________ Welcome Mat ________
Be you old friend or accidental tourist, welcome indeed to The Outer Boogie, America’s favorite altergalactic observational contra-wing prayer recipe bulletin and non-prophet wishing well of ideas and
denial solely and wholly dedicated to the furtherance of confusion and paranoia. And it’s free!
The Outer Boogie is a collection of dumb essay type dealies, obituaries and general complaints. It is non habit-forming and purpose free. What it lacks in quality it makes up for in needless length. I hope it makes you laugh, and possibly even think a little bit. I’m glad you’re here. There’s very little in the way of organization here, mostly because WP isn’t very user friendly if you ain’t a science rocketist, but also because TOB is dedicated to convenience, and the effort required to make it easy for you is counter-intuitive. The entire T.O.B. staff is at your service, as long as you don’t want something.
ps: Ignore the dates. They’re all wrong and wouldn’t matter anyway.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT AMERICA’S FAVORITE PRETERNATURAL PLAYGROUND
WHY DO ENTRIES TAKE SO LONG TO APPEAR?
I stop a lot to light cigarettes. This ain’t one of those brainy sites like ‘Contemplaydoh’; if you think it’s boring reading this thing, try writing it.
DOES T.O.B. HAVE A POLITICAL POSITION?
Yes. It is my position that Hillary Clinton and that whiney Paul guy are both about as interesting as a bag of hair.
WHY WERE THERE NO QUESTIONS IN ‘INTERVIEW WITH A HOUSEFIRE’?
What difference does it make? There were no answers either.
WHO ARE THE MUSICIANS YOU REFERRED TO IN ‘INTERVIEW’ ?
I’d rather not say. Jackson Browne and Peter Kaukonen (Jefferson Airplane).
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
Doesn’t mean shit. I only came here because I heard there were free sandwiches, and even that was a lie.
7 YEARS AND ONLY 5 FREQUENT QUESTIONS?
Whadda ya want from me? Everyone else fell asleep by the time they got to the bit about Topiary Trees. And yours makes six, Mr. Smarty Man.
Any photographs on TOB not taken by me were altered to a point miles beyond the photographers intended vision or created out of thin air by me, with the single exception of the Lou Reed album covers, which I have posted in tribute and for historic purposes. Click any photo a for larger version if one is available. Everything on TOB was written by me, with the exception of credited quotes, poetry or lyrics.
It’s unlikely, but if you believe you’ve come across something here I simply have no business using, let me know and I’ll attend to it as quickly as is reasonable. That’s not a guarantee I’m gonna see it your way, but I won’t argue over worthlessness.
The opinions on TOB are my own and I’m wide open to criticism.
Knock yourself out at the
“Eat My Lunch” link:
“Feel the muscles in your face twitch, relax.
Remembering everything that went down,
and will go down.
I want to go down to sleep.”
I was reading an article about a cast member of the Walking Dead who attempted and failed suicide. Between the lines (where I regrettably exist), it was about the explosive power of grief and love.
I was not at all surprised by the pretentious and self congratulatory remarks about “selfishness” in the comments from the wildly experienced and thoughtful readers, who in spite of their time on earth, certainty of their “Christian” outlook and capacity for kindness, and the personal number of books (read: the experience of others) consumed, still seem to forget that the mind is capable of far more than the intellectualizing judgements of “together” people who think strength has one measure- their own. Why can’t you just go about it like so many others do? Do you think you are the first one to face crippling confusion and pain?
No. But it is the first time I have had THIS experience. I’m not you, and our differences are supposed to be the call to reason for those of us supposedly too smart to get trapped in the typical folly of man, at least among those of us lucky enough to witness the ‘worst things in the world’ on our color TV set.
I can’t guess how many of these people have never been hit by an emotional impasse, and I know how hurt I and people I have loved have been by the injustice and stupefaction of sudden death.
I suppose at this point in MY experience, what I don’t get is why so many of these folks assume they have faced it at it’s worst, or that every event of this kind can be faced with their previous perceptions and forbearance with a similar result.
The part of me that inevitably lives in that mindset, being human and all, makes me want to tell everyone to go to hell in my worst state of mind, but the part of me I am learning to hate seems to win often enough that I end up writing shit like like this, hoping in some aphotic corner of my decomposing mind that another person will have a moment of recognition, or more hopefully (yechh), absolution.
So the obvious question here, and it’s a fine one, is what do I want people to do?
Well, tangibly, only what they can and know they should if they can. Which other than accepting some inconvenience and assuming a bit of responsibility for some non-fun stuff that is NOT their responsibility, is not that much. And in fact, friends usually do this, and generously. It’s something worthy of respect and gratitude, and I’m not sure they ever realize how much it means at the time.
And that’s my problem (please note I said “my” problem). Somewhere in my head it seems the people one holds most dear would quite naturally assume that pain themselves, even if they didn’t know the dead that well, because they can see your pain and know your mind well enough to imagine what you are going through, and that the acceptable red line for the duration of that suffering is a matter of patience and not a common standard.
I suppose that’s a personal flaw, but it’s one I have to live with. I’m sure it’s naive. And apparently I don’t soak in the power of the words “thoughts and prayers”, which it seems is my loss and a painful deficit.
It seems elemental that we should be always aware of the fact that our understanding is limited to the last thing we have experienced, and to presume we ‘get’ more than that is one of our biggest errors. But what the fuck do I know.
I think too much. I hate that about me. And clearly I expect too much. This is a mystery to me, but that doesn’t make it reasonable. It’s me I’m sick of.
Most importantly, I love you, and as I pointed out here ten years ago the price of love is almost always disappointment first, a symptom of our intellectual audacity.
I have it, clearly so much that I question the willingness of others to strain their potential for understanding, and imagine they should want to. It’s one butt ugly quandary I wish I was too stupid to contrive.
Which brings me back to my problem. And the biggest part of my problem is that it is mine, and will obviously remain so. Here’s hoping I find at least an opening to it’s answer that wont further disappoint, and that at this point I figure out how to care about that, and that musing remains it’s most palpable consequence.
“Like a loco mosquito
’round and ’round and ’round I go,
and when I’m hungry, down I go…”
A few years ago, Ron Asheton, guitarist for the legendary Iggy and the Stooges, was found dead from a heart attack in his home. He was 60 years old.
Today I learned his brother Scott Asheton, The Stooges drummer, died on March 16, 2014. Apparently the cause is undetermined but likely to be related to a stroke in 2011 that reportedly almost killed him.
Dave Alexander, The Stooges bassist, died in 1976 at the age of 27 from alcohol poisoning, leaving Iggy the last surviving member. That’s gotta hurt.
