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Creaky Alley: The Mamas And The Papas, And You Know Where That’s At….


Oddly, for a music website called rock nyc, we are resolutely Bi-Coastal,  with Edward Huerta drummer for LA’s Rockford as well as contributing columnist and  Alyson Camus covering local bands in L.A., haunting Amoeba, and getting us the scoop on band after band after band, before they reach nyc. So the website has no anti-LA bias… although I do. I’m a New Yorker, despite the handful of times I’ve been to L.A. and despite thoroughly enjoying L.A. every single time I’ve been there, I can’t forgive them … not for the 1960s when all those New York ex-pats in their mid-to-late twenties  camped out in Laurel Canyon mistaking entitlement for good vibes. I gotta go along with Louuuuuu, the kids were being hyped and if the hypers didn’t know they were doing it, they should have taken a closer look..

I didn’t feel that way at the time, of course, at the time in the UK, Motown, Cali folk, and English psychedelic were one long loop of sound on Radio One. But now, yeah, after the fact it was all hype,  all drugs, I mean hard drugs not weed, incest, cult killings, and rampart egocentric assholes. Listening to their Grandchildren, the Best Coasts and Dawes, the Aimee Mann wannabes and slaves of Jenny Lewis, it is much the same but the songs ain’t as good. When the music sucks in NYC, you still have NYC. When it sucks in L.A….?

Yet, there was something mythic about the creaky alley denizens, there was something like a buncha folkies watching the leaves turn brown and dreaming of warmer climes, smoking weed, playing acoustic guitar in Gerdes Folk City, working for a penny, passing the hat round, and nobodiy’s  getting fat ‘cept Mama Cass. A bunch of out of their teens college kids on the cusp of a huge success and a new form of mellow. It was like the hippie dream come true without all the picking cotton crap. Tight harmonies on old soul songs, romantic melisma, and  history in John and Michelle’s follow up to “California Dreaming”, “Creeque Alley” –where fame became a reality and everything else a dream. Michelle was 23 years old, John already not to be trusted 32. Between them they were seeing the myth in a sin, young gods of music, handsome, swoony, druggy, voices raised, looking at the past year.

“John and Mitchie were gettin’ kind of itchy
Just to leave the folk music behind;
Zal and Denny workin’ for a penny
Tryin’ to get a fish on the line.
In a coffee house Sebastian sat,
And after every number they’d pass the hat.
McGuinn and McGuire just a-gettin’ higher in L.A.,
You know where that’s at.
And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.
Zallie said, “Denny, you know there aren’t many
Who can sing a song the way that you do; let’s go south.”
Denny said, Zallie, golly, don’t you think that I wish
I could play guitar like you.”
Zal, Denny, and Sebastian sat (at the Night Owl)
And after every number they’d pass the hat.
McGuinn and McGuire still a-gettin higher in L.A.,
You know where that’s at.
And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.

When Cass was a sophomore, planned to go to Swathmore
But she changed her mind one day.
Standin’ on the turnpike, thumb out to hitchhike,
“Take me to New York right away.”
When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps;
Called John and Zal and that was the Mugwumps.
McGuinn and McGuire couldn’t get no higher
But that’s what they were aimin’ at.
And no one’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.

Mugwumps, high jumps, low slumps, big bumps –
Don’t you work as hard as you play.
Make up, break up, everything is shake up;
Guess it had to be that way.
Sebastian and Zal formed the ‘Spoonful;
Michelle, John, and Denny gettin’ very tuneful.
McGuinn and McGuire just a-catchin’ fire in L.A.,
You know where that’s at.
And everybody’s gettin’ fat except Mama Cass.

Broke, busted, disgusted, agents can’t be trusted,
And Mitchie wants to go to the sea.
Cass can’t make it; she says we’ll have to fake it –
We knew she’d come eventually.
Greasin’ on American Express cards;
Tents low rent, but keeping out the heat’s hard.
Duffy’s good vibrations and our imaginations
Can’t go on indefinitely.
And California dreamin’ is becomin’ a reality… ”

“Creeque Alley “(the name of the bar the couple used to hang out in) was all two part harmonies sexually segregated, as the group, came together before leaving New York.Itchy to pass on folk, they invented soft rock for their troubles, When the song was released, the Mamas And The Papas were already huge (it is  is off Deliver, produced by Lou Adler –who had Monterey Pop and Tapestry, awaiting his touch) and this song looked just into its own past, everybody in the song was bigger then themselves, they were all stars and idols, and the song took a look back maybe a year till before they ahd becopme what theyw ere. It makes them bigger then themselve , because they were getting their character defined by an action, the way Roger McGuinn and Barry McGuire get higher and higher, from the Mugwumps to John (Sebastian)  and Zac fand Denny passing the hat round after every song just before the mamas And The Papas and The Loving Spoonful (“but I will” as John would put it): it has the movement that makes it bigger than it was. Mama Cass can’t make it, they’ll have to fake it, but they knew she’d make it someway. Grease that Amex kids.

