Luminous Muse

LuminousMuse

LuminousMuse
Location
Massachusetts, USA
Birthday
September 20
Title
Retired composer, music publisher and producer. Writer.
Company
Manchester Music Library
Bio
My memoir "Escaping the Giant" and my thriller "You Can't Write About Me" are both finished and with an agent. If he can't sell them I will self-publish, so one way or another they will be available soon. This blog and my memoir have enjoyed a vibrant relationship: I've repurposed bits of the memoir, which have then found their way into later drafts of the book. I didn't plan it that way, but it's a nice way to work.

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Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 12, 2010 11:28AM

Satisfaction and Mad Men

Rate: 27 Flag

Like many, I’m a big fan of AMC’s “Mad Men.”  I have long been disappointed by all the  books and movies that fail to capture the spirit of the 1960’s. It’s one of my motivations for writing, to try to do that myself.

From the first episode Mad Men evoked in me chilling moments of remembrance  – not of the counterculture, but the times that preceded it, and that are so necessary to understanding it. Those Selectric typewriters at the office, kids playing cowboys and Indians at home, the clothes, the incessant smoking and drinking were just what went on in my house and so many others. Bert Cooper’s office, with its oriental conceits takes me back in the office of a number of my friend’s dads, who were professors at Wesleyan University.

Matthew Weiner is a graduate of Wesleyan, as am I. Like me he was born in Baltimore. These facts make my connection with the show a little stronger.

“Mad Men” drops hints that the counterculture 60s are coming. At the beginning of Season One Don loses a lover to beatniks downtown. They’re smoking more than cigarettes. We see the teacher he later has an affair with dancing around a maypole in a flowery dress, grinning as only a flower child could.

And the big historical events which set our movement in motion are there. That they’re often in the background – Selma reported on a black-and-white TV behind a conversation, a passing shot of a wedding invitation on a desk, dated November 22nd –underscores the fact that much of the world at the time  (certainly Don Draper’s) had no idea of their importance.

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There’s nothing behind the scenes about the appearance of Dylan’s “Times They are a-Changin” at the end of Season One. And that’s as it should be. If books and movies are disappointing in evoking the counterculture 60s, music never is. From “We Shall Overcome” through “Are You Experienced,” it was the lifeblood of the counterculture, and still evokes it. Music not only expressed everything we thought and felt better than words or pictures ever could, announcing the times that were changing. The powerful vibrations of the music itself –its energy, hope, love –were actually changing the times.

Hearing that song I fell for the show.  Why? I can hear Dylan sing it any time on CD, or cassette, even probably on vinyl if I want to look up in the attic. It was the context Mad Men had provided that made the song hit me so hard. But it wasn’t exactly a surprise – some commentary told me it was coming.

I saw episode 8 of the latest season – “The Summer Man.”  Don’s in the locker room of his new gym. Vague music comes from a little transistor radio – it could have been the one I owned that summer –then as he steps into the sun of a Manhattan summer street that music turns way up, just as music was doing everywhere then. It’s the most famous 8 note riff in rock and roll. I felt it in my fingers, felt my blood rise.

images-11 

 

When I'm watchin' my TV

and a man comes on to tell me

how white my shirts can be.

Well he can't be a man 'cause he doesn't smoke

the same cigarettes as me.

images-13 

The irony is delicious – Don wearing the whitest of white shirts, and he is that man, whose biggest account is Lucky Strike, pulling one front his shirt pocket on that line.

Then “Hey hey hey, that’s what I say..” a reference to Ray Charles’ breakout hit, as we see a smiling black couple, the guy looking liking Malcom X. Finally two girls with 60s hairdos, and Don thinks he smells perfume as Mick sings, “I can’t get no  girlie action…”

 The expert syncing of song and picture wasn’t what had me wanting to crawl into the nearest time machine and race back to 1965. It was seeing again those times  so deeply, lovingly depicted, creating a context into which “Satisfaction” fell, giving me something I despaired of ever feeling again –a touch of what it was like to hear it, back then.

“Satisfaction” was a pivotal song because it made a critical leap – conflating dissatisfaction with the emptiness of consumer culture with the frustration of very personal desires. As such it became a rallying cry for the budding counterculture, which wasn’t getting anything they needed from the world created by Don Draper, but was starting to know where to look for satisfaction, if not more – to sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

I remember how “Satisfaction” sounded to me when I first heard it, in my dark night of teenaged dissatisfaction. I was starting my second year at boarding school. I had no friends, no promise of a girlfriend. But I still had an electric guitar, though I hadn’t touched it in months.

