For my first 64 years on the planet, I never gave any serious thought to writing a book. But in 2017, I discovered the main thing you need for a book – a good idea. Sailing on our first-ever rock cruise, which featured Gregg Allman, I discovered 2,700 rock fans paying at least $2,000 each to hear music that was supposed to be just a passing teenage fad in the mid-1950s. I wondered how exactly did this come to pass.
And now today, 3 years later, my first book — Come Together: How the Baby Boomers, the Beatles, and a Youth Counterculture Combined to Create the Music of the Woodstock Generation — has been published and released.
For now, it is available exclusively at the Politics and Prose book store in Washington, DC. It can also be ordered from the Politics and Prose website. However, the book will be rolling out in other places and as an e-book soon.
Although Elvis Presley would later become as influential in Las Vegas as Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack who ruled the flashy entertainment scene in the 1950s and early 1960s, Presley’s first reception in the Nevada city of garish neon, glittering showgirls, and 24-hour gambling was far from a triumph for the hip-swiveling young star from Memphis.
In fact, Elvis’ debut in the 1,000-seat showroom of the refurbished New Frontier casino on April 23, 1956 was a flop. Backed by his three-piece group, guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black, and drummer D.J. Fontana, Presley performed a 12-minute set consisting of just four songs – “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Money Honey”.
The critics were savage. “Elvis Presley, coming in on a wing of advance hoopla, doesn’t hit the mark here,” wrote the critic for Variety. “For the teenager, he’s a whiz; for the average Vegas spender, a fizz”.
Meanwhile Newsweek contended the 21-year-old rock and roller was “like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party”.
However, 13 years later, when Presley returned, he initiated a casino career that would make him a Vegas legend, transform the way entertainment was presented in the city, and create a local industry of Elvis impersonators and Presley-themed wedding chapels that is still operating today.
In his latest book, Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Vegas Show, author Richard Zoglin details Presley’s casino showroom concerts that helped revitalize his career, as well as those near his death that demonstrated what a bloated, tragic figure the King of Rock, who died at age 42, had become.
“Elvis had a huge impact on Las Vegas,” writes Zoglin. “It raised the stakes, both in terms of money (his $125,000-a-week salary was a record at the time, soon to be surpassed) as well as production scale and promotional hype.” It also attracted a new breed of middle-class, mom-and-pop pilgrims from Presley’s vast, now multi-generational fan base, who traveled to see the King as well as play the slots. Vegas began to shed its seedy mobster trappings and morph into a family-friendly destination spot with a corporate sheen”.
In a review of Zoglin’s book in The Wall Street Journal, Eddie Dean says while Elvis definitely benefitted from his residencies, Las Vegas might have been even a bigger winner. “Las Vegas may have gotten more in the bargain than did its most enduring celebrity, who is still a presence there: from the scores of Elvis impersonators to shrines like the Graceland Wedding Chapel, where fans the world over come to tie the knot”.
So what is Presley’s true Vegas legacy? In Zoglin’s view, it’s the way he opened up Sin City to a broader range of music styles and ultimately to a new sort of spectacle. “Elvis created the model for a different kind of Vegas show: no longer an intimate nightclub encounter for an audience of a few hundred, but a big-star extravaganza, playing to thousands,” Zoglin contends.
As a creator of songs, poems, prose, and visual artwork, multi-talented poet laureate and grandmother of punk rock, Patti Smith, now 72, continues to achieve the success she was hungering for as she was coming of age in a working-class community in southern New Jersey in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Her first album Horses, released in 1975, is ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all-time and number 10 on its list of the best debut LPs. In 2009, the Library of Congress placed Horses on its National Recording Registry for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.
Her book Just Kids, which described her relationship and life with controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe in New York City, won the 2010 National Book Award for nonfiction.
In 2005, the French Ministry of Culture awarded Smith the title of Commandeur des Arts des
Lettres, the highest honor given an artist by the French Republic. In 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2016, she attended the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Sweden on behalf of Bob Dylan, that year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who could not be present due to prior commitments.
Earlier this month Smith appeared at George Washington University here in Washington, D.C., to talk about her new book Year of the Monkey. She told those of us in attendance that this was her first presentation on the work, which had just been released that day, and she was planning to try a few things out to see how they worked. Smith’s ideas included performing four songs live as a duo with her band’s bass player, Tony Shanahan. Smith and Shanahan’s stunningly powerful version of “Pissing in a River” (see YouTube video at top of page) prompted a deserved standing ovation. Smith, who has been known since the ‘70s for her activism especially on climate change and the environment, also offered a cover of Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush” with its classic line “look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970s”.
