Music was our tech.
The only difference was the older generation pooh-poohed it, our parents were not our friends, and you had to leave your house to experience it. But over the course of a decade the entire younger generation was infected by the sounds made by a bunch of renegade players who weren't interested in getting rich so much as making a statement, living life as opposed to checking off boxes in some life equivalency test.
I almost didn't go. Not because I didn't want to, but because I didn't get around to it. The above exhibit closes this weekend, go if you can, if you're not in L.A. it'll come near you eventually, I think.
Not that it's about what you see so much as what you feel.
The sixties were fifty years ago. And walking through the exhibit it feels like it. A strange time in a faraway place…wait, it happened right here! On the Sunset Strip and up north in the Haight. Back when California was the epicenter of everything new and different, the Golden State was where limits were tested and culture was developed. Actually, it still is. Taxes might be high, but the economy is humming. The Texas Miracle has been revealed to be a sham, Florida is the home of crazies and revelers, and in California the bleeding edge is being explored. Not only in Silicon Valley, but Silicon Beach. California is where you come to make a difference. In D.C. you kowtow to the powers that be and do what's expedient, in California you ignore the rules as you invent a new game, it's not only the ancestral home of Steve Jobs, but the adopted home of Elon Musk.
But it's different. The exhibit blames Reagan, the legitimization of greed and the cutback of cash for social programs, the Gipper ripped apart the social fabric of our nation and we're still paying the price. Clinton may have erased the national debt, but income equality soared. But when the Fillmore East ruled tickets were three, four and five dollars.
The Fillmore East. They had one of the green football jerseys the staff wore. I've neither seen one nor thought of one in…half a century!
Some of the artifacts are positively mind-blowing.
They've got Bill's watch, you know, the one with two faces, for east coast and west coast time. It's legendary, but I've never even seen a picture of it, and here it is!
Grace Slick's Woodstock dress. It's not threadbare, but it's aged. It seems an ancient relic.
Kind of like Janis Joplin's stage outfit. Up close and personal not exotic, but from a distance… This was back when things were handmade and looked like it. When electric windows in automobiles were rare and broke, when you could still work on your own car, when there was a business in repair, before the replacement society took hold.
And Duane Allman's guitar from "Fillmore East."
And Pete Townshend's Gibson from the Metropolitan Opera House. It's just staggering, you've seen all the pictures…AND THERE IT IS!
The exhibit starts with history, like a typical museum, ancient stories told in black and white, Bill emigrating from Europe and ending up in America. Becoming infatuated with Latin dance, working in the Catskills. Talk about something else that's history, Grossinger's ruled, now it's been completely forgotten.
And then artifacts from the Mime Troupe era and…
The Mime Troupe. Kinda like the Occupy movement, but with an edge. Protest, questioning authority, they were de rigueur in the sixties. Today we argue over politically correct speech, worried about triggering bad thoughts of college students, all of us bending the rules so we can take our support animals on the plane. But back then we weren't out for ourselves, but EVERYBODY! And we tackled the big issues, racial inequality, war… Today everybody's supposed to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and no one can question the direction of the government…USA, USA!
And you see pics of the Charlatans and the Warlocks. I recognized Dan Hicks, you probably don't know who he is. But with his Hot Licks on Blue Thumb Records he cut a track entitled "I Scare Myself" with a violin solo by Sid Page that was transcendent. And then… There was nothing. I ran into Dan twenty years back, he was still good, but his dreams of returning to even greater success were dashed. You see it was a moment of opportunity, that was seized by outsiders, true artists, who looked at the world a different way. Today artists have been overrun by wannabes, believing their desire is enough for success, ain't that a laugh.
And there's the document declaring 1967 the "Summer of Love." I didn't even know it existed! For decades most people thought the Summer of Love was '68, after the assassinations, when most people knew who these bands were. But the truth is San Francisco was on the cutting edge and there was no internet to amplify the message, it took a long time for word to spread.
It was all about going to the show. Sure, you wanted to hang with the throng, but even more you wanted to connect with the music. The musicians were gods, who emanated seemingly from nowhere, who we followed to…Monterey, Woodstock and beyond. The last place you wanted to be was home, inside. Today, that's where all the action is. We commune online, used to be in person. And there was a lot of wasted time, and there was no delusion that everyone could be a leader, only the anointed few. But we wanted to participate, we joined the movement…against the war, instructed by music and those who played it.
Music was the culture.
It's not the culture today.
Grace Slick is a grandmother. She's got white hair and hasn't performed in eons. She's been replaced by two-dimensional queens whose sole desire is to be admired and become wealthy. Whereas Ms. Slick couldn't stop being a spanner in the works, making trouble. As for her band…Graham was pissed that whenever they got some cash they wanted to stay home and smoke dope, work went out the window.
And Pigpen was still alive, but if you weren't from San Francisco you had no idea who Ron McKernan was. The Deadhead phenomenon didn't arrive until the seventies. When the Fillmores were closed and rock went on a giant victory lap that lasted decades.
But now it's done.
We've got the trappings, but none of the soul.
And those times are not coming back.
But the truth is only the baby boomers lived through it. Young 'uns have no idea that festivals were a new thing, and security was so bad they all ended up being free, FOR YEARS!
We knew not only the tunes, but the players and the equipment. I saw a Kustom cabinet on stage.
And in the process, we lost not only Bill, but Janis, Jimi, Tim Buckley and so many more. Drugs were killers, but old age has taken so many more. Buddy Miles, John Cipollina, Scott McKenzie…
Dust in the wind.
There are so many things I like about 2015. I'm never bored and never lonely. And I endured extreme angst and aloneness for decades. The only time I felt connected was when I was at the gig with my tribe. We were all mesmerized by the musicians and the music.
Bill Graham facilitated that.
The way Andy Grove facilitated the computer revolution with Intel.
But chips are machines.
And rock depended on machines to make its point, but the truth is it emanated from human beings, imperfect, with ranging thoughts. We lionize Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos but they've got no soul. We're the heart of America, but we've punted, forgone all of our power, so busy paying fealty to the device and app makers.
It was a moment in time. We were all so young. Everybody went to the show the way everybody owns a smartphone. The introduction of the new iPhone is nothing compared to the release of a new Beatles album. Radio told us it was coming out, we bought it and spun it for months, everywhere, you could hear the sound coming out of windows across this great country of ours.
And if you went to San Francisco you put some flowers in your hair. You threw off convention and let the music flow through your brain. You set your mind free.
In the Golden State.
It all happened here.
Will it happen again?
If so, look for it to begin where you're so many time zones behind you can barely communicate with outsiders, where the populace is a rainbow of colors and we accept people of different ethnicities just like we embraced Carlos Santana. When he and his music were still dangerous.
I know so much of this stuff. I went to the Fillmore East, mere months after it opened, even though it seemed like years back then. I bought more albums than anybody I knew, the music saved my life.
But I'm stunned at what a long strange trip it's been.
And how far behind the past really is.
When record execs were faceless and sold the music as opposed to created it.
When radio was the tribal drum and the deejays were on our side.
When seemingly every week my generation was starting something new and testing limits.
When life was about opportunity.
When we gave without worrying so much about receiving.
When we all bought guitars so we could play along.
When we defeated a President, Johnson didn't run again and we thought we'd won.
I'm still pondering it.
But one thing I know for sure…I WAS THERE!