Sunday, November 15, 2015

****America, Where Are You Now...."- Steppenwolf’s The Monster-Take Four

****America, Where Are You Now...."- Steppenwolf’s The Monster-Take Four




A YouTube Film Clip Of Steppenwolf Performing Monster- Ah, Those Were The Days


 From The Pen Of Bart Webber

America where are you now?

Don't you care about your sons and daughters?

Don't you know we need you now

We can't fight alone against the monster

Chorus Line From The Monster

Back in 2011 Frank Jackman’s friend from back in the old growing up hometown days in the late 1960s in Carver about thirty miles south of Boston toward the ocean, Sam Lowell, had written, under the influence of a rage he was feeling about the never-ending war in Afghanistan (still never-ending as of this 2015 writing as the announcement that five thousand American troops will hunker down in that benighted country until at least 2017), a review of an album of heavy-duty rock band they both loved to listen to back in the day, Steppenwolf. Sam’s impetus for writing that review had been a recent listening to the group’s song Monster on YouTube where he heard the words quoted above, the words that sent him reeling back to another never-ending war time in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s. But here is the rub, back then Sam was probably the least political of the guys who hung out around Jimmy Jack’s Diner holding up the wall, checking the passing girls out, and occasionally putting a few quarters in the jukebox inside at the counter or in one the red vinyl-covered seats at a booth if they had eating money as well to hear what was what just then.

Those Steppenwolf lyrics about parents “abandoning” their kids leaving them alone and untutored in the ways of the harsh world to fight the monster machine that would devour them in a fit of consumer-culture death if not fought had hit home not because of the raging war but because of his own difficulties with his parents, his own having to go it alone to find his own path, a path that took many wrong turns.  Frank a little more attuned to the swirl of the political maelstrom around him “got” the less personal aspect of fighting against the imperial government machine at all costs in the song and tried unsuccessfully to convey that understanding to Sam even though he too had had his own running battles mainly with his mother over what the hell he was to do in the world, about why he did not want to do the things his parents craved for him to do.        

Frank got “religion” earlier than Sam in another way since shortly after the unsuccessful attempts to “hip” Sam to the need to fight the monsters who were devouring their humanity he got a letter in late 1968, a very official letter, from his friends and neighbors (that is how they put the greeting in any case) at the Carver draft board telling him his number was up, that assuming that he was physically fit enough, he was subject to being called up (when he later went up to Boston to take his physical at the Army Base down near the harbor he found that if a guy was still basically breathing and did not fall over to the touch he was fit despite the slew of medical excuses other guys had tried to fake the doctors out with so he was found fit ). He freaked that letter-opening day, freaked the day he took his physical knowing he had passed and knowing too that the way Charley (although he would not know the significance of that name until later) was chewing up the American Army despite the beating he took during his Tet offensive that he would be called, no question, and he freaked the day the very early one morning he headed to the Boston Army Base to be inducted. That despite Frank’s immense hesitations about going, although stuck down in Carver he was unaware as he would later become aware of that there were ways to fight his induction. But see every other thing in his blessed life went the other way, there was nothing to guide him in his hesitations. Certainly not the super-patriotism of his parents, Christ, they would wind supporting the war effort until the very end and even wrote a letter to their Congressman telling him to tell President Ford to send troops to Vietnam in 1975 as all hell was breaking around Saigon and the North Vietnamese were rolling to cut off that town. Of course by that time he was in one of his frequent periods of not talking to them for years at a time.

Nor did it help unlike in some places where middle class families fearful for their sons were at least listening to the options, that all the guys, all the guys he knew in old time working-class Carver, who had not jumped at the chance of enlisting but waited until they were given notice went, maybe kicking and screaming like Frank but went, and that while he had certain defined views about politics they were as he would figure out later pretty simple and not reason enough to go to jail or flee to Canada over, the choices that he had heard about but kind of dismissed out of hand. 


So Frank went to Boston and took the oath, went in and while not being the best of soldiers he was not the worse and guys in his unit would wind up saying of him that when he arrived in Vietnam and he settled in he got them out a few messes that did not look like they would get out of alive or in one piece when Charley came a-calling. Later, say late 1971 after he was discharged, early 1972 talking to a Quaker girl he was interested in over in Cambridge where he found himself hanging out after the few days that he spent in Carver convinced him that he had to flee that town, about what had happened to him in Vietnam he realized just how much he hated the monster government for doing what it did to him, about the slaughter of the innocence and about how he had to wash himself clean to get back his humanity. And so he joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and after that died down after a few years he joined that Quaker girl in her forthright efforts to bring a little peace in the world.       

