All posts by Old Rocker

The Counter-Culture

Here’s a YouTube video that does a great job explaining the start of the hippies.  The author shows his philosophical roots in his screen name “Zarathustra’s Serpent”.

So, we are in the thick of the psychedelic age. Until now, we’ve seen youth culture developing within itself, focused on finding new highs, not really paying attention to the world around it. But in the beginning of 1967, came a song that calls the kids to stop and look around, and ask what can be changed.

The name of the record – ‘For What it’s Worth’ – shows that the creators didn’t think that it could change much, and didn’t believe it will make the youth take a political stance. But the wind began to change direction that year, and youth culture started to pose its truth in opposition to the truisms of the dominant culture, and demand change.

Before we describe the new values that were mined out of the spirit of psychedelia, we shall do a quick summary of the old dogmas they went against. After world war two, the US and the UK, the two great winners, turned inside, to deal with their inner problems. Having defeated the Nazi evil, the two nations believed that the same heroic spirit that drove them during the war will be able to defeat all the evils that dwell within them, and fix all the old wrongs.

A spirit of unity lay upon these two societies, and the keyword was “consensus”: the old political divisions were settled, and almost everyone got behind the overall policy. In economy, for instance, the American right agreed that the socialist reforms enacted by President Roosevelt brought prosperity, and accepted a welfare policy that combined free market with socialism.

The left also agreed that the revolutionary Marxist way has failed, creating only communist dictatorships that brought mostly suffering to their citizens, and supported the welfare policy that was aimed at bringing a gradual improvement for the lower classes. In Britain, the end of the war saw the rise of a labor government that enacted an uncompromising socialist policy, but when it turned out that this policy fails to get the country out of the age of austerity, it lost its favor with the people, and capitalist elements started to creep back in.

Part of this welfare state approach was also the belief that everyone should have leisure time, resulting in a consumer society that demanded more and more leisure products, which made daily life more comfortable and diverse, and also fueled the wheels of the industry. By the mid-1950s, both countries started to enjoy economic prosperity, the social gaps were narrowing, and they seemed to be marching towards a future where there would be freedom, equality and affluence for all.

A similar consensus was reached around the perception of human nature. Traditionally, the prevailing puritan consciousness regarded human nature as sinful, and believed that only strict repression of instincts and strong discipline can create a functioning human society. The liberals, on the other hand, believed that the nature of Man is good, and it is only the crooked structure of society that makes him go bad.

However, the atrocious things that humans did to each other during the war compelled the liberals to rethink their position, and the leading liberal approach now was that Man can be good, but for that he still needs to mature, and rid himself of the remains of the jungle animal that he once was. Therefore, we must keep on studying Man, and look for ways to improve.

The social sciences were now held in higher repute, and the theories put forth by psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists were implemented by the system, trying to shape Man in a better way. The conservative puritans, meanwhile, did not believe that you can shape Man to be good, but they did join the game and used this pervasive system to impose their strict codes, especially on sexuality.

A similar atmosphere prevailed in Britain, where Victorian values still held sway. This power given to the government, and the tight social control it enacted, were opposed to the American spirit, traditionally based on individualism, pioneering and suspicion towards authority. To overcome this resistance, patriotism was trumpeted, and everyone was called upon to pull together to create a strong society, which will overcome both homegrown problems and the external communist threat.

Individualism was still regarded as a good thing, but only within an acceptable frame, and everyone was supposed to conform and become useful citizens. Anyone who didn’t conform was seen as suffering from a mental problem and was sent to psychiatric institutes, which we’ve already mentioned in previous chapters.

But while individual exceptionality was still seen as basically a good thing, tribal exceptionality was completely unacceptable, seen as negating the social ideal. The aim was to eradicate all tribal differences and create a universal society, and anyone who wasn’t on board was hounded and excluded.

This atmosphere led to everyone adopting a unified look, with the men sporting short military haircuts and wearing suits like useful citizens, and the women following the prevailing fashion, which was always very feminine but not too sexy. In the process, a new balance was established between men and women.

The perception was that the man is selfish and driven by his instincts, mainly his sex drive, whereas the woman is a social creature and practically devoid of sexuality. Therefore, to establish the universal society, the woman is the one who should be in charge, through the rearing of the coming generations.

During the war years, many women went out to work and started to think in terms of career, but now the prevailing mindset encouraged them to go back home, and take a role that was portrayed as more important, the role of a housewife that is in charge of the children’s upbringing. The housewife now got a lot of attention, and was given instructions on how to best do her job, while the industry created products aimed to make her life easier.

The youth, too, was given a lot of attention, and the system made a lot of effort to create all the terms needed for it to grow up right, and become the generation that will take us forward towards the perfect society. This was the first generation of youth that had its own money to spend, and the industry created the term teenager to define this new market, with products aimed directly at it.

But for the teenagers, all of this was quite confusing and contained some sharp contradictions. On the one hand they had money to go out and have a good time, but on the other hand they were under stern puritanical supervision. On the one hand they were taught to work for a better future, but on the other hand they were born into the nuclear age and a cold war, which created the feeling that the world has no future.

On the one hand they were taught to overcome racism and regard all people as equal, but on the other hand the idea of getting out of the jungle has caused blacks, that were perceived as representing jungle culture, to be portrayed as inferior people. Since it didn’t live through the bloody struggles of the previous decades, the youth didn’t appreciate the merits of compromise and conformity, and perceived the previous generations as fake and hypocritical.

When rock’n’roll arrived in the mid-fifties, it answered all these problems, providing elation and sexual ecstasy in the here and now, and unifying all youth, blacks and whites, boys and girls, rich and poor, in one movement. Thus, the youth detached from the role ordained for it, the role of creating the perfect society, and instead developed its own culture through rock’n’roll.

From here on it was the teenagers that dictated to the industry what products it should create for them: rock’n’roll records, electric guitars, surfboards, motorbikes, hair gel, cool outfits, etc. In the previous chapters, I described the formation of this generational gap, which generated a youth culture with different intuitions from those of the previous generations.

I pointed out the intuitive revolution that I consider to be the most crucial: the fact that previous generations still thought in terms of eliminating suffering as the highest goal, whereas the new generation, for which suffering was not a major part of life, was no longer willing to settle on that, but was more focused on the pursuit of happiness.

The youth didn’t want non-suffering, it wanted elation. I’ve discussed the other revolutions that resulted from that: the preference of performance over writing, the emphasis on immediate experiences over future goals, the gathering in tribal subcultures over the attempt to create a universal society.

We’ve also seen that the previous generations didn’t realize what was happening, and thought that they were dealing with moral and social degeneracy. But I am looking at it from the vantage point of half a century later, a distance that helps me understand the root of the conflict, interpret the new intuitions and see the logic behind them.

The youth back then didn’t have the ability to do so, and so they couldn’t respond to their parents berating them for their bad musical taste and moral degeneracy – all they knew was that rock’n’roll speaks to something inside of them, and feels a lot more real than the values society was trying to instill in them.

The great rock’n’roll songwriters, like Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Eddie Cochran, wrote songs that expressed the feeling that this is rock’n’roll and it’s ours, the grownups can’t understand it and we don’t know how to explain it ourselves, but we know it makes us feel better than anything else the world has to offer.

There was no one to decipher these intuitions, to articulate them in a way that would be understood by others, and the rock’n’roll kids just kept on living by them without trying to create a worldview to ground them in. And then came Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan gave the youth the vindication it was looking for.

In his contact with the adult world, that world that always dismissed youth culture, he retaliated by exposing their cluelessness. He was preceded in that by the Beatles, especially the sarcastic John Lennon, who in their media interviews were always pranking their interviewers and showing how out of touch they were.

But Dylan gave the impression that the grownups are not just out of touch when it came to dealing with the pop world, but that they are altogether belonging to a generation whose time has passed. In his records, he found ways to merge rock’n’roll with poetry and theatre and with the legacy of the Western spirit, and made the youth feel like his lyrics harbor secrets that can lead us to the truth.

This idolization of Dylan went too far, but it is hard to overstate his importance as an artist. He was the one who endowed the other rock’n’roll artists with the feeling that they had something to say, and encouraged them to try to understand the intuitions at the basis of their culture. Under his influence, many rock’n’rollers began writing songs that tried to express in words what the music was telling them, and started a conversation through which youth culture would develop a new worldview.

In the record ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’, Dylan mocks those scholars who think that they have a top-down view on youth culture, and that they are capable of understanding it. Mr. Jones is an archetype of such a scholar, who comes armed with his outdated academic theories and tries to implement them to understand the sixties youth, but actually he has no idea what he is talking about.

Dylan, as we recall, started out as part of the folk movement, which was another musical movement that rebelled against the fifties consensus. But folk kept on playing the old game of capitalism vs. Marxism, and its gripe with the status quo was that the progress is too slow. Dylan got out of this old equation and connected to the fresh intuitions of the rock’n’roll youth, but also maintained the broader look of folk, its social criticism.

And the rock’n’roll bands that were influenced by him started also, in the second half of the sixties, to look around. Psychedelia gave the youth the belief that it really had something new and important to say. Through it, it began exploring the mind, and realized that it is dominated by certain beliefs which make their holder experience the world in a certain way, whereas a changing of perception makes him experience the world differently.

This was the origin of the sixties saying: “it’s all in the mind”. While the Marxist folkies believed that only a change in the social structure would bring a better world, the Hippies believed that the road to happiness is to be achieved through changing one’s consciousness, liberating it from old beliefs, and pointing it towards a joyful existence.

The first Beatles record that can be defined as psychedelic is ‘Rain’, which came out in May 1966. In the record, Lennon is mocking the people who run and hide when rain begins to fall, only to emerge when the Sun comes out. Rain and shine, he says, are just a state of mind. What Lennon says is that our tendency to hide from the rain is something that has been instilled in us, and has no basis.

A man with a liberated mind can enjoy existence whether it rains or shines. McCartney had something else to say about rain. In ‘Fixing a Hole’, a track on the Sgt. Pepper album, he tells us that he built a place of his own a filled all the cracks that let the rain in, and distracted his mind from wondering freely.

But here too we find dismay at other people, those who keep running around and play the roles that society ordained for them, instead of joining him in the life of reflection and mind liberation. Then again, he doesn’t claim superiority over them. He is happy in his world, but can’t say for sure if he is wrong or right, if he is truly living the best type of existence.

All he knows is that “where I belong, I’m right” – in his private world, he is doing what’s best for him, and feels happy. And that’s good enough for him. But a few months later, in the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ project, we already find a different insight, a different approach.

In ‘The Fool on the Hill’, McCartney once again tells us about a recluse who lives in his own world, secluded from society. Everyone laughs at him and think he is a fool, but the fool on the hill sees the Sun going down, and the eyes in his head see the world spinning round. The fool is compared to Galileo, who like everyone else saw the Sun setting, but with the eyes in his head, i.

e. with his mind, understood that it is actually the world that is spinning. This is no longer the subjective stance that we saw in ‘Fixing a Hole’. Here, he believes that his truth is objective, and true for everyone. Okay, this is after all just a song, and there’s no basis to think that the Beatles believed that they are holding the absolute truth.

But this path I described here, where someone’s private joyful experience eventually gets him to believe that he found the truth that will bring joy to everyone, is something that happened many times throughout history. And among the Hippies as well, there were many who believed that they found the key to happiness, and must now bring the gospel to the rest of humankind.

What causes people to make this transition? The answer is that this is a prejudice that is embedded deep in Western culture – and Eastern culture, for that matter. There is a deep-seated belief that in order to be happy, Man must find the truth at the basis of existence, and this truth is eternal and universal, true to every human in any time and place.

Because of this traditional view, truth and happiness are connected to each other in our consciousness, and as a result, when a person encounters something that makes them feel extreme happiness, they are driven to believe that they have found the eternal truth. We met this line of thinking before. For instance, we saw how Timothy Leary argues that our mind is captivated by all sorts of games that have been imposed on it, but the psychedelic experience frees it from all these games, and makes it dwell in the realm of truth.

How does Leary know that what he experienced is indeed the truth? Does he have any proof of that? Actually, he has only one piece of evidence, and that is the fact that he felt intense joy during the psychedelic experience. But that one piece of evidence was enough for him. Leary, who presumed to have freed himself of all games, was actually still caught in one of the oldest games of all, the game that determines that to be happy you must hold the truth, and that is what made him interpret the joy of the psychedelic experience as stemming from finding the truth.

In the same way, we saw how Ken Kesey builds an entire picture of the universe based on the psychedelic experience, out of the belief that this experience opened up a window for him to see the truth. Actually, this belief has no grounds. No one ensures us that truth will bring happiness, or that happiness indicates that we’ve found the truth.

But these people have a problem. These joyful experiences that they have are only temporary, and eventually they fall back to the ground. How can they explain it, if truth is supposed to be eternal? The regular answer is that what they’ve experience isn’t the whole truth, but only part of it. In other words, the experience gives us a taste of Heaven, but our existence remains mostly in our fallen world.

And so, those who went through the experience believe that they have to dive deeper into it, find what’s behind it, and once they do, they will be able to make it permanent and remain in paradise forever. In ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, John Lennon describes a psychedelic experience during which he finds himself in a wondrous world, where he chases a divine and sparkling girl named Lucy, believing that if he catches her his world will be complete.

The psychedelic experience itself is no longer enough – now we also want to find what’s behind it. Again, this belief doesn’t have a leg to stand on. No one has ever managed to show that there is something beyond those temporary joyful experiences, or that there is a way to make them permanent.

But this prejudice is implanted so deep in our consciousness, that it directs our actions. And so, the youth began looking for the truth behind the psychedelic experience, with the hope of making it permanent. Many believed that Eastern thought was already enlightened to this experience, and could contain the answers that they were looking for.

The Beatles, for instance, traveled to India at the end of 1967, and spent a few weeks with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who popularized the transcendental meditation technique, said to give you the psychedelic experience without drugs. Others looked for it in other mystical creeds. Youth culture, as we recall, started out rebelling against the idea that we need to work towards a perfect future, and believed that we should live for today, create ecstatic experiences in the here and now.

But at the end of 67, it started to fall back into the old game, into the belief that we must aspire to find the eternal truth and create a world based on it. Then again, truth for them was no longer based on gradual progress out of the jungle towards an enlightened society. They looked for more immediate ways to achieve salvation.

The way, as mentioned, was through changing your consciousness. The social consensus that prevailed in the fifties was based on compromise, on people conforming to the will of the collective. The Hippies claimed that there was no need to compromise: once we liberate our mind we realize that there is natural harmony between us, and then we can all both live according to our nature and dwell in a harmonic society.

Rock festivals, from Monterey onwards, were purported as microcosms of such a society. This culminated in the Woodstock Festival, in the summer of 69, when hundreds of thousands of youngsters spent three days together, in a world based on music and love and not on tribalism and hostility. The festival inspired Joni Mitchell to write this song.

“We are stardust, billion year old carbon,” she sings, adopting a materialistic view. But then she continues “we are golden, caught in the devil’s bargain”, switching to Christian rhetoric. “And we’ve got to get ourselves, back to the garden”. What garden? Why, the Garden of Eden, of course.

This mixing of secular and religious imagery, typical of the Hippies, shows what they were after: they wanted to go back to paradise, and they believed that paradise is not in the afterlife, but can be achieved in this world. “Peace and Love” became the slogan, from the Summer of Love onwards.

The youth felt itself as expressing true fraternity, in opposition to the adults who are busy having wars with each other. The cold war between capitalism and communism seemed silly to this youth, that rejected the ideology at the basis of both of them. This cold war had a very hot manifestation at the time: the US was busy fighting the communists in Vietnam, and conscription was imposed to fill in the ranks, compelling all young Americans to go fight this war.

Until 68, only folk artists raised their voice against the war, and rock’n’roll ignored the issue. But that all changed when the Hippies started to preach the peace and love gospel. Here is Country Joe, the folk singer turned Hippie, singing a satirical song that mocks his fellow Americans who go to die without asking why.

But unlike the protest movement which the folkies and other lefties were part of, the Hippies had another idea of how to bring peace. They didn’t believe in politics, they believed in changing consciousness. The Hippies believed that through music, and through spreading their lifestyle, they can change the world, and that protests are part of the old game, based on negativity and hate.

The man who manifested this view most of all was John Lennon. Lennon, in 1968, began his relationship with Yoko Ono, which will eventually lead to their marriage. Ono was a Japanese artist who belonged the Fluxus movement, an avant-Garde movement that believed, among other things, that art should be taken out of the museums and on to the streets, so it can become part of everyday life and change the culture.

But the artists who belonged to this movement soon found out, to their chagrin, that the problem with the traditional artistic medium isn’t just that they are trapped in museums and concert halls – the problem is that they lost touch with the public, because they speak a language that the masses no longer understand.

This is the same feeling that Ken Kesey had about literature, which made him abandon it and turn to rock music and moviemaking instead. These artists, despite their efforts, didn’t leave much of an impression, and failed to reach the general public – except, of course, Yoko Ono, who was accompanied by a man who was constantly under the public eye.

Influenced by Yoko, Lennon began thinking in terms of turning his life into an ongoing artistic performance, utilizing the fact that the cameras were always on him to create meaningful artistic events. Everything the couple did was aestheticized, and their message to the world was that if a British pop star and a Japanese avant-Garde artist can fall in love, there’s no reason that the world won’t be able to overcome its divisions.

When they got married, they decided to turn their honeymoon into an event which they called ‘Bed-in’, in which they spent two weeks in bed in different hotel suites and invited people to come have a dialogue. During the Bed-in, Lennon also wrote a song and invited some friends to join him in the bedroom and sing it.

Lennon starts out mocking all the isms of the time, and tells us to forget about all these ideologies, and just give peace a chance. Then he proceeds to call out the names of many of the heroes of the time, including some we’ve mentioned. We can even see some of them, like Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, joining John and Yoko in the chorus.

As we’ve seen, the psychedelic experience caused many of those who experienced it to feel unity, not just with the people around them but also with the entire cosmos. Therefore, the Hippies preached not just peace and love between humans, but also between Man and nature. Going against the industrial power that America was so proud of in the 1950s, the Hippies decried what this power does to nature.

Earlier we’ve seen Joni Mitchell singing that we are on our way to an earthly paradise. But in another song, she tells us how “they” paved over paradise, to build a parking lot. There was actually nothing new about this claim. The traditional Western attitude towards nature is based on the Judeo-Christian belief that Man was put on the Earth to rule it.

This approach led to science, which explores nature to understand and master it, and out of that came technology, which gives us ever greater control on the world around us, and industry, which processes nature for our needs. But there were always movements in the West that went against this trend, and preached that Man is part of nature, and should live harmoniously with it.

The industrial revolution created even greater alienation between Man and nature, and the romantic movement of the 19th century contained many voices that wanted to reconnect to nature. Some of these voices now resonated with the Hippies, and with them, this movement of return to nature became part of popular culture, a lot more widespread.

The result was the birth of the Environmental movement which persists today. In music, this was manifested in some rock bands turning to country. Country is the music of the rural folks, those who regard the simple rustic life in the village as the true existence, away from the urban life that twists and complicates the human soul.

Some Hippies found in this music a medium to express escape from the urban world and return to the land. We’ve already mentioned the Byrds, pioneers of folk-rock and psychedelia. And they were pioneers in this as well, as in 1968 they released an album that laid the foundations to a new style: country-rock.

Earlier on, in their psychedelic phase, the Byrds already released a single that, in a way, indicated this direction. In ‘5th Dimension’, from mid-1966, we find all the usual psychedelic elements: the sensation of passive floating, the feeling that you are merging with the universe, the sense that you are gaining a top-down view on your existence and understanding its essence.

But what insight does the protagonist of this trip arrive at? The dissent here is not just against industry and technology, but against the very thing that they are based on: Western science. Science, the Byrds sing, is madness, that only causes misery. We need to liberate ourselves from it to be happy.

We’ve already encountered this criticism of science in Aldous Huxley, who argued that looking at nature through scientific glasses has a reducing effect on our perception, making us ignore everything that cannot be scientifically measured. Huxley’s alternative was to combine the scientific approach with an aesthetic approach, giving us a more comprehensive and well-rounded view of existence.

Psychedelia, at first, lived up to Huxley’s ideal: it blended scientific exploration, and use of the wonders of technology, with going out to nature and developing the mystical side of the soul. But here, we already see a complete defection to the other side, and there were Hippies who believed that they should turn their back on science, technology and the modern world, and find their truth in nature and in mystical approaches that provided a different truth, one that can’t be grasped by scientific thought.

Then again, not everyone developed this hate to science and technology. There were some who took this rebellious spirit in the direction of undermining the industry’s monopoly on technology, and finding ways to take technology in different directions. Computer science, for instance, was developing in strides since world war two, and was completely in the hands of giant corporations like IBM, that took it in industrial and military directions.

In the sixties, some youngsters began exploring this field, aiming to bring the creative Hippie spirit into it. Out of their explorations we got video games, the home computer, and practically the entire cybernetic world as we know it today. This change in attitude towards nature was most prominent when it came to the issue of sex.

Christianity teaches that sex is impure, that even sexual thoughts are sinful, and that the human body is a prison we need to be released from. Sex, in the dominant Christian thought, is something that should be done not for recreation, but only for procreation. In the fifties, with the tight social control blended with puritanism, the repression of sexuality was at its peak, but the second half of the decade saw the invention of two things that tore it to shreds: the birth control pill, which allowed you to have sex without fear of pregnancy, and rock’n’roll, with the rhythm and wild dance moves borrowed from blacks, which was like an orgasmic release from the repression.

With the Hippies, the sexuality of rock’n’roll became ideological, an ideology that turned Christian metaphysics on its head, and claimed that the body is beautiful, that sexuality is an expression of love between humans, and that the sexual act should be done first and foremost for enjoyment.

Beyond enjoyment, the act was also believed to be freeing our consciousness from its fear of sexuality, just like the drugs freed it from other inhibitions. “Make love, not war” was the slogan – if more people made love, believed the Hippies, there would be less wars and strife in the world.

Thus, we got the holy trinity of the Hippie culture: sex, drugs, rock’n’roll. Driven by this ideology, rock’n’roll became more and more sexually daring, more and more explicit. Fifties rock’n’roll still used euphemisms and innuendo, but the way Jimi Hendrix played the guitar left very little room for the imagination.

And with heavy metal, which took acid-rock to more physical directions, the sexuality became even more graphic. An essential change also occurred in female attitude towards sex. In the fifties, girls were taught that they have no sexual drive, and that their aspiration should be to get a man to marry them and build a family.

Rock’n’roll, at first, was a guy thing, horny boys looking to seduce girls. The early youth subcultures – the Teddy Boys, the Rockers and the Surfers – were also a guy thing. But in the early sixties came the girl bands, that represented the female side of youth culture, and the Mods were the first youth subculture where girls were an integral part, and could express their creativity and individuality and contribute to the culture.

In girl bands songs, they would always be turned on by bad boys, those who were rebellious, rode bikes and danced to rock’n’roll songs. And still, those early sixties records were part of the old consciousness, expressing a desire to tame these wild boys and make good husbands out of them. When the Hippies came along, they brought a new female attitude, of women who wanted to enjoy sex as well.

Grace Slick and Janis Joplin were the first white female singers who moved on stage in the uninhibited way that men did. But they still had a lot to learn from black performers. Here’s Tina Turner, one of the only black rock artists of the sixties. The attitude towards parenting also went a radical transformation.

