If you are going to San Francisco

Veterans of the 60s
Veterans of the 60s

The other day I created a new Pandora station. It goes back to the guitar lessons, you see. There’s this Simon and Garfunkel song (Kathy’s Song) that I want to learn how to play. I then discovered that somehow my Simon and Garfunkel hadn’t made it to my new computer, and thus not to my phone. Let’s just put some ellipses in here that cover the fact that 4 interventions later, I still do not have Kathy’s Song on my phone to play for my teacher nor my oldest favoritest CDs onto my new laptop which is synced with my iPod.

But in the long journey towards getting my music in a place I can listen to it, I realized I hadn’t heard much Simon and Garfunkel lately, and that cannot stand. Enter the Pandora station.

And people, this is the best Pandora station ever. It’s basically the singer song-writers of the 60s, with these great voices, acoustic guitars and fantastic lyrics. This year for Valentine’s day one of us got tickets to the ballet and one of us got an awesome sound system for the tv. Adam has a blast with him mom at the ballet, and with the Roku I can stream my music and it sounds great. So I’ve been listening to Pandora through this sound system with this rocking new station. Now, back in the old days, before they invented NPR (or more accurately, before any sort of talk radio actually made its way to the boonies where we lived – and yes I am older than talk radio) my family listened to the Oldies station. This was like the 80s, so oldies meant the 60s, as opposed to now when oldies mean the 80s. These are songs I actually recognize!

The other day, I stayed up way too late with some friends playing a game that had been popular in my youth. This game is basically, “Just how out of touch is Brenda with everything pop culture”. In the modern edition it involved a playlist of Songs I Should Really know and then gales of laughter as I guessed Completely Inappropriate Bands. Let’s be honest… while I stand a decent chance of correctly pairing a aria with its composer, if not its opera, I can’t tell Aerosmith from Lynrd Skynr.

Anyway, I’ve been listening to these old songs, new songs, lovely songs. I’ve been hearing the words far more clearly than I did in the back seat of the station wagon, waving in and out through distant FM waves. Some of the songs I completely misinterpreted. For example, I was listening to My Sweet Lord. At first I thought, ‘What a beautiful Christian anthem! Wonder why I haven’t heard it sung at a church service?’ All the “alle”s heading up to an “alleluia”. Yeah, I hear you laughing now. It’s not “alle” like “alleluia”. It’s “Hare” like “Hare Krishna”. Oops!

Some of the other songs from the 60s break my heart and make me want to cry. Long on that list have been Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream and Imagine. This particular playlist is fond of If You Are Going to San Francisco. I’m increasingly struck by the hopefulness, the belief they had that this time it could really be different – the world could really be new. There was a spirit of joy that is so compelling, so lovely. The song simply promises that if you come to San Francisco, you should wear some flowers in your hair, and you will meet gentle people there. Gentle people. How often today are we offered gentle people? When is the last time you heard someone called gentle, or were called gentle yourself. We do not aspire to gentleness, we do not claim to desire gentleness.

The flower children of the 60s were younger then than I am now, and their childhood seems lovely to me. My parents were of that generation (although decidedly not flower children). The persuasive hope and gentleness and optimism of a generation were erased, assassinated, worn down, made illegal, caricatured and faded. There are not unironic people in San Francisco – gentle – with flowers in their hair. We would say that John Lennon was a dreamer – and he died a violent death. He might not have been the only one when he sang, but I hear many fewer dreamers on Kiss 108.

I get tired of irony, cynicism and self-consciousness. Our artists cannot afford sincerity. The internet, the media channels… they stand ready to mock the slightest weakness. Hope seems impossibly naive. The Boomers couldn’t change the world – what chance do the Millennials have, or those of us whose generation comes at the end of the alphabet? I look back to the childhood of my parents, the thrill of change, and I wish I had gone to San Francisco with flowers in my hair.

I leave you with some thoughts from Bob Dylan:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

4 thoughts on “If you are going to San Francisco”

  1. I agree that most new songs lack hope. I suppose that in today’s extrreme world, where you can’t really be alive unless you are bungie jumping with a 20oz NoxX300mgCaffeineHeartBurster while listening to speed metal while texting your friends, and streaming your experience, simple things seem mundane. Somewhere, people stopped finding thier own lives exciting.

    As an example of being surprised by a song, I heard a really great song called The Princess And The Mermaid, by Catie Curtis, and It took me back to when my 4 kids were little, and the responsibilities were so desperate.

    The Princess and the Mermaid
    from Sweet Life

    These days we can’t seem to find the time
    After picking up toys and giving up airplane rides
    But the princess and the mermaid in the backseat
    Have pointed out the moon and fallen asleep

    Driving past the place we used to live
    Before we lived with crayons and with cribs
    Sometimes I don’t know how we got here
    A little dream of our own and we got here

    Whatever it takes, whatever we need
    I believe that we can make it my love
    Whatever comes, you are the one
    Who helps me to believe I’m strong enough

    These days we choose what bills to pay
    And we never used to fight but we did today
    Someone’s always coming down with something
    Take another day off work again

    Whatever it takes, whatever we need
    I believe that we can make it my love
    Whatever comes, you are the one
    Who helps me to believe I’m strong enough

    When times get a little rough
    The princess and the mermaid in the backseat
    Open up a world for us to see love

    Whatever it takes, whatever we need
    I believe that we can make it my love
    Whatever comes, you are the one
    Who helps me to believe I’m strong enough

    Beautiful! I tried to find an mp3 to download, but it was new, so I searched in vain. Now, I assumed that it was a man and wife talking here, or to me, myself talking to my wife 20 years ago. I was surprised that the song is to her ‘significant other’ and they had adopted. Isn’t that modern! But the song still hits me deep, so I suppose that is all it has to do.


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