Monday, 26 March 2012

Rockin' at the Red Dog: The Dawn Of Psychedelic Rock (1996)

Attention, all 60's psych crazies! No matter whether you're a greenie San Francisco sound fan, a thorough West Coast scene completist or all obscure psychedelia collector, this film will definitely meet your needs. "Rockin' at the Red Dog: The Dawn Of Psychedelic Rock" is one hell of a documentary, directed and edited by Mary Works and John Nutt – experienced filmmakers, who grabbed an amazing opportunity to link all threads of early psychedelia together and showcased them in a mind-blowing string of extensive interviews, rare footage and on-screen insights – clearing up all daisy-chain connections, which eventually gave birth to San Francisco scene. After all, they had one in a lifetime situation to pull it off by witnessing the reunion of owners, workers and friends of legendary Red Dog Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada after 25 years from it's opening in 1965 – the original underground bunch, who's been nothing less than a missing link to psychedelic culture of the high 60's and whose deep passion marked a real change of the times!

This extended family of individuals was essentially a hot mix of underground entrepreneurs, musicians, drug dealers, hookers, go-go dancers, light/poster artists and all other sorts of countercultural dropouts... so called quality people. As history is being told, in the summer of 1965 three friends (Chan Laughling, Mark Unobsky, Don Works) decided to fork out their pocket money and get a start-up running. That's how Red Dog Saloon was born – a weird, retro-psychedelic venue, which quickly became a direct inspiration and a blueprint for the whole phenomenon of free form dancing events in San Francisco. This smooth transition on the other hand was enabled by a trio of free individuals, who spent the summer in Virginia City tasting psychedelics and having fun with new music and liberating atmosphere... they felt a new smell was definitely in the air. When the summer was gone, they rolled their sails and eventually drifted back to San Francisco, where they started a small collective – Family Dog, which today is considered a historical glue of San Francisco scene. By organizing dances to rock music with bands such as: The Great Society, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead, Family Dog quickly established itself as the first truly alternative event agency!

Connection was made initially by Chan Laughlin, who's been scoring drugs in San Francisco for the whole team as they couldn't find acid in Nevada at that time (and probaby many other goodies). This was obviously the same acid, that Stanley Owsley has been manufacturing since March 1965, making Ken Kesey's Acid Tests possible and flushing whole Height Ashbury district as well, which around late 1964 transformed into flourishing area with new rock'n'roll bands, artists and hipsters popping like spring onions. One of these acts was early psychedelic group – The Charlatans, whose manager bumped into Chan around North Beach – a famous Beat Generation district – and proposed his band as a leading act for the Red Dog Saloon. As The Charlatans became regular contributors to Red Dog Saloon ambience, new bands formed around USA and few of them have flown to Virginia City. Among these obscure acts – some recognized only by ardent 60's psych diggers – were such bands as: PH Phactor Jug Band, The Final Solution, StoneGround and early Big Brother & The Holding Company. Although not all of this great music was registered, a heavy fusion of old school country, folk, Southern blues and rock'n'roll played live at the Red Dog Saloon, eventually mutated into what became known as psychedelic rock!

Especially The Charlatans with their vintage, circa 1890 dress code sprang a sense of new style – the fashion creation of "real me"! That was to evolve soon enough into a general hippie look, which flashed with LSD-inspired colours, Native American or Indian rags and circus uniforms (which went down on San Francisco streets like a hurricane, when a local theater has sold out it's costume department). Rolling on the wave of cultural, political and music revolutution, Height Ashbury district by 1967 became a flaming enclave of radical thinking, LSD culture, new forms of rock music, experimental theater, alternative press and full-blown commune living... but as David Getz and Peter Albin (Big Brother & The Holding Company) claim on the screen, this innocence started wearing off with people being overcome by their own self-importance just around when Summer Of Love finished. Before 1968 it was over and by 1969 it went baroque!

As they say, the psychedelic culture of the 60's was a great thing to live in and it gave an unique sense of cosmic identity, but eventually it spiralled downwards... the beginning and the end were divided by not more than 3-4 years, but even this short period mirrored the cyclical nature of the universe in a way, with golden age being the peak (1965-66), silver age carrying the first wind of inevitable downfall (1967) and iron age being the bottom (1968-69). On a personal level, many of Red Dog Saloon workers feel that LSD changed their lives blowing the lid off irreversibly... you weren't able anymore to simply tolerate being stuck in a traffic jam, because you needed to get to work, which you didn't know why you were doing and that apparently nudged a response. The end came down when The Media bought this news, digested it and passed it on as a fad for rebellious youth. As the effect a whole throng of teenagers, criminals and businessmen jumped on the bandwagon washing it out with their lack of commitment and pass the buck ethics. Still, all persons interviewed in this documentary claim they were profoundly transformed by the 60's and many found their way into things they didn't know anything about beforehand. A must-see for 60's researchers and 60's psych collectors, containing never seen before rehearsal footage of The Charlatans and The Final Solution + many rare photos by such a cult figure as Jim Marshall. Absolutely brilliant work!

[This documentary can be purchased from Monterey Media]

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