Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Real Headline

There is much ado, and rightly, about Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling’s racially changed remarks. The coverage of the Putin-orchestrated takeover of Ukraine and the missing jetliner also blaze from the headlines.  There are shootings in malls, once-again failing peace talks in the Middle East, the Repubs block another bill, Obama’s ratings rise and drop. Whatever! The pundits cry out with today’s outrage. Opinions are sought from experts and often angry speculation from opposing viewpoints is rife about possible outcomes. It’s a merry, shiny crisis factory.

But there is, in fact,  a story that needs to be front and center in the flashing 24/7 cycle, yet it gets only a passing mention. Everyone wants to rail about the fleas, but the elephant is sitting in middle of the room and will soon break the walls down and let in the flood. The great masses really don’t want to talk about it. Give me Sportscenter and that tornado coverage. I am speaking not of Climate Change, as this is only a side product of the real problem. I am talking about overpopulation.

Since the discovery that fossil fuels can run machines we have been on a wild careering ride chasing “progress” (and its corollary sidekick money). Coal and oil can be burned to run engines that enable us to make things and move things in ways that could never happen in the first four million years of hominid development and the 10,000 years of “civilization”. Mechanization and modern medicine have changed humanity in essential ways: we now  live longer, dig deeper, go faster, can kill better, and we have left our Mother Earth behind, relegating it to be merely a resource to be mined, plundered, emptied of species, and disregarded as anything that sustains us. In two hundred years we have used much of the oil that the earth took  400 million years to produce. In the course of running these industrial engines and Western- style civilization we have so polluted the air and the water that there is at this point only a desperate last chance to reverse the damage we have done and are doing.

What’s the glorious tradeoff? We have our cars, trucks, planes. We have hundreds of giant cities of more than ten million inhabitants powered by burning fossil fuels or radioactive materials that will not be safe for humans for tens of thousands of years.  We have electricity! How else would we watch TV, talk on the phone, or send Facebook greetings? We have cars that have retractable mirrors and foot- activated liftgates, not to mention GPS and internet.  Our food comes from sources we don’t even consider, grown using techniques of fertilization and genetic breeding that may well hasten the breakdown of the Earth itself. We are killing off the earth’s gifts: bees, fish, free animals, wilderness, the very water and air we live in.

Medicines have prolonged life far beyond what was once the norm. The population of the Earth was 200 million only two thousand years ago. In 1820, we reached a billion. Two hundred years later we are approaching 8 billion: 8 Billion people driven to have the internet, drive cars fast, and live more and more in megalopolises. Overpopulation is mindless and wild, relentlessly and heedlessly driven by “more’, not by “what?”. Studies of animal populations tell us that overpopulation leads to crashes through disease, madness, or self-destruction. The present course is unsustainable and will collapse. This is my children’s world, your children’s world.

The Dalai Lama said recently that we are too late. It’s hard to argue with him. In order to save humanity and our planet we must actually sweep away the 19th century models that drive us favor of a complete revamping of civilization. We need to move away from the mega cities and create sustainable small communities. We need to develop cheap, highly efficient solar power to give us the limited electricity we actually need. We need to ride bikes, use carts, and save larger vehicles for essential services. Technologies must be used to find solutions to the vast problems of feeding and housing people, not simply employed to embellish unbridled growth. Our phones are smart enough; we have to get smart ourselves.
We need to stop fighting wars and utilize common efforts to find answers to our problems in what is right in front of us. We absolutely must stop polluting the air and water; there is no other source of air and water! Eating of animals and fish must be greatly curbed, as the resources and energy it takes to bring the world a meat and fish diet are not sustainable. We have nearly depleted the fish stocks of the world’s oceans.  It takes many times the energy and land to produce 8 oz. of meant than it does to bring rice and beans to the table.

The models we need for the future can already be found in civilizations present and past: village life, public gardens, public transport. We have to immediately stop breeding like rats. Religions need to direct their followers to nurture and protect the planet given to us by “God”, not beget more children to tithe.
I have previously written of my optimism about the mankind’s possible future. I have said that there are more people who are becoming conscious, and there are. However, this is a race against time, and time is running out on us. No action is being taken. The overwhelming majority of world governments are resistant to the ideas of change from the  oil, coal, and money paradigms of the 19th century that still rule the world.
Steven Hawking gave us one thousand years to find a new planet. We don’t have anything like that long. Every doomsayer will have his own version of what will come to pass. My current favorite is not war, terrorism, or economic collapse. I see germs, common flu-like bugs that will emerge quite naturally from an overpopulated humanity and spread quickly, killing billions. Perhaps the remainder will try a different approach.

News outlets? This is your 24/7 story until people wise up. If we don’t wise up, Nature will wise us up, and soon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Gun for Christmas
by Alex Call

You know how kids want things. I want it. I want it. I’ll dream and plot until I have it. I've got to have it!

 A BB gun. I forget which one of my friends had one already, maybe Jack, maybe Taylor. It wasn’t something that we had in our house. Guns were outside our family experience, something other kids might have gotten from their dads. My dad didn’t involve himself in my kid world much. He also didn't hunt.

So I hit up my mom, the real power in the house, for it.  She recited the oft-repeated family tale of Uncle Whosit, who pleaded with his Victorian-era parents for one and thought his dream was coming true when he saw the long, cylindrical package on the top shelf of the closet where the Christmas presents were hidden. But it turned out to be an umbrella. Not a proper gift for an eleven–year-old boy (like me) at all, no, not at all! Uncle Whosit didn’t get one but I was going to; my mom finally gave in and told me so. And now Christmas was almost here.

You wouldn’t think that Daisy would be the name of a gun maker. Too girlie. Maybe Frontier or Trailblazer or something German sounding like Schotz or Fokker, a manly sounding name for a man’s weapon. But Daisy it was, because they made BB guns. I didn’t want the western-style lever action like Jack’s, even though it was the U.S. Cavalry model from the movies, it wasn’t powerful enough. I had my heart set on a pump-action. I eyeballed one on display at Santa’s Toys for months. I practically wore off the paint on the barrel just looking at it.

“You have to be safe!” My mom insisted, “or you can’t have it. I won’t have anyone’s eyes getting shot out!” Why was it always the eyes? “Don’t throw rocks; you’ll put someone’s eye out!” But throwing rock-hard apples was fine. My older brother’s friends pelted my little posse mercilessly and no one lost an eye, or even got hit. 

Mom, I promise I’ll be careful! I promise! I promise!

I don’t know what I was planning on shooting with my Daisy; I hadn’t gotten that far yet. I simply needed to get one, against all parental odds. And so I did get to unwrap a long cylindrical package Christmas morning and there it was: a shiny pump- action Daisy, my own gun! . I filled it with shiny copper BB’s from the BB tube. I think it held fifty or so. I clacked the pump, shockn- chockn, and she was loaded. It was time for me and Daisy to meet our destiny.

Daisy was suddenly heavier, pregnant, alive. Alive in my hands. Once loaded, she had to be fired. And I knew in that moment that what I had to do with this BB gun was the forbidden. I had to shoot birds. Oh, I think I started by taking some shots across the gully at the old barn. I could track the flight of the BB: a copper arc that fell off fast after fifty feet. I could hit things. I’ve always had a good eye.

Above my head were the crabapple trees of the orchard. Even in December in Northern California there are robins and other birds around.  I craned my neck and looked up and saw them flitting about. A bird would light on a branch and just sit there for a few moments. I had only to be quiet and calm.

Holy shit, I shot one and it fell down at the base of the tree. It was dead. What did I feel when I shot that first one? Probably a secret, guilty pride. I was a good shot! I think I scuffed the ground with my shoe and piled some leaves over the bird’s little soft body. I didn’t tell my mom, that’s for sure.

As the days went by one bird became another and another. Dang, I was good. I could see how to aim slightly above the birds so that my BB would hit home. I stalked that little orchard for the next few weeks, taking one, two, even three birds at a time: robins and whatever else. A flutter of feathers lifeless on the ground; kick the body into the tall grass. I felt a little bad about killing them, but the thrill of the hunt covered that up. That's what hunting is all about: taking the shot; afterwards is just a corpse to dispose of.

It became too easy. The little birdies didn’t wise up; I could plug them with little effort. I felt bad about it. I took to shooting them across the gully, a more challenging shot. I felt worse with each new kill now; I knew it was all but finished for me and my daisy, and it was only January!

Dang, I had really wanted that gun.

One day after school I took to my solitary orchard, Daisy in hand. I might have shot one. I didn’t like it seeing the bird dead. Kick in down into gully. There was a movement in the top branches of Big Tree. I raised my weapon slowly. There hovering was a hummingbird. I think I said don’t do it, but I did. A fine shot of a moving target. I hit it in the head and it fell through the branches right at my feet. I had smashed its little pointy beak. It was still alive. But it wouldn’t make it; its beak was shattered by my BB. Its colors were beautiful, iridescent green and red, I think. Its wings buzzed as it struggled. I pumped again, put the muzzle right to its head, and squeezed. I kicked it twenty feet into some bushes.

I can’t remember who I gave the gun to. Lucky guy. My score was Alex 54, birds 0. I took up guitar that year and also became a half-decent baseball player. A year later I had a girlfriend. I now knew what guns were for. They were not some romantic icon that make's a man; I knew guns were only made to kill. I now knew what it was to hunt, to kill a living being. I never picked up a gun again.

I really wanted that gun.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I have a new blog at my website

My friends.. I have new website and blog..

please join me there for my writing and news about my first I head towards the release..I will be blogging about the process of bringing a book to life...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

the opening chapters of my new book"867-5309/Jenny:the song that saved my ass for a while" be released by Charles River Press,2011

Canoga Park, 1985

Oh... mama, can this really be the be stick inside a Mobile with the Memphis blues again…
(Bob Dylan)

The neon light above the store on the corner down the block was on the blink.
I put the two big bottles of ultra—budget merlot on the counter.
“How are you, my friend?” asked the skinny Lebanese owner, his close-set eyes twinkling alongside his long aquiline nose; his eternal five o’clock shadow making him look like someone from central casting for an Arab liquor store owner in a cop show. He knew me well.
“Fine, fine, “I said, “shokran!” See, I even knew some Arabic.
I smiled my bloated north-of-Ventura-Boulevard smile and pushed out into the parking lot. Heavy traffic on Vanowen. Vans, low riders, Beamers, pickups with four-foot ground clearance and exhaust flap covers flapping and clanking as they gunned their sex-substitute engines, spewing out more grey filth into the hot, valley smog. Grandmas, pachucos, blacks, Asians, and ancient, trembling white couples staring with frightened eyes at the vanished Valley of their youthful dreams, stood at street crossings, watching the dizzy world whizzing by at an astonishing speed. Latino families, mamas holding hands of beautiful white-shirted little boys and bright-faced, dark-eyed girls in school uniforms waited for the little flashing green man with the bad back to signal it was momentarily safe to cross the supercharged automotive artery. Tossed Butts and blown papers rolled and rattled in the tail-pipe wind gutter. The horizon was orange, brown, purple. The smog made nice sky colors.
No one could see me once I was in my kelly green Chevette, I thought. I pulled the door shut and turned the key. Click. Click. Click. Nothing. Come on, dammit! Click. Click. I hit the steering wheel. Fuck! Catch. On. Thank you, you fucking piece of shit Chevette.
I backed out and turned up the side street and made my way home through the alleys; less cops. Couldn’t get caught again. The Reckless Driving was a lucky break. The next time I’d be in the slammer for more than just a few hours.
The night in jail with the seventeen poker-playing Mexicans and the assorted gang-bangers and other regular drunks like me had been humiliating, but I’d walked away with only a four-hundred dollar fine for the crime of reckless driving. An everyday deal between attorney and prosecutor. Standard shit in those years before all the brouhaha about DUI. Good thing I hadn’t made it to my coke dealer before I got popped. That would have been bad.
My little boy was playing in the living room. I slid the cork out extra quietly in the kitchen and filled a wine glass; put it behind a row of cook books on the counter for later. Drained another glass, then refilled. I went out the kitchen side door into the alley by the garbage can and fired up a smoke. I pulled the can away from the wall, exposing dozens of violet-red palmetto-bug cockroaches, who scurried momentarily away from the light before brazenly stalking back.
The moon was rising, dull and orange, over the lemon trees. Other people had avocados or oranges. But we had these lousy lemon trees. You can only make so much lemonade. There was my garden as well. Ungodly tomato hornworms had destroyed this year’s crop of Big Boys before I found them and threw both hornworms and Big Boys over the cinder-block wall into the alley.
The alley was part of the endless grid of streets, alleys, and houses that filled everything. Sometimes I climbed up on the roof to try to get a view of the distant mountains, the red Santa Susanna rocks to the north, which reminded me of Sedona. But Sedona was of another age of the earth, of my life. It was hard to believe I had ever been there.
My Buddha’s Childhood Kingdom was a misty, half-remembered Shangri-la. I had left it but hadn’t found enlightenment; I had found my own limitations and my own and other people’s excrement. Who knows? Maybe enlightenment was just another piece of cheap and easy nonsense; a Disney movie with talking raccoons and animatronic spiritual teachers that nodded endlessly and mouthed a reverby OM, while some crappy, lush synth song played over and over.
Over the high-priced hills, the Jewish Alps, there was the vast Pacific Ocean, but here it was a sea of ranch house rooftops, palm trees, all laid out over the old orchards of the forties and fifties, bedded down with seething masses of people from everywhere, all coming to consume and regurgitate America. To the south, Woodland Hills and Tarzana shimmered; the houses across Ventura Boulevard, the houses of the rich and famous, Mercedes driven by awesome women wearing Gucci sunglasses. They passed me by, dentist’s wives and their tauntingly cruel, beautiful daughters, incapable of even seeing me as I stood at the corner of Ventura and Winnetka, wearing my sweatpants, waiting for the lights and my life to change.

