“Hey kids, plug into the faithless
Maybe they're blinded
But Bennie makes them ageless
We shall survive, let us take ourselves along
Where we fight our parents out in the streets
To find who's right and who's wrong...”
That's from the Elton John/Bernie Taupin classic “Bennie and the Jets.”
It's been going thru my mind the past few days when thinking about my friend -and godfather of the Springfield, MO, rock n roll scene- Benny Mahan.
Benny has been laid up in the CCU after a triple (possibly quadruple) by-pass surgery on Monday. He hasn't awakened yet but is holding on and making whatever progress is available to the comatose. I just read on BookSpaceFacePlace that he was semi off the ventilator. But yesterday I read he had died. Instant news is like Tang. Instant, but not really orange juice.
On the surface, the song “Bennie and the Jets” is a period piece.
It seems to be Sir Elton and Bernie Taupin's acknowledgment of a new era: This was the just-shy-of punk era, after glam had reared his/her head and proto-punk bands like The Stooges and The MC5 had already fizzled. But they had left their burn on a generation waiting to play it loud.
The Velvet Underground had subverted a small but fanatic following. Lou Reed, under Bowie's wings had broken the Top 40.
Power pop had been invented by The Raspberries, Badfinger and the VENERABLE, quintessential power pop band, Big Star.
And Bowie had changed the world (drawing on many of the above bands as inspiration) by being Ziggy Stardust. It's heresy, I know, but I liked “Hunky Dory” (just prior to “Ziggy”) and “Alladin Sane” (just after) much more than “Ziggy.”
It was the Ziggy record that tore the roof off the sucker though. A day the world changed.
That's the vibe that Elton and Bernie were feeling with “Bennie and the Jets.”
And it can translate to any era.
Imagine seeing Louis Armstrong for the first time. Or Robert Johnson. Or Charlie Parker, Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk or John Coltrane.
Or Frank Sinatra or Tony Bennett.
Or Little Richard. Or Gene Vincent. Or Buddy Holly.
Or The Quarrymen/Silver Beetles in Hamburg. Or Dylan. Or Buffalo Springfield.
Or Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix is the absolute for me. I wrote a song for a woman I loved (and still do) called “You're My Jimi Hendrix.” Anything I experience that I consider beyond compare is a “Jimi Hendrix.”
IT'S ABOUT SEA CHANGES & PARADIGM SHIFTS.
“Oh Candy and Ronnie have you seen them yet? Oh!, but they're so spaced out.
B B B B B B B Bennie and the Jets.”
IT'S ABOUT FINDING SOMETHING THAT MAKES YOU UNDERSTAND YOU AREN'T ALONE.
It can happen on grand (if you live in London, New York, LA or the like) or a small (like the rest of us) scale. But the revelation is primordial. A thunderbolt. And nothing will ever be the same.
Some people never have this moment. They go on to live boring, although self satisfied, lives. And god bless 'em.
Some see a glimpse but don't respond. They become “normal.”
Others get it, very intensely and then lose it. They will never quite forget it.
Others get it and never lose it. They remain obsessed with the mojo. Some manage to find real lives and good paying jobs. Some die.
Some get trapped in limbo waiting for their vision of fruition.
Some run with the vibe and end up never ending up.
For better or worse, I am one of the latter.
Rock n roll -like Homer Simpson says of alcohol- has been both the solution to, and cause of, all of my life's problems.
I never would have survived high school without Jimmy, Dale, David, Dave, Ray, Larry, Terry and Tom. But maybe I would have gone to college and been somewhat employable at 56.
There's no time machine so I try not to dwell on that shit.
Oh but they're weird and they're wonderful
Oh Bennie she's really keen
She's got electric boots, a mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine
Benny Mahan changed the Springfield music scene in the early 1960s with his rock n roll band The Ravens. I never saw them but my cousin played guitar with them and they were legendary. They caused more bands to be formed in Springfield, MO than anyone will ever be able to count. Benny changed the world. Lew Taylor and his band The Seven Days did so as well.
The Esquires changed my world. I saw them late in my eighth-grade year. They, and The Jaguars, were the cool bands of the time. Later they combined members and became The Lavender Hill Mob, a band that inspired yet another generation of young people to start bands. I saw The Electric Prunes at SMS my freshman year in high school (with Jimmy, David and Dale...”Bubble”) and “The Mob” opened. They were wearing matching yellow robe type things and did Vanilla Fudge's version of “You Keep Me Hangin' On.” It was so fucking intense. And we KNEW we could have a band. And we did. We got gigs in our freshman year and by the time we were sophomores we were playing every weekend. And we got good.
Other bands above us were The Dimensions, who later became Pure Sunshine. Their lead singer, Charlie McCall (RIP) was one of the coolest guys around. And they were a great band. General Scott's Limousine had a multi-colored hearse they traveled in and were on par with The Lavender Hill Mob. Marty Barin was their lead singer and was hippie cool, when hippie cool was kicking in.
On Valentine's Day 1970 Bubble opened for The Turtles at The Shrine Mosque and it was the BIG TIME for us. We had seen The Box Tops (with Alex Chilton) a few months before and The Turtles were Top Ten legends. AND WE OPENED FOR THEM.
Things changed shortly after, I got booted from Bubble and joined Papa John which became Five Star Cadillac Band. Pure Sunshine disbanded and Charlie started Irving with some of the Mob guys. Smitty and his band Zap came along and were doing Uriah Heep and Deep Purple while Five Star was doing Stones and Allman Brothers.
The flux fluxed.
When Granny's Bathwater came on the scene it was too much to believe. Horns, rock n roll, soul, R&B and FUNK. And Benny was singing with them on and off.
I moved to California but came back in short order and started Baby LeRoy Band. Stevie and Terry and Tom had The Queen City Punks (pre-punk rock and I made up the name), Jimmy had been through Hangdog with Billy Pool and he and Dale and David reunited to form Fools Face.
Looking back on it all, it seems like things were changing monthly, but at the time it seemed like a natural progression.
We listened to everything from Bowie and T Rex and Alice Cooper to the Stones and Allman Brothers and Yes and Jethro Tull and Nazz (who had changed Bubble's lives earlier) and Iggy and The MC5 and Waylon Jennings and other outlaws.
It was all a melting pot.
Everyday was important. Every few weeks there was a paradigm shift.
And we all were amazed and amused.
And Benny was always there. Always doing something no one else was doing. In these days bands would play 4 hours a night, 6 nights a week for months at a time.
The first 5 Star gig was in Tulsa. We had been rehearsing for about three weeks and we had to play SIX SETS A NIGHT. In Birmingham we did SEVEN, except on Friday and Saturday when we did EIGHT. And, the owner stiffed us on our pay.
There's much more to this story for the next segment which begins in 1976.
The fuel for these memories is the sad plight of Benny Mahan. The world of rock n roll, as seen through the eyes of Springfield, MO, would be drastically different without him.
God speed, my friend.
Hey kids, shake it loose together
The spotlight's hitting something
That's been known to change the weather
We'll kill the fatted calf tonight
So stick around
You're gonna hear electric music
Solid walls of sound
Benny and the Jets, indeed. The circumstances may be different but the changes are the same. Wonder, joy, confusion, knowledge, pathways, LIFE.
wunderle - 9/2009