This chapter is about my life during the 1970s.
The Beatles owned the 1960s. They helped get us from Hello Mary Lou by Ricky Nelson all the way to Abbey Road. Apologies for drifting a bit into the 1970s in the previous chapter, but it’s hard to stay in my lane and everything gets mashed together. It’s not like at midnight on December 31, 1969 things suddenly changed. Hell, the 1960s themselves probably really started with a 1957 Life Magazine article about psilocybin use among indigenous people in Mexico. And I recently saw Patti Smith do a show here in LA, still going strong at 74. She’s part 70s punk, part 50s beatnik, and a whole lot 60s rock and roll.
But things really did shift right around 1969/1970/1971. It was a watershed period for many people, beyond the headlines of Woodstock and Altamont and the deaths of Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. The innocence was gone, psychedelics replaced by heroin. I lived a comfortable, somewhat innocent middle-class existence. I was hanging out with friends at the cut-out bin for cheap deals on LPs at Aron’s Records across the street from Fairfax High School. I took the bus to the beach, and otherwise pretty much bicycled everywhere: Wallach’s Music City at Sunset and Vine (where they still had record listening booths), a record store on Melrose near Highland to pick up the weekly Boss 93 KHJ top songs list, bowling near Selma/Ivar and Hollywood Blvd, and the public pool at Pan Pacific Park. In my high school quad, they set up speakers during lunch and women without bras danced to stuff like Suite: Judy Blue Eyes off of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s first album. Poco played at my high school gym in 1969, right after Pickin’ Up the Pieces was released. The Grass Roots played there too. I saw Hair at the Aquarius Theatre (see photo #22). Naked people on stage! The first time I smoked marijuana was probably summer of 1970 - I had to drink a six-pack of beer before I felt anything. In 1971, my girlfriend and I loved driving down Sunset Blvd to the beach listening to Carol King’s Tapestry. I listened to Pasadena radio station KPCC-FM (106.7), which initiated the Free Form Underground Radio format between 1967 and 1971. It was also where Dr. Demento started, as well as "The Credibility Gap" comic troupe that included David L. Lander, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. Another great station at the time was KMET (94.7 FM), with B. Mitchel Reed and Tom Donahue. During this period, about 1968-1972, I remember 21st Century Schizoid Man (King Crimson), Time Will Come Today (Chambers Brothers), Jethro Tull’s Bouree and Steely Dan’s Do It Again on heavy rotation, and it was also where I first heard Firesign Theatre.
As the 1970s wore on, popular music morphed from ponderous guitar solo-heavy jamming and arena rock to punk and new wave. I saw a bunch of big arena shows during the early to mid-1970s, including Alice Cooper (photo #20), Iron Butterfly, Rod Stewart and the Faces, John Mayall, Freddie and BB King, Iron Butterfly, Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Who (Quadrophenia tour, with opening act Lynyrd Skynyrd), Procol Harum (photo #23), Elton John (with the brilliant Countdown to Ecstasy-era Steely Dan opening), Jethro Tull (Passion Play), Traffic, Fleetwood Mac, and of course Johnny Winter. All were good concerts with a great vibe (read “lots of marijuana in the air”) and each had their own particular highlights. Alice chopped his head off, Ron Wood played great slide guitar with the Faces and later joined the Stones, BB blew Freddie off the stage during an encore, Clapton’s Presence of the Lord was spiritual, etc, etc, etc. The Rolling Stones in 1975 at the LA Forum may be my favorite rock show - it featured a large star shaped stage and, unlike in other cities on that tour, it started all folded up and slowly descended during the opening number with Mick Jagger clinging to one point of the star while Keith Richards maintained a searing one note intro to Honky Tonk Women for what seemed like 5 minutes. But I think the mood of the concert is best captured by this singular image: a bottle of Jack Daniels perched on top of Keith Richards’ Marshall amp. Judgement about lifestyle choice aside, It really says it all. This image is tame by today’s standards, with weed being legal and everybody with tattoos and piercings, but Keith was “busted” for “drugs”….and had an earring too! Rock swagger, in the tradition of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. In my humble opinion, I have seen Keith’s iconic most-dangerous-white-man-alive vibe matched only once years later when I saw Nick Cave striding onstage with his Bad Seeds, including Warren Ellis, Mick Harvey, and Blixa Bargeld. It felt like I was watching a bunch of ex-cons doing community service in a work release program. Gulp, kids do NOT try this at home. Rock and roll needs to have a fear factor, as well as heart like Patti Smith or Bruce Springsteen or Lou Reed. First albums are always exciting - Zappa’s Freak Out! or The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd come to mind. The Grateful Dead, without the distraction of the twirling deadheads in tie-dye, were also dangerous, especially on their first couple of albums, where they essentially took LSD, went into the recording studio and waited to see what happened - I have my cousin Richard Handel to thank for turning me on to the Dead in the early 1970s.
