Let me tell you about the first and only time I dropped acid.
I had always been somewhat curious about it, because my parents would sometimes reference acid trips they took in their hippie primes. What held me back was a very conservative attitude when it comes to drugs: I prefer to keep my mind clear so I can understand what I am experiencing. I had smoked marijuana a couple of times and didn’t like the way it made me feel: stupid and lazy. I tried cocaine once at a party and found the process of snorting uncivilized and disgusting, to say nothing of the outrageous expense for what turned out to be a fifteen minute buzz. I avoided ecstasy entirely on the principle that “if everyone one is doing it, it must be a pretty lousy experience.” What intrigued me about acid was its power to alter perception, and I like experiences that challenge my perceptions.
I asked my dad if he knew where I could get some, but he’d been out of the scene for too long and didn’t have a clue. I asked around at high school and eventually wound up talking to a guy named Freddy who lived in a flat near St. Luke’s. I bought two little blue pills for twenty bucks, because in the course of my detective work, a guy I’d fucked a couple of times said he’d like to try some, too. We set the date for 6 p. m. on a Saturday night, and I insisted that we do it at my house for two reasons: my dad would be there (Maman was visiting her parents in Nice) and he would know what to do if we freaked out; and two, my dad didn’t care what I did in the privacy of my room and my parents were used to me having my fuck partners over from time to time. I did not tell my dad what I was planning because I wanted him to have deniability in case something (or someone) went wacko.
My friend arrived on time and we immediately went into my room, turned on some music and swallowed the pills. Here’s what I remember:
- For the first hour I felt all tingly and couldn’t stop laughing. Everything was funny: my window, my hands, my friend’s face, the walls, the sounds of human speech. I laughed so hard my sides hurt.
- The next hour began with my friend suggesting I play my guitar and sing. First, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the stereo, and I spent a long time staring at the silver buttons and knobs in complete bafflement (it didn’t help that they seemed to be vibrating and changing shape). My friend couldn’t figure it out either so he crawled under the desk and unplugged the stereo (and whatever else was down there). It seemed to take a very long time to take the guitar out my case, because my fingers worked like they were made of jello. When I finally got it out and sat down to play, I’d start a song, look at the fretboard and notice that the strings vibrated in colors: lime green, neon pink and a weird purple. I’d stop playing to watch them vibrate and my friend would shout out, “Why the fuck are you stopping?” I’d try again and the sound would go WAH-WAH-WAH and the colors would come back and finally I threw the guitar down on the bed and said “I need a cigarette.”
- The next hour was spent trying to light one cigarette. At first I became fascinated by the colors in the fire from the lighter. Then I realized my mouth was too tingly and I couldn’t hold the cigarette with my lips or teeth. So I had my friend try to light it and finally managed it by holding the cigarette steady with fingers from both hands. When we finally got it going, I just sat and experienced the act of smoking while studying the patterns in the smoke. Doing something resembling “normal” felt really good, but it took all of my concentration and some impressive lip acrobatics to pull it off. Meanwhile, my friend figured out how to plug the stereo back in while the nicotine helped me remember how to use it, and I put on Sgt. Pepper. It was beautiful and calming, but the orchestral crescendo in “A Day in the Life” made us both feel like we were on a roller coaster ride and we held onto each other for dear life.
- I’d lost track of time by now, but I think it was then that he suggested that we get naked and fuck. I thought about that for a minute—actually, my mind was going to a million different places, wondering why his face was purple and squishy, why my hands looked old and wrinkly, and trying to figure out why I felt so heavy in my pelvic area. Was I horny? No, that wasn’t it. “I think I have to pee,” I said, and sort of tiptoed spastically down the hall to the bathroom. I remembered hearing my parents say that the worst thing you could do on an acid trip is look in the mirror, so I kept my head down when I entered. I couldn’t find the light switch but the night light was on, so I just sat there for oh, about an hour, tripping out on the flower print on the shower curtain and admiring the texture of a terry cloth towel until I started to see mean faces and skulls in the terry cloth. Finally I remembered I had to pee but something didn’t feel right. “Oh, I have to take my pants off,” I said to the dimly-lit bathroom. That took forever, then I sat down on the toilet and started to wonder if I was going to explode if I didn’t pee soon. I started to freak out a little, imagining my body in pieces all over the walls, but then I heard the sound of me peeing and the relief was indescribable.
