Thursday, July 16, 2015

behind of his times

A strange wishful nativist counterfactual fantasy about how rock history might have turned out differently....

"Imagine that the British Invasion of the US never happened, that the Beatles’ three-night stand on The Ed Sullivan Show never aired, and that American popular music in the 1960s developed on its own, without the introduction of a viral strain from across the Atlantic. What might it have sounded like?

"Maybe the answer lies in the music of Bobby Fuller, self-styled “Rock’n’Roll King of the Southwest”, , who died on 18 July 1966, aged 23, in mysterious circumstances."

This Guardian piece on a biography of Bobby Fuller concludes with this claim by the author Miriam Linna (interviewed in Retromania ) that if he hadn't died before an upcoming UK tour then "I honestly believe today’s music scene would be vastly different.[Fuller] would have represented the second coming of Buddy Holly, who eight years earlier had toured Britain, inspiring everyone from the fledgling Beatles to those guys who ended up being in a band called the Rolling Stones.

To which writer Chris Campion adds: "And maybe, just maybe, the Bobby Fuller Four would have spearheaded an American Invasion of Britain."

(Who else would have comprised this American invasion? And what would they have instituted, as conquerors of an England crazily creatively Swinging at that point - a Britannia ruling the airwaves globally?  They would have pushed Time counter-clockwise, taking us back to the days of Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran?!? 

The logic is so tangled it takes some unpicking.... what they are saying is, if Fuller had lived, then the Bobby Fuller Four would somehow have taken Britain by storm in 1966 (despite sounding distinctly old fashioned in the year of Revolver / "Tomorrow Never Knows", Yardbirds at their peak, Pink Floyd's first single, whatever the Kinks and Stones were up to, which was a lot, etc etc etc)....

... And this success would have been so total, it would somehow have steered rock history back in the righteous direction - reset rock's clock  - it would have thwarted Sgt. Pepper's  (and also Cream, and Jimi Hendrix Experience, and "Eight Miles High", and The Doors, and Jefferson Airplane, and Pet Sounds...) from either happening or having the same degree of impact they did in our reality... 

But as Campion himself notes earlier in the piece, on the subject of the group's one-and-only  hit (I'd say, sole claim-to-fame), when "I Fought The Law" made the US Top 10 in March 1966:

"the Bobby Fuller Four... gamely performed it on TV shows such as Hullabaloo and Shivaree, in jailhouse sets or backed by hot-stepping cowgirl go-go dancers brandishing six-shooters. With their distinctive Jay Sebring haircuts, Beatle boots and tailored suits, the Bobby Fuller Four looked curiously out-of-step with their shaggier and more outre peers on the Los Angeles music scene."

So even at his and their moment of triumph,  Bobby Fuller and his Four were behind of his times, behind of their times...

The whole thesis is epigonic turning-point-ism way beyond anything even our own Carmody has ever come up with!

Apart from not being a particularly desirable counterfactual scenario, afaic

A restorationist fantasy, rooted in the same sort of nativism that Carducci also evidences in Rock and the Pop Narcotic when he insists that the British Invasion was no great shakes really ... that the pulse of rock'n'roll was still vibrantly throbbing in America between 1960-63....  albeit regionally: the Pacific North West (the Sonics), the South West, various other peripheral zones   - and also in sub-styles like the surf groups, shindig type groups, Link Wray type stuff etc etc... 

I guess it's just too big a blow to national pride, for some, to accept that a country's pop music could be turned around like that by a buncha dang furriners...    especially ones who speak the same language but in those annoyingly effete, hoity-toity tones -  who hail from a motherland whose apron strings you'd thought were severed centuries earlier roundabout the time of  the Boston Tea Party...

And doubly hard to take if it's the same country that more recently exported such unrocking atrocities as The Human League and New Order...

The comments to the Guardian piece include quite a few examples of such American-Firstism, the rock equivalent of the Tea Party ... but also a number of enjoyable comments taking sceptical and dissectional issue with the premise. My favorite was this from one Fletcherabbit:

"This critic and the author of the book forming the grab amen of the piece are akin to those historians who would set forth that John C. Fremont and not Abe Lincoln was most vital in the founding of the Republican Party, or that modern era is founded in Mascagni rather than Wagner!"

Never liked the Clash's version - because of its quaint stumpy foursquare song-iness - and also because of its seeming fatalism / defeatism

You couldn't imagine the Sex Pistols covering this tune, could you?


  1. Music must always move forward, even if it's looking backwards there still has to be a forward momentum or it will die in the water. Bobby Fuller would have been a one hit wonder and nothing more contrary to what some people delude themselves into believing.

