WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO is the old "Is Rock Dead?" question.
You see, rock has been popularized in the last year into being the stuff that makes up, now, magazine articles and even grownups' conversations. And when you get this much talking about something, you develop certain stock ideas about it that everyone then starts talking about. So, you have people talking about ideas about something instead of the thing itself. The evolution of this talking about ideas about ideas about ideas about things is that process we call "academics." Pretty sad, no?
This winter's idea about rock is that it is dead.
Now, that wouldn't seem to be true from just looking around you. After all, rock records are selling all over town, like, three times more than ever before. And now there are lots of different groups in the racks, and so on. But the dreaded locust swarms of ill fortune will soon be seen darkening rock's horizons when the record companies jack up their lp prices to four and five dollars later in the next month. Slightly longer then a year ago records went for $2.40 apiece. Who's going to buy them when they cost twice as much? The people who have twice as much money--the guys who are twice as old as we are. Pretty sad, hunh?
The reason that records prices are going up, the person who sells records at the Coop told me, is because at the end of last year when the Beatles came out with a double album that sold for $10 at non-discount places all across the country, it still sold 3 1/2 million copies in four days. The record companies learned there was a lot more money in the market than they thought.
Have you seen the big full page rock lp ads in all the press recently, I ask you. Have you seen them? Haven't you. They are there because the companies ar getting ready for the blitz. And who gets blitzed when the companies blitz? Not the stores: they just tack it onto the tag. The guy who pays gets blitzed. And who pays? The consumer pays.
These consumers are going to be older than what they used to be. and the question is can we still call it rock when these people have snatched it away from the kids.
Rock had always been a revolutionary music. The kids kept it revolutionary, defiant of what already existed, because they always liked best what was new and different. So rock had to be creative, and each generation of high school kids grew out of liking it--or rather, they were pushed out. But now Mick Jagger throws a party that Lord Harlech comes to. What have you got? People who are going to drag rock music into middle age with them.
THE CLINCHER to why rock might be dead is the whole thing got out of control. The hippy is dead because people piled into San Francisco so fast that a great unnaturalness arose. God is dead because populations started multiplying so fast that it became too much of a strain for God to care about everybody. Rock is dead because records started going so fast that the industry let its screws loose.
The creative process in rock had been smashed.
The thing that always made rock groups good has been dropped.
Groups are now stopped from becoming really good.
That is to say, the Beatles were playing together for two and a half years (without Ringo Starr) before they cut a hit record. Groups need this kind of practice and working together so they can become one and then do really creative things. Lots of the great groups did this before, let's say, last year. The Stones, the Who, the Zombies, the Blues Project, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish. Country Joe had been in the Navy and had been working--the whole routine--before the Fish finally made it. They had been playing for free in the park in San Francisco for a long time when they never expected much in the way of silver spangled fame. They were nothing like long, curly haired seventeen-year-old Stevie Winwood looking to shoot up to the top as number one rock musician in the world.
What's evil in rock is desire. . . . . You shouldn't want things. Rock musicians shouldn't want things either. I have been led to believe recently, by those people around me whom I listen to, that Buddha is right in telling us not to desire anything because all agony comes out of trying to get things we want.
If there is any rock musician to day who understands this idea, it is John Lennon. I don't think John Lennon wants anything. He doesn't care who's "better," who sells more, who gets more groupies. Unlike John Lennon, most rock players are very non-transcendent beings.
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?