- Instead of going back into my bedroom, I went out and sat with my dad, who was watching a baseball game on TV. I didn’t say a word, just stared at the screen tried to make sense of it. I turned and looked at my dad and was admiring his beard and I really wanted to touch it to see if it felt silky but he turned to me and said, “Extra innings.” Then he turned to me again and said, “Extra innings.” He seemed to do this about five times, so I turned away in private horror and tried to calm myself by watching the beautiful colors on the television. The grass was a beautiful shimmery blue but trying to process the crowd noise, the announcers and those tiny little figures on the screen put my brain on overload. My friend came in looking lost and I said, “We’re watching the ball game,” so he flopped on the floor near the TV, almost hitting his head on it.
- Somehow the game ended and my dad was happy. “Hey, let’s go to Orphan Andy’s and get some grub,” he said. I thought about the word “grub.” What a funny word! “Grub, hub, sub, chub, flub, stub,” I rhymed. Saying the words made my mouth feel good. I made it out to the car, and the next hour was a blur of high-speed motion: I remember barreling down the hill on Castro Street like I was on a Disneyland ride; I remember the sidewalks jammed with people when we got near Harvey’s, their faces looking sad and lonely; I remember going into Orphan Andy’s and how it glowed and throbbed in reds and yellows; I remember trying to drink a cup of coffee and being unable to hold the liquid very well and slobbering all over myself; I remember how strange people looked when they ate, like they were desperately trying to survive by doing this disgusting animal-like thing. I ordered pancakes even though I hate pancakes, and I can’t begin to describe how beautiful it was to watch the whipped butter melt. What should have blown my mind was that my dad found a parking space in the Castro on a Saturday night, but that kind of mental effort was way beyond my capabilities.
- My dad took us home and as soon my friend and I got into my room he said, “I thought we were going to get naked.” I didn’t remember any of that, but I said, “Sure” and I got naked and lay on the bed. He started to strip, but when he pulled off his underwear I broke into giggles. I then got on my knees on the bed so I could look more closely at his pubic area and told him, “The little turtle’s all scared.” His dick had shrunk so drastically that it had almost disappeared into his pubes. For the first time that night I felt imbued with a sense of purpose: I wanted to see the little turtle come out. So I pulled him down on the bed and started working on his prick. He started moaning very loudly and I told him to “Shh!” I licked his balls, enjoying the feeling on my tongue, though my tongue seemed disconnected from the rest of my body. I don’t know how long I spent trying to get him hard, but he finally managed enough of a boner to work, then lost it trying to find my hole. By now I was reconnecting with my plumbing and getting impatient, so I whacked him on the ass a few times to try to get him focused. It worked, then I guided him into my hangar. We didn’t move much, just lay there enjoying the amazing oneness, and shit if he didn’t start crying. “I love your tits,” he said, “They’re the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” he said, weeping over my nipples. This was starting to kill my mood, so I whacked him again to get him focused and in a few minutes he came, which made me come, and it wasn’t a very pleasurable sensation . . . more like the relief I felt when peeing combined with a strange discomfort. We then lay there talking, giggling and listening to music until we fell asleep.
I woke up alone some time the following afternoon, feeling a strange sense of accomplishment and total exhaustion. I went to the kitchen and made some coffee, sat at the kitchen table and had about five cigarettes in a row, thinking about the experience. I guess my dad had been out and about, and when he came home the first thing he said was, “So how was the trip?” My first question was, “Did you say ‘extra innings’ five times last night when I came in?” “No, only once.” “Shee-it,” I said, “That stuff was powerful.” We then spent the rest of the evening talking about my experience while watching a real baseball game played on beautiful green grass.
