I was fifteen and sixteen years old in 1971
1971 was a practice run into the new decade. Things didn't feel one bit different than they did in 1969, in fact it felt even more like '69 because now almost everybody was into love and peace culture. The stores all catered to 70's fashion, and being a "Hippie" was as common as Monday night football. This was an extraordinary year of discovery and change for me. I was getting older. At fifteen, I felt like I was 20 and all the games and toys I'd played with in the 60's no longer held any interest for me. We'd moved into an apartment complex where my parents had taken a management position. The building was called Cambridge Court in the black section of town. White tenants occupied about 60% of the building, but that was soon to change. In the summer of 1971, the area was a hotbed of activity. Neighbors left their doors open and parties were happening everywhere. I'd never smelled so much incense in one place in my entire life. It was all so different. Apartment renters were primarily very young; they weren't like our homeowner neighbors in other boroughs. This was an entirely new breed of people.
New words were entered into my vocabulary. The first, and probably the most memorable, was "Narc". One of our neighbors, a very friendly and popular guy threw great parties almost every night. Of course, I was never invited because I didn't know him. One warm summer night, after the candied scent of vanilla incense wafted out of his open apartment door, and the sounds of "The Changeling" from The Doors' L.A. Woman album lit up the night, a typical Steve party came to a thunderous close. As it turned out, he was dealing weed in fairly large quantities, and one of his best customers was an undercover narc. Steve's arrest was the hottest news in the complex and the event raised not only eyebrows, but a keen awareness within us all. This time, life was just like TV.
Music raised my consciousness.
I was introspective, soul bound, learning new things about life all due to the new music that was all around me. Rock groups were no longer stand-up cutouts on a TV show stage. They were insightful artisans, heavy metal slammers, precise musicians with tremendous skill and lyrics that ranged from the provocative to the profound. New rock and roll was a tremendous wave in the 70's, and has never seen a more artistic and impressionable era.
I was so far into The Doors at this time that I had almost completely lost track of my own identity. The music was cryptic, yet forged with a certain identifiable skill. It was pop, but it wasn't pop; it was soul, but it wasn't really soul. I identified with Jim Morrison, not in the sense of being a famous singer, poet, artist, or whatever, but more in the sense of being a dark, misunderstood figure. He was the new wave and I wanted to be a part of it. "The End" was a journey down the darkest hallway of the human soul. I couldn't get it out of my head. I felt that it was a truly magnificent song. (and still do.) Shortly after summer began, I purchased "The Doors Absolutely Live" and lived, ate, and breathed this LP until I'd had it memorized. The Doors were godlike, profound, above us earthlings, and immortal. "The Celebration of the Lizard" finally had music to it, and was performed on this album.
Another Doors gem was "When the Music's Over." I used to listen to this song over and over again. By now I was hearing music that truly moved me, and made me ultimately proud of the generation I belonged to. It was no longer a simple matter of "long haired rock and roll," but a new revolution. Ironically, The Doors truly were a carry-over of the 60's "beat houses," the beat generation clubs where goateed guys hit bongos and spouted weird poetry. The Doors were doing this very thing only with music. The vox keyboard was certainly outdated by this time, yet it was the heartbeat of the Doors' music. So how could they survive in the more progressive world of the 70's? The answer was simple; they were on the cutting edge of rock and psychedelia. Keyboard notes wafted like incense, and guitar tripped out like its strings were on acid. Morrison always seemed to be floating on the stratosphere of reality and stage rock, floating listlessly between the two worlds of rock and stage presence. It was all too beautiful, all too perfect. The Doors were it. Then, just before my birthday, I heard the ghastly news that on July 3, 1971, Jim Morrison had been pronounced dead.
"Hellbound Train" was an album whose cover drew me like a magnet. I hadn't yet heard that much from Savoy Brown with the exception of "I'm Tired" whom I thought was Jimi Hendrix. When I heard this LP, I was truly in love. Few songs are ever as good as "Lost and Lonely Child" or "If I Could See an End." This album literally drop-kicked the bass into another dimension, and on a fairly decent sound system, truly rocked the house. Neighbors would pop in and ask "Hey man, that's really heavy, who ya' listening to?"
Buying albums was an incredible experience. I was understanding music like I'd never understood it before. It was powerful and raw, full of emotion, flying through the air on fantasy wings, or crashing hard like a concrete glider. Long before Peter Frampton became a goldilocked heartthrob, he was a member of a great hard rock band called Humble Pie. Their album "Humble Pie Rockin' the Fillmore." was a hard-hitting wonderful example of hot live performances by a tight band. Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott were like the Jagger/Richards of the pre-metal set. Their version of "I Don't Need No Doctor" was supreme.
Another great discovery was that of Bloodrock and the double live whammy modestly titled "Bloodrock Live." This was a hot LP featuring some great tunes. "Castle of Thoughts", "Breach of Lease", and "Kool-Aid Kids" are all performed splendidly by this amazing group from Texas. The incredibly creepy and dark "D.O.A." sounds great in concert.
Nothing in life had prepared me for the beauty of Afro-American girls.
