Thursday, February 18, 2021

If I Could Only... I Forget

I met David Crosby when I was 7 years old. I didn't know who he was, but I liked his mustache. Here's an excerpt from my memoir, Jay and the Americans 

     More than once we went to the Trip.  Laura and I weren’t allowed in, 21 and up, so we'd sit in the back and listen and I’d color and Laura and I would play Ouija.  I liked the Ouija.  It pointed to the moon a lot.  It spelled my name.  David Crosby played with us.  I didn’t really know who he was, but I liked him because he looked like a walrus.  He asked a question and it pointed to the no.  That’s when he colored with me.  I don't think he liked the Ouija's answer, but he colored real nice.

The Trip was a former jazz club on the Sunset Strip next to the Playboy Club. We were there a lot at one point and, as always, I carried with me a Disneyland coloring book. Another artist who colored with me was Marianne Faithful. I had a crush on her, but she colored out of the lines.

Ouija with the walrus was around 1967 or '68, Crosby was still with the Byrds. He left or was fired from the band and met Graham Nash and Stephen Stills at Mama Cass's house and from there produced Joni Mitchell's debut. In May 1969 came the trio's debut, their incredible performance with Neil Young at Woodstock, and Déjà vu in 1970. In February 1971 came Crosby's solo LP, If I Could Only Remember My Name. Recorded at Wally Heider in San Francisco and at A&M in Hollywood, the LP featured a myriad of prominent musicians, Graham Nash, Gerry Garcia, Paul Kantner, Jorma Kaukonen, Grace Slick, and Phil Lesh, among others. An impromptu band name was applied to the troupe, The Planet Eart Rock 'n' Roll Orchestra. The band would appear on other recordings as well including Graham Nash's Songs For Beginners. 

From the opening track, the mantra-like "Music Is Love," it is apparent that the session was a lesson in soul-cleansing for Crosby who was mourning the tragic death of his girlfriend, Christine Hinton. But instead of going down the 'primal scream' route that Lennon chose, David decided to pour out his grief in a series of sometimes wordless jazzy songs.

"Tamalpais High (At About 3)" is a good example of the wordless approach he took on several of the tracks. Over a moody backing, David exorcises his pain with ghostly harmonies. The brief closer "I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here" is even more stripped-down with just his voice floating serenely skyward.

An atmospheric album, Side A has more of a CSNY sound than any other solo effort by C, S, N, or Y, partly because N & Y are present, indeed, "Cowboy Movie” would be right at home on "Déjà vu." Side B tends toward what could be called ambient music and risks disappearing altogether in a smoky haze, but it's quite pleasant, especially "Song With No Words." As an ambient music fan, I'm drawn toward "I'd Swear There Was Somebody Here." Crosby? Sounds like Eno.

As a window into a time and a mindset, "If I Could Only Remember My Name" is soaked with folky, Laurel Canyon ambiance. As you might expect, there is an L.A. druggie feel to it and therein lies the mood, a journey that started well but slowly goes bad. Retrospectively, one can hear the dream of the 60's die a bit on this album, and its participants aren't even aware.

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