Armed and Dangerous

So, the Dave Clark Five adumbrated to this sixth grade lad that something new was on the horizon, as described in the previous entry. I wasn't sure what, but the word portentous comes to mind. Maybe that's the charm of youth: everything is a sign, personalized, and for those who simply watch and never render judgement, managing to forget all the hideous inhuman lessons of enforced Sunday School, those lucky few might anticipate a life of exquisite sensations, the beginning of freethinking.

And in those days, there was no Internet or even risqué films to offer advice. (I Am Curious Yellow still lay a few years ahead).  Glad All Over nudged me, but I was on my own now to keep the ball rolling. That's okay; I've always enjoyed working from first principles. More than anything, feeling that my conclusions are logically consistent within the framework of some possibly arbitrary axioms is all that matters. And I really did understand the germ of a few of those axioms by this time; as vainglorious as it sounds, I knew what I wanted to jettison even then: recycled scruples.

I've always loved school, both for the learning of new things, as well as the endless opportunities for pranks. Sociopathy became an artform to me. Moving on to West Junior High was a serious treat. It was further away from prying eyes, and as a larger school, there were new friends to make, dangerous ones even. Louise Elementary was way too safe; I wanted to live on the fringe, and junior high was the razor's edge.

Music still dominated my emotional development. Previously, my parents thought it might be beneficial if I had some legitimate guitar lessons. Well, I suffered through
Michael, Row the Boat Ashore and countless other agonizing ditties. Not a single tune among the lot encouraged fistfighting or groping in the dark. The only useful things I picked up from that spell of servitude were (a) the open B-seventh chord, a thing of beauty forever, and (b) never trust the artistic appetites of a beatnik girl. I quickly learned to flee from overly-serious babes sporting long, straight black hair and bangs, who perform only Joan Baez songs, capo clenched in place, if you please. Capos are a confession of failure, just one step removed from undescended testicles, as far as I'm concerned.

In the seventh grade, television and American kitsch dominated the music scene, and by extension, what I would be learning on guitar. I was still hammering away at that Montgomery Wards hollow-body, but knew total maturity would only come my way with an electric guitar. And maybe some babes.

Rather unbelievably, I constructed my own of 3/4" exterior plywood (spray-painted gold), carefully inlaying the frets with baling wire. I knew no mathematics in those days, but had intuitively or perhaps just empirically figured out the twelfth-root-of-two relationship required. Some tuning pegs scavenged from a junked acoustic and a boxy ceramic microphone once used with a shortwave radio but now glued to the body completed the deal. You'll probably accuse me of exaggeration, but it actually was fairly in tune, at least to my untrained ears. Link Wray would no doubt also say it was hunky-dory. And get this, I had even rigged up a spring loaded whammy bar for doing pitch bends. My handicraft was certainly no threat to Gibson,  but the commitment was there. After a few months of suffering lacerated fingers, my parents took pity, recognizing my enthusiasm for the instrument, and located a fine second-hand Les Paul Junior from the auction barn for me. Now I could start learning the real stuff.

Tons of tripe polluted the airwaves then: Do the Freddie, Jolly Green Giant, Snoopy and the Red Baron, I'm Henry the Eighth I Am, and other tunes guaranteed to appeal only to non-musicians picking up an instrument for the first time with thoughts of, "Hey, I think I'll give this rock-biz-thing a whirl myself." For those seeking a bit of a challenge--don't laugh--only the Monkees were trying something a trifle more involved. Say what you will about them, they employed some of the best writers in the business: Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Carol Sager and Neil Sedaka, John Stewart, Neil Diamond. All of a sudden, we've got some seriously complex chords appearing, at least by rock standards. And, of course, the musicians performing on the Monkees' recordings were among the most talented in the world: Hal Blaine, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and various other members of the storied Wrecking Crew. For example, just listen to the numerous insanely intricate chord changes in this next classic. Note too how the bass guitar acted as ringleader, a novel concept back in the day when bass only meant "follow the root" and was relegated to the odd man out who was incapable of mastering any other instrument.

Did you catch the key change? No time to put a stinking capo on; instead the guitarist simply learned his instrument, i.e., did what you're supposed to do.

I went with the flow, learning most of the Monkee's songs. It was good training, but if truth be told, no erotic thoughts ever ensued, either from the playing or the listening thereof. In a nutshell, here was the problem: Top Forty tunes of that day were always couched within a diatonic framework; while that might lead to a giggle, or an ogle, or a blush, or anticipate a tongueless kiss, it certainly never made you want to pull your (or someone else's) pants down. It was exactly the sort of music Rhonda's beaming mother wanted us to listen to, but we were too busy stuffing half-eaten hotdogs oozing yellow mustard under the sofa cushions to notice. That was a hell of a party, by the way (c.f., A Twittering in the Trousers). The first one I ever attended in which the lights went dark from time to time. All these years later, I'm still not sure who or what I felt that night. Steamy it was.

But raw nerves had to wait a year for the entrance of Paul Revere and the Raiders. Aha! Something very different now: the pentatonic scale. Yes, indeed, this is what finally transmuted pop into hard rock. We (the youth) at last had something all our own, no longer a derivative of what our parents listened to. Move over Bing Crosby. It's hard to overemphasize the importance of this, so let's whip out some bold print.

Hard rock was born when the diatonic was cast aside
 in favor of the pentatonic scale. 

While there were a few stabs in this direction previously (The Kinks, The Animals, and bits and bobs of blues music starting to insinuate their way into popular literature--this was exclusively in the always fearful AM days, by the way), it was certainly the Raiders, with their immense popularity, who introduced even the most recalcitrant or unobservant of music listeners to the wild side. If nothing else, all musicians-to-be noticed and immediately changed their evil ways. In my case, I wore out a completely different set of frets on my sunburst 1957 Les Paul Junior. (The existing indentations were a dead giveaway that only C, F and G major chords had been pressed into service by the previous owner, multiple renderings--possibly rendings--of Your Cheating Heart, no doubt).

So, here we go with the song that opened the floodgates:

Whoa! Did you catch those babes! It wasn't lost on them! And, was that Mrs. Dean Wormer on left side of the screen?

As an aside, I don't know how the audience felt about
Kicks, but when performing it on stage with the East Side Pharaohs, Pinkie and I used to generate some real heat between us. To this day, I still recall her not-so-furtive glances in my direction as we harmonized on the chorus and bounced furiously in sync. I probably should have worn a jock-strap.

Like the Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere and the Raiders (especially with their pure as driven snow Dick Clark connection) were counting on parental censors approving the lyrics of Kicks. But none of us kids missed the Siren's call of the pentatonic scale embroidered within this smash hit, a cipher no one over fifteen could untangle. It was a work of genius, penned by the blockbuster team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, designed explicitly to go straight to the inguen, bypassing the cognitive facilities altogether. In their next hit, the Raiders became considerably less timid:

Now there's some serious jiggling...anyway, did you catch that guitar solo? Pure pentatonic, the Kundalini serpent that changed my world. And the bass! This may be the very first rock song to deliberately go for the distorted sound to become so popular three years later. Surely that's a Fender Bassman amplifier on full-tilt. I'm telling you, Paul Revere and the Raiders were definitely cutting edge even if they did make their fame at 4:00 in the afternoon on network television.

Well, that takes us up to the eighth grade or so. But just round the corner is another epoch lying in wait: Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. And then my favorite, and long lamented, pyromaniac puts in an appearance. Gatoring in the ninth grade? The end of civilization as we know it?


Next installment: We're Having a Party!

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