A Musical Memoir

Everything starts somewhere, although the truth of the matter is that there is no true start, just the point at which a bunch of existing conditions become “yours.” I speak from the luxury of a point of view which has seen a good bit of blame attached to a good bit of history to which I somehow claimed or was ascribed ownership. Not that I am alone in this, I know. But these more happenstantial responsibilities are not where this starts, at any rate. The true origin of my current and ongoing state may have something to do with genetic and cultural predisposition, but the fact is that I have willingly contributed to its propagation at most every opportunity, (although I’ve also inadvertently sent it off the cliff a few times) so that by this time I have no choice but to accept that the responsibility lies truly at my feet. I’m not talking about mere life and death issues here–this, if the number of times I’ve mangled my own life or flirted with death on its account is any indication, transcends all that. I’m talking about a relationship. Intimate, irrevocable, final. Life threatening, health imperiling, sanity eliminating. The kind of thing that makes a mockery of every income generating activity not associated with it, derails the best intentioned student early on (let’s get this right, eliminates any possibility of a reasonable “career”–if I might use the word) and, needless to say, tries every personal relationship in its path and usually dispatches it without mercy and not without some fair measure of turmoil en route. This latter is the natural product of attempting to swim against the tide of one’s true nature, and is, if anything, an honorable thing, if visible only below the surface. Above the surface, where the turmoil is, en route, “honorable” is not one of the words most frequently heard. The relationship is with music.

This is far worse than it sounds.

First of all, music is spiritual, and as any eight-year-old can tell you, habitats in which the spiritual can survive are dwindling faster than our rainforests. And in order to be able to actually pursue the practice, the spiritual must become commercial. Oil must blend with water. Or so it seems. Enter the dragon.

So where did this begin? Was it when my mom played “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” or “Swanee River” for me on the little red vinyl 45’s that she had probably bought for my siblings 15 years before? Did this rouse the spirit? Further cemented by my sister’s lp of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, with its dark, turbulent sea cover photo? Certainly before my mom and sister tormented me by singing “Dite Moi” which I hated, from South Pacific. Maybe it began when my brothers invited their friend from college, Don Salsbury, to visit. Don, who was black, parked his car up the block from us so that the neighbors wouldn’t know he was coming to our house. He was the only person who ever did come to our house who could play our piano with any skill, my older brother’s version of the March Slav notwithstanding. And, he also let me play the hard part on Heart and Soul when we did our duet. It began somewhere in here.

It didn’t become a juggernaut right away. If it had and I’d been able to focus all the concentrated energy and passion I ended up with on the music lessons I insisted on getting then, I’d definitely be in some kind of post prodigy syndrome now, probably of the demented variety. But, as it turned out, I was constitutionally incapable of getting up early enough in the morning to make before-school lessons and so I washed out of that process in a big hurry. That’s my excuse anyway. Besides, I was more interested in learning the 77 Sunset Strip theme by ear than I was in what the Sisters taught me. “Traffic go, traffic stop, listen to the traffic cop,” just doesn’t light a fire under a nine year old, especially one who was called a cynic by his second grade teacher. Whatever that was. It’s a wonder anyone learns to read at the hands of Dick and Jane. Fortunately, Spot was along to bail them out. Skip Dick and Jane, go directly to Spot and the good bits. Now Jack and Jill, that’s another story altogether, but in the long run I think you’re better off with Spot. It’s the unconditional aspect. So this quite common human tendency to bypass the remedial and go directly to the challenges, which to my ear were infinitely more musical, became the hallmark of my brief early instruction and in increasingly more devious ways has informed all of my efforts and indeed my entire personality since. This may not be a good thing. If I could reprogram myself I’d include the ability to slog, which may or may not be the same thing as patience. Of course if I had to reprogram myself I’d probably skip the manual and go directly to the program and make a mess of it anyway.

And then there was the transistor radio. This wasn’t quite the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, but it led directly to it (some years hence). Christmas morning, 10 years old, around six a.m. (probably earlier). And what is this small package. Hmm, made in Japan, battery powered, tinny beyond belief. Only two knobs. Turn it on, search the dial. And to what do we gravitate? Angel Baby, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Lonely Teenager, Rubber Ball and a guy talking about how the only person listening to him at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning is the studio engineer. No, I’m listening to you, man. I’m here. I’m here, too.

It’s amazing how personal, how intimate it felt. On a tinny sounding transistor radio on Christmas morning listening to some of the weakest rock and roll the genre has produced (I say this in retrospect, and without total confidence–I certainly loved it at the time–but it was in the lull after Elvis and before the Beatles). How impressionable we are. Even little cynics. I have friend, a girl I went with for a time who was a dj whose musical taste I, of course, questioned at every turn. She, however, really understood the intimacy of radio. Not the sort of braying ha ha ha isn’t that outrageous and clever (not really) and now here’s the traffic update, but how radio can be a friend. This is sort of the “mystical body” of radio analogy.

When the nuns weren’t trying to subject us to “the traffic cop” they were hot on the trail of religion. One in particular, Sister Mary Clarence, (yes, there actually was a Sister Mary Clarence, god bless her cotton socks) told us in the first grade! that the true church was not the organization, or the catechism or the ceremonies but was made up of the people who tried to do good and avoid evil, knew right from wrong. Their efforts are what actually make up what she called the “mystical body” of the church. Which was the true church. And the mystical body of radio is actually the intimacy, the friendship that is shared really by the djs (and the music) and the listener. Take that, demographers!

Once you get past the “listener” stage, not that you ever do completely, I dare say, once you become involved in the creation of music, that friendship, that relationship, changes character pretty radically and increases in complexity exponentially. Re-enter the demographers. But back to radio and my transistor radio in particular. I’ve often suspected that along with my mom, my siblings and Sister Mary Clarence, that radio djs had a good bit of impact on my world view and even on my moral makeup. My value system, anyway.         There was one night-time dj whose dignity and warmth rubbed off on me in ways I’m hard pressed to describe. I guess it was as a sort of informal role model although I’ve always been sort of an iconoclast about such things. Maybe because he was a dj, remote yet intimate that made it o.k.

During the days of his presidency, JFK decided that fitness was a good idea. And his, or his advisors’, idea of a way to popularize that idea was to suggest that everyone should go on a 50 mile hike. The local radio station jumped on the idea and designated my favorite dj to lead the troops. They were to start at the Santa Clara campus (near San Jose) and walk to downtown San Francisco, roughly 50 miles.

A friend and I decided to walk in the opposite direction on the same route at the same time. He came and tapped on my window an hour or so before dawn and we set out for Santa Clara down the El Camino Real. Ten hours of “are you guys turning back already” later and rushed explanations of our contrary purpose and we still had not crossed paths with our radio man. Not that that was our purpose but it would have been kind of exciting and also it would have been our chance to see what he looked like. Maybe we did pass him and didn’t know it. But no. He had actually faltered en route and withdrew from the walk somewhere past the midway point. This I found out listening to his show the following evening.

But the way he described it, matter of factly and without shame, was what impressed itself upon me most. When Ridicule and How to Avoid It makes up a good bit of a pre-teen boy’s arsenal of communication skills, this was something of a revelation. It didn’t sound like an act, either. This was also critical. In the interest of objectivity, I feel compelled to add that I did win two tickets to see the Beatles in concert while listening to his show. Not that that has necessarily colored my recollection of events. And when I did call in for the give-away, a timid suburban boy shocked to have actually gotten through, it was my dj friend who answered the phone, congratulated me on my correct Name That Tune answer (“Tomorrow Never Knows”, was the answer, I almost blurted out “Love You To”, although I knew better), and when I told him that I was indeed from the area he had specifically asked to hear from, repeated my name on the air in kind and respectful tones.

This is the peripheral stuff, that may in fact end up being the integral stuff, while music, which is really what we all listened to the radio for, may, God forbid, end up being peripheral. This is a terrifying thought for a music obsessive, which, at the time of this writing is not a very flattering term. A friend recently used “having a laser-focus” as a more polite way of describing the same thing. I guess the spin’s the thing when you’ve got what you’ve got.

That period of popular music (is there any other kind?), roughly during JFK’s presidency, is often described (and often seems) as the dark ages of rock and roll, but the truth is a lot of great stuff was coming out. This was, after all, when Goffin/King, Spector, the incomparable Four Seasons, the Drifters!, and numerous others made their mark. I already regret having made a list for all of the brilliant names and songs that I now want to include. How many kids ran around trying to sing  “Bom b-b-bom, b-bom-b-bom bom, b-b-bom, b-b-bom, b-dag-a dag-dag, a-ding-a dong-ding Blue Moooooon? My mom knew I “had it” when she heard me do that for the first time. Letter perfect, baby! Stand Back! And in some ways, in many ways, that music was just as important to people at that point as the stuff that got tied to social issues a couple of years later. When I went to buy my first 10 speed bike with my dad, no small investment for us, the guy selling us the bike (a Peugeot) actually stopped the transaction in mid stream because he wanted to listen to a song that came on the radio. It was “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. As excited as I was by the bike, I wanted to listen, too. Maybe you already know that George Harrison, in his first post- Beatle effort, appropriated “He’s So Fine” for his own purposes (the song “My Sweet Lord”) and was subsequently sued. He lost, and rightly so. Following which, the ever-human John Lennon tartly said “maybe he thought the lord would protect him.” This was, of course, before Lennon appropriated the song himself for his tune “#9 Dream, which may have escaped detection. The lord helps those who help themselves, just keep it a few degrees this side of infringement.

My friend Mickey and I often bought singles together at the local radio repair shop, which was where they were sold locally in those days. They even had a little listening booth that seemed to be a vestige of things BOT (before our time). We were often the only ones in the shop save the lady behind the counter who was terribly sweet to us and often gave us money to go across the street to the five-and-dime (now there’s a dated concept!) to buy candy for the three of us. They gave away copies of the Swinging 60 and Fabulous 40 weekly record charts generated by the 2 major AM (that was all there was, although Big Daddy Tom Donahue, of the impossibly deep voice, was a dj on one of the two. He is widely regarded as the force behind the emergence of FM radio in the USA) rock and roll stations. When we had enough singles of our own, counting b sides, we’d make our own top of the charts lists. It was amazing how in the attempt to shake up the order and with a limited number of possibilities, all of a sudden rather dull b sides would take on remarkable characteristics inspiring a run for the top of the chart. This especially happened when neither of us had the money to buy new 45s for a period of time.

I was especially fond of instrumentals. I bought Jorgen Ingmann’s “Apache”–actually it was “Jorgen Ingmann and his Guitar”–Perez Prado’s “Patricia Twist, “El Watusi” by Ray Baretto and “Bumble Boogie” and “Nut Rocker” by B. Bumble and the Stingers. Everybody I knew bought the latter two. The b side of “Apache” was “Echo Boogie”, a somewhat dated swing guitar instrumental that topped my personal chart for a while and still emerges under my fingers from time to time, especially when I’m playing my ES-775. I think most of these instrumentals were bought in the EBG, the Era Before Girls, with no icky lyrical sentiments to mar the fun. Occasionally we’d get one with words, or “vocal with instrumental accompaniment” as they read on the label then. But these usually had titles like “There Was a Fungus Among Us” or “Surfer Joe”.

Each week we’d go down to the Radio Repair to pick up the new charts if nothing else. It was fun to watch stuff catch on and move up the charts in fits and starts and to see if the ones you thought were cool did anything. One week we picked up the Swinging 60 and found that a record had debuted at #1. We’d seen some big moves before but this was totally unprecedented. Elvis was back from the Army. This was my first indication of the magnitude of Elvis and my first critical listen to his music. And he obviously sucked.The song was “Surrender” and it was a remake of the Italian standard “Sorrento” which you can probably still hear done properly at the Cafe Trieste on a Sunday morning. Fortunately, Elvis had done enough serious damage in his pre army stint to survive this unfortunate success. Then again, I’m not so sure he did. Now, with the benefit of enormous hindsight and much more exposure to his total output, I don’t know if I can honestly say that I feel that any of his post Army stuff rivals the pre. Even if you compare the apples to apples, namely “It’s Now or Never” aka, “O Sole Mio” (pre) with “Surrender” (post), the latter comes up wanting. This goes far beyond the fat Elvis, thin Elvis controversy, we’re talking about “Does It Rock?” here. I think the answer to that is clearly no, “Little Sister” and “Latest Flame” notwithstanding. It’s all pretty tabloid from that point on. Having said that I must also say that even though I missed the Elvis glory years, I am still by some magical extension seriously moved by the enormity and weight of that seismic event that took its shape as him. I still wipe a tear when I watch documentaries of his life on the tube and I am still going to see Graceland before I die, goddammit. Why, I can’t begin to tell you. I just feel it. He’s the king, baby.

Of course, without the benefit of hindsight, a big part of my lack of interest in Elvis may have stemmed from the fact that his return also took place in the Era Before Girls, or EBG. Of more consuming musical interest to your prepubescent pop instrumental afficionado would be the Ventures, whose innate coolness shifted my interest from the piano to the guitar. (Not that I wasn’t still trying to pick out “Cast Your Fate to the Wind” on the ivories.) I pretty much missed their explosion onto the scene, too. “Walk, Don’t Run” was already a Golden Gate Great by the time I started listening to the radio, but the Ventures were something of a perennial and not totally dependent on singles chart success. They were sort of a rock and roll Chet Atkins meets Gene Krupa combo, they played instrumental versions of whatever music was happening at the moment and did it with lots of gimmicks and splashy reverb and echo effects. Country, Surf, Standards, TV themes, you name it and usually with a backbeat. They did a pretty epic “Caravan”, if I recall correctly.

Around the corner from me was a kid who was a couple of years older than me and not only had all of their records but actually had a guitar too. This was not the commonplace thing it became ATB (After the Beatles), just a few years hence. A couple of years older at that point meant the difference between prepubescent (EBG) and postpubescent (EWG, Era With Girls, or, the remainder of one’s life). This is a big, big difference. Big. What I remember most about my relationship with him had nothing to do with music, although he could play “Perfidia” which became my instantaneous standard for necessary human achievement, or the fact that his sister whom we called “the mule” and whose actual name was Jenny, was exceptionally attractive but not yet that necessary or within the realm of possibility. What I remember most had to do with the fact that he introduced me to the existence of oral sex. Not personally. He told me about it.

There was an old fashioned smoke shop down by the train station in our town run by a guy named Charlie. Cigars, cigarettes, magazines, candy, that’s about it. We were all somewhat fascinated with it because that was the only place we knew of which carried girly magazines. We’d often go in under the pretense of buying some gum or whatnot, start over in the sports magazine section, and surreptitiously (or so we thought) slide over toward the more exciting material.

The other attraction of the place was that Charlie had a fondness for trading dirty jokes. The upshot of all this was that the place became something of a magnet for young boys. Once I was in there with some friends repeating an incredibly puerile joke I knew (something about equating an erection with a pogo stick!) and being ridiculed by Charlie for the childishness of it, when he pulled out a nudist camp magazine from behind the counter, which actually showed full frontal nudity. “Is this you?” he asked pointing to an adult male prominently displaying the family jewels. I had no idea how to answer that one, but I can tell you that there was a good deal of curiosity and flight response going on in inside me. Charlie was maybe in his late forties, early fifties, balding, greying, somewhat virile, Pendleton shirts and slacks. I’d heard that he had invited two boys we knew into the back room around closing time to look at some magazines he couldn’t display and all of a sudden it occurred to me that that this might be where we were going with this. I didn’t know what that meant and I was not ready to find out. The idea of male to male sex had never occurred to me. The idea of adult to child sex had never occurred to me. In fact the concept of intercourse had just been making the rounds–one kid refused to believe that it was real and that his parents (!) had had to do it in order to have him. It’s pretty hard to deny if you’re the proof that your parents “did it”. Childish sexual curiosity, yes. I had been a member of the neighborhood “show fannies” club, after all.

It’s amazing the perverse glee a person will get telling another something he is completely unprepared to hear. I still remember the relish with which my guitar playing, couple-of years-older friend told me that Charlie had invited the two boys into the back room in order to get them to “suck his dick”. I almost threw up. Then and for a good time afterward just thinking about it. It was one of those things you didn’t want to believe but had the sickening suspicion was true all the same. Like the kid who didn’t believe his parents “did it”. Only much worse. Your classic rude awakening. It’s a wonder I still liked the Ventures after all that.

I’ve never really confused sex and love. They can and do go hand in hand and sometimes you can have that magical experience where the lines completely blur between the two and one is the expression of the other. In fact, if there is no component of love, i.e., tenderness, kindness, concern for the other as much as yourself, it seems to me that the act can’t be much more than mechanical and lame. But as far as confusing the two, no. (I may be forced to reconsider this at some future date.) Music and love–now they are easily confused.

This is probably because they are Bigger Issues. And they encompass a lot of the same things. Life promoting things. Hopes, dreams, good wishes, breaking down barriers, improvement, sharing, how it could be. Fun. Sort of like big tangible prayers, the kinds of things you wish you could express all the time in all different circumstances and it would have a positive effect. That you could recognize. So much of it though, seems to veer toward what they call tough love, and tough music is sort of a branch of that. This is how it is. Survival is a bitch. Mental toughness. Discipline. Perserverence. This of course leads directly to depression. All work and no play makes Jack depressive.

One of the escape routes on this spiral is Romanticism, which is also oftentimes a lot of work but can keep you out of the black hole if you do it right. If you do it wrong it becomes denial in all of its pathetic rationalized guises. But done right it is the product of the artist. And the artist finally, when all is said and done, reverses the downward spiral, or keeps it moving up, if he should find him or herself in that enviable position.

Which leads us directly, if improbably, to West Side Story, which is still going on in the form of hip hop, rap and some rock and roll, but when it first appeared constituted a cultural big bang for the likes of many an impressionable youngster. For a long time I operated under the assumption that the civil rights movement was the product of the 1960s but it had plenty of roots in the 1940s and 50s. Although West Side Story was based on Mr Timeless’s (that’s Will Shakespeare, to the uninitiated) Romeo and Juliet, much of what gave it its relevance was the racial character of the conflict rather than the familial. This was definitely not Hatfields and McCoys. And this was not the first time it had been addressed by mainstream entertainments, if I might use the word. It was following squarely in the footsteps of such seemingly innocuous musicals as South Pacific and films such as the unflinching Gentleman’s Agreement, which, if I’m not mistaken, was made by Elia Kazan in 1947. So the ground had been softened, and for my generation was as arable as could be.

And it was Romantic! My oldest brother actually came out of the theater dancing–the only time I ever saw him do anything remotely approaching that. For months afterward, we played at being in gangs, coming upon each other unexpectedly in the school corridors and doing a quasi dance/rumble or dance/knifefight. There was no real violence attached–we were really nice well-behaved kids (at this point at least). And I was always Bernardo. And not because he was one of the two leaders, either. Everybody wanted to be Riff but I saw no value in that. No romance! Also Bernardo had the coolest shirt! Maybe the best thing about the movie (which was what we saw) was the way that they made it obvious that both groups were to blame. And that the outcome hurt people, more than those who merely died. What a huge lesson. I don’t know if it’s possible for a mere mortal to learn it. And survive.

But the art was the instrument that conveyed the big message and was its own message too. (Apologies to Marshall.) The dancing, the art direction, the camerawork, the acting (Rita Moreno!). The Music. If that music isn’t memorable then its time to get a few more megs of RAM installed. Multiculti, polyrhythmic, melodic. Did someone say melodic? Ingeniously orchestrated, lyrical, witty. Accessible. Romantic.This gets the allcaps. ROMANTIC. Survival. Or not.

Of course, the most romantic figure at that time to my mind was JFK. My white school uniform shirt was covered with Kennedy campaign buttons in the lead up to the elections. My pop had even gotten me one of those flickering 3” diameter jobs that said JFK with a picture on one reflection and “The man for the sixties” on the other. This was highly coveted by my classmates. There was quite a debate among the neighborhood kids about what Democrat and Republican meant. It was widely held that Democrat meant Catholic and Republican, Protestant, but this idea was dispelled when it was discovered that the fifth grade teacher at Roosevelt public school (which meant that he must be Protestant) was going to vote for Kennedy. I knew this all along because I’d had an I Like Ike button four years before and believe me, my family was Catholic. It must be said that at this time when we Kennedy supporters were not singing “High Hopes” we were singing “Whistle while you work, Nixon is a jerk”. Which we had heard I’m almost certain, during the previous Eisenhower/Stevenson election. A prophecy awaiting fulfillment.

The election of JFK was an incredibly big deal at Our Lady of Angels school, which I attended years K-8, as they say in the education trade. That’s kindergarten through eighth grade to you laymen. Our classroom was already plastered with pictures of Floyd  Patterson, who was one of the reigning Famous Catholics of that time. I never heard one word about the fact that he was black. Not one word. However, the nuns, and by extension, we the pupils were awfully proud that he was the heavyweight champ and a practicing Catholic to boot. If Willie Mays had been known to be a Catholic I’m quite sure that I would have been utterly insufferable. So the election of a Catholic president (and a young, handsome one, at that) was not unlike the Second Coming for the Brides of Christ and their young charges.

And the stuff he said resonated. The “I am a Berliner” speech especially. We who had not been through the Second World War, or the first, had no idea of the implications of this statement but we felt them. And we felt the inclusiveness and the simple reality that, as the song says, “there but for fortune go you and I”. Who isn’t a Berliner. Indeed.

So his loss was pretty darn devastating. I certainly wasn’t sophisticated enough to worry about what this would mean to civil rights legislation (although I was aware of and highly, no, rabidly supportive of it) or foreign relations, but I felt loss. I was involved and took pride in this and so did most of the people I knew. The feelings I did have for things such as civil rights I’d gotten from disparate sources like To Kill a Mockingbird and pictures of Floyd Patterson and the realization that there was a way to do something about this stuff came during this period and the JFK tenure. For a young boy with my background it was the murder of the Personification of Good. Innocent and naive, never to be recaptured, especially in the form of a politician, but never lost either. No amount of mud unearthing, revisionism, political analysis or opinion can touch it. It’s sort of like the “mystical body” thing again.

It was around this time that I bought my first long-playing record albums, as Christmas gifts, I think for my brother and mom. One, my mom’s, was the Singing Nun, whose song “Dominique” was actually topping the predominantly rock and roll dominated pop charts and was all over rock and roll radio at the time; and for my brother I got a comedy record by a guy named Vaughn Meader who did sketches based on the adventures of the Kennedy family. He did bits on Kruschev banging his shoe on the table while ordering dinner at the United Nations, the Kennedy brothers playing touch football on the lawn of the White House, Jackie’s fashion sense. Not mean-spirited at all and certainly nowhere near any really sensitive personal issues. The record was all the rage and Meader, for a very short time, had quite a career going for himself and of course, found himself in a very awkward position toward the end of 1963.

There’s a really corny yet irresistable line in a Julie Andrews movie, probably the Sound of Music, where she is explaining misfortune to her youthful charges by saying that when a door closes, God will always leave an open window. This is the powerful, powerful stuff of survival.

I’ve often wondered how the Beatles were able to establish themselves so quickly and so completely, especially in America. I’m sure it surprised them and their management as much as anyone. Maybe it was actually easier when there wasn’t so much media, so much marketing. There’s a famous quote from Lord Byron who stated that upon the publication of a volume of his poetry he “woke up famous” one morning. And he didn’t have the benefit of three Sunday nights in a row on the Ed Sullivan show. But then, he wasn’t going head to head with Nureyev and Fonteyn, Beverly Sills, the Ringling Brothers elephants, Topo Gigio (a puppet, in case you didn’t know) or Mitzi Gaynor (South Pacific!). Nowadays, rock bands compete with other rock bands who look and sound much like they do. I think it’s much harder to stand out against a less diverse background.          But even before the Ed Sullivan show, We Already Knew. How did we know to watch Ed Sullivan, which was certainly not my first choice on Sunday night? I don’t know if kids are as wise to being manipulated as older folks or even if they really are being manipulated. I’m not as cynical about this as I thought. It might just be that kids take ownership of something they think should be in their domain. And it really has to be in their domain, not just something somebody tries to tailor to fit in to what they think the kids domain is. (We’re talking about kids past the “age of reason”, as Sister Mary Clarence would say.)  Although this undoubtedly goes on to some degree even in successful enterprises in, pardon the expression, a “youth market”–or all markets, for that matter–the fundamental vibe, and it really is a vibe, is dominant. Like I said, we already knew. And we were ripe.

“Not a hubcap was stolen in America last night between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m.” began the article in the paper the following day. This was newsworthy, front page stuff. Legitimacy of a sort, beyond the confines of youth faddism. I remember how proud I was to report that a music critic in England had compared some of their voicings to a classical work by Mahler, I think it was. More legitimacy. Because believe me, it was being pooh-poohed in some quarters, particularly in my family. I watched the first Sullivan show with my oldest brother (still living at home at age 30, I might add) and mom, who was, as always, sympathetic. My father typically drank three six-packs of 16 oz. cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer on Sunday (and many other days of the week as well) and went to bed in mid afternoon, not to be seen until the following morning. The Beatles were on at the beginning of the show and again at the very end, and the kids in the theater audience were going wild. I’d never seen anything like it. (Remember, I missed the Elvis phenomenon altogether). Ed made them promise to be quiet and respectful during the other acts, which they for the most part did, when they could contain their excitement. They were like a bomb with the fuse lit and when they went off the piercing, shrieking, crying release was staggering. Someone once told me that they had to burn many of the seats in the theater because they couldn’t get rid of the smell of the pee from that night. Was it hormonal? The inability of kids to express the complex emotion/frustrations they feel? Who knows? But it was a blast! Of epic proportions!

My brother, of course, was derisive. “They sound more like Texans than Englishmen” he sniffed. But I was much too taken to care. They played guitars and drums like the Ventures and sang like we never did in choir.

All boys feared choir, me included, although I secretly enjoyed it once I was up in the loft. Sister Catherine Marie announced that the auditions would take place in the classroom. We were to sing as a group and Sister Mary Petronella, the principal of the school, would walk up and down the aisles as we sang, listening to each person in turn. If she liked what she heard she would tap you on the back of the arm as she walked by and you were to leave your spot in the aisle and go to the back of the classroom. I, of course, had to ask Sister Catherine Marie if we had to go if chosen. She replied with unguarded displeasure that I could not go even if chosen. She was good at quelling insurrection. And I was in hot water. I could sing. The hymn began and Sister Mary Petronella (whom we all feared, we loved Sister Catherine Marie) started making her rounds. When she got to me she tapped the back of my arm. If I went, I disobeyed my teacher, if I didn’t, I disobeyed the principal. Sister Catherine Marie saw my plight instantly and with a gesture told me to get my butt to the back of the room pronto. I took the cue.

Being in the loft during Mass was a bore except when we got to sing. We would do elaborate silent pantomimes to pass the time. The one where you mimed threading a needle and sewing your fingers together, puncturing your hand and running the thread down to your upper arm just above the elbow and puncturing your arm there, creating a pulley that essentially made your hand into a goofy puppet that you moved by pulling the imaginary thread that came out at the back of your arm was popular at the time. Sister CM actually watched me do this during one particularly deadly Mass (unbeknownst to me). I looked up after getting the desired stifled laugh from my pewmates. She had seen the whole thing–but–she was laughing too. She knew how not to mess with a good thing.

Everybody thought I would be a drummer, with the possible exception of Sister Catherine Marie, who went out of her way not to encourage me to pursue writing (journalism, especially) for fear that it would turn me off to the possibility. Anti-manipulation. It was primarily because of what I guess you could call a nervous physical habit. Nervous energy. When she was stationary, my mom always jiggled her foot, that is moved her foot up and down to an unheard but consistent rhythm. I inherited this in spades. Patting my foot, both feet, drumming the armrests with my fingers, one hand, both hands, all four limbs, limbs plus fingers. This transferred into my walk and for a time in grammar school I did two or three different hand things while I was walking. This was usually in the presence of girls. Out of sheer nervous energy I had already moved through every possible permutation of paradiddles (sorry) and was well into four limb rhythmic independence before I had ever heard of the concept. I used to torment my mom by making her listen over and over to the drum intros to Four Seasons songs (Walk Like a Man and Big Girls Don’t Cry especially) to see which ones she thought were best.

That all changed with the Ed Sullivan show. The drummer, Ringo, was way in the back! That would not do. I became a guitarist. George Harrison, he looks cool. Lead guitarist, too. Paul, too cute. John Lennon, looks nothing like his photographs but I like the way he stands. Guitar, definitely. Thank god the Dave Clark Five were not the first to emerge.

There was so much energy there. Probably most of it coming from the audience but the band was energetic too. “That’s not a band,” my father said later. “A band is a bigger group.” He was not aware, as was Sister Catherine Marie, of how resistance creates momentum in the thing being resisted. The word “band” caught on. And so did the Beatles.

“She Loves You” was my favorite. One kid we knew owned their first American LP, Meet the Beatles, (which “She Loves You” was not on, incidentally) which we wore out. Memorized every word of the liner notes, knew all the words to all the songs. Knew the drum parts, could sing the sixth tone of the ending harmony to “She Loves You”. And we’re talking about boys, here. The girls were all gaga too, especially about Paul, but this was definitely a cross gender thing going on. A rock and roll band. What a concept. Some record exec had passed on the Beatles (and has been kicking himself ever since) saying that groups that played their own instruments were “out”. A fan of Paul Anka and Fabian no doubt. But this was exactly what made it acceptable to boys. Drums and guitars, not pretty boys with pompadours. In all fairness, though, this was a phenomenon that could not have been predicted. Four guys from Liverpool? Liverpool? Sounds like an alcohol related disease. Who cut their teeth playing sleazy clubs in Hamburg? They always told us how amazing it was that Jesus Christ came from humble origins when since he was the son of God he could have incarnated as a Caesar, for crying out loud. I don’t like to speculate about divine intervention, but I see a parallel here. Let’s just say there were no odds on this one.

So how did all the girls know to shriek and scream? Their shows had never been seen on American t.v., to the best of my knowledge. Did their older sisters do this for Elvis, their moms for Sinatra? Is this something that is passed down from female to female through the ages? I doubt that I’m going to get anywhere near the bottom of this one.

By the second Sunday night, we were fully prepared for the show. It was taking place in Florida and the Beatles did not disappoint. For the second portion they had to follow Mitzi Gaynor (literally) whose performance made an indelible impression on me. The lady was no slouch! But they did “All My Lovin’” which was fast and melodic, and a version of Meredith Wilson’s “Till There Was You”, which proved that they could compete with the more sophisticated musical fare that was the staple of Broadway and consequently of the Ed Sullivan show. And had a really nifty guitar solo in it.

They really just stood there and sang and played their instruments. Ringo bobbed his head a bit, George and Paul shared a microphone from time to time and they all bowed at the end of each song (a nice touch which became a signature). When you compare those performances to say James Brown or Jackie Wilson’s early shows, or Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis, they seem positively staid. But it worked. The hair had a good deal to do with it, although it really was not very long at all. When you consider the uproar that it caused, what it really does is give you an idea of how uptight the fifties and early sixties really were. It was suffocating. Believe me, everybody was in the closet then, for one reason or another. And it was full of skeletons, too. And the Beatles let them out, or at least unlocked the door. Let me put it this way. I have a brother, second oldest in the family, who after graduating from college had a mental breakdown. I’ve heard it called young adult male schizophrenia. It’s apparently a somewhat common or at least well known syndrome. He was institutionalized, shock treatments, the whole fifties horror story. You did not reveal any of this to anybody for any reason! Mental illness in my family? Never! I was sick with shame and fear that this would get out. And it was everywhere. Up the street, my best friend’s sister had to break up with her boyfriend when her parents found out he was Jewish. I already mentioned that black friend of my brothers who felt he had to park up the street. Homosexuality? No one I know! It was a huge “what would the neighbors think” cum “big brother is watching you” society. Self Imposed. 1984 actually happened in the late fifties. Enter the Beatles. Hot on the heels of JFK.

Nowadays, all you hear is the superficial stuff. They were a pop group. The Stones were better, blah, blah, blah. For the record, the Stones weren’t even in the running when the Beatles first appeared and as much as I dig them, (and their perserverence) were not much of a factor for over a year and a half. The Dave Clark Five were the first real pretenders. God forbid. Not that they didn’t make some good records.

The hair had a lot to do with it. The accents, too. Everybody tried to imitate the Liverpudlian pronunciation, cadences. It was more fun and less stiff than the clipped London upper class speech that we’d associated with England previously. And harder to understand, especially George. That was the fun part, but the hair was more than just fun. It was a statement and not just a “look at me” or “I’m artistic” or “I’m not like everybody else” kind of thing. There really was a mainstream establishment and social order, a culture, a prevalent uptight culture to make a statement against. This was not the “Rebel without a Cause” (or “Clue”) era. And it wasn’t just civil rights or anti-war or sexual liberation or women’s rights or any one specific thing. It was a far more enveloping blanket of fear that encompassed all that and more. At least that was how it felt to me. Cultural fear. The Great Satan. The mother of all repression. Meet the Beatles.

Of course the longer hair didn’t start out as a statement. It became one based on the reaction it got. It was fueled by intolerance. Like the old fable about the bet between the sun and the wind to see who can get the guy to take his coat off first. The stronger the wind, the harder you hang on. Also some people look better with longer hair. So there was some built-in appeal as well. But first it was a rock and roll thing, a Beatle thing. Oh, he’s a Beatle, my mom would say when asked about it. It always sounded goofy because she had that funny way of swallowing her t’s that many New York City people do. I don’t think you can spell it. I wasn’t a Beatle yet but I was about to do a Beatle pantomime with three friends at a grammar school assembly. I don’t know if it was my idea or not, but I guess I got in because of my Ventures connections. Also I knew somebody who owned a guitar and would let me use it, an old steel string acoustic. It’s amazing what owning equipment, or having access to it will do. They say Bill Wyman got into the Stones because he was the only guy they knew with a bass rig. I’m still trying to overcome my early frustration with not having equipment. When I die I’ll probably leave my wife a state-of-the art studio and precious little else.

We bought wigs at Montgomery Ward’s. Horribly unrealistic Halloween jobs. Jet black. One of the guys’ moms, who only had sons, it must be said, trimmed them for us and generally fussed over our look. Deriving a bit too much pleasure from the task for my taste. We wore black sweaters, white shirts, dark ties and black pants to go with the guitars and wigs. Not so very different from our school uniforms. For drums we mounted bongos and aluminum pie plates, mostly hidden behind the face of a table turned on its side. In the back. It was on an elevated part of the stage, though. THE BEATLES was written on poster board mounted to the table face.

The opening act was the school cheerleaders, who did a routine to the tune, “We love you _______ (Beatles, in this case, it was sort of a multipurpose cheerleader chant), O yes we do, you’re always in our hearts, and we love you, when you’re not near to us, we’re blue, O Beatles we love you”. Then each individual Beatle would be feted in turn with an individual cheerleader (usually the girlfriend of the guy who was playing Paul or Ringo, or whoever) stepping out and singing solo, substituting “Paul” (or Ringo or whoever) for “Beatles”. I was George, and yes I did have a girlfriend in the cheerleaders.

At intermission, the mc asked the audience what they thought of “our Beatles”–a sleeping dog that I would just as soon have let lie. But Dave Finnegan (known as “Figs” to one and all and my companion on the 50 mile hike) sarcastically replied “I think they’re tops!” No one, I mean no one, used the word “tops” to describe anything anymore. Still it was favorable and a relief, sarcastic or not. After the show, two people approached me. One, the principal’s assistant said it took her the entire performance to work out who I was because she couldn’t remember anyone that short in my grade. In my defense I’m compelled to say that John and Paul were two of the tallest boys in class. Sounds a bit thin, eh? The other comment was from a classmate, Jim McDonnell (known to all as “Mega”, as in “Megadonnell”. Don’t ask.), who said he could tell that I really did know how to play guitar from the way I moved my fingers. Even then, giving the act credibility! Of course I didn’t, I’d just watched George, lead guitar, Harrison, do his bit on t.v. Lead guitarists were not just strummers.

A new live performance theater, a theater-in-the-round, was built around this time in the suburban town in which we lived. It was across the freeway from the residential areas in a new development that became mostly hotels and restaurants. It didn’t last long and has been a movie theater for a quite a while, but then it housed mostly touring company musicals. And the odd one-nighter. Their first rock and roll show was the Ventures!

We couldn’t believe it. The Ventures and within walking distance. Two disk jockeys at KYA radio were promoting big rock and roll extravaganzas at the Cow Palace–10 acts with Phil Spector conducting the band–but we were too young for that, or at least had no possible means of transportation.

Not only were the Ventures on the bill but a Beatlesque English duo called Chad and Jeremy who had “Yesterday’s Gone” and “Summer Song” on the radio were slated, as well as another duo called Sonny and Cher. I kid you not. A band called the Munsters opened the show. The Munsters came out, actually the lights came up on them, they were already on the stage–this was a theater-in-the-round, and they were in full t.v. show regalia. Frankenstein, Vampira, the whole bit. We were in the top row. They played a short set of covers, other people’s hits, and stayed around to back up Sonny and Cher.

Sonny and Cher had not yet reached the fur vest stage, much less the t.v. show banter, but had a song called “Baby Don’t Go” which was getting a bit of airplay. Cher reminded me of Gale Garnett or Buffy St. Marie and had kind of a languid low voice. I thought Sonny might be doing the high harmony. The hootenanny, folkie era was pretty much over, but they looked like they might have come from it. As did Chad and Jeremy.

When the lights came up on Chad and Jeremy, however, girls rushed the stage. This was definitely not the folkie thing. Song after song was disrupted–there was too much access to the stage in the round. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of this kind of thing. Two girls, on their knees, clinging desperately to Jeremy Clyde around the waist. Security drags them off, more rush on, and so forth. Actually, when things settled down a bit they proved to be pretty good. They played some, sang in tune. I much preferred their two hits to those of their main competition, Peter and Gordon. Had Peter and Gordon been on the bill, however, order never would have been restored. Peter knew Paul McCartney.

Truth be told, the Ventures were a bit of an anticlimax. The girls were not interested and though we yelled for “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” from the top row, it was clear that their time, if not their music, had passed.

The Beatles time had come. They had a total lock on radio and the charts. At one point, locally at least, they held the top five positions on the chart at the same time. And the records were on different labels. “I Want to Hold Your Hand/I Saw Her Standing There” was on Capitol, “She Loves You” on Tollie (Tollie?), “Please Please Me” I think was on Veejay, and god knows what “Love Me Do” and “Twist and Shout” (yes!) were on. No one cared. Anything Beatles was happening. They had a damn version of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” in the top thirty too. Their stranglehold on the number one position lasted a good long while, before it was bumped by Louis Armstrong’s (thank goodness it was him and not Connie Francis–no offense, Connie) rendition of “Hello Dolly”. Which was quickly replaced by “Can’t Buy Me Love”, mind you. They worked quickly in those days. By summer the Fab Four had a new record album and movie ready to go, before everybody woke up and found that it had all been a fantastical dream.

They were the forefront of the British invasion, and rear guard for that matter, but anything British was viable. Although the real golden period of the first invasion was, to my ears, a ways off yet, others were making forays. The Dave Clark Five, previously noted, had used the Ed Sullivan vehicle and had hits with Glad All Over, Bits and Pieces, Can’t You See That She’s Mine and Because. All of which were pretty good records in retrospect. Also Dave featured, if not actually played, drums, which made him acceptable to adolescent boys. The Rolling Stones, on the other hand, were having a time of it. It seemed apparent on first listening that their time was not that good and that they could not sing in tune with much skill either. They didn’t play r & b like the American acts. Turn on Your Love Light was among the first records I ever bought and they were nowhere near that. And I don’t think I’d made the Chuck Berry (who I thought was white for the longest time) connection yet. I started to buy into them with “It’s All Over Now” which was not much of a hit in the US and followed Not Fade Away, Heart of Stone, and Time Is on My Side, none of which did much damage either. By early summer they had released “The Last Time/Play with Fire” and at that point began to make their move. They’re still out there, folks.

The band at my grammar school graduation party opened their set with the just released “The Last Time”, but it wasn’t until they played “Louie Louie” that the party took off. This was a time when you bought singles to bring to parties, at least I did. They always devolved into slow dancing to Johnny Mathis’s greatest hits, but the early portion required singles, or albums, you could dance to. I bought Gloria by Them and Louie Louie by the Kingsmen (although I preferred the Paul Revere and the Raiders version, they didn’t have it at Radio Repair). You Really Got Me and Needles and Pins were big, too.

This was also the time of the first kiss. Somewhere in the eighth grade many had paired off and had official boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. This, of course, inevitably leads where it leads. And crossing the threshhold was not easy. Our idea of celebrating our graduation was to buy some candy and eat it in someone’s backyard. A few of the guys. This is how precocious we were.

After school and sometimes on weekends a group of us would meet a group of the girls in some isolated place, often on the undeveloped overgrown grounds of one of the big private estates that were nearby. Eventually, we started meeting in a tunnel that a creek ran through as it passed under Jackling Drive. This was a bit dangerous as it required some serious climbing skill to get to the opening, but daunted no one in the least. Interacting, on the other hand, was totally daunting. It took us forever to initiate the pairing off bit, not unlike at a school dance with the boys lined up on one side of the room and the girls on another and no one brave enough to cross over to the other side to ask someone to dance. And once we got paired off it got no easier. I can’t tell you the combined number of hours I stood with my girlfriend, making inane small talk, if saying anything, trying to get up the courage to kiss her. It’s one of those things you shouldn’t think about too much, if at all, cause as soon as you do, sayonara. The more you consider, the more you lose your nerve, and before you know it, it’s dinner time, everybody has to go home and cowardice reigns supreme. As the failures mount up, the hurdle gets higher and higher until the whole proposition seems like an utter impossibility. I was not alone in this, thank goodness.

At the end of each session, the boys would gather together.

“Did you do it?”

“Nope.”

“Me, either.”

And on to dinner.

And, we’re talking about a mere kiss, here.

One Sunday afternoon, after many hours of standing around in remote parts of the palatial Fagan estate grounds, accomplishing nothing, it once again became time to go. As my partner and I were walking back to join the others, on a service road in a wooded area, finally the impulse seized me and I stopped, turned toward her, put my arms around her and kissed her, and not a particularly short one, either. Young people still wear the fragrance she wore that day, or at least something quite similar to it. I liked it then and I like it now. I’m not sure if it’s the connection to that memory or the fact that it’s just an awfully pleasant scent. Whatever it is, bottle it.

When I returned to the guys, my pal Rory asked the inevitable question.

“Did you do it?”

“Yep.”

“I knew you were going to say that!” he said.

The die was cast. Off he ran to catch up with his partner whom he impetuously (and I suspect somewhat unceremoniously) grabbed and broke the plane with. There was no way he was going to be left behind in the ranks of the uninitiated on this one. This was too big a step, too monumental. Also the word “wimp” was already in common usage. It was a no brainer, as we say today. And, as was already pointed out, this was one of those times when the use of the frontal lobe is of no use whatsoever.

And this small triumph did not result in all hell breaking loose. This was not the drop of water that broke the dam and released a deluge of ever increasing sexual activity. In fact, the next few times we got together nothing nearly so exciting happened. It was just as hard to muster the necessary courage as before.

Almost.

That summer, my oldest brother, the one who was still living at home at age thirty, got married. The wedding was to take place in his fiancee’s hometown, which was, and still is, in the Midwest. My mom and I were the attendees from our family and the two of us stayed at the home of the bride-to-be’s parents. He was housed at a more seemly location. The cool thing about that was that my future sister-in-law had a bunch of brothers and sisters, many of who still lived at home and made for pretty good society for me. They tried to pair me up with the lone boy still residing at home who was a couple of years older and whose interests I did not share. He was into cars and motorcycles and I was not only several years too young for that but my family (to my great shame) did not even own a car at the time.

The sisters, however, were another thing altogether. Not only were they more available than the boy, and therefore more interested in me, but they were wittier and they dug the Beatles. And, it must also be said, they had a number of really cute girlfriends right in the neighborhood.

It was pretty idyllic. Summer in the Midwest (although I was probably there all of a week or ten days) was not like anything I’d experienced anywhere else. Slow paced, warm around the clock, fireflies at night. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The Mike Douglas t.v. talk show/variety show at that time was a regional affair, broadcasting from nearby Cleveland. It later became syndicated nationally, but at that time it seemed like a local yokel program to me. However, he had the first performance of the Rolling Stones that I ever saw (and I would have seen it) on his show that summer.

The Beatles they were not. One of the sisters who had an enormous Beatles scrapbook had a hard time with them because they didn’t fit the model that well. When the song began, Keith was in the back with his back to the audience, spread legged and moving by doing little jumps in position. Years later Pete Townsend of the Who said he got much of his animated stage act from Keith Richard, whom he seemingly resembles very little, but I’ll bet this period of Keith is what he was talking about. Mick was playing maracas, I think they did Not Fade Away, and Brian was playing harp. I had trouble with them too because they were on the tuneless side, but I still liked them. I didn’t get the sexual side of it at all, but then they say boys develop more slowly than girls. The girls in the studio audience dutifully rushed the stage, but it looked like they had been prompted by the producers of the show, cause the environment was small-studio-sterile and much too sedate (lots of older folks) to be really conducive to spontaneous releases of hormonal energy. Despite Mick’s best efforts.

From there we went on to New York, which is the birthplace of everyone in my family except me. It was my first time. Within three days I had adopted the accent full time.      We stayed in Rye, in Westchester County, where my father’s sisters lived. I was left to my own devices for the most part and I ended up down at the Playland at the Beach amusement park more often than not. It was old fashioned and well maintained and had one really good roller coaster. The first time I went to buy a book of tickets the cashier inadvertantly handed me an extra book by mistake. Just at that point the national anthem began to sound on the park’s system. I’m not making this up. The battle between good and evil had found another host. On the one side, patriotism and conscience, on the other, extra rides on the roller coaster. A principle versus a reality. An abstraction vis a vis a bird in the hand. Archetypal.

I pointed out the mistake and gave the book back. They knew I wasn’t from around there.

My suspicion is that it was the power of the music, however flawed, that held sway. And the everlasting presence of Sister Mary Clarence, who would have harbored no such funny business. Since we’re on the subject of Sister Mary Clarence and since I did work music into the last bit, thereby fulfilling my avowed mission, however tangentially, I feel liberated enough to tell another story about her that occurred many years before, in first grade (when I had her) rather than at the end of the eighth, which is when I went to New York.

At lunch time one day, a group of third grade boys took a first grade boy aside and convinced him, shall we say, to run up to and kiss a first grade girl. Which he did, setting off a firestorm of events that had its resolution back in the first grade classroom after lunch. I missed the whole kissing part, as luck would have it. The scandal in the schoolyard made its way to the teachers and finally our good Sister who, as you have probably gathered by now, was about to take no prisoners. Back in class, the little girl whose honor had been compromised, was pretty worked up. She was simultaneously the victim and the center of attention, and the situation was escalating well beyond the scope of her (and our) comprehension. Sister Mary Clarence had an idea, though. The first thing she did was ask if any of us were involved or knew about the incident, save the little distraught boy who had done the kissing, and who was clearly not in her crosshairs. Thank god, we didn’t. Then she went to the third grade classroom where she coralled every single boy and marched them into our room and made them stand in front of the class and laid down the law.

“As I go down the line,” she said, “I want each of you in turn to tell me about your role in this. I know you all knew about it, so if you were not one of the ringleaders I want you to say ‘I was not man enough to stop it’”. No excuses, no denials possible. And no one lied to Sister Mary Clarence. Or fibbed or hedged or blinked, for that matter. Just shoulder the blame and hope for the best.

Down the line, boy after boy, “Not man enough, Not man enough, Not man enough, Sister”. We had full contrition, on the spot, from the third grade boys who had a serious lesson in manhood that day. As did we all. I suppose this is what people mean by “Catholic guilt.” Shared blame, or is it shared responsibility? I thought Mick Jagger put it well in “Sympathy for the Devil” when he said, “I shouted out ‘Who killed the Kennedys?’ when after all, baby, it was you and me”. Mick probably had Sister Mary Clarence in first grade as well.

As for the ringleaders, they were fearful as hell but more fearful of not admitting it. What their punishment was I don’t know but there were rumors that they were sent to the spanking machine.

Meanwhile, (I was still thinking…) back in New York. I will always associate the Supremes with New York, cause everywhere I went “Where Did Our Love Go” was playing. On the juke boxes in the restaurants, on the transistor radios at the beach, in the pavilions at the World’s Fair. I loved the song and it was something of a comfort, a friend to me as I wandered by myself around the unfamiliar but not uncomfortable turf. The Supremes were not dissimilar to the girl groups who’d already been around like the Shirelles (many of whose 45s I’d bought), Chiffons (aforementioned), Orlons and others, but there was something distinctive about them and the way their record sounded, too. Nor were they the first successful act from their record label, Motown.The sublime Smokey Robinson and others had already made significant dents in the charts, but for me the Motown juggernaut was fully realized in the form of the Supremes and that joyful noise that was the soundtrack for my summer in New York.

Back home, things were not the same old same old. For one thing, The Beatles movie Hard Day’s Night was about to be released. Weekday matinee, Manor Theater, 25th Ave., San Mateo, California. Line around the block. Me and my buddies near the front. As I said, the Beatles were not a gender specific phenomenon. Yes, lots of girls were there, but also lots of guys, most of them soon to make up the great garage band explosion of the mid sixties.

Count me in.

Before the show, the house played orchestra-lite versions of songs from My Fair Lady. This is how vividly I remember this. “On the Street Where You Live”, “I Could Have Danced All Night”. The British connection I suppose. Burgundy tending toward maroon velvet curtain.

It was even better, much, much better than we expected. A life-altering explosion in black and white. The end of Disney movies (unless they had Hayley Mills) forever. It was not corny. At all. It was funny and smart. Witty. Cheeky. Hip but not smug. Innocent but also very matter-of-fact. How something this pristine emerged out of an obvious attempt to capitalize on a teen (or pre-teen) craze defies analysis. Thank god it was not made in Hollywood. Can you imagine? Starring James Darren as Paul and can’t we get a few surfing scenes in there? Or even worse. Four fresh faced lads from jolly old England in an Elvis-esque (god bless him) screenplay? The Beatles at the World’s Fair. Their second movie started to tend that way, and quite frankly, I can’t watch it.

But everybody watched Hard Day’s Night. I remember showing my brother the Time Magazine (which was his Bible, along with Commonweal) glowing review of the film. Sweet revenge. Obviously this was not your ordinary teen, or pre-teen, craze. Something was afoot and it had genius and momentum.

And every boy in that theater, by movie’s end, wanted to be a Beatle. In the immortal words of British musician Paul Weller, “Show me a boy who doesn’t want to be a rock and roll star and I’ll show you a liar.” Then possibly more than ever, although the pull is still great.

As everybody knows but still has a hard time accepting, very little happens overnight, not even Byron’s fame, however surprised he was by it. I, for one, got distracted by school. I’m almost temptedto say that it was school that made me stray from the path, but I’d probably get shouted down by popular opinion which would have it the other way around, i.e., music made me stray from the path of “formal” education. This is a pretty good indication of where I stand in relation to what is considered to be real generally. Sort of a contrapuntal anti-matter black sheep. With a negative valence. I don’t do it intentionally.

That fall I started attending an all-boys Jesuit college prep, which I had insisted upon. It meant a one-hour train commute each way and although in those days it was probably not expensive by today’s standards, I’m certain it put some additional stress on the family finances, which were in desperate straits and had been for some time.

I did well in school.

Briefly.

There was a teen club sponsored by my parish, which held dances on Sunday nights, of all times. It wasn’t a case of “We’d better provide something for the kids to do or they’ll be out stealing hubcaps”. In fact, I don’t know what the motivation was, there was no religious content or sef-control message. Sunday night? In any case, we all were grateful that it existed and went faithfully. There were girls there.

I’d still hang out, certainly on weekends, with my friends from grammar school, none of whom went to my high school (one or two, maybe), and of course the only girls I knew were from that bunch as well. As interest in the opposite sex increased, so did interest in music.They had live bands at the Sunday nighter. As the boys stood on one side of the room and the girls on the other, we’d expend our nervousness talking about the Kinks new record. “It’s even better than ‘You Really Got Me,’” said my friend Jim. And he was right.The British invasion was about to hit full swing. We’d endured Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Dave Clark, all of whom, to be fair, made some good records. But the really good bands were about to hit our shores. And airwaves. (The Beatles, of course, and to a lesser extent, the Stones, were already entrenched.) Kinks, Yardbirds, Animals, Manfred Mann, Them, American counterparts, Byrds, Beau Brummels, Lovin Spoonful and goofy lesser lights like Herman’s Hermits and Freddy and the Dreamers, were taking the charts by storm. By summer, what the Beatles had wrought had become the new pop order.

By summer I’d successfully finished my first year of Jesuit boot camp and was on to summer school to take typing, which I have found that the more I do the worse I get, and driver’s education, which was a bit of optimism since we didn’t have a car. Always good to be prepared, though. Classes took place in the morning at a nearby public high school. By nearby I mean about 2 miles away, within walking distance. After class I had baseball practice several times a week at a nearby public park. By nearby I mean about five miles from the school, within walking distance. No, there was no snow. Having no car in California (San Francisco excepted), however, is like being without one of your four limbs. Your choice of limb. And since a kid I had loaned my bike to had mangled it beyond recognition, pretty much everywhere was suddenly within walking distance. Eventually I became the champion hitchhiker on the West Coast, but that’s another kettle of fish. “Throw him a fish,” as my first year Latin teacher used to say.

One day I received a phone call from my friend Jim. “Do you want to come over and be the lead singer in a band? I bought a drum set!”

It’s incredible to think that it’s entirely likely that a purchase made by someone else, not even in your own family, might be the turning point of your life. The mind boggles.

Two brothers who lived in a house behind him were the other band members; really terrific guys, one of whom (Dennis, the older, a year ahead of me and Jim) was learning guitar and could sing, and one (Don, 2 years behind his brother) who was a piano player and could sing, too. Don’s real claim to fame was that he could play the Alfred Hitchcock t.v. show theme on piano. Pretty well, too. He ended up on bass, shades of Paul McC.

I played nothing so I was the lead singer. Briefly. At our first practice I sang Gloria, Louie Louie, Satisfaction, and The Last Time. This was your authentic, original, prototypical, quintessential garage band. From which the name arose and from which all others proceed. Seminal, baby. The chords of the songs were (and are) respectively, E,D,A–E,A,B–E,A– and E,D,A. The dreaded “F” chord had not yet been mastered and minor chords became necessary only with the advent of House of the Rising Sun (which also required  “F”).

These were not easy songs for me to sing. I had a high, adolescent voice, still in the throes of seeking its eventual level, and little chance of approximating a young adult male from the UK trying to approximate an older black male from the US (as in the case of the Van and Mick songs–anybody can sing Louie Louie if they can figure out the words). The nadir of my early singing career came when we performed for Don’s girlfriend’s parents in their home sometime later. Another reason I was the singer was because I knew all the words to all the songs. Even the wordy ones like “Satisfaction” and in this case, “Eve of Destruction” which was topping the charts at the time. In the middle of trying to growl out lines like “My blood’s so mad, it’s not coagulatin’”,  I saw the kind of smile on the mom’s face that says “This is incredibly comical but I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” Face was saved but the truth was out.

Dennis had bought or rented an electric guitar and had an acoustic with an electric pickup (microphone) on it as well so it was decided that I should play that and let him do the singing. I sang harmony and the occasional lead as did Don. He affected having a low voice although his hadn’t changed at all. So the lineup solidified. The only problem was, I didn’t know any chords and could only pick out little single note lines. So naturally, I became the lead guitarist, because that’s what they did anyway. I saw it on t.v. And after all, I had been George in my eighth grade pantomime. Jim, meanwhile, had been Paul and was now Ringo, and not having much success with it. He did have the drums though, and it was his garage, and he was the one who brought me into it, after all.

I’ve always had good ears. I remember being tested by some folks from Stanford when I was in grade school, who expressed amazement (and disbelief at first, prior to repeated tests) at what I could hear. Before long I was picking out lines I could play, all in the key of ‘E’, mind you, to the songs Dennis knew. I found a bunch of places on the neck to play the pentatonic scale in my quest to construct a solo for Louie, Louie, and I got a book that showed how to form open chords. Dennis was taking lessons, too, and each week would have a new song that required the dreaded ‘F’ chord for example, or ‘barre’ chords, or minors. Barre chords meant we could play “You Really Got Me” and minors opened up the possibilities of the Yardbirds “For Your Love”, the aforementioned House of the Rising Sun and numerous Beatles numbers. This is not to say that all we did was British invasion stuff. We did Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say”, “Hot Patrami” by god knows who and which was a standard then that I believe I still have never heard. The riff from that became one of the two main riffs (the other was the You Really Got Me Kinks riff) from Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right” a couple of years later. Also surf instrumentals, “Penetration”, “Pipeline”, “Wipeout”.

We played our first gig one afternoon in Dennis and Don’s driveway facing Burlingame Village Park, which was across the street. We had one crystal microphone and all three instruments plugged into Dennis’s rented vintage amp. When I say “vintage” I’m not talking about some pre-CBS Fullerton era Fender amp that hasn’t been made in 25 years. Those were new amps then! This thing looked like the radio that grandpa used to listen to. Then. But who knew the difference? It was always a thrill to hear live drums, even played badly, in those days. Maybe it still is.

We did alright. No major train wrecks. My friend from grade school, Rene Durazzo, happened to be there with his brother Carl. Along with the other curious kids from the nighborhood and the park. Nothing triumphant, nothing traumatic. But the first.

It was painfully obvious that we had a serious shortage in the equipment department. I convinced my mom go on the hook for a rented guitar and amp. The amp was not bad. It was an old Gibson and also looked like an old radio (although bigger) but it sounded pretty good and when you turned it up, which you always had to do to be heard over the drummer, it distorted nicely and naturally. The tubes looked like they were about to explode, though. The guitar was not so good. It was a Japanese guitar called an Orpheus. I’m sure I picked it for its black and red sunburst paintjob, because I most certainly did not pick it for its playability. It was a solidbody and the strings were literally 3/8 inch off the fretboard. It’s a miracle I continued to play. Every time somebody else who played guitar stopped by and saw me play they would examine the neck and say, “Hmm, you’re not doing too well there, are you?” But, once again, prior to that, who knew?

Don convinced his mom to get him an instrument, too. They went out and bought a Sears Silvertone guitar. The kind with the amplifier built into the case! He removed the top two strings and played bass on the bottom four. Really easy to play.

The other problem was microphones. Dennis by this time was going out with Don’s girlfriend’s older sister, who was a year older than Dennis. In addition to his main squeeze, that is. We called her Kassie Jo and she became a friend of the band. She decided to have a party at her parents’ house that summer at which we would play.  Our fee was to be enough money to buy a couple of mikes and stands, without which we were pretty much dead in the water. The total amount we could spend was $50, I think. Kassie was the first in a long line of women to help me and bands I have been in through the years and for which I and we are forever grateful. My seminal band angel. The sine qua non of rock and roll.

Rock and roll has other regular features as well, one of which is the highly unpleasant ‘the drummer is the first to go’ syndrome.  This is not present in all cases but let’s just say that drummers are in the high risk group. It takes many forms but is most often seen when a band is about to record with a real producer in a real studio. Time is tight, ladies and gentlemen and dynamic control not far behind. It is at this point that the ability to play at a steady tempo, without speeding up or slowing down, usually with a click (metronome) track, becomes paramount. A consistent dynamic level on say, a kick drum, is highly desirable as well. To say nothing of having a ‘feel’ or a variety of them. Straight ahead, swung, shuffled, 3 against 4? Steady Freddy or you’ll go the way of Pete Best and countless others. Ringo, who was brought in to replace Best, did not even appear on the Beatles first single, ‘Love Me Do’. This is where compassion ends.

In the cases of the truly unfortunate, those who are really barking up the wrong tree, the band takes care of it first. And so it was even in my first band, long before I knew of the mercilessness of the recording studio. Jim was not cutting it. People who had never before sat on a drum kit sounded better than he did with the band. We (we were called the Rivals, I think Jim’s mom made it up. Soon to be called the ‘New Rivals’) informally played at a party thrown by my girlfriend and it seemed like everybody who sat in on drums played better than Jim did. It was time for a change. Of course that meant finding someone who could a) play and b) had a drum set. This we did rather quickly, surprisingly enough, in the form of Mike, who had a white pearl Ludwig set and did a credible ‘Wipeout.’  Jim has still not forgiven me.

We rehearsed madly as the date for what we considered to be our first real, i.e., paying, gig approached. Actually, the word ‘job’ rather than ‘gig’ was in fashion at that time in that circle. ‘Job’ meant money was changing, or in our case, had changed hands.

It was an end of summer, start of school affair. Perfect weather. Parents out of town. Loads of people, none of whom I knew, were invited. Most were older since Kassie was entering her senior year of high school and all were from the co-ed public schools in the area. We were terrified.

We went over to her house early to set up. We actually put our amps in front of us to create a barrier between us and the partygoers. We’d seen it done that way before but how we heard what we were doing I have no idea. Probably not very well is the answer to that one.

We had our two new mikes, one for Dennis and one to be shared by Don and me, a la the Beatles, and I believe mine went into my guitar amp and Dennis’s went into his. The idea of an actual p.a. system was a bit out of reach as yet. Dennis may even have had an actual Fender amp by this time. I do remember that the vocals were audible, probably all too audible. Amidst the often acute everyday horror of uncertainty and self doubt that many of us feel, I’ve always had an overinflated and entirely unjustifiable sense of self worth as well. It occurs to me that I may be talking about the survival instinct here, but god knows, I’ve needed it. I guess we all have. I don’t know if I feel it like I used to. The night of the first ‘real’ gig, though, the band needed it.

We repaired to a friend’s house before the gig. Killing time before actually playing is always a challenge. We listened to Bill Cosby comedy records. ‘I Started Out as a Child.’ The bit about driving in the hills of San Francisco. The North Beach scene had pretty much died by this time, but Cosby was going on to bigger and better (if not more fun) things, to be sure. The band needed him, too. Laughed ourselves silly until finally it was time to play.

It was packed, it was hot, people were spilling out into the yard. It was a lot like the first kiss–hard to cross the threshhold and not much easier the second time. No wildly involuntary behavior, though. No hands freezing up, arms spasming. No finger dyslexia. No tied tongues. No gagging. All the things your mind generously presents for your consideration in moments of great anticipatory fear. Not this time anyway. Butterflies, yes. The rare Andean condor butterfly? Yes. Struggling to escape? Yes. In droves? Yes again.

Once we got going, though, we did what we were capable of doing. Don and I were younger than the crowd and looked even younger than we were and so did not impress much of anybody, really. At one point two really attractive and fashionable older (by a year, at least) girls came over to assess me. They stood in front of me as I was singing the background vocals to ‘Boys’ by the Beatles–”Yeah, Yeah, boys!…” They looked at each other, shook their heads and left. Unimpressed by high harmony. Kids these days.

During a break our drummer was approached by a guy who it turned out was in one of the more popular local bands and who asked if he could play his kit. Mike obliged and the guy did a Joe Morello type drum solo that, how can I say it, fully established a pecking order. But since we weren’t rivals in any real sense, our name notwithstanding, we thought it was pretty cool. Despite the decidedly non-triumphal nature of the evening–in the words of the illustrious Ray Davies “Got through my performance and no one complained” we felt alright about things, all in all. I could not, however, go back to normal again (as Ray’s song continues) and never was able to do so again.

That was one of the best summers of my life. Making friends with Dennis and Don, Kassie Jo. All of us in Kassie Jo’s Sunbeam Alpine, top down, hanging out the back. And all of it came from joining the band. By the end of summer school, the baseball glove that used to sit under the desk during class had been replaced by the guitar. I still confuse music and sports when I’m dreaming. Really dreaming. At night, asleep. We’re onstage and I want to know the score. There isn’t one.

We prolonged the summer as much as possible, which in the Bay Area with its beautiful fall weather is not hard to do. The return to school was difficult and things were difficult at home, too. I avoided my father for the most part, which meant staying out a lot, which meant homework wasn’t getting done. This is probably not a particularly singular story. Father frustrated by career setbacks, takes humiliating job to support family causing further frustration. Turns more and more to booze. Becomes belligerent, abusive. Kid withdraws.

The funny thing is, my older brother, sensing the age difference between my father and me (I was a mistake) attempted to be a surrogate father. The problem with that was that he was an even more unrepentant boozehound (it eventually killed him and I’m tempted to say it served him right), and a bastard to boot. My second brother had already, as I mentioned, gone completely round the bend and was in and out of mental institutions (he was a master escape artist and once stowed away to Gibraltar on a ship). My sister was long married and out of the house. She was no dummy. Before this gets too Dickensian, let me just say that I was turning to music probably for the positive associations it had for me.

This is the kind of stuff you let an editor talk you out of really easily.

The Rivals, meanwhile, were doing alright despite the fact that I was knee deep in Attic Greek at a school at a school 35 miles away. Dennis was still taking lessons from a guy named Eddie Rod and was passing along the songs that he learned to the band. Eddie Rod, whose actual name was Rodriguez, also mentored bands and in fact managed a couple that we knew of, including the one that had the Joe Morello clone who showed us up (the Fakers). Another, called the Juveniles was made up of cute little kids. Dennis set up a session at which we played for Eddie down at the music store where he worked. We were nervous and played Last Time, Satisfaction, Gloria. The usual. When we finished he came up to me and said “This is R & R, man, you’re supposed to look like you’re having fun”. Not my guitar playing, not my singing, the way I looked, the vibe I put out. But in some ways Eddie was playing catchup with the times–the Yardbirds, Them and the Stones were not affecting any winning mannerisms and they were taking over.

Other bands started to pop up all over and they very often played at the Burlingame Recreation Dept. dance on Friday nights. They had names like the Toads, Rich and the Virtues, We Five (not the one that became famous a couple of years hence) and the Uncalled Four. I wonder how many bands have had that name. These were mostly high school age bands and all of them rehearsed in somebody’s parents’ garage. The Rivals were not ready for this league yet but I for one went faithfully every Friday to see the bands and what they were playing and also for the girls, who had not yet begun to see me in a favorable light. The Rivals did, however, play a Sunday night Our Lady of Angels Teen Club dance in what I think was our last performance. It was the authentic Rivals experience. Don with his Silvertone guitar with the top two strings missing and his guitar case/amp standing on end, me with my infamous Orpheus guitar that you couldn’t play a bar chord on without using a vise. I remember playing ‘Keep on Dancing” by the Gentrys. The song has an organ solo break, which I played on guitar and mangled completely due to the impossibility of fingering anything above the fifth fret on the neck. At the end of the song the guy who knew all of the Ventures tunes and was not a regular at this venue (he’d come to see me play) approached me and looked at the guitar. “You’re not doing too well there, are you?”

I don’t think Jim came to see us, but if he had he would have been classy about it.

Don, meanwhile, being 14 years old at the time and looking four years younger, had been approached by Eddie Rod to join the Juveniles. They had a mentor. They had a manager.

They had gigs, I mean jobs, paying jobs. This also meant a real bass and a real bass amp. He was chagrined to be playing with his social inferiors but there’s no advancement without cost. I think his mom encouraged him. He was, after all, the one who could play the Alfred Hitchcock theme in the beginning. And Dennis, who was fast becoming my best friend, was not unhappy to get rid of Don who was his social inferior, and younger brother to boot. The sibling thing is always tough.

But as the Rivals subsided the Plague took shape. At school I had met several guys who were interested in rock and roll. A couple of them had already washed out of school after first year but we kept in touch through mutual friends and started getting together on Saturdays. One of them had a Vox guitar, a copy of a Gibson thin hollowbody and he actually let me play it a bit during practice. One look at my Orpheus was enough to inspire compassion in even the hardest heart. The drummer was an old friend of mine from even before kindergarten, if you can believe that. His family had moved to the South Bay, where we now rehearsed, and his home became my home away from home for a good long while. The bassist lived near Al, the drummer, and had also failed to make the cut at school.

We were gung ho! We learned and played every song on the Rubber Soul album. Not well, mind you, but even the tricky ones like “Wait”. From my Friday nights at the Rec dance I had discovered, through the other bands, new British bands who were not on the radio yet. “I’m Alive” and “Look Through Any Window” by the Hollies, “My Generation” by the Who. We did most of the songs on “The Who Sings ‘My Generation’” album, which got no airplay but which the kids (who were quite alright) were getting familiar with through the bands. “La, La, Lies,” “Much Too Much to Bear,” “The Kids Are Alright” which was my favorite at least until I heard “Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” a year or two later. I usually picked the songs and I almost always chose the ones with the most melody and harmony.

Things were moving really fast. You think things move quickly now? The Beatles by Christmas of ‘65 had released “Meet the Beatles” “Introducing the Beatles”, “Something New” “Hard Day’s Night” “Beatles ‘65” “Beatles VI” “Help” and “Rubber Soul”. The Ed Sullivan shows had been in January of 1964. The Stones were no slouches either: “England’s Newest Hitmakers”, “12 x 5”, “The Rolling Stones Now” “Got Live If You Want It”, “Out of Our Heads” “December’s Children”. U2 cuts a record once every 4 or 5 years, whether it needs to or not.

The dynamic has changed, though, and the market that exists today was just beginning to develop at that point. “Sing Along with Mitch” had just gone off the air (t.v. air) and Mitch Miller was probably still the president of Columbia Records at that time. The songs he would have you sing along to were on the order of “My Darling Clementine “ and “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair.” Can you dig it? “Hootenanny” had just gone off the air, too, which was a tad better but I don’t recall hearing about Dylan or Baez, who were starting to make big noise around then, appearing on the show. It was more “New Christy Minstrels” and “Brothers Four” type of stuff. And what was taking its place? R & R, baby. Shindig was first. Unfortunate name, sounds like a barn dance. Hullabaloo was next. Also a corny name but both these shows, even with their cheesy formats, cover bands and go-go dancers were mandatory because they featured actual rock and roll bands on a regular basis.

`Shindig had a hot house band, the Shindogs, led, I believe, by Leon Russell and featuring a bunch of players who went on to do some great work later on with Delaney and Bonnie, Joe Cocker and Leon himself. They were stuck filling the gaps playing covers between the headliners, but hey, it was a paying gig. A regular featured performer on Shindig was Billy Preston, future Beatles cohort and recording star in his own right, but at this point something to be tolerated until the Beau Brummels or Byrds or whoever came on. The Beatles actually made an appearance on this show and did, if I recall correctly, six songs! This was around time of the Beatles ‘65 album and included quite a few “album cuts.”  That expression, however, had not yet been coined. FM radio was still a glimmer in Tom Donahue’s eye (he did handle the Beau Brummels, though, and they were signed to his Autumn record label–and were produced by none other than the brilliant Sylvester Stewart, aka, Sly Stone! ) Hullabaloo was a bit better, I thought, probably mostly because they had a segment taped in London called Brian Epstein presents.  He, of course, was the manager of the Beatles. He introduced Herman’s Hermits, Freddy and the Dreamers, a bit on the cutesy side, and Marianne Faithfull, who was decidedly not. For her performance of “As Tears Go By” she was seated on the surface of perhaps an 8’ x 8’ riser, legs horizontal in front of her, resting one on top of the other on the riser’s surface. Short dress, not too risque, a bit demure if anything. Motionless as she sang. It was pure sex. If I had known what to do with myself when aroused I would have done it.

The Kinks were on Hullabaloo too. I just had to say it.

There’s much about rock and roll that just does not translate to television. Didn’t then and does not now. I can appreciate some of the videos out there but for me, they’re an entirely  different medium, art form , if you give it the benefit of the doubt, and really don’t have much at all to do with rock and roll, or music, for that matter. I suppose part of it has to do with the fact that with reading and listening to music, you get to supply the visual images and associations. Your imagination is exercised. It’s personal. And when you share that, you share something personal. The Ed Sullivan show worked because it was pure adrenaline. Live performances work to a degree (on t.v., although the sound is usually apalling) because of the intrinsic drama of performance. The stagy stuff is normally pretty pathetic though. In the afternoons there was a daily program called “Where the Action Is”, which featured the antics of a band called Paul Revere and the Raiders, who made some decent records but were for the most part inane on the show. It was kind of a Shindig knockoff, but had the requisite appearances by cool bands. I saw the Zombies for the first and only time on “Action”.

And for the truly obsessive there was a teen soap opera on just before “Action” called “Never Too Young”, which centered around a British youth called ‘Alfie’, unimaginatively enough, who ran a nightclub on an L.A. beach. At the end of the show a band would perform a song in his club. The Yardbirds, with Jeff Beck for those of you with scorecards, Lovin’ Spoonful and Byrds made unforgettable lipsynching appearances. It was obvious that t.v. and by association, LA in general, and by larger association, people over thirty, just didn’t get it. Shows with names like “Where the Action Is “ and “Never Too Young” sounded like vehicles for Frankie Avalon and Fabian. And having the band play at the end of the show was like Ricky Nelson singing at the end of Ozzie and Harriet. Kid Stuff. This was back in the days when adults were clueless and didn’t know it.

My schoolwork was starting to fall off. In direct proportion to 1) trouble at home and 2) the amount of time I was spending learning songs and guitar parts. My zeal for the latter meant that I occasionally feigned illness in order to stay in and work out songs. After all, if you couldn’t play the solo to the Yardbirds’ “Mr. You’re a Better Man Than I” you were not the lead guitarist. It was that simple. And that final. If you could play it but didn’t have a Gibson Maestro fuzz tone (the only one on the market ), you may have been a lead guitarist, but one generally worthy only of condescension. If you had an Orpheus guitar with strings miles from the fretboard and no Maestro fuzz tone, your reward was pity. Even if you were the only one who had worked out the intro to “Look Through Any Window” by the Hollies. Which I had.

Something had to give on the equipment front. It always does. There’s always some new indispensible thing you finally realize you can’t live without and when you get it you say “So this is how it’s done!” Doesn’t matter what level you’re on or how much gear you’ve got. In this case it was my first real guitar. A Gibson ES-330 TD. (Since stolen, of course–bastards) My mom got it for me on my 16th birthday at Sherman Clay and Co. at the Hillsdale Mall. How she convinced my father I’ll never know. His fortunes kept falling and though to his credit he kept himself working, this can not have been a purchase that fit very easily into the family budget. I think it cost a little over $320. It was a red orange sunburst Gibson. I settled on it cause you could hear it without an amp, it was what they called semi-acoustic, and it had two electric pickups. A thin hollow body electric. Actually a slightly lesser version of the classic Gibson 335. It was a great guitar and it finally enabled me to start playing properly.

“Now I don’t want to see this standing in a corner untouched a few months from now,” said my mom, echoing similar sentiments from moms throughout eternity. But she knew better. She just had to say it.

The first thing I played on it, in my parents’ living room, was the Beatles “Day Tripper” riff, which was really their reworking of “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison. And while we’re at it, the drum breaks in “Satisfaction” sound a lot like those at the end of “Pretty Woman” also. I can’t express how liberating this was. Not only did it legitimize me in the eyes of others, it enabled me to do what I had been trying and unable to do. It really wasn’t just me, it was the guitar!

When it rains, it pours. The bass player in the Plague (an “epidemic of sound” it read on our card) showed up at practice with a Gibson Maestro fuzz tone, which he let me use and keep–to practice with, of course. It seems that his father kept a stash of cash in the top drawer of his bureau and didn’t keep track of how much was actually there particularly well. The bassist, who was truly a sweetheart of a guy and whose name I won’t mention for fear of reprisals from his father if he should be alive, began accessing this drawer on a regular basis for the benefit of the band. The fuzz tone was the appetizer. After a period of some months, he showed up with a Rickenbacker 12 string guitar, the kind George Harrison had on the back cover of Beatles VI! Of course, he couldn’t keep it at home and I became the beneficiary. “Ticket to Ride”, “Hard Day’s Night”, “ You Can’t Do That”, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, all became much more authentic instantly. I once saw the Byrds at Winterland and Jim McGuinn did not have his 12 string Rickenbacker. He had a tan six string. And they played “Tambourine Man” “Turn, Turn, Turn” “Eight Miles High”, “My Back Pages” without it. Utterly and completely unlistenable and unacceptable. All original members. Totally Unauthentic. Bogus. Moby Grape (which fortunately was also on the bill) blew them away anyway. Which they did to many a band.

So I had two guitars and numerous schoolbooks. On my walk home from the train station after school (yes, it was a two mile walk–no snow) I held the sideways stacked books under each arm and had a guitar in each hand. The weight of the guitars held the books against my sides. It’s hard to forget details like this. Once home, the books usually remained unopened (the guitar cases did not) but I never could bring myself to leave them at school despite the difficulty in lugging that whole lot. My sense of responsibility was there, the necessary number of hours in the day were not. And I guess I had my priorities, however misplaced they might have seemed.

Dennis and I were still pals even though our band was pretty much inactive. We got tickets to a concert at the College of San Mateo featuring the Byrds, who by this time had released Eight Miles High and were the leading lights of the American bands, folk-rock division. The support act was an actual folk group called the Dillards whose harmonica player took a solo with the harmonica entirely inside his mouth and another with the harmonica sticking out of his mouth like a popsicle. The Byrds had a heck of a time following that. The opening act was a group we had never heard of, introduced as a Canadian band by the name of Buffalo Springfield. They got a polite reception and even got a laugh when one of the three guitarists announced that they were going to play a song called “Sit Down I Think I Love You”. This song later was covered by a local group called the Mojo Men (whose lead singer and drummer was a girl, Jan Ashton–nee Errico) and became a hit on Tom Donahue’s Autumn record label. The guitarist who introduced the song was Stephen Stills. They had another guy in the band who did all right too by the name of Neil Young.

Summer came and I pretty much took up residence at one or another band member’s parents homes. I think I rotated in order not to wear out my welcome.

By this time every kid in the neighborhoods we practiced in wanted to be in a band. At one point we had so many potential members that we diplomatically formed two bands. Kids always know, though, and the ‘B’ band lost momentum and fizzled out. This was the summer of the ”Battle of the Bands” and we were in all of them. We even had a few paying “jobs”, mostly at teen clubs and private parties. We played for our bass player’s sister’s eighth grade graduation party–adding to his family’s support of the arts. The kids in her class had a great time and didn’t even mind that we mangled “Paperback Writer” so badly. The vocal breaks were way over our heads. The Beatles didn’t have an easy time of those parts either. They strummed through those a capella parts when they did them live. Cheating!

Our first battle of the bands was in San Jose and was sponsored, as most were, by a music store. We had uniforms, purple shirts (we dyed them), black vests, black pants. Someone had given me some black suede Beatle boots of which I was inordinately proud. They would not have done at school at all, we had a strict dress code but not uniforms per se.

The store itself was the backstage. Various bandmembers gathered back there to talk about the latest records, look at the gear or pick up a Vox Beatles poster. One kid, Dennis Tracy, who had a band called the Coachmen which was a level above us, had a copy of the Kinks single that had “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” on it. A ‘b’ side, no doubt, but we were all quite impressed and quickly made a mental note to add it to our set. Another kid whom I had met in second year of school was there too with his band, People (no “the”). They were several levels above my band and were made up primarily of older guys. They were managed by a dj from the local radio station and they eventually scored a national hit record with a cover of the Zombies “I Love You”. Clever title. My friend was their drummer, and of course was replaced (by an older guy) long before they came to any national prominence. Like I said, the drummer is the first to go. He was only a sophomore in high school, though. And he did a letter perfect rendition of Lee Dorsey’s “Workin’ in a Coal Mine” which song almost won the battle for People (no “the”). They finished second and were rewarded with a solid body Rickenbacker 12 string (the bottom of the line but coveted nonetheless) guitar for their efforts. My band finished well out of the running.

The next battle took place at Hillsdale Mall and was sponsored by Sherman Clay & Co., where I got my first real guitar. This was much bigger, had millions of bands and was attended by loads of people. I was so nervous I could barely plug the jack into my Rickenbacker. We started with the song “Hard Day’s Night”, with which we had gotten into the habit of opening and closing our performances. Thematic unity. I struck the open chord that starts it–I thought it was just all the strings struck un-fingered until someone showed me the famous barred 11th chord sometime later. Dom 7 and sus 4, for those of you taking notes. We got through that, Tambourine Man and I Should Have Known Better (I was quite taken with the Rick and remember, I chose the songs) and escaped without humiliation. The Juveniles were there too. The band members were the ones who voted on the winners and Don and I voted for each other’s bands. We were still mates though we’d ceased playing together. Neither of us got far that day though. The infamous Toads were there and finished their set with the Alan Price Set’s version of “I Put a Spell on You” with its perilous song-ending organ solo. Their keyboard player, Javier Pacheco, completely mangled the solo, however, knocking them from any real contention despite the group’s obvious popularity. I had seen People’s (no “the”) keyboard player, Albert Ribisi (yes, Giovanni’s father), mangle it too, one night at the Continental Roller Rink in Santa Clara. Not as bad as Javier, though. Those are the hard ones to live down. And I’ve had a few. A group called the Sit-Ins won, and did it by playing a song called “It’s No Secret” by a group called Jefferson Airplane. This was my first indication that something else was going on, but like Dylan’s Mr. Jones, I didn’t know what it was. And what the hell did the stuff at UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza have to do with the Beatles? At that point, not much, but get out your turbochargers, kids.

There was one more battle of the bands of note that summer. It was held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. It was something of a cattle call but we had some friends there to cheer for us. Kassie Jo chief among them. One of the judges was the drummer for the Syndicate of Sound, I believe his name was John Duckworth, whose band had a hit record which we all loved (“Little Girl”) and which featured some great drumming. The battle was basically a culling process to see who got to play during the run of the fair. We opened up with “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” by the Yardbirds and finished with “Rain” by the Beatles for which I forgot to turn off my Maestro fuzztone. But no matter. We made it through the first round. The ride home was grand. For the second round we did “Yellow Submarine” which bombed by and large, mostly because it paled in comparison to some of the other stuff that was going on. A group humbly called The Chosen Few did a version of the Beau Brummels version of the Dylan song “One Too Many Mornings” which had a weight that our stuff did not. The cutesy thing was fading fast. We still made it onto the fair roster, though, and actually played a paying “job” one weeknight in late summer. And my sister and brother-in-law came to see me and made me feel very good indeed about it all.

One other thing that signified a major change happened that summer. Dennis and I were hitchhiking down the El Camino Real as we often did from our town to the South San Mateo area. We’d generally end up at Sherman Clay & Co. to look at the guitars and amps. There was a picture of my band, the Plague, on display there too, taken at the Battle of the Bands they’d sponsored. One day on our way back we were picked up by a rather scruffy looking couple, most of whose belongings we climbed in next to in the back seat of their car. They were nice enough, though, and asked if we’d mind if they stopped for a minute at a florist shop on the way. When they came out they showed us a bag of shiny, decorative seed pods they’d purchased.

“What do you think of these?” they asked? “They’re called Hawaiian Woodrose miniatures.”

Dennis said he thought they were very nice. We were polite kids. They laughed and broke one of the pods open revealing little seeds amidst a mossy substance which they cleaned off the seeds.

“You eat them,” said the girl. “They make you see things differently and you laugh a lot–it’s really a very pleasant experience.”

They asked if we wanted some and of course we said yes. We had six seeds each. They were awful-tasting. We asked them to let us off at Burlingame Avenue, miles from home but near to Washington Park where we thought we’d wait for the seeds to take effect. Nothing happened. Of course we’d just eaten at A & W Root Beer, which was customary after visiting the music store, but this didn’t  occur to us at the time. So we went our separate ways home, thinking that the couple had been putting us on.

Several hours later I thought I was going to die. I was lying on the kitchen table at my parents’ house turning various shades of green. Utter systemic discomfort. The only solution was to go to bed early, claiming illness. I went to sleep and woke up when it was dark. There were little popping sounds in my brain. I kid you not. Brain cells exploding, synapses firing, who can say? My thoughts became very amusing. The shadows on the ceiling became amusing. The relationship between my thoughts and the shadows was downright funny. My awareness of my recognition of the relationship between the thoughts and shadows was the funniest thing yet.  I started watching my thoughts bubble up out of my brain and watched another part of my brain put spins on them. I watched how these thoughts were affected by other sensory  functions, like sight. I watched thoughts within and without frames of reference, with and without baggage, as it were, with and without significance. I watched the whole associative spectacle. For hours, laying on top of my bed, without distraction. It was quite a sight.

The next day I called Dennis.

“I thought they had poisoned us at first”, I blurted out over the phone.

Dennis concurred with my account of what had happened to me but I could tell the experience had not been the same for him. Or at least he was not able to express it in a similar manner. I had probably got the seeds with the high concentration of lysergic acid. Who knew?

This was before I’d had my first beer (I actually loathed the idea of alcohol, having witnessed its effects on my father and brother) and before I’d seen or even thought about pot, or anything else for that matter.

Start

The top rung of the Bay Area regional rock scene was still in its post British invasion phase. Bands played at Longshoreman’s Hall or California Hall in San Francisco, The Continental in San Jose and the IDES Hall (whatever that means) in the East Bay. The Baytovens (the SF Beatles), William Penn and His Pals (Dave Clark, Paul Revere, Animals) and Peter Wheat and the Breadmen dominated the City scene, The Harbinger Complex (Stones, Them) had the East Bay, and the South Bay was the domain of the Topsiders (Stones, Kinks), the Chocolate Watchband (more Stones) and my personal heroes, the E-Types (Beatles, Beau Brummels). Others like the Vejtables, Tikis and People (no “the”) played these venues too, but they had their own records out and were a bit above the fray. And the Beau Brummels were in another league altogether.

I occasionally went to the City halls but I was spending most of my time in the South Bay and so was a regular at the Continental. I thought the Watchband was a bit sloppy and coarse, the Topsiders did tighter Stones covers, but the E-Types were gods to me. We called their rhythm guitarist and singer TV, short for “Total Voice” and had names for the other bandmembers, too, none of whom we knew anything about. The drummer, whom we called Reggie, was a friendly looking guy who did a mean Ringo and whose trouser seat was soaked with sweat by the end of their show. This seemed incredibly noble and heroic at the time, although he was a bit embarrassed by it. For all the drummers I’ve seen and worked with, I haven’t seen this phenomenon since. Hemorrhoids yes.

One night we were going to see the E-Types at the Continental and heard the Beatles “Nowhere Man” on the radio for the first time. The E-Types opened their show with it later that night! I was more than a little awed.

There was a major battle of the bands in Santa Cruz that summer (or early fall) sponsored by KLIV radio in San Jose. I think they called it a Surfin’ Safari. It took place on the stage on the beach near the boardwalk and all of the top bands were in it. The winner got to play at the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom, on the boardwalk, with the special guest headliners, the Sunrays, who were essentially a Beach Boys knockoff and were managed by Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson’s father. They had a song I loved, though, called “I Live for the Sun.” I was pretty much in awe of all the bands–the Topsiders did a killer version of “It’s All Over Now” but the E-Types had a trick up their collective sleeve. I’m speculating now–at the time I thought it was spontaneous–but they had brought with them, I’m pretty sure, a well rehearsed group of girl fans who were designated screamers. They did “Like a Rolling Stone” and every time TV sang “How does it feel?” the girls screamed. They did “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’” and the girls screamed in the holes between the verse vocal lines. And when they did “Help” the girls screamed all the way through. It was just a bit too perfect. I have since seen this. When the Knack was emerging from LA where they were getting a ton of hype, they came to San Francisco and played at the Old Waldorf nightclub opening for Cindy Bullens. They definitely had designated screamers, all of whom left after their set. Anything for a buzz. The E-Types, of course, won the battle, if not the war.

That night my friend, Alan, the Plague’s drummer, and I went to the show at the Cocoanut Grove and saw the Sunrays and the E-Types. I almost got myself killed for dancing with a Latina whose male friends were, shall we say, chagrined. But she intervened and it was obvious that I didn’t know any better (still don’t) and wasn’t much of a threat anyway. Alan and I spent the night on the beach. Actually it was on Mary Jane Fennell’s (from my hometown) pretend grandmother’s porch on Eastcliff (or was it Westcliff) Drive. Unbeknownst to her pretend grandmother but with Mary Jane’s blessing. But without Mary Jane, or, more to the point, her girlfriend Chris. But they were older so no face was lost. We didn’t even see them when we snuck in.

That summer, Dennis and I went by ourselves to Los Angeles and Disneyland. We took the Southern Pacific “Daylight” train to LA and bussed out to Anaheim. And we used English accents for the entire trip. We had let our hair grow out a bit over the summer and a bit was all you needed at that time to be called a girl or a fag or whatever. We were rock and rollers, though, and we didn’t care. We never dropped out of character except when we were back in our motel rooms alone. It was hysterically funny. Everybody was incredibly solicitous. At one point a security person in Disneyland approached us and said that we had to leave the park, that Disneyland did not allow people like us in its gates. He wanted to know how we had escaped scrutiny at the entrance. (The truth is we had tucked our hair under hats when we came in. Let me reiterate. This was maybe two or three months without a haircut. My school had strict hair and clothing rules and so my hair was maybe halfway over the ears and with bangs.) “I beg your pardon, sir, you don’t like my hair?” I said with feigned innocence to the security guard. I was trying to do Mancusian but I’m sure I must have been slipping between Liverpudlian and Cockney. The guard immediately bacame all apologies. “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were one of ours (undesirable types, I suppose he meant). Then he launched into some lengthy song and dance about what a great country England was, blah, blah, blah. So began the political empowerment of hair.

Music already had its political arm, which had been enjoying a nice parallel development mostly in the form of what were called protest songs. The rather preposterous Eve of Destruction had hit #1 on the pop charts some months before so obviously it was striking some kind of a chord. We all knew about Dylan. His records were already part of everybody’s older sister’s record collections and the Byrds and Turtles had tremendously successful covers of his songs. One disk jockey speculated that the Beatles “We Can Work It Out” was their first protest song. It became obvious with the release of the “Rubber Soul” album that their lyrical subject matter was changing.

Especially John Lennon. An enormous maturation became manifest there. You could hear Paul and George trying to keep up but lacking the depth that his work showed. And it continued through the next couple of singles, “Rain” and “Nowhere Man.” “Nowhere Man” was my favorite song of all time for a good long time and still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when I hear it. Lyrically it’s dated a bit for me but I still love the fact that he says, “Isn’t he a bit like you and me?” Not finger pointing like so much of Dylan’s contemporaneous stuff was. Observational. And “Rain” with its observation of states of mind (it occurred to me that he might have eaten some Hawaiian Woodrose seeds, too), mined the same vein. And while I’m on the subject, you’ve got to love a guy who takes on the first line of the Bible in “The Word” and says, “In the beginning, I misunderstood, but now I’ve got it that the Word is good.” In the beginning I misunderstood!  Priceless. And I haven’t even mentioned “In My Life” which is probably his best lyric. Lennon was no moron. He obviously read and talked about it in his songs, and this alone changed the face of rock and roll for good.

But not without cost. This was also the time during which Lennon observed that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. This was not a shrewd marketing move, especially in the midwestern United States and Bible Belt. However innocent or non-hubristic this might have been, once the cat was out of the bag no amount of explanation could stem the incredible backlash this caused, in those areas especially. Where I was, in godless California, no one thought much about it. My own devotion to the Catholic faith was undergoing some serious reconsideration and I in fact had stopped going to Mass at about that time. Which was quite a revolutionary gesture for someone whose house had holy water fonts inside the front and back doors. And, judging from what I could see, there probably was more real interest in what the Beatles were doing, in my age group at least, than there was in the blind observance of Christian ritual. Our “Christian” attitudes were being informed by other, more vital forces. Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.

The Beatles were embarking on what, unbeknownst at the time, was to be their last round of public appearances. And the last date of the tour was in San Francisco at Candlestick (never to be referred to as 3Com) Park. And, as I mentioned already, I had won tickets. Nothing is easy, though. I was in San Jose as I most always was that summer, hanging in the band’s neighborhood, staying at the drummer’s mom’s house (god bless her) and no one could go. Fifty miles from the Stick, no public transportation possible, I didn’t have a car, or drive for that matter. Hitchhiking was impossible. I went through the neighborhood asking every kid old enough to drive if he wanted to go. Finally I got to Wayne Keysor’s house (hope I spelled that correctly, Wayne) about out of hope. He was interested but not optimistic. He asked his mom. She got that look on her face that only a parent can have that says I’m worried about this but I have just enough confidence to think it might be alright and it will make them so happy if I say yes. She said yes.

Candlestick was not full. It held 42,500 at the time and was at about 25,000. This was 2 1/2 times the size of the Cow Palace which was where they had played previously so it represented a large jump, but was nothing compared to what happens now. The rock and roll market didn’t really explode until a bit later in the decade. Still 25,000 screaming kids  was nothing to sniff at. I saw the Stones at the Stick in 1981 and Mick pointed out to the crowd that the only band that had played there before them was the Beatles. Always a good sense of history, Mick. The stage was set up at second base and faced in toward home plate. Speakers lined the first and third base lines. Not the enormous stacked bins you see nowadays for sound reinforcement. This was in the days before monitors! Rather an array of non-uniform  speaker enclosures, one-high, unstacked, pointing in the general direction of the stands. No one was allowed on the field. It looked like they rented every available speaker in the Bay Area and daisy chained the lot of them together. In the hopes of making the Beatles audible over the din. In an open air stadium, however, and Candlestick was not yet enclosed, sound has a tendency to dissipate quickly and doesn’t really ever accumulate. Which is a condition necessary for a frenzy of screams to feed on itself and allow for teenage hysteria to continue for a long period of time. So apart from intermittent binges of high frequency group vocalization, the crowd noise never really overwhelmed the sound system, patchy as it was.

The show consisted of Barry and the Remains, an unknown group apparently from Boston, the Ronettes, the Cyrkle, also from Boston and managed by Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager, and I think Roy Head, whose “Treat Her Right “ was on the charts. I could verify this easily, because I had stolen the poster for the event out of the window of the Radio Repair, but a friend of mine has stolen it from me (with the ticket stub, I might add). This is probably the only souvenir I have ever cared about in my entire life. I know where she lives, though.

Nobody gave a hoot about any of the opening acts. If it had been the Kinks or the Searchers, maybe. Finally the interminable warmup parade ended. And out they came. New suits, John and George had Epiphone guitars, virtually identical to my Gibson 330, Paul his usual Hofner violin shaped bass guitar. George was wearing loafers with white socks! Like we wore in grammar school, and still did, now that I think about it. A hail of flashbulbs, ear protection required. I can’t for the life of me remember what they opened with. Paul did the talking and he and John were singing very strongly. And Ringo was a revelation. I remember the things that surprised me the most. They did Baby’s In Black (?) Long Tall Sally, I’m Down (with John on electric piano), Paperback Writer, with cheater guitar parts. Nothing from the just released Revolver. George sang “If I Needed Someone” (very weakly, I might unkindly add) which they announced as being from the Rubber Soul album, which it had been in Britain but was not in the States. It was on Yesterday and Today in the U.S. Every two or three songs the technicians had to replace fuses or power tubes or something in the back of their Vox Super Beatle amplifiers onstage. This gave Paul a chance to do his cheesy stage patter. Finally John Lennon, who had been strangely subdued–probably, I thought because he was still smarting from the adverse reaction to his Jesus statement–stepped up to the mike. “All for one and one for all, I always say!” he said. The place went berserk. It was hard not to love John Lennon.

Late in the show Lennon announced that since it was the last show of the tour they were going to do a request that had been made by their crew and featured Ringo on vocals doing “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Pandemonium. Let me just say that anyone who ever doubted Ringo’s talent (and I have had the distinct displeasure of meeting a few) did not see that show. Strong lead vocal, huge backbeat, swing ride cymbal (!) big smile. Strength and grace. The man was a monster!

Their performance lasted 29 minutes.

It was the last show they ever played.

I was there.

Sometimes life is cool.

Through the summer and into the next school year the Plague survived. I wrote my first song that fall, with Dennis in attendance in my family’s living room. It was called “Listen.” It had a tricky seven bar guitar intro and owed a good bit to the Beatles and some to the Byrds. It went:

Now you’ve finally decided you want to hear

And you need someone to quell your fears

My advice is open up your ears, and wipe away your tears

You’ll find you cannot hear unless you listen.

Listen, listen listen. Aah, aah, aah.

I think Spinal Tap could have had a hit with this in their early days, pre “Listen to the Flower People.” The band learned it and added it to the repertoire and I wrote another one after seeing the Zombies on t.v., called “Beyond Comprehension”, which I’m certain it was. Then “Permanent Vacation” (title lifted from “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels) and so on.

I was a writing machine.

At school I’d begun to hang out more and more with the drummer from People (no “the”), whose name was and is DJ. Although we were the same age, he had the benefit of the experience of being in a band with older guys and was much more musically sophisticated than me. He had a good ear, could sing lead and harmony, and played some guitar, too. He also liked soul music and had been to see James Brown at the San Jose Civic Auditorium! This alone put him up an echelon or two.

In general, DJ exercised more critical thinking about rock and roll music than anyone I had met, and could actually tell if you got the chord changes wrong. And he listened to bass lines and was an afficionado of bass playing. And not just Paul McCartney on “Paperback Writer” or “Taxman” either. I never listened to anything the same way again after I met him. Unfortunately for him, though, the “drummer is the first to go” axe fell, and he was replaced in People (no “the”) by an older, more suitable guy. Bad for him, good for the Plague.

It was provisional at first. DJ was really just slumming a bit. He would sing a few tunes with the band. After a rehearsal or two he started alternating on drums with our regular, Al. It’s amazing how cooperative we all must have been, yielding parts, instruments, stage space. But the truth is, as a group we got stronger, if individually a bit more vulnerable. The politics of a group is always the hardest part, fragile, fragile, fragile.        The fact is that it’s amazing that rock groups last at all, given the customary absence of hierarchical organization, or any organization, and the sensitive nature of the interactions among members which are fraught with questions of dominance and submission, flexibility and stubbornness, matters of taste, and ultimately survival within the group. And all of which produce physio-chemical  “fight or flight” responses and conduct high voltage emotional charges.  Add absence of money to this and you’ve got the toughest job in the world. As the man said, “You’ve got to love it.”

We began to get more gigs. Burlingame Rec dance, San Mateo YMCA, the Wutzit Club in Santa Clara, and the ultimate achievement of the band, opening for bluesman Jimmy Reed (“Bright Lights, Big City”, “New York City Blues”) at the Hawaiian Gardens in San Jose. We played our bluesiest numbers, which meant the instrumental “You Can’t Sit Down” by Chris Kenner, (during which, I must mention, I got an ovation in mid song for my solo. This was not a teen audience. They knew where to clap.)  2120 South Michigan Ave. (an instrumental by the Stones, the name of which was the address of Chess Records in Chicago) I Put a Spell on You, and lots of Animals tunes. By this time we had added a guy who actually owned a Vox Continental organ, much hipper than a Farfisa and not yet rendered obsolete by the much more serious Hammond B-3. We’re talking furniture, there.

