The trip to Rhode Island was mostly uneventful. Julie and I both seemed to take a bit of comfort in the ride, getting away from California and all of our problems there. During the day we talked and laughed. If we were not too far into the middle of nowhere we listened to the radio. At night, though, the mood changed and a sort of loneliness came over us settling in the car like black smoke. This got worse for me the closer we got to Ohio. We had silently agreed to go around the state completely because home was the last place we wanted to see. Strange, then, how I found myself thinking about how simple things were there and how different I had become in the last year.
We finally arrived in Newport the first evening of the festival, June twenty-fourth. We had planned to see only Sunday’s show because that was when Dylan was set to perform. To celebrate our arrival we did what we enjoyed doing most. We got hammered. There I was, as drunk as I had ever been, trying to type up questions to ask the great Mr. Dylan while attempting not to think of Brian. How envious he would be if he knew we were going to see and possibly meet Dylan, I thought. Unless of course he’s there too…That thought hadn’t occurred to me before. It wasn’t impossible. Brian idolized Dylan. The folk scene in general secretly appealed to him and packing up and driving to the other side of the country wouldn’t have bothered him a bit. No, far from impossible the scenario was actually likely…
The next morning came too soon. At least that’s what my aching head and rolling stomach seemed to say. Even after I had a shower, changed my clothes, and did my makeup to perfection I could still tell that I had had a long, alcohol filled night. So it was with bags under my eyes and questions that bordered on outrageous that I walked into the Newport Folk Festival. Having never been to any sort of concert I had no idea what to expect or what to make of what I found. The sky was overcast and pregnant with rain yet no one seemed to mind. The group of kids milling about looked as diverse as the kids on a California sidewalk. A lot of the kids looked like all of the people in Frisco but I noticed there was also a fair share of people who looked like they just stepped off the bus from Finishing School. That surprised me.
I made my way through the crowd and I heard bits and pieces about the concert the night before. It seemed Dylan came out long enough to do one song and then he left the stage. To my mind that meant I hadn’t missed anything. It took awhile to find the guy that Jack had described to me and told me to meet. He was one of Bob’s people whom Jack had managed to befriend. “Hi, I’m Liz Sanders. I write for a paper called The Full Circle.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know who you are. You seemed to be making some racket back on the West Coast with that paper of yours. Jack says you are quite the girl and you must be. He’s been working on getting that damned paper out since ‘62, you know, back when he was beat.” At this the man laughed. I smiled at him, having never heard any tales about Jack being an ex-beatnik. The image was amusing. “All right, here’s the scene. Dylan can’t see anyone before he plays…he doesn’t want to see any reporters before the show. I’ll take your questions to him now and after he plays, if he’s up to it, I’ll come and get you.”
“That’s fine.” I replied, handing him the paper I had typed up.
Julie found me as I was in the act and she stood beside me to wait. The man smiled at me mischievously. “Just between me and you, I hope you brought something to take down notes because Dylan has something sort of big planned for his set tonight. I won’t tell you what it is but I will tell you this. This trick of his is either going to be fantastic or it’s going to blow up in his face. Either way there is going to be one hell of a story to come out of it.” With that he assured me Bob would answer the questions and then he left us.
Julie, who was much deeper into folk music than me, asked quietly, “I wonder what Dylan’s planning? He better not be thinking of anything that will piss people off here.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Hell, I don’t know but if he shows his ass here he will ruin his own reputation with the folkies and they make up most of his fans.”
“It seems to me that it’s his damned set and that if the people are really his fans they will accept whatever he’s planning to do. If not, all well. He has other fans that don’t give a damn about other folkies.” I replied, irritated.
