January 20th, 2016 · Politics
Originally published in Interchange Magazine, and TransForum Magazine, Jan. and Feb. 1993.
“We march to the music of our time.”
……………………………………….Bill Clinton at his Inauguration
Little Dorothy Washington slowly snuck up to the Iron Curtain of Oz, and peaked behind the screen. Her eyes popped when she discovered only a hungry old woman hunched over on a stool, pulling what levers were left of The Evil Empire. It was kind of embarrassing. You spend half a century and all your money preparing for battle, only to find your enemy’s a broken down old matron.
And Dorothy was pissed. Four-Star Ike, Dick the Magic Dragon, John Wayne Raygun, and Stormin’ Norman George suddenly looked worse than silly. There was no “there” there, and the paying customers were talkin’ refund. There were riots, poverty, and incurable diseases at home, while they’d sat spellbound at the feet of the their elected monarchs listening to tales of tigers in the jungle.
You should have seen the look on their tiny faces when the curtain peeled back and they discovered they’d been sitting out in the cold (war) for decades while last year’s losers were all in school attending class.
“Those damn foreigners were sitting around getting smart again while I was listening to Bonzo’s bedtime stories. Am I ever stupid!” Dorothy whined, hitting herself upside the head with a ballot box.
The Grand Pendulum reached its apex during the hundred hour ground war in Kuwait, and the recess bell clanged for change. Dorothy was picking at a daisy, wondering, “Uhmmm, if Iraq has the third biggest army in the world and can’t even last longer than a long weekend, what are we doing this for?”
Enter: the swing era, the sea-change, electricity, spring in the step, new life, blinding fireworks, cascading karma, oh my god — Elvis is in the White House!
“What a weird dream!” Dorothy says, waking up.
Those crazy Americans have done it again. They couldn’t be content with a Paul Tsongas or a Bob Kerrey or some other respectable guy in a suit. No. They had to pick a pot smoking sax player from a state most of the country couldn’t find on a map.
As an expatriated Winnipeger who’s been caught in the gears of America for years, I decided to rent a van, convert it into a jack-proof mobile fort, and drive to Washington to witness the passing of the spliff.
The nugget of the whole week was the concert at the Lincoln Memorial on the Sunday before the swearing-in. It was televised on HBO, so check local listings. (It cost them a bundle — they’ll repeat it a lot.) It had the first all-star performance of “We Are The World” since Live Aid eight years ago, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Aretha, and a cast of many who I think just sort of wandered out there.
But it was the spirit of this very black and white audience that transcended. Kids, grand-couples, middle class families on blankets — and everybody in a really good mood. And no idiots. When was the last time you were in a crowd of half-a-million people and there were no screaming idiots?
So there you are, and there’s these giant TV screens, and there’s James Earl Jones reading Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to the point where, when he reaches the climactic line, singing America in his rich baritone, and stressing the words “the people,” half the crowd is just bawling their eyes out:
“That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
Then Jack Nicholson strolls out and the crowd starts howling and laughing and falling over. His hair is blowing straight up off his head like his toe’s stuck in a socket, and he’s reading Lincoln all serious-like but the whole field is just roaring and laughing along with His Freakness.
Then Aretha Franklin comes out, the queen of living soul, and man, can she still hit it. She sings “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” and the whole time you’re going, “Yeah, this is cool, but I wish she’d sing ‘Respect.‘ Not quite the gig, though.” Then Boom! She does it! Aretha’s honking on “Respect,” and the whole crowd of America starts shaking its collective black ass under a clear winter sky. It was so funky you forgot you were at an historic event.
Then, whoops, Dylan appears out of nowhere! And by his reaction, it’s even a surprise to Clinton. He wasn’t even rumored. You can see Bill on the giant screen just bopping in his seat like a little kid, and he’s hitting Al Gore, going, “Hey Al! Right on! It’s Bob! Haw-haw. Did you set this up?! Pi-i-i-ig whiskers!” And Dylan’s up there massacring “Chimes Of Freedom.” Brilliant song choice, Bob. Too bad no one could understand a fucking word you mumbled. The screens that were showing the large text print of what was being said/sang, started scrolling ahead, and then back, trying line up some syllable they could identify.
Jack. Aretha. Dylan. These are the artists that the President of the United States identifies with!? Jack “Here’s Johnny” Nicholson? Aretha? The touring soul goddess of love? Dylan? The poet laureate of the music of revolution? The guy didn’t even show up at Woodstock, and here he is inaugurating a President? You think the times have changed? I mean, is this possible? I don’t think so..
What Were Once Motifs Are Now Symbols, to update the Doobies. Saxophones — and shades. Okay, who wears sunglasses? Hip people, right? “Symbol of,” anyway. And where did that come from? The ’50s Beats — used to cover up stoned red eyes. “Originally employed as a drug aid — now handy as a presidential metaphor.”
And the saxophone. Not the clarinet. Not the bass. Not the grand piano. The guy has to wail on the saxophone — Charlie Parker’s engine. The rock horn. The horn that was too wild for big band jazz. The human soul pipe.
Let’s review: The sax. Shades. Jack. Aretha. Dylan.
Open discussion question: What type of person has these five things on the back of their baseball card?
Then out on The Mall, there’s two days of open tent free concerts featuring Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead and thousands of twirling Deadheads at the foot of the Capital building. Then, Los Lobos. Little Feat. Michelle Shocked. All officially invited mind you — playing on the Great Field of America, surrounded by Smithsonian museums, and literally in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Wynton Marsalis. Robert Cray. McCoy Tyner. Four on-going sound stages. For two days, besides the Lincoln concert. Taj Mahal. Linda Ronstadt. Blues Traveler. Food stands from 50 states. It was Folklorama, Yankee style. And these are the official functions.
Back in the alleys of D.C. lay copious dens of iniquity and schmoozing that were churning in overdrive. Refurbished warehouses, old banks turned into decadent lounges, TV screens everywhere, CNN, C-SPAN, open bars, here a schmooze, there a schmooze, everywhere the camera’s snap.
It’s out of control, of course, but there’s 12 years of pent-up frustration just bursting to get out. Or maybe it’s 30 years, or longer. The children of the Ozzie and Eisenhower Conformity Generation, who briefly blossomed during Kennedy’s spring of freedom, have finally grasped the reigns of power they had only dreamt of in the adolescence of the sixties.
The psychological spirit of America was born in 1945. That second world war victory established them as a true empire, greater than the old ones of Europe who were unable to curtail their own cancer within.
It was awoken by a splash of Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionist painting, trumpeted by Charlie Parker’s be-bop musical revolution, and its journey narrated by Jack Kerouac singing Whitman’s song in the modern age. The young nation flowered, dreaming in the immensity of it. It was the Age of Aquarius. The Summer of Love. The Woodstock Nation.
But as a few of its heroes dropped, the optimism of youth disintegrated into cocaine-dosed debauchery of the ’70s. The country got sucked into the great temptation pit, like Adam, Achilles, Macbeth and Milkin. “Make me Big. Bigger.” Schwarzenegger. Schwarzkopf. “Bigger, Bigger. Kill. Kill.” Transfixed by its own muscles and glued to the mirror, it belched, “I love myself.”
America has rounded the corner of middle age, and put away its childish things. The hopeful intentions of the songs sung from the stage of Woodstock in 1969 were echoed from the stage of the Lincoln Memorial in 1993. America came home from the wars last year, and found that her family had split up while she was off becoming champion of the world.
A country rooted in Jefferson, Lincoln, Whitman and Thoreau, had somehow degenerated into Nixon, Quayle, Trump and Tyson. Not even America liked what it saw. So it changed. No matter how dramatic and funky and symbolic this Aquarian Coronation was, it’s only a reflection of a much bigger change that’s taken place in the mind and body of America.
For more writing like this — check out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.
For the tale of Obama’s first Inauguration, check this out.
Or here’s where Woodstock inventor/promoter Michael Lang quoted me about the Inauguration in his memoir about creating the legendary concert.
Or here’s Obama’s election night in Manhattan — the greatest party there ever was in that town.
Or here’s the story of a wild altercation between me, Howard Dean, Al Franken and a heckler on the 2004 campaign trail.
Or here’s a piece I wrote a long time ago that addresses the recent Repugnant anti-immigrant hate-speech — Great Americans Not Born In America.
