Published Works

Medium Mixtapes Vol.2: Life in LP

January 1, 2018


Undertow: A Valentine to My Father
Inspired by Sarah McLachlan’s album, Surfacing
Gavin Lakin

pp. 31 – 36 in the PDF version


Sarah McLachlan
Nettwerk / Arista

The winter here’s cold, and bitter
It’s chilled us to the bone
We haven’t seen the sun for weeks
Too long, too far from home
I feel just like I’m sinking
And I claw for solid ground
I’m pulled down by the undertow
I never thought I could feel so low
Oh darkness, I feel like letting go…


With unparalleled vindictiveness, El Niño chose Valentine’s Day 1998 to undermine the foundation of what had been our family’s treasured beach house. Our sixty-feet of bluff, dotted with pampas grass and ice plant—over which we’d immersed ourselves in years of picturesque sunsets and the thunderous pulse of the crashing waves—had mostly plummeted into the tidal tempest some one-hundred-fifty feet below, taking our haven out to sea.

What remined dangled perilously over the cliff above Agate Beach: cedar wood ripped from its frame, toppled towers of chimney bricks, open air where once was a roof, electric wiring resembling Medusa’s snakelike hair along the soggy wood floors, a lone wood burning stove, deck remnants jutting out like pirates’ planks leading toward Hawaii, and the cement foundation with rebar twisted and uprooted like iron weeds.

242 Roundhouse Creek had been so much more than a physical structure; it was twenty-four years of memories and reverie—forever unmatched to this day—that had abruptly perished. Under a rainy, silver sky, that February interloper, undertow, had initiated a series of events that for much of my life since has subjugated the best part of me.


And sweet, sweet surrender

Is all that I have to give


It became evident quite quickly that it was much too late to lift, relocate, nor rebuild the house. The Humboldt County community gathered. Friends and strangers arrived to offer both emotional support and physical strength. A flurry of activity ensued as pickup trucks filled the driveway, dollies rolled out appliances, electricians and the gas company ensured our safety, and growers from pot country arrived to offer (and provide) their services. Local news stations covered the story. Someone brought pastries and coffee. Neighbors also in peril offered empathy as they wrestled with how best to save their homes. Enveloping us was that tried and true togetherness brought on during times of catastrophe; a theme for which currently, we are becoming too familiar as climate change doles out its revenge on those who would deny, and those who have not done enough.

Meanwhile, below on the beach, colossal chunks of concrete had found a new plot of land. Other dangerous, weighty shards of our past ceded to nature and plunged onto the sandy shore, refusing the call to sea. Engineers, who had years ago guaranteed us a bluff with one-hundred years of worry-free erosion, arrived to insist we take immediate action. Already, looky-loos were scavenging below, even as more house threatened to somersault down the cliff’s face. We literally had no time to come to terms with the devastating and inescapable decision to demolish our precious getaway gem.

Just prior to the demolition team’s arrival, stunned, with troubled soul and shadowed self, I ambled inside the gutted skeleton. Where had our gold-colored couch been taken, and how many novels had I read encased in its pillows? By the rectangular, flattened cement scarred with reddish coloring and faded impressions of bricks, how many cups of cocoa had I sipped? Glancing overhead, feeling the ardent raindrops, where was the roof from where we perched ourselves with hot brandy, admiring the thrill of August’s meteor showers?


You are pulled from the wreckage of your silent reverie

You’re in the arms of the angel

May you find some comfort here


In the northwest corner with undeniably the best panoramic view, thousands of meals had been eaten at the hauled-off table where we’d glimpsed the migrating humpback whales and their calves, warmed ourselves with clam chowder, feasted on fresh king crab, fish stew, smoky omelets, and washed it all down with bottles of delectable California wines. In that sunset-laden site, an announcement of my first niece’s birth was made.

Within the walls there had been ruthless games of Hearts and Spades, agates returned in bags and added to collections having been found at six a.m. with flashlights, balsa wood gliders built then tossed off the cliff’s edge. Here, friends gathered, bands practiced, dogs frolicked. In the master bedroom, I remembered a woman from long ago and how we couldn’t help but fall in love in such an environment. But I lost her too.

I stood adjacent to where once had been a wall spotlighting a painting created by a neighbor. She depicted our garden filled with hydrangeas. But this place had become void of warmth, as its semi-intact sections of the original frameup gazed at me, lifeless. There was nothing left for me to see.


From where I can’t return

Where every step I took in faith betrayed me

And led me from my home


 Traditionally, recurring dreams involve the dreamer trying to work through a personal issue. One of my most enduring recurring dreams involves my valiant effort to reach the top of a house. Though the abode’s configuration might change, the idea remains: Find a way to its elusive pinnacle. I stumble through dim corridors and climb spiral staircases. Trap doors collapse and engulf me. Voices of ghosts line the wallpaper, while basements beckon me. Uh, why would I descend? Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors at the amusement park. No matter the circuitous route, I resign myself to resignation. What could this possibly signify? When and if I ever reach the apex, will I have a Number 1 Hit or novels published? Will true love stop playing hide and seek with my heart, permitting me to settle down with her and no longer face the incessant ribbing from friends and family? Should I get a real estate license?

Psychologist Carl Jung would identify that house represents foundation. One haunts my dream state. Another nosedived over a cliff.

“After clearing the land, planting the orchard, building the house and barn, and surviving the Great Depression, our father died suddenly one winter night when we were small, leaving us to learn about loss before we even knew its name.”

-Virginia Wolff

I became a member of the Loss Club by virtue of my father’s untimely death when I was an infant. Handsome, brilliant, a scientist, mathematician, and enthusiast of poet Robert Burns, my father left me his intelligent and soulful imprint and DNA. But more tangibly, in the aftermath, I was left holding a crutch; one I could lean on whenever I needed to feel “special” or “unlike others.” Neighbors looked after me. My elementary school principal asked my mother if he could sponsor me for the father and son evening. Girls in summer camp, junior high and high school talked to me, sensing in me the vacuity of a young man without a clue. I learned to shave by watching the men on TV ads. Sex? What on earth was it?

When I encountered kindred spirits with similar stories of loss, more often than not our lives intertwined seamlessly. One young woman I met at college responded to my narrative with such reverence, I believe it defined our intimacy and galvanized us with a romantic depth I’d not yet experienced. But I lost her too; she didn’t like the way I chewed my food, and by the way: the entire time we were together, she was in love with another man back in her home town.


Can you look out the window

Without your shadow getting in the way

Oh, you’re so beautiful with an edge and a charm

But so careful when I’m in your arms


When I had to put down my sweet, big-hearted Golden Lab, I sobbed so brutally, the vet and his team left the procedure room uttering simply that I could take all the time I needed. Where were those tears coming from? I pet her ears of felt, breathed in her fur, grasped her neck like it was tethering me to some kind of lifeline, and kissed her for a long enough amount of time that eventually the doctor returned and encouraged me to take the first steps: stand up, breathe in, and say goodbye to her one last time, then walk out the door and don’t look back.

Over a year later, I put down my Black Lab mix, my buddy of nearly sixteen years. When his body fell silent, I’d been better prepared. I cried like the thirteen-year-old who discovered his light brown Labrador along Coldwater Canyon, prone, cars passing by, the world uncaring. Why was I effusively shedding tears for dogs whereas rarely did I display such emotion for people?

I took the therapy route. He kept pushing me. Stop dancing around what matters here. My father. Yes, you loved your dogs. But those tears were not only about them. Sure, you claim to have loved women, but why has every relationship crashed and burned, whether by her, you, or mutual agreement? You say “crutch,” I wonder if this isn’t about the absolute need to face your father, say what you have needed to say, and allowing yourself to finally let go? I would argue that once that work has been done, your heart will be truly open to love, your music will soar, the novels will sell.

I did what I usually would do in similar situations; I bailed. I cited the expense. Yep, seeing a professional at the cost of paying out-of-pocket was a convenient excuse. Sounded a bit to me like leaning back against the crutch.


The road is long

The memory slides

To the whole of my undoing put aside

I put away

I push it back to get through each day

And all I feel is black and white

And I’m wound up small and tight

And I don’t know who I am


Stubborn to the very end, my calling, eighty-eight keys of infinite sonority, with only twelve notes at hand, prevailed. In my room, I’d do my own catharsis, hold the invoice thank you very much. Hey, I’ve written over 450 songs. How familiar are you with my name? From all corners, be it L.A., S.F., N.Y. and Nashville, I channeled Peter Gabriel’s song “Don’t Give Up” from his 1986 Grammy-winning album So. His music video with Kate Bush is the very definition of inner fortitude with an undertow of bittersweet.

That would be me.

However, his acclaimed album gets set aside in lieu of the singer-songwriter who got me through not only the Grunge garbage-filled 1990s, but the precise three-year span of losing my dogs, and the true precipitating event, a beloved house cartwheeling over a cliff.

Somewhere in there, I lost myself.

