Music Writing by Carson Arnold

 


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IMAGINARY LINER NOTES FOR STEVE YOUNG

 

From my view, I am a singer. And a damn good singer. And a unique singer. A real singer, too. I'm just not some guy who can't play the guitar writing a song, okay? I mean, I am a for real, total package. I can play, I can sing, and I can also write...

 

There is a certain sensation to the grain of modern American roots music-- an elegy-- that shines out from the midnight row of apartment towns where blue tv rays bounce off dark walls, spilling out into the streets below. It is almost here in these chilly moments of retrospect and the looking eye, where the lone singer beholds the vacancy and power to silently flex the muscle of the land into the body, to the song, and into our sad or happy chapters of these places...on the second, third, fourth floor...to the sky.

 

Hey kid! Steve Young?? Here's an early album. Seven Bridges Road. Reprise, '72. Folky-rock exotica. Flowers. Superb. I'm in love. He had wolfed the L.A scene apart by that point. Complete misfit. Ten years ago, still a boy in the south admiring street musicians in Georgia. Scorned for his radicalism. Hates the crooked, patriotic whip of the South. As do I. Why am I writing like this? I dunno. But his work intoxicates me. Slurs me. With mixed rituals of Scottish culture. Kulcha? Culture. Steve saw The Byrd's first show (he thinks) at The Troubadour. Lots of drugs goin' down. Lots. The relics and poets all doped up. Believes the first trip off LSD is the initial one, the only one. I met a kid today who disagrees. Steve hardened more to booze. Un-hip. Whatever. Kinda' like the rest of his albums? No way. Though, close during the late 70's. 80's and 90's, too. Dull periods. Last drop of booze was in December of '79-- dope came a bit later. Admits he drank more than anyone. Even as a father. Son now a disc-jockey. Townes was pretty bad, too. They would debate. Townes could never go sober. Where's that leave us? MUSIC!! Oh right. Good pals with Chris Hillman. Knew Stephen Stills before he became Stephen Stills. What's that make him now? That reminds me of something else. How he's treated in Nashville. More on that later. Soft, swaying strings in the late 60's period. Go find 'em. I own none. I should. I listen to too much lame rock music. Like The Stones. When will I grow up? That's beside the point. His romantic hums are significant balms for an era. Go live 'em. Oh yeah, Steve's a folk artist. But not a folky. He thinks New England all sounds the same...somewhat. I agree. I also agree that Steve's humble and yet wild legacy deserves far better than a kid like me screwing around. Maybe not. Cuz' what's the truth in his songs? Belief. Roll with it. The only latter recordings I have: Renegade Picker, Primal Young. Renegade. '76, RCA. Some warm notes, but a Texan mess, his most popular, though. Funny. Has a love affair for the West. The moon. In a home studio he's building, he plans to ignite dreams into fire. He needs this place. A medium. After all, Primal Young took nearly a year. Worth it, man. Onward with his classic interpretations. Adapting the traditions with the nitty-gritty. His heart. His baby. Which piss people off. Which pisses off Nashville. (Nashville?) "Nashville basically sucks, and it always has, and it always will. They're some good things...I just think it's kinda low on the totem pole...You're supposed to take the pledge; the Nashville pledge of allegiance; you're not supposed to knock it. I'm like, Man, you gotta be kidding me?! This is not even a real city! It's just a hick town, c'mon!" We know. Do they? The alternative rests in Primal Young. In Steve. Grazing songs out of Celtic vein and southern accent. Beautiful air. He adopts heritage like an angel. Let me taste it.

 

Ahh. Lemme hear it.

