As part of his preparation for his History of Rock and Roll, Kurt compiled observations and a record of events for each of the years 1954-1966, the period he felt encompassed the beginning and the end of the "rock and roll" phenomenon. This document (typed on a manual typewriter) covers 1964, the year Kurt felt that teenage sophistication had matured to the point of questioning the establishment and greater awareness of the world. Though in the form of notes, his record provides a coherent recollection of a year of dynamic change in the history of rock and roll.
For the opening of an exhibition at UCLA of sculptor Harold Paris' work, Kurt organized the appearance of five musical groups, including Frank Zappa and a re-constituted Canned Heat. Canned Heat had attracted Kurt's attention at a concert, and not long there after he drafted this article in 1967 about the group and its blues music. A white group playing black blues, and playing it very well, was not the only story; "It ain't all good. There are, in fact, some tragic drawbacks to the fading of American Black culture--whether it is the result of being sold-out, flooded out and appropriated, or merely loved to death," Kurt penned. It's unclear if this article was ever published; the LA Free Press often printed articles by von Meier, but no record of its publication appears in Kurt's archives.
Kurt's interest in Rock and Roll inclined him to propose a television program utilizing Dick Clark's extensive collection of Kinescopes of American Bandstand. Kurt teamed up with a fellow named Ron Koslow to pitch the idea. "...much of the evidence tracing the rise of Rock and Roll is already lost--if only because no one considered it very important at the time, or thought to preserve it for historians of the future. Thus," they proposed, "the Kinescope segments preserved from the ABC-TV show, "Dick Clark's American Bandstand," or the Saturday Night "Dick Clark Beechnut Show" Provide fascinating and important documentation, of unique interest today."
Here's what the story of Rock & Roll looks like to art historian Kurt von Meier: "The rise of r&r can be seen as reflecting and documenting the growth of an entirely new dimension of artistic expression, wherein the concept of "Art" has once again become integrated into the "Life" of people in the real world." And: "Histories are invented--they can be accurate and, at the same time, as much works of art, as just weak and wishful thinking posing as factual record. The relating of events to arbitrary structures is a forceful reminder of the limitations encountered by mechanistic approaches to the humanities." Using his academic disciplines, Kurt explored the roots of R&R in preparation of writing a book; this material was published in the October, 1969 edition of Art International magazine. Images and links have been added.
Kurt felt that Rock & Roll--and popular arts overall-- were grievously neglected by academia and cultural historians in 1968. "...there is still no course in TV watching that could provide us with even the minimum equipment for cultural self-defense. So we and our children will continue to be victims of media such as TV — until we at least begin to try to make some sense out of what the hell these media are, what they mean, and what they are doing to us in all our pretentious ignorance. And there is no course in the history of rock and roll or rhythm and blues." In this article in the June, 1968 edition of artscanada magazine, he makes his case.
"All the real truths," Kurt often said, "are in the tunes." He played hits of the 50s and 60s during his first classes when teaching at UCLA, and his final lecture at Sacramento State University 40 years later consisted of the same. Though his History of Rock and Roll ended up being published by his friend Carl Belz, Kurt never lost his love of music. Here's a discography found in his archives, clearly from the period he was writing his book. For the music lovers among you, well, it's one great list!
This is a five-part series about Elvis Presley and the history of rock n' roll published in the New York Free Press during 1968. Having cemented his place as both art historian and R&R critic, Kurt was eminently qualified. Using his scholastic talents and combining them with popular culture, he was able to write articles which went beyond mere idolatry or public relations. For the Elvis fans out there, it's a long-lost treasure of insights. Links to successive parts in the series can be found at the bottom of each part. Images and links have been added to the original article.
By 1968 Kurt was a recognized authority on Rock and Roll, as this article he authored for Eye magazine (published in August, 1968) attests. Today the genius of Brian Wilson is widely accepted, but in 1968 Kurt was among the first to understand just how talented Wilson was. His focus in the article, however, takes a von Meier turn to the left as Kurt discusses the role of egolessness and cultural change in the Beach Boy Idea. Images and links have been added.
In this article from 1969, Kurt brings together a variety of themes he had been exploring for the previous four years and packs them all into one piece. With regard to the world of "fine art" movements he concludes, "But now we have rediscovered that the whole world is art and everyone is an artist, so how can there by any more movements?" Rock and Roll, Marshall McLuhan, Marcel Duchamp and Mr. Boob from Yellow Submarine all make an appearance.
The word "Playboy" was written in to top right-hand corner of the first page, though it does not appear to have been published in that magazine. Perhaps in an effort to encourage that, he discusses the use of explicit sexual images in contemporary and Pop art, but in his typical fashion takes things well beyond that subject. "The question now is simply whether or not we can utilize the amazing resources and efficiencies developed by some 5,000 years of art, science, technology and social organization in order to, first, avoid global suicide, and then to make life freer and more beautiful."
Hyperlinks and images have been added to the original material.
Kurt spent a number of years focused on Rock and Roll. He saw it as an authentic artistic expression and began work on a book, despite it being only the mid-sixties, he planned to call The History of Rock and Roll. He accumulated a large collection on vintage 45's (current location unknown) but a few, like the one pictured here, remain among his files. There is a fat folder of rejection letters among his records; at some point he gave up on the idea of getting the book published and moved on to other things. However, a portion of his manuscript is now available here. Some audio links to the tunes Kurt mentions have been added.