DC-based Book Author & Writer .. Smithsonian Presenter .. Speaker ..Tour Guide — Focusing on the Baby Boom Generation, Classic Rock, Issues on Aging Especially as They Affect Men & Dissent, Protest, and Free Speech
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Hi. I’m Dave Price and I operate a writing/speaking/tour guiding practice in Washington, DC. Before that, I was a journalist (10 years) and an educator and educational consultant (34 years).
I am focusing on 4 subjects:
the Baby Boomer generation
issues on aging, especially as they affect men and
dissent, protest, and free speech
As a Book Author: The first book in my 3-book series (and my first book ever) on classic rock entitled Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles and a Young Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation was published in November of 2019. Come Together is currently available exclusively at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC or it can be purchased here through the Politics and Prose website.
As a Freelance Writer: I am a senior contributor to the digital hub Booming Encore
As a Speaker: I deliver lectures for Smithsonian Associates and other venues here is DC. This was my summer 2019 program for the Smithsonian.
As a Tour Guide: I led First Amendment tours at the Newseum from 2017 until the museum closed in 2019.
Hereat my Website:Talking ‘Bout My Generation contains my writings, my photos, and a few articles of interest from others dealing with the Baby Boom generation (those of us born between 1946 and 1964), classic rock (music from the ’50s/’60s/’70s) and issues that center around our freedoms as specified in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
Here is a link to an online version of what academics call a CV and most of us call a resume. You can find out more there about who I am and what I have done there. Thanks for checking out my writer/speaker/tour guiding page. I hope you find things here to interest you and keep you coming back.
Like so many of his generation, award-winning biographer Charles Shields became fascinated with the writings of Kurt Vonnegut as a college student in 1969. He says Vonnegut’s most known novel Slaughterhouse-Five “broke over our heads like a storm.”
“It captured the bewilderment and confusion that so many of us felt as we were trying to make the 1st moral decisions of our lives,” Shields told the crowd assembled tonight at the Politics and Prose bookstore to hear him discuss his latest work And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut: A Life
Searching for a subject after completing Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, Shields, a former English teacher, decided upon Vonnegut. After some initial reluctance, the author agreed. “Kurt felt he was under appreciated,” Shields said. “He was a little miffed that no biography had even been written about him.”
On their first meeting, Shields said Vonnegut greeted him at the door of his New York residence and said, “‘Hey. You want to come up and see my room.’ It was like a thing one boy would say to another.” Vonnegut and Shields then left to have dinner at the author’s favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant. Shields was ready with a few questions to break the ice, but Vonnegut immediately launched into a “litany of grievances” against his family. “Even after all those years, it was like he was an aggrieved adolescent seeking vindication,” Shields said. “If the voice were higher, I would have thought I was talking to a 13-year-old.”
After years of studying Vonnegut, Shields believes this adolescent anger, spread throughout his writings, may be one of the chief reasons Vonnegut continues to be popular with college-aged readers who are coming to grips with the fact that authority figures are not always right.
Over time, Vonnegut warmed to the biography project. He would call Shields late at night and ask “Hey, how’s my biography coming?” Or he would introduce Shields as “This is my biographer.”
However, after 3 lengthy interview sessions, Vonnegut took sick. He died a few days later. But even without the author’s first-hand accounts, Shields was able to draw upon more than 1,500 lengthy letters the author had written. “I think he used letters as a warmup for his writing,” Shields said.
During his early years as a writer, Vonnegut struggled and his writing was consigned to science fiction pulp racks. In 1965, he was a last-minute choice to head the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, “It all congealed for him there,” Shields said. “He realized that he didn’t have to be constrained.” In 1969, Slaughterhouse-Five became a success, bringing with it the fame and financial security Vonnegut had so long sought. “He moved to New York. He bought into the life he had always wanted. If a writer can achieve the American Dream, he did,” Shields said.
But personal happiness was to remain elusive. There were long bouts with depression. There was an attempted suicide. Shields said he found Vonnegut to be an extrovert who couldn’t maintain friendships. Near the end of his life, he would sit alone on a street bench. When someone would approach and ask “Hey, aren’t you Kurt Vonnegut?” Vonnegut would dismiss them with a gruff “not now.”
The author constantly fretted about his place in literature cannon, steadfast in his belief that he deserved more serious acclaim than he was receiving. Finally, he rationalized that it was his simplistic writing style and his “and so it goes” fatalistic universal outlook that was the cuplrit. “Anything that seems simple can’t be worthy,” Vonnegut reasoned.
But Shields believes Vonnegut’s legacy will last. “He belongs in the cannon. He brought post-modernism into the mainstream. He made it popular,” Shields says.
