Saturday, November 30, 2013

Teenage Rampage and Back Door Man, Fanzines in the 1970's

My 1970's fanzine - Teenage Rampage - grew wholly out of the inspiration of Back Door Man, to me 
rock & roll fandom's most perfect creation ever.  In 1976 I was working 40 hours a week in the warehouse of a Service Merchandise catalog showroom.  I likely had a rock & roll band going - most likely at that point it would have been The Survivors, before my band The Strokes formed in 1977, a year before Julian Casablancas was born - but probably not a very good one.

The highlight of my rock & roll existence in 1976 was when my issue of Back Door Man - the pride of the South Bay area of Los Angeles, California - would arrive in my mailbox.  (I get the feeling South Bay was the L.A. equivalent of the West Side of Columbus, Ohio.  Blue collar working-class and damn proud of it.  Aerosmith over The Mahavishnu Orchestra any day.)  Back Door Man was my only connection to quality rock & roll.  There were times that year I might as well have been speaking Swahili to the rock illiterati I interacted with, as little communication as we shared.  Those people wanted to listen to Black Sabbath and The Allman Brothers Band, I wanted to listen to The Dictators and The Modern Lovers.  The Back Door Man staff and I understood one another implicitly.  I would take my Service Merchandise lunch hour in a quiet little outdoor area of our shopping center and DEVOUR the latest issue of the mag.  Phast Phreddie Patterson, D.D. Faye, Don & Liz Underwood, Lisa Fancher and especially Don "Doc Savage" Waller were my long-distance friends that, as it turned out, I would never meet.  They were my confidantes, my role models, my inspirations.

I would write them long, ridiculously impassioned letters about rock & roll and they always answered me.  It was my equivalent of the relationship between the Cameron Crowe character and Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, which, by the way, is, in my humble opinion, far & away the best movie EVER made about rock & roll. 

Teenage Rampage was born when the Service Merchandise store copy machine was moved from the front office to the warehouse because we had to make so many more copies: of purchase orders, bills of lading, packing slips, etc.  At some point we realized there was a way to turn the counter of the copier back one entire digit, i.e. we could make 300 copies but only 30 showed up on the counter.  Voila, I had a publishing empire.  (I can't tell you how many times our store manager of the time would comment, when he visited the warehouse to make front-office copies, "I can't understand how we're constantly out of copy paper when we're only making 100 copies."  My good friend to this day Rob and I would shrug our shoulders and make some non-committal comment.)

I'd type up the issues at home on the trusty Royal typewriter that my sainted Italian father (see blog entry Birthday Blog, June 30th, 2013) had brought home for me in the 1960's, when I developed an interest in typing, from the Columbia Gas Of Ohio warehouse where he worked.  (Is there ANY aspect of the creation of Teenage Rampage that does not include petty theft of office materials?)  I'd post a lookout outside the warehouse office and run off maybe a hundred copies at a time.  (Said lookout failed miserably at his job at least once during production of the mag when the store manager walked in on me while I had about 100 pages of issue two spread out all over the copy area.  I just threw some purchase order copies over the top of them and tried to gather them up as calmly and innocently as I could.  By luck, nothing came of it.  I could have gotten fired for that infraction and I needed that job.)

Teenage Rampage was named after The Sweet song of the same name - a song I had never actually heard at that time, English import that it was, but had read about in the pages of Bomp! magazine, Greg Shaw's vitally important & influential publication of the time.  Bomp! was my mid-1970's - post-Creem, pre-New York Rocker - rock & roll Bible.  It was Greg Shaw who put me in touch with the guys & girls from Back Door Man, as well as with Nancy Foster from the North Carolina 'zine New Age, who later provided me with some journalism & poetry for issue five of Teenage Rampage.  Greg Shaw really was one of the great early movers & shakers of the punk & New Wave scenes in America, and his inspiration & passion have gone largely unheralded & unsung.  I miss his writing to this day.  It's hard to convey in this time of smartphones, instagram & twitter, but in the mid-1970's the only way small pockets of rockers all over the United States had to communicate with, or indeed, to find one another was by writing letters or exchanging fanzines.  It was a different - and in some ways - a better and more innocent world back then.

