Saturday, April 30, 2011
“Cowtown Ballroom…Sweet Jesus”, I missed it
I remember the night at the Tivoli in May (I think) 2009 when "Cowtown Ballroom…Sweet Jesus” premiered. I was with my Kansas City native friend Marc. I'd recently moved to KC. We were there to see another film which I forget. That night in the lobby by the ticket window, I met Joe Heyen. Despite my suggestion to Marc, we didn’t see Cowtown. Marc told me all about the place later from his “having gone there many times” perspective. Fast forward to this past week.
Tony Ladesich and I had lunch together. I didn’t realize that he was a producer and the director of photography for the film. Duh. My bad. Anyway, Tony gave me a copy to watch and this week I watched closely and thoroughly enjoyed it; learned a great deal about this city and the music. Now when I go to the now Cowtown Mallroom on Sundays, it’ll mean so much more.
I’m from Philadelphia. Wow, my whole music experience was different. I graduated from a rather hoity-toity prep school in Delaware in 1971, the year Cowtown opened. Despite my preppy education, and industrial very Catholic urban neighborhood upbringing, the priests were rather left wing and even radical by today’s standards. By 1971, the counterculture in Philly seemed a distant memory. The San Francisco cultural scene never took root where I lived. With a great density of universities, what I saw at the few protests I attended were college students engaged in active political dissent. SDS was pretty active. Lots of speeches, some drugs stuff, but more sit-ins and petitions.
Philly music had a great deal of soul, too…soul music that is. It was a cool musical stew without defined color lines. Local TV DJ Jerry Balavat, The Geator With The Heater, was a Philly white Catholic kid who helped blend the tunes really well. We danced a lot. Later, heading to a rather un-college military academy, I missed the whole ferment of cultural change, big time.
Watching the film, it struck me how “California to me” the sound was here then. Looking at the lists of artists who played at Cowtown, it was music I had shelved for the most part. Dumb ass me thought Brewer and Shipley were commercial San Francisco hippies, for the song, One Toke Over the Line, when it hit our Philly airwaves sounded really lame next to James Brown and the Stones. Such as it was from my little lens. Cowtown seemed like a very fun scene and the three years must have been amazing.
Watching the film opened my eyes to a wider bit of America. Made me realize what I missed. Reminded me that experience is alright, but context has meaning too, place. Tony’s artistic construction of the film, the visual narrative and feel, the atmosphere was very beautiful, felt really authentic…this coming from a younger person, a musician, who has a resonant local authenticity of place all his own. This must have been a genuine labor of intense love for many people…Tony for sure.
Today I feel blessed, Tony…grateful for your gift, happy to know you and this city a bit better. Thank you. See you at the Mallroom (which now will feel like a musical cathedral to me).