Is 74 the new 27?
Whereas the young rock stars die of misadventure…the oldsters seem to just wear out, to succumb to the maladies that affect the rest of us.
And we don’t like this, because we want our heroes to live forever.
Paul Kantner was an irascible fellow who could be notoriously hard to get along with.
But he piloted multiple bands under the moniker “Jefferson” that seemed to care not a whit about what else was going on. And money was secondary. As Bill Graham so famously said, whenever they got paid the band stayed home and smoked dope. They suspended the radio station at my high school when a student played “Eskimo Blue Day” over the intercom, it was a perk to liven up the hour before classes, but the rules of my public school didn’t mean shit to a tree, or the deejay involved
You can listen to “Surrealistic Pillow.” You can be wowed by “Saturday Afternoon” on “Baxter’s,” you can point out that Kantner cowrote “Wooden Ships,” but it appears you had to be there to understand. We had no idea San Francisco was a burgeoning hotbed of revolution, of alternative lifestyle, of thinking for yourself and not worrying what anybody said until…
We heard Jefferson Airplane, they were the first.
With Signe Anderson, who died at the same age and on the same day as Kantner. But it was with Grace Slick that the band made inroads. And isn’t it interesting that Slick has retired. She knows her time has passed. The kids listen and then they don’t, you become nostalgia, you stop being born, you’re busy dying.
And Maurice White captained a seventies superstar band that appealed to both blacks and whites and made a boatload of money, you still hear Earth, Wind & Fire tracks on the radio.
But you never hear Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.
Hicks may not have been the hothead Kantner was, but he was certainly irascible, he suffered no fools, the idea of kissing butt was anathema to him. Furthermore, he broke up the band just after it got traction, when it was poised for the big time.
And his career never recovered.
He did it his way.
And Hicks’s way was like nobody else’s. This was back when all the bands didn’t sound alike, never mind work with the same writers and producers. You went off on your own adventure, you turned your album into the label, the company did a bit of publicity and then the audience embraced you and spread the word…
Or you were dead in the water.
Sure, it was great if radio played your track. The airwaves reached the most people.
But as much as we were listening radio was primarily a sampling service, we wanted to know what to buy, to get deep into at home, like “Striking It Rich.”
Hicks’s first LP was on Epic. It got no traction and it sounded compressed and slick as opposed to what came out on Blue Thumb.
That’s right, Krasnow and LiPuma’s label. As a matter of fact, Tommy produced “Striking It Rich,” which was Hicks’s second LP for the company.
The cover was a giant matchbook. Back when the art was important and you could be cheeky, when we appreciated your innovation, your creativity.
And when you dropped the needle…
You went on an aural adventure disconnected from everything else on the hit parade, which made it even more special. Who was this Hicks guy? And how about the Lickettes? Naomi Eisenberg and Maryann Price were stars in their own right!
Back before graduate school was an option, when there was a large middle class that would support you. All the musicians of yore had their minds exploded in colleges which were all about experimentation, as opposed to preparation for a career. You got in touch with your sensibilities, you tried out different personae, and then you foisted one upon the world.
You played to your muse, not to yourself.
There were no hits on “Striking It Rich,” but there are tracks I’ll never forget.
Like “Canned Music.”
And “Walkin’ One And Only.”
And the piece-de-resistance, “I Scare Myself,” which made violinist Sid Page a star overnight.
Today we listen to songs in groups, as if we’re afraid to disconnect and be alone with the sound, taken on a journey to the center of our mind.
But “I Scare Myself” is all about mood. Taking you to the edge of the world…and pushing you off. Back before Uber, back before cheap jet travel, when your freedom came from getting in your automobile and driving across this great country of ours, it was cuts like “I Scare Myself” that rode shotgun, it’s why we know them so well, we played them over and over, until they became integrated with our souls.
Which is why Dan Hicks’s passing is such a big deal. He’s part of our DNA, part of our fabric, and if he’s gone…
Maybe we will be too.
His music is only kept alive by us. Once we’re dead, will we be forgotten too?
But we lived through an era when music was the grease, the highest calling of an adventurous young person, we were addicted to it, we went nowhere without it, despite having no MP3s, not even tapes, everywhere you went music was playing, it was a main topic of conversation, the money was just a byproduct, because when you’re selling truth, when you’re purveying excellence, we’ll give you all we’ve got.
So either you know what I’m talking about or…
You’ll listen to the below playlist and hear something that sounds unlike anything else, but is strangely affecting. You’ll get insight into 1972, when the album was everything and it wasn’t about building filler around the single but putting your best foot forward, making a statement, getting your vision down on wax.
AND WE RESONATED WITH IT!
Dan Hicks is not the only one.
And despite having no hits, he played Carnegie Hall, he made the cover of “Rolling Stone,” before that placement was reserved for TV stars and celebutantes.
It’s a sad day.