The kids who grew into the fifties paradigm, which tried to shape the next generation, threw away these reins, and some went to the opposite extreme, and believed that they should let their kids grow as their nature dictates, with no restrains. These ideals of love towards your fellow man and towards nature manifested themselves in the Hippie communes that started to spring in California.

These communes grew organically, driven by the shared spirit that imbued them, not out of some Marxist ideology. In the early days of the Haight Ashbury scene, the members of the Grateful Dead all lived together in the same apartment, sharing everything, and so did others. From there, the next step was to go out of city limits and return to nature, and there were Hippies who purchased farms and built communes, growing their own food and dreaming of feeding the entire world.

We are hearing Jefferson Airplane singing a country-rock hymn to the farm communes. In 1969, Jefferson Airplane were swept by the new revolutionary spirit, and became one of its main voices. We should, however, distinguish between this revolutionary spirit and revolutionary Marxism, which we shall discuss in the next episode.

The Marxists believed that if we topple the existing order, a better one will naturally emerge, so they focused on a violent struggle against the system. The Hippies, in contrast, focused on creating and developing an alternative, believing that it will gradually conquer more and more minds and eventually usurp the old system without violence.

In short, they believed in winning through culture, not through politics. Thus, the counter-culture of the sixties was born, a counter-culture burrowed from the spirit of psychedelia and the Hippies. The values of this counter-culture were developed mainly in and around rock music. Which meant that new channels had to be created to spread these values.

New record labels were formed, dedicated to finding and recording rock bands. Since many of these records would not be played by radio stations, pirate radio began to thrive, beaming this mind-blowing music into the bedrooms of kids. Important music critics started to emerge, and they discussed not only the music itself but also the insights and values contained in it, adding to the conversation.

Magazines that were wholly dedicated to the culture began to be published, the most important of them being Rolling Stone, based in San Francisco. The magazine offered a new kind of journalism, which became known as gonzo journalism, in which the reporter would not try to be objective, but offer their point of view.

Often, it meant that they had to become part of the event that they were reporting on, and give their first person account. A bit later came the magazine National Lampoon, which took the spirit of the counter-culture in the direction of subversive humor. In the early seventies, National Lampoon would also spread into stand-up comedy, and then to TV and movies, and this new humor would dominate American comedy for decades.

All of these channels emerged spontaneously and organically, but from 1968 there began an effort to bring everything together, to create an alternative society. The dream was to turn the counter-culture into a self-contained world, a society that creates its own food and shares it around, a culture that creates new ecstatic experiences through music and turns life into endless fun, a collective mind that forms new insights through psychedelic trips and takes humans consciousness to new realms, a civilization that exists in peace and love.

And there were also attempts to enter the political sphere. In 1968, the Youth International Party, or YIP for short, was formed, and its members referred to themselves as Yippies. As implied by their name, the Yippies were the political version of the Hippies, bringing the spirit of the Merry Pranksters into politics, aspiring to turn the political system into a circus of random pranks and gimmicks.

Their revolutionary ideology, they declared, draws its spirit from Marx. Not Karl Marx – the Marx brothers. The Yippies initiated a series of pranks that reached its peak in the 1968 presidential elections, during which they nominated and ran a pig named Pigasus for President. It was all supposed to be in good fun, but the authorities, from the other side of the generational gap, didn’t get the joke.

The Yippies’ militant declarations that they are going to create a society based on sex and drugs were taken seriously by the authorities, and their violent reaction wasn’t fun at all. The attempts to step out of the counter-culture bubble and into the world of the dominant culture led to bad results, as we shall see in the coming episodes.

The last attempt by the counter-culture to play the political game happened in 1969, when Timothy Leary ran to the governorship of California, then governed by Ronald Reagan, a sworn enemy of the Hippies. He even solicited John Lennon to write a campaign song for him, but the campaign was terminated when Leary was arrested and charged for possession of drugs.

The Beatles then reworked the song for themselves, and turned it into a song about a Hippie person who calls on the world to join him and unite. By then, however, the spirit of unity in the counter-culture had pretty much dissipated, and the atmosphere became increasingly more negative. From here on, it was all downhill.

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The Summer of Love and Psychedelia

Here’s a YouTube video that does a great job explaining the times and music leading up to The  Summer of Love.  The author shows his philosophical roots in his screen name “Zarathustra’s Serpent”.

If the name sounds familiar, it evidently came from Friedrich Nietzsche’s book “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”, a nineteenth-century philosopher.  Nietzche’s book was the foundation for composer Richard Straus’s musical work of the same name. Stanley Kubrick used the opening of the Straus piece in his 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Enjoy this excellent video and transcript from Zarathustra’s Serpent on YouTube.

It is no wonder that the heart of the Summer of Love was California. California, after all, is a place associated with endless summer, and in the beginning of the sixties, this endless summer was turned by pop music into a magical ideal.

To see how, we will have to take a moment to discuss surf music. Surfing is a custom that originated in Hawaii, where the Polynesian natives would ride the waves on wooden boards, a religious ritual of dealing with the forces of nature. The infiltration of the modern world, especially after the US annexed the island, has changed the local culture, but revenge was soon to arrive.

Some Americans adopted surfing, imported it to America and formed a subculture on the beaches of California. The surfers were youngsters who despised the puritanical capitalist idea that you should work hard to gain materialistic wealth, and instead chose a life of fun and ecstasy, where your existence is focused on riding the current wave and waiting for the next wave.

The American mainstream society, on its part, regarded them as un-American, and portrayed them as beach bums who dedicate their life to sensual pleasures instead of something meaningful. But surf culture found a way to fight back, and it did it through rock’n’roll. The man who started it all was Dick Dale, a surfer that was excited by the rebellious sound of rock’n’roll and wanted to combine it with the experience of wave surfing, to express the free spirit of the surfers and the joy of riding a big wave.

Working together with an innovator called Leo Fender, he revamped the electric guitar and added many effects, which made it possible for him to express the roar of the waves, the woosh of the wind, the spray of foam, and other sounds that you experience when you struggle with the powers of the ocean.

The power of Dale’s guitar was so great that it blew every existing amplifier, and compelled the industry to create more powerful amps, paving the way to acid rock and later to heavy metal. And so, Dale would surf the waves, reach the shore, grab his guitar, and blast electric surges that shook the ground in the vicinity and drew youngsters to join the party.

The waves made by Dale and the other surf guitarists travelled all over the globe, and bequeathed to the sixties values of loud rock music, love of nature and life for the current thrill, a legacy that will be fully embraced and developed by psychedelia. But the most famous band to come out of the surf rock scene had an entirely different style.

The Wilson brothers grew up in a musical family, and they formed a group that combined vocal doo-wop harmonies with rock’n’roll guitars. When they cut their first single in 1961, brother Denis, who was a surfer, suggested that they write a song for the subculture, and the record ‘Surfin” was born.

It found success, and they decided to base their songs around the surfing culture and even called themselves by one of the names that surfers used to identify themselves: the Beach Boys. This combination that the Beach Boys created, between doo-wop harmonies, rock’n’roll, and touches of surf guitar, took the pop world by storm in 1963.

But the song we’re watching now demonstrates the difference from original rock’n’roll. It borrows its melody from Chuck Berry’s classic ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, which is about the ecstasy that a teenage girl feels while watching a rock’n’roll show, and it emulates it to tell us about the ecstasy of going surfing.

But in Berry’s song, the girl has to go back to school on the next day, whereas the Beach Boys tell the teacher that they are leaving for an endless summer and don’t intend to come back. In original rock’n’roll, you remained in the conformist and suffocating world you grew into, and the ecstasy came from breaking these chains with music.

While surf music pictures a world where there are no chains, just an existence dedicated to having fun. The most talented Wilson brother was Brian, and he wrote most of the band’s songs. His dominance over the creative side was enhanced after a nervous breakdown he had in 1964, which compelled him to retire from live performances and focus on writing songs, and more importantly, producing records.

This is one of the biggest revolutions that rock’n’roll brought to the music world: the record became the heart of the creative process. In jazz, as we mentioned in previous episodes, the focus shifted from writing to performance, and jazz records tried to sound as close as possible to a live performance.

Jazz musicians would usually not edit or add anything to the recording – it was considered cheating. In rock’n’roll, on the other hand, it was customary to record different parts and then edit them together, to add sound effects, and to employ studio technology to manipulate the recording and turn it into a unique piece of soundscape.

Studio technology reached a very high level by the beginning of the sixties, and those years saw the rise of the record producers, the people responsible for recording and editing. Brian Wilson got into the thick of things and became a production wizard, and under his direction the Beach Boys started to produce elaborate and distinctive records.

In 1966 they released the album Pet Sounds, the first rock’n’roll album that was regarded as an art piece in its own right and not just as a collection of tracks. Every track on the album is a magnificent tapestry of sophisticated vocal harmonies and novel exotic sounds. They followed that with the same thing but in a much more concentrated dose, with the single ‘Good Vibrations’, another masterpiece of production.

Previously, we characterized the psychedelic experience as a state where the linear perception of reality breaks down, and your consciousness is being flooded with stimuli from all directions, causing a feeling that you elevated to a higher order. This is pretty much what we get here, and in many of the records that will be presented in this episode: rather than choosing one wave to surf on, we let many vibrations wash over us all at once, and take us into a magical kingdom.

When the Beatles came on the scene, they were initially a rebellion against sophisticated production, and went back to the primitive power of early rock’n’roll, with their records trying to recreate the way they sounded live. But by 1966 they grew tired of live performances, with the squealing girls who made it impossible to even hear the music, and they started to spend a lot more time in the studio, making increasingly innovative records with their super-producer George Martin.

The album Revolver, from that year, was a turning point, after which they decided to retire from live performances and become exclusively a studio band. The themes they sang about got deeper, dealing with existential questions, and they started to put a lot of thought into every record. Other rock’n’roll artists went through a similar process at the time, but Revolver is a perfect showcase for what put the Beatles above all else: every one of the four band members represented a different approach to existential questions, and together they could attack a theme from all sides, and present a totality.

This all-around totality, coming from four different personalities completing each other, characterized the Beatles from the beginning. John Lennon was rebellious and sarcastic, with a searing and aggressive singing style; Paul McCartney was pleasant and witty, with a lovely lilting voice; George Harrison was shy and reflective, with an enchanting vocal; and Ringo Starr was genial and outgoing, with a warm and embracing voice.

They had something for everyone, and together they were one unit working in harmony. When the substance got deeper, and they began to pursue the path to happiness, the differences also got deeper. John was looking for the answer in rebelling against the existing order and searching for something else, and his music took an experimental tinge, trying to break the mold of pop songs.

Paul sought the answer in merging the new ideas of the sixties with traditional western ideas, and musically, he took what his friends were doing and fused it with older musical styles. George connected with Buddhist mysticism, looking for the answer beyond this world, and musically he began infusing the sound of the band with Indian instruments and melodies.

And Ringo remained the down to earth guy, who finds happiness in hanging out with the guys, and served as an anchor to his three friends, reminding them not to take themselves too seriously. In Revolver these distinctions first came to light in all their sharpness, with everyone giving their take on the ideas that began percolating out of psychedelia, and they all come together to form a perfect album.

Here we hear Ringo singing a song written by Paul McCartney, which is actually a children song, but also contains the psychedelic dream of escaping to a colorful fairy-tale land, where you just have endless fun. This wish to go back to childhood, to an earlier happier memory, was also at the center of their next planned project: they intended to make an entire album dedicated to songs about Liverpool, the place where they grew up.

The result was their next single, released in February 1967. On one side we find ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, about a place they used to play in as children, and it was a milestone in record production. Some of the instruments here, including Lennon’s voice, are played in a slower speed, making them sound weird and bent, while others are played backwards, causing a disturbing effect.

It also has electric organs playing acidic sounds that were novel at the time, and Indian instruments that contribute to the hypnotic atmosphere. All of that creates a kind of super-natural fantasy, and Lennon’s abstract lyrics convey a sense of loss of identity and orientation. The Beatles also made a surrealistic promo film to accompany the record, seen today as one of the precursors of the video clip.

And the success of the single marked the moment when psychedelic music began its takeover of the charts. Eventually, instead of the Liverpool album, the Beatles decided on another project: they will assume the identity of a psychedelic fair band called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the entire album will be comprised of numbers this band would have on its show.

While their first albums took only a few hours to record, this time they shut themselves in the studio for more than half a year, working weeks on every track to make it special, and they also put a lot of thought into the design of the album sleeve. The result was an album that was based in the daily life of 1967 London, but looked at it from a psychedelic perspective.

‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’, for instance, is based on an advertisement poster for a circus, and it mixes its lines to make a song, while the production creates an effect of a kaleidoscopic musical box, to generate a carnivalesque atmosphere. The album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band came out on June 1st, 1967, and remained on top of the charts for the entire summer.

It contained all the breakthroughs of the sixties, and wrapped them in a package that was digestible to the general public. The result was a cultural big bang. The hectic atmosphere of swinging London, that was building up throughout the sixties, reached its peak in this summer, and Sgt. Pepper led a wave of happy and optimistic pop music.

But this summer also marked the rise of California as a counterweight to London’s dominance, and the main cause for that was Hippie acid-rock. California, as we’ve mentioned, was identified in the early sixties mainly with surf rock. But the British invasion of 1964 blew surf out of the water, with only the Beach Boys left standing.

In 1965, California got some reinforcement, as some artists of the New York folk scene moved to Los Angeles to form folk-rock, a style that was a fusion of folk, rock’n’roll, harmonies in the mold of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and Beat philosophy. We’ve already mentioned the Byrds, the band that led this wave.

Here’s another folk-rock band that moved from New York to LA that year, and at the end of the year released a record that celebrated the delights of sunny California, and its free spirit that drew them to it. And from the beginning of 67, it was San Francisco that became the center of Californian music.

In January, Height Ashbury hosted a festival titled The Human Be-In, which unified all the art movements in the place. The Beat poets read their poetry, Timothy Leary lectured on psychedelics, the local avant-Garde theater troupes put on their plays, but at the center of it all were the acid rock bands, which established their status as the heart of the scene.

Rock music, which bohemia always considered to be just silly pop music for teenagers, now started to be regarded as the deepest conveyor of the human spirit. The next logical step was to arrange a festival that will be purely musical, and in the middle of June came the Monterey Pop Festival, the first rock festival in history, a three day event that brought together the acid rock bands of San Francisco with the folk rock bands of LA and with some of the best British bands, as well as some other surprises.

The song we are hearing in background was a song written for the festival by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, sung by Scott McKenzie, inviting everyone to join the new thing. The Haight Ashbury Hippies had some doubts about the festival. First of all, they didn’t like the ticket prices.

The acid rock bands played for the community, for nominal sums, not for profits. Secondly, they were afraid that this will bring the commercialization of the scene, and destroy the small, joyful, loving world they created for themselves. And they especially didn’t like the idea that the event was going to be filmed and shown in movie theaters.

Jefferson Airplane was already famous and had some hits in the chart, but the other bands were still underground, and liked it that way. The Grateful Dead agreed to play in the festival, but only on the condition that they will not be filmed, and not be part of the movie. Big Brother and the Holding Company made the same stipulation, but they forgot to take one thing into account: how good Janis Joplin was.

Her performance was so electrifying that it wowed the audience, stealing the show from the more famous acts. Janis descended the stage triumphantly, but then remembered, to her heartbreak, that her triumph wasn’t filmed. After much pleading, the band managed to persuade the organizers to let them perform again on the next day, this time on camera.

Witnesses say that this performance was not as good, and suffered from overexertion by Janis, but it was still good enough to launch her into superstardom. The summer of 1967, the summer of Sgt. Pepper and the Monterey Pop Festival, became known in the history of pop as the Summer of Love. The pop music of that summer, and the entire year, has unique characteristics, that distinguish it from any other year.

Let’s discuss these characteristics. Unless otherwise mentioned, all the records presented here are from 1967, and it’s hard to mistaken their belonging to that year. The first characteristic we notice is the slowing down of tempo. Rock’n’roll has always been a style of exhilarating dance music, and acid-rock, with all the changes it brought, left this aspect intact.

But the effect of LSD caused some people to want to stop, lie motionless, and allow all the sensual stimuli to wash over them. On this track from Revolver, the Beatles ask us not to disturb their sleep, and allow all the wondrous dreams to come. The world may think that this is laziness, sings Lennon, but he insists that this is the best way to live.

The pace, accordingly, is slowed down. In ‘Penny Lane’, the other side of the ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ single, the sleeping is done with your eyes open. McCartney just lies awake in Liverpool’s Penny Lane, and lets all the affairs in the road flow through him and fill his consciousness, just watching everyone running around without taking an active role.

We find this passive attitude and dreamy quality in many other Summer of Love records. With the rhythm becoming less dominant, vocal harmonies came to the fore, and so did sound effects, designed to stimulate the listener’s acid drenched mind. It was a very colorful year, with the clothes, the album covers, and everything else coming wrapped in rainbow colors, to make the visuals match the sounds.

This sinking in a dream made the collective mind of that generation open itself up to the monotonous, droning sound of classical Indian music. India, after all, is constantly a background to our story. In that seminal 1955 poetry evening in which Allen Ginsberg enthralled the poet community of San Francisco, there was another newcomer poet called Gary Snyder, who just came back from a trip to India and read poetry inspired by his experiences.

Snyder introduced the Beatniks to the philosophy of Zen, which is also essentially an attempt to free your mind of any molds, and Zen ideas infiltrated the writings of Kerouac and other Beatniks. And the other side of psychedelia also had an enormous debt to Indian culture: Timothy Leary, as we recall, based his ideas on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Indian music is hard for western minds to comprehend, since it has no melody or harmony but just elongated winding sounds, an endless flow. But after the groundwork of Leary and the Beatniks, and under the influence of acid, it started to make sense. We’ve mentioned George Harrison, who injected Indian sounds into the Beatles’ music.

Other bands started to do the same, adding to the psychedelic mix of the year. Summer of Love pop, then, drifted away from the Merry Pranksters brand of psychedelia, the one based on wild dancing, and instead drew closer to Timothy Leary’s brand, of a trip that takes place inside your mind, while the body remains motionless.

This was reciprocated by the other party as well. Previously, we described how Leary, the serious scholar, would not go out to greet the noisy and mischievous Pranksters when they popped by his ranch in 1964. But the sounds coming from the rock world reached his ears as well, and he gradually became more laidback, more hip.

By 1967, he was part of the Hippie culture, and they, in turn, made him a cultural hero. We hear some interesting things in this Moody Blues record. First, we meet the flute, another instrument whose mystical enchanting sound contributed much to the Summer of Love soundscape. Secondly, we once again meet the idea that drugs take you on a trip which expands your mind.

That’s the goal of dropping out of the rush of daily life and taking a passive, reflective look at it: when you are part of the flow, you operate without knowing or thinking, but if you stop and take a look at your life, you can go back to it with a better understanding of how to live it and be happy.

The drugs, according to this belief, take you on a trip that takes you out of yourself and allows you to take a top-down look on your consciousness and understand how it works, so when you go back to yourself you can be in better control of it and direct it to your needs. We’ve already met that idea in Dylan’s ‘Mr.

Tambourine Man’, where it is described as a magic ship that takes you away. Many Summer of Love records use similar imagery. First, of course, there’s the bus, which the Merry Pranksters turned into a symbol for a psychedelic trip. Or, it could be a magic carpet… But the most popular image was the spaceship.

The sixties was the decade in which space was conquered, when humanity broke out of its planet and started to reach for the stars. This naturally fired the imagination of the generation, and rock bands turned it into a metaphor for the inner expedition, the journey to conquer new realms of consciousness.

One of the best expressions of this introspective approach can be found on the Sgt. Pepper album. The track ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’, is based on a TV ad for cereal, once again displaying the process of taking everyday things and turning them into art. The protagonist of the track is a man who just goes on his daily routine, without any reflection, and has nothing to say.

This is supposedly how most of us live our lives, and the music is simple and mechanic. But the following track is ‘A Day in the Life’, which is about the daily life of the introspective man. The song has three levels. The lowest level is provided by Paul McCartney, and it’s the mechanical routine level of daily existence: it begins with him going downstairs, and then running around to do his usual daily things.

Then he goes upstairs and smokes a joint, and goes into a dream, entering a higher level, the level of reflection. This level is provided by John Lennon, and he tells us that he reads the paper or watches a movie, citing actual articles and movies of the time, and that starts a train of thought that takes him to the highest level, the level of absolute transcendence, which is provided by a symphonic orchestra playing a note that gets louder and louder and becomes a cosmic bang.

These are the levels of everyday life, according to the Beatles. And that is the perception of the pop age. The traditional perception in western society was to treat human life as meaningless and miserable, an existence that we want to transcend into an eternal and happy existence. For the Beatles, on the other hand, daily life may be mundane, but it is not miserable – as the protagonist in ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’ tells us, it’s ok.

And the transcendence does not take us to an eternal plane, but is still part of daily existence – once it’s over, we wake up back into our daily routine. In other words, we don’t have to aspire to an existence that is beyond our daily earthly life, but find our exultations within it. This was the perception that dominated rock’n’roll from the start, but psychedelia turned into an existential philosophy.

And while early rock’n’roll found transcendence through ecstatic dance eruptions, here it is achieved through delirious reflections. This presumably higher level of daily existence, which gives you a top-down view on your regular routines, also gives you a better understanding of humanity at large.

Some Summer of Love records express the feeling that the singer has a superior position, and can see into the minds of other people. Driven by this perception, the pop kids rejected the notion that they should work for a better tomorrow. If your life is miserable, it is not because earthly existence is miserable in its essence, but because your mind is tangles up in ideas that it has to free itself from.

You must therefore stop directing your thoughts to the future, and learn how to live for today. This approach also explains the wish to return to childhood, which we saw in the Beatles. Several Summer of Love records convey this wish to go back to a more innocent state, where you’re not worried about the future but simply enjoy the moment.

Another side of this approach was the wish to go back to nature, the nature which the modern industrial world detached us from, and become part of it once again. The Hippies were also called flower boys, because of this wish to be part of what they saw as the natural harmony. Many Summer of Love records talk about going out to bask in the warmth of the Sun and the beauty of nature.

This return to nature was accompanied by a change in the attitude towards sex. Christianity taught us to hate the human flesh, and to want to free ourselves from it to get to heaven. But the sixties brought the sexual revolution, which demanded to see sexuality and the body as positive and beautiful.

Sex is one of the ways to reach exultation in our earthly life, and is therefore a good thing. Rock’n’roll, with its rhythmic sexuality, was the main force driving this revolution. Explicit sexuality would not be broadcast over the airwaves, so rock’n’roll artists had to use innuendos.

But in 67 there were several records that started to be more daring. And the main value of the Summer of Love, the one that brought all the aforementioned things together, was of course love. As we saw, the effect of hallucinogenic drugs caused a sense of the falling of boundaries and that we are becoming part of a universal harmony, part of a loving cosmos.

A feeling of solidarity swept over the youth in 1967, making them believe that this is the real human condition and all the resentment and strife are just part of the old world, the world of the adults with all of their complications and inhibitions that prevent them from living out their true nature.

Many anthems for the power and magic of love were written in that year, and the belief was that this love will eventually conquer the world. On June 25th, 1967, the world took another step towards becoming a global village, with the first TV show that was simultaneously broadcasted to many countries, using satellite.

Every participating country contributed a segment, and Britain contributed the Beatles. The Fab Four, who were coming down from the heights of sophistication of Sgt. Pepper, decided that for this event they should write something more direct and anthemic, so they just condensed the spirit of that summer into five simple words.

