CROSBY DOES 75!

FIRST THE BIRTHDAY:

David, Happy 75th Birthday, man!

Fifty years ago, even in a dream, I couldn’t have made up what has come about in our collective lives, a generation in music, life, the cosmos.

 

CROSBYKISS!.
David Crosby look-alike at a Tom Rush concert/Ludlow Garage, 2016.

 

WE TWO:

In the mid-60’s my girlfriend Debby and I would hitch rides to Sunset Boulevard to the Hullabaloo Club any weekend we could do it, from our Brady Bunch suburban existence in Whittier, Orange County. She and I loved to dance, and did it at every rec center, dance party TV show (Lloyd Thaxton, Shivaree, more)….and for a 17-year old this was the maxed out, ultimate pop-head-trip for an American teenager wanting to run away from home, but the time wasn’t right yet. I did that a bit later. Everywhere, music…things were happening fast in the youth culture, all the stuff you know.

 

The Hullabaloo 1967
Hullabaloo Club, 1965 Sunset Boulevard

 

THE LIFE, OUR MUSIC:

Dave Hull, a local, and still alive, DJ for KRLA had brought The Beatles to the Hollywood Bowl during this time period; Hull was super popular and the Hullabaloo was named for him, setting up residency in the old Earl Carroll Theater that only lasted as Hullabaloo Club into 1968….this place oozed of celebrity fafare, the likes of Sinatra, pinky-rings, stogies cigars, plush carpeted floors, tiny tables-for-two and tealamps with fringe on the shade, still on some of the tables. There we were, in our pop orange and yellow English girls dresses, bowed gillie shoes and kind of pseudo-groupie teased out hairdos; clamoring for the constantly juicy performances of the known (Freddy Cannon, The Yardbirds) and the unknown (The Turtles, The Palace Guard now lost in time).

 

KRLABEATBYRDSGUARD

 

 

MUSIC TO OUR EARS:

On February 13, 1965 Deb and I went to Hullabaloo. A new act was playing; The Byrds. If you read this KRLA Beat carefully…you’ll see no one could keep up with the music, the acts playing there every week, en masse. The Animals…The Searchers, Tom Jones, Sam the Sham, The Shangri-las, The Newbeats. Really?

Time has stolen the memory of immediate days before we saw The Byrds onstage that night, as to whether their distinct and new folk-rock, no name yet, had ever hit us before on the airwaves of KRLA (might take more research)…but that night, February 13, “One day only” of 1965, will forever be a stunner…because the original Byrds played just feet from us. Though they’d set up a residency at Ciro’s Le Disc Night Club on the Strip, for March and April…..they’d gotten a gig at Hullabaloo for February.  Materializing onstage, they were instantly attractive in any gorgeous way a group of folk-rock soon-to-be-stars might want to be…and we fell hard. OMG I had the Brownie camera!  Deb and I were so excited we swooned, the sound; it was heavenly…their voices strong, but angelic…mystical. The Byrds.

BYRDSMORACAS
Hullabaloo Club, February 13, 1965

 

DAVID CROSBY, IT’S ABOUT YOU

We didn’t even know the names of the guys standing before us, giving us lyrics and a sweet sound to die for (yes, at 17 you kinda wanna). Two tunes they played that night, and marked on the back of the glossy black and whites: Bells of Rhymney …and Mr. Tambourine Man. (I scrawled the song David and Gene were singing in this photo in pen on the back of the 50-year old photo).  Crosby, and we did not even know who he was, wore this leather cape that left us spellbound for days. Why? Likely because it was the beginning of a revolution in many ways for a generation; the chapter for many books in the future, now past. Though we cannot see facial detail in this time-worn photo, it’s David Crosby alright…cape and all. He was to wear this thing for many photo sessions, album covers and the rest. I’m pretty sure he’ll remember the cape, even at a cool 75-years of age.

So, hey….Happy Birthday David Crosby. Back in February, 1965 I didn’t think to shake your hand or give you a hug of thanks, David. None of us knew what was coming, did we?  But now, today…….your voice, music..echoes and resonates of times and places so powerful I sometimes find myself having to walk away from the sounds. I have to tune out instead of tune in…because poetry/stuff like Wooden ShipsEight Miles High, Teach Your Children, are histories unto themselves now…and percolate and swirl in my heart and create a redundancy I can’t manage out-loud right now. That’s how powerful it all can become, you know, I’m betting on that. And it’s this, David….a hot summer birthday you’ve survived one more time, and lived many lives through and still seem to be holding your own. I’m pleased with that….and I can picture you doing the same as we all watch the progression we’re sailors on the sea of, and why I write today with pictures and words……given your enormous capacity for life and what it reveals, though surreal, one half and one quarter century in; isn’t that obvious?

