For Everyman by Jackson Browne


In the Sixties, something was in the air. There was a genuine belief that all you needed was love, that we could all find somebody to love and you could always get what you wanted. If we truly believed in magic, the Woodstock generation would make the world a better place. We were born to be wild. Then came Altamont, Nixon and The Seventies. The dilemma was whether we should we be street fighting men or just tune in, turn on and drop out.

For self absorbed egocentric rock stars it was easy. Talk a good game in public about revolution but, in private, retreat into a hedonistic life without any regard for the rest of humanity.

In 1968, David Crosby, Steven Stills and Paul Kantner (of The Jefferson Airplane) wrote a song called “Wooden Ships”. Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded a version of the song for their eponymous first album and Jefferson Airplane also recorded the song for “Volunteers”. The song depicts the horror of a nuclear Holocaust. Some wooden ships take a few survivors away to escape. The song could be taken literally or could be an allegory for the end of The Sixties.

In Neil Young’s “Hippie Dream” from his 1987 album, “Landing On Water”, he sings that “the wooden ships are just a hippie dream, capsized in excess if you know what I mean”. When Jackson Browne asked David Crosby about the survivors who didn’t make it onto one of the wooden ships, he received the reply “Well, fuck them”.

In response to this “I’m alright (Happy) Jack” attitude, Jackson Browne wrote “For Everyman”. As with all of his songs, it is full of wisdom, humanity and understanding. He was 25 when the song was released. The theme of the song was that it was perfectly understandable to be confused by the end of idealism but it was better to stay and fight than run away. He had already released “Rock Me On The Water” on his first album and would record “Before The Deluge” on “Late For The Sky“, both of which address the same issue. The final verse of the song is “Make it on your own if you think you can. If you see somewhere to go, I understand. I’m not trying to tell you that I’ve seen the plan. Turn and walk away if you think I am. But don’t think too badly of someone who’s left holding sand. He’s just another dreamer, dreaming of Everyman”. That’s magnificent. Not judgemental or censorious but highly principled. It’s better to fight for what you believe in than to run away.

In 1962, a group of activists from the Bay Area of San Francisco set sail in the Pacific Ocean in order to protest against nuclear testing. They were stopped 20 miles from shore by the US Coast Guard and the crew were sentenced to 30 days in jail. The name of their boat was “Everyman” and Jackson Browne used the name as a symbol of strength and determination to fight.

Musically, “For Everyman” is a brilliant example of the West Coast Seventies rock genre. It’s lovely to listen to without ever becoming AOR, largely due to the playing and timbre of David Lindsey’s guitar. After the last verse, the intensity drops, an acoustic guitar quietly plays a simple riff and a drum roll from Russ Kunkel becomes louder and louder until the last few seconds explode into the optimism and validation of the sentiments of the song. It’s a very moving end to a truly sophisticated song.

“Sing My Songs To Me” is a beautiful song with heartfelt vocals from Jackson Browne and sympathetic guitar playing by David Lindley. The song asks for empathy from his loved one (or maybe his audience) in order that his aspirations are validated. “It seems to me that there may never be a better chance to see who I am”. The song leads straight into “For Everyman” and could be interpreted as Jackson Browne contemplating his own motivations and feelings before launching into the strong sentiments that he is about to express.

In complete contrast to the seriousness of the last two songs, track three on side two is “Ready Or Not”. This is a genuinely funny song describing how he is coping with news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy. He recalls how a barroom fight led to them getting together and before he knew it, she moved into his place and he bought her a washing machine. David Lindley plays great fiddle on this song.

Side Two starts with “Redneck Friend” which features recognisable over-the-top piano playing by Elton John. It’s completely out of musical context from the rest of the album: it’s high tempo, with a singalong chorus. It’s not subtle but, in my opinion, highly enjoyable.

The final track on Side One is “These Days” which was written by Jackson Browne in 1964, when he was 16. It was first recorded by Nico in 1967 for her first album, “Chelsea Girls”. Jackson Browne and Nico were romantically involved at the time. It’s a beautiful song, written by a 16 year old, looking back on happier times when he was younger and regretting some of his life decisions. From the perspective of a 67 year old, that sounds ridiculous but the sentiments are universal. “These days I seem to think a lot about the things I forgot to do”.

In 2014, Jackson Browne released another great album called “Standing In The Breach”. The third track on Side One is called “The Long Way Round” and throughout the song he plays the same guitar lick as he did 41 years earlier on “These Days”. The song despairs about his current state mind and wonders how his life has led him there. Another song looking back, with regret. The opening line is “I don’t know what to say about these days” or is it “I don’t know what to say about ‘These Days’”.

The opening song on the album is “Take It Easy”. Jackson Browne completed half of the song but after writing “I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona”, he wasn’t sure how to complete the second verse. Glen Frey of The Eagles came up with the rest of the lines and the song was released on the band’s first album, a year before Jackson Browne recorded it. On the aforementioned “Standing In The Breach”, he recorded a song in which he questions his motives for travelling on a train with no purpose, called “Leaving Winslow”.

Has anyone else produced a body of work which has contained such profound lyrics set to appealing, gentle and warm music? Jackson Browne’s musical sensibilities, wisdom and genius shines through on each of his albums.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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