Gotta love the Canterbury scene.
While every musician elsewhere in Britain during the late 60’s/early 70s
was tumbling down the psychedelic-folk-jazz-rock vortex, bands like Caravan
were blithely taking the piss out of the whole damned era. What else would you
expect from a group who titled their second long player, If I Could Do It
Again, I’d Do It All Over You.
Musically and lyrically, everything
they do bubbles with an infectious jokiness played impeccably straight. The
music speaks for itself: complex, melodic, textured, silly, full of sudden,
unexpected deep grooves. Some people don’t take them seriously enough
because Caravan never took itself too seriously. But that doesn’t mean
they’re not seriously talented. Caravan will not make you cry. But elaborate
jokes are, nonetheless, an art of their own, a product of craft, intelligence
and articulation. Caravan blazed the trail for Talking Heads, Phish, Stereolab,
Ween, Dan the Automator, Destroyer and countless other bands whose healthy sense
of the absurd sometimes overshadows musical genius.
In The Land of Grey and Pink
(‘71) is their best album (though I have a soft spot for ‘73’s
For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night). It exudes a playful exuberance
through a pastiche of musical tones and styles. “Winter Wine” sounds
on first listen like a fey folk ballad, with references to dragons and naked
dancers, maudlin vocals and melancholy strings. Until you realize how ridiculously
goofy the romantic lyrics are, just as the song breaks into a tight electric
piano-fueled rocker. “Golf Girl” is a love song for people who love
Caddyshack. And “Love to Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)”
is arguably the greatest slept-on single in British rock history.
For those who appreciate its charms, this album is unique for its ability to make a perfect soundtrack to a variety of settings. At home alone on a cold winter night; jamming out with friends when the vino is flowing; even driving happily in a convertible through Sonoma vineyards in 100 degree late summer heat with friends named Galahad and Hannah. But my favorite memory of this album is from a trip I took with Sara to Joshua Tree. I popped it on as we entered the monument. As she gazed for the first time at the beautiful emptiness of rocks, sky, shaggy trees and yellow wildflowers, she turned to me, suddenly distracted, and asked, “Did he just say ‘candlelight illuminates the breasts of four young girls?’” Actually, he said, “poor young girls,” but I like it better Sara’s way.