I thought I met a man
who said he knew a man who knew
what was going on.
I was mistaken;
only another stranger that I knew.
And I thought that I'd found the light
to guide me through my night
and all its darkness.
I was mistaken;
only reflections of a shadow that I saw.
And I thought I'd seen someone
who seemed at last
to know the truth.
I was mistaken;
only a child laughing in the sun.
Ah…in the sun.
About the time of recording If I Could Only Remember My Name, a new studio, Wally Herder’s, opened in San Francisco that featured a 16 track recorder. The Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby Stills Nash & Young all used it, and members of these groups would drop in on one another and sometimes add their voices or instruments to a track for a friend. Engineer Steve Barncard had just finished engineering the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty in the Herder studio when he began working on If I Could Only Remember My Name. Joni Mitchell added a touch of sweet harmony to Laughing, and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, who had recently been doing a lot of steel guitar work for his group’s country album, added a nearly 90 second sad but ethereal steel guitar coda to the song that is more transcendently beautiful than any steel guitar I’ve ever heard. It is by taking an instrument out of its usual context to provide a new sonic environment that Laughing is truly psychedelic.
The song progresses slowly, with oddly tuned and multiple track twelve string guitars providing a lazy shimmering rhythm against which Crosby stacks his vocals & those of his friends. The lyrics express disillusionment with spirituality akin to The Who’s rock single The Seeker, released in March 1970, and John Lennon’s I Found Out released in December 1970 on his John Lennon & the Plastic Ono Band album. But whereas Lennon & The Who’s Townshend are harsh sounding, Crosby communicates a tender melancholy, an unknowable but beautiful California vista “in the sun”. He sounds disappointed but not angry, having something of the spirit of the Jefferson Airplane’s Share a Little Joke, which is included in this study. Laughing values happiness over knowledge, spontaneity over wisdom.
Upon its release, If I Could Only Remember My Name received several negative reviews, perhaps because it was so far from the roots rock that was favored in the period of its release. Maybe its title was off-putting, suggesting as it does, that Crosby is so stoned he can’t even remember who he is. Drugs were being disapproved of more & more in some circles at this time, and it was apparent that Crosby was continuing to use them heavily. Over the last forty years, however, the album has increased in value, and has become one of the last albums of the era to offer several psychedelic compositions, though not all tracks participate in that spirit. In 1967, Eric Burdon in Monterey had sung If you want to know the truth in life / Don’t pass music by. Three or four years later David Crosby continued in that spirit with a folk music cut, Music is Love, apparently in the belief that music itself was the vessel of some "truth" unavailable within physical human form, be it an enlightened guru or a playful child.