We were a six-piece, two guitars, organ, bass, and two alternating drummer/lead singers. Four lead singers among us (although I mostly did the high harmony). No uniforms, here. Wide wale corduroy pants, striped velveteen long sleeved t-shirts, black turtlenecks (or dickies). This was the apex of the Plague.

I don’t remember how I met Harriet, but of course I remember how it ended. Or how I mangled it, I should say. I had been seeing a girl named Kathy Loveness (real name) whom I had met at an Episcopal church dance. I supposed that even though it was Episcopal it was probably not a mortal sin to go one of their dances. She went to Burlingame High School and lived in the very upscale town of Hillsborough. Her father was in lumber. Mine was a custodian at West Hillsborough grammar school. This one was not in the cards, but it did last a while. I even met her parents who were amused by my Beatle haircut. And her older sister was an ally. I remember being at the Rec dance where we sometimes went together and being asked by a mutual acquaintance, a guy, if we still saw each other. I said no. “Why, did you try to get something off her?” he asked. This meant, did I try to feel her up. I said no to that too. I was still in the throes of the Catholic notion that sex, any sex, was a mortal sin. I took her to a dance at my school a year or two later but only cause I was in a pinch.

But Harriet was another story again. She owned a car! She lived alone. She was blonde and nice looking. She was a year older than me but still in high school. She liked me! And her name was Harriet Higgins. I would have gone out with her on that count alone! I don’t know why she lived alone and for all the time I knew her I never went to her apartment. I guess I assumed that there had been some parental discord. And the subject of going home with her never came up. I guess it’s pretty safe going out with a hung-up Catholic boy. Also the issue of class differences did not exist.

We were pretty much inseparable, for a time there, and quite frankly, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. She hung out with the band, we went to school dances, and we spent an awful lot of time at the drive-in, usually with another couple, in her Ford Falcon. The seats folded down and we spent hours, literally hours, making out. But no further. I didn’t even try. This was pre-sexual revolution and mid-Catholic fear. She liked the respect, I suspect, and I was pretty immature, I also suspect. But very few of my friends were sexually precocious at this point in time. Let me put it this way. I didn’t even know that you could masturbate. I may have had what they called a nocturnal emission but I was only vaguely aware that you could cause yourself to ejaculate. And in fact I don’t believe that I ever even tried it until two or three years after I lost my virginity. Believe it or not.

Anyway, Harriet and I went along blissfully for quite some time. The way it ended, though, makes me feel ashamed to this day.

I have always been a concealer, a hider of the truth about things that embarrass me. Sometimes even about things that shouldn’t embarrass me. A good part of it is shyness, but what is that? Is that a genetic predisposition? I’m not talking about inscrutability, although it’s probably related. It’s more like the Eastern concept of aversion. And for me, then, it was family related. The first person who uses the “D” word gets sent to the back of the classroom. “Denial” it was not. As I have already pointed out, if you had Sister Mary Clarence, you did not have denial in your repertoire. And it’s pretty hard to flat out lie about things that are happening in your own family.

In grammar school my chief skeleton was the mental breakdown of my brother Bill. In those days, there was shame involved in mental illness. Some parents would not let other kids play with me because of it. I hoped it was secret and never said a word about it, even to my very best friends. And none of them ever brought it up, sensitive souls that they were. It wasn’t merely the times, though, my brother did some stuff that was downright spooky and truly the product of an unwell mind, bless his heart. Probably the worst day of my grammar school life occurred one Friday afternoon when a rumor swept through the school that an escapee from a mental institution was holed up in the backstage area of our school auditorium. The second rumor speculated that it was my brother. I was sick with fear. This was just the kind of situation he might get caught up in. I had overheard my parents saying that the nuns at the convent at the school left food out for him sometimes. I was sent out to do some errand and encountered a kid throwing trash into the school incinerator.

“It’s not him,” he said to me.

I‘d had a few disputes with this kid on the basketball court which ended with him saying “don’t act like your brother,” which always shut me up. So I knew he knew, and he, being out of class, was privy to accurate information. So it wasn’t him, thank god. I was still shamed beyond belief. When I went home I told my mom about it. She did not grasp the enormity of it for me at all and dismissed it with a wave. By the way, the kid at the incinerator had a mental breakdown years later and ended up in an institution himself.

So this was my first great secret. And I’m going to get back to Harriet eventually. The second was my father’s job. My father did o.k. in the thirties and forties as a merchandise manager for a large department store chain, but in the fifties invested his money in a Plymouth automobile dealership that went bust. By 1956 he was 50 years old (no age discrimination policies on the books in those days), had an eighth grade education (although his first two sons and his daughter had college degrees or were about to), and was not all that attractive to employers.

He got a job managing a Goodwill second hand store in the high street of our area, which, while without prestige, was not humiliating. When that folded, eight years later, he became the nighttime custodian at a Hillsborough grammar school, which I mentioned earlier. He finished his working career there, having moved up to daytime custodian. Now, as an adult, it’s easy to see the value and decency and respectability in that. No shame whatsoever. Laudable, in fact. As a kid, though, I couldn’t handle it. I knew I should be able to, but as I got to high school (prep school, which I had insisted on) and all my friends had fathers who were doctors or lawyers, this became great secret number two. This was reinforced one day in class when one of the less gifted Jesuits who taught there was making some grand egalitarian comment about how the student body had kids from all different kinds of backgrounds.

“Why, one student’s father is a custodian at Saint Mary’s church”, he stated.

The classroom exploded in laughter. I’m not making this up. I created a force field around me that precluded the possibility of this topic coming up with any of my friends at any time. They all knew, of course. They were just kind and sensitive enough not to let my feelings get hurt about it. And believe me, in an all boys prep school, the main method of communication is trading insults. It was a class place. I mean classy.

Also, most boys are shy about letting their parents and families know about their early dealings with members of the opposite sex. So when Harriet and her friend Barbara showed up at my parents’ house unannounced on Christmas Day, I reacted really poorly. Harriet and Barbara were certainly presentable and my family gathering had not yet turned into the drunken verbal brawl it always became later in the evening, when I would inevitably leave in fury and/or tears. So it would have been fine. But I turned them away.

I can’t remember if I brought them in briefly for introductions and told them it would be better if they left, or just dismissed them outright. Here are my excuses–ashamed of family, shy about girlfriends around family, Harriet showed up unannounced (I was unprepared), I was young and immature. But there are no excuses.

Wasn’t man enough.

Harriet never spoke to me again. I think I still have her school picture. It says, all my love, Harriet, on the back.

I was still pals with Kassie Jo. Our relationship was not sexual, although it started to veer that way once or twice. She was several years older than me, after all, and had in fact gone off to college at UC Davis. Where she immediately fell in with the local rock and rollers. One group, the Oxford Circle, had started playing a new rock scene that was emerging in San Francisco. Their songlist was not really unlike what was going on at the Longshoreman’s Hall and the California Hall, but it was not that “vibe”, as she called it, at all. I knew about the Airplane, in fact the Plague had learned “Come Up the Years”, which was their follow-up single to “It’s No Secret”. And I had begun seeing pictures in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Datebook section of the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Charlatans and Grateful Dead. I loved the band names and the pictures looked pretty great too. So when Kassie Jo asked me if I wanted to go with her and a girlfriend to the Avalon Ballroom to see the Oxford Circle, I jumped at the chance.

I wore a wig. Shoulder length, black, not particularly well made. I was 16, looked about 12, had a prep school haircut. I must have looked ridiculous. At the top of the stairs leading into the ballroom, a guy standing with Smitty, the legendary Fillmore/Avalon security guard, said, “Look at this guy’s hair!” But that was it. No one else so much as blinked. This was a different vibe. Slavish adherence to some mythical norm did not seem to exist here. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find something resembling a norm. And I got no sense of a hipper than thou vibe, either, which quite unfortunately plagued the San Francisco scene a short while later. And had plagued the rock scene before and was to do so again. At that moment, though, it smelled like freedom, and it was powerful and pervasive and relaxed.

None of the characterizations of this era have ever done it much justice. I suppose most descriptions tend to focus on what’s nearest the surface, what’s easily communicable to the largest number of people. Soundbites, iconography, opinion, stuff with emotional charge. It’s much harder to convey the sense of the mystical body of something. Maybe you can only allude to it, or talk about it in terms of what it’s not, as Sister Mary Clarence did. But when it’s undeniable and you read or hear about it, you know immediately who felt it and who didn’t. To call it a style (and I’m not talking about hair or clothing here) or an aesthetic, or a code is not bad, but the word most often heard then was love. Of course when the press got hold of that word it immediately connoted free love and the bacchanal was on. Tawdry hippiedom. In my own mind I used to use the mantra “life promoting”. That is, does this promote life or not? That was the basis for personal position. “Life affirming” might even be better.

I didn’t get all this on my first visit to the Avalon Ballroom, of course. It was in the air, though, for an altogether too brief period of time. I loved that place. I didn’t make it to the Fillmore until a Sunday afternoon four months later. At the Avalon there was a puppet show upstairs, blacklights downstairs under which people were doing large dayglow chalk drawings, a terrific strobelight which made people dancing under it look like they were in an old time movie, and a counter in the back where they sold scented oils. The place always smelled like oranges or jasmine. They had marvelous light show and had an overhead projector mounted on the floor for public use. It was fully interactive. They called the shows dance-concerts, although at that time very few people sat and watched the bands. In fact, although there was a stage, the bands did not seem separate from the people. There must have been drugs, but I suspect it was mostly LSD, which was not yet but about to be made illegal. No alcohol and not much if any pot on the premises. Part of this probably had to do with the City’s rather vigilant monitoring of the situation, primarily through the Fire Department. The second time I went to the Avalon, with Kassie Jo again, was on a night featuring the Grateful Dead, who had undoubtedly the best name in the history of rock and roll. That name has been around so long you don’t even consider the meaning of the words anymore, but it was dark, funny and linked to Egyptology.What’s in a name, indeed?

We had to stand in line in the rain on Sutter St. because the fire marshal had cut off admissions at 750, which was the legal capacity of the room. As soon as they left, though, we were let in. I recently met one of the inspectors who worked the Avalon and Fillmore. They had as much fun there as anybody.

As we entered the Dead were onstage playing “Dancing in the Street,” the brilliant Motown Martha and the Vandellas song. This, in some ways, will always typify my experience of those times. It seems like every time I saw the Dead, I came in while they were playing that song. And the song contains the line “It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there” which comes as close to defining the social implications of that period for me as anything else ever has. It was inclusive. Life promoting. Life affirming. Big love.

The Dead sounded nothing like their name. They were good-timey. Pigpen’s r & b excursions notwithstanding. The Good Ol’ Grateful Dead moniker stuck for a reason. They were intelligent, friendly, but for my taste, not especially musically appealing. Their appeal lay elsewhere. I particularly could not fathom the rhythm section. (I was a hard critic even then). Hadn’t they heard Stax/Volt records? It was like they were deliberately all over the place. But still, you had to love them. Also on the bill that night was a group called Moby Grape who, for my money, completely and utterly blew the Dead away. It may not have mattered what you wore, but what you played was another thing entirely. Three of them had white sweatshirts with the word “Moby” silkscreened on the front. A girl standing next to me called to one of the guys and said, “Skip, what happened to your hair? Did you put you finger into an electric socket? His was the first rock perm–pre Cream, pre Daltrey, but the best was yet to come. They had three guitarists, one played a fat Gibson (a 175?) and took most of the solos, one played a solid body Guild like Zal Yanovsky of the Spoonful, and the guy with the electric hair had a solid body Martin, which the singer in the E-Types also had and which you very seldom see anymore. The bass player had a Fender P bass that’s a Precision for you non-musos) and the drummer had a Ludwig champagne sparkle kit, I do believe. All five guys sang lead and harmony, including the drummer. And they were electrifying. It was one of the two most incandescent sets I have ever seen in my life (the other being the Who’s first show at the Fillmore, the weekend prior to the Monterey Pop Festival, after which I was literally delirious with joy for hours–stone cold sober, mind you). There was non-stop movement onstage, all of the front line trading mikes in mid song, incredible harmonies, the guitar players never got in each other’s way. They were tight, they were arranged and their songs were short and had dynamics. Impact. Unlike many of the noodling experimentations of numerous other groups which more often than not went nowhere. (the N sentence) The drummer sung like Winwood, the bass player had a very soulful voice and obviously had listened to Stax/Volt, the Guild player’s voice was reminiscent of Neil Young (these are very positive associations!), the Gibson guy had chops galore and the one the girl called Skip was joy incarnate. I kid you not. If I saw it now I’d say it’s too good to be true, it’ll never last. And I’d be right. I went to the Avalon every weekend for the rest of the year and made it on New Year’s Eve too, at which the guy who ran the place bemoaned the recent illegalization of LSD from the stage. The light show spelled out Hippie New Year at midnight.

I basically saw everybody who became anybody in those first few months at the Avalon, with the exception of the Jefferson Airplane who were managed by Bill Graham who ran the Fillmore. I went with Kassie Jo and a gay male friend of hers from Davis who was the lead singer in a band up there, to see Big Brother and the Holding Company. Janis scared me, at first. She was so aggressive. She was stamping her foot on the stage so hard I thought it might go right through. I thought she might be barking at the band a bit from time to time, too, in a not particularly discreet way, although from what I could tell, they needed it. She was a force even then, although her star did not rise, and believe me, you could see it when it did, until later in the following year. The Doors were on the bill quite a lot at that point, too, although not headlining until the following summer. I didn’t really care for them for a couple of reasons. One, the organist was not playing a Hammond B-3. By this time I was abundantly aware of how hip the blues and rhythm and blues were. (The Avalon and the Fillmore both featured those kinds of music regularly.) And all of the cool English bands were playing B-3s. The guy in the Doors had a Vox Continental! How stupid of him. Second, they had no bass player. Bass, as an instrument in a band, had come into its own in a big way. If the bass player was good, it was kosher to suspend disbelief in an otherwise lackluster outfit. “Yeh, but their bassplayer is great,” justified the existence of many a group.  These were such fundamental considerations that for me the Doors had a big credibility problem. And their singer had obviously not gotten over himself. In many ways I foresaw the end of the San Francisco scene during a set the Doors were doing at the Avalon one night. Morrison, probably bored out of his mind during one of the band’s long instrumental excursions, started rubbing his crotch up and down on the mike stand. Eyes closed, head down. Many of the dancers doing the hippie swirl in front of the stage were oblivious, but those who were seated a ways back started yelling “Down in front!” Down in front? There was no front. We were all stars here. And none of us were, too. This was the beginning of the end. It reminds me of a line someone once said about Tiny Tim, the ukulele playing singer. “Tiny Tim, who was once a universe, is now a star.” And really, so went the Avalon Ballroom and the Fillmore Auditorium. They became star factories, which was fun in another, much more perilous way, but it was never the same.

This did not happen all at once, however, although it was starting to look more and more like jump street all the time. At that point, though, it was wildly eclectic and if you went you got exposed to more music than you knew existed.

Son House, Doc Watson, John Hammond, Flatt and Scruggs, jug bands, gospel groups, lots of Chicago Blues, Junior Wells, James Cotton, the list is extensive. And the Fillmore, to which I had not yet been, was perhaps even better. The demographers of today would lose their minds. Of course, that was the whole idea, wasn’t it? The buttoned up society was unbinding its hair and meeting the world. There were lots of rock bands too, Steve Miller, the Charlatans, who looked much better than they played, the Sparrow (later Steppenwolf), Country Joe and the Fish. This list goes on, too. My favorite, though, was the Quicksilver Messenger Service.

I became their biggest fan, bar none. When they were on, which they almost always were, prior to recording their first album, they were epiphanous. Once Bill Graham introduced them as San Francisco’s answer to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and there was a curiously resonant internal logic to his description.

When I first saw them they were a five piece–three guitars, bass and drums. Three singers among them. But the sum of the parts was greater than any of the components by far. Every time I saw them  I came home thinking that I would have to give up music. This did not happen when I saw, say, the Grateful Dead or Big Brother or Country Joe and the Fish or any other San Francisco band for that matter (with the possible exception of Moby Grape), and it didn’t happen when I saw the many great English bands that were on their way over either (with, perhaps, the exception of the aforementioned Who performance). They always say that the Dead were much greater than the sum of their parts and I have seen two transcendant Grateful Dead sets (and I saw the band, usually coincidentally, dozens of times in the sixties) and a couple of more good ones, but they were nothing in comparison to Quicksilver at this point. It was uncanny.

They didn’t hit their stride until the blonde singer/guitarist Jim Murray, left. Not that he wasn’t good. I liked the songs he sang–”If You Live”, which might be a Mose Allison number and “I Hear You Knockin’” which is not the Dave Edmunds song (for you musicologists). He played a double cutaway Gibson hollow body, a Trini Lopez model in all likelihood and blew a decent harp. I remember David Freiberg, the bassist/singer announcing that Jim had moved to Hawaii. “He’s the smart one”, he said. But his departure solidified them stylistically, taking them out of the jazz/folk idiom pretty much altogether, and reallocated responsibilties within the group to the point where roles were better established and room for personal growth and expression increased.

This sounds a bit academic, I know, but I swear it’s true. And I should know. I was first in line at all their shows until the original four-piece broke up down the road.

There was also some opinion that there was some astrological magic afoot in Quicksilver as well. This is something I know very little about and have never had much truck with, but I did see those shows and they were uncanny. That’s all I’m going to say about that. This is the point at which the editor says, “Enough about Quicksilver, already.” But I’m not finished here. I was their biggest fan and have something of an obligation to fulfill. We’ll negotiate later.

The drummer had a hybrid style. He had a Rogers red sparkle double bass drum set. Dificult style to describe, really. He was not a pocket player like Ringo or James Brown’s drummer, not a big beat snare on the two and four either, not a swing cat playing rock like the guy in the Sons Of Champlin. He was a bit jazzy, though, tasteful, not loud but had power, and a good listener, which is the number one thing in music–with good time running a close second.

The bassist/singer was also pretty darn unique. He played a Fender Telecaster bass and did not have a traditional approach either. He didn’t use a root/fifth on the one and three as a starting point, nor did he walk on the quarters, and he didn’t play elaborate pickups to the one like the Motown players. However, he was solid, his time was good and though he stretched quite a bit he was on the one when the band needed it. Nothing grounds a band like low end. He also sang a good half of the tunes and had a clear, strong voice.

I loved both guitar players. Gary Duncan was the fair-haired one who sang and was a good lead and rhythm player. I got the sense that he was musically ambitious–his style evolved quite a bit over the period in which I saw them. His solos started out as more sonic excursions and moved toward jazz. He had taste and was a listener too. Also his equipment changed some. Various combos of Fender amps and usually a Gibson hollow-body. Toward the end he had a really gorgeous Gibson electric jazz guitar, maybe a Byrdland. He sang lead and harmony and would have done quite well in the visually image-conscious MTV era. It was not really part of that scene, though. These bands were not shoe gazers, and they were not posturers. I seem to be defining things by what they were not, which perhaps was what it was all about in the mid sixties. It was kind of relaxed, in an odd sort of way. These bands didn’t seem particularly nervous or hell bent for success, yet there was a lot of energy there. It was also not especially self-conscious, or image conscious, but there was a style. It was funky. In a very good sense of the word. Anyway, Duncan was great but Cippolina was the icon. Gaunt, long straight dark hair, in some ways he was the poster boy of sixties San Francisco. Completely unique fingerpicked electric guitar style. Completely unassuming yet the positions his body assumed when he was playing were classic. Swing the hair out of your face, John. Gibson SG, Standell cabinets with those brass trumpet-shaped Wurlitzer horns on top. Now there’s something you don’t see anymore. Clarion tone, chordal lead style (for the most part). What a live band!

One weekend Kassie Jo brought some pot home with her and gave me some. I’d never seen it before and frankly I don’t think I’ve since seen any pot since that looked like that. I nicked one of my mom’s Phillip Morris Commanders cigarettes and emptied the tip out to replace it with the pot. I felt nothing at all. I had it in an envelope on the radio next to my bed in the closet, not concealed at all, and my mom found it and threw it out. She never said anything about it and I didn’t particularly care so I didn’t either.

Why was my bed in the closet? I’d been to see two movies. One was a Belmondo flick called “Up to His Ears,” a spy spoof, and the other was Gambit, with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. All of the locations where the main characters lived in these movies were colorful and atmospheric and I was sick of being in a suburban bedroom. So I put some supports in the closet, put the chaise longe mattress on top of them. Got the Christmas tree lights, arrayed them around the top of the room. Hung a bunch of gauzy curtain material below the lights. Brought in a nightstand and my radio and voila! Belmondo got nothin’ on me! This also enabled me to listen to the radio late at night.

Radio at this point was incredible. Beatles, Byrds, Kinks (!), James Brown (!!), Wilson Pickett, Motown, Dylan, Stevie Wonder (!!! ). You were likely to hear “She Said, She Said” followed by “Cold Sweat” on AM radio, boys and girls. “Sounds so good, makes you want to kiss your radio”, said the morning jock. And the dj’s were characters, too. Not obnoxious boors or party-line automatons like you hear now (with very few exceptions). When was the last time a dj exhorted you to “Turn up the bass for this one, folks” as Tony Bigg (later Pigg) on KYA used to do? When was the last time you heard a dj make an intelligent comment about the song just played? Much less offered an opinion (especially about music) that might be in any way controversial? When was the last time someone said on the air, “Don’t look now Baylanders, don’t do that, but there is a moose, in your house”? As Russ “the Moose” Syracuse used to do?

Russ, of course, went on to even greater heights when he moved to the graveyard shift–the “All Night Flight” as he called it. You could call up and request to have records “bombed”. For example, you could call Russ and ask him to bomb, say, Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey,” a treacly bit of sonic sap if ever there was one. About ten seconds into the song you’d hear the air raid sirens go off and the bombers approaching. As Bobby got to the “Honey I miss you” part the bombs would fall with that unmistakeable whining whistle of a doppler sound that bombs make when falling followed by massive explosions–then usually a car crash or dishes breaking sound effect for good measure. It was glorious. For a minute or two it almost seemed like there was justice in the world. He also got to play songs that weren’t in high rotation like “You Were on My Mind” by We Five (which became a big hit) and “My Best Friend” by Jefferson Airplane, written by Skip from Moby Grape (who had been the drummer in the Airplane!) This was definitely the golden age of AM rock radio. Aretha, Beach Boys, Sam and Dave, Hollies, Spoonful. Black and white and multicolored all over.

Shortly after the Hippie New Year at the Avalon, it was announced that a “Gathering of the Tribes” would take place in Golden Gate Park at the Polo Fields. This was quickly dubbed a Human Be-In by some astute wag, and was a play on the Sit-In free speech protests that were going on in Berkeley. I went with a couple of friends from school, PJ and Fred, not really knowing what it was all about, but the SF scene had a nice feeling about it still and we were among the curious. We drove up in PJ’s mom’s yellow station wagon, the kind with the faux wood paneling.

It was a beautiful, clear, sunny January day. If it had been held on the Fourth of July or the summer solstice, it never would have worked. It’s hard to let your hair down when you’re huddled together in the cold. Summer in San Francisco.

The ubiquitous Golden Gate Park flutes and congas wafted across the enormous field. There was a stage and we sat on the lawn among everybody else somewhere near it, but it wasn’t a show or a performance related event. The master of ceremonies was a dark haired, bearded guy called Buddha. He reminded me of the fella who introduced the acts at the Avalon whose name was Eric. I have no idea who Buddha was or what his part in organizing the event was, but he put the spin on the event and my take on it was that it was about being there, and not much more. Quicksilver and the Airplane were there but they didn’t do any of their songs, just loosely improvised some ambient sounds appropriate for the day.

Timothy Leary was there too but didn’t give some long-winded lecture, just his usual exhortation to “turn on, tune in, drop out” and was off. Lenore Kandel read a few of her recently banned “Love Poems.” As if Erotica were subversive! America was showing its immaturity and this was the peaceful response of those who realized it. And speaking of banned erotic/subversives, Allen Ginsberg read a bit too as did Gary Snyder, I do believe.The connection to the beats was never more apparent. But it wasn’t about them, it was about us, and they happened to be among us, and we among them. It was matter of fact. Not everyone felt that way. The photographers were everywhere, pushing people aside, stepping on people, blocking views. They kept waiting for the big moment that was never intended to come. The big moment probably came when everyone walked to the beach at the end of the day to watch the sun set. But they were way too impatient for that. They were looking for the girls who were not wearing underwear. In the line of duty, of course.

There was only one really disturbing event that took place that day. The Hell’s Angels had offered to do what little security was required. (I suppose this was the precedent for having them do the incredibly ugly and ill-fated Rolling Stones concert a few years later at Altamont.) From what I could see, this meant chiefly keeping a watch on the generator off to one side and making sure no one pulled the plug accidentally or intentionally. A slender Angel who we were told was called Chocolate George (he was white, fyi) did the honors and he spent most of the day dancing by himself and greeting people who stopped by. The generator was on the side of the incline at the edge of the field, a good ways away from the stage. Toward the end of the day a group of clean-cut, muscular, white frat boys or jocks of some description, decided to stomp the outlaw deviant.  Which they did quite thoroughly and ran off before anyone could come to his aid. It was one of the more cowardly things I’ve witnessed in my time and it was hard to suppress the hope that the biker brotherhood might locate the perpetrators and exact a measure of their own legendary brand of revenge. This was, of course, quite contrary to the spirit of the day, which all in all was peaceful, joyful, and left a very good impression indeed. PJ, Fred and I thought they might be on to something.

These were bright spots. School was not going very well and things were worse at home. My father and I clashed when we did interact and he was pretty much drinking during all of the hours he spent at home. I’d often have to leave the house and spent the odd night sleeping in an unlocked parked car or the train station.

The band continued but as I started to spend more time in San Francisco my connections in San Jose where the band was based became more tenuous. It gets a bit vague for me here, selective memory I suppose, especially about what happened to a couple of the band members, but I remember quite clearly what happened to me. The band had met a younger guy in their neighborhood whose guitar playing and connections had impressed them, and they wanted him in the band. As lead guitarist. I was welcome to stay on playing rhythm. They’d decided that I was valuable cause I could do the high harmonies. What happened to our rhythm guitarist, I can’t remember. He may have dropped out previously but my suspicion is that he was let go unceremoniously. Why the two of us didn’t carry on, on our own, is a mystery. I was sixteen years old being replaced by a younger guy! The truth is, he looked older than me. His guitar playing didn’t impress me all that much, either. He had just the sort of callow tone you’d expect from a younger player. My suspicion was that they were impressed because his older brother was in a college-age band in Davis. Proximity to the big-time!

Most of this occurred because of DJ, the guy who’d been fired from People (no “the”) who we’d brought into the band on my recommendation and was my friend. He couldn’t get used to his loss of stature and so felt compelled to alter the composition of the band to improve its (and his) standing by whatever means possible.

I refused to play rhythm guitar. The band collapsed shortly thereafter.

As with most young bands, however, this did not signal a complete falling out. We remained friends, DJ and I, and hung out nearly as much as before, just as I still did with Dennis, from my first band. In fact, when I went to jam with Dennis and his friends, I was accorded a certain respect. After all, I’d been playing for well over a year. I could sing high harmony and I could play the intro to “Look Through Any Window” by the Hollies. Stand back! I still didn’t know you could bend notes, though, and slurred everything I thought was bent. Slurring when I should have been bending. Bent, not slurred. I know there’s a line in here somewhere.

I went to the Fillmore Auditorium for the first time that February. It was a Sunday afternoon benefit dance/concert. For the benefit of the SF Mime Troupe, I think. It went from 2 in the afternoon until 7 in the evening, featured Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish and cost $1.50. Read it and weep. Dino Valenti sat in with Quicksilver, an oil and water combination that Gary Duncan should have been savvy enough to recognize then and later. Subsequent “hits” notwithstanding. There’s nothing like an irate fan.

It was great. I saw Eric from the Avalon there and said hello and felt like I fit right in. Which, needless to say, I didn’t, at least superficially. Too young, prep school haircut still, but hey, this was all about not judging a book by its cover. The Fish were on when I went into the main room. A gigantic goldfish was being projected on the wall behind the stage and they were doing a long, slow, atmospheric, arpeggiated instrumental thing with no backbeat. Arpeggiated means you play the notes of a chord one by one, not all together at the same time. It was not improvised. People called it “trippy”. I think the song was called Section 49.

Quicksilver did “Pride of Man” and all of their great numbers, “Dino’s Song”, certainly his best contribution to that band, included. The Airplane’s second album, Surrealistic Pillow, had just come out, or was about to. I remember seeing the ad in the Chronicle and felt a certain regional pride. If that’s the case and my memory of dates is correct, then Grace Slick must have been in the band, but I quite frankly, don’t remember her from that day. Perhaps she was new and being worked in. By this time I was a regular reader of Ralph Gleason’s column in the Chronicle and in his notes at the bottom of the column he mentioned that a woman named Grace Slick had replaced Signe Anderson, who had gone off to Oregon.

I thought that name “Grace Slick” was the coolest name I had ever heard. I had a friend from school make me a button that said, “Grace Slick is the Answer” which I wore to the general consternation of friends and family. I had never heard her or seen her picture. But at the Fillmore that afternoon, whoever the female singer was, she didn’t make much of an impression on me. Why the Airplane felt they needed a girl singer when Marty (!), Paul, and Jorma all wrote and sang lead themselves already I don’t know. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a hint of early feminism in the decision. (Made by a group of men, mind you.) The way I read the scene, though, it was so across-the-board egalitarian, it was almost as though the categories into which liberation and empowerment ultimately became manifest had not yet been defined. It was still at First Cause. Of course women were strong, of course women had every right that a man did. This was a given. But this was also what was referred to in the press as the “counterculture”. The long, hard struggle to get this concept into the mainstream was yet to come. But it was also part of what made the counterculture appealing to those who viewed it from a distance.

Kassie Jo attended a non-violence workshop in Big Sur around this time led by someone named Joan. It was Joan this and Joan that for quite a while with Kassie. It took me a while to realize that she was talking about Joan Baez. Her song “There But For Fortune” was one of my mantras as I was trying in my own mind to work out the numerous injustices found in the social fabric. So I was quite impressed and impressed in general with non-violence, which, if nothing more, certainly gets the sympathies running in your direction. I knew about Gandhi, and of course, Jesus Christ did not resist violently,  but I associated it more with the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King knew its power in eliciting public sympathy. I could certainly sympathize with those who felt that a more, shall we say, aggressive approach was in order, but King’s way, god bless him, prevailed. Big time. This is a very difficult lesson to learn and remember and also to know when to use. Which MLK certainly did.

Around this time I decided that the Catholic Church was a load of rubbish. Sister Mary Clarence (yes, I had a half dozen other nuns, too, but she was the one that stayed with me) told us that one day we’d go off to Stanford and the professors there would tell us that the Church was not the “one, true, way” but that we must keep the faith no matter what. It was inconceivable to us that we’d stray. At that time nine out of the ten boys in class were intending to be priests and the same number of girls were headed to the convent.

For me it happened a good bit before college and not at anyone else’s behest. I’d simply decided that I could trust none of what I’d been told and had to decide for myself what was real. Which doesn’t sound that earthshaking but for an ex altar boy who had never missed mass on Sunday (it was a mortal sin, eternal damnation!), never ate meat on Friday and never went past making out with girls, it was hanging some pretty serious fire. I went to the principal of the school and told him that I wanted to be excused from all mandatory religious functions, including mass. He asked why. I said I was at the point where I couldn’t accept that this was the way to go just because I’d been instructed so, and couldn’t continue, in all good conscience, to carry on with it. To my surprise he said, “Well at least you’re thinking about it, which is more than most folks around here do.” Spoken like a true Jesuit. And he let me off the hook.

Now, of course, I didn’t know any girls any more. I was still in the all-boys school and was no longer in a band, and hung around at the Avalon with people who were older than me. So it didn’t do me any good in that category. But that wasn’t the point. I really didn’t believe, in all good conscience. But it’s amazing how much of that stuff stays with you. It becomes so psychologically archetypal it makes you wonder if it’s been there all along.

.The thing about a classical Jesuit education is, it doesn’t really teach you any marketable skills, but it teaches you how to think. My first year Latin teacher used to say, “I don’t care if you remember this specific point, but if you can remember how you got to this point, that I care about.” Although we had no art, no music, no shops of any kind, no biology, no typing, driver’s education, this was a valuable skill, especially in relation to sorting out music, which was all I cared about. My guitar never did sit in the corner as my mom had feared. I was still struggling away, learning about bending strings and such. “That’s not music”, my father the expert would call out from time to time. Once we were watching Tony Bennett sing on a talk show and my father stated, “I can’t hear any music there”. He was right that time. It was one of those times when the overtones and fundamentals just stayed discrete and didn’t resonate one against the other. Who knows why this happens, but it does, even with symphonic orchestras. No magic. This speaks almost directly to the nature of music. Is it music if it doesn’t resonate and blend with other resonances? It’s a scary thing to ponder but the answer almost certainly seems to be no.

And you can’t force it, either. If it’s not happening the best thing you can do is relax, keep trying and not let the fact that it isn’t happening blow you away. Until it starts happening again. And let’s not even start about educating audiences to hear new resonances.

The “Summer of Love” was about to begin. The “Death of the Hippie” ceremony had taken place several months before, and many of the folks that had moved to the Haight Ashbury for its tolerance and low rents were moving out to rural areas. But for music, this was the only place to be (with the possible exception of London). It was like being in Prague in late May. Music everywhere. The Beatles had released Sergeant Pepper (the Beach Boys remarkable Pet Sounds had been a bit earlier), the Airplane had been scoring heavily, the Doors were exploding, every San Francisco band was getting signed to major record labels, AM radio was playing album cuts and long songs. And the City was getting flooded with kids from everywhere.

There was an amazing music festival on Mount Tamalpais in Marin County at an outdoor amphitheater. The woods were full of booths, arts and crafts, wandering musicians and mimes. I’d never before been there and thought it was the most magical place on earth. Which it may well be.  I was alone. We were bussed up the mountain from the Tamalpais High School parking lot. I have no idea how I got there. It was totally eclectic. Jefferson Airplane, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, the Fifth Dimension (yes, that 5th Dimension) Country Joe and the Fish, Dionne Warwick, the Doors, Sons of Champlin. I sat in a tree overhanging the sloped rough-hewn stone seating. Champlin announced the birth of a baby son and Dionne exclaimed that this kind of event could not happen anywhere else, save possibly New York (that’s a paraphrase). I already dug Dionne and all the Bacharach-David stuff she was doing, but I gained a new respect for her and the 5th Dimension cause they played backed only by a piano trio and really got it across anyway–amidst all of the amplified rock and roll. I still hated the Doors, although Light My Fire had recently catapulted them to headliner status at the Fillmore, over the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, to my chagrin. Vox Continental, indeed. But an even more incredible event was about to happen just south in Monterey which drew everybody in the music business and was a springboard for many a band in the Summer of Love.

This, of course was the Monterey Pop Festival, before Pop became a derogatory term. The weekend before Monterey, though, the Who were booked to play the Fillmore. This was a long awaited event. By this time we had got hold of the Can’t Explain and Substitute 45s from a shop in LA, two galvanic rock songs if ever there were any, and the Who had achieved a somewhat legendary status among the cognoscenti. Remember, the Plague did almost every song on My Generation. The Who had no radio hits in America at this time, and in fact took quite a while to break big in the US for reasons I’m sure even they would be hard pressed to answer. I was a bit skeptical myself of their live act. The instrument-smashing live performances were known to us and I couldn’t help but wonder if they weren’t a cover-up for insufficient skill.

Sometimes it’s great to be wrong.

They played two nights, Friday and Saturday. It was the weekend before the Fillmore went to a summer schedule, during which the bands on the bill would play six nights in succession, and the weekend before Monterey. Somebody called the Santana Blues Band opened the show and to my surprise I recognized the organist from William Penn and His Pals. The Loading Zone, with the very soulful Linda Tillery, supported, and the Who headlined. In those days there were six sets a night. Opener, support, headliner, then opener, support, headliner again. People still don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I have the scars on my posterior from sitting on the floor through many a trying set (usually by the Dead).

First of all, let me just say that the Fillmore Auditoium is and was the best place in the world to see a band. Capacity one thousand, no seats, good acoustics. Small enough to actually see and hear a band without a whole lot of sound and video reinforcement (you can hear the sound of the amps onstage!–pre microphone), large enough to feel like a real venue, not just an uncomfortably packed nightclub. And you can wander there, upstairs to the balcony on two sides, to the bar on the side downstairs (although no liquor was served at this point in its history), to a restaurant upstairs.

The road crew came on to set the stage, in more ways than one. After setting the amp line they (or he) made quite a job of nailing Keith Moon’s drums and cymbals to the stage. Tension was high. The band came on stage in the dark and a group of young guys behind us yelled in unison: “Can’t Explain!” at which point Pete Townshend, in a full length blue satin robe with white pants underneath exploded into the chords from–Can’t Explain! This was the most exhilarating, electrifying rock and roll performance I’ve ever witnessed (with the possible Moby Grape exclusion, as I mentioned). Tight? They were incredibly tight. Harmonies? Right in tune! Moon alone was worth the price of admission. Dynamic, explosive, hilarious. He sang along with every number acting out the lyrics from behind his kit. They had to turn his mike off–until of course, he sang lead on the Beach Boys “Barbara Ann” which he announced by blowing into what looked like a big conch shell. Looking at Daltrey, who also had white pants on, a red and white checked shirt (very understated) and a fringed leather necklace, I decided I would never eat again. He was obviously the archetypal rock star and he was impossibly thin!  He also moved really well and although he had the poofiest hair I had ever seen at that point, he was not effeminate. This was the English standard and it was hot. Entwistle was rock solid as well, sang harmony extremely well (I’ve never seen the Who sing harmony so precisely since), and was quite a good cue taker!

After the first set I saw my friends upstairs in the cafe.

“Did you see that?” I cried.

That’s all I said. We all fell on the floor laughing hysterically. Literally, on the floor of the Fillmore cafe. Delirious with glee. Stone cold sober. They smashed up the drums and flung some mike stands, bounced the Strat a bit at the end of the second set during My Generation, but for me, it was anticlimactic (although I was still totally captivated). I was so buzzed from the music there was nothing anyone could do to top that. It was stupendous.

The following week the Fillmore went to the six night a week format. Mondays dark. Same three bands all week long, same set configuration. In addition to Sergeant Pepper, which was truly the soundtrack of the time and had blown everyone’s mind, a song had appeared on the radio that rocked as hard as anything I’d ever heard. It was Purple Haze by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was not a fast adrenaline type of thing. It was kind of slow but it had a bounce that took you to the floor and then sent you through the roof and then back again. It was heavy. This was a word that was just coming into use and had a variety of applications. It was basically interchangeable with the word “profound” in the circles I ran in, especially if something was profound in several different ways simultaneously. Insightful. Lots of ramifications. It was a psychedelic word. In Hendrix’s case, which became the case for pop music in general for a while, it meant sonic gravity, which was accomplished by turning up the bass and distorting the guitar signal. Of course, as soon as people understood what the word meant, it began to be used to connote a similar message (i.e., profundity) when describing things diametrically opposed to the thing for which it was originally coined. For example, a very delicate Hendrix track, say “Drifting” which fairly floated out of the speakers was also “heavy.” Because Hendrix by that time himself was heavy, whether he played heavily or not. All I guess I’m really saying is that the word was used to convey that something had weight, which is hardly a novel use–the weight of opinion, the weight of the world, the thought weighed heavily on his mind. That it began its journey describing distorted guitars and lots of bottom on the bass is probably the distinguishing element in this observation. Ultimately, as colloquialisms often do, it came to mean “good”. “Cool”. And don’t get me started on “far out.”

The real beauty of slang, in addition to its colorfulness, is that a single word can take the place of almost every other word in a given language. If you can dig that, we dig you. Dig it! But connotations change and sometimes not for the better. At about this time I started referring to males as “cats” and females as “chicks.” No evil intent here, it was musicianspeak. And I still do at certain times to a certain extent. You have to be careful who you use the word “chicks” around, though.  You could say it to Chrissie Hynde and she probably wouldn’t bat an eye, but outside of musicland (and even in some of your more militant or PC music circles) you might get your head handed to you. And god forbid you work in an institution with any trace of bureaucracy. You pretty much have to adopt a shamelessly banal “workplace persona” in order to avoid the firing squad. The more it changes the more it stays the same?

I think it was Jerry Garcia, our own Captain Trips, who said that when he first heard Purple Haze on the radio it had an energy unlike anything since I Want to Hold Your Hand. I Want to Hold Your Hand with a big libido. The first week of the Fillmore summer series had Jefferson Airplane headlining, the Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo supporting and the Jimi Hendrix Experience opening. I will always be forever in Bill Graham’s debt for introducing me to such a variety of musics, especially live jazz. You might go for the Young Rascals but you also got exposed to the Gary Burton Quintet. I saw the Yardbirds (Jimmy Page edition, fyi) with Cecil Taylor (now that was a bill for the ages!), the Who with Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd (17 pieces), the Airplane with Cannonball Adderly (w/Nat and Joe Zawinul!), Miles (headlining) and numerous others. Blues, folk, r & b, Latin & bluegrass, too. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.

My only regret was that I missed Otis Redding’s show at the Fillmore. It was just a bit before my time there and his time ran out shortly afterward. The incomparable Otis, straight from the Georgia woods.

I caught Jimi & co. on the last night of the run, Sunday. Grace was ill that night and the Airplane didn’t play but Big Brother and the Holding Company filled in for them. They had an album out on a small label called, ironically, Mainstream, and “Down on Me” and a couple of other tunes were getting airplay. But we were there for Hendrix. I went with my drummer friend from the Plague, Al, and the two of us got there just as Hendrix was going on. There were maybe 150 people in the auditorium. Tops. We figured that everyone who had wanted to see the show had already been and what with the Airplane’s cancellation… There was no tension at all. It was offnight at the club stuff. They were really loose and relaxed, did a version of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the song). Jimi would announce the song (He used the same patter night after night year after year–”Now we’re going to do a song called ‘Hey Joe’, 1967 style. Now we’re going to do a song called ‘Hey Joe’ 1968 style… and so on.) and then they’d jam on it at some length. Nothing truly inspired, just having fun. They were good, but all in all it seemed a bit anticlimactic, which I’m sure it was following on the heels of Monterey and a full week of Fillmore shows.

Start

I still spent a bit of time in the South Bay with my friends from school and the now defunct band. There were two camps. One with DJ the drummer from People (no “the’) who’d also been in the Plague briefly and was fast becoming one of my best friends despite his part in the demise of the band. His friend, Dave, who was a year a head of us at school was also a music fan and lived across the street. Dave and I sat for hours in his suburban bedroom and marvelled over Sgt. Pepper and its creativeness–the guitar played through the Leslie speaker, the tape loops, the great and innovative tones they got on every instrument, how well each part was constructed. He was a good musician and had an engineering bent too, which eventually became his calling. He got the first moog synthesizer I ever saw and later developed and marketed the first popular polyphonic synthesizer, which was a great success. I’ve heard, although not from him, that he was instrumental in the creation of MIDI (musical intrument digital interface-a standard electronic protocol), too. Well done, Dave. At that point though, we just loved music, especially the Beatles. The other camp was a couple of neighborhoods away with Greg and Al, who were the original rhythmn section of the Plague. I stayed at their respective homes for weeks at a time.

One night a group of us were in downtown San Jose, near the San Jose State campus at a place called Jonah’s Wail. This was a Christian coffehouse and featured many of the hipper folk acts around the area, as well as some rockers doing the unplugged thing.

We were just hanging out when word came to us that a friend of a friend had some LSD for sale and did we want any. We did. We pooled our money (I’m sure Greg must have paid for mine) and bought  a few “hits”. We split the pills up and took a half each and waited around the club for the effects. Not much happened but our adrenaline was flowing enough that we thought something might be.

“You feel it yet?”

“I think so, you?”

And so on. Finally we drove to a park across town and climbed up in a big tree, around five of us, and sat joking and goofing off, possibly feeling some mild effects but just generally in very good spirits. A police car pulled up. Our vibe was so good though, no fear, no hostility, that it all turned into a good goof with the cops, too. They let us try on their caps and fool with their nightsticks. We were no threat and they needed to kill some time. We eventually ran along home and went to bed and slept without further incident. Whether or not we actually “got off” on the purported LSD is subject to speculation.

This happened with pot, too. The first few times we tried it we spent the better part of the effort trying to decide if we really felt it or not. Which means, of course, that we didn’t. We wondered if you had to develop a new kind of recognition of what was happening to you to feel its effects. I think we were reaching a bit here but I can’t be sure. It’s possible that we were experiencing the infamous summer pot drought that used to occur in the Bay Area and may still, and were smoking impotent (male?) plants that were being passed off in lieu of the good stuff. Hard to be sure.

A few weeks later Al went off on a school trip to England. It was decided that Greg and I would drive to LA and meet Al’s plane there when he got back, and the three of us would hang out at Disneyland and in Hollywood. We set out in Greg’s mom’s enormous Mercury sedan. We met Al at LAX and when he got off the plane he was dressed in a purple velvet waistcoat over a Nehru shirt and was carrying a Hofner bass guitar (like Paul McCartney played) which he’d got for $90.00 U.S. We were very impressed.

When we got to Disneyland we had to buy cowboy hats to hide our hair under to get into the park and when we got hassled by security we used English accents (again) which always threw them off. They were incredibly uptight there in those days. I had my “Grace Slick is the Answer “ button on which they made me take off, sure that it conveyed some encrypted subversive message. We were just kids, though, going on rides, meeting girls, that sort of thing. Dennis and Don happened to be there with their parents as well. We discovered that the Clara Ward Gospel singers were playing in the Pepsi Cola saloon in Frontierland and sat in the stage box for every one of their shows for the better part of a day.  Pounding out beats, singing along. Especially Don and me. The younger girls in the group liked it. Clara Ward’s next engagement was to be in San Francisco. At a place called the Fillmore Auditorium.  It’s a small world after all, and believe me, that was a world apart.

On our last night there, near the Matterhorn, a guy came up to us and asked us if we wanted to buy some LSD. In Disneyland, of all places, with security tighter than a nun’s knickers. We did. This time it worked. It was hysterical. Two girls from Marin County tagged along with us as we went tripping on Dumbo’s flying circus and the rest. Al and I used English accents and Greg, who wasn’t able to manage one, would try to blow our cover which only added to the hilarity. Al was pretty convincing what with his English coins and clothes, and I did a mean Cockney (via Michael Caine’s Alfie), which veered into Brooklynese and then Yiddish. Great gas, as the Irish say. When Disneyland closed we went back to the motel, packed up our belongings and drove to Hollywood.

We were on the Sunset Strip by maybe, 2:00 a.m. The place that still seemed to be happening was the Hullabaloo and it accepted all ages. I don’t know if they filmed the tv show there or not, but if not, it was outfitted identically. Go-go dancers on tall risers flanking the stage, same jumbled-letter logo, same revolving stage. As one band played, the next was setting up behind the partition that split the turntable. No set change down time. As one finished, the stage started revolving to reveal a new band already playing. The W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band was the featured act. I ordered the mandatory drink, a coke, from a waitress, but it was unlike any coke I’d had before. My palate had become incredibly sensitized by the drug and I was able to identify dozens of different flavors in the soft drink. All of which seemed incredibly amazing, singly and in various combinations. I think Wow is the word that became commonly used to characterize psychedelic experiences of that general variety. The scene at the club, though, was not nearly as hip as what was going on in San Francisco. We left the strip near dawn, heading for the Bay Area and feeling pretty darn smug.

By the time we reached Santa Maria, not quite halfway home, Greg’s mom’s car gave out. Completely. Al’s mom drove down the 200 miles to get us. So much for smug. They dropped me off at the San Jose train station where I barely caught the last train of the day north to my home town. I walked the two miles from the train station (no snow) home and when my mom asked me how my trip had been I was so burned out and exhausted I could hardly answer. They left the car in Santa Maria and got a new one. Nice work if you can get it.

Meanwhile, back at the Fillmore the British were establishing a new beachhead.

Following the Who and Hendrix came Eric Burdon and the Animals (formerly just the Animals), Cream and the Yardbirds. It’s true that the Mindbenders had played the hall and the Yardbirds had even done a Sunday afternoon show there before, but those were isolated incidents in comparison  to what became a full-on onslaught and continued through the lifetime of the Fillmore and the Fillmore West. I missed the Animals, I’m sorry to say. I had actually gone out to the SF International Airport to see them when they came around the first time on the heels of House of the Rising Sun a couple of years previous. Here’s the kicker. A friend called and said he was going up to see them on the last night of a two week run and did I want to go. The answer to that was yes but I couldn’t come up with the $2.50 or $3.50 (no more than that) for a ticket so I missed out. When I saw my friend again I asked him how it was. He said that they were great and not only that, but at the end of the second show they asked if anyone wanted one of the amplifiers which they were unable to take back to England.  I was crushed. The true bane of my existence was the lack of a decent amp, which had hindered all of my musical efforts and which I suspected had something to do with my demise in the Plague. And the band had given one away! And I wasn’t there. It was a very SF thing to do, to give away an amp. Share the world, imagine no possessions, the true utopian hippie philosophy. But people who actually had possessions were not especially keen on parting with them, so this was one of your classic missed golden opportunities. For the lack of $2.50, or whatever.

Another great thing about the Fillmore was that the band members would often be hanging around in the hall before or after they played. This still goes on to a degree. In fact at the last two shows I’ve seen there, Dave Davies and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I’ve bumped into Dave and Mike Campbell in the halls. No big deal, but at age 17 it was pretty darn exciting. And presented some opportunities.

Cream came, pardon the expression, for two weeks following the Animals and the buzz, at least around musicians, was big. The supergroup hype was building but the public wasn’t really exposed to the group as yet. At that period of time, let me get in a dig, often times the musicians and the listeners who really had their ears to the ground were the ones who gave groups a buzz. Not this, we’ll buy some time on MTV, or let’s get someone who looks like Bobby Rydell. It was important to know how to listen. Sermon over.

A piano player in San Jose who had dropped out of my school first introduced me to “Eric Clampton”, as he called him. He played me an album he had which I think was a compilation which featured a group called Powerhouse, with Eric Clapton on guitar. So far so good. This of course, led us to the John Mayall and the Blues Breakers record, which band included John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac, for those of you wholly without clue) on bass and Clapton on guitar and which became for all of us guitar slingers something akin to Scripture. Along with B.B. King’s “Live at the Regal.” Now that was B.B.!  Then, all of a sudden, something called Fresh Cream appeared in the window of the Radio Repair, of all places. Where it undoubtedly languished for quite some time.

The band was not languishing, though, and the rumors surrounding their San Francisco appearances were flying. Someone claimed to see Ginger Baker shooting up drugs on stage. Cream and amphetamines were often used in the same sentence. “Clapton is god” appeared on the mensroom wall of the Fillmore, crossed out and replaced with “Hendrix is god”. The people I went to the show with spent the entire car trip talking about “caps” and “tabs”, “double domes” and “flats.” I had no idea what they were talking about but I was afraid to reveal my ignorance, or lack of hipness. Finally I deduced that they were referring to types of pills, specifically LSD. I got a full lesson in “mics” or micrograms by the time we reached the hall.

When Cream came on, Ginger Baker was eating a hamburger during the first couple of songs. A rather standard ingestion, I thought, if a bit casual. They were obviously good and rather unlike any other band I’d seen. Now that I think about it, very few bands were alike in those days. But Baker played some odd phrases that didn’t seem to start on the one, and yet were not coming from the swing jazz tradition, that I could tell. The bass player was extremely gifted, if a bit busy, and sang like an angel. Clapton could sing too. But his guitar was really singing. He could sustain notes indefinitely it seemed. And he too had stuck his finger in the socket resulting in the electrocuted hair style also being sported by Skip from the Grape and Hendrix’s rhythmn section. All in all they were a force to be reckoned with.

I don’t want to imply that drugs all of a sudden started flooding the scene with the advent of Cream. They were most assuredly rather ubiquitous by this time. It’s just that I wasn’t that aware of it.

I don’t know if this was the Summer of Love, which seemed even then to be some sort of media construction, but it most certainly was the Summer of Music.

The Yardbirds were next. And this one was eagerly anticipated for a variety of reasons. One, I had done every Yardbirds single known to man in bands I was in and dearly loved them all. Also, Jimmy Page had recently taken over the guitar chair formerly occupied by Eric Clapton and more recently by Jeff Beck. Not only were those two semi-legendary already, but the rumor was that Page had been on between 60 to 90 percent of all singles released in England in the mid-sixties. Among them Kinks, Who, Them, Rolling Stones, Petula Clark, Donovan… the list went on. What exactly he had done no one was sure but his reputation preceded him. My friend Dave had a t-shirt made that said “Jimmy Page is God”. Another hat in the ring. You had to know, to know about Page.

Actually, he had been around with them on their previous trip to the States, on bass guitar for most of it. Chris Dreja was the rhythm guitarist and Beck, that’s Jeff Beck, was the lead guitarist. However, Beck quit the band while on tour and they finished up without him. This time Dreja had moved over to bass and Page was on guitar. A bone-colored Telecaster with a psychedelic paint job. Page had three Fender amps piled one on top of the other and wired together through the inputs on the black-faces of the amp heads. I had never seen this, but I never forgot it. He wore Arabian slippers–the kind with the curled up pointed front. Velvet jacket and ruffled shirt. Weighed about 94 pounds. Keith Relf, the lead singer/harmonica player, wore rose colored slacks with a Nehru shirt. Maybe 95 pounds. Macho was not happening here at all, but they weren’t especially foppy either.  The guys in the rhythm section were, by comparison, non-descript.

I was in front.

They came out and started tinkering with their instruments, a little feedback here and there, a cymbal splash or two, a bit of harp, when all of a sudden the drummer hit two sharp snare beats and they were off on “Train Kept a Rollin’”. This is one of the great, galvanic rock songs, this version anyway, of all time. Right up there with the likes of All Day and All of the Night and I Wanna Be Sedated. Page was phenomenal and Keith Relf, who by this time must have been used to holding his own with some pretty incredible guitar players, was a revelation on harp, trading fours with Page and getting every bit as stratospheric. He also seemed a bit fragile, psychologically, but he could play. They were an interesting combination of slick and loose. They followed with a version of Mr. You’re a Better Man Than I which segued into Over Under Sideways Down— a bit of pre-planned show biz, but they also took liberties with their hits and stretched out considerably on many numbers. They were the first band I heard the word “experimental” associated with (several years prior) and they had also been part of the package tours of the first wave so I suppose this combination of characteristics was inevitable.

It’s amazing that the public got a handle on this band at all. By their first U.S. album release, Eric Clapton had left the band. Their first single, For Your Love, featured a harpsichord as primary instrument and their first album had a picture of Jeff Beck on the cover sitting at a Hammond organ. Beck was not on the album as far as I know. In fact, he was only on side one of the second album, side two of which was a collection of live performances which featured Clapton, who was probably out of Mayall’s unit (his subsequent band) by this time. But they kept having hit singles, some of which, Shapes of Things, for example, were really pushing the pop envelope. I believe the only recording Page had done with the band by this time was the incandescent single Happenings Ten Years Time Ago, one of perhaps two known recorded Yardbirds songs which feature both Beck and Page. (The other being Stroll On, which was Train Kept a Rollin rerecorded under a different name for the Blow Up film.)

Before the second set I, still desperate for an amp, caught Jimmy Page on his way to the stage. I hurriedly explained to him what had happened at the Animals show a few weeks before and wondered if there were any possibility of the same thing happening again. In other words, could I have one of his amps. He did have three. (I didn’t say this.)

It took him by surprise a bit but when he realized what I was saying, he broke into a big smile, laughed and said that the gear was the road crew’s responsibility. And off he went.

My friend Dave was there also and spoke to Chris Dreja, I believe with the same request. This was not the only time we chatted up our heroes. One time we caught up with Page (at a subsequent show) and asked him about his session work. His legendary session work. This was during Led Zeppelin’s first tour. They were supporting Country Joe and the Fish at the Fillmore West. We were incredibly curious. Had he been on Can’t Explain? All Day and All of the Night? Gloria? Did he do the brilliant guitar work on Baby Please Don’t Go? Was he in fact responsible for every great thing that came out of England? The mind raced.

But he was modest and self-effacing.

”The Zeppelin is what I’m into now. That’s really where it’s at for me,” he said, unwilling to list his achievements.

But we were undeterred. As shy and tentative as we were it’s surprising that we had the temerity to continue.

“Have you done any sessions for the Beatles?” we asked, starting at the top of the mountain.

He brightened. “No, but I would if they asked me!”

Now we were getting somewhere.

We said “We know you’ve done something for the Stones, won’t you tell us what you’ve done?”

But no.

“Just one title, Jimmy, come on!”

“O.K., I did the solo in Heart of Stone.”

Yes! Back home we put on Heart of Stone. Absolutely not Keith on the solo. Keith could never have played that one. The legend grew. One time Dave cornered Eric Clapton at Winterland during a night when Cream topped the bill. I think the show was Cream, Siegal-Schwall Blues Band, Blood Sweat and Tears and Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs.

He asked Eric who he thought was the better gutarist, Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page. Clapton said he thought Beck might be a little better. Then he went on and recorded “Wheels of Fire.” That night. That show.

So the Summer of Love was all about music for me. I was not into the drugs and sex part much but rock and roll I couldn’t get enough of. I was still living at home, although avoiding it as much as was possible, and I had a year left of school before college, which was, after all, the point of going to a college prep school.

But I knew what I wanted and without any doubt whatsoever. And it wasn’t done in college.

But I wasn’t about to bail on school at that point, not with all the other geezers falling by the wayside. It was a point of honor, even though my main motivation lay elsewhere.

Also, what else was I going to do? School was loosening up, too. The young Jesuit scholastics were nothing if not liberal and were very interested in what was going on. Much of it was spiritual, that was apparent. And addressed social concerns, too. Along with Cicero and Seneca we were studying Simon and Garfunkel in Humanities class and Comparative Religion all of a sudden became an option, rather than Dogma IV. We studied Taoism and Buddhism in a bastion of Catholicism. So things were opening up a bit and my friendships there were deepening as well. Part of the lure of the “drug culture” then and perhaps now was that it was like joining a secret society. You didn’t reveal the fact that you smoked pot, for instance, to anybody, and if you did, a bond was formed between you that was not shared with the outside world. It was like working for the resistance in an occupied country during World War II. Which, with the coming of Nixon, it began to resemble. But that’s jumping ahead.

You became sort of automatically hip (then–I’m not sure the social and cultural dynamic is at all the same now) and it also demonstrated a willingness to look at things in a new way. Psycho-active drugs, pot, lsd, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, were thought to be 1) mind expanding (which they most certainly can be) and in some circles, at least, 2) sacramental. Which they also can be. I certainly never understood the point of a ritual until my friends and I started rolling and smoking joints in our secret catecomb equivalents. Alcohol was completely out of the equation. Why on earth would anyone do anything that made them stupider and duller than they already were? This was about heightened senses, new perspectives, and not a little bit about friendship.

I had, in fact, smoked very little pot. Couldn’t afford it for one thing, even though at that time a “lid”, usually about 3/4 of an oz., sold for $10. But occasionally someone would give me enough for a joint or a friend would have a bit. My drummer friend from the Plague, Al, sometimes had some and when we went to the Fillmore together that fall, occasionally we’d light one up.

“You feel anything?”

“I think the streetlights look different. Bluer.”

“Really?”

“I think so.”

I swear it took half a dozen times before we actually felt the effects. Kassie Jo was well into college and Dennis was off to art school so the exposure/access to pot was increasing.

I had two really good friends living down the Peninsula to whom I had not revealed my, what the press came to call, “experimentation.”

One day they were dropping me off at my parents home and we started talking about it. Not only were they not vehemently opposed, they were interested. I let down my guard. Now we were co-conspirators. You could buy pot and acid in the Haight on the street. It had been somewhat discreet but was becoming more and more overt all the time. People were smoking it openly on “Hippie Hill” in Golden Gate Park and all pot was meant to be shared (no Bogarting) so great groups would gather and wait for someone to light one up and circulate it. I don’t ever remember buying any, but I must have, down the road apiece.

My drummer friend from school, DJ, from People (no “the”), and I were getting tight too. He had bought Jimi Hendrix’s recently released second album, the incomparable Axis, Bold As Love, and didn’t like it.  So he gave it to me. It blew my mind. I couldn’t understand why John, who was my musical superior in many ways, didn’t hear the brilliance of this record. It was his influence that had expanded my ear the most in the previous year and he couldn’t hear Axis! Perhaps he had reached the limit of the ways in which he had been listening and needed a new approach.

I had some pot. Some good pot. He came over to my house and we walked to an easement a few blocks from my parents’ house and smoked it. DJ, who was very sure of himself became a bit less so being on new ground. It was interesting to see. We went back to my house and into my closet where my record player was. A little mono job probably 20 years old, but you could play stereo records on mono players at that time. Once we got past the dippy alien voice bits at the top of the album he was hooked. By the end of the gorgeous solos at the end of the song “Axis, Bold As Love” we sat there with our jaws on the ground, never to be the same again. Bold As Love. What a strong sentiment. And no bolder, I would hope.

He took the album back. So much for love.

My peninsula friend, PJ, and I loved rock, loved to read about rock and started going to the shows together on a regular basis. We were always discussing Ralph Gleason’s column in the Chronicle (we thought he got it wrong most of the time), the new local publication Rolling Stone, and a Xeroxed periodical, called Crawdaddy, he’d picked up in a Menlo Park bookstore. The bookstore was also one of the few places you could get advance sale tickets for the Fillmore and Avalon and he often picked them up for us if anything looked interesting. And a good deal did.

The Fillmore shows were really catching on, many of them had to be moved over to Winterland a couple of blocks away, which had a capacity of 4500 compared to the 1000 the Fillmore held. The Airplane and the Doors each had huge radio hits over the summer, and generally played Thursday night at the Fillmore and Friday and Saturday at Winterland. And the Avalon, bless its heart, was unchanged. Very few English bands played there, unless they’d had a falling out with Bill Graham for one reason or another. But Quicksilver, the Dead, Big Brother, Moby Grape, Steve Miller and numerous others were still playing there on a regular basis. “May the baby Jesus shut your mouth and open your mind” was their motto. Words to live by.

Back at school, DJ from People (no “the”) and I were talking about starting a new band with Al on bass guitar. Al who had been a drummer but since purchasing a Hofner in England had become viable as a bassist. A three piece. A power trio. Cream and Hendrix were trios and so were the Who and the Yardbirds, albeit with lead singers. All three of us could sing. Captain Toad was formed. I think Dave came up with the name.

I still had no decent amp and was borrowing a horrendous old Ampeg, I think from the kid who had replaced me in the Plague. It was the kind that had the tube and transformer chassis mounted upside down in the main speaker cabinet. You unclasped it, removed it, flipped it over and laid it tubes up on top of the cabinet. Some people, who have not had to rely on these in performance, believe that they are cool, vintage amps. They do sort of look look like it, but there was a reason why it had been loaned to me. For one thing, there was no way to generate a desirable, controllable feedback. The signal immediately degenerated into a piercing shriek when pushed. This was no Fender and it certainly wasn’t a Marshall, which Clapton had been using with Cream that summer at the Fillmore. All I needed was a decent sustain, which was just then coming into fashion and which is still with us, and all this thing would do was shriek. Let me just say that there are few things worse during a performance than faulty gear.

Still beggars can’t be choosers. More words to live by. Buddha with his begging bowl never had to try and cop “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream in front of an audience with an out of control amplifier. Beyond all that, I suppose.

And, of course, getting that sound in order to play those songs was the sine qua non of guitar playing in a rock three-piece band. How else could you fill the space? That was the thinking, anyway.

Captain Toad rehearsals often went like this. Band gets together, chooses songs and leaves me alone to try and work out the guitar parts while they go out for the rest of the day. I’m not joking. No compassion, just get it done and when you do we’ll be back to play through the songs. One afternoon during a session such as this, the band chose Purple Haze, Tales of Brave Ulysses and Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul to learn. A friend of the band happened to be there and realized the enormity of my task. He asked with a note of true concern if I thought I could do it. I wasn’t sure but I would try.

They left me alone for the rest of the day, with a portable record player on Al’s mom’s living room floor. I dropped the needle on those records thousands of times, over and over, trying to hear, finger and memorize those guitar parts and solos. You’ve got to love it. A lot.

I never forgot the compassion of our friend. I suppose you can’t be too solicitous in a situation like that but a little encouragement is not out of order. Ten years later, the same drummer, DJ, and I asked a keyboard player to learn a certain song part and left him to his own devices. When we came back he was still sitting at his Hammond and had been unable to make progress. I sat and helped him pick it out. I’d been there. This is something I would do well to keep in mind at all times. No coddling, just a bit of compassion. Wisdom to live by.

We played a few gigs, mostly at teen clubs and dances in the South Bay. I think it was over by Christmas. Al was really a drummer and I had no real amp. I forget how it ended but I think John bailed after a Christmas holiday dance we played. I seem to remember him telling me during the load out that he was finished with it. I was hurt but tried to take it well and without rancor. Al was totally irresponsible and somebody had to take responsibility. The few friends we had there apparently already knew and had an attitude of suppressed glee. People love breakups. When somebody else is breaking up. I’ll tell you what, though. I learned a lot more than they did. All those long hours of dropping the needle on those 33 rpm records did not disappear when the band did.

One night early that fall, Al and I went to see the Jefferson Airplane at Winterland. Somebody to Love and White Rabbit had introduced them to the mainstream and everybody and his brother had the album, Surrealistic Pillow, from which those songs came. We had made up our minds to go to the Haight beforehand and try to buy (“cop”, as the slang had it) some LSD to take for the show. We got into town late but there were still quite a few people on the street.

We approached a guy selling the “underground” newspaper Oracle on the corner of Haight and Masonic, diagonally across from the Psychedelic shop, and asked if he knew where we could cop some hits of acid. He did and led us to a flat in a Victorian house on Waller around the corner. He rang the bell and a youngish, barefoot guy (well older than us, however) with long thick black hair wearing velvet bellbottoms, a long sleeve pullover shirt and beads around his neck came down the stairs and answered the door. The newspaper vendor explained what we were up to and the dealer asked us to come in and wait at the foot of the stairs while he went back up for the goods.

It was classic. We stood in a green light at the bottom of the stairs just inside the front door. There was a faint scent, incense, in all likelihood. It was like being in a movie, the Belmondo movie, only in a different location. Colorful, exotic, full of intrigue and danger. The barefoot guy returned bearing tiny green capsules. They were two dollars each. He gave the vendor one for his troubles and we bought four, one each and two for friends we were meeting at Winterland. We thanked him and stepped out the door onto the landing at the top of the stairs. And as we did, of course, a police car came heading down the block right toward us. The dealer bristled but we had done the innocent routine in front of cops before and betrayed nothing. The police car drove by. Just a couple of kids visiting a friend in the Haight. But now “holding”.

That was one of the cool things about Janis’s band’s name, “Big Brother and the Holding Co.” Not only was it a business term but it indicated being in possession of drugs. “Are you holding” was the hip way to ask if anyone had any drugs.

But we weren’t holding for long. We were coming on. In a big way. In other words, we ingested (“ate”, as yet another hip cliche would have it) the capsules and started feeling the effects almost immediately. This was the real, potent, deal, much stronger than the stuff we bought in Disneyland. I just know I’m going to be hearing from Disney’s lawyers about this.

We drove over to the Fillmore district. Parking was a bear, even then, and we ended up in an alley not far from the auditorium, but close to 2000 light years away from where I was heading internally. We bought tickets and headed inside. I hadn’t been there since my mom had brought me to see the Shipstad’s and Johnson’s Ice Follies a decade or so before.

They always had free apples in big metal tubs just inside the front door of Bill Graham shows at the Fillmore and Winterland, just as they always gave away posters for the following week’s show as you left the hall. There were also big balloons bouncing around the hall which helped pass the time during the set changes.

I followed Al into the main hall rushing like a maniac. The Airplane was already onstage and a voice was soaring into the rafters.

“Sock it to me, Grace,” I said, exhilarated as all getout.

“That’s Marty” Al corrected, intimating that I was incredibly out of touch.

So it was. That was Marty’s voice splitting the air like a laser. It was a packed house. The Airplane really had taken off and I was definitely going with them.

As always happened at Winterland over the course of numerous long nights there, I became separated from my friends. This time almost instantly, as Al went to find the people whose acid he was holding and I searched for somewhere to be while coming on to the LSD that was in my system.

I found a spot on the floor, amidst a sea of people facing the stage which was located that night on the long dimension of the rectangular room on the left as you entered from the street. A gigantic projection screen ran the length of the room behind the stage, from stage height almost to the top of the balcony. Winterland was not a ballroom like the Fillmore or Avalon, it was a small arena with a large, steep balcony that ran around the room on three sides. I was somewhere in the middle, on the floor, and I didn’t move from that spot for the entire night. Physical movement is entirely optional on LSD. You can spend the entire trip dancing or you can spend hours on end in a single yoga posture. The real journey is much like the space travel described by Carl Sagan in his novel Contact. No one knew that the travelers had left and very little time had elapsed for those who were not on the trip. It is a different space/time continuum altogether, and the profundity of the relativism is indescribable.

And it can go further than that, too. Isn’t it said that Einstein was trying to prove the existence of God via his theory of relativity? My experience that night started out much like my Hawaiian Woodrose adventure. Watching the relationships between the light show and the music, perceiving the sensory activities, observing the thought processes vis a vis the sensations. Experiencing it all merge and then becoming self conscious again and watching the process reinitiate. I was only occasionally aware of the people around me. I was vaguely cognizant of the fact that the guys behind me were gay. They were clean cut and had taken their shoes off and were in stocking feet. They made a few comments about me among themselves but in general left me to my own devices. No one else made an impression. I thought that the people doing the light show must be tripping too. The effects they were creating were so synchronized to the music and to my perceptions, I felt certain we were on the same wavelength. But in truth, the physical surroundings and the awareness of those were just the staring points for my journey, and quickly devolved into very primary vibrations which in turn led to an whole other kind of being, experiencing.  Have you ever been experienced, indeed.

At a certain point I realized that the show was over. Clever of me.  However this was something I was totally unprepared for at that moment. Negotiating the exit of the hall and finding the car? Not likely. Fortunately I ran into Al whom I had not seen since we arrived. He knew where the car was. He led me to the car and then went back to find some friends to what end I can’t recall.

I was laying on the hood of his car in an alley in a decidedly unsafe part of town pondering the universe at 2:30 in the morning. A car full of young tough looking guys came slowly down the alley looking for action. They pulled up right next to where I was sprawled but I just played it cool. Gave them nothing to engage with, good, bad or indifferent. Especially no fear. It had worked with the cops earlier, after all. They rode on. What a trip! From the dangerous to the sublime and back again.

The concept of righteousness became a big thing at that time. It’s kind of a funny word. It almost connnotes some kind of moral superiority. Holier than thou. And if you’re not careful, leads to Sanctimonious. It probably really only means trying to do the right thing. (I don’t have a dictionary handy.) It was a nice touchstone word though, because you could use it to describe fairness, kindness, decency, etc. in a context where those concepts might not seem desirable, and still sound hip. That was perhaps the number one good thing about that particular popular revolution. For all it rebelled against and all the walls it attempted to tear down, it did not do so with violence and the elimination of decency, which are so often posited as necessary evils in cultural upheavals. In fact it gave those of us who had been brought up with a strong sense of right and wrong a new forum in which to exercise those easily atrophied muscles. It was a new and relevant church, if you will. I hope that doesn’t sound too sanctimonious. It was righteous. For all those who are bitter about the outcome of say, the Vietnam war, it was the desire for good and nothing more that brought it about.

Civil rights andthe elimination of prejudice were really zooming into the forefront as well. Another opportunity for righteousness which easily, much too easily, became righteous indignation. Is it my imagination or does indignation never work?  Especially in bad traffic. When JFK died it became incumbent upon LBJ to continue his legislative work, possibly chief among which was the civil rights legislation. The sentiment in favor of this very controversial legislation was enhanced by the death of the president (Death almost always emotionally popularizes its victims) and LBJ actually had the experience and wherewithal to make this legacy a reality, something that was definitely not a foregone conclusion during JFK’s administrative lifetime.

All this stuff found its way into the music. Popular song, which had traditionally addressed the concerns of individuals and interpersonal relationships, was becoming politically relevant and powerful. It certainly had its ancestry in folk songs and I suppose you could argue for spirituals, but as the Byrds, et al., popularized folk-rock and Dylan himself went electric, this historical movement dovetailed with the newly emerging “societally conscious” (as the market research people say) pop music producers and listeners. And the market itself was expanding. Exploding.

It was my senior year and although I’ve never been enamored of cliques and was on pretty familiar terms with all the guys in my year, I nevertheless hung out mainly in three circles. One was with DJ the drummer and the musos, one with PJ from the Peninsula who was and probably still is my best friend, and a third with a new friend from San Jose named Pat. Pat was a drop-out from the seminary who came to my school mid-stream and had all the classic proclivities of a male member of a strong Irish Catholic family. But not a dysfunctional family, like mine.

He himself was strong, had strong moral sensibilities, and was becoming interested in guitar, rock and roll, and pot, in no particular order. He had two older brothers who were great, well-adjusted guys (this in itself was something of a revelation to me), a cute younger sister and his mom raised bloodhounds. It was an easy friendship to make.

One of the first things I remember about him was that somebody stole his sweater off the back of his chair during class. It was passed over to the window aisle. Somebody whispered “throw it out the window,” which the guy who received it promptly did.  Pat sat there helpless, fuming. By the end of the class he was livid. If there’s ever been a case of “getting one’s Irish up” this was it.

At the end of class he retrieved the sweater, then he retrieved the guy who had thrown it out the window. He was shaking with emotion as he pinned the guy to the wall and lifted him up. We thought it was going to get extremely ugly but somehow he mastered his emotion, set the guy down, and walked off. He didn’t need to say anything more and no one ever tried anything of the sort on him again. The ex seminarian.

He also liked to drink as did his brothers. They gave me a ride from San Jose up the peninsula one Sunday on their way to a Forty-Niner game. Drinking all the way. I hated alcohol on principle but they prevailed in getting me to drink a few beers on the ride. I didn’t want to be sanctimonious about it but on the other hand it wasn’t very righteous of them. I staggered home from the freeway offramp and watched the game with my father who had had more than a few by that hour of the day. It was probably one of the few times we were together in the same room in a semi-harmonious state.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I sit in judgment of my father, although I did somewhat then. I’m not one of these bitter “I had a lousy childhood” types. Mostly I avoided him which seemed to suit him just fine for the most part. Yes, he did pretty much drink all of the hours he was not at work and yes, we did clash most of the times we interacted. And while I’m tempted to say it was his prerogative (the boozing), being the breadwinner, the father, etc., it might be more accurate to say that he might have had his reasons, however little I understood them at the time, and however supportable or insupportable they might have been. We became a lot more tolerant of each other once I moved out of the house. And, as a historical aside, I might mention that he has since stopped drinking and smoking (The “family” room, actually the tv room, was always filled with the smoke from his Kool regulars). That took another decade or two however, and he accomplished it without external assistance.

And since we’re talking about him, especially vis a vis my recent non-expert remarks about the civil rights movement of the time, he was a terrible bigot. At least he tried to come off like one. No one understood Archie Bunker any better than he. In reality he treated all people (outside of his family) very generously, but the vestiges of the racial struggle that he fought through growing up impoverished in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century remain. In fact, he still uses the expression “stupid Mick” from time to time. As if he weren’t Irish himself.  It’s all about separating yourself from what you feel is inferior, isn’t it? Or what you believe is perceived to be inferior, which may even be worse. What price individuality? What price success? What price freedom? What price survival? Fortunately, these issues are not always matters of life and death. Success nowadays seems to be more a matter of not shooting yourself in the foot repeatedly. Something that sounds easily accomplished but may not be so.

Senior year in school was probably the best. After a fast start during freshman year I had fallen near the middle of the pack and languished there for the next two. I did all right in language related stuff but anything I had to work at (i.e., spend time on) like math or chemistry did serious damage to the g.p.a. And the school posted your overall standing in the class. So even though my energies were elsewhere, namely music, it was still galling and somewhat humiliating to watch your standing fall in full view of your friends. Fortunately there were more electives in senior year. I loaded my plate with language, humanities, religion and the like and watched my ratings climb without any change in school work habits. It was cheating of a sort, but I was not interested, as were my friends, in going to Stanford or an Ivy League University. I only cared about music as a path and I had made up my mind to either go to London, or now that San Francisco had become a bona fide music mecca, move into town. The only problem with that strategy was the draft. The Vietnam war was getting out of control and the number of guys getting drafted was increasing. Going to college gave you an exemption from the draft. I wrote to the University of London and got their literature. Much too expensive. I had nobody from school or home counseling me on the ins and outs of student loans or work/study programs, so I dismissed it out of hand. University of San Francisco, where my brothers had gone, was private, therefore expensive, so that meant San Francisco State, which was the only school to which I applied.

Word got out at school that I was hanging out at the Fillmore and Avalon. After all the press of the previous summer the world was aware of the scene in the city. Certain factions were less receptive than others at the outset.

“So, Dunne, did you drop acid over the weekend?” Said in a highly derogatory manner.

This from a guy who was busted for selling drugs a couple of years later and whose picture appeared in an article in Playboy which showed him sunbathing naked on the roof of one of the school buildings at Stanford.

But generally, this kind of reaction was in the minority. I started going to the Fillmore with friends from school more often than not. Most often with PJ. He took to Quicksilver like I did and we were first in line at most if not all of their local shows. We were true fans. We also liked the new British stuff and were looking forward to the upcoming Pink Floyd and Procol Harum shows. Pink Floyd was scheduled to play with Big Brother, a show that was big enough to be moved over to Winterland, but the Floyd had immigration problems and were delayed a week. This meant that they were on the bill with Procol!

This was on the heels of each band’s debut record. The Floyd’s was called A Piper at the Gates of Dawn which is the name of the singularly surreal chapter in A Wind in the Willows. This was impressive. And Procol’s Whiter Shade of Pale was and is indisputably brilliant, as was their album.

The Floyd were out of control. Syd Barrett was playing a white Telecaster through a giant amp stack (Marshall?) and was not getting particularly desirable sounds. The screeching noises that he seemed unable to manage in the least never did coalesce through the course of either of their sets into much of anything listenable. It was disappointing. It’s hard to justify being “into” a band when they can’t pull it off live.

Procol Harum, on the other hand, was magnificent. We were right in front, center stage. They were tight, rich and towering. Gary Brooker was in fine voice and they sounded as good if not better than their excellent record. The guitarist, Robin Trower, was a bit quiet at first, but we yelled “Robin, turn it up!” and he sheepishly acknowledged that he knew we were right and he did. Gibson SG with Marshalls. Fat. Or Phatt, as they spell it nowadays. And perhaps no one was better than B.J. Wilson, their dauntless, resourceful and solid drummer, who was wearing an orange college sweatshirt. We also yelled for the instrumental which closed their album, “Repent Walpurgis” which they obliged us by doing.

The following week Procol played again, only this time they were supporting the dreaded Doors, who obviously had no shame or sense of propriety whatsoever. The Doors with their histrionic singer and their twinky Vox Continental organ, headlining over the majestic Procol, replete with Hammond organ and grand piano. Unacceptable.

Bill Graham came out after Procol’s set to introduce the Doors, rolling out a tv on a cart. He said, in his inimitable way, “Would you please welcome the Doors” and turned on the tv. The Doors were on a network broadcast at just that moment, following which they came out onto the stage. It was a pretty neat piece of timing. DJ was with us that night, deigning to attend based on the strength of Whiter Shade of Pale’s undeniable worthiness. He threw a Fillmore apple at Jim Morrison during the band’s first song but escaped undetected. In all honesty, though, the Doors were incredibly tight that night and actually did a credible job following Procol. It still pains me to admit it. The audience, needless to say, was more than delighted.

Just about everybody I knew started smoking pot around this time. We used to buy it on Haight Street, the drug emporium of the west. With the influx of people from all over came the influx of opportunists and the rip-off artist was born. What had been and still was a relatively benign scene started getting a bit more dicey following the Summer of Love.

The education of the street was upon us. Still in school, short hair, decent clothes, it was easy to see us coming. Guys would walk up and down the length of Haight from Masonic to Stanyan and back again whispering “lids, acid” to passersby they thought might be interested and/or safe, i.e., not narcs. At that time most of these dealers were legit but you had to be careful nonetheless.

The rules were: Always check and smell the merchandise–if it didn’t have that unmistakeable aroma, take a pass; Never show money–it got so bad in the Haight eventually that you didn’t want to show your money at the counter of a grocery store for more time than was absolutely necessary; Do the deal in an obscure but not too isolated place; Be ready to eat whatever you were holding in case of a possible bust; Be cool–there was enough tension in a deal without adding to it.

Of course you didn’t get wise to this by reading about it. You learned the hard way. A friend of mine from the Peninsula, not PJ, decided that it would be a good investment to buy a kilo rather than a mere lid, which was usually an ounce with a few joints removed by the low level dealer for his own use. I had no idea how to get a quantity like this but I knew the price was around $100 (not the $65 Marty Balin sang about in 3/5 of a Mile in Ten Seconds).

We went to Haight Street. A black guy with an afro and a beard I had seen around there before, whispered “lids” as we walked past. He seemed benign enough. We told him we were looking for a key. He said he had it and arranged to meet us off the street a couple of blocks away in 20 minutes. He arrived carrying a heavily wrapped parcel in a brown paper bag. He was nervous, or so he said. He didn’t want to be caught with such a large amount. It was dangerous to do this on the street. We got nervous. We took the bag and pulled back some of the heavy plastic wrapping. There was definitely an herbaceous block in there. We gave up the cash and lit out for the safety of the car. We tore it open. It was a shoe box with chopped up plant material glued to the outside. Quite the elaborate production. We went back to the street, bought a legitimate lid after smelling it, and went home. We saw the same guy on the street many times in the future but what could you do? Chalk it up to experience is about it.

Pot only appealed to me for a brief amount of time, perhaps a two year span in my late teens. I smoked it occasionally after that, mostly as a social thing but I didn’t really like the effect it had on me. Many people it relaxes and enhances their ability to enjoy food, music, reading, whatever, but after a point it just made me self conscious and incapable of relaxing. If I were to try it now I’d spend the better part of the experience waiting for the effects to wear off. Not much point in that.

But I was just getting into psychedelia at that time, as were we all.

New Year’s Eve ‘67-’68 found me at Winterland. Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Freedom Highway. 9:00 p.m. til  9:00 a.m. Breakfast included. I kid you not. It was epic.

Somebody had given me a genuine Owsley pink wedge (it was a pill that was meant to be divided into four wedges). I should capitalize that. Owsley Pink Wedge. Owsley was a semi legendary chemist/inventor/friend of the Dead/rich kid gone psychedelic entrepeneur. His acid was definitely legendary. I had hung on to this partial pill for months waiting for this New Year’s Eve show.

It was packed. Janis’s star had risen meteorically (couldn’t resist!) and San Francisco in general seemed to be the center of the universe. And the first step through the universe began at Winterland that night. A brief history of time. There were certain rituals at Winterland. The apples, the posters, the balloons. Playing the Chambers Bros. song “Time Has Come Today” between sets before a psychedelicized audience. With its declining cowbell clock followed by faster and faster regenerating echoes. It was like the metronome of the space/time continuum being perceived first hand. Not some theoretical mathematical model. It’s hard to convey this without sounding cheesy, but trust me, the roots of consciousness were in full evidence.  A brief history of consciousness, only in the world of infinite relativism, who’s to say what’s brief?

As usual, I got separated from my friends almost immediately. I sat in the floor level grandstand seats behind the stage and projection screen and came on. That is, began to feel the effects of the Wedge. Even these rows were crowded at that hour. Quicksilver was playing. They occasionally had a bit of a biblical tinge, and when they played Pride of Man, John Cippolina’s odd speaker configuration with the singular Wurlitzer brass horns made him sound like the angel Gabriel at the walls of Jericho. Even more archetypal than that really. The clarion call signalling the first manifestation. The Wedge was incredibly powerful.

After their set I wandered upstairs and bumped into John Cippolina, the band’s guitarist, on the stairs coming down from the balcony. I blurted out “You are my me” which as soon as I said it sounded like it proceeded from the same sort of syntactical source as “I am He who is”. A bizarre ontological moment, with a distinctly biblical flavor. All I really meant was that I’d like to eventually be a guitarist in a good band like his, but that’s what came out. Everything was evolving or devolving into pure being, even language. Becoming being–and vice versa—Being becoming. I had to go and sit down, that much was evident.

For the next couple of hours I was vaguely aware of my surroundings. I remember noticing how well Janis was received, what an outpouring of love and energy was being sent her way and being returned. It was an authentic star turn, the likes of which you hardly ever see ‘in person’. If my existence at that point suits the expression.

The truth is, I was far from Winterland as the year ended, only occasionally visiting to take notice of this or that event. Following the Airplane’s set a guy dressed as Father Time rode through the crowd on a white horse. I was so high at that point that I could barely identify that collection of energy and molcules as, in fact, a white horse. And it took me forever to decide if the music coming out of the speakers was being played live or was a recording. The sounds didn’t take the shape of noises produced by identifiable instruments, they sounded like elemental boings and boinks. I’m tempted to use words like vibration and reverberation and resonance and wave form and such but boinks is what they really sounded like. There was a jam session after midnight with members of all four bands participating. Marty, Grace and Janis standing in the middle trading “yeahs” for the most part with Duncan and Cippolina and the other guitarists flanking them. I’d been wandering and decided to sit again. Things thinned out just a bit following the New Year celebration and Bill Graham came out to announce, not the next band, but the next music to be played between bands. “Ladies and gentlemen, the next music is by a group, without whom, none of us would be here tonight.” He played Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The hair on the back of my neck stands up even now as I recall the moment. It was profound, profoundly benign and could hardly have been more inclusive. I came down some off my peak.

I spent the rest of the night dancing with myself. It was great fun. By this time in the dance/concert scene, the only place left to dance was in the shadow of the speaker cabinets, to the sides of the stage, from which the bands were not visible. I literally went for five hours or better just bopping away to whatever was being played. But I was not fully carefree. I recognized that I had gotten way out there or in there or wherever it was, and I wondered if I was going to get all the way back.

One time a friend and I were hitchhiking from Seattle to San Francisco. It was getting dark and cold and we had no idea where we would spend the night and had no money at all. It was the kind of situation where you don’t want to button that last button on your coat even though you’re freezing because if you do you’ll have played your last card against the cold. Anyway, at one point my pal turned to me and said, half in jest and half dead serious, “I wish I was 10 years old at home with my mom.” In many ways this was what I felt while dancing out my excess energy on that Winterland New Year’s Eve. At least part of me did. A few people commented on the lunatic who could not stop dancing, but it was a good release and I didn’t pay them any mind. At eight  in the morning breakfast was served and I ran into my friends in line. I could tell it had been pretty epic for them too but I’m quite certain we had no idea how to talk about it. We just knew.

The following evening I was still tripping some and showing no signs of being able to sleep. I was getting nervous and called Kassie Jo. She met me on the street halfway between our houses. I told her I was afraid I would never come down. She told me not to worry and asked what I had taken. When I told her she said that she thought that an Owsley pink wedge was in fact STP, not LSD, andthat the effects lasted a lot longer, as long as three days. Which was daunting but at least some kind of an explanation. And had a conclusion predicted. I went home and stared at the ceiling all night long trying not to worry. At school the next day I was exhausted yet still feeling the effects, but by nightfall, the drug/experience had worn off suficiently for me to fall mercifully asleep.

For the first time in a long time I was not in a band. This may explain why my grades went up in my last year of high school but probably not. As I said, I took classes that I could manage without effort and I got a bit better at playing the game. For example, rather than actually learning any Greek, you could analyze the course material in terms of its probablility of ending up on a test. You could factor in the teacher’s zeal or lack of it in including awkward (for the purposes of a test) material. Then you learned the probable bits, put them in short term memory and bingo, survival was yours. And you saved space in your memory for really important things like the chord progression to “Can’t Let Go” by the Hollies. Which had about as much likelihood of ending up on the SAT as Attic Greek, which I had taken for two years, in addition to my required four years of Latin.

Though I wasn’t in a band, per se, playing opportunities did not stop altogether. DJ and I put together an ad hoc rock trio and played Purple Haze and Sunshine of Your Love at a pep rally. Then we got on the bill as an acoustic duo at a school sponsored hootenanny and did Sounds of Silence, We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a lot less rock and roll) and Let’s Get Together, the song that became a big hit later on for the Youngbloods as Get Together but was kind of a standard in the folk rock scene prior to that. This was a big success. Picture in the school paper (“Peter and John entertain a bevy of beauties” read the caption) and we were chosen to close the annual school variety show which was held each year at the San Jose Civic Auditorium.

Once I heard Glen Campbell and Ray Charles on a tv talk show discussing professionalism. They concluded that it is the ability to conceal your mistakes. I don’t know if this holds true everywhere but in performing it’s got to be 9/10ths of survival. This is one of my many Achilles heels. I’ve watched numerous performances get mangled–blown lyrics, painfully out-of-tune singing, the works. But if you keep a smile on your face, few seem to be the wiser and you live to see another day.

We decided to add a rhythm section and got a drummer and bass player (our friend Dave) to back us up on three numbers. We decided on Sounds of Silence (again), At the Zoo, both by Simon and Garfunkel who were the darlings of students and teachers alike and, if we got an encore, Every Little Thing by the Beatles. If we had repeated the Hootenanny set we would have gone over like crazy, but we picked what in retrospect looks a bit peculiar. At the Zoo was a late addition and I was scrambling to master the fingerpicking style while singing lines such as “Zebras are reactionary, antelopes are missionaries, pigeons plot in secrecy while hamsters turn on frequently, it’s a gas, won’t you come and see, at the zoo.” Or lines to that effect. The other two I had down.

DJ was nervous. “You’ve changed the picking pattern!”  he accused. He was right. I began to lose confidence. The trouble with headlining is that you’ve got to sit and wait for every other act to go on and perform before you do. The waiting is the hardest part. More time for your nervousness to compound.  And my partner’s nervousness was focused as criticism of me.

The old San Jose Civic at that time was about a 3000 seat venue. We (the school, that is) had presented the Association, the band whose songs Along Comes Mary and Cherish were riding high on the charts, there earlier in the year. And it was pretty near full for our school variety show. Lord knows who they were.

Finally we were announced. I started Silence. So far so good. Everybody in the house knew it and John and I could always sing harmony well together. Good ovation. Now At the Zoo. Halfway in I mangled the picking pattern. It wasn’t a complete train wreck but it was obvious enough for people to pick up on. I was mortified and DJ was livid. I recovered enough to get through it and at the end the MC announced that we would do another song. But the damage was done. The evening was shattered. We played Every Little Thing and got off.

The teacher who oversaw the event asked the MC why he’d given us another song. DJ was contemptuous.

“You’ve made us lose our dignity” he said and stormed off.

I was crushed. His opinion was the one I cared about most in the world when it came to musical matters. Which were at the center of my world. Complete shame and devastation. I hooked up with a couple of friends who lived in the area and went off to hide. I was very distraught. Pat was one of the friends.

“I thought you recovered nicely and the last song was fine,” he said.

But I was inconsolable, humiliated. It was the first time I thought about smoking pot as an escape rather than as an enhancement. We smoked a bunch of reefers, which we were likely to do anyway, and listened to Janis and the boys doing Down On Me.

At school, nobody much commented on it. One guy said he thought he noticed me slip a little in one of the songs but that was about it as far as feedback went.

But DJ regarded me with disdain for a good while afterward. After all, I was responsible for his loss of dignity in front of the whole school. At the end of the year he signed my yearbook. “You are forgiven, yes you are” he wrote, quoting the Who’s mini opera “A Quick One While He’s Away”. Big of him.

The school also had its first ever Art Festival that year. Pretty daring for a school that did not offer art in any form. My peninsula pals and I decided to do a short film which led to the decision to have a film night be part of the Festival. We got some help from a young Jesuit scholastic who also oversaw the school paper. He had friends in the film industry and got us a camera, film stock and a hot splicer for editing. A storyboard we did not have.

We decided to go to San Francisco and film in the Tenderloin. We used black and white film and shot street scenes, people passed out in doorways, begging on the street. Decaying buildings. Decay in general. Then we shot color footage of a toddler who had just begun to walk, wandering around on the back lawn of a suburban home. High concept. We also, for a reason that escapes me entirely, rented a boat on stow lake, dressed up one of our friends in a military uniform and had him walk the plank of the boat. Fully clothed.  Probably just to see if he would do it. Or maybe it had something to do with a general mistrust of the military. It ended up on the cutting room floor.

Basically we made sense out of the footage in the editing stage, primarily through what we thought were clever or poignant juxtapositions of the black and white and color images. We had no audio capability so we timed out bits from the newly released Days of Future Past by the Moody Blues. This was the record that they did with Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Festival Orchestra. We started with the voice-over which began “Cold hearted orb which rules the night, hides the colors from our sight, red is grey and yellow white, but we decide which is right and which is an illusion.” Which we found appropriate for our overt use of black and white depressing imagery and color shots of hopefulness and promise. This bit led into the orchestral intro to Nights in White Satin which we played in its entirety. For the  second half of the film we used the even more somber Repent Walpurgis. Thought provoking.

I saw the Moody Blues about 15 years later at the Universal Amphitheater in L.A. I liked “Go Now”, their first hit, and I liked Justin Hayward’s material for the most part but their conceptual stuff was hard to take seriously. Somebody gave me comps for the show so I checked them out. I had seen them at Fillmore West in the 60s and they were a pretty straight ahead rock band at that point, but this production in L.A.was amazingly cheesy.  Except for Justin Hayward’s songs. He carried them. When they got to “Nights in White Satin”, right in the middle of the intro, the audience stopped the show. With a totally spontaneous, heartfelt, standing showstopping ovation. I had never seen a rock show stopped before and I have not seen it since. And it was an outpouring of emotion for a song, not for an individual. I doubt if the people in the audience could have named one band member. But they knew Nights in White Satin and it meant something to them. It was worth having to sit through watching the bass player dancing around the stage with the girl background singers to experience that moment. What a song.

What I want to know is, why didn’t someone tell the bass player in the Moodies that his cavorting was lame? Was it some kind of negotiated band decision? He held out for the right to do that in order to agree to allow the band to play Nights?  Did they test market the idea and found that people liked it? Was he just feeling giddy? I hope I’m not the only one who found it dopey. And if I am, my opinion should still prevail, consensus seekers. My suspicion is that as people get older, they get closer to the cliff of lameness. One false step and they’re over. Everybody talks about how young people need mentors, but in matters of this nature, they should be doing the mentoring.

Another case in point, same era. Steve Winwood at the Universal Amphitheater again. Comps again too, but  I’ve always loved Stevie and was looking forward to this one.  He hadn’t performed in a long time and had a new record out that was getting a big push. I hadn’t seen him since Traffic was touring. Totally dark auditorium. Out of the darkness comes the slow, pregnant piano riff that starts “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” a bona fide classic. Single spotlight on Stevie sitting at the piano. The audience is completely drawn in. It is masterful, electrifying. I’m thinking, this song is so epic that if he does it right, bringing in the various pieces one by one and building to the climax that is on the original recording, that he could just play this one song and everyone would go home satisfied. But no. One verse which ends with the title of the song and he segues into the instrumental Glad. Spell broken. Shattered. And it only gets worse. Someone has told Steve that this is the MTV generation and he must be visually exciting. He dances with his background singers. He launches into an endless run of songs from his, shall we say, Less Than Inspired period. One of the background singers is so bored that she sits on the drum riser during much of the set. Steve moves to guitar, mandolin, organ. He tries to do a lead singer shtick. Visual interest. All Steve Winwood needs to do is sit at his keyboard and sing and play his songs and feel it the way he does so naturally. That is more than enough. It’s soulful. Soulful works. Really. But no one has told him this. So he cavorts and destroys what could have been a supremely satisfying musical evening. Madonna cannot sing like Steve Winwood. She cannot play like Steve Winwood. Few can. She needs to do the big production. Make the distinctions. Get a young mentor. I guess it’s not enough to just play a good song.

We called our film Repent Walpurgis. Obscurity value. And it was a good song. I was growing my hair out surreptitiously. Slicking it back for class or hiding it under a cap. Hiding generally from uptight teachers and administrators. I intended to show up on Film Night looking like an artiste which to my mind meant having long hair which, of course, was strictly forbidden.  The little theater was full. My partners had foolishly smoked pot and wanted no part of facing the audience. I introduced the film. I was wearing a sport coat over a paisley shirt, hair newly washed and fluffed. Hair makes the man. The music worked, the edits worked. The audience got it. It was about something. It was about promise and failed promise. Hope and futility. It was cautionary. The other films were incoherent. Even the Q & A following was good. We were triumphant.

At 8:45 the next morning the vice principal’s voice came over the intercom. Will Peter Dunne please report to my office immediately. This was not a question.There was a barber shop located conveniently across the street from the campus. So much for the artiste.

That was probably my last haircut for the next two years. But it prepared me perfectly for my Senior Ball, had I gone. I had tried to convince the steering committee to hire the Quicksilver Messenger Service to play, but their asking price of $1500 was too rich for the school’s blood and there was skepticism about the appropriateness of that band as well. They ended up hiring a band from Fresno called Rake’s Progress for $500. Friends of a committee member. However, as fate would have it, it was announced that the Yardbirds would be playing at the Fillmore on the night of the ball. No contest.

But other, more important things were happening as well. We were becoming more aware of America’s involvement in the escalating, undeclared war in Vietnam and had participated in student strikes which commemorated our dissatisfaction with it. And the civil rights issues were white hot. It was one thing to enact new laws and quite another to see the spirit of those laws assimilated by a culture. These were powerful, emotional concerns which all of us were confronting and confronting each other about. And the confrontations were worldwide. Prague, Paris, London and you’d better believe San Francisco.

We got to the Fillmore really early in order to sit on the floor right in front of the stage. We parked quite near the hall and were first in line and first in the doors. The sets started and the house hadn’t filled at all. The Yardbirds by this time was a band on its last legs. They’d had a minor success with Little Games but the hit parade was slowing to a halt. Still, this was a 1000 capacity venue and less than 100 people were in the house. This dampened our enthusiasm not at all. Jimmy Page was god, after all. It said so on Dave’s shirt. I don’t know if he represented divinity in any way, but he was awfully creative. I watched him take a violin bow to a Vox 12 string on Tinker Tailor and his wah wah effects were wildly innovative. Keith Relf looked a bit jealous of all the attention Page was getting, but he may have been upset by the lack of audience in general. The Yardbirds were his band, if anyone’s, and he had weathered the comings and goings of three of the most influential guitarists rock has produced, to say nothing of the vicissitudes of the music business in general. If the band was surprised or disappointed by the turnout, they didn’t let on. But they must have known. Martin Luther King had been assassinated and there was a riot going on outside. The entire Fillmore district had been cordoned off. Fires were blazing everywhere and there was a tremendous outpouring of rage and frustration. A fireman told me that he never had anything but cooperation in that area previously but feared for his life that night. And with good reason. On his way to a blaze his fire truck had been shot at. He’d found that a bullet had passed through the back of his seat and had lodged in the dashboard in front of him. We got the hell out of there. From all accounts the Senior Ball had been a smashing success.

