Illustration by Molly Oleson

Jared Marchildon worked as a buyer at Libros Latinos, a leading Spanish-language bookseller in the Mission. As part of his job, he traveled throughout Latin America to find books that he felt mattered. When not reading or talking about books, he likes to talk music.

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    1. I knew I would pick a Jackson Browne song (All that for a JB song! one commenter put down), and settled on something from Late for the Sky– something about the deep melancholy of loosing his wife before doing this album flows perfectly with the political resonance of 1973-the year he wrote the album– George McGovern, the last courageous candidate for president (apologies to Jimmy, who was close) had just lost in a landslide to the toxic Nixon.

      I want to respond to the comment “Surprise. Hipsters listen to hippie garbage.” I don’t want to argue with him, because I’m now convinced that he’s identified something deep here. The aimless, apathetic, apolitical sentiment in these words perfectly capture the gestalt of 1974- Jesus, 1968 King and Kennedy went down and in 1972 McGoven and the last hope for political victory was buried by a raving psychopath. The song is totally hipster in its transient search for authenticity (do the steps that you’ve been shown/by everyone you’ve ever known/until they become your very own/….

      “whatever meaning you would have found” is the hipster yearning for authenticity, a tradition that winds through the 1960s counterculture, the Beats, and has its roots in German romanticism of the 19th century with the youth who dropped out of bourgeois society with no bearing and no political agenda (wandervogel), but thought that personal transformation (organic food, communion with nature, environmental awareness (alone), healthy living, etc.) would change society. The line is reflective of the destruction of meaning that has been wrought on us by an oppressive system, the industrial complex. Browne portrays a sensibility that meaning is scarce, and individual, and difficult to come by. It’s “whatever meaning”. That is the US in 1974–adrift, cut off from any meaningful community structure or meaningful political organization, leadership or directive. Its the nature of consumerist, militaristic, capitalist culture to obliterate meaning (literally, destroy the stories, language, myths and literature of a people). Later in the 80s Browne made a political album where he does take some issues and make them into lyrics. But here, he is distraught by the death of his lover and wife Phyllis and the severance from intimacy, connection, community and heart is wonderfully expressed here. That is what was being done (and is still happening) to the society at large. Mass desiccation, separation and trauma.

      Keeping it real by playing the clown and other lyrics like it express an almost ghostdance-like response to the sorrow… lifting one’s feet off the ground, posing, posturing and disconnecting from the physical reality….think yoga, workshop culture, much of american buddhism (intransigence of life), etc.

      but “crying is the easier down” is a truth and yes, people do need to move (and dance) to process. Complete stillness is death.

      In this song, Browne expresses a definite millenarianism when he yearns for a possible turning, some distant, hopeful future. It’s expressive of the disastrous cultural shift that happened precisely when the counter-culture of the sixties failed. We keep expecting the return of Christ, Y2K, Jehovah’s witnesses, the end of the Mayan Calender, a “shift in consciousness”, enlightenment, etc., but that is all keeping it real by playing the clown–ie not being rooted in reality, the reality that a intimate committed suicide and that the country is run by thugs, gunmen, genocidal sociopaths, jackals and liars.

      The counter culture of the 60s failed precisely because it did was an adolescent response to the problems–ie, it did not have a long term vision, but was rooted in 19th century romanticism, a youth culture delivered by the Beats and rooted in individualism.

      The interviewers do not include the sections of the interview (I spoke for 20-30 min about it) where he opens with “keep a fire burning in your eyes” or the rays of hope that shine through the melancholy. She doesn’t include the parts of the interview where I applaud the contrast between the emotionally downbeat piano and the movement of the violin from sorrow to radiance. I think it’s a powerful song, an artful display of the despair, yearning and emptiness of a man who is trying to fathom such a deep loss. It’s also about a society trying to fathom some parallel elements. Anyway, now I’m able to see the romantic, “hipster”, bohemian aura of the song and the pitfalls of these sentiments. I still think its a fine expression of 1974.

      Alana and Anne met me when they were in the bookstores to interview Bolerium Books. In that article that called me the quintessence of a Bohemian–that’s a title I’d like to let rest in my past.



      1. Thanks for responding Helene, and maybe I’m really dense, but I’ve tried clicking all over the place and it’s not apparent where the audio piece is. (I actually know Jared, so this is amusing–I want to hear the song!) Thanks again.

          1. Hi Helene–I’m using Safari and that link didn’t work either. Oh well, I guess Jared’s favorite song will remain a mystery.