B-sides: Déjà vu

The sucky thing about having a (mostly) classic rock blog is that you find yourself doing a lot of r.i.p. posts. Many of my favorite artists are in their 80s now, and it’s easy to fool myself into thinking they’re immortal. Especially when they’re still reviewing doobies on Twitter during their last week on earth. But alas, I knew something was up when a friend of mine posted a flurry of David Crosby-bashing-the-Doors tweets on his Instagram story, which—in a way I can’t explain—instantly told me all I needed to know.

So in honor of Croz, I’ve pulled out a CSNY classic:

Worth a read: Gary Burden’s notes on creating the (very expensive) album cover

Quick side note: I don’t remember where we got this album, but it’s a promo copy with “KERS” written in blue sharpie on either side of the record. From what I can tell, KERS was a student-run radio station at Sacramento State in the late 60s/70s. Cool! Our copy is definitely a little worse for wear, but luckily this is one of those albums that benefits from the static pops. (And uhhh, at the risk of sounding like a weirdo, I LOVE the smell of the inner gatefold, it very distinctly reminds me of my mom’s high school yearbooks from the same era.)

Anyway, onward to the B-side!

  1. “Déjà Vu” – 4:10
  2. “Our House” – 2:59
  3. “4 + 20” – 1:55
  4. “Country Girl” – 5:05
  5. “Everybody I Love You” – 2:20

We start things off with the title track, written by the late great David Crosby. The introductory jam and in-your-face vocals send you right into the stratosphere, then the pace slows almost immediately and you proceed to drift through clouds of Beach Boyesque vocal riffs, spacey electric guitar, and tasty bass (ok Greg Reeves!). “Déjà Vu” feels like a semi-uncomfortable glimpse into David’s headspace at the time….the internet informs me his girlfriend Christine Hinton had died in a car accident during the making of the album, which contributed to his detachment and substance abuse. I feel like there’s a lot to unpack with this song, but we don’t quite get enough time to do it!

Next, “Our House” turns Graham Nash into the Paul McCartney of CNSY, with this catchy little Brit-pop vignette. It’s about his relationship with Joni Mitchell, who I’m pretty sure he was living with when they started recording the album and was broken up with by the time they’d finished (who got custody of the cats??). Goodness. Considering how much heartbreak was going on in their personal lives, CSNY sure did make a fine album out of it.

SPEAKING OF HEARTBREAK, “4 + 20” is a quite the depressing story (nothing to do with marijuana, btw), this one coming from Stephen Stills. I mentioned earlier that it’s hard for me to pay attention to lyrics, but props to Stephen for making me actually pay attention upon first listen: Morning comes the sunrise and I’m driven to my bed / I see that it is empty and there’s devils in my head. “4 + 20” is just a single vocal and a guitar for a little over two minutes, and it packs a punch.

With a name like “Country Girl” and opening chords like that, we all know who wrote the next one. 🙃 It’s technically three songs in one but they’re all from the same cloth: “Whiskey Boot Hill”, “Down, Down, Down”, “Country Girl (I Think You’re Pretty)”. If I can admit, this is probably my least fave out of the bunch. Neil songs just kinda get too plodding for my taste, sometimes. But the harmonies are great and the organ+harmonica buildup at the end is so very epic.

“Everybody I Love You” is that late 60s sound I love so much. Bright electric guitar, driving bass, tasteful organ, and a wall of vocal harmonies singing about loving everybody. It’s the perfect closing song to the album, and to the 1960s. I love it and I have nothing more to say about it.

I guess I can see how the somewhat depressing B-side of Déjà vu would get overshadowed by the A-side, which is basically 5 iconic songs in a row, feat. steel guitar from Jerry Garcia and songwriting from Joni Mitchell. But honestly I think the B-side is a very honorable embodiment of CSNY’s talents (I say this without being very knowledgeable of the CSN/Y canon, but from a casual’s point of view it’s just a great collection of songs!). Yes, the themes are dark, but I’m glad these four guys (and their muses) could channel it into such a masterful album.

I’ll finish this off with some supplementary David Crosby material. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two times I saw him on stage: once with CSN at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame show in 2009 (really crossed a lot off my list with that one) and again with CSNY at the Bridge School Benefit Concert in 2013. One of my lasting memories of that Bridge School concert was seeing David standing at the side of the stage watching the band fun. as they performed their acoustic set. I’m sure he had a tweet-worthy opinion of them, and who knows if it was scathing or complimentary, but I’ve respected how in-tune he’s always been with artists new and old. You know he’s at least listened enough to have an opinion on them.

