#192 – Sweet Caroline

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#192 – Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond

 – There are a few pop culture bandwagons I’ve been happy to miss. I’ve never owned a pet rock; could care less if anyone ever solves a Rubik’s Cube, and was never into the cult of Neil Diamond.

Now don’t get me wrong. I get it for the legions of fans who are.

Diamond has sold multi-millions of records, is one of the top pop songwriters of all time and his concerts still sell out. He’s also been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Songwriters Hall of Fame.

I get it.

I also loved the dedication and humor sent his way in the film Saving Silverman and the characters’ tribute band, Diamonds in the Rough. Neil made a cameo appearance, which definitely made him a cool guy in my mind. And way back in 1966 I loved Cherry Cherry and was thoroughly impressed when I learned he had written the classic I’m a Believer for The Monkees.

But when it came to my personal tastes in 1969, Neil and Sweet Caroline were nowhere to be found. The music scene was splitting off into different extremes ranging from Woodstock rockers (Classic Rocker preferred) to bubble gum schlockers (Classic Rocker avoidance). Diamond didn’t seem to fit into either category. To my ears, his songs were aimed for a crowd that would now be called Adult Contemporary and not played on the FM rock stations I preferred.

But as I’ve written before, not too many cars in 1969 were equipped with FM radios. And since my pals and I were sixteen years old with newly earned driver’s licenses, AM Top 40 was still our cruisin’ music and we could only hear the current pop chart hits.

Not so sweet memories

One of the songs we heard constantly over our car radios in the fall of 1969 was Sweet Caroline. It definitely has a catchy tune, which seems to be a requisite to land on this Dream Song List, and has obviously stayed with me. Since I’ve never owned a copy and can’t remember the last time I’ve heard it, waking up with this tune running through my head on the morning of June 28th definitely places it into the subliminal category.

And yes, it brings back memories. But they’re not the best…

I was one of the younger members of my high school class and almost all my friends had been driving for months before I was even old enough for a temporary license. That meant I spent a lot of time hanging out at home waiting for rides. Fortunately, my best pal Kevin was as psyched as most sixteen year olds about driving and could always be relied on to be my chauffeur.

Cruisin’ around together gave us plenty of time to talk about a lot of stuff, including who was (or in my case, who would be) the better driver. We even made a bet which one would be the first to have an accident. Yeah, it’s the kind of stuff sixteen year olds would talk about, but at least we were cool enough not to bet on ourselves.

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When I finally scored my driver’s license we were two weeks into August 1969. That made life very different, even though I was still working the same job I’d had since turning ten years old. Don’t worry; we’re not dealing with unlawful child labor when I say that. My job was the chief dishwasher, bread slicer and floor sweeper at our family bakery. As baby boomers will know, parents and grandparents were allowed to put the kids to work so we could pay for our own record collections. For me a was a good deal because while the other kids were sleeping in or watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was collecting a pay envelope and peddling off on my bike to buy the latest Top 40 vinyl releases.

So on a Wednesday morning about two weeks into August 1969, my dad asked me to take my mom’s car to pick up a vacuum cleaner from a local repair shop and drop it off at home. I not only looked at the opportunity as a break from shoving baking pans into an overheated washer, but also a chance to drive.

I was psyched, but you already know what’s coming… right?

I was almost home when I thought I saw one of my younger neighborhood pals walking along the sidewalk. What could be cooler than a “older” sixteen year old pulling up and offering him a ride? Yeah, I thought so too – but when I looked out the passenger window it wasn’t him.

Too bad I wasn’t looking at the road instead.

This was a residential section, so fortunately I wasn’t going more than 25-30 mph. But even at that non-freeway snail’s pace things can happen fast. When I turned my attention back to driving, I had a few split seconds to realize the car in front of me had stopped to make a left turn.

Cue the sound effects!

Okay, let’s take a moment here to imagine your favorite comedy movie where the idiot behind the wheel drives off a cliff or high bridge. The film goes to slow motion and you see everyone in the car go bug-eyed with their mouths hanging open and in a low, slow-mo sound effect they all go, “OH $#$%%#!!!

In my case I envision a Blues Brothers car chase. The cowboys, Nazi’s and police in hot pursuit of Jake and Elwood demonstrate that slow-mo movie look and sound as they fly through the air, hurl off a road, or spin through a mall upside down.

