In the Winter of ‘65 – Part 2: Once Upon a Time You Dressed So Fine (Because Your Mother Made You)

17Jan10

[To recap:  This is the story of my first rock concert and the meshugaas that preceded it.  In Part 1, I argued with my parents – I wanted to go to Berkeley with 3 friends to see Bob Dylan perform, but they said no.  The resolution: One of my friends’ parents would drive us to the concert, but I would have to wear a jacket and tie.  The evening before the show, as a sort of hors d’oeuvre, I watched a televised Dylan press conference that included several of my journalism classmates asking him questions.]

I don’t think Eloise and Merrold Campbell fully understood the commitment they’d made when they agreed to accompany their son and his friends to this concert. 

For one thing, they probably didn’t know exactly where I lived.  My home was halfway up a hill in Ross, on a remote byway with a name that managed to sound both awkward and snooty at the same time: Upper Road West.  Negotiating its narrow twists and turns for the first time in the dusk of a December evening, I suspect they may have begun to question their decision, as they realized they would have to repeat this odyssey later that night. 

Don’t get me wrong – I loved living there!  There were beautiful trees (including several Coast Redwoods), deer grazed on the hillside, and the view was spectacular.  On a clear day, I could look across the bay and (with binoculars) see the campanile on the UC Berkeley campus – that hotbed of student unrest that was so worrisome to my parents.  It was a great place to grow up… just not a particularly convenient one when you needed someone to give you a ride. 

I saw the Campbells’ car coming up our driveway, said a curt “Bye” to my parents and headed out the door.  An hour before there’d been one last skirmish in the Battle of the Blue Blazer.  As with all the others, I’d lost.  This squabbling had soured my excitement about the concert; instead of the eager anticipation that I’d felt last night, I was just impatient and crabby. 

I walked down to the driveway and got into the back of a new 1966 Caprice (John’s dad owned the local Chevrolet dealership).  Like me, John was wearing a sport coat and tie – but somehow he just managed to look “dressed up” in a generic way; I looked (or at least, in my full-blown, adolescent self-consciousness, I felt that I looked) like I was going on a prep school field trip. 

I made small talk with John and his parents as we shlepped around Marin to pick up Jerry Carbone and Dave Greenfield.  Neither one was wearing a jacket or necktie.  I gave each of them a “What the @#$%?” look, but didn’t say a word about it.  Hell, I didn’t blame them – I was the shmendrik who couldn’t stand up to his parents.  Interestingly, Mrs. Campbell didn’t comment on this apparent dress code violation either – had I been punked by my own mother?  This turn of events did not improve my mood.

John and Dave debriefed their experiences at yesterday’s press conference.  Most the time I listened passively, but one thing caught my attention – John made a remark about the “wild man” who’d shouted at Dylan, “Do you think there’ll ever be a time when you’ll be hung as a thief?”

Me: “Uh… that was Ginsberg.”
John: “Huh?”
Me: “That guy… y’know, with the beard?  That was Allen Ginsberg.”
John: “Uh… yeah, of course.”

John knew a lot more about poetry than I did.  More to the point, John had loaned me his copy of Howl – the only Ginsberg poem I’d even read at the time.  Still, just for a moment, I wondered:  Was it possible that John hadn’t recognized who’d been sitting next to him?

The drive to the East Bay seemed to take forever, but eventually we arrived at the Berkeley Community Theatre and the 4 of us piled out of the car.  An usher lead us down the center aisle – all the way down to the 4th row.  Our seats were just to the right of the aisle; I hadn’t appreciated how incredibly close we were going to be.

We’d arrived very early and had a lot of time to kill before the show – a typical rookie mistake.  I loosened my tie (at the time, I wasn’t good at tying a necktie, even when looking in a mirror – without a mirror, forget about it; that’s why I didn’t take it off).  The theater wasn’t very full yet and it was cold so I actually left my blazer on.

