This is one of those moments where as a photographer you say to yourself “Like this is EVER going to happen again…”
The story: I flew into Seattle for a Yoga retreat in the northwest corner of Washington in the Puget Sound area right across the water from the Canadian border. The next morning after doing some photography in downtown Seattle, we met up with another friend to make the drive together to the retreat. When we got there, I scoped out the area and walked to the shoreline to take some pictures. On my way back to the retreat center, I saw several deer walking in a residential neighborhood and couldn’t believe Mother Nature was about to pull an Abbey Road right in front of me. I quickly snapped off this photo laughing inside in disbelief at the moment knowing that nobody would believe what just happened.
It’s the pavement The Beatles made famous. But where the bloody devil is it? We’ll give you some Help! for how to get there for your Fab Four foray into Rock ‘n’ Roll history with this pictorial guide. So here’s your Ticket To Ride–make sure to look both ways or hold someone’s hand ’cause there may be some Day Trippers out there. And don’t worry about running into any werewolves either. Abbey Road is located in the borough of Camden in the city of Westminster. Warren Zevon only saw and overheard werewolves in Soho, Kent and Mayfair.
First get a decent London city map and Paris one if you’re coming by train under the English Channel. I highly recommend Borch maps because they’re laminated for far better long term use and durability. They’re also waterproof so when you spill your Earl Grey tea and malt vinegar or smear Marmite on it, you won’t Twist and Shout profanities.
Visiting Abbey Road is a Rock ‘n’ Roll pilgrimage. It reminded me of hearing a guy say after a Who concert, “I’ve been to Mecca.” Whether you’re a musician or fan, venturing to this iconic location puts you in an exclusive pop culture club. You can make the Magical Mystery Tour on foot, but it may take you several hours to a day to get used to the reverse traffic patterns in England from most other countries if this is your first time there. Taking a few hours to walk the streets getting used to British traffic patterns and “unlearning” your own pedestrian habits is sound advice. The good news is crosswalks are indicated with “Look Left” and “Look Right” written in the sidewalks with corresponding arrows at crossing points. Mind you this is ONLY in busier, more heavily traveled roads.
As a head’s up, the smell of gasoline is pretty horrid in London. Britain processes petroleum differently than other countries so the automobile exhaust will be nauseating to varying degrees your first time there. Cars don’t smell that way in North and South America or other European countries.
This is the actual crosswalk. To replicate the exact angle seen on the Abbey Road album cover, you’ll need some help from some friends. The best time for this is early AM. Due to my schedule that day, I got there around 5pm.
What’s funny is people who live in the area and have to drive here do get annoyed. You hear a lot of honking horns because people imitate the stylized crossing several times a day. I saw 2 groups of people with videocameras and several people with still cameras while I was there. And it was any ‘ol Tuesday after 5pm.
This is the angle behind The Beatles looking in the direction of the photographer Iain Macmillan who stood on a stepladder as a Police officer held up traffic for around 10 minutes. This is a fairly heavily traveled street and it slopes down in front of where The Beatles crossed. The reason I did not get the same exact same POV shot as the album cover besides there not being a Home Depot nearby is you have to stand in the middle of the road with your back to traffic.
This is the direction The Beatles were walking in the album cover photo taken on August 8, 1969 sometime after 11:35 AM. This was “John’s eye view” as he was first in line to walk, followed by Ringo, Paul then George. The British government designated the crosswalk and Abbey Road Studios itself as Grade II Listed Status in 2010 for their Cultural & Historical significance.
This sign is on the side of the street in the direction they crossed. There was some construction on this building that day.
This is the view towards the opposite side of the road. Abbey Road Studios is up the street towards the right of this image.
Graffiti on the side of the road they walked from. This is the small property wall near the studio.
Must have been some good acid Sarah…
You knew this was coming.
So where EXACTLY is it? Okay, whether you fly into Heathrow or Waterloo International or take the Eurostar to St. Pancras, find Regent’s Park in the northern part of your London map. Below it is Marylebone Road. If you’re coming from St. Pancras International train station, you’ll get on Euston Road. Head west and Euston Road turns into Marylebone below Regent’s Park.
From the Tube (subway), you can get off at the Marylebone stop. To the left of the subway, or around 8 o’clock from Regent’s Park on your map, take a right onto Lisson Grove from Marylebone Road. You will be heading northwest.
Keep following Lisson Grove and it will turn into Grove End Road.
You’ll see this along the way and feel yourself coming ALIVE…
…and wonder if you feel like he does.
Grove End Road comes to a fork at this spot. Abbey Road starts on the left of the statue/monument at the fork in the road. The crosswalk you see here is not Abbey Road. The Abbey Road crosswalk will be on your left.
This is what it looks like if you’re drunk.
This is what it looks like if you’ve dropped acid.
You’re here!! You got by with a little help from your friends here. See all you need is love and decent directions 🙂
Being a videographer and photographer, I’ve been fortunate to see amazing things all over the world. You learn to seek out these locations and experiences like a visual drug, and while it increases your tolerance for beauty, it doesn’t diminish your appreciation of it.
However, becoming a “Beauty Junkie” elevates your scale for impressiveness and it becomes more challenging to see something that’ll knock you into next week. But occasionally it does happen: Those moments when your eye cannot believe what it’s seeing and triggers the drawbridge of your jaw to drop involuntarily.
These are moments when I heard myself gasp. Photographs of them would not do the moment justice. They have to be experienced in real time, in first person.