That’s how I still picture my slow-mo self at that moment: “OH $#$%%#!!!”

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

I’ll interrupt this driving moment to make it clear no one was hurt in the making of this non-comedy movie real life action sequence. As for my mom’s car… Well, that’s another story.

Something like this.

Her car came to a sudden, crunching stop embedded into the rear of the car stopped in front of me. In slow-mo I can still see the front hood of her blue Oldsmobile Cutlass flying up in the air and landing on the road next to me. Then without any notice or fanfare, the engine dropped out with a crash accompanied by the sound of broken glass (or could it have been broken metal?). In an era before airbags, I’m sure my steel grip on the steering wheel and locked arms bracing for impact kept me from a face plant on the dashboard.

The guy I rear-ended happened to be a kid I had been going to school with since about third grade. He jumped out of his car and delivered one of the most famous lines you’d hear during a similar scene in a Hollywood movie:

“WHAT THE $#$%%#??!!!” 

At that point I figured I should probably get out of my car too. The only problem was the doors were jammed shut, so I crawled out of the window. I definitely did not feel as cool as Jake or Elwood.

Wait ’til mom hears about this!

The car was totaled. In fact, the only part that was salvageable was the AM radio, which was still playing while we waited for the police and a tow truck. And just in case you’re wondering, it was not playing Sweet Caroline.

That memory is still coming up…

Within a hour my dad had picked me up in his car and I was back at work to finish washing pans and sweeping the floor. Fortunately, my parents took it all quite well and were happy no one was hurt. And with insurance my mom got a new car.

So business as usual? Well, not quite…

My punishment would be handed out during a date in traffic court a few months later. But the real punishment that hit home for me as a sixteen year old psyched about driving came as advice from the police and even the judge, who were all frequent visitors in the family bakery. They mentioned to my parents it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to drive before traffic court, just in case I saw another neighbor walking along the street.

So until I had to face the Judge in his courtroom, rather than in our bakery, I was back to hanging out at home waiting for friends – like my pal Kevin – to drive me somewhere. It was also a good stretch of time to lose any skills a sixteen year old might continue to develop while sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Sweet Caroline? It’s coming up…

When I finally went to court, which was only about half a block from the bakery and probably with a box of our donuts in the outer office, the judge just gave me a talk about being more careful. That was it. Then I asked the BIG question: when can I start driving again?

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017 – Westlake, Ohio

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – Willoughby, Ohio

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He said I could have been driving the entire time.

Say what? “OH $#$%%#!!!” And no – I didn’t say that, but it probably ran through my mind. And with so much time away from driving, it was almost like starting from scratch. At least that’s what it felt like.

My instructor in “learning to drive again 101” was my dad. My backseat driving coach was pal Kevin. The first step was to cruise around some country roads until I got the hang of it again, so the three of us took off in mom’s new car.

I have to admit to being a bit scared. Totaling a car will do that to someone. On the two lane back roads we had some laughs with my instructor and coach joking about sharp corners, stop signs and oncoming cars. But at one point as we went under a low bridge and around a corner, a large truck was coming from the other direction. I put a steel grip on the wheel, went over the right side edge lines and slowed down to a crawl as the truck blew past us. They faked being scared (at least I hope they were faking!), but I broke out in a slight sweat. Driving wasn’t as cool for me as it was when I first got my license.

And looking back, that’s a good thing. I actually learned to be a more careful driver rather than a psyched sixteen year old with a license.

BUT – and here it is…

The song playing on the AM radio at that moment the truck blew by us? The Top 40 hit Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. And yes – it’s true. I remember that, which is why the song still carries that memory for me.

BUT there’s another part of this story that also has a steel grip in my memory bank. Remember the bet I made with my pal Kevin?

There were only a couple weeks until school started when I wrecked my mom’s car. That same evening we had marching band (very cool – don’t ever doubt that) practice at the high school. I called Kevin with my non-comedy sorrowful tale of on road destruction and asked him for a ride. Since the main attraction of being in the band was hanging out with girls, an assorted group of us piled into Kevin’s car (actually his mom’s car) after practice and…

Well… You already know what’s coming – right?

Wait ’til your mom hears about this one!

