Zyklon B For Hippies
The Band "Don't Do It" (live)
By Michael Brett, POP ZEUS contributoradora
Do you know how many better bands there were within a fifteen-mile radius of San Fran during the mid-60s? Just off the top of my head-Sly and the Family Stone, Creedence, Jefferson Airplane. Hippies chose the FOURTH best band in a city during their era. But it's all about the music, right? The Dead were quite probably the LEAST professional band of their day. In fact, they could be punk if they didn't take themselves so goddamned seriously. Plugging in and tuning your guitar for twenty minutes while Jerry tries to remember the next stanza and Pigpen swallows back vomit doesn't make you epic. The Dead were kids infatuated with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who liked to drop acid and sleep around. This differentiated them from.....um, nobody, ever?
In the other corner, we have hipsters. Hipsters are worse than hippies. Hippies are at least superficially sincere. Hipsters are so drunk on irony and conceit they proudly wear their skin tight Poison shirt without even knowing the name of the lead singer (to my eternal dismay, my name backwards). They've replaced the enjoyment and wonder in music with posing and pretense. Take a look at a lot of the young bands today. They all seemingly look alike. Straggly bearded skinny white dudes who look like they haven't had meat since their grade school lunch program. Women who are either auditioning for the next John Waters film or planning on
spending spring break in the 800s of the Dewey Decimal System. Why do they look so awful? Because they want to fit in!
The internet has done many good things, but it certainly has turned the music world topsy turvy. Bands now bust their nuts to look like their fans. If Izzy Stradlin looked like me I would have felt such an intense shame for him I wouldn't have been able to eject the tape fast enough. And when the fans are the cool kids, well, they do what cool kids do-they decide what's in. New is in, old is out. Hey, give hippies one thing-they know classic rock at least. Hipsters loathe classic rock except in an oh-so-ironic, isn't-Jack Black-goofy-with-those-devils-horns kind of way. At Pitchfork, Of Montreal covered "All Day and All of The Night" and none of the hipsters I asked knew who originally performed the song. I didn't ask them who recorded Satisfaction. I wanted to leave some hope. Hey hipster, David Byrne looked better in your uniform, and you didn't discover Velvet Underground yesterday. Now here's some Chuck Berry. Go somewhere, play it really loud, and find out what the fuck you're talking about.
The Band came from the hippie heyday and looked like a hipster's wet dream. Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm,. Richard Manual, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson toured the States for years as rockabilly road warrior Ronnie Hawkins' backing band, the Hawks. They WORKED the '60s. They played the same chitlin circuit as Little Richard, James Brown, Otis Redding, and a young Jimi Hendrix. Music nuts for sure, but they didn't ever need a turntable to tell them their sound. Robbie Robertson met Bob Dylan on the road and shortly afterward Dylan invited the Hawks to join him on his '66 European tour. On that tour, Dylan went rawk and he and The Hawks rewrote pop culture history. After Dylan's did-he-have-a-motorcycle-accident-or-just-a-nervous-breakdown incident, he invited the rest of the boys to Woodstock (yes, hippies, that Woodstock-before your mom shat on it or it landed on Snoopy's house). For a year or two they 'woodshopped', as Dylan says. Basically, they smoked weed and screwed around with their instruments. Dylan guided the Hawks through his 'Invisible Republic' (thanks, Greil) of old folk and blues. The Hawks provided Dylan with a thoroughbred whose muscles would propel him in whatever direction he wished to travel. Their year together is chronicled in The Basement Tapes. Buy it.
The Hawks became The Band on the release of their self-titled debut (graced by shite Dylan painting). Their first two albums are as good as anything you will ever hear, ever. "Don't Do It" is an old Motown song the Band reworked, and on this night it came with some fab horn players. The song starts with Danko's bass and Helm's drum, Danko showing off his r & b chops. Next, comes Manual on piano, Robertson on guitar, and Hudson on organ. Cue horns. Besides being insanely talented musicians, the Band were also blessed with Beach Boys level singers-albeit if the Beach Boys were from Memphis instead of Malibu. Here it is Levon (always dig singing drummers) on lead and Manual joining him on the refrain and a few verses. On this track, everyone is going for it. Robertson gives us one of those slash and burn solos that end just before you want it to. Manual plays a super tight piano riff which becomes not fill but part of the rhythm, rolling alongside Hudson's subtle organ.
As the song speeds up, Manual gives us a little Little Richard and the rest of the sound has that rich fudge density, where you can't tell one instrument from another, that begs to be played on headphones late at night. Until eeeerrrrrr- Robertson returns with that keening guitar. Then go out as you came in, and done. This song stinks of years of passionate hard work, diligence, and love. No noodling, no posing-just five guys happily blown away that their playing a sold out New Year's Eve gig in New York with a kick-ass horn section and reverent fans before them. This music can learn you something, can take you someplace, for as long as it takes for the next song to play.