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Fool On The Hill


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Hi. My name is Peter Max R------. Not named after the famous artist. My family is east European heritage is all, and that's what they named me. I was 11 years old in '68, growing up here in North Hollywood, California. My older cousins were hippies, and they took me to Griffith Park where I saw love-ins, and to Haight-Asbury in San Francisco where I saw peace demonstrations, and a block from our home at the head shop, sometimes I saw hippies arrested. I loved the hippies. They seemed right. They dressed in Bohemian styled clothes, and maybe because my heritage is east European, I instinctively loved the hippies, especially how tolerant minded they were and the music was like the gypsy music that I always loved in my classical music studies. By the time I was 8, I could show you what passages of Beethoven were gypsy influenced, yet I had no training in this nor any experience with actual gypsies. I also instinctively loved folk music, like Woody Guthrie, and Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant" was a favorite of mine. If you were here now, I would play it for you on the piano, and you would like it because I have natural talent and a good feel for improvising in lots of different styles. (sorry about the bragging) Conservatives never liked me, because even though I was a boy, I looked like a girl to them, I guess. I was carded for ID in bars etc. into my 30s. I just have that kind of face, I guess. I thought: those conservative people are bigots. Bigotry is perhaps the most awful thing that exists on Earth, is how I always thought. But I'd seen a few Billy Wilder films by then and so understood a little about the dark side of humanity. There's a certain kind of people out there who are picky about how everyone should look and behave. They are conformity bigots. I think they must be the descendents of people who like enjoyed watching a hanging or something like that. This was something you learned about if you paid attention to certain movies. Books sometimes revealed this side of humantiy, too. Like Melville's "Bartleby, A Scrivenor" and Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451." I also always like the way H.G. Wells thought and wrote. He was a socialist and for free love. My family was considered musical, and liberal, and the idea of a bleeding heart, caring for the impoverished and others who had been beaten down by competition and bigots, was the most interesting thing in the world to me outside of baseball. I was an actual flower CHILD of the '60s. All my memories of that time are colorful in a Bohemian way and filled with inspiration and carnival-like fun. Such kaleidoscopic color and Bohemian attitudes and dress represented HOME to me. I was proud to be alive. I was proud to be belong to the hippie movement, the peaceniks, the love generation. I was a classical music pianist, a gift given to me by my father who unfortunately died of cancer when I was 7. He was radical, too, much more than me. He grew up in a slum of New York City and was a child prodigy of the piano. He hated the rich, and when the symphony people came to offer him a concert career when he was 12 years old, he refused them and vowed to never perform in public, a promise he kept until his death. He really was a "fool on the hill," totally reclusive, and very sad. I wish he was alive today. Then we could be two fools on a hill together, which would probably be more fun, don't ya think? I wasn't as dedicated to classical music as my father was. I believed in being open-minded. It's like the first thing I remember in my life, knowing that having tolerance of as much stuff as possible is the only way to the truth. I was very proud of this ideology. The hippie movement was a natural for me, so that when later on in the '80s many people my age began to change toward conservatism, I did not go with them. That's when all my troubles started, and eventually I became homeless with no friends to help me. I turned 23 years old in 1980. Up until then I played in many different musical situations, from symphony orchestras to hippie communes to Vegas cabaret to rock concert arenas and everything in between. But by 1986 I was sleeping on Hollywood Bl. with a sidewalk for a pillow. I met my wife in 1990, and we have a 13 year old son. I was homeless when we met, and she took me in. I'm no good at business, and in a Reaganomic economy I'm incapable of taking care of myself. So now, when I read the lyrics of "Fool On The Hill" and hear the music in my head, it takes on a poignant significance. The words speak even more strongly than they did when I first fell in love with them in 1968. The chords and melody of that song remind me also of Debussy's music, or Satie. That's more modal, but the use of the 6th chords and major 7ths and English folk music styled chordal progressions (majors triads to minor triads in certain patterns) create the same ethereal, impressionistic feeling as these French, early 20th century composers' music. Put this together with the lyric about being an intelligent outcast, and I'm sold, through and through. "..and nobody seemed to like him..." This song was the single most influential piece of music of my entire life, and I know this deep in my heart everytime I hear it. The only other pop-rock song that comes close is the majestic hippie-anthem arrangement that Leon Russell and Joe Cocker created of the Beatles' "A Little Help From My Friends." That one gets me right here (hand on heart) every time I hear it, and makes my blood rush with inspiration. I imagine this is what it must be like to be black and singing in a Baptist church, right? It's a lot like listening to Beethoven, or certain of Stravinsky's music, like the Firebird. Very moving and inspirational. But actually, I find music that makes the hair on my arms stand up in lots of places. I can find it in a short passage of a simple 2-part invention by Bach. It's just certain chord progressions with melodies on top that feel like they are grinding, you know? On the piano, you can take a root bass note, say C for example, add the fifth with it, so you're playing C-G-C in the left hand. Then play a G octave in the right hand, and move that up to A-flat in the right hand, and play a triad of A-flat major, over this C open 5th in the left hand. Then the right hand back to G octave again. See that? It grinds, right? This is a very gypsie kind of music. That kind of music is very important to me. I think, in the cosmic scheme of things, that I was made to live for this kind of thing, certain music that speaks emotionally like that. Of course, I'm not alone. But how many people would find total fulfillment in it like I do? Probably quite a few, actually. The struggle for survival is what keeps us from living completely for it. That's why I think I would prefer to live on a more benevolent planet where we'd be allowed to indulge in music more than we are allowed to on Earth. Some people call this a dreamer. But it's really just what happens when you allow yourself to drop out of the system of pro-active workers. John Lennon could do this because he was successful. Then he wrote the song "Imagine." During my more successful rock touring days in the late-70s, I was sheltered enough to be able to afford to live in the music. By the mid-80s, however the rock tours were gone and everyone became more hardened, like a Pat Benatar song. Forget about it. I couldn't make that scene. I can't help it, and like my father, I ended up dropping out completely from the social, capitalist world and have been spending all my time in this non-productive dream state, aside from caring for my child, as I was put in charge of him while my wife went to work. Caring for children was never a problem. You have to work and keep them safe and clean and fed, but it's not the same as working in jobs, which always makes me nauseous and want to vomit and then I have to leave. Thankfully, my wife supports our little family, but it hasn't always been an easy road.

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