We drove to a local restaurant for something to eat. When we were leaving, there were about four or five kids crammed in the backseat and three of us – Kevin driving, me in the middle and another pal Rob riding shotgun – sitting in front. Kevin made a sharp right turn out of the parking lot that caused all of us to lean left. In fact we leaned so far left that

CAAA-RASSSSH!!!

Kevin was shoved against the driver’s side door with his arms locked in place. He yelled out something to the effect of a slow-mo, “OH $#$%%#!!!”

Everyone else sort of screamed. The car scraped over a concrete curb causing a stream of sparks to fly up in the air around us, smashed through a landscape of bushes, and dug a couple donut shaped ruts in the front lawn of the restaurant before coming to a stop. Once again, no one was hurt except for another mom’s car. But this time all it took was a tire change and a slow unsteady drive home.

As you can tell, Kevin won the bet, but only by a few hours. And I became a more careful driver at the age of sixteen because to tell the truth, two accidents in one day was “$#$%%#!!!”

Back to Sweet Caroline? Yeah, I know it’s a standard at Boston Red Sox Games and an uplifting, healing song for The Boson Marathon after runners and supporters were attacked by cowardly militant scums (or in more polite terms, $#$%%#!!!).

I get it.

But for me, I’d rather for-get the experience of Sweet Caroline and my sixteen year old driving experience. Hail, hail public transportation!

Here’s a video of the great (I get it!) Neil Diamond performing Sweet Caroline.

To purchase All-Time Greatest Hits by Neil Diamond with Sweet Caroline visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!

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#193 – Mysterious Ways

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#193 – Mysterious Ways by U2

 – Based on the title of the album and band, it’s funny (to me, anyway) I associate Achtung Baby and U2 with Southern California. We’re not talking about surf music here kids. This was the group’s move away from possibly taking themselves a little too seriously (according to music critics) and into a more industrial dance-groove that I’ll go ahead and trace back to David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy (Low, Heroes and Lodger) with producer Brian Eno. I’ve always associated that crunchy sound as coming out of recording sessions in Berlin Germany, where U2 also created tracks for this LP.

It’s also when lead singer Bono created his rock star parody character The Fly, which lasted through a couple albums and tours (Zoo TV). But what does this have to do with Southern California?

That just happens to be the locale where I started grooving on U2.

The Fly

I call Achtung Baby an album, but there was no vinyl involved with my ownership. I actually had it on cassette. When it came out in late 1991 I was almost a year into my move to Los Angeles from New York City and the song Mysterious Ways could be a theme song for the culture shocking experience. I know the song is about a woman’s mysterious “moves” since the video and live performances featured exotic belly dancers, but after more than a dozen years as a Manhattan resident (east coast as opposed to west coast Manhattan Beach), LA was different enough to be mysterious.

The biggest shock was having to own a car.

I essentially ditched driving after moving to NYC following college and hadn’t been behind the wheel of a car for little more than a handful of times since. Taxis, subways, buses and my feet were the only means of transportation necessary for city life. Car payments, insurance costs, gas prices, parking and road rage were non-existent for me. And if there was a Manhattan traffic jam while sitting the backseat of a taxi or during a subway delay, a quick walk down a couple city blocks would always find a different scenario or route to get me where I wanted to go.

It was never that way in LA. It was all about cars…

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I made the move to the Pacific Coast as a passenger during a cross-country drive by a pal. With a couple suitcases I was dropped off at another pal’s (who happened to be an ex-girlfriend, but we’ll save that saga for a future Dream Song) rented basement apartment in the Hollywood Hills to begin this new adventure.

And the first thing they both brought to my attention was that I was car-less.

Not quite walking distance

There was no walking in Los Angeles unless you were exercising or car-less. And since this was happening in the days pre-LA subway and my employment sights were set on Hollywood, I could either be the healthiest guy on my career path by adding miles and hours to my tired feet every day walking from The Hills, or buy a car.

I opted for motorized transportation.

But I wouldn’t settle for any car like I might have on the east coast. This was Hollywood and my goal was to fit into what I considered Southern California cool. I needed a convertible and with that in mind, I went shopping.

Since I knew nothing about cars, this perception of what I needed to drive (simply based on a coolness factor similar to The Fly) pretty much stamped the word SUCKER on my forehead. In hindsight I can still see the used car dealers I spoke with, who were all typical of the comedy stereotype used car dealers, salivate when I came walking onto their lives.