In the 196o’s, the word psychedelic took on far greater meaning than its original application in the world of psychology. It was the aggressive rejection of everything The Establishment stood for and the aggressive pursuit of the new and/or different. The folkies and civil rights marchers of the early 60’s were sincere but rather drab-looking people who focused on specific issues and tried to work within the system; the hippies took on the entire socio-cultural structure from family to fashion to fascism. The psychedelic period was about the elimination of limitations and assumptions of all kinds. It was a time when anything was possible and everything was up for grabs. Only a few years before the era was recognized by the national media, Joe Pepitone was playing first base for the Yankees in the World Series and lost a throw in a solid background of fans wearing white shirts. Contrast that visual with the radical neon pinks, oranges and greens, or the strange effects of black lights and strobes, or the patterns of tie-dye and paisley that psychedelia brought into fashion. Although people poke fun at the hippies today—and I’d rather hang myself than wear a tie-dye t-shirt—the cultural earthquake they created simply had to happen. America was way too uptight before the hippies: any culture that had to train people when to laugh through the insertion of laugh tracks on TV sitcoms needed all the free love and marijuana it could get.
I am fortunate to have impeccable sources of background information on this era: my parents. My father grew up a few blocks from the Haight and could stumble into the epicenter of the earthquake any time he wanted; one day he stumbled a couple of blocks north to the Panhandle and met the beautiful French exchange student who became my mother. For my dad, adopting the emerging norms of hippie culture happened organically; for my mother, it was total culture shock of a most welcome kind. I asked her to write me a paragraph about what psychedelia and the hippie movement meant to her:
You have to remember that from the time I was seven years old my life was study, practice and recitals. My parents had big dreams for their child prodigy, and those dreams required a very structured life of school, music lessons, practice, performance, sleep. I had no life outside of that cycle, and very few friends. And as you know, the French have very definite ideas of how one should behave in public, so I lived a very structured life inside a culture of many expectations. When I received offers to study in America, my parents were very resistant but I stood my ground and they finally allowed it. They wanted me to go to Julliard but I did not want to live in the snow and San Francisco had always seemed a magical place to me. And that was the first step, wasn’t it—to defy your parents? I came to a place where people my age had decided enough was enough and they wanted to be free from all the rules and explore new things. Although I admit I was appalled at the lack of hygiene, I embraced the spirit of the times and let myself revel in the celebration of new ideas, of new ways of relating to each other and to the world. The music was very important because it was the antithesis of all I had learned: it had no specific destination, no preconceived notions. Yes, I did drugs with all the rest but never to excess; I still had a sense of self-discipline and judgment that many of my new friends lacked—they wanted to gorge themselves on the experience, for they had been starved for so long. But you must remember it was about much more than drugs—it was an attempt to replace the old, dead world with a new one that embraced life; to replace tired ideas with fresh ideas; to replace social exploitation with social justice; to replace war with peace; to explore any path you chose. It was a very wonderful, very exciting time to be alive.
