Running Into The Sun But I’m Running Behind ( Jackson Browne)

There was a time, long ago it seems now, when Jackson Browne was telling it just like I thought it was. It was my first year at university when his debut LP, which I’ve always known as “Saturate Before Using”, came around in 1972. I’d just had a taste of something fine & so had Jackson, his stoned, romantic contemplation was much more eloquently expressed than my own (come on, I was still a teenager!). The Asylum label were assembling a company of Los Angeles troubadours, Jackson & Joni leading the way. A strong collection of mature-beyond-his-years songs combined with uncluttered arrangements played by the new session hotshots, the Section, hit the spot then &, when I hear “Song For Adam”, “Doctor My Eyes”, by him or the Jackson 5, & “Rock Me on the Water”, still does. Earlier this year Jackson got the band back together for some award show or other & it sounded pretty good. They are a little older now but hey, aren’t we all?

 

 

The following 3 LPs established Browne in the top tier. I wore out my  copy of “For Everyman” (1973) & bought a replacement.  Now there’s a CD on the shelf, I’ve had good value from all of them. His finely wrought observations on the effect of Love, Life & Loss on the ideals of the Sixties generation, “caught between the longing for love & the struggle for the legal tender”, were judicious & accurate. The very talented guitarist David Lindley’s sympathetic contribution to the music improved things even more. It’s another time for an appreciation of these records & perhaps the reasons I don’t really play them so much nowadays because this is about the next one up, an album that still gets a regular hearing around here.

 

Related image“Running On Empty” (1977) is a live album, 10 tracks, none of which had appeared on previous records. After 4 well-received, big selling records Jackson Browne was well set for a “Best of…” collection. In late 1976 I had seen an outstanding performance which included all the good ones & I’m sure I’m not the only one who would have been happy to handed over the hard-earned for live versions of songs already in my collection. Jackson knew better & what we got for our money was something a little more substantial.

 

 

“Running On Empty” is a diary of the tour he did in August/September 1977; the first time he was in a position to prise the Section away from a busy studio schedule. An “audio verite” of life on the road, recordings were made onstage, in rehearsal & hotel rooms, even on the Continental Silver Eagle band bus. Recording engineer Greg Ladanyi must have been kept busy having the appropriate gear on hand for whatever the situation, whenever time of night the magic was ready to go down. He is one of the stars of the record, it is the immediacy, informality & intimacy of the collection that makes it such a success.

 

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Browne hadn’t enough material for a full album, only 2 of the 10 tracks are solely credited to him. A couple of the 4 co-writes are with the tour & production managers. The two songs that were studio ready, the retrospective title track & “You Love The Thunder” are both good enough to enter the Jackson Browne canon with a bullet. Recorded onstage there’s more power & a little more disorder in the house than his fluid studio recordings. “Running On Empty”, track 1, side 1, sets both the tone & the quality for the sometimes surprising record that follows.

 

 

Related imageDanny “Kootch” Kortchmar must have played in a 1,000 bands (including the Fugs!). He’s made his own solo albums, produced big names, appeared in “This Is Spinal Tap” too but his reputation abides as a consummate, dependable sideman. He played Jackson a song of his about the musician’s life & “Shakey Town” was recorded within days. It perfectly fits the ethos of “Running On Empty”, Browne’s vocal certainly does the song justice & 40 years later it’s still a favourite of mine. Here is Danny performing the song with his band. To my old ears, this is how American Rock goes, I love this clip.

 

Browne’s insistence on presenting an honest document means that the Sex (well, masturbation on “Rosie”) & the Drugs are covered alongside the Rock & Roll. With hindsight he may regret including a way past his bedtime cover version of Reverend Gary Davis’ “Cocaine”, a song the Rev learned in 1905. This was tour life for the LA cowboys in the 1970’s. There were 2 buses, 1 for the band,  1 for the crew & the cocaine had its own truck. The final track “The Load Out”, a song for the roadies, segues into “Stay”, a golden oldie by Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs. Now anyone with a familiarity with these ramblings will already suspect that I am something of a Soul Purist so I’m not always well disposed towards anyone messing around with the classics. Anyhow, what I regarded as a a bagatelle made both the US & UK Top 20, his only British hit, so what the heck do I know?