I met Iggy Pop at a listening party in San Francisco, in a very posh hotel ballroom. He was funny and sweet, not at all what I expected, and I was too awed by the fact he was there to do more than take the opportunity to tell him thanks for the great records. I didn’t ask him anything, unusual for me when in that kind of situation. Upon hearing earlier in the day that Iggy might show up, I decided to take along an album (I chose ‘New Values’, a favorite of mine) in hopes of getting it signed. When he gave it back, it had his signature, and he had drawn snot coming out of his nose (like so):
Silly as that is, it was something I’ll never forget. And when I read an interview with Iggy today about Scott’s death, it was clear to me I’ve always been right about him, and about the band. As wild as history can be, those three albums kicked rock n rolls ass so relentlessly that it took twenty years and a new generation to fully appreciate the wallop. Today, most any band worth their salt will acknowledge it, and the best ones go outta their way to do it. I wont recommend you take ’em home (particularly “Funhouse” and “Raw Power”), because I don’t want you to scare your family.
My obit for Ron at the time was simply reprinting the lyrics to Iggy’s nod to the Stooges from “The Idiot” in 1977, “Dum Dum Boys”. There’s no better one for Scott. And to the ones passed, I’ll just repeat what I said to Jimmy: Thanks for the great records.
Things have been tough
Without the dum dum boys
I can’t seem to speak
I remember how they
Used to stare at the ground
They looked as if they
Put the whole world
Looked as if they put
the whole world down
The first time I saw
the dum dum boys
I was fascinated
They just stood in front
Of the old drug store
I was most impressed
No one else was impressed
Not at all
And we’d sing
dum dum day
Where are you now my
dum dum boys are you
Alive or dead
Have you left me the last
Of the dum dum daze
Then the sun goes down
And the boys broke down
People said we were negative
They said we’d take but
we would never give
But we’d sing da-da-da
Da-da-da dum dum day
And hope it would pay
Da-da-da-da it’s been
A dumdumdum day
A dum dum day
Now I’m looking for
The dum dum boys
Where are you now
When I need your noise
Now I’m looking for
The dum dum boys
The walls close in and
I need some noise
I posted this yesterday, but as the reality of the situation was sinking
in, I was becoming convinced it would need revisions.
I am sad to say that I was right.
“History shows again and again
how nature points out the folly of men.”
‘And when the music that makes you blue
unfolds it’s secrets and the mysteries are told to you,
may the angels sing rejoice to you that fateful day,
when your spirit slips away.’
I have no idea how to say all of this, which will almost certainly be
obvious any second now.
Some people think I’m obsessed with pain or the past, but that’s
not really so. If I’m obsessed with something, it’s that the unspoken
stands out to me like a sore thumb when I consider our woes.
In some way, I always see it, right there in the middle, like an
We weep about mistakes, misunderstandings and even understandings
that have fueled our trials, but it would serve us to see the real demon,
which is the unspoken, and that the real source of much of our anger and
pain might just be our own shortcomings.
I would like to think we know better than we often behave, but I can’t be
As a result, mostly I like to talk about the things I’m not sure of in hopes
of revelation, but when I write about it my frustrations are confused
with fixations. It’s not my fault that the most common of things unknown
ain’t much fun to dwell on, or that they confound me more than wondering
what it feels like to do wheelies in the mud or make the perfect pickled
cream cheese butterfly. My curiosities are born, not made, and that they
are pretty much a daily affair doesn’t mean I’m an enthusiast.
It’s outta my hands.
This is a night like no other in my experience. My brother died today at the
age of 58. The sorrow in this room is difficult to bear.
He had been on life support for 10 days, and we didn’t know.
His breathing and feeding were machinated. They removed the tubes
daily to see if he was still “there”, but true to form he fought them, which
they blamed on the pain, and they had to hook him back up.
He could not communicate, and the doctor doesn’t know if he could hear her.
I will never speak to him again, nor will our mother. It hurts. I love my brother,
and it hurts. And as much as it hurts me, it hurts her in ways I’m sure I don’t
even get. I will never forget the look of agony on her face when she heard,
and there was nothing I could do but hurt for my loss, and hurt again for hers.
Everybody said that his agitation could be a good sign, and I tried to put
that idea into fruition, but when the doctor’s strategy is to think positively
and say some prayers, the science seems to have left the building.
I knew it was going to happen.
And I would bet my last dime he did too, because everything JB did, he
did on his own terms. He owned any room he entered. He was in the Navy
for four years, and I wouldn’t have been shocked to learn that he had
convinced them to rename it The American Fish Police, or anything else he
wanted. The man was a force of nature. You simply had to know him to
Though he was 58, to my mother he was a kid, and always would be.
For her, the worst of it is beyond my understanding, and that ain’t
For me, being the plagued by unfinished business type, the worst of it
is the unspoken.
When my father died, JB went straight to LAX and flew up to Berkeley to
be with me when I found out. I was the only one who didn’t yet know, and
he didn’t want me to hear it over the phone. There were plenty of unspoken
things between he and my father, but when the shit got thick he thought of
me instead of his anger.
When he got to SFO, he realized he hadn’t bothered to map out the way to
my door (he’d never visited me in the bay area) so he jumped on a BART
train to El Cerrito and played it by ear. How he found my house is a mystery.
When I asked, he said “I looked for it”. He never said anything that he figured
wasn’t worth saying, and I never learned how he separated the worthy from
the frivolous. But I always knew when to drop it.
I can recall dozens times when his generosity and softer side came to the
surface, always to his chagrin. When things were truly weird, it seemed all
he had to do was stand up and say “Ok, fuck this”, and everyone- especially
me- knew the situation was about to be tweaked to his personal specifications.
Nobody argued with JB. There were a few folks over the the years who didn’t
know that, but they were soon to experience the shortest confrontation of
their lives. He was the toughest cat I’ve ever known.
Growing up, he was larger than life to me. He would watch me struggling with
guitar chords, then take the guitar when I got frustrated and the room would
fill with music.
Even at that age I knew he wasn’t rubbing it in, though he might pretend he
was if he was in the mood.
I knew he wanted to inspire me to keep trying. To demonstrate the payoff.
I also knew he would deny that if I pointed it out. JB kept his sentiment well
I love my brother. He was always in trouble growing up, but he rarely
lost his cool. I remember my Uncle Ernie (yes) showing up one day to
take JB to get a beer before he left for basic training. Ernie was 20
years older, a very tall and intimidating man of distinction.
As they walked out, Ernie looked over his shoulder at my parents and
said “I’ll take care of him, don’t worry.” I laughed, and dad moaned.
By one a.m., they were both in jail.
When they came home, Ernie was speechless, his suit was trash,
and he looked like he had been sleeping in a burning pile of
decomposing bats. JB just said “what’s for breakfast?”
I remember flying down Beach Blvd on a summer night in his little car,
listening to Bruce Hornsby and thinking life was pretty damn perfect.
We played music, chased dope, talked about records and moved down
life in constant search of laughs and sounds.
He made me realize what was truly funny, and truly dumb, and he only
expected from me what he knew I could do, even if I didn’t know it
myself. He cultivated my love of music, he gave me his humor, and
though he tried hard to make me fearless, he wasn’t disappointed
when he realized I was growing in a different way. I left my share of
rock ‘n’ roll wreckage over the years, but JB was in a class all his own.
