Sixties Trips

“WHERE CAN I GET MY COCK SUCKED? WHERE CAN I GET MY ASS FUCKED?” Mick Jagger’s second pass at the chorus of “Cocksucker Blues”—and the feral moan that launches the track—“I’m a looooooonesome schoolboy…” seem to echo Richard Goldstein’s line in his new memoir on why he identified with rock stars (and girl groups) who started out with him in the 60s:  “they were as hungry as me.” I’d dug the snatch of “Cocksucker Blues” Jagger sang in Robert Frank’s suppressed Stones movie, which is named after it, but I heard the original, unreleased version only recently. And when I did, it sound-tracked my reading of Goldstein’s Another Little Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Revolution in the 60s. The Stones’ lubricious goof (verboten when they recorded it in 1972) about a randy student in London-town punctuated Goldstein’s riffs on his own trips from the Bronx to the Village (and beyond). Not that “little Richie from the projects—wide open and shut-down, heedless and needy, full of myself and ready to be filled”—knew right away what would give him the most satisfaction (sexual or otherwise). Goldstein wasn’t a natural-born sexual outlaw like Joe Orton or Jagger’s stray cat student, “leaning on Nelson’s column.”  A working class boy-turned-bohemian, Goldstein was ready to hustle, but a prick up your ears wasn’t his idea of upward mobility. He was put off at the thought toney New York homosexuals might regard him as rough trade and he didn’t end up coming out until the 70s. Still his 60s experiments included visits to gay bars with a best bud and beating the draft by copping to “homosexual feelings.” The era’s avatars of desire, who urged him to feed his body and head, helped prep him for his first kiss with a man, which he describes in the final set-piece of his memoir. It happened when he was coming down from the 60s and tripping on acid. (A sequence that reminded me of an American Adam – a high school buddy of mine—who lost his cherry when he did acid for the first time.) Another Little Piece of My Heart tells how Goldstein launched his long career in journalism by becoming a precocious Village explainer of pop life in Beatlemania’s wake and then a “war reporter” when the New Left was in the streets. It also nods to his life after thirty—and after Days of Rage/Disillusion—when he’d make himself over into a Voice for gay rights and aesthetics.

I picked up on the reverb of Goldstein’s pre-coming out story in “Cocksucker Blues” because I’d been chasing Stones’ bootlegs on YouTube thanks to another chronicle of countercultural days—Robert Greenfield’s Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye:  The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile. What follows is a personal/political reflection sparked by those texts—a reflection that takes in (in the spirit of my cornucopian friend Adam?), a documentary film, One Step Away, Margaret Drabble’s novel The Waterfall, Stones arcana and other tales of the sixties.

I

I should acknowledge right away that Goldstein’s work is much more ambitious than Greenfield’s. Goldstein’s memoir covers the entire decade of the 60s. Greenfield zeroes in on a twenty day tour he took with the Rolling Stones in 1971, though it looks ahead (to the making of Exile on Main St. and the Stones’ 1972 tour of America).  But there are commonalities that go beyond the synchronic. Both Goldstein and Greenfeld are unillusioned about their subjects (and their younger selves). Neither author looks back without regrets.  And that, in turn, distances them from those counter-cultural vets who once reacted to critics of the decade by upholding “the sixties without apologies.” Goldstein doesn’t cozy up to those who hate on the decade—and Greenfield is still high on his memories of hanging tight with the Stones when they were peaking—but both are alive to the mean side of freewheelin’ times.

