Thursday, March 21, 2013

Expecting to Fly?

Teenage Jim partying for his right to feel pain!
I've been working on a new mix (the new i-tunes is shit btw), but I've been distracted of late, so here's a blast from my past something I originally wrote for the great but sadly defunct British online-zine Tangents.  All the material written for Tangents is preserved at the original site. I remain very proud of my contributions therein.

People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.           Jim Morrison

I really dig LA, really a lot  …… A crowd together really has no mind.  Individually everybody does.  They all have bitchin’ minds.  Like I bet there’s more philosophy in some 16-year old chick’s mind that you ever dreamed of in your whole cigarette.  Some of those letters to those fan magazines are really lonely and deep and open.  Some I read really knocked me out, really open and sincere.
Jim Morrison, Summer 1968 speaking to the LA Free Press

One test of whether a type of music or record can stand the test of time is how it sounds removed from the hyperbolic memories of those who experienced the time in which it was created.  And this criteria is just one of the many instances in which the Southern California bands of the 1960’s, predominantly centered in Los Angeles, beat their Northern California counterparts hands down.  So many of the records made by bands such as the Byrds, the Buffalo Springfield, The Beach Boys, Love, The Doors, The Seeds, The Standells, The Turtles, Johnny Rivers, Mamas and the Papas, Curt Boetchner’s various projects, Ricky Nelson and the Monkees continue to amaze, to sound fresh, and exciting even today. Though you may hear people who lived in Northern California raving, (in fact conspicuously you will for the most part only find people who were there raving) about how incredible the bands of San Francisco and the Bay area were, LA’s Northern California contemporaries today sound dated, muddled, confused and ultimately dull.  It makes sense though because those Northern California sounds were reinforcing and reflecting a then burgeoning lifestyle, creating a sort of closed circuit, a feedback loop and so are irretrievably caught up in the sort of communal hippie movement that was going on at the time.  And I guess they still blow the minds of those who were there.

But now they sound relevant only, and really not even too much then, in the context of the time, when removed from the milieu they existed and thrived in; the hippie lifestyle, that sense of purpose and forward movement and of course the drugs, they sound simply boring or annoying, silly and dead, buried in the time that birthed it.  Put Anthem of the Sun or Electric Music for the Body and Mind on your turntable and though you might hear little flashes here and there, overall it just doesn’t stand up when removed from the heady memories of those who were there.  In fact it reeks so heavily of patchouli, of unwashed, acid fried minds and the ultimate delusions of that generation of near do wells that it sinks under the weight of its own unworthy import and the bloated, misguided associations of better living through communal shanties, chemicals and group think.  The music of Northern California by and large, (as always there are a few exceptions like Moby Grapes’ first album, CCR, Chocolate Watchband and the Beau Brummels), sank underneath its failed promise and pretense.

It’s strange too because the LA bands all conjure up a time and place of their own as well, but like the illusions created by Hollywood, the magic, doesn’t appear to be centered in any fixed reality that existed then or now.  Instead it’s in your head, your heart and always fresh when revisited, a welcome place for all, no matter the age.  The LA of my mind is a beautiful sun kissed place where surfers opened up by acid and grass write songs about their girls drowning in the moonlight, being lost, cutting their long hair or coming in colors.  Its music that mixed Kurt Weil, R&B, Surf Music, Herb Albert’s Tijuana Brass, Pop Art, the Occult, Avant-Garde and Hollywood Film, even Johnny Mathis and came out with amazingly potent hybrids.  I can hear the waves lapping in the background, the sunny days, the cool nights, the hills of Hollywood filled with innocent kids just starting to experiment with life and new sensibilities, hair growing out in that Byrds/Brian Jones style with sunlight highlights, wearing little bit of suede and lots of corduroy, all caught up in POP Culture; drive-ins, motorbikes, scooters, Big Daddy Roth’s customized cars, Marvel comic books, movie stars, and a joint or two.  Making it on the strip, chasing all those beautiful legs.

I close my eyes while listening to 5D and see the Byrds playing at Peter Fonda’s birthday party, Robert Walker Jr., Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper mingling amiably with the new pop stars of LA.  I listen to Johnny Rivers and can see Steve McQueen scribbling liner notes for Johnny’s album after doing the frug to his band at the Whiskey a Go-Go.  I hear “River Deep, Mountain High” and can picture Phil Spector, as an evil twisted dwarf, glaring behind his shades while wringing every last bit of vocal out of a stripped down to her bra Tina Turner.  Everybody high on their own potential, big ideas, big plans, everybody on their own trip, trying to get their own head together, trying to realize their own dream, its that American Individualism, the pioneer spirit, manifest destiny reached the end of the continent. And right beside it, underneath it perhaps is the dark occult pull, the seamy side, the terrors of the abyss, and the unlimited potentiality of everything, the subconscious mind so aptly represented by the depths of the Pacific Ocean itself.  The Evil and Glorious West Coast centered in Los Angeles, the town of illusions, and broken dreams that Raymond Chandler and Nathanael West wrote so heartbreakingly about. All those LA people; the kids, the bands, the writers, the technicians and stars seemed to share these intuitions and contradictions and know better to be self-righteous about it. 

Those LA bands were all so much cleaner than their Northern California counterparts, in all ways; their way of life, stylistically, sartorially, in presentation, and sound.  It feels healthier.  All the supposed criticisms of LA bands are actually their best attributes and saving graces: the plasticity, professionalism, the business sense, the dependency on technology and recording studios, catering to teeny boppers, their show business roots showing, all this when seen in the clear light of present day are strengths and a large part of the reasons those records still sound amazing today!  In short it wasn’t lost up its own ass, sacrificed to self righteous smugness, instead it was opened up to all the world and assimilating a wealth of influences at an amazingly rapid rate and if a buck was made in the process well lets be honest its nice to live comfortably.  I’ll meet you by the pool on another beautiful LA day; we’ll share a smoke and brainstorm our next movie, our next LP or single. 

It was pop music, pop culture mixed with the experimental avant-garde, and so experimentation that at the same time kept an eye on things like brevity, wit, hooks, style, packaging, and presentation. Being LA it also inherited a genuine weirdness that was pioneered by Hollywood outsider oddballs like Orson Welles, Robert Mitchum, Marlon Brando, Monty Clift,  and James Dean. 

And so we have these LA bands of the 1960’s awash in contradictions, and simply embracing or accepting them; the plastic and the genuine; commerce and art, the experimental and the commercial, white and black, soul and exploitation, beauty and ugliness, sex and love.  And naturally the resulting music is lovely, both of a time and timeless, a time outside of real-time and so immortally fresh.  

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