I was about to embark on my first serious worship-from-afar crush. I'd just turned 15 and we lived in pre-dominantly black neighborhood sandwiched in between North Williams and Vancouver avenues. Back in 1970, this area was quite different. Culturally, it was another world entirely. One of the neighbor girls caught my eye and I used to watch her walk home every day from school. 3:20 PM was the magic hour when she would pass by our apartment carrying her books. Her fashion was the ever-famous big afro. In fact, the correct terminology then was "Afro-Americans". I really dug the term "Afro-American" and wish it would have hung on forever. Naturally, this girl had a boyfriend, and I was out of her league, but it was still a great one-way love affair that endured, and she was enchanting to admire from afar.
Then on one hot summer day in August, I was out on the grass painting a large picture of Jim Morrison on a piece of sheet rock, when out of the blue, I see a pair of dark brown legs standing next to me. Just then, she sets herself down in the grass and starts talking to me! I can remember vividly her big smile and frizzy curls poking out everywhere. She was so beautiful, with skin like deep chocolate. I can't remember when I'd ever been so hypnotized and helpless as I was on that day. Nothing came of it except that I got a first-class visit from my secret love.
Racial Tensions, Summer in the City
The summer of 1971 was hot, and at times, furious. Racial tensions began to boil in our neighborhood that summer. I never truly understood what had brought about the anger, but for a series of weeks, perhaps maybe 2, or 3, riots erupted on our block prompting serious responses from police and fire departments. The National Guard was on standby. There were no deaths that I can recall, but there was plenty of blood to go around. We had an armed security force that patrolled the apartment grounds.
Adding to the fun was our next door neighbor, a young Vietnam vet with an automatic rifle and a severely violent nature who sat out on the back stoop locked an loaded, glaring at anybody of color who passed by. It was his way of daring someone to make a move. Trust me, he would have exhausted an entire clip on just one individual had they taken him on. The police finally removed his presence and most of us could breathe just a bit easier.
However, nothing was easy, and the riots and the violence continued to escalate. It was pure mania. Fire hoses were turned on violent crowds, police formed wedges with "hats and bats" full riot gear, and we learned to live with the drone of police megaphones blasting out warnings to get off the streets. Interestingly enough, the threat of the National Guard, gun fire, or even fire hoses didn't deter the crowd that much. It wasn't until the police arrived with kennel trucks and unloaded an army of attack dogs that the crowds finally dispersed. Even then at the young age I was, I could understand that the threats of power and violence from other people weren't as deadly as the threats posed by animals who'd been trained to kill on command. This brings me back to our neighbor with the assault rifle. He was on the same animal level, and therefore, all the time he sat out on the back stoop, that section of our street was relatively quiet.
I'd been listening to "Tommy" by The Who when the first bomb went off. It blew up the Welfare Administration building that was half a block away. The concussion made my turntable skip. I looked out my window and the crowds were once again gathering. Angry and seething, this was the first severe movement as they had tripled in their numbers, and the Police once again arrived with their dogs. You could hear the shouting and some screaming, and the dogs barking and snarling. Whether or not they actually completed an attack I don't know. We all went out to the back street to check it out. A guy running from a cop with a lit fire bomb in his hands passed right next to me. Oddly, he dropped it in panic, but the bottle didn't break. The cop stomped it out. Some hours later a giant rock came through my bedroom window, missing me by about two feet. This was the beginning of an end. On a final note, a young hippie couple that had just rented an apartment had been moving in when they were attacked. The woman was pregnant, and they both survived, but the blood trails on the sidewalk by their back stoop reminded me of the "Helter Skelter" murders.
The Evil Weed: It Will Hook Your Sue and Johnny
Marijuana was everywhere. Back in the day, it was never referred to as "marijuana." The common nomenclature was "dope," or "weed." Every now and then the word "green" was used, but terminology like "grass" and "mary jane" had been replaced. Everybody called it "dope." By 1971 I'd been tempted far too many times to give dope a try. It wasn't a peer pressure thing at all, but rather something that everybody but myself knew about, and was doing. Smoking dope did not lead me, or any of my friends down the wrong path.
I can recall to this day the trepidation over the first toke. A wonder of propaganda and possibility lay at my feet. Would it make me want to jump off buildings thinking I could fly? Or would it be trippy? My neighbors assured me that it would make me feel "really mellow and far out." Of course, it did just that. It felt like a warm blanket covering me, and my inhibitions had vanished altogether. Life had become a Mecca; it was a deep breath exhaled with a magnificent calm. The wizardry of weed offered a pleasantly altered insight and a somewhat sagely existence in a world far too mundane. Words had new meanings; colors were more vivid; food was so much tastier! Of course, my audio/visual sensors were a bit out of adjustment, but music, by far, was so much more enhanced!
The thrill and ecstasy of marijuana offered so much more as well:
- Potato chips tasted much better.
- Girls weren't as frightening
- Late night TV was so much better
- There was a reason to get a job: to earn more money to buy more weed.
My first joint was given to me by a neighbor. She said I'd love it. I couldn't resist the blonde hippie chick who was eager to show me the rainbow hidden behind the clouds. I knew that sooner or later I'd have to try it, and the temptation to find out the secret that everybody else seemed to know was too much to resist. In a nutshell, the dreaded "Marijuana" was way over-hyped.
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