The Cincinnati Enquirer. Sunday, 18 Oct. 1970.
By BOB GREENE
WHEN Elvis Presley, his sneer curling halfway up to his glaring eyes, first slouched over the microphone on the "Ed Sullivan Show," it began. He couldn't even play his guitar, and his music said nothing more, than "awopbopaloobopalopbam-boom!" But while the adults were looking on in disgust or boredom, their children were twitching on the floor as they saw the defiant figure on the screen growl at them, "You ain't never caught a rabbit and you ain't no friend of mine." The rock and roll revolution had begun. The year was 1956.
Some of the children who watched Elvis with such fascination on that Sunday night were 7 years old. Now, in 1970, they are 21. Rock and roll is still with them. From the beginning, old people looked down at the young, listened to their music and said it would never last. Now the cry is up to ban rock festivals, in the wake of violence. But, as an obscure group called Danny and The Juniors sang in the late '50s, "I don't care what people say, rock and roll is here to stay." The summer's troubles in Chicago's Grant Park and elsewhere are great for the headlines and for the lawmakers who like to make easy speeches. But the music, and what it means, will go on. And the funny thing is, the old people called it right in the first place. My own dad included. I was nine years old when Elvis first showed up in our living room, and as my dad watched the TV screen in disbelief, he said, "Look at that. Look what he's doing to the kids. That's awful. They're out of control. He's leading them out of control." I thought my dad was nuts at the time, I thought It was just music. Now it turns out that he had quite an insight, and that Jerry Rubin agrees with him. That's right, my dad and Jerry Rubin agree on old Elvis.
"The New Left sprang . . . from Elvis gyrating pelvis," Rubin wrote in his book, "Do It." He went on: "Elvis Presley ripped off Ike Eisenhower by turning our uptight young bodies around. Hard animal rock energy beat surged hot through us, the driving rhythm arousing repressed passions. Music to free the spirit. Music to bring us together. Buddy Holly, The Coasters, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Bill Haley and the Comets, Fabian, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon; they all gave us the lifebeat and set us free. Elvis told us to let go! Let go! let go! let go! . . .
AFFLUENT culture,"Rubin wrote, by producing a car and a car radio for every middle-class home, gave Elvis a base for recruiting. Rock, and roll marked the beginning of the revolution." Now that may seem like overstating the case. But it really is precisely the point. Rubin and Abbie Hoffman and other political leaders of the young can gather only relative handfuls of supporters in one place. During the infamous troubles at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, only a few thousand protesters were in the streets. But rock and roll? Well, think about it. Woodstock. Altamont. Atlanta. Huge crowds everywhere. And on weekends in the city and the small towns, there were thousands more, all gathering together to hear the music and live the life. Abble may get 3000 at a rally in front of some courthouse. But when Country Joe McDonald sings, "Well, there is no time to wonder why, whoopee. We're all gonna die!" and 400,000 kids sing along with him, the effect is overpowering. Political leaders of the young may roar in anger at the government, and it means very little. But when the sound of 400,000 voices rings out, rejecting the war, laughing at it, saying we just don't care, don't bother us, the inherent power of the music and its world is right there. If you can't understand that, you should have, seen the Woodstock movie and watched it happen. If it started with Elvis, it has multiplied ever since. Now in cars and bedrooms and dens and at rock festivals across the nation, the young people hear the Jefferson Airplane call for the start of the revolution in "Volunteers," they read Rolling Stone, the rock newspaper, and It is just not possible for anyone to reach down in an attempt to stop the music. The music has become more than simply songs. It is the major communicator of ideas for a massive proportion of the young. It is, by itself and in conjunction with the drugs and good times that go with it, the reason for huge outdoor gatherings where it is played. It is the provider of the modern cultural heroes; where once there were James Dean and Clark Gable, there was Mick Jagger and is Eric Clapton.
SERIOUS publications ─ of which Rolling Stone, a bi-weekly printed on newsprint is the most popular and the best ─ have sprung up out of rock and roll and have spread to cover the whole youth scene. They are the descendants of the early fan mags, now mature and polished Rolling Stone published exhaustive reports after Woodstock and after the murder of a young black man at the Altamont Festival. After Kent State and Cambodia, it devoted an Issue to the topic "On America 1970: A Pitiful, Helpless Giant." Simply put, to the young rock is very important. It is probably the most important cultural and political factor in their lives. Even those young people who do not like the music are now living with the culture it has spawned. Jonathan Eisen sums it up in the introduction to his anthology, 'The Age of Rock, Sounds of the American Cultural Revolution:" "In the 1940s rock didn't exist. There was Ellington, the Big Apple, Glen Miller and the Dorsey Brothers, jitterbugging and Benny Goodman. In the 1950s when people stifled under the dead weight of Joseph McCarthy and went into fits over the benign smile of Ike, they were listening to the stirrings of cool jazz, bebop, crooners in the Crosby tradition, Rosemary Clooney. Rock and roll was still inchoate, a faint stirring on the musical scene struggling to be born.
Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Bill Haley were setting about to change the world, and radios were playing songs like "Rock and Roll Will Never Die," but everyone believed it probably would. After all, it was the province of the pre-teens, and they would grow up to be like everyone else. As Eisen pointed out, "The pre-teens didn't group up just like everybody else." They turned out to be the young people who are the cause of so much discussion today; the young people who inspired the line in Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man," perhaps the most quoted line in rock: "Something is happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?" This is the reason for the Mr. and Mrs. Joneses of the nation to not know what is happening at the rock festivals. Kids are naked; kids are stoned; kids are drunk; kids are throwing things; kids are obscene.
