It’s strange. I always tend to think that I like short films the best (85 – 100 minutes) but some of the best films go on for ages. The full five and a half hour version of ‘Carlos’ or the nine and a half hours of ‘Shoah’ would take some beating for awe-inspiring astonishment. I like short album collections of music, as a whole, but my three favourites would be all over an hour long (1. ‘Zen Arcade’ by Hüsker Dü; 2. ‘The Beatles’ by The Beatles; 3. ‘It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’ by Public Enemy.).
I can only (fail to) imagine how exciting it must have been to see Fela Kuti play live. If I had a time machine, I’d go to see him on the same night as Paul McCartney in The African Shrine in Lagos said he saw Fela and the Africa ’70, and got reduced to tears. Same with Jimi Hendrix. The other night, while walking through town to meet my compadre at a restaurant prior to watching an evening football match, I played the full version of his ‘1983….(A Merman I Should Turn To Be) in my headphones and had a moment of psychedelic-like clarity in which I suddenly felt so glad to be alive. There were, and are, scoundrels everywhere in a positions of power, seemingly all with their boots on our throats and pushing down ever harder; I was suffering from a long-term health malady (which I now seem to have shaken off, thank God); but all my senses were eager and heightened. The air felt more refreshing than ever; my hearing got sharper; the greenery of the grass and trees was never more green; and putting one foot in front of another was an invigorating pleasure.
My time machine for seeing Hendrix and the experience might be his set at Monterey but I’d have to also be seeing him with myself being an American person: this crazy-looking band from London, fronted by an American, crashing into a dynamite version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Killing Floor’ and tearing the roof off of the roofless outdoor festival. Or maybe seeing ‘The Jimi Hendrix Experience’ when they debuted in London in September 1966 might be better? Talking of McCartney, he was there in the London crowd in the first few months, with Lennon and perhaps the others. Indeed, the Monterey Festival wanted The Beatles to play in June 1967 but McCartney could only help choose bands and his first choice was to insist on The Jimi Hendrix Experience.
There’s an elephant in the room when discussing the history of The Beatles, specifically when they gave up playing concerts and the reasons why. There’s the idea that they’d just grown tired of playing against the wall of noise engendered by the bonkers crowds; that, therefore, they’d become bad musicians as a result of not being able to hear themselves; and that they were like prisoners when not on the stage as they’d probably got torn to bits otherwise; and that their new music was too complex for live performances (although when we sing Beatles songs to ourselves – as a ‘one piece’ vocal band – they don’t all come from 1962 – 1966, do they? I’ve always thought that this was a cop out excuse). However, the timeline also might tell us something.
The last Beatles gig was 29th August 1966. They’d have come back to London, rested up and then started to hear about, and then go and see, this amazing new band called ‘The Jimi Hendrix Experience’ who’d started gigging in late September/early October 1966 and finally catching them in June 1967. Maybe another reason for The Beatles to forgo live performance was that The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a game-changer? Not to say that The Beatles were somehow ‘running scared’ but how would one compete with The Jimi Hendrix Experience? Perhaps – even if only subconsciously – The Beatles decided to 86 gigs in general because this new band was changing the live vocabulary for everyone? The Who felt this, when playing Monterey: how do we avoid getting blown off of the stage?
And, finally, this.
I gather that this was the bootleg called ‘The Blow Up Tape’ and was finally released on CD some years later as ‘The Blow-Up’. I once read a review, by a writer whose name I can’t recall, and it said that Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd ‘play their guitars like cartoon characters hitting each other over the head with bigger and bigger frying pans’.
Short songs; long songs: just give me good songs.