Like humans do, I learned to live with our eventual estrangement, even
though I was sure it wouldn’t take a miracle for either of us to get beyond
He made the same mistake. It wasn’t incalculable or some pathless divide,
or even creative differences- the musician’s favorite divorce engine- that
finally drove us apart. The fracture was not inevitable. It was, quite simply,
the product of our shortcomings, of our elemental human flaws.
I’ve decided our sins are a footnote, a list of crappy choices effectively
punished by consequence in appropriate measure.
Our personal collection of indiscretions and mistakes are just moments
More troublesome is the ignorance of instinct. That too often some of us
discover too late our willingness to suffer self-punishment in the name of
essentially nothing. I’m aware of the exact nature of our wrongs, but I’m
equally aware of our generous contributions to their longevity.
My regret is profound and painful. Trust me when I say pertinacity is it’s
A million times I came close to writing him and cleaning things up, but
I kept putting it off. I always pictured a day when we were very old and
done with human silliness, sitting down with a bottle of bourbon and
sharing our final critique of our time on earth. I always knew he would
put things in a perspective that would assuage my fears and pacify my
soul. I have counted on it. It is not to be.
I can’t tell you much about avoiding our mistakes, but I will remind you
not to ignore the shelf life of your animus.
Let it go the first time it crosses your mind to do so.
Sorry is not the hardest word. Much more difficult, I assure you, is
the unheard goodbye.
I love you, Jim, and I’m so very sorry. Thank you for the best part of me.
I am so proud that you are my brother.
“Jenny said when she was five years old
You know my parents are gonna be the death of us all
Two TV sets and two Cadillac cars, man
it ain’t helping me at all
Then one fine mornin’ she turned on a New York station
and couldn’t believe what she heard at all
She started dancin’ to that fine fine music
and her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll”
– Lou Reed
One of the more interesting and silly aspects of rock and roll
is the immaculate conception of fact from the loins of rumor,
stories that often are twisted into legends, regardless of their
Of course everyone is aware of the ‘Paul is Dead’ stuff at the
tail end of The Beatles reign, but fans know of many more.
A few goofy examples include Alice Cooper ripping a chicken
apart on stage, Iggy Pop ingesting things better left unmentioned
during performances, Frank Marino receiving the spirit of Jimi
Hendrix while unconscious and near death in a hospital, and Jim
Morrison’s famous Indian. There are many more, of course, and
the career of Lou Reed has it’s share. One that is hard to disprove
is the heroin use and emotional breakdowns of several musicians
during the recording of “Berlin”.
A while back I swapped a few notes with Steve Hunter over the net
and considered asking him about it, but decided it was a bad idea.
I suppose legends are better appreciated with a heapin’ helpin’ of
imagination. For good or bad, this also means that too often legends
are confused with antics, and antics, when the history hits the fan,
are sometimes… unbecoming.
When my brother, JB, died in April, my mother was devastated.
As devastated mothers so often do, she looked for solace in
Ever the country girl, Wendy showed up with a bunch of food,
and perhaps also wanting to help in a less caloric way called
a young man who is very serious about such things.
I was moved by his sincerity, and impressed with his concern.
He did his very best to remain grounded in his conviction, and
I do believe he was as inspirational to her as such a situation
will allow. I remain in his debt.
He led us in prayer, he was never maudlin or overbearing, and
I have every confidence that if he indeed chooses this pursuit
as his mission, he will have great success. He knew his shit in
the whole God deal.
Moreover, he seemed naturally adept at thinking of ways to
comfort her. His most unexpected one was asking both of us
to recount a story about JB. She talked about him having a
complete blood transfusion when he was born (which she
was typically confused about, since I am the one who had
it. I tried to be subtle about it and said something like “the
same thing happened to me” ), and then she recounted an
incident in which JB got his skull cracked by a lunatic who
had been hassling me.
I told this one:
I was about 13. JB was home on leave and as usual brought
home a record he wanted me to hear, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal”
by Lou Reed. As any rock enthusiast who’s heard it knows,
this record explodes in your face for every second of it’s 39
unforgettable minutes. It’s not just a masterpiece of hard rock,
it set a standard for live rock performance that has rarely been
reached by anyone else to this very day. It was menacing, and
lyrically dark, and sonically thrilling. It would be mine.
For a week I buried my tongue in my cheek and mentioned
many times how generous and groovy it was that he had
decided to turn his personal copy over to his doting little
brother. “That’s it”, he said, “dream big”.
As his departure drew nearer, I began milking his sympathy,
pointing out that I already had to mow a lawn just to keep
myself in nickle bags, and he was in the Navy- a real job.
He said things like “That whine doesn’t even deserve cheese,
it deserves Velveeta”, and “There’s a better chance of Liberace
joining the Rolling Stones than you getting my Lou Reed LP”.
The day he left, after all our goodbyes, I went to my dad’s
stereo (one of those combo units that looks like a piece of
furniture, you have to lift the lid to see the turntable and 8
track player) to play a record. When I looked inside, “Rock
‘n’ Roll Animal” was on the turntable, and the cover was
inside the storage pocket. JB always kept his heart under
And thus began my interest in Lou Reed. It’s lasted 40 years,
and has never faded.
I was already a fan of Iggy and a long time fan of David Bowie,
the two artists that always seem to be somewhere in Reed’s
story, so I knew of him from rock magazines, but the only
music store in town (at the time) didn’t carry most of what I
was usually looking for, or much at all for that matter. “Ziggy
Stardust” was out for a year before I got my hands on one.
The following year I visited my oldest brother in California.
On the way to his place, we stopped at Licorice Pizza, and
I almost had a heart attack. I’d never seen so many records
in one place, and right inside the front door on an endcap was
Lou Reed’s “Berlin”. I opened it on the way home and looked
at the pictures and lyrics in the LP sized booklet enclosed. I’d
never seen a record like it. More importantly, I’d never heard
one like it.
“Berlin” changed everything I knew about listening to music.
It was a sucker-punch from the opening track, spooky and
mesmerizing, unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was a story,
each song a chapter, about a girl called Alaska caught in a
nightmare web of drugs, promiscuous sex and abusive cruelty.
It was an impossibly challenging and emotional record.
The great lead guitar work is there just enough to jolt the
listener back to reality for a little while, but this connection
begins to fade as the end of the first half fades.
In the second half, the safety net is gone, and the mournful
ballads that bring the story home are as difficult to listen to
as they are beautiful. The crying children that have found
her passed out in “The Kids”, the bloody bed and ghostly
choir (guaranteed to make the back of your neck tingle) in
“The Bed”, and finally “Sad Song”, a rhapsodic melody that
seems to say it’s all said and done, and maybe the sun will
rise again after all.
But the lyrics render this optimism hollow:
“Staring at my picture book,
she looks like Mary, Queen of Scots.
