On a Losing Streak

On a Losing Streak

 (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, by the Rolling Stones 1965, encountered 1965

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            One-twoooo, one-two-three!  One-twooooo, one-two-three!  First you hear Keith Richards’ fuzz guitar playing this rhythm, lancing upwards in one of the most famous riffs in all of rock.  And then Charlie Watts lays down almost the same rhythm on the drums, an abortive march ending each measure with the little cha-cha-cha that keeps the beat as jerky and unfulfilled as the lyrics proclaim the singer to be.  Lyrics full of disdain for commercialism and sexual frustration – and what could more potently articulate the psyche of a 16 year-old in the summer of 1965?

Certainly nothing I was listening to that summer.

Now, my thesis about the way most of us listen to most rock lyrics is that we don’t take them in as a whole, especially at first.  Partly because of the vexed acoustics they’re embedded in.  (For instance, when Mick sang “I can’t get no girl reaction,” I’ll bet half the listeners heard what I heard: “I can’t get no girlie action” – which is a little bit more risqué.  And on the other hand, I’ll bet lots of people heard “I’m trying to meet some girl” rather than the blunter “I’m trying to make some girl,” which was what Mick actually sang.)

That’s one reason.  Another is that little fragments of words and music mean so much they tend to distract you from the bigger picture.  It took me a while to get past “I try and I try and I try and I try” sung as a rising cadence, because that spoke to me.  I was trying very hard the summer of 1965, and not provoking much girl reaction.  Or any other kind.

That was a summer in which it seemed as if everywhere, people were doing big things.  The Great Society had been proclaimed.  A Michigan grad was doing a space walk.  We were told we were winning the Vietnam War – or would anyway, once we responded properly to that Gulf of Tonkin thing.  And here I was not doing much.

Harmonica Don’t Cut It

One of the ways I wasn’t doing much was musically.  With rock at what many would consider to be its highest tide ever, we all wanted to go on down to Yasgur’s farm and join in a rock-n-roll band,[1] me as much as anyone else.  But my instrument was (sigh) the harmonica.  I’d sort of flamed out on the piano, in equal parts from a) a lack of talent on my part, b) my mother and stepdad’s interest in making me play classical, which just didn’t cut it in 1965, and c) my father’s inability to stake me to a Farfisa organ despite my begging him.  I think if I’d been given that Farfisa I would have been able to fight my way into some kind of music group.  I would never have had people in ecstasy over my fingerwork, but I might have been just good enough.

But I played the harmonica.  And not just any kind of harmonica.  A couple of years before, my father had given me, out of the blue, a Hohner Chromonica 64.  Unless you play harmonicas, that may not mean much to you.  Suffice it to say that it’s a classic; the same instrument is sold to this day.  It’s extremely versatile, with a huge four-octave range, and you can play it in any key, which all sounds like a plus, but playing it in almost any key except C major and A minor takes a good deal of practice, and because of the Well-Tempered Clavier problem, it is not as exquisitely tuned in any individual key as are key-specific diatonic instruments, aka blues harps.  And it’s really only for melodies; it’s not built to play chords on.  Also bending notes is quite hard.  So you have to work at it to sound really good.  The day would come when I would sound pretty good at this monster,[2] but that day was not one of the days in1965.[iii]

So I was one of the crowds who would hang around and listen while the bands played.

Proto-Aftermath

I’m called to mind of one sticky summer evening.  I was on a corner on the east side of the campus, I think near the Michigan League.  Some early version of Aftermath (later known to Motor City fans as Rhinoceros, and then as the Charging Rhinoceros of Soul)[4] was playing up on a temporary stage.  Actually, I don’t think they were even Aftermath yet, since that name was a rip-off of the Rolling Stones’ album name, and the album titled Aftermath wasn’t released until mid-1966.  But I remember them as Aftermath.  They had guitars and, if memory serves, horns.  And they were playing Satisfaction.   And my frenemy Paul was playing with them.

I remember listening to those lyrics, and feeling they were written about me.  Paul of course was playing an instrument they wanted.  Paul was playing well enough to get invited to participate.  Paul had the girls looking at him.  And the band was very good, by local standards, anyway.  I could see that.  Paul was getting some Satisfaction.

As for me, I had nothing to show yet.  Only the folkies in my circle would let me play my harmonica with them.  And high school hootenanny parties simply did not compare to wowing a bunch of university students right up there in public.

Forever after, when I hear that song, I think of that evening.

           …‘cause you see I’m on a losing streak.
          I can’t get no, oh no no no.
          a Hey hey hey, that’s what I say.

[1]   Okay, I know perfectly well that that’s a lyric that refers to an event four summers later.  A little poetic license, please, if you can spare it.

[2]   I expect to write in a later Theme Song entry about the moment I got passable.  I’m never going to be professional quality, but I can rock the room now – almost fifty years too late.

[3]   I grew so attached to the Chromonica and its slightly upscale chromatic cousins that I played nothing but chromatics until my sixties.  When I finally experimented with diatonics, in many respects they were a piece of cake.  Going the other direction would have been harder.

[4]   I think I remember hearing that they had to enlarge the name to dispel confusion with a Chicago band called Rhinoceros.

Copyright (c) Jack L. B. Gohn (except for commercial images)

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