Monday, March 23, 2020

Déjà Vu • March, 1970

 déjà vu (from Merriam-Webster)
a: the illusion of remembering scenes and events when experienced for the first time

b: a feeling that one has seen or heard something before


In March 1970, I turned fifteen. This week I turn sixty-five and as my music blog is often an exercise of personal reflection, I wonder if my long-term memory is really just a mix of illusions and feelings all woven seamlessly together in my current-thinking brain.

Sometime in that spring of 1970, I'm at the house of my friend Gary Hill. Gary has just purchased Déjà Vu, the new Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Album. It has the best album cover I've ever seen.

I'm in Gary's living room looking out of his large front window and listening to the album by myself. Gary has gone outside to wash his light green family station wagon and as his custom, he dries the car by speeding off to the nearby US 101 freeway to let the wind finish the job. All alone, I listen to the album a couple of times. In fact his mom, the always smiling Madeline Hill has come home before he is back. She doesn't seem to mind that I'm alone in her house listening to a record on her stereo console. That memory is etched in my brain.

The release of Déjà vu with the addition of Neil Young to the band was a pleasant surprise to me. The album did not disappoint as the band had surpassed the first album and elevated themselves to even a higher level. As a freshman in high school, I thought it was one of the best albums ever made and nothing has changed my opinion of that music in these last 50 years.

In the ensuing years, what did change was the déjà vu-like experience of either/or David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young in never-ending breakups and makeups in just too many incarnations to describe here. As I write this, I'm currently reading Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga of Rock's Greatest Supergroup by David Browne. My friend Paul Hobbs highly recommended it to me awhile back and I pass along the same if you are a CSN&Y fan.

Paul's assessment kind of threw me back when he said, "Doug, they're all assholes."

Okay, we all know David Crosby's is the obnoxious self-indulgent asshole. He's said it about himself many times on stage and in rock documentaries, not to mention the overarching reason he was kicked out of The Byrds. Yes, Stills was always demanding to be the hard charging alpha general, Nash the very pleasant and chatty hitmaker and peacemaker with social skills, and Young the aloof alpha, the restless free agent who often took his ball and went looking for different players to play with. But all of them, assholes? Well I'm up to 1974 in David Browne's comprehensive behind the curtain book and yep, they're all assholes.

I call it the Mickey Mantle effect (my first hero). As a child or young person, you admire that person's public persona because their art or talent were truly special and influenced you. You only find out later in life that the actual person was in fact an arrogant ass, or sometimes even worse...

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Fifty by Four
In addition to David Browne's book, Paul texted me on Sunday and recommended, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Fifty by Four (linked here), a 2 hour 44 minute documentary free on Amazon Prime. I watched it last night and again Paul is spot on calling it, "a visual embodiment of the book more or less." Damn it Paul, I'm going to have to start paying you reference fees...

Okay, how about two more memories in Gary Hill's station wagon.

First, it's late May 1970 after the Kent State shootings. Gary is behind the wheel of the green station wagon. Ron Zieman is riding shotgun, and I believe Paul is with me in the backseat, but maybe it's Steve Spencer too. The radio is on and the DJ introduces Ohio, the Neil Young song by CSN&Y recorded and released in what would appropriately be, record time. Neil's and then Stephen's electric guitars start and we just all look at each other as Gary is turning up the volume.



Second, it's maybe 1970 or '71, same scenario, Gary's driving the wagon, Ron's in the front bench passenger seat, and I'm by myself in the back bench seat, left side. Gary's moving fairly fast on the back country two lane CA Route Highway 166 . We come upon a VW bug going very slow. Gary moves in the oncoming lane to pass the bug as we're approaching a crossroad. Suddenly without any form of signaling the VW suddenly makes a left turn striking a glancing blow to the right side of the station wagon as we're exactly parallel with the bug. The wagon skids sideways left across the crossroad intersection.

