March ’68 – A Psych-Folk Delight

The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter

One of the more unique albums of 1968 came from one of the more extraordinary groups of the age, The Incredible String Band.  The Scottish group released its third album, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, in March of that year to high acclaim in the UK where it reached number five on the album chart.  It didn’t fare as well in the U.S. at the time as evidenced by, or perhaps partly because of, an unfavorable review it received in Rolling Stone magazine.  Not surprisingly, it was later given five out of five stars in the Rolling Stone Album Guide (sometimes we Yanks are just a tad behind the times).

This album followed the group’s 1967 gem, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion, and was somehow even more ambitious.  The versatility of Robin Williamson and Mike Heron can be seen with a glance at the instruments they play on the record:  gimbri, penny whistle, pan pipe, guitar, oud, piano, mandolin, jaw harp, chahanai, water pipe, sitar, Hammond organ, hammered dulcimer, and harpsichord, among others.

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This music contains nuggets of many styles and themes I enjoy listening to:  Scottish music, Indian music, folk, psychedelia, wistful songs of youth and first loves, middle Earth and mythology (ISB was also an early influence on Led Zeppelin).  It’s as if Ravi Shankar and Donovan formed a band.  Or something like that.

I was first introduced to the Incredible String Band about 15 years ago by an aging hippie friend of mine named David.  I was a bit incredulous as he described their greatness and how they had performed at Woodstock, etc.  It had been a while since I’d seen the film, but I couldn’t recall them being in it (they weren’t, nor were a handful of other music legends who took the stage that weekend).  And I most certainly hadn’t heard them on the radio.  David recommended I check out their second and third albums, The 5000 Spirits or The Layers of the Onion and The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, respectively, and it happened that the CD I found contained both albums in a two-disc set.  I immediately dug it, but the downside was that I didn’t play The Hangman’s… nearly as often as its predecessor until a year or so ago.  I’m now making up for lost time.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Koeeoaddi There
  2. The Minotaur’s Song
  3. Witches Hat
  4. A Very Cellular Song

Side Two:

  1. Mercy I Cry City
  2. Waltz of the New Moon
  3. The Water Song
  4. Three is a Green Crown
  5. Swift As the Wind
  6. Nightfall

Another element of the ISB my friend shared with me was their producer, Joe Boyd.  Boyd was a (then) young American in the UK who produced acts that I would subsequently discover and love, including Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Fotheringay, as well as Richard and Linda Thompson.  He also produced music by a few acts I had already had in my collection for years:  Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, and REM.  Boyd was also at the heart of London’s underground music scene, having opened the first psychedelic nightclub, the UFO, where Pink Floyd (then known as The Pink Floyd) staged their earliest light show extravaganzas.

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We’ll hear more from the Incredible String Band later in the year.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hangman%27s_Beautiful_Daughter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Boyd

-Stephen

 

March 16, 1968 – My Lai

March 16 – Thoughts on The My Lai Massacre

My thoughts on My Lai, and on the American involvement in Vietnam in general, are all over the place.  No matter what opinion one might hold about the war or any particular aspect of it, there is someone who will be offended or otherwise disagree.  On a very personal level, I hold a strong affinity for Vietnam having twice visited that country, in 2000 and 2002.  I have friends there as a result.  I also have a better understanding of my father as well as a bond with him over our mutual appreciation for and fascination with Vietnam, though I wouldn’t claim to know it as intimately as he does since he served three tours of duty as a member of the Special Forces during the conflict as opposed to the roughly five weeks I’ve spent there as a tourist during peacetime.

The recent Vietnam documentary series on PBS did little to change the hearts and minds of many who were alive during that time, especially those who served in the military.  Ken Burns and his co-director Lynne Novick seem to believe that their series would be the healing tonic for a generation.  But while I personally feel it was fairly balanced (as it should be in 2018), it still had significant flaws in my view.  And it certainly didn’t heal any military wounds.  But what about My Lai specifically?  That unfathomable event happened on this day, fifty years ago.

There are veterans including my father who, though they’ve been open in the past to discussing their experiences in Vietnam, would prefer not to dwell on them any further.  Some would say the topic of My Lai has been worn out and that there’s no point in continuing to harp on it, and I respect that opinion if it’s held by a Vietnam Veteran.  I just don’t agree with it.  America never did come to grips with My Lai or the overall war, and since we’ve moved on to other wars including the current one in Afghanistan which has supplanted Vietnam as the longest running American war, we probably never will.  But My Lai should never be forgotten.

However, there is one element of the Vietnam War where I agree with many who feel we shouldn’t need to continue to reexamine My Lai, and that is the fact that the communist regime still in place there does not acknowledge its own atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people, namely in Hue during the Tet Offensive.  For true healing to take place, both sides have to put it all on the table.  There are honorable Americans in Vietnam as I write such as The Veterans For Peace (VFP), including my acquaintance  Chuck Searcy, seeking reconciliation with the Vietnamese people beyond the formal diplomatic ties reestablished years back.

For this entry, I’ve chosen to include only one photo from that day.  There are many others showing in graphic detail the carnage that took place at the hands of the U.S. Army, but the photo below which captures the final seconds of an entire family is as horrifying as it gets.  Note the woman in the back holding her child while she calmly buttons her shirt.  It’s as if she knows what’s about to happen, but wants to maintain a hint of her dignity.

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This entire family was murdered moments after the photo was taken.  Ronald Haeberle photo.

I’ll preface what I’m about to write by saying in no way am I absolving platoon leader Lieutenant William Calley Jr. and his men who participated in the slaughter of up to 504 innocent civilians, mostly women, children, and old men.  But as I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of the massacre by imagining what it was like for those soldiers on that day based on the overall known facts, I can’t help but wonder if I too would’ve cracked.  On the other hand, I’d also like to believe I would’ve had the moral courage to do as Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson Jr., the helicopter pilot who confronted Calley’s men and rescued some of the villagers once he realized what was happening on the ground.

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Lt. William Calley, Jr. was given a life sentence for his role in the My Lai Massacre.  He was paroled in 1974.
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Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, Jr., the helicopter pilot who confronted the U.S. soldiers during the massacre and saved some of the innocent civilians.

No, I’ve no sympathy for the plight of Calley or his willing participants, but the biggest criminals of all in my mind were the U.S. military leaders and those in government who put people like Calley in that position in the first place, and that goes right up to LBJ.  When you send soldiers clear across the planet where most of them are ignorant of the culture, where they’re being shot at by an enemy they often cannot see, then tell them the main measure of their progress is their “body count,” then you have a recipe for what took place at My Lai.  I believe most American soldiers would not have acted as Calley and his men did, but the wrong platoon was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and war truly must be hell as stated by William Tecumseh Sherman.

I visited My Lai in the summer of 2002 on a student research trip and had the opportunity to sit down with a survivor from that day, Mr. Pham Thanh Cong.  He was a child in 1968, and his entire family was trapped in a bunker when a U.S. soldier tossed in a grenade.  Those who weren’t killed by the grenade were shot, but he survived by hiding underneath one of his relatives.  Walking those grounds was an experience I’ll never forget.

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Mr. Pham Thanh Cong (right), survivor of the My Lai Massacre, greeting me in the hamlet of My Lai, 2002.
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A bunker in the hamlet of My Lai with a sign explaining what happened to those who sought shelter inside it, 2002.
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A family memorial, My Lai.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Lai_Massacre

-Stephen

March 15 – A White Album Appetizer

The Beatles – Single:  Lady Madonna/The Inner Light

As I began typing this the thought came to my mind how different the function of the single release was to major acts such as the Beatles and the Stones compared to today.  With some exceptions, we now live in a short attention span, single-song digital download world where artists are given far fewer chances to strike it big for their record company and themselves.  Oh boy, here I go again about the good ol’ days when I was not yet born, blah blah blah…

But while Beatles album releases were an event, the band took their single releases leading up to their next LP’s quite seriously as some of their most creative songs up to this point were single releases only (although some wound up on later compilations).  Paperback Writer/Rain and Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields are a couple of examples from the previous two years.  On this day fifty years ago the band released Paul’s Lady Madonna with George’s The Inner Light as the B-side.

As a child, I “inherited” this 45 RPM single in a small stack of my brothers’ original 45’s of the Beatles, solo Beatles, and other random discs I can no longer recall, most of which were unplayable.  As with the original pressing Beatles albums I took naps with as a boy instead of stuffed animals, I cannot say without doubt as to when they became unplayable:  either when my brothers had them when they were boys themselves or when they switched to my grubby little hands.  Anyway, I was always fascinated by that yellow and orange yin/yang-like label.

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Both of these tracks were recorded just prior to the Beatles’ trip to India in February 1968, Lady Madonna during the first week of February, and The Inner Light mid-January with George conducting Indian musicians in Bombay while he was there by himself producing tracks for the Wonderwall soundtrack, and and then with the finishing touches back in London the first week of February.

I still like Lady Madonna quite a bit, although oddly enough I associate it almost as much with McCartney’s performance of it on Wings’ 1976 triple live album, Wings Over America.  And The Inner Light?  It was always one of those Beatles oddities to me growing up, but if you’ve read my previous posts it probably won’t surprise you to learn that it’s now right up there among my favorites.  And let’s call it what it is:  a George Harrison solo song.

