The bluffer's guide to boomer music
Listen, here's the deal: the Sixties have been strip-mined. The fables, the fashions, the stupid, fun stuff, the music -- all of it. Especially the music.
But some eras just won't take a break -- and won't give you one, either. Take a look at Ottawa's concert line-up this fall -- Peter, Paul & Mary, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond. A parade of Sixties relics, and this on the heels of Art Garfunkel last weekend and the Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt show in September.
But it's not just the concerts, there's no escaping Sixties music. It's the soundtrack to every major movie, and the constant theme in TV commercials. What gets people up and dancing at weddings? Stuff from the Sixties. Lately, it's even being played at memorial services for Boomers who did die before they got old.
For those who aren't Boomers -- God's Chosen Generation -- here's a bluffer's guide to see you through the next few weeks.
Oct. 30, Corel Centre, with Joni Mitchell
Just in time for the Ottawa concert comes the release of the most coveted bootleg album in rock history -- Bob Dylan Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert. According to legend, the concert is the defining moment of Dylan's career. The show captures a defiant Dylan going electric for good as folkie purists howled in protest.
The big moment comes when a heckler shouts "Judas," prompting Dylan's withering response: "I don't believe you -- you're a liar." This makes Dylanologists get all tingly.
After an acoustic set, Dylan reappeared with The Hawks (The Band, minus drummer Levon Helm) plugged in to a powerful sound system. Then the uproar began, as Dylan knew it would.
The concert catches Dylan in his peak period between Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. Thirty years later, it's easy to see how the single Like A Rolling Stone changed everything.
Suddenly, pop writers could go beyond three-chord love songs. For the first time they could say what they meant. Pop became an art form, a religion even, and Dylan was the mover.
Almost everyone was pushed by him -- the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors, Cream and the Byrds. His voice, nasal and nasty, redefined the whole idea of singing.
Dylan was pretty good at his last Ottawa concert a few years ago, topping a show that featured the Neville Brothers and Joe Cocker. Just the possibility of him reviving the Live 66 solo versions of Visions of Johanna and Desolation Row should be enough to coax Boomers out of their couchwear and into the Corel Centre for the show.
Now this is interesting. Here's the Sage of Saskatchewan getting really personal with her new album Taming the Tiger.
In the title song Mitchell takes a shot at the music biz -- especially all those whiny girl singers carrying guitars and grudges: "Formula music/ Girlie guile/ Genuine junkfood/ For juveniles! Up and down the dial É Mercenary style!"
There's a sense of fun in the new songs, something that has been missing since the legendary Court and Spark album. She arranged most of the songs for her guitar and keyboards, which is a welcome change from all the noodling by jazz musicians that ruined her last half dozen albums.
In a song that could serve as a cautionary tale for Boomers, she declares, "And times moves swift/ And You know/ Happiness is the best face lift."
Not to get hysterical or anything, but there's a chance her show with Bob Dylan could be the concert of the year.
Peter, Paul & Mary
Nov. 12, Civic Centre
The most pallid strain of urban folkies. Albert Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager, put them together in 1961 when the original Kingston Trio broke up. Grossman figured there had to be money in songs of social consciousness, or mild protest music. He was right. P,P &M hit it big in 1963 with Puff the Magic Dragon (About the innocence of childhood, they claimed, not drugs) and Blowin' In the Wind -- the minsy-est ever version of Dylan's worst song. Awfully earnest stuff, and never more so than on John Denver's Leaving On A Jet Plane. After sneering their way through I Dig Rock and Roll Music, they called it quits in 1971. It didn't take, though. Now, their music is like campfire songs for those who can't sit in a circle any more without strapping on a lumbar cushion.
Nov. 18, Corel Centre
There's Canadian content -- or inspiration, at least -- in Cracklin' Rosie, Neil Diamond's first Number One hit. While visiting Canada, Diamond heard a story from a social worker about a Indian reserve up north where men outnumber women. Guys who couldn't get a date for the weekend would stock up on cheap rose wine -- a sort of liquid substitute for sex. That explains lines like, "Cracklin' Rose you're a store bought woman." No, really.
Diamond had a string of self-penned hits in the back half of the Sixties, all produced by Brill Building sharpies Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich for Bang Records. Good stuff, mostly: Solitary Man, Cherry, Cherry, Kentucky Woman, You Got to Me, Red, Red Wine. Then he got all ponderous -- Soolaimona, I Am I said, Longfellow Serenade -- and he was never interesting again.
He's still likeable enough, though, and he is a solid judge of his own music. Diamond's new record, As Time Goes By, is a collection of movie themes ranging from Casablanca to Titanic. Not included is anything from Diamond's wretched soundtrack from Jonathon Livingston Seagull. Now that's class.
Is it so terrible that Boomers still like the music they grew up with?
Other generations stay loyal to their musical heroes, and nobody sneers at them for being esthetically retarded. Dave Brubeck is touring the United Kingdom this month -- 54 years after he became the first jazz musician to make the cover of Time magazine. That's a lot of Blue Rondo a la Turk, to cite the second most famous number on Brubeck's 1961 album Time Out. Yet you don't hear anybody screaming at Brubeck, 78, to take five.
Same thing with avant garde music. Karlheinz Stockhausen, the godfather of electronic music, is 70 and he's still at it.
His Helicopter Quartet premiered a couple of years ago and left critics bemused. The piece was performed as the musicians circled Amsterdam in helicopters -- one per player. Meanwhile, the audience watched the proceedings on a bank of TV screens set up in the concert hall. All in the name of art.
How is that any less insubstantial than the message of Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)?
If you remember the Sixties, the cliche goes, you weren't really there. But you didn't have to be there, it turns out, because the music and the performers won't go away.
Will Sixties music ever be history? Well, they say Glam Rock of the Seventies is coming back. David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust. New York Dolls. Gary Glitter. Flirtatious androgyny and platform shoes.
But maybe a higher spirit will protect us from that.