Somehow Peter Rowe remembers the sixties- Do You?
Somehow Peter Rowe remembers the sixties- Do You?
When he answered the phone his voice sounded like he was on the wrong end of a very bad cold-a stay-in-bed with a whiskey toddy and don’t get up until tomorrow-kind of voice. When I asked if he was OK to chat, to talk about his new book, Music vs The Man, the raw intrepid nature that defines Peter Rowe, extreme adventure photographer, author and painter, could not have been any better illustrated than by the first story he shared with me.
“It happened on top of a volcano in Vanuatu, which is located in the South Pacific –3600 kms north of Australia, where I was shooting a film for an Angry Planet episode. The crew and I were spending three days and nights filming on top of a series of volcanoes when some huge storms came blowing through. One of the volcanoes erupted spewing sulphur dioxide gas. The sulfur emissions mixed with the atmosphere’s moisture created a bloom of sulfuric acid that wafted over us. The resultant effect was that the acid destroyed one of my vocal chords- part of my larynx. I ended up in treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto for a year.”
And while Rowe says he is fine now, the impact of that volcano can be clearly heard in the soft whisper that is now his voice.
True to his nature, however, this 2015 accident has not deterred Rowe’s forward motion. His new book, which he says he ‘kept under his hat’ for 14 years, is called Music vs The Man, a book entirely focused on the relationship between music (in all of its genres) and the authorities. Inspired by his interest in Frank Sinatra-who was known as the Chairman of the Board-Rowe took a deep dive into Sinatra’s issues with ‘the man’ and also with a diverse collection of musicians-some famously familiar to us and some not so much-relative to their issues with ‘the man.’ The ‘man’ is defined here as those connected to such mundane organizations as the police, border guards, mayors, city councils, or, to the more intriguing ‘you’re screwed’ organizations such as the FBI or the Kremlin-or possibly both.
Travelling down music’s memory lane with Rowe is like having a fire side chat with a fellow music lover, brandy snifter in hand as you tell each other stories about the legendary musicians you loved, stories that you might once have known but have somehow forgotten. (It was the 60s after all, n’est pas?)
In Music vs The Man we find out that John F. Kennedy, who Sinatra had a major role in getting elected, told his political advisors, “Make no mistake about it. Sinatra’s a thug. Let’s try to use it to our advantage.”
We revisit John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Bed-In at Montreal’s Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. And the Rolling Stones ongoing battle with ‘the man’- the first of which happened on a sunny acid-taking LSD weekend in February of 1967. Of course pretty much everyone remembers the Keith (Keef) Richards heroin bust at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle in 1977, an event that ultimately led to the Stones performing a benefit concert for the CNIB two years later.
The Twenty-Seven Club, which includes amongst its members, the inimitable guitar virtuoso, Jimi Hendrix, the wildly handsome poet and singer, Jim Morrison of The Doors, (can you tell I’m a fan), the Southern Comfort Queen, Janis Joplin, Kurt Kobain and Amy Winehouse, to name a few, are all tragically remembered.
Songs about ‘the man’ such as I Shot the Sheriff by Bob Marley, and I Fought the Law, by Sonny Curtis of Buddy Holly’s group, The Crickets, are also definitive tie-ins to Rowe’s themed book.
There are of course a myriad of eclectic musician stories that pit musicians against ‘the man’ and some ‘who knew’ moments that happened outside of current musical history, as Rowe informs us on the transgressions of what many might erroneously think are staid classical musicians-to wit-Mozart, Beethoven and Bach.
Ah, the peccadilloes of those we place on pedestals are so interesting, n’est pas?
Rowe’s knowledge of the music industry is vast; he has made over 190 films, documenting musicians such as Miles Davis, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell, at events like the Isle of Wight Festival and the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival.
“Music has the power to open hearts, change minds, and get people to stand up for what they believe in,” Rowe says. “That’s why, for years authorities have been trying to censor it, throwing musicians in prison, raiding their homes, and sometimes even killing them.”
A comprehensive anthology on a subject that most of us have only heard about in bits and pieces, Rowe’s Music vs The Man is a captivating read for music lovers and those who love to know the facts, the ‘what really happened’ behind some of the most famous events in musical history between the musicians and ‘the man.’
Rowe’s books, as well as-spoiler alert-authors that I will be chatting with in upcoming issues of Cece’s Ultimate Guide to The Written Word are featured on the right hand side of this blog.
If you are not a subscriber to Cece’s Chat on Chapters you can do so right here, right now so that next week you can meet Bruce Kirkby, a wilderness writer and adventure photographer recognized for connecting wild places with contemporary issues.
In his new book, Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey To The Heart Of The Himalaya, (Douglas &McIntyre, August 2020), Kirkby shares his experiences and challenges, as well as the ultimate impact of his family’s 100-day trek to the heart of the Himalaya, on his wife, Christine, and their two sons, Bodi, (who was seven-years-old at the time of the trip and had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder), and the gregarious three-year-old Taj. Told with wit, wonder, and an adventurous spirit, Bruce’s travel memoir shares his family’s experiences around slowing down, disconnecting and reimagining what had been a ‘normal way of life.’ It is a poignant read that is relatable to all of us on our journey through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thanks to all of you who sent me the names of your favourite books and authors. I am still compiling a favourite list of authors you would like to meet in these pages, so please send me your fav author wish list . Who knows – you might meet your author bestie on this very blog-and get your answers to those burning questions about your favourite characters and plots.
As I wish you happy reading for the week, I thought I’d share some deliciously delectable phrases that I’ve plucked from some of my favourite books.
“His eyes were like a pair of walnuts begging for a nutcracker.” – Beatriz Williams, The Wicked City.
“When you enter his place you almost want to get the back of your hand stamped.”
And lastly, what might be construed as a personal description:
“She talked like she was two cups of coffee ahead of everyone else.”
Just before you go, here’s a cool (and short) video of some of the musicians profiled in Music vs The Man.
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