Or for another story with Bob Dylan in the middle of it — check out The Day I Heard The Tambourine Man.
Or here’s one of his Bobness showing up at the Bruce Springsteen concert at Shea Stadium.
Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
David Amram, Jami Cassady, Al Hinkle holding the book,
Levi Asher and the author after the Cassady Family panel
at the Beat Shindig in San Francisco
This is an excellent book about Uncle Jack, and also a heartfelt outpouring of love for Mom and Dad, and the Grateful Dead, too. I just got done reading the section about mom. Very touching — made me miss her. Thank you for writing this.
Neal & Carolyn’s youngest daughter, and “Jack’s favorite”
Brian Hassett… Your book rocks. I read it in spurts so everything has a chance to sink in … it really is good, you know!!!!
I am lovin’ it … it’s written to hold a reader’s attention. Thank You.
And p.s. You were quite popular during the conversations at the Prankster reunion!!
Anonymous (original Merry Prankster)
Mountain Girl — just after she’d been given the book
by Jami Cassady at the Prankster reunion
If you have read Kerouac, and are interested in his life and work, and the movement he and his friends inspired, and the effect it has had on our lives since, I suggest reading Brian’s fine book. If you have not read Kerouac, I suggest you do so.
George Walker, premier Merry Prankster, and the guy who prolly put in more miles on the road with Neal Cassady than anybody else
A tremendous author. The writing in this book is fantastic. This is a phenomenal work. If you’re wanting to expand your consciousness and you’re trying to become more enlightened, I can’t recommend a better book.
Jake Feinberg – Powertalk 1210 AM
Wow what a book!
This past June I took a copy of author Brian Hassett’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” for a three month road trip with Brian and his cast of characters. By starting at the start of summer I knew I’d have time to enjoy it at a leisurely pace, and I kept the book in my knapsack for three months. Many had spoken of the work with praise so I knew I was in for a bit of a ride.
I found myself savoring it like a comic book when I was a kid — saving the reading of it for when the time was best, because it was that special.
For anyone who’s into the Beats, Bohemia and all things hip — this is a must-read. With the energy of youth, Hassett has gone on the road to enlightenment and cool. Basically, a book about a literary conference in 1982 has morphed into a commentary of who we are now and how we got here.
With thirty years to reflect on the experience, the author has composed a road-wise and all-encompassing picture of that trip along with a wealth of archival information on the Beats, the hippies of San Fran that grew out of them, and the culture they catalyzed.
His chapters can be read individually, and that’s how I chose to experience it. I had to lay the book aside a number of times because the insights provided sent me on tangents that took days or weeks to explore and absorb. If I look at my google search history it will follow this book like a sub-map. I was under the surface like a fiend, looking up every little thing and nuance of interest to me.
One great example was the chapter and sections on the Grateful Dead, whose Farewell concerts occurred as I was reading the book. I could segue for a week in any direction before returning, including reading, listening to music, absorbing documentaries, and watching the most-watched Pay-Per-View concert of all time with millions of others, while the author was in Chicago saying Farewell from right in front of the stage. Then I would come back, ready for another hit.
And the hits kept coming. Subject matter ranges from synchronicity — a concept that this book has rekindled in me — to the final chapter-in-verse that Jack would have dug the most. In between, it’s a sensitive, deep and educated look at the Beats and the culture they spawned, by a true scholar.
The whole Meeting Your Heroes thing is so real — especially with Holmes and Huncke. I’ve always thought of them as being warm people, and this vividly confirmed that. By the time he takes us to the Chautauqua Lodge porch I’d lost track of time and felt the stories were current. I found myself thinking in the present of 1982, as the writer must have while writing the book.
Then there’s the San Francisco adventure that sounds like it’s told by the long lost son of Bill Graham, the lover of the hip, the hippies and the hippest. There’s City Lights bookstore where I took my ten-year-old son and had a similar experience in that shrine. Then the historical reverence of Vesuvio’s, and that alley in between where so many giants of the counterculture roamed.
It is fitting that it closes with the chapter Song of The Road I Sing. Storytelling poetry. It’s a style all its own — sort-of classical rap — tasteful words with meaning, chosen wisely, wistfully and willfully — all with a Beat — the words strokes on the canvas of the mind’s eye.
For the finish — the “Dessert” — the chef in me loved that way of describing not an Appendix but a digestive. Something to help you process what has been consumed. Scotch, Cognac, Brandy …… Books, Films, Where Are They Now ….
All of these final tidbits helped this hitchhiker find the next road. Just the five documentaries shot there are going to keep me busy for some time. It provides an excellent path from the book to many other interesting places.
The whole thing is both an easygoing guide for the uninitiated, and a rich text of new insight for long-timers.
For a writer to take on the title “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” requires some bravado when it comes to guiding us to the true king of the Beats and the Road. And the goods are delivered. Hassett has the credentials and the balls for the task. The author has fully researched and archived the works of Kerouac in a way that informs and excites the reader to open other books, see other videos and truly appreciate the blossoming of the Beats that has occurred since this gathering happened.
Probably most refreshing is Hassett’s choice of grammar, syntax and structure. He plays the words and versing to create art which can’t escape from getting laughs and “oh wow’s” along the way. From the first paragraph riffing on Kesey’s work to the last paragraph of poetic prose — playing with words and touching the soul at the same time — this book is a creative force to behold.
Good art can stand on its own, just by the rite of its own beauty. This work goes beyond that. It inspired me to hit the road, to connect with my heroes, and to open new doors. Great art — like this — can do that.
John Allen Cassady — photo by author on one of their adventures
cited in the book
I just finished from first to last page of your Hitchhiker’s Guide. It’s a remarkable tale of getting yourself going to goneward. Made me laugh, and overstand your estimations of the so manys I’ve known, crossed paths with, smoked and drank and listened to or reasoned with and agreed or dis on who or what they are-were. Some of I wished was there and others not, but you was, and that counts on the real when-then.
Very glad you got it in print and I have it in hand.
Poet and multi-media artist, who did NOT lose the Joan Anderson letter
Loved Brian’s new book “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac“ — a Kerouacian account of his experiences attending the On the Road Conference in Boulder in 1982. It’s a mighty river of reminiscence, taking the reader along like Huck and Jim on a raft down the Mississippi of his mind.
How did you do it, Brian? I know you’ve always been a notebook jotter, like Kerouac, and you had your cassette tapes and all the subsequent published records — but still, after thirty years to plunge us willy-nilly into these vivid moments of that distant time stream!
We are there! We live this immersion in history-in-the-making, this turbulent Gulf Stream of personalities that live on the page: that first encounter with Ginsberg on the stairs; Kesey in freeze motion; that stroll with McClure; that actor you bump into in Vesuvio’s in San Francisco ….
Everyone is a soulmate on the same journey — this heartfelt hitchhike we call life.
I especially liked his own rich thumbed journey across this massive country, and his magnificent rendering of a Grateful Dead concert.
This is the book Brian was born to write. It has all the color and verve and excitement and passion and wonder of a young kid discovering life, told in the hushed innocent voice of that young kid.
When Brian and I huddled over a pitcher of golden beer in the Grassroots Tavern on St. Mark’s Place thirty years ago, not long after he had had these experiences, I had no idea what an epic lay dormant in the convolutions of his brain!
It’s all fireworks, my lad, all fireworks to the last sparkler.
Prof. Carl Patrick
More than a writer, you are a worldwise, lifewise storyteller of the highest order. The Hitchhiker’s Guide rocks with diamond halos, and rolls with musical glee. A Beat bridge between then and now, and now and then. You are indisputably a genuine part of Beat history my friend. You carry the torch forward and see to it that it burns brightly. A living link. Honored to be on the road with you; mad to write, mad to live. We read your book, and everyone goes awwwwww ….
Beat Poet Laureate and Senior Raconteur of Los Angeles
This is great writing! You really captured it. We musta crossed paths somewhere during the conference. I love the two days of Dead tripping — then waking up and realizing you were running the projector for Kesey and Babbs. Really funny and good. I enjoyed the hell out of the whole trip, in fact. There are no slow songs. And the road poem as the coda really worked for me. Great job.
Poet Laureate, Mendocino County
Another Prankster gets his wings. I mean, his book.
