Since I’m wallowing in wistful nostalgia these days, here, have a listen to a really fine example of something you don’t hear much anymore, the brief instrumental, and my favourite track on Surrealistic Pillow despite the presence of the more famous pair of Sixties classics, White Rabbit and Somebody to Love. It was composed and played on record by ace guitarist Jorma Kaukonen, who wrote it back in 1962 as part of a guitar-playing workshop, years before Paul Kantner enlisted him to play with the Airplane. It was the album highlight for a lot of people, especially those aspiring to master the acoustic, for whom the piece is considered a sort of acid test.
The sound is so complex and lush that it’s hard to believe it’s just a single player, neither accompanied nor double-tracked. It has the rare quality of being both timeless and very much of its time, evoking the Sixties like few others, a classic artifact of 1967 psychedelia which, despite its far-out title, wasn’t really psychedelic. The lesser songs of that era can sound dated and silly today (Electric Prunes, anybody?), but the esteem for Embryonic Journey has grown to the point that you can find any number of YouTube videos showcasing the talent needed to play it properly, including a number of tutorials, like this one, by the composer himself:
I was only about six years old when Surrealistic Pillow came out, and I didn’t hear it for the first time until the early 1980s, yet somehow this one takes me back to that high summer of 1967, the Summer of Love, the summer of Sgt. Pepper, from which I remember only a few little musical snippets – Ruby Tuesday, Penny Lane, The Monkees, and a couple of singles that were kicking around the house, particularly the Boxtops doing The Letter. I do have vivid recall of the excitement around Expo 67, the world’s fair marking the Centennial of Confederation, when all of us school kids received a commemorative medallion:
It was considered cool to punch a hole in it and hang it around your neck on a piece of string. I’m sure that’s what happened to mine, before I lost it.
For my fellow Canucks, a blast from the long-vanished past: