Pete's Blog

Sunday nights

I spent most Sunday nights during my senior year in High School playing in a coffeehouse/teen center in the basement of a Methodist church downtown. Historians write about the influence of the church on R&B but not so much about these church-basement scenes in the '60s and their affect on white rock. But pretty much every musician of my generation that I know got their start in High School playing church basements. Hey, John Lennon met Paul McCartney at a church gig, a village fete in Woolton, near Liverpool. I would play tunes from Dylan's John Wesley Harding album, which had just come out, on a nylon-string guitar I got two years before at Oseicki Brothers over on the East Side. My favorite was "I Am the Lonesome Hobo" but I also did "All Along the Watchtower" and "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine." I probably played rack harmonica, too. And when the Beatles White Album came out I played "Rocky Racoon." There was a group of maybe twenty of us that came there every week. The chaperone was the pastor of the church, who we all called Pastor Bob. The lights were low, the passageways narrow, the walls brick. We sat on the floor and had long, earnest discussions. It felt both safe and subversive. I wish my own children had the same resource for their teenage years. Mondays when I went back to school everybody was usually talking about a television program called "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" that ran on Sunday nights. They had rock bands as guests, unusual for the time, and the humor was considered very daring and left-wing. In fact, the show was eventually cancelled by the network for "going too far" in some sexual or political material, much to the outrage of liberal commentators. I stayed home once or twice to see what all the fuss was about (Donovan!) but compared to a small dark room full of smart kids learning to speak honestly about their feelings and question the plans society had for them (Vietnam!) the Smothers Brothers' shtick seemed pretty phony. There were lots of stupid jokes ("This part of the program is for the Byrds!") and the same big plastic production numbers you got from Dean Martin, except the chorus girls wore headbands and sang about Civil Rights. I don't know if there is an equivalent today to the stark choice we faced then between the scenes we made ourselves and the scenes we had forced on us, however "hip" they might have been. After all, I doubt anyone under the age of thirty today can imagine the media world of the 1960s, with its choice of three networks, take 'em or leave 'em. We left 'em, those of us who gathered in that basement on Sunday nights, and I'd like to think that the twenty of us, and small groups like us all over the country, were the seed-beds of resistance to Big Media that gave us the Do It Yourself, Take Back Your Consciousness esthetic which makes it possible for me to have my videos on Youtube and my albums for sale at CD Baby. We wanted to be free and now we are. God grant that we remain so.

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