Goldstein’s title nods to Janis Joplin’s (cover) hit and her trip becomes symptomatic of his 60s. Goldstein repeatedly evokes his own avidity in Another Little Piece of My Heart, linking his need with rockers who copped to theirs on stage.  For him, Joplin’s art of self-exposure—her “spectacle of need”—was the echt rock experience. (Per his cheeky 60s profile of Joplin in Vogue ((!)): “She can sing the chic off any listener.”)  Goldstein tells all about his encounters with the biggest rock stars of the 60s whom he met after he began writing his Pop Eye column for the Voice but he had more than a journalistic tie to Joplin. He describes a post-Fillmore East concert after-party with her at a lower east side deli that included a kiss along with the pickles.  (His account of their friendly all-nighter reads like the b-side of Leonard Cohen’s song on his liaison with Joplin: “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/You were talking so brave and so sweet/giving me head on the unmade bed/as the limousines wait in the street.”)  Goldstein avers he and Janis shared a certain awareness of themselves as self-doubting “outsiders even when we reached the hot center”:  “Most people are grotesques, but not many know it, and those who walk around with that awareness as a steady undercurrent, recognize each other.”  Their connection was fleeting, but Goldstein blames himself (and his kind) for not being there for Joplin when she got carried away off-stage.  Goldstein judges not when it comes to performers’ drinking or drugging. He cringes at “media wags who gloat over a performer’s overdose,” who “demand greatness but won’t accept what it takes to achieve it.” But he knows it wasn’t all good when that puritanical reflex was suspended in the 60s: “unfortunately, it was replaced by a reluctance to intervene, no matter how self-destructive the behavior.  In that respect, Janis was a typical victim of the decade’s worst sin; indifference to consequences.”

It wasn’t only long-gone rockers who found themselves on their own in that moment. Goldstein focuses on another exemplary victim, a Voice colleague named Don McNeill who may have drowned himself in a “gay panic” after being seduced by another man during his first acid trip. News of Joplin’s death led to a reckoning for Goldstein who realized “no one would feel responsible”: “Like McNeill on the day he drowned, she was just doing her own thing.” In the aftermath of Joplin’s (and the sixties’) fade-out, Goldstein mourned all the junkies who’d been dear to him, “along with every rocker whose path to destruction I had witnessed silently, every acid casualty I’d iced out of my life, everyone I’d seen fall by the wayside while I’d clung on.  Why hadn’t I intervened?”

Another Little Piece of My Heart means to keep faith with souls who ended up losing theirs in the 60s because friends were too cool to care.  It nails how non-interventionism got mixed up with Stoney notions of liberation. (Spawn of Brian Jones and Viet Nam’s FUBAR?) I’m reminded how Bob Dylan, who might’ve gone out like Jones, Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison if he hadn’t woken up after that providential motorcycle accident in Woodstock, once offered up an Old Testamentary lyric on sixties’ cool:  “Well don’t know which one is worse/Doing your own thing or just being cruel/
You remember only about the brass ring/You forget all about the golden rule.”

II

Not that atheist Goldstein would roll with fundamentalist Bob.  While Goldstein has always been a Dylanist[1], he’s a doubter too.  He sussed Dylan’s artful dodging in the 60s wasn’t the moral equivalent of Monkeying around—Zimmy could play with the ideal of authenticity without ditching the thing itself. Yet Goldstein has never been entirely down with the once-and-future voice of a generation’s pursuit of variousness and dollars.

Goldstein places Mick Jagger as the other great calculator in his cohort. His take on this score is in tune with Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. Greenfeld tells how he learned Jagger was almost always “being Mick” (though Greenfeld got a glimpse of a more permeable Jagger after a rare bad set before a dead crowd).  He presents Keith Richards as the purer Stone, re-upping on the near-hoary opposition between the glimmer twins. Greenfeld has probably earned the right of return here. After all, his early Rolling Stone interview and ‘70s reporting on the Stones made the antimony between Richards’ hard core and Jagger’s shape-shifting sing back in the day. Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye, though, isn’t another ode to keep-it-realism. Greenfeld (like Goldstein) keeps coming back to comeuppances. He’s alive to players, lovers, producers, and hangers-on used by the Stones during the band’s seasons (or in Richards’ case, decades) on the edge–so many of whom wound up using hard drugs and dying young.  Richards has suggested his own drug intake had more to do with “Protestant ethic” than hedonism:  “It was–either stay up or crash out or wake up. It was always to do something.” He points to the songs he got out of the years when he was “a bit of alchemist” out to find the perfect rock and roll cocktail.  Greenfeld caught Keith in experimental mode one time. The lab being the living room in the French mansion, Nellcote, where the Stones recorded Exile.  One evening, Greenfeld watched as Richards “stooped over like a peasant gathering grain in a Millet painting” began picking up toys his son Marlon had left scattered around the room:

It was what any loving father would do…Only as Keith performed this task, he happened to spy a rather large and distinctly ominous-looking capsule that was lying in plain view on the Persian carpet. Whether it was a leaper, a creeper, a black beauty, or some consciousness-expanding psychedelic substance, I had no idea. But without breaking rhythm or even pausing to consider the consequences, Keith picked up the pill and popped it right into his mouth.