Cap’n Babbs, with Denise “Mary Microgram” Kaufman and Roy Seybern.
Brian is the horse of a different color you’ve heard so much about!
The Wizard of Wonder
You are one of those very unique people in this world who is truly “free,” not held back by all the many restraints and pressures most of us endure.
Your take on this event is authentic with that wonderful sense of humor and insights. This is a real treat and a true education.
Deanna Waters, actress and teacher
Brian, I am loving the book! It is bringing back memories of the event, and it’s almost like being back there.
I’ve described Allen exactly like you have! It’s weird! If it hadn’t been for him, the Beat movement would have been much less significant than it is.
The bit about Trungpa is exactly as I remember it. He was drunk out of his mind and I don’t recall him ever showing up on campus again, although I did see Allen ministering to him over at the Naropa building on Pearl Street.
Anyway, just wanted to let you know how much I love the book! You did a great job!
Lance Gurwell, photographer, Boulder ’82
What does “Beat Generation” mean today, 60 years after Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder & Michael McClure rocked a San Francisco crowd with a world-changing poetry reading, and 46 years after Jack Kerouac’s wan and befuddled death in St. Petersburg, Florida?
All I know is that the the legacy of Beat literature feels like a continuum. Many young people are still drawn to the legacy today, not because it belongs to the past but because this particular past is still connected to our present and our future. There was a low-point when Beat literature seemed cold and dead during Reagan’s ’80s — yet it was during those very years that I first wandered curiously into a midtown Manhattan auditorium to hear Allen Ginsberg read and sing some poems. It was a knockout performance (for a tiny crowd).
Brian Hassett’s rollicking, delightful memoir The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac takes us back to those lost years of the 1980s — 1982 to be precise — when the hippie movement was replaced by disco and new wave, and we were all supposed to get excited about stock market booms and MTV. The author, a 21-year old former junior roadie for the Rolling Stones and Yes who is looking for his life’s next turn, wanders into a bookstore and spots a poster promoting a “Jack Kerouac Conference” in Boulder, Colorado. He heads in that direction, and that’s what this book is about.
Hassett showed me an early draft of this book, and I’m extremely proud to have been one of the first to say to him, “Hey, Brian, this book really works.” The challenge of a road trip memoir is to capture the elation of an unpredictable adventure in all its raw ecstasy, and Hassett pulls this off with humor, honest emotion, and bursts of wonky literary information. It happened that the Jack Kerouac Conference he wandered towards was an absolutely epic gathering, allowing his book to tell stories about William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Jan Kerouac, Diane DiPrima, Ken Kesey, Abbie Hoffman, Paul Krassner and (playing some concerts at nearby Red Rocks) the Grateful Dead.
The conclusion after all these people and all these events is — the inspiration is still all around us, still inside us, always evolving, always alive.
Levi Asher — LitKicks
At the Shindig at The Beat Museum in San Francisco.
It was with great anticipation and pounding heart that I tore open the latest shipment from state side, knowing my copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac was in the box of boat parts and other wonders sent from America. I am sitting on my boat, Furthur, named after the magic bus, cruising in the Philippines. I have been “on the road … or seas” for the last six years.
As I blasted through the pages I was transported to the times and events that shaped my life — putting me where I am today. That long strange trip was spawned from my older cousin passing On the Road and the Dharma Bums to me when I was fourteen years old.
Now reading the account of the famed conference — the players in the genesis, the primal ooze of our culture — rang a bell in my old hippie soul.
Reading this was akin to reading a firsthand account of the Last Supper or the writing of the U.S. Constitution. The account transcended history and moved into the realm of the sacred. This was the wellspring of life, the source.
Brian captures not only the events but also the writing style and the linguistic twists and jumps of the Beat authors he is witness to. This is not an accounting made by a nonpartisan observer. Brian is a believer, a squire immersed in awe and reverence. He did his homework and journalistic duty all while being awe struck. That is not an easy task, but he got the job done, and done in a way that pays homage to the greats.
Capt. Brian Calvert, M/V Furthur
Anything you heard good about Brian’s book.
It’s a masterpiece.
And I don’t like much.
For example, I hate the Grateful Dead.
Have to quote Kerouac.
Crazy Madcap Saint of the Mind.
— TKG – LitKicks.
In the summer of 1978, I made a Jack Kerouac-like trip across the U.S. and back, even spending a few days in the mountain town of Boulder, Colorado. I only mention this, because just four short years after my visit, it played host to a remarkable event — a 25th anniversary conference cum festival celebrating the publication of Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road, a get-together I would truly have loved to attend.
This magnificent birthday bash attracted virtually all of the Beat Generation writers (only Gary Snyder of the surviving inner circle failed to make the bill) and also drew a much younger admirer, an aspiring penman by the name of Brian Hassett, a hyper-energetic college kid with an impressive track record as an organizer of live events and even as a manager of rock tours, who found out about the Boulder hoedown and immediately offered his services as a general runaround for those trying to make the occasion run smoothly.
His offer of assistance accepted, Hassett spent the next couple weeks rubbing shoulders with his literary and musical heroes, for the Grateful Dead not only provided financial backing for the celebration but also played gigs close by during the event.
The junior Hassett gathered enough experiences, garnered enough adventures, to turn it into a book and, an extraordinary 30 years later, he has finally pulled together all his memories, all his interviews, all his encounters, from that remarkable time to produce an account that vividly recaptures a golden moment in the Kerouac chronology.
Written with a frenetic pace and utter passion, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Jack Kerouac, is a Beat-inspired odyssey, its words, its sentences, its paragraphs, a rolling cascade of highway incidents, late-night conversations, offbeat meditations, woven together in a quite intoxicating mix, as Hassett heads out from his homeland of Canada for the American West following his heroes Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, the fictional figureheads of Kerouac’s greatest novel, by sticking out his thumb and absorbing every moment of the rollercoaster that follows, whether meeting strangers who give him a ride from state to state or the poetic stars – Ginsberg, Kesey, Corso, Burroughs and many others – who are the headliners at the countercultural convocation.
If you haven’t read a book by Kerouac or the hip penslingers who were his friends in the 1950s, why not start by picking up Brian Hassett’s picaresque jamboree to give you a unique flavour of the Beat scene?
If you have read Kerouac, then this Hitchhiker’s Guide will give you a fresh and furious, flip and funny, feisty yet always philosophical take on why that late novelist still counts and why Boulder in 1982 was such a blockbusting, book-minded buzz, a beatific blast that put Jack and his extraordinary legacy back on the map.
Simon Warner, author of “Text, Drugs and Rock & Roll”
Just about read your whole Hitchhiker’s Guide To Jack Kerouac in one SWELL FOOP!
Writ on a roll, heavy on the details, light as a feather in joy, deep in your voice, poetry in motion.
Bravo my frang!
Jason Eisenberg, Lord Buckley channel
Brian Hassett is the Dan Brown of the Beats! With this new book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” he takes us back to the Beat Round Table in 1982, capturing the time when the most Beat Knights and Maidens would congregate around the legend of Jack Kerouac.
He painstakingly lays out for us the Beat Rose Line, or should I say the Road Line (Beat Royale), that long yellow stripe that cuts across the North American Continent. In the United States we can trace this evolution back to at least the transcendentalist of Emerson and Thoreau. Brian takes us along on his own personal grail quest, the treasure hunt for the Beat Code where we find Neal Cassady as the American Jesus Zen man, Carolyn Cassady as Mary Magdalene, the disciples of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Huncke, Kesey, Burroughs and Corso. This Road Line continues when Excalibur is passed on to the Grateful Dead, Dylan, the Merry Pranksters, Deadheads and the many other descendants.
My first Dead show was in 1984 and unfortunately I didn’t get to the Beats until much later. However, I always had a tacit understanding that I was traveling along a road made up of much more. This road is our personal mythology, the vibrant infrastructure that informs our life whether we are aware of it or not.
Brian has helped me become aware of my personal collective origins. When I walked into Warby Parker for the Beatnik Shindig pre-party on Hayes Street in San Francisco, I half drunkenly pointed a knowing finger at Brian and he flashed back a quizzical “Don’t I know you?” smile. We didn’t know each other but at that moment we did.
“There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “History,” 1841
Philip E. Thomas
Horst Spandler, Germany’s foremost Beat scholar.
