Highway 61 Revisited: The Tangled Roots of American Jazz, Blues, and Country Music

By Gene Santoro | Go to book overview
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17
Buffalo Springfield

Somethin's happenin' here
What it is ain't exactly clear.

—Buffalo Springfield

Do you have a movement?
Yes. It's called Dancing.

—Abbie Hoffman

In the dark times will there still be
singing? Yes, there will be singing, there
will be singing about dark times

—Bertolt Brecht

UNSTABLE CHEMISTRY can cause spectacular effects—that's one way to think of Buffalo Springfield. Or frame them as an American musical smorgasbord (though three of them were Canadians). Or see them as defining much of 1960s rock.

Or you can notice that their lifespan marked the moment when West Coast folk-rock renegades joined mainstream commercial culture at its heart, in Los Angeles, when AM radio played “protest” songs amid teenybopper treacle, and record labels competed for the weirdest, most outrageous bands, trying to read marketing cues in the emerging counterculture: how to channel inchoate energies of folk art into commerce. TV shows for teens proliferated: American Bandstand, Shindig, Hullabaloo. Satiric comedy infiltrated the mainstream on Laugh-In and the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, hosted by two folksingers, where bands like the Springfield appeared. Movies sprouted rock soundtracks. The music industry's delivery systems adapted only slowly: FM radio and counterculture impresarios like Bill Graham only came along when Buffalo Springfield had ended.

The larger society was buckling, as the icy repressions of the 1950s thawed: civil rights legislation, the war in Vietnam, the prophetic scripted selling of Richard Nixon in 1968, assassinations, race riots, the Chicago

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