Jimi Hendrix and His Vulgar Bejeweled Transvestism: Monterey Pop!
Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives. June 29, 1967, Vol. XII, No. 37
The Hip Homunculus By Richard Golstein
MONTEREY -- It begins to sound like the plot of one of those absurdly gargantuan Hollywood musicals. They are sitting around John Phillips's living room in the highest holiest Hollywood, when suddenly the phone rings and someone with a lot of bread is offering those present a share of what promises to be a very profitable venture -- a pop blast at Monterey, festival capital of the West. Everybody listens and yawns the way superstars do at the prospect of earning another line on next year's 1040, when suddenly some supercool Mickey Rooney, with a flower child June Haver nestled at his feet, comes up with the eureka idea: "Let's do a show of our own. A pop festival, with flowers and food and a trippy flippy cast of thousands. Yeah."
And they do. For once, the money men back off and with them that cardboard consistency the title "music festival" usually conjures. For the first time in anyone's memory, the scene exploits back.
With a board of directors composed almost entirely of superstars, a press office headed by ace publicist Derek Taylor, the finances of a handful of youth millionaires on call, the First International Pop Festival at Monterey elicited the most potent form of worship. It came to represent rock, in all its parvenu pomp and passion.
From the East came the business and p.r. men -- not the Brill Building set, but younger, leaner faces. They came to watch, to mix, and to sample the merchandise. The balding starmaker with a payola factory is a myth in rock today. People still bribe, but today's tycoon knows that good music has a sexuality of its own. Today's kids collect art on wax -- and the pop entrepreneur must know the soul of the flower child. Without hipsense he is a relic.
But the Monterey Festival was a Western affair. There was more of San Francisco onstage than on Haight Street. All scenes were represented, but West Coast rock was virtually catalogued, and though the audience caught some standout r&b and English sounds, they honored their own.
Despite ego-proliferation, parochialism, and petty traumas, the Monterey Festival was the most impressive rock event within memory. To endure its five massive concerts (each up to five hours long) was to traverse the entire range of pop music of 1967. The sounds were presented with discipline, energy, and sometimes taste, and the average set ran 15 full minutes.
Hundreds of the most skillful pop musicians, backed by a stunning lightshow (the product of the Fillmore's "Headlights" ensemble), laid down their love offerings in the form of some of the most complex rock music ever performed, then wove their way through a backstage cluttered with musical debris to take pictures of each other, watch the proceedings on closed circuit television, introduce themselves, and call each other names.
The most uncanny thing about Monterey was the audience's ability to absorb it all, and return the fire in knowing applause. Sometimes the audience was fooled by flash, but for the most part they kept their heads close to the music, following it line by dissonant line. The music answered back: there was no condescension on either side, and the air rang with the California equivalent of bravo -- "beautiful" -- after an especially cagey rave-up.
The whole event was, as a late-night d.j. of renown calls it, a hip trip: make yourself known, if unknowable. Police estimated that upwards of 90,000 fans made themselves known that weekend. Their figures are generous, but the Monterey migration did represent just about the largest single influx of hippies on record. They came 10 to a jeep, 60 to a bus, four to a hitch. The new supra-Dylan look in curly hair has hit the West, and between Piccadilly psychedelic (a rhinestone-studded collage of feathers and felt) and Los Angeles neo-frontier (long sideburns, fitted waistcoat, and cowboy hat curled into a sneer), the fairground looked like the back lot of MGM.
At night it resembled a field hospital as they camped out by the thousands. An entrepreneur designated his parking lot a sleep-in and charged $1 a dozing vehicle. The local college opened its football field to the multitude and Eric Burdon played a 4 a.m. concert in the rain for an audience that must have thought he was an acid vision. The aroma of free-flowing grass was noted all around the fairground, and magic cakes and cookies abounded. One newspaper cannily observed, "there was smoking of LSD." Police made no arrests.
The underground press was hawked by local newsboys and for the first time in its history the Oracle was announced by the cry, "Extra!"
Monterey merchants and residents had the choice of resisting the onslaught and being engulfed in a typhoon of bad press, or complying and getting rich. Hippies may embrace poverty, but they are seldom poor, and so, not surprisingly, the city fathers chose to groove. They welcomed the hippies with open registers.
The local Kiwanis and Jaycees sold love-burgers to the hippies, shouting "tune on, turn in, drop it" with glee. The Peninsular Arab Club hawked baklava and a local synagogue peddled pastrami sandwiches. There was soul food, zen food, stoneground bread, and Monterey jack cheese. Waitresses wore feathers in their hair, and cops wore hip buttons on their lapels.
