In the Winter of ’65 – Part 1: Your Sons and Your Daughters Are Beyond Your Command (or Not)
[To kick off 2010, here is the first half of the long but (I hope) amusing story of my first rock concert and the meshugaas that preceded it.]
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear – November 1965, about a month before my 16th birthday.
My attention had been focused on that great adolescent rite of passage: getting a driver’s license. I envisioned that having a driver’s license would change my life, opening up a world of possibilities that I could scarcely imagine – dating without a parental chaperone, for example. Apparently I thought there was some connection between license and licentiousness – or at least I hoped there was.
I was a junior at Redwood High School in Marin County. California. Instead of taking regular English classes that year, I was in EJ5 and EJ6 – a combination of English and Journalism. The idea was that we’d study journalism as juniors and then put out the school newspaper, the Redwood Bark, as seniors.
A good friend of mine, John Campbell, was also in that class. Earlier in the year, he had somehow finagled to get approval for an official student organization with the rather awkward name “The Modern Poetry in Music Appreciation Society.” It was essentially a ruse to get an Audio-Visual monitor to deliver a phonograph to the EJ classroom once a week, so we could listen to records during lunch. John, however, took the name seriously – after we listened to a song, he would pass out dittoed1 pages of the lyrics and facilitate a discussion of their meaning.
John, as founder of this organization, also exerted total control over the music we listened to – for example, he insisted that we listen to Bob Dylan’s albums in chronological order. He thought that, by taking this approach, we would gain insights into Dylan’s development as an artist. As a result, I got to hear his first album (Bob Dylan) for the first time, including – notably – the song “Baby, Let Me Follow You Down.”
One day in November, John came up to me before class started and told me exciting news: Dylan would be performing at the Berkeley Community Theatre on Friday, December 3rd and Saturday, December 4th. The tickets would go on sale next Saturday.
Naturally, I was eager to go. Two other members of our journalism class, Jerry Carbone (head of the Student News Bureau) and Dave Greenfield (aspiring photo-journalist) wanted to go as well.
Given the rigmarole and cost involved in buying concert tickets nowadays, it’s hard to believe that:
- The tickets cost $4.50.
- When John went to the San Rafael ticket agency on Saturday morning, he was the only person in line.
When I saw John the following Monday, in a numerological fluke, he had 4 tickets in the 4th row for the December 4th show.
I was incredibly excited – it even (temporarily) eclipsed my obsession with preparing for the driver’s license exam. But being able to drive was not irrelevant to this situation: I lived in Marin County (in a town called Ross) and the concert was in Berkeley, 21 miles away. How was I going to get there?
In my naïve attempt to address that simple question, I wound up becoming an inadvertent shit stirrer.
I innocently mentioned to my parents that I had a ticket for a Bob Dylan concert in Berkeley. They didn’t know Dylan from Adam, but they were not happy that I had done this – especially my mother. I was an only child with over-protective parents and, predictably, they told me flat-out that I could not go.
Me: “Why not?”
Them: “You didn’t ask our permission before you bought the ticket.”
Me: “I bought it with my money. I didn’t need to ask your permission before I bought his album.”
Them: “You don’t need to go to Berkeley to listen to the record.”
It was late 1965. To my Republican parents, Berkeley conjured up images of rioting college students – the Free Speech Movement, Vietnam War protests, etc. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to the UC Berkeley campus – in their minds, the whole town was some sort of left-wing cesspool.
I tried a classic teenage argument:
Me: “But… three of my friends are going.”
Me: “John Campbell… and 2 other guys from our English class.”
Them: “You expect us to let you go to Berkeley with 2 boys we don’t even know? Who’s driving?”
Me: “Well, I don’t know yet… maybe John.”
They simply wouldn’t budge… I could not go.
But then – and I’m still not exactly sure how this came about – my mother spoke on the phone with John’s mother. Following that conversation, she informed me that John’s father and mother would accompany the 4 of us to the show.
Me: “They’re going to drive us?”
Me: “What are they going to do while we’re at the show?”
Them: “John got tickets for them.”
Me: “You’re kidding!”
Them: “No. Unfortunately, John couldn’t get them seats next to you… they’ll be in the back of the theatre.”
“Unfortunately” my ass… I was certain that John didn’t want to sit with his parents during the concert. I was also certain that his parents weren’t exactly thrilled by the prospect of attending the concert… but at least now I was going to be able to go. My mother, however, had one last parental maneuver up her sleeve: later that day I found her in my room, looking into my clothes closet.
Mom: “I’m taking your navy blazer to the dry-cleaners.”
Mom: “You’re going to a concert… you need to wear a jacket and tie.”
Mom: “It’s a concert… you’ve got to look presentable.”
Me: “But… it’s not that kind of concert. Nobody will be dressed like that!”
Mom: “Listen, the only reason I’m letting you go is that Mrs. Campbell agreed with me – all of you needed to wear coats and ties!”
I couldn’t believe the humiliation my own mother was inflicting upon me. It was bad enough that I was going to have to wear a @#$%ing blazer and tie to my first rock concert – but she was forcing my friends to do it too. At school the next day, John and Jerry kidded me about it, but Dave – well, he was just pissed off. I didn’t blame him, either.
