Forty years ago, my friend (and now, co-author) Kevin and I lived for a time at a little house near the side of Highway One on the California coast. This house was home to a group of other people, mainly, East Coast transplants new to California living, but long on the counter-culture side of society. There was a table made of a large telephone-wire spool in the front room, with a fireplace, a component stereo set back in a far corner, and on an opposite wall (next to the oft-frequented by visitors) overstuffed couch, a long shelf constructed of milk crates, filled to the excess edges with record albums
But besides. The music most often speaking the lore and mood of the place for both of us was a record album by Sandy Denny, The Northsar Grassman and the Ravens. The song “Late November” in particular, with its dark, stark, minor mode, its stark imagery, was always somehow more cheering when combined with a foggy and overcast out-of-doors and a new, roaring fire constructed of driftwood and roadside kindling. Behind panes of frosted glass we would look out upon a small yard where dogs and chickens roamed, and several vehicles of one sort or another were always parked, rarely driven, and sometimes lived in.
Sandy’s record filled some sort of atmosphere. Recorded halfway around the world, in England, a place we oft imagined shared just as many grey days as these we lived in Half Moon Bay, would through its major alchemy bespeak a different way of seeing... Seeing, perhaps, with the opened eyes of a shaman, or the pagan eyes of a Renaissance herbalist, the songs of pain, separation, woe, and vouchsafed calamity often unmatched by other artists, or other albums.
Of course there were times, and there were other artists, who could breach this bare and blasted wilderness which both he and I knew was (for that era in our lives) the extent of our world, and the frontier of our shared communal group mind- but the house itself seemd to float in its own little bubble, and the songs of Sandy Denny are indelibly plastered across my memory of that time, that place, that certain way of looking out windows, on a foggy landscape where anything and nothing was possible and a stark zen acceptance of life and death was the measure of ones awareness, maturity, and sense of grace...