The Radio

…whenever I want you all I have to do…
…is dream… dream, dream, dream…
(Everly brothers)

Wolf spiders. Wolf spiders on my blankets.
They look like scaled-down tarantulas, chopped and channeled like tarantula hot rods, but unlike their lumbering bigger cousins, wolf spiders are frantically fast. That’s part of the problem; you take your eyes off of them for a second, to get something to swat or catch them with, and they disappear. But where do they go? Under the other blanket? Back in the corner where the wooden bunk-bed frame doesn’t quite touch the wall, that place of unspeakable web-wrapped darkness? Tarantulas, of course, are gentle creatures; you can hang them on your sweater or even let them amble over your slowly moving fingers. But wolf spiders are lightning killers, even if only of other wolf spiders. Their only other known function is to act as nightmare stalkers of seven-year-old boys.
I lay in the darkness in my little basement room. Off in the distance there was the ominous deep rumbling from the new “jet” planes flying somewhere in the night. I was under the covers, drenched in a cold sweat, hiding from wolf spiders and rigid with terror that H-bombs would fall out of the sky. I was waiting every second for it to happen. That was what they’d been feeding us kids: Commies and H-bombs.
I had the blankets pulled up around my head, because besides the H-bombs and the wolf spiders, there were the mice and rats and other short-and-long-legged crawling, creeping scaries waiting to get me down in that basement room.
My dad never got around to finishing this part of the house. It was on his list, but the list was years long and filled the blue-lined pages of notebook after notebook, each entry neatly written in his crabbed writing, each notebook held closed with a rubber band. There were a great many things on that years-long list that never got done. He was a big starter but not much of a finisher, a man of many dreams, but not so many fully realized accomplishments. So I, who my dad called Charlie Owlbox, the Dog-Faced Boy, number three of four kids, ended up being stuck in this unfinished afterthought of a room. My older brother and sister lived down the hall, in finished rooms. My little sister lived upstairs with my parents.
The basement had a semi-smooth concrete floor that was supposed to be polished but wasn’t (that was a fifties thing, polished concrete, very modern (now it’s au courant again: Whole Foods floors), and there were missing acoustic tiles in my ceiling, which left holes from which mice and rats would sometimes peer down on me as I lay in my bed. I once woke up to find that a big, fat mama rat had brought her newly spawned brood to nestle in the comfy folds of my satin comforter. At first I thought they were kittens, as we had up to a dozen cats at any one time in our house, and there were kittens everywhere, but as I squinted at them in the dim morning light, I suddenly realized that these tiny squirmers were of a more feral species. I ran, I suppose yelling, from my room. My dad came to the dramatic rescue, in typical Hughes Call fashion, with his ceremonial Navy sword in one hand and our black cat in the other. He flicked back the covers with the tip of his shiny sword and tossed the cat on the rats, which scattered in all directions. Black Kitty might have caught one of them.
Right at the foot of my bed there was also a dirt- floored “alcove”, full of dusty, cobwebby cardboard boxes, that was really a crawl space that led back under the house. This creepy, dark place was home to many kinds of critters, including the black widows that my older brother and his intrepid pals sought with jars. A flimsy little curtain only partially covered this nasty gateway to a child’s night terrors.
But my room was a well-lit refuge compared to what waited beyond my pocket door with its little hook latch. Outside the door, there was a dimly lit, narrow hallway with no wall paneling, just exposed rough joists strung with Romex electric cabling and draped with dusty spider webs. Directly across from my door was the open black hole of the highly ironically named “playroom”, another unfinished space filled with partially started projects such as my dad’s “catamaran”, the one he planned to sail to Hawaii, which was never more than a few two-by-fours tacked together and leaned up against the windows, which couldn’t be seen out of for the clutter.
There were piles of cut-up sheets of plywood, stacks of boxes and old newspapers dating back to the thirties, three-legged chairs waiting forever to be re-glued, a couple of eight-inch black-and-white TV sets, an old wind-up Victrola, uncountable broken vintage electric fans and light fixtures, and God knows what else, everything covered in spider webs and a light fall of slightly smelly grime that I came to call Mummy Dust. It just had this strange indefinable odor. I’m sure Indiana Jones would be able to relate. This unkempt jumble was naturally home to myriad species of arachnids, including my unfavorites, the wolf spiders, and all the other web makers, big and small.
You see, my father was one of those people who couldn’t toss anything out, and I mean anything. Each old box full of whatnots, each partially cut piece of lumber, every hanging garment bag full of old, never-to-be-worn-again clothing (I knew there were corpses in them) had its own old memory or a future use. At its most organized, the playroom was a place of labyrinthine, box-lined trails through the piles and stacks. This only got worse over time, until the tortuous paths themselves were filled to the ceiling. Nowadays, a person who collects stuff in this fashion would be labeled a compulsive hoarder, which is quite accurate, but the old name for the compulsive hoarder is more descriptive: packrat. Actually, both names are sadly correct.
You might think from the above that I grew up out in the hills of Appalachia or in some rotting urban tenement, but this was in Mill Valley, California, one of the most urbane pieces of suburbia that ever was. And my dad wasn’t some undereducated hick from the sticks or faceless denizen of a forlorn cityscape. What he was was quite a complicated man. His mother and father had divorced in 1919 when he was two, leaving him to be raised by his wealthy grandparents. His mother’s father, my great-grandfather, George Alexander Hughes, was the inventor of the electric stove, if you can get your mind around that. A third-generation Irish Protestant immigrant, Mr. Hughes started an electric appliance company that went on to become Hughes Electric and he was the Chairman of the Board of General Electric at some point back in the twenties and thirties. I keep telling my brother that sooner or later a few hundred old shares of GE will be found in some old pile of papers (my brother took many of my dad’s boxes with him after dad passed away) and we’ll be rich. The shares have as yet not been unearthed. When we find them, I’ll let you know. From Maui.
My dad grew up in a big house near Chicago, where he got more attention from the liveried, “colored” servants and cooks than he did from his older-generation, distant grandparents. He was shunted off at age five to a fancy, waspy school or two and then to Harvard and Harvard Business School. From this high-altitude springboard he could have bellyflopped into a cushy corporate job. All he had to do was toe the line and follow vaguely in Grandpa’s footsteps. But while serving as a young Lieutenant Commander, U.S. Navy in a strictly non-combatant role (no doubt through his grandfather’s political connections) as a junior adjutant and tennis partner for Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in Pearl Harbor during WWII, where in addition to his forehand my father finely honed his already considerable cocktail-party skills, my father saw Golden California. When the war was over, he turned his back on his guaranteed-to-be-boring corporate job prospects and left the Midwest for the wide-open sunny life of San Francisco.
He was, despite his blustery protestations to the contrary, a black sheep who tried for a long time in vain to wear white; a lifelong failure at business and a staunch anti-Roosevelt Republican who finally came to his senses during the Vietnam War and became a Democrat and an anti-war, civil rights advocate. Should he have been surprised to have spawned a rock musician?
As for Hughes Electric Company and the George Alexander Hughes,” Father of the Electric Range”, family fortune? My lovely grandmother, the party-loving-almost-good-enough erstwhile concert pianist, spent all the dough traveling the world on board Cunard liners while draped in minks and pearls and on entertaining Broadway’s and The New York Philharmonic’s stars at her autographed- photo- filled 57th Street apartment, right across the street from Carnegie Hall.
Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations: that’s what they say.
My dad was also an alcoholic, largely of the charming variety, who couldn’t find the time to play catch with me or teach me how to drive. He was always too busy either sleeping a big night off or winding up to become Mr. Gregarious, the guy who lived for the next wild, imaginative party coming down the pike. My parents both sang and my mother played piano; we had three of them in the house, with two back-to-back grands in the big living room, the curves matching like musical yin-yang pieces. Above the pianos was an abstract painting done by one of their artsy friends. It was an oddly stretched-out rectangle three feet high and fifteen feet long that was mounted above the Steinway and the other grand. The male cats would get up on the pianos and pee on the painting, their pee trails streaming down the walls from the swirls and splatters of the abstract painting. Life imitates art.
My folks belonged to a theater group that did Gilbert and Sullivan and other light musicals, and our house was party central for the cast. Our parties were legendary. My dad cut an eight-by-ten-foot hole in the living room floor and rigged a “stage” that could be raised with pulleys up from infamous playroom to the living room. Virtually everyone at the party, and we often had a hundred people or more at our soirees’, was required to have an act, which could be raised from the depths, the partygoers singing or doing a funny scene from a play. My father had rigged colored spotlights near the ceiling of the living room that would illuminate the performers as they rose from the depths.
As a kid, I could only watch the grownups at their play, though they trotted me out to sing a Broadway song or two. I had a good voice even as a little boy. But the world of grownups was basally off-limits to us kids. We had to go to our rooms early. In the morning I would sneak upstairs and gaze upon the detritus of the parties: glasses everywhere, many with cigarette butts stuck in white wine, the kitchen a mess. There were usually two or three snoring bodies on the couches. They must have had a grand time.
Often I would get a book or two and tiptoe back down to my room. There was a library in our dining room with floor –to- ceiling books that came down from both my mother’s and father’s childhoods. There must have been hundreds of books. I learned to read early and I loved the Greek Myths, the Arabian Nights, and anything about history. I still do. I have some of those old books today. I also loved comic books, especially Uncle Scrooge, because of the fantastic adventures, and my favorite, Superman.
Superman is a lonely character. He can’t reveal his true identity to even his closest friends. He exists to right wrongs and to save the world from Lex Luthor and Mr Mxyzptlk. Superman has a weakness, deadly Kryptonite, pieces of his home world which are poisonous to him. How true that is. The stuff that follows us around from childhood can be very toxic; it can even destroy us. He had a place where he went to recharge his batteries when he was at the end of his endurance, the Fortress of Solitude. Even Superman has his limits. I guess the creators of Superman were brilliant. I wanted desperately to be Superman. Even then I knew the world needed saving. I spent long hours wandering in the worlds of books and comics. The moral choices and the circumstances of the characters were easier to understand than the real world I saw around me.
You’d think my father could’ve taken a little of his social energy to fix my nasty room up. But he couldn’t find the time; he was the party master: he loved the ladies, he lived for the laughter; his nickname was Hugs. He had a clock that said: no drinks served until after five. The clock face was, of course, all fives.
My Father was much loved by his witty, creative, and simpatico friends, but his own early childhood abandonment by his mother no doubt left him with deep, unfaced issues. Kryptonite. His dark, wounded side found expression in the scary bowels of our house, the basement of Dorian Grey. I needed my own Fortress of Solitude.
Of course, I didn’t know any of that when I was a young boy. I only knew that everywhere there were piles of stuff too important to be tossed out, projects too far down on the ever-longer list to ever be dealt with. At night the doorless playroom was a seething black pit full of lurking horrors. The laundry area, with its single, hanging bare light bulb and the dark and creepy old blanket-draped doorway to dad’s “workroom” (where he hid his cases of cheap Tom Moore bourbon) was just as frightening. There were two more of those scary, unlit, cave-like alcoves that ran off under the old house. The stairs that went up to the main floor had only steps, no facings, since they had been built by my dad, who we now know never finished anything. I imagined bony hands reaching out of the blackness for my ankles as I ran up to my parent’s bedroom in the middle of the night when I was too terrified to stay downstairs any longer.
All this and H-Bombs and wolf spiders, too.
So, I snuck my hand out of the blankets and clicked on the green plastic Zenith radio. Wish I still that radio. It looked just like the front of a ’55 Oldsmobile, with chromish mesh over the speaker and a pea -soup green body. Two dials: volume and frequency. I turned it just on a click, didn’t turn the volume up at all. At first, there was only a very faint buzzing noise. But after a few minutes, as the tubes warmed, there was KYA coming in, too quietly for anyone to hear but me. The sound of the smooth-talking DJ was reassuring to a child who felt as if he had been abandoned to his cellar-dweller fate, and the comforting top-forty hit singles played all night.
There were songs that I loved: Don’t be Cruel, El Paso, Hello Mary Lou, Bye-Bye Love, Pretty Woman. There were many more songs I couldn’t stand: She Wore Blue Velvet, Hats Off To Mary, Tell Laura I Love Her, Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini. But good or not, each song was three minutes long: verse, b-section, and chorus. We were a musical family and I was already at a tender age a discerning critic. My older sister was a bobby soxer who had the latest 45’s on her little record player. I listened to them more than she did. I waited for the songs that had cool guitar leads, songs that sounded like a band was playing them. Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, Ricky Nelson ( with James Burton on guitar)The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley. I switched over to KEWB or the black station KDIA when Frankie Avalon, Neil Sedaka, or another one of those horrible teen idols came on. KDIA played Bobby Blue Bland (Lovelight, one of the best singles of all time), James Brown, Barret Strong, Mary Wells, Jackie Wilson, The Coasters and Drifters, and my favorite, Ray Charles. I liked the real stuff, no lush strings or oboes.
The songs were my own private musical Fortress of Solitude; if I listened hard enough, the night, the spiders, and the H-bombs went away. Eventually I would fall asleep, but the old Zenith stayed on while I dreamed. The songs sank into my consciousness.
I was terrified down in that room, but as I drifted into dreamland on the waves of the old Zenith I was unknowingly uncovering something inside of me: music, a place of refuge. And it was my own Berlitz course: Learn to write hit songs while you sleep.