The song is all movement into a place where the song is anyway, it is directing you to where it was, like opening a door and speaking through to us, but beyond us: it is all metamorphoses. From playing for tips to being the hip to tip the top. They sound like what they were: the tall, drug calm John, the delirious heartbreaking Michi, Denny swooning for Michi and Mama Cass getting fat, and in love with Denny: it was like the prototype for Fleetwood Mac, but Mac never caught themselves in mid-flight like this.Denying the dream as they lived it.

And while in 2015, there is something grubby about the California Dreaming: it was privileged in ways New York’s proto-rock and roll second coming wasn’t, ten years after “Creeque Alley” punk would wash it down the drain. In L.A. a white noise anti-California Dreaming Hardcore would rip it up, in 1967 not only the music, which was indeed very beautiful, it is a gorgeous song, Michelle’s greatest moment, but the moment was filled with poise and pause, filled in anti-quintessence: if you could stop everything and were John Phillips in the moment life would be everything it was meant to be. I think the problem with dreaming about California in the late 1960s was a little like the Matrix, where they had to change the dream world into a harder existence. It is so bright, so light (Best Coast react to this brightness by making it a faded color), it is so young and exciting and the people are so beautiful, that nobody can believe what they are seeing. Unfortunately, for good reason. What was the snake in the Eden? Drugs? Sure, also, it is a tautology, Cali was, as Robert Christgau once noted about something else, like saying if everybody was an ice-cream man they’d be no world hunger. It was a lie.

The truth is California needed kids flipping burgers, balancing ledgers, robbing stores at gun point and also policing the area. In other words, California Dreaming needed the real world, it couldn’t  stop for Phillips, it had to exist, it just had to get kinda itchy. The Mamas And Papas were gods because we weren’t gods. Somebody somewhere was fucking Michelle Phillips, and you know it isn’t us. While Andy Warhol, and his band the Velvet Underground, were gay, outra urban, turning soup cans into art, California were doing something else, something the other side: they were simply better, they’d moved from the New York autumn where everything goes to die, to warm and green Laurel Canyon, where everybody is young forever only they aren’t.

It never became a reality because while Lou, Nico, Cale, these people were seeped in the anti-Disneyland on the verge of bankruptcy New York mean streets, at least New York was not dreaming and in the end better the filthiest of realities to the sweetest of dreams, right. So while California dreamt on till it kept getting shoved back , and the music it provided was dependent on daydreams and the music lacked the will to life that fueled however darkly East Coast rock, it still ended up in a hell hole of missed opportunities, cultural diaspora and deadly armed forces with no way out but in and no way in but outside.

As a child of punk, this is why I hated California and the entire hippie movement by the time punk broke in 1977, ten years after “Crequee Alley” . It wasn’t true, it wasn’t me, I didn’t live insulated in palaces and dreams, I lived in the white riot concrete and clay of, well, Manchester at the time, and, in purely class terms, I thought the California scene was repulsive. But by the time i reached there, hanging out at Barney’s beanery, Radio, just hanging out, what I really disliked was how big it was but class wise, hippiewise, I must have missed them.

Today, not so much, except, really, any time you see the names Jenny Lewis or Aimee Mann, how can you not roll your eyes? It is like, the world is one large Largo: it is all passwords and secret keys.I don’t hate hate Flaming Lips or Magnetic Zeroes, it is kinda difficult to feel too strongly either way. Plus, while culturally late 1960s to early 1970s LA rock might be a cesspool, musically, well, some of it was great (not the Eagles, other stuff). And  while 2015 LA is just a blur of bland, 1970 LA is a conflcted bombardment.

“Crequee Alley” happens well before 1970 anyway,  before the summer of love as well, it is the song of musical arrangements leading to paradise like Moses taking the Jews out of Egypt of pop before all of this, before the end is near, before California dreams came true with everybody getting fat cept Mama Cass.

Creequee Alley – A

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