The first couple of issues were double-sided broadsheets, 8-1/2 x 14 inches, stapled together back to back.  (With Service Merchandise staples, naturally.)  By issue three, after the close call with Management and by which time I actually had some subscribers and money coming in, we went to five-page 8-1/2 x 11 inch issues that I ran off at a local copy store that would cut me a break.  (Issue five was a whopping 10 pages.)

I had colleagues and associates on the paper, Allan Tinney and Cliff Phillips should be mentioned in particular, and guest writers like the aforementioned Nancy Foster and Lisa Baumgardner from Kent, Ohio, whom I first made the acquaintance of when I sent away for a Pere Ubu single in the mail.  (No Spotify, Dropbox or Rhapsody back in the day, you just sent away for 45's, and your friendly postman brought 'em to your door.)

Issues were distributed free all over the West Side wherever Focus magazine (the bane of my existence, the "official" Columbus rock weekly, which I saw as little more than an excuse for stereo store, car audio, apartment complex & campus bar ads, with a few "rock" stories thrown in) was available.  Teenage Rampage's motto was "We're freer than Focus," which I found very clever, if I do say so myself.  On Saturdays I would take the bus to campus (I didn't have a driver's license until 1978 when I was 25, but that's a whole other story for whole other blog) and leave issues at all the record stores there.  I'm not sure why, but I always left the mags very surreptitiously, I didn't want anybody to know I was connected with the fanzine.  There was just something about the anonymity that I liked.  I wanted the focus (pun intended) to be on the writing and the music, not personality. 

That anonymity led to my favorite story about the fanzine.  One day I was trolling the used-vinyl bins in Mole's Records, the almost insufferably hip record store above Bernie's Bagels.  The three too-cool-for-school employees were reading the latest issue of Teenage Rampage and arguing over the auteurs of said issue.  "It's gotta be Zero Watts from The Blades putting this out," one opined.  "No, it's that kid with the mohawk & leather jacket that's always yelling at hippies on the lines at McGuffey Lane shows at Zachariah's," stated The Captain, the bespectacled owner of the store.  As I stood there in my denim jacket, with my mustache & my long hair, I found myself thinking, "This must be exactly what it feels like to be invisible."

Those three people argued about the fanzine I created and edited for the entire 40 minutes I was in the store, and never took one moment's notice when they rang up my purchase, a used copy of "Pure Pop For Now People" by Nick Lowe that I bought for a buck, that I still pull out and listen to right up until today.

This is a small sampling of some pages from Teenage Rampage, issues five and six.  I still still have all of the original pages from those issues, in case anyone is interested in reading a complete edition.  (see below)  Issues two, three & four have been lost to the sands of time and rock & roll.  (Oddly, the only article in those three issues I have any clear memory of was one entitled "Disco-Shit and the Loss Of Virginity," that was largely concerned with and detailed the nocturnal expeditions of some of my female Service Merchandise co-workers to the local West Side disco - The Dixie Electric Company - and the truly sad & disheartening sexual encounters that grew out of those excursions.)  (And that article ran two full years before Saturday Night Fever was released to theaters.)

Bizarrely, I still have a few of the original xeroxed broadsheets of the first issue - on that old, filmy, waxy paper used in early copy machines.  The first six people who order hard copies of Teenage Rampage by mail will get one of those free.

I produced the final issue of the 'zine completely on my own in late January, the weekend after The Great Blizzard Of 1978, while snowed in at my Lincoln Park West apartment.  All along it had partly served as a way to find musicians for - and later to promote - the bands I had going at the time: The Survivors, The Strokes, Ricki & The West Side Rockers, New Action Ltd. and finally, The Twilight Kids, whose exploits are detailed in I Love Distortion.  Ultimately - in an admittedly sleeping with the enemy move - when Focus changed editors to an enormously charming, erudite & musically savvy woman named Kathy Reed, I wound up writing for them, realizing I could reach thousands more people in a weekly magazine with huge circulation than I could with a xeroxed fanzine.  As I've said many times in this blog, I wanted to be a rock & roll star, not a punk legend.