The Hall of Mirrors
Palace of Versailles, Versailles France
The grandeur and opulence of Imperial France under King Louis XIV was on a scale you have to see to believe. Beverly Hills and Hollywood wealth is a joke compared to the Palace of Versailles.
Experiencing it, you’ll get why the French Revolution happened a few Kings later under Louis XVI. Keep in mind that that The Louvre was once where the King of France lived but that wasn’t good enough so the Palace of Versailles was built.
I’ve been in upscale country clubs, resorts, hotels and some posh mansions but there’s only one Hall of Mirrors. You’ll be guillotined with gold, bronze, crystal, marble and mirrors. I’m sure the floor has seen it’s share of drool outclassing even Frat House parties and via “sober drool” on top of that.
There’s also a lot of history in that room. The Sun–King Louis XIV would walk daily from his apartment to the Palace Chapel through the Hall of Mirrors. The Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I, was signed right in that very room. Numerous Heads of State and Embassies met there, marriages consecrated, and real Royal Balls of Cinderella fantasies were held there.
One time during a visit to France, I arranged to meet a friend at the train station Gare Montparnasseas he was visiting his parents outside Bordeaux. I gave him my tour of Paris and had to take him to the Palace of Versailles.
We hopped on a train at Gare Saint–Lazare en route to Versailles. I remember his first words once we entered the Hall of Mirrors: “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
So if you’re ever in Paris, take the 20–30 minute train ride to Versailles and get your gasp (or drool) on. Get there early (there’s always a line of sometimes an hour wait or longer) and plan on being there the entire day to take in the main Palace and the even larger manicured grounds.
Your eyes will do a double take that rooms like this actually exist for real on this planet and not just via computer graphics in movies like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.
As a tip, for optimal photography inside the Palace of Versailles, kneel down and take your photos. It’s always crowded and there’s mirrors everywhere so crouching down and taking your photos from a lower angle cuts out the reflection of tourists—a photographic guillotine without the mess.
Pharaonic Statue Room
Musee Egizio Turin, Italy
I was walking around doing photography in Turin (Torino), which is a beautiful old European city with cobblestone streets, idyllic rolling hills and a plethora of storefronts with way overpriced women’s Italian designer leather boots.
This northern Italian city is where the famous Shroud of Turin is located but that’s not something you can just buy a ticket and popcorn for. The Royal family has it in their possession and only takes it out for display every so often and there’s a waiting list years in advance for that once in a blue moon occasion.
Since I was going to take a train back to where I was staying with a friend later that evening, I decided to take in the Egyptian Museum since I’ve always been fascinated by that ancient civilization. I’ve been to plenty of museums with Egyptian artifacts before including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. But I’d heard the Museo Egizio had one of the most extensive collections outside of Cairo.
I went through the entire museum taking several hundred pictures communing with the past. Artifacts, artwork and mummies, the stuff of Indiana Jones’ wet dreams, more so than I’ve ever seen (over 30,000 in the collection).
The museum also has the oldest known copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead on the planet. But then you go into the final part of the museum, the final room. And that’s when your eyes REALLY get transported back to Egypt.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—it was my Howard Carter moment (the archaeologist and Egyptologist who discovered King Tut’s tomb).
I walked through the doorway into a room the size of a supermarket and gazed upon those “wonderful things”: rows and rows of massive Egyptian statues; statues bigger than I’ve ever seen before—some over 20 feet tall; statues in better condition than I thought possible after several thousand years with the intricately ornate paint scheme still visible.
It was like seeing an afterimage where I could extrapolate just how incredibly awe inspiring these statues once were, and the extravagance and grandeur it must have burned into the eyes of the Egyptians who worshipped them. Art can encapsulate and preserve the Sacred even if those Gods and Goddesses are less popular now than Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian.
And wow, seeing that was seeing the Aura of ancient Egypt still thriving and preserved in time for anyone who hasn’t become culturally comfortably numb to their innate sense of wonder by the superficialities and “cosmetic” concerns of modern industrial technological societies.
The European Alps From The Air
This was flat out the loudest most involuntary reflex gasp I ever made. It was like nature hit a kneecap somewhere in the heart of my being and I heard myself making a sound and remember feeling it escape from my mouth.
I felt my jaw drop. In some way it was as if the consciousness of the Alps interacted with me somewhere over 30,000 feet. It was like seeing a gargantuan ice castle piercing the clouds in a subtle reserved display of it’s awesome power.
It was on a flight into Geneva, Switzerland and the Captain got on the intercom and gave us an early heads up on the right side of the aircraft. We flew over a high ridge temporarily obscuring our view, then once the flyover was complete, the Swiss side of the Alps was revealed beaming reflected sunlight off snow and ice like a majestic mountain lighthouse.
I was sitting on that side of the aircraft but stood up and moved to an empty row to get a better view. A few seconds later, I took a picture still dazed in the moment, still stunned by retinal overload. The sight actually interfered with my ninja photographer reflexes and my body’s normally quick neural connections.
When you approach the European Alps, the telltale sign you’re getting nearer is the crystal clear translucent blue water runoff from the ice–capped mountains stains the rivers with it’s unchallenged purity. And you know the Ice Queens are nearby.
There are places on the planet right out of Lord of the Rings and the European Alps are one of them. Even Superman would probably want a vacation home there as it’s a Fortress of Solitude par excellence.
