Music reflected and taught about attitudes towards gender roles and romantic relationships. Animals were more than a band; in songs as in life girls were “chicks” and particularly sexy ones might be “foxes,” as in the Doors’ “Twentieth Century Fox.” Boys routinely were called “cats,” taking an epithet from jazz and Beat circles. As girlfriends, you could be a baby, a girl or a woman. In the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine,” the female is a “baby” and a “little girl.”
However, more mature, sexy epithets were “my man,” and “my woman.” They implied sex, commitment, devotion and obsession. When Paul McCartney sang “She’s a Woman” on Beatles ’65, he sure as hell wasn’t describing the same chick that he was happy just to dance with in 1964. Lovers could also be an “old lady” or “old man,” celebrated by Joni Mitchell in, “My Old Man.”
Be My Lady
The holy grail of girlfriend status was “lady.” Being a man’s lady was a sign of highest love and respect. When Bob Dylan sang, “Lay Lady Lay” you knew he really treasured the woman he was about to screw. You could have a one-night or one-week stand with a chick or a woman. You probably lived with your old lady. But your lady was someone you loved without ambivalence, someone you put on a pedestal, as in the apex line, “Be my lady!” in the song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” written by Stephen Stills and sung by those hippest of romantics, Crosby Stills and Nash.
Some women took on a mystical role in rock songs. They had the power to free men from their inhibitions, to bring joy into their lives and to grant them everything they might ever need. These angels were usually so free and easy with their boundless love that they’d do it for everybody, including you—even if you were fifteen and had a face full of zits.
If you need a little lovin’
She’ll turn on the heat
If you take a fall
She’ll put you back on your feet
If you’re all alone
She’s someone to meet
—Quicksilver Girl, Steve Miller Band
However, being magical creatures, they were also will o’ the wisps, here today and loving someone else tomorrow. Stephen Stills seemed susceptible to the sentiment in a number of songs, including “Rock ‘n Roll Woman,” performed by the Buffalo Springfield:
There’s a woman that you ought to know
And she’s coming, singing soft and low
Singing rock and roll, she’s a joy to know
‘Neath the shadow of a soothing hand
I am free there, just to make my plans
Dream of far away lands, anything close at hand
…And tomorrow, she’s a friend of mine
And the sorrow, I see her face is lined
She’s no longer blind, she’s just hard to find
A similar mysterious, magical lover was a “Quicksilver Girl” for San Francisco rocker, Steve Miller:
She’s a quicksilver girl
A lover of the world
She spreads her wings
And she’s free
Paul McCartney, however, took a more pragmatic view of a magical hippie earth mother lady in “Lady Madonna.”
Lady Madonna, children at your feet
Wonder how you manage to make ends meet
Who finds the money when you pay the rent
Did you think that money was Heaven sent?
There were certainly women living that persona. It wasn’t all that easy, either.
Linda Bacon told me, “I moved to Santa Cruz mountains to be an earth mother. I was growing vegetables and baking bread. At that time, I was a single mom with two kids and I would make jackets out of old quilts, and do anything to make money. I was at home with the two kids, so I could do this. I made appliquéd leather purses and vests. I did macrame, knitting. It was my way of making art. I did beadwork on bead looms. I would collect old beads.”
Joni Mitchell was the woman who achieved the ultimate mythic Lady status, floating through the world with long red-blonde hair and a soulful song catalogue. Even the members of Led Zeppelin, not known for their respectful attitudes towards women, were in awe of her. As portrayed in Rolling Stone Magazine and other news media, Joanie was seemingly a serial monogamist, loving and leaving a string of rock stars who wrote head-over-heels-in-love songs to her. She often, but not always, returned the favor. From a fan’s-eye view, long after the lovin’ was over and Joni had moved on to the next rock star—even the best friend of the musician she just floated away from—they all still seemed to still love her. God only knows what was really going on.
Grace Slick wrote about Joanie in her memoir, “…she seemed so fragile, I thought she’d break into bunches of rose petals on the floor. That first impression was ultimately wrong—she is a strong woman. But, that first time we met, she seemed like the most sensitive person on the planet, and I couldn’t bring myself to fuck up her serenity by being my usual sarcastic ‘truck driver’ self.’”
