The spirit feels peace. It has come as a child, mind numb, body gone. I am happy. It has been here before.
Once upon a time, I had a dream. I came out west, thinking I would find it. Through the desert, up to San Francisco, down to L.A. I was looking for a job, met this guy. He said, 'Y'know, kid, you can play... I'll give you a place to stay.' I said OK. He thought I was a hot number, really groovy. Anyway. They called it the Castle. Spoken in kinda hushed tones, all that. Up to this time, I'd been sleeping on the beach, walking the streets, just tryin' to sort myself out. I must have blacked out, cos one afternoon I woke up beneath the freeway and my head was pounding. I'd had the dream again. But L.A. was gone. It was. I crossed Echo Park, came to 6th Street, and it hit me. Everyone was gone. No cars, no people, no sounds. Silent. So I kept walking into the Hollywood Hills, past the canyons. The sun went down purple. I walked and walked. It was like ancient rock when I saw it. A breeze swept through the brush, and I heard diadems shake. Really, the Castle was a creamy villa. But I swear, it smoked before me like a vast, holy monument -- engraved, old... You could imagine there was a mission bell at the top, and that, when tolled, the snakes fell from the trees. It was Moloch, backlit by a dying blue horizon. And still... I walked up the pathway and noticed that I heard waves break on shore. Closing the sculpted door behind me, (which smelled of hyacinth and hay), I stepped into a mansion of sepia tones. Everything was shadow. My eyes felt tired, but the tile that clicked underfoot kept me awake. As I strode up the stairs, the main living room below started to make sense and come into view. All the dusty, velvet furniture was of a different age, free gifts from the dead. On one end was a stone fireplace that could eat a man. On another, glass patio doors which lead out to the empty pool and backyard. The staircase turned a corner; I went up more steps. I reached the top. Stopping time, the hallway before me beckoned. Someone was here, shifting the darkness...
In the dream, the spirit stands in the desert, watching twilight. Where had it been?
As far as the eye can see, the plain is calm. But the spirit's mind is a racehorse, a flyer over awesome, barren land. It is free. Elevated and free.
And, with visions of wreaths on back porches and the sparky hollow from whence it came, the spirit slows. Love taught it to do this.
Ahead, an oasis appears, tucked into the side of a hill. It is strange: a marble stairway ascends, and then you stand at the foot of a field of grass. The grass is swaying, the sun not yet dead. Yes. And the spirit feels peace. Time has flown, and the Niagara of thought has settled into a silent smile in a land bereft of pain.
But caballeros croon on the other side of the hill. They play a tune of welcome and warning; yet, when the spirit reaches the crest and looks down, no one is there. Only a sea of restless rhythm and uncharted depths.
So the spirit sleeps. Not at home yet, but the ghost towns and years are behind, and tonight the stars in the sky will emit a drone to ease the mind. And in that drone, the movies of a lifetime will glint and barrel past the land until they have touched every last speck of sand. And when the spirit wakes, and it is twilight, it will take these genius lessons and turn them into dead sea scrolls for a new traveler on the plain. And perhaps the tune will be melodic and sane, sung by the Sons of Sang.
And the music shows. It is a secret. It will ride the Santanta wind, carrying the perfumes of the desert. At first, the sound will creak and churn, unweathered but hard, flexing its influence. The first cry of Love will be hate. But soon, those who listen close will hear just how unique it is, the deep potential that it has. They will pick up on its odd humor, and the beauty laced with doom -- an indefinable, suffering sadness. Sad because its childlike sense of wonder -- its vague, poetic nonsense -- cannot help, nor forget, its history of bequeathment: the heavy burden of trial and hurt for which it has become legend. In this way, the music is Zen. Constant and ever-flowing, sorrowful and joyful, old and new. It is an enigma. It exists on a continuum analogous to the journey of life, forever changing, a composite palette of pending heaven and present darkness. And, as the music moves the dunes, it will join Belshazzar's feast and become the witting soundtrack to its own ambition: instruments, styles and arrangements that should not go together, but do; sweet, lucent nothings that temper their own outbursts; sun mixed with horror. Tied to mystery, risk and despair, the music and the land will be one, and their collective soul will be loose from that which they signify: time, form, and function. But Babylon will perish. It is precious and swift. With gradations in between, it starts then ends on a note of expansion: collapse recycled from grace, grace into collapse. And so, before the music can perch itself on the cusp of your heart, you must accept its failings. You must see that it tells a story of misdemeanor, folly, and excess. For to dance like swans, it must fall like Rome. More than anything, this makes it durable. It is personal and pained. It is universal.
