Sixties Groups Whose Names Have Literary Sources

Group Name Source

Big Brother George Orwell's 1984 (1948)

The Doors Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception (1955)

Steppenwolf Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf (1927)

Blood Sweat and Tears Winston Churchill, Speech before the House of Commons, 13 May 1940: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."

The Ides of March William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar I, ii, 18 "Beware the ides of March."

Notice that Blood Sweat and Tears and the Ides of March have names that come at the end of a quotation, so that to get it you have to know the first part as well. Since almost all American kids have to read Julius Caesar in high school, that Shakespearean tag is especially indicative. Furthermore, these names as well as that of Big Brother promise something threatening. Music was so loud and so heavy that it did have an aggressive quality—so that it is no surprise that in 1969 a group formed that called itself War.

This use of high culture came from the fact that a new socio-ethnic group entered popular music in the years 1964-69: middle-class white kids who had gone to good suburban high schools as well as college. Aside from the Motown groups, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and a few others, the major rock acts were white. Let's take the personnel of the following sixties bands: Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds, The Doors, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, the Lovin' Spoonful, and the Mamas and the Papas. In the specific case of the Buffalo Springfield, the group consisted of: Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richle Furay, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer. No ethnic names there at all. In fact, there are only three ethnic names in all of these groups put together: Zal Yankowski of the Lovin' Spoonful (Jewish); Ray Manzarek of The Doors (Czech); and Norma Kaukonen of the Jefferson Airplane (Finnish).

Most of these WASP kids had not only gone to good high schools, they had also gotten into good colleges, where they dropped out after listening to the Beatles. Janis Joplin dropped out of the University of Texas, as Grace Slick had dropped out of Manhattanville College, where she had taken classes with Tricia Nixon. Jim Morrison dropped out of two schools, Florida State and UCLA, and, remarkable as it may seem, John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas, had dropped out of West Point! While people often said that these kids were rebelling against American society, they were in fact too much a part of it to rebel in any consistent way. They just wanted to re-define it a little, and they did.

The question of what Jewish musicians did for rock in the sixties is an interesting one. While Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Art Garfunkel are clearly of major importance, they didn't make mainstream rock, music you could dance to, and after them, there's only two short-lived groups, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and the Blues Project, also known as the Jewish Beatles. On the other hand, the role of Jews in entrepreneurial roles increased. More than any other non-performer, Bill Graham made San Francisco what it was in the late sixties. Clive Davis, as president of Columbia Records, signed up Big Brother and other West Coast acts after Monterey Pop. Jerry Wexler produced Aretha Franklin's legendary sessions at Atlantic and Lou Adler managed the Mamas and the Papas. Meanwhile, a group of articulate writers, most of whom worked for Rolling Stone, were creating the new genre of rock criticism. They included Jonathan Eisen, Jon Landau, Greil Marcus, and Robert Cristgau.

No comments: