On a languid Monday evening at the Inquiring Mind Bookstore in Saugerties, three prominent local music writers shared their work as part of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll, the latest in a series of themed author readings presented by the Glaring Omissions writer’s group.
Taking turns at the microphone were Woodstock Times columnist and musician Bill Pfleging, Chronogram music editor and Chrome Cranks front man Peter Aaron, and music writer and producer Howard Massey, co-author of Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick’s memoir Here, There and Everywhere.
Both Pfleging and Aaron selected pieces with a similar theme: music, often thought of as the purview of the young and idealistic, can remain relevant and vital into maturity. Massey’s reading was a savagely funny satirical take on record producers.
The true spirit of Woodstock
Pfleging read a short piece recalling his participation in the so-called “Forgotten Woodstock” anniversary concert in 1989 at the site of Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel. Pleging had attended the original concert as a young man, but as with many of the festivalgoers, his memories were a bit hazy. He recalled waking up on Monday, August 18, 1969, the final day of the festival, to what he thought must surely have been an auditory hallucination: Jimi Hendix’s volcanic rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” “It was one of my only coherent memories,” read Pfleging.
Twenty years later, Pfleging and thousands of compatriots descended on the site to honor a pivotal moment for a generation. A star-studded concert had been planned at the nearby Imperial Hotel, but tens of thousands were skipping the commercially sanctioned event for something more authentic and spontaneous. Pfleging and his band set up their amps on Tuesday of “anniversary week,” and bit-by-bit, a full stage materialized around them.
This “alternative” concert was such a success that artists booked for the Imperial began to filter over to the farm. Melanie, Wavy Gravy and Savoy Brown all made appearances. Pflegling and his pick-up band of “Woodstock All-Stars” provided between-set entertainment.
The All-Stars were on stage when a line of buses rolled up and a line of tall, stone-faced black men in berets emerged and marched onto the stage.
“Some shit was happening and we were in it,” read Pflegling.
The group turned out to be bodyguards for an inebriated Al Hendrix, Jimi’s father, who had ostensibly come to convince the crowd to pony up for a ticket and head over to the Imperial. Hendrix was moved when Pfleging told him that the swelling crowd had come to honor the memory of his son.
Addressing the crowd, the elder Hendrix couldn’t bring himself to shill for the concert promoter.
“You’re hear to honor my Jimi,” Pfleging recalled Hendrix saying, followed by a standing ovation. “I think we’ll just stay here with y’all.”
The week ended up being a perfect tribute to Woodstock, with participants sharing food, shelter and other necessities. It was a thrill to perform in front of thousands of people, and a spiritual experience for Pfleging.
“I regained some of my innocence and belief in people that I had lost in the two decades since,” he said. “I left with something I had all along and never recognized: Myself.”
You can go home again
Peter Aaron is well known to local readers for his chronicles of the diverse and esoteric music scene in the Hudson Valley but in an earlier life he was the charismatic singer/guitarist for the Chrome Cranks, whose style described as “blending the blues and punk with all the subtlety of a concrete road saw.” He read from “Revival Meeting” a piece he wrote last year about the successful reformation of his band.
The Chrome Cranks cut a gash in the 90s rock scene, recording and touring, getting air time on the radio and MTV. By 1998 the group had disbanded, partially undone by personality clashes and the grind of trying to make a living playing wildly exciting but commercially marginal music. Aaron, who had been living in the city, headed upstate.
“I did what so many recovering rockers do: got married, grew a beard, moved upstate, got a divorce. Ho-Hum.”
Several years ago, while helping to promote an album of Chrome Cranks recordings and demos, Aaron was pleasantly surprised to discover the influence his band had in many quarters. It was somewhat of a shock, considering the limited mainstream appeal of the Chrome Cranks.
The experience rekindled Aaron’s desire to perform, but to do so, he had to overcome his own reservations about playing raging rock ‘n’ roll in middle age.
“The very thought was a painful reminder of my crushed dreams. And anyway, I told myself, playing rock ’n’ roll was for kids. Anyone in my age bracket or above and still doing it was either tilting at windmills or punching the clock. Best, then, just to grow up and move on,” he read.
But he couldn’t shake the bug. When he floated the idea of a reunion with his bandmates, they were open to the idea — much to his surprise. Shortly after the band announced they were getting back together, a French promoter made the group offer they couldn’t refuse.
“She was offering us what would’ve been insane money back in the day, plus plane tickets, separate five-star hotel rooms for the entire three-day festival, and free meals in the very crucible of French gastronomy. Um, okay.”
The Chrome Cranks made a triumphant return in 2009, and the good times have continued. The band played more shows this spring and recorded an album. They’re looking for a record label.
Although the passage of time has not dimmed the music’s intensity, said Aaron, everything else about the process has been easier and more relaxed the second time around.
“They say you can’t go back, but I’m not so sure you really ever leave. You just go around the block, and return if and when you want to,” read Aaron.
Howard Massey read from his upcoming novel, Roadie, the story of childhood friends who form a band. The story is told from the perspective of Danny Boyle, one of the friends and the band’s manager.
The chapter deals with the band’s first meeting with a legendary (fictional) producer, John Thomas Wallingford. The band has high hopes for its first album, but is alarmed by the eccentric behavior of the producer, which includes long absences from the studio, a parade of fetching groupies in the control room and the ingestion of copious amounts of powdered substances on the control console. Boyle describes Wallingford with several adjectives, but, “Most of all, he was a fucking lunatic.”
The band’s confidence in the producer is further shaken when a glance at his notebook, presumed to be chock full of notes on song structure and recording techniques from the mind of a master, reveals nothing more than crude pornographic doodles.
Through Boyle, Massey describes the surreal atmosphere of the recording studio. “You have no idea there is a real world out there and you come to feel omnipotent.”
The producer often fulfills a variety of roles in the studio, not all of them technically orientated. A producer is a kind of M.C., running the show during the recording process and facilitating an environment conducive to creativity. Based on the chapter Massey selected for his reading, it seems the producer in Roadie strives to create an environment of chaos.
“I mostly sat and watched as everything went to hell in a handbasket,” read Massey.
Glaring Omissions holds readings on the fourth Monday of each month. August’s theme is Dogs. The group offers an opportunity for serious writers to get feedback from their peers, and meets every few weeks. For more information go to www.glaringomissions.com.