California Schemin’

Rabbit coat

When I was 18, I had a dream of leaving Mississippi for California, fueled in large part by the songs below, vague images from various beach movies, and little snippets of information I had heard about places like the Troubadour.  Not really that much to go on, come to think of it.  My plan was to get a patchwork rabbit fur coat, which were all the rage at the time (late 70s), buy a plane ticket with the money from my first job at the mall, take my mad flute-and-piano playing skills along with my shaky harmonization abilities, find “someone out there” who needed a flute-and-piano-player, and somehow break into the music industry.  Good plan, right?

I knew I lacked the talent or discipline to become some kind of superstar rock chick, like Ann and Nancy Wilson or what have you, but I pictured myself sort of in the background, a studio musician or something.  Anything.  The person who made the coffee or whatever.  I really didn’t care what I did (with the exception of being a groupie – wasn’t going to do that, thank you very much) as long as I was “near the flame”, so to speak.  That’s how much I loved the music.

I went so far as to go around telling everyone that I wouldn’t be back for my second year of college, because I was going to be in California.  The only problem was that I lacked the courage to go by myself.  I needed a partner – someone from home to go with me.  I asked everyone I knew.  Everyone.  Multiple times.  I bought the patchwork rabbit fur coat (I would never do that now, this was before I became enlightened and sensitive and so forth), saved my money, and waited for someone, anyone, to come forward.  No one ever did.

Also, my parents, wonderful though they were, didn’t support this dream.  They knew about all my laziness and failure to actually practice piano and whatnot, so I think they knew my chances of success were pretty much nil.  They didn’t come right out and tell me I couldn’t go, but when I would bring it up at dinner, yammering on about how I needed to go to the library to look at the want ads in the L.A. Times or whatever, a heavy silence would descend.  I’d have to leave the table and go make some more calls, double-checking to make sure no one had changed their mind.  But no.  It wasn’t meant to be.

It’s okay – don’t be sad for me, dear friends.  I have a happy life.  But I still think about my rabbit fur coat and what would have happened if I’d shown up at the Troubadour.  In retrospect, I imagine I would have been completely overwhelmed and scared to death and been on the next midnight train to Mississippi.*

This song, “Ventura Highway”, by America, still gives me that old California feeling.  Ah, Ventura highway, in the sunshine….

The great Joni Mitchell, “California”…California, coming home…make me feel good, rock and roll band, I’m your biggest fan…

And of course, I must include this masterpiece, by the Mamas & the Papas.  Mama Cass (that voice!) breaks my heart.  The unrequited love for Denny and beautiful Michelle’s shadow and everything…it’s just too painful.  Oh my gosh, I’m getting all verklempt looking at this video and the images of her. Let’s not think about it right now.  Let’s just enjoy…John, Michelle, Cass, and Denny…”California Dreaming”.

*Did you catch it? Of course you did. More bonus points! “Midnight Train to Georgia”, by the fabulous Gladys Knight and the Pips. L.A. proved too much for [insert “Marie” instead of ‘the man” here]…he’s [she’s] leaving on the midnight train to [insert Mississippi instead of Georgia here]…

Comments or Thoughts?  Any other California dreamers out there?  Please share!



Filed under Humor, Humour, Music

12 responses to “California Schemin’

  1. Such a very beautiful, evocative (and yeah, kinda sad…but that’s all good…sad has done it’s share of creating beauty through all sorts of art, literature and literature…in a way, it turned it’s own frown upside-down, ya know?!) reflection of that time and your place in it, Marie.

    I was there too right beside you (not literally of course, but figuratively, LOL!)….as were so many others. (LUV that rabbit fur jacket! Damn, those were cool as HELL! The hottest chicks always wore ’em! Gotta admit, that look was hard to beat rabbit patchwork coat and denim jeans. ‘Course I’d feel obligated to throw red paint on you if I spotted in it now ;-)….yeah, thank goodness we’ve all become a bit more enlightened to the other creatures we SHARE our planet with!)

    Of course in my version, it was the East coast that I always dreamed of going to (pouring over my Creem, Circus, and Rolling Stone mags and reading all the stories about the bands I was just turning onto playing at the clubs)…..Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, Bottom Line, Fillmore East. Wow…I got into so many bands after reading about them in these clubs! The writers were always so passionate about the performances you’d feel COMPELLED to run out and buy the albums!

    God, and the pictures of EVERYONE from Studio 54….Truman Capote, Mick & Bianca, Liza, David B., Richard Pryor, Mariel Hemingway, Richard Gere, Gloria friggin Swanson….and EVERYBODY!!!! LOL! Such a strange time….almost like a dream thinking back on it now.

    Anyway….great reflections of a time and a memory many of us experienced collectively and apart!


    • Hi Jon, I’m so glad you enjoyed my post – thanks so much for commenting! I’m also glad you remember the rabbit fur coats and know the look I was going for, lol! The coat was going to be crucial to my success, I thought. 😉

      I remember the Studio 54 era too and I was fascinated by it, but I always felt that I was more of a California person than a NY person. Turns out I’m neither, haha. But whereas California seemed a little scary, New York was downright terrifying.

      And I agree – it does all seem like a dream now; so very long ago. I think that’s one of the reasons I started this blog – to celebrate our youth and the fantastic era in which we grew up. We had before us a great feast of magnificent art and music of all kinds. How fortunate we are to have been a part of that generation. 🙂

  2. That’s of course….art, literature and MUSIC! LOL!

  3. I wasn’t dreaming of California, but I did move from Oklahoma in 1992 to Seattle to pursue grunge superstardom…

    • Kudos to you, Matt! You actually did it! That really impresses me, because as you see, I was too chicken to do it. 😉
      Did you go by yourself, or did you have a friend from home to go with you?

  4. That’s something you can look back on your whole life and say, “I had what it took to follow my dream”. That in itself is success.

    About grunge, I always think of that era as the tail end of my youth. I didn’t care for the music of the 80s, with the exception of the blues-revival led by the great SRV, and had pretty much given up on modern music. I was just finishing up graduate school when Nirvana burst on the scene. I distinctly remember thinking “it’s back”! REAL music! It had authenticity to it, you know what I mean? I embraced it fully, walking around campus in my Baja shirt and flannels. Not very comfortable in Mississippi, but sometimes we have to suffer for art. 😉
    There may be a whole post in my grunge phase…hmmmm…

  5. Marie, I’m scared. Did you find the rabbit-skin jacket for the photo on the internet or in your wardrobe? I’ve seen nothing like it before. So patchwork, so Watership Down, so… so much dead rabbit.

    On a slightly more serious note, in addition to the arts (especially music of course) one of the things California gave America and the world was a fantasy. Of sunshine, success, succulence and sordidness. Of dreams both realised and shattered.

    But would I want to live there?


    Nice post though.

    • Have no fear, Bruce – that photo came straight from the Internet. Those hideous rabbit fur coats were huge in the seventies though – every teenage girl worth her salt had to have one. Terrible. Even worse when you think about Watership Down (still one of my favorite books, by the way). It must sound like I was an awful girl, wearing a rabbit fur coat and listening to a song about whaling over and over, as we know. But I’m reformed; I wouldn’t wear fur for anything and I don’t even eat beef anymore. And that’s not even taking into consideration the three rescue dogs that are crowding me out of my bed as we speak. 😉

      I agree about California – that’s where fantasies are spun for the rest of us. When we’re young, those fantasies can be very seductive and powerful. But wisdom comes with age, thank goodness, and we eventually see things as they really are. All that to say – I wouldn’t want to live there either, now.

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