the new england school years
For my last two years of high school, I went away to boarding school in Massachusetts. I fell into a band there pretty quickly but the transformative event there was dorm life. Several guys had stereos in their rooms. Everybody had albums and it explosively blew open the door to new music.
That’s where I fell in love with Buffalo Springfield, and though always a Byrds fan heard their country-tinged “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” for the first time, which would prove to be pivotal a few years later. Hendrix. Mobey Grape. Cream. The Dead. Quicksilver Messenger Service. Janice. The Flying Burrito Brothers. Especially the Flying Burrito Brothers.
I graduated in the spring of 1969. During that senior year, I had started singing with two other guys in my dorm. One had a beautiful baritone, the other was a true tenor with a killer falsetto, and my range was in between. After graduation, I spent a few weeks hanging around with the baritone, my buddy Tom Church.
We were in his car one afternoon when we heard a song come on the radio that literally stopped us in our tracks. We know it now as “Helplessly Hoping” but it was mysterious and magical upon first listening. As one did in those days, we waited for the DJ to identify the song and the singers, which he did, informing us that it was a new release by “Crosby, Stills, and Nash”. Tom and I looked at each other and said, “Could that possibly be….”. And sure enough, it was. We wore that album out.
I had been accepted at Yale University and headed to New Haven in the fall of 1969. 1968 had been a particularly painful year – for our country and for me personally. We lost true heroes, the Vietnam war grew ever more ugly, and I didn’t see much good in politics during those Nixon years.
My two restless years in college were really more about becoming a singer-songwriter than being a student. I spent my weekends during my first year hitchhiking north meet my buddy Tom in Harvard Square to play the Cambridge coffee houses. The summer after freshmen year, Tom and our tenor-singing third man, Chris Hardy all met up in Aspen, Colorado, and got a gig at one of the bars playing four nights a week. It was heaven. We could do a credible job on the CSN songbook, we loved the James Taylor tunes, and we had all started to write more seriously.
When I returned to New Haven after that experience, I knew I wouldn’t be staying long. I made it through my second year at Yale then dropped out. My father took it especially hard. He would have given his right arm for that type of education and here I was just throwing it away. I understood it but was undeterred.