June 6, 2006

Culture Maven: Tied to youth’s whipping post

We were young.
We were immortal.
Sooner or later both were lies. It was inevitable.

We didn’t know it then. The moments we discovered were so sublime we wouldn’t have cared anyway.

This is about the umbrellas we choose, wittingly or by chance. For me, music has carried me through. Music, which has provided succor and sustenance from those first curious emotive surges, through the dawn of adulthood when life’s line became complex. And beyond.

Summer’s here, and, as the song goes, time is right for dancing in the streets.

So we hope it shall be.

The other day, I bought a copy of the Deluxe Edition of The Allman Brothers Band’s Eat A Peach.

For three and a half decades, the Allmans have been my band. Perhaps yours, too. Or, maybe, you have another group or musician that has been there, providing ballast and sunshine.

Hopefully this will resonate.

This is not really about the Allman Brothers.

Another recent acquisition was an eight-CD box of Fats Domino tunes.
This is not really about Fats Domino, either. Or my tastes in tuneage.
It’s about the importance of finding shelter from the storm, the umbrellas we choose.

At the beginning of July 1970, I was in full flounder. The previous week I had finally finished way more than enough schooling, closure I’d fantasized about since adolescence. I hadn’t the slightest clue where I was headed. I had no road map.

There I was in a hot, dusty field in the middle of Georgia with a couple hundred thousand other searching souls.

We were young.

We were immortal.

We were also stoned. But that’s not what this is about, either.

From the first notes the Allmans played, I was hooked, pulled closer and closer to harmonies that cut through the indecision. It was beauteous. More so than any in all of pop music. But that’s just opinion.

It provided shelter from the storm then and now. That’s fact.

That wasn’t the first such moment.

When still mired in adolescence, it happened for the first time. In Bernie Rosenthal’s den. He’d just received some 78s from Randy’s Record Shop in Gallatin, Tenn. One was Johnnie & Joe’s “Over the Mountain; Across the Sea.” At age 12, I’m not sure I understood the concept of unrequited love. But when the record played, something happened, even if I didn’t know what it was. I implored Bernie to play the song over and over again. I discovered serenity.
I’ve never looked back.

In the early days of rock ’n’ roll, Fats Domino also filled the breach. Maybe it was his barrelhouse enthusiasm. Maybe it was that we share a birthday, a coincidence I didn’t learn until years later. Whatever. Fats still takes me to that good place.

So here I am — a member of the war baby generation, the rock ’n’ roll generation. In the summer of ’06, the novelty of adulthood has long since worn off.

The new edition of Eat A Peach contains the entirety of the original Allman Brothers Band’s final set at the Fillmore. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,”

despite thousands of listens in various incarnations, still calms. Sitting in sweltering heat at an overcrowded stoplight, I am transported to a gentler, simpler time. Dickey Betts’ solemn, haunting, melodic solo in the middle of “Whipping Post” still tunes the engines.

It is bittersweet. Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident a few months after the gig. A year almost to the day later, bassist Berry Oakley suffered the same fate. Dickey Betts has been kicked out of the band.
We are so not immortal. The music is.

Fats Domino survived Katrina. He canceled his set at this year’s New Orleans’ JazzFest after being hospitalized that day.

We are so not young. The tunes stay fresh.

Summer is here. The time is right.

Let us dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free. This is about rediscovering youth, a sense of refreshment.

About pulling that second line umbrella out of the closet, embracing that which we’ve used as protection from life’s harsher elements, walking our paths to rejuvenation.

The other bucolic night on the Harbor Lawn, a trio sang their version of a Sonny Boy Williamson tune.

“Mellow Down Easy.” Indeed.

In the middle they segued to Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love.”

It’s a naughty song that made us grin back in the day. It still makes us smile today.

It is one of many poles holding up the canopy. It reminds us. For this day we can be forever young.

Contact the writer at cdk@culturemaven.com