Tag Archives: The Beatles

50 Yrs Ago Today: When Paul Visited Haight-Ashbury to Preview Sgt. Pepper’s

Hard to believe that it’s been 50 years to the day since The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Today’s debut of The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM radio is part of a summer long salute to the band — and album.

One of two albums that defined the “Summer of Love” over all others: Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”. Marty Balin is back row right.

Besides its revolutionary use of the studio and the musical virtuosity of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the album symbolized a time of freedom, expression, consciousness, music, and the hopes of a new generation like no other. It, along with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, also served as the musical symbols of the #SummerofLove in San Francisco.

Interestingly, it was a visit Paul McCartney made to San Francisco in April, 1967, and the story Jefferson Airplane vocalist-songwriter-mastermind and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin told me about the visit, that sparked the beginnings of my new novel, Voices. 

Debuting 50 years ago today, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Published by Open Books Press, Voices is a father-daughter-lost daughter story that celebrates the Summer of Love as the launching point for both story and main character, rock legend Tom Timoreaux. It’s also the music novel I’ve wanted to write after covering bands, albums, concerts and events the past 40 years, currently as editor of the Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards publications and co-author of Stevie Salas’ memoir, When We Were The Boys.

Voices traces the beginnings of Tom and his band, The Fever, in 1967 San Francisco, with the Summer of Love and its enormous impact on music, culture and lives fully recounted through the characters. With festivities cranking up now in San Francisco, it’s a fun time to have a book that roots itself in that amazing short-lived scene.

Back to Paul’s visit, as recounted by Marty from his Haight Ashbury home when I was working with him for his memoir, Full Flight, back in 2001. Bear in mind: When Paul visited, Jefferson Airplane was the psychedelic rock band, thanks to Surrealistic Pillow, which was bulleting to the top of the charts. The Beatles were coming off Rubber Soul and Revolver, with no one yet knowing of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:

Marty Balin, now and then

“We were rehearsing in The Fillmore on an early April day. We were sitting below the stage, in this big room, playing by ourselves,” Marty said. “Suddenly, a big guy comes in wearing a suit and tie – it was Beatles road manager Mal Evans. He booms out in his thick British accent, ‘Master Paul McCartney’d like to visit.’

“What? ‘Well, then send him in,’ I said.

“In comes Paul. Man, we freaked out. I mean, any commercial success we were enjoying was due to The Beatles coming to America in the first place. So we sat around and talked about The Beatles, about the Airplane, about music in general.

“We broke up our rehearsal and went back to the apartment Jack and I shared, in this old Victorian off Haight and Fell. Jack and Paul got into a discussion about bass playing; the British musicians were learning what we already knew, that Jack was brilliant. Jorma and Jack kept trying to get Paul to jam with them; they were noodling all the time on their guitars. Jack took Paul back to his hotel room that night, so I’m sure they talked a lot more about music. There’s a story that Paul tried to play, but couldn’t, because he’s left-handed and Jack had a right-handed bass. I don’t know.

A typical day during the Summer of Love — music, hanging out, self-discovery

“I do know Paul just wanted to relax. He was mainly interested in shooting home movies of the Haight-Ashbury scene. I told Paul about some of the things happening in the Haight, and gave him some places to shoot. Ever since the early days of The Beatles, he’d taken the little home movie camera around and filmed the places and excitement surrounding them. He liked to film the scenes, gallery openings, people in their element; he wasn’t reclusive like John. Paul was always going out, socializing, meeting people.

“Later, I went into my room to get away from the crowd that was in the main part of the house. Paul came in, and we talked a little more about music. ‘What’s new with The Beatles?’ I asked. ‘What’s next?’

Paul smiled. “Oh, I happen to have a little tape here.”

He pulled a tape out and we put it on. It was the song “A Day In The Life.” (“I read the news today, oh boy…”) I just about lost it; I could not believe what I was hearing. Up until then, The Beatles had been like Gods to us. Anything they did was amazing, and in 1964 and 1965, it seemed that every two weeks, they had a new single. They were fantastic, and an inspiration to just about everybody in the rock music world.

