I'm fortunate to live in an area so stunningly beautiful and quiet, the softer sounds become large in the sonic environment. For the past year, I have been mesmerized by the soft sound of birds in flight, most especially the pigeons who are released in the morning and gently wheel in a large group through the skies over the valley. Sometimes they wing close enough to hear, they soar for a bit, and then suddenly arc away. In that aerial maneuver, their noise becomes exactly like an ocean wave. When the small rush of a wave hits and runs up the shore. Then there is a quiet pause when the wave can go no farther. Then another small rush of sound before the wave is pulled back into the larger ocean. Pigeons in flight sound just like that.
Pigeons in flight today remind me of Johnny Otis. He raised pigeons. In fact, pigeons in flight remind me of Johnny Otis and his whole career ,,,
¶ 1/23/2012 07:10:00 AM
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Back to match box art. I'd heard about an engineer who used transistors and had made a miniature sound system, a fully functioning radio with a little dial set into a matchbox and speakers using match boxes as the speaker housing, all of which functioned and sounded just like a big grown up over-sized stereo system. (And I could be pretty certain he would pump up the volume to fill an entire room when showing off the muscle of his creation, to daze and amaze). Well, I couldn't do that and wasn't so sure I wanted to. Someone just had done that, and what music would come through the little speaker and how would it get there. So I made a small musical instrument, which was several small seeds I had found out on a walk, and rested them on top of a bit of puff cotton. When you shook the match box, quite close to your ear, it made a very soft, gentle sound like a miniature shaker or rattle. I'd realized later I must have heard about this instrument somewhere, too. Someone else beat me to the punch, and it took me a long time to realize I'd read about this instrument on the back cover of one of Sandy Bull's lesser known albums. Match box percussion. So everything comes from somewhere else, it seems, and it's all been done before. I still liked the sound it made.
¶ 1/18/2012 07:47:00 PM
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Frank got to know our family and learned something of our family history by being around us. My grandmother had been in vaudeville and once had boasted she had played the stages of the penultimate and the absolute epitome of vaudeville venues, the absolute queen of theaters, whose floorboards were reserved for only the very famous and topmost acts, the Palace in New York (which my mother maintained was not true.)
My mother did tell me once that after such a discussion, in the early 60s, Frank added to the conversation of the day. "He said he's going to play at Carnegie Hall." Which he eventually did do.
(Just found this after posting this retrieved memory: http://www.carnegiehall.org/BlogPost.aspx?id=4294982782
(Palace Theatre, New York Palace Theatre, New York, 1915. Copyprint. Courtesy of the Theatre Historical Society of America, Elmhurst, Illinois My mother insisted my grandmother had not really "played" the Palace, despite a photograph of her and others lined-up and smiling while standing out front. "She and the others were just hired to dance there for a few weeks.")
¶ 1/11/2012 11:24:00 AM
All That Glitters
In the early 60s, the world was treated to the first exhibition of the treasures of King Tut, and the exhibit had even made its way to a museum in the greater Los Angeles area. Frank and my sister went to this exhibit, as did I, though this was an expensive outing, and as I was young I only recall impressions of gold items detailed in jet black and dark blue stone. Though just feet away from me in the glass, because of the crowds I really couldn't see the items anywhere near as well as the Life magazine article featuring them. There were images, though, of young men with deep black hair and large eyes, and I must point out that it seemed Frank saw an expression of himself everywhere in the world, sometimes. The ancient Egyptian stick figures were wrapped in what looked like white pleated skirts, some figures with their bare chests adorned by heavy amulets. The museum I recall was packed with people, and uncomfortably so, and we'd had to hover for awhile in this viewing area to kill time until being allowed to stampede en masse into an exhibition hall for the hourly tour.
In that period, white pleated skirts were a popular outfit for girls in my geography. I owned one. They were difficult item to maintain, as it turned out. The first inkling I had that Frank was a most unusual person was when I returned home one way to discover that Frank with my sister's guidance had retrieved my white pleated skirt from my closet and had tried it on. Not only that, but he had worn it a bit around the living room, much to the hilarity of my sister, and she'd adjusted the waistband with a series of safety pins and a clothes pin to accomodate Frank's beanpole waistline. I could only ask if he were practicing to become King Tut. Frank Zappa sometimes wore my clothes .... at least once when I found him out, and on the sly, when I wasn't there to protect them. This is not something I would share with the world at large back then, and wasn't so sure what to make of it ... but my Mother seemed to think the incident was ridiculously funny, so it was okay. Though neither my mom or my sister and indeed probably no one at all could answer my inevitable question, "Why did he do it?"
¶ 1/11/2012 07:53:00 AM
Friday, October 21, 2011
When Frank Zappa worked at Zale's as a salesman and potential management trainee, he was surrounded by many thousands of dollars of diamonds, gold, and other rare gems and valuable metals. (I really should have said many countless hundreds of dollars of diamonds, gold, and other rare gems and valuable metals.) For some reason, I remembered his story of his run in with some young men he was convinced were going to rob the store. He was at the counter in his suit and tie when some rough looking Asians came in ... Rough looking customers were a common sight in certain areas of the Pomona Valley, but Asians much less gangster looking Asians were rare in the vicinity ... or so I had thought as a child. This was the early sixties and this trio of young men dressed like pachucos, complete with low rider khakis, t-shirts, gold crosses, nylon windbreakers, and greased up waterfalls and duckass haircuts. They sauntered in and made a quick stroll up and down the counters peering into the displays, while one arched to stare blatantly down a hallway beyond the counters to see if any others were in the store. Then they soon huddled in front of Frank, talking to one another about an item behind the glass. Frank said he was certain and resigned himself to the fact he was going to be robbed.
They did not speak much English but Frank understood the leader of the trio, a heavy set fellow with a few deep pocked acne scars and a wide malevolent appearing grin, wanted to see a large heavy ornate ring adorned with a huge oversized jewel. An item which Frank did pull out from the case, and removed from its slot in the blue velvet tray.