The senior retreat was coming up, an opportunity for religious contemplation. But by senior year, there were quite a few non-believers who wanted no part of it and for whom other arrangements had to be made. I was not one of them.  I, who had long parted ways with the faith, thought it would be a major opportunity to party with my classmates, and I was majorly right. My group went off to the seminary at San Juan Bautista where we quickly broke into two groups. Those who smoked pot and those who drank wine. Jesus Christ drank wine, Dunne, I was often told when declining the grape. It’s not that I was resistant to the idea of religious contemplation. My psychedelic experiences had reinforced religiosity in me as had a recent school sponsored Sensitivity Session.  It was led by my Comparative Religion teacher who was the object of some ridicule for his sincerity and earnestness. We thought anyone so lacking in cynicism must not be very bright. The night prior to the sessions, PJ and I had gone to Winterland. Moby Grape was headlining, with Traffic (their first appearance) the Lemon Pipers and Spirit, respectively. We went up to the Haight and bought some crystal methedrine on the street. This was the first time we tried it. We brought it back to the hall and sat on the floor in full view of everyone and divided it up and ate it. We took what we thought were conservative amounts. The first part of the speed experience is very pleasurable. Love for the world. The way it should be all the time. Stuff like that. Traffic was excellent. Steve Winwood, 18 years old, like us, filling a 4500 capacity hall with only a drummer and flautist/saxophonist as accompaniment. We were ecstatic. We caught him coming off the stage. “Anyone who knows, knows that you’re the best, Stevie” said PJ.

Moby Grape followed. One of the few bands that could, we thought. The band set up and Bob Mosely stepped up to the microphone. We don’t like this any more than you do, but Skip is not here tonight. We started to come down. Just a bit. The band covered for Skip’s absence admirably, they still had four singers, after all, but something more than just the high harmony was missing.

PJ and I left the concert and went to Golden Gate Park, wired as all get out. We parked by the windmill at the west end of the park. And talked. About Life, Death and Things Religious as we laughingly referred to such matters. Only we weren’t laughing any more. We spoke about our sincere teacher who we decided was perhaps not so stupid after all. The things he was sincere and earnest about were the important things, which far outweighed his apparent naivete. We were having some kind of religious realization, it seemed. A recognition of the importance of goodness and an awareness of it in others. This was not a new idea but we were looking at it from a new perspective. This was a powerful thought and one that we carried back to school with us the next day, still speeding. We resolved to buttonhole the teacher and tell him that we appreciated what he was doing. It was an act of contrition in very real terms, not unlike what the 12 steppers do at the end of their program. For some reason we felt it was important to speak with him before we went off to the Sensitivity Session, possibly to assure him that we would take the session seriously and partly just to clear our consciences.

He looked totally mystified when we cornered him. Fortunately we were still sufficiently under the virtuous influence to maintain our new generous spirit in the face of utter cluelessness. It would have been fatal otherwise. So off we went to bare our souls in front of a small group strangers and schoolmates, to reveal things we would never ordinarily speak of and to be sensitive to others revelations. But the real sensitivity session had actually happened previously, in a parked car in Golden Gate Park, after a night at Winterland.

The official program of the senior retreat was incapable of being taken seriously and wasn’t. We spent most days climbing the hills and smoking pot in the trees and most nights we spent in the bathroom hyperventilating from holding our “hits” in our lungs too long. Pat Hogan was the widely accepted master of this technique. He would proclaim that he would get every last bit of goodness out of the pot that mother nature put in it. This just prior to passing out from holding it in so long. He was a god. He was also the best joint roller and a steady stream proceeded from him for the duration of the retreat. There was no escape.

One of the kids had written an anonymous tell-all of his recent experience on methedrine to the school paper. It was histrionic and obviously an attention getting device but it had successfully aroused the ire of the administration and no one was really sure of the author. During a bogus Sensitivity Session the kid who I suspected of writing the letter innocently brought it up. He was a born thespian, big in our drama club and I wanted to see how good his act was.

“I wrote it”, I said.

This took the attention away from him, to his chagrin. He quickly recovered.

“Did you really, Peter”, he with utterly false sincerity asked?

He had expected his creation to become a hot topic of controversy which would reflect some sort of rakish favor on him, since it was widely suspected that he was the author. I looked him in the eye. He now expected me to say I was just kidding.

“Yeah, I wrote it,” I said. “It was no big deal.”

End of histrionics. I doubt that anyone believed me but it took the air out of his tires. In the rooms down the hall a gang of guys was singing “Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine…” I went back to the bathroom where Hogan was into his second kilo. Retreat this.

Jimi Hendrix had become a big star by this time. He was headlining at Winterland by his second tour . Quite a jump from opening the show at a 1000 seater to top of the bill at a 4500. He had, however, the misfortune of having Albert King opening the Winterland show with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with Mick Taylor on guitar and a horn section, in the middle slot.

In all fairness, no one could have followed King that night. By the time he had finished explaining the blues to a throng of enthralled suburban kids, the night was his. “If somebody stands you up on a date, you got the blues!” he explained. Sounds corny and obvious but they were eating out of his hand, I kid you not. And he was obviously authentic, old fashioned and a seasoned consummate entertainer. He could sing and play pretty well , too. And everybody knew “Born Under a Bad Sign” thanks to Cream. Larger than Life.

Mayall had never been around before and along with the Yardbirds, his bands were the acknowledged official breeding grounds of brilliant British blues based guitarists. Clapton, Peter Green, and now Mick Taylor, who would soon after join the Stones. By the time Jimi came on he was into full jive mode. The waiting is the hardest part. He looked great. Blue velvet toreador jacket over white bell bottoms. He bumped. He ground. He did sound effects. The kids loved it. Most of them, anyway. But he wasn’t on. No tunes from his newest, Axis, Bold As Love. Cream covers, Hey Joe ‘68 style. All flash and very little substance. He did look good, and as has been said by many, “It’s not whether you’ve won or lost, it’s how good you looked.” The next time he played Winterland, perhaps five or six months later, he played. Really played. I was sitting on the steps in the balcony and I swear I could have slid down some of the moonbeam guitarlines right onto the stage. And once he got it going, he played and played and played. Jimi makes good. For real. You’d follow him anywhere.

Start

By graduation, the non-believers were aggressively mocking the faith. The old Jesuit mandate, ”Get them while they’re young” may still hold true but at the same time no one produces infidels quite like the Jebs (as we called them). We attended the mandatory graduation mass followed by a large sit-down breakfast for grads and their families. At breakfast a kid named Forrester produced a communion host from his pocket. Laid it on the table. This was bold, big-time blasphemy. We were awed by his audacity and more than a little wary. From birth we had been told that the consecrated host represented the physical body of our savior Jesus Christ and had taken it as the most holy of sacramental truths. The cornerstone of the religion. And Forester had taken communion, removed the host from his mouth, put it in his pocket and brought it to breakfast. No matter how many arguments we’d had with the nuns and priests over the years–”but Sister, Christ isn’t physically present, the physical presence here is a wafer”–the utter rejection of the doctrine of transubstantiation had never been so present. Physically present. “I’m going to take it home and stab it with a knife,” announced Forester. “See if it bleeds.” Graduation was truly at hand.

Moby Grape’s album came out. It was and is magnificent. The band, unfortunately, insisted on releasing six singles from it simultaneously, effectively eliminating the possibility of success for any of them. The band was right, of course. Each of the six was worthy. Just another case of shooting yourself in the foot by being right. I still own and play that record.

And my boys, the Quicksilver Messenger Service, released an album too. This was cause for great rejoicing. All my friends from school bought it and I rather basked in their success. The truth of the matter was that I was greatly disappointed by the sound of the record. They were a very powerful live act (and Happy Trails did not capture it, quite frankly) and the album did not show that effectively. The sounds, especially the guitar and drum sounds were wimpy on record. Recording is a completely different medium from live performance and they were novices. The songs and the component parts were fine, but the sound wasn’t there.

I buttonholed Cippolina at the Fillmore one night prior to the release of the record and asked him what would be on it. He was visibly surprised that anyone was so familiar with their set, although I didn’t know the proper names of the tunes.

“St. John’s River?” I asked, citing one of my faves and a frequent set opener.

“Oh, that’s called Babe I’m Gonna Leave You–no, that will be on a soundtrack album along with Codeine Blues.”

The soundtrack of a very cheesy hippie exploitation movie as it turns out.

“How about, I Don’t Ever Want to See You Crying?” Me again.

“That’s Dino’s Song, yeah that’ll be on it.”

Just then Nick Gravenites walked by.

“Would you like to meet our producer?” Cippo (this was how we affectionately referred to him) asked.

I shook hands with Nick Gravenites, author, if I’m not mistaken, of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band standard, “Born in Chicago”. Every band did that one. I was as elated then as I was dejected when I heard the album. Nick was no George Martin. I pretended that I thought it was great and none of my friends seemed to think that I’d led them down the garden path, but I’ve only been as disappointed by an album one other time in my life and for almost uncannily identical reasons. And that may be the subject of a book that does not get written.

A new dj appeared on the leading top forty station, a real knucklehead who had no idea what was going on in the Bay Area. Long album cuts were being played on your AM stations at this point in our dominance, and the guy exuded cluelessness when called upon to play the long version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird”, for example.

In order to compensate for this, he presented himself as Mr. Sincerity, a guy who’d do anything for anybody at any time. He actually announced on the air that he would accept collect calls from anyone who needed to talk. He also announced that he would loan his Corvette to anyone who needed it. For a date or whatever. I’m not making this up. We’re talking desperate here. For acceptance, one would presume. I suppose this was his way of conveying that he was embracing the open, loving hippie spirit of his newly adopted town.

We called him collect. From Yosemite.

“Would you play Gold and Silver (formerly Acapulco Gold) by Quicksilver at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow night?”

Really the equivalent of a ten year old calling the tobacconist and asking if he had Prince Albert in a can. “Then let the poor guy out”, was the punchline. He would try to play the song for us but at the moment he was trying to locate the whereabouts of his Corvette which he had loaned out and hadn’t been returned. Mr. Trust gets a clue. Being hip meant you had to be hip to a few things.

Speaking of Buffalo Springfield, they were able to get sounds on record. Live was another story. We went to see them at the Fillmore. A group called the Hourglass was also on the bill, a band that mostly did soul covers, had slick between-song patter, but had long hair and dressed like rock and rollers.  This was an early version of the Allman Brothers Band.

We loved Buffalo Springfield, thought Steven Stills was the funkiest, most soulful white boy around, and could not get enough of Neil Young and his totally original voice.

“I am a child, I last a while.” Tell it, Neil!

We paid scant attention to the Hourglass–didn’t see the need for another version of Midnight Hour by a bunch of white guys. The guitar player was good, though. Played a gold top Les Paul and wore velvet bell bottoms with horizontal yellow and dark green stripes. Two keyboard players, both facing forward, at either side of the stage. Did have a Hammond, though. The patter had to go, just the same. It was like what you’d hear in a square nightclub in the Mysterious East Bay, where elephants go to die. And the set list was not happening. Buffalo Springfield came on and it was aparent from the get go that they had not figured out how to have three guitarists playing simultaneously without getting in each other’s way. They, to put it bluntly, sucked. And they knew it. Great song after great song disappeared in the sonic mush. When they came out for the second set you could easily see that all was not well within the band. The Fillmore is extremely small at times like that. After a few songs and some harsh words Neil Young walked off the stage, not to return. They recruited the guy with the striped pants to fill in for Neil for the rest of the set. He couldn’t sing Mr. Soul but he was a pretty fair picker was Duane.

It’s always amazing to see problems come to a head on stage. When Pink Floyd returned they played, not for Bill Graham, but for the Family Dog at the Avalon. One might assume that Bill was unsatisfied for some reason. Syd Barrett was not a well individual and some of the other band members were a bit suspect as well. Roger Waters was particularly goofy at the Avalon, rather comical, and the band’s set started poorly and got worse. They were pretty much fully unable to replicate their recordings and usually took the shortest route possible to noises and sound effects to compensate. The drummer and keyboardist seemed a bit fed up with this and Syd couldn’t help himself. They were doing Interstellar Overdrive and the organist left the stage in mid-song. Then the drummer went and Syd probably thought the set was over and left too, leaving Waters on stage by himself to singlehandedly play the repeating chromatic riff that is the basis of the song.

“By now, you can see that I am the only sane member of the group,” he announced.

He who seemed the most overtly loony. The others came back, though, before long. It had probably been staged. Playing to their hardly legendary, at that point, reputation. Or merely surviving an untenable situation. When they returned again, Syd was no longer with them.

A totally unstaged event happened when the Kinks played the Fillmore West for the first time. That hall never had the magic of the Fillmore Auditorium, for me. It was just a shade too unforgiving acoustically, the ceilings were too low, it was a bit too well lit and it just didn’t have the psychic magic. Don’t get me wrong, I saw numerous historic performances there. Jeff Beck Group (with RodStewart) and Sly and the Family Stone on the same bill, kids. The Who’s first performance of Tommy with Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd–also Miles, a bill with Paul Butterfield/Fleetwood Mac (with Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer)/Ten Years After. Fleetwood Mac opened. The first Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull shows (both in support slots), Creedence, the Move, Faces. The list goes on and on. But there is no place like the old Fillmore Auditorium.

The Kinks show was highly anticipated. They hadn’t played San Francisco before, to my knowledge. They had been on a Cow Palace bill with the Beach Boys during the first phase of the British invasion, but had not performed for work visa or union reasons. They had just released Village Green Preservation Society, probably the best of their 30 or 40 albums, in my opinion, and the buzz was that Ray Davies was something of a Wildean genius. I wore my hippest clothes. Everybody was there.  But the Kinks had gotten a bit out of step with the audience, certainly the American audience. Rock was getting harder, more riff oriented. It was easier to get across live. Beck, Page, Clapton and Hendrix had set the pace with distorted, guitar-riff based songs. And the Kinks, who had invented riff-rock, had moved beyond it and were writing and playing witty, imagistic pieces about preserving culture and returning to basic values.

Bill Graham introduced them. A very healthy ovation and they launched into We Are the Village Green Preservation Society. The audience, which had expected to have its socks rocked off, didn’t know what to make of it. It was slow to mid tempo and who the heck is Moriarty anyway? Ray became aware of the lack of connection. Acutely aware. He got acutely self-conscious. They played Last of the Steam Powered Trains, a variation on the riff from Smokestack Lightning played not very convincingly. Told from the point of view of a train currently residing in a museum. Ray mangled the harp solos, could not find a comfortable posture to adopt. The audience sat on its hands as he fell apart in front of them. In front of us. I was mortified. For Ray.

Recently I saw Ray at the Fillmore during his first solo tour. I bought tickets well in advance and as I walked up the familiar stairs past security I asked one of the staff if the show had sold well. “Why, do you want to be sure that this is the swinging hot spot in town tonight?” said the staffer, smugly. “I’m worried for Ray” I replied. It was sold out.

Rewind to 1969. Then it was Dave to the rescue. He was undaunted. He was wearing an off-white suit with violet vertical pinstripes. Subtle and flash. He launched into a medley of their old riff-rockers, “I Need You” “All Day and All of the Night” “Till the End of the Day”. But it was too late. Ray’s confidence was shattered and he left the stage. Three songs into the set. Bill Graham was livid. The Kinks will be back to play a very long second set, he announced. They returned to perhaps half a house. Ray seemed inebriated. They too played for the Family Dog (proprietors of the Avalon and Family Dog at the Beach venues) the next time they came around.

And if that wasn’t enough, Quicksilver was dissolving right on stage at the Fillmore West during the recording of Happy Trails. Gary Duncan yelling at Cippolina “Do something!” in the middle of a song. It was not, as I mentioned before, their finest hour or even representative of the heights their live performances achieved. Ars fugit.

Someone, I think it was Paul Williams of Crawdaddy, said the the Stones “Jumpin Jack Flash” got us through the summer of 1968. Something had to. King, Bobby Kennedy, Watts, et al., Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam. Everybody and I mean everybody was off to college. Even me. For one thing, if you didn’t you were draft bait, but at a college prep school where you’ve been busting your butt for four years, the basic idea all along was to go to college. I was accepted to San Francisco State. Got a California State scholarship. My mates were off to Stanford, the Ivy League and the various UC campuses. Some went to USF and Santa Clara, the default choices of  middle-of-the-pack, reasonably well-to-do Catholic offspring.

I spent that summer working at a job my father got me in the Hillsborough school system, painting and doing maintenance work. I was small and I’ve never been healthy (respiratory problems) and I had a hard time keeping up with the older, bigger kids with whom I worked. One of my father’s co-workers who was upset because he had used his influence to get me the job, started a rumor that I was not as hard a worker as the other guys. So I was under scrutiny from the guys who sat around all day while we worked. Apparently the overall supervisor had observed me at a good moment because he pronounced me fit to continue.

My father said, “At least you’re not lazy.”

Some compliment. That is what should go on my tombstone. Here lies Peter Dunne, born _____, died______ . “At least he wasn’t lazy.”

Of course, to cannibalize Holden Caulfield further, someone will probably tag it with spray paint graffiti, making even that faint praise illegible.

Toward the end of the summer, a bunch of us recent grads went to Big Sur. The weather was glorious and we found a great illegal spot to camp in. The seemingly immortal Forester was there, not having been struck down by a vengeful god, as were DJ, Mike, (the guy who had thrown Hogan’s coat out the window) and others. The Big Sur folk festival was happening and the atmosphere up and down the Coast Highway was festive.

This is always the signal for me to become gravely ill. As a child I used to pray for hours on end not to get sick before things I was looking forward to, vacations, Halloween, things of that nature. Mainly because the family doctor had said that my asthmatic episodes were triggered by excitement. With the luxury of the retrospect of many years of observation I can say definitively that this is not the case, but it was widely accepted by my parents and I was forced to consider it as well. After years of testing the best case can be made for the probability that I am allergic to this planet in general, and much of what comprises it in specific. With the exception of excitement. Anyway I needed to leave Big Sur and go home. A couple of guys volunteered to drive me if I would first go with them to the Haight Ashbury and help them buy some pot. It was getting pretty hairy by then and they wanted someone who had done it before, Who knew how to avoid getting ripped off. I agreed because I needed the ride out and it was close to home.

Nothing worked on my breathing problems. Finally on the third or fourth visit, the Doc shot me up with a fairly massive dose of cortisone. “When I registered for the draft,” I told him, “ they asked to be notified formally if my respiratory problems (which were lifelong) continued.” He wrote me a note saying that I was indeed being treated for bronchial asthma, and was receiving such and such medication. I submitted it to the draft board. I was classified 1-Y, which meant I was a low priority but could be called in the case of a national emergency. Later classified 4-F. When they instituted the lottery shortly after, I got a number that would have precluded my being called up even if I had been eligible.

There’s a lot of historical revisionism, as I see it, concerning this Vietnam draft status issue. I recently read where Steven Spielberg, the movie director, said that he had no moral opposition to the war, that he was just afraid of going and geting killed. It struck me that he thought that by saying that, he was somehow validating the efforts of those who did go, supporting them. On the surface this seems to be a generous statement, certainly politically correct from 30 years remove. But to me it seems like soft soap from a great safe distance with the ultimate and considered goal of promoting a war movie he has just made while legitimizing his desire to make it. I don’t think this really qualifies as enlightened self-interest, either. All I know is that the guy will never be credible until he dumps the sappy homogenous music which makes every one of his movies seem like heartwarming would-be epics. But that’s another branch.

I would never have gone to Vietnam. Period. I would have enlisted in a heartbeat to stop Hitler. Make the distinction. Many of us, not all, felt exactly the same way. No one I know or have ever met has ever shown any disrespect to those who did serve in Vietnam, for whatever reason or reasons they went. And certainly not in San Francisco, home of the hippie dissidents, through which flowed more returning Vietnam vets than ever came through your hometown. And when Hogan, the pot smoking ex-seminarian and I got a flat together in the summer of the following year in the Haight, a good many of them stayed with us on their return. And it’s not that we lost, or were fighting an unwinnable war. Don’t muddy the waters on this. War, unless it’s absolutley mandatory to stop genocidal maniacs, is genocidal mania itself. In the words of Joe Bob Briggs, to whom I obviously owe a tip of the cap: “I’m surprised I have to keep explaining this to you”.

I have softened my position a bit over the years. I thought then that it was incumbent upon all countries to dismantle their military operations entirely and immediately. Now I think that this was perhaps a bit optimistic. At that time, though, to paraphrase Rod Stewart (is this becoming an uncontrollable habit?): optimism was my best defense. Actually, Peace is the best defense. But optimism aint bad.

The kind of learning that went on at San Francisco State during the fall and winter of that year was entirely extra-curricular. I was aimless and unwell. I took general requirements which I found boring and substandard. I liked the fact that it was a working class scholl and liked the political activity. It really felt as though the “people’s” concerns were being expressed there. Of course it turned into a bit of a war zone. Perhaps more than a bit. Very few were supportive of the destruction which seemed to turn every daily peaceful demonstration on campus into a violent confrontation. Which escalated daily. But these episodes were not enough to change people’s minds about the issues which were behind the destructive behavior.

That’s how strong the tide of sentiment was against the Vietnam war and in favor of making civil rights a reality there. The air was thick with rhetoric and the issues blurred together.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” was the call to arms.

It was nerve wracking.

“I have to go home from school and smoke pot just to calm down after a day at school,” a guy with long red hair told me.

The school fired the moderate chancellor and brought in a law-and-order semanticist (never thought you’d hear those modifiers together, did you?) to lay down the law and establish order. This, utterly needless to say, intensified the conflict to the point to where the school eventually closed down.

Every day people gathered on the central green. First the police tactical squad would arrive in full battle gear, then they’d surround the campus with the military. Tension would mount until someone blinked. Then there was violence.

There was blinking on both sides. Then both sides tried to avoid the staredowns with pre-emptive measures. Window breaking before the troops were in place, large scale corraling and herding of students off the campus before too large a group had assembled. Every class I went to got disrupted. People charging down the halls, coming into rooms and overturning desks.

“Are you with us or not?”

Well, yes we were, but does this mean class is over? Apparently if class was not over, we were part of the problem.  We went out to the green.

Where we were quickly surrounded by the tac squad and the military. Helicopters overhead.

“You must disperse, this is an unlawful assembly! Leave the campus at once.”

So we tried to do the non-violent thing and march out toward 19th Ave. peacefully and in an orderly fashion. There was always a tight corridor of guardsmen you had to pass through on the way out and this was where a lot of trouble occurred. Emotions were incredibly high. The guardsmen were tense. Someone would blink. Oftentimes someone would spit out the word “pig” at a young guardsman. Forgive the political incorrectness of the following: it was usually a very emotional young female student. The guardsman would lose his cool and all hell would break loose. I must also say that I saw another individual, also a young female student, attacked by guardsmen without provocation while exiting peacefully. Males on the student side would blink, too. Once the line was crossed it was Katy bar the door. Males protecting females, females protecting males, students protecting students, guards protecting guards. These are the photos you always see from this period. Some tac squad member in full riot gear, shield, helmet, club, beating on some waif of a student in hippie attire. It was a mess. Once they forced everybody off campus, the crowd would stop traffic on 19th Ave., San Francisco’s major north/south thoroughfare on the west side of town. So they closed the school. Many classes continued in private homes or church facilities around town but school was effectively out.

When I came home my father would be watching the news.

“Were you part of that?”

“I was there.”

“Are you with the communist infiltrators?”

“There are no communist infiltrators, it’s just us.”

“You wrote the book.”

This was his common rejoinder when agreement was not forthcoming. I was a know-it -all.

“No, but at least I read it” was my equally common reply.

I had been writing to DJ, who was at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He told me to come down there. I could stay with Dave who had an apartment in Isla Vista and we could play music. I had been there before. Hogan, who had gone to USF, and I saw a good bit of one another and we had hitchhiked down there on a long weekend. On our way down we stopped at Brighton State Beach for the night, just south of Santa Cruz. Hogan was what you would call a righteous pot smoker. It was all for sharing and share he did, like it or not. We’d get picked up by say, some guys in a van and as soon as we got in Hogan would start rolling the joints, lighting them and passing them forward. No “Would you mind if…” or “Would you like to”…It was so bold and righteous that no one ever refused. It would have been unhip and inhospitable, even if the basic hospitality was being provided by them.

I was also on some respiratory medication so by the time we reached the campsite I was basically operating in a parallel universe. We pitched our tent as it got dark and cooked some food, following which Hogan began firing up the reefers, unbidden. A couple of girls were camped out nearby and must have smelled the pot. They were coming over. They wanted to smoke some pot. By this point in my potsmoking career I had already begun to realize that it made me highly uncomfortable and I also realized that in general it took me about 1/10 the amount to get high on that it took others. However, at this point I was also not about to stand in the way of righteousness. I’m sure we smoked an inordinate amount with the girls. One of them was slim and pretty and self assured, the other quite a bit larger and not quite so attractive, although relatively composed, at least in comparison to yours truly, Mr. Parallel Universe.

We were pairing off.

Hogan went off with the cute one, to their larger, more accommodating tent. I stalled by the fire, probably smoking more pot to avoid the inevitable. At least chatting up a storm, totally uncharacteristically. I was a virgin. So was Hogan. I’d never seen or heard of him going out with any girls in the time I’d known him and I’d been pretty darn inactive myself for quite some time. Boys town. Insecure, inexperienced, stoned, medicated, in a cramped one-person tent, someone I don’t know, someone I’m not attracted to (had I been capable of incorporating long enough to allow for instinctual behavior), completely inappropriate body types.  The default position in the natural selection mating process.

To the best of my knowledge, males do not have romantic notions about what one’s “first time” will be like. No idealized situation, acceptable conditions, or standards at all when it comes right down to it.  It becomes a ‘just do it’ proposition. And, as in most of my subsequent “conquests”, I was led willingly or semi unwillingly by the female down the garden path. Once you get there, though, you let your sensitivity, your generosity, your awareness of the erotic energy as it travels through the erogenous zones and your general vestibular awareness take over. This makes for a positive experience. And some of this was present in the little tent that night. I stalled, made jokes. She was gracious enough to laugh. We accommodated each other. Probably not with enough experience or self assuredness to do it particularly well, nor were we physically well matched, but adequately, and if I recall, repeatedly.

We parted company in the morning.

“We did the poster thing”, said Hogan, referring to a popular psychedelic poster depicting a couple in the Kama Sutra position where one is sitting on the other’s lap. Then he rolled another joint and we headed back to the highway.

The music thing never really got off the ground in Santa Barbara. We jammed a bit and actually had a band lineup or two, but it was isolated and San Francisco was really still where it was at, in the common parlance. I wanted to focus, and no one there seemed focused at all, on school, music or otherwise. I felt like Odysseus and they were the lotus eaters. My roommate Dave was probably the exception. He was working and focused and he subscribed to the daily SF Chronicle, to which I was addicted. We shared his one room apartment but saw not that much of each other. While he slept I would listen to music on headphones. I spent an entire night listening to Led Zeppelin’s first album five times through both sides. Each of four times listening only to one instrument and the fifth time listening to the interaction of the instruments. I could focus.

It was a party school and drugs were readily available.  At that time I suppose they were available at all colleges regardless of flavor. Maybe they still are. Each dorm room had a towel just inside the door to stuff into the gap between the floor and the bottom of the door when pot was being smoked. More for the sake of discretion than anything. Any floor prefect had one inside his or her door too. And each hall was filled with music. First door “Our Love Was, Is” from Who Sell Out; door number two ”Brief Candles” from the Zombies’ Odessey (sic) and Oracle; door number three, Sons of Champlin “Do You Feel the Sun at Midnight in the Morning” (not the title), and if I were in the room, “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. I had the hardest time convincing people that Waterloo Sunset was brilliant. It wasn’t hard and agressive enough and they couldn’t hear it.

One night I was with my friend Mike and his friend Ben had given us some Orange Sunshine LSD. Mike and I had gone to high school together and were tight and remained so through many years and changes of location. We sat in his room tripping and talking with the odd visitor or two, through the course of the evening. The first of which was another former schoolmate also at UCSB, but when he realized that we were in another place altogether he beat a hasty retreat. I’d been reading a lot about eastern religion and mysticism and had become familiar with the concepts of Atman, Brahman, First Cause and subsequent cause and effect, Samadhi, Nirvana, Oneness and multiplicity–various states of consciousness and awareness. I read Lao Tzu and Patanjali, some of the Sutras, some of the Vedas and Upanishads, as well as some contemporary geezers like Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Satchidananda. Some of which informed my, or perhaps prepared the way, for my experience on Orange Sunshine.

There is no preparation for the summit, though. It’s a gift. Mike and I were talking about this stuff, he was not particularly persuaded, and about the music we were playing. It was comfortable and we were getting very high. At a certain point on a certain kind of trip, things begin to melt, primarily visually, it seems to me. Not in some Daliesque way, although it wouldn’t surprise me to find that he was representing in his own way a similar experience.

This melting is a clue that you are about to peak. On this night the melting yielded to a geometric morphological representation of the physical surroundings, which were losing their normal identity entirely. Orderly, evolving groupings of shapes. Not unlike a mandala, although not static at all. Continually changing relationship and form. The pattern became a telescoping tunnel, like a web that is wide at the peripheries and curved inward toward a single point from all points on field of vision. Like an incredibly complex polygonal webframe descent into the throat of a flower.  At the center of this vortex was a single point of light. I hyper-accelerated toward it, or it to me. I am. Aum.  A, e, i, o, u, and sometimes why?  I merged. God. Incomparable. Undeniable. The mostest, positivest. You trot out the language. Indescribable.

I don’t know how long I was there in terms of Greenwich meridian time. I didn’t know that I was there and I don’t know if I was I. But let’s not quibble. I’ll take it now and forever and ever amen, no regrets.

Apparently I came out of it. Ben, a student friend who had given us the lsd, had come into the room and was describing something he called the “clear light”, which he had experienced on this acid.  As soon as he said it I reverted back into the light. I came back out, more quickly this time, it seemed. I told him that I had just experienced what he was describing, and that when I heard the description I experienced it again. He said that was the “mother clear light”. The recognition that you have experienced it gives rise to a second experience. This was the singlemost incontrovertibly important experience of my life. Not that having had it gets me through life any easier, I promise you. But at those points when I am left crucified and flapping in the wind by a merciless and indifferent fate, I can’t completely dismiss the possibility of divine purpose. It’s not the upbringing I had or Sister Mary Clarence, though who knows what effect those preparations had on that experience–it was that night in the dorm room. And believe me, I am Doubting Thomas, I am the great blasphemer, I have cursed the creator with the most creative combinations of foul language I can muster. I have rationalized and reinterpreted that experience in a variety of plausible ways because the overwhelming evidence of other experience contradicts it. But empirical divinity doesn’t die easily , folks. I still have no idea how this so-called divine purpose affects what I do or what happens to me, or what relationship it has to the world at all. But I’d like to.

Talking about this sort of thing is next to impossible and as my father said to me last night, would make most people think you’re crazy. (We weren’t talking about this specific incident, he has no idea that this ever happened.) It was just the fact that he said that to me which convinced me to attempt to describe this episode.

The last time I threw the I Ching, which I recently took up and more recently decided against doing ever again, I got the two lakes hexagram, which talks about sharing your thoughts to keep from drying up. I think it was referring to that conversation. And trust me, I can’t get much drier. And neither can he, although he may have turned the corner toward the big lake. I suppose the Sahara Desert of the soul is not especially particular to either of us, although it feels like it sometimes.

There is more magic, to use an inadequate term, which happens when an experience of that nature occurs, but let’s just say that it takes the form of a prayer for peace. A physical form. Even Ben giggled when he tried to describe it in reverent terms.

At the end of the evening I put Waterloo Sunset on the record player.

“This is incredible”, said Mike.

I didn’t last long down there. I decided to move to San Francisco. DJ would come north too, transferring to Berkeley. We’d start a new band there once we resettled. Then Dave decided to transfer and so did many of the folks I met down there. I left first and hithchhiked north to San Jose where Hogan was staying. He had left USF and was sharing a funky old house in the downtown area with some black friends of his, the Washington Brothers, and Dean, a friend from high school. I headed in his general direction. There was a big pop festival that week in San Jose and lots of people were traveling that way. The hitchhiking was good. I started out sharing a spot on Highway 101 with a guy who was determined to show me (I was carrying my Gibson) that he could whistle Eric Clapton’s complete 10 minute guitar solo from Crossroads on Cream’s Wheels of Fire. He had good memorization skills but you wouldn’t want to play with him, provided he could play, cause he didn’t know the golden rule of musical sharing. Completely self-absorbed.

Around Monterey I was riding along with two guys who had picked me up in Big Sur and they spotted two girls hitchhiking, one black, one white. We stopped. The girls were from New Jersey. The white one went by her last name, Schempf, and the black one called herself Afro, which was pretty hard even for Schempf to use. We tried, though. Her name was Joyce. They were headed toward the pop festival and then on to San Francisco.The previous night they had broken into a motel room several hours down the coast and slept there, leaving before dawn. They were scufflin’. I was smitten. With Schempf. Joyce was alright, but a bit on the green side. Schempf, a bit more roadworthy and resourceful (and calm) was looking out for her. None of us were out of our teens. I told them I’d call my friends when we got to San Jose and see if they could stay there.

I called Hogan from a roadside grocery on the outskirts of San Jose. He and Dean would be out to pick us up. The two guys who had driven us as far as San Jose were a bit miffed that I was making off with the girls and hung around to make sure that our ride showed up. It did. I whispered to Hogan that Schempf was a good one.

There were actually two houses on the property where they stayed, a one story two-bedroom Victorian in the front, where the Washington Bros. stayed, when they were around, and a cottage in the back, which Dean was renting. Everybody moved pretty freely between the two. There were also two music festivals happening in town. The first, which had all of the big time rock bands, most notably the Doors, and the second, which the city put on in a downtown park to accommodate all of the visitors. This one was free and camping was permitted. A pre-Woodstock sort of a thing. It was within walking distance and we checked it out on the way to the digs.

Of, course, the first thing we did when we got to Hogan’s house was drop acid. All of us. I remember something Timothy Leary said about taking lsd with a partner. He said, if you’re married, make sure it’s with your wife because you’re bound to fall in love. He was right. Schempf and I made the big connection. Not sexually, this was much better than that. But, it disoriented Joyce in a big way. She tried to be positive but Schempf was her touchstone and she was a long way from home, in more ways than one. You could calm her down for minutes at a time, but then she came unglued again and start flailing emotionally. Schempf had the most success but when her attention turned back to me, Joyce lost her moorings again. Hogan tried rather valiantly and selflessly to help out but they were not to be. Finally, toward morning,  a young bearded blonde kid whom Joyce had met somewhere before (earlier in the day?) found his way to the cottage and saved the day. She was comfortable with him and he gave her somewhere to go and someone to be with. I think Joyce realized the magnitude of the connection Schempf and I had made and knew that it meant big changes. Which it did. Schempf decided to stay on the West Coast and she and Hogan and I began to look for a flat in the Haight Ashbury. Schempf had enough money to buy Joyce a plane ticket home and she went back to New Jersey  a week or two later.

Schempf and I did not consummate our relationship right away, primarily because the opportunity did not present itself. Finally a night came when we were alone in the house and the conditions seemed perfect. We began our lovemaking on the couch and when the foreplay reached the requisite point we repaired to Luther Wahington’s room. He was, as always, out of town. It was very affectionate and sensitive, with real feeling attached, entirely unlike my previous two sexual experiences which although technically successful had no depth to speak of. We proceeded comfortably and naturally to the point of penetration but I couldn’t enter her. And I couldn’t understand it because I was fully erect and she was fully compliant. We tried and tried and finally gave up. I was very, very confused, as was Schempf. This was not reinforcing a young sexual confidence which seemed to have found a perfect time to flower. We couldn’t really deal with it because we didn’t know what had happened and it seemed like some kind of failure. Of unknown origin. Of manhood? We drifted apart and my confidence was non-existent. One more thing to hide. Schempf and I couldn’t get it on.

When Luther returned he asked if I had used his room. I admitted that I did. “I don’t have a problem with anyone using my room as long as they clean up after themselves,” he stated. He chided, actually. Little did he know how little cleaning it had required. Of the type he suspected.

Several days later, Schempf started complaining of pain in her pelvic area.

“You’re the one balling her, Dunne,” said Hogan.

She got progressively worse. We found a clinic in Oakland that would take her immediately and a friend agreed to drive us there. It was late at night. Upon examination they found an enormous cyst blocking her passage. It was infected (probably from repeated prodding!) and was surgically removed on the spot. She had been in a great deal of pain and had become quite frail in a very short amount of time. We were all enormously relieved, none moreso, save Schempf, than me. However, there was no imminent opportunity to get back up on the horse that threw me. She had quite a long healing period and then I began to show signs of some sexually transmitted disease that our unsuccessful attempt had yielded. Welcome to the sexual revolution. Non-specific urethritis they called it. So that was what Cream’s song “NSU” was referring to. By the time I was out of the woods on that one we were far, far apart. And I was without opportunity to redeem myself. This sort of thing preys on a young man’s mind. And ego.

Hogan had taken up guitar and had a sunburst Gibson ES-330 like mine only a bit darker. Tobacco sunburst they call it.  He had a Fender DeLuxe Reverb amp and a friend of his named Guy also owned one and kept it at Hogan’s place.  There is nothing like a pre-CBS Fender DeLuxe Reverb amp. At a certain point in the mid-sixties the CBS conglomerate bought the Fender musical instrument company. Its products, especially its amplifiers, were never the same. I still have Guy’s amp and believe me, it’s a honey. So Hogan and I, with our dueling Gibsons and Deluxes, began jamming day and night. Sometimes just the two of us, and sometimes we’d have other musicians come over and jam all day in various combinations in the front house. I was starting to have my moments, especially because it was a loose and comfortable scene. Check your uptightness at the door. Bertram Washington would come by and say, “I’m going to start a band with Pete.” “Yeah, he’s gonna be in my band.”  Bert didn’t play, of course, but it was a hip way of giving encouragement. I believed him, too. Even Luther, his more serious older brother, would get into it, especially if we were playing something jazzier like Wade in the Water.

Eventually we found a flat in the Haight. How, I don’t know. None of the three of us (Schempf, Hogan or I) were working. Housing is so tight in San Francisco now that I can only assume that it was not so then, even after the tremendous influx of people and attention from two summers before. It was a five room flat at 1247 Masonic, between Haight and Waller, and it cost $135 a month. Read it and weep, San Franciscans. First floor in a three unit Victorian, semi railroad car layout,  2 fireplaces, backyard. Each of us had his own room. Schempf and I were independent of one another. She got a job in a Polk Gulch cafe and Hogan and I delivered the Shopping News a few times a week to make ends meet. Mostly we got high and philosophized and jammed and Schempf did the outreach.

First she brought home a black guy named Jimmy who was recently released from jail. Why, I don’t know. She was like that. This was cool except that Jimmy was in full jail mode which meant that he slept 23 hours a day and got up to eat once or twice in the remainder. And then retreated to the empty room in which he slept.

This put our world view to the test. We had become fairly “righteous core”. Which was all the way left of center. Our philosophy (Hogan’s and mine) was that we had no more right to a place to stay than anyone else, regardless of who was paying for it. However, we also had no interest in keeping a crash pad. Our place was clean and sparse, bordering on ascetic, which was a word and concept I had just learned. And was fast becoming my ideal. It dawns on me that we were virtual monks. It ran through both our families and Hogan had even been in a seminary. We were so steadfast that people said that being around us made them want to behave better. We studied the eightfold path, the ways of right thinking and right actions and became vegetarians. Then we got into fasting. All the big guys fasted–Buddha, Christ, Gandhi, Dick Gregory. This was made easy by the relative lack of money and food, but became a bit of a competition between us. Disavowing all competition, of course.

We decided on a compromise. Anyone, anyone at all, could stay for a single night, but that was the limit. This became our policy and we enforced it with certain exceptions throughout our tenure there. This meant Jimmy would have to go. He also ate meat. Jimmy was not bad guy and in all probability was a card or two short of a full deck. I don’t know what he was in jail for but I suspect he had a bit of a penchant for controlled substances. When faced with adversity he would do a goofy little laugh that took place entirely in his mouth and sounded like a crow with no resonating chamber. Attack (the first part of a sound) only. K-k-k-k-k-k-k. He was not violent and we were militantly non-violent, if it’s permissable to use those words together. Righteous core. So he resisted but not too strenuously and then left. But Jimmy was like a cat you give milk to and never completely get rid of. Many happy returns. Which he did for the rest of the year, when he wasn’t in jail. And he brought people with him too. He was a fixture on Haight Street and probably met half of the people who ventured onto it. Naturally, when people asked him about a place to stay, he brought them to us. Between him and Schempf, our other ambassador of good will, and all of our friends who were returning from college, we had a constant stream of people through our flat.

We jammed day and night. Why we weren’t evicted I’ll never know. DJ came back from Santa Barbara and left his drum set, while he worked a summer job in the South Bay. He came up on weekends to play and his set got lots of use in mid-week ,too. PJ came back from the east coast and brought a friend with him, a kid from New York who needed a place to stay for part of the summer. Hogan and I considered it. This meant long-term but he was obviously a great guy and a good friend of a good friend. Pre-med student and math whiz. Still, we had a policy.

“Would that be with or without payment?” asked Hogan.

“With,” he said.

He was in.

One day Jimmy came by with four guys who were recently returned from Vietnam. We took them in for one night. Naturally, we hit it off and one night became a week, a week became a month and one of the fellas  eventually stayed on as a paying housemate. And good friend. The vets had been traveling around a bit in a van on stolen credit cards and of course San Francisco was quite the happening place. They knew we were against the war but that made no difference to them and their participation made no difference to us. I don’t even know if they had philosophical differences with us. Most of the nonsense disappears when dealing with people one on one. They were all in the process of growing their hair out and wearing moccasins and peace signs anyway. And like all of the short-haired newly discharged guys that came by to play cards or spend a night or two, they were very interested in psychedelics. I was in the middle of a three day fast when Jimmy brought them by. One of them was a guitarist, and a pretty fair one at that. He was anxious to jam, but I told him I wasn’t going to be available until the weekend when my fast was over. He didn’t know what I was on about, but he accepted it. When the weekend came there were fifteen of us gathered in the flat and we all took lsd.

Hogan had recently told me about having taken acid after eating a carefully prepared vegetarian meal and how quickly he felt the effects. This was part of my fasting strategy but I was also trying to facilitate getting back to the place I’d been on the Orange Sunshine in Santa Barbara. I had quit smoking pot, eating meat and I wasn’t involved when Hogan would occasionally yield to the temptations of plum wine. In fact, I spent quite a lot of time a a good bit of discipline trying to recreate that scenario, or become worthy of the gift a second time. Mark, the guy from New York, and I went over to the playground to shoot hoops as we came on. It was sunset when we returned and we were tripping like mad.

DJ had arrived and he had also dropped acid. And had set up his drum kit. Fifteen people high as can be. It was time to jam. Hogan, DJ and I started improvising. We’d build to a certain point and then find ourselves boxed in. Musically. It was Hogan. We kept trying. The ceiling came down. DJ broke through with a drum beat similar to the breakdown in Bobby Blue Bland’s “Turn on Your Love Light”. He burst out laughing, “You’ll never trap me!”

Hogan, realizing that he was the limiting factor, took off his guitar. It was a very gracious move. The two of us then started playing. Slowly all of the people filtered into the room and sat on the floor, listening, communing. The only limit was self consciousness and whenever I started to go that way DJ would shoot me a look and off I’d go again. There were points when I was consciously in control, often these had to do with aggression and getting the ya yas out. But at other times I’d become aware of what my fingers were doing well after they into the act of doing it. At these points I’d hear DJ’s snare on the two and four keeping some sort of planetary touchstone time as I occupied a vigorous arpeggiated orbit, as surprised by what I was doing as anyone in the room. I suspect that it was a communal performance, a lot of concentrated positive energy, coming through fifteen people under the auspices of a powerful psychedelic. Finally  the police came. Paranoia! We had stopped playing and were baking cookies and making tea and whatnot.  Seriously.

“Send Peter to the door!” someone said.

I invited them in. Told them we had stopped. Ten p.m. was the legal limit at the time. They had cookies with us. Fear strikes out.

When I reflect on moments like these it makes me think in terms of what dynamic creatures we are. How we’re constantly reinventing ourselves and being shaped by circumstance and our reactions to circumstance. One moment to the next. Redefinition. And how much courage it requires. The amount of courage it requires to continue is such a daunting thought. Probably best left on the cutting room floor.

One night, Hogan came home shaking like a leaf.

“I can no longer carry this in good conscience,” he said, holding up his draft card.

He tried to draft a letter but he was shaking so much he couldn’t write legibly. “Dunne, write this down for me.”

I took the pen but he was unable to compose himself well enough to dictate complete thoughts for me to write.

“Hogan, this is something you can only do for yourself,” I said putting down the pen.

I left him to stew and fret in his room grappling with his conscience and his awareness of the consequences of following it. The next day he wrote the letter and mailed in his draft card. What a nightmare. Being an honest concientious objector and proving it to the satisfaction of the draft board are two completely different animals. That became the focus of his life for the next few months. Fortunately, owing to his previous stint in the seminary and his family’s longstanding ties to the Catholic community, he was able to get enough convincing statements from the acceptable quarters to vouchsafe his sincerity. To the satisfaction of the draft bureaucracy. His sincerity was never in question.

By this, the summer of 1969, the Haight-Ashbury was in serious decline. There was and still is a solid interracial family core population, but the neighborhood, due to its location, large number of rental units and history of tolerance has changed its face frequently over time. The main strip of the Upper Haight (the Lower Haight was still called the Fillmore in those days) from Masonic to Stanyan was becoming home to more and more panhandlers, drug dealers and derelicts of various stripes. The drug dealing, which had been fairly benign, done by hippies selling pot and psychedelics primarily, had yielded to a nastier class of speed peddlers and harder core druggies. I never saw heroin or cocaine, but morons carrying weapons became fairly commonplace. Every week or so some kid from the Fillmore or some wild-eyed freak on a jag would stick a gun in your back or catch you on a stairwell.

“You ripped me off!”

“I’m afraid you’re confusing me with someone else.”

“Don’t give me that!”

“Really, I’ve never seen you before, I’m just here to visit Aztec on the third floor.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, man, wrong guy. Put the gun away.”

“Sorry, man. I thought you were someone else.”

Or, the ever popular (in the case of a straight ripoff, especially with young gun toters): “Do I look like I have any money to you?” and needlesss to say, I didn’t.

Once a gun is pulled, it takes more reasoning and finesse because the puller feels like he’s crossed some line he can’t back down on. One technique PJ and I used in these circumstances was to keep walking calmly into a more public area.

“What, you’re gonna shoot me in a public place for $1.29?”

The main thing was to be cool about it. Fear doesn’t work. There’s a line from an old rock and roll song that used to float through my mind whenever this sort of thing happened: “In case some fool might want to fight.” Fools fight and nobody wants to see himself as a fool. No foolin’.

Three of the four vets shoved off. Back to the midwest and the southwest and points east. One stayed on. His name was Jim and he was from Seattle. We had a big storage space under the stairs that he made into a bedroom. We had no money at all. Nada. Rent was due and worst of all, a newly reformed Quicksilver Messenger Service was playing their first gig at the Fillmore, which had moved down to the old Carousel Ballroom at the corner of Market and Van Ness and was now called Fillmore West. We kept calling it the Carousel, in a rather shameless display of old schoolism. Old school, new school, no money.

Jim told me about a chant he’d learned in the Far East that was supposed to bring you whatever you chanted for. No strings. Cash on the barrelhead? No problem. He explained that the idea was that people always start out chanting for material things but eventually end up with a higher purpose in mind. I said, what have we got to lose? It was the Nam Myoho Renge Kyo chant. Nichiren Shoshu school (rather old). Buddhism via Japan. We sat on the carpet in the middle of the living room floor. Jim started and I picked it up. Over and over. Fifteen minutes in the doorbell rang. It was PJ and another old friend from the Peninsula on their way to the Quicksilver gig. Did we want to go? Yeah, but no dough. No dough, no problem. They paid our way. It gets better.

Once inside the Fillmore another old friend asks if I’ve seen Mike, the guy who threw Hogan’s jacket out the window into the rain in high school. Negative. Well, he’s on his way to your flat to drop off a kilo of pot he’ll split the profits with you on if you can sell it. Now this was a bloody miracle. There was a horrendous pot drought that summer, worse than the usual droughts that occur before fall harvest every summer. No one I knew had seen any pot for ages. And Mike was at my flat at that very instant dropping off 2.2 lbs of the stuff utterly out of the blue. Rent was mine. This chanting business stopped seeming all that far-fetched. Now to the important stuff. Quicksilver. They were not the same. They had added Nicky Hopkins, the tremendously well-respected British session pianist (commemorated in the Kinks song Session Man) and produced the tolerable Shady Grove record from this period. But it was over. Eventually Gary Duncan and the insufferable Dino Valenti (sorry Dino) rejoined the lineup and they even had hit records. But the Mystical Body of the Quicksilver Messenger Service was long gone by that point. And had been since before they recorded Happy Trails.

Mike eventually showed up at the Fillmore and sure enough, he had dropped off a kilo of actual pot at my place. I broke it up into lids (why are those units called “lids”?), just under an ounce worth each in plastic baggies, when I got home that night. And the following night I brought them down to the queue in front of the Fillmore prior to the show. It was reminiscent of the scene in Hard Day’s Night when Paul’s grandfather gives away autographed photos of the Beatles in front of the theater where they are playing and is mobbed by enthusiastic females. Once word got out in the line that the guy in the brown corduroy peacoat had actual pot, I was besieged by hordes of suburban kids pulling out their wallets. A low profile it was not. I sold out in minutes. That was the one and only time I ever sold pot or any controlled substances in any amount. I split the profits with Mike and paid rent. Jim’s and mine. Then we treated ourselves to Fish and Chips at the Seagull on Haight Street. This was indulgence!

The change of venue did not hurt the quality of shows at the Fillmore, now Fillmore West. And I missed very few, impoverished though I was. It just so happened that they decided to make the tickets smaller replicas of the handbills, which were smaller versions of the posters. Slightly lighter card stock, still a glossy finish. But smaller. Each week I would get a handbill and cut it to the exact size of a ticket. Security was not so formal as it is today at such shows with numerous checkpoints and friskings for alcohol and such. So when the doors opened and the crush of people rushed to get in and find a spot on the floor near the front of the stage, it was easy to pass off the bogus ducats.

One day I went down to the hall to apply for a job in the cafe or at the ticket window or wherever. It was a Thursday afternoon and the doors were unattended so I went in and headed up the stairs. A big load-in was going on. It was the Who’s first Tommy tour and Woody Herman’s big band was on the bill. I couldn’t find anyone to talk to so I started back down the stairs. Bill Graham came flying down the stairs in a high state of agitation as was often his custom.

“What are you doing here?” he screamed.

He looked about ready to take my head off.

“I just came by to see about applying for a job,” I offered timidly, fully expecting to be thrown down the stairs.

He was a volatile cat. I’d seen him chase and tackle people in the hall during shows. Once during a Delaney and Bonnie gig (when Eric Clapton and all those Mad Dogs and Englishmen were in their band) I’d seen him challenge a room full of people because of one person’s smartass comment. “There’s one in every crowd,” he said before storming off. In truth he was a target, especially at that time when many thought of him as a profiteer and exploiter who would perish in the impending Revolution. I always respected and even liked him though, from my humble perspective, because his shows always had the best sound systems, excellent lighting–high production standards in general. In fact, they set standards where there had been none. I’m not just gushing here, the quality of live rock went up exponentially due largely to the efforts of the Bill Graham organization. When I first went to the Fillmore they had those horrible Bogen PA columns on the wall–in fact the Avalon had better sound. But that turned around in a hurry. When the Who first came they brought their own sound system and insisted on setting it up in place of the house system which had recently been installed. This was their second tour. By night two they had abandoned their own in favor of the Fillmore’s, which made them sound like gods. To put this in a little historical perspective, when the Kinks played Fillmore West for the first time in the fall of 1969, they said it was the first time they had ever heard themselves through stage monitors!

When Bill realized that I was just a kid looking for a job he visibly softened. About 180 degrees worth, I’d say. He actually encouraged me and suggested that I come back during regular business hours and he’d see what he could do. Believe me I did not tell him that I thought those were the regular business hours.

Rather I went home, cut up a handbill and came back for the show later on that night. Pete Townshend was sick for the show. I was not thoroughly sold on Tommy as a complete work although some of the songs were brilliant. The performance of that part of the show was rough, made rougher by Townshend’s illness. Bill Graham came out after their first set and announced that doctors were tending to him backstage and that they would return for a second set. Townshend was pretty gabby that night.

“I wasn’t feeling well, earlier”, he announced.

“We could tell!” someone shot back from the audience.

“I could tell that you could tell”, he responded.

And so on. They actually replayed some of the Tommy numbers that they had mangled in the first set, but ended up doing more of a greatest hits set to my personal great delight. You can’t do much better than Can’t Explain, Substitute and Sad About Us in my book.

Creedence was getting huge at about this time too. It seems like they were always on the bill and eventually started topping it. I wasn’t a fan. They were from El Cerrito just north of Oakland and I thought their bayou bag was bogus. The band’s skills were modest and I thought barely supported the efforts of the lead guitarist and singer, John Fogerty, whose use of Kustom amplifiers I had a hard time getting past. And his lengthy soloing didn’t do much for me either. But they got over to the audience. They did this number called Keep on Chooglin’  which they built to a feverish peak over the course of about ten minutes which worked every time. They eventually won me over as the quality of their recordings improved and of course, their singer was dynamite, even if he had earlier called his group the Golliwogs (I didn’t know this was a children’s book til I reread Graham Greene’s End of the Affair well after having written this) at one time and hailed from the mysterious East Bay, where elephants go to die.

All this music was having an effect. I began writing songs for the first time in a  long time and DJ and I would play every weekend. Dave, who was from DJ’s neighborhood in San Jose, bought a Gibson EBO bass and began to come up with him pretty regularly. They decided to transfer to UC Berkeley together after fall quarter so that the three of us could start an actual band. We had a couple of really promising songs (so we thought) which exploited the local flavor, “Barbary” aka the Pirate Song with its Sir Francis Drakeisms and “The Stage” a wild west song about reincarnation. We’re talking ambitious here. No three chord anthems, although we might have been better served to think smaller. I was resolutely opposed to doing covers unless they were cool blues based things like Smokestack Lightnin’ or Walking Blues or something of that nature. Actually Quicksilver did a nifty version of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” (which they always dedicated to the runaways in the audience) so older roots rock stuff was o.k. too.

One day Jim brought home a guy who lived up the street from us on Masonic who played drums. Hispanic guy from the Mission named Richard. He and I began to play together, too, and he and his girlfriend Vickie eventually moved into our flat. She made him all sorts of outrageous rock and roll clothes and let’s face it, Santana was making rock safe for Latinos. Richard knew the stage manager at the Fillmore West which had instituted a new “Sounds of the City” program on Tuesday nights. This was essentially an audition night for three bands followed by an open jam session at the end of the evening. This was our chance to play the Fillmore and Richard’s connection made it happen.

It was great fun. Terrifying but fun. As soon as the auditions ended we’d try to round up whoever was backstage to play with us. Of course, none of the players from name bands would deign to stoop, but we usually got some kind of a lineup assembled and ran on to do our five minutes of Good Mornin, Little Schoolgirl or Killing Floor. “Shake your head!” Richard would yell at me from behind the kit as I tried to keep my solo from meandering. He would invariably split his trousers at the crotch during the jam. No pants were tight enough for him prior to going on. And following our bit there would always be a good deal of fussing over the pants by his girlfriend and her friends. He was a showman.

One night when we were down there to jam we watched a group called Steel Mill audition. They were a very aggressive, east coast band who I do not believe were offered a gig following their audition. Lots of energy there and they went over pretty well too, but the style wasn’t quite right for the time or so it seemed to me, the critic, at the time. Maybe Springsteen and the boys were just filling a gap in the schedule. On the way home from the jam I was walking from Van Ness and Market up Haight Street alone carrying my Gibson. 2:30 a.m., maybe a couple of miles walk (no snow). No dough, either. It was always a bit dicey especially around Fillmore street and a bit below where the projects were, but I felt like I was part of the scenery by this time. Two guys, one black and one white approached me, pulling out badges.

“We’re with the SFPD and we’re investigating a prowling in the area. Show us some identification.”

I took out my wallet.

“Give me that,” said one, “and put your hands on top of this car.”

I don’t remember if they showed a weapon, hardly uncommon on the street  in those days. I obliged them, thinking I had nothing to fear. I had $40 in my wallet, which PJ had sent me to buy LSD for him and his dorm mates at his east coast school. And nothing else.

Except the Gibson.

They took the money out of the wallet, pocketed it and started laughing. I was no threat to them at all. And they were not with the SFPD. The old badge scam. But they left the guitar! I don’t believe they even discussed taking it. I took the bus home from the jams after that, grateful for only having lost the $40, significant though it was.

Lots of people came and went over the course of the summer and early fall. Mark left, Richard and Vickie left, Schempf caught a ride back to the east coast with PJ when he returned to college. But we still had Jimmy doing outreach. There was a fairly constant stream of folks incoming. Freddie, for example, whose presence was appreciated by Jim because he always had a supply of seconal or ”reds”. He would turn up, head into the living room and put Sons of Champlin (or “Chaplin” as he called them) or Led Zeppelin on the turntable, both of which were incredibly scratched due to his mishandling, and fall into a stupor. Interrupted occasionally by ingesting more reds to regain that perfectly balanced state of utter oblivion.

He was benign though, and when he regained consciousness he could be persuaded to leave. Ocassionally we had to carry him out as we did Jivin’ Jimmy. We’d hear that his parents would admit him into some detoxification program but as soon as he got out he’d be over at our place scratching my records.

I really had no feeling for the downer thing which, along with methedrine was becoming the drug of choice in the Haight. Jim had befriended an old gentleman who lived down on Oak Street primarily because Jack was willing to part with his prescription “yellows”. Whatever they were. Jack must have been around 80 years old and I’m quite certain was grateful for some local society at the small cost of a downer or two.

One day Jimmy brought three girls by who were from British Columbia and had hitchhiked down to San Francisco on the natch. Meaning without money or a place to stay or any particular plan in mind. We took them in. Without much hesitation. One of them was a rare beauty with a radiant innocence to match. Jim latched onto her in a big hurry. The other two girls were attractive as well. Our monkish vibe had rubbed off on Jim to an extent but his worldliness was rubbing off on us too. I still was off meat, alcohol, pot and hadn’t been near sex since my unfortunate experience with Schempf, but I did take lsd occasionally, which I considered to be, for lack of a better word, sacramental. Jim had all the normal appetites and they had changed the complexion of the household. Sex, plum wine, and reds were part of the mix. Hogan always liked pot and wine and he rather sat in the middle.

I was crazy about Barb, the girl Jim corralled, and I could tell that she was uncomfortable with his possessiveness. She was just a bit more immature and innocent, like me, and had few promiscuous leanings. But Jim and I were great pals and I let that be the guideline of my behavior. One evening, after they had been with us for a week or two, there was a freak thunderstorm and we all stood on the front porch to watch it. As we did something changed and it became apparent that it was time to be pairing up. Jim was set, Hogan and one of the other two started cozying up, and the logical thing was for me to hook up with the third. Jimmy was there, another friend of his and I don’t know who all else, but sex was in the air. This made me extremely nervous. I liked Barb, was not particularly attracted to the third girl and had not crossed the line to where I could “just do it” with anyone irrespective of feeling. And my confidence was still pretty much lying in tatters.

“It’s just a ball,” said Jim.

“You don’t have to feel bound to her,” said Hogan. “Maybe we’ll trade off tomorrow night.”

But I wasn’t ready or inclined. This put her in an extremely awkward position. Her two friends were paired up with the other two flat mates and there was some sort of sexual directive hanging in the air. Jimmy and his friend were all over her. Finally she went with Jimmy’s friend.

“She made her choice,” Jimmy shrugged.

She left with the guy and came back alone an hour or so later, fully disheveled, dried grass stuck in her hair and clothes. They had gone to the park and done it there. I felt extremely guilty but there was too much working against me, some of which no one knew anything about.

“You should have taken her with you,” said Hogan, somewhat accusingly.

From that point on, many people began to wonder if I were gay. That forced me to consider it too and I was definitely worried about what people thought, especially at that time, about something as closeted and definitive as that. Sometimes it takes a long time to overcome what seem like defining moments, and perhaps if people’s perception of you is what’s being defined it might seem insurmountable. But if it’s what’s defining you as a person, there is quite a bit of self determination possible and often a good bit of time in which to do it. I still wish I had had the wherewithal to get over myself in that situation and take that young girl with me into my room and shut the door behind us.

They too moved on after a month or so. We got  a letter from Barb a few weeks later which she had sent from a mental institution. Her parents, unable to deal with their freespirited daughter, had had her committed. What, if any episode inspired this I have no idea. Her letter was extremely upbeat and was sprinkled with quotes from the Beatles’ just released grand finale, Abbey Road. “Here comes the sun” and “the love you take is equal to the love you make”. That sort of thing. Must have driven her parents to distraction. Just think what would have happened if Jesus had come along in the 1960s.

“Mary, our son just told me to turn the other cheek! That boy is out of his everlovin’ mind. What would Elizabeth think? And the neighbors?”

Love and peace meet the mighty machine of the status quo.

Jesus would be languishing at the Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane. I wonder what effect shock treatment would have on the son of god?  And you thought crucifixion sounded hairy. How about a lobotomized Savior? Turn the other frontal lobe.

Anyway, Barb was perfectly sane and I hope with all my heart she was not forsaken too. Heaven help us all.

One day that fall the ever vigilant Jivin’ Jimmy brought a young red-headed girl in a granny dress over to our flat. She was selling reds on the street. For extra income, presumably. Her name was Katy and she was working as a dental assistant in the mysterious east bay. One of those towns I can never keep straight and to which I will probably never go.

By this time poverty had become a bit tiresome. Jim and Hogan had got jobs at a glass company and I had gone back to school. Which meant that I still had no money but at least school was paid for by the scholarship. Jim and Hogan drank Olde English 800 on the bus back from work at Hunter’s Point each day and always arrived with a buzz on. They said I could get hired on too but one look at the condition of their hands after a day’s worth of handling glass convinced this guitar player that money was indeed not everything. Hogan and I had taken the civil service exam to become mail carriers but had not yet received any word. So it was back to school and food stamps for me.

Jim immediately glommed onto Katy. She was game, she was pretty, she had a bag of reds. Her granny dress looked like an east bay granny dress to me and therefore not quite right, but–she loved music. And not just to listen to. She could sing, she could hear (!) and she was a pretty fair visual artist as well. She had auditioned for the San Francisco Civic Light Opera’s Sound of Music as a child and I’m surprised she didn’t get the job. (I saw that production at the opera house when I was a child–Florence Henderson was Maria.) After she had been around a few days, Jim asked me if I thought she was “cool enough” to move in. She had a Volkswagon beetle and one afternoon asked me if I wanted to go with her to purchase (!) the new Beatles’ Abbey Road album. Did I! We drove down to a shop on Market Street near the Orpheum theater that sold records, sheet music and even had some good looking Rickenbacker guitars in the window and she bought the record. As we drove home, over the crest of the Fell Street hill into the most gorgeous autumnal sunset that this world can provide, I began to think that maybe she was indeed, cool enough. East Bay notwithstanding.

Abbey Road was the Beatles coup de gras. After the brilliant but wildly disparate White Album, to me Abbey Road seemed to be the summation of everything good about the sixties. The group seemed to be unified and harmonious in a way that perhaps they had not previously achieved on record. I remember Lennon saying “It was the first time all four of us felt funky at the same time.” I think George Martin felt a bit funky himself. To say nothing of the engineers and the recording industry in general which was in the middle of a creative and economic renaissance. No one was close to this record. It had no competition in terms of the sophistication of its writing, arranging and production techniques. Pretty good singing (Oh Darlin’!!) and playing too. And it had a lightness of spirit in terms of its treatment of subject matter that today’s serious recording artists would do well to take note of. It was as though they had gotten over themselves, their own self importance. Or maybe they realized that they were so influential that anything more than the lightest touch would create an imbalance. Anyway, you could no longer hear any individual or collective striving in their output. A little disguised angst? Yes. But whimsy and dare I say wisdom were what came through to me. And remember the songs were about sex, desire, a serial killer, romantic love, escapism, loss, sex with love, springtime, business troubles, sexual troubles, lullabies, the burden of living, and a wide assortment of puns and questionable characters.

Abbey Road was the last album they recorded. Let It Be was released later but had been recorded previously. And the sixties ended when they broke up. For me, anyway. The effects of the sixties did not. Each member, of course, had considerable success in the intervening years as a solo artist and there have even been a few listenable albums by ex-Beatles. But nothing compared to the untouchable status they enjoyed as the Beatles. The Stones were smart enough to see the strength of the group vs. the individual (those that survived, anyway) and even given the obviously strong invdividuals in that group have managed to tolerate each other sufficiently to maintain a level of commercial and artistic success that also would not be theirs if they went it apart.

That was the most played album at 1247 Masonic in the fall of 1969. Led Zeppelin and Sons of Champlin (Freddie’s faves) #’s 2 and 3. And the Yardbirds’ “Think About It” the flip side of “Good Night Sweet Josephine” (I think) was the most played single. Page works out–and re-used much of the solo in Dazed and Confused.

It was a great time for music. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were playing Winterland and doing free shows in the Park, as were the Airplane and Dead. The Stones were back on the road for the first time in ages and seemed to finally be hitting their stride with Let It Bleed on the heels of Beggar’s Banquet. The Fillmore West was going strong. Aretha and Miles. I caught Led Zeppelin’s first SF gig there, supporting Country Joe and the Fish, of all bands. They sounded suspiciously like a combination of the Yardbirds and Jeff Beck’s new group, which I suppose they were. They opened the set with “Train Kept a Rollin”, a great set opener if ever there was one, and did versions of “White Summer” ( Page’s solo tour de force with the Yardbirds), “I’m Confused”, “How Many More Times”, “I Can’t Quit You, Baby” and “You Shook Me.” I was a bit disappointed and got into an argument with DJ about the relative merits of the performance. The singer was also floundering around quite a bit and in the shows I saw didn’t pull it together until their third tour of America. In fact he seemed the quintessence of the lead singer joke which goes something like Q – “If you’re on the couch with a girl and you hear someone fumbling at the door, how do you know it’s the lead singer? A – Because he’s lost the key and doesn’t know when to come in.” The rhythm section was very strong, though, and in fairness, by the third tour the band was struggling to match the singer’s energy. And appeal with the ladies.

The Jeff Beck Group preceded Led Zeppelin that year. They did two weeks at the Fillmore that summer, one with Sly and the Family Stone, that were greatly anticipated by the local musicians but were not that well attended. Sly hadn’t found his hip funkster groove yet either and was playing a bunch of over-arranged and slick medleys that were a little too Vegas for the Fillmore crowd. He was a quick learner, though, I daresay.

Beck’s group was a trio with a lead singer: Micky Waller on drums, Ron Wood on bass and a guy who seemed for all the world like a poor man’s version of Roger Daltry on vocals.  Same hair, same clothes, same attempted moves. None of the confidence. Name of Rod Stewart.

Beck was nervous and rather arrogant as a result. He introduced Waller and when he got his applause said “Yeah, he’s a good little drummer.” He played Beck’s Boogie twice saying that he wanted to do it again because they did such a poor job on it the first time. To say that he overplayed would be the understatement of this or any millennium. Stewart actually played rhythm guitar, an aqua and white strat if memory serves, on the legendary Beck’s Bolero. Jimmy Page (who did the original recorded rhythm part), he was not). For me the real appeal of Jeff Beck had started with the Yardbirds and continued primarily through the b-side of Yardbirds singles, which were either instrumentals or blues numbers on which he could stretch out. This continued on his first solo efforts until he came into his own as a guitar “hero.” Which term was just coming into use. For me, songs such as Nazz Are Blue (Dust My Broom), Beck’s Boogie and Beck’s Bolero continued a tradition which began many years before with Mr.You’re a Better Man than I and Shapes of Things. But he was a human hero, overplaying through sheer nervousness and the fact that the weight was really all on his shoulders at that point. If he’d just called his group Cement Feather or something. The group caught fire on the college campuses that fall and toured again behind a second album with Nicky Hopkins on piano. Stewart was much improved, Beck had some much needed instrumental support (and a new drummer) and needless to say, they broke up almost immediately following this success. Fragile things, groups.

I had collected my books and got on back to school. Things were slightly calmer on campus now, though not fully resolved by any means. But the violence had ebbed and classes were in session once more. Many of the larger anti-war rallies taking place in San Francisco were now occurring at the Federal Building near City Hall or in Union Square. The participants at the gatherings were becoming more and more diverse. More “establishment “ types, working women, housewives, even some suited businessmen from further downtown. I remember one massive assembly in particular which took place in front of the Federal Building. In a gentle San Francisco mist, thousands of people from all walks of life singing “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” In a calm, unified voice. No anger, rage, hysteria or agression of any kind. It was extremely emotional. And truly difficult to tell the rain from the tears, as so many songs have suggested.

I was studying music and literature mostly. I had a poetry writing class with a fella named Stan Rice (who I have since learned is author Anne Rice’s husband) who loved to find letters and notes on the street and read them to the class. Not only were they personal and often funny, but they betrayed a real interest in language and communication of any kind. Since I had studied Latin and Greek I knew a lot about meter and scansion already but I did not have an extensive knowledge of post golden age poetry. To the extent that I actually wrote a poem for the class called “The Wasteland” never having heard of Eliot’s work of that name. Talk about embarrassment!  I may never live that one down.

In my first music class the teacher asked us to bring in a “found sound” for the next class. This was, I suppose, prefatory to explaining the nature of sound, but I was down at the Fillmore West on Tuesday nights finding them for myself in front of a live audience.

And in my eastern philosophy class, I want you to know that I knew more about Atman and Brahman than any academic will ever know. The procession of cultural impacts may make for a career, but after experiencing the real thing, the thing itself, if you will, the academic approach smacks of little more than earnest pedantry. Perhaps my little chronicle is not so dissimilar. Not that jobs are a bad thing mind you. During this latest foray into “higher education” I received a letter from the post office saying that on the strength of my test score I was immediately eligible for employment. So much for school. Again.

Now we were a working household, Jim and Hogan at the glass company, Katy at the dentist’s office and I was at the army post office, sending packages to the troops in Viet Nam and Southeast Asia. Now I could buy a Fender Twin Reverb amp, in time, and not worry about how to make my $35 monthly rent payments. I was making $2.86 per hour, a princely sum, as the cliche would have it, in those days. A Fender Twin Reverb cost around $400.00.

The APO (army post office) was a model of diversity. Young, old, male, female, hip, straight, all colors, all persuasions (sexual and otherwise). I wasn’t crazy about spending all that time and energy on something other than music, but I didn’t mind it there at all.  I was a short timer, hired only for the pre-holiday crunch.

The Rolling Stones had announced that they would be playing a free concert in San Francisco at the end of their tour of the States. There was quite a scramble to find a suitable location, something that would accommodate the numbers of people that Woodstock had generated a few months before. Golden Gate Park was the first idea but it was presumed that people would be traveling into town from all over the West and would need some camping space which the park did not have. It was then attempted to negotiate for the ______ racecar track near ________ but an agreement could not be reached there either. As the December 9th date approached no venue had been found. The Grateful Dead’s organization had been enlisted to coordinate the event, which was to feature, in addition to the Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Grateful Dead, Santana and the Flying Burrito Bros. Finally, just days before the scheduled performance, it was arranged to hold the concert at the Altamont Speedway, near Livermore in the outermost part of the mysterious East Bay. This was (and may still be, for all I know) a dirt auto racetrack set amidst some rolling barren hills situated approximately dead center in the middle of nowhere. I think it was assumed that there was no way anything could get harmed out there so let them have at it. Parking was possible on a nearby freeway which was under construction but not yet open.

There was no security. The Dead had arranged for the Hell’s Angels to provide security for $500 worth of beer, but let me tell you, this was not the Human Be-In. The vibe on this one was 180o away.

I was taking the day off from work as were many others. I asked some of the sexy black ladies if they were planning to go. They almost always wore low cut, cleavage revealing tops with skin tight pants to work, something I doubt you’d see nowadays. They laughed and said they were much too old for that. They couldn’t have been out of their twenties. DJ had come up from Santa Barbara and the two of us spent the night prior to the concert tripping and jamming. By the morning of the show we were relatively exhausted, or wasted as we used to say, but we did have the advantage of being 19 years old. Hogan had bought a white, 1959 Plymouth Fury, the model with the enormous fins on the back and he was driving out to the site. We picked up two co-workers of mine. One, Beau Beausoleil, whose wife came also, and Pete Soto, who brought a big paper bag full of reds he hoped to sell once we got there.

I’d never been out that way before. It really was miles from nowhere. We parked on the deserted freeway a bit more than a mile from the site. The mood was somewhat festive as we joined ranks with others on our way in, but something didn’t feel right. I chalked it up to the night before. The day itself was not your clear, crisp, temperate, northern California December day nor was this Golden Gate Park. It was overcast and it was bleak. Desolate. Barren of vegetation. Crowded, disorganized. The lesson of Woodstock seemed to be that hundreds of thousands could get together without formal laws and authorities and do quite nicely. That was certainly in the air at Altamont but the conditions were somewhat different than they had been at Woodstock. The Tolkien trilogy was enormously popular at that time and for the life of me I can’t think of a better analogy than the description of Mordor in that book. Right down to the burning smell in the air. People had started arriving the day before and in order to keep warm through the night had been burning discarded tires, the only available fuel within miles. The stench hung in the air throughout the following day.

The Hell’s Angels and their womenfolk were gathered near the front of the stage, many of them sitting on top of the roof of a schoolbus for a better view, bikes parked all around. Boozing merrily. Pete Soto made the mistake of doing a deal right in front of the bus. A couple of the Angels’ old ladies jumped down off the bus and took his bag of reds from him. Believe me, there was nothing he or anyone could do as they laughed at him en masse from the top of the bus. I shudder to think what sort of contribution those downers made to the day’s events. Those were some seriously loaded folks in that area. Ugly loaded.

DJ and I wandered around looking for a decent vantage point. The sound system was terrible and there was no comfortable place to situate. The Airplane had played by the time we got there. We were completely unaware of the famous incident in which Marty Balin jumped off the stage to break up a skirmish between an Angel and an unidentified female and got punched out for his effort. The Burritos and Santana followed them and suffered through the malfunctioning sound reinforcement. At the height of the afternoon, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played. The sound was cutting in and out and they sounded for the most part awful, with the exception of two Neil Young songs, Down By the River and Cowgirl in the Sand. Both of which, through some miracle of fortune, escaped the sound problems which plagued everyone else thoughout the day. When they finished, the wait began. The Dead, for reasons unknown, did not play. It became apparent that the Stones would not come on until nightfall. It got colder, the vibe got uglier. People became rude and impatient as they angled for position. Time and again the Stones’ spokesman would come out on stage to rev up the crowd saying “The world’s greatest rock and roll band will be out shortly”. It took forever. I can only imagine what was happening down in front what with the reds and the booze and god knows what else. DJ and I had abandoned the idea of fighting through that chaos for a close up look. In fact I barely cared if we stayed at all by the time evening fell. Still the Stones held out.

Once it got good and dark the band came out. At first the only audible sound was Keith playing the opening riff to Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Not the chord opening on the single but the riff that forms the body of the song. It had no vitality whatsoever. He sounded completely wasted. Then his guitar cut out of the mix and Charlie and Mick Jagger were audible. It was not going well. Then Charlie became inaudible and Mick Taylor took his place in the mix. The sound mixer had no idea how the board was set up or must have been overdosing. The greatest rock and roll band in the world? Hardly. Taylor and Jagger started to connect, must have been able to hear each other. They were game but it was short lived. Failed again by the sound system. And so it went. You could hear vestiges of songs, just about enough to identify what they were from the audible snippets. They got to Sympathy for the Devil. It sounded pretty limp from where I stood and it stopped midway through.

“Brothers and sisters, why are we fighting, what for?” Jagger queried.

He sounded confident at that point but the fight must have been escalating.

“If you don’t stop, we won’t play any more,” he threatened.

But it sounded feeble, impotent. It was the only card he had to play in this completely feral environment and I’m certain the people at whom it was directed couldn’t have cared less. If Balin had been coldcocked early in the day, think what was possible at this dark hour after the combinations of drugs and drink had had all day to do their toxic business. Jagger roasting on a spit over an open tire bonfire. Smoked by Goodyear. The mind boggles.

At that point for me, people were sprouting horns and the way home was unclear. We decided to leave. It had gotten quite cold and a kind of moldy scent was mingling with burning tires. And it was pitch dark away from the main gathering. DJ and I headed across a hill in what we thought was the direction of the unopened freeway, but found our paths blocked by an enormous drainage ditch. The mind can play strange tricks on you when you’re lost. And we were not alone. Others were following us into a series of dead ends and the cold, which had no physical obstacle, was becoming bone chilling. Finally we spotted some people who looked like they knew where they were going and followed them out to where the cars surreally sat on the unfinished freeway. As we walked to our car, there was a straight looking guy ahead of us in full rage, screaming and pounding on cars. He was absolutely furious and seemed completely frustrated. We gave him a wide berth but I don’t think we were in any danger from him. It just seemed that he had something he needed to vent. In a big way. When we got to the Fury several of the windows had been smashed out and there was glass all over the inside of the car. We cleaned it out and got the hell out of there pronto. We didn’t hear about the murder in front of the stage until the following day. The truth is, it could have been worse. A lot worse.

Jim had a birthday. As usual we had visitors, Jim an army buddy, and I a friend from the University of the Pacific who had brought along several of his friends, one guy and two girls. Also as usual, we decided to drop acid to celebrate, even though it was a work night for me. Somehow, on the way down to Eppler’s bakery to buy a cake I managed to consume three hits of various types of lsd. Katy and I were standing up in the VW van, singing out the retractable roof port as we rode through the Tenderloin, where the bakery was located. By the time we got back to the house I was barely corporeal. I tried socializing but it was no good. One of the girls from UOP felt ill and went to lie down in one of the bedrooms. More people started arriving, the elderly gentleman Jack, the guy who owned the Overcast bar on Haight Street where Jim spent time. Various others. I was no longer earthbound. I repaired to my room rushing like nobody’s business.

They say that the rush you get from shooting speed is the most pleasurable and I would assume that the rush for a heroin junkie is the greatest relief. A strong hit of lsd, though, is a real Hang On To Yourself proposition. My mind told me to get into a yoga posture to absorb the energy of the experience. I ended up in the corpse position, which is basically just lying on your back motionless and as relaxed as you can possibly be. I alternated between worry and wonder. You cannot allow yourself to panic in that situation. My childhood experience with asthma had prepared me well, because the worst thing you can do when you are unable to breathe is freak out. The trick is to keep breathing and if that fails, the trick is to stay calm. Come what may.

“So this is what the music of the spheres is all about” it occurred to me.

I wonder if the proliferation of all the Art and Physics books a decade or two later stemmed from these kinds of experiences. No matter. I was in my room, door closed and a party was going on outside.

Customarily, I was the one brought in to talk people down from the the psychic ledge.

“Peter, John Buriesci is freaking out back here!”

“No you’re not, John!” was my first response. Which usually got a laugh of relief from the disoriented party

I heard someone knocking. I vectored in toward the sound. It was on my bedroom door. I got up and answered it. It was elderly Jack, who had come to show me his suit, which he had made in Hong Kong in the 1940’s. He turned around and lifted his shoulders to show me how well it had fit him. Then. Time the merciless. It was either a subtle and masterful rescue job on his part or he was bored with the company outside or a combination of the two. He convinced me to go back to the party. I went to the living room and took doggone first album by Blood Sweat and Tears off the turntable and put on Think About It by the Yardbirds. It was totally rude. I started dancing to it in a squatting position.When it was over Jim, who was more than slightly drunk said, “What was that?”

Katy answered saying, “I don’t know, but it was good.”

The party was moving in two different directions, one psychedelic and one alcoholic. But it was amicable. Jim and his friends went down to the Overcast for drinks and I suggested the rest of us go to the old Fillmore, which was now open only sporadically and run, I believe, by the band the Flamin’ Groovies. The Dead were playing that night. This made eminent sense for the psychedelic group. I rescued the UOP girl from the bedroom and a group of us headed off. When we got there it was obvious that we had made the right choice. The room was full of energy and it was synergistic. I have never liked the Grateful Dead especially. I like their attitude, I like their intelligence, I like their approach. I would like to be friends with them. I just don’t like their music. But I have seen them on two occasions when they were utterly transcendent. And this was one of them. They were so unified as a group and with the audience that when Garcia went to take a solo it seemed as though he apologized to us before taking it, individualistic effort that it was. With each successive section of a song it seemed that they as a group took it up a level. And we were with them all the way. By the end of the night the room was filled with glowing, sweaty, happy people. We all felt as though we’d been somewhere special. As we walked out the door all of the conversations I overheard began with “That was incredible”. When we got back to my place the others went to sleep and I went in to the living room and put on Procol Harum’s “Shine on Brightly”.

“Even my befuddled brain, is shining brightly, quite insane.” Indeed. And then I went to work at the Army Post Office. Soldier on.

When I got home from work the next day they had saved me a piece of cake.

Jim and I had no friction in our relationship, even though we were dissimilar. He was a Vietnam vet, virile and worldly and I was a scrawny peacenik rock and roller. We were both asthmatics. After his suicide eight years later his brother told me that Jim would never show me his dark side. It’s so important to be seen as good and honorable by somebody, especially in the midst of serious troubles. I will never see him in any other way because he made it easy for me to keep that image and that memory.

Jim and Katy, by now a couple, left for Jim’s hometown of Seattle and Hogan and I rented rooms to two students from the University of San Francisco. One was the wealthy son of an arms manufacturer (talk about irony) and the other was an acquaintance of ours with whom we had gone to high school. He was widely known as Dirty Joe and was the kind of guy who looks unclean upon stepping out of the shower. The former was o.k., source of wealth notwithstanding, but the latter was slime. He had a penchant for doing hard drugs and occasionally brought them into the house, against our wishes. Believe me, there are big differences among the various types of controlled substances. In my opinion, the government campaigns against drugs fail because they insist upon making no distinctions between the various kinds of drugs. Everybody I knew in the late sixties smoked pot and none of them became heroin addicts or speed freaks. None. Zero. Nor does pot lead to cocaine. A good number of people I knew in the late seventies did coke and none of them graduated to it from pot. I can’t even imagine taking lsd now, and haven’t for more than twenty years. I had no withdrawals. Never had to break into anyone’s house to take care of my habit. Nor did any pot smoker. I’m not advocating any of this stuff and I’ve never been and never will be a candidate for sainthood. But there are differences and it’s important to make the distinctions, kids. So this guy was breaking house rules and was selfish and duplicitous about it. The fact that he was enrolled at USF lowered my opinion of that school immeasurably.

Around Christmas time, Jim and Katy returned and moved back in under the stairs. I had been offered a full-time mail carrier position to commence once the holiday crunch was over. I figured that if I took it I would have enough money to buy my amp and have something to live on by the time DJ and Dave transferred to Berkeley. To form the glorious band. Jim and Katy were planning to go north again after the new year and Pat was thinking about going back to school.

One night we decided to make sand candles as Christmas presents. We went down to Ocean Beach and lugged a bunch of the incredibly heavy stuff back to the flat. We made impressions in the sand and poured hot wax into the impressions. Insert wick, cool, and voila, instant present. Dirty Joe came in and started making insinuations about my sexuality. I was not at all sexually secure and hadn’t been since my thing with Schempf. I’d only been out with one girl in the meantime, and our brief relationship did not work out sexually. Unfortunately, she knew Dirty Joe and had mentioned it to him. He started pushing my buttons. Insinuations became taunting. But he misreadthe situation. Unsuccessful sex, especially for a young person, does not necessarily mean that they are a) gay or b) unwilling to give someone a comeuppance. I told him to shut up or I’d shut him up. He didn’t believe me. As PJ has often said, “Anyone who knows you, knows your veracity.” I meant it.  One punch and Dirty Joe was lying on the floor. Hogan grabbed me. “What are you doing, Dunne?” This was not non-violence. I felt a tremendous mix of emotions. I felt exhilarated and I felt extremely guilty, that I’d betrayed a fundamentally held principle.  “I feel like Elvis,” I told Hogan. “You should feel like shit,” he replied.

When Dirty Joe got to his feet I pushed him down the hall and out the door. He came back eventually and even continued to live there, but he and I had nothing to say to each other after that. It took me years to get over the guilt I felt. I tried to console myself by saying that he had it coming, and he did, but it didn’t matter. I’ve since forgiven myself. He had it coming.

On Christmas Day itself I went down the Peninsula to be with my family. When I got home I found everything of value in the house piled up just inside the front door, ready to be moved out. I heard the backdoor open and somebody scrambling down the back stairs into the alley between the Victorians. Theftus interruptus. In truth, there wasn’t that much of value save our two Gibsons and two Fender Deluxes. We had no tv, no appliances, no phone for that matter, just the music gear and an old Sears stereo and some records. But it was an indication of where the Haight was going at the tail end of the decade. Businesses closing, dog shit everywhere on the sidewalk (this is really the enduring image for me), hard drugs and opportunistic petty criminals. Dream over. There anyway. It was time to move on. I resolved to move back into my folks’ place, take the mail carrier job and save some real money. The job paid $2.86 per hour. About a month after I left the flat in the Haight I returned for a brief visit. Jim and Katy had gone again but Hogan was still there. And so was Dirty Joe, who was shooting up speed with a friend in the living room when I walked in. I did not look back.

Things at home were really no better than they had been when I got out of there the first time. I had been hired to work in San Francisco so they assigned me to the Visitacion Valley Station in the southern end of the city since I now lived on the Peninsula. I bought a 1954 Plymouth for $100 to get me to and from work.

But something was wrong, very wrong with me and I had no idea what it was or how to deal with it. And its onset coincided with the return of my brother Bill to my parents home.

There is a condition that is now referred to as young adult male schizophrenia syndrome that I am told is unfortunately common. And my guess is that it is genetic. Whatever name you give it, something very strange happened to my brother after he had graduated from college from which he never recovered. From all accounts he was bright, affable and well liked. Socially copacetic. But he got what I will call the “saint bug”. That is, at some point in his early twenties he decided that he wanted to be a saint. It had a large obsessive compulsive component. He took a job in a bank, and in addition to his regular duties would begin checking the accuracy of individual accounts. If he found a discrepancy, no matter how small, he would call the customer at home and inform them of the error. This did not endear him to the bank officials and he was fired.

He repeated this behavior, this obsessive perfectionism, in a succession of jobs until he decided that he wanted to become a Trappist monk. I don’t think they were rigorous enough for him. I wish I were kidding. The monks did some farming in Northern California and he was given the job of harvesting tomatoes. The ripe ones. He picked them all. The abbott personally escorted him home. I was eight or nine at the time and I remember that when he got home his feet had no skin on the soles. Every square centimeter was a scabrous blood blister on top of a scabrous blood blister. He had ignored the injury in some kind of saintly self-mortification delusion. I was recently reminded of this when I saw the Lars von Trier film Breaking the Waves, which, in fact, ultimately gives credibility to the, shall we say, “crucifixion” model. Who am I to disagree?

When I returned home, so did Bill. Where he had been, no one knew. He had escaped from the Atascadero mental hospital years before and had vanished completely.

He was quite mad by this time and his obsessions took all sorts of curious forms. He would sit for hours at a time smoking Parliament cigarettes at the kitchen table with a newspaper, recopying the articles onto a pad, only changing the spelling of every word in the article. He thought that if he shat or farted, it was an indication that he was being wasteful and so adhered to the most ascetic of diets. But the sainthood aspect was fading, I think.

His brain circuitry was so addled after his original disorder and the subsequent shock treatments and god knows what else, that his problems stemmed primarily from dissociative mental processes. Ascribing characteristics and values to ideas inappropriately. Overestimating the importance of insubstantial ideas or events. Odd justifications. I have not studied psychiatry but I was beginning to experience some of the same things in myself and I could see where these mis-associations led and how they started. I was terrified. I began worrying that my sexual insecurities indicated that I was a deviant. I had an acid trip which I experienced almost entirely as Judeo-Christian archetypes. I was Michael the Archangel in the original battle during which Lucifer fell from heaven, I was Christ in the Garden of Olives envisioning his own crucifixion, Christ on the Cross. The scary thing was that while I was tripping my mind was telling me that I must go through these ordeals for the betterment of mankind. Real redemption delusions. Or so we tell ourselves now.

The funny thing is, I never have liked the crucifixion archetype. It does seem like the ultimate logical extension of Aristotle’s “Man must suffer to be be wise” aphorism and the Buddhistic notion of Tathagatagarbha, but twisted or a bit too occult. We may learn from suffering but what do we learn from the story of Christ dying for us, or our sins? It always seemed to me that there must be a better way to go about personal betterment. Salvation I don’t know about.

Anyway, these experiences (they were not hallucinations and had little or nothing to do with anything sensory) came unbidden to me. This was not especially my persuasion, trained though I was in Roman Catholicism.  Toward the end of the most intense portion of this trip, having endured a particularly arduous (excruciating?) “sacrifice”, my mind formed the question that if I did what I had just done, then what did Christ do that was so much better? It was something of a demand for proof. A large wave of what I will call peaceful energy, like an enormous warm weather pattern or front seemed to pass by to the front of me. A cloud of positively charged particles. I was not engulfed in it but I could feel the effects of it from where I stood. What any of this means I have no idea but it was very difficult to re-enter the “real” world after having this stuff go through your ”opened” (John Lennon’s term) and vulnerable mind.

Once Mark, my roommate from New York, told me that he didn’t like the movie Blow Up, which was very popular and controversial at the time because it ultimately seemed to be asking the incredibly banal question “What is real?” For the next year or so even the banalities were not a given.

My mom once told me that you cannot pray for yourself. Unfortunately, this puts you last in line for your trouble. I spent the better part of that year praying as if my sanity depended on it. Chanting, mantras, Lord’s Prayer, you name it. West, East, didn’t matter. “One true God”, Hindu gods of a million guises, pantheistic, pagan, any god in a storm. I couldn’t tell if this put me even closer to my brother’s mania, which I was sure I was developing, or helping me to escape from it, which was my sole intention. I also couldn’t tell if being in close proximity to him was giving my mind a role model or alerting me to the dangers. Even he began intimating that I had the same problems that he did. In his own obtuse way.

It was an ongoing struggle for sanity and there was nothing romantic about it.

Sexual insecurity was a good part of the confusion as well. My recent aborted attempts at sex and the fact that some people presumed I was gay eroded my confidence and gave rise to all sorts of fears and questions. But I had no interest in men and I was not sexually obsessed in any way. In fact, if we’re going to get into the gory details, I had never even masturbated. Not once. Didn’t think about it. Sexual immaturity, Catholic repression, who knows. But that was the case. Somehow I began to get the idea that if I could have a few successful sexual experiences I would be all right. Of course the more important this became in my estimation the further away it seemed as a possibility. I couldn’t tell if this was a component of my brother’s problem also. He didn’t really ever exhibit any aberrant sexual behavior that I saw. God bless him.

So I spent a lot of energy trying to conceal my fears, from my friends especially, most of whom saw right through it, I’m sure. I was reading a lot of Oriental material on mind management techniques. Detachment, non-identification. It helped to hear that I did not have to identify with the thoughts that were running through my mind. They were just thoughts, the mind will generate all sorts of crazy notions and combinations of notions and you don’t have to take ownership of any of them. It’s just the what the mind mechanism does. You can have an overview, discard, laugh it off, observe. This was so crucial to my survival at that point that I can hardly overestimate it. But it got pretty hairy before it got better. And it got better very slowly.

DJ and Dave had transferred up to UC Berkeley. They moved into a house on Grove St., now Martin Luther King Drive, and we began to rehearse there in the garage.

Berkeley was at its radical zenith, and that is saying something. The mysterious East Bay was now the revolutionary East Bay. In spades. People’s Park, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army. It was unbearably political, something the hippie philosophy was not. Hippies not only had no interest in overthrowing or changing the government, they didn’t even acknowledge that there was a government. But that approach was becoming impossible, at least in the urban areas. You were now either part of the problem or part of the solution. No middle ground.

I lived at home and worked long enough at the Post Office to buy my Fender Twin Reverb and have a bit to live on. “Well, you did what you said you were going to do” said the carrier who was my mentor when I announced my resignation. I moved into the place on Grove Street and we began to work on the band in earnest.

We started out doing reworkings of old songs for the most part, a few of my original songs and one of DJ’s. Baby Please Don’t Go,  Mean Woman Blues, Born Under a Bad Sign, Train Kept a Rollin’, Fever. We began to play a few gigs. A couple of benefits, a few high school dances. DJ and I hit every frat and sorority house at Stanford, San Jose State and Berkeley and we got a few jobs from that. We got a call to play a date at a club called the Checkmate Inn in East Palo Alto in a little strip mall that soon after changed its name to the Nairobi Shopping Center.

It was apparently owned by a member of the Checkmates, Ltd. singing group, which was something of a success on the Nevada circuit. It was a weeknight and we were playing for free. But we were playing. The club was empty for the most part, but a few people tried to dance to our mostly undanceable music and a few others watched us from the bar. Midway through the evening a white couple (this was a black club) happened in, danced a few numbers and spoke to DJ’s girlfriend, who was with us that night. Before leaving, they gave her a note with a phone number. And at the end of the night, I was approached by an older, shall we say, entrepeneurial black fellow.

“Come with me and I’ll make you a star, like the Rolling Stones”, he said, more than once.

He wanted us to come to some other clubs with him and meet some people. He was related to one of the Checkmates, Ltd. We cruised to a couple of other local clubs with him and got introduced around. Everybody knew him. “This cat is outta sight” he said over and over to anybody who’d listen. “Gonna make them big stars just like the Rolling Stones.” We went back to the Checkmate Inn after a while to load out and parted company with our host who was still promising the stars. We suspected that this wouldn’t come to much but it was nice to get the attention and the validation. And it was an entertaining bit of theater.

The following day I called the number that the other guy at the club had left with DJ’s girlfriend. I reached a company which exported wigs–but, they forwarded the call to the guy who ran the company who took it. And he was serious about meeting with the band. It was arranged that we would meeet with him at his facility and he asked if we would set up in the middle of the building and play for his employees during their lunch break. We had no PA system and told him so but he said that we could just do instrumental versions of our songs. This seemed a bit ridiculous but we were not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. So we played for the entire Riviera Wig company in the middle of their warehouse/office complex in Palo Alto at noon on a workday. And were favorably received. Goodness knows why. A guitar, bass, drums, trio playing songs which required a vocal without vocals. But we were. They were interested. Money changed hands! This is where it gets real, folks. They gave us money for clothes, for rehearsal space rental, and a bit just to have in our pockets. They wanted us to do a showcase set at the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel for the annual meeting of their international buyers. And they were going to pay us for the gig! We were elated. We went into San Francisco on our way home to celebrate. We bought clothes at some trendy stores in North Beach and ate at the Spaghetti Factory. This was quite the bright spot for me in the middle of my crumbling psyche, but I knew not to get too excited. Castles made of sand and all that.

The people who owned the place on Grove St. in Berkeley had received complaints about the noise emanating from the garage and had forbidden us to rehearse there. Some of the money we got from the bigwigs at the big wig company we used to rent a space in Funtier Town at the recently closed Playland at the Beach amusement park at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. All of the various Old West buildings had become individual rehearsal rooms. I believe we had the General Store. This was not the brightest of moves on our part. None of the three of us had a vehicle (we borrowed for gigs), and in order to rehearse we had to hitchhike from Berkeley across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco and then all the way across town to Ocean Beach. Sometimes we took the SF Muni bus from downtown which alone took an hour to make its way to the beach. And it was almost always cold, overcast and windy when we got out there. No snow, though.

The Avalon Ballroom had closed and the Family Dog had moved its operation out to Playland as well and was now having dances at a building which had formerly housed an enormous slot car track. I stood in line there freezing to death on a number of occasions. Sometimes Chet Helms (who headed up the Family Dog) would walk up and down the line waving a censer at those of us in the queue as a pleasant diversion against the cold. I actually fell asleep there one night during a Grateful Dead show. I told you they could be boring. And of course I saw the Kinks who played there during their second tour of duty, having alienated Bill Graham. They were fairly awful live. Ray did an incredibly realistic impersonation of a drunk and the limits of the rhythm section were painfully evident. Dave, however, looked great in an orange velvet tunic and dark velvet trousers, and was by and large the redeeming musical element in the performance. These impresssions which were formed long ago I believe are accurate having seen a Dave Davies solo show at the Fillmore recently. Solid as a rock and rocked hard. Go Dave.

I never liked Berkeley. I like radical thinking but I’m suspicious of radical bandwagons. There were too many organizers, would-be leaders, splinter movements, radical would-be political parties, radical religious movements, benefits for this and that, marches and protests and demonstrations for this and that. Some of them carried the real message, the mystical body of the change that we needed to make as a people, but a lot of it was self-serving, self righteous, sloganeering hogwash. And it was not without cost. There was at least one murder during my stay there (that time) up on Telegraph Avenue where a protester was shot and killed, I believe by a police sniper, during a demonstration. This was a year or so after the People’s Park riots had produced a similar death.

