Monday, May 11, 2015

Birthday: Eric Burdon (born 1941)

Eric Burdon turns 74 today - I can't even process that. I love this picture of him, impossibly young, slightly surly and incredibly smart, with that challenging stare (and with book in hand!). In my high school teaching career, I've had students like this, and they are among my all-time favorites. If you can already see through the B.S. as a teenager, you're way ahead of the game. Many adults never get to that point.

Like so many British rockers of the Sixties, Eric Burdon attended art school, the Newcastle College of Art specifically, where he studied graphics and photography and formed his first band. More is waiting to be written about the rock music / art school connection, although Simon Frith and Howard Horne made a start on this with their short (and sadly out-of-print) 1988 volume Art into Pop. Camille Paglia has pointed out that attending art school exposed great future musicians to intellectual influences directly, instead of at two or three removes.

Here are some of the more famous art school attendees (and I'm leaving out many more obscure ones):

John Lennon (Liverpool College of Art)
Keith Richards (Sidcup Art College)
Pete Townshend (Ealing Art College)
Ronnie Wood (Ealing Art College)
Freddie Mercury (Ealing Art College)
Ian Dury (Walthamstow College of Art, Royal College of Art)
Syd Barrett (Cambridge Technical College Art Department)
Bryan Ferry (University of Newcastle upon Tyne Art Department)
David Bowie (Bromley School of Art)
Eric Clapton (Kingston College of Art)
Sandy Denny (Kingston College of Art)
Ray Davies (Hornsey College of Art)
Jeff Beck (Wimbledon College of Art)
Jimmy Page (Sutton Art College)
Brian Eno (Colchester Institute Art Department)

Simon Frith has written:

One of the most obvious sociological characteristics of British rock musicians, particularly of those who emerged in the classic 1960s period, is an art-school background.

James M. Curtis adds:

The art school in England is an institution designed to prepare kids to go into advertising and the like. But in the early sixties it was more than a mere vocational school; it was a lively place tolerant of nonconformity...It was at least in part because of his art school background that John Lennon was so receptive to Yoko's dada and minimalist ideas.

American rock musicians generally did not follow a similar path, and thus tended to be less intellectual and culturally aware than their British counterparts. Jim Morrison is an exception: he began his self-cultivation early, and actually took a class on Antonin Artaud at UCLA. Kurt Cobain had intellectual intuitions, and would have been a natural for art school in the right time and place - but he lacked sustained exposure to the world of ideas, which I believe would have greatly benefited him.

Here is Eric Burdon with one of the early line-ups of The Animals -- if you can keep track of who played in this band when, you're better than I am -- singing "We Gotta Get Out of This Place":

The Best Of Eric Burdon & The Animals, 1966-1968

Art into Pop (Simon Frith / Howard Horne)

Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984 (James M. Curtis)

1 comment:

  1. I got to see the Original Animals on their reunion tour in ' first paid writing was reviewing the concert for the University of Hawaii paper. (Oddly enough, the next concert at the uni amphitheater was a War concert.)