Your book has been on the road with me around Denmark and Italy, and we’re travelling together to the Canary Islands next week.
WOW… what a wild ride!
I just finished this book, and it far exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed it immensely, and it is now etched in stone as a part of Beat scholarship.
There are only a handful of people with Beat and Prankster cred walking around, and Brian Hassett is one of them.
This book, like the trip it describes, just keeps getting better and better as it rolls along through the American counter-culture mindscape. Hassett takes us on a wonderful, easy drive that puts the reader in the shotgun seat of a slew of hitchhiking adventures, and backstage at the very important 1982 Kerouac conference in Boulder Colorado, then lets the reader unwind with him at the homes of Ken Kesey and Ken Babbs, two icons whom Hassett, like Kerouac, finds and paints the inner beauty and human side of. Bravo to the author for realizing the importance of these events and recording them, and then taking his time to embroider it into a beautiful tapestry when the time was right.
With the book on a scroll in Brianland
This book was amazing!!! Brian better keep writing because I’ll sure keep reading!!!! He has an amazing way of telling this adventure story while teaching you so much about the Beats and the hippies!!!
This book makes you want to get out there and meet people, meet your heroes, get On The Road and keep going Furthur!!! I will be reading this book again and again!!! Keep them coming Brian!! I love your style!!!
A brilliant read, brother. Jack would have been mighty proud of the influence he had on you.
From one Beat to another — you completely understand what they were all about and why it is still very important today. Without the Beats we would not be who we are today. Keep writing, please!!!
A fun ride that’s well worth the trip!
Holy smokes – what a ride! Reading Brian’s book is like reading a modern day Alice In Wonderland. Not only does it explore the Jack Kerouac Conference in Boulder, but it also explores the culture of the Beats and the hippies, and if one doesn’t know of the connection and the extent of the influences, this book is a great way of seeing how it’s all connected.
How — as Brian puts it in quite lovely fashion — it is one massive family, spanning generations. I thought I was caught up on that schooling, but I still had to have my pen out, writing names and titles down from time to time.
The language of the book reflects this culture — there’s references of lyrics borrowed from familiar artists that get you (me) nodding your head smiling, and it flows with the theme and the reader’s pace. The language is friendly, excited and fun.
Reading it is similar to Brian sitting beside you, beer in hand and verbally explaining his adventure to you. Kerouac would have loved such a form of telling and so would many of the other Beats as well. But this book is for more than fans of the Beats — there’s a lot here for fans of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, to the The Grateful Dead, to the wonderful art of hitchhiking.
But to me, an aspect I truly enjoyed of the book was Brian’s own observations from his experiences. He has added his own perspective, experience and personality to an already library full of works, and he fits in with all of them. This book can also stand on its own, of course, as a tale about a dedicated fan who got to get up close and work with his heroes. This special opportunity is rare, especially with someone who can acutely describe the experience and the knowledge gained in such simple yet mind-blowing fashion.
So sit back, open the book to page one and go along for the ride, like a hitchhiker with a thumb in the air and a big wide smile and hair against the wild wind.
with Furthur’s John Kadlecik at Bear’s Picnic
My fellow Pranksters — There is a must read book out there — Brian Hassett‘s Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac. I’m marginally well read when it comes to the loosely defined “Beat” genre, but after reading this book I am more enlightened to this art form. I thoroughly enjoyed it (and am reading it again).
The book is really well structured. Brian encapsulates the personalities and character of the authors he was able hang out with and interview during a once-in-a-lifetime gathering for a Kerouac writers conference in 1980’s Boulder, CO. Please get yourself a copy!
Everyone “On the Bus” or “On the Road” needs to read this book.
It brings to life so many of the characters that helped create our counter culture, and reads like an enthusiastic road trip through the heart of Beat literature with a side trip to a Grateful Dead concert!
After reading this great book, it continues to pop up in thought. Much like “On The Road” did back in the day. I felt like I took that journey with you. You are the real deal, Brian, as a writer and a person. You conveyed that in your book beautifully … now I tell everyone I know to buy your book and rekindle the love of Beats and fine writers.
I finished your book an hour ago and am still trippin’. I do sound and stage manage shows and would love to include your most excellent voice. You really light it up.
Well, why shouldn’t Brian Hassett’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac [The Adventure of the Boulder ’82 On The Road Conference — Finding Kerouac, Kesey and The Grateful Dead Alive & Rockin’ in the Rockies; introduction by John Allen Cassady; published by Get Things Done Publishing, USA, 2015] read like a breathless telephone call or letter, a cassette-tape transcription, an inventory, itinerary, annotated bibliography, since it’s all of these — a fifty-four-year-old catching up on his own twenty-one-year-old’s [on-the-] road trip, a teen & twenty out of rock ‘n roll, and his reader, such as I am here on the cusp of seventy, happily hooked on the spirals of my own life story, and always knew it as story, even my first pages from 1963 of manuscript so grateful I haven’t lost entitled JOURNEY as ‘writing’ seemed to transcend ‘autobiography’ — thus my fellow-feeling for the young guy, Brian Hassett, forever younger, unembarrassed by the notion of heroes & hero worship, the Beats his hearth gods & goddesses, his pantheon, thus another way into history, what I call intersections —
utterly at home with his thinking aloud, reportage, fast & free, as I cant or won’t let myself completely be, devoted to British English’s musicality, both street talk & literature, its textured ear, the more so as it collides with one’s parallel love, the American colloquial, particularly the post-literary, the journalistic, the epistolary & journal-ism — except that I conjure a ‘literary’ which swallows it all, spitting it out, compelled to truth, thus clarity however close to blurting’s effluvium, adjacent to effulgence, humorous, true however knowingly comic, without spoiling or obscuring the candid, naked, generous moment!
B.H. of Vancouver, teenage veteran of touring with Yes, The Rolling Stones, Cheap Trick etc, gets himself a gig back in ’82 with the staging of the first Jack Kerouac Conference — could say, gets the gig for the rest of his life. Of course he’s already a reader — Ken Kesey one of his stars, & Kerouac . . .
Hilarious story of the frustrations of trying to find a copy of On The Road to inspire his girlfriend’s sister, finally locating it at a store which has — “this giant [Kerouac conference] poster on the wall and there in large print — ‘KEN KESEY’ And in tiny print at the bottom — ‘partially funded by The Grateful Dead.’ !!! Right away I got on the phone before I got On The Road. The conference cost about $200 or something, which is like two million today, so I told them I was a show person and could help them stage it from a production standpoint, and the coordinator said, ‘Yeah, we could use you. Come on down.'”
Having hitchhiked from Canada to Colorado — and how familiar his description is to anyone who’s stuck out a thumb, hoping, praying, cursing — though he’s the lucky one, scoring rides with like-minded drivers — and upon arriving he falls among friends, Kit & Arthur Knight for example, lends his ear to J.C. Holmes, Michael McClure, Herbert Huncke et al, clicks with one & all, and immediately starts scribbling in his own, let’s say it, holy notebooks, which were lost or hidden or unattended for all the years until the day in 2013 when he sat down to write a remembrance of the conference, which grew like Topsy —
listed in the book as Some of the ingredients in the kitchen, to wit, “Two different road notebooks from the trip; three hitchhiking logs; typed post-trip Log Notes; multiple cassette recordings made at the conference and on the road/; an inch-thick folder of papers from the conference including schedules and newspaper clippings and to-do lists; other Beat folders full of gems; my 1982 datebook; my Grateful Dead set lists and show notes; photo albums; Cliff Miller’s photos and memories; letters and postcards home; letters to friends during and after it; recent conversations and emails with fellow attendees.”
Welcome to the Fan-ily! A comment from Neal & Carolyn’s son John Cassady says it all: “For some reason, Brian ended up in the middle of our family, and we were never sure why, but maybe he reminded us of someone who was always part of it.” And the fan from NYU & rock & roll promotion, who aggregates the intel, surrogate chronicler, quasi historian — fan as devotee, implicitly democratic therefore as to how & where his interest falls, affectionate to main & bit players equally — undergrowth as fascinating & instructive as the grand stand, the nub of local history, indeed the invigorating factor of history per se, the proximity that makes it bearable, demystified because tangible, present.