And now the spirit is gone. Gone with the phantom paradise the purple dawn broke. Gone with the music and the mourning doves.
Mental residue is all that is left.
Now there is only Love.
* * *
(from an interview with Scotty James, 2003)
"Love was a great band. The ultimate L.A. band. You loved to hate them, cos they were hippie punks -- real badasses. And they all came from different parts of the city, so they all had a really cool vibe. Umm... They were better than the Doors, because Jim Morrison was a sham and a dick. And their music was a lot more cynical and concise than some of the San Francisco bands. Why? Well, you could say that they had this dark suggestion. It's hard to place. But there was something wrapped about them, something dark under the surface of what they were doing...
"I saw them in 1966. They were at the Elk's Club, and I'd just come from working at Chouinard Art School. I can't remember if it was something the students put together, or not. I think Terry Allen promoted them. I think. Back then, anyway, the kids were the scene. They were the ones who got it together and made it happen.
"The band was tight. They played 'My Little Red Book,' a Bacharach song, which was a hit. (I remember hearing it on KHJ radio.) And they looked good, really good. They wore these blousy, vested clothes -- outfits that were custom-made. And the guys looked turned-out. I was impressed.
"I was impressed that they were biracial. This was before Hendrix, you see. And so, because of that, rock 'n' roll was...was really just something the white kids did. Mostly, like a response to black music. And it was very unheard of, after the reign of Chuck and Bo and Little Richard, for you to see black people playing rock 'n' roll -- let alone blacks with whites. At the time, that was far out. Of course, you had people like Butterfield, and maybe a few others, who did some integrated stuff, but, for my money, Love was the first group of black and white guys to take off from the Beatles and the Stones and other white bands. They even had some Byrds in there, too.
"Over the years, Love became synonymous with Arthur Lee. He was on a lot of the credits and responsible for a lot of the music. Plus, he helped found the band in the first place.
"He was inventive. I heard rumors about him, some of them weird. Like, he wore only one shoe, or he was a dropout. He hustled, he was a junkie -- I dunno. But he definitely played a part, and it was a part that worked to his advantage, most of the time. Not only was he the most gifted member of the group, he was an outsider, with an outsider's glare. Remember, Lee preceded Hendrix. So Arthur did the mojo, black hippie stuff long before Hendrix did. People called him the original black tripper, and other names. He capitalized on what was happening; yet he had this lilting paranoia to top it off. I'm not sure it was completely faked. Y'know, I'm sure that some of it was in his head for real. Every now and then, you couldn't get a bead on what he was saying because some of it was long-winded. Like the 'Revelation' piece on Da Capo, or the instrumentals on Out Here. Some of it was pretentious bullshit. The music suffered. But those albums have great songs: 'Willow Willow'...'She Comes In Colors'... You knew this guy was a smart cookie.
"That's what made Love special. They were the product of a Stagger Lee, a freaky oddball who wrote the majority of the songs. That's why so much of it holds up. The things that sound dated, the 'concessions' -- they can't all be linked to him, because he was a recluse with a lotta tricks up his sleeve. It was like, part of the time, Lee imitated Jagger imitating the soul singers. Like Johnny Mathis, but with a twist. And his lyrics were up there with the best of Dylan. Really silly, gibberish type stuff, and it almost always had a kick. It kind of pulled the rug out from under itself. Very jokey, and cuter than cute, but cute and meaningful at the same time. And the music was all over the place. Wild. Wild tempos, and stuff that was melodic. Acid, Latin, surf, and jazz... Even vaudeville, orchestral stuff. It worked -- all of it. It was all of a piece. Dark and brilliant; rampant and perverse.
"So Lee transcended race. And if he transcended race, he also transcended music.
"But it's hard to say what led to the group's downfall. Maybe they had too many strong personalities. Maybe the drugs did it. I know that Bobby 'Bummer Bob' Beausoleil used to play with them, and that was a few years before he joined the Manson family -- so who knows? Maybe the band got in with the wrong people. It could be anything. It was sad, because, in their time, Love never made it outside of L.A. They never made it BIG big. They were talented, though. All of them were extremely talented.