“So he played this song. I just did not have the words to describe it. ‘Man, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,’ I said.

This is one of many classic rock & roll experiences that weaves its way through Voices, which I will be sharing throughout the summer as the book makes its way into bookstores and online booksellers — and my signing appearances. I share it first because Marty Balin inspired me to write the book, with stories like this, and with his cool, quiet, understated way of using his magical tenor chops to become “The Voice” — literally, that was his nickname among his peers and early fans, and hence, inspiration for the book title. He and I also brainstormed  off my original story line while walking a very crowded Haight Street prior to the 2001 Haight Street Festival (as reimagined in Chapter 18 of Voices). That basic story line is very close to the final version.

Many more stories behind the writing of Voices are coming. Most of all, on this 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s my salute to what rock, pop, folk and blues music have meant, how they’ve informed my generation, and it also shows the beauty of music to bring us together in a spirit of joy and companionship, no matter our beliefs or world views.

Voices is now available through bookstores nationwide, on all online booksellers, and of course, on Amazon.com. Hope you enjoy it, and please post a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads — 50 words will do (and a few stars!).




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When You’re 64: A Creative & Musical Celebration

This piece is dedicated to my dear friend, Nakula Cryer

 Last Friday night, I won a “guess the age” raffle. How did I know? When the birthday boy surprised 70 people at his party by stepping up to the microphone and began singing:

When I get older losing my hair,

Many years from now,

Will you still be sending me a valentine

Birthday greetings bottle of juice? (substituted for “wine”)

Like countless other Baby Boomers who have memorized Paul McCartney’s wonderful song “When I’m 64”, I wondered what it would be like to attend your own 64th birthday party and serenade your spouse or significant other with this song. I found out at Ananda College of Living Wisdom, where I teach writing, social media and online communication. The students and Nakula’s wife, Ananda College Chairperson of the Board Nischala Cryer, declared a party with a hippie theme — reminding me very much of my surprise birthday parties when I turned 30 and 40 — and we gathered to honor the college president, Nakula Cryer.

If I’d been out till quarter to three

Would you lock the door,

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Nakula spent the week playing coy about his age, even creating a “guess my age” raffle. I played coy with him, too, bolstered by an intuitive hunch that this was his year, the year many Baby Boomers consider magical because of this magical song on The Beatles’ magical Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. More on that in a moment. We decked out the dining room in full party regalia, and the cooks prepared pasta with alfredo, marinara and pesto sauces for the expected crowd.

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo

You’ll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)

And if you say the word,

I could stay with you.

We gathered and ate, students and faculty dressed in various forms of hippie garb, the guests looking like they’d missed their ride on the fashion time machine. Soon, it became apparent this was more than a party. This rainy night blossomed into a musical, entertaining, poignant, humorous and creative tribute to a man who, with Nischala, acted upon the quite remarkable vision of uniting yoga philosophy, forward-thinking Education for Life practices, liberal arts and inspirational arts into a four-year college that now draws students from throughout the world. I know one thing, realizing there is some bias in this remark: I would do anything to attend this college. Not only do brains get informed, but lives get transformed and deepened here.

After a fine musical performance by guest singers, members of the faculty took turns roasting Nakula in a soft, gentle way through song and funny lyrics. Everyone laughed, including the guest of honor. Then my prized poetry student, Bardia Behmard, recited a piece about nicknames he composed for the occasion; seems Nakula tagged him with the nickname “The Bard.” Appropriate, considering this young man’s gift for verse. The way he writes, I sometimes wonder if someone reached back into the hallowed deserts of Ancient Persia and transplanted him in the Sierra foothills.

I could be handy mending a fuse

When your lights have gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside

Sunday mornings go for a ride.

The next bit of entertainment stirred our hearts: Kamran, the principal-in-waiting at Ananda’s Living Wisdom (High) School and a former teacher at Huntington Beach (CA) High School, reciting Walt Whitman’s immortal ode to Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done…” During his recitation, all of the students stood up on chairs, recreating the closing scene of the great Robin Williams movie Dead Poets Society, and paid tribute to the captain of their collegiate ship. Beautiful.