 

 

I’ve checked for more than half the tracks on the record but I’m not leaving without playing just one more. In 1977 Jackson made an appearance on the debut LP by singer Valerie Carter  who was assisted in the recording by Little Feat’s Lowell George, one of the great guitarists & a writer with a similar talent for capturing tenderness without sentimentality. The trio wrote the yearning, simple “Love Needs A Heart” & it’s just a gorgeous thing. On “Running On Empty”, his biggest selling album, Jackson Browne documents the myth & his own reality of life on tour. Less heroic than his previous work, tougher than the rest, his accurate, undisguised, human reportage produced an outstanding, abiding record. If you don’t know it then well, you know what to do.

 

 

 

 

Thinking of my good friend

I have known my friend Jayne for over 37 years…from the olden days maybe, but we did our very best to live our life in colour. The 1970s in the UK are being remembered for us through a woebegone wash of grey tinted spectacles. These abject adducers were not just turned 20 with a bunch of interesting and good friends. They were not newly & happily married with a love of  books, art, music and new experience. We had an optimism about the life we wanted to lead & were taking the first steps in making those lives happen. The 1970s were, for us, a time of independence (jobs were easier to get), laughter & making sense of the world with people we loved & trusted. It is no surprise that we are still connected to those with whom we shared these good times.

My friend has problems that are occupying her at the moment. The music in this piece reminds me of her and is intended to raise her spirits at this difficult time.

In the early 80s we no longer lived in the same city & could have lost touch. It was a Saturday night at the Glastonbury Festival when we chanced upon each other again. Magical things happen at the festival & who cared what others thought as we rolled around shouting & laughing. The next year we met at the festival and she brought along a new friend. Jayne introduced her month old baby girl to me. I was helping on a friend’s stall. We had a big old tent and the new mum had her very own baby station in the rear. This not only saved her a lot of back & forth but meant the three of us got to hang out regularly over the weekend.

The festival was not only about the music in those times but all our crew assembled at the Pyramid to see Jackson Browne on the Sunday evening. We exchanged true & tall tales of Glastonbury excess then settled to hear music we all knew well. Jayne, who was behind me, said that if the baby kept her own counsel for the next hour then any of the bother of the weekend would be worth it. Browne played a fantastic set, all of those anthemic commentaries which finished his LPs . There were no hits but he did play his greatest. The gathering (unsteadily) rose for a standing ovation & some seconds in I realised that the music had not once been enjoyed with backing vocals from one month old Joanne. I turned around and saw my friend cross-legged on the floor, baby sleeping across her lap. She had the loveliest, happiest smile of anyone at the festival, believe me that is big time happy.

File under “Exquisite”. Those first two LPs by Kate & Anna McGarrigle enchanted us. They even impressed our younger, punkier friends. If you loved the sound made by human voices in combination, if you loved beauty, then you loved their music.

Through the 80s Jayne’s family grew. Her  husband was still there (still is). A son joined the growing girl (6 going on 26 as I remember). I went on holiday with them. I shared Xmas at their house.I fed her children forbidden sweets full of evil E-numbers & was the crazy “uncle” all kids need. I always felt I was lucky to do these things. I would stay for a week, left to entertain myself while the family were at work & school. On these days I would discover records by the McGarrigle sisters that I had not heard. Their music continues to confirm the simplicity of beauty. It also reminds me of a family house full of music, books, laughter, toys, badges (don’t ask) and full of life.

Jayne was a cool mum precisely because she did not think she was & did not particularly try to be one. That’s how it works. Anyone who has read this blog will know I love music & I do like to pass new music on to friends who can make of it what they please. It was Jayne who put me on to P J Harvey almost 20 years ago & wasn’t she right to do so. Polly Jean was a skinny young bad ass who hooked up to no fashion & made her own path. I could see why my friend would want to leave the kids with dad & go to see some real rock music.

I almost chose “50ft Queenie” because that tune still rocks out & sounds like today. I went for something from one of the best records of last year because I still trust my friend’s taste 35 years after we would listen to new records together. Her lovely children are now lovelier adults. The old uns still go to gigs, still listen to the good stuff. The last concert I went to was with three-quarters of the family. I had a great, I mean great, day. Good friends, good music…constants in a changing world.

