the byrds, the mind gardens, the slings and arrows, the outrageous fortune

On my other site (nealumphred.com), I just posted an article titled “the ever fallible myopic vindictive emotional biased me (and you).” In the opening paragraph, I used the word “barbs” when I really wanted to use the phrase “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” But I thought what a cliché, nay? Those six familiar words comes from one of the most well-known, oft-quoted of all Shakespearean soliloquies: the first scene of the third act of Hamlet

To be, or not to be? That is the question—
Whether
‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The
slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or
to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And,
by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—
No
more—and by a sleep to say we end
The
heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That
flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation
Devoutly
to be wished! To die, to sleep.
To
sleep, perchance to dream . . .

Alas, Hamlet is NOT where I became familiar with the phrase. I learned it from the song Mind Gardens on the Byrds’ YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY album, one of my favoritest albums ever. It was written and sung solely by David Crosby:

Once upon a time, there was a garden
on
a high hill, green and blossom ‘round against the sea.
And
there the sun came, and the rain pouring down.
The garden grew and flourished,
and splattered bits of color on the ground.
And it took shape and symmetry,
and all of life abounds.
But there came winds, driven and howling.
There came snow, and I feared for the garden.
So I built a wall, and I built another,
and roofed it over, thick and strong.
And kept it from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
The killing cold could not get in.
But when the sun came, and the gentle rain of spring,
they could not reach the garden behind those walls.
It would have died.
Safely.
Securely.
Died.
But as I watched,
and as I learned,
I tore the walls all down.
The garden still lives . . .

As poetry—it is rather obvious Crosby intended this as such—it is awkward. His singing is equally artistic and equally awkward. The backing track, dominated by tapes of guitar parts played backwards, holds more than little fascination for those of us who look with fondness upon the studio experimentation of the Psychedelic Sixties. 

Once upon a time, there was a garden on a high hill, green and blossom ‘round against the sea.

For years, I believed that that single track had nigh on sunk the second side of the album. I was far from the only person to hold that opinion. In fact, for one night in 1970, I was a roadie for the Byrds. They were playing at Muhlenberg State College in Pennsylvania and in need of assistance in getting their gear on stage. My friends and I were approached by a big dude who asked if we had tickets yet.

“Nope.”

“You wanna get in free?”

“Yep!”

“Follow me.”

The next thing I knew I was wheeling an amplifier off of a truck and following the leader. When I finally set the amp in its proper place, I stood up and turned around to see several thousand people watching me! After calming down—it was my first time n any kind of stage—I resumed my job as Byrds-roadie-for-a-night.

When the opening act (Santana) was on stage, I gave up my seat and spent their set and intermission hanging out with the Byrds, especially Roger McGuinn. He spent an hour with me discussing rock music, the success of CS&N, even current events. We spent a good deal of time on the debacle that Mind Gardens had been, that David had insisted on its inclusion despite the other three expressing misgivings. But that’s another story, so back again to outrageous fortune.

Byrds_YTY_Sundazed

In some people’s eyes, YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY is the pinnacle of the Byrds’ art. Unavailable for over 40 years, we’re proud to present the first ever reissue of this monumental recording in its original, highly-sought-after mono incarnation, cut directly from the original Columbia Recordings analog mono masters, with perfect artwork restoration and meticulously faithful mastering.” (Sundazed)

As time has passed, my enjoyment of those Sixties artists who took a chance here and there has grown, especially given how narrow the mainstream became in the ‘70s and how boring since. Win 1996, CBS issued the album on CD with seven bonus tracks, including a more acoustic alternative take of Mind Gardens and portions of the instrumental track guitar played forward instead of the familiar backwards sound. I think the alternative version here is notably superior to the version released in 1967. Also, I am not the only person who no longer sees the track as such a horrorshow:

“With Mind Gardens, we find Crosby looking intently at the fabric of a song and delving deeply into the history, politics, and nature of popular artistic forms: is a song possible sans rhyming? What is the role of the voice? The musical accompaniment? In a way, he is assuming the role of a mystic and a leader in the trajectory of music at the time.

The pop song and the stardom that they sought throughout their formative years, has now been set aside (mostly) in favor of finding ways to speak directly to their audience, to question, and to have their search for some mystical garden made public.” (Mark on The Rising Storm site)

Unfortunately, I could not find a posting of it on YouTube to share here. All of this is now academic, something we Sixties aficionados can toss around in our equivalent of the Hot Stove League. If you are not yet intimately familiar with YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY, it’s never to late to grok it and the Byrds and mind gardens, and slings and arrows, and outrageous fortune . . .


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