Their next project was a TV movie, and the concept that they decided on was a psychedelic bus tour, which will take them through all sorts of surrealistic experiences. So, it took them longer than they thought, but the Merry Pranksters eventually did manage to do what they set out to achieve in 1965: get the Beatles on the bus, and into the movie.

The universe did eventually arrange a meeting between them, at least philosophically. But the movie Magical Mystery Tour, that was broadcast on television at the end of the year, also heralds the end of the Summer of Love. The song ‘Blue Jay Way’ was written by George Harrison in Los Angeles, as he was sitting and waiting for friends who were late for a meeting because they lost their way, but the record also expresses his impression of what he saw in Haight Ashbury that week.

Following the Summer of Love and the Monterey Pop Festival, the entire music industry stormed San Francisco, signed all the acid rock bands on contracts, and began a fast process of commercializing Hippie culture. With them came other people who saw an opportunity for a quick buck, and Haight Ashbury was soon filled with drug dealers, charlatan gurus, quacks, professional shysters, and other unsavory types looking to exploit the naïve kids who came to the place looking for spirituality and enlightenment – and the police, of course, followed on their heels.

Height Ashbury became Hashbury, just a big ashtray of pot. When Harrison sings about his friends who lost their way, he is also talking about the Hippies, lost in their drug haze. “Please don’t be long” he sings about his friends, but in the end, when he repeats “don’t be long” over and over again, it becomes “don’t belong”.

Haight Ashbury was no longer a place worth being part of. 1967 was over. The next year will be completely different.

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The Beat Generation

Here’s a YouTube video that does a great job explaining the start of the beatniks.  The author shows his philosophical roots in his screen name “Zarathustra’s Serpent”.

This is a story that has never been told. There are so many books about the sixties, and so many things that have been written about this period. And still, despite reading anything I could find on the subject, I have yet to encounter any attempt to show how it all makes sense when put together, any effort to fully document the spiritual journey that the protagonists of the story went through.

This series will endeavor to fill the gap, to tell the full story of psychedelic music, and the culture that emerged around it. To me, this is the focal point of the sixties, the thing around which most else revolves. The series will tell the story of how it emerged, what it was all about, how it fell apart, and what happened in the aftermath.

And through that, we are pretty much going to tell the story of pop culture and pop music in the second half of the twentieth century. So, open your minds, and let me take you on this magical journey out of the past. Now before we begin to talk about psychedelia, we must understand where it came from.

And you can’t understand psychedelia if you don’t first of all start by talking about Beat. Our story begins at the end of the 1930s. This is the period known as the swing era, the period in which the big bands took over the pop world. So big band swing became the new mainstream, and when this happens to a pop style, the original fans of the style always feel a split.

Suddenly, there are many artists out there who pretend to be part of the style, but the music they produce lacks the inner essence of it. The fans then make a distinction between music that they perceive as “real”, and music they perceive as a fake imitation. What swing fans called “real” swing was a rhythmic style, in which the entire band would create an enormous forward drive, compelling your body to break out in an ecstatic dance.

And the soloists, carried on the wings of this propulsion, would then improvise solos that would lift your spirit to the heavens. But among the general public, that didn’t get the essence of swing, the most popular records did not have that quality. They had formal similarities to swing, using the same instruments and melodies, but rather than being ruled by the swing feeling, the players would play in the traditional European way of following notes; or sometimes they would try to imitate the fervor of the “real” swing bands, but since they lacked the inner essence of it, the outcome was crass and tasteless.

Among swing fans and musicians, the prevailing feeling was that the music industry robbed their music and neutered it. In the beginning of the forties, a number of black musicians assembled in Harlem, and started to look for a new way. The way they saw it, the white industry robbed the blacks of Swing and of all the other black-made authentic jazz forms, so they needed to dive deeper into the logic of jazz and distill its essence.

Grouping in small bands of five or six members, they would begin playing a familiar pop song, but then ditch the melody in favor of improvisation, and set sail into the unknown. Leaving only the chord structure of the original song, the soloists would play with breathtaking speed and create a completely new tune.

Every time someone else would take the lead and the other musicians would follow, and then another soloist would take his ideas and develop them in his way, and the other band members would react to that. Thus, a kind of collective consciousness was formed, which would produce an original musical piece.

This music could no longer be experiences in the traditional way of listening to the melody. To enjoy it, you had to get into the music, to feel yourself regenerated at that moment along with it. This new style was termed bop, or bebop. Bebop created a space in which black consciousness could develop freely, without meddling from the white establishment, and the seeds that were sown in it would grow rebellious generations of African-Americans for decades to come.

But there were also some white people who connected to bebop, whites whose soul was welded in the furnace of jazz and could therefore understand the new musical experience. One of them was a young man named Jack Kerouac, who aspired to be a novelist and find a new form of literary expression. Kerouac, who lived near Harlem, had the chance to experience bebop in the years of its formation, and found in it a source of inspiration.

He regarded the bebop musicians as spiritual guides, artists who are paving a new spiritual way, and he wanted to bring their spirit into literature, to write in the way that they played. But Kerouac could not find the way to do so, at least not until 1944, the year he met two people with which he could form his own jam session.

William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg were also young bohemians who were looking for another way, and the three realized that they have a spiritual connection, and decided that they represent the birth of a new consciousness. In their view, Western civilization became a heartless technocracy, an industrial-militaristic-capitalistic society, which subjugates the humane side of Man and enslaves it to the rational side, and therefore its logic is a cold and inhumane logic driven only by utilitarian motives.

Man thus became an unhappy creature, and to regain his happiness, we must liberate the human spirit from the shackles of this technocracy. Their goal was to find the way to freedom, and liberate humanity. William Burroughs, the elder of the bunch, became the mentor. Burroughs was born to a wealthy family and could have led a comfortable life, but instead he decided to dedicate his life to liberation from social conventions and lies, and find the truth about reality.

How can this be done? One way, believed Burroughs, was to drop out of conformed society, to live outside of the conventional mind. So he abandoned his bourgeois existence, and moved to the sphere populated by criminals, junkies, prostitutes and tramps. Another way is through the use of mind-altering drugs, and Burroughs tried every known substance and every possible drug cocktail to see what they can teach him about his mind.

He soon became a junky, but for him, it was all part of the purgatory you have to go through to see existence for what it is. In his dealings with underworld people, Burroughs learned the slang of their world, and in it he found the term which he used to signify the state of existence that he was after.

The word ‘Beat’, in this slang, meant a state of losing everything and lying in the gutter. It meant that you were beaten by life, but for Burroughs, being “beat” signified exactly what he wanted: to lose all the baggage that conformed society instilled in him, and become free. Burroughs imparted this idea to his new friends, and for Kerouac, who was a Catholic, the word ‘Beat’ immediately connected to the concept of Beatitude, and thus took on a meaning of holy blessedness.

And so, the term ‘Beat’ came to signify a state in which you beat your old identity and demolish it, and in this way become liberated from the lies that society implanted in you, and become pure and real. The word would become the center of the new consciousness, and the three friends would eventually call themselves The Beat Generation.

The existence that Kerouac espoused was based on the ideal of the bebop musicians: a purely spontaneous existence, in which you recreate your life in each and every moment, instead of following preexisting patterns. When a jazz instrumentalist gets carried on the wings of the music, it takes over him, and the musical ideas spring from his subconscious without thought.

Thought comes a little bit later, when he develops these ideas further, but they are initialized in a spontaneous way. This is how Kerouac wanted to live, and he intended to then record his existence autobiographically in print, and thus create literary bop. But his nature was that of an intellectual and a novelist, a man whose existence is mired in preexistent patterns, and hence he was in a bind: to experience the existence he wanted, and thus to create the literature he imagined, he had to first give up on his identity as a novelist, and so actually give up on his dream.

The only way out of the bind was to find spiritual guides who will drag him along with them. Ginsberg and Burroughs took him part of the way, but to get to where he wanted, he needed a different kind of guide. And fortunately, he met him shortly after. Neal Cassady was a truly unique individual. A hyperactive young man who couldn’t rest for one moment, and was driven by an insatiable lust to swallow as much life as he could, Cassady was always in motion, always talking, always randomly bringing up new ideas and taking his line of thought to strange places, always looking for new adventures, always hunting for new sexual conquests.

He seemed to be living on a different level from most people, a level that is more intense. He was the essence of the spontaneous existence that Kerouac championed, a perfect model to follow. He also loved stealing cars and going out on long trips along the long roads of America, and he dragged Kerouac along with him.

Between the years 1947 and 1951, Cassady and Kerouac crisscrossed America from top to bottom and from side to side, never staying in one place for more than a few weeks, living from temporary jobs, going to jazz performances whenever they had the chance, and experiencing all sorts of adventures. At the end of this period, Kerouac sat down to write a book that would document their travels.

This was one of the components of Kerouac’s new literary style: real life experiences precede the writing. Just like a bebop musician creates the music on the spot and doesn’t read it from the paper, so should the novelist first live the story, and only later write it down. Unlike writers of fiction who make up their stories, Kerouac’s books were always autobiographical.

There were novelists who preceded him in that, such as Marcel Proust who was one of his influences, but what exemplified Kerouac was that his writing style was also inspired by bop. To write the book, he bought a big roll of paper and stuck it in his typewriter so he wouldn’t need to stop and change pages, and over the course of a few weeks, so goes the legend, he poured everything on paper in the order that the words came into his mind, never stopping to think and never rewriting.

There are places in the book where you can see Kerouac riding an inspirational wave, and producing a long sentence in which the flowing stream of words flourishes and creates a kind of literary jazz. Here’s one of the segments that best represent his rhythmic and spontaneous style of writing, telling about the time when he introduced Allen Ginsberg to Neal Cassady, and how the two immediately clicked: They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “awww!” We learn a few interesting things from this paragraph.

First, the belief that the only true existence is a burning existence. In philosophy, this worldview is identified with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who claimed that fire is the foundation of all existence, and that there is nothing stable in existence, but everything is in flow. According to the worldview presented here by Kerouac, life that is lived on the basis of steady and established principles distances you from the real existence, and to be real you must burn in the fire of an existence that is regenerating at every moment.

Secondly, we are introduced to the idealization of madness, to the belief that mad people are people who burn, people who experience a more genuine existence than the people who are called “normative” and “sane” by society. Third, we see that Kerouac feels that he himself is not a burning man, but a writer shackled by words, and hence existing always a step behind real existence.

All he can do is follow the real people, try to capture them in his writing, in a hope that in this way his art will get as close as possible to portraying real existence. The central character of the novel, therefore, is Cassady, and the book tries to capture his flame. The book is called On the Road, and it was meant to represent the new consciousness.

But Kerouac couldn’t find anyone who would publish it. The other hero of the segment is Allen Ginsberg, who is also described as a burning madman. But Ginsberg, unlike Cassady, also had a normative side, that wanted to become part of society and be a respected academic and poet. Following an incident in which his involvement with Burroughs’ criminal friends got him in trouble with the law, Ginsberg decided to “go straight”, and committed himself to a psychiatric ward, to the very thing that symbolized everything Beat consciousness was against.

The psychiatric ward, in the 1950s, was a notorious manifestation of the technocratic society. Since the prevailing belief in those years was that rational thought can decipher everything in the world, the human mind was also perceived as something that can be completely outlined in mathematical means, and science, therefore, was seen as being able to understand and cure any mental illness.

Psychiatrists were regarded as almost all-knowing, and anyone who suffered from a mental problem, which in the fifties was a code word for anyone who deviated from the social norms, was sent to them to get fixed, in techniques such as electric shocks to the brain, or, in more severe cases, lobotomy.

Ginsberg willfully submitted himself to this institute, but it was there, in the belly of the beast, that he found his mentor, the man who helped him discover his artistic path. His name was Carl Solomon, and he too committed himself, but not because he wanted to become normative. Solomon was marked in early age as a very gifted person, but he believed he will never be able to realize his full potential as long as his rational side controls him.

Hence, he started acting like a madman, and when he was brought before the psychiatrists, he demanded to be lobotomized, believing this will finally free his spirit from the rational side of his mind. But the doctors did not oblige, and instead kept him in the ward and tried different methods. But in that, they put him just in the right place to influence the great poet of Beat, and consequently the course of history.

Ginsberg realized that Solomon is another manifestation of Beat consciousness, a man who aspires to liberate the irrational side of the human spirit, and thus a model that can direct him. Inspired by Solomon, he gave up on his plan to conform to society’s norms, and instead left the ward and moved to San Francisco, the capital state of non-conformity, to become part of the poet community in the place.

On October 7th, 1955, the poet Kenneth Rexroth organized a poetry reading in San Francisco, providing a stage for new poets to present their work before the local bohemia. Young poets such as Michael McClure, Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder got up to read their poems, presenting a new sensibility that combined ecological consciousness, Zen Buddhist influences and other things.

But the show was stolen by Allen Ginsberg, whose poem Howl dazzled its listeners. The three part poem is dedicated to Carl Solomon, but stylistically it is inspired by Kerouac, and it articulates the philosophy of Beat. The first part opens with the assertion that he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, and proceeds with a flowing, rhythmic and mesmerizing portrayal of everything that the owners if these minds did to themselves in the past decade, going through self-beating, hobo life, drug abuse, sexual perversion, crime, bop ecstasy, intentional insanity, electric shocks, mystical quests and more, and describing it as a desperate and heroic search for salvation.

The second part opens with the question what made them be like this, and replies: Moloch! Moloch, the old god, is used here to symbolize the industrial-capitalist-militarist system, and the poem describes how it controls our minds, crushes our spirit and twists our consciousness. The third part poses the model of Carl Solomon, as the man who found the way to take us to the other side and save our spirit.

The song is tremendously powerful, but again, the words themselves are not the entire story, but also the way in which the song was performed. Egged on by Kerouac who was sitting in the crowd, Ginsberg entered a seemingly trance state, melting into the flow of his words and washing over the crowd with wave after wave.

His electric performance so exhilarated the poet community that many of them decided to adopt Beat as the center of their art. The new consciousness was beginning to spread. So, let’s summarize Beat consciousness: the aspiration of the Beat generation was to liberate the spiritual side of Man, which they claimed is being repressed by a society ruled by a cold technocratic rationality.

This society constructs our minds and determines our identity, and to be free we must first of all smash everything that this society instilled in us. There are several ways to do so, such as vagrant life, which prevents you from being attached to one place; lawless life, outside of established society; exposure to electric shocks to the brain; and of course mind altering drugs.

In that way you become free, and being free means letting your subconscious spontaneously guide you, employing rational thought only as an aid. When everyone operates like that, they let their unique inner self express itself, and then they feed each other with ideas, just like in a bebop jam session.

This is the ideal that the San Francisco Beat community aspired to, and they would sit in coffee shops, smoke cannabis, listen to poets read their poetry to a jazz backup, and embroil themselves in philosophical contemplations of existence. By 1957, their influence was beginning to be felt. Kerouac’s book finally got published, and became a hit with the youngsters, a book that defined a generation.

Another thing that happened that year was a first newspaper article on the Beat scene of San Francisco, whose author decided to name its members Beatniks, basing it on the new Soviet satellite Sputnik, since he claimed that they were both equally far out. As a result of this fame, the scene was joined by many other youngsters, who lacked the inner understanding of Beat, but just imitated the way of life of sitting in coffee shops and rolling joints.

A typical Beatnik look emerged, kind of a hybrid of the looks of European Existentialist and African-American bebop artists: shoulder length hair, goatee, shabby clothing. In conformed society, “Beatnik” became a synonym for anyone who didn’t want to fit in the system, and they were seen as bums who are only into sex and drugs.

Those who did have inner understanding of Beat felt that the original spirit of the community died, and they dispersed all over the country and started to look for new paths. And on that, in the coming episodes.

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More About The Beat Generation

“They got the beat they got the beat the beat. Yeah. They got the-“ Oh no, we’re not talking about that beat today. And we’re not talking about THAT generation! …or k-pop at all, Try something more like….

They call you Beat Generation. Yup. Lots and lots of jazz. Hello there! My name is Victoria Tran, and today, you and I will explore the core values and issues of this revolutionary movement in history known as the Beat Generation. Enjoy! The Beat Generation was a significant literary movement in history where American writers rose to fame in the 1950s as they rebelled against American Culture.

This rebellious generation marked the beginnings of a major cultural turning point in the United States. Headed by writers such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, the Beat movement infused literature with a new sense of adventure and spontaneity. Beat poets sought to liberate poetry from over-refinement and essentially bring it “back to the streets.

” Through poetry and other forms of literature, certain issues currently being ignored or condemned were brought into the light. The Beat Generation was a product of the times as the emergence of this movement was closely related to the social environment of the United States in the 1950s.

The end of World War II was the beginning of the Beat movement. Post world war II, America became the wealthiest country in the nation, thus experiencing a long economic boom from 1950-1970. The Middle class was growing at a high rate 60% of people were in a mid-class by the 1950s, and 90% of families owned TVs. For Americans at that time, eating a family dinner and watching TV every night was considered a conservative tradition.

However, this all soon changed during post-WWII. People were tired of their mundane routine. They felt “beaten” down by the traditional lifestyle. They wanted a new way to express themselves as individuals, yet they felt restricted. They felt trapped all because they felt pressured to conform to the perfect ideals of society.

And that’s when Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs debuted and stimulated the Beat Movement. The Beat s advocated personal liberation, purification, and illumination through the heightened sensory awareness that might be under the influence of drugs, sex, jazz, or the disciplines of Zen Buddhism.

This new light in history reached the teenagers who were looking for ways to get out of conforming with society. These teenagers essentially became the fundamental basis to the new generation as they broke away from their parents and defined themselves in new ways. Additionally, the Beat Generation was a time for Black artists to rise in society with their riveting music.

Another important moment in this generation was the idea of intermixing white artists, white audiences, black artists, and black audiences all as one. Following World War II was the Cold War. There appeared to be a political force known as McCarthyism in the U.S. Consequently, McCarthyism caused a great commotion within society, creating a sense of terror.

People were terrified of communists at the time, thus leading to falsely accusing communism of other people without any evidence. They were scared that the old couple living next door for 20 years was, in fact, a communist. Because of this fear, many people conformed to living the safe lifestyle highly encouraged by political figures *Eisenhower*.

Following exact orders by any political figure ensured safety within the American people and thusly became a norm. Thanks to McCarthyism, fear ruled in society. Thusly, conformity ruled in society. The growing constant fear of communism and political constraints began to dominate people’s lives, leading to Americans suffering from collective nervous breakdowns.

The Beat Generation thus rose to break away from conformity. Experimenting with drugs, exploring alternative forms of sexuality, becoming absorbed within the Eastern religious culture, and rejecting materialism were ways to distract Americans from their fears of communism and became a way to express individuality.

The new movement introduced new values and exposed values that were apparent in society, but people were just too scared to even talk about homosexuality, for example. Evidently, homosexuality was highly uncommon and frowned upon during this time; however, as the Beats attempted to revolutionize the traditional society morals, they also explored their sexualities.

Ginsberg questioned his sexuality yet was conflicted with his feelings since the idea of loving another man was completely far away from the traditional norms of society. He was not ready to admit his homosexuality fully, and for many years he would keep hoping that a woman or a psychoanalyst would cure it.

Needless to say, Kerouac helped his friend inflame his homosexuality. Overall, the beat generation promoted the exploration of alternate sexualities in society. The Beats used straightforward and provocative language as a new expressive technique within their culture due to the youth’s social, political, economic, and cultural status. They expressed their emotions and thoughts were very restricted, so The Beat Generation took some extreme ways to highlight their detachment from mainstream society.

People were so scared to touch on certain topics such as sex and homosexuality because they were educated under the old value system in schools and universities. Such topics were rejected by formal education. Thus, the passionate Beat Generation reflected on the many phenomenons within American culture and tried to propose solutions to social problems.

Rejecting mainstream American values, exploring alternate forms of sexuality (homosexuality), and experimenting with drugs and all things off the radar are things that make up the Beat Culture. Consequently, Beats were illustrated into cartoon characters called Beatniks to promote coffee houses and nightclubs, to help sell newspapers and clothing pieces.

However, through false advertising through the media, the Beats were viewed as rebels, delinquents. They were feared by society because people believed that Beats rape all women. They became an image of violence and juvenile delinquency. Pertaining to religion, most Beats were Buddhists thinking that Beats are both artists and foremost spiritual seekers.

Their views paralleled with Transcendentalists’ views to their understanding of the poet as prophet. The Beats were always on the road because they could not find God in the churches and synagogues. They saw human beings embedded in a vast network with other human beings, with animals, and with life itself.

Ultimately, the Beats glorified in eliminating distinctions between matter and spirit, divinity and humanity. At the core of the beat movement were authors Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs. These three are the most influential figures during the Beat Generation since they were basically the movement’s founding fathers.

They sought to instill a “New Vision” which involved unrestricted self-expression, psychedelic experiences as a means of perceiving truth, sexual experimentation, and the idea that art goes above and beyond traditional morals. Taking a look at some notable pieces of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac was the author of the best-selling book On the Road. This book describes a group of people traveling both geographically and spiritually in the country.

Kerouac described a life where there was no such thing as social pressures. Kerouac transformed literature forever through his freestyle manner of expressing his thoughts and feelings without plan or revision. William Burroughs reveals the dark world of the drug culture in his novel “Naked Lunch” lastly. Another significant figure of this literary movement was Allen Ginsberg.

With his noteworthy piece Howl, Ginsberg reveals the undeveloped part of America that exposes inappropriate topics of drug addicts, drifters, prostitutes, and swindlers and even uses slang and foul language that shocked the public. Though regarded as a “disgrace” of the 1950s, this poem reflects the instinctive anger and excitement of the youth, establishing itself as the Bible of the Beat Generation and the youth culture.

Beat Generation significantly impacted America in unimaginable ways. Because of the Beat Generation, people began to question the society they lived in and stepped out of it. The Beat Generation also set a precedent for many important things, such as the hippies and anti-war movement. In addition to that, their beliefs influence musicians such as Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Elvis Presley.

Not only that, they helped bring awareness and battle racism in American. People like Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, two American American Musicians, were inspired to play Jazz music without racial barriers. Thanks to the Beat Generation, people can now express themselves without any restrictions and fear.

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Rock’n’Roll Legend Jerry Lee Lewis

“I was always worried whether I was going to heaven or hell. I still am.” It is a normal existential thing to think for someone aged 84 right?.. Not the case with legendary Jerry Lee Lewis who is actually associated with some hellish things in his past.

It will be no exaggeration to say Lewis’s life and career were extraordinary (sometimes in a bad way). At some point he was close to stealing the fame from Elvis Presley himself and you will be horrified to know why it never happened. Also Jerry Lee was nicknamed The Killer for his wild dynamic piano style and NOT for his threat to kill Elvis.

But wait for this story to develop. Jerry Lee Lewis was born in 1935 in a poor family. His father mortgaged the family farm when Lewis was a young boy to buy him a piano. So, he started playing at quite an early age, as well as demonstrating his wild nature. In his mid-teens the boy’s mother sent him to the Southwest Bible Institute.

Jerry Lee, unimpressed by evangelical tunes as they were, performed a boogie-woogie rendition of “My God Is Real” at a church assembly and, guess what, was immediately barred from the school. Rebellious Jerry Lee was just what rock’n’roll needed back then, so in his early 20s, Lewis was already performing with famous artists, including Johnny Cash.

His unique piano style forever altered the genre which had previously rarely featured pianists. Now, if we judge by the movie Great Balls Of Fire featuring Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee, Lewis and Presley were rivals from the very beginning. In reality, however, the relationships between the two didn’t seem that tense, but there was actually one MINOR misunderstanding that led to Lewis’s arrest.