In the era of the attention span challenged, people get desensitized to the marvels and quiet regality of nature. You’re not going to experience these heightened moments of transcendence and keyhole peeks into Divinity being a slave to the LCD screen of your cellphone. You’ll miss the times nature sends YOU a text.
When we landed, I strolled around downtown Geneva with my friend and window shopped watches that cost more than the photo and video gear I had on me. Nope, I thought, I just saw something more incredible than the finest Swiss watch ever made.
I cannot wear those jagged giants emerging from the cauldrons of molten mantle on my wrist but I wear it around my pineal gland in it’s collected orbits of awesomeness.
There’s dimensions missing from that moment in the pictures I took. I look at them and only see what’s not there. The Alps didn’t interact with my camera, it interacted with another living consciousness and that connection cannot be photographed.
But I knew in that moment I would remember that mighty wink at my Soul the rest of my life. And I do.
Sometimes even lying down in bed before I fall asleep, the Alps visits me in an afterimage and the power of that moment’s residue is still there. The pulse of that Infinity in the Alps still echoing inside me.
Jimi Hendrix first described a Purple Haze in 1967. Back in 1983, The Weather Girls forecasted that “It’s Raining Men.” Amen. Not just “a men” but LOTS of them. Unfortunately for women, most of that “man rain” fell on gay nightclubs as the song got absorbed and usurped by gay culture.
However, the conditions seemed ripe for these two songs to combine into a huge storm front at some point—and it most noticeably did in 1984 as radio, MTV and theaters worldwide were saturated with the purple deluge.
On other ends of the weather song spectrum, The Fixx saw “Red Skies” at night over London in 1982. A couple years later in 1986, Peter Gabriel reported “Red Rain” in England and Slayer saw it “Raining Blood” in America that very same year.
But where was the first record of “Purple Rain” falling? Minnesota? Hollywood? Does Purple Rain make doves cry? Would Gene Kelly sing in it? Is it responsible for Teletubbie Tinky–Winky in England?
Due to it’s massive notoriety and cultural impact, most people would think the first record of Purple Rain mentioned in the pop world was by Prince in the song/album/movie of the same name. But Prince did not coin or originate the phrase. Purple Rain didn’t first pour into the mainstream audience in 1984—it was actually recorded years earlier by another band.
First Recording Of Purple Rain: London, England
Purple Rain was first seen by America on “Ventura Highway” on their 1972 album Homecoming. America are a British born trio composed of musicians Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek. They met as sons of American servicemen stationed overseas around London.
The second verse in “Ventura Highway” contains the reference to Purple Rain which seems to have no particular intended meaning other than it rhymes nicely with ‘train’:
Wishin’ on a falling star
Watchin’ for the early train
Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by
Another lyrical possibility could’ve been, “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a Herpes strain.” Maybe for the Weird Al version…
I’ve always been entranced with the mood “Ventura Highway” creates. It’s a trip back in time for me even though I was in the area for a first time as an adult. “Ventura Highway” is a combination of haunting nostalgic longing for moments of a heightened sense of freedom and the joy of being alive.
In addition to capturing moods in aural photographs, America was always able to pull off creating very full sounding acoustic folk rock. Their sonic recipe being the interplay and layering of the 3 guitarists individual tracks and the multi part choruses. Instrument wise, it’s stripped down but the vocals have a rich fullness where the listener doesn’t notice there’s anything missing in the auditory department—just guitars, bass drums, vocals and strategic use of space.
America’s style of songwriting doesn’t need a Rick Wakeman, Al DiMeola or Neil Peart sitting in on a recording session. It’s complete in itself and most importantly, very singable by an outside nighttime fire as a bunch of musician friends and relatives often do when I’m visiting family in the Northeast.
“Ventura Highway” as well as another favorite, “A Horse With No Name” are great mood pieces—narrative story songs with some of the most fun memorable sing along choruses and interludes in pop music.
Kudos to America for creating several earworms which stimulate alpha and theta waves of relaxation, personal reflection and deeper connection instead of the more common beta consciousness of numerous pop songs which don’t venture beyond major chords—and are color blind to how the wider sound palette of 7th chords and above can furnish the listener with deeper, more profound harmonic textures. Songs like “Ventura Highway” have the endearing ability to become part of the soundtracks of people’s lives as it’s done so with mine.
Should you try to find Ventura Highway, you may have more luck finding Ausfahrt, Shell Beach, or Bigfoot hitching a ride back to Seattle from Burning Man. The song refers to the section of Highway 1 along the coast of California, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH.
When I was in Southern California, I drove up that famous ‘fictional’ highway and took in the beauty of the sharp jagged coastline and images of the mighty Pacific which relentlessly carved it over eons. Of course, people will tailgate then pass and flip you off while you’re trying to take in the same awesome spectacle that they take for granted. Welcome to California—land of “no worries” but not no hurries.
That kind of motorist etiquette just shows the mentality of young adults who have very little life experience and growing up in California doesn’t give you a fully stamped passport either. It also demonstrated to me there and in numerous other places I’ve traveled around the country, how most people are not in control of their lives. If you’re always in a hurry, how in control of your life are you? If you ARE in control of your life, then you wouldn’t be in a rush or hurry all the time. That just means lots of other people and things own your time and you’re their bitch.
