Looking Back

Elliott Murphy - The Second Act Of Elliott Murphy

… Is the title of the last song, Side B, of my second album Lost Generation, released in 1975 on RCA Records. The album was recorded in Los Angeles at a monumental and historically significant recording studio that doesn’t exist anymore, Elektra Sound Recorders, in January of that same year and produced by Paul A. Rothschild, who shepherded both the Doors and Janis Joplin to Hitsville, USA, from the same hallowed studio grounds. Naively, at 26 years old, I was expecting the same results to come my way with even more glitter and gloom, as I was armed with tracks that were so hot that a buzz was snaking it’s way through the booths of Dan Tana’s restaurant, at that time where the music biz glitterati came to trough. At that time, no one in the know could imagine how such an album, with such a groove would not explode on the Billboard charts, be played non-stop on the radio, and crown me as one of the princes, or one of the dukes or at least a baron, of the rock ‘n roll kingdom. But you know what they say, want to hear God laugh – go tell him your plans.

King Elvis was still sitting on the throne in 1975 regardless if upstart punks like me tended to smirk at his bejeweled white jumpsuits and expanding waistline. I never saw Elvis perform live because one, he rarely played in New York City and two, I was not motivated enough to jump on a plane and fly off to someplace like Columbus, Ohio and buy a ticket. Let me tell you right out front, make no mistake about it, I consider my failure to see Elvis on stage one of the biggest mistakes of my professional life. Like another well-known rock ‘n roll devotee from New Jersey I had tried to crash the gates of Graceland when my tour bus brought me to Memphis for a show but was turned back by a friendly guard that time. I guess the closest I ever came to basking in Elvis’ aura was doing a session in Nashville in 1974 where I had the great honor of playing with Reggie Young, the extraordinary guitarist on “Suspicious Minds.” That was fairly monumental in itself.

But I’m not looking that far back today, let’s save that for another time when I might revisit those raucous LA sessions again for an up-dated album titled something like Lost Generation … Found. For today, I’m only looking back to this last year 2015 and all that it brought me; certainly, in no small way, it was a year of catching up with my past. To start out, with the help of my brilliant producer son Gaspard Murphy, we released a new version of my first album; this time entitled Aquashow Deconstructed. It was a risky proposition to be sure, an unmapped career move, but the response of both fans and critics and even some radio stations around the world was so overwhelmingly positive even I was taken aback. It seems I was correct when I gambled that those ten songs, “Last of the Rock Stars,” “How’s The Family,” “White Middle Class Blues” and the rest deserved another ride on the merry-go-round, and just maybe, this time they’d grab the brass ring.

2015 was the thirtieth anniversary of Back to the Future, the film where Michael J. Fox teaches Chuck Berry how to play guitar just like … Chuck Berry! And that was kind of the theme of this past year for me as well as I returned to Japan (which is pretty futuristic just by definition) after a long hiatus for two shows in Tokyo and was received by an incredibly enthusiastic, gentle and patient audience, especially considering that it took me over 25 years to return. Two wonderful, almost heart-breakingly sincere Japanese fans were even waiting for autographs when I went down for breakfast my first morning at my Tokyo hotel. How long had they been waiting for me? Hours or years?

I suppose the most introspective event for me personally, that threw me back to my own once future through the mysteries of light and sound, was attending the first ever showing of The Second Act of Elliott Murphy directed by the indomitable Jorge Arenillas at the In-Edit film festival in Barcelona last October. My wife Fran├žoise and I sat there in the tenth row and it was like a ninety-minute trip down the Murphy River, and believe me, the trip was not always so smooth but the high points were joyous and more free then even I remembered. On a few occasions I noticed my wife turn her head my way with a surprised look on her face as if to say, Was that you Elliott? as I smiled back sheepishly. All my grand triumphs as well as my dismal failures went by on that screen like I was being lead by the hand of Charles Dickens’ ghost of Christmas past. The hopes and dreams of my rock-star youth, the more durable acceptance of my stomping troubadour middle age, the sometimes hard earned wisdom of my … elder statesman years, all of it was in that film. As the end credits rolled, I was gob smacked, didn’t know what to think, because something had happened, a voice not my own and not not my own, had spoken to me profoundly, just by watching that film, saying everything is just as it’s supposed to be. I knew at that moment that a corner had been turned and I came to the realization that for better or worse I’m on the last stretch of this ill-defined journey I started almost 50 years ago. Not to be morbid, I assure you, I predict it will be a very, very long home stretch with many “Elliott comes out of retirement” tours!

