COLUMN SEVENTY-FIVE, SEPTEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz
THE DAY THE ANGELS SPENT CHRISTMAS WITH THE BEATLES
[David Dalton is the author of some twelve books including James Dean: The Mutant King and El Sid: Saint Vicious. His novel, Been Here and Gone was recently published in the UK].
Well, no, it's not that
kind of story, exactly, although given the fairytale element in the legend of
the Fab Four you might, circa 1964, have got away with a tableau like
this?angels descending from on high?in a Beatles Xmas pageant. But that
would have been many years ago, when it was still possible to imagine a flock of
tatterdemalion angels fluttering down to mingle with the throngs in the Great
Hall of Beatledom and sing carols by a great roaring tinsel-paper fire. The
thing is, the Angels in this story are not that kind of angels, either. It's
more like "My Walk-on in the Life of George". But here we're going
to give it the full cinematic treatment. Hey, it's an epic, widescreen:
Beatles, Angels, the Dead and General Motors.
Gimme a Gregg Toland
deep-focus shot of Haight Street in the Summer of Love. Because that's where
this story begins (by this time, of course, a lot more things were ending than
beginning on that storied street). Mid-summer 1967 is an absolutely "orrible
moment to visit Haight Street. If you'd come, say, three months earlier even,
it was heaven on earth.
(Okay, I'll concede it's not that easy to measure cosmic
stuff while on cosmic stuff.) But in the twinkling of an eye, a couple of months
tops, the place had fallen flat as a souffl? interrupted mid-bake. It'd gone
from being the hippest, coolest, profoundest place on earth to a sort of
psychedelic skid row. By the Summer of Love, our little Hobbittown was bustling
and hustling and crawling with tourists, runaways, TV crews and narks. Cover of Time
and Newsweek. Presto, you're a Twinkie!
Rock royalty showing up
daily. Neil Young, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby. And who's this,
then? It's a bloody Beatle sauntering down Haight Street, smoking a big fat
joint. Sir George Harrison puffing like a Chinese chimney. He can't believe his
eyes?all these people openly rolling joints on Haight Street, kids throwing
joints at him. Brits were always boggled by the whole pot scene in Hippietown.
George loves the fact that
he can walk down Haight Street more or less without hassle. People just hand him
joints, maybe walk along for a block or so to chat, and then let him go his own
way. Charles II and retinue strolling amongst his loyal subjects.
He's fascinated by it all.
For George, the Haight is the new model City on the Hill, a sort of community
whose constitution is based on rock 'n' roll, on Beatles even. Curious George
wants to know: "How did it all start? How long has it been going on? How
On Divisidero he runs into
a couple of Hell's Angels, Tumbleweed and Pete. Wow! Real sweaty, hairy, savage
Hell's Angels. The terror of the West. He's impressed, all right. They're
Harrison, man!" In the heat of the moment George invites them to come and
stay with him "whenever you're in London, man." You know, at George's
house! Now in England, this sort of invitation is taken for what it is:
perfunctory politeness. Besides, he must have thought, when are two Hell's
Angels ever going to show up at
"Well, Jesus, George,
that's real decent of you. Real decent. We've been planning a trip to check out
swingin' London, haven't we, Pete?" Pete is equally enthusiastic.
"Fuck, yeah! Hell,
we'll just bring the Harleys, it'll be a hell of a time." Whereupon George
proceeds to hand them... his card. A bit formal, methinks, but the boys fall on
it as if it were a fresh kilo of dope.
They hand it around'to
sniff, I presume?but on closer examination it turns out to be an Apple Records
card. Oh well, he's not actually going to give them his telephone number at
Strawberry fucking Fields, now is he? I mean what if these guys actually do show
Kids are lying on the
sidewalk, dogs in kerchiefs are running up and down the street, people are
panhandling. It's so crowded in spots it's hard to walk. George suddenly seems
A cloud passes over
George?a dark horse that one.
"Where will it all
end?" he mumbles. Wot a question!
