Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Go Ride The Music

Had an opportunity this morning to take another stroll down Memory Lane. An email from Wolfgang's Vault arrived and pointed the way to a tape-recorded concert of Jefferson Airplane, circa 1967. Wolfgang's Vault is an amazing website where an unbelievable number of concert tapes, made at countless Bill Graham (Graham's actual first name was "Wolfgang") musical events, are available to listen to for free. Check out their roster of artists - you are guaranteed to find someone you like and may spend a lot of time reliving some very great music.

Good music of that kind has an enormous capacity to transport you back to when you originally heard it. Music can embody a certain time, a specific place, who you were with at the time, and more importantly who you WERE when you heard it. Music can perfectly encapsulate an entire era or a part of your life. It does more than capture a moment - it captures a spirit, a consciousness, an essence. You can feel young and idealistic again - the world can once more explode with hope, possibilities, passion and potential.

The late sixties were a singular, pivotal point in time. American culture went through a drastic, radical, relatively instantaneous change. From the stodgy, stifling musical conformity of the previous decade, the Beatles and the British Invasion were a breath of fresh air against the blandness that went before them (except, of course, for Motown in the early sixties which still is and forever will be totally awesome). This set the stage for the Psychedelic Sixties, an immense blast of color and music and art and light that illuminated this country from coast to coast. Everything was new, fresh, wonderful and exciting. It was like a Great Awakening, a new Renaissance, a blossoming and opening of the mind, a time when you really, truly believed that anything was possible.

And the music! The music that was happening in California on the San Francisco/Los Angeles axis was a magnet that pulled everyone's attention to the west coast. For me the Jefferson Airplane was the first and only band for me. I played all their albums until they were worn smooth (I actually went through 3 copies of "After Bathing At Baxter's" - I'm talking vinyl here). Their music was powerful, soaring, uplifting and inspiring to me. Along with some friends, I hitchhiked in the dead of winter from Pittsburgh to Cleveland in 1970 to see them in concert. I was never so cold in my life but it was so worth it.

So many artists did fantastic, career-defining work in that era. The first Crosby, Stills and Nash album was simply amazing; the music and harmonies were so pristine and pure, just like sunlight in the "garden in the morning after it rained," to quote a line from the song "Guinevere." Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon" is a perfect time capsule for me. Listening to those songs is like going on a mini-vacation for me. I can forget about whatever problems or issues I'm dealing with at the time and for a while I'm 18 years old again. But maybe my favorite album from that era is David Crosby's luminous, transcendent solo effort "If I Could Only Remember My Name." Unbelievably good from start to finish, it's almost too perfect and wonderful to be true. We may never hear music of that quality and beauty again.

Jefferson Airplane's majestic anthem to future times, "Wooden Ships," ends with the soaring voices of the singers chanting, "Go Ride The Music" over and over. It really is music that will literally and figuratively pick you up and carry you away. The sixties were like that - anything was possible - and you can still feel the power and hear the echoes at Wolfgang's Vault.

No comments:

Post a Comment