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Strange Daze

David Crosby, The Doors of Perception



Two of the 1960's greatest Wild West acid bards get boxed:

DAVID CROSBY'S VOYAGE (Atlantic/Rhino) is a three-CD set tracing the long and winding arc of the Los Angeles native's career; from his iconic tenure in the Byrds to his present associations with CPR and veteran compadres Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young. As a singer-songwriter-guitarist, Crosby is iconic -- particularly as a genius of harmony. Those who would only focus on his epic personal problems are utterly missing the point and need to acquire Voyage post-haste. The release exceeds baby boomer onanism -- particularly of the holiday glut sort -- probably because David Crosby remains so criminally underrated. Voyage includes 16 previously unreleased tracks on Disc Three ("Buried Treasure"). Amongst the most notable are the demo version of "Triad," the menage-à-trois lauding tune that supposedly got Crosby the boot from the Byrds, and a Crosby-Stills demo of "Long Time Gone." The newly unearthed "Kids and Dogs," which also appears on the two disc reissue of Crosby's 1971 solo masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name, sees the Croz going toe-to-toe in a jam with Jerry Garcia's guitars.

All the revisionism is worth it to have a well-deserved spotlight thrown anew on the prime songs from If I Could Only Remember My Name -- most featuring guests ranging from Garcia to Jefferson Airplane/Starship's Paul Kantner to former Crosby paramour Joni Mitchell. The droning, atmospheric, swinging rock on this disc remains unique and virtually unclassifiable, while the playing is of a consistent high caliber throughout. The best songs switch from a glorious, communal groove ("Music Is Love," "Laughing") to indelible demonstrations of Crosby's otherwordly vocal power ("I Could Swear There Was Somebody Here"). The abiding classic here and on the set is "Cowboy Movie," an eight-minute freakout opus that serves as sonic allegory for CSN&Y's early 1970s implosion (its sole demerit being the inevitably sexist cherchez la femme smoking gun: the Raven aka Rita Coolidge). This track remains one of the best self-reflexive rock songs ever, echoed as late as the Aughties in (Crosby fan/friend) Chris Robinson's "Train Robbers" which vaguely sketched the woes of his band, the Black Crowes. "Cowboy Movie" is also the very epitome of widescreen Wild West sound -- a perfect statement simultaneously for the 1960s acid apotheosis in California and America's bloody frontier ethos. Although the LP was panned by Rolling Stone upon its release, without doubt or overstatement, this is a total work of art which will be remembered and listened to for as long as pop music matters.

WHEN BRITISH AUTHOR ALDOUS HUXLEY penned The Doors of Perception (via William Blake) in 1954, he could not have foreseen the eventual neverending phalanx of Jim Morrison fanatics who'd someday seek to glean meanings from his work. These latter pilgrims spawned by the mid-80s lionization of Morrison -- a period bookended by boomer "It was 20 years ago today ..." revisionism; Danny Sugarman's memoirs; Lizard King posturing from rock frontmen such as Bono, Michael Hutchence and Axl; and The Lost Boys and The Doors -- may or may not be sated by Elektra/Rhino's new Doors box set Perception. The box art features an old fashioned wooden door with peephole -- spy through and the vintage miens of Morrison, Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore gaze back at the listener. Right away, this makes clear the desire to preserve the Doors in amber. Yet so much has occurred in music, pop culture and politics since Morrison's death in 1971 that it becomes harder and harder each year to dig just what made this famously bass-less band so incendiary in the late 1960s and early '70s. And reissuing the albums -- The Doors, Strange Days, The Soft Parade, Waiting For the Sun, Morrison Hotel, L.A. Woman -- in DVD format only juices sound geeks.

The latter LPs particularly suggest one had to be there, awash in the era's druggie cults -- as Huxley's essays centered on his mescaline use, acid was the key conduit to these songs' inner worlds. For my part, beyond Strange Days, it's difficult to grasp the pre-smack Mojo Risin' spirit powerful enough to inspire Patricia Kenneally-Morrison's Keltiad. But then again there's the popularity of such Doors songs as "Five to One" in hip-hop Nation -- see Jay-Z, Mos Def, Cee-Lo. Still, sans narcotic crutch, some of this music becomes unintelligible and self-indulgent. Standout tracks of blues simulating L.A. Woman -- including the title cut -- are so far above and divergent from the weird and lackluster poesy filler they seem to exist on a completely different plane. And none so much as the Doors' likely masterpiece: "Riders On the Storm." At 7:07 of perfection, the sultry, dark sonic reverie is powered by mournful electric piano and thunderstorm effects; the foretold shamanistic experience is finally made manifest. What's exquisite about its earthiness and quiet never diminishes, and "Riders" truly attains the threshold of the mysticism Morrison aspired to.

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