"I can see why they get new fans. They had a certain mystique that's hard to separate from the place. Ciro's, Bido Lito's... you know, Sunset, Hollywood -- all those places. The old stomping grounds. That's what they sang about. They lived a very hedonistic, Southern California lifestyle, and it was one that couldn't last. That's what they stood for. They stood for the city, the whole ambiance of the city. Especially L.A. at that time, because you had the love-ins and the riots... And the whole feeling was in the music.
"Love was L.A."
* * *
All of a sudden, I was at the other end of the hall, facing the stairs. I wore a tux. Though it was hard to fathom, it didn't matter. The walls were lit by candles, and sex, salt and death clung to my lip. I sauntered over to the nearest open room. Here, a silent, warped pleasure held court, a mirror maze of satin and sin. Powdered and berserk, movie idols danced a false, fierce sweat, and put on a devil's red list of positions. Whole winds seemed to blow from within them, like a raging refusal of dust. Weary of the sight, I left. Another room had a nude girl whose eyes and breath were fog. Beside her, on the mink carpet, were five chunky bags of cocaine and a few severed heads. I knew her... She shot her lover to death in a vacant lot in Burbank, and took a bus to the desert, where, going strong all along, a scorpion stung the butt of a black sheep. But now, she stood up and donned a dragonrobe. Something told me I better leave, so I did. If I hadn't, I'm sure I would have gazed at fog machines forever. So, I walked, my feet heavy and clear. I was back at the staircase. A red telephone rang. Suddenly, the dream came to me...
In my mind's eye, I saw a man. A man in a room a very long time ago, sitting by the fireplace. He watched the embers, and in his hand he held a clock whose seconds ticked loud as a drum.
TICK, TICK, TICK.
A horse and carriage sped down the misty lane, blacking the land with fear. Anytime now, they would be at his house. He could hear it. The hooves.
TICK, TICK, TICK.
Very soon now.
TICK, TICK, TICK.
He shuddered, knowing the end was near. Outside, dusk fell.
TICK, TICK, TICK.
It would be only a matter of seconds.
Silence. He waited. Then he heard: someone or something was knocking on his door... And the dream ended.
Coming down the gilded steps, I saw that the living room was full of faces. Faces that looked to me and burned with expression. Dappers and flappers, who waited here in limbo for a party that never happened, and never ended. But when they saw who I was, they went back to sipping on the fine wine of their whims. I continued to walk. Here they were, all of them, cued for each turn of events. The people of la. Here we were. With no comfort for silence, our idiot mouths filled the dead spaces our roots could not. I was one of them, waiting at the edge of an eternal moment (mine had passed). Down here, someone kept pouring vintage into a shoe. A flower vase broke; potions bubbled at the brim. We cooled beyond intelligence, the mere intelligence of thinkers. The suspense was hot. But it didn't matter; I went to the pool outside. A clean cascade, the water reflected the stars and the moon, with leaves that toed the deep end. The pool turned black. Off to one side, the backyard shot into bramble. There, a set of stairs spiraled up encrusted rock. When I reached the top, I saw for many miles the city and sea below, entombed in their own hazy quiet. Peering into the windswept sky, I heard a commotion and looked behind my shoulder. Those in the house had started to come out, with their drinks and gems, to see what I was doing. And then I realized that this was it. This was the end. I had reached my limit, and I was sad. Deep inside, I knew I was trapped. I could never leave and I could never go back. It was all too real. To the east of the backyard, beyond the sloping framework of the final boundary, the jungle of the canyon sat, a Kurtz canvas. My head flashed. There I wept, mute, and my heart quickened, then eased. Behind me, on the diving board, a creature of the house superimposed on himself. I recognized him. Like suicide, he wore a cracker crown on his head. And again, I faced the canyon, the city, and the sea. On the pastel beach faraway, a tiny band of children jumped and strummed. It was peaceful.
These, then, are my last words. After I lock my heart in the closet, I will wait. I will watch and wait, and to that end I am resigned. No matter how long it takes. Somebody, someday, will see the Castle1 at long last, and they'll want to know and ask. So tell them my name. I want them to see me in death as an uncontrollable visage that will signify the rest of their lives. I may be gone, but Love remains; and, finally, that is enough. For these are the vapors a lion must find, and take in.
1The Castle is real. It can be found in Laurel Canyon.
Love (Elektra, 1966): A
Da Capo (Elektra, 1967): A-
Forever Changes (Elektra, 1967): A+
Four Sail (Elektra, 1969): C+
Out Here (Blue Thumb, 1969): C-
False Start (Blue Thumb, 1970): C-
2003-03-02 - Jack Cormack