In 1976 the U.S.A. was having a big birthday – its 200th. In the Land of the Free, American rock fans could have their cake and eat it, too. New flavors were popping out of the oven daily, from Punk Pecan to Disco Devil’s Food to bland ol’ Styx-Style White Cake. But the all-time favorite, Arena Deluxe, was still going strong. Yes, The Ramones, Kansas, and The Bee Gees were poised to explode, but the electric guitar titans weren’t going away any time soon. And Peter Frampton was living proof of that. By the middle of that festive bicentennial summer, nearly every rock fan I knew had a copy of “Frampton Comes Alive,” the two-record set released by the very pretty British singer/guitarist/songwriter. It reached the #1 spot on the U.S. charts on April 10, 1976, and ended up being the biggest LP of the year, selling over 6 million copies and remaining on the American charts for 97 weeks!
“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.” That’s just one of the many funny lines made famous by trailblazing comedian Phyllis Diller, who would have turned 98 today. Did this keen observation of corporate life qualify the flamboyant Phyllis to perform for managers in training? It’s debatable. But every year on her birthday I recall the time in 1969 when Westinghouse Electric Corporation sent a group of newly promoted supervisors, including my father, to watch her nightclub act.
Woody Guthrie, born 103 years ago today, is best known as the dust bowl balladeer who wrote many of America’s most beloved songs, including “This Land Is Your Land.” He was a free spirit and a sprite, a vagabond minstrel who spent his 55 years on earth using music to empower the common man. He wrote of the roads he traveled and the characters he met, of “dusty old dust” and the places he lived on “the wild, windy plains.” He also wrote about a land and a culture far removed from his Tom Joad roots, a place “where the halvah meets the pickle, where the sour meets the sweet.” Yes, folks, it turns out that Woody Guthrie had a Jewish mother-in-law! And folk culture is all richer for it.
He’d have his “superstar” world premiere, of course. On July 12, 1971, the first authorized production of the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” was staged in my fair city, Pittsburgh, PA. Quite appropriate, actually, considering it’s the birthplace of the man who coined the term superstar: Andy Warhol! The musical starred Jeff Fenholt as a laid-back, hippiefied Jesus, Carl Anderson as a prescient, forewarning Judas, and Yvonne Elliman as a sexy Mary Magdalene. A crowd of 13,000 people turned out to see the play at the city’s domed, space-age Civic Arena, the world’s first major sports/entertainment venue to feature a retractable roof.
When the cops finally busted Madam Marie, the young ne’er-do-well knew it was time to leave the seaside carnival life forever. Riding Tilt-a-Whirls and chasing factory girls underneath the boardwalk…cruising the circuit with switchblade lovers and open-shirt casino boys…it was all kid’s stuff. Someday he’d look back on those barefoot slacker days and sex-seeking nights, and rage against the dying of the pier lights that once cast a protective cover, like a soft beach blanket, over his body and hers. But now, as the fireworks hailed over his Little Eden on that 4th of July, he determined it was time to move on. And, taking a page from that ancient tome, “Seduction Tactics 101,” he made his plea to sweet “Sandy Girl:” Love me tonight, for I may never see you again. Ah, how I miss the beach life lullabies and city-sidewalk serenades that Bruce abandoned long ago! Songs like “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” are among the most visual and desperately romantic works in his catalog. And this one, in particular, is as beautiful and wistful as they come.
Even if Bob Dylan hadn’t introduced The Beatles to marijuana at New York’s Delmonico Hotel, the boys would have lit up soon enough. From that August 1964 night onward, “let’s have a laugh” quickly became their code phrase for “let’s have a toke.” And laugh they did. At least until they began getting busted for smoking that wicked weed. It turns out that Paul, not the controversial John, was the most prolific pot puffer of all, leading the band in number of arrests.
Anne Frank, the Jewish teen diarist who documented her experiences hiding from the Nazis during World War II, would have turned 86 today. Her work inspired me to purchase my first diary. We were soul mates; both of us dark-haired and dark-eyed, yearning to be free, wrapped up in our writing as a form of escape and self-therapy. Like Anne, I will continue to write till my stoney end.
So, you’re trippin’ with your blue-jean baby down a marijuana-scented street, wearing your tie-dyed shirt, love beads and huaraches, when you hear an announcement blaring from a packed tour bus: “Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left you’ll see a hairy hippie passed out in front of the Phật Phúc Noodle Bar. Ahead on the right you’ll notice a parade of shaved-head Hare Krishnas — such a happy lot, wrapped in their orange gauze! Oh, and do you see those scraggly kids carrying signs that say ‘drop acid, not bombs’? They’re the pinko-loving, un-American war protestors. Now, just up ahead on your left is a store where stoners buy things called zig-zag paper and roach clips. They call it a ‘head shop’….don’t ask me why!” Ah, what better way to take in the sights, sounds and aromas of the Summer of Love than to book a reservation on a Greyhound Bus Line “Hippyland Tour” of the famous Haight-Ashbury district!
“This man is not a role model.” So proclaimed my 5th grade teacher Mr. Kuntz as he held up a ‘Life’ magazine featuring photos of New York Jets’ star quarterback Joe Namath swilling Scotch with adoring groupie dolls and cigar-chomping minions at his Upper East Side Club, Bachelors III. Joe Namath, a media-hungry playboy? I was taken aback by that indictment, at a time when I too young to even understand what ‘taken aback’ meant! Today is Joe’s 72nd birthday, and here’s a look back at his groovy unsportsmanlike style.
One of the most unusual and innovative new performers of the day chooses you for his band, insists you wear eyeliner, satin, and 6-inch platform boots, and then proceeds to engage in deviate sexual activity with your guitar while you stand on stage churning out searing licks. Sound demanding? Well, it’s all in a day’s work when your name is Mick Ronson and you’re making rock-n-roll history with David Bowie. Mick was an arranger, producer, songwriter and classically-trained multi-instrumentalist who became the most recognized super guitarist of the glam rock era. Bowie may have ushered in a whole new brand of performance art with his space-age song themes and colorful alter egos, but it was Mick who legitimized the spectacle with his rock solid musicianship.