December 28, 2007

Bouncing around my skull: "San Francisco"

So I originally came to NYC to be a music critic. That didn't work out so well—I was 20 years too late to be one of those misfits trapped in his basement, listening to records; they expected me to hang around backstage with Christina Aguilera—but I still approach music somewhat analytically. So occasionally, I plan to blog about whatever song is presently bouncing around my soft little skull…

Right now, it's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," by Scott McKenzie, which just came up on the randomizer on my iTunes. Number one hit from 1967, one-hit wonder. The song is pretty stupid on its surface, a facile anthem for Summer of Love flower-power hippie-dippy nonsense. This dude McKenzie (who I believe went on to be a Christian-oriented musician, but I'm too lazy to check Wikipedia) is moaning and yelling about how "gentle people" from all over the country are feeling compelled to make the long bitch of a journey to SF (remember, there was no JetBlue in those days), in order to do nothing in particular—sit around, love each other, roll around in the grass in Golden Gate Park. Yeah, that'll end the Vietnam War.

Oh, but these are old complaints about hippie culture, and the fact is, I love this song. Indeed, it's the closing track for the 44th mixtape I ever made. It strikes just the right chord of naive hope, the kind that is in pathetically short supply these days (if there's one thing that the Internet encourages, it's cynicism). I figure the dumb lyrics are part of the point; the music is cut-rate Byrds, wimpy acoustic guitar strumming and gimmicky sitar over the tinkling of what sounds like a Fisher-Price xylophone. I have no doubt that this song hit number one (an impressive feat back then, unlike now) because thousands of gloriously stupid kids all over the country heard it, felt its positive vibes, and convinced themselves that San Francisco was indeed the promised land of peace and love. Most of them probably didn't make the trip, but at least they had someplace to fantasize about.

But I bet you there was some guy somewhere, in Iowa or New Jersey, for whom Scott McKenzie had sounded the call. He heard the song one day while working at the Fotomat, looked around at his life, and realized nothing was happening. So he dug out his fringe vest, packed up piece-of-shit 1963 Rambler, and drive to San Francisco, the land of weed and patchouli, to find his dream of joining the hippie revolution. Oh sure, he was eventually disappointed, and today he's a lonely old man working as the tech guy for a karaoke band in San Jose. But for a few years there , he lived the fantasy: met lots of interesting weirdos, did a shitload of drugs, thought he was changing the world by talking about rainbows, and probably fucked some really good-looking women. Not that bad, compared with what he left behind. And all because of Scott McKenzie.