Sam, and here is the funny way paths divert, had had a serious injury when he was a kid, a serious injury to his left arm which despite many severe and long-drawn-out procedures was about ninety percent useless and so was declared early on 4-F, not fit for military service, by those same friends and neighbors who had left Frank to hang out and dry. Thus while Sam tepidly held some of the same opinions that his fellow students who were causing holy hell on the campus at Boston University where it seemed every other day they were protesting or striking against something, sometimes to do with the war, other times about some grievance local or societal, he was rather outside of all of that.

Even when Frank had fruitlessly argued with him about what their parents were leaving them to fight against he had fluffed it off. Later after Frank got back for Vietnam he was a bit more thoughtful for a while, tried to listen when Frank talked about stuff, about the bloody madness going on in his name but Sam was too busy trying to survive law school and start a practice in Carver to listen much. So of course they drifted apart something that if either of them had been asked let’s say as they graduated from high school in 1967 they would have scoffed at. Frank headed west, went to California after that thing with the Quaker girl had run out, after he had let his “wanting habits” addictions get the best of him and that thread of the story is still murky (mostly drug-related and some small felonies from what Sam had heard from somebody who had run into Frank in San Francisco at a peace event in the late 1980s). Sam went on to thrive in his small town law practice, eventually taking on a partner, having a family including two sons, and generally having a good life.                 

But then Sam got “religion,” got it not through anything he did, or did not do, but through the times, through another act of governmental hubris. After 9/11 (and like Pearl Harbor and a few other events in American history just saying the words stand by themselves, no explanation necessary) the bulk of the population in America was beside itself with unfocused rage, was out for some kind of vengeance, any target would do, convenient, distant, the bigger the better, but some kind of Moslem/ Arab payback was best. Like in a lot of time of emergency situations, military emergencies, some of the young get caught up in the crush of the action. Wanted to play the patriot game for keeps. The long and short of it was that Bradley Lowell, Sam’s older son, enlisted in Army, went to Officer Candidate School and came out a second lieutenant, came out just as all hell was breaking loose in Washington about Iraqi Saddem weapons of mass destruction and that the only way to make things right was to invade that benighted country, destroy it out of hand. Puff. Sam, beside himself when he heard that Bradley would be deployed, would be in the thick of it as an officer in an infantry unit, tried like hell to talk him out of going, talked to him about refusing to go, about going to jail, tried to talk to him about what had happened during war to guys like his old friend Frank Jackman. No soap, Brad Lowell was gung-ho. And as the fates would have it one Bradley Lowell was felled by an IED and laid his head down in Iraq on his second tour of duty in 2005.         

For a while Sam was inconsolable, as was his wife, Laura, and it took a lot of thinking to figure out what he was to do to keep Brad’s memory alive. As the situation in Iraq got more unstable and as the American casualties kept piling up Sam decided to go to an anti-war rally in Boston at the Commons one spring afternoon in 2006. (Laura taking the loss of Bradley hard in that way refused to go in public to such an event.) The crowd of a few hundred was not big like in the times of his youth during Vietnam when one day the whole Commons had been filled (he had not attended that rally since he was studying for an exam but he had heard about it from his roommate who had attended and believed that the war would be over shortly-in the event it lasted almost five years more) but he was fine with the idea of just protesting as best he could. As fate would have it Frank Jackman, back a few months before from the West Coast to attend to his wife’s mother’s care for a while up in Lynnfield, also was in attendance that day. That day he was wearing his dark blue embossed with the white dove of peace Veterans for Peace tee-shirt, an organization that Frank had joined just before the Iraq invasion in 2002 after many years of ad hoc work with a myriad of peace and social justice groups, and Sam thinking back to Frank’s VVAW days sort of recognized his old school boy friend, as he approached him (both men both thicker than in their slender youths, showing lots less hair, now grey-white, and lots more wrinkles and Frank sporting a longish beard and thus not unlike about half the male section of their generation so neither man could be blamed if they did not immediately recognize each other). Once the light of recognition hit they gathered to each other like in old times. Sam told Frank about his son Bradley and they both shed a tear for Brad, for their lost youth, and for the endless wars that have plagued their world.