Let us jump for a moment into year 1976 – the time when Elvis was living as a recluse and Lewis had been abandoned by the public over his immoral personal life. November 22, Jerry appears at the entrance of Presley’s home and asks to see Elvis. The security guard replies that Presley is sleeping.

Jerry Lee leaves and returns on the next day, his car rams into the gates before it stops. Lewis says it is Presley who wanted to see him and told him to come over. From here, versions vary a lot, but basically it went more or less as follows: drunk as hell Lewis, with a pistol on the dashboard, shouts: “Call up there and tell Elvis I wanna visit with him.

Who the hell does he think he is? Tell him the Killer’s here to see him.'” Soon Jerry Lee gets arrested for carrying a pistol and being drunk in a public place. Many later the musician would tell the story of him being a little wild and loaded on that day but without any intention to kill Presley.

But now back to the golden days of Jerry Lee Lewis. He quickly started releasing one hit after another, including his most famous songs “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” In the late 50s Jerry would have reputation of being a wild one on and off stage.

The story goes that once he even set fire to a piano mid-concert and kept pounding the keys while it flamed. All because Jerry Lee was sure HE was supposed to finish the show – not Chuck Berry. He told Rolling Stone: “Burned it [piano] to the ground. They forced me to do it, tellin’ me I had to go on before Chuck.

I was supposed to be the star of the show.” But his rebellious nature pretty much made Lewis only more appealing to the audience until the controversy surrounding his third marriage broke the news while he was on tours overseas. The English press discovered that 22-year-old Lewis had married his 13-year-old cousin Myra Gale Brown.

Although the label denied the claim, the tour was cut short. Jerry Lee was only adding oil to the fire. When he found out what the English press was doing to him, he was cocksureto the point of parading Myra onstage. After three stops on his tour Lewis had to return to America where he was already blacklisted from the radio waves.

The public could handle his, what they called, sinful music, but his marriage to a minor could not be excused. Jerry Lee’s fee for personal appearances soon dropped from $10,000 a night to $250. He tried to apologize, remarrying Myra in a ceremony that Lewis thought would validate the relationship, but to no avail.

Thus, the only musician capable of rivaling Elvis Presley became an outcast. Lewis got his career back ten years later as a country performer, he outlived Elvis, but his career as a rock star was forever crippled by the epic scandal. He and Myra divorced in 1970. They have two children… well they HAD two children.

The couple’s son tragically drowned when he was only 3 years old. Sadly, Jerry would lose a 19-year-old son from his other wife, he would tragically die in a car accident. Since 2012, Jerry Lee Lewis has been married to his seventh wife, Judith Brown. Now, at 84, he just recorded a new album. Jerry Lee is happy to have a chance to return to music after suffering a stroke in 2019.

He hopes to perform again one day. But for now he is simply grateful to be playing again. “It feels like I’m home,” he says.

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Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll

Here’s an interview with Sam Philips, founder of Sun Studio.  Sun Studio recorded “Delta 88”, a song that may have been the first rock and roll single.  Then, he discovered Elvis!

>>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. >> Anne McLean: Good evening. I’m Anne McLean from the Library’s Music Division. This is a great crowd. Thank you for coming. We are really pleased to be able to have such a wonderful group of people here for this talk centering on Peter Guralnick’s book, Sam Phillips, The Man Who Invented Rock and Roll.

And I say centering on because we’re fortunate tonight to be presenting not only one but two astute and perceptive observers of popular music culture. Peter has invited Geoffrey Himes for what should be a deeply informed conversation of very wide musical horizons. We’re really pleased to have Peter here making a stop on a packed nationwide book tour for a book that the New York Times calls beautiful and meticulous.

These include benchmark studies on Elvis Presley, Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, and the powerful Dream Boogie, The Triumph of Sam Cooke. We’re also pleased to have the chance to welcome Geoffrey Himes, author of a major book on Bruce Springsteen, Born in the USA, and a long time feature commentator for the Washington Post.

If you follow magazines like Rolling Stone, Paste, Down Beat and Jazz Times, you’ll know the calliber of his thought and writing. This lecture is part of a huge and diverse 90th anniversary season. I know some of you’ve been to our events. We hope you’ll come back for more evenings like this.

Check out our brochure. I’d like to say that the Library’s Music Division is the home of the world’s largest music collection, 22 million items. But we not only have the artifacts, but we love creating programs like this that introduce not only those artifacts of our magnificent shared musical culture but give us a chance to think about one of the only things that can transcend all cultural boundaries, the love of great music.

So thanks so much. Please welcome Peter Guralnick and Geoffrey Himes. [ Applause ] >> Geoffrey Himes: All right. Hello. All right. Thanks for coming everybody. I’m glad to see so many people coming out. What I want to talk about first is when we talk about popular music history, we usually think of it being made by people who sing and play instruments.

But I think one of the things that’s interesting about Peter’s new book is how he points out the fact that non musicians play an important part in shaping the history of popular music, and I was hoping that we could start off having you talk a bit about why non musicians are an important part of this history.

>> Peter Guralnick: Well I think Sam — Sam actually would have [inaudible] the title producer didn’t exist at the time, but he liked to think of himself more as a practicing psychologist. But his mission in some ways was very different from let’s say the mission of somebody like Rick Hall who also very much influenced recorded music, all kinds of people.

Willie Mitchell created the sound that showcased Al Green, very different from the Albert Greene with an E on the end who had debuted with Back Up Train. Am I feeding back [inaudible]? Speak up a little? All right. I’m going to shout out. Somebody like Rick Hall was looking to create a sound. He had a sound mind.

You could go through any number of takes to create that sound. Sam was looking for the sound that was in you. Sam was looking to bring out of you what you may or may not know was in yourself and to give you confidence and courage to express it. And in many ways, it’s funny, I may have mentioned that in the book, but I was thinking the other day that I could just as easily have called the book I Hear America Sing, The Emergence of Sam Phillips.

I mean, that’s what it is. He heard America singing. He heard America singing [inaudible] birds on the trees or could be the wind out in the country. It could be the silence of the country evening. It was that kind of singing — it was what DeFord Bailey heard that inspired him to play the harmonica.

Listened to the sounds of trains. Living out in the country. DeFord Bailey was the person who was the first African American and for many years the only African American in the Grand Ole Opry, wonderful harmonica player. So in some ways, Sam was the exception, I think, to what Geoffrey is talking about.

Producers like Chips Moman played a very active role in — not in inflicting the will but in looking for something in particular. And that is what Sam was — if you listen to a sampling — I mean I put together a collection with the same title as the book on Yep Roc Records. You can get it on vinyl, three LP’s and two CD’s.

But it — for those vinyl favor — those who favor vinyl. But he had such a range of music. The one thing that ties it together is spontaneity and individuality of performing. That’s what he was looking for most of all and sort of like when you talk about Harmonica Frank, a sort of a medicine show performer who played the harmonica and when he came to sing just moved the harmonica around his mouth.

He didn’t use a bracket or anything like that. And to Sam, Harmonica Frank was a beautiful hobo, and he said, “You’re a hobo. You have to be inspired. You have to be resourceful.” And that’s what he looked for in music. So I don’t know if that’s a direct response to what Geoffrey said, but it’s my response.

>> Geoffrey Himes: But the book, you talk about all these profound records that came out during these 11 years that Sam was actively making records. Whether it’s Howlin’ Wolf or Elvis Presley or Jerry Lee Lewis or Charlie Rich or Ike Turner, these are all obviously very talented people, but it seems to be in the book you’re making the argument that the music they made was different because Sam Phillips was a collaborator.

Is that accurate to say? Is that fair to say? >> Peter Guralnick: You sound so much better than I do on the microphone. I don’t know. We’ll see if the fault is in the mic or if it’s in me. I suspect it’s in me. But — okay. See, that’s what I needed. I needed coaching. But it’s — I forget where we were in this.

>> Geoffrey Himes: What difference did it make that Sam was a collaborator? >> Peter Guralnick: I think so much of it. I don’t think Sam knew what was in each of these artists. He saw them as artists. He saw them as people who he sensed — he believed — one of the things Sam believed in most strongly was his ability to read people.

It was also his ears. Those were probably the two things he prided himself most on. But he didn’t know necessarily what each person — in the case of Howlin’ Wolf, he knew what he heard. It’s where the soul of man never dies. In that case, he might as well have been Alan Lomax or field reporter because although what he was trying to do was to bring out the sound of Howlin’ Wolf to the maximum degree that you would be able to appreciate it as he appreciated it on a record as opposed to in person.

There, he was simply trying to record it. But when he met Elvis Presley, he describes him as being the most introspective person whoever came into his studio and one of the most insecure. And all he simply recognized the unique talent. He didn’t know what that talent was. In that case, his genius if you want to call it that, was the patience, and the man not giving to patience as his associate assistant [inaudible] the man not given to patience.

Sam showed the most extraordinary patience, and he was willing to wait until he heard emerge this voice and then he wanted to do everything he could to assist it. But it wasn’t like he had a vision for Elvis Presley. He just simply — or that he had a vision for Little Junior Parker. I mean, he was looking for them to express themselves in a way that he sensed they had — they were able to express themselves.

In the case of somebody like Johnny Cash, I think what Geoffrey says is certainly true in the sense that Johnny Cash came in with [inaudible] blues and recorded it at one of his very first sessions in what amounted to a demo. And he’s got this kind of [inaudible] voice that you would never recognize as Johnny Cash.

He sounds almost like Marty Robbins singing in a higher range than he used to. And Sam just didn’t hear the song at all. Eventually, he came to see the song. Sam came to see the song as a metaphor for the way in which we’re all in prison, which is kind of a funny thing. Sam was not a poetic person necessarily, but that was — and he sold that to Johnny — to John — Johnny Cash as being a way in which the songs communicated to everybody and then he got John to speed up the tempo much against Johnny Cash’s will and as he did with I Walk the Line, and Johnny Cash said, “This will never work.

I’ll do it, but we’ll never use it,” and walked out of the studio convinced they would never use it. When he heard it on the radio, he said, “Dang, that’s good.” >> Geoffrey Himes: Right, but what I’m saying is that just as Elvis and Johnny Cash didn’t have a clear vision of what they were going to do and just as Sam didn’t have a clear vision of what they were going to do, but it was the fact that they were working together that made a difference.

They were like both on an artistic qwest together, and neither of them would have achieved it without the other in a sense. >> Peter Guralnick: Yeah. I guess that’s true. But the thing was is that Sam was looking for spontaneity. I remember. Sam was looking for spontaneity above all. I mean, Jack Kerouac talked about spontaneous [inaudible].

That was Sam. And it was nurturing spontaneity and seizing upon the feeling as opposed to the perfection. I mean, Sam hated the word perfection. He said, “I hate that word. It should be banned from the English language.” I think what he meant was that as you seek — as you correct all your mistakes, as you make everything perfect you achieve nothing more than kind of sterility.

And so, yeah, he was working with artists who in almost every case from Howlin’ Wolf, Mike Turner to Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich apprised that same kind of spontaneity. And that was what he nurtured most of all I think. But it was not so much that he had a template or any kind of specific approach that would — and it just delighted him.

I mean, for instance, Harmonica Frank or you listen — you probably didn’t hear it coming in, but he listened to Joe Hill Louis, and you think, “God, how could anybody ever record it?” I mean, it’s completely out of tune. It’s — Sam loved distortion. You go right to the edge of distortion and over the edge.

And yet there’s something about it that’s absolutely both unique and compelling. And that was what drew Sam to the music to begi with, and I think it’s what he tried to bring out of each of the musicians. He didn’t want them settling down. >> Geoffrey Himes: One of the things you talked about in the book is that Sam had this — did have a vision in the sense that he grew up among poor people in Alabama who were not paid attention to by and large by the cultural establishment of the 40’s.

And he was convinced that these poor southerners both black and white had something to say and needed a catalyst or vehicle to have it come out, to have it emerge into the public marketplace so to speak and that was what he was going to do. You write about this. Even though he didn’t have a specific sonic template for these people, he did have that as a mission.

Is that right? >> Peter Guralnick: Well, he did, yeah. But I mean, the thing is is that Sam and from the age of seven or eight, he said to me — he said, “Listen to me now.” I’m talking about an 8 or 9-year-old kid. Had a sense of racial injustice, was struck by the fact. He was working in the fields on 323 acre farm that his father rented and lost with the depression.

He was working with black and white sharecroppers. And it struck him so forcibly. And I know this from relatives of Sam’s of his generation who it definitely did not strike as forcibly and were not thrilled to hear this little kid starting off his opinions about racial injustice. I mean, Sam would talk about anything.

He was not at risk of being accepted. He wasn’t — to his benefit and to his disbenefit too. But he — and from a very early age if not from 8 or 9, certainly from his teens on he believed that the African American music — he wanted to give voice to the voiceless. This was his mission all the way through as Geoffrey said it.

It became his mission for poor whites as well as blacks, but to begin with, the idea was that his idea was that the African American expression both secular and gospel what he heard coming out of the black church, which was a block and a half from the church he attended and that he would stand outside of every afternoon for as long as he could in the summer.

He said with the windows open wide he could fully partake of the service. When we went back to it in 1999, I’ve never seen anyone more thrilled going into that African American church. But that — sounds he heard in the fields and what he observed on Beale Street when he was 16, his first vision of Beale Street was a vision of freedom and set him in his mind that he was going to move — he was going to live in Memphis some day, not live in Memphis to work in the Hotel Peabody, which his what he did do.

It was to be — to live in Memphis which was exemplified by Beale Street, black America’s mainstream. So he — but he believed that ever fiber of his being from a very early age, let’s say from early teens on, that if a mainstream audience meaning a white audience could ever hear the sounds he had heard the African American sounds that they would be swept away by the power of that music and spirituality of that music.

Not just the music, but the message and that this would break down the walls of segregation, which is more a dream then it is — but that was why he opened his first studio or his only studio. He opened the studio — the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue January 2, 1950 on the cusp of the second half of the 20th century.

But that’s when he opened it. I mean, he said it contemporaneously was to give some of these great Negro artists in the south the opportunity to record where they don’t have any. And that’s what he did for the first four or five years that the studio was open, and he did it on his belief, not out of his — he did it at great economic peril to himself, at great risk to himself in many ways, but he did it because he believed so strongly that once the world was exposed, once the mainstream audience was exposed that they would seize upon this music and that that would open up doors.

It would break down the walls of segregation in a way that wasn’t going to change every element of society. It was going to change a large element of the way that people thought. >> Geoffrey Himes: What I found striking reading the book, especially about this sense of mission that Sam had was that a lot of the artists that he worked with were striving towards something similar, but it didn’t seem like they could articulate it or be as conscious of it as Sam was.

One of the things that marked Sam was that — as you say, even at 8 or 9 — he could articulate and consciously set these kind of goals, which strikes me and makes — just one of the things that makes him an unusual person. >> Peter Guralnick: I mean, his first ambition was to be a great — was to be a — not great — criminal defense lawyer like Clarence Darrow to right the wrongs of society, which were both social and had to do with both social and racial justice.

That was — and he wasn’t able to do that because he had to drop out of school after his junior year because his father died. But, I mean, an example of the way in which Geoffrey’s talking about is he often spoke about how he didn’t know anyone who was more free of prejudice than Elvis Presley.

He believed there was no question whatsoever that Elvis shared his goal — knew exactly what he was doing. I believe this too. I mean, but I didn’t know Elvis. I wrote him a letter, but that’s as close as I got. But he said that he believed that Elvis just as much as he knew exactly what they were doing, knew that they were sneaking around the race line, knew what he was doing when he embraced not just African American music but African American artists when he had his picture in the paper with BB King, Little Junior Parker, Bobby Blue Bland when he spoke about his admiration of these African American artists in the mainstream press.

And when he was hailed as what was then called a race hero in the African American press at that time. Something which was set aside — I mean, not set aside by him but it was reversed and later [inaudible] within the African American community. But Sam said there was no question that Elvis shared those views, that he knew what they were doing.

He knew that — and that he gloried in the idea that — he says, “You got to admit,” he says, “I just got to say, didn’t we knock the shit out of that race line?” But Elvis was not saying it. Elvis was not going to articulate it and probably none of his artists. I mean, someone like Jerry Lee Lewis — I’m not going to get into — I’m not going to imagine the complexity of Jerry Lee Lewis’ feelings about anything because it could go — sort of like trying to imagine Merle Haggard’s political views.

I mean, these are brilliant musicians, and these are real geniuses. But anyway — but the point is that when Jerry Lee Lewis says if I could play guitar like BB King, I’d be president — to get to Jerry Lee Lewis. BB King was — the fact that Sam had recorded not just Elvis but BB King was a key element in bringing him in the studio.

>> Geoffrey Himes: One of the things that the book points out is that Sam Phillips worked with a lot of different people besides Elvis and the Million Dollar Quartet, but the relationship between Elvis and Sam is very interesting. You’re talking about how they shared these kind of values. At the same time, they were different people.

I was wondering if you could articulate what the differences and how those differences complimented and allowed them to make the records they made. >> Peter Guralnick: Well, to say one thing about Sam. The Sam who recorded these great records from Rocket 88 and Howlin’ Wolf right on through to Charlie Rich’s Who will the Next Fool Be was not — Sam in the studio is not the same who created the public persona that many of you have seen from his later years which was a conscious creation which was very different and which was highly articulate, highly oratorical, high ecclesiastical at times or at least I wrote about meeting him.

He was like an old testament prophet sauntering from the hill top. But that was not the person who did the music. The person who produced the music for want of a better word was someone who nurtured it, who was very soft spoken but who was firm in his beliefs and who was never going to back down about — on anything that he did believe.

As he said, he was not going to get up on any tall stumps to try to convince either preachers or DJ’s or record distributors to play his music because he knew these people. They were friends. And he knew that their views were not necessarily his. But he was certainly going to try to sell what he believed in in the best way that he knew how.

And he had this degree of certainty of self-certainty. I think that’s probably the thing that set him most apart from someone like Elvis who in a certain sense if you were to say what was Elvis’ problem? I mean, it was — aside from what might be called — and again, I’m as reluctant to assign a term to this as I am to describe the — Merle Haggard’s politics.

I mean, you could call what Elvis suffered from the last five years of his life as a kind of clinical depression, which was just never dealt with. But the other thing was, his biggest problem was simply that unlike someone like Sam Cooke who absorbed everything he could from everyone that he met and then moved on, Elvis was someone who wanted to be loved.

And it was — as Sam described him — had the insecurity that prevented him from saying okay, I’ve gotten what I can from you, from Sam, from Colonel Parker, from whoever and moved on to do what he himself wanted to do. And it was sort of an inability to deal with — for want of a better word — adulthood.

And so I think that that’s — that’s where — I mean, Sam was on a mission. He knew what he wanted to do. He set out to do it. He was somebody who suffered from depression all his life. He had — twice he had eight electroshock treatments when he was — 1944 — when he was 21 years old and electroshock was not — it was at the dawn of electric.

What’s it called now? Electroconvulsive — yeah, electroconvulsive therapy, yeah. And this is a very different thing from the kind of shock treatment that he had, and many people never recovered from it. But this is what Sam believed at 21. He’s settled on the idea that this was what he needed to happen.

He did it at this sanitarium in Birmingham. And then right after Rocket 88 — and he would tell — I mean, if you met him on the street, he might tell you this. If Geoffrey were interviewing him, he would — Geoffrey might ask him about Elvis, and he might say, “Let me tell you about the electroshock.

” Because he believed there was no shame in it and that mental illness was no different then physical illness and that one shouldn’t hide anything and that he wasn’t proud of having recovered. It’s like talking about a recovering alcoholic. He saw it as this was his temperament and this was how he dealt with it.

He was fortunate, and he was not going to try to hide it. But the point is went after the second set in ’51 right after Rocket 88 he was told by the doctor who administered the electroshock that he would never be able to lead a normal life or that he would be unlikely to be able to avoid excitement.

And the next thing he did was he recorded Howlin’ Wolf a few weeks later. >> Geoffrey Himes: You’ve mentioned several times that this is your most personal book, and there’s more of you in this book then there are in previous books. For those who don’t know, Peter has written several works of fiction, and his first sort of major trilogy was collected pieces, Lost Highway, Feel like Going Home and Sweet Soul Music and then the sort of second trilogy of biographies which is a two volume Elvis Presley biography and Sam Cooke and now Sam.

Why was this the most personal book? Was it merely just because you knew Sam better than these other subjects or was it something — I mean, I think there’s something in this book where he talked about how Sam articulated — the reason you devoted your life to music. >> Peter Guralnick: Well, yeah.

I think actually Sam’s vision of art in many ways corresponded to my own — his vision — he got a book as a prize, I Dare You, by the founder of Ralston Purina whose name is — his son or grandson was the Senator from Missouri. Danforth, yeah, yeah. And that was the theme of his life was you had to dare.

You had to overcome your inhibitions. You had to overcome your fears. In many respects, the thing that was so inspiring to me about meeting Sam for the first time in ’79 was not so much that he revealed something I never thought of is that he validated everything that I had ever believed. And he validated it within a large philosophical concept and in a sense placed the music that had so influenced me but which was not necessarily related to the ideas, placed the music within this philosophical and almost revolutionary context that he just — I was just thrilled to have this.

And even I was running a boys camp at the time, did for many years, and all the principles that Sam spoke, trying to [inaudible] and articulate in running his recording ventures were the same principles that I was trying to carry out. I’m not saying I achieved them to the same extent, but I think that this thing about being personal is that you’ll find a lot of me in the first three books I wrote in Feel Like Going Home, Lost Highway and Sweet Soul Music.

But I rigorously kept myself out of the Elvis and the Sam Cooke biography. I felt like I didn’t want to — I wanted to tell this in a way that allowed the story itself to come out. I think if you read that — if you saw what I put in, what I left out, you could draw a portrait of me from those books that would be as accurate as from anything else.

I mean, I think there’s no such thing as Sam said he hated perfection. Well, I mean, I don’t — I’ll raise him one. I’ll say there’s no such thing as objectivity. And that this is a kind of myth that people perpetuate in all kinds of ways but everything comes down to the angle of perception.

What you put in, what you leave out. This says an enormous amount about a painter, about a musician, about a writer. And so you could draw a portrait of me from these books in which I — rigorously eliminated myself in a way that I hadn’t from the earlier books. This is the Sam Cooke and the Elvis.

But here, I knew from the beginning that what I wanted to create with the Sam Phillips was a book, like a novel, a nonfiction novel that did justice to the nonlinearity of his life, the explosiveness of his life and to the variousness of human experience. I wanted to right something that was along the lines of what Sam saw so that it could be both epic and intimate.

It could be tragic and comic. It could be discursive and focused. It could be like — I mean, Sam always talked about every session being like — he wanted every session to be like Gone with the Wind and big fun too. Now I’m not going to cite Gone with the Wind, but it’s like the idea of an epic family novel or something.

But the thing was that the only way I could do this, I didn’t — Sam lived to a far riper age than either Sam Cooke who died at — what did he die? 33, I think, and Elvis who died at 42. And the thing about Sam was he left the music business more or less in 1960 when he was 37 years old. He lived to be 80.

And so I didn’t want a book that was a recitation of honors gained or travels made or critiques, praise given. I wanted to do something that did justice to the craziness of Sam’s life, not crazy in the mental health way but just the absolute individuality, as Kerouac might have said, the wowness of Sam’s life.

