1995 Interview

Page 5: "California Dreaming"

JOHNSON: Let’s talk about "California Dreamin’" specifically, and how you were inspired to write that song, the history of it.

PHILLIPS: Well, Michelle gave you her version of how it was written?


PHILLIPS: I hope our versions [laughs] coincide. It’s my recollection that we were at the Earle Hotel in New York and Michelle was asleep. I was playing the guitar. We’d been out for a walk that day and she’d just come from California and all she had was California clothing. And it snowed overnight and in the morning she didn’t know what the white stuff coming out of the sky was, because it never snowed in Southern L.A., you know, Southern California. So we went for a walk and the song is mostly a narrative of what happened that day, stopped into a church to get her warm, and so on and so on. And so as I was thinking about it later that night, I was playing and singing and I thought "California Dreamin’" was what we were doing, actually, that day. So I tried to wake Michelle up to write the lyrics down that I was doing. And she said, "Leave me alone. I want to sleep. I want to sleep." "Wake up. Write this down. You’ll never regret it. I promise you, Michelle." "Okay." Then she wrote it down and went back to sleep. [Laughs] And she told me up to this day, she’s never regretted getting up and [laughs] writing it down. Since she gets half of the writing of the song for it.

JOHNSON: For writing it down?


JOHNSON: That’s exactly the story she told us.


JOHNSON: Exactly. Yeah.

PHILLIPS: Oh, wonderful girl.

JOHNSON: She left out the good part about the church and walking that day. She didn’t tell that part.

PHILLIPS: No. All she had was tennis shoes and the socks, and a tank top and jeans or something. It was bitter cold.

McKENZIE: Earle Hotel.

PHILLIPS: Earle Hotel, yeah. Right on Washington Square.

JOHNSON: She said it was cold. She did. She said she was homesick.

PHILLIPS: The whole idea, [laughs] New York just completely turned her off. She’d never been there before.

McKENZIE: You shoplifted a -

PHILLIPS: Probably. I shoplifted everything. I still do.

McKENZIE: A cooking - remember that? We had a suite at the Earle Hotel and it had a kitchen, but no stove? [Laughs]

PHILLIPS: I shoplifted a stove?

McKENZIE: Well, not a whole stove.

PHILLIPS: A hot plate.

McKENZIE: We walked in and I did something like this [motions] and you took a hot plate and walked out.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs] I lifted the hot plate.

McKENZIE: Yeah. And we were able to heat up our bologna andmayonnaise, which I didn’t know you had.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs]

McKENZIE: That means a lot, you know.

JOHNSON: So after writing it down, what was the history of the song after that?

PHILLIPS: A few nights later I was at a party with Marshall Brickman, who later became a screenplay writer. That was the first person in The Journeymen - no, the second person. Denny Doherty was the first. And then - no, no. Marshall was the first. That’s right. Marshall was the first and -

McKENZIE: It was you, Dick and me, and then it was Marshall and you and Michelle.

PHILLIPS: And Michelle, right.

McKENZIE: And then it was Denny, you and Michelle.

PHILLIPS: Right. Exactly. And Marshall went on to write Annie Hall and all that. There’s a very funny story about Marshall. If you have a moment, I’ll tell you.

JOHNSON: Please.

PHILLIPS: We were rehearsing on Broadway at Nola Studios, I think it’scalled. A very famous rehearsal studio spot. And Marshall played guitar and banjo and twelve-string and something else, some other instrument he carried. And he was walking across the street in the snowstorm after rehearsal, it was just right at that biting time of night, around five o’clock, and he couldn’t find a cab and the wind came around the corner and bit you, you know. And he saw his reflection in a mirror of a store, and he thought to himself, "My parents didn’t immigrate from Russia for me to do this."

JOHNSON: [Laughs]

PHILLIPS: [Laughs] That’s what he said. And he never played again. I mean, he played, but he never - changed profession entirely as of that moment. That was the thought that made him do it.

JOHNSON: I guess he thought writing was gonna be the money-making part. He was right.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. Well, he’s excellent. I just saw him last summer, as a matter of fact.

McKENZIE: Sleeper . He did Sleeper.

PHILLIPS: My daughter’s getting married, Chynna, September ninth, out in Long Island, and Marshall’s coming to the wedding. So it’ll be fun.

JOHNSON: I think we were talking about what happened to the song.

PHILLIPS: Yeah. Well, I’m went to a party at Judy Collins’ place, and I sang the song there and it was not at all the same kind of version as The Mamas and The Papas, with Hal Blaine on drums and Larry Nechtal on piano, Joe Osborne on bass and me playing sort of rhythm - it was finger picking, Carter Family style. Everyone liked it very much and it was a nice song. Then we got to California with it and I guess it was Lou Adler’s influence, really, because he got Joe and Larry and myself into that mode of playing that country folk rock. The feeling of the song changed from sort of a lament and just sort of a, you know, I don’t know what to call it - a dreaming song, that kind of thing.

JOHNSON: Well, it became an anthem. It became much more.

PHILLIPS: I guess. If I could tell you how many people have come up tome and said, "Oh, you’re responsible for me being in California, you know." [Laughs] I mean, thousands and thousands and thousands, literally, probably three or four today, so far, as a matter of fact.

JOHNSON: Really?

PHILLIPS: So I should have some kind of recompense for this sort of thing.

McKENZIE: Don’t you get royalties from all those people?

PHILLIPS: I’m not sure. And then after writing "San Francisco," also - I’m really a guilty guy.

McKENZIE: A lot of people claim they lost their virginity to "Monday, Monday" in the back seat of a car.

PHILLIPS: [Laughs] I don’t know how that works. But -

McKENZIE: I swear. I’ve heard that a lot.