The night following the sniping murder I woke up very early and went for a walk just after dawn. It was a very still morning, no wind, no activity, really a merciful relief. Someone had posted flyers all over town saying “Where does peace come from, anyway?” The message was clear. It was time for us to demonstrate the things we were demanding. The discontent with the war and with racial inequity was escalating to where you could hardly tell the good guys from the bad guys. A serious adherence to the principle of non-violence was incumbent, especially upon those who were calling for it with such a loud and ever growing voice. I had recently been at an all-nighter at Winterland which featured Quicksilver (since reformed with Dino Valenti) the Dead and the Airplane, at which Grace Slick put on the stoned audience (acid had been passed out to all and sundry upon entry– this was not a Bill Graham run show), pretending to be a radical hippie-chick organizer of yet another benefit for this and that. It was very comical and offered a thinking person’s perspective on just how absurd certain factions of the “movement” had become. That was quite a night, as I recall. Very informal, no advertising, the best San Francisco had to offer. Well apart from the hype and hoopla. Political and otherwise. There were two peaks to the evening for me. The first came during the Airplane’s first set. Paul Kantner had sung a new song of theirs called “Have You Seen the Saucers” which it seemed to me he was having a hard time pronouncing. It came out as “sources” instead of “saucers”, which I still find infinitely more thought-provoking. Following this they did “Crown of Creation” which is nothing if not profound, and was reaching at that moment with that crowd the realization of its eternal reflexive verity. When they sang “Life Is change, how it differs from the rocks, I’ve seen their ways too often for my liking, new worlds to gain, my life is to survive and be alive, for you,” it seemed that the world slowed its movement in space to a complete stop. The still point of the dance. The band itself seemed to have slowed to that stop as well. Involuntarily. The above lines, which end the tune, provide a much needed tone and resolution to a song which begins with the line “You, are the crown of creation, and you’ve got nowhere to go.” We needed somewhere to go. Big time.

Speaking of somewhere to go, at around 4:30 in the morning DJ and I left Winterland and, in no hurry to sleep, took a walk through the park to Ocean Beach and back again to the Berkeley bus stop. A quick 10 mile jaunt. The Berkeley bus stop was the Oak St. entrance to the Central Freeway, where hitchhikers headed for University Ave. in Berkeley rarely had to wait long for a ride. It was just after sunrise when we got there and DJ and I and a young kid, maybe 15 years old were the only ones there. The kid was going to Kansas. He had hitchhiked out to San Francisco alone and that night had realized his dream of seeing Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and the Quicksilver Messenger Service at Winterland. He was one beaming satisfied incredulous kid. And he really caught a great one. The first car that stopped for us was a guy going to New York. The kid was home.

I was still sexually thwarted and didn’t have any local prospects, but there was a girl still at UCSB that I fancied and so I decided to hichhike down there one weekend and look her up. It took all day and I arrived there at night. Isla Vista was empty. I went to the apartments of people I knew but no one was home. I turned a corner and was walking down the middle of the street when a huge green military truck carrying armed soldiers appeared directly in front of me, maybe 75 yards away. A voice over a loudspeaker instructed me to stop, and lie face down in the middle of the street. I complied. There was a curfew, a strict curfew and martial law of a sort was in effect. And no one had stuck around for it. I explained to the soldiers that I had just hitchhiked into town looking for friends and knew nothing about the situation. The Bank of America in Isla Vista (basically a student community adjacent to the campus) had been burned to the ground. They believed me and believe me, my own fear and surprise probably read pretty clearly to them. Still, the possibilities flash before you. I could see the headlines, “Outside agitator arrested in conjunction with bank burning”. They could easily have hauled me off right there and been able to justify it without difficulty. But they escorted me out of I.V. and I hitchhiked into Santa Barbara and got a motel for the night. And all for some biological imperative.

Our band was called Full Measure, after the song by the Lovin’ Spoonful. We played for the wig folks at the Grand Ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel but their interest waned as the summer approached. They began to take our calls only infrequently and finally, when I expressed a bit of exasperation they said that we were free to take any other offer that came along. Of course there weren’t any so we let it drop. I believe they were having problems of their own but that’s neither here nor there. The Grove Street house dissolved during the summer, all of us moving back to our parents’ homes, at least until the fall quarter.

Things had gotten worse at home. My brother and his schizophrenia were firmly ensconced and his behavior was becoming stranger in a way that can only happen in a family context. Most family members, it seems to me, develop odd idiosyncratic ways of dealing with one another over the course of long exposure to one another.The problem with Bill was that you couldn’t humor or indulge him like you could someone with a mental deficiency. He wouldn’t have it. He was very smart and would not tolerate any patronization. There were points when his hyperactive circuitry did not take him too far afield and he was totally lucid. But his bad patches were getting worse and he was developing a sense of entitlement about being there. The small house had become terribly claustrophobic and the incidents of conflict were increasing. Even he would take long walks to relieve the tension and thought nothing of going for a 30 or 40 mile trek down the El Camino Real. With no particular place to go.

I spent a good lot of time in the living room practicing piano or in my room writing music and lyrics. The conflicts escalated. My father found two ‘two by fours’ with long nails driven through them tucked under the back tires of his car. Then Bill drew a knife on him. In some ways this was not very surprising. I couldn’t get along with the old man either, but the situation was reaching critical mass. My father was afraid, and rightly so, and also felt that there was no way he could get Bill out of the house, which he could sense was inevitable. He was conflicted in a big way, and guilty for what he was thinking. It’s a tough thing to kick your own son out of your house, and tougher still when you realize that there is no way that he will find a reasonable niche in society. However, it’s probably better than being murdered by your own son, certifiable or not.  These were probably the darkest days of my life. I was struggling with my own sanity and this was not the environment in which to do it. I was going nowhere, had no money or job or place of my own. Band, such as it was, on hiatus. School? Couldn’t get excited about it. Girlfriend? Not even close. Insanity? Incoming and fully reinforced. I had prayer and the passage of time and that’s about it. And a love of music.

I took a job and being a long haired person, immediately met every “head” in the building. I can’t even remember what the company did or what I did there. Something clerical. I became friends with some of the guys in shipping and receiving and began to hang out a bit at their house in San Mateo. A big old funky place with many rooms and roommates. A bit of a revolving door situation as it turned out. The situation at home was deteriorating further. Bill drew a knife on me during a quarrel. I stupidly invited him to use it, which he wisely declined. It was getting hard to tell who was nuts without a scorecard. Finally I had a big row with my father, probably about the Vietnam war or racism, which was not that unusual but the tensions were high enough that I left his house and moved into the house in San Mateo. I got the couch. This was not to his advantage at all since it left him alone with Bill (and my mom), but it was getting to be every man for himself.  At least none of us had napalm.

The house into which I moved had a couple in one room, one of whom was a guy I worked with, a single guy in another room, who also worked with us, and three single women. One was a dark haired, darkly complected earth mother type, one was a lesbian who still sported fashions from the previous era (ratted hair, 50s clothing), and one was a fairly attractive, fashionably funky (for the late 60’s) woman who lived in the uppermost room in the house. It was around Christmastime. One night, while I was settling in on the couch, the girl from the top floor asked if I wanted to spend the night with her. Believe me, she held all the cards. I most certainly did. She laid out the ground rules. She had a numero uno, and when he came around I was persona non grata, but otherwise I was welcome and could stay with her in her room. She would give me notice of his comings and goings. I could live with this. I went upstairs with her and I forcibly put all performance fears out of my brain. This was my chance for redemption. The atmosphere was comfortable. I put Abbey Road on her stereo.

The difficulties I feared never materialized. Quite the contrary. It was a very sweet and sensuous experience for both of us. Several times over.

We repeated our efforts on a few more occasions, when her official boyfriend wasn’t around. I suppose I was something of what they call a “boy toy” nowadays, but that was the absolute least of my concerns. She moved out of the house a few weeks later, possibly into Numero Uno’s place, and I never saw her again. She will never know what that first night meant to my piece of mind. What had seemed so recently to be such a total impossibility had, in fact, occurred in the blink of an eye. “One sweet dream, came true, today, yes it did, na, na, na.”

I got a call from my father whom I had not heard from since our row. The mere fact that he called meant that something major was afoot since his pride would never allow him to be the one to reinitiate peaceable relations. Either he was swallowing hard or he was in trouble. It was the latter. The conflicts with Bill had escalated to the point at which he called the police to have them forcibly remove him from the house. Bill, of course, old hand at this as he was, had slipped out the back door as they arrived and escaped through the easement between the houses that ran the length of the block. My father feared a return and posiible reprisals. He was scared to death. And he wanted reinforcements. It just so happened that my old friend Mickey was visiting me from UOP. We had purchased a refrigerator keg for the weekend. I told Mick what was up and the two of us lugged the keg over to my father’s place to stand watch. My father paid for the keg.

Bill sent a couple of cryptic messages from various places over the next few years. One to me from the Atascadero State Hospital asking me to visit and warning me that if they saw my long hair they would lock me up too. His messages were always in some kind of odd, often rhyming meter, and were riddles rather than anything declamatory. The spellings of words would be, let’s say, innovative, and you always got the impression that there was some kind of coded message buried in the language that was just beyond “gettable”. By design or because that’s all that he could do. The King of Ellipses. Finally some completely indecipherable postcards began arriving infrequently from somewhere in West Virginia. He seemed to have settled a bit. There was some speculation that he had found a relatively benign niche as the “town idiot” there, wherever that was, but then the postcards stopped coming altogether. It’s likely that I will never know his fate.

I stayed on in that house a bit longer. First one roommate, then the next moved out. It was just the gay woman and myself for the last few weeks. She was a lot of fun and would come onto me periodically, primarily, I suspect, to irritate her petite Latina girlfriend who was called Flea. Flea was insanely jealous and had a volcanic temper which I think it amused my roommate to provoke. I avoided provoking it myself. Discretion being the better part of survival in this case.

I left my job, actually, I got fired. Nothing too distressing, all in all. I was flirting with the idea of going back to school again and doing a pre-med thing,but there was the matter of the band and music still had me in its sway. When school had resumed, DJ had moved into a big, modern, rather architecturally outrageous house in the Berkeley Hills with several other students. It was up in the trees, above the very top of Ashby Ave, and was a multi split-level with a view, sunken bathtubs, and plenty of rooms. It gave us a place to rehearse and we resumed in earnest.

We were still playing infrequently. The San Francisco scene was drying up and Berekeley was BenefitLand, i.e., no money possible, so we decided to focus on recording. DJ knew an engineer from his days with People (no “the “) who ran a small studio in Hayward and arranged for a session there. We rehearsed a bit as a band but Dave was getting deeper and deeper into his schoolwork, so DJ and I worked out parts on our own. the details: harmonies, overdubs and such. We cut Shakedown, an uptempo number of mine which was about my brother, First Hour, a ballad of John’s, and Barbary, my Pirate epic. I was writing like a fiend. I had so much to process, to give some form of expression to. I considered my life and madness, my brother’s life and madness and escape from life and madness while I was writing, and often these considerations, which in fact were mostly questions, assumed the guise of songlyrics. Some entirely literal, some not. Years later, a manager I had asked me how many songs I had written. I gave him a fair estimate, which by that time was a good number of songs.

“But how many of them are good songs?” he asked.

“They’re all good,” I replied, meaning that if I hadn’t discovered or addressed the issue that was on my mind sufficiently, then the song would not have been completed. In verse, chorus and middle eight. And variations thereof. I wasn’t being cocky about it, but he had no idea what I was talking about. This is not to say that everything I wrote about was a life and death issue. I did escapism, love songs (usually with a capital L) and was about to become fully enamored of romanticism (with a capital R), but they were always about something or they didn’t get written. Now if I’d been in a position to write lyrics for say, the Spice Girls, I daresay things would have taken a different bent. But I wasn’t and this was the absolute heyday of the singer/songwriter. Neil Young, James Taylor. Carole King was just moments away from global domination and wasn’t that a ray of sunshine?

We did a second session, too, this one at the Hawaiian Gardens (again) in San Jose which had its live setup outfitted for recording. We did much of our live set for this one which included Fever, Baby Please Don’t Go and the rest. I remember thinking upon hearing the playback that I had promise as a guitarist but my quasi Robert Plant vocals on Fever left a bit to be desired.

The upshot of these sessions was experience and experience only. As far as I know, we never used them as demos for live gigs or for record labels. I’m sure the tape stock is landfill by this time but it’s a bit of a shame really, since the recording quality was in all likelihood fairly good for its time. Welcome to The Graveyard of Unrequited Recordings. Probably fill the Mediterranean.

I returned home one day to the place in the Berkeley Hills to find that my guitar, my precious Gibson ES-330 TD had been stolen. A long-haired mustachioed guy had been seen hanging areound the lower part of the house where my room was. He was actually approached by one of my roommates who asked him what he was doing there. He gave some semi-plausible excuse and high-tailed it. He must have already stashed the guitar and been back to see what else he could find. I don’t believe Dante ever described a bardo of hell reserved especially for thieves of musical instruments, but he should have. It would be slightly more agonizing than that reserved for Satan, who was at the top of that particular food chain, maybe involving having to endure a a really annoyingly out-of-tune performance by a completely oblivious musician. Real swingin’ the cat stuff. For eternity. No possibility for parole.

I was devastated but someone came to the rescue. It was Guy, my friend from San Jose who had loaned me (a long term loan, indeed) his Fender DeLuxe Reverb amp, which I still have. He offered to loan me his Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar which he said he hadn’t used in ages and was underneath his bed at his mom’s house in San Jose. He had long since moved to Berkeley and was living in married student’s housing with his pregnant wife and her child from a previous relationship. I called his mom and retrieved the guitar which I used as a six string. It was identical to the guitar that my old bass player from the Plague had purchased with money stolen out of his father’s bureau. Guy never asked for money for either instrument. In truth, he was a very bright, very generous guy. He had a new family and was helping his wife through school. He died of an accidental drug overdose shortly after this latest act of generosity. The amp especially has seen more good use than just about any of comparable vintage and is still going strong.

Dave announced that he was leaving the band. He saw a path and the coursework he needed to follow it precluded dilly-dallying about with a rock group. That’s not entirely fair and accurate. His path actually included music and musical instruments in a big way. Electronic instruments. He had the first Moog synthesizer I ever saw. But it didn’t allow much time for rehearsing and the business of being in a band. His various musical and engineering pursuits piqued an interest in sequencing and synthesized polyphony, and he took that fork and followed it to great success. I know this is true because a sampling instrument I just bought lo these many years later has loaded into its memory several barbed references to the first company that he started and for which the sampler company guys worked. Something about profits.

To his great credit, Dave actually found someone to take his place before he left. This was important because we had some college party gigs coming up which were vital to our strategy of eating to survive. But this lineup didn’t last long. As I mentioned, the San Francisco scene was fading. The Family Dog at the Beach was short lived and the Fillmore West would close in early summer. This left the Orphanange as the only ongoing rock club of any note, although bigger shows at Winterland went on for another eight years. There were a few interesting scenes happening, though. One of which held forth at the old Palace (sometimes called the Pagoda Palace) Theater in North Beach at the edge of Chinatown.

This was the stronghold of the Cockettes, an outrageous gaggle of rock and roll drag queens whose performances were usually sandwiched between equally outrageous films by the likes of Jean Genet. These were the formative years of the since fully codified gay movement, in San Francisco at least, and there was nothing like going to Sam Wo for Chinese, getting abused by the late Edsel Ford Fong, the Don Rickles of waiters, and checking out the latest bit of cleverly choreographed madness of the Cockettes. One of whom was the late great disco diva Sylvester, with whom I was a label mate many moons hence. Another relatively unknown nugget of a scene was happening at a place called Wumper’s Ol’ Man, on upper Grant Avenue. This was a fully mixed, gay and straight, black and white and all the rest, club at which patrons danced to the jukebox and no one checked ID’s. Occasionally, an Elvin Bishop or a Sunnyland Slim would set up in the middle of the room and play unannounced. Now that I think about it, there was still something of a scene on Upper Grant in general throughout the changes in the Haight and the rest of the city. Even when we lived in the Haight, Jim and Hogan and I would traipse over to North Beach and hang out on the street, drinking beer (they would, anyway) and enjoying the ambience.  The Coffee Gallery, a remnant of the 50’s beat scene was still open, and you could play chess and scrabble in there or catch a poet or folkie, and the still going strong 1232 1/2 Saloon will be there long after the TransAmerica pyramid is a memory I’m sure. But live music opportunities were few.

It was at this time that the draft lottery had been instituted and a lot of folks who were in school primarily to evade the draft (and the insane war) found that motivation relaxed. DJ was one of these.

I was in touch with Jim and Katy, who had moved to Seattle, gotten married and had a child. It’s amazing how quickly these things happen for some people. They lived in a cottage on a small lake just north of town. According to Jim, it was a great place for music. Lots of clubs, taverns, he called them, many of which featured live music. DJ and I decided to relocate to Seattle.

It seems that we used to make lots of important decisions in a big hurry. We had no money, we would be staying with a couple with a brand new child. DJ was in school. We had no vehicle. Logistics? No problem. Just read Dharma Bums one more time for inspiration. We rented a U-Haul van and set out just after my 21st birthday. At the very last moment, DJ’s girlfriend decided to come with us. Her name was and probably still is Elsa. If you’ve seen the brilliant movie, This Is Spinal Tap, you will recognize her as the meddling girlfriend who does her level best to break up the friendship at the core of the band. I swear they based that character on her. Let’s just say that the dynamic–and the endeavor, which was probably doable even under the ridiculous logistical limitations, changed. For the worse. Add this to the mix: 1) Jealous of the relationship between DJ and myself, which was not only old but historically interdependent, 2) Sexually curious about possibilities outside her relationship with DJ and not really ready to commit to him, 3) No reason to be there except for DJ, and consequently no business of any real import to occupy her (believe me, this really thwarted her blossoming feminism) 4) a tendency to lay the blame for her frustration on me (when DJ wasn’t available), usually by asserting that I was “psychotic,” a term she didn’t understand and used inappropriately. I don’t know if you ever get completely out of the woods after you’ve flirted with insanity of any sort, but I was pretty much in the clearing by this time. The three of us moved into a one bedroom cottage with Jim and Katy and their baby. Your idea of a good time?

But that’s getting ahead of the story for effect.

Righteous hippies that we were, we advertised around the Berkeley campus that we would be driving to Seattle if anyone needed a ride. And of course we had numerous takers and were fully overloaded, what with the drum set, my amps and guitar and our belongings. This didn’t prevent the people who we couldn’t fit from calling us elitist pigs. This was Berkeley, circa 1971, after all. The truth is, I hichhiked so much myself that I thought it would be enormously hypocritical if I were driving not to take as many riders as I could. We pulled out at sunset loaded to the gills. One of our roommates handed me a pint of gin for the trip as we were leaving, probably for fortification against Elsa, who would not, of course, be doing any of the driving. I don’t believe the word “hypocritical” appeared in the glossary of terms in her particular feminist handbook. For some romantic and insane reason we decided to go up Highway 101 as far as Oregon and cut across to interstate 5 through the mountains. The fact that it was dark with zero visibility, and the road, especially the one between the two main highways, was outrageously circuitous did not apparently cross our minds. It probably took us three hours more than it needed to. Most of which I drove. By the time I gave up the driver’s seat  around dawn, and wedged myself into a little corner in the back amidst the people and gear, I was ready for the gin.

DJ and I had a complex relationship. When we were unselfconcious and unguarded, we were best of friends. Since I was generally pretty unguarded, I cherished those moments and our friendship a great deal. But I was vulnerable and our history put me in something of a secondary role in the relationship. He had been in a successful band when I met him and he knew about things I was just becoming aware of at that time. Though things had changed continually since those early days, there was still more than a vestige of that superior/inferior quality, especially in the way he behaved toward me. And this, of course, was reinforced by Elsa. Insecurity is a funny thing. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they behave when they feel insecure. Generosity is the first thing to go and as the dominos fall, the last domino is very near something called selfishness. Or, to be generous about it, survival. To be constantly in the survival mode is not for everybody. I think it brings out the best and the worst, and in those in whom it does the latter, I recommend conservatism.

I most enjoyed being around DJ when he was high on pot. He was less critical and less motivated by self-interest. I could let my newly developing guard down and we could have a free exchange of ideas. Humor became a possibility. But the dynamic between a couple and a rogue male was another thing altogether. I have only ever had one female partner who had a problem with any of my single male friends and that because she thought he was a wastrel (which he was). And she was a minority of one, even to him. I suppose you could infer that my partners have handled insecurity well, or you might even suppose that there was never really anything to make them feel insecure. That was more or less how I felt. How am I a threat?

A lot of what complicated our three way relationship had to do with indecision or uncertainty. I had the benefit of being sure that music was what I wanted to do (for better or worse). DJ was committed, but his calling was not so unequivocal. And Elsa not only had no ambitions in this direction, which was the reason for our move, but she was not unequivocally committed to DJ, who was the reason, presumably, for her joining us. This is understandable, especially given our youthfulness. And it was for her to come to terms with. This, however, is hard. It’s much easier to criticize and complain and avoid the real issue, isn’t it? Perhaps its just lack of awareness of one’s motivations. Or maybe she just disagreed with the decision to move but wasn’t ready to sever her relationship with DJ. But there was a full lack of support from her as a result. And the wedge she actively drove took the form of reinforcement of any of DJ’s doubts about the viability of our endeavor.

It was the month of March when we arrived in Seattle and it was much colder than it ever gets in the Bay Area. Jim and Katy’s cottage was situated on a lake north of Seattle proper, up Highway 99, or Aurora, as it’s known locally. Five adults and a newborn baby in a one bedroom cottage. There was a boathouse with a rowboat just down the hill from the cottage where I began to spend a lot of time. I cleared a space in the boathouse so I could practice hatha yoga and spent a good many hours out on the lake rowing as well. We began to search for a more fixed abode with Jim’s help and began to suss out the club scene as well, which was just as fertile as they had described it. We hit Bananas and the Too High on Fremont St. near Lake Union, the Warehouse on Eastlake, Fresh Air on Capitol Hill, the Medicine Show on Pike St., Aquarius, the District, Grapevine, Plum Crazy, the Walrus, the list goes on and on. And there was a Fillmoresque scene at a Scottish Rites Temple downtown that was still in full swing. You could dance to live rock and roll at all of these venues, very few had cover charges and most had cheap beer. No hard liquor for the most part, these were classified as taverns.

Seattle was a funky town in those days. The west coast hippie scene found a hospitable host there, rents were inexpensive, attitudes were tolerant and its indisputable natural beauty compensated for leaving the similarly beautiful but not so rustic Bay Area.

I loved it, rain, unemployment, and all.  But I was in an awkward position and things were not going well in the house search. And band searches never go well. DJ and I advertised in music stores and in the underground press and after a number of auditions, jams and false starts in general, got our first band up on wobbly legs. We called it Full Measure again. It was the two of us plus a bearded hippie geezer who had a Hammond organ with a Leslie (rotating) speaker and a bass player I can’t picture for the life of me. May have come with the organist.

The club scene was for the most part about doing covers. Stones, Stevie Wonder, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac. Blues rock was best. We learned some Spooky Tooth, Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, did some older Spencer Davis and Van Morrison. Stuff with a Hammond. And we started doing audition nights at the clubs, or, Free Music on a Weeknight, as clubowners probably call it. Our first audition was at Bananas, a pretty hip club at the time. We did our set tolerably well enough, but there was serious competition and a serious pecking order on that circuit. I approached the manager after our set.

“You’re a hell of a guitarist”, he told me, starting with the time honored let-them-down-easy positive opening statement, “but I can’t hire you.”

He was sensitive enough but straightforward, which is more than you get from an awful lot of self-important types who do that work. I thanked him for the chance and went to tell the others. Quite honestly, this club was a bit over our heads and a bit much to ask for given our current lineup and relative newness. We loaded out disappointed but not totally dispirited. Collectively, we went to a restaurant following the gig to ponder our fortunes.

The keyboardist had a beautiful hippie wife who was also a new mother. She had long braided blonde hair and wore a  beautiful velvet dress. We were at a large table at the restaurant, DJ and Elsa, Jim and Katy, a few of Jim’s friends, the organist and his wife (who was sitting next to me), and the forgotten bassist, when all of a sudden the organist’s wife started coming on to me with something less than the discretion that the situation might require. And it was not because she was so smitten with my charms, either. It was some sort of display behavior with an agenda I could only guess at, but it was trouble, I knew that much. She repeatedly put her hand on my leg, perilously close to my crotch on occasion and she was paying a me a disproportionate amount of attention in full view of her husband, who was growing more chagrined by the minute. The thing about it was, you could tell that she held all the cards in that relationship. He was a hippie geezer mountain man type with a wife that was too beautiful for him by a factor of a lot, and he knew it. I tried to deflect, redirect, and avoid her attentions while we were waiting for our food. She may have been persuasively beautiful and I susceptible, but what was going on there was downright awkward and manipulative and she was not going to get the brunt of the grief no matter what she did. But someone has to, right?

Things were not the same for the band after that, short timers though we were. We played a few more gigs. A teen club north of town, for which we actually got paid and at which I met a lovely girl named Adrienne. She lived with her father who shipped her off to Portland and some familial protective custody not long after we started going out. Too much for dad. An audition or two. But it fell apart and DJ and I were once again left to our own devices.

He and Elsa found a room in a house on Queen Anne Hill overlooking the Seattle Center and I stayed on with Jim and Katy. Jim sold me a Studebaker for $20 worth of cocaine, which enabled me to commute in to the Queen Anne address where we rehearsed in the basement. It was a four quart a day commute, round trip. Two quarts of oil going in, two coming back. Smokestack lightnin’ had nothin’ on me. How I happened to be in possession of cocaine is a mystery, since I had never tried nor seen it before. It must have been a three way deal since I don’t know how Jim happened to have a Studebaker either. I probably gave Jim the $20 and he probably gave $20 worth of coke to a guy who had a Stud for sale. This makes sense since Jim had a lot buddies in Seattle with whom he had been in Vietnam, including his brother Perry (a great guy, incidentally). These cats had been fully exposed to harder drugs while overseas. And they still had a bit of taste for them, too, especially heroin, which had never been part of the Haight Ashbury scene. At least as far as I was concerned. That stuff makes you stupid, doesn’t it?

DJ and I at least had a place to play. We jammed a lot and entertained a stream of auditioners at the house on Queen Anne Hill, some of whom we didn’t like and some who didn’t like us.  The house was run (his name was on the rental agreement, anyway) by a gay postal worker named Scott, who wore a crew cut with a goatee and had not come out of the closet to our knowledge. But it was understood. He had the master bedroom and rented to an orphaned high school rock and roller with a fixed allowance. And to DJ and Elsa.

Their relationship was deteriorating and their rows were occurring on a regular basis. Everybody was doing foodstamps and scraping to get by. My car died and it was time for me to get out of Jim and Katy’s anyway, (although they would never have asked me to), so I moved into the basement at Queen Anne Hill and fahioned a bed for myself on a ledge set back into one of its recesses. Scott was not especially pleased about this since I had essentially done it without permission, but he accepted it when I announced that I could pay a fair share of the rent. He liked me too, if you know what I mean. I had received a bit of insurance money from my stolen guitar and at that moment was not totally impoverished. It was enough to enable me to also go clubbing and keep me in beer, for which I was developing a taste, much to the annoyance of DJ and Elsa. And there were some really good bands in the clubs. It was nothing like the 60s SF scene, these were all cover bands, with the exception of Easy Chair, a big horn band somewhat like the Sons of Champlin, and some of the blues bands. The only band I folowed at all was a group called Big Horn, which was becoming a draw in town and remained so in one form or another, for many years to come. Or so I’m told. They did mostly Stones and Jethro Tull material and had two lead singers, one of whom, Bobby Marcy, could wear clothes and had all the right moves. I went to the clubs where the girls were, basically.

The so-called sexual revolution was having a monster ripple effect right about then. I don’t want to write some boring treatise about this, which I’m sure has been done to death and then some, but there were some inexorable effects set in motion by that relaxation of mores. One was the women’s movement and another was the gay movement. I can’t really speak about the way those “new” ideas clashed with the status quo, because I had never bought into the status quo and to me it all seemed logical, natural, positive and inevitable. Equality for women? Duh! Acceptance of homosexuality? Get it out of the closet, mate!  A lot of it was style. Androgyny was happening in a big way. This was pre-Bowie for those of you keeping score. Even in the flannel-shirted, lumberjack Northwest of 1971 it was happening. I for one had really long blonde hair, no facial hair and a rather androgynous body type (then). The long hair was by choice. I got asked to dance in the clubs on a regular basis. By unwitting guys who hadn’t looked closely enough. This was pretty damn awkward to say the least but there was another side of the coin as well. Girls were interested too, and had better eyesight. And it’s not because I was so incredibly attractive, I promise you.  I think it’s because I was non-threatening. The new regime was being represented. Believe me, it used to blow the macho-asshole types’ minds. The triumph of the heterosexual faggot.

DJ and I found a new bass player, always dificult to do. He was not especially brilliant in any way but he was a reasonable guy and he was willing to work with us.

There comes a time in the evolution of one’s musical career when money enters the picture. And money changes everything. Really. In order to get someone with skill to “leave the house” or to leave the house yourself and make the effort of going to play with someone else, bottom lines must be met. We were not at that point yet. Not by a longshot. So to get anyone to do anything on “‘spec’(ulation)” was and still is a good thing. And hard to do, even on Jump Street, before the cash is incoming. Putting a band together without money is first of all, the organizational nightmare from hell. Think about it. Try getting a group of carpenters or electricians or lawyers together to put in long difficult hours for no money and make it a democracy or consensus based operation since no one really has any right to an opinion with any more weight than anyone else’s and see what you get. In the glittering bureaucracies and institutions of the present everything is “team this” and “team that”. The new “team paradigm” and other such trendy gobbledygook. No one knows more about the difficulties of “teaming” than musicians. With or without money. And money is organization. You can establish the team paradigm to end all team paradigms but without money it’s Lord of Flies, the sequel.

Getting work done is another matter. That’s about cooperation, for the most part, something which our new bass player was willing to do and what DJ and I were reaching the limits of our ability to do together. It’s fairly typical, I suppose, in the evolution of a relationship such as ours, your basic teacher/apprentice configuration. After a while the apprentice starts to have ideas of his own and if the relationship doesn’t change to acommodate the growth, friction reigns. Add in the fact that we were essentially equal partners for all organizational purposes, i.e., no one had the monetary upper hand, and what do you get? Personality based clashes! My force of personality is stronger than your force of personality. My debating skills are better than yours. Whose songs are better? Whose arrangement ideas? Whose house are we rehearsing in?  Oftentimes a third party becomes a scapegoat so that the opposing forces have brief respites of unity–unified against the scapegoat, that is. And believe me, this is typical. Sometimes a third party will become a buffer zone. And finally, an ally or ally of the opposition. Enter politics. Enter allegiances. Enter fourth and fifth parties. Every band that stays together for any length of time and has had even a modicum of collective intelligence has been involved in every scenario ever conceived or concocted on the stages of World Theater. In miniature. Especially in the early years, because then bands are really marriages and really families. Come what may.

One day the bass player brought a girl with him to rehearsal. He and Emma were just friends. She and I hit it off a bit, took a short walk together during a break and the next thing I knew I was out of the basement and living at her apartment. She was a very good natured Midwestern girl with and awful lot of perspective and a sense of humor to go along with it. It is quite likely that perspective, of necessity, breeds humor. It’s an evolutionary survival strategy, like Batesian mimicry, frontal lobe division. She was also divorced, by the ripe old age of 21, and not particularly displeased about it at all.

“He got me out of the small town trap I was in” was her explanation for the marriage.

She was attractive enough, but what I liked about her was that she could hold her own, and she liked me. She had a secretarial job downtown. I never looked at her as a meal ticket, although for all intents and purposes, she was the breadwinner and overall responsible party. And never let me forget it. In a nice and humorous way of course.

Soon after I started cohabitating with Emma, DJ received a letter from Mike, cohort from prep school and University of California at Santa Barbara. He was the guy who threw Hogan’s coat out of the classroom window into the rain, you may remember. I had admired him ever since the time during Speech class when he misidentified a piece of music played by Greasy Ed Romano, our teacher, as Theme from Tierra del Fuego. A pure fabrication on his part, made solely to bring himself to the attention of the teacher. You’ve got to like a guy like that. His letter to DJ made a rather obscene and insulting reference to me, made in a spirit much like that of his Speech class effort.

I think it said, “Tell Peter to kiss my ass.”

Of course I responded with something equally obnoxious along the lines of “The best I can do in this regard is kiss what obviously came out of it, namely, your letter. Typical prep school communication through insult.

Within a week Mike showed up in Seattle.

He moved fast. He made fast friends with Scott, proprietor of the Queen Anne Hill house and wangled a space there. He went to the closest grocery store and wangled a job doing stock there. He was ambition incarnate and he established himself with surprising speed. And he sussed the weird ingrown relationship that DJ and Elsa were developing, too. We allied immediately. He hit it off with Emma too. He called her Emma la Douche, shortened to La D for convenience.

I was writing like a fiend. Wake up at Emma’s, have coffee, go to the spare bedroom and write. Music first, guitar voicings, moving voices. I resented guitar players and bands with low standards and predictable parts. Dull, open chord guitar playing or block barre chords with no real musical direction. There is a lot more to resent now than there was then, I’m sorry to report, but quite frankly, attitude has replaced musicianship for the present, and you can only go so far on attitude alone. And it’s reflected in the charts. It’s a pity Kurt Cobain wasn’t able to stick around to provide the kind of standard that Townshend, Dylan, Redding, Beatles, Stones, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Brian Wilson and numerous others upheld a generation before. And the generation prior to theirs was, in my estimation, superior to them. Certainly in terms of sheer musicality.

Part of it seems to me to be the fact that the best and the brightest are probably not so drawn to music as they were then and part of it is undoubtedly the effect of the market and marketing in general. That era created a huge market which as of this writing still exists but is not being filled with quality work. And the fragmentation is another thing. I remember buying Otis Redding’s Dictionary of Soul and the Beach Boys Wild Honey on a single visit to the record shop and thinking nothing of it. I thought it was great that Otis did Satisfaction and that the Beach Boys did I Was Made to Love Her. Maybe this type of thing is still common in perhaps a slightly different way. And there is still some great popular music being made. Bjork and Garbage come to mind. “You Look So Fine” by Garbage is a song that will stand up in any era, for example. R & B is a different story. I’m with Chris Rock who says that the state of R & B is abysmal. Money notwithstanding.

I didn’t last long at Emma’s (that time) for reasons that are lost in the mists of time. There was no acrimony or love lost that I can remember, I just went back to the place on Queen Anne Hill briefly and then rented a room in the University District on Thackeray St. Breaking up gets harder and harder with age. When you’re young, all you have to do is be cool about it. Keep it positive. It becomes increasingly harder and harder to get over, for me anyway, but we remained friends for a while and then lost touch as is so often the case.

So I was back in the basement, Mike under the stairs on the way down to the basement, and DJ and Elsa in a small bedroom on the second floor, pursuing their unhealthy relationship and poisoning the atmosphere generally. Elsa was doing nothing and resented the time DJ and I spent together working on music and resented Mike for breezing in and encroaching further. She was a charmer. Scott, meanwhile, the proprietor of the house, was becoming enamored of Mike and wouldn’t have minded a piece of my action either.  He arranged special outings for one or both of us, paid for by him. Once he and I and a bottle of scotch snuck into the Asian arboretum after hours and admired the hybrid artistry. But it was not to be for Scott, bless his cotton socks, and it was not for his lack of effort. And, to his credit, he never crossed the line into indecorous behavior.

Late one night, asleep on the floor of the basement, Scott came in tipsy and started whispering in my ear “If you’ll get up early tomorrow and come with me to the Seattle Coliseum box office, I’ll buy us tickets to see the Rolling Stones.”

He did the same with Mike. At five a.m.we were down at the Coliseum, perhaps 50 people in front of us in line. There was no security whatsoever. By six we were further away than we had been an hour before and by ten, when the box offices opened, we were hopelessly out of the running and went home. The tours generally started in Vancouver B.C. and moved down the coast, which was the case for the Stones that time around. Not that I saw them. But rock concert security in general was in its infancy and there was a massive riot when the Stones came to Vancouver. The city fathers, in their unchallenged wisdom, penalized the kids of Vancouver by cancelling the Led Zeppelin show which followed two weeks later. Bad for them, good for us. The show was moved to Seattle, and due to the lateness of the switch, tickets suddenly became available.

I had seen the band three times previously. First at the Fillmore West, opening for Country Joe and the Fish, still doing a lot of the Yardbirds set (Train Kept a Rollin, White Summer) and then twice at Winterland. Robert Plant was on pretty shaky ground during the first two tours. The first Winterland show it seemed to me that every time Page, Bonham and Jones got something rocking, Plant would capsize it, the groove would get lost and they’d have to start at square one again. They do say, however, that if you make a mistake, do it at the top of your lungs, which was something he seemed to take to heart. And truthfully, from where I stood, the audience was none the wiser and did in fact seem to respond to his sheer energy, which was considerable, however inappropriate at times.

I stood behind the stage (which had no backdrop at stage level) toward the end of the second set, though, watching John Bonham, and could see his frustration with all the missed cues. By the third trip around, they had gelled and Plant had all of Winterland eating out of the palm of his hand. His pants were tucked into soft leather boots which had little decorative fabric balls dangling from the tops, dingleballs I’m tempted to say, and he seemed leonine and cuddly all at once. Page in a ruffled front white shirt and black satin pants was struggling to get any attention. For once. The stage was littered with lemons and female underwear and at the bottom of the stairs to the stage the owners of said garments, in great numbers, I might add, swarmed them when they came off.

But they were no female-only act. They rocked harder than anybody ever had with the possible exception of the Who and the men did understand, if you follow my reference.

The Seattle Coliseum show was incredible. The pressure was off the band in many ways, and they came out loose and powerful. Plant actually hit the beginning to Immigrant Song (which he often sang several interperetive intervals below the recorded part, depending on the shape of his voice) which they opened with and it was one of those nights where everything they tried clicked. Page’s ever more indulgent solos had form and purpose and his lengthy violin bow cum Echoplex bit in Dazed and Confused veritably billowed out from the stage and enveloped the far reaches of the arena. I’m not kidding, it was one of those nights. And they seemed delighted. The acoustic segment in the middle of the show, even the interminable Sandy Nelson inspired drum solo came off. They closed with a medley of old rockers including a sterling version of Ricky Nelson’s (no relation) Hello Mary Lou. A great band at the top of their form.

My relationship with DJ, with whom I had originally moved, after all, was up and down and we weren’t making much headway in our rock and roll pursuits. He had no interest in working with Mike, whom he considered to be inferior to us musically and so we paraded a succession of auditioners through the basement of the Queen Anne Hill house. None of whom were the right match.

Elsa returned to her family home in southern California for a visit which left DJ and I free to interact without eliciting the wrath. Disapprobation, anyway.

One evening I dragged him along with me to visit a girl I was seeing whose name was Nancy. She was the daughter of a supermarket magnate and she lived with a female housemate in a big beautiful old two story home on Capitol Hill. I met her at a club soon after I got to town.

The girls were in bed when we got there and my friend announced that I was not on her schedule that night. I’ve always marveled at that expression. Free spirit that I was at that moment I hopped into bed with her anyway but she was not to be persuaded so I went down the hall to her housemate and hopped into bed with her. She was more receptive and probably more in need of physical attention but she also demurred, out of deference to my relationship with her friend. Reluctantly, I might add.

Back to girl #1. Still indisposed.

This was all very lighthearted and non-aggressive, let me hasten to add. Finally, in something of a last ditch attempt to rid herself of my intrusion, Nancy suggested that we visit a party that was going on in a house on the block behind hers. A group called the Whiz Kidz, Seattle’s equivalent of the Cockettes, were the hosts and it was sure to be anything but exclusive. So, following our hormones, we headed over to the abode of the Whiz Kidz.

It was raging. Everyone was in drag. Wine and pot abounding. It was obviously an anything goes situation, from what I could see. I hit the door dancing. I danced with anybody and everybody. Brown Sugar, the Stones latest single had just been released and it stayed on the turntable for half a dozen consecutive plays. It was new, it was perfect, and the energy level went up with each play. I was dancing with someone to whom I was attracted and who I thought might be an actual girl. I reached down and felt her crotch. It didn’t seem so brazen under the circumstances. Authentic female. The genuine article.

We repaired to an upstairs bedroom and did the wild thing, the party raving on below us. When we returned, full swing had been exceeded. I danced off with someone else and ended up on the stairway with another actual girl, perhaps the only other female at the party. Unfortunately, she had come with the first girl who was not about to tolerate my pairing off with her friend. Apparently anything did not quite go. More’s the pity.

DJ paired off with the second girl and the four of us set off in the direction of my Studebaker, but not before being partially undressed by amorous boys on the way out. Straight or gay, the seed sowing imperative marches on. And the rest is history. Human history.

I got a room of my own in a house in the University District that was cooperatively run by a group of hippie craftsmen. They did leather tooling and jewelry mostly, and sold their wares at the Public Market on weekends. I was in the funkiest, smallest, moldiest basement room in the old two story house, but it was mine, and the house itself had a nice big living room, a serviceable kitchen, and a small back yard. There was actually a hierarchy of three basement rooms and with enough seniority you could move up to the second floor, which seemed a long way from jump street where I stood.

Things with DJ were deteriorating, but old dreams die hard. I had always felt that the two of us were destined to do something great together, greater than if we went at it alone. I still had a completely unjustifiable confidence in my own ability which neither he nor Elsa had been able to fully erode, and I felt equally confident in him.  The group was always the thing. Our group. To this day I haven’t completely lost that feeling, that dream. But we weren’t accomplishing much and there was a selfishness in him that I took hard and personally. I couldn’t help it. This world invites selfishness, and though you might try to desensitize yourself to it, sometimes the best plan is to walk away from it. To do so risks isolation but sometimes you’ve got to make the leap.

He and I were in the basement at Queen Anne Hill working on a song called “It Don’t Come Easy” which was put together by George Harrison and Ringo of the Beatles. We were learning the bass part to teach to our bass player du jour and we had a disagreement about how it went. I could hear very clearly that he had it wrong but he was insisting on having it his way out of habit and stubbornness. The actual dispute seems embarrassingly inconsequential in retrospect but it was the thing that brought my dissatisfaction to a head and that was it for me. I was gone. Packed up my guitar and headed for the bus stop. He followed me all the way using a variety of arguments and emotional approaches to try and talk me out of leaving, but as fate would have it, the bus pulled up just as we arrived at the stop. I took it as a sign. It’s a good thing it came when it did, because I might have yielded (again) just to shut him up if I’d had to listen to it any longer.

I thought about it all night and decided that I’d made the right decision. It didn’t feel like the bogus temporary relief you feel when you bail on something you know deep down you’ll have to deal with eventually. And, as is my want, I second guessed the hell out of it even though it felt right. He came over the following day to the house on Thackeray to see if I’d changed my mind. I hadn’t. It was hard for me to stand up for myself in this situation for some reason, maybe I was learning about manhood a bit, but I was resolute. The Dylan tune which starts, “You’ve got a lot of nerve, to say you are my friend..” was running through my brain throughout our conversation and was hitting the nail right on the head as far as I was concerned. When he realized that I was adamant he played all the bitter cards he had left, that I would not be welcome at Queen Anne Hill again, that I was on my own, blah, blah, blah. In truth, though, this was of some concern. Mike was still there, I was still friendly with Scott, and my amplifiers were there. To my surprise, Mike sided with me on this and helped me retrieve my belongings from Queen Anne Hill. This was truly the beginning of our famous alliance.

It’s hard to think about this kind of breakup without also mentally referring to the Spinal Tap movie, parody though it is. In fact, it’s something of a relief to have that humorous reference to fall back on, but at the time it was anything but humorous. Then, as now, I wrote a song to help me come to terms with my situation. It was called “Into Your Hands” and it went (hope I can remember):

I’ve come quite a long way

Hoping to play

Into your hands

Since you’ve proven untrue

I’m leaving you

Right where you stand

And only time will tell if you and I will ever meet again

Some things never change, until they do we’ll never greet again

Don’t expect me to hide

Swallow my pride

Or hold it inside

Every song has its end

I can’t pretend

You’ve been my friend

And no one will ever know the difference

No one but you and I

And no one you’ll find will ever be what I have been

The one who loved and laid it on the line

So that was the end of that band dream, although persistent geezer that I am, a similar version resurfaced on a fairly regular basis over the course of the next few years.

Mike and I got tighter than ever.

My father, who just turned 92, was telling me about his young manhood during the nineteen-twenties in New York City. He had a running partner by the name of Lester Morris with whom he was inseparable. They hung out together, worked a succession of jobs together, quit a succession of jobs together, even joined the service together.

He said, “I don’t know if there’s such a thing as love between two men, but he was quite a guy.”

We’re not talking about sex, here, folks. This kind of relationship pretty much establishes the high water mark of life worth living for those of the male gender, truth to tell. And the prolongation of this is the reason why athletes hang on long past their prime, bands stay together after the hits stop coming and a variety of good and bad situations and conditions long outlast their usefulness. In a word, maturity sucks. And the relinquishing of the joy of youth is not something easily accomplished. And in males, at least, is not aided by biological mandates, at least until retirement is on the horizon. Think about it, a secure retirement vs. a trip to Jones Beach with your best pal. Nolo contendere.

Sex, of course is the primary trap by which men are lured out of their carefree period and into the confines of responsibility and mature concerns. But even once trapped or resigned or willingly ensconced (god forbid), the call of the wild and the memory of the pack lives on. Even at 92. Women who recognize and remember this have much happier and more successful relationships with men than those who do not. That’s my PSA for this paragraph and I’m not talking about Prostate Specific Antigens (to continue in a male- centric vein). Public Service Announcement, for those of you translating into a tongue other than English.

Like most guys, I’ve had a couple of Lester Morrises and Mike was definitely one of them. Thick as thieves they called us, which became, Thieves, that is, the name of our eventual and inevitable rock and roll band. Not that there wasn’t a bit of larceny involved. All relatively innocent, mind you. Mike would leave a case of beer that he was stocking for the grocery out in the alley behind the store for our evening forays into the realms of life, death and things religious. It’s going to be hard not to rhapsodize about this somewhat. Possibility is endless when you’re 21 years old and hanging out with your best pal under the train trestle drinking beer on a warm summer night. We talked Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Byron and Shelley (of course). He was Byron, I was the much more fragile Shelley. Errol Flynn, Clark Gable and lots of rock and roll. Lots. Undoubtedly we were going to have the most romantic, adventurous lives ever, were already having them, in fact.

No woman can compete with this. Not that we were actually doing anything monumental, it was that we could think about ourselves in such glowing ways. This is the glory and the folly of youth. In fact, Mike read the term “youthful folly” somewhere, probably in a fortune cookie, and it became our unofficial motto. If it fell under the banner “youthful folly” then it was, by definition, worthwhile. Noble. Heroic. The very stuff of male Romance. The Round Table, Jules Verne, Errol Flynn and Jimmy Page. And the age at which we give up those “childish things” seems to be getting older and older, doesn’t it? Let’s assume for the time being that that’s a good thing.

Money was non-existent. Mike had lost his job and the two of us were selling underground papers on the University of Washington campus for a pittance. Beer money mostly. We got into the habit of going to the taverns on dollar pitcher nights (can that have existed?) and ladies nights (to cozy up to girls for their access to cheap pitchers) and pretty much knew all the beer scams in town. All I need is a pint a day. We became semi-regulars at Place Pigalle at the Public Market (Pig Alley) and shot pool for pitchers. When things got really tight we’d go to the biggest club with no cover charge and steal pitchers from unsuspecting patrons. At the District Tavern one night we noticed that a black guy sitting alone would leave his pitcher unattended while asking girls to the dancefloor, which was quite a distance from his table. We relieved him of his pitcher once he was safely out of the way. This was not a prank, incidentally. We thought we’d gone undetected until a waitress arrived at our table with a full pitcher compliments of the black fella. Love a man with class.

Then Mike got the bright idea to carry a sandwich board, like they did in the old days. We solicited a number of businesses in the downtown area near the Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square and sold them space on a sandwich board. $10 a week for a single space, eight per side, carried for three hours each weekday through downtown. Of course we had no sandwich board so we had to do a little lightfingered orchestration. First we stole the wood from a construction site, then the paints and brushes from an art supply store, and we brought the materials to Jim and Katy’s for production. Katy was a gifted artist (and singer) and I was meticulous enough graphically, so the two of us did the signpainting. I had been forging tickets to rock concerts since I had arrived in Seattle and my chop was up. Soon we were able to go legit. And we had a name for our band that stuck. Thieves.

DJ and Elsa left Seattle. What with no remaining obligation to me he probably had no argument against her desire to return to California. Where she probably should have stayed all along. They broke up soon thereafter. Mike moved into their old room on Queen Anne Hill and I was free to come and go there again. I started spending long hours there with my guitar and the record player while the house was quiet. The record collection I had at my disposal, mostly Scott’s, was nothing if not eclectic and I spent hours with B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, Mayall’s first Blues Breakers record and a John Lee Hooker compilation. I also worked out an arrangement of Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” for the guitar which I eventually used in a short lived attempt as a “single” or solo act.

But there were three records which really occupied most of my time and a daunting three they were too. A live Julian Bream concert (on lute and guitar), a Chet Atkins album (the one with his first version of Boots Randolph’s “Yakety Sax” renamed “Yakety Axe”) and a record by violin virtuoso and fellow San Franciscan, Yehudi Menuhin. What I got out of my efforts here beyond utter vexation is anybody’s guess but I will say that it made me aware of possibilities on guitar (and musical possibilities and standards in general) of which I was completely unaware and am unable to forget. And there were others too, John Fahey and his devotee Leo Kottke, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson–the real titans of the instrument. This was one of the many times that I was tempted to pack it in, so great was the distance between their mastery and my feeble skills. You’ve really got to love it because it will threaten you to your very soul and ability to survive. I kid you not. It also forces you to develop a sense of humor about yourself. Out of necessity.

Speaking of sense of humor, Rod Stewart was making some headway on his own at about this time.  He had the most appealing underdog quality, replete with scathing self deprecation. And fabulously emotive vocal qualities. He was scufflin’ Rod, handbags and gladrags, salt of the earth, spent a lot of time feelin’ inferior, Rod. A far cry from the Hollywood icon that he became, all sex and hot legs. I suppose he really couldn’t get away with singing about how old overcoats won’t let you down anymore but at certain point in one’s life, those are the things that really resonate, in a way that tabloidism never will, however much we buy it.

I would periodically hitchhike from Seattle to the Bay Area, a three day trip with average luck. It’s not something to try during the wintertime due to the unpredictability of your eventual evening encampment, but it used to be fairly tolerable and the price was right. I had an old navy peacoat, given to me as recompense by DJ after I had loaned him my sheepskin jacket and he had lost it.

(Is this a repeat?)

When you’re out on the side of the road, as the evening wears on, you don garments one at a time, a button at a time, until you reach the last button of the outermost garment. This last button you must leave undone, because if you button it, it means you have no more cards to play against the cold, and psychologically this is more than important.

I always got taken in at night. Always. The last ride always extended an invitation to spend the night, and always out of hospitality and generosity. I stayed in dormitories, urban apartments, artists’ communes, even a mansion. The Dharma Bums aesthetic was at its zenith and lots of us were on the road, including Rod, it seemed, still a ways away from his private jet. C’est la vie.

On one such jaunt I arrived in Seattle, after a brief visit to San Francisco, on a Halloween night. I had been on the road for a couple of days and none of my few friends were expecting me. My last ride dropped me off near the Pike Place Market, so I decided to walk up to the Medicine Ball tavern for a beer. I had a few twenties on me and they were burning a hole in my pocket, no doubt. After a beer I decided to keep walking up Pike to Broadway, where the Fresh Air tavern was located. I had seen Buddy Guy there recently and liked the club although it was not especially great for girls.

As I walked up the street a nondescript car pulled over and two guys jumped out and ran toward me. They flashed badges at me and told me that they were Seattle Police investigating a prowling in the area.

Wrong town, but deja vu all the same.

I was not about to fall for this one again.

“Let me see some more ID,” I said.

This was apparently the wrong thing to say. The two guys grabbed me and slammed me against the car. This was agressive. I had visions of rape, beating, you name it. I pulled free from them and started yelling for help. They grabbed me again and I broke free again running out into the middle of Pike Street, crying for help. A small crowd was gathering.

“Help, call the police!” I yelled.

“We are the police!” they yelled.

One of the guys was out of control, all adrenaline and violence.

“No, they’re not! They’re muggers” I cried. They wouldn’t show me identification!”

They whipped out badges.

“They’re fake–it’s a trick!”

No one knew what to do.

Here I am, in the middle of a four lane street on Capitol Hill, wrestling with two guys and trying to make a convincing argument with an ever growing group of bystanders who are truly perplexed. Traffic is stopped. Finally they pin one of my arms behind my back and one of them says, “One more pound of pressure and your arm breaks!”

I stopped resisting.

I thought, “These guys will stop at nothing. I’m dead meat. Body of unidentified man found floating in Lake Union.”

They forced me into the back seat of their car and locked the door. The police radio came on. Wrong again.

“You really are the police?”

“Don’t give me that!”

It was the rabid one. He really thought he’d captured Pretty Boy Floyd.

The other guy was a rational human being, and I’m not talking about good cop, bad cop here. We had just undergone a physical struggle in public view and true colors were out–this was no act. The other guy had so much adrenaline in his system that it totally affected his judgment.

“You know  I thought I was being ripped off,” I said.

The one did, in his heart, the other thought that the Pink Panther was in the back seat, holding the Star of Africa. He was flushed with pride.

They checked the contents of my wallet. I had ID, I had a few bucks, eighty, I think. I had no contraband and nothing to link me to any prowling. I also was not read my rights, for the record. But I was going downtown to the jailhouse, the inexorable process had begun and there was no reasoning that was going to alter it at that point. They thought about charging me with resisting arrest, but what might I have been arrested for? Walking down the street, minding my own business? Let me just throw in that this experience gave me a certain sensitivity to and solidarity with others who might have experienced a similarly unwarranted and unlawful intrusion. So they hit me with “hindering an officer in the discharge of his duties.” How about hindering a citizen in the course of minding his own business?

Slam time. The processing was benign. Fingerprints, logging of personal effects, mugshot. It was a long weekend and court would not convene for three days at which point a plea could be entered and bail would be set. They put me in the drunk tank briefly and then assigned me to a cell with 14 other guys. The overcrowding of jails is not a myth, for what it’s worth.

No one bothered me. I had fears of broomsticks and tossed salads, but when 14 guys are in one small cell (with one toilet in the middle of the room), much of what happens centers around eating and sleeping. And drugs. Every morning nearly the entire gang lined up when the doctor came around, to complain about this or that in an effort to get painkillers and whatnot. Somebody else had some pot and if I’m not mistaken a couple of guys dropped acid. Now that’s desperate. I kept to my bunk for the most part, sleeping and reading the Godfather, of all things, which I had borrowed from a cellmate.

It was your basic three day eternity. No one knew where I was, it was going to be my word against the policemen–I fully expected not to be able to make bail and I figured that I might well be in for in the neighborhood of six months. At the mercy of the system. My advice is go nowhere near the system.

I eventually made my one phone call and it was to Jim and Katy, probably the only people I knew who had a phone. They would await the outcome of my arraignment on Monday before deciding what to do.

Finally the weekend ended and court convened. I was on my second reading of the Puzo book.We were instructed to go forward when called and enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, bail would be set and that was it for options. When people tried to offer excuses and explain and hedge, the judge cut them off. Guilty or not guilty. I didn’t even know if I was guilty or not guilty. It was a misunderstanding. Maybe I did hinder their investigation (of me), but they hindered me without any reasonable cause at all. I didn’t know what to do, all I could think about was that I could not spend any more time in jail and that I would surely despair if I did. They called my name.

“Guilty or not guilty, what is your plea?”

I blurted out the entire story about how I had been ripped off in San Francisco by two guys posing as cops and how I wasn’t about to let it happen again only this time they really were cops and we had a big struggle in the middle of the street and it wasn’t until I heard the police radio come on that I realized that they really were policemen. And like that.

Believe me, there was no doubting my honesty or truthfulness at that point. A deaf dumb and blind piece of petrified wood would have felt it.

I expected the judge to say something along the lines of  “That’s very interesting, so how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?” But he simply looked down and said, “Case dismissed,” and they called the next customer.

I was led out a side door in a state of joyous delirium, involuntary grin ear to ear. I collected my belongings and called Jim and Katy. It was probably the happiest moment of my life, pathetic as that sounds. You can’t underestimate the joy of that kind of relief! It was many hours before I lost the grin on my face, long after Jim and Katy and I went out for some real food and they dropped me off at my Thackeray Street house.

Mike and I then began in earnest to form a band. He was the lead singer I’d been looking for, he played some harp, and he had the enthusiasm to match my dedication. We were also best friends in identical circumstances, i.e., nothing else happening at all, and we loved the same music. We scoured the music stores and underground press for notices of musicians looking for work and called all the bassists and drummers. It was all aggression.

Mike: (ring, ring) “ Hi, I’m calling for the drummer who is looking for a band.”

Drummer: “This is he.”

Mike: “Do you know who John Bonham is?”

Drummer: “Uh, not really.”

Click!

Take no prisoners.

This was, however, the way to get things done. We found a bass player in short order, miraculously enough, who was a) good looking, b) had experience and could actually play, c) owned equipment, d) had a place to rehearse, e) had transportation!, and best of all, f) was in a motorcycle gang. He owned a chopped 1948 Hog (that’s Harley Davidson to you uninitiates). On top of that he was a reasonable guy who thought we were great! His name was Cary.

Then we ran through drummers. We were so anxious we almost settled for a few geezers who were not really working out, but finally we made the right call.

“Do you know who John Bonham is?”

“Yeah, he’s the drummer for Led Zeppelin, I sat in with the Yardbirds once at a show in Kansas City.”

He was in if he could count to four. His name was Gary Toothaker, instantly renamed the Mighty Molar by Mike, who was somewhat less than sensitive about this sort of thing. Gary had, in fact, lied about sitting in with the Yardbirds, but his band had actually opened a show for them in a high school auditorium in the Midwest. Close enough. And he could play, bless him.

We set up camp in a utility room at the back of Cary’s house south of Seattle. After we had helped Cary lay the tiles in it, that is. Rustic little town called Tukwila. Cary actually owned the house. In addition to being in a bike club he was married with a young son and held down a full time job. His wife actually tolerated us (for a time) and before long Mike and I had literally set up camp and were living on the utility room floor. Sharing it with the Hog. The price, as the cliche would have it, was right.

Mike and I spent all day learning songs. I’d learn the bass parts and teach them to Cary who didn’t have the luxury of free time that I did. The Mighty Molar also caught on fast and knew a lot of the songs that we were doing anyway. Most nights Mike and I would hitchhike up Aurora into town, usually to the Warehouse which warehoused the most girls, in order to give Cary and his wife and child some time together. On the other nights and on weekends we rehearsed.

I was writing but the name of the game in Seattle at that time was covers and we were doing a lot of Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers, blues previously covered by rock bands–I Aint Got You, I Wish You Would, Dust My Broom. That sort of thing. Before long we had a several sets worth of material.

Our first gig was a freebie playing for a big party/ salmon barbecue sponsored by a group of motorcycle clubs. On the one hand this seemed incredibly auspicious and romantic (the stuff good press releases are made of), but having been at Altamont I was a bit cautious as well. And, Mike was the kind of performer you either loved or hated, he didn’t court the middle ground, but he had owned a Norton himself and was more comfortable than I. We opened the first set with Born to Be Wild, the MC anthem, and this went over well enough to enable us to relax and get into the music. We did a couple of sets, had a few beers, and got out of there before the evening had a chance to, shall we say, get a little too interesting.

Jim got us our next gig, at a place a bit too appropriately called Plum Crazy north of Seattle. This was actual clubwork before a paying house.  Of course, just before the date, my Twin Reverb amp went south and I was scrambling to find a rental unit. I found a Vox Super Beatle amp, which seemed to have the requisite wattage, at a place in Bellevue. I borrowed the rental fee from Jim against my earnings from the job and off we went. It was a weekend night and there were two bands, us first. The place was crowded.

Just before we went on, Mike told me that he had taken five crosstop bennies, benzedrine pills, and was coming on like the big dog. From my perspective, one half of one was more than enough, but Mike was not given to halfway measures. And, as I was walking to the stage, Jim stuck a tube of powder in my nose, which I presumed to be cocaine and obligingly inhaled. It was not merely coke. I still don’t have any idea what it was, some kind of weird combo, I suppose, and Jim and his buddies were still doing the poppy derivatives they’d become exposed to in Viet Nam. What I do know is that by the time I hit the stage I was completely disoriented. I couldn’t hear properly and I had a completely foreign amplifier to boot. I don’t know how they rate those Vox Super Beatles but it did not respond anything like a Fender, it terms of tone or volume and I was scrambling in space. Mike was jumping up and down in place and the band was looking at me expectantly, not realizing that I was in another dimension entirely.

I began Train Kept a Rolling with the double stop, single bend, volume pedal guitar train sound that starts it on the Rave Up album and the band kicked in. This was a bullet train. A runaway bullet train.

Mike was miscuing left right and center and I couldn’t hear well enough due to the drug and the amp to tell if the band was together at all. Harp solos where the vocal should have been, vocals over the guitar solo. Mike was buzzing so hard he was going to finish the song all by himself by the end of the first verse. It was chaos. But you know what? There was something indisputable about it. Like it or hate it, dismissal was not possible. And you know what else? They don’t call it rock and roll for nothing. We were rolling on the high seas in a typhoon and several of us were fully overboard. I never did get the guitar sound completely under control and Mike didn’t get through a single song without error. I had no idea how to regard the set at all. By the end of our performance the house was full of energy, not all of it good.

The band that followed us was surprisingly respectful and friendly. We thought we’d get the usual competitive hostility and derision, but not this time. As we came off Jim bought us beers and a guy innocently asked Katy to dance, not realizing that she was attached. It was very crowded. For some reason, the strangeness of the energy and the intensity of the crowd, to say nothing of whatever the hell drug he was doing, Jim flipped out  and started throwing punches at the guy. They all landed. The victim was too surprised to even attempt to protect himself. Blood was pouring out of his nose as he stood there trying to figure out what had happened. Jim stopped just as suddenly as he had started, before any security came or anyone had any time to pull him out of there. He was trembling.

“Just watch it, buddy, watch it.” he warned.

The guy, completely taken aback, actually apologized and beat a hasty retreat. The band that followed us were tight, clean and boring. We loaded out.

Mike and I were definitely trouble. Between the two of us, I was the voice of caution, and I am constitutionally incapable of staying within the lines for any length of time. This should give you an idea of how brazen he was. God forbid we should have had real success and power at that point. Fun we had. Our next gig was at a youth club out by the SeaTac airport, south of town. Mike dropped acid for this one. During our first song he kept looking back at me with alarm, then turning back to face the audience and continuing the song. Everything seemed o.k. from where I stood. I had my Twin Reverb back and the band sounded fairly tight, but he was obviously distressed. After the number I went up to him and asked what was going on.

He said, “Every time I look at you it looks like you’re bleeding all over the guitar.”

“I am,” I said, “it’s just the rock and roll stigmata. Let it bleed.”

And kicked off the next song.

Mike settled down and this one went pretty well. I know this for a fact because we had a car overloaded with girls after the show, always a good indicator. They were not so very much younger than us but I believe we did no more than give them rides home, or they us. In truth, Mike probably eliminated any possibility of hanky panky with the sheer force of his obstreporousness. Something for which he was well and easily recognized.

Bassman Cary had an acoustic Gibson 12-string guitar that I coveted and to my surprise he offered it to me for $100. It was kind of a horse in terms of playability, but it had a beautiful sound and a gorgeous sunburst finish. He let me pay for it in installments.

This became my new writing tool and generated, as new instruments often will, a flurry of creative activity, i.e., new writing.

I’m not sure if it was because we were so steeped in classicism from our prep days, the heroic tradition, song of Roland, Beowulf, Inkidu, Homer, et al., or if it is just the nature of youth, but we regarded all that we did in epic terms. It’s probably the same thing that informs all of the gangstaism of hip hop but from a slightly less classical point of view.

So to speak. In short, we immortalized everything. We’d watch a B movie late at night, find out that the female lead was Carmella Borchers (a real actress, by the way), and immediately create a Borchers legacy. I became Lucien Borchers, son of a French hot air balloonist and a Corsican whore. Borchers would be everywhere. Snidely Borchers, J. Paul Borchers, George Borchington, father of the country. It was endless. Or Erroll Flynn would becaome the standard du jour. We’d evaluate every move in terms of “What would Flynn do here?” And it came out in the writing. I wrote “The Balloon Song”. Dedicated to Jules Verne, whose Mysterious Island inspired it for the most part.

Glimmering in the western sun

Tugging at her heels

In the rising expectations

Of the mounting years     (got to have a few sexual references)

Breaking bonds on captive lives

Soon to be set free    (opening scene from Mysterious Island, in the Civil War prison camp)

Cast your fate to western skies       (Vince Guaraldi anyone?)

Storm the cloudy seas         (Mike was sure I’d stolen this line)

And if you should catch a glimpse of forty armed balloons

Please don’t tell my daddy

That I’m not up in my room

(Then I went to the Atlas)

Lisbon to Tortuga (from a Flynn movie)

Valparaiso to Marseille

Aloft across a mighty sea (loved Lennonesque alliteration, asonance too)

To fill another day

Kingston to Tampico

Barcelona to Biscay (still doing pirates, Master of Ballantree was our fave)

Adrift amidst a sweet caprice

Some feel I’ve gone astray

But what a splendid way to spend

A lifelong holiday

In light of life eternal         (Shelley meets the invulnerability of youth)

Can it matter either way?

I loved Shelley. Shelley was spiritual. Mike and I approached fisticuffs over Shelley’s lines:

Life, like a multicolored dome

Stains the white radiance of eternity

He insisted that this was by definition, an impossibility. He was Byronic, Dionysian. He believed that life proceeded from the pragmatic realities of physics and evolutionary biology and I believed that all manifestation proceeded from a First Cause, often referred to in terms of Light, or Eternal Light. It was a good fight, at any rate, and we met in the middle where we were both interested in pursuing the romantic ideal. Get to the spirit exemplified by Errol Borchers any way you can, brother.

We played a few more gigs, nightclubs and youth clubs, before Cary announced that his job required him to go to California for a six weeks. This seemed to represent only a hiatus in the progression of the Thieves but it was bad news for Mike and me. We lived in Cary’s utility room, also the band’s rehearsal room and motorcycle storage space. His wife tolerated us briefly after he went to the southland. She had a job also, dropped Charley, their son, off at daycare and went to work while we typically slept late, and worked on music or watched Clark Gable movies on tv during the day.

Mike was also given to going through their things to find the pot stash or the love letters Cary sent to his wife from the field, some of which were, shall we say, rather graphic. It was totally indefensible, outrageous and hilarious. A complete invasion of privacy and abuse of hospitality and a total gas.

She began dropping hints that it was inappropriate for us to be there and I’m sure asked Cary to speak to us, but we knew he would be disinclined to violate the brotherhood. He was a great guy, and all pranks aside, we had a lot of respect and regard for him as well. Besides, we had no money at all and nowhere to go and winter was settting in. Shannon, his wife, started applying the pressure, and it became apparent that our stay in Tukwila, for the time being, was up. I decided to sell my amp. Mike had hocked a Gretsch Tennessean that he had brought with him when he moved. It was one of those orange jobs and it was already in the window of a pawn shop near Pioneer Square. I knew the Twin would sell in a minute. It was probably the most valued Fender amp of the day, but it was the amp I busted my hump at the Army post office to buy. Finally Shannon brought in the reinforcements and her parents came to the house to have a word with us.

“Don’t you think it’s odd for you to be here while Cary is away?” they began diplomatically.

Very little is odd for 21 year old penniless rock and rollers. This was not a particularly persuasive argument. The petit bourgeoisie was going to be no match for us. That much was evident. But there was no point in allowing push to come to shove.

I announced our plan to sell off the amp and leave just as soon as possible. This satisfied them for the time being and they departed. Of course the amp sale became delayed and it took another week or so before money changed hands. I got the dough on a Saturday afternoon and at dusk her parents showed up again, this time ready to push a bit harder. Shannon stood in the background, wisely avoiding direct confrontation. But it was already a fait accompli. I stowed my guitars and my Deluxe Reverb, we packed our remaining belongings and it was out to Aurora, Highway 99, four thumbs between us. But which way to go? We decided to head south, the holidays were ahead of us and Cary wouldn’t be back until after the new year.

We made it to Portland before the traffic dwindled for the day. We somehow ended up near the Rose Garden and walked in the direction of downtown. With actual cash we could afford to eat and went to the Rose Cafe, purely by chance, and splurged on dinner. We even bought dessert for the road at the bakery which was at the entry to the restaurant.

For a couple of guys who lived primarily on peanut butter and brown rice or refritos in tortillas, this was quite an indulgence. We headed over toward Porland State University to find a place to crash, but no luck. Finally, at about two in the morning we approached a young girl who was walking home from who knows where and asked her if she knew of a place where we could stay. We mustn’t have looked very threatening, because she took us back to her studio apartment, whereupon she crawled into her closet bedroom and left us to our own devices on the floor and couch.

We made Ashland by the next night. We had hoped to get further but it was getting really cold and we were both down to our last buttons. We headed for Southern Oregon College and crashed in an unoccupied dorm room to which we were pointed by another dormer. You can do this sort of thing when you’re young, I’m not sure how well it would fly past a certain age.

By the next night we were back in the Bay, headed to our respective parents’ homes. It would be six weeks before we reconnected.

Things were relatively quiet at the ancestral home. My brother Bill had been gone for a year, never resurfacing after his near capture the previous December. None of us have seen him since that time, as a matter of fact. My father was reaching the end of his working career and my mom’s part time job was nearing conclusion as well. Life naturally began to center around the television for them (in addition to playing Bridge, for my mom), which apart from the odd Errol Flynn movie during our stay at Cary’s, had been out of my life entirely for three years.

It was all Vietnam, Nixon and Walter Cronkite. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why it was taking so long for the tide to turn against Nixon and the damn stupid war, but it was, finally and mercifully. Not that Nixon wasn’t persuasive. As foreign as he and his policies were to me, I found his tv addresses almost convincing. We should really elect politicians who have no acting skills, who are almost constitutionally incapable of fabrication or untruthfulness. But we always buy the guy or gal who smiles and looks good while selling you a lemon. Never fails.

“I did not have sex with that woman.”

Very convincing and a blatant lie. President as chump.

“We did not massacre innocent children at My Lai.” President as impeachable chump.

Mark the distinctions. Even my father was coming over to my side on the Vietnam issue and believe me, that represented a very dramatic change. It was extremely hard for his generation to realize that Vietnam and WWII had almost nothing in common. They were both being sold by presidents and politicians as patriotic efforts necessary to protect our national interests but for once the media actually did the public a service that was not predicated solely on titillation. The Cronk had a lot to do with it. Even in that day journalistic objectivity was a thing of the past, not to the extent it is now, mind you, but when “the most trusted voice in America” came down on the side of opposition to that most unfortunate and morally insupportable war, it meant that the tide was indeed turning. So my father and I moved on to other topics to clash on, having found ourselves on the same side of the fence for once. Now that felt odd.

My guitars were in Seattle and I started going through severe music withdrawals. Jonesing. So I sat down all day, every day at the piano, first learning the right hand blues chording that makes up so many songs, “Aint That Peculiar”, “I Like Bread and Butter” “Boy From NYC” and the like, in all the major keys. Then I set about transcribing all of the songs I had written, lead sheets, basically, for purposes of copyright and to improve that skill. Then I did a bit of work on the left hand, enough to get a simple bass into the mix. Piano is for me, like typing, a compositional tool, something I can do a bit, with lots of mistakes, but something at which I will never become very skilled. Guitar will always be my instrument, although from time to time I, like my namesake St. Peter, will deny it vehemently.

Christmas came and went, Cary was back in Seattle, and it was time for Mike and I to pack it up and head north. It would be too cold to wing it so I arranged to catch a ride much like the one I’d provided on my initial foray into the northwest. Someone driving a van to Seattle, looking for passengers to share in the gas and driving. They were leaving on New Year’s Day.

My friends Rob and Nancy were having a New Year’s Eve party at their house in the Eureka Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. The van would pick us up there on the following morning. The party was your usual inebriated New Year’s Eve fare. Everyone planned to spend the night so moderation was optional. Rob and Nancy were friends of mine from grammar school, Nancy was my first real girlfriend and the first girl I kissed, as a matter of fact, and I knew Rob from before kindergarten. So lots of old friends were there, plus me and Mike and assorted others. At a later hour in the evening I found myself in the spare bedroom of the flat with two rather zaftig girls, neither of whom, I suspected, had been the recipient of much sexual attention and both of whom were eager for some. I was a bit in the dark as to the etiquette of this sort of thing, but let’s just say I did the noble thing. When I got back to the living room and my sleeping bag, Mike cleared a space for me and patted me on the back.

Soon we were back in Seattle, once again the bane of Shannon’s existence. Nothing much had changed except for Cary’s return and that was a good thing as far as Mike and I were concerned. But Shannon had a plan. The house next door was being remodeled, and being winter in Seattle, work had stopped midjob. She thought we should go and stay in the vacant, bare, house under construction. And we obliged. It did have gas and electricity and and it’s a good thing because it was a cold and snowy winter that year.  The house was not fully sheetrocked inside, forget about insulation, and we had the utilities, for which we were not responsible, cranked up. It was a heatseeking proposition to be sure.

This daunted us not at all. We still wrote and rehearsed as usual, hitchhiked into the taverns in town at night on cheap pitcher nights. Schooner patrol. Hitchhiked back home like as not, always getting rides even at three in the morning, three sheets to the wind. We were difinitely semi-charmed.

One such night at the Warehouse tavern I ran into Emma again. Her style had definitely improved and she was looking good. We hit it off again. She was still bright, funny and resilient. At the end of the night we were off to her house. She was seeing someone but if I wanted to stay there with her, she was prepared to cut that one off pronto.

Back in the saddle. I moved my few things out of the vacant house and into her place on the Phinney Ridge. “I like having you around” she said simply. I don’t know if there’s any greater compliment.

Mike was not only o.k. with this, he encouraged it, and he spent a lot of time with us at her place. The two of them got along famously and she fixed him up with a girlfriend of hers from work. Mike and I spent the days together while they went to their jobs and in the evenings we’d convene at Emma’s or go clubbing together. The band harmony was intact. And so was the band.

Cary was back in the fold and back in the routine. The Boy Bicuspid, as he was now called, was still firmly in place and Mike and I were trying desperately to get gigs. We set up auditions at the Grapevine, a prestigious club down by the water below the Public Market and at the District Tavern, site of many a pitcher theft.

At the Grapevine we were one of two bands auditioning on a weeknight. The other band was making snippy remarks about us, and although the club was not crowded, even Emma was nervous and felt the pressure. I had incredibly long blonde hair by this time, well past the middle of my back, and like Samson my confidence and strength increased with the length of my locks. Well, perhaps not my physical strength. I weighed about 135 lbs. on a 5’ 10” frame. But I was ready.

Mike, for once, was not on “every known drug and some that aren’t” as we used to say, and Cary and Gary, the mighty molar, were stable and ready.

I kicked into “Train Kept a Rollin’ “ one more time, as sure fire an opener as you can have, I can attest from a variety of experience. By this time I had memorized all three of the known recorded guitar solos from “Train”–from the Having a Rave Up record, from Stroll On (the version of the tune in the movie ‘Blow Up’), and from the Yardbirds Live at the Anderson Theater record (both solos), and I played note for note renditions of them all in succession in our opening number. Hear that train a comin’. And the band played on and well. Even the kibitzing other band shut up because the pressure was now on them.

Of course we were not offered a gig. It was obvious that those came via some other route, namely an agency called Far West Promotions. But we were vindicated nonetheless. Our girlfriends and wives knew that we were not a bunch of posers unable to cut the mustard, for one thing, and this in turn reflected well on them.

“If it rains this weekend I’m jumping off the Aurora Bridge.”

Emma’s battle cry at the beginning of each work week.

This is the kind of ultimatum you might want to make in a town other than Seattle. But she was aware of the irony implicit in her comment. Doesn’t much change the way you feel about it though.

She was actually a young divorcee, as I’ve mentioned. She’d married a guy in order to get out of her hometown and once she’d got far enough it was Sayonara, buddy. They were still friends, however, and perhaps this arrangement was understood from the get-go.

I actually met the guy. A few of us were sitting in Emma’s living room, our landlord, her ex-husband, our friend Rob the bass player, and perhaps another geezer, smoking pot, when the subject turned to infidelity. She was giving her ex a hard time in a humorous way about his dalliances, which they were both laughing about. There were obviously no hard feelings there, which gave me to believe that theirs had always been a marriage of convenience at heart. Then she turned and said that I was not escaping unnoticed, that she’d heard the bed upstairs rocking and rolling when I’d gone to visit a female neighbor briefly.

I had stupidly taken a hit or two of the pot which always virtually eliminated any social skills I might otherwise possess. I was in full introspection mode and had no idea how to respond to the semi-humorous, semi-serious challenge. She had the upper hand all the way. And the fact was that I had indeed, though god knows how it happened, boffed the neighbor while borrowing some sugar, if you’ll pardon the expression.

I tried to emerge from the depths of my psyche.

“You know me better than that,” I managed.

“ Yes, I do,” she replied, satisfied with my response. Thus she was able to convey to her ex that her new beau would not sink to the depths he had. And let’s not confuse the issue with the facts.

Score one for Emma.

Emma did not lose face easily. She had too strong a sense of humor for that. At dinner at our apartment a few weeks later, a group of us had convened which included Cary’s younger sister Mona. Normally after dinner, everyone repaired to the living room while I made coffee and wrote music on my twelve-string. But this evening alcohol must have been part of the picture because Mona, chief among us, was loose and feeling no pain. Or compunctions. She went in to take a shower and came out into the room stark naked and attacked me. She pulled our Murphy bed down out of the wall and pinned me on top of it. Emma, Rob and a few others came in to see what was going on and when they saw the naked wild woman, Rob whisked Emma out of the room. In fact they all left me at the mercy of Mona. It was so hilarious I actually obliged her, with Emma, Rob and the others in the next room. As Rob pointed out, it was so blatant and outrageous that there was nothing to get upset about. And Emma agreed. At evening’s end Mona was on the couch passed out in the living room and Emma and I were in the Murphy bed as usual. You really don’t have to ascribe any more importance to this stuff than is necessary, would be the lesson here.

Whenever I made any money from gigs I put it in a jar on top of the refrigerator to help out with the expenses but in truth that did not amount to much. Emma was fond of reminding me that I owed her big time, which was only true. The Thieves played a few more auditions, or free entertainment (for the clubowners) nights, which is what they were in reality. Also a few paying gigs, but it was slow going. Cary began working with another band (bass players, like left-handed pitchers, are always in demand) which had an actual week stand at a club called the Mad Hatter, not the hippest club but a club nonetheless. And, as happens, the band energy began to dissipate.

Katy and I began to sing together, now that I had my twelve-string acoustic Gibson and we didn’t sound half-bad. Then Emma and I broke up. It must have been relatively benign because I can’t recall the details and when I met up with her years later, first in Las Vegas and later in Montana, there was no vestigial hostility. Of course, as has been pointed out, it’s much easier to get over these things when you’re young. Or so it says here. I do still owe her, though.

Mike and I were still tight, but my attention was being drawn more and more in the direction of Edmonds, where Jim and Katy and their daughter Charlann lived in a small house on some beautiful property. When I ended up on the street after my relationship with Emma ended, that was where I went.

Proximity is a lot of it. If I had stayed in town, Mike and I might have been able to continue the band in one way or another, but since I was now in the suburbs and without transportation, that was less possible. And my ever burning need to play drew me closer to Katy, who was as natural a talent as I’ve ever known.

Actually, first I had a brief go at being a solo act and had a few auditions at your proverbial seafood restaurants overlooking the water. I had no banter, was either too loud for the diners or too soft to get their attention, and my repertoire, which included, somewhat appropriately, I thought, my famous acoustic guitar and voice version of Procol Harum’s “A Salty Dog” was utterly lost on the clientele. Even Beatle songs were a bit much for these venues at this time. So this part of my career was basically stillborn.

Katy and I first began harmonizing around the house for fun, and expanded our audience to include the couple from the neighboring house, who were very encouraging.

Jim built a little bed for me in a tool shed near a field behind the house and gave me an electric blanket.

I suppose you could call this a lateral move. From a living room floor to a basement ledge to a mildewed basement room to a utility room to an abandoned building to a tool shed. With two stays at Emma’s two apartments and a weekend in jail thrown in for good measure.

I’d been in Seattle one year.

But I minded not at all. The property itself was lovely, acres of lawn with fruit trees surrounded by woodland. Jim and the people who shared the property in an adjacent and bigger house and the nearest neighbors all had enormous gardens, cultivated just beyond the grassy area. It was pretty idyllic, all in all.

The fact that none of us (Jim, Katy and I) had any money was only a slight inconvenience, although Jim felt it most, primarily because of Charlann, now one year old. But Katy and I had something undeniable, musically speaking, and it seemed exploitable to me. For one thing, she was an attractive redhead with an outgoing personality which even I, utterly focused on the music though I was, could see. I was perhaps a bit of a liability in this regard, scissors had not touched my fast growing hair in four years, but I was not as yet market savvy enough to realize that this might exclude us from the ever lucrative surf and turf circuit.

It was said of Bing Crosby that he would rather sing harmony than eat. And I concur. Harmony singing is about as much fun as you can have, especially with someone like Katy. There didn’t seem to be any limits to our creativity and execution. A decade later she was in a band I led, singing backup mostly, and I used to give her outrageously complicated harmony parts to keep her occupied enough not to disrupt the rehearsals. Which, of course, she could execute instantly. She was that good.

We were hustling like mad. At first, building a repertoire. We started with anything we could get through, Carole King, CSN, Neil Young, Beatles, Wild Horses (by the Stones), Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Dylan. Then we went to music stores with pen and paper and surreptitiously copied sheet music of songs we thought would work.

First we played out at an open mike night at a coffee house in the U district called Last Exit on Brooklyn (which was the name of the street it was on, just before a freeway onramp, in addition to the literary reference). It was wickedly amateurish and cliquey and served mostly as a vehicle for young unwashed men to get drunk, get up onstage, and verbally spew. And not very well. I don’t mind the unwashed, drunk part that much, if you’re good.

Even though it was our first public performance, we were way too polished for that room on that night. But they were respectful enough. Our next performance was also in the U district at their annual street fair. We were a confident pair. We went up and aced our performance in front of quite a sizeable gathering without breaking a sweat. Mike was there. He told me later that he realized at that point that the Thieves were effectively over.

He had moved back into the place on Queen Anne Hill, and though we still saw each other, it was with less frequency. The proximity thing.

Katy and I were hammering on the clubs now. I probably exhibited temerity then that I haven’t since, even in the heyday of the Mabuhay Gardens and the punk explosion, which was all about that. We shot photos and auditioned–any time, day or night, sometimes just in front of the club manager. I looked sort of ridiculous in the photos. It was the mile long hair mostly. I resolved to get my hair cut and our neighbor, Nikki, volunteered to do it for me. When face to face with the actual prospect of whacking on four years of accelerated growth, however, she lost her nerve and had to be steadied with a few glasses of wine. After which, she was fine and did a fine job.

We shot new photos. We had a trade worked out with the photographer and sat for him in his studio in exchange for the publicity shots. These turned out. They were all shot outside on the Edmonds property on a sun dappled afternoon and ranged in effect from something Emmy Lou Harris might have done to something that looked suspiciously like the Carpenters, had they not had the fashion sense of Orange County. We were convinced to use the Carpenters shot.

Meanwhile we had secured a weekend gig, which turned into a series of weekend gigs, at the Lockspot,  a bar down by the locks (unsurprisingly enough) in Ballard. The owner paid us after each set, an arbitrary amount decided by him, which was usually dependent upon how well the bar had done and how many drinks he had consumed. It was never much, so we passed the hat also. This also never amounted to much. The Lockspot did not have your basic upscale clientele, but it was hip, working class and fun. And we went over.

The first night we played there our first set went so well that I was terrified of doing anything between sets that might change the conditions and upset the perfect balance. It was like being in what athletes call the “zone”, where you’re in complete harmonious command and everything you do works out right. I walked up and down the train tracks outside the place waiting for our second set. By the end of the night we had locked up (pardon the expression) a second weekend. By the end of the second weekend we were already too comfortable there. Sets got shorter and breaks longer. Katy did an awful lot of socializing, to the point where I did almost entire sets solo. This was not lost on the owner. In short order he decided that we had outgrown his club and should be moving on. This was something of a wake up call for us. We thought he and they (his clientele) loved us, and now we were back on the booking prowl. And we went everywhere, every airport hotel bar, every coffehouse, small restaurant. We played open mics, we played for dinner, we played for the passed hat. We were hustling.

Still, very little money was coming in and Jim was feeling the pinch. The lumber industry was one of the few that were hiring in the Northwest, which was pretty depressed at that time. Boeing was on the skids and the software industry was not yet on the horizon.

However, to go logging, you had to go where the trees were, which meant that you had to spend the week in a logging camp, returning home only on weekends. And this was what Jim decided to do. So Katy and Charlann stayed in the house, I was in the shed, and Jim was off to the Olympic Peninsula.

Katy and I decided to broaden our repertoire to enable us to audition at more venues. We were learning Bacharach/David tunes, Carpenters, standards. We learned a song from Skip Spence’s “Oar” record, for heaven’s sake. Probably just to offset what we thought was the conformity of the more mainstream fare. We spent long hours together working out parts, arrangements.

One evening after a long, productive session, something came over me and I began touching her hand, stroking her arm. She responded. Not in some wild passionate manner, but in a gentle, compliant way. It was almost like an extension of the music and our harmony, an inevitable, logical extension. Singing harmony with someone is in some ways a very intimate thing and it’s virtually impossible not to have feelings for the person with whom you are singing. This can take a variety of forms and in this case it led to what I would have to call lovemaking. It was not mere sex. It was not lewd or naughty in any way. There was a sweetness and innocence about it that can’t be manufactured and I suspect can’t be repeated. I don’t believe we even discussed the implications of this “act” on her (or my) relationship to Jim. It was understood that there would be none. We both loved him, after all, and this was not about dissatisfaction or disrespect or forbidden fruit or any of the lesser motivations. We just let a beautiful extension of our musical intimacy occur on this one special occasion. That’s how I read it, anyway.

And then we returned to our normal, comfortable siblingesque regard for one another.

Jim returned from the woods in short order. I don’t know if the work was more scarce than expected or what, but he lasted less than two weeks out there. Still, he made a few bucks which kept us afloat for a while.

Katy and I were still making the rounds and finally we actually got a real paying job filling in for a piano player at the Fifth Avenue Motor Hotel downtown, for two weeks. It was your basic 50’s era pianobar and we received a weekly fee and whatever tips found their way into the snifter on the front of the piano. By this time we had a fairly diverse repertoire and could suit the tenor of the room without stretching too much. We went over.

Someone on the staff told us that the hair on the back of his neck would stand up when we sang harmony and this was corroborated by others. I played piano, rather poorly, on some numbers and we had a couple of showcase tunes which Katy sang solo. The tip jar did a brisk business, helped by the standards we had learned in order to be able to field requests from the customers. It was a piano bar, after all. And we were able to get some of the better agents in town to come and see us in a real live setting.

But there are always hidden costs. And Katy bore the brunt. Each night as the room filled up, the men in the house would suss out the nature of my personal realationship with Katy, and when they discovered that we were not attached, the onslaught would begin. She handled it so well and diplomatically that at first I didn’t see the effort and strain it put on her. But eventually it reached critical mass and she had to leave during the middle of the set. I made an excuse to the audience and followed her, furious, up the stairs to the roof. When I got there she was standing at the rail, crying.

The realization of what was happening came crashing down on me like the proverbial ton of bricks and I did an attitudinal 180. I still had a reasonably direct connection to my heart in those days and it was pouring out love in her direction. Protective, compassionate love. It could hardly have been stronger. I held her for a time, utterly forgetful of our situation and responsibilities, until she had released the emotion. But Katy was nothing if not resilient and we were soon back on stage singing our little hearts out for all that they were worth.

The clubowner, or manager, stiffed us, of course, paying us less than half of what he had promised, once our run had finished. We offered the expected futile argument, but in the end we had no leverage or even recourse, save vandalism, for which I, in my frustration, probably lobbied. But we were in no position to refuse what was offered, and in some ways were grateful that we had something to contribute to our collective survival. Just another reminder of the everpresent grim realities of the music business. Starry-eyed need not apply.

I moved back into town shortly thereafter, to a room in the house on Thackeray St. There was a complete turnover in the occupants and I knew none of the people living there. This time I got the best basement room, still mildewy (this was Seattle) but a step up from the last time. The house was mostly female this time with a sort of hippie alpha male, from whom I instinctively kept my distance. Polite, but distant. The whole alpha, dominant, leader, hierarchical thing has always put me off and in this case many in the group had what I considered to be an unhealthy need to follow. The need from which cults, which were everywhere at that time, draw their strength. I’ve never seen a commune or collective that appealed to me at all. Families are bad enough. And let’s not get into institutions and bureacracies. Heaven forbid. The cooperation of individuals I am in favor of. For the record.

As if to confirm my suspicions, the entire household, save me, decided to go to a “gathering” at which Guru Maharaj Ji, a ten year old supposed Incarnation of the Divine, would place his hand on the head of each of the aspirants and bestow upon them his own patented brand of Divine Understanding. As appealing an idea as this is in theory, I was not tempted in the least to join them, my own lsd experiences and the possibility of hanging out with a bunch of women notwithstanding. So they set off for an open field somewhere in Idaho to what amounted, I suppose, to a Spiritual Woodstock for the sincere and gullible.

While they were gone I found a letter laying out that had been written by one of the female housemates who I suspected was fairly intelligent. The writing indicated that she was and I decided to pursue a relationship upon her return.

When they did return I interrogated them about the “Receiving of the Gift”. I concealed my skepticism as best I could. They all responded in the predictable manner of someone who has shelled out money and time to, for example, go to a movie which wasn’t very good. You sort of invest your experience of it with your own expense. There’s a bit of face-saving going on here as well. No one likes to admit that they bought a bill of goods, or in this case were taken in by a chubby Indian kid with a bunch of invisible promoters and handlers. It was the new age equivalent of a southern revival healing. Probably funded by mob money. The actual descriptions of the “sacrament” were vaguer than vague and no one called it outright bogus, even the smart one, much to my dismay. Such is the human desire for meaning.

I eventually did get together with my bright housemate. We took a walk during a beautiful summer rainstorm during which I expressed my intentions and was pleased to meet with approval. The alpha male and his consort moved out of the house, probably to follow the holy trail of the guru, and I moved upstairs to an actual bedroom on the second floor. Surf was up and the hippies were hipping!

Now  that I was back in town I was able to hang out with Mike a bit more again. He had actually lived at the Thackeray St. place for a while but was back on Queen Anne Hill by the time I moved back. There was a grocery/liquor store within walking distance of Thackeray (although everywhere, of necessity, was within walking distance for us) which had a walk-in cooler with the coldest beer in the city. We began many a summer evening with a visit to this store. If money was in short supply, we’d bypass the cooler and go to the shelf where they kept the Mogen David 20-20, or Mad Dog, to put it in the vernacular, which came in a flat, slightly countoured bottle. The stuff was just about undrinkable, but it was undetectable by store personnel when stuffed under the belt inside pants and shirt. In fact, you could get two and still go to the counter with your ostensible purchase, a bag of potato chips, for example, without arousing undue suspicion. But cold beer was preferred.

One night we headed over to Queen Anne Hill with a six-pack, and passed the enormous TV transmission tower that stands atop the hill, surrounded by barbed wire topped cyclone fence. We decided that it might be nice to drink in the view, so to speak, so we stuffed the beers in our pockets, hopped the fence and began our climb.

The route was a hand over hand ladder with platforms every 500 feet or so and it took a long, careful time to get even to the first platform. The thing was so huge it took us nearly an hour to get about 2/3 of the way up, and we were resting on a platform, readying ourselves for the final ascent when we heard a sound from below. Police cars surrounded the base of the tower and a cop on a bullhorn was yelling something indistinguishable at us. We instantly realized that they were at our mercy–on our timetable–because they sure as hell were not going to be coming up after us.

We cracked open the first of the beers. We waved. We enjoyed the view. The guy on the bullhorn was becoming apoplectic, but no one began to climb, as we suspected. We were way the hell up there.

Eventually we resigned ourselves to the inevitable and began to descend. It took a lot less time to get up there than it did to get down. They were furious by the time we made it to the bottom and immediately went after me, of course. Probably the now restored long hair. They tossed me around a bit, cuffed me way too tightly and threw me in the back seat of a black and white. Mike felt ignored. While one cop was reading me the riot act from the front seat, Mike actually got in the back seat with me.The cop still continued his tirade, directed solely at me, and concluded with, “You’re under arrest!”

At this point Mike actually said, “Aren’t you going to arrest me, too?” He was not about to let me gather in all this glory alone.

“You’re under arrest, too!” screamed the cop.

“Excellent,” said Mike. “Now that that’s out of the way, would you like a beer?”

And pulled one out of his pocket and popped it open in the back seat of the patrol car.

The cop had a seriously underdeveloped sense of humor.

They brought us downtown and put us in adjacent holding cells. Mike was in his cups now and began singing Procol Harum’s “Conquistador” at the top of his lungs. It rang throughout the facility. Naturally, they came after me. A cop burst into my tiny cell and slammed me against the wall, screaming at me to shut up. I generally stay pretty calm in an emergency and accepted even this with a certain amount of equanimity. Mike was, however, in full lather. This was a real Three Musketeers All for One and One for All opportunity.

“What are you doing to my friend!” he screamed. “Come and get me!” He began singing louder. “Conquistador, your stallion stands, in need of company, and from your rusty scabbard…”

They just yelled at him to shut up.

We got transferred to the drunk tank. Hard concave rubber floor, drain in the middle. So that the liquid runs toward the drain.

It’s crowded with very little room to lie down. Half the occupants passed out. One drunken and incoherent American Indian decides he’s going to have sex with me. Violence is a possibility and he’s big enough to do some damage but he’s also fairly easily distracted. He’s also relentless and follows me each time I tiptoe away around the piss and vomit. Mike, of course, intervenes but this only makes the drunk more aggressive. Finally we get released to make our one phone call. I call Rob, our bass player friend, and ask him to come down and post bail. We’ve been charged with public drunkenness, the TV outfit did not press charges for trespassing so that’s all they could manage. We were certainly not anywhere near drunk and had taken no breath analysis or other kind of test. It was a frustration charge. Rob says he’ll come down in the morning. Mike grabs the phone. “If you’re not down here immediately…” Up one side and down the other, as they say. Rob ignores him and shows up in the morning. With the requisite cash.

“How do you plead?” said the judge.

“Not guilty, ” say we.

“$35 each, bail, court date set for blah, blah, blah.”

We skipped out on it. The charges are probably still on the books.

Katy and I were still auditioning around and playing the odd date but things were not really happening for us. Part of it was the physical distance. The agents we spoke to were generally pretty supportive but the rock agents who understood us didn’t handle the rooms that would take an acoustic duo. The agents who did control those rooms were forever trying to hook us up with some older lounge era “entertainer” with smarmy patter and polyester clothes. We were losing momentum and it was compounded by problems that were beginning to show up in Jim and Katy’s relationship.

I began to focus my energy on getting the songs I was writing recorded, which meant that I was hustling everyone I knew (and quite a few I didn’t) who had a decent tape recorder and a microphone. If they happened to have a tape deck with “sound on sound” I pretty much became a fixture at their homes.

“Daddy, who’s that man in the corner of the living room singing and playing guitar?”

This was before the proliferation of the TEAC 3340, which was the first affordable four-track recorder. For a guy without a penny to his name, I managed to commit quite a few songs to tape.

It was summertime and Mike decided to go back home to the Bay Area. It was a sad day but he was anxious to get on with something, anything, and not much was happening for him. Not much for me either, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to move on. I was as always, broke. Jim brought me along “haying” with him one day, that is, loading bales of hay onto a truck and transporting them down to a barn for storage. By the end of the day I was so tired that I was falling asleep in the cab on the way from the field to the barn. They paid us $10 for the day. I lasted all of one.

Rob offered to buy my Rickenbacker which, though desperate, I was loathe to sell. He convinced me by saying that he would sell it back to me at the same price if I ever wanted it back. Of course, when this came to pass he refused to sell it back to me. I remember this, Rob. There is a curse on your family line on account of this. Make amends, Rob. Of course, there are all sorts of opportunistic swine in the world preying on people’s misfortunes just as there are generous folks like my bike riding buddy Cary, who sold me the Gibson 12-string for a more than reasonable price. And Cary was 10 times the musician that Rob was. He also probably would have bailed Mike and I out on the spot if we’d used our one phone call on him. Enough dissing of Rob. The swine.

It was turning into a lazy summer for me. My housemates at the Thackeray place were often out of town and I had the run of it more often than not. I’d get up in the morning, drink coffee, get out the guitar and start writing. Around noon I’d head over to Green Lake, swim, play basketball, socialize with girls. Just hang out. It was a much sunnier summer than the previous. Emma’s suicide threats must have diminished a good bit around that time.

I hung out a bit with a young guy named Bill Nick who was from Chicago. He supported himself by getting “pumped”. That is, he donated blood for cash to keep himself in food and beer. This was not something you could do every day, however, and toward the end of his “ineligible to donate” period he was looking pretty wan. In some ways this kind of life seems pretty idyllic. I had no tv, no radio, no phone, read the newpapers infrequently, no job, very little overhead. I exercised frequently, had healthy relationships with members of the opposite sex and no responsibilities other than a self-imposed desire to write and play music. That, of course was my downfall. That and the fact that nothing idyllic lasts long. Nature may abhor a vacuum but it is insanely jealous of the idle class.

It was deep into summer when I received a letter from PJ saying that he, his girlfriend and younger brother would be swinging through Seattle on their way back to the Bay Area from the East Coast. After the school year his brother had driven the family station wagon to Providence and the three of them had criss-crossed the country on the way back west visiting friends and seeing sights. Seattle was their last stop. This was great news. We were both avid letter writers in those days and our communication had never waned. This was, in fact, his second visit to Seattle, having come the previous summer as well when I was on Queen Anne Hill.

They arrived with a station wagon full of camping gear and an aluminum canoe strapped to the top of the car. The Thackeray house was virtually empty and once we unloaded their gear we headed off to Green Lake, my home away from home, with the canoe.

It was summer as usual down there, and we set out onto the lake in the canoe. Near a small island in the middle of the lake I got out and was walking alongside the canoe when I stepped on something sharp. It felt serious but I couldn’t see it in the water. I hopped into the canoe and at first saw no evidence of a wound. Then it started, big time. Blood was filling the canoe. They paddled furiously in the direction of the gymnasium and offices. The small infirmary there sent us immediately to the emergency room of a free clinic nearby. I never panic. Asthmatics learn this young. And the blood in the canoe made it look a lot worse than it was. Why everything in retrospect seems so much easier I can’t begin to answer. If this happened to me now I’d go to emergency, wait an eternity to get somebody to process the paperwork, have a dozen communication snafus concerning insurance and next of kin, go to triage.

“Yes, I do believe that’s a contusion. A live one, too. But I’ll have to get a second opinion.”

Then back to the waiting room.

“A doctor will be with you shortly.”

