If veteran rabble-rousing, uber-networking, visionary “blacklisted” journalist Al Aronowitz’s lifetime of achievements should be remembered for but one solitary event, may I posit it be for what he managed to pull off in the immediate hours following The Beatles‘ concert in Queens, New York, one dreamy midsummer night in 1964.
For it was within mere minutes after the final shrieks of and around “Long Tall Sally” wafted skyward that our story begins, with the Fab Four safely ensconced back upon the sixth floor of Manhattan’s Hotel Delmonico. Somehow, into that inner sanctum high atop the Beatle-manic corner of Park and 59th, was sneaked none other than Bob Dylan, a bottle of cheap wine and a fateful envelope’s worth of herbal libation.
Ladies and gentlemen, life as we knew it was about to abruptly cut from stark black and white to rich, fully-dimensional stereophonic day-glo from that momentous moment hence.
It seems Dylan, misreading a certain “I Want to Hold Your Hand” refrain as “I get high” as opposed to “I can’t hide,” had been convinced to confront those four lyrical Liverpudlians he’d previously dismissed with that cruelest of epithets: “Bubblegum!” In the process, to break the trans-oceanic ice as it were, he decided to introduce his fabulous new pals to the hitherto non-rockin’ accoutrement known as, yep, marijuana.
Suffice to say it wasn’t just The Beatles’ consciousness that was forever altered that night, but the very course of rock ‘n’ roll, the music business as a whole soon enough after, and as a result just maybe Western civilization itself. And it is in my wisened opinion that the singular man we all have to thank for that, for Rubber Soul, for “folk-rock” in the process and, really, for loading Dylan into his station wagon and dragging him toward the Delmonico to set all of these historic balls into motion in the first place, is none other than a dear, sweet man I had the pleasure to have known named Al Aronowitz.
Fact: With all apologies due Ralph J. Gleason, Aronowitz was the first widely published man to ever take what we now regrettably take for granted as rock ‘n’ roll seriously. His “Pop Scene” columns four decades ago in the New York Post, not to mention a litany of legendary Village Voice and Saturday Evening Post features, brought to widespread attention such figures as the fledgling Brill Building songsmiths, teen tycoon Phil Spector and, of course, Dylan and those Beatles to boot.
Even prior to that above-mentioned hot August night at the Delmonico though, Aronowitz was busy forging crucial artistic bridges between hitherto insurmountable cliques and cultural divides. To cite but one cataclysmic example, it is so plain to see how Aronowitz’s introducing Allen Ginsberg to a fresh-from-Minnesota Dylan eventually helped Beat meet Beatles, as it were, and in all the most ingeniously genre-busting of ways.
Aronowitz eventually compiled his greatest hits, so to speak, across the 615 history-packed pages of Bob Dylan and The Beatles: Volume One of The Best of the Blacklisted Journalist. The result is, without a solitary doubt, required reading for anyone and everyone who considers themselves fans, followers, students or those just plain curious of the Golden Age of Popular Music, and how the players – Dylan and the Fabs, especially – met, influenced and eventually actually interacted with one another during those halcyon-indeed daze. Thanks in no small part whatsoever to the Herculean efforts of the man who, in his very own only slightly jocular words, would try to pass it all off by claiming “I was just a proud and happy shadchen, a Jewish matchmaker, dancing at the princely wedding I arranged.”
“I recognized Dylan and The Beatles as immortals, and I wanted to cop some immortality for myself,” Aronowitz once told me. “I knew that bringing Dylan and The Beatles together would have exactly the result that it had. The result is that contemporary popular music changed for the better. Otherwise, every generation creates its own heroes.
“Whether subsequent heroes will enjoy the same immortality that Bob and The Beatles attained, I am unqualified to predict. All I know is that Bob Dylan and The Beatles are hard acts to follow.”
Aronowitz died four summers ago in Elizabeth, N.J., at age 77. His good, good work lives on, however, at www.blacklistedjournalist.com.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.