We will disappear into the
blackness of the space from which we came, destroyed as we began, in a burst of
gas and fire. C?mon, George, didn't you see Rebel Without a Cause"
The Yuletide season rolls
around and certain hairy people start remembering that George Harrison has
invited a bunch of them to his palace for Christmas.
It's not clear exactly who
George invited by name, but, hey, who's counting?it's the Beatles, innit?
What possible difference is
one or two more going to make?
Let's see... there's Ken Kesey, Peter Coyote from the Mime Troupe, the Pleasure Crew, Slade
hit on Bill Graham
for travel expenses
and Spider, the two Hell's
Angels George met walking down Haight Street (and their mamas), the two original
Deadheads, Connie and Sue Swanson, Danny Rifkin, Peter the Monk and, uh,
someone". Thirteen people in all, a good round number. A magic number! Who
could object to that?
But they're about a
thousand bucks short. "Jeez, we're gonna need at least five hundred bucks
just to transport the Harleys there and back in steerage."
High finance. So Peter the
Monk goes to Bill Graham's dingy little office in the back of the Fillmore. If
you were to go up there in the old days, you'd find all the bullets that
various Hell's Angels had given him over those early years proudly displayed on
And, boom, the Angel'd slap
down a .357 or a .44 shell. They are all there, lined up in a row. It's a big
joke until the Angels decide it isn't a joke. And just to show you it ain't all
bluff, the Angels hang Bill Graham out of the two-story window by his leg at the
Fillmore East when he tries to stop them from wearing their colors into the
Peter the Monk picks up
four shells and tells Graham that the bullets are gonna cost him two hundred and
fifty dollars each. "In other words, Bill, we need a thousand
"What the hell
"Well, to fly a couple
of motorcycles to London for one thing."
Bill is ranting and raving.
"Christ almighty, what in the hell makes you think, rrraa, ra, ra."
taking these bullets off of your desk, and that'll take a load off of your
mind, won't it? Four less bikers out for your sorry ass."
"I don't know why I'm
doing this, but okay. Just one thing. He inserts a clause at the end of the
"Since you're going
to be guests of George Harrison, here's what I want you to do: I want you to
tell the Beatles that I'll promote them any way I can; I'll promote them for
free. I'll promote them in Golden Gate Park, I'll promote them in Central
Park, I'll promote them anywhere, free! On the fuckin? moon if they so
Peter the Monk's going,
"Uh huh, sure. You'll promote this in a hat, you'll promote them with a
cat! Come on, give me a break. Bill Graham presents the Beatles for free?! Is
that what you mean, Bill?"
it! Really, it is."
"But you get the
t-shirt concession, the Port-o-San concession, the hot dog and soda...."
"Get outta here, you
bums! Who do you think you are?"
Now they've got the bread
and they get on one of those cheapo Air India flights. There aren't many
passengers aside from them, so they take over the middle of the plane and put
all the seatbacks down and cover them with their coats and blankets and sleeping
bags and sit around cross-legged in a giant circle and sing camp songs. Kesey
tells Eskimo stories and Northwest Indian tales. To complete the picture, Peter
Coyote's injecting himself in the stomach with Vitamin B12 and methamphetamine.
Someone plays harmonica;
they get a little jam session going and boogie all the way to London. Boy, are
they a mess when they get to Heathrow airport. They get to customs and everybody
(except for Peter) goes into the nothing-to-declare line. Peter?with his brown
paper bag full of syringes, weird bottles, and labels that look like they're
from a Wild West chemist?goes to the red zone. Waiting forever for him to go
through customs, and then for the Angels to get their bikes out of some
godforsaken excise warehouse.
They head straight for the
Beatles headquarters, Apple, in a procession of motorcycles, taxicabs, Land
Rovers and whatever else they sent out for us. The bottle-green liveried footmen
at Apple practically faint when they see them?Egad! The barbarians are
"But, hey dudes, we're
friends of George's!"
"I don't doubt that
you are, sir, but would you mind waiting in the foyer. Mr. Harrison, you see,
isn't available at the present."