Regardless, I wasn’t going to let a few testosterone cases and stressed out SoCal speedometer slaves interrupt my Ventura Highway moment and another one of my pop culture pilgrimages. They certainly didn’t personify the youthful hunger for wonder, Indian time schedule rebellion and explorative quest for freedom captured in America’s “Ventura Highway.”
My journey continued. I drove up to Ventura then Santa Barbara, soaked up the State Street shopping district a friend who went to UCSB told me about then onto Santa Barbara’s beach and the Stearns Wharf pier.
The PCH is a windy and at times mountainous stretch of road. Traveling north from LA, you’ll pass Vandenberg Air Force Base outside the city of Lompoc, just north of Santa Barbara. It was in this area years ago a young Dewey Bunnell formed impressions he later translated into some lyrics in “Ventura Highway” as he and his brother were standing around waiting for their father to change a flat tire and saw a sign for Ventura.
Ironically I had my own car issue in the same general location but AAA took care of me nicely as my father was most likely on a golf course several states away. Like Dewey, I also formed some memories of vivid nomadic optimism and several “Freedom of the Road” impressions of my time spent there.
I was considering relocating to that area north of LA—I enjoyed Ojai in the mountains, Ventura and Santa Barbara, all less crowded and congested areas of southern coastal California. Driving the “Ventura Highway”, it’s easy to get tangled up in blue there—the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean reflecting the western sun as you ride the snake along that ancient lake.
Second Recording Of Purple Rain: Chanhassen, Minnesota, United States
Back to Purple Rain Prince style. Ah, the Wendy & Lisa era of Prince, with The Revolution. It’s highly likely Prince got the title idea from the “Ventura Highway” lyrics. Perhaps while driving up Ventura Highway in his Little Red Corvette.
In any case, Purple Rain was the most massively successful and enduringly popular album and movie Prince has ever done. Purple Rain spawned a phenomenon—sprouting several hits: “Let’s Go Crazy”, “When Doves Cry”, the title track “Purple Rain”, and perhaps my favorite Prince tune “I Would Die 4 U.” Mr. Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton is partial to “Purple Rain”—supposedly one of his favorite songs.
Prince and the Revolution live at the 1985 American Music Awards introduced by Lionel Ritchie:
Some of the other tracks on Purple Rain however had unintended consequences for the Prince of Minnesota as well as the rest of the listening public. Purple Rain set off its own Water–gate or more aptly, an Ear–a–gate scandal.
“Darling Nikki” was the track that tipped off (and ticked off) Tipper Gore thus beginning the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) crusade and the black sticker stampede against explicit lyrics all because, according to Prince, Darling Nikki was masturbating with a magazine in some hotel lobby and her aforementioned grinding ability was irresistible.
This was the creative inspiration for Tipper Gore to co–found the PMRC and spiked the moral VU meter of the masses putting popular music under a microscope and bringin’ on the ear gates so we could all become Def Leppards to bad influences. The Censor Ship was bound to set sail up everyone’s auditory canal.
Perhaps a brush up on remedial Reverse Psychology 101 would have been a better course of action in retrospect before cooking up a controversy casserole which usually has a few tablespoons of the secret ingredient “personal embarrassment” in the recipe.
The “Sticker from Tipper”, Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics/Explicit Content was to teenagers and adolescents as appealing as stray beer in their parent’s fridge and sneaking into R rated movies (like Purple Rain) after buying a ticket for some tame G or PG flick not that I would know about such things.
Fortunately Purple Rain did produce the fabled “Trickle Down Economics” of the 1980’s as it created additional production jobs for duplicate censored versions of albums to be sold at more conservative retail stores like Walmart thus insuring purchase by parents on the cutting edge of cool.
These Clean Version Technicians or Song Sanitation Technicians have been protecting impressionable ears by erasing all discouraging words home on the range here in America since the mid 80’s. I doubt France or Europe got in such a tizzy over dirty words, but in America, the sound sanitation continued with questionable results.
Santa may have bought you the wrong version of that 2 Live Crew CD in those turbulent turntable times. And building an auditory F–Bomb shelter Skinner Box only enhances the future culture shock to befall the Rod & Todd Flanders types portrayed in The Simpsons.
Regardless of the controversy Purple Rain set off, ask a group of people the top albums that defined the 80’s and you’ll hear Purple Rain right up there in moonwalk orbit with Thriller. Purple Rain duked it out with Bruce Springsteen’sBorn In The U.S.A. for the #1 album spot twice—a showdown between Minnesota and New Jersey; Two primal elements, “Purple Rain” vs “I’m On Fire”, battling it out in a Billboard boxing match each scoring successive hits on their opponent.
“Purple Rain” is Prince in a more introspective tone which I tend to really enjoy when he wrote songs in this manner as opposed to his more explicit “I’m a Sexual God” song catalog. He could write deeper stuff well which is why “Purple Rain” has more widespread appeal than say “Pussy Control” —Errr…bad pun there. This is the chorus of this particular tune on The Gold Experience album but thanks to Tipper, it’s track listing being the self–censored and unassuming “P Control.”
Prince really shows off his guitar acuity on “Purple Rain” like he does on the more uptempo rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and moderate tempo “When Doves Cry.” The thing with Prince is he was able to do some guitar flash without alienating his female audience because it’s not overkill—it’s strategically placed and thematic to the melodic exposition of the song.
Gratuitous guitar masturbating (being a Guitarling Nikki?) and shredding generally is more interesting and impressive to men. When you hear the outro guitar line of “Purple Rain”, it’s reminiscent of other 80’s hits like “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister and “Who’s Crying Now” by Journey.