In 1978, I was playing in a South Jersey band called Time Peace. We were performing classic rock songs, as well as some radio hits of the time. One song that was always well received was “My Angel Baby,” a No. 1 hit by a band called Toby Beau.
Now I hadn’t thought about “My Angel Baby” or Toby Beau for 40 years. But that changed earlier this month when my wife and I boarded The Pride of America for a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands and discovered that Toby Beau was going to be performing two shows on the ship.
In its original format, Toby Beau was a five-piece band out of southern Texas. Today, it’s a duo consisting of Balde Silva, the original singer and co-writer of “My Angel Baby,” and his wife Rennetta Dennet Silva, who has been with Silva since the ‘70s.
During about five hours of informal chatting and formal interviewing over three days, Balde, sometimes joined by the striking and incredibly friendly Rennetta, told me the 40-year story of Toby Beau.
Like so many music lovers who later became musicians, Balde vividly recalls the moment when he realized music could be more than his passion; he wanted it to be his life’s work. “It was seeing the Doors on Ed Sullivan”, Balde says. “You could hear that Vox organ and that guitar. And then there was Jim Morrison.”
Around that time, a couple of Balde’s older cousins formed a rock band and young Balde was given an important job. One of the guitar chords could short out when it was put in an amp, so as the band rehearsed, Balde would hold the chord steady so it wouldn’t wiggle. As the band played, he would sing along. Soon, he found himself fronting the band as lead vocalist.
“The singer they had wasn’t very good and I could sing pretty well. So we switched positions. He started holding the chord and I became the lead singer,” Balde says, chuckling as he recalled his inauspicious introduction to the rock band world.
After playing with several configurations of South Texas musicians, Balde found himself with the four other musicians who would become the first version of Toby Beau. The band was named after one of the last shrimp boats docked in the Gulf Coast community of Port Isabel, Texas.
The group started out performing covers in clubs all over Texas, but eventually began writing songs of their own. One of those songs was “My Angel Baby,” co-written by Balde and now-deceased guitarist and band member Danny McKenna. Soon, the group signed a major three-record deal with RCA and found they were going to be produced by KISS producer Sean Delaney.
Balde said the band’s rise was rapid and eye-opening. “One day we were playing in these greasy bars in San Antonio and the next day we were recording in New York with all these big bands,” Balde noted.
Propelled by the band’s first single “My Angel Baby,” Toby Beau was soon getting airplay all over the country and Canada. The single, with its updated 1950s feel and harmonica solo reminiscent of something like the Rascals might have recorded in their heyday, spent 13 weeks climbing the Billboard charts. It reached No. 1 on the Easy Listening charts, while rising to No. 13 on the pop charts. “My Angel Baby” quickly earned gold for receiving more than a million radio plays.
Suddenly, the band found itself touring with many of the biggest acts of the ‘70s such as the Doobie Brothers, Bob Seger, the Steve Miller Band, Steely Dan, and ZZ Top, all of whom are now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“That was a wild time,” Rennetta says. “Wild, but fun while you were young”.
But when the band began recording its second album, problems developed. They tried recording in New York City, Miami, and Nashville, but were unable to recapture the magic of “My Angel Baby”. When finally released, the second album did include a cover of “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye,” written by John D. Loudermilk, who also composed the classic “Tobacco Road”. “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” had previously been the number 6 pop hit for the Casinos in 1967 and a No. 1 on the country charts for Eddy Arnold in 1968. The 1979 version by Toby Beau only reached 57 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and 7 on the Adult Contemporary List.
By the completion of that album, all four of Balde’s fellow band members had left the group. However, he decided to record the third album for RCA on his own, a move which allowed him to retain the rights to use the name Toby Beau.
After that album, Balde and Renetta, accompanied by various musicians, toured as Toby Beau, playing smaller music venues and festivals, clubs, and bars. As the 21 Century dawned, the two – now just a duo – found themselves also working on cruise ships. After 7 years, Balde and Rennetta wanted to forego cruise performance. However, their agent said they should do one more cruise.
“I heard Rennetta holler in the background, ‘See if we can do something in Hawaii. We’ve never been there’. Well that was 12 years ago and since then we have been right here performing on the ship,” Balde explained.
The Pride of America cruises around Hawaii all 52 weeks of the year, so the Toby Beau duo can book work as much as they want. Currently, their contract specifies that they perform two shows, one on Saturday night and one on Sunday night. That means they have the rest of the cruise to do what they want, which often involves exploring the islands. It also means they can have an almost-regular scheduled. For example, Rennetta apologized for cutting our chat short on Sunday night because she and her husband always make that movie date night while the ship is docked overnight in Kawai.
