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Birth of a Rock and Roll Child
by Carl Halling
08/13/12
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I was born a Londoner at the tail end of a street called Goldhawk Road to the west of the city, and my first home was a little Victorian cottage in the long-demolished Bulmer Place in Notting Hill. You'll search in vain for this poky little street in any London map, although you'll still be able to locate a Bulmer Mews tucked away some yards away from the main road of Notting Hill Gate.
On the day I was born, Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, radical psychologist RD Laing, controversial war hero Colonel Oliver North, Laurel Canyon songstress Judee Sill, conservative activist Paul Weyrich, and Russian politician Vladimir Putin celebrated their 58th, 28th, 13th, 11th and 3rd birthdays respectively, while Beat poet Amiri Baraka, left-wing revolutionary Ulrike Meinhof, and Falklands War commander Major Julian Thompson all hit 21.
What's more, it was marked by an event which had a colossal if largely unrecognised influence on the evolution of our culture, one known as the Six Gallery reading, or Six Angels in the Same Performance.
On the evening of the 7th of October 1955, about 150 people gathered at San Francisco's Six Gallery to witness readings of poems by Allen Ginsberg, Phillip Whalen, Phillip Lamantia, Michael McClure and Gary Snyder, all of whom went on to be leading lights of the Beat Generation. As to the future King of the Beats, Jack Kerouac, he attended but didn't read, preferring to cheerlead instead in a state of ecstatic inebriation. His “On the Road” published two years later, and dealing with his wanderings across America with his muse and friend Neal Cassady, remains Beat's most famous ever work.
After the Six Gallery reading, the Beat movement, which had existed in embryonic form since about 1944, left the underground to gradually mutate into an international craze, so that by the end of the decade, the Beatnik had taken his place as a universally recognised icon with his beret, goatee beard, turtle-neck sweater, sandals and so on.
1955 was also the year in which Rock and Roll made its first major impact on the mainstream as a result of record successes by R&B artists such as Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. However, it's “The Blackboard Jungle”, which, released on the 20th of March, is widely with igniting the Rock and Roll revolution, indeed late 20th Century teenage rebellion as a whole. It did so by featuring Bill Haley & His Comets' cover of Sonny Dae and His Knights' “Rock Around the Clock” over the film's opening credits. Haley's version, which was remarkable for its earth-shaking sense of urgency, ensured the world would never be the same after it. Then in August, Sun Records released a long playing record entitled “Elvis Presley, Scotty and Bill”, featuring a young truck driver from the small town of Tupelo, Mississippi. He went on to become Rock's single most influential figure apart from the Beatles.
On the 30th of September, James Dean died in hospital following a motor accident at the appallingly early age of 24 after having made only three films, the most symbolic of which, Nicholas Ray's “Rebel Without a Cause” emerged about a month afterwards. It could be said that “Rebel” is the motion picture industry's defining elegy to the rebelliousness of post-war youth, and that as the latter's ultimate icon, Dean's beautiful, tortured image has never dated, nor been surpassed. And that the modern cult of youth was born in the mid 1950s.
Many theories exist as to how the staid conformist fifties could have yielded as if by magic to the wild Dionysian sixties, some convincing, others less so. For me, if a little leaven is present in a theory for me it leavens, or spoils, the entire lump, even when much of it may be sound. Far from being a sudden, unexpected event, the post-war cultural revolution has historical roots reaching at least as far back as the so-called Enlightenment, since which time the West has been consistently assailed by tendencies hostile to its Judeo-Christian moral fabric.
What happened in the 1960s was as I see it simply the culmination of many decades of activity on the part of revolutionaries and avant-gardists, which had been especially intensive since the First World War. Even Rock, a music which the American evangelist John MacArthur once described as having a bombastic atonality and dissonance was foreshadowed at its most experimental by the so-called “emancipation of the dissonant” brought about by Classical composers of various Modernist schools.
Still, for all the change that raged around me as a child growing up in sixties London, my own little world was an idyllic one; and on the surface of things, I imagine the capital's western suburbs had altered little since the day I was born when the spirit of Victorian morality could be said to have been yet more or less intact in Britain. Although on a more radical level, I think it's fair to say she'd undergone what could be called a colossal transformation in the brief few years since the dawn of the previous decade.
My brother was born just a little over two and a half years after me, by which time my parents had been able to afford their own house in Bedford Park in what was then the London Borough of Acton. Built by Norman Richard Shaw, Bedford Park was the world's first Garden Suburb. By the 1880s, it was a Bohemian centre for intellectuals and artistic free-thinkers its residents going on to include most famously the great Anglo-Irish poet WB Yeats. The painter Arthur Pinero was another resident; as was the actress Florence Farr, who like Yeats was deeply involved in mysticism and the occult.
Some time after the dawn of the next century, the area had declined to the extent that bus conductors would allegedly shout out “Poverty Park!” when their vehicles came to a halt at the local stop. However, the foundation, in 1963, of the Bedford Park Society led to the listing of 356 houses by the government, and so, much of the estate becoming part of the Bedford Park Conservation Area. During my boyhood it was still demographically mixed, yet well on the way to becoming completely gentrified.
Future Who front man Roger Daltry had relocated there from inner West London when he was 11 years old in 1955 or '56. A few years later, he formed a group in the Skiffle - or Jug Band - style called The Detours. Once it had shape-shifted into The Who, its furiously hedonistic music and philosophy would go on to make a permanent impression on the Western psyche and help fuel the British Invasion of America.

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