Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sex, Drugs, & Rock n' Roll, Part 3: Music of the '60s

I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that the music of the 1960s was better than any other decade, past or future. I'm sure some will disagree with me; I've got two good friends that go back and forth on Facebook sharing contemporary music pretty much every day; but then again, they are younger than I am.

Since I live in Mexico, it is pretty rare for me to even be exposed to much in the way of contemporary music that is not Latino. And I don't care. I've got drawers full of hundreds of CDs - most of them from the 60s. Why would I need anything else?

Here's the deal - contemporary music, even though it may be quite good, is only music. I can listen to it; I can sing with it; I can dance to it, but that's it. The music of the 1960s, though, is just as much memory as it is music.

Hearing the songs of the 1960s is like running into an old friend that I haven't seen for many years. I still remember the words to so many of them; how can that be? I was never a singer, never part of a band.

When I hear an old familiar song, I am immediately transported back forty to fifty years. And the songs bring with them other memories of my life in those days. The songs are tied to the memories of what was important in my life when that song was important to me.

Boomer Bands

Living here in Mexico, surrounded by active retirees, gringo bands made up of baby boomers can be found wherever gringo retirees are living. Many of them are very talented. Others are just OK, but as long as they play the old familiar songs from the 1960s, they draw a large crowd.

Quite a few of my high school friends and classmates play in bands. I don't really know, but I suspect they had "real jobs" for most of their adult lives and can now afford to indulge in their musical dreams.

When I first arrived here eight years ago and was remodeling the house I had purchased, I was surprised to discover that the young workers on the job listened to a 60s rock station as they worked. They didn't even speak English!

Even some of the Mexican bands are catching on to the eternal popularity of music from the 60s. They might not speak English, but they know the words to those songs pretty well. Of course, so do their gringo and Mexican audiences.

And when I was living in Japan, I sometimes passed a young Japanese man playing and singing in the streets in Kyoto for tips. I never heard him play anything but Eric Clapton, and he was pretty good. Finally I was there one night when he took a break so I tried to talk to him. It turned out the the only English he knew was the words to the songs he sang. I don't even know if he understood them.

My Memories

The first record I ever owned was Soldier Boy by the Shirelles. It was 1962 and I was ten years old; I received it as a gift with my first record player. I played it over and over again. I don't remember any complaints, but my family must have hated that song after a while.

I was twelve when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Many of my sixth grade memories - and many others for years and years to come - are tied to Beatles songs. She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand immediately transport me to right outside my sixth grade classroom.

But I am a California girl, so the Beach Boys were always there, too. I loved that they sang about things that were familiar to my life; I went to the beach every chance I got. It seemed to me like there was always a competition between the Beatles and the Beach Boys; was it only in my mind? If I'd had to choose back then, it would have to have been the Beach Boys because they were writing about my home and my life. Even now, when I listen to Surfer Girl, I am sitting in the back seat of my parents car riding along the Pacific Coast Highway and watching the surfers out in the water.

I once had a big stuffed snake that I won at the Teenage Fair in Hollywood. I named it Sam the Sham. One night I awoke to my mother pounding on my locked bedroom door, trying to wake me. Sam was falling off the end of my bed, his tail was touching my space heater, he was smouldering with lots of smoke, and I was coughing and coughing. So whenever I hear Wooly Bully, I flash back to the night Sam the Sham tried to kill me.

A few years later, I got a little wilder. I loved If You're going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair). In fact, I loved everything about San Francisco. I wanted so badly to go there and be a part of the hippy culture that was going on there. When my parents announced that our 1968 vacation was going to be a drive north to San Francisco, I was in 7th heaven. After the long drive from near Los Angeles, we finally made it; we were right there at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets. But Dad kept on going; he didn't even try to find a parking place. I don't know if I ever really forgave him for taking me so close to where I wanted to be and refusing to stop. And that whole incident comes back whenever I hear the song.

In 1969 I turned 18, but earlier that summer, when I was still 17, my brother and I attended the Newport Pop Festival at Devonshire Downs in Northridge, California. This was pre-Woodstock, and it was the closest I was ever going to get to Woodstock. We attended the first of three nights of the festival. We found a spot pretty close to the stage and sat on the ground to watch the best concert we'd ever seen in our lives. I have a bit of memory of seeing Joe Cocker and Taj Mahal (among others) but the highlight, by far, was Jimi Hendrix. There were complaints later about the quality of his performance, but to me, sitting there on the ground and looking up at him on the stage above me, it just didn't seem possible. We thought the whole event was wonderful. We went in, found a place to sit, enjoyed the concert, filed out with the crowd, found our car, and slowly inched our way to the freeway to drive home. We could talk about nothing but how wonderful it all was all the way home and couldn't wait to tell out parents about it. When we walked in the door, they acted almost like we were back from the dead. It was all over the news about a terrible riot with people breaking down the fences and the Hells Angels who were the security guards for the event beating people up. Our parents didn't know if we would even come home, but we didn't even know anything about the riot. We were up close to the stage and the riot was way in the back. We had a great time!

Do You Have Song-Related Memories?

I have a long list of "memory songs" that I could write about, but I don't want to bore you with my memories.  You must have your own; I can't imagine it any other way.  So put on some of your old favorites and see where they take you.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the memories! I even recall "Soldier Boy" from way back there in the dim dark past. When I got Sirius XM radio in my car, I started out listening to the '60s channel all the time. But you know what? Pretty soon I got tired of them. I've found that those old songs have to be parceled out carefully, and not too often, so that they keep that old magic power.