On that note, I’ll leave you with this lovely performance of “Guinnevere” by Croz and Chris Thile:

Important Beatle People: Astrid Kirchherr


Photographer and lifelong friend to my favorite boys from Liverpool. I was so sad to hear of her passing yesterday, but grateful to see such an outpouring of love for her work. I’ve wanted to do a tribute to Astrid for a while now. Along with Klaus Voormann, she played such a huge role in shaping the Beatles’ image, and captured them beautifully in pictures.

Astrid was introduced to the Beatles by Klaus when they were playing their residency at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg. She asked if they wouldn’t mind her taking some photos of them, to which they agreed. The result was their very first photoshoot, which is, to say the least, ICONIC:

She fell in love with Stuart Sutcliffe (John’s BFF from art school and then-bassist in the band) and Stuart eventually left the band to live with her. They got engaged, but he tragically died of a brain hemorrhage at age 21. Astrid captured some beautiful photos of Stuart, and also of John and George in his studio after his death:

After Ringo joined the band and the Beatles became worldwide pop stars, they all remained close and Astrid took some wonderful portraits of them, when most others were either overly posed or just plain awkward. I also love the candids she shot. I’m sure they were more at ease with her than any other photographers, and it shows.

She hung out with them during their newfound fame, took behind the scenes photos during the filming of A Hard Day’s Night, and stayed friends with them long after the band broke up. (I love the photos of George and Paul on holiday with Astrid – and Paul’s derpy face, haha. She was so pretty!)

Astrid eventually traded photography for interior design and lived a relatively quiet life in Hamburg, although she did a few photography retrospectives in recent years, I think. She passed away yesterday, aged 81. If you want to read more about her, this is a nice article.

Danke schön, Astrid. JPGR were so lucky to have met you.

The past harmonizes

Oh, hello. Apparently it’s almost 2017.

November and December sped by so fast that I wound up at home in Vista the week before New Years, feeling like the holidays never even happened. While I’m here attempting to soak up some Southern California sunshine, here’s a quick(ish) update.

It has been a strange year, hasn’t it? I just finished Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a novel about JFK’s assassination and the consequences of time travel. In the book, the main character goes back in time to try and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK, but because the past doesn’t want to change, horrible things keep happening to keep him from doing it. And now I’m convinced that a bad guy has come back in time to 2016 to change history and make Trump president (what other explanation could there be??), and as punishment, 2016 is taking away all of our favorite people.

David Bowie, Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey, George Martin, Maurice White, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Florence Henderson, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Harper Lee, Elie Wiesel, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn…

Some of these deaths could be predicted, others were an unexpected punch to the gut. Especially David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, who each released incredible albums this year, and Prince, who was still performing up until his last days. What a simultaneously great and depressing year in music.

But let’s also remember that in 2016, the Cubs won the World Series, Leo won an Oscar, and my overcrowded, underfunded high school won a $10 million grant. This, plus the list above and the presidential election, goes to show that just about anything—no matter how unbelievable—is capable of happening. Hopefully 2017 gives us more of the good stuff and less of the awful.

On a personal note, 2016 was pretty surreal (in a mostly good way). I quit my comfy career in recruiting operations to become a full-time writer, which has always been my dream. I also started volunteering for the drum corps I was a member of in ’07-’08. Alex and I moved to the Outer Richmond, and as part of my work for Hoodline, I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people in my neighborhood and throughout San Francisco. Instead of going to NYC in October as planned, we ended up spending 4 days in the hospital (don’t worry, all is fine now). And over Thanksgiving break, we adopted a 6-month-old kitty named Cooper (as with any modern cat, you can follow his adventures on Instagram). So it’s been a rewarding but extremely busy year! I have some personal projects I want to work on in 2017, and I can’t tell yet if that’ll mean more or less blog posts. Either way, this will always be where I go when I have a new obsession or want to fangirl over the Monkees, so you can at least count on a few new posts.

Byeeeeee 2016, we won’t miss you.

A few personal thoughts on George Martin

george martin 7

Listen, I know Sir George was 90 years old and I know 2016 has already proved to be a year of crushing losses, but this still hit me right in the gut. I literally gasped when I saw the news on Tuesday night.

Ever since watching the Beatles Anthology as a teenager and listening to George Martin explain the studio techniques of my favorite band, I’ve had mad respect for the man behind the Beatles’ sound. In everything I’ve seen/heard, he always seemed so professional, humble, and kind. Not only did he give the Beatles their first recording contract and produce nearly their entire catalog, he contributed some key piano solos (“In My Life,” “Lovely Rita”) and arranged the orchestral parts for some of their most brilliant songs (“Eleanor Rigby,” “All You Need is Love,” “Strawberry Fields Forever”). He was the perfect bridge between the classical music world and the Beatles’ revolutionary experimentalism.