The man looked at the ring as it lay on the counter, picked it up and tried it on and stared admiringly at it, soon waving his hand at his friends, speaking in another tongue loudly and laughingly ... Frank was sure he would bolt with it ... then he pulled and twisted the ring trying to remove it from his finger, but it seemed his knuckle was too large to remove the ring easily. He did pull it off, then cupped one hand around it and he held onto the edge of the display case with both hands, as if he were playing a shell game .... he stared Frank directly in the eyes for a long time and talked to his friends as he did so, becoming expansive and loud in his remarks, when suddenly he began tossing the ring back and forth quickly between his hands, then cupped it in both hands and shook the ring back and forth between his hands like it was a pair of dice, suddenly let go and threw it up into the air, and watched it land on the counter with a clink! Then he laughed and without a word, they all simultaneously turned and left the store. Frank just stared after them as they went out the front door to the street. He picked up the ring to see if there had been a switch, but it was the same ring with the same price tag. So he put it away. And then waited for another customer to come in.
For some reason I do not understand, I remembered his anecdote today of his time working at a jewelry store in the Pomona Valley. Maybe you'd like to know about the day when Frank said he felt vulnerable.
¶ 10/21/2011 01:15:00 PM
A few years later as I explored Venice on my bicycle and on foot, I think I was on foot, and someone showed me where this guy was living because he was getting famous around town (a photo of his gourd tree was in the LA Free Press). Apparently, he regarded Venice of the time much as I did. The canals were sluggish and smelled bad many times. Venice itself was crumbling into decay. Mayor Yorty wanted to bulldoze the whole place and build anew, and real estate speculators hopped on board his bandwagon, realizing a few thin lines of poetry and bongo drums were all that separated them from lucrative beachfront. John Haag didn't like Mayor Yorty's plans, and everyone pushed back.
On August 15, 1965, Partch signed a lease on an abandoned laundromat at 1110 West Washington Blvd. (now Abbot Kinney Blvd.), described then as "a noisy street in bohemian Venice." Sculptor Charles Mattox, one of the first kinetic sculptors in America, who had a studio nearby, had suggested the place. At the studio, rehearsals began for an evening of music called the Lone Pine Concert, which took place on August 29th. Partch then began what he later called "three months of turmoil" getting the place organized for his ultimate creative output.
During that autumn in Venice, Partch built two aluminum Cone Gongs, made from the greenish yellow nose cones of airplane gas tanks obtained from salvage at the Douglas Aircraft Company. He also built the Harmonic Canon II. And then he began writing his opus -"Delusion of the Fury" that November, which was completed on March 17, 1966, and premiered in January 1969 at UCLA. The piece is one of the best examples of Partch´s concept of "corporeality," or "total theater," integrating music, dance, stagecraft and ritual.
His famed work "And On the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma" was also written while he lived here in Venice.
West Washington Blvd. must have been a tough place to live in the mid-sixties. Many of Partch's letters reflect the noise, drunks, and danger. He also writes of a "terrible aloneness."
(I used to see Harry walking around a bit or standing near his place there, but I didn't know he was going to become a famous musician.)
One time near my birthday, Frank, my sister and I went to Chinatown for a stroll. Because it was near my birthday, Frank bought me a small present, which was a shiny coin the size of a silver dollar. There was a fierce looking dragon on the other side, and the logograms were crisply struck and had deep outline.
Any one knew it was a counterfeit and a fake coin and had no value as currency or trade item, but I didn't care. I kept it for years and always carried it in my coin purse. Until one day at Lindley and Joyce's house, while we were all busy folk dancing, some rat went through everyone's purses and stole money and such. We all cursed when we found someone who was associated with us in some way had betrayed our trust, and called the thief every name in the book, that lowlife thieving damn junkie.
As a result, I have no keepsakes from Frank. Not a photo, nothing. My sister showed me a sympathy card from Frank when our Dad died. It was a simple card and he'd just signed "Frank". But I remember things, like this coin.
¶ 1/20/2011 01:10:00 PM
In 1965, Venice was a little quieter. I could walk among the columns and still see outlines of paint over abandoned stores left over from "A Touch of Evil" and there would be almost no one else walking around.
Bongo drums were outlawed. It seemed the Republicans were taking over. I could only imagine what it might be like at some point in the distant future when we found ourselves under the iron heel.
A few wise ass beats referred to the rundown boarding house John Haag was running as "Miramar". Named after the splendid mansion in Pacific Palisades where Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht stayed to avoid the careening Nazi beast.
(Aug. 24, 1980: Painted elephants and floats parade down the boardwalk during the 4th Annual Venice Beach Festival of the Chariots. The event, sponsored by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, was faced with cancellation when permits originally were not granted by Los Angeles city recreation and parks commissioners. Only after the Hare Krishna society filed a federal lawsuit did the commissioners relent and issue permits.
This image by staff photographer Bill Hodge was published in The Times as standalone art on Aug. 25, 1980.
Were You At the Hollywood Teen Fair? they ask in print, as if to remind me and all of us who were there.
Yes, I was there at the Hollywood Teen Fair. At the Palladium. On Sunset. Just so you get the full gist of it, that's where the weekly Lawrence Welk television program originated from.
I went to the FIRST one, the Teenage World Fair in 1962. I was too young to drive, so my Dad dropped me and a friend off on his way to work.
Al Burton came up with the idea of the Teenage World Fair probably because there was a World Fair in Seattle that year and the Space Needle had been in Life with some regularity. (And how as a young person could you not think, "So they've got a space needle? Big deal. We have a record needle, because Los Angeles was nearly the recording center of the world, or so it seemed at the time.) Al Burton was also producing a tv music show that a person I knew appeared on. At that show, someone announced onstage the fair would be coming soon. Al was quite young to be a tv producer then. I thought so even at the time. As I was quite young, what would I know? I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the fair because Al as producer of the show was bossy and wouldn't let me run to the stage at the tv show. He seemed to have read my mind. He pointed his finger in warning at me as I stood up for the charge and I looked over and saw him shaking his finger at me and realized he was right, and so I sat down. Later backstage, I'd asked him for his autograph as he was watching me ask other people for autographs and it seemed like he wanted me to ask him for his, so I did. As the producer of the show.
