“The Anti-Rock God”

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tripsff44“Jonathan is the anti-rock god. He’s just a man in a profession that has always been full of the bullshit of the idol, the elevation of the artist over the audience, most especially commercially.”

“His first place to stay in Manhattan was on the couch of the personal manager of this Velvet Underground.”

I lived in the penthouse offices of the Plant family shoe factory for four months with Tate Billings. There were about 120 artist’s lofts built on the two top floors. One artist rented a huge space and built a stage with the Velvet Underground and Warhol’s factory in mind. The Modern Lover played here on Halloween night. This place was so much fun, so damn interesting, that no one got any work done. We explored the labyrinth of endless creativity, weno knowing what lay around the next turn. It was the party the Haight used to be before we buried Hippie.

The mayor of Boston tried to close us down, until someone invited him to come for a visit. He was blown away and got behind this rebirth of Art. Then, someone burned it down. Mayors across America are promoting the Bohemian Scene because it’s good for business. Over fours years ago I became the President of the Bohemian Bank. I wish my corporate offices were atop the old shoe factory.

For over forty years I have wondered if I am responsible for Jonathan Richman not becoming a Super Star and making a tone of doe. I talked to Jonathan after that show, where the freaks from the Roxbury commune sat up front, just ten feet from the Modern Lovers. On New Years we had gone downtown to see Linda Ronstadt and her new band ‘The Stone Ponys’ Us Roxy freaks sat ten feet from Linda. There were about ten people in the room. We talked to her between songs. Life is good!

I told Jonathan he was what Hippie Rock used to be, a garage band formed to accompany the greatest party the world has ever known. But, instead of getting ripped and blotto, we expanded our minds!

“I stopped listening to rock when it got too big, when you had to use binoculars to see Grace Slick. At the Filmore, Janis Joplin walked off the stage, and through the crowd to the cola machine. She looked me in the eye as she squeaked past.”

“The music got louder and louder! You couldn’t hear yourself – tripping! There was a mindless equation that emptied your wallet to feed the Super Star. Everything was designed to get more money out of you. Stay as you are. You are singing songs about your neighborhood, your experiences. Keep it on a human scale.”

I was drawing my from what I witnessed with The Loading Zone they Berkeley’s band who as The Marbles played at ‘The Tribute to Doctor Strange’ in 1965, and as the Zone, at the first Trips Festival in 1965. When the Zone signed a record contract they – were done. They didn’t know who they were anymore. I lived in a large Victorian with them. Peter Shapiro, and his then girlfriend, Chris, are my good friends this day. Peter told me the Zone picked up Neil Cassidy on one of these trips, who stayed with them for a week foaming at the mouth while on speed. They finally had to give him the boot.

We were the stars, the unknown faces, us guinae pigs, we tripsters and trailblazers, who gave up our places in normal society, many of us to never return. We were the rock and roll heros that danced to the lights fantastic! We were God – the collective! We could all be God, now safe, in the loving company of strangers.

Jon Presco

Jonathan is the anti-rock god. He’s just a man in a profession that has always been full of the bullshit of the idol, the elevation of the artist over the audience, most especially commercially. All those elements that were used to describe Jonathan as “cult” or “eccentric” suddenly make perfect, wonderful, sense to me. The acoustic-minimal instrumentation, the ever-changing interest in genre, the insistence on simple gigs with so little equipment it could fit on the back of a bicycle (plus a trailer for the drums), the eclectic song subject matter, the rejection of almost all the trappings of the business (from the concert t-shirt to the very idea of self-promotion). It’s DIY, for real. No wonder there’s a small cadre that follows him like he was the Grateful Dead, sort of, but don’t really because they have lives and Jonathan does, too.

So this band broke up. Richman, among other things, wanted to at play a much lower volume than the other three did. This was no sudden change. In fact, remember that manager’s sofa in New York that Richman slept on? Well, that guy – a mature 26 – told Richman that one day he wouldn’t need loud volume or want it. And Richman… reacted like 18-year-olds do when someone older talks to them about volume. But by the age of 22, having played a few hospital shows for kids and an elementary school or two with just himself and his acoustic guitar, he was convinced that high volume was not a necessity but a hindrance to communication and intimacy.

His first place to stay in Manhattan was on the couch of the personal manager of this Velvet Underground. After two weeks the manager and his wife and the other person staying there felt that Jonathan… well… might be more appropriately suited somewhere else. (Since this is me writing this thing I can say that this means I was such a stinking, discusting slob that even my friends couldn’t stand it and two weeks must have been plenty.) (Of course now I’m much more mature.)

21-23 January 1966 Acid Test and Trips Festival.The seventh (?) Acid Test was held at the Trips Festival (Friday through Sunday) which took place in the Longshoremen’s Hall, San Francisco. The Festival was a joint effort of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Stewart Brand (who showed his “America Needs Indians” slide show during it), and The Living Theater who had Bill Graham working for them. Augustus Owsley Stanley III was a financial sponsor of the event: He purchased amplifiers and other electronic equipment for the Grateful Dead to use in playing there (and thereafter) and also, so it is inferred, donated LSD which he had manufactured for free distribution at the event.

