My sainted Italian father worked two jobs for the entire span of my consciousness, from when I was five years old to his death from a heart attack when I was 17. His main day job was a warehouse supervisor for our local gas company, Columbia Gas of Ohio. (No surprise that I later spent 20 years working in warehouses after leaving college to chase The Great American Rock & Roll Dream.) His second job - nights & weekends - was selling tickets for Central Ticket Office, a kind of very early forerunner of Ticketmaster. It was founded and run by one of my dad’s friends and almost exclusively staffed with his Italian running buddies. My godfather was one of dad’s co-workers. (Any of this sound like a vaguely familiar Italian story?)
It’s hard to remember in these credit-card, online-ordering, iPhone-paying times, but in the 1960’s EVERYTHING was a cash business. Very few people, other than those who were then referred to as "the fabulously well-to-do" by West Siders like us, had American Express cards, and you could only use them a few places if you were fabulously well-to-do enough to get one. Consequently, dad and his buddies (you will never hear me use the word "cronies") handled truly sizable amounts of cash while selling tickets to sporting events, circuses, a couple of the big downtown Cinerama movie houses (think IMAX of the 60’s), etc. When they came out with extra money, they divided it up equally. When they were short, they chipped in to cover that shortfall. It was the Italian Honor System.
When rock & roll hit big in 1964 and national touring bands started coming to Columbus it was a natural process for dad to get me into the shows for free. (I think very few relatives or friends of the CTO, shall we say, Mafia, ever paid full price for shows, if they paid at all. The world was a simpler and infinitely more wonderful place in those days, at least for me.) By the time I was 16 in 1968 I had seen The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, Janis Joplin & The Full Tilt Boogie Band, Bob Dylan & The Hawks on their first electric tour in ’65, etc.
I also saw a slew of other bands that rock & roll history has not been as kind to as those mentioned above. I saw Neil Diamond in his "Solitary Man/Cherry Cherry" days down the bill on a show by The Turtles, who were killer and won me over as a Flo & Eddie fan to this day. I saw The Standells and Paul Revere & The Raiders probably three or four times apiece and I’m gonna tell you, although you’re not gonna believe me, both of them were better than Cream when I saw them in 1968. (Even as a child I could tell that Baker, Bruce, & Clapton wanted to be ANYWHERE but little Podunk Columbus, Ohio, on a Sunday night in ’68. They blew and I hold it against Clapton to this day.)
Did seeing all of those shows in my formative years have an effect on the rest of my life? I’m writing this blog at almost 60 years old, aren’t I? Did seeing artists of that caliber ruin me for rock & roll later in my existence? Damn straight. You think I was gonna take REO Speedwagon seriously? I saw Jimi fucking Hendrix when I was 16, for Chrissakes. Could dad ever have known what he was doing for me in those long-ago times? No, but I bless him for it to this day.
This is part one of Shows I Saw In The 1960’s:
BOB DYLAN & THE HAWKS / VETERAN’S MEMORIAL AUDITORIUM, COLUMBUS, OHIO / FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 19th, 1965
I was in eighth grade when this show took place. I was smart and I read a lot of books but I was also so shy, so socially backward, that some of my classmates regarded me as mentally retarded. I think dad brought me to those shows just because he was gratified that I took an interest in anything that happened outside of books or outside of our home. The only two songs I knew by Bob Dylan at that moment were "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Positively 4th Street." As such I was TOTALLY unprepared for and mystified by the solo acoustic opening half of the show that Dylan performed. At that point I didn’t even know Dylan ever WAS a folksinger. Plus I could not for the life of me figure out why I couldn’t understand ANYTHING that Dylan was singing about. From later record-buying research I know that he performed "Gates Of Eden" and "Desolation Row" that night. I could clearly understand every word being sung, but I couldn’t parse what any of the songs were about. At that point I had my little Dave Clark 5 and my Lovin’ Spoonful singles: I KNEW what those guys were singing about, but what was THIS?
By time he finished with "Mr. Tambourine Man" (which I at least recognized from The Byrds’ version, but where did all those extra verses come from?) I was actually frozen in my seat, physically afraid of what had just transpired. Plus the people sitting all around me were not the usual teenage fans of rock & roll shows, they were the wispily-bearded college boys and girls with long, straight, ironed hair: the proto-hippies whose ranks I would join much later in the 60’s. That night - to my eighth-grade self - they were just alien, scary and weird. Dad would usually come to check on me at the intermission of shows. That night - as he related to me later - I wouldn’t even look at him when he came to say hello. "Are you okay?" he said after I stared straight ahead through his greeting and attempts at simple communication. "Yes!" I said, a little too loudly & quickly for the question. "Is something wrong?" dad continued, genuinely concerned about my obviously nerved-out state of being. "No, everything’s fine," I insisted, even though it was painfully obvious it wasn’t. "Do you want to leave?" Dad asked. "No," I said quietly, finally looking up at him, "the show's not over yet."
Dylan and The Hawks started the second half of the show BLARING, it was completely epic and TOTALLY DEAFENING. (I didn’t see a show that loud again until The Who in 1969, and I haven’t heard a show as loud as those two right up to this day in 2012.) They opened – again in hindsight, I couldn’t possibly have known it then – with "Tell Me, Momma" and it was the greatest fucking thing I had ever heard. Finally, THIS is what I had come here for, this was the rock & roll. So imagine my further confusion when people in the audience started yelling and throwing things at the stage and walking out in droves. And I’m serious about droves, it wasn’t one or two people walking out, I would say I saw at least two dozen people leave and I was in the 13th or 14th row. I have no idea how many people from the balcony left. (Here’s another thing I should mention at this juncture: Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium held 3174 people at that point in its history. Of all the shows I’ve mentioned – The Doors, Hendrix, Cream – not ONE of those shows sold out Vet’s Memorial. If the show sold out, dad couldn’t pull me a ticket. At that point in the 60’s there just simply were not 3000 rock & roll fans in Columbus, Ohio. Of course after Woodstock in 1969 EVERY show sold out because people came just to get high and/or make the scene. Before that August, only people who were interested in the actual music attended shows.)
There was no functioning rock press in November, 1965, to clue me in that fans of Dylan’s earlier topical folk-song period were upset that he "had gone electric" and - in their folkie-cataracted eyes - "had sold out." For the moment I just had to remain perplexed that ANYONE could walk out on this sacred din. Things I remember like it was yesterday: During Robbie Robertson’s solos, he and Dylan would stand practically nose to nose while Robertson snaked, snarled and slashed out those spark-spitting lead breaks that unfortunately he would never touch on again in the later days of the ever-so-much-more polite The Band. Also, on the subject of those leads, to this day I believe Dylan stood like that because he wanted the audience to think HE was playing lead guitar. Even at 13 I had been studying John Lennon and George Harrison’s hands long enough to know who was playing rhythm and who was playing lead.
Further great memories: Drummer Levon Helm (or was it Bobby Gregg that November evening, different Dylan tomes tell me conflicting stories) bashing away so hard on his high-hat cymbal that it kept sliding away from him all through the show and he would have to reach out and yank it back mid-tune; Dylan having a nicotine-inflicted coughing fit between tunes and informing the audience that he was "just getting over a slight case of leprosy"; having no earthly idea WHAT it meant when Dylan sang, "Baby, let me follow you down," with The Hawks POUNDING out rock & roll behind him, but simultaneously knowing, as the good little eighth-grade Catholic boy that I was at that moment, that whatever it was, it was totally wrong & evil, almost assuredly a mortal sin, and that I wanted to do it too. Some day, when I was older, so much older than that day.
© 2012 Ricki C.