Wednesday, November 25, 2015

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin-When Bob Dylan Ruled The Rolling Stone Folk- Rock Universe

Adam Evans was restless, restless in 1971 like he had never been before. Just out of the military service (Army, 1968-70, one ‘Nam hell year, thirteen months with R&R, and some tough “real world” adjustments), just out of a war marriage not made in heaven (made a week before he got orders for ‘Nam in the summer of 1968 in stupid haste because she, Delores, wanted them as one, to have been married, whatever happened , and she, hell, she sent that Dear John letter about her and some old flame rekindled about three months after he was in-country, jesus), just out of an unsettled love with a woman, Abigail, whom he had met in Cambridge (rebound short love all tied up, and all mixed up with, his public anti-war G.I. stance, his veteran for peace stance, and all tied up with her trying on a peace soldier boy for size and then back to some up and coming professor where she came from, him, like he said, just a rebound love and he had smoothed, he thought when they parted, too many things over that didn’t click to make the rebound work), just out of dough since his savings had been depleted to nil (trying, if you can believe this, not to seriously work in the system that “fucked” him over and finding little dough in the off-hand dishwasher, store clerk, bracero-like day labor that had previously kept him afloat), just out of luck, good luck anyway since he got back to the “real world.”
He decided he had to drift, drift west into that good night. Drift west in search of that almost childlike belief in what he called the blue-pink Great American West night. The night when he could rest his mind and his dreams out there maybe in some pacific coast cave around Big Sur playing mad hatter hermit, some Steppenwolf (not the death to American war murder rock group, Herman Hesse’s), filling up his lungs with fresh pacific air, some books, and a little acapulco gold to keep the blues away (and the food hungers down, a little, at least for expensive food), north up the Pacific Coast highway to the heaven-bound cliffs of Mendocino and some friends doing bracero work, good paying work they said, in wine country, or some ghost chance thunder road (maybe down Joshua Tree way that some freaked-out ex- Marine who had been stationed at Twenty Nine Palms had told him about, and about ghost dances coming out of the caverns so that wasn’t some metaphor stuff about the damn thunder road). The vagaries of the road would determine where he fell off first when he hit the coast (hell, no vagaries b.s., just who, mainly lonesome long-haul trucker s looking for white line lonesome road company, and where they were headed with those overloaded sixteen billion-wheeled semi’s).

In 1971, however, the roads west, the main highways and back roads too, were clogged full of lonesome pilgrims seeking their own blue-pink nights. And so he found before he was long out of Boston where he started his trip that he was among kindred angels more often than not on the great hitchhike road dream brought by forbears like old okie hills Woody Guthrie and Lowell mill boy Jack Kerouac. So he walked roads, grabbed rides, got picked up for “vag” a couple times (including a couple of days courtesy of Yuma County out in the Arizona zombie night with bologna sandwiches and bilious water three times a day, Christ), went hobo jungle railroad tracks more than once (and worthy of recounting although not here , here we speak of heroic roads west, grail- seeking roads west)headed south a little to avoid the cold, then west landing just off Indio next stop in sainted ghost-ridden Joshua Tree on some wayward sixteen-wheeled giant green monster explosion.

Carrying his life-line (and life’s full possessions at just that moment) bed-roll knapsack combination Adam headed into the park. Walked some dusty stone-etched miles to one of the camping sites expecting to find some more kindred and stews against some hunger. Sundown was approaching as he fixed up his assigned site when he heard a loud blast of Bob Dylan’s youth nation national anthem, Like A Rolling Stone, coming from, coming from somewhere. Maybe it was the dust of the road, too many roads, maybe it was his time, maybe it was some tumbleweed passing by remembrance, but at first he could not fathom where such music would be coming from in the high desert.