Blood fills the waiting room. Hours later, completely exhausted from the processing ordeal, some annoyed geezer would apply a butterfly bandage or sew in a few stitches and we’d all go on disability. In those, the good old days of retrospect, I was in and out of there in minutes and we were on our way to cop some LSD and beer, hardly having missed a beat. Which we promptly proceeded to consume before the sun went down. Memory is an elusive beast but my veracity antennae tells me I’m not embellishing much if at all here.

It was a lovely night and a good trip. We sat out in the back yard drinking beer, catching up. I sang some of my newer songs and no one cringed. (This was a highly critical audience!) LSD always made things seem momentous, and for me at least, left strong impressions in my memory. It was gradually dawning on me that this was my time to head back to the Bay. At evening’s end I repaired with my letter writing housemate to my room where we had momentous and memorable sex.

Two days later I was loading out of Thackeray and into PJ’s station wagon. Back to the City by the Bay. In a fit of romantic pique I asked my friend if she wanted to come with me. It was one of those truly romantic moments of vulnerability and possibility. I suppose you could even say destiny. It took her by surprise and she had to catch her breath as her mind wrapped around the ramifications. But it’s one of those “not knowable” things and that’s more than a bit scary. We were both a bit relieved when she declined but it was a moment of true romance and adventure. The ideal was served. And a narrowly averted complication, I’m sure.

I still have fond feelings for Seattle although I know from recent experience that it’s nowhere near as funky as it was then. But I suspect it’s still a hell of a good hang and I know it still rocks.

Once I got back to the Bay Area the first thing I did, after I dropped my belongings at my folks’ place, was look up DJ. Yes, my enemy DJ. He had actually written me a few letters since his return to the Bay Area and was interested in hooking up again. He and Elsa, the evil chick, had mercifully broken up and he was now hanging out in San Jose in an old part of town in a great old Victorian with a new lady. Theirs was not an unhealthy relationship and I ended up spending the better part of my first month back in the Bay sleeping on their couch. We jammed in their basement, just the two of us, me on a borrowed electric guitar through my trusty Deluxe Reverb, him on his Ringoesque dark natural wood finish Ludwig kit. It was hunky dory for a time. I got reacquainted with musicians from as far back as my Plague days and made lots of new friends as well. DJ and I were by and large inseparable, once again making plans, bigger than ever.

Then we got word that Katy had left Jim and had returned to the Bay Area with Charlann, still in her infancy. She was staying in the Mysterious East Bay with her sister. The three of us hooked up for a time, Katy and I still had our act and were still in hustling mode and DJ sat in with us on harmony and percussion at the few gigs we got. But none of us had any real income generating activity and a late summer hang can only last so long. It was decision time and for me it was the U.S. Post Office that helped make mine once again.

A letter had arrived at my parents’ house with an offer of employment. Even though I had left the PO after a short stint several years previous, apparently I was still eligible and in fact they were required to offer whatever work they had to those of us still on the eligible list. It was a carrier job in the City. This set the direction. DJ and I would get straight gigs until new gear and living money could be got and then reconvene early the following year to put together the new be-all and end-all rock and roll band. That high hope was the carrot that motivated us to re-enter the workaday world.

My old friend Mick had graduated from UOP and was now working for Standard Oil in San Francisco. He lived on Bush St. on lower Nob Hill so I got a studio apartment nearby on Sutter at Hyde. The postal carriers, who previously worked at neighborhood stations, had centralized to a big facility on Napoleon St. south of Army between Bayshore and 3rd St. I was assigned to Station J, the station that served the Haight and Fillmore Districts.

You start out helping a carrier with an established route. They show you how to case your mail, that is, file it in a big case full of slots which follows the order of the streets and addresses on the route. Then you learn to break it into splits, hand-sized bundles, and collect those into bags which you deliver to different storage boxes you visit along the route. You load up your own car, drive to the area of your route, deliver the bags of mail to the storage boxes, then park your car near the first  box and begin your route. These were all walking routes, bag on the shoulder.

This was also get up at 4:00 a.m. to catch three buses to make it to work by six. Let me just say that this represented a bit of a departure for me in terms of lifestyle.

I had two things going for me. One, I had aced the test because of memorization skills, primarily–a necessity here, and I had done this before, albeit briefly. None of the carriers knew this, but they could tell I could make their jobs easier for a while if I were assigned to helping them. I was in demand.

It was a lot more fun at Station J than it had been at Visitacion Station. At Visitacion the carriers were all middle aged, white guys with families and few outside interests that I could see. There was kind of a dull old boyism that was pretty stultifying in that context. At Station J, I immediately fell in with the brothers.

“Give me Dunne”, was Billy Blanchard’s battle cry each morning.

Billy was a blue chip guy, smart, funny, and something of a ladies man–and he knew a good thing when he saw it. I started out helping Billy but they eventually made an older, gay man my mentor. He showed me the ropes and my association with him made people wonder if I were gay too.

“No, he’s just a young man,” said the Rocket Man, John Collins, and that settled the issue.

As many of you probably know, skill can get you into trouble. When the supervisors realized that I had some aptitude for this, they assigned me to the Route Nobody Wanted. It was the longest, hilliest, stairiest (this is San Francisco, mind you), highest volume of mail route in the station. The case was completely obscured by the mountains of undelivered junk mail, and there was a good bit of long overdue first class mail too. There’s an old adage which goes: “If you want something done, find the guy who looks busy and give it to him.”

I ran that route every day. Literally, no walking. One elderly black lady on the route used to meet me each day when I came by her house with the mail.

“My, you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed today! You’re just like a spring chicken! You’re like a young colt!”

A new such expression for each day. At first I tried too hard to whittle down the incredibly daunting volume of junk mail and struggled to complete the route. A female carrier named Sheila saw my predicament and actually carried a few splits for me at the end of her own route each day. I was so appreciative that I fell madly in love with her. We became friendly and eventually she invited me over to her house after work. I was ecstatic. I wrote a song about her called “A Smile Like Yours” which went (in part):

A smile like yours

I know it didn’t come easy

I don’t know what it’s been for you

But you sure got me on the line

And I don’t think I’ll let you brush me aside

With a smile

She lived in a house in lower Bernal Heights, on the side away from downtown. It was charming, natural wood floors, plants everywhere, very tasteful early seventies, if you know what I mean. It was about six bus transfers from where I lived but I didn’t care one iota, I was just thrilled to be invited. She met me at the door, and we went into her living room and sat opposite, on couch and chair. No one else was there. She offered me a joint.

Here we go again.

Pot was such a fundamental social ritual in those days that it was impolite to decline even if you hated the stuff. I accepted and the two of us were soon feeling its effects. She probably felt a bit more relaxed and I, meanwhile, was orbiting Pluto. In a highly irregular orbit. Any radio telescopes trained on that part of the sky were recording some pretty bizarre data.

She began chatting about her roommate and I nodded at what I thought were the appropriate times, desperately trying to keep up the pretense of being a normal functioning human being. It’s kind of ironic that on LSD, a much more powerful drug, I was usually relatively poised, but on pot, invariably, I was instantly lost in space.

She offered to make tea which I gratefully accepted. My mouth was totally dry and I thought the props and business of the tea ritual would enable me to conceal my utter disorientation a while longer. She chatted on about her roommate and it began to dawn on me that she, in a very polite and considerate way, was telling me that she was a lesbian.

Under normal circumstances I might have been crushed by the news, but at that moment I was nowhere near corporeal enough for that to be possible in the realm of physics. In fact, to me it seemed that the entire molecular structure of my being had dissolved and that the individual molecules were being randomly scattered thoughout what appeared to be the nine bardos of Dante’s Inferno. It was hard to be certain.

It was also time to leave. I thanked her for her hospitality, we exchanged a friendly hug and I found myself mercifully back on the street. That alone always stabilizes me a bit and I knew that a few transfers later I’d be safely home where I could weather the last of the effects of the pot. It’s still a good song.

I was on a temporary hire which they extended when they found I could do the work. I made it through the holidays and into the new year and in fact had totally cleaned up that worst of all possible routes. Some of the cats thought I must be dumping mail.

“You’re as fast as John Collins, the Rocket Man.”

And I was. But it was a means to an end for me. I bought a new Gibson Les Paul and a used Fender Bassman amp, still to my mind one of the best sounding guitar amps ever made.

At the end of my last contract extension they offered me a permanent job. Which I declined. My brother friends at the station thought I was nuts.

“You got it made in the shade now, man,” said Billy Blanchard.

He had a point. I’d begin to get seniority, get easier routes, and, barring high crimes and misdemeanors, would have a guaranteed job for life. But I had an agenda and by the end of April I was gone. And since I was a temporary hire all along, it looked as though I had been laid off, enabling me to get unemployment insurance benefits. Things were looking up.

DJ was staying in east San Jose, of all places, at a modern apartment complex in a unit he shared with several roommates. I’d been to the apartment before, on New Year’s Eve, where Katy and I met up with DJ and his roomies prior to going out on the town. Most of the inhabitants, DJ included, worked evenings at a film processing place. I took up residence on the couch.

DJ was his usual reluctant self. He worked nights, pretty much slept all day, and wasn’t ready to give up his job, as we had agreed to do. He had some great roommates though, and the lot of us, excluding him, decided to look for a bigger place to share. It was late spring and we had a fair bit of collective enthusiasm. Then PJ arrived from the east coast. He had finished school, during the course of which he injured his back in a car accident and was looking for a place to convalesce prior to Deciding What To Do Next. Now we sought an even bigger place.

PJ and I could hardly have been tighter. We’d known each other since freshman year of high school, knew each other’s families, and had numerous shared interests and experiences. The other roommates loved him. Of course, there were now two of us on the living room floor and we did inspire the jealousy of the employed for the unemployed, but we also enjoyed the the advantages of that semi-charmed kind of life.

We spent hours listening to and analyzing the Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society album. In fact I don’t think either of us ever fully recovered from that exposure to Ray Davies’ ultimately inscrutable blend of innocence and irony. Especially the irony. Forget the Mothers Against Naughty Language and Hidden Satanic Messages in rock songs. Davies’ irony is far more dangerous and subversive than that banal crap could ever be. And it’s impossible to be certain of his intent or even his own awareness of it. It’s maddening and delicious and irresolvable. The basic fibrillation of human consciousness itself, sitting on that razor’s edge of Innocence is Irony is Innocence. We were well out of the garden on that one. So much for instinct. Shared appreciation for stuff like that is what makes for lifelong bonds. I don’t know if you ever get out of the woods though. Send in the clowns, indeed.

We found an enormous Edwardian cum Swiss Chalet, gabled, seven bedroom house near downtown. It had been a frat house at one time and was in pretty funky condition, but it was really a magnificent stucture with a living room which ran the entire length of the house, a second story deck, French doors, hardwood floors and a large enclosed backyard. $425 a month. Read it and weep. On a quiet, tree-lined street, to boot.

There were now three couples and three singles involved, Dan and Linda (both from the photo processing place), Nick and Bella (Bella was local, Nick was from Detroit and the photo place), DJ and Karla, his new girlfriend (both local and from photo town), PJ, me and Kristen, a former girlfriend of PJ’s (via Minnesota and Barnard) who had come to visit and stayed on. This was a formidable redecoration team and we, with the notable exception of DJ, who was up to his usual tricks, spent a month making the gigantic house a showplace.

PJ and I, in fact, by and large stayed in the empty house while we were redoing it. We would jam in there at night on flute and 12 string, because we liked the sound of the house empty. And when it was finally filled, it was even better. We threw a monster housewarming party, hundreds of people came. Bella knew every cute girl in the South Bay, it seemed, and they all turned up. This was a very happy time for all concerned, I think it’s fair to say, and it got even better when DJ, the sourpuss, and Karla moved out. Although Karla was missed by all.

Since DJ was not honoring his part of the original bargain, I began to look for playing situations. I checked out a variety of postings, a band led by a black organist in East San Jose, a very inexperienced group with a Chicano rhythm section and black lead singer, another mixed band from Santa Clara, a band led by a female acoustic guitarist/singer, but nothing really took. Then I auditioned for a rock band called Rush Hour, whose drummer I knew casually, and I got the job.  They had actually been gigging and were experienced and somewhat viable. It was a two guitar, bass and drum cover band and I managed to get the drummer replaced by DJ soon after joining. It’s a nasty business.

We began the ritual of rehearsing, getting photos done, recording a demo on a four-track (provided by our old friend Dave, now working at Moffett Field) and visiting agents. At about the time we were about to get up and running, the female bassist quit the band. Something to do with her boyfriend, I think it was. Never fails. Up and running, down and out.

In this case, however, we were not down for long. On a whim, we, the remaining three, answered an ad for a singer looking for a band, and found ourselves in the rural San Jose kitchen of a beautiful, platinum blonde, thirty six year-old woman named Susie, from Chickashay, Tennessee, discussing plans for a Country and Western band. The band would be fronted by her, with her 18 year old sister and 18 year old daughter providing fringed go-go dancing and some background vocals. This was my kind of trouble. Never mind that Creedence Clearwater Revival was as close as I’d come to playing country.

They had an organist with a Vox Continental, of all things, but they needed the rest of the ensemble. This meant that Reggie, the other guitarist, and I would have to trade off on bass and guitar. It also meant that we had to get a bass guitar. We bought a smashed up bass which had an intact neck and functioning electronics and mounted those pieces onto a two-by-four. I kid you not. The damn thing didn’t sound half bad. And it stayed in tune. I’ve had Les Pauls with worse intonation, much worse. I had one then, in fact.

And damned if Susie didn’t get a job right off the bat. So quickly, in fact, that we didn’t have a single rehearsal before we were onstage at the El Rancho doing a double shift, 9 p.m. til 7 a.m., eight sets. It was a case of Follow the Singer. That is, anticipate the next chord change based on where the melody seems to be going. You can do that fairly successfully, for the most part, doing the kind of old fashioned country that we were doing. Provided you’re a good listener. I started on guitar but Reggie knew more of those old songs than I did, so I pretty much played bass after the first night. I enjoyed it, too, once the tips of my fingers adjusted to the size of the strings.  I was hurting for a while there. I’d never played it before and haven’t since, now that I think about it, but that old two-by-four sounded pretty good through my Fender Bassman.

We got a regular gig at the El Rancho. Friday and Saturday from 9 til 7 the next morning, Sunday from 2 p.m. til 2 a.m. They had a barbecue each Sunday afternoon.       Things started to establish. We called ourselves Susie Forbes and the Country Connection. Tres 70’s. Susie’s husband, Andy, managed the band, Danny the organist’s mom made uniforms for the band and provided a place to rehearse. We had a steady income, $25 each per shift, six shifts a week, which coupled with my unemployment insurance (all the music money was under the table) put me in fat city. We played Friday, Saturday and Sunday, took Monday and Tuesday off, and rehearsed Wednesday and Thursday. I learned a million old country songs and really began to gain some respect for those singers and musicians, especially the guitarists. For a guy who was completely enamored of Thom Bell (songwriter and producer of the Spinners, Stylistics and others) and TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia) in general prior to that summer, this was an unexpected revelation.

We also had the perk of an ongoing and outrageous flirtation with the go-go dancers, with whom we, of course, got into all sorts of trouble. This is totally defensible. For starters they wore these skin tight hot pants outfits with fringed halter tops and white go-go boots on stage. They were blonde, attractive and they were 18, for crying out loud. DJ was completely smitten with Susie’s sister and consequently I found myself, rather by default, in the company of her daughter on various occasions. We actually enjoyed a friendly and comfortable relationship, for the most part, complicated intermittently by the fact that the organist was crazy about her and insanely jealous of our, shall we say, intimacy. Also the fact that her aunt, Susie’s sister (remember they were the same age) decided to change horses midstream once she got fed up with DJ’s inimitable ways. Unfortunately, I was the other horse.

Of course, DJ was still living with Karla, and the four of us would have to repair to the big Edwardian for the occasional dalliance. This brought the wrath of the females who were living there, friends of Karla all, down upon DJ big time. He had a skill for becoming reviled. This even strained my relationship with one of the ladies of the house, Bella, who was close to Karla and with whom I felt a special bond. It was right after the four of us had been upstairs in my room doing the wild thing. DJ left by himself to avoid being seen by my roommates, utterly unsuccessfully, while I trooped down with both girls on my arm, who were making jokes about sharing me.

“Sharing Peter would be better than having DJ all to myself,” said Becky, only partly in jest. She was getting fed up, too.

“Just as long as I get the bottom half,” joked Robin.

When they left, Bella let me have it.

“How can you be a party to this!” It was a rhetorical question. “I thought you had some sense of decency!” and other words to that effect.

I begged off, proclaiming my innocence. Apparently DJ had made a phone call to Karla while he had been there, not mentioning the fact, needless to say, that he was with Becky. Bella overheard this and presumed I was part of the coverup. Not guilty, says I.

Bella relented and we made up. She gave me a hug. A very warm hug. It almost seemed to suggest more than apology. But I shrugged it off, knowing that Bella would not disrespect her relationship with Nick, her cohabitor, any more than I would. I wonder what that says.

I was still jamming around with various people. A bass player from Saratoga who wanted to do Yessongs. A former bandmember from all the way back to the Plague days. A big blonde beach volleyball player named Courtney Weston who had auditioned for us when we lived in Berkeley. He was a singer/songwriter with whom I’d hung out a bit back then. One of those “of no fixed abode” guys who, when he couldn’t shack up with a lady friend, slept in his van with his dog Zeppelin.  A bass player from Atherton whom I’d met through PJ’s younger brother. This guy invited me to jam with him and a few friends at his parents’ house. I brought Hogan, who now also lived in San Jose, along with me.

Hogan, to put it mildly, had not been idle and was now fully around the bend. Following the demise of the flat in the Haight he had moved into a small austere apartment in San Jose, and applied himself to spiritual pursuits full time. He was taking the lessons offered by the Self Realization Fellowship, the organization that evolved fom the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, if I’m not mistaken. There were gurus on every streetcorner in those days. The search for enlightenment was as powerful as the search for money is now, and people, young people were looking for those opportunities that seemed viable.The SRF was among the more reasonable of the lot. I even went to a Moonie gathering myself, although I didn’t realize that that’s what it was until years later, because the organization called itself something like the Re-education Foundation. Following the meeting I went to the nearest bar for a stiff drink. Cute Moonie girls, though.

Hogan had also gone through the strict macrobiotic routine. He and I, when we first moved into the Haight, had become vegetarians, faltering only when the craving for Seagull’s Fish and Chips on Haight St. got the better of us. But no red meat or fowl whatsoever. It was easy to start, given our relative lack of cash, and for me it lasted for over twenty years. Now I yield once or twice a month to the temptations of the flesh. For medicinal purposes only, of course.

But Hogan went the whole hog, if you’ll pardon the expression. He had read “You Are All Sanpaku” or some other popular Eastern health-nut tome and had undertaken a regimen that made the Buddha’s begging bowl look like a hog trough, to continue the metaphor. Thirty days of unadulterated brown rice only, followed by thirty days of brown rice with modest steamed vegetables. I think he got to do the odd legume after another thirty or so.

I had to hand it to him. Discipline he had. He was, of course, as a result of all this SRF and dieting, on a completely different planet from even me. If you were with Hogan, you were no longer the weirdest person in the room. Bless his heart. But it didn’t stop there. Once he had reached this odd plateau, something else kicked in and he reverted to or converted back to, of all things, Catholicism! Devout, by-the-book, Roman Catholicism, with all the trimmings. He had pamphlets discussing the importance of the Virgin Mary! This was truly frightening, even for an old warrior against insanity like myself. This was why I brought him to the jam session in Atherton. He still played guitar some–this was one of the threads still connecting him to the third stone from the sun–and he needed to interact with people whose experience was not so rarefied.

The jam was a mess. It was in the back room of a very large house in a very wealthy part of West Atherton, and it was full of guys a few years younger than me all playng as loud as they could in order to hear themselves. The Allman Brothers had become popular and we were jamming on some of their numbers, to my ear, incredibly unsuccessfully. There was no organization, and none possible with these inflamed post-adolescents, no sense of space or frequency, phrase or taste. It was pretty much me, me, me.

Amid the cacophony I could make out that each time I tried to play a little part which might suggest form to the chaos, the drummer heard it and picked up on it. Good ears, good instincts, I thought. But I wasn’t expecting much and didn’t push my ideas on anyone. Hogan was already doing that enough for all concerned.

During a break, the conversation became some young male braggadoccio, I think concerning a small theft or shoplifting or something of that nature. Hogan, holy idiot that he was, began questioning the virtue of this type of activity. That was it for the session. The young males, sensing sanctimony, the great enemy of adolescence, turned on Hogan and engaged him in a merciless and unfair debate which quickly devolved into ridicule. It was basically nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, you pathetic holier than thou wimp. I got him out of there.

DJ and I used the bass player once or twice for odd one-nighters we got and I never saw any of the others, save one, again.

On one of my days off from my gig with Susie, I answered an ad which had been placed by a keyboard player living in San Jose. He was what I considered to be an older guy, all of thirty-three at the time. I was ten years and a lot of miles younger. When I went over to his apartment he had a Hammond X-77 with a Leslie speaker set up in there. This was highly impressive. Not only was this the most soulful of instruments, but it was the top of the Hammond line and had more drawbars and special features than you could shake a stick at. And he really knew how to use it. It had footpedals, footbars, really, for bass notes, which he played in stockinged feet. And I’m not talking about single root notes depressed over each bar of music. I mean funky, moving bass lines which he kicked while he was playing with two hands on two levels of keyboard, and manipulating drawbars. He could even sing while doing this.

I had a very famous manager years later who always marveled at how I could play and sing in two completely different and virtually unrelated rhythms, but it was nothing compared to this cat. The standard was high when I was coming up and I learned at the feet of at least one very bad cat. His name was Jerry and he could pull out all the stops, which sounds very much like an organist’s euphemism to me. He also did the trick of changing the Leslie speaker’s speed of rotation in midsong to create the impression of suspending the song’s time in midair.

He was from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Had an awfully nice wife and two young kids who came on the road with him, and really were rock and roll babies because he had been on the road for the better part of the last 5 years. He was also a crackerjack auto mechanic, electronics tech, carpenter. We’re talking about a bright and talented fella here.

He asked me what I could do. I taught him a song by Elton John called Daniel which had a good keyboard part and sang it for him when we could run it down. Which didn’t take long. He responded. I told him I knew a drummer I’d worked with who could also sing and a band, as Sting would have it, was born.

Jerry was committed to a gig in Las Vegas, playing with a singer named Zella Lehr who had a month long run at the Landmark Hotel showroom. And, as fate would have it, Susie and Andy Forbes and their brood also had plans to move to Las Vegas at around the same time and wanted us to continue on with them down there. DJ finally decided to leave his damn job and the two of us packed up for Vegas. It was late September, 1973.

Jerry had gone on ahead to rehearse for his Landmark gig and had set us up with a monthly trailer rental at a place out on the Boulder Highway. The Forbes clan, and it was a clan–I think Susie and Andy had about six kids of their own all the way down to toddlers (girls all), in addition to others from previous marriages– had rented a house in Henderson, just south of town. DJ and I drove down in his recently purchased, previously owned Oldsmobile. So began many years on the road.

It was about a six-hundred mile trip which we did in a straight shot, trading off on the driving. Uneventful except for a partial tire blowout which I had to nurse for a few miles down the highway until we hit a service station. DJ, surprisingly enough and to his credit, did not lose his composure for once and we escaped relatively unscathed. Automotively and emotionally.

When we got to Las Vegas it was nighttime but the strip was dark. The good old U S of A was in the early stages of a rather lengthy energy shortage and the patriotic owners of the casinos were doing their part to conserve. It was a bit creepy, like a neutron bomb had gone off in the world’s most obscene strip mall. And it was close enough to the original test sites to give it an air of not necessarily desirable authenticity. But it was just a big ludicrous desert ghost town all dressed up with nowhere to go.

We headed out to the Boulder Highway and met up with Jerry at the trailer park. I’d never actually been in a trailer park before, but I suspect, as they go, this was a nice one, with trees and a fair amount of space between the metal units. There were two bedrooms in ours, big and small, and I asked DJ if he wanted to flip a coin to see who got to choose.

“I thought you knew that I wasn’t going to do this if I didn’t get the big one,” he said.

This is a quote.

There is no way to have a reasonable discussion with someone who a) makes a comment like this at all, and b) fabricates an agreement like this out of thin air. So I offered no rebuttal and took the small room. Less wasted energy and friction that way. Hard to let go of the resentment entirely, though.

Jerry, meanwhile, was in the middle of his stand at the Landmark. We did manage to get some publicity shots done, but for the most part this freed DJ and I up to work with Susie and Andy’s band. They had a new bass player named Doug Smith, who carried around a briefcase with “The Doug Smith Show” inscribed on one face in large white letters. What his “show” was we’ll never know. He couldn’t carry a tune and could barely play bass. Not much to look at either. But he did realize the value of advertising. Such are the delusions of show biz grandeur.

I had a fondness for Susie’s husband, Andy. He was an old fashioned man’s man, a bit of the Clark Gable vibe, if you know what I mean. He was a slender, ruggedly handsome, good old boy who probably smoked and drank too much, but who you knew you could count on in a pinch. Utterly unlike DJ. He called me Ol’ Pete, almost from the time we met. The entire band was now in Las Vegas, with the exception of Reggie, who was in no position to leave his old lady, Cakie Pie, and twin infants, the Cakettes (although he did anyway just a few months later, for the record, and moved in with PJ’s former girlfriend at the Edwardian). This meant that I moved over to guitar, my natural instrument, and Doug Smith and his show filled the bass slot.

It was turmoil from the get-go. It always is. The go-go girls were alternating between hanging out with DJ and me and a couple of young bucks who were playing at a little casino down the street from their house in Henderson. Those guys were real rabble rousers, boozing and fighting and playing rockabilly. If they’d done their act in a major city five years later they’d have become Punkabilly stars. DJ called them the Elvis Brothers. Andy got in a brawl with them at one point and turned his Doberman, Cootch, loose on them. I don’t think major injuries were sustained.

I thought it was all pretty amusing but DJ did not share my take on it primarily because he was so head over heels in love with Becky. She was something of a winner, if I might be so presumptuous. Andy was always after me to take an interest in her.

“She got straight A’s in school,” he’d tell me.

She expressed an interest too, one night after she and Robin had visited DJ and I at our trailer.

“If only Peter were a little drunk, I’d be rid of DJ,” I overheard her telling Robin, who was ostensibly her competition, but was in fact, submissive to her.

Robin, however, was not overly concerned at that point, having recently relieved me of any biological urge which might have made me susceptible to Becky’s entreaties. I’ve always been attracted to intelligence, though. In fact, my frontal lobe needs to get its rocks off probably more than does my other frontal extremity. DJ actually proposed marriage to Becky, such was his ardor, so it was in my own best interest to play it cool. I don’t believe he’d ever had a girl as attractive as she.

And the band got a little work. Not big money stuff on the strip or downtown, but in bars and honky tonks in North Vegas or south of town. “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” “Satin Sheets”, “Apartment # 9” and so forth. Susie and Andy and I would cruise the honky-tonks and sit in occasionally, Susie doing “Me and Bobby McGee” and me doing “Jambalaya”, the only version of which I’d actually heard was John Fogerty’s. By the same token, most of my country guitar licks at the time were derivations of a Keith Richard lick from “Dead Flowers”. I definitely had the wrong pedigree but I was learning and making it work. Susie’s beauty didn’t hurt either. It’s amazing how far pulchritude will take you. But as the John McLaughlin record of the time indicated, “My Goal’s Beyond”. Mine was just a tad more humble than his.

It was always hard to get Jerry to rehearse and I’m not sure why. You could always get him to work on cars though, and what time we did have we spent assembling a vehicle which would serve us on the road.

The infamous Borchers Truck.

The Frankenstein truck would have been more like it. We bought a used Ford truck (early 50s, I think) with no engine, and a Ford car of the same year which had been totaled but had a functioning engine. We pulled the engine out of the car and put it in the truck. Those kinds of projects never go well. Jerry had the know-how and I assisted. DJ, as usual, did not participate.

We bought a metal box frame for the bed, bolted it to the body and skinned it with plywood. To protect our equipment. Jerry also had an old Plymouth Valiant and a small trailer in which his family and their belongings traveled. We pulled the hitch off the Valiant and put it on the truck. So that was our rig, and old Ford Frankenstein pickup with a homemade box on the back pulling a trailer. My pedigree was getting more authentic all the time. Before I get off the truck, let me just say that it had no door handles on the inside on either side and only the driver side window rolled down. In order to get out of the cab you had to roll down the driver side window, reach out and open the door from the outside handle, then walk around to the other side to open the passenger door from the outside, for the passenger to get out. Your basic Deathtrap. And Jerry and I pulled some long nights to get the Deathtrap on the road.

One night in a Henderson casino, I spotted a keno runner who looked familiar. It was Emma La D! The rain had finally gotten to her and she and her boyfriend, the same one she’d thrown out the last time we’d cohabited, had packed it in for the dusty desert. She was as charming as ever and just as dismissive of Buster, her boyfriend, as ever. We met up after she got off work and had some beers, played some cards. We started winning. The minimums in Henderson were lower than what you’d find on the strip or downtown, but the money was starting to mount up anyway. We were getting giddy. Our chance meeting seemed fated and our luck was holding. In a moment of crazy optimism and reckless daring we set a seemingly unattainable amount  and decided that if we reached it , we’d cash in our chips and head down to the nearest wedding chapel and tie the knot. (I told you she had no respect for Buster.)The unattainable was getting more and more attainable all the time. Was looking likely. Emma knew the dealer and I still suspect that they were in cahoots. I wanted to lose, could not lose and Emma wasn’t about to let me off the hook. “So this is what they mean by women having the upper hand,” I thought. I began to sympathize with Buster.

When Emma caught up with me I was outside, smoking a cigarette. I lit one for her. “I knew you couldn’t go through with it,” she said. We headed off into the night and ended up at my trailer. Buster picked her up in the morning. He was none too pleasedbut I assuaged him a bit by saying that I had no designs on “his old lady.” Implying that our relationship was platonic. He played it straight and let it go at that. “I’m sugar and you’re shit” I heard him tell Emma as they walked back to his car.

Gambling is a strange pursuit which turns into a disease at a moment’s notice. It’s rather like cocaine, instantly addictive, and the more you do it the less payoff you get for your investment. You learn about it the hard way because you can’t really have any idea about what you’re getting into until you experience it. And it remains tempting even after you’ve learned your lesson.

After my experience with Emma down in Henderson, I began to think that maybe this gambling thing wasn’t such an express train to the Loserdome.  It had been, on that occasion, exhilarating and profitable, and it had whetted my appetite for more. One night I hitchhiked from our trailer down the Boulder Highway and into downtown Vegas. It was a straight shot, maybe three miles. I was running out of money, down to my last bills, and thought maybe I could increase that a bit at the card tables. I played for a while at the Four Queens, didn’t do much, and then moved over to the Golden Nugget. The minimums were higher there, but Dick Dale and the Deltones were on a stage in a corner of the room and I still had a soft spot for his then-anachronistic surf rock. I was alone at a table with the dealer. I lost the first hand, then the second. I began to calculate what the odds were on my losing three in a row. In Henderson they had used one deck and I could count cards. After all, I’d played bridge since I was in short pants. I lost again, and again. With each loss the odds seemed longer on my losing yet again, so I upped the bet to recoup. And lost again. It was like an inexorable momentum that completely overwhelmed any laws of probability. I lost fourteen hands in a row. All my money. I walked home the three miles out to the trailer, alternately crying and screaming with frustration. It was devastating. The next day I took my Gibson 12-string to the local pawn shop and got $60 for it. I’m still kicking myself over that one. Then I wrote to Mike who, out of sheer perversity, had joined the bloody army! I told you he was Byronic. He sent me $200, bless his heart, which I believe I still owe him. This enabled me to get out of town when the time came, which after my little gambling lesson, came none too soon.

Jerry knew a booking agent from Wichita Falls, Texas, who agreed to arrange some gigs for our new trio. We called it the Borchers Brothers Band, proving the unintentional staying power of the in joke. Jerry finished up his gig with the band at the Landmark and it came time for us to break off with Susie and Andy and the girls. Things were in turmoil, as ever, with the Forbes clan. Becky had pretty much threatened to quit the group on a weekly basis since its inception and Robin usually followed suit. Danny, the organist, was in love with Robin and couldn’t handle the fact that her affections were directed elsewhere (either toward me or one of the Elvis brothers). He, in fact, burst in on Robin and me and caught us in flagrante delicto, whereupon he burst into tears and ran back to tell Susie and Andy and whoever else would listen about what he’d seen. Let’s just say that the waters were a bit muddied around the Country Connection.

On the eve of our departure, Susie and Andy caught up with us at our trailer park. Susie was upset and crying and stayed in the car, while Andy came out to speak with us.

“We know what you’re planning,” he said. “How could you do this to us?”

I loved Andy, and Susie too, and tried to offer some conciliating words.                     “You know we came down here to hook up with Jerry, Andy. This can’t be a complete surprise.”

“But we didn’t expect you to steal the girls from us in the process,”  he said.

I was baffled. We had no intention of taking Becky and Robin with us. At least I didn’t. Then I remembered that John had asked Becky to marry him. I realized that he may have been pursuing this with more ardor than I had suspected. But I had also heard the girls threaten to run off with the Elvis brothers. I tried this tactic.

“Andy,” I began, “if those girls are running off with anyone, it’s with those guys back at the casino in Henderson.”

He was doubtful, but I suspect that no one had a really clear picture of what was actually happening versus what was being said or intimated. The discussion was over. Andy walked back to his car and his wife, his band up in smoke, and I suppose went back to Henderson to see if he could get the Elvis brothers to join up with them. That seemed to me to be a recipe for certain disaster, but I thought it might just keep the girls around a bit longer, provided Becky wasn’t in John’s car when we left the next morning. I went back to the trailer, lit a cigarette, put some instant coffee into hot water from the tap and marvelled at the breadth of the confusion.

We had managed one, count ‘em, one rehearsal prior to hitting the road, and we spent most of it on one song, Paul McCartney’s “My Love”. God knows why. We did have the Borchers truck semi roadworthy, though, following a few all nighters, and roadworthy it had to be since our first gig was at a Ramada Inn in Butte, Montana, not exactly a short hop down the Interstate. It was early November.

The plan was for John to drive his own car, while Jerry and I would share the truck driving. Jerry’s wife Marilyn, and their two kids would stay behind in Vegas until we got established up north. I believe it was an 800 mile trip, and we intended to do it in a straight shot. On the night before we left, we packed the box on the pickup bed, then hitched up the trailer and loaded it. Then padlocked both containers and backed the trailer up to a wall. Sure enough, the next morning Becky showed up as we were getting ready to leave. But she was not in John’s car when he pulled out. They had their customary spat and she left in a huff, as usual. Pretty anticlimactic, really. I’d seen it all before with Elsa and Karla. The three of us hit the highway and took one that went due north.

I never got used to trips of that length. Four or five hours out Jerry started getting sleepy. It was a long boring, droning, flat ride, with very little of scenic interest to latch on to. He prayed for alertness, he and his wife were Jehova’s Witnesses, and eventually took some No-Doz to counteract the tedium. He insisted on doing the driving, on that trip anyway, mostly to get a feel for how the truck was doing, and I did my best to keep the conversation going. The further north we went the colder it got and soon we were sealing the edges of the doors and holes in the floor with duct tape. By the time we hit Montana we were in a blinding snow storm which I swear ran from the border of the state all the way into Butte without relief. I started to pick up new expressions like fish-tail, and jack-knife, frost heave and black ice. We had no chains, no snow tires and were pulling a heavily loaded trailer. I barely knew where Montana was before starting this trip, and by the time we got there I really had no idea where on earth I was. Just keep going forward through the white stuff, try to follow tail lights if there are any, and eventually, you get there. That was the theory, anyway.

It was snowing when we finally found the Ramada in the wee small hours and it was snowing when we unloded our gear early the next afternoon. We began that evening. One rehearsal under our belts, exhausted, broke, exhilarated. It was a Don’t Think Too Much about this situation. We had to succeed. It was snowing out there!

I got into my band uniform really early. We had bought the uniforms backstage at the Landmark, from Jerry’s former bandmembers, on the last night of their engagement. I went down to the club in the Ramada and bought a glass of beer. I sat at a table and pulled out my wallet, in which I’d been saving one half of a bennie, or benzedrine tablet, for the occasion. I washed it down with the beer. I smoked, chatted with some of the businessmen who stopped by the bar on their way home from work, and generally tried to pre-empt any nervousness. I had no idea how we were going to pull it off. This was a five set a night gig. That is, five forty-five minute sets with fifteen minute breaks each night from nine until two. It was going to be a loaves and fishes thing, definitely.

You had to start quiet, and believe me, we were going to do anything they wanted us to do to keep the gig. In hushed tones we began. I did “Fire and Rain”, John did “Country Comfort”, Jerry did “Rainy Night in Georgia”, I did “Behind Closed Doors” and so on. Somehow we got through the first set. It was survival energy all the way. The crowd changed a bit, we did some Creedence, some country. We didn’t sound half bad. We did Carole King’s “It’s Too Late” and jammed at length in the middle. But like jazz cats. Jerry would do a bit, then leave it for me. I’d take a cool, jazzy front pickup solo and give it back to him. He’d take it up a notch, pull a few tricks out of his Hammond X-77 and then deliver another verse. We did “Feelin’ Alright” for ten minutes. C7 to F7. The dancers showed up. We played some old rock and roll, some Beatles and Stones. We knew just enough of enough tunes in common to get us through our first night successfully. The manager was pleased. We had at least two weeks guaranteed. Halleluia!  Probably the worst thing we did all night was “My Love” which was the one we’d rehearsed.

It’s amazing how quickly one can adapt to a new environment, a prerequisite of being on the road. In no time I had established a new routine. Up at 11:00, down to the coffee shop for my usual “slut’s breakfast”, coffee and a cigarette. Read the paper, head to the club for rehearsal. We actually rehearsed for a time just after arriving in Butte, and worked up a whole lot of material in a short time. We moved out of the Ramada and into a funkier, cheaper motel down the road, and got into the usual trouble with girls. That is, I did. Jerry’s wife made the drive up from Las Vegas with her kids, completing the entourage.

Butte is one of a kind. Known throughout the area as Butt, the Arsehole of the West. It’s a mining town dominated by a gigantic and mostly played out enormous strip mine. We’re talking defaced here. I’m no mining expert but it looked to me like they stripped away the earth from the side of the mountain in ever increasing concentric circles. Wider and deeper. It’s so incredibly enormous now that it looks like something a comet crashing into the earth must have created. An enormous sphincter and a tremendous producer of copper in its time.

The town itself didn’t seem to benefit particularly from the wealth it generated, with the exception of the Copper King Mansion, to which we were sometimes invited. This was owned by a guy named Bob Smith, unimaginatively enough, who had been a talk show host in L.A, and now had a local talk show called, even more unimaginatively, the Bob Smith Show. He at least had a show which was more than you could say for Doug Smith and his briefcase. The Borchers Bros. occasionally appeared on the show and never turned down an invitation to see the gaudy old mansion, with its ballroom and massive pipe organ. Otherwise, Butte was funky. The old part of town had lots of charm and more than a bit of wild west flavor, and the new part was nondescript housing, nondescript malls and trailer parks. I loved the old part and spent many a late night at the bars and restaurants uptown, like Hung Far Lo and the Terminal Bar. You think I’m kidding.

The band was doing alright and got a three week extension at the Ramada, for a total of five, which meant that we wouldn’t be applying for work down at the mines any time soon. Jerry then secured us a second gig at a ski resort outside of Spokane, Washington, which would take us up to the Christmas holidays.

But. as always happened with DJ in the band, problems developed. He was selfish, basically, and not particularly tactful about it. Jerry didn’t like it and I didn’t like it, and we began to resent his presence. And I was the one stuck with him–Jerry had his wife and kids as a buffer zone, but I had to deal with it firsthand. On the road, especially like this–maybe if each bandmember has his own private jet you can avoid it, but I doubt it–you ‘ve got to be ready and willing to share, to let things go, to keep up a spirit of camaraderie, or it falls apart. Believe me, it’s hard enough at times even if you do have that esprit de corps, but without it, you’re off the bus.

We finished up in Butte and began our journey west, over some hellacious passes into the panhandle of Idaho and on into eastern Washington. Bad weather all the way. DJ, driving his own car, lost us somewhere west of Missoula. Jerry let me drive the truck some, and we were nursing it through the weather and the mountains.  We completely lost track of DJ, who as it turned out, had car trouble and had to flag down assistance. When he finally caught up to us, still chugging along, somewhere beyond Fourth of July Pass (check), he was hopping mad.

“You abandoned me. I was alone out there on the side of the road with no help at all.” The customary indignance.

The truth was that he, in a standard American sedan, had far greater range of mobility than we, in our homemade truck pulling trailer, and had gone far ahead of us and had lagged far behind almost from the outset of the trip.We were in no position to go wheeling back and forth through the mountains to find someone who had not stayed with us. Quite frankly, we didn’t know where he was and had more than enough on our hands as it was. Jerry told him so. The rift deepened.

We had two weeks firm at the ski lodge with an option (theirs) for two more, which would take us through the new year holiday. Jerry and his family, I believe, stayed with some Jehova’s Witness friends while DJ and I went off to Gonzaga to scan the bulletin boards for rentals. We rented an entire furnished house for a month for a very reasonable price and began to settle in for the run. There was, however, one rather significant catch. It had not yet snowed anywhere near the lodge which was situated just east of town and no one, but no one, came anywhere near it. We showed up for work dutifully every night, played a set or so at the appointed hour, and, when it became apparent that we would be playing to an empty room, changed into rehearsal mode and began working out new material. The manager sent us home early every night, including the weekend, and by the start of the second week we were crawling the walls. The night before we left Butte, two guys in the Ramada bar had given DJ and I some psilocybin mushrooms they had collected themselves. Quite a decent amount, actually. We ate small amounts of the mushrooms from time to time to keep ourselves amused. DJ was actually much more tolerable when he was high than otherwise and this provided a bit of a welcome respite from the friction.

By the end of week two there was still no snow and we figured that the club would not be picking up the option, so DJ and I began to make plans to return to the Bay Area for the holidays. I had paid rent on my room at the Edwardian all the while I had been on the road and I was looking forward to spending Christmas with PJ, Bella and all of my friends at the house. I knew it would be quite an event.

The club, though, told us that they were planning on exercising the option on our contract–but, they had also mistakenly booked another band into the room for the same two weeks. Into the same empty room. Skillful. They offered us the choice, with pay either way. It had to be a money laundering operation. Option 1, they pay us and we go home. Option 2, they pay us and we stick around and play. DJ and I lobbied for Option #1. We’d been out for three months and were ready to go home for the holidays. Jerry and Marilyn, however, did not celebrate the holidays, had nowhere special to go and were not so intently disposed. But they decided to drive down and visit Marilyn’s mother in Oklahoma and take the time off as well.

Once we got this worked out, of course, the club told us that the other band they had booked had also been double booked and wanted to play the other gig. This meant that they needed us to play. DJ and I thought fast. We told Jerry to tell them that one of the band members had already loaded out and left, and that the band was no longer available to play. This was a bald-faced lie, but we could smell the barn and were not about to be dissuaded. Jerry passed along the information and we rushed back to the club to load out in deed. It had just begun to snow lightly as the three of us wrestled his massive Hammond down three flights of icy, exterior stairs. It’s all irony, isn’t it? We packed the trailer in far too much haste, packed the pickup, and then loaded DJ’s drums into his own car. He and I had already loaded out of the house near Gonzaga and were ready to roll. The club manager bought our story and paid us our remaining wages. DJ and I headed for California and Jerry, et al., headed southeast to Oklahoma in his ‘63 Valiant.

We drove all day and night, a much easier job in DJ’s passenger car than it would have been in the Borchers truck, now stowed safely away in a garage in Spokane, along with the trailer. At dawn I was driving across the border into California through the most gorgeous misty purple haze. “So this is what he meant,” I thought. DJ slept on and relieved me a bit later, taking us the rest of the way in to the South Bay.

It was just as I had expected at the big Edwardian cum Chalet. Everyone in the house had really gotten into the holiday spirit and the living room, which, as detailed, ran the entire length of the house front to back, was filled with presents. There was an enormous tree and the hallways, landings, and porches were truly decked with wreaths and garlands. No snow, though. It was a great homecoming. DJ dropped me off and went to see Karla, presumably still his girlfriend, or so he hoped, and I resumed my friendships with my housemates. PJ and I began each day by ingesting a small amount of the psilocybin mushrooms I had brought back from the road and heading out for tall six-packs of beer. After making a respectable dent in those we’d go out and attempt to do something which on paper might seem very simple, like buy Christmas presents, but which, under the circumstances would become hysterically convoluted. We were in the party mode. And we got invited to loads of parties, many of which we made happen by showing up. The mode was infectious. It was suggested that we rent ourselves out to clubs and parties to make them happen. Serious occupational hazards in that line of work. His dad had become something of an oeniphile and PJ would bring home bottles of this or that vintage which we’d sample at day’s end. It all made for a very festive season.

On Christmas day we were all awoken by Nick, Bella’s boyfriend, who went room to room announcing that Santa had left us presents. We convened in what little space there was left in the living room and began to work on the pleasantly  daunting mountain of gifts.

My gift from Bella was what was really daunting. It was a hand embroidered guitar strap, brightly colored suns, moons and other symbols against a deep blue background. And sewn into a thick suede backing. The time it must have taken was staggering and I was completely taken aback. I don’t know what Nick thought but Bella’s character was pretty much beyond reproach and so nothing was said. But there was a statement in that gift. I had noticed that Bella always took note of my dealings with members of the opposite sex. I felt as though she were checking out my standards, what I thought made for acceptable companionship. Once, a girl I was seeing almost moved into the house with me but at the last moment I thought better of it. Bella let me know she approved of my decision, although for what reason I wasn’t sure, since the girl was also her friend and she had no basic objection to her character.

Later in the day, I had plans to meet with my family at my sister’s home which was also in the South Bay. Bella offered to drive me over. I invited her in to meet my family and she turned on the charm. When she had left my sister and mom were buzzing. Who was that? Are you seeing her? Why not? And so forth. I shrugged and replied that she wasn’t available. But something was definitely going on. Even I could see that. And I still have that guitar strap.

The string had run out on DJ. Jerry called me from Tulsa and said he wasn’t interested in working with him any more. It wasn’t his playing or singing, it was his attitude. He thought the world owed him something and we were a big part of his world. Jerry was tired of humoring him and quite frankly, so was I. We decided to sack DJ  and audition for a new drummer. The task of breaking the news to DJ fell to me as did the task of finding drummers to try out. This was further complicated by the fact that our equipment was in a garage in Spokane. The only person I knew who had a Hammond organ was PJ’s younger brother Paul, who was a student at UC Santa Cruz and shared a house in Scott’s Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains with a few other guys. He graciously offered us the use of the organ and the house in which to hold the auditions. I managed to round up some drumming prospects and began to audition in advance of Jerry’s arrival in the Bay Area. He had booked us a job in Medford, Oregon in mid January and he and his family were driving across from Tulsa.

DJ took the news badly. Blamed me, blamed Jerry. After all I’ve done for you, blah, blah, blah. I did my best to soften the blow, though, and we didn’t fall out altogether. He was yet in some ever shrinking but still significant part of my original dream and I still bore some personal fondness for him. But it was Sayonara #2 just the same.

The right drummer had not come along by the time Jerry arrived and time was running out. We tried a few more players who were either too green or did not want to go on the road and reached the last of our possibilities when Paul asked if we’d be interested in trying out one of his student friends. It so happened that the drummer in question was the one who had been at the jam session in Atherton at which Hogan had tried to convince a bunch of yahoos of the value of the Virgin Mary.

I remembered that he had been the only person in room who was listening as well as playing. And responding to what he was hearing. Jerry was dubious. The guy was in school, he was 19 years old, and he had very limited experience.

I insisted. Besides, we were over a barrel unless we wanted to cancel the gig. Jerry reluctantly agreed. We tried him on different beats, the Ray Price shuffle, a two-beat, a half-time feel from Cat Stevens “Wild World”, a TSOP groove from “I’ll Be Around”, a quiet lounge swing beat. I loved him. I also knew I could hang out with him–he was smart and anxious to get playing. Jerry wasn’t so sure but in the end the circumstances prevailed and a new Borchers was born. This one was AJ. He and I caught a plane to Spokane to pick up the Borchers truck en route to our first gig together in Medford, Oregon.

AJ was (and is) above average in height, weight well distributed. He looked a bit like a young Pete Townsend, with longer, less overtly mod hair. He had good taste in music, which I thought proceeded directly from his ability to hear, rather than from something associative. This, according to the current marketing wisdom, works against people who make music. According to them, people use music, they don’t listen to it. While there is obviously some truth to that, I still like to entertain the wild romantic notion that some people actually appreciate music as music. With intrinsic emotive qualities. Call me crazy. Anyway, AJ’s listening skill certainly helped him in his first days on the road, since we had no rehearsal other than the audition, and the ability to hear where a song was going (and what kinds of beats a drummer could play in it) was crucial. And he could.

The age thing was a bit tricky too. Since he was underage in a number of the states in which we played, he had to leave the club during breaks. It was either on the bandstand or out of the room. But to my mind, his age was no obstacle. He was smart and savvy enough to handle himself in a variety of situations and we were good company during the long hauls and long engagements. Of course, I was a lot closer in age to him than Jerry, who did not particularly share my opinion. Jerry’s kids liked him, though.

We made it to Medford, which is in southern Oregon, in one piece, the Borchers truck and trailer mercifully holding up for the duration of the trip. The infamous fuel shortage of 1974 was beginning to take hold but had not yet reached its zenith. This mercy would soon evaporate. We met up with Jerry and company at the Medford Hotel which is where we were playing and where we were staying. It was a funky old hotel, built maybe in the nineteen-thirties, and had a small club with dance floor and a restaurant on the ground floor. We were in for two weeks. This was not the hip rock club in town, this was a room built for a previous era which was now having to accommodate bands whose background was in rock and roll. It was still in transition at that point, and we tried to suit the room as we could. If the clientele wanted to have a drink and a talk, we’d keep it down, and if they wanted to dance, we’d rock. Lots of young people came to the room, though, and on balance it was not an especially inhibiting situation. AJ worked in fast. I learned to sing the numbers DJ had been doing, and we were up and running right out of the chute. On unfamiliar songs, AJ would get my attention onstage and gesture, “Is this the right feel?” And it usually was. Like I said, good instincts.

I don’t know if our agent, Sam Gibbs, was convinced that the Borchers package was complete. He sent a singer, a frontman type, over to the club to sit in with us one night. I felt no connection to the guy whatsoever. First of all, he wasn’t a rock and roller. He was sort of a C & W Neil Diamond. He kept giving us these covert hand signal cues in midsong which meant nothing to any of us and his patter was hopelessly bogus and dated. We sent him packing.

Finding and presenting common ground with disparate looks, ages, backgrounds and musical influences is no easy task. Offstage, AJ and I were likely to wear tight jeans, a Frank Zappa or Who t-shirt, or anything that was rock and roll. We tried to do the necessary thing for the gig, hideous floral shirts (this was the 70’s), uniforms in general, but we didn’t fit that old mold easily. Jerry, conversely, couldn’t find a stylistic way into the rock thing, in terms of a look, so the functioning visual archetypes of the period were not easily served.

Music was where we came together. I think all of us enjoyed the variety of styles we had to play and we had the ability to do some interesting things within those formats. We’d sneak in breaks in odd time signatures, or Jerry and I would work out some creative organ and guitar harmony lines. We found lots of interesting ways to play with dynamics on tunes like Crosscut Saw, Chicken Shack. It was a great learning experience and quite a broad one at that, going from “Shadow of a Your Smile” and “Misty” in the first set through to Led Zeppelin and Rod Stewart by the fifth. Jerry also taught me some music theory while we were in Medford. Two pages of handwritten diagrams which outlined the major, minor and harmonic minor intervals and the triads relative to those intervals. That really marked the beginning of my transformation from a purely “ear and position on the neck” player of styles (with a good memory) to someone with a basic understanding of compositional elements. I carried those pages around with me for years.

I hung with AJ a fair bit since he had to sit in the lobby between sets and was on the road for the first time. Jerry had his whole family with him in the hotel, including his poodle, Andy. Quite the entourage. His wife, Marilyn, had a community in each town we played since she was a fairly committed Jehovah’s Witness, and would visit the Kingdom Halls soon after arriving. I always thought it was a rather ingenious and sensible way to combat the transitory nature of life on the road. My method was far less sensible and usually implied the company of females (this was the 70’s).

About halfway through our engagement I began to get sick. It was the flu. I was terribly ill but started the evening’s work just the same. Mid third set I had to leave the stage to go up to my room. This is one of the real downsides of roadwork. I was lying in bed, feverish and delirious when a girl burst into the room. She was drunk and she was ready for action. “Jerry gave me your room number” she said. She threw open all of the windows. I went from fever to chills. “I’m very ill,” I told her. “Please close the windows.” Jerry was a dead man. She hopped into bed and started undressing. This was the very last thing on my mind at this point and I started to get angry. I got up, grabbed my guitar and went back down to the club to finish the night, sick as a dog. At the end of the evening Jerry followed me up to my room and was very, very solicitous. Between trips to the bathroom to puke my guts out I managed to ask him why he had given out my room number, which he had apparently announced from the stage. Apparently he didn’t realize the severity of the illness until he witnessed it for himself, up in my room after the night’s work. It was a joke, ill timed, to say the obvious. But he most certainly realized it after our engagement completed.

A day later I was well. I met a very nice young (underage) girl named Ronnie at the club and went home with her. She was staying rent free in an apartment complex that was being built. Hers was the first completed unit. As our gig wound to a close Jerry became ill. Since we had a week off before our next scheduled date up the road in Roseburg we were without lodging. A couple of sisters who were Vedantists (I’m not making this up, either) put AJ up and I asked Ronnie if a very sick Jerry, his wife, two children and dog might move into one of the not yet completed apartments. She reluctantly agreed, although we did it on the sly.

AJ and I were left to our own devices at this point and we usually ended up shooting pool at the local rock emporium. Leaving young men to their own devices is another way of saying disaster is about to be courted. It is with me at least. I immediately fell in with another girl who I thought had to be the most fashionable, cutest and most rock and roll in that small town, Bonnie Walker.

When I say fell in with, I mean she approached me. I never would have had the temerity to make the first move with her. Nor did I have the resolve to resist. Her lead singer boyfriend was in California on an indefinite stay with his band and she must have been “looking” as they say. We became instantly inseparable. In rock and roll there is a philosophy which suggests that you can either drink, or eat, but not both. Bonnie and I both understood that one implicitly. We ate kim chee and artichoke hearts, smoked cigarettes and drank beer. It was really kind of grand and sweet as well. We spent the off week in each other’s company round the clock. This, of course, left Ronnie hanging fire what with Jerry completely laid out, squatting for all intents and purposes with his family in the unfinished apartment. At my request. She was none too pleased, as you might expect.

Jerry’s fever broke just as his family’s unauthorized presence was discovered by the complex management. And just in time to head up the interstate to our next gig. Ronnie was civil, if not cordial, when we said goodbye, and Bonnie made plans to come to Roseburg once we got established. AJ bade the sisters adieu, Jerry, or rather Marilyn, packed up the plantation and we were off up the road to our next engagement.

Roseburg is a lumber town. Very blue collar, rural, tucked in the mountains. Picturesque in a rugged, non-cutesey way. And unencumbered by college kids or the ambience of Academia in general. We were playing and staying in the Rose Hotel, another older, funkier, place with an old fashioned room with a small stage and small dance floor. There were at least two better clubs in town at that time, both of which were more or less C&W joints. The gig was a bit of a stiff. It was one of those If You’re Audible You’re Too Loud gigs. The bar was situated directly across the room from the front of the stage and the amplified guitar, being as directional as it is, was especially galling to the manager and bartender, who was unable to hear his orders. He actually lost his composure and yelled at the band one night in mid set, only to apologize profusely afterward for his “unprofessionalism.”

These were the memorable events from this job. True to her word, Bonnie did make the trek north. AJ and I met her at the Roseburg Greyhound station and walked her back to the hotel whereupon she and I resumed our torrid yet hip affair. No food, lots of sex and cigarettes. We sat around the local cafes posing quite a lot. It was that kind of vibe. Posing in Roseburg. Sounds a bit pathetic in retrospect, but what was the alternative, daytime tv? The bouncer at the club, a dapper guy with a handlebar moustache and a beautiful girlfriend proposed that we swap girlfriends for the night. His friend was up for it but Bonnie and I were still too taken with each other to consider anything like that seriously. Bonnie began to sound me out about bringing her on the road with us, an idea that has never and will never have intrinsic appeal. Our next gig was in some place called Rock Springs, Wyoming, and dragging her along to that godforsaken place gave it even less. She could follow that line of reasoning and shortly before our engagement was up I walked her back to the Greyhound station, full of promises of continued communication. We did exchange a few letters after Roseburg, but the Borchers were out in the wild blue yonder, for all intents and purposes, and we lost touch shortly thereafter.

AJ then came down with the flu and the local musicians’ union sent over a card carrying drummer. Believe me, he couldn’t carry a tune and forget about a groove. He had the card, though. We muddled through the engagement and finished up on a Sunday night at 1:30 a.m. We had to be in Rock Springs the following night.

“I don’t envy you guys” said the bar manager as we loaded out for immediate departure.

I hate it when people say that. The news was all bad for traveling. Eight hundred mile journey, storm warnings throughout the west, and the gas shortage was at its zenith, if a shortage can be said to have a zenith. It was a nadir by any other name. Gas stations were only open intermittently and cars were lining up hours ahead of time. In some places they were issuing rationing coupons with prescribed times for purchase.

We were ready to go by 2:15 a.m. and were pointed to an all night truck stop by the bar manager. We had bought all of the five and one gallon gas cans available at the local Yardbird’s in anticipation of being in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter in the middle of the night without fuel. We filled the truck and car, then filled all of the gas cans. We put as many of the cans in the box on the back of the pickup as we could, and the rest we put in the cab. This was definitely one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done or been involved with but it was a desperate situation and seemed preferable to the possibility of freezing to death in the middle of Utah in a snowstorm for lack of gasoline. Although they do say that death by freezing is relatively painless, at least in the last stages.

We set out for Rock Springs. I drove the Borchers Deathtrap with the trailer hitched on the back and Jerry drove his family in his trusty Valiant. Slant 6, for you afficionados. AJ was with me. It was freezing cold in there and we again had to seal the doors and windows and holes in the floor with duct tape to stay warm. Several hours east we broke down for the first time. I signalled to Jerry that we were going down and he turned the Valiant around as I pulled over to the side of the road.

He looked under the hood and found the problem almost instantly.

“Fuel pump,” he indicated.

We were on the outskirts of a small town and it was the middle of the night. The guy working the night desk at the local police station told us where the guy who owned the auto parts store lived. Jerry roused the auto parts guy from his bed and convinced him to go down and open his store, which, God bless him through eternity, he did. Jerry bought a fuel filter and pump and installed them in the truck without major incident. This stuff always takes time, though, and it was several hours before we were back on the road. It was becoming obvious that we were not going to make it to the gig on time. Jerry called the club, the Twilight Lounge, in Rock Springs, and told the disbelieving manger that we had experienced car trouble.

We managed to stay within sight of each other for most of the day but after nightfall we became separated. AJ and I kept each other alert and awake by talking endlessly about music and girls. When the talk would ebb, we’d stop and have a coffee and run on that for a while. This was the second night without sleep and it was getting surreal. The storm hit us in Utah. Finally we get to the snow.

It was a mild blizzard, as these things go. Wind and white, limited visibilityAlmost no other vehicles on the road. Not a complete whiteout, though. As alone and spaced out as I was (AJ was sleeping by this time) it became hypnotic after a time and I had to untape the door and get out to smoke cigarettes by the side of the highway in the middle of all this just to keep from zoning out. Just before dawn we were reaching the end of the fuel from the gas cans. We passed a gas station just outside another small town, this time in Utah, where cars were lining up in advance of the station’s posted opening time of six a.m. They had apparently been closed for several days but a tanker truck was at that moment in the process of filling their reservoirs. We got in the queue. Not long after, we saw Jerry’s Valiant and he also joined the lineup. We were already a day late.

We filled everything that could hold gas and hit the road again. By mid morning we had broken down again, and it was bloody fortunate that each time we broke down Jerry was in the vicinity. If it had happened during the previous night I might well not be here to wrtie this account. Once again he fixed the problem and we made our way east into Wyoming. It appeared that we would make the date with only a single day’s delay.

The approach to Rock Springs was bleak. High buttes in the distance on either side of the highway but fully desolate apart from that. The only thing to break up the monotony were the billboards announcing:  “Only 250 miles to Little America”… “Only 200 miles to Little America”. And so on. Little America is the colossus of truckstops. And believe me, we stopped there. The breakfast was probably the highpoint of the journey and the low point was yet to come.

There is a long downhill grade just outside of Rock Springs as you head into town from the west. It must be several miles long and that final stretch into town makes you feel like you’re on the horse that smells the barn after a day on the range. Inexorable and with something at the end. It was late afternoon and we were barreling down that grade. All of a sudden the truck started getting squirrely and we began to career down the highway. The truck started fishtailing and the trailer jackknifing opposite. I slammed on the brakes but there were no brakes. I turned the wheel full left to compensate for the momentum of the trailer motion. Then full right. With each successive zigzag we got closer to going off the road one way, and into the oncoming traffic the other, the trailer jolting us this way and that, opposite my manic manipulations of the steering wheel. Sparks were flying from the right rear of the truck and the wooden box which held our gear caught on fire. We must have skidded down that highway for five hundred yards before we eventually ground to a stop. The cab was packed with full gas cans as was the box on the back. I pulled the tape off the door and rolled down my window. AJ had no means of escape at all–he had neither door nor window handle on his side. I reached out and opened my door from the outside handle, got out and ran around to his side and opened his door. We ran for it. A trucker in a big rig saw the fire and pulled over. He had a fire extinguisher and blasted the plywood box with it. Jerry, by this time, had pulled over as well, and when it seemed safe we investigated the damage. The right rear wheel and axel assembly had come off completely and was lying 50 yards down the hill off the side of the road. We had skidded down the hill metal to asphalt and the sparks from the friction had started the box on fire.

We were towed directly to the parking lot of the Twilight Lounge. Nearly Twilight of the Borchers.

“At least the clubowner will know that we weren’t lying about car trouble” I said as we pulled in.

We had just enough time to unload the truck and trailer and set up our gear onstage before our first set was to begin. From what I could see this was a serious cowboy bar and it was with some trepidation that I pulled on my polyester floral band shirt and white pants. It was also the dead of winter. But I was too tired to get particularly nervous about it and besides, it was near empty when we started. We did “Mama Tried” twice each set, the only version of which I’d heard was the Grateful Dead doing it live.  It’s amazing what you can pull out of the hat when pressed. All of a sudden I remembered “Act Naturally” (the Beatles version, of course), “Hello Mary Lou”, “Travelin Man” “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (sung with true feeling on that occasion), “Yakety Axe” and several others to go with the C&W material we already knew. It was another loaves and fishes thing.

Meanwhile, the truck had been towed directly to a repair shop and Marilyn had gone to find us lodging. She found room in a funky hotel for her family and a room at a cinder block motel for AJ and me a few blocks away. We finished up at the Twilight Lounge at two in the morning and caught a ride in the Valiant as far as Jerry’s hotel. For some reason, they didn’t drop us off at our motel and AJ and I had to walk the five or six blocks with our suitcases from the hotel to our lodging. Dead of winter, middle of the night. It was so cold that after a block neither of us could breathe. It literally took the breath away. Froze the apparatus, I suppose. We wrapped scarves over our mouths and continued. Zhivago had nothing on us. The motel room was well insulated, thank god, although the whistling of the unimpeded wind made it sound like we were out on the plains unprotected. We cranked up the thermostat and crashed.

We had one very boring and uneventful week in Rock Springs. The weekend picked up a little but not much. It was too damn cold to go out. Our agent, Sam Gibbs actually drove up from Wichita Falls, Texas, to check out the band. He was a nice gentleman in western dress clothing. I don’t know what he thought of us but he had another gig for us the following week in Missoula, Montana, so it couldn’t have been all bad. It was another long drive, 700 miles I believe, but we were glad to get out of that bleak environment.

The truck repairs cost us most of what we made in Rock Springs, but the mechanic pronounced it roadworthy, if a little charred. We left on Sunday morning and had to play in Missoula the following night. I drove the truck. Whatever snow I had been spared in my childhood was more than counterbalanced by life on the road in this part of the country. The weather was terrible and the gas situation was unchanged, but this time the truck held up. At one point in the middle of the night we stopped at a convenience store. Jerry, Marilyn and the kids piled out of the Valiant and AJ and I unzipped ourselves from the Deathtrap. The kids were acting strange and while we were in the store, Steven, Jerry’s boy, said he felt dizzy. He was a prankster, though, and no one took him seriously until he fell into a rack of chips and knocked the whole lot on the floor. Then Vickie, their daughter, ran outside and got sick. Apparently the Valiant’s exhaust fumes were leaking through the floor and into the back seat where the kids were sleeping. It took a while to figure out what the hell was going on here and then to fix it, but all in all this was the only mishap on that leg.  We pulled into Missoula at about eight the following morning, having driven the entire trip in a straight shot.

The good news was, the bar at the hotel at which we were playing was already open. Coffee had lost its appeal hours earlier and I ordered a beer and surveyed the room. The booze for breakfast bunch was already well ensconced and the gray haired day bartender introduced herself as the club owner.

This was the glorious Park Hotel, in the final years of its pre-renovation heyday, in downtown Missoula, Montana. The real funk, baby. The place, I’d guess, was built in the teens or 20’s. It had a good sized main room with a proscenium stage, large dance floor, and long L-shaped, old fashioned, still semi-ornate bar. There was lots of room for tables to the left and right of the stage and beyond the dance floor straight out from the stage, as well. I thought it looked like a good place for drunks to hang out during the day. At that point it did not so much as offer a nod of recognition to contemporary fashion. I figured we’d be playing a lot of Country and Western.

AJ and I had adjoining rooms upstairs, no door between them, bath down the hall. The worn, torn carpet sported a permanent puddle, courtesy of the shared leaky radiator, and it was a good thing we were in the band, because you could hear the noise from the jukebox in the bar, and the pinball machine too, for that matter, quite clearly in the room. When the bands played it must have been deafening. Missoula is a college town, U of M, and it is, or was, a lumber town too. Five rivers run through it and it is completely surrounded by mountains. At that hour of the morning none of this was apparent to me, though. I thought we had been booked into another dive in another outpost in the boonies and I needed to get some sleep.

I got up in mid afternoon and went down to see if we could load in yet. The previous band was just tearing down when I got downstairs. They were led by a big blonde, long-haired, moustachioed cowboy of a singer/bassplayer whose name was Gary Mundon, and who, I was told, was something of a local celebrity. And, indeed, his picture was on the cover of the U of M paper which was available in the coffeshop by the lobby. Jerry knew him and I believe had some previous musical association with him.

The lady clubowner told us that she liked it fairly quiet and fairly country during the first set, but that things would loosen up as the evening wore on and the regulars were replaced by a different group of people. These were pretty standard instructions and we were ready to do whatever she wanted. What we needed more than anything else was a place to ride out the winter. We needed to save some money and we especially needed a break from the treacherous travel conditions. I’d have played “Behind Closed Doors” 20 times a night to avoid another night in a snowstorm in the Deathtrap.

I went down to the club early, as was my habit. It was a Monday night in February and I didn’t expect much. There were a few regulars at the bar, all of whom knew each other and all of whom knew the bartender. There were two young girls at a table and I struck up a conversation with them just for the company. April and Holly were their names and they had a room in the hotel, too. This convinced me that they had to be on the run from something. Ex husband or boyfriend, in all likelihood. Nobody in a normal circumstance would stay at this hotel.

The evening went fairly uneventfully, as expected. The C&W seemed to satisfy the early crowd and we played it pretty safe throughout the night. We got to know the waitresses, who were all young and hip. They introduced us around a bit and let us know what to expect. This is one of the first rules of gigging. Become friends with the staff. Bouncers, bartenders, waitpeople. Get on the good foot with them right off the bat and things that could go south often work out. And it was easy there because the class of employees was surprisingly good. This led us to believe that maybe this was more than just a dive, although our first night didn’t indicate otherwise, particularly. AJ and I played cat and mouse with April and Holly between sets and they ended up in our “suite” at the end of the night. Holly was the dominant of the two and she teased the both of us at some length, but April was sweet as well and more readily available so I paired off with her. Holly continued to torment AJ throughout the night and although she did spend the night in his bed, her favors were of the platonic variety. April was, shall we say, more forthcoming. Bless her heart.

The Park Hotel turned out to be much, much more than we reckoned. It was an old timers bar, it was a biker bar, it was an Indian bar, it was a cowboy bar, it was a working class bar and it was a college bar. We played seven days a week, five sets a night. On weekends it was packed to the gills, and we began to draw on weeknights, too. It was an adventure every night. I was writing a letter to PJ, describing where I was and what I was doing when I realized that I was having a ball. The puddle filled room in the divey hotel all of a sudden stopped being my frame of reference. And this was not the result of some romantic spin I was putting on everything. This was more the product of an incredible mix of people in a really interesting setting. There were lots more trendy and prestigious clubs in this college town. Some old timey, some very up to date, but for my money, the Park was the only game in town. A river really ran through it. Several of them.

We made $700 a week plus rooms. Split three ways, although we suspected that Jerry was skimming some off the top. It was still really hard to get him to rehearse. He stayed in with his family just about all the time he was not physically on stage, even between sets, and this became a real source of frustration for AJ and me. Also, we wanted a real bass player, to which Jerry was totally opposed. Still, we were jammin’ fools and when I hear tapes from this period I’m always astonished at how well Jerry kicked bass.

And how good it sounded.

Once we started meeting local girls, we began to feel at home. I was introduced by a barmaid to a woman named Jonna, with whom I became very good friends. She in turn, introduced me to a rather large circle of her friends and in a very short period of time, we were fully integrated into Missoula life. It was still too cold to hang around outside so AJ and I spent our days shooting pool at a club nearby which was modern and geared to the rock and roll college crowd. We became friends with the day bartender there, a young woman named Susie whose husband was a touring musician also.

But the evenings at the Park were what it was all about. Our engagement was extended several times and we ended up playing there for seven weeks, forty-nine nights in a row.

The most outrageous nights happened after the treaty money checks had been distributed to the local Native American community. They descended on the Park like your proverbial locusts and they were ready to party til the cows have gone back out again. Extra security had to be hired for those evenings, in fact for every weekend night, because of the general rowdiness. By the third set a fight would break out, usually involving Indians, but sometimes the cowboys and bikers would get into it too.The security guys invariably had to use tear gas to break up the brawls or at least get them moved out to the street. This made for a rather unique ambience which would only dispel over a long period of time. There was so much drinking going on here that the barmen had to routinely make runs down to the nearest Safeway to replenish what they had thought would be a sufficient supply of booze. I actually had a no holds barred wrestling match after one such night when a young Indian woman with love on her mind followed me upstairs to my room. She was strong and not about to take no for an answer but she was just drunk enough for me to be able to physically wrestle her out of the room and lock the door behind her. Barely. And not very quickly. It was touch and go for a while there. She pounded on the door for a good long while but eventually went back downstairs, presumably to find someone else on whom to bestow her amorous attentions.

One night AJ got a phone message that his girlfriend from college was in the area. She had convinced a friend of hers who had a pilot’s license to fly up to Montana from the Bay Area. I knew the guy, he was a friend of PJ’s younger brother Paul, and he had to be all of maybe 20 years old. They were in the area all right. They had crash landed in the middle of a snowstorm on a frozen lake outside of Butte. The plane was badly damaged but they showed up in Missoula as though nothing had happened and settled in to hang out with the band. These kinds of incidents make me question the veracity of the line of thinking that claims that major events which occur while we’re young leave lasting and sometimes indelible impressions. They literally shrugged off this life threatening situation like it had been hard to find parking. And the pilot now flies the big planes commercially.

Madre de Dios!

But it was over between AJ and his college sweetheart. She got her walking papers for her efforts. At least she got a good story out of it.

The winter was not yet over but at least our gig at the Park Hotel had taken a good bite out of it. Jerry had managed to find us another gig, back in Butte, but this time at a club called Mal’s, which was a lot hipper than the Ramada, I can assure you. We’d ditched the uniforms by this time and were almost giving the impression of being an actual rock and roll band. At least AJ and I were. Jerry was a bit fashion challenged and the burgundy polyester jumpsuits didn’t do a thing for him. I got my hair permed at a local beauty parlor in Butte. When the hens settled down after I walked in I showed the hair stylist a picture of Roger Daltry that I had brought to show what I wanted. What a ghastly, smelly procedure. Cool look at the time, though. AJ and I spent money on clothes and shoes. Peach and pink levis and corduroys, boots with stacked heels. It’s a wonder we didn’t get bludgeoned in that rustic old mining town. The little girls did understand, though.

It was a short drive from Missoula and it’s a good thing because we had to start the night following our last at the Park. If I recall correctly, we did 63 nights in a row, five sets a night during this stretch. I sang most of the numbers and smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day, but throat problems were yet to catch up with me. We moved into the Ramada, which was across the street from Mal’s, and got a deal from our friend the manager. He was fired not long after, in a wholly unrelated incident, I’m sure. Mal’s was not bad at all. The girls were younger and it was run by a local MD who was one of the true rakes in his age group in that town and a major wheeler dealer as well. He owned property all over the area, including an abandoned hospital uptown.

Down at the Ramada coffee shop, over my usual slut’s breakfast, I was introduced to the band playing in the lounge. They were called, I kid you not, “The Sounds of Love”. They were a trio, husband and wife on guitar and keys (she played bass too, with her left hand on a small unit mounted on top of her organ–sounds kind of dirty, doesn’t it?) and a truly loony drummer whose name was Rocky Pool. They were a bit older than AJ and I and our musical tastes were dissimilar. They were a true lounge act, from somewhere in the Midwest, (they thought Chicago (the band) was hip, for chrissakes), but they had shtick and they were funny onstage. Especially Rocky, who was funny onstage and off and was pretty much always on, offstage or on. To me, he was the band, and of course, they wanted to replace him with a little drum machine (and this was way before the age of the digital drum machines) so that they could make more money. The first time we got together for a beer, he insisted on paying, and when the bartender gave him his money back he proceeded to stuff each bill in his mouth, one by one, and swallowed the whole lot. The place was in hysterics, and since he knew he had them he went to work on the napkins, then the coasters and whatever else he thought he could get down. During their show he was fond of getting up off his drumkit during the set and making passes at the best looking girls in the house, especially if they were in the company of a guy. And the bigger the guy, the funnier it got. He’d walk over to a couple’s table and extend his hand to the girl as if to shake hands. When she extended her hand he’d put his room key in her palm and tell her that he’d be waiting once she got rid of the loser she was with. This was not always met with laughter and things got very tense from time to time. He loved to push the envelope but he was good natured and friendly looking enough to get away with it most of the time.

We met up with the SOL after hours and went out to breakfast with them pretty regularly. At least AJ and I did, and each night the entourage swelled. Both bands were doing quite well at their respective gigs but the antics of Rocky were the major late night draw. On the town, Butte Montana, 3:00 a.m. They loved to see us coming or barred the doors. As soon as we were seated and water had been served, one of us would start the cowbell beat that begins the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Women”. Fork on glass. Four bars later a cacophony of percussion would explode from our table. Oftentimes we were ushered out of doors without being served. But we were benign, harmless musicians. The only thing unsafe around us were the females, who, from what I could tell, liked it that way.

The heaviest number played by the Sounds of Love was something along the lines of “Diamond Girl” by Seals and Crofts. We, on the other hand, were rocking harder all the time. We still did “Daniel” by Elton, “I’ll Be Around” by the Spinners and Steve Goodman’s  “City of New Orleans” in our first set, but by mid evening we were on to Stones, Led Zeppelin and Allmans. AJ got a new big Rodgers drum kit through mail order and my Deluxe Reverb no longer did the trick by itself. The youth movement was taking over and we still couldn’t get Jerry to rehearse.

It almost doesn’t matter what town you’re in, if you’re gigging all the time. I still think I could go back to a town as remote as Butte, which I haven’t seen in many a long long year (to quote the Mick) and be perfectly happy if I could play every night. The playi(ing) really is the thing. For my dough, nothing is as satisfying as that. Consistently.

On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 12, we were back in Missoula. And it was as though someone had thrown the Springtime Switch. Presto, winter over! In Butte you’d never know it because there is no vegetation of any sort whatsoever and the weather is nowhere near as good as it gets further west. They don’t call it Butt for nothing. But Missoula was gorgeous. Our friend Jonna had arranged for a house for AJ and I to live in through some friends of hers who were out of town long term. It was a fully furnished, two story, two bedroom, funky old place, on a tree lined street two blocks from the Park. It was brilliant. And we had five more weeks worth of work there. As the Mystical Lad would say “Surf is up and the hippies are hipping”.

And this was the land of hippies. In the early seventies the phenomenon was still going strong, especially in rural college towns. Many a displaced San Franciscan was in Missoula at that time, and the line between cowboys and rednecks and hippies was blurring. Everyone had long hair and everyone did drugs. And the cultural repercussions of that and the fact that it was a college town were in evidence too. There was a revival movie house, numerous coffee houses, book stores, art galleries and the like. These were things that we’d missed the previous time around, primarily because of the cold. The house we lived in must have been owned by some fairly cultured folks. The bookshelves were well stocked and I found and read every one of Anais Nin’s diaries in print at that time. (None to that point had any explicit sex–I was intrigued by her efforts to be taken seriously as an artist and what I considered to be her artist’s life) AJ and I were both avid readers. We plowed through Henry Miller, which we found in the house as well, unsurprisingly enough, and spent a good bit of time at the local booksellers.

It was even more fun this time around. Everyone was out and everyone ended up at the Park Hotel at some point in the evening. And afterward there was a party at our house most nights of the week. No madness, to speak of. We talked about life, death and things religious til dawn while drinking wine and (for some, anyway) smoking pot. And subsequently having sex. Your standard springtime Boho dance.

One Friday night at the club, just after the second set, a young cowboy in a big white hat approached me as I was coming off the stage. He said his name was Blue and he handed me a vial and walked off. Inside the vial I could see something wrapped in aluminum foil, so I decided to head into the bathroom to check it out in relative privacy. I went into one of the stalls and proceeded to remove the tiny aluminum package from the vial. I unwrapped the foil and saw what looked like minute square sheets of a clear gel-like material. “Clear light acid” I thought. So named because it was on clear squares and because of its supposed ability to enable one to experience what the eastern mystics call the “Clear Light of the Void”. Nothing to do with less calories than your regular LSD. At that moment the door burst open and one of the weekend rent-a -cops grabbed me.

“Give me that!” he shrieked.

My first inclination was to flush it down the toilet but he was already too close to let that happen so I decided to play it straight. And innocent.

“Here you go” I said, handing it over. “I’m not sure what it is, someone gave it to me as I came off the stage. You must have seen that?”

“You’re under arrest!”

And just like that I was whisked out of the club and down to the damn jailhouse. Full house on a Friday night, too. As I was being dragged out the door I asked a barmaid to tell the band what had happened.

I spent the night in jail, kicking the walls. Furious at my own stupidity for not swallowing the evidence. In the foil I might have processed the lot undigested or at worst I’d have had one hell of a trip for my trouble. Now I was about to be indicted for what at that time in that state was a felony offense. And I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of waiting around town to defend myself against the bogus charge. Our next gig, back at Mal’s, was already booked.

They got Blue, too. As I was being “processed” I saw him sitting in an adjacent room. I felt sorry for him because he was obviously tripping and had to be having the consummate bummer. Fear was radiating out of him and as I passed by he looked up at me like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. A deer on acid. I thought about thanking him for being such an overt chump, but he plainly couldn’t have taken on much more grief at that moment so I let it go. And went back to kicking the cell walls.

Jerry arranged for an attorney, probably through the auspices of the club, who showed up the next morning with a pack of cigarettes. These are the important details. By noon the deal was struck. I’d plead guilty to the felony charge,  and they’d give me a deferred 18 month sentence–this meant that I would serve no time and at the end of 18 months, if I was a good boy, they’d strike the charge from the record. This cost me $800, or three weeks worth of pay. Should have swallowed the evidence.

Now the felon had to go and tell the clubowner what happened. I rather expected her to read me the riot act, you know, club full of people expecting entertainment, blah, blah, blah. But she was cool about it, not very judgmental. Try not to let it happen again sort of thing. I got the overwhelming sense that she had done a bit of living herself and was not about to let something like this blow her out of the water. For which I was immensely grateful.

My bust was the talk of the club for at least one day, or until the next Indian uprising or biker brawl made it old hat. A “Free Peter Dunne” collection had been taken up at the bar when word of my arrest made the rounds, but it probably netted about enough to buy the wag who thought it up a round.

I was, by and large, going through girls like there was no tomorrow. Which there may well not have been, given the Borchers Truck, aka Deathtrap, as primary mode of transportation. It was the early seventies, by means of explanation, and the hippie chicks and cowgirls were still basking in the glow of the free love era, the advent of the pill (and IUD), and the liberation of women from previously defined and limiting roles. If they felt any compunction about being the aggressors before, they now had no such limitation.

One evening during an early set I noticed two rather attractive young women paying quite a bit of attention to the stage. This was usually a good sign. After the set was over one of them approached and asked if she could buy me a drink at the Tap Room, a no frills bar which adjoined the main room and had its own entrance. I followed her there. I had a modest interest until she told me that her name was Susan Mundon.

“Would you be related to Gary Mundon?”

“He’s my ex-husband.”

Now I was interested, as embarrassing as that is to reveal.

She was rather quiet and unassuming, in distinct contrast to her gregarious ex, but in her own way she let me know that we were on if I wanted it, to put it bluntly. I had a date to hook up with Jonna after hours. She was house sitting at a friend’s and we were going to watch Midnight Special, the late night rock program, together. This was not something I would ordinarily do, but the Kinks were on and I was very much looking forward to seeing Ray, Dave, and the boys. I brought Susan with me. This didn’t sit especially well with Jonna with whom I had previously been, ahem, close, but that had been some time ago and she was hip enough not to make a thing out of it.

Ray was in his Balance the Heineken of Top of the Head phase and the band’s latest efforts had bordered on vaudeville, but they were still the Kinks, after all, and we enjoyed them immensely.

Susan and I repaired to my house, down the block, when the program was over and I showed her my etchings, if you know what I mean and I think you do. (Sorry, Joe Bob). She was a real enigma. She had two daughters by Gary Mundon, and after her divorce, took up Christianity with a vengeance. She was only 23 at the time, and it struck me that she felt more than a bit at sea, left alone with two young kids following the divorce.

I saw her intermittently after that first night, usually at the Park, but she did have me over to her little house off Higgins St., just behind the infamous Eddie’s Club, which featured portraits of its old geezer regulars on its walls. Her kids, Sari and Rachel, aged four and two respectively, were adorable, but  the”Jesus Is Lord” embroidery on the window curtains kept me at a fair distance for a good while. And there was no shortage of cowgirls, to be sure.

One of whom was the day bartender at the trendy club on the river I mentioned earlier. I was pretty taken with her and her husband was always on the road. So she was in need of society and we spent a fair amount of time together. She’d come to see the band at the Park, or we’d have coffee or wander through Greenough Park. One night after the show she came home with me. AJ was disappointed.

“I hoped she’d be the one who got away” he stated.

But we slept together like brother and sister. Although she often mentioned how dissatisfied she was with her marriage, she was not about to, how shall I put it, violate its sanctity.  I didn’t mind. It was the way things were and I enjoyed her company and respected her wishes. We remained friends. I never told AJ that, though.

I had other girl friends too. Platonic friends. Durinda McClure, Gary Mundon’s current flame was one, as well as Jonna and several of her pals. The circle was widening.

The Park gig was finally winding to a close and we had a couple of weeks off before our next engagement back in Butte at Mal’s. It was a beautiful day when we loaded out of the club and Susan came by to see what our plans were. She seemed to be coming out of her cocoon of Christianity and early motherhood and I started seeing her in a different light altogether. Nothing too serious, mind you, but I started singing “I’m in love with a working girl” out of the blue following her visit. While we were loading out. And she was in uniform, on her way to work at a nursing home when she came by.

AJ and I stayed in our house and Jerry remained at the Park Hotel. After 21 weeks of solid work, the time off was welcome, but AJ and I got antsy to play almost immediately. And Jerry was unavailable to rehearse as usual. We began plotting to form our own band. It was talk mostly, but we started calculating how long we’d have to do the Borchers Bros. thing in order to earn enough money to buy a PA system and transportation and go it alone. It was going to be a while.

And so, after a brief respite it was back to Butte. Jerry had wangled a deal with the owner of Mal’s for us to stay in the abandoned hospital he owned uptown. And since Jerry was coming out of pocket for his lodging in Missoula we packed up and headed over to Butte in advance of the beginning of our engagement. This was good and bad. Bad because we had to leave a beautiful town in the middle of summer and good because this meant we could rehearse.

Jerry was nothing if not a wheeler dealer, and somehow he had managed to buy a new truck for the band, a cab over with an 18 foot box. Relatively new and in excellent running order. We buried the Deathtrap before it buried us, something I would not have put money on if we’d had to head into a second winter driving it.

And so we loaded into the St. James Infirmary, or so we called it. We set up our gear in the hospital chapel, which was ideal for rehearsal, and took rooms on the third floor. There were still a few beds in the rooms but the place had been otherwise cleaned out. We took turns sleeping in the chapel to guard the gear. Butte had a reputation for being a rough town.

Now we actually rehearsed. Every day. Had the disputes, made the mistakes, and came up with new material. The only way we added songs prior to this was by means of handing Jerry a chart before a set. AJ and I would decide on something we thought would work, I’d write out the chart and off we’d go. Now we were working up original material as well as new covers. I wrote a song called “Working Girl”, inspired by Susan and her nurse’s uniform (no, it wasn’t kinky) which we worked up and another called “Like a Good Book  (I just hate to put you down)” about the joys of bachelorhood. This was a very good band, very strong, very bright, very musical. The songs sounded great.

One evening after rehearsal I was sitting at the bar at Mal’s, which was a circular affair with stools all around, when the bartender handed me a drink.

“Compliments of the guy over there.” He pointed to a mustachioed fellow seated behind him. I didn’t recognize him right away and became a little suspicious, but no, it was Andy Forbes, my buddy and the manager of none other than Susie Forbes and the Country Connection. They were playing in Butte! Hub of the western world! They had mustered a new band and were playing at the local C&W blockhouse bar. Andy and I had a few too many drinks for old time’s sake and we went off to see the band. They had two genetic brothers who switched off on guitar and bass, a new drummer and one new girl. Becky was still with the band, surprisingly enough, but Robin had given way to someone who did not fit the mold nearly as well. Susie was as beautiful as ever and working hard as ever on stage. They called me up to sit in and I proceeded in my inebriated state to completely mangle Yakety Axe by Chet Atkins. But no one minded, the serendipity of the occasion prevailed.

I visited Susie the next day at their motel. Her true love was songwriting and she played me a tune she had written called “Butte, America”, in honor of that bleak town. Although I thought the sentiment was perhaps a bit misplaced, it was still a nice tune (she wrote on guitar in an open tuning) with a catchy chorus which I can remember to this day. She and Andy were friends with Beau Tucker, Tanya’s father, and hoped to have Tanya do one of Susie’s songs some day. I don’t know if that day ever came.

Late that night AJ and I returned to the Infirmary. The chapel door was ajar. We’d been ripped off. And I, having the most portable gear, was the hardest hit. My Fender Deluxe Reverb! and my pre CBS Fender Bassman piggyback! Two new speaker cabinets with 2 15” JB Lansing speakers in each. I never left my Les Paul in the chapel, though, so it escaped detection. We notified the police the following day, but I had little hope for the gear’s recovery. The thieves would be long gone before any investigation made headway. One of the guy’s in Susie’s band offered to drive me to Bozeman to buy a new amp and we headed out that afternoon. Our gig was coming up and I had to have something to play through. I got a new Fender Dual Showman Reverb amp which I still have and which sounds as bad as it did when I bought it. It was a silver faced Fender and the formula had definitely changed. But I was desperate enough not to care.

The one thing about being in a small town in the middle of nowhere is that everybody knows everybody else and there’s really nowhere to go unless you make a truly concerted effort. Which the thieves did not. And were apprehended and the equipment returned by the time we got back from Bozeman. The police, it seems, went pretty much directly to the likely suspects after we made our report and found all the gear straight away. They had assured us that they would find it and sure enough, they did. Butte may have been a rough town but it wasn’t especially smart.

By the time our gig started I had moved out of the Infirmary and into a guy’s trailer. Arranged by Jerry. His name was Bob Bering and we were roomies for the duration of the run. I wrote a letter to Susan, who thought I was gone forever, and she came over to Butte for a brief visit. She was looking better all the time.

AJ and I flirted with disaster on the female front  on a fairly continuous basis. The women of Butte were not particularly faithful to their menfolk and we were often the beneficiaries of their roving ways. Stray cat blues. He met a girl by the name of Laura Bishop, whom he referred to as “The most beautiful girl in the world”, or, TMBGITW. She had a midriff to die for and AJ, who was not normally that agressive on this front, in this case was of a mind to be so. We were, if not in constant terror of being found out, at least highly vigilant and had more than a few close calls. A girl I was seeing, Evelyn Tracy, had a boyfriend who returned to town unexpectedly. We were hanging out between sets at the club, chatting at the bar when he walked in. He came our way.

“Is he going to do anything?” I whispered to her. But he passed us by without incident.

“If he were going to, he would have just done it,” she replied.

He and his buddies sat at the front table on my side of the stage for the rest of the night. In full intimidation mode. At the end of the evening, Evelyn left with him. The next night I saw Laura at the bar and asked where Evelyn was.

“She won’t be coming out for a while,” said Laura, “she’s been pretty badly beaten.”

My heart sank to a level just below the bottom of the copper mine.

I went to the phone and called Evelyn.

“Evelyn, what happened?”

“Oh, I’ve got a black eye,” she said. “Nothing serious. I told him that three weeks with you was worth more than a lifetime with him.”

Ouch.

But the highlife in that once thriving copper town couldn’t last forever and so we bid the trailers and hospital rooms adieu and headed west to our next gig in Salem, Oregon. This was a long trip but it was high summer and we were in a decent vehicle for a change. We were booked into a Black Angus, of all things, which had a small club which said LOUNGE in all its appointments. After all the boisterous and free wheeling rock and roll we’d been playing it was no easy thing to go back to “Shadow of Your Smile” for the post dinner set. The staff knew it instantly. At the end of our first evening, during the last set after the house had cleared, the bartender yelled, ”Show us what you really do.” And so we did. We had one week with an option which they did not pick up. By this point, though, AJ and I didn’t care, we wanted a little time off to go home and we were glad to not have to fake another week of lounge.

Jerry reluctantly agreed to take a little time off although he really had nowhere to go in the Bay Area and neither AJ nor I could put him up. In fact I no longer had my place in the South Bay to return to either. The owners of the great Edwardian, having seen how beautifully we had restored it (at the cost of one free month’s rent, or $420, mind you) put it on the market and sold it instantly, forcing the eviction of those who had put it right. One of whom was me.

AJ flew home from Salem and Jerry and company and I drove down Interstate 5 from Oregon to the Bay Area. I went to my folks’ house on the Peninsula and they went to stay with some Jehovah’s Witness friends of theirs in San Jose. Or so I thought.

AJ called me as soon as I arrived.

“I’m leaving the band.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, I want to stay here and woodshed.”

And so on. I couldn’t blame him, We’d been plotting to do something apart from Jerry for some time. I’d just hoped we could do it together. Also, life on an endless road is perhaps harder than I’ve described. For one thing, it does a number on your health. AJ claimed it took him six months of being off the road to get his health back to an acceptable level. And, in all truth, mine was generally worse than his.

The story goes that AJ was met at the airport by a drummer friend of his from college, Andy Lewis, who put a tab of LSD in his mouth as he got off the plane. The two of them repaired to Andy’s, where they listened, high as can be, to a record by the Tony Williams Lifetime (the second Lifetime record with Holdsworth and Pasqua). The music so blew his mind that he decided then and there that his path lay elsewhere. Having heard the record myself, I can only empathize. Although I hadn’t heard it then.

I was just hanging out, myself, mostly with PJ and his brother Paul at their place down the Peninsula. And visiting other friends. I looked up DJ, whom I hadn’t seen since sacking him at the beginning of the year. We got on well. We’d been friends, after all, for ten years now.

I checked in with my folks after a week or so. Jerry had left a series of messages there, which described a deteriorating situation. Message 1: lodging with his friends had not worked out and they were living at a truck stop off Highway 101 south of San Jose. Sleeping in the back of the truck. Message 2: At a new truck stop, down the road. Message 3: Leaving for Butte, new date at Mal’s, to start in two weeks. He was headed back to Montana, which had to be infinitely better than a truck stop on the side of a highway. Especially with a wife, two kids and a dog. Plus two vehicles and a trailer.

We, however, had no drummer with which to play this gig. I sounded DJ out about the possibility of rejoining. He was up for it. When I finally spoke to Jery about our personnel problems and DJ’s willingness to rejoin, he sounded dubious. First, he was angry with AJ, whom he had always (and incorrectly, in my opinion) regarded as an immature kid, and secondly, he was not at all enthused about working with DJ again. But he was over a barrel.

I flew back to Missoula and arranged to meet John and his drums at the Butte airport in a week’s time. He arranged with a girlfriend of his to drive his car to Butte, following which he would pay her airfare home. We made the gig and settled in for yet another stint at Mal’s and the St. James. But it was not the same. Jerry had gotten used to playing with AJ and the skills he brought and did not find the spark he was accustomed to in DJ. We were not happy campers. It was late summer and I could see that it would not last.

A new club had opened just west of town. The owners brought in a former rocker from Portland to run it and he started booking hard rock bands from the west coast. As usual, in an area as remote as that, all of the musicians, competitors or not, fell in together.

The first band in was called Vortex and I became chummy with one of their guitar players, Steve Sharp. He was a bright rock and roll spirit, smart and funny, and the two of us would swap gear (usually to his advantage) and stories and just hang out. There were not a lot of kindred spirits in that neck of the woods and since the departure of AJ, I was in need of some decent company.

Vortex stayed in a motel on the main drag of the lower part of Butte, where Mal’s and the Ramada were. There was a single stand-alone building in the front which housed the motel office and a unit with kitchen, but most of the units were arranged in a horseshoe building around the back, which was separated by the driveway from the office. One Sunday afternoon, some of the locals who were hanging around with the band decided to have a barbecue at the motel. A discussion started about what meat to buy when one of the locals, a fellow by the name of McKnight, already half in the bag by noon, said that he would take care of it. He drove off in his pickup. The McKnights were renowned around the Butte area and it was said that the police would not mess with them, primarily because there were more of them than there were police. And from what I had seen of them, it seemed altogether wise to steer entirley clear.

An hour later, McKnight returned with a cow in the back of his pickup. He’d gone out to a nearby ranch and shot it. He and his cronies dragged it into the kitchen unit at the back of the motel office and flung it on a table in the center of the kitchen. And proceeded to crudely butcher the brute. Blood was everywhere. The dogs who lived at the motel came into the kitchen and were lapping it up off the floor. It was so outrageous and so incongruous no one knew what to do, until someone mentioned that cattle rustling was a capital offense. I was long gone by this time having seen this guy in action before. Sanity was not in his skill set whereas violence was near the top of the list. I don’t know if he ever got busted for this, but I did hear that he killed himself playing Russian roulette a few years later. The cat was bad news.

We played out the string at Mal’s but Jerry informed me that he did not want to continue working with DJ. We were still staying at the hospital after the gig ended and it was pretty much party on the third floor every night. Steve was still in town and a funky band from LA was in at Mal’s. It was a good time but something had to move forward.

I decided to try and put something together with DJ. I told you that dream died hard. The truth is that I felt responsible to the guy, even after all of our numerous ups and downs, falling ins and falling outs. I was the one who brought him back out to Montana, only to have the gig end after three weeks. Actually I had underestimated Jerry’s reluctance to work with DJ and thought that after a few days things might settle in. Wrong again.

I told DJ that we should head over to Missoula. I knew of an agency that was based there and I thought that through various friends we could rustle up a musician or two. We headed west in his Oldsmobile. We arrived in Missoula in the early evening. Susan let us stash our stuff at her house and DJ and I went out to the clubs in search of players. The first person I thought of was platonic friend Susie, the day bartender at the trendy rock club, who seemed to know a lot of local players through her job and her phantom husband. I knew she spent some time at the club at night so we headed over that way. By this time the band had started. They were called Pretty Face and they had a big draw. DJ and I had in fact seen them in the basement of a hotel in Butte on our first weekend in that town a year before. They were a WLLZ band. Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin. Name a not entirely clever combination of the Pretty Things and the Small Faces. They had equipment, they had lights, they had attitude and they had a cover charge. I went up to the doorman to try and bluff my way in.

“I’m looking for Susie Bevz,” I told him.

“What do you want with her?” he asked in a not altogether friendly fashion. “I’m her husband.”

“Actually I was looking for her to try and find you,” I hastily replied. “I understand you’re a musician.”

“That’s right, I play bass.”

“Are you working?”

“Only here at the door. The band I was with broke up recently.”

“We’re musicians too and we’re looking to put a band together. Are you interested in talking about it?”

His name was Ronnie and we arranged to meet over breakfast the next morning at one of the local cafes.

He was eating when I arrived. I ordered coffee although I would have preferred a beer. Though we were both a tad wary I liked him instantly and suspected that he could play, too. I explained what my situation was, how we had our equipment and a place to rehearse, at least temporarily, over in Butte, and that I was anxious to get on with it. We talked about the agency in Missoula, with which he had worked extensively and we talked about other logistical considerations as well–transportation, rehearsal space, and let’s face it, lodging. Neither DJ nor I had anywhere to stay other than an abandoned hospital in a dead town and even that wasn’t going to last long. I thought Susan might be amenable to a little company but that was probably more than a bit presumptuous.

We decided to go to Butte and play together informally. See how it worked. We were all set up anyway–I had enough of a bass rig for him to play through and this way he was not on the hook if it didn’t fly.

Jerry and his family had left town, but he had left his gear locked up at Mal’s. We had the hospital to ourselves. We hit it off reasonably well right away, knew a lot of the same songs, and Ronnie could sing. Not a bad core group, guitarist, bassist and drummer, all of whom could sing lead and harmony. We packed up and headed back to Missoula.