The concert was supposed to start at 8 P.M.  Of course it didn’t, which fueled my antsiness.  About 8:20, I heard a commotion coming from the back of the auditorium.  I turned around and saw a group of Hells Angels walking down the aisle past us, carrying folding chairs.  They seated themselves in the pit area, right in front of the stage.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this.  On the one hand, given my cranky frame of mind, I was irked that these “thugs” could just walk in and sit wherever they wanted.  On the other hand, it felt pretty wild to be at the same concert as these notorious “outlaw” characters.  I wondered if Mr. and Mrs. Campbell had witnessed the Angels’ dramatic entrance.

More time passed.  Suddenly, the stage curtain moved slightly and the audience reacted with murmurs of excitement.  But the curtain didn’t actually open – instead, three people emerged from behind it, looking rather disoriented… as if they hadn’t quite expected to find themselves standing on a stage in front of several thousand people. 

They certainly were an interesting trio:  Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and a woman in a fishnet dress.  Ginsburg was holding hands with Orlovsky; I had never seen 2 men holding hands before.  At the time, I’d also never seen a man with hair as long as Orlovsky’s (it was well below his shoulders).  The attractive brunette woman with them was built like a brick shithouse – a fact emphasized by her outfit:  A black leotard and black tights covered by a very loosely knit mini-dress (she wasn’t wearing it for warmth, if you catch my drift).

Orlovsky and the woman stood there awkwardly for a couple of minutes, while Ginsberg crouched down and chatted with some people in the pit area.  Observing this novel threesome initially was diverting, but soon my impatience returned.  When would the damned concert begin?

My resentment was coming to a head.  I was pissed off at my parents, pissed off at the Hells Angels, and, ultimately, pissed off at myself for being so pissed off!  My frustration was spiraling out of control and, to top it off, there onstage, instead of Dylan, was Allen Ginsberg – shmoozing away as if he were at a kaffeeklatsch.

Like magma striving to erupt through the Earth’s crust, my seething irritation sought out a point of weakness where it could burst through to the surface.  The one it found was immaturity.

I cupped my hands around my mouth and blurted out, “Down in front, Ginsberg!”1

John Campbell was absolutely mortified.  He immediately shushed me… but he needn’t have bothered.  Suddenly, I felt blissfully calm… this moronic act had purged me of all hostility and anxiety. 

Ginsberg scanned the audience.  He didn’t look upset or offended; he just looked like someone who’d unexpectedly heard his name called.  I’ll never know what, if anything, he heard, but immediately after that he and his 2 companions climbed down from the stage and took their seats.

A few minutes later, the house lights dimmed and Dylan walked out onto the stage.2

I probably didn’t know the word at the time, but watching him – one man, alone, with just an acoustic guitar, a harmonica and his distinctive voice – hold 3,400 people transfixed for an hour was an object lesson in charisma.  I sat spellbound.  He sang a few of the songs from Bringing It All Back Home that I’d listened to on my record player the night before.  Now everything about them was more intense, raised to a higher level – it was my first experience of the je ne sais quoi of a live performance by an artist at the top of his game.

In the middle of the set, he introduced a new song, “Seems Like a Freeze Out,” which he’d mentioned in passing at the press conference.  This was the first public performance of the song that, when released on Blonde on Blonde, was titled “Visions of Johanna” – and it was breathtaking.

Oh yeah… Dylan wore a sport coat.  I recognized the irony, but didn’t give a shit anymore.  Hey, he was Bob Dylan – he could wear whatever he wanted (and make it cool).

The first set ended.  I wanted to talk with my friends about it, but struggled to find words that adequately expressed what I’d experienced.  We got up and slowly made our way towards the lobby.   There was another murmur of excitement – Joan Baez had been spotted in the audience.  Jerry Carbone pointed her out to me (it looked like her – but in Berkeley in 1965 it wasn’t that hard to find women who looked like Joan Baez).  I wondered what she’d thought when Dylan had sung his new song about a mysterious, haunting (and absent) female presence named “Johanna.”

After John checked on his parents, we returned to our seats.  Soon the curtain opened, revealing Dylan and his band.  He had changed clothes and was wearing a brown hound’s-tooth suit.  The pattern was unlike any hound’s-tooth I’d ever seen before; the “tooth” was gigantic… that was one hound you definitely wouldn’t want to mess with!  It also didn’t look like any suit my parents would have made me wear.