They agreed to meet at the Sunnyvale Grille in downtown Boston a few days later and go over how they were going to continue the anti-war struggle in the face of a great deal of indifference (not of the soldiers deaths, like Brad’s, but of the unchecked damn war policies of two consecutive governments) from the general public who opposed the war before it started but had gone along with it once the deal went down. That meeting was the first time that they both discussed the commonly remembered Steppenwolf song Monster which a few years later prompted Sam to write that album review, trying to sum up the hard fact that the now oldsters Frank Jackman and Sam Lowell had to lend the kids a helping hand, or pass the torch on to them. Here is what Sam had to say:                

The heavy rock band Steppenwolf (maybe acid rock is better signifying that the band started in the American dream gone awry 1960s night when the likes of the Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, The Byrds and groups like the transformed from muppet Beatles and Stones held forth, rather than in the ebb-tide 1970s when the harder sounds of groups like Aerosmith and Black Sabbath were  needed to drown out the fact that  we were in decisive retreat), one of many that was thrown up by the musical counter-culture of the mid to late 1960's was a cut above and apart from some of the others due to their scorching lyrics provided mainly, but not solely, by gravelly-voiced lead singer John Kay. That musical counter-culture not only put a premium on band-written materials, as against the old Tin Pan Alley somebody wrote the lyrics, somebody else sang the song division before Bob Dylan and the Beatles made singer-songwriters fashionable but also was a serious reaction to the vanilla-ization of rock and popular music in the earlier part of the decade that drove many of us from the AM radio dials and into “exotic” stuff like electric blues (country too, come to think of it) and the various strands of folk music.    

Some bands played, consciously played, to the “drop out” notion popular at the times. “Drop out” of rat-race bourgeois society and its money imperative, its “white picket fence with little white house attached” visions. (Those my own visions which I pursued as it turned out.) That is the place where many of the young, the post-World War II baby-boomer young, now sadly older, had grown up and were in the process of repudiating for a grander vision of the world, the “world turned upside down” as an old time British folk tune had it. Drop out and create a niche somewhere (a commune maybe out away from the rat-race places some of which did spring up in the likes of Taos, Oregon, Big Sur and the hills of old Vermont which if you care to see what hellish thing happened to that old vision once the seers got older you can go to and witness first hand these days), so some physical somewhere perhaps but certainly some other mental somewhere and the music reflected that disenchantment.

That mental somewhere involved liberal use of drugs to induce, well, who knows what it induced but it felt like a new state of consciousness so make of that what you will. The drugs used, in retrospect, to make you less “uptight” not a bad thing then, or today. The whole underlying premise though whether well thought out or not was that music, the music of the shamans of the youth tribe, was the revolution. (An idea, as a man who abhorred politics then and am only a little more enamored of now but have a greater purpose to be out in the streets than then when it was a pose if I showed up at all, I held to lightly for a while) An idea that for a short while before all hell broke loose with the criminal antics of Lyndon Johnson and one Richard M. Nixon, all hell broke loose with Tet, with May 1968, with Chicago 1968, with the “days of rage,” with Altamont and with a hundred other lesser downers I subscribed to. Those events, a draft notice, some hard time in Vietnam, made my old time school boy friend Frank Jackman get “religion” on the need for “in-their-face” political struggle. Me, though it took longer, took a generation longer to lose my innocence about American war policy.         

Musically much of that stuff was ephemeral, merely background music, and has not survived (except in lonely YouTube cyberspace). Yeah, Neal Young, the Airplane, the Doors, the Byrds still sound good but a lot of it is wha-wha music now you know Ten Years After, a lot of Rod Stewart, even the acid-etched albums by the Beatles and Stones, (it is no wonder that the latter do not have any tunes from Their Satanic Majesties on their playlists out on the concert tours these days). Others, flash pan “music is the revolution,” period exclamation point, end of conversation bands assumed a few pithy lyrics would carry the day and dirty old bourgeois society would run and hide in horror leaving the field open, open for, uh, us. That music too, except for gems like The Ballad Of Easy Rider, is safely ensconced in vast cyberspace.

Steppenwolf was different, was political from the get-go taking on the deadliness of bourgeois culture, worse the chewing up of their young in unwinnable wars with no apologies or second thoughts, the pusher man, the draft resister and lots of other subjects (and a few traditional songs too about the love that got away, things like that).  Not all the lyrics worked, then or now. (See below for some that do). Not all the words are now some forty plus years later memorable. After all every song is written with some current audience in mind, and notions of immortality as the fate of most songs are displaced. Certainly some of the less political lyrics seem entirely forgettable. As does some of the heavy decibel rock sound that seems to wander at times like, as was the case more often than not, and more often that we, deep in some a then hermetic drug thrall, would have acknowledged, or worried about.