For Greenfeld, those consequences are all about Richards’ mental/physical health. I’ll allow this reader flashed on what might’ve happened if son Marlon had popped that pill. I thought of a scene in One Step Away, the 1967 documentary by Ed Pincus and David Neuman, which time-machines you back to Haight-Ashbury’s hippie milieu.  One of the film’s principals is a young mom who blows marijuana smoke into her baby’s face, but memorably announces, “You should never give a child acid until they’re 8 years old, and then only if they ask for it.” I was struck by a recent review of that movie, which suggests the trio at the heart of it—that mother Ricky, her son and her boyfriend Harry—are harmless losers whose fecklessness is not without charm. But Harry’s doofus moves and hippie spiels don’t hide the truth he’s a bad actor.  Maybe I’m suffering from an irony-deficit but I assume the filmmakers wanted audiences to pick up on the threat implicit in their documentary’s scary movie title. Harry is surely a human horror.  One sequence in the movie puts this ball of slime on blast: Harry hippie makes out with a (dim) blonde as Ricky sits pitiably by the side of the bed, sound-tracked by James Brown singing “This Is a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” on the radio.

When it came to Harry, the filmmakers’ bullshit detectors were functioning. You always need one, but it was very necessary in the 60s as the counterculture became a nexus for users, provocateurs and greedheads.

III

Addicts aren’t known for their bullshit detectors but Keith Richards was still trusting his while Greenfeld was around.  Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye evokes Richards’ response to a pitch from Jon Taplin—a Princeton grad who worked for Dylan and The Band before moving on to produce Scorsese movies in the ’70s. Taplin came to lunch at Nellcote, hoping to convince Richards that he, Taplin, should run the next Stones’ tour. Something about Taplin rubbed Richards wrong. (Is it possible working class hero Richards sensed Taplin—ex-folkie, courtier to countercultural royalty, soon-to-be surfer of America’s New Wave—would become an investment banker in the Reagan era?)  As Taplin tried to make his case at table, Richards reached for a guitar and began playing a song he’d been locked on all week: “The Jerk, a Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions sound-alike that had been a big hit for Don Julian and the Larks…in 1964.”

Although Taplin did his best to keep right on pitching, he soon realized no man was a match for Keith Richards when he was in this particular mood. Knowing he was not going to get the deal, Taplin quickly left the house once lunch was over. As though he had never been there, Keith just kept right on playing the song over and over again.

Greenfeld allows Taplin might not have deserved the brush-off.  And his caveats remind me of Greil Marcus’s spin on Keith Richards’ famously prickly attitude toward his oldest comrade, Jagger.  Marcus linked the over-the-top flaying of Jagger in Richards’ autobiography, Life, to the truth Jagger was just about the only one close to Richards in or around the Stones who never became an addict.

Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye, OTOH, contains a revelation that flips any script tending to vindicate Jagger.[2]  Greenfeld quotes (the late) Andy Johns—record engineer, producer and former junk buddy of Richards—who recalled sitting in a courtroom with Jagger as they watched Richards try to beat a drug bust in 1973:

I said to Mick, “What’s going to happen?” And he said, “I think Keith’s going down. But it’s all right. I’ve got Jesse Ed Davis[3] with his bags packed in L.A.  He can be on the next plane.” Which I thought was beyond mercenary. Because they had to tour with “Goats Head Soup” which was just about to be released.

Jagger’s readiness to leave his blues brother behind can’t help but call up memories of how Jagger and Richards treated Brian Jones, “founder” of the Stones, who drowned in his own swimming pool soon after they kicked him out the band in 1969 (due chiefly to his substance abuse).  Long before Jones was let go, though, he’d been broken by his former best friends.  Richards has detailed the “moonlight flit” in Morocco—that episode where Richards, Jagger and their entourage split on the sly, leaving Jones on his own in Marrakech without his longtime lover, Anita Pallenberg, who ran off with Richards. (Pallenberg is a heavy presence in Ain’t It Time We Said Goodbye. The title comes from a line in “Angie”—the Stones’ 1973 hit that now seems to forecast Richards’ eventual break-up with Pallenberg, who didn’t get off smack until long after Richards cleaned up.)

