I’ve seen a lot in this life, I’ve witnessed the best and the worst, and I choose to celebrate the best, not acknowledge the worst.
You’ll never be as cool as…
While designing my album’s cover, I’ve taken a closer look at the covers that have supplied me with years of pondering, consideration, study and entertainment. By this I mean that I still really look at a cover whenever I pick it up. In the 1960s and ’70s a lot of covers had secrets or in-jokes embedded on them and we’d spend a lot of time trying to analyze them. This was taken to ridiculous lengths with the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover on which some obsessed fans found meanings that didn’t even exist. One of my favorite covers in this regard is that of the Crosby, Stills & Nash eponymous debut album, a cover that perfectly typifies the era as it was in southern California. Laid back, unconcerned with material possessions and down home in a rock and roll sort of way. There weren’t any heavy secrets in the photo, but there was a bit to see.
I remember the first time I heard this album. I’d driven to Topanga Canyon to visit some friends who lived in a quasi-commune and, as we sat smoking a little grass, talking and having fun, one of the guys who lived there put the album on the stereo. I was blown away. This group blew everyone away when they appeared out of seeming nowhere. Looking the cover over in my grass addled state I wondered, Who’s who? The guy on the far right is David Crosby, but who are the other two? What are their first names? Where was this photo taken? Why such ratty furniture, who’s the guy looking out the door and why is he on the back cover? I knew that Crosby was David Crosby of the Byrds fame, but I didn’t know that Stills was Steven Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Nash was Graham Nash of the Hollies. And I had absolutely no clue about the guy in the door. Since the music was obviously sung by a vocal trio, I figured he must be a friend or a session musician. It was only later that all these things came to light.
This is the front of the album’s now iconic front cover as we all know it. At the time of the photo shoot, which was done by the incomparable Henry Diltz, the trio hadn’t settled on a name so they didn’t consider in what order to sit on the couch, which is, from left to right: Nash, Stills and Crosby. A few days later they decided on Crosby, Stills & Nash as their official name, but when they went back to reshoot the photo, sitting in that order to avoid record buyers’ confusion, the old railroad workers house had been torn. Oh, and the guy peering out the door on the back cover was the group’s drummer, Dallas Taylor.
In 2007 this out take was made the cover of a European compilation CD. I wish I could see Henry Diltz’s originals of this photo session, but alI I have are what I could find on the web. Still, It’s interesting to see the photos that were rejected.
Their label, Atlantic Records, asked the team of photographer Diltz and art director Gary Burden to create the cover. On the day before the shoot, Gary and Graham drove through Hollywood and West Hollywood looking for a suitable location that would convey what the group wanted to say about themselves as well as match their music, a site that was, according to David Crosby, “down home and comfortable”.
They decided on a little abandoned house with a couch outside.
It was on Palm Avenue, a small side street near an Orange Julius stand
on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
No Dallas Taylor in these shots.
This is the location as it is today and below is a map.
Every now and again a memory will come to me of some stupid, careless, or thoughtless thing I did when I was a teenager in the Sixties, and I’ll immediately feel regret, not for the thing itself, but for what my actions did to my parents. Now that I’m older than they were then, I empathize completely. It has become my practice to apologize for these things at the very moment I feel any regret. I do this out loud, as if they are sitting in the room with me. Who’s to say they’re not? Maybe they’re bringing these memories to my mind, seemingly out of nowhere, as if to say, “Now that we’re pure energy, it’s our job as your parents to give you an opportunity to clear your karma.” No. That’s what my dad would say. Knowing my mom, she’d say, “Are you ready to say you’re sorry yet?”
Well, maybe not. Maybe I’m just at the right age, and have experienced enough worry as a parent of kids who are now adults, to appreciate my past foolishness, and self-accountable enough to ‘fess up when I know I’ve fucked up. But then again, maybe, sometimes, I simply miss my parents and wish I’d talked over these things with them while they were still here.
All things considered, I was a pretty good kid, which wasn’t always easy in that era of flower power and free love. “Turn on, tune in, dropout” wasn’t a cute slogan, it was a powerful call to a higher consciousness, another way of BEING. I lived in California where everything was happening. To the south, Hollywood offered hip night clubs on the Sunset Strip and the freak show of Venice Beach, and to the north, San Francisco offered Haight-Ashbury. Living on the central coast, I oftentimes felt like a rope in a game of cultural tug-of-war.