BUT BEFORE the assumption is made that this is something brand new, that in some strange way the birth of the new decade has spawned the frenzy and the violence, look again at the early days.
"DALLAS (AP) ─ Bloody knife fights and gunfire erupted from a mass of 6000 rock and roll fans outside an auditorium." That was on the night of July 16, 1957.
"MILWAUKEE (UPI) ─ Teen-agers necked and drank whisky and beer in the balcony during a rock and roll stage show, police reported Monday. The incident at the Garfield Theater here touched off plans in the city attorney's office to ban all rock and roll shows in Milwaukee." That was July 29, 1957.
"SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) ─ Some 2500 teen-agers at a rock and roll dance rioted for an hour before 75 policemen got them under control. Fats Domino and his band, favorites of the rock and roll set, fled when the free-or-all started early Sunday in the Palomar Gardens in the downtown district. 'Everybody was at each other,' said Charles Silvia, owner of the Palomar. 'Boys fought boys and even girls. Girls were slugging boys and scratching one another." That one's from July 7, 1956.
"ST. LOUIS (UPI) ─ Four wild shots were fired during a noisy rock and roll show at Kiel Auditorium Monday night. One man was killed and two were wounded." That happened on August 12, 1957.
KANSAS CITY (AP) ─ A rock and roll show here Saturday night turned into a riot to the accompaniment of popping firecrackers and swinging fists. Dozens of fights broke out among 12,300 persons who attended the affair bearing the name of television star Dick Clark." That from October 19, 1959.
"OSLO (AP) ─ Norwegian teen-agers stormed through Oslo streets smashing windows and fighting police. They had just seen the first showing here of the movie 'Rock Around the Clock.' The youngsters shouted 'More rock! More rock!' as they swarmed through the downtown area." From September 20, 1956.
Then as now, it was always a minority of the crowd that got the trouble started. There was nothing in the music itself that caused the violence; rather it was the very fact that the music belonged to the young, that it was theirs alone, that provided a background for the trouble. Here, in a world controlled by the old, was an island of music inhabited only by the young. There were no adults holding the rock and roll fans down; so when the violence started, there was no one to stop it. The reaction in the '50s was predictable. The playing of rock and roll music was banned in Asbury Park, N. J., "to prevent riots." A radio station in St. Paul announced it would discontinue permanently all programming of rock and roll and rhythm and blues because of "the recent outbreaks of violence in connection with this type of music." In San Antonio, rock and roll records were banned from swimming pool juke boxes because such music "attracted an undesirable element."
BOSTON banned the performance of rock and roll from all public auditoriums. Alan Freed, the disc jockey who invented the term "rock and roll," was indicted by a grand jury in Massachusetts for "inciting the unlawful destruction of property" during a rock show. The papers were filled with predictions that rock and roll was dying, that it was only a fad that was on the wane.
Lloyd Shearer, Parade Magazine's pundit-in-residence, wrote an article headlined "Good-bye, Rock and Roll," in which he said "Rock and roll music is on the way out." His prediction, in December of 1959, was echoed by many others around the country. Well, since then have come the Beatles, who took rock from a kind of music to a genuine art form, and the other thoroughly professional, highly talented rock artists who followed. And, of course, the festivals. Woodstock was so highly praised that the public is now shocked at the trouble that has come to festivals this year. More and more, it is appearing that Woodstock was the exception to the rule that there will be some problems at all the festivals. The trouble has been of three types. The first is the one that the young people do not consider a problem: the heavy use of drugs and alcohol and widespread public nudity. This is the thing that is most angering to a large segment of the adult public. The second problem first appeared at the Altamont festival in California last December. Altamont was a one-day affair. Its main act was the Rolling Stones. The Stones have always had a devilish image, and the festival probably cemented this picture of them forever. The Stones' management hired Hell's Angels as security guards paying them with cases of beer and the Angels went at their job with a vengeance. Before the afternoon was over scores of rock fans had been beaten because they had gotten, in the opinion of the Angels, too close to the stage. And one young man ─ had been stomped to death. Since then motorcycle gang members have been appearing at almost all rock festivals, shattering the tranquility that most of the young people are seeking.
THE LAST problem is the one seen in Grant Park: violence springing from the crowd. So far this has been an isolated incident, but the widespread publicity it drew will doubtless cause the curtailing of rock festivals everywhere. The civic groups and local officials can say: Look at Chicago, we don't want that here. So, from that reaction, it appears that young rock fans face the prospect of having their festivals shut down. Will this end the rock scene? It does not seem possible. When authorities canceled a rock festival in the East, the fans showed up anyway. They did not get to hear the music they came for. But they took the drugs and relaxed in the grass and did all the other things that the rock festivals have come to stand for. This seems to be the point: No one can prevent young people from coming together If they want to. The communications system of the young is strong; underground newspapers, rock publications and the rock-oriented FM radio stations carry the message to anyone who wants to know about it. The rock culture has outgrown the music. Whether or not the festivals remain, the world that has grown up around rock will stay. Already some young people are saying that they would rather go to a small rock concert than a long outdoor festival. As one 18-year-old said in Rolling Stone: "After a certain point, what the hell's so great about lying around in the mud?" As was shown so well in the first days of rock and roll, predictions don't count for much. But as we enter the third decade in which rock is a force, it seems safe to bet that it's not over yet.