Unblemished sapphire skies overhead, the path down Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave, once a bastion of student activism, now hosts dual American Apparel storefronts, a burrito franchise owned by McDonalds, and that musky, sharp bouquet of urine roasting on the curbside.
Sure, students still march around campus clenching placards and waving signs, but they’re just baby bureaucrats vying for student assembly positions. Hoping to recapture that classic dissent vibe, I’m off to Amoeba Records. Just past a slew of dog problems and some merchants peddling Schwarzenegger mouse pads, is the best vinyl a buck can buy – only ninety cents with student discount!
With a mint copy of Gordon Lightfoot’s Old Dan’s Records already in hand, I’m struck by a mustachioed man with straight shoulder length hair, dressed entirely in black. Leaning against a decaying doorframe, he’s looking mighty stoned as he peers at me through the open passageway. Left hand slack at his side, his right hand is parallel to the rustic hardwood floorboards, thumb extended as he invites me to take a closer look. Light pours into the room from a tiny corroder to his left. On the right, the image is bounded by a thick maroon stripe inscribed with the name “Jonathan Edwards” in small capitals.
After breaking into the 60’s folk scene in Boston, troubadour Jonathan Edwards released this self-titled debut LP on Capricorn Records in ’71. The album begins with five pleasant – albeit derivative- tunes mirroring the early recordings of Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers. But its not until crossover blues-folk ditty “Shanty,” those two and a half magical minutes hugging the spindle, that we leap at the turntable for a repeat listen. Leading with peeling harmonica and suave, jazzy piano, we’re transported to that same mildewed bungalow of album cover notoriety. Blues harp bleeding and blaring, Edwards turns to pipes and pals in escaping the turbulence of Vietnam and the politics of Dick Nixon: “Well there ain’t nothin’ to do / and there’s always room for more / fill it, light it, shut up / and close the door / cuz we gonna lay around the shanty, mama / and put a good buzz on.” With no commitments or obligations, the luxury of boundless leisure “every night and day, if I can help it mama,” lets us kick back and smell the roses: “Pass it to me slow / We’ll take time out to smile a little / Before we let it go.”
Side two commences with “Sunshine (Go Away Today),” Edwards’ greatest commercial success with over a million plus in sales. If you’ll humor the folklore, “Sunshine” wasn’t even supposed to make it on the album, but got tapped to “fill the hole” after an engineer mistakenly recorded over the master of a different track during eleventh hour recording sessions.
A few too many days hangin’ round the shanty, eh? Maybe that’s how we got penicillin too. Quick, jittery guitar lines and a peppy vocal melody clash with dispirited lyrics, as Edwards bemoans in consternation: Sunshine go away today / I don’t feel much like dancing / Some man’s gone, he’s tried to run my life.” Wary of draft board goons and that military industrial complex Ike warned us about, Edwards stretches out the last word of each line, reaching back for a time when he greeted each new sun with enthusiasm and excitement. Exposing America’s Might Makes Right ethos, Edwards childes: “He says in love and war all is fair / But he’s got cards he ain’t showing.”
In an explosion of exuberance and rebellion, Edwards hammers out freedom, asserting a bold independence: “But he can’t even run his own life / I’ll be damned if he’ll run minnnne / Sunnnn shinnnne!” But today’s Sunday, so lets take some sage wisdom to heart: “lay around the shanty, mama… and put a good buzz on.”