She seemed very regal to me,
just goes to show how wrong you can be.”
The violins in the coda repeat again and again, as
though the song, like the protagonists pain, will go
on forever. In place of answers, the observation:
“It’s so cold in Alaska”.
“Berlin” is a masterpiece. The abutment of its shocking,
dreadful themes and orchestral beauty are dizzying if
you listen carefully, quite like “The Wall” by Pink Floyd
(also produced by Bob Ezrin). But while both of these
works are very effective tales of isolation, drugs and
suicidal insanity, “Berlin” has you inside looking out.
If you let it take you there, it will. It’s that rarest of
musical gems- a perfect record– and like most things
people have to work to take in it was not well received.
“Berlin” didn’t even try to mask its lyrical overkill,
and it was attacked, almost across the board, by the
musical press. My favorite critic, who wrote about Lou
more intelligently than anyone else I’ve ever found
through the years, crapped on it (which Lou responded
to on a live album a couple of years later, saying to the
audience “You work your ass off for two years and you
get a C+ from some asshole in the Village Voice”), as did
many other publications. A good example has popped
up around the net since Lou’s death, and I actually recall
reading this review at the time.
Stephen Davis in Rolling Stone, 1973:
“Lou Reed’s Berlin is a disaster, taking the listener into
a distorted and degenerate demimonde of paranoia,
schizophrenia, degradation, pill-induced violence and
suicide. There are certain records that are so patently
offensive that one wishes to take some kind of physical
vengeance on the artists that perpetrate them… (This)
was his last shot at a once-promising career. Goodbye,
Another critic said “Honestly, if you know what’s good for
you, you’ll keep well away… (“Berlin”) will give you night-
It’s almost fun to watch many of these geniuses eat crow
as they respond in print to his death.
I don’t know if Mr. Davis has changed his mind, but I do
know his employer years later included “Berlin” as one of
the 500 best records of all time (at #344). It’s now typically
spoken of as groundbreaking, classic, required listening,
and even Lou’s best record. It’s all of these, and more.
Lou suffered this kind of critical malfeasance throughout his
career. Not surprisingly he hated the rock press, but like most
rock enthusiasts he seemed to keep up with it.
He seemed incredulous that they were unaware of his act, the
persona he’d created, and reported his work as if it were definitive.
But Lou never lied about what he was up to, and was often the
only one in the room smart enough to know you were being
played even though he spoke of it often. I remember him telling
one reporter in a story, “Look, man, nobody does Lou Reed better
than Lou Reed.”
I recall noticing Lou telling journalists “This is the best record I’ve
ever made” year after year, discussing “The Bells”, “Coney Island
Baby” and “Growing up in Public”, three records that received
glowing reviews but sold poorly.
It’s interesting that so many fans think “The Bells” is Lou’s best
record, not because it isn’t great (it is), but because it’s so dense
and complicated. The powerhouse of horns are stunning and he
attacks the lyrics of each song with a ferocity they don’t really call
for. It’s alarming to hear the first time, but after a few listens it’s
revealed as more a strategy of sound and seems perfectly in place.
Truth is I’m impressed to find a fan who talks about “The Bells”,
because I know how challenging it is, leaving very little room for
the uninitiated to easily embrace it. Lou clearly put a lot of sweat
into every aspect of it, and it’s a very unusual and confrontational
record that just about nobody heard. It was called “jazzy” by critics,
but I think sophisticated is a better word with the same purpose.
The combative momentum of the music is atypical in jazz,
unless you find improvisation quarrelsome.
One can literally watch Lou’s life change through the
records. The druggy, heavy fog of “Sally Can’t Dance”,
the surprising tenderness of “Coney Island Baby” and
eventually to “The Blue Mask”, in which Lou lays down
some of his demons and sees his life through a new
and wiser prism. Lou tells not just his own story but
that of others. Probably even you, along the way.
No longer the heroin anti-hero, his levity about new
found sobriety and his ability to put in perspective
his past and present realities are funny, touching
and remarkably beautiful.
Of his three best known albums, “Transformer” is the
best crash course for discovering his lovely ear. It’s
amazing to study, and when the parts are separated
from the sum it’s a fine primer for the art of studio
There is a “Making of Transformer” video on You
Tube that is a fascinating look at the production
decades after the release of the album. Even Lou
It was almost sad. When he had a “hit”, like “Rock n
Roll Animal” or “Sally Can’t Dance”, he would attack
his own work when it was praised by fans or critics.
He seemed to be extremely disappointed that the
only work getting kudos were the most accessible
and “least challenging” efforts.
“Sally Can’t Dance,” he once said, “went top ten.
And it’s a piece of shit.”
I always assumed he knew better than that because
it simply wasn’t true, and I hated that he felt so
In hindsight, I know I felt worse about it than he did, and I
hope he’s looking down and laughing at the fact that his
name is somewhere in the headlines most every day since
his death, that his videos on You Tube are exploding with
views, and all the hip types are mourning the loss of an
artist they “loved” but hadn’t thought of since “Walk on
the Wild Side”.
I better understand now what he was bitching about, and
it brings me closer to his music.
I was wrong. Lou wasn’t disappointed. He was disgusted.
Lou was no more one the characters in “Street Hassle” than David
Bowie was “Ziggy Stardust”, and the big difference is that he never
pretended otherwise. He was a writer. He was telling us about things,
things most people know little about or may even be afraid of.
He said “My records are my version of the great American novel.
Problem is, you’ll never know how it ends until I write my last song.”
I don’t imagine he thought of it as his last at the time, but the last song
on his last proper studio album reads well as a hard rocking conclusion
to a lifetime of canny observation, humor, music as purest art, and
most importantly, his endless defiance:
“Big sky, holding up the sun
Big sky holding up the moon
Big sky holding down the sea
But it can’t hold us down anymore.”
Lou died last month after his second liver transplant at age 71.
It makes me very sad, and I’ve thought a million things about
him most every day since.
His records were so important to me that I think of them as a very
real part of my own story. In fact, he has been a part of who I am
for so long that one of my first thoughts that day was that some-
where in America, there must be 20 or 30 people out there from
my past who thought of me for the first time in years when they
learned of his death. I’ve been trying to think of it in different ways
to make it more acceptable, and I’m old enough to know it
shouldn’t be a surprise and happens every day. I still hate it.
I’m confident it will be the music that keeps him in my heart,
and I know that’s the good news.
I have to confess my chagrin that everyone has a chance to
catch up though his formidable legacy, and these ‘fans’ only
came out of the woodwork this week. But I also know few will
really do so, and that bugs me too. But that’s my tug of war.
I’m sure one day what he really did will be seen for what it really
was, because music lives forever. We don’t, and I’m sad to say
it’s Lou Reed’s turn to fly into the sun. And even though he hated
“cheap sentimentality”, I gotta tell you it’s a struggle to say a final
thanks, and it’s with a heavy heart I say farewell to the worlds most
complicated average guy. It’s staggering what he left behind.