Ronnie was well connected there. He arranged to share a rehearsal space with a band with whom he was friends and DJ stayed there on a temporary basis. Susan was, in fact, amenable to some company, and I began to leave my stuff at her little house behind Eddie’s club.

Now we sought a fourth member. Ronnie knew a cat named Steve Sellers, a young player from Cutbank in northern Montana who currently stayed in Missoula and who he thought might be interested. We checked him out. I wasn’t 100% convinced but he did play guitar, slide, and harmonica and could sing lead and harmony too. I thought he was a bit undisciplined, but things were moving quickly and he was pretty versatile. When I say undisciplined I mean that in a sort of “work ethic” way. When you’re learning to play in a band and things don’t sound good, the first thing you do is check out what you are doing. And the response time on that should be pretty quick. In other words, you assume responsibility for your own part and you do it fast. If you’re part is a problem, you change it, try variations, solve it. When AJ and I would work out parts years later for hours on end we had a rule that as long as you heard the other person keep changing, improving, reconsidering, even if mistakes were being made, you would continue to put out at the top of your form. If the other person stopped trying to create and started repeating himself, it was time to move on to something else.

In this case, in the learning years, if you checked out what you were doing and it seemed o.k., then it was time to look around and see if you could locate the problem elsewhere. Skunk, as we called him, had a much more relaxed approach than that, and for my money, would be content with sloppy or passable. But that’s a matter of taste. Perhaps our two styles were complementary. He was a good guy, an easy person to be around (as opposed to DJ, for example), and he was interested. He was in.

We started rehearsing in earnest at our shared space. Other musicians were coming around to check us out and we were busy trying to put enough songs together to make a set, which we were to need a lot sooner than we expected. Things were happening.

At about this time I received a call from Jerry asking me to get back together with him. He had recruited three young players from Michigan, god knows how, and they were in Butte, rehearsing for yet another stand at Mal’s. He said they were all hot players, especially the drummer and bassist (!) and he thought we’d be a formidable lineup. I was tempted but things were going prettty well in Missoula with the new band so I thanked him but declined. This proved to be one of the best moves I never made. The night before their first night at Mal’s, the club burned to the ground with all of their equipment in it. Including Jerry’s rare Hammond X-77 which became a charred amalgamation of wood and  melted plastic. Rumor had it that the clubowner had run into financial difficulties and had paid someone to torch it for the insurance money. Butte was certainly that kind of town.

There is a very strange “band” phenomenon that I have experienced only twice in my life, but each time it has signified something good. The first time, it happened to the new band in Missoula, which we were calling Australia. It happens when four people who you know can play get together in a room and run down one of the numbers in the repertoire, which they know. And what results sounds like a cacophonous, discordant jumble of unintelligible chaos. It must have something to do with Chaos Theory, come to think of it. While it’s happening, all the players make adjustments, none of which have any effect. You begin to look around the room at one another with a “What in the hell is going on” kind of bewildered expression. And nothing you try makes any difference.

The people who witness it have all responded in the same way, in my experience, with a disbelieving wonder, as though they’ve seen a miracle of nature of some odd variety. This first time I was a part of this I had no way to get a read on it. I thought we just sucked and there was no explaining it. But the second time it hapened, years later, the exact same phenomenon, someone who witnessed it nailed it for me.

“Was that you guys, playing,” a friend asked? Totally and utterly surprised.

“Afraid so.”

And in a rather blinding moment of recognition she replied, “I believe you just became a band.”

And so we had. Both times. It was a mystical event. A primordial melding of something much greater than any of us could individually see. We were witnesses, too. And it was not particularly aesthetically pleasing, rather like childbirth if I may use such an obvious comparison.

Dare I say it, a new kind of mystical body.

And this is why rock and roll is magical. A rock and roll band is much more than any one geezer. And really and truly does stand miles apart from mere entertainment or mere formula. It gets packaged, marketed, manipulated, misrepresented and all the rest of it, but this is exactly like what Sister Mary Clarence told us in first grade about the Church. All that bollocks has nothing to do with the true essence of what is important about it, which is, of course, the love and the effort comes from it and is returned to it. I’m almost ashamed to be saying this stuff in light of how monstrously I have abused and mangled this simple concept myself, but it just goes to show that a bit of truth can emerge even from as tortured and pathetic a case as me. Shame notwithstanding. Anyway, real rock and roll, from a real rock and roll band, is a bit of redemption, and pity the poor soul who doesn’t get to feel it from time to time.

When I had first flown back to Montana, following the brief hiatus in California, I had arranged for Susan to meet me at the airport. I was hoping that she would offer me a place to stay but instead she drove me out to a campsite where Jerry and family were ensconced just outside of town. I was disappointed, but in all fairness, although we were drawing closer together all the time, we were not quite at the point of mutual unconditional acceptance. Besides, I was off to Butte and another gig in less than a week. But no one was at the campsite and so we returned to her place in town, where I stayed until the next job began. As fate would have it.

Now, having left Jerry and having a band and agent based in Missoula, things took on a different character and our relationship deepened. Sleeping arrangements in the little house began to change and the Jesus paraphernalia started disappearing. My stuff, which had previously been stashed in my bag behind the couch (just like in the song) found its way into drawers. And the kids, with whom I felt an uncharacteristic immediate rapport, welcomed me with open arms. They were the best.

Susan was not unfamiliar with the life and ways of a musician, thank heaven. She’d been married to a real rootin’ tootin’ cowboy singer and was hip to long absences

and the temptations of wine, women and song. To say nothing of the closeness of band mates, which makes some women the most jealous of all. All these things are tolerable though, when a relationship is drawing together and some even turn out to have beneficial elements. Homecoming, for example.

And it was a good thing that she had some experience in these matters because the new band was taking flight in one big hurry. We barely had a PA system. I believe we used the two guitar cabinets I’d bought from Gary Mundon’s band, the ones with the two JBL 15” speakers in each, and my Fender Showman Head with four mikes plugged into the front inputs. A guitar amplifier head. It worked, but just barely and it was kind of embarrassing. These were the days when all bands owned and carried their own sound and lights and there was an ever escalating competition to see who could amass the most impressive array. We were not in the running. Even funkier, our only transportation was DJ’s  Oldsmobile, with which we pulled a U-haul  trailer and carried the four of us. We had no crew. No monitors. Skunk was barely able to put together a guitar rig, that is, a guitar and amp. He borrowed a guitar for a while and I believe used one of my amps.

Nonetheless, we had begun speaking to the local rock and roll booking agency and bang, we had a date. Two nights in a town called Columbia Falls, way out in the woods somewhere at a club I can’t name. I don’t even know what direction it was in in relation to Missoula. Maybe northwest. I thought it was too soon for us to be taking work but everyone needed the money and it was a low profile, one weekend stand. Just good paid rehearsal, if nothing more.

The gig was at a sort of modest resort type of place in one of the those small towns where all of the facilities are multipurpose. We played in a club that was a normally a restaurant which turned into a hippie rock club later at night on weekends.  It was run by some very accommodating hippie mountain men, guys who looked like they would be bikers if they lived in a city. But they could hardly have been more friendly and supportive.  Must have been the habitat. They helped us load in and told us that we could sleep in the bowling alley next door if we wanted to save the cost of lodging. We did.

Our set list was a bit schizophrenic on the surface, naturally enough, having had no time to really construct a thematic approach to the band. But we did tend to do rock and roll songs with a basis in American rock roots. Namely, blues and country. I suppose this made us a rock and roll band, but without much self-conscious purism attached. In many ways at this early stage we played songs we all more or less knew. Beatles and Stones, Hello Mary Lou, Six Days on the Road, Doobie Bros., Chuck Berry.Whatever we thought people could dance to that we could get through. No lounge, no metal. Rock songs in which you could put a slide guitar or harmonica and not have it sound out of place. In retrospect it doesn’t sound bad at all but I fretted about it all the time while we were doing it. Is this too country? Is this too Brit? That sort of thing. Everybody in the band was a quick learner and we adapted to each other pretty quickly. With the exception of DJ, of course, who had not yet removed the bug from his ass. Skunk and I got along fine and everybody loved Ronnie (except his wife) who was a hell of a lot of fun and all around good guy.

Our first song on our first gig was “Dead Flowers” by the Rolling Stones. As soon as we started playing one of the hippie mountain men came out on the dance floor and started bopping to the music, and yelling encouragement. He put us at our ease and made it easy for the crowd to get into it as well. It was going o.k. Each of the four of us took turns with the lead vocal and each found a comfort level on the songs he sang. The people at the club enjoyed themselves, the staff liked us and by the end of the evening, lying in my sleeping bag in lane two of the bowling alley, I fell asleep thinking that maybe this might not be so bad after all.

It was a beautiful late September afternoon the following day. I remember writing a letter to PJ in the club and watching the afternoon light perform feats of magic on my beer glass. A little moment of contemplative reverie, assisted by nature. Head cold? Nothing like an afternoon beer to take the edge off. How about a cigarette? Just the thing.

We received a call from the agency and returned it just after dinner in town before the gig. I never ate anything before a gig, but I went along for the companionship. They wanted to know if we could start a two week stand in Twin Falls, Idaho, wherever the hell that was, on Monday. This was Saturday. We got a map. It was a long ways away, all the way down to the bottom of Idaho near the Nevada border. Was there money involved? Yes, but a small amount, the clubowner was a notorious tightwad. We took the gig.

We finished out our first engagement and emerged remarkably unscathed. In fact, had another booking. We had no band photo, no promotional materials of any kind, and the agency who was booking us had never seen or heard us. I would assume that the only report on us that they could possibly have would have come from the hippie mountain men for whom we had just played.

We went through Missoula on our way south, to pick up more clothing and whatnot and also to tell anyone who might be interested, in my case, Susan, about our revised itinerary. She was a bit disappointed, understandably enough, but not entirely surprised. Rather zen about it, I thought, for a backsliding born again. To my mind this was a good sign, for what it’s worth.

Heading out of Missoula in any direction means you have to cross the mountains. Skunk, who was a native and Ronnie, who had been there a while (he was from upstate New York) were forever going on about this pass or that pass. Fourth of July Pass, Lookout Pass, Chief Joseph Pass. At that time, I had no idea why they were so concerned, but now, with the benefit of a bit too much experience, I would just as soon take a pass on the passes, thank you very much. Especially in winter. But this was still autumn, the most beautiful time of the year all over the west and we crossed out of mountain bound Missoula without incident. I believe we were heading dead south, although for all the towns I’ve played all over the greater North and Northwest, my geographical knowledge is embarrassingly spotty. For me it’s rather like London, which I can navigate quite well via the Underground, but when I see an actual map of how the town is laid out I’m always shocked. And according to my memories, at least, for the bulk of Idaho it wouldn’t matter what direction you’re headed in save the destination. That’s how bleak it seemed. The panhandle and western edge in general, are extremely beautiful, however. For the record.

We were on the road an awfully long time. It seemed like all of these trips were 700 miles long. And now, with a home base, that meant each way. We’d pass these towns on the map, Two Dot and Blue Dome, and find that they were a single building, usually a gas station/restaurant. And the Craters of the Moon are out there too. Driving along, in mile 450, up all night and everything pretty surreal by this time anyway –and we’re in a moonscape! As far as the eye can see in every direction. We’ve been abducted! But only by the road. Ketcham is out there too, Hemingway’s old haunt. And those are the highlights. Both of them. Put central Idaho into your next travel plans!

We pulled into Twin Falls eventually and found the club in a small shopping center. Not quite a strip mall, but close. The club manager was a long haired, mustachioed, middle aged guy wearing cheap slacks and a tie and carrying a bit too much managerial attitude, if you know what I mean. My voice, from the cold and the numerous cigarettes we all had smoked en route out of sheer boredom, was now about an octave lower than normal and it served me well in dealing with this guy and his various rules and regulations. We loaded in, set up and went out to find a motel which would take us for two weeks.

Why Twin Falls came into existence I have no idea. Perhaps it was an old trading post on the Snake River or maybe there was a mining interest. Why anyone would live there was an even greater mystery. No trees, no university, no minor league baseball team. There must be some industry which I in my youthful myopia did not pick up on or which I in my encroaching senility have forgotten. Or, even more likely, something which my mind in its desire for good housekeeping has jettisoned, or desire for good behavior has repressed. We did extremely well there. What this says about us I’m not sure I want to know. But we had fun and we got tighter.

We called the band Australia. I don’t think any of us thought that this was a particularly apt or inspired name but we had to have something instantly and this, of the names on our short list, was least objectionable. I remember lobbying for the name Jolly Roger (“we’ve come for your women, but in a friendly way!”, but Ronnie didn’t care for it so we went with Australia. Perhaps we thought that Montana and the northwest was to the US as Australia was to England. I didn’t mind it because it was the title of a very amusing Kinks song. It’s all so associative, aint it? There was an excellent band out of Montana, probably Missoula, called the Mission Mountain Wood Band, which is a fine and indicative ( of what they do ) name. For for one reason or another they were convinced or felt  compelled to change their name to Montana. One of those awful names like Boston or Kansas that proliferated in the seventies. The wisdom of this stuff always escapes me. I was forming a band in LA years later with a smarty-pants friend of mine who thought we should call it Southern California. Tongue firmly embedded in cheek. We could have used those travel posters, the ones which show the beaches, Disneyland, Marine World, as our record cover! Another brilliant idea by the wayside. Probably been done. And yet, there I was, in a band named after a geographical region which bore little if any relation to who we were or where we came from or what we did. That’s probably its saving grace. Band names are tough. AC/DC? I thought they were a militant bisexual band when I first heard the name. After the Borchers Brothers Band, though, pretty much anything sounded good to me.

So now we were viable in Twin Falls, Idaho. What good does that do you? Well, it keeps you alive for another week or two, gives you a little rehearsal time, and is a heck of a lot better than driving all that way only to fail. Apart from that it’s hard to say. The agency, though, did get favorable reports from the notoriously fickle clubowner that we were o.k., and this gave them the confidence to keep booking us sight unseen. We did the usual while we were there, met the locals, hung out at the motel during the day watching lots of Sesame Street, smoking cigarettes and playing acoustic guitar. I used to do a wicked impersonation of the Count. And at night we got our act together onstage.

Toward the end of our run in this strange little town we got a call from the agency saying that they wanted to book us into the trendy club in Missoula where I had met Ronnie. Ronnie and Skunk were enthusiastic, DJ had already begun alienating everybody and had lost most of his political clout, and I was opposed. This is one of the first of a long line of career errors I have made which I wish, with the benefit of hindsight, that I could reverse. My opposition basically stemmed from the fact that our equipment was so make-do. All of the bands I had seen there had monster p.a. systems with lighting trusses and multi channel mixers and light consoles. To say nothing of Marshall stacks and expensive guitars and expensive clothes. We had a Fender Showman guitar amp for a p.a. and were wearing t-shirts and football jerseys. Unfortunately, I prevailed. Basically because I made them as self-conscious about that stuff as I was. It pains me to recall this. We were funky, we had our own funky style, and we should have just gone in there and done what we could do. And it’s never the right move with the agency. When I explained my reticence, one of them, a former musician, told me that he haed played arena gigs with funky gear. That there was no need for me to worry about that sort of thing. Of course, several months later this same guy gave us all sorts of grief about our clothes, our look and our promotional materials. Situation no win. Still, should have sucked it up and played the gig, warts and all, and let the chips fall where they may.

This stuff is always an effort for a music guy like me. Somebody whose focus is the music and who would, if left to his own devices, end up hunched over a mixing console holding a guitar in a darkened room well past any point of productivity. Like the proverbial wealthy crackhead who ends up in a safe place with a little torch and a pile of cocaine to the exclusion of all else. Obsessive compulsive behavior and productivity are far from synonymous. And obsessive compulsive doesn’t even require drugs.

So I’ve always needed to make the effort to do the clothes thing, although it’s not a particular strength, do the promo thing–get involved with the business of music, as it were. At this point Ronnie and I had split up the band leadership. He was doing the business part and I did the music part. That was his idea anyway and he had the closest relationship with the agency and was certainly trustworthy with what money we made. It was not a bad arrangement, on balance, and was not particularly rigid, either. The agency was surprised when we didn’t take the gig and instead sent us off to a town up near the Highline, the highway that runs across the top of the US near the Canadian border. Another monster drive. I think the bar was called Lot 49, after the Thomas Pynchon novel, and it was in a town called Shelby.

There, as everywhere, I plugged my guitar into my Bassman head, plugged my Bassman head into my Deluxe Reverb, plugged my microphone into my Dual Showman head, and counted in the song. We were getting better. We had the time to learn some new material. We did some Fleetwood Mac (the Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer edition), Savoy Brown Blues Band, BTO, ELO, and probably few other bands whose names are initials, some oldies (Elvis and Chuck) and some more country, which Skunk particularly favored.

By the way, he was not called Skunk because of any odor emanating from him, but because of his name, Steve Sellers, which Ronnie had morphed into Stinky Smellers, and was subsequently changed to Skunk because when we eventually kicked DJ out of this band, his replacement was named Ken Stenquist, another Stinky. Stinky Stenquist. Wait til we get to the part about working with the Stench Brothers. A theme is emerging. Steve Sellers (while we’re at it) was a brown eyed, blonde haired guy, as I mentioned, from the Highline, and was part American Indian, although he looked no more Indian than Ronnie or me, both blonde. He even got treaty money on a regular basis, which he definitely needed to supplement his income from the band, little as it was. We were not getting ahead, but we had cigarette and beer money and money for guitar strings and drumsticks.

Australia was a fun band to be in. No one person dominated, everybody save DJ had a sense of humor and was easygoing about things, and this communicated to our audiences. DJ, as usual, was painting himself into a corner. He refused to join in on our goofy interpersonal games and behaviors, and generally looked out for himself to the exclusion of others and other interests. And he wasn’t getting his way here. This created an even bigger chasm between him and the rest of us. His car, notwithstanding, which was a always a sore point with him since it was the sole means of band transportation. Ronnie actually owned a schoolbus, in which he had driven west from Oswego, New York, and we began setting aside band money for its repair, to DJ’s dismay. He seemed to want it both ways–didn’t want the wear and tear on his car and didn’t want to contribute to a means of getting past that. And so this friction continued. I, me, mine. I don’t know if he felt excluded for some reason, but you always have to make an effort to join in, and we were not an especially exclusive club. He was, as Skunk put it to him, “Like an old woman.” No offense intended to old women.

We had no shortage of work. We played a joint out in the woods of the Idaho Panhandle called the Suds Factory, which required an Indian scout to find. We played a club called Middle Earth in Sand Point Idaho, a beautiful little town on Lake Pend’Oreille (sp?) also on the panhandle. We did the Halloween week at a club in Bozeman, Montana, henceforth known as Bozoland, a college town, and we played Dillon, Montana. We were hell bent on playing them all and we had a strong leg up. We still had no band photo and the agency had not seen us.

The relationship between Ronnie and his wife Susie was hard to fathom. I thought they were both wonderful, but that they were drawing apart was clear. Or at least, she was pulling away from him. It was hard to understand, though. He and I were both Pisces, and when I used to hang out with her before I met him, she would ask me if I had a bad temper, or if I did this or that. Was this a Piscean trait. This, as I tried to piece it together, seemed to be a sort of discreet way of talking about how her relationship was going wrong. She had far too much class, as did he, to air out their difficulties, or dirty laundry, if you will, even to friends. By the time the band started working, their separation was pretty much a fait accompli, although she did come and visit him the first time we played Havre, a town way up on the eastern part of the Highline. They had obviously shared a lot and this may have been some sort of an attempt at reconciliation, but it proved to be an isolated incident, and in fact preceeded her moving out of their apartment. It may instead, now that I think about it, have been a period of negotiation, a final settlement.

Some time later, returning from a few consecutive weeks out of town, Ronnie told us that Susie had moved out. When we got to his house to drop him off he asked us if we wanted to come in for a beer or what have you. Although I was anxious to get home to Susan, I thought it was important to show some support, as did Skunk. We went in with Ronnie. The house was stone cold bare. Lock, stock and stereo, as the Mystical Lad would say. Ronnie tried to be hospitable, offered us a spot on the floor to sit on. We lit cigarettes. It was as comical a situation as I’ve been in and tragic too. Here was Ronnie, trying to act like a generous host in a house that was dead naked. We were trying to make light of the fact that the emperor was not wearing any clothes, but the conspicuous absence of clothes only highlighted the fact that his wife had left him. We lit more cigarettes, trying not to laugh–Ronnie had a terrific sense of humor and was not unaware of the incongruity and humorous potential–or cry–believe me, we felt for him. This had not been his idea. We were right on the razor’s edge and we weren’t tipping. Finally, after the second cigarette, it became apparent that it was time to leave. Ronnie anticipated this.

“It’s getting kind of late, I’ll take a look and see what time it is.”

And left the room. He came back in an instant.

“She took the clock, too,” he deadpanned.

The dam broke and we all burst out laughing. Two or three minutes later we stopped laughing and left Ronnie to his own devices. Amid the utter devastation. Years later a friend of mine played me a song by George Jones about a guy who returns home to a similar situation and all he finds are a Flintstones jelly glass and a Jim Beam Elvis decanter. The refrain is “Yabba dabba do, the king is gone and so are you.” It’s a great song, you should check it out.

My relationship with Susan, on the other hand, was going in the other direction. It had all of the “parting is such sweet sorrow and absence makes the heart grow fonder” ingredients in addition to the sweetness of the homecomings. I like being on the road but it’s much nicer if you have somewhere (and someone) to come home to. There’s not much romance in returning to an abandoned hospital, for instance. I hadn’t lost my wanderlust by any means by this time, but neither did I consider myself to be an unrestricted free agent. Things were changing, from both of our standpoints, and we were slowly but inexorably bonding.

When we were in town, the band that is, we still spent a lot of time out and about. Susan would sometimes join us, duties permitting, but it was primarily a guy thing, a band thing. I hadn’t settled all the way down just yet. We checked out other bands, shot pool, drank beer, socialized. One of the clubs we frequented was a hard rock hangout called the Cave. It was within walking distance of our digs and it was a pretty funky hang. It was there that I first laid eyes on the Mystical Lad.

Actually, you don’t really “lay eyes” on the Lad and you’re not really accosted by him either. At least I wasn’t. Maybe from a distance. You sort of find yourself engaged with him out of nowhere. It might be a conversation across the dance floor or across several booths above the din of the band. It might be a pitcher of beer appearing miraculously out of the blue. How it starts is anybody’s guess, but before you know it, the Lad is in your midst. Resistance is futile.

We didn’t call him the Lad right away, although he truly was one. And when we did decide to call him the Lad we were thinking along the lines of the British pub band Jack the Lad. But his name was George and George the Lad didn’t make it and neither did Geo (Joe) the Lad. It wasn’t until a good while later, after we had heard the Peepee stories and the accounts of psychedelia and imprisonment in the Bay Area in the 60’s that it became apparent that he was the Mystical Lad.

The Lad–first let me tell you before I go into any history or description that the Lad was a) an irrepressible force of nature, and b) a character of the first order.

I loved him right off the bat and still do. As different, as almost diametrically different as we were, I could tell that he was my kind of guy. As I was saying, the Lad was from The Dalles Oregon, which he was fond of pointing out as one of the two towns in the world, The Hague being the other, which had “The” in its official name. He was adopted by a family named Barnes and used their name, but he was descended from a Polish family by the name of Kirijewicz. The cat had talent and got a scholarship out of high school to go to the Naval Academy at Annapolis to study music. He was a clarinetist. When he left Annapolis he migrated back west and got into a group of musician/dancers called the Rhythm Masters. He could tap, too. They were on the Ed Sullivan show six times and were introduced as “Six fresh faced fellows from the UCLA campus.” They also did club dates and were featured in several movies, one of which, “Get Yourself a College Girl” features George in a horn blowing competition, which he wins, and a tap-off competition, which he also wins. Hands down. Check it out.

Unfortunately, the timing for the Rhythm Masters was all wrong. The Beatles and British Invasion had just happened and that kind of youthful variety act was on its way out. In fact, the Animals and Herman’s Hermits were in “College Girl” and the literal evidence of that change can be seen in that flick. Rock and roll was gaining the upper hand. You have to give Peter Noone credit for being able to make a similarly difficult transition, in his case, from the West End stage. But the Lad did not see a way to translate tap and clarinet into rock and roll and essentially packed it in. I’ve never been able to understand that decision or had any success in changing his mind about it.

Ronnie had a similar if not identical bent. He did not want to “make it.” He had no interest in playing the success game and had no ambition further than playing the small towns of the Northwest. In fact, the further out he could go, the better he liked it. He was living near Hungry Horse in some wilderness area the last time I saw him. And he was an incredibly likeable, outgoing person, liked people and was well adjusted socially. We’re not talking Ted Kaczynski here. But I digress and jump ahead. And the Lad was just as immovable on the subject. No encouragement would persuade him to play or consider it. And believe me, he needed an outlet for his creative energy like nobody’s business.

The Lad became a running buddy, someone I’d look up and hang out with when I got back into town. Susan was not particularly enamored of him initially, he cut into our time together, for one thing, but they became friends over time. If I’d been out of Dodge for a while and hadn’t seen the Lad, I knew that as soon as I went out clubbing I’d hear that familiar voice hollering from across the room, “It’s the gay rancheros from Pluto!”

Don’t look now, Montanans, don’t do that, but there is a Lad , in your house.

Fall turned to winter and it started to get a bit treacherous out on the roads. More than a bit, perhaps. There were several occasions early that winter where we’d hit a patch of the always difficult to see black ice and start sliding. And sliding meant the trailer would start jackknifing in the opposite direction. We’d be one careening carful of bozos. You know it’s serious when as you’re watching it develop you realize that your only response is to relax and let it happen cause there’s nothing you or anyone can do about it. O.k., we’re going off the cliff, then what? Oftentimes, as we’d be coming down from a gig on the Highline or up in Alberta or B.C., in the middle of the night we’d see big rigs, one after another, off the road in the ditch or in adjacent fields. Like a big rig ghost town, just left there where they finally stopped moving, until the weather would allow for some remediation. It was surreal.

We never stopped working. We were booked into a club called the Blue Max in Havre, Montana, on the Highline, over Christmas and into the New Year. I had hoped to be home with Susan and the kids, having my first white Christmas, but no one could afford to be off the road, me included, and our price had gone up to $900 per week. For the whole band, less commission and expenses. We were coming up in the world.

To compensate, in the week before Christmas I spent most of what money I had on presents, mostly for Sari and Rachel, and sent them off special delivery. They saw me coming at the local toy store, but I was determined that Santa would put in an appearance in Missoula that year. It was business as usual for the band. I don’t believe we had a day off, Christmas Eve or Christmas night. Skunk, Ronnie and I spent Christmas Day smoking cigarettes and playing acoustic guitars in our motel room. It was too cold to go out. DJ had actually gotten an invitation to spend it with a local family and took them up on it, and we did get invited to a party full of college kids home for the holidays, but generally it was club and motel, motel and club. And that’s one bleak town.

Apart from the holiday nights themselves, the club was rocking. Disco was really happening, even in that outpost, and between sets the kids would play “That’s the Way, uh huh, uh huh, I Like It” by KC and the Sunshine Band over and over on the jukebox. And sing along. Things were changing, again, and I wasn’t sure if our rootsy music was happening. That New Year marked the beginning of 1975.

We started to play a bit more in Canada. In order to get into the country, at the border you had to present the contract describing your work and an inventory of your equipment. You were supposed to leave with what you came in with. No smuggling or selling off gear. We were told this was usually treated as a formality, but of course, when the border guards caught sight of a long-haired hippie band pulling a trailer, they had to call out the hounds.

The first time this happened we were breezing through. We made DJ and Skunk bury their pot on the side of the road before we crossed over and we thought we were golden. Wrong again. They made us take every single piece of equipment out of the trailer and display it on the side of the road, identifying for them every item on our inventory. Then they went over the car with a fine toothed comb and, needless to say, found a pot seed. Call out the National Guard. Out came the dogs, the specialists, the border post commanders. We’ve got a hot one here, eh? But they found nothing more (I think they planted the seed to give them an excuse. Our inventory was accurate, and they were some frustrated and disappointed functionaries when they finally permitted us to go into their fair domain. Eventually we found a less hostile border crossing and routed through there on future forays into the further north country.

For a musician, especially one on the road, his or her main axe becomes a security blanket. One night in Missoula some months earlier I was onstage at the Park, so sick that I had to leave the stage during a song to go throw up in the bathroom. When I came back to play (before the song had ended), it was the familiar and comfortable feeling of my Les Paul that oriented and consoled me. Its weight and the feel of it was reassuring.

The flip side of this is when the instrument will not behave. And my Les Paul stopped behaving. Specifically, I could no longer get it in satisfactory tune. If it was in tune in one position it was out in another, and I’m not talking from the nut to the top of the neck either. I mean chord positions side by side on the neck. I played with it. I took it to guitar techs in Missoula and in other towns. No amount of adjustment solved the problem. And onstage I was going insane, tuning between every song depending on which chord position was most prominent in the song. I had one guitar. No one in the band had a backup. If one of us broke a string in midsong we either stopped and waited until the breaker replaced it or kept playing minus one player. None of this Dozen Guitars and Three Guitar Techs stuff. But my one guitar had infuriated me one time too many and had fallen fully out of favor.

There are very few things more irritating and, in recording, more debilitating than being out of tune. The entire punk “piss on conformity” attitude notwithstanding. It was a fairly monumental decision for me, to seek out a new guitar, but the guitar drove me to it. Left me no choice. I almost sound defensive, don’t I? I went to Bitterroot Music, a funky shop in Missoula near the river in the older part of town, just off Higgins Street.

One long haired hippie muso was in the storefront, tending to no customers. They did not have an enormous inventory. I spotted a Fender Telecaster Thinline, the kind with an F-hole and a small part of the solid body routed out beneath it. It was a natural blonde wood, maybe ash, with a nice grain and two humbucker pickups–the inexpensive ones, not the PAFs.  I’d always played Gibsons, with the odd Rickenbacker thrown in for good measure. I asked if I could plug it in and the store minder didn’t mind.

For an hour I did nothing but check tuning. Every position, up and down the neck, all the harmonics, all the conceivable relationships and series of overtones. All I wanted was a guitar that played and stayed in tune. If it had looked like a toilet seat from Eddie’s Club I wouldn’t have minded as long as my voicings didn’t beat.

It passed muster.

I asked the guy how much he wanted for it.

“$300, with case.”

This was fair, but I didn’t have it.

“How about if I give you $100 now and pay you the other $200 as I earn it?” I offered.

He said o.k.

I gave him the $100 and left with the guitar. I signed nothing. I didn’t show him an ID or credit card, didn’t leave a phone number or address–did not give him my name. He said he’d seen me around. This is the truth. After a month or two I’d saved enough to pay off the debt and returned to the shop. He didn’t look surprised to see me but he didn’t remember right away what I might be there for. When I explained it he said “Oh, yeah, the Telecaster, how is it working out?”

“Right in tune,” I said, “Right in tune.”

It was a fairly glorious winter that year, if you discount the regular Near Death Experiences associated with the travel. It snowed frequently, which only enhanced the beauty of those beautiful surroundings.

We played a gorgeous ski resort up near Flathead Lake in a town called Whitefish, and I bumped into Susan’s ex-husband Gary, and his new girlfriend, Durinda, who was also a friend. Gary was a very likeable guy and I’d gotten to know him a bit since I’d met him when I first came to Missoula. I was essentially living with his ex and his kids and he’d come around occasionally  and hang out. We talked music and music business mostly. He’d actually recorded at the studio in Clovis, New Mexico where Buddy Holly cut his pre New York hits and he turned me on to the new cowboy thing that was emerging in Austin–Willie and Waylon and the boys. I didn’t think he was a great talent, but he was a great  and appealing presence and in the right hands I think he could have done something in the biz.

Shortly after we’d returned from Whitefish, during a real cold snap, Susan got a call saying that Gary had been shot and killed just outside of Missoula. He and a buddy were out driving past one of those small towns that seem unconnected to anything and decided to break into the local drugstore and see what kinds of pharmaceutical goodies they could make off with. It was late at night and they broke a window at the rear of the building to gain entrance. Unbeknownst to them the window was alarmed and sent a signal to the local sheriff and the pharmacist, who responded immediately. They were both armed.

Gary and his buddy were merrily sifting through the prescription medications when they were surprised by the owner and officer. Caught red-handed. Gary made a play for one of the guns. There was a struggle and the pharmacist shot Gary in the head and killed him instantly. His partner had already capitulated. Gary was no thief or criminal and he wasn’t a junkie or dealer either, he was just out for some recreational drugs and thought he saw an easy opportunity. First stupid, impetuous mistake. And the second was going for the gun. This is what precipitated and made inevitable the tragic and unnecessary outcome of the caper. Because that’s all it was, a fatal prank. Maybe there was some arrogance involved, perhaps a bit too much confidence in one’s own ability is a better way to put it, but there was no malice and certainly no malice aforethought. Same outcome, nonetheless.

I went to the trial with Susan. It was freezing cold and she was shaken to the core. The selfish thought crossed my mind that she was overreacting to something that happened to someone she’d washed her hands of long before. But he was the father of her children, an incontrovertible connection, however emotionally detached you might think you are.  This rocked our world, our relationship, and did not pass quickly.

The trial was a formality. It was totally cut and dried. As you’d expect, some of Gary’s friends blamed the sherrif and pharmacist, mostly out of loyalty, but there wasn’t much wind in that sail, especially not here in the Wild West, where frontier justice is more than just a euphemism. Durinda was crushed and she and Susan were a comfort to one another. Telling Sari and Rachel was the task I worried about most, but they were blessedly a bit too young to realize the magnitude of the event or get traumatized by the incomprehensibility of it all. They were amazing, incredible children, and felt the experience mostly, it seemed to me, by witnessing and sharing their mother’s grief.

I tried to be helpful, but I occupied a strange Odd Man Out position and generally felt like I was in a dream sequence. Nightmare sequence.This event had roots in Susan’s former existence, about which I knew very little, and in which I had not been a player. But it was still a jarring, wrenching, catastrophic event. There was nothing romantic about it, just sorrow, pain and loss. Tragic, unnecessary loss.

This threw a wicked spanner into my relationship with Susan. She now had to work through this emotional tangle of which I had seen only the tip of the iceberg, if that, prior to Gary’s death.

She had married young, had children young and what the nature of their relationship was I can only guess, but he was a big daddy, bear of a guy, the kind of a guy who represents security, even from a distance. And he was gone. And my skills at consolation are notoriously poor. I’m good at seeing what can be done under adverse circumstances. Problem solving. Staying cool. But I have very little natural tendency to say “There, there, it’ll be all right.” At least with adults. It’s very much a learned behavior for me. And it wasn’t going to be all right and I doubt that Susan would have accepted that from me anyway. She shared the loss with those who felt a similar loss. Durinda, for example, and the nitwit who went along with Gary. They didn’t have to talk about it, they just felt it.

So there was a nasty chasm between us created by all this. I felt neglected and guilty for feeling neglected, and I felt guilty for not being able to figure out how to offer more under the circumstances. And Susan had her own nightmare to sift through.

But, I had the band. We had dates to play and there was not much I could do in Missoula so I played them. It was a mercy. I loved to play, loved doing four sets a night. I loved my playing day routine. I always did an hour’s worth of yoga before leaving for the club, had a large coffee before the first set, and a beer before the third. I liked learning new tunes in the morning although I had a hard time getting the band to go along with me on that one.

We were travelling constantly, in John’s car, to his chagrin. It was another cold, cold winter. We often had to huddle together in the car with the heater running at full blast just to keep warm. There’s no embarrassment about two men huddling together when it’s that cold. Pure survival. We put some money aside to repair Ronnie’s schoolbus though, and the day was approaching when that would be functional again. And the sooner the better.

We broke down in the mountains on our way to a date in Lethbridge, Alberta and were holed up in a bar/restaurant gas station waiting for help to arrive from Missoula. We called the agent and said we weren’t going to make the gig. This always made me crazy but the band wasn’t that concerned. The damn agents didn’t have to drive hundreds of miles each week on treacherous roads in the freezing cold was their attitude. And the agency was surprisingly cool about it and got someone to fill in for us. We sat in the bar for most of the afternoon shooting pool, killing time.

It just so happened that the bar had a tv which was tuned to the fourth game of the NBA championship finals. That’s National Basketball Association, for the unitiated. You’re going to have to indulge me on this one. And in this particular championship series, the Golden State Warriors (formerly San Francisco Warriors), my beloved Golden State Warriors, were a) in the finals for the first time since they moved west from Philadelphia in 1961 and, b) ahead of the Washington Bullets three games to none. In a best of seven series. I thought that maybe this foggy mountain breakdown was going to have an up side. And damned if it didn’t! The Warriors prevailed, sweeping the Bullets in four, and I got to witness it from as remote a place as you’re going to find in contiguous America, courtesy of vehicle failure. It was my day. I was totally unbeatable on the pool table. Ronnie always got the best of me, but not that day, not the day when the Warriors won their only NBA championship since moving west. If they ever win it again (they haven’t since), check the top of the music charts. I’ll be there.

We played Twin Falls on a semi-regular basis. Mr. D’s, I think it was called. During one two week stand, after the gig on Saturday night and before our one day off, we piled the entire band and about half the club into a few vehicles and drove off to Jackpot Nevada, which would still be open for carousing by the time we got there. It was perhaps and hour away from Twin Falls. We found a likely looking casino and went in to have few beers and gamble a bit. I was still somewhat snakebit after my experience in Las Vegas, but I found a cute blackjack dealer and sat down to play a few hands. She was not interested in me but I did win $40 which I picked up after tipping her. She said it was surprising how few people quit while they’re ahead. I left to look for my party.

Ronnie, it seemed, had found a defective slot machine. Now that’s luck. He won again and again and again. There seemed to be no limit to the amount of times the machine paid off. And Ronnie shared his winnings with everyone in the group, which enabled everyone to play for a good long while. He was as generous as the slot machine. Everyone was having a great time but it was his night. As the sun came up and we began to file out of the casino he put a dollar in the slot machine at the door and won $100. And he got a date with the cute blackjack dealer, too. I kid you not. The best part was, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Folowing Twin Falls we had a date at the Rathskeller in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. Beautiful college town on the lake of the same name up on the Idaho panhandle. I was mostly concerned, probably overly concerned, with breaking in and getting used to my new guitar. That sucker stayed in tune, though. Skunk was having guitar problems also and his were even more extreme than mine had been but he was not great with money and had replaced his problem guitar with one that was even more dubious. Guitars are temperamental things, I don’t care how much you pay for them.

During the middle of our second and final night at the club, Susan walked in. Alone. I was surprised and pleased–things had been very unsettled between us–but I was concerned too. How had she gotten there? When I got off stage and spoke to her she announced that she had hitchhiked over from Missoula. Dead of winter, alone, at night (at least partially), over the passes. She was not a rough and ready, scruffy tomboy type. She was strong and healthy enough but she was a very attractive, soft spoken young woman. This news knocked me back a few paces. I tried not to default into the concerned parent role, but it struck me as incredibly risky and dangerous. For anyone, much less an unseasoned hitchhiker like her.

The band, as usual, was staying in a two room motel unit. They graciously ceded one of them to the two of us and we had a long heartfelt, tearful (why are my tears always selfish?) reconciliation. We had never fallen out, to speak of, but all of the emotional chaos surrounding Gary’s death had put an enormous distance between us with which neither of us knew how to deal. When she was able to turn her attention back to our relationship, I think she instinctively realized we had hit some kind of critical mass and took immediate steps to try to put it to rights. Which meant hitchhiking to Coeur d’Alene. Her effort was as effective as it was dramatic. And dangerous.

Winter had really set in when we got back to Missoula. The snows had completely buried all the cars in town and it was perfect for staying in and getting cozy. The band, mercifully enough, had a few days off but we also had some business to take care of. It concerned the critical point we had reached with DJ, who had once again alienated everyone to the point of dismissal. Skunk and Ronnie were adament.

Ronnie had found another drummer who we knew a bit and knew was good and was available. All three highly desirable elements. And he could sing, too. By this time we’d gotten Ronnie’s bus recomissioned and it had proven roadworthy so there were no more reasons to put up with DJ’s selfish attitude.

I had to tell him.

We went out for coffee and I explained what the situation was, that there was no possibility of a change of heart, that a new drummer had already been found. He was hard hit but made a valiant effort to take it well. I went with him to help him load his drums out of our practice room.

“We’ll still be friends, won’t we?” he asked.

That this was important to him at that moment was very moving.

“Of course, without a doubt” I reassured him.

When we parted company I went off to find the Lad and have a drink. The dirty work is no fun at all.

DJ kept in close touch and in fact showed up at our first two rehearsals with our new drummer Kenny. This was your basic highly awkward situation, Kenny under full and unapologetic scrutiny, but we plowed ahead regardless. And hit the road soon after.

It took us a while to get used to the bus. It was a big silver schoolbus, far from new, which Ronnie had bought in upstate New York for his migration west with his wife and another couple. On our first trip, to a gig in Great Falls, we ran out of gas in a total whiteout of a snow storm in the middle of nowhere. Ronnie and I went out into the blizzard to hitchhike to the nearest gas station. One thing about hitchhiking in a blizzard, you get picked up right away. First car. People instantly instinctively recognize that you are in mortal danger and respond accordingly. When we made it back to the bus we found Skunk huddled and shivering, wearing all of the clothes he had brought with him. Fully buttoned up. I don’t know who had been at greater risk.

Once we had gotten Kenny into the band, our agency booked us on a long, continuous series of dates, starting with two weeks in Lethbridge, Alberta. From there we were to go to Lewiston, Idaho, Twin Falls, Idaho, and Provo, Utah. Some seriously long hops in some seriously bad weather. For the Lethbridge leg we left the bus in Missoula, to get further winterization and repairs and caught a ride from a friend with a van who was interested in hanging out with the band for a week. A friend of mine agreed to pick us up at the end of the second week. Our plan was to pick up the bus as we passed through Missoula on our way to Lewiston and use it for the remainder of the tour.

Lethbridge is in south central. Alberta, that is. All the towns on the plains of Alberta, even the big ones, Calgary and Edmonton, are in the middle of nowhere, so to describe it as such doesn’t really say much about it. But it’s in the middle of nowhere just the same. We liked the gig, though. At that time, many of the larger hotels in western Canada had big taverns which featured live rock music, in addition to the more intimate bars and restaurants. It had an indoor pool, too, but the main thing was that they comped us rooms so we were not out of pocket, paying for lodging in a funky motel miles from the job. The band was in the house.

It was at this point that Steve, aka, Stinky, became  Skunk, and Ken Stenquist, whose name lent itself much more easily, became Stinky, to avoid confusion. I always clled them Steve and Ken, though. Ronnie was much fonder of the nicknames. It’s pretty easy to break in a drummer if you have three other guys who know the set, and Ken worked in quickly. He was a tall, lanky guy with a long dark hair and a beard, rather in the Mick Fleetwood mold and his playing was quite dissimilar to DJ’s, in part because of his size and longer limbs. He had his crash cymbal right behind my right ear at that first gig and my ears rang for hours each night after we finished.

Ken had been to Vietnam and told us an extraordinary story on the long ride up to Canada.

He had been in the infantry. One night he and a buddy decided to drop acid. As they were coming on to the drug their camp was hit with a mortar attack and Ken’s expanded mind was suddenly impacted, blown away, if you will, by a hail of explosions right in his vicinity. This was a version of shell shock the likes of which had not existed before. Exponential shell shock. As if a violent explosion in your lap needed more magnification. But LSD does increase your awareness and sensitivity and expand your consciousness by powers of ten, and his was increasing only to experience insane violence. Say it again. What is it good for?

He went into what he described as a catatonic state. His life force had withdrawn so completely as to be undetectable by those people in the field who found him. But he was still alive and conscious of what they were saying about him. He just couldn’t get his body to respond. He actually heard one of them say that he was dead, that he had no pulse. Edgar Allen Poe had nothing on this. They went to fetch a body bag.

He was about to let the conversation drop at that point.

“So what did you  do?” I blurted out.

He said, “In my own way, I prayed.”

What else could he do? Somebody noticed a flutter, a palpitation, and put a hold on the body bag. Slowly his being came out of the shell into which it had retreated and he started showing signs of life. The mind boggles when you think that he could have been alive and aware in a body bag, under a pile of dead bodies in body bags on a transport plane back to the States, until being buried, alive, in some military cemetary. Until he suffocated or starved to death or was incinerated.

Prayer has got to be one of the greatest ideas man has generated thus far. That and the idea that all this has some sort of ultimate meaning. Whether or not any of it is true I’d be hard pressed to prove in a court of law but you’ve got to admit that the ideas are appealing. And you’d be hard pressed to convince Ken otherwise.

One of the amazing things about life is that you can go from epic to soap operatic in the blink of an eye.

I actually got the band to get up early and rehearse in the morning, before the tavern opened and while the custodial staff was cleaning up from the night before. They were none too thrilled with the idea but couldn’t really argue against the wisdom of it. Ken was new and needed the work and we had some original tunes that it was time to work up. It went fully against the grain of the other three but they had no rebuttal.

Although my realtionship with Susan was getting more exclusive all the time, I had not yet come to terms with the concept of monogamy, a tricky subject if ever there was one. In Lethbridge this came to a head. (For the first of many times, I should probably add. This issue never really goes away, it’s rather like patience, which is something you must get in the habit of and keep practicing–otherwise–poof! it vanishes.)

At any rate, one night after the last set, a group of us were sitting around in my room, one of whom was a nice young Canadian lady. It was proposed by someone in the room that she should stay the night with me. And not facetiously, either. This apparently appealed to both of us because she did spend the night and then the next and the next and then I spent the night at her place and so on.

We became fairly inseparable and began to, there’s no better way to say this, hard as it is, fall in love. It was a beautiful thing and it deepened through the course of our run at the club. As I said, I had made arrangements with a friend from Missoula who owned a van to come up to Lethbridge to transport us back. I expected the friend to show up in Lethbridge a day or two prior to our last night.

I knew I was hanging fire. In the back of my mind I knew that there was a possibility that Susan would come along for the ride and surprise me at the gig. She hadn’t mentioned it when we spoke last on the phone, however, and I relaxed my guard just a bit. And I was basically head over heels and didn’t want to disrupt that groove at all. I had told Sally, my Canadian amour, that I had an old lady (this is how musicians in those days referred to their “partners” or “significant others” or “cohabitors” or whatever the term du jour is now), but this didn’t dissuade her in the least. We were in our own romantic bubble far from that complication and neither of us wanted to see it burst.

Late in the morning of our last date at the hotel, Sally, who had spent the night, and I were in the tavern drinking coffee. Enjoying each other’s company on our final day together. It had been splendid. Thus far. Ronnie rushed into the room, came to our table and whispered in my ear, “Susan’s here.”

My heart fairly stopped. Actually, it made a concentrated effort to escape from my body via my throat.

“My old lady is here. I have to go,” I told Sally.

Just like that. Abrupt, wrenching, crushing. Bubble burst. I will always carry with me the hurt that I saw on her face at that point and I suppose the regret that I feel as a result of it. I don’t buy the “No regrets” song and dance. You don’t have to regret what you do to yourself (although you do, no matter how you represent it to yourself or others–Piaf, Richards, et al., notwithstanding) but you can’t just dismiss how you make others feel. You can put it in perspective, but you can’t dismiss it. Not if you expect to avoid some wickedly arrested development. It’s on you.

I got up from the table before she could say a thing and went straight to the hotel bar. My heart was coming through my chest. I had two martinis (they were the band drink of choice at that gig) in rapid succession to steel my nerves and went down to Ronnie’s room where Susan and the Missoula contingent waited. This was the severest acting test of my life. I was at least able to keep up the pretense, I don’t know if Susan suspected anything–in fact I know she didn’t because the Mystical Lad spilled the beans about this one inadvertantly to Susan at a much later date and it took her totally by surprise. It must have been the martinis. Before noon, no less. We had a joyful reunion. I’m sure I was even more solicitous than usual, and the two of us repaired to my room in relatively short order for a round of passionate lovemaking.

Inside, though, I was distraught. Big time. Sally was injured, Susan was almost injured, and I felt like slime for being the injurer, although, like I said, Sally was not unaware of my situation. But I couldn’t get the look on Sally’s face out of my mind. This was an ugly situation and it could have been even uglier. Not from Sally’s point of view, needless to say. I resolved never to let this happen again.

That night at the club there was a good bit of tension.. Sally, to my mild surprise, was there, and Susan, of course, was there, but the place fortunately was crowded enough to enable us to avoid a confrontation. Someone offered me a hit of what they called MDA, which I believe is the primary component of Ecstasy, and which I took probably looking for an escape from the tension of the situation.

It was a mistake.

MDA is supposed to be a mild amphetamine/hallucinogen–well being is part of the appeal, but this was something else altogether. It was like being in one of those 40’s and 50’s film noir movies where the detective gets drugged and they do some odd spinning montage to convey his condition. I was out there.

As long as I was playing I was all right, but as soon as I stopped the noise in the room started converging into a huge conglomeration of unpleasant, whirling, mixed emotions. Breaks between songs were interminable and breaks between sets were unendurable. Playing was my only salvation. It gave me a focus and a purpose and enabled me to put my altered state to some good use. The rest of the time was chaos, no social abilities–I couldn’t hear or see straight–much less interact with people effectively. But I concealed my condition from everyone but Ronnie, who would wink at me from time to time to give me a link to terra firma.

The next morning, over breakfast, Skunk cagily revealed that he had spent the night with Sally. This struck me as the tackiest thing I’d ever heard, but, what with Susan’s presence, I couldn’t call him on it. In some ways you might think this is the pot calling the kettle black, but there was something innocent about the way it came down for me and something shamelessly opportunistic about the way it did for him. I suppose you have to accept whatever it is that comes out when you open that box. I only hope it was of some consolation to Sally, for whom I had honest feelings, which is more than you can say for Skunk the scavenger. But I suspect otherwise. All’s unfair in you know what.

We left for Missoula following breakfast and made it by sundown. We picked up Ronnie’s bus and transferred our equipment into it in preparation for an early departure for Lewiston, Idaho the following morning. Ken, aka Stinky, and his girlfriend drove independently, in her vintage car. Her parents lived in Utah and they planned to visit them during our stay in Provo. Also I don’t think Ken trusted her to be alone in Missoula–I know that DJ and she had gotten a bit chummy in Ken’s absence. Although she was generally hanging out with Ken, it’s hard to feel an overwhelming and exclusive loyalty to a musician who’s always on the road. I, on the other hand, had learned my lesson, or so I thought, in Lethbridge, and had privately resolved to “forsake all others”, as the cliche would have it.

This, I knew would not be easy. Opportunities abound for a musician on the road, and I had not been totally averse to taking advantage of them thus far in my travels.

I don’t remember much of the drive to Lewiston. I’d come down with one of those colds that make you wish you hadn’t been born and spent the day huddled in a corner of the bus. Lewiston might have been rather a nice town, I can’t say for certain, out of it as I was. It seemed fairly wooded and rustic and we were in the better of the two rock clubs there. Ken’s former band was in the other.

They had apparently abandoned life on the road and lived in a big house in the woods further up the panhandle. Only played gigs close by.

Ken had invested a lot of work and had placed a lot of faith in that band and still felt close to them. They had worked up a load of original material, none of which was any good in my estimation, but Ken had participated and been much more integral to them than he currently was to us. We checked them out, they checked us out. For my part, I was totally mortified because I could not sing at all, as ill as I was. I croaked my way through my songs and made my excuses, but, nice as they were, I could tell they were far from impressed.

The club, our club, was not doing too well, either, and the two principals from our agency drove down to have a look at us. They pulled a good cop, bad cop on us. The good cop was sympathetic to the fact that we were constantly on the road and never able to get ahead (barely able to get by is probably closer to the truth), and the bad cop wanted to know why we didn’t dress better, have promotional materials, etc. They should have been talking to each other.

But, they had a point. Several points.

We hadn’t really clarified our identity as a band, still did a hodgepodge of songs, many of which were getting dated, and in truth had no “look”, and not even so much as a band photo for promotional purposes. When the one agent lit into me about clothes, I was wearing blue velvet pants and a green sweater (Susan’s), and innocently asked if he didn’t like velvet. But no one else, save Ken, made any effort in that area at all, and I knew it and they knew it. They also knew that after food, lodging, transportation, bus repairs and agent’s fees come off the top of $800 per week, the four band members are not rushing out to buy the Armanis, either. If we’d gone into a totally “down home” style, that might have worked for us, but I had too much ambition for that, and we were not about to go in a really motivated direction, given our collective disposition. So we muddled through, maintaining status quo.

I healed slowly through the course of the engagement and we headed off to Provo upon its completion. Another long wintry journey. The gig was at a ski lodge just out of town and nobody, but nobody, walked through those doors during the week we were there. Of course the club owner called the agency and blamed us, but Ronnie advised that we shrug it off and, in truth, that was about all we could do. Ken was staying with his girlfriend and the other three of us were holed up in a motel in town. We were so broke that we were reduced to finding “all you can eat” salad bars, paying for one (and two coffees) and rotating the helpings among us. In a squeaky clean town like Provo, that was about all we could do to get by. That and steal candy bars.

There was a nice Egyptian style movie theater there, though. Not that we actually went to it. When in doubt, appreciate the architecture.

When that gig mercifully ended we headed back to Twin Falls for yet another stand there. The three of us in Ronnie’s bus had an uneventful trip over and we loaded in and set up in mid afternoon. We found a decent motel this time with individual cottages and I set up a reel to reel in my room so that we could work on new songs during the day. Later in the afternoon, back at the club, we got a call from Ken saying that his car had broken down and that he would not be able to make the first night of the gig. That was all Ronnie and Skunk needed to hear. After a week of enforced asceticism, this was the liberation they were looking for and they made a beeline for the martinis and began to run up a prodigious tab. I was not so sure we were off the hook and went to tell the clubowner. He was a middle-aged, buttoned-down, conservative guy, close with money but not unfair. He had a tight southern accent and when I explained our predicament he said, “Well I don’t know what you’re going to do about it, Pete, but at eight o’clock I expect to hear music coming from that stage.”

That pretty much said it all.

I went and told Ronnie and Skunk, both now fully three sheets to the wind and neither in any condition to play. Usually I went along with it when they got into a condition delicate enough to compromise their ability to perform. It made for a sloppy sound but it had never really reached critical mass before and had never seemed worth the grief it would cause. And I was no candidate for canonization. This time it pissed me off. Skunk was often sloppy but when Ronnie got that way too it felt totally debilitating. I let them have it. The old “How could you” routine. Ronnie was semi-incoherent.

“I’m not coming down on you, man, why are you coming down on me?”

“Because we have a set to do, drummer or not, and I’m not sure you can make it to the stage.”

They made it that far, though. I quickly sorted out the songs I thought would sound decent in this semi-unplugged situation and devised a setlist. I covered for them and they wobbled along after me. Ken, meanwhile, had got his car running and showed up in the middle of this first set. He set up his drumkit on the dancefloor while we were playing and was ready to go by the beginning of the second set. This was quite a relief. It meant that two of us would actually be playing in tune and in time and remembering the arrangements. In the middle of the second set Skunk left the stage during a song to relieve himself. I’m not the world’s most uptight and brittle person, but that was just about the last straw for me. I didn’t really say anything about it to him, I’d already done the riot act thing, but I was never able to take him seriously again. I know Mick Jagger, for example, has put up with a lot worse than this, but market forces and karmic forces and higher stakes and more complementarity (and history and friendship) has necessitated this for him. I had no such compelling interests. Skunk was off my list.

Every morning I invited the guys over to my room to work on new material, with varying degress of success. Ronnie was sympathetic but didn’t feel the same compulsion.

“You need to be in a much more serious group, like the Rolling Stones or somebody,” he commented in my room one morning.

I could tell that Ken was losing interest in the group as well. It  had become a treadmill and without a serious effort would stay that way at best. At least that was my read.

Our agency had set up a Sunday night gig at a new club, called the Trading Post, upon our return to Missoula. It was, in effect, a paid audition, and if successful would give us a good paying gig in town, where we could save some money. It also might put us in a bit better bracket of clubs. The whole agency would be there as well as all of our friends, few of whom had seen us.

We came, we played, and we did pretty well. We did what we could do and we were exactly who we were. It changed nothing for us. I spoke to one of the agents after the gig, which did not, incidentally, land us another at the club. I asked him why. He cited the usual reasons, funky clothing, no promo, and said that he thought that we had “risen to the occasion” and would not maintain that level of consistency over time. Which was hogwash. We did what we did every night, no better, no worse. These guys are always careful to compliment you when they’re critcizing the band. “Those guys should dress more like you do, make the effort to connect to the audience that you do,” blah, blah, blah. I’m sure they said similar things to the other bandmembers. But I was taken in a bit. I said that I was dissatisfied with Skunk’s professionalism in general. Which was putting it mildly. At that point the agent backed way off. “It’s hard to find a good looking guy like him who can play,” he said. Skunk was good looking?

We went out to play another gig, this time a long weekend in northern Idaho, and when we returned, Ken announced he was leaving the band. He was tired of traveling endlessly, tired of playing Bare Trees and Best of My Love, and I suspect he thought that the band would stay confined to its current bardo for a good long time.

The remaining three of us met one frozen night at my house. Susan was there and the girls were asleep. We were drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Skunk smoked so many cigarettes that he completely filled up one of his empty beer bottles with butts and had to start on a second.

“Peter thinks I have no class” he slurred.

I assured him that that was not the case. I also stated that I thought we should take a break. I didn’t want to completely snap it off with Ronnie, who I knew would be disappointed and with whom I wouldn’t have minded continuing. It was not a formal band meeting. Other folks were there. Jim McGovern, a guitarist friend who often came to our gigs in the hope that we would ask him to join was there. He was a full blooded Indian who actually played pretty well, didn’t drink, and owned a damn Gibson Byrdland. We should have swapped Skunk for him. Jonna swept in at one point looking like someone out of Dr. Zhivago and the Mystical Lad also came by. Susan offered us tea but Ronnie declined, saying that he never took tea with his beer. When everyone but the band had left and there was nothing left to say, Susan went to bed and the three of us went out, I suppose for a nightcap but probably just to get out. We went to the Park Hotel, which was close by, and got there just in time to see the Lad beating the hell out of one of Missoula’s supposed tough guys, whose wife the Lad was carrying on with. He was a pedal steel player, albeit not a very good one, who had worked with Gary Mundon. That boy went down. The Lad left him in a crumple on the sidewalk in front of the club. Not unlike the band.

So that one, Australia, died a relatively painless death. Not much in the way of recrimination, bitterness or even explanation. Amicable is the word most often heard to describe these situations.

I was dead in the water, though, to be honest. I had no idea what to do, I just knew that I didn’t want to do that. A recurring condition in my life and I suspect in most people’s. And not a particularly enjoyable one at that. At first it’s great, exhilarated by the freedom, sudden lack of cares and responsibilities. “I won’t have to put up with this or that, won’t have to solve this or that insoluble problem.” And so on. Then the dread sets in. “I’m not generating any income. I’m not going anywhere. I’m stuck. There are so few possibilities.” Reality, whatever you think that is at any given moment, starts to seem distant, something you’re not a part of. You realize you’re not really a part of much. Finally you go to self doubt. “I’m not employable, I’ve missed my chance, my time has passed. Who am I, anyway.” Self image deteriorates. Self esteem dwindles. You have fewer and fewer moments where you feel good about yourself. Drugs and alcohol seem like the only possibilities for having moments where you feel good. About anything. My friend PJ, who knows as much about this as anyone, used to say to me when I was in the throes of this or that work related horror, “I envy you your agony.” For someone like me, that actually provided consolation. Coming from him. Of course when you hit that “drugs and alcohol” point  I just mentioned, you also realize that that is exactly what you must not do in that situation. Then you really introduce the hell variable. The path is littered with people who have not been able to disentangle from that one.

The antithesis of this situation is, of course, equally unacceptable. The path is choked by people afraid of making a change. And the reasons, as I reread them, especially in the self doubt category, seem to be the same damn ones. “I’m stuck, I’m frustrated, there are so few possibilities, I’m no longer feeling a part of this, who am I, I’ve missed my opportunity.” And so on. The real capper for this side is the “Where am I going to get the income I’m currently generating in a better situation?”

For musicians, you can pretty much treble the damages. Based on the percentages. Odds are, if you stay with it, you’ll be doing hand to mouth for the rest of your working life. Would that all musicians who really make the effort were handsomely compensated for their skills and efforts, but that just isn’t necessarily the case. You’ve got to love it. Now we’re moving into the “hope springs eternal” category. There’s a great scene in Mike Leigh’s movie, “Life Is Sweet” where the father of a working class, typically dysfunctional family buys a pathetic broken down canteen truck. The kind that show up at the industrial parks and office complexes at coffee break time. One of the father’s two daughters takes a look at this thing and immediately goes off on him, telling him what an imbecile he is for thinking that it might amount to something. But her mother has a completely different take on it and drags her off to the side. “Don’t you see,” she says, “that this vehicle, pathetic as it is, means that he hasn’t given up?” It’s a breathtaking, transcendant moment.

Susan and I hunkered down in her little house behind Eddie’s club and tried to envision a future or at least a next step. She was pondering a career in nursing and I was trying to conceive of a new band. Once more, utterly without resources. This was the first time in a long time that I actually stopped and stayed in one place for an extended period of time. Missoula had been more of a place to light between trips up until now, which was quite a comfort, but this time I’d stopped with no foreseeable next step. It was a challenge. I liked the home life, loved hanging out with the kids. We always had an excellent relationship and had lots of fun together. My friendships with the people in town developed too, especially with Jonna and the Mystical Lad. But at the same time I was as restless as a newly caged cougar. You don’t just stop playing if you’ve got the bug.

I sat long hours with the record player learning new songs, copping licks. Shedding. I learned Jeff Beck’s version of “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”, the Stevie Wonder song (dedicated to Roy Buchanan) note for note, picked out Layla and Let It Rain from a couple of Clapton disks, went through Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger record and several other “new” country records from Gary Mundon’s collection. But I needed to be in a band. In the worst way.

DJ had stayed in town and had got into a hard rock trio with a couple of local guys. Not a great band, but they were tuned into what the kids were listening to and the got some work, mostly weekend gigs. Hard rock was taking over, even in the wilds of the north country, and Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Deep Purple and Kiss were the dominant groups. For me the jury was still out on all of those bands with the exception of the Zeppelin, which I dug. DJ always referred to what they did as Aerokiss, or Fogface, or REOFogwagon, or some derogatory combination of band names, as if those bands were one big indistinct mulch of doubtful worth. God forbid having to play Styx songs.

Jerry had moved over to Missoula following the catastrophe at Mal’s and his young band had come along too, although they now worked without Jerry and called themselves Lunch. Jerry had started a music store of sorts, sound reinforcement, mostly, and spent a good bit of his considerable talent on that. He wanted to form a band, but for one reason or another it wasn’t really happening. I was interested in Lunch, however. They were from Michigan, I believe, and they were hot. A little raw, and a bit too enamored of fusion for my taste, but they could play and they were ambitious.

I sat in with them a few times, no guitar, just fronting the band (not in the current hip hop sense of putting up a false front, I was the lead singer) and it seemed like it could work. I loved the drummer, a young guy named Barney who was solid as a rock and had chop galore. On the way back from a rehearsal one night, four of us in the car, two of the guys went after Barney in a really strange, ugly, personal way. Insulting him and attacking what they thought were his weaknesses. It was your basic psychodrama, and what a weird phenomenon that is. Barney was perhaps not the most socially well adjusted guy (at that point) in the world and he also was not going to be pursued by GQ. I don’t know what history or baggage those guys had but it looked to me like the kind of torment kids in grade school bestow on the misfit, outcast, ugly duckling kid. Only with the benefit of a college education. In truth it was their own damn insecurity talking and it was completely unacceptable. I knew they were raw but there was some seriously arrested development there. I walked and never looked back. Didn’t like it in grade school either.

About that time, PJ, with whom I still corresponded regularly, mentioned in a letter that his brother Paul had left UC Santa Cruz and was not doing much. Paul didn’t have much playing experience, but he was bright and had good musical taste. He still had his Hammond and I wondered if he might be interested in coming to Missoula to form a band.

I sounded Susan out on the possibility and she was encouraging. She was interested in moving to a bigger place anyway and thought we might be able to find something which could accommodate Paul as well. Then  I approached DJ, who expressed interest, and he thought we could use the bass player from the hard rock trio with whom he was currently working. The stage was set for me to call Paul.

I posed the scenario. He was, understandably enough, not unlike someone in line to get on a roller coaster, which metaphor is a bit too literal to be very good. You really want to do it, but it’s a scary prospect. He called AJ and asked him if he thought it was feasible. AJ, veteran of the road that he was, knew the ropes, knew me and knew Paul. He  was sanguine. He said, “Just go out there and offer some perspective and Pete will do the rest.” So Paul packed up his white van, Moby, with his Hammond and some clothes and headed north from the safe San Francisco peninsula to the wilds of Montana.

Susan found a place on West Alder Street, one half of an older two story house with a bedroom for the girls and one for Susan and I upstairs, and a porch area behind the kitchen downstairs that would serve as a bedroom for Paul. The only drawback I could see was that I wouldn’t be able to slip undetected out my front door and into the backdoor of Eddie’s club for a game of pool and a cheap pitcher of beer with the Lad. But it was a nifty place on a tree-lined street and I believe it cost us all of $130 per month.

And speaking of the Mystical one, he and DJ and Klaus, our new bass player, went in together on a place just outside of town called the Lazy J Ranch. It was a sprawling ranch-style house on a few acres with a little cottage (to which DJ relegated himself, unsurprisingly) to the side and I believe a stable, which the owner rented out to third parties. It became the site of our rehearsals and recordings and was the recipient of the occasional domicile mayhem perpetrated by the Lad who sometimes felt the need to trash the place. Mysticism, apparently, only goes so far.

We started with the noblest of intentions, calling the band True Blue, after a tune by the Faces. The songs we chose were mostly A+ criteria (sorry) English rock songs. Highest of pedigree only, thank you. Clapton, Winwood, Stewart, Townshend, Beck, Page. Klaus was the only dissenting voice here, having a slightly different background (the other three of us had gone to the same high school, after all) and perhaps a more realistic perspective. He also knew about the bands that were coming up, Bad Company, which we agreed to include primarily because of the Paul Rodgers/Free connection, David Bowie, Elton, well, maybe one or two, Aerosmith, REO, ZZ Top, Deep Purple (the new edition)–I don’t think so. These second level bands were just not part of our mission.

Our setlist looked like the playlist for what come to be called Classic Rock radio, a decade or two later. Empty Pages, Freedom Rider, Shootout at the Fantasy Factory by Traffic (also Gimme Some Lovin, I’m a Man, and Keep on Runnin, by Spencer Davis); Layla, Let It  Rain, by Clapton; Bargain, My Wife, The Real Me by the Who; Plynth, Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers by Jeff Beck; Stewart-o-Rama, Sweet Little Rock and Roller, Three Time Loser, You Wear It Well, Twistin the Night Away; Faces Ooh La La; Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin (we eventually ended up doing a whole set of their stuff, such was the demand); Love Lies Bleeding, Saturday Night’s All Right, Elton; Hang onto Yourself, Bowie…

And you know what? It didn’t work.

Until we started doing Tush, Smoke on the doggone Water, Sweet Emotion, Walk This Way, Can’t Get Enough and what we generally considered to be second tier of quality stuff, the beast was unsatisfied. The Who? Who cares? Led Zeppelin was the exception to all of this. If we had done five sets per night of Led Zeppelin (God help the throat that endures that) it wouldn’t have been enough. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

This time we actually had a picture shot and printed, did a bio and setlist, and actually had a decent, if modest, promo package for the agency to flog. We bought a modest mixing board/power amp combo and a couple of radial horns from Jerry to go with our homemade Voice of the Theater PA bins, and Paul got a custom made Leslie (a speaker and amp unit designed for use with a Hammond organ–it has a spinning variable speed treble horn to achieve the famous doppler effect associated with Hammonds). Also made by Jerry. The guy had skills. So what with Paul’s van, Moby, and a trailer from U-Haul, we were road ready by early summer.  In a still modest but functional way.

The agency, however, was slow to warm to us and at first offered very little. I was shocked because Australia had gone immediately out on the road on a shoestring and stayed out there just about continually. I stayed on them and eventually they came through with a weekend at a community center in the middle of the state in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere in a town I didn’t know and can’t recall.

The Lad knew it, though. He had become our fifth member. Non-playing, however. He did mix our sound, such as he could from the side of the stage (we had no snake, generally) and helped us with our gear, although we all shared that equally. He was our aide-de-camp, on board critic, resident loon and best friend.

Anyway, he not only knew this town, but he knew a family who lived on some property there and arranged for us to sleep in their barn, literally, after the performances each night. There’s a country and western song which sounds suspiciously like Red River Valley called “Can I Sleep in Your Arms Tonight, Mister?” which when I used to play with Susie Forbes, we referred to as ”…Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” File this one in the category of “self-fulfilling prophecies”. Thank you Lord, for your tender mercies.

So that covered the lodging. By the time we got this gig we were all in pretty dire financial circumstances. Food was secondary and money for beer was out of the question. That left the gig. We set up in the afternoon and did a sound check. DJ insisted on doing the first song which was something called Dancing Fool by the Guess Who, not one of my favorite bands but not a bad little tune on balance. He was drumming and singing lead on it and it got off on the wrong foot and went south from there. When we finished it he started looking around for people to blame, but I knew we just needed to do something simpler to start off. I suggested we do Rock Steady by Bad Co., which was one of mine. I started the riff and the band fell in. I just let it go for a bit so that the Lad could find some levels on the mixer. Things started to lock into place. We were a bit tense but we knew the arrangement and we found the song’s pulse pretty early on. When we finished, the Lad, heading off any residual negativity said, “If they all go as well as that, you’ll be fine.”

And it was fine. Probably unspectacular but Paul did well, especially on the ELO songs, if I remember correctly, and the band went over tolerably enough on its first ever performance. At the Nowhere Square Garden. You’d be hard pressed to arrange for a lower profile debut in the contiguous United States. Alaska, maybe. Afterward we found loft and floor spaces in the barn and fell asleep talking about girls we wished we’d scored and beer we wished we had.

The next morning we drove to the nearest phone booth and I called the agency to see if anything had come up. No news is not always good news. They put me off and I said as much to the band. The Lad pretty much carried us emotionally at times like this. It was one of the benefits of not being an actual, full fledged member. He had a bit of distance from the disappointment and frustration.

The second night went much like the first, except that they paid us after the last set. In cash. We bought a couple of six packs over the counter and repaired to the barn, which was right next door to the facility.  It was there that we first came in contact with the peepee stories. They usually began when we, who were more often than not all in the same room, were right on the verge of falling asleep. Four a.m. or so, typically, after a gig. It was then that the Lad would start to go on about sexual performance anxieties (he had no real problems in this area, truth to tell, just anxieties), about his herniated groin, about the disparity in the size of his testicles. For a while it was fascinating, to hear someone go on at such length about his private life and parts. It was like a sixties Sensitivity Session. He was getting attention, dispelling anxiety, and he would spin these concerns in a Freudian manner long into the night and into all of the facets and recesses of his personality. And it all came back to his peepee. We didn’t call it that at first, but some months later, after we’d misled a motel manager about the size of our party for the nth time–two of us would go into the office and the other three would hide out back, we’d rent a room with two twins and separate the mattresses from the boxsprings (one would sleep on the floor), and five of us would pile into a single room for the price of two–as we were about to fall asleep, the Lad started to spin more tales starting from his privates when all of a sudden Paul blurted out “Not another peepee story!” And it had a name. From which it probably derived power.

He really was the most powerful among us. He had the biggest personality, the most energy, and the greatest amount of compassion. He should have been fronting the band. Of course, he was also the most likely to get us all thrown in jail at any given time.

This is price you pay for consorting with the mystical.

We returned home after the gig in wherever it was. We ended up playing a lot of those weekend jobs in remote places and barely surviving. This was the sole source of income for the five of us.

Paul fit in easily and well at our house. The little girls loved him (Rachel called him Pauly the Ball-y) and he was a sensitive and responsible housemate. It was still a bit cold when he arrived and he was sleeping in a partially insulated enclosed porch behind the kitchen. In order to combat the cold he was in the habit of drinking a bit of brandy at bedtime. On one particularly cold night he must have had a fair amount because Susan and I woke up to find him standing in the middle of our bedroom, sound asleep, and peeing on the middle of the floor. Should have kept going straight at the top of the stairs. Hard to keep in mind, though, when you’re sleepwalking. We didn’t make anything of it. He was mortified enough we he woke up.

We fell into something of a routine, rehearsing at the Lazy J during the week and heading off for parts unknown on the weekends. It was somewhat slow during the summer. We played the Middle Earth in Sand Point, Idaho, (again, for me) and slept on the public beach on the lake to save money.

At the club we were approached by a guy who said he was a recording engineer who worked at the Record Plant in Sausalito. He gave us his card and said to come by the studio when we were back in the Bay. He was legit. DJ and I looked him up a year or so later at the Plant and he played us the multitrack of Band on the Run, which McCartney had sent to Geoff Emerick, who was working there on another project, to mix. This was the first time I realized that the Beatles were not God. There were out of tune guitars and vocals among the tracks! As thrilled as I was to be in the presence of the actual multitrack, the feeling I walked away with was one of overwhelming relief. Paul McCartney was a human being, after all! The small world part of this is that I actually worked with this engineer many years later on a project in Sacramento, which is a long way from Sand Point, where the music shop is also a florist shop and where Mark Furman of OJ fame, or infamy, makes his home. Pretty town, though.

By the time September rolled around and the regional schools were back in session, things picked up for us some. We’d go on incredibly long weekend drives to play, for example, a high school in Calgary or a youth dance in Nelson, B.C. We played in town halls and on Indian reservations and we took literally every job that came along. Finally the agency gave us two weeks at a dive in West Helena, Montana. It was a dive, but it was a club and we got to stay put and play for a bit. Paul’s brother and sister, PJ and Ann, flew up from San Francisco to see us in action. It occurred to me that they were carrying an awful lot of luggage for a short visit until they emptied the contents of their bags into a bathtub full of ice. They’d brought an impressive array of English Beers and Ales which they correctly surmised would be unavailable in the wildernesses we frequented. Susan had come with me on that trip as well, and the extended band family gathering made for a wonderful stay, dive be damned.

But that club gig didn’t really signal the beginning of anything better for us. We were offered a job in Browning, an Indian reservation on the edge of Glacier Park, to play one of the most notorious venues on this or any planet. We were told by other musicians that we wouldn’t be safe, that our equipment wouldn’t be safe, and that whatever amount of money we were getting wasn’t enough. We took the gig.

The Lad and I were up for it, Klaus and DJ were not at all enthused and Paul was giving it the benefit of the doubt. We had all heard of Browning and had met locals in Missoula who were from there and were not, to put it mildly, in very good shape, primarily due to the Indian genetic predisposition against alcohol. It was pretty sad, all in all. Everybody in Missoula, Indians included, did impressions of some of the more, shall we say, colorful characters, guys with names like Grimy, who themselves were fond of doing impressions of John Wayne and other cowboys. You laughed out of embarrassment. These guys hung out at Red’s, a bar famed for its contagious diseases and Eddie’s Club, both I’m sure, long out of business.

We pulled into a motel near the reservation and got a room from a highly suspicious desk clerk, who probably owned the place and certainly lived there. I’m sure she’d had her share of grief through the years and of course we were running our usual “room for two” scam, which only aroused her suspicions more. “At the first sound of a disturbance, I’m calling the police,” she said.We assured her that we were librarians on our way to a convention and were interested in traveling up Going to the Sun Road in Glacier Park. The Lad, of course, we hid on the floor in the back seat of the van. She gave us a single room and we headed off to the reservation.

The community complex on the reservation was not bad at all. It was nicely laid out on some wooded property and had a gymnasium, arts and crafts studios, conference rooms, and other facilities spread out over quite a bit of acreage. Our contact person there was a gracious woman who showed us to the venue and gave us access to the gym and shower facilities. The club itself was of good size with a permanent bar and big dance floor surrounded by tables and booths. We finished setting up as the club began to fill. We could tell instantly that it was going to be a high energy night, the only question was, what kind of energy?

The Lad and I made for the bar. We ordered beers and the bartender asked us if we wanted some mescaline to go with our beer. A Browning Boilermaker. Down the tab and chase it with a brew. We went with it. If it was going to get crazy, we were going to be right in the thick of it. Klaus and DJ were keeping as low a profile as they could, to the back of the stage for the most part, but Paul had a bottle of Scotch which he was sharing with a couple of locals at a booth to the side of the stage. The Lad and I were headed for Deep Space along with a room full of similarly altered rollicking Native Americans. Psychedelic energy, especially at its onset, can be incredibly intense and it’s important to get it moving in the right direction. As we started and I was coming on to the drug I could feel an immense amount of energy and emotion in the room, moving in a lot of different directions. Pride, sexuality, frustration, physicality all looking for release or expression via the avenues of herbs, chemicals, alcohol, dance, mating ritual. A party.

Some of it was confrontational, some hospitable. Lots of tension, lots of possibility. Bring on the band. At times like these, you don’t really sweat the arrangements or any details that much, you just provide a positive vehicle for the energy. I suppose you could call it a modern form of shamanism, but my recollection is that we all went there together. Maybe the shaman feels that way too. There was a big release, I can tell you that. People were dancing on table tops and partying as though Armageddon were tomorrow. And we were right there too, playing our rock and roll and having a good old time. After the initial tension it was just rev it up and let the good times roll. There were no fights that I saw, even the Lad didn’t get into trouble (until later). My experience at the Park Hotel was informing my awareness more than a bit, but none of the really untoward stuff came down.             And at the end of the night’s performance the Lad and I were nowhere near down either. We loaded out and bought a couple of sixpacks to go. Now we had to drive back to the motel, back the trailer up to a wall so that no one could gain access to it, and sneak the five of us into a single room undetected by the ever vigilant clerk. A few blocks from the hotel we stopped the two vehicles at the side of the road to reconnoiter.

As the Lad and I were planning strategy with Klaus, Paul got out of the front vehicle and started walking toward us. He had a benign, almost angelic grin on his face as he approached. When he got within about ten yards he collapsed in a heap, face first against the curb, fall utterly unbroken. We picked him up, carried him to the van and laid him out across the back seat.. Paul was o.k. In fact, he was unbothered by the whole thing. But he was not ambulatory, a fact even he recognized. Now it was going to be tough to occupy the room by stealth. We pulled into the motel driveway and Klaus and the Lad and I began to carry Paul toward the room.

DJ was hiding on the floor of the car. The motel manager came out before we got five feet from the car.

“Oh, no you don’t,” she started. “You can’t stay here, I won’t have this behavior here.”

“Our friend has passed out and needs a place to sleep,” we politely protested. “We’ll just put him in his room and be on our way.”

It’s amazing how you can focus if need be when you’re orbiting the planet. And be persuasive.

She relented and let us put Paul in the room. The Lad and I weren’t going to be doing any sleeping anyway, so we took the van and the two sixpacks and Klaus and DJ, after we had made an ostentatious exit, slipped into the room.

We went to Browning, the town. This was bleak. Cheap one-story row housing, no landscaping. No vegetation. Third world all the way. We didn’t park, we drove Moby up one street as far as it would go and back down the next, as slowly as the van would go. Just barely moving, but moving. We would have gone nuts if we’d had to sit still. This movement, of course, only assuaged the Lad’s bent in that direction somewhat. We were drinking beer and talking about life, death and things religious, with the odd peepee story thrown in for good measure when the Lad decided to challenge me. Physically. He just got to that point sometimes. All of a sudden he grabbed my head and smashed it against the passenger side window.

“What the hell are you doing?” I said.

And he did it again. We started wrestling and he made me put up a fight. Forced me to physically defend myself. Which I did with all the force I could muster, not nearly physically enough, but enough to satisfy him on another level that I was not going to back down or go down without a fight. He could have broken my wrist easily, which he had in a vice grip.

When we reached that point he turned off the violence as quickly as he’d turned it on, and began to regard me with uncommon fondness. This probably reads like some kind of psychotic episode, it’s certainly far beyond the bounds of accepted social intercourse, but for some reason I didn’t take it that way. Then or now. I don’t know what that says about me, but I wasn’t in any position to accept or reject it in any cognitive way. I’ve entertained the idea that it was some kind of a throwback, a jousting match between males to see who is alpha and who is Uncle Ned. But he never lorded it over me, if anything he gave me more respect. Because I’d effectively gone to the mat with him. All the way down with him.  Neither of us had gotten shrill or even particularly verbal even during the struggle, which was a full on struggle, indeed. For me, at least. I think this eased the re-entry. He opened a couple of beers and we resumed our slow drive up and down the streets of Browning.

Perhaps the most famous peepee story of all is the Broomstick Story, told by the Lad, as usual, late one night with the entire captive audience piled into a single motel room.

After the Rhythm Masters had dissolved, the Lad headed north to the Bay Area, which, along with London, was acknowledged the center of the Occidental universe at that time. He settled in, of all places, Burlingame, a little town on the San Francisco peninsula which happens to be where I grew up. The Lad, lad that he is, of course ran afoul of the law and was arrested and convicted for possession of drugs. Something benign, I’m sure, but illegal nonetheless. They sent him to a low security facility, I believe in La Honda, also on the peninsula, where the white collar criminals go, or so it might seem. Apparently this was no country club. Shortly after his incarceration the Lad was jumped by a group of inmates and raped with a broomstick. “If you’d put up a bit more of a fight we would have let you go,” they told him after the ignominious incident. This is one of those life experiences that stays with you, in more ways than one. There must have been a lot of them, that’s all I can say.

By sunup we’d finished the beer and went to the grocery store with the earliest posted opening time to buy some more. Eventually we picked up the band for the ride home. The left side of Paul’s face was swollen like the big dog. His cheekbone had broken his fall, but he was in surprisingly good spirits and no permanent damage seemed likely. He was fully relaxed when he fell, I can assure you of that.

All bands are little social units, but oftentimes band members don’t see much of each other outside of band related activities. We actually did stuff together, on occasion. There was a music festival way out in the mountains on the Blackfoot River, for example, that we attended as a group, including girlfriends and other pals. It wasn’t a big name festival, just some local bands. The location was the real attraction, a beautiful wooded area where the river was suitable for rafting, swimming, and fishing, and the mountains offered some terrific hiking opportunities. We packed in a few coolers full of food and drinks and an inflatable raft. It was hot enough to wear nothing more than bathing suits or cutoffs. The Lad was well in his cups by the time we got there and proclaimed himself “invisible.” This usually meant that he was on numerous bennies and had consumed enough tequila to feel utterly liberated from the bonds of corporeal existence. He demonstrated this by walking up to Susan, who was wearing a particularly fetching bikini, and placing his hand on her left breast. I really hoped he wasn’t going to go too far over the line–it was certainly the kind of thing that any heterosexual male of sufficient health would want to do but would not do for obvious reasons. But the Lad, being invisible, was not constrained by any of these reasons. Susan merely took his hand off her breast and smiled beatifically at him. He was the Mystical Lad, after all.

We blew up the raft and took a few rides downstream a mile or so–long enough to hit some whitewater hot spots but not impossible to return from. We had to carry the raft back upriver each time, after all. The conditions were perfect and it took a while before we tired of the effort. After a break the Lad announced that there was a rock formation just upriver that was perfect for highdiving or jumping. We boys followed him. It was daunting at first glance and at second glance too. It was a long climb to the rock platform and the river was rushing like crazy below it. I jumped into the river to see how deep it was. It was sufficiently deep. Klaus wore a rather steely look that proclaims nervousness. The Lad, immune to the limits of causal reality, we knew would jump off Transamerica pyramid at that point, so he was no gauge for those of us not so liberated. Paul and I were cautiously game, and DJ, as usual, was not joining in the game.

We had to put on shoes for the climb up the rock outcropping. The Lad went first. He came out howling and apparently unscathed. We knew this was no measure for we mortals but it was a good omen. Paul and I strategized as we climbed up one after the other. We knew that if we thought about it too much it would be nigh on impossible, so we decided that we would not stop when we got to the point, we would just keep on going over the edge and into the river. It was noisy up there, the river mostly, and not particularly hospitable. When I got to the top I took a quick look to gauge my position over what I thought was the deep part of the river and leapt. Paul followed right behind me. Not only was it an incredible rush, but we survived. My tennis shoes just touched the bottom of the river where I landed.

Now it was Klaus’s turn, and he made the fatal error. He paused to think about it. There was nothing to think about, it’s a sheer mindless act of will. The will overcoming instinct, fear, caution, sense, reason. He stopped right at the top, just before the jumping point, in a really awkward little hint of a recess, just enough out of the way to let others pass. It was probably more dangerous to crouch there than it was to jump. But Klaus had lost all his momentum and couldn’t go forward. He also couldn’t climb back down without losing face. Frozen.

The Lad and Paul and I began our climb for a second go round, slipping and dripping as we clambered up the side of the hill. It wasn’t any easier the second time, it was just as high and noisy and precarious up there and the river rushing by below didn’t exactly invite you to jump into it.  We passed Klaus as we went for our jumps and we all knew what was going through his mind.

“You can’t think about it,” I shouted as I went straight for my second jump with no pause whatsoever after I made the top.

Even having done it once I didn’t want to stop to allow my mind to consider my position. We felt for Klaus, all of us, and offered encouragement, which got progressively more and more hollow as time passed.

I know that each of us was secretly glad that he had not lost his nerve, though. These things can stay with you. And still Klaus crouched, frozen.

If he had not climbed up to the top it wouldn’t have been so bad. When we had finished he could have said something like “Have you morons finished trying to kill yourselves?” and things would have resumed easily. Now we were moving into stigma territory. A half hour passed and still Klaus had not moved. We said everything you could say–”Go for it”–”Just climb back down, it’s no big deal” and variations on those themes.

Finally, he climbed back down, very tentatively, and rejoined the group. It’s hard not to be defensive in that situation and he was, but no one was offering him any grief so he was trying not to let that chip on his shoulder get too big.

We called him Klaus for three reasons. One, his last name is Clousing. Two, he had a red stepvan we called the Sleigh, and three, the bass player who worked with the individual Beatles after they broke up and the guy who did the Revolver album cover goes by the name of Klaus Voorman. Klaus was our bassist, hence Klaus Sleighman, the name by which he went, like it or not, throughout his tenure in the band. Klaus was married, but his wife had run off with another rock and roller and moved to, of all places, Reno. However, that liaison was becoming tenuous, and negotiations had begun between her and Klaus for a reconciliation, which they eventually effected. She ultimately drove him nuts, though (let me get this out of the way here).

They moved to Reno following the dissolution of True Blue (a good ways off yet) where he became a floor manager in a casino and she did massage. Yes, that kind of massage. Although Klaus tried mightily to be big enough to accept her work as a profession like any other, in the end he, understandably enough, was unable to muster that kind of acceptance. I think if you have to get that big you have to sublimate your natural personal feelings to such an extent as to render the relationship meaningless. The big dissolve. Just my opinion. My considered opinion. My experienced and considered opinion. My law, my scientifically, repeatedly tested hypothesis. Trust me.

Once Klaus was back in the fold, Susan and I ate some pot brownies and went for a hike. I didn’t like pot, but I thought that maybe it would be different in food form. It was. It was much stronger. I climbed and climbed and climbed to try to wear off the effect, Susan following close behind. Finally we stopped and sat way above the river, with a spectacular view of the mountains, high but somewhat at peace (a rarity for me with pot) because of the exertion.

Somehow the conversation turned to Roger Daltrey. Roger Daltrey? We’re on top of a mountain in Montana talking about Roger Daltrey? Maybe it was because of my hair.

“You know, you don’t really look much like Roger Daltrey,” said Susan. “Your hair is too heavy for your perm to look like his. It didn’t take that well.”

Well, I’m glad we confirmed that. Now I do, after all , have to get self conscious. The thing about this is that Susan could say this with some immunity, having the figure, even after two children, of your basic supermodel. In fact, our next door neighbor, whose husband Susan had a fling with some years before, commented earlier in the day, seeing Susan in a bikini, that she could see why her husband had done so. She, the neighbor, was always trying to get me in the sack to get even but that’s another story. An unrequited story, for those of you keeping score. So now I’m not Roger Daltrey.

“Roger Daltrey looks like he can climb mountains,” said Susan.

So where the heck were we?

“Of course, you can climb mountains,” she said realizing that we were, in fact and in deed, on top of a doggone mountain. But of course, it’s not whether or not you can climb the mountain, it’s whether you look like you can climb the mountain. If you look like it, you don’t have to take step one in the direction of the mountain. If you don’t, you could be Edmund Hillary and no one would believe you or care. I’m surprised when they asked Hillary why he had done it that he didn’t respond, “Because I don’t look like I can”.

We beat a hasty retreat down the side of the mountain and when we hit the river we saw the boys coming downstream in the inflatable raft on their way into the rapids. I dove in and they picked me up. “Welcome aboard, brother,” said Klaus. The word “brother” had special meaning for me at that point, and it came from Klaus, who knew a thing or two about its usage.

Finally we got a job in Missoula, at the Cave, home to the hard rock bands and the women who love them. It must have been an off week, perhaps end of summer before college starts when nothing much is shaking in town. This was the Lad’s favorite hangout , and he was the most nervous of all of us about our performance. He was a bit embarrassed abut having to do our sound mix from the side of the stage, all of the bands had big sound reinforcement setups on this circuit, with mixing consoles out in front of the main speakers where the sound man can hear what he’s doing. Also our light console was just a small box with five or six on/off swiches and the Lad convinced Paul to do it from the stage. The Lad did, however, replenish our supply of lamps for the light boxes, making a late night sweep of all of the car dealerships and retail outlets that used similar lamps on their sites. He passed on the mixing, though, choosing to set up the mix and leave it for the duration of the show, which, in all truth, was sufficient for our needs.

He was convinced that we were going to get fired. I’m not sure why. Lack of draw, I suppose, but I don’t think anyone’s expectations were that high for this off week. It was mostly just fear itself. There was a band from Salt Lake City, of all places, which was called Nasty Habit and against which the Lad compared all bands which worked the Cave. They were loud, rude, charismatic, and all in all, pretty impressive. I sat in with them a few times, sang, that is, when their singer was ill, and for me they were another band, not bad, mind you, but without the mystique they might convey to someone on the other side of the footlights. Such as the Lad. The Lad, preparatory to the gig, kept telling me how I could play rings around either of their guitar players, ostensibly to bolster my confidence but in truth attempting to strengthen his own.

First night, first set, house dead empty. We began with “It’s Up to You” a Moody Blues number with a gorgeous Justin Hayward bridge. Got through it without incident–how nervous can you be before an empty house? However, after one song, I heard one of the barmaids say to another, “Pretty boring, wasn’t it?” This is not what you want to have happen. House staff is critical to success on the club circuit.

It was true enough that we were not the most dynamic of bands. DJ had long since stopped giving it his best every night. He played as though the the sound reinforcement would compensate for his lack of punch and energy, but the drums were not mic’d here — few bands on this circuit had that kind of gear, and the clubs provided nothing. I privately lusted after other drummers who played with gusto, this was the era of hard rock after all, and I knew DJ was not among them.

One of the other problems was that I was playing through a Fender Bassman and my trusty Deluxe Reverb. These produced a tone far superior to the 100 Watt Marshall stacks which were so prevalent, but could not compete in terms of sheer volume. Klaus, on the other hand, had an immense wall of bass gear, with folded reflex boxes containing 18” speakers which were not even audible until the sound had traveled 50 feet from the point of origin. When he got excited the din was deafening, bouncing back to the stage from the outer walls of the club. We used to refer to it as Klaus Sleighman does the Theme from Airport. It was like being on a damn runway. This was your basic unmatched rhythm section. Paul was doing all right in this area. He had a 100 watt custom Leslie which he used to great effect, a la Ian McLagan of the Faces, and a sense of what was needed on stage.

To the Lad’s great relief, the gig went fairly well, all in all. I think his fear stemmed more from the fact that he had been 86’d from the club on several occasions than anything else. Saturday night went particularly well, with our booking agency in attendance. One of the agents, trying to fill a spot in one of his pet bands, had them detour well out of their way en route to a gig to check me out as a possible replacement. Something I was not particularly interested in and told him so, but he convinced them to come just the same.

And it was not the same on Sunday night, as you can well imagine, to boot. A good band fit is a difficult thing to come by. I was maybe 25 years old at the time, but I knew I was too old for those guys, mean age of perhaps 22. And I didn’t look like them. I once commented to a drummer friend of mine, who is black, that the bass player (who was black) we were working with didn’t “look like us”. I know he had to do a double take at that, but I suspect he knew that the “look” I was referring to went a little deeper than appearances. Miles Davis once said that he could tell if a player was any good by the way he carried his instrument into the room. That’s the look I’m talking about.

The most brutal winter I have ever faced, or ever hope to face, was upon us, and we lived right in the teeth of it. We thought we were prepared, bought studded snow tires and chains for Moby, but there is no way to prepare for that kind of weather save staying indoors. Which we probably should have done. Instead, we headed out into it, week in and week out, playing a series of one nighters and weekend stands.

The first really bad storm hit us on top of the continental divide east of Butte. We were bound for somewhere up on the highline, or maybe southern Alberta, and we had Susan and Sari, her eldest daughter, with us in the van. They were going to visit relatives in Conrad, Montana, which was on our route to the gig. On top of the pass east of Butte it started to get hairy. I was driving and having a hard time keeping the van on the highway so we stopped to put on the chains. What started as a somewhat benign snowfall turned into a full on blizzard and it didn’t look like it was going to improve any time soon. We always consulted the weather service so that we could allow for bad weather when we were estimating how long it would take us to get to our gigs. I don’t know if they made the right call on this one.

The chains were too big for the tires. They stayed on all right but the slack banged against the metal wheel well with each rotation and made for a godawful clatter. Sound is definitely in Satan’s arsenal of tortures. It was deafening but it was the only way to keep the vehicle on the road, what we could see of it. The blizzard became a total white-out. It’s your basic zero visibility condition and movement is out of the question, since the road is utterly invisible. Stopping on top of a mountain pass, however, is also not high on the list of things you want to do in a blizzard. The graph basically shows that the higher up on the pass you are, the worse the conditions are, and the longer they last. Scylla and Charybdis, take x2.. You can’t concentrate any harder than I was then. Neurosurgery, heart transplant, these are probably parallels. People’s lives are in your hands and it’s a damned if you don’t, damned if you do scenario. But you’ve got to do something, you can’t just sit there and hope you don’t get buried and freeze to death. So we inched along, with the infernal banging marking our progress. On a couple of occasions the Lad or Klaus got out and ran ahead on the road to see if it deviated any, such was the visibility.

Eventually, very painstakingly eventually, we got over the pass and hit normal snowstorm conditions. As soon as it was at all viable, the chains came off. I for one was at the point where death was easily preferable to that sonic torment and they do say that in the end, freezing to death is rather pleasant. How they know this I have no idea. Probably by talking to some seriously frostbitten geezers, god forbid. But my guess is that god avoids the mountain passes in Montana in the wintertime. He or she or it could hardly be all-knowing if he or she or it did not. But let’s not get into the ontology of the divine, at least not here.

Did I mention that in the middle of all this Sari had to relieve herself and took a dump right on the side of the road in the middle of the storm? Now she was a trooper. Nature vs. nature. She was five going on six. This gives new meaning to the expression comic relief and was definitely our only moment of levity.

The numbers of Near Death Experiences (“NDE”, hereinafter) we endured over the course of this winter are too numerous to mention and I’ve blocked most of them out anyway, I’m sure. We were the original Insane Clown Posse, based solely on our willingness to take these ridiculous one nighters in remote parts of British Columbia in the dead of winter, which was generally not very dead. On one six hundred mile trek into just such a remote region we left a day early, anticipating the predicted bad weather. We spent the night in Spokane and headed north the next morning.

It is incredibly beautiful in the forested mountains of BC in wintertime. The evergreens with their heavily laden boughs, the picturesque one lane roads winding  through the wilderness, unscathed by snowplow, indeed, untravelled by sane being. We, the insane, had plenty of intimacy with this beauty. There’s a big trend away from irony in the arts right now, but if art imitates nature I can assure you it won’t be gone for long. This beauty implied death at every turn. Out there, where there is no roadside assistance possible, where there are no guard rails between the road and the precipice, and where the beauty is overwhelming, is true irony.

It was another long episode entitled, “If you move, you slide off the road.” We crept. If we stopped we were doomed, no ifs ands or buts. If we moved we were equally doomed. There was no controlling the lateral movement, especially with the trailer on the back. We saw no one, all day long, as we inched, literally, through the wilds of backwoods British Columbia. A gorgeous, gentle snow fell most of the day, keeping the road nice and slick as it froze upon contact, only to be covered over by more powder. Excellent for skiers and polar bears. Night fell on day two and we still hadn’t made the venue.

There’s nothing worse than going through an ordeal like this and then, without respite, having to set up and perform as though you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed and the world is hunky dory. Years come off your life with the effort.

At about the time we were supposed to start playing we finally pulled into the settlement, maybe it was a small town, I can’t be sure. It was a dance we were playing and it was being held in a town hall which was on top of a small hill in the center of town. I pulled the van onto the road leading up the hill and began the ascent. But it was too steep and slick and we started going backward, trailer first down the hill. I had the brake on, the emergency brake and the accelerator pedal down too, but nothing was stopping the slide. We hit the bottom and crossed the road we had come in on and kept on backsliding toward the river. Helpless as kittens, I believe is the popular expression. When we finallly stopped, the trailer was hanging out over the edge, just like in the movies. I put it in park, left the emergency brake on and we got the hell out of the van, trailer dangling. The five of us couldn’t push it so we went up the hill to the dance hall and got all of the kids to help us. They were only too happy to help, and the whole lot of them trooped out of the hall and down the hill and together we pushed the van and trailer back up off the edge and all the way up the hill to the entrance of the hall. Then we loaded in, set up and did our three sets. The playing is the gravy. If you have the energy and some semblance of a nervous system left with which to do it.

Our NDEs were not all weather related. We were snakebit on a variety of fronts, weather just chief among them. The booking agency put us into a club in Portland, Oregon, for a week, not a town they usually booked so we were fairly certain it was some kind of a test case. Klaus had got the Sleigh up and running, so we took that, along with Moby, on our long journey west. The one drawback to the Sleigh was that it had a governor on the engine which did not allow it to go over 50 miles per hour. This essentially ensured that the long trip would take the maximum amount of time. And patience. The weather was decent as we headed west. We were fairly certain that once we got out of the mountains of Montana that the driving conditions would be favorable. A little rain, maybe, but by that time rain seemed pretty trifling.

