Monday, July 30, 2012

Back To The Garden

Back To The Garden is a compilation serving two complementary themes. I started putting it together because I was in need of something thematically appropriate to listen to on long car rides driving out to naturist resorts. Thus I began picking out songs honoring the natural life, depicting the need to escape the modern urban sprawl, and the inevitable damage mankind is doing to Mother Earth. The theme is summed up perfectly by the line from Joni Mitchell's song about Woodstock, where she sings, "we've got to get ourselves back to the garden" - the garden being, presumably, the Garden of Eden, where Mankind originated, and from whence was exiled after committing the Original Sin leading to the Fall.

The idea being, that it is time for Mankind to reclaim his innocence and divinity, and return to the Garden where he can live in peace and love and in cooperation with Mother Earth. Idealistic, for sure, but a beautiful vision nonetheless, and at least partly the feeling I get when I'm on my way to spend some time in a community that still values the natural, sensual experience of life, in spite of what the modern urban mindset prescribes, and does, at times, honestly feel like a little piece of Eden. Quite naturally, this theme bumps up against the free spirit ethos of the counterculture movement in America during the 1960s, and as such, consists mostly of songs from that era, and doubles quite well as a peace & love hippie compilation.

Back To The Garden

1. Crosby Stills Nash & Young - Woodstock
2. Canned Heat - Going Up The Country
3. Moby Grape - Naked, If I Want To
4. The Cowsills - Hair
5. Mother Earth - Mother Earth
6. Quicksilver Messenger Service - Fresh Air
7. Neil Young - Homegrown
8. Bob Dylan - All Along The Watchtower
9. Sky High - Blues For The Green
10. Quicksilver Messenger Service - What About Me
11. Five Man Electrical Band - Signs
12. Ten Years After - The Sounds
13. The Animals - We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
14. John Lennon - Imagine
15. The Guess Who - Share The Land
16. The Youngbloods - Get Together
17. The Grass Roots - Let's Live For Today
18. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)
19. Joni Mitchell - Woodstock [Isle of Wight]

As you can see, the foundation of the compilation is the song Woodstock - it opens with CSNY's energetic rock n roll cover, and later closes with a more mellow (and haunting) live version by the original artist, Joni Mitchell. Canned Heat's Going Up The Country is included both because it is iconic to anyone who's seen the Woodstock film, and because its lyrics perfectly encapsulate the theme of heading into the country. Moby Grape's Naked, If I Want To and The Cowsills' Hair, both great hippie tracks, recall Adam and Eve, who, in the Garden of Eden, stood naked before the eyes of God, and (Eve, at least) are often depicted with long, beautiful hair.

Mother Earth is an excellent track, featuring Michael Bloomfield on guitar, which introduces the recurring theme of the primacy of nature, and the dire importance of honoring and not ignoring her. No matter how much material wealth you acquire in life, when it all comes down, you've got to go back to Mother Earth. QMS sings (presumably with tongue in cheek) about the restorative properties of fresh air, and Neil Young celebrates the value in homegrown crops. Bob Dylan's All Along The Watchtower warns of the danger of men raping the land, and Sky High (the only modern band on this compilation)'s Blues For The Green laments the damage that man is foolishly and ignorantly inflicting upon the Earth.

QMS returns with a paranoid track that really emphasizes the counterculture theme, taking The Establishment's treatment of nature and expanding it to cast doubt upon the entire system, while issuing a challenge and a notice that there are some out there who are not willing to fall in line. The Five Man Electrical Band continues the theme of becoming tired of the urban landscape with its scathing commentary on the authoritarian dictates of the scenery-blocking sign culture, and Ten Years After produces a poignant musical piece that echoes the madness of the constant and inescapable buzzing, mechanical, droning sounds that swarm the cities. Lucky for us, The Animals step in with their ballad of desperate escape.

Turning back onto our idealism, and forgetting again the neuroses of the city, John Lennon imagines a different kind of world, where the corruption of the modern system doesn't stand in the way of happiness. The Guess Who sings Share The Land, which taps further into the socialist implications of the previous song, and sets the stage for The Youngbloods' plead for us all to Get Together and love one another. Then The Grass Roots make their case for the value in living for today, and that leads into Neil Young and Crazy Horse's reprise of the theme of respecting Mother Earth, with a sorrowful warning of what will happen if we fail to do so ("respect Mother Earth, and her giving ways, or trade away our children's days"). Then Joni Mitchell sings her version of Woodstock, bringing us back full circle, but where we opened the disc with energy and optimism, Joni's haunting arrangement echoes the fear of all we have to lose if we don't get ourselves back to the garden soon...

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