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MUSIC: Let your kid go to the gig

The Happening. or, Why I Bought Tickets to a 50 Cent Concert
Jeffrey Beyl

' When I was twelve years old my father took me to my first Happening. My life hasn’t been the same since

When I was twelve years old my father took me to my first "Happening".
"A what?" my brother and I asked in unison when he told us where we were going.
"A Happening" said my father. He was merging into the traffic of the Bayshore freeway. We were headed north from the San Francisco airport toward "the City" where my older brother and I were to spend a long weekend visiting our father.
"What’s happening?" I asked him. He looked back over his shoulder at me. As the younger brother I was consigned to the backseat.
"It’s not what’s happening" he said. "It’s a Happening."
I was cool. I was trying to be cool, at least. I was a kid crammed into the backseat of his father’s Volvo wanting his father to think he was cool, so I said, "Oh, okay, that’s cool. Well then, what’s a Happening?"
"You’ll see," he said and he winked at me in the rear view mirror.
We drove north toward the City. "That’s the Cow Palace over there," he said pointing to a large building off to the left. "That’s where the Beatles played."
As we neared the City my father asked the obligatory questions that a father asks his sons when they live a long distance away and he sees them only a couple times a year. "How is school? Are you guys keeping up on your homework? Do you have girlfriends? Do you even like girls yet?"
We answered, of course, in the standard grunts of twelve and fourteen year old punks who think they’re cool. "Okay. Fine. Yup. Naw. Mmmm." But I had questions of my own. "So, Dad," I asked. "What’s up? Where are we going?"
"I told you. To a Happening."
"Yeah, but, what’s happening?"
"I told you. It’s not what’s happening. It’s a Happening."
"But what happens at a Happening?"
"A Happening happens," he said.
"A Happening happens?"
"What’s that mean?"
"You’ll see," he said and that’s all that he said as we entered the City.

A Happening happens. I wondered what that meant but I was soon to find out.
It was 1967. The Summer of Love was just kicking off. That year we lived, my brother and I, with our mother in a house on a bluff overlooking the ocean in southern California. Our house was set back in some tall eucalyptus trees with a large lawn of crabgrass out front and a walkway lined with beach pebbles and edged with abalone shells leading out to the bluff overlooking the sea. There was a bench set out on the point and in the evenings we would sit out on the bench and watch the sun set. When the tide was in down below we could look down into the water and could sometimes see sharks cruising along the shallows and the inner, rocky areas of the reef. This was the same stretch of water that we would surf at low tide. When the tide was out the waves would form on an undersea ridge and push upward toward the shallower water to curl off in both directions. At low tide the sharks stayed out beyond the kelp line and we could surf without worrying about them.

The property next to ours was an avocado orchard. We used to sneak over the fence, climb the trees and pick the avocados. We would take them down the trail to the beach and eat them before going surfing or snorkeling. There was a large gully on the other side of our property. Coyotes and bobcats lived over in the gully and big barn owls nested up in the crevices of the steep gully walls.

My bedroom was on the western side of the house so I could always see the ocean in the distance. There were lemon bushes outside my window and when the window was open my room always smelled of lemon. That spring a hummingbird had built a tiny, pouch-like nest in amongst the leaves of one of the lemon bushes. The eggs were like little marbles and I would lie on my bed with my chin on the window ledge and stare through the glass at the delicate hummingbird sitting on the fragile eggs. The mother hummingbird stared at me, I stared at her and when the baby hummingbirds hatched one of our cats got them. I was furious but the cats knew that that was the way of things. Sometimes at night the coyotes or the barn owls would come over from the gully and take our cats.

We spent a lot of time on the beach. My brother and I would play Frisbee and search the tide pools for abalone shells to place along the walkway and for octopus and at high tide the sharks would cruise along the edges of the reef and at low tide we would surf and the waves would curl in and the sun would set and we would watch the gray whales pass on their way to and from the breeding waters in Baja. I was just a kid. I ran with the dogs on the beach and climbed the avocado trees. I poked around in the tide pools and played catch with my brother but something was beginning to happen. Something was stirring.

Then one night in San Francisco my father took me to my first Happening. That was my entrance into the Summer of Love. That was when my life changed. The Happening happened, all right. It happened at The Fillmore Auditorium. It happened thanks to The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and The Quicksilver Messenger Service. Looking back now that was not bad for a first rock concert.