Back up a bit. When I got to Claremont Men’s (now McKenna) College for my first year of college in the fall of 1971, I decided I wanted to be a disc jockey so I got an FCC broadcaster’s license and had a show on their station KCMC. I was done after one year at Claremont and transferred to UC San Diego (UCSD). Claremont was pretty conservative. My roommate was from Tustin, CA in Orange County; my wall had posters of Johnny Winter and Eric Clapton and his wall had one poster of Disneyland and another featuring different types of road signs. Other than that, I heard a lot of Elton John, and then Duane Allman died in late October, so I remember the obligatory arguments over who was a better guitar player, Duane or Eric or Jimi or Johnny. After I transferred to UCSD, I had shows at KSDT and started to call my show The Years in Your Ears, from the 1973 album How Time Flys (sic) by Firesign Theatre’s David Ossman. I continued that as my radio show name through graduate school, at the UVA station WTJU. For all of my radio shows, I played all that 70’s kind of music. Occasionally I would piss off listeners, like after my graveyard shift show time slot, I followed Chelsea Morning by Joni Mitchell with “The Eleven” acid rock live jam by the Dead while people were struggling through coffee and breakfast in the cafeteria at KSDT. People didn’t know if they were coming or going. Hey, I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so up and at ‘em! My crowning glory or infamy, though, was the evening of August 16, 1977 at WTJU, when the switchboard lit up after I announced Elvis’ death and felt the need to add that I wasn’t a big fan, and then proceeded to snicker and play “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” What can I say? I stepped in it.
WTJU was an oasis for me – Charlottesville is in a beautiful environment but the culture is repressed and living in the past. My first thought upon arriving was “I thought the Civil War ended in 1865.” While my grad school colleagues were nice and it was a stimulating academic environment, I had to find my people, which meant New Yorkers and stoners. I instantly befriended Mike and Toby Zakin, New York City Jews who became the focal point of my social life, beginning with gathering at their house to watch the brand new Saturday Night Live in the Fall of 1975. I have always gotten the sense that New Yorkers get high because they have to, not because they want to, just to deal with the frenzy of the city. I mean “I forgot my own name” kind of stoned. We had many memorable parties, including taking the hallucinogen MDMA (“mad dog”) that a friend in a chemistry lab had made and then simply stuffed the loaded filter paper into capsules. Not a lot of quality control. Mike and Toby lived out in the country and when we wandered outside while under the influence, I literally got lost about 20 feet from their well-lit house. But control is my middle name and so I remember tripping hard but still managing to drop the needle gently and strategically at the start of one cut I really wanted to hear on the Dead’s record album Wake of the Flood. Please don’t ask me which cut, because I’m not that amazing. All ended well, but we were still feeling high after about 36 hours and since I was a teaching assistant at the time for a lab with undergrads, I definitely had to call in sick the next day.
I managed to make it through two years at UVA, leaving in August of 1977 with my master’s degree. That last summer was the absolute worst time of my life. I had enjoyed my time with friends and at WTJU, and had access to a dark room for my own photography because I was using it anyway for electron microscope photography, but nonetheless I wanted out of there. I willed myself to complete my thesis, on kidney development in rats. I still feel bad about the fact that I had to kill a few baby rats for kidney tissue samples. I’m sure I’ll meet them in Hell. Every morning, I rolled out of bed and hit the IBM “Selectric” typewriter, with one of those typeballs that rotated and pivoted to the correct position before striking the paper. And it erased too; no longer was I slave to the antiquated erasable typing paper or typewriter erasers with the wheel and brush! Look at me Ma, I’m in the 20th century now! I would rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and then submit a draft to the department secretary, who would type it into an NBI computer with an eight inch square floppy disk for storage. After a ridiculously long oral defense – I think they were playing with me – I left town and thankfully was able to complete the written thesis long distance from California. I thought I was done for good with the East Coast.