 

 

Baldwin, Watts, Zappa

A CIRCLE GAME
It’s exhausting, watching hordes of strangers and at times familiars, find their tensions rising. We know at every turn, disenfranchised groups of misbegottens, their tempers on fire; rubbing up against more of the same. People can feel they don’t matter as much in the cresting number of a world population.  How can we keep reaching for the light, if all we see are cannons to the left of us, cannons to the right? Call this a balm offering for what ails us.
A half century ago in Los Angeles I was stolen from my everyday sunshine, along with millions of others across the nation, to squirm in a chair in front of a TV with Walter Cronkite. The riots that began in Watts, that swelled from a minor traffic stop and escalated into one more horrible human tragedy, would end. By that hot summer in Watts of 1965…our nation had been through living hell for a number of years. Fear ignited by anger ignited by more.
It’s an unfriendly proposition to imagine what sort of people can take in the reality of August, 1965. The burning, mean-hot week resonates from back there to right here. And it’s re-purposed into the current unbearable social condition; violence, racism, prejudice…waging a war against good old humanity.
The steam and heat greeted us all in Los Angeles that too hot summer.
In 1965, 34 people died in the Watts Riots. Thousands were arrested. Millions of dollars of loss of property; personal and commercial.
 It was serious-hot that August in 1965……I was a no more than a slow-strutting high school junior, living outside downtown L.A.; swinging along with Hispanic, Italian and Japanese and bleached surfers at school. In a sea of pale yellow, I sauntered around in black fish-net stockings; barely tolerating anything else. My je ne sais quoi had set in.
My own temperature would rise at the slightest provocation; given the mother was not to be found, and a father adapting to California instead of Indiana and a new wife who did not like large families; of which we were seven. What to do with that?
Exposure can mean everything in small pockets. It can keep things snug while there’s a hurricane outside. It happened in that city; expansive thought that caught me on fire. Seeing a first live play, at 16 in Hollywood THE AMEN CORNER,  by James Baldwin at the Theatre of Being Workshop; produced by Frank Silvera, starring an incomparable Bea Richards put its hooks into me and held on…… The most human of narratives, with the pellets of the repressed human condition, set a tone that would partly shape my entire life, the impact that profound.
Smart African-American writing; a voice of reason.
What could possibly go wrong in L.A?
AMENCORNERBLACKWHITEPLAYBILL
My 40-year old father worked in the heart of Los Angeles with fellow engineers from around the world. Simmering shades of caramel, yellow, black, brown, red (India, Finland, Russia, rural America, Detroit) showed up at work to draw plans for pumps; big red fire-truck pumps, oil pumps, hydraulic stuff. It was a very big deal back then.
But the day the riots began August 11, a safety curfew was immediately enacted; this caused the working men of every color in Los Angeles to not return home to their suppers and kids. Instead, they raced along with my Dad to the rooftop of the Byron Jackson Pump Company on Third Street; they held up there for 7 days with the riots that burned, killed, and terrorized the thousands impacted by racial injustice. This incident, echoing today’s news, was a remarkable half century ago. My father, a WWII submarine veteran/survivor…never spoke of the Watts Riots the rest of his life.
3rdandTractionAerialandParcelmap.jpg
3rd and Traction Aerial and Parcel map
Our Midwestern transplanted, double-jointed family lived 20 miles east of the Watts Riots epicenter that summer of ’65. We older teens were left at home to fend for ourselves in the Quaker-settled suburb of Whittier (birthplace of President Nixon and 1/2 hour from the surreal, dream-come-true-ville: Disneyland). Brady Bunch lawns sprawled endlessly. Our step-mother was all but invisible: a fact. Summer lunches were the quintessential flour-corn tortillas and fried salami, in-between watching the news on KTLA; not so much terrified, but alarmed with hope our dad and his buddies of color would still be on the rooftops. Everyone  in the country was experiencing that stunned feel we knew too well as a nation watching for  years riots, violence and terror on TV, or getting a dose ourselves..
