Thursday, July 12, 2007

"I'm Alive"

I've just read the always-excellent Barney Hoskyns' "Hotel California", which is no more and no less than a complete history of west coast American music in the early and mid-1970s: think of The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and you get the picture.

The early part of the period -- the first flush of creative serendipity -- is wonderful to behold. The gradual ebb and flow of musicians living up in Laurel Canyon, sharing songs, trying new combinations until they hit upon the right creative blend, be it Glenn Frey and Don Henley or David Crosby and Stephen Stills, is smooth, seductive, so happy. Inadvertently idealistic, you might call it.

And then cocaine happened.

And while it didn't always hurt the quality of musicianship, while, for the most part, the hits kept on coming, something really did go sour. Partnerships made in Heaven broke apart, truly talented individuals like Gram Parsons or David Crosby fell apart, the well simply ran dry.

A host of "coulda been huge" bands were formed, made one album, broke up and their members moved on. Lesser-known names like Bernie Leadon, Richey Furay, John David Souther, Doug Dillard, David Blue were all noticed, applauded, recruited, hyped and then made, were persuaded to make, the wrong decisions or were just cast aside. Nowadays they're remembered, if at all, as a co-writer's credit on an album sleeve.

Does anyone remember that Bernie Leadon wrote the song, performed by the Eagles while he was a member, that became the theme from "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy"?

Today we have the unedifying sight of a generation of talented musicians, the survivors, touring on their past glories. In many cases the original partnerships were ruined by drugs to the extent that there are two or even three versions of the same band playing the nostalgia circuit.

Neil Young -- one of the few straighter individuals of the period -- wrote "It's better to burn out, than to fade away", but even he can't take his own advice, and maybe it's his monumental exception that proves the rule.

Read the book. Marvel at the names that flit past, find yourself thinking "I never knew he/she/they were involved in this album." Marvel at Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell's steely resolve to survive in a business that still treated women like chattels.

Throughout Hoskyns' book, a few key figures stride through the period, surviving everything that wealth, taste and indulgence could throw at them. Neil Young, for his ornery, cussed stubbornness that kept pulling him to the left of centre; David Geffen, for his sheer ambition to create an environment for artists to thrive and for him to make vast sums of money; and Jackson Browne, for his reckless honesty.

Yeah now I'm rolling down this canyon drive
With your laughter in my head
I'm gonna have to block it out somehow to survive
'cause those dreams are dead
And I'm alive

I want to go where I will never hear your name
I want to lose my sorrow and be free again
And I know I've been insane
When I think of places I could have been


Evil Minx said...

Ah... Journey of the Sorceror... i love that song.

Nina said...

Hey great blog!

I’d love it if you checked mine out, just started it a few days ago. I will be posting Mon-Thu every week, hopefully!

I write mostly blurbs and ramblings about music every day, and I want to start doing some more album/song reviews when the time comes. I would really appreciate a comment or some feedback! :) thanks!

Nina said...

great blog

i recently started my own music blog and would love some feedback!