The route from Missoula to Portland took us directly past The Dalles, hometown of the Mystical Lad, who never failed to point out that it was one of two towns in the world, the other being The Hague in the Netherlands, that blah, blah, blah. All of us were interested in seeing the town and home that produced the Lad, however, “The” or not. It was surprisingly normal. Ranch style house, hospitable, reasonable parents. Nothing to indicate the magnitude of the lunacy that it had produced. We left, fully befuddled. If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. I’m sure each of us made a secret resolution not to procreate (or adopt) upon leaving The Dalles.

I don’t know what it was with the gig in Portland. No one ever gave us any background on the gigs we played. We just showed up dutifully, and gave it our best. I had contacted my friend Steve Sharp, who lived in the area, and he and his then-wife turned up for our opening night. They were among the few. And it didn’t get much better on Tuesday. When we came in on Wednesday, the club owner or manager or whatever he was called me into his office and told me we were fired.

“For what reason?” I asked the bastard.

“Because you’re not doing any business, I’ve got someone coming in on the weekend who will draw.”

“You knew when you booked us that we were from out of town”, I replied. “We came 700 miles to play this job.”

“I’ll pay you for the two nights you played, take it or leave it.”

We went back and forth for a while, your typical yelling match. I was trying hard to master my fury, which was exacerbated by the fact that we needed the two nights’ pay to have enough money to get out of town. I really wanted to throw it in his face.

Finally I said, “It’s your club, give me the pay.”

Which he did.

I went to tell the band.

They didn’t have much fight in them, not even the Lad. Disappointment, yes, despondency, yes. They knew there wasn’t much we could do. We went about the logistical business of loading out, squaring up with the motel, and getting out of town. We made plans to meet at a truck stop near the highway heading east out of town at a certain time. I was in Moby. We were going to share Sleigh driving responsibilities, dividing up the arduousness of that chore. Paul and the Lad and I, in Moby, showed up at the appointed time, but no Sleigh. We waited for upwards of half an hour and assumed they must have left without us, knowing that we could easily catch up. So we left. We went all the way to Missoula without seeing the Sleigh. It pulled in to the Lazy J at about the time we were finished loading out. Klaus and DJ were hopping mad and, of course, they blamed me. I explained our thinking but they were having none of it. After all the horrendous driving I had done in the most life-threatening situations, I thought it was petty of them to make such a big deal out of this, but I chalked it up to overall frustration and let it go. The perfect end to a perfect outing.

Shortly after this the Lad went on a serious rampage, trashing most of the interior of the Lazy J. Klaus locked himself in his room while the Lad was breaking up the place and drawing on the walls, and DJ, who lived in a cabin outside, wisely avoided the mayhem also. The next day I surveyed the damage. When I saw the Lad I asked him what the hell happened and told him that Klaus and DJ were pretty freaked out about the whole thing. He was surprisingly nonchalant.

“Just got a little bee in my bonnet,” he replied.

By the way, I notified the Musicians’ Union about the Portland incident and they eventually got the entire week’s worth of pay out of the club for us.

Bands comprised of sane people would have crumbled by this point. Our agency marveled at the “glue” that held us together through this Jobian adversity, which included low pay for crummy gigs, courtesy of them, and which continued unabated for quite some time. To persevere or not persevere is often the question.

Lack of money often helps you make that decision. We kept on loading up the Sleigh and Moby, playing Great Falls, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls and every falls in between. We’d pull into town after little town, find a local and say, “We’re the hippie band, man, where do we set up?” And they’d point us to the town hall, or school, or community center or bar or wherever and we would indeed, set up. I don’t know if we were getting better or not, I suppose we must have been. We seemed to be pretty darn stalled as far as making any career progress.

The agency sent us over to eastern Washington for a two week stand at a club in the Tri-Cities area. They would be Richland, Kennewick and another small town to be named later. Or not. It was a decent gig at a decent club. We rented a small house for the four of us. The Lad, for some long forgotten reason, was not on this trip. The club had a bit of a draw which enabled us to start off on the right foot and get it in the door. There were lots of cute and seemingly available girls and my resolve to remain faithful to Susan, made in Lethbridge more than a year before, was sorely tested, but not broken.

At closing time toward the end of our first week, after everyone had gone home save the band, two ladies interested in band members, and perhaps one staffer, a motorcycle gang pulled up to the club. They stormed in and wanted drinks, wanted the band to play, wanted to raise some hell. These guys weren’t like the Hell’s Angels of the Bay area, or the Sunshine Boys of Seattle, they were more like the McKnight family in Butte. They of Butchered Cow in the Motel Fame. The bartender replied that the bar was closed and the band was through for the night and I want you to know that this did not go over well. They took one look at the skinny, wimpy band (I was probably the heaviest band member at 135 lbs. on a good day) and decided they were going to kick some faggot ass.

They came after us.

I slipped away, and went to the stage to get the guitars which I had the bartender lock in the office. Paul and Klaus were outside in the parking lot, and DJ came running into the club with a big lug chasing him as I came out of the office. I thought about jumping the guy from behind but DJ dodged the guy and we escaped out the front door. There were about five guys on Paul when we got outside and he was getting thoroughly pounded. We created a diversion.

“Let’s see if you can catch us, you morons!”

This removed the pile temporarily from Paul and the two ladies tried to get him away to the van. Klaus was on his way to the van and maintaining a safe distance. When the thugs couldn’t catch DJ and I, though, they went back to Paul, who by this time was easy prey. Maybe too easy, because they let him go and we got him into the van and drove for our lives. This was even better sport. A chase.

They came after us on bikes and in a van, one cretin waving a gun and pretending to shoot at us as we screamed down the street trying to escape. This was also just like in the damn movies. Mad Max does the Tri-Cities. It was a high speed cat and mouse, they were trying to run us off the road while they were taunting us and we were trying to lose them by whatever means possible. Paul was in the back seat bruised and bleeding and Klaus was driving. As they pulled up alongside us on our left I yelled at Klaus to take a right at the next street after they’d overcommitted and couldn’t make the turn. Which he did, but a shade too late and the van spun out of control. We went up over the curb and smashed into a streetlight standard, snappping it off and knocking it to the ground. No one was injured and we got out of the van, which had died in the crash.

We were near the front of a fairly large modern hotel and ran to the entrance. We ran straight through the front door, yelled at the desk clerk to call the police and went through the lobby to the main stairs. In one motion. We ran down two flights of stairs and came out in the large industrial kitchen. I’m not making any of this up, I swear. We found hiding places and turned out the lights. I was in a big pantry. None of us for a minute thought we were safe. I know I was hiding in the dark trying to keep my panting to a minimum, and counting the numbers of seconds going by. For a long while nothing happened.

Finally we heard a voice, “Kennewick police, is anyone down here?”

Was this a ruse?

The lights came on and Klaus, who apparently had a view of the room said, “It’s o.k., it is the police.”

The McKnights might have taken on the police, but our tormenters were not so inclined. They were upstairs, just outside the lobby, not yet in custody but not making a break for it either. They actually seemed rather pleased with themselves. After we blurted out a brief explanation, something along the lines of “These guys tried to kill us,” the cops cuffed the hooligans and brought them to the central police station. We were required to follow along to make a report.

“Do you want to press charges?” they asked at the station.

“You bet we do,” we replied in unison, with the possible exception of Paul whose ability to form words was severely limited by his ever swelling face.

Our main concern at this point was for the thugs to be kept locked up long enough for us to get the hell out of town. We knew that they would come after us again as soon as they got out. And they might use the guns this time. Even after we left the station we were not convinced that those guys would not get out. A lawyer had already turned up at the station on their behalf and bail would not be far behind. Moby was still functional. We went back to our rented house and tried to sleep, but with one eye open, I can tell you. Those of us other than Paul, both of whose were swollen shut.

The following morning we drove to the club and waited for someone to show up. The custodial crew I believe it was. As soon as they popped the doors, we tore down and loaded out. I  called the agency and told them what had happened and that we were not going to stick around come hell or high water.

This was our first real notoriety. They say that any publicity is good publicity but I’m not sure if this showed us in a particularly flattering light. Every band that worked with our booking agency heard about our adventure, and it was the talk of Missoula for a week or two following our return. I know the Lad was kicking himself for not making that trip but my feeling was that it could have gotten really ugly and tangled if he had been along. This was a “don’t persevere” situation and fortunately nobody was seriously injured or legally encumbered. Point in fact: eventually the Lad went to work for another band, the bad boy band out of Salt Lake City and did get into a major fracas with some frat boys after a gig in Kansas City. He got in way over his head, I suspect without any support from the band,  and got good and pummeled. If I recall correctly, they left him beaten and bloody on the side of the road just outside the city limits. Sometimes it’s better to wimp out, if you think you can live with yourself.

At about the time I received the check which the musicians’ union had secured from the club that fired us in Portland I also received a bill from the City of Kennewick. For a replacement light standard. As if.

Still the band endured. Klaus reunited with his wife, who moved back to Missoula and into the Lazy J with him, Lad tirades notwithstanding. DJ and I set up a little Teac 4-track studio in an unused room at the ranch and began working on some of my songs. We did “Working Girl”, which Susan had inspired, the “Balloon Song”, a carryover from my days with Mike in Seattle, and “Blaine Street Beauties”, a song about a houseful of young ladies who lived in Missoula. The band agreed to learn a few of the original tunes, but we were more concerned with keeping up with the demand for Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Aerosmith for which our audiences had an insatiable appetite. We did Dancin’ Days,  Whole Lotta Love, Livin Lovin Maid, Good Times Bad Times, Communication Breakdown, the Ocean, D’Yer Maker, the ever popular Stairway to Heaven, about half of Physical Graffiti, Woman from Tokyo, Highway Star, Smoke on the doggone Water, Sweet Emotion, Lost Child and a host of other favorites, all for your listening and dancing pleasure. It kept the beast at bay, for the most part. The one that yells, “Play something good!” after you’ve just done Layla or, God forbid, something thoughtful.

The club in Missoula called the Trading Post reserved one night a week, Tuesday, for an amateur strip contest. This required a band, one that was in town and not working during the week, and paid a modest amount of money. We fit the bill, on those counts at least, and so were added to it. No one came to see us. The night started with the band doing a set to warm up the patrons, or lubricate them, if you will, following which a number of exhibitionists would compete for prize money. A fully clad girl would come to the stage, which on this night had a little extended runway, a platform really, and take a look at our set list. She would choose the song to which she wanted to  disrobe and then I would announce her to the audience and kick off the song. There were two rounds of “competition”, one song per girl each round, and after the audience had voted, the winner would return to provide one final ogling opportunity. This was pretty tame stuff, I’m sure, compared to the topless bottomless, he-she love-in action that was so common in North Beach in San Francisco. But I’d never really checked that out and had never played for that kind of show before so it was novel enough to me.

It’s amazing who turns out to be interested in exhibitionism. You might think that it would be those people whose bodies are nicely proportioned and who might turn up in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. And those types do turn up and invariably are the winners of the competition, provided they offer full frontal nudity, which they are invariably willing to do. But there are others, with no chance of winning, who, you’d have to surmise, do it for the love of taking their clothes off in front of an audience. I have no idea why. Maybe it has  something to do with getting attention. Or lack of same, in their everyday lives. It wouldn’t be high on my list of ways to get it no matter what my body type. But there they were, every time we played there.

The audience would be aghast at first, then it would start rocking, “Keep it on!” “No, no! spare us!” “Rock the house, Bertha!” “Give us Jell-o, baby, shake it!”

This was in sharp contrast to the behavior exhibited when a classically attractive woman stepped onto the platform. The room would fall quiet as imagination took over. Fantasy time. As the routine went on, guys would get verbal. The usual “Oh, baby, do it” and “take it all off, don’t stop there”. But in spoken tones, not shouted.

By the end of round one, when enough alcohol had been consumed, inhibition was a thing of the past. This usually applied to the girls on the stage and the guys in the audience. The girls, for their part, all thought they were Salome, but very few moved particularly well, from what I saw, and I saw it all, excellent vantage point that I had. Every one of them showed it to the band first, then turned around and faced the house. Getting used to the idea, I suppose.

There was one young lady who called herself Misty, who won just about every time out. She was attractive, she could move, and she went all the way down to her birthday suit. One night, when Misty was out on the platform doing her last routine, having won the competition, a rather large woman who had been sitting ringside, but who had not competed, jumped up onto the stage. She was not in full control to say the least and began doffing her clothing while attempting to dance. The platform was only big enough for one and she knocked the two of them off the platform and into the audience. Unintentionally. It was always a bit of a melee at the end and this only intensified it, two naked women falling into an audience full of drunken men. The band played on. They scrabbled back up to the platform and promptly fell back in again. God alone knows why.

The Winter of Near Death Experiences was drawing to a close, or so we thought, and in some places, there were unmistakeable signs of spring. Susan and the girls and I spent a few free days up in Whitefish, Montana, where Gary’s girlfriend Durinda and her brother Sean now lived. It was and I hope still is an incredibly beautiful spot, a low mountain forest dotted with tiny lakes, potholes, they called them, and a nifty litle town, the kind where they show one movie a week in the town hall. We watched Mister Roberts one afternoon, which had probably been in general release 25 years earlier.

Sean and I took the dogs out for a daylong romp back into the forest. There was still a fair bit of snow on the ground, but the day was sunny and incredibly clear. We came upon a small lake back in the woods which was still half frozen over but was visibly receding. The frozen surface was still thick enough to support weight and we were able to go right out to the edge of the ice where the sun was having its greatest effect. It was melting right before our eyes. The dogs were in heaven. The one which had been Gary Mundon’s dog would get a running start, then roll over onto his back and let his momentum propel him over the ice. A true backslider. I spent a good bit of time sifting through the muck at the edge of the shore feeeling things which had been frozen coming back to life. Seed pods, larval sacks, most of the time I couldn’t even identify it it was flora or fauna but the quality of the sensation of touch told me that whatever it was, it was waking up and fast. It struck me that I was witnessing the first day of spring. I half expected Igor Stravinsky to come charging out of the woods to tell me that this was what he was trying to get across all along. The grand seasonal awakening. In the woods of Montana it’s a pretty darn dynamic event, at least it was that year. I feel lucky to have seen it that one time.

Weather the world over is a tricky thing to predict. In the Bay Area there are as many microclimates as there are neighborhoods. And in Montana the trickiness sometimes gets amplified. I was told by one of the locals that it actually snowed on the Fourth of July in Butte some years before. For some reason, since it was Butte, that didn’t seem especially surprising, nor did it seem likely to occur anywhere else.

The prom season was hard upon us, which meant decent money for a single night’s work. It also meant quite a lot of travel. Helena, Great Falls, Fort McLeod, Alberta, we must have played ‘em all, as the song goes. We began to leave our chains at home and even took off our studded snow tires, such had the conditions become. We played some local gigs in Missoula, and took to using Moby with a small rented trailer for our gear to save money. The band was offered a prom in Salmon, Idaho, for good bread. It was the kind of gig we would play and drive home from the same night, for economy’s sake, although it was quite a ways away from home. The weather was lovely when we left Missoula and the hours on the way down passed uneventfully. Even Lost Trail Pass was clear and benign enough, but after all, spring was upon us and this was to be expected. Another night.

We did our sets, the kids went away happy and we loaded out for the long drive home. As we began the incline out of Idaho, Moby started acting up. The radiator was making nasty sounds. We stopped at a gas station and saw that the water level was abnormally low. There were no obvious problems, hoses which had become loose or whatnot,  so we bought a can of StopLeak, the stuff you pour into the radiator to seal up holes from the inside. Once you get up onto the pass, and it’s a long, steep climb, there’s not a lot of civilization to be found. We were lucky to find the first station, late as it was. We set out again. Moby was no happier this time and the grunts started turning into shrieks and wails. It was godawful. Then the storm hit.

No chains, no studs on the tires, mountain pass, vehicle failure. Your basic nightmare.

I had a five milligram benzedrine tablet which I kept in my wallet for emergencies. For most folks, not unlike a strong cup of coffee. For my sensitive system, a significant adrenaline boost. If I’m not mistaken, these were the kinds of scenarios for which the drug was ostensibly invented.

Start

We drove till Moby sounded like it would burst, then paused to let the engine cool down. Then went again. We made less and less progress with each of these intervals. Once we pulled into a private residence and used their garden hose to fill the radiator, which seemed to empty as fast as we could fill it–with no visible leaking. And if the incline wasn’t enough strain on the engine, the road now no longer afforded any traction. We were spinning and steaming and screaming. In place.

It was time to get out and push. Paul drove while Klaus and I positioned ourselves at the back of the van, on either side of the trailer hitch, right behind the rear tires. The snow was coming down like crazy as we tried to gain enough forward momentum for Moby to make headway. Paul was trying to find the acceleration point which would assist our effort but would not push the engine past the breaking point. The tires were kicking up snow and slush and mud and in minutes I was covered head to toe in the slop. But I was pushing so hard, with the aid of the bennie, that I had broken a sweat. I knew I’d be o.k. as long as I kept moving. I flashed on the idea that maybe this was one of those emergency situations you hear about where someone exhibits superhuman strength to overcome a disastrous situation. But this was no momentary effort. We had no idea how much further we had to go til we hit the top of the pass, at which point we thought we could inch our way down. Klaus and I pushed and pushed and pushed while Paul drove and DJ scouted. I swear I hit a rhythm that felt, if you can believe it under the circumstances, positive. And eventually we made the damn summit. By pushing. Van and trailer. Full of equipment. You tell me.

I had to take all of my clothes off when I got back into the van. They were completely drenched and I was no longer generating the same kind of body heat. I got naked, wrapped myself in a coat and pulled my knees up against my chest. Klaus was in a similar, if not so extreme position. Paul cautiously coasted a greatly relieved Moby and the companion trailer down the mountain, and once more, True Blue survived an NDE by the skin of its teeth.

Still the band endured. We continued to crisscross the northwest, playing wherever we could, never really making any money, but surviving. Sometimes the Lad would come with us, but oftentimes the money we were making didn’t allow us that luxury. I tried to get the agency interested in some of the recordings we were making, but their empire didn’t really extend in that direction, even with their most favored bands, which we were not.

One day that spring, Paul got word that his mother was seriously ill. A cancerous growth had been found on her brain and the prognosis was not good. I spoke to PJ, his brother and still probably my best pal, who detailed the situation as he understood it. It was clear to me that Paul had to go home before too much longer and that this probably meant the end of the band. In some ways this was a relief. Progress had been slow and hardship great for most of the band’s existence and this necessary stopping point meant that there would not be an ugly, acrimonious breakup.

Our itinerary had us playing a few more weekend gigs prior to a two week stand at a hotel in Calgary which would provide a bit of operating money once we went our separate ways. I proposed that this be our last date and the band agreed.

We played out the schedule and made our final trip to Calgary. “We’re the hippie band, man, where do we set up?” would never be heard again. Calgary was the first real city we had played in since we were fired in Portland. Despite that unfortunate experience, to me it felt pretty good to be in an urban area, even if it was in the middle of nowhere, which Calgary certainly is. You can see it from hundreds of miles away as you approach.

We played six nights a week in two venues both located in the hotel. The first three nights we played in the tavern, which served beer and wine only and had no permit for dancing, and the following three we played in what they called a cabaret, which meant hard liquor and dancing. On Thursdays we tore down our gear, carted it down the hall and across the building and set it up on a different stage in a different room. And reversed the procedure the following Monday. Sundays off.

It never fails. Or, in the words of a friend, it may fail but it never fails me.

They loved us.

It started slowly. Someone would come to the stage and say, “We’ve never had anybody who could sing like that.” Then I’d do the guitar instrumental “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers” and really blow their minds. The effort was paying off. Klaus, who by this time had decided that monogamy was overrated, was fighting off the girls. We had Paul come out front and sing lead on a few tunes–most notably “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night, and Party Every Day” by Kiss–tongue firmly planted in cheek, mind you–and they loved it. Even DJ exerted himself a bit. We were finally going over. By the end of the second week we had established a real draw and they wouldn’t let us off the stage at the end of the night.

On our final night one of the guys who owned the hotel witnessed it all–true, spontaneous standing ovations, multiple encores, and a happy, satisfied clientele. He immediately offered us a series of gigs, independent of the agency, with more money and complimentary rooms. Which we had to decline. Like I said, it never fails.

And so, Paul returned home to the Bay Area to be with his family, his mother, in what were her final weeks on this blue earth. The rest of us returned to our homes in Missoula and True Blue was no more. It was, in all truth, something of a relief to be done with that chapter and the band’s triumphal last engagement enabled us to go out on a high note, with more confidence than the entire previous year’s struggles had provided. Maybe “with a vestige of dignity” would be more accurate.

Shortly after returning home, I received a letter from my old friend and housemate, Bella, who announced that she and her longtime beau, Nick, had broken up. Not only that, but she and Kristen, PJ’s former girlfriend and our roommate from the Edwardian, would be coming through Missoula on their way to something called the Rainbow Festival, which was taking place in a wilderness area in northwestern Montana.  They would pick me up on the way if I were interested. The very words on the page oozed possibility. It was far from overt, but unmistakable. I was interested. And the timing was perfect.

It was innocent enough on the surface. No secret agreement or arrangement had been made or reached. It was just a vanful of hippies from San Francisco, two of whom were my friends, coming through town on their way to a gathering. But just below the surface, unstated by anyone and unbeknownst to anyone but Bella and me (although Kristen was plenty sharp enough to be wise to the possibility) and not with any certainty at that, was an offer, the suggestion of an opportunity, from Bella to me. Full potency. Complete propriety.

I told Susan about it and she was supportive. She was studying nursing and working at a nearby hospital and so was unavailable and the kids were with friends out of town, so there was no obstacle whatsoever. The van arrived at our house on Alder Street at an hour remarkably close to the estimated time of arrival and out popped Bella, Kristen and a variety of incredibly politically correct, idealistic young males. The lot of them, Bella and Kristen included, were part of a grocery collective which had storefront on 9th Ave. in the Inner Sunset area of San Francisco. And the lot of them lived in a big flat above the strorefront as well. It was a big incestuous activist happy family, in a manner of speaking. Kristen shared intimacies, when the spirit moved her, with a fellow by the name of Avram. Other alliances were unknown.

I had no idea what the Rainbow Family or festival was, and even having been to this one, I’m not sure I know now. I certainly had some sympathy with the hippie ideal and was not unwilling to participate in whatever it was, but the way that ideal translates into politics and policies has always made me uncomfortable, so I had a bit of trepidation as well. (I’m still uncomfortable in Berkeley.) Basically, it was a camping trip for a whole lot of people, way out in the wilderness. With new age seminars, or discussion groups (way too nurturing and touchy-feely for my taste), and with rules of conduct. A certain amount of organization is required if you’re going to have large numbers of people occupying a damn wilderness, after all. Latrines were dug, a large central area was established for the common gatherings, like dinner and general business, and various other areas were staked out for camping and ersatz classrooms. A more evolved gathering of the Woodstock nation,if you will, without rock and roll and without commerce.

Commerce was the big bugaboo, as I understood it. I didn’t see much in the way of drugs and certainly no alcohol was present, but one guy, there’s one in every crowd, was offering LSD for sale. And boy, did they come down on him. Not because he had drugs, but because he was selling them. Shunned, like the Amish. I had no idea who the event organizers were and never was able to identify who the folks were who made the announcements at the large gatherings and who led the small group sessions. But then, I was a bit preoccupied.

It was a long hike from the parking site to the encampment, but it was a beautiful summer day, right around the solstice,with plenty of time before nightfall. It was great to see Bella and Kristen, and we chatted happily as old friends will as we made our way into the wild. Late in the afternoon we reached the festival site and made camp in a partial clearing, near enough to water, safe enough for fire and beautiful enough to take the breath away.

I was underequipped, to say the least. Everyone else had tents and tarps and utensils and all the requisite gear and I had a sleeping bag and little else. And as sunset approached it started to cloud over. Bella and I made a foray into the brush to gather wood for the fire and before I knew it we were in each other’s arms. There was nothing leading up to it, no preamble of any kind, I can’t even say for certain who initiated it. I guess it was me but it may have been mutually spontaneous, or perhaps we were just the pawns of Eros or some larger unseen force.

“Well, that didn’t take long!” Bella said.

As though she had foreseen and expected it. It represented a pretty serious departure for me, though, because my resolve to remain faithful to Susan had not wavered at all since I had made it. But in this instance, for the first time, I didn’t even consider it. I have to suppose that it crossed my mind, but whatever reservations I normally had must have become subordinate to the idea that this was no ordinary opportunity. This one had roots. And wings.

I had my sleeping bag laid out next to Bella’s tent, among the others, really. We built a fire with the wood we had distractedly gathered in the brush. The romantic ice had been broken but how it would play out, I, for one, had no idea. As the sun set, as if on cue, it began to rain. Bella offered to share her tent. I gladly accepted. She opened and spread out the two sleeping bags, one for below and one for above, and began to take off her boots and clothing.

“I’m not using any birth control, so we’ll have to mind what we do,” she said, matter of factly.

“What can we do?” I asked.

“Play,” she replied.

At that point what had been a moderate rainfall turned into a massive electrical storm, centered seemingly, in our midst. Lightning flashed repeatedly through the camp, rendering Bella’s tent transparent save the naked silhouettes within it. And as above, so below. Nature at its most dynamic and spectacular. We began to cross her initially stated boundary. Realizing this, I started to withdraw.

“No, I want you to,” she said.

Nature itself seemed to be conspiring as a whole on this one. Back to nature.

The next morning Kristen cornered me.

“There were a lot of broken hearts around camp last night when those guys saw you go into Bella’s tent,” she confided.

All I could do was grin. Life was undeniably wonderful, but clear sailing, I could have told them, it was not. I was in a relationship, Bella knew I was in a relationship, and unfettered, unconditional bonding was not going to be possible given the prevailing conditions.  For the moment, however, although those conditions imposed a degree of emotional caution, we were miles away from having that reality in stark relief against our present, dare I say it, bliss.

I spent two more days and nights at the festival site. Bella and company were in for the long haul, perhaps another week, but it really wasn’t my scene and I reached my limit pretty quickly. Bella, as I said, was fully cognizant of the situation and we had an unspoken practical understanding of our relative positions. It was outrageously romantic but not unrealistic. We had each extended ourselves, who knows how far, and we knew that we might have set in motion causes with far reaching consequences. But it was not a situation that could be decided all at once, even if we had so desired.

I left the site fairly early in the morning and caught a ride down the mountain and into the nearest town. I went to the nearest cafe and got two large black coffees to go. Yes! I’d endured three days of macrobiotic purism and new age political correctness and now it was time to return to what I laughingly referred to as the real world and indulge in my favorite vices, coffee, newspapers and rock and roll. I was in one of my no tobacco or alcohol phases at that time, anyway, but enough is enough is enough is enough. The coffee really hit the spot. I hitchhiked back to Missoula with relative ease on a beautiful sunny June day and got home before Susan had returned from work.

I’ve never been a person who can turn feelings on and off at a moment’s notice. I had a great depth of feeling for Susan and it all rushed to the surface as I met her walking on her way home from work. I playfully ran at her and we embraced and tumbled rolling to the ground, she in her nurse’s uniform and I in a pair of cut-offs. We alarmed a passer-by who thought that a rape might be in progress, but it was just a joyful reunion on a summer night.

Susan and I made plans to visit the Bay Area. The girls were spending the summer with a childhood friend of Susan’s out in the country and she had saved a couple of weeks worth of vacation. I was on permanent vacation at that point.

We flew into SFO and were picked up by PJ, who brought us to my folks’ place nearby. This was the first meeting for Susan and my parents and it seemed to go pretty well. Little did I know. I showed her around San Francisco and we paid visits to many of my old friends and favorite haunts. PJ  spent much of his time with us, when he wasn’t caring for his mother, whose condition was sadly deteriorating. I showed his mom some amusing photos of her son Paul on stage in Calgary, at which she smiled ruefully and said, “This is not what I had imagined.” Is it ever?

Eventually, Susan met Bella, which really got confusing. Everything seemed up in the air. It was all very polite and cordial, but real life gears were in motion. My parents, who loved Bella on sight, were utterly unimpressed by Susan, rudely so, I thought. My guess is that they misread her shyness for lack of breeding, whatever they thought that meant. The fact that she had two children and was divorced also weighed heavily against her in their rather old fashioned assessment. San Francisco also seemed pretty appealing after the winter I’d had in Montana. In general, it seemed like when the band ended, all bets were off. Where to go, what to do, who to do it with. Lots of options, no clear path, no discernible mandate. Susan must have been at sea as well, although she was wont to put it into words.

Two weeks passed quickly, and Susan had to return to work. In Montana. I decided to stick around the Bay Area. When in doubt, head for the music. I was writing songs all the while and I resolved to record a few and see about placing them somewhere. Where, I had no idea. I took Susan to the airport, our relationship now fully amorphous, and wondered where all the pieces would land, when and if they ever came down.

You must realize that I was not exactly holding all the cards here. I had very little money, no vehicle, and no fixed abode unless you count my elderly parents’ suburban home, which could hardly have been further out of the question.

I hitchhiked into San Francisco to hook up with Bella and met her at a coffee shop in the Haight. Nick, her very recent, long-time boyfriend was in town, desperate for reconciliation. She was meeting with him that afternoon to reconfirm their newly uncoupled status. We made arrangements to meet later in the day. I didn’t need any part of that confrontation. I went down to the Panhandle where the SF Mime Troupe, a radical theatrical company, was holding forth in a very humorous way on the evils of capitalism and society in general. And finding a very receptive audience. The Haight Ashbury, following the demise of hippiedom, had fallen into a rather derelict state, particularly the high street itself. Many of the storefronts were boarded up and few dogs were curbed, if you know what I mean. By this time, though, late summer of 1976, things had taken a turn for the better. The town was fast becoming a destination of choice for gay people and their influence was having a positive effect on the old neighborhood. In some ways, the palpable feeling of recently liberated people was not unlike that which was felt there in the sixties, replete with the mini renaissance which that effect produces.

It took forever. Nick would not go quietly, or quickly. He just couldn’t understand what had happened between them, the usual, far too familiar story. There had to be someone else. Who was it? I didn’t think it could be me but I didn’t need to offer myself as a target, either. Finally Bella freed up and we went to the park near her flat to walk and talk. As we strolled around Stow Lake it occurred to me that Bella was as far up in the air as I was. As decisive and self determined as she was, she seemed to be looking for fate to help things fall into place for her. On the night when she met Susan she took me aside and said “What you didn’t want to have happen, didn’t.” This was a reference to our first thunderstruck night in the woods when, following our fully natural coupling, I remarked that I hoped our impulsiveness would not have undesired results. I realized all of a sudden that for Bella, it was not so impulsive and not so undesired. The extent of her willingness staggered me. But it was also not fated. I was not especially interested in fatherhood, given my circumstances, and hoped that my comment had not driven a wedge between us.

We went to Chinatown and ate and bought a bottle of red wine and hiked up to Coit Tower. It had been customarily overcast in the Haight and Inner Sunset, but in North Beach and on the Bay it was clear and warm. We opened the wine and from that excellent vantage point took in the glorious mixture of the natural and the urban that is San Francisco. Once again things seemed to conspire to bring us together under remarkably favorable romantic conditions. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often, but when it does it always seems deliberate, too perfect to be the product of coincidence or chance. I begin looking around to see who might be pulling the strings but of course, no one ever is. Not that I can discern.

I don’t know how many chances you get to recognize this sort of opportunity and take advantage of it, but there’s a finite number. Following which the cosmic tumblers realign and those conditions disappear. When Bella and I parted company we still had resolved nothing. I suppose I assumed we would leave it open for a bit, let the situation develop. I had my song demo project to get to and Bella was looking into job opportunities in a family business. There was a lot of love there, without doubt, but fear of commitment and otherwise unresolved circumstances and relationships complicated what might have been a simple, positive alliance. A good thing. We left it at vague, never a brilliant strategy.

My sister and her family had taken a house in Santa Cruz for a couple of weeks. I hadn’t seen her yet during my visit and made plans to hitchhike down that way during their stay. AJ also lived in Santa Cruz and provided a compelling second incentive.

It felt good to hit the road, free from the entanglements of unanswerable life altering questions. I was wearing a Who ‘76 t-shirt that Steve Sharp had sent me as I stood at the freeway entrance. America had finally awakened to the Who and I was greeted by more than one carful of occupants complimenting me on my shirt. It’s nice to be able to retreat into these small focus positive associations sometimes. Hitchhiking was great in those days. Lots of people were still doing it at that time, although probably not as many as a few years previous, and I rarely had trouble getting wherever it was I wanted to go. I made it to Santa Cruz in no time and found the house where my sister’s family was staying. But the vibe there was not good. My brother-in-law was in the throes of his final epic confrontation with the demon alcohol (which he won, incidentally, god love him) and I felt instantly that my presence was an intrusion. After a very brief visit I made my apologies and went out to find AJ, whose band White Eyes, was playing in a club down the road. I took my bag with me.

When I got to the club, it might have been called the Crow’s Nest, the band was already on stage and powering through an uptempo number. They were rather like the Sons of Champlin, I thought, and AJ and the bassist were holding down a solid groove. He was riding his high hat with his left hand, rather than crossing hands as was customary, and his fills showed a wide range of influences. He had not sat idly since we last worked together.

At the end of the set, AJ left the bandstand and sat down at my table. It was as though no time had elapsed since our last meeting. We talked music, music and more music until we were joined by a young blonde woman whom AJ introduced as his friend Molly. She was bright and animated and in no time the three of us were engaged in some pretty esoteric conversation. She could entertain ideas and she could hold her own. I liked her instantly. Before his next set AJ pulled me aside and said that I was just what the doctor ordered for Molly. He had just that week moved out of her digs and had taken up with a new flame and she needed some serious emotional rescue.

Molly and I became fast friends. She was my age, one year to the day younger than me, and we shared many of the same experiences in the sixties. In fact, running down our days at the Fillmore and Avalon, I was surprised that we hadn’t met previously. But she had been a part of the Marin County hippie rock and roll scene, while I was still living in the Haight. She had it all over me on that front, really, was friends with the Sons of Champlin and their managers, Wally and Julie Haas, and knew Ron Polte, who managed my heroes, the Quicksilver Messenger Service.

At the end of the night Molly asked me if I needed a place to stay. I had thought that I would sleep on the beach before returning to my sister’s place, so I gratefully accepted her offer. We drank tea and talked well into the night. I began to unroll my sleeping bag on her couch. You can stay in there with me, if you like, she said, gesturing toward the bedroom. It was a gracious offer, but given my already complicated situation with Susan and Bella, and Molly’s obviously fragile post-breakup state, I thanked her but declined, citing my relationship with Susan as I had done many times over the past few years. Molly accepted that.

That was not it for our friendship, though, far from it. The next day, after meeting AJ for coffee, the two of us went to the beach at Rio del Mar and dropped acid, like any two self respecting former Avalon Ballroom habitues would have done. It was a spectacularly gorgeous day and we spent hour after hour walking in the surf, from one end of the beach to the other, talking about life, death and things religious, which in this case meant discussing her breakup with AJ and how to deal with it. There is no balm like the ocean, and we two Pisceans were merging with the sea and sand and letting it work its magic on our restless and confused selves.

Molly was hooked into the Santa Cruz music scene. She studied and eventually took a degree in music from UC Santa Cruz, and knew many of the local musicians and engineers. I spoke to her about my desire to make a song demo and she arranged for us to go into a small home studio owned by some local studio techs. I wrote a new song, one of the more sympathetic things I’d done, based on our conversation at the beach, called “Don’t Fall in Love” and had four or five other songs in recordable shape. We spent a couple of days in what a producer friend of mine calls “submarine mode” in the studio and emerged with a five track song demo. Me on acoustic guitar (or two) and lead vocals while Molly engineered and did some harmony vocals.

So now I had product, humble though it might have been. Now what? It was obvious to me that I had to go to LA and try to get some music publishers to listen to my songs. Did I have any leads or connections? No. Did I have any transportation or money? No. Had I resoved my situation with Bella.? No. Was I daunted? Should I have been? Only a rational person would be daunted by a situation as lacking in opportunity as this.

Exempt again.

My first move was to call Paul. Could I borrow Moby for a couple of weeks to take to LA to shop my songs? He thought that would be o.k. He, and indeed his whole family, would be staying close to home to be with his mother, god bless her. I hitchhiked north to San Francisco to see Bella and dropped in unannounced, but she was out of town. I visited with Kristen and spent the night in Bella’s room. I wandered around the city the following day, Sunday, spending most of it at the Castro Street Fair, which I stumbled upon by accident. Gay pride was out in all of its flamboyant finery. Leather queens, bare bottom cowboys in chaps, the whole nine taffeta yards of drag.

At the end of the day I went back to Bella’s, somewhat inebriated, but alas, she still had not returned. I spent the night there again and in the morning headed down the peninsula, stopping first at my folks’ house for some clothing, after which I went to pick up Paul’s van.

PJ met me, somewhere near the freeway offramp nearest his house, and as we neared his home he told me that Bella was there. She was with a friend of hers, a guy named Trip, not so-named because of any psychedelic reference, but because he was so-and-so The Third. In triplicate. Sort of a WASPy pet family name like Muffy or what have you. I don’t even know if it occurred to me that Bella was seeing this guy, who seemed nice enough, until I sensed that she was trying to effect enough distance, physically, from both of us, to eliminate any possibility of expression of intimacy or affection. Rather unlike her, I thought. Much more like something I would do.

None of this really bothered me, truthfully. It just didn’t. And not because I was in no position to place constraints on her, which I wouldn’t have done even if I were in such a position. And not that I didn’t have a great deal of affection for Bella which might well have deepened over time. I wasn’t thinking about all that. The fact is, sometimes you’re crushed and sometimes you’re not, sometimes even by the same person.

And I had other fish to fry. In Big Brown, L.A., CA. Paul gave me the keys to Moby and I stowed my gear and made my farewells. In minutes I was headed south on Highway 101.

I never saw Bella again.

In the years following I heard that she had partnered up with Trip and had three children in rapid succession, which I’m sure is a good thing for the planet. PJ and I, some time later, decided to look her up. I got her phone number from Kristen, who said she was living with her family in Berkeley. My phone call met with a frosty reception. When I suggested that PJ and I could come and visit she replied, “That’s entirely up to you.” We decided we were probably not welcome. I still have no idea what resentment she was harboring. It was as though she thought we (or I) had forsaken our friendship, abandoned her, but there was certainly none of that from my perspective. I always thought she was some kind of wonderful. Probably still is.

My plan for LA was to sleep in the van as much as possible, maybe take a motel room every third night or so, and try to make appointments to see people at publishing companies, production houses, and the like. A foot in the door as a songwriter.

I had no copies of my tape when I got to town, so the first thing I did was go to a professional audio store and check the bulletin board. I found the number of someone in the valley who did cassette copies cheaply and gave them a call.

“Can you work from a TEAC 3340 1/4”, reel to reel?”

They could. I drove out there. It was a guy’s house, with various kinds of audio gear sort of strewn about.

“If you do the work yourself, it’ll cost less, he told me.”

I did the work myself. I made all of the copies directly from the unmixed 1/4” inch tape, straight on to the best quality cassettes I could find. I was used to working in other people’s homes, on other people’s equipment, so I took to the job quickly, but still it took me the better part of a day, duping each tape one by one. No generational loss, I can assure you.

Now that I had something to distribute I found a phone book and looked up all the numbers of the prospective publishing targets I had on a list I had made while copying tapes. It was a pretty diverse listing, made up of names I had seen on album covers and in the press. I called ATV, the parent of the Beatles’ publishing company, ABC Music publishing, where Becker and Fagan of Steely Dan had been writers, Almo-Irving publishing, affiliated with A&M records, Richard Perry’s offices on the Paramount lot, and a number of others, and tried to make appointments for later that week. I had some success and resolved at day’s end to try again next morning. I drove back over the hill to Hollywood and ate something at an open air health-food restaurant on Sunset Strip. I thought I would check out a few clubs and then drive down to Will Rogers state beach and sleep in the van.

The Starwood was hot then. Van Halen had purportedly made quite a name for themselves there so I thought I’d give it a look. Not that I had any special feeling for Van Halen, mind you. I didn’t really even know who they were, but there was a buzz. For that matter I had still not really warmed up to the new generation of hard rock/metal/power ballad stuff that was beginning to infiltrate the airwaves. I was too old for Kiss and the REO, Foghat, Styx brand of music just didn’t do much for me. There was a bit of hype which claimed that Bad Company was the last great English band and I suspected that that might just be true. I was too early for any activity at the Starwood so I decided to move on to the Troubador and come back later.

The L.A. Troubador is a truly legendary venue. It’s a great little room, wide and shallow, with a small balcony. It works best with acoustic or semi-acoustic acts and has  been a springboard for numerous important singers and bands through the years. Far too numerous to mention.

It was packed. It was some sort of a showcase night, where a number of hopefuls performed for friends and industry people primarily. Following the showcases was a special once a year reunion performance by Roid Rogers and the Flaming Butt Cherries, one of those quasi legendary local favorite gigs. The showcases were all acoustic. There were slick boy-girl duos, sort of folkie Carpenters types (without the brilliance) Dylan/Deanesque guys, Emmylous, Ronstadts, would-be Eagles. Some tight, some sloppy. One James Dean told me that the reason he would stand out was that he paid attention to detail–he would take his wallet out of his pants before going on-stage. I suppose it shows off the butt better but it flies in the face of the old show biz adage which states that you don’t leave anything in the dressing room that you can’t afford to lose. I sat through the whole thing, and got a feel for the scene. The Butt Cherries were rather like the Holy Modal Rounders, I thought, whom I had once seen, perhaps a decade earlier, throw dildos into the audience from the stage at the Avalon Ballroom. If you follow me.

I left during the Roid Rogers set and went back to the Starwood. The club proper was open but they had an extra charge to get into the room where the metal band was holding forth. I paid and went in. It was packed, too. It was uncomfortable and noisy and I’d heard plenty of bands of that ilk out on the road of late. Too many amps, Marshall or Hi-Watt stacks, for the most part, too many lights, satin trousers, big hair, no songs, no grooves, interminable solos, lots of shrieking, lots of posturing. Absence of anything funky. I hit the road, wondering if I were too old for the business of rock and roll. I was 26.

I drove down Sunset to the beach at the state park and unrolled my sleeping bag in the back of the van. I figured I had maybe five hours of sleep before I could start pounding the pavement again.

I woke with the sunrise but didn’t budge from my bag for at least another hour. It was too early to do anything, even get coffee, which was the first thing I did after I put on my clothes. It was a typical warm L.A. summer day, and very pleasant down by the ocean. After coffee I found a pay phone and began calling everybody on my list.

“Hello, my name is Joe Blow and I’d like to make an appointment to present my songs for review.”

Or something to that effect. Some folks blew me off, politely, some suggested that I just drop off a tape care of so-and-so, and I actually got a few face-to-face meetings with actual people for later in the week. About two thirds of the way through my preliminary list I began to feel ill. My stomach suddenly started cramping up in a particularly violent manner. I waited for it to pass, but it showed no signs of dissipating. I headed back to the van, which was still parked at the beach.

It’s hard enough to go through this kind of exercise under the best of circumstances, as any musician, who has made even the most cursory effort to secure as seemingly simple a thing as a club date, will tell you. To compound it with viral dysentery

is beyond diabolical. I spent the next two and a half days in or near a stall at the public restroom at the state beach. Convulsing. In a frequent and regular pattern.

I was praying for death.

Toward the evening of the third day the frequency of the convulsions slowed to where I thought I could make it to a motel. I got in the van and drove, hoping against hope that I would find suitable lodging before all hell broke loose again. Heaven for me at that point was a private bathroom. Nothing more. A shower would put me at the right hand of god. A bed and I would be god. A bed and no more convulsions, that is. Once I got in a room things slowly began to get better. No more vying with the public in the middle of a hot afternoon at the beach for the use of the toilet. At regular intervals. I slept the sleep of the exhausted. Literally.

And it was a good thing too because my appointments began the next morning. I was still cramping mildly as I sat down with a guy at ATV to play him my tape. Their offices were in a highrise on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I’m sure I cut less than an impressive figure as we listened to the first of my songs. I didn’t have much in the way of clothing with me and I hadn’t been able to eat in days. But he was courteous and attentive, not at all self-important and full of the ”I’m much too busy to see the likes of you,” manner that one might expect. And often get, especially as you go up the chain of command.

After we finished listening to the second song he turned off the tape player.

“It’s better than I expected,” he said.

How he arrived at his expectation was a mystery to me, I suppose just from having a look at me. Still, those were words of encouragement from where I stood.

“I think, however, that you would benefit from working with a lyricist,” he suggested.

This took me back a few steps. I always loved wordplay and had always been strong in languages–I’d taken four years of Latin and two of Greek while still in high school. At that point my fifteen minutes was up. He asked if he could keep the tape, which I also took as encouragement and gratefully permitted. And I was out the door.

And so it went. When I didn’t have appointments I tried the direct approach, which usually resulted in my leaving a tape with the receptionist, if they’d have it. And when I ran out of publishers and producers on my list I went to the record labels, most of which, probably all of which, had publishing arms. It was bleak and discouraging for the most part, these were cold calls all, but I was doing what I’d set out to do and my returning health was bolstering my spirits.

In the evenings I took to hanging out at the Rainbow Bar and Grill, a famous music industry hangout, where I sat in the bar portion, drank beer and talked to a few folks, mostly engineers or the odd musician who was playing next door at Gazzari’s. Gazzari’s was a second tier Sunset Strip rock club, from what I’ve been able to tell, sort of a jump street (square one) with hype for hard rock and metal bands. I checked it out on a night when there were no bands playing. There was a sparse house comprised entirely of under-age girls from Beverly Hills dancing with each other to “Slow Ride” by Foghat, which the dj played over and over and over again. It wasn’t long before I was back at the Barangrill.

The Barangrill, the title of a Joni Mitchell song about the place, was quite a scene in those days, has been since and may still be if they haven’t razed it to put up a parking lot. How do you put up a parking lot? Multi-story, presumably. The Roxie, a first tier rock club is next door and a private club called On the Rox is upstairs.

And it was unrivalled for girls. During my first night there I was sitting opposite a beautiful black girl in a halter top (all the girls were in halter tops, seemingly) at the horseshoe bar, minding my own business and nursing a beer. I went upstairs to use the restroom and when I came out she approached me, put a hand on my crotch and whispered “Don’t leave without me.” This was business as usual at the Barangrill, I came to learn, at least in the pre-AIDS era.

So my trip was not utterly without positive reinforcement, but generally speaking, I exhausted my possibilities, my money, and my available time without much to show for it. Still, I didn’t regret going through the exercise, and as I drove back up to San Francisco I at least had the satisfaction of knowing that I had done what I set out to do. What was next I had no idea.

Shortly after my return to the Bay, PJ and Paul’s mother died. I heard Stevie Wonder’s beautiful song “I Never Thought You’d Leave in Summer” in a  new way. I bounced from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, spent time with PJ and DJ, caught a brilliant show by Crosby and Nash at the Frost Amphitheater at Stanford, and visited with my folks, but nothing much was happening. It was time to cut bait and head back to Montana and Susan, if we were still on.

I’m not really sure why I went back. My bond with Susan had certainly deepened over the years, but our relationship was complex and uncertain, and resolution was nowhere on the horizon. I liked Montana well enough, but I always felt a bit like a fish out of water there, a little too urban to ever really fit in. I’m not sure if I’d feel the same way now. When Susan met me at the Missoula airport, with Sari and Rachel in tow, with whom I had also developed quite a strong little bond, she held me at arm’s length, emotionally if not physically.

“There was no one to meet me at the airport when I returned,” she said simply.

Life never returned to normal on Alder Street because there was no real norm. Susan returned to school to study nursing and held down a job at the local hospital and I began to cast around for a band to work with. I spent a lot of time with the kids, with whom I had a completely comfortable relationship, even while Susan and I hit some rough spots in the road.

One day, while Sari and Rachel and I were hiking down by the river, Sari asked me if she could call me “Dad”. To this day, that is still one of the best moments of my life. This was shortly before she fell out of the second story window of the house (no serious injury, thank god) scaring the holy hell out of the new dad.

Mom had a new trick too. For some reason Susan decided to grow psilocybin mushrooms in the house. For fun and profit. I don’t know if she intended to sell the fungal crops, it always seemed to me that she was more interested in the process. She had a sterilized bed of rice in a terrarium on top of the radiator (kept at a specific temperature) into which she introduced a psilocybin culture. She had quite the green thumb, or in this case, blue thumb. I quickly learned that as soon as any part of the concoction turned blue, it was potent. Don’t ask me how I know.

I spent many hours in front of the turntable at that point, learning new songs and keeping up with the rock music scene from afar. Fleetwood Mac came through town twice around that time, once with the Bob Welch fronted version and then with the Buckingham/Nicks version. We went to both shows. Mick Fleetwood’s drumming has always been worth the price of admission to me and I’ll always have a soft spot for Christine McVie, too. Chicken Shack forever.

But it was time for me to start working again. I knew some pretty fair local musicians who were interested in doing a band and we started rehearsing at night on a regular basis. These were guys who hung around (and worked) Bitterroot Music where I had bought my Telecaster. They did repairs, tech work, and a bit of selling. Gene, the guy who owned the store, decided to put a recording studio in the basement and I joined them in pounding nails and laying floor for a time during the day. Not for pay, mind you, but as a communal gesture. At night we were learning Little Feat, Crusaders, and a mixed bag of funky material. It was a big day for all of us when Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” came out. These were pretty good players, not rock star types, and they were backing the likes of Kaisha Oman and Kostas (whose name I’ve been seeing on C & W records lately) the last time I saw them.

Man does not live by rehearsals alone, however, and I had fallen ridiculously below the per annum amount they designate as the poverty line. I’ll give you a poverty line: no dollars, a much too familiar condition for a young musician. This condition, I hardly need tell you, also puts stresses on personal relationships, and in this case, Susan and I were having a very rocky time of it.

I got a call from a band I knew from Salt Lake City called AC Flyer, a pretty fair hard rock outfit fronted by a singer named Tom Montanez who did, it must be said, a spot-on imitation of Paul Rodgers of Bad Company. They needed a guitar player. The band was in town playing at the Cave and their current guitar player was leaving at the end of the engagement. I could rehearse with them at the club during the day and hit the road with them following the completion of the Cave gig. It was made to order and it paid but I was ambivalent about it.

On the plus side, I got along with Tom pretty well and they did play some of the better clubs on the circuit. I thought I might be able to help put them over the top but I wasn’t excited about joining an existing band which might not give me the musical opportunities I needed.

Susan helped me decide.

We got into a terrible row about I don’t know what and in a fit of pique I called the band and told them I could start rehearsing immediately.

I brought my gear down to the Cave and we started running through the requisite Aerosmith and Bad Co. songs, most of which I already knew. It was going to be a piece of cake. At the end of that first rehearsal, Susan walked into the club. I bade the cats goodbye until later that evening and the two of us walked home together. Susan wanted to reconcile, regardless of my impending road prospects, and I was easily persuaded. But now my uncertainty about joining AC Flyer returned. They weren’t bad but they didn’t have much of an idea and I wasn’t that impressed with the other guitarist, who led the band. When we got home I got another phone call, this time from a guy in Billings who until recently had been with one of the top three groups booked by the local agency. He wanted a partner in his new band project.

This guy was full of ideas and ambition, and he thought he could book the band himself, without any agency help, based on his prior success. The real kicker for me was that he said that he had a drummer from a Portland band called Applejack lined up, a guy I had seen and whose playing I loved. I decided to pass on AC Flyer. Terrible name, that.

Halloween is always a significant day of the year for me. I don’t really know why, but it seems like I meet someone important or go somewhere or do something important on Halloween.

On this Halloween, year 1976, Susan and I drove to Billings, Montana, where I met up with my prospective partner, Billy, for the first time. In some ways I don’t know what I could have been thinking. The plan was for me to move into his parents’ house with him while we worked up the act. He had a bass player lined up who also lived with his parents and who would house the drummer, when he arrived.

This meant: 1) I would be separated from Susan for long periods of time, 2) I would be living with someone’s family–I’d left my own home as soon as I could, when I hit 18, eight years before, and 3) I would be in Billings, Montana. Out of respect for the people who call Billings home I will not say more. However, the word “desolate” springs to mind.

On the plus side the band had an excellent p.a. system with good monitors, and good late model vehicles for transportation. Billy’s last band had obviously been somewhat successful, god knows why. They were two guys who sang and played guitar to recorded tracks and called themselves “The Disko Show” (sic). The success of this completely mystified me, but then I’m not from Billings. Remember, I couldn’t get those people to dig Layla.

Also on the plus side was the fact that Billy was a hard worker like me. We both put in long hours to get things right.

So I bade Susan goodbye on All Saints Day, November 1st, and tentatively began working with my new mate, in his parents’ basement, where I also slept, just like in the movies. We got to know each other by recording a couple of his original songs, which were pretty treacly, on four track tape, with me on drums. I asked him when the drummer from Applejack was coming. This was, by and large, my number one interest in this band. I’ll go anywhere for a good drummer. Well, he wasn’t exactly committed, in fact, he wasn’t available. There was no drummer lined up. I was not pleased and thought about bailing. AC Flyer, bad name and all, started to look pretty good. But I stuck it out.

I became a surrogate family member in a household in Billings Montana, out on the Great Plains of America. Mom, a homemaker, Dad, just about ready for retirement from the 40 year job at the plant, two rather zaftig sisters, still at home, one older, one younger than Billy, one sister living out west. In the military, I believe. I became the missing sister. The celibate missing sister.

We got a mail order drummer. Billy had posted an advertisement in a music store (through the auspices of a friend) in Portland, Oregon, again, and somebody actually packed up all his belongings and his drums, put them on a Greyhound bus and set out for Billings. On the basis of a single phone conversation. And I thought I was out on a limb.

We met the cat at the bus station. He was wasted from the long, uncomfortable trip, but we brought him right into the rehearsal room anyway and put him through the motions. He was far from impressive. But he had come too far to be given one shot, and he was an awfully nice guy who had obviously taken his drumming seriously. He’d studied and he had chop. I withheld judgment. We bagged it for the day and he went back to the bass player’s home to meet his new family–should he last that long.

He did. Obie was much better the next day, surprisingly enough, and it quickly became apparent that we had our foursome. He lived in the bass player’s basement bamboo lanai room, you know, the kind that were all the rage in the 50’s. Still big in America’s bicentennial year in Billings.

We rehearsed seven days a week. I didn’t go home to Missoula for Thanksgiving, Christmas or the New Year. We rehearsed instead. I kid you not, Christmas Day, opened the presents, went downstairs and started rehearsing. We had a lot to get together, though. It was our intention to work up four sets of contemporary covers, which, I might add. really ran the gamut. We did what was popular–but not hard rock or metal. This meant soul, Rufus, Brothers Johnson, Blackbyrds, George MacRae, pop, Boz Scaggs, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, and disco, which at that time spanned rock and soul and was a pretty effective crossover vehicle. We spent a lot of time on our vocal sound and worked out some fairly intricate three and four part harmonies. Billy prided himself on his falsetto, he actually did a credible Chaka Khan, in her key, no less, and I got to play all of the complicated guitar parts, while singing the obscurest of the harmonies. We challenged ourselves. Billy was not a great guitarist. I usually worked out the trickier bits he had to do, but he was a dedicated learner and would master by rote things that were uncomfortable for him.

In addition to the contemporary stuff, we put together a set of early Beatles, a precursor of the Beatlemania shows that exist to this day. And we did the songs letter perfect, too. If I Fell, I Feel Fine, most of what you would expect from their first few albums. Billy designed suits for the Beatles set, lavender satin pants and jacket with a black velvet collar. We bought authentic Beatle boots as well by mail order from somewhere in England.

I was a bit embarrassed by it all, to tell you the truth, but a lot of high paying gigs came through as a result of this effort. We were the Fabs for a set. This was not as embarrassing as the other specialty set we did, though, an affair called Heartbreak City. For this one we wore a really poncey white velvet Barry Lyndon era long coat with white velvet leggings, blue velvet trim at the ankle and wrist. The cappers though, were the large red satin hearts, one at the chest and one over the crotch. This put it completely over the line and into what I’m not sure I know. This was Billy’s brainchild and I suppose it was an attempt at camp. Having been reared on the likes of the Cockettes, I, for one, didn’t get it. We played pop-rock from 1964 and 1965, Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits and the like. As infrequently as I could manage.

We split the lead vocal chores down the middle, Billy and I, as much to survive the rigors of four and five sets a night, six nights a week, as anything. But we did so much harmony singing that I’m not sure we spared ourselves much.

I’d smoked cigarettes on and off ever since I first hit the road. During my days with True Blue I was in one of my abstinent phases, not only in terms of celibacy (or monogamy), but as far as smoking and drinking were concerned too. This ended (except for the monogamy part) while I was off the road, running out of money and going nowhere. I took up nicotine just before going to Billings.

This proved, eventually, to be a bad move. After several months of continuous rehearsal I began to lose my singing voice. At first it occurred after an hour or two of singing, then after several songs, then in the middle of the first song. I went to my old friends, the allergists, and ear, nose and throat guys. I got all the rote answers, the customary medications and nothing worked. Finally they took x-rays.

I had monster nodes. If I persisted, surgery and a long recovery period.

Rest was the only cure. Total rest. I had given up smoking by then, and by rest they meant six weeks of no speaking whatsoever. Nada. Mute. We had already been rehearsing for three months solid and our first gig was two months away. I did the math–six more weeks of rehearsing without singing, then two with singing to get back into shape. It was doable and besides, I already knew all of the material inside and out. Who in god’s name needs five months of rehearsal before going on the road? We apparently did. We called ourselves Skin and Bones, yet another homage to the Kinks, whose song of the same name was in our set.

I said nothing for six weeks. Probably altered my personality forever. I carried a little note pad and a pen for those complex messages–when gesticulating just won’t do. It was not unlike being alone in say, the Czech Republic, and not knowing a word of Czech. Dobre rano.

Mute boy was also broke. I had food and lodging but you’ve got to have a little change in your pocket. We had a nightly ritual, after rehearsal, provided we weren’t rewiring microphones or assembling equipment trollies. And the ritual consisted of buying a quart of beer each at the local grocer, downing it and going to Gramma’s, the local rock emporium, where beer was much more expensive. Much more. All I need is a pint a day. If I ever get out of Billings. We actually did a one nighter at Gramma’s around Christmas time, just to get our feet wet. It went well and the club owner booked us for a couple of weeks the following summer as a result. AC Flyer followed us into the club, incidentally, and we met them while we were loading out. Tom and I were still friendly, and there was only a hint of chagrin from the others. I hung out a bit with them while they were in town, mostly at late night parties at their motel.

I got an offer of part time employment mending fences, believe it or not, from a local musician I knew whose father was a developer who owned a lot of property there and elsewhere. His father was not around town much. Who would be? It was Billings, after all. So our work, on those rare occasions when it happened, turned into a lot of hanging out.

One night we bought a bottle of scotch and brought it to his father’s place to drink in preparation for a night out at Gramma’s. An accelerated version of our usual ritual. After a couple of drinks he handed me the keys to his father’s brand new Cadillac.

“You’re driving, let’s go” he said.

1976 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, black. The thing was a boat, but it was a comfortable, easy handling boat, and I had gone easy on the scotch. The thing I’ve found about scotch is that it creeps up on you. I’m not a big connoisseur of hard liquor but I’ve noticed that with bourbon you can tell where you are almost immediately. Oops, that’s enough! And you’re usually o.k. Scotch is another story. Gosh, I don’t feel a thing, I mustn’t have had much. And Bam! Out of control. We’re talking about the moderation skills of 25 year old rock and rollers here.

By the time we hit the club, my friend, Monty, was half in the bag. But it was not immediately apparent. The place was completely and totally packed. We had to squeeze through the crush just to get through the entryway and into the main room. Monty went for drinks, naturally, and we stood in front of the long bar like vertical sardines, chatting up friends, acquaintances, and in Monty’s case, female prospects. I was friendly with a lot of Billings girls by this time but I wasn’t “looking” as they used to say.

I was talking to the doorman, in fact, one of Billings’s few black inhabitants, who was an ex-drummer and big music fan. We were talking about the drummer of Tower of Power, a guy named Garibaldi, who was his favorite.

Monty was nearby, putting the moves on a blonde girl who could not figure out where he was coming from. He was nothing if not arrogant, which I rather liked in him, but it’s definitely something you put away when you’re coming on to a female. Especially if you’ve been indulging.

Apparently she was not responding properly to his advances, so he found it necessary to throw his drink in her face. In the crush not that many people saw it. She was humiliated and furious, though, and Monty thought it was rather amusing. Further fueling her ire. I thought it was a bad sign but I’ve had a drink or two thrown at me (by irate females), and I saw no immediate possibility of repercussion.

It just took a little time, owing to the crowd. The girl left but returned with some big bruisers, with whom she had, unfortunately, come to the club. They were ready to avenge her insult, with extreme prejudice. The forward bruiser wedged his way through the crowd, guided by the girl, who pointed out Monty, standing near the bar. Before the guy could so much as say word one, Monty broke his glass on the bar and stuck it in the guy’s ear.

A geyser of blood sprayed the sardines. There was an epic pileup, fury, frenzy and mostly confusion. If the place had been any less crowded, Monty would be a dead man. He was, it must be said, on the bottom of the pile, but there was literally not enough room in there to so much as draw your hand back for a punch. The glass victim was still bleeding profusely and his buddies were frothing at the mouth, but it was like a big football pileup with very little immediate possibility of disentangling. The doorman and I saw Monty wriggling at the bottom of the jumble of people and worked him loose.

“You better get him out of here,” my buddy said.

I don’t think he actually saw what happened, but he knew the score just the same. I rushed him through the chaos and out the door and across the parking lot and into the Caddy and back up the hill. To his father’s luxurious digs where he promptly passed out. They say that gin is even worse.

Skin and Bones was slowly but surely getting its act together. We assembled the sound system, got our goofy outfits made by a local tailor, and practiced, practiced, practiced. We got publicity photos done and Billy, as promised, got the band booked solid, without an agent, with dates beginning in early spring. I made plans, against Billy’s wishes, to go home to visit Susan for a couple of days in late winter, just before we were to hit the road. I don’t know what his objection was, I suppose he feared the whole thing might evaporate if given a chance. We were a bit fed up with each other by this point, anyway, and so I insisted. I caught a ride with Monty to Missoula.

            It wasn’t much of a homecoming. I arrived at the Alder Street house at around four in the morning and went upstairs to surprise Susan. I went into the bedroom, undressed, and slipped in beside her sleeping form.

It was her mother.

It was her mother with whom I was on singularly bad terms. All that positive anticipation, inspired in great part by self-imposed celibacy, to say nothing of the long separation. Susan was in Helena for the weekend, taking a nursing exam, and her mother was staying with the kids. I grabbed a blanket and went downstairs to sleep on the couch. Very, very, fitfully.

            It was great to see Sari and Rachel, though, whom I missed at least as much as their mom. Rachel, unfortunately, was getting over a very pernicious bout with the flu, and was still a bit under the weather. I took over for Grandma and awaited Susan’s arrival. At about three in the afternoon I began to feel ill and by five I couldn’t move. I called a friend and asked if she would take the girls til I felt a better, which she agreed to do. I was delirious for two days. It hit me hard and it hit me fast. After a few trips to the bathroom I was so weak and incapacitated that I couldn’t even oblige the ongoing emergencies, if you know what I mean. I’ve had a few nasty flu bugs and this one was right up there near the very top of the list. At the end of the third day the fever broke and Susan returned home to find a pathetic creature huddled up on the couch, still shivering from the effects of the microbial monster. Not much romance there. I hadn’t eaten for three days and was weak as the proverbial kitten. It was nearly seven days before I could actually manage to get food to pass through my lips. I was only supposed to be gone over a long weekend but I wasn’t going anywhere. I called Billy to let him know and he predictably flipped out. Assumed I wasn’t coming back. Blah, blah, blah.

            On the morning after Susan’s return, Sari sat down near the couch to talk to me. Let me just say that she was and I hope still is the sweetest, kindest girl you could ever hope to meet. Wise well beyond her years. Willing to listen. All the good stuff. I loved her dearly.

I sat up a little to talk to her but I was weak in the way that only a serious illness can make you. She must have been six years old.

“Mom told me not to tell you this but I think you should know that someone named Tom was here the other night.”

She, of course, did not know what that meant in any great detail, but she knew that it wasn’t right and she was concerned. I thanked her and she went off to play. At this point my weakened condition worked to my advantage. All I could do was accept it. And believe me, one’s perspective at death’s door does not harbor much in the way of indignation, if one had the energy to muster any. Under normal circumstances, like anyone else I’m sure I would have been upset, irate and all the rest of it, but with one foot on the other side all I felt was slightly rueful. When Susan came in I told her what Sari had said. So mildly that her natural emotional defense mechanisms didn’t kick in.

“Yes, he came over but I didn’t let him stay, blah, blah, blah.”

Neither of us made a scene. I heard her out and fell asleep.

            That changed everything, though, for me. Whether it was the result of some male vanity or the fact that I had been so resolutely monogamous myself, or some combination of the two, I was completely surprised by her infidelity. I honestly never thought that would happen.

The Tom, of course, was Tom Montanez, singer of AC Flyer. He may have been exacting a measure of revenge for my defection, or more likely, he was just being a typical rock and roller. The next time I saw him he began singing “Who’s Making Love to Your Old Lady, While You’re Out Making Love?” by Johnny Taylor. Not in a particularly insulting way, just as though that were a matter of course for guys like us, on the road, old ladies at home, etc. But I had not been out making love. It was true that while I was in Billings I went out with a few girls, but I never let it get past friendship.

            Now, however, all bets were off. If monogamy was not going to be a part of our relationship, I could deal with that. I was not about to do a one-sided monogamy, though. I didn’t say anything about it, didn’t consider ending the relationship or any of that extreme nonsense. It was the mid-seventies, after all. No AIDS, new forms of contraception, liberated women and attitudes toward sex. It was just no longer a consideration in our relationship. I proceeded to lay waste to the countryside. With extreme prejudice.

I went back to Billings as soon as I was able. Billy’s panties were in a bunch but his mom recognized that I had been very ill and made soups and things that my system would accept. My six weeks of silence was ending too and it was a good thing because we had a warmup show in Billings before we headed off on an endless string of dates. We were booked solid, six nights a week, for the next six months.

The one-night warmup gig went o.k. My voice held up through four sets and the band went off to celebrate. I was in a relatively ascetic phase then, having kicked cigarettes out of necessity and beer for good measure. I was and still am an inveterate practicer of hatha yoga, which I picked up out of a paperback book back when I lived in the Haight, and went back to Billy’s house alone to do a bit.

Billy was driving everybody crazy, including me. There was to be sure, a lot to get accomplished before leaving, but he got stuck in a worry mode that almost broke up the band on the eve of departure. I finally had to take him aside.

“If you don’t calm down, you’re not going to have a band to be irritated with,” I told him in a quiet, grave tone that meant business. He was bright enough, but you could use psychology on him, unlike me, on whom nothing works. He changed his tune. It’s amazing how quickly shrill can become enthusiasm.

Billy had an incredibly negative effect upon women. He was something of a celebrity, at least in one or two clubs in Billings, and he played it to the hilt. Sort of aloof and on, as though he were being interviewed when people spoke to him. It worked not at all. Women avoided him like the plague, but he was either unaware of this or just refused to be daunted by it. He was fond of showing the band pictures he had taken of himself on the road with various members of the opposite sex in various states of sexual play. Usually a girl holding his member up for the camera. But the root of the negative effect came not from tackiness or aloofness. I think women sensed an underlying chauvinism and selfishness, which was borne out by the photos and tales of his exploits. For my money, even rampant promiscuity is acceptable if there is mutual respect and sensitivity, however brief, in the liaison. Otherwise, it degrades both parties, to my mind.

Finally, we set out to play our first engagement. Billy and I went in his station wagon and Obie went with Jeff, also known as Boom Boom, in the band’s new van. We were headed for Lethbridge, Alberta.

There is an awful lot of time to pass on the road. In vehicles, backstage, in hotel rooms. Whom you pass it with makes all the difference. Some bands I know, on the verge of making it, break up because they don’t want to make it with the people with whom they’re associated. Seriously, as though there will be endless opportunities for hitting the lottery that is rock and roll success. It can be one hell of a tough hang, I can assure you. I liked traveling with AJ, Ronnie, Paul and the Lad, and even Jerry with his entourage. Billy and I had music in common and not a lot more. It was just enough to keep us on a relatively even keel. The importance of this cannot be overestimated because you’ve got to live with your bandmates before, during and after work, in a variety of workspaces, some hospitable, some not, and often have to share rooms, travel accommodations and certainly the same stage on a continuing basis.

The trip to Lethbridge, accomplished basically in late winter, was a piece of cake. Good roads, good weather, good vehicles. This was an enormous relief after the travails of True Blue. We set up on the stage in the big tavern in the hotel, the same one in which my relationship with Sally ended. It would now be the place in which my monogamous efforts, which resulted from that unfortunate episode, would end. Full circle. It was also quite a relief to have a nice sound system, with monitors. To say nothing of five months rehearsal time.

That night, we ran it down. It always takes a little time getting used to the way the band sounds in a new room, but after we got through Nights on Broadway by the Bee Gees, the second song of the second set, I knew we’d be alright. Following that set, the club manager complimented us on our sound, always a good sign, and groups of girls started showing interest. An even better sign. In the eyes of the club manager, too. I celebrated with a beer, the first I’d had in months, and the rout was on.

In those days, in rock and roll, there was probably nothing more important than being skinny. If you could play, but were overweight, no one paid attention. If you were not an especially gifted player but were fashionably thin, or thinner, preferably, you got the girls. That was the unfortunate reality. Obviously, this still obtains in much of our image conscious society, but not so much for men as it was then. There were no rock stars worth mentioning with any meat or muscle on their bones in those days. Anti-masculinity was attractive and androgeny had by this time reached the hinterlands, which is where we were.

I personally felt that if I didn’t keep my waist size under 30” that I was an elephant. I felt best about myself when I got under 130 pounds, a good ten to fifteen pounds lighter than I should have been at that age. Billy and I typically shopped in women’s departments because men’s clothes in those towns were hardly stageworthy. I wore things that on a woman might not seem particularly flamboyant or noteworthy, but on a man read completely differently. Nothing too foofy, mind you, just enough of an altered context to be distinctive. And, in order to fit into that stuff, you had to be small. We wore those horrible platform shoes that have returned with such a vengeance, knickers, and lots of satin and velveteen, to say nothing of the polyester. Full seventies regalia.

From Lethbridge we pushed up the road to Calgary which at least had some of the trappings of urbanity. And we were back in the same hotel in which True Blue had experienced its finest hour. We stayed on the third floor of the hotel, highly convenient for a variety of reasons. Within a few days we had lines waiting to get into the tavern where we played Monday through Thursday and the weekends in the cabaret were even more popular. How or why this happens I have no idea. Chemistry and luck are key ingredients, I know that. And, as Julius Erving once said, you have to keep on suiting up.

Just keep doing it, baby. Keep on keeping on.

We made friends with the staff right away. I always did this, as I mentioned. The benefits are numerous. Protection from the bouncers, free drinks from the bartenders and barmaids, and especially, good reports back to management. The tavern there was noisy, too well lit and had rather bland acoustics, but none of that stood in our way. We were going over and it was starting to get crazy.We seldom did the Fabs or Heartbreak City routines in the tavern, but saved it for the weekends in the cabaret, where it was better suited. And where it could get wilder.

The cabaret was a better sounding room, it was darker, and dancing was permitted. There was also an elevator right next to the entrance which went directly up to our rooms on the third floor. We could change into our Beatle suits or Heartsuits there and make a clean entrance. It was also quite convenient for our end of the evening round-up, in which we invited all of the girls we fancied up to our rooms for a late night party. And party we did. It was still high summer for the sexual liberation and following my period of ill advised monogamy I was ready to get right in the thick of it.

Our parties often featured “steamers”, in which the participants, i.e., the band and invited ladies would improvise a steam bath in one of our bathrooms. Shower, tub and sink faucets on full hot, boys in briefs, girls in towels, towels under the door. Plenty of wine from the off-sale store. It worked surprisingly well. The steam bath effect, that is, and it became a regular feature of our nights on the road. In Calgary we were right over the main lobby and you could see the condensation on the ceiling above the front desk. I don’t know if they ever figured out where it came from. Damn leaky pipes.

Someone told me that Sally had moved to Calgary and was working in a clothing store at a local mall. One weekday afternoon I took the van and sought her out. I don’t know what I thought I was going to do or say, I suppose just tell her how sorry I was at the way things turned out. The store was empty of customers and Sally was the lone salesperson on the floor. As she approached her face went from an expression of polite helpfulness to one of chilly disdain as she recognized the customer as me.

“I have nothing to say to you,” she said before I could so much as stammer a hello.

Then she disappeared into the back. So much for apologies. Instinctively I went over to the section where the sweaters were on display. Spring can be rather cool in that part of the world.

The other person you befriend immediately is the night desk clerk. The advantages to this are obvious. If the hotel is not full you can appeal for one of the empty rooms which, if you are entertaining, or hope to entertain a lady friend, makes things a lot easier. Typically, we in the band were two to a room and although we tried to accommodate one another and often were rather creative in the use of space, there is no substitute for privacy. When I roomed with Billy this was absolutely essential, due to his penchant for taking off his pants and yelling “Sandwich!” if I came into our shared room with a member of the opposite sex. He really had a way with women.

We booked a return engagement before we finished our stay, and at the end of two weeks of rock and rolling, headed west through Banff to Kamloops, British Columbia. Banff is nothing if not spectacular. The mountains rise on either side of the highway with the cant of skyscrapers from a downtown sidewalk. We spent the night in a motel there before pushing on to the Okanagan valley, in western B.C. When the weather cooperates, as it did on this trip and indeed for the life of this band, it’s possible to enjoy the scenery, which, once we got off the plains, we found in glorious abundance.

Kamloops is a great little town, nestled in the mountains, and the hotel we worked was a nifty little gig. It was a vacation destination and even in early spring did a pretty fair business. And the nightclub rocked, year round, I suspect. We acclimated almost immediately, making the rounds and such, and by the end of the first set of the first night, were locked in. Sonically and otherwise. We had a three week engagement.

I had a typical routine each night we worked, which was six out of the seven in a week. At six p.m. each evening I’d go down to the club and get two large black coffees to go and bring them back to my room. I’d down the coffee and then do an hour’s worth of hatha yoga, getting nice and poised for the performance. Then it was a quick shower, not too hot, and into the evening’s clothes.

The first thing Billy and I did when we reached a new town was take our satins and such to the dry cleaners, then again on each Monday morning if we were doing more than one week. Then it was time to pack up the guitars and bring them down to the club to tune up. Billy did vocal exercises just before going on but I didn’t really need to, at least in those days. We were very protective of our throats and tried not to speak much on our days off.  By nine p.m. I was tuned up and ready to play and so were my guitars. This was a four set a night gig. Forty -five minutes each, in theory. The truth is that the more business we did the shorter the sets got and the longer the breaks were. It was not especially cocky or premeditated on our part, it just worked that way and no one complained. I’m sure if we were stiffing we’d have been perfectly punctual.

I also got into the habit, at evening’s end, of hanging out at the bar and having a couple of Guinesses with one of the cocktail waitresses. On those nights, at least, when there wasn’t a rousing party upstairs or a particularly attractive acquaintance one needed to make.

There were three primary waitresses and they wore a variation on your standard French maid’s outfit. Black, hemline well above the knee, frilly white apron. One of them was French, recently married and off limits, one was a bleach-blonde fifties throwback, a little too old for the outfit and always making suggestive offers, and the third was the youngest, a little plump and not especially attractive, but thoughtful and friendly.

She and I had many late night conversations over a beer or two.

I was grateful just to have someone to have a decent chat with but after a couple of nights she indicated that she wanted a bit more. She was very matter of fact. The pragmatic seduction. No strings, no emotional attachment, no romance, she just wanted to have the experience of sex. With me. I politely declined. I wasn’t especially attracted to her in that way but she was dauntless, and always took the conversation in that direction. My own terms, any time, any place.

After a couple of nights of this Jeff asked me if I were going to perform a “mercy fuck”, a term with which I was unacquainted. My god, it had a name! I said I doubted it. This was at a party in one of the rooms which had been secured by the blonde waitress.

The people in the room were approaching the upper reaches of the atmosphere. The blonde crawled over to where I was sitting and indicated with a none too subtle gesture that she would be interested in performing oral sex on me. But I was saved by a seriously inebriated fat guy, really big, who took off all his clothes to reveal perhaps the smallest member I have ever seen. I’m not enormously endowed, down in the middle of the pack, but this guy was miniscule and flaunting it.

“It’s not much baby, but it’s all yours,” he said to the floozy on her knees before me.

This brought down the house and I took the opportunity to slip out the door.

Finally, near the end of our stay, I relented.

She wanted me to come to her house but I selfishly or lazily or for whatever reason decided that we should get together in my hotel room. Which I shared with Billy. Who was aware of the situation at least in a general way. We repaired to my room at the end of the fourth set one night. She actually had a list of things she wanted to do. First we’ll do x, then y, then z, following which you can come any way you want to. She assured me that I was not incidental to the proceedings, that I was central, and I agreed to follow the program. As soon as we began to approach act x, Billy burst into the room.

“Sandwich” he yelled and threw off his clothes, down to his scivvies.

The poor girl was petrified. This was not part of her carefully considered procedure. Her head was under the sheets and Billy yelled “Watch the birdie!” before proceeding to jump onto my bed. She clung to me and whispered,

“Don’t let him hurt me.”

“Three-way!” yelled Billy.

“Billy, I don’t think she’s comfortable with this,” I told him, thinking that I was not particularly keen on the idea myself.

This was, after all, the colorfully named “mercy-fuck” which I was involved with here, not some no-holds-barred orgy. The blonde waitress would have been more than interested I suspect, but not this inexperienced young woman. Billy got off and went back to his own bed. But he wouldn’t leave, it was far too amusing. Twice more he couldn’t restrain himself and hopped over onto my bed shouting “Pile on” or some other equally ludicrous battle cry. And each time I had to restrain him.

Finally it was obvious that the situation was untenable and I grabbed some of her clothes which she put on under the covers. I escorted her out to her car, apologizing for Billy, who I’m sure had gone straight to the bathroom to jerk off. To her credit, she was still very pragmatic about the whole thing. It hadn’t worked according to plan, to be sure, but she hadn’t been harmed during the episode, which to be honest, was as hilarious as it was frustrating. She merely said in parting that she wished we had gone to her house instead. And I could not but agree.

One Saturday night we were doing the Heartbreak City set and were in the middle of Sunshine Superman by Donovan when a guy came out of the audience and laid four hits of LSD on top of the Fender Rhodes. Billy quickly snatched up the package and put it in his heart pocket. God those outfits were awful.

The following day, our day off, the four of us set out to go free-hand rock climbing on acid. This was something Jeff and I did a lot of, not on acid, mind you, but we always scoped out climbing opportunities in the towns we played, many of which were in some pretty spectacular mountains.

We found a rock wall above a lake just as we were coming on and decided to traverse it. Nothing puts you in the moment like rock climbing, unless it’s playing. Or being on acid. We had two out of three going on here.

It was late spring, still a bit cold but clear for the most part. I remember thinking how glad I was to have done so much yoga. It made me limber enough to find some footholds that Jeff, who was a good bit taller than me, reached easily. After perhaps half an hour of crossing the rock, which was a sheer face directly over the lake, we hit an impass. And at precisely that moment out of the clear blue, we were hit by a snow flurry.

It was brilliant. The sun and blue sky were clearly visible behind the snowflakes which swirled around us as we clung to the rocks. There was no overcast, a small low lying cloud of fog must have formed and frozen independent of a larger weather pattern. It seemed almost as if for our entertainment and wonder. There was nothing sinister about it, it was like being in one of those half dome snow scenes. We retraced our hand and footholds in the midst of this flurry and by the time we reached our starting point, the mini front had evaporated. It was magical. We repaired to our hotel and Billy and I began collaborating on original songs we intended to record.

“I can’t believe you guys are singing on our one day off,” said Jeff.

We finished out our engagement in Kamloops and made arrangements to come back later in the summer. We now had one week in Nelson, British Columbia, before heading to Missoula to get some photos done and possibly arrange for some recording. This meant I would be going home. Jeff’s girlfriend would be meeting him in Missoula as well so the two of us went directly to the VD clinic when we got to Nelson.

“Do you have any symptoms?” the doctor asked me.

“No, but give me the course of medications anyway, just in case. I don’t want to bring any unwanted souvenirs home.”

Lack of monogamy was one thing, disease quite another. We had just enough time to take the full course before we got home, which the doctor reluctantly provided.

Nelson was beautiful but a bore. The club didn’t do much business and it was hard to generate enthusiasm. Obie was on the drinking man’s diet, hard liquor and red meat only, and it actually worked a bit. I believe it tricks the body into releasing ketones into the blood which go after the stored fat. Jeff and I were doing the celibacy thing and Billy spent the better part of his days in the bathroom with porno magazines. Well, parts of each day anyway. He couldn’t get enough and he couldn’t get any. Like I said, he had a way with women. But he was booking the band and new photos and promo would make that part of the job a good bit easier. After a long week and a fair trip we made it to Missoula.

Billy and Obie stayed in a motel out on the strip. Jeff met his girlfriend, over from Billings, and was staying with friends, and I went home to Susan and the girls. It was a lovely reunion. Apart from my brief flu-riddled visit I hadn’t been home in six months or more.

Susan had completed her current phase of training and had gotten a job at the local hospital, right near our house. But she was far from settled. “Trapped” is more like it. She loved her kids but knew that she had had kids too early in life and resented the obligation this put her under. Particularly given the circumstances surrounding her marriage and former husband. She began making noises about coming on the road with me.

“LaRae (her oldest friend) will take the kids gladly for as long as I want,” she explained.

This sounded like a large scale mistake to me but I could sympathize with her. She was only 25, after all, and had been a dutiful mom for literally all of her adult life. And perhaps some of her pre-adult life. Not only did I wonder about how the kids would feel and be affected by this, but I also wondered what it would do to the band dynamic. For short periods of time, probably nothing, but over the long stretches, the weeks in Medicine Hat and Red Deer with no real occupation–it didn’t seem like much of a forward move. We decided to wait on it. Arrangements would have to be made and summer was a better time to put such a plan into action.

The band did its business, as much as was possible. The studio we had hoped to book into was still under construction, so we did the publicity shots and put together a better promotional package. I caught up with my pals, Jonna and the Mystical Lad, DJ and the boys at Bitterroot Music and spent lots of time with the girls which I always loved to do. But soon enough we were bound for glory, this time in Medicine Hat, Alberta. I bade Susan, Sari and Rachel goodbye and headed off on a beautiful early spring day to the desolation of eastern Alberta.

The recollections of the road can get blurry. I’d been crisscrossing these northern territories for nigh onto four years now, I suppose learning my craft and surviving in the process, sometimes just barely. Oftentimes it seems as though the hard times are easier to remember and make for better stories than the good times, but only with the benefit of lots of hindsight. And there’s a lot of travel time and waiting time that doesn’t make for much of anything more than boredom. When you’re doing it, though, boredom is preferable to life-threatening. Every time. Skin and Bones had an easy time of it out on the highways. It was mild, even when we set out in late winter, and the vehicles never were a problem. I best liked traveling with Jeff. He was thoughtful and didn’t need a steady stream of conversation to keep him occupied. Obie and I got along well, too, and Billy, well Billy was Billy, a pain in the ass but not wholly objectionable. The trip from Missoula to Medicine Hat, far as it was, was utterly uneventful.

Fun things can happen in unfun places. You can quote me on that. We played and stayed in a big, big for that part of the isolated world, hotel, which housed a tavern, cabaret and a dinner theater. We played the tavern on weeknights, the cabaret on weekends (and on Saturday mornings for a teen dance) and a traveling variety show played the dinner theater. This was your basic master of ceremonies, boy-singer, girl-singer, comic, female dancers ensemble. With a small band. A friendly, family operation out of Chicago run by a husband and wife team. She did lights and sound, he was the emcee.

Let’s cut to the chase. Rock band plus female dancers in same hotel equals big fun.. They checked us out on their break, we checked them out on ours. I liked the little blonde dancer whose moves were so much crisper and more timely than the others.

Billy was all over it immediately. Put film in his camera for his famous road shots. Went to the off-sale Provincial liquor store for French wine. The works. I was still trying to put the Susan puzzle together in my mind but that was to be overwhelmed in short order. Billy asked the girls to join us after our last set for a steamer in one of our rooms. And they agreed! We were all on the same corridor of the same floor and logistics were a breeze.

There were three of them, four of us. They arrived, as instructed, wearing nothing but towels. We were down to our bikini underwear. We fired up the tub, shower and sink and proceeded into the bathroom. I seated myself on the counter and started to uncork the wine when little blonde passed by and impulsively reached out and impishly touched my peepee, just for a second, through my bikini briefs. Like a little kid who couldn’t help it.

We put towels under the door and let the room fill with the wet sauna effect. It was a scream–three girls in towels, four guys in scivs, wine from Bordeaux.  There was more steam in that room than the plumbing was generating, I can tell you. After much flirting, moisture and heat, to say nothing of the wine, we made for the outer room.

Billy had “put the bite”, as he called it, on one of the dancers and although they did not spend the night together that night, they had effectively paired up. No one was sure how quickly to move and I didn’t really care if or with whom, but I liked the little blonde who preceeded me out into the corridor. I was followed by the cute brunette and behind us was anybody’s guess.

The blonde started doing a very skilled Dance of the Seven Veils striptease up the hallway toward her room for the benefit of all who cared to see. Hers was the last room on the right and the striptease reached its culmination just as she slipped into her room, leaving everything to the imagination and the towel lying on the floor in the middle of the corridor. It was brilliant and I was about to go to her door when the brunette guided me by the shoulders from behind into her room. Pre-empted. This was obviously a girl who knew the value of immediacy.

Jeff ended up with the blonde a day or two later. Once you yield it can be difficult to change horses, as it were, and we remained in this configuration, Obie the odd man out, for the duration of our run. The little blonde dancer and I both knew that we were with the wrong partners, the dance had probably been for my benefit, after all, but there was nothing either of us could do about it at that point. The die was for all intents and purposes, cast.

The young lady I was hanging out with was not chopped liver, either. She had actually been to the Ringling Brothers clown school in Florida, which upped her worth in my eyes immeasurably. These are the things you remember from months on the road in one horse towns in the middle of nowhere. And quite frankly, these things, apart from the actual playing, were what made that sort of life tolerable.The playing was the thing, though. That and the writing. I was still writing songs on a regular schedule. One day when we were hanging out with the dancers at breakfast, one of them clumsily tripped over a chair on our way out.

“I thought you guys were supposed to be graceful,” I said.

“Dancers, off the stage, are the clumsiest people in the world. Didn’t you know that?” came the reply.

And they all nodded in assent. This comment informed the next song I wrote, a tune called “Vanity” which, as most songs are, was a composite of a lot of stuff I was observing and seeing. The song, if I can recall, went:

She got the legs of a dancer

She got a mind of her own

And I have fallen apart completely

Just to see her come smiling sweetly (my apologies to Gerry Goffin for this rhyme)

She lead the life of a gypsy

She sing a song of the road

At the end of my rope she’ll please me

Dangling just enough hope to seize me, again

All the wisdom of the ages

Platitudes on printed pages

Falls before the subtlety

Of my love of Vanity

All that’s fashionably outrageous

Promenades on shallow stages

Falls before the subtlety

Of my love of Vanity

You know she laugh like music

She got a love that’ll never grow old

It’s impossible to forget her

Just the thought of her makes your mind dance away

I’m not sure, but it seems to be about having values in the face of all the sturm und drang. Perhaps Sister Mary Clarence’s Mystical Body was doing a bit of a guest spot on this stretch of the road. They did have the legs, though.

And this stretch passed pleasantly enough, owing to our dancer friends. As in most of our gigs, we booked a return engagement before we left. It would be our final gig before we played back in Billy’s hometown, Billings, later in the summer.

We were saving our money. I had never made that much money before, somewhere in the neighborhood of four hundred dollars a week, Canadian, and fully untaxed. Not bad for 1977. Also our rooms were always comped and we often got at least a meal a day out of our employers, which was more than I ate anyway. Our overhead was minimal and I was able to pay off some debts and go into the black for the first time in a very long time. We had plans to buy some recording time when our coffers got full enough, at the end of summer in all probablility. But that, for the moment was a long ways away.

Our next stop was Red Deer, Alberta, a town about half way between Calgary and Edmonton. The Windsor Hotel. This place was moving into the Park Hotel category in terms of funkiness, but without the Wild West character.

There were other, slicker venues in this town, believe it or not, but were controlled in all likelihood by the Missoula booking agency (and others, no doubt) which we no longer used. That agency, with whom both Billy and I had worked many times in the past, wanted an exclusive deal with us and wouldn’t touch us unless we gave it to them. We were doing quite nicely without them, thank you very much, and getting into most of the clubs they booked anyway. The Windsor may have been an exception.

It was a sprawling, two story affair, one very large main room in addition to a restaurant, and a smaller, quiet bar. It was built and furnished in perhaps the twenties, and improvements had not been made since then, to all appearances. It’s not unlike what they say about Mulligan’s pub in Dublin–established 1633, remodeled 1637. There are three hundred year old tobacco stains on those walls. The Windsor, in Red Deer Alberta, was well on its way to some day contend for that sort of distinction. We stayed in the hotel, but we thought about it.

The place was owned by an East Indian family and they were very interested in our Fabs and Heartbreak City sets, which I for one was loathe to do. In Red Deer or anywhere. But especially in Red Deer. Trotting out in satin and velvet heartsuits in a town that remote was not my idea of a good time. We began doing an improvised first set there, consisting mostly of country or old rock and roll tunes, and this went over as well as anything we did later on in the evening, including the heartsuit bit. We also began wearing Disco Sucks! shirts when we did our set of KC and the Sunshine Band and Bee Gees material. This just to get a rise out of the audience, half of whom thought disco really did suck. We did it all.

No hard rock, though.

One day we took a drive to see what attractions the countryside held. We were told go here or there, but there wasn’t much of anything we could find. The only scene seemed to be us and we were better off at our hotel. This was where I realized what is meant by the the statement, “Sex is the theater of the poor”. It was certainly one of the few outlets in that part of the world.

Billy was wildly in love with his fragile dancer, to the exclusion of all others, not that others would have him, and they arranged to meet in Kamloops, a gig or two down the road from our date in Red Deer. The dancers’ company had a week or two off upcoming and the three girls thought that they might relax in western B.C., which as it turned out, was a pretty good idea.

We slogged through Red Deer, and had a few days off before a couple of one-nighters in Lethbridge. Jeff and I went to Missoula to hook up with our womenfolk (how’s that for a p.c. euphemism–we called them our “old ladies” in those days, a fairly customary and not demeaning term, at least among musicians). Susan was becoming more and more dissatisfied with her lot in life and was making plans to join me on the road in Kamloops as well. She had it all arranged and all I could really do was fall in line. This was, to my mind, the end of the party, but in all fairness she really did need a change and I was glad to be able to afford one. We drove together to Lethbridge and she caught the band in action for the first time, before returning to Missoula to prepare for the nomadic way.

The band went back up to Calgary, and played the same venue as before. We were doing good business and it was nice to be in a town with good Chinese food, first run movies (matinees, of course) and all of the usual urban amenities. But we were not growing musically. Billy’s big idea was to play to recorded tracks, strings and horns and such, on tape, an idea which I still have problems with, in a live setting, to this day.

I was interested in working up original material and booking a recording date in one of the larger towns we played. In some ways the balance was good–Billy as P.T. Barnum, while I was huddled over The Modern Method for Guitar, books one through three, or perhaps the latest by Stevie Wonder. Balancing these differing strengths and interests and combining them into a unified vision is probably the essence of progress, but what it amounted to in our case was learning newer cover material. I’d learn all the parts to say, Hotel California by the Eagles, which was enormous then, and teach them to Billy. Then we’d work out the vocal arrangement and bring Jeff and Obie into the picture. Fairly complex bits to sing and play simultaneously and we were notoriously anal about the whole thing. So there was, I suppose, some musical growth happening, but if you were to put the same energy into a bit bigger vision in a bit better location, dare I say it, you’d get a bigger and better result.

It was not really a failing, though. We were out there pounding away, night after night, and money, the necessary object of our pounding, was coming in. Billy, to his credit, knew this and we shredded our throats six nights a week to achieve the desired financial result. And where it was all leading none of us had any real idea.

Living in nightclubs during the seventies it was hard not to be at least a little debauched. And what with Susan’s impending arrival and my general dissatisfaction with the band’s direction I must say I had my share of debauchery. The scene in Calgary was wilder than ever, drugs being done openly on the tables in the corners of the cabaret–not to the extent that it was done at, say, the Mud Club or Area in New York just a few years later–but in that remote part of the world it almost seemed like the last vestiges of the sixties, which I suppose it was. Hippie chicks and glam chicks snorting mescaline between sets. I’d join them on occasion and try to stretch the boundaries of our tightly arranged sets when I got back up on the bandstand. Before heading off into the night or up the elevator at the end of the evening. No cute girl escaped unapproached. Billy, of course, still couldn’t buy a thrill. One night we invited the bouncers up to our floor after the evening’s work, accompanied by as many girls as we could load onto the elevator. The security guys proceeded to relieve Billy of all of his clothing in full view of the gathering. In the nicest possible way, of course. He enjoyed it as much as anyone and probably has photographs. Didn’t improve his luck, though.

As we made high summer, we went west into British Columbia for our second stay at the hotel in Kamloops. It was glorious. Surf was up and the hippies were hipping, as the Mystical Lad would say. The weather was perfect in that gorgeous mountainous location and we took full advantage of the pool and other outdoor amenities.

The dancers were due in from who knows where and Billy was even more beside himself than usual. We had not crossed paths since the one nighters in Lethbridge, during which, owing to the fact that I was accompanied by Susan, Obie, no longer the odd man out,  hooked up with the brunette I had been seeing. This bothered me not at all, although the little blonde was still attached to Jeff, unfortunately. Billy and his friend, after she finally arrived, spent virtually the entire duration of her stay sequestered in his room. Dancer’s indisposition, we were told, which I’m sure was at least part of the truth. Fully documented, photographically.

We, by and large, picked up where we left off. The club had glass walls on two sides, over which curtains were drawn in the evening, but it was an airy and sunny spot during the day, and attracted sizeable diurnal gatherings. It also conveniently opened out onto the pool. We were being paid to preside over this. And we got to play music six nights a week. It was not unlike heaven, only with lots more available girls. As the day of Susan’s arrival drew closer, it seemed like the numbers of girls grew exponentially, and were queuing up like so many planes at the runway of a fogged-in airport. Even Billy got lucky. Obie fell head over heels, once the dancers left, for a blonde woman who I must say was quite a specimen, and Jeff was cutting quite a swath himself. Smiles of a summer night. Or perhaps, the summer plunder.

All this came to an abrupt end for me, though. I fought them off long enough to go meet Susan, who was arriving at the local bus station. That you could even get a bus, or several, that would take you from Missoula to this little resort town in the mountains of British Columbia, was amazing enough. But Susan had packed off the kids, left her job, packed up enough belongings to get by, and made the necessary travel arrangements to hit the road with a rock and roll band. To say that she was dissatisfied with her life I would have to suspect might be something of an understatement. I would further suspect that some of you can sympathize.

She arrived, surprisingly enough, right on time, and was traveling lightly enough for us to walk from the station to the hotel carrying her things.

Susan fit in pretty easily. She was not your all too typical Spinal Tap girlfriend, sowing seeds of discord within the band ranks, and she was not wholly inexperienced with life on the road either. She made friends with some of the local girls with whom we’d go horseback riding far back into the moutainous wilderness. Susan was on the horsey side, having grown up in Montana. I saw her approach totally unfamiliar animals and in no time be riding bareback as though they’d had a long time relationship.

I, on the other hand, had not ridden a horse since summer camp after the sixth grade. But I was game. I went with Susan and two local horsewomen and I was the greenhorn. The guy at the stable told me I was getting a well-behaved horse (a boy horse) but he had a slight twinkle in his eyes that made me suspect otherwise.

It started out well enough. One of the girls seemed to have the obstreperous horse, but she thought she could handle him. As we made our way out of the corral and along the path that led back into the woods, everything was under control, the horses maintaining a unified, steady pace. But the further we got from the barn the quicker they moved. Horse peer pressure. By the time we hit an open meadow it was hell bent for leather, baby. My horse and one of the girls’, the blonde Obie was seeing, in fact, were charging at a full gallop across the clearing. I went with it, screaming at the top of my lungs. It was either fear or fun at that point, maybe both, with no variable controls between. Obie’s friend was also going full throttle. We made eye contact as the horses slowed to accommodate the approaching forest. You’ve got to love someone who can hang with you as you go over the falls.

I talked to my horse the entire time I was on him. As soon as we hit the woods he tried to run me into an overhanging branch, then tried to rub me off against a tree, but it was no use. He was stuck with me. We went off by ourselves, way up the side of a mountain, where the views were spectacular and the footing was precarious. At one pont he refused to go on and I had to get off him and lead him down to a spot he thought he could handle. We were bonding. He still wasn’t completely sure he liked me but we had a relationship, a give and take, as it were, and it was not all bad.

Eventually we rejoined the others, each of whom had an equally fine time of it and we headed back together in the direction of the stables. The horses resumed their collegiality, and once they smelled the barn, made a joint beeline for it. This part of the exercise they knew by heart.

It was about a week before I could walk without pain. Apparently, much of the control I exercised originated in my lower back because I tore up muscles I didn’t know existed. But who had time to work up to the proper condition?

Physically, things got worse. On stage I wore those horrendous platform shoes that have returned with such a vengeance. Ugly and clunky, but they made one taller, probably their primary selling point. One night later that week I was doing a Towshendian leap during a song and came down fully incorrectly, 2 inch heel on the top edge of my phase shifter pedal. It was almost lights out, the pain was so great. We finished the set and I came off, unsure if I could continue. It was fully excruciating. We were scheduled to do our Fabs set, but the way my ankle had swollen there was no way I was going to get into my Beatle boots. In fact I doubted that I could play through the pain. But I got no sympathy.

“The show must go on,” said Billy, unoriginally.

I slipped on a Capezio ballet slipper which I customarily wore during the Heartbreak City set and headed off to the stage.

For the remainder of that night and for the remainder of our stay and beyond, I was in unrelenting pain. Even days later, I’d be onstage, tears streaming down my face while performing. These were emotionless tears, just flat out physical pain. I’d never felt it like that before. I went to the local sawbones the day following the mishap. He took one look at my ankle–it was black, blue, green and purple from the first joint of the toes to just below the knee– and winced. X-rays showed no break.

“There’s nothing I can do for this,” he said. “Inside it will look as bad or worse than it does outside. Breaks are oftentimes not nearly as bad as sprains like this.”

