Tuesday, August 5, 2008

a child in these hills

Remember “Buddy Green”, the camp counselor I mentioned a few weeks ago? Buddy was probably 17 or 18 when we knew each other. He loved rock and wore his black hair in a stoner bob, just above his shoulders. I thought he was the coolest. I remember this recurrent thing he'd do with me where he'd look at me very seriously and say, "I don’t suppose you would remember me, but I used to follow you back in ’63.” I had no idea what it meant, but it sounded fuckin’ great and I thought I was hot shit when I turned around and did the same performance for my friends… Buddy introduced me to albums like Who’s Next, Quadrophenia (obviously), Houses of the Holy, After the Gold Rush, and Let it Bleed. He also exposed me to Jackson Browne.

It’s funny how certain isolated, seemingly trivial episodes can take on larger than life meanings in retrospect. One afternoon Buddy and I were in the bunk together, just the two of us. Buddy played Jackson Browne on his eight-track tape player. Other than "Running on Empty", a big hit at the time, I had never heard Jackson before. I was too young to grasp what the words were about, but something in their sound and meter captivated me, especially coupled with the mellow tunes and sweet backing harmonies…

'…Caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender...'

“Who is this?” I asked.
“Jackson Browne, man. We’re going to see his concert tonight at Tanglewood.”
“Tanglewood? I thought that was for classical.”
“Naw. They have rock.”
Buddy reached into the back of the wooden cabinet where he kept his underwear and t-shirts and retrieved a plastic bag containing a strange looking greenish-brown block of some sort. Then he sat down on his bed and stuck his nose in the bag. “That’s some good shit,” he said, looking at me with a serene smile.
“What is that?”
“Is it grass?”
No answer.
“Are you gonna smoke it?”
“How? I’m gonna roll it up and smoke it.”
“Of course not. Tonight, at the concert.”
“With Daisy?”
“Do the other guys know you smoke grass?”
“No, and you better not tell them.”
Buddy’s girlfriend, Daisy, was an arts and crafts counselor. Even now, 30 years later, I still remember Daisy’s enchanting summertime beauty. She had sandy blonde hair and lovely freckles. Daisy may be the reason freckles on a woman have always sent my heart racing. She used to come up behind me as I sat at the pottery wheel, and she’d press her chest against my back. Then she’d reach around and guide my little hands over the wet clay as it spun round ‘n round...

"What kinda stuff do you do with Daisy?” I once asked Buddy.
“What’d’ya mean, what kinda stuff?”
“Do you kiss?”
"What do you think?"
“I don't know. Have you ever seen her boobs?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“Have you ever seen her pussy?”
“Hey! None of your business.”
“Come on, tell me. Have you ever seen it?”
Buddy paused for a few seconds to consider his response. Then that serene blissed-out smile flashed across his face again. “I’ve seen it, and I’ve tasted it.”

When I think of Buddy nowadays, I hear Jackson Browne's music, and when I hear Jackson's music my mind turns to Buddy. That summer occupies such a sweet and pivotal place in my memory that I’ve never been able to let go of Jackson Browne, even when it became completely uncool to be into him... I embraced “New Music” in high school and loved me my Husker Du, Soul Asylum, Minutemen and X, but I somehow also made room for Jackson Browne. “What is this wimpy shit?” my friends would ask impatiently before changing the tape to Black Flag’s Slip It In or The Replacements Stink

I moved to the Southland in the spring of 1992 (three days before the riot). Being an Eastcoaster, I had never really connected Jackson Browne to California, but I quickly grasped that his music was the soundtrack to 70s LA... For me, Jackson is to the 1970s what The Beach Boys are to the 60s. While Brian Wilson saw and felt the darkness creeping into the sunshine, Jackson Browne teased a little bit of sunshine out of the darkness. The shift reflects the changes taking place over ten years.

Jackson, the ultimate troubadour-singer-songwriter, used personal, often confessional words metaphorically to capture L.A.'s spiritual evolution during the transitional years after the Great Collapse. In Jackson's songs, Los Angeles becomes a solitary yet romantic place. When I hear "Late for the Sky", "The Pretender", "From SIlver Lake", or"Fountain of Sorrow", I just want to get in my car and drive in the atomistic vastness of the city. No matter how somber his songs get, hearing them makes me feel that I may spend most of my time alone and lonely, but I'm still blessed to be living in the greatest city in the world.

More on Jackson Browne next time...


dan w said...

And what's the matter with "Running on Empty?" I can't think of a better soundtrack for your grass-and-freckles idyll...or for the whole blog, for that matter.

Max Stevens said...

I LOVE Running on Empty. Be patient, young man. All in good time...