And I wanted — and the only way I could do that was by introducing myself not as a character so much as a witness because I knew him for 25 years. And that was the way that I had of breaking up the narrative. It was a way I had of making it more anecdotal, being able — veering away from strict chronology and being able to take a story from beginning to end even if the end happened years after what the chronological course of the narrative was.

And in the course of it, I mean, I just — as Sam said to me fairly early on — I mean, I met him in ’79 and got to know him much better when I was working on the Elvis, and we did a whole bunch of interviews and stuff and started going out to dinner. But as Sam said to me, he says, “You know, my son Knox — Knox loved you from the first, but I didn’t.

” So I could say that Sam believed that you keep a distance from people. Otherwise, they’re going to push you off the cliff. And Sam was kind enough to say, “Well, I knew that you,” he says, “I had to keep my distance because I knew you had your doubts about me,” and I’m thinking, “I had my doubts about you? I was sold from the first word.

That’s very nice of you to say that.” So we sort of went from this formal — I mean, when I met him in ’79 he had done, by his account, that was the first interview he ever had done outside of the Memphis newspapers and the trades, Billboard and Cash Box and there were a couple of others.

He forget about a couple. But in essence, that was true. He did not want to do interviews. He didn’t believe — he didn’t want to look back. He saw interviews as looking back. He always wanted to look forward. He was in radio then. But that first interview was like the [inaudible] of Sam. I mean, I didn’t realize what it was at the time.

It was an amazing experience, and I met him in a flood. The radio station had flooded. He had this new radio station he had just built, just built every square inch of it down to the plantings outside, and the sprinkler system let go the night before. I had been trying to get an interview for ten years, and the sprinkler system let go.

And Knox, Sam’s son, Knox, who had been trying to sell Sam on doing the interview, met me in the parking lot and said, “I don’t think we can do the interview. We’re going to have to postpone.” I’m thinking postpone? Postpone? You know, another ten years? And so eventually being the resourceful person that I am and being so creative, I said, “Well, isn’t there anything I can do to help?” A brilliant suggestion.

And so I carried buckets of water. I squeegee’d. I moved tapes and then at the end of this eight or nine hours we did what turned out for me to be the shortest interview Sam ever did. It was only 2.5 hours. And I had no idea really what it represented. It was teachings of Sam and in a sense after knowing him for 25 years, I came to realize how important his sense of mission, his sense of teaching, of conveying these lessons, these life lessons was.

I couldn’t have known that at the time, but it was quite astonishing. So I don’t know what that was. It wasn’t friendship certainly. I was there. I recorded both his thoughts and my reactions and wrote about them in Lost Highway. But then over the years, we became friendlier or friendly and then eventually I would say after many years friends and then one day he said, “You know, I really love you.

” And I said, “Wow, that’s really,” but that was — at that point, he wasn’t feeling well. But it — no, I mean, it’s hard to say. I mean, Geoffrey’s right. It is in many ways the most personal but in another way I was so intensely bound up in the Sam Cooke, and it expresses so many of my views of society, of race, of class, of the community that nurtured Sam Cooke and has been so important in terms of my being afforded access through the writing I’d done, the people I met.

So — but I guess I’d have to say Sam feels this is the most [inaudible] person. Maybe I should be embarrassed about that. >> Geoffrey Himes: Obviously, the Sam Phillips books cover a lot of the same territory as the Elvis piece did. I just wondered if you could talk a bit about why you wanted to return to that territory to — what you thought to be gained by going back with that same territory and also it seems — you may disagree with this, but from my perspective, it seems that both Elvis and Sam had this burst of brilliant triumps in the 50s, early 60s and then had difficulty or were quieter after life, but also seems that they dealt with that challenge in different ways.

I wonder if you could speak to that as well. >> Pete Guralnick: That’s a lot of things. If I were to just disagree wholesale, that would be the easiest way to answer. But no, I don’t disagree. But in terms of second acts, I mean, who except Philip Roth? I mean, there are other people come back and surpass the achievements for which they were hailed in their youth.

I mean, you look at so many people in the arts. After an intense period of early creativity, what would have happened to Sam Cooke had he lived? I mean, I don’t know. I mean, you could postulate that he would have been Mayor of Chicago, but it’s hard to know what — I guess I didn’t see it as revisiting the same territory.

I mean, in some ways, having written to Sam Cooke and thinking about or having written a lot about blues, you’re thinking about writing a biography of Muddy Waters which Robert Gordon did a wonderful biography of Muddy Waters or thinking about doing a biography of Otis Redding. That would have seen to me like a repetition.

In Sam’s case, he was so [inaudible] generous. I just never thought of him. I mean, Elvis was part of the story. But by no means, not even — by no means, the main part of the story. And I guess I saw this as if it was revisiting, it was revisited in a completely different perspective, showing all of these things.

I mean, I’ve written about Howlin’ Wolf before. This was in a completely different perspective. I mean, one of the things, for example, in writing about Howlin’ Wolf in this book was the discovery by — and this is in the Howlin’ Wolf biography by Mark Hoffman and his co-writer was named somebody I’m sure.

Yeah, James Segrest, right. And they found that Howlin’ Wolf had suffered this enormous nervous breakdown in the Army and was actually released in those terms and released with the idea that he would never again be able to lead anything approaching a normal life. And although this was something that neither — Wolf had said to me one time, I never read this, I never heard it — but Wolf had said to me when I asked about the Army thinking about, that this must have been an expansive experience, getting him off the farm, out of Mississippi.

I’m asking him. I thought at that point because he had said it sometimes found [inaudible] which he never did. He got as far as Tacoma or state of Washington anyway. But he — I asked him about it from that point of view. He says, “Oh, man. The Army, they drill you so hard it just about gave me a nervous breakdown.

” Well, it did. It gave him a literal nervous breakdown, and that’s how he mustered out of the Army. And in this book — I mean, I considered it, and I thought, well, geez, Sam — neither Sam nor Wolf knew about the other’s experience and yet there’s no question in my mind that this was one of the ways in which they connected.

They were both extraordinarily bright people, extraordinarily observant people. In Wolf’s case, extraordinarily paranoid person. But just an amazimg person. I mean, Sam said about Wolf about the first time they met, he says, “Well, as much as I was reading the Wolf, he was reading me much more.

” But that was a way — in other words, for me that changed the portrait completely. Seeing Elvis come in, for example, into the studio in the wake of an article about The Prisonaires, the quintet from the Tennessee State Penitentiary that Sam had recorded in the early summer of ’53, and there was a big article in the Commercial — or maybe it was the Press Scimitar that talked about this man, Sam Phillips, who was looking for original talent, was willing to record anybody, and there’s no question in my mind that this is why Elvis came into the studio a few weeks later.

But the point is seeing it within that context, that’s something I wrote about to some extent in the Elvis biography. But it loomed so much larger within this very different context. So I guess from my point of view, that was — and I saw Sam also as a person who even long after he had left the field for which he had gained — in which he so changed the world and as Jerry Wexler said in a decade of recording he created a millennium’s worth of work.

But I saw him as being — continuing to be as interesting a person, as challenging a person, as individual a person, and I wanted to continue in the book to continue to show the intrinsic interest of this character, the adventurousness of this person and the sense, exploratoriness and also the sense of insecurity that continued to fuel him.

So it — I guess from my point of view if you do think of it as revisiting or if I think of it as revisiting, I wouldn’t go back. And there are many places that I never have gone back because I felt there was no way to do it. I do have to say, though, that the one place I would always have revisited and it’s one of the two biggest regrets of my life, and this shows how shallow a person I am.

One, that I no longer play baseball. I played baseball until I was 48, and I just miss that so much. I played — I went back to tennis. That’s okay, but baseball — but the other is that when I sent Solomon Berg whom Geoffrey knew well — when I sent Solomon Berg a copy of the Sam Cooke, the next time I saw him, he says, “You know, it’s great Pete.

It’s really great.” He says, “But when are we going to do the book?” And I tried so many times we talked about it. Solomon — it was the one book that I ever thought that I would do in somebody else’s voice. I mean, and I tried to get Solomon — Solomon was someone like quick silver.

It was hard to get him to commit. And if he said, “Look, why don’t you fly out to L.A., I’ll buy the ticket. I’ll put you up. I’ll find you a Pied-a- terre,” after first turning down the offer of payment because you never knew what that might mean — it’s not even a question of being compromised.

It’s a question of showing up at the airport and having no ticket. In fact, being sued for malfeasance. But the other thing was I knew that if I went out to L.A. I could fly out to L.A. and find out that Solomon was in Japan. So I — but I tried to get him to commit to it, and put down on tape what his experiences were like when he was 8, 9, 10, when he was a wonder boy preacher in his grandmother’s church.

And he says, “Okay, okay. How about when I was 10?” I said, “Okay, when you were 10. Did something happen when you were 10?” This is about the funniest and sad story. So then he said, “That’s when they put me out on the street.” Well, I never heard anything like that.

And so I said, “What do you mean they put you — who put you out on the street?” He said, “That’s what I could never find out.” I said, “Why did they put you out in the street?” He says, “I don’t know.” And he burst into tears, which was the last three times I saw him.

Solomon, the most jolly, just one of the most brilliant people, I mean, just unbelievable but he gave way to emotion each of the last three times. I don’t know what it meant. I don’t know. But that’s the one place I would revisit that a thousand times. I would give anything to have been able to have written that book in Solomon’s voice and as Solomon says, it would have been the greatest book in the world.

>> Geoffrey Himes: Before we throw it open to the audience, I was wanting to ask you one more thing. We were talking at dinner about the challenges and rewards of the kind of life that we do, writing about music. And you were speaking earlier — we were speaking earlier about how Sam affirmed a lot of the — articulated and affirmed a lot of the motivations you had in your work.

We also talked about how non musicians do play a role in shaping music, and I think that we do too to a much smaller extent than Sam Phillips perhaps but a little bit. >> Peter Guralnick: Are you saying we should be in the rock and roll Hall of Fame? >> Geoffrey Himes: No, but — >> Peter Guralnick: No halls of fame.

>> Geoffrey Himes: But I guess what I’m leading up to is can you talk a little bit about how — why you embarked on this work and what’s kept you at it all these years? >> Peter Guralnick: You mean the work in general? Yeah. Right. Well, I always wanted to be a writer. You know I always wanted to be a baseball player.

But I wanted to be — also I always wanted to be a writer from the time I was 6 or 7 years old. My grandfather taught English at [inaudible] School. He was a great inspiration to me, and I was surrounded by books with my parents. And I just — but I mean, it was nobody — as Sam would say, it was nobody’s motivation but my own.

I wanted to be a writer. And I published a collection of short stories when I was 20. I’d written my first novel when I was 19. It was not music at all that — I mean, I loved music. But it was the blues. I fell into the blues when I was about 15 or 16. And that just led me to everything else. But when I was around 20 or 21, all of a sudden these underground weekly sprang up, Crawdaddy started up, and it was this kid named Paul Williams.

He was a few years younger than I was, and I knew him from the school that he attended some years after I did. And anyway, in several instances, people came to me and said, you know, how would you — Paul came and said, “How would you like to write for Crawdaddy?” Or “How would you like to write for [inaudible] something about music?” Because everybody knew how crazy I was about the blues.

And I said, “Great, then I want to write about the blues.” And so there I am in early issues of Crawdaddy writing about Robert P. Williams with Skip James, Buddy Guy in the midst of Moby Grape, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead. I mean — and Psychodelian General. I’m not putting that down.

I’m just saying it’s an odd — I mean, I don’t belong there but there I am. And when this friend of mine named Larry Stark [assumed spelling] became the drama critic, the first drama critic at Boston After Dark, which was essentially started — it was the Boston Phoenix and that started as a way to sell advertising.

I mean, it was just — they needed content to sell the advertising for entertainment because this guy who was in Harvard Business School realized the mainstream papers weren’t selling advertising for concerts and stuff like that. So Larry said, “How would you like to write on music?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.

But I want to write about Muddy Waters, James Brown, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf.” And that’s what I did. My idea, the only reason I did it, was to tell people about this music that I knew was so great. I mean, in a way it’s parallel — maybe this is why the book is so personal because it’s not the same degree of achievement in any way.

But it’s parallel to what Sam said. The first thing I wrote for Boston After Dark, all the original things I wrote and were talking about payment, which is never worth thinking about. But I don’t get — I didn’t get paid anything for years and years. I mean, I wrote about — the first thing I wrote about was the James Brown Show.

And I wrote about it. This was a time of happenings in theater. I said, “This is the greatest, spontaneous eruption. This is the greatest improvisational theater. This is the greatest happening you’ll ever see,” and described what I had seen from going to James Brown, to the James Brown show over the last few years.

And just was trying to sell people on the idea of going to see James Brown because it would uplift them. It would elevate them. It would give them a vision of Nirvana. And not psychedelic, psychedelia. But so and that was why I wrote them. I wrote about Muddy Waters. It was a thrill to me to put down — set down their names.

I never thought of it as a vocation. I don’t even know if I thought of it was an advocation. It was just — it was a mission to sort of tell people — it was a thrill to put the names down, to write the name Big Joe Turner, to type it out, to see it in print, to write about Johnny Shines, to write about Bo Diddley and to try to present them in terms that did justice to the greatness of their achievement, not to play off of — not to say it was awesome or not to say — but to try to describe what it was that was so elevated about what they did.

And not to do it in — I’m sure to some people it may still seem very pretentious, but it was to do it in terms that were attempted to be equal and treat the music with the dignity that it deserved and also the enthusiasm. So that was my entire motivation. It remains my entire motivation. I mean, I wrote — I considered myself — I never considered myself a critic.

I’ve always thought of myself as an advocate in a sense. I’ve never written about anything that I didn’t love. I’ve never written on assignment. And I’m not saying that boastfully. I mean, it was really hard to do. It caused — as my son, Jake, said when he was about 8 years old and starving from lack of food.

I was never starving from lack of food but I often thought we could have better food on the table. But the thing was it was something I felt absolutely committed to, and that’s really as much as anything the motivation for the Sam Phillips is to tell the world as [inaudible] said, “Tell the world about Sam Phillips.

” Or he said, “Tell the world about what?” It’s whatever the song is. >> Geoffrey Himes: All right. Do we have microphones for people? Anybody have questions? Maybe Ann can help identify people. >> [Inaudible] Q and A and afterwards we’ll explain about the book selling.

We won’t be selling books tonight, but we will be offering ten percent off in our bookshop, and we’ll explain how that goes, but let’s go ahead with Q and A. >> Peter Guralnick: Let me also say that if you do want to have it signed, but if you brought a book, I’m glad to sign that.

This is not a silent auction or anything so if you have something you want to say and get — that’s fine — or ask or something like that. So it’s — I’m sorry to hear about the books, the lack of books. But anyway, any books you brought that you want me to sign, I’m glad to sign. >> Having looked at your website and picture after photograph after photograph and a few minutes ago you made the — said the phrase people I’ve met, and I’m assuming you’ve met a lot of people and interviewed a lot of people.

But does one or two real son of a bitches come to mind? >> Peter Guralnick: No, no. I mean — because the point is what have I done? I’ve gone out looking for people that I’ve admired. I mean, it’s — if you ask me if I admire everything about them? No. I mean, who am I to make the judgment? I’m interested in somebody — like Merle Haggard for example is not — he’s whatever you call it, like a sweet cup of tea on every occasion.

But it’s not — I don’t feel any investment in somebody being one way or another. I admire the hell out of Merle Haggard. I just see him as one of the great creative artists of the 20th century. And that — or maybe any century. And that’s what I’m writing about. What I’m interested in talking to people about is what motivates them, what their ambition is, what their aspirations are, what their aspirations were and describing what the weather was.

I don’t have any particular pride or place in this. I don’t see myself as either being insultable or threatenable in a sense. So no, I would say not. >> Geoffrey Himes: Follow up that question. It seems that one of the challenges for a biographer is how to balance the work with the life and most — a lot of biographies write about the drugs and marriages and so forth, which is not why we’re interested in them in the first place.

And I was wondering how you wrestled with that problem or that challenge? >> Peter Guralnick: I feel like I think we — I’m going to recapitulate some of what we talked about at dinner, but I feel as if I’ve got a number of commitments. The first commitment is to telling the truth. The second commitment to being fair to the person I’m writing about, treating anybody I write about with dignity and respect that I would hope for and that they deserve.

It’s kind of the opposite of some political figures in this particular age. And I guess the third thing is just being true to the reader. So it’s not like I feel like I can leave things out. It’s not that I have a view of them particularly. I mean, if somebody leads — for instance, I’ve been with people when I was doing portraits.

I’ve been with people where I saw things happen that I felt — while I was accidentally witnessed to them, I had no right to expose them whatever the [inaudible] might have been. They informed the way in which I saw the person I was writing about, not necessarily negatively. I mean, I just don’t have a judgment.

I don’t have — I’m not bringing my values to bear on the person I’m writing about. But they certainly could inform but it wasn’t like I was going to break up a marriage or put somebody in jail because I happen to be present at something that I was an accidental observer. But I mean, we talked a little.

I mean, I wrote about Charlie Rich in Feel Like Going Home, the first book I wrote, which actually all of the books were written as books as opposed to — that was something where I went out and wrote the book as individual portraits, but they were all written for the book. Lost Highway was the one exception to that.

But the thing was, I meet Charlie Rich out at the Vapors out by the airport in Memphis. It later became either Big Bad Bob’s Vapors or just Bad Bob’s Vapors. I don’t know if it’s still in operation or not but it was fairly — until fairly recently. And I met him at a tea dance where there — he and Narvel Felts and Ace Cannon alternated sets, and I think there must have been at lease nine sets among them.

It went on for a long time. Meeting Charlie Rich and his wife Margaret Anne, I don’t think I’ve — I don’t think I’ve ever liked anybody better on first meeting. When I came to writing about him, I thought this is terrible. I’m never going to get to see him again, this guy that I like so much, Margaret Anne who I like so much, because the portrait that I drew.

And you’ll laugh if you read the book, if you read Feel Like Going Home because it seems so pale in light of the way in which peole are written about today. But I thought I’m never going to see him again because I was writing about depression, guilt, alcoholism, just a sense of exclusion and insecurity and agoraphobia which was very odd for a performer.

And — but it was what I had to write, and I wrote it from as I feel one is compelled to. You write it from an empathetic point of view. An actor can’t portray a villain and you can’t — and just go [inaudible] every other word just to show his distance or her distance from the character she’s portraying.

But so I wrote this, and I just felt badly, but that was the truth. And I tried to treat it with honesty, with dignity, with respect. But that was the truth. And I’ve never been more relieved or never felt better than when the publisher of Feel Like Going Home, the woman named Margaret Pete called me up and said, “I had to tell you.

I just got a call from Charlie Rich, and he ordered 30 copies of the book to give to all the members of his family.” And when I saw him not longer afterwards, and I was friendly with him until he died for the next 25 years. But when I saw him, he said, “You know, the truth hurts sometimes, but it’s the truth, and you wrote the truth.

” Not everybody takes that view, but that’s what I — and I’ll tell you a round about story, a quick round about story, but a magazine wanted to do an excerpt first serial from [inaudible], a big magazine. It would have been a great thing. But what they wanted me to do was to rewrite — it was the part about Larry Geller who was Elvis’ sort of spiritual advisor.

Adventures in new age religion, and that’s what he was. That was what he was interested in. That’s what Elvis was interested in. It’s not what I’m interested in. I mean, I may be disappointing you here, but this is not my interest. I’m not a [inaudible]. I’m not a follower of Madame Blavatsky or Audiobiography of a Yogi.

But that’s what they were interested in. And so this magazine wanted me to portray Larry Geller as a hippocrite and a charlatan. Now, it’s possible. I’m not saying it’s true, but it’s possible that that might be my personal view. As I say, I’m not saying that it is, but it’s possible.

But I would never portray him. His role in Elvis’ life was a legitimate role. He had a genuine knowledge and interest, knowledge of an interest in those areas. Elvis was passionate about them. He devoted 2.5 years of his life to it. And it ended very unhappily because they dropped the excerpt, and I felt like I poisoned the relationship with somebody who could be very important.

And I’m not saying this to be heroic. I’m just saying I felt an obligation both to the truth and to try to understand what it was with the people I was writing about were not what I thought of them or what it provided judgment of them. >> So today a young Elvis Presley instead of going to a studio would probably record a demo in his home on his own equipment.

And so I wondered what your thoughts might be as to what we might have lost through this process and are there any up sides to it that we don’t have necessarily people like Sam Phillips taking people under their wing? >> Peter Guralnick: I’m not sure how many up sides there are to the internet.

I know it’s a huge convenience. But I think we’re moving the filter and also we’re moving the idea that I told you I don’t believe there’s any such thing as objectivity, but I do believe there’s such a thing as editorial weighing or at least some attempt at the appearance of objectivity.

And I think the collaboration to go back to what Geoffrey said to begin with, the collaboration of two people, the collaboration of Sam Phillips and Howlin’ Wolf or Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley or Chips Moman and Elvis at the American sessions in ’69 can create a — or even the creation of the collaboration of something like Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint on River in Reverse.

Is it called River in Reverse or was that the — that’s the single? What was the album called? That was it? Okay. Anyway, I think this can lead to all kinds of things. I think creating — on the other hand, creating on your own — not everybody needs that collaboration. Not everybody needs leadership.

The problem is we’ve lost any sense of common heritage I guess. I mean, I know from teaching at Vanderbilt there is not a single book that is in a creative writing course — there’s not a single book that everyone in the class has read except To Kill a Mockingbird. And maybe The Great Gatsby.

Other then that, it’s not that people don’t read, but there is — and so the conversation is abbreviated to some extent. I mean, I’m interested, and I try to engage in this conversation by — I try to find out from everyone. I say what are you into? Movies, books, music. But there’s almost no common ground and certainly no shared heritage.

And I think what you lose by that is the ability to build on that. Elvis was totally conscious of being part of a tradition, of being part of this continuum of great music that included Howlin’ Wolf, Hank Williams, Carusso, included Carusso, included all of this. And today our sense of history might go back five years but not any longer and maybe not even five years at this point.

So I think that is a lot lost in that. At the same time, there are tremendous opportunities, and the creativity. There’s no less creativity today. There are no fewer original voices. There’s no absence of music, art, literature to celebrate. I mean, people talk about the death of the novel. I think there are more great novels being written now then ever before.

It’s harder to find them on common ground. But I don’t think anything will ever discourage Sam Phillips [inaudible]. If you are a creative person, for God’s sake, don’t let anything get in the way of that creativity. I think for the creative person nothing will get in the way of that creativity.

>> Thank you, Peter. Two questions. First of all, the people that you’ve written about are pretty much originals. But as you said, it’s continuum of music. So my first question is are there any artists — you mentioned Elvis Costello as an artist with [inaudible] — that you would like to write about today? That you think either having the same impact and if so, who are they and why? If not, why not? And the other question is music is passed down.

You mentioned your son who criticized the meals on your table for a time. >> Peter Guralnick: No, no, no. He was just — I like the combination of I’m starving for lack of food. I thought that was — >> But I was saying were you able to take this great love that you have for it and influence him at all in terms of his music? That’s something fathers think about.

You pass it down. You either accept it or reject it. So both of those if you would. >> Peter Guralnick: Well, I think as far as passing down, I mean Jake manages groups. My daughter, Nina, has been involved in various ways in the music business and others. Now she’s the head of the Children’s International Film Festival.