Most males I knew in the late 1960s and early 1970s worshipped Joni Mitchell. The walls of countless boys’ rooms and college dorms were plastered with posters of her. Many propped open her For the Roses album to display a photo of her in the nude, standing on a rock in the ocean with her back to the camera, long hair blowing in the wind and a perfect ass gloriously illuminated by the sun. I wanted to be just like her, beautiful tush and all: vulnerable, soulful, poetic and sexy as hell, a lady among women inspiring lover after lover and song after song. When I met Joanie many years later in an clinic where she was being treated for throat lesions caused by long years of smoking—smoking!—I was shocked by her shortness. Her myth loomed so large that I had long pictured her as a long, tall drink of ambrosia.
The other ultimate rock ‘n roll woman archetype was Janis Joplin: rough and ready, and sexually ready to take all comers, especially underdog men and women who felt misunderstood and rejected by the cool and the beautiful. Janis wasn’t really a girlfriend; she made it clear that her relationships were hopeless. She certainly wasn’t anybody’s lady. Janis was more like a port in the storm of earthly existence, maybe someone to fuck and get drunk with and commiserate with about how life sucks.
Sam Andrew told me, “Janis was sweaty and hot and was very articulate about it. Janis liked two kinds of guys—androgynous boys who looked like Joni Mitchell, or mountain men with full beards and suits with fringes on them. She was involved with James Gurley for about two weeks. I was involved with her for a long time. She had sex with me one time after she had already fired me, sort of avoiding an office romance. She was very feminine when we did.
“Janis was always for the underdog—a pronounced part of her character. She was very pugnacious about it. If someone was lonely in a corner, she was always for that person. If celebrities were treating people badly she would be on the side of the people. She lived what she sang. She wrote ‘Women is Losers’ early in the folk days. It could be an anthem for women’s lib. She saw things in proportion and with a sense of humor. She was very funny. All the great lead singers are funny. That was an important thing she was saying to women: laugh it up. Germaine Greer had a bit of that—she could laugh a bit.”
“No one could tell Janis what to do. She was really strong. She was stronger than anyone around her. It was totally coming from her. On the other hand, she was always trying to please her mother. Her mother was censorious, from a Puritan strain. Janis, being the oldest child, internalized that. She kept it—she could be severely judgemental about the band. She also had a clearer idea than anyone of where she was going and what it took to get there — more than the rest of us, more than anyone.”
Janis’s lover and close friend Travis Rivers told me about her, “She read a book a day: history, biographies, trashy fiction, Rosemary’s Baby. Anything that came out on Zelda Fitzgerald she would read. Zelda is a tragic story, so brilliant and so manic depressive and nobody had any idea how to deal with that.”
Rivers took me to a little bead shop in North Beach where there was a n elderly salesman who had sold beads to Janis. He said, “She was always very sweet, nothing like her image.”
Powell St. John of the band Mother Earth, who was friends with Janis since her days in Texas, told me, “I would like people to know about Janis that she was a multidimensional person, very intelligent, not necessarily with the best judgement all the time. She was a thrill seeker, a risk taker. I always likened Janis to a stock car driver on the track going 190 miles an hour. That’s what Janis was doing and she crashed. She didn’t intend to die, but she always liked to push the envelope, come close.
I want people to really appreciate the artist that Janis was. That too seems to be obscured sometimes with sensationalism and the sensational delivery that she did. But she was a consummate musician and a deep thinker. She read all kinds of stuff, like Camus and people like that.
“Janis studied her music very assiduously. She studied the old stuff. When I first met her she knew a lot of the old stuff, a lot of material that I was just beginning to find. She had already internalized it. so she had studied her roots and the kind of music she wanted to do. She was a Leadbelly aficionado. She would sit down and sing Leadbelly songs, obscure ones that I’d never heard.
“Janis was a real sweetheart. I know that a lot of people don’t realize that about Janis, even people who met her, because she could be very abrasive. But if you were close to her heart for whatever length of time it might be, she made you feel really great romantically. Not just physically, but in supporting her man. She once told me that if a war broke out and she was married, she’d take a factory job. She’d let her man go off to war and she’d be Rosie the Riveter. She thought of that as a romantic thing to do.
