Friday, July 20, 2007

Thursday Night in Williamsburg: Domenic Priore and "Riot on Sunset Strip" at Spoonbill & Sugartown

This report by Richard Grayson first appeared on Jeff Bryant's blog Syntax of Things (go there for the original links) on Friday, July 20, 2007:

"Rock history is fucked up," says Domenic Priore, author of the terrific Smile: Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece and other books, because its standard narrative about the 1960s West Coast scene concentrates on San Francisco's admittedly immense contributions to the virtual exclusion of the energy and innovations found in Los Angeles.

Last evening I walked over to Bedford Avenue here in Williamsburg, which we must never forget is the hipster capital of the known universe, for an appearance by Domenic at Spoonbill & Sugartown, the quirky and eclectic art bookstore. It's got an incredible selection of art, design and architecture stuff. Before the reading, I spent 15 minutes playing with a pop-up architectural history of the world, the perfect gift for the kid who wants to be Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid.

Domenic Priore's new book is Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock 'n' Roll's Last Stand in Hollywood, which presents a revisionist rock-history view of the years 1965-66 by focusing on L.A.'s vibrant youth culture, centered on Sunset Boulevard clubs -- among them, Pandora's Box, Trip, and It's Boss -- that introduced and nurtured such acts as The Doors, The Byrds, The Turtles, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas and the Papas, and others.

I was 14 and 15 back then, entranced both by the mod scene and the kids I saw dancing on such TV shows as "Shindig," "Shebang" and "Shivaree." LSD was still legal till October 1966 but life seemed so surrealistic to some teens that chemical enhancement was nice but not necessary.

Eventually the conservative city fathers felt things on the Strip were getting "out of hand" (reefers and race-mixing!) so the LAPD came in and busted young heads, and city supervisors used their zoning powers to basically shut down the clubs and the whole scene. (The clubs got away with having teens there by serving food and ID'ing everyone, stamping underage hands with the purple admonition "NO BOOZE FOR YOU!")

Domenic explained that when Las Vegas became the venue for Sinatra & company, their contracts with Vegas Strip hotels forbade them from continuing to perform regularly at Sunset Boulevard nightclubs like Dino's Lodge, Fred C. Dobbs, The Playboy Club and Ciro's -- which thus were free to morph into places that concentrated on the very different music of a younger generation.

The evening's highlight was a slideshow, with appropriate subtle background music featuring some dreamy favorites of the period, a slide show of Sunset Strip in the 1960s, with photos of the very young Beatles, Sonny & Cher, Mike Nesmith of the Monkees, the Doors, Marvin Gaye, Nico and the Velvet Underground, Turtles, and lots of Buffalo Springfield, along with the luxe exteriors and cool interiors which grew more and more psychedelic until the scene's end, its Griffith Park beads-and-good-vibes love-ins contrasting with the violence of the LAPD raids and the ultimate riots.

My personal favorite slide: a marquee featuring, among others, a group I liked a lot but probably haven't thought about in thirty years: The Peanut Butter Conspiracy.

The producers and movers and shakers behind this short-lived but exciting scene -- which affected fashion, art and design almost as much as music -- went on to take part in Monterey Pop and other seminal events that shaped the soundtracks of more than one generation's lives.

If you're interested in American rock history, Riot on Sunset Strip is an interesting addition to the literature about the 1960s West Coast scene -- at least to one old fart who can't help affecting a cheesy style when he writes about this stuff.

And if you're in Williamsburg and looking for an interesting bookstore, Spoonbill & Sugartown is the best one going on.

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