But no, I wouldn’t want to pass on my taste particularly. We share common enthusiasms, but I’m as interested in their sharing what they’re into with me as my sharing it with them. I think it’s the idea of pursuing what Sam called individualism in the extreme. That to me was the idea of relying on your resourcefulness as opposed to looking for a path which took you step by step through life or made you fearful of taking gambles.

I mean, in many ways I think I would aspire to — or Jake and Nina represent is what I aspire to be when I grow up. But I don’t — we certainly share a lot in common. I remember taking Nina against her vociferous will to go see I.F. Stone towards the end of his life after he learned Greek and he was talking about — was he talking about the trials of Socrates trial? And Nina’s looking around saying, “KQ is zero.

” KQ being kid quotient. “Why do I have to be here?” And I said, “Because greatness such as this will not pass your way again.” But I didn’t expect to sell her on I.F. Stone, and I didn’t. But I wanted at least to expose her. I took Jake — I took him to see Aretha Franklin when he was 2 or 3, and he met Muddy Waters when he was 7 or 8.

But I don’t see that as significant. It was — what was significant was exposing him to the possibility, the possibilities of art, the possibility of creativity, the breadth, the breadth of choices that are available. And so I think that was it more than anything. >> So I have a — when you were speaking earlier about your sense of yourself as an evangelist for the music that you really enjoy, as you’ve written books and you’ve traveled and spoken about the music that you enjoy, I’m wondering if you had a sense of whether or not that the audience for what you’re saying is different here than it is in Europe.

As a fan of this music, for instance, I’ve noticed that there are ridiculously lavish treatments of for instance the Sun Catalog from Bear Family in Germany. There’s nothing like that in the U.S. I listen to a lot of [inaudible] blues, and there’s document records in England and JSP, and there’s nothing really like that here.

And I’m wondering — >> Peter Guralnick: What about the [inaudible]? >> But [inaudible] — okay — >> Peter Guralnick: [Inaudible] has stopped in that, but for the first 20 or 30 years or so. >> Maybe this is a misperception on my part. But it seems like there’s more in terms of getting the music out there, there seems like there’s more enthusiasm about it there than there is here, and I was just wondering if you perceived anything like that when you’ve talked to people about the music? >> Peter Guralnick: I think that Richard Weize I think recently sold Bear Family but who has owned Bear Family from the beginning.

He is one of a kind. And his dedication essentially to creating a library of American music — not just American, but that’s what I know, and his documentation of Sun and his willingness to just expand the most lavish amounts of time. I don’t know about money, but certainly time and probably money too, is unique.

I don’t think it has to do with him being German. It just has to do — or European, it has to do with just somebody who is so driven to do this. And I wrote in the brief discography at the back of Sam Phillips that really for the first time in all the — writing about the music that I could send people to a single catalog, to the Bear Family catalog.

Not that that not necessarily is going to be everything that they would want, but it’s just an astonishing achievement. A lot of the other stuff — I mean, some of it — we’re a very big country and for something to be hip in England doesn’t necessarily represent a huge amount of people to have the Sweet Soul Music Festival in [inaudible] which I went to for years which is phenomenal.

It doesn’t mean that soul music is prevalent in Italy as opposed to here. It’s probably popular here, but it’s more dispersed. And I think there’s a trendiness to some of it. As Sam said, for God’s sake, that’s the one thing we don’t need. We don’t need another trend.

Whatever the trend is. Even if it’s something you like. But no, I think there’s always been a real appreciation of music. I think the other thing to keep in mind is the copyright laws. And so much of what’s put out in Europe. Our copyright laws are dictated by Disney. I mean, that’s what has extended what was supposed to go to public domain.

But the European copyright laws actually sanctioned theft in many ways. And Bear Family, for example, will put together incredible 12 CD set and then have it bootlegged by three or four English labels for say newly remastered. But it’s all they’ve done is they’ve taken the — and Bear Family tried to mark their masterings so that they would be detectable, but it cost too much money to sue.

So I think there is to some degree what you say, but labels like [inaudible] before that [inaudible] library were amazing collections. What Roots did was essentially to do every single record, and it’s invaluable if you want to have every single record by Tamper Red or by Frankie Half Pint Jackson or something.

But it’s not — I don’t know. I’m not going to knock it, but I would say there has been a great deal of appreciation here as well. It takes different forms in different places. >> Peter, any Prisonaire stories you can share with us? >> Peter Guralnick: I always liked — and the Prisonaires were this group that was brought to Sam by his sometime partner, Jim Bullet, who had had the Bullet label in Nashville which had one of the greatest hits of all time in Francis Craig’s Near You in the 40’s.

Something which I doubt that many of you heard, and I wouldn’t have heard if I weren’t writing the book. But anyway, Jim Bullet brought the Prisonaires who were part of the Frank Clemmons, Governor Frank Clemmons, who was a great — Sam greatly admired as a true Democrat, big D, little D, which Sam always considered himself and a great believer in rehabilitation prisons in prison.

And Prisonaires had been appearing on a number of radio shows in Nashville, had made some [inaudible] and so that’s how Sam heard them. Sam said, “Then the devastation came over me.” That’s the quote I always liked. Sometimes I’ll remember the word devastation. Sometimes I don’t.

Because it was both the music which was very much derived from the Ink Spots which was really — Bill Kenny, an idol of Elvis’ as well as the lead singer for the Prisonaires, but Johnny Brag. But it was also the idea of doing something, of being a kind of Clarence Darrell, doing something that could lead to rehabilitation.

And he went over. He went over to Nashville to meet with Frank Clemmons to try to pursuade him not to allow Sam to record them in prison, which he could have easily done, but to allow them to be transported with guard and trustee to the Sun Studio in Memphis. Memphis Recording Service in Memphis. And he brought with him a gospel singer named Howard Surat [assumed spelling] who Sam often said had the most beautiful voice he ever heard.

Again, Sam had [inaudible] for everyone. That was his [inaudible]. But he is a beautiful singer, and Sam tried very half-heartedly to get him to sing pop. And I think was very relieved when Howard Surat had no interest. Well, he was convinced that if Frank Clemmons who was also an Evangelical — if he heard Howard Surat and listened to Sam’s arguments that he would agree and Howard Surat brought with him a guy whose name was otherwise lost to history as far as I know.

Reverend something like [inaudible] Ray who was an evangelist from maybe Nebraska. I’ve known at some point and who Howard Surat was going around singing for. It was like on the Billy Graham Crusade. So there’s a picture of all of them when Sam made his pitch, and Frank Clemmons was pursuaded and that’s how Sam set out the first Prisonaires session which was then a reporter from either Commercial Appeal, Press Scimatar was present at, wrote the article and that’s what brought Elvis in.

>> Thank you. >> I think we maybe just have time for one question more and then we’ll set up in the hallway there. >> Great hearing you again tonight. Getting back to Solomon Berg, it would be great if you could do that book. I know Solomon performed a couple times, and he’s awesome.

Started listening to him about 40, 50 years ago. But did he not have 12 children? Maybe 20? Which a number of them ended up in his band performing with him for many years? Could not these kids be great sources for information about Solomon Berg for a really terrific definitive book? >> Peter Guralnick: Well, information doesn’t even begin to approach the book that should be written about Solomon Berg.

And I never wanted to do anything but a book in Solomon’s voice. So he did — I can’t remember at this point. How many children did he have? He had 12? How many was it? I thought it was like 21, but as Solomon said, I got lost in the Bible verse that said go forth and multiply. But he — and his last four children by — with his wife Sunday [assumed spelling] Ho, and he said to me, “You know, ho ho noodles.

” As if I would know. Do all of you know about ho ho noodles? To this day, I don’t. Sunday was very charming, very nice person. I never asked her about the noodle company. But his last four children [inaudible] and Queen Elizabeth. I’m trying to remember who else. Candy. I don’t know who she was named for.

They did perform with him as did one of his sons, Junior. JFK Junior. And I think there was one other. And his brother, Ellik [assumed spelling] when I first met Solomon was playing guitar for him. But nobody could tell Solomon’s story but Solomon, like Solomon or but Solomon. The thing about Solomon was that like Sam he was a creative artist of the highest attainment, not just when he was singing in every aspect of his life.

And there was no story he told no matter how fanciful it might seem that didn’t have some basis in reality like the time he played for the Ku Klux Klan by mistake. He says and they’re coming towards me. These lights, these torches. They’re all wearing hoods. Little children wearing little hoods.

But every one of these stories had some basis in reality, and often I confronted that reality but they were so beautifully comically and brilliantly told. The popcorn story or the — no, the only way we lost our opportunity to write the book, Solomon and I when Solomon died. >> Anne McLean: I hate to cut this off because it’s so warm to see how you guys have been entrancing everybody.

Thank you so much. Let’s thank them rather very warmly. >> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress. Visit us at

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Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock’n’Roll

The following is a transcript from “Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock’n’Roll” interview with John Brewer available on YouTube.  John Brewer directed the 2018 film “Chuck Berry”.

Hi, I’m Jon Brewer. I’m a  director and a producer, and I also   have had 50 years of experience in the music industry. Chuck Berry was Chuck Berry. The  definition of Chuck Berry is – Chuck Berry. If you had tried to try and get rock and roll  another name, you might call it Chuck Berry. He is the most important  guitarist in rock history.

He can tell you a full story  in three minutes lyrically.   If he couldn’t think of a word, he would just make one up. Coolaradar Botheration Motorvating Everyone wants Maybelline, Maybelline. Well,  the music is just too powerful to be denied. And you could almost say Chuck  Berry invented the teenager.

That records wouldn’t get played on  white station even at that period. He was the first inductee in  a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Now I know mine, we went to record it at the legendary Chess Studios.  In the studio, we met Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry. Started that whole hip-hop tradition. Back  then, he was the gangster, the first gangster.

You know, Chuck Berry was a character  that Charles Edward Anderson Berry played. When he came home, he was the man I married. The money goes in the case; then the guitar comes out. Yeah, he’s the man, for sure. Given me more headaches than Mick Jagger. That is the trailer for the recently released  documentary Chuck Berry – The Original   King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

And this is Factual  America. Brought to you by Alamo pictures,   a production company that makes documentaries  about America for an international audience. Chuck Berry was the original King of Rock  and Roll. That is according to Jon Brewer,   who should know. Known as the God of  rock docs, Jon discusses Chuck Berry,   the making of his documentary about the American  icon, and a host of amazing stories drawn from   his 50 years in the music business, working with  the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones,   David Bowie, Gerry Rafferty, and BB King, just to  name a few.

We caught up recently with Jon from   his studio in London. Jon Brewer, welcome to  Factual America. Jon, how are things with you? Oh, with me? Personally, I’m okay. It’s a bit cold  here in England. And of course, we’re subjected to   this strange virus lock down. But  other than that, I’m okay.

Thank you. Yeah, well, I’m based in England as well.  So it’s good to be talking to someone in   the same timezone. Usually, I’ve got someone  in LA on the other end. Also good news today,   we got a word of another vaccine that’s  about 94-95% effective, supposedly, so   maybe we’re about to see the light at  the end of the tunnel, and we just.

.. I think we are, but this, the effects gonna  now last for some time. And, you know,   I know everyone is canceling tours. And you know,  that whole routine of scheduling is completely,   in a good English way, is cocked up,  but you know, that’s what’s happened. It’s what’s happened.

And I think we’re all  in one big giant boat. We’re all in that same   boat together. Thanks so much for coming  on. It’s quite an honour to have you on.   We’re here to discuss primarily, your latest film,  Chuck Berry – The Original King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.   As it is, as it says on the tin.

He unfortunately  passed away went on to rock ‘n’ roll Heaven,   we think, on March 18 2017. But where can  listeners find this film? I think it’s on   all major streaming services, and it’s about to  come out on DVD and Blu-ray, is that correct? Well, I think it’s correct.

The problem is  that, I was asked this question the other day,   and it’s on some of the platforms and there are  holdbacks on certain situations, but it’s being on   a theatrical release. And quite interestingly, we  picked up a lot of the drive-ins and we basically   had great response.

And also we had sort of the  smaller, art theatres picked up on it. And of   course, we milked it all the way since then,  successfully. And then DVD will be coming out.   And then we probably will be on the bigger  platforms. yes. And then we’ll go to the   smaller platforms as things do.

But then  from there onwards, everything looks great. Well, excellent. Well, again, I’ve seen  the film, I highly recommend it. I really,   really enjoyed it. It’s a good, good fun,  good hour and a half, certainly. Maybe   the next couple of questions are going to seem,  certainly for someone my age, seem a little odd.

But in talking to someone on my team, who said,  we’re talking about this, and she said, well,   she didn’t really know anything about  popular music before The Beatles.   So maybe give us a little synopsis of the  film. And then tell us who Chuck Berry was. Well, Chuck Berry, I think, was the King of  Rock ‘n’ Roll because he performed and he   wrote.

And he recorded. To me,  just spending a little time on   Chuck at this point. Whereas Elvis didn’t write,  he performed and he recorded. And Little Richard,   well, he sort of wrote but not to the extent that  Chuck wrote. And so in a way, I just think that   Chuck was the, sort of, the King of Rock and  Roll.

He wrote with lyrics, he was a poet.   And he invented many words, as it was pointed  out, probably not in the Scrabble dictionary. And   if you listen to those lyrics,  they were pointed towards,   for obvious reasons, because Chuck  was a lot older than being a teenager,   towards the teenage audience, which I really  believe he created the teenager.

Although I grew   up as a teenager, I thought I was a teenager, and  I knew about teenagers. There are a lot of people   that didn’t really realise there were teenagers.  And the teenage expression, the teenage want,   things that made teenagers teenagers, was  everything that Chuck wrote about.

And if he   couldn’t use words that we all know, he made them  up. And it was great. So that was Chuck and Chuck   was given one of the best launches as a musician,  because everyone thought he was white. And in   those days, when he first started, you had black  radio that would only play black music, and there   was white stations that would only play white  music.

And the white stations were the powerful   stations, of course. And what happened was he got  his break, because they all thought he was white.   And when he came to concerts, there’s many stories  and appearances that he turned up and things went,   no, no we’re waiting for Chuck Berry, because  he was black.

And most of his problems   rose from being black. God knows what he would  have had if he had been white. But in those days,   that’s what happened. And I believe he  was one of those pioneers of being able to   get rid of the racism or start anyway. Because  I don’t know whether you know anything about   his performances, but I have visuals, and  there’s some visuals in the film, that show   archive footage of him basically  going from one side of the stage,   side of the stage to the other.

Now this was  what Chuck did. He was very clever. Ingrid,   his daughter, who was with him for 42 years on the  road, told me this. His idea was to pull those on   the left over to those on the right. Those on the  right over to the left. Well in the South, and   majority of the Southern and other territories  too, there was a law that if you were watching   an artist perform, it will be a rope down  the middle of the club.

And that rope   would disappear at Chuck’s performances, because  he went from the left to the right and the right   to the left. And he was moving so fast that people  love dancing and music, especially at that time,   and they still do, of course, and what happened  was that they mingled.

They started dancing in the   clubs. And black would dance with white and white  would dance with black and the rope would go down.   And there was always police at those venues.  And they couldn’t do anything about it.   Because nobody really worked out where the rope  was. And that’s what actually happened.

And,   being the God of rock docs, as they  now refer to me, experienced that.   Unfortunately not with Chuck, when we were filming  in the California deserts, we filmed at night. And   in the open there, outside, and it was so cold.  That was one reason we did this. We put bins   big speaker bins up in the desert, and at a gas  station, which was the set.

And what we did was   put Maybelline on and keep playing Maybelline. And  I don’t know whether you’ve ever experienced this.   But if you play Maybelline, you will never  stand still. And that’s how we generated heat.   With a couple of overcoats and sweaters and  various other things.

And what we did was make   really remake, the same thing that happened  in those clubs, which basically tore down   that barrier. And eventually, it collapsed.  Not completely, but it collapsed. And racism.   I believe in all our ways, and I looked at  Nat King, I did Nat King Cole, as you know,   was similar.

He’s tackled the situation of  racism in his own little way, or big way.   And Chuck did the same. Because he got himself  into all sorts of pickle. And got himself   arrested on many occasions. And I’ll talk about  that later, as we get into this conversation.   That was the reason, you couldn’t  stand still listening to Maybelline.

Well, and you’ve just, that’s just one  of his many songs, which a lot of people   of a certain age may not even realise are his  originally. Maybelline, Roll over Beethoven,   Rock and Roll Music, Johnny Be Good, Brown Eyed  Handsome Man, Monkey Business is one that you   give a lot of airtime towards the end, when  talking to his daughter, I think Ingrid.

So   he’s written these amazing songs, as you say, you  think, you pose, not just pose it. I think a lot   of people agree with you that he is the original  King of Rock and Roll. He was the first inductee   into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And then I  think, for someone of my generation who grew up   in United States, I mean, I hate to say it, but  the sad thing I found watching this film was that   I grew up of an era of which, okay, he had the  novelty hit in terms of my ding a ling, right.

Which is ironically, his own first and only number  one. And then you heard all about the troubles of   the law and the taxman. But I think what your  film does is brings us back to the essence of   his greatness and who he was. And I think this  thing about the poet and storyteller, maybe you   can say even more about that.

Because you’ve got  archive of McCartney, I think on there and others,   just saying, how he could just boil it, tell  the whole story in less than three minutes. Well, he definitely was a storyteller,  that’s for sure. And he definitely was   a poet. The situation is  that, I personally think, and   there are various views of his life that became  detrimental to his ongoing performing and his   relationship with how to deal with them.

See, when I started in the industry,   there were no parameters. We were  pioneers, we created those parameters.   And, you know, publishing is very important  today. And it was very unimportant in those days.   But, you know, he was responsible for bringing  the cycle in, of what we know as rock ‘n’ roll   in music today.

It was three chords. He played  the guitar beautifully, wonderfully, beautifully   is not the word, he played it wonderfully. And it  was related to the songs that he really created,   that was so important to the Beatles, so important  to the Rolling Stones. A lot of the English acts   that came over to perform in America that we know  of The Who and how in maybe 10 years after all, of   these acts, basically, learned from Chuck Berry.

And they adapted their way of playing his songs. Anything they would make, I mean, they  would set a path straight for Chicago   and Chess Records, wouldn’t they? I  mean, a lot of them, as in a way… That’s a little bit of, a little bit too easy to  basically agree with that. A lot of those would be   listening.

And that always happens through ports.  And ports, basically, as you probably well know,   The Beatles used to go down, Ringo used to go  down. Paul McCartney, John Lennon used to go   down to the docks. And as the big ships come in,  they bring them American jukebox, on records,   and they’d swap them.

And before you knew  what happened is, that became the format of   their band of which they were going forward. And  they wrote songs based around what they heard.   And it became related to those places you  just suggested. Yes, The Stones did go over   and record thinking they were going to pick up the  sounds that they had developed their music around.

You also looked at the back of a Stones album, and  everything was, you know, Berry this, Berry that,   Berry this, Berry that, who’ve written all  these songs. The Beatles were the same in a way,   although not as much. But The Who, everybody  that was starting out at that period of time,   was saying, if he can do it, we can do it.

But  they didn’t really do it as well in certain ways.   But you can hear Chuck in the way  they’ve performed. And, of course,   you’ve got to understand that he  was a real writer. A real writer. I think you have that great scene,  now, maybe educate us. There’s this   sort of a tribute concert done, wasn’t  it, in St.

Louis, and you’ve got… Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ roll. Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, you got Keith  Richards on there. And you capture that   scene where Chuck Berry basically is  giving Keith Richard guitar lessons. Yes. Well, look, you’ve got to, to a certain  extent, understand Chuck Berry.

That’s difficult.   Otherwise, we would have had quite a lot of Chuck  Berries. But Chuck Berry was not an easy person. I   think going to prison, and they do say that prison  sentence of any length changes the person. And I   think he got that from prison. I think he changed,  had a chip on his shoulder about a lot of things.

And he pushed the boat out too far. I’ve been  criticised for saying that, but I really do   believe he pushed the boat out too far. Which  means he stretched it. Why open, in St. Louis, a   club for people to dance at, younger people to  dance at, that allowed, against the normal rule   that whites went to white clubs and black goes to  black clubs.

Why open one in St. Louis? It was the   only one, right? And of course, the authorities,  basically he was putting a finger out to, or two   fingers out to the authorities. And they will  bring him down. They will stop his licenses,   they’ll stop his hours, they’ll stop various other  things.

And then he bought a cinema, a cinema or   theatre, and wanted to show specialised films  and bits and pieces, they closed him down.   And with the Mann Act, which was never intended to  do what they did with him, basically was nonsense,   you know. He met one of his friends in the  neighbouring state.

He met a girl that wanted   a job. He was opening this club, he said, I’ll  give you a job if you want to come, basically,   come back to St. Louis. And she did. And she  got back to St. Louis. And she was part of the   opening night, she wore wonderful headdress and  she was a novelty.

And unfortunately, you know,   he got wound up in that. I don’t know, I wasn’t  there. But I don’t think Chuck was short of a few   girlfriends. And anyway, he was happily married at  that time. Themetta, who basically was his wife,   right from the start to the finish, said to me  that he just built that club because when he went   up to do bandstand, he couldn’t believe how much  the young people wanted to dance.

And that’s what   he did. He actually got himself into hot water  again. Mann Act was, he went to prison. And I can   tell you, all of research, the reason he went  to prison was because he was black. And there is   no question about it. Charlie Chaplin, who also  was accused of the Mann Act, didn’t go to prison.

And didn’t Jerry Lee Lewis,  did similar things, didn’t he? He actually got married to that girl, age of 13,  which he got loopholes and various things. And,   I don’t know, some people, I don’t know. I  certainly was much too young at that time   to really know. And there certainly didn’t live in  St.

Louis, at that time Saint Louis, at that time   to see that whole thing going on? But, you know,  they couldn’t, if they were outside their areas,   in the city that they lived in,  and they were in a black area,   they were okay. To a certain degree. But if  they went in the white areas, you had a problem.

I was gonna say, you’re talking a lot about St.  Louis, and the thing that struck me as well,   that I hadn’t appreciated was, part  of this identity, who he is this,   he has this love for his hometown,  even if it’s not treated him very well. He owned a lot of it. I mean, didn’t you have, I forget who  says it, but it’s about 50-50 sort of   responsibilities for some of the troubles  that he got in.

He certainly was, as you said,   pushing the boat out, really  stretching the limits. He wanted to create a Disneyland. He thought  that was wonderful. So he bought Berry Park.   And his uncle, no, his brother, I was speaking  to his son about it, his brother said,   owned some land up there and told Chuck,  there was some land, a lot of land being   for sale.

And he bought it and tried to create  a Disneyland, a small Disneyland up there.   And filled big sort of craters with water  and build a swimming pool in the shape of a   guitar. You could go up there and stay there  and basically join in the fun and games.   He wanted concerts there and said he didn’t want  to promote them.

And he got into terrible trouble   because guns were carried, drugs were carried,  Leon Russell hadn’t been paid by the promoter.   And, you know, Chuck Berry have been the promoter,  he created so much about being paid and being   ripped off. That would never have happened,  but it eventually closed it down.

I’ll tell   you a little story. When I turned up and first saw  Berry Park, I was very excited. And is derelict. Yeah, you capture that on the film a bit.  It surprised me towards the end, because… The first thing came out of my mouth – Why? And  there in the middle of it was the most beautifully   new build of house.

And he lived in that  house, built it for himself. And he also   lived in his house in another part of the  city, a very affluent part of the city,   which is where Themetta lived and the  family lived. Now, I said to his family, why   did he not repair the swimming pool, after the  fire, there was problems and this and that.

