Liner Notes for Sam and Sara Jackson
June 14, 2008
Matt and Danny Jackson were friends, so when Danny’s younger brother Sam showed up at Pepperdine as a college freshman, we got to know him too. These older guys strongly influenced our musical tastes, and I doubt I would know of Fred Neil if not for them. He’s best remembered for his songs “The Dolphins” and “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me” (which gained huge popularity on the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy as sung by Harry Nilsson). Fred went on to do more than sing about dolphins; he started a foundation for their protection. With his deep, raspy, masculine voice, he was the most grown-up sounding artist on the musical scene at that time. A younger but equally poignant voice was that of Tim Hardin, who never became as famous as his songs, especially “If I Were a Carpenter” which has been covered by dozens of other artists.
The Beatles had already established themselves as a phenomenon in 1964. The writing of Lennon and McCartney is represented here by Judy Collins (“In My Life”). Richie Havens interprets George Harrison's “Here Comes the Sun”. The Beatles were attracting screaming audiences across America, and our friend Janice Hahn made it into their Hollywood Bowl performance. If I recall correctly, she even went backstage. I remember her saying she couldn’t hear the music, the audience was so loud. I was jealous. In 1964 I stayed up really late one night with Beth Ross because the radio d.j. promised to play three Beatles songs back to back.
The California music scene was underestimated by some of us who lived there. The Beach Boys were too popular and happy for those who preferred looking in the shadows for more obscure musical gems. Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys has been referenced over the decades as a seminal work influencing many other musicians, including the Beatles themselves. They said their Sgt. Pepper album was an attempt at competition with Brian Wilson’s genius. So in retrospect I honor Brian’s work with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”. The song reminds me of all the years of yearning that Sara and Sam experienced as they wondered if they would ever have the privilege of being married.
Bob Dylan was always lurking on the edge of my consciousness. I don’t think I ever bought an album of his, although I have memories of hearing a few of them in other settings. I remember one particular one night with John Scheifele and Dave Rice in Kaiserslautern, Germany when we heard the Concert for Bangladesh and Bob Dylan croaking out “It’s a Hard Rain Gonna Fall”. But that’s not a part of your history. I did always think of Sara, though, when I heard Richie Havens sing Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”.
Why did we find woodsmen and railroad workers such compelling figures? Doubtless because of Gordon Lightfoot. His “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” painted such a romantic picture of the northern woods, the visionaries that connected the east coast to the west (pre-environmentalism), and the tender hearts hidden within those strong, rough laborers. I always think of Sam and Sara when I hear Gordon Lightfoot, not only because I know they loved his music, but also because they seemed to inhabit the images in my mind as I would listen. (It didn’t hurt that Sam actually went to work on the railroad for awhile during those years, and grew the requisite mountain man beard.) Particularly in “The Way I Feel”, Lightfoot describes the tides of closeness and separateness that Sara and Sam experienced through the years of their courtship.
1967 was a very good year for music. Peter Paul & Mary were often playing on the stereo in the family room at the Budlong house. Their Album 1700 contained a song which captures a feeling of those times for me like no other: “Bob Dylan’s Dream”. I wasn’t really old enough yet to have the kind of relationships the song describes, but I could certainly imagine and long for them. I’m not sure how I discovered Judy Collins’ album Wildflowers but I feel sure it was Matt, because he was my musical guide throughout this period. Judy and the other artists on that album created such a specific and elegant mood, an environment of sound. She was the first artist I was aware of who had the nerve to use classical instruments on a pop album. A funny memory connected with Wildflowers was our booth at the AWP Gift Fair, where I played this music and burnt candles we had made, as well as incense. I think we scared the AWP ladies a little with this reminder of the hippie craziness going on in the outside world. We raised $80 for the Pepperdine scholarship fund that day with our sales of cookies and candles.
