March 10, 2008 by A.C. Rhodes
DiMartino and Walter Cronkite, circa 1971. (“From a Miami TV show when Walter ‘met the press’ himself – the youth press. I was editor of my high school paper. “)
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AR: What was the scene like in your formative years? What you were listening to and seeing that perhaps influenced what you wrote about?
DD: I was listening to Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Love, Velvet Underground, Nico, Traffic, Van Morrison, Kevin Ayers, The Nice, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, The Incredible String Band, Procol Harem, King Crimson, Tim Buckley – was a big fan then – Todd Rundgren/Nazz, and Humble Pie.
AR: What else was shaping your young mind, culturally, or sub-culturally at that time?
DD: I reviewed a lot of that stuff in the paper, back then. I used to spend a lot of time at the record store, where you could by three LPs for $10. Used to buy a lot of records merely because they looked intriguing – stuff like Mandrake Memorial, Mott the Hoople’s first album. I spent time going to the local pop festivals – several in Miami, one in Palm Beach, and saw a lot of live bands; was very focused on the music culture. I played the keyboards, which meant that the high school bands we were in covered music that featured an organ – artists like Vanilla Fudge, Traffic, Iron Butterfly, Blues Image – pretty funny stuff. We were briefly the house band for a college fraternity, which was pretty cool for high school kids. Like I said before, was very interested in music, dopey films that played at drive-ins. As “younger” baby-boomers, we looked at the hippies in San Francisco, the guys in Easy Rider as potential role models. It was an interesting perspective in that they were doing things that we couldn’t quite do yet because we were too young, but aware of all that seemed to be promised. Sex, drugs, and rock hadn’t become a formal cliché yet.
AR: Did you ever do any early ’60s sounds as opposed to the late ’60s keyboard-driven sound?
DD: About the closest we came to it was “California Sun” and “Louie Louie.”
AR: No strange surf?
DD: When Jimi Hendrix said “You will never hear surf music again,” we took that as a sign that surf music wasn’t cool anymore, though everyone my age of course liked “Pipeline,” “Wipeout,” and all those minor-chord instrumentals that the Ventures used to do.
AR: Or the off-off bands…
DD: We were very conscious of a new regime shoving away the old. I suppose that trend is what made the Beach Boys so uncool down the road. I should send you this thing I wrote for MOJO about eight years ago. It was about how I used the power of the press to suit my own evil ends re hyping my own projects. Pretty funny, pretty revealing, I suppose.
AR: That’s what is so interesting about that pivotal time you were in the midst of.
DD: Like I said before, there was a very real threat that you could get drafted and killed, which tended to make young people distrust the government or any of its representatives and to question that reality.
AR: The assassinations no doubt underscored that.
DD: Yeah, right… strange times.
AR: How did they affect you? Did it cause outstanding anxiety, in retrospect?
DD: No, but I think it just made the world seem that much more of a dramatic place – meaning more movie-like instead of mundane. We essentially viewed the Nixon Republican world of the era as the bad guys vs. the liberal democrats as the good guys. The deaths of Robert Kennedy and King just seemed like, in the lingo, the bad guys were offing the good guys. Pretty simplistic worldview, but you’re dealing with someone who was in 9th grade or so when it happened.
AR: That must have shaped you from year to year… the evolution of your young teen mind.
DD: Yeah, I’d say so. Issues of “conformity” were big in my young teen mind and, er, in the minds of my peer group!
AR: What was your peer environment like then?
DD: My high school was basically subdivided into football player and hippie divisions. It was too soon to devolve into stoner and burnout subdivisions. I went to a high school that was a mix of middle-class and upper middle class kids, so there was a very strange array of jocks, straights and hippies bouncing back between worlds. The same sort of divisions haven’t gone away in my mind, even today. I work with some people that I invariably, but never to their face, would call “straight” to their very core in terms of hipness, not sexuality. There are others – especially the computer geek types – that I consider interestingly asocial dropout types. I find that schism interesting.
AR: It’s evident that within your age group not everyone caught on fast if at all. Did you get to reap any of the joys of the cultural revolution, or was it still too soon?
DD: I suppose one of the most telling moments would have been at the West Palm Beach pop festival in ‘69, when I was 15, 16 years-old or so. We were seeing an awesome array of bands – Rolling Stones, King Crimson, the Byrds, Janis Joplin – and word got out among my pals that there was a “hippie” “mama” who believed in free love who was taking on all comers in the back of a van in the parking lot. Some went to see – and I do believe it was true. Sadly, I missed that opportunity because I know that the upcoming live performance by Iron Butterfly would be even more compelling! I suppose that was one of the joys I might have reaped.
