The album “Dead Man’s Cake” (2012, by David Barrows) is my autobiographical narrative consisting of 11 songs which generally proceed chronologically from my childhood to the present day. The first half of the record is about the story of my parents, my Mom’s suicide and how it affected me. Most of the second half of the record is about how I went on to live my life afterwards.
Track 2: Hippies On The Ranch
Hippies On The Ranch refers to one of those fateful decisions, around 1966 or 1967, where my parents met a fellow writer at a party in L.A., who happened to be selling his ranch in Cuba, New Mexico. They were heady from their success of having sold a screenplay for fifty thousand dollars, which was a lot of money in those days.
My understanding is, they thought they could live part time in L.A., and live part time on the ranch, to draw inspiration for writing western screenplays, by actually living in the southwest. The ranch was on the edge of the village of Cuba which had a population of about 500 people at that time, and was located on the edge of the Navajo Indian reservation. I think they bought the ranch for around 35K, and probably burned through the rest of the money in a few short years. The ranch consisted of 300 acres of land, a main ranch house, a duplex, and another small house by the highway in which lived a Navajo man who was the ranch’s caretaker.
So when my parents decided to move to the ranch, around 1967, we went from living in a house in Beverly Hills to living in one of the poorest and least developed parts of the United States. We lived there for about 3 years, with a few trips back to L.A. in between.
In the song, I talk about how, essentially, they had dropped out and become hippies. In retrospect it may have seemed a nice idea to take their newfound money, get out of the Hollywood rat race, move to the country, put on cowboy hats, ride horses and play at being ranchers. But again, the move foreshadows the impending tragedy, and how “Hippies on the Ranch” were like a failed branch of the evolutionary tree of life, one that would ultimately become extinct because of their inability to adapt and survive.
Musically the song is a kind of grungy rock piece where the horn section parts have tinges of melodies inspired by Indian classical music, as I took inspiration from pieces such as the Beatles’ “Within You and Without You,” a fusion of western rock music and Indian classical music that was happening around that time, and which in my mind has some association with the Hippies.
On one level, I have a deep affinity for the liberalization of world culture that occurred with the Hippie revolution. I think many good things came out of the so-called Hippie movement, including an awakening of progressive politics. The Hippies and their “peace and love” views were, in large part, a reaction to things that very much needed to be questioned, particularly the Vietnam war, and the “straight” culture that allowed that horrific war to occur.
But in another sense, like Hollywood Sixties, this song also refers to the dark side of a phenomenon; how, if you look at what ultimately happened to my parents, perhaps the whole “dropping out and becoming hippies” thing was not so great after all.