In the tradition of breaking free from parental paradigms, I developed into a Summer of Love skeptic, and except for Surrealistic Pillow, I have tried to avoid reviewing albums classified as psychedelic. Although I’ve always found 60’s history exciting and endlessly interesting, and I have yearned to live in an era characterized as groundbreaking and defiant, I’ve never been impressed with hard-core psychedelic music. Given the abundance of 60’s reviews I’ve done, I obviously adore several albums from the 1966-69 period, many of which are timeless masterpieces that reflect psychedelic influences. But the permissiveness of the times often threw aesthetic judgment to the winds, allowing dozens of lame bands to make several very bad records during that period. It wasn’t just a time of unlimited experimentation, it was a time of unlimited and often stupid experimentation by people who had no business calling themselves musicians. There are more “you had to be there” records (or “you had to be stoned” records) from that period than any other, and much of the music, the literature and even the humor is lost on people like me who grew up in the 90’s. I could never get into Richard Brautigan or Ken Kesey, and try as he might, my father has never been able to get me to crack a smile when he plays The Firesign Theater for me. I’ve also noticed that current reviews of psychedelic albums—both professional and fan reviews—are seriously over-the-top in their praise: all the artists are either “legendary” or “immortal” and all the albums were the greatest fucking advance in human evolution since group sex. That kind of blind love always brings out the skeptic in me, which is never far from the surface anyway.
Still, I love a challenge, so I’ve decided to temper my skepticism and take a virtual acid trip this summer to challenge my perceptions about psychedelic music, now that it seems to be enjoying a sort of resurgence. I screened something like forty albums and narrowed the list to seventeen that I suspect have some kind of value. I will admit up front that there are several albums on this list that I thought were positively dreadful during my screening, but I chose them because of historical significance or because they demonstrated something about the period that I felt I had to capture. I’m even including artists from my no-fly list like Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead. We’ll see if my standard three-full-spins changes any of my unfavorable opinions.
Here is the full series: the albums I’m going to review, in chronological order, at a rate two or three per week. If any new releases of interest appear on my radar, I’ll squeeze them in on the weekends. I’m not holding my breath.
- Part One by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, 1966
- Electric Music for the Mind and Body by Country Joe and The Fish, May 1967
- Moby Grape, June 6, 1967
- The Piper at the Gates of Dawn by Pink Floyd, August 5, 1967
- Procol Harum, September 1967
- Strange Days by The Doors, September 25, 1967
- Forever Changes by Love, November 1967
- Axis: Bold As Love by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, December 1, 1967
- Mr. Fantasy by Traffic, December 1967
- The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter by The Incredible String Band, March 1968
- Anthem of the Sun by The Grateful Dead, July 18, 1968
- Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company, August 1968
- The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse by The Bonzo Dog Band, November 1968
- S. F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things, December 1968
- Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone, May 3, 1969
- It’s a Beautiful Day, 1969
- Woodstock, 1970
Wow! I’m creating my own Summer of Love here! Hope you join me on the trip!
I admire my father for many things, but I especially admire him for his unflappability in dealing with two strong-willed and occasionally bitchy women for so long.
While the home of my family of origin was generally a happy place, from time to time my mother and I both felt the need to assert our inalienable right to bitch, gripe and nitpick. To be a good bitch, you need to stay sharp through regular practice, and it’s tough to get a good bitch-out going when you’re surrounded by the bluebirds of happiness. Maman and I learned to survive in this irritation-free environment by becoming experts in the art of making mountains out of molehills, turning accidental slights into major crises, becoming hyper-anal about “a place for everything and everything in its place,” and using our monthly inconvenience as an opportunity to express our outrage at the only available male for being completely oblivious to our suffering. We’d strut around the place snapping off heads, criticizing on impulse and finding fault in the most trivial things in an all-out effort to bitch up.
My father usually kicked back and allowed the storm to run its course. However, even he had his limits of tolerance, so when the bitchiness seemed just about to cross the line into cat-scratching mania, he had a simple technique for restoring order to the world.
He’d put Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks on the stereo.
The effect of Dan Hicks’ music on the raging felines was magical. After a few minutes, little smiles would appear on our faces, our heinies would involuntarily twitch to the rhythms and eventually we’d find ourselves joining The Lickettes on the harmonies.
If you’ve never heard Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, you may wonder how his music could have such a curative effect on aggressive, domineering, hell-bent for leather women. Let’s start by considering the kind of music he plays:
Daniel Ivan Hicks (born December 9, 1941, in Little Rock, Arkansas) is an American singer-songwriter who combines cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop, and gypsy music in his sound.
