That month, half a century ago, decided it was time to kick some ass and show the world how things should be done. It was well up to both tasks and performed services to music that resulted in songs and events that, right out of the gate, seemed to glow with an essence of immortality.
It was mid-May on a trip to Disneyland when I first heard the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on the radio. It was announced as a cut from their new album, which was going to be released on the second of June, and the song was weird and thrilling and like a dream. I wanted more, and certainly got it when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band exploded into my life and the lives of millions of other hungry souls as a clarion call for the upcoming Summer of Love.
Once and for all (yeah, as if): the Summer of Love was in 1967, not in 1969 and was kicked off by the Beatles and Sgt. Pepper. I tend to see 1968, with all its unrest and riots, as home to the Summer of Blood, and 1969 (with Woodstock) the Summer of Mud, even though I discharged more than my fair share of love–joyously–in both eras.
June, 50 years back, was my final month in San Diego before a four-year residency in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C. I was graduating from the eighth grade at Marston Junior High, helping get our house on Grandview Street in shape before we vacated it, and shooting a few final spools of 8mm film, featuring two beautiful classmates–Sara Parker and Janice Gordon–all to the rich soundtrack of the Beatles’ revolutionary new album.
Yeah, the Lads really outdid themselves this time. What an astonishing variety of styles that record contained! What rewards repeated listenings provided, as new aspects of production, arrangement, and performance continued to reveal themselves! There were songs of whimsy and joy, melancholy and mystery, love and play, even an iffy one that began the second side and that we’d usually skip over (George Harrison’s “Within You Without You”) but that we’d grow to appreciate as the decades wore on. I’ve been in love with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band–and the glorious visions of Sara and Janice–for five decades now. The album, at least, remains true to me and faithful, always available to be caressed and ingested at a moment’s notice. Really, I have no right to mourn the girls when other blessings are so plentiful and sublime.
On the 16th, 17th, and 18th of that long-ago June, a major three-day music festival occurred in northern California. It was the Monterey International Pop Festival, the brain child of producer Lew Adler and John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. If any event could have gotten the Beatles on the bill, it would have been this one, but the Fab Four were done with performing live shows. Monterey did get career-defining performances by Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and the Who, with memorable sets from Simon and Garfunkel, the Byrds, Ravi Shankar, the Jefferson Airplane, and loads of others. The show was originally designed to become a television special but instead emerged as one of the crowning glories of musical cinema–D.A. Pennebaker’s masterful Monterey Pop. This is essentially the mother of all rock fests distilled to 79 minutes of visual and sonic awe. Several albums of the live performances from the fest were released by Adler’s Dunhill Records later, including a mystifying one featuring the Mamas and the Papas. They had given an embarrassing and inept performance at Monterey, backed by a band that sounded tragically and thoroughly fried. The four Mamas and Papas themselves hadn’t even played or practiced together in over six months. That the recordings were actually released on record without any much-needed studio sweetening is amazing (how hard would it have been to secretly add Michelle’s voice in an hour or two of studio time? Hell, even the Beatles had redubbed nearly all of the audio to their Beatles at Shea Stadium film performances!)
The Monterey International Pop Festival even had its own theme song/advertisement, which became a hit record before the fest: the John Phillips-penned “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” which was performed by Mamas and Papas friend Scott McKenzie. In 1992 Rhino Records put out a gorgeous four-CD box set that included a large book with text and color photos. Ten years later the Criterion Collection released the definitive DVD version of Monterey Pop, a three-disc affair including over two hours of performances that didn’t make the final cut as well as the complete Hendrix and Redding performances (on another personal note, Otis Redding died in a plane crash later that year, December of ‘67, on my 15th birthday. His show at Monterey is amazing.)
So love was in the air and June danced along. To provide the perfect coda to that amazing month, when it was time for one last dance, the Beatles took the stage again.
Sunday, June 25th marked the global broadcast of Our World, a 125-minute program that featured live segments from 14 different countries. In the U.S. it was broadcast on the pre-PBS NET (National Educational Television) network. England was represented by a magnificent look at the Beatles performing and recording their latest masterpiece, “All You Need Is Love” along with a live orchestra and a crowd of friends that included Donovan and Mick Jagger, both of whom are noticeable on the screen. The song, along with “San Francisco,” became dual anthems for the Summer of Love.
The Beatles segment has been available on video tape for years, and was colorized (very well, as it turns out) for the release of The Beatles Anthology on tape and DVD. The entire Our World broadcast is available on YouTube and contains another couple of features that meant a lot to me 50 years ago and remain dear to my heart today: the Summer of Love’s honorary First Couple, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, rehearsing the wedding scene for the filming of Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in Italy’s segment, and the original music score for Our World, which announced and concluded the show, as well as bridged all of the countries’ own segments so splendidly. It was composed, arranged, and conducted by my own musical idol, Georges Delerue, and would win him an Emmy.
That’s two columns of memories that still smile. I should be returning to more twisted things next time, after marveling at the nearness of these antique events, of the loving pull of these eternal moments of a moment ago.