I don’t know how many boomers out there want to (or CAN) remember 1967 and its big “Summer of Love” thing. Well, here comes another groovy memory-jogger: June 16-18 is the 52nd anniversary of the famous Monterey (California) International Pop Music Festival, widely considered the most impressive hickey on the Summer of Love’s neck, and the standard-setter for all big-time rock festivals to follow, including Woodstock.
I’ve read that Monterey Pop, as it’s known, was supposed to be the first of endless annual love-ins. But it turned out to be the last, apparently due to a serious shortage of good vibes. Seems the 200,000-plus people who attended quickly used up all the positive karma they’d brought with them, forcing the City of Monterey to empty its municipal Strategic Love Reserve.
Considering that Monterey Pop was a once-in-a-lifetime event, you’d think the official City of Monterey website would have lots to say about it. But surprisingly, an historical timeline on the site gives the fest no more exposure than the 1900 opening of Monterey’s first fish canning and reduction plant (which also had a dance hall). Of course, compared to Monterey Pop, the canning plant/dance hall generated way fewer complaints about odor.
There’s apparently never been a reminiscence of Monterey Pop that sheds light on one of its more morbid storylines. Until now.
See, among the Festival’s chief claims to fame is that it launched several musical acts into superstardom, particularly Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. The downer is, within the next 28 months, all of them died. Poor Redding departed in a plane crash. But Hendrix and Joplin took a somewhat more, ahem, active role in their expirations, and maybe it’s just me, but to this day, their drugged-out demises seem like pretty questionable career moves.
Now you know that I’m a pretty sunny, “look-on-the-bright-side-there-must-be-a-bright-side-I’m-gonna-find-a-bright-side-if-it-kills-me” type person. But here I submit another snarky and irony-drenched tidbit about the Monterey love-in, from the website of a photographer named Larry Keenan, who spent the festival snapping up-close and personal pix of the performers. Keenan says: “I had a backstage pass because I was exhibiting my work at the festival in a little pavilion; all my photographs were stolen.”
Surprisingly, even The Beach Boys – who helped organize Monterey Pop -- robbed it of some of its love. They cancelled their scheduled performance, and years later, it was revealed that one of the Boys opposed Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of the show, saying it was, and I quote, “a plot to get the nation’s youth hooked on soda.” The Beach Boy who feared this? Mike Love.
But enough negative nattering. Monterey Pop still had a whole lotta love. For example, the event’s proceeds were all donated to charity, and there were no deaths or arrests (a fact that kind of ticks off Larry Keenan). Monterey’s Deputy Chief of Police was quoted as saying “We’ve had more trouble at PTA conventions.” Which makes me think, wowie, Monterey’s PTA meetings in the ‘60s must’ve totally rocked!
I’ve also read there were no drug overdoses during the Festival. Whaddya bet that’s an unfinished sentence, that should’ve ended “Well, none that disrupted the event anyway.”
Credit for this goes to Monterey Pop’s volunteer first-aid team, which used sophisticated medical techniques such as, and I quote, “cooling out people who were freaking due to ingested substances.”
The leader of the medical team was a Dr. Bowersocks, whose goofy name was usually all it took to cool out freaking people. (I figured “Dr. Bowersocks” was some kind of far-out, 60s-era pseudonym, like Wavy Gravy, or Tiny Tim, or Spiro Agnew. But No. 5 son Googled him and said he’s real, and even graduated at the top of his class at Hogwarts.)
Unfortunately, even Dr. Bowersocks had no bippety-boppety-boo to save the wounded instruments of The Who, who famously smashed and trashed all their gear during their Monterery Pop set. Then remembered they had five more songs to play.
Nor could he rescue Hendrix’ guitar, after Jimi barbecued it with lighter fluid and a match.
Interestingly, all this onstage mayhem may actually have been Monterey Pop’s most enduring legacy. It led all sorts of performers to up the ante on their “showmanship.” Why the very next day, the peaceable Ravi Shankar got into the spirit, concluding his performance by giving his sitar a VERY stern scolding.