What? Huh? That’s quite a cornucopia of musical styles! You can certainly hear the gypsy flavor of Dan Hicks’ music, but it’s gypsy steeped in jazz like you hear in the records of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. The description omitted blues as an influence, and I’d say the hints of country in his music are certainly tinged with blues conventions. Dan Hicks himself referred to his music as “folk swing,” which I think is overemphasizing the folk and underestimating the swing.
Let’s just say that Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks really knew how to swing! Call it feel-good music if you like, but I would argue that it’s not only music that feels good but music that is designed and executed with talent and professionalism. To this day, if I really need to get out of a funk, Dan Hicks is the most effective cure I know.
Dan Hicks is a true original, and I love people who defy classification in any field of endeavor. Classification of music into genres is a consumer marketing mindset, so if you believe in genres, you believe that music is a commodity, like pork bellies or winter wheat. Much of the music produced today is commodity music, but that simply isn’t what Dan Hicks is all about. He developed his style in the San Francisco of the 1960’s, where all kinds of rules were ignored, in the jazz clubs, the coffee houses and the rock ballrooms. At the height of his success with the Hot Licks, he suddenly disbanded the group, saying he didn’t like being a bandleader and wanted to do his own thing. He’s never been a guy who chased fame, never had much in the way of artistic pretentiousness and never took himself too seriously. He simply made the music he wanted to make, made a few bucks doing it and made a lot of people happy.
Where’s the Money? is my favorite Dan Hicks record, and that preference has a lot to do with the women in the band. The first female voices I ever wanted to emulate belonged to The Lickettes, because they sounded so classy, smooth and sexy. I so wanted to be them that one year in my early teens I convinced my mother to sit down with me on the piano help me figure out both Maryann’s and Naomi’s parts on “Where’s the Money?” so we could perform them (with my Dad in the role of Dan Hicks) at the annual New Year’s bash with the Irish half of the family. We practiced our vocals every night for a month, and on the big night maman and I dressed in period-specific midis complete with boas while dad wore shades, a Hawaiian shirt with a Panama hat. Needless to say, our efforts were very well-received, especially the carefully-timed mother-daughter fanny shaking. It was a hoot!
Where’s the Money? is a live performance recorded in 1971 at The Troubadour in Los Angeles. In terms of recording quality, it’s one of the best live albums ever recorded, though it rarely makes any best album lists. The setting is intimate, somewhere between bar and dinner club, and the place has quite a history. It’s one of many places where Lenny Bruce was arrested for violating obscenity laws; it’s the venue where The Byrds first performed “Mr. Tambourine Man”; and the hot spot where Buffalo Springfield first graced the stage. Despite the history and the stature of the place, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks seem completely relaxed, and open the show with a playful introduction where Hicks intrudes on the emcee’s duties before riding a quick count into the knockout opener, “I Feel Like Singing.”
The combination of skiffle strum and soaring violin on the Bb7/A7 intro that resolves itself to G tells you right away that ain’t your daddy’s folk music. “I Feel Like Singing” is an acoustic swing number performed with precision, style and a whole lot of pzazz. Dan Hicks’ has an Everyman’s voice, approximating the notes rather than achieving perfect pitch, but it’s a very comfortable and pleasing voice to hear, and he harmonizes extraordinarily well. When The Lickettes kick in with their spot-on harmonies, the effect is sheer delight. They save their best singing for the scat passages, especially the second where Maryann Price takes the lead with Dan and Naomi Ruth Eisenberg hovering in the background until they move forward slightly in the soundscape to another part of the scale with a diddle-iddle scat, then a sudden reep-ta-doo-dee-dah, followed by a trumpet-mimicking du-reet, ree, ree, ree—and right back into the chorus with hardly a millisecond to take a breath. It’s an exhilarating number that captures the one-of-a-kind joy of singing. Great scat is driven by the spontaneous, human urge to use the voice to imitate the sound of an instrument, the reverse of the desire of the great jazz instrumentalists or classical violinists to make their instruments reflect the sound of the human voice. The yin-yang synergy of human and instrument in scat is always fun, whether it’s Ella Fitzgerald in the zone, Little Richard shouting “A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom” or Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks at their best.