My friend has some stuff to deal with right now. My thoughts, the thoughts of others, are with her.

She took me back to the Hyatt House, I don’t wanna talk about it !

You finally get on the world wide Interweb & you look for something intelligent about some shit you know about. You know, to find out more stuff , maybe connect with some like-minded people. Like you would with a book (remember them ? ) or a good magazine. You pretty soon find out that’s not so easy. There’s a bunch of cool fansites dedicated to completism but when it comes to discussion…well  you may as well read Y-tube comments. It can be THAT dumb.

OK. I’m gonna have a go at writing something proper about Warren Zevon. You know Warren…OW-WOO ! Werewolves of London…that’s the guy.I’m just going to do the first LP . There are some of his LPs that are so important to me that I would not do them full justice if I banged 3 together at one time. The LP (not his first, but if you were on to the 1969 one then you were one of the very few) was released in 1976. Produced by Jackson Browne, endorsement enough in those mid-70s. Aided by the rock aristocracy of Los Angeles. There was even a Beach Boy & an Everly brother on backing vocals.

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I’m going to start with “Desperado Under The Eaves” because it was the first track I heard from the album. One morning in Birmingham the local station, BRMB, played this on the morning show. I stopped my routine, I had been waiting to hear some of this. My wife would have to wait for her coffee in bed…boy, she had me trained well. The string section  intro echoes “Louisiana 1927” by Randy Newman. The two verses are conventional enough. Then the pay-off…”I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaian hotel, I was listening to the air conditioner hum. And it went….hmm, hmm, “. OK. Harmonies from the air con, that’s new.

After years of listening to the song I still hear those Newman references. In the field of erudite, literary, ironic cynicism it is these two writers who carry the swing. The line ” but except in dreams you’re never really free” marks Warren as either a pessimist or a realist.I still love to hear the sweet hum of the air conditioning. As the song ends looking away down Gower Avenue what does he see ? The “Hollywood” sign symbolic of the city of dreamers. I am aware of the biographical genesis of the song but, y’know, I think Zevon aimed for something more in his work. Something which applied to the more general condition than to just his own screw ups.

I bought the LP & loved it. I knew that L.A. music. in the 70s it could have a softness to it not always to my liking. This was tougher, more sardonic & more imaginative. The songs, the arrangements, sometimes have the veneer of L.A. smoothness. It perhaps takes repeated listening to get to the subversion that is going on here. Linda Ronstadt, the sweetheart of the Cocaine Cowboy Rodeo, recorded 4 of the album’s songs. Her hit version of “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” takes an hilarious macho boast about excessive female attention & reduces it to blancmange.

“Mohammed’s Radio” is a song which has gained resonance over the years. “Everybody’s desperate trying to make ends meet. Work all day, still can’t pay the price of gasoline & meat. Alas their lives are incomplete.”. Soothed by the sweet & soulful drum of Mohammed’s radio, the General knows that watchfulness is necessary. Man, this is the USA in the 21st century ! I make no claims for Zevon as a prophet. I do think that  his songs could capture aspects of Life’s condition which are universal. The performance of the song we see here, with Jackson Browne’s band is as good as British TV got in the mid-70s.

I’m spoiled for choice for the final clip. the beauty of “Hasten Down The Wind”,  the class of “The French Inhaler”, the junkie lament of “Carmelita”. I am going with “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” because this is Warren at his most hellacious. He & Hunter S. Thompson captured that “what the fuck ?”, boundaries are there to be crossed spirit better than anyone. Whenever  things are too much fun or my mind is racing with a shitstorm or I just get offered another line…Hey ! I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead !

In December 1976 my wife & I travelled from Birmingham to London to see Jackson Browne play. We wanted to be with good friends who had listened to this music with us. Warren was the support act. I don’t know if the rest of the audience knew the album but our posse thought it was the record of the year. We cheered every introduction, sang along with every chorus & generally went nuts for the man. I’m sure the people around us wondered what was going on. Jackson Browne was superb that night. he was promoting “The Pretender” & had some body of work behind him at that time. Seeing Zevon perform almost all of this record was an unforgettable treat. I don’t really have a favourite Zevon LP, different one’s for different moods. This one is possibly the strongest collection of songs he ever got together at one time.