Kris Hemensley – Collected Works Bookshop, Australia
with Dead keyboardist Jeff Chimenti
As much as I have written about and read Kerouac, I had not at all connected him to the Dead, so I have that big revelation for which to thank you!! (“long backseat nap in the sky” a great phrase, by the way)
I had great fun reading this. Your style is perfect for the telling of the tale; great imagery, colorful and engaging… Took me there… and I wish I had been!
Your word choices were aswirl with the energy and real zeal of the tale, and you really do have a great tale to tell and your voice is perfect for it!
It was nothing less than revelatory for me to think of the connection between Jack and the Dead … of course, I’ve seen films and read about Cassady driving Furthur … but I just somehow never thought of Kerouac as part of the scene … him being so ill and anti-hippie (in that long, rambling awful interview from the Wm. F. Buckley show, which I know you’ve seen) … but your wit and your language surely did captivate and win me over. Keep on truckin!
Definitely born to be “on the bus,” so hope Weir keeps driving it Furthur!!! Like many others, I’m betting, I must be a Deadhead who just doesn’t know it yet…
It felt like I was whisked away to the actual event! This is all written so clearly and participatively (is that a word?!) that’s how I read it so quickly — it felt so much like I was there that I couldn’t close the book ….
The Kansas Kid
I was there in ’82. What a trip! Thanks for taking us back. I love that you have the gift to keep the history of these things alive. … an ancient tradition.
Andrew Endre Szanto
Swapping tales of the book with Paul Kantner at Caffe Trieste in S.F.
Man I’m sitting hear wiping a tear away from my cheek as I just finished your book. Your voice is soft and clear. Truly wonderful. I enjoyed the ride all the way. I feel dizzy. So much of myself in there (which I am sure you have heard from others), including my dreams. I feel such an affinity with you, my brother.
Beatitudes — your book says it like it is . . . so smoothly.
Philippo the Mexican artist
Just finished Brian Hassett‘s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.” Loved it! Left me agog.
This book is great stuff for a Beat addict. Thank you for sharing your memories!
Born in 1964, in a small town in Belgium, I sadly missed the Beat Generation decade and the sixties. Neal drove the bus “furthur” into NY two days before I was born. When I was 5 years old, a “Belgian Woodstock” took place 7 miles from our home (Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa & Gong among the artists) …
Back then, in 1982, at the time of the “Boulder ’82 On The Road Conference,” I was 19 years old (about the same age and as the handsome boy on the cover). I read a translation of Howl from the local library (by Simon Vinkenoog, the Dutch translator and friend of Ginsberg) and bought Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. So that was a pretty good start for mind travel. Could have been worse.
The interest in the Beats never waned, but slumbered. A few years ago, the sparks became a raging fire. So I read everything I could find about them.
Until this book appeared, I was more or less ignorant of the “Woodstock of the Beats” that took place in Boulder. No doubt about it — this author was very happy to meet all those Beat heroes. Luckily, he has a great heart and wanted to share it all with us.
What you find is a treasure of facts, anecdotes, and passionate stories.
Well documented and accurate (the dialogues came right down from tapes he recorded) and written in the frantic spontaneous prose Beat style.
Read all about them — all those great beat figures, the Grateful Dead, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, side stories about Van Morrison or Alan Watts . . . The Beat Generation decade and the sixties come alive again.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” is great stuff for a Beat Generation addict such as myself, and a must-read for everyone who wants to know more about Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation. Beware: after reading, “a Beat addiction” may not be far away!
Johan Deruyck with the book in Belgium
This book really changed my outlook on the Beat Generation and how much they have affected our scene today. After reading it I became a Beat freak. Brian really opened my eyes to all they did. Thanks for this!!! Much Love!!!!
I absolutely love this book! The author certainly lived the life many of us wish we had led.
I’ve been a huge fan of Kerouac’s since 1960. Reading Brian’s book was a special treat for me, as it would be for any lover of the Beats, Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Ken Kesey. And to think Brian actually was a friend of Kesey’s, knew Ginsberg, Burroughs, and most of the Beats, and has a background soaked in the culture that helped give the U.S. its soul at a time when we needed it most. Without any hesitation, I recommend Brian’s wonderful book! Heartfelt, humorous, and enlightening — it’s a complete winner!
“You know our love will not fade away” — what a grand finale last night in Chicago! During the intermissions of the simulcast I read your book with Grateful Dead music in the background.
Oh man! You’re not a good writer …. you’re a GREAT writer — and you made me feel like I was in the car with you during your hitchhiking adventure!! Bravo amigo, bravo!!
Jami Cassady recommended I check out your book after I told her I had been underwhelmed by the last few Dead/Kerouac books I’d read. I thumbed through yours and read a few passages and was pretty sure it would be better .…
Which, of course, it is! Great job! I thoroughly enjoyed it — really cool stories and memorable word-for-word discussions, and just fun to read. And I totally appreciate the constant weaving of Kerouac and Dead allusions and quotes into the writing, like a jammin’ musician. It all comes off like someone writing from a seat on the bus ….
Props to you on a life well-lived … and still going furthur, of course…!
Reading the comments in the beginning I’m starting to trust myself because so many of these are things I’ve said to you already ….
Lovin it so far … just Great!!! The way it reads is perfect for the “non-reader.”
Thanks, Mr. B.
Love the writing style — takes me back to the psychedelic days. Lots of colors, patterns, rhythms.
If you like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, The Grateful Dead, etc. this book is a must-read. Brian’s writing takes you on the journey — it feels as though you are listening to a once-in-a-lifetime adventure from a dear friend that is visiting. Kudos to this amazing Beat writer.
Mary Jo Hicks-Sullivan
I want to be you when I grow up.
For more check out this first round of Hitchhiker’s reactions!
Or here’s some excerpts if you wanna take the ride . . .
Meeting Your Heroes 101 — Allen, Gregory, Holmes, Burroughs & Huncke
Who all was there … of which John Clellon Holmes said, “More of us were together than had ever been in one place at one time before.” And it never happened again.
My best pal and my best gal — Edie Parker and Henri Cru, with Allen Ginsberg sandwiched in the middle.
Meeting Ken Kesey for the first time.
Arriving at The Grateful Dead shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre during the summit in ’82.
Or here’s a bunch of performance videos of various excerpts, and some great radio interviews.
Or here’s where you can buy prints of the best photos taken at the Jack Summit, including some seen in my book — from the Lance Gurwell Collection.
Here’s where you can get the guaranteed latest version direct from the publisher (also where the author gets the highest royalties )
Here’s where you can get the book in the U.S.
or in Canada
or in the U.K.
or in Germany
Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Grateful Dead·Jack Kerouac·The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac
Here’s some video from various “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” appearances . . .
The first time the book appeared on stage —
at The Pranksters in Wonderland — Saturday, May 2nd, 2015 —
The “meeting the original Bus” scene . . .
“A Song of The Road I Sing” —
at Pranksters In Wonderland — Sunday, May 3rd, 2015 —
with Jojo Stella — video by Jeremy Hogan
The Professor In The Park scene —
at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac — Saturday, October 10th, 2015 —
with The LCK All-Stars at The Worthen — the oldest tavern in Lowell
The same Professor In The Park scene —
at Jack’s gravesite the day before —
October 9th, 2015 — Lowell, MA — video by Philip Thomas
“This was the Super Bowl of the Beats — and the Grateful Dead were playing the half-time show.”
Here’s the Dead at Red Rocks scene — in a Red Room and ad hoc improvised in chaos like an Acid Test with a rock band.
with The Mark T Band at the Crimson Room in Toronto, and special guest Raina — Oct 23rd & Nov 13th, 2015.
And here’s the excerpt from the book that sets up that Grateful Dead Red Rocks performance in ’82.
And here’s a killer, wild-ranging radio interview with Jake Feinberg — Saturday, Nov. 14th, 2015 — the day after the above performance … and the host opens raving about that very Dead show!
Or here’s some Jack himself . . .
The “San Francisco epiphany” part of On The Road —
with Kerouac’s principal musical collaborator David Amram —
at Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! — Sunday, October 11th, 2015 —
Or here’s a pretty in-the-zone version of the “Hearing Shearing” part of On The Road with the Still Hand String Band — wildally improvised an hour after I arrived on Friday night at Bear’s Picnic in PA, August 7th, 2015 — video by Prankster Ollie
Or here’s a riffing story-telling tribute to Carolyn Cassady that seemed to come out pretty well . . .