Back in 1962 we five children had already been On The Road, and I do not mean good Mr. Charles Kuralt. Near vagabonds, we’d traveled on the same highways the Trailways buses took the Freedom Riders…we’d already been introduced to startling drama on the road….our renegade mother conducting her own personal journey; what she called her independence.  Living month by month in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Florida, we were running neck and neck with the Freedom Riders’ buses arriving at stations, we kids and the other bus travelers on their journeys, would stand frozen in front of the segregated restrooms and drinking fountains.  A super travesty on humanity…I could see that even at age 14. The Best Gift Ever was given to our nation in the form of a full-length film on Christmas Day, 1962; ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was released. A story lesson by Harper Lee in human relations, reminding us of what we knew is the best civility for the ailing nation. Regrettably, at our palmetto-laden Florida backroad/cementblock house, we were too strapped for money to see it. In adult time I own a copy; for an annual check-up on good humans of saintly proportions.
The summer of 1963 demanded the March on Washington, D.C. Dr. King led the passion of a society gone very wrong into enlightenment, for a gathering that would seal the cause. The civil rights movement (in agonizing slow motion) was still unfolding and being incredibly resisted. In those days, lynchings were still what happened in the South, and we all knew it. We’d seen churches bombed in the impoverished South (kind of since the Civil War more or less)…little girls in their crisp Sunday dresses never making it home from Bible Class. We dug in and developed some hope; but it drifted into fail. The autumn of 1963, we’d barely caught our collective breaths when our JFK was fatally shot through the head by a sniper bullet in Dallas, in front of thousands of people in a parade; kind of sound familiar?
Fast forward back again (deja vu this) to the Watts Riot, 1965, twenty miles north of my Whittier home; in Echo Park, 25-year old Frank Zappa grabbed a writing pad and wrote his epic “Trouble Every Day”. A rant-rap tune written from poetic frustration and alarm, that resonates so exquisitely in our nation today, I can barely discern between my Los Angeles fifty years ago there, from my Ohio July present-tense on my keyboard here.
Here’s the first of  many verses Zappa penned on “Trouble Every Day”.  A real stream of consciousness this one; certainly a candidate at Columbia University for a lecture titled:  Full-Tilt Angst in Contemporary American Rock n’ Roll Sociology.
______________________________________________________________
Courtesy of Watts Riots
August, 1965
ZAPPA LYRICS
“Trouble Every Day”
Well I’m about to get sick
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friend
Is anybody’s guess
_____________________________________________________________
Those lyrics reads like some disgruntled Facebook comments, media headlines, hive-mind talk, you’ve checked out today, don’t they?
Well they’re not……it’s Frank Zappa, full of angst a half century back from this day, which beckons anyone with a discerning temperament backward and forward.
I see the media and our nation reeling from shooting incidents that have warranted the presence of our President at a commemoration for the dead. I ache for this…what is different from the hot-tempered summers in other cities in the 60’s and 70’s? The very same scenes I’ve stood and watched a half century ago. I had such trust that violence, oppression and divisions in our nation would have come to a stand still over time; through collaborative efforts and everyone bowing to the peace and understanding of it all. But no, we’re still in the streets with torches and guns at each other’s throats.
I’m nearly ready to give it up in thinking change is but a subtle thing the climate does.
Circling round events, fires, gunfire, mobs and tears, I see and feel a zillion years of events and human stories orbiting back toward a point of origin inside my mind; I trust it’s headed for a slightly tarnished landing of solace, peace, love and understanding. After all these decades with no end in sight, the prevailing human travesty is running a nasty river through all our lives; town and country, shore to shore.
Don’t we all feel this if  we just glance over our shoulders into the past?
JAMESBALDWINQUOTE
Reeling back to other hot days and tensions in our nation’s history (because what I write here is one of thousands of accounts on hundreds of intolerable human ills in this nation we inherited, (I’m 68, let me past) I see the circle just meets itself. We can’t just stand back, but we can put what we know into the equation of what happens next.
In short:
Where we’ve been is where we’re going all over again”. 
The lesson here is you want to make sure you put out the best part of what you’ve got to give when the present tense/future comes knocking; because it’s going to come back like a big shiny boomerang.
James Baldwin and Zappa are on this, both behind us and ahead of us.

