Interview:--> Terry Kirkman (The Association)

"...Not only learned to think, but to care. 
Not only learned to think, but to dare."
~ The Association ~ 

With one of the most bad-ass songs about the herb that no one was quite sure about, yet everyone the anti-war homage that was both beautiful and pointed...The Association.

From gentle psych pop spinneries that tease the the lush vocal and instrumental arrangements that melt the heart...The Association.

The Association were all of these and none of these.

Lead by co-founder Terry Kirkman, it was never an "either/or" about the music.  No pigeonhole here.  It was simply "all" about the music.  And having at least 3 of the most radio-played songs in history...I'd say The Association were on to something.


Casey Chambers:  In the summer of '67, The Association had the opportunity to perform at the iconic Monterey Pop Festival.  How cool was that?

Terry Kirkman:  It was a really mixed bag.  There was the good news and the bad news.  We were the opening act and we were kind of the soundcheck and lighting check for the whole festival.  It was a very mixed bag for a lot of artists there.

Casey Chambers:  Did you know going in that you were going to be the first group to hit the stage?

Terry Kirkman:  I believe so.  We weren't thinking about it too much 'cause we were doing concerts all the time and we came straight out of the studio to do that gig.  We didn't really think much about it at all.  It wasn't a big deal.  I don't think any of the acts per se, thought of it as anything except a good idea.

It was going to be the first pop/rock/folk festival in the country and it was thrown by The Mamas and The Papas who were very popular at the time and so we all said...'let's go do it.'  And then it turned out to be this whole other thing.  You had people playing rhythm and blues, people playing Indian rock music and some acts...just incredibly stupefying way-wonderful acts...that no one had ever seen before.

The Montery Pop Festival (1967)

Casey Chambers:  You guys also did a lot of television and among the shows...performed a number of times on the short-lived, but long-remembered..."Smothers Brothers Show."

Terry Kirkman:  Variety shows were the mainstay of television.  We did 50 of them.  The Smothers Brothers were personal friends and it was fun being a part of that because they weren't the regular, everyday Ed Sullivan kind of variety show.  They would make political statements.  And the show was fun to do.

Casey Chambers:  Occasionally, you trip in some play with your...penny whistle, I'm guessing...and it gives a song an unusual twist.  The instrument has a really unique sound and one I don't often hear.

Terry Kirkman:  It's a recorder, actually.  A very old baroque instrument.  And no, you don't hear it much because it's not very popular.  Maybe if you were in folk music or if you were in Austria.  It's just a common, relatively inexpensive instrument that children in grammar school are taught to toot.

And there were all sorts of instruments in the '60s being used for the first time.  It was would reach into your bag of things and try to make it work.  And that's what I did.  We were making music and I tooted it and we used it and that was it.  I just played it.

Casey Chambers:  And your songs continue to resonate with each new generation...

Terry Kirkman:  It's flattering to be involved with a piece of music that becomes popular.  "Never My Love"...which we didn't write, the Addrisi Brothers wrote that one, is the second most airplayed song in BMI's history.  "Cherish" is the 21st most airplayed song.  And "Windy" is about the 60 or 61st most airplayed song.  It's fun to do.  You stick it out there and other people like it and they play it and sing it.  It's nice to hear other people do things with a song other than how you originally intended it.  That's always fun.

Casey Chambers:  The radio classic..."Cherish"...was one of your songs.  Do you remember when you wrote that one?  Do moments like that stay with you?

Terry Kirkman:  Yeah, when you know that you've pulled something together that is different.  "Cherish" came in one fell swoop.   I actually channeled it.  Or I was channeled.  I really don't know what the source was.  I've never understood the process nor do I think I will ever understand the process.

And there are any number of songwriters out there, poets and writer's writers, and artists of all kinds who will tell you that they've sat down to do something and the next thing you know, it's done.  And you don't really know where it came from.

So between 11:00 pm and 11:37 pm on that particular night, which I know because I got home at exactly 11:00 pm and the news had just started, my wife said, 'Do you wanna watch the news?'  And I said, 'No, I think I'm gonna try to write this song.'  And then when I finished it, I was just barely into Johnny Carson's monologue at 11:37.  So in that period of time, that song got written.