AR: It’s a compelling conscious choice… significant on many levels. Psychedelics were big then, as well as the more natural weed.
DD: I tended to shy away from any sort of psychedelic drugs, to be honest, because I am not altogether secure regarding my present-day grasp of reality, and was even less sure then. I’m very conscious of the fact that people can alter their consciousness in a slight but significant way that makes returning to “normal” something more complex than they imagined.
AR: Heavy. What about weed at the time, at concerts?
DD: Yes, there was weed at concerts at the time and it was horrifying! Er, is that what you were asking?
AR: A feel for the out-door concert environment and events, get-togethers like that, or was it mostly beer?
DD: No, we didn’t really start with alcohol until our late teens, last year of high school into first year college, but just barely. We were more inclined to look down at alcohol use as dopey instead of the more enlightening hip drugs. Yep, that’s what we thought!
AR: Are you being ironic or sarcastic?
DD: Mildly sarcastic, but it was true.
AR: The enlightening ones being weed and maybe mushrooms for others if they could get them?
DD: Yeah, those would’ve been the acceptable drugs of choice for some of my friends at the time.
AR: One would think the cultural revolution – sex, drug experimentation – caught on in more cosmopolitan areas faster, than say, the general midwest.
DD: I would say it caught on quite early in Miami, to be honest. Miami then was pretty much like New York junior. Much different than it is now. When I moved to Michigan, I thought everybody talked too slowly and that many of the non-ethnic types looked as if they were descendants of potato farmers.
AR: Ha-ha… they may have been. So what would you do at these festivals, sit or go up towards the stage?
DD: We would mostly sit or stand. Typically it was one of those in-it-for-the-long-haul experiences – if you were there up close, and not in the far-away seated areas, you didn’t want to get up and move or you would lose your place and miss “the good bands.” Not to be too crass, but back at that same WPB festival I mentioned earlier, when we saw the Rolling Stones, they had come on at 2am, believe it or not, and so many people were pushing against the front of the crowd – we were in prime seats. I remember thinking how proud my parents would have been!
AR: Would the young women be as ardent, or did they hang back more?
DD: Depends on which women. There were a few types we knew that were a tad younger than us – two years or so – who were very interested in taking quaaludes, sopors, etc. They used to get so whacked out that when they drove, they would cover one eye with the palm of their hand so they wouldn’t have double-vision while they were driving, they were generally pretty loose, if you catch my drift.
AR: It seems you were in the middle of a time before it was accepted to show how evolved or ‘enlightened’ you were… like you still had to be rather conventional part of the time, but the rest was starting to come out.
DD: Yeah, that’s pretty much the way it was. It’s like to use the high school analogy, if you looked at pictures of the guys’ haircuts during ‘69-‘75, the early adapter types are noticeable early on, circa ‘72-‘74 or so, everybody starts looking like they were either porn stars or on some Quinn Martin TV show.
AR: Ha-ha, which were you and your pals?
DD: I would say we looked pretty funny. Back in high school we weren’t allow to have beards, so a few of us manly hairy types grew our sideburns down to the point where there was literally a third of an inch of bare flesh separating them under our chins. I was gleefully a jerk!
AR: Did you know other young people outside of your school that you would hang around?
DD: Most of who we hung out with were from the same high school, or friends of individual humans from that same high school.
AR: Sometimes we can have different or more freeing experiences with acquaintances… rather than Ginny from homeroom or Guy from geometry class.
DD: I agree, but I did not especially feel confined back then.
AR: I see. What was being involved in your high school paper like?
DD: Cool. I liked reading, liked journalism. It seemed something more up my alley at the time than joining the football team. I had a very good teacher, nice lady, back then. Aside from covering school news, we were able to write about music, fashion (hee!), and the like. As I said, other writers like Mike Lipton and Tris Lozaw were on the staff as well as a girl who would later star in well-known porn movies under the name “Shawn Michelle.”
AR: How delicious.
DD: I mentioned before that I wrote a piece for MOJO about my self-promoting ways. In it, I mentioned that when my band at the time – The Intergalactic Space Force – played in front of my senior class of 991 people, and we were ultimately pelted with food for our, shall we say “confrontational” style. I actually reviewed the show myself in the paper and said I was great. The highlight was a picture of me standing onstage speaking into a microphone, under which I wrote the caption: “Editor beams while receiving thunderous applause.” One of my lifetime achievements, I think.
AR: How strident and fortuitous. That last one must have had a really good time. Plus there’s the whole ‘ethical’ dilemma, ha-ha…
DD: Yeah, I like that dilemma.
