It’s the the early morning hours of April 6, 1974. Although it is still dark outside, the anticipation of morning hangs in the air like an unsung promise. The stillness outside my bedroom window, and the desire to leave the house without my parents waking up, cause my friend and I to dress without talking. Our hands tremble with excitement as we button up our well worn Levis 501 jeans. We want to chatter incessantly but we hold back. It is something of a miracle that we have permission to attend the concert, the festival of festivals, the California Jam. At 16 (my friend was still 15) my parents did not want me driving the near 100 miles from the Conejo Valley to the Ontario Motor Speedway. With the hope that I wouldn’t find a ride, they said I could go, I just could not drive. What they did not bargain for was the rapidity with which my friend and I were able to find two male classmates who were more than willing to give us a lift.
Within a minute of hitting the freeway, one of our two stony boys lit up a doobie. Yeah mom and dad. This is so much safer. But good call.
We thought we would get there when the gates opened, however, being young and naïve, we had not anticipated the effect of such a crowd descending. The freeway as we neared the event became a gridlock. Young people on both shoulders of the freeway were parking their cars. A stream of pedestrians flowed through the lanes of cars towards a common destination, like pilgrims headed towards the Mecca of all that is holy in the halls of rock and roll.
My friend and I thought this was the coolest thing. EVER.
Park the car. Let’s walk. We were ready to join our brethren.
Despite his long blond hair, despite all the buds he had inhaled on the long drive, our driver was destined to be a practical man.
No way. They’ll tow my car.
There are hundreds of cars parked on the freeway. They can’t tow them all.
I’m not parking on the freeway.
Our practical young man patiently took the extra hour to inch through the gridlock, exit the freeway, and drive AWAY from the concert to find parking.
After walking what must have been two to three miles, we finally hit the destination. The gates had been open for awhile and thousands were already inside.
Although the bands were not scheduled onstage for another couple of hours, music was being pumped through the speaker system. Clear, loud, reverberating through my body and syncing my organic rhythm with that of everyone and everything else. As we walked through the gates and onto the grounds The Who was being blasted.
Don’t raise your eyes.
It’s Only Teenage Wasteland
Sally, take my hand
Travel south crossland
Put out the fire
And don't look past my shoulder
The exodus is here
The happy ones are near
Let's get together
Before we get much older
It's only teenage wasteland
oh yeahTeenage wasteland
They're all wasted
The four of us just stood there taking it all in while the song played. It was perfect.
The two boys who brought us there wanted to set up camp at the back of the crowd. Practical boy “didn’t want to fight the crowds.” He wanted to “chill” where he was. He also had the buds, which I think he thought was enough of a draw to get us to hang in one place all day.
We would have none of it. We wanted to be in the center of this living, breathing, blood pumping organism of a rock crowd.
We were on the move the whole time, two teenage girls with long golden hair parted down the middle. Jeans and tanks. The day blazed with heat and passed out bodies were lifted and passed overhead to the medics. But we slipped through the crowds and saw every band from a different, usually better vantage point.
The line-up was Rare Wind; Earth, Wind, and Fire; The Eagles; Seals and Croft; Black Oak Arkansas; Black Sabbath; Deep Purple; and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Interesting now, don’t you think.
BLACK OAK ARKANSAS: JIM DANDY
If you only watch one video, this is must see.
BLACK SABBATH: CHILDREN OF THE GRAVE
Ozzy looks so young. We were fairly, relatively, close to the stage for this one.
DEEP PURPLE: YOU FOOL NO ONE
Of the three headliners, at that time, this was the band I was most excited to see in concert.
EMERSON, LAKE, AND PALMER: KEITH EMERSON'S FLYING PIANO
I'd like to say I saw this, but my friend and I were working our way back to find our ride.
I now think it was a miracle of miracles that we found our ride boys after the concert. But they were just where we had left them, ten or twelve hours before.
As we pulled onto the freeway, hundreds of others were discovering that their cars had, indeed, been towed.
Despite the plethora of music that we heard played live that day, it is the song Teenage Wasteland that reminds me of the event. Whenever I hear it, I transcend to my 16 year old self, looking across the expanse of the Ontario Motor Speedway and thinking, Perfect. This song must have been written just for this moment.
And even though The Who wasn't at The California Jam, I'm thowing this into the mix, well, just because I can. Close your eyes. Imagine early morning Southerm California. An entire racetrack milling with teens and young adults. The pungent aroma of buds wafting through the air along with the last of the early morning dew. Your heart and every cell of your body beating along with the rhythm of it all.
For more Song Spins, head on over to Sprite's Keeper.