And you don't sit down and work on it for weeks or months.  I mean, we obviously worked on the song for months to make it sound the way it did.  But the actual writing of the song just came in one fell swoop.

Casey Chambers:  That's very cool.  A short amount of time for being such a contributing factor for steamy backseat windows, wasn't it?  And the song seems to pop up a lot in films and TV shows.

Terry Kirkman:  Yes it does.  It's fun.  Surprising.  It's not always a compliment.  "Cherish" has been used as a gag for being a kind of conservative, old fashioned song in an otherwise hip movie.  It's just an accidental piece of culture.  It's a frame of reference for a lot of people.

The song's been written about a lot.  It's referred to in novels, screenplays.  It was once the whole theme of a sitcom called "Wings".  The whole lyric was also printed out in Xaviera Hollander's memoir..."The Happy Hooker" as a song that she and a guy made love to.  Didn't have anything to do with me.  I just sat down in a little apartment in Hollywood one night and wrote a song.

Casey Chambers:  On the other extreme, you offered up..."Requiem For The Masses"...which served as a pointed anti-war statement.  The arrangement was unique.

Terry Kirkman:  The idea of having the little snippets of "Requiem Mass" was originally thought of for a whole different piece of music.  A Bob Dylan song called "Who Killed Davey Moore?"  And it was a song about the death of the champion boxer Davey Moore in the '50s and '60s.  And his song was saying  'Who killed Davey Moore? Why'd he die?  What's the reason for?'  And then, like a Greek chorus, there'd be a response with the lyric,
                           'Not I' said the referee                
                           'Not I' said the fan.
                           'Not I' said the journalist.
                           'Not I' said the other fighter.
'Cause it was about death and about something sensationalized and exploited.  Like a gladiator and like football is today.  I thought it would be really cool to put the "Requiem Mass" between that.

But I didn't belong to a group that could sing it.  And I couldn't find a group who would do it.  So it didn't go any place and I saved it.  I rediscovered it when I was writing a poem about soldiers in Vietnam.  And I thought, 'Oh, this could be a song and I could use the "Mass" thing.  And the United States Government stepped on that song.  They also stepped on "Along Comes Mary".  There was pressure put on the record companies and on disc jockeys not to play the song.

It's All Good...but cue 9:00 mark for intro/performance of "Requiem For The Masses".  (...listen as Nixon reaches for the phone to pull the plug on The Smothers Brothers Show.)

Casey Chambers:  I read somewhere that when The Association performed at Disneyland, the Orange County Police were warning you not to play..."Along Comes Mary".

Terry Kirkman:  Yes, for the same reason that the United States government stepped on the song.  It was the sheriff's department.  And they didn't want anybody in their hallowed little religious setting, Disneyland, to be singing a song promoting marijuana.  Then later, they turned around and apologized to us because that very morning The Los Angeles Times published a story that the nuns of Marymount College had named "Along Comes Mary" the song of the year.

Casey Chambers:  What about the psychy "Six Man Band".  I always thought of that one as an underrated gem.

Terry Kirkman:  It's how I felt about the music business.  The original lyric was...(laughing)...the original lyric to that song was a lot more insulting to the music business.  That was how I felt about the life that we lived.

Casey Chambers:  In 1969, The Association contributed a few songs to a movie soundtrack, "Goodbye Columbus".  You wrote a song for it called..."So Kind To Me (Brenda's Theme)".

Terry Kirkman:  I was just writing a song for the movie about the movie.  They wanted a long song that would go over a long sequence.  There were no big Hollywood bells and whistles with that experience at all.  It was just simply being asked to do something and we all sat down and put our separate and collective heads together and pounded out some music for the film.

The director and producers didn't take us a bit seriously.  When we asked what the movie was about, the producer said 'It's about money and fucking, OK?  And you write songs for it'.  'OK, so what's it about?'  'It's about money and fucking, OK?'  'OK.'

Casey Chambers:  Later on, you branched out into television production.  Was that something you were always interested in doing?