Sarah McLachlan, Canadian singer-songwriter, founder of Lilith, carried me like the angel she wrote of. Her soprano, exotic persona, purveyor of love for all humanity, with lyrics that are broad strokes from a palette of mixed oils, and a discography featuring hit songs as well as themes as varied as her hair color, gave me the simple gift of solace.

Surfacing had critics issuing praise and rants. Descriptions included “. . . a knack for intelligent, emotionally forthright lyrics,” “monumental banality,” it demonstrated her “tremendous growth as a songwriter and musician,” “rigid in her introspection,” “lushly atmospheric” or it had a lack of “compelling craftsmanship and textural daring.” Hey, critics, the proof was in the “Poor Man’s Pudding”: in the United States, the album earned RIAA’s platinum rating eight times over.

“Last Dance,” which won the 1997 Best Pop Instrumental Performance Grammy, is a carousel-sounding piano waltz, with what I infer as overtones to endings, farewells, loss and even death. I feel the slightest sense of closure with my father, though I know I never will have that in my lifetime.

“Full of Grace” urges me to call upon “all of the strength and all of the courage come and lift me from this place” and to “claw for solid ground.” I know I can love you much better than this. Amen.

“Black and White” could be my middle name. I’d taken Joni Mitchell’s advice far too long, you know, the thing about both sides now. Yet these two sides are notoriously ready with the word “but” as a response to someone’s feelings, defensiveness, opinions. I can’t claim that this song specifically turned me around; it did contribute to my “and” approach to conflict and building mysteries. Ideas are not restricted by two perspectives, and there is room for many more.

“Angel” can be about distraction, which can be a beneficial way to get through a trauma. It has for me on numerous occasions. Can anyone say Planet of the Apes Marathon? She needs “. . . some distraction, oh, beautiful release, memories seep from my veins” and she wishes to be “empty and weightless” then “maybe I’ll find some peace tonight.” Secretly we all crave distraction, some with more access than others. But, true angels don’t flitter in the clouds and wear wings; they sacrifice, they put others first, they say please and thank you. Angels still exist, though their numbers are dwindling as we appear to be too distracted by technology.

“Witness” is a passionate expression of Sarah’s views on the state of humanity:


Will we burn in heaven

Like we do down here

Will the change come while we’re waiting

Everyone is waiting


This one didn’t do much to cheer me up.

“Do What You Have to Do” hits home with this particular lyric:


And I have the sense to recognize that

I don’t know how to let you go

Every moment marked with apparitions of your soul


Let. You. Go.

Possible: Yes, it can be done. Therapy. Time. Other drastic measures I would never condone. Lobotomy. Distractions . . . daily.

Impossible: No, it can’t be done. The Limbic System in our brains (memory). Our amygdala (lizard or reptilian brain, which is highly emotional, i.e. fight or flight). Songs that you associate with the other person and you ain’t throwing away the CD! Everyone we encounter inhabits our lives for a reason, forming Carole King’s tapestry, no matter whether you want the threads or not.

“Adia” is about best friends unable to resolve their differences. I found it refreshing as very few popular charting songs are about friendships. As for many of us, we wonder how we come to be born into the families we have. Lives are inherently bound to be screwed up, because that’s what happens when humans interact. But Sarah reminds us that things start off pretty cool:


If you’d only let yourself believe that we are born innocent . . . It’s easy, we all falter . . . but does it matter?


 “Sweet Surrender” has Sarah commenting that “you strip away the ugliness that surrounds me.” I miss this aspect most when you have formed a special bond together. You bring your best self. You face your shit. Is this like letting go? But, how could it be “sweet?” I hear the voice of a therapist from long ago.

“I Love You.” Damn original title, Sarah. A plaintive ode to love. I would have placed this track lower in the batting order.

“Building a Mystery” tapped into the vampire and zombie culture building up at the time. (By now, I thought we’d be done with those walking dead. Apparently, we are entertained by the undead living it up. Yet, what of Buffy? Sarah’s songs appear on the show’s soundtrack. Make up your mind, people!) On my first listen, I remember hearing a cool woman singing the “F” word. I mean, on the opening track? and selling millions of records? Lilith was an empire, kicking ass; female performers were showing they could whip any Grunge dudes. The actual mystery Sarah McLachlan was building was no surprise to me: It is a world propagated with “beautiful fucked-up men.”

I’m one of them.


Let me surround you

My sea to your shore

Let me be the calm you seek


I wake up some mornings and wonder how my life would have turned out had my father lived to be an old man. Would his presence, modeling love with my mother all those years, prodded me to marry, have a family, and dump the pie-in-the-sky music dream? Would his passion for space and engineering fueled a similar ardor in me, one that would have allowed me to pursue his field with its stability and notoriety, or something else without dealing with coke heads and egomaniacal label heads?

I have absolutely no memories of Henry. Not the sound of his voice. The way he walked into a room. How he roughhoused with my older brother. The texture of his briefcase. What he liked to eat. If he ever fed me. The kisses he planted on my mother’s cheek. The equations he worked on in his notebooks. In plastic storage containers, only stories, photographs, ephemera, and various personal items are what remain.

I believe my father I never knew would be proud of his youngest son he barely knew.

He’s always there—just below the surface.


Gavin Lakin is a writer of literary fiction and creative non-fiction, most prominently in the areas of historical fiction, YA, pop culture, music, and the mercurial 1970s. His writings, musings and hazy remembrances are featured on his blog spot In the capacity of contributing writer, his works have been published and featured at / Memoir Mixtapes Vol. I & II,, Beautiful Losers Magazine, and—a site dedicated to archiving the Baby Boom generation. Gavin has authored a series of YA novels and is seeking acquisition and representation. Gavin is affiliated with the Historical Novel Society (HNS), the American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI),, and with a songwriting background he is a twenty-five-year published member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). Gavin originated, designed and currently manages his online collectibles business Late Blue Highway with a tagline “We make it our business to remember.” A native Californian, Gavin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area without a dog, which makes him somewhat of an anomaly.


Beautiful Losers Magazine

November 29, 2017


By Gavin Lakin

The Internet is the most important single development in the history of human communication since the invention of call waiting.
-Dave Barry

A rotary phone call dialed late in the evening, a handwritten note left on the nightstand, a tear-stained letter sent via U.S. Mail, a face-to-face conversation where, sadly, it all slipped away in the dark corner of a café; today, now considered quaint and rarely the norm, these tributaries to the river’s rocky end of relationships demanded of all of us a certain amount of humility, respect, thoughtfulness, and risk. We knew the decision would be emotionally wrenching, yet we “faced” it head on.

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.
-Charles Dickens

Thumbs twitching wildly over a touchscreen device, the chill of a one-sentence email, a posted announcement on social media for thousands to see, a seven-hundred-dollar mobile phone that never calls a soul, nor is it answered by its owner—now considered the way we “easily” access one another at all times. Why then over the course of an average week do we spend literally hours actually tracking down the remnants of time to actually have an actual conversation with an individual?

Why? Because having a conversation is time-consuming.

Never used to be. In fact, we craved it.

Eloquence is a painting of the thoughts.
-Blaise Pascal

Several years ago, I was in my garage. Gathered over many years, in less-than sturdy moving boxes, I still possessed thousands of handwritten letters from friends, family, and girlfriends. Additionally, there were the professional letters including the relatively sincere, typewritten reject letters for job positions and other memorabilia in all shapes and sizes. That summer I tackled this daunting chore like an NFL lineman, first, by decade I fiercely organizing these treasures. Once that was accomplished, I chose which to keep and which to discard. In shiny black four-ring binders, I inserted every possible letter into top-loading plastic protectors front and back – some as many as fifteen pages long – thus creating archives of my life. Categories included “Family,” “Friends,” “Girlfriends,” “Letters from Camp,” “Professional & Career,” “Best Friend,” and “Education.” (The last collection included hundreds of irreplaceable drawings, writings, art projects, report cards, diplomas, and other remnants of my life as a student initially and lovingly preserved by my mother, then for posterity, by me.) It should be noted that on many occasions I have mentioned this chronicle of my life to others; I tend to sense they think I’ve gone mad.

Communication Breakdown – it was punchy and direct, with a real attitude that was different to other bands going around.
-Jimmy Page

Why would anyone bother to collect and store one’s life in an analog format while being inundated by the wooing and wowing of our culture of blur and immediacy? Snapchat or InstagramFacebook albums? A digital collection in “the cloud?” A 4 x 6 color photograph with a glossy finish? Aw, isn’t that nice. (But, Grandma, where would I put it?) A letter scribed to someone in their life on paper in ink? (Please tell me the point of waiting three days to receive it when I can shoot an email?) Answering the phone when I can tap decline? (I’ll text them later.)

From The New York Times:
In a new book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, the social psychologist Adam Alter warns that many of us—youngsters, teenagers, adults—are addicted to modern digital products. Not figuratively, but literally addicted.

Alter (on addiction): “Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many ‘likes’ our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.”
Raise your hand if this is not you.

Alter (on tech gurus and Silicon Valley): “I find it interesting that the late Steve Jobs said in a 2010 interview that he forbade his children to engage with tech. In fact, there are a surprising number of Silicon Valley titans who refuse to let their kids near certain devices. There’s a private school in the Bay Area and it doesn’t allow any tech — no iPhones or iPads. The really interesting thing about this school is that 75 percent of the parents are tech executives.” How many of you play World of Warcraft on your iPad ten hours a day?

