Discover more from Critical Conditions by Wayne Robins
The Rolling Stones At Oakland Coliseum, November 9, 1969
Featuring Ike & Tina Turner, B.B. King, Terry Reid. With a special appearance by Bill Graham
This is the raw transcript of my handwritten notes from the concert. There are words that should have been strikethroughs, so there might be some redundant adjectives. I was staying for about a month in a hovel, literally a broom closet off the kitchen large enough for my sleeping bag, in the Mission District of San Francisco in what is now called a “gap year” from college. I had left old Bard College (the pre-Botstein era) after my sophomore year in 1969, discharged for academic reasons but able to reapply the following January. The end of second year academic process at Bard was called “Moderation,” and I flunked moderation in every sense of the word.
I stayed up all night writing an “epic poem” about the Stones concert; sleep was impossible, as I had no chaser for the amount of methedrine in my system, and the potent marijuana brought on intermittent visual and audio hallucinations, which you might notice in the text. I was so uncomfortable around other people at that time that I hardly spoke to the others who lived in this group house: I did not know how, a curiosity that will be explained in a subsequent column. But the alpha male of the house was a reporter for the weekly Berkeley Barb. The Barb had gone through an editorial upheaval, and their rock critic had left for the startup weekly The Tribe, as in Red Mountain Tribe, Trotskyites who lived on a diet of Almaden Red Mountain jug wine. He told me the Barb hadn’t covered the concert, so why didn’t I whittle my epic poem into some sort of narrative and bring it over to the Barb office? I did, it ran, 28 column inches, got paid $14 at 50 cents a column inch. I appreciated the irony of the Barb editor having to go with me to the Bank of America to cash my paycheck. You could eat for a week in the Mission District in those days, and I did. I went home to New York for Thanksgiving and did not go back to the Bay Area, so I missed covering Altamont. If the writing is sophomoric, that is because I was a sophomore. But it was the first paying gig of my writing career. I was 19 years old.
By Wayne Robins. Written November 9-10, 1969. An edited version appeared in the alternative weekly, the Berkeley Barb, the following week.
HITCH-HIKE TO THE CONCERT
I walk down from the house to Mission at 14th, to the orange overpass leading to the Freeway and the Bay Bridge to Oakland. As I approach the corner to begin sticking out my thumb, a car pulls just ahead of me and unloads two dudes, one with long black hair darting from under a cowboy hat, the other with exceptionally short hair, almost military, but it was clear he was a freak, too. The longhair held a cardboard sign, on which was almost illegibly scrawled “Oakland Coliseum.”
They walked several paces ahead of me. As we turned the corner to the freeway ramp, they walked to the left side of the road, [cowboy] dangling his sign as if it was a cardboard yo-yo, bouncing rubbery off his denim jacket. A Mustang stopped, as my clearly defined thumb and their total stonedness attracted [the driver’s] attention. As we got in the back, the smell of grass we were pleasantly aroused by the aroma of freshly burnt marijuana leaves. Silent and crowded in the back, in the whole car, but for top 40 radio and a nice new Neil Diamond song. My foot fell asleep as we got out of the car, off Nimitz Freeway, Oakland, California, to see the greatest rock n roll group in the world, the Rolling Stones.
Empty stomach. Eat hot dog, coke, roast beef sandwich, ice cream sandwich. Await Terry Reid.
I’m still struggling with the situation, anticipating the first clean Rolling Stones rush. Sitting in the last row, top balcony, the people in the front rows and on stage looking like those you see in a descent landing on an airplane,when you can first focus on them from some thousand feet high up. Sitting between a hippie and his girl [on my right]; hippie doing a nod-out thing, smoking cigarettes. On my left, a straightish looking young couple, the girl looking like a spit-and-polish kindergarten teacher.
THE SHOW BEGINS
Terry Reid was loud, at times interesting, often irritating. He is nowhere as good as some reports a few months ago tried to lead us to believe. His band, solid enough to start the Coliseum moving.