Richards has half-justified his final betrayal of Jones in Life, pointing out Jones and Pallenberg had been beating each other up. (“They were both on a very destructive course.”)  But, in earlier testimony (in Stanley Booth’s Keith) he doesn’t absolve himself too quickly:

I still have to check myself today, whether I decided to become friends with Brian again [in 1966] so’s to ingratiate myself with [Pallenberg]. I’m bein’ honest, I’m tryna figure it out…I think it’s fifty-fifty.

His recollections of how he came to steal his mate’s girlfriend sent me back to a novelist’s fictional account of another romantic act of betrayal sparked by a sexy “heap of beautiful angles.”  To quote a phrase from Margaret Drabble’s The Waterfall (1969), pegging the novel’s (male) love object–a handsome car-racing enthusiast who’s married to the cousin of narrator, “Jane Grey.” (Pace Jane Eyre. Let me stipulate Drabble’s dialogic was informed by Brontes not Rolling Stones and their women! Still, The Waterfall is definitely a late 60s thing. More on that anon.)

The Waterfall is the story of Jane’s affair with her cousin’s husband, James. It’s told from Jane’s point of view but as she bears down, refusing her own excuses for infidelity (she’s married too), the narration switches from third person—“she knew there was nothing to be done with such beauty but try to keep it”—to first—“I acknowledge the treachery of my love. Blood is blood…” Jane delves behind the mask of passivity she’s adopted in the opening pages of The Waterfall—where she seems at the mercy of others. Separated from her husband, Jane nurses her newborn baby girl in an empty house attended by a midwife, cousin Lucy and James, who soon wants Jane just as much as she wants him.  Jane’s subsequent, third-to-first person rethink of their affair, clarifies how she cultivated the tension between them. And that, in turn, reminded me of Keith Richards’ musing on his own less than muy macho way with women in Life’s version of his first sex act with Pallenberg (who gave him a blow job in the back seat of a touring car): “I suppose every woman I’ve ever met has put the make on me.  Meanwhile I’m putting the make on in another way—by creating an aura of insufferable tension. Someone has to do something.” You could do worse than Life’s half-measures of self-analysis, yet Richards’ neo-mea culpas make you appreciate Drabble’s tough-mindedness. And, while we’re at it, let’s cut to Richards’ account of his first week as Pallenberg’s lover:  “It’s boinky, boinky, boinky, down in the Kasbah, and we’re as randy as rabbits…” Roll over D.H. Lawrence?  Nope. Sex in Richards’ Life is light stuff.  In The Waterfall, OTOH, Drabble is D.H. on it:

How could it not be serious, this matter? How could it be taken so lightly, and so dismissed? It was like death, like birth, an event of the same order. Her cry was the cry of a woman in labor: it broke from her, and her body gathered around it with the violence of a final pang. She had known it would be like this: dreadful, insatiable, addictive, black. How wisely had she avoided the destruction, with what self-preserving foreknowledge had she avoided it: and now it was too late, she had let herself be led here tenderly by the hand, garlanded with kisses, a sacrifice. And he would never be able to kill her, she would thrash on there alone forever, and he would hate her for it, he would hate her for having shown herself willing to dieShe had no faith, she had no faith; he had taken her too far, and she would never get back to the dry integrity she had once inhabited, she would be exiled forever in this painful space between desire and arrival. There was nothing to do, no way to help herself; she lay there a victim helpless with the sweat standing out all over her body. In her head it was black and purple, her heart was breaking, she could hardly breathe, she opened her eyes to see him but she could see nothing, and still she could not move but had to lie there, tense, breaking, afraid, the tears unshed standing up in the rims of her eyes, her body about to break apart with the terror of being left alone right up there on that “high dark painful shelf”  with everything falling away dark on all sides of her, alone and high up, stranded, unable to fall. Then suddenly but slowly, for the first time ever, just as she thought she must die without him forever, she started to fall, painfully, anguished, but falling at last, falling, coming toward him, meeting him at last, down there in his arms, half-dead but not dead, crying out to him, trembling, shuddering, quaking, drenched and drowned, down there at last in the water, not high in her lonely place, and she sank her teeth into his shoulder and then turned her head into the pillow and bit it and choked on it, and wept and wept and finally, faintly, gently, shivered into silence.

