Brian Sommerville is a balding 32-year-old Londoner whose eyes lie dully behind his glasses and whose jaw juts out like the southeast corner of England when he thinks he is about to say something important. At New York's Kennedy International Airport last February 7, Sommerville's jaw extended beyond his ability to express himself.

A thousand screaming teenagers were trying to wriggle through the spaces between one another to the thin white line of vinyl rope that had been stretched across the terminal lobbv.  Another 3,000 were screaming discordantly from behind bulging metal railings atop the observation roof.

At Sommerville's arm a phalanx of correspondents were complaining that the police wouldn't let them into the press box without New York credentials.  Disk jockeys equipped with miniature tape recorders were pointing cylindrical microphones at the mob in a crossfire.  Strobe lights and flash bulbs lit up faces that were open-mouthed in ecstasy.  From the back of the lobby came word that two girls had fainted.

I haven't seen press coverage like this since Kennedy was assassinated---or, for that matter, since Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were chasing around Rome," remarked one reporter.

Hemmed in and harassed, Sommerville's jaw signaled a pronouncement. "This," he said in the intonations of a nation that has been accustomed to ruling the world, "has gotten entirely out of control." Brian Sommerville is the press officer of a British rock-and-roll group known as the Beatles. Their plane had just landed.

* * *

LIVERPOOL, 1964---Liverpool is a gray city, the stone houses below mirroring the almost constant overcast above, but its grayness merely camouflages the true colors of its passion. Its people throb in bodies that are made small, tough and wiry by the spare diets and frequent malnutrition that comes with the factory wages in Northern England---when wages come. Liverpool has one of the highest unemployment rates in England, something else that sets it apart from the rest of the country.

A seaport on the slimy mouth of the Mersey River, with streets that look dirty in the grayness even though they are scrubbed clean every day, Liverpool is an immigrant city with a population awash from the Irish Sea.

There was a time when Liverpool issued its own money, and there are still iron rings on the docks where the slaves were chained before trans-shipment to the colonies in open defiance of the Crown. The big colonnaded stone mansions on Upper Parliament Street and Gambia Terrace were built by profits from the slave trade, but, as John Lennon points out, "It's the coloreds who won out in the end, isn't it? Now it's them that live on Upper Parliament Street."

The mansions have been broken down into the tiny flats of Liverpool's Harlem, and Lennon himself used to live in one of them on Gambia Terrace when he was a Student at the Liverpool Art Institute across the street. His friends still talk about the winter he chopped up the furniture to heat the flat and about the time a London newspaper sent a photographer to take pictures of it for an article on England's Beat Generation. Lennon threw the photographer out. Lennon's roommate, Stuart Sutclifffe, co-founder of the Beatles, but now dead and buried in Hamburg, Germany,was reading the poetry of Allen Ginsberg in those days.

Liverpool, the slum of England, has the championship football of the United Kingdom. Of its 750,000 population, it also has Harold Wilson [at this writing the probable next Prime Minister]; Miss Brenda Blackler, Miss England of 1964; the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, acclaimed as the best symphony orchestra in the country; and, of course, the Beatles.

Except," says 34-year-old Allan Williams, the short, poetic, but ready-fisted owner of Liverpool's all-night club, the Blue Angel, 'the Beatles don't belong to Liverpool anymore, they belong to the world. You know, I used to be manager of the Beatles. It was all done on a handshake. One bloody nasty paper said I cry myself to sleep. That's ridiculous. I couldn't have done what Brian Epstein did for them. Nor what he did for Gerry and the Pacemakers. That's another one of my sad stories. I used to manage Gerry, too. You wouldn't believe it could all happen to the same fellow, would you?"

* * *

LONDON, 1964---Derek Taylor threw a cablegram across the neatly piled clutter of his desktop. "Here," he said with a smile that seemed to wish it could be broader but couldn't because his face was too thin, "have a look at this."

The address on the cablegram was simply, JOHN LENNON, THE BEATLES, LONDON, but it had been delivered safely to the Offices of NEMS Enterprises, where Derek Taylor, 32-years-old and dressed to the teeth of his grin, was sitting in a seat formerly occupied by Brian Sommerville, recently resigned as press officer of the Beatles.

UNDERSTAND THROUGH WEST COAST SOURCE," the cablegram said, 'tHAT YOU PLAN TO LEAVE BEATLES. CAN UNDERSTAND TRAVELING MOST TIRING AND YOUR DESIRE TO SETTLE DOWN. WHILE WE HAVE NO IMMEDIATE OPENINGS ON KLF DEEJAY STAFF, WE OFFER YOU THE MUSIC CRITIC's POSITION ON NUMBER ONE STATION IN DALLAS. SUGGEST YOU REMAIN WITH GROUP UNTIL BEATLES APPEAR HERE IN SEPTEMBER. IT WILL SAVE YOU TRAVEL MOVING EXPENSE. PLEASE ADVISE. CHARLES F. PAYNE, MANAGER, KLIF DALLAS, TEXAS?