As for the two shows, one a tribute to the Beatles and the other to the Eagles, are unique. Balde and Rennetta play the performance live, but the drums and other backing instruments have been pre-recorded by Balde for live playback.
Actually, the pre-recordings have a live feel, not like many such accompaniments that sound artificial and machine-like. Balde explained there is a simple reason for that fact. “I guess you heard a few mistakes,” he said. “I was going to take them out, but when I listened to them I thought such things occur in live performances so I left them in,” he said.
To enhance the accuracy of the show, Balde employs some the same guitars that George Harrison, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney used for the Beatles and Glen Fry, Bernie Leadon, Don Felder, and Joe Walsh played for specific Eagles songs.
The show itself is unique for such tribute concerts. Balde has chosen one song from each album of the Beatles and the Eagles that truly captures the sound of the band at the time the LP was released. Balde and Rennetta alternate telling the story of the groups, meaning that their show is not only musically interesting, but a lesson in rock music history and popular culture as well.
From the reaction and applause both nights, the duo’s talents and the shows’ formats are being enthusiastically received by the cruise showroom audiences. One highlight of the Beatles’ night was a show-closing rendition of the classic “Hey Jude,” complete with an audience singalong and in-time, above-the-head hand waving. My personal favorite from the two nights was a spirited “Life in Fast Lane,” while the audience appeared awed at Toby Beau’s close cover version of the Eagles “Hotel California” from the band’s best-selling album by the same name.
The positive reception was demonstrated quite a few times during our interview-chat sessions as cruisers would stop by our table to tell Balde and Rennetta how much they enjoyed the shows and talk music with the pair.
I will be writing much more about Toby Beau in the future (they will play a major role in my third book in what I am calling my Rock of Agers series which looks at how rock & roll evolved into rock, which today continues its popularity as classic rock), but here are the answers to two questions I asked:
The first – are you disappointed that your hits came early and because of changing conditions in the music industry you haven’t been able to replicate that success?
“No,” Balde answers emphatically. “I’ve always enjoyed live performing more than studio work. I love seeing the fans, watching their reactions, and getting a chance to talk to them. And getting to do it with Rennetta makes it that much better”.
And the final – Balde, do you have regrets about spending 40 years in the music businesses with all its inherent ups and downs?
“When I was young, all I wanted to do was sing. And that’s all I’ve ever done. I dreamed of being a rock-and-roller and that’s what I became. My advice now to young people is never give up on your dream and always be ready when the dream comes – for it can come out of nowhere so you have to be ready”.
As an author who writes articles and books about classic rock I have the great opportunity to meet many people in the music business. Some are nice. Some are not. Some are normal. Some are not. But few I have are as engaging and friendly as Balde and Rennetta. I think the fact that they have been together for 40+ years in a business where 40 months in the more the average speaks strongly to their dedication and character. In fact, I’m certain that if they lived next door, you would want them for friends. Plus, the three of us could probably talk for years about the highs and lows of the music business, along with stories of all the fascinating people you run into.
If you do or don’t recall Toby Beau or “My Angel Baby,”, make yourself a note to check them out if you get a chance. You won’t be disappointed. And, if you want, you can tell them Dave sent you.
There have been many kings in rock. But there is only one true King of the Blues — and that would be the incomparable B.B. King. King, who started performing in the 1940s before there was even music called rock & roll, has influenced almost all blues and blues rock guitarists to follow him.
You can learn how more about B’B. King, his music, and his influence by picking up and reading my new book Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Young Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation.
It’s available exclusively at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC, or you can order it online by clicking here.
Imagine you were celebrating your birthday in 2020 and you could go back to 1962 when you were an elementary school student. Or 1965 when you were in 9th grade. Or 1966, 1967, 1968 when you walked the hallways of your high school. Or 1969 when you started college. Or 1973 when you graduated college, got married, and had a son.
Well, of course, there are no time machines, but last night, on the date of my wife’s 69th birthday, Judy and I vicariously had a chance to do the next best thing as we listened to Brian Wilson and his 11-member band perform many of the greatest hits he composed for his Hall of Fame California surf-sound group The Beach Boys at the MGM Casino just outside Washington, DC.
It’s been said that each song we hear from our past is like a tiny time capsule that unlocks to let us vividly recall all the places we were and all the people we were with when we first heard the tune.
And few songwriters have the ability to transport us back to our past better than Brian Wilson and the exquisite harmonies and sense of time and place he incorporated into the string of smash hits, ground-breaking albums, and B-sides he created for the Beach Boys.
