Two Strikes Against by JCMarion
Recently two television shows on the early years of rock 'n'roll music were presented - the first called "Mr.Rock and Roll" purported to be the story of Alan Freed. I had some hope for this program because it was stated that it was based on "Big Beat Heat" John Jackson's indispensable biography of Freed. If it was based on the book it was certainly based very loosely on the true story. OK, so the love story angle had to be embellished for the masses, and I was certainly expecting the huge amount of historical inaccuracies that are always present in these programs (I was not disappointed here), but they never developed the story line about how Freed presented the music to where it became acceptable to be listened to by White teenagers and the repercussions that this act brought about except in brief passing fashion. At least they mentioned the importance of Leo Mintz and his Record Rendezvous (called Roundabout in the film), touched on the Coronation Ball, and the TV show cancellation (for showing Frankie Lymon dancing with a White girl). But I have trouble with the fictionalization of real people (the superstar status given to Jackie Wilson in the early fifties, and the less than sinister virtues of Morris Levy for example) and the presentation of the music. The big noise on this was that they would use the real recordings this time (as opposed to "American Hot Wax" a decidedly superior film even with all of the historical inaccuracies in that one). It's just that having lived through that era and watching a depiction of the "true" story of it, I am bothered when "Stay" by Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs is used to define 1951 Cleveland. We heard almost none of the landmark R & B records that started it all ("Rocket 88" or "I Don't Know" just to name two), except for a parent's complaint about the scandalizing lyric content ("It Ain't The Meat It's The Motion" and "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box" were mentioned) and there was an absence of any pre-Elvis R & B on the soundtrack. The shout vocals and blasting saxes were absent except for a tiny bit of Freed and Jackie checking out Jackie Wilson and The Dominos at a R & B club (I can't imagine anyone talking contract with The Dominos without the presence of Billy Ward). Too bad. The depiction of a manic Freed in the previous movie was truer to the mark then the laid back almost sedate broadcaster in "Mr. Rock and Roll" his two trademarks - the cowbell and the phone book are barely alluded to). Someone who never experienced the Moondog would never know how he could have transformed the world by watching this program. That is really too bad. Yes I know I am nitpicking, especially to someone who is forty something or less - but as they always say: 'ya hadda be there !"
Even worse was the mini series called "Shake, Rattle and Roll". What they were trying to say here is beyond my comprehension. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the true history of the music and its performers. But then again, maybe that was the intention all along. The story of a fictional hard edged rockabilly band called The Heartaches was at the center of the story. The PC police worked overtime in telling the story of a multi racial promotion team getting the band featuring an Elvis type lead singer with a woman on a solid body Fender in the mid 50s (yeah, right). They would have you believe Chuck Berry had nothing to do but go to Harlem (Harlem !) to see the band rehearse and get so knocked out he did a guitar-less duck walk across the stage ! This is the same fantasy that had Buddy Holly & The Crickets portrayed as the first White act ever to play The Apollo Theater ! The racial divisions were there in place and the music was a force to do away with them. That is why so many people found the whole rock 'n' roll experience so threatening at the time.That is one of the shortcomings of society that is never portrayed in these programs. They act as though American Bandstand was the true look into the birth of the music, and that is the reason that clean cut Dick Clark escaped even though his hands were as dirty as anyone else's, and they hung out The Moondog to dangle in the wind. Bandstand had about as much relevance to the truth as these programs do. Maybe people find them entertaining. If so, then they are doing their job. It is just that I cannot go along with fantasyland as a portrayal of history especially when I know the truth and lived it.
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