The band launched into “Tombstone Blues.”  Holy shit!  I’d never heard anything so loud before in my life.  In fact, I’d never experienced anything like it: a tsunami of sound was crashing over me – at its crest, Dylan intoned his hipster jeremiad, stretching and bending syllables like a blacksmith working red-hot iron.   

“Welllll, the sweet pretty things are in bed now, of course.
But the city fathers, they are planning to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse
But the town has no need to be nervous.
The ghost of Belle Starr, she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun; she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper, who sits
At the head of the chaaamber of com-merce.”3

[There is a bootleg recording of the electric set from this concert.  You can listen to 8 of the 9 tracks at
http://www.soundboard.com/sb/Bob_Dylan_Live_Berkeley.aspx 
The sound quality is rough, but for a “field recording” from 1965, it’s better than you’d expect.  Rumor has it that Ginsberg taped it.  He wasn’t carrying a reel-to-reel tape recorder when I saw him before the show, but he could have brought it in at intermission.  Famously, when Dylan “went electric,” he was booed by members of the audience who felt he’d “sold out” or some such bullshit.  I didn’t hear any booing (although, frankly, I might not have heard a howitzer being fired either) and the recording confirms that.  The audience was digging the show!]

The intimacy of the first set had been replaced with raw power.  A few of the high points for me included:

  • “Baby Let Me Follow You Down” – John Campbell had been right to make us listen to Dylan’s first album.  Having heard that lilting blues version of the song, I was blown away by his transformation of it into a full-tilt rocker.
  • “It Ain’t Me Babe” – With its smashing power chords and snarling delivery (“Go a-waaay from my win-dow, Leave at your own chosen speeeeed”), this is definitely not The Turtles’ version.  Clearly, “your own chosen speed” had better be pretty @#$%ing quick!
  • “Ballad of a Thin Man” – Dylan played the piano and sang; Garth Hudson’s organ fills were amazing.  I’d always liked the caustic, surrealistic put-downs in this song, but my experiences at this concert revealed to me that I actually was more like the Thin Man – something was happening and I didn’t know what is was – but I damned sure wanted to find out!

The concert ended with “Like a Rolling Stone.”  How does it feel?  Triumphant!  There was no encore (imagine that these days).  When we got to the lobby, we met up with John’s parents – they’d been waiting out there for most of the second set.  Predictably, they complained about how loud the band was.

My friends and I knew we’d experienced something very special – but it was going to take awhile to absorb it all.  We chatted a little during the ride home, but there were also periods of silence.  At some point, I realized it was after 11 P.M., so I asked Mr. Campbell to change the radio station to KFRC – I wanted to hear The Jean Shepherd Program.  On Saturday nights, he’d broadcast live from the Limelight Cafe in Greenwich Village.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce my friends to the show.  Unfortunately, Shep began the program doing a lampoon of folksingers.  He twanged his trademark  jew’s harp, imitating an inept musician who was incapable of tuning his guitar.  In another context, the monologue might have been hilarious; that night, it just sank like a waterlogged turd.

When we finally reached my house, I thanked the Campbells for driving and headed inside.  My parents were awake but I didn’t feel like talking to them.  As soon as I could, I said “good night” and went to my room.  I lay on the bed, simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated.  I’d been to my first rock concert – and couldn’t wait to go to my next one.

So… what have we learned?

  • “Comedy is tragedy plus time” – Although being forced to wear a navy blazer to this concert was merely embarrassing, not tragic, the concept still applies.  After 44 years, I finally can appreciate that it gave me a nice hook for this story.  Hey Mom, I’m sending “Thank you” vibes out to you, somewhere on the astral plane.

I’ve seen hundreds of concerts since then, including 20 more Dylan shows (most recently at the Hollywood Palladium last October).  But, as they say, you never forget your first time.  