Alter (on the tech industry’s strategy): “. . . game producers will often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It works.”

By now I’m imagining you thinking No, that won’t happen to me.

Alter (on solutions): “In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.”

Dream on, Adam.

Though in various genres of literature we read about dystopian societies, whether America or some unnamed setting, themes tend to be along the lines of Whoops, we let AI go too far! However, that future is not only now, it is moving so exponentially fast, we find ourselves mesmerized by the notion of allowing us the myth of more free time to be creative. That was the thinking behind the advancement of so many technologies. FREE TIME?! Please, if you know where it is, let me know. Meanwhile, we spend hours upon hours on treacherous learning curves, deciphering code, installing updates, or upgrading to some device that will be obsolete in six months.

Don’t blink . . . you’re already a dinosaur.

My most terrifying read of late was Jeffrey Deaver’s The Steel Kiss. You want your Tesla or Google driverless cars? Go right ahead. You want all the high-tech doo-dads in your brand-new Lexus? Be my guest. You want voice interface so you can talk to people on the phone when you should be concentrating on the horrible uninsured driver swerving in front of you? Take your chances. You want your car taken over by hackers and driven off a bridge? Read the recent novel, The Circle by Dave Eggers. Have you even considered your so-called smart refrigerator may allow thieves to monitor you when you are home and when the house is empty? The webcam on your laptop? Go ahead, spend three-thousand dollars for those fancy doors and temperature displays. Are you going to put your entire trust in human beings and their algorithms?

Yep. We are that gullible.

You can cite The China Syndrome (1979) as one of many films that portended the eventuality of a nuclear plant meltdown not only due to human error, but by being dependent on supposed redundant systems that would prevent any such catastrophe. However, it is one of the most underrated films ever, War Games (1983)that flirts with the “thrill” of AI and how its use will aid the military in mitigating any likelihood of thermonuclear war.

“How about a nice game of chess?”

In the world of music, The Beatles split is well-documented. When Paul officially filed for dissolution of the partnership in December of 1970, all four band mates had for the most part already checked out and had solo LPs released. At least there was a contract amidst the rancor. If there were mobile phones, would Paul have texted John: “And in the end?”

The late 20th century had just enough communication abilities to allow superstar-ness and communality to happen. It was a musical renaissance that rivals the visual one that happened in the 1400s.
-Daryl Hall

During the 1970s there were many communication breakdowns among band mates, in many cases robbing fans of many more hits, concerts, and memories. With so many talented artists working together in the studio, on the road, on stage and everywhere in between it’s easy to see how strong ties could become frayed—in many cases coming completely undone.

David Gates, Jimmy Griffin, Robb Royer and (later) Mike Botts formed Bread in Los Angeles. Certainly, much of their creativity came from the excellent interplay between Gates’ awesome vocals and songwriting and Griffin’s pitch-perfect guitar work. The undercurrent, however, was that their label Elektra consistently chose Gates’ songs for A-side singles. In fact, none of the Griffin/Royer songwriting collaborations charted. This friction inevitably led to rising tensions, then a relatively early split in 1973, after several chart toppers and Top 10 hits.

Today, perhaps Griffin could have followed Gates on Facebook and trolled him with unflattering insider stories.

Bread briefly reunited at Elektra’s request in 1977 for their hit “Lost without Your Love” but soon frictions resurfaced. After a long time apart, they reunited one final time in 1996 for their 25th Anniversary Tour.

Originally formed in 1967, Fleetwood Mac was a successful British blues rock band way before the arrival of Californians Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, New Year’s Eve 1974. Still, they only had one single ever to chart (“Oh Well Pt. 1” 1970). Like most Californians, this dynamic duo with his cool ‘fro and her leather and lace came with hit songs and drama-a-plenty. With all the romantic intrigues, the gossip, the betrayals, and other contentious friction there were also ten straight Top 20 hits, with “Dreams” being the band’s first #1 in 1977. And though there were many shifts of personnel prior to 1975 (most notably Peter Green and Bob Welch), Fleetwood Mac lost most of its charting power once Buckingham formally left the band in 1987 (after an alleged altercation with Nicks). It took then-President-elect Bill Clinton to get this most successful line-up to reunite again briefly in 1993, with “Don’t Stop” becoming Clinton’s campaign song. Mac’s in-fighting is legendary, yet, it was the old-fashioned variety: actual escalated anger and rage in the form of “here I am” communication.

Now, try to imagine Stevie Nicks instant-messaging with John McVie about how Lindsey was being a pain in the ***.

Also, well-documented is The Eagles’ split, as well as their many line-up changes. The irony is that their final LP before breaking up was The Long Run (1979) which was noteworthy for taking, well, a long time to be made!

“Kinda bent but we ain’t breakin’ in the long run.”

Uh, yea, you did break.

It’s quite impressive that Glenn Frey (RIP) and Don Henley—so talented and perfectionists to the core—were able to work nearly ten years together. In many ways, the Henley/Frey songwriting team paralleled Lennon/McCartney. With talent and egos so outrageous and volatile, how could they possibly survive?

If he could have, what if before the title track “Hotel California” (1976) was recorded, Don Henley emailed Don Felder (whose maid in L.A. had to locate the work tape with the song’s intro guitar work) and had written:

“Man, why didn’t you write out the licks? We’re wasting precious time here. This is the last resort!”

Email, instant messaging, and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.
-Marilyn vos Savant

Genesis was Peter Gabriel’s band from the day it was established in 1967. All of us know how incredibly talented Peter is, but other than (#62 peak) “Your Own Special Way” in 1977, the band did not chart well until their 1978 release . . . And Then There Were Three. Peter had left and Phil Collins took over the lead vocal duties fronting guitarist Mike Rutherford and keyboardist Tony Banks. There was much friction between the band prior to Gabriel’s departure, mostly between Gabriel and Banks. To everyone’s credit tours were finished and commitments upheld until the official split. At the heart of this, the prog-rockers were well-known for collaborating on all songs, with all of the built-in issues that go with that. Some might argue that one songwriter, or at least a twosome helps to mitigate a potential powder keg of raw emotion.

Hey, Peter and Tony, what if you just un-friend one another?

I spent a lot of years on the road, and what happens is you find out who your real friends are and you find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie in communication. I’ve had the same friends for 20 years now and I can count them on one hand.
-Sarah McLachlan

This person has 1.5K followers. The next, 300K likes. A YouTube channel’s video goes viral and gets 5,000,000 hits. Justin Bieber becomes an internet sensation. An entire generation has been lured by the catnip of cat videos. Apple fans line up at stores early the night before in order to be one of the first to purchase the newest “next big thing.” Like Star Trek The Next Generation, instead of calling out “Computer,” in millions of homes, we hear the command: “Alexa!” Throughout any given day, while driving I dodge pedestrians staring down at their phones, or, most terrifying of all, I notice drivers of all ages, staring down at their phones and texting while driving through dangerous traffic at high speeds. And don’t get me started about those with tiny babies in their Titanic strollers yapping on their phones as they cross dangerous intersections.

Saddest of all? Taking one’s dog on a walk and texting the entire time.

My kingdom for the dog that excretes all over his owner’s shoes while his master is sharing photos of a naked female classmate.

What are the ramifications for society and the world at large? Not being a geopolitical expert, I would not presume to predict. Perhaps, in the end, technology saves us from ourselves. One outcome is that we become telepathic and communicate at the highest level our species can attain, like those creepy bald-headed aliens on the original Star Trek series. One chip in the brain and who knows? A global worldwide consciousness and understanding.

Don’t bet the farm.

People in this world of superficial communication find themselves isolated and lonely and have difficult in talking about personal things that really matter to them.”
-Theodore Zeldin

Or like lemmings—at least according to rural myth—we eventually dive headlong into the turbulent waters of our own making.

Next time you are at a restaurant, take a tally of the number of times the majority of the party is on a device. Observe the duration. How often does the entire party have a gadget in their hands? Does one of the group have nothing at all and appear out-of-place?

Then, have another circular glance at the patrons. Find a table with people completely conversing. Notice what you notice. No judgment. Compare away. Ask yourself: Does any of it really matter? To those who have grown up with this technology, does a tabletop littered with iPhones and Androids connect them in much the same way I had unparalleled music, a deep ecological connection with the land, and even Pong?

What gives me the right to make a case against inertia that cannot be obviated?

One word: Addiction.

I challenge any and all: Select one day a week for twenty-four hours of no screen time. Some of you reading this may already do it.

Currently, there is a television advertisement with a young man and woman texting one another with a colorful digital pen tool drawing and using hearts. As it concludes, they both agree that I think I love you. Think about that: Are we really poised to express our most intimate, cherished feelings with someone by way of gadgetry?

My stomach turns at the thought.


“Ether” we restore its true nature . . . or it’s off to the ether.

