"Can't Find My Way Home" / Blind Faith
I've tried to resist all this Woodstock anniversary nostalgia -- no point in feeling fake nostalgia for a festival I never attended. But I broke down the other morning and snuck off to see Taking Woodstock, the new Ang Lee film. And really, I was more thinking of it as a Demetri Martin film; he's a stand-up comedy god in my household.
Demetri's character, Elliott, was the guy who hooked up the festival's producers with Max Yasgur's farm, which is about all the plot line you need. He doesn't spend much time at the festival itself, and never gets close enough to see the acts -- which saves us from the spectacle of watching, say, Mos Def impersonate Jimi Hendrix or Zooey Deschanel play Grace Slick. A fair amount of the famous music is played on the soundtrack, though, triggering all the Pavlovian responses. So what if, as we recently learned, some of the original Woodstock album was "sweetened" with better cuts of those same songs, culled from other concerts? The point is, you hear certain songs, you think "Woodstock." And then a beatific smile spreads over your face.
When this song came spooling through the movie, I thought, "Oh, yeah, another great Woodstock number." Trouble is, this song wasn't played at Woodstock. I guess it was thrown in because, in the movie, Elliott is slogging through the mud and the crowds, trying --get it? -- to find his way home. Engrossed in the movie, I didn't even register what song it was or who sang it; I just knew it sounded right.
Later on that day, I tried to track down that song, with its distinctive mad psychedelic swirl. "It's gotta be Traffic," I decided, "nobody sings that high and clear except Stevie Winwood." But a little research and I discovered that Traffic wasn't at the festival; Traffic didn't even exist in the summer of 1969. Dummy me, I hunted through all the other Woodstock bands before I realized I'd been right all along. It was Stevie Winwood, but with his next band, the "super-group" Blind Faith. And the song was from the summer of 1969, all right -- the only summer Blind Faith existed.
A lot of bands thought that a psychedelic song had to have imagistic lyrics -- gardens of Eden and cellophane flowers and white rabbits and all. Not Blind Faith. There are just two images in this song's lyrics -- the "throne" in the first line ("Come down off your throne and leave your body alone") and the "key" at the end of the verse ("You are the reason I've been waiting so long /Somebody holds the key"). But neither of these are arty images; they're things anybody would say in normal speech. And how about that last couplet: "But I'm near the end and I just aint got the time / And I'm wasted and I can't find my way home." Forget the coded drug messages everybody else was messing around with; this guy's telling you straight out what's up with him. He's high, okay?
As if anybody listening to this song could be in any doubt. The melody weaves around like a series of ocean waves, with a series of descending arcs -- cresting over the top, surging and receding, washing up on shore. There's only the one verse, anyway; after that it's just fragments of repeats, as if he's getting loster and loster. Then there's the undertow of nimble guitar picking that Eric Clapton lays down around those words -- more complication to get lost in. The samba-like rhythm pulses along, punctuated with an occasional shimmering cymbal bash from Ginger Baker, like the waves hissing onto the sand.
Despite the words, he isn't pleading; he just sounds bummed out and a little petulant. The woman he's trying to make love to is probably getting really pissed off by now, though I have to say, Winwood's boyish voice (winsome Winwood, I always call him) would be way too sweet for me to stay pissed off at him.
A gem of a song, an absolute gem. So what if it wasn't actually performed at Woodstock? Ang Lee wasn't about to get hung up on details like that. It's the sound of the summer of 1969, and a perfect evocation of the spirit of Woodstock. All this Woodstock nostalgia is fake anyway -- let's make it as hazy and groovy and far out as we can, okay?
Can't Find My Way Home sample