But know this- when you think today about trying to escape from the rat-race of daily living then you have an enduring anthem Born To Be Wild that still stirs the young (and not so young). If Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone was one musical pillar of the youth revolt of the 1960's then Born To Be Wild was the other.


And if you needed (or need) a quick history lesson about the nature of American society in the 1960's, what it was doing to its young, where it had been and where it was heading (and seemingly still is as we attempt to finish up the Afghan wars and the war signals for deep intervention into the Syria civil war or another war in Iraq get louder, or both are beating the war drums fiercely) then the trilogy under the title "The Monster" said it all.

Then there were songs like The Pusher Man a song that could be usefully used as an argument in favor of decriminalization of drugs today and get our people the hell out of jail and moving on with their lives and others then more topical songs like Draft Resister to fill out their playlist. The group did not have the staying power of others like The Rolling Stones but if you want to know, approximately, what it was like for rock groups to seriously put rock and roll and a hard political edge together give a listen to the group sometime. And listen to how right my old friend Frank Jackman had been about their political messages

Words and music by John Kay, Jerry Edmonton, Nick St. Nicholas and Larry Byrom


Once the religious, the hunted and weary

Chasing the promise of freedom and hope

Came to this country to build a new vision

Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope

Like good Christians, some would burn the witches

Later some got slaves to gather riches

But still from near and far to seek America

They came by thousands to court the wild

And she just patiently smiled and bore a child

To be their spirit and guiding light

And once the ties with the crown had been broken

Westward in saddle and wagon it went

And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean

Many the lives which had come to an end

While we bullied, stole and bought our a homeland

We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America

They came by thousands to court the wild

And she just patiently smiled and bore a child

To be their spirit and guiding light

The blue and grey they stomped it

They kicked it just like a dog

And when the war over

They stuffed it just like a hog

And though the past has it's share of injustice

Kind was the spirit in many a way

But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping

Now it's a monster and will not obey


The spirit was freedom and justice

And it's keepers seem generous and kind

It's leaders were supposed to serve the country

But now they won't pay it no mind

'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy

And now their vote is a meaningless joke

They babble about law and order

But it's all just an echo of what they've been told

Yeah, there's a monster on the loose

It's got our heads into a noose

And it just sits there watchin'

Our cities have turned into jungles

And corruption is stranglin' the land

The police force is watching the people

And the people just can't understand

We don't know how to mind our own business

'Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us

Now we are fighting a war over there

No matter who's the winner

We can't pay the cost

'Cause there's a monster on the loose

It's got our heads into a noose

And it just sits there watching


America where are you now?

Don't you care about your sons and daughters?

Don't you know we need you nowWe can't fight alone against the monster

© Copyright MCA Music (BMI)
All rights for the USA controlled and administered by
MCA Corporation of America, INC
--Used with permission--

Born To Be Wild
Words and music by Mars Bonfire

Get your motor runnin'

Head out on the highway

Lookin' for adventure

And whatever comes our way

Yeah Darlin' go make it happen

Take the world in a love embrace

Fire all of your guns at once

And explode into space

I like smoke and lightning

Heavy metal thunder

Racin' with the wind

And the feelin' that I'm under

Yeah Darlin' go make it happen

Take the world in a love embrace

Fire all of your guns at once

And explode into space

Like a true nature's child

We were born, born to be wild

We can climb so high

I never wanna die

Born to be wild

Born to be wild

© MCA Music (BMI)
All rights for the USA controlled and administered by
MCA Corporation of America, INC

--Used with permission--


From the 1968 release "Steppenwolf"

Words and music by Hoyt Axton

You know I've smoked a lot of grass

O' Lord, I've popped a lot of pills

But I never touched nothin'

That my spirit could kill

You know, I've seen a lot of people walkin' 'round

With tombstones in their eyes

But the pusher don't care

Ah, if you live or if you die

God damn, The Pusher

God damn, I say The Pusher

I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man

You know the dealer, the dealer is a man

With the love grass in his hand

Oh but the pusher is a monster

Good God, he's not a natural man

The dealer for a nickel

Lord, will sell you lots of sweet dreams

Ah, but the pusher ruin your body

Lord, he'll leave your, he'll leave your mind to scream

God damn, The Pusher

God damn, God damn the Pusher

I said God damn, God, God damn The Pusher man

Well, now if I were the president of this land

You know, I'd declare total war on The Pusher man

I'd cut him if he stands, and I'd shoot him if he'd run

Yes I'd kill him with my Bible and my razor and my gun

God damn The Pusher

Gad damn The Pusher

I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man\

© Irving Music Inc. (BMI)

--Used with permission--


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