It's incredible, absolutely incredible," said Derek Taylor, "Here are these four boys from Liverpool. They're rude, they're profane, they're vulgar, and they've taken over the world. It's as if they've founded a new religion.

"In Australia, for example, each time we'd arrive at an airport, it was as if de Gaulle had landed, or better yet, the Messiah. The routes were lined solid with people; cripples threw away their sticks; sick people rushed up to the car as if a touch from one of the boys would make them    well again; old women stood watching with their grandchildren,and as we'd pass by, I  could see the look on their faces. It was as if some Saviour had arrived and people were happy and relieved as if things somehow were going to be better now."

The telephone rang. It was a newspaper reporter asking for tickets to the forthcoming Beatles Royal Premiere.

Utterly out of the question!" said Taylor, trying to sound apologetic. "I?m sorry," and he hung up.

If I were a Beatle," he said, 'this would be the ultimate. The Royal Premiere would be the ultimate---except for the Sermon on the Mount. The only thing left for them is to go on a healing tour."

* * *

AUSTIN, 1965---REPORTER: What do you consider yourself? How would you classify yourself?

BOB DYLAN: Well, I like to think of myself in terms of a trapeze artist.

REPORTER: Speaking of trapeze artists, I've noticed in some of your recent abums a carnival type sound. Could you tell me a little bit about that?

BOB DYLAN: That isn't a carnival sound, that's religious. That's very real, you can see that anywhere.

REPORTER: What about this Ballad of the Thin Man? This sounds as though it might have been dedicated to a reporter or something.

BOB DYLAN: No, it's just about a fella that came into a truck stop once.

REPORTER: Have the Beatles had any influence on your work?

BOB DYLAN: Well, they haven't influenced the songs or sound. I don't know what other kind Of influence they might have. They haven't influenced the songs or the sound.

REPORTER: In an article in The New Yorker written by Nat Hentoff, I believe you said you sang what you felt and you sang to make yourself feel good, more or less. And it was implied that in your first two albums you sang "finger-pointing songs," I believe.

BOB DYLAN: Well, what he was saying was, I mean, I wasn't playing then and it was still sort of a small nucleus at that time and by the definition of why do you sing, I sing for the people.  He was saying, "Why do you sing?" and I couldn't think of an answer except that I felt like singing, that's about all.

REPORTER: Why is it different?

BOB DYLAN: Come on, come on.

REPORTER:  What is your attitude toward your "finger?pointing" songs?  He implied that you thought they were just superficial.

BOB DYLAN: No, it's not superficial, it's just motivated.  Motivated.  Uncontrollable motivation.  Which anyone can do, once they get uncontrollably motivated.

REPORTER: You said before that you sang because you had to. Why do you sing now?

BOB DYLAN: Because I have to.

REPORTER: Your voice in here is soft and gentle.  Yet in some of your records, there's a harsh twang.

BOB DYLAN: I just got up.

REPORTER: Could you give me some sort of evaluation as far as your own taste is concerned, comparing some of the things you did, like old music, say, Girl from the North Country, which I consider a very beautiful type ballad?  Perhaps some of the things that have come out in the last couple of albums---do you get the same satisfaction out of doing this?

BOB DYLAN: Yeah, I do.  I wish I could write like Girl from the North Country.  You know, I can't write like that any more.

REPORTER: Why is that?

BOB DYLAN: I don't know.

REPORTER: Are you trying to accomplish anything? 

BOB DYLAN: Am I trying to accomplish anything? 

REPORTER: Are you trying to change the world or anything?

BOB DYLAN: Am I trying to change the world?  Is that your question?

REPORTER: Well, do you have any idealisms or anything? 

BOB DYLAN: Am I trying to change the idealism of the world?  Is that it?

REPORTER: Well, are you trying to push over idealism to the people?

BOB DYLAN: Well, what do you think my ideas are? 

REPORTER: Well, I don't exactly know.  But are you singing just to be singing?

BOB DYLAN: No, I'm not just singing to be singing.  There's a much deeper reason for it than that.

REPORTER: In a lot of the songs you sing you seem to express a pessimistic attitude toward life.  It seems that Hollis Brown gives me that feeling.  Is this your true feeling or are you just trying to shock people?

BOB DYLAN: That's not pessimistic form, that's just statement.  You know.  It's not pessimistic.

REPORTER: Who are your favorite performers?  I don't mean folk, I mean general.

BOB DYLAN: Rasputin ... Hmmm Charles de Gaulle . . . The Staple Singers.  I sort of have a general attitude about that.  I like just about everybody everybody else likes.