It’s what becomes a legend most.
This is just a few fragments of some memories that came
to me while I was looking at a photo of my grandfather
that came in the box of family pictures we received when
my brother died in April. It has no time line, no structure,
a thousand holes, and probably nothing to tell you.
I just thought it might let out some of the steam that’s been
building in my head since that terrible day.
I took out chunks to keep you from dying of boredom, which
doesn’t help the continuity much, but I figure you’ll never
make it to the end anyway so it matters not. I do thank you
For JB, and for me.
“Ma’am I know you don’t know me from Adam
but these hand prints on the front steps are mine
up those stairs in that little back bedroom
is where I did my homework and I learned
to play guitar
and I bet you didn’t know under that live oak
my favorite dog is buried in the yard
I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing
Out here it’s like I’m someone else
I thought that maybe I could find myself
if I could just come in I swear I’ll leave, and
won’t take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.”
My grandfathers name was Carrol. His middle name was
The mailbox said CN ____ , with those black on gold stick-on
letters you get at hardware stores.
My best guess would be that he bought them at True Value,
on Main Street, the same place he bought me a small alumin-
um electric guitar.
Not because I’m a great guesser, but because it was the only
hardware store in town. He stopped going out of town for any
reason after coming home from World War 1, with 3 exceptions
(as I recall)- taking me to look at old graveyards in Tennessee,
coming to pick either JB or myself up when we got stuck in a
nearby ‘burg, or taking us out to the Holler (that’s southern
speak for a dwelling in the middle of nowhere).
The Holler was amazing, with a pond for swimming and
fishing and lots of old structures that called out to my
imagination like a siren song. There was a barn with
several levels and cubicles, a very large shed full of rusty
metal stuff, and some kind of storage building with a
staircase inside that led to a locked door.
Through the dim windows in the door you could see white
sheets over a number of curious shapes that became anything
I wanted them to as I stared through the glass and imagined
The entire room was covered by huge nets of spider web,
probably the central reason I waited so long to liberate
my cupidity and break the lock. Most of it was furniture,
and I was sad to realize it was too late to reanimate my
curiosity, and that my curiosity was the fun part.
Nearby was a very old graveyard full of wood and iron head
stones. The few readable names were unfamiliar, but the old
folks knew something about each family.
The yard was behind a one room schoolhouse, long closed,
obviously, and I always thought it was strange that the
windows were unbroken. The trees kept the entire area
dark, even on the sunniest of days.
The streams of daylight that made it through spaces be-
tween the tree limbs were more ominous than illuminat-
ing, and I could only look through the windows at the danc_
ing dust in the beams for so long before I felt ghostly fingers
on my neck, and I quickly got the hell out of there.
Strangely, I went back many times, but it was my constant
curiosity rather than fortitude that led me there.
Papaw was a fine gentleman. The women loved him, and it
would be many years until I understood the strange draw
of the silent type. His neighbor, Delcie Perry, was a disgust-
ing old bat that kept her nose in any personal business she
had access to. Once, when JB and I stayed at his place alone
for the weekend, we went to the store for 16oz bottles of Pepsi
and candy bars, and Delcie entered the house and went through
our suitcases (there was no lock on his door, ever). My mother
always said Delcie was in love with Papaw, so one day Delcie
called me over to get some food she had made for him, and I
asked her if it was true.Her face turned red and she ordered
me off of her porch, threatening to tell on me.
I had no idea what I had done wrong, but I did know Delcie’s
opinion was held in low regard by my parents, so I didn’t care
about it much.
She took care of an ancient woman everyone just called
“Granny”, who was always in bed in a very smelly room
with lots of round frames on the wall that held sepia-
toned photographs of people that were surely long dead.
It was a very creepy place, that bedroom, and I only went
in when I had to.
After Granny died, Delcie moved to Tennessee, and her
rotting abode became a hideaway- albeit an imagined
one, since it was right across the yard- for me and my
little band of friends.
The last time we were in there my friend Mike Reed fell
through the kitchen floor into a wet and smelly basement
and scraped himself up pretty good. His leg was bleeding
terribly, and later I found out his pig of a father beat him
for getting hurt and tearing up his hand me down clothing,
and then beat him again when he learned it had happened
in Delcie’s abandoned dump.
I couldn’t get my head around this punishment, and event-
ually I asked my Papaw why Mikes dad would do something
that drastic over such nonsense. He said “Son, that nonsense
had nothing to do with it. In fact, that little Reed boy had
nothing to do with it. A man like that lives in a prison of
stupidity. He will never be spared his pain, because he is too
stupid to know he needs to be or even can be. The smartest
thing you can do is avoid him. The kindest thing you are able
to do for him is pity him. And the Christian thing to do is
know you are a safe place for that boy in his times of freedom.
Be that boys friend. Always be a good friend, and you’ll find
your place in this world is a holy one.”
Many years passed before that conversation made me cry.
He had two dogs. Little Bit, a Chihuahua that shook all the
time, and Easy, a huge, off-white hound dog. Little Bit lived
inside, and followed Papaw from room to room. If Papaw was
sitting in his ripped up easy chair, Little Bit was laying beside
him, squeezed between Papaws thigh and the arm rest.
The whole house was tilted, like the Leaning Tower, and this
was particularly noticeable in the kitchen for some reason.
There was an old fashioned Formica kitchen table, the kind
with aluminum legs, like this one (but in terrible condition):
When we ate at that table, Little Bit sat at attention on the
floor next to Papaw, who handed him a bite of his food between
each of his own bites. One for Papaw, one for Little Bit.
Easy wasn’t so fortunate. He lived on the front porch, and only
came inside (uninvited) during thunderstorms.
As far as I could tell, thunder was the only thing that ever
scared him. He’d been bitten by snakes, hit by cars, scrapped
with other animals, and even survived a shotgun blast. You
could feel the pellets under his skin, as well as many tumors
in his old age, that protruded like golf balls.
His favorite meal was curdled milk, which I served up in a
bent up metal bowl that had been on the porch as long as I
could remember. When he was lucky, I was able to add a
broken up biscuit from breakfast. My Papaw loved biscuits
and butter, which he called “cat-heads”.
Papaw always ate in silence. It wasn’t some element of a
belief system, he just never spoke at the table. He was
always a man of few words, but this was different. It was
palpable, but not intimidating. I guess he just didn’t think
it was a time for talk. Everyone else spoke, but not him.
I asked him a lot of questions. If I wanted to know something,
I went to him first. I thought he knew everything, and maybe
he did. If I asked him something at the table, he would answer
it, out of the blue, later when we were in his living room. You
get used to it.
There was one heater in the house, a big potbellied stove in
the living room. My Papaw subscribed to every magazine
under the sun, from ‘True Romance’ to those pulpy detective
mags that always had women in peril and dressed in under
wear on the covers. ‘Look’, ‘Life’, ‘Readers Digest’, the list goes
on and on. He never threw any away.
