1971
(Apple TV+)

1971-Episode One

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1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything

I’ve been thinking I was born at the wrong time.

Now I’m not so sure.

On one hand I was born at exactly the right time, I was 10 when the Beatles broke, I was there for the British Invasion, I saw the whole movie, many of my contemporaries were not, if you were born just a few years later, you missed it, you had to read about it, you watched films about it, but it was different from being there.

I love the internet. Social media causes problems, Zuckerberg is single-handedly going to turn the entire world authoritarian, but the ability to connect with people, to go down the rabbit holes of my desires, that’s priceless, that’s not how it was in 1971.

In 1971 not only did we have no internet, we had no cable TV.

But what we did have was records.

Even the youngsters believe it’s the same as it ever was, you make music, you become famous, hopefully you make a bit of coin, and that’s the music business.

But not back then.


Even back in 1971, they were still developing it, still figuring it out. This was when Peter Grant instituted the 90/10 deal. This was when you couldn’t get a ticket to almost any show, they all sold out, this is when if you wanted to know which way the wind blew, you listened to music.

We can argue, compare and contrast as they say in college, 1971 to the years that came after and the years that came before, but that’s not the point. You see the sixties were a youthquake, the oldsters were stunned, we just weren’t staying at home silently, we were revolutionizing all aspects of society, and rock stars were the most famous and influential people in the world, record albums had more power than the Bible.

Meanwhile, we went on with life as usual.

Yes, some people were hippies in Haight-Ashbury. Some moved to Canada to avoid the draft. Others took political matters into their own hands, like the Weathermen, but most of us…we continued to live our lives, we went to school, we graduated and got jobs, not that I would call them careers, economics were secondary to social issues, and the youth were all on the same side.

Chrissie Hynde has got it right about that. You couldn’t find a Republican. To be a Republican meant you rejected the music, the dope, the entire lifestyle, and very few people were entranced by that. That’s another element of the sixties that’s been overlooked, we changed our minds. It’s not like in 1965 every teenager was against the war, we were the United States, we never lost, but as the years went by and the corpses piled up we started to question what our elders, what the authorities had to say.

And if you watch the footage at the beginning of this episode, you’ll realize things were pretty bad back then, heinous. National Guardsmen shooting and killing students on a college campus? They wouldn’t do that today. But race relations…the Black man is still at the bottom of the economic ladder, but now the whites don’t hide, for some reason they feel empowered, believe Black people have had decades to get their act together, and it’s hurting the whites, affirmative action no! And now when education is expensive and the key to power, never mind success, Black people still haven’t been empowered. Whereas college in California used to be so cheap it was essentially free.

So this series starts with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” A great album, very powerful, released fifty years ago this week, only it’s a rewrite of history to say it was all encompassing, in all households, a statement we all knew, that’s patently untrue. Sure, we listened to Motown on AM radio in the sixties, but these were not snappy ditties and in 1971 FM rock radio ruled and it played almost no black music, and although the Stones brought Ike & Tina out in 1969, if you went to rock concerts, you saw almost no people of color.

Not that Chrissie Hynde doesn’t get it right. Then again, she starts talking about us all being high and…this is untrue. Was marijuana rampant? Yes. But LSD? One can even argue that was more of a sixties drug.

As for Jimmy Iovine… He’s had great success, but now he’s acting like an elder statesman, an intellectual, analyzing what happened back then and I just don’t buy it. But they cast names in these productions so streaming outlets will buy them and people will watch them.


So what’s astounding about this episode is it starts with the politics, what was going on in society, as opposed to diving straight into the music. Because the truth is the two were intertwined. And when I watched the footage…

I could see myself. This was my time, my era. Everybody had long hair and bell bottoms and everybody lived for music and everybody was anti-war. And no one talked about how much money they had, it was about living life to the fullest, questioning authority, arguing principles with your buddies. We were all middle class, we were all in it together.

But the jaw-dropping part of this episode, the reason you must watch it, is for the footage of John Lennon. He’s dead, but in this episode he’s so alive.

I’ve never seen this footage before. Maybe it’s somewhere online, been in a documentary, but today it’s all about curation, making sense of the morass.

We see John’s house in England. We see him playing “How Do You Sleep?” to George. Yoko Ono looks anything but a pariah, she’s pretty attractive and at no time obnoxious. As for John…he’s very very smart.

There’s a point where they show John and Yoko in bed reading the newspapers. Yes, information is king, and it’s available, but people would rather just spread their uneducated opinions.

So John’s in the studio, singing “Gimme Some Truth.” And the debate is whether to use his Eddie Cochran voice or not. Yes, the Beatles had influences. And Phil Spector says to hold off. Yes, Phil Spector, before he killed anybody, when he was still considered a wunderkind.

You watch Lennon and he’s both normal and a god. Someone who’s had some experience, but still has a long way to go. Someone willing to stick his neck out for something, to make a difference, hell, it might not work, but why not be optimistic? We don’t have that spirit here anymore. It might have died in 1969, maybe 1979, but the truth is people are downtrodden, they don’t see a way up. There are billionaires, people with more money than the proletariat can ever earn, and those with the money employ it to their benefit, to keep the rest of us corralled and in control.

