By Jim McCarthy Apr 27, 2011 0 comments

The Rock Revolution, a View from 1967

Do yourself a favor and watch all six segments of this scratchy old CBS Special from 1967 called “Inside Pop: the Rock Revolution.” (Huge hat tip to Bob. Thanks for passing this along.)

Before I send you on your way, I have a few things I want to say about the show.  Leonard Bernstein hosts the show, and, as a representative of the “square” generation, he’s there to tell the old fogeys of the day (meaning, anyone over 25) that Rock and Roll is not only important, but some of it is really, really good.  He concedes that 95% of it is “trash,” but that the rest is “irresistible.” It was as if he was giving America permission to let this new cultural expression in the front door, where it had been banging loudly for the last decade or so.  After all, if it’s good enough for Bernstein, who’s isn’t it good enough for?

Here are a few things that struck me.

-Everyone who was interviewed spoke simple, clear English.  Even with a little hippie jargon thrown in, people avoided the kind of halting police-report style formality and the latter-day valley girl jibberish that you get so much of today.  Heck, even middle aged business men say “like” as a way of pausing between phrases these days.  None of these people did that.  Here’s a fairly representative example of how a man on the street interview sounded in this piece:  “The kids like music, you know? They’ve gotta have someplace to go.  They don’t have a lot of dough, so they come to a place like Pandora’s Box. But if they close ’em all down, what can you do except stand out in the street?”  This was some kid they pulled out of a street protest on the Sunset Strip, and it was typical of every person who spoke on the show.  Compare that to what I just heard on a news clip from an elected official here in LA: “It has come to light that there are instances where customers are not being billed for months at a time for their water and power usage only to receive a bulk bill with numerous months of billing.”

In 1967, that would have been, “We’ve learned that some customers aren’t getting their water and power bills monthly, but instead getting a big bill for several months at once.”

-There really isn’t a generation gap anymore. Of course, this came out before I was even born, but the idea of a big, big difference in the musical tastes of people over 25 and people under 25 today is the difference between Lady Gaga and Madonna.  Then it was more like the difference between Lady Gaga and Pat Boone.

-It’s impressive that CBS could produce this and put it on prime time and expect that people would watch it.  I’m not saying tv journalism this good doesn’t exist today.  I am saying, though, that you couldn’t produce it and put it on network tv or probably even basic cable.

-Herman’s Hermits really were terrible.  Sorry.  Brian Wilson was and probably still is a musical genius.

-Frank Zappa was the smartest person in the whole piece, with the possible exception of Bernstein.  They should have gotten more out of him.  I absolutely loved his reaction to the idea that drugs were going to bring peace and love to the world as part of the “revolution” and would make people “more loving and more understanding of the universe and of life,” as the Byrds Jim (Roger) McGuinn said.  Zappa retorted the following:

If they’d stop taking drugs, and they’d stop kidding themselves with their fantasies, and if they’d straighten up a little bit, grab themselves a little sense of responsibility, I think everything will turn out alright.”

Instead we had the 70s.

-Bernstein wasn’t faking it.  He really loved the music.  You could see it when he played and sang.  He had a real delight in the rock music itself, which makes this whole thing work.  It must have blown some people’s minds to see the maestro endorse what was supposed to be heresy against the church of which he was the high priest.  Traditional music, many must have felt, was under assault, and it was Bernstein’s job to protect it.  But his ability to be interesting, articulate and specific about why rock music was worth hearing defeats all attempts to deny his point of view.

This must have been a powerful cultural moment.

Anyway, there are six parts, and I’m embedding the first one.  You can follow on to 2 through 6 from within the player:

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