“Coast to Coast” is a mid-tempo number with both blues and Latin influences, so go figure. The harmonies on the bridge are particularly delectable, and the instrumental passage after the fade on the repetition of the word “flying” allows Sid Page to fly on the violin. I love the way he’s able to change his bow stroke in mid-air from a smooth vibrato to a shuffle to support the fade. It’s followed by one of Dan’s many bits of stage patter that are hoots in themselves . . . but don’t take my word for it, buy the fucking album and cheer yourself up in time for the holidays!
“News from Up the Street” is the subject of his patter, a story about a shy guy who digs a girl who lives up the street and tries to get things moving by mailing her a letter. It’s a softer minor key song with gorgeous harmonies and superb counterpoint violin from Sid Page. The girls are particularly sweet on this number, and Sid’s solo is beautifully understated and full of empathy for the guy who’s sitting there on pins and needles waiting for his letter to arrive in the girl’s mailbox.
Without further ado, the band kicks into “Where’s the Money?” an undulating shuffle where Sid plays the intro on mandolin and Dan Hicks does this marvelous yodel-like vocal with regular octave leaps into falsetto on single syllables to vary the sound. While Maryann and Naomi sing the fragment, “keep moving” in the background, Dan gives us a sample of the regular-guy wisdom that often characterizes his lyrics:
It’s like you’ve seen a cop
And you don’ don’ don’t exactly wanna stop
It’s a motion, a notion, that makes you want to go (keep movin’)
The music has a sweet sway to it thanks to the maracas and Jaime Leopold’s steady double bass, a rhythm that works beautifully with a pattern of ascending and descending seventh chords to give it an undeniable swing era night club feel. “Where’s the Money” also demonstrates how professional singers control dynamics with great effect. The girls are gently singing the response phrase “where’s the money?” at low volume in the last verse, and then suddenly raise their voices to a level equal to Dan’s on the last “where’s the money,” where the song comes to a hard stop. Maman and I nailed it at the bash and it was one of the most exciting moments of my microscopically brief musical career!
That little hottie is followed by “Caught in the Rain,” the expression of every man’s dream of having his car break down on the highway and instead of the cops or some fat loser bubba stopping to see what’s going on, a beautiful woman slams on the brakes and offers a ride. When the guy opens the door he learns that she’s fully equipped (“Some other build/And dressed to kill/And real good-lookin’ of course”) and finds her perfume raises his testosterone levels. Nothing happens, as expected, because the point of such a story is to let the guy go back and make up all kinds of bullshit about the ride to impress his friends. This slice-of-life fantasy is well-supported by Sid and the girls, who somehow manage to capture the guy’s performance anxiety and dumb luck with their eerily lovely contributions. This is a feature of Dan Hicks’ music that people often miss: the words tell one story but the music expresses the unexpressed internal feelings. You hear it in this song when you realize the guy should sound a lot more joyful about winding up in a car with the proverbial brick shithouse. You also hear it on “I Feel Like Singing,” where the title would imply a mood of pure joy. Not so:
There are people who live for the moment
And others who don’t seem to get much enjoyment
Some are always glad, others always sad
But lately it seems that I’ve been somewhere in between
It’s a funny feeling . . . love is what I mean
Yes, I’m so in love, can’t tell down from up above,
Down, down from up above
I feel like singing.