Drabble’s switch back to third person underscores how Jane’s letting go isn’t ego-ing off.  Her sexual awakening feels undeniable. Though her fortunate fall isn’t meant to seem easily forgivable.  The Waterfall now reads like another rebuke to sixties-without-apols nonsense. Its down low lovers pay for their lies. (They’re found out after a terrible automobile accident that almost kills James.)  Yet the novel doesn’t end in disaster for the dangerously-in-love. Nor does it revel in self-laceration.  It has (per Drabble) a “feminine ending.”  Jane and James won’t live happily ever after together, but their affair continues and Jane lives forward creatively as a writer (and mother).

The Waterfall (like Drabble’s other early novels) is in the flow of Second Wave feminism. (Drabble has cited the influence of classics by De Beauvoir and Doris Lessing.) But there’s another way this novel, which must have been composed in 1967-1968, is time-sensitive.  Drabble the close imaginer turned into a seismographer as the world was beginning to crack. (Though, as we all know, it never did break.) [4]  The large events (and public discourse) of 1968 are missing from The Waterfall.  When the lovers have their accident, they’re on their way to Norway not Paris (or Prague) ((or Chicago!)) But this novel, where the heroine is ready to go to extremes, catches the felt quality of 68’s serious times.  It’s all there in the first line: “If I was drowning, I couldn’t reach out a hand to save myself, so unwilling am I to set myself up against my fate.”[5]

IV

Goldstein knows the feeling that saturates The Waterfall. In 1968, after seeing “most incredible images…the heads of my political leaders blown apart, cities across the nation smoldering…”

I walked around in a state of disorientation, as if I was experiencing the aftershocks of an earthquake that hadn’t happened yet. But the strangest thing about this sensation was that it drove me forward. The imminence demanded that I take action, and whatever I might do seemed very important, as if it could make a decisive difference. There’s a joy in that conviction, a delight that overcomes the dread. This desire to know the brink, to leap over the edge and into the Niagara is my most vivid memory of 1968.

By that year, Goldstein was in the process of transferring his “awe from rock stars to radicals.” His account of that left turn culminates with his inside reports on police riots at Columbia and the Chicago Convention.  At Columbia, he was in an occupied dorm with the cops coming up the stairs—“the whole thing was in slow-mo”—before he leapt out a window two stories up. He wasn’t too absorbed by his own fears to notice sandals littering the plaza in front of Columbia’s library where a crowd of students had “jumped out of their shoes” when cops rushed them.  Goldstein’s reporter’s eye re-animates political conflicts that were famous long ago.  At one point  he recalls how he ducked down under the seat to avoid rocks thrown at a bus carrying protesters away from a 1966 march for open housing led by King in Chicago: “I looked up long enough to see a nun throwing a stone.”  King’s assasination becomes the occasion for one of Goldstein’s most memorable signs of the times. He recalls seeing a car full of Black Muslims in their suits and bowties parked with the radio on:

One of them opened the door so I could hear more clearly. We listened together, not looking at each other but sharing wordless grief. It was a moment I will never forget, that recognition of what it is to lose an idea of what is possible. King’s concept of America as a “beloved community” was powerful even to those separatists, despite their dogma.