But I ended up going to the Teenage World's Fair. I barely remember any of the fair except someone introduced me to a reporter, who told me and my friend we didn't seem like the other kids at the fair. That was probably because the young friend who I had taken with me usually introduced herself both with her name, and a followup sentence, "And my dad's an attorney for the ACLU and he collects Bessie Smith records."
But what the heck? We weren't just like the other kids there? Ummm, I kind of suspect I hoped that writer was right. That we weren't. Hey, I kind of knew that, anyway, looking at the kids. I was trying to become a folk singer or beatnik at the time, anyway. But I figured these men who were ruling Hollywood either ordered you around or made weird comments. Maybe I was right about the way I regarded them, as scant as the experience had been.
That reporter soon became famous as Tom Wolfe, but that's just an obligatory namedrop (I am writing about Hollywood after all). This is my own true story. I am willing to bet that Jan & Dean or some such were there at the teen fair onstage, but I honestly don't remember the music acts.
The fair was all so sweet and innocent, just like the you tube video and even the accompanying music though out of season seems strangely apropos. A little better heeled and age specific than the LA County Fair in Pomona. But I thought the fashion shows and beauty pageant angle were a bit odd even at the time. The cuisine was the usual carnival fare. The car show was interesting, and I was able to impress my young new friend that I already knew about Von Dutch and his pin striping, and for years prior, because I was so, you know, street wise about some things.
I'd walk around the cars and look at the tail pipes and say I was looking for the rollers, until I found some. Then I'd explain the cars were lowered so much they'd put rollers on the tail pipes so they wouldn't drag when they went down driveways or over railroad tracks. Though, I would add, sometimes they'd go fast and hit an unexpected bump and a little spark! would fly. And the long chrome feelies, and the inevitable fuzzy dice the car owner's girlfriend would knit with angora yarn with dots made of little skulls. Three hundred coats of lacquer paint, all hand rubbed between each coat, the paint so strangely reflective and deep just staring into it made you feel you were looking to the other side of the universe.
Back to the musician I had seen at the television show who I'd got to know a bit and such. His hit record, one hit record, had made enough money for him so he never had to work all the time he went to college. I told these things to Frank because it was important to know that it was possible to make money with music, and not just other people from distant Philadelphia like Fabian and Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, all the Philadelphia ones on American Bandstand broadcast from Philadelphia, but people from other places who you actually met and knew.
Frank was funny. I'd be staring at a photo of that musician holding his black Gibson f-top, and I would sigh a bit falling in love with him and his music and yammer what I had been told by the musician about the guitar, and how it was good for jazz and rockabilly and rock and roll and all kinds of music, because it had a wonderful fretboard and why he thought it was the Gibson fretboard was so great. And Frank would be staring intently at the photo and he would be falling in love a bit, but with the guitar, and he'd eventually go out and buy one just like it.
The Hollywood Teen Fair became a big deal, and for many years. You probably know that Captain Beefheart's group performed there in 1965 and won a guitar. Isn't that absolutely great?! Truthfully, I wouldn't have gone to the Hollywood teen fair in 1965 even if I'd known that gig was happening. All those three years later, I felt I was "too old" to go to such a thing. And I was trying to pretend I was becoming a beatnik in Venice. And it was lucky I didn't hear about it then after the fact, with some people I knew performing there and not inviting me, or it would have given me one more reason to leave Hell-A.
¶ 1/13/2011 04:48:00 PM
We'd watch reruns of "Boston Blackie", too. But Frank didn't like Boston Blackie too much, it was a fairly unimaginative detective show. You know, he liked my sister and we had a television. We also had a swamp cooler that would be up and running by nine am on those hot summer mornings where the temperatures would soar far past a hundred, sometimes as much as 113 even more! And the old wood frame houses he lived in at the time would hold the heat like ovens. So he'd probably just come over to chill out a bit, too.
Truthfully, even then, Frank reminded me of Boston Blackie. Not just because of the mustache he was growing, but because of the intro: " Danger! Excitement! Adventure! ... enemy of those who make him an enemy, friend of those who have no friends".
(It took me a long time, from when I was a kid til just now, to remember why I thought Frank was a little like Boston Blackie.)
So because it was summer and hot inland where we lived, and because who knows why really (maybe the subliminal mind absorbed the sign above the cabdriver's head saying "Harbor Cruises to Catalina") and we knew it would be cooler along the coast, we'd start working on my parents to take us all to Catalina for a day, where they could have fun, too, and they'd eventually give in and we'd all go to Catalina one weekend.
But not on a harbour cruise, the fast little boats. On the big ocean liner that was like going to Europe. And you'd debark for the day and have some adventures, and Frank and my sister took off on their own with a reminder from my Dad to be back to the pier before 4 o'clock or you'd be stuck all night on the island. At 4 o'clock the steamship sounded its fog horn blast and it seemed half the island was running towards the ship. Not us, we were all back together standing by the big ropes ready to board.
When "Alky" came on the screen, Frank would sit there seriously absorbed as if he were pondering great art. With good reason, as getting those little clay figures to move, with time lapse photography, was rumored to be a difficult process developed by George Pal. Sometimes I would hear about a television show coming up that I knew Frank would like, like when they were going to reveal some of the secrets of the old Puppetoons and claymation, I'd tell my sister she should call Frank and invite him over to watch the show, and he'd come over.
Frank liked puppets. One time we even watched some old reruns of Fearless Fosdick, and because Frank was trying to grow a mustache, and because Fearless was wearing not his usual black suit but a gray one and was sitting or standing near a desk without his hat on, I told Frank he looked like Fearless Fosdick, which he accepted as a great compliment. I think it was Fearless Fosdick.