I thought Julie was over dramatizing the situation as usual. I really didn’t think it would matter to the fans what he came on the stage and did. Then again, I loved Dylan’s music but most of the other folk music didn’t matter much to me. When Dylan finally came on the stage that night there was a hush that came over the crowd. I thought he looked great in his tight black jeans and his polka dot shirt. His black leather jacket added a bad-boy element to it that seemed to fit despite being out of place with the surroundings. Chatter had started when his crew began bringing out amplifiers. Julie really flipped declaring that it was a folk festival and no one wanted to hear him blast away on an electric guitar. Now we all sat in anticipation until the opening electric notes of ‘Maggie’s Farm’ began to play. I had to admit that the sound quality was pretty bad but it was still Dylan. When people began booing I was disgusted and when Julie thought she was going to join the angry crowd I told her to shut up.
The next song he did was ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and even the poor sound quality couldn’t take the power out of that tune. Still people booed at him but it had tapered off considerably compared with what it was with the first tune. Bob just kept singing in his clever melodic way until the audience gave up. When he left the stage people wanted more. I wanted more. And when he returned it was with an acoustic guitar and a smile. Before going into ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ he got a laugh out of the audience when he asked for an E harmonica, asking anyone with one to spare to throw it on the stage. The clatter they made on the stage was almost like an apology from them to him and when he began to sing, they got what they had wanted. I was in awe of what I had just witnessed. That show was the first great musical thing I had ever seen and the second wasn’t far off. At that moment I knew that music had started to change, to mean something profound. In a way I was part of it. All of us were.
Like the dutiful employee I went around after Bob’s set, Julie tagging behind, asking these kids questions about issues important, even then, to our youth. To us. I asked one guy how he felt about grass and he handed me a joint and a match. I asked one girl who looked like a frightened kitten her thoughts on sex and her innocent façade faded. With a grin she asked me if I was interested in finding out. This made Julie laugh until she cried. It didn’t help that we were high and exhausted. The girl thought I was trying to pick her up! I must have argued with fifteen people about Dylan’s performance and I enlightened at least as many about Vietnam. All in all I figured Jack would be satisfied, perhaps even proud. Eventually the guy I spoke with about the Dylan interview found me to give me back my questions and Dylan’s answers. “Well, Miss Sanders, you are the first reporter I have ever seen that made Mr. Dylan laugh. He said he thinks you’re crazy but you’ve got spunk and he admires that. Unfortunately it has been a long day, ya know? The back stage area is already swamped. I don’t think you want to wait through it.”
He was right. As much as I loved Dylan, it had been a long day. I got what Jack wanted. There was no point in sticking around…even if he was amused by me. “That’s fine. Please tell Mr. Dylan that I said thank you for answering the questions. His set was amazing and I will say as much in The Full Circle. I don’t really care who gets pissed off.”
“Will do. Tell Jack I’ll be in touch with him soon. You ladies take care.” He was smiling again and I returned it before walking away.
As we were going to the car Julie said with a laugh, “It’s too damned bad that you’re not over Brian!”
Brian…I had gotten so caught up in the show that I hadn’t even bothered to look around. But afterwards if he had been there I would have seen him…right? “Why?” I asked.
“That guy was really digging on you, Liz! Imagine how fun that could be. He’s cute, he travels with musicians…”
But he’s not Brian, I thought. That night I typed up the Q&A with Dylan as well as my own article about the show, praising him for his courage to do what he wanted with his music and condemning the idiots in the audience who tried to stop him. After that I worked on the first article for Jack’s “What’s on Your Mind?” theme. It was all about the way the youth around America were relating to the changes going on when most of the kids were not even aware of them. All in all I was satisfied. The next morning I would mail the whole mess first class back to California. In a week I would call Los Angeles collect to make sure Jack got it and all was well. But for the rest of the night my only plans revolved around another bottle and the uncomfortable motel bed.
“So did you get the shit I sent you?” I asked the voice on the other end of the line. After a week of doing nothing but driving around making an ass of myself for Jack’s creative vision I dared him silently to do anything but praise the hell out of my writing.
“Yeah I did. Have you lost your goddamned mind? You called half of our readers idiots! Die hard folk fans are still talking about Dylan’s set back here. Not in L.A. so much but in Frisco. These are the people who ate up last month’s issue!” He was lecturing me! I wanted to punch him!
