A Twittering in the Trousers

Previously I hinted how rock and roll entered my life on those rugged camp-outs in the back yard with Gary. But now let's home in for a much closer look at how it really took off. I'll try to stick to a strictly chronological ordering here. Should you be so interested, you'll learn how I progressed along this always amusing path from naïve childhood to hedonistic excesses. Well, sort of...

From a very early age, I had high hopes of becoming a musician. That would never transpire, though I did manage to appear on stage a couple thousand times with several different bands. Yes, I sang and played guitar in those groupings, and maybe to the casual observer I was a musician. But, truly, not. To me, the Les Paul and the vocal cords were props, every bit as much as the costumes and Applause-O-Meter and Official East Side Pharaohs Bedpan. (The closest I ever came to selling out to the Dark Side--caring more about technique than entertainment--was during our performance of Georgy Girl in the early 1990s.)

A musician creates something which has no purpose. I, on the other hand, always had an intention...to think aloud, as it were, to put across an agenda, to rile, to watch the response from the crowd, which would cause me to rethink my own principles and decide how to live. In short, this was self-education. I suspect a legitimate musician gives, but I always took.

So, when I was eleven years old, the Dave Clark Five turned me on to what music could really do if one just probes a bit below the veneer. The Beatles meant very little to me at all and never have; pop music, even at that early age, made me droop, if you take my meaning. From my point of view, the Fab Four rubbed shoulders with Bobby Goldsburo or Wayne Newton or Neil Diamond. But when the DC5 came along, all of a sudden, even in prepubescence,  I felt some strange new stirrings.

Quite literally, the Dave Clark Five set me on a path to sensualism.

Now remember, we were barely out of the repressive fifties, so rock bands still had to be somewhat coy in how they got the message across. J. Edgar Hoover would still be running the social order in this country for another twenty years. Incidentally, isn't it amusing that women at that time were just itching to burn their brassieres, while simultaneously some chaps craved that hideous apparatus beneath their own three-piece suits and silken neckties?

To all intents and purposes, Mike Smith (one of the best rock vocalists ever) was singing of love, romance, and all the finer sentiments that would pass the parental censors. But three things were working in the background, a hidden language as it were, that oldsters never picked up on: Dave Clark's insistent drum beat (especially the bass drum)  mimicking the rhythm of uncontrolled pelvic thrusts, Denny Payton's raspy tenor saxophone hinting that there are alternatives to sexual relations beyond coition, and of course the increased emphasis of the bass guitar.

Go back and listen to the stuff from those days--the records of the Dave Clark Five were among the first in which the bass (always played with a smile by Rick Huxley)  stepped up to the front. Most instruments cater solely to the ear, but not the electric bass. I suppose Denny's harmonica playing also had an impact. There's something about a harsh blues harp topping off a seventh chord that just makes you want to cast prudence to the wind and not worry about the consequences. Despite that, I've managed to avoid procreation all these years by pure luck. But the happiest guy alive, surely, is he who is born infertile. Which makes me think: if Onan had been incapable of producing a single spermatozoan, would he have been struck down by a thunderbolt for spilling what was devoid of seed on the ground? Goddamnit--religion has so many difficult, important and breathtaking things to concern itself with, doesn't it!

That almost hijacked my train of thought, even though I've never considered a career in the priesthood nor wanted to molest innocents. But I repeat myself.

Back to the Dave Clark Five. For the sake of completeness, I'll mention that Lenny Davidson was superior on guitar and heavily influenced what I wanted to do, even if he did play a Fender. It was he who first made me aware of the diminished and the augmented-fifth chords, as well as the rapid-fire strums on the high notes occurring in Glad All Over. But by 1964, electric guitar was vieux jeu at least in the sense that it was no longer the instrument to alarm parents, except maybe those in the deep South. Of course, down there they still had Jerry Lee's piano to worry about and probably every other instrument, including oboe, caused concern; all music leads to impure thoughts, don't you know.

Before this time, music was "just there." Take it or leave it. When the Dave Clark Five's first album, all black, white and orange, appeared, I knew I was on to something novel. The phrase "nether regions" entered my lexicon.

In those days I still relied on sheet music (now that's an opening for Riff to provide an obscene punchline to), so after saving up for the LP album whose grooves were worn into oblivion by styli made of material tougher than Brillo pads, I then saved up again for the scores to Glad All Over as well as Bits and Pieces. My brother Bill, who was highly skilled on the piano, helped me work out the tricky bits, playing them first on the keyboard, then offering advice on the notes making up the chords. We had a fine old upright piano in the basement, but its dark walnut finish was in the last stages of terminal acne. It was in tune, had a rich sound, but clearly was in need of a massive lather with Clearasil.

Incidentally, thirty years hence, I was playing and singing lead in Glad All Over on stage with the East Side Pharaohs--something I would have never fathomed possible back in 1964--but don't tell BMI. When performing the tune, my mind always flashed back to those halcyon days at Louise Elementary School--really. I saw its performance as a fulfillment. And, of course, while singing, Pinkie and I eyeballed each other with lust in our hearts, or somewhere.

So here's my point. Prior to the Dave Clark Five, music meant absolutely nothing to me, other than some sort of semi-amusing diversion. Now, all of a sudden, it was suggesting incredible sensations yet to come. Anyone who denies that has an anesthetized groin.

Enough theorizing. Watch this and try to imagine a pre-teen in anticipation:


That was the warm-up. Now sample this. Surely the beat (certainly not the lyrics which are trivial) was designed expressly for groping in the dark. Even at Rhonda's birthday party the following year. Even when her buxom mother, decked out in garish Cinco de Mayo garb (and some people should never wear a miniskirt, especially at age 50), is peeping furtively from behind the oversized K-Mart lampshade of the cheap porcelain lamp. Even then.

I'm telling you, the Dave Clark Five were geniuses. They knew that the establishment would only hear the lyrics, never twigging what the drums, bass and sax were piping to the rest of us young-un's. Hence, the coded message passed by most completely unnoticed. Hell, even Ed Sullivan fell for it.

But I caught that the song was actually a palimpsest.

Lest you believe I'm guilty of the Emperor Has No Clothes syndrome, I hardly think it's an accident that Suzi Quatro, who parlayed urges into rock and vice-versa, picked up on the Five's first hit. Moreover, she understood that guitars and basses are supposed to be supported by five-foot straps. An instrument that doesn't hang in front of the crotch is simply confessing an atrophied member. Hence Jimmy Page and Chico from Sha-Na-Na. I felt this was so important back in 1974 that I had Misch's Shoe and Leather add an extra two feet to my strap. I'm pleased to report that Riff also wore his instrument exceedingly low. In this case, it made his extraordinary limbo all the more impressive. Anybody who plays a guitar at chest level is a wienie as far as I'm concerned. (It also means they're watching their fretting hands which is no better than picking your nose when being received by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle).

But, back to Suzi. This is a fantastic rendition.

What's the point of all this wool-gathering? Simply this. While the other bands then battling  for position on the Top Forty were playing 100% by the rules, just to keep the money coming in, the Dave Clark Five were about the only ones who understood rock music is about seeking illicit carnal knowledge, and were clever enough to slip it by the Index Librorum Prohibitorum of middle-America.

Even better, they taught me that feeling good, well, feels good. And why not? Surely Glad All Over is more than a metaphor.

Next installment: Armed and Dangerous

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