Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Channeling The Grateful Dead Minus…

Channeling The Grateful Dead Minus…

From The Pen Of Sam Lowell

No I was never a “Dead Head,” never would have accepted that designation in any case if somebody tried to lay that moniker on me, tried to tie me down with that crowd who lived and breathed (still do) for every tune the Grateful Dead ever produced, although in the old days, the days of the 1960s mad dash to seek a newer world that got trashed about seven million ways before the deal went down and “the authorities,” as my mother used to say when speaking of the ruling class or its agents, pulled the hammer down and soured a whole generation, no, make that three generations now since they are still furiously trying to keep us in lock-down mode, I went out in San Francisco by the moniker Prince of Love. So it wasn’t about the moniker, wasn’t about being type-cast, just wasn’t into the group, preference is all. 

By the way that Prince Of Love moniker was strictly among the brethren, those who were, literally, my mates on the yellow brick road converted school bus, a mode of transportation which while not ubiquitous on the California roads that distinction would go to Volkswagen mini-buses they were not an infrequent sight and after a while were not remarked on by anybody but tourists and cops, the cops usually looking  for that fatal violation, you know, the rear license plate light out, which allowed them to haul the beast to the side of the road and give  some hassle, hassle man.

A group of us sometimes sticking together for months like the Be-Bop Kid, Peter Markin, my closest friend since he hailed from North Adamsville about twenty miles north of my hometown of Carver, Tiny Slim Tim as you might suspect a giant whose real name was Dexter something and Butterfly Swirl (Catherine Clark) from down in Carlsbad who was “slumming” from the perfect wave surfer crowd she hung with in high school to see what the next best thing was in the frenetic California night and who every guy on the bus took a shot at, including Be-Bop and me stuck together longest (Markin as it turned out for years after  we got off the road before he ended up badly down in Mexico, all sister crazy, over a busted drug deal he was trying to put together with the cartel boys who were not pleased), others, Mustang Sally (you can figure that one out if you know the song), Reefer Jones (ditto on the figuring out just throw yourselves back to any urban college dorm, student ghetto apartment, rock concert and high school boys’ or girls’ lav when it filtered down to the teenagers), Guy Fawkes ( after the English plotter who has had a resurgence lately between the NSA and the young libertarians), Digger Stewart (after the 17th century English communists led by Gerrard Winstanley up on Saint George’s Hill for a while anyway, a movement before its time) for shorter periods.

I called the Captain Crunch Express home for a couple of years as we went up and down the coast looking for the heart of Saturday night, looking for the great blue-pink American West night as the Be-Bop Kid described it and everybody kind of bought into that idea, hell, maybe just looking to turn the world upside down and see if that was any better than the gruel that was on tap for, the gruel force-fed to us for no known reason. The “Express” named after the guy, Captain Crunch (real name Slade Stokes, Haverford College Class of 1958), an older guy of indeterminate means who knew Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, knew everybody who was anybody in the West Coast alternative cultural scene (for example could get “boss” tickets for 20 of us to the Fillmore to see the Jefferson Airplane when the Be-Bop Kid “married Butterfly Swirl, a long story for another time), who bought and rigged the bus complete with outrageous high end sound system, or got it in some drug trade barter deal, and was some kind of father we never knew a la Jack Kerouac-Neal Cassady/drug lord/ philosopher king to us.

No, as well, I never went to one of the Dead’s sold-out stoned out concerts at the Fillmore (which the Captain also could get tickets for since he knew the Dead drummer), and something of a ceremonial rite of passage for those who did consider themselves “Dead Heads” and insisted that each and every time out they eat so much acid (LSD), smoke so many reefers (for the clueless see reference above), swallow some many bennies (speed my drug of choice then and later in law school where I used them just to get through the damn silly case studies we were required to know at the cost of being berated by some professor who had shark’s teeth) just like the very first time they hear the Dead in order to get that same guitar rush. And taking something from sports figures and their superstitions wear the same outfit, the same faded denim, throng sandals, flowered shirt, male, granny dress, sandals, flowers in hair, female, each time to be washed clean by the Dead magic (of course those who never gave up the tradition had pretty threadbare outfits something just south of tramp/bum/hobo before Jerry went over the top, went to see the “fixer” man to get well one more time, one time too many. (Should have read Nelson Algren’s The Man With The Golden Arm to know you can never mess with the fixer man, never get washed clean no matter what they say).The fixer man no friend as the lyrics to The Pusher Man by Steppenwolf make perfectly clear, goddam. So like I say despite the voodoo macabre stuff I have any number of friends who were/are ardent fans and they seem to be, well, normal, normal except in those flashback moments where they see “colors, man, colors,” would speak of having “far out” experiences when they would/will get ready for a Dead concert. (Remind me to tell you sometime about a friend of mine, as stone-cold Dead Head, from back in Carver, my growing up hometown about thirty miles south of Boston, who to give you an idea of the tenor of the times back then went from a foul-mouthed corner boy looking to do a nickel or dime in some state pen if the ‘60s hadn’t come along, actually using that moniker in high school, he said it turned the girls on, and maybe it did, to “Far-Out Phil” when he came West to join us.) So even the best of them would succumb until the wheels kind of fall off….for a while.  

But here is my take on the Dead just to keep things in perspective, just to keep things right. I, after a couple of years on the road out there, and maybe not directly in the inner circle of the hippie/drug/literary scene but close enough to get tangled up in the new dispensation I liked to look at the connections, the West Coast connections, where a lot of the energy of the 1960s got its start or if started elsewhere got magnified there. Like to draw the lines, if you will, from the wild boy alienated, there is no other word that says it so well, bikers over in Oakland and the edges of other working-class towns, mostly white, mostly with some kind of Okie/Arkie background roaring up the streets of Squaresville in search of the village daughters and putting the fear in the average citizen who thought Attila the Hun’s kin had descended, but remember that alienated part that is the hook-in, hot rod after midnight “chicken run” runners out in the valleys, alienated too but with a little dough and some swag and a hell-bend desire to go fast, go very fast, if for no other reason than to breakout of  valley ennui (although they would punch somebody out, fag bait somebody if they ever used such a word in their presence if they knew what it meant) and surfer boys, coast boys and with a little more laid back approach in search of the perfect wave (read: Nirvana), maybe not quite so alienated because of that golden tan blonde dish sitting on the beach waiting to see if Sir Galahad finds the holy grail, to the “beat” guys Kerouac, Cassady, Ginsberg and friends running across America just to keep running, writing up a storm, wenching, whoring , pimping, white blue-eyed hipsters “speaking” be-bop to a jaded world, to sainted Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters (and our Captain Crunch, leader of our own merry prankster psychedelic bus), the Hell’s Angels (bad dudes, bad dudes, no question), Fillmore with strobe light beams creating dreams, et. al and you have the skeleton for what went on then, right or wrong. Wasn’t that a time, yes, Lord, wasn’t that a time. And the Dead were right in the mix.         

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