Uncle Sea-Bird

Annotation by Kevin Cryan

          Uncle Seabird was an action man

It was not uncommon for some of those who were at the forefront of the 1960s hippie movement to change their names. For instance, the American actress Barbara Hershey had her name changed to Barbara Seagull from 1972 to 1974.

          He knew the scene before the scene began
          The first cat to drop acid in the Haight

A (hip) cat: A cool person. (from jazz-era slang).  [Increasingly 60s-70s: any, usually young, male. Counterpart of 'chick' (see below) -- Ed.]

Acid (or LSD), a powerful hallucinogenic that alters your perception of the outside world, became a drug much used by hippies during the 1960s.

The Haight area of San Francisco was the focal point of America’s West Coast 1960s hippie culture.

          He understood the lyrics of The Weight

The Weight written by The Band’s Jaime “Robbie” Robertson[link to Clive James article -- Ed.]
Judge for yourselves whether or not the lyrics of The Weight are to be understood.

For more than half a decade, from 1968 through 1975, The Band was one of the most popular and influential rock groups in the world. Their work was thought highly of by critics, and to some extent their musical output was taken just as seriously as the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

          When Fillmore West was still a carousel

It is probable that the line should have read:

When Fillmore West was still The Carousel.

Bill Graham’s original Fillmore was located on Geary and Fillmore in San Francisco. The Fillmore was a venue for poetry readings, live bands and dancing. Graham introduced many respected musicians like  Otis Rush, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Otis Redding to new audiences.

He also brought in new groups like The Band (see above), The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

Eventually, Graham, sensing  that the immediate locality was in decline, decided  to move his activities to two new  venues, The Carousel Ballroom (the former El Patio ballroom), which became Fillmore West, and the Winterland.  

The original Fillmore closed on July 4th 1968 with a concert featuring Steppenwolf, Creedence Clearwater Revival and It’s a Beautiful Day.

Fillmore West opened July 16, 1968 with a concert featuring Big Brother and the Holding Company and Sly and the Family Stone.

          And the chick to know was Luria Cantrell

chick is an American slang term for young woman.

Midnight Voices discussions many years back (with some contributions, I seem to recall, for Mr Pete Atkin himself) established Clive probably had in mind Luria Castell, founder member of Family Dog.

Family Dog was a San Francisco group which, in the early sixties, experimented the light-sound synchronisation developed by Bill Ham to create psychedelic effects during concerts. Chet Helms was one of the main members The Family Dog and his early partners were Luria, Ellen Harmon and Jack Toll.

          Uncle Seabird tried hard to be nice
          When Berry Gordy asked him for advice

Berry Gordy in 1959 started Tamla-Motown family of record labels in Detroit. The name Tamla-Motown was derived from the Debbie Reynolds hit film 'Tammy' and the nickname Motor Town which was given to Detroit, home of Ford Motors in Detroit.

By welding a unique house style to music from the ghetto, Gordy came up with music a well-crafted music that appealed to mainstream audiences.

          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird led the herd

          When Uncle Seabird wrote for Rolling Stone

The magazine Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and Ralph J Gleason. In its early days the magazine’s natural audience came from the then thriving hippie counter-culture, and this even though it steered clear of the radical politics of the time.

          A generation felt much less alone
          His footloose odyssey went so far back
          He recalled not having heard of Kerouac

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was a novelist, writer, poet and artist, and leading figure of the Beat Generation that predated by a decade the hippies as the counter culture.

          He represented youth in all its force
          For evolution has to take its course
          When the children queued to hear the Grateful Dead

(For Grateful Dead, see entry on Fillmore West).

          His wheelchair glittered somewhere up ahead

          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird led the herd

          When a snot-nosed little kid called Zimmerman

Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan). Need we say more?

          Was seeking a new surname that would scan
          Uncle Seabird filled his lungs with hash

Hash (Hashish), another drug much used by 1960’s hippies, consists of the THC-rich resinous material of the cannabis plant, which is collected, dried, and then compressed into a variety of forms, such as balls, cakes, or cookie-like sheets. Pieces are then broken off, placed in pipes and smoked.