Kinks fans should recognize the voice of the lead singer on “Shorty Falls in Love,” as Maryann Price is given the opportunity to take center stage for a few lines. After the Hot Licks ended their run, Ray Davies recruited Maryann for Preservation Act 2, where she sings the lead on “Scrapheap City.” Opening with some seriously hot fiddling from Sid, Maryann’s high-speed vocal is a winner from the get-go, as she manages to phrase the challenging first word “particularly” with syllabic perfection. This charming number expresses a strange truth about human customs: when people marry, they often go on honeymoons to allegedly romantic places. Why bother with that when all you want to do is get down and dirty with your true love? When they sing, “As we sped around the world to see what we could see . . . but I saw you and you saw me mostly,” they’re expressing both an everyday truth and the peculiar power of love to close our senses to everything around us except the one we adore.
“By Hook or By Crook” keeps things moving with shaking maracas and a blue-note dominated vocal from Dan supported with some lovely glides from the ladies. This is the strongest pure mover on the album, an ass-shaker par excellence. Sid Page’s attack here is more lead guitar styling than violin or fiddle, and it’s seriously, seriously hot. The video below is a performance from The Flip Wilson Show that combines these two songs (and features some impressive thigh exercises by Naomi).
It’s about time to take it down a notch or two, and Dan has the perfect song for the moment, “Reelin’ Down.” A bluesy country number supported by subtle but highly complex spot harmonies from the ladies, this quiet number is probably the one that best demonstrates the band’s attention to the detail in their arrangements. People who only listen to this album superficially may not appreciate that beneath the humor, the funny clothes and the throwback musical echoes are a group of very talented and serious musicians who obviously took great care in putting the pieces together. It may sound relaxed and easygoing, but that effect was achieved through hard-won effort. “Reelin’ Down” goes down easy because these musicians knew what the fuck they were doing and took the time to get it right.
Dan introduces “The Buzzard Was Their Friend” as a jazz tune, as in late-swing era Andrews Sisters. Once again, the harmonies are first-rate, especially on the blue note combinations. The song has a kind of a Harlem strut feel, a touch of doo-wop and a smattering of street lingo that make it another irresistible hip-shaker. It’s followed by the L. A.-appropriate “Traffic Jam,” about a guy stuck in traffic on his way to see an obviously dominant female who “never did like it waiting on me, waiting on me.” He arrives to find a Caddy parked in front of her house and realizes he’s been dumped for another. No problem! He just gets back into the traffic and heads over to see his backup squeeze. The music reflects a cool view of the situation at first, then, as he heads off to his second option, a growing anxiety about the traffic expressed in the louder vocals that become positively jittery on the fade.
Best described as a white trash love ballad, “Is This My Happy Home?” mixes a lovely little chorus with a rather unpleasant depiction of a man’s life with a woman who is either extraordinarily lazy or suffering from depression, as she lets the dishes pile up while the dogs and cats crap on the floor. The song works because of the contrast between the sweet sadness of the chorus and Dan Hicks’ down-in-the-mouth recitation of his troubles in the verses. Part of me wants to scream, “Get the fuck out there, she’s a loser!” and another part of me feels terrible for the guy, who obviously deeply regrets the deterioration of his relationship. The vocals on the “I’m losing you” lines are sung with heartfelt sadness.
Where’s the Money? ends with “Dig a Little Deeper,” which opens with a complex rhythm generated by guitar and mandolin. This is the most musically complex song on the album, with unusual dissonance and complex harmonies, and a very odd choice to end an album . . . not exactly a “ta-da” moment, but certainly a Dan Hicks moment of blessed unpredictability.
Based on my YouTube browsing and Google searches for song lyrics, Where’s the Money? has apparently fallen into the worst genre of all: the obscure. I’m amazed that work so fresh, alive and daring can find itself buried by the sands of time, but I should know better. Perhaps centuries from now some intrepid half-human, half-android with superior taste and intellect will rediscover Dan Hicks’ work and make him the William Blake or Emily Dickinson of the era of starships, and his music will spread across the galaxy.
An album that can make two seriously bitchy women deliriously happy deserves a happy ending.