Saturday, June 16, 2007

MONTEREY POP 3 : A saturday night in June


A Very Long Mythic Night

The evening concert is well known to anyone who has seen the documentary. At last I got to see a real San Francisco light show. Instead of a couple of highschool guys fooling around with some vegetable oil and food coloring on a borrowed overhead projector, I was going to see what the big guys did. So, I was excited about that.

The Jefferson Airplane played that night. I had seen them a couple of times already. Their performance at monterey was actually pretty sub-par. Maybe they were self-conscious, or quarrelling..or intimidated by the royality back stage. Monterey itself was kind of a world stage - one on which the famed "San Francisco Sound" was breaking out of it's West Coast reign to introduce itself to the wider world. I remember the songs from Surrealistic Pillow being the most effective. Somehow the chemistry between Marty and Grace never seemed to mesh for me. When it did the band flew out to the galaxies...but not that night.

But the night didn't stay mellow for long, with the Who and Hendrix, of course. The Who were still in their rock-opera stage - which meant that there were many quirky stops and starts, songs within songs, jokes and nudges that only a Brit would get. Still they had that famous ending where they smashed their instruments to oceans of feedback. Most of the hippies around me were visibly put off by the noise & destruction. Or maybe plain shocked actually. There was a distinct vibe that these English groups were coming from a different place.

That sense of invasion became even more intense when Jimi Hendrix followed. People were intrigued. Here was a black man who was dressed as an English dandy and played guitar as if he were making love. There was no peace involved - but a lot of love. Squishy hot blackman love. We all had his album of course, but this live performance shifted the whole emphasis of the music away from layered UFO psychedelia into a more carnal area. This mix made people stand up and pay attention. You have to remember this was his first performance in the States as the rock god we think of today.

As the music built there was also a feeling of the Vietnam War coming in the back door. The noise of helicopters, bombs and jets were sliding through the feedback. In a sense the famous setting-the-guitar-on-fire moment was actually small on stage,compared to the close-ups on film. It was more the breakdown into utter sonic chaos that carried into the audience. The Who had set it up and Hendrix delivered the dark confusion under the Summer of Love.

As my sister, Kirk and I stumbled out into the warm night the word was spreading that there was another scene happening a few blocks away on the track field of the local high school. Monterey had been overwhelmed with the number of kids showing up who had no where to stay. The city council and police decided to open up the athletic field to anyone who needed to camp for the weekend. Rumours were flying that a second set of concerts were happening after the festival into the wee hours. That sounds cool ! Let's go.

It was a curious scene. Many people were milling around in the dark, trying not to step on dozing types in sleeping bags. A large sheet had been draped over the goal post at one end of the field, turning it into a projection screen. A large painted bus was parked on the track with painted people scrambling around on it and in it. Hell's Angels were revving their Harleys and racing around and around the track menacingly. In the center of the field a tower had been set up topped by a powerful strobe light. Under the strobe various stoned dancers were flinging chains up and down in the flashing light. Sort of a tripped-out version of jump rope. The chains appeared to be frozen in the flashes into different configurations. The use of heavy chains and the Hell's Angels gave the whole thing an interesting edge.

I headed to the bus, to see what they were up to. There I met a bunch of Really Friendly People who invited me in. The bus was impressive inside, what I could see of it in the half-light. There was a round cut out hole in the roof that had a clear plastic dome over it - you could stick your head up and see outside. I then followed one of the guys up a ladder onto the roof of the bus. There a whole array of slide projectors, 16mm movie projectors and liquid light set-ups were set up. A couple of people in white overalls were beginning to fiddle with the gear. There also seemed to be audio stuff set up. They kept talking about "the movie". "Have you started the movie?" Abruptly images started to appear on the goal post screen. Black and white sort of shaky sometimes pixilated images of the same people I was with on the bus, running around the bus, smirking into the camera, flashes of white, footage out he window, etc. Then they began running two films, one projected on top of the other...and some slides of moire patterns and odd slogans in bold type. I climbed down eventaully to go find my sister who was over by the strobelight dance.

It wasn't until many years later that I understood who the nice people on the bus were. I was reading "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test", a book by Tom Wolfe . It came to me that I had been hanging that night with the Merry Pranksters , running around on a mythic bus named FURTHUR. Which now rots in the swamp in Oregon. I was watching the equalling mythic "Movie" which was shot as they traveled across the US stoned on government manufactured LSD. The projectors were used in the infamous Acid Tests.

We didn't see any rock stars that night, stumbling around in the dark. Maybe they were there, stumbling around too. I had a more mythic encounter with a fleeting troupe of psychedlic rangers, now lost to legend.

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