“Purple Rain” is a modern gospel rock ballad and his guitar playing is nicely legato and played in a smoothly connected singing style known as Cantabile as all the standard musical terms from the classical tradition are in Italian. This is because both the violin and piano originated there a few centuries after pizza did. Cantabile is the art and technique of playing a musical instrument in the manner of imitating an actual human voice singing.
As for the movie, a little known fact is one actress who was approached to play Prince’s love interest in Purple Rain before Apollonia Kotero eventually got the role. Some girl named Jennifer Beals. A movie called Flashdance came out the year before in 1983.
They probably figured since Beals got drenched already onstage dancing to “He’s a Dream” by Shandi Sinnamon and in the “Maniac” montage to the Michael Sembello tune, she’d be game to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.
Unfortunately, Beals was in college at the time and declined the offer as she had aspirations in life other than welding and exotic dancing. On the upside, Flashdance did win a Grammy in 1984 for Best Album of Original Score. Another fun fact is Lee Ving from the punk band Fear was also in Flashdance as a strip club owner, not that this stereotypes vocalists in punk bands in away way, shape or form.
The classic 1980’s album opens with Pastor Prince giving his famous sermon from the pop pulpit on Purple Rain in the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy” with the church organ sample rocking out behind his “Dearly Beloved…we are gathered here to get through this thing called life…” spiel. It culminates in the sage advice as the drums kick in elevating the tempo and just before the full band enters:
“And if the de–elevator tries to bring you down…go crazy…punch a higher floor.”
People who grew up in the 80’s memorized this Prince dialogue as much as the opening dress down rant by actor Mark Metcalf (the Doug Niedermeyer character in National Lampoon’s Animal House) in Twisted Sister’s“We’re Not Gonna Take It” video, one of the funniest things to grace the early days of MTV. “A Twisted Sister pin?! On your uniform?!…”
Twisted Sister vocalist Dee Snider later found himself defending free speech to Congress along with Frank Zappa and John Denver after that “Darling Nikki” incident from Purple Rain. Seems the Purple Rain washed Dee’s makeup off for the congressional hearings as he wasn’t sporting his trademark stellar Cover Girl looks.
All in all, Prince seemed to weather the controversy of Purple Rain fairly well. The album and film have held up over time and aren’t going to wash away with censorship soap anytime soon. Pop history knows the Censor Ship set sail after the Purple Rain and wouldn’t have had the degree of controversy buoyancy without it’s success being embraced on a wide scale by the culture at large.
Years later, the controversy fizzled out and ran aground on it’s own moral high ground. People can read into things and create and inflate issues like our tale here of how a little Purple Rain turned into the Perfect Sh*tstorm.
Let me take a retroactive stab at it before I wrap up this purple banana: On “Purple Rain”Prince states, “I only wanted to see you bathing in the Purple Rain.” Okay, so maybe that means the Prince has a bit of a voyeur fetish as well. Cover your ears! Release the hounds!
The good news is, we can baptize ourselves with Purple Rain in more than one way and in more than one location thanks to America and Prince. So before you build that F–bomb shelter or call up that shrink in Beverly Hills, it might be better for your sanity to go crazy and take a long leisurely meditative drive along Ventura Highway in the sunshine after the purifying cleansing of a freshly fallen Purple Rain.
Years ago, my regular Sunday night ritual included eating vegan Goats Head Soup with Cups And Cakes, praying to the Great Pumpkin and listening to Stephen Hill’sHearts of Space on my local NPR station. I was fresh out of college, it was my first apartment and for several months I ate meals on my Yamaha piano bench. That is, before my sweet grandmother felt sorry for me and bought me a wooden dining table and chairs even though I was enjoying dining Japanese style. From my standpoint I was getting in touch with my inner Mr. Miyagi.
Hearts of Space, or HOS (not to be confused with Santa’s A–Game catchphrase or types of women Sting became famous for singing about) was on at later evening time slots where I lived which sometimes made it hard to get up for work Monday mornings *insert Todd Rundgren song here.* The shows creator, Stephen Hill has been hosting Hearts of Space out of San Rafael in Marin County California since 1973 or since bell bottoms were still the fashion rage thanks to Derek and the Dominos“Bell Bottom Blues” and The wardrobe department at The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.
Very often I would fall asleep listening to the themed episodes of ambient, new age, choral, classical, Celtic, electronic & experimental music Hearts of Space featured—music Clear Channel program executives probably wouldn’t dare play unless they all had Near Death Experiences and were instructed to do so personally by Archangel Yanni. Or perhaps a Charles Dickens version of “A Listener’s Carol” with successive visits from the Ghost of Listener’s Past might convince them to loosen the playlist leash and broaden their sonic horizons once again. Unfortunately as we’ve seen over time, The Spirit of Radio was replaced by a radio monopoly, playlist dictatorships, FM formula fascism & airwave homogenization—all we hear is the same “Radio Ga Ga”Freddie Mercury & Queen forewarned us about.