Looking back, I always thought of Teenage Rampage as a punk fanzine, but really it was more of a hard-rock or just plain rock & roll publication.  As much as I loved The Patti Smith Group, The Clash and Elvis Costello & the Attractions, I was certainly much more interested in Blue Oyster Cult and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in those years than I was art projects like The Sex Pistols or Talking Heads.  (Let alone jag-off hangers-on like The Weirdos or James White & the Contortions.)

I was just a West Side boy with access to a copy machine, looking for some good rock & roll.  (Much like I am today.)

(special thanks to reader/follower Christopher Stigliano for suggesting today's blog topic)

(for a critique of our little paper by England's New Musical Express back in 1978,
see blog entry, Rock & Roll Regrets, August 11th, 2013)

Teenage Rampage Issue & Format

© 2013 Ricki C.

(Teenage Rampage content © 1976, 1977, 1978)

Monday, November 25, 2013

I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in twelve chapters) - November

(I Love Distortion (a rock & roll novel in 12 chapters) appears monthly in
Growing Old With Rock & Roll; January to December, 2013)

I Love Distortion - chapter eleven

"You lead me to believe that you're the type of person
Who believes in full moons and my my ideas, diverse as they are;
The stupid majesty of electric guitars

I'm only funny in the comics / Reality is too tough"
- Nicole Page, 1978

November was the time when all the toy balloons that had kept The Twilight Kids aloft throughout the summer months began to pop, one by one.

We finally had to fire Jake the drummer.  Even more than not being able to meet the stylistic changes of the band (see I Love Distortion - October) he had started to turn up drunk for rehearsals and gigs.  I'm not contending I was any saint - I was certainly still drinking and smoking pot in 1978 - but I had band standards to maintain.  My bands weren't democracies, they were more like benevolent dictatorships.  I'd freely take suggestions from band members (and let's face facts: Nicole certainly had more input than Jake or Jeffrey Jay), but rules were rules.  There was no drinking or drugging at rehearsals and none before gigs.  Jake crossed that line about ten too many times, and he was out.

The same week Jake was cut loose, Billy Ray announced to the other members of Lovely & Sonic and to the road crew (which included me) that, as of January, the band would be changing its name to The Apartments and that he was taking over 100% of the lead vocals.  To that point, Billy Ray wrote 95% of the songs in Lovely & Sonic, but doled out lead vocal assignments to bass player Glen - who contributed the other 5% of originals, and sang maybe 30% of leads, with John the guitarist at about 10%.  Billy Ray sang the other two-thirds. 

Admittedly, The Great Lead Vocal Power-Grab made some musical sense.  The Sixties were certainly long- gone & over, and the idea of having one recognizable lead vocalist  held some commercial sway, but it also made Lovely & Sonic - who wore their lead-vocal diversity like a Badge Of Honor - impossibly more one-dimensional.  And by any standard, The Apartments was a pedestrian band name after the more lyrical Lovely & Sonic.      

"You were gonna be Carlene Carter
I was gonna be Nick Lowe
We reinvented ourselves
Our lives were gonna be the show"
- Sean Richter, 1990

At the same time we were scouting for a new drummer, the close-harmony country music family band that Nicole sang in with her parents and younger sister (see I Love Distortion - February) had a Thanksgiving weekend show scheduled  at the Southern Theater in downtown Columbus.  WMNI - Columbus' country station from the late 1950's through the 80's - broadcast from the penthouse of The Southern Hotel and the theater was situated just off the lobby.  The Southern Theater was renovated and restored to first-class venue status in 1998, but when Nicole and her family were booked there - opening for some long-forgotten mid-level nationally-known country act - it was a sadly dilapidated dump.  There were rats in the backstage hallways.  Nicole's dad and his bass player swear they killed one in the dressing room with some drum hardware, and I believed them.  Nicole, her mom and her sister changed into their stage outfits in the women's restroom in the lobby.  (It's very possible we played the last show in that theater before it was closed down by the city.)

