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Are you ready?

Having written pop fantasies set in the fall of 1979 and the spring of 1975, we now go back to this time of year in 1970. I was too busy having a functional, pleasant visit with my family to get this written in time for Thanksgiving, but I like to imagine no one will really care.

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The mood in the three-bedroom ranch house has already been festering for months. There have been harsh words back and forth, and insults, and silent rejection, and tears.

It’s 11:30 on Thanksgiving morning — November 26, 1970, to be specific — and the teenage boy of the family still hasn’t made an appearance. His father begins to pace around the living room, an increasingly familiar anger building inside him; the relatives will be here soon.

Then, from the farthest room down the hall, a muffled, distorted din erupts … a sound that combines rolling tanks and roaring voices and mass frenzy.

Dad runs down the hall at a sprint and throws the door open, bringing the sound into point-blank trebly sharpness.

He has not heard a cacophony quite like it since he shouldered a rifle for Uncle Sam … and out of reflexive habit, he summons a voice he has not used since the last time he had to make himself heard over enemy fire.

“WHAT … IN THE FUCK … IS THAT NOISY SHIT?”

His son, slumped on the bed in a pool of long hair, doesn’t say anything. He just lets his dad get an abrasive faceful of the noise.

And it sounds …

(this is the point in the story where you turn the speakers on your computer up real, real high)

… like this.

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Lester Bangs once described Metal Machine Music as “the all-time guaranteed lease breaker.” I believe Grand Funk’s altogether less heralded Live Album might have been — as described above — one of the all-time guaranteed Thanksgiving breakers.

Here are the ingredients that make up my theory:

The generation gap. It’s pretty well-established at this point that the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

That’s not to overstate things — not every household was a generational war zone — but there were plenty of homes where parents and kids saw life from vastly different, and difficult-to-reconcile, perspectives.

The voice of teenage America. Every Grand Funk review I’ve read from the group’s first period of success (1969 to 1971) comments on the band’s remarkable connection with a youthful audience, and its complete inability to connect with anyone older. It’s as if Mark, Don and Mel broadcast on a frequency that didn’t come through clearly unless you were somewhere between 13 and 21.

So great was the disconnect that Lenny Kaye, reviewing Live Album for Rolling Stone, devoted 95 percent of his review to verbatim quotes from Grand Funk fans explaining why they liked the band — closing with the logic, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Or, take the aforementioned Lester Bangs, reviewing the Survival album in Rolling Stone later that same year:

“Grand Funk are one of the very few groups rising recently that do reflect the aspirations and attitudes of their audience in that most basic way. And they’ve achieved that vast consensus not only through hype but because they are that audience, are the rallying point for any sense of mass identity and community in Teenage America circa 1971.”

So, in a nation divided along generational lines (among others), Grand Funk carried the banner for one side about as strongly and divisively as any other American band.

Timing. After releasing three successful studio albums in a year’s time, GFR decided to commit its live show to vinyl. Two shows in Florida were recorded in June 1970, and the resultant live double album was released on Nov. 16 of that year — with no overdubs or other fancy sonic processing, according to the liner notes.

According to the RIAA’s searchable database of gold and platinum records, Live Album was certified gold on Nov. 23.

This suggests that a decent number of those American teens who’d tuned in to Grand Funk’s frequency had the record in their hands by Thanksgiving, and were primed and ready to give it a good loud spin if they wanted to.

Pure din. None of the above would have been an issue had Grand Funk gone back and neatly recut all their parts in the studio, the way major artists were already doing on their live albums in 1970. (GFR appears to have given in to the overdub temptation on its second live album, 1975’s well-manicured Caught In The Act.)

Instead, Live Album is — with a few exceptions — pretty much sheer jet takeoff from start to finish.

Grand Funk was never blessed with lyrical or melodic excellence. But they had amps enough to reach the back row of any festival, enough to make Nigel Tufnel look like Bert Jansch, and they didn’t believe in letting anyone in the same area code go home without getting the full experience.

Check out the version of “Paranoid” from Live Album — in particular, the point starting at about 3:40, when Mel Schacher’s overloaded-truck bass and Mark Farner’s thousand-pound-violin guitar get moments in the spotlight:

Out of concern that computer speakers do not do Live Album justice, I step in with a first-person testimonial, as someone who owns the record on original vinyl:

This is as grungy and simplistic as a major American rock band has ever gotten on record. And when played through a half-decent stereo system — or, even better, a deficient one — this is music to make the Sinatra generation feel like they’re passing through a garbage disposal, headfirst and slo-mo.

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Which brings us back to our aggrieved father and his passive-aggressive son, in their ranch house in Agawam or Omaha or Fresno or wherever.

What they do in the short term — at very least a pulled power cord, at most a fistfight — doesn’t really matter that much.

Nor does what they do in the long run. (I like to imagine the kid grows up and gets a job on the line at the local brewery, and years later, before lung cancer kills the old man, they share six-packs and shake their heads at the emotions that used to feel so strong.)

