Monday, January 8, 2024
Just Like A Woman…
It was quite cold as I drove to town this morning to make some doctor appointments and pick up some meds at the pharmacy. Since I live in a small town I find it easier to actually drive to the doctor’s office and make appointments in person rather than fight through the maze of button pressing that doing it on the phone entails.
Anyway, for some reason I went down the Blonde On Blonde rabbit hole yet one more time and Just Like A Woman smacked me right between the eyes. Spring and summer of 1966. I had just moved to San Francisco into a 3rd floor walkup on Divisadero Street in the Western Addition about three blocks from the Fillmore Auditorium. Jefferson Airplane was still a young band and when we went on the road, we scuffled. No one had any money yet and we still saw the world through young eyes.
As a band in its infancy that was lucky enough to get noticed nationally we were able to become a national touring act before we had a hit. I believe that band identities are forged in the commonality of shared poverty. It’s been a lifetime since I couch surfed but I believe that if you are a young artist you must be prepared to accept whatever fate the road offers you with a fierce hunger. That which does not destroy you will make you stronger in a way that cannot be synthesized. There are dues that must be paid. As a much older artist I sometimes look back and realize that the heat from the forge of youth fades with youth. That’s a fire that will never burn that bright again and that’s OK.
I loved touring in those early days. It was a never ending adventure of open roads. From San Francisco to Fargo to Chicago or Boston. The sound in the clubs might suck but the scene never did. As much as I loved the panorama of America, New York was the epicenter of our touring world in those days. A two-week gig today would be called a residency. Back then it was just the way big city gigs in small clubs were. I remember our two weeks in Chicago at Mother Blues but that’s a story for another time. In any case, we were booked into Howard Solomon’s Café Au Go Go on Bleeker Street. We needed a place to stay. Mike Bloomfield touted the Albert Hotel as the go to musician’s hotel but it was too grungy even for the Airplane and our standards at the time were very flexible to say the least. We checked in, looked around… and checked out, moving to the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd St. It was the beginning of a residential love affair that would last for a number of years even after the bucks began to flow.
As our star ascended I met a number of people there I never would have met if were I not a member of well… a hit band. I met Salvador Dali at an Andy Warhol party. I mention this not to drop names but to note that Dali in that time had shaved off half his mustache as part of a new persona. It was, well… interesting to say the least.
As a young man, my life was in constant transition but the constant was always the guitar… even more than the music per se. I was immersed in the guitar, electric and acoustic 24/7. Then as now, the guitar has always told me what to do… and it told me a lot.
I didn’t need much back then except for the boundless energy of youth and creative friends. The banging of the steam heat radiators in the Chelsea hotel was the soundtrack of well… a lot of things. I wrote Third Week In The Chelsea there not long before the Airplane made it’s final flight.
Just Like A Woman bathed me in the memory from another time this morning. I got to thinking about old friends and acquaintances that I haven’t seen or even thought of for a lifetime and since memory is only a keystroke away these days I did some serious Googling. Sad to say, so many them are gone but if it is true that one lives as long as they are remembered, at least for this morning they walk the earth again.
The rigors of touring are much more evolved these days. kin ‘the day’ I didn’t have a ‘guitar tech.’ I was my guitar tech. There was no such thing as a professional roadie yet. Our roadies tended to be friends or family member who figured that the party roadshow was worth the somewhat meager wages. It was also a time when we all believed in ourselves which was more than compensation enough.
Well, life should be time well spent and all things considered, good and bad, walking in the light or inhabiting dark places if you survive… it has indeed well spent.
I think I’ll spend some time today walking in the light down at the Fur Peace Ranch and play some music with my pal, John Hurlbut!