This time next month, it will be Patriots pre-season!
There was a weekend during the Summer of 1968, walking along one of the streets on the back side of Beacon Hill, when it seemed like everybody was playing the new Big Brother And The Holding Company album. You couldn't go more than twenty feet without hearing "Piece Of My Heart" or "Ball And Chain" coming from an open apartment window. The summer before, you would have been hearing the Red Sox game during their "Impossible Dream" season, but this summer, back in the time when nobody on that part of The Hill had an air conditioner in the window, it just seemed like everyone discovered Janis Joplin at the same time.
The West Coast had discovered Janis the year before at the Monterey Pop Music Festival, but it took a year for the word to spread, and for a major record label like Columbia to put their advertising support behind the group, creating a national audience and making it possible for them to tour behind the release of the album. All of a sudden, it was in the Summer air, everywhere.
So I bought my copy of the album for $2.79 at The Harvard Coop on Saturday, and immediately put it into constant rotation on our KLH stereo all weekend long.
Janis' story has become so trite and cliche over the years - the Jack Daniels, the outrageous outfits - that those generations who never had the opportunity to see her live in concert have no idea what they missed. Before her depression and substance abuse killed her, she was totally in control of her music and her performances.
Here she is at her peak. Mama Cass' reaction perfectly captures the moment.
I recall that it was a blustery, cold Halloween night in 1969 when we went to see The Band in concert. We'd toked up pretty good inside a friend's car, in a parking spot we'd miraculously found on Saint Stephen Street, directly behind Symphony Hall. Normally we would have taken the Red Line then the Green Line to Symphony Hall from our Beacon Hill apartment, but I guess whoever we went to the concert with had wheels, and we were happy not to have to stand outside and smoke in the cold. Second-hand smoke under these circumstances is a good thing.
The concert at Symphony Hall that night was The Band, touring behind their second album. The surprise, unbilled opening act was Van Morrison, who was living on the other side of the river in Cambridge at the time and who I don't think we'd ever heard of. I believe the ticket price was $5.00, which was a lot of money in those days, considering the fact that I was making $1.25 per hour at my job at The Book Clearing House on Boylston Street. (Gail supplemented our income with her job at Harvard Divinity School.) The monthly rent for our apartment was $100, and we were living large enough to take a two-week vacation in England that year, which included a stop at the Isle Of Wight festival. We didn't have to worry about where our next smoke would come from, and we always seemed to have a little money left over each month at Suffolk Franklin Bank. (We paid for that UK vacation in advance, in cash.) Good times indeed.
What immediately caught our attention inside Symphony Hall once we'd found our seats (stage right with an excellent view down to the stage) was the massive array of speakers and other assorted sound equipment deployed on the stage, and what are now called "sound technicians" (we called all non-band members of rock groups "roadies" or "groupies") scurrying about, communicating with the engineer at the sound board in the back of the hall, getting the sound levels just right. We had never before seen such attention to detail at a concert; we soon discovered why it was all so important, and how The Band was different from all the other live performers we had seen up to this point.
Van Morrison was introduced by Robbie Robertson, and proceeded to play very strong set, considering that he was completely blotto. A bottle of Jack Daniels sat precariously on top of one of the Marshall speakers, and I suspect alcohol was not the only agent in his system that night. As loud as the sound was - and the sound at rock concerts back then (as now) was loud - it was crisp, clear, and just about perfect (except for the slurred lyrics on Van's part). "Into The Mystic" blew our minds.
Van ended his set passed out on the stage. On the Queen's birthday in 2015, he became "Sir Van". And so it goes...
As for the Band, their set was astonishing. Every note sounded just like it did on their albums. We had never before experienced that kind of precision and absolutely perfect renderings of music that we were intimately familiar with from countless listenings on vinyl, and through reasonably good stereo speakers, given the state of home audio technology in the 1960s. (Now of course, everything sounds incredible right through the headphones attached to your phone.)
But then, we had no reason expect to hear the lyrics sung clearly and balanced with the instruments. Part of it can be attributed to the marvelous acoustics of Symphony Hall, of course, but most of it was accomplished through the sophisticated application of technology and a commitment to excellence on the part of the artists, as well as pride in this amazing body of work they had created.
It was a magical evening.
I think that my Facebook friend Dick McDonough would especially enjoy this exhibition in at The Skirball Gallery in Los Angeles. I wish I could invent a reason to visit the Left Coast myself, just to see it. Graham was a very important figure in the production and promotion of live rock and roll concerts in San Francisco and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibition also focuses on Graham's life, as a child refugee from The Holocaust (his parents didn't make it out), and as an inspirational American success story. Business people hated him and the artists he promoted loved him. So did his customers.