Terry Kirkman:  Making art and producing things is something I've always been interested in.  I didn't set out to be a musician.  I didn't set out to be a television guy.  I really wanted to be a journalist.  So instead of writing for newspapers which would pay absolutely no money, I set out to do other things.  And as far as writing television, I was a game show writer.  I wrote advertising copy.  I wrote TV trailers.  I just got money as a writer.  Filling in spaces, writing words, managing words.  Coming up with ideas for people.

Casey Chambers:  In the early '60s, you were playing beatnik coffeehouses with Frank Zappa.

Terry Kirkman:  We were in college together.  And we played local coffeehouses in the late beat movement when, at least in Southern California, all sorts of small towns and the big cities had coffeehouses.  And they had never existed before.  It was a brand new concept.  And people would go play folk music.

Sometimes people would call us up and ask if we'd play at their place at night.  They really didn't have any idea what they wanted.  And they'd tell us maybe,  'how about blues?  How about ethnic folk music?'  All they wanted was some music. (laughing)

We would literally learn stuff that very day and go play it that very night.  And it might be the only time you ever played that music.  It was just walking around being rent-a-guys for a new kind of entertainment that nobody understood what it was they were supposed to be doing...but wanted to do.  It was just...'I want to have a coffeehouse.'

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to know a little bit more about how The Association began.

Terry Kirkman:  We were members of a large folk group called The Men.  And we came out of The Troubadour in West Hollywood that was arguably one of the most powerful music clubs in the country or maybe even the world at that time.  And we were the first group in the nation to be called folk-rock.  Not the first group to be famous for folk-rock, but the first to use the phrase.  We didn't give it to ourselves, somebody else gave it to us.

And we couldn't make any money because the folk music thing was really over as far as being a marketable form of entertainment.  And there were a whole lot of us.  There were 11 guys in The Men.  And we broke up one afternoon.  I was the leader and I said I really want to not be held responsible for us being really good but not making it and having to referee the arguments and the debates, so I'm leaving.  And five other guys walked out with me.

The six of us went to my apartment to figure out what we were going to do.  And as we're sitting there, either Brian (Cole) or his old partner Bob Page mentioned that there were six of us...two bassists, two baritones, two tenors and we ourselves could just go on and be a group.

We were sitting around drinking some wine and we got to laughing about what we would call ourselves.  There was this show business joke that they actually made a documentary film about...on this horrible, horrible obscene story invention that entertainers for decades used as a format to gross each other out.  And the punchline to the joke is what do you call yourselves and then people who do these horrible, horrible gross profane things on stage say, 'We call ourselves The Aristocrats.'  That's the joke.  You'd have to hear the whole joke to understand what I'm talking about.

So somebody said, 'why don't we call ourselves The Aristocrats.'  And we were very, very interested in the source of words.  Somebody said, 'I wonder what aristocrat really means.  I wonder where it comes from.'  So my fiance Judith had just won a huge 40 pound dictionary on a game show and she said, 'I'll look it up.'  And while she was looking up the word "aristocrat", she found another word.  And said, 'Here's a word that would be good for you guys..."association"...and its definition is 'a group of people gathered together for a common cause.'  And there it was.  Within two hours, we had formed a group and named ourselves.  And that's the story.

It was on that very same couch that I received "Cherish" in 37 minutes.  And "Enter The Young" in the very kitchen in that place while opening a can of cream-style corn.  A lot of stuff happened in that apartment.

Casey Chambers:  What are some of your favorite albums?

Terry Kirkman:  You'd have to break it down for me into categories. I hold with the general contention about "Pet Sounds", "Saturday Night Fever", and "Sgt. Pepper's" and any of a bunch of Joni Mitchell albums.  Many of The Commodores albums.  Many of The Eagles albums.  They are so well and thoroughly finished works.  And that's what appeals to me, is when there's no dead air in a body of work.  When there's no throwaway words.  There's nothing hurried.  It's been worked and honed.

All of the albums that I'm talking about, maybe with the exception of "Saturday Night Fever", all of them were given a great, great, great, huge amount of time to be worked on.  Months and months sometimes working on a single tune.