 

West-coast folk-rock, electrified Jethro-- this dark, sunny lifetime was more or less the story he told me. I interviewed Steve Young a few times by phone (until he politely said this tag should just sorta, you know, end) during the late summer afternoons of August; several of his records woven across the floor, forcing my rotary phone to hurdle over unquestionably throughout our conversation of 60's sage, his relevance with The Byrds, early days with Van Dyke Parks (who'd get a record contract and blow it), Townes, and a whole lotta booze and dope goin' down-- gradually pausing me to assist a few service workers lost in finding his home through the dry Nashville bones. Within the remote, there are figments of a TV potentially horning in the background, and with that image, the quarters of a room dressed in shades, a corner guitar perhaps resting on the cross-hairs of Steve's life and remnants exposed. What was happening here? And what was happening in a Steve Young song? Like "Little Birdie" off Primal Young, soaring the fog of cliffs where no traditional tune had ventured before; his interpretations irritating a stupid many; but with an altitude of extreme passion that can only be fully released by transforming yourself into that dear, little bird (first loudly heard off my parents' deck-- totally devoted to his work). It was impossible to detect in his music a man in his early sixties, welded by the mass ceremony of a generation, documenting his reckless history as a boundless addict, but rejuvenated by the harness of eastern religion and harmonies of an eternal world. With Primal Young, where before, his albums were for the most part disguised, essence is just there, rolling, a place where the wind could hide, like the thick California hills of Big Sur that Steve and his buddies, shooting for a Capitol deal in L.A during the early sixties (and fleeing from the southern slice of local Klansmen back home in Georgia), ran through the rhapsody of a road barely wide enough for a person, but its horizon, vast to the eye. Much of this landscape can be traced in the symphonic curtains of Steve's early works; his voice and slight guitar spread within the medallion of a sweeping, mighty orchestration-- that 'ol Cinderella coastal sound (which he loves as a divine) echoed in Lee Hazlewood scores heard no more (and perhaps the people too). The rap about Steve is his interpretations-- the adaptions-- which are galaxies different from covers, and by taking in some old tune (drifting in the lost canoe of music's timeline), he transcends both a world unheard through the cloth of his growing, rough voice that blooms a life torn in the illusions of emotion and balance. He would tail me through the stories of southern life, his ideal love for Sun Records (evident in certain periods), and his breakthrough while working under Cowboy Jack Clements as a teen. Like most, the secret to his golden, endearing notes have succeeded from the primer coloring of pure agony, addiction, and torment. The silverware of shackles, I would say after hanging up with him. This album here and today will wicker it. Caress it. Cure it. Like the feeling of a dense Brahms adagio, Steve's music is entirely a tapestry of grassroots and that of the tired, hurt romantic. There is little to approach before his songs, 'cept to fling yourself into the shanty, let the ugly severe spill. Float. Sit. Wonder. Dream.

 

Most often, after listening to this imaginary album and talking to Steve, I could only reflect and retain his phrases through cooler forms of swing; like watching crummy television, or leaning back into the swan of Mingus' "Memories Of You" all but breathing. Thinking. My record collection had been memorized, stripped naked to the ugly severe. The image of this album filled all that was to come.

 