Or here’s a crazy moment — first time I ever stepped on stage with The Mark T Band — at the Crimson Room in Toronto — doing Jerry Garcia’s tribute to Kerouac —> Jack’s “Hearing Shearing” from On The Road — August 21st, 2015 — video by Trevor Cape
Coming soon . . .
The Beat Shindig in San Francisco —
The largest gathering of the Beats in 20 years — put on by The Beat Museum —
June 28th, 2015
Lone Star Dead Radio interview with Eric Schwartz —
on the air since 1983 — the longest continually-running Grateful Dead radio show in the world —
aired live June 12th, 2015
(The Beat Shindig in S.F., photo by Jim Musselman)
For a more complete collection of various Brian videos, go here.
For reactions to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac, check this out.
Or here’s a ton more of the raves that came in from all over the world.
For an excerpt — check out the Meeting Your Heroes part here.
Or here’s some background on exactly who all was there.
Or here’s another except — about Edie Kerouac Parker and Henri Cru.
You can order a copy of the book here or here or here or here.
Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Jack Kerouac·Jerry Garcia·Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!·Mark T Band·The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac
“It’s Alright. He’s Kerouac.”
I’m currently sitting in the dark in Kerouac Park writing what just happened . . .
I came to Jack’s hometown of Lowell with lots of hopes and anticipation of magic sacred spots and moments. The top dream I’ve always had was getting inside the Pawtucketville Social Club — the very private bar that Jack went to and his dad Leo was a President of for a time.
But I know there’s no Pawtuckin way you’re getting in there. I learned about social clubs living in the Village in Manhattan. There’s a reason they’re private — and that means — Don’t Even Think about Crossing The Threshold.
I never made it over there during JackFest cuz things were always too crazy.
Monday morning I’m debating whether to check out of the hotel or stay one more night. I decide to order one more round. (I think this is actually the key to life. But I digress.)
Then it’s off on a mission to find spots I hadn’t hit during the high time of the fest — and I Neal Cassady the city all afternoon rackin’ off stuff like …
At 4PM the final Bill Walsh / Steve Edington walking tour was supposed to be returning to The Old Worthen, and I stop in there to hang but nobody’s home, so I go hit sumore hotspots — until the continuing Adventure-surfing had me whoosin’ back by the Worthen once more around 5:00 — and sure enough! — there’s Bill, Steve and Rick (who I hadn’t seen since Michael McClure) — the last standing soldiers in the Kerouac Army. Scout Hassett reporting in.
We riff n rap, and I ask ’em for some recon details I hadn’t tracked down yet, including where the Pawtucketville Social Club was. Before they even tell me the location, lifelong Lowellite Bill Walsh makes sure I realize, “NOOOObody gets in there.”
Understood, old boy. After the info and hugs get exchanged, Reverend Steve actively kicks me out of The Worthen Gardens to go work the last hour of daylight.
Boom boom boom — next thing I know I’m parked beside the Social Club — and then across the street taking some shots . . .
As I’m taking them, two guys come out of the propped-open front door and start staring at me. The sidewalks are empty — I’m the only guy in the sunset hood — and they’ve got their eyes on this photographing stranger in a strange land.
I hesitate where I am — I don’t want to get close to these guys — they look scary as shit. One’s a brush-cut muscle-shirt Republican redneck type, and the other guy looks like ZZ Top’s long-lost uncle who’s been living in a cave for the last 50 years — Tom Hanks at the end of Cast Away — like a grizzled Hell’s Angel, but with a Godfather vibe.
I have to cross the street to get back to my car, and they’re staring straight at me, side-by-side like sentries blocking the drawbridge. It’s O.K. Corral time with nobody on the street.
I think, “Fuck it — just go for ’em. Do or die.”
So I cross the road right at ’em — thinking at least through the challenge I can peak over their shoulders into the place. And I draw first. “Hey! I just came by here cuz Jack Kerouac used to hang out here — and I think his dad was the president at one time.”
And they nod slightly and silently in the affirmative, but just keep staring at me like I’m, maybe, a second away from a painful death. So I riff some lifesaving more — “I’m in town for the Kerouac festival . . . always heard about this place . . . it’s like, an historic site . . . “
And somehow through the riffing innocence of experiences they’re not telling me to fuck off. We have a bit of an actual exchange, and after a while, I say (what the hell, they haven’t killed me yet), “Could I possibly just … see inside?”
And the crewcut weight-lifter immediately shakes his big tough head saying with his expression, “No fuckin way, kid.” But ol’ ZZ Top backhand taps him on the bicep and says — “It’s alright. He’s Kerouac.“
I’m never gonna forget that line the rest of my life.
He meant, of course, “The guy’s a Kerouac fan” or some such. But he said — “It’s alright. He’s Kerouac.” 😀
And thus he ushers me across the forbidden threshold . . . into the front just to have a peak. And it’s exactly as I pictured it — an ancient, dark, cluttered, history-stacked bar — like a man-made old-growth forest.
He tells me it’s the second oldest drinking establishment in Lowell after The Old Worthen. And it’s fulla scary ancient people, lemme tell ya! The Four Seasons this ain’t.
And they’re smokin up a storm in there — cuz ya still can in a private club.
And after an appropriate time soaking it in and appreciating what I’m seeing, but not overstaying my welcome, I ask the big question — “Are there pool tables here?”
The second to last film footage in existence of Jack is of him shooting pool here in 1967. It was home-country CBC that came to town doing a show on him and his French-Canadian roots, and as the story goes, they came by this place to get some background footage of his haunts — and Jack was in there shooting pool!!
And Godfather Grizzly goes — “Yeah. It’s in the back,” and points in that dark direction. And then God Bless The Universe — he starts walking there for me to follow!!
We pass through the crazy bar past everyone, who are definitely eyeing me like “Who the fuck is this guy?” But I’m with ol’ ZZ Top so I seem to be not getting shot.
Then he leads me into some dark room . . . and I’m like, “Uh-oh … Pesci in Goodfellas . . .” . . . then — Boom!
— he turns on the lights — and there it is! — Jack’s pool table!
And of course I’m freaking out — but don’t want to totally let on. But I bet I did a little. And I know this place is super private and secret, but I just go for it, what the hell — “Do you think you could take a picture of me here?”
And scary Grizzly Adams goes . . . “Yeah, sure.” (me: ahhhhh!) “Wanna get some balls out and grab a cue to make it look like you’re playin?” (ahhhhh!!)
“Yeah!!” sez I, barely holding on to functionality during this out-of-body-experience. And he starts cupping balls out of the pockets and rollin’ them out on the table. I look for the white cue ball but don’t see it anywhere — and I’m not about to get particular.
And as I hand him my camera, he goes, “I don’t know what this is.” I tell him how it works, and he goes, “Alright . . .” and looks at it some more. . . . Then . . . “Send this to the Kerouac people,” he says as he lifts it up to shoot.
I’m thinkin, don’t push it — don’t ask for more than one. But suddenly he becomes Annie freakin Leibovitz and starts walking around the table — “You want one from here? . . . What if I shoot from the end?”
“Yeah, that’d be fine,” says the radiating adventurer.
And then we just start hangin in the pool room, and I mention how papa Leo was once president, and he says, “Yeah, that’s right. I’m the current president.” Whaaat?!?! And he says his name and sticks out his tanned weathered hand for a shake just as his girlfriend comes in wide-eyed at this complete non-one-of-us suddenly in the inner sanctum. She can’t take her eyes off me — like I’m an alien being . . . talking to her boyfriend like we’re brothers.
I’m quite sure all three of us were freaking in agreeance at how completely weird this was.
And he tells me the whole history of the place — how the pool table is definitely the Brunswick here since the ’50s and the one Jack played on — and how the club was originally just the bar part, and there were a couple other stores that were part of the building, but they gradually bought each part until it was nuthin but them. And how the pool room used to not have a divider but was big enough for two tables — and you could see the other dark pool room through a open window in the new dividing wall. He shows me the giant back room that was built after World War II for the returning veterans. And I’m looking around freaking out at the old Lowell characters, men and women alike, smoking, playing cards, talking, and now not giving me a second glance because apparently the Prez sez I’m okay.