The Thursday before the Saturday night gig, Nicole's dad's lead guitarist broke his hand during an altercation at The Little Nashville Club, a West Side country-music dive.  I guess I was a natural emergency substitute in the situation, but I certainly wasn't a natural fit with country music.  Willie Nelson was possibly the only country artist I had ever listened to.  Even Johnny Cash wasn't a contender in those long-ago 1970's pre-Rick Rubin resurgence days.

And Nicole's dad - Roger, by name - wasn't overly inclined to welcome the long-haired, rock & roll-playing, seven-years-older-than-his-daughter, married/fooling around guitarist into his rather sedate middle-aged combo, even for one night.  But he was in a bind, so I was in.  Roger and I got together an hour before the rest of the band convened on Friday night for the only rehearsal we would have before the show.  I had to learn an entire set of material in one night.  When I expressed my trepidation about that notion and about not being a country player, Roger said, "Well hell boy, it's country music.  It's just G to D, and D to G, and if you get lost, go to C and wait."  (Twelve years later, in 1990, I was stoned in my living room watching a Cleveland Browns game and used those three chords to write a country song about all of this stuff entitled "Are You Still Singing."  It still occasionally turns up in my live sets to this day.)

It turned our Roger and I bonded almost instantly over a shared love of Buddy Holly.  When we first pulled out our guitars to see if this musical pairing was even worth bothering with, I think we banged out seven Holly tunes in a row, while Nicole and her sister Beth stood in a corner, nervous smiles of relief on their faces.  Roger was taking little pulls off a glass of Jack Daniels that Nicole's mom, Jane, kept filled all through the hour as she bustled in and out of the basement rehearsal room.  I had met Jane only one time previously, months earlier, when she visited Nicole one day in the toy department at K-Mart and Nicole introduced us.  As I smiled and shook her hand that day it took her one long moment to place who I was - her engaged daughter's guitar-slinging married boyfriend.  She gave me a good long once-over, shook her head, looked at Nicole and said, "Oh, he is trouble, isn't he?"        

In that basement rehearsal room, over the next three hours we cobbled together a 45-minute set we could play the next night: songs that were standard to The Page Family set - Willie's "Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," Cash's "Ring Of Fire" (a killer duet rendition between Nicole's mom & dad) and Merle Haggard's "White Line Fever," a song I actually already knew from an old Flying Burritto Brothers album I'd been listening to since 1971.  Beth & Nicole put together a stunning a capella version of Carlene Carter's "Appalachian Eyes" that Roger had learned by ear and memorized after hearing it once at a Johnny Cash/Carter Family Revue show at the Ohio State Fair the previous summer.  It was beautiful, gorgeous, and effortless by Beth & Nicole, easily the high-point and centerpiece of the set.        

We also worked up a set-ending cover of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away" that Roger and I had had a ball playing before the band got there.  It was the only song of the set that kicked off with my guitar leading the way, and every time I started the song, Roger's drummer would just say, "It's just too damn fast, hoss," and refuse to come in on the backbeat.  After years of playing rock & roll and then shading into punk I just COULD NOT adjust myself to the rather somnambulistic country tempos.  At one point, even as I tried to slow down to the drummer's standards, he just simply put his sticks down on the snare and walked out of the basement rehearsal room.  Roger said, "You've got to slow it down, son, we can't afford to lose the drummer, too."  I looked at Nicole.  She said simply, "Slow it down, Sean.  For me."  And I was done.  (I got the drummer back, though, at the actual show by kicking the song off even faster than I had at rehearsal because I could tell he was too much of a professional to walk off the stage in the middle of the show, and I was right.  Man, we BLAZED through that tune.  He could barely keep up.)

"It's right and it's good
It's wrong and it's bad
But times are happier now
Than other times I've had"
- Nicole Page, 1978

Midway through the show I was standing in the wings watching Nicole and her little sister Beth doing their solo/duet star-turn on "Appalachian Eyes."  It was a song I wouldn't hear again for two years, when it was released on Carlene Carter's Musical Shapes record.  It was November 25th, 1978.  It was Nicole's 19th birthday.  It was the last time I would ever hear Nicole sing.