These stacks of magazines sat beside his chair, among other ”
piles of newspapers, right behind the wood burning stove.
That they never ignited is a true miracle.
The outside walls were brittle black wood, and the walls
inside were brown paper, like grocery bags, and if you pull-
ed on it where it was once torn, it would break rather than
tear. The place was a firetrap, but there was never a fire.
I’m still amazed by this.
There was running cold water at a big sink in the kitchen,
with the kind of faucet you usually see outside, but no hot
water. There was a bathtub in the bathroom, but no water
was hooked up. To use it, my mother would fill it with water
heated on the stove. The bathroom door was on springs that
creaked when it was opened, and the lock was a piece of wood
that swiveled around to block the edge so it couldn’t be pushed
open from outside. The toilet flushed, and flowed to a very
unpleasant sewer outside that was really just a thin valley
in the ground that stretched down the steep hill out back
and disappeared into the woods.
Papaws bed was very high off the ground, with 4 mattresses
under a feather mattress. When I climbed into his bed, I
would sink into it.
Instead of a closet, there was a long pole between walls that
held his clothes on hangers. Dim white shirts, a bunch of suit
jackets, a large collection of ties. I almost never saw him wear
a tie. He didn’t wash clothes, he never changed his sheets.
Every day he seemed to have on the same clothes- a dull white
shirt, a suit jacket and pants.
In the Army, he played French horn in the military band.
After the war he worked in the coal mines- for a dollar a day-
which eventually gave him ‘Black Lung’ and put an end to his
The only story he ever told me about the coal mine involved
a bunch of union types insisting everyone go on strike. He
had a lot of mouths to feed and a dollar a day to do it with, so
he refused. One night soon after, a group of shadowy figures
shot at his house and tried to burn it down. Some FBI types
were stationed to guard his house at night, but the bad guys
just changed tactics- as indefatigable zealots so often do- and
rigged a piece of machinery to fail. Amputation was miracul-
ously avoided, but it crippled his leg for life and effectively
ended his job.
Later in life, he decided to paint more often. The walls of his
little shack were adorned with numerous oil landscapes,
mostly of the Holler and his yard. There were several of my
tree, a giant wooden U that grew beside the thin creek betw-
een Papaws and Delcie’s.
I sat in that U often, and made up songs in my head, singing
them quietly while cutting the bark off of a twig. Sometimes
it was the drivers seat of my one of a kind vehicle that flew me
from place to place, or became a submarine when I needed it to,
or a lunar tank, if the monsters from last night’s flashlight
reading of Science Fiction Digest were simply to numerous to
be beaten with Kung-Fu.
Occasionally, I stalked a monster or a zombie quietly, weapon
in hand (usually a rusty hoe that fired a laser beam out of the
end of the handle), into the dark and damp dirt floor basement
under the house.
The shelves were lined with old mason jars of homemade jelly
or tomatoes, forgotten and left to decay after my grandmother
died. The result had become a deadly elixir that could destroy
the world, and every space demon in the universe wanted to
get it’s hands on it. I simply couldn’t let that happen.
The last time I spoke to my Papaw was over the phone, the night
Easy died. I was at a pay phone near the El Toro Marine Air Base
in southern California, visiting my older brother, Lee. I could hear
pain in his voice when he told me the news, something I had never
heard from him before. I was almost positive he had been crying,
and it took me by surprise.
Easy had sauntered into the house as though it were completely
natural (it wasn’t), went to my Papaws old chair and sat in front
of him. He didn’t say so, but later that night I pictured it and saw
Papaw reach out and scratch Easy’s head without complaining
about the the old boy’s audacious visitation. I just knew that both
of them understood he was saying goodbye.
He didn’t stay long, I was told. He just whimpered a little and went
back out the front door, quite unceremoniously.
A little while later, Papaw went outside to sit on the porch, and
found Easy lying in his usual spot, lifeless and still.
Easy’s collection of war wounds, tumors and poorly knitted brok-
en bones belied his gentleness. I loved that dog and thought of
him as family, and I spent more time hanging out with him
than I ever saw Papaw spend, but I was too young to understand
how long he had been around and how much history he had been
a part of.
The sound of my Papaws voice when he told me the news
revealed the powerful connection they had, and I realized
how much he loved him. He took Easy from a litter of
puppies long before I was born, and he died almost 20
years later. He was buried by the long-empty chicken
coop behind the house. I never saw his grave.
The last time I saw my grandfather, he was sitting in a rotten
old chair on his front porch. I was going back to California, and I
stopped on my way to the freeway. He was sitting on the porch,
and as I went down the cracked cement walkway to the house I
shouted “hey, Papaw.” He looked right at me and said “Jimmy?”
(my brother’s name). I said no, it was me, and my eyes filled with
tears when I realized he was blind. It probably could have been
prevented, but a doctor visit had always been out of the question.
I had never seen him go to the doctor, even once, my whole life.
I told him where I was going, and his only advice was to watch out
for fast women. He seemed certain the west coast was crawling
with them, and I had the feeling he thought I didn’t stand a
chance against their wily motivations. I assured him I would
choose one with care, hugged him and kissed his face.
I said “I love you Papaw. You’re the greatest man I have ever
known”, and I started to cry. He simply said “I love you too, son”,
and released his embrace.
I walked back to car, opened the door, and took one more look at
him over the roof. He looked so small and vulnerable, and I
realized he was not a giant, and not made of the hardest stone,
and that his wisdom didn’t come to him as a heavenly gift,
but instead was the result of facing an incredibly difficult life
head on, trusting his bible (as opposed to yours), those he loved,
and most of all himself, and finding out one day at a time that
some people get their ass kicked and some people kick back,
and he had chosen the latter with amazing courage and
without regret. I knew I would never see him again. A few
years later, the phone rang at Tower Records, and I was told
it was for me, it was my mother, and she sounded like she
was crying. Even though life had crowded my grandfather
out of my thoughts for awhile, as it so often does to
people, I immediately knew what she was going to say.
I don’t know how or why, but I knew he was dead.
I know I left more in this about the house than him.
I left out things like his purchase of my first two
wheeler, that he bought me a snare drum and told
everyone I was going to be a musician because I had
“natural born rhythm”, that he covered for my brother
and me to keep us out of the parental doghouse many
times (but never without planting seeds of second
thoughts and our own responsibilities).
I suppose it’s because my memories of him and that
little piece of earth are intrinsic.
Everybody has their own recollection of important
conversations with those loved and lost, and I
reckon there’s enough documented wisdom
in each of our experiences.
Still, if you lined up his place with a dozen others that
probably look just like it, maybe one in your very own
memory, there was in fact only one of it’s kind.
The creaking of the planks of his porch, the squeaky and
tired springs of the old bed in the room I slept in, the smell
of the dirt floor in the basement, and even my tree are
completely connected to everything about him, an exten-
sion of him, and when I think of them, I am thinking of
him and where he fits in the scheme of my crazy life.
