Presented for your consideration today: A true study in musical - and political - contrasts.
This week, Real Gone Music, a superb label devoted to reissuing unplumbed nuggets from pop music's past, announced the impending release of two albums (both originally issued during the tumultuous late 1960s) which represent two diametrically opposed corners of American culture.
On Oct. 30, Real Gone will make available once again 1968's "Have a Marijuana" by David Peel and the Lower East Side, and Sgt. Barry Sadler's "Ballads of the Green Berets," which hit record stores two years earlier. To say these two records were made for very different audiences is like saying there's a little water in the Atlantic.
Sadler's record is by far the better known of the two, having generated the huge hit, "Ballad of the Green Berets," which shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 and which went on to become one of the top 25 hits of the decade. Sadler was a much decorated veteran of the Army's special forces. While recuperating from a serious injury incurred in Vietnam, Sadler co-wrote the song with author Robin Moore, whose book, "The Green Berets," was adapted into a film by John Wayne two years later, and which used Sadler's song as its theme.
The same year John Wayne's "The Green Berets" was released, David Peel, a hippie busker from Manhattan's Alphabet City neighborhood, released "Have a Marijuana" on the Elektra label. Unlike the Sadler album, Peel's debut barely made a sales impression, rising only to #186 on Billboard's charts. But the album's rough-hewn "street rock" developed a cult audience over the ensuing years - and among Peel's fans was John Lennon, who not only sang Peel's praises, but who produced Peel's sophomore effort, "The Pope Smokes Dope."
The years which followed saw Sadler's and Peel's lives take weirdly ineluctable paths. Sadler, whose wartime career had been forged in violence, would greet death again and again. In 1978, Sadler shot and killed Lee Emerson Bellamy, a has-been country performer whose songs had been hits for the likes of Porter Wagoner and Marty Robbins, in a tussle over Bellamy's ex-girlfriend, who had become Sadler's sweetheart. Although he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, Sadler only did 21 days in jail for the crime. The following year, Sadler began writing a series of novels about an immortal warrior named "Casca," which proved popular enough to continue through 37 volumes. (Only the first 22 were written by Sadler.) In the mid-1980s, he moved to Guatemala City, and was shot in the head under mysterious circumstances in 1988. He died the next year, having never left the hospital.
Peel, on the other hand, continued to devote his life to political activism and smoking pot. Last year, he was involved with the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. He still plays on the streets of New York City to this day, supported by modest royalties and the sale of his records.
On Oct. 30, when Peel's and Sadler's records are re-released by Real Gone, it will harken back to an age when peaceniks and soldiers could be found standing side-by-side - if only in America's record bins.
Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, supporting nonprofits that work to alleviate hunger in Colorado.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.