                                                                -------- 

That fall my insomnia was worse than ever. It brought with it a bad mood that blackened with each waking hour, and reached a darker place with each cumulative night of lost sleep. I stared out at the floodlit gables of the other dorms. But I couldn’t see anything beyond the darkness inside, no hope for happiness. Not in music. I hadn’t had a band in the year and a half.

I saw a glimmer. Sex. This fabled experience might lift me. But with that thought I plunged ever further. For even if sex was the answer, it would never happen to me. With no friends I had nothing to counter the judgments of my tormenters of the previous year, nothing to tell me I wasn’t a member of the very lowest caste, of the terminally “out to lunch.” When it came to girls, I knew I was literally untouchable.

Things looked a little better in the light of day.  Sex was no less attainable – indeed, I hadn’t even seen a girl in months. I couldn’t get a girlfriend, saw no prospect of a band. But I could get a fuzz tone – like the one on “Satisfaction.”

images-10 

I had been suffering from a lull in the evolution of rock guitar. I could play most of what I heard. The couple of exceptions – that crazed solo on The Kinks “You Really Got Me,” and the even crazier one on The Byrds “Eight Miles High” –were impossible for me and every other guitarist I knew. So there was really no motivation to play.

Until “Satisfaction.” Not only did the lyrics precisely express my midnight despair, but there was this guitar lick that performed a magical counterintuitive function. Mick Jagger sang of despair, but all the time that guitar sang of pure pleasure. Each note delivered every ounce of satisfaction Jagger couldn’t get. In it I heard the  guitar expanding beyond the realm of notes, into new sounds, and my interest was rekindled.

“Satisfaction” was such a big deal that I read about it in Newsweek, perhaps in the same issue as the full page picture of my family with my father, who was just then becoming world famous. I was more interested in the piece on “Satisfaction.” It told me that what made that magical guitar sound was a Maestro fuzz tone.  I had to get one.

 I walked into town to the local music store. Soon I would be frequenting it as all hot guitarists did in those days, using the pretense of trying out guitars to impress other kids. And it often worked. Unfortunately it would be a few years before any girls would brave music stores.

But that day I came for a fuzz tone. The old guy behind the counter fished it out from under the glass, giving me the same dour look that old music storeowners were giving aspiring rockers across the country. I rushed back to my room with it clutched under my arm, smiling for the first time in a while.

I eagerly prized it from the box. The instructions promised:  “Make the sounds of all of these instruments!  Violin!  Saxophone! Timpani!” I shook my head, confused. What I wanted was the sound of  “Satisfaction.”

I rigged the thing between guitar and amp, and, curious, tried out the various settings.

Whether I dialed in Violin, Sax, or Trombone, they all sounded the same – like nasty goose farts. Nothing like what was on the record. It was probably the fault of persnickety pre-silicon transistors, but I didn’t know what was wrong with it. The sound I wanted was a kind of distortion –but not those goose farts.

I met a fellow guitar player down the hall. Luke had a better sound. He plugged his guitar into the back of his Wollensac reel-to-reel tape recorder. I said, “What are you doing?” He smiled slyly, turned the dial to ten and the creamiest sound leapt from the little speaker. “Let me try?” He handed me the guitar and the frets suddenly felt like silk I was instantly a better player. I’d discovered – before many music manufacturers – what I was after: the beauty of smooth analog distortion, which came from tubes. I’d be using it to increasing benefit as I gradually turned up louder and louder over the next years. 

 I already recognized hipness, in the Beatles, and recently the Stones. Luke was the first person I met who possessed that quality. He was tall with a long face and longer arms, allowing him to perform a unique trick:  as he talked he would loop an arm over the top of his head and absentmindedly scratch the whiskers starting to grow on his chin.  I loved that he wasn’t afraid to act a little strange. He seemed aloof from all the mean nonsense at my boarding school, just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Which made me half an iota less flabbergasted when he admitted that he’d gotten laid - the act that had so recently in the dark of night appeared as my only possible salvation.

I knew not to take such bragging seriously at school, except that if anyone wasn’t a bullshitter, it was Luke. And his tale had the sort of detail that’s hard to make up. He’d drunk peppermint schnapps and gone all the way with his girlfriend back home.  “One night when her parents were out we did it three times on the white carpet of her living room.”

My eyes bugged out. I asked,  “What was it like?”

He shook his head, “It wasn’t that great.”

What? How could that be? And why did he seem so sad when he told the tale? “What do you mean, it wasn’t that great?”

“The last time we did it her parents came home early and caught us. That’s why I got sent away to Logan.”

OK. That was pretty bad. Still, I asked for advice.

