The Rolling Stones have a song with lots of good kinds of thinking in it (we divide things into good think and bad-think these days). It is called "No Expectations"--"Our love was like the water that splashes on a stone. Our love was like our music; it's here, and then it's gone."
For object lessons let us tune in the dressing room of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers at the Boston Teaparty last weekend. The Burrito Brothers are a group of ex-Byrds and associates who travel with the Byrds and play on their albums sometimes. There are four Byrds now. Only one of them is an original Byrd; that is Jim McGuinn, who changed his first name to Roger because he thought it was a better name. The other three Byrds are more or less new, at least not original.
By last weekend, everyone in rock had read Rolling Stone Magazine's special issue on groupies, i.e., the girls who chase rock bands. The effect of the story, of course, was to reaffirm in the rock player's minds just how desirable they are. I think this knowledge ultimately confuses them, but they really like being wanted.
First someone had brought in a few sixpacks of Colt 45, which a couple of the Byrds started drinking between sets (McGuinn said it'd be impossible to make it through the concert trip without drinking and smoking). Someone brought in a plastic garbage can of Budweiser and ice cubes. When the Burrito Brothers came back in, everyone started getting pretty drunk. Then their drummer took off a wandered out amongst the crowd of a couple of thousand kids to find a girl. He was back in five minutes with a girl in hipslung blue jeans and an ironed man's shirt. So then Gram Parsons, another Burrito (see page 4), says, hey that's neat, and gets up and goes out himself. He comes back in, like, three minutes with a blonde hair girl in black bellbottoms. And these girls know what they're going to do too; because the drummer, who's really drunk, keeps talking about his hotel, and tells his girls she can split if she doesn't like things.
It's not a particularly "bad" scene, because everyone in it is being very honest about what they want and why they want it. But we truth-through-suffering. . . peace-through-not-wanting-anything people can see what experiences like this do to the rock player's ego.
WHY WOULD THE ROCK musician improve his art when the groupies already want him for what he is when he isn't really anything yet?
You have to be good to be a success still; but there is absolutely no pressure to become really good or great. As soon as a good group has been together six months, it's suffocated with a recording contract and then torn apart by internal antagonism between performers who never had time to become friends with each other.
The creative process in rock has been destroyed--those long and artful years of sad and lonely times are not what rock puts its players through anymore. Individual musicians have to kick around for years on their own before they get with a successful group. But the groups, themselves make it quick or don't at all. The emphasis is now on the individual performers instead of the groups, where the basic strength of rock really lies.
Can rock be said to be alive after a year that saw the breaking up of Cream, Traffic, the Steve Miller Blues Band, the Buffalo Springfield, the Experience, the Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, the Nice, the Fugs, the Zombies, the Electric Flag, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Moby Grape, the Byrds, the Jeff Beck Group, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band?
Isn't it discouraging that just when you turn the tide, it engulfs you and you drown?