Remember the days when we listened to the Lovin’ Spoonful? That was back in the time before I for one really knew what love was; or rather, when I had an ill-informed view of what it was. But then doesn’t everyone necessarily start out that way? Admittedly, perhaps we aren’t all additionally exposed to a red versus blue diet of Rimbaud-influenced indie-pop while our minds are still impressionable. But no matter how much cynicism and vitriol I saw the descendants of punk direct at love, I think I always believed in it above all, even above my love of music itself. An easily infatuated, romanticised view of love with a tendency towards veneration, sure, prone also to lapses and inconsistencies and errors of perception and appreciation; but love rather than milder forms of expression or indifference or hate. And I was lucky to find it returned, in what always seemed both more disciplined and unencumbered fashions than the way in which I proffered it.
In the Lovin’ Spoonful I heard – well, kindred spirits, I suppose. Do you believe in that stuff that a witch or wizard performs? The stuff that is conjured by illusionists or poets or tunesmiths? I do, and so did the Spoonful. ‘Daydream’, ‘You didn’t have to be so nice’ and ‘Darlin’ be home soon’ touched me; helped confirm and enhance my nascent view of love; soundtracked it even. Take these softly beautiful lines:
A quarter of my life is almost past
I think I’ve come to see myself at last
And I see that the time spent confused
Was the time that I spent without you
And I feel myself in bloom’
John Sebastian (or at least the character he inhabits in the lyric) could barely have been out of his teens when he wrote this verse. I suppose he himself wouldn’t claim he knew that much about love at the time (nineteen sixty-seven), and I was similarly callow when I first heard his tune. But however maturity and the complexities of life alter one’s conception of love, I think Sebastian identified the kernel around which all else accretes or accumulates, besides outward attraction. Namely, permission – from not necessarily a like-minded soul, but at least an empathetic one – to be yourself. Which is a two-way street, of course. That said, as the author of the Bond books wrote in Diamonds are forever, ‘Nothin’ propinks like propinquity.’
How typical that it was one of the Spoonful’s least winsome tunes ‘Summer in the city’, which should have become their sole U.S. number one. Hidden perhaps by the shadow the Monkees cast, these days their wide-eyed tunes are more overlooked than they should be; but then I’ve often been inclined to think that about the music I love, and not always on the basis of an incontrovertible rationale.
Another band I listened to a lot back then had a number in which they proclaimed that love was out of fashion. But its writer was incorrect on two counts; it was of course never a matter of fashion in the first place, while both the verses and the refrain’s maxim showed that he was blinkered as to where he saw and chose not to see love withered or in bloom, locked as he was in a mental straitjacket. Love was there in the world all the while, if only he had like all disappointed lovers been able to see past his own solipsism. And it still is.