“Don’t worry about doing it.  Get to kiss a girl first.”  That sobered me right up. How was that ever going to happen? There were no girls around. It didn’t matter anyway. I was untouchable. And yet, Luke was no jock, even a little strange looking. What he could do was play guitar.

I knew I was never going to look like Don Draper, never get women falling over me like him. But I had something he didn’t. A guitar.

 Soon after that frustrated moment, my guitar would start getting me girlfriends. More, it and the counterculture would give me a life.

 graduation playing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

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Cool. I lived through the counter culture, but wasn't quite with it. It's fascinating to look back and see what I missed.
~R
It came from tubes. It still comes from tubes, as far as I am concerned.

Great, great piece. Very entertaining.
Superb! I love Mad Men and your meditation on it was very enjoyable.
FusanA - you missed some good, some bad, some crazyugly

FLWanderer -valued praise coming from you.

Brassawe -Thank you. It comes from intertubes too, now (but never transistors -like Don's radio.)
Bluestocking - I LIVE for Mad Men, and I don't even own a TV (download it through Itunes.)
Wonderful! really enjoyed reading this. As it is for many, "Satisfaction" is to me THE song of the 60's. It sums it all up, and as you describe so well, it sounds like what was going on.

As for girls vs. guitars, Springsteen has a similar reminiscence, about how in high school in his day in order to get girls you had to be good at one of two things - -and he wasn't any good at the first one, so he focused on the second and learned to play guitar.
Very nice piece. I rememebr the 60's two -- and the reason why was cause I took the GOOD acid (rim shot.)
Mad Men gets any number of things right. And what you point to here about the relationship between Don Draper and the lyric of the Stones' song is why. Don's such a fascinating character cause he's right on the edge of hipness. He'll peer over into it (as he did in that great episode where he discovered the Frank O'Hara poem) but he never quite topples in.
Excellent and evocative. This latest "Mad Men" episode was the most familiar to me and I wondered if the music had something to do with it. Maybe it was seeing Peggy wearing a dress like I owned or Midge dressed like an older acquaintance, an artist-type who'd (gasp) actually lived in New York (lucky her). Or maybe it's remembering that I dressed like Peggy but felt like Midge (without the drugs but with a guitar)
It is fun that way you see life through music. The show is doing a very good job at showing the transition between the old guard and the new.
Your post has pushed me over the edge, luminous muse, I will go check out 'Mad Men'....I was five in 1965, with all older siblings who brought the world, from Vietnam to hippies to music to skinny ties and crew cuts, to my door. My most vivid memories are of the clashing of the fifties culture with the sixties in our house...it created rifts that never really healed for one of my siblings and my father...a common story I'd guess.
Your beautiful writing was a delight to read...
Well LM, I loved that moment too. Don stepping out in to the sun and 'Satisfaction' playing as he lit his smoke. I also had other Rolling Stone lyrics going through my head in that moment. Actually, Don Draper in his tight white t-shirt and hair-not-greased-back but loose with an electric guitar slung over his shoulders but ... I digress.

God bless distortion! Great article and love the pic (looking a tad Arlo there) with the Tele... do you remember what song you were playing? ...
I am addicted to Mad Men, too. I don't have the talent to analyze it to the extent you have, but I know that every second of each episode captures the 60s corporte milieu without error. I entered that world in 1966 after college graduation and watching the show is like watching a hidden camera movie of my own life.

Lezlie
Very enjoyable post here. I remember that same article on Satisfaction which also contained a detailed mention of the Buffalo Springfield
The show is riveting. Your post and that great PHOTO of you were just right. Peace, Love, Rock and Roll. Im an old hippie and was one of those girls who loved a guitar man.
I don't think "Mad Men" captures the 60's at all. Maybe kind of a pulp version of it, like the whole thing is filtered through photos from Life. The real thing was messier and louder and much, much worse. Rated.
Interesting article, but the author has one of the lines from "Satisfaction" wrong. It's not "I can't get no girly action". It's "I can't get no girl reaction."
"Mad Men" doesn't capture ALL of the 60's, "Manhattankid." It draws a bead on a precise segment of it. It's about corporate culture and suburbia. There's a bit of spillover into bohemia, but not much.