Did I bring someone with knowledge to look under the car, check the engine and ask all the right mechanical questions?

Nope.

I was the new kid in town and my close pals were still back in NYC buying subway tokens and hailing cabs. I just wanted to know if the convertible top worked, if it had a cassette deck (did cars have CD players in 1991?) and if I looked Fly sitting behind the wheel.

Looking cool?

Within a few days of first discovering my shocking need for a car, I purchased a 1983 used Mustang convertible. The guy that sold it to me probably only stopped salivating long enough to run behind closed doors to pop open a bottle of Champagne and hire an expensive escort for the weekend after I paid in full with cash. Yeah, it had helped the bank account in NYC by never owning a car and never worrying about payments, insurance, gas prices and parking. Now these newly discovered options were staring me in the face along with another cost-fueled stress factor:

Repairs.

I had purchased what they call in comedy terms a lemon.

This piece of crap car broke down on the average of about once a month. I learned more about the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles by waiting for and then riding in tow trucks taking me and my lemon to various garages for repairs. But when it was running, at least the convertible top and cassette deck always worked.

So what does this have to do with Mysterious Ways?

Worth a comedy paycheck

On the positive side of my fish-out-of-water adventure to the west coast, I had landed my dream job in Hollywood. I talk about comedy terms because it was in the comedy industry as a talent coordinator (talent booker in simple terms) that was even more Fly than my pre-conceived expectations. With my first paycheck I went to a flea market off Melrose Avenue and bought a piece of Beatles memorabilia – a framed plaque containing a one inch square of bed sheet slept on by John Lennon at Detroit’s Whittier Hotel in 1964.

I know what you’re thinking… Are you kidding me?

Hey – I saw a 1964 clip of the hotel manager hawking this fan souvenir (for profit) in The Complete Beatles video a few years earlier and my comedic sense wouldn’t allow me to pass it up for only twenty-five bucks. I splurged what was left of my second paycheck on an Achtung Baby cassette.

And believe me when I say splurged. Adding regular repairs to the newly burdening costs of owning a car and renting an apartment in the San Fernando Valley, buying a new cassette was a luxury. Come to think of it, so was eating.

Music Science Class

The song that sold me on the cassette was One. When I first heard it I needed to own it. The fact that the entire album was great was a bonus. But like most music fans I had my favorite songs. One was… well, one. Another was Mysterious Ways.

Unlike a CD or with digital music, you couldn’t just punch in a number and play the track you want to hear. With a cassette it meant fast forwarding or rewinding and hoping you stopped near the beginning of the desired song. With both One and Mysterious Ways, I actually had it down to a musical science of mentally counting the seconds of fast forwarding or rewinding until hitting play for another listen.

Yeah, the things we had to do in the old days as music fans…

Mysterious Ways hit this Dream Song List on June 27th. Of course I own a copy – and have even moved up in the techno musical world by long ago ditching the cassette and adding the song to my digital playlist. But I hadn’t heard it in awhile. If you’ve been paying attention at all to any of these past Classic Rocker ramblings, that places it into the subliminal category.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017 – Plymouth, Ohio

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 – Kirtland, Ohio

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My Los Angeles car experience

So even though one of my best Southern California experiences was finally selling that used lemon convertible, Mysterious Ways and the Achtung Baby LP bring back better memories of driving from North Hollywood, into Studio City and through Laurel Canyon to my job in Hollywood. The car top was down, the volume was turned up, the weather was warm and sunny, and I was mentally counting the seconds of fast forward or rewind to hear them over again.

Of course that only happened on the days the car was running and I wasn’t using foot power to find another pay phone (pre-cell folks!) to call the next tow truck driver to give me a lift to the nearest garage. And in hindsight, I’m sure they never missed reading the word SUCKER stamped on my forehead. It was truly an era of mysterious ways for a big city guy in the sprawling Southern California Land of Angels…

Complete with a gyrating belly dancer, here’s a video for Mysterious Ways by U2 performed live during the Zoo TV Tour stop in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

To purchase Achtung Baby by U2 with Mysterious Ways visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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#194 – You’ve Got A Friend

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#194 – You’ve Got A Friend by Carole King

 – I only have one Carole King story, but I think it’s pretty cool…

Sometime between 1986 and ’89 there was a country-western themed bar/concert club in New York City. It was somewhere in the upper East 20’s and either on Second or Third Avenue. I want to say it was called the Buffalo Roadhouse, but I can’t be sure. After an internet search I found a few places with the same name, but none seem to have once been located in that neighborhood. But rather than dwell on this, the one thing I’m positive about is that it was a short walk north from where I lived in Gramercy Park.

