Today I’ve been listening to an album I heard many, many times in my youth – on repeat, because it’s really that good. It’s Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, and while most would likely recognize at least two of the contained tracks – “White Rabbit” and “Somebody To Love” – the rest of it is pretty low-key stuff I don’t think ever cracked the charts (at least as singles, anyway.)
Grace Slick and Company. Great cover, great album.
I’ve probably heard both of those songs hundreds of times throughout my life; in fact, the other day I heard “White Rabbit” on the radio. But it’s been a really long time since I’ve listened to the whole album, and I was amazed at how even the less familiar tracks returned me to the childhood time in which I remember hearing it the most. To be honest, I had probably been listening to this record since I was an infant, because it was released before I was born, but my conscious recollection of it doesn’t come into the picture until I was about five years old.
At that time, my family and I lived in an old farm house on about 900 acres of scrub brush, gentle grassy hills and trees in Southern Oregon. The rent was 50 bucks a month and we were surrounded on all sides by vast patches of country earth. This place was tucked out in the proverbial boon-docks, in the middle-of-freaking-nowhere, in “God’s Country” – so to speak. In other words, just going grocery shopping was easily a half-day affair. Most of our neighbors were ranchers. My morning walk to the bus stop and then again in the afternoon was nearly a mile of dusty, rutted driveway cutting through a giant swath of cattle-grazing territory. I got stung by a yellowjacket for the first time on that driveway (and the second time, as well), and experienced my first crash-and-burn on my first real bike, banana seat and all, handlebars wobbling crazily as I went screaming down a hill one afternoon, just to see how fast I could go. That was an experiment I learned quickly to never repeat.
But I loved that place. The house was a decent size, with a huge, open kitchen and very high ceilings. I had my own cozy bedroom with a loft bed built from scratch by my dad, and there was a diamond-shaped window in the living room, which I thought was very cool and was always told was a rare addition in houses. (It’s interesting to note that my parents’ personal “coolness” factor concerning this house is a tad different from mine. My dad swears it was insulated with material roughly the consistency of tissue paper, and the pipes would constantly freeze in the winter. No matter. I thought the place was a palace.)
There was a tire swing hanging off a beautiful giant oak tree in the front yard, and a fort nestled snugly amongst the strong arms of another giant oak just a few hundred feet from the west side of the house. We grew corn in a garden in the front, and had chickens, geese and a curious little nanny-goat named Lady in the back. Our beloved black Lab had the vast expanse of serene, grassy land at his disposal to explore, although it also got him into trouble on occasion as he routinely tangled with raccoons and porcupines, and thistle bushes that left wads of tough, prickly burrs on his legs and tail. And when he lost one of those legs courtesy of an animal trap terribly and vindictively laid somewhere out in that expanse, he learned to run faster and swim stronger than any puny human could ever match.
So, yeah. My memories of that place are strong – probably the strongest of my early childhood. And the music played in our house – an essential, integral part of the daily routine – something akin to eating and sleeping. Back then, it was a turntable, receiver and two speakers strategically placed and connected to the receiver by long, thin umbilicals of speaker wire. My mom had an enormous collection of vinyl records – probably numbering well into the mid hundreds at that point (which swelled comfortably into four-digit territory as the years went by.) And so it went – the Beatles, Elton John, Pink Floyd, the Stones, the Moody Blues, Cream, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and of course, Jefferson Airplane – to name just a miniscule number of artists residing in her collection.
I’m not entirely sure I would actually like a lot of this music if I were to hear it for the first time now, and unfortunately, my kids aren’t much inclined to listen. But like genetic material, it’s a part of me – a love I literally could not separate from myself even if I wanted to. I’m not sure what the strongest draw is, either – whether it’s the fact that much of it is just plain good and well-crafted music, or that hearing it triggers the warmest memories of my childhood. It’s probably a well-blended combination of both. Indeed, I cannot imagine my life – past or present – without it.
Oh, that I could play on that tire swing again on a calm, cricket-song summer evening as the sun set, all dusty bare feet and wild hair, waiting for dinner after a long day romping the fields with the dog, riding my bike at ridiculous light-speeds, guarding my tree fort…but at least I can listen to the music and be there in my head, if nothing else.