Now when I was at college, we had something called “Winter Term,” a four and a half week stretch wherein we took only one course, intensively and…
Skied all afternoon and smoked dope all night.
I stumbled into my freshman winter term course, “Political Campaigning,” wherein you ran your candidate all the way to the election, managing the trials and tribulations, the twists and turns of a Presidential campaign.
Unfortunately, my team represented the Republican candidate, which was akin to running a Communist in the twenty first century. You see in 1971, everybody in college was a Democrat, we literally could point out the Republicans on campus. Our guy was a nonstarter. So I decided to drum up some action by claiming the other party’s candidate had fathered an illegitimate child. This just sank our guy further.
I love this stuff.
But little did I know this was what was commonly referred to as a “gut” course. It became clear upon the first meeting, when I noticed all the athletes in attendance. Who sat in the back and never said a word, if they bothered to come to class at all. And three books were assigned, which we didn’t have to read.
And I ended up with a lot of free time for the aforementioned skiing and dope smoking.
I skied the first nine days of the term in a row. I beat that record after a four day cold in the middle of the month. That’s why I went to Middlebury College, to ski!
I did not go to smoke dope.
But that January I smoked plenty.
In Dave McCormick’s room.
Now you’ve got to understand, January in Vermont is damn cold. And you wear the same jeans when it’s in the single digits as you do in the summertime. So other than walking to class and meals, you stayed inside. And truly bonded with your brethren, truly made friends.
And you know how college is… You know nobody and nothing and you make friends and you find out months later that they’re nothing like you and you ditch them for new people and are embarrassed when you run into the old ones for the next four years, at least at a college like Middlebury, where there were only 1600 students. We’d be walking down the path and discover an interesting bird, or something startling on the sidewalk in order to avoid eye contact with someone we used to talk to all the time but now wanted nothing to do with.
And my new friend, Denis, he had a whole different set of friends from me. And every night they congregated in Dave McCormick’s room on the second floor of Hepburn Hall, where we listened to the Allman Brothers’ “Idlewild South,” Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” and…the Moody Blues’ “In Search Of The Lost Chord”…and smoked dope all night.
Now I’d become a huge Moody Blues fan. But I only had the orchestral “Days Of Future Passed,” which I listened to on my Norelco compact cassette player on the drive to college in the fall, even my father could handle the mellifluous sound emanating from the tiny speaker, and “A Question Of Balance,” which had just been released and contained the Moody Blues’ breakthrough single, “Question.” But there were three albums in between those two, and despite getting almost no airplay when first released, they’re the heart of the Moody Blues’ catalog, they’re what the band’s reputation is built upon. And if you don’t know them, you’re in for a treat.
Now I subsequently bought “On The Threshold Of A Dream,” which is lush and contains the exquisite Ray Thomas ballad “Dear Diary,” which was so personal, you thought you were the only person to ever hear it.
And Dave occasionally played “To Our Children’s Children’s Children,” which puts a smile on my face every time I hear it.
But “In Search Of The Lost Chord” is the apotheosis, the Moody Blues’ highest point. An aural journey akin to nothing else that soothes and satisfies. And every track is a winner, but the one we played while we watched the drips of the zilch drop into the bucket of water in the dark, is “Legend Of A Mind”…
Timothy Leary’s dead
No, no, no, he’s outside looking in
Sounds hackneyed and dated, I know. But that’s the intro. “Legend Of Mind” goes on for six plus minutes, getting faster and slowing down, bending notes, ascending and descending, it’s like a drug trip, one so good you become firmly convinced all drugs should be legalized.
And speaking of drugs… Dave’s father came up for parents’ weekend and asked him…DO YOU SMOKE DOPE?
And Dave said…ALL THE TIME!
And then Dave’s father laughed and slapped Dave on the back and said…I KNEW I COULD TRUST YOU!
Dave’s father thought Dave was making a joke…but the truth was, Dave smoked dope EVERY DAY! We all did!
As for the zilch…
You twisted up a plastic laundry bag, hung it on a wire hanger from the light fixture in the ceiling and then lit it. The plastic globules would drip down into the water bucket you placed below the zilch with a zippy and then zappy sound, you could watch it for hours.