Later…

  1. I recognize that this doesn’t put me in the same league as the guy who yelled “Judas” at Dylan during the Manchester Free Trade Hall concert in 1966 or Representative Joe Wilson who screamed “You lie!” at President Obama during his recent health care address to congress.  We were all being uptight idiots, but my comment was more of an absurdity than an insult.  Ginsberg himself had shouted out that absurdity about being “hung as a thief” at Dylan the previous afternoon – admittedly a wittier comment than mine.
  2. Unfortunately, I was unable to connect with Larry Keenan to get permission to use his great photographs of the concert in this blog post.  Please go to http://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/keenan/b1965-7.html
    to check them out and to read his account of that weekend’s events.
  3. Copyright ©1965; renewed 1993 Special Rider Music  
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7 Responses to “In the Winter of ‘65 – Part 2: Once Upon a Time You Dressed So Fine (Because Your Mother Made You)”

  1. 1 jallebrand

    You were there man. In the winter of ’65 (hungry, just barely alive/awake) Berkeley Dylan Ginsberg – in the vortex of the ‘times they are a changin’.’
    All I can say is – jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule . . . and hear the one with the mustache say “Geeez I can’t find my knees” . . . and the harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain . . . Ginsberg should sit down for that.
    Great capture of a teenage time of wonder, awe, awkwardness, and edging a whole nother or nether world of sound and consciousness.

  2. 2 Ted

    Your hilarious tale brought back some long buried memories of that awkward pre-drivers license era.That same year I was shuttled by my parents to San Francisco, where my friends and I saw one of the great comedy acts of the day – the Smothers Brothers.

    The Brothers retired, but they’re still forever young to me. And 45 years later, Dylan became my favorite artist on the ipod – the early stuff of course. Down in front Dorn!

  3. 3 paul fletcher

    great witty rememberances of a time when we were just beginning and Dylan was already streets ahead, like some visitor from a future time. i first saw him at sheffield city hall in april ’65 so there was no electric set but there was its alright ma and gates of eden blowing our young minds. my parents thought dylan was a protesting peacenik and were not keen on my going. it was another turning point in our relationship as i and my friends broke free of parental bonds.
    thanks for putting this out. takes me right back.

  4. What a tale you spin my friend! Thanks for that.

    Amazing that you were there, in sportcoat and tie no less, at such an early age.

    I first got turned on to Dylan officially in Sophomore year of high school by my English teacher, Tom Intondi.

    He had us do an analysis of “It’s Allright, Ma” and the revelation was an eye opener, especially for a guy who was 14 at the time.

    Tom is no longer with us, but I am forever grateful for the eye-opener.

    I remember starting back in 1969, when I was 16, attending many shows at The Fillmore East. My parents, though they were democrats, never much knew what was happening, but my father (RIP) sort of understood because he introduced me to Rock and Roll concerts via The Murray The “K” shows at The Brooklyn Fox in the early 60’s.

    When I approached my mom about me going to Woodstock that year, she was a little hesitant, but then agreed to let me go since I was going with “the older guys”.

    Something was happening, we might not have know what it was, but what a long, strange trip it has been, to paraphrase a few cool songs.

  5. Loved your story – I was at the same concert. My big sister, who was at UC Berkeley, took me to the show as a present for my 15th birthday. I wish we’d been as close as you, but we were up in the balcony like your friend’s parents. Anyway, your account brought me right back to that day and what was probably the coolest rock concert I ever saw.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. Speaking of birthday presents, today is Bob Dylan’s 71st birthday. Couldn’t have imagined such a thing in December, 1965.

  6. 7 Laverne Conway

    Michael, I enjoyed finding your blog that reflected our Redwood H.S. days. I didn’t get to see Dylan in concert, but was introduced to his music by the same muse, John Cambell. In our Civic Studies class at Redwood, the prof allowed us to share music with each other, and I brought a recording of Blowin’ in the Wind. I was crushed because the other students booed it! In another year or so, Dylan was all the rage…it is difficult to think outside one’s time, so perhaps I am skewed in my views, but weren’t we the very luckiest of teens to be coming to adulthood in Marin, in those days of creative juice and color, a magic bubble in the history of mankind? I move foward, but when I think back I consider myself blessed.
    Thanks again, Laverne


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