Beatles, Hollywood Bowl, ’64 & Now

Posted on by Mark Nykanen

Often I’ll go to YouTube when I’m training. That’s how I ended up looking at b & w footage of the Beatles more than fifty years ago.  I might have been prompted by a story in The New York Times that I’d just read.  It raised the question, once again, of whether California could possibly sustain its growth and lifestyle in an era in which mega-droughts may well be upon us.

California’s drought is the worst in 1,200 years, by some scientific accounts.  Last week Governor Brown ordered mandatory 25 percent cuts for much of the state, though not for the agricultural sector which produces about half of nation’s produce and a significant amount of its almonds and walnuts.

So what’s happening there is significant for the rest of North America and, for that matter, the world.  California’s economy–at $2.2 trillion–is earth’s seventh largest.  Back in ’63, just a year before the Beatles took the stage in Tinsel Town, it was $520 billion with a population of about 16 million.  Now?  Almost 40 million live there, or more than the entire population of Canada, most of which could fit into Southern Cal alone.

Those numbers are daunting–and still growing.  The droughts in the American West–Arizona’s is well into its second decade–raise troubling questions about our insistence on predicating our collective welfare on constant growth.  To look at the frenzy among farmers in California’s Central Valley to drill more wells and deepen existing ones is to grasp the loose legged nature of a Ponzi scheme as it starts to stumble.

California in the 1960s was the dream for so many Americans.  I didn’t get there till ’69, when I hitchhiked with three friends from Tempe to see the Devonshire Downs rock festival.  At some point during that whirligig weekend I spied the Pacific Ocean for the first time.  I think it was in Redondo Beach.  I do recall that it was twilight and the sea looked calm, lapping at the shore.  I gazed at the water with earnest wonder.  It was California.

When we arrived at Devonshire Downs–I can’t recall whether it was pre- or post-beach; it was the ’60s, remember–the cyclone fence surrounding the concert had been torn down.  Its rough welcome might have been a red carpet to those topsy-turvy times.

Creedence Clearwater Revival topped the bill.  I recall them singing Who’ll Stop the Rain, though it wasn’t released until a year later.  Or I might be conflating it with my memory of rain at that concert, though that may not be accurate, either.  It’s hazy now–it was hazy then, to be honest–but Fogarty and company’s lyrics and sound have stayed with me for more than a half century.

So, of course, have the Beatles.  Watching that old footage of them at Bowl brought back the largely unblemished land of California back then.  It would appear that the desert is reclaiming the state day-by-day, much as desertification crawls across large swathes of Africa, the Mediterranean, China, and elsewhere.

We could make our own claims fifty years ago–to innocence, to ignorance of our impact on the land we occupy, to the lack of science on our changing climate.  That’s no longer an option.  Now we can either live in denial or take our cuts, beginning with water for many of us.  Or we can begin to alter our whole notion of economic productivity.

If you want to read more about the latter, I’d suggest Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism Versus the Climate.  

Here’s the link to the Times for more on the California drought:

And here’s the link to the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl.

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