In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it seemed like half the country was hitting the road. The war was on; the civil rights movement was no longer a non-violent one. If you had long hair, you could barely walk down the street without someone threatening you or at the least making some kind of nasty comment ("Hairy Jew" was one that I heard fairly regularly.) And no wonder:
It was no surprise that a counterculture was taking hold in every corner of the country, as thousands of kids, turning away from the war and violence sought comfort and solace, whether it was inward the way George Harrison did or outward, hitting the road with their thumbs out and a worn copy of Kerouac's "On the Road," tucked into their pockets or packs. Either way, they were searching for a better place: maybe on a commune in California or Vermont, the hostels or campgrounds of Europe or just in acid trips or marijuana hazes, alone or among their friends. Wherever they went though, they were invariably tuned into the music of the day acting as a soundtrack for their lives.
"I think the drugs made us feel that we were on the edge of the revolution," my friend Marty Jezer told me. "We saw 200 people with us and counted 2,000, and thought it was happening everywhere. We really did feel we were on the dawn of a new age. Bob Dylan’s song, “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?” was profound, because it seemed as if it was happening. To give you an example, I hitchhiked out to San Francisco. I would just put out my thumb, and I would not only get picked up, but I’d also get turned on. Eventually, I would end up in someone’s home for the night.
"Everybody seemed to be relating to each other on the basis of vibes. No one seemed to have jobs. Even the postmen were hippies, and they were walking around stoned, delivering the mail. It was amazing. We had a flat tire on the interstate in Nebraska. This was at two a.m. A car passes us on the other side of the road, sees us and turns around to help us, freaks with dope and a wrench. We got stoned and our tire fixed. If that was happening in Nebraska it had to be happening all over."
Marty eventually co-founded a commune in Vermont. Another friend, Elsa Marley, a San Francisco artist, co-founded a commune deep in the mountains of northern California. Both Marty and Elsa told me that one of the challenges facing them was what to do with the dozens of kids who were showing up at their gates each month, looking for a meal or a place to stay.
(Above: Marty Jezer, Verandah Porche, Peter Simon (Carly's brother) and Ray Mungo in South Dakota)
I was nearly one of them. I remember in the fall of 1971, coming home from school and announcing that I was moving to a commune. Which one? I had no idea but I was determined to graduate high school early and just get out of town. I ended up taking my bar mitzvah money and spending a year on a kibbutz in Israel, where it was apparent that the urge to travel was not limited to suburban American kids. I lived and worked with scores of people my age who arrived with backpacks from New Zealand, Canada, England, Russia and even my hometown.
The conversation here the last few days about the great music back then got me thinking about not only the quality of the music but that so much of it reflected that need to go off searching. I have no idea what I was really looking for back then or whether I ever found it ("You mean life isn't a fountain?") but looking back I'm glad I came of age in that period; my life wasn't always easy then but it was a great time to grow up, and I'm my perspective hasn't changed much in 40 years.
Certainly, a huge part of it was the music, which really did have a huge impact on our lives. Before going off to have their heads beaten in by racists, the early civil rights activists would gather together to sing spirituals. Country Joe's "Fixin' to Die Right Rag" and its sing-along chorus, "One-two-three- what are fighting for" really did galvanize the anti-war movement, while over in Vietnam, I remember a friend telling me someone would have a portable record player, and they'd listen to Fred Neil's "The Dolphin" and just want to go home so badly
"I’m not the one to tell this world how to get along,
I only know that peace will come when all hate is gone. I’ve been a-searching for the dolphins in the sea and sometimes I wonder do you ever think of me."
The lyrics may sound overwrought today, but if you were out in the jungles with the Viet Cong all around you, and you were lonely and scared out of your mind, those words were chilling.
So here I am, hitting the road from Burning Wood ("good riddance," I'm sure you are saying). After enduring a week of complaining and yammering, we have gladly decided to free to send Sal home. Read "The Ransom of Red Chief," and you'll understand what I'm talking about.
So here's the soundtrack of many a vagabond life back then. It's a mix of styles and while some will cringe at the inclusion of more commercial music, I find them to be as evocative of those days as their more alternative brethren. All of it though was what we heard whether we were actually on the road or dreaming of it at a time when the road really was a metaphor for lives stretched out before us.
I imagine most of this is already in your collections but, as Sal would say, it sounds pretty good together.
A few words about the songs:
It was hard not to include every song from Jackson Browne's first record which is all about searching. I limited it to three though. They act as a soundtrack to the soundtrack. "Rock Me on the Water" is the clarion call. The weariness is reflected in "Song For Adam." Everybody came across an Adam who was smarter and more competent at survival than they were but somehow, either from a jump or fall, didn't make it. "Looking into You" reflects the desire to maybe settle down and find a home. I have no idea how a twenty-year-old would write something as thoughtful as "From Silver Lake" or "Looking into You." The latter isn't included here. For those who don't know, I urge you to seek it out, but really the entire album is a masterpiece.
I've tried to find alternative mixes or versions. Sometimes, the originals were just better. And I apologize in advance for offending anyone for my crass AM taste. Be grateful I didn't foist "Hitchin' a Ride" on you. At least I grouped them together to make them easier to skip. You might miss out on some fun if you do though.
Here's the lineup and the zip (large file):
Rock Me on the Water - Jackson Browne
We've Gotta Get Out of This Place - Grand Funk Railroad
The Weight - Aretha Franklin and Duane Allman
Marrakesh Express - Crosby, Stills, Nash (1969 demo)
Bad Weather - Poco
Going Up the Country - Canned Heat
Country Road - James Taylor, live Syracuse, NY, 1972
Blue Sky - The Allman Brothers live
Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues - Elvis Presley
Four Strong Winds - Neil Young live, The Last Waltz concert
New Orleans - Steve Goodman live
Me and Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
Song for Adam - Jackson Browne
Please Come to Boston - Dave Loggins
Signs- Five Man Electrical Band
Me and You and a Dog Named Boo - Lobo
Many Rivers to Cross - Springsteen, 1993
Looking Into You - Jackson Browne