The place was one of the last Manhattan hold-outs from the Urban Cowboy fad that ran through the country during the early 1980’s thanks to the movie of the same name. That may not have been unusual for anywhere west of the Hudson River, but in New York City it represented another world. Where Studio 54, CBGB’s and the Mudd Club were the hot spots blasting out disco, punk or rock, now urbanites thought it was hip to line dance in cowboy boots, jeans and Stetsons, and actually attempt to ride mechanical bulls. But only after a few drinks of course.

One other fact I’m positive about is that I’ve never been on a mechanical bull in my life. The NY Subway was thrilling and untamed enough for my Urban Cowboy fix.

On the streets of Manhattan?

I remember the bar because it wasn’t a bad place to hang out and drew a big crowd on the weekends. But being seasoned New Yorkers, my crowd avoided the weekend rush and usually hit the cool places on off-nights. This particular memory goes back to a Sunday night.

The bar was big and what set it apart from the other cowboy wannabe establishments was a GIANT full-sized stuffed Buffalo that stood over the bar. On our first visit it was so high over the liquor shelves that we never even noticed it for the first hour or two. Then someone glanced up and said, “Look-it that!” As an animal lover and peacenik it definitely was the type of decoration that today would cause me to find fun in a different location. But with that seasoned late 1980’s New York mentality we had learned if you wanted to play pretend cowboy you had to hang out with the real cowboy trophies. And this was the closest we’d ever get to a real cowboy bar, even though the hired hands serving drinks and waiting tables spoke with New York accents.

In a separate large room behind the bar was a cowboy style night club with a wooden stage for live bands. There were also long wooden tables, wooden chairs, wooden walls and wooden “fences” leading to the bathrooms. The only thing I remember not being wooden were the toilets, which thankfully continued the New York trend for porcelain.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017 – Mansfield, Ohio

Thursday, July 27, 2017 – Plymouth, Ohio

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On this Sunday night there was a cowboy band on stage made up of young guys who might have once been rockers, but were now playing electric guitars that amplified more of a “twang” than anything resembling a Keith Richards riff. Don’t get me wrong because they weren’t bad. In fact, with hindsight it’s possible to see they might have been a bit ahead of the coming trend that saw Garth Brooks and others really rock up the country genre during the 1990’s.

I was seated at a wooden table with a certain blonde who was my steady at the time, along with a few others from our usual entourage. I don’t recall having a problem carrying on a conversation over the live performance, but it was a show rather than just background music so we paid attention. At one point the singer announced their “manager” was in the audience and invited her up to sing a few songs.

The manager turned out to be Carole King.

A cool “chain” of events…

Now, I honestly don’t know if Carole King ever really “managed” a band. I’ve read her book, A Natural Woman: A Memoir, and never noticed this career position mentioned anywhere during her life story. So either it was not worth noting, forgotten, or possibly an inside joke among the musicians with Carole being more of a friend or supporter. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter. While we sat there sipping cold ones through longneck bottles, the legendary singer-songwriter walked on stage and sang a few songs with the band.

Of course we all recognized her from photos and television appearances. But with more honesty, I didn’t recognize the songs until the last one they performed, which was the classic Chains written by King and her former songwriting partner and husband, Gerry Goffin. I knew it because The Beatles covered Chains on their first album, Introducing The Beatles (in the U.S.) or Please Please Me (in the UK).

So this was a big deal.

I still remember her curly hair bouncing up and down as she bounced around on stage singing. And yeah (yeah, yeah) I’m sure we all sang along. When she finished, King sat down at a table with her entourage and as seasoned New Yorker’s we went back to our conversations.

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End of story? Yeah, but like I said it was pretty cool.

As for our Dream Song, King didn’t perform You’ve Got A Friend that night, but my waking mind was performing it on the morning of June 17th. My notes say I hadn’t heard it in awhile, which I find hard to believe because it’s one of the most played songs on my digital playlist. So even though a claim can be made it’s chained to my memory (apologies for a bad pun) we’ll add this one to the subliminal category and leave it at that.