And that was it. Why I didn’t ask him for painkillers I can’t think. It took a year to heal. On the bright side at least I didn’t have to deal with addiction to painkillers, although on balance perhaps that wouldn’t have been worse than the pain. Who can say?

Skin and Bones went on and on. Back to Red Deer, Calgary and Medicine Hat. Following the Medicine Hat gig we were headed back to the States, to Billings, Billy and Jeff’s hometown, for two weeks, after which we were going to take two weeks’ vacation.

We were fried by Medicine Hat but needed the money so we slogged through it. Billy’s triumphant homecoming approached.

For me, this was another gig in a backwater town. The club, Gramma’s, was the best the town had to offer, though, and the money was on a par with the other gigs we’d been playing. The band was overdue for a break and like the horses, we could smell the barn at the end of the path.

For Billy, though, this was a big deal. His whole family, including his mother and rather taciturn father, would come out to the shows, as would, I suppose all of his friends and the local kids with whom he grew up. He was, on the one hand, anxious, while also reveling in his local celebrity status. A common mixture when confronted with high profile gigs, which for him, this was. Jeff took it all, as was his wont, in better stride.

We started on a Monday night in early August, I would guess, and the house was decent if not outstanding. We played at our usual standard but the first returns from the opinion polls were disappointing. The clubowner was underwhelmed. What informed his opinion is anybody’s guess–less than a packed house on a Monday night in August? Was the band tired? A local piano player, whose name, I believe, was Danny, who had an incredibly high opinion of himself, wholly undeserved as far as I could determine, pronounced us undeserving of praise.

“I had made up my mind to join the band when you got to Billings,” he announced, “but now I’ve changed my mind.” Another unilateral decision averted.

In general the gig went well. The weekends were big, all of the houses were respectable. All friends and family went away happy. The response I got, from girls and young guys wanting to take guitar lessons, did not suggest failure, but the clubowner, whose name was Al Staley, was unimpressed, and there was a subtle overall feeling that we had not measured up in some hard to pinpoint way. Great expectations unfulfilled.

Susan and I stayed with Jeff and his girlfriend Nancy at her rural house while in Billings. It was ranches and horses and stables out that way and the days passed pleasantly enough. We made the rounds of band families and friends, a barbecue here, a cocktail party there. Billings society.

Although Billings will never be mistaken for Paris or Prague, or San Francisco, for that matter, there was natural beauty within driving distance. One day we all went down to the Yellowstone Park corner of the state to hike in the Rockies. It was spectacular down that way. There were places which looked just like the Alps setting for The Sound of Music–I expected Julie Andrews to come skipping down the meadow singing “the hills are alive” at every turn.

Jeff and I, of course, did some free hand climbing on a pretty challenging rock formation. It was an almost totally vertical rock face which jutted out from the less steep incline of the mountain from which it was proud. It was possible to climb up the mountain through the trees on either side of the rock, which rose maybe 350 feet in total.

I followed Jeff. This was not always a good idea since he was probably six inches taller than me and sometimes chose routes that were not possible within the limits of my limb extension. Yoga notwithstanding.

It was great fun for a while, the day was gorgeous and the location had it all, great views, thick forests, waterfalls, the works. I usually climbed pretty quickly, trying to establish a physical rhythm as I made my choices about handholds and footholds. It’s always good to keep some kind of a flow. Tentative does not work on the side of a cliff. Neither, however, does impetuous.

About two thirds of the way up it started to get difficult. I slowed my rhythm way down as I looked for my next moves, which were becoming less and less apparent. The choices were dwindling down to few and none. How had Jeff done it? I considered retreating but I couldn’t really see below well enough to find the holds that I‘d used on the way up. Not that the last few were especially accommodating to begin with.

I inched forward, checking out the possibilities on either side but it was no better laterally than it was vertically. I was basically on the side of a large smooth, dome shaped rock, barely inclined up the mountain, and without a crease or crack in sight. My flow slowed to still. One impulsive move and it was all over. Helicopter out the body. I was still but not frozen. Not completely.

Then the wind began to blow. A howling wind, no evidence of which existed before, came up and made every attempt to blow me off the rock. Visions of the spirit of the mountain flooded into my brain. I was at my most vulnerable spot and it was trying to pry me out of it. And it was relentless. I started to take it personally. I started screaming at the wind. Get the hell out of here, numerous creative expletives, top of the lungs. No abatement. I began to envision myself as an octopus, capable of clinging with every square inch of limb surface, suction cups up and down arms and legs. I was no longer resting on any tiny ledges or holding on  by hands and feet. It was my whole body suctioning onto the side of the dome and inching up slowly and rhythmically. Spirit of the mountain, meet the spirit of the octopus.

Eventually the octopus worked its way to the top of the rock outcropping and safety. My entire body was shaking convulsively from the effort and I couldn’t catch my breath. Nothing I tried would induce it to stop. Apparently the transition from octopus to human is not acccomplished without serious difficulty. I decided to run down the side of the mountain, to engage my body with a new physical task that it would have to reorient itself to accomplish. Get a new anaerobic rhythm. This worked partially. By the time I reunited with my friends I was only trembling slightly and I was out of breath in a more customary way. There wasn’t much I could tell them about my experience. The wind deliberately and maliciously tried to pry me off the mountain? I just said it got tricky and I had to take my time to negotiate the tough spots. It took and hour or so before I really calmed down, and by that time we were back in the van on our way to a barbecue in Billings.

Years later I was hiking with a friend in Sonoma county and I recounted the story to her. She was quite naturally skeptical but didn’t tell me that I was sadly deluded, she just let it go. On top of a high point in the park where we were hiking I decided to climb a tree to catch the view. As I reached the uppermost branches which would support me a howling wind came up and started rocking the treetop back and forth with, dare I say it, extreme and overt prejudice. It was not a windy day. I got the hell down from there in a hurry. My friend couldn’t help but notice. “I thought you were making that story up,” she said, incredulously, as my tail receded back into the base of my spine.

The two weeks in Billings passed quickly enough, following which the band took a much needed break. We agreed to meet in Edmonton, Alberta, site of our next engagement, at the conclusion of a two week vacation. From each other, as much as anything. Susan and I made arrangements to fly to San Francisco, Jeff and his girlfriend went to San Diego, Billy went to wherever his dancer friend was playing and Obie went home to Portland.

The Bay Area was having a glorious summer, outside of San Francisco proper, that is. After a brief visit with my folks we went straight to Santa Cruz to look up AJ. I had a few bucks and I wanted to go into the studio, with him, and record basic tracks for a few of my songs.

I met him at Holly’s old place, a little cottage at the back of someone’s property which was now the abode of John’s new girlfriend, the one for whom he left Holly. I wondered how that transition took place. We instantly started talking music and he pulled out a funky old boom box and put in a cassette. I expected to hear the new Weather Report or something by one of Miles’s many offspring but what came out was well removed from my expectations. It was rock and roll, very straight ahead, all eighth-notes, in fact, and all uptempo. A little surf and sort of a monotone vocal. I liked it immediately.

“This is the Ramones”, said AJ.

We listened for a while and then he put in another cassette, this one featuring a girl singer, fronting a rather melodic rock band.

“Blondie”, he indicated. “These bands are part of the punk new wave scene that’s happening.”

“You mean like the Sex Pistols?” I asked. I always kept tabs on what was happening in England and had a couple of the Pistols singles.

“Yeah, only this stuff is happening here, too.” Here meaning the U.S. of A.

Although I’d heard the Sex Pistols and perhaps the Damned, this was the first time I started to pick up the vibe. The punk parameter was a bit wider than what I’d thought and I got the sense that there was real energy and real possibility there.

“This is the first time” AJ went on, “since maybe the Beatles, that four guys (or girls) with only guitars and drums can go out and play and have a chance.”

That was all I needed to hear. It was strange coming from AJ, who was so enamored of fusion and jazz, but I had the feeling that he was dead right. I marveled at the clarity of the communication coming out of the beat up, late 70’s boom box. No audiophile ever heard that. And I was sick of the ever escalating, slick and always unreachable pretensions of the existing rock world. I made up my mind to leave Skin and Bones, heartsuits and all, and find myself a city to live in.

The transition didn’t happen overnight. I still had every intention of recording the songs I’d been laboring over and approached AJ about doing them with me. He was agreeable. We checked out a local 16 track studio called Flux and I booked some time for a week hence.

Holly was housesitting at a fabulous pad in the Santa Cruz Mountains, one of those hippie fairytale multilevel places attached to the side of a hill in a Redwood forest. An only-in-Northern-California phenomenon. She offered to put us up, and suggested we rehearse there as well. We set up out on one of the decks and for a week, the forest echoed with rock and roll. It was grand.

AJ learned the tunes quickly and brought something extra to the party. His memory for arrangements was excellent and he executed them with something approaching daring, a quality easily lost in the clinical, self-conscious, and metronomic rigors of modern recording. It was flowing, baby. And coming together.

One afternoon a fellow who was taller and even more Pete Townshendesque than AJ dropped by, visiting from L.A., or Santa Monica, to be precise. This turned out to be Larry, AJ’s younger brother. He was a guitarist also and had played in a couple of bands down that way, a pop band called Village and a punk band called the Deadbeats. This was the summer of 1977. We jammed early that evening and I was amazed by the looseness of his right hand. I could tell that he had a good melodic sense, too, although I don’t think you could have proved it from our jam. The cat had talent and was an awfully nice guy as well.

It was a lovely time, all in all. Susan was enjoying herself. We hit the beach when we weren’t rehearsing and the place in the mountains was nothing if not idyllic. I began to discuss moving to the Bay Area with her. From my point of view, it made all the sense in the world, but she was not so convinced. As energetic as my efforts at persuasion were, she was not to be moved.

“Earthquakes”, she said.

Fear of earthquakes?

Our friend Jonna had moved to Salt Lake City from Missoula, for god knows what reason. She had a big house there which she shared with her daughter and a few guys in the rock and roll band, Nasty Habit. Susan made up her mind to go and live there. I had no idea what was going on in her brain and she was not able or willing to articulate it so I just let it be. I had a session to do. Whatever, never mind.

I had just booked a day at Flux. My intentions were to do guitar and drum basics on three, maybe four songs, and add vocals, probably for reference only at the end of the day.

Generally speaking, if you get usable drum tracks at your first basic session you’re doing all right. We did better than all right. We were rehearsed, the arrangements were fat free and we were in playing shape. We had lots of friends at the session, Holly, Susan, AJ’s girlfriend Sharon, Paul and various others. The folks at the studio were very accommodating and very competent. And the gear was good.

“Who is the producer of the session?” asked the studio owner.

It seemed to me that there were only three possibilities–the engineer, to whom I had taken an instant liking, the studio owner himself, who seemed interested in taking it on and who, in retrospect, I probably would have been wise to designate, or me.

“What is a producer?” I asked, meaning What constitutes a producer. I was well aware, in fact could name the producers of every major album of the last decade.

“It’s the person who knows the most about the music,” he replied.

“That would be me,” I answered.

And so I became the producer. It did not exactly hurt that I was paying for the session, either.

We knocked them down, one after the other. AJ and I have always had a a certain musical sympatico, an ease, which I felt the first time I played with him and still feel to this day. This is not to say that we have not had other problems, but if you can get the crap out of the way, we can lock and flow. We did four songs, Working Girl, Vanity, With My Own Eyes, Should I Laugh? By mid afternoon I was cutting lead vocals, then adding harmonies, and by early evening all of our friends were in the main room adding claps to a song or two. We knocked off following rough mixes and arranged to come back the following day to get cassette copies of what we’d done and pick up our gear. It had gone extremely well.

I went to the studio the next morning to collect my things and both the owner and the engineer were there.

“I’m not happy with the guitar sound on “Vanity”” the owner announced in the direction of the engineer. Then he turned to me.

“Would you mind doing it again? There won’t be a charge.”

The engineer brought out a little amp and put a couple of mics on it, one close, one far. Then he adjusted the settings, which were more elaborate than my old blackface Fenders, and got a tone that had clarity but started to distort at just the right point. I played the specific song for him over and over so that he could fine tune the tones to its rhythms and to the way the guitar behaved in that key and that situation. He got it pretty quickly.

By the time he was finished I was warmed up and I cut the track in a take or two. The song was much improved. The guitar had more punch and just the right amount of definition and the drums and vocals became more crisp and apparent. The guitar had found its role.

“I’d be interested in helping you finish up the tracks,” said the owner of the studio. “If you’re interested.”

I was more than interested but time was running out on my visit. He said that the studio freed up in two weeks time and following that we could think about cutting a bass guitar and mixing.

“I have to be in Edmonton next week for a three week gig,” I told him, not really knowing where I might be after that. Momentum is key to this sort of offer. Strike while the iron is hot and all that.

“Well, give me a call when you get back and we’ll see what we can do,” he concluded.

Susan left for Salt Lake City that afternoon. That seemed to be it for us but my flight to Edmonton stopped off in Salt Lake City, so I agreed to lay over and see her there.

It was, as had so often been the case, completely up in the air. There are times when you really don’t mind breaking up, and times when you really don’t want to break up, and times when you have no idea if you want to or not and can’t even tell if you are or have or have not. This was one of the latter. I think. No one knew, least of all Susan, who was moving into a house full of rock and rollers in Salt Lake City, of all places.

My mind was still made up to give notice to the band and I told AJ that I would be coming back to California following Skin and Bones’ next engagement. He was booked to play Las Vegas in a few weeks time, so we decided to hook up in Los Angeles at the end of our respective gigs. We thought we’d make the rounds of record labels with our new recording, unfinished though it was.

We did make one call in the Bay Area, AJ and I, before he went off to Nevada. I rang the Record Plant in Sausalito to see if my friend TA was still there. He was and he agreed to see us and take a tape. We pulled into the Plant just around sunset. A very subtle pastel sunset as AJ commented. TA played the tape over the big speakers in one of the big rooms there and it sounded very good indeed, rough though it was. He was always encouraging, which is something of a rarity in a business in which so many people are paid to say no. He asked what we were up to that evening and we said we were headed to the Old Waldorf, a club down by the Embarcadero, to see a new band called Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. TA said he’d heard good things about them, before bidding us good night and returning to his work.

AJ and I were walking up the stairs of the Embarcadero complex in which the club was located just as the band’s limo pulled up. We turned around to get a look at them as they exited the vehicle. It looked like an altercation. Tom was very upset, shaking, in fact, and the band was taking pains to stay neutral. You could see it on their faces. Somebody, a manager type, was attempting to soothe Petty, who looked as though he’d blown his cool big time. Like he’d thrown punches and got the worst of it.

“Not the most auspicious sign for a good show” I said to AJ, as we proceeded ahead of the band.

Those early days, when a band is breaking and going through that monster gauntlet, can be a roaring bitch, take it from me. By the way, the Heartbreakers show ended on a high note after something of a labored set, with Sam Cooke’s “Shake”. A tune I used to do in Full Measure with DJ, many years before, for those of you keeping score.

I finished up my stay visiting with friends, PJ, who was at his father’s home in Atherton with his brother, Paul, and Katy, my old friend from the Haight and Seattle, who had been touring with David Ruffin of the Temptations, and was living with her daughter and a new boyfriend in nearby Menlo Park. The respite from the band had been therapeutic. I had some time to relax in very hospitable conditions with friends and I had gotten a little work done as well. But all respites are too brief.

I flew out of SFO into Salt Lake City, and took a cab from the airport to Jonna’s house of rockers, where Susan was staying. There was an awful lot of mix and match going on in those days. Jonna was crazy about Nasty Habit’s guitar player Mike O’Neil, who I believe was married with children, as if that mattered, and Susan was desirable enough herself to actually attract him. Salt City was also Tom Montanez’ home base let’s not forget and throw in a couple of cute guitar players actually living in the house and you’ve got  complete and total I Don’t Know Where I Stand syndrome.

But I stopped over just the same. The truth is, I’d never really been hurt by the breakup of a relationship before and I couldn’t  really sweat this one. At this point, anyway. It’s only rock and roll and all that. Whatever complications there were were cleared away for the time I was there, though. People realized that Susan and I had a long history, respected it and gave us some space. Besides, I’d be gone in the morning. So I had a nice visit with my old friend Jonna, whom I called The Chatelaine at that and future junctures and I also hung out with Rick Phillips, the band’s bass player who was living there, playing each other tapes and what not. Rick and I crossed paths subsequently when he was with the Babies and others. But I spent the night with Susan. For what I thought was the last time.

The next morning I was off to Edmonton.

Several years and many relationship vicissitudes later, I was playing Salt Lake City on a coast to coast tour of the US, promoting a record, and the local promoter had booked Nasty Habit to open the show for my band. Not especially suited stylistically, but there you are. It was SLC after all. They were semi-intact and sure enough Mike O’Neill caught me backstage.

“Can I borrow an amp from you for tonight?”

“Yes, I’m sure there’s something you can use. Talk to Bill from our crew.”

“You know, man, there was never anything between your old lady and me,” he confided, not particularly convincingly. When someone goes out of their way to say something like that, you can be sure that there was something between them. If only casual sex.

“It’s all the same to me,” I said blandly.

Then he ran off to try to put the moves on our female lead singer.

I took a cab from the Edmonton Airport to the hotel. The town seemed to be a carbon copy of Calgary. God knows how it got started. It rose out of the plains, in what literally looked like the middle of nowhere and it had a damn space needle just like Calgary. And Seattle and Toronto. And it was way the hell up there, maybe four hundred miles north of Calgary, which to my mind is way the hell up there itself. The hotel we were playing was on the south end of town and it was big, with a huge noisy tavern, which was where we were to play.

We did the usual, shmoozed the desk clerk, ingratiated ourselves to the tavern staff and management, got our rooms and set up our gear. Extra adrenaline was flowing, though. The time off made everything fresher and less routine and the place itself was pretty impressive.

We caught each other up on our vacations, if you will. Jeff was very interested in my studio efforts in the Bay Area, as was Obie. Billy, of course, was on Planet Bill. It was hard to tell if he was just very focused or simply myopic, perhaps a by-product of a life spent in small, remote towns. I’d made up my mind to tell the band of my intention to leave after we had a few days to settle in.

The gig turned out to be pretty easy. The damn hockey finals were on and the Edmonton Oilers were involved so we waited until the games were over each day before starting. Short nights. Our voices were strong from the layoff but it only took a couple of sets to get them back to their club character, i.e., customary damaged condition. It was loose and there were lots of girls and no competition. The guys were all glued to the hockey on television. After each set I found myself at a new tableful of semi-inebriated girls, toasting Edmonton, which I’m sure they all wanted to escape from, and assessing my opportunities. Sex had to be the number one form of entertainment in that isolated northern city. Especially in those days. We made jokes about having no-repeat week contests. The one with the greatest number of different partners per week, wins. Of course Billy was the exception . He was just too rude and selfish to have any luck. Even there the girls could tell and ran from him. No respect. That is, they could tell he had none.

I began telling the audience between songs about the Ramones and Blondie. The band had no idea what I was on about, but I’d caught the bug of the new wave and had some real enthusiasm for it. I gave notice, effective at the end of the Edmonton run. Billy was upset but when he realized I was serious immediately made plans to hook up with his dancer friend’s variety act. I think he started mixing sound for them and then got into the band but quite honestly I never followed up on what he did. Jeff offered to drive me and Obie home to Portland and San Francisco, respectively, with our gear in the band van, of which he took possession in our breakup arrangement.

The gig took on a bit of a perfunctory flavor from the point of my announcement. Billy claimed that his voice was damaged and refused to do much singing, leaving me with the lion’s share of vocal chores. The rest of us rocked as hard as we normally did, which was pretty damn hard. But we were already gone.

For the entire two or three week run the same two girls occupied the table closest to center stage. Every night, without fail. At first I thought nothing of it but as the days wore on their constancy became impressive. One of them paid a lot of attention to me and what I did on and off the stage. At first I thought there might be some sort of obsessive behavior going on, but I spoke with her on occasion and decided that she was just a young girl with a bit of a crush. On our last night there Jeff asked me if I were going to perform a mercy fuck. I didn’t make up the term. This is a quote.

“What are you talking about?” I asked,

“The girl at the front table, of course,” he replied.

“Oh, I don’t think so, she’s just a young fan,” said I.

“Pretty dedicated fan,” he said and left it at that.

Sure enough though, at the end of the evening she asked if she could spend the night with me.

“This is the last night of my vacation,” she offered. “I have to go back to my parents’ home tomorrow.”

“I don’t think so, I have to pack up and get ready to leave myself,” I replied.

“I’ll help you pack.”

And so on. Eventually I relented.

She bade her friend adieu and we went up to my room on the ninth floor. I didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of packing to do, in truth, and in short order we were ministering to our biological impulses. She was young but she was no novice. Right in the middle of the arc of the night the phone rang. Probably two people in the world knew where in the world I was at that moment and one of them was Susan. Susan it was. What did she want?

“Hi, it’s me.”

“Susan, hello, what’s doing?”

The young girl began giggling. Uncontrollably. I actually had to put my hand over her mouth.

“I just wanted to see what your plans were following the gig. Is there a girl there with you?”

I thought fast.

“Yeah, a couple of them.” Go with it, baby.

Susan laughed, relieved. Although why it was any business of hers I can’t think. I suppose we were still semi joined at the hip, so to speak. Those ties don’t dissolve overnight.

“Jeff is driving us back to the coast, following which I’ll be meeting AJ in L.A. to spread the tape around a bit.”

Susan, who was not normally very chatty, wouldn’t get off the phone. And the girl in my bed thought it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen and would not stop carrying on. And I, for the life of me, couldn’t figure out why I was so concerned. Susan had already opted for the enticements of Salt Lake City, saints preserve us. That should have told me enough right there, Yeah there’s a girl in my bed, she’s 17 years old and she’s just the latest in a veritable procession, Susan, dear. But no. I was intent on sparing everyone. From what I don’t know.

We pulled out the next morning, if you’ll pardon the expression, and headed back to Billings, no minor jaunt in itself. I believe Billy went straight to wherever his girlfriend was playing. Somewhere in the midwest, I think it was. Our plan was to drop off the band gear and repack the van with Obie’s and my stuff–I had been in the Northwest for four years now and I still had little more than my guitar, amp and clothes. We decided to visit Yellowstone on the way and hang in Portland at Obie’s for a while before heading to California. Jeff was up for the trip and he and Obie did not seem to resent my decision to leave the band. Billy, of course, bad mouthed me up one side and down the other. Not to my face, needless to say, but it all got back to me, as it often does.

Yellowstone was relatively deserted. We stayed in the lodge near Old Faithful and hiked and climbed for a couple of days. I’m sure we barely scratched its surface. Then we found the river road that runs all the way to Portland, and followed it downstream like newly hatched salmon. I hadn’t been there since True Blue had been wrongfully terminated, and this visit proved to be much more cordial. Obie’s family was extremely hospitable, and I struck up a friendship with his older brother Mike, who is quite an accomplished guitarist.  Following a brief round of sightseeing and checking out the hot spots, Jeff and I said our goodbyes and pointed ourselves south down Interstate 5.

To this day I don’t know if Jeff had anything specific in mind about what might happen in San Francisco. I reckon he was just checking out my scene, which was negligible, and the rock music scene in general, which was just about to open up for the first time in a long time. But it was not readily apparent from what we saw. We went almost directly to the Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway, the former Filipino supper club which was, by all accounts, the hotbed of the new punk rock/new wave activity.  It was a weeknight and the place had about four people in it, not to mention a truly awful band on stage. Not very impressive.

On the one hand it didn’t seem like the scene which existed in New York and London was taking in the Bay Area and on the other hand, if this were just an off night and this was the quality of the bands on the scene,  it was going to be a cakewalk.

I felt both disappointed and cocky, and decided to talk to the club manager, who I thought could hardly be occupied. As it turned out, he was. I entered the office and was treated to the time honored spectacle of a young guy, who had a band called the Skidmarks, begging an older guy, presumably the manager, to give him a gig. And without much success. I could see that the kid had the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell, so I tried to barge in and buttonhole the manager myself. But he waved me off.

He was clearly enjoying the exchange and his position of superiority in it. And once they had an audience, namely me, it became theater. Eventually they played out the scene and the young musician went away empty handed. I was no rookie in the world of rock and roll and let the guy know it immediately, but he was unimpressed. He was a prickly individual, acutely observant, and he seemed to have more than just the club management agenda, not so far beneath the surface of his conversation. He told me his name was Dirk Dirksen, and that his background was in television production.

“What did you produce?” I asked.

“Well, for one thing, a show called ‘Never Too Young’, which was a teenage soap which had rock bands featured on each episode.”

Now I was impressed.

“I used to watch that show every day just to see the bands,” said I.

He went on to tell me how the punk scene was burgeoning, how film crews came to the club on a regular basis and how the whole thing was going to explode. He was obviously a promoter, not merely someone who ran a club, and his manner, which had almost deliberately insulting elements, was still somehow seductive, even encouraging. He was the prototypical punk promoter and his post Lenny Brucian intelligently rude humor was the perfect match for the object of his promotion.

I left his office and went back into the club. There was still nobody there and the band was still caterwauling away. This tempered the impression made by Dirk Dirksen, but he was creating the vessel, it was up to others to fill it.

I immediately resolved to cut my hair.

On the next night, Jeff and I collected PJ and decided to check out a few discos. Just past the halfway point of 1977, these joints were in full swing. After a few false starts we ended up at Oil Can Harry’s, a gay discotheque on lower Polk Street. This was certainly more happening than the nascent punk scene, and what was interesting was that it represented a shift in emphasis away from the stage and back to the audience. In my opinion, you’ve got to give the audience some room to move. Would you rather have seen Duke Ellington at Carnegie Hall or Roseland? All those who answered “I’d like to have seen him anywhere at all”, go to the head of the class. This was fresh energy, at any rate, but outside of the studio there wasn’t much call for musicians.

Jeff hung around town for a few more days and as there was nothing in the way of immediate opportunity, he hit the road and headed back to Billings. I never saw him again.

AJ was still in Las Vegas, but I decided to go to LA early and hook up with my old friend Steve Sharp, who had relocated there from Portland–Vancouver, Washington, actually. To illustrate how small the world is, he was working for a guy who was in DJ’s first band, People (no “the”). Steve had done some sound engineering for him and was now managing one of his straight businesses.

I flew into LAX and as I was waiting for Steve to pick me up, it struck me, really for the first time, that my entire life was completely up in the air. I had no band, no old lady, and nowhere to live. It’s hard enough to sort any one of these things out, let alone deal with all at once.  And let’s not even think about not having a car or any immediate prospects for earning money. I did what any sane individual would do, I went out and bought a pack of cigarettes. It was more security than I had before I started. By the time Steve arrived I was a smoker.

1977 L.A. Continental Riot House, Rainbow, Roxie, Troubador, Whisky a Go Go. Steve lived in the Valley, I think it was Van Nuys but I never could tell one of those towns from the other. The Valley for me is like the Mysterious East Bay, where elephants go to die. I try to avoid it if possible.

Steve worked during the day, managing a business, and I did very little, it seems to me. Played guitar and smoked cigarettes, probably. At night we painted the town. We usually ended up in the Rainbow parking lot, right out front, at closing time. The Rainbow was not really a great mingling spot, it was more a place to see and be seen, so there was quite a bit of feverish mingling in the parking lot at the end of the night. One such night a blonde approached me.

“Want to go to a party?”

“Oh I don’t know, I’m kind of beat.” Mr. Hard To Get.

“Take some of these,” she said, handing me a few bennies.

“Benny and the Jets,” I said, turning to Steve.

“It’s at the place directly behind the giant Bullwinkle statue on Sunset,” she said. “See you there.”

The giant Bullwinkle statue. This was a good omen. Everyone knew it, it was like one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world. It may still be there for all I know.

Steve was willing. If all the girls were as forthcoming as this one the prospects seemed good. We each ate a leaper or two and headed east on Sunset.

“You know I used to think I needed these to play well, when I first went out with Vortex,” Steve confided, referring to the upper. “Then I realized all I needed was to have a few drinks.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. This is an incredibly common progression in the life of a young musician. Some guys move from thing to thing for years, going with whatever works for as long as it works, then moving on to a new thing. It’s quite a thing. Neither of us did much of this sort of thing for any length of time and almost not at all by 1977. But there we were speeding down Sunset to a party at Bullwinkle’s.

We found the party. It was in quite a nifty apartment with an Oriental motif in a building behind the building behind the statue. Which was right on the street. I walked in the front door and noticed that Joe Cocker was sitting on the couch, drinking a beer and chatting with a friend. He had quite a reputation at this time and I thought that this might be an indication of the possibility of world class debauchery.  We were in Hollywood, after all. Steve and I mingled, got a couple of beers, and lit up cigarettes. He didn’t smoke but he wanted a “prop”. I, after perhaps three days of smoking, was close to fully habituated, especially after a few beers and whatnot. I found the girl who had invited us. She was having an excellent time and gave every indication of having an interest in benzedrine inspired marathon sex.

Steve was not having much luck on the female front. He’s on his third or fourth marriage as of this writing (sorry, Steve) but this was not his night. And was anxious to go. I told the blonde that I was on my way out with my mate and she packed up her benzedrine and her pearls and pried herself loose from the party. Upon returning to Van Nuys, Steve very graciously let us use his bedroom, bless his heart, to which we repaired with great dispatch. The thing about sex under the influence of any of the stimulants is that you can either go forever or not at all, I can say with the confidence of experience of both. Although confidence is not what you find with the latter case, I can assure you. On this occasion, however, we ran the full twenty-six miles. I could have danced all night.

The following week, AJ flew in from Las Vegas and the two of us went to stay with his mom in Santa Monica. But not before getting short haircuts. It took some getting used to for me, having had long hair for the better part of a decade. Steve came too, but he was not quite ready to take the plunge that, it must be said, David Bowie had taken over a year before.

And so we quickly established a routine, dropping Beth, his mom, off at work in the morning and using her car during the day to hit the various record labels. At day’s end we’d pick her up from work and then go and jump in the Pacific Ocean to revitalize ourselves. It was highly therapeutic after a long day of rejection and traffic and was a practice we continued in less benign conditions once we returned to San Francisco–Ocean Beach without a wetsuit will definitely change your day.

Larry, AJ’s brother, also lived in Santa Monica at that time. He was doing a straight gig at the Rand Corporation and playing in various bands around town. It occurred to me again what a nice cat he was, but he had his own scene going on and, who knew, it might catch on.

AJ and I also went out on the town at night, but always to check out music. We caught Tom Petty again, this time at the Santa Monica Civic opening for Be Bop Deluxe, an English rock band that had little to do with be-bop, and we caught Jack De Johnette’s quartet at the Roxie, opening for Stomu Yamashta and Go. I always loved De Johnette, whom I first saw at the Fillmore playing with Miles Davis (do I have to include his surname?). He was the one cat in the band who could kick Miles’s butt. Euphemistically speaking, of course. This particular quartet was excellent and featured a guitarist I’ve always liked, John Abercrombie. After each song, AJ and I burst into genuine spontaneous applause, sometimes rising to our feet, to the total consternation of the ever-trendy Hollywood crowd, who were merely tolerating an opening act. Heads would turn with that, “What are they so excited about?” look. Try listening, slavish trend followers. Yamashta was a bore. The concept was kind of interesting, for its time, at any rate, but the music didn’t ever jell and go anywhere. We split after twenty minutes or so. Another empty parade.

But for all of our seemingly futile diurnal efforts, there was a single fateful moment which happened one evening at the Whisky a Go Go. Holly’s brother Andy was in town, playing with a San Francisco group called Leila and the Snakes, who were opening for I don’t know who at the Whisky. Naturally we went down to check them out.

Andy was studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and playing with rock bands for fun and profit. He and AJ were good friends–he was the one who induced AJ to leave the Borchers Brothers way back when, by playing him the Tony Williams Lifetime record. Andy was and is also a fabulous talent and very amusing and genuinely nice cat. A better listener I don’t know that I’ve played with. And he responds, too.

Leila and the Snakes were sort of a modern cabaret act, costumes, jokes and humorous introductions to very clever, very funny songs. But rock songs. Some with a Latin flavor, some with a country flavor, some like Goffin and King–the gamut, depending on the subject matter of the lyric. But it was a rock cabaret act, for all intents and purposes.

Leila was Jane Dornacker, a woman who had been at San Francisco State when I was there, during all the rioting at the end of the sixties. I remembered seeing her on occasion, it was hard to miss her. In addition to her flamboyant propensities she was a striking Amazon of a woman, well over six feet tall, well proportioned and with flaming red hair.

She wrote the material, introductions and songs, fronted the acted and played piano. She was a real pip. Two of the Snakes were also female. One played bass and the other was a primarily a dancer, background singer and wearer of outrageous costumes which she seemed to change with each song. She was introduced as Pearl E. Gates.

Pearl was a visual aid, in more ways than one. Her costumes were generally sexy, but they also had a lot of style and the styles were particular to the songs, which she acted out while the band played and Leila sang. Some of it was ribald, but the majority of it was good, clean, outrageous fun. With clothes. Pearl would be a cowgirl when they did their song about Recreational Vehicles, she’d be Carmen Miranda when they did Senor Jal (“Senor Jal, Jalapena, it‘s too hot, take it out”), and so on. Andy on drums and a guitarist filled out the band. They were a very entertaining act.

We saw Andy after the show, at his motel room at the infamous Tropicana.

“How did you like the show?” he asked.

“Very entertaining, you were great,” replied John.

“You were,” I assented, “and I loved the chick.”

“Which one?” he asked, thinking that I might be responding primarily to the voluptuous Ms. Gates, who had, after all, been a topless dancer at the El Cid on Broadway in San Francisco when not otherwise employed.

But I was taken with the talented Jane. Wit is probably the sexiest thing in the universe, anyway.

“Leila!” I replied, “she’s brilliant.”

Andy smiled. “She is, isn’t she?”

It was easy to go on about Andy’s inventive and multi-dimensional drumming, and AJ and I were just the musical obsessives to do it. The chips were starting to fall that night, although none of us actually knew it as we headed back to Santa Monica and AJ’s mom’s place. We knocked around town a while longer, hustling the tape during the day and jumping into the Pacific at day’s end. Finally, we decided to head back to San Francisco and who knew what. I booked a flight and called PJ, who agreed to pick me up at the airport.

I was just about out of cash, an unpleasant but not unfamiliar condition for me, and I had no idea where I was going to stay, but it was autumn, the most beautiful time of year in the Bay Area and that was a bit of a comfort. When you have no real path or opportunity, your mind starts proposing all manner of possibility, some utterly illogical. But it just keeps flinging ideas out until it gets something to orient itself around. I had the line from Maggie May “It’s late September and I really should be back at school” repeatedly and involuntarily running through my head as I got off the plane in San Francisco. “At least I have PJ,” I thought to myself. He and I had provided psychological support to one another, probably ultimately to our mutual detriment, for well over a decade. He’s one of the few people whose point of view, however addled or convoluted, I happen to understand. This alone can and has carried me through more than one desperate situation. And still does.

The flight is short, less than an hour, from LA to SF, but all distance not measured in miles is great. I walked toward the gate and as I made the terminal I saw not only PJ, but his brother Paul. And Jonna. And Susan.

Susan was wearing lipstick.  That was the first thing that struck me. Then the fact that PJ had not mentioned that she was around flooded into my foremost realization chamber. At her bidding, no doubt. What was she doing there? That’s over, isn’t it?

Wrong again, as PJ would and has far too often said.

I have to admit, my heart raced a little when I saw her. I’d been prepared to move on to Life After Susan but I suppose the embers had not died out completely because I found myself anxiously awaiting the moment when I could talk to her privately and find out what she had on her mind. Was this just a brief hiatus from her new life in Salt Lake or did it portend more? Whatever the case, it was quite a jolly homecoming. I’ve always enjoyed Jonna’s company and we repaired as a group to PJ’s father’s house in Atherton.

It’s very difficult to make generalizations which pertain to gender, especially in this day and age, but there are a couple of female traits which I have seen once or twice too often with different women in wildly dissimilar circumstances to discount entirely. The parallels are just impossible to ignore.

The first is that if a woman is interested in you and thinks she has a reasonable shot at getting you, no relationship is sacred to her. It’s the All’s Fair in Love syndrome. No subversion too extreme, no obstacle insurmountable. The second is that, in a relationship, if a woman is unhappy with her own lot, or feels that the match is not quite what she had hoped, or thinks a better opportunity might be available, it’s your fault. You are not working on the relationship, you are not communicating, you won’t commit, you don’t make enough money, you are not Picasso, you’re not tall enough, or you’re too tall. You. Always you. The dissatisfaction falls on you. You failed to provide the final solution. The knight with the tarnished armor.

A reasonable partnership. This is romance, folks. Maybe you get the incredible experience, as I have, of falling madly in love with someone with whom a reasonable partnership is possible. Count your blessings. Maybe the mad love deepens into something like true care and concern, something you can’t dismiss or live without easily. I’ve often suspected that a man is slow to commit to a relationship because he knows, perhaps only subconsciously, that he will never completely get over it if it ends. Whereas women have an uncanny ability to, once they have decided that it’s over, completely and utterly disconnect without reservation. This is perhaps the third generality I’d be tempted to make, and I know that there are exceptions. This certainly does not apply to all women, only the overwhelming majority. Just kidding. I thought Tom Petty summed it up quite nicely with the line, “It couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me”. But it was. Ouch.

Like a fool I took up with Susan again, this time in virtually impossible circumstances.

She had changed her mind about 1) Salt Lake City, 2) her children, and 3) me. Now she wanted to go to Montana, collect Sari and Rachel, and return to the digs which I would find for us in San Francisco. Neither of us had a dime. On with the impossible.

She and Jonna didn’t stay long, just long enough to confound my life completely, and they were off to Salt Town. I was to borrow money, presumably from my parents, for the first and last month’s rent plus security deposit on a place big enough for the four of us, while Susan was off packing up her family and belongings. She would rent a van when she got word from me that the place was secured.

San Francisco usually runs neck and neck with Manhattan as the place with the least housing and highest rents. Everybody wants to live in town and the town has a fixed amount of space which has been utterly full for quite some time, making house hunting quite the competitive little pursuit.

Let’s see, I have no money, no job, no recent history in the area, how about renting your place to me? This was my predicament and I did what any rational person would do. Despair? Panic? Turn to drugs, religion, denial?

These are the points at which you realize that it’s all an impossibility anyway, that the very probability of life forming out of whatever primordial soup happened to be in whatever form it was in when the combination triggered this bizarre evolutionary process–in short, there is no probability. It’s utterly unlikely, verging on impossible, and so get on with it, Brother Buzz.

My folks reluctantly loaned me the startup money. They didn’t care for Susan and thought I was foolish which I could hardly argue. AJ, his girlfriend and Paul had got a house in the outer Sunset by the beach and so I though I’d look out that way for proximity purposes and because I thought the schools were probably o.k. for Sari, who was about to enter first grade. It took about a week of scouring the possibilities for me to find a place that was suitable and which was owned by someone with enough generosity of spirit to rent to one whose circumstances were so unsecured. Somehow, miraculously enough, it happened and I acquired the keys to a small house on 35th Avenue near Ortega St., which would be suitable for occupation in less than a month’s time. I notified Susan, by this time back in Missoula.

In the interim I split my time between AJ’s place on 46th Ave., playing music in his basement, and down the peninsula, alternating between PJ’s father’s place and Katy’s house. I took immediately to Katy’s new boyfriend, Bob, known affectionately as Caba, an amateur musician and songwriter, who at that time won his bread by repping Gilette products.  He and I spent many hours trying to wrestle his songs into arrangements which would satisfy Katy, to no avail. DJ was also back in the city, and also had a place in the outer Sunset district.  So I had a bit of a community, but no real prospects for generating income. There’s no stress like out-of-work stress.

Since returning from her stint with David Ruffin, Katy had fronted a number of top forty bands around the Bay Area. These were not like the rock and roll cover bands I was in, these were slick, uniformed, r & b and soft rock bands. Very competitive, very businesslike and very uptight to my mind. But they made money. We decided to form a band. We started auditioning people in her garage, and AJ came along to play drums for a while, but he was not particularly interested in that scene and was perhaps not as desperate as I. He was not, after all, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a ready made family. Without visible or invisible means of support.

Katy and I slogged on. It’s insanely difficult to put a good band together under the best of circumstances, which was not a qualification we could apply to ours, certainly not mine, anyway, and my confidence was eroding at a rapid rate.

She could sing, though, I could play and work out material, and the two of us could sit down today and harmonize like siblings without preparation. She already had a fair repertoire of songs that were still contemporary, some of which, like the Chaka Kahn and Rufus stuff, I already knew.

This was the time of Natalie Cole, the Emotions, the Bee Gees, Commodores, Stevie Wonder and Fleetwood Mac in the mainstream of pop and we, in our desperation (or I, in mine) focused on these artists. Sophisticated Lady (Natalie’s, not Duke’s), I Got Love on My Mind, Best of My Love, You Got the Love, How Deep Is Your Love, You Make Lovin’ Fun (enough titles with “love” in them?), Dreams, Sunshine of My Life, the immortal Brick House and Easy Like Sunday Morning–this was our set list. We went so far as to do versions of You Light Up My Life, Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue, On and On (which I sang), Always and Forever. Just reading this list makes me break out into a sweat, with all due respect to the songs, which, quite frankly, have a level of craftsmanship seldom seen in pop music today, to my mind. The zaniest and most improbable aspect of this is that this was my preparation for my future career as a punk rocker. I think the fact that Patty Smith did a version of You Light Up My Life at her watershed gig at Winterland somehow spiritually made that epic transition possible for me. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

By the mid to late seventies, the cocaine culture had arrived in a big way. I’d never really been around it much, but Caba and Katy liked it and they sometimes had it around. There was this perception that it was a drug with very little downside–no big crash, no hangover, and it didn’t require a major time and effort commitment like lsd. Most people got hip to the flaw in that argument, in time if not immediately. But for a while it seemed like a treat.

One Sunday a group of us decided to go to the Frost Amphitheater to catch the last day of the Stanford jazz festival. Betty Carter, Stanley Turrentine, the Crusaders (one of my faves at the time, and still for that matter). It was a smoking hot end of summer day and we brought a giant cooler full of pitchers of pre-made margaritas. Katy and I split a half a tab of lsd and Bob brought the cocaine. By the time we made it to Stanford I was incorporeal except for an ear to ear smile, rather like the Cheshire cat, I would expect.

There were four of us in our party and we all walked right through the front entrance without so much as a “how do you do” from the ticket takers. Coolers and all. I thought, maybe the Mystical Lad was right, you can become invisible. It was a brilliant south Peninsula day, low eighties Fahrenheit and windless and the crowd, mostly African American, was festive. There were cute girls everywhere and the music did not disappoint.

We shared our margaritas with our neighbors and got goodies from their picnic baskets in return. By late afternoon it was sweltering but painless. A guy a few yards down the hill was dancing with his shirt off. He was one of the darkest skinned people I’d ever seen and the girls in our area were shouting

“You done, brother! Stick a fork in him, he’s done!”

They erupted in laughter. All in all it was a wonderful afternoon and it was with reluctance that we trudged back home at the end of the program.

When we got back to Caba and Katy’s, Jim Beaulieu was there. I hadn’t seen him in four or five years which we hugged away on sight. He was very asthmatic, as bad as I, perhaps, but he appeared to be in good shape otherwise. He was a train engineer for Union Pacific, and had a steady girlfriend whom he intended to marry. This all came as a bit of a relief, because his immediate history following his breakup with Katy had been, by all accounts, tangled and ugly. He was insanely jealous and would not accept the divorce, began doing lots of drugs and carrying a handgun, with which he had threatened her on several occasions. I saw none of this first hand, but the fear I saw in Katy dispelled any doubts I might have had. And besides, his brother always said Jim never showed me his dark side. We were mates.

Susan finally arrived, in a Chevy Blazer packed with belongings. It was lovely to see Sari and Rachel, and I showed them around their new home, a typical two-story stucco row house in the outer sunset. It was very nicely maintained, with a small backyard and plenty of room for the four of us. And the local grammar school was less than two blocks away. All in all, not a bad piece of luck. How we were going to pay for it was anybody’s guess.

“When do you return the Blazer?” I asked Susan.

“I bought it,” she replied. “I borrowed the down payment from my mom.”

This meant we were also going to be paying on a gas guzzling four-wheel drive all terrain vehicle. In a tight urban area. This was long before the proliferation of these Sport Utility Vehicles.

“Are you planning on doing a lot of skiing?” I asked her.

So began the next phase of our relationship, this time under very trying monetary circumstances. Sari and Rachel and I became closer than ever. Sari adapted well to school and I went over her work with her every night. She was so eager to please and this activity gave us a positive forum.  In fact, apart from my musical efforts with Katy, I was pretty much oriented around the kids. I took them to art classes after school, and ice skating lessons–Sari took ballet, and Susan took it up again too. But paying for this was something else altogether.

Eventually Katy and I got our band together, a three plus one the agent called it, that is, three musicians with a singer. We called the band Cat’s Cradle, which I believe was a name Katy had used before and had a bit of name recognition in this particular musical circle. The rhythm section and I bought some matching tweedy pants and vests and we shot a promo picture, cheesy as can be, no doubt. And so, armed with You Light Up My Life and a clutch of danceable tunes, we marched out into the land of wedding gigs and airport hotel clubs. It wasn’t enough. On a variety of fronts.

For one thing, it didn’t pull in enough money. Caba got Susan a part-time job to help us make ends meet but even this was woefully inadequate. Susan began doing fill-in nursing at a variety of hospitals around town. This was her training and she resolved to pursue that career direction with a purpose, as they say.

I persuaded her to sell the Blazer and get out from under the payments, to which she agreed, but it left us at the mercy of public transportation. As you might expect, this made being in a band and moving equipment from gig to gig a bit of a chore, but we simply couldn’t afford the vehicle. I left my gear at Katy’s and hitchhiked there before gigs, roughly 35 indirect miles, whereupon we’d load up her VW Beetle and head off for Concord or San Jose or wherever to earn our pittance. Things were crumbling.

Susan once again began to feel trapped by her children and trapped by her life in general and our relationship was reaching critical mass. She wanted to visit her father, who was living in Sacramento and was in reportedly poor health. I borrowed my father’s car (he finally got around to buying one at the end of the sixties) for the roughly one hundred and eighty mile round trip journey and the kids went to stay with friends.

Her father was in a very bad state indeed. He was essentially bedridden, heavily medicated, and being cared for at home by his second wife. Susan went into nurse mode upon arrival and dealt with her ailing dad in a very unemotional, caring and efficient way. But she was not unaffected.

We spent the night, and the next morning she announced that she wanted to get married immediately. We could continue up Highway 80 to Reno and do it in Nevada without all the red tape of California. We had joked about this a bit on the way up, just passing time, I thought, but she was dead serious. Now I was in for it. It’s o

One thing to cohabit, even raise children, but quite another to pull the trigger on wedlock.

That word says it all. Wedlock and throw away the key.

I reluctantly agreed and we began heading east up the western slope of the Sierras toward Reno. Suddenly, the car, which had exhibited no difficulties whatsoever thus far, began overheating. I’m not making this up. It was as though the spirit of my father, who had loaned us the car and who was not especially fond of Susan, had by extension refused to be a party to this. And commanded his vehicle to fail. It was like the becalming of Menelaus and I was not about to offer any sacrifice. We pulled over, let the engine cool down and tried it again. No luck. Several unsuccessful tries later we were headed west, back down the hill to the safety of San Francisco. Saved by a fickle car.

By the by, this car (it’s a 1968 Dodge Dart), which incidentally is still on the road and in my possession,  has never again exhibited this tendency to my knowledge, although in fairness, I must say I don’t believe it’s tackled the Sierras since.

Susan was miffed bordering on incensed, but in a quiet and undemonstrative way. She wanted some definition, some kind of certainty in her life that she thought marriage might bring, but it was not to be.

Upon our arrival home we found an invitation to a wedding, ironically enough, in the mail. It was from Jim Beaulieu. He had finally gotten over the loss of Katy and into something positive with a very nice woman by the name of JoAnn. They were to be married in a little chapel in the woods near Bolinas in two weeks time. A map was enclosed.

Once again I hitchhiked down the peninsula and borrowed my father’s car to make the drive out to Marin County where the wedding was to take place. In San Francisco, as in New York or London, if you live in town there is no need to own an automobile. It is, in fact, a rather distinct nuisance. However, if you want to get out of the urban scene, it is an absolute necessity. The Blazer would have come in handy on this particular occasion.

I made it back to pick up Susan in the city with just about enough time to make the drive out to western Marin in time for the ceremony, provided I could find the chapel without too much difficulty. There is no sign which points the way to Bolinas once you get close. The locals remove it and the powers that be have long since given up trying to replace it. The map, however was good and we found a quaint little chapel in the woods right where it had been indicated.

But no one was there. There was no rectory nearby, this was a stand-alone, single room, wood frame structure set back in the trees. No cars, no note on the door. I checked the invitation to make sure we had the proper date. We did. Utterly baffled, we headed back to San Francisco. There was a Western Union telegram pinned to our door, which apparently arrived just after we’d started out for the wedding. It said simply:

Wedding cancelled. Apologies. JoAnn.

I didn’t know JoAnn well, had only met her on a couple of occasions, but I liked her right away. She got along very well with Charlann, Jim and Katy’s child, and always struck me as a solid, positive influence on Jim. I had heard that their relationship had its ups and downs, ins and outs, like every other, including my own, but I thought that in spite of my own natural aversion to the institution of marriage, theirs would be a good thing. Apparently Jim thought so too.

They found his body in his Porsche, parked in a cemetery, with a hose leading from the exhaust pipe in through the passenger side window.

The love theme from Romeo and Juliet was playing on his tape deck when they found him. Autoreverse. In more ways than two.

That part still galls me and I’m not sure why. Maybe it strikes me as too cheesy, too melodramatic, or maybe a touch vindictive. It certainly was a clear enough explanation, on the surface.

I don’t doubt for a minute that he was in pain, that a confluence of very bad emotional, physical (asthma is a very bizarre malady, I can tell you from experience) and circumstantial elements conspired to bring him to the point where it wasn’t worth it any more. Maybe the Romeo and Juliet bit just helped him put a romantic spin on it, however little romance there is attached to divorce, drugs, asthma, Viet Nam, and a seriously broken and self doubting heart. He was beautiful, nonetheless, and I loved him dearly and still miss him, bless his pure and immortal heart and soul.

I was still jamming and working up songs with AJ and would, on occasion, do the same over at DJ’s place a little further south on the Great Highway. Cat’s Cradle was inching along, doing a couple of gigs a week, but this didn’t seem like it had much future, just a bit of an immediate income.

Then the tumbler tumbled just a bit.

Andy, who had been with Leila and the Snakes for close to a year, decided to pack it in and go to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to study full time. He recommended AJ for the gig. The Snakes were quite a happening little phenomenon around town. Jane and Pearl were hooked into the Tubes, a local rock band with a national record deal and a very amusing, very theatrical stage show. Jane had co-written one of the songs on their latest album and Pearl was a dancer in their expanded production. The Snakes, although primarily a rock cabaret act, also had one foot in the punk scene and headlined on occasion at the Mabuhay Gardens, which was the center of all things new wave in the city. And they had a standing gig at a popular club on Polk Street called the Palms, which they sold out regularly. Things were happening there and AJ got the gig.

Shortly thereafter, the female bass player of the Snakes decided to leave the band and AJ recommended his brother Larry, still living in L.A. Larry got a bass, came north and got through the audition. The Snakes had a genetically matched rhythm section. Larry moved into AJ’s place on 46th Ave., in the Sunset. Now when I came over to jam, AJ and I had a bass player to work with.

One of the things that drew AJ and I together, apart from the history and friendship and all that, was that we wanted to play music as much as possible. It was like an unspoken rule that if the opportunity presented itself, we were obligated to take advantage of it, in whatever form it took. And not only with each other. He was playing with other guitarists, subbing in other bands, and I was doing the same in other circles. Playing was the thing, the priority. The playing ethic, or musical work ethic, was very strong in both of us and it carried over big time into our eventual next band.

Holly, who was studying music herself at UC Santa Cruz by that time,was fond of reminding me, when I’d get depressed about my career fortunes, that a musician is someone who practices music. This was a great incentive when I had little or no career momentum. I’d get all the Berkelee School of Music guitar books, or the Joe Pass Method and pore over them hour after hour working on voicings and theory and scalar approaches. And it seemed that every time I went over to AJ’s house, he’d be in the basement with headphones on playing along to Weather Report, Steely Dan, the Meters, or anything that he thought would improve his chop. It was all about music.

The business of music was another thing altogether. Cat’s Cradle was gigging intermittently, picking up gigs at hotels and clubs in the Mysterious East Bay, San Jose, and down the Peninsula, but money was tight and I wasn’t really making it. Things came to a head for me just before Christmas 1977. We had a gig at a major hotel in Contra Costa County, which is somewhere east of the Mysterious East Bay. I venture over in that direction only under extreme duress, which this depressing holiday season was affording in spades.

Katy and I rode out together as usual in her VW Bug, I believe it was the same one she had when we shared the flat in the Haight. It was packed full of my gear and her clothes. We had the usual agreement, four sets for a specific amount of money, worked out by the club and our agency. Things went pretty well, we did the four sets and everybody was happy. The other two band members split at the end of the last set while Katy and I waited around to get paid. The manager handed us a check as I was packing up and it was for half of the amount to which we’d agreed.

“This is not the amount we agreed to,” I said.

“Sorry, this is what we worked out with the agent. There’s a new withholding policy, for tax purposes and such.”

What the such was I have no idea. It was far more than any tax I was likely to owe.

“We’ll take care of our own tax obligations. Give us the full amount. We fulfilled our part of the agreement.”

“This is what there is, take it or leave it,” he said, handing Katy the check.

Then he left.

Bands are always at the mercy of these bastards. Rules change, contracts are not honored, tallies are falsified. At the band’s expense. The old axiom that agents are the lowest form of life on the planet is by and large true. We knew we’d have no recourse there.

We were fit to be tied, literally. Then we realized that they’d made the fatal error of leaving two people they’d just stiffed all alone in the club. We were the last ones there.

The steam had been given a release valve.

I went into the kitchen and trashed it, for starters. Everything not nailed down, onto the floor. Everything throwable, chucked against the wall. It made a godawful clatter but it attracted no one, not that I cared at that point. Once the kitchen was in sufficient tatters I went out to the club, where Katy and I liberated every decent full bottle of booze from the bar. None of the mediocre stuff. Just the single malts and elite blends, cognacs, Kentucky bourbons, Irish whiskeys, high end Vitamin V’s (vodka, for the uninitiated), and perhaps the odd bottle or two or three of vino or champagne, sherry or port.

“Our friends will be receiving lovely Christmas presents from us this year, in spite of all,” I told Katy on the way out.

And on our last trip from the bar to the Bug, all of the pool furniture somehow ended up in the bottom of the pool. We drove off, car stuffed to the gills with gear and prospective gifts, feeling a bit better about the way the holiday season was going. Fair play to you, too, and god bless the statute of limitations.

Now that AJ was gigging around town it gave me the impetus to get out and see what was going on. I caught Leila and the Snakes at the Mabuhay, on a night which happened to be filmed by Penelope Spheeris. Snatches of that set are in her Decline of Western Civilization, Part One, film. Pearl looked comfortable enough, if a bit lonely, but the Snakes material was too sophisticated and not hard enough for that punk club.

Where they really held forth was at the Palms on Polk Street. This was an intimate enough room for their humor and intelligence and had a clientele with whom Jane could really establish a rapport. Her characters and comical shticks coupled with Pearl’s dancing and costumes were magic at the Palms and the band, with the addition of AJ and Larry, made the songs come to life. The audience was gay and straight, comics and musicians, low lifes and Pacific Heights. And cocaine was in the middle of a lot of it. It was a real scene.

I was pretty much on the outside looking in.

“That blonde boy is here to see you again, AJ,” the band’s manager would tell him as I attempted to get on the guest list for the umpteenth time.

I was still broke, still Dad to Sari and Rachel, and still in the middle of a deteriorating relationship with their mother. A classic case of neither here nor there. I loved the kids, but Susan was making noises about sending them back to Montana. She and I were up and down like a pair of trousers, me wanting out, then she, then neither, and back again.

The new year came and Cat’s Cradle was, by and large, dead in the water. I was house husbanding and Susan was winning the bread through her nursing skills. Sari and Rachel were doing pretty well, Sari in school and Rachel with me. I took them with me everywhere and they were always good as gold. I’m not romanticizing this, either. In many ways I thought they had a better perspective on the situation than I, and certainly better than their mother, who, bless her cotton socks, was torn between responsibility and possibility. They continually surprised me with their self reliance and ability to cope. And be non-judgmental. It was wisdom beyond years.

The financial lack finally got the better of me and I broke down and applied for a job driving for Yellow Cab. This was the first time since I had carried mail that music would not be my sole source of income and it was a bitter pill to swallow. Sometimes, no matter how much effort you put into something, you still have to get all the way humble and do whatever it takes to get by. But believe me, music was never far from my mind.

I started driving at night, minimum ten hour shifts, usually longer depending on business. The day vehicles became available at around four p.m., and I’d show up at the lot at three to make sure I got one. Normally I stayed out until the bars closed at two a.m., and worked that angle for the hour or so that it lasted, then brought the cab back to the lot to pay my gates, gas and tips. Then I walked the six blocks back to Market Street and waited for the one streetcar per hour that went to the outer Sunset at that time of night. I found it to be a lonely business and it further separated me from Susan and my life with her and the kids.

This changed the dynamic at home enough for Susan to make some dramatic changes. First she sent Sari and Rachel back to Montana, presumably for the summer, and once that was accomplished, she began withdrawing from me. Like I said before, it’s all in the timing. If she had stayed in Salt Lake City, the transition would have been relatively painless. Now, alone in a cab ten hours a day and with no other life to speak of, especially now that the girls were gone, I was beyond vulnerable. The bottom had totally dropped out. No family, no band, no partner. No future. Hey hey, my my.

It got worse. One night I returned home at four in the morning to find no Susan. She was spending the night with someone else. No explanation, not so much as a by-your-leave. Nothing. Just gone for the night. I was sick at heart and lay in our bed exhausted and unable to sleep, emotionally devastated. She was no longer my old lady, the last vestige of a life–and not only that, she was not truly out and gone. Some nights she’d be home and in our bed. Neither here nor there. Again. I’d come home terrified of not finding her there and when she wasn’t, my mind went wild entertaining all sorts of horrific scenarios because I had no idea what was going on. It was humiliating and I felt cuckolded and pathetic. Then back to the streets to work a lonely job in which you interact with all sorts of people you will never get to know.

At about this time, AJ asked if he and his old lady, Karen, could stay at our house for a couple of weeks while they were between digs. They were moving out of their place in the Avenues and their new place on Potrero Hill wasn’t yet available. I said we had plenty of room, which we certainly did at that time. No girls, Susan worked days, stayed out most nights and I worked nights. Nothing but room. I hardly saw them and they were amazed that they had the place to themselves. I explained to AJ how it was and he took it in sympathetically. On their last day there, Susan was walking up to the house as the three of us were driving away. She waved.

“Who is that?” asked Karen.

“That’s Susan,” I replied.

“God, she’s the prettiest girl in this town,” said Karen.

I almost threw up.

In fact I spent a fair amount of time, driving around in my cab, almost throwing up. I couldn’t understand why I was so upset at this point when less than a year before I was resigned to exactly the same thing with hardly a ruffled feather. Maybe it was the kids. Maybe it was that Susan was screwing doctors, that she’d found a much better set of prospects. It seemed so unscrupulous. Was she really like that? After all that time?

I’d never been so devastated. It was so unlike me. But it was me. I’d be on the Muni bus, crying uncontrollably, in full public view, without the ability to conceal it or control it. I started to think about heading over to the Golden Gate Bridge. It seemed like an eminently reasonable, even desirable option, given the circumstances. Driving around all night, smoking cigarettes, mind preyed upon by doubt. Going nowhere, somebody help me, yeah.

I was still jamming with AJ, now in his new digs overlooking Hunter’s Point.

“You can’t stay there any more,” he told the wreck that was me. “Move in over here. There’s going to be an empty room and we could use the dough. Besides, it will make it easier to play together.”

All of which made sense. He was offering me a way out. I thought about it for a nanosecond.

“I’m in.”

He saved my life. In more ways than one.

And just like that, I was gone. Completely out of that despairing vortex. Well, perhaps not completely, but at least not camped out in the middle of it, with every perspective a reminder of my own fallibility and loss. And it was sunny over on Potrero Hill. Literally. In a town full of microclimates, it had one of the best.

I slept, at first, in one of the common rooms. It was a big red two-story house with a full basement which had been used as a church at one time and in fact still had a big concrete baptismal tub in one corner. This, in line with the tradition started in the chapel in the vacant Butte hospital, was where we played music. The house abutted the Potrero Hill projects, where OJ Simpson (among others) grew up and where Sunday morning preachers still stand up on soapboxes on the streetcorner with makeshift public address systems to testify on behalf of the lord. It was AJ and Karen, Larry and me.

We began to play together on a daily basis, AJ, Larry and I, before I went down to the cab lot in the afternoon and before they went off to play with Leila and the Snakes. Larry was a very quick study and in short order we had learned the tunes AJ and I had recorded in Santa Cruz and had the makings of a full set of original material. We jokingly called ourselves the Neutrinos, although we were not really seeking out gigs–we just dug to play. We were burning to play.

The Snakes, meanwhile, were making interesting progress. Hugh Cornwell of the British band the Stranglers brought them into Wally Heider Recording, one of the top three or four studios in the Bay Area, to lay down tracks. The recording process is often galvanic, and in this case it seemed to clarify the essence of Leila and the Snakes, certainly, at least, as a recording entity. It was Jane’s baby, and rightly so.

Pearl, especially, was feeling the limitations of her involvement with the Snakes. She was a dancer, a performance artist, a visual enhancement. She wore outrageous costumes. This might enliven the album cover art, but it wasn’t going to do much for the record inside. She sang but one song in the set, a cover of the Shangri-Las “Out in the Street”, which Cornwell dutifully recorded, but it was hardly central.

The Snakes were also getting to open some good shows at the Old Waldorf, one of the two premier rock clubs in the city. They played with a couple of English acts on the upstart Stiff Records label, Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and got tight with people connected to that scene. Especially one fellow, a very likable Cockney cat who called himself Cosmo Vinyl. The punk/new wave scene was defining itself and these English bands as well as the New York acts like Blondie and the Talking Heads were making inroads into the pop culture.

AJ, Larry and I went over to Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley for a free lunchtime concert by the Talking Heads, whose first record, Talking Heads ’77 had been released on a new label called Sire Records. Not only was the plaza completely packed but an entirely new look was evidenced by numerous people in attendance, for whom the old styles obviously no longer worked. It was fresh, it was fun and it was hip. It was also paradoxical. The Talking Heads themselves were not dressed in the new style at all. Larry called them No Wave. But they still somehow represented the new direction. And all the punks and rockabillies and pedal pusher clad folks in attendance were obviously in their element. There was some latitude amidst the definition, apparently.

It was around this time that AJ, whose mama didn’t raise no fools, began to hatch a plan. He also recognized the limitations of Leila and the Snakes, who, brilliant though they were, were not likely to make the transition into the high energy rock and roll scene that was developing. To say nothing of the fact that his own role was that of a sideman and he had a few creative ideas of his own.  He began speaking to Pearl about doing something else, about forming a new rock and roll band. He had a guitarist lined up, who lived at his house, in fact, and of course Larry would be involved. It was pretty daring. The Snakes were already happening and good things were coming their way. Pearl, although her frustration was growing, wasn’t sure about leaving a good thing. Things held steady for a time until AJ, either in a fit of pique or a stroke of genius, or combination of the two, walked off the stage at the Palms in the middle of a set. Out the door. During the show. It was bold, it was radical, it was punk.

Above all, it was effective and catalyzed Pearl’s eventual departure as well as Larry’s. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, extreme as it was. I couldn’t tell if he truly had gotten fed up to the point of explosion, or if it was a calculated piece of theater, and I’m not sure if he knew, either. Whatever it was, it was a major turning point in our lives, and I, for one, saw only possibility emerging from it.

Soon after, Pearl announced her departure from the Snakes. I met her on the night of her last show with them, on the sidewalk in front of the Palms. It was at the end of the evening, just before two a.m., and I could tell she was going through something of an emotional wringer. Jane had been more than a bit caustic in her on-stage remarks during the show, and her usual humorous references to Pearl and her outfits became increasingly mean spirited as the night wore on. Just getting through the performance had been something of a feat. She was polite through the stress and I made some innocuous comment about having enjoyed her performance in spite of the trying circumstances. I’d been there once or twice myself, enduring the bitterness of the last performances of a lame duck band and I felt for her. But it was time to look forward and I returned to the house on Potrero Hill wondering what the future held.

“So you’re going out to meet your sweetie, Pearl Harbour, eh?” said the receptionist at Stiff Records in London to Cosmo Vinyl, upon learning of his travel plans.

Or so the legend has it. Cosmo, the versatile and entrepeneurial Man Friday of the label, knew a good thing when he heard it, and immediately had pink buttons with Pearl’s face and the words Pearl Harbor (sic) made up. Pearl produced them at our first rehearsal.

The name was perfect. Just irreverent enough to embace the punk movement but not so specific that it would become dated as the scene evolved and changed. The links were grand. Female, bombshell, Pacific Theater. It was sexy and military and industrial and tropical all at once.

Of course, the band would have to be accounted for. This was a real rock and roll band, not a front with sidemen. We settled on the Explosions, patterning it after the Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ian Dury and the Blockheads model that was prevalent in England. Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. It had a nice ring to it, eh?

Now all we had to do was see if we could be a band. Pearl, it must be said, did not have much vocal experience. Larry and AJ and I already had a set of material together as the Neutrinos, but it was not particularly appropriate for the new wave of rock and roll, which was nothing if not minimal. There were no jazz references, very little in the way of R & B references, in fact, the bulk of it seemed to be driving eighth note rock, with primitive voicings and very little melody or harmony. Minimal. But seminal. It seemed like a whole new beginning and what it shared musically it seemed to share with other seminal popular musics, like rockabilly and reggae. Who knew what colors it would accept? Pearl, it also must be said, had the best handle on the state of the scene and was very attuned to what was happening in the rock world in the UK, which was blossoming, if such a word can be applied to something as nihilistic as punk.

So the four of us repaired to the basement. I set up a Fender Dual Showman amp and speaker cabinet to use as a PA, right next to the baptismal tub, and plugged my Telecaster into my linked Fender Bassman and DeLuxe Reverb amps.  We hadn’t written a thing, hadn’t even selected any covers, so we just jammed away on some simple patterns, blues riffs played unshuffled, old fashioned rock and roll progressions and the like. We played and played and played, relentlessly trying to make it sound like something, but the something was a  godawful racket the likes of which could have cleared any room in America. I felt like I was inside a washing machine, being pummeled through the cycles. It was so disconcerting it became almost painfully comical until the memory of the one similar experience I’d had, in Missoula, with the band Australia, entered my mind and enabled me to relax the struggle a bit. We took a break, dripping with sweat, and utterly bewildered.

Upstairs in the kitchen, Karen was sitting at the table.

“Was that you guys?” she asked, with complete sincerity.

She’d heard the three of us play many times before from the same vantage point and was honestly surprised when we answered in the affirmative.

She considered for a minute and then said, “I think you just became a band.”

Her observation was more than a positive spin, which in all truth we desperately needed at that point. But what had happened was more primal, more elemental than just meshing musical skills. I know for a fact that neither AJ nor I could believe we’d sounded that bad, but Karen’s take put it all in perspective, and allayed the collective fear that maybe we’d made a huge mistake. The truth is, four wildly dissimilar people had forged a commonality. It wasn’t pretty, but then birth never is.

Pearl did not have a typical tuneful girl singer voice. In fact tuneful is a word that was seldom applied, although in the upper reaches of her register the ability to hit the European intervals was apparent. Mostly, though, she sang in a low, mannish voice, that made people do a double take when they first heard her sing. I liked it immediately, it was a truly unique, if unpolished instrument, with possibilities distinct from those found in most girl singers, trained or not. The question was, what did we do with it?

We decided to go on a record hunt, and pick some covers that would help define the band. Pearl had a friend, a guy who ran something called the Museum of the Unknown in Mill Valley, where she lived, who had boxes full of vintage 45’s. The guy was obviously a passionate collector of cultural artifacts, and his small exhibit space featured an old car completely encrusted with bangles, baubles and bottlecaps, if you follow me. It was pretty impressive.

We dug through his records and pulled Get Your Cat Clothes On by Carl Perkins, Black Slacks by the Sparkletones, Clean Up Woman by Betty Wright, Bad Boy by Larry Williams, Do You Love Me by the Contours and Hello Josephine by Clyde McPhatter. I retired my phase shifter and wah-wah pedal. The Bassman and Tele were o.k.

Cosmo had suggested that we do I Can Feel the Fire, a reggae inspired number that was on a Ron Wood solo album, and we also did something from John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges record, called You Don’t Know What You Got, I believe it was. We also revived Pearl’s Snakes tune Out in the Streets and John, who never was able to get his fusion fixation completely sublimated, suggested we do a straight ahead eighth note beat version of So What, by Miles Davis, with which we opened the set. Such was our initial musical identity.

Our visual identity was next. I was out of my platform shoes and into winos, those cheap black canvas shoes with the cheap rubber soles, and my hair was short, but other than that I needed work. A lot of work. And Pearl was just the person for the job. She was the reigning queen of hip clothing in San Francisco at that time and quite honestly, I have never seen anyone with her gift for finding the right clothes. Not even close. She went through my wardrobe, decided I had three wearable shirts, perhaps one pair of pants, and announced that we were going shopping. I was not totally broke, thanks to my cab gig, which I was still doing faithfully every night.

It was a crash course in what the new style would be–part combination of the old influences that were newly hip again and part sheer creativity. We went to Polk Street. She had on glossy yellow rubber boots, a lime green miniskirt and a brightly multicolored striped sweater, none of which were the soon to be de rigeur punk black on black, but all of which worked in the new wave style of clothing just the same. The girl had Style. In no time I had three pairs of continental slacks, a pair of red McKean corduroy jeans, several really nifty shirt-jacs from the early sixties, and sharkskin and fleck sportcoats, also both from the late fifties-early sixties. She was firm but gentle in her instruction–”If I were a guy I would think this was the coolest look possible” she said when she wanted me to take particular note of the kind of clothing to which I should be attuned. I was in the hands of a master.

We had a fierce work ethic, not unlike that of my previous band, Skin and Bones. We seldom called a rehearsal, we just had our coffee every morning and went downstairs into the basement to play. It was understood. Pearl would join us sometime around noon or shortly thereafter, and the four of us would work until it was time for me to go to the cab lot at around three. I’d drive until two or three in the morning. Then repeat the sequence the following day.

The Yellow cab culture never failed to surprise. The first guy I met there was a Mongolian born Russian by the name of Serge who was trained as a classical guitarist. He was forever entering competitions but couldn’t quite get over the hump and make it pay. He soon became a lineman for the phone company.

Everybody, or almost everybody there did something else. It was a stopgap, or so we all hoped. I always felt awkward telling people that I was a guitarist. You could virtually see the thought, “Then what are you doing here” or “Aren’t we all?” forming before the actual polite if condescending response. And of course the chance to say “But I’ve been earning my living at it for the last five years,” never came. Lots of humble pie and sour grapes down at Yellow.

There were some nice folks, too. I met a recording engineer there, a French guy named Yves, who was breaking into the business and with whom I became friends, and I met a guy from the east coast named Lynwood Land, who played bass in an up and coming punk band called UXA. He invited me down to check out their band at a rehearsal studio called Iguana. They rehearsed late, but I was a night owl and showed up at the Folsom Street building at around eleven p.m.

UXA was a loud trio of guys with a blonde female singer. Band rehearsals, if you’re not in the band, can be pretty boring (sometimes even if you are). I wandered down the halls of Iguana and found a little listening room with an old record player and some well worn albums. A guy was in there shuffling through the records. He introduced himself.

“I’m Greg Westermark.”

“Porter Dunne,” I replied. The Yellow cab people had got my name wrong and no matter how many times I tried to correct it, they still never got it right. I went along with it after a while and became known down there as Porter. Now I was using it outside that realm.

“Do you play?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I play guitar with the Avengers.”

This was another up and coming punk band, already headlining at the Mabuhay. Rumor had it that they were doing some recordings that were being produced by Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. Talk about a punk pedigree.

“How about you?” he asked me.

“Yeah, I’m a guitarist, too. I’m with a new group called Pearl Harbor and the Explosions.”

“What do you want to listen to?” he asked.

I fully expected him to produce something by the Damned or the Dead Boys, but instead he pulled out a record by Les Paul.

“How about this?” he said.

I thought, maybe there’s room for me in this new wave scene after all.

We remained friends for a long time.

Pearl owned a red 1963 Ford Falcon station wagon. AJ and Hilary co-owned a blue 1962 Ford Fairlane station wagon. I  still needed a way to get my gear around town so when I saw a white 1964 Ford Fairlane station wagon for sale at an Army Street gas station for the affordable sum of $200 I jumped on it. It seemed almost pre-ordained. Buy me and you’ll complete the red, white and blue early sixties Ford station wagon triumverate. For our first publicity photo, shot by Hugh Brown, we parked them in a circle in the middle of Wisconsin Street and stood in their midst holding sticks of dynamite. The one we ended up using showed Larry lighting the dynamite, which was in an unsuspecting Pearl’s leather jacket pocket. Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. PHATE. Fate.

One of us, I think it was me, got the bright idea to call Herb Caen, the Chronicle columnist to see if he would print something about the formation of our new band, and Pearl, nervy as she was, actually called his office during a rehearsal break. After all, Leila and Co. had been making something of a name for themselves and Herb might just think it was newsworthy. Sue enough, he ran the item–”Pearl E. Gates has left Leila and the Snakes to start her own band, the dirty little punk…” This was highly impressive, all of us were inveterate readers of the Chronicle and Herb’s column and this seemed to be an omen that maybe things would open up for us a bit.

There has never been a good band that was not on the verge of breaking up. You can quote me on that. It’s just the way it is, the band condition, and ours was as fragile as it was good right from the very beginning. AJ, as solid as he was, had an odd little tendency toward destructiveness, which proceeded from I don’t know where exactly, and ran neck and neck with his creativity. It also escalated as the band became more and more popular.

And I’m not talking about some typical flaky, self absorbed individual who is overly smitten with the invulnerability of youth and thinks the sun rises and falls on his posterior.

In one of our first rehearsals the subject of intelligence came up, for example.

AJ looked around the room and announced “Pearl, it looks like you’re the dumbest one in the room.”

Believe me, even if it didn’t utterly discount Gardner’s nine types of intelligence (or however many he’s got on his list now), no one likes to hear that. The rude boy thing, even at the beginning of the height of its popularity, had its limits. When the enfant terrible thing got out of hand, I’d try to mediate. On one rather excessive occasion, I walked into the room in the middle of something of a tirade directed at Pearl and Larry. “Who put the bug up your ass?” I said, whereupon he stormed out of the room.

“I love that expression”, said Larry, who was fast getting used to taking, shall we say, unvarnished direction from his brother. But Pearl was worried. AJ was out the door and gone.

“What will we do if he quits the band?” She had a lot riding on this at this early point in our existence.

“We’ll get another drummer,” I replied easily. I knew him well enough to know that it was just a small fit of pique and we were at no risk of losing him.

The fact is, he was having problems on the girlfriend front and things were reaching critical mass in a big hurry. The two of us were quite the pair of tormented, cuckolded, desperate geezers just then. Hearts and egos in the confetti factory. He took to breaking up furniture for a time which I wouldn’t recommend, but I understood. Good grist for the lyric mill, though. Punks with broken hearts took no prisoners, in their songs, at least.

Not that we had written anything yet, mind you, but we had a couple of irons in the fire. I was working on a new voicing that had a dominant seventh in the bass, moving it around in minor thirds in a slow driving rhythm, as we were setting up to rehearse one day.

“What is that?” asked AJ. “Keep playing that.”

And he fell in. And Larry, whose ear for melody and tonality was excellent, immediately found a really nifty line to play over it. The three of us locked onto one hot pattern. Two chords, pretty damn straight ahead, but we all knew we had something. We threw on the cassette recorder and got a document of us playing it over and over again for a very long time with slight variations. It grooved. Then we got on with the business of rehearsing our set.

Now we were literally in late September and Lolly was indeed returning to school. In addition to the place she kept in Santa Cruz, her mother had left her a townhouse in a cooperative complex in the Western Addition. The Freedom West complex, to be specific. She needed a new tenant until she completed her studies, roughly a year off, and seeing that I was gainfully employed, offered it to me. I jumped at the chance. It was very nice, very well maintained, low cost housing in a somewhat dubious neighborhood, which bothered me not at all. And the low cost part was very appealing. AJ was not enthusiastic about my leaving the house on Potrero Hill, he liked keeping his bandmates in close proximity, still does, in fact, but it was too good to pass up.

This changed our rehearsal schedule not one bit. I still showed up every morning at the house on 23rd and Wisconsin and the three of us got an early start, putting the arrangements together before Pearl arrived. We still didn’t have a set, in all truth we hadn’t been a group for long, but things were coming together.

And of course, before we were ready, we were offered a gig. It was to play at a theater, the Rheem theater, in one of those towns east of the mysterious east bay to which I never go, opening for I can’t remember who. We talked about it and declined the invitation. We weren’t quite ready.

And right on the heels of that refusal, we were offered another opening slot, this time at the Old Waldorf, the most prestigious rock club in town. This was where you played in San Francisco your first time around if you were on your way up. (Apologies to the Boarding House, its funkier equal.) This was where AJ and I had checked out Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and where the Snakes had opened for Elvis Costello and the Attractions. This was an offer too good to refuse, ready or not.

In retrospect, it could hardly have been a better or gentler introduction to this level of the rock circuit. The band we were opening for was a Berserkeley Records act called the Rubinoos, four very nice young guys, playing melodic pop songs with lots of harmonies. They were exceedingly clean cut and had a very young fan base.

It was a first gig, always cause for the jitters, and a very auspicious one at that, but our expectations of ourselves were probably a lot higher than what that particular audience would have of us. I must admit that, nervous as I might have been, after five years on the road in a variety of contexts, when I got a look at the audience I thought, “This must have been how Jimi Hendrix felt on his first US tour opening for the Monkees.”

We loaded in to the Waldorf in the afternoon. It was an extremely non production- friendly venue, located in one of the Embarcadero office complex garden areas. The closest parking was in an underground lot shared by all four of the office tower visitors and the elevators were miles from the club itself. It took forever.

The first thing I did when I arrived was what I had always done, befriend the staff, especially the sound and stage people. Until you have your own, you  are entirely dependent on them to a) get a sound check and b) have a decently produced show. I don’t care how well you play, if it doesn’t get into the room through the sound reinforcement, the audience won’t get it–and, if you can’t hear yourself or, for example, your singer or the kick and snare drums through the monitoring, you will have no idea if your playing is appropriate to the ensemble sound. It gets very abstract in a big hurry. Just being able to hear one another in a live venue is never a given, and the sound changes completely once the house fills up. This is not a world for the inflexible or faint of heart. Princess and the Pea need not apply.

For me, it’s all about the music. Sometimes I forget about the personal outreach and visual appeal aspects. When I remember these things, I can add to their net positive effect, but for me they are and always will be secondary. It’s just my nature. A good front person can smile and project positively through all sorts of sonic horrors, and one of the first rules of professionalism is to not let on when things are not right. After all, who knows what is being perceived by whom at any given time. However, another rule of professionalism is to look first to see if the problem is you and if it is, remember to take care of it as soon as is possible under the circumstances. You’d be surprised how difficult a concept this is for some to grasp.

I, by and large, always approach the stage, or studio or rehearsal hall or practice room from this direction.

The crew at the Waldorf was great, as were the headliners, the Rubinoos, and so we got a good sound check. The vibe for our first was not hostile at all. The headliner checks first, and the remainder of the acts (in this case, just us) are at their mercy as far as stage space and time remaining are concerned, and oftentimes you go on without having checked and standing on the equivalent of a postage stamp on stage. I’ll have to have a chapter called Stage Wars. The opening act leaves their gear set up in position at the end of their alotted window for sound check, and everyone breaks for dinner at that point prior to the show.

In order to get from the dressing room to the stage at the Old Waldorf, you had to go through the kitchen. Those of you who have seen Spinal Tap may be surprised to find out that the scene where they get lost on the way to the stage is not very far removed from reality at all.

We waited in the kitchen as the house lights went down, peering through a crack in the door to see what the house looked like. We were nervous as cats and thought we were woefully under-rehearsed. Skin and Bones had rehearsed from Halloween through March before hitting the road. The Explosions had maybe three weeks.

I told the band about the Who’s alleged rehearsal schedule before going on tour. Days 1-3, buy the booze, days 4-7, drink the booze, day 8–first gig.

Once the house lights went down, the stage manager led us by flashlight through the audience to the side of the stage. Mic stand heights, monitor wedge positions and our amps, drums and backup guitars were where we had left them. We were on our own. The house lighting person brought up some blue light so that we could see well enough to plug ourselves in. Once there, we gave the high sign and someone from the sound board made the introduction. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever, would you please welcome Pearl Harbor and the Explosions.

John counted in Let’s Eat, a really rocking Nick Lowe tune. Our version, which owed something in terms of style to the Who, started with 8 bars of 1/2 note triplets played over an uptempo 4/4 beat. It was tricky as hell and Pearl never did pick it up, but after the eight there was some vamping in a more conventional rock groove, which gave her time to get her bearings before she had to sing. We wanted the bar set high and this certainly made us concentrate right from the get-go. We were no ordinary act, whatever the era.

“Hey, everybody, what you doing tonight?

Let’s quit talking and go get a bite!”

It was a brilliant choice of a cover and I’m almost certain that it was Cosmo’s idea. From there we went directly into Get Your Cat Clothes On, then Clean Up Woman and so into the set. We hated dead air. Between songs. They were often so close together as to seem like segues, and Pearl was lucky to have enough time to say hello to the audience or announce the next before we were off again. Things were going well before the young and impressionable house. Larry and I were both in the great rock and roll leaping tradition, a la Pete Townshend and the young Keith Richard (my ankle having healed sufficiently well by this time), and Pearl was an always watchable interpretive rock dancer, one of the best ever, in my opinion. She was part mime, part stripper, part innocent schoolgirl, and could she do the Sideways Pony. The kids loved her and they loved Larry too, who they felt was one of their own, which he very nearly was. We finished the set with a tune by Wreckless Eric, another Stiff artist, called I Wanna Be Your Boy(Girl)friend, which was also Cosmo’s idea and to which we also gave the Who treatment, followed by Can You Feel the Fire? They could.

I watched the Rubinoos set for a time after we had finished. The audience was theirs, after all, and they had a dedicated teenage following, which they did not disappoint. It was rather like being at a teen club in a top rung rock venue. The shallow end of the pool, but we were in the pool.

Things started moving quickly after we got the first one under our belts and people realized that we were out working. The management at Berserkeley offered us another Rubinoos gig at Keystone Berkeley, then a Greg Kihn Band gig at Keystone Palo Alto, both good venues, and a band called SVT, featuring Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane, wanted us to open for them at Keystone Palo Alto and at the Boarding House in San Francisco, a truly famous and altogether wonderful club. Pearl then contacted the Palms, where the Snakes had had so much success and got a weeknight booking, and Dirk at the Mabuhay, who gave us the middle slot on a weekend night headlining Crime. The floodgates had opened.

The rock scene was changing, locally and globally and we were in many ways accessible to both the new and old rock world orders. We were playing venues as diverse as Shady Grove, a club in the Haight Ashbury named after a Quicksilver Messenger Sevice album (!), and the Deaf Club, literally a club run by the hearing impaired in the Mission, which was the only regular punk venue in the city other than the Mabuhay Gardens. The hard core punks, such as were around town in the fall of 1978, did not have a problem with us and left us out of their tirade against all existing norms. One punk told me “You (meaning the Explosions) are who you are, nothing wrong with that.”

Who I was, was an emotionally devastated guy, driving a cab 10 hours a night, but with a glimmer of hope in the form of a new band for which nothing seemed impossible. The door may have slammed shut, but as Julie Andrews said, “a window was opening”.

The middle slot at the Mabuhay was, unless you were seriously established, the best slot. The show started at eleven p.m., three bands each doing one set, and the natrual dynamic of the night made for the highest energy at around midnight, or just about the time the second band was to go on. The Mab had been a Filipino supper club, and was right on the Broadway strip in North Beach. It had exposed red brick interior walls, a small clear space or mosh pit in front of the stage, behind which were tables and chairs on a slightly elevated second level.  The sound system was dreadful, the monitors non-existent, and the tiny loft dressing room was up a slender flight of exposed stairs off to the side of the stage.

Stage management was minimal and you could by and large count on a significant amount of chaos getting your act to the stage. It also rocked despite all in true punk fashion.

Our first gig there was on Halloween night, opening as I said, for Crime. The band was nervous. The Snakes had never really fit there and I think there was a bit of carryover from those experiences, never mind that it was also one of our first gigs.

Pearl actually asked me to change my shirt for load-in.

“Those guys in Crime are really slick”, she told me.

She wanted her band to be visually competitive even when setting up gear. I loved that competitiveness about her and obliged willingly. Crime was slick looking. They were doing a 40’s gangster punk thing, leathers and zoot suits, slicked back close cropped black hair. Really good photos and promo materials in general. They all had assumed names, Frankie Fix, Johnny Strike, Ron the Ripper. I rather liked them, wanted to like them, but intimidated–no. When you’ve played the Browning Indian reservation on acid on treaty day, the rock bands in your home town are not intimidating, no matter what manner they affect. The rest of the band was nervous as hell. AJ suggested we do a novelty Halloween bit as our first song, i.e., come on stage wearing Shaun Cassidy masks and do his current hit “I Only Want to Be with You”. It would break the ice. I didn’t think we needed any gimmicks but I went along with it.

It’s always hard to set up your own gear in the middle of the show before a packed, antsy house, much of which was watching and waiting right at the front of the stage. But AJ, Hillary, as we now called him (his actual, full first name) and I made a go of it, adrenaline releasing into our systems like mad.  As soon as I could I threw a lick, and it sounded good. A little too good, only half of my system was on, the Deluxe half. Great sound, but it wouldn’t cut it for volume in that joint. I found the problem easily. Hil by this time got his rig up and running and I could see him visibly relax a bit. We left the stage and went up the tiny stairs to the little loft dresssing room to put on our Shaun Cassidy Halloween masks.

The audience didn’t know what to make of us at first, thrown by the masks and the song, which probably few of them knew, and in which even fewer found the irony. I recently opened for a guy who was in Bauhaus whose first song had a few members of the audience tittering. Turns out he was doing a Spice Girls song–who knew? Same kind of thing here. Our first impression? In disguise.

It was all in good fun though, and we blazed through the rest of our short set without incident. The audience liked us well enough, we were full of energy and the overall response was good, but nothing like it was to become at that place in a few months. Crime followed us and, slick as they were, proceeded to lose the house through the course of their set. They had the look and the pose, but in the days before MTV, that was not enough. And still aint.

The Palms on Polk Street enabled us to get a foothold on another part of the city market. They gave us a weeknight as soon as we had enough material for the three sets the job required, and we drew right from the start, due in great part to the Snakes success. The Palms was a small club, no room for dancing, with a small stage at one end and tables on a raised platform front to back along one side. At that time they still did comics, a capella vocal groups, a little jazz and what have you, a variety room, but by the time we had outgrown the room it was strictly a rock joint. It was whispered that it was a front for drug dealers, but that was not the Explosions thing and we saw very little of it there, although I must say I kicked some rather famous people out of the downstairs dressing room bathroom on more than one occasion. None of whom were bathing.

Before our gigs at the Palms, Pearl and I would completely paper the glass clubfront with posters which a friend of ours, Ann Tevlin, was making for us. Everybody who walked by could tell who was playing there that night, provided they could read through the day-glo halation, but no one could see in as they normally could from the street. Ann’s posters were brilliant and we began covering the town with them on a semi-regular basis. Some were so good that people began taking them down as soon as they went up–as collector’s items, and I’ve seen a few in people’s homes even recently, lo these many years hence.

Jane, meanwhile, had gotten together a new group of Snakes, albeit with the same guitarist, and was working the Palms again. As our draw improved we began asking for weekend nights, when we would be able to make some money, but the club managers put us off.

“We don’t need as much of a draw on weekends. You can draw on a weeknight. We’re not slighting you…”

And so forth. But we needed the money. For one thing, I had changed shifts at Yellow cab. I could no longer drive nights since our gigs had picked up and my schedule had become brutal. I’d finish at the club at two, load out and be home by three, then down to the cab lot by five. I got off the street at four in the afternoon, following which we’d rehearse, or eat and go to sound check. I slept when I could. Once I got my cab, just after five a.m., I’d drive directly to the corner of Broadway and Fillmore, park and turn on my radio dispatcher. At that location, I could justify taking any radio calls that came in from several of the city’s wealthier districts, Nob Hill, Cow Hollow, and the Marina. At that early hour, those calls usually meant fares to the Airport, the Holy Grail of cabbies. By seven a.m. I’d be in the cab queue at the airport waiting for the first incoming planes, with a leg up on my gates and gas payments, and, just as imprtantly, with an hour or so to sleep before things truly started happening. It was obvious that this could not go on for long.

All any of us really wanted was a guarantee of one weekend a month at the Palms, a Friday and a Saturday night. We figured that we’d each take home $100 a night, which would just about cover our main monthly expense, rent. Food, cigarettes, beer, gasoline, etc., would come from the paltry amounts we made at the Mabuhay or elsewhere. The club managers, I suspected, were not forthcoming out of a certain loyalty or allegiance to Jane, which was admirable, if not acceptable.

After we had enough covers it was time to concentrate on writing something of our own. We had the one killer riff which we’dcome up with in one of our first rehearsals, and I had an idea how a melody could work over its unusual tonality, but lyrics were tough.

AJ and I sat in his kitchen, looking out the window at the freeway and came up with a rhythmic background vocal part first. Two syllables, on the downbeat of the riff the first time and starting on the second beat on the second. Standard theme and variation. We used the word “jivin” as a placeholder. That’s all were were doing at that point. Jivin. That led to “drivin” and from there we got stuck.

We had a hell of a time finding an appropriate tone or subject matter for this new kind of rock. It couldn’t really refer to or be redolent of much that had been popular in recent memory. And we couldn’t really use much that the English bands were on about either. Too place specific.

I had a million ideas shot down. “Man Bites Dog” (stolen from Stanton Delaplane, the Chronicle columnist, whom I faithfully read, along with Charles McCabe), “Safety First” “Mean Motor Scooter”. All rejected. Pearl knew what she didn’t like, and she had to sing them after all, but she couldn’ come up with anything that she did. It was up to AJ and I. Finally, in the airport cab lot one morning, I put my foot down–literally. On the accelerator. Drivin’. “I got my foot on the accelerator.” It fit the rhythm and the melody of the vocal I’d envisioned. I put the rhyme earlier in the second line. “I’ll see you later, but for now I’m only drivin’.” It was totally literal. That was enough. I gave the two lines to Pearl, showed her how they fit in the riff and the next day she came back with the rest of the verses, in that rhyming pattern. AJ made a few editorial suggestions, changed a line or two. For the second section we devised a few ways to do a call and response on “I’m Only Drivin”, which I feared would be too reminiscent of Lennon’s “I’m Only Sleeping” and rejected out of hand as old fashioned. But wasn’t. The chorus was the word “drive” over some monster chord changes with Pearl riffing over the last few. We had a song, perhaps the most collaborative thing we would do, and it worked. To our mutual satisfaction. Would miracles never cease?

AJ meanwhile, had a great idea for a song called Shut Up and Dance, which had Pearl and Punk and Feminism written all over it conceptually. He wrote the lyrics from the perspective of a female who’s tired of being hit on. It was a stroke of genius on his part. The four of us sat in his living room and sorted out the music that went under it. It was a combination of surf/punk and Britpop, and ended after a one-step modulation in a Broadwayesque vocal round, Pearl singing “If You Can Move You Can Make Me Happy”, Hil singing “Make Me Happy” and me singing “Shut Up, Shut Up and Make Me”. It was, in retrospect, fairly uncanny.

These two songs were the cornerstones of our original material. There were others, most notably Hilary’s sweet “Stop Me” (“from loving you, I don’t care if you don’t want me to, Stop me if you can”) a tune Pearl wrote called “Nerves”, and a song of mine called “Two Left Feet”. But “Drivin’” and “Shut Up and Dance” let us know that we had something.

The local scene was starting to gain momentum and we were right on the crest of it. A band called the Nuns had been at the top of the punk/new wave heap, but for one reason or another they disbanded before things really took off. Our second gig at the Mabuhay was opening for the Avengers, and this time we killed. At the risk of sounding immodest, there was no way they could follow us. This rarely happens. Usually the audience reserves its energy for the headliner no matter how well the openers do. Some of it had to do with being in the middle slot, some perhaps due to internal problems they were having, but it was our night, for whatever reason, and they disbanded as well soon after.

One band that was on its way up was a bunch of guys who were friends of ours and called themselves No Sisters. Four brothers, one drummer, no sisters. Literally. The eldest Barrett brother, Tim, had become friends with AJ and Karen, and his band of siblings opened for us at our earliest dates at the Palms. They were primitive musically but they had some great conceptual and lyrical ideas, which took full advantage of the family resemblance. Dark hair and horn rimmed glasses all. It was like a band with four Buddy Hollys and a drummer. And they did songs with titles like “Where Are All the People Like Me?” Unfortunately, Karen became a little too enamored of their cleverness, Tim’s especially, and decided she wanted to leave the house on Potrero and get a place of her own. Now AJ and I were fully in the same emotional boat. They did not open for us again. Ouch.

We continued to find ourselves in gigs opening for the Rubinoos at Keystone Berkeley and the hugely popular Greg Kihn Band at Keystone Palo Alto. These gave us great exposure to a much more diverse audience than found in the city and started to legitimize us as a rock and roll band. A wonderful Nicaraguan lady whose daughter Michelle was a big fan of the Rubinoos started a fan club for us, which helped us in a way that cannot be overestimated and which, in truth, was never fully acknowledged. This woman (and her daughter) literally came to every gig we did, no matter where, often on public transportation, and set up a table somewhere in the club from which she conscripted new fans for the band. It was amazing.

We also took a couple of gigs opening for SVT, which was fronted by an awfully nice Marin County guy named Brian Marnell and featured Jack Casady, late of Jefferson Airplane. They didn’t have much of a  a draw yet themselves, but they had secured gigs at the Boarding House and Keystone Palo Alto chiefly on the strength of Jack’s notoriety. The Boarding House was a great little hall but the house was disappointing for the show. Maybe 50 people showed up and we were paid a pittance, far less than what we had been promised by Brian, but we held our tongues. No one made anything.

Brian, who had a major crush on Pearl, occasionally came to our shows and for a time lobbied to join our band, which was never really in the cards. For one thing, he was a bit too fond of alcohol and drugs, and in one instance I remember helping carry him unconscious from the bar to our dressing room at Keystone Berkeley. But he was a sweet soul and was grateful for the assistance. And besides, I was no tee-totaler myself. It wasn’t a moral problem with Brian, it was more logistical and stylistic.

Pearl got the flu for our Keystone Palo Alto gig and was unable to perform. We thought about cancelling but Hil, AJ and I went through with it doing our Neutrinos set as a trio. The response from the small turnout was surprisingly good, but backstage Jack gave us $50 at the conclusion of our set, or $16.66 apiece. This was far less than what we’d been promised. “Brian promised us a minimum of $50 apiece,” we complained.

“It wasn’t Brian’s place to promise anything,” replied Jack, a cagey veteran of the negotiating wars. He was not about to go out of pocket.

“But he did the deal, made the arrangements.”

Jack just smiled. We were in no position of power, having just performed without our lead singer, and in truth, Jack did the business for his band. Brian had just been enthusing out of turn. This was one of the very few situations of this kind the Explosions encountered, it must be said, and it was probably fairly innocent. The amount of support the clubs and other bands and management gave us was nothing short of incredible. Clubs went out of their way to pay us actual money, it seemed to me, and in a few instances, I know it for a fact.  Brian and his band went on with some success for several years following our initial encounters until he died of a heroin overdose. Those the gods love die young, and he was a lovable cat.

That was the one and only gig played by the fabulous Neutrinos. Pearl recovered quickly and soon we were back on the boards as the Explosions. We had actually by this time started to encounter some resistance to the name Pearl Harbor and the Explosions from folks, Daughters of the American Revolution types, who thought it insulting to the memory of the veterans of World War Two. The Dead Kennedys had already formed by this time and it seemed to me that our irreverence was rather puny compared to theirs. But AJ was also leery of the possibility of being thought of as a bunch of sidemen, when in fact, this was an equal partnership.

We began to entertain the idea of calling ourselves the Explosions, which is what everyone close to the band called us anyway. People at a distance often referred to the band as Pearl, or Pearl Harbor, which it seemed to me was inevitable. Pearl was not opposed to calling the band the Explosions, but to me it didn’t conjure up anything close to the full name we had been using. The debate went on for some time.

The Palms finally relented and gave us a weekend, partially in response to the fact that we began playing a bar a block away called the Rose and Thistle on weekends. Things came to a head when we were booked on a Friday night at the Rose opposite the newly re-constituted Leila and the Snakes at the Palms. This was a test and we all knew it. The Rose was packed but perhaps the Palms was too. Halfway through the night curiosity got the better of me and I ran down to the Palms between sets to see how our competition fared.

“Half a house,” I said simply when I returned, with what I hoped was a restrained glee. We took the stage for our last set with ear to ear smiles.

Since the Palms now gave us one Friday and Saturday night together per month, at the end of the month, to be precise, just before rents were due, I was able to give up my job driving cab. Pearl was fearful for me, she was borrowing money herself from a friend called Dit who I believe worked at the Post Office. But the truth was that I did not have the patience for the job and its vicissitudes.

When things are good on the street for a cabbie, you make all the lights, you’re in good locations to pick up the highly competitive radio calls; if you wait at hotels, the fares go to the airport and you make your car rental and gas costs very early in the shift. If things are not good,the radio calls for the neighborhood you just left start coming in just as you’re suficiently out of range, when you do check in on a radio call you get stuck in traffic and are beaten to the punch, you’re late to arrive when the symphony or ballet lets out, and you get nothing to the airport, just litle old ladies going from the Safeway to their homes two blocks away with eights sacks of groceries. After eight hours of driving fretfully and stressfully in traffic you still haven’t broken even and you can’t smoke enough cigarettes to calm yourself. Suffice it to say that any opportunity to move on was enough opportunity.

Because of our Carl Perkins, Black Slac