I was lost in the beauty of the harmonies, in the sheer crystalline shimmer of those voices intertwining, and in the sight of Nicole & Beth in the stage lights when Nicole's mom put her hand on my shoulder and said quietly, "Don't look at her that way, son."  "Oh, no, no, no, ma'am, it isn't like that," I stammered out, thinking that Nicole's mom thought I was looking merely lustfully upon her daughter, "I just love her so much."  "I know you do, son, I know you do," she replied, touching my cheek, turning my eyes to hers, away from the stage, "I'm just not sure you should."  

But I didn't hear what she said.  I was deaf as a Deadhead.  I didn't know it yet, but I was hanging by a thread.

© 2013 Ricki C.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lou Reed "The Day John Kennedy Died" (Bonus Video Friday)

I was 11 years old, in sixth grade at St. Aloysius grade school in Columbus, Ohio, on November 22nd, 1963.  We got the news about President John F. Kennedy being assassinated over the school PA system from the principal, a priest whose name I don't recall.  I remember the nun who taught sixth grade, whose name I also do not recall, crying at the news.  She didn't sob uncontrollably, I think she tried to keep it together for our sake, but she cried for a long time as she asked us to sit silently and pray for our first Catholic president, dead now in a hospital in Dallas, Texas.

There are things in this life that I know and things that I do not know.  I know that Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone in shooting President John F. Kennedy.  He just wasn't that good a marksman.  I do not know whether it was government officials or members of organized crime or just American corporate bosses who commissioned the shooting but I know that it was one - or some combination - of those three.  I used to wonder whether I would find out which organization was responsible in my lifetime.  I really don't wonder about that much anymore.  I don't have that much time left to wonder.  It's been 50 years today: either somebody's REALLY good at keeping secrets, or I'm just a Catholic boy, thinking about this all wrong, and first Lee Harvey Oswald, and then Jack Ruby, just got off a couple of incredibly lucky shots.

Either way, I got cheated out of a future with two terms of President John F. Kennedy and no President Richard M. Nixon. 

But then, would I have gotten The Beatles, and The Who, and The Velvet Underground?

There are things in this life that I know and things I do not know.

inspirational verse; "I dreamed I was the President of these United States /
I dreamed I replaced ignorance, stupidity and hate /
I dreamed a perfect union, and a perfect law undenied
Most of all I dreamed I forgot the day John Kennedy died." - Lou Reed, 1982 

R.I.P. John & Lou

© 2013 Ricki C.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shows I Saw In The 1960's, part three; The Jimi Hendrix Experience, 3/3/1968 and The Doors, 11/2/1968

This is the third (and final) installment of a series about my favorite 60's concerts.
Part one, Bob Dylan & the Hawks appeared May 3rd, 2012; part two, The Who, December 7, 2012.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience / Veteran's Memorial Auditorium / Sunday, March 3rd, 1968

I know the exact date of this show because sometime in the 2000's an old friend bought me a reproduction of the original poster advertising the show (see below).  It was a show that marked a lot of firsts for me: the first show I attended with Dave Blackburn, my best friend & bandmate who taught me more about music than any other person on the planet (see blog entry The Guitar / The Band / Dave Blackburn, February 12th, 2012) after we discovered our mutual love of The Who junior year of high-school; the first time I ever saw a Marshall amplifier, let alone the fucking WALL of Marshall amplifiers that Hendrix and bass player Noel Redding employed; the first time us Kids From The 60's called a live performance a concert instead of it being a rock & roll show.

