The sixties were -- mostly -- way cool.
Lights and darks. Highs and lows. Cheers and tears. Always, excitement.
Despite the roller-coaster extremes of what was going on, those of us who partied hard in that decade will always remember it as the best of times. And the worst of times.
This generation is sick of hearing all that. I can dig it. But those of us who lived it have it carved in stone in our collective memories. A lot of shit went down. It wasn't just our long hair. We didn't need technological devices that the "Looking-Down" (at cell phones) generation of today depend upon to function. Technology is their new drug, adding layers of distance from face to face real-life, and creating anxiety with "social media" pressure.
We looked into each other's blood-shot eyes and spoke live.
We didn't need to look at a screen to know how to act.
We believed in a form of hip chaos.
We didn't worry about ending sentences with a preposition.
"Where the party at?"
My crew was: diddy- boppin', finger-poppin', jukin', jivin', dancin', table-hoppin', joint-sharin', bar-hoppin', club goin', fun-lovin' protest-marchin' motherfuckers.
We didn't need no stinking cellphones!!
Let the music roll now.
Sinatra, Elvis, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, The Isley Brothers, and lots of Doo-Wop were in my music stash as the decade began.
In the fall of 1963, Marvin Gaye released a single, "Can I get a Witness". My man Marvin was totally cool. I listened to that 45-R.P.M. several times a day during my freshman year at college. I will listen to him until the day I throw a seven.
Two months later, on November 22nd, President JFK was assassinated by a crummy stooge. The nation was shocked and saddened. We all remember where we were when it happened.
The Beatles exploded on the set too. NYC was like, WOW! The nation was like, WOW! We dug them to the hilt. In a small way they helped lessen the pain of our president's murder. On February 9, 1964 we all got to see them perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Another WOW!
In my hood in Brooklyn, they helped turn dudes, me included, from hitters into hippies. Bob Dylan reinforced that vibe with great songs of protest like, "Blowin' in the Wind," and "The Times They Are a Changin". He was "our" poet. A definite WOW!
Another big event of 1964 was the first Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston fight on February 24th in Miami. We saw Ali (then Cassius Clay) put a ti-fi ass whuppin' on the Big Ugly Bear. My crowd was jubilant. We loved him. We still do. Ali is one of the truly great Americans and the most iconic person I have had the privilege to photograph.
In July, there was a riot in Harlem a few days after a cop shot and killed a 15-year-old black kid in the east 70's during a lame incident and a questionable confrontation. It was a long, hot summer afterward.
Then came the Rolling Stones.
Also in 1964, while working a summer gig as a copy-boy at the NY Post, my co-worker Fred Waitzkin (who is now a gifted, distinguished author) pulled my coat to The Rolling Stones. I had heard them on the radio, but I was still all over The Beatles and Dylan to pay them "no-never-mind". The next day after our Stones convo Fred brought in the Rolling Stones' recently released first album, "The Rolling Stones". The cover photograph provoked my interest.
They looked bad. The old school Brooklyn in me liked that look. Fred implored me to get a copy.
To this day, I am indebted to Fred's fabulous taste in music. The Stones did awesome rockin' covers of songs from America's wonderful, under-appreciated, black blues artists. The album still rocks my soul. The Stones most definitely mined the U.S.A. for much of their creative inspiration and to honor those legends like Muddy Waters whose material they covered.
In late October 1964, I took the subway to E 14th Street to cop a pair of kicks. It was an early Saturday afternoon and in those days, E 14th between 3rd and 4th Avenues had at least ten shoe stores to explore and I was a shoe freak. I was very down with the block as well, having trained as a teenage fighter there at the storied Gramercy Gym run by the legendary boxing guru Cus D'Amato who made Floyd Patterson, Jose Torres and Mike Tyson into world champions. From 1960-1962, I was taught the boxing skills and discipline of Cus's style by the brilliant boxing trainer Joey Fariello.