“Hey, asshole, you swore you would never censor me. If you print anything other than exactly what I wrote I will come back to California and you can do this dumbass assignment on your own! Got it?” I shouted.
“Yeah, yeah I got it. Where are you at right now?”
“New York. Greenwich Village to be exact. I’m checking out the clubs and music. I’m talking to people, Jack.” I said his name like a curse.
“Listen, in August you guys are going back to New York before you come home so kind of…ya know…don’t linger there too long. Go down south or something. Yeah…go to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. You can make a few pit stops in the Midwest before coming home but after the concert you won’t have time to go south. So do it now.”
“Concert? What concert?” I asked.
“Oh shit, I forgot to tell you. You have two tickets to watch The Beatles play at Shea Stadium on August fifteenth. I had to pull some strings but I got them. When you leave New York I want you to call me and I’ll send them to you but you’ll have to stay at the same motel or something for about five days. I’ll also send you some money. Now I gotta go. Call me, Liz!”
With that he hung up. I was in shock. Then the shock passed into elation. “Jules, we’re going to see The Beatles!” I shouted up the street.
“What?” She yelled back.
“Shea Stadium, August fifteenth, we’re going to see The Beatles! Now let’s get the fuck out of here! I have work to do!”
From New York we went south like Jack had said. Talking to the kids in Kentucky and Tennessee about dope and the war was like talking to a Pharaoh about unleaded gasoline. They had no idea what I was talking about! Some were interested in what I told them about the California scene. Two girls on vacation in Nashville, originally from Detroit, even asked for my address just in case they decided to come out. But most wanted no part of protests or women’s lib or drugs. Sex was simply not discussed. While we were in Memphis Jack made good on his promise to send my money and tickets. He also sent a finished cope of July’s issue of The Full Circle with a note that said, ‘1500 Sold’. After I got the tickets and cash I decided on my own that Julie and I were going to Washington D.C. All of this talk about change and war, right and wrong, yet I had no idea what people in the capital thought about everything.
About three hours into my stay at the Nation’s Capital I realized that when it came to the issue of Vietnam I had to be incredibly careful about who I talked to and what I said. Already people were divided on the war. And already people were starting to protest. Aside from the protests at Berkeley, I really had no experience with the whole thing. So I did what any reporter would do. I stood back, I observed everything in words, and I asked questions getting passionate replies from kids who were so willing to do whatever to stop this. It wasn’t right, they said, and it shouldn’t be happening. Their plan I think was to stand outside the White House and chant until LBJ lost his mind. I thought it was as good as any. The scene was really interesting to Julie who was probably worrying about Lonnie every day. The article I got out of the one day in Washington was the best one about the war yet and it was the first to show the dispute between the older generation and ours, the division over Nam. After all of the politics and serious discussion I was more than ready to go back to New York. My wildest imagination had not prepared me for the show I was about to see.
August 14th at nine thirty at night we arrived in Flushing, Queens. From the road we could see Shea Stadium. Neither of us knew what we were going to see ther. The talk at the time was that it was going to be the biggest show in history but all we knew for sure was that the show was sold out. Jack, an avid baseball fan, informed me that the stadium held more than fifty-five thousand people. Neither of us could sleep that night because our nerves were so jangled. It wasn’t just the excitement of the show; it was also the fact that after the concert we were headed back west to a city we were not at all familiar with. Neither of us knew what to expect from U.C.L.A. We had no idea how strange the scene in L.A. could be. Frankly, I think we were rethinking the move we had made on a whim.
The next morning I woke up and called Jack to check on everything and to tell him I would mail out the pieces I had written. I could tell that he had a houseful of people as soon as he accepted my call. I was also fairly certain that he knew very few of them. But that was just the way it was and I had come to accept that by the end of the summer. At any rate, the moment Jack realized it was me he became the businessman, my boss, so ready to hand down my next assignment. “Now, I want you girls to enjoy yourselves tonight but I also need an article about it. Something like the one from Newport. I need honesty, Liz, an objective perspective. I know you love Lennon but if it doesn’t meet your expectations you need to write that, ok?”