At first I was surprised when Bill Graham announced the “chairman of the board, Mr. B.B. King” as the next performer. Amoeba monster music business seems to creep through Bill Graham’s veins. But he knows how to put together a show. B.B. King The Beale Street Blues Boy is a hundred times better in a smaller club, or even an average sized concert hall like Fillmore [East], New York. It was obvious he could hear neither himself or the band who were way off most of the time.
His set was respectable, nevertheless, as his voice was strong, the humble vibrations sincere; he was warmly received, and he succeeded in his the task of getting the soul adrenalin running, and balancing Terry Reid’s frantic rave-up blues. And of course, setting the stage for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue.
IKE AND TINA TURNER WITH THE IKETTES AND THE KINGS OF RHYTHM
They are incredible, masters of the stereotyped (though in this case refreshingly original) soul revue. First the warm-up man runs out, introduces lead guitarist, arranger, leader, and soul and inspiration Ike Turner, who throws off a few quick licks with the accompaniment of the Kings of Rhythm, who are always right on. It has been said that Ike is the kind of bandleader that inspects the shoe polish and wrinkles clothes wrinkles, and answers delinquency lateness from rehearsals and [mistakes in or] mediocreperformances with fines. His band stays in shape, so it just might be so. His group consists of a drummer, bass, a few horns somewhere. [The focus on] Tina didn’t seem to make who else was on stage seem too important. Ike now stands off the spotlight, in the background.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the star of our show, Tina Turner and the Ikettes,” who come jumpin’ and jivin’, slippin’ and slidin’ onto the stage, shimmying back and forth across the stage, settling into their choreography, Tina still cookin’, grabs the microphone, and bites into her adaptation of [Arthur Conley’s] “Sweet Soul Music.” Then into some blues, and Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” which features Tina panting seemingly in some pre-orgasmic ecstasy; at the pinnacle, the 20,000 or so people in the Coliseum seem to freak out, in a good way, screaming their approval. Right from there, and unless you’ve seen it, you can’t imagine how insane it was—greased-up Ike re-enters with a guitar riff, and Tina’s emboldened to reach for peaks that only Aretha has tried and for which Janis has strived—“Here comes old flat-top, he come grooving up slowly...” And here is Tina, exhorting us to “Come Together.”
In New York, smoking regulations are often adhered to, so by the time the headliner comes on, some of the high has faded, while here...well, you get a little high at home, then more on the way, then once inside, the flow never ceases: Hash pipes. Joints. Dealers shouting about the availability of “Reds!” which seem to be extremely popular here, especially among high school kids, acid, hash, reds, acid, “Come on, where’s all you dope addicts, anyway! Get your reds, right this way, please!” Just then, some good old boy, burning with that barbiturate desire, stumbles through the crowd and asks me, “Where’s the guy with those reds”?
Meanwhile, Ike and Tina are finishing up with “Land of 1000 Dances,” Tina doing three or four of them at once as she rotates towards the wings, the Ikettes still reelin’ and rockin’, the announcer screams her name: “Tina Turner, Tina Turner, Tina Turner!” repeating that name over and over again, the band drives harder and harder, the standing ovation louder and stronger, it refuses to let up, the amps haven’t been turned off yet, Tina sweeps back to the stage in her white mesh mini-dress, and for an encore, begins to beg: “Please, Please, Please,” and James Brown would have grinned his ass off.
THE ROLLLING STONES, NOW. OR SOON
Run down quick, stretch the legs. Stand around lobby, dig the crowd, the anticipation replaced by an anxious sense of now, of history. A fulfillment of dream, and you know it’s going to happen any minute now. Any minute now, yet the tantalizing moment of truth seems to be slipping away.