The Gramercy stable-mates often watched championship fights on closed-circuit TV next door at The Academy of Music. As I started eye-tapping the parade of shoes in each store window, I gazed up at the Academy marquee: The Rolling Stones -- 2:00 and 7 PM.
In those days I lived on very short dough, barely enough to buy the European shoes I dug. I walked in my worn shoes to the box-office and confirmed that the Stones were playing an afternoon gig. As I recall, a ticket was a pricey $6.00. (Stones freaks can check the internet). I decided to score the shoes.
As I started to descend the subway steps after my shoe purchase, with less than ten dollars left to my name, I heard Mick Jagger's voice in my head singing his cover of "I Just Want to Make Love to You". Later for Brooklyn. I ran back up the subway stairs and I took my impulsive young ass, and my new kicks into the Academy of Music to see The Rolling Stones.
The joint was half-empty.
Mick Jagger moved around the stage like an epileptic chicken but the dude was dazzling. He sang like a champ. The band played an energizing, unpolished yet mesmerizing combo of blues and rock. Jagger did not have James Brown's moves, but he displayed a certain uninhibited moving, stage-mastery that made one believe the man could actually dance. Put all those elements together with heartfelt, powerful songs and I knew I had just witnessed a sensational show. I can't remember what those 14th Street/European shoes looked like, but I'll never forget the Rolling Stones at The Academy of Music. Their future was stretched out in front of them.
It was a bright one.
My Stones jones began after watching that gig and it has lasted a lifetime.
On February 21st, 1965 Malcolm X got assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in NYC. He was only 39 years old. They arrested, tried, and convicted three people for his murder. Another sterling leader with vision was gone too soon. That following summer, I was trying on a pair of shoes in Bloom's in the Village on 6th Avenue next to the Waverly theater when a gorgeous girl with long blonde hair, and a long white dress holding a large bouquet of flowers came up to me, and handed me a beauty and said:"Flower Power", and hit me with a big, radiant smile. I smiled back, speechless. It was a serenity moment.
But it would not last for too long.
I was listening to a lot of Motown including Smokey, The Temps, Mary Wells, Marvin, Martha and the Vandellas. I was just layin' in the cut when I heard about the Watts riot in LA. It was a different kind of "Dancin' in the Streets".
During the summer of love in 1967, Hippie Hill in Prospect Park where we hung out attracted hundreds of people not only from other hoods, but from other states! It was a cool outdoor party day and night.
Lots of my friends, including me, had gotten drafted into the "green-machine" (US ARMY) in 1966. A chunk of them went to Vietnam including my kid bother Johnny and my best friend GR (George Ryan). Luckily, I didn't. I was still able to do the hippie scene traveling home from my Army base on many weekends minus my long hair. Most neighborhood 'Nam dudes came back to the world. Sadly, a few didn't. Several of those who returned had emotional guilt-ridden thoughts, vivid nightmares, and panic attacks that were later characterized as PTSD. It was disturbing to witness. Some still suffer from that serious illness. It is truly a drag. I got out of the "green-machine" in April, 1968. But a week before I was discharged, Martin Luther King was murdered by a racist creep. I remember my mother crying on the phone about Dr. King right after his murder.
Another strong, peaceful leader was gone.
Six weeks after that I was in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in LA with my camera when Bobby Kennedy got assassinated on June 5th, 1968 by a young fanatic with two first names. I had just walked right past this bum before he pulled out the gun. It was the worst night of my young life. I spent the next month after that horrible night hanging out in Laguna Beach listening to music, drinking beer, smoking weed, looking at beautiful surfer girls, just trying to cool out and maintain.
On July 18th, 1969 Teddy Kennedy had an alcohol-influenced car accident but did the wrong thing right after at Chappaquiddick. A special young woman died.