He was right about crazy women, but he was wrong about
me. I asked for almost everything I got, consciously
or not, and I don’t imagine he thought of me as reckless.
But what do I know?
I love you, Papaw. You’re the greatest man I ever knew.
“Here comes Johnny singing oldies, goldies,
‘Be-Bop-A-Lula’, ‘Baby What’d I Say’
Here comes Johnny singing ‘I Gotta Woman’
Down in the tunnels, trying to make it pay
He got the action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play.
Turning all the night time into the day.
And after all the violence and double talk,
There’s just a song in all the trouble and the strife.
You do the walk, you do the walk of life.“
– Mark Knopfler
Not long before I left California, once upon a time.
This is about Fred. Not short for Frederick, but for Frederico.
Fred was a couple of years older than me, and I was very sure we had very little else in common the day we met.
We lived in the same condo complex in Santa Ana, California, a rambunctious area between Anaheim and Orange that is as well known for it’s danger as it is it’s beauty.
You just had to pick the right streets.
We chose well, and our little corner of the world was convenient and generally tumult free in spite of the commonality of sirens after midnight.
My friend Crash was married there, in an old church made of huge, mossy grey stones not far from my house, a building that was positively Gothic with a manicured graveyard in the back that was equally spooky and curious.
Just over some railroad tracks, the population had a far more sinister bent. I always thought it was odd that a rail crossing could be such an effective border between two very different places with the same name.
I guess I just notice shit like that.
Anyway, to my surprise, Fred and I became really good friends through a girl I knew whose ceiling was his floor. When she and I decided to take another condo there together (we had to have one big enough to hold my record collection, guitars and amps and still resemble a dwelling for her daughters sake), my mother decided to leave Anaheim and became Fred’s new downstairs neighbor. The place was more compact, more modern, and the rent was much better.
True to form, he watched out for her and went out of his way to help her carry groceries or move things around, whatever she needed. And not because of me, but because he had an innate propensity to protect those he referred to as “the fairer sex”.
He often used phrases that stood out in his conversation like a sore thumb, but his sincerity was apparent and it always made me laugh.
I was pretty confident there must have always been a Reader’s Digest within reach when he was growing up.
Fred was a trip. He was Puerto Rican, or something, and his accent was often the target of my jokes. He seemed to like that, strangely, but something told me if anyone else did it they would regret it. He was the manly type, one of those people who guard a sense of ‘honor’ as a familial duty, clearly some kind of traditional hoopla he had grown up with.
I mean, he wasn’t Don Juan Demarco, but I imagine he would’ve been pretty comfortable in the age of duels.
He was uneducated, like me, but he had a very touching way. He was a gentleman of a very old style and I was impressed and amused by the careful way he altered his vernacular around ladies, made a genuine effort to communicate beyond his ability to do so, and by the genuine sincerity of his handshake- a gesture, he said, that spoke volumes.
In spite of all the things I found endearing about him, there was an aspect that, barring a change of career, would forever keep us at half an arms length. Fred sold drugs for a living, and did well at it financially, but because of the obvious dangers to the others in my life I could not allow our friendship to grow beyond a certain barrier. Or at least, this is what I told myself.
I certainly had no judgements about it- in fact, drugs were one of the few things I mentioned earlier that we had in common- but I kept a safer distance than the other people that were always in and out, and typically my visits were either very brief or when no one else was around. Cocaine was Fred’s crop. He always had a kilo around, and often a house full of shady characters. Most of them I found comical, which was not what they had in mind, but I always made friends easily and had only a few uncomfortable exchanges. If you had known me then, you would find that as remarkable as I do.
If you know me, you probably know what I mean.
The one time I found myself in an intense situation with someone at his place who apparently did not think I was nearly as funny as I’m sure I am, Fred stepped into it and suggested firmly that my adversary “get a beer and sit the fuck down”, which pretty much announced to the rest of his regular customers that my sovereignty was, from that moment forward, not open to debate. I knew he was fond of me, but it surprised me that he was so quick to risk on my behalf. These people were his bread and butter for much longer than I had known him, yet without hesitation he chose to protect me. As I write, I realize it shouldn’t have surprised me at all. I don’t know that day if he understood that I had probably asked for the trouble with my endless sarcasm, but I didn’t think finding out was much of an idea, and I did not bring it up.
One fine western day, Fred asked me to teach him how to play guitar.
He already had a very nice one, a Les Paul, and an expensive practice amp, a Fender twin. But he couldn’t play a note. He was one of those people who are learning to play, someday.
My typical enthusiasm for anyone’s interest in music had me offering to show him some easy starter tips, and to my surprise he was very adept. In short order he was very comfortable with the basic chords, but Fred wanted to play lead, like me, and my approach to soloing is a long drive to standard practice (I have little fingers) and something I am unable to impart.
We got nowhere fast, so he suddenly decided to buy a piano- an instrument I know little about beyond boogie woogie and the black keys. In an extremely short period, he was knocking me out with jazzy improvisations and sad melodies, and the musical results of our hazy daily program became much more rewarding.
I was buying and restoring rare records and teaching guitar for a mom and pop record store in Orange. I had been a regular customer there for 20 years, and when Tower had seemed to lose it’s charm after all that time- another of my “grass is greener” delusions- I approached the owner about a gig and he jumped on it, being a wise business person.
I would work, go home, make dinner, hang with the girls and when they said goodnight, walk over to Fred’s. I would visit after midnight, when it was calm, do way too much cocaine and drink way too much booze and play music or write (though never finish) songs with him, none of which I seem to remember.
After more than a year had gone by and our cocaine driven jam sessions had long ago become a nightly event, the inevitable consequences began to creep in. The whites of my eyes were always yellow. I was very thin, and my health was very poor. I know Fred was frail too, but I guess I just didn’t think about it.
One night I was knocking on his door around midnight. He didn’t answer. I didn’t think much about it when I called a few minutes earlier to say I was coming over, even though I got his machine. He was always home so it was the first time I ever heard his message, and I laughed at it’s formality.
When I got there I knew he was home because his tv was on and his car was there.
No question. I knew his routine.
I knocked again, and again.
I couldn’t imagine why he wouldn’t be there and began to get a strange feeling about it, but I also knew that there were probably a dozen explanations. I was talking through the door: “Fred, open the fuck up baby, I ain’t gonna stand here all night”. Nothing.
After a bit, I said “Ok , I’m gonna go get my key. If you don’t say something I’m coming in, so if you’re in there doing something weird, you’re gonna feel pretty stupid”.
But I didn’t. I went home, poured a drink, and stayed there.
The next morning, we saw cop cars and the coroner in the parking lot. His door was wide open. I knew there was at least a very large baggie filled with coke laying by his scales, and that it had certainly been found. I went back home. Eventually, I learned that Fred suffered a massive heart attack, possibly at the same time I was on the other side of his door making jokes.
Later that day his parents, whom I had never met but kind of instinctively recognized, pulled into the lot. They were very distinguished looking, and some of the things he had told me about them suddenly came crystal clear.
