Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Age of Aquarius: Revolution


Gerry Colvin: Revolution
[it's a creative commons download]

I am writing/posting once again about The Age of Aquarius at this late time just before we move on to a new theme because I felt we haven’t done justice to the topic: if it weren’t for the hippies and their “peace/love” message, we wouldn’t be where we are. Women’s Lib, a better sense of our stewardship of Earth, respect for diversity… would all be further back in our awareness. The Age of Aquarius was a revolution. As boyhowdy put it in an email to me this week “we’re all hippies”. And he’s right (although he was referring to my long hair in the 70s).

Pre-Aquarius music and culture may have flown in the face of previous standards: Elvis’ pelvis, the irreverence of the jitterbug and all that WWII spawned in terms of societal mores. And while it probably set the stage for us hippies, it took the 60s to bring it to fruition. It could have faded like some other fashions. But it didn’t – because, at heart, it was right.

It’s a matter of historical record that has been well researched and documented, and I am far from being an authority about how it all transpired. From what I know, however, in and around 1967, the Beatles’ music changed from the era’s standard 3 minute “Top 10” pop format (Love Me Do) to something different. That’s the year they released both Sgt. Peppers and Magical Mystery Tour. That is also about the time they began exploring different philosophies (think guru from India). But this was the 60s.

Roger Greenawalt and crew (from where this song comes) do a remarkable job of disseminating Creative Commons versions of Beatles songs that include embedded insightful textual comments detailing the conditions and history of the times. The background research is informative – to say the least. The Beatles Complete on Ukulele has almost 150 freely downloadable Beatles tunes.

The song I choose here should speak for itself.  If you don’t see the embedded textual notes (not visible in the default Yahoo player) download the file and play it in Media Player, where you can. Above all, head to the Beatles Complete on Ukulele project web site and grab all 100+ tunes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Age of Aquarius: Okie from Muskogee

Merle Haggard: Okie from Muskogee

[purchase]

No compilation of hippie music is complete without acknowledging its counterpart, the anti-hippie song. And no song better embodies the counter-counter-culture than Merle Haggard's "Okie from Muskogee."

Haggard released the song twice in 1969 (as a studio recording and again as a live record), at the height of the anti-war protests. Its lyrics take a broad swipe at the hippie ethos. "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee," Haggard boasts in the song's opening salvo. "We don't let our hair grow long and shaggy...Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear...The kids here still respect the college dean."

There's a lingering question as to whether Haggard subscribed to the song's philosophy. It's easy to assume he was being sincere; listen to the introduction he gives the song on his landmark Okie from Muskogee Live record. "Okie" is one of several songs Haggard wrote and recorded at the time tweaking the counter-culture ("Fightin' Side of Me", "Working Man Blues"). And he didn't squawk when Richard Nixon endorsed the song and used it at political rallies.

But, in many interviews over the past two decades, Haggard has claimed he meant "Okie" to be a character study or satire. For example, in an interview with the A.V. Club website, Haggard says the song is merely "documentation of the uneducated that lived in America at the time." In another interview cited by Tom Roland in the book Number One Country Hits, Haggard says, "I didn't intend for 'Okie' to be taken as strongly from my lips as it was." And certainly, Haggard has written many songs that could be considered to be left of center, including Steinbeck-esque portraits of economic injustice in California, where he grew up.

"I always thought everybody got 'Okie from Muskogee' wrong," Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone in a profile of Haggard. "It's one of the funniest satires ever. If Randy Newman had written it, nobody would have thought twice."

Maybe. I suspect that while Haggard may not have fully sympathized with the song's sentiment, he meant for it to appeal to people who aligned themselves with its philosophy. As his politics changed -- and as he came to be recognized by the mainstream music press as one of the finest writers in the history of country music (an assessment I whole-heartedly agree with) -- Hag began engaging in a bit of revisionist history.

Kris Kristofferson, who for years satirized "Okie from Muskogee" in his live act, offers one of the best assessments of the song, suggesting it could be a kind of hippie anthem after all. He told Rolling Stone: "I remember saying...'Maybe that's the only bad song he ever wrote.' I was wrong. That song is saying 'I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee.' Coming from his background in California, that's like saying I'm black and I'm proud."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Age of Aquarius: Get Together

The Youngbloods: Get Together

[purchase]

Talk about a period piece. It's hard to imagine "Get Together" making a mark in any era but the groovy 1960s. "Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another right now." Those lyrics couldn't be sung in earnest by Sinatra in the 1940s or the Black Eyed Peas today.

In fact, the song predates the hippie movement a bit. It was written by Dino Valenti (later of Quicksilver Messenger Service) in 1960. In the mid-60s, various folkies and rockers took a stab at the song, including Judy Collins, Jefferson Airplane and the Kingston Trio. When the Youngbloods -- led by Jesse Colin Young -- first released the song in 1967, it was not an immediate hit. Two years after its initial release, "Get Together" was used as the soundtrack to a public service announcement, produced by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, advocating for peace, love and understanding. (Ah, the '60s!) The Youngbloods' recording was re-released and became a top 5 hit. "From then on," writes Brian Boone in his book I Love Rock and Roll (Except When I Hate It), "it became an iconic flower-child anthem, mostly after the fact, popping up in countless '60s documentaries, '60s-set movies, Boomer-targeted soda commercials and what felt like every other episode of China Beach."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Age Of Aquarius: Vi Har Bara Varandra


Di Leva: Vi Har Bara Varandra
[purchase]

Funny thing about hippies: they tend to be right.  Oh sure, it's easy to sneer at the earnestness and positivity: after all, sneering is just what we do.  They're so naive.  And those clothes! They probably don't wash!  I'll bet they smell bad...  So we joke and belittle, look down our noses and snort, because we're just so much worldlier than them.  But deep down we know: they're right.