He'd watched all these shows, too, when he was younger and they were televised. So we'd talk about important things, "Remember when they finally showed Beanie's legs?" (when Beanie flew through the air in an episode) and he would remember that particular episode because it was so culturally significant.
¶ 1/13/2011 03:49:00 PM
Some people want to know so much about artists, they recreate visits with other artists to determine influences, and determine exact dates of visits. They write big books, tomes usually, about their excavations, which usually end up being a little dry reading.
Don't you ever wish you could sort through the detritus of daily living of some artists, to come up with a clue, that might tell you where the important art came from? Aren't you glad you can't, and that it all remains a mystery to you and something to think about now and again and wonder over.
Frank came over to take my sister to the movies in Pomona and I got to go along. We were going to see a George Pal science fiction film, and matinees were cheap (my price was 35 cents, as I still wasn't a "junior").
This was a special outing, and my sister made a great party meal, a brunch. With Aunt Jemima buckwheat cakes and some syrup. We'd kept the metal log cabin for a few years on my insistence, and always emptied new bottles of syrup into it. So it wasn't just "pancakes" you see. We even had pink napkins.
So Frank, my sister, and I had pancakes before going to the movie. On the television commercials of a recent time, Aunt Jemima pancakes were the sponsor for a television show and Aunt Jemima herself had appeared at a theme park I went to at a restaurant named after her. I'd seen her there in person, in real life when I was a kid. I was proud she'd started up a restaurant and at the time I just didn't get what the other hub-bub was about. My sister would even pull down a package of Uncle Ben's rice and set it next to Aunt Jemima and try to explain it to me. All I knew for sure is my mother who had come from the South herself said she didn't like the high voice of Butterfly McQueen. And I was use the words "Aunt Jemima" or "Beulah" very cautiously, less they be misconstrued.
So we went to the George Pal science fiction movie.
At home, when Frank watched television with us, he would zero in on the Alka Seltzer commercial ("Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is").
I would call the claymation character "Alky" because I knew some adults sometimes dropped a few fizzies in a glass to better cope with a morning after. Although when I was a kid, I had a transparent bright red rocket ship powered with alka seltzer and after pumping it up, I fired it high into the air, but I soon lost it on a neighbor's roof.
This is exactly the kind of conversation Frank listened to when I was around and felt I had something to offer to the general conversation of the day.
Sometimes even school books reminded us we were in the land of entertainment, and hinted strongly about Hollywood and broadcast.
¶ 1/13/2011 02:37:00 PM
Television was a lot better way back then. Even people whose fathers drove from state to state installing every television station everywhere in the world will tell you so.
Television only had a couple of channels. And they'd turn it off at 8 or 9 o'clock weeknights so it could go to bed and get some rest to get ready for broadcast the next morning.
When the station was off the air for transmission but still broadcasting, they showed the Indian.
¶ 1/13/2011 01:10:00 PM
Los Angeles was rich in local music talent and televised music treasures. Town Hall Party, Johnny Otis Show, and even Korla Pandit. (I understand "Korla" soon became a favorite name for people with Siamese kittens who needed names).
Not everyone was put into a trance by Korla Pandit. I'd help my mom clean house while Korla was playing on the television, although the usual household chores took on a more meditative quality. You couldn't help but sway in time as you dusted, and you'd start moving in time with the music, holding the dust rags with both hands above your head like a scarf as you danced the dance of the Seven Veils.
And like that part in "Miserlou" when he plays with his right hand the short doubling sound of the rhythm (da da da DA da da da DA), like a little sandpaper, I'd dust the counter back and forth in time with that ... and I'd imagine every housewife and daughter in every household throughout Los Angeles was doing the same thing.
Other times, I knew it, as I pulled my wagon or rode my tricycle up the sidewalk, I could hear Korla's music coming softly out the window of a neighbor's house, so I knew she watched his show, too.
Sometimes my mother would hold a rag in each hand over her head and just ..... spin. And I would follow her into the kitchen by walking like an Egyptian.
¶ 1/13/2011 11:01:00 AM
Berkeley because of an accident of weather and geography always seemed to have a lot of fleas. Back in the early days of the Fish House, the fleas got bad there during the summer especially and because of the carpets. ED and Gloria took to wearing red rubber rain boots in their apartment. One time I saw them walking down Telegraph still wearing their rain boots in Summer. And John Fahey, obviously a visitor, was with them, wearing taller black rubber rain boots and cut off levis. Just out for a stroll. So we walked around a little bit together that day.
I was teasing and told John he had beautiful legs. He had a publicity photo taken of himself wearing his rubber boots and cut offs. I wish I could show you a copy of that photo!
¶ 1/13/2011 10:19:00 AM
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
I've heard only two songs today. I've heard two new songs today. I like them both. This is my afternoon's favorite:
your clear eye is the most beautiful thing like sunrise over the sea
and when you smile with the day your eyes are the warmest thing you shed yesterdays skin and a new day begins
CHORUS so even when clear skies seem so far away why go chasing rainbows rainbows from your door
coz even all the clear skies won't bring back yesterday so why go chasing rainbows rainbows from your door
those who have seen seen the phoenix rise say even from the pyre the dawn can still be beautiful
the sound of your sunrise carries on the four winds you shed yesterday's skin and a new day begins
TO CHORUS... sometimes we want to run away from a place long gone sometimes we want to throw away what we need for what we want when it's time to move on, move on...
("He chose his pseudo in tribute to Bob Saint-Clar, the hero of the film Le Magnifique, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo."
¶ 1/12/2011 01:28:00 PM
Monday, January 10, 2011
So Frank's friend Don as everybody knows by now used to make up stories about the monkeys on the candy bar wrappers when he was a kid and eventually make up songs and sing about them, and then he'd make albums but the candybar company wouldn't let him use the advertising checkerboards from the original candybar. So what do you expect?
I completely understand I think just as you do because I used to make up small stories to amuse my friends, too, like everybody does.
