Monday, January 21, 2008

Otis Redding at Monterey, 1967

January 21 is the King Holiday, a day set aside to honor the memory of Martin Luther King and all for which he lived, worked and was killed. His mission and focus was the plight of black Americans, but no one who listens to that timeless speech can argue that he was not speaking only about them and their issues, but everyone "everywhere and at all times" struggling with the pain that comes from loving...whether it be romantic love, which is how we most carelessly use the word, or love in a more cerebral sense.

We may not have enough different ways to speak of love as the Greeks did, but we are smart enough to know what is being said when we talk about love of baseball or country or music or anything else. We understand that people give their lives for love of country but consider it foolish to suggest dying for the love of baseball. We know the difference.

Love of enemies, as commanded by Jesus, pushes the notion to the limit. But it is exactly that kind of extreme, irrational, mystifying love to which He referred, and in a sense it is the same challenge we face any time we confront those with whom we disagree. Loving an opponent (we like to use the word respect because the word love seems so inappropriate when fighting an opponent) then becomes man's greatest and toughest Divine commands. Take away all the smoke and love is at the heart of the matter.

I put together what follows last June when NPR aired a forty-year anniversary remembrance of the Monterrey Jazz Festival. No one alive at that time can forget what happened in the Sixties, even those who now, forty years later, disagree about what it meant and which "side" was right or wrong. Just the mention of some events still triggers arguments.

Along with a couple of other older posts, I am reposting my comments with one addition, a YouTube snip of Otis Redding which I did not find at the time. Maybe one day I will go back an clean up all this messy blogging to make it more digestible, but in the meantime here it is, like an old magazine clipping. Take from it what you will.


Radio blogging here...

If you do nothing else today, go to NPR, directly to the Otis Redding clip.
You will find it two links above Janis Joplin's picture.
It's four minutes long. If that does nothing for you, move on to something else.

But those of us who hear the moment will always get chills whenever we listen.

The festival also exposed soul great Otis Redding to a new, primarily white audience, whom he called "the love crowd," Phillips says.

"A whole new audience opened up to him," she says.

Redding was killed in a plane crash just months after that performance. A few, short years later, Hendrix and Joplin died within weeks of each other. Their performances at the Monterey Festival have become part of music legend.

The interplay of life and music has always been around, but I think the Sixties took the juxtaposition to a new level. Musical traditions at that time into blended into a hybrid that has no historic equal. Folk music, Blues, Gospel, and popular dance music intersected with mass production and broadcasting of records. Add to this trend politics, substance abuse and contraception. Mix in an awareness of global realities combined with death from drugs, assassination, auto and plane crashes resulting in a spate of ersatz martyrs and you have the makings of an "era." Electric amplification made volume levels unimaginable, and acoustic instruments either got closer to the microphone or went electric altogether.

Human bodies, minds and voices pushed to maximum endurance levels and many didn't recover. Those that did often bore bruises and scar tissue marking their past. Willie Nelson is only a few years past seventy, but he had the look of someone with a lot of mileage soon after the Sixties. He is one of the beloved survivors. So is Arlo Guthrie who turns sixty next month and seems to have escaped the genetic condition that took out his father, Woody "This Land is Your Land" Guthrie.

Readers with another fifteen minutes to spare might enjoy listening to a
Terry Gross interview of Brian Wilson, the creative force behind The Beach Boys. His music is in a genre of its own but in many ways he is an archetype of the Sixties. The interview was memorable for me. It was aired about a year after 9/11 when I was coming to terms with a good many changes in my own life.

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