Seeing Jimi Hendrix live really was astounding.  It was everything live rock & roll should embody.  First off, it was overpoweringly, scary, great LOUD.   And Hendrix put on a SHOW - playing his white Stratocaster behind his back, with his teeth, humping said Marshall stacks with said Fender - pretty much all the things he did in the Monterey Pop film, only for an hour instead of the few minutes he was in the movie.  He was certainly lewd & lascivious (I'm not sure my little Catholic-boy brain had fully processed exactly what "Let me stand next to your fire" entailed before that night), but simultaneously really FUNNY.  At one point in the show, somehow - by some sonic freak of nature - Hendrix's Wall Of Marshalls starting picking up WCOL-AM, the local Top 40 radio station, while The First Edition's "Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In" was playing.  (In retrospect, I don't think I've ever heard Jimi Hendrix and Kenny Rogers in such close proximity ever again in the intervening time.)  Jimi turned the master amp volume WAY up so the audience could hear the Rogers' tune, played along with it for about a minute, said, "Ooooo, psychedelic music," and launched into a blistering take on "Foxy Lady," all without missing a beat.  It was hilarious.  It was classic.  I remember it like it was yesterday, and it was 45 years ago.

I don't remember everything The Experience played.  I think they did the large majority of the first album.  I know they played "Red House," a song I had never heard, the song that Hit Parader magazine informed me had been left off the American version of Are You Experienced.  I know Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were truly great and Mitchell was probably the best drummer I had ever witnessed, until the next year, November 1969, when I saw Keith Moon with The Who.  I know it was one of the greatest live shows I ever saw.  I know it was one of the shows that ruined me for much of 1970's lunkhead rock & roll.  How was I supposed to take fucking Bachman-Turner Overdrive or Montrose or REO Speedwagon seriously?  I had seen JIMI HENDRIX play the guitar live. 

I know that whenever I see a clip of Hendrix - however brief - it always brings back that feeling in the pit of my stomach that only 60's rock & roll concerts gave me: when everything was new; when everybody played like their lives depended on it (and for Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin, it turned out they pretty much did); when people played music like you had never heard it, when people stalked stages like you had never seen, when you had your whole life laid out in front of you and everything was going to be fabulous from that night onward.

The Doors / Veteran's Memorial Auditorium / Saturday, November 2nd, 1968

The first time I read Jerry Hopkins & Danny Sugerman's Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive back when it was published in 1980, I came across the following sentence, "The concerts in Milwaukee and Columbus on the 1st and 2nd (of November) were ordinary."  I was at the concert in Columbus on November 2nd.  After police stopped the show during the set-ending "Light My Fire" and ordered the crowd to disperse, the audience refused to leave the auditorium for 45 minutes and subsequently began ripping up & setting fire to the seats in Veteran's Memorial.  I'm not sure what constituted an "ordinary" show to Sugerman in sunny Los Angeles, but in Columbus, Ohio, this was not your everyday rock & roll show.

The Doors opened with "Tell All The People" that wouldn't be released until The Soft Parade album in July of 1969.  That was another great thing about 60's live concerts, there were no rules & regulations.  Bands weren't required to start the show with the first cut off their newest release.  Everything wasn't pre-programmed to match up with the lighting cues or the backing samples.  The band actually played and sang all the instruments and vocals in the songs.  Imagine that in this 21st century of Kanye, Lady Gaga, or even U-2.

The Doors' entire live show teetered on the brink of disaster at almost any and every given moment.  Songs got shortened, songs got wildly elongated; not only did instrumental solos by Ray Manzarek on organ and Robbie Krieger on guitar get improvised, Jim Morrison improvised entire verses & choruses.  I'm not sure there were more than four or five songs where Morrison sang the original lyrics.  And through it all John Densmore sat above, pounding out the beat, keeping it all together.

I'm not sure how to convey to you today in 2013 how simultaneously shambolic and truly transcendent the Doors show was at every turn.  Forget set lists: Densmore would hop off the drum riser and the band would huddle-up by Manzarek's keyboards every three or four songs to hash out (no pun intended) what they were going to play next.  And these weren't polite NFL huddles where the quarterback barks out plays and everybody snaps into formation, this was four guys talking, yelling & gesticulating until the next part of the set took some kind of shape.

Anything could happen.  Jim Morrison would sit down on the edge of the stage and start reciting poetry, sometimes with the mic, sometimes just yelling through his hands.  And then the band would fall in behind him and improvise a tune like they'd rehearsed it dozens of times.  Other times they'd just sit out and watch him recite for as long as the words & muse moved him.  Morrison would dance around like a shaman during the solos, or just simply walk off into the wings and leave the stage to the three instrumentalists.  Ray Manzarek did at least two lead vocals that I can remember.

