In My Life
My coming of age for experiencing popular music is steeped in the 60’s. Having now lived through 5+ decades of music since then, I am still of the belief that the 60’s were the true renaissance of music. It seemed like every week a new group, a new artist; a new trend was burst upon us. FM radio replaced our cheap AM transistor radios. FM played songs longer in length than 2 minutes. Venues like the Fillmore East entertained us with the greatest acts on earth. Super groups like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Blind Faith seemed to be organized on a daily basis and then fade almost as quickly on a weekly basis. Festivals like Woodstock, Monterey and Isle of Wight brought hundreds of thousands of people to see the musical acts of the day. The Fillmore West run also by Bill Graham was graced with performances by the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service.
Even universities whose main purpose is to educate used their theaters on campus to attract rock stars for concerts. I saw many of the top musical acts of the day at the campus theater on the C.W. Post college theater on Long Island. New music was everywhere!
Recently, I had the great pleasure to spend some time with one of my nephews. He works in the film business behind the camera and already, in his young age has many fascinating stories to tell about making movies. We don’t realize that what we see on the screen as a finished product takes incredibly long hours of difficult, often repetitive work to complete. The work of people like my nephew is mostly unheralded and yet the movies we enjoy in the theater, television and on our I-pads could never be seen and enjoyed without this great army of people like him who help to create the film.
My nephew and I share a love of music. In the times we get together, our conversations inevitably go to this topic. When we recently got together and knowing that I don’t need a whole lot of encouragement to recount the music of the 60’s, the first artist we spoke about was Emitt Rhodes. It started like this:
Hey Uncle Mike, have you ever heard of Emitt Rhodes?” he asked
Actually, Rhodes first came to my attention in the late 60’s when he was the leader and chief songwriter for a group called the Merry-Go-Round. At the time, I had not heard of the group, but I remember buying the album based on two facts. One, fact was that it was on A&M records. A&M always produced good music and based on the label, it was always a good bet that even if the artist was unknown, the music would be better than average. Secondly, the producer they used on the album was Larry Marks, a music industry veteran who had previously produced albums for Phil Ochs, Gene Clark and many others. He went on to a successful career in the music business as a record company executive and producer of such artists as the Flying Burrito Brothers, Chad and Jeremy and Jimmy Webb
I bought the album based on nothing more than the label and producer. I loved the album and became an immediate fan of Emitt Rhodes. The style was all Beatles and the tunes were written as though John and Paul were sitting in the room with Emitt. The rest of the Tale of Emitt Rhodes is a classic story of dreams unfulfilled. Merry-Go-Round never hit the big time and although Emitt was able to obtain recording contracts with two major record companies, he was unable to achieve any degree of success.
In my music collection, I have on vinyl, the Merry-Go Round LP plus the LP’s Emitt recorded for Dunhill records. On CD, I have “Listen, Listen: The Best of Emitt Rhodes” which was released in 1995 on Varese Sarabande records. It includes the best of his group and solo recordings. This guy was an incredible talent. I spoke to my nephew about Emitt and we continued the discussion for quite some time. I enjoyed telling him about my recollections of the music I enjoyed when I was his age.
I came home and was thinking about how important it is for the older generation to tell the younger generation about the past. I have always felt that if you understand history, you can more accurately understand what the future may bring. And sure enough, there it was; an example of just what I was thinking about.
I read that Mick Jagger, 71 years old and still rockin’ has now become a Hollywood producer for the film, Get On Up which chronicles the life of James Brown. Apparently, in the film business, there is no shortage of ideas. Scripts are written and rewritten countless times. Actors and their management teams are constantly meeting with the studio executives to unite those actors with films. Writers, directors and producers are vetted by the movie studio which further elongates the process of turning an idea into a film. Taking a concept of an idea and turning it into a film can take many years to complete.
The project, to make a film about James Browns’ life has been twelve years in the making. Ultimately, it was Sir Mick’s’ intimate knowledge of James Brown and his financial resources that got this film from drawing board on to the screen.
It turns out that in 1964, when the Stones first started to find success that Mick met James. They were both slated to appear in the concert film, T.A.M.I. Show. The Stones were given top billing over James who was a bit upset about this since he was a star for a whole lot longer than the Rolling Stones were. Yet, Mick recounts that James was always respectful and deferential to him and the group. From that day to the day James died in 2002, he and Mick enjoyed a cordial friendship.
By making this film a reality, Mick is bringing to a younger generation a story that is important to tell. If you’ve never seen a live performance by James Brown, then it is almost impossible to understand the energy, excitement and musicianship he was able to command on stage unless you were in the audience. According to Dan Aykroyd, who was a close friend of James due to their work together on the Blues Brothers films, the performance in the film by actor, Chad Boseman is a true representation of James Brown in concert. It’s as close as one can get to the real thing.
I suspect that this film will bring a whole new generation of young people to appreciate the music created by James Brown. Thanks, Mick. And after all, shouldn’t there be a sharing of information across generational lines? I think so.