Promoter Bill Graham is center stage, stalling. “The Rolling Stones will be on next, so do what you gotta do, just remember, it’s still illegal last I heard.” Graham’s comment is regarded more joke than threat; they’d have to bust the whole building. The often contentious Graham seems warm, he’s been pretty together all evening. (He had sometimes seemed out of sorts, though similarly highly visible, whenever I had seen him at the Fillmore East, but if nothing else, Graham was a man who knows how to make rock shows run on time.) Graham is in master of ceremonies mode. “I see Mr. Garcia in the audience,” giving a wave in the direction of where Jerry might be sitting. The audience applauds. “I hate to sound like Ed Sullivan,” Graham says, but there’s quite a few of the old guard here tonight.” I’ve written down the names of “Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Dead, Joe Namath, Arturo Toscanini and Arthur Rimbaud.” I don’t know if Graham actually said those names, or that under the influence of both Hunter Thompson, the writer, and Hunter Thompson, the prodigious drug user, whose hallucinatory level I tried to match that night, I just wrote those names down.
What Graham does say is, “I know these things don’t happen in the Bay Area, but please don’t rush the stage, because you’re excited, and that’s cool, but you might be bumming out some other people, who won’t say anything to you but will get you with their vibrations.”
The reaction to that one I couldn’t understand at all. I don’t understand whether that kind of rap is considered corny here, or tolerated [accepted] as communal advice. It was more, as Kesey would say, “neither accept nor reject,” and the electrical positive energy force was strong enough to overlook any miscalculation in protocol.
Note: This attribution to Ken Kesey is probably not correct. It appears, in different forms (“neither accept nor deny,” for example,) in Tom Wolfe’s accounting in the “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip” of a really bad Trips Festival outing to Watts or Compton, just after the Watts riots of August 1965, at which the setting was...wrong, and the dosage was disastrously high, resulting in a lot of bum trips and the Grateful Dead apparently too stoned to play.
I’m just getting used to Bill Graham’s position in this city, which is the most frenzied love-hate affair you could ever see on anybody’s trip.
Any minute now, and led by scattered impatients [impatience] (do I mean “in- patients”? ) the Coliseum audience begins a clap/stomp: “We want our show.” Mine! I want it! One of the Stones’ entourage comes out to announce, “the boys arrived a trifle late,” answered by a surprising number of boos. This city has been excited teased for the last week, amid some consternation about ticket prices, which went for $7.50 top, unless Graham did the same thing the promoter was said to have done in L.A. which was save the first 20 rows for trade, friends, press, favors, etc., an instant status symbol for those willing to pay $12.50 a shot. (My ticket, in the last row of the highest section of Oakland Coliseum, was $6.)
All week the Bay Area airwaves have been riddled with Rolling Stones music and almost nothing else; one station did a four hour solid Stones’ extravaganza, another interviewed Jagger in the studio. Ads every five minutes, though quite superfluous, because all tickets for both shows were sold out, and anybody who didn’t know that the Rolling Stones would be at the Oakland Coliseum that week must have been so far away, so completely out of touch with our excuse for civilization, that words would be wasted.
Any minute now...
Any minute now, another apology, how the boys are getting themselves together, and will be out in “literally two minutes.” Count them. Someone hands me a joint and it’s time to go higher. Visionary rushes, but whose vision? I’m channeling my Bard friend Berman, that trippy stoned beyond boundaries look and laugh he’d get, and then it turns out, the Stones’ stage rep was good as his word. Two minutes, and “Now, for rock ‘n’ roll,” the crowd erupts.
It is Mick Jagger, alive and magical, in what I can only hope to describe as a red, white and blue outfit, like a peyote American flag, over a black jumpsuit, with a magnificent flowing fiery red scarf, long as a scarf anyway, but worn around the neck, like a necktie. On his head, an Uncle Sam hat, stripes from the night they drove old Dixie down. He waves it like a wand, bows like an electric enchanted swan, as if introducing himself:
“Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name.”
