In the title essay of Nora Ephron’s hilarious “I Remember Nothing,” she talks about being a young newspaper reporter with the enviable assignment of covering the Beatles’ first trip to New York. She was at the airport when they landed, she stuck with them all weekend, she was in the theater during their performance on the Ed Sullivan show. “You could make the case that the sixties began that night,” she writes. “It was a historic night. I was there…But how were the Beatles? you may ask. Well, you are asking the wrong person. I could barely hear them.”
I know the feeling. I went to dozens of rock concerts during my teenage years, and I, too, remember nothing. In 1978, my friend Jessica and I drove to New Orleans for a stop on the Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” tour and if you had a gun to my head right now, I could not give you a single detail about any of the events onstage. I remember being offered some really horrible bourbon by the towboat deckhand standing next to me, and I have a (thankfully) very vague memory of kissing him, but that’s it. In retrospect, what is not just memorable, but seriously unbelievable, is that our mothers let us drive to New Orleans totally unattended in by the first place.
Apparently, it was not the first time I’d seen the Stones. The other day, Jessica reminded me that we saw them in Memphis during their 1975 Tour of the Americas. I was gobsmacked. Really? We saw a show on that tour, that amazing tour where the great Billy Preston was on keyboards and Ron Wood became an official part of the band? I would love to have seen that. And, as it happens, I did.
I take some small comfort in the fact that Jessica doesn’t remember all that much herself. When she called to talk about the Stones, she asked me who had opened for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young at the 1974 reunion concert we saw in Memphis with my cousin Frances. Now, that is the one concert I can tell you everything about—not least because we were barely 14 years old and the only contraband we managed to smuggle into Memorial Stadium was a couple of thermoses of kahlua and cream. I am not kidding. We were that lame, that unintentionally prim and embarrassingly WASPY. Jessica and I had tasted the drink on a ski trip with our parents. Before we left for the concert, we’d had lunch at the country club and had nipped a bottle of Kaluah from the bar. Just thinking about it, I’m wincing as I type.
Still, I remember the show. My mother drove us to Memphis and dropped us off in the endless parking lot—again, what was she thinking?—and off we went to our seats, surrounded by clouds of marijuana Â smoke and people much older and cooler than us, getting up to all sorts of stuff that we pretended to know all about. People were passing out from heat stroke and God knows what else, but we were alert as three teenagers nursing two thermoses of the world’s weakest cocktail over a five hour period can be, which is to say prettty alert. I can tell you exactly what comprised my carefully chosen outfit: faded Levi’s, a white Indian peasant blouse, a ton of silver and turquoise jewelry, and Clark treks on my feet. More important, I can recount pretty much every minute of what transpired on stage.
To answer Jessica’s question, Jesse Colin Young was the opening act. I already had a big crush on him, thanks to his first solo album “Songs for Juli” (which, after all, is at least part of my name) and I still can hear his great twanging guitar and the bongos and the humming flute riffs of “Grey Day” ricocheting around that huge stadium clear as a bell. And then, of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were my heroes. I had worn out my copy of their magnificent “Four Way Street” LP; I had worshipped Buffalo Springfield and I owned every Neil Young and Stephen Sills solo effort that existed. They came out and played together and then they played separately, and then they came back and played together again. Nixon had resigned a few weeks earlier so everybody went crazy when they played “Ohio.” They did “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Carry On” and “Southern Man,” and Neil did a typically awe-inspiring solo set that included the song I most hoped he’d play, “Cowgirl in the Sand.” I think they closed with a version of “Down By the River” that lasted like a half an hour, and by the time we started toward the lot where my mother sat waiting for us in her wood-paneled Buick station wagon, they’d been playing for three and a half hours.
The concert was amazing. I wish I remembered more of them. These days, huge stadium concerts are not so much my thing, though about ten years ago I did go to one at Vanderbilt at the behest of my mother. I owed her, after all. She happened to be in Nashville and the Stones were too, and she wanted to see them so badly she offered the concierge at her hotel an exorbitant sum of money to rustle her up two of the sold-out tickets. My father had so little interest in seeing the show that he went home early, so I flew in to meet her.