We never had that.  We recorded all of our albums in 40 days at the most.  Just slammed 'em  through.  And I regret that very much.  But the albums that I really like from pop...from the pop period...are those kinds of albums that were actually making a new music that we hadn't ever heard before.

Casey Chambers:  That's some really good stuff!  Terry, I want to thank you for sharing...

Terry Kirkman:  Well, let me tell you about my family very personally, okay?  Since you're writing from Kansas.  My parents were both musicians.  My father, although I never saw him play, grew up in Hays, Kansas.  And he played in dance bands, played soprano sax and he sang songs.  I have a photograph of his band.  An outdoor photograph where they're all in costume.  There used to be a thing, particularly in Hays, of Russian immigrants.  And there was a distinction between white Russian and black Russian.  I never understood that, but in the photograph you see that these men are wearing Russian kind of fur hats on top of their heads and they are in blackface like a minstrel outfit.  I never got to ask my father what that was all about, but my dad played saxophone and sang.

My mother grew up all over Kansas because her father was a Methodist minister that changed churches about every two years and built churches all over Missouri and Kansas and Oklahoma.  He ended up being the head pastor of Kansas Wesleyan University.  My mother was a music major and played church organ, pipe organ, and piano.  But because she was the minister's daughter...not just a minister but the head pastor of Kansas Wesleyan...they had an image to live up to in the community.  She couldn't let it be known that she was the piano player and organ player for the silent movies at the local movie house.

She was also the pinball champion of Salina, Kansas.  Or Hays.  Hays, I think.  They went to Hays High School.  My mother was a monster musician.  Just stunningly gifted.  And ended up being a piano teacher and a church organist and sometimes she would play for three different denominations on any given weekend.

We moved to California when I was only about two or three so my relationship with Kansas is very, very thin.  When The Association was on the road, probably around 1970 or '71, we actually got booked to play a concert at Kansas Wesleyan in Salina.  There I was standing on a stage that my grandfather had spoken from and given prayers on.  A stage that my mother had both played the pipe organ and piano concerts.

When I told the people in the Kansas Wesleyan audience that I was born here and that my grandfather and my mother had performed here, there was not one single sound of response from the audience.  It was like...'why are you telling us this?'  It was one of the strangest experiences I've ever had.  I was all excited because I was born there.  And no one cared.  So that's my Kansas story.

Casey Chambers:  Wow!  The crowd went flatline.  That is strange.  They must've been eating the brown acid.  I'm really sorry I never got the chance to see you guys perform.  Thanks for all the music you've given us and thanks very much for hanging out with me.

Terry Kirkman:  Thank you.  Take care, Casey.


Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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Anonymous said…
I grew up listening to and loving these songs. I still sing along when I hear them played. Loved learning some history about "The Association". Well written!
Quintin said…
Yes this was VERY insightful to read and hear the inside scoop. I was just listening to a CD where I have some of The Association's songs on it. I can remember listening to a 45 that my brother had of Windy and playing that song over and over and over again! He was born in the early 50's and I was born in 64'. I LOVE 60s music!! The Association made some fantastic music! Thank you Terry Kirkman for the great songs you wrote AND the great singing voice you shared. Great little tidbit about your mom being part of the Methodist church and you receiving the music DNA. I don't think that is a coincidence :)
Anonymous said…
Nice interview thank you.
Anonymous said…
I just found this interview and found it so insightful, My husband and I have a renewed interest in The Association- having grown up with the music....If there was a way to thank each and every member of the band for this beautiful music I would...and I hope the ones that have passed knew how much the music meant to so many people...I am so moved by "Everything That Touches You" every time I hear it...When I see Terry singing in the video from the Smothers Brothers Show, I am mesmerized...Thank you for making life so much better with your wonderful gift.
Anonymous said…
I was a kid when I first heard the music done buy the Association. I am 70 and still listen their music. They were under appreciated. My favorite song by them is "Never My Love". Their other songs are excellent too.
Linda said…
RIP Terry Kirkman. Thank You for the beautiful music.

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