REPORTER: You said just a minute ago you were preparing to go to classical music.  Could you tell me a little about that?

BOB DYLAN: Well, I was going to be in the classical music field and I imagine it's going right along.  I'll get there one of these records.

REPORTER: Are you using the word classical perhaps a little differently than we?

BOB DYLAN: A little bit, maybe.  Just a hair.

REPORTER: Could you explain that?

BOB DYLAN: Well, I'm using it in the general sense of the word, thumbing a hair out.

REPORTER: Any attention to form?

BOB DYLAN: Form and matter.  Mathematics.

REPORTER: What is your belief in a God?  Are you a Christian?

BOB DYLAN: Well, first of all God is a woman, we all know that.  Well, vou take it from there.

* * *

NEW YORK, 1966---American Colleges and universities began adding Contemporary Popular Music to their curricula, teaching it as if it were Business Administration.  In Greenwich Village, two entrepreneurs of hip bought out stock of a theatrical costume company sight unseen and in a matter of days sold 5,000 costumes to people who wore them into the street.

Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, the fabled honey of his voice dripping off the wax black edges of a 45 rpm single, recorded an orchestrated oration called Gallant Men and, with an "I didn't know you can get paid for doing this too," announced plans for another record of himself reading from the Bible.

Otherwise, the nation's Top 40 radio stations steadfastly maintained their traditions.  In Federal Court, a company called Coed Records, alleging it had paid $19,000 to disk jockeys, claimed that payola was so commonplace it ought to be allowed to deduct the money from its income tax as a business expense.  When the Rolling Stones released a record called Let's Spend the Night Together, the radio stations played the other side, Ruby Tuesday.  The Stones nearly walked off the Ed Sullivan Show when Sullivan insisted they mumble the line, "Let's spend the night together," during a performance of the song.  While American radio kept busy trying to keep its turntable clean of records that dealt with sex and drugs, American songwriters kept busy outwitting the censors with lyrics that had double, triple and sometimes multiple meanings.  America's new generation was creating its own culture and as part of that culture it was creating its own music and its own language.

* * *

LOS ANGELES, 1967---As clean and machine-finished as fresh Saran Wrap, the Monkees in six months seemed on the way to becoming the most popular group in the world.  Their success stunned even their manufacturers, who had designed the Monkees primarily for a weekly half-hour comedy television show.  When the show went on the air last September, it was almost booed right off by the ratings.

Then the Monkees' records were released and the sales figures started rising beyond anybody's belief.  The first single sold 1,200,000 copies, the first album sold 3,300,000, the second single sold 3,1 00,000 and by the time the second album was put on the market, in three weeks advance sales totaled 2,500,000.  "I think the Monkees are outselling Elvis Presley and the Beatles at the same point in their careers," one R.C.A. Victor official cautiously volunteered.

On the other hand, the Monkees, packaged and marketed in the same way that their sponsors produce a box of sugar?coated crisp, had begun to feel that their own personalities had as much to do with the success of the package as the vacuum-sealed silver foil they came wrapped in.

"It's like somebody predicted it," said one musician, viewing the whole pop scene with the amusement of someone who had bought his fame with ten years of one-nighters, playing country blues guitar in every town that ever canceled a postage stamp.  "That three years after the Beatles, someone would get the idea of putting a group together like the Monkees and putting them on television, and they'd become very big, almost as big as the Beatles, and that after they got very big they'd start hassling their producers and want to do their own stuff.  But they seem pretty groovy; they seem like they'd be able to do their own thing and not have to worry about it.  Did you know that Mike Nesmith wrote Mary, Mary?  That's a groovy song.  Even Paul Butterfield recorded Mary, Mary."

"The amusing thing about this," taunted the magazine Crawdaddy!, "is its supreme unimportance---after it's all over, and they've outsold everyone else in history, the Monkees will still leave absolutely no mark on American music."

At last report, according to one witness, "they were having this big meeting in this hotel room, and Mike Nesmith got mad and said he was sick and tired of putting out cruddy records.  He wanted to put out a product worthy of the Monkees' image.  The Monkees are getting worried about what their hippie friends in Greenwich Village and Haight-Ashbury are going to think about them."

* * *

NEW YORK, 1967-"Dylan has been doing nothing, absolutely nothing," said Jaime Robertson, Dylan's guitarist, to an inquiring reporter.  "He's been looking at the gate around his house and training his dogs how to bite." But that was just a contribution to the Dylan mystery.  Actually, Dylan was writing ten new songs a week, rehearsing them in his living room with Robertson's group, The Hawks, and trying to complete a one?hour film TV special for ABC-TV, which said it couldn't use the program because it was delivered seven months late.