Gavin Lakin is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction, most prominently in the areas of historical fiction, pop culture, music, and the mercurial 1970s. His writings, musings and hazy remembrances are featured on his blog spot In the capacity of contributing writer, his works have been published and featured at and, a site dedicated to archiving the Baby Boom generation. Gavin has authored a series of novels and is seeking acquisition and representation. With a songwriting background, Gavin is a twenty-five-year published member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the Historical Novel Society (HNS), and the American Writers & Artists, Inc. (AWAI). Gavin originated, designed and manages his online collectibles business Late Blue Highway, with a tagline “We make it our business to remember.” A native Californian, Gavin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area without a dog, which makes him somewhat of an anomaly.




Supertaster by Kelly Grieve [Catechize #3]September 21, 2017In “Catechize”

Melancholy, by Maddy Hoffman October 19, 2017In “Fiction”

Valley of Darkness, by Matt Nagin October 27, 2017In “Fiction”

Posted in Freshly pressedNonfiction



Memoir Mixtapes Vol. 1 

November 22, 2017


By Gavin Lakin

Head to the website to read Memoir Mixtapes Vol.1!

For best results, listen to the accompanying playlist while you read!


Letters from the Editors:

To our beloved readers, listeners, and contributors,

Not to be incredibly dramatic, but Memoir Mixtapes saved my life.

Well, maybe it’s more accurate (and less histrionic) to say that Memoir Mixtapes gives me life.

Since the idea came to me on one fateful commute from Santa Monica to Koreatown, this project has brought a new sense of purpose and passion to my daily existence.

The response we’ve had for this first volume is above and beyond what I imagined it would be, and I’m so grateful to every single person who has been a part of it, and that most certainly includes you if you are reading this letter.

Hall and Oates, as always, said it best: “You make my dreams come true.”

I want to give an extra special thanks to my husband, Andy, for helping me get the website off the ground (and keeping it online), and to Kevin, my co-curator/co-editor, who has been down for MM from the jump.

I hope you enjoy Memoir Mixtapes Vol.1: Origin Stories. I certainly enjoyed every single moment I spent reading these brilliant pieces, listening to the songs that inspired them, and co-arranging them here for the rest of the world to experience.

Stay tuned, and don’t stop the music; we’ve only just begun.


Samantha Lamph/Len, Creator & Co-Curator


Hi there.

I’m glad you could join us for the inaugural Volume of Memoir Mixtapes. I think, by the time you’ve read through all the wonderful and fantastic writing we’ve been privileged to put forth here, that you’ll feel as good about this Volume as I do.

Memoir Mixtapes is very special to me. Music and writing have both always been important in my life, but I hadn’t written anything of worth in years. Getting involved with MM helped me reconnect to a part of myself that I had genuinely thought was lost years and years ago; it gave me just the kick in the ass I needed to get writing again.

That’s why I feel that this is a special endeavor; it gives me, and our contributors, the chance to reconnect to themselves. Whether that’s getting back in touch with who you are, revisiting long-lost memories, or simply letting your voice sing out, you can with us.

I’d like to thank and bestow praise upon Sam, Memoir Mixtapes’ glorious creator, for not only coming up with this great idea in the first place, but allowing me to play a role in bringing it to fruition.

I’d also like to thank my wife Elise, who not only encouraged me to get writing for the first time in years, but continued to support me as my involvement with Memoir Mixtapes dramatically expanded.

But most of all, thank you, dear readers, for having faith in our little project. I hope you enjoy Memoir Mixtapes Vol.1: Origin Stories, and I hope even more that you stick around. We don’t plan to quit anytime soon.

Kevin D. Woodall, Co-Curator/Editor


Track // Artist // Author // Page

Introduction // Ann Kestner

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” // Bobby McFerrin // William Stephen Davis // 1

“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” // Whitney Houston // William Stephen Davis // 1

“Heart of Glass” // Blondie // Cate Meighan // 5 “Superthug” // N.O.R.E. // Janice Lobo Sapigao // 8 “Ironic” // Alanis Morissette // Eric Wallgren // 9 “American Pie” // Don McClean // Drew T. Coble //11

“Walking on the Moon” // The Police // Ben Jatos // 12

“We Built This City” // Starship //C.C. Russell // 14

“Killing Me Softly with His Song” // Fugees // Jennifer McIntyre // 16

“Breakaway” // Kelly Clarkson // Sarah Little // 18

“Try a Little Tenderness” // Otis Redding // Ryane Nicole Granados // 21

“I’m Kissing You” // Des’Ree // Emili Lamph // 23

“You Oughta Know” // Alanis Morissette // Leah Baker // 25 “Slow Motion” // Third Eye Blind // Gabrielle Gilbert // 27 “Silver Springs” // Fleetwood Mac // Samantha Lamph/Len // 28 “Pictures of You” // The Cure // Abigail Lalonde // 32

“Daniel” // Elton John // Ann Kestner // 33

“Where the Streets Have No Name” // U2 // Nina Sudhakar // 34

“Tinfoil” // Rainer Maria // Ann Petroliunas // 36

“Disarm” // The Smashing Pumpkins // Kevin D. Woodall // 37 “Careless Whisper” // Wham! // Ingrid Calderon // 43 “Coldest Winter” // Kanye West // Naomi Loud // 46 “Windfall” // Son Volt // Nick Hartman // 49

“Dreamer” // Tiny Vipers // Jon Johnson // 52 “Breakout” // Swing Out Sister // Alexis-Rueal // 54 “Grounded” // Pavement // Joseph S. Pete // 55

“The Waiting” // Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers // Ryan Peckinpaugh // 57

“Drive-In Saturday” // David Bowie // Lisa Matthews // 62 “O Superman” // Laurie Anderson // Marcus Civin // 63 “Black Hole Sun” // Soundgarden // Justin Karcher // 66

“American Pie” (Reprise) // Don McLean // Gavin Lakin // 67 “Cannonball” // The Breeders // Joyanna M. // 73 “Cuyahoga” // R.E.M. // Rory Porter // 74

“Try a Little Tenderness” (Reprise)// Otis Redding // Leesa Cross-Smith // 75 “World Spins Madly On” // The Weepies // Brianna Rae Olsen // 77 Contributors // 78


The man there said the music wouldn’t play.

Eleven years old, in the sweat and smog of the San Fernando Valley, I learned about the day the music died. Actually, it was my understanding from listening to 93 KHJ that rock music was alive and well. James Taylor was singing “You’ve Got a Friend.” Tapestry, Carole King’s living room album brilliantly produced by Lou Adler was changing the world. With cinnamon bun sugar sticking to our acne-filled faces, as we played triangle-shaped paper football at the lunch tables, Don McLean’s epic lyrical tale resounded over the school’s speakers. Meaning flew over my head like the daily seagulls that swarmed in for scraps. Understanding its many verses wasn’t necessarily the point (or even possible); “American Pie” captured something about my country, about being human, about innocence lost. I may have been a kid, but I was able to innately feel he was speaking for us all.

They took the last train to the coast had a finality to it. My life was ahead of me. This juxtaposition of a much more tranquil and civil American society with an emerging transition toward random violence, abuse and addiction, self-help, and an unwinnable war set the rather shaky foundation upon which I would stand and journey on toward what awaited me. I hoped Satan, jesters and holy ghosts would step aside.

Flash forward to 2015, when James Morgan, BBC correspondent wrote on the topic of the lyrics of Don McLean’s 1971 song, his best-known work that was named Song of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America in 2001. Citing Jim Fann, author of Understanding American Pie, the line “The man there said the music wouldn’t play” speaks directly to the ’cynicism of this generation had annihilated the innocent world the narrator had grown up in.’ That kind of music simply wouldn’t play anymore.”

For nearly fifty years since Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died tragically on that chilly February night in an Iowa cornfield, until the original handwritten lyrics were auctioned in New York, McLean kept the song’s meaning close to his vest: “I wanted to capture, probably before it was ever formulated, a rock and roll American dream.” However, he gave us all some answers after its sale: “Basically in ’American Pie’ things are heading in the wrong direction . . . It [life] is becoming less idyllic. I don’t know whether you consider that wrong or right but it is a morality song in a sense.” Historians would likely concur.

Our sparkling democracy; the beacon for the world, right? Well, let’s have a look. Civil War? Indian Wars? Ft. Laramie Treaty (Government promises to Native Americans completely disregarded)? Chinese Exclusion Act? Executive Order 9066 (Japanese-American Internment during WWII)? Initiating the Atomic Age? Jim Crow? HUAC? Vietnam War? Watergate? Please, tell me when to stop. Egregiously poor decisions and misguided leadership, with puppeteers pulling the strings all in the Herculean effort that the rich remain rich through monopolies. And the rest of us? Not their problem. Keep the disenfranchised down where they belong. In fact, while captains of industry are at it, go ahead and create more divisiveness through manipulating the economy, employment, technology and obliterating the pride once omnipresent on products marked Made in USA.

2017 has been the most vitriolic, violent, persistently disturbing and fear-inducing human fault line on record during the modern era. The fissures, cracks, rifts, the palpable divisiveness amongst our fellow countrymen and women exceeds—in cruelty and impulsive action—anything America has ever experienced. Including the above  atrocities.

