“A POSSIBILITY”: MUSIC AT THE SANTA MONICA CIVIC AUDITORIUM

“A POSSIBILITY”: MUSIC AT THE SANTA MONICA CIVIC AUDITORIUM

Thursday, August 8, 2013

News outlet reports that the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium would be shutting down its operations cited surprisingly few of the famous music groups and bands that performed at that venue. I was astonished, in fact, that so many substantial figures were left out of the Civic’s history, and began to wonder if the reporters actually had any knowledge (other than newly minted press releases from Santa Monica’s bureaucracy) of how many significant musicians had played there.

Before I had ever gone to a concert there, though, I had heard one of Harry Northup’s early poems, “Listening to Savoy Brown at the Santa Monica Civic.” Harry has graciously given me permission to include his poem, which is dedicated to Paul Blackburn, in this post.

if

if i if i

if i can       can get

can get       into       in-

to the rhy

rhy

rhy     the

rhythm of this

of this

of this

 

of this song

 

if i can get into the

rhythm of this song

if i can get

can get

can get

if i can get into the rhythm

if i can get into the rhythm of

this                 of this

of this song

if i can get into the rhythm of this song

there is

there is

a possibility.

 

aug 21, 1971

By the end of that decade, Patti Smith would be singing on the Civic stage the imperative to “seize the possibility.” The most underappreciated period of recent American poetry is the 1970s on the West Coast. The struggle to comprehend and subsequently seize the possibility of self-definition through small press production has only been partially documented in my book, HOLDOUTS, and a new generation of scholars needs to begin work on excavating the multiple layers awaiting their close reading. Along with the writing of his poet-spouse, Holly Prado (who is also an extraordinary poet). Harry Northup’s poetry needs to have a prominent space made for its vigorous, yet subtle audacity.

I asked Harry about other bands he heard at the Civic and he supplied me with the following list, in which he first praised in particular the music of Savoy Brown:

“I remember clearly how great the band was & in particular,
Kim Simmonds, the lead guitarist.  A great working class English blues band.

“I went to so many shows at the Civic from 1968 to 1973, including “Traffic,”
where I saw & talked with Jon Voight; Bob Marley, whose show was for some reason
transferred from the Shrine — it was like he was running in the sands of time;
The Allman Brothers; The Kinks; Steve Miller; Humble Pie with Steve Mariot —
what a beautiful voice; The Faces with Rod Stewart; Freddy King — the best blues
player — he looked like he had done time; & Van Morrison.  My first wife Rita &
I went, along with a bunch of surfers.” Harry added in a follow-up note that “Stevie Winwood of Traffic had the prettiest voice in rock and roll.”

The Civic was a venue that Harry and I both agree possessed great sight lines. There truly wasn’t a bad seat in the house. There were (and are) very few outlets of that peculiar capacity. Most venues are fairly small or huge stadium affairs. It’s not that easy (for performer or audience member) to find a stage that gives the both sides of the equation a chance to feel comfortable with its size and yet large enough to give a sense of occasion. The Civic did that.

I lived within a half-mile of the Civic for over 20 years. One advantage I had in attending concerts there was avoiding the hassle with parking. It was fairly easy to walk there or to find parking in one of the side-streets, that were blocked off enough from through traffic, so that only those who lived in Ocean Park would know about it.

Harry and I are hardly the only ones, however, who have affectionate memories of the Santa Monica Civic. Dennis Cooper’s diaries (at Special Collections at New York University) record his attendance at a concert by Iggy Pop and the Stooges at the Civic that Cooper regales as one of the highlights of his young life. When Bowie comes on stage as part of the encore, pandemonium (his word, if I recollect correctly) broke out. It wasn’t a riot, however, (or so it seems from Cooper’s description) so much as a moment when the carnivalesque took over, and there was (however briefly) an instance of collective liberation. The entire audience got a glimpse of what Northup had proposed: “a possibility.”

