Russian Hill - Roger McGuinn
From one literary rhapsody to another, this comes from Roger McGuinn's finest hour after the Byrds broke up in 1973, his underrated "Thunderbyrd" album.. McGuinn wrote the music and regular collaborator Jacques Levy the words, stuffed full of literary allusions. But this track is special because of the brilliant sustained atmosphere that it conjures up, a perfect combination of reminiscence and sense of a doomed affair, evoked in an opiate dreamlike state as though we are listening to a voiceover to a home movie of the lovestruck pair: "you and me with some time to fill".
Russian Hill is a neighbourhood of the Bay Area in San Francisco where the likes of of Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti used to hang out so we are in Bohemia for our tale of romance revisited.
We start with subdued but classic McGuinn jingly-jangly guitar which becomes the backdrop for his ruminating vocal, backed by Rick Vito's moody, alternately keening and growling lead guitar as we revisit the dreamlike landscape of the lovers' short moment of happiness.
"Last night in the middle of a dream I started thinkin' 'bout Russian Hill and Ferlinghetti with his Coney Island mind and you and me with some time to fill we ate in Chinatown, we rode the cable car we did what tourists always do..."
and he's glamourising these moments but he knows it:
"....but in the dream you were a movie star and I was someone too"
and then this wonderful silence with just the faint tinkle of the wind chimes in the Bay wind, then bang! the dream is burst by four descending drum strokes like shots from a gun: "Was that the two of us in love? Why did it end so soon? I don't believe in falling out of love I never met the man in the moon if it's so hard to find the key it's not the singer, it's the tune.."
The bitterness, he's looking back, this was the moment, the one chance of his life and he lost it. Hints as to why their love didn't survive is in the next and final verse: "Sun high in the California sky we walked the beach around Monterey true Confessions in a Sausalito bar the windows shining across the bay the age of innocence and searching in the dark
for what we'd never seen and we could taste the sweetness of our lives
in bitter mescaline...."
This is no rosy-coloured memory, this a man taking a sad, bitter look back. This is real romance, beautiful but hard.
"Was that the two of us in love? Why did it end so soon? I don't believe in falling out of love I never met the man in the moon if it's so hard to find the key it's not the singer, it's the tune."