As they say, the third time’s a charm—finally, a Stones concert I remember. They were almost thirty years older than the first time I allegedly saw them, but Mick was still running and jumping around all over the place, and my beloved Keith Richards did not disappoint, kneeling on the edge of the stage with his guitar, ever-present bandana around his head and a fabulous leopard-print Dolce & Gabbana chiffon duster billowing out behind him. This time, no alcohol was consumed until after the show. We had martinis at Morton’s, and steaks, and it was all very civilized.
Later this summer CSNY is reuniting again—briefly—for a benefit concert for safe energy somewhere in California, but I will not be going to see them. Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan are touring now too, but I don’t want to go see them either. I will stick with my playlist of summer concerts seen and remembered—or not. Herewith, the “tour”:
“Love the One You’re With,” Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Four Way Street
You go, Stephen Sills. What can I say? It’s a great summer anthem, it’s one of the great songs, and here, the guys are having a ton of fun with it.
“Southern Man,” Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Four Way Street
Even Lynrd Skynrd finally admitted to loving this song (frontman Ronnie Van Zandt posed in a Neil Young t-shirt on the cover of the band’s “Street Survivors”). On this version, they’re having a blast with the guitars, which I might add, is longer than “Freebird.”
“Sweet Home Alabama,” Second Helpings, Lynrd Skynrd
Well, while we’re at it…
“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills, & Nash,
One of the times in this group’s history where Neil Young does not improve the mix. (And anyway, the version on CSN&Y’s “Four Way Street” is less than a minute long.) So powerful that it’s hard to remember it’s all acoustic. Great energy, great lyrics, great CSN harmony. The boys were in their prime and this is a dazzler.
“Cowgirl in the Sand,” Neil Young, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
This song is ranked at number 16 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Best Guitar Songs of All Time. As much as I love CSN&Y, the version Young recorded with his own band Crazy Horse is by far the best. While I do love the guitar, the slightly accusative lyrics were windows into a complicated romantic world to which my adolescent self could not wait to belong.
“Grey Day,” Jesse Colin Young, Light Shine
“Miss Hesitation,” Jesse Colin Young, Songs for Juli
To say that JCY typified the best of 1970s California pop rock doesn’t really do him justice. A seriously gifted musician and songwriter, this former leader of the Youngbloods also infused blues classics with new energy, as in his cover of T-Bone Walker’s “T-Bone Shuffle.” The great “Miss Hesitation” contains a touch of T-Bone, and was on the 8-track the summer I first fell hard.
“Brown Sugar,” The Rolling Stones, Sticky Fingers
This song makes the RS list of the 100 Best Guitar Songs of All Time at number 5. Recorded in a 1969 Muscle Shoals session that also included “Wild Horses” and “You Gotta Move.” When they played it in Nashville, it was almost as lusty and intense—and just plain fun—as it was the first time I heard the album.
“Beast of Burden,” The Rolling Stones, Some Girls
I might have missed it at the concert, but this song—and this album—became part of the permanent soundtrack of my college years and beyond. One of the Stones’ best.
“Hard Day’s Night, “ The Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night
“Drive My Car,” The Beatles, Rubber Soul
The first song is for Nora, since she missed it when they played it on “Ed Sullivan.” I watched that show too, on my Uncle Evans’s and Aunt Jane’s TV set in Nashville, where we’d all gathered for the big event. I was so young I kept thinking the grown-ups were talking about actual beetles, as in an early “Stupid Pet Trick.” Like Nora, I remember nothing of the performance that night, but my mother was a huge fan so I grew up with them playing in the background, and I think “Abbey Road” was the first album I actually owned. “Hard Day’s Night” ranks at number 22 in the RS Best Guitar Songs list, and I include “Drive My Car” because it’s infectious, funny, and impossible not to beat time to on the steering wheel when you’re driving your own car. Perfect summer song.

About Julia Reed

Julia Reed is a columnist at Garden & Gun magazine and a contributing editor at Elle Décor. She also contributes to The Wall Street Journal, Architectural Digest, and The New York Times, and makes frequent appearances on MSNBC. She is the author of five books, including But Mama Always Put Vodka in the Sangria, Adventures in Eating, Drinking and Making Merry and One Man’s Folly, The Exceptional Houses of Furlow Gatewood.

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