Giving That Heaven Away

I’m lookin’ ’round for that sixties sound
Those days are gone
And all of us acid droppin’, world stoppin’, be-boppin’ freaks
Are just hangin’ on

We used to save up for our records.  The radio was our religion.  We listened long enough to be inspired to buy albums.  And when we purchased those twelve inch discs, we played them again and again and again, waiting for them to reveal their truth.  And having an investment in the album, we went to the show, to hear the tunes performed live.  You built your collection album by album.  You didn’t buy anything casually.  You wanted every record to count.  So if someone dropped by your house or apartment they could scan your discs and get a vision of the true you, the essence.

But now hunting for rare records is only about collector satisfaction.  The history of music is instantly available, with a click online.  Who cares if you’re ever going to listen to what you download.  It’s free. You end up with so much music that you know very little of it.  There are certain singles you can recite most words of, after that…  And the albums have gotten longer, and your free time is shorter.  And it’s not only you.  Kids have got so many diversions.  The concept of lying on your bedroom floor listening to the same disc over and over again is an antiquated dream.  Kids have instant stimulation on their computers.  They’re IM’ing, texting between soccer practice and homework.  You want to get into music, but it’s almost impenetrable.

I spent most of last night listening to an XM interview with Jackson Browne.  It was part of their Songlines series.  With Mike Marrone asking Jackson questions, playing the records they talked about.

It was the highlight of my week.

When Jackson Browne finished high school, music was still a calling.  Being a rock star was not akin to being a movie star.  It was about expressing yourself, for those who truly cared.

Jackson joined the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band before graduating.  Then he went to New York, where he accompanied Nico at Max’s Kansas City.  And, upon flying back to the Southland, he heard "Sgt. Pepper" on the drive from LAX to Orange County.

I understand all this.  There was something going on.  It wasn’t featured in newspapers, the mainstream media was clueless.  Kind of like the big outlets still don’t get technology today.  There were no reviews in the paper, no stories, but we were all addicted.

We’re still addicted.  But the heroin we’re injecting was distilled decades ago.  And we can’t find acid as good as the tabs we dropped at Woodstock.  And we want to.

Mike threw out names to Jackson and he told stories.  How David Crosby said he’d produce his first album, but kept shirking his responsibility.  When asked his favorite Crosby song, Jackson said "Page 43".  And then Mike played it.  What a revelation!  I knew every lick, but hearing it I was jetted right back to that era, to how it used to be, who I used to be.  We ruled.

Then, they talked about Patty Griffin…  And the song they came up with was one I was unfamiliar with.

I own "Flaming Red".  But I was disappointed with it after loving "Living With Ghosts".  But this song they pulled out, it was truly magical.  It had the power of rock.  And the alienation too…

Does anyone really remember Tony
He was a quiet boy, a little overweight
He had breasts like a girl
When I wasn’t too busy feeling lonely
Well I’d stare over his shoulder
At a map of the world

That’s what high school is about.  Loneliness.  Unless you’re one of the winners.  The quarterback or a cheerleader.  You notice everything in a world that seems to be sliding by everybody else.

He always finished all his homework
Raised his hand in home room
Early morning attendance
And he’d pledge allegiance to the gloom

He showed up.  He did his job.  But if anybody noticed, they just wanted to give Tony shit.

Hey Tony, what’s so good about dying
He might do a little dying today
Looked in the mirror and saw
A little faggot starin’ back at him
Pulled out a gun and blew himself away

Wow.  The music sounds like this.  An unbelievable intensity.  Eclipsing that of James McMurtry’s similar-themed "Terry".  Still, we don’t see this coming.

I hated every day of high school
It’s funny, I guess you did too

On TV, high school is where the pretty girls get dressed up and flirt, the rest of the population is invisible.  But most of us are part of the invisible mass.  We’re struggling.  With defeat, depression, trying to figure out where we belong in the landscape.  We’re afraid our future is going to be bleak. Still, we dream.  Of the day we can escape and try to become our real selves.

This was mind-blowing.  How there could be a record this great that I was completely unaware of.  But Mike and Jackson knew it.  Which was what was so engaging, so riveting about the program.  This is the way it used to be.  We lived for music.  We knew the tracks that never charted, that changed our lives.

The other revelation was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s "Buy For Me The Rain".  Turns out it was co-written by Jackson’s old buddy Greg Copeland.  You remember, the prematurely white-haired guy Jackson made an album with?  That’s how much power Jackson had, Geffen gave his buddy a deal.  But the record sank.  And today Greg Copeland is an attorney.  But "Buy For Me The Rain", which I’ve never heard previously, captures the essence of the sixties perfectly.  It’s like stumbling upon a time capsule.

I don’t want to live in a time capsule.  But I’m unsure how to penetrate today’s musical landscape.  I know there’s good stuff out there.  But who do you trust?  Maybe you’re listening to the wrong stuff. While you’re playing some alternative album over and over again, it turns out some country record is the shit.  You can only play one record at a time, but there’s seemingly infinite choice.  And no map. Just charlatans imploring you to spend your time, and that’s the most precious currency you’ve got.

I’d like to know what it’s like to be young, under twenty, to have grown up in this context.  Is it any more comprehensible to kids?  Are we crippled by our history?  Or is it truly just a world of singles.  If so, why is everybody making albums?  Who is listening to them?  And why do they think anybody who’s not a hard core fan will?  And even hard core fans…  If you don’t get it immediately, you drift off, to something else.  Maybe a video game.  Those are expensive to make, there are not that many released, it’s clear what’s a hit.

Seems like the whole world is at a fire sale
But I might be wrong
With all this home shopping, bling, hip-hopping
Maybe it’s just going strong

"Giving That Heaven Away"
Jackson Browne

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