Monday, March 09, 2009

Led Zep in Wheaton?

Rock-n-roll went from being a localized fad in the middle Fifties to a multi-gazillion-dollar industry by the late Sixties. I'd say The Beatles changed everything, the enormity of their success popped up dollar signs behind the eyes of suit-wearing types who realized you could sell records and fill arenas with this noise they called "product." Call me a snob, but I think the music that happened in-between, after the fire ignited in Memphis or Lubbock or Chester, Pennsylvania, or St. Louis, Missouri, or Chicago or wherever it ignited, and before it became a big business, was the best. Some kids could save up their cash and go into a recording studio and record a hit record, they could play into a tape recorder in their own garage and be rock stars overnight, and then nobodies again in a week. The music was raw and real, it reflected what was going on in the neighborhood and not in some corporate boardroom.

So there is something really kind of cool about this morning's Washington Post article about Led Zeppelin playing at the youth club in Wheaton in 1969. Led Zep, Wheaton? The whole idea is just cool. Some people swear they were there but there isn't a ticket stub, a photograph, a news story, a t-shirt, nothing to back it up. Did it happen?
Some stories sound preposterous, if delightfully so -- like the one about the night Led Zeppelin played the Wheaton Youth Center.

Robert Plant doing a whole lotta lovin' on Georgia Avenue? Jimmy Page climbing a stairway to suburbia?

No ticket stubs, posters, pictures or news clippings of the gig are known to exist. Yet some people passionately insist they saw the performance. Zeppelin-in-Wheaton is Washington's own rock-and-roll Loch Ness Monster. Could it possibly be real?

Yes. No way. Depends whom you ask.

To appreciate the monumental improbability, you had to be there Saturday afternoon, amid the motley crowd of graying Zeppelinheads -- with their T-shirts, ticket stubs and precious original LPs -- gathered for an earnest experiment in the nature of truth, myth, memory and dreams.

It was a reunion -- a reunion of people who attended an event that may not have occurred.

Apparent eyewitness testimony was recorded for posterity. Skeptics were listened to. In the absence of physical evidence, any totemic link to the fabled show was deemed potentially worthy. Then veteran local musicians took the stage and everybody totally rocked out. Heavy, Wheaton: A Faithful Few Insist They Saw Led Zeppelin Play a Local Gig in 1969, but the Details Are Hazy

I can't imagine why anybody's recollection of a 1969 Led Zeppelin concert would be hazy, can you?

When I was in high school in Phoenix, I saw Alice Cooper play the opening of the new art museum. The crowd was me, my brother, and another guy. So I know these things happen.

I've only lived in Montgomery County for fifteen years, I'm still new here, but it does seem to me that people joke about Wheaton a little bit. I love it there, I love to park in the big parking lot and wander through the shops that surround it, it's like traveling around the world in one city block. I'm guessing it was different in 1969, at least the ethnic ambience has certainly changed, but I am also guessing that Wheaton has never been quite the cosmopolitan fashion center like some of our suburban communities. Just guessing, maybe Wheaton has always been a little funky. In a good way.

A couple of interesting tidbits here. Like this:
"I just remember it was noisy and I didn't understand what it was all about," said Marc Elrich, the Montgomery County Council member who played guitar and sang in a band called Franklin Park Zoo.

Did you know that Marc Elrich was a rocker? I don't find any mention of that band on the Internet, even the Great Google never heard of them. If you remember Franklin Park Zoo, tell us about them in the comments, let's get the dirt on Elrich!

Actually, it's funny, I played a gig in Germantown Saturday night, and there was a guy there from a band that's played around here for a million years, who asked me, out of the blue, if I knew Marc Elrich. Maybe this is why, maybe they'd played together or something.

Funny thing, they figure fifty or sixty people attended the 1969 concert, but more than a hundred showed up for the reunion.

Well, I just thought this story was kind of fun, imagining big old Led Zeppelin between arena shows, stopping into the youth center in Wheaton to play for a handful of locals.

I'll bet it happened.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it's false, it's an old rumor. I remember friends of mine back in the early 70s who told me they saw them there.

That Wheaton Youth Center seemed like a really cool looking place back then and it looks exactly the same as now. All the parents said the youth center was dangerous but the rest of Wheaton wasn't really that bad then. There was always alot of interesting ethnic places but it was more diverse back then. Now, it's seems more dominated by a couple of groups.

March 09, 2009 11:02 AM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...


I can guarantee I wasn't there, because I was at Woodstock! ;-)

March 09, 2009 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bethel must have been cold that time of year.

What were you doing, advance planning work?

March 09, 2009 2:26 PM  
Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

The Catskills are beautiful that time of year.

March 09, 2009 4:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're not one of those freaks who used to show in Bob Dylan's living room in Woodstock in the middle of the night, are you?

March 09, 2009 6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrea- not anon
We were returning from a family vacation at the same time as Woodstock and later learned that the "dirty hippies"( as my parents refered to them) at the place we stopped to eat were the people who had been at Woodstock.

Hey, I think I saw Elvis at the IHOP in Wheaton.

March 10, 2009 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those guys at IHOP just dress up like Elvis whenever they hear you're coming, Andrea.

March 10, 2009 12:46 PM  

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