This could have been lousy, but instead it was JOYOUS!
You know, ancient rocker listlessly sings his hits, would rather be anywhere but here and you can feel it, going through the motions for cash. BUT IT WASN’T THAT WAY AT ALL!
First and foremost because Peter Noone has a sense of humor about himself.
And secondly, although in reality firstly, he/Herman’s Hermits HAD SO MANY HITS!
You can’t imagine the sixties unless you were there. A strange combination of innocence and progressiveness. At first you were just minding your own business in the greatest country in the world, playing baseball, and then suddenly there was a crack in the system and it became all about the individual, thinking for yourself, feeling empowered.
And the grease was the music.
Malcolm Gladwell pointed out all the work the Beatles did before they hit. Hell, they were recording in the fifties! Today, you cut a song on your laptop and post it to Spotify and spam everybody to listen to it, even though it’s the first thing you ever did.
But you used to have to pay dues. And you performed live without any crutches. No hard drives, no auto-tune. You lived and died on your talent.
I first saw Herman’s Hermits back in ’65, at Kennedy Stadium in Bridgeport, Connecticut. This was back when they were naming or renaming edifices with the moniker of the dead President. We had to go, because Herman and his Hermits topped the chart. I had the albums. When he performed “Sea Cruise” last night, I remembered, it was on the first LP. Which initially promoted “I’m Into Something Good,” but then sported a sticker promoting “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” shortly thereafter. “I’m Into Something Good” is one of those weird records that sounds even better, with more meaning, all these years later. It got a boost from its use in “The Naked Gun,” but that was over thirty years ago. The song keeps getting better and better.
And Peter started the show with it last night.
“Woke up this mornin’ feelin’ fine”
Remember that? With the birds chirping and the sun shining, when America was about optimism and you weren’t born with the inability to get ahead, but the opportunity to be all you can be.
That’s what love is, optimism. It makes you feel good. It still makes you feel good. But there isn’t that much to feel good about anymore in this divided country. But back then everybody under the age of thirty was on the same page, we were infatuated with music, it was buoying up society. Sure, the Beatles could be dark, but most of their music was inspirational, it rode shotgun on our adventures. We sang it. We played it. The songs seem simple today, but there’s a virtue in simplicity, your inspiration and talent have to get to the essence and shine bright.
And when you have that many hits, you can start with a big one, you don’t have to wait.
And you can roll right into another one.
“Don’t know much about history”
We went with my mother to a discount store in Bridgeport that no longer exists. We bought 45s. This, and Sam the Sham and The Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully.” Yup, the hits didn’t have to all sound the same as they do today.
There was a memory in every song.
And Peter said it was a trip back to the sixties so some of the songs weren’t Hermits hits, but we knew them just the same.
Like “Love Potion #9.” We know the lyrics by heart, we remember taking our problems down to Madame Ruth.
And Peter was a cheerleader, doing shtick and a campy version of “Ring of Fire,” which we all sang along to. That was a feature of the show, audience participation. Not because Peter was tired or uninterested, but because we were that excited, in the moment, bonded to Peter in a salute to what once was, and which forever more will live in our hearts.
That’s the kind of show it was, your whole life flashed in front of your eyes. Summer camp, family vacations, it was like “Mrs. Maisel” but it was real.
And I never ever looked at my watch, or checked out my cell phone, you see I was enraptured and I DIDN’T WANT TO MISS ANYTHING!
Come on, “Dandy”? I never heard the Kinks’ original until Napster, with Ray Davies’s sneer. But Herman’s Hermits made it a hit.
“A Must To Avoid.” Better take it from me, she’s poisonous!
And there was a cover of “All My Loving,” done lovingly, all I could see in my brain was that first time the Beatles were on “Ed Sullivan,” when they played this and the crawl beneath John Lennon said he was married.
And when the band performed “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” Peter pranced around like Jagger, it was funny, we knew, we were in on the joke.
And it was a band. A drummer, two guitarists and a keyboard player. Only a backdrop, no pyrotechnics to detract from the performance, which was about the songs. And it made me remember, not only going to shows back then, but picking up the guitar and forming bands, and believe me, I never ever thought I could become famous, I just didn’t have the talent, but it was a thrill to play while you were grinding it out in school.
But the hits just kept on coming.
Peter sang in his original ethereal, high-pitched voice on “Listen People,” it made me want to give him a standing ovation. He wasn’t faking it, the band was down low, and the gravitas was evident.
These were short songs, without long instrumental breaks, they’d come and they’d go and you’d want to hear them again. Like when I saw Gary Puckett & the Union Gap at Fordham in ’68 and they started with the smash “Young Girl” and finished with a replay.
“There’s A Kind Of Hush” brought me back to that bus trip to Butternut Basin. It played on the way back to Westport.
I remembered skiing at the Concord.
All those moments, they were still inside me, just ready to be awakened by the performance of these songs.
And at first, I thought I didn’t need to go, after all, I’d seen Peter on the comeback tour, at the Yale Bowl. But then I realized, THAT WAS 49 YEARS AGO!
That’s right, we’re getting older by the day. Strange, you look at aged audience members and then you realize you look that way too.
But it would have all fallen flat if it weren’t for Peter’s patter. Joking about dreaming of playing the Saban back in Manchester. Saying he sometimes thought he was seventeen, but the truth was in the reversal of the numbers, he’s seventy one.
Peter wasn’t asking for respect, he was a tour guide, whipping you into a frenzy from note one. You were whisked away on a Magical Mystery Tour, a journey of wonder.
And when it was all over, you were ready to hear it all over again. It was a moment in time, both the performance and the memories, and you wanted to go back.
Hell, singing “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” was like participating in the Olympics at Camp Laurelwood, the height of the summer season.
You can’t go back. But the truth is these songs are forever in our brains, they rekindle memories whenever they are played. And when the original performer is still so robust, with the lines in his face just like yours, you feel happy, like it was all worth it, that you lived through a special era, that you were privileged.
P.S. Rick Nowells cornered me in the lobby after the show. He said he goes to all the shows at the Saban, testified about Frankie Valli, who is eighty-five years old. Said these performers were gonna be dead in ten years and that you had to see them now.
P.P.S. I asked Rick if he was still into it, still excited about the music. After saying yes, I asked him about the beat-driven hits of today. He said he was a MELODY GUY! And that’s when I realized this was the essence of the British Invasion.
P.P.P.S. When it was all over, and the house lights came up, Felice turned to me, and all she could say was…THAT WAS GREAT!