RALPH STANLEY…SWEET!

 Gettin’ There

 In May, 1971, we heard through the music grapevine about a Bean Blossom Bluegrass Jamboree on Bill Monroe’s property in Nashville, Indiana. We were so on this. Our baby named Dylan was all of 20 days old. We had a wonky pup tent and we wanted to be on the same ground with the finest musicians we’d all fallen love with; in the air was a resurgence of music roots just a year prior to the release of the timeless icon of an LP ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’. Bob Dylan had set a new pace with ‘Nashville Skyline‘ in 1969.
Jim, his sister and her husband and I packed up; we took the J-45, for what it was worth, and the blue VW squareback….rolled some t-shirts and headed to Brown County, Indiana. We hardly knew the history that was being set before us; it’s what halcyon days are made of.
JIMJ4567
 

Feelin’ It

It was one big super wow when we got there; in between the gingham plaid shirts, tall-ass swoopie western hats, bolo ties and crisp white orlon pants…..we spotted so many other folk-hippie people we didn’t feel as ‘outsider’ as we expected. It made us feel inside, seeing all the pickers and players just sitting in circles all over the Monroe grounds, acres of riffs and pickin’ like we’d never seen in our lives. {walking around we’d see Vassar Clements or Ralph Stanley, just sitting on folding chairs outside a VW van, showing chords and licks to minor league pickers and strummers}
We tried to act as cool as they did, it was serious hard.

Doin’ It

The lineup of Bean Blossom performers rivaled anything you can name today.
On an outdoor stage the size of an average backyard patio:
JOHN HARTFORD, VASSAR CLEMENTS, NORMAN BLAKE, MIKE SEEGER, DOC WATSON, RALPH STANLEY & THE CLINCH MOUNTAIN BOYS and FLATT & SCRUGGS, performing all in one southern Indiana woods; playing with the precision and refinement like anyone who has ever practiced picking and strumming for one gillion hours, on any one given stringed instrument.
{lordy}
RALPHSTANLEY71
The whole time at Bean Blossom, we’d feed the baby, then rush for the performers on stage we could hear announced through the woods…and they’d be standing in front of us playing, these icons…..and it would sail us into the future with the strongest love of bluegrass and roots music ever to be had.

Keepin’ It

In 2008 at the CEA Music Awards in Emery Theater, watching the former newborn Dylan hold the upright bass for Ralph Stanley & Clinch Mountain Boys; helping back-stage with their performance… my heart leaped one extra beat, knowing some roots had taken hold for good.
RALPHSTANLEY2012
I met Ralph Stanley in 2012, waiting in line after his last Emery show; I wanted him to sign my DVD of the 1971 Bean Blossom Bluegrass Jamboree we’d all been to way back. Dr. Stanley was tiny and sparkling in his western stage gear. He looked like he’d just performed for the very first time; exhilarated from the music and the show. I reached out and shook his hand and could see his eyes twinkling; just like when I first saw them 45 years ago.
Goodbye, Dr. Ralph.
BEANBLOSMTAG

The Little Boy and The Gorilla

Talk about compromise and endangerment.
The second the little boy fell into a moat in the natural habitat of an adult male gorilla, at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens on May 28; both immediately became e.n.d.a.n.g.e.r.e.d. and their lives compromised. The little boy and the gorilla became vulnerable doing what came naturally to each of them.

  1. The gorilla was endangered from his natural African environment encroached upon by man, and other threats.
  2. The child was endangered; out of reach of caretakers or rescuers; coming face to face with a 400+ gorilla and nowhere to run.

 

GORILLASTATUEFLOWERS

 

THE ENDANGERED GORILLA

What would compel Harambe to jump into the moat gorillas can’t stand, according to primates experts?
A Little Boy

Harambe, a beautiful Western Lowlands Silverback Gorilla, is categorized as “Critically Endangered” by the World Wildlife Federation. Harambe followed his instincts at the zoo; he explored, he followed what came naturally on a daily basis….Harambe was living in a habitat that included shrubs from his natural environment especially grown for him to eat. Harambe did not know the days of the week, or what a child exactly was. Harambe literally jumped with his natural instincts last Saturday, when an intruder in the form of a little boy, came into his environment…he even leaped into the moat he doesn’t like. Harambe was responding to life as he was created to do.

 

THE ENDANGERED LITTLE BOY

What compelled a little boy to crawl through a barrier and then fall 15 feet into a stone-enforced moat at zoo?
A Gorilla

When you’re very young your world is pretty huge; exploring is what you’ll do, regardless of the outcome. Cause and effect doesn’t amount to much, when you’re 3 or 4. A lot of times, you just go for it. Falling into a gorilla’s moat isn’t what happens everyday, but it comes naturally to little kids to climb and fall, compelled by instincts to touch life. The little boy responded to life as he was created to do.