When the film ended, and as the lights came on in the theater, the audience broke into first polite and then aggressive and finally thunderous applauds and whistles and Jorge and I had no choice but to rise to our feet. With a sweep of my black hat, I acknowledged that crowd as the first witness to this wonderful testament of my own rock ‘n roll journey. And even more then that: as the co-conspirators of my destiny, because I could not have done it without them, and all those like them, who have applauded me on, pushed me forward, for all these years. At that moment I could have burst out crying or I could have laughed uproariously or I might have just screamed into the eternities, like that Edvard Munch painting. Oh my God! For better or worse, this was my life in music and more these past sixty-six years. Honestly, what did I feel? I felt that I wanted somebody, something, some power, to give me a chance to do it all again and this time do it right with no detours into human folly and hubris but only a fool thinks he can change his nature and I can hardly change my own. And maybe I did do it right after all, maybe that voice was right and this was exactly where I was supposed to be, in that cozy theater, watching that amazing film, with that glorious nurturing public. As Fran├žoise and I walked back to the hotel, more then anything I was full of humility, humanity and gratitude. A winning hand in any game.

For a while now its been almost an album a year for me but I can feel my pace slowing down. The man who wrote “Drive All Night” prefers to take the wheel during the daylight hours when my eyes don’t play tricks on me. Better said, I may be getting older but the fire is still burning albeit at a lower flame. This past year, I played 58 shows, down from sometimes over 100 a year, which brings my total number or shows from 1973 through 2015 up to 2457. Yes, somebody has actually figured this out. Is this more then Elvis? Oh … right now I’m listening to “Manhattan Rock” from my original vinyl version of Lost Generation and I’m singing, “And Lou says death is just like sleeping without electricity,” which is what Lou Reed once wrote. And now Lou has shirked this mortal coil himself and his own electricity is turned off and he’s sleeping the long sleep as one of his and my favorite authors, Raymond Chandler, put it. I only saw Lou a brief few times since I moved to Paris 25 years ago but I miss his living presence on “Manhattan Rock” or anyplace else. I wrote a song about him last year and called it “Long Island Guys” and I foresee its appearance on my next album. Just to get that song out is enough to get me back into the studio.

But honestly, is anybody out there waiting with bated breath for the next Elliott Murphy album … besides me and my 89-year-old mother Josephine? If you are so inclined, send me an encouraging message on Facebook or anywhere else and I’ll take it into consideration. I’ve already got something like 35 albums out there, 300 songs floating around in the ether, so I mean, if anyone needs a dose of Murphy, that medicine is not hard to find. I just hope there are more songs waiting for me in that damn thing (Keith Richards once described a guitar to me in just those terms) or under the keys of my underplayed piano. As of today, I’ve got at least 24 new songs finished and still I’m blocked by the apparent unconnectiveness of them all; they don’t all seem to belong to the same family and there’s a disharmony of themes and characters. I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t know where to go with these newest creations, how to dress them, something personal and acoustic for spring? Or anthem-like and symphonic for winter? Or let the inner Brian Wilson in me take over for a blast of summer fun in sandals and surfer shorts. More will be revealed, I hope. All I know is what I sang 40 years ago: Now that you’re looking back it’s not so teenage anymore.

Paris, 29 December 2015