Somewhere during these years Sara and Marilyn and I became involved with the Campus Evangelism movement. There was a fresh wind blowing through the spiritual lives of the college students we knew and some older men who were our teachers and guides. We attended prayer meetings, Bible studies and weekend seminars (including one all the way out in Dallas) where we were confronted with the claims of Jesus on our lives. “Is Jesus your Lord?” No one had asked us that before, and having the opportunity to invite Him to be not only Savior but Lord of every part of our lives was an incredibly significant turning point for us.
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” was on the radio one night as Stephen Bennett drove Sara, Marilyn and me to one of those Bible studies. The composer later acknowledged that he wrote this song after reading some of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation. I was amazed that the movement of the Holy Spirit in those days was extending to the radio airwaves. “Oh Happy Day” was a hit by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, a black church choir. Judy Collins had a radio hit with “Amazing Grace” and Norman Greenbaum put his trust in the “Spirit in the Sky”.
We close the first CD with a song that expresses the hope and determination of political commitment. Joan Baez had married an anti-war protestor named David Harris who was serving prison time for his convictions. As she raised their child and waited for his release, she wrote “A Song for David” to express her faith in their love and the importance of what he was doing. That kind of sacrifice of the whole person for ideals captured our hearts. We were challenged by books like Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and William Stringfellow’s My People is the Enemy. In those days Sam decided to move to New Jersey to work with inner city children. He couldn’t have imagined then that he would be able to help children around the world later on through his commitment to World Vision. I thank God that not everyone who came through the ‘Sixties ended up disillusioned, cynical and self-centered.
Because of Matt’s research in record store aisles, we had already met Joni Mitchell before her first album was released. “Our House” represents a whole conglomeration of people and memories and sensibilities. Written and performed by Graham Nash, “Our House” describes the brief partnership of Joni and Graham during the glory days of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Matt took us to a concert at the Greek Theater where CSN and their friend Neil Young opened for Joni. It was their third gig, their second having been at Woodstock.
Joni also spent some time in the life of James Taylor, which partnership is captured musically in “Long Ago & Far Away” as well as in her album Blue. (Oh, you sweet baby James in your suspenders on the cover of Mud Slide Slim & the Blue Horizon.) In 1971 Cat Stevens appeared on the scene. That fall Sara and I were sophomores in college. She returned from Lipscomb for a visit and she and Sam and Danny Blair and I spent an evening in the Jackson apartment on Chester Place listening to “Wild World” and “Hardheaded Woman” (along with an album by Fevertree which I found again a few years ago through Napster and have now lost again). I always thought of Sara and Sam when I heard Cat singing about “one who will make me do my best…and when I find my hardheaded woman, I know the rest of my life will be blessed.” The Young family so emphasized “potential” and I knew Sam had it in him to rise to that challenge.
“Never Ending Song of Love” was one of my favorite radio hits that year and introduced me to Delaney and Bonnie and their album Motel Shot. I was fascinated by the fact that they recorded that album in motel rooms and public meeting spaces where there might be an old, ratty piano. One percussion instrument credited on the album was an empty briefcase. The songs are just as raw and real as at a late night jam. Oddly, I just this week came across a documentary from that era called Festival Express where Delaney is featured. It’s an uneven film with some tedious and great moments, chronicling a cross-country Canadian rock festival tour with amazing acts like Janis Joplin, the Band and the Grateful Dead.
What an amazing year was 1972, when I discovered Jackson Browne. He opened for Joni Mitchell at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in L.A. and, just months later, in the Jahrhundertshalle in Frankfurt, Germany. I was spending the summer and fall in Europe and Joni provided the perfect soundtrack with her album Blue. Representing that year is “All I Want” which features Joni on dulcimer. I also discovered Kenny Loggins, who had teamed up with Jim Messina from Poco, one of the groups that Matt was following because they morphed out of the Buffalo Springfield. “Danny’s Song” had more fame from Anne Murray’s Nashville-ized shortened version with strings and pedal steel, but Kenny’s cut with twice the verses reveals more of the Zeitgeist with his mention of getting high and astrological signs. I loved the Loggins & Messina album Full Sail which followed this, so 1973 is represented by “Watching the River Run”.