As for the book, Year of the Monkey, combines fact and fiction to create a dreamscape of the year 2016. Much of the book deals with four significant changes familiar to all of Smith’s fellow Baby Boomers – aging, change, loss and death.
Here is one of my favorite segments on that topic from the chapter entitled “Imitation of a Dream” that Smith read to the audience:
I suddenly felt dead – no, not dead, more other-worldly, a grateful kind of dead. I could feel life scurrying about, a plane overhead, the sea just beyond, and the unfolding note of “Dark Star” (a classic Grateful Dead tune) drifting through the grid of my screen door. I could not bring myself to move, and let myself be transported elsewhere, long before I knew Sandy (her long-time friend who had just died), long before I listened to Wagner, to another summer at the Electric Circus, where a young girl slow-danced with an equally young boy, awkwardly in love”.
In another favorite passage, Smith speaks for so many of her generation when she writes:
I had bad feelings about an election in the Year of the Monkey. Don’t worry, everyone said, the majority rules. Not so, I retaliated, the silent rule and it will be decided by them, those who do not vote. … Election night I joined a gathering of good comrades and we watched the terrible soap opera called the American election unfold on a large-screen TV. One by one each stumbled off into dawn. The bully bellowed. Silence rules. Twenty-four percent of the population had elected the worst of ourselves to represent the other seventy-six percent. All hail our American apathy, all hail the twisted wisdom of the Electoral College.
Finally, here is a link to an article on Smith by Karen Heller that appeared in The Washington Post just prior to her book talk sponsored by Politics and Prose.
10 Must-Listen-To Songs by Patti Smith
Because the Night (from Easter)
Pissing in a River (from Ethiopia)
Gloria: In Excelsis Deo (from Horses)
Frederick (from Wave)
Gimme Shelter (cover of a Rolling Stones’ song from Twelve)
My Blakean Year (from Trampin’)
Wicked Messenger cover of a Bob Dylan song from Gone Again)
Last night, I went to see the new Quentin Tarantino film, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood. As someone who once watched westerns, turned 17 in 1969, and remember vividly the Helter Skelter times of Charles Manson and his murdering family, I enjoyed the movie. It marks Leonard DiCaprio’s best performance and Brad Pitt was stellar as his stunt buddy sidekick. And how could I not like a film that featured Damian Lewis (of Homeland) as my favorite actor Steve McQueen and a reworked scene from one of my top 10 films of all-time The Great Escape, which starred McQueen.
The movie soundtrack is packed with stellar songs from the late ’60s. According to Mary Ramos, Quentin Tarantino’s longtime music supervisor, the process for selecting songs for one of his films starts in a record store—which happens to be in his Hollywood home. What Ramos describes as Tarantino’s “record room” looks like a vinyl boutique, with LPs separated into bins labeled by genres like soul and soundtracks. “In the past, when we’ve started preparation,” she says, “he invites me over and I madly scribble as he’s talking a mile a minute and pausing to put the needle down on records. Everything starts in his record room.”
The major difference with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was the time frame. For his poetic-license retelling of the intersection of Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, the Charles Manson posse, and fictional actors played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, Tarantino didn’t want any of the music heard in the film to go beyond one year (1969, when the film is set). Although they were approached by several name acts to record covers or – in the case of Lana Del Rey – offer up their own material, Tarantino stuck with his time-capsule idea. “Nothing later than 1969, some things from before,” Ramos says. “He was a bit more anachronistic with this. He wanted to stay very specific to the period.”
The Hollywood soundtrack features plenty of classic-rock types (the Rolling Stone, Bob Seger, Neil Diamond), but we asked Ramos to dig into some of the deeper-cut moments in the film. To continue reading this article, which first appeared in Rolling Stone, click here.
Tarantino’s latest movie, set in 1969 Los Angeles, mixes fictitious characters with actual celebrities, TV series, films and landmarks of the era, as it tells the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an invented TV star, and his equally made-up stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
In Tarantino’s alternate reality, Rick lives in Benedict Canyon on Cielo Drive, next door to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a real-life ingénue who was eight and a half months pregnant and wed to the Polish director Roman Polanski when she was brutally murdered along with other houseguests by members of the cult led by Charles Manson.
The Manson-adjacent movie has resurfaced the story of a man who has fascinated and horrified America since he and his “family’s” murder spree in 1969. Here’s what to read from a New York Times list if you want to learn more about Manson and his crimes.