Side A:  Lady Madonna

Side B:  The Inner Light

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Madonna

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Inner_Light_(song)

-Stephen

March 4 – The Mothers of Invention

The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only in It for the Money

With Frank Zappa, I’m entering territory where no matter what I say there’s always somebody who could claim I completely miss the point.  Satire, musical experimentation, comedy, it’s all here.  And I think it’s wonderful.  Perhaps this opinion is an indication that I never would’ve been more than a wannabe hippie poser had I been alive and on the scene in 1968.

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Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, 1968.

Or maybe not.  And this is where a hard-core Zappa snob might say the joke’s on me when I ask the following:  While this album is a dagger to heart of the Counter Culture (as well as the political right), was Zappa really above and beyond it all?  Yes, he was most likely a musical genius, and no, he did not partake in drugs and alcohol like his contemporaries.  However, did he not live in Laurel Canyon with many of those artists whose genre and lifestyles he’s making fun of here?  Isn’t that Eric Clapton contributing a spoken word bit on the first track?  Is his friend Jimi Hendrix not on this album cover?  Can he not been found collaborating with the Monkees for jeebus’ sake?  Whatever.

We’re Only in It for the Money was released fifty years ago today, and it’s a hilarious parody on the Beatles and practically everything else going on at the time on both ends of the societal spectrum.  And, for what it’s worth, one of my favorite albums of all time by anybody is a Zappa album that will see its big 50th in 2019.  As critic Robert Christgau wrote, “Cheap sarcasm is forever.”  But when I’ve finished listening to this for the second time today I’ll probably pop Rubber Soul into the changer.

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. Are You Hung Up?
  2. Who Needs the Peace Corps
  3. Concentration Moon
  4. Mom & Dad
  5. Telephone Conversation
  6. Bow Tie Daddy
  7. Harry, You’re a Beast
  8. What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?
  9. Absolutely Free
  10. Flower Punk
  11. Hot Poop

Side Two:

  1. Nasal Retentive Calliope Music
  2. Let’s Make the Water Turn Black
  3. The Idiot Bastard Son
  4. Lonely Little Girl
  5. Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance
  6. What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body? (Reprise)
  7. Mother People
  8. The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We%27re_Only_in_It_for_the_Money

-Stephen

February 27 – Where Have You Gone, Walter Cronkite?

On this date in 1968 (three years to the day before I was born), “the most trusted man in America” ended his nightly newscast with an editorial in which he stated that the war in Vietnam was at a stalemate and that the U.S. must negotiate with the North as a nation that had simply done the best it could.

Without getting into the pros and (mostly) cons of the current media age, I’ll say that I watched Cronkite during my childhood when he was in the final stretch of his career.  Mom had him tuned in on the 12-inch black and white TV in the kitchen every evening while preparing dinner, and even though I was too young to understand the complex issues he was reporting on, you knew what he was saying was true.  No agenda, no b.s.  In the case of Vietnam, he went there and saw it first hand.  And he was right.

-Stephen

February 24 – Not Your Mother’s Fleetwood Mac (but if it is, your mother’s cool)

Fleetwood Mac – Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac

There’s Fleetwood Mac, and then there’s Fleetwood Mac.  And then again, there’s Fleetwood Mac.  As Fleetwood, McVie x 2, Buckingham, and Nicks gear up for their Farewell Cash Grab 2018 World Tour®, today is a reminder that Fleetwood Mac is nothing at all like the band it was when it formed in 1967.  That’s not a judgement, just a fact.  There have been three rather distinct incarnations of the group:  the current, “classic” Rumours lineup, the underappreciated early 1970’s Bob Welch era (Bare Trees is a personal favorite), and the original late 1960’s British blues rock band.  Despite the various lineups and drastic changes in musical direction, the namesakes of the group, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, remain as the rhythm section.  And it was 50 years ago today that their debut album, Fleetwood Mac (a.k.a. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) was released.

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In 1967, guitarist Peter Green, drummer Mick Fleetwood, and bassist John McVie, all members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers at the time (actually, Fleetwood had recently been let go), decided to form their own blues group.  They recruited slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, and Fleetwood Mac was born.  This initial release is straight-forward blues rock, with four covers and eight Green and Spencer originals.  These guys certainly didn’t invent the blues, but along with contemporaries including all the bands where Clapton, Beck, Page, Hendrix, Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Alvin Lee resided at one time or another, they played it with reverence for the innovators and continued to spread the word to a mostly white audience not overly exposed to the greatness of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Elmore James and the rest.

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Fleetwood Mac in 1968:  (L-R) Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer

Tracklist:

Side One:

  1. My Heart Beat Like a Hammer
  2. Merry Go Round
  3. Long Grey Mare
  4. Hellhound on My Trail
  5. Shake Your Moneymaker
  6. Looking for Somebody

Side Two:

  1. No Place to Go
  2. My Baby’s Good to Me
  3. I Loved Another Woman
  4. Cold Black Night
  5. The World Keep On Turning
  6. Got to Move

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleetwood_Mac_(1968_album)

-Stephen