My favorite record store was Granny 'N Grammy. Every Friday afternoon, after Evidence, I would drive my car to Westwood and prowl the streets looking for a parking space. Even though Westwood in the seventies was the Third Street Promenade, CityWalk and Hollywood & Highland COMBINED, I could always find a spot. This was when you could still drive to the Valley on a whim, before gridlock had you pondering whether to even leave your home. I'd put a quarter in the meter and then stride up Gayley to the dark hole in the wall aside the fading supermarket, right up the street from the sporting goods store.
My first stop was the new release bin. I'd comb through a hundred or so albums catching up, removing what I needed to buy. And then I'd slide down the right-hand side of the store to the promos.
This is where I bought my copy of Karla Bonoff's debut. And Alan Parsons'. For $1.99 at first, and eventually $2.99 as the years went by, I would find not only what I desperately needed, sometimes replacing the full price discs I'd pulled from the new release bin, but gems that I didn't know I'd love until I played them, like "Modern Music" by Be Bop Deluxe. And every once in a while, there'd be a record in the promo bin that would elate me, that I'd reach in and grab before anybody could beat me to the punch, like Blondie Chaplin's "Rock + Roll".
I discovered the Beach Boys at Nutmeg Bowl. The forty alley emporium below the discount store Topps where we went bowling every Friday during sixth grade. After our two strings, before the bus arrived to retrieve us, there would be enough time to buy some french fries and listen to the jukebox. As the year wore on, the Beatles hit. But before they arrived, I was hooked on the Four Seasons' "Dawn (Go Away)" and the multiple 45s of the boys from Southern California.
In today's fluid society, where air travel is affordable to everyone, distant states are no longer a dream. You just pick up and visit. But to an east coast boy in 1963...California might as well have been Japan. It was where all the TV shows and movies were made, it was where it was sunny all the time, it was where you could surf and it was home to this exquisite music.
The first Beach Boys album I bought was "Surfin' U.S.A." Then I went back and purchased the first. And then I got into the present with "Today". And just before I filled all the holes, the apotheosis was released, "Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)", containing the absolutely perfect "California Girls".
I proceeded to buy every Beach Boys album thereafter. Didn't matter if nobody else did. I loved their take on "I Was Made To Love Her" off "Wild Honey". "Cabin Essence" on "20/20". And then suddenly they switched to Warner and were coming BACK!
But they didn't. Oh, you should listen to "Sunflower". It was better than the ultimately more successful "Surf's Up". But the Beach Boys could not be hip in an era of drugs and destruction, even though Brian Wilson wrote the book on those topics. It looked like they bottomed out with "Carl and the Passions/So Tough", which contained only one listenable track, the airplay deserving but exposure denied minor masterpiece "Marcella", but then they found the track that put them back on the map, "Sail On Sailor".
Supposedly Brian Wilson wrote it in an afternoon, when Warner demanded a single. Then again, historians dispute this, saying it had been laying around for years. But this track, it had the magic of the songs of yore, of the sixties, and it stuck. Maybe not on Top Forty radio, but the song crept into the public consciousness, the hipsters knew it.
"Sail On Sailor" was sung by Blondie Chaplin.
I didn't take my records with me after finally leaving the east coast for California. I was footloose and fancy free, I was traveling sans baggage. Well, not completely, I carried twenty six cassette tapes, every note of which I can recite without them even playing. But my archives, my history, I left behind in my parents' house in Connecticut. But after two years of itinerant living, summers in L.A., winters in Salt Lake City, I settled down permanently in a dark one room apartment on Carmelina Avenue in West L.A.
My first purchase was a stereo. Components of which I still have. Buy the best and it lasts forever. And with this stereo, I needed discs. My first foray was to Music Odyssey up on Wilshire, where I bought Joni Mitchell's "Hejira", Little River Band's debut with "It's A Long Way There" and six other discs. And when I played those out, I went to Grammy 'N Granny. Where I became a regular, where the soft-talking proprietor and his two lost in life employees greeted me as I walked in the front door. It was my home away from home, my refuge from law school, where no one understood me. As long as I could shop at Grammy 'N Granny and listen to my purchases on my new stereo, I could get through. I'd play the records until I knew them, and then I'd sing them to myself until I could get back to my apartment and play them again. Theoretically, I could have taped them, but I couldn't afford a deck. I'd sacrificed both FM and recording ability for JBL L100s and 110 watts of S!
I tried to make friends, but I couldn't. These people took law school seriously. I was going because my father agreed to pay and I had to get out of the hole I'd found myself in, living with ski bums with no direction in Utah, with the world's worst case of mononucleosis. I would have dropped out, but it was the worst snow year in the history of Utah, and who was going to pay the bills if I walked, certainly not my father. So I soldiered on. Believing that I wasn't really enrolled, that really I was living a rock and roll fantasy. And a key element of that fantasy was Blondie Chaplin's "Lonely Traveler".
It was the first cut on the second side. It started out quietly, but then thirty seconds in Blondie went almost falsetto, a piano appeared, and then...this clavinet, some kind of keyboard, that was positively MAGICAL! Just the SOUND of this record made my life work.
I remember I tried hanging with this classmate Steve, who didn't live far away. One day in his Dasher I told him about this fantastic record by Blondie Chaplin. I took it to his house but he wasn't really listening. The album never broke through. It was a personal favorite. But in 1977, that was enough. You didn't need to have cohorts in belief. Because you were dedicated to the artist, you had a special bond, and that was enough.
I was rescued from despair by a woman. Who was reluctant to divert her attention from her studies, but whom I convinced to live a life of movie viewing and concert attendance.
That lasted through the bar exam. Actually, about a year thereafter. Then I was thrown into the wilderness. True despair set in. This legal life, this was not what I was cut out for. Not because it was so much work, but because it was so boring!
I switched to the movie business. Eventually got into the music business, got a big job with Sanctuary Music and then got fired. About the same time I met my ex-wife.
And it's a long, arduous story with too many downsides, but then I was rescued, by the Internet. I could communicate with like-minded souls via the Internet, I could download all my old favorite songs via the Internet. Just about everything except for Blondie Chaplin's one and only Asylum album, with "Lonely Traveler".
But today, I got a package from Blondie. With his new CD. And a burned copy of his debut disc. I went from the doldrums to elation instantly. I stuck the CD in the drive of my Mac and started listening to "Lonely Traveler". And started researching the man, where he'd been.
You can read his story if you scroll down on his MySpace page: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=89901840. Yes, the tale of how music rescued Blondie from the world of apartheid, a life of despair, how it opened doors, how it gave him a life.
My law school classmates were looking for safety. I guess a part of me was too. But with me, it didn't take. Because safe is not in my DNA. I don't intentionally take the other road, I've just got no choice. But not until I got on the Internet did I find there were so many other people who were on the same path. I'm a lonely traveler no more.