Jackson Browne, ‘The Barricades of Heaven’
This earworm began when I saw a post from the Martin Guitar Facebook page: “Who first made you want a Martin?”
I’m pretty sure I first decided I must have a Martin D-1 guitar after reading somewhere (maybe in the Rich Wiseman’s biography of Jackson Browne?) that Browne played a Martin D-1 in his very early days.
Over at MusicPlayer.com, there’s a feature about Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 [since deleted]. In it, Paul Dieter explains that the 2005 live album was culled from more than 100 shows, and that some of the songs are edited together from two or three different nights.
Also in the story, Jackson Browne discusses the various guitars he uses, including the 1930s Gibson Roy Smeck model upon which his own signature guitar is based. He says the guitar’s “neck is like the deck of an aircraft carrier … really wide.” It’s scaled like a classical guitar, with only a 12-fret neck, but the body is much bigger than a classical, and so the sound is too.
The Roy Smeck model is the guitar he used on the acoustic album’s opening track, “Barricades of Heaven.” After “These Days,” I started learning that one too.
Because it’s just one guy playing one guitar or piano, Solo Acoustic, Vol. 1 is a good album to practice along with, free of the confusion of other instruments and production effects. It does require a minor adjustment though, because Browne is fond of tuning down a half step to E flat — a tuning which can also compensate for “morning voice” when you need to sing earlier in the day than you usually might. “Barricades of Heaven” is performed in this lower tuning.
Running down around the towns along the shore
When I was sixteen and on my own
No, I couldn’t tell you what the hell those brakes were for
I was just trying to hear my song
Friends from those days are a main theme. In the second verse, “Jimmy found his own sweet sound and won that free guitar / We’d all get in the van and play.” I don’t know who Jimmy is, but Jackson Browne was in the earliest lineup of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and can be seen on the official Nitty Gritty Dirt Band history page, second from left in his 1920’s pinstripe suit. The band also included Jimmie Fadden on guitar, harmonica, washtub bass, jug, and vocals.
That verse (altered in the Glastonbury performance) also names “the Paradox, the Bear, the Rouge et Noir” — bars which were landmarks of Orange County, California nightlife, as recalled in Jim Washburn’s story for the June 2008 issue of Orange County’s Riviera magazine, “The Radar Nightlife” (link is to a PDF copy at Greg Topper‘s website).
Michael robbed a liquor store in some god-forsaken mall
Must have crossed some kind of line in his head
He stopped to shoot a goddamn bottle off the wall
And in that moment, he turned, he was dead
The song’s chorus — a repeated flourish of C – G – D chords — features two enigmatic lines:
Better bring your own redemption when you come
To the barricades of heaven where I’m from
Bachom remembered that she saw the electric Dylan show “at Riverside College, in Orange County. That’s ‘The Barricades Of Heaven’ Jackson (Browne) sang about.”
She knows this because she was hanging around with Browne at the time:
“I’m pretty sure our friend Jackson was with us but I’m not sure…..Hey, it was the 60s after all! ..Jackson and I were friends in California, so we probably went to the show. He was so influenced by Dylan. He idolized him. I have a picture he signed some place, he wrote on the back, ‘Sandi babe . . . motor highways . .something . . ‘ . . .very Dylanesque . . He signed it ‘Jack.’ We called him ‘Jackie’ in those days.”
I still can’t say I understand the phrase — and both Riverside City College and the University of California, Riverside are located in Riverside County, not Orange County — but it’s interesting to have a few more fragments from that time and place.
The exact date of that mysterious Bob Dylan show has not been fixed, but it seems to have been just prior to Dylan and the Hawks playing the Honolulu International Center Arena on April 9, 1966 — which is the same day my wife, Amy, was born.
The first of about ten Jackson Browne concerts I have attended was in 1978 at Northwestern University’s McGaw Hall — April 9th, to be exact. I was 17 at the time.
I remember how, during the show, Browne blanked in the middle of “Rosie,” his cryptic ode to self-fulfillment. He had to stop the song and get the next line from someone before resuming:
Of all the times that I’ve been burned, by now you’d think I’d learn
That it’s who you look like, not who you are.
“Jackson Browne,” he chuckled after that.
I don’t know about bringing your own redemption, but I do know you have to have your own ticket in your hand. Sadly, my friend Ernie forgot his ticket at home. He spent that concert alternately sitting in our friend Dave’s AMC Gremlin, and roaming the chilly streets of Evanston, Illinois until the show was over.