Thursday, September 14, 2017

Jackson Browne, NYC Runaway - 1967

In March 1967 the Velvet Underground released their debut LP, The Velvet Underground and Nico. That is not the way one would expect the opening lines to an article on Jackson Browne to appear. Browne, just 18 years old, had ditched his comfy digs in California and fled to NYC. 

It wasn't long before he began frequenting The Dom, the mainstay NY club that featured Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable. "I had a gigantic crush on Nico," Browne said. "She was so fucking beautiful. She fucked me around really, God damn, man, she was just… and I had seen these 20-foot-high posters of her for the weeks I'd been in New York, and then I went down and saw her – it was even my first time in a bar; I think 'cause I'd just turned 18 – and a week later I got a call. Would I like to be her guitar player? I went over and got my brains fucked loose." It was the beginning of Jackson's guitar prowess, and also the Genesis of a string of torrid love affairs; you know, the best kind of love affairs.

Nico was hoping to establish her own career, and while most nights at The Dom were devoted to the VU, one night a week featured Nico, usually playing with either Lou Reed as a backup or John Cale. Wanting stability for the act, Browne was asked if he played the electric guitar, to which he responded that he did, but he didn't have one. He was told the gig was his if he was able to get one, which he borrowed from a friend.

Browne recalls the records on the juke box at The Dom, from "Penny Lane" to Ike and Tina Turner. Aside from the night devoted to Nico, certain nights The Dom became a black disco, so the juke box contained a bevy of Motown and Gordy records as well. Jackson, a folky at heart, was bombarded by music that was thankfully out of his realm, from Nico to The Temptations to The Beatles. Jackson states that at that time "I remember hearing 'A Day in the Life' on the radio. Nothing before had prepared me for this incredible song." One of his favorites, though, was "Walk Away, Renee," by The Left Banke, stating that he loved the line, "The empty sidewalks on my block are not the same." That kind of melancholy speaks volumes about the kinds of lyrics that Browne would go on to write.

While in the city, Browne recorded his first demos for Nina Music and played guitar on three compositions he wrote that appeared on Nico's solo debut, "These Days," "It's Been Raining Here in Long Beach" and "Shadow Dream Song." By the time he recorded the demos, he already had some thirty complete tunes, and recorded them all.

Meanwhile at The Dom, Jackson met Leonard Cohen. He recalled that Cohen "used to come in 'cause he was real infatuated with Nico, and he would sit there and write poems at the front table and just sit there and look at her." (Remember that Nico would also hook up with Morrison that year and with Dylan.) Jackson would go on to meet a gaggle of formative people, and wasn't ever shy about talking about it; indeed, Browne is a unique voice of rock history, when most of rock's early years are muddled or undocumented. He found, for instance, Lou Reed to be a "sweetheart." "He loved seeing Central Park full of people, all just high and loving each other." That's certainly not the impression one gets of Lou Reed's furrowed-brow demeanor, which Browne equates with Warhol's management.

Two months later, his sojourn with Nico coming to an abrupt and painful end, Browne's trip can still be looked at as a great success: he'd secured his first paid gig, had an affair with one of the Warhols, cut his first demo, and at the end of it all, he had enough left over to buy a plane ticket back to L.A. At 18, I don’t think I'd gotten out of bed yet.