The story of Wilson’s rise to become one of the best of rock & roll music’s greatest songwriters and his subsequent descent into depression and mental illness has been thoroughly documented in print and film. Indeed, Wilson still periodically struggles with mental issues. For example, he had to cancel a portion of his tour last year, saying he felt mentally insecure. In a letter to his fans Wilson wrote: “It is no secret that I have been living with mental illness for many decades. I’ve been struggling with stuff in my head. I’m going to rest, recover, and work with my doctors on this. The music and my fans keep me going and I know this will be something I can AGAIN overcome”.
And on a chilly Wednesday night, Wilson’s fans, ecstatic that he was well enough to resume touring, showered their idol with applause after each song, even those few obscure enough only to be familiar to fervent Beach Boys enthusiasts.
And while Wilson, who will turn 80 in June, today struggles to hit some notes and is forced to rely on a teleprompter for the words to some songs, these were minor setbacks that the audience was willing to ignore as they danced in the aisles and rose as one for a heartfelt standing ovation when the 90-minute, 27-song concert ended. The night had clearly demonstrated they were in the presence of a genius who had created an entire genre (surf music), wrote two dozen Top 40 hits for the Beach Boys, composed a tune – “God Only Knows” – which no less of an expert than Paul McCartney has called the best song ever written, and has had his creations compared favorably with those of such legendary classical composers Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Earlier, Wilson had been interviewed by Jason Fraley of WTOP. Wilson told the reporter that although he hasn’t written any songs for a few years, he has some new ideas which he would like to record soon.
But for now, while new Wilson material would be great, his audience, which spans multiple generations, is quite content to enjoy the hits, the oldest of which would now be qualified to be members of AARP.
Asked why he thinks the Beach Boys and their music have remained so popular, Wilson told Fraley “It’s evergreen. It’s forever”.
And many of his rock contemporaries agree. Here’s a sample of what some of rock’s s best have said about Brian Wilson, his tunes, and his prodigious talent.
Jesus, that ear. He should donate it to the Smithsonian. Brian Wilson, he made all his records with four tracks, but you couldn’t make his records if you had a hundred tracks today.
Beatles Producer George Martin
If there is one person that I have to select as a living genius of pop music, I would choose Brian Wilson. Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened. Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds.
David Crosby of CSNY
Brian was the most highly regarded pop musician in America, hands down. “In My Room” was the defining point for me. When I heard it, I thought “I give up – I can’t do that – I’ll never be able to do that.”
David Gilmour of Pink Floyd
Even in those very early days of the Beach Boys, songs like “In My Room” and “Don’t Worry Baby” were giving the indication that Brian Wilson wanted to paint with a much more colorful palette than was offered by surf music he was so adapt at. His brilliance leapt from strength to strength over a very short period and, in a little over four years, he mastered the art of songwriting, record production, orchestral arrangements and every form of studio trickery to culminate with the wonderful songs on Pet Sounds.
I think I would put him up there with any composer – especially Pet Sounds. I don’t think there’s anything better than that, necessarily. I don’t think you’d be out of line comparing him to Beethoven – to any composer. The word genius is used a lot with Brian. I don’t know if he’s a genius or not, but I know his music is probably as good a music as you can make.
MGM Set List
California Girls (1965)
Dance, Dance, Dance (1964)
I Get Around (1965)
Shut Down (1963)
Little Deuce Coupe (1963)
Little Honda (1964)
Salt Lake City (1965)
Surfer Girl (1962)
Don’t Worry Baby (1964)
California Saga: California (1973) – written by Al Jardine
Do It Again (1968)
Let Him Run Wild (1965)
Heroes and Villains (1967)
Feel Flows* (1971) –written by Carl Wilson
Wild Honey * (1967)
Sail On, Sailor* (1973)
I Can Hear Music (1969) – Ronettes cover
Wouldn’t It Be Nice (1966)
Sloop John B (1966)
God Only Knows (1966)
Good Vibrations (1967)
Help Me, Rhonda (1965)
Barbara Ann (1965)
Surfin’ USA (1963)
Fun, Fun, Fun (1964)
Love and Mercy (1968)
*Sung by Blondie Chaplain
Notes and Noise from the Show
There were many highlights during the night, but my personal concert capstone was the three-song mini-set song by Sonny Chaplain. Chaplain, a South African musician who has toured extensively with the Beach Boys and the Rolling Stones, also played lead guitar on the three numbers – “Feel Flows,” “Wild Honey” and “Sail On, Sailor.” Chaplain brought both psychedelic guitar effects and an invigorated feel to the show. It was clearly evident that he was enjoying playing with Wilson again, whom he called “the maestro.”
