Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Altamont

The concert at the Altamont Speedway, December 6, 1969
The concert at the Altamont Speedway, December 6, 1969; the nearly ground-level stage is directly beneath the top balloon, in between the two speaker towers

We mark the disastrous concert held on December 6, 1969 – 52 years ago today – at the Altamont Speedway here in Alameda Country in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Over 300,000 people attended, four of whom died that day, one of them at the hands of the so-called “security personnel.” The word “Altamont” has become synonymous with “rock concert disasters.”

However, before we get to the tragic events of December 6, 1969, we would recognize an event that occurred on this day in 1975, 46 years ago today, in this edition of “This Day in Music Stupid.”

On Saturday, December 6, 1975, the Reverend Charles Boykin – associate pastor and youth director of the Lakewood Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida – gave a talk to the young people of his church on “evil effects of rock music on youth.”  Not content to just talk-the-talk, the good reverend had his charges gather up their rock ‘n’ records, including those by Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Cream, the Doors, and Neil Diamond, and burned them.  

Boykin claimed to have been inspired by a nameless professor at Hyles-Anderson College (an unaccredited private independent Baptist college in unincorporated Crown Point, in Lake County, Indiana), who claimed that:

“out of 1,000 girls who became pregnant out of wedlock, 984 committed fornication while rock music was being played.”

Mike Royko
Mike Royko (1932-1997)

That statistic fascinated Mike Royko (1932-1997), the famed Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Daily News.  Royko wrote in his column:

“[That] amazing statistic intrigued me.  I considered getting a portable radio and blasting rock music at the first 1000 women I met.  But first I decided to get further details from Rev. Boykin. I phoned him and we had the following interview:

Where did that statistic come from, the one about all those girls getting pregnant while listening to rock music?

‘I want to be accurate, so let me correct you. They didn’t all listen to it DURING the sex act. I was speaking of listening to it as a prelude to fornication, as well as during.’

I see. But rock music was involved in all but 14 pregnancies out of 1,000 cases?

‘That’s right. It was sort of like a Gallup Poll of unwed mothers.’

And who provided the statistics?

‘This man. He’s from West Virginia. Or maybe Virginia. He stopped in our church one day and gave us the statistics.’

He’s a professional poll taker?

‘Uh, no. He’s an evangelist. He travels all the time.’

And you believe his statistics?

‘Oh, yes.  There’s a definite relationship between illicit sex and any music with a syncopated beat.  That covers rock and country music and even some Gospel music.’

But the syncopated beat has been around a lot longer than rock music, hasn’t it?

‘That’s right.  And the debauchery began when Benny Goodman introduced swing music.’

Benny Goodman caused debauchery?

‘That’s right. His music had a syncopated beat.’

Then why weren’t lots of girls getting pregnant because of his music?

‘They were, but it was covered up. When Goodman had a concert in Los Angeles in 1938, there was open sex.’

In 1938?

‘That’s right. The syncopated beat did it.’

How about Glen Miller and Lawrence Welk?

‘When they use the syncopated beat, yes.’

Remarkable.  I wouldn’t have thought Lawrence Welk capable of such rascality. It makes me wonder what really goes on in all those nursing homes.”

Thank you, Mike Royko. We need no longer wonder how Q-Anon caught on.  Unbelievable.…

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