 Perhaps Americans have lost what being exceptional means. Or conversely and quite the intriguing point, as Salmon Rushdie commented on Bill Maher’s program a few weeks back, when was America ever great? And how do we define great? For it will not be government or leaders that will save us, or technology gurus and demigods, or even futurists with visionary acumen; it will be the impact of the arts across the genres. Music, with its universal language. Film, where two hours can unite us. When we aren’t binge watching, television can be an event that grasps the nation’s attention. Visual arts such as photography, art, performance art, even flash mobs, if even more a few moments of one’s day, derailing us from our inner white noise. Theatre, with its “in the moment” realism, constantly expressing the human condition.

Dance, its own communication that reaches deep into the soul. Sharing with others in your book group your takeaways from a novel, accessing our emotion in a way that only the written word can.

Kindness is endemic. With a nudge, it can become the most necessary pandemic this planet has needed. It isn’t about “random acts.” That’s a catchphrase. It’s about a cultural commitment. I am not claiming to have the answers. There are literally hundreds of books, articles, research in journals all identifying this downturn of society and approaches to recapture it—only this time, we must embed it into our very sociological foundation.

Dacher Keltner, from his book Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, has plenty to say on the subject:

“This kind of science gives me many hopes for the future. At the broadest level, I hope that our culture shifts from a consumption-based, materialist culture to one that privileges the social joys (play, caring, touch, mirth) that are our older (in the evolutionary sense) sources of the good life. In more specific terms, I see this new science informing practices in almost every realm of life. Here again are some well-founded examples.

 “Medical doctors are now receiving training in the tools of compassion—empathetic listening, warm touch—that almost certainly improve basic health outcomes. Teachers now regularly teach the tools of empathy and respect. Executives are learning the wisdom around the country of emotional intelligence—respect, building trust—that there is more to a company’s thriving than profit or the bottom line. In prisons and juvenile detention centers, meditation is being taught.”

In that spirit, if I could write to Don McLean, the nerdy eleven-year-old in me would offer up a science lesson:

Dear Don McLean,

Let me inform you about the vagus nerve. When active, located at the top of the spinal cord, it is likely to produce a feeling of warm expansion in the chest, as when we are moved by someone’s goodness or when we appreciate a beautiful piece of music. Though I have humbly rewritten your iconic song lyric, with its implied tone of “loss” and “death” so to speak, I am eternally optimistic that our scientific nature is very much alive and won’t be seeing “Satan laughing with delight” but, in the end, our better selves “will catch the last train to the coast.”


Gavin Lakin


The Way that Kindness Died

Not so many years ago

I wasn’t much more than a child

I said “please” at every chance

“Thank you” in each circumstance

This was just the fashion, just the style


But then there came the red lights flashing

Answering machines amassing

Six rings and you’d listen

I noticed something missing


I felt a rift was growing wide

Just the slightest shift inside

It felt as if a best friend lied

The way that kindness died


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky


Did you look out for #1?

And did you scream when all was done

Did the movement make you grow?

Can you believe LPs were tossed?

Replaced by tape and tangled gloss?

And not long after came the video


Well, I know the puppets loved the din

As the disco balls would spin

The twenty rolls and booze

Man, it was hard to refuse


I was a friendly teenage naïve pup

People, I would lift ’em up

But I could sense the turning tide

The way that kindness died


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky


Then some eight years trickled down

An actor wore his Bonzo crown

And we were rapt by MTV

I felt it start to slip away

True enough, Spandau Ballet

And big hair, shoulder pads and the CD


Meanwhile out in Northern Cal

A microscopic chip, not HAL

All inertia turned

The algorithm learned


And while we went about our days

These Einstein’s and Da Vinci’s played

And demarcated all the ways

The ways that kindness died


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky


Shock and awe and oil-melter

One thousand points of light they dealt her

Surgical strategic blasts

Landing in the sand

Pawns racing through the land

The puppets watch from their ivory masts


Now the end game was a boom

With all of us, the lemmings’ doom

We bought every floppy

And made another copy


Few could see the trap concealed

The rest of us were wheeled-and-dealed

Do you recall how fate was sealed?

The way that kindness died


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky


Oh, we clamored Y2K

A thousand years of hell to pay

Not even silicon could save us then

So, come on, Tech be fly, be sick

Rescued us from the tick, tick, tick

’Cause the puppeteers would never bend


The narrative turned back a page

I felt a generation age

No letters in the mail

And caller ID failed


And road rage by the traffic light

Kids gunned down at school in fright

“Have a nice day,” a flat soundbite

The way that kindness died


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky


I met a girl who shared her views

Loudly, in the Starbucks queues

On her mobile phone she had her say

Soon the newest slimy trail

Was “Hey, I’ll shoot you an email”

A cup of coffee face-to-face had gone astray


And when the planes flew through the glass

In that moment normal passed

Where all the rules had changed

America’s twilight rearranged


And my trio of admiration

Presence, Care, and Consideration

They caught the last boat to Libation

The way that kindness died


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

Thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky

This would be their day in the sky


So why, why did America buy

Dreamy twilight, iron pyrite when the pyrite was dry?

And the good ole folks turned the latchkey and why?

And thinkin’ this would be their day in the sky.


Entropy Magazine

September 13, 2017


Written by Gavin Lakin


There is no place in popular music for commentary, politics, and opinions—essentially sounding “preachy”. Hey, come on now, really? We’ve all been there in our own lives, when someone may be speaking to you directly or to a larger group about some idea or product, and you can feel that oily, snaky and unwelcome intrusion insidiously attempting to seep into and under your skin. Hackles raise.

Art is a subjective and all about perspective. How we interpret music is extremely personal—even proprietary. Don’t be messing with it. Our lives are soundtracks where we can pinpoint moments that songs entered our lives for emotional support or the backdrop for a significant decision. For that first kiss. Or, an association with the loss of a loved one. Songs entertain us—a diversion that carries us away from life’s infernal background noise. Some of us zero in on the music, while for others, it’s the lyric. We crave songs to speak to us in some way without telling us how to feel. If they dare cross that definitive line, we sense it and we tune out.

In the 1970s, effecting change was synonymous with a large proportion of the music I listened to. Typically, it was the lyric combined with a plaintiff rendering that spoke to me in earnest. (Like Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Jackson Browne.) For others, lyrics saturated into the rhythm and groove superseded this (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, War). Not unlike millions of others influences by music, over the years, I wrote letters to public officials, dug postholes to build fences at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant (stood side by side with Jackson Browne as we stuffed envelopes with flyers), ran in distance races to raise funding and awareness for issues pertaining to marine life and putting an end to clear-cutting deforestation, and protested at the nuclear submarine station at Bangor, Washington as the morning shift workers walked by us yelling slurs too odious to repeat here.

Recording artists always had something to say about society (yes, even ABBA and The Bee Gees); it’s that they were strategic about when and how they did it. Rarely did they blast onto the charts with a song, say like, “Anarchy in the U.K.” Marvin Gaye was performing the Motown catalog for over a decade before he asked that momentous and timely question. Janis Ian shopped her best-selling song for several years before a television performance drew the attention and critical acclaim it deserved. Out of New York, Sylvia Robinson (“Pillow Talk” 1973) was the catalyst behind early Rap and Hip-Hop, where The Sugarhill Gang (named for Harlem’s Sugar Hill, home to early-mid 1900s affluent African-American music culture) were developing their funky new sound. To underscore the point, in the prior decade, The Beatles didn’t explode onto the scene with “Taxman” or “Revolution.” They just wanted to hold someone’s hand.

Much of what happened from “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” to “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” —the first and last #1 singles of the 1970s—was literally off the charts. The decade was laden with source material for every possible joint getting out of whack. For example, in 1972, Helen Reddy roared. Apparently, Paul Anka missed that memo. Research what happened when he released “(You’re) Having My Baby” (1974). Women’s groups railed out against it as seriously sexist. (In 2006, a CNN poll named it as #1 Worst Song of all Time). In vain, Mr. Anka tried to clarify that the word “my” just “sounded better than “our”.

On that note, there is no doubt there are omissions from my list—Reddy’s song included—not from disrespect, but from the knowledge that the decade provided a wealth of evocative material (in this case, regarding women’s issues I chose Janis Ian and Carole King as more to the point—with less screaming). I submit an array of topics, poetic approaches, music genres—many were subtle and earnest, or they made you want to boogie, while others rattled the eardrums and shook the walls. In the end, no matter the sonic and handwritten approach, is that not what the decade demanded? —to stir things up and move our species to a higher ground?

Here then is my compilation of the Top Twenty—okay, twenty-one—1970s social commentary songs, forever and for all time:

Number 20: “Redman” (Rare Bird, 1974)

There are many songs about indigenous people and their unjust, and in most cases, devastating plight. Our country’s history is filled with inexcusable injustices and broken treaties from Florida to Ft. Laramie. Though other recording artists have taken on this issue (Elton John’s “Indian Sunset,” sorry, not Cher’s “Half Breed”), this short-lived but talented English band eloquently captured the sorrow without a hint of pretension or Hey you, feel guilty about what you did to Native Americans! Lyrically, “the end of the race for the Redman” is a clever and moving double entendre.