I want to close today’s post with the following list of 30 or so of the memorable concerts I’ve attended in California. Over a third of them were at the Santa Monica, McCabe’s Guitar Shop or Beyond Baroque. Obviously, there are dozens of musicians and composers whose work I never heard in a live setting, but wish I could have heard. I especially wish I could have seen some of the Motown groups. One treasures what fortune has provided. For instance, I only ended up attending the recording of Waits’s live concert because I walked into McCabe’s Guitar Shop and saw free tickets on the front counter. All I had to do was call a number and say I had picked up a ticket at McCabe’s, and I had a seat at a table less than 20 feet from Waits’s piano. I grabbed two “tickets” and called a new friend, Cher’rie Lawrence, and off we went.

 

Chrissy Hynde and the Pretenders – Santa Monica Civic (Her voice was even more full of timbre than on record.)

Minutemen – Beyond Baroque (as part of Jack Skelley’s Beyond Barbeque Series)

The Residents – Pasadena Concert circa 1984

Elvis Costello – First American Tour – Long Beach Arena; Los Angeles Sports Arena

(“Pump It Up” was his final song in these sets.)

X – The Whiskey A-Go-Go; with the Avengers – summer, 1978.

Among numerous other places I saw X were Club 88 and Santa Monica Civic (with Dave Alvin).

Exene Cervenka – The Alligator Lounge; May 30, 1995; The Prospector (Long Beach)

XTC – The Palladium (“Living through Another Cuba”)

David Bowie – The Forum – Summer, 1978; Anaheim Stadium (with the Go-Go’s)

Paul Simon – Santa Monica Civic – 1973/1974

Hollywood Bowl – Etta James & Solomon Burke (Summer, 2008)

B-52s and The Blasters — Los Angeles.

John Hiatt – Hollywood.

Solomon Burke and Etta James (Hollywood Bowl, 2008)

Tom Waits –  July 30, 1975

Rolling Stones – The Forum – June 11, 1972 (Stevie Wonder opened, and did not get as much applause as he deserved.)

Bill Evans (1929-1980) – San Francisco (with Harley Lond). This concert was in the late 1970s, and when I heard about his death not that much longer after hearing him live, I realized how fortunate I had been to have this one encounter.

Harry Partch – University of California, Los Angeles. Delusion of the Fury

Bob Dylan – Long Beach Civic Auditorium – 2008

(I once walked out on a Dylan concert. It was at a venue in Hollywood in 1978. I can’t recall what he was playing, but it was most certainly not songs from Blood on the Tracks nor his mid-1960s albums. He was listless and seemed merely to be going through the motions.)

Deborah Iyall and Romeo Void – Eureka, CA 1981

Stan Ridgeway and Wall of Voodoo – Santa Monica Civic, 1982

Rickie Lee Jones – Belly Up Tavern, Salerno Beach.

Beck – University of California, San Diego.

Bo Diddley – Redondo Beach club, summer, 1969

Wim Mertens – McCabe’s Guitar Shop (one of my favorite musical performances of all time).

Ray Manzarek  (with Michael C. Ford) – McCabe’s Guitar Shop

Chick Corea – Santa Monica Civic.

Talking Heads – Hollywood Bowl.

Patti Smith –the Roxy (her first show after Horses came out). Santa Monica Civic and Beyond Baroque.

Oingo Boingo – I’m quite sure I saw them live, but can’t remember where. (“Dead Man’s Party” is a classic.)

Suburban Lawns – Santa Monica Civic.

Bruce Springsteen – at least a half-dozen times. Santa Barbara, where he ended with an incredible version of “Jungleland”; Santa Monica Civic; Los Angeles Sports Arena; and the Coliseum.

Of course, there are also concerts I almost heard, but ended up having to leave before the music started. In particular, I was invited by a poet friend, who had an extra ticket, to see Neil Young at the Forum in the mid-1970s. Unfortunately, this person was prone to substance abuse and became ill once we were at the Forum and I had to drive her home before the lights came down.