*10.02-THE ALL GOLDEN (Van Dyke Parks)

Van Dyke Parks



He is not your run of the mill
Garden variety Alabama country fare.
Left on Silver Lake, he keeps
A small apartment top an Oriental food store there.

        He returned from Alabama
        To see what he could see.

Off the record he is hungry
Though he works hard in his Alabama country fair.
I should think he'd fade away
The way that Bohemians often bear the frigid air.



                Constant commentary
                by the wayside.
                Nowadays them country boys
                don't cotton much to one two three four.

                Rest your team
                workout in the All Golden.
                You will know why hayseeds
                go back to the country.

                Constant calm might still
                our stately union.
                Nowadays a Yankee dread not
                take his time to wend to sea.

                Forget to bear your arms
                in the All Golden.
                You will know why hayseeds
                go back to the country.


                Might as well allow for one more go round.
                That's all folks!
                Them hayseeds go back
                to the country.


(Ya get it? Alright)

Song Cycle contains two large compositions, of which this is the first. The All Golden begins with an eerie, almost aquatic arpeggios from a harp which has been altered by processing the recording tape in a manner which Bruce Botnick, as sound engineer, called “The Farkle”. (A similar technique of altering the recording tape by use of folds and “sticky tape” had been used by George Martin in the production of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper.) This distorted harp is married to a horn section playing quietly in a low register.

Then we move into the first part of the song, which has a chorusHe returned from Alabama to see what he could see, echoing the old chestnut I joined the Navy to see the world / And what did I see? I saw the sea. The verse vaguely follows Van Dyke Parks’ own trajectory from the Old South to California, where he was living in poverty at the time. They seem to be about the poet’s humble roots meeting up with the sophisticated virtual reality of Hollywood. The lyrics of Song Cycle often have a scrambled, Cubist quality, that VDP has said was influenced by the word play of James Joyce, and The All Golden is no exception. Joyce had figured in the Grace Slick composition for After Bathing at Baxter’s titled Rejoyce. But the zany quality of VDP puns seems to have even more relation to John Lennon’s I Am the Walrus, which was inspired by Lewis Carroll. Richard Harrington writes of Song Cycle that it poses “more riddles than the average sphinx” (Song Cycle, p. 20), and VDP seems quite aware that he’s proposing a puzzle without any significant conclusion, but only a richness of association. After all, the song ends with the comment Ya get it?, showing a similar motivation as Lennon when he composed Walrus. (Lennon had wanted to stump English majors who were beginning to take Beatles lyrics too seriously as the bearer of some sort of Transcendent Truth in poetry classes.) Extending such cheekiness with an abundant use of puns through an entire album can be wearing for many listeners (who have protested that VDP is far too coy and pretentious), those that can’t seem to hear anything sincere in such intellectualizations. But the late sixties were rife with earnest kids seeking The Answer to the Riddle of Existence, and for artists like Bob Dylan and John Lennon it had gotten to be an oppressive expectation by this time. Hallucinogens and transcendental meditation did not hold the truth, but might be tools toward the development of fresh perceptions. VDP seemed to feel the appropriate response to such Philistine earnestness was to throw the chaos of late 60s concepts (revolutionary engagement & rustic withdrawal, peaceful protest & “by any means necessary”) up into the air along with concepts given us by previous generations, as if confetti, fascinated by the various patterns the words made. Making new conceptual associations, after all, between modern life and the life of our forbearers, could be a way by which to develop new ideas—and it could be fun, if one used a sense of humor. Harrington writes of Song Cycle that it was able to “rewrite the laws of physics to suit its own needs, and successfully adhere to those revised laws for the duration of its running time” (p. 26). Such was the sense of “truth” that was developing at the dawn of the postmodern era.

The sound of a train whistle is matched with horns to provide a short transition to the second part of the song, which strikes up an entirely different melody with a refrain of hayseeds go back to the country. The situation of a Southern man in Hollywood is sustained in the lyrics; but a third element regarding military service is added in such a manner that it appears the poet is hiding out in Hollywood from the selective service. After two rounds of the second melody, there is a fifteen second break that acts as a piano fantasia supported by harmonica and horns. An abbreviated third round of the melody closes as deliberately as a Warner Brothers cartoon for Porky Pig. Henderson writes (p. 27) that the provisional title for Song Cycle had been Looney Tunes, and this final verse seems to be an allusion to that. That’s all folks, although properly relating to the end of the singing, might also (in this context) be making a wry comment on the boys sent to Vietnam. The actual cut however continues with a return to the aquatic harp playing the same piece as in the introduction, but with additional overlays of sound from a harmonica and a train that sounds as if it’s pulling into the station. The listener appears to have arrived somewhere when a voice inquires if the listener has gotten the joke.

Following this cut is a brief composition (Van Dyke Parks), quoting the old spiritual Nearer My God to Thee, which along with foghorns, suggest the sinking of a ship, notably the Titanic. This is a trope that has been used by artists for some time as a metaphor for the sinking of the Ship of State. Evidently, VDP is protesting the war and the direction that the United States is going, a political gesture which would have been beyond the scope of pop music during the dominant phase of the psychedelic era. Still, the condemnation of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War is so veiled that I can’t really consider The All Golden a protest song in the manner of, say, Eric Burdon’s Sky Pilot.