Amen Old Friend



If I didn’t write about this I doubt you’d ever hear it.

But even now my inbox will be inundated with emails from people asking for their time back, others telling me my taste sucks, they need to tear me down and build themselves up. Welcome to America.

I only found “Amen Old Friend” because I wanted to listen to the entire new Doobie Brothers album, “Liberté,” and I’d be lying if I told you I liked “Amen Old Friend” from the beginning. But then came the change. And then my focus was somewhere else and my brain stopped, the music, IT WAS RESONATING!

“So afraid of
What I can see
Turned a blind eye
In your hour of need”

There’s nowhere to hear this music unless you seek it out, but why would you even look, probably not even knowing it was released. I forgot the Doobies put out a new album at the beginning of the month. I was excited about the advance tracks, but then I lost the thread, we all lose the thread.

“Life’s too short to waste this love again
Down this road that never ends
Don’t look back, let’s make amends
Amen, amen to old friends”

Live long enough and you watch friends come and go. Want to be really shocked, look at your wedding pictures, you probably won’t even be able to name a couple of the people, most you haven’t seen in eons, and probably never will again. The internet connected all of us and after the initial excitement wore off we realized why we stopped communicating. Then again, get old enough and you wonder what everybody is up to, what happened to them, how their lives played out, how yours compares.

After all, you made a lot of choices, were they all good? Very few boomers ended up where they wanted to. If they had do-overs, they’d do it differently. Marry this one, not be involved with that one. Leapt into entrepreneurship, played the political game at the company better. You keep learning lessons as you get older, but it’s always too late, you’re still encountering new conundrums, you know so much more but you realize how much you don’t know, whereas when you were twenty you knew everything.

I wouldn’t even be a Doobie Brothers fan if it weren’t for a quirk of fate. I lived with five other guys and one of their wives in a condo in Mammoth Lakes, California for the month of May 1975. Skiing every day, and when we got back to our rented abode, the 8-tracks fired up. It was an endless diet of “Physical Graffiti” and the Doobie Brothers. I thought I was over Led Zeppelin, but then I came home from skiing and NEEDED to hear “Kashmir.” As for the Doobies…once you hear “What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits” you become a fan, because there’s nothing quite like it. Smooth yet not slick. Edgy but soulful. Loud and quiet. The band I knew from the AM radio in my old Chevy was much deeper than I believed.

Then I had to buy the albums for myself.

That’s how it used to work. Music wasn’t everywhere like today. You needed a system. And you needed the records/tapes. So music was for home and car. In between, you sang the songs in your head. And if you went on a trip you couldn’t take the music with you.

And you were fans of certain acts and bought their new albums without hearing them first. But then you listened to FM radio to find out what else was great. That was the culture, you needed to know, the country ran on music, maybe the entire world. The musicians were testing limits, pushing the envelope, and then it all imploded. It was a golden era and you only know this if you lived through it and most people did not and get it all wrong. Malcolm Gladwell has a new audiobook with Paul Simon, forget that he injects his insane theories to make himself look smart, but he wasn’t even born until 1963, he missed Simon & Garfunkel, completely, the fact that the duo were seen as has-beens, on the road with Soupy Sales, and then Mike Nichols used “Mrs. Robinson” in “The Graduate” and this elevated the two of them to superstar status. It’s one thing to have had a string of hits in the sixties, it’s another to keep it going, to top yourself. Gladwell thinks Simon’s peak is “Graceland,” which is just complete nonsense, has he ever heard “For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her”? Of course not, that was a sixties activity, buying very few albums and devouring them, knowing the album tracks as well as the hits. And now the oldies stations only play the hits, if that.

And Kelefa Sanneh, the “New Yorker” writer, has a new book about major labels and “Seven Genres.” Sanneh was born in 1976, if he wants to write about hip-hop, fine, but what does this guy know about the history of rock and roll, this is the guy who popularized the inane word “rockism.” Huh?

We were addicted to the radio, to music in a way almost no one is today. And we didn’t go to the show to shoot selfies, it wasn’t about us, but them, the people on stage.