They’ve got a friend

King’s version wasn’t the first I’d heard. That scoop goes to James Taylor who also released the song as a single in the spring of 1971 and scored the most radio airplay. Both were recorded with the same musicians, including King on piano and Taylor on acoustic guitar.

And for a little more honesty, I really didn’t care for the song when it first came out. The acoustic troubadour ballad singers were a little too laid-back for my personal tastes after the earlier excitement of Crosby Stills Nash & Young and John Lennon’s Working Class Hero. By ’71 I was ready to rock again with The Who, Led Zeppelin, Sly & The Family Stone, Rod Stewart and The Faces, and other artists that knew what a volume nob on an amplifier was meant for.

The biggest influence that year had to be The Rolling Stones who were in the midst of a “golden era” that blasted us with Gimme Shelter and Brown Sugar.

So it wasn’t until many years later I finally calmed down and listened to Carole King’s 1971 album, Tapestry. And the song that caught my attention most was You’ve Got A Friend. It may not be the only reason why the Broadway show based on King’s music is titled Beautiful, but that description certainly fits.

Chains was the memorable choice for a Manhattan country bar that Sunday night. But if she had sat down at the piano and given us You’ve Got A Friend, I’m sure there would’ve been more than a few urban cowboys and cowgirls putting down their longnecks to sing along. And the mechanical bull could’ve waited until she finished.

As mentioned, it’s a beautiful song. And for a beautiful rendition by Carole King, check out this video.

 

To purchase Carole King’s classic LP Tapestry with You’ve Got A Friend, visit Amazon.com.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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They say it’s your birthday (again)!!

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11885210_10206750047483724_1164378672389296806_n – Guess I should have saved my past birthday posts after the number of years writing The Classic Rocker. It would’ve been like another mini timeline of where, what and what the heck was I thinking! With today being this year’s birthday, here’s the experience (and it was a good one!)…

This really happened and even I wouldn’t dare make this one up.

Today is my birthday. Last night at 11:30 pm I’m standing in line to buy beer. No one in front of me was carded. I got to the counter and the guy asked for my ID. I told him I was “flattered” and it was my birthday.

I also checked to make sure there were no hidden cameras and I wasn’t being “punked.”

The guy said something about my hair (still got it!) and something else. I wasn’t really listening because I was pumped up and psyched-out about this newsworthy anti-aging event. I gave him my driver’s license.

Seriously – his eyes popped out and he goes, “Holy shit!!

He asked about health tips and I told him to only drink light beer. But then he rang up the beer and charged me for it?! I reminded him it was my birthday! He said I still had 30 minutes before the big day, so I (happily) paid up.

I’m good for another year… ha!!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing

August 15, 1965 – The Beatles At Shea Stadium

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– It started earlier than you might think…

sidbernstein

Sid Bernstein

During the winter of 1963 Sid Bernstein, a New York producer and entrepreneur, decided to expand his horizons by taking a course in Political Science. The instructor said if students wanted learn about democracy they need to study Great Britain, so Bernstein trekked down to Times Square every week and bought the British newspapers.

After reading updates about the government, he turned to where his real interests were – the entertainment section. He noticed the name of a pop group called The Beatles. At first the articles were small, but each week they continued to grow in size. They also included two words about their performances that caught Bernstein’s eye:

SOLD OUT!

To his producer’s way of thinking, these were the same words that described fame-predicting appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, two of the BIGGEST names in showbiz. Since expanding his horizons could also mean taking a chance, he located the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and booked the group – then unknown in the U.S. – for two shows in February 1964 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Epstein Beatles

Brian Epstein and “The Boys”

When dealing with Epstein there were always stipulations. If The Beatles were not getting radio airplay in the U.S. by December 1963, the deal was off. It was a long wait, but as history tells us they made the deadline. I Want To Hold Your Hand broke the airwave barrier, they were scheduled for three February appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – and Bernstein SOLD OUT both shows at Carnegie Hall.

Following the Beatles summer and fall 1964 tour of North America, Bernstein took another chance and scheduled them to appear in the brand new, state of the art Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. Again there were stipulations that included no advertising without a paid deposit, but Bernstein made a bold guarantee and backed it up by selling 55,600 seats through word of mouth. Once again…

SOLD OUT!