It was here on HOS I first heard of Canadian composer Bill Douglas on a winter themed show while laying down for a few hours listening to music like I usually do before falling asleep. I was in the right mood, the opportune window of the Soul open to receive this specific sonic side dish of something that spoke the language of spirit through sound. “Deep Peace” struck me as a profoundly beautiful elevating piece of music—ethereal, nebulous, contemplative, spiritual, transcendent harmonized vocal lines weaving sonic paths though my temporal lobes as I lay on my pillow, bathing me in a nice alpha–theta meditative wave. You’ll see why it’s one of my favorite contemporary choral pieces. Try listening to this lying down with your eyes closed before bed when you’re relaxed for maximum effect:
There’s some nice pockets of space here to inhale the harmonies into your energy field. This choral piece allows you to breathe deeply and recalibrates the relaxation settings so you can recline deeper into yourself. I’m glad I was introduced to the music of Bill Douglas and this composition, the title track off the album Deep Peace which is worth owning in it’s entirety. If you’re a fan of Enya’s music, Deep Peace is quite Enyaesque. Bill Douglas’ work also has crossover potential much like Enya. I mean, for someone like me who wouldn’t list choral music in his top favorite genres, that says it right there that Douglas made me a fan. That and how modern choral music can be profoundly moving internal experience.
Some time ago I spent several months traveling all throughout California. After spending time in SoCal, I gradually made my way north to Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz & the Monterey Bay, then further up to hang out in San Francisco for a few days. I then crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to explore San Rafael and the surrounding areas before heading further north to Santa Rosa to commune with Charles Schulz (creator of the world famous Peanuts comic strip) and see what all the hype was for Gino Vannelli to actually write a song about—was Schroeder a childhood idol of his too? Maybe Gino got lost as his directions in the song probably lead to Ausfahrt and not actually Santa Rosa California.
San Rafael became the home of “Space Music”, the term coined by Stephen Hill to describe the mixture of music he played on the show into a variety pack genre. And how can one visit San Rafael and not do a drive–by of Skywalker Ranch? It’s indeed one of the most beautiful inspiring locked gates my eyes have ever beheld located coincidentally on Lucas Valley Road. And no, it was not named after Father George—that’s what the road was called a long, long time ago in a valley far north of the bay.
In addition to George “Original Gangsta Star Wars Mac Daddy” Lucas, Carlos Santana & James Hetfield have residences in San Rafael. There’s also a who’s who who’ve lived there in Marin County (I know Dr. Seuss would dig this sentence from whatever Whoniverse he now resides in):
Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons)
David Crosby (Crosby, Stills, Nash & sometimes Young)
Alan Watts (author of numerous books on Taoism & Buddhism)
Ram Dass (author of Be Here Now) Philip K. Dick (Science fiction author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was made into the cult Sci-Fi film Blade Runner with Harrison Ford and The Man In The High Castle currently a series on Amazon. Dick’s works have also been made into the films Total Recall with AHHNOLD Schwarzenegger and Minority Report with Tom Cruise).
So we can deduce from the evidence here Marin County is kinda cool or else it wouldn’t attract all this riff raff.
Another pop culture, or rather pot culture fun fact about the area is San Rafael High School is believed to be the epicenter of the term 420. It referred to the time joint subcommittee meetings would commence after “School’s Out” and Alice Cooper sang.
As for me, I found a sense of peace making that pilgrimage to the Heart of Hearts of Space. I still remember hiking in the mountains off Lucas Valley Road having close encounters with deer and seeing the skylines of San Francisco and Oakland in the distance. And most importantly, my prayers to the Great Pumpkin all those years ago were answered a short while later while visiting Santa Rosa when Linus appeared to me in the woods like Obi–Wan.
As an added bonus, “Deep Peace” is a non–denominational prayer for personal peace so even hypervigilant politically correct types can enjoy listening to without it ringing their church bells. Maybe we can’t do anything about War Pigs and warmongers but you can’t please everybody. If you want to pray some more at the First Church of Bill Douglas, there’s other albums in his discography such as Earth Prayer.
Perhaps the title of this post was inspired via a psychic nudge from spirit of John Lennon as we do share the same Birth Star in Vedic Astrology. Where my Vedic Birth Star homies at? You know you’re in the Golden Age of Sat Yuga when street gangs start rapping phrases like that instead of bitches and hos—unless it’s the other kind of HOS as in Hearts of Space. So farewell space fans, wherever you are…Drift Long and Prosper in a galaxy far alpha wave and give “Deep Peace” a chance.
Question: What do Deep Purple and the Pet Shop Boys have in common? Give up? Outside of both being British musical groups, they both mentioned Lake Geneva lyrically in respective songs…
And for good reason: Geneva, Switzerland is a stunningly beautiful European city.
When you’re coming in for a landing in Geneva, the Jet d’Eau (water jet in Lake Geneva) can be seen high above the buildings in the city. It’s an amazingly magnificent sight to see a fountain launching water 459 feet into the air from an airplane.
Geneva is a very clean sophisticated city offering that “walk around and explore” intimacy and old world charm and character of many European cities which I love.
And all this is set on the doorstep of the European Alps like a living Ricola commercial—so remember to pack that long Alphorn for a jam session at the base of the Matterhorn.
You can tell you’re nearing the Alps from the air when the rivers below turn a crystal clear translucent glacial blue color more magical than Elvis’ bathwater.
Known as the “Peace Capital” as well as a top financial center in Europe, Geneva ranks high among cities having the highest quality of life in the world—it’s also one of the world’s most expensive cities.