AR: Ahh… how was your band received in high school?
DD: As I said, we were deliberately attempting to be, for want of a better word, confrontational. Involved putting a book on the keys of my organ and walking away from it, a song which was drone over which we repeated the sole lyric “phallus” during which a large electrical fan was pulled onstage, its front and back hand-protector grills removed, into which our bass player then inserted a series of single hot dogs into the whirring blades. The overall effect was that of the audience being randomly pelted by tiny particles and chunks of meat at random intervals. They threw food at us. It was great!
AR: What else did you write about? Did you ever cause any stirs?
DD: Only “stirs” in terms of self-aggrandizing my odd group of friends to the point of excess, but that was the goal in the first place.
AR: Really? For the high school paper? I would have thought some staff writers would have slagged the student government or been outside social and political forces.
DD: Well, it’s an interesting scenario there for a couple of reasons: first of all, some of my “peer group” actually was in student government. And actually, I should point out that I and two friends lost our races for student government. We ran on the same “ticket” and as a result handed out paper badges that used the initials of our last names to proclaim “LSD For The Senior Class!” Another reason why it’s interesting is that my father actually was teaching chemistry at my high school when I was there. Which made things interesting.
AR: Sounds like a “Partridge Family” episode.
DD: That is how I look at it as well.
AR: Did you play any parties or dances or out at any clubs, or did you just play that once at school?
DD: Yeah, I was in a couple of bands in high school, people in those bands included Mike Lipton and Tristram Lozaw, both writers, and a guitarist and bassist who ended up being in highly regarded “local bands” in LA (Dredd Scott) and Miami (Screaming Sneakers), respectively. He wrote in the college paper and also freelanced in Creem and went to college with Holdship and me.
AR: Where else did you play?
DD: Aside from my senior class, which was the most fun, we also played some weird party at the Miami Welcome Center and were featured performing the tile sequence to – and participating in the discussion – of Right On, a film paid for by the Dade County School Board association and shown to all of Miami’s teachers for about five years in the early ‘70s. It was pretty funny. I have a couple of pictures around. I played organ.
AR: Was it a warning of what kids were turning into?
DD: It wasn’t a big deal band by any means, though. Just a kind of harmless activity, but we lucked onto some pretty strange avenues of exposure. Regarding your question, yeah. It was intended to show teachers what “today’s kids” felt about the issues of the day. It’s pretty priceless when you see it now, I gotta say.
AR: Do you have a copy?
DD: Yes I do. It’s too cool.
AR: What do your kids think of it? I wonder if it seems to them what ‘50s youth films were to us.
DD: They think it’s hilarious, especially since it was shot in black and white – and while our band plays an instrumental that’s kind of psychedelic-jazzy, the camera effects are “attempting” to be psychedelic in a classic way. Looks like something out of one of those Something Weird DVD trailers. Plus they think their dad and his friends look like freaks, but that’s to be expected.
AR: Do they ever roll their eyes at you and say you don’t understand or that you’re out of it? Please say, no.
DD: It’s actually kind of weird. I know what you’re getting at, and I’m not a moron about this sort of stuff, but I don’t really feel that in our relationship. I would say a part of it is because as they were growing up, they saw me doing a set number of things – listening to music, burning CDs, playing computer games on the Internet. A long time ago, when they were infants, part of my job was watching cheesy exploitation movies – that they are increasingly more interested in doing themselves. The only time we really seem to split on stuff is when they actually watch moronic reality shows, which I tell them are horrendous, and they seem to agree, but watch them just as well.
AR: What do you think made you the way you were at the time? Had you seen Zappa on the Steve Allen show?
DD: No I didn’t see that, but I had seen Zappa at least two or three times by then. He was absolutely a heroic figure, at least up through his Uncle Meat album – speaking of particles.
AR: Were you also aware of Beefheart at the time – in so much that you were becoming one of his greatest admirers?
DD: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I’ve got a tape of some of my friends “jamming” in my living room in May 1970 during which we cover Beefheart’s “The Blimp,” which is accompanied by another song improvised by my good friend the bass player called “Hot And Slimy Weenie.” Considering that Zappa would put out an album called Burnt Weenie Sandwich, that we would stick hot dogs into fan blades, and that, when I mentioned seeing Jim Morrison’s penis in concert I called it his “Weenie,” I would say there is a theme to be had here, er, frankly.
AR: Your way of celebrating the sexual revolution or the opposite of penis envy…
DD: Now you’re talking! Either that or we were just a bunch of dicks.
