Look over yonder what do you see?
The sun is a’rising most definitely
A new day is coming, people are changing
Ain’t it beautiful
Crystal blue persuasion… Tommy James & the Shondells 1969
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” what an amazing song! I heard it Friday morning while driving to work, cranked it up and sang right along with Tommy James! It wasn’t quite over when I got to work so I sat in my car until it finished. What an incredible way to begin my day! My head was filled with memories, some pleasant, some not so. Yeah, ‘Crystal Blue” came out in June of 69 about a week before I graduate high school. And why would I remember that you ask? Well it was a very dismal time in my life, there’s not much I don’t remember about it.
The first week of June my mom hijacked me when I got home from school and before I knew what hit me she’d moved me out the house and into my small, make-shift hanging out room in the garage and took away my car. She also informed me that on my 18th birthday which was just three months away, I had to, in her words, “hit the bricks” and move out! And what had I done to deserve my mother’s wrath? Oh, nothing really, I just wasn’t going to graduate. Yeah, the school had notified her that I had failed a class and therefore I was 5 credits short of the 220 required to graduate. Because one of my teachers had decided to fail me( which I must confess I did indeed deserve) I wasn’t going to graduate with my class. To say that my mom was pissed would be putting it mildly. Even when I told her I could graduate after summer school she just shook her head at me and said “why bother.”
A few days later my buddy Paul came by to pick me up at the house. My mom really liked Paul and usually enjoyed chatting it up with him, but not that day, she didn’t say a single word to him. She was still steaming. I was actually pretty shocked that she let me go out at all. It was as though she disowned me. Paul drove a white, 58 Ford panel truck with a hell of a stereo system. It was his pride and joy. I’m not sure how many speakers he had packed in that truck but it was loaded. Then he had a series of toggle switches on the dash that controlled them. He flip those things on and off looking for just the right combination of sound for damn near every song he played. He was a real character and a good friend.
We spent the better part of an hour cruising around Azusa. I won’t swear to it, but we were probably listening to some Jimi Hendrix, Paul was like this major Hendrix freak! I remember him telling me about this cool new song by Tommy James and the Shondells “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” that he’d heard the day before. He kept saying it was really different and sounded like a cool ocean breeze felt, whatever that meant. It took him quite a bit of annoying station surfing but eventually he found it or at least the last thirty second of it. What I was able to hear sounded okay, and he’d been right, there was some special quality about it, but it wasn’t until later that night that I really fell in love with the song.
That evening I was sitting in my garage hideaway, listening to the radio through my headphones, sulking about my predicament.You know, one of those gut wrenching, self pity, ‘why me’ moments. Much like 1968, so far 69 hadn’t been much better. In February my girlfriend of one year broke up with me and started going steady with some junior BMOC. Worse yet I had to see them cavorting around each and everyday at school! Now that really sucked!
In late February I started seeing this girl who was in my English class. I had nick-named her ‘hippie chick’ because she dressed in true hippie fashion, complete with beads, fringe jacket and an occasional flower in her hair. We went out through mid May and had a lot of fun. We spent a lot of time a the beach and saw some great concerts together, but she turned out to be a little too ‘hip’ for me, particularly in the drug department, so we went our separate ways. There I sat girlfriendless and unable to graduate! My world had turned to shit yet again! I sat there wondering what the hell else could wrong.
And that’s when it happened. The deejay began talking about the new song by Tommy James and how different it was from their ’68’ psychedelic rock hit ‘Crimson and Clover’. He went on to say that this new song was already causing quite a controversy as to what “Crystal Blue Persuasion” meant. Drug culturists seemed to think “Crystal Blue” was a veiled reference to the drug crystal methamphetamine, while others thought it was a Tommy James homage to a popular poster of the earth called “Earth Rise” taken from a photo shot by the astronauts of Apollo 8 from the surface of the moon. It was certainly a
beautiful picture, but no one knew for sure what the meaning of the song was. Eventually Tommy James ended the controversy when he revealed th the song had nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with Christianity and his having just become a Christian when the song was written.
I lit a cigarette, kicked back in the green monster, and waited for the deejay to stop blabbin’ and play the song, which he did a few moments later. I’m not sure how to describe it to you. The song started with this simple, slow bongo or conga drum intro, followed by a flamenco guitar’s soft, melodic riff that gave the song a kind of an airy, carefree sound. It was beautiful! And the lyrics made it seem almost spiritual, celestial in nature. I was blown away! In spite of all my troubles and the hopelessness I’d been feeling only moments before, I couldn’t help but feel hopeful as I listened. It was a powerful song! I recorded it off the radio later that night and used to listen to it all time.
I saw it as a reflective piece, with “crystal blue persuasion” being the beauty of the world around us, influencing and persuading us to believe in a higher power. When we look at the Earth, the oceans, mountains, forests and heavens how can we possibly doubt the existence of God. And the lyrics really got me thinking. “A new day is coming, people are changing, Ain’t it beautiful. So don’t you give up now so easy to find, just look to your soul and open your mind.”
I remember sitting there thinking that maybe things weren’t as bad as they seemed. Maybe things could change. And you know what? They did! The following week the teacher who had failed me changed his mind and passed me so I was able to graduate with my class! That also earned me my car back and an incredible reunion on graduation night. ‘CBP’ had touched me and given me hope, at least for a moment in time. Maybe I should have continued listening to it, perhaps it would have made portions of my life journey a little easier. Yeah, it’s a great song. When I hear it today I have to smile and think happy thoughts.
Just a thought…