“Janis was very conventional in a lot of respects, with a lot of conventional ideas. She agonized with herself about whether or not she should chuck everything and marry, settle down and be a Texas housewife. She was nagged by the thought that maybe she should just straighten up and do what her mama and daddy wanted her to do, because her parents were really conservative. But I don’t think that Janis could have done anything other than what she did. I think it was her destiny.
Powell commented that, counter to Janis’s devil-may-care image, she was scrupulous about keeping her finances in order, and about furthering her career in an organized manner. “Janis Joplin set up her corporation before she died. She was a marvelously complex person.”
Heavy Cats: Male Rock Archetypes
I was sixteen and changes were taking place in my body as of late—very late, in fact, compared to most of my compatriots. At long last my figure was making up for lost time by filling out like gangbusters. To my grandmother’s relief and my dismay I got my first period. I was also becoming suffused with insistent new sensations and longings. As with everything else that was happening in my mind and body, music defined and expressed them for me. At concerts, I began to notice not only the music but the musicians as well. I became aware that the notes emerged from moist mouths and nimble fingers of long-haired men in loose shirts and tight pants. My body started buzzing like an overpopulated beehive in their presence. Their words had long voiced the desires of my soul, but now their movements were speaking to new cravings of my body.
There were two types of rock stars who lit chick’s fires: the dangerous bad boys who would mistreat you right, and sweet, sensitive guys who would be gentle and tender. Most girls I knew riffled among the Rolling Stones, and later Led Zeppelin, for their bad boy fantasies, and among an array of quieter, poetic folks such as “your humble minstrel” Donovan and transplanted folk-rockers for their sensitive good boys.
Song lyrics, simple, innocuous ones, were way too powerfully suggestive to be sung on television by these sexy beasts. The Rolling Stones performed on Ed Sullivan after he made them change the lyrics, “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together.” Sullivan demanded that Morrison change the line in “Light My Fire,” “Girl we couldn’t get much higher” to something that didn’t supposedly imply drug use, and went apoplectic when Morrison sang it straight up, no chaser. When Country Joe did the FUCK cheer in New York City for the first time, there were representatives from the Ed Sullivan show in the audience. Naturally, Country Joe and the Fish never appeared on the show. How could the lyrics clean up from the call-and-response,
“Give me an F!
“Give me a U!
“Give me a C!
“Give me a K!
“What’s that spell? (Audience, “Fuck!”)
“What’s that smell? (“Fuck!”)
My personal archetype of a bad boy was Jim Morrison of the Doors, while the gentle, sensitive man was John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful. Trite, I know, but my hormones were not making especially subtle choices at that point. If I had applied the hours I spent in fantasizing about them to doing my homework, hell, I might have been able to go to Harvard.
When the Doors’ first album was released in 1967, news of it initially spread through Berkeley by word-of-mouth, an insider’s secret. Jim Morrison instantly turned me into a puddle of longing. However, high-minded chick that I was and still under the sway of years of programming by the likes of American Girl Magazine, Dear Abby and other such moralists, I felt sure that this feeling could not possibly be the cheesy lust provoked by the pocket book pornography passed furtively from hand to hand in Civics class with the “good parts” thoughtfully marked with yellow highlighter. Oh, no. This feeling was the passion of a holy quest for Truth and Beauty. The Doors were profound. They were named after an Aldous Huxley quotation, for God’s sake. Morrison was a poet, his lyrics full of literary references and deep symbolism.
However, I increasingly and uncontrollably yearned to search for the truth deep inside Jim Morrison’s leather pants. And didn’t he know how to provoke just that.
Morrison told an interviewer, “We make concerts sexual politics. . . . The music we make goes out into the audience and interacts with them; they go home and interact with the rest of reality, then I get it back by interacting with the reality, so the whole sex thing turns out to be one fine big ball of fire.”