What a culture shock for me, to return from Heidelberg, Germany to Malibu, California! Sara was at Pepperdine now, her family was enjoying the Adamson house on the beach, and she and Sam and Danny and I spent occasional time together. We all drove up to Hayfork to visit Danny and Sally in northern California, and we attended another Joni Mitchell concert together. That was another culture shock. Joni had made a jump that was natural for her but jarring for me and much of her audience, from the hippie princess in leather and velvet to a rockin’ mama in heels and makeup with an entire band behind her, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express.
It took some doing for me to make that adjustment. “Help Me” from the album Court and Spark represents 1974. I remember buying that album and taking it to Sara’s, sitting on the floor in Marilyn’s bedroom where the stereo was and actually working at getting my mind around it. I really wanted to grow with this artist who had been such a creative inspiration and role model for me, but it was a challenge to make the leap from acoustic guitars to saxes and drums and Jaco Pastorius on a fretless bass.
I can’t explain the lack of a song from 1975 unless it’s because I was spending all my musical time in Nashville at the Koinonia Bookstore, sitting on the floor singing along to the music of a band called Dogwood every Saturday night. (I got to be “Dogwood for a Day” when Annie had just delivered their first baby and I filled in for her at a gig in Abilene.) They focused their ministry on families and became nationally known as Steve and Annie Chapman, enjoying a musical career with the Dobson ministry. In the meantime both of them have written many books, and both their children (Nathan Chapman and Heidi Chapman Beall) have become professional musicians in their own right.
I had moved to Nashville in the fall of 1974 with a sendoff from Sara and Marilyn that included an eight-track tape player for my yellow Camaro. I drove all the way listening to James Taylor’s album Walking Man – but that’s my memory, not the Jacksons’. I spent a year at Yale Divinity School but returned to Nashville in 1976 where the music business beckoned. Some of my musical colleagues opened by ears to new music, and one of those California artists I had missed, along with the Eagles, was Linda Ronstadt. “Hasten Down the Wind” from the album of the same title reminded me of Sara and Sam because their dance of separation and togetherness still continued. I also added “Give One Heart” because it’s such a happy affirmation of love amidst so much unfulfilled yearning.
We had all loved James Taylor since his first Apple-released album, Sweet Baby James. I remember a New Year’s Eve party at Sara and Marilyn’s Pasadena apartment where I had brought my friend Marty McCall. We drove straight from Nashville, 40 hours, for a few days’ post-Christmas vacation. We danced to JT’s In the Pocket and drank champagne that night supplied by Gary Baucum, the only one of us present that night with a paying job. (the rest of us were graduate sudents except for Marty the musician.) “Golden Moments” memorializes that visit. We got up the next morning and walked to the Rose Parade down the block, then came back to the apartment for omelettes.
The next time I was with you both was probably your wedding. The last three songs in this collection are a summary of the journey of your love, your coming together and parting so many times, the possibilities you had to face that you might never make a life together, and the final decision that you would. Although “The Water is Wide” could be heard as a bitter lament, I hear the determination and commitment of a partnership that God has blessed with longevity. Yes, we have all experienced the truth that feelings come and go. “Oh love is gentle and love is kind, the sweetest flower when first it’s new, but love grows old and waxes cold and fades away like morning dew.” But the final declaration is one of hope and confidence. “Give me a ship that can carry two, and both shall row, my love and I.”
Thank you, Sara and Sam, for sharing your lives with each other in our presence. Thank you for all the battles you have fought to stay together and create a family and a home. Thank you for being our friends, and for making our lives so much richer. And thank you for celebrating with us these thirty years of covenant relationship, and nearly a lifetime of memories.