CONNECTIONS: Culture tangles at Tanglewood –bare breasts, base guitars

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By Tuesday, Sep 1 Life In the Berkshires  3 Comments
Crooner Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga (baring almost all) at Tanglewood on June 30, 2015.

About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the twenty-first century.

They say she was booed. I can neither confirm nor deny. I did not hear it.

They say when the big screen flashed her bare breasts, some evidently expressed disapproval: “That’s not Tanglewood.”

Perhaps not but it was certainly Lady Gaga.

Is there no parallel in Tanglewood history?

Absent the nudity on stage, there was a season with equal shock value.

july 8 1969It was July 8, 1969. Who opened the Tanglewood season? It was Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company; no kidding. In 1969, that genre in that venue was truly shocking.

Headlines read: “Worlds Collide.”

Maestro Erich Leinsdorf explained that the young men and women of the Berkshire music school grew up with this music and “it can amicably coexist with serious music.”

Gunther Schuller agreed, “It is necessary that the Berkshire Music Center shows its awareness of new developments in music.” He called it a “series dedicated to new trends.”

So began the Contemporary Trends series at Tanglewood. It would run for three summers.

The little Texan with the huge voice walked onto the stage of the Shed, belted it out over the Berkshire Hills for ten minutes, and then walked off stage. She was protesting state police attempting to clear the aisles.

They police desisted, the aisles of The Shed refilled, Joplin returned, and…

“Come on come on come on come on

Take it

Take another little piece of my heart now baby.”

In the audience was Richard Goldstein, the first Rock and Roll music critic; a writer for the Village Voice, and fast forward, the man who took that lyric as the title of his 2015 book. In it he made some serious points about music that was, in 1969, dismissed as frivolous.

A Camp Director who was evidently there with his brood by mistake said, “My young ones were frightened by the appearance and the antics of these performers.”

Neighbors were outraged by the decibels as well as the dishabille.

Headlines read: “The water is hot and getting hotter for Tanglewood management.”

lfNonetheless, the concerts went on. One produced by Bill Graham on August 12, 1969 featured The Jefferson Airplane, B. B. King and The Who.

They and other performers who came to Tanglewood were in the Northeast for that other outdoor music festival. You know — Woodstock.

Despite the outraged letters to the editor in all local papers, Graham was invited back to produce the Contemporary Trends Concerts of 1970. He brought The Who, Santana, Miles Davis, and more.

The Stockbridge Select Board took note when the din of criticism grew louder than the music. The Tanglewood caps were instituted: limits were set on the noise and the crowd size. The crowd was limited to 18,000 – a cap never rescinded and rarely honored. (It may be that at some point the cap was increased to 20,000 but even that number is often exceeded).

The critics continued to cheer. In the Village Voice, Goldstein wrote: the music “should quake the primeval New England countryside.”

The countryside continued to gripe.

With the Joshua Light Show, the critics were ecstatic: “Tanglewood literally exploded last night.”

The locals were scathing. As one editorial put it, “no one wants Woodstock at Tanglewood.”

Besides, the smell of grass (no, not the green stuff), the trash left behind, and the nudity (not on stage; on the lawn) finally tipped the scales. It was 1971.

After all, it was not what Leinsdorf and Schuller called “serious music”. And yet…

In his book, “Take Another Piece of My Heart,” Goldstein writes, “Neo-Conservatives purport that the life of the mind is separate from politics.” The music of the sixties, he counters, was intellectual and wedded to politics.

He goes on, “there was solidarity through music in the Sixties.” Now he mourns there are niche markets dividing people for profit rather than joining them in common experience and purpose.

Music, he says, is no longer “a common experience for a generation; there is no common national experience.”

Without a common national experience, there is not a bonding of people. It may be, therefore, that the lawn would not erupt in the same way today as it did when The Who closed their concert with “My Generation.”

“The last Contemporary Trends concert was played, the musicians packed up, the music died, and they were gone. Before the end of the decade they would be truly gone: Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and more, all dead before they were thirty.

Even Goldstein had to admit it was not all positive. “The musicians of the Sixties had no respect for consequences – no deference for consequences.”

So once there was a flash across the New England hills – loud and strong and shocking — if tempered with a touch of New England restraint, it may have been the recipe for success and longevity.

Maybe Lady Gaga will find she has a voice sufficiently strong to entertain without shocking…or not.

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. D.B. says:

    Lady GaGa can shock me anytime! Anywhere! The Berkshires? You bet! Do it again please.

  2. Andy Potter says:

    Did the author of this piece hear Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett together this summer. Judging by her throw away digs, I think not. While her historical accounts may or may not be valid, she certainly swung and missed when came to Gaga.

  3. Andy Potter says:

    From the pages of theEdge: “Together, they gave a once-in-a-lifetime, deeply satisfying performance, in which each singer played lightly to their expected tropes, even as they relished in the emotional depth and opportunities for spontaneous improvisation in the music of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Michel Legrand, and the legacies of Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Edith Piaf.”

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