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Cultural Relativism

Munich Machine featuring Chris Bennett

Nightlife Unlimited


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Cultural Relativism


In retrospect, Casablanca’s album covers served as something of a barometer of socio-cultural norms. If the imagery and music conveyed a heightened sexuality, it simply reflected the zeitgeist.


While the 1970s cultivated an environment where sexual expression and exploration was encouraged—a Halston and Gucci-dressed translation of the “free love” ethos born during the late ‘60s—it also created a non-judgmental climate of recreational drug use. Brett Hudson explains, “You got to remember the time that was. There were a lot of drugs, a lot of women. It was a different era, completely”. Or, as Arnie Smith says more directly, “They weren’t the days of wine and roses, they were the days of Quaaludes and cocaine”.


It is perhaps challenging for younger generations to truly grasp the innocence of the era, especially since many written accounts documenting the 1970s crassly and mistakenly moralize a unique set of social codes specific to a time and place long passed. Drug use at record labels, or anywhere for that matter, then was certainly not the inflammatory issue it is today. Regrettably, those writing about this era in the music industry often use Casablanca as a lightning rod for all the excesses. “They target Casablanca because of our success”, Cecil Holmes says. The issue about how drugs figured prominently into an environment where business was conducted and music was created must be examined through a lens of cultural relativism. Equally as important to understand is the fact that not everyone partook, even the most successful acts and executives.


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Chotin: I think it was a part of the whole culture and the industry back then, and music and musicians. There was excess but there was also a lot of creativity.


Randee Goldman (Executive Assistant): Throughout whatever perceptions there were of drugs and rock and roll and all of that, it didn’t matter because the job always got done. It wasn’t like drugs stopped anything from happening.


Bob Perry (Independent Promotion, Southeast: Whatever your preferences,—you wanted to drink, you wanted to smoke, you wanted to snort—it was there. You had a job to do. You get the work done and if you wanted to party, you party. It’s one of those unwritten rules.


Cecil Holmes (Partner/Senior Vice President): I never was involved with drugs at all. Never at all. Ask anybody who knows me up there and they’ll say to you that Cecil was never into that. I heard stories and you would see different things going around but I never put myself into a position to be involved.


Bennett: Depending on who the act was, there might be a little pot in the studio, some artists liked their coke. The truth of the matter is, it’s hard work in the studio. I’m not saying I’ve never smoked a joint or done a line before I did a background part a long time ago, but to really do a performance, you can’t do that stuff. If I was doing a show at a club, I’d always know I had to have a gram of coke for the drummer, and then probably one more gram for the rest of the band. You just kind of figured that into the budget. It was just too early in the game to see that people were going really to blow out their nose and get paranoid.


Gold: I’ll tell you how square I was. I went to a Parliament show and I almost felt like I was in a Woody Allen movie because someone from management asked me, “Want coke?”, and I said, “No, thanks” holding up a can of Pepsi. Then I saw what he was talking about laying there in lines on his briefcase. He didn’t know whether I was kidding or not.


Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic): We was hittin’ it man, I was hittin’ it. Had the energy…and stuff to help me have the energy. That’s part of it. There’s a lot of it. That’s grinding. We worked. The energy we put out, (sighs), we needed a little help.


Gold: If you have been on the road with performers you could understand how they could easily be susceptible because they sometimes needed a little something to go to sleep. They need “medicine” to wake up. Traveling is not always good for your stomach and there was something for that, too. And it was hard not to want to unwind and celebrate after a successful show. However, when I was on the road with Donna I never saw her or her back-up singers ever use or abuse anything! She wanted to be at her best every night and she was.


Moulton: A lot of these clubs I went to once. The music was so loud and I was not into drugs. I saw all those drugs and I wanted to get out of there. I just didn’t like to blame drugs for what I was doing because drugs had nothing to do with it. I was high on the music. I didn’t need drugs to stimulate it, believe me.


Gomez: I was a homebody! When I was in a club it was because I was doing a promotion. I was a young happily married old man. I wasn’t interested going out there watching everyone bop around. The club thing, I didn’t get caught up in that.


Bruce Sudano (Brooklyn Dreams): I was somewhat grounded but I think out of any point in my life, that was the most out I was in that period. I started smoking pot when I was a teenager and I kind of came up in that whole late ‘60s kind of thing and it culminated into the excesses of the ‘70s into the early ‘80s when I put the brakes on in terms of that kind of stuff. When I look back now and I look at all the things that I’ve done and lived through, there was so many instances that anything could have gone wrong and anything could have happened. I think essentially there was always a core in myself…I knew right from wrong so I was only going to go so far and when other people were going over the edge, I was like, “No I won’t go there”. There was a governor on my gas peddle, even though I was braking the speed limit.

Christian John Wikane is a NYC-based journalist and music essayist. He's a Contributing Editor for PopMatters, where he's interviewed artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Janelle Monae. For the past three years, he's penned liner notes for more than 100 CD re-issues by legends of R&B, rock, pop, dance, and jazz. Since 2008, he's produced and hosted Three of Hearts: A Benefit for The Family Center at Joe's Pub. He is the author of the five-part oral history Casablanca Records: Play It Again (PopMatters, 2009). Follow him on Twitter @CJWikaneNYC. 


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