Best extra night in a hotel room I ever spent.
For more on Lowell Celebrates Kerouac 2015, you’ll love the opening day story.
For more on the Boulder ’82 Kerouac SuperSummit check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or here you can check out Who All Was There.
Or to get a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” you can order it here.
For another 2015 Kerouac summit Adventure Tale check out the amazing Beat Shindig story
For a huge online photo album of the event check it out here.
Or here’s a reading of “the San Francisco epiphany” part of On The Road with Kerouac’s principal musical collaborator David Amram from the closing Sunday of LCK 2015 …
Or here’s a crazy impromptu staged reading of part of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” riffed at one of Jack’s old drinking holes, The Old Worthen, as part of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!
by Brian Hassett
Tags: Jack Kerouac·Lowell·Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!·Pawtucketville
Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Adventure 2015
The first time I came to Lowell in 1985 you couldn’t find any indication Jack ever lived here. I asked all around and finally found a bartender who said the only guy in town who knew about him was his old Reverend. The afternoon barkeep even looked up his number in the Lowell phone book for me, and I called him from a payphone and was surprised he sounded just like the French people back home in Canada. He said he couldn’t come out that afternoon to show me around, but gave me a detailed description of how to find Jack’s almost unmarked grave in Edson Cemetery.
Today, not only is there a giant headstone and commemorative parks and parts of libraries named for him and walking tours and festivals, but even the Reverend I was talking to on the phone has got a street named after him!
When I was checking into the Motel 6 on this visit, the woman behind the desk quite proudly said of my room, “You’ve got a view of the pool!”
In some insane world, that I’m coming to learn is Lowell, this is the pool she was referring to:
Mondays with Michael
Gettin’ Things Done in Lowell
First thing, I immediately zip over to the AAA to pick up some local maps — until the young clerk says AAA just stopped making Lowell maps and they can’t get any more. What?!
Then this older woman overhears what we’re talking about and goes, “I think there’s one more left,” and pulls out a drawer, and I go, “Alright! Perfect synch!” and give the air a victory punch. And then she goes, “Oh, no, it’s gone.”
So I ask the young clerk about any waterfalls in the area, and she says, “You should talk to Julie,” and nods to the woman still digging through the drawer. “She knows this area better than anyone.”
So I go over to drawer-diggin’ Julie who’s flipping through file folders n shit, and she says, “Why? What are you doing in Lowell?”
“I’m here for the Kerouac festival.”
“Ohhh — that’s one of my favorite things to do every year!”
“Yes — I got my degree in English — love him.” (!)
Suddenly — “Oh look! Here it is!” As she pulls out the last copy of the last map of Lowell from the bottom of the drawer!
Then on top of that she starts raving on about the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac (LCK) festival for the next ten minutes! We realize we’ll be seeing each other again in a couple days, so I grab the last chance map and bolt out of there to head over to UMass for the Michael McClure reading — his first appearance anywhere off the West Coast in years.
Get there — small visitor parking — the only non-permit lot for miles around, and would you believe me if I told you I got the very last open parking space on the campus? It’s true!
And now it’s a nice sunny afternoon Moosehead walk through a classic tree and architecture rich American campus to the Allen House! Yes, of course. We’re going to celebrate Jack at Allen’s house with Michael.
Right off the Beat bat there’s Stan the haiku man, the fellow crazy-early arrivee who says he’s been coming to these LCK fests for 15 years.
And there comes Aaron Lantz, The Kansas Kid, who flew all the way from there to Boston just for this McClure show. And not only that but the guy holds the land speed record for reading my book — start to finish in 3½ hours! And he’d been askin’ me all these questions about Michael so I thought — here’s your chance, kiddo. And boy he leapt at it!
And there comes Steve “Erudite” Edington, one of the Founding Fathers of all-things-Jack in the Lowell—Nashua corridor. And he’s beaming his perpetual big smile and sporting a handful of hot-off-the-press LCK programs and seems as giddy about the doin’s as the first-timers he’s guiding.
And then we realized we were standing in the middle of the new Jack exhibit that isn’t even scheduled to have it’s ribbon-cutting opening until three days from now! Boom!
There’s his old writing desk . . .
There’s his chotchkies . . .
There’s his handmade cat carrying cases for his beloved furry family . . .
There’s an old manual typewriter, the same make and model as Jack’s last instrument . . .
And I’m typin’ away on the thing, and trying to fix the right margin that doesn’t seem to want to adjust, and along comes this woman who also grew up with these instruments and the two of us work on it for a while but can never find the lever to move the margins. Turns out the woman I’m collaborating with on this writer’s recovery job is none other than Judith Bessette, the new Prez of LCK! — on what will hopefully be just the first of many collaborations.
And there’s the room where Michael’s going to be addressing the assembled . . .
. . . students and scholars and pranksters and roadsters who’ve made the pilgrimage from across the campus or across the country.
Then the man of the hour shows up and whaddya know delivers what may be my favorite appearance by him of the so many I’ve seen! He’s come up with a whole kinda lecture thing called “On Kerouac, Shelley and Mountains” !!
Usually he’s just reading his poetry — often with that late great Keyboard of Perception — but this was storytelling improvisation with a structure — and loads of Jack, plus Shelley, plus the power of nature, which was always something he and I shared a passion for. He read the opening of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” then segues that directly into Jack’s “Desolation Blues,” and then into his favorite choruses of “Mexico City Blues” including one of the last ones, 239, which he called a Buddhist love poem.
And all the while and in between he’s telling stories like about the first time he met Jack at the legendary Six Gallery reading, and how he couldn’t believe Jack’s level of understanding of Buddhism after he’d read “Some of The Dharma” in manuscript form — because Buddhist teachings were so hard to come by in the ’50s — he couldn’t fathom how Jack had learned all of this. And he tells the story of how he happened by the lion enclosure at the San Francisco Zoo with Bruce Conner, and he performed some of his human beast language poetry, growling sounds of life eternal.
And then it ends, and I’m talkin’ to Judith and it’s the usual end of show schmoozethon, and The Kansas Kid is just standin’ around next to me. I tell him, “Hey! Get over there and talk to Michael! This is your cue, Kid!”
After a while I head over to where the lion’s holding court, where he wasn’t that swamped since it wasn’t that big a scene, and I just move right in and start riffin’ away with him as The Kansas Kid is still holding back in his Midwestern shyness. It takes Michael a minute before he remembers me, then we’re off, talking about our mutual love of the Earth, and how cool it was that he made it a central theme of his talk today. I asked if he was doing anything for the sixtieth anniversary of the Six Gallery this week — and he goes, “It is? I had no idea. I’ll have to drop Gary a line.”
And I tell him about my new book about Boulder ’82 and how his chapter is one of the most popular among readers, and I’m finally able to give him his own copy. At some point I say, “Hey, we should get a picture together — we never did before,” and he goes, “Oh, I’m too old for pictures anymore.” Which was an echo of Carolyn in her later years.
After we had a nice memory lane run, I tell him about The Kansas Kid who’d come all the way from his home state just to hear the lion roar, and both of them couldn’t be happier as they met and took off talking about the difference between projective verse and free verse and metric verse, the young poet looking for and getting answers from the octogenarian vegetarian.
And as others mosey in for an autograph or question, Michael keeps thinking of new tips and books for Aaron to read, who’s now become the center of the collective conversation. It was so nice to see the old bard taking an extended proactive interest in the young cub, and since they seemed to be getting on so well I decided to go say hi to Amy, Michael’s longtime partner.
She tells me she’d been looking at us talking and thinking, “Who is that guy? I know him …” I hand her a copy of my book and she looks at the front cover and after a second starts tapping the chest of my picture going, “That’s the guy I remember.”
And we start having a good old chin-wag like we always did which always made for good hangs with Michael cuz her and I would be just as happy to riff all night while others were basking in the light of her rock star husband. And on this day, as all the autograph seekers and young and old fans eventually drift away, it was just the four of us left in the big empty room with the glass doors that filled it with bright afternoon light and we all sat down for a comfortable post-show chat, the two Kansans on one side, me & Amy swappin stories on the other. When I told her about The Kansas Kid comin’ all this way to see Michael, she said with a big smile, “Oh, isn’t that lovely. Well we’ll just sit here for as long as that takes.”