Also, in between doing so, I forgot I had been writing liner notes. Well, sleeves. Imaginary liner notes for a Steve Young album I've never heard, but want to, or need to. It doesn't exist, but the lobby does; the true blue herein. Anyone can write a history, but then again, no one's barely said a scamp about Steve except, "Oh, that guy briefly performing with Gene Clark and Carla Olson" (Steve recalls Gene being the most steady guy outta The Byrds, though a battered mess near his end). Unfortunately, the only element that has ever kept me from announcing "The sunshine is indeed Steve Young", is his damn, ominous production that lurks in various albums (that I don't own) like some poor joke you can never fully rid. It's that old ob-la-di-ob-la-da 1970 trait of mugging the songwriter, a bloodwork with the slaughter of the James Taylor's and the Carole King's-- the last breath of the sixties, blowing throughout Steve's symphonic folk-rock, that, within the dirt, is almost an artform or portrait. Yet, if there's ever been a singer who's done zero to provoke any advancement beyond the renegade of a guitar and himself, it's been Steve. Sadly, the formula usually and can exceed into the turf of honky-rock that sweeps ya in by its whispering acoustic and lonely vocals/and clocks ya in the face with a fistful of mayonnaise wall-of-sound, drums, slide guitars, jesus! stop! this! insane! jukebox! jingo! Okay. Frankly, though, it's aggravating with albums that caresses the first thirty seconds with galleries of sweet sounds beneath the solace of one instrument, but avert to the retread, more or less, of a producers hand cream...or whatever. This album I am covering here shall present Steve at a mystic height of inward amazement, somewhat previously heard years earlier on Primal Young by the arms of Scotland strum and a new-found passion for goddamn, living. The title? I dunno. Whaddya' think Steve? You told me it's time to undertake your own studio. Time to expose the 'ol native. What's up? But listen, right here, right now,  I wanna hear the waves of California again; Gene Clark, the far off crystals in a song that sink and allow you to soak in its crest-- the sadness and love of the world, one/two, one/two. This record would bend the sun-- attempted only by the weight of a guitar and one voice, taking the turf to the underbelly. Let it all ring out. Songs-- with his instinctive voice; a certain flowery gris caged inside-- would move as though shimmering curtains, secluded, but extending far and wide, as if he were rolling down the steep of Big Sur once again, as if he alone were performing live (as he does, also confessing admiring the stand-up bass). His songs of sparse reverie would show up everywhere; in the faint of all colors, as reminders of good life and good music. All the time. Cuz' you know...there's no time for fooling. A testimony needs a-shoutin'. Folk music wears the funeral umbrella of a thousand faces. Leave it. Let's just say, folks, on this new unknown album of Steve's-- that I'd love to see recorded in his living room, by the way-- it shall capture the common, simple morning glory alive, linear in his earlier creations throughout the 70's, but nevertheless tampered with. California rock had a sense and soil (a "scene" heard best inside Roger McGuin's guitar) of both abandonment and experience, but an endangered experience that could only be reflected off of Steve's enchanting, rendering vocals. It was a visage to a far greater land and destiny that few ever reached. Booze, dope, mania, "the buzz", invaded, forcing time to warp the initial spawning and meanings into a frail age...if you were even lucky enough to survive. HEY KID! Steve did! Scotland's in his heart. And the album flies...

 

Phone in my hand, I glanced down at the black and white photo, his gray hair smiling, already knowing then sleeve notes to an imaginary album was to be the move. But who'd want that? Ahh, who cared anyway. The whisperings of "Many Rivers" and the entire escape of Seven Bridges Road was playing in the background. Perfect. "There's not a whole lot about you," I then said aloud.

 

"That's cuz' I'm very obscure, yeah."

 

"Your intentions?"

 

"I just find that's a built in thing with me. Even though it doesn't make sense, whatever it comes from is my nature. I kinda want to be obscure, and therefore that's what I create. I've threatened that I would try and change that at this late date. There's some times when I just don't wanna deal with this, you know what I'm saying? Just wanna drop out. I'm just the world's worst self-promoter. I enjoy talking. Like this. But as far as going out to promote myself, it just totally doesn't interest me."

 

"Playing live?"

 

"No, no. I don't mind playing live if it's good. But thinking of all those political things, the leg-work, the: "Hey, ho, look at me!". It turns me off."

 

I'd heard these tones before. I know the man speaking cuz' I've heard him sing. Songs. Some of you have even heard me hum them. One or two of you at least. People. I know. Just enough to embrace a world. There are few I know who sound as though they've been pistol-whipped since birth, but kissed with the loveliest of feathers in return. Steve's songs begin. A strumming shoreline. A voice, off balance. Like staring into the flurries of a shaken snow-globe wondering what it would all be like to crawl inside, and just possibly, you already were. They go: move, move, move, wait...watch...stunning. They end like the silence of bells. Catching the iron breeze of a freight train rowing past you at any time, you know the moment, the music-- Steve Young's great voice-- is real. Take this whole album and run.

 

TO READ THE FULL CONVERSATION BETWEEN STEVE YOUNG AND ME, PLEASE CLICK HERE

 

 

ALBUMS MENTIONED:

Rock, Salt and Nails (his debut, excellent)

Seven Bridges Road

Renegade Picker

Primal Young (the album he was made to do)

 

 

--Carson Arnold - September 20th, 2003

copyright 2003 Carson Arnold


 

H(ear) is an online music column consisting of interviews and articles written by Carson Arnold. As an independent writer and musician living in the woods of Vermont with his family, Carson widely encourages one to submit their art, writing or any interesting piece of material that you would like to share. H(ear) is accepting both promos and demos for review or any other valuable music-related subjects. If you wish to make a comment or would like to receive H(ear) weekly by email please contact Carson at carsonwesley@yahoo.com

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