I’ve been revisiting this 1966 performance by Little Richard the last 2 days. It’s got some great crowd shots, especially starting at 45 seconds in, while the camera focuses steadily and uncomfortably on a young man who looks like he’s tearing up in stunned joy at the proceedings. One minute in, he unleashes with a reaction before the camera cuts back to the stage and what has elicited this response. This is the joy that no digital performance of the future will elicit.
As Townsman Al pointed out, Little Richard is 80 years old today. Happy birthday! Although he’s alive he seems to be a bit forgotten as the rock legend he was. These days early rock ‘n roll seems thought of more in terms of Chuck Berry, Elvis, and a few semi-obscuro figures who make us feel high minded. Has Little Richard’s legacy shifted to more of a cultural icon for his influence on our age’s more fluid notions of sexuality? So be it. That in itself is a significant contribution to this world.
My uncle turned me onto him as a kid, and I always found him fascinating on both musical and cultural levels. There’s some concert movie from the early ’70s my uncle took me to see the culminated in an All-Star Jam among these early rock ‘n roll titans. Maybe it was the movie from which this clip was pulled. I remember Richard winning a fierce battle by scaling a tower of monitors in a white cape, or something like that. Baby, that’s rock ‘n roll! My uncle also owned a few of his gospel albums. He told me stories about seeing Richard pre- and post-ministerial days. After high school my uncle briefly entered a seminary. He’s always straddled the lines between rock ‘n roll and religion. He clearly identified with that part of Richard’s story. Does that part of his story still mean anything to people, or is he just a shadow of the caricature he played so well in Down and Out in Beverly Hills?
Kids, take a moment before it’s too late to tune into all the power and glory that was Little Richard.
People my age and older grew up knowing Little Richard as one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n roll—and the genre’s most flamboyant practitioner. Little Richard survived the British Invasion, even encouraged it through his friendship with The Beatles. He ping-ponged between religious conversions and ecstatic fits of unadulterated sin. He was lauded during a run of early ’70s rock revivalism, milking it for all the money white record industry types probably stole from him in his prime.