Nothing on this scale for a pop concert had ever been attempted before. Elvis had performed a handful of stadium shows leading up to his army induction, but the largest had been in front of 26,000 fans at The Cotton Bowl. The Beatles had to more than double that number to fill Shea Stadium.

Dressing Room

Away from the crowd

On August 15, 1965 The Beatles landed on top of a building at the neighboring New York World’s Fair and were delivered into Shea Stadium via a Wells Fargo armored truck. The dressing room was crowed with visitors including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and future kingpin business manager for Apple Corp and three of the four Beatles, Allen Klein.

If only Brian Epstein had known…

Their entire visit to New York, beginning Friday, August 13th through Tuesday, August 16th, was filmed for a Beatles In New York (not the title, but the idea) television special. Only backstage and concert footage was used for the final version.

Introduced by Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr ran to a small stage set up over second base on the baseball playing field and performed ten songs in about thirty-seven minutes. Whether anyone heard them depended on where they were seated, if they were screaming – or if they were next to someone screaming. Many of the male fans thought they sounded great. Many of the female fans don’t remember.

Shea on stage

Never before in the history of popular music…

Filmed in 35mm, the quality of the concert footage is similar to blockbuster Hollywood movies of the era. For comparison, The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock movies were filmed in 16mm.

The resulting television special, The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was planned for holiday (Christmas) airing in December 1965. One member of the Beatles inner circle approved the version submitted by Ed Sullivan Productions, while five others didn’t. A secret recording session took place in January 1966 to correct the sound and the special wasn’t broadcast in the U.S. until a year later. By that time fans were only weeks away from the release of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever by a mustached, psychedelic-clothes-wearing, pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The film has been restored, color-corrected with both the overdubbed and original audio remastered for mono and stereo. It has yet to be released.

But on television that January evening in 1967 they were still the mop-topped Fab Four riding high on the release of their summer 1965 film, Help! And they played, sang, laughed and sweated during a hot New York August night in front of a SOLD OUT audience of 55,600 fans.

It was 50 years ago on August 15, 1965.

It was the birth of stadium rock.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

February 9, 1964

Standard

I was taken by complete surprise. Well, almost.

Jack Parr

Jack Parr

I had heard of The Beatles before February 9th only because my mom let me stay up late the night Jack Parr aired a brief clip during The Tonight Show on January 3, 1964. It had to be a Friday night and not a school night, but I’m not sure. And it wasn’t because we knew The Beatles were going to be on. Again, I had never even heard of them. We just enjoyed watching Jack Parr. For me it was his sense of smug humor (for lack of a better term). I always thought it was a bit risqué to watch his show because I was still a preteen and he was for adults. It reinforces my opinion that my mom was a little more with it than other parents who wouldn’t let their children stay up late to watch when Parr was host of The Tonight Show.

I also thank her and my dad for taking me to a Beatles concert. Again, I’ve heard too many stories from other young fans “under parental control” who were not allowed.

Other than Parr’s brief clip I have no memory of hearing anything else about The Beatles until February 9th. There was too much other “stuff” going on. I’ve been very clear about my recollections of this time in past Classic Rocker columns and my books The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. We were still dealing with a very bleak time in our country’s history following JFK’s assassination in Dallas on November 22nd. We watched the funeral and news updates on television and heard discussions at home and in school about The Cold War and The A-Bomb. Even my neighbor had a bomb shelter and as a preteen baby boomer it was obvious things had changed very quickly.

I often describe my memories during these days as being in black and white. That probably comes from remembering and still seeing reruns of newsreels and television shows from that era being broadcast in black and white. The Beverly Hillbillies, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Patty Duke Show. You know the ones I’m talking about, so no need to mention them all. All the shows were in black and white which undoubtedly affects my memories.

I didn’t even know anyone who owned a color television in February 1964 – not even my neighbor with the bomb shelter. But having a color television wouldn’t have made a difference. The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white.