You see, the world would be a better place without hatred and war.  The love of one another and the planet we appear to be trying so hard to ruin may well be the only thing that can pull us all back from the brink.  These ideas aren't really open to debate, but we debate them anyway because that's the only way we can think of to justify our cavalier behaviour.  We're angry people, and we reserve the right not to want to move beyond that anger in order to try to find some positivity in amongst all the gloom and grime.

So it is that here in Sweden, Thomas Di Leva is something of a punchline.  Resolutely hippy, happy in the childlike persona he wears like a comfortable kaftan, he sings about how all we have is each other and how everything is interconnected, and everyone snickers.  Then they join in and sing along.  And perhaps, just perhaps, the joke is on us because in that brief moment that catches us roaring along with the ridiculous, infectious chorus, we might understand the gleam in Di Leva's eye, and the fact that he made believers out of cynical-old us, however fleetingly.

As someone else once sang, Immerse your soul in love.  After all, we only have each other.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Age of Aquarius: Fresh Air


Quicksilver Messenger Service: Fresh Air
[purchase]

In the late 1960’s, Quicksilver Messenger Service was a popular Bay Area band, but it has been overshadowed by its more successful contemporaries like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Santana. According to some accounts, the group was to be led by Dino Valenti, who wrote the song “Get Together” (under his birth name, Chet Powers). Unfortunately, before they really got going, Valenti spent almost two years in jail on marijuana possession charges. Instead, the band included David Freiberg, who later was a member of Jefferson Starship, guitarist John Cipollina, and guitarist and singer Gary Duncan, among others. For their fourth album, “Just for Love,” Valenti finally joined the fold, wrote most of the songs (this time under the name Jesse Oris Farrow), and their sound became more pop oriented.

“Fresh Air,” the single from the album, is Quicksilver’s biggest hit, reaching 49 on the Billboard chart. The song has a nice jam band feel to it, Marty Balin-esque vocals, good harmonies, a great Santanaish guitar solo from Cipollina and a piano solo from Nicky Hopkins, the great session musician, who was a member of the band at the time.

In the song, the singer tells a woman to “have another hit” of:

Sweet air;
Fresh air;
Sweet love; and
Sweet California sunshine

What I think he really is telling her to “have another hit” of:

Marijuana.

I could be wrong, but it was 1970, and considering the musicians involved, I’m going to go with that.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Age of Aquarius: Do What You Like


Blind Faith: Do What You Like
[purchase]

I happened to be in Seattle in the summer of 69, and although I was just barely a teen (14 counts, doesn’t it?), my parents gave me and my younger brother permission to see Blind Faith. We got mugged on the way back home after the concert, but that’s another story and that was in the days before “terror” carried the meaning it does today.
Like so many others, including boyhowdy, my brother and I wore our hair long. Mine being thin (in more ways than one), I wore it tied back; his was even longer, kind of a cross between Tiny Tim’s and Ginger Baker’s. I kept mine long until I took a full time job after college.
I was schooled in a co-ed boarding school in the Philly area in the early 70s. Although it is a little bit of a stretch to say I was a hippie, there were forays into the culture – to the extent that circumstances allowed (maintaining a passing gpa, staying on the tennis team…). The school was bordered on one side by a river called the Neshaminy, and there were times that we would leave our clothes on the school-side riverbank and cavort nekkid in the field/woods on the other side for an afternoon’s fun. All very “Hair” even if we were only teens.
Do What You Like, from the only album Blind Faith made (the band came together in early 69 and disbanded in late 69), has lyrics that espouse the mentality of the hippy lifestyle:
Do right, use your head (one wonders exactly how)
Get together, break your bread… (peace, man)
The song also has the prerequisite extended jam that the hippie generation loved: nigh on 15 minutes of it, and it ends in a rather spacey ramble of notes.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Age of Aquarius: Almost Cut My Hair


Crosby, Stills, and Nash: Almost Cut My Hair

[purchase]

Yes, that's me up there, in 2002: prep school teacher, daddy, and long haired hippie freak. Though I've never identified as terribly liberal or hippie-ish, I managed to avoid cutting my hair from the middle of high school; by the time I turned thirty, I could sit on it. The stories that this brought about are numerous, and include multiple old ladies stroking my head without asking first, a long-standing reputation as one of the "cool teachers" on the faculty, and a long tense standoff with the well-intentioned folks at the Amsterdam airport, who seemed convinced that anyone who looked like one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers was surely trying to smuggle hash back into the United States.

I swear, I only cut it because the changing table was higher than my hair hung down. That, and the sheer weight was starting to cause serious back and neck problems.

David Crosby's freak anthem, written and recorded in the midst of some pretty heavy drug use, has been recorded several times by Crosby and company, but I've always liked the long-form take above, recorded in 1970 but not released until 1991. It was played multiple times to welcome me to parties, in my long and misbegotten youth.

In my defense, I liked having long hair. The way it functioned as a bullshit detector for people carrying the weight of stereotype, and the way it lowered expectations from the universe, leaving room to impress, were a shield against the world as I learned to become a late-blooming adult. Unfortunately, I have no such excuse for the hemp necklace, nor the patchouli vial which hangs suspended from it, which you can see in the picture above.