The Dance

…tell your mama. Tell your pa...
…I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas…
(Ray Charles)

Hard guys.
Duck-ass haired, switch-blading, sucker-punching, candy money-extorting, playground-humiliating, stupid-ass hard guys: worse than wolf spiders, because you could stomp on a wolf spider, but hard guys traveled in packs, like nasty dogs. Even if you wanted to fight them, a strategy for which I had less than zero desire, it was pointless. You couldn’t take them all on; there were too many. The muscle-headed leaders of the pack cut the spineless kids from the herd and harassed them just for fun. Spineless kids like me.
I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen when my mom dropped me off uptown on a fine evening in September of 1960, what magic was about to strike from the heavens, but that night I found my life’s calling, and those hard guys had a lot to do with my grand vision.
I was in seventh grade and it was the first dance of fall at the Outdoor Art Club in my hometown of Mill Valley, California. Though someday Mill Valley would become the ultra village of multi-millionaires, where young latte-sipping entrepreneurs and their slim wives who drove sleek Mercedes and black Prius’s would buy ten- thousand- dollar paintings at the hardware store where I used to get my baseball bats, Mill Valley in 1960 was just a very, very nice small town with a California twist: Middle America meets the Ivy League and gets a dash of Zen mixed in with its highball (or red wine and the first reefers in certain houses). In 1960, we were on the borderlands of the future. JFK and Nixon were running for president; the Red Menace loomed over our mushroom-cloud- shaded heads. Vietnam and all that turmoil was yet to come. Alan Watts, the Beatniks, and the psychedelic Sixties were slowly but surely emerging, but for now the button-down Fifties were still in control.
I was eleven years old, five-foot–three, as skinny as a fishing rod, and only dimly aware of the big world.
It was a dance for seventh-and-eighth graders. For a brief moment, I was excited enough about the dance to not be afflicted with my usual paranoia about getting hassled by the likes of Allan Acree and the other Elvis-haired hard guys who haunted these events.
You see, the ghosts of my wolf-spider -infested basement were fading away as I discovered the spiders were harmless and the ghosts weren’t really there. I had transferred my fears to a more present reality. I was now scared shitless by hard guys.
Hard guys. They were my shadow mirrors, the ones who pointed out to me and everyone else just what a total chickenshit I was. Hard guys liked to fight, or at least threaten to fight. Fighting and being tough was cool: in fact, the word for cool was tough. That ‘deuce coupe is so tough. The Nueland twins are so tough. Being the quintessential skinny little runty nerd, I lived in constant fear of getting my ass kicked; almost as afraid as I was of the H-Bomb, and I was still deathly afraid of that, by the way.
You know the clip we all grew up with, that magnificent crown-shaped white-hot Bikini Atoll H-bomb mushroom cloud instantaneously blossoming from the sea. As the clip runs, the mushroom head rolls skyward, leaving a massive column of gray-white, the stem of the mushroom. Around the base of that impossibly huge and powerful tower rises a gigantic wave that dwarfs a fleet of mothball WWII warships. Yes sir and madam, that vision scared the crap out of me until my late teens.
But H-bombs were on TV. My immediate, daily problem was that there was seemingly no escape from these hard guys. They strutted around at school and at C’s drive-in with their Bryllcreemed hair, metal combs like weapons protruding from the back pockets of their Levis, just aching for any excuse to be shitheads. They pushed nerds like me around, demanding quarters and the like, and when they thought it would be funny to ramp it up a notch they’d call you out, while their grinning thug buddies stood around leering. If you were called out you were screwed; you’d have to fight in front of everybody down at the tracks. I worked very hard not to let that occur.
I had two, both failing, strategies: I tried to escape them by having younger, less threatening friends, which only made me a bigger (or I my runty case smaller) pussy, and conversely by trying to look like I belonged in their hard guy “in” crowd. I used Vitalis or Bryllcreem (a little dab’l do ya!), or even Wildroot Cream Oil (the one with the shiny-headed cartoon character Fearless Fosdick as its pitch man in the old print ads), and carried my own grease-slick comb in my back pocket. The goal was to get one curl to droop down across your forehead from the front of the combed-up pomp, like Elvis or Ed “Kooky’ Burns from 77 Sunset Strip. I couldn’t quite pull that one off because my hair was too fine, so I finally resorted to this goo you dipped your comb into that made your hair as hard as a helmet when it dried.
Why did guys grease their hair anyway? I think it was because in the Fifties, daily bathing wasn’t really a fully realized national obsession yet. Old ways die hard. Some adults in that Robert Mitchum-John Wayne-post-WWII, post-Korea era still only “took the plunge” into a tub once a week. It was said that washing your hair too much was bad for it. Of course, It was also said that smoking cigarettes was good for you.
I did have one place where I matched up: on the baseball diamond. Since my dad couldn’t find the time to teach me how to play catch, it came down to my little league coach, Barney Johnson. Barney was a working-class guy who saw something in me even when I showed up at the first practice throwing off the wrong foot, ‘like a girl” and even though I was afraid of a hard-hit ball. I loved baseball, but I was a chickenshit. Barney wouldn’t accept that. He showed me the techniques of fundamental play and made me, and all of us American League Tigers, practice very hard. He thought I would make a good third baseman. He’d put a bat behind my heels and hit hard, scorching grounders at me. If I didn’t charge the ball, if ever touched that bat behind me with my feet by retreating, he would make me run a long lap around the high school field where we practiced.
I began to be able to play well. I used to go the school yard next to my house and throw a rubber- coated hardball, like an early version of the superball, off the wall of the school and catch hard, crazy-bounce grounders on the blacktop. I got very good at it. My first year in little league I only got six at bats and a few plays in the field. The next year I actually made the all-star team. I learned that passionate practice was a good mental and emotional place to go, and that it produced results. Thanks, Barney. I think he would be pleased to know that I still coach kids in little league. Charge the ball, guys. Baseball ready every pitch.
But baseball wouldn’t save me with the hard guys. I needed to conform. I tagged along with the in crowd and greased up and also razored off the belt loops on my Levi’s, neatly rolled the cuffs over, and wore a white t-shirt with the sleeves folded twice over my noodle-muscle arms. When I hung out at the abandoned railroad tracks after school, I folded a pack of Pall Malls or Marlboros in my sleeve just like the big boys. I smoked; I swore. I rode my gooseneck -handlebar bike with the big back wheel and small front wheel to my little league games, with my uniform shirt untucked and pair of shades on my face so I would look cool, tough. But none of that worked.
Because there was no way in hell I could really ever be a hard guy. I wanted to be popular, and I didn’t want to get my ass kicked, but my tactics weren’t paying off. I was still getting punched, pulled under at the pool, and humiliated on the playground in front of haughty girls who thought it was funny.
I was a dorky enough chicken (did I mention the horn-rimmed glasses my mom picked out for me?) that my friend Dennis Brown even fought a proxy fight for me with Allan Acree.
Acree was a junior thug from the wrong side of town who had a set of muscular one-year-older hard guys for friends, the dreaded, hulking Craig Byrd among them. Acree called me out because I had a club called the Tasmanian Devils Club with my younger friends and chubby Mike Walter, another nerd. It was a TV cartoon thing, for Chrissakes. We had other ad hoc clubs, like the Famous Monsters Club (we kept movie monster mags in a tree fort- oooh, Creature From The Black Lagoon , The Tingler!), and our less well-known but much more exciting junior jerk-off club, which congregated in my older brother’s junked cars: he kept girly mags stashed under the seats. Allan Acree said he had his own club, the Acree Devils, and what did I fuckin’ think of that? He poked me hard in the chest a couple of times for good measure. I stammered something about how that was cool. That wasn’t good enough for Acree. He called me out. I had to fight him down at the tracks after school.
Oh shit! I was shaking and near tears. I just wasn’t a fighter. Acree would kick my ass in front of everyone, all the hard guys and tough chicks and wannabe hard guys who hung out at the tracks after school. My friend Dennis Brown, who did have the super-cool Kooky Byrnes hair and was five inches taller than I was, said, no sweat; he’d take care of Acree for me.
After school I went with Dennis down to the tracks, where the old spur line’s rusted rails passed beneath a wooded bluff; the place where everyone hung out to smoke and socialize and fight. The word was out: fight today. I was as nervous as I could have possibly been. There were a lot of kids there; way more than a usual after school hang. Acree’s gang of six or seven goons came up, strutting in like they were the kings of the place, which they basically were. There was some murmured name calling. Acree had heard that Dennis was going to fight him. It wasn’t unheard of to have a surrogate fight for someone. Dennis was a guy who didn’t take crap from anyone, but he was kind of an outsider. That’s why he was my buddy, because I was one, too, but I was way more of a dork than Dennis. He and Acree exchanged the usual ‘fuck you’s ‘and other assorted niceties, like, this ain’t none of your business, Brown. Oh yeah? Maybe it fuckin’ is, Acree. First names were never used, except maybe when you said a guy’s name backwards, like Nibor Snobbig or Xela LLac.
They stepped out into a ring formed by the onlookers. The ratted-haired, popular, hard-girl Nueland twins smoked cigarettes and acted bored. There was some tense calling, like at a baseball game. C’mon, Alan!, Git’ him, Take out the motherfucker, Hit him low. There was more vocal support for Acree; he was the popular thug. But there was respect for Dennis, who had the fighting skills that might enable him to kick Acree’s ass, which secretly a lot of kids wouldn’t mind seeing happen. I wasn’t the only one around school who had been intimidated and harassed by Acree.
The fighters raised their fists and circled, looking for the first punch. Acree rushed in and Dennis pushed him off and got a shot in. Acree came back fast; he was a madman, scratching, kicking. He was shorter than Dennis, so he got in underneath and tried to do some damage. But Dennis stood up straight and punched and pushed Acree off. They kicked up some dust with their black loafers and some gravel from the old tracks went skittering around.
The bout was all over in a few short minutes; a draw, like most fights. No torn Pendletons. Each guy got a couple of licks in. They exchanged some more salutary fuck you’s and withdrew into the crowd. So I didn’t end up getting my ass kicked, but I was sort of humiliated for not fighting my own fight.
I wish I could have that one back. Getting a bloody nose from Alan Acree wouldn’t have hurt me as much as did the loss of my self-respect I suffered for having ducked out. Besides, Acree could never have hit me as hard as various music publishers and so-called friends would tag my ass over the years.
But despite the Allan Acrees of my world, I went on still aping the hard guys. What else could I do? Deep down inside, I wonder if I wasn’t always looking for a permanent way out of all that shit. I’d never be a hard guy or a professional baseball player. Vickie and Bonnie and the other giggling, note-passing popular girls who took delight in slicing open my little heart by ignoring me would keep on doing so.
At least I knew that at the Social Club dance Janey would dance with me. We had twisted at a well-lit sock- hop on the slick hardwood floor of the Park School gym during the summer. We won the twist contest, that honor bestowed on us, the sweaty, beaming couple, by one of the younger, cooler teachers. Dancing was a blast. Most of my fellow dorks were too shy to dance, but I couldn’t stand still when the music started and I found that if I got the courage up to ask, some girls would dance with me. I could feel the beat, the melody, and the shouting choruses of the spinning 45’s racing around inside of me. I knew all the songs note for note from my midnight radio.
Something undeniable was waking up within the groveling chickenshit. I was so ready for the dance that night.
I heard the muffled thumping of the music coming through the oak trees as I walked nervously up the curving sidewalk to the Outdoor Art Club. I began to twitch. I wanted to get in there.
I got my social club card punched and went with Mike Walter or someone into the tiny, old hall. There, up on the box stage at the far end of the room, was the first band I’d ever seen. They were typical of those groups: drums, bass, guitar, sax; one Electro-voice mic going through a totally inadequate public address speaker. The sound system was designed to handle Outdoor Art Club functions attended by middle aged men who wore bow-ties and smoked pipes. My dad wore bow-ties and smoked a pipe. His Naval Reserve unit met there, under the banners of Flag, WWII, Fraternity, and Jim Beam. The little hall was paneled in dark wood. It had hardwood floors and a pale-green-walled, fluorescent-lit kitchen off to one side where during most events curled and coiffed women with top-buttoned sweaters and long skirts would lay out baked goods and brew big aluminum urns of weak Folger’s coffee. The Stars and Stripes and the flag of California stood on brass-eagle-topped stands on each side of the band-box stage. You could almost hear crew-cut men chanting ‘I Like Ike!’, or ‘Nixon’s the One!’
The Elvis-haired band guys in their matching suit jackets and skinny ties stepping together in time to the beat on the little stage looked like grown men to me, though they were most likely only as old as my brother Lewis, sixteen or seventeen. The amps and guitars were real, honest-to- God Fender . The two-tone, dark-blue and silver sunburst drums were genuine Slingerlands bought by paper-route earnings plus a loan from daddy. During breaks, guitar and bass hung by their straps over the amps. So tough. Cooler than tough. I wanted a Fender Jazzmaster and a Bandmaster two-piece amp.
The combo thudded away in the little boomy hall. The guitar and sax traded off solo licks; there was a Sandy Nelson drum solo on TeenBeat. All the Bryllcreemy lads and their bouffant hair-spray or page-boy lassies raised their voices on What I Say, Tequila, and Bony Marony. The two bands that night were called The Chord Lords and The Opposite Six.
Later on, I would get to know some of those band guys – the ones who made the jump to 60’s rock, that is. A few would become famous, like Bill Champlin, who would someday play in the super-group Chicago and write mega-hits. Others would go down, flat-top–with-fenders dinosaurs, Jazzmasters blazing, refusing to get hip, keeping their hair products, pints of cheap bourbon, Saturday-night-big-dance-and-fight, and old Duane Eddy rockabilly guitar riffs clutched in their hot-rod hands to the bitter end.
But back then, for me, these guys were like Gods. They played Duane Eddy’s Forty Miles of Bad Road, Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk, I Got a Woman, The Peter Gunn Theme, The Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run and a bunch of Freddie King-style instrumentals that featured only a handful of notes, mostly pentatonic scale: good dance stuff.
I let it all hang out that night. Once I finally got up the courage to ask her, Janey and I jitterbugged, twisted, stomped, and even slow danced until I was soaked in sweat and then we danced some more. There were sneaked cigarettes outside and some nervous futile attempts at kissing. She was kind to me; she kept dancing. But she wouldn’t smooch. Making out was still a year away for me. I just got to hold her hand a couple of times for a lingering moment after the slow songs, which fired my poor, hormone-wracked pubescent body enough to make my post-dance masturbation even more earnest than usual.
I was the original dancing fool. Since I was using a deadly combo of Vitalis plus that god-only-knows-what-it-is stuff you dip your comb into that turns your hair into a helmet, my sweat melted my hairdo and my would-be hard guy hair failed me, falling lank and wet on my forehead. But while my sweaty, horny manifestation may have driven cute little Janey to keep me at arm’s length, I had the time of my life. And I learned something that changed it forever.
The guys in the band had lots of girls staring at them while they played, some girls even sneaking longing, adolescent glances at them over their boyfriend’s shoulders during the slow dances. And they watched the band guys when they were done playing, too, the girls giggling and glancing in little groups at the players. Girls, the thing I most wanted. Hard guys of any age group didn’t fuck with band guys. The musicians had a magic passport to cool. They were above the juvenile Darwinian law of dickhead-beats-up-dork. The band guys hung out by themselves. They were in a world of their own. I wanted to be in that world. And starting right then at that seventh grade social club dance, I, a skinny little eleven-year-old dork with glasses and barely emergent cojones, had a feeling that I would get there. From that dance forward, there would be no turning back, I would have no doubts. I was going to be in a rock’n’roll band and get out of the hard guy rat race forever.
There was a nylon-stringed guitar at home. I don’t know where it came from, since no one played guitar in my family. The battered Spanish-style guitar only had the bottom two strings on it, but that was enough. I just slid my fingers around, kind of playing bass for the songs I had heard at the dance. I could kind-of sort-of figure some of them out. Tequila! I was on my way.
What’s funny is that I still play the same way today.

