Saturday, May 23, 2020

Jackson Browne - Standin' at Der Weinerschnitzel - 50 Years Ago

While Jackson Browne's formative years may have been those days in New York at The Dom, keep in mind that Browne was already an established singer/songwriter before he left high school; indeed, in his senior year, Jackson had joined The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Life in Orange County, California was a dream of surfboards, sunshine and fast cars, a veritable Beach Boys' song that Browne was living.

Upon his return from New York, Jackson moved in with his mother in the L.A. suburb of Silverlake, but was soon to take another important sojourn. On a road trip with friends, Browne and his entourage went to Monterey Pop, the first superconcert of the era. We tend to focus on Hendrix, Janis and The Who when speaking of Monterey, but other headliners were equally impressive to the 18- year-old; among them Moby Grape, Laura Nero, Otis Redding, Simon and Garfunkel and Quicksilver Messenger Service. Of the concert, Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees, who would, along with Browne, become a fixture in the Laurel Canyon scene, said of the concert: "This was the beginning of the Summer of Love. There were love-ins, laugh-ins and in the middle of June, there was only one place to be: The Monterey Pop Festival." (There was one snag, though, despite the incredible music, Nico would attend the festival on the arm of Rolling Stone Brian Jones; emotionally upsetting to Browne. His "Birds of St. Marks" reflects the incident).

Following Monterey, Jackson returned to Silverlake. His good friend, Steve Copeland, lived nearby in Echo Park with girlfriend Pamela Pollard. Next door to Copeland was Glenn Frey, future Eagle, who at the time was in a duo with J.D. Souther, the Longbranch Pennywhistle. Another friend, Billy James, was instrumental in Jackson getting a demo deal with Elektra. That new entourage would prove a huge part of Browne's future in the Laurel Canyon set. 

It was about this time that Jackson was adamant about recording his own songs, spurred on by the number of his songs released before the end of '67 by other artists, including several by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, those on Nico's solo and The Circle Game LP by Tom Rush, which included songs by three rising songwriters of the era, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne.

Jackson's most famous covered song was one he wrote in 1971 and recorded by The Eagles, "Take it Easy." Originally, the lyrics read "Standing on a corner in Flagstaff, Arizona." Browne started writing “Take It Easy” in the back of a Dodge panel van after his car broke down in Flagstaff and some new friends offered him a ride back to Los Angeles. It was there he saw a woman in a Toyota truck pulling out of what was then Der Wienerschnitzel at the corner of East Route 66 and North Switzer Canyon. The image stuck with him, although with the aid of friend and Eagle Frey, the name of the town was altered. Frey would also edit the line to read, "It's a girl, my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowing down to take a look at me," purportedly based on Jackson's statement that "Girls out there drive trucks!"

It's interesting to note the naivete in statements like that, and yet juxtapose the utter sophistication of a song like "These Days," written when Browne was just 16-years old. The song is drenched in regret: "These days I seem to think a lot, about the things that I forgot to do,/ I had a lover. I don't think I’d risk another, these days." The depth of remorse he manages is amazing, and only unwittingly funny if you let it be. He goes on to say, "Please don’t confront me with my failures/ I had not forgotten them;" a line so devastating we're not likely to forget it. It's an in-your-face line disregarding the tenets espoused by Stanislavsky, that one needs experience to experience; that one needs to live through tragedy in order to write about it, or to act it out. Browne's losses at 16 were more than likely limited to tennis matches, and yet we can all experience the angst apparent. Though not as celebrated as Joni or the newly forming Eagles, and despite his youth, Jackson Browne was the poet laureate of Silverlake.