Geneva is located on the western side of Lake Geneva at it’s southernmost point. This body of water has been made famous in the realm of popular music in the following songs:
1. Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple) 2. West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys)
Smoke On The Water
“Smoke On the Water” came out in 1972 off their Deep Purple’sMachine Head album which was recorded in Montreux, Switzerland. It remains Deep Purple’s most successful album to date, and also includes the tracks “Space Truckin'” (obviously requiring pricier fuel than the Grateful Dead’s“Truckin'”) and the indomitable early metal classic “Highway Star.”
I can attest to the pure unbridled mayhem of playing “Highway Star” in a few classic rock bands. It’s one of those tunes you save for later in the night to kick everyone’s ass before last call.
At all our strategic band setlist negotiations, our drummer would jokingly declare at the outset “Highway Star stays or I go.” Indeed. It’s such a fun, full out balls to the wall tune to play live. I still remember Jon Lord’s scorching Hammond B3 organ solo and break into it now and then while practicing.
Ritchie Blackmore’s classically influenced guitar work provides a look into a guitarist’s style before the Yngwie Malmsteen neo–classical revival and Van Halen’s two handed tapping technique became the new upgraded mainstay for the instrument—a technique embraced (sometimes bear hugged to death) by the Shredders and Hair Metal monsters of the next decade.
“Smoke On The Water” is one of the most identifiable riffs ever. Ritchie Blackmore created this simple anthemic rock riff that even those who are NOT guitarists can learn in 5 minutes. It’s based on perfect fourths played across two guitar strings which one can play with just one finger. It’s simplicity however does not erode it’s granite like staying power and appeal to multiple generations of musicians and fans.
Ian Gillan goes right for the Lake Geneva jugular in the first verse of “Smoke On The Water”:
We all came out to Montreux On the Lake Geneva shoreline To make records with a mobile We didn’t have much time Frank Zappa and the Mothers Were at the best place around But some stupid with a flare gun Burned the place to the ground Smoke on the water, fire in the sky
For those unfortunate souls who’ve never seen Beavis and Butt–Head“Dunt Dunt Dah…” this classic rock anthem, the first part of the post title here is a lyric from “Smoke On The Water” as well.
Montreux, where “Frank Zappa and he Mothers were at the best place around” (casino gigs paid well back then too) is located on the eastern most side of Lake Geneva. But as the story goes, unfortunately “some stupid with a flare gun burned the place to the ground…”
Right in the middle of a gig too. A fan with a flare gun inside the theatre set off the fire. Fire bad. Fan stupid.
Zappa and the Mothers lost their equipment and the Casino de Montreux went up in flames. Hence the song title from bassist Roger Glover as members of Deep Purple saw this incident from their hotel across the lake.
The Casino de Montreux was where Deep Purple originally planned on recording their Machine Headalbum. The casino reopened a few years later and there’s a sculpture commemorating Deep Purple and “Smoke On The Water” next to the lake—it even has the notes of the riff on it to survive the Zombie Apocalypse or should those Zombies have a 2112 moment and decide to rock out.
The monument is also next to a statue of legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury who had a home in Montreux.
West End Girls
The Pet Shop BoysNeil Tennant and Chris Lowe hold the distinction of being the most successful duo in UK music history (oh just over 50 million albums sold). They’re kinda like the Hall & Oates of Great Britain and at least one of them is a Maneater I hear. Coincidence?
“West End Girls” was a single off the Pet Shop Boys 1986 album Please. The track charted on both sides of the pond. Please also spawned several other hits for them including “Love Comes Quickly,”“Suburbia”, and “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money),” which by now that prophetic Pet Shop Boys tune has come to fruition and then some.
When I was in London, I made sure to wander all those sections of the city connected to famous pop songs including the West End. Maybe someday there’ll be a bus tour—a Magic Bus tour to take fans to all these places.
Love may come quickly but the Lake Geneva reference comes later in “West End Girls”:
In every city, in every nation
From Lake Geneva to the Finland station
(How far have you been?)
Anyone catch the Chevy ChaseFletch movie ad in this video? It’s around the 2:57 mark, right before Neil sings about Lake Geneva in the last verse.
So what have we learned from this musical meandering? In conclusion, even a blind Aristotle, or one playing Fifty Shades of Plato can see the causal connection between success in the music industry and mentioning Lake Geneva in a song.
(or “I Wrote Most of this Late One Night in a Parking Lot on my Laptop in Southern California”)
Somewhere on the road, somewhere in my life…also Somewhere In Time. How could I forget one of my favorite Metal albums of all time?
It’s been a few years since I went on a Jack Kerouac style hiatus from the regimentation known as daily life.
My GPS indicated I’d driven over 10,000 miles all around the country. It was kind of a social experiment to see what I could learn about myself, face some inherited fears, find out what I’m made of. Dropping it down to what Jimi Hendrix mentioned as “Nothing but existence” in the tune “I Don’t Live Today.” Call it a modern day Vision Quest minus the peyote and Journey soundtrack.
On the other side of routine and structure, life is very different having had the experience of the limbo of living that perspective. And seeing it from this perspective shows you we all have “Wasted Years” tracks on the CD grooves of our life just like the rings of a felled tree.
Living my version of that Iron Maiden song on the road for half a year traveling the United States, the lyric that gets me the most today is “Another city goes by in the night…”
When you’re in that Interstate Love Song & Interstate Love Affair groove and don’t have an address anymore, every city you pass through is home to someone else but just another spot on the map to you.
Over time you start to miss little things like your own bed and nice warm showers become something you’ll now feel gratitude for.
