If I said love beads, The Pill, Vietnam the Space Race, white boots and hippies, you’d know immediately what I was talking about. Sixties nostalgia. Actually, all I’d have to say is love beads and you’d get it. The Sixties. Some of our most formative years and a time when young people were offering new ways of looking at the world. The music of that era began in Greenwich Village and Bob Dylan was first up after Pete Seeger’s folk music, popularizing a lyrical intensity not seen in music before. The scene then moved west to California, where Laurel Canyon became the home to California rock. The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstat, the Mamas and the Papas–their sound was recognizable.
But when the Beatles hit the States, they and the British acts that followed closely behind offered something else: fun music, not deeply thoughtful like Baez, Dylan, Browne. A great beat, fun lyrics and a good time, that was the British Invasion, and it arrived in my life around junior high.
It’s been 50 years since British rock music invaded America –wrap your head around THAT. When the anniversary tour came to the lovely outdoor Mountain Winery in Saratoga, I knew I had to go. The lineup: Terry Sylvester of the Hollies, Mike Pender of the Searchers, Chad and Jeremy, Billy J. Kramer and Denny Laine of the Moody Blues and other bands. These guys and groups were significant to my Baby Boomer adolescence. So any time I hear one of their songs I can’t help but smile nostalgically and move to the beat.
Mike Pender of the Searchers
We were in the sixth row, so when Mike Pender appeared, we had a good view of just how slight his elderly frame is. And how white his hair is. Coming face to face with our own aging reflected in Pender startled us. He told us he was 73, but once he grabbed his guitar and began his set, he had more energy than performers half his age. The Searchers are one of my favorite 1960s groups and as lead singer, he was their voice. He was great! We sang along, happily.
But–in the row behind us, a group of half a dozen women talked and laughed and shrieked throughout the set. It was annoying and we hoped they would get tired of it.
Do you remember the rock concerts of our youth, when young hippie girls in tie-dye and flowered crowns would get up from their seats and dance fluidly to the music, waving their arms and hips gracefully? In the row ahead of us,in the dim light, a thin girl who looked quite young was doing the same thing. Only it wasn’t just graceful waving, it was undulating, like a snake. She stood and waved her hands and moved sinuously throughout every song, nearly cold-cocking the woman next to her with either her arms or hips. All night. She knew every word to every song and gave each one her best with voice and movement.
“I hurt just watching her, ” M whispered.
She didn’t look old enough to know the music, and with pixie-cut hair and a flat chest, her gender was ambiguous, even if her movements weren’t. Her performance took us back to our own youthful concerts and the four of us exchanged glances and smiled.
“I’ll bet she’s great in bed,” I whispered to M.
“You’d probably need a seatbelt,” he whispered back. We laughed. Pender rocked on. He was clearly the hit of the evening, at least for us.
What Mike Pender looked like in our youth and his.
Who doesn’t remember the sweet, gentle ballads that Chad and Jeremy gave us? A Summer Song, Yesterday’s Gone, Willow Weep for Me. Their harmonies are reminiscent of the Everly Brothers but their vibe is softer. We sat back in our seats, ready to be transported to a different time.
And then, the row of rowdy women behind us began hooting, hollering and shrieking in our ears. We turned around a few times to silently communicate that they were disturbing us. It had no impact. So, finally, I turned and told them they were interfering with our ability to hear the ballads.
“That’s my DAD up there!” one of the women said. “I get excited.”
“I get that,” I told her, “but this is our one chance to hear him and we’d like to.”
Chad (left) and Jeremy.
Three minutes later, the noise began again, with the shrieks going right into my friend’s ear. It was disrespectful and rude. This young woman–probably in her 20s–was raised by money Chad’s audience spent to see and hear him, but apparently that didn’t matter. Worse, from the stage, Chad seemed to egg them on. When an artist has that much disrespect for his audience, I lose respect for him, too. Get some manners, Chad, and teach your kid some, too. Done with Chad and Jeremy.
Throughout, though, our undulating dancer kept going. When the lights came up at intermission we could see that she wasn’t young at all, and she was a she. Her partner might’ve been a man. Or might’ve been a lesbian. It was unclear. Back in the 60s, we wouldn’t even have wondered as gender wasn’t so vague, but today, life has far more shades of grey.
She turned toward me, so I had to ask:
“How old are you? Because if you’re my age and can do that, my hat is off to you.”
“I’m 53!” she was exuberant. She was three years old when these songs came out. Then she almost shouted, exhuberantly: “I teach Zumba and we use all these songs!” I can’t imagine Zumba to Chad & Jeremy’s Willow Weep for Me. I wish I had asked her where she teaches so I could drop in to check it out.
“Aren’t Baby Boomers great?”
There were a bunch of empty seats to the left in our row and we decided to move a few seats down to avoid Chad’s noisy and arrogant family. That put us right behind a woman about our age who turned to talk to us.
“Aren’t Baby Boomers great? So friendly! Isn’t this concert great? Did you see Chicago here the other night?” She prattled on. Within seconds the conversation turned to California.
“I’m a New Yorker and it’s just so boring here, ” she told us. “There’s nothing to do! I’ve lived here 20 years and am trapped here.”
We were taken aback. Nothing to do? In the Bay area?
“What about San Francisco?” I asked.
“It’s just not the same. I’ll always be a New Yorker. We have access to great performances and famous stars.”
I asked her if she’d seen any performances in San Francisco. She hadn’t. I felt sorry for her, feeling trapped in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
I noticed that another couple had moved–the one right next to the dancing zumba girl. They now sat in front of us.
“I was afraid I’d get hit,” she told me. Her husband turned and asked, “Where do you live?”
We told him.
“I’m in a group called The Grateful Dads that plays oldies in Cupertino once a month,” he said. “You guys might like to come.” He gave us the next dates.
“So do you play 9pm to midnight?” I asked.
His wife laughed. “Oh, no! More like 6:30pm to 9:30pm.”
It was my turn to laugh. The truth is, I go to bed around 9:30pm so their timing was perfect for me. (The next day her husband sent me an email invitation to their next gigs and said he’d put us on the mailing list for future gigs. We’ll go if we can. Who would miss a group called The Grateful Dads?)
When I have an experience that brings me back in time, like the 1968 exhibit at the Oakland Museum last year, or CNN’s series The Sixties, or any of the dozens of books I’ve read on the era, it seems such a long way from where we are now. The rude way Chad’s family interrupted the enjoyment of those around them –behavior we see all the time these days–seems a far cry from love and peace. And yet, people like those who formed The Grateful Dads help keep the era alive for those of us who loved it.
The 1960s movement was a spiritual revolution, really, wanting to replace the materialist culture of the 1950s with one that was all about love and peace. But Woodstock was the last of its successes. A few months later the horror that was Altamont marked the beginning of the end of our generation’s dream.
50 years–a long time ago.
Still, it was fun to time travel through these happy British rock songs for a few hours and remember the day when life seemed so much more innocent. Oh, how I long for that feeling again and again and….