Lead Singer

...well, she was just seventeen…you know what I mean…
(The Beatles)

No, I was never really afraid of Zombies, except for a few nights after I saw Night of the Living Dead. No, The Zombies were a great band. Just thought I’d mention them. Where’d they go, anyway?
Despite the wolf spiders and the insufferably moronic hard guys, by any wide-worldly standards my childhood was incredibly idyllic. I didn’t have to deal with war, racial discrimination, or poverty. I played outside in the dirt with my toy soldiers and engaged in make-believe battles in the dunes at Muir Beach until I was too old for that to be cool anymore. I wandered around Mill Valley, Muir Beach and Sausalito, riding my bike, fishing on the bay, and playing a lot of baseball. Finally in eighth grade I broke through the girlfriend barrier and snared a real-make-out-at-the-movies-and–everywhere-else girlfriend.
But by seventh and eighth grade, my grades were falling. After all, I knew I was going to be a rock and roller, so who needed school? My Harvard and Vassar educated parents, in their wisdom, decided that I needed to be removed from the temptations of public school and the bad influences of my friends who all seemed to be afflicted with a common distaste for homework and with dreams of a future that only featured cool hair, Marlboros, and getting detention slips.
So I was shipped off to Verde Valley School in Sedona, Arizona, where my older sister had gone. It was either Verde Valley or San Rafael Military Academy. The military school uniform fitting scared the shit out of me, to say the least. I might have actually ended up having to march around and stand up straight. Maybe my parents were just motivating me. In any case, I wrote an impassioned letter to the Sedona school begging them to admit me and promising to change my erring scholastic ways. After all, my sister was a straight-A student there.
I lied, but it worked; they took me.
So at the rather tender age of thirteen, I anxiously climbed aboard the old Santa Fe’ Chief in Richmond, California and clickety-clacked off into the night all the way to Arizona, a shoebox full of my mom’s deviled eggs cradled in my skinny arms and a smuggled pack of pall malls in my coat. The eggs were comsumed in a fit of anxiety feeding a half hour after the train left the station in the East Bay. I lit up the Pall Malls with my trusty Zippo between in the open, jostling, clackety space between the coach cars and stared out at the passing Central valley, hot, brown, and crackly in the autumn sun. I saw racks of raisins drying alongside the dusty, oily train tracks in Fresno, which made me not eat raisins for a very long time. When it got dark I tried to cat-nap in the dome car. I felt abandoned and alone, but not for long.
I arrived at my brave new school by van the next day, driven by a teacher and in the company of a few new companions. We had found each other on the train during the night. It wasn’t hard to guess who they were. Most train travelers in 1962 were old, bald men and tiny, birdlike grannies, many of them members of a generation that had been born before the universal use of the personal automobile, not to mention the commercial airplane. By traversing the coaches of the Santa Fe’ I met a handful of fellow future Verde Valleyans who I would come to know better than my birth family over the course of the next four years.
I was only thirteen, since I am one of those fall birthday kids who are always among the young of the class each year. At first I felt a bit lost at the school. I could see that there were school traditions I would need to figure out quickly. I was a thirteen year old in a school with eighteen year olds. That’s a big year difference at that age. I was upset at my parents for having sent me into such irrevocable exile. But despite the minor homesickness, I soon made a dorm full of like-minded horny little freshman friends and found myself reveling in a whole new world.
If my childhood, absent the spiders and shithead hard guys, had been largely an idyll, Verde Valley School, VVS as it was called, was even more so. It looked like a little pueblo out in its own otherwise unoccupied valley beneath the majestic loom of Cathedral Rock, one of the Native Americans’ seven sacred mountains and nowadays probably as ubiquitous a hunk of red rock as ever graced a Sierra Club calendar. The school was run by anthropologists, and had ties to both the Native American communities of Arizona and New Mexico, but also to academic and community organizations in Mexico proper. From day one, we were taught the virtues of multi-culturalism long before it became a buzzword. The hundred and ten co-ed students lived in a hard- guy-free world of white-washed, red-roofed Southwestern-style buildings peopled by intellectuals, both students and teachers, with high scholastic and moral aspirations.
Verde Valley School was a real tight community. All the teachers were on a first name basis, Cliff, Tom, Pedro, Maggie, and Ham and Babs, though oddly the students usually used last names. Hey, Holbert. Hey, Call. You seen Fernandez? The students had responsibilities such as waiting on tables, dishwashing, and basic school maintenance, like whitewashing walls, hauling trash by tractor to the remote dump, and cleaning out the stables. The stables were a real chore in the frozen winter. I had to chop up frozen horseshit and blocks of pee while wading around in the fresh, unfrozen glop in my rubber boots.
The studies were rigorous, but also stimulating. Verde Valley was one of the top academic prep schools in the country at that time. Our days started early with work jobs and dorm inspection and ended late with evening study halls. I have always been a dawn patrol person, so I used to get up before five and go in the darkness to the kitchen, where the cooks had a bug urn of coffee going as they baked the daily fresh bread. I’d take my coffee and go the library, where the math answer books were sitting innocently on the shelves. I’d work my way though math problems from the answer books, making enough intentional mistakes to make a B average. I leaned the otherwise incomprehensible advanced algebra in that way, so I was able to squeak by on the tests as well. We had some great, great teachers: men and women of real vision who gave us the keys to a larger world of ideas and ideals. I have never felt that I was undereducated by not going on to college. I soaked up a lot even when I was sitting in the back of the classroom looking out the window at the red cliffs.
We were supposed to learn a wide curriculum of liberal arts and go out and make a difference in the world when we graduated. Our time was one of change; we were on the cusp of a new era, so we straddled the old and new. We still dressed for dinner every night except Saturday: coat and tie for boys. But Bob Dylan could be heard coming from someone’s dorm room suitcase record player: the times they are a changin’. Yes, they were. When we had free time, after Saturday morning classes until Sunday dinner, we had total freedom to hike or race horses through the wide-open fields or climb the sheer, red-rock cliffs that towered above the isolated campus. We found Indian ruins, skinny-dipped in Oak Creek, and slept out under the Arizona stars.
Every year we’d camp our way down into central Mexico in our little bus, “Brenda”, and these old GMC flatbed trucks with unheated, windowed metal boxes on them. We just piled in and lay around on each other’s legs for hours on end. We had work jobs on the trips as well. “Fire, wood, and water” was a good one. Collect firewood, find stones to make big a fire ring, put out the water jugs. We set up a couple of folding tables and lay out food. We’d eat around campfires: canned sardines, bollios, and hot chocolate. The teachers would have their “faculty tea”. They’d been driving these cantankerous trucks all day on the dusty Mexican roads, dealing with the authorities, with overheating engines and blown tires, and trying to not lose any students at rest stops out in the cholla-studded desert. We camped with tarps, no tents, on the ground under the blazing stars or in the rain or snow. It was hardy and fabulous.
We’d be dropped off singly in Mexican families, where we’d live as guest family members for a few weeks. There were often no VVS teachers in the towns and cities we were left in. We were on our own and were expected to behave responsibly. That was hard sometimes, as in Mexico a fifteen year old could get served Cubalibres at a bar. Let’s just say we had a blast. I was walking the streets of Guanajuato with Mexican girls from my family when I was sophomore, promenando in the Zocalo while mariachis played and older women watched for signs of forbidden hanky-panky.
Spanish was requirement at the school and I had a good ear for it. On one side trip by commercial bus to Leon, a bus conductor made fun of me for wearing sunglasses. I wore my prescription shades day and night to avoid wearing my big, black-framed glasses. This bus was of a mixed class, schoolgirls in uniforms, farmers with chickens in cages. He joked to the passengers about the gringo movie star and such, unaware that I understood every word he was saying. I whispered to the Verde Valley girl next to me to lead me off the bus when we got to Guanajuato. The bus rolled to a stop. I stood slowly and played blind, stumbling along, feeling with my hands and feet as my fellow student helped me make my way along the rows of seats. The poor conductor, no doubt a good Catholic, crossed himself and broke out in a visible sweat. He helped me off the bus as I stared straight ahead, seemingly unseeing behind my shades. Cuidado, chico! We nearly peed on our selves laughing about it when we had gotten around a corner from the bus top.
We had extended trips to the Navajo and Hopi reservations as well. We got to attend Native American events, such as real healing dances and ceremonies. I was a lucky boy. If I had stayed in Mill Valley, I would have missed hearing about the deer-legged woman at the healing dance that the Navajos chased across the mesa in their pickups. I wouldn’t have gotten gloriously drunk in that bar above the Zocalo in Taxco with my buddy Ernie. I wouldn’t have camped out at the base of the giant statues of Tula or been able to pick up obsidian blades from the grounds of the ruins. I would have missed out on racing horses across the open lands around Oak Creek in the days before so many people and fences changed Sedona. I wouldn’t have had the thrill of having the buttons cut off my shirt at the Indian Arts Institute in Santa Fe’ by a student Indian painter with a switchblade who had eaten the stuffing from two inhalers as my friend Big Bruce the Tlingit watched over me with his war club to make sure I didn’t get accidentally killed. I was very lucky to go that school.
