So many anniversaries, so little time…
Sunday marked the seventy-eighth birthday of the "architect of rock & roll" Little Richard—a true cultural pioneer when he burst on the scene in late 1955 with his first chart hit "Tutti Frutti."
Elvis Presley of course was the one who put R&R on the map in the following year, but it was Little Richard Penniman's screaming vocals and wild piano-pounding—inciting teen hysteria (and occasional riots) at many of his gigs—that made rock & roll dangerous, and therefore all the more attractive to young audiences. (Imagine the backlash if the culture police knew he was also gay!)
But after a string of raucous hits (including "Long Tall Sally," "Lucille," and "Rip It Up") Richard left show business in 1957 when he literally "saw the light"—a flaming streak in the night sky, which he took as a sign from God to quit rock & roll and become a preacher (a logical conclusion that anyone would take).
The light turned out to be the Russian satellite Sputnik, but he nevertheless abandoned his tour the next day.
Fortunately Richard kept his music alive as a gospel-singing evangelist and eventually returned to rock & roll five years later, beginning with two tours of England (where the early Beatles and Rolling Stones opened for him), leaving an indelible impression on the next generation of rock & rollers.
Today is the sixty-seventh birthday of the late Jim Morrison, the Doors' lead singer, who is expected to be pardoned tomorrow on his conviction of indecent exposure while performing onstage in Miami in 1969.
The outgoing Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has requested the posthumous pardon of Morrison, based on the fact that there was little evidence—and no photographs—of the extraordinary charges, denied by everyone on stage that night.
Morrison—who, in the spirit of Lenny Bruce, loved to push the envelope of acceptable performance—did admit to a profanity-laden rant (an apparent first in Dade County) and taking off his shirt (a potentially capital offense in Florida in 1969).
Amid increasing controversies, Morrison eventually left the band and settled in Paris, where he died in 1971.
Today is also the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Beatles' founder John Lennon, occurring two months after his fortieth birthday, the anniversary I prefer to focus on (as I did in an earlier post).
Suffice it to say, on that night in New York we lost perhaps the most innovative force in popular music. Chalk it up to coincidence, but the three decades of rock music after Lennon's passing don't seem to hold up as well as the two-and-a-half decades before—especially in terms of breakthrough innovation. To echo Lennon's own lyrics: Tell me why.
The common denominator among these three artists? They were rock & roll deviants who took enormous creative risks, disrupted business-as-usual practices, and broke cultural rules to bring something new into the world.
If you believe in the power of disruptive innovation—a useful starting point for twenty-first century entrepreneurs (aren't we all?)—then Penniman, Morrison, and Lennon have a few things to teach you.