Not too long ago I read about some old music executive type saying that for him, Bob Dylan was product. "Product" is what you sell if you are in the music business. You might call it commercial rather than artistic music, though they certainly blend into each other. To this guy, back then, he had a problem: young people wanted to listen to folk music. Bob Dylan played folk music. Sign him up, problem solved, money rolls into the corporate machine from the anti-corporate folk song protest crowd. Beautiful.
To me Bob Dylan had always been prototypical anti-Product. But in a flash I could see this guy's point of view. And it has haunted me for weeks now. Disco was product. Pop is product by definition. But my beloved protest music?
Then I had another flash. Product may not always be Product. Hipsters will reject anything they think is product. Anything that becomes too popular does not allow those who listen to it to identify themselves as an elite, a clique with special membership. But that does not mean it is not good music, good lyrics, good art.
Which brings us to my first Deep, Dark Secret of the Sixties. The Monkees.
The Monkees are prototypical product. They were created by NBC as a fictional rock band. They did not know each other before NBC put them together. They did not write the music, they did not play the instruments, but they did sing the songs on the series.
They were bigger than the Beatles. In my home town their biggest hit, I'm A Believer, was on the pop charts for more than a year and held the number one spot for over six months.
I was barely a teenager during Monkee mania, but even I knew they were not really cool, they were a commercial creation. They were Money trying to make more money off the rock-and-roll fad. Few aging 60's people today will mention the Monkees as one of their favorite bands. I read the same thing, on a lesser scale, happened to Paul Revere and the Raiders. They were considered a serious band until they played on some TV show and picked up a sub-teen fan base that made them uncool with older, say 16 to 22 year old hipsters.
So Product was produced under the Monkees brand. How could it possibly be art?
I have Napster music service, a library of millions of songs for only $10 per month (or you can listen to a few songs for free, supported by ads), so I searched for The Monkees and listened to a few songs I remembered from my youth.
I think "I'm a Believer" was art. But since I started with Bob Dylan, I want you to listen to "Pleasant Valley Sunday." The music is sure pop sugar, a chocolate eclair that may not be art, and you wouldn't want to live on it, but it's as well-structured as most 1960's hits approved by hipsters. But underneath the cosmetics it is a folk song, better than most of Dylan's. It starts "The local rock group down the street is trying hard to learn their song." Yep, that is my memory of 1967, every pre-teen and teenaged boy was in a rock band or wanted to be.
But they were not hippies. The idea that there was an abundance of hippies in the late 1960's is false. There may have been concentrations of hippies in some college towns and a few bohemian centers, but real hippies were rare birds. Sure, lots of boys and girls adopted bits of Beatnik, rock and hippy fashion and vocabulary. Lots of people listened to rock music. Lots of young men tried to avoid being drafted into the army. But I'd estimate the actual number of people who were true hippies never even approached 1 million. Smoking pot and having a beard and long hair and working at a Seven-Eleven for a couple of years does not qualify you, and did not qualify you, as a hippy. Weekend Hippy was the term that was used for the dead-icated followers of fashion who did not really change their life styles. Even more shocking: a lot of the "true" hippies had inheritances or trust funds. They did not need to work for the Man. They were the Man.
In 1968 two pro-war guys were nominated by the Democrats and Republicans for President of the United States, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. In 1972 an anti-war Democrat, George McGovern, ran against Richard Nixon and was slaughtered, partly because the Democratic Party hierarchy stabbed him in the back.
Sing about that, folk-song army, if you will.
I'll have more deep, dark secrets of the sixties in future blogs.