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Saturday, November 22, 2014

THANKFUL FOR LITTLE RICHARD


I went to YouTube to find a video of Little Richard singing Jenny Jenny. Found several and watched three, shaking my head, cracking up, loving it, jamming to Little Richard again. It took me back to high school years listening to Little Richard on 45s, buying the new one as it came out as quick as I could get it. Jenny Jenny was one of his rockers I liked a lot. It was 1957 punk. In that time, I could have had only Little Richard records and been satisfied. I listened to the other music because it was there, but Little Richard satisfied my soul. Seeing him today, fifty-eight years later, half a century, I have a donkey named Jenny and sometimes say to her, Jenny Jenny Jenny, hearing Little Richard in my head. His songs are tattooed on the inside of my skull. Seeing Little Richard perform in 1968 was not quite the same as Little Richard in 1958. In the ten years between, he'd left rock n roll, threw a big diamond ring in a river and went to preaching. Later, he went back to rock n roll, fell in with cocaine and a Sixties rock star lifestyle until it wore him out. He left rock n roll and went back to preaching. I think it was in my second winter in the mountains I saw in the Winston-Salem Journal that Little Richard would be preaching at Winston-Salem State College. Of course, I drove to the city to hear this. I never had a chance to see Little Richard perform his music, and here was a chance to see the other side of Little Richard, the preacher. He was good, had stage charisma to the max. He walked back and forth along the edge of the stage, dressed in black, looking like a black leopard pacing back and forth behind cage bars. He didn't do emotional religion. He talked rationally, a man who thought about things. 

little richard

He was down on rock n roll, saying it was of the devil, that he was serving the devil when he was playing rock n roll. I didn't fall for that one, but I wasn't there to agree or disagree, only to see Little Richard preach. I felt like he made a little over-much of it. I saw a man with a pendulum swing inside that went from one extreme to the other and back again. He was sincere in what he was saying. A few years later, I was at somebody's house and Oprah or something like that was on, Little Richard the guest. He was complaining about not getting enough royalties for his songs, having been ripped off in the original contract. He was talking about being the king of rock n roll. His face was stretched so tight from face-lifts I was thinking you could play drums on his face. I don't care that he lobotomized himself with cocaine, bounces back and forth between extremes in his private life, and comes across on tv like he's nuts. The first concert video I watched a few minutes ago was in b&w. He totally gets into the music. He was singing, standing at the piano pounding it with both hands, facing the audience, bouncing up and down, his face behind the mic, hopping up and down. I thought this a marvelous demonstration of multi-tasking; bobbing up and down, pounding a piano with both hands, standing up, singing into a mic, attention on an audience of several thousand. I felt a mild awe at his performance. I saw Prince in one of his amazing performances. It was rock n roll in the raw. I saw Billy Idol with his band Generation X. I saw punk rock, the match that started the fire. I saw Joe Strummer of the Clash, Richard Hell, Perry Ferrell. I saw that Little Richard sounds as good today as he did then. 

little richard

Rock n roll has moved on in new directions since the 1950s, though it has not moved beyond Little Richard. It's like he's the North Star of rock. I was thinking, while he was singing Jenny Jenny, I'd like to hear a punk band cover it, a band like NOFX. Johnny Winter came to mind singing, I was raised on rock. Rock n roll started when I was 13, just ready for some music of my own. I went on YouTube to a concert called Little Richard and Friends--Legends in Concert. I think this might have been 1968, a big concert in London. It started with Little Richard playing several songs, then Bill Haley and the Comets played Rock Around The Clock, Jerry Lee Lewis playing Hound Dog and Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On, and an extended Chuck Berry concert. Soon after it started, I saw it was forty-one minutes, thinking I'd listen to one or two Little Richard songs and go on. Little Richard kept me listening, then Jerry Lee kept me watching, then Bill Haley totally held my attention, more Little Richard, and then Chuck Berry sang several songs. These were the people who pulled me into rock n roll in my early teens. I watched all of it. I remember when  Bob Dylan took up rock n roll and it became rock. The English sound happened and the rock n roll that went before suddenly became oldies. Now, oldies is 80s and 90s rock. Sixties rock lives in today's heavy metal. Punk continues. Punk started approximately 1975 and has been going ever since. The first twenty-five years, punk was only played on college stations. Commercial stations were afraid of it. Then it became "mainstream," commercial radio. 
From the moment I heard Patti Smith's first album, I was wanting to hear more. New Wave was the New York style of punk, and Punk in London was sending records over here. I listened to both. The English punk took hold of me in a don't-let-go kind of way. From all the kinds of music I have in the house to listen to, I tend to go to late 70s English punk when I want to rock. Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Clash, Generation X, and out of Berlin, Nina Hagen, the Mother of Punk. Nina Hagen's bands on every album did it right. Punk started just as I was leaving the city for the mountains. Upon arriving in the mountains, I found the NPR FM station WFDD in Winston-Salem. From ten til midnight a college student dj, Didi Thornton, called herself DDT, played fresh new punk every night and I taped several of her shows. They put her off the air after a year or so. The people who contributed money to the station revolted against her. It was the same as adults shutting down the Fifties period of rock n roll, calling it communist, subversive, African therefore devil worshiping. It was the black influence in the music that drove the white grownups nuts. The other claims were smokescreens around the central issue: white kids were listening to nigger music. Dick Clark did his best to deflect interest to Italian pretty boys and doo-wop groups, and there came a time rock n roll was fading to the background. Then the English sound happened, the Dave Clark Five, Spencer Davis Group, Rolling Stones, and it's been on full blast ever since. Going into the last days before Thanksgiving, I have to say that I am grateful for rock n roll.   

little richard grown up




  




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