The closed circuit TV screen, looming large above the stage, allows scrutiny of his facial movement: He moves like a ballet dancer who knows he’s baaad. “I was born in a crossfire hurricane,” he almost pouts; as “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” begins, he’s a bit off the beat, the Stones seeming to have trouble coordinating, hearing each other. Two amps are malfunctioning, and microphones seem poorly placed. Mick apologized, but as far as The People are concerned, “it’s all right, in fact it’s a gas.” Hip to the sound situation, Mick tells Keith to get his acoustic guitar, while the amps are fixed. It’s a duo, “Prodigal Son,” Mick and Keith on the Delta at “Beggar’s Banquet.” Can a white man sing the blues, Ralph Gleason, Mike Bloomfield? [a controversy then playing out in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine]
As Mick was later to put it: “Shee-it.”
Almost apologetic for the low-key start of the set, Jagger assuredly told the crowd to be patient, it will be worth it, “when we get our electricity straight, we’ll really get it on.” It sounded almost ominous. He meant it as the band launched into Chuck Berry’s “Oh Carol.” Keith Richards, headmaster of the Chuck Berry School of Guitar, picking quickly, carefully, waddling if not quite duck-walking. Charlie Watts drumming now into it, Bill Wyman, clean and coherent on bass, chewing gum as ever standing in some distant shadow. Mick Taylor, now synched with Keith’s rhythm guitar, playing sure, creative tough leads. The mastery over “Oh Carol” was total, and the audience responded with ecstatic applause. The crowd is stoned, of course, but stoned with respect, as if the band had been able you surpass the impossibly high expectations, a chord struck uniting audience and band beyond a musical or theatrical connection, a psychic platform on which the country’s emergent stoned majority can climb on to. [Inscrutable handwriting here, something about John Lennon, Jesus, and a sold out resurrection at Disneyland, an event that had not actually occurred.]
Another acoustic blues followed, Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” from the new album, “Let It Bleed.” Jagger sounds almost solemn, declaring: “It’s something that we didn’t write, but wish we did.”
The pace picks up with a show-stopping “Sympathy for the Devil,” if the show was stoppable; only another equipment glitch made it so. They toned it down for a harder edged, but still slow-paced “I’m Free.” The new album, “Let It Bleed,” would not be released for nearly a month, but a new song played at Oakland will rank as one of Jagger-Richards all-time classics. It’s called “Midnight Rambler.” It starts with Mick blowing from the hips on harmonica, then singing with savage intent. Keith’s playing ferocious rock blues, then things slow down while Mick raps out the lyrics, Charlie and Bill, who’ve slowed to inaudibility, pick the beat up again, and everyone in the arena’s minds seem so blown you can almost see the brain matter on the Coliseum ceiling.
How do you top the debut of “Midnight Rambler”? “Honky Tonk Women” seems a good choice, especially as Jagger, at full throttle, suddenly shouts, “Let me look at you! Let’s see this audience!” The houselights go up and on yhe floor, a couple is dancing in the aisle, then two couples, then 30 couples, then the aisles are full of people dancing, and now it’s really on: Back to the summer of 1965, rock and roll’s best 3 minutes, 30 seconds, the audience exuberance belying the title: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and all is pandemonium. A cameraman with tripod is pulled on to
the stage to save his equipment and his body from the surge, Jagger prancing back and forth, throwing kisses, waving his red scarf like a matador at the onrushing herd of bulls, people dancing on their chairs...
This is Oakland, birthplace of the Black Panther Party, and everyone knows that if they weren’t being hosted by the government [in jail], Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale would be here in their hometown, digging the scene. Reading the vibe, the Stones see the electric multitude of “power to the people” fists pumping the air, and the Stones pump back, with the only possible farewell: “Street Fighting Man,” any ambiguities of intent erased. And, before anyone can protest their departure, the house lights are on, muzak is on the loudspeakers, there’s another show tomorrow night. What can a poor boy do that’s just seen this rock and roll band? Go to the parking lot, ask for a ride back to San Francisco (done, and done), and get a little higher with the people.
For reprints of the original Barb article, or to see archives of some of my earlier work from Creem, the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Zoo World, Newsday and others, please visit the Rock Back Pages library.