And if you know your Doobie Brothers history, you know that the first single off “What Were Once Vices..,” “Another Park, Another Sunday,” stiffed. The album was fading in the marketplace, and then suddenly radio started playing “Black Water” on its own initiative and the band became even bigger. “Black Water” was a Patrick Simmons track, it didn’t sound anything like the Tom Johnston radio hits, it demonstrated the band’s breadth, which was there on the albums, assuming you bought ’em and played ’em, because that was the only way you heard ’em, FM radio didn’t play everything, just a few cuts, you had to decide whether the plunge of purchase was worth it.

And now there’s nowhere for “Amen Old Friend” to be heard. It’s not hard and heavy enough for Active Rock radio, it’s not slick enough for AC, and Top 40 would never play it. It’s almost as if they didn’t even record it. That’s what classic rock musicians do now, record for themselves, if they bother to record at all, to many it’s just too depressing, so they just go on the road and play the oldies and reap the adulation and the dollars.

If this were still the seventies, and it most certainly is not, some FM station might play “Amen Old Friend” and a listener would be grabbed, since it stuck out, quiet in a way the rest of the records were not, and demand might spread the word. Then again, “Seven Bridges Road” was not embraced by radio, even though it’s now a concert staple opening every Eagles show, everybody in the audience knowing it, funny how that works.

And a lot of people going to see the dinosaurs live just want to hear the hits. Maybe they bought one album, but really they know the act from the big tracks on the radio. And then there are those who were infected, who purchased every album, the subject of Ray Davies and the Kinks’ “Rock N’ Roll Fantasy,” which has been eclipsed by the great but wholly different Bad Company cut with the same name.

“Dan is a fan and he lives for our music
It’s the only thing that gets him by
He’s watched us grow and he’s seen all our shows
He’s seen us low and he’s seen us high”

These people still exist. And they don’t only work in the business, they don’t only live in the metropolis, music penetrates the everyday life of boomers, there were not only few distractions, music was superior, you had to listen to know which way the wind blew.

And for some of us the world passed by. We were busy listening to records when everybody else went straight and started hoovering up bucks. And now that they’ve got theirs the whole scene has fallen apart. Wankers like Sanneh will tell you it’s the same as it ever was, but nothing could be further from the truth, that would be like saying that the tech of the sixties was the same as the tech of the nineties and aughts. We had tech in the sixties, color television! But it had none of the same impact as the internet.

“You would see the only one
I’d been running from
Was really me”

A lot of boomers still haven’t grown up. They’re not old like their parents. They get plastic surgery, they lie about their age, as if their contemporaries don’t know the truth. There’s no reflection, it’s all about the now, but without context life is far from rich. Then again, despite the Me Decade, most boomers weren’t really looking to unpack their identities and issues, rather they were looking for a way forward, a secret that could make life work. But the truth is no such secret exists. You get old enough and you know this.

“I was nothing but lonely
Feeling like a fool
I turned my back
On someone like you
Time has gone
Right or wrong
Don’t know what I was chasing”

We were chasing perfection, something we believed we were entitled to. And then one day we woke up and found we’d been pushed off a cliff. We no longer mattered, it was all about the Millennials and Gen-Z. We can’t turn back the hands of time, and now too many of us are alone, and too many of us are broke, living on Social Security that doesn’t pay the bills. When you get old enough, when jobs no longer matter, when totems no longer matter, when the hierarchy disappears and you’re all in it together like you were in school, one thing is for sure, you don’t want to be alone.

But at least the music helps. Then again, there’s a plague of loneliness ending too often in suicide. You’re told to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, that it’s all your fault, but the truth is some people are so far gone they can’t even start, they need a helping hand, but it’s hard to get one.

So you listen to the music. If only you had new music, that might give you hope.

All I’m saying is that if “Amen Old Friend” got a chance, if it was exposed, it would resonate with more than the old fans going to the Doobies show, we’re reflecting, we can understand the lyrics, we just can’t hear them.


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