1 thought on “A Whiter Shade of Pale

  1. Three things:

    A. The premise of the book brought to mind the following scene from Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”:

    Janis Joplin is singing with Big Brother in the Panhandle and almost everybody is high and it is a pretty nice Sunday afternoon between 3 and 6 o’clock which the activists say are the three hours of the week when something is most likely to happen in the Haight-Ashbury and who turns up but Peter Berg (a Mime Trouper and later a Digger) He is with his wife and six or seven other people along with Chester Anderson’s associate The Connection and the first peculiar thing is they are in blackface.

    I mention to Max and Sharon that some members of the Mime Troupe seem to be in blackface.

    “It’s street theater,” Sharon assures me, “It’s supposed be really groovy.”

    The Mime Troupers get a little closer. There are some other peculiar things about them. For one thing they are tapping people on the head with dime store plastic nightsticks and for another they are wearing signs on their backs. HOW MANY TIMES YOU’VE BEEN RAPED YOU LOVE FREAKS and WHO STOLE CHUCK BERRY’S MUSIC. Things like that.

    Then they’re distributing communication company fliers which say:

    & this summer thousands of un-white un-suburban boppers are going to want to know why you’ve given up what they can’t get & how you get away with it & how come you not a faggot with hair so long & they want Haight Street one way or the other. IF YOU DON’T KNOW, BY AUGUST HAIGHT STREET WILL BE A CEMETERY.

    Max reads the flier and stands up. “I’m getting bad vibes,” he says and he and Sharon leave.

    I have to stay around because I’m looking for Otto so I walk over to where the Mime Troupers have formed a circle around a Negro. Peter Berg is saying if anybody asks that this is street theatre, and I figure the curtain is up because what they’re doing right now is jabbing the Negro with the nightsticks. They jab and they bare their teeth and rock on the balls of their feet and they wait.

    “I’m beginning to get annoyed here the,” Negro says. “I’m going to get mad.”

    By now there are several Negroes around reading the signs and watching.

    “Just beginning to get annoyed, are you?” one of the Mime Troupers says. “Don’t you think it’s about time?”

    “Nobody stole Chuck Berry’s music, man,” says another Negro who has been studying the signs. “Chuck Berry’s music belongs to everybody.”

    ‘Yeh?” a girl in blackface says, “Everybody who?”

    “Why,” he says, confused. “Everybody in America.”

    “In America,” the blackface girl shrieks. “Listen to him talk about America.”

    “Listen,” he says helplessly. “Listen here.”

    “What’d America ever do for you?” the girl in black face jeers. “White kids here, they can sit the park all summer long listening to the music they stole, because their bigshot parents keep sending them money. Whoever sends you money?”

    “Listen,” the Negro says, his voice rising. “You’re going to start something here, this isn’t right –”

    “You tell us what’s right black boy,” the girl says.

    The youngest member of the blackface group, an earnest tall kid about 19, 20, is hanging back at the edge of the scene. I offer him an apple and ask what is going on. “ Well,” he says. “I’m new at this, I’m just beginning to study it, but you see the capitalists are taking over the District that’s what Peter – well ask Peter.”

    B. The answer is simply that blacks did not favor acid that whites did.

    C. Dylan borrowed as heavily from the British ballad tradition as he did the blues. Where’s the black in John Wesley Harding?

    In the end all that matters is the sound and respecting copyrights.


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