Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Hot Tuna -- "Easy Now" (1974)


By this time tomorrow
Who knows where I'll be?

I almost always know where I'm going to be tomorrow.  Sometimes I wish that wasn't the case, but that's just not me.

For example, during a recent 12-day personal-business-personal trip to San Francisco, San Diego, and Granbury, Texas, I always knew where I was going to be tomorrow.  One day I woke up not knowing where I was going to spend the night, but that was an exception to my usual policy of planning trips well in advance.

One afternoon while we were in San Francisco, my first-born child (he's the one who is most like me, I think) and I spent a couple of hours in Haight-Ashbury, which is the quintessential San Francisco neighborhood for members of my generation:


Haight-Ashbury has been cleaned up quite a bit, but it's still a very eccentric neighborhood.  Here's the storefront of the Piedmont Boutique on Haight Street:


Haight-Ashbury has some spectacular examples of the wonderful Victorian houses that San Francisco is famous for.  Here's one group of Victorians on Ashbury Street:


Janis Joplin once lived in this pink Victorian on Ashbury Street:


Here's a close-up of the doorway of that house, which probably wasn't quite as gussied up when Janis was crashing there:


The most significant "Summer of Love" site in Haight-Ashbury is the house at 710 Ashbury Street that served as the Grateful Dead's communal home between October 1966 and March 1968:


Here's a photo of the Dead and assorted hangers-on sitting on the steps of that house in 1967:


Today there are odd little images of the band's members on the sidewalk in front of the house:


Here's a closeup of an image of the late Jerry Garcia:


After our architectural explorations, we slaked our thirst at the Magnolia Gastropub and Brewery, which stands just a block from the corner of Haight and Ashbury.  The Magnolia is very serious about their beer:


We sampled the Proving Ground IPA (very hoppy indeed -- 100 IBUs), Tillie's Union Ale, Kalifornia K√∂lsch (served in 9-ounce glasses instead of imperial pints, for some reason), and the very odd Weekapaug Gruit.  (Gruit refers to unhopped beer, which was popular in Europe in medieval times, but was replaced by hopped beers hundreds of years ago.  Gruit is flavored with a mixture of herbs instead of hops.) 

A few blocks west of Ashbury Street is the house at 2400 Fulton Street that the Jefferson Airplane moved into in 1968:


You Airplane fans out there are probably aware that the band issued a compilation album titled 2400 Fulton in 1987.  Now you know where the album's title came from.


In 1969, the Airplane's lead singer, Grace Slick, underwent surgery to remove nodes from her throat, so she was unable to perform for some time.  Several of the band's members formed Hot Tuna to give themselves something to do during Grace's recuperation.

Hot Tuna became the acoustic alter ego for the Jefferson Airplane -- after Grace recovered, Hot Tuna opened for the Airplane's live concerts at the Fillmore East and elsewhere.

Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna's Jack Casady
But the Airplane was not long for this world.  Marty Balin -- the primary creative force behind Surrealistic Pillow -- left the group early in 1971.  The rest of the group split into two factions -- Grace Slick and Paul Kantner (who had a child together) on one side and Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady on the other.

Kantner founded the Jefferson Starship, leaving Hot Tuna to Kaukonen and Casady, who eventually morphed it from a bluesy acoustic band into a hard-rock power trio.

When I worked at the Federal Trade Commission in the 1980s, people would bring in unwanted books and records and leave them on a table in the library for anyone who was interested to take home.  That's where I found a copy of Hot Tuna's fourth album, Phosphorescent Rat, which had been released in 1974:


I must have listened to the entire album at least once, but the only song on it that did anything for me was "Easy Now."

"Easy Now" is a great rock song, despite being very simple.  (Maybe it's a great song because it's very simple.)  It features a nasty, distortion-heavy lead guitar line and suitably growly vocals, but what makes the song special is its perfect "Goldilocks" rhythmic groove -- not too fast and not too slow, but just right.

The song's structure is repetitive and hypnotic.  Every four-bar phrase climaxes with a heavily accented second beat in the fourth measure, followed by two beats of near silence.  I would be happy if the song was twice or even thrice as long as it is.

Jorma Kaukonen
The lyrics of the song are simple but perfect as well.  The singer is restless -- he's got the "riding pneumonia" (which is similar to the "rockin' pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu," I suppose), so he decides to hit the road and head for Mexico.

"What's he going to do when he gets there?" you might be wondering.

You're missing the point.  Getting to Mexico isn't the point of the trip.  The trip is the point of the trip.

The singer most likely will just head somewhere else once he reaches Mexico.  Hell, he might just turn around and come back home.  (You don't have a problem with that, do you?)

Here's "Easy Now":



Click here to buy the song from Amazon:




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