Friday, March 23, 2018

Flashback Friday: The 1970 Music Scene and Chuck Negron's Three Dog Nightmare

1970 was a great year for albums. It was my first year in college and this was the music everyone seemed to be playing: Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel), All Things Must Pass (George Harrison's triple album), John Lennon's first solo album, Let It Be (Beatles last album), Velvet Underground's Loaded, Derek & the Dominos, Deja Vu (CSN&Y), Neil Young's After the Gold Rush, Santana' Abraxas, The Doors' Morrison Hotel, two vinyls by the Grateful Dead (Workingman's Dead and American Beauty), Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, McCartney's first solo album, Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out (Rolling Stones), the Moody Blues' A Question of Balance, and less effective albums by Elton John, Emmerson Lake & Palmer, CCR, King Crimson and the popular heavy metal slammers. Though not near the top of the charts that year, I also had taken a shine to Bob Dylan's New Morning and, with everyone else, the soundtrack from Woodstock, the movie. Bob Dylan's much maligned Self-Portrait also came out that year, and gosh, I liked that, too.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard Let It Be, headphones on, after a day at the Cincinnati Zoo. I remember, too, how blown away I was by the inclusion of studio jamming on sides five and six of All Things Must Pass. James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" had an immersive heartfelt quality that touched a lot of us. (It didn't hurt his cred any that he was the first non-Beatle to record on Apple Records. And did Steve Jobs name his fledgling computer company Apple because he was a huge Beatles fan?)

Chuck Negron, 2008 (Creative Commons)
What brought this reminiscence to mind was the re-release of Chuck Negron's autobiograpchical lament, Three Dog Nightmare. His was the voice you heard on "Joy the the world, all the boys and girls, joy to the fishes in the big blue sea, joy to you and me." Unfortunately, he was ill-prepared for fame and he did the John Belushi thing, the Jim Morrison thing, the thing all too many others had done who found fame and fortune on the Big Stage. Not all of them were quite so self-destructive (Jerry Garcia simply became increasingly reclusive) but Negron's experiences were definitely over-the-top and self-destructive in the extreme. Gang members shooting bullets through the walls of your house? Bad dudes shooting your compadres and then deciding you were too wasted to waste bullets on?

Three Dog Night sold 90 million records, produced 12 Gold Albums, 21 hits in a row in the Billboard Top 20, six Numero Unos... They were the epitome of pop for a while. When I saw them at Ohio U my freshman, 1970, 11,000 people filled the Convocation Center and put on a very good show. I remember that night because there is a photo taken of my roommate and I with our dates for the evening. I was decked out in a wide-brimmed hat with some kind o suede vest and other accoutrements of hippie attire. I thought I was cool, but when I was introduced to her father six or eight weeks later, his first words were, "What is this, a clown?" (Early evidence that I've often had a tendency to take myself too seriously.)

Three Dog Nightmare is a candid memoir about the dark side of fame. By age 30 Chuck Negron was a multimillionaire -- rich, famous and talented, with all the female adulation (read between the lines) the rock star lifestyle can handle.

I traded a plush, five-thousand-square-foot, Mediterranean-style villa in the Hollywood Hills with a garage full of Mercedes for a corner of an abandoned building in a crime-ridden Los Angeles neighborhood where I slept on a filthy mattress that was found in a vacant lot. I fought to share dull, dirty needles with a collection of lost, hopeless, pathetic junkies who are probably dead by now. 

Drugs eventually ate the flesh off my bones and poisoned my mind to the point of dementia. I was hospitalized more than a hundred times and was a refugee from more than three dozen drug-treatment programs. The ugly tracks on my arms mirrored the scars on my soul. It was a sick, sad, self-indulgent existence. Eventually, I just wanted to die a junkie. But, for some unexplainable reason, I was saved.

* * * *
In some ways its just another "excess story." I'm curious how much of this is just "the American way." The famous Tolstoy observation comes to mind here: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Negron's created his own personal hell by being a self-centered jerk, and he did it his way. Now that he is performing again and "living the dream" I pray that it is with a greater sense of humility, with afterparties of a different character than he was accustomed to in his prime.

Meantime, life goes on all around. That is, if you are one of the survivors. 

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