As last week’s epically embarrassing “James Taylor” fiasco demonstrated, the Western establishment acts like the Sixties never ended.
All that “peace and love,” “soixant-huitard” stuff comprised but a slender slice of the 1960s, and much of that was bogus, a cynical scam that ruined millions of lives.
“OK,” some of you have said in the comments, “but at least that decade had a hell of a soundtrack!”
Yeah, about that…
This is going to break your heart, but much of the music you heard in the ’60s and early ’70s wasn’t recorded by the people you saw on the album covers. It was done by me and the musicians you see on these walls. … Many of these kids didn’t have the chops and were little more than garage bands. … At concerts, people hear with their eyes. Teens cut groups slack in concert, but not when they bought their records.
That was “Wrecking Crew” drummer Hal Blaine, speaking to the Wall Street Journal in 2011.
Bruce Gary of The Knack once said he was disappointed to find out that 10 of his favorite drummers were Hal Blaine.
As a fledgling band, the Byrds had any number of problems. The first and most obvious was that the band’s members did not own any musical instruments. (…) But that didn’t solve a bigger problem, which was that the band’s members, with the exception of Jim (later Roger) McGuinn, didn’t have a clue as to how to actually play the instruments.
[David] Crosby himself admitted, in his first autobiography (does anyone really need to write more than one autobiography, by the way?), that “Roger was the only one who could really play.” (…)
Carl Franzoni perhaps summed it up best when he declared that “the Byrds records were manufactured.” The first album in particular was an entirely engineered affair created by taking a collection of songs by outside songwriters and having them performed by a group of nameless studio musicians (for the record, the actual musicians were Glen Campbell – yes, that Glen Campbell, who also briefly served as a Beach Boy – on guitar, Hal Blaine on drums, Larry Knechtel on bass, Leon Russell on electric piano, and Jerry Cole on rhythm guitar), after which the band’s trademark vocal harmonies, entirely a studio creation, were added to the mix.
Speaking of The Monkees, it’s not true that Charles Manson auditioned for the “group.”
(Monkee Micky Dolenz started that rumor as a gag, as he reminds folks here.)
However, it is true that some of the biggest names in “Laurel Canyon” music did, and went on to party and collaborate with this “fake” group throughout the Sixties, treating them as equals.
And it’s also true, although they’ve been trying to cover this up for years, that another key figure on the Laurel Canyon scene was… Charles Manson.
Record producer (and previous resident of Sharon Tate’s Cielo Drive house) Terry Melcher recalled, “I’d have to say that, personally speaking, [David] Crosby was worse for the good feelings of [the local] rock’n’roll [scene] than Manson was.”
In fact, Manson might have been a more talented musician than Crosby and some of the ones who “played” in groups like the Mamas and the Papas, the Doors and other iconic bands of the era.
After a while, a guy showed up, picked up my guitar, and started playing a lot of songs on it. His name was Charlie. He was a friend of the girls and now of Dennis [Wilson of the Beach Boys]. His songs were off-the-cuff things he made up as he went along, and they were never the same twice in a row. Kind of like Dylan, but different because it was hard to glimpse a true message in them, but the songs were fascinating. He was quite good.
I asked him if he had a recording contract. He told me he didn’t yet, but he wanted to make records. I told Mo Ostin at Reprise about him, and recommended that Reprise check him out…
By the way: speaking of Young — his group Buffalo Springfield’s most famous “protest” song, “For What It’s Worth,” isn’t about the Vietnam War or anything so serious.
It’s about the “riot on Sunset Strip,” when the truncheon-wielding cops enforced a curfew on clubs where Young’s fellow musicians and other Boomers played, got high and cruised for (underage) girls.
But why would all these “peace and love” lefties hang out with an obvious loon like Manson, with whom they couldn’t possibly have anything in common?
Besides, that is, a taste for underage girls. The Beach Boys were notoriously fond of the “jailbait” flooding California at the suggestion of the allegedly incestuous “Papa” John Philips, who penned “the insipid song known as ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).’ (…) Along with the Monterrey Pop Festival [which he co-founded with Terry Melcher], the song will be instrumental in luring the disenfranchised (a preponderance of whom are underage runaways) to San Francisco to create the Haight-Asbury phenomenon and the famed 1967 ‘Summer of Love.'”
And a gnostic self-image as elite instigators of an apocalyptic civil war.
Manson’s hope — that “the Black man” would rise up and kill (other) white people, leaving the hippie/leftist elite untouched and, conveniently, in control — was so integral to the era’s lefty worldview that it was spoofed on a bestselling National Lampoon album, by a singer imitating mainstream Quaker folkie Joan Baez (below, language warning).
This two-part series barely scratches the surface of what Gary Lachman calls “the dark side of the Age of Aquarius,” of which his book Turn Off Your Mind provides a compulsively readable compendium.
And you don’t have to buy into David McGowan’s dubious conspiracy theories about “CIA covert ops” to find his Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon a compelling and convincing read.
For much of the book, he simply quotes major players in music and politics, allowing them to damn themselves.
It wasn’t an altogether pleasant process.
As McGowan admits:
[A]s I have probably mentioned previously on more than one occasion, one of the most difficult aspects of this journey that I have been on for the last decade or so has been watching so many of my former idols and mentors fall by the wayside as it became increasingly clear to me that people who I once thought were the good guys were, in reality, something entirely different than what they appear to be. (…)
And when those revered figures are overwhelmingly viewed as icons of various leftist causes, it is definitely not the way to win fans among those who consider themselves to be liberals, progressives or leftists. But while my sympathies lie solidly in the leftward flanks of the political spectrum, there are no sacred cows in this book…