Monterey Pop Outtakes

So we fired up Monica’s boxed set of the Monterey Pop concerts.  She and Felice wanted to relive their past.  After all, they went when they were just fifteen, without their parents knowing.

And I expected nostalgia.  I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed.  I didn’t expect to be jetted back to another era, when music RULED!

I know, I know, you young pups say today’s music is just as good as that of the baby boomers.  I won’t even bother to debate that.  I’ll just tell you if you wanted to know what was going on in society in the sixties, you listened to the record.  Music was cable TV, the Internet and texting all in one.  We were addicted to Top Forty, and then we switched our allegiance to FM underground radio.  And Monterey Pop was the turning point.  When it stopped being about singles, and all about STATEMENTS!  The album was what was important.  Not that it was clear that summer exactly which acts would bridge the divide.  The Association was on its last legs of hipdom.  But when "Along Comes Mary" came on the tube, my mind was BLOWN!

Every time I think that I’m the only one who’s lonely
Someone calls on me

And that friend wasn’t human.  Yes, "Along Comes Mary" was a DOPE SONG!  That’s what dope is, your best friend.  And the Association was singing about it.

And there were no backing tapes.  And the instrumentation wasn’t perfection.  But the HONESTY!  Music wasn’t big business, but self-expression, a cult inhabited theoretically temporarily by those bitten by the sound, who had to participate.

But the true triumph was Simon & Garfunkel, who took the stage next playing "Homeward Bound".

I saw Simon & Garfunkel the summer before, at Fairfield University, in a show headlined by Soupy Sales.  This was prior to "The Graduate", prior to "Bookends", when they were just single-meisters.  Now we know Paul Simon is an artiste, one of the best songwriters of the rock era.  But at the show I attended, and at Monterey Pop, he was still a comer, he hadn’t cemented his place in the firmament, he still had something to prove.

But having something to prove was different then.  Because it was this show, and this show only.  This was years before MTV, two years before Woodstock, when recorded visual performances could break you into the STRATOSPHERE!  Simon & Garfunkel are just playing here.  They’re not perfect.  But that lack of perfection gives birth to an incredible humanity.  These are people on stage, singing from the bottoms of their hearts.  And "Sounds Of Silence" was even more rough.  But I couldn’t stop thinking of Emily Sheketoff getting the single for Hannukah, and playing it on the big Columbia console in the living room.  At the time we thought the duo’s name was made up, who could actually be NAMED "Garfunkel"?

Country Joe and the Fish performed "Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine".  A viewer today, who did not live through the era, would think the performance quaint.  But I could not stop thinking of how I loved "I-Feel-Like-I’m Fixin’-To-Die", not only the track, but the whole album, with its stereo effects.  I knew the bass player was Bruce Barthol, and the drummer was Chicken Hirsh.  Older now, I can see "Chicken" was just a stage name, but that name, I pondered for YEARS how they came up with it.  And where are they today?  I know the lead guitarist, Barry Melton, is a public defender.  As for Country Joe himself..?  He had too much success to go straight, but not enough to live forever on the proceeds.

Jefferson Airplane followed up with "Somebody To Love".  In every song there’s a memory, and this one was the party at Diane Melish’s house, hearing the tune on the AM radio on the way home from a place I never went again.  I’d been invited, I felt included, I didn’t ever feel so included again.  But this was freshman year of high school, before all the cliques had solidified.

Buffalo Springfield, with David Crosby on guitar and Neil Young absent, played "For What It’s Worth".  Al Kooper led a big band through "I Can’t Keep From Cryin’ Sometimes".  And Paul Butterfield wailed on his harmonica.

But what moved me most was Laura Nyro singing "Poverty Train".

Up close and personal, she was not pretty.  But she was POSSESSED!  That’s what we’re looking for today, acts that transcend their surroundings, who aren’t in it only for the adulation, who need to perform, who don’t view the audience as part of their posse at an endless party.

And although the Beatles were obviously loaded, most of the acts on this bill were not rich.  It was like they were all at summer camp, on vacation from the real world, enjoying a respite wherein they could play and be their best selves, where the drudgery of everyday life was put on hold, for just a little while.

We did not know it would go on forever.  They certainly didn’t.  Monterey Pop had seats, there was no overflow of campers trying to get in free.  With the straight media out of the loop, we just didn’t know how big the scene truly was.

And we’re watching the DVD, and we’re all commenting about the band members.  We know their identities, their back stories, what gear they played.  Because this was our religion, this music.

I wondered whether you had to be there, whether you had to live through that era to get it, whether we were no different from our parents watching videos of Frank Sinatra.  But I don’t think so.  Because in the late sixties, music ruled the world.  It was more than the sounds, it was a state of mind, a culture.  You were either enraptured, or you were completely ignorant.

If only all those teens glued to their computer monitors were creating great art instead of IM’ing.  If only there were creations larger than the technology.  Yes, the Net is exciting, it’s fun to get e-mail on your BlackBerry, to be connected all the time.  But once upon a time gods ruled the earth.  We looked up to them.  We took their offerings as our Bible in an era when God was dead.  To go back to these performances, our Dead Sea Scrolls, is to be enlightened, to know both the joy of music and how it truly can change society.

The Complete Moterrey Pop Festival – D.A. Pennebaker

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