Beating Back the Mores of the '50s

This article 1st appeared in my former blog The Prices Do DC

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 appeared at the Newseum to discuss Mania: The Story of the Outraged and Outrageous Lives That Launched a Cultural Revolution, the new book he co-authored with David Skover.

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.”

If You Are an Author, You Can Go Home Again – and It's Really Nice

Appropriately, I chose my former hometown of Bridgeton, New Jersey to hold my first event for my new book Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation

I spent four hours at the Bridgeton Library last Saturday selling and signing books. And here is the great news – I arrived in Bridgeton with 65 books and returned to DC with 0 books. Even better, however, was the fact that I got to catch up with so many friends, former bandmates, ex-students, and family members.

At some points, the signing line was long.
Here I talk to someone before signing a book for my high school classmate Karen Dunfee.
One of my oldest friends, Tom Hayes, was the first person to greet me at the library one-half hour before the event was scheduled to start.
Here is Rock Fooks, the lead vocalist in both my high school band The Sixth Chapter and my 1970s touring band Frog Ocean Road. A ton of memories in this photo.
Four of my many former students who stopped by — Neil Oberlin, Josh Williams (who is also an author) Brandi Grey, and Zane Grey.

Dave Price to Tour To Promote His Classic Rock Book Come Together

If you consider 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones as the first two great classic rock singles and the Beatles’ Rubber Soul as the initial classic rock album (which most musicologists do), then that makes the genre 55 years old next year. 

But as 2019’s evidence shows, you can rightfully claim classic rock is barely showing its age for a type of music that, if it were a person, would be eligible for membership in AARP in 2020.

Times for older classic rock artists continue to be productive. For example, three of the top five grossing concert acts this year – Elton John, Metallica, and Fleetwood Mac – perform classic rock. Bruce Springsteen offered 236 solo shows over two years on Broadway, with ticket prices averaging $500 a seat from the box office and more than $1,000 from re-sale. Aerosmith, John Fogerty, Santana, Sting, Rod Stewart, Def Leopard, and Journey all played sold-out residency shows at Las Vegas’ top casinos. The Rolling Stones wrapped up their three-leg, three-year No Filter tour, a series of stadium concerts that attracted 2,290,871 fans and grossed $415.6 million for the band. And the Beatles’ re-release of Abbey Road climbed to #1 on the charts, exactly 50 years after the album first accomplished that feat 50 years ago.

These eye-opening facts evoke two big questions – how did the rock music now deemed classic, which evolved from 1950s rock & roll, become so popular with the Woodstock Generation and why does it continue to thrive despite the fact that most of its first listeners are now in their 50s, 60s, or 70s? 

In a three-book series he jokingly refers to as his Rock of Agers trilogy, Washington DC author and former journalist, educator, and classic rock keyboard player Dave Price explores the history of the music of the generation who came of age in the turbulent 1960s and ‘70s and attempts to explain the music’s popularity then and now.

The first book in the series, Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Young Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation was released in November. 

Come Together begins with the dropping of the first atomic bomb in 1945 and ends with the final notes Jimi Hendrix played on the last day of the historic Woodstock Festival in 1969. The saga is told in six chronological chapters. In the first, you’ll see how a connected series of innovations, influences, and influencers in the late 1940s and early 1950s paved the way for the rise of rock & roll. The second introduces you to some of the most important early performers of this new music. The third allows you to see how the Beatles reshaped rock & roll both on stage and in the studio. The fourth places you in San Francisco in the summer of 1967, where a new youth “hippie” counterculture was being formed around revolutionary ideas about the role of drugs, sex, and rock & roll in American society. The fifth demonstrates how two of the most significant artists of the late 60s – Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones – crafted some additional touches to the type of music that would be encountered at Woodstock. In the 6th chapter, we’ll end our musical journey and join a crowd of 400,000 to vicariously experience the most-noted music festival of all-time at the historic upper New York state farmland where rock & roll emerged as something which now would soon be known simply as rock.

The second volume in the series, What’s That Sound?  80+ Artists Who Defined the Music of the Woodstock Generation, will pick up with Hendrix’s fading final notes and conclude 50 years later at the 50th anniversary commemoration of that 1969 festival, held at the original site. It is scheduled to be published in late 2020.

The third and final “Rock of Agers” book is tentatively titled Long Live Rock: Why Do the Classic Sounds of the Woodstock Generation Continue to Resonate So Loudly Today. It will delineate two connected stories – the various ways the sounds of classic rock are being preserved and passed on to new listeners and how you can experience the entire history of classic rock by sailing on four Woodstock-like music themed cruises. Long Live Rock is planned for a late 2021 released.