On this trip, I joined the Cross Country Club—twice that year year driving from the northeast to a southern coast, then did the east to west coast trip. Various songs pop into my head, old memories get triggered from seeing new sights, file cabinets from my back pages slide open integrating new multi sensory connectivity.
I’ve added several personal Holy places to my roster of visitations. I’m still thinking about seeing the Vermilion cliffs and Echo cliffs along the Navajo Reservation in Northern Arizona. I didn’t just see these places, I felt them—interacted with them more than just visually.
This seems a sense that gets drowned out when we live lives of desensitization which happens when we do the same thing 900 times—go to the same places, work at the same job, drive on the same roads, have the same routines, have the same conversations.
The neurons upstairs take extended Rip Van Winkle naps because they aren’t being stimulated when there’s no substantially different experiences on our plate in front of us.
I was never one to see this (what’s considered a “normal” life) as promoting growth and expansion within myself. So it’s been a life of art, particularly music, travel and meditation to keep fanning the flames of Spirit within.
If I lived several centuries, I would outgrow every other human experience but these. They will always be larger than me and I grow with them the more intimately I become with them. They are ladders to Divinity.
And while the life I lead and some of the things I do may seem crazy, it leads me to deeper Freedoms of Being—reaching the point periodically where I have no name, no address, no titles, no roles to play…
None of those things are even close to what I really am, not even close to the REAL me. You realize that on the road, constantly in motion.
I recall first experiencing this state as a classical piano student after practicing for 4–6 hours a day after school. I touched the “Being” state and then would come back to all the surface identifiers we latch onto and use socially—my name, social relationships, my social security number, etc.
In fact, they’re pretty laughable and matter little when you tap into the Zero Point of naked existence which has always been more appealing to those of my tribal orientation…Bohemians and Beat Generation reloaded types.
I remember walking alongside a massive male elk at the Grand Canyon. I was about 10 feet away and the look he gave me was just that—from the Being state of naked existence. One life form looking at another with no need for conceptions or layers of culturally created identities—just Life, Existence, looking at itself from the mirror of different body designs.
I looked into his big eye, watching him casually go about his day, watching his body maneuver in 3 dimensional space, listening to his gait. I smiled taking in the moment, realizing how much more present and sensorily engaged I was compared to the life I left behind.
The slower the brainwaves, the more you perceive and more deeply comprehend.
The fast pace of normal everyday life makes for thin consciousness. And anorexic consciousness isn’t healthy, calm, joyous or capable of deep peace. It’s a religion of stress, neuroticism and anxiety, regardless of the material or financial carrots it may promise.
You up the bar at the same time you drop the limbo into Being. Explore what’s deeper. You won’t have a squad of cheerleaders, you won’t have the support of the majority around you. People won’t understand. Do it still.
The surface doesn’t liberate nor is it a wise teacher. The common, the comfortable, won’t forge new alloys of Being. There are Freedoms beyond being physically free.
There are wars you will need to fight when all wars on the planet end. There’s no end to the distractions, the “to do” lists, needs, social roles, obligations, that keeps us from making dates with ourselves for greater internal revelations and transformations.
It takes time to arrive at what Lao Tzu referred to in the Tao Te Ching as “Doing not doing” —when the musician becomes the music, the dancer becomes the dance. The business card of the Being is but a blank white card—the unstruck chord, the Unpatterned Mind of Patañjali, the sound of one hand clapping…
A question to ask is, “Do you know what you need or need what you know?”
Two rivers. River “need what you know” is wide enough for a cruise ship, and filled with flamboyant ferry boats with ten piece dixieland bands. River “know what you need” is kayaks only—single file, solo.
Each new terrain on that river requires more albatrosses to be jettisoned to go further. Holding on to temporary identities, impermanent things, attachments and situations creates the friction of current. Without them, the currents against you cease.
You can reach the realization through repeated suffering yourself or a Master will tell you the same: “You don’t even know what’s good for you.” You can debate, resist, intellectualize, rationalize with the pancake stack of accumulated ego, socially constructed, culturally reinforced “yous” til Aunt Jemima rocks some dreadlocks.
And what will doing so ultimately prove? Learn to listen at the level of Being and you may learn something deeper about yourself and start a more important journey than the cookie cutter career cul–de–sac we all are funneled into to various degrees.
Reach the quiet question underneath surface living of “What grade level of Freedom are you comfortable with?”
Every time I embark on one of these adventures on the planet, it’s simultaneously paralleled by a corresponding inner journey which is experienced as vividly as the outer scenery. This other facet isn’t something I mention often nor is it easy to convey on the printed page.
You’ve heard it said “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” It’s more than a bumper sticker and J.R.R. Tolkien quote—it’s a way of interacting with life towards self discovery.
If you’ve “arrived”, if you’ve defined yourself satisfactorily to forego further revisions, explorations, and the desire of shedding finer and finer layers of the onion—THAT is lost.
The constant flow inside the journey becomes home. The journey becomes the goal.
It’s the reason I embrace the life I do. I do so regardless of whether it’s understood by those around me, whether it’s right for anyone else, or what others may think I “should” do with my life—because these experiences have taught more satisfying ways to expand my consciousness and creativity than “playing it safe” ever has.
Big birdcages are still birdcages, big fishbowls are still fishbowls
Time and experiences will make the deeper questions surface and get louder
Life is about living the right questions
What grade level of Freedom are you comfortable with?