And   his son, although being a musician, and then  toured with him, actually was a builder.   And I said, why didn’t you do  this? He said, I wasn’t allowed to.   Dad said, don’t touch it. And he did that  really to prove a point. It was a failure point.   Because he tried to give pleasure to a lot  of people.

But he was stopped in every way.   I mean, when you think about it, there was a  death in the pool, I think two deaths of kids   in the pool. And it just basically taught him. He  said, that’s it. No more, just leave it as it is.   Now, there’s further stories that go on and  his wife, she’s really a very interesting one,   his wife said to me, I said, I find it  very difficult because he wrote a book,   and his biography was there.

And she said to me,  I said, what did you think of the biography? She   said, I only wish, only wish that he told me  all these stories that he told in the book   to my face rather than having to write it and put  it out. And I said, Oh, that must be terrible. She   said, Well, I’ll say one thing, Chuck Berry was  a stage name.

When he walked out of this house,   Charles Berry, went out and went on tour as  Chuck Berry. And when Chuck Berry came back   of being on the road and walked into the house,  he was Charles Berry, the most wonderful father,   the most wonderful family man you could ever  imagine. And I know we all say what goes on on   the road, stays on the road.

But it really was  true. And he wasn’t very clever in the way,   because he was angry, I think, on keeping it  all to himself and being discreet. A lot of   people would say, well, that’s very genuine.  Why should he be like that? But there you go,   that’s what happened. He certainly kept a  couple of his mistresses on the property.

And   I felt that was quite strange. And yet she was so  wonderful to him. And he was so wonderful to her. Well, except for, almost right at the  beginning, it kicks off with Themetta.   And she comes across as she was definitely  his lodestar, I would say, but as you’ve   already said, they’re married 69 years.

Beautiful children. She’s quite amazing. I can’t,   she must be around ninety years old herself.  Hope I’m doing that well, when I’m that age.   And yet there are all these infidelities.  And like you said, there was this Chuck   Berry. And then there was this persona  that was Charles Edward Anderson Berry.

Yeah. Two people. Yeah. And so, I mean, obviously the family was  fully on board with this documentary. How did you,   you’re kind of showing warts and all, I would  say, in terms of his life, and they had no,   I guess they’re well aware of it. And they’ve  come to their peace with it.

Is that right? It is. And I don’t think they will ever come to  their peace with it. They are so proud of their   dad. And, you know, they’re not young. His  grandchildren are beautiful children. And they’re   all playing guitars now and basically was so full  of grandpa, that was it, you know.

But you’ve got   to understand that he made a lot of money. He made  a lot of money in real estate too. He put all his   money into real estate. He left 54 million cash.  And he basically had about a quarter million,   250,000. Was it 250? No, it couldn’t be. Two and  a half million on real estates.

I think you’ll   find out. But his real estate lawyer was very  timid to explain it. Maybe a lot more than that. He does make an appearance in the film.  But yeah, he’s a bit cagey, isn’t he? 250 million he made in real  estate. Sorry, I quoted you wrong. Yes. Okay. Yeah, well, that’s what I have down here.

I  mean, just my own notes. Family man, real estate   developer. That’s Charles Edward Anderson Berry,  you know. And then you’ve got Chuck Berry, who,   I mean, you could argue, as you’ve already  said, for the various reasons why you think he’s   the king of rock ‘n’ roll.

But he created  the persona of a rock and roll star. Absolutely. But the thing is that  he would not adapt to the current   at the time, wealth and building of the  industry. He basically published himself,   that’s very difficult to do. And when basically,  he performed, there’s the story of the Chuck Berry   stories of you know, his rider.

Now, his rider,  which went to the promoter of what he required,   was mainly the type of equipment that he wanted  onstage. Eventually, it was only him and the   toothbrush and the case and the guitar. And they  would, literally, the promoters in the local area   would put ads out for whoever was able to play  that night.

And he created a band that played   Chuck Berry music. And sometimes it went wrong.  Sometimes it didn’t. But anything he was asking   for, was not like to a lot of rock bands, like  four crates of hard liquor, and… It was all to   do with the equipment. Now, if you didn’t supply  him with that equipment, he’d find the promoter.

And he’d say that’s cost you $2,000. And if  you didn’t get what he wanted to do his show,   he also walked off exactly the timing on the dot,  whether it was halfway through a number or not.   And he would say, very simply, I will  be there. You will pay me in cash   before we start.

Now, I’ll tell you a story  about an English promoter who I knew well,   who basically said, Look, I’ve converted  this at a very fair rate to you.   And he said, you converted it? what are you  talking about? He said, well, in Sterling,   I’ve agreed to pay you so much money. That’s what  you wanted.

And he said – no, I didn’t want that.   He said, well, what did you want then? He said,  I wanted it in dollars. I know I’m performing   in London, but I need it in dollars. He said I  can’t go to the bank because it’s Saturday. And we   never, as you probably know, basically, in those  days, we didn’t open banks on Saturdays.

And he   said, well, I’m sorry, I can’t perform. They said,  well, look, we can get a rate from anywhere, we’ll   go down to your hotel, and there, and he said no,  I want dollars or I won’t be performing tonight.   And this guy, poor guy had to go around  every American or English hotel, and ask them   to basically change funds.

And by doing that to  get, I don’t know what it was 10,000 or 20,000 or   whatever it was. That’s a hell of a request and  a hell of a job to go around all these hotels   and down to the airport and whatever it was,  because they’re limited to what they could   change in those days.

So he did it and  he came back and gave him the dollars   and that was that, quite a bit of money.  But also, he was a stickler with that   and if you paid the fine, you’d go on, as simple  as that. But he wasn’t having it any other way. And it was always cash, right? Always cash. Couldn’t write, you know,  an IOU or basically or bankers draft.

He wouldn’t have taken it. He wanted cash. And  that was fair, you know, I did the BB King:   Life of Riley film and coming out  the BB King: On the Road film, just   next year. And, you know, the story is  that BB used to tell me, what unreal,   that you know you had to get your money, be said  he’d always eventually get half of his money.

So he could pay the gas. And he basically  knew that he was getting something out of it.   Because he held the record of 365 days, a year of  performing, and sometimes two times a night. And   he said to me, he said, Jon, at the  end, we had to get our money upfront.   We were big enough to demand it.

But the  thing was, if we didn’t, they were running   down the road with your whole money from the  box office. And that was it. And you know,   all the promoters would basically, you know, if  they were white promoters, they were saying well,   that is, that’s what happens. You  know, if they were black promoters,   even with black promoters, BB said, he said if  they had Jewish names, I knew something was wrong.

That seems like a good point to take a quick  break, and we’ll be straight back with Jon Brewer. You’re listening to Factual America. Subscribe  to our mailing list, or follow us on Facebook,   Instagram, or Twitter at Alamo pictures to keep  up to date with new releases or upcoming shows.

Check out the show notes to  learn more about the program,   our guests and the team behind the  production. Now back to Factual America. Welcome back to Factual America. I’m here with  Jon Brewer, director and producer of Chuck Berry:   The Original King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. You  can find it on various streaming services,   and it’s coming out on DVD and Blu-ray.

I mean,  we’re just been talking about Chuck Berry,   the man and his persona. I mean, these are  days that don’t, these kind of stories,   these characters just seem like  they’ll never be repeated, will they? Well, the business has changed. If you  walked up and said, I want to be paid   in cash and today, and you are  an artist that was commanding   20,000 seaters, or 30.

It’s impossible. First  of all, you become a very high risk situation,   you couldn’t get insurance, because, at the end  of the day, no one will put up with him. So the   fact is, it could never happen today. Those are  the little things that we’ve talked about. But   at the end of the day, the world has completely  changed.

I mean, look, the Stones basically sell   that tours. They don’t basically collect money, so  they may not be paid. And the deal gets done way,   way before the show’s over or seen the  light of day. Merchandise today sells.   I don’t think he ever sold any merchandise on the  road.

He wouldn’t know how, what I mean, you know.   At the end of it, the world has completely  changed. And he would have earned,   if he’d been handled by a manager, which  he wasn’t, handled by a promoter properly,   you know, someone like Bill Graham, because it was  changing in San Francisco.

And they had basically   five or six major promoters around the country.  And if they a cartel, if he had been handled   by that cartel, he would have made 10 times the  amount of money that he made. But it’s a different   world. Now, my first royalty statement that I ever  got from EMI was written in hand, written by pen.

That’s a long time ago. Every royalty statement  I ever got, that was written in hand, was robbed.   Now, define the computer to such an extent, they  can’t cheat it. I’m sure there are ways but,   it costs too much money to do that today.   So you know, at the end of the chapter, it’s  like, you know.

But, you know something,   he was very successful, very clever man.  He was not uneducated, he was very clever. Well, that really comes out in the  film. I think for someone like,   for me, what struck me was how intelligent he was.  How ahead of his time he was. You talked about,   we talked about him being this rock ‘n’ roll  persona yet at the same time, you know, sex,   drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, but he didn’t have the  drugs part, certainly, as far as we know.

He certainly had the sex part. Didn’t have the  drugs thing, he didn’t like it. And second,   and thirdly, certainly had the rock ‘n’ roll part.   But it needed to be adapted. And I think he  was a strong man, when he came to negotiate.   And I don’t think he wanted any,  $1 more than he basically agreed.

And, you know, there were a lot of things going on  in the 60s and 70s. That, and pressure put on by   artists that had become successful on promoters  demanding more money, because they didn’t trust   their gate percentage. You know, we we’re not  going on them, and then be right, and the promoter   would buckle in.

I’ve seen that happen many  times. Interesting. Now, of course, we discussed   earlier on about the selling of tours, selling  merchandise, and, you know, artists basically get   their money way before they even start. So that’s  a big headache that they don’t have to deal with.   So that’s something.

I’ll tell you why I took  that approach. There are, there are several   versions of this film. But I wanted to get rid of  what everybody thought I was going to talk about   and paint. And that was, oh, he was a criminal. He  basically had the misfortune in one way of being   put in reformed school.

But the truth that  he was, he was a criminal. He actually did   hold up grocery stores and various other  stores. Why? Because he wanted to get a home.   You know, they went to California, and ran  out of money, and they had to get a home.   Now, you don’t, I don’t suppose that everybody  should say as soon as you run out of money,   you should either get on to your folks  and get some money sent out to you.

If you and I have done it, well, that’s probably  what we’re gonna done. But you got to know   where he came from. His father was a very senior  member of the church. And, you know, he was very   religious at the beginning. He reckoned he was  saving up to basically the very, very end, need   done is religious giving at the beginning, which  I always thought was an interesting statement.

Oh, I gave too much to my whoever. And at  the end of the day, he said, you know, I’ll   leave that up to the end. But I think that he  realised that money could be made. And he was   interested in making money, but he also wanted  people to dance and he wanted people to basically   jump around with his music, and he certainly got  that going.

I mean, if the Stones, if we never   had Chuck Berry, the stones would probably be  around, but we’d have a very different band.   And it would be a very different band. So  you know, I think, when you went into prison   for the Mann Act, which was after he done  some, at a reformed school that he was in,   he done time.

And I think it really annoyed  him. But there’s another thing, when you went   to the tax problem, he was offered  another deal. And he worked it out.   That allowed him to close the deal, but  the deal meant that he would have made,   would be losing a lot of money. So going in and  writing the book, and sitting in this very sort of   not prison, but sort of open prison was a better  deal.

As a businessman that, that sums it up. Well, as the former economist, to me  is like he obviously didn’t value his   free time highly enough, I think if he … Which is an interesting concept. Why now? Why have you made this film now? Because, it would never have been made if he was  alive.

I tried to make it. I tried to go down   there. Security was a big, big problem. Because  I was told that if he didn’t like what you did,   he will shoot you. And I said, well, I don’t think  that’s a good idea. I put it off until I was,   I’ve put it off till sorry, I put  it off till I was near, in the area.

And I’ve done, sort of in the area, in  New Orleans. And everyone said he had,   he’d made the other film. And the problem  was, he was so seriously a problem.   Because I think it started at  $80,000 for Hail! Rock ‘n’ roll. And   he ended up taking just under a million, because  he kept rewriting his contract every day.

Which wasn’t normal for him. Because when  he came to a deal, but he used to say, well,   in making a film, we have to rehearse. So every  time they did a take, he said, that’s more money.   And eventually, they said, look, you can’t go on  like this, we got people out here, but we can’t   work like that.

And he used to literally, and I  saw footage of it, he gets to say, you’ll ought to   stay over there until I’ve got my money. And  that can be produced every day on the set.   So, you know, day would go by, half a day would go  by, and it’s costing them hundreds of thousands. And they already had all  these sunk costs in there.

That’s right. For you to, and I’ll say  something about Stones, you or Keith, rather,   you basically understand that the studios,  Universal was really seriously a problem.   So for me to come down there and try and get  out of Chuck, you would have got nothing.   I got more, Themetta’s interview is the  only interview she’s ever done in her life.

That is absolutely amazing. And I think that’s  something for our listeners to keep in mind   because she was, I mean, I just found her  incredibly compelling. She’s so eloquent. So   regal. One thing you did at the doc, it was  interesting, was you did these reconstructions   or dramatisations.

But they’re not just your  average reconstructions or dramatisations,   aren’t they? I mean, they’re kind of very  stylised. I don’t know a better way of putting it. Let me tell you why they’re  stylised. The situation was that   I wanted to know about Chuck Berry. And I  wanted my audience to know about Chuck Berry.

To make a film about being thrown into jail   as a kid, coming out and then seeing and meeting  your wife take you out to the local fair,   ground or what they had in those days, and meeting  her there and eventually starting out life.   And of course then having children, was a  wonderful situation.

It was very romantic.   Because there were two people  that really loved each other.   And it was a strange situation because all that,  you know, he was very upset the first time he was   unfaithful to her. And he eventually got over it.  But he felt that he was in two different worlds.   And she was oblivious to it all.

I’ll tell you a  little story which basically I told the other day.   Really had eliminated his, this isn’t  in the movie but, had eliminated his,   he sort of came of a certain level of a  musician and artists, even though he was still   pursued by the press and various other, I suppose  wracked by racism to a certain point.

So, at the   end of the situation, his lawyer, who appears in  the film, said, he’s also his personal friend, one   of his lawyers anyway. And he felt that he should  get Chuck out into society. So he would meet him   once a week. And what he also did was invite him  round to his home, to have a dinner party for him.

Because he’d never been to a dinner party. And  so his lawyer says my wife’s going to cook and   we’re gonna have friends there. And he said,  Oh, okay, fine. I don’t know. I’ll let you know.   And he arrives. And dinner has been  made and there’s several parties there,   man and wife, and instead of coming with his wife,  he came with his mistress.

And as he came in, he   had this little sort of picnic box that had  been made, and that had been made by Themetta,   who knew he was going with this woman  who was his mistress. And not only had   she made his dinner, but she’d made it for two.   And Charles, when he got there, he basically  said, I brought the dinner and he said,   No, no, no, you don’t have to have dinner.

We’re having dinner. We’re giving it to you.   And he said, well, I brought  my friend, and for her too,   in fact, I think if my wife knows about this,  she’d be very upset. And things like that, that   we all would be, come on, he must know what a  dinner party was. And he didn’t.

And you know,   but he wasn’t whatever he made up, to be  a violent man in any way, shape, or form. This must have been, I mean, at least for me, this  must have been a really fun doc to make. I mean,   you’ve got a veritable who’s who of 60s, 70s and  80s, rock ‘n’ roll stars that have appearances.

We got the Springsteen,  you know, Stevie Van Zandt,   Alice Cooper, who I’d love to talk to one day,  Gene Simmons, George Thorogood. It’s just amazing. Again, that was my choice,  because we all heard from Keith,   we all heard from Keith and various other  people, we refer to why I made these   cutaways, as I call them.

If you watch  the film again, you will find that,   as in baby driver, there was a  technique that was used where (claps)   it all is to a beat. So that when the actor or the  artist was conveyed in the cutaway that there’s   music, but they walk, even the police raid, and  FBI’s raid that took place at Berry Park was   literally in time, synchronised.

Totally in time.  And the colour is over the top, like Sin City. Yeah, exactly. And so all of this was fun. Making  fun of that scenario. It wasn’t really   a fun scenario to make fun of. But I thought it  would take away the seriousness of making a story   of what everybody expected, which was he went to  jail and he did this and he did that and then he   got arrested again, everything.

Because Themetta  said to me – please don’t make a fool of him. And   at why there was some criticism of the beginning  from the family. He never danced like that.   I said well, that wasn’t meant to be him really.   It was the time that that took place. And  it was the synchronisation that took place.

Sound wise, it’s a very interesting piece. I don’t  know, it’s my piece, but it’s very interesting.   And that’s why I wanted to do a bit of tongue  in cheek. That’s why when they left one of the   places they had robbed. They were dancing and to  give it a little bit of, you know, in the cheek   laughter.

Because really, it was all very stupid  really. It wasn’t big things. It wasn’t, you know,   first degree murder. It was like, basically, just  like, well a kid would get into trouble for… I thought it was very interesting, cause you know,  the film starts off that way. And you’re just   like, wait a minute, I thought this was gonna be  a doc.

But I agree, it’s very effective. And the   way, like you said, it’s not literally him dancing  out the door, but it’s these he and essentially,   three black youths coming out. But they obviously  wouldn’t been dressed that way. Like you said,   the over the top colours, the reds, the blues  of the cops, you know, in an otherwise sort of   black and white scene.

It is very atmospheric  too. It kind of throws back to that 1950s. It was meant to be because I wanted to get away  from the desperation of the old racist story.   And the fact is that the list of  things that he did wrong, apparently,   but he wouldn’t have normally gone to prison. And  it’s a sad old story that basically they tried to   knock him down.

And I suppose in a way they get to  a certain extent. Affected his writing, I believe. It’s interesting, because you have, as you’ve  already said, 50 years of experience in the   music industry. You’ve worked with a lot of  famous people, I suggest people check out,   I don’t know how accurate it is.

But  I’m assuming it’s pretty accurate,   your Wikipedia page and other places where they  can find information about you. How would you put   Chuck Berry in the context of other artists you’ve  worked with? I mean, not so much even the music… Jimi Hendrix would be one. The Legends of the  Canyon, which extraordinary enough has come,   I did a documentary called Legends of the Canyon,  which is Laurel Canyon.

It’s just released in a   series version. Which was very much, I grew  up like listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash   when I was in California. When I discovered  LA, which was actually about three miles   by three miles wide, which of course was Beverly  Hills and Laurel Canyon, right.

And LA is a very   much bigger place, but whenever I used to go  there, I didn’t get to get out of that area.   Sometimes to the beach. And that to me was  LA, but I was talking in my stories. I knew,   my stories were very similar out there, because  there are no pavements in Laurel Canyon.

And people walking around and people wanted to  get to the bottom of Laurel Canyon on sunset and   go up to the top. That hitch a long ride. After  the Manson murders, nobody would hitch a ride.   And somebody had forgotten by that time to put  pavements in. Walking on the side of the road,   now on the side of the road, as you will  know, water runs down, and water runs down   the canyon.

And what happened was that people  couldn’t walk on pavements, so nobody went out   when it rained. And believe me it does rain in  Southern California. And basically mudslides on   Laurel Canyon to this very day are very common.  But taking what they were taking in those days,   and literally disappearing into the clouds,  didn’t make any difference.

So there are these   people like Henry Diltz, who’s a fantastic  photographer who knew all of the boys,   taking pharmaceutical drugs like LSD and stuff.  Basically we’re sitting, you know, in the   flowers and bushes in the side  of the hill or whatever it was,   and seeing all sorts of things.

And they never to  this very day build pavements on Laurel Canyon.   And I did a film about those guys. I got Crosby,  Stills & Nash involved and I got various other   people. And people who still would love to  still live in Laurel Canyon, but of course   now have either made it, made an awful lot  of money and decided to leave LA altogether.

Drug problem. But Jimi Hendrix, another one.  I knew Jimi Hendrix very well. And well I said   very well, as well as I could have done. He  was the reason I got into the industry really.   And I managed no reading after Jimmy had gone.  And, you know, there have been quite a few artists   I’ve been involved with.

But, I think that, I  don’t want to compare them and say, I like doing   this one or not, but I think there was some very  exciting documentaries. BB King, of course, was   my calling card. Before they called me the God  of rock ‘n’ roll doc. And, to tell you the truth,   BB king opened my eyes.

Because I never, ever,  being English, experienced, even on the road,   first time I saw the Ku Klux Klan when I was  out in the road, was really quite extraordinary.   And I made a film called Monochrome. Actually is  now basically so true, as a series. And it just   told the story of blues, and how that was  mingled in with music, and how blues came about.

And the war going right the way through to all  sorts of music, and to, “I can’t breathe” days.   And it’s quite extraordinary. After I did that, it  was a little self indulgent. But for a white man,   an English white man that  couldn’t believe the amount of   prejudice even now, it’s quite extraordinary.

And  we’re forgetting, forgetting the big cities now.   Out there in America, it’s quite extraordinary  how many problems are still happening. And,   of course, now we see it all on the streets again.  And we’ll be seeing it for many years to come.   It’s something that has never been forgotten  and is still happening.

So after that, I started   looking at doing more story like documentaries.  And that’s what I’m now doing again. Well, thank you. I haven’t had the  pleasure of watching the Monochrome. And   did that come before BB King or? No, no, it’s after, because BB opened my eyes. He is the one opened your eyes.

That’s right. And BB, I became a very close friend to. Took him  two years to trust me. And when he trusted me,   I mean, now I hear the stories that… I  got a call earlier today from his drummer.   And he said, Jon, you know how much BB loved  you. And I said, no, I knew there was love there,   and I didn’t look for very long.

He asked me  to film his funeral. Which I thought was most   extraordinary thing any man could ever ask you to  do. And there was a lot of prejudice against me.   That’s extraordinary. I thought, you know, it was  all the other way around. But there was a lot of   prejudice. And there comes a white man to tell our  hero, our story of our hero.

And after we buried   him, that came out. I was terribly upset about it  emotionally. But I learned when I went back out   there. And if you ever get a chance to see that  film, watch that film. It’s quite amazing. Quite   amazing. But I never really, I’m now doing, if  you want to know about doing a film on Link Wray.

Okay. The photographer, is that the photographer? No, no, he was, 1957 he had a massive hit  called Rumble. First man in black. He looked   like Marlon Brando on a bike. And he created this  sound, which was a confused sound. And it’s played   on so many advertisements today, on both sides of  the Atlantic, everywhere in the world.

And he was   a Native American Indian music,  as we refer to. Basically he was,   when he died, Bruce Springsteen  stopped his set and played Rumble. Amazing. Jimmy Page has gone into and quoted, just done  a documentary a few years back, where he plays,   with several other guys, the Edge  of the U2, air guitar to the Rumble,   and Keith Richards.

All of these guys, lot of them  saying, I would never, Pete Townsend said he never   would have picked up a guitar if it hasn’t been  for Link Wray. And yet you go ask anybody who’s   not involved in the music business, or basically  in a Safeway supermarket or wherever it is,   have you ever heard of Link Wray? No.

How come all these successful guitarists,   now everything. Bob Dylan, he’s stopped, when  he heard he just died, stopped in the middle of   a show. And I’m telling this story of who actually  he really was. And he was an incredibly successful   person, as far as superstar guitarists are  concerned with, but nobody really knew who he was.

It’s like they say about some  bands that sold maybe 500 records,   but everyone who bought those 500 records  went on to become mega stars, you know. Sort of. I mean, I know lots of people who  basically, in the industry, know who he is,   or was because he died. And I know a lot of people  also in the industry who don’t know who he is.

