18 September was the birthday of the late P.F. Sloan, the iconic American singer, songwriter and as I remember Sloan, his friend and co-author of memoirs, What’s Exactly The Matter With Me, Steve Feinberg, shared these thoughts with me about Sloan’s life and epic song, Eve Of Destruction.
I share these words with Steve’s permission:
“P.F. Sloan was a renegade outlaw. A genius prodigy, Pound for pound, P.F. Sloan was the most mysterious and elusive figures in the history of rock and roll–and one of the most powerful and influential songwriters to emerge from the inspired mid-sixties.
Without P.F. Sloan there wouldn’t have been the sound of the Mamas and Papas. That’s Phil who wrote and played the infectious opening hook on California Dreamin’. Phil and his partner Steve Barri were the original Grass Roots, with a hit song before there was a real group. He wrote pop songs for everyone–from Ann-Margret to Herman’s Hermits–from Jan and Dean to the Turtles. Everyone who knows anything about music from the sixties has heard Sloan songs.
And then P.F. Sloan dared to write Eve Of Destruction. P.F. Sloan was fearless. He wrote songs like Eugene O’Neill wrote plays–with passion and honesty. He gave us everything he had.
Before Eve, folk music was relegated to the rarified confines of coffee houses and beat clubs, not frequented by the majority of kids in America, whose main access to music was a.m. radio. However, these kids were full of quiet angst about the war, poverty, nuclear annihilation and racial strife. These kids were sleeping tigers waiting to be unleashed upon the world with something to say—waiting for the green light—waiting for their fuses to be lit. Eve Of Destruction lit the fuse of a generation and inspired them to stand up and be heard. Eve Of Destruction was a song that became their sword—they used that sword, righteously. This song inspired the 26th Amendment of the Constitution, lowering the voting age to eighteen.
I have received letters from former teens throughout the world—they all remember where they were when they heard Eve—how their lives changed. It is a song that awoke those tigers and became one of the seminal events in an extraordinary decade. When JerryLewis introduced Eve Of Destruction on September 20, 1965, on the Hullabaloo television show, the earth rumbled. For me, it was the line, “This whole crazy world is just too frustratin’”. It shot through me. That song was my Bar Mitzvah. Eve was my passage into manhood.
Before Eve Of Destruction, life was Hondas, cars, madras shirts, monster movies , barbecues and dances on Saturday nights—we were giving more thought to buying beer for a party under the boardwalk than dying in Vietnam. Marijuana had yet to waft into the mainstream youth culture from the coolness of jazz and the hippie underground. America was on a precipice. We had suppressed all of the anxiety of the world and thought it was secure in its place—let the grownups worry about it. It wasn’t secure. Eve Of Destruction blew our hair back and blew our minds. It stopped us in our tracks, and caused us to think—a lot of us, for the first time.
Because he wrote successful pop songs, Sloan wasn’t allowed to hammer down on new, strong iron. He was torn apart by the the folk establishment and crucified by the music business. (Bob Dylan respected Sloan. Dylan once said the if you wanted to know what was happening on the street, Eve Of Destruction will tell you that). Pete Seeger refused to be on the same bill with Phil and John Lennon thought the song was rubbish—though, in my opinion, Lennon was more influenced by P.F. Sloan than he would ever have admitted.
A writer of pop songs couldn’t possibly have anything to say. They were wrong. Sloan didn’t care. P.F. Sloan was all about the music–all about the song. And he was all about telling the truth in a song. P.F. Sloan paid the price. Phil took Eve to #1, delivered the message around the world and was then torn apart by those who did not want the message heard. The debt has been paid. Music needs an enlightenment of truth.
Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
But when your return, it’s the same old place,
The poundin’ of the drums, the pride and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don’t leave a trace,
Hate your next door neighbor, but don’t forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”
P.F Sloan died in 2015. He spent the last three years of his life touring and playing for his loyal, adoring fans. His memoirs, What’s Exactly The Matter With Me? was published by Jawbone Press in London, in 2014.