Then he saw it. Saw the biggest yellow brick road school bus now all painted in the six hundred swirled asymmetric colors of psychedelia (metallic purples as if to mock purple, mauves, fruit-tasting oranges, seven sun yellows all aglow, sea blues, sea-green blues, sea- blue greens , none mocking King Neptune for fear of bad karma, no, better, bad vibes, ordinary blues, vanilla whites, and death blacks) with a huge speaker mounted on its top and about sixteen crazed lunatics (although that information was only confirmed later) dancing in various conditions of dress, and undress. He approached, someone passed him a joint, good stuff fresh from a Mexicali run, another some cheap ripple thunderbird boone’s farm wine, and another pointed him to the fireplace stew broth. All without a word. Home, home among the rolling stones.
Later, after he bid good-bye to those fellow-travelers who were heading south to Mexico, down Sonora way and cheap, cheap everything and sun but mainly cheap and righteous herb (ganga, mary jane, sister, marijuana whatever you call it in your neighborhood), after he had moved on from that site, the park, and finished that last leg to the ocean, as he settled into oceanside LaJolla working his way up the coast, as he settled in on this “new groove” (ancient hippie word, quaint, quaint even then), and as the day’s smoke ( stash provided by that strange yellow brick road bus, and still primo Mexicali stuff too) went all up and down his brain and some music came booming out of the magical yellow brick road bus, some Doors cry from the thunderous heavens about shamanic nights, incest, death, and westward ho, get here and we’ll do the rest, and snuggled (quaint again) against some serape-draped dark- haired, dark-skinned, dark-eyed mex girl who made eyes, made sparkling dancing eyes at him (made eyes she said later because she had in her brown world never seen such fierce blue eyes, such anglo blue like the pacific azul eyes even on that damned anglo “bus,” north from Tijuana, and he let her see them up close, real close, and she shuttered a little nodding softly that they could either be devil fierce or gentle good night fierce and she wasn’t sure which she preferred) he proffered (nice, right) the following story to her about the road west as he had travelled it and about what happened one night out in Joshua Tree :

Enough of muddy, rutted, always bum-busting rutted, country back roads, enough of breathless scenic vistas and cows, enough of trees dripping sap, rain, and bugs, strange bugs, not city bugs, that was for sure, but biting frenzy worthy anyway. Enough of all that to last a life-time, thank you. Enough too of Bunsen burners (last seen in some explosive chemical flash-out flame out in high school chemistry class and, maybe, they have rebuilt the damn lab since then, maybe though they have left it “ as is” for an example), Coleman stoves (too small for big pots, stew worthy, simmering pots to feed collective hungry bus campers and hard, country hard, to light) wrapped blankets (getting ever mildewed ), second-hand sweated army sleeping bags (in desperate need of washing after a month) , and minute (small, not speed in throwing up, especially when rains came pouring down and he was caught out without shelter from the storm, a metaphor maybe) pegged pup tents too (ironic army surplus although World War II, not his war, ‘Nam poncho stuff, no way). And enough too of granolas, oatmeals, desiccated eastern mountain stews, oregano weed, mushroomed delights (okay, not enough), and nature in the raw. Cities, please. Large Pacific-splashed roar of ocean cities with life in sheltered caverns and be quick about it. This was after that Yuma County courtesy “vag” bit of the road, cleared the dust and stink of that dead-ass town heading up to Flagstaff and ways west.
Right then though he had sighted his first connection hitchhike ride heading out of Flagstaff and as luck would have it this big bruiser, full tattoo armed with snakes, roses, and lost loves names, truck driver who was obviously benny-ed, benny-ed to perdition and would wind up talking a blue streak was heading to some motorcycle jamboree, heading to Joshua Tree in California, Adams’s want to west destination since he was this far south (although the trucker did not call it a jamboree and I had better not either as I write this unless I want to risk offending the entire Hell’s Angels universe at one stroke. Let’s call it a tumble-rumble-stumble and be done with it. They’ll like that.).