 

THE COMPROMISE

Our community, and it appears the nation, has been reeling from the seconds that mattered, when the little boy fell into Harambe’s environment. Harambe, the Western Lowland Gorilla, met his early fate due to a compelling need of a small child to do what nature called him to do. The gorilla did the same.

My darling 5-year-old grandchild Clara went to the Cincinnati Zoo yesterday. She didn’t notice the protesters out front begging her to “Boycott the Zoo”. Her parents are members, from her first year of birth. Clara wouldn’t notice the blocked-off primate natural habitat exhibit, when she ran to her favorite places in the zoo, her world is enchanting, just like the little boy who fell into Harambe’s moat.

 

CLARATIGER!.

But Clara may have noticed the flowers on one of her favorite images at the zoo, the gorilla statue…she loves climbing on it, there are many photos of her doing that.

Children notice the things that make them sing with life; they respond to the call. That’s what the little boy did the afternoon he fell into the moat to see the gorilla.
And it changed everything.

Brooks BBQ

For nearly 3 years now, every time I drive or walk around my hometown OTR, less and less of what matters there smiles back at me. Even Pleasant Street, which wasn’t super pleasant before it changed, used to do that. I find myself wandering down side streets I’d taken for granted for decades, thinking they could carry the weight of a near two centuries existence; reminding me of why I call it my hometown. But that sense of place (genius-loci) in OTR is harder to find but in smaller and smaller pockets. I can find it in some of the buildings…the architecture that got it all going in the first place. However, even the buildings are getting too many face-lifts; like a faded movie star and it’s pretty sad.

What stuns me visually and affects the genius-loci, are the sullen and wrought faces of a new population I don’t know where to put on my mental OTR map.  The faces grip their bags, a leash, a phone…headed toward what looks like it must be the summit meet of a lifetime. Whooshing past any long-time resident (you can tell who they are, you just can)…carrying a visible mandate requiring anyone to step aside of their stride.

I’m in OTR frequently; I used to live there. I drop a family member to work at SCPA. I meet fellow writers, on Main only, thank you, we have family parties at MOTR Pub, shop  at Findlay Market.  And for the last 2 years, I’m out of breath with my inhales, as I try to assimilate the rapid changes and disappearance of much of what was held sacred in this neighborhood for generations; and I know I sound like Pete Hamill and his New York.

BROOKSBBQ1.

Very important people tell us: “Redevelopment is good for the economy, it’s essential to the prosperity of our city. The buildings in OTR were decaying and they needed help.” Okay, sure…I get it. But why help in the form of a double-wheeled, gentrification steamroller?  I’ve studied too much urban-planning via the school of William H.  Whyte to buy into this fast, and touted by some, as the only highway to coolville. I know entrepreneurship is good for a city’s soul. OTR has sustained itself with working for a living a long time; initially organic in its growth and sustainability, now a more ominous and over-directed presence does the work.

Sunday I drove through OTR on my way back from Covington. Like any other day down here, I noted the newbie dog-walkers picking up the poop. Groups of white people strolling only  up to a couple of buildings above 14th & Vine, then they stop timidly short.  I head north on Elm Street……and see Towne Properties has draped weather-proofing nearly an entire block over intrepid chain-link; they’ve bulldozed 1/2 block to construct another shiny surface. I glance down 15th Street toward Central where a friend Cedric lived until recently; his entire building of coolest ever Cincinnati artists had to vacate; the owner has money-stars in his eyes.

BROOKSBBQ4

Driving up Elm Street toward Liberty, and just when I couldn’t keep taking all the change in one more time, anymore; I spot what I call the real signs of spring in OTR…There’s a sidewalk barbecue, you know the kind, the real deal. I get out of my car. In front of a small market,  James Brooks sets up his grill, and offers the best from  Findlay Market. I ask James if I may take a photo. He’s hesitant…but he let’s me take photos of his helper and the good grill. James tells me “Even if they keep moving me up the street, I’ll just keep moving.”   James says he’s been living in OTR most of his life.  He points out that a guy he knows across the street has bought a house and fixed it up, and another one down the street. He has hope for the inevitable not to be inevitable.

James eventually excuses himself saying, “I have to get back to the natural order of things here.”  I look down the block from the green store-front to the massive wall of redevelopment encroaching up Elm. All I can see is one more vivid contrast between that which is and that which is soon to be. There is no place in-between for my eyes or imagination.  But I think James might see more. I hope James Brooks finds a crack in the sidewalk as big as a city block, so he can fill it with all the barbecue he can grill.       I surely do.