  2. Skepticism about the Brits doesn't have to be regressive. This big data study argues that Brit invasion didn't have much impact, but Hip hop did:

  3. The version that I grew up with:

  4. Seem to remember that people had some serious objections about that study's methodology and assumptions.... like for instance it being based on very narrow purely musical parameters.... not seeing pop as a totality experience thing, an audio visual phenomenon with image, lyrics, gesture, persona, style, hype, etc as much part of it as music (the Beatles phenomenon was as much about their personality - the humour the informality, Lennon's surliness etc - new things in pop music - and about their hair as it was the music). And even within the music criteria of the study it was - as i recall - quite a narrow set of parameters.

    but beyond that, the idea that a study can somehow prove that something that historically happened, didn't really happen or happen to the same intensity... it's daft. the perceptions of what happened and what mattered, at that time, and as subsequently sedimented through the retelling of that history - these are historical facts in themselves. Beatlemania was a mania. By suggesting that melodically or rhythmically they weren't a huge break with i dunno Buddy Holly or the Everleys or whatever, it doesn't suddenly evacuate the fact of Beatlemania or how their arrival was felt by huge number of young people in America - it doesn't evacuate that from History. Things like perception, impact, discourse are part of the stuff of History itself.

  5. Take your point, but the further we get away from Beatlemania the more it will look to people like 'hype', rather than a great cultural change. Fascinating, of course, that so many people allowed themselves to be caught up in it. But a strange event to be explained, like the reaction to Princess Diana's death.

  6. well the cult of Diana is hardly an insignificant cultural phenomenon ... these irrational upsurges of feeling - often seemingly about things that don't 'matter' - are the stuff of history, often deeply revealing of stresses and tensions caused by change and struggle

    all things become "strange" and needing-to-be-explained with the passage of time ... fascism, communism, jazz, Elvis Presley, football hooliganism.... the things that excited or riled up people in the 17th Century seem inexplicable to us .... doesn't mean they weren't momentous in their moment .... witch burning... the panic about infantile masturbation .... hysteria .... all kinds of fashions and fads

  7. My problem with the item in question is that the argument assumes that nativist American rock'n'roll would've triumphed. This ignores a an alternate history of the early-mid 1960s, one that Rolling Stone-mag style monolithic histories of rock music generally tend to ignore. Mainly because they based in the premise that from Bill Haley onward, rock dominated the music market. Not so. It faltered in the early 1960s, by which time Buddy Holly was dead, Jerry Lee Lewis had become a pariah for marrying his cousin, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were facing financial problems, and Elvis was in the Army. Record companies who hadn’t invested in rock’n’roll -- due to it being a “passing teen fad,” or “too controversial” for racial and classist reasons -- could breathe a sigh of relief for not having done so. Teeny-bopper music continued, but mainly by way of “safe” manufactured acts like Fabian and Pat Boone. The “folk revival” was still in full swing, becoming more and more of a commercial entity, if not reaching its saturation point. Jazz artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane had crossover success with occasional LPs that caught on with “sophisticated” audiences who usually paid scarce attention to jazz. And there was still of lot of Mitch Miller and Ferrante & Teicher types filling records bins, as well as all the weird adult-contempo “space age bachelor pad” mood music fare. In some ways, it was a very diverse market place -- one usually shaped by very self-(and class-)conscious notions of “taste.”

    But the arrival of Beatlemania (as well as the rise of Motown) changed all that, and sent the whole thing into a tailspin. The following two years saw scores of folkies switching over to rock because that was what what people wanted to hear, what might hopefully be a better-paying gig. And jazz labels like Blue Note sidelined a lot of their more adventurous or “avant” rosters for the sake of recording stuff that might appeal more to “the juke box set.” Hell, it even prompted a lot of “Latin” acts to try and appeal to younger listeners by including “boogaloo” and “shingaling” tracks on their albums.

    So yeah, as you tell, I’m inclined to concur with the “strange wishful nativist counterfactual fantasy” verdict; and dismiss it as a fanciful, far-fetched, unlikely what-if scenario.

  8. Yes.... Greil Marcus, when I interviewed him, said that when he went up to university in 1963 - ie. just before the Beatles impacted America - none of his contemporaries were listening to rock'n'roll. That would have been an expired early-teen enthusiasm for some; others, something that had never affected them. In the early Sixties, young middle class college-attending or college-bound people were into jazz or folk. I think he said he brought a few early Dylan albums with him when he started at Berkeley. Rock'n'roll - at least for your middle class college types - was a memory, a juvenile infatuation left behind. I dare say the nativist revisionists are correct about a grass roots, regional persistence of rock'n'roll as small combos playing small clubs - your Link Wrays and Dick Dales and the Sonics and so forth - that is often discounted in accounts that tend to over-emphasis Huge Breaks and Giant Shifts. But in terms of mass culture, rock'n'roll had seemed to have faded away. Marcus said the effect of the Beatles's TV appearances was electrifying among his contemporaries on campus. Sometimes these myths, as annoyingly sedimented as they are, and wearyingly retold, to the point of becoming a burden on subsequent generations and thus tempting to attempt to whittle away at - they turn out to be based in historical actuality.

  9. I think it's worth noting that Miriam Linna's bread & butter is a label that specializes in reissues of regional 60s rock'n'roll so she's obviously going to feel quite strongly about how amazing music of that ilk is

  10. yeah i interviewed her for Retromania round at Norton HQ. i would say in this case the day job has distorted her perspective on history a little!