Friday, January 6, 2012

I'd Love To Turn You On #47 - David Crosby - If I Could Only Remember My Name

There is the rare phenomenon of a work of art defining a particular time and or mindset. It happens that the odd song succeeds in capturing a moment perfectly, but fully realized, cohesive albums are pretty rare in the first place, and one that gets the exact right musicians in tune with exactly the right bunch of songs, and also manages to get some breathtaking performances down on tape is almost unheard of - especially in the drug-fueled mania that was the Bay Area scene at the start of the 1970’s. How does David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name define that era? When I listen to this album, my mind is filled with images and my heart swells with bittersweet remembrance. Like seeing light reflected through colored glass on a wall, the sensation brings up vague images; tapestries, baking bread, incense, the perfume of first love. Thoughts: philosophical, political, social: what will I be doing in 30 years? Little did I know, I would still be trying to get my mind wrapped around this beautiful, beguiling recording. Listening to it now, 42 years after it was made, it feels just as complex and miraculous. The songs are among the best David Crosby wrote. “Laughing” is his masterpiece. Lyrically it perfectly gets at the gestalt of the end of the 60’s. It is paranoia and confusion giving way to revelation and beauty, fear ceding to hope. It climaxes with the perfect expression of 60’s musical bliss - Crosby strumming, Joni singing in the background and Garcia offering the most expressive pedal steel guitar solo of his brief but distinguished career on that instrument. It is an absolutely gorgeous moment on an album full of gorgeous moments and transcendent performances. For the thing that is most miraculous about this album is the fact that it is a collection of many big name artists who happened to be around, and were willing to subjugate their own egos in order to fulfill Crosby’s artistic vision. It is The Jefferson Airplane, Santana, The Grateful Dead, CSNY and Joni Mitchell all coming together and making one sound. Unlike any other collaboration, this one worked perfectly.
Opening with “Music Is Love” one knows it is going to be special when Crosby, Nash and Young improvise a timeless hippie anthem with Neil leading the way. “Cowboy Movie” follows as the one blatantly aggressive moment on the album, with Crosby turning the acrimonious break-up of CSNY into a western saga and Jerry Garcia playing an electric guitar duet with himself. At least half of the album consists of atmospheric tracks that show Crosby (and sometimes Nash) using their voices without words, intoning some of the most heavenly sounds they ever recorded. “Tamalpais High (At About 3),” “Orleans,” “Song With No Words” and “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here” are all unconventional songs that showcase Crosby’s sublime vocals, and his intelligent, experimental writing skills without the aid of traditional lyrical content. Crosby proves that it is the “quality” of a singer’s voice that matters more than the quantity of his lyrical insights. Musically, the album showcases the talents of so many greats. It is a trainspotter’s dream to listen to each track and pick out which monster is playing lead guitar and whether Jack Casady or Phil Lesh are holding down the bottom. Everything has a loose, improvisational feel that encourages the best from everyone involved. It is ultimately the kind of indescribable mood of the album, however that so ties it to the era that produced it. It just feels different than anything else I’ve ever heard. 
If I Could Only Remember My Name is the absolute highlight of David Crosby’s career. He had never made such a personal and artistically successful statement before, and he would never come close to doing anything this great again. More than any of his hits with The Byrds or CSNY the work he produced for this mysterious album is how this mercurial artist should be remembered.
- Paul Epstein

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could not have said it better! Wore out 2 vinyl copies, bought the cd, then the remastered cd, and then the re-re mastered cd w/ Kids And Dogs. Amazing work of art.....