A Musical Memory

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Me and some of my high school friends moved to the nearest big city after we graduated, and started going to a music club called La Cave at a time when almost everyone our age was excited by music.

We all felt the power of it  then. We’d gotten the message from radio and records, and were thirsty for the embodiment of it. That’s what we were there for. Others may have seen it differently, or gone for other reasons, but I think a lot of us felt that music was going to save us, and maybe even saave the world. Moby Grape was one of the bands we saw there.

The band missed the first night they were supposed to be there, so we went back the second night. I knew there were 5 members, but only 4 were there. I didn’t know what had happened, and the band didn’t play much of their own stuff, just played a lot of blues, which I was unable to appreciate much at that time. So I didn’t much care for the show they put on that night, but still listened to their first two albums (especially the second) now and then. Many years later I may have found out something of what was going on then.

The band had been founded by Skip Spence, who had drummed for the Jefferson Airplane, but was more comfortable with a guitar. He’d put the band together, they apparently worked pretty well together, got a pretty big push from their record company, but failed to get very far. Part of that seems to have been because of their manager cheating them, something that wasn’t unusual then. But part of it had to do with Spence.

It was part of the zeitgeist that musicians had to take drugs, and if you were from San Francisco, you had to take psychedelic drugs. Such drugs are volatile in a way that depressants, for instance, are not. Some people who took them never came back. Some felt raised beyond what they usually were; others went straight to hell, or to madness (which may be much the same thing). Spence picked up a fire axe one night, and tried to kill one of the members of the band with it. He then spent some months in an insane asylum. I think that may be why there were only 4 people in the band when I saw them. That incident may have just happened.

The band tried to keep going, releasing at least two more albums in the years immediately following. I didn’t buy them, and I don’t think too many others did either, but there seem to be some people who remember them fondly. And strangely enough, according to what I read in reviews on Amazon, the band kept trying to record together during the ensuing dcades, probably with mixed results.

According to writers on Amazon, two of them had been homeless for awhile in California, while Spence had been in and out of mental hospitals. Then, later, I read that he had died.

All that made one of the songs on the second album particularly poignant for me. The song was called Rose-Colored Eyes, and had a kind of unusual sound. The tune was somber, the guitar sort of skittered around the edges, and there were bass runs between each vocal phrase.

Stars eyes once gazed upon me here/Now fallen ……../ Empty smiles on youth today/And wisdom’s teachers gone away they say….

(There are dots where I can’t remember the words).

Smiling people, crooked toys, walked by the store/ Go ahead to the monkey clock/Said I what for?/A horror sight went laughing too/And broken dreams are just as they are told to you

Tell me I’m wrong/I don’t care if I’m right/I’ll just groove along/….and ring your gong/Forget the breath you’ve stolen each day/And someone prays the rains will come/And that’s today

From there into the bridge:

Heartache, nothing but trouble/haunts my every dream/Sadness, you take me/Inside of that which I have seen….

Then it goes into a spoken word hippie-dippie kind of thing which you have to ignore to appreciate the beauty of the song, after which it returns to the final verse:

forget the breath you’ve stolen each day/And someone prays the rains will come/And that’s today….

How hauntingly isolated and alienated the singer sounds. I think the writer (who was probably the singer) was one of the band who became homeless later on. Looking back, the song seems to foreshadow that. This was the time of rebellion, as this is the time of counter-revolution. Children just barely grown were asserting their adulthood, often enough in unfortunate ways. Durg-taking,, and especially psychedelic drugs, were supposed to lead automatically to the New Jerusalem. Obviously, it didn’t quite work that way.

As I remember it, there was a kind of hope in the country then that was pretty unique. I was caught up in my own problems at the time, so I only shared it to a certain exent. Maybe it’s just as well I didn’t get lost on some psychedelic journey, but I was lost in another way then, which may not have been a lot better.

Some peoples lives seem to have been consumed with trying to make the world better through protesting, political action of various sorts, and art, and they were much more alive to the the times than I was. Some of them accomplished some pretty wonderful things. A lot of them didn’t accomplish much, or accomplished mostly negative things. That’s the period that a lot of conservatives hark back to now, hating the way my generation helped to change the country. I didn’t take much personal part in that, but liked a lot of the changes, and wish they had gone deeper. But not having made myself deeper in any active way, I didn’t have much of a positive impact on the world. I’m hoping I can do so now, if only in a small way.

I’d like to be someone who brings hope to people, because that helps bring hope to me. Did Moby Grape, or any of the other muscians we saw then do anything important? I don’t know. We saw musicians in other venues besides the club, and some of them bcame quite famous and outstanding musicians. And maybe they were even, some of them significant in a deeper way. A lot of them spoke to me in ways that seemed meaningful at the time, but whether anything I’ve done has been meaningful because of them, I don’t know. The old world passes away, and I don’t know what the new one will be like. If the people I care about have hope, and the possibility of good lives, that will make me happy.

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