John Eby: Rock icons at peak of powers in MontereyPublished 10:56pm Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The Who with Pete Townshend smashing his guitar. Jimi Hendrix, not to be outdone, burns his ax and flips its neck into the crowd for a souvenir.
Mamas and Papas and Jefferson Airplane, with Grace Slick, Paul Kantner and Marty Balin trading vocals, sound way better than records.
I always thought of Michelle Phillips as little more than eye candy, but here you can appreciate her vocal contribution.
Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker captured these soon-to-be legendary pop stars at the peaking of their powers, lest someday someone wonder how Otis Redding got enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I saw some debris from his plane, with little more than “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” released shortly after Georgia’s King of Soul died Dec. 10, 1967, at 26. Sept. 9 is his birthday.
A couple elements of the Pennebaker style immediately noticeable are that he finds feet fascinating to where it’s almost a foot fetish, such as Joplin’s incendiary performance summed up, in part, by her heels rising up out of her footwear.
His shots are so tight, you can see acne scarring her young face.
Pennebaker, whose Bob Dylan documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” likewise amazes, likes to pan other performers for reaction, most notably Mama Cass Elliot, in big sunglasses, mouthing “Wow!” as Joplin finishes a scorching version of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” with her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.
They sound great even before she joins them onstage.
The concert sounds fresh in stark contrast to the dated feel of hippie fashions and the stale psychedelic Sixties stage visuals on display June 16-18, 1967, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds.
Remember those pulsating amoeba things like in a lava lamp?
More than 40 years is long enough for many of these stories to be written in their entirety — especially luminaries who burned out at 27 like they belonged to a macabre rock star club.
Jimi, 27, on Sept. 18, 1970.
Janis, 27, on Oct. 4, 1970.
Mama Cass, 32, on July 29, 1974.
And not choking on a ham sandwich, if you believe Snopes.
Keith Moon, 32, on Sept. 7, 1978 — remarkably, in the same London flat as Elliot four years before.
Plus, Scott McKenzie, whose “San Francisco (Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” seems to have found new life on the radio; Canned Heat; Hugh Masekela (dad of Sal on E’s “The Daily 10”) and Country Joe and the Fish.
Joplin and Country Joe McDonald lived together as a couple in 1967.
You find yourself wondering what course life took for the forever young, who would now be retirement age.
Did they eventually cut their hair and join the workaday treadmill? Many look mellow to the point of stoned.
Like the girl quoted at the outset, a “love-in” promises to be “Easter, Christmas, New Year’s and your birthday all together” with vibrations “that explode into the air.”
And so Monterey beget Woodstock.
The Who conveniently stutter through “My Generation,” with the eternal line, “Hope I die before I get old.”
Moon succeeded. Townshend and Roger Daltrey survived to play the 2010 Super Bowl halftime show.
Hendrix’s famous flaming guitar was recreated for a Rolling Stone cover featuring Olympic snowboard gold medalist Shaun White, but it was amazing to see this momentous moment start to finish, or to know that he was playing, including behind his back, of all things, “Wild Thing” by the Troggs.
The look on young white female faces as he soaks his guitar with lighter fluid?
Troubled. Apprehensive. A bit afraid.
Hendrix follows another dynamic showman in Redding — at least in this sequence, since Pennebaker rearranged the performance order and left many acts on the cutting room floor — ignites his concise conflagration with a book of matches, wiggling his fingers like a puppeteer as though flames are marionettes on strings he controls.
He squirts more accelerant, wields it like a sword and bashes it to blow out its blaze.
Then the camera cuts to the Mamas and Papas’ “Got a Feelin’,” the only group to get two turns, although it’s mostly a soundtrack to blissful young couples kissing and cuddling.
We also hear the self-referential “Creeque Alley,” which mentions Dowagiac visitor Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
John Phillips (died in 2001 at 65) not only wears that hideous fur hat throughout, but he and Denny Doherty (died in 2007 at 66) wear those floor-length robes that look like women’s housecoats.
There’s a white guy in a huge Afro sawing on a fiddle, which somehow turns into Eric Burdon and the Animals — further surprising me with my favorite Rolling Stones song, “Paint It Black.”
Brian Jones, found at the bottom of his pool on July 3, 1969, at 27 ambles about in a crowd scene. His residence when he drowned or was murdered had belonged to “Winnie-the-Pooh” author A.A. Milne.
As a kid, when the Stones ran neck and neck in my adulation with The Beatles, Jones and Mick Jagger were hard to tell which was which.
A very young David Crosby inexplicably pops up at what looks like a soundcheck to exclaim, “Groovy! A nice sound system at last.”
The Byrds played Monterey, but otherwise are absent from the movie. Sigh.
Most disappointing are Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. I used to love all their songs. “The Boxer.” “I Am a Rock.” “Sounds of Silence.” “Mrs. Robinson.”
Not so much “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” but the one tune that absolutely makes my teeth ache, “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy).”
Guess what tune the duet did?
The last 20 minutes — the finale, if you will — consist of Ravi Shankar’s sitar jam band, kicking off with a pair of shoes waiting in a parking lot for who knows what? Maybe they’re Ravi’s because we’re treated to an extended close-up of his bare foot.
For seven minutes we hear Shankar without seeing him.
Instead, we view campers in sleeping bags laid out on a parklike green expanse of grass, a pet monkey, people getting their heads and faces painted, another filmmaker, painted-up cars and some Hell’s Angels, though, this isn’t Altamont, so they’re seated in the audience and appear to be peacefully listening.
Hendrix is glimpsed in the crowd, nodding in time despite wearing a look he’s not really feeling this Eastern vibe.
Jimi, of course, is a former opening act for the drummer beaming in the crowd as the movie dissolves into sustained applause and a long aerial shot of the Summer of Love audience — Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, and a Cass County Fair alumnus.