We heard or knew little of the outside world. There was, gasp, no TV or radio, though on a Saturday night you could sometimes get a wavering, fuzzy radio broadcast of a Prescott or Flagstaff station playing the hits of the week. It was a sheltered, cloistered world of high ideals and transcendent social vision. There was no fighting, stealing, or any competition beyond friendly inter-class rivalry. Later on in my life I connected to what this paradise was. It was our own little version of Prince Siddhartha’s Kingdom.
All this broad, visionary thinking didn’t stop me for pursuing my dream. In fact, it facilitated it, because there wasn’t much competition for what I wanted to do: be a lead singer. The Beach Boys, Dick Dale and the Deltones (Miserlou), the Chantays (Pipeline) and all that surf music was the rage in ‘63. We had records from home. I listened wistfully on my tiny, suitcase record player with its vinyl-destroying two-pound tone arm, but I no longer had my two-stringed guitar. I didn’t know how to get this rock‘n’roll band thing going.
Then something incredible happened. A TV clip of this weird British band got on Ed Sullivan when I was home at Christmas my sophomore year. They wore their hair combed down and their band was all guitars. They made the cover of Life magazine. They were everywhere. Beatlemania. No more She Wore Blue Velvet or Tell Laura I Love Her on the Top-40 charts. It was real rock’n’roll again.
Wow, what a rush the Beatles were. I instantly combed my hair down. I lived in the senior dorm that year, and a bunch of the older guys, with whom I played baseball, somehow heard I could sing. So they started a band and incredibly, they wanted me to be the lead singer. We had a ‘rehearsal’ in a dorm room. There must have been twelve guys, ten of whom were seniors, crammed in there, with nylon-stringed guitars and maybe a set of bongos or two.
One senior had a skinny gray cardboard guitar case with black plastic piping around the edges. I burned to know what was inside. He opened it and there lay a Danelectro, a one-pickup, black-painted electric guitar with knobbly white tape striping around the edge of the body. It was unbelievably cool. I asked if I could try it. I guess I played something that made sense, because he told me I could use it; I could keep it in my room. It was like it was mine for the rest of the year. I couldn’t believe it. A real electric guitar. I started playing and I just didn’t stop. I played every minute I could. It was just like learning how to catch grounders off the schoolyard wall. Over and over and over.
That summer vacation I went home and somehow got my hands on fifty dollars and took the bus with my childhood best friend Mitch Howie to a pawn shop in a seedy part of San Francisco where I bought a really cheapo Japanese electric guitar (with three pickups and a wiggle stick for making the notes bend), a bass (with a bowed-out neck, and dead sounding flatwound strings that were half an inch off the fretboard, but who cared), and a one-speaker amp with its own microphone and stand (the amp even had tremolo). All for fifty bucks!
Mitch, who was a ‘drummer’ who only had a snare drum, and I practiced every moment we could and played our first gig that summer, just the two of us entertaining a packed-out house kegger thrown by my older brother’s friends at a third floor walk-up apartment in San Francisco. Mitch’s drum kit was his snare drum and a wire magazine rack that he used at a cymbal. I remember I didn’t have a guitar strap, so I put my foot up on the amp and held the guitar on my knee for about three hours while we wanged away. I had spray painted the guitar candy-apple blue – a really bad, drippy, streaky paint job. I guess we played Louie, Louie and What I Say until my fingers bled, and then we played some more. The crowd, all college types five years older than us high-school twerps, danced their asses off. It was a powerful experience, to say the least. A few in the older crowd even complimented us. Of course then they puked Budweiser on their loafers.
That fall, my junior year at Verde Valley, five of us formed my first real band, The Urthworms.
Yeah, with a U. I Know. Well, The Beatles was taken.
I had been summoning the beast for five years and now it was rising up out of the Earth and taking form: a real band, with bass, drums, and two guitars. We were all obsessed with playing. The Urthworms were always up in the balcony above the dining hall, where our gear was set up, wanging away. Twice a day, at “milk lunch”, where the leftovers from breakfast and lunch were put out to be scarfed down by ravenous teenagers, we had mini-concerts, plus we played in the afternoon when we didn’t have work jobs or sports to interfere. If I had put half that effort into my schooling, I might have been able to get into Lewis & Clark College or someplace like that. But nooo…
By the end of my junior year, the school was letting us play for events. We played all the school dances, including the one in the tack room at the stables where Eric Detzer got so wound up from the music and from dancing that he barfed. OK, maybe he got some booze somewhere. Some guys made a sort of very crude vodka using the distilling equipment in the chem class lab. My friend Bruce Campbell got a silver sparkle set of real Ludwig drums, just like Ringo’s. Brian Ruppenthal had a Gibson 335 with a varitone switch and a Magnatone amp with two speakers. God only knows what that rig is worth today. I hope he kept it, at least the guitar. I played borrowed electric guitars, since my cheapo Japanese electric wasn’t good enough for this band and my parents weren’t really on board with spending a couple hundred dollars on an electric guitar and amp. When I found that some student at the school had a nice electric I basically appropriated it for my own use. No, you can’t join the band, but I am taking your guitar. It was matter of destiny for me; for anyone else, it was just a guitar.

…She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah…

Mitch Howie and I kept playing during vacations at Christmas tree lots, parties, in his mom’s basement. My old friend Mike Walter‘s dad was a concert violinist and so Mike knew a lot about music. He turned us on to Chuck Berry and other real roots music. I kept learning chord progressions until I knew the basics and kept writing songs. Back at school our band got better and better. Towards the end of my senior year, The Urthworms scored a real, paid road gig. It was the senior prom for our rival high school, the Orme Ranch School, out in the desert mountain country seventy miles north of Phoenix. Somehow we got a ride down there.
A cute Orme girl talked to me while Brian, Terry, Bruce, and I set up our gear in the vinyl-floored cafeteria. She was very friendly, with flirty eyes. I knew that Orme had a strict boy-girl hands-off policy. Still, I thought she might like me, even though most girls liked Terry or Brian more. It was exciting. We were away from Verde Valley on our own, a really rare occasion, and we were going to rock out. It was our first paid road trip and we were getting two hundred bucks. It was spring of ’66. Terry, our smooth talking, dark-haired Latin-lover bass payer and I were seniors. The Urthworms’ two-year run would come to an end with graduation in a few weeks.
I don’t remember how Orme heard we had a band. Maybe it was when they were kicking our asses yet again in baseball, basketball, or soccer by some hideous, yet totally expected, score. Our school excelled in intellect but sucked at sports. But Orme didn’t have a rock’n’roll band. So there we were with our guitars and the Orme girls were definitely interested in us.
Orme Ranch School was the mirror opposite of Verde Valley. VVS was very progressive with a curriculum that that placed a lot of emphasis on anthropology, Spanish, and American history and literature. Orme was a working cattle ranch, with a conservative, traditional scholastic program. Their hands-off policy was for real. Boys walked on one side of painted lines, girls on the other. Screw that! At VVS it was definitely hands-on, if you could find a willing girl, that is.
Our band was as unconventional as was our school. Of course, I had started writing songs back in middle school. We had learned a lot of other bands’ songs, too: everything we could get our hands on. Records were hard to come by; they had to be sent to us. The Urthworms played maybe half original songs that I’d written with the other guys: crazy stuff like a raga-rock song that was open-ended and a wacko thing that was based on the attack of the Nazgul on Weathertop from the Fellowship of the Ring. But we also did most of the brand-new first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album, including I got My Mojo Workin’ and Born In Chicago, and a couple of Stones songs, like Little Red Rooster.
Everything we did was definitely in our own style. We weren’t that good, so our cover songs probably sounded like crap; I know our originals were dumb. But since we didn’t have any idea how lousy we sounded, we just let it all out and had unlimited fun. We had that innocent and wild teen energy. We rocked the Orme cafeteria that night. The girls lined up in front of us did a little faux screaming and some interested ogling went back and forth from both parties. Pretty Blythe was both my witness and my evidence.
That is, I think she was named Blythe, or maybe she was from Blythe, California? I can’t remember. But she was a cute, brown-haired girl and she showed me around the school in the afternoon, held hands with me against the rules, and even gave me a couple of lingering forbidden kisses in the bushes behind the dining hall before we had to leave to go back to school that night. Bruce, Terry, and Brian pretended to be looking for me elsewhere, knowing I was getting lucky, which they knew wasn’t an everyday occurrence.
Sweet, sweet, sweet! Being the lead singer was good.
It’s true that nerds in bands can score with chicks. As soon as it got around that I was a lead singer, I started doing a little better with girls. I now qualified as an artistic, and therefore vaguely dangerous, band guy. Bye-bye, hard guy. The whole world was changing, thanks to the Beatles and the Stones.
From the first time I saw the Beatles’ photos in Life magazine, I grew my hair as long as the school would let me have it, just over the tops of the ears. My prescription shades were on my face day and night. I was ahead of the curve in that I already wore black clothes all the time. I actually started doing that by eighth grade. My reason was that I was ‘in mourning for the world’, so in that I concurred with Johnny Cash, though I didn’t yet know that was his deal. One of my buddies’ Baptist parents thought I was in league with the devil, since black is the devil’s color. I suppose that from their perspective, they were quite right. If the devil had a Gretsch and a Fender Deluxe Reverb amp with reverb and tremolo, and chicks dug him, well, who wouldn’t sell his soul for that?
But I just had my own thing. I thought wearing black was cool. John Lennon proved that to be true. And being in a band was way cool. I was set for life. I had found my way outside the system. I was a rock’n’roller. That’s just the way it was going to be.