I got my first chance to see Jim Morrison in the flesh, so to speak, when an college kid with short, corn-colored hair, sporting an ill-fitting suit and tie, distributed flyers announcing a Doors concert to the Berkeley High School students sprawled on the lawn of the Park. The Park was the cool place to eat lunch if you were a hippie or a generally aware person. It was also good to be seen eating something radically chic such as yogurt, an exotic European food that had just appeared on the U.S. market. I was choking down some incredibly sour lemon-flavored yogurt—an early marketing concept that didn’t make the cut in the long haul—when the kid in the suit handed me a flyer. The Doors were going to play in the Berkeley Community Theater.
Destiny called. I asked the boy if he needed ushers for the concert. Sensing a cheap labor pool, he replied that he was one of the concert organizers, and yes, he needed ushers. Could I find a few others to hand out flyers and to usher as well? I soon had a small cadre of libidinous girls ready to get paid to gather research material for their bedtime fantasies. We spent a week on a personal mission from Aphrodite, trudging up and down Telegraph Avenue and all around the massive U.C. Berkeley campus, handing out psychedelic blue and gold announcements festooned with photos of our sex god and those three other guys. (Sorry Robby, John and Ray. Blame it on my youth.)
The fall of the house of usher came when the young man called to tell me that, uh, he really had to hire union workers instead of high school girls. Hell hath no fury like the mother of one of the young women scorned. Lee Carrillo’s mom demanded that he at least reimburse us for our flyer distribution duties with free tickets. Whatever threats she employed were enough to cause him to cough up pairs of comps for all.
October 15th, 1967 arrived. Clad in a slinky, floor-length paisley shift slit daringly to the knees, and accompanied by my closest girlfriend, I took my hard-earned seat in the third row of an auditorium where, only a few days earlier, the Berkeley High School principal had stood before the students, lecturing at us about proper behavior and decorum lest we get carried away when he invited the Berkeley High School Band to play “Stars and Stripes Forever” as a special treat.
The lights dimmed and a spotlight picked out the orchestra pit. Its floor rose, bringing up the Doors as if they were emerging from the underworld. Did I even hear them play? I only had eyes for a tangle of curly hair I longed to run my fingers through, a flowing pirate’s shirt with a tantalizing glimpse of chest within that I wanted to lick raw, and a pair of black leather pants I wanted to rub myself all over—um, while reciting e.e. cummings, of course.
At that point, before too much booze had dulled his sensibilities, Morrison had an uncanny ability to hypnotize an audience. He is quoted in Mr. Mojo Rising, “I can look at a crowd,” he said, “I can just look at it, it’s all, uh, very scientific and I can diagnose the crowd psychologically. Just four of us properly positioned can turn the crowd around. We can cure it. We can make love to it. We can make it riot.” He added, “I like to see how long they can stand it and just when they’re about to crack, I let ‘em go.”
I cracked long before he let us go. After the show, my girlfriend Dana and I were so hot and bothered that we I careened all over the streets of Berkeley in her beat-up VW beetle, Dana at the wheel, beeping the horn and screaming while I stood on the front passenger seat and hung out of the sunroof, trailing a long scarf behind me and singing Doors songs to passersby.
I saw the Doors many more times and Jim Morrison always had the same crazy-making effect on me. I guess he drove everyone a little crazy. The art director for Elektra Records planned a photo shoot for the “People Are Strange” album cover with the band members and a gazillion dogs. His kids recruited all their friends to bring their dogs to a park on a certain day. All the pet dogs Los Angeles could muster were there, but there was no Jim Morrison. Tough luck for the art director; he had to design another cover.
Perfectly good writers lapsed into weird purple prose when attempting to describe him. Here’s a doozy, penned by the usually sensible David Dalton:
“In the hallucinated darkness of the club, Lord Jim of the American Night invokes the cave primeval, the psychosexual Cabinet of Dr. Sigismundus, an attic out of which, as in a Goya etching, bats fly. The bats are his thoughts. Bad thoughts. Reason is asleep. Reason is the reasonable, the silent majority that has fallen asleep during a commercial on the Johnny Carson show while a demonic Pied Piper steals their children’s souls.”
Yup, there was something crazy-making for everybody.
