Tuesday, October 09, 2018

An Encore -Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- When The Music’s Over-On The Anniversary Of Janis Joplin’s Death-Magical Realism 101

An Encore -Out In The Be-Bop 1960s Night- When The Music’s Over-On The Anniversary Of Janis Joplin’s Death-Magical Realism 101

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

Scene: Brought to mind by the cover art on some deep fogged memory producing, maybe acid-etched flashback memory at the time, accompanying CD booklet tossed aside on the coffee table by a guy from the old days, the old New York University days, Jeff Mackey, who had been visiting Sarah, Josh Breslin’s wife of the moment. Jeff had just placed the CD on the CD player, the intricacies of fine-tuned down-loading from YouTube beyond anybody’s stoned capacity just then and so the “primitive” technology (stoned as in “turned on,” doped up, high if you like just like in the old days as well although Josh had gone to State U not NYU but the times were such that such transactions were universal and the terms “pass the bong” and “don’t bogart that join” had passed without comment). Don’t take that “wife of the moment” too seriously either since that was a standing joke between Sarah and Josh (not Joshua, Joshua was dad, the late Joshua Breslin, Jr.) since in a long life they had managed five previous  marriages (three by him, two by her) and scads of children and two scads of grandchildren (who had better not see this piece since grandma and grandpa have collectively expended many jaws-full hours of talk  about the danger of demon drugs, the devil’s work even if only with a half-hearted sincerity since they fully expected that those younger kids like their own kids would experiment, would "puff the magic dragon" and then move on).

When Josh had picked up that tossed aside booklet he noticed a  wispy, blue-jeaned, blouse hanging off one shoulder, bare-foot, swirling mass of red hair, down home Janis Joplin-like female performer belting out some serious blues rock in the heat of the “Generation of ‘68” night. (The Generation of "68 designation a term of art among the brethren still standing who had faced down that seminal year in the history of the 1960s, some calling it the ebb tide year although Josh had pushed that forward over the years to 1971 the year when they had utterly failed to shut down the government if it would not shut the Vietnam War.) The woman maybe kin to Janis, maybe not, but certainly brethren who looked uncannily like his first ex-wife, Laura, who had taught him many little sex things learned from a trip to India and close attention to the Kama Sutra which he had passed on to everybody thereafter including Sarah. And no again don’t take that wistful though about Laura as anything but regret since their civil wars had passed a long time before and beside Laura had not been heard from since the time she went down to Rio and was presumably shacked up with some dope king or diamond king or something probably still earning her keep with those little India tricks. (Strange to think that straight-laced Forest Lawn-raised Laura knew all the tricks that some courtesans would blush at sine a look at her would say virgin until marriage. No way. 

Still looking at the tantalizing artwork Josh thought of the time of our time, passed. Of wistful women belting out songs, band backed-up and boozed-up, probably Southern Comfort if the dough was tight and there had been ginger ale or ice to cut the sweet taste or if it was late and if the package store was short of some good cutting whiskey, but singing, no, better evoking, yes, evoking barrelhouse down-trodden black empresses and queens from somewhere beyond speaking troubled times, a no good man taking up with that no good best girlfriend  of hers who drew a bee-line to him when that empress advertised his charms, no job, no prospect of a job and then having to go toe to toe with that damn rent collector man on that flattened damn mattress that kept springing holes, maybe no roof over a head and walking the streets picking up tricks to pass the time, no pocket dough, no prospects and a ton of busted dreams in some now forgotten barrelhouse, chittlin’ circuit bowling alley complete with barbecued ribs smoking out back or in a downtown “colored” theater. Or the echo of that scene, okay. Jesus, maybe he had better kick that dope thing before he actually did start heading to Rio.


Josh Breslin (a. k. a. the Prince of Love, although some merry prankster yellow brick road bus wit made a joke of that moniker calling him the Prince of Lvov, some Podunk town in Poland, or someplace like that, maybe Russia he was not sure of the geography all he knew was that he had made a wag wiggle a little for his indiscretion)  was weary, weary as hell, road- weary, drug-weary, Captain Crunch’s now Big Sur–based magical mystery tour, merry prankster, yellow brick road bus-weary, weary even of hanging out with his “papa,” “Far-Out” Phil Larkin who had gotten him through some pretty rough spots weary. Hell, he was girl-weary too, girl weary ever since his latest girlfriend, Gypsy Lady (nee Phyllis McBride but in a time when everyone in youth nation was shedding "slave" names the moniker of the day or week was the way that you identified most fellow travelers-that was just the way it was and kind of nice when you thought about it-wouldn't you rather be Moonbeam than some Susan something), decided that she just had to go back to her junior year of college at Berkeley in order to finish up some paper on the zodiac signs and their meaning for the new age rising.

Yeah, okay Gypsy, do what you have to do, the Prince mused to himself. Chuckled really, term paper stuff was just not his “thing” right then. Hell, he had dropped out of State U, dropped out of Laura Perkin’s life, dropped out of everything to chase the Western arroyo desert ocean washed dream that half his generation was pursuing just then.

Moreover this summer of 1968, June to be exact, after a year bouncing between summers of love, 1967 version to be exact, autumns of drugs, strange brews of hyper-colored experience drugs and high shamanic medicine man aztec druid flame throws, winters of Paseo Robles brown hills discontent, brown rolling hills until he sickened of rolling, the color brown, hills, slopes, plains, everything, and springs of political madness what with Johnson’s resignation, Robert Kennedy’s assassination piled on to that of Martin Luther King’s had taken a lot out of him, including his weight, weight loss that his already slim former high school runner’s frame could not afford.

