Saturday, July 24, 2010

Free Association

A friend just attended a free outdoor concert on Long Island. The group performing was The Association. Their songs include Cherish, Never My Love, and Along Comes Mary. Cherish was later made famous by teen idol David Cassidy. Of Along Comes Mary, writes, "Many people interpreted this as a paean to marijuana, which is also known as 'Mary Jane.' They were probably right."

The musicians of The Association started performing around 1965. Though this is the middle of the decade, I'd still call them an early-60s band. The Sixties (as a decade) ran from 1960-69, but The Sixties (as a cultural watershed) didn't get started till at least 1964, the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination.

The Association is associated with the lighter, fluffier sensibility of the late 50s and early 60s. Wikipedia identifies them as "in the sunshine pop genre." They're the first band ever to open a rock festival... the ground-breaking Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. The fest was among the earliest introductions of the burgeoning counter-culture (in music, politics, spirituality, lifestyle) from California (with it's epicenter at Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco) to the country and world at large.

In opening the fest, The Association metaphorically represented the more innocent style that was being displaced by the new psychedelia. The sunshine songs of The Association stood in contrast to the edgy, non-conforming, acid-soaked acts that followed them to the stage... little-known talent like Janice Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who.

I'm a young Boomer. My childhood saw both sides of this transformation. I took in the increasing influence of hippie/psychedelic movements, though I was too young to participate by moving to San Francisco with flowers in my hair.

During my school years, there was a local radio station I'd always listen to. For some reason, they'd very frequently play The Association's (Everyone Knows It's) Windy. I loved it. If kids today mock these songs as superficial, fuck 'em: Windy is a damn catchy tune.

When I entered high school in 1974, it was still the tail end of The Sixties. That radio station played less pop music, and more talk-radio focused on alternative ideas. I'd turn on the station late at night, out of habit, when I couldn't get to sleep.

One of their talk-radio hosts was psychologist Murry Needleman. Funny... though Needleman was to have an indirect influence on my life, I never knew what he looked like. Not till just now, when I checked out his website to copy this paragraph's hyperlink. I'd pictured him a bit more dignified.

Anyway: people would call in and have Needleman analyze their problems. In retrospect, it may seem irresponsible to do therapy over the public radio waves. I guess we didn't think through the downside. Kind of like the parents on Mad Men who let their kids play with dry-cleaning bags.

Late one night, I listened to Needleman raving about a new book by spiritual guru Ram Dass (Grist for the Mill). He spoke in such glowing terms, that I couldn't believe that Ram Dass' vision was as extraordinary as Needleman claimed. But I couldn't risk ignoring the possibility.

I bought the book. It was over 30 years ago, but I still remember the beautiful salesgirl who sold it to me. She gave me such a big smile, and then it was quite odd how, out of nowhere, she too started rhapsodizing about how deep and profound the book was.

For the better part of a year, I never opened Grist. I think I was afraid that it couldn't live up to the hype. I'd rather keep the book unread and hope that maybe it held The Answer, than to read it and be disappointed. It was like an emergency backup. If life ever started feeling too dark and crazy, I could break open the book then, and maybe it'd show me an entirely new direction to follow.

And that's what happened.