Number 19: “Big Yellow Taxi” (Joni Mitchell, 1970)

This uplifting storytelling laced with Ms. Mitchell’s signature irony is certainly about romantic disappointment through the lens of social commentary. Youth shines through as this bubbly romp through DDT and tree museums may lack a certain serious quality to the melody and tempo, but, hey, who cares? When you pave paradise with a parking lot, then giggle about it, you automatically make this list.

Number 18: “Anarchy in the U.K.” (The Sex Pistols, 1976)

Simply put, The Sex Pistols were fed up with mainstream, boring music—whether in England or across the pond. They answered back with this bust-out smash. It spoke directly to the youth, many of whom related to the rising economic disparity, sung, I mean, yelled in most of the Pistols’ tunes. The frenetic energy alone would make any human spring like pogo sticks or dive into mosh pits. We all know the story of Punk’s role in music history: it opened a Pandora’s box of fighting the machine that lasted for—depending how you define it—far into the eighties. Many would argue the scene lives on and never left. Sure, “it” won’t ever die. However, MTV was more inclined toward Spandau Ballet and Flock of Seagulls than Johnny Rotten going off on the Queen of England. Sid Vicious would soon join in and it was open season on Her Majesty. God save the Queen/She ain’t no human being/There is no future/In England’s dreaming.” Art Rock settled in and became the soundtrack for the decade, and a whole lot of weddings (see “True”). So, yes, The Sex Pistols are remembered for their prominent role in defining a new music genre based on being pissed off; me, I’ll take opera.

Number 17: “Nature’s Way” (Spirit, 1971)

Here was Randy California’s poignant commentary, in effect indirectly letting “nature” be the song’s narrator. It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong / It’s nature’s way of telling you in a song was a simple truth, with gentle guitar beneath it like a forest floor, yet with a trance-like quality that stays with you forever. On Molokai in 1997, Randy drowned rescuing his son, Quinn, from the riptide, the paradox being this talented, heroic musician died at the hands of nature.

Number 16: “Rapper’s Delight” (The Sugarhill Gang, 1979)

Full disclosure: I am an ember-encased fossil from the Jurassic Era. Music is universal communication defined by humility and generosity of spirit. It can move you, make you move on the dance floor, get you to make a difference, sentimentally wreak havoc with your tear ducts, and it can hold your hand as you fall desperately in love. Without a doubt, songwriting is free expression. Try, I told myself. There are some melodies . . . somewhere! During the early 1980s, I spent a lot of time in Manhattan. Watched street performers with their boomboxes. Nothing like it. “Rapper’s Delight” is credited with being the first produced Hip-Hop song. It was a smash single. Followed by heavy hitters such as Grandmaster Flash, Rap and Hip-Hop captivated the nation’s youth (those who eschewed Punk). Time for the dinosaurs to push on.

Number 15: “To the Last Whale” (A: Critical Mass / B: Wind on the Water) (David Crosby/Graham Nash, 1975)

The organization, Greenpeace, was and continues to be a major player with protecting the environment and endangered species, including the controversial practice of whaling. To this day, some countries still butcher these magnificent, intelligent creatures. Crosby and Nash strike the right chord between a poetic homage and a call to action. Haunting, its opening a cappella “Critical Mass” is sheer music brilliance. As the song segues with Craig Doerge’s majestic piano motif, I am transported to the ocean where the actual singing takes place. Wind on the water, carry me home. They infused me with a desire to become a marine biologist.

Number 14: “A Junkie’s Lament” (James Taylor, 1976)

Originally, I had chosen Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done”.  Without question, both songs go to the heart of addiction. Neil was seriously affected by his Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten’s heroin overdose, as well as that of roadie and friend Bruce Berry’s. Choosing James Taylor’s song had everything to do with his own struggles with addiction throughout the decade, and entirely through his marriage with Carly Simon. If you listen to the song, you might find its somewhat cheerful and upbeat music disconcerting. Knowing James, this was a conscious choice. By the coda, where the half-time “la-la’s” take on an almost orchestral feel, I finally sense the heaviness and helplessness of being trapped within the alluring opiate. So many musicians lost their lives to an overdose or being in the wrong airplane. There are no explanations. Thankfully, James Taylor was not someone we lamented over.

Number 13: “Power” (MUSE/John Hall, 1979)

John Hall’s “Power” needs no introduction, or any other commentary from me; just complete admiration. Please take all of your atomic poison power away. There was one positive result of Three Mile Island’s near meltdown: this amazing song, the set of revolutionary concerts and the awesome musicians involved and its subsequent film (not to mention the film The China Syndrome). Whether you believe the cumulative impact of these well-organized events or not, no new nuclear power plants have built in this country after 1979. Talk about power.

Number 12: “Us and Them” (Pink Floyd, 1974)

In this set piece from the entire musical enigma known as Dark Side of the Moon, I gravitate (in my spacesuit) to this particular lyric: “And after all we’re only ordinary men.” Sexist, yes. Still, sifting through the sand hidden by the Moon’s shadow—at least that’s what it feels like—the song’s sultry saxophone and mesmerizing tempo suggest a tiny ray of optimistic light for the human race; even if “the old man died”.

Number 11: “Beautiful” (Carole King, 1971)

The first line alone is not a request, it’s a demand! “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart,” and later, “. . . you’re gonna find, yes you will, that you’re beautiful as you feel.” By the time Tapestry was released, Carole had written so many hits without ever proclaiming that she was an (inadvertent) symbol for the emerging women’s movement. From the same album, we can juxtapose “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” its lyric written by Gerry Goffin, her former husband. Hey, she’s curious if when she wakes up in the morning, will he still love me, or was I simply a “moment’s pleasure?” Conversely, “Beautiful” is asserting itself, as women were around the world, that beauty is on the inside. It wasn’t men per se who were the majority oppressing women, potentially it was also a woman’s insecurity. Why don’t we show all the love in our hearts? Every day? As one of Khaled Hosseini’s main themes in The Kite Runner (2003), with so many demons rattling around in our heads, it’s difficult to find perspective. Carole offered it and if Billboard’s charts are any indication, millions did.

Number 10: “Wake Up Everybody” (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, 1975)

Written by the masterful team of Whitehead and McFadden, Teddy Pendergrass sang this embattled plea for every day folks to rise from their apathetic slumber. After the general public came teachers, doctors and builders. Unfortunately, the fretting 1970s were riddled with racial bias, misappropriation of school funding, cities filing for bankruptcy, bussing, and inner-city schools as bastions of hopelessness. How much effect did songs like this have? Though it can’t be measured, its melody and lyric were accessible to the ear, especially the uplifting chorus. To this day, every time I listen to it, I want to change something.

Number 9: “For Everyman” (Jackson Browne, 1973)

Jackson Browne has made a career of commentary songs, though I’m sure he would not describe them as such. The title track—with its hook just another dreamer dreaming about everyman—brought optimism to a country reeling from the Flower Power 1960s far back in the rearview mirror, being on the losing end of the Vietnam War, Watergate and the mistrust of our government, and a country with rising unemployment and an unreached mountaintop of societal ills. His soothing voice and vision of better days may have been and continue to be anachronistic, or even folly; yet one wonders how many lives Jackson has incited toward action.

Number 8: “The World is a Ghetto” (War, 1972)

Once the band War broke away from Eric Burdon in 1971, they “exploded” on the charts with several hits including “All Day Music,” “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and later “The Cisco Kid” and “Low Rider.” But squeezed in between those, is their socially-conscious masterpiece. This was 1972: lush, mildly funky, with legato harmonies, and simple but introspective lyrics: “Wonder when I’ll find Paradise / Somewhere there’s a home / Sweet and nice / Wonder if I’ll find happiness / Better give it up now I guess.” Here was a definitively honest look at the inner city, holding it up ironically with a beautiful day at odds with the harsh economic realities.

Number 7: “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (Elton John, 1972)

Spanish Harlem. New York City. Bernie Taupin. According to Mr. Taupin, he was inspired to write this lyric (a 1972 version) as an homage to Ben E. King’s “Spanish Harlem”. However, the ultimate catalyst for completing it was hearing a gunshot outside the hotel. Add the fact that it was the first time he had stayed in The Big Apple. So that beautiful Spanish rose had grown some deadly thorns. Hand the imagery over to Sir Elton and you can feel the uncertainty and the narrator’s shift to a lonelier life via the verses’ staccato chord progressions and the chorus’s more legato feel. “While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, sons of bankers, sons of lawyers, turn around and say good morning to the night, for unless they see the sky, but they can’t and that is why, they know not if it’s dark outside or light”. Like so much of their work, this song can be interpreted in so many different ways. Subjectivity . . . art’s through line. For me, it’s about disillusionment, vacuous existence, and those who suffer through the cold city streets. Artists paint the picture; we have the pleasure of gazing further within the light and shadows.