On August 9th, 1969 the jailhouse punk Charles Manson manipulated some of his stupid, idolatry-prone, and acid-laced minions to go from the Spahn ranch in the desert to LA to murder "rich people" and ended up slaughtering a cluster of decent, nice people including an eight-and-a-half-month pregnant woman named Sharon Tate. That swine Manson had the nerve to use a Beatle song (Helter Skelter) to swindle the minds of his fucked-up followers. That whole deal wigged me out. The whole nation shuttered behind it.
Yeah, the sixties had its casualties. It wasn't all a cool party.
A few days later I landed in Woodstock -- the festival -- not the actual town. I needed the "peace and serenity" and, of course, the wonderful music, but equally important the four hundred thousand people who shared the fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime event with me, including GR and about twenty other people from my Brooklyn neighborhood.
We just had a ball -- that's all.
At around the same time, Richard Nixon was slithering around the White House already adding names to his "enemies list," the dirty tricks were in action, and the "Peace with Honor" jive was getting swallowed by the Silent Majority while the real "silent majority" were the dead Americans in Vietnam.
The "Summer of Love" was a fading memory.
On November 15th, 1969 I found myself in front of the White House with a group of friends and a couple of my brothers at the Moratorium March on Washington where we further protested the Vietnam War. It was like the Woodstock of protest marches among another half million people demanding that Nixon should end the war. It fell on deaf ears.
There were three New York miracles in 1969.
First, the Amazin' Mets won the World Series. Then Joe Namath's white kicks danced the Jets to a Super-Bowl triumph.
The third miracle happened forty-six years ago today. On Thanksgiving night, November 27th, 1969, The Rolling Stones held their first Madison Square Garden Concert. The Stones had moved from the half-full Academy of Music just five years earlier to a sold-out arena holding twenty thousand people. I photographed that astounding show from the lip of the stage. It was a ringside seat to history. I was in the right place at the right time. I was lucky. The Stones kicked out the jams with a wild, foot-stomping, "Jumpin' Jack Flash". The audience went crazy! The Stones were in superlative form.
Jagger bounced on stage wearing an Uncle Sam hat, and that man's hat was where he was at! He had on a black outfit with an eye-catching design on his chest (a Leo sign, an Omega sign, take your pick, freaks). The dramatic lights illuminated the silver studs up the seams of his skinny pants. He sported a studded black choker and a crimson colored scarf around his long neck. He looked as bad as he wanted to be! He was dancing' and prancin' and singing his young ass off! That night, at 27 years old, Jagger owned legitimate self-confidence, youthful soul, and the non-stop vitality of a star for the rock and roll ages. He was like a human tornado, spinning back and forth across the stage belting out that great bluesy voice that has always distinguished him from other white singers. But Jagger had big help from the magic and the music of the great rock and roll band with him -- Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman, and newcomer Mick Taylor. They took rock music to another level, the same way Ali did wonders for boxing -- excuse me, they were the Rolling Stones. They were not just an appendage to Jagger's lead singer deal; the four dudes with him were all immensely talented.
Ladies and gentleman, the Rolling Stones, turned the joint out!
They owned the Garden. They opened the noses of a multitude of women in the audience. Some dudes too.
Their sound system was more sophisticated and the lighting was cooler and the set list was a combo of terrific songs from the Beggars Banquet album and new ones from the soon-to-be-released Let It Bleed album, including the opera-like "Midnight Rambler" with two fabulous Chuck Berry songs ("Carol" and "Little Queenie") and their own classic, "Satisfaction", thrown into the superb mix. But they still had that unpolished raw energy from the Academy of Music that will be forever young and fun and bad ass. Some critics have said that the political turmoil that went down during the decade motivated the new darker, Let It Bleed lyrics. They were certainly more provocative and edgy. Whatever the inspiration, the evolving Jagger/Richards writing team displayed more creative, complex, and profound songs. That night in the Garden, the Stones reached a pinnacle in Rock and Roll history with this thrilling, mind-blowing concert. Period.
They OUTWOWED all previous live performances by anyone I had ever seen before or since. They turned my head!
As a matter of fact, it was a gas.