There was especially something for hormonally-charged girls. Jim could reach out and psychically grab you, even if you were in the last row of the second balcony. Indeed, I chain-smoked my way through a pack of Marlboros, my first and last cigarettes ever, while watching the Doors from the balcony stairs at Winterland. A year later I was back at the same venue, only this time sitting with Mark on the floor directly beneath the stage, looking right up into Jim Morrison’s black leather-clad crotch. Someone in the audience handed Morrison a lit joint. He took a couple of tokes, then tossed it into the audience. At me. Mark caught it and we took tokes from that Jim Morrison spit-coated sucker and then passed it around. I was in ecstasy. At least I had a part of him between my lips.
While Jim Morrison drove me to mania, John Sebastian appealed to my kinder, gentler erotic self. He was, I was convinced, tenderness, kindness, sweetness and light all packaged up with long, thick hair, the first granny glasses I’d ever seen, and a wife I tried to forget about. I fantasized about meeting him at some relentlessly hip party that we were both unwillingly attending because we were too Deep and Profound to enjoy such superficialities. John would gaze wearily through the haze of cigarette smoke and crowds of gorgeous, fawning women and spot—me. He would stare straight into my tender, aching heart with limpid eyes and know that he no longer had to feel alone amidst the meaningless accouterments of his vast fame and fortune, for he had at last found the only girl who could possibly truly Understand his Artistic Torment, the muse who would inspire his greatest songs forevermore.
I had an in. I knew Sarah, the fourteen year-old jailbait live-in girlfriend of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s assistant road manager. She was sleeping with a man who worked for John Sebastian. She knew John Sebastian. Maybe she could arrange for me to meet him. As it happened, yes, she could. Savannah promised to get me a backstage pass when the Lovin’ Spoonful played in Berkeley. They were scheduled to give a concert at the Greek Theater. There would be a party afterwards, to which I was invited.
I memorized the lyrics to every Lovin’ Spoonful song. I stared at John Sebastian’s picture on album covers for hours on end, willing our meeting.
After an interminable wait the night arrived. Savannah and I met for dinner. She looked amazing, and quite different from when we were in sixth grade just a few years earlier. She had perky breasts poking at a tight turtleneck and wore a pair of soft suede knee-high boots with fringe down the sides over tight corduroy jeans. I tried to picture her in bed with her lover, who was exactly twice our age, and couldn’t quite conjure up the image. Perhaps it was because I had no idea what a lover looked like in bed. Savannah gave me a ticket to the concert and left to join the band, promising once again to get me backstage after the performance.
I took my seat on a stone bench towards the back of the outdoor theater. The valiant efforts of the warm-up groups, Love and the Association, failed to warm me up. I was saving the best of my love for John Sebastian. However, the Lovin’ Spoonful were nowhere to be found. A tense, short-haired announcer in a suit tried to keep the crowd occupied as time wore on. He alternately berated the restless crowd and attempted to provide entertainment, calling the beleaguered bands back onto the stage for multiple encores that had not been called for by the audience.
The Lovin’ Spoonful eventually slunk onto the stage looking extremely dispirited. They played on automatic pilot, without energy or involvement. At one point a woman jumped onstage and flung herself at Zal Yanovsky, locking him in a jaw-breaking kiss. Other girls took the cue and stormed the stage. The roadies pulled the band members to safety. The emcee bawled out the audience once again. Eventually things quieted down and the Spoonful finished off their lackluster set. There were bad vibes all around. What was going on?
I waited at the stage entrance with a sense of dread. Sarah emerged long enough to tell me that would be no reveling tonight. Later in the week, all the underground newspapers contained blistering reports that Canadian band members Zal and Steve had been busted for possession of marijuana that night. They had fingered their dealer in order to keep from getting deported. The band was shoveling shit from that day forward in the alternative presses, its members labeled as the worst kind of turncoats on God’s green earth. Rolling Stone called for a boycott of the group. The incident was basically the end of the Lovin’ Spoonful. I stood by my man. I knew that John Sebastian could never possibly have done something as heinous as to turn in drug dealers. If only he knew that I knew.