Barry Ollman Collections
The music had become everything...
I nearly died at my first Rock concert! It was a Sunday morning, June 7, 1964 and I was about to turn 11 years old. That morning a school friend called and asked if I wanted to go with him to see the Dave Clark 5, and he even had a ticket for me. Something happened to me in that moment and before I even thought of asking my parents, I said yes, absolutely, yes.
I had no clue how to go to a Rock show and I actually remember putting on my only suit, a little shark skin number, and a tie. I don't remember if that was what I thought I was supposed to wear or if I actually thought I looked cool. That much is forever lost to History. I got a ride to his house and his dad drove us downtown early. We skipped to the front of the long line and as the doors opened we ran right up to the stage.
Within minutes the crowd began to grow and before long I began to realize that I was in deep trouble. Suddenly I couldn't get a breath and the surge of screaming girls became a force that I had never experienced before or since. I have an old newspaper article that says that the promoter sold twice the number of allowable tickets that day. After what seemed like an hour, a team of police officers piled in and started lifting hundreds of wilted and terrified kids on to the stage and many were put on stretchers and rushed to the hospital. I lay on a cot backstage until I felt a bit better and proceeded to watch my first real Rock Show, wandering in a daze round the back of the room. I remember the DC5 playing Glad All Over and Bits and Pieces and that's about it. One more thing... I remember a bunch of tough kids, greasers as we called them, kneeling in a circle towards the back of the hall, pounding out the drum part to Bits and Pieces on the dance floor of the giant oversold ballroom. The guys wore dark Ban-Lon shirts with cigarette packs tucked into their short sleeves. I felt like I was on a different planet and maybe I sort of was.
The whole experience was a total shock to me and all I could think about was going to another show!
That next show happened in September of 1964 and I'm forever grateful to say that it was The Beatles. I think my ears still hurt from those screaming girls, and I could barely hear The Fabs, but it was a true life changer for me.
As the years went by I went to a lot of concerts and I have to admit that I felt that I had a secret advantage: my father wrote for Billboard Magazine, the bible of the American music business, and my parents actually thought music was great! My best friend's father was a big time liquor distributor and bought a huge house on a fancy street. My dad clacked away on his typewriter, night and day, earning three cents a word for his efforts and while we lived in a very modest house, I never felt jealous of anyone.
The music had become everything to me and the concerts were Religious Experiences. I remember them all... Hendrix, Zeppelin, Cream, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Mann, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, Joan Baez, Blind Faith, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas, Santana, Chuck Berry, The Grateful Dead, Tim Buckley, Buffy St. Marie, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Jethro Tull, Ray Charles, Jeff Beck, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Ravi Shankar, Laura Nyro, and on and on... My mind had been cracked open and the music kept it that way.
On August 16th, 1969, 42 years ago today, as I write these words, and the night before they helicoptered into Woodstock and played for 500,000 people, some of my friends and I drove to Chicago to see the first ever performance of the new "Super Group", Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young with Joni Mitchell as the opener and all I can say is I was a believer. Music was the thing and nothing was going to get in its way. The message was clear: we can all make our own music and say what we ourselves want to say! Chimes of Freedom flashing! With the horror of the Vietnam War as the ever present backdrop, what could have been more revolutionary? Our musicians were fighting for us too and while I didn't realize it at the time, they were sending waves out all around the World.
That 16 year old kid from Milwaukee, sitting in the Chicago Auditorium, could never have imagined that 20 years later I would meet and become great friends with Graham Nash. One memorable evening in 2002 I found myself backstage at a dinner table with Graham, the ever amazing David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young and their longtime manager, the late Gerry Tolman. At one point, Graham told the guys that I had been at that first show and I mentioned that my strongest memory of the evening was when they drew the curtains back to reveal an awesome array of now vintage guitars, made by the legendary American manufacturers: Martin, Gibson, Gretsch and Fender. I'll never forget the dreamy look on Neil Young's face as he said, "Man... that was a thing of beauty".
But I digress. Back to the narrative...
As profound an effect as the music had on us in America, of course I now know that another small crack was already forming in a massive Wall in Eastern Europe. And as the music kept coming, strangely enough, things actually seemed to be changing. How could they not? Powerful emotions were being expressed in the Universal Language of music and we were listening and couldn't get enough. This was big stuff!
And another thing... back then we knew that music was meant to be shared. We'd get our friends together, light a candle, and listen to Sgt. Pepper's, Are You Experienced or Blonde on Blonde, on actual speakers. First side one, then side two, then side one again and so on.
It has sort of snuck up on us but I want to state what is probably obvious, but maybe not, that iPods with personal ear buds have had a huge effect on the way we listen to our music. Now we listen alone while we're doing a million other things! Back then it was the way we fell in love, the way we took a half an hour from an otherwise crazy day and let ourselves dream the future, and it was the way we made important life decisions because we were together, paying attention to something beautiful. We had to pay attention, to get up and turn the vinyl over! There was no shuffle button...
Long before the Internet screwed everything up for them, the seemingly All Powerful Music Business smelled the one part per billion of opportunity and somehow managed to corner and corporatize that delicate flowering of Sixties creativity. Of course today the music never seems to stop, pumped into every store and waiting room, but to me a lot of it resembles wallpaper as much as anything. Even though we now have to listen a little closer, the truly great music is still there, waiting to be noticed and appreciated behind all that noise. But don't get me wrong, some kid is out there writing a great song as you read this. In fact, with the relative collapse of the music industry over recent years, I see a whole new phenomenon taking shape. Do you also notice that there seems to be more new music happening now than ever? I'd say the difference is that there is less and less involvement with those corporate behemoths. With affordable home studio equipment and plenty of great musical instruments available to one and all, it's little wonder that I'm hearing about new bands every time I turn around. And with the viral nature of the Web, they have huge followings! They may not get as rich as those Golden Gods of yesteryear, but once again people seem to be making music for the best of reasons, because they can't not make it!
If you've actually taken the trouble to come to this exhibit, I think you may already know what I'm going on about. There are some powerful artifacts, each of them potent memory aids right here in these rooms. So we cordially invite you to come back with us to that moment when it all opened up and the music became everything.
Back to the garden, indeed...Barry Ollman