And let's make one fact abundantly clear: I am a happily-married, heterosexual, working-class Ohio boy, but goddamn, that November night Jim Morrison was the most gorgeous man I have ever seen IN MY LIFE.

I know the band played "Five To One."  They played both "The End" and "When The Music's Over."  They played all of "Celebration Of The Lizard," along with all the pop hits - "People Are Strange," "Love Me Two Times," "Hello, I Love You."  They played "Break On Through," and "Back Door Man."  I can't even picture how long they were onstage, it was a LONG fucking set.  The show in Columbus took place well after the infamous New Haven, Connecticut, show where Morrison got busted onstage for bad-mouthing the cops after they maced him backstage.  By time The Doors crashed into a set-closing "Light My Fire," Columbus policemen had started to gather at the sides of the stage, near the PA speakers.  The entire set had been liberally sprinkled with profanities, let alone just flat-out provocations, you could FEEL the tension in the air.

But when Morrison strolled up to the mic at the end of the "Fire" solos - at the point where Robbie Krieger did the "duh-duh-duh-DUH-uh, duh-duh-duh-DUH-uh" guitar figure - and started YELLING "Fuck, fuck, fuck, Fu-uck, Fuck, fuck, fuck, fu-uck" you could tell all hell was going to break loose.  The cops initially just looked at one another nervously, like they were trying to figure out what they were supposed to do, how this was supposed to be handled.  Finally, after the band had moved into the last verse of the song, someone in authority made the decision to just close the curtains and end the show.  Before they were fully closed though, Morrison & Krieger scooted to the front of the stage, in front of the curtain, and kept singing & playing, with Manzarek & Densmore somewhere behind them, out of sight.

At that point the fire curtain - a weighted, heavily-padded piece of fabric designed to prevent a fire spreading from the stage to the auditorium - was dropped from the ceiling into the orchestra pit, cutting all of The Doors from the audience's view.  But they still kept playing.  Thirty seconds later all the red lights on the PA in the wings of the stage blinked out as power was cut to the speakers.  But John Densmore just kept pounding away, completely out of sight behind the regular and fire curtains.  About a minute later that tribal drumbeat ceased when, I would imagine, someone either took the sticks away from Densmore or toppled him off the drum riser.

This entire time the audience was on its feet, shouting and going nuts at the performance.  The termination of Densmore's beat brought a chorus of boos & derision from the crowd and when a burly cop groped his way out from under the fire curtain and announced to the assembled multitude, "The show's over!  It's over!  You kids go home!" his pronouncement was met with a hail of anything the audience could find to throw - plastic cups, pens, coins, hats, gloves (it was November), etc.  This all went on for almost 45 minutes and I don't think I saw more than 20 or 30 people leave the auditorium.

My dad - who got me into all of those rock shows (see blog entry Birthday Blog, June 30th, 2013) - came to check on Dave and I at one point, but he and his fellow Central Ticket Office employees had their hands full trying to secure the box office from being overrun with pissed-off concert-goers.  I convinced him we were fine and he went back to work.  Two rows up from us, people had started to tear up the Veteran's Memorial seats and set fire to them.  Cops rushed over and put them out, but it was all they could do to keep all the small fires doused.  Light my fire, indeed.  It was pandemonium.

Finally, when it became painfully clear that NOBODY in the chanting, booing, out-of-control crowd was leaving Vet's, and that the outnumbered police in the venue had no chance of clearing the auditorium, the fire curtain was raised, the PA lights winked back on, the stage curtain parted and The Doors blasted back into "Light My Fire" AT THE EXACT SAME NOTE WHERE THEY HAD BEEN FORCED TO STOP THE FIRST TIME!  It was simultaneously the coolest, cleverest and greatest display of rock & roll stagecraft and mayhem I have witnessed in my 61 years on the planet.

Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison, God bless you wherever you are tonight.

© 2013 Ricki C.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Of Nuns I Knew in High School, Poetry & Journalism, the New York album, and the President of Czechoslovakia: Further Thoughts On Lou Reed

"I'm a journalist, I ain't no poet
People say, "Ricki, you've got limitations."
I say, "Baby, don't I know it."
- from "I Still Play The Rock & Roll" Ricki C., 2002

I wrote the lyrics quoted above while listening to a cassette tape or a CD (I forget which) by my good friend Don Nelson, who is indeed a poet singer/songwriter.  Don and, by extension, many other singer/songwriters (Elliott Murphy comes immediately to mind, in this case) are poets by nature, and come to music that way.  I'm not saying those people sing poetry.  I know the difference between song lyrics and a poem.  I'm saying they have the hearts of poets and I'm saying - for better or worse - I do not have the heart of a poet, I have the brain of a journalist.

I attended a Catholic high school in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1960's - Bishop Ready, by name.  (It's pronounced "reedy-y," by the way, just like Lou, not "ready," as in, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. Demille.")  My journalism teacher junior & senior years was Sister Ann Mary ("Sam" for short) and along with my junior year English teacher, Sister Paula Clare, they formed the writer I am today.

The reason I ran my initial Lou Reed piece last Monday was because Sam constantly drummed into my impressionable teenage brain, "News is news!  Write it!  You don't always have time to think about it or reflect on it.  Write it!  Write it!  Write it!  It's news!  Get it out there!  You can write an op-ed piece about it later on, when you've had time to rest and consider, but RIGHT NOW it's news!  Write it!"  (I think this is the reason Nick Lowe's production credo for the early Elvis Costello & The Attractions albums - "Bash it down and we'll tart it up later." - appealed to me so strongly, and resonates with me to this day.)

Now that we're into the Sister Paula Clare area of literary rest & reflection period, I can settle down and spread out with some ideas.  (Sister Paula Clare, by the way, gave my best friend Dave Blackburn and I Joseph Heller's "Catch 22,"  J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher In The Rye," and found me a copy of Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Last Exit To Brooklyn" to read after Lou Reed mentioned it in a Velvet Underground interview in Hit Parader magazine, my rock & roll Bible of that time.  And if you think books like those were being routinely handed out by nuns to students in Catholic schools in 1968 you'd best think again, mojumbo.)

Sister Ann Mary, Sister Paula Clare: thank you for everything you gave to me.

I was listening to Lou's 1990 New York album in the shower this morning and was struck again, as I have been so many times in the past 23 years, at how perfect a blend of poetry and journalism it is.  I remember clueless rock critics at the time putting the record down for its journalistic slant, asking how Reed thought it was possibly going to stand the test of time - as if lyrics like "The perfume burns his eyes / Holding tightly to her thighs / And then something flickered for a minute / And then it vanished and was gone" from lead-off track "Romeo Had Juliette" were ever gonna lose their resonance or relevance and go out of style.  I've read 700-page novels that don't say as much as Lou Reed does in the 3:09 running time of "Romeo Had Juliette."

I acknowledge full Saturday Night Live Weekend Update Drunk Uncle mode here: but Mumford & Sons kids, Arcade Fire kids, Lumineers kids, I would just ask you to go to Rhapsody or Spotify or Dropbox or Pitchfork or wherever Rock Children go for music these days and listen to "Romeo Had Juliette" from New York, "Work" from Songs For Drella, and "Dreamin'" from Magic and Loss, and then tell me everything you know about the power of rock & roll music. 

There was a piece published in 1991's Between Thought And Expression: Selected Lyrics of Lou Reed entitled "To Do the Right Thing" that Reed originally wrote for Musician magazine in 1990.  It was about his visit to Prague and his meeting with Czechoslovakian president Vaclav Havel, who was once jailed as a dissident and later became president of his country.  (Much like Nelson Mandela in South Africa.)  I'm not sure how easy that book or essay would be to find in these 21st century days, but you really should try to track it down, it's simply transcendent poetic journalism.

© 2013 Ricki C.