Price will begin a four-month tour to promote his new book with an appearance in his former hometown of Bridgeton, New Jersey, where he lived for 59 years. On Saturday, Dec. 7th, he will stage a meet and greet and a book signing at the Bridgeton Free Public Library from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He will be donating $1 from the sale of each book to the library.

“The Bridgeton Library is a very special place to me so it’s fitting that I begin there,” Price says. “Libraries in general, and the Bridgton Library in particular, have always served as my secular cathedrals. They truly are amazing places. You can learn just about anything you need to know if you take advantage of all the resources a local library offers”. 

“I’m sure I wouldn’t have been in position to write any book without the enjoyment, elucidation, and enlightenment that I found in all the libraries I have visited over the years,” Price added. “To me, my library card is just as important as my credit card or my driver’s license. I never leave home without it.” 

My First Book Published Today

For my first 64 years on the planet, I never gave any serious thought to writing a book. But in 2017, I discovered the main thing you need for a book – a good idea. Sailing on our first-ever rock cruise, which featured Gregg Allman, I discovered 2,700 rock fans paying at least $2,000 each to hear music that was supposed to be just a passing teenage fad in the mid-1950s. I wondered how exactly did this come to pass.

And now today, 3 years later, my first book — Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation — has been published and released.

For now, it is available exclusively at the Politics and Prose book store in Washington, DC. It can also be ordered from the Politics and Prose website. However, the book will be rolling out in other places and as an e-book soon.

Here is the cover.

The King of the Strip: Elvis in Vegas

Although Elvis Presley would later become as influential in Las Vegas as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack who ruled the flashy entertainment scene in the 1950s and early 1960s, Presley’s first reception in the Nevada city of garish neon, glittering showgirls, and 24-hour gambling was far from a triumph for the hip-swiveling young star from Memphis.

In fact, Elvis’ debut in the 1,000-seat showroom of the refurbished New Frontier casino on April 23, 1956 was a flop. Backed by his three-piece group, guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana, Presley performed a 12-minute set consisting of just four songs – “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Money Honey”.

The critics were savage. “Elvis Presley, coming in on a wing of advance hoopla, doesn’t hit the mark here,” wrote the critic for Variety. “For the teenager, he’s a whiz; for the average Vegas spender, a fizz”.

Meanwhile Newsweek contended the 21-year-old rock and roller was “like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party”.

However, 13 years later, when Presley returned, he initiated a casino career that would make him a Vegas legend, transform the way entertainment was presented in the city, and create a local industry of Elvis impersonators and Presley-themed wedding chapels that is still operating today.

In his latest book, Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Vegas Show, author Richard Zoglin details Presley’s casino showroom concerts that helped revitalize his career, as well as those near his death that demonstrated what a bloated, tragic figure the King of Rock, who died at age 42, had become.

“Elvis had a huge impact on Las Vegas,” writes Zoglin. “It raised the stakes, both in terms of money (his $125,000-a-week salary was a record at the time, soon to be surpassed) as well as production scale and promotional hype.” It also attracted a new breed of middle-class, mom-and-pop pilgrims from Presley’s vast, now multi-generational fan base, who traveled to see the King as well as play the slots. Vegas began to shed its seedy mobster trappings and morph into a family-friendly destination spot with a corporate sheen”.

In a review of Zoglin’s book in The Wall Street Journal, Eddie Dean says while Elvis definitely benefitted from his residencies, Las Vegas might have been even a bigger winner. “Las Vegas may have gotten more in the bargain than did its most enduring celebrity, who is still a presence there: from the scores of Elvis impersonators to shrines like the Graceland Wedding Chapel, where fans the world over come to tie the knot”. 

So what is Presley’s true Vegas legacy? In Zoglin’s view, it’s the way he opened up Sin City to a broader range of music styles and ultimately to a new sort of spectacle. “Elvis created the model for a different kind of Vegas show: no longer an intimate nightclub encounter for an audience of a few hundred, but a big-star extravaganza, playing to thousands,” Zoglin contends.

My Ultimate Elvis Live Show

  • That’s All Right
  • Trouble/Guitar Man
  • Heartbreak Hotel
  • Runaway
  • Polk Salad Annie
  • Return to Sender
  • Hard Headed Woman
  • Little Sister
  • The Wonder of You
  • A Big Hunk o’Love
  • I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
  • You Gave Me a Mountain
  • Fever
  • T-R-O-U-B-L-E
  • In the Ghetto
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Burning Love
  • A Little Less Conversation
  • If I Can Dream
  • Hound Dog
  • Jailhouse Rock