Friday, January 13, 2012

that story about yellow springs

January 11, 2012

I suppose if I ever write a rock & roll novel it will either be called After The Second Set
or I Love Distortion.  Here’s another chapter of that rock & roll novel.


Nicole and I never actually flew on an airplane anywhere together, but we had little outings we called flyaways.

Our main and favorite flyaway destination was Yellow Springs, Ohio. In 1978 Yellow Springs was a tiny town housing a small liberal college. Actually, "liberal" might not be a strong enough term. "Radical" might have more accurately fit the bill. The first time I visited Yellow Springs in late 1969 or early 1970 with my high-school best friend and band mate Dave Blackburn, we signed up for a course at the Student Union called "Making Molotov Cocktails." I am not making this up. At Antioch College, utilizing wine bottles filled with gasoline and detonated by oil-soaked rags to set fire to things or blow things up was a legitimate college extension course at their New School. I loved higher education in those long lost hazy hippie halcyon days.

When Nicole and I first landed in Yellow Springs (after an abortive trip to Dayton, Ohio, where a David Johansen Band show had been cancelled) in spring 1978, it still seemed to be 1969 there. This was heaven to Nicole, who at 18 years old desperately longed to be a part of the 60’s counter-culture and "The Revolution" that she felt she had missed. I might say that was a large part of my 25 year old former college revolutionary and rocker appeal, but that would diminish my then still-smoldering dark good looks, so I won’t. That first night, as we wandered the Antioch campus, we happened upon a perfectly laid-out miniature Japanese garden. A Japanese garden in the middle of a small town Ohio college campus, we felt it had been put there exclusively for us.

The building that housed Antioch’s music department had these cool little rehearsal rooms with pianos in most of them and truly great acoustics. Nicole and I often went there to finish songs and work out arrangements before we presented new tunes to our somewhat deficient rhythm section. (Bass & drums were sometimes a problem in our band. We were essentially trying to play punk/pop music with a heavy-metal grounding, neatly anticipating grunge by about 12 years.) So one truly gorgeous early summer Friday evening we headed to Yellow Springs with five new songs I had written that week. I had actually written three of those five compositions in one day, something I had never accomplished before that and now 34 years later have not accomplished since. And these weren’t throwaway tunes, they were really good, strong songs we added to the set the weekend after that. Nicole and I were running on inspiration then, rock & roll meant everything to us, we felt we could do no wrong.

We were running through the new songs in one of the rehearsal rooms, working out harmonies, melodies and arrangements. It was really warm out and at one point I was sitting in the open window of the room playing guitar while Nicole sang. A group of about ten kids had gathered on the front steps of the music building to listen and started yelling up at us to come down and play for them. I wasn’t really up for that. I was a rock band guy, I felt like we required our amps, bass & drums. I needed volume, only folkies played acoustic. Nicole, however, also sang in a country music close-harmony four-piece family band with her mom & dad and younger sister, so she was all for it. Plus she was a born performer, craved those stages and lights, even when it was only the front steps of a college lecture hall under shimmering summer starlight. Everywhere anytime was a show for Nicole.

Over the next hour or so we wound up playing just about every song we knew together as the crowd on the little plaza grew to more than a hundred students, townie kids and faculty. Looking back it was probably the largest audience we ever played to. And we killed ‘em. It was like we could do no wrong. I never would have believed we could have sounded that good with just one unamplified acoustic guitar and Nicole’s lovely voice ringing out through the velvet summer night air. We debuted the new songs we had just arranged that night. One of those tunes, Go West, Young Man, with its chorus of "Go west, young man / At least as far as Yellow Springs," was a natural to hook that audience. Nicole turned it into a sing-along at the end, used that patented rock & roll stage bit of dividing the crowd up into competing halves, and having them sing against one another. It was great.

Finally, somewhat inevitably, around 11 pm the Antioch campus cops – who to that point had been standing unobtrusively around the outskirts of our impromptu little music happening – came up and asked us to move people along. There was some desultory shouting at the cops, pretty obligatory at Antioch, but no molotov cocktails got thrown, thankfully. The cops even let us pick our ending song. We finished, as we always did, with I Love Distortion, our set-ender, our theme song, our anthem, but it wasn’t quite the same on acoustic guitar, in soft warm moonlight, with no feedback, no crashing drums, no punk-rock heavy-metal thunder, as it were.

A bunch of people shook our hands or high-fived us before they melted away into the gorgeous June night. They thanked us for playing, a couple of people gave us hugs. It was truly heartfelt. We never played better than we did that night. It never occurred to us to play in that configuration again, just Nicole & me, acoustic pure & easy. We went right back to the rock & roll grind for as long as it lasted.

I remember us making out later, leaning on Nicole’s car kissing. I came up for air at one point and the streetlights on that quiet campus street were glowing all hazy. I said out loud to Nicole, "Is this love or oxygen deprivation?" She just grinned and brought her mouth back up on mine.

"this town’s got you spread all over it
like a fine layer of art
made to break my heart"
from that song about yellow springs © 2001 Ricki C. 

© 2012 Ricki C.

No comments:

Post a Comment