I'd tell them this story that you've already heard from me now:
"And another reason I left Hell-A for the mountains ... I'd be standing at a bus bench on Wilshire waiting for a bus, and guys in cars would assume I was a prostitute and pull to the curb and proposition me. Which made me mad.
And then sometimes I'd be standing at a bus bench on Wilshire waiting for a bus, and guys in cars would assume I was a prostitute and slow down to take a better look and then they'd speed off. ... "
(But at the end of the story,
I'd follow the "Z" with my finger and make a noise zz-zzzz-zzz (through my teeth) all done in time with the three swoops of the letter "Z" and then swoop up my finger and underline "uckys" as I said "Uckys!")
(I'd have to time it carefully to sit next to someone and work it carefully into the conversation. This kind of planning and timing and artfulness sometimes take awhile to bring into being, well, things don't just happen overnight, you know, so only a few people in the Venice environs heard that joke.)
¶ 1/10/2011 11:18:00 AM
I was pretty pissed off after being kidnapped by the neo Nazis on my way home from a folk music concert. They were everywhere, then. They had members on the Pomona police force because they had "infiltrated" in an attempt to "influence and control" the regular police force. Where I went to college, the chief of police was soon caught because the paramilitary teenagers he would train would shoot up the desert hillsides, and he was a little Nazi-like, or so it struck me at the time.
The neo Nazi leader would be on radio talk shows regularly and also was allowed on television to further spread his hateful spiel.
I wasn't the only person in the world who mixed up names. One time in distant 1964, somewhere in the greater Los Angeles area ... when I was young and with a budding composer. We were sitting in the living room on the couch awaiting the always pretentious classical radio announcer on KPFK to finish droning on about the piece he was about to play.
It was to be a famous suite by Handel, but he flubbed the name, mixing Handel's "Music of the Royal Fireworks" with Handel's "Watermusic", announcing it would be "Handel's 'Waterworks'".
The blues club I worked in really was a tough place. Too tough. Tougher than life. Boss Mama who ran the joint let Chris Brooks bring in some poetry readings all the better to literize the young 'uns.
As a young 'un myself, I was made happy by the letter E.
They read poetry by a musician, John Cage. He was famous for the piano that wasn't played. Later, at another school, I watched a performance of the paper orchestra where people just folded and crumpled their scores and threw them on the ground. I was familiar with Cage even though I was a young 'un. He'd gone to school in Claremont and hated it and ran away, kind of like me.
Chris Brooks was reserved and usually sat in the back on a couch having quiet conversations with Boss Mama Mary. I was the one who started calling her Boss Mama.
So one early Sunday evening before the bands performed, I think it was usually Sunday as no one had too much energy left after the weekends with the bands onstage, the actors read a John Cage poem.
This was an old poem he'd written in 1957, a cross word poem, with the name of the artist's works who inspired the poem as the "spine" of the piece and of course everyone onstage was kind of familiar with it. (Sorry, I can't remember the name of the poem or who inspired it)
I'd been able to talk the actors into having a light show with the poem. They wouldn't announce the name of the poem. The actors would read a line, when the moment arrived that the letter arrived that would eventually spell the name down the spine, a small letter was flashed on the wall next to them, like a small butterfly. Just for a second or two.
That was hard to do, to bring that idea into being. But how it was done reminded me exactly of Bruce Brown reading scripts at his surf movies in high school gymnasiums. There was a small gooseneck light so the "spine lighter" could follow the reading along with the actor onstage. When the moment arrived, a pen flashlight beam went through a letter stencil (like they used to sell at stationery stores to make print letters) et voila! The letter "E" was illuminated on the backstage wall.
1967 was an odd year in Berkeley. People were beginning to believe all sorts of things. There was a rumor underground that Icarus was going to plunge into the sea. That was baloney, as it turned out. He's already done that, I'd argue.
Joan Baez gave me a ride home in her Jag-u-ar and she was wearing a trench coat. Nobody else in the world at the time knew she even had a Jaguar. They thought she walked barefoot all the way to Selma and would eat beans. She probably did eat beans, but she had a cool car that no one would suspect she had.
I'd seen her, I did remember at the time, once before performing in Claremont a few years prior to 1963. I went with some friends and wasn't sure what or who I was watching, I was so young. All I remembered was her clear high singing voice.
So in 1963, I wondered if she were in town for a concert I hadn't heard about yet. I'd asked her at the Chase's house where I ran into her if she was going to perform again. She laughed and was referring to Dorothy and Charles when she said, "They won't let me."
We were standing in Dorothy's kitchen at the time.
Later, Joan told me about a bus trip she and her sister Mimi had taken, buying tickets and riding the Mexican bus all the way from the border thousands of miles through the desert all the way down to Todos Santos, at the very tip of Baja. They'd get off the bus along the way, and rent a room, and the lady who would show them the room used too much fly spray as they were considering the price of the rental.
Even now, though I realize I must have seen one of her first performances in town if indeed anywhere, I can barely remember it. I could barely remember the show a few years later. I must not have been paying real attention, not knowing that would be an event of significance for some.
¶ 1/06/2011 11:44:00 AM
Although having heard Jim Morrison on the underground radio late very late at night for the first time, singing the song that made everyone fall in love with him for a moment, I could completely understand where "groupies" might come from.
"Before you slip into unconsciousness I'd like to have another kiss, Another flashing chance .... at bliss ....."
But even he couldn't get me, not for long. I honestly didn't like too much of the Doors I heard. I'd remembered reading somewhere Mick Jagger called them "The Bores". He might have been right about that.
I'd listen to the Doors music as it came across the radio at night, just like everyone else was doing, and the deejay would spin sometimes a whole brand new album.
The piano part would stumble and stagger like a drunk.
" I tell you we must die ...
Oh, moon of Alabama"
("Hey ..... That's Brecht," I'd announce to myself intrigued but it would take me all the way until "Alabama" to catch on where I'd read the lyrics of this song and to dredge out the name.)
