Bernie Leadon: Journey of the Sorcerer

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." 
Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

"In the beginning the Universe was created. 
"This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move." 
Douglas Adams (1952-2001)

Sometime in the mid-1970's, a twenty-something Douglas Adams was lying down, drunk, in a field in Innsbruck, Austria.  Up to this point, and a good deal beyond it, he had struggled with his chosen career path of being a writer.  He had desperately wanted to invent Monty Python, however it had already been accomplished as was going quite well.  Adams did manage to get a few writing credits and appearances with the show, however nothing remained concrete and he sort of drifted about from gig to gig and took several odd jobs in order to keep afloat. So, according to legend, he found himself lying on his back, three sheets to the wind.

To use the parlance of our time.
He had in his possession a book entitled, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Europe" and as he looked at the vast openess of the sky it occurred to him that someone ought to write such a guide for the Galaxy.  He eventually worked that concept into a draft which was presented to BBC Radio 4 in 1977.  What followed was a veritable landslide of a long standing radio series, a trilogy in six books, a stage play, a few video games, a television series, a motion picture, and a comic book. 

Tragically, Douglas died in 2001 following a morning workout. Despite being an author, he was also a highly vocal supporter of environmental conservation and worked with multiple groups to increase awareness of endangered animals throughout the world.

In the original radio series, each episode (called fits) would begin and end with the dulcet tones of a banjo, segueing into an orchestral and effects laden chorus.  It fit the need of being both a folksy narrative expressing the sense one might journey across vast interstellar distances while still being "spacey" enough to merit a journey to a hyperspace port near Orion Beta.  The piece is known as "Journey of the Sorcerer".

It was written by Bernie Leadon (b. 1947), founding member of the Eagles, as well as a incredibly competent musician, performing on numerous stringed instruments with great faculty.  Leadon left the Eagles in 1975 on bad terms and retreated to Nashville where he presently resides and is well-established as a session musician for recording primarily blue-grass albums.

"Journey of the Sorcerer" has been rewritten and adapted a few different times by different bluegrass groups.  It was adapted in use for all released recordings of the radio series, including the series that were released posthumously to Adams' death.  These versions utilized a different recording of the work, as performed by the "Illegal Eagles" cover band so as to avoid negotiating new (and expensive) rights with the Eagles over the work.

The track was also given a title treatment in the 2005 Disney movie, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".  Following the destruction of Earth, the camera pans away in the blackness of space to reveal the guide floating through the cosmos as the familiar tune drifts by.  Joby Talbot (b. 1971) gave it an updated treatment, incorporating the ubiquitous banjo with some added synthesized effects accompanying the orchestra.  It was a genuinely happy moment to experience seeing it the first time, feeling that they got it right.

I read somewhere (for the life of me I cannot recall, nor find it) that there were copyright issues in using the track in the movie.  Douglas was still alive at the start of the planning stages of the film and it was said that one phone call secured it for their use.  I don't know if it was retained as the film bounced out of development hell into Disney's hands, but I always found that interesting.  Douglas had a definite connection and affinity with the music industry of his day, taking special interest in the large and over-the-top performances of bands like Pink Floyd and Procol Harum, citing the excesses with which such performed as influences into certain aspects of his writing.  

He did in fact perform with both Pink Floyd and Procol Harum, the latter of which bearing the distinction of earning Douglas the honor of being the only fan ever to perform with that group.  Adams was an accomplished guitarist, owning as many as 35 left-handed guitars of various types and construction.  It is then a fitting tribute to Mr. Adams, to remember him in the music that he would want remembered.  

It is an odd feeling indeed to miss someone dearly whom you've never met.

See you next Friday.