Ed Beatles 2

Rehearsal pre-fab

My dad, mom, little sister and I had been on a four day family vacation that started on Wednesday, February 5th. It was a driving trip to Washington, DC and we arrived home in the early evening of Sunday February 9th.  I had no plans to do anything except eat dinner and avoid doing any homework until the last minute. As we did just about every Sunday at 8 pm we all sat down in front of our only television (“The black and white one,” as John Lennon described A Hard Day’s Night at their legendary Shea Stadium concert about a year and a half later) to watch The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dad, mom and sis were on the couch. I sat on the floor with my back against the couch. I remember it as vividly as where I was when my fifth grade teacher announced to the class President Kennedy had been shot. There are a few dates you’ll always remember if you were alive at that time. These are two of the earliest for me.

It would be cool to say we watched because of The Beatles, but don’t remember it that way. We always watched Ed Sullivan. Like for many of us in the U.S. he was part of our television family on Sunday nights.

As the first performers, he announced The Beatles.

Beatles Ed Sullivan

A moment in time

For myself at that moment and for millions of others watching, our world immediately went from black and white to color. It was that dramatic. To use a comparison from my book The Beatles In Cleveland it was like the film The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy was swept away from a black and white Kansas and unexpectedly dropped in colorful Oz.

And The Ed Sullivan Show was broadcast in black and white!!

Beatles music has been listened to, analyzed, discussed, broken down, recreated, and even taught and studied in universities since. There’s no need for me to do that now. The influence is still felt over half a century later.

But it wasn’t just the music. They had an image unlike anyone else before them. You can talk about how shocking Madonna, Michael Jackson and Prince appeared twenty years later, or even more recently with Lady Gaga, Lil’ Wayne and Miley Cyrus. In February 1964 the Beatles’ “look” was shocking compared to what was considered “normal” at the time.

To put it into a baby boomer context based on our television viewing habits. No man in 1964 had hair like that except for Moe from The Three Stooges.

John Lennon MarriedInstead of letter sweaters and slacks, the Beatles wore business suits with tight pants, skinny ties and boots with pointy toes and high heels (Cuban heeled Beatle Boots). It was shocking! And I only learned their first names because they were flashed under their individual shots on the television screen. The music was lively and happy, the Beatles bounced in time and the girls screamed. Then it was over.

Well, not quite for me. Where we lived in northern Ohio, the dividing line between Eastern Standard Time and Central Standard Time in 1964 was drawn between Cleveland and Toledo. That meant we had two separate television markets airing shows an hour apart. At 8 pm EST I watched the Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show. An hour later at 8 pm CST I tuned into the Toledo CBS affiliate and watched it again. I did that for each of their three appearances that month.

Beatles Ed 2

Long haired rock’n roll

I was able to watch their U.S. debut on The Ed Sullivan Show twice that same night. It was also rerun later that year, but then I never saw it again until buying a bootleg videotape on 8th Street in Manhattan more than twenty years later. Now like many other fans, I own a legit DVD copy of The Ed Sullivan Show appearances and pretty much have every moment memorized.

The very next day it was also obvious things had changed.

On the Wednesday before, I had left school early for our drive to Washington, DC. There had been no mention of The Beatles in my classroom or anywhere that I can recall.

On Monday morning following The Ed Sullivan Show most of the girls in my fifth grade class had Beatles fan magazines hidden in their desks and their television debut was the main topic of conversation. The guys tried to act cool about it – or at least that’s my perception because we weren’t supposed to be attracted to them like the girls were. They were in love and lust. But I remember listening to their conversations and know some of the guys, me included, wanted to be like The Beatles. It seemed a lot more fun than kicking a ball around the playground.

I’m sure it was also within that first week one of the guys in my class came to school with a Beatles wig. I bought one myself and still have it. There were also a lot of Beatles trading cards, photos, magazines and other merchandize brought to school that would be considered valued collectors items today.

Beatles Bowing

From black & white to color

Of course, there was the music. By the Saturday following their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show I owned the LP Introducing The Beatles as a gift from my parents after listening to me beg for a week. The next Saturday (after more pleading) I had a copy of Meet The Beatles. Somewhere within that time frame I came up with the sixty cents (somewhere in that $$ neighborhood at that time) for the 45 rpm record I Want To Hold Your Hand b/w I Saw Her Standing There.

The floodgates were open and haven’t been closed since. It was February 9, 1964. It all changed that evening and nothing was ever the same again. Thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s been a memorable journey to say the least.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and the author of The Beatles In Cleveland and The Beatles At Shea Stadium

Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com at THIS LINK.