"The gate is straight, deep and wide Break on thru ... "
"Oh, he's read Malraux," I'd tell another friend. I'd catch on quickly sometimes, or so I thought.
John Fahey was a hell of a guitar player. He didn't just play the kind of music he made popular on his records, the intricate fingerstylings. He had a vast reservoir of knowledge and skill.
Sometimes a song would come across the radio and I mean underground radio of the 60s. So it was an electric guitar part on a song neither of us and probably none of the other people in the room had ever heard before. And John would listen to the thing as it played, hearing it only once and for the first time and he immediately could play it note for note. And did -- on an acoustic steel string he'd been casually holding. He'd hold a guitar across his belly as he leaned back on a couch and he was a bit slumped as he listened to the radio. How can he do that, I'd wonder.
If you've never heard of John Fahey, nor read his early liner notes nor listened to his music especially the Great San Bernardino Birthday Party you may really be missing an experience.
Also in 1967, John Fahey suddenly interrupted what had been a pleasant conversation and called me a "groupie". Again, it sounded like he was only half way joking. He knew I went to a few music events and that I happened sometimes to be around when Chris Strachwitz was taping Lightning Hopkins or Mississippi John Hurt in a public venue. And that I would hoover up information about music of certain kinds but I usually maintained interest in all music wherever and whenever.
I'd never heard the word "groupie" before, and later when I found out what that meant .... which at the time only had the most pejorative sexual connotations ... boy, was I mad at him.
¶ 1/05/2011 07:03:00 PM
In 1967, a KMPX (or maybe it was KSAN by now) deejay announced that Sandy Bull had died of an overdose in Tangiers and never corrected the story on the air that I know of. A bit later in that same year, I went to see Sandy at the San Francisco Folk Festival that also had the Chambers Brothers and the Staples Singers. At that show, Sandy had recorded overdubs of himself playing and would step on a pedal and activate a tape player next to him on the floor periodically.
At a door leading to "Backstage" I told Sandy he had something in common with the Rolling Stones and told him about the premature death reports. In 2001, I ran into a guy and mentioned Sandy Bull, and told him Sandy had died and he looked at me like that was really old news ... "Oh, that guitarist who died in Tangiers of an overdose." I said yes, but he'd died again more recently.
I could really like Sandy. I'd go over to his house a few doors away from where I was living to say hi or see if he wanted anything from the store. When he didn't answer a knock one time, I ran into his landlord who told me Sandy was home but "probably asleep" and went on to tell me it seemed Sandy was "always sleeping".
I persevered because I could really like Sandy when he was awake, as he was a sweet and gentle guy, but quite sensitive to anything he heard as criticism, especially newspapers and their harsh and ill-informed and usually badly written criticism of him or his music. A quirk of personality that would be hard to balance if ever he were to find himself in the cold harsh glare of a greater fame's spotlight, you see. He and I had a lot of fun talking about music, though, especially the pop stuff, the Beatles a bit and the Rolling Stones in particular. And a little about Frank Zappa and how he'd push on in spite of everything life had to throw at him to compose and play.
So Sandy and I would laugh about fame, he had a good sense of humor I think, and I'd ask him if he was ever going to get famous. One time, we went up to the Army & Navy store on University (the one a few long blocks South of Tingo's, the hamburger stand and on the same side of the street as the Army Navy store) and I helped select a new shirt for a new publicity photo which actually found its way onto one of the back covers of his albums. A snappy brand new air force issue shirt, but priced at below second hand, bright blue with epaulets. And I think it was tagged at something like 67 cents.
Long about 1988, I stumbled across his newest release. It had been probably close to fifteen or twenty years since he'd made a record. I got to hear how he'd progressed on Sho-bud, his pedal steel, and I liked that album a lot. Then came "Vehicles" and a few years later "Steel Tears", more Sho-bud and a little of Sandy singing. He covered a song the Rolling Stones had made famous, "Can I Get a Witness" which made me laugh like hell, but it was kind of an in joke between Sandy and me way back when.
¶ 1/05/2011 04:44:00 PM
I'd actually worked on the ranch a couple of summers before I moved there in 1965. Clearing the land of weeds around the log cabins and other structures. Summer in the mountains of Southern California is hot, and clearing the land by hand is hard work, because the soil is baked hot and flat, and dust flies as you hoe, the air is hot, and the sun grows hotter still.
I'd get up early, just about daybreak, and take a walk way up the road through the ranch and meet up with some deer who'd gotten to know me and would let me walk with them. They'd graze, and I'd stand there. They'd move a bit and walk over somewhere else to graze and so would I. Then I'd go do the clearing for hours until an hour before noon when it was already too hot to work much more. You'd have to carry a bucket of water with you to drink from. And finally that wouldn't be enough, and I would head for the stream when I was baked through and through and plunge. The water even in summer at first would be so cold, you'd nearly pass out, an icy snow fed stream was still cold even in summer.
There were still wild mules on the land then, left behind by some miners. And they'd come to visit sometimes. And rumors of a few big horned sheep, which I was certain I had only seen once and at a far distance, but their sightings were so rare, I wasn't convinced I'd really seen them. The ranch was so old, all the materials for building the cabins and house had been brought in by muleback.
But even in Berkeley I carried around memories of the ranch within me, like a small diorama of treasured times that I could take out and look at, I could remember and look at the place whenever I wanted to. I can even recall the rich smell of wild buckwheat and the sweetness of ceanothus. And the refreshing aroma of mountain bay laurel, which always seemed to grow in shadier spots by a trail exactly when you needed to stop walking for a bit and cool off and take some deep breaths in the shade.
¶ 1/05/2011 02:39:00 PM
People were just artsier back then. I thought about the wood sculptures I used to see along the freeway in Berkeley, you'd see them even from the windows of the bus to the city sometimes.
So I went looking for a picture of the Dinosaur, or the Viking (who I remember was wearing a helmet that looked like his head was the sun radiating)
All I found was this:
—does anyone remember?—the Mudflat Sculpture in the tidela nds beyond the Eastshore Freeway before it was expanded and “improved.”