I laughed at his words. I mean, here I was the driving force behind his paper and he was worried that I might write a biased article? “Yeah, Jack, I get it. I’ll try not to let those pesky hormones get in the way of my writing. Now how is everything going there?” I asked, genuinely interested. Since June I had been trying to get the feel of L.A. by listening to his tales.
“Pretty groovy. I’ve been hanging at the beach lately. Venice is just amazing! I met some really far out cats down there; kids from U.C.L.A., ya know? But I’ve got to go. Just remember what I said about the article. Write what you see.” Those were Jack’s only words of wisdom when it came to journalism.
The hours that passed between that phone call and the time that we drove away from the motel were long and full of frazzled nerves. Fussing over our appearance (just in case one of the boys caught a glimpse of us), packing, and finally getting stoned took up the day but each task seemed to take forever. Then there was the incredible task of actually getting to the stadium. I had never seen so many cars backed up so far in all my life. I think we sat in traffic at least an hour and a half before we made it into the parking lot. Once we were parked and out of the car, though, that was when our nerves really went into overdrive. Even the great grass we had managed to score could not fully dull our excitement. Neither of us had ever seen anything like that crowd and the best was yet to come.
As soon as we got into the stadium Julie smiled at me in a devious manner. She moved so that she led the way and I simply followed. I was so preoccupied with not tripping over everyone that it wasn’t until we came to a complete stop that I bothered to really look up. We were in the first row, right in front of all of the action. In that moment I knew that I had to write Jack the best damned story I could. As more people, mostly young girls, filed in screams could be heard erupting from different spots. Julie and I would giggle and roll our eyes at this. Then the first strings of music came from the small stage in the middle of the field. Looking up, we saw them, The Fab Four, just feet from where we sat. It seemed like the exact moment we spotted them so did every adolescent female in the place. Almost like an explosion the screaming began. Frantic females were shouting, jumping up and down, and, worst of all, crying hysterically. That first song was nearly over it seemed before we realized what song it was. As close as we were to the stage virtually nothing could be heard when it was competing with fifty-five thousand hysterical girls. Finally Julie and I said the hell with it and we joined in, shouting John’s name.
Forty-five years have passed since that night and still I recall the couple of hours I spent spellbound at that concert. It seemed like the place would get quiet long enough for you to hear the music and the amusing things John and Paul would say in between and then one of the boys would do something, just the smallest most insignificant thing, and the crowd would go insane again. Despite the clips of the show that I am sure many have seen, you really had to be there to know what that night felt like. It was literally unlike anything the music world had ever known. I walked out that night knowing that The Beatles had become bigger than Elvis and I was surer than ever that they had started a revolution.
That night we pulled away from Shea Stadium, me in the driver’s seat, Julie rolling a joint in the passenger side, singing The Beatles. We were both still full of energy, so bubbly, that it seemed like a long time passed before we calmed down. Even then it was due to the grass. Julie drifted off to sleep before me, which I expected, and I was left awake to think and reflect on the past couple of months. Since the first of June I had moved to Los Angeles, saw Dylan, went to see The Beatles, I had traveled the country, and I had become chief writer of the longest running underground paper in Frisco. That was now the past. What about the future ahead of me? All I knew for sure was that I was going to be a student at U.C.L.A., I was going to be a resident of L.A., and I was going to have to look at Brian McVie every day no matter what happened after he saw me again. That thought scared the hell out of me.
Julie and I decided that we were not going to make many stops between New York and California. We were travel weary. We wanted to be home. So we drove straight through until we reached Idaho. That was where I typed up the article about Shea Stadium that I had written out while we drove. There I asked the same questions about the same issues and I received the same confused responses. It was the same throughout the Midwest. These kids had no clue what was going on. Although I hardly cared to be the one to enlighten them, I did answer their questions. Their confused responses I faithfully wrote down to be typed up later. By the time we crossed the California state line I had September’s issue of the paper sitting in bits and pieces on my lap, ready for the printing press as soon as we get home.