the byrds’ mind gardens and outrageous fortunes

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

MIND GARDENS, one of David Cros­by’s con­tri­bu­tions to the Byrds’ legacy, has been a bone of con­tention among fans since its re­lease on the YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY album in 1967. Ac­tu­ally, using that eu­phemism is in­ac­cu­rate: al­most everyone has some­thing neg­a­tive to say about the recording—the lyrics, the singing, the music. In­cluding me!

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. 

The lyrics are ‘heavy’ in the Six­ties sense of the term and pre­tend to po­etry and al­le­gory. At one point, in his singing/recitation, David punc­tu­ates the verses by dra­mat­i­cally ex­claiming, “And kept it from the slings and ar­rows of out­ra­geous fortune.”

It is dra­matic and well worth quoting—except that it al­ready is a quote, lifted from one of the most well-known, oft-quoted of all Shake­spearean so­lil­o­quies: the first scene of the third act of Hamlet. Well, if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best!


Mind Gardens: original front cover for stereo version of the Byrds' YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY (1967).

Mind Gar­dens can be found on the second side of 1967’s glo­rious YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY. “McGuinn, to this day, still hates the song. He told me it doesn’t have rhythm, meter, or rhyme. I told him ‘Who cares? There are no damn rules!’ ” (Crosby)

Stretching the senses

David Crosby has talked about Mind Gar­dens over the years, and his state­ments are usu­ally in­tel­li­gent, ar­tic­u­late, and some­times seem­ingly contradictory:

“It was a total struggle to get [Mind Gar­dens] on there. McGuinn, to this day, still hates the song. The lyrics were a cop on Shake­speare. I did that on pur­pose. And the music was me with my twelve-string, recorded back­wards. I liked the song be­cause it stretched the senses. It was in­tended to en­courage the breaking down of walls, which is what I did with the song.” (David Crosby, 1984)


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


“One of the for­tu­nate things about working in the Byrds was that Roger had a very open head, and so did Chris. They let me get away with putting Mind Gar­dens on a record! Roger was willing to take a swing at al­most any­thing.” (David Crosby, 1995)

Mind Gar­dens had nothing to do with ragas or rock. It had to do with the words. How­ever, it was un­usual and not every­body could un­der­stand it be­cause they’d never heard any­thing like it be­fore. At that time every­thing was sup­posed to have rhyme and have rhythm, so it was out­side of their ex­pe­ri­ence.” (David Crosby, 1996)

It is al­most all about the words, and Cros­by’s vocal sup­ports that. They are as much spoken as sung and spoken in a manner that could easily lead one to infer that David had as­pi­ra­tions to a stage other than the kind he shared with other musicians. 

In a good (if error-ridden) an­niver­sary piece for The Ob­server (“The Byrds Trans­formed Rock ‘n’ Roll on Younger Than Yes­terday”), John Kruth re­ferred to Mind Gar­dens as “me­an­dering free-form bardic recita­tion,” which is ex­actly what is! After all these years, I have a moniker I can hang on this im­mensely an­noying, im­mensely in­ter­esting recording.


The garden grew and flourished

Below find the com­plete lyrics. The set­ting of the lines and the punc­tu­a­tion is mine based on how I head Crosby singing them:

Once upon a time, there was a garden on a high hill,
and blossom ‘round against the sea.
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.
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 also awk­ward, if am­bi­tiously so. The backing track, dom­i­nated by tapes of twelve-string guitar parts played back­ward, holds more than a little fas­ci­na­tion for those of us who look with fond­ness upon the studio ex­per­i­men­ta­tion of the Psy­che­delic Sixties.


Mind Gardens: magazine advertisement for the Byrds' YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY (1967).

Even Columbia’s ads that ran in pop­ular mag­a­zines for YOUNGER THEN YESTERDAY were attractive!

You wanna get in free?

For years, I be­lieved that that single track had sunk the second side of the album. I was far from the only person to hold that opinion, as McGuinn has made known re­peat­edly over the years, in­cluding dis­cussing it with me.

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.


“You wanna get in free?”


“Follow me.”

The next thing I knew I was wheeling an am­pli­fier off a truck and fol­lowing the big guy. 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 on 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.


Some mystical garden

In 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 back­ward sound.

I think the al­ter­na­tive ver­sion here is no­tably su­pe­rior to the ver­sion re­leased in 1967. In places, Cros­by’s vo­cals seem in­flu­enced by what Grace Slick was doing with the Great So­ciety be­fore joining Jef­ferson Air­plane. Also, I am not the only person who no longer sees the track as such a disaster.

“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.” (Rising Storm)

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 too late to grok it and the Byrds and mind gar­dens, and slings and ar­rows, and out­ra­geous fortune . . .


Mind Gardens: audiophile reissue of the Byrds' YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY on Sundazed Records.

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.” (From the notes on Sun­dazed reissue.)



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