When the Beach Boys began, they were known as a family band since Wilson was joined by his two brothers, Carl and Dennis, both of whom are dead. But the family concept is being continued on this tour as Matt Jardine, the son of Beach Boys Al Jardine, who is co-featured on this tour with Wilson, sings high harmony and even some lead vocals.
Wilson was one of the first rock songwriters to use a theremin (a musical instrument with high, outer-space like sounds that is played not by touch, but by running your hands over the instrument to control frequency and volume). It was extremely cool to hear the theremin live on a few songs, especially Wilson’s classic “Good Vibrations”.
Of course, with a catalog as extensive as Wilson’s, not all of his hits can be performed in every show. The one I missed most tonight was “In My Room,” one of the greatest songs about loneliness ever composed.
How many artists could close a show with this many super hits in a row – “God Only Knows,” “Good Vibrations,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barabara Ann,” “Surfin’ USA,” and “Fun, Fun, Fun?” Well, Brian Wilson can and did.
The last song was an extremely poignant, powerful, and, given the current divisiveness in Washington, DC and the country, appropriate “Love and Mercy,” which gave its title to the recent critically acclaimed biographical movie about the head Beach Boy. Wilson played the song alone on his piano, while the other 11 band members joined in on harmony vocals. Here are the first stanzas of Wilson’s moving message we all need to hear in these troubled times:
I was sittin’ in a crummy movie with my hands on my chin Oh the violence that occurs seems like we never win
Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight
I was lyin’ in my room and the news came on T.V. A lotta people out there hurtin’ and it really scares me
Love and mercy that’s what you need tonight So, love and mercy to you and your friends tonight
If you would like to discover more about Wilson and the Beach Boys, you can read my book Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation. Come Together contains a relatively in-depth look at two Brian Wilson songs – “The Warmth of the Sun” and “Surfin’ USA”. It can be purchased at the Politics and Prose book store in Washington, DC. or by clicking here.
Before there was Bob Dylan, before there were the Beatles, before there was an American counterculture, there were the Beats, a 1950s group of outrageous personalities who were determined to overthrow the restrictive, repressive social mores of the time through their writings and lifestyles.
“They were exactly the opposite of the conformity of the 1950s. They really wanted to upset the apple cart. It’s very difficult to believe that these people could live in the America then that was the way we know it was today” says author Ronald Collins.
Collins said he and Skover decided to write the book after their research showed that most of the existing works on the subject were “deadly boring.”
“They would put anybody to sleep in minutes. We wanted to write a high octane narrative like the way they (the Beats) lived their lives,” he explained.
Of course, the work features the best-known of the literary rebels – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs. But it also sheds light on some of the lesser known figures of the movement like Lucien Carr, who murdered a young New York college student, liked to chew glass at New York parties and then spit out blood, and eventually became the Washington Bureau Chief for UPI (United Press International).
The narrative is a tale of talent, but it is tempered with the effects of lives plagued by alienation, addiction, madness, demons, and often a general disregard for others.
“These people changed the literary landscape, but there was all this carnage,” Collins said. “It’s very easy to admire these men, but when you see these things they did in their lives, you take a deep breath. There was a real dark side. They were fascinated by criminals, by the seedy side of life.”
The Beat writers didn’t have to look too far for sources and settings for their stories, essays, and poems. “They wove the facts of their lives into their fiction,” Collins said. “They produced a body of work that has survived.”
Collins was asked if works of the Beats will last through the ages. “I think some of it will,” Collins maintained. “‘Howl’ (Ginsberg’s most famous poem) and On the Road by Kerouac. Was Allen Ginsberg the Shakespeare of his time? Absolutely not. But he did have these remarkable moments.”
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips Of all the figures associated with the Beat movement, the one that clearly stands out from the others was Lawrence Ferlinghetti . “He was the only one that wasn’t a madman,” Collin says. Ferlinghetti was a poet, but he also operated the famous City Lights bookstore, which still exists in San Francisco. Despite the racy language in the poem, Ferlinghetti decided to publish Ginsberg’s most famous work “Howl” and sell it in his store. Federal authorities seized all the copies of the book, claiming the poem was “a danger to young people who would be exposed to this depravity.” Ferlinghetti decided to fight the action in court, and, in a surprising verdict, the judge ruled in the poem’s favor. For his part, Ferlinghetti seemed to disregard any punitive actions that could have resulted from the legal battle. “What’s the worst that can happen to me. I’ll end up in jail reading poetry.”