I can remember the first time I heard “A Day in the Life”: I was 12 years old, sitting at my parents’ dinky old computer with headphones on, listening with the eagerness of a budding music nerd who’d just spent 45 minutes downloading a queue of Beatles songs on Kazaa*. I had no knowledge of music production and couldn’t have explained why, when I heard John’s echo of a voice dissolve into that insane 24-bar orchestral buildup, I very nearly lost my sh!t. At the end of the song, after that colossal last chord, I might’ve actually flung the headphones off and rolled backwards in my swively chair in shock (I know for sure that I immediately ran to my spiral notebook journal and scribbled in it furiously about how FREAKY it was and IS THIS WHAT DOING DRUGS FEELS LIKE?). It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before.

That musical experience—a song on a pop album creating a profound physical reaction that I still remember 15 years later—that is George Martin’s legacy. He was the man responsible for channeling the Beatles’ increasingly ambitious musical visions, and he did it more effectively than any other producer ever could.

Thank you, sir. Because of you I’ll always listen to music with a keener ear.

george martin 3

Recommended listening: 
The progression of “Strawberry Fields Forever” with commentary by GM. His brass and strings arrangement for this song (2:25-4:55) is killer.
George + Brian Wilson in the studio. Too much genius for one room! Cool breakdown of “God Only Knows.”
Love – the album. (Pretty sure this will be taken down soon…honestly, just do yourself a favor and buy it.) A collaboration between George Martin and his son, Giles. Originally conceived by George Harrison. Listening to this makes me fall in love with the Beatles all over again.
A Day in the Life.” Relive the madness.

*In case you had any doubt, I’ve abandoned my pirating days and have since purchased all of the Beatles albums on CD and record.

The Man Who Fell To Earth

If this seems late, it’s only because I’ve desperately been avoiding pressing “publish” on a post that requires me to choose both the David Bowie and RIP tags. It still doesn’t quite compute. [And since then, Alan Rickman too?? WTF.]


I’ve been listening to Blackstar on repeat this week. It’s a fitting last album: defiant, haunting, and strangely beautiful. I’d seen the video for the title track about a month ago, and my first impression was that it was extremely unsettling. Although, now that we all know he was aware of his illness while making the album, it starts to make a little more sense. Death, too, is unsettling, and an artist can approach it in so many different ways. George Harrison’s last album was painted with spirituality, Johnny Cash’s was intimate and nostalgic, and David Bowie’s was simply out of this world.

It was really only in the last two years that I really started to appreciate Bowie’s vast, eclectic catalog. His music got me through my first NaNoWriMo (and also helped my main character through some pretty tough times), so I can’t help but carve a special place for him in my heart. To paraphrase that one tweet (paraphrasing a tweet, really?), how lucky we are to have occupied the earth at the same time as such an incredible artist. He was a musical icon, a cultural revolutionary, and probably the only person in history who ever made a mullet look fabulous.

There are so many ways to commemorate David Bowie in a humble digital corner such as this: a playlist, a pictorial tribute, a compilation of his best collabs, and on and on. But I’ll end with a single video. I read that this song became his most played on Spotify following news of his death, and welp, I’m no exception. I love the song, obviously, but I’m posting this because the video is so simple and lovely it makes me cry.

Farewell, David. We love you.

The King of the Blues

Six years ago, I was lucky enough to see B.B. King in New York, on the same bill as Simon & Garfunkel, CSN, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen (still one of the most magical nights I’ve ever experienced). I remember taking a recording on my dinky flip phone to share it with my dad later, because he’s the person who got me listening to blues in the first place. Not to mention, the music that B.B. King played directly influenced so many of my favorite artists, which in turn changed rock music for the better.

He was a powerhouse on the road (it doesn’t seem like he ever stopped touring, from the 1950’s up until his death), and even with upwards of 300 shows in a year, injected emotion into every single note he played. Most definitely deserving of the title “King of the Blues”:

The performance we saw in 2009 was just as awesome. B.B. King could fill the room with one guitar, even when the “room” was Madison Square Garden. I’m glad I got to witness it, and sad to see such a legend go.


This post is overdue. It still feels unreal because I heard about Leonard Nimoy while on vacation, and by the time I got back, all the news stories and tributes had already quieted down. So I can’t really wrap my head around the fact that he’s actually gone. :( Maybe it’s like a Wrath of Khan/Search for Spock situation where he’s just resting in a capsule on another planet and we’ll bring him back in a while? Maybe?

Bye for now, Leonard. I will miss your adorable tweets and your big heart.



Happy Festivus! (one day late)

I was planning to post this on actual Festivus, but I got distracted in the best way possible (getting together with old friends and playing Super Smash Bros.). In any case, it’s less of a holiday post and more of an end-of-the-year-lollapalooza sort of thing. I started out with just the odds & ends but somehow this turned into an actual project that involved me reviewing all my blog posts from this year, because it’s Christmas Festivus break and there is time for these things.