In early spring of my senior year, when we were becoming somewhat accomplished in our own weird way, we pulled off a brilliant move. We signed off campus under the guise of going camping down by Oak Creek on a Saturday night and instead conned a ride to Flagstaff from an unsuspecting campus employee on the pretence of going to buy guitar strings at the only music store in northern Arizona.
We took our guitars along “to make sure we got the right strings”. It’s amazing how you can con an innocent adult. Once in Flagg, we slipped off obstensively to the music store, but instead bought bus tickets and jumped on the overnight Greyhound all the way to Los Angeles and played the next afternoon, Sunday, at the ‘Teen Fair’, a band-showcase extravaganza held in the parking lot of the Hollywood Palladium, right in the heart of the action. Somebody’s duped-but-connected mom had set it up with a show biz friend.
There were bands all over the parking lot, playing at booths sponsored by radio stations, car dealers, and surf shops. It was a lot of surf music, Beatles, and Stones. Time Won’t Let Me by the Outsiders was a big hit; we must have heard that five times in an hour by different bands. Hell, probably the future Doors and the guys who would become Buffalo Springfield were there, playing Animals and Zombies covers, who knows?
Oh, no one told me about her…the way she lied…
We had a good crowd, as “our” mom’s friend had a lot of pull and got us on the main attraction Fender Sound Stage. It was a huge thing built of scaffolding, five feet above the pavement, with twenty-foot-high towers full of enormous PA speakers. It was also fully equipped with a set of Ludwig drums and real Fender amps. At last there was the line of big combo Bandmasters and Bassman amps to play through that I had always dreamed of. There were two gorgeous twenty-year-old Go-Go dancers wearing sort of Raquel Welch cave-girl-bikini outfits flouncing away on the towers alongside the stage while we played. They even flirted a little. With Brian and Terry, anyway.
We were more than bit weird for the audience, with our originals sounding way out of place echoing off all those simultaneous versions of Time Won’t Let Me, but we did well enough on the blues stuff. Brian played some harmonica in addition to some fairly competent blues leads. The lyrics were pure Urthworms. He had a song that went,

Talkin to you is like talkin through a hollow log
Tryin to love you is like tryin to love a dead dog…

We had a blast. There were two hundred people there; our biggest audience ever.
A VVS graduate drove us back all night to Sedona in a station wagon. We just pulled into the school quadrangle in time for Monday morning classes. We had known the whole time that we would be in deep shit for our stunt. We were almost expelled. But it was well worth it. What’s that old prep school phrase? Carpe diem?
My studies by this time were an afterthought, and my last semester grades suffered, but hey, unlike every single one of my classmates, who were bound for Stanford, Brown, UCLA, Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, I wasn’t going to college anyway. My poor Ivy League educated parents had a tough time with this concept, but I have always been quite stubborn in my own wimpy way. I was going to have a band and make it big, and I was going to write all the songs for the band. I could already make up songs that sounded like real radio songs. They just came to me. I knew it would happen. Remember, I left the radio on all night when I was a kid; it was ingrained in me. I really felt that I had no choice.
The rock’n’roll muse was giving me that come-hither look like the dark-eyed Jezebel she is.
But for as long as the seemingly endless months before graduation prevented me from going off into the wide, wild world of rock music, Verde Valley School was still a continuation my Buddha’s childhood. Everyone at VVS was so smart and idealistic. In this incredibly tight-knit community there were never any fights, no bullying, and no stealing. Teachers and students alike were dedicated to the vision of a world shared in common with people of different cultures and skin colors. My parents and teachers wouldn’t have seen this in the way I did, but I thought my future music would be part of this world, this living goal. Superman with a telecaster.
When we saw a documentary on the growing civil rights movement, in my sophomore year of 1964, I heard a fat, florid, cat-glasses-wearing middle-aged white southern woman with her hair up in a beehive use the word nigger in anger. I was profoundly shocked. I actually didn’t know that people still carried around real racial prejudice. I mean, I’d heard the word used before back home in supposedly color-blind Marin, but it was kid stuff. Niggers pissed in the high school pool, so you should swim at the tennis club. Niggers would steal your bike. But I never heard that you should “kill niggers” and blacks weren’t banned from public places in California. Schools weren’t segregated. Sure, there a lot of defacto segregation, but not like in the south, which had Jim Crow laws on the books. One of my Verde Valley classmate’s father was a doctor in Yazoo City Mississippi. The Klan burned a cross of his lawn because he treated blacks in his clinic.
In my household, that kind of talk or view was strictly not allowed. My “Rockefeller” Republican parents were very progressive when it came to race and religion. My suffer-no-fools mother would have cut me to the quick with one of her withering looks if she had ever heard me saying that word in anything but a literary setting. I guess as a child I just didn’t hear the race prejudice message correctly. What I had heard in Mill Valley was, in fact, the same old segregationist shit, just watered down in the melting pot of California. But the intensity and hatred that I saw in Beehive Woman’s face was a revelation. That absolute prejudice was really out there.
I looked at the men in the documentary. I recognized them, tense and mean, with their Elvis pomps or crew-cuts and angry faces. They were hard guys. Those fuckers were out there just waiting for us, weren’t they? I’m afraid that we VVS grads were set up to be passionate champions of the other way, the way of peace and intelligence. But we were about to be cast out into the outside world. Vietnam, civil rights, poverty, and hatred: a harsh reality.
On Spring Break I went home and saw my first Fillmore show. The soon- to- be fabled place had just opened up. It was a Sunday matinee, of all things, with a couple hundred wild-looking hippies kicking around a beach ball in the still day lit hall while the bands played. I was super excited because it was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop, and Sam Lay. They were fuckin’ incredible. I already knew their album note for note. Quicksilver Messenger Service, who I hadn’t heard of yet, opened the show.
I didn’t like their music too much, because in my snobby high- school way I already had a negative attitude about guitarists who bent what I considered to be the wrong notes (bend the four note up to the five or to the bluesy flat five, but don’t bend the one note a half-step!), but I sure dug they way they looked. They wore cowboy hippie: fringy shirts, custom hand-sewn bellbottoms, and love beads. They were as skinny as rifle barrels. A couple of them had black cowboy hats thrown back on their shoulders, stampede straps across their necks. Their hair was really long, girl long. And let me tell you, they had a lot more girls staring at them than the street-smart Chicagoland Paul Butterfield band guys did.
That night at Orme Ranch School, as pretty Blythe smiled at me as she watched me sing, I pictured myself as one of those Quicksilver guys; long-haired, cowboy-hip, dangerous and wild, a psychedelic gunslinger. Oh, yeah, man. How do you like me now, hard guys and tough girls? The Fifties world of my junior high days might as well have been the Bronze Age, it seemed so long ago and far away.
Butterfield and Quicksilver and the other bands were huge, but the tsunami influences were still the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
I loved the Beatles, especially John Lennon. He was the coolest guy ever. I wasn’t a Paul guy. You’re either a John guy or a Paul guy. It was Lennon’s obvious insightful intellect and biting sense of humor that came across, plus the wounded artist thing. So deep. I knew that Lennon grew up fighting, but I intuited that he wanted out of that as much as I did. I got one of those John Lennon caps and wore it around school, the front unbuttoned. Even Bob Dylan wore that cap, but Lennon was first. I wore black turtlenecks and a navy surplus pea-coat.
We learned every Beatles single as soon as it came out as best we could. The Beatles double hit-sided 45’s were sent to us out in the desert by parents and friends. Brian Ruppenthal, the Urthworms’ lead guitarist, was the most knowledgeable of us about chords and lead parts. He was a pretty good player. We all sat around and played the singles over and over until we had them figured out. I learned a lot about chord progressions from those songs. The Beatles used a lot of progressions that were similar; after a while it was fairly easy to pick out where they were going musically. It’s funny considering all the woodshedding we did with the Beatles; but I don’t remember playing too many of their songs at our dances.
The Beatles and Stones were both gateways to other music: blues and R&B stars like Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and also country. Ringo singing Act Naturally led to someone coming up with a Buck Owens record, which was a real eye-opener for me. I hadn’t heard such a cool sound since the rockabilly stuff when I was little. That in turn led me to bluegrass, Jim and Jesse, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, and later to Merle Haggard and the whole panoply of Country and Western music stars. The ‘western’ part of Country and Western Music hadn’t been surgically removed with a Red-State-Republican-Jack Daniels-powered chain saw yet. ‘Country’ means ‘Redneck’ now, no matter what part of the good old US of A, Canada, Greece, Norway, or Japan you’re from.
We did play a couple of Stones songs. They were more bluesy and raw and generally easier to hack through. Besides, I thought that in some ways the Stones were cooler looking than the Beatles; more dangerous. They didn’t wear the silly little mod suits. And Satisfaction is the best rock single ever: it’s still my all-time # 1 favorite rock song. I loved direct, blunt rock songs. That mid- Sixties era produced such great radio hits. Satisfaction, Gloria, and You really Got Me. I got it burned into my rock consciousness that a great single starts with a cool, distinctive guitar riff. I had absolutely no idea that someday I would write a famous one myself.
As great and cool as the Stones were it was the Beatles’ show. Every Beatles album was truly a revelation. No one had ever made records like that before. Each one was something new, something never done before. The Stones records sounded small on our suitcase stereos, but I had the feeling they kicked ass live. Once Bob Dylan came out with the band sound on Highway 61, with Mike Bloomfield on guitar, I became a huge Dylan fan too. The Byrd’s amazing-sounding record came out right before graduation. It was mind-boggling sonically and had great songs. And of course, who didn’t dig the Animals, Them, the Zombies, and the Kinks?
I had acquired or appropriated from some kind soul at school a black, Gibson acoustic round-holed flattop guitar with a little pickup; the very guitar that John Lennon played sometimes. But I broke the high E string around Christmas, so I played for most of the rest of the year with just the lower five, tuned to a G or D chord sometimes. One less string to worry about. The open tuning was cool. It made our insane raga-rock song happen, with the guitar feeding back sonorously, just like the opening feedback on the Beatles’ I’m in Love With Her And She’s So Fine, as the entire crazed audience danced through our stage setup, whooping and shouting.
And just think, we hadn’t even discovered drugs yet.

Hippies on Haight Street

...C’mon people now, smile on your brother…
everybody get together…try and love one another right now….

…Abba zaba zoom… Babbette baboon…
(Captain Beefheart)

Hippie chicks. Not scary at all. Oh no, quite the opposite, brother. Make love, not war. Moving long-limbed and freely in their granny dresses, long tresses flowing down their skinny backs, tan shoulders exposed to the sun and wind, they looked like Aphrodite’s sisters. I guess some of them were a bit frightening to me in their dazzling beauty, but it was a desire-driven frenzied fear: the kind a moth must feel for a flame.

