Vol. 1, Issue #8 May 12th - May 25th, 2006

Tiger Beat From Hell
By: Wilhelm Murg

Passing the Torch, Flame First

It’s interesting to see how the marketing of rock music is slowly embracing the concept of “classic” performers whose counterparts, only a few decades ago, were doomed to State Fairs where they were used as midway attractions like sideshow geeks. In music before rock’n’roll there was still a passing of the torch between performers, like Bing Crosby working with the younger Frank Sinatra, but in the fleeting fifteen minutes of fame that rock’n’roll offered there just wasn’t enough time to afford such bourgeois luxuries.

Of course there was also open hostility to rock music; rednecks saw the mixing of white and black culture as the end of Western civilization. In Hollywood, where rock music crashed the party, it was just seen as vulgar and a passing fad. Sinatra could put down Elvis and not worry, since it was a given that Elvis wouldn’t be remembered past 1956. Dean Martin tried the same thing with The Rolling Stones and ended up looking like a foolish, old drunk.

Over the last few decades, as the first generation rockers are checking into nursing homes, and everyone else is getting old, an entire industry has evolved to keep classic performers on the road. While it’s normal now to see Carlos Santana performing with younger musicians, and cheap publicity stunts like Elton John performing with the allegedly-anti-gay Eminem or Madonna kissing Britney, it was a more cautious time twenty to thirty years ago.

I remember seeing an interview with country great George Jones in 1981 where he talked about working with Elvis Costello, who had just finished his punk/new wave period; it was obvious that Jones was confused as to what this skinny Englishman wanted from him. Four years earlier, in the middle of his “Berlin period,” a disoriented and coked up David Bowie was wheeled onto the set of Bing Crosby’s NBC Christmas Special, where Der Bingle, true to form, was apparently happy to help promote a fellow musician. Crosby had no idea of who The Thin White Duke was as they sang “Little Drummer Boy” together; he described Bowie as “a clean cut kid,” then he died a month later.

EZ Listening crooner, and noted sweater lover, Andy Williams helped Simon and Garfunkel turn “Scarborough Fair” into a trio on his television show. Even the less than talented Mike Douglas sang a couple of Beatle songs the week John & Yoko co-hosted his talk show for all five days. It was on those very shows where Chuck Berry showed up and performed with John and, of course, Yoko. The look on Berry’s face when Yoko breakouts screaming in the middle of his performance is worth the price of admission. It’s almost as funny as the footage of Hendrix going into a psychedelic feedback performance on the BBC’s “Lulu Show” as Lulu realizes they aren’t going to get around to their planned duet.

Of course there are those older performers who were able to freak-out their younger admirers, most notably when the Rolling Stones visited the Chess Studios in Chicago on their first American tour and saw Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Milton pull razors out in the middle of an argument. Of course the ultimate rock’n’roll meeting was also one of the most uncomfortable, when Elvis met The Beatles. Apparently no one really spoke, The Beatles were in awe and Elvis was embarrassed by, yet took advantage of, their reaction. Of course, learning that The Beatles were awestruck by his presence only fueled his King-sized ego, which would lead him to the White House five years later where he met President Nixon and offered to infiltrate rock music’s drug scene as Secret Agent Elvis. Tricky Dick turned him down, but gave him a badge so Elvis and his men could be honorary Junior G-Men and carry concealed weapons. It was the beginning of the end for the King.

I always wondered what Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ thought of the Fuzztones, or how Carl Perkins reacted to NRBQ. Roy Orbison originally didn’t want “In Dreams” used in David Lynch’s film “Blue Velvet,” though he later acknowledged that the song’s inclusion helped to restart his career.

We now have shows devoted to mixing the old and new; last summer every time I flipped through the cable I kept hitting that Wynonna vs. Heart concert. David Bowie has made a spectacle of himself by marketing to the younger generation via Trent Reznor and Moby, not to mention the endless and pointless remixes he has approved. Like Brother Ray Charles before him, Bruce Springsteen seems condemned to do a duet with every chucklehead they parade through. Even Paul McCartney is playing with Pearl Jam!

While the old and new can now come together in a capitalist bond of financial brotherhood, all the irony has been thrown out the window in the name of cross marketing. The days of watching the horn-rimmed studio orchestra swing as they back-up The Doors on “Touch Me” is gone and Letterman doesn’t have to sing bad renditions of Jewel songs in order to gain acceptance from “the kids.”

Someone needs to compile these old clips. I can’t think of a better way of showing the true culture war that went on the sixties and early-seventies. It wasn’t just about Vietnam or the length of young men’s hair, a big chunk of it hinged on whether or not The Tonight Show Orchestra could follow Tiny Tim’s charts.

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©2006 NONCO Media, L.L.C.