In a gadda da vida, honey
Don’t you know that I’m lovin’ you
In a gadda da vida, baby
Don’t you know that I’ll always be true…
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida by Iron Butterfly, it came out in 1968. I was six. I’d like to postulate that as a precocious, headbanging child, I walked around my house flinging my mane of long curly hair forward and back in time with the music, much like how my kids, five and two years old, made drums out of beach buckets and sang along to the KKK Took My Baby Away by the Ramones. But my household wasn’t like that. I recited sing-song nursery rhymes and sported a crew cut.
In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, do you know this song? I asked Susan that tonight; she does. That surprised me. She’s six years younger than me, wasn’t a teenage stoner, doesn’t even like heavy metal. Maybe this is one of those songs that permeates culture so deeply it touches everybody. You’ll have to let me know in the comments.
A clean, rapid, climbing scale on an organ. A clear, deep base lays out a simple melody. A fuzzbox guitar picks up the melody, pushes it into a higher octave. The organ, now raspy fills in the blank spaces. Seventeen seconds in, a wall of sound, a rocking buzz. A deep, resonant voice brings in the lyrics.
Oh, won’t you come with me-he-he?
And I’ll take your hand-and-and.
This song is an effing masterpiece.
I’m always late to the game. I started carrying a smartphone only three years ago. And while I’ve listened to music on Sophie’s phone, primarily in the car, hundreds of times, I’ve never downloaded a song to my own phone. Until now. Part of the issue is I’m cheap. I’ve bought all the music I like, already, on CD. The thought of buying it again so I can get it on my iPhone drives me nuts. So in the car, I play CDs. At home, I use Alexa or a computer.
Like all libraries around the United States right now, the one where I work is repeatedly reminding thousands of patrons that they don’t need to come into the library to be library users. E-Books, e-Audio books, downloadable magazines, and YouTube videos stream many (most?) of our services right into their home. One of the products we license and then offer to our patrons for free is called Freegal. It’s a commercial-free music streaming platform. And each week, users are permitted to download five songs to keep permanently. Guess what I downloaded last week.
I joined the burn-out crowd in ninth grade. A friend smuggled a jelly jar full of gin into a school dance, a night that introduced me to several new people. Two months later I was hanging with a completely different crowd. This is when I first heard In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. When I think back, I’m sure I only heard it a handful of times during high school. And maybe a handful more in college. And maybe two or three times as an adult. How can I be so sure? The song is seventeen minutes long. They don’t play it on the radio, and I never bought the album. And frankly, it just isn’t the sort of song any of my friends would own.
Some folklore surrounds the song. From Wikipedia: According to drummer Ron Bushy, organist-vocalist Doug Ingle wrote the song one evening while drinking an entire gallon of wine. When the inebriated Ingle played the song for Bushy, who wrote down the lyrics for him, he was slurring so badly that what was supposed to be “in the Garden of Eden” was interpreted by Bushy as “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. More folklore, Iron Butterfly, along with Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and maybe one or two other late sixties bands invented the sound we now recognize as heavy metal.
I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but this is the comparison that comes to mind. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, fourth movement—the Ode to Joy. Instantly recognizable from the first measure, building and reimagining a theme throughout the piece. Both, equally addictive. The song has flaws, which make it human: There’s a three-minute drum solo six and a half minutes in. Not much of a discernable rhythm, just Bushy banging on the drums—toms and bass drums mostly. In all honesty, it sounds like something I might come up with if I drank too much wine and had the house to myself. It doesn’t sound overly skilled, but for some reason, I want to listen again and again. Also, the lyrics are absolutely horrible. The vocals go out of tune now and then. But still, I find it magical.
Susan says artists, at times, channel the divine. They achieve something so unbelievable, it can only be a god speaking through the mortal. Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the Beatles’ A Day in the Life, Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. For me, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is another example. It’s funny, some of you will click the link and listen. Most of you will think “God, what noise!” But possibly someone will hear what I hear—that moment in history when everything was still perfect and unspoiled, in the Garden of Eden.