I got tossed off to a big college with no earthly idea what I was supposed to do there. High School had been fairly easy with a fair amount of friends and good grades. High School seemed easy because there were no real choices that had to be made, scholastically. But neither of my parents had been to college and I think they thought it was just like High School except bigger, and that the choices would be as easy.
My freshman year I lived in a dorm with several idiots. I know they were idiots because, like a funny writeup I read here the other day, my secret is that “I see stupid people. And they don't even know they're stupid.” They do things like squirt lighter fluid under your closed door and light it. They think it's funny.
So there I was in this dump of a dorm room with nothing but a cot, a metal desk, a chest of drawers and my little cheap turntable. On some rainy weekends, I would just sit there and feel like killing myself. There were two record albums that kept me sane during this time. One was the first release by The Bee Gees. (Which is still a great album, if you've never heard it.) The other was Richie Havens' Mixed Bag.
I have no idea how I wound up with Mixed Bag. I sure as hell had never heard of Richie Havens, nor had anyone else, I don't think. I do believe that I saw this album cover in the store and just said to myself, "That's an honest face." I'm sure glad I made that decision.
Mixed Bag came out in 1967. Here is the track list:
- High Flyin' Bird
- I Can't Make It Anymore
- Morning, Morning
- Three Day Eternity
- Handsome Johnny
- San Francisco Bay Blues
- Just Like A Woman
- Eleanor Rigby
Most of these are good songs, but one of them is great. And, by great, I mean that I can sing it in my head right now, all the way through, and get chillbumps. And this is a song I have not heard in over 25 years. It's “I Can't Make It Anymore.” It's not really anything special, if you looked at the lyrics; just a song about a guy who needs his woman back. Lyrics like, "Lately I don't go out walkin' / Lately I don't feel much like talkin'", and, "I'm drinking too much / And I'm longing for your touch." See? Nothing special. So why would this song stay with me so long, after all these years. And why did it affect me so deeply back then in that cheesy college dorm room?
I guess you'd just have to hear it.
* * * * *
Richie Havens was born in Brooklyn on January 21, 1941. His stage name is actually his real name: Richard P. Havens. He grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant community, and was the oldest of nine kids. (Can you imagine having nine kids? How do folks do that?) His dad played piano by ear, and Richie messed around with some gospel and doo-wop groups in his teens.
In 1961, he went to live in Greenwich Village and got into the folk music scene. By the mid-1960's he had made two demo albums. But he got together with the legend-in-his-own-mind manager Albert Grossman. Grossman arranged a deal with Verve and Mixed Bag was the first product. "Handsome Johnny" was co-written with Lou Gossett Jr. The version of Dylan's "Just Like a Woman" led to many future covers of Dylan songs by Havens.
The album, however, pretty much tanked. It was when Something Else Again, his second album, made the charts in 1968 that it managed to pull Mixed Bag back into the limelight.
He then started doing the folk circuit; you know, all those names that end in “. . . . Folk Festival.”
He played almost every college in America. He is a hard-working guy. Then, in 1969, he played at Woodstock, as the opening act. He played for three hours, all by himself. BAM. (Say it the way John Madden would.) Superstardom.
It's all been pretty much downhill for Mr. Havens in the past couple of decades. He keeps trying, and it's not all bad stuff. I guess the political bullshit turned me off at some point. (He started getting involved with these causes. You know, those limousine liberal ones.)
But I do believe he saved my life, in some way, a long time ago, back when I did not think I could make it any more. Thanks, man.
UPDATE: On April 22, 2013, he died of a heart attack at home in Jersey City, New Jersey. He was 72 years old.