Now the chickens had come home to roost. Before he had joined Captain Crunch’s merry prankster crew in San Francisco, got “on the bus,” in the youth nation tribal parlance, last summer he had assumed, after graduating from high school, that he would enter State U in the fall (University of Maine, the Prince is nothing but a Mainiac, Olde Saco section, for those who did not know). After a summer of love with Butterfly Swirl though before she went back to her golden-haired surfer boy back down in Carlsbad (his temperature rose even now every time he thought about her and her cute little tricks to get him going sexually and she had never heard of the Kama Sutra) and then a keen interest in a couple of other young women before Gypsy Lady landed on him, some heavy drug experiences that he was still trying to figure out, his start–up friendship with Phil, and the hard fact that he just did not want to go home now that he had found “family” decided that he needed to “see the world” for a while instead. And he had, at least enough to weary him.

What he did not figure on, or what got blasted into the deep recesses of his brain just a couple of days ago, was a letter from his parents with a draft notice from his local board enclosed. Hell’s bells he had better get back, weary or not, and get some school stuff going real fast, right now fast. There was one thing for sure, one nineteen-year old Joshua Lawrence Breslin, Olde Saco, Maine High School Class of 1967, was not going with some other class of young men to ‘Nam to be shot at, or to shoot.

Funny, Josh thought, as he mentally prepared himself for the road back to Olde Saco, how the past couple of months had just kind of drifted by and that he really was ready to get serious. The only thing that had kind of perked him up lately was Ruby Red Lips (nee Sandra Kelly), who had just got “on the bus” from someplace down South like Georgia, or Alabama and who had a great collection of blues records that he was seriously getting into (as well as seriously into Miss Ruby, as he called her as a little bait, a little come on bait, playing on her somewhere south drawl, although she seemed slow, very slow, to get his message).

Josh, all throughout high school and even on the bus, was driven by rock ‘n’ roll. Period. Guys like Elvis, Chuck, Jerry Lee, even a gal like Wanda Jackson, when they were hungry, and that hunger not only carried them to the stars but slaked some weird post-World War II, red scare, cold war hunger in guys like Josh Breslin although he never, never in a million years would have articulated it that way back then. That was infernal Captain Crunch’s work (Captain was the “owner” of the “bus” and a story all his own but that is for another time) always trying to put things in historical perspective or the exact ranking in some mythical pantheon that he kept creating (and recreating especially after a “dip” of Kool-Aid, LSD for the squares, okay).

But back to Ruby love. He got a surprise one day when he heard Ruby playing Shake, Rattle, and Roll. He asked, “Is that Carl Perkins?” Ruby laughed, laughed a laugh that he found appealing and he felt was meant to be a little coquettish and said, “No silly, that's the king of be-bop blues, Big Joe Turner. Want to hear more stuff?” And that was that. Names like Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters and Little Walter started to fill his musical universe.

What got him really going though were the women singers, Sippie Wallace that someone, Bonnie Raitt or Maria Muldaur, had found in old age out in some boondock church social or something, mad Bessie Smith squeezed dry, freeze-dried by some no account Saint Louis man and left wailing, empty bed, gin house wailing ever after, a whole bunch of other barrelhouse blues-singers named Smith, Memphis Minnie, the queen of the double entendre, sex version, with her butcher, baker, candlestick-maker men, doing, well doing the do, okay, and the one that really, really got to him, “Big Mama” Thornton. The latter belting out a bluesy rendition of Hound Dog made just for her that made Elvis' seem kind of punk, and best of all a full-blast Piece Of My Heart.

Then one night Ruby took him to club over in Monterrey just up the road from the Big Sur merry prankster yellow bus camp, the Blue Note, a club for young blues talent, mainly, that was a stepping-stone to getting some work at the Monterrey Pop Festival held each year. There he heard, heard if you can believe this, some freckled, red-headed whiskey-drinking off the hip girl (or maybe some cheap gin or rotgut Southern Comfort, cheap and all the in between rage for those saving their dough for serious drugs).

Ya just a wisp of a girl, wearing spattered blue-jeans, some damn moth-eaten tee-shirt, haphazardly tie-dyed by someone on a terminal acid trip, barefoot, from Podunk, Texas, or maybe Oklahoma, (although he had seen a fair share of the breed in Fryeburg Fair Maine) who was singing Big Mama’s Piece of My Heart. And then Ball and Chain, Little School Girl, and Little Red Rooster.

Hell, she had the joint jumping until the early hours for just as long as guys kept putting drinks in front of her. And maybe some sweet sidle promise, who knows in that alcohol blaze around three in the morning. All Josh knew was this woman, almost girlish except for her sharp tongue and that eternal hardship voice, that no good man, no luck except bad luck voice, that spoke of a woman’s sorrow back to primordial times, had that certain something, that something hunger that he recognized in young Elvis and the guys. And that something Josh guessed would take them over the hump into that new day they were trying to create on the bus, and a thousand other buses like it. What a night, what a blues singer.

The next day Ruby Red Lips came over to him, kind of perky and kind of with that just slightly off-hand look in her eye that he was getting to catch on to when a girl was interested in him, and said, “Hey, Janis, that singer from the Blue Note, is going to be at Monterrey Pops next month with a band to back her up, want to go? And, do you want to go to the Blue Note with me tonight?” After answering, yes, yes, to both those questions the Prince of Love (and not some dinky Lvov either, whoever that dull-wit was) figured he could go back to old life Olde Saco by late August, sign up for State U., and still be okay but that he had better grab Ruby now while he could.

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