They were formed in Oakland, California in 1966 by singer-keyboardist Paul Fauerso, following the dissolution of his jazz group The Tom Paul Trio. The original lineup was Fauerso, bassist Bob Kridle, drummer Ted Kozlowski (replaced by George Newcom), and guitarists Peter Shapiro and Steve Dowler,[2] both formerly of Berkeley psychedelic rock band The Marbles, who had supported Jefferson Airplane at the historic “Tribute to Dr. Strange”, the inaugural Family Dog promotion concert held at San Francisco’s Longshoreman’s Hall in October 1965.
The Loading Zone’s first major concert was the Trips Festival at the Longshoreman’s Hall in January 1966.[3] Although primarily an R&B band, The Loading Zone added contemporary psychedelic influences and soon became a popular attraction on the burgeoning Bay Area music scene. The Loading Zone was based at the Berkeley venue The New Orleans House, but performed numerous times at major venues including the Fillmore West.

In October 1965, a small commune called the Family Dog threw an unusual dance at Longshoreman’s Hall, starring a rock band called the Charlatans that had played the previous summer at the Red Dog Saloon, a restored silver rush dance hall in Virginia City, Nev. The second-billed group, which had an even weirder name, Jefferson Airplane, was making its first appearance outside the Marina District nightclub it had opened the month before. The third act on the bill, the Great Society, featured a former model from Palo Alto named Grace Slick.

More than a thousand people turned up for the dance. Hair flowing over their collars, the revelers were dressed cheerfully in colorful discards plucked from thrift stores. Many were on LSD, as were many of the musicians. Virtually everyone who attended “A Tribute to Dr. Strange,” as the dance was called, seemed to have the same thought about the gathering: “I didn’t know there were this many of us.”

Thomas G. Plant Shoe Factory Fire
The Shoe Factory’s Demise
Jamaica Plain’s Most Unforgettable Fire
By Walter H. Marx

“Instantly the raging fire rolls to the rooftop with its wind; the flames overcome all; the blazing tide roars heavenward.” Vergil, Aeneid 11. 758.9

To a modern observer the corner of Bickford and Centre Streets opposite the Bromley-Heath Housing Development is a vast overgrown wasteland covered with countless fragments of red brick in all sizes. The side on Centre Street is in the process of becoming JP Plaza. Nearby a chimneystack stands atop a chamber once connected to something else. That something was the five-storied brick and white stone-trimmed Thomas G. Plant Shoe Factory, Jamaica Plain’s largest manufactory.

Then running along Bickford Street to its former corner at Minden, to the heart of “Little Germany,” the plant covered a good third of the city block of Centre, Walden, Minden, and Bickford Streets with the open area given over to a picnic area for employees and some cooling apparatus.

Built late in the 19th century for Thomas Gustave Plant, a Maine lad and inventor in the shoe industry, the factory at its height employed 4,000 workers from the surrounding German-Irish neighborhood. Quality and efficiency were trademarks of the factory. Workers wore color-coded uniforms. Ramps and elevators enabled boys wearing roller skates to get quickly throughout the complex. Plant paid a higher wage than the going rate and provided a library, gymnasium, and swimming pool.

Plant’s concern for his workers in an age of vast labor exploitation was no mere chance. Born in Bath in 1859, he left his home state and school at the age of 13 to support himself making shoes in Boston. He had known the bottom of the ladder, but with his perceptive and inventive mind he devised and patented items for making shoes. He was finally able to buy a business and to expand in the suburban Boston area with headquarters in JP. When a strike hit before World War I, Plant sold out to United Shoe Co., which ran it into the 1950’s.

The factory is certainly the reason that our area grew to be known as “Shoemaker Plain” to prior generations – yet another corruption of the name of the Massachusetts Indian Sachem who gave his name to our area. When the shoemaking ceased in the 1950’s, the vast enterprise was broken up into quarters of small businesses, art studios, and apartments. But on the rainy Sunday night of February 1, 1976, persons unknown decided that all this should end.

Managing to turn off the sprinkler system and start fires at various points nearly simultaneously, the arsonist(s) provided an historic fire. For the first time in the city’s history all but one of Boston’s engine companies were at a single fire with additional apparatus called in from surrounding communities, while 23 Metropolitan Boston municipalities manned Boston’s firehouses. The first alarm was sounded at 9:28 p.m. By the time the first engines arrived, all the plant, with its flammable wood interior was aflame.

The burning of the city of Troy so vividly portrayed in Homer’s Iliad and in Book II of Vergil’s Aeneid, could not have been more graphic. Of the fires this chronicler has ever seen this was by far the tops. By chance he had looked out of a window several blocks west of Plant’s to view a sky pulsating with an orange-and-red glow. A quick walk in its direction confirmed the initial guess that it was Plant’s. All was afire, and noise was added as the 80-foot brick walls constantly crashed down into the street.

Pictures taken on the scene could hardly do justice to the immense force of the fire in one area, which under other weather conditions could have been a disaster. Miraculously, there were no serious injuries, the fire being confined to the factory, but all personal possessions were lost in the raging conflagration. Throughout the wet night of February 1 scores of firemen fought a firestorm that waged total war with its place of origin. By dawn it was finally out; little was left for the wrecking crane. Plant’s looked like a remnant of the Great Boston Fire of 1872.

Many former employees journeyed back to the place where they had once worked to pay for school, help start a family, or support their siblings. The fire went to five alarms with $1,000,000 damage. Fire Commissioner George Paul echoed most spectators: “I’ve never seen such a volume of fire in one building. Never have I seen bright orange flames (the hottest type) burn for so long a time. Tongues of flame up to 200 feet high shot up many times during the night.”

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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