Beatles or Stones?


Haven’t seen Not Fade Away yet, but I’m super interested in this just-released attempt at capturing the garage band movement of the 1960s, although the initial reviews are not great, so I guess it won’t be creating a new franchise for Sopranos creator David Chase.

Immediately after Beat Street, I tried to launch my own garage band movie, and even had a great script titled The Runaways. I have a habit of walking away from energy centers at peek levels, and could have had a successful career as a professional hip hop journalist, but, instead, right after Beat Street and my book Hip Hop came out, and inspired by my new South Bronx friends, I decided to return to the music of my roots. In both cases (garage, hip hop), huge creative vibes were unleashed initially by kids age 14-16, with no one else involved, except our inspirations, which, in my case, initially emanated from England mostly (although Amsterdam had a scene just as good as Liverpool’s or London’s). Yes, it was the Beatles who made me want to pick up a guitar, but when I finally got that guitar, it was Rolling Stones songs I actually performed on stage with the Knight Riders. I was still in junior high when I saw their first performance at a sock hop at the end of the school year. I had no idea a bunch of kids my age could engineer such a mind-blowing rock sound. They only played one or maybe two songs, but I was changed forever. I didn’t recognize the song at the time, but later discovered it was Get Off My Cloud, although it could just as easily have been Gloria, the chords are similar and that now famous garage rock anthem from Them and Van Morrison was actually picked up by a local band in my town before the Shadows of Knight covered it. Within a year I was playing bass in the Knight Riders.

So when I talk about the 1960s garage band movement, I lived it, not as a star, but as a teenager struggling to take on a new cultural identity against intense resistance, mostly from my own father. They call it a “generation gap” today, but it was really a generation war.

Although I’d later learn to embrace non-violence, that wasn’t the way it started, and if you read my first short story (East Village), which is free on smashwords (and now illustrated with my art from the period), you can get inside my 16-year-old mind, and it was certainly chock full of violence, the love of which may have been initially planted by the mainstream media. Many teens of the era, me included, had to run away in order to become ourselves. And those adventures often led to big cities, like New York, where some freaky movies and weird shit always went down. After some of those adventures, we became jaded, cynical, old souls pretty quick.

My next short story, also on smashwords, and also recently updated with photos and illos from the period, covers my climactic battle with my parents, which occurred in 1967. The cover photo (left), taken by Bugsy, reveals my regular uniform at the time: black double-breasted leather jacket, jeans and long-sleeve white shirt. I think every black kid in my high school coveted that jacket, and some even warned me never to leave it in my locker unguarded. The fact it was double-breasted is what made it so distinctive. If you want to experience the raw emotions unleashed during the era, you will find them here, although it will cost 99 cents, as I need to get something back from all this art I’ve created. The next one, however, is free.

My final short story in this trilogy from the 1960s, is a dispatch I wrote while hiding out from the Vietnam War in Stockholm, Sweden, where I had a wonderful apartment and gorgeous girlfriend (left), and a brief gig as an extra in a film (Joe Hill), but still felt strangely empty upon being separated from my beloved homeland for such a long stretch. This was near the zenith of my nihilistic tendencies, and the story lapses back into the black humor of East Village, a much needed relief from the trauma of The Steam Tunnels.

Hopefully I’ll soon post my original garage band script that bounced around Hollywood for over a decade. I almost got a low-budget version done through High Times, and even had a cast assembled and a $100,000 budget drawn up, but then the funding fell through. The main thing about this post though is if there are any people out there interested in 1966-9, you might want to check out these three eBooks because they were written during the period. In other words, it’s the real deal. Us hippies were a lot tougher than you think.

Enter the Knight Riders

It sure was nice of my Yankee Ridge buddy, Stuart Tarr, to recognize my first publication, the Cap’n Crunch Courier (CCC) in his dedication to my 1965 yearbook. Things would really change quickly the next year, as the Generation War heated up and eventually boiled over. I was stuck in a program for troublemakers and had few classes with my friends and intellectual peers.

One Saturday my family went hiking at Turkey Run in Indiana, and I cracked my knee while rock climbing. I smacked it so bad that an egg-like shape swelled up and they put me on crutches for a week. Near the end of the week, however, I found myself in the second fight of my life.

A girl in my class was making a huge deal about what adorable teddy bear eyes I had and was debating this with the teacher and a bunch of other girls. Now, I was super shy and I thought I was going through school pretty much unnoticed by the opposite sex, so I was way too embarrassed to respond. But I saw a frown on Harvey Treat’s face. And I soon heard him murmur: “He doesn’t need those crutches…it’s an act.”

Maybe Harvey had a crush on that girl; I don’t even remember her name. Later in the day, in shop class, I see Harvey has his crew all ganged around and I get this paranoid feeling Harvey is talking about me.

Thankfully, the bell rings and I head for my next class: band practice. I’m opening the door to the band rehearsal room, when I suddenly notice Ronald Dix standing right next to me. Ron kicks me in the shin. (Keep in mind, I’m on crutches.) Without hesitation, I kick Ron back about as hard as I could, at which point Ron lands a fist square on my choppers. I dropped my crutches, grabbed Ron by the throat, back-tripped him to the ground, and pinned on the floor. By this time, I noticed a crowd around us, some of whom were cheering me on.

“You beat his ass,” said Bugsy after everything broke up. See, Ron was smaller than me, but he weighed more. He was a jock, a wrestling champ. He wore a crew cut. He was a member of the Junior Red Cross. He was as goody-two-shoes as it gets and I had no idea why he wanted to mess with me…unless it was a dare Harvey had put him on. I’d never had any dealings with Ron in my entire life.

When I got to band practice, news of the fight had already spread, plus I had a split lip and couldn’t play my trumpet, so I got sent to see Mr. Walljasper, the school disciplinarian. While waiting on the couch outside his door, I started to break down. I was afraid I was going to be branded a rat and didn’t know what I should say. Although it was against my instincts, I ended up telling Walljasper the truth. He called Ron into his office immediately and expressed his disappointment that a exemplary student like Ron had behaved so badly. We shook hands and Walljasper escorted us both to the gym, where a pep rally or something was already taking place. I just remember the intense shame of having to walk through there knowing the fight was being talked about everywhere. I didn’t think I’d won or lost; I just felt sick at heart that I was making enemies without even trying. I was a super scrawny kid, and looked like a pushover to a lot of bullies, but the truth is, once they messed with me, they soon discovered I was a wiry son-of-bitch with a lot of heart.

The next day, the school held the final sock hop of the year, and it featured the debut of the Knight Riders, four guys from my class, one of whom was playing an organ, which was quite unusual. “Gloria” by the Shadows of Knight was my favorite song at the time, but they were playing something just as intense! I was instantly blown away and went to the very front row and bomped hysterically throughout the song. When their three-song set was over, I went backstage (the cafeteria) and let it be known I was a devoted fan on the spot and hailed them as true rock geniuses. I’d thought they wrote that song, but months later, while attending a rehearsal, I’d realize it was “Get Off My Cloud” by the Rolling Stones they were playing. I dropped the Cap’n Crunch Courier and began plotting how I was going to engineer myself into a rock band.