Writings about Music

Wooden Ships

Walking in San Francisco in the early nineties, I came upon Paul Kantner standing outside City Lights bookstore. It seemed more like a dream than reality, and he barely noted my reaction, as if he enjoyed it momentarily, but then moved on mentally, perhaps hoping that I would, too, and actually say something. Unfortunately, I was too flabbergasted to articulate an enticing opening, spontaneously stunned into feeling as if I had been transported into a documentary about the Summer of Love. Not only did musicians like him build that city, they also tried to improve the building of our world. Somewhere "along the watchtower" many of us forgot what we had heard, or just pretended we never heard it.

Together with great admiration and respect for innovative San Francisco bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead, both groups extremely important especially during my teenage years, I have a deep musical love for two Los Angeles bands: The Doors and the Beach Boys. (It's not my intention to neglect Big Brother and the Holding Company, Santana, the Byrds, and other supreme California bands who have all touched me profoundly as well. I am focusing on The Doors and the Beach Boys here simply because I recently read some superficial and uninformed opinions dismissing them, not that these groups actually require a defense, of course!)

The bedazzling vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys are comparable to the Beatles. One even wonders if the former inspired George Martin when he taught the latter how to harmonize. The Beach Boys found an utterly new and original way through the labyrinth, extolling with great passion their unique reality and dreams, yielding a number of songs touched with genius. There is an important blues influence there, too, just not so obvious.

The Doors' best work – again a number of songs – is pure musical nirvana; a miraculously perfect amalgam of inspiration and technique.

If one listens closely, you will hear Jim Morrison's primary vocal inspiration directly in the center of his voice: Frank Sinatra.

Fortunately, we now have some exceptional interviews revealing Jim’s actual personality in real life, as opposed to his stage persona, or being inebriated.

Returning to my fellow Pisces, Paul Kantner, he wrote one of the most powerfully haunting songs ever with David Crosby and Stephen Stills on a sailboat off the coast of Florida in 1968. While the sublime recording of Wooden Ships by Crosby, Stills and Nash is more famous and equally unforgettable, the interpretation by Jefferson Airplane remains nothing less than apocalyptic, undiminished by the passing of time.

- Michael Robinson, February 2016, Los Angeles


© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).