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July 1, 1971, Vol. XVI, No. 26
Fillmore, Summer of ’71: Graduation Day
By Don Heckman
So it turned out to be with a whimper, after all. Expecting fireworks at the Absolutely Last Final Fillmore East performance on Sunday night, we experienced, instead, a strangely down drifting-off into nothingness. The week’s hot rumors about superstar appearances and dynamite jams finally were dispelled around 2:30 a.m., when the Allman Brothers Band went on stage for the epitaph Fillmore set. The Beach Boys had been there, and Edgar Winter’s White Trash, Mountain, Country Joe, Albert King, and the J. Geils Band. But McCartney and Lennon never made their predicted surprise appearance on stage; if Dylan was there only Al Aronowitz knew about it, and the rumors of Jagger’s imminent arrival were too much to believe, in front.
The usual peripheral shit went down. Street people crowded the avenue outside, with a few heads getting busted; the Angels made a brief appearance. There was heavy tripping and a feeling of incipient violence in the air. At one point Bill Graham made an appeal to the audience to refrain from ripping off (literally) chairs, curtains, toilet seats, and everything else they could get their hands on. He insisted that the operation would be turned over to a new producer, but failed to confirm any of the rumors (more of them) about who the new buyer would be.
I suppose it was foolish to expect anything else. The Fillmore was born and bred to present rock music — group music — and that’s precisely what it did, right up to its final exhausted gasp. Superstars — apart from those with groups — were never its thing, since the Fillmore, in both its manner of operation and its style of presentation, represented a visible manifestation of the possibility of Community. Community between audience and performers, between sellers and buyers, between the business world and the people. It didn’t always work perfectly, but it came close enough to suggest that the sense of family which was a deep part of the relationship between the rock groups of the ’60s and their audiences might have an appellation that would reach into wider cultural, political, and social areas.
Does the closing of the Fillmore tell us that the Community, we-can-be-together trip was a shuck? Do all those incredibly loving sentiments expressed on the stage of the Fillmore by the likes of David Crosby and Neil Young, B.B. King, Tina Turner, Gracie Slick, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Roland Kirk, etc., etc. imply that it’s not going to work, that we can’t be together, that the fate of this generation is going to be the sam as that of any other, despite the high-handed idealism of its music?
I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does. Nailed about the Fillmore stage Sunday night was a banner that read “Graduation June 1971.” And maybe that was the key to it all. Maybe the closing of the Fillmore represents a symbolic graduation into the real world. Maybe the time has come translate the noble thoughts and phrases of the music into everyday action. Maybe the time to begin living, in our individual lives, the brotherhood and togetherness that was part of us as we sat in all the Fillmores of the ’60s.
And then, on the other hand, maybe — as Carole King sings — “It’s too late now.” I hope not. I like to think that an old Chinese saying is more apropos to the closing of the Fillmore. It goes like this: “That every ending shall be a new beginning is the law of heaven.”
[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.]