Friday, July 6, 2012

"A Perfect Haze" (~Monterey Pop Festival): Book Review

What if rock and roll was taken as seriously as jazz? Paul McCartney, at Cass Elliot's house in 1967, discussed this with The Mamas and the Papas' John and Michelle Phillips, and their manager Lou Adler. A few nights later, this shifted into what became the first mass concert, over three June days in The Summer of Love, that raised funds for charity. This carefully documented, well-illustrated history, interspersed with reminiscences from musicians, participants, planners, and fans, brings this festival into the spotlight, where often it has been overshadowed by the far-more hyped and arguably less-successful Woodstock. Editors Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik note that Monterey Pop as a non-profit enterprise generates music scholarships, academic endowments, and healthcare for musicians over forty-four years and counting.

Guided by Beatles publicist Derek Taylor and Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham, and supervised by a "board of governors" listing McCartney, Adler, John Phillips, Mick Jagger, Terry Melcher, Johnny Rivers, Smokey Robinson, Paul Simon, Donovan, and Brian Wilson, their combined clout meant that they could invite the best in the business to perform--for no profit but guaranteed first-class expenses. Taylor wryly noted in the concert's program: "Entertainers who have starved and become rich are forever haunted by guilt."

This convinced many top-drawing touring acts. Given the reclusive Beatles were recording, and The Rolling Stones were recuperating from four years on the road, Lou Adler's harmonious quartet proved that era's most successful concert draw, so they would close the festival. Capped by Friday-night anchor Simon & Garfunkel and Saturday night's Otis Redding (after the Beach Boys retreated), a total of thirty performers filled the line-up.

The concert promoted hitmakers from Los Angeles, alongside folkies, Chicago bluesmen, and underground San Francisco bands. Janis Joplin earned so much attention that she and Big Brother played twice. It bloomed into an "international pop festival" by including Ravi Shankar, Hugh Masekela, Eric Burdon, The Who and then-Swinging London-emerging sensation Jimi Hendrix, all to a California central coastal audience. This narrative, and often orally transcribed, history follows the concert from planning to promotion to production, and reads as if the script of a generously funded documentary, moving efficiently while showing visual elements and musical summaries that invite one to seek out the first rock concert film, D.A. Pennebaker's "Monterey Pop" (1968), or the four-CD Rhino Records (1997) box set of the music, to accompany the pages and photos.

Pennebaker sums up Lou Adler's genius: "Get rid of the money." Once the musicians and promoters had discarded profit as the goal, egos and clashes appeared less of a difficulty, although a few interviewed here confess to witnessing or precipitating their own "trips"; Owsley Stanley, "Bear" to Deadheads, distributed a "Monterey purple" strain of LSD designed, he notes, not to induce a "purple haze" but perfect clarity. Many took advantage. David Crosby played his last show as a Byrd while ranting about the Kennedy assassination. He featured on his guitar a giant STP sticker in homage to another Owsley-concocted brand-name. He then ruined Buffalo Springfield's appearance in his debut, replacing Neil Young who had quit a week before in jitters.

Many attest to nervousness onstage. Pennebaker's efforts to capture the atmosphere cannot have been helped by lighting director Chip Monck's lysergic condition, for all he registered as a color, he testifies, was red. Pennebaker was told by Janis Joplin's then-manager to aim the camera at the ground when Big Brother stunned the crowd during their scheduled performance, Saturday afternoon. He tried, cowed by goons, but he caught enough to convince the singer and her band to come back and play the next night. They became stars.

The Who would trash their equipment, and Jimi, who won the coin toss with Pete Townshend, would follow with lighting his guitar on fire after seducing, or assaulting, it.  Ravi Shankar left after The Who: "My feelings were hurt deeply, as well as my respect for music and the instruments. We ran away from the festival." Roger Daltrey counters--after noting how Hendrix copied a lot of his Monterey stage act from Townshend, adding to it "genius" and not only musical but theatrical inspiration--how his band was hustled away. "We reminded them how the world was in a shit state, that it wasn't peace and love at all [laughs]."

Part of the appeal of this book is finding out about the less-heralded moments. Mike Bloomfield tells of his band The Electric Flag: "Probably the biggest gig we ever played. And we played rotten, man, I ain't jiving you. We really sounded lousy. And the people loved it. And I could see--oh my God, the hype, the image, the shuck, the jive."

Laura Nyro left in tears, in a black evening gown dress out of place among patchouli and paisley, thinking she'd been booed off stage. Near her death decades later, Adler and Pennebaker working on a DVD of the concert found out that she had not. Tape analysis verified what sounded like "boo" was "beautiful."   

Stoned, a young gatecrasher brought to Monterey by her pals with no preparation or foreknowledge looks for help. After a weekend of pot and acid and backstage passes, wandering around, Djinn Ruffner meets Buffalo Springfield's Dewey Martin. He finds a place for her to be safe, and he arranges for her a ride back down the coast with "Papa Denny and Mama Cass."

Coming down from the Bay Area, another girl, a high school junior, scores tickets for Ravi Shankar, whom she had never heard of. Barbara Versino knew about the sitar, thanks to the Beatles. Free of drugs, she heard the ragas enter her soul as Shankar and his musicians "transported" her. She recalls how that music, that day, expanded far beyond her expectations of what rock alone could do. "To this day I can remember what I wore: a green dress that I bought at Cost Plus, sandals from India import, a white knitted shawl, and a string of blue glass beads. I didn't bring a jacket with me. On the way home, we were all quiet and the car radio played the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life.'"

Monterey's local music store owner, Mike Marotta, had to supply the sound gear (amplifiers, keyboards, drums), and some musicians absconded with the backline, which was replaced after each act and nobody kept track. The leaders of this small city, a military-dominated and tony resort, were charmed by a polite delegation of A&R Hollywood types before the event. It raised money, nobody died, and the city council approved a show that was booked for the next summer. No follow-up occurred; by June 1968, a violent summer of a revolutionary year replaced the mellower ambiance beyond the peaceful county fairground site.

Still, as curator Marisa Mercado notes accurately, the notoriety of the counterculture left its municipal mark. A few stayed, as the Bay Area's vibrations reverberated and then faded. "Hippies became homeowners. In the end, Monterey solidified as that charming tourist town that people love to visit, but can't afford to live in." (Shorter, rewritten version to Amazon US 11-14-11; as above, featured on PopMatters 11-21-11)


Mike Maginot said...

Sounds like I should have a copy of this book sitting next to my copy of The Complete Monterey Pop Festival DVD. I should point out that there were other rock concert films before Monterey Pop, notably T.A.M.I. Show, featuring everyone from Chuck Berry to The Rolling Stones. It was shot Oct. 29, 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Fionnchú said...

Mike, this is handsomely produced, and pages of the original program reproduced, with Oldham's hippie-jive ramblings, add to the period charm. I have the 4-CD set issued a while ago on Rhino, and despite or because of my annoyance with David Crosby, I'd be interested if the film captures his own lysergic rants on stage! You are right about the TAMI show--that is not mentioned by the authors here. Interesting, however, how the Beatles and Stones that summer were so involved in its support--even though they had projects of their own. For allusions to both, see my next blog entry, "Swingeing London 67"!