Brown Derby Beer. Fear the beer.
John McFee slouched on the old cat-barf sofa and let out a whole-quart-of-beer belch, which took the form of moist, gaseous words, “Fuuccckkk… yoouuu!” to Mike Walter, who was coming down the steps to our hillside hippie pad at 96 Laverne Ave.,in Mill Valley “Yoouuu… ahhsshoole!”
This cracked us all up. McFee could out-belch anyone. Mike smilingly flipped him off and reached into his pocket and dangled a small bag of pot like a dainty object.
“Here you are, girls!”
Pot! Mitch rolled, we smoked. The gear was set up right in the living room: Mitch’s drums, Johnny Ciambotti’s bass rig, the two Fender Twin Reverb amps, telecasters leaning up against them, and our candy-apple blue tuck-and-roll Kustom P.A. It was a setup right out my old Fender and Gibson catalogs; right from the dog-eared pages of those glossy, color-photograph dream machines.
We were called Clover now. For a year right out of high school McFee, Mitch Howie, and I had a band called The Tiny Hearing Aid Company. Mitch and I had been banging around on guitar and drums for six years. We met McFee through his brother Bob. John was just seventeen, as was Mitch. I had just turned nineteen.
Ciambotti plugged his bass in. Johnny had just joined the band; that’s why we had changed the name. He had been playing with a band of slightly older guys called The Outfit, but we started jamming and he ended up joining us. He was our resident old man at twenty-five. He was handsome, street-smart and brought a different vibe to our band. We were legit now.
We jammed and rehearsed our set. McFee broke into an outrageous solo on Wade in the Water. We picked up on that song from watching the Charley Musselwhite Blues band with the magical Harvey Mandel on guitar. Our rather free-form covers of that and Jr. Walker’s Shotgun were staples of our gigs at Mill Valley’s tiny Browns Hall, one of our regular shows. The hall, almost a dead-on duplicate of my childhood Outdoor Art Club, right down to the pale-green, aluminum coffee-urned kitchen and the plastic-brass-eagle-tipped flags, got packed with wildly enthusiastic sweaty teenagers from Tamalpais High School every time we played there. Just eight years after my night of musical revelation, we were the young gods on the stage, inspiring new legions of nerds to get telecasters and start singing.
John McFee was a great, uniquely talented guitar player from day one. He was capable of playing the world’s worst solo, but if he did it was completely intentional. Make it cry, John. I don’t think John ever played an unintentional bad note in his life. He was tall and thin, with long brown hair and a broken nose he got somehow growing up in Orange County. He kind of ditched both high school and his mom, who he loved, but who was a mess, to come up to San Francisco with his wild older brother Bob, who was my age. Bob McFee was a real character. He called himself Jim Roberts or something – he had a couple of names and even more life stories; it was hard to sort the truth out of the tales he told.
It was hippie time, late in the Summer of Love, and who knew who anyone was? People had new names, like Sunshine or Mellow Mike, or Shooter; you name it: Buddha, RJ, Bummer Bob, Rainbow. But John McFee, unlike his brother Jim-Bob-whatever, was a straight-shooter, and he was also extremely smart and highly spiritual. He soon would become a tee-totaling, vegetarian yogi who would somehow remain calm through many years of band storms. His incendiary and original chicken-pickin-meets-Jimi Hendrix guitar playing was the best thing about Clover, though Johnny Ciambotti was a very solid bass player and another very smart guy. Mitch Howie played well on drums, sometimes very well. People said I had a good voice, whether I was a good singer or not was a question I couldn’t answer. I wrote most of the songs; Johnny wrote a couple of straight country ones. We could all sing, and the Clover harmony sound was a big part of what we did.
By 1968, our cosmically enormous, insane LSD year was behind us. We had become funky beer-and-pot heads. We liked wearing cowboy stuff; we liked to rock out. We all were committed anti-war types and all that, but we weren’t Peace, OM, Love, and Groovy types of hippies. We were all a little too smart and cynical to be real hippies, plus we liked alcohol a lot. Hippies ate magic mushrooms and chanted…OOOMMM…and said vapid, yet irrefutable things like I love you so much man while at the same time stealing your pot stash. We drank Brown Derby beer and belched. We also stole your pot stash, but we didn’t rationalize it; we did it because we deserved and needed it more than you did.
Acid was a great mind opener at first. We would drop, and then go in Bruce Campbell’s parent’s fantastically cool Citroen to the Avalon or Fillmore and check out bands and hippie chicks and other freaks like us. We had good acid trips, like the time the entire city of San Francisco from Bruce’s parent’s house on top of Twin Peaks looked like thatch-roofed jungle huts and somehow from that I grokked the interconnection of all beings. But we also had bad trips, like the seemingly endless weekend nightmare that ended our extended hippie family’s dalliance with strong psychedelics.
One of us nearly bought the farm from a huge dose. Through one of my brother’s connections, we got a small glass bottle that had held blue liquid LSD, the kind that ended up as edible dots on blotter paper. The Blue Bottle. All that was left was a scummy residue that perhaps thirty or more of us from our extended ‘Clover family’ dabbed out with our fingertips and licked. The result was a psychedelic disaster. There was a day and a night of group bad-trip bummer insanity, during which one of our family, who I won’t name, had to be held down by teams of three strong guys at a time to keep him from injuring himself. He was bellowing like some kind of primordial beast-man and literally throwing himself against the walls of one of little cabins at Muir Beach. He was finally “shot down” by a courageous doctor who administered a large dose of Thorazine. It was a very dangerous decision because Thorazine could have fatally interacted with another drug going around at the time called STP. I stood there in the crowded cabin as the bearded, long-haired doc said, if this is STP, this will kill him, and then he stuck the needle in our friend’s leg. Fortunately, it all ended well, but we were all deeply scared. It sobered us up, at least in terms of acid. It was another entry on a long list of incidents I never mentioned to my parents. The things they didn’t know, oh my God.
So it was pot anytime and anyhow we could get it and beer when we could afford it. We were totally broke. Our big meal was the occasional taco pig out, which was generally supplied courtesy of Johnny and John’s old ladies, Nancy and Ronelle, through their panhandling efforts, usually down in Sausalito. Taco pig-out, plus a case of Brown Derby beer in those old bi-metal cans (taste that can, man!), and a gallon of Red Mountain wine ($1.50 a gallon!)
A lot of the time we just went hungry. We didn’t make much on our gigs. We shared whatever we had communally for the house and for gas for our beat-up Ford Econoline van, a rolling bucket of rust and bolts and duct tape, the floor boards of which were layered with a nice collection of empty beer bottles and cigarette packs and greasy brown paper bags and old oil cans, that was piloted by our opportunistic and rather sticky-fingered road crew. Gas was still only twenty-five cents a gallon, so we could take up a collection and get two-fifty’s worth of gas sometimes.
Mitch’s mom rarely surfaced from her alcoholic rambles long enough to charge us the fifty dollar-a-month rent for the house. In her absence, we had transformed it from a catshit-infested, hoarder’s trash heap into a nice clean hippie pad, with extra interior rooms created by artistic use of old fence lumber and discarded windows. American flags and beaded curtains served as doors. We had tacked up big National Geographic maps on the walls over the old chipping paint. On the living room wall there was a section reserved for artsy-fartsy felt-pen Acid doodles as well.
We drove a faded green fifty-two Chevy sedan around town, usually with six horny guys in it. A good solid used car like that cost only a couple of hundred dollars back then. It could be a little problematic to try to pick up chicks with six guys in the car, though it did occasionally happen. Tam High School girls were frequent lovely visitors at our pad, before school and after – like every afternoon. There were some hook-ups there. We were trying on each other for size and fit; it wasn’t like real dating. I didn’t even know what that was. John McFee and Ronelle and Johnny Ciambotti and Nancy were the real couples in the house of twelve.
Andre Pessis lived there for a while. He was a really brainy and funny guy from New York, a former Greenwich Villager, who would be the lead singer in the other ‘Clover family’ band, the Flying Circus, and later a very successful hit songwriter. The Circus opened for us at Brown’s Hall and at the Muir Beach Tavern. Andre slept in a fence-lumber- walled-off sun porch in a sleeping bag we dubbed the “cum sack”. There was endless needling and cutting, but it was mostly in good fun. Ciambotti was called “Clambottle”, I was “Al C’hol”, and Steve Bonucelli, the drummer the Flying Circus, was “Bowl’o‘Chili”. We were just kids. Life was an adventure. We were out looking for girls, pot, or beer, in any order. We played crazy gigs for little or no money and ran around the hills of Marin howling under the full moon.

There was someone at the door. It was a cop! Shit, there were roaches in ashtrays and on top of amps. Johnny was nearest the door and opened it slightly, still holding his bass.
“Can I help you? “ He asked politely, keeping his face between the sheriff and room. If the cop couldn’t smell the pot his nose must have been shot off.
The sheriff’s deputy shouldered halfway into the doorway. There was a big roach right on top of the bass rig, not two feet in front of him.
“There’s been a complaint about the noise,” he said. He didn’t come off as too unfriendly.
“Oh, really?” said Johnny. We were standing by our amps, holding our breath; so freaked out you could have popped the tension in the room with a pin.
” Shoot. Sorry. We’ll turn down, officer”.
Johnny was very, very smooth in tight spots, even when he was stoned, or maybe especially then, when others couldn’t handle it. It was his L.A. streets upbringing.
The sheriff looked around the smoky room for a moment. Then he said, “I don’t see any reason for an arrest here. You guys keep it down, OK?”
We all nodded and mumbled yes sir, no problem, absolutely, won’t happen ever again. Gulp, gasp.
He left, going up the steps to the street above with his partner, their hands on their gun belts. They drove off. We finally all breathed out. We were still pretty adrenalized, but figured we’d dodged a bullet. We hurriedly cleaned up all the roaches and someone stashed them out in the blackberries in a coffee can. After a few minutes we went back to playing, this time at a lower volume.
Wrong. Ten minutes later they were back, maybe eight of them, and we were busted. Cuffs, back of the squad car, jail, the whole bit. We had cleaned out the obvious stuff, but they found a bag of seeds in Mitch’s room, and it was his mom’s house, so he was in the worst shape. We were suddenly in handcuffs on our way to jail in several squad cars. Busts were common, and we knew they don’t have much on us. Must bust in early May, Orders from the D.A. It was just the Man being the Man, and us hippies being stoned hippies with our long hair and radical attitudes. They were pleasant enough and let us all out shortly. Nobody even had to spend the night. But it was a real drag. It meant court dates and hassles for Mitch. Nobody wanted hassles, what a bummer, man. For Mitch, it was the start of a long, bad relationship with the strong arm of the law.

