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  • Carl Abraham Zimring
    Speaking of Gram Parsons, Steven Stills et al., here s the first of two articles from this week s SF Bay Guardian on the country-rock acts of the time and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2003
      Speaking of Gram Parsons, Steven Stills et al., here's the first of two
      articles from this week's SF Bay Guardian on the country-rock acts of the
      time and place. (The music section also has articles on the Beach Boys and
      Grateful Dead.)

      Carl Z.



      This is nowhere
      When it comes to California, it's the myth that matters, not the music.
      By J.H. Tompkins

      LAST YEAR I had a brief e-mail correspondence with a youngish man named
      Clem from Cherry Valley, N.Y., concerning Gram Parsons and the origins of
      Los Angeles-style country rock back in the day. My capital in the
      conversation came from a frog-in-the-well first-person perspective ("Well,
      I saw Poco right after Timmy Schmidt joined the band, at the Golden Bear in
      Huntington Beach in July 1969, and they ..."). But Clem knew his stuff.
      He'd read, he'd listened, and he'd thought, and what he sent me was a long,
      eloquent tribute to the contributions Parsons made to the American musical

      My reply was snide, shallow, and reactive. I pointed to Parsons as an
      example of image trumping music, saying something to the effect that Rick
      Nelson -- when he was still Ricky and later with his Stone Canyon Band --
      had as much impact on the face of music at the turn of the decade as
      Parsons did. In my defense, I'll say this: there was some truth in my
      message. Beyond that, well, I was, like, really fucking tired when I
      pressed the send button -- I'd been up all night trying, unsuccessfully, to
      meet a deadline. More to the point, I was giving in to the kind of
      knee-jerk backlash that impels critics, crate diggers, and front-runners to
      feed a voraciously hungry popular culture with myths built on foundations
      of sand. One recent version: If you liked (as I did) the Brothers Johnson's
      funk classic "Strawberry Letter 23," wait until you hear Shuggie Otis, the
      guy who wrote it. Hmmmm. Another: I mentioned the Buffalo Springfield's
      solid 2001 compilation, Box Set, to a visiting freelancer, who smirked and
      -- in a conspiratorial whisper -- said, "Look, what you've really got to
      hear is 'White Cliffs of Dover,' by Sir Walter Raleigh and the Coupons --
      1964, it's the shit."

      The truth is -- please don't spread this around -- that I am one of perhaps
      six people in the universe who have heard the song in question. Because you
      could say, if you are given to massive understatement, that I was a Buffalo
      Springfield fan once upon a time. And if you were to ask who the drummer
      was for the Seattle-based Coupons -- who were named after a cigarette whose
      manufacturer (based in Raleigh, N.C.) included coupons in each pack in a
      lame attempt to cash in on America's fascination with the Beatle-inspired
      British invasion -- the answer would be none other than Dewey Martin, who
      in two years would be the drummer for the Buffalo Springfield. Martin's
      singular contribution to that band -- beyond attempting to hijack its name
      after the group disintegrated by putting together, briefly, the Buffalo
      Springfield Again (not coincidentally, the title of the group's second
      album) -- was to develop a widespread reputation as the one consistently
      weak link in an otherwise outstanding lineup. But when it comes to
      California music, facts matter to fans about as much as apologies matter to
      a band screwed by a record label. California's place in the imagination is
      more important than its dry-land self; America needs the Golden State as a
      kind of coast of last resorts, a place that, should you move there, your
      bad luck would turn. At one time Hollywood cowboys recorded songs that took
      America back to a mythic past. But when the Beach Boys dropped "Surfin',"
      and then "Surfin' Safari," and then "409," "Shutdown," "In My Room," "Fun,
      Fun, Fun," "I Get Around," "California Girls," "Good Vibrations," and
      dozens of other odes to life in the Golden State, popular culture served up
      a here-and-now California that America grabbed like a winning Lotto ticket.

      I was once honor-bound to stack up reality against myth, to point out the
      many things known only to a person who used to buy records at the
      Wherehouse in Hawthorne, where the Wilson family lived; a person who, after
      being arrested for possession of refined opium, found himself sharing a
      holding cell with a famous studio drummer who claimed to play in the studio
      what the Eagle's Don Henley could not; a person who late at night when the
      temperature finally dropped below 90 degrees would drive the 7 from
      Southgate to the 10 to the Hollywood freeway with the windows down and the
      volume up so that the bass line created by Joe Walsh on "One of These
      Nights" made screws pop loose in the dashboard; a person who thought that
      maybe time would, in his extremely special case, make an exception and
      stand still forever.

      That was a mistake. Nearly 40 years after I learned from studying liner
      notes on the back of record albums that "14-year-old David Marks played the
      toes-on-the-nose rhythm guitar" for the Beach Boys and that the Byrds' Jim
      McGuinn had trust in the fact that "everything would turn out alright," it
      could be said that my version was as suspect as any. Besides, as the years
      went by, I came to realize I was just waiting for Andre Young to grow up
      enough to become Dr. Dre and deliver the music that got me through the '90s
      and into the next century. But that's another story.

      There is this, however. As we were putting this issue to bed, Victor
      Krummenacher, Bay Guardian art director, bassist for Camper Van Beethoven,
      and writer of "The Canyon Was on Fire," on page 48, told a story that
      certainly has mythic dimension: "In 1990 I flew into Los Angeles with two
      guitars and a suitcase to pay a quick visit to my boyfriend before going
      out on what turned out to be Camper's final tour. I was standing curbside,
      when an older guy came up to me and explained that he had a van and would
      take me anywhere I wanted to go, cheaper than anyone else -- adding that
      what he was doing was kind of illegal, so we had to make it quick. He
      looked OK, and I figured, whatever, and so I said sure. In a minute we were
      in his van and headed off toward Hollywood. After a couple of minutes, he
      asked if I was in a band, and I told him about Camper Van Beethoven. He
      hadn't heard of us but said that he used to be in a band, too. I asked him
      the name, and he said, 'It was called the Buffalo Springfield.' The ride to
      Hollywood ended up lasting several hours, because we got to talking, and he
      gave me a tour of the places where his band had played and partied over the
      years. It was Dewey Martin. He was a great guy, and what I remember more
      than anything was that he said over and over, when it came to being in a
      band, Stills and Young could be real assholes."
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