Time Has Come Today
by Peter Shelton
Mar 04, 2009 | 996 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print

My musician friend Michael Gwinn called today to propose a ski date later in the week. The stereo was pretty loud, so I walked over with the phone at my ear to turn it down.

“Chambers Brothers,” I said. And then singing along: “Goin’ up town to Harlem/Gonna let my hair down in Harlem. . .”

“Time Has Come Today!” Michael chimed in, nailing, as I knew he would, the brothers’ signature hit, and the last song on the LP. “Who ever would have thought—psychedelic black men!

“We played on the same stage with them once, in the Atchafalaya Swamp outside Baton Rouge. It was 107 degrees with 96 percent humidity. The swamp was the only place the organizers wanted to put that many drug-addled hippies. Seven people drowned in the river trying to cool off.”

Gwinnie has the story-telling gift of blarney (his father was a radio and TV game-show host in southern California), so I’m never quite sure about the details. But I had no doubt he and his cusp-of-the 1970s touring band, Gabriel Gladstar, really did play that gig.

Gwinnie is also a recovering addict. So the comment about substance-imbibing hippies had an edge I recognized. With Gwinnie, youthful drug use, however much fun it might have been at the time, carries a darker meaning and, perforce, a condemnation that I admit I don’t share.

Take the first time I heard “Time Has Come Today,” one of the great journeying songs of the era, when eleven-minute rambles, like small movies (The Doors’ “Light My Fire” was another one), could still be hits on AM radio.

It was 1967; I was a college freshman. I was riding in the back seat of a friend’s Plymouth down Indian Hill Boulevard in Pomona, California, sometime after midnight.

The two guys in the front, roommates from across the hall, believed in Scotch whiskey. They had tried marijuana but, they claimed, to no effect. They had challenged me, in fact, to get them stoned.

We shared a joint in their room. And when they insisted they still didn’t feel anything, I thought of the Tony Curtis character in Some Like It Hot who pretends that, no, he “still can’t feel a thing” as Marilyn Monroe presses in to kiss him again, in a diligent but apparently futile effort to reverse Curtis’s tragic male numbness.

Nevertheless, my friends agreed that it sounded like a very good idea to head down to the International House of Pancakes for a late-night snack. The song came on the radio as we cruised a rain-slick four-lane eerily devoid of traffic.

Time has come today

Young hearts can go their way…

I’ve been loved and put aside

I’ve been crushed by a tumbling tide

And my soul has been psychedelicized

Psychedelic soul! It filled the universe inside the car. On the recording someone hit a cow bell like a tick-tock metronome—time itself. Streetlights yellow and neon reflecting off the wet pavement seemed more insistent the farther we rolled, flashing, insistent, bouncing off the windows inside and out.

The rules have changed today

I have no place to stay…

Oh my Lord, I have to roam

I have no home

I have no home

Paul, driving, yelped and hit the brakes as he realized that the flashing lights both disguised and illuminated a house moving down the center of the road. A two-story frame bungalow with a shiny black-and-white, blue-and-red police escort filled all four lanes as it crawled ahead on an invisible trailer.

About then the tick-tock metronome slowed and the cow bell began to echo inside the music. The brothers sang the word “Time” and let it Doppler out with the echoing drumbeat. The lead guitar came on with fuzz-face distortion and seemed, though it was impossible to believe at the time, to be referencing “The Little Drummer Boy.”

The Plymouth, Paul, Dane and I, giddy and chastened by red and blue diamonds on the hood, settled in behind, matching the slow-walking speed of the rolling house.

The song rolled on, filling time. Rhythms rose and fell and rose again in a section someone later decided was a comment on the escalating war in Vietnam. There were screams and deep-haunting laughter. What sounded like wolf howls. And the woodpecker hammering of the cow bell coming back faster than ever. Or maybe it was a fluttering heart, frightened and excited all at once.

Oh, now the time has come

There are things to realize

Time has come today

Time has come today

With a groan like Kepler’s spheres slowing to a halt, the music crashed to its end: three big, distinct guitar chords, and the final resolution.

At that point, it wouldn’t have mattered much if we’d never found the I-Hop; the world as we had known it no longer existed. But there it was on the corner on the right. The blueberry blintzes, when they finally arrived at our fluorescent-white booth, tasted like nothing we’d ever tasted before.
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