“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.”
(Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington D.C., August 28, 1963)
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1:00 p.m. Central standard time, 2 p.m. Eastern standard time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.”
(Walter Cronkite, CBS Television, November 22, 1963)
“Houston, this is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.”
(Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11, July 20, 1969)
“There are SEVEN LEVELS.”
(Paul McCartney discovers “the Message of the Universe,” August 28, 1964)
Now, if veteran rabble-rousing, uber-networking, visionary (“Blacklisted”) journalist Al Aronowitz’s lifetime of achievements should be remembered for but one solitary event, may I posit it be for what he managed to pull off in the immediate hours following The Beatles’ concert debut at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, Queens, New York, one dreamy midsummer 1964’s night.
For it was within mere minutes after the final shrieks of and around “Long Tall Sally” wafted skyward that our story begins, with the Fab Four safely ensconced back upon the sixth floor of Manhattan’s grande olde Hotel Delmonico as a greenroom full of various folkies and followers (including the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, plus the ubiquitous Murray the K) sat all but ignored down the hall. Somehow though, into that inner sanctum high atop the Beatle-manic corner of Park and 59th was snuck none other than Bob Dylan, a bottle of cheap wine, and a fateful envelope’s worth of herbal libation.
Ladies and gentlemen, life as we knew it was about to abruptly cut from stark black and white to rich, fully-dimensional stereophonic day-glo from that momentous moment hence.
You see it seems Bob, misreading a certain “I Want To Hold Your Hand” refrain as “I get high” as opposed to “I can’t hide,” had been convinced to confront those four lyrical Liverpudlians he’d previously dismissed with that cruelest of epithets – “Bubblegum!” – and in the process, to break the trans-oceanic ice as it were, decided to introduce his fabulous new pals to the hitherto non-rockin’ accoutrement known as, yep, Marijuana.
Following introductions quickly if not exactly politely proffered between America’s greatest living songwriter and the World’s greatest earning band, Ringo (designated “Royal taster” for his comrades) went first and, oblivious to the proper pot-etiquette, inhaled the entire inaugural joint himself. Watching with sheer wonder as their drummist slowly melted onto the carpet in fits of laughter, John and manager Brian excitedly lit themselves up next, only to be followed by Paul and George who, interestingly enough, proceeded to follow one another throughout their maze of Beatlesuites for the remainder of this most historic of evenings. That is, until a typically profound McCartney suddenly called forth for pen and paper as he announced to all left standing around him, “I have discovered the Meaning of Life!” Something to do with the Universe, it seems, and Seven Levels…..
Suffice to say it wasn’t just the Cute Beatle’s consciousness which was forever altered that night, but the very course of rock and roll, the music business as a whole soon enough after, and as a result just maybe Western Civilization Itself, dammit! And it is in my wisened opinion that the singular man we all have to thank for that, for Rubber Soul, for “folk-rock” in the process and, really, for loading Dylan into his station wagon and dragging him towards the Delmonico to set all of these historic balls into motion in the first place, is none other than a dear, sweet man I had the pleasure to have known named Al Aronowitz.
FACT: With all apologies due Ralph J. Gleason, Al Aronowitz was the first widely-published man to ever take what we now regrettably take for granted as the rock and the roll “seriously.” His Pop Scene columns a half century ago in The New York Post, not to mention a litany of legendary Village Voice and Saturday Evening Post features, brought to widespread attention such figures as the fledgling Brill Building songsmiths, teen tycoon Phil Spector, and of course Bob and those Beatles to boot (i.e.: the best-selling Aronowitz Summer of ’64 Saturday Evening Post cover story of JPG&R I still fondly recall as the first living-color magazine on the band to ever penetrate my previously rock-free household …because the boys looked so handsome in their top-hats and walking sticks on the cover, I can still hear my mother swoon). Even prior to that above-mentioned hot August night at the Delmonico though, Al was busy forging crucial artistic bridges between hitherto insurmountable cliques and cultural divides. To cite but one cataclysmic example, it is so plain to see how Al’s introducing Allen Ginsberg to a fresh-from-Minnesota Dylan eventually helped Beat meet Beatles, as it were, and in all the most ingeniously genre-busting of ways.