Despite all the nonsense, I was really getting excited about going to my first rock concert. Then, a few days before the show, something totally unexpected happened. Our journalism teacher, Miss Gentry, informed John that Dylan was going to have a press conference on Friday, December 3rd and several Bay Area high schools, including Redwood, had been invited to send student reporters. She’d selected John to go. Somehow, John convinced Miss Gentry that he needed a photographer to go with him, so Dave went along too. I was amazed (and jealous) when I found out. And, even though I couldn’t attend the press conference in person, it was going to be broadcast on KQED, the local public television station, that evening, so I would be able to watch it.
That Friday afternoon I commandeered the TV set. I tried to explain to my mom about the press conference – she just asked why Miss Gentry hadn’t selected me to go. I pointed out that I didn’t have a driver’s license yet and went back to fiddling with the “rabbit ears” antennae to improve the reception.
As soon as the press conference began, I saw Dave Greenfield with his camera, sitting cross-legged right up front [he’s just below the word “press”].2
Bob was, indeed, wearing a tweed sport coat. Damn! Any chance that I could avoid having to wear my blazer to the concert went right out the window. Well, at least he wasn’t wearing a tie – but then again, I didn’t own any shirts with a pin collar like his.
I sat enthralled, watching Dylan field a slew of ultra-serious questions with hilarious put-on and/or put-down answers. As the press conference continued, Dave snapped pictures and John, seated between Michael McClure and Allen Ginsberg, fidgeted nervously.3
Suddenly, I was shocked to see another student from my journalism class there among the reporters – a girl named Michelle Basil.
Geez… this was starting to get surreal. I hadn’t seen so many of my classmates on TV since my cub scout troop went to a taping of King Norman’s Kingdom of Toys. I wondered how Michelle had gotten into the press conference.4 Although we were both in the EJ classes, I didn’t know her very well. I regarded her as Redwood High School’s preeminent Beatlemaniac – which was probably true, as far as it went. In fact, I once heard a disc jockey on KYA (a Bay Area radio station) say that he had just checked with Michelle Basil to get the facts regarding some Beatle-related rumor. On the other hand, God only knows what impression she had of me – some hybrid of nerd and class clown would be a reasonable guess.
A little later, as I watched dumbfounded, Michelle asked Dylan a question.
MB: “Do you prefer songs with a subtle or obvious message?”
BD: “With a what?”
MB: “A subtle or obvious message?”
BD: “Uh… I don’t really prefer those kinds of songs at all – ‘message’ – you mean like.. what songs with a message?”
MB: “Well, like ‘Eve of Destruction’ and things like that.”
BD: “Do I prefer that to what?”
MB: “I don’t know, but your songs are supposed to have a subtle message.”
BD: “Subtle message??”
MB: “Well, they’re supposed to.”
BD: “Where’d you hear that?”
MB: “In a movie magazine.”
Everyone in the place laughs (including Dylan).
BD: “Oh… oh God! Well, we won’t… we don’t discuss those things here.”
[It was, as Yogi Berra would say, déjà vu all over again, when – in September 2005 – I encountered this exchange while watching the second night of Martin Scorsese’s documentary “Bob Dylan: No Direction Home” on PBS. Michelle Basil – eternally 16 years old – had become part of the official Dylan hagiography.]
Considering the tone that Dylan had taken with many of the other questioners, he’d been relatively gentle with Ms. Basil.
Eventually, John asked a couple of questions – one about the incident that led Dylan not to perform on The Ed Sullivan Show and then a rather literal one: “Where is Desolation Row?” Dave Greenfield even put down his camera and asked a question. I couldn’t believe it – friends of mine were on television, interviewing Bob Dylan.
There were only about 24 hours to go before the concert. I was so excited I could hardly eat dinner that night. Later, I listened to Bringing It All Back Home on the little portable record player in my bedroom and tried to imagine what tomorrow night would be like. Then I got into in bed and turned on my transistor radio. From 11 PM to midnight, KFRC, an AM radio station in San Francisco that was Top 40 format 23 hours a day, would play Jean Shepherd’s late night monologues from its New York sister station, WOR. There in the dark, listening to Shep’s satirical commentaries and nostalgic tales, I finally drifted off to sleep.
So… what have we learned?
- The times they have a’changed: phonographs, ditto machines, black & white televisions and transistor AM radios are all museum pieces.
- I think we can add “strict parents” to that list, too.
Later… [In the second half of this story, I promise to actually tell you about the concert.]
- Before Xerox and photocopying, the Ditto Machine was a cumbersome means of duplicating documents. The fluid used in the process caused the paper copies to give off intoxicating fumes that students enjoyed inhaling – a very mild precursor to huffing – as shown in a scene in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
- All of the pictures from the press conference are frame captures from the DVD Dylan Speaks – The Legendary 1965 Press Conference in San Francisco, © 1965, 2006 Jazz Casual Productions, Inc.
- The roster of people at that press conference is remarkable – from concert promoter Bill Graham to members of the improv group “The Committee.” Blair Miller has documented the attendees – check it out at:
- Demonstrating a combination of savvy and chutzpah, she had written to Albert Grossman (Dylan’s manager) and asked if she could interview Dylan; Grossman wrote back, inviting her to the press conference. Michelle (Basil) McFee recounted her experiences in “Clean-Cut Kid,” a chapter in the book Encounters with Bob Dylan: If You See Him Say Hello and writes the blog The World According to Me http://mizshelysspace.blogspot.com/
Filed under: 60s Flashbacks, Bob Dylan, Humorous Musings | 18 Comments
Tags: 1965, Bob Dylan, humor, KQED, m. j. dorn, memoir, Michael Dorn, Press Conference, Redwood High School, rock and roll, San Francisco, The Sixties