In fact, the local heat was so cool Derek Taylor christened them "the flower fuzz," and at the festival's conclusion complimented chief Frank Marinello, who admitted he had been a bit nervous. "But I have begun to like the so-called hippies very much," he told the press with a gray grin. "In all my 33 years on the force I have never encountered a more peace-loving group of people...
Moby Grape opened the last concert in fine form, although Skip Spense could be seen back stage beforehand, laughing at his fingers and making faces at the crowd. The Blues Project introduced their new organist, John-John McDuffy. He sings spade, and it is a strange contrast with the group's Jewish-folky approach. The combination is intriguing; it might just work. Give it time. The concert ended with the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, two imported delicacies. Both groups smashed their instruments, but since the West Coast has never seen such auto-destruction, the crowd was on its chairs, roaring for more. The Who's finale was stunning, if anticipated. As smoke engulfed the stage, the group tangled with the stagehands who tried to seize the microphones from under them.
For a while, it looked as though a brawl was brewing, but this billowing climax was a mere overture to Jimi Hendrix. Personally, I find his bejeweled transvestism vulgar, his grinding hips old fashioned, his singing mediocre, and his guitar runs fancy but fickle. Anyone who plays a stringed instrument with his teeth needs to know about Plus White, but that particular brand might put Jimi Hendrix out of business in England, since his major asset seems to be his hue. There is no sublimity to his music, just brutality. he comes on corrupt and debauched, like a drunk Rolling Stones song. Maybe England needs another mauve decade, but I think the kids here will forsake the big lie of exaggeration after a short honeymoon.
At Monterey, Hendrix celebrated the start of that newly wedded bliss. He slung a violet maribou over his shoulder and swung into "Hey Joe," "Purple Haze," and finally "Wild Thing" -- all spasm-rock; muddy, if stark sound. Like an evil bird of paradise, he fell to his knees and pretended to masturbate, hips bobbing, lips shrieking silently. Now I don't mind someone jerking off onstage, as long as he gets paid. But does the climax have to be symbolized by a can of lighter fluid squirting from the crotch? Must the "singer" then proceed to light a blaze and bow before his creation?
Only Jimi Hendrix knows for sure. At Monterey, he ended his set by flinging his smashed guitar out over the audience. The real musicians gazed horrified at that plastic mound which once made music. It was a strange moment for the love generation, aroused by all that violent sexuality into a mesmerized ovation. But no one saw the paradox in the Jimi Hendrix experience. Maybe that's what makes it art.
The festival closed with a 21-gun salute to the Mamas and the Papas who were present for nostalgia. They did nothing new, and their act was sloppier than I've ever seen it. Could be they were tired, but more likely, they have stopped creating vital music for themselves, and the stagnation shows. Great rock groups burn from both ends, and nothing is more depressing than a pile of ashes ready for the urn. Maybe John Phillips knew that when he lamented: "California dreaming is becoming a reality." Rest in peace.
When it was over, the Monterey Pop Festival had grossed $500,000. Hopefully the money will be well-spent convincing promising composers they needn't play with their teeth -- and themselves -- on stage. But the thing about the Festival was simply its occurrence.
We are witnessing something strangely dazzling in American youth culture. The birth of the flower child. Not the product of disc jockey hype or the denizens of the underground, but a new kind of hip homunculus, a suburban superman. He is a commuting hippie, and already beginning the seasonal trek to his self-proclaimed meccas. But his is a painless, half-fare journey. Today an entire sub-culture can be transported by the xerography of an event, to any chosen landmark -- the Grand Canyon, Haight Street, Monterey. The new gypsies travel, not in packs, but in mini-nations. They seek streets lined with sleeping bags, food from an overwhelming surplus and succor from mother nature -- with a tacorama nearby.
You will be hearing a lot about the hip homunculus. At Monterey he spent 20 hours on the grooviest trip of all -- culture. When last seen he was thumbing his way home, the sign on his back boasting "Hippie -- will rap." When you offer a lift, he talks about the scene in Salinas -- lettuce country. Even in "the artichoke center of the world," he wears bells and beads. A little odd, but folks don't laugh much anymore -- there are others like him now. You let him off at his parent's plastic palmtree with a view. He offers a grinning California handshake, and points to a sign facing his bedroom window: Caution -- Speed Zone.
"I wonder if they know," he shrugs in farewell.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]
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