Monday, January 10, 2011

If You're Going to San Francisco

When I think of the really great songs of the mid 1960's, John Phillips' San Francisco never springs to my mind first. The recording I listen to most often was taken from one of the original 45 rpm singles by Scott McKenzie, and I can still hear the pops and scratches of the phonograph needle as it rides carelessly over the long black groove of the record. Maybe the imperfections are part of the magic.

But magic it is - I sit back, load the file, press play and in two minutes and fifty-seven seconds, the music and my flawed, imprecise memories have carried me back to the imperfect image of a time that I never really knew at all.

Many have called San Francisco the perfect hippy song. That's pretty faint praise. Even when John Phillips wrote it for his pal Scott McKenzie to record in 1967, much of what they had to say was naive, sentimental and unrealistic. It still is, but the naivety is soothing, the sentimentality is visceral, and reality ain't all that it's cracked up to be anyway.

Scott McKenzie is seventy-two years old today, and John Phillips never will be. I always forget exactly how good their song is until those two minutes and fifty-seven seconds have passed, and I'm left with a tear in the corner of my eye, as well as a longing for Ruffino chianti and cold, green grapes.

So long again, John; Happy Birthday, Scott - good record, guys!

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