So without further ado, here’s my Favorites of 2014 post, i.e. a rambly recap of stuff I blogged about in 2014, with probably too many links.


Nikki’s Favorites of 2014

Favorite Concert: It was an *excellent* year for shows. I got to see three of my very favorites: Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, and Tom Petty, plus was introduced to Deerhoof, Mac DeMarco, and awesome local band James Rabbit. I saw OK Go for a 7th and 8th time, the Mountain Goats for a second, and The Spencer Owen Timeshare for an umpteenth (I added some photos!). But I think my favorite show, even with the obnoxious drunk couple next to us, was Kishi Bashi. It was so much fun and I’m super stoked he’s coming back to play at the Palace of Fine Arts next month!

Favorite New Album: My favorite for purely personal reasons (plus the fact that “I Won’t Let You Down” is my jam) was Hungry Ghosts. OK Go foreverrrrrrrr.

Favorite Rockstar Tweet: Probably Ringo and his gratuitous use of emojis.

Favorite Book: So like everything on here, I’m subject to extreme bias, and also I didn’t read that many books that actually came out in 2014. I did really love I’ll Give You the Sun (YA), but Wolf In White Van was both my most anticipated and most enjoyed.

Favorite Movie: Boyhood. For a disgustingly sentimental person like me, there’s no other choice.

Favorite Obsession: Queeeeeeen! Music videos in drag, songs about space, Roger Taylor’s face, etc. It was bound to happen. (I wonder if I’ll ever stop being such a fangirl…I sure hope not.)

Oh yeah, and those resolutions? I like to think they were pretty successful. The big accomplishment was redoing this blog and moving it over to WordPress, which I’m still very happy about. And I definitely listened to more records, thanks to spurts of record-hunting with Alex and the addition of biweekly game nights at our apartment (listening to Vangelis while playing Wiz War is super legit). The last resolution was to read more, which I have been (I joined a book club at work!). But I have to admit, I’m only still halfway through that Beatles biography, hahah. For 2015: finish that Beatles biography!!

A few more odds & ends:

  • Joe Cocker: we lost a great voice in rock and blues the other day. :( If watching a waterfront performance with my dad from a kayak in the San Diego Bay counts, Joe Cocker was my first concert. I used to listen to his Beatles covers on record and imitate his spastic way of singing. Mandatory video link: “Con un poco de ayuda de mis amigos” :)
  • I get weirdly into watching chick flicks when I’m at home for the holidays (probably in the same way Alex always watches classic action movies while I’m away). This week I’ve already watched Love Actually and You’ve Got Mail, and next on the list is Hannah and her Sisters…although you probably wouldn’t classify that one as a chick flick.
  • I also tend to rekindle my silent movie love when I have lots of spare time alone. This year, it’s Buster all the way. I’ve been watching YouTube videos like a fiend. I don’t think I’ve ever fully expressed how much of a dreamboat I think Buster Keaton is, so I will leave you with this, a montage of The Great Stone Face set to “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer:

The Pillars of Rock & Roll

This past week I was sad to learn that two Rolling Stones sidemen, Bobby Keys and Ian McLagan, had passed away within one day of each other. Mostly what I knew about Bobby was his rip-roaring sax solos and the excerpts from Keith Richards’ book about throwing TVs out of windows, etc. Honestly, some of the stories about Bobby make Keith’s lifestyle sound tame, which is impressive.

I didn’t know as much about Ian McLagan but was happy to learn that he played piano on one of my very favorite songs: “Ooh La La” (The Faces) as well as the Stones album Some Girls. I also read an NPR interview that included this interesting tidbit:

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Wow. Good Guy Pete. What crazy lives these guys led.

Anyway, an article I read recently included this depressing sentence: “The double blow is another reminder that the classic era of rock culture is drawing to a close.” SAY IT AIN’T SO! Sometimes I wonder if classic rock will die out once all its forerunners are gone, like doo wop and swing. I find it hard to believe and very sincerely hope it doesn’t. The good news is that, according to our dearly departed Robin Williams, Keith Richards will outlive us all, in which case ROCK & ROLL WILL NEVER DIE.

R.I.P. 141202-bobby-keys-1709_5ebcae8f252a960c7307c9db99ca1606

R.I.P. Van Cliburn.

I know I posted this earlier when I was on my Tchaikovsky kick, but I have no shame in reblogging today. This is one of my favorite pieces ever and I’m so glad there exists a clip of Mr. Cliburn playing it:
(The end of Mvt. 1; Mvt. 2; Mvt. 3)


What an amazing musician. If you are in the mood for more, Liszt’s Un Sospiro is another personal favorite, and his rendition is gorgeous. Van Cliburn, you will be missed!