Dreams – Joe Walsh
…off to waste the day plunging headlong…
For some reason it always feels indulgent to write about Lewes Priory school 1970 -75 and my teenage musical passions. See for example My Pop Life #78 – a eulogy to Blue Öyster Cult. I’m not embarrassed about any of the music I listened to then – or since – and I deride the notion of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to music, as if there is a canon of excellence that we must worship publicly and then privately enjoy our own rather suspect taste. The Alan Partridge joke about liking Abba and Wings – because they’re “not cool”. In this scenario the supposedly “cool” bands are usually skinny white guys playing atonal miserablism. My taste has widened considerably since 1973 but my enthusiasm for The Velvet Underground (and those they influenced) still hovers around ‘lukewarm’.
But this song is still an unalloyed joy for me. The Joe Walsh LP “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” was released in america on my birthday, June 18th 1973, and three months later in England. I have no idea from whence it came among my friends, perhaps the opening track Rocky Mountain Way caught somebody’s ear, or perhaps Andy Holmes just went ahead and bought it after sitting on a beanbag with headphones on in Virgin Records at Brighton Clocktower. Or perhaps I did – but where I got the idea who knows ? I don’t remember Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh’s most famous song) being played on the radio. Anyway – there is was, this amusingly-titled LP which acknowledged our new favourite past-time (getting stoned) with a brightly-coloured cover design and a selection of rather brilliant songs. I associate this whole LP with happiness. Sitting somewhere rolling a joint on the LP cover, glueing rizlas together, burning hashish (invariably – grass was very rare in 1973) into little brown worms and sprinkling them evenly among the Golden Virgina, Old Holborn or Players Number Six cigarette broken down. The music washing over us as we pass the joint among us, people nodding, agreeing on stuff, giggling, being witty and honest. The best kind of getting high, when there’s simply nothing else to worry about.
There’s a section in the middle : “she’s easy on my mind…she thinks my jokes are funny, makes me feel fine..” which reminds me of Miriam Ryle whom I started going out with halfway through the lower sixth. My first love. She wore Diorella and flower-print dresses. I think that’s a great lyric, the idea of a girl being “easy on your mind”. But the lyric also reminds me of my wife now, Jenny, who still laughs at my jokes. I try to make her laugh every day, and if we’re not having a punch-up I succeed. Makes me feel fine.
The song is a beautiful homage to being relaxed in a way that seems impossible today. Having nothing to do. Sitting on the grass somewhere. Going for a walk. Going for a drive, nowhere in particular. The music has a marvellous lazy laid-back feel, minimal instrumentally but hugely effective and evocative of an endless summer’s day when time seems to stop and allow you to step off for a while. Where did those days go?
Joe Walsh’s band at this point were called Barnstorm – they’d done one album previous to this which is also brilliant, called “Barnstorm” and also produced by the great Bill Szymczyk. How do you pronounce that? Kenny Passarelli played bass. Rocke Grace joined on keys. But Joe Vitale on drums, synths and flute was a particularly important collaborator for Walsh, and wrote and co-wrote some of these songs. His influence is very musical, as opposed to the rocky flavours of some of the rest of the LP – but to be fair, Joe Walsh has a huge musical palette and always has. He emerged from various east-coast bands to join The James Gang in 1968, recording three studio LPs with them including the tracks Funk#49, Walk Away, Collage and Ashes The Rain & I. All tremendous. After The Smoker You Drink LP, Walsh was asked to join The Eagles and they proceeded to record Hotel California, Walsh sharing guitar theatrics on that song with Don Felder. I saw this line-up live in 1976 at Wembley Arena, thrilled to bits to be witnessing one of my teen idols live. They played Rocky Mountain Way and possibly one more (Time Out?) but it was an Eagles concert and so they remain the only two songs I’ve ever seen Joe play of his own.
However I just bought two tickets to see him at The Beacon Theatre New York City on October 1st 2015. Unbelievably he is re-united with Joe Vitale for this show. This is a big deal.
Joe is a hugely likeable person by all accounts – he visits the same AA group in Hollywood as one of my friends – and his other big hit “Life’s Been Good” is testament to his sense of humour about money, fame and success. As a rock guitarist I don’t think he’s ever been bettered with the sole exception of Jimi Hendrix but like Jimi he also has a gentle lyrical side and a beautiful delicate touch, none more so than on this song, a wistful evocation of plunging headlong into a relaxed endless day where you will do absolutely nothing. Taking the time for dreams…