Instead, we’ll leave the moment unresolved on the knife’s edge, with rage surging on both sides, family ties forgotten, and the clamor of festival-level tube-driven white noise claiming sensory primacy over the scent of roasting turkey.

Behind.

Posted on

The Internet remains a wonderful tool for solving all of those little mysteries I’ve been carrying around for years. God only knows what I’d be without it.

Speaking of which, the ‘webs tonight have cleared up something I’ve wondered about for close to 30 years … a rock n’ roll mystery, and thus fair game for discussion on this blog.

photo

Years ago, somebody (possibly a Beach Boys-loving cousin) gave my dad a copy of the band’s 1973 live album The Beach Boys In Concert. He’s never been a BBs fan, but I took a shine to some of their music, and as a kid, I remember hearing the album several times.

In Concert, while surely improved by studio sweetening, is an excellent document of the band’s live show before it completely toppled over into nostalgia. Plain and simple, the record rocks. Compare the studio version of “Marcella” with the onstage version and tell me you disagree:

Not only was the music good, but Ed Caraeff’s cover photography provided evocative images of the live experience for a kid who hadn’t been to a concert yet. In particular, there’s one shot of Carl Wilson at the mic, spotlights bouncing off his hollowbody Epiphone Sheraton, that nails the touring-troubadour vibe as well as any live photo I’ve seen. He looks simultaneously like he’s working magic, and like he’s just another guy doing his daily job.

(Remarkably, it doesn’t seem to be on the ‘Net. Maybe it doesn’t speak to anyone else the way it spoke to me. Go buy the record and you’ll see it. — Edit: Actually, you can see it front and center in the video for the live version of “Marcella.” It appears at about 1:45 in.)

Caraeff’s gatefold photography also offered a curious glimpse at the petty bitchiness of the rock n’ roll life, in a clue the average listener could only guess at.

One of his backstage pictures shows early-’70s Beach Boys drummer Ricky Fataar slumped down in a chair in some interchangeable sports-arena dressing room, accompanied by an unidentifiable man in a football jersey.

I say “unidentifiable” because — in a crude bit of pre-Photoshop photo manipulation — the other guy’s face is blocked by the random and somewhat jarring image of an eight-ball.

Of course I knew the meaning of the term “behind the eight-ball” as a kid. I could only wonder what sort of backstage backstabbing could lead to such treatment. I assumed that the person pictured must have been well and truly on the outs with the BBs organization.

eightballI wasn’t the only person who wondered about it. A Google search turned up all manner of online speculation among Beach Boys fans. Among the leading candidates:

– Jack Rieley, the band’s short-tenured manager around that time. (Nope, the Internet chorused; Rieley is bulkier of build than the guy behind the eight-ball.)

– Brian Wilson, then making only occasional live appearances — and, by some tellings, only occasional contact with reality. (Nope again. ’72 Brian was also larger than the man in the picture, and at any rate, the Beach Boys didn’t have any clear reason to punk him that way.)

– Dennis Wilson, who — bereft of drumming duties — was kind of a man without a country in the ’72-’73 Boys’ live act. (Very likely nope. Dennis appears unaltered on the front and back covers, and in at least one gatefold shot.)

– Ed Carter, Beach Boys road guitarist. (I forget what the nope here was, but it wasn’t him either.)

It turns out that the guy behind the eight-ball wasn’t persona non grata after all. In fact, he would continue to be part of the band’s live show for the better part of the next decade.

According to multiple sources, the censored dude next to Fataar was keyboardist Carli Muñoz, who toured as the band’s keyboardist from 1970 to 1981. (Muñoz is one of several sidemen credited in the liner notes to In Concert, though his name is misspelled “Carly.”)

I’d heard of Muñoz before — most recently in the liner notes for Dennis Wilson’s reissued Pacific Ocean Blue album. Muñoz worked extensively with Wilson on Bambu, the never-released follow-up to Pacific Ocean Blue, until Wilson’s self-destructiveness drove him away. Five songs written or co-written by Muñoz appear on the bonus disc of Bambu recordings issued with the Pacific Ocean Blue re-release.

As is so often the case with sidemen and support players, Muñoz’s story is deeper and more interesting than that.

A native of Puerto Rico, he played in an early band with Jorge Calderon, who went on to become Warren Zevon’s longtime sideman and co-writer.

Muñoz also played with a wide-ranging variety of acts in addition to the Beach Boys — among them Wilson Pickett, Peter Cetera, the Association, and jazz drummer Chico Hamilton.

Today, he plays and records jazz and owns his own restaurant and nightclub in San Juan, where he often performs. (The site hasn’t been updated in a little while, so perhaps this is not the latest information.)

I cannot find a circulating explanation of Muñoz’s treatment on the In Concert cover. But he has confirmed to Beach Boys fans that it was him behind the eight-ball, and has even been known to autograph the picture, which is pretty cool of him.

Now that I’ve cleared this up, maybe I’ll spin the vinyl this weekend. Usually my ears gravitate to the vocals, but this time I’ll listen for the piano and organ parts, now that I know who’s playing them.

Even if I don’t know what he looked like.