I think it was the Monterey Pop Festival that set my senses itching. I wanted to go so badly, and was invited along with some UCSB students, but my parents refused to let me go. It would be a weekend long trip (in more ways than one) in a van with university hippies and I wasn’t quite 16. Dejected and sullen, I hibernated in my room all weekend, listening to live broadcast of it on KRLA.
“Girl, you drank a lot of Drink Me, but you ain’t in a Wonderland”
Three months later, on the weekend of my 16th birthday, telling my parents I was spending the night with a friend, I met up with three guys in a psychedelic VW Bug to go to a Donovan concert in Orange County, about 150 miles south. The plan was to stay in the home of some sisters they knew. I guess my parents suspected something was amiss, because as we stood in the parking lot of a local burger place stowing my overnight bag, my dad drove up. How he knew we were there, I have no idea. Like the patient, rational man he was, Dad discussed it with me and ended up agreeing to let me go. I promised him he had nothing to worry about and, outside of staying stoned the entire time and listening to the Doors LP in the girls’ psychedelic bedroom that night, nothing went on that he or Mom needed to worry about. The girls’ parents even got me a cake, some incense, and an owl incense burner for my birthday before we left for the concert that evening. Happy Birthday Sweet 16!
“Go ask Alice”
I guess I earned their trust after that, because I was allowed to go to other “happenings” that came up, especially concerts at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara, where I saw everyone from the Lovin’ Spoonful to Jefferson Airplane and every hot and not-so-hot band in between. Outside of a little grass, I wasn’t into drugs. Well, there was the Jimi Hendrix concert (where I was taken backstage to meet the Man) when my best friend gave me a phenobarbital cap, and the night my mom gave me one of her Valiums after another friend and I were in a pretty bad car accident, but other than that I didn’t do drugs (I didn’t smoke or drink, either, except for an occasion rum and coke). I hadn’t dropped acid yet, or eaten any ‘shrooms. And sex? Uh-uh. Wasn’t going there, wasn’t interested. As an sexual abuse victim I was already sick and tired of that shit. So my parents worried needlessly, but how were they to know? All they knew was that their young and terribly naïve daughter was morphing into someone they weren’t prepared to recognize and certainly couldn’t have foreseen.
“Over, under, sideways, down”
The problem is, due to all the grass, I remember none of these concerts in any real detail. I have vague, colorful glimpses, but the most vivid memory I have is of Janis Joplin, whom I saw at a festival in a San Jose park. I don’t remember the concert at all. At all. I mean, I remember being there, but not the events of the day. But I remember Janis. Living in Solvang, a tiny Danish village hidden in the Santa Ynez Valley, I wasn’t particularly aware of her, anyway. I’d heard her on those KRLA broadcasts, but I guess I wasn’t ready. Man, I was that day in San Jose! I’d never heard or seen anything like her, and I rose from the crowded lawn to make my dreamy way to the front of the stage. Beads, bangles, and braless boobs. That’s the visual memory. The aural one is electrified, like broken power lines dancing and sizzling on a rain-drenched sidewalk.
“If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”
I suppose, when I turned 18 and I went to Haight-Ashbury rather than to Hollywood, it was because most of the concerts I’d attended featured San Francisco bands. Also, for me, Hollywood still represented old school movie stars, not modern music. We had no idea that Laurel Canyon would turn out to be even more important musically than San Francisco. History is retrospective, after all. Had I known in 1968 after we’d moved to Camarillo that Laurel Canyon (only a mere 45-minute drive away) was where artists like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, and Jackson Browne (to name only a few) were incubating, I would have turned left on the 101 instead of right.
“She’s leaving home, bye-bye”
If I have any one regret about that adventurous, exciting era, it’s going to Haight-Ashbury. My clandestine departure from my parents’ house one October afternoon set things into motion that still reverberate not only in my own life, but in the lives of my family as well. I have apologized to my parents many times for it, but at the same time, I give myself a bit of room. It was the Sixties, after all, and I’m still here.