September 5, 2017 (Tuesday)

by Yule Heibel on September 4, 2018

I had an email from A., with this in the subject line: This song sums up a lot about the East Coast, IMO. The content was a Youtube link to a music video, followed by the comment that “California Dreaming” (the song) was “easy to consume and sing along to, and that “this version” (meaning the link) “expatiates on what they didn’t like about the East Coast.” He added, “I think it’ll resonate with you too: the unfriendliness of the people, how nothing becomes anything, etc.” So I clicked the link, which loaded only enough to play the song but not give written details (like lyrics). I googled a fragment of the lyrics, which got me “Twelve Thirty,” a song I wasn’t familiar with, till now. Written by a man, something I now know, it had struck me even on first listening as a counter piece to Joni Mitchell’s song about “The Ladies of the Canyon.”

The Mamas and the Papas song is all about contrasts: stuckness in New York City — or a city — illustrated by a steeple clock that only ever tells 12:30 as the time, vs. “flow” in “the canyon,” i.e., Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles is also a city, but the canyon (Laurel Canyon) was a world apart, a magical land. …At least in the 60s and into the 70s. There’s stuckness in the absence of reflectiveness, too. Here, the Mamas and Papas with “Twelve Thirty”: “Vibrations bounce in no direction / And lie there shattered into fragments.” Well, that resonates and conjures up another vibrant California hit, “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys! (And also reinforces the notion of flow —> vibrations —> flow = logical progression.)

These songs, written by men, are all about seeking the love connection — “she’s giving me excitations / good vibrations” (Beach Boys) and “young girls are coming to the canyon / …I can see them walking / … / …I can’t keep myself from talking [connecting/ communicating]” (“Twelve Thirty”)—> it’s all about the flow, vs the stuckness.

Mitchell’s lyrics are completely different, have a different orientation. They’re more novelistic, describing characters and traits, observing different women who do different things, occupy (slightly) different roles in this chimerical setting of The Canyon. It’s a different kind of fairy tale, a differently powered myth making. And it’s definitely much more neurotic, too.

The mythology pursued by John Phillips (of the Mamas and the Papas) is one that might be described as an overall (totalizing) desire for flow as a feeling of kingship in time. It’s a desire to conquer (and I don’t mean this in a bad way; rather, it’s the desire for self-sovereignty) and a desire to progress. A sort of “perfect” flow if you will, where you eat your cake but have it, too. California in the 60s and 70s was uniquely positioned to allow this to happen in an almost “Atlantisian” kind of way, an “Age of Aquarius” sort of way: the New Frontier, the New Eden, the reclaimed Atlantis, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

But… fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me, as they say… It didn’t quite work as advertised after all. It’s a bit like expecting desire to work in the context of a perfect social democracy wherein all the strife and care is taken away, removed. In the end, though, this Eden fails because of an absence of competition — or rather: the competition for the girls (and their impossible personal quirks and stories, as per Joni Mitchell, personal histories that make them grind against, not with, the smooth gears of Atlantisian fantasy, of oceanic connection: you just know there’s a nervous breakdown in the making there somewhere) stops at the level of “reality,” where you realize that lovely lady of the canyon might be a bit “now-now” after all. You’re tossed back to the starting gate and have to begin again from scratch.

I think that’s what happens again and again in real life, actually. It’s just that in some settings — and California definitely used to be that kind of setting — it’s easier to deal with than in others. Everyone needs flow. Everyone. All the crap the East Coast can throw at you can make you feel more stuck than “flowy”… (which accounts for the unfriendliness of the people, because they all feel the stuckness at times, too). (But, I’ve always found New Yorkers to be much much friendlier than Bostonians/ New Englanders, fwiw.)

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