Saturday, January 17, 2015

Summer (and Spring, Fall, and Winter) of 1969: The Most Eventful Year of My Life

I’d hated 1968. I’d hated the blues, and power trios, and my own sense of intense alienation, familiar as a twin though it might have been. I’d hated my two roommates, but continued to share an apartment (a different one, on picturesque (about as picturesque as its name!) Federal Avenue) with one of them. But things had begun looking up at year’s end. I was writing about music for my university newspaper, and, to my astonishment, people seemed to like it.

I reviewed a Kinks album that I really loved, and their record company was so impressed that it asked if I might wish to work for them. I wrote a letter the LA Times’ excellent music critic, Pete Johnson, and he not only didn’t ignore it, but was actually very encouraging. Atlantic Records sent me reviewers’ copies of new releases by two British acts, Cartoone and Led Zeppelin. I liked Cartoone better, but didn’t like either very much at all. I found myself writing for both the LA Times and Rolling Stone. Figuring that after four years’ diligent labor (I might have attended class barefoot and in love beads, but I always attended, and did the recommended reading) I deserved to relax a little bit in my final quarter, I’d signed up for a physical education class, whose instructor turned out to fancy himself a sociologist, and to require a paper about some aspect of local amateur athletics. I made mine — about beach volleyball — up out of whole cloth. The guy bought it. Instead of attending my graduation ceremony (with literally thousands of others), I interviewed Pete Townshend at the Continental Hyatt House, which I can see out of my bedroom window as I write this a million years later.

I couldn’t decide whether to work for the Kinks’ record company or remain unsullied in the eyes of the Times. I decided to try to do both. TKRC was embarrassed and deeply undelighted when I wrote an unflattering review of the UK folk group Pentangle. Folk music was hardly my area of expertise. After three months, TKRC said they’d keep paying my salary, but that they wanted to install in my office someone who wouldn’t get bored senseless by 3:30 every afternoon and sneak out the back door, mumbling something about hoping to beat the traffic. I did have an awfully long drive in the VW microbus my parents had given me as a graduation gift — from Burbank all the way to Venice, where — can you guess? — I felt terribly isolated and lonely, surrounded as I was by ancient Jewish widows and junkies in equal proportions.

A pair of brothers to whom I’d been known to grunt, “How you doing?” at the university invited me to be the drummer in their band, then called Halfnelson. I rehearsed with them maybe three times, and annoyed them by suggesting they not try so hard to be cute ‘n’ whimsical. They invited me to find another band to join, but my brief association with them would follow me around no less tenaciously for the rest of my life than the fact of Led Zeppelin having cursed me from the stage of the Anaheim Convention Center.

The Kinks’ record company sent me to New York to offer their sympathy when they returned to perform in America for the first time in four years. I hero-worshipped Ray Davies shamelessly, and even badgered him into inviting me up on stage with his group at Fillmore East, a plan a brusque stagehand unceremoniously thwarted, and thank God for small mercies. He (Ray, not the stagehand) was a sensationally good sport, except when depression swamped him. Who would know better about that than I?

I returned to Los Angeles feeling both quite a hotshot — I, the personal friend of rock superstars! — and worse than ever, as I was returning to nothing at all. But then I moved to West Hollywood, into a huge flat spanning the whole third floor of a house widely thought to have been haunted since the original owner’s daughter hanged herself out of my front window, and felt a little better, as I always do anyway when the days start getting short.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really great one, words and pictures both. From SE Pennsylvania, I feel I can see for miles. Curtis Roberts