At high tide much of it was underwater. But if you happened to be driving to San Francisco at low tide, you could see Don Quixote on his rearing horse, a prop plane ready to take off from what looked like a buoy, a huge hand rising from the swampy tidelands clutching at the setting sun—and dozens of other creations that appeared and disappeared, made from driftwood and trash and whatever people could manage to cart out there in defiance of “No Trespassing” signs.
(And I tell you, those mudflats were stinky even on the bus going past, and once in they were slippery and you'd slide through green mud. That fish and the dog and the guy waving were there the same time I was. I'd always wave back to the guy, the one on the right with little bits of wire and strung wood as his face, who was waving his long stick fingers at me: "Hello!" even going past on the bus, but on the bus I would have to be a bit constrained. I'd put my arm across the bottom of the window and give him a little surreptitious wave.
Back in a distant time, and an ancient place called "tidela nds". Perhaps a typo for tidelands.)
¶ 1/05/2011 01:30:00 PM
Wow, Jeff has a gallery in Paris now!
(Figures, that's pretty much where all the bohemians came from back before they became beatniks in San Francisco or Venice)
Walking down Telegraph across from Shakespeare's Books I think much, much later, 1971 I was still using that Avenue to get places. Even though I didn't like it then, because it was getting funky and it seemed everything had just fallen to ruin.
And I saw this weird guy gliding up the sidewalk towards me. He had short hair cut and was wearing a light blue sports coat and he kind of reminded me of the crazed guy in the air force jacket who had punched out General Wastemoreland all those years before. And he had a big stuffed frog on his shoulder with long legs dangling down the front of his jacket.
I was sidling past him, but he looked familiar, and he was stopped then and turning to enter some kind of bread and soup place. When I saw another musician I recognized, who was falling apart in laughter just watching the expression on my face.
And I realized the guy wearing the frog was James Gurley (of Big Brother and the Holding Company). And I thought, "Oh my GOD!!!!"
The casualties would stroll along Telegraph, too. And a friend of mine, Gloria, who was the wife of a manager of a once famous psychedelic band of the era who was in a position to know, when I told her about this encounter, said "It's amazing he even survived. Nobody thought he would."
Eee-ww. James Gurley had been in the newspapers, which would have been in my knowledge banks at the time, because he'd been arrested on a charge of murder because his wife had died of an overdose of heroin that he had administered. He was still fighting the charges when I saw him on Telegraph that day. And as I said above, taken with all the other news of the day, everything on Telegraph seemed funky like everyone and everything had fallen to ruin.
¶ 1/05/2011 11:39:00 AM
And sometimes I did busy work with my hands to keep me busy. I used to make miniature god's eyes as far back as 1965, out of toothpicks and regular thread. With lots of colors, and a big diamond shape (Diamond was the name of some matches, too, remember).
And that small knotting was difficult to do for me, I had to use tweezers to tie such small knots to hold the different color threads together, and tension throughout had to be perfectly applied or the thing would collapse in your hand.
The items were perfect in size, I could slip one very carefully into the cellophane wrapper that surrounded my Pall Mall's. Then if someone asked me for a cigarette, as they always did, they would see something beautiful as I offered them one. I gave away many many little toothpick god's eyes to friends and people I happened to encounter here and there. I thought I might still have a photograph of somebody wearing one, which he'd punched through the threads of his sweater to hold in place, but I don't.
I always used a lot of brilliant primary colors, red, and yellow, and blue and green, but sometimes I would feel obliged to separate one color from the next with a boundary of black thread, as the mood hit me. As if there had to be some kind of stop or a pause before the next thing began.
I preferred Pall Malls (pronounced "Pell Mell" in America) even though the short Camel pack of the time framed the god's eye better. And I liked the message on the Pall Mall package, "Ad astra per aspera" which I translated as "Through difficulties, to the stars" (as I had studied a more Germanic Latin), a motto which seemed lofty and inspiring.
(I just remembered a funny conversation I had with the manager of a blues club once about cigarettes. He sat down at a table and replayed his part in the tobacco commercial he'd played in, the one that paid his way through college. And we both laughed ourselves silly over the ungrammatical success of, "Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should".)
¶ 1/05/2011 10:17:00 AM
Back then when I was in San Francisco and Venice, I was a little more arty. I didn't own a camera and was always walking around, very peripatetic.
And I always had a little box of matches in my pocket. So if I found the perfect discard fortune cookie saying littering the sidewalk in front of a Chinese restaurant, I would save it in the matchbox until such time as I'd used up the matches. Then later, I would use a bit of glue and cut the fortune to fit and put it on the matchbox.
If I were near a typewriter, I would type a small short phrase I happened to think of (obviously "matchbox holds my clothes") and stick it on another matchbox.
Or if I had a penny for one of the fortune teller machines in a restaurant, I would use that strip of paper on a matchbox, too.
Sometimes I would find an old discarded matchbox and would use that as a little drawer to hold a miniature metal Coors can I had actually found rolling around on the street one day. And you could open the drawer and find a little can of beer, you see.
Or I'd carefully cut one of the pages from those religious comic books people would hand out then and glue it on the matchbox, but I'd have to wait until I found the perfect one, so I was always picking up those little tracts and going through them.
At the ranch I'd found a very old box of matches for the wood stove. One time there I envisioned a great possibility, and I just felt I was better heeled and a bit more stable in my existence there, and I'd had the money to buy the giant version of a box of matches if I needed or wanted one to replace the one I was about to use up. By the time I'd used every match in that old box, the emory strikers were more scarred and the paper even more torn and frayed. Sometimes a match had ignited and flared up too close to the strikeplate and there was a brownish burn mark. And for awhile, an ancient hint of sulfur. I eventually typed up the word "SUCCESS" and stuck it on that box.
In San Francisco once, I found a matchbook from what someone later told me was a "male homosexual bar", and I folded the cover and wrote "Arty" inside (because that really was the name of the guy in the high school boy's gym class, the one the football players would beat up because he was such a little fag). It still had matches in it, too, and I didn't use any.