King’s concept had moved Goldstein to enter the Civil Rights movement when he was still a teenager in the Bronx. In a rich chapter early in Another Little Piece of My Heart, “White Like Me,” Goldstein recalls his movement experiences, which ranged from private acts of miscegenation to public demonstrations. Goldstein enraged his working class Jewish parents by joining picket lines targeting the White Castle chain which wouldn’t hire black employees to work their counters.  Goldstein’s evocation of the Bronx’s tinderbox “where white ethnics resisted anything that breached the boundary between them and black folks” has its uses today (which is why First is reprinting “White Like Me” in this set of posts). I’ll allow, though, I wish Another Little Piece of My Heart had come out in the ‘90s when Goldstein’s Bronx tale would have exposed that decade’s lazy critiques of “liberal racism” and multiculturalism, which often seemed to imply identity politics up South had been invented by African Americans.  Talk about “the disuniting of America” was prevalent in the ‘90s among leftists worried (not without cause, admittedly) that identity politics had led to “the twilight of common dreams.” To quote Todd Gitlin (from back in that day) who happens to have blurbed Another Little Piece of My Heart. Professor Gitlin’s praise of the book reminded me of a moment in his own memoir, The 60s: Years of Hope Days of Rage, that seemed to undermine his‘90s avowals of universalism. The hot second in question had me suspecting Gitlin had slept on the soul of the decade he’s made it his business to profess upon. It went down after Gitlin had slipped past a picket line which his parents and sister would have honored as members of the UFT during the Ocean Hill Brownsville strike. Given his familial loyalties, that conflict between the largely white teachers’ union and black parents was one he wished to avoid. And he didn’t offer a fresh angle on it in The 60s, which may be why only one parenthetical bit of his “pleasant day” inside Bronx School of Science really registered with me. After Gitlin nodded to teachers and students who were conducting “liberation classes” in his old alma mater, he noted decorum had been maintained: “(though Aretha Franklin records were playing for the blacks in study hall).”  “The blacks,” of course, is worthy of Trumpspeak.  (Though, on the real side, that clunky locution is not all that uncommon among old New Leftists.)  But it’s not just Gitlin’s tin ear that was off-putting—how could a sixties vet—and self-styled universalist—fail to grasp Aretha’s classic hits crossed over? Black kids were not the only ones in that Bronx School of Science study hall who were grooving to her records.  (Wasn’t there, but I have that on good authority! When my middle school girlfriend kicked me to the curb in my prepubescence since all I wanted was to hold her hand, I leaned on Aretha’s “Prove It.”

“Prove, that I don’t want to die.
Now, That you say, ‘It’s Goodbye’, Baby!

Prove it
Baby!
Let me see you
Prove it

Prove it, Prove it, Prove it, Prove it to me”

I played Aretha over and over again on the shitty stereo in my room and it still hurts to recall how no-one could prove it to me.)

Aretha sang for the Black Nation, but when she became Queen of Soul, she ruled over little white boys and little white girls and every American who could hear.[6]

Goldstein, who’s older than me and grew up faster too, tells how pre-Ree pop sound-tracked his first sex fantasies. His favorite jerk-off scenario had all the Shirelles and Dion in his bed!  Goldstein’s sixties seem to have been dirtier, sweeter and more colorful than Gitlin’s.[7]

End of Part 1.  Part 2 is posted here.

Notes

1 Goldstein mocks himself for misreading a line in “All Along the Watchtower.” He turned the song’s “two riders” into “two writers,” which gave Dylan a laugh.  But Goldstein knows he has a nose for Dylan.  And not just for songs of the, ah, heroic period. I remember how he once opened up “What Was It You Wanted”—a track on Oh Mercy, by hearing it as a set of questions addressed to Dylan’s original audience.

2 One more qualification: Three hours after Richards and Pallenberg beat the rap that had Jagger planning a Stones makeover, Richards set his hotel bed on fire and almost burned everyone out.  He’d become a danger to others as well as himself.

3 References to the late Jesse Ed Davis (another drug casualty) will have a particular resonance for folks who heard him play with Taj Mahal in the late 60s. Taj’s band had an original sound, which you can hear on the album Giant Step. (They were great live when I heard them play in the Amherst College gym in 1969.) But they didn’t last long. For years, decades actually, me and my older brother would spring for Taj Majal records, hoping he’d come up with a fresh sound or maybe just gone back to what he and Jesse Ed found “Further on Up the Road”.

4 Pace James Fox.

5 An opening that talks back to the Emily Dickinson poem that serves as The Waterfall’s epigraph: “Drowning is not so pitiful/as the attempt to rise…”

6 Charles O’Brien’s passages on Aretha in this great essay are worthy of Aretha’s arrival.

7 A phrase of Charles Keil’s comes to mind: Gitlin is a man of the “clean left.”

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