July 05, 2013

Van Dyke Parks - The Attic (1968)

Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on January 3, 1943, Van Dyke Parks began his career as a child actor starring in movies and television shows alongside the likes of Grace Kelly, Ezio Pinza, Chet Allen, and Jackie Gleason. After dropping out of college, Parks moved around the country, from Los Angeles to New England, joining and forming folk groups along the way. With his brother Carson Parks in L.A., he formed The Steeltown Two, which later became The Steeltown Three, and eventually The Greenwood County Singers. In New England, he joined up with an outfit called The Brandywine Singers. By 1964, Parks was signed to MGM Records and released a couple of failed singles produced by the famed Tom Wilson. By 1965, Parks had made a name for himself as an accomplished session musician, as well as befriending other talents such as Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson, and Terry Melcher. In fact, Parks became such an accomplished songwriter and musician, he was asked by David Crosby to join The Byrds and, later, to join Crosby, Stills & Nash. Parks declined both offers. He did notably once perform on stage with Frank Zappa’s Mother of Invention, but parted ways with the group because he didn’t enjoy being “screamed at” while on stage. By February 1966, Parks friendship with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys became deep enough to where Parks was invited to write songs with Brian for his upcoming project, Smile, the ill-fated sequel to Pet Sounds. Unfortunately, creative differences between Parks and Mike Love of The Beach Boys put a rift in the album. This combined with Parks’ disapproval of Brian Wilson’s severe drug use during the sessions led Parks to abandon the unfinished project. Wilson, whose mental health had been deteriorating, soon abandoned the project as well, and the album was shelved for over three decades.

Wanting to continue in the same direction he felt he was moving, Parks decided to record a solo album. The result was the January 1968 release of his first solo work, Song Cycle. Warner Bros. Records was so astonished at the poor sales of what they considered a masterpiece that they took out full page ads in newspapers and magazines stating that they (Warner Bros.) “lost $35,509 on ‘the album of the year’.” The advertisement went on to say that the few people who purchased the record must have worn it out by now from playing it so much. They made the offer that if anyone mailed in a copy of their worn out record, they would receive two back in the mail so that they could educate a friend. Parks didn’t approve of the tactic, but nevertheless it did not increase sales. The song heard below is one of the highlights of Parks’ Song Cycle album, which has gathered a bit of a cult following over the years.

album art

Van Dyke Parks - The Attic (1968)

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I was there
Upon a four poster there
Mind tousled I came to bear
Some thoughts from the past
Amid a dash of influenza

And then I came to see
In baggage the memories
Of truncated souvenirs
The war years
High moon
I said high moon
Lighted high moon
Eye to my moon

Far beyond
The blue mist enveloped lawn
The blanketed night comes on
The champagne is dead and gone
And the forest around
Sensitive sound
Forest primeval

Through the panes
Cloud buttermilk war remains
And twisted cross war refrains
Lunatic so high moon
I said high moon
Lighted high moon
Eye to my moon

Your age will most probably carry away
The letters enveloped in carrion
Vague unpleasantries of the war
May your son's progenitorship of the state
Haphazardly help him to carry on
God send your son safe home to you

High moon
Your eye to my moon

Very high moon
Very high moon
Very high moon…

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