I briefly returned to Los Angeles from Charlottesville in September 1977. I was dragged along by my parents to Jewish High Holidays services at their temple and ran into Anna Statman, the sister of a high school friend Jay. It was a classic right place at the right time moment because it turned out that Anna worked/helped found Slash Records, the seminal LA early punk record label. She told me I really should check out this new band called Blondie, playing soon at the Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip. I recall, in my last DJ gig at UVA in 1977, seeing but not really grokking odd-looking albums by Runaways, Modern Lovers, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Be Bop Deluxe, and Talking Heads in the broadcast studio. I might have played a Blondie cut, but I don’t recall. I was still hanging onto the blues- and jazz-rock guitar thing. Well…I went to the Blondie show and was utterly blown away (photo #24). I was receiving the gospel. I had just turned 24 and felt that here I was finally in on the ground floor of something. I had had near misses as a sheltered teenager who was just a tad too young or or a tad too clueless to see shows by the Doors, Animals, Cream, or even David Bowie at his fabled 1972 Santa Monica Civic show. I was pissed at a cousin who had an extra ticket to see Cream’s Wheels of Fire concert at Winterland in San Francisco but wouldn’t give it to me because I was too young (I believe the live recording was done in summer of 1967, so I would have been 13).
Carpe Diem; I was ready to pounce. Blondie was superb and spoke to me. They were tight, sexy, campy, smart and rocking. That show was followed by other early punk/new wave shows after I moved up north to the Bay Area: the first tour of Elvis Costello at the small Old Waldorf nightclub in San Francisco and his next tour at Winterland, Sex Pistols at Winterland, Talking Heads on Sproul Plaza at Berkeley, Ramones outdoors at the San Francisco Civic Center, and The Clash at Berkeley. Elvis Costello raced through his first and second album in a set that was breathtaking in speed and density. Bam, bam, bam, song after song, with zero time outs, a race to see who can finish the set first. Same, of course, with the “one-two-three-four!” Ramones show, which was right around the time of the Harvey Milk/George Moscone assassinations in November 1978. The Talking Heads played for free and simply emerged from a trailer to a makeshift stage, playing material from their albums 1977 and More Songs about Building and Food. David Byrne was dressed in blue and kept removing layers – coat, dress shirt, T shirts – and each successive layer was a different shade of blue. The Sex Pistols show I saw, January 14, 1978, with the Dictators opening, is well-documented on film/recordings. I remember vividly Johnny Rotten’s famous pronouncement at the end, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” Great show - a concise, stripped down artistic statement, the stage color scheme was black on black. It marked the changing of the guards for me; I never had much patience for anything longer than 3 minutes after that. There were a lot of shenanigans behind the scenes, from Sid Vicious to Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, but there’s no denying that the Pistols were key players in the punk movement and fully captured the frustration and disillusionment of the times. Like with the Beatles and Stones reintroducing black and brown music to Americans in the early 1960s, it felt like the Pistols similarly brought the urgent heart of rock and roll back to US consumers, drawing on the American bands that inspired them: Ramones, New York Dolls, and Richard Hell/Television. And God Save the Queen is not only politically cool but a good song to boot. Other shows with honorable mention, all in the Bay Area around 1978/9, were Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Randy Newman, and shows at Winterland as they were closing their doors for good: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and The Dead (OK, I lied two sentences ago about nothing longer than 3 minutes) New Years show on Dec. 31, 1978.
So, 1977-1979 in LA and San Francisco was a golden time for me musically and within two short years I ended up returning to the East Coast after all. I came to Washington, DC inspired to….do something. I was now 25 and had a sense of urgency. I was hungry, and through a series of events that in retrospect were predestined, I met the people with whom I would go on to form a band, Acrylix.