Aronowitz was also right there on hand at the post-premiere party for A Hard Day’s Night in London, as a wickedly soused Lennon motioned a very young, green Keith Richard(s) and Brian Jones over to his table …only to conspiratorially sneer that “there’s something wrong with yez, isn’t there? There’s one of ya in the group that isn’t as good as the others. Who is it? Find out, tell yourselves, and get rid uv ‘im.” Keith glanced uneasily over at Mr. Jones. John, as it turns out, was as right – not to mention prescient – as ever.
And you bet, Al captured it all. For unsuspecting Saturday Evening Post readers the world over.
Yet long after the Stones, not to mention the Sixties, began burning themselves inside out, Aronowitz continued to prowl the sidewalks of Greenwich Village, keeping eyes and especially ears wide open as he hung and howled amongst the veterans (Johnny Cash), the recently established (John B. Sebastian), the new kids down the block (a young Richard X. Heyman, who Al once commissioned to assemble an opening act for Sly and the Family Stone) and of course all the contritely contrary-as-ever who were shamelessly being ignored by the Rolling Stone’s – I’m speaking Jann Wenner as opposed to Mick Jagger – of the day (I refer most notably to that once-promising Vanguard recording artist Patrick Sky, for whom Aronowitz bravely helped find a home for that still-incendiary 1973 Songs That Made America Famous album, one of the most ball-busting American recordings EVER). Al also somehow found time to keep his Beatle bonds alive as well, taking our sweet George bowling on Broadway late one night, then conveniently stepping into fresh doggie-do just before crossing the threshold into John and Yoko’s West Village walk-up for the very first time.
Then suddenly our hero seemed to vanish altogether off the very face of the Earth – not to mention the pages of rock’s hepper periodicals – as “folk/rock” sorrowfully gave way to “singer/songwriter,” Nixon rued the airwaves, Patrick Sky accepted a grant from the Irish government to become an Aeolian pipe maker and, perhaps not so coincidentally, Al’s old bud Bob dissolved altogether into the bit parts of big-budget Peckinpah westerns.
But why? “I was driven crazy by my unjust firing from the Post when my column was one of the most popular features in the paper,” Aronowitz recalled, “by the treachery of the American Newspaper Guild and by my colleagues whom I had helped so much.” The death of his wife and subsequent plunge into the clutches of non-recreational drug use followed and, he said, “so began a long period of time when editors stopped taking me seriously; a fact that continues until this day. In other words, my writing got a little crazy and even when it wasn’t, editors still refused to print me. Why? Ask THEM!”
Then, thank God or Al Gore or whomsoever, along came the Internet at just about the same time Our Al was getting his life, not to mention his voluminous-and-then-some archives, back in order. Duly invigorated and in no small part inspired by the liberating autonomy of the www, Aronowitz was promptly reborn as The Blacklisted Journalist and, domain name duly secured, began posting his vast wealth of work in monthly installments right up there at http://www.blacklistedjournalist.com “It was only when I could do an end run around the blacklisting that editors had imposed on me by putting my material on the Internet that I discovered I could get readers; something all writers crave,” the man proudly related. “It was my achievement of a reading audience that brought me back to sanity.”
After a decade spent defiantly republishing his gems on the web, when he was afraid his good words would otherwise languish unread or, worse still, disappear altogether (it was through a tiny backpage ad in the New York Press circa 1996 that I first became reacquainted with that entity henceforth known as The Blacklisted Journalist), Al compiled his Greatest Hits, so to speak, across the 615 history-packed pages of Bob Dylan and The Beatles: Volume One of The Best of the Blacklisted Journalist. The result is, without a solitary doubt, Required Reading for anyone and everyone who considers themselves fans, followers, students, or those just plain curious of the Golden Age of Popular Music, and how the players – Dylan and Beatles especially – met, influenced, and eventually actually interacted with one another during those halcyon-indeed daze. Thanks in no small part whatsoever to the Herculean efforts of the man who, in his very own only slightly jocular words, would try to pass it all off by claiming “I was just a proud and happy shadchen, a Jewish matchmaker, dancing at the princely wedding I arranged.”
“I recognized Dylan and The Beatles as immortals, and I wanted to cop some immortality for myself,” Aronowitz told me. “I knew that bringing Dylan and The Beatles together would have exactly the result that it had. The result is that contemporary popular music changed for the better. Otherwise, every generation creates its own heroes.”
“Whether subsequent heroes will enjoy the same immortality that Bob and The Beatles attained, I am unqualified to predict. All I know is that Bob Dylan and The Beatles are hard acts to follow.”
As is Al, who passed away August 1, 2005 in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
He would have been – should have been – 94 years old this May 20th.