Number 6: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Gil Scott-Heron, 1971)

With respect to Sylvia Robinson and Sugar Hill, Gil Scott-Heron, pride of Chicago, Illinois, is the founder of Rap and Hip-Hop. Period. One addendum: Research Gil’s discography. The majority of his work is about injustice not only in America but around the world. He described himself as a “bluesologist”. Fair enough. Tell that to the thousands of Rap and Hip-Hop artists who cite him as their singular inspiration. From his debut studio LP Pieces of a Man, this flute-infused, occasionally musically dissonant song’s conversational style delivers a range of caustic reference points like Bullwinkle, the nubs, giving your mouth sex appeal, a tiger in your tank, a giant in your toilet bowl, and the revolution will not go better with Coke. Meanwhile, Gil pelts the listener with serious social challenges including pictures of pigs shooting down brothers, black people looking for a brighter day, and its button ending, “the revolution will be live”. Gil was a master at choosing when to groove, when to be more balladic, and when to bash you on the head with something. I was fortunate to see him at The Roxy back in his heyday around the time of the release of 1980. Not only was the evening memorable for being a part of something that motivated me to take more action, Kareem Abdul Jabbar entered (late) and took in the show from a table nearby. I felt bad for the folks seated directly behind the Big Fella.

Number 5: “At Seventeen” (Janis Ian, 1975)

When Norah Jones arrived on the airwaves, I thought I was listening to Janis Ian. You may recall that Ms. Jones took home eight Grammys between her debut in 2003 and 2005. Yes, sorry, she came away with them. New Yorker, Ms. Ian, took her open wound homage to ugly duckling girls to #1 in 1975 where it won her a Grammy as well. Cheers to Helen Reddy as she gathered the forces and inspired millions when she released “I Am Woman” in 1972. However, Janis beat out Helen, Linda Ronstadt and Olivia Newton-John for her award. It took nearly eight years for the powers-(men)-that-be to recognize her talent. Other obstacles included at least one major record company not backing her because of her perceived sexuality preference. The individual involved eventually apologized. Since those earlier years, Ms. Ian has spent her later life creating positive energy, with a healthy following of fans, and thrives with her writing and acting. Hallelujah, life is no longer about beauty queens—a large part due to Janis.

Number 4: “Living for the City” (Stevie Wonder, 1973)

Stevie Wonder has many songs that would qualify for anyone’s list, but since I can only choose one, it must be the ultimate #1 R&B commentary hit on inner city life circa late 1973. By the time the LP Innervisions took the country by storm, Stevie was becoming less “Little Stevie” and more like the spokesman of his generation. This could have been only a three-minute song, but the permissive decade allowed artists to take artistic license. The song goes into what sounds like a fadeout (the single version edit was 3:41) with Stevie and the backing vocalists giving the hook all they could. But then we got the story of the young man arriving in NYC with its “skyscrapers and everything”. From bus to the drug deal to the courtroom to the prison cell. What we really got was a smack-in-your-face look at the daily injustices that were occurring set to a funky keyboard-driven boogie. Stevie, without question, sees just fine.

Number 3: “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (The Who, 1971)

Chalk one up for a title that misleads, yet still applies to the list. Pete Townshend originally wrote it for his musical, Lifehouse. Instead, it became the closing track on the unparalleled record Who’s Next. The song is a staple at performances, usually the closing number. Sadly, it was the last tune played live by drummer extraordinaire, Keith Moon. When the Lifehouse project was abandoned, Townshend was in a phase of his life not uncommon for rockers who’d followed George Harrison: spirituality. “Fooled” is less about getting the wool pulled over by The Man, about being angry, and more about a diffidence toward revolution and power. Additionally, the actual synthesizer work involved human speech tones. Like Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” the new technologies invited the abstract mind to let her rip. Eventually, Townshend, with help from several engineers and producers got the sound right. However, there was a catch: Moon and bassist John Entwistle no longer had a click to play to—they had to play to a slowed-down version in real time! One author, Dave Marsh, wrote that Daltrey’s scream near the song’s conclusion as “the greatest scream of a career filled with screams”.

Number 2: “Ohio” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, 1974, originally written 1970)

Neil Young wrote it in the time it has taken you to read this . . . really. His outrage, along with the nation’s, dictated an immediate response to what he and his bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash assumed was the work of President Nixon. The vehement rocker was recorded live at L.A.’s Record Plant in only a few takes. Kent State University. Four dead. How many more? Yes, David Crosby really was crying at the song’s fadeout. And so were millions of us. The mobilization of the National Guard had actually been ordered by Governor Jim Rhodes, not the president. Weren’t National Guardsmen taught to err on the side of non-lethal force? As a result, as time passed, radio stations banned the song as it was perceived as an affront to the White House. However, the Man in Charge would get his comeuppance when there was an incident at some sleazy hotel. A note of irony: just a few weeks later “Teach Your Children” was on the airwaves as the group released “Ohio” (before being banned on most stations). We remember the fallen:

Allison B. Krause (age 19)

Jeffrey Glenn Miller (age 20)

Sandra Lee Scheuer (age 20)

William Knox Schroeder (age 19)

Tie for Number 1: “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye, 1971) and “Imagine” (John Lennon, 1971)


Father, father, we don’t need to escalate, you see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate, you know we’ve got to find a way, to bring some lovin’ here today.” Let us praise Marvin Gaye’s “sociological” hit (#4 on the Hot 100). The Motown master spent most of the 1960s cutting records that made people dance. However, the visionary he was, in 1965, he was dealing with the idea of What was the point of doing love songs while the world was being torched around him? (For example, The Watts Riots.) Even more troublesome was that Motown mogul Berry Gordy was adamant about Gaye not releasing the song (“taking things too far”), even after its in-depth recording sessions. (More examples: Detroit Lions football players adding spoken word to create the ghetto party vibe, choosing to double the lead vocal instead of choosing between two, to its resolution when Smokey Robinson essentially convinced Gordy that changing Gaye’s mind about being socially conscious—making a very decisive decision about his music—well, Smokey made a remark about a bear in the woods (if you follow my drift). The song’s critical success merged smoothly with the cultural introspection from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, to Stevie Wonder, and to War. Though there would always be the grinding guitars and smashing of drum sets, to those sensitive types like me, Mr. Gaye reached out and gently invited me in—invited me to question—with what I consider to be the finest sonic novella involving social commentary. And it was an escalation between he and his father that caused his own death.

Which brings me to . . .

John Lennon was murdered by a psychopath whose name I will never mention or speak out loud. December 8, 1980, those of us very much alive were emotionally stunned, distraught, forlorn, plain old spaced-out, and many placed under suicide watch. My friends and I gathered in downtown Olympia, Washington, under a park’s gazebo. Chilled to the bone, we grasped hands, swayed in a circle, and sang Beatles songs well into the early hours of the morning. What had become of the dreamer? To cite Marvin Gaye’s outright indignation: what was going on?

Which brings us full circle. Mr. Lennon was perhaps the most respected and adored musician (and human being) on the planet at that time. Controversial and feared by governments? Sure. But beloved worldwide? No doubt. His producer Phil Spector insisted “Imagine” be a commercial success, which it was. It would not just be an add-on, B-sider. It achieved an almost National Anthem status. Lennon’s plea was an elegant light so desperately needed by those still carrying a hangover from the ‘60s. “Imagine” and its staying power is a touchstone, a point of global connectivity, where even today at gatherings and events you’ll feel it in the swell of common voices wafting above the hypnotic piano progression.

Rolling Stone described its lyrics as “22 lines of graceful, plain-spoken faith in the power of a world, united in purpose, to repair and change itself”. Change agent? Governments, organized religions, and theocracies around the world were not about to instantly disavow doctrines and customs rooted in thousands of years of lizard DNA. Lennon was quoted as saying: “Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey”. I fear that there just aren’t enough bees on the planet to provide us with the sweetness that most of us are graced to be born with; over time that special quality tends to decompensate for one reason or another.

In the end, human beings lean toward being intractable. What Lennon requested of us, to live as one, and what Gaye proposed regarding de-escalation, were unintentionally naïve, inevitably destined to have no long-lasting effect whatsoever. All one has to do is read today’s headlines. I read the news today, oh boy. Art can move us, create inspiration within the most inner reaches of our souls, even change how we approach those in our lives and the career path we choose; yet, songs are not at all like bullets, WOMDs, power-hungry leaders of unstable countries, or terrorists that value the word of invisible, unproven deities to justify brutal slaughtering of innocents—including children. Sadly, songs can only do so much.

Art is subjective and all about perspective. Joni Mitchell, the brilliant painter and poet who never wanted to be a pop star, brush-strokes a portrait and perspective of humanity I do not believe I have ever heard its equal in the pop world. From Hejira (1976), its closing track, “Refuge of the Roads,” Joni sings, “In a highway service station, over the month of June, was a photograph of the Earth, taken coming back from the Moon, and you couldn’t see a city, on that marbled bowling ball, or a forest or a highway, or me here least of all.”

Astronauts returning to Earth have remarked similarly. When you are up there, you finally see.