It's not like these small things popped out in an instant. Or like something on assembly line. I would have to wait until the perfect moment, when I found the perfect object one that had some significance to me.
One time long about 1967 or 1968, I found a miniature 38 special keyring on the rack for maybe as much as a buck. I tested its heft and weight in my hand. I had to buy it because I knew it would fit into a matchbox. And that way I could tell my friends I had a gun in the drawer at home and nobody better mess with me.
At some point, a few years after Leviathan had left, I saw a funny artfilm that Jeff Berner and his girlfriend made. They were sitting on a bed talking about poetry and just started bouncing up and down like little kids excited and jumping up and down on a bed imagining they were in a story and imagining things but they were seated and bouncing up and down and talking about poetry. So excited about poetry they were. It was funny!
In those days, I'd encounter people I'd known in San Francisco over in Berkeley, especially around Telegraph Avenue.
One was Jeff Berner, a poet I'd met back in 1963 in the city who was trying with some difficulty to become a publisher of small volumes of poetry. So I bought a copy back then and we chatted and he eventually gave me his picture, which he had used on the back of one of the books. We met up originally outside of City Lights and talked about his poetry books, but he didn't have any with him nor were they in City Lights just yet. Or maybe they had been in City Lights and he'd had to collect most of them because they weren't selling as well as some of the other volumes and just taking up too much room on the tables, or something. So we rode on the bus together to go retrieve a copy of the poetry book. For some reason his photograph has survived the rigors of my stewardship to this very day, although many other photographs have been lost to me. I'm sure I kept it to remind myself that publishing books and such was a possibility because in 1963 I'd actually known someone who'd done just that.
(Stylists please note, men's beards were getting a little wilder just five years later in the later 60s)
A little earlier than Leviathan, in 1964 or maybe 1965 I'd encountered Jeff again at the Mediterranean Coffee House and he gave me a nickle. Maybe a quarter.
He gave me a small coin and asked me to put it in the parking meter across the street by the light blue sports car once the red flag came up. He warned me to be careful.
So I went across the street and was turning the crank, and the ratcheting turn of the crank, then the metallic sound of that coin hitting the small basket of other metal coins inside the head of the meter meant the coin had dropped and been accepted and more time was allotted. When this man in a suit came up and started harranging me about "feeding the meter" and what I was doing was illegal.
"That's a violation of the law!"
The man yelling at me was then (as it turned out) a Berkeley city councilman and he had taken it upon himself as an extension of his councily duties to patrol Telegraph Avenue and look for parking violators, maybe direct parking, and otherwise police the vehicular traffic in the area. Not just vehicular traffic, it seemed, as he was shouting at me, too, remember, so he was out to somehow control people's behaviors, too, and kick us all into line, and he had no compunction about using loud, rude behavior and words to do so. Then he threatened to call "parking enforcement" (and he actually began twisting and turning to see if he could locate a meter maid who might be in vicinity or driving by) so I just left, because my current mission in life (a small favor for a poet I knew) had been accomplished.
That man who yelled at me reminded me of all the cranky little old men who used to sit on the city council in Claremont before I left who passed their laws for themselves down there. The ones who outlawed the electric golf carts the retired missionaries used to drive into town. They're everywhere, I said to myself.
¶ 1/05/2011 08:05:00 AM
A friend of mine and I were walking up Haste Street in Berkeley a few years previous, and we were about to jaywalk and so turned our heads to scan busy traffic. We saw Leviathan looming up Haste, taking up the whole street, slowly moving up the road. We recognized the bus, but she knew the bus and people better than me, and we waved and shouted hello, running and skipping along side as if we were kids following a circus wagon. Leviathan lumbered on and up the grade slowly, crossed Telegraph, and settled into a huge parking spot. That was the day People's Park was beginning to be planted with flowers and gardens.
I would miss seeing Leviathan, you see.
(And under those circumstances, how could I help but sing softly "too much, the Magic bus, ch-ch the Magic Bus" and my friend turned and smiled at me like I had finally caught on)
¶ 1/05/2011 07:52:00 AM
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
I would miss seeing Daniel, even though his visits were now only occasional and growing rarer.
¶ 1/04/2011 06:39:00 PM
John Lithgow's old enough now to play Charles effectively. Do you think we can get him?
¶ 1/04/2011 01:14:00 PM
I was a poor, struggling student at Berkeley in 1969. I was working my way through school wiping spilled beer off the tables in a tough blues club. I was so lucky to land a job. I was lucky to even find a place to lay my head at night, as in Berkeley rentals were hard to come by with only a 1% turnover in vacancies. And if you found a place, the rent would be steep. So I was lucky to find a little place to rent.
Frank never drank. He'd come to our home for a fancier sit-down meal and would even wear a tie. My dad would raise a toast. Frank, ever dramatic, would stand and wave his glass at my father's glass, all while holding down his tie which had begun to flutter he had to reach so far across the table. Frank would say, "Prost!" and sit back down, setting his glass on the table and not drink his wine.
As I was young, much younger than Frank or my sister, I once knighted Frank at that very table. He kneeled before me and I tapped each of his shoulders and then his head with a butterknife. "Arise, Sir Frank."
¶ 1/04/2011 10:52:00 AM
I knew Frank Zappa and everybody else so very long ago, it was back when Coors had a smaller more delicate can of beer on the market for the ladies with delicate appetites and who might worry about their waistlines. It was shaped just like a regular can of Coors, and opened the same, even tasted the same as what was in the bigger cans, but it was a six-ounce size. Remember those?
¶ 1/04/2011 10:40:00 AM
As a young student, I'd had to prepare carefully for my entrance to a prestigious western school like Berkeley. My young life and perceptions of the world were forever shifted.
¶ 1/04/2011 08:53:00 AM
Compiling the best online articles about music so there will be more of both in the future. In periods of drought, the reader will be innundated by my own blogs on the matters.