(Editor’s Note: How is it possible I hadn’t had Egon on to do this before? I’ve known E going back to the late ’90s, when he was still an undergraduate at Vanderbilt and I was still living in Oakland – shout out to Byze One, who connected us. Since then, I’ve followed his career to become one of the biggest forces in soul/funk/psych record rediscoveries, first at Stones Throw, now at Now-Again. And heck, we live only 15 minutes away from one another so we’re practically neighbors. For his summer songs contribution, E takes us back to the days of public access television and a song that had haunted him for years. -O.W.)
Back when I started to collect records in earnest – around 1996, my freshman year in college, when I was freed from the constrained and often overpriced bins of the Tri-State and surrounded by dozens of interesting record crawls in Nashville – I found my first copy of Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man LP in the Great Escape’s Broadway location. It was a beat stereo copy on the yellow-label American Epic, but it was such a joyous day. It was a dollar, so I still had enough money to buy a hamburger at the Wendy’s up the street before heading off to class, and it contained one of my most wanted songs at the time: “Get Thy Bearings.”
I’d first heard that song a few years back, on New Haven record collector Dooley O’s public access channel’s Graffiti TV. The scene: a couple of New Haven graff legends walking around, bombing a then-desolate downtown, as Donovan’s great song provided a melancholic soundtrack. The film was gritty, black and white VHS. The feeling was indescribable, like being whirled around in hip hop’s vortex, seeing these lawbreakers creating something that I wanted to defend as art, but which, in this case, even then, seemed suspiciously more like the vandalism it was condemned as, and hearing this late 60s psychedelic music that was supposedly of my parents’ generation but sounded damn fine in this context.
I spent the summer of 1997 listening to that album, but most specifically, listening to “Get Thy Bearings” on repeat. In the years to follow, when I would take a trip “back East” to visit the folks, usually on a humid, summer evening, as my remaining family and I sat around the dinner table, eating and talking and thinking and often times drinking a bracing riesling or another appropriate summer wine, I would reach for this album and play this familiar song for us all.
Written by Eothen “Egon” Alapatt
(Top photo by Eilon Paz for dustandgrooves.com.)