It’s extraordinary. Because if people never would  have picked up a guitar become who they were.   Right? You know, it’s just. If he hadn’t  happened, a lot of people we wouldn’t have had.   And basically still enjoy. So I’m making a film  about Link Wray. And, there’s, I’m also making   a film about the sixth stone, the sixth Rolling  Stone, who actually was the first Rolling Stone,   who formed a band with Brian Jones,  that became the Rolling Stones.

And that’s very interesting, because he got fired   from the band, really from the manager  of the band, because he didn’t look right   And he became the reason the Rolling Stones are  here today, still performing. He died in 1986.   But he was at every concert, because  they wouldn’t go on stage without him.

Not to get him to play. Although he  played with them. He was one of the   best keyboard players that I’ve known. And he  played when he wanted to play in the wings, but   the show would never happen if he wasn’t there.  He was the guy that solved every problem, and kept   that band together.

And nobody really knows about  him, except the Stones. And what Keith says, which   he recently did, hey, when I go on the road, I’m  still working for Stu, because that was his name   Ian Stewart. He says I’m still working for Stu,  it’s his band, that’s how I feel. And I’m telling   the story of that.

Because that’s an interesting,  ask anybody how many Rolling Stones there are?   And all the others? Mick Taylor? Cause I presented  him to. But no, how many Rolling Stones are there?   The original Rolling Stones, and they will never  mention Ian Stewart, who was the guy that put the   band together.

And most of those people that  you know, we know the Beatles had a different   drummer. We know this and that. But how many  people knew that the Rolling Stones had somebody   that was asked, would you mind if you play  off stage because you’ve got a big chin? It’s horrible, but… It’s horrible.

But it’s also the fact is the  guy stuck with that band. And managed to keep   them together. You know, they had all the noise in  the world and everything, but what Stu said, goes. Those are two amazing, you must have  just a backlog of ideas that you could   bring to the screen of this sort of thing.

Yeah, but we don’t have. I’m afraid  I don’t have that much time. So   we pick and choose quite carefully right now. Yeah. And also, it takes a hell of a lot out of your  time and energy. Because people have created,   especially in film, film and music is now coming  very much more together.

If you met somebody in   the 70s and 80s who was in the film business,  they had no idea about the musics business and   vice versa. Now it’s coming together. It’s quite  an interesting time. And more so than ever. And   you, it takes so much, you know, to clear  this, to clear that, to keep going and   not being able to clear certain stuff.

You know,  it takes time. And I’ve got to get my thinking   over to my editors and my people. And that  takes time too. So, it’s a good year, it takes. Well, and if, do I understand correctly,  there’s also a narrative film in the works   on Chuck Berry’s life? Is that still  ongoing? Is that’s something that.

..? I’m pretty Chuck Berried out, as Ketih Richards  said, I’m pretty Chuck Berrin’ out. There’s,   you know man, he’s punched me out twice. And he  didn’t mean once he swung around or something,   a guitar or whatever it is and it came wooow.  And there was another time in backstage when   Keith put his arm around him,  and he didn’t see who it was,   and he’d just turn around and punched him out.

And you saw a bit in Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ roll.   I mean, yeah, I’m Keith Richards, for God’s sake,  Keith Richards and you’re telling me how to play.   Oh, you’re so right. That’s right. Okay.  It’s a funny situation, but he was very   Chuck Berried out, as he would say.

I’m pretty  Chuck Berried out. But it would be nice to,   I have the rights to do it. But, what we’ve got to  do is to find. It’s too early now. It’s too soon.   But there’s lots of other things, just talk  of BB King. Then I think it’s too soon again.   You know, Nat King Cole could do it.

I  think you could take a film on Nat King   Cole. I have those rights, too. But, you know,  there’s so much to do. And so little time. And in those instances, because we had someone  who also was involved with the Johnny Cash biopic. Yeah, great. Yeah, exactly. Walk the Line.  So he’s done a documentary about   Linda Ronstadt.

But is it about finding the  right person to play that role? Is that,   I know you’ve already mentioned the time  and all the demands and what it takes. I remember watching something, I won’t name it.  But, there are a lot of artists, there’s Bowie,   who I managed, of course, and the fact is I’d  be super critical of that.

But at the, you know,   all of a sudden, there’s lots of people, and  they don’t quite look right. And in this film,   Robert Plant didn’t look right. I just went, I  don’t like that. And I think you’ve got to find   the right actor. And, you know, to play a BB King,   there’s only one BB King, I’m afraid.

And he’s  either got to sing right or you’re gonna use   the original music. If you can afford to use  the real. But if it is the original music,   and you start going to, he’s got to really  be able to act the man. And BB was, you knew   BB was in the room and you knew BB talked and you  knew BB – “son!” he says “son!”.

I am gonna stop.   But yeah, it just I think it is something to do  with finding the right character. Jamie Foxx was   right to do Ray Charles. And I just think  that it came over great. James Brown,   I don’t think came over great. And I think that  they’d lost a lot of money. And I think people   want to relate.

But it wasn’t  a particularly good script. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it depends on a lot of things. I would be remiss, if I didn’t ask you,   is my understanding you were involved with  producing Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street? Yes, I was. So that’s my wife’s favourite, one of her  favourite songs.

So when I said I was going   to be meeting you, you know, meeting  you virtually, she was like, Oh my god. What would she want to know? Well, I wish she was here to ask the question,   but, you know, I don’t love it as much  as she does. I think it’s amazing song. I’m probably gonna scatter her dreams.

Well, then we’ll cut it and  I’ll never share it with her. Let me tell you about Gerry Rafferty, Gerry  Rafferty came to me. And I was a great fan   of Stealers Wheel. And “Stuck in the Middle With  You” was a song written about A&M Records and him   and the management. And the management went  bust.

And I was, unfortunately, with them,   the week in a club in London, with the manager,  and I said, this is a great record, you know.   We were dancing to it, on the dance floor.  And I never thought in a million years,   I was going to represent this man. And there  was him and Joey Egan. And basically when   the company, management company went bust, and   no one bailed him out, and they should have  done.

And, of course, they were bust, owing   money to Jerry, who had no money. Jerry was from  a mixed family, religious family out of Glasgow.   And you didn’t get told to do something and if  you didn’t do it the first time, you certainly got   whatever it was coming to you. Because they lived  down the docks and were very poor.

I’ve been in   my lifetime to Glasgow, when basically, I  went in tenements that didn’t have doors.   People lived with a curtain across the front door.  And there’s no story why I was there, but the fact   is, it’s now completely changed. It’s been really  beautifully done up.

But you didn’t go to a pub,   and hang around after the pubs closed in  Glasgow. So you live pretty rough. And   he came and had success with Stealers Wheel.  And he didn’t get on well with people.   And he fell out with Herb Albert and Jerry  Moss, who were the A&M. And he hated it, and   wouldn’t go on the road.

So they had one of the  biggest records of all time, which is “Stuck in   the Middle”, and he wouldn’t go on the road and  they fell out. And I said, why are you asking me?   These things happened, I was introduced to him and  this and that. And they wouldn’t introduce me to   him until they sussed out for him what he  wanted.

And I didn’t get to see him because   I probably would never have been involved  although I became very rich because of it.   He said that he wanted to write songs for his new  kid, baby. And that’s all. He doesn’t want to be   exploited. He doesn’t want record companies  to exploit him.

And I must have misheard this   because it’s totally absolutely ridiculous. Then  how is he gonna have a payback what it costs to   record. Because he was standing there without  diapers or nappies for his kid. And I signed him   and gave him money. And then I produced, I was  executive producer there, I didn’t physically   produce it.

And I made Baker Street and  City to City, the album City to City. Amazing. Now, City to City was going to be the first single   and was the main track on the album. And  I heard Baker Street. And it was nowhere,   it was not with the sax. And it was with a  guitar riff and the lead guitar riff, and   there was a demo.

And I said, City to City is  definitely the hit. And before I used to make   albums, I wanted three hits of the album. It  could be demos, but that’s how was rule of thumb.   And I said now, what’s the second one? Mattie’s  rag, which Mattie was his daughter, of course.   And the other one was this  song called Baker Street.

The guitarist who was supposed, so it goes,  the guitarist who was supposed to play   where we are, we’re down in the Cotswolds. So  basically, between Oxford and Cotswold. And   we had to find him a recording studio  that was in the country, that was   fashion in those days, where you could  stay over, and the guitarist who was   a session guitarist, was late for his session.

And so, Ralph Ravenscroft, who is in fact sax   player said, I can give you a lead, I’ll give  you a lead on to it, and he wrote the riff.   Well, Jerry denied that, although through his  life, and it caused me a lot of aggravation.   Which is another story. But what happened was that  he put this session so good that everybody went,   that’s it.

But he puts it into city as the first  single and it died. It was a hit in Holland.   And then what happened was, they  heard Baker Street, of course, and   Baker Street put out, and of course  it became number one in America,   number one in the UK and everywhere. And,  to this day, every year, it’s number one   a song featuring saxophone.

They have  charts for different instruments. Interesting. And it’s been number one since  it came out. All these years. Amazing. I have to tell you that, it was a wonder, when I  hear that record to this day, I think I’m gonna   have a very good day or week something special’s  gonna happen.

But the stories around that,   everyone hated Gerry Rafferty in the industry.  Other than the guitarists or musicians.   I shouldn’t say everyone. But every  record executive couldn’t stand him.   And the story goes, this is a story  that you can tell at your wife,   cause I was getting very upset because I  introduced Jerry to Chris Blackwell, to   various people who are head away, head of record  companies.

And they all came to the conclusion   that they thought the record was a hit, but  didn’t want to put it out because of Jerry.   I would say are you interested, sort of a deal,  setup Jerry to come in, see them on their own.   And I got the call afterwards, we think the  records are hit.

But he is totally not coming   on this record, label or not coming in this record  company. And I’ve asked why? Why wouldn’t you want   a hit on your record label? Can’t cope with  him. And of course, he’d go along to these   interviews or talk, chat. First of all, he would  never sit in an office, he had to meet in the pub.

So you had to get the record company executive  out of their office into a pub. Secondly,   halfway through, and I eventually didn’t go,  because it was so embarrassing. Halfway through,   he says, I don’t want your record company  exploiting and sending records. And of course,   they’re like says, What do you mean, what  are you here for? What can we do then?   And he said, no, I’m just writing for my kid.

And that’s it. And I had to patch that up.   So I go on and I wonder why A&M records let him  go too? They would made millions from him. Because   they just took a point of what I got. I did  negotiate on Christmas Eve, I never forget,   they wanted to get home. And I wanted to get  home.

But we eventually got him off the label.   And then what happened to us, I went to  Los Angeles, and there was very famous guy,   he’s dead now, but he’s a lovely guy, was a  lovely guy. I’m sure he still is. But he said,   Jon, I can only meet you at 830 in the morning.  I said why? I’ll tell you, explain to you when I   see you.

So off we went at 830 in the morning  thinking I gotta playing the album. I’ll just   play him one or two tracks. So I came in. In those  days, we used to take seven the half inch tape,   the stuff that plays on that archive. And we  would go in and put it on their tape recorders.   And as I told you, most of them didn’t  know how to use their tape recorders.

But   this guy, he said to me, Jon, is  this Gerry Rafferty from the Rumbles,   not the Rumbels, Stealers Wheel?  I said yes. He said, I’ll give you   75,000 now. And that was the actual  figure. If I don’t, I don’t listen to him,   or I’ll give you 50,000 if I have to listen to  it.

Well, I have a lawyer with me, who’s kicking   me under the table, take the 75,000. I’m saying  I can’t go back to my artist and say the man   that’s going to put it out on his record label  gave me an offer of 75,000 if he didn’t have to   listen to the music. I can’t do that.

So I said,  I said 75,000. I said can you tell me something,   the next day when I went in because they had to  draw up the agreements, why couldn’t you listen   to it? And why did you give me more money if  you didn’t have to listen to it? He said, well,   I’ve just bought this company.

And my partner  is having a house built in Beverly Hills.   And I’m having a house built in Beverly Hills.  And my builder is the same man as his builder.   But I have to get there by 930, otherwise, my  house will be built second. So I knew that I had   a problem and 25 grand, believe me, when they’re  building houses in Beverly Hills is nothing.

And that is the true story of how he landed up  on United Artists. And that record came out.   And he was one of the most despicable people  that I’ve ever had to manage. And one of the most   difficult people in the world. Talking  about Chuck Berry. This guy, unfortunately,   had a terrible demon of  becoming a terrible alcoholic.

And eventually, I said to his lawyer,  he said, will you sell? And I said, yes.   A lot for the figure you’re talking about. And  then Capitol Records, EMI wanted to buy me out   and I turned that down. And then the only reason  that I got out was it was quite a good deal.   And that’s how I left the Gerry Rafferty camp.

But there’s one thing I haven’t told you, which   you can tell her. He had a glass eye. And he used  to walk up and down that famous street in Glasgow   with Billy Connolly. And, you know, they’ve  got these little old ladies that used to go   up and down with their little baskets.

And when  it rains, it always rains in Scotland up there,   in Glasgow, and he bumped into one of these  women’s umbrellas because they were made   giant and quite tall. And as he went down  on, he fall on the pavement, and the eye   would roll out onto the pavement. And the dear old  girl that basically run into her little umbrella,   basically screamed, and they used to have a little  sort of game of how many of them would pass out,   while he was walking up and down this street.

And basically when Billy Connolly came up to me,   he said to me, Jon, whatever happened to Gerry  Rafferty? And I said, well, I don’t know, but…   and he told me this story of what they used to do.  And I said to him, when you looked at his eyes,   he looked foresight. So David Frost was in New  York during the show, at night.

And he’d fly in   for the day, you could do that on Concorde. He  was one of the biggest travellers on Concorde. And   I said if he goes on that show, which is  something he wanted to do, and agreed to do,   but would not go on tour, he will lose the whole  of his audience, because he didn’t look any good.

It’s only for three minutes. I said, if you go  on that TV with David Frost, it’ll be over in   three minutes. So he went on, and it was over in  three minutes. He never ever repeated that success   of City to City. And it really sort of, but I  told the truth. I told the fact. And I said,   your image is completely wrong.

Your whole thing  is totally wrong. You went on David Frost and   said, I’m never coming on tour in America. That  was it. All over. Because American audiences,   worship their stars, their people. And if you  doing all of that by going on tour, you might   as well basically packed your bag and left on the  last train.

And that’s a true story. So I hope,   and I’m very grateful to your wife, being a great  fan. But unfortunately, Jerry has now left us. Yes. I don’t know what’s happened to Joey Egan.  Must briefly look at that. He’s probably,   he really wrote a lot of the stock  songs with Gerry for Stealers Wheel, but   he’s never done anything on his own.

Okay. Well, I mean, I could ask you so  many questions about so many different   people that you’ve worked with.  I think we’re going to give you,   let you go. Because we’ve  already had so much of your time. Jon, write a book, they say. Yeah, you should write the book. I saw some  reference to you working with Gene Clark.

My God, Gene was so close to me. You know, I had a  whole night and I want to tell you what happened.   But Gene was another one, Laurel  Canyon. Basically, Laurel Canyon.   I was after a girl. I was invited to  dinner. I thought, that’s interesting. So   I came up. And the girl introduced me  to a roommate, lived in Laurel Canyon.

It was painful getting to the house, because  the stairs went round and round around,   a wooden cabin. And I sat down with this guy all  night. And he knew I looked up to hour with Lee,   the guitarist, and he said to me one night, I  said, Oh, my God it’s so nice to basically relax.

without pressure of being on  the road and everything else.   At the end of the day, and end of the  night, probably very much in the morning.   I had no idea who he was. And he asked me to  manage him, about 930. I’ve been there all   night. And it went gone so well and I said,  What’s your name? And he said Gene Clark.

And I ended up managing him. And it was just a  remarkable night. And, unfortunately, there again,   another problem came about, nothing to do with  me. Unfortunately, he got problems with heroin.   He was just coming back and he had a fatal heart  attack. But what a man he was, what a writer? Indeed.

Nothing like, you know, I met all the birds  and I met all of it. I mean, he really,   really could sit down and write a song.  And it’s prolific. And that big 12 string   just came through. Anyway, don’t ask me  any more questions. I’m going home now. Okay, go home. Whatever you want.

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Fats Domino -One of the First Rockers

Fats Domino recorded his first Top 40 hit in December of 1949. Some consider his hit, “The Fat Man,” to be the first Rock and Roll recording.  Over the years, Fats sold over 65 million records; a number surpassed only by Elvis for the 50’s era.

Fats Domino singing "Blueberry Hill" on the Alan Freed Show 1956.
Fats Domino singing “Blueberry Hill” on the “Alan Freed Show” 1956.

His records scored in the Top 10 of the pop charts ten times during the fifties, and he went on to reach the Top 40 Pop Chart 37 times in his career.  And that was only Pop.  Add in his R&B charted songs and Fats Domino hit the Top 100 an amazing 84 times.

His signature song and my favorite, Blueberry Hill hit #2 on the Pop Chart and #1 on R&B in 1956.  It wasn’t a new song.  Blueberry hill started out a Swing tune recorded by Sammy Kaye in the 40’s, and later covered by Louis Armstrong.  Fats added his special juice, a bit of Creole influence, and his special back beat and made it a classic.

And we’re still singing along to his other hits:  Ain’t That a Shame, Blue Monday, I’m Walkin’, Walking to New Orleans, I’m In Love Again, and much more.

Fats Domino co-wrote many of his hits with his longtime friend Dave Bartholomew who also served as his producer.  Dave Bartholomew was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

Their creations often used what they called “The Big Beat”.  It was a combination of Domino’s boogie woogie style and a strong backbeat.  Add in a bit of Domino flair, and it was Rock.

Throughout his career, Domino insisted that he was still true to R&B.  He said “Everybody started calling my music rock and roll.  But it wasn’t anything but the same rhythm and blues I’d been playin’ down in New Orleans.”

Fats Domino Honors

With his success, it’s  not surprising that there were a lot of awards and recognition along the way.  Major awards include the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and The National Medal of the Arts awarded by Bill Clinton in 1998.

Fats Domino home after Katrina
Fats Domino home after Katrina

In 2005,  Fats was presumed lost in Hurricane Katrina.  His New Orleans home was found heavily damaged and empty.  He had stayed behind to care for his ill wife.  “RIP Fats.  You will be missed” was spray painted on the house.  It wasn’t until several days later that he was found safe after being evacuated.

Fats Domino was one of the charter inductees into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Billy Joel presented him as part of the first group of inductees in 1986.


Tie Dye, Official Dress of a Generation

Multi colored tie dye shirts
Tie-dye shirts

Tie-dye is the unofficial uniform of the Golden Age of Rock. It wasn’t new in the ’60s but quickly became an artistic form of protest. The establishment dress in the 50s was suit and tie for men, with dresses or skirts for women. Hair was neat, cut close for men, and conservative cuts for women. Everything was orderly and symmetric. It was a great target for rebellion, and tie-dye with its bright colors and randomness was how to do it.

Tie-dye wasn’t new; it’s just a modern term for an old process. Archeologists have found remnants of tie-dye material dating back well over a thousand years. Finds have been reported in China, Japan, India, and all of the way to Peru. The earliest date back as far as the year 500 in Peru and 600 in Japan and China. With this much geographic diversity, it was probably in use long before these finds.

Rit Dye and Tie-Dyeing

Most clothing in the 60s was store-bought, and sales at the Rit Dye company were going down.  Previously, Rit was a department store staple.  Don Price at Rit came up with the idea of liquid dyes that were easier to use artistically.   He promoted the new dyes to artists in Greenwich Village and promoted several of them to bring their works to Woodstock.

tie dye swirl pattern
Tie-dye swirl pattern

There are lots of special techniques used to produce colorful patterns. All involve letting the dyes reach some of the cloth and blocking it from others. As the name implies, simply tying the cloth in knots forms basic patterns. Dye reaches the exposed parts but not the part inside the knot. Different types of knots or bunching the fabric produces different patterns. Stripes come from vertical folds, circles come from a single bunch, and marble comes from wrapping the entire garment in one big ball. Swirls and geometrics come from making a bunch within a bunch.

It was a combination of the growing protest movement in the late 60s along with a growing Indian influence that drove tie dye’s popularity.  Once started, the Rit Dye company pushed it along with a marketing campaign in Greenwich Village and recruited decorators Will and Eileen Richardson.  Their dyed fabric ideas were picked up by the designer house Halston, and the Richardsons were honored with a Coty Award for”major creativity in fabrics.”

Janis Joplin appeared at Woodstock in a Tie-dyed dress. Joe Cocker and Mama Cass wore tie-dyed clothes also.  John Sebastian was tie-dyeing his underwear.  By 1970, mainstream magazine Vogue featured model Maria Benson in a Halston kaftan.  And counterculture band Grateful Dead picked it up as their official uniform.

Little Richard

Little Richard earned his spot here by being one of the pioneers or Rock and fathers of The Golden Age of Rock.  He was a first generation rocker.

Born in 1932, Little Richard was a teen when the boom time of music expansion hit the world.  With WWII and the great depression behind, the 50s were times of new technology, increased leisure time, and a growing economy.

Little Richard pictured on a 1957 Topps gum trading card.
Little Richard pictured on a 1957 Topps gum trading card.

Little Richard, birth name Richard Wayne Penniman grew up in Macon Georgia.  Like many Afro-Americans, his first music performance experiences were at church. When he was 14, Little Richard performed with Sister Rosetta Tharpe.  Tharpe was another of the early rockers.  She started in gospel and moved towards what was soon to be known as rock.  Along the way, she earned the titles of “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock and roll”.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe was also noted as an influence on Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash.


His family had strong rules prohibiting singing or listening to R&B (rhythm and blues) music; they called it “devil music.” It wasn’t until 1948 after his family kicked him out of the house that he performed his first R&B song. It wasn’t a happy time for Little Richard, but it was a great time for the music world.

Little-RichardHe worked his way through several bands, building his talents and skills along the way. As he gained musical experience, he learned how to read the audience and tailor his songs to their likes. This may have been what led him into morphing his musical style towards early rock. He’s quoted as saying “A lot of songs I sang to crowds first to watch their reaction. That’s how I knew they’d hit”.Du Noyer 2003, p. 14

By 1955, Little Richard had recorded a couple of demo records and had his first big hit with Tutti Frutti late in the year. It hit #2 on the Billboard R&B chart and surprisingly also crossed over to reach the top 20 on the pop chart. His next hit single “Long Tall Sally” reached the top ten on the pop chart. Both singles sold over a million copies.

45 rpm record Good Golly Miss Molly by Little Richard
1958 release “Good Golly, Miss Molly”, 45 rpm recording on Specialty Records Krächz

Launched to fame from his hit records, Little Richard went on tour with his trademark high energy stage performance. He’s known for running on and off the stage, pounding on the piano, shouting lyrics, and sexually suggestive lyrics.

He’s also known for having some of the earliest mixed-race audiences. During the 50s, and especially in the South, public places were divided into “white” and “colored” areas. Audiences were still split. Usually white’s on the lower level and blacks in the balcony, but it was a start. Little Richard was often booked as the last act of the show because, by the time he was through, people would be out of their seats with whites and blacks mixed on the floor dancing. And it was probably also because no other act could catch the audience’s attention after him.

Little Richard, Richard Wayne Penniman was one of the ten original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and his recording of “Tutti Frutti” is in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, with the note “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music”.