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Most Likely to Secede : If Nothing Else, Jackson Browne's Orange County Days Gave Him a place to Move Away From

August 25, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition. Zan Dubin, who covers the arts for The Times, also contributed.

Jackson Browne arrived reluctantly in Fullerton at age 12, and left eagerly at 17.

In between, he earned a superfluous diploma, class of 1966, while nursing a general, but not absolute, loathing for Sunny Hills High School.

In the eyes of Clyde J. Browne, as he is listed in a yearbook that notes no clubs, no activities, no honors, nothing at all beneath his name, the conservative, affluent school was being run to stifle the '60s, to keep out any whiff of the excitement and change that the era's most aware and creative teen-agers strained to sniff. Sunny Hills' purpose, he felt, was to uphold a tidy Orange County vision of clean-cut appearances and straight, unquestioning right-thinking--something it accomplished with considerable success.

But Browne, who ranks with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell as one of leaders of the '70s singer-songwriter movement, also found what he needed during his Orange County days, and they were things that young artists acquire early in life only if they are lucky.

There was a close circle of creative, supportive friends and family, who inspired him to become a songwriter at age 15, and who remain his friends today. There were clubs, the famous Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, but especially the Paradox, a tiny but adventurously run coffeehouse in Orange, where he could listen to touring folk music heroes and step on stage to develop his own songs and gather experience and confidence as he pursued a calling that he knew by his mid-teens would be his career. And there was Sunny Hills High School, and all the conservative suburban expanse around it. A young artist needs something to rebel against, and in that regard, Fullerton proved to be just the right place for Jackson Browne.

"I had an attitude about that school, and I could still work up an attitude about the kind of education I got there," Browne said last week in a phone interview. He was in a hotel in Dallas on a tour that brings him to Irvine Meadows on Saturday. "I thought it was close-minded and oppressive, and they missed the opportunity to teach."

But as he looked back on his Orange County days, Browne was not inclined to work up an attitude. At 45, he is more likely to chuckle over his school days than to rail about them. Frequently punctuating his talk with laughter, he viewed his Orange County days with equanimity, and confessed that he now feels a certain fondness when he remembers people he once scorned.

Browne says he hated it when his parents, Jack and Bea Browne, moved their three children from the old Los Angeles suburb of Highland Park to a house on the edge of the new Sunny Hills subdivision.

"I was popped down in a sort of very sterile tract-home community. I sort of had contempt for the entire decision to move there. They sort of bamboozled me by saying it was near Disneyland, but I didn't have any choice in the matter."

The typically suburban house on Brookdale Place was no match for the Browne family's previous digs: a remarkable homestead of adobe, brick and stone that Browne's grandfather had built with his own hands and dubbed the Abbey San Encino. (The future singing star was named Clyde after his grandfather, but was known from boyhood by his middle name, Jackson.) The house, which still remains in the family, was patterned after an old Spanish mission and featured an inner courtyard with a fountain that Browne used as the setting for the cover of his second album, "For Everyman."

It was partly Browne's own doing that his parents decided to abandon the character of Highland Park for the security of Fullerton. Browne says they were worried that he and his older sister, Roberta (known as Berbie to family and friends), were getting caught up in a rough, gang-oriented crowd.

"For two or three years before moving to Orange County, I was hanging around the public playgrounds and underneath the railroad trestle hearing tales about the California Youth Authority and the penal system," Browne recalled. "I met guys all the time that probably came out of juvenile programs (and) from Y.A. (that) Highland Park was almost like a no-man's land, a battle ground between the Chicano gangs and the white gangs. Me and my friends were (racially) mixed, but the prevailing neighborhood style and attitudes were Chicano. We weren't gang members, but nearly everybody we knew were in gangs."

Browne's younger brother, Severin, remembers one show of street credibility by Jackson: when some older kids from Jackson's junior high school picked on Severin, he went to his brother, who apparently engaged in some big-stick schoolboy diplomacy. Severin says that the next time the bigger kids saw him, they apologized profusely for any previous misunderstanding.

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