"That's okay, we'll
It's still very early in
the morning and they end up in George's office with the tea ladies from Apple
buzzing around, bringing cups of tea and crumpets. By the time Derek Taylor (the
Beatles press agent) shows up our motley crew is all crashed and sleeping on the
couches and in the waiting rooms and the hallways and in George's office.
Around noon George shows up
("Mr. Harrison is in the building!") but he can't see them just yet
(or ever!) and as to the invitation to stay at Strawberry fucking Fields, well,
a representative will be out momentarily to speak with you. After a great deal
of huddled whispering, the Hell's Angels & Co. are told that,
regretfully,". If only George had known you were coming, well, you see.
Derek Taylor breaks it to
them gently: "Look fellahs, George sends his apologies. He means well, he
really does want to accommodate you all, but he just didn't expect quite this
many people. It is Christmas, after all, and he does have a full compliment of
guests at Strawberry Fields already." George's forty-room mansion is quite
booked up. Jeez, the place is a bloody castle. Who does he have staying with
him, the Bolivian soccer team?
They've just arrived
California style and now they have to scoot all around town and try to find
places to crash. George sends the Angels, their mamas and their bikes over to
Ladbroke Grove, where Richard Dilello, Stanley Mouse, and I share a house by the
Which is how these Hell's
Angels came to be staying with us. They were exemplary houseguests. They brought
food and beer and gifts?among them a signed copy of Freewheelin? Frank's
book, but they also were overweight, balding and oddly conservative. They also
held wildly differing opinions on topics dear to our hippie hearts: napalm, Jimi
Hendrix, brown rice.
So we all smoked hash,
drank beer, and played old Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis albums until we
It all comes to a head at Christmas dinner, brought on by a clash of cultures. A sort of tableau vivant of Louis XIV and the Visigoths. The prissy little functionaries at Apple and the rowdy,
a carving fork into the turkey. . .drumstick, anyone?
dudes?and never the twain shall meet. Due to some protocol of their own, the
Apple elves are not letting the ravenous California dudes eat any of the
mouth-watering food laid out on great groaning boards.
It's just like the Food
Hall at Harrods! Trays of pheasant and aspics and p't's and crackers and on
and on parading past them all day long, all day long. This incredible stuff from
the finest restaurants, and, believe me, they're starved. They're out of
money and haven't had a decent meal in days. There's free-flowing champagne
everywhere so everybody's getting well soused on champagne, and still no food.
Finally (what do they
fucking expect?) there's a palace revolution. The Hell's Angels insist that
they be fed. Right now. Pete Knell takes a huge carving fork and picks the whole
bird up. Sweet William tears off a leg. Turkey anyone?
Later on a few pimply South
London bikers show up. English Hells Angels?very young, gawky guys with their
club names written in chalk on the backs of their jackets?and bearing as much
resemblance to the Frisco chapter of the Hell's Angels as Wiley E.
Fuck, man, why not? I hear
him telling these wide-eyed kids: "You could take over this town."
Sure, Pete, tell it to Napoleon.
Cut! We can't end a
Beatles movie like this. Let's go back to the other ending?when all through
the house not a creature was stirring, not even Stanley Mouse. The assembled
dudes and demigods had just sat down to a giant repast when up on the roof top
reindeer paws". Santa and his elves! Taking a break (reindeer pause?) from
their Euro-route. In the old days they used to stop at Buckingham Palace for
Ovaltine and digestive biscuits but the Royals weren't so royal anymore, and
we all knew that the true kings of the kingdom were the Mop Tops.
Next, in the stillness of
the night, came a fluttering of wings like chopper blades and there did descend
a flock of angels from on high, all resembling Peter Frampton. There's a knock
at the great front door of Apple. It's Mick and Marianne, Keith and Anita!
And up over the Old Smoke
rose a rousing anthem sung by all the raucous voices who had ever blessed vinyl,
rest you merry gentlemen, may nothing you dismay?
And all of us heard as Santa flew outtasight, "Merry Christmas to all, it's been a hard day's night!" ##
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