          And "Weberman" he muttered in a flash

A J Weberman was a 1960's radical who felt that by the early 1970's rock music had ceased to be a force for radical change in the U.S He founded an group called the Rock Liberation Front and made exhaustive efforts to get artists  to return to what he thought were their radical roots. John Lennon, when he was going through his “radical” period briefly joined the group. (This was around the when he wrote an open letter to Paul McCartney in Rolling Stone "Join the RLF before it comes for you!!")

Weberman may have been source of the term "Dylanology". His knowledge of Dylan trivia was so extensive that it was often said that he might have known more about Dylan than the man himself did. He almost certainly began what is now called "garbology" by openly declaring that a good way of finding out details of the lives of people like Dylan was by going through what was found in their trash.

          "There's a new group down a hole you ought to hear"

The Beatles were discovered in Liverpool’s Cavern club.

          Said the telephone in Brian Epstein's ear

Brian Epstein (1934-1967) is the man who discovered The Beatles and came up with the mop-top haircuts, the dress-code and the personae that made the group such a success in the early days.

          "But let's not haggle now about my fee
          Tom Parker handles these affairs for me"

In 1955 “Colonel” Tom Parker (1909-1997) (real name Andreas Cornelius van Kuijk) replaced Bob Neal as Elvis Presley’s manager and he remained in that position until Presley’s death in 1977.

          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird led the herd

          The last and greatest festival of all
          Was Uncle Seabird's acid test and ball

[The Acid Test festivals, promoting the use of LSD, were organised at locations across the USA in 1964 by the Merry Pranksters, and celebrated in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test -- Ed.]

          They say one row of people passed a joint

A joint is a marijuana cigarette.

          From Yasgur's Farm clear to Zabriskie Point

Max Yasgur's Farm, in upstate New York, was the site of the original 1969 Woodstock Festival.

Zabriskie Point (California) an elevated overlook from which of the colourful, rolling landscape of ravines and mud hills at the edge of the Funeral Mountains can be seen. It’s a few miles from Death Valley and is the landscape to which the young disillusioned protagonists of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1970 film Zabriskie Point gravitate.

          Crosby Stills and Clapton, Young and Nash

David Crosby (1941-    ), Stephen Stills (1945-    ), Eric Clapton (1945-    ), Neil Young (1945-    ) and Graham Nash (1942-    ).

          Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash

Bob Dylan (1941-    ), Joni Mitchell (1943-    ), Johnny Cash (1932-2003).

          They all backed Yoko Ono while she ... sang

Yoko Ono (1932-    ), after becoming the second wife of Beatle John Lennon, did, with some encouragement from her husband, but to the dismay of many Lennon admirers and music lovers in general, attempt to launch herself as a musician.

          And Elvis Presley read from R D Laing

Ronald David Laing (1927-1989), a psychiatrist and (bad) poet, was much admired in the sixties and early 70s because many of his views, which were probably little understood, were far from orthodox.

Laing’s Knots (1970), a series of dialogues, which could be read as poems or plays, describing the “knots” and quandaries in various kinds of human relationships, is most likely the book that Clive had in mind when he wrote this line. This is the kind of thing Presley might have read.

          When Uncle Seabird wheeled onto the stage
          He was crowding eighty-seven years of age
          "We are stardust, we are ... " [croak] he cried

[According to Joni Mitchell's song Woodstock, popularised by Crosby, Stills and Nash (and in the UK by Matthews' Southern Comfort), "We are stardust, we are golden" was the mantra of the half-million strong "Woodstock Nation" -- Ed.]

          And the children yelled his name out as he died

          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird led the herd

          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird had the word
          Uncle Seabird, Uncle Seabird led the herd

          Uncle Seabird

[See also the original unabridged version of the lyric, with (in my opinion) a more natural flow; plus a name-check for Ken Kesey.
Note "He made the scene before the scene began"; "When the children streamed to hear the Grateful Dead" -- Ed. (SJB)]

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