Tuesday, October 25, 2005

He knows I'm gonna stay

Radio 2 documentaries - you've gotta love them haven't you? Well, OK you don't have to, but if you cook on Saturday nights, you have to listen to something.
This weekend just gone, in their continuing mission to narrate the history of every band ever to exist, they reached the
Mamas & Papas - certainly not a bad act, and one with a dramatic enough history, but with Mama Cass and John Phillips having gone to the great free festival in the sky, so to speak, there was no way we'd get the complete inside story, and instead there was plenty of room for the usual filler : music writers. Now I think music journalism is a more derided profession than it always deserves, but the written word is its natural home. And if, as in this case, they weren't there at the time, it seems a little presumptuous of them to tell us what Lou Adler felt. Of course they've researched this, but I could have done that too, and frankly they might as well have added the information to the presenter's script.
Worse still, the presence of the microphone seems to turn critics who are no doubt perfectly fine in print or in person into showboaters, desperate to get themselves into the trailer by suggesting that Mama Cass "let it all hang out - literally" [because she was a bit overweight - geddit!!??!!] or that she had a voice like "liquid honey".

Best of all was this assessment of their first hit,
'California Dreamin'' from a scribe I've never heard of before. Apparently it's "like the Beach Boys but without Brian Wilson's angst." We'll leave aside the fact that the reference to angst is hardly the most accurate depiction of Wilson's music circa 1965 (there's sadness to be sure, but it's not that sort). He seems to have missed the point of the song altogether - you know and I know that they were in California when they recorded it, but the viewpoint is that of someone pining for the Sunshine State; hence "I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA". The brilliance is in the line "If I didn't tell her I could leave today" - you know the protagonist never is going to go, and she (or he) probably knows it too: the preacher certainly does. And yet having the dream there is a comfort and it's valuable for that alone; I've always thought that the myth of California was more exciting than the real thing.
Perhaps this is part of the reason why the version that the Beach Boys eventually did release fails so spectacularly - they're just so deeply and irrefutable Californian that the imagery falls flat. Admittedly, the biggest problem is that they recorded it in 1986 (and for a Greatest Hits collection to boot)by which time they were a spent force in the studio, and the ugly production values of the time do it no favours. Still, the version that I remember the
River City People performing on Pebble Mill At One seemed to count for more.


At 6:39 pm, Blogger Laura's Dad said...


Good commentary. One small point, though-- Florida is the Sunshine State.

California is the Golden State.

At 9:10 am, Blogger Laura Brown said...

New Jersey is the Sunshine State as well (no comment).

At 1:38 pm, Blogger Laura's Dad said...

New Jersey? I thought it was the Garden State--an equally ironic moniker.

At 7:42 pm, Blogger Laura Brown said...

Yes, you're right -- according to this site, it's South Dakota that's the other Sunshine State (?!).


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