Made up my mind to make a new start,
Going To California with an aching in my heart
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Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
(thanks Dina Regine)
To a hormonal adolescent obsessively reading the hippie trinity, Kerouac, Kesey and Thompson, and generally obsessed with the counter-culture of an era long gone, “Going to California” from Led Zeppelin IV
(released in 1971) epitomised the sort of nostalgic longing and anxious wanderlust that I felt as a nauseating teenager.
Plant claimed in an interview with Spin
magazine in 2002 that he was a little embarrassed about the lyrics in retrospect, presumably because of the type of stereotypical hippy fantasy they depict (although perhaps he was just thinking of the line: “Ride a white mare through the footsteps of dawn”). Plant admitted that the lyrics weren’t an attempt at satire, but honestly reflected his naïve hopes and dreams as a 22 year old in that time and place in history.
It was a dream that many others could relate to, an obvious example being Joni Mitchell who is indirectly referenced in the song. She may or may not be the “girl out there, with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair," but there is little doubt that the lyric “to find a queen without a king, they say she plays guitar and sings… la la la la” is an allusion to Mitchell’s song “If I Had A King," the first track on her debut album Song to a Seagull
released in 1967. Plant was reputed to have said her name after singing that line during live performances, and to have harboured an infatuation for this highly influential singer-songwriter.
Joni Mitchell may not have been looking for a man with love in his eyes and flowers in his hair, but she did love California, and her tribute the city appeared on her highly-praised album Blue
(also her fourth album and released in 1971, the same year as Led Zeppelin IV
). Joni Mitchell’s “California," Like Plant’s, is also described from a distance, as a longed-for symbolic homeland (even though Mitchell is Canadian), an idealistically beautiful place filled with beautiful people: “I’m goin’ to see the folks I dig, I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig, California I’m coming home.”
Joni Mitchell c 1974
This identification with California as cultural homeland was widespread, and turned the Golden State into a centre of pilgrimage during the late 1960s. These nomads were the original “flower children” that Plant described in “Going to California,” 100,000 of which flocked to San Francisco during the 1967 "Summer of Love," and many more in the proceeding years. During this time, the word "hippie" originated in the San Francisco media, first used by the local newspaper columnist Herb Caen to describe the "hipsters" that inhabited the poorer district of Haight-Ashbury. The Haight became a focal point colonised by this band of like-minded souls driven by a quest for peace, love, and low-cost housing.
It is not entirely clear why this important cultural revolution began in California, but one thing is sure: to this day, California has generally been a safe-haven for diversity, and this has given rise to some extremely interesting music. From the surf rock and psychedelia of the 60s, to the desert- and stoner-rock of today, California continues to be number one on my list of places to go “with an aching in my heart."
~ Douglas MacCutcheon
Douglas MacCutcheon is a music psychology researcher at a British university (yes, he experiments on people – if you can call musicians people, that is) and freelance music writer. He is interested in popular music, cultural economics and curry. He also plays classical piano for his mother and amateurishly produces ambient electro which nobody listens to Soundcloud.com/douglas-mccutcheon .
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