Now there’s also footage of George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh.” I’ve seen the movie, literally, and this footage might be in it, but it’s so impactful here. Phil Spector and Allen Klein walking together in the bowels of Madison Square Garden? And Leon Russell is young and thin, now he’s dead, George too. As for Eric Clapton…he’s doing his best to eviscerate his legend, lockdown bad, vaccine bad, if we just ignore the virus everything will be groovy!


Yes, if you’re a student of the game you’ll have fun picking out the people, Nicky Hopkins, although they eventually mention his name.

But this was our time.

They’re in a record store, looks like Tower Sunset to me, and you see the prices, and people lined up to pay…

And the people camping out for days to get tickets for the Bangladesh concert, and I remember, I did that, I lived to buy records, you had to go to the show, for a peak experience, that’s the only place you could connect.

Maybe we need John Lennon today, because I’m certainly not optimistic. By time the Republicans get through with voting laws there is no way in hell a Democrat will ever win. Never mind the rigged Supreme Court probably whittling away abortion rights.

But Nixon, who we thought was not as bad as Trump, when you see him in action, you realize he was pretty bad. And he too used and abused the FBI, and he too had contempt for his enemies, only back then…the youth were against him and the Republicans said he had to resign, whereas today Congresspeople are afraid of an ex-President, they’re ruled by an authoritarian in absentia. We watched January 6th on television, but there can be no investigation? Don’t talk to me about politicizing it, can you say “Benghazi”?

And you may have caught the anti-Israel fisticuffs at the restaurant in Los Angeles, or the incidents in the U.K. Yes, everybody says it’s just about giving the Palestinians their due, but the truth is the past twenty years of Palestinian saber-rattling by nincompoops like Roger Waters has fanned the flames of anti-Semitism. Yes, I’ll stand up to Roger Waters any day of the week, I’m not afraid, hell, I’m a child of the sixties!

Yes, it was a long time ago. Fifty years. Classic rockers are dropping like flies. The music lives, it will always live, but it’s nowhere near the hit parade, the acts don’t have the ethos, never mind the credibility, of those of yore. Then again, the joke’s on them, because they have a small fraction of the power of the acts of yore. Kanye West has visibility because we all want to watch the train-wreck, don’t confuse his antics with those of a leader, which John Lennon certainly was.

So my generation is long in the tooth. There have been so many changes, so many generations, that to most of America what happened in the sixties and seventies, never mind eighties, is ancient history. Forget not knowing the days when radio was powerful, they don’t even know the days when MTV was powerful! And also back then acts could say no, because if you wanted to be believed you couldn’t sell out to the man. One can argue quite strongly today’s acts are the man! After all they’re all whored out to corporations or corporations themselves, selling us crap.

Yes, we really thought there was a way out back then. We had hope. Yes, we were disappointed when Nixon got elected, and re-elected, but it wasn’t the end of democracy, which is what we’re arguing about right now.

Now if you go back to 1971, one of the big acts was Elton John. Actually, he got bigger as the years went by, but on his very first American album, the eponymous “Elton John,” he had a track, fittingly the last one, entitled “The King Must Die.” And Bernie Taupin’s lines in that song were:

“And sooner or later
Everybody’s kingdom must die”

Yes, America can’t even rebuild roads and bridges, never mind educate it’s populace. You’re on your own, government is the enemy, no one should pay taxes and then life will be great. Huh?

You can read the article in the “New York Times” about Paul Romer, the favorite economist of the techies who has now switched sides, he now believes in bigger government, greater control of these digital operations: https://nyti.ms/3bLmmB6 Romer changed his mind, he seems to be the only one, America has gone back millennia, it’s now positively tribal.

But if you watch “1971” you’ll be gobsmacked, you’ll see what we lost, and you’ll desire to get back to the garden, whether you lived through that era or are still wet behind the ears.

Today’s it’s different. We’ve got footage.

Sure, now everything is on camera, but back in ’71, so much was lost to the sands of time, films essentially started around the turn of the century, from the nineteenth to the twentieth, and TV essentially started a few years after World War II, in the forties. It’s not like we could go back to footage of the Civil War, it’s not like we could watch the news, gauge the public’s reaction to the assassination of Lincoln, never mind the election of Washington. But through the miracle of technology, this fifty year old footage, this information, is at our fingertips, ready to be put together to tell the narrative of what once was…

If this documentary was released twenty five years ago, like the “Beatles Anthology,” it would be a cultural event, everybody would see it.

Even worse, today’s hype machine is so busy promoting today, it can’t stop to lionize the past.

So you may not even know this series exists. Maybe if it was on Netflix it would have a fighting chance, unfortunately it’s on Apple TV+. But it’s there, waiting for you to check it out, it’s a land mine, like all those classic rock records, just waiting for you to discover them, just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s passé. There’s wisdom to be gained from back then, scoop it up, when you know the past you can march forward enlightened, ready to create a better world.

 

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