JOHNNY RIVERS REALIZATION, IMPERIAL RECORDS, 1968
Imagine for a second you’re Johnny Rivers. You should be a fictional character. A plucky first baseman with a big swing and dreams of rising from the ash heap to start for the Brooklyn Dodgers. A big-city card sharp in a rural Southern town who falls for the crime boss’s girl and gets roughed up by toughs. You’d be played in the movie by Frank Sinatra, maybe. Or Dean Martin. Or a soul-singing white kid born in Jersey but raised in N’Awlins who meets a famous DJ in New York, then blasts to superstardom on the Sunset Strip, the de facto herald of the Sixties sound. Well, that one sticks. But you aren’t a fiction. Only your name is (cause no one would by a record from Johnny Ramostella).
It’s winter, 1968. Early February, the pink jasmine and mock orange already in bloom in the canyons. You’re sitting in the sprawling living room of your mansion, twenty-six years old, already famous, rich, weary and jaded. As you watch the last stragglers sneak into the bushes or cozy up in pairs (or trios or quartets) by the fire, a strange beautiful woman nods as she passes silently into your bedroom, leaving the door open. You take a last strong swill of your bourbon. You’ve watched your decade flower from afar, took dispatches from the Summer of Love, scanning the front for material you could straighten out, soften up, apply some discipline-- to sell to the masses. After all, you are the singer everybody in America is listening to. You are what the Sixties sound like to most people. 30 million records don’t lie. Just ask Lou Adler.
You put down your empty glass and stumble mechanically into the dark bedroom, trying to pass for suave. You take off your clothes without a word and make love to the beautiful blonde, never asking her name. Then you get up, pack a suitcase, grab your guitar and drive straight to Big Sur. In a few weeks' time, you’ve sketched the bones of a new album, Realization, the first you will produce yourself. It is a portrait of your time and your mind, a picture of the world around you and the one inside you. It has snatches of pop songs re-interpreted for one voice, a soulful croon like it sounds in your ears when you sing in the shower. And a few delicate originals. It is lonely, open, gentle, soulful and sure. It will be your last charting album for a decade, and it’s a masterpiece. A rare thing, that beautiful gem so obvious and eponymous it hides in plain sight.
Now stop this reverie and get back to yourself. Imagine you stop suddenly as you catch the last of an L.A. sunset or a crescent moon or a car wreck and in that flash, just getting it. You add up the wins and losses, the successes and the failures; you look at the things you’ve done and take stock of the times you’re living in and you know you don’t mean shit. Not one little pebble or measly turd. A few hours later you go out, drunk but clear, on a solo ramble and end up singing your own personal soundtrack, with all the bruised passion of a battered, hopeful soul, at an empty karaoke bar. Realization is that album.