We were gigging frequently at the Straight Theatre on Haight Street. One night we opened for the MC5, the infamous bad boys from Detroit. They were insanely loud, notes and lyrics indistinguishable in that cavernous hall. They were also wild men, up for anything. After the gig they came to our house, got quite stoned, and ended up driving their rental car off a steep Mill Valley hillside street and into one of our neighbor’s yards. Just another Saturday night.
The Straight Theater was kind of a second-tier Avalon Ballroom in an old neighborhood movie theater right in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury. It had been the Haight Movie Theater. It was a big, old boomy room with most of the seats long gone, replaced by a very dimly lit dance floor, and the crowds were often only dozens instead of hundreds, but it had a certain semi-legit vibe. There was a big PA and they had nice posters, ala’ those done by Mouse and Griffin and the other cool poster artists. The old movie projection booth high in the rafters was called the Yellow Submarine. You had to climb up a ladder to get in. It was where you went to get high. From up there, bands on stage sounded like supersonic cat-and-dog fights inside a huge echo chamber. You couldn’t make out the notes too well, and it was very loud. I’ll always associate loud, wanky guitar solos with being in that room. There were some really bad guitar players back then. But, it was cool: Don’t Bogart that joint, my friend!
There were a lot of R. Crumb-like characters at the Straight. There was one guitar player, Joe T., who would stare balefully out into the dark room as he rocked back and forth on his heels like an insane wind-up toy on speed when he played solos on his miked-up acoustic. It was kind of cool, but also edgy crazy. I mean actually crazy. At the end of a song he deadpanned to the assembled handful splattering the dark, echoey chamber with light applause and few whoops, “Thanks for the clap”.
Carlos Santana and Greg Rollie from the really cool Santana Blues Band were frequently around. At one gig, Carlos spent the entire set lying on stage with his head inside Mitch’s kick drum. Mellow, Carlos?
There were a lot of whackos trying to be rock stars. Many of them were con men, running a poseur game on anyone they could. I remember one guy who had penis pants. He had like an embroidered sock sewn on the front of his pants in which his unit was supposedly housed! This actually worked for him for about fifteen minutes of Haight -Ashbury fame. It was maddening when you saw one of these guys getting taken seriously. Sooner or later the fakers would be exposed for what they were and would fade away. There were others who were good players who had the business part figured out, but we couldn’t stand them or their music because it seemed so calculated.
There was also a lot of veiled aggression going on under the rhetorically correct banners of hippiedom Love is the answer, man. Oh yeah, then why are you trying to screw me behind my back? Contracts sealed with drugs were offered and broken, managers were signed and dumped, players were hired and fired. We kept plugging away, fueled by the belief we had something special; that we’d heard the real call. Ok, so it may be something that was unfinished so far, but we were a pure band, not one just driven by the desire for commercial success. Just maybe that’s why we weren’t making any money.
In order to play the Straight and some of the other clubs around town, we had to join the Musician’s Union. We went down to the Union Hall somewhere in the Tenderloin district – not a nice part of San Francisco unless you really are drawn to strip joints, whores, junkies, and armed robbers- and signed up. The guy who took our applications and our thirty-five bucks was right out a noire gangster flick. He wore a pin-stripe suit with a boutonnière, had a pencil mustache and greased-back hair, and was named Vito or something like that. After we auditioned, which consisted of Mitch doing a drum roll with his hands on the guy’s desk, he said conspiratorially, hey guys, wanna see something really cool? Uh, sure, man. He slid open the top drawer on his desk and revealed a shiny, black pistol. Later on, at a High School auditorium gig in Eureka, a “union rep” showed up and demanded traveling dues from us. We gave him twenty bucks and he stuck it in the pocket of his trench coat. He wrote us a receipt on a paper napkin. Not Impressed, I never re-upped my union membership again.
A lot of days we’d get all duded up in our hand-sown bell-bottoms and cowboy shirts and acid beads, pile into our van, and drive to the City to go walking down Haight Street. Making eye contact with pretty hippie chicks was the game. There were a lot of young girls and freaky, long-haired guys and poncho-wearing street people. Music was coming out of hippie-pad windows. The latest far-out Fillmore and Avalon posters were up in the windows of the head shops. The Charlatans and Quicksilver Messenger Service; The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, Canned Heat and The Doors. The sweet smell of incense, the disgusting stench of patchouli oil, and the enticing aroma of pot being smoked was in the air.
We got smiles and peace signs, and sometimes a flirty glance that led to conversation. Hey, we’re playing at Muir Beach tonight; you should come out there with us. You can crash at our pad. It was easy to meet girls; sometimes it even went somewhere. She said; are you doing a thing with one particular oldlady right now? He answered, Uh, no, and by the way, I can’t help notice that you really don’t need the bra you’re not wearing. The hippie chicks were sloe-eyed, lithe, and so beautiful. I was mostly too shy to pull the trigger, but it happened sometimes.
The street people were all young; no one over thirty. Can’t trust anyone over thirty. The sidewalks were crowded; everybody was cruising, looking for action of some type. Guys would whisper as they passed, Lids? Acid? We got fantastic, greasy, meat-filled piroshkis at a Ukrainian bakery we called Mama Khrushchev’s. The lady who made the piroshkis looked just like Nikita Khrushchev with a bad wig, like a Monty Python character. Twenty cents each, they were the size of big burgers. Down the sidewalk came H.P. Lovecraft, a band from Chicago with huge, wigged-out hair and Sgt. Pepper outfits. What a scene. And not a single hard guy in sight. They had been magically eliminated, banished from the realm. Good riddance.
There were some real future legends walking around. We saw Janis Joplin in Golden Gate Park’s Panhandle at free outdoor gigs. She was really not very attractive, just kind of average, though she did have the hippie look in spades. In fact, she was an originator of the look: the long, wavy hair, love beads, antique flowered dresses, cool granny lace-up shoes, rose-colored John Lennon shades. Big Brother, her band, was the ultimate hippie band. They were real friendly guys and they looked perfect: skinny, with long, long hair, flower-child chic, everything. But boy, did they bend the wrong notes! It drove me (and others) nuts. But something cool happened when they got on stage. Somehow it all worked. The band was just right for Janis and she got better looking the more she screeched. Within a couple of songs, she was lookin’ good. By the time she got to Piece of My Heart, she was the best lookin’ babe you had seen in a long time and you wanted her. Weird, but that’s charisma for you. It was a drag when she left Big Brother for a “better” band. Management and their big-money suggestions: boy howdy, once the record deals started getting handed out, many so-called hippie musicians tossed their scruples and their peace, love, and groovy friendships under the nearest bus as fast as they could. Something magical got lost there, and it wasn’t just the unique sound of Janis singing with Big Brother. It was the sound of the idealism of the sixties being strangled with a golden chain.
The Jefferson Airplane was about the biggest band in the City. They were sort of folk-rock: nice, but not a real turn on. They’d become more of a powerhouse when Jack Casady and Grace Slick joined the band. Still, they were never quite my quart of Brown Derby.
We saw the Grateful Dead around a lot. They were accessible. Remember, it was at least nominally all sort of a big hippie family at this point. We caught them at the Fillmore or Avalon every chance we had. The Dead’s secret was that they were the only band that made sense when you took acid. Jerry was the leader, the acid-trip hero, but I dug Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kruetzman and Pig Pen. I just loved their free-flowing sound. And Jerry bent mostly the right notes, by the way. At one free gig at the outdoor Greek amphitheater- style Mountain Theater on top of Mt Tamalpais, Weir mentioned our gig that night at Muir Beach. We were thrilled to have him say our band’s name over the P.A. The Dead were not at this point all the way into the forty-minute solos they’d become famous for. They were much tighter than most of the bands. But then they made their first album, which failed to catch their live vibe; it was a big disappointment for me. Then their solos got longer and longer, and besides, when we stopped taking acid, we didn’t go to see them as much. Because without the acid, well….they make more sense when you’re on acid; let’s just leave it at that. So those of you who might have wondered what those Deadheads with their Volkswagen busses with tie-dyed curtains were doing at those gigs for all those years, well, wonder no more.
We saw all the Bay Area bands, and many of the touring ones. The Fillmore and Avalon, of course, were the top venues. The Family Dog, a bunch of semi-business-minded hippies headed by Chet Helms, ran the Avalon Ballroom. It was a big old dance hall up a flight of stairs just off VanNess Avenue above Polk Street in the City, near the porn shops and bad crime district called the Tenderloin, the same neighborhood that Musician’s Union was in. Gee, the Tenderloin, home of hookers and transvestites, muggers, and heroin dealers; a nice wholesome location for our counter-culture revolution.
The ballroom held a thousand stoned hippies, maybe more. I was there, so of course I can’t remember. The stage was angled in one corner of the room. There was a plush-carpeted balcony area upstairs. Strobe lights flashed along the wall under which you could get lost in your trip and swing your beads around in the air. They would magically change color and location. Hippie chicks appeared in freeze-frame, their long hair flashing. The P.A. was huge compared to the ones bands played through just a few years earlier. When I saw the Ventures (Walk, Don’t Run), the Shantays (Pipeline), the Surfaris (Wipeout), and other bands at the Corte Madera Community center in 1964, the P.A. was still just one Voice of the Theater speaker on the side of the stage with one microphone. The new venues had big bass speakers and treble horns. The drums and the amps were all miked up; there were monitor wedges across the stage. The lights were regulation theater stage and spot lights, mixed with a big, squishy projected light show by Bill Ham or some other stoned guy pulsing away above and behind the band and on the walls of the hall. Hard guys pushing each other around were not the show anymore. Now it was the band, man, and the lights. Band guys were stars now. Not just cool. Not tough. They were Gods, written about in Rolling Stone Magazine, our new Bible. It was happening, man. Now I really wanted in, and I was so close.
Chet Helms, the head dog of the Family Dog, was a tall, skinny, gentle guy with long hair and beard and wire-rimmed glasses. He could usually be found near the top of the stairs, arms folded across his chest, welcoming people and talking with his buddies. He gave off a peaceful vibe, and the Avalon was definitely more of a hippie place than the Fillmore.
The Fillmore Auditorium was right on the edge of a tough black neighborhood called, simply, the Fillmore. It was a similar hall to the Avalon, maybe a bit larger, but not by much. Both places had a sort of faded glory air about them; gilded balconies, carpeted hallways, long bars in the annexes. I guess they must have been WWII era dance halls. The Fillmore’s stage was at the far end of the room. There was a balcony that ran three quarters of the way around the hall, and a room off the balcony where you could catch a breather and tell your compadres how stoned you were. One night we all scared the shit out each other by talking about the size of the universe until we realized how tiny and alone we were in it. At a time like that, when you and your stoned posse are looking at the edge of a space you were not prepared to gaze fully into, there was nothing else to do but go listen to Otis Redding or Van Morrison or Cream.
Greeting you at the top of the stairs when you went in was the one and only Bill Graham. Bill was a compact, tough-looking guy, with shortish dark hair. He had a New York vibe; cool but passionate, formidable; like your older brother. You got the feeling that he’d kick your ass if you got out of line, so you didn’t get out of line. But there was also a feeling that he would shield you from bad shit, like the cops if they came in as they sometimes did. He probably paid them off, I suppose. At the end of the night, Bill would hand out apples to everyone and tell us to be cool as we took our stoned selves out into the San Francisco night. We’d all see the dawn come up before we came down.
All the big bands played these venues: Cream, Them with Van Morrison, Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, the Charlatans, Otis Redding, the Dead, Quicksilver, Love, Steve Miller, Buffalo Springfield, Captain Beefheart, Blue Cheer, Canned Heat, Mother Earth, Charlie Musselwhite, the Electric Flag, Moby Grape, the Charlatans, the Youngbloods, Janis Joplin and Big Brother, Taj Mahal, too many others to remember. When Bill Graham moved the Fillmore to Fillmore West and then to Winterland, a cavernous hall that held five thousand, the shows got even bigger: Jimi Hendrix, Albert Collins, B.B. King, Fleetwood Mac. It was the dawn of the huge concert era.
Bands we really dug were Taj Mahal, with Jesse Edwin Davis on guitar, and Moby Grape, a sensational band – the best in the city, though their career went crazy haywire after two albums. Sadly, a couple of the members became drug casualties and ended up being committed to institutions. The Steve Miller Blues band with Boz Skaggs and Curly Cook was awesome. They held down a club in the marina called the Matrix for a while and then Miller went on to big-time stardom. Boz followed later on. Carlos Santana with his Santana Blues Band was already doing what would make him a mainstay for the next forty years. On the other hand, The Great Society with Grace Slick made me go on a bad acid trip with their music, and Blue Cheer and the Oxford Circle were just plain so loud and so bad I couldn’t take it. Sorry, guys; you sucked. I was more into the blues and country influenced stuff. I liked to rock out, but I didn’t like aggressive, ugly hard-rock.
No hard guys, no hard rock.
For a while there, I thought hard guys were on their way out. At last the myth of progress was a reality; the world was coming to its senses after a long bloody history featuring mainly a lot of hard guys: hard guys in animal skins, hard guys in togas, hard guys in Nazi uniforms, hard guys in white sheets, hard guys on Main Street Anywhere USA. In terms of evolution, hard guys were once necessary; someone had to protect the village and raid neighboring tribes for cattle and women. But the world has become one gigantic village. Slowly, inexorably, people are coming to realize that hard guys aren’t the solution; they’re the problem. For a brief moment in the sixties, this realization seemed to be coming home to roost on the rooftops, cooing and fluffing its wings.
From the summer of ’66 to the end of ’68, there was a real feeling among us hippies of a movement, a common counter-culture. R.Crumb had a great cartoon that summed it up: A cosmic meatball falls out of the sky and bonks one person on the head, then another, and then another, and so forth. Each of those bonked, from a busty, hot Crumb chick to a scientist to a pimply, bike-riding kid to an Air Force General, or whoever the Crumb characters were, achieve a measure of enlightenment of some kind. Finally, the meatball rolls out of sight. The script says: Will Meatball ever come again? Who can say? Well, we had our Meatball moment, though just like in Crumb’s cartoon, it soon rolled out the door.
It was a really exciting scene; a genuine “time and place”, but the good vibes faded away far too soon. The moment rapidly morphed into an aggressive, dark, mirror-image centered around the “rip-off” rather than Peace and Love. The angel shape-changed into a demon: Lucifer fell again, from enlightened hipster to low-life, meth-crazed biker. It was all over by 1970, but the Summer of Love would remain a transformational crossroad that would have an effect for the next generation and beyond. Though the forces of reaction still are powerfully tenacious, expectations for the future have evolved and have retained a measure of the higher planes of possibility glimpsed by the flower-power people in ’67. Will humanity last long enough to see the seeds planted by that rare moment bear fruit? Will Meatball come again? Who can say?
At least I was temporarily free of those fuckin’ hard guys.

We dropped acid in Mill Valley, and once again Bruce Campbell drove everyone across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Avalon in his parents Citroen station wagon. We were all amazed when the car magically stopped at stop signs and red lights. As we came on, we waved at fellow long–hairs on the streets or in other cars. Hey, Freaks! We were really high by the time we got there, with that metallic acid feeling welling up in our throats and eyes, the cosmic electricity flowing in our veins. The Great Society, with Grace Slick, was playing. I was watching them, hallucinating like crazy.
I had heard they were good, that Grace was a cool singer, and I wanted to like them, I really did. I saw actual musical notation flowing out from the stage, like something out of Disney’s Fantasia. It was so beautiful. But then Grace’s grating, piercing voice and the twangly guitars became distorted and ugly, and then suddenly very, very scary. The notes exploded on the hallucinated staves, like bombs. The red-blue molecular structures that made up my field of vision began to spin. It was an inescapable downward spiral, a twirling vortex, a wormhole to Hell. I turned to Mitch, who now looked like some sort of odd lizard being, and said, I’m scared. The sound of my own voice sank me at an impossible speed to a place I’d never been. My mind was blowing! I was flipping out! Now I knew what that really meant.
I stumbled through the insanely babbling crowd of mad-hatters and cardboard cut-out, two-dimensional freaks. Somehow, I made my way up the balcony, looking for a place of refuge, but there was no place to hide from what was happening inside of me. I vomited, and the vomit was fire. From somewhere, my brother Lew and his friend Peter G. found me. They took me out of the Avalon to Peter’s Chevy Nomad. We headed toward Marin. Away from the insane, hell-like noise and looking-glass crowd I was a little calmer, but still deeply scared. The road seemed to roll up under the car like we were driving on a big, rotating metal drum. I didn’t know why the Nomad didn’t fly off into space.
I crawled from the back into the front seat. I felt a seeping feeling of ice cold in my ass. It was beginning to freeze. My ass was freezing! I was going to die! Wait a minute, I’d knocked over a coke bottle and it had been pouring into my pants. This cracked me up, and I relaxed somewhat, much to the relief of Lew and Peter, who were no doubt mulling over whether they’d have to take me to the hospital or not; a course of action that might well land them in jail. They were on acid, too.
Instead, we drove all the way to the top of Mt. Tam and watched the starry night go by and the dawn come up over the layered, purple, East Bay hills and the steel-gray bay. It was very beautiful. It was very fucked up.