Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Talkin' Bout Our Generation

The Rolling Stones, along with some feedback from friends, got me thinking about the way rock and roll has become interwoven into the fabric of our lives. The Stones’ started things off Sunday morning at Starbucks (where The Who was piped over the sound system). There was Mick staring at me from The New York Times Arts section in a vintage 70’s costume. When I got home, he and Keith and Ron and Charlie were smiling at me (sort of) from the cover of The Post’s TV guide. They had been dialing up folks from Paris to promote their documentary, “Crossfire Hurricane,” opening on HBO November 15 (as well as their book, new CD and arena concerts). Fiftieth anniversaries are golden and the “boys” in the band are still raking it in.

The anecdotes from friends included stories of a summer job in California and nights on the beach listening to Dick Dale and The Del-Tones and of breaking an embargo to play the latest single from the Young Rascals at WERK radio in Muncie, Indiana. Both stories had been prompted by an email or post and I realized how often old friends and I used music to reconnect, share old times and participate (again) in a common experience. This seems more prominent this year as we mark the half century point for the Beatles and Beach Boys as well as the Stones and others (The Who is in town this week on its Quadraphenia Tour, Pete Townshend has his autobiography on bookshelves and Roger Daltrey spoke at the National Press Club.)

Music fans love to debate cosmic questions (is it art?) and make endless lists (desert island discs) but seldom do we step back to see how large the forest has become from all the music trees that have developed since the early 1960’s. For our parents, the common cultural experience was World War II. For the post-war baby boomers, the predominant cultural experience was the influence of rock and roll music. Far more than television or individual historical events, it has been the common thread that so many of us now share.

How else to explain the longevity of the super groups? Or a governor who prides himself on the number of Springsteen concerts he’s been to? Madison Avenue figured this out years ago which is why rock anthems drive television commercials (“Like a rock!”), why movies have used CD collections to replace dialogue, and why you can’t go to a Home Depot or a Safeway without listening to a string of favorite oldies.

In Jon Pareles’ excellent NYT story, Keith sums up the phenomenon of the band in what could be an explanation of the impact of rock and roll on our lives.
“Once we get behind our instruments, there’s something bigger. The sum is greater than the parts. There’s just a feeling that we were meant to do this, we have to do this, and we’re just following the trail.”

So the next time you are debating whether to buy the boxed set of Paul Simon’s 25th anniversary of "Graceland" or the boxed set of 14 classic Beatles albums on vinyl (with 252-page hardbound book) ask yourself this question: What would Margaret Mead do?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Rascals Review: Forever Young

A brief mention of a Young Rascals reunion concert on an XM radio program sent me deep into my archives and back down memory lane. As a summer intern for The Hartford Times, I got a backstage pass for their concert August 24, 1967 and a byline for one of my first music reviews:

Young Rascals Thrill Fans

All they see are lights—red, blue, green, yellow—changing constantly. Their fortune producing magic runs through a wire. They are the Young Rascals.

Twenty-four hundred people could see them, under the flashing lights, and twenty-four hundred people were turned on by their electronic New Jersey soul music Wednesday night in the Bushnell.

With girls shouting their names whenever the din diminished slightly, the four cats from New Jersey kept Hartford girls in 42 minutes of ecstasy with a medley of their hits.

Sustained by the driving Hammond organ which Felix Cavaliere dances across with both hands and feet, they opened with their first hit “Good Lovin” and followed it with “Grovin” and their current hit, “Girl Like You.”

(On the “lilting, dreamy Grovin”) Felix …leaned over the organ and sang gently into the mike. At several points he raised his arms over his head in a mannerism that looks like a cross between a signal and a religious ritual.

The review goes onto to describe how a groupie had thrown herself at Eddie Brigati backstage, how much drummer Dino Danelli was a dead ringer for Paul McCartney and how Gene Cornish demonstrated his guitar “virtuosity” on the group’s finale, “Kooks.”

This…opened with Felix’s organ at ear-splitting levels and went up from there. The 30-minute piece moved quickly into a jazz form (with each taking solo runs)…The long and beautiful improvisation proved tedious to much of the audience but its originality demonstrated while their singing was at times weak, they will be around for a long time as musicians. The crowd applauded wildly, however, when it was over. The Rascals are still theirs.

The callow reviewer, clearly infatuated by his chance to be backstage, was only partly correct in his forecast. The Rascals broke up in 1970, but their music does live on via classic rock radio. "Groovin" still evokes a wistful, warm summer of ’67 vibe, as does their hit from the next year, “A Beautiful Morning.” And their role in bringing a form of “blue-eyed soul” into the mainstream earned them a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

A couple of interesting trivia notes: The original foursome first played together as members of Joey Dee & The Starliters of Peppermint Twist fame. In 1982 Dino Danelli joined Steve Van Zandt’s Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul.

It was Little Steven who brought about the reunion concert with a Kickstarter campaign that raised $123,000. Once Upon A Dream, described as combination rock concert and Broadway show, is scheduled for December 13, 14 and 15 at the historic Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. It will be their first appearance together in 40 years.