AR: Or going through a delayed ‘pee-poo-weenie’ phase most kids go through – typically in drawings – when they’re six or so…
DD: I would say prolonged rather than delayed.
AR: Ha-ha… very good. What was your other high school band?
DD: That was one I mentioned before that was briefly a “house band” for some University of Miami fraternity. I think it means we played dopey cover songs and got paid and it lasted for just a handful of parties. Truly nothing special, just a bunch of young teenagers who liked music trying to do something with it. A good way to spend weekends – playing, practicing, whatever.
AR: Did you ever address any of the political things happening at the time? Nixon being ‘The One’, Yoko breaking up the Beatles?
DD: Hmm. No, honestly we were more into playing spacey music. I think we were a tad cowed by the idea of performing a lot of original material – this in the early ‘70s as opposed to the mid-70s, when punk rock stuff made it easy for anyone to write a song, and anyone did.
AR: Why do you suppose that was the kind of music you were most compelled to play – because it was sort of experimental for you?
DD: Yeah, and we genuinely liked that stuff the most: Soft Machine, Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd, Quicksilver, Beefheart – it just sounded more interesting than a lot of the commercial music of the day. I wouldn’t say we were snobs about this stuff, though.
AR: C’mon, no Magical Mystery Tour or White Album?
DD: Actually, MMT is my favorite Beatles album. I am very interested in the pop music that came out of England mostly circa ‘67-69, stuff like Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle” – was a point when there was a conscious exploration of attempting “new” things in the studio to put into a pop record, and the publics’ taste largely liked the new and unexpected, as opposed to today’s rather dreary scenario, which I witness firsthand every day.
AR: When in high school did you get a feel for what you wanted to get into or pursue in college?
DD: In high school I was editor of the school newspaper, so I suppose it seems logical I would end up in journalism. But I actually got a BS in psychology in college, worked in a mental hospital, and fully intended to get a PH.D. down the road. But while I was at college, I got involved with the campus radio station, as a DJ and later music director, and also started writing music reviews for the paper – this was Michigan State, by the way.
AR: It was a transitional time in history, too.
DD: When I graduated, I was potentially going to get a gig with the State of Michigan that had something to do with, if I remember correctly, drugs or drug education. I went in for the interview, thought it went well, but I never got a call back from the guy and was going broke. A friend asked me if I wanted to work at the local record store, I said sure – who wouldn’t at that age – so I did. Two days after I started working there, the State guy called me back and officially offered me the job. But I felt that if I quit the record store job, I would let my friend down, so I declined. Weird, then, because if he had called a week earlier, I doubt I’d be doing what I’m doing right now.
AR: Jeez, talk about fate. What made you choose the college you did?
DD: No, I grew up in Miami and wasn’t fond of the weather there. MSU sort of inundated me with recruitment mail, let’s say.
AR: As opposed to any others you were thinking about?
DD: I had spent the summer of 1970 in Madison Wisconsin at the University there for some special weird program thing – this was the summer their math building was infamously blown up by crazed leftists, and I liked the Midwest a bit after that. When I was there, the Oscar Meyer weenie factory made all of Dane county smell like a hot dog. They ran their smokestacks at night so no one could see they polluted stuff. Then they added fragrance to the smoke exhaust to make it smell sweet instead of hotdog-like!
AR: The ice cream, the weenies, the primate lab… disguised noxious fumes. Good times. You didn’t decide on Madison, though?
DD: No, my parents did not want me to go to a place where they blew up math buildings.
AR: Ah-haha, so the next best thing was Michigan?
DD: In a manner of speaking. I certainly liked it there.
AR: The job at the mental health complex no doubt gave you valuable experience for working later at Creem.
DD: That was my take on it.
AR: What were your early days there like? You wound up meeting a couple that would later write, right?
DD: When I first went there, took me a while to get to the overwhelming slowness of the people’s dialect. Find Upper Peninsula accents cuter but quirky. I had a large record collection at that time already, and was put in a corner dorm room with three other fine young Michigan dudes. That was too many roommates. Within a half year, they all moved out and I had a single room for the duration of my stay, dorm-wise. I made friends at the local (campus) radio station and gravitated towards people also interested in music. None of my friends went to that school, but I made several good ones there, many of whom I am still good friends with. Among the people I made friends with who would later write were Bill Holdship, John Neilson, Renaldo Migaldi (who works for the Chicago Reader at the moment), a guy who has since become a successful fiction writer, William Barnhardt. The campus radio experience allowed me to meet various record company types, and one very nice lady who was the college rep for A&M Records ultimately is the person who referred me to the folks at Creem in 1979.
Stay tuned for part 3