Climbing the stairs into The Fillmore Auditorium in 1967 as a twelve year old kid was like stepping into a phantasmagoric dream world of sights, sounds, colors and motion. I was swept up the stairs on a comet tail of strobe lights, outlandish sights and throbbing rock and roll. I remember there was a barrel of apples at the top of the stairs in the lobby area. A sign told us to "Take One", so we did. The walls of the lobby were covered with posters and psychedelic drawings with so many colors playing against each other they almost seemed to move and jump. Entering the main auditorium the music grew louder and more thunderous. I could feel the vibration of it in my ribcage. The ambient light grew darker punctuated by the flash of strobe lights which made the fluid dancing of the crowd appear jerky and erratic. People’s eyes shone purple in the neon glow of black lights. A Hell’s Angel walked by (Wow! A real Hell’s Angel). Guys with long hair and beads, girls with long hair and beads and colorful, flowing clothing all swaying rhythmically with the music. Another Hell’s Angel walked by chanting "Acid. Speed. Grass." I didn’t understand. The place smelled of incense and sweat. Light and color pulsed like a heartbeat. Behind the stage a liquid light show splashed onto the wall in time with the pounding and shrieking of the music. All clichés aside, I had arrived in Wonderland and it was, indeed, happening.

When I was twelve years old my father took me to my first Happening. My life hasn’t been the same since. It was a coming of age experience. It was a rite of passage. It changed the course of my life. It blew open a new pathway and beckoned me forth. It sucked me in like Charybdis. For me, there has never been a turning around. It was my baptism by fire. I now measure my life in rock and roll stages. Oh, I still ran on the beach and climbed up into the avocado trees to eat the green fruit. I still surfed and snorkeled and pried abalone off the rocks and watched the sharks at high tide but a new world was opening. The fog of childhood was clearing and I was looking down a path lined with rock and roll bands and electric guitars and, thanks to Grace Slick looking so sultry and beautiful on the Fillmore stage that night, girls. And I’ve never looked back. Till now.

But music changes, styles change and the world turns, as they say. I now have a thirteen year old son. I remember the feelings I had back in the year 1967 when new things and new desires came to me and I can see it in my son. I can see that he wants to venture down that pathway and jump into the whirlpool of life.
There is an upcoming concert event called "Summer Jam" this summer at The Gorge Amphitheater in George, Washington, which features a number of currently popular hip hop/rap artists. Specifically it headlines an artist by name of 50 Cent, whose music my son happens to like. What kind of name is 50 Cent, you ask? Well, what kind of name was The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin? I remember seeing bands at The Fillmore with such diverse and different names as Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Buffalo Springfield.

Anyway, my son asked me if he could go to the concert and I promptly went and purchased tickets. This has turned into one of the more controversial things I have ever done. I’m not going to go into a long description of who 50 Cent is. All of the local paper, television and radio stations have taken care of that for me. If you have teenage kids or pay attention to popular music then you probably know who he is.

Now, folks, let me say that I am not trying to sell tickets to Summer Jam. But why am I letting my young, thirteen year old son go even though several of his friend’s parents think I am either irresponsible or crazy?
Well, when I was twelve years old my father took me to my first Happening. That night I saw The Grateful Dead, The Jefferson Airplane and a band called The Quicksilver Messenger Service. My life has been enriched by that decision of his. At least I think so. Some great music came from those years. Classic rock, as it’s called now. When I was thirteen years old, I saw The Doors in L.A. You think 50 Cent is controversial? What about Jim Morrison? When I was fourteen years old, in 1969, I went to see Jimi Hendrix. Some of the recollections I have of seeing certain bands back then constitute some of my best memories. If my father hadn’t taken me to The Fillmore Auditorium that night back in 1967, well, if…..
So what should I do? Should I not allow my son the opportunity to go see a musical artist, in fact, several musical artists that he likes as much as I liked Janis Joplin? Will I live to regret it? Is this a mistake? I’m not letting him go alone. I will be there with him. I may not be a hip hop fan but I think he deserves the right to dig the music of his day. I deserved that right when I was his age.

As parents we each have to make our own decisions regarding our children. I certainly don’t subscribe to some of the things other parents let their kids do. Likewise many don’t agree with my decision to let my son go to the 50 Cent concert. This guy 50 Cent may not be the musician that Hendrix was or the lyricist that Jim Morrison was or the singer that Marty Balin of The Jefferson Airplane was. I agree. However, he is what is popular today (whether that is much to my chagrin is beside the point). I hope that someday, perhaps when he is in his thirties, perhaps his forties, my son looks back with a nod of nostalgia and appreciation for the fact that his father helped open the way to a pathway of music appreciation and experience as I do. When I was twelve years old my father took me to my first Happening.

© Jeffrey Beyl June 2003
Shoreline, WA.

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