This marbled bowling ball is the only one we have.




July 23, 2017

1970s Counterculture: Misunderstood, Mystifying, or Merely Me?

Written by Gavin Lakin

Some stories on BoomerCafé are about what boomers are doing today. And others? They’re about the past, which so shaped our generation. This one is from the blog of author Gavin Lakin, an author and member of the Historical Novel Society. He gives it this title: “1970s Counterculture: Misunderstood, Mystifying, or Merely Me, Me, Me?”

I’m a tail-end Baby Boomer, a late but card-carrying member of the club, with a consciousness that I assure you was fully formed when Revolver spun on KHJ. I rocked to Motown, The Beatles, The Doors, Hendrix, Janis. I’m the kid brother of The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, Sandy Koufax’s 1965 perfect game, and while vacationing in Honolulu, April of 1968, the traumatizing news of a shot that rang out in Memphis air.

1960’s America was and always will be the paradigm and the very definition of counterculture: Freedom Riders, Civil Rights, The Watts Riots of 1965, Timothy Leary, burning bras and draft cards, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, conscientious objectors, Star Trek, love-ins, sit-ins, be-ins, Malcolm X, the Summer of Love, Jerry Rubin, Students for a Democratic Society, The Black Panthers, LSD, Hair, the 1968 Democratic Convention and its nightsticks of shame, and Woodstock, when a partially clad generation further advanced the poetry of Beatniks by turning on and tuning out.

(They say if you remember, you weren’t there. Brain cells do grow back; though thanks to Iron Butterfly, side effects may include severe hearing loss.)

Decidedly, every decade flows into its own tributaries; one side of the boulder drops into a roiling rush of Class 5 rapids while the other side peacefully drifts into an emerald swimming hole.

So, what then about the 1970s? Was the singer-songwriter emergence a legitimate reason to pronounce the decade as navel-gazing and misunderstood? With wide latitudes of entertainment, literature, human potential movements, political upheaval, and “Afternoon Delight” being a # 1 hit song—could we settle on mystifying? Or like bouncers at the Roxy, should we ink-stamp the decade with the unflattering smudge—the Me Decade? (Chakras and est, cocaine and Disco, CB radios and A Course in Miracles, answering machines and Scientology.)

Fair enough, 1960s. You had the violent uprisings, sole propriety on the term counterculture itself—with full bragging rights; however, we tail-enders raised some ruckus of our own.

They’re coming to take me away.

Hailing from Minnesota, Barret Eugene “Barry” Hansen, aka Dr. Demento, was the on- air promoter of all things bizarre, vile, and tongue-in-cheek-critical of America. He’d been a roadie for the bands Spirit and Canned Heat. He got a gig with Specialty Records, eventually landing at the infamous (now defunct) 94.7 KMET. In 1974 as a weekly syndicated show distributed by Westwood One, his absurdity skyrocketed him to fame’s funny farm. A late Sunday evening meant hanging out with dead puppies, Kinko the Clown, huskies in yellow snow, Grandma getting run over by a reindeer, Star Trekkin’ and moose turd pie.

Young man, now give me that knife.

Richard “Cheech” Marin and Tommy Chong inserted a giant rolling paper in their LP Big Bambu (1972). That lit match “ignited” their bombastic, smoke-filled career. For slinging the blade through the air and penetrating Sister Mary Elephant’s classroom wall, well . . . thank you. Nominated for a Grammy, it lost out to some comedian named George Carlin. “Basketball Jones” (1973), a parody of the song, “Love Jones” (Brighter Side of Darkness, 1973), shamelessly insulted urban culture with tongues firmly in cheek. George Harrison, Carole King, Michelle Phillips, Billy Preston and Tom Scott sat in. Up in Smoke (1978) was the duo’s first of many outrageous “films.” The plot was convoluted and in order to be “understood,” it required audiences to be seriously stoned to become sufficiently grossed-out. At the box office, it grossed (out) so well that South Africa banned it from its theaters, fearing corruption of its youth. In the end, Ralph and Herbie knew how to use the corn . . . for texture.

Just give Alice some pencils and she will stay busy for hours.

Bernard “Hap” Kliban (1935-1990) was an artist whose cartoons featured unusual characters—weird, whacky, and blatant caricatures of contemporary culture. His early cartoons were featured in Playboy. Enough said. Soon, his infamous Cat had a book of its own (1975). The ubiquitous feline had a purrrr-fect marketing campaign: t-shirts, mugs, calendars, aprons. Kliban’s “literary” collection featured the hilarious: Never Eat Anything Larger Than Your Head and Other Drawings (1976), Whack Your Porcupine and Other Drawings (1977), and Tiny Footprints (1978).

Don’t dream it, be it.

When The Rocky Horror Picture Show was released in 1975, response was tepid at best. Eventually, like Pink Flamingos (1972) and the twisted Reefer Madness (1936), the “monster” of a show became a novelty smash, especially on or near college campuses. For midnight shows, fans dressed up, sang and danced, and did the pelvic thrust (eek). I got “dragged” to a San Diego show, c. 1978. For the record, I didn’t dress up. Considered the longest-running release in film history, don’t overlook composer and lyricist, Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff), an original cast member of the London stage production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Careers launched: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Meatloaf—hold the ketchup.

Keep on Truckin’.

Robert Crumb’s two iconic characters in Zap Comix had a bizarre and pervasive impact on 1970’s rebels. Mr. (Fred) Natural in his large shoes, groovy in a Zen meditation way, and the “rambunctious and self-seeking” (and anything but Rated-G) Fritz the Cat—were defiantly worn on t-shirts by a teenager near you. Poor Archie and Peanuts; Crumb raised a specific finger to the status quo, considering himself “one of the world’s last great medieval thinkers.” This caused intense terror in parents across the suburban expanse of America.

Iconoclasts remind us not to become too comfortable with how things are and even who we are. Without them, we’re punching the clock, playing out the string, setting aside dreams, playing by the rules. Iconoclasts dare us to rewrite those rules. Cultural change is fluid and doesn’t strictly adhere to decades, eras, centuries, or in the most spiritual sense—a moment in time.

It just happens.

Food for counterculture thought. And just a friendly reminder: Watch out where the huskies go.



June 25, 2017

A Boomer’s Take: Between Groovy and Gnarly

We can’t help but look back on our younger years as baby boomers and see both good and bad. That’s what we like about this essay from Gavin Lakin of San Rafael, California. He calls it “Between Groovy and Gnarly: A Letter from One Decade to Another.” 

Dear 1969,

I’d like to take a moment to say, what a year you were! Though you hail from quite the unique little decade— representing the final reckoning of the tumultuous 1960s — it just doesn’t feel right to overlook your connection to me. You were a transition, both an ending and a beginning. From Broadway Joe Namath’s New York Jets Super Bowl upset to The Rolling Stones’ Altamont Free Concert, you were filled with drama and intrigue. I’d be nowhere without you.

I’d like you to understand, my long-suffering bearded and flower child brother, because of you I felt inspired to turn inward and be more reflective, setting the stage for the singer-songwriters who thrived during my years. Was this a direct result of your many tragic news events? Like Hendrix and his guitars, did the world try to burn you up? What was left of you came out the other side of Altamont, handing me the axe, wishing me well.

Sure, there were uplifting stories. The Moon. The Beatles’ memorable “zebra crossing” for the Abbey Road album cover. John & Yoko’s “bed-in” for peace. Woodstock, oh, Woodstock, with its muddy bliss and unparalleled weekend of music history. The Brady Bunch, Scooby Doo, Sesame Street, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus debut.


January 20: Richard Nixon succeeds Lyndon Johnson. Watergate, anyone?

July 3: Rolling Stone Brian Jones drowns in his swimming pool in England.

July 18: Chappaquiddick incident – Edward M. Kennedy drives off a bridge on his way home from a party. Mary Jo Kopechne dies in the submerged car. More tragedy in Camelot.

August 9: Followers of Charles Manson murder Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. This twisted tale grasped the nation’s attention for months. And Charlie gets three squares and a cot, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

September 5: Lieutenant William Calley is charged with six counts of premeditated murder for the 1968 My Lai Massacre deaths of one-hundred-nine Vietnamese civilians. A malignant conclusion that left a black mark on U.S. military history.

November 9: American Indians, led by Richard Oakes, seize Alcatraz Island for nineteen months, inspiring Indian pride and government reform. This was about three-hundred years overdue, considering mistreatment, broken treaties, and outright lies perpetuated by the U.S. Government during the post-American Civil War era.

December 6: The Altamont Free Concert is held at the Altamont Speedway in Northern California. Hosted by the Rolling Stones, it was an attempt at a “Woodstock West.” The unexpected violence that occurred, with prodding from the Hells Angels, tainted the event forever. Many see this as the “end of the Sixties.”

Your last #1 hit, “Someday We’ll Be Together,” belonged to the Supremes, the most successful American group of your turbulent reign. It truly felt like an ending, for that magnificent, shiny ball would soon drop on Times Square — Dick Clark would welcome me in.

Peace, man,
The 1970s