All Adam wanted was to have silence, to be silent company on the ride that day and think unfettered thoughts of that Cambridge woman, that Abigail, who he had smoothed over some rough spots with and was thinking about more frequently, especially about how he could have played it differently, or better, but he knew enough of the road, enough of the truck driver come-on part of it anyway to know that this guy’s blue streak was a small price to pay for such companionship. See, some guys, some trucker guys like Denver Slim, who had left him off at some long ago (or it seemed like long ago, really only a couple of months) Steubenville truck stop on his way American south one time wanted to talk man to man. Back and forth like real people, especially as Adam reminded him of his errant (read: hippie –swaying) son. Other guys were happy for the company so they could, at seventy or seventy-five miles an hour with the engine revved high and where conversation is made almost painful and chock-filled with the “what did you says?”, spout forth on their homespun philosophy and their take on this wicked old world. With these guys an occasional “Yah, that’s right,” or a timely “What did you mean by that?” would stand you in good stead and you could nod out into your own thoughts. Forlorn sunshine and downy billow Cambridge woman thoughts, Abigail thoughts.
And that was exactly where he wanted be, as old Buck (where do they get these names) droned on and on about how the government was doing, or not doing this or that for, or to, the little guy who helped build up, not tear down, the country like him. Just then Adam though was thinking about what Aunt Betty, sweet Neola (Iowa)cornfields grandmotherly Aunt Betty (everybody called her Aunt Betty, even guys who were older than she was, after the name of her sweet Neola diner), said a month or so back when he had pitched his tent for a few days in her backyard, he did some chores in kind, and she fed him, royal Midwest fed him, still rung in his ears when he told her his story (or the latest part of it, the after ‘Nam part ). He was good for Abigail. Hell, he knew he was. Hell, if he had had any sense he would have admitted what he knew inside. She, Delores, ’Nam rebound or not, was good for him too.

But see the times were funny in a way. No way in 1962, or ‘64, or ’66, let’s say [those are the specific numbers he gave according to my notes although the importance of those dates in now unknown], that Adam would have run into a Cambridge upscale kind of straight-laced woman. In those earlier days he had been strung out, strung out hard, on neurotic, long black-haired (although that was optional), kind of skinny (not thin, not slender, skinny, wistfully skinny, he said half-laughing , bookish, Harvard Square, maybe a poet, kind of girls. He said beatnik girls, and not free-form, ethereal, butterfly breeze “hippie” girls so you’d know what he meant. As a kid he was cranked up on pale, hell, wan was more like it, dark-haired, hard Irish Catholic girls, and he meant hard Irish Catholic girls with twelve novena books in their hands, and chaste lust in their hearts like his ex-wife Delores. So when Cambridge woman Abigail’s yankee goodheart number turned up, he was clueless about how to take a just plain-spoken, says what she means, means what she says young woman who had dreams (unformed, mainly, but dreams nevertheless) that also were plain-spoken. Ah, Adam said he couldn’t explain it, and he doubted that he ever would. Just say, like he told it to me, he was stunted, stunned, and smitten, okay and be done with it.
Here is where things got kind of screwy though. He had put many a mile between him and Flagstaff and was well clear of that prairie fire hellhole bologna sandwich Yuma madness and well into sweet winter high desert night California (still hot during the day, jesus, one hundred at Needles, although not humid, thank Christ) had encamped at his site, and met up with the yellow brick road school bus which both were not far from some old run down, crumbling Native American dwellings on Joshua Tree reservation that keep drawing his attention (and the mad lunatics on the bus as well).

Sitting by Joshua tree night camp fires casting weird ghost night-like shadows just made his new Abigail hunger worst. And old “on the bus” well-traveled fellow ex-soldiers turned “hippies,” Jack (something out of a Pancho Villa recruitment poster and, in another age, the look of a good man to have beside you in a street fight) and Mattie (some Captain America easy rider poster boy brimming with all that old long gone Buck found ugly in his America although Mattie did two hard tours in ‘Nam), playing their new-found (at least to him) flute and penny whistle music mantra to set the tone. Jesus, and here they were only a few hundred miles from the ocean. He could almost feel back to eastern seas, atlantic swirls-clutching, could almost smell, smell that algae sea churned smell, and almost see the foam-flecked waves turn against the jagged-edged La Jolla rocks and mad, aging surfer boys , golden boys a decade or so ago, as if from another time, eden time, looking for that perfect wave. Yah, another more innocent time before all hell broke loose on us in America and crushed our innocent youthful dreams in the rice paddies of Asia, our Abigail (or name her, or him) plain-spoken dreams, but not our capacity to dream. That only made the Abigail hurt worst as he remembered that she had never seen the Pacific Ocean, the jagged edged, foam-flecked ocean that Adam went on and on about and he was to be her Neptune on that voyage west to the rim of the world.
And so here he was making that last push to the coast but not before he investigated those near-by Native American lands that, as it turned out, he, Jack and Mattie had all been interested in ever since their kid days watching cowboys and Indians on the old black and white 1950s small screen television. You know the Lone Ranger, Hop-A-Long Cassidy, Roy Rogers and their sidekicks fake, distorted, prettified Old West stuff. Stuff where the rich Native American traditions got short shrift.

Earlier on this day Adams was referring to they had been over to Black Rock (still in the high desert but only reachable by some forsaken road although every Native American seemed to know how to get there, and get out of there too, no mean trick when whiskey or peyote high, for an Intertribal celebration, a gathering of what was left of the great, ancient warrior nations that roamed freely across the west not all that long ago but who were now mere“cigar store” Indian characters to the public eye. The sounds, the whispering shrill canyon sounds and all the others, the sights, the colors radiant as the collective warrior nations pulled out all the stops to bring back the old days when they ruled this West, the spirit, ah, the spirit of their own (Jack, Mattie, Adam) warrior shaman trances were still in their heads on that now blazing camp fire night. Adam was still in some shamanic-induced trance from the healing dances, from warrior tom-tom dances, and from the primal scream-like sounds as the modern warriors drove away the evil spirits that gathered around them (not hard enough to drive the marauding “white devil” who had broken their hearts, if not their spirits though). Not only that but the trio had scored some peyote buttons (strictly for religious purposes, as you will see) and the buttons had started to kick in along with the occasional hit from the old jerry-bilt bong hash pipe (strictly for medicinal purposes as well).
Just then in this dark, abyss dark, darker than Adam had ever seen the night sky in the citified East even though it is star-filled too, million star-filled, in this spitting flame-roared campfire throwing shadow night along with tormented pipe-filled dreams of Abigail he was embedded with the ghosts of ten thousand past warrior- kings and their people. And if his ears didn’t deceive him, and they didn’t, beside Jack’s flute and Mattie’s penny whistle he heard, and heard plainly, the muted gathering war cries of ancient drums summoning paint-faced proud, bedecked warriors to avenge their not so ancient loses, and their sorrows as well.

And after more pipe-fillings that sound got louder, louder so that even Jack and Mattie seem transfixed and begin to play their own instruments louder and stronger to keep pace with the drums. Then, magically, magically it seemed anyway, Adam swore,, swore on anything holy or unholy, on some sodden forebear grave, on some unborn descendent that off the campfire- reflected red, red sandstone, grey, grey sandstone, beige (beige for lack of better color description), beige sandstone canyon echo walls he saw the vague outlines of old proud, feather-bedecked, slash mark-painted Apache warriors beginning, slowly at first, to go into their ghost dance trance that he had heard got them revved up for a fight. Suddenly, the trio, the three television-sotted Indian warriors got up and started, slowly at first so they were actually out of synch with the wall action, to move to the rhythms of the ghosts. Ay ya, ay ya, ay ya, ay ya...until they sped up to catch the real pace. After what seems an eternity they were ready, ready as hell, to go seek revenge for those white injustices.
But then just as quickly the now flickering camp fire flame went out, or went to ember, the shadow ghost dance warriors were gone and they crumbled in exhaustion to the ground. So much for vengeance and revenge. They, after regaining some strength, all decided that they had better push on, push on hard, to the ocean. These ancient desert nights, sweet winter desert nights or not, would do them in otherwise. But just for a moment, just for a weak modern moment they, or at least Adam knew, what it was like for those ancient warriors to seek their own blue-pink great American West night.

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