Now don’t get the wrong impression… After a week-long vacation at the beginning of February, Middlebury College returned to its traditional semester system, wherein you took four courses and everybody studied all the time. But for these four and a half weeks…we truly expanded our minds.
A pure intro. Forty five seconds long. It’s blast-off, it removes you from the world you were living in and jets you into…OUTER SPACE!
RIDE MY SEE-SAW
All these years later, this is the song that remains, that gets airplay, the most famous track from “In Search Of The Lost Chord,” if not the best. With harmonies, a stinging guitar, and truly great verses:
Left school with a first class pass
Started work but as second class
Unlike in the U.S., there was a rigid class system in the U.K. Now there’s more upward mobility in the U.K. than there is in the U.S!
My world is spinning around
Everything is lost that I found
People run, come ride with me
Let’s find another place that’s free
That’s why you went to college in the seventies. To expand your mind. Nobody was on a job track, except for those who were pre-med. College taught me nothing so much as we’re all on our own, and there’s more truth in the grooves of a record than there is in the words emanating from the mouth of a professor.
“DR. LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME”
I know, it sounds hokey! But it’s not that way at all…
And the key line has more truth than anything in the books we were reading for class…
We’re all looking for someone…
HOUSE OF FOUR DOORS (PART 1)
This is why we loved our albums. Because stuff like this was never made for the radio, but just for you at home, listening. There was no second-guessing of gatekeepers, this was the music the musicians wanted to make, and we loved it and them.
Want to make a statement? Something cohesive, that will enthrall the listener? Then be my guest, make an album.
But you probably have nothing to say, and you’re probably not skilled enough to make a long player anyway, never mind having a voice as good as anyone in the Moody Blues.
You start with talent.
Then you make the record.
Today you make the record first. Your talent is social-networking, marketing.
HOUSE OF FOUR DOORS (PART 2)
A reprise, after “Legend Of A Mind.” When this came on you felt like you came back from an acid trip, you were glad to be on terra firma, in recognizable company.
VOICES IN THE SKY
Very light. But don’t forget, this was the second side. A new beginning. The Internet didn’t kill the album, the CD did. Vinyl records were short with two sides, two stories, two bites at the apple. CDs were just endless drivel, almost impenetrable.
THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL
And you can fly
High as a kite if you want to
Faster than light if you want to
Speeding through the universe
Thinking is the best way to travel
Ain’t that the truth. It used to be about thinking, money was just a means of exchange, it wasn’t the end all and be all. You were supposed to set your mind free, challenge convention. And artists were the leaders, not the followers. Not Beck tying in with Lincoln, but lone wolves doing it their own way with no corporate involvement, hell, even the record company couldn’t tell acts what to do.
“The Best Way To Travel” sounds like nothing else on the album. Almost psychedelic. Hearing it today STILL makes me smile!
VISIONS OF PARADISE
A deep cut in the middle of the second side. Truly sounds like stumbling into paradise!
The curtain rises on the scene
With someone shouting to be free
The play unfolds before my eyes
There stands the actor who is me
YES! We’re all actors in our own play. Musicians didn’t talk down to us, rather they guided us, on a trip we could not live without, the richest one in our lives.
A heavy spoken word set-up for…
And the word is…OM
Yes, we’re meditating, we’re in the sweat lodge, we’re communing on a higher plane…OM.
For those who didn’t live through the sixties, who worship cash as opposed to sensory development, that’s pronounced…”Ahh–uuum.”
The rain is on the roof
Hurry high butterfly
As clouds roll past my head
I know why the skies all cry
OM, OM, heaven, OM
No Ferrari, no kicking to the curb, no us versus them, rather we’re all in it together, contemplating this wondrous universe.
Either you know “In Search Of The Lost Chord” or you’ll play it now and be both astonished and mesmerized…because it sounds like absolutely nothing else. That’s how music was back then, instead of trying to emulate, all our acts were on different paths.
The fact that the Moody Blues are not in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame is criminal. Especially now that they’re letting in anybody, just because they were popular.
The Moody Blues were more than that. They were a beacon. The soundtrack of a generation.
Then again, they were not the only ones.