* * *

LOS ANGELES, 1967---In his office on the Sunset Strip, Derek Taylor lit another filtertip cigarette.  Once he had been the press officer for the Beatles; now he was the publicity agent for a dozen Top 40 recording artists.  On his desk was a newspaper clipping about a Catholic priest who for two years had been touring the country giving lectures based on a Saturday Evening Post article which had quoted Taylor as saying that the Beatles were anti-Christ.

Taylor was talking music: "The myth is that the industry has grown up. All the marvelous elements have come together, all the groovy people are now in command.  Okay.  But when the awards come out at the end of 1966, you open Record World and what do you find?  The top vocalist of the year is Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler.  I'm sure Barry Sadler is a very good soldier, but what has that got to do with music?  All right.  The most promising male vocal group is Tommy James and the Shondells.  Here's a group that made one record that hung around for two years because nobody would touch it.  Then, by some freak, it sells more than a million copies---Hanky Panky, the all-time definitive piece of crap, a very poor recreation of Be Bop a Lula, a famous Gene Vincent song---and on the basis of that, they're voted the most promising male vocal group in the single market.

"In Cash Box, somewhere on their list is Bob Dylan, who has just beaten out John Gary, but above Dylan is Al Martino.  All of which goes to prove that it's quite untrue that the record industry has grown up.  And the reason is that there's no growing up of the public taste.  The same crap is being bought that was bought ten years ago.  Let's look at Record World again.  The most promising male vocal group in albums in 1966 was the Monkees.  Now, the Monkees are a workman-like group put together like a play is put together, through casting.  But if the most promising group of 1966 was the Monkees, the industry is in a mess."

Through the sunglow of his office windows, the grass of the Hollywood Hills could be seen spreading up to the castled doorsteps of the aging Lords of Entertainment.  But things had changed.  Marilyn Monroe used to watch the flashing thunderbolt of the RKO studio from her girlhood bedroom.  Now the children of Los Angeles looked out their picture windows to see America's Mount Olympus dancing to acid-rock rhythms in their heads.

From behind the electric gates of his mountaintop stronghold on Mulholland Drive, Frank Sinatra had founded a dynasty.  From another craggy peak in Bel Air, Dr. Jules Stein, who rose to power as a booking agent for bandleaders like Guy Lombardo, still reigned as the Bernard Baruch of show business.  But on another hill was Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, holding water ballets in his heated swimming pool under the eye of a television camera and millions who would watch the program.

The Byrds were up there, too, all nestled in the same neighborhood, close enough to one another for Byrd Jim McGuinn to take videotape films with his home TV camera when Byrd Chris Hillman's house burned down.  McGuinn sold his tapes to a Los Angeles TV station for its late night news broadcast.  And on another hillside were John and Michelle Phillips, who, as half of the Mamas and the Papas, lived in a mansion where Gene Raymond and Jeanette MacDonald had once inspired the old-fashioned lovers of the world.

Down on the flatlands below, the groupies were trying to crash the sound stage where the Monkees were filming their TV show.  It wasn't hard.  A select few were allowed in each day to brighten the set.

At night, the Los Angeles Sheriff's office was using armored buses to enforce the 10 p.m, curfew for kids under 18, and the authorities were acting to close down the Sunset Strip rock-and-?roll clubs by rescinding their teenage dance permits.  Dressed in paisley and suede and any costume they could dig up from the days of Charlie Chaplin, the mini-masses were fighting back with protest marches.  Walt Disney was dead, but amid the young mobs that walked the Strip at night, the police were arresting lifelong Mickey Mouse fans on charges of possession of narcotics.

* * *

WOODSTOCK, N.Y., 1967---Bob Dylan's eyes drew you into them like whirlpools, so you had to look away to keep from being drowned in his charisma. He was sitting at an electric piano while a Japanese windchime played random melodies on the porch outside.  Dylan had owned the house for quite a while before he finally moved into it, a rambling American chateau of mahogany stained shingles that clung to a mountaintop above the point where the mountaintop kept its head in the clouds.  It seemed as if God and nature had joined in the conspiracy to help draw the veil of mystery and seclusion that had surrounded Dylan and his activities since he broke his neck in a motorcycle accident last year.

He wore a beard now and rimless Benjamin Franklin eyeglasses, and from behind his incognito he sang a new song he had written.

"You can change your name but you can't run away from yourself . . . You can change your name but you can't run away from yourself. . ."

"Do you like that song?" he asked a friend.

"I think it's great," the friend said.  "I don't like that song," Dylan said.  The friend was crestfallen.  Later, Dylan sang another new song.

"I like that one better than the other one," the friend said.

Dylan turned to Jaime Robertson.

"See," Dylan said, "we shouldn't keep any music critics around here.  We just lost another song."  ##                     

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