They were a very traditional and conservative pair, and Fred often spoke to me about how badly he wanted their approval, and always felt like he never measured up to their expectations. His father, he said, was why he joined the Army, though he was destined to fail, and his mother was the reason he went to medical school, where he also failed. He was sure they didn’t know how small it all made him feel, or how sorry he was that he couldn’t be the person he was sure they wanted him to be.
I approached them and introduced myself, and told them with tears in my eyes that I was at their service, that I was a very good friend of their son. His mother nodded and started sobbing into a handkerchief, and his father shook my hand earnestly and said “Thank you for being his friend”.
I knew immediately that his handshake was Fred’s. Firm, honest, and proud.
It spoke volumes.
The man put his arm around his wife and they walked toward the police standing at the bottom of the stairs.
They were heartbroken, and I knew that in a few minutes they were to learn that Fred was obviously a dope dealer, something they would never understand and that would break their hearts all over again, in a way I probably couldn’t fathom.
The truth, for what it’s worth, is that Fred was a noble cat who did what most think of as bad things. And I know it doesn’t help, but he never meant to hurt anyone, and never thought he did. I never knew him to deal with anyone that wasn’t old enough to own their responsibility, and as silly as it sounds in such a context, he was surely as honest a businessman as the local preacher. Fred didn’t lie, and he cared about love.
I have always wondered if I had just made good my ‘threat’ and got my key, could I have saved him? The thought of him possibly hearing me as he died, unable to say “help me”, still keeps me awake sometimes.
I sat on his porch that night at midnight with a bottle of whiskey and an acoustic guitar and tried to quietly sing “Please Be With Me”, an old Clapton number we both liked, as I cried. After a bit, I just sat in silence.
A couple of teenagers walked up the stairs to knock on his door, surely to buy some cocaine. I had never seen them before, but I knew Fred didn’t spend a lotta time with people who paint their lips black, so they had to be friends-of-a-friend who would’ve left unhappy and empty handed.
They couldn’t get past me sitting at the top of the stairs, so they just stood there for a second, looking at me.
“He’s dead”, I said.
They turned and left.
I wasn’t aware of it, but that night was the beginning of the end of my life as I knew it.
The lovely Ed Cassidy has one of the most unusual stories in the history of rock and roll.
I’ll bet almost everyone you know has never heard of him, but has heard his music, even if only a small amount.
Ed was playing music before your mother was born.
Ed played music until he was called to fight in world war two. (!)
When he got out, he did odd jobs for a while, then returned to music IN THE EARLY 1940’s. In his early career he also toiled in shadows, more so than in his rock and roll years but arguably not much more, playing with the San Francisco Opera (unfortunately, even the strangely complete performance archive on their impressive website has no listing of individual musicians, so you’ll have to trust me), several country and western acts and any number of other creaky stages for nightly pay. He played (also in obscurity as a session gun) on film soundtracks to keep him in rent and eats, eventually finding a home closer to the heart in the noisy world of big band and jazz, drumming for such definitive artists as Art Pepper and Chet Baker, among many others.
Ed decided to teach music and achieved his credential, but his dreams of a band with complete musical freedom, liberated from commonly assigned genres, ultimately won the day. He formed The Red Roosters with jazz great Taj Mahal and the legendary Ry Cooder, but they never got off the ground in the studio and are mostly chronicled for their live performances, which were widely bootlegged. Eventually, CBS released their recordings as a compilation, but as far as I know it is long out of print.
He split the Roosters after an injury of some sort, as I recall, and soon after began jamming with his stepson from his first marriage, Randy Wolfe.
Randy was a gifted musician, and Jimi Hendrix was known to visit and tutor him. In fact, it was Jimi who gave him his stage name, Randy California. At the age of 15, Randy was invited to England to join the new Jimi Hendrix Experience, but Ed wouldn’t let him go, insisting he finish high school. No idea what Ed later thought about this decision, but I’m certainly curious.
Soon after, Randy and Ed formed Spirit, behind Ed’s idea of a band unfettered by musical labels and free to experiment with a mixture of sounds and styles. The first album was a fearless leap into this concept. An unexpected hit, it set a foundation for decades of original music. Happily, the next release was a single, “I Got a Line on You”, which sold very well and became a radio staple, virtually ensuring label support for more recordings. A 1968 tour featured the newly formed Led Zeppelin as the opening act, and though soon after Zeppelin crushed them in the success department, their history would forever show the hierarchy of the tour and helped cement their status.There were many people who said Jimmy Page lifted the omnipresent chord progression of “Stairway to Heaven” from Randy’s song “Taurus”, and this claim is argued among fans to this day.
The follow-up hit “1984” (the first 45 I ever bought with my own allowance) seemed certain to put them on the road to stardom, but label and management issues corrupted the promotion of the song and it’s climb up the charts was stalled.
It’s place as a rock radio standard today tells the tale of what might have been.
1970 brought the most focused work of their career, a record so important in rock history it cannot be overstated. You’re welcome to disagree with that and be wrong, all the day long.
“Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” can be seen through many eyes. It’s a brilliant folk record, with enough acoustic guitars, harmonies and messages about mans duality to please even the most discriminating commune-dwelling hippie. It’s centerpiece, “Animal Zoo”, is a great song for children (smart ones anyway), with a funny sing-a-long chorus and plenty of sound effects and silly voices to get their attention, and a lyric with a message for everyone.
It’s a great rock ‘n’ roll record, a great psychedelic record, a great “protest” record.
Just about any element ever added to a pop record to push it beyond typical pop record significance is somewhere in the grooves, and Ed’s contribution is occasionally aggress-
ive, very unusual for such a subtle and artful player. “Dr. Sardonicus” is Spirits “Sgt. Pepper”, a song cycle (as opposed to concept album) filled with experiments, dreamy jamming and thoughtful, often funny lyrics. The album begins and ends with the same line:
“You have the world at your finger tips,
no one can make it better than you.”
That was Spirit in a nutshell. For 40 years their songs pointed out the bad but always had faith in the good, and no other drummer could have colored this with such artistry as Ed Cassidy. He didn’t hit his drums, he coaxed them, as though looking for a secret. He said more with an almost inaudible cymbal tap than most players do with a bombastic solo. He never dominated his instrument, but used it to speak, and to frame sound, and support rather than drive it’s motion. He’s the best drummer I’ve ever heard, and I encourage you to take at least a taste of his wonderful band and his wonderful style.
I could bullet point hours of his best efforts for years after “Dr. Sardonicus”, but I’ll leave that to any hopefully kindled interest. It’s worth your time.
Ed retired from professional playing a few years before he died, and I’ve read he did some acting in a couple of films and even a bit part in the TV soap “General Hospital” (!). But he’s still the only rock drummer who played music for the lions share of 89 years, and he did it with confounding originality.
I hope you can find this out for yourself some time.
I’m very glad I did. Adieu, Mr. Skin. And salut.