I See Hawks and Earthworms

When one travels through the North American continent, they are certain to run into places where the emptiness is overwhelming; where the land is bigger than the sky and the stars at night are the only signs that one is not alone. This emptiness is even greater when one is walking or camping and there are no vehicles even near. Hawks or buzzards flying above. Elk herds far in the distance. Painted canyons that once hosted civilizations. Highway stretching into the unseen distance and the only sound is the blowing wind. Most of this seeming emptiness is found west of the Appalachian mountain range, with its vastness seeming to increase the further west one goes. That is until they reach the cities of the western coast and the ocean just beyond–a vast emptiness of its own.

One could call this vast emptiness desolation, but this description misses the essence of such space. Desolation implies no life or hope, only an eventual death. Yet, there is a hope there. It is a hope that helped move America westward. There is also an understanding that death is never far and always part of the human equation. Whether it is brought by humanity or mother nature. After every fearful night however, the sun always rises.

These spaces I’ve described are the essence of the music of the California band I See Hawks In LA. Even when they are singing lyrics about the South–as they occasionally do–the mystery implicit in the open deserts of the west is present. The search for a freedom ever harder to find in the postindustrial wasteland we end up calling home. The rats are everywhere and so are the dead man’s bones. Yet, I See Hawks In LA refuses to let hope die. Instead, they compose lyrical tunes including one celebrating a girl raised by hippies in a culture that forgot about peace and love. Another is about a senator who wore Klan robes in his youth only to grow into a champion of civil liberties in his old age when those liberties were curtailed in the name of a younger man’s war on terror. Then, there’s the one titled “Humboldt” that brings The New Riders of the Purple Sage song about running weed titled “Henry” into the twenty-first century. The finality of certain human undertakings and an understanding of our duality form the heart of their music.

I’ve mentioned before that this band is the next in a tradition that includes Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, the Byrds (especially the versions after David Crosby left the group), and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Succinctly put, the music of I See Hawks In LA is music of the heart. After having released four discs in the past eight years while constantly touring, the band recently put together a collection of their favorite tunes. Titled Should’ Been Gold, the disc contains 17 songs, including six tunes never before released and a live gem to conclude it all. Although I’ve never caught them live, I’ve heard it is worth one’s time and hope our paths cross sooner rather than later.

In my other life (the one where I’m not writing or organizing), I am a children’s specialist at a public library. Besides reading stories to young people and teaching them the mysteries of the Dewey Decimal System, I also order the books and other materials for the juvenile and teen sections of the branch I work at. This last endeavor helps me keep abreast of the hundreds of new releases in the world of young people’s literature and music. For those readers who have children (still at home or on their own) or work with them in some way, they must know the joy of discovery that flashes across a child’s face when they find a book they really like. There is an equivalent joy when they hear a clever tune or other piece of music that strikes their fancy.

Earthworm Ensemble is a hip children’s CD featuring rock and roots artists I See Hawks In LA, The Chaplin Sisters, Mike Stimson, David Jackson, Brantley Earns and Sly Stone bassist Jim Awes. The CD features the musicians and some of their children singing clever lyrics urging young and old listeners to think about their place on the planet and how they can insure its survival. There are also just plain fun songs. The cycle of sun, rain, earthworm,soil and plant is the theme of “That’s What the Earthworm’s For,” while the song “Pizza Moon” is a humorous ditty about a dad making pizza with his kids while mom is away.

As any adult who listens to children’s music knows, it is always a bonus if the music can entertain adults, too. This is true because it is almost a guarantee that any adult who lives with children will be listening to their music. One such album that comes to my mind is the 1993 release by Jerry Garcia and David Grisman titled Not For Kids Only. Musically, every song on this disc does that. This is not necessarily the case lyrically. However, the tune “Walking Boy” stands out as a song that could easily make it into an adult’s play list. But, then, this is a CD for children.

The musicians here are masters of their craft. Seasoned performers and songwriters all, they utilize a myriad of genres in this catchy collection. Country-rock a la the Byrd to jaunty hip-hop; folly styling to rock and roll. Like their parent group I See Hawks In LA, the Earthworm Ensemble project describes joyfulness. When the kids aren’t singing along, you can be sure they’ll be dancing.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: rjacobs3625@charter.net


Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com