At that moment, I realize I don't have my seatbelt on and instinctively dive to the floor and hold on to the backside of the driver's lap seat belts bolted down to the floor directly behind the driver's seat. The wagon skids for what seems like an eternity and then stops. I sit up from the floor and look out the left window and there's no ground! I then look down and we have stopped about a foot from a 20ft steep embankment leading down to a ditch. The guy driving the VW with long black hair and beard who looks like Tommy Chong is walking towards us, and in no rush. He comes up to us as we are now out of the car and just staring down at the f***ing embankment.  In what seems like a Cheech and Chong  skit he says in perfect Tommy Chong stoner voice, "Hey man... you dudes ok?"

For CSN&Y, as strange as the band members were on and off with each other (and their many associates) for over five decades, the music on those first two albums is so very special to me and helped elevate my appreciation of top-tier rock 'n' roll in a special time and place.

I highlighted the first CSN album in a blog a while back- Crosby, Stills & Nash - Celebrating 50 Years of Their Debut Album and here, I present the entire Déjà Vu album in the following YouTube Playlist.


Now, if you go back to the first three months of music in 1970, it will blow you away. Fact be told I was preparing to write another blog this week, 50 Years of Music: January - March, 1970, but heck that's now my teaser for next week's blog. I'm already feeling somewhat guilty because Bridge Over Troubled Water was released in January, 1970 and I didn't make that a blog feature as- Simon & Garfunkel release their final album together. The title track and album stay #1 on the Billboard charts for six weeks and go on to win a record six Grammys at the 13th Grammy Awards, including "Record of the Year", "Song of the Year", and "Album of the Year." Wikipedia

Then in my Wikipedia search, I get to March 1970 and there are these two albums a couple of weeks apart, Déjà Vu and Joni Mitchell's, Lady of the Canyon.

The fact that these two albums are released in the same month is not really astonishing once you know a little about the history of Joni Mitchell with CSN&Y. Think back, we get Joni's acoustic Woodstock song version that is preceded a few weeks earlier by CSNY&Y's rocking version of Woodstock!

As I recall, I'm listening to the full Ladies of the Canyon album for the first time with Paul in his bedroom. The music business in 1970 was still as misogynistic as it could be, but here are two young teenage boys listening (and learning) to songs from a female's perspective. Back then, boys grew up listening (and learning) to songs mostly from a guy's perspective, songs like Under My Thumb by The Rolling Stones comes to mind. In the 1970's, Joni gave us all a fresh if not introspective look at relationships, now from both sides. One of my favorites songs from that album is about her soon-to-be former boyfriend, Graham Nash.

Willy

Willy is my child, he is my father
I would be his lady all my life
He says he'd love to live with me
But for an ancient injury
That has not healed
He said I feel once again
Like I gave my heart too soon
He stood looking through the lace
At the face on the conquered moon
And counting all the cars up the hill
And the stars on my window sill
There are still more reasons why I love him

Willy is my joy, he is my sorrow
Now he wants to run away and hide
He says our love cannot be real
He cannot hear the chapel's pealing silver bells
But you know it's hard to tell
When you're in the spell if it's wrong or if it's real
But you're bound to lose
If you let the blues get you scared to feel
And I feel like I'm just being born
Like a shiny light breaking in a storm
There are so many reasons why I love him

Willy is my child, he is my father

As I look back, what a pair of albums to have in your collection if not your soul for a lifetime. Here's the playlist for Ladies of the Canyon.

This blog post is dedicated to Gary "Crazy Legs" Hill. 
Rest in Peace ol' pal, your friends will never forget you.

1 comment:

  1. Doug:
    After reading this blog I just had to look up who the two people that get their full names on the front cover of Deja vu: Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves. They are both interesting people and it says something about CSN & Y that they would put these two guys' full names on the front cover of the album. They are also included in the group picture on the front cover, which seems fairly magnanimous.
    By the way Doug, this was a great blog as usual. I continue to learn a lot about you through your blog and I sure you have told me the car accident story many times, but it still seems fresh.
    Bill

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