Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September 3, 2014



September 3, 2014

I remember Alan Wilson’s death, from acute barbiturate intoxication, because I was living in Topanga at the time.   He wasn’t world famous, but famous in Topanga.  He was a member of the band Canned Heat, and although I never actually met him, I for sure saw him at the local market.  The only Canned Heat song I liked was “On The Road Again.” I like the minimalism of the recording.  The consistent drum beat and the distinctive sound of the cymbal, with the additional tambura, which is an Eastern string instrument.  It’s the blues, but with an unfamiliar presence due to the instrumentation.  I first heard that song when I was in bed, around 3 O’clock in the morning.  I had a transistor radio glued to my ear, and I remember this song, and it seemed so eerie and depressing at the same time. 



When I have my moments of despair, the song comes to me from the back to the front of the head.  Alan Wilson was a friend of despair as well.   They found his body in the hillside behind the lead singer Bob Hite’s Topanga home.  Wilson loved nature and preferred to be in the outdoors as much as possible.  He liked to take his sleeping bag, and finds a nice tree and sleep there.  It was reported that he had a hard time connecting with people, perhaps being on the Autism Spectrum.  He was a passionate conservationist, and read books on botany and ecology.  And of course, an academic on the subject matter of the blues.  

It’s interesting that a man who was so removed from human interaction would have a love and understanding for something so poignant as the blues.  Yet, his blues was something that I feel was close to the bone for him.   To quote the whole song:

“Well, I'm so tired of crying
But I'm out on the road again
I'm on the road again
Well, I'm so tired of crying
But I'm out on the road again
I'm on the road again

I ain't got no woman
Just to call my special friend

You know the first time I traveled
Out in the rain and snow
In the rain and snow
You know the first time I traveled
Out in the rain and snow
In the rain and snow

I didn't have no payroll
Not even no place to go

And my dear mother left me
When I was quite young
When I was quite young
And my dear mother left me
When I was quite young
When I was quite young

She said, "Lord, have mercy
On my wicked son."

Take a hint from me, mama
Please don't you cry no more
Don't you cry no more
Take a hint from me, mama
Please don't you cry no more
Don't you cry no more

'Cause it's soon one morning
Down the road I'm going

But I ain't going down
That long old lonesome road
All by myself
But I ain't going down
That long old lonesome road
All by myself

I can't carry you, baby
Gonna carry somebody else”

I find this song moving, because it seems to be a tight circle, where one can’t get out of its rhythm or structure.  The actual drone of the music that is the foundation for the other instruments is relentless.  The singer is in hell, and here in a small amount of words describes the landscape that there is no escaping from.  Throughout my life I always find ‘chance’ as a ‘free from jail’ card, but here “On The Road Again” its permanent groundhog’s day, where and when misery matches with the solid beat.  Endless.




I imagine Alan Wilson looking out to the stars, in his sleeping bag and thinking, at the very least, a limitless vision that must have been an escape of some sort.   Now eternal sleep.
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