There is no ONE 60s. Depending on where you were and when you saw different things. I was in New York and part of the avant-garde film scene. Don Draper and his crew operated on another side of town. We knew "Of" them, but mostly experienced the effects of the world they created for us.
Luminous Muse, wonderful, wonderful essay. I'm a MM fan, but wait until the season comes out on dvd so I've been trying to avoid any spoilers. I'm glad I took the chance and read your piece, which was so evocative of the time. The early 60s were really schizophrenic. I remember my older brother being in a band one year where the guys all wore tuxes and had go-go girls dancing on stage. By the next year they had chucked that look and were driving around in a used hearse.
Oh, and yes, girls do love musicians.
~s
I was born in '67, and my Dad is a pianist - he plays virtually any style of music, and has messed with every possible type of keyboard. I remember his bands, and the different ways in which they would get the sound they were looking for. This piece took me back . . .
You had the look. I was a DC lad, but would spend a couple of weeks every summer in Ballmer at my uncle's (off Harford Rd). I remember thinking Satisfaction was cool, but I was supposed to be a soul guy. Later I tried to learn Iron Man as required - still working on that. Went the alienated poet route, but there wasn't much action there either. For me, the 60s were vicariously exciting.
This is a really great post, so well-written. As I told you in a PM, for various reasons I haven't been able to watch "Mad Men" yet, and I was afraid this post would be full of spoilers. I'm so glad you assured me it wasn't - and that it was instead, simply, a lovely, well-thought-out contemplation of music on the show - and in your life. Great job, great album cover (Loooove Bob Dylan, Stones meh, sorry) and photo! R.
LM~ I love your essays. You and I are about the same age, and seeing all the detail through your prism is like reliving not-quite-alined superimposed sensory memories. "Satisfaction" was a main component of a post I did this past summer (linked here if you have any interest in reading): http://open.salon.com/blog/dirndl_skirt/2010/07/29/deep_pockets_of_summer
You've achieved something no one else has on OS: made me want to go back and watch the first disc of "Mad Men" again. I wasn't impressed (seemed to try too hard, stylistically, and also to compress every early 60s cliche into a neat package for ga-ga-about-mid-century modern twenty-somethings).
And hey~"girly action!" Mick would never say "girl reaction":)
Really enjoyed this look back, I just missed this time by a few years..
Hey Luminous, over at Nelle's blog I picked up on that same Satisfaction scene in MM. Nice account of the quest for the perfect fuzz. The sounds were sure exploding back then.

Re the lyrics, I'd always remembered it as "can't get no girl reaction". I haven't googled it but are you sure it's "girlie action"?
My, thank you all for such kind comments.
Nelle- such a thrill to get a shout out the Mad Men lady herself! (Soon as I see an episode I race to read you.)
David - I'll see your rim shot and raise you a cymbal crash.
Nikki - Love your new picture. And I'm curious - what kind of music did you write???
Snarky - The old and the new. Exactly. What Mad Men, the 60s, and my life has been all about.
Just Thinking - Common, indeed. Generation Gap was a cliche, but oh so true.
Scarlett - Arlo!?! At least I wasn't pudgy (then).
L in the S -"Hidden camera movie" - I have felt the same way with MM.
Dr. Spud - You, sir, have a memory! Good for memoir, good for writing.
Zanelle - Judging from your posts on men, we GUI-tar men have been nothing but trouble. "Oh, but just sing me another one, dear." And it will be alright.
Manhattankid - Louder, Messier, of course. But Mad Men is looking at THOSE 60s from this little lens on the other side of the room.
Johnny D - Different lyric sites have it different ways. But I stand by this set of lyrics (see Dirndl below.)
Stephanie - "tuxes and go-go girls...to driving around in a used hearse." Poetry!
Damon - Maybe I HAD the look. My wife insisted on that picture. I said "because of the hair, right?" "Yeah, that you had."
Alysa - squeezing myself between you and Scarlett, but I was always a Beatles rather than Stones guy. But can't help loving "Satisfaction" (and "Ruby Tuesday.")
Dirndl - Thank you, and I am now going to look up your post.
Rita - Everyone in the 60s, including me, felt they missed something by a few years. That's feelings just part of the times...
Agrawang - different sites have different versions. I'll stick with mine (backed up by dirndlskirt.) But who knows? More important - is it "'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" or "kiss this guy"?
I too am an avid Mad Men fan! What you say about the music resonates for me. I often think of my life as having a sound track. I hear a song and I am transported to another time and place. I'm not sure new music will do that as well when it becomes old music. There wasn't as much noise as there is now so songs stood out more and had a greater impact on our memories in the making.
You said what I've been trying to put my finger on.... Mad Men allows you to feel what it was like to experience those things again in their proper context.... That is what is missing when I try to explain about hearing the Velvet Underground or the Who, or seeing Jaws or Star Wars all for the first time. Fine essay about a fine topic and a fine TV program. Thanks!
This is a great take on it. rated!
Wonderful! I truly enjoyed reading this excellent post.