By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Unless you're a diehard fan, working with a former rock star isn't all that memorable an experience. Most likely your co-worker resembles one of the great unwashed instead of a big-time idol. And depending on the hourly wage he's pulling down, our rocker's probably a bitter and sullen old fellow you practically have to beat the American Bandstand anecdotes out of.
You would have thought that by the sheer force his moniker, my good friend "Power Pop" Pat would've committed to memory his momentary encounter with '60s pop royalty and volunteered the information in a prompt fashion. But given the vagaries of his particular story, it's understandable that he didn't. After hearing "Along Comes Mary" for the millionth time on KOOL-FM, the oldies station in Phoenix, Pat remembered that some guy at his work named Gary once claimed, rather matter-of-factly, that he used to be in the Association. Pressed further, Pat remembered hearing Gary mumble something like, "Yeah, I wrote 'Cherish,' but those fuckers cheated me out of credit, and I quit."
Now, no one in his right mind could be expected to know any of the Association members' names. After all, Terry, Gary, Ted, Brian, Russell, and Jim don't exactly roll off the tongue the way John, Paul, George, and Ringo do. But a furious glance at a dog-eared copy of And Then...Along Comes the Association confirmed there really was a guy in the Association named Gary who quit after the first two albums. Attired in drab gray three-piece, Gary Alexander looks as nondescript as the other five suits, something like a cross between the Doors' Robby Krieger and the Stooges' Larry Fine. Pat squinted hard at the photo and said that the Gary he met looked even older.
Thanks to the typically verbose 1966 liner notes on the Association's first album, we gleaned even more about the elusive Gary Alexander: "[Gary] doesn't smoke, drink, or eat meat and he would like to travel to India 'to study the religious life there.'" According to The Billboard Book of Number Ones, Alexander did indeed quit the group to study Eastern philosophy. But not before dropping a bomb.
In late 1966, the Association followed up their first No. 1 hit "Cherish" with the unexpected psychedelia of "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies," which only got as far as a disappointing No. 33 before making like a dead yogi. Nobody tried to cheat Alexander out of his sole writing credit for that bit of mystical mumbo jumbo, sung in a voice that sounds like an enlightened version of Kermit the Frog. Oddly enough, The Association's Greatest Hits has been the only album of the group's to remain in print up to the present day. And while it's teeming with non-charting singles and boring album filler like "Requiem for the Masses" and "Six Man Band," "Pandora's Golden Heebie Jeebies" has been conveniently forgotten. Just like Gary Alexander.
Pestering Pat to get me an audience with this mystical magus, I was chagrined to learn that this slippery Gary had a different last name and had stopped working with Pat about eight months ago. Was he one of those crackpots who claims to be a member of the DeFranco Family just to get a free hot meal out of good, kind, star-struck folk, or was he the real thing? A guy who played guitar in a chart-topping band, found that lacking, went to Bangalore and found the secret of life, found that lacking, and was last seen working as a rural security guard making sure that nobody tries to steal 10 dollars' worth of power wire or that some little critter doesn't get zapped accidentally.
The lure of the Association would seem quite resistible at first glance. After all, even in their prime these guys looked more like attorneys than revolutionaries, and their hits sounded like something your dentist might listen to on his day off to remind himself of work. But you'd be wrong. Glancing at the hyperactive sleeve notes of And Then...Along Comes the Association again, I learned that "The Association can outblues the Stones, outrock the Raiders, and outfolk the Kingston Trio."
Even with statements like that, one ought not underestimate the Association, who were the true bad boys of rock and roll, at least according to our Gary -- the security guard and purported onetime member of the band. We gathered together some of his former co-workers, and they recounted whatever infrequent wild tales of the Association they could recall him muttering between mouthfuls of ham-and-cheese lunches. If I were Mick and Keith, I'd watch my ass in the future too.
1) The Association begin their reign of outrage in mid-1966 with their first single for Valiant Records, "Along Comes Mary." It's riding high on the charts, and no wonder -- everyone thinks they are singing about marijuana! Scheduled to perform the song on The Ed Sullivan Show, they are meekly asked by network censors if they wouldn't mind playing "Along Came Jones" instead.
Hah! Do you think the Association wussed out like the Stones would a year later when Mick sang "Let's Spend Some Time Together" to appease a buncha squeamish censors? Do you think they would bastardize Tandyn Almer's original lyrics and maybe sing "Along Comes Murray?" Not the Association. Those hooligans sang "Mary," goddammit, and sang it often, citing Johnny Mathis' groundbreaking 1963 appearance on Sullivan, when he was allowed to croon the offending word seven times during his carefree rendition of "What Would My Mary Say." Not wishing to incite any reverse-discrimination lawsuits, the Sullivan people backed down, but made sure there would be no hot snacks and moist towelettes waiting for the Association backstage.