Saturday, December 17, 2016

Riot on Sunset Strip

TS Eliot suggested that we dismiss ourselves from the artist or the poet in what he called the objective correlative; the premise that the work must speak for itself. Indeed we tend to study music in a vacuum (guilty), and yet, what meaning would John Lennon's "God" have disassociated from Lennon ("I don't believe in...Beatles")? In reality, despite Eliot (and my own tendencies), 1967 wasn't just about Sgt. Pepper. I got it for Christmas, and that was all that mattered to me (I was four); nonetheless, 1967 cost us 11,000 American lives in Vietnam (average age 23); a fire aboard Apollo 1 killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee; Thurgood Marshall became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice; The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were the big box office films of summer; Star Trek was in its 2nd season; and the Munster and Flintstone families hosted rock bands in their homes (respectively, the Standells and the Beau Brummelstones). It's only in recent years that I've attempted to put all the pieces together. At times, those itty-bitty pieces come with endless research; at others it's dumb luck or curiosity.

In 1967, within six weeks of the violent Pandora's Box skirmishes, American International Pictures released Riot on the Sunset Strip, a low-budget exploitation film of 60s counter-culture, those teen subterraneans, those renegades behind the decay and degradation of American society. The film starred Aldo Ray, and featured, once again, The Standells, who appear and provide the title song, a punky, hippie classic. The film is fabulous Hollywood schlock along the lines of Hot Rods to Hell or Dragnet, and explored, accidentally and haphazardly, late-60s "troubled" American youth. Riot on the Sunset Strip is a terrible film, yet it's an interesting visual exposé of the Sunset Strip music scene, of early LSD and illicit drug use, and of changing teen mores. It also contains some of the best and only film footage of Pandora's Box and the Strip in the 60s. Though it played no real role in the changes taking place in urban America, it captured a snippet of what would roil and fester and leave us a very different nation in a few years' time. The full movie is available here (if you have time to burn), and below is a terrific preview. The film loosely chronicles the events leading up to the riots in September 1966.