By Michael Miller
4:20 PM PDT, July 14, 2014
"It's not easy being a Herman."
So read the opening line of a column I spotted years ago at a high school journalism contest. The author, a gifted humorist, lamented the trials of going through life with the name Herman, which included having people mispronounce it as "Kermit" or "Kevin" and dealing with the name's inherent gender contradiction ("her" plus "man," get it?).
Perhaps it's not easy being a Herman. But it's not much easier being a fan of Herman — which is to say, the lead singer of Herman's Hermits. The British Invasion band that packed the charts with "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and other gems during the 1960s has, to say the least, not won the critical reverence of the Beatles or other edgy peers, such as the Who and the Rolling Stones.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide once wrote of the Hermits that "it would be cheaper, and no more unpleasant, to record yourself in the shower while holding your nose." Critics Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell included them in their book "The Worst Rock n' Roll Records of All Time." An Entertainment Weekly scribe, lamenting the length of the 1990s "Beatles Anthology" TV series, remarked sarcastically that "I'm ready for 'Herman's Hermits Anthology' right about now."
Ouch, ouch and semi-ouch. But the truth is that however doggedly unhip a song like "I'm Henry VIII, I Am" may be, the Hermits put out some darn good pop records. If you don't believe me, program the following playlist of mid-'60s jewels: "No Milk Today," "Just a Little Bit Better," "Hold On!" "Listen People," "I'm Into Something Good" and "A Must to Avoid."
Start with those six, and if you catch yourself singing along, consider yourself a fan. It's not easy, but you'll endure. And if you have the right connections, you'll get to enjoy some perks — like spending half an hour interviewing Herman, also known as Peter Noone, about his upcoming show at the OC Fair & Event Center.
That was my good fortune last week, as I spoke on the phone with Noone from his home in Santa Barbara. A Southern California resident for half of the year — and a Dodgers fan, natch — Noone will visit the Costa Mesa fairgrounds with a band dubbed Herman's Hermits Starring Peter Noone, which is perhaps polite industry-speak for saying that he's the only original member onstage.
Still, a frontman is a frontman, and the Hermits have a half-century mark to celebrate this year: Their first hit, "I'm Into Something Good," came out in 1964. The theatrical rerelease of "A Hard Day's Night" may be hogging the 50th-anniversary attention, but five decades of being Herman is no mean feat itself.
On the phone, the 66-year-old Noone sounded the way I imagined: warm, gregarious and quick with a joke, the kind who might regale you with stories over a pint and slap your back affectionately to cap off a punchline. For that matter, his stories aren't simply nostalgia-fests — he recently served as a guest mentor on "American Idol," which prompted a Slate critic to praise his "genius insight."
Take that, Rolling Stone.
Given that Noone hasn't recorded much in recent years, though, it's inevitable that the '60s will come up. In response to my first question, about whether he had favorite memories of playing the OC Fair in the past, he segued into a story about his first time seeing a "really hot band" — which turned out to be the Beatles, playing at a local English fair when he was a teenager.
In those days, pop music was a more ramshackle industry, a far cry from the days when magazines compiled greatest-album lists and Beyonce gathered an entourage of designers for the Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. From the Hermits to Bob Dylan, acts churned out material at a pace that would seem bewildering today, and a new disc felt more like a dispatch than a long-awaited cultural event.
Likewise, in 1965, the Hermits played 360 concerts and recorded new material on their spare days, according to Noone. Does he miss that time? Absolutely.
"That's what kills enthusiasm," he said in his distinctive nasal brogue. "You know, when you've got an idea, if you can run with it really quickly, you can make a record on Monday and have it on the radio on Thursday, Friday. You stay enthusiastic about that idea. Now, you've got an idea and you say, 'We'll have it out next July.' By next July, you've got another idea."
Noone, who started in show business as a child TV actor, has plenty of ideas, and some of them are hilarious. In the course of our conversation, he envisioned himself as an old performer ("One day, I'll probably get that reverence that George Burns got"), expressed surprise that the Monkees replaced the Hermits as the boy band du jour ("We thought it was gonna be the Cowsills") and cheered the fact that young people don't have to embarrass themselves at Tower Records to buy his music ("The Internet is my friend").
At the OC Fair, Noone's modern-day Hermits will join a lineup of other '60s and '70s veterans: Gary Lewis, Mitch Ryder, the Turtles, Mark Farner and Chuck Negron. He's known them all for years, and there may be ample opportunities to share anecdotes onstage. In terms of celebrating 50 years of the Hermits, though, Noone prefers to be low-key.
"I talked to the guys, the people who were originally in the band, and we talked about it," he said. "But, you know, we're going to look forward to the 100th anniversary. We'll do something for the 100th anniversary. We'll still be the youngest guys from the period."
MICHAEL MILLER is the features editor for Times Community News in Orange County. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (714) 966-4617.
If You Go
What: Herman's Hermits Starring Peter Noone and the Happy Together Tour
Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 7:45 p.m. July 20
Cost: $25.35 to $47.85
Information: (714) 708.1500 or http://www.pacamp.com/pahttp://www.pacamp.com/pa/