Screaming Boys & Canyon Maenads
Boys also experienced Bacchae-like paroxysms for the Beatles. While young girls kept coming to the canyon.
I’M BACK. AUGUST WENT BY LIKE—oops—here comes October. Like that.
Instead of my intended time out, I continued to research my new book on the astrology of the Beatles.
If you’ve ever wondered why the Beatles are what you immediately think of when you think ‘the Beatles’ it’s because, first and foremost, the boys were fun. Yes, they revolutionized pop music and turned the crappy parts of the counter culture movement into art. But all of that pales to the fun.
60 years later, in 2021, you can play any Beatles song for a baby (well not Revolution 9—well, unless the kid’s autistic) and the toddler will love it. Why? Because it’s fun.
As Craig Brown says in One, Two, Three, Four—the best Beatles book I’ve read in years—“When you hear a Beatles album you feel that all human life is there…both universal and particular all at the same time.”
I spent one whole week working on one of the book’s early chapters, titled simply The Scream. The Bible claims that in the beginning was the vibration—the word. But the Beatles were baptized within the drowning din of millions of screams. Crazed sonics that made their concert appearances appear to be silent pantomimes.
Notice I didn’t write screaming girls?
Roaming press photographers in the sixties were predominantly male and so the images recorded and saved for posterity were always versions of their own sonic wet dreams. “If only I could get a girl to scream like that for me in bed. Let me take a picture of it.”
But did anyone photo document the teenage male ululations? Especially in France? In the Anthology documentary, Paul McCartney tells us that, “The funny thing about France was it was the boys screaming.”
And American rocker Joe Walsh, a guitarist and vocalist for the Eagles tells us:
“I took one look on the Ed Sullivan Show and it was ‘Fuck school. This makes it.’ I memorized every Beatles song and went to Shea Stadium and screamed right along with all those chicks.”
Guy photographers wouldn’t have been interested in their own sex having a Bacchae moment in front of their lens. Thus, we’ve never seen the photos or film clips of delirium-possessed boys.
So, girls and boys were screaming. Ushering in the heaven-meets-chthonic nexus of the 60s Uranus Pluto conjunction. The cosmic alignment that galvanized all of the revolutionary life events that you and I are still picking our way through today—“You say you want a revolution…”
Of the screaming George Harrison concluded: “They used us as an excuse to go mad, the world did.”
Maenads storming the canyons
Of the Mamas and the Papas phenomenon, I was primarily fixated on the mamas. I’m a Cancer.
There was so much Warholian perfection in the pairing of Cass Elliot’s zaftig beauty and Michelle Phillips’ willowy blondness. It didn’t matter that Michelle couldn’t sing all that well. Michelle’s presence acted as a sort of visual auto-tune.
And then something strange and very mid-60s psychedelia happened when TM&TP released their song Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon).
I first heard the single in bed, leaking from the transistor radio I’d take with me after ‘lights out.’ Right away I had to carve out a deeper pleasure groove for the group. And consider them in a darker light.
The song was arrestingly eerie. Lilting, almost fragile but with an ominous Scorpionic undercurrent running beneath the tinkling piano. Contradictory junctures like that always thrilled me.
The lyrics perplexed—never resolved—and have haunted me ever since. Why were the girls coming to the canyon and what were they going to do once they arrived?
In this crappier version of the above clip, Ed Sullivan did that rare thing at the end of a guest’s performance and motioned for the group to join him. To engage in convo with the ‘youngsters’ (John Phillips, at 6’5” was 33 years old at the time).
Ed starts with: “So many people have been discussing it, with editorials in the papers and psychologists trying to analyze—what is the reason—”
Yes, yes! Psychology might unravel what the young canyon girls are up to?
But instead, he asks Cass, “What is the reason…for this kind of singing gaining such popularity? What is it? Is it almost spiritual? Is it some unrest on the part of you?”
This was one of those unintended serendipitous moments as Cass cuts Ed off with “It’s very honest.” And yes. Let’s be honest. So much tumult was happening with the group at this time—Elliot had just weeks prior announced her forthcoming independence from the group.
Four years later on Abbey Road, Paul McCartney seemed to supply a rudimentary answer with She Came in Through the Bathroom Window. But I only considered that connection after reading that John Phillips had, after his move from New York in ‘65, settled into California’s Laurel Canyon where there was a steady stream of female groupies to contend with.
It wasn't until I saw Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood that my initial childhood reaction to the song was confirmed. Meaning, the darker implication of the song’s maenad-like girls roaming through the canyons was given a cinematic counterpart.
Tarantino uses the song to great effect in key segments in the film. But the most chilling moment is when a car containing four members of the Manson family approaches and parks in front of the gates of Sharon Tate’s mansion. Around 12:30. As Tex cuts off the car’s headlights, enveloping everyone in the dark, the song cuts off too. Mayhem—dead ahead.
And still—as we persist we can’t resist:
As only the unedited id of the internet can provide, I’ve come across scores of different interpretations of Twelve-Thirty over the years. One author—one of those psychologists that Sullivan alluded to—offered that the song’s closing verse is a metaphor to illustrate the process of awakening from a dark depression, highlighted by the arrival of the canyon girls.
Another explanation came from a former amphetamine junkie. She first qualified herself with, “I have two masters in linguistics and English. But more importantly, I was one of those young girls.” Reversing the song’s assumed chronology she continues: “I left California for NYC in ’67 and became involved with bennies. I’d walk one end of Manhattan island to the other each day and night.”
She interpreted the chorus as celebrating those young girls who had come to NY’s canyons of mile-high skyscrapers. To move about, morning until night strung out on speed. She closed with: “I can see them walking and I can’t keep myself from talking.” Nor stop herself from posting in song forums.
A poetic Christer wrote a post that included:
A steeple clock stuck at 12:30 (hour hand towards heaven, minute hand towards earth) makes an esoteric cultural reference to love of God in Mark 12:30, which says “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and—
O.K., enough. Nurse!!!
I can’t believe that when I moved to LA in the late 70s (and landed an apartment right at the base of Laurel Canyon) and became friends with Michelle Phillips’ publicist, that, during the several times I visited Michelle’s house, I never once asked her what in the fuck the song was about.
I think by then I understood that the power of art resides in its ineffable qualities. A stance I’ve adopted while working with my clients. Honoring Oscar Wilde when he wrote:
“I will never again tell another person how to live; I can only talk to them of their mystery.”