Kamran’s performance of “O Captain! My Captain!” moved us, but the next few minutes surprised and delighted us: Nakula, along with our resident master soloist and music mentor, Chaitanya Mahoney, and two guitarists moved to center stage with their “band.” Nakula stepped up and belted out “When I’m 64” in perfect pitch, perfect meter …

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Afterward, Nakula and the others sang the front and back of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, along with “With A Little Help from My Friends,” the Who’s “My Generation,” and of course, The Beatles’ rowdy “Happy Birthday.” (We also sang the more traditional version, complete with three birthday cakes that were wheeled out for Nakula and Kayla, one of our students, whose birthday was the following day). I sat back, marveling at the beauty of this occasion — a 64-year-old man singing lead at his own birthday party, surrounded by people ages 3 to 88 who love him dearly.

Sitting at the back of the room, my heart warmed with deep gratitude for the twists and turns that landed me here to teach such attuned and brilliant students. This college focuses on the qualities that bring out the best in us as individuals, and helps us to bring out the best in each other. We not only offer these students the richest and most attentive college education you can imagine, but also inspire them to lead with their hearts. We prepare them to go into the world ready to raise the spirits and touch the dreams of everyone they meet or with whom they do business. If there is a teacher’s heaven, I’m in it.

Every summer we can rent a cottage

In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear

We shall scrimp and save

Grandchildren on your knee

Vera, Chuck, and Dave

After the rousing musical performance, Nakula drew the “guess my age” raffle ticket. After a few misses that prompted sour looks — 67, 68, 66 — he held my ticket. He called me up to the front, and shared with all of us the only poem he ever wrote — a six-line nod to a gardener at Tassajara, the Zen Buddhist retreat in Big Sur. I knew his age all week. This birthday party’s theme song had been playing in my head the whole time. But I didn’t stand up there with an ear-to-ear smile because of winning a raffle. I looked out at the people and thought to myself, “This is what everyone was singing about and yearning for in the ’60 and early ‘70s; these people figured it out.”

With that, Nakula thanked everyone for coming to his party — and we wiped the floor clear of tables and chairs and really cranked it up. The speakers popped with the soundtrack of our generation. We sang along and danced, Nakula and Nischala often in the middle of their circle of friends, moving to the music that defined our journeys into adulthood. More than once, I looked over to the students, some of whom were dancing with faculty, some with each other. To a person, they were blown away at the way our generation took over the dance floor and owned it. For two solid hours, we celebrated the Beatles, Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers, Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Kinks, Monkees, Beach Boys, Five String Electrical Band (remember the 1971 mega-long hair hit, “Signs”?), Tower of Power, Sly & The Family Stone, until we brought the house down with a rousing sing-a-long of the finale, Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.”

Ken Rauen, our resident DJ, was dialed into the night. It showed in his song selection. Every tune carried messages of love, joy, happiness, peace, the power of dream, heart, beauty and/or hope. So much for those who think all rock music is a dark, Satanic rhythm. Think again.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,

Stating point of view.

Indicate precisely what you mean to say

Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

 At around 11, we erased the dance floor, pushing the tables back into place. A weary but elated Nakula hugged me, then he and Nischala said goodnight and walked to their house. I walked toward my abode, and saw three students sitting on a couch in the lounge. One was Chitra, my soon-to-graduate student and web designer for Word Journeys. She sat there, buzzing but exhausted after dancing her heart out all night, dressed in full hippie regalia — skirts, beads, colorful top, headband.

She smiled and shook her head. She looked at her fellow students, then at me. “We might wear the clothes, listen to the music and talk the talk, but you guys really know how to rock!”

 Yes, we do. We also know how to love and how to live.

 Give me your answer, fill in a form

Mine for evermore

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?


Happy Birthday, Nakula. May 64 be your greatest year yet.

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