She asks about Boulder ’82 and how it came about, and when I mention the part about Allen getting the Grateful Dead to fund it, she said it’s just like the time they were hanging in New York with Allen when he unexpectedly blurted out, “We have to go see the Grateful Dead tonight.” One of the original Beats was in a bad way, and Allen had to talk to Jerry, and there they were in the dressing room after the show, and by the end of the hang Jerry calls some guy over and tells him Allen needs $10,000 and that was that.
And a wonderful thing was — for this whole long hang, there was never anybody standing around waiting to kick us out or move us along. Both pairs had an eternity of afternoon sunlight to explore the unexplored, and that’s just what we did. And it was funny — after it was over, Aaron told me Michael kept bringing their conversation back to political engagement. Another reason I luv the guy. It’s not enough that you enjoy or study or write poetry — what’s important is if you’re engaged in the world and working to make it a better place.
Here was Michael spending this important time with his young acolyte challenging him to be involved and to not spend his life with his nose in a book. I almost pinned on my “Abbie Lives!” button before heading over — and after hearing this I wish I had.
Eventually it all winds down and we watch from the majestic Allen House stoop as Michael & Amy drive off into the sunset and their visit to Walden Pond tomorrow. And of course ol’ Aaron is just beaming after a whole afternoon with his hero. Then I suggest in the giddiness of the moment we go prank about and explore this old 1854 mansion before we leave the hill . . .
The night prior, he and I made a sunset dash to Jack’s gravesite with its new headstone . . .
and tonight at exactly the same time we made a mad dash to the Kerouac Commemorative Park so he’d have that under his memory belt before he left town tomorrow. And as we arrive, raging against the dying of the light, I spy the only open parking spot in town which also happens to be the closest possible spot to the park and pull a mid-traffic U-ey to snag it, prompting my navigator to exclaim, “This is a time the Gets Things Done sign should be on the front window.”
It’s so cool hanging with someone who can make jokes referencing your own book!
The Kansas Kid ready to quick-draw his six-shooters
And we each got to pick our passages to be photoed by —
Aaron at Mexico City Blues,
which Michael had been reading this afternoon
Me at The Scripture of The Golden Eternity
And on the corner of the park is the classic Sal Paradise Diner!
But sadly this Paradise is mostly Lost — only being open 6AM till noon daily.
As Aaron’s trying to find the location of Jack’s Grotto on Google, I decide to bolt us over to his famous library where he learned the words of the world. We get there and I se somebody comin’ down the stairs and realize it was still open, so we dashed up two at a time in order to see the new Young Prometheans section they’d just recently set up in honor of the Dead Poet’s Society type group-of-the-mind that Jack and Sebastian Sampas had imagined themselves as being part of as youths.
Which is right next to . . .
And not fer nuthin but — this library is freakin’ gorgeous!
No wonder Jack fell in love with books!
Discovering the library’s open till 9, we dash back out past the poster for this week’s JackFest
to soak in the final red rays of the red brick town of the railroad earth
The City Hall clocktower
And all of a sudden there’s this spectacular sunset goin down . . .
But I gotta get elevation . . .
Can’t catch the sky from the sidewalk . . .
and I’m suddenly running around downtown Lowell looking for anything I can climb on! I try a green recycling container but the lid starts to cave in while I’m on it and I jump off just as it’s cracking to my death. Boom! Dash around the corner, lookin for perspective . . .
Run around the back of some giant building into a schoolyard, trying to get the obstacles out of the way, when . . .
A fire escape on the back of some big-ass church er sumpthin! Boom!
Climbing those creepy creaking century-old iron slats, watchin carefully for them to bend or break — up to the first floor — take some shots — creep up to the second — take more shots — the windows behind me all seem closed so sneak up to the third — may as well get hung for a sheep as a lamb — yeah baby — so far, so good — snap snap, scurry hurry — race, race against the dying of the light . . .
Then, of course, it became a mission to the missions — Find out what those two churches were outlined on the skyline. Wandering through the yards of the redbrick row-houses we come out at the base of the dome of the Hellenic Orthodox Church of The Holy Trinity — to which encyclopedic Aaron immediately recalls that Sebastian Sampas going to a specifically Greek church in Lowell and thinks he remembers Holy Trinity as part of its name.
Then anothur furthur wander and we’re outside the pointed gothic spire we’d spied and sure enough it’s another old St. Patrick’s.
Since we hadn’t been able to find Jack’s grotto on Aaron’s phone, and we’d spotted what looked like a cool room on the second floor of the library, we decide in the now-dark night to return to the light. As we stealthily enter the majestic second floor reading room and are making our way to its center to take in its full grandeur I hear someone say quite distinctly, “Hey Brian … ” and think how funny it is that someone else here at the library is named Brian.
I start looking around to see what this alternate me looks like — and there walkin’ through the middle of the room right towards us is — Tony Sampas! And the first words out of his mouth — “Glad you could make it! Here, let me show you the motherlode.”
Motherlode?!?! And he takes us over to the massive Jack stash!
A HUGE section of books you can take out, and another huge section you can only read there.
And on top is another nice plaque with a mock-up of his library card.
And he proceeds to give us the whole history of the place since he’s been workin’ there for years and loves his history. The building opened in 1893, and it was really built as a monument to the local men lost in the Civil War, only over the decades has the library grown from its first home in the basement to eventually taking over the whole building.
And wouldn’t ya know it but they have wall-size action paintings of none other than good ol’ General Grant! My favorite battlefield figure of the war!
“President Lincoln, I have to inform you General Grant has been seen drinking on the job.”
“Well, whatever he’s drinking, serve it to the rest of the troops.”
And since Tony’s excitedly telling us stories, and I’m excitedly asking questions, and this is technically a reading room not a talking room, he suggests we adjourn to the hallway / foyer / balcony in this gorgeous palace of a building. And I’m like, “Oh wait — while I gotcha — is that Holy Trinity Greek church the one Sebastian went to?” And he sez Yeah. And the Kansas Kid strikes again!
And Tony offers, “Those two churches, that’s where Jack described Sebastian as walking between them and pointing to each, saying, ‘Gothic immensity — Byzantine sensitivity.'”
As always, Jack capturing the poetry of his friends.
And then I remember — “Hey — where’s Jack’s grotto?” And he proceeds to draw us a map. And says the local waterfalls I’d been asking him about a few days earlier were right near there. What?!
Then I remember ol’ Tony’s a pretty serious photographer so I tell him about the crazy adventure up the fire escape to capture it, and our local guide promptly informs me, “You’re lucky you didn’t get shot.”
“Yeah — but I got some great photos!”
“I was shooting it, too — out the window here.”
“Nice! . . . Wait a minute . . . you were shooting the sunset out the window? I was shooting the sunset on the library — gawd — wouldn’t that be cool if I caught you at the window in a shot?!”
And with that, the Canadian Cowpoke and the Kansas Kid hit the trail again — this time armed with a hand-drawn Sampas treasure map to hidden hollows and thunderous falls!
After a quick pit-stop to grab some cold you’re-not-going-to-believe-the-name-of-it beer —
it was on to Jack’s grotto at night . . .
One of The Stations of The Cross
Then we drive around to look for the potential waterfalls, and Aaron’s saying “Maybe this is something you should do tomorrow.”
And I’m like, “No. It’s right here.” I knew it. I could sense it. I could hear it . . . I just couldn’t see it.
And we go out on the busy dark bridge and look over … but there’s nuthin.
Then I notice even in the dark that the water’s goin’ downstream on this side — and insist we sprint like mad hares through a momentary break in bridge traffic and land on the other side and look over and BOOM! Waterfall and rapids as far as you can see!
And ol’ Aaron from flat Kansas is duly impressed and givin’ some rare Wows to the universe! And then ol’ Gets Things Done is spying down below at some sorta lookout spot . . . part of the gatehouse or whatever of the bridge, and I’m like, “Let’s get there.”
And of course everything’s all shuttered down but I spy along the concrete walls back by the shore a white picket gate . . . that with a goodly push in just the right spot — pops open! . . . and now we’re climbin’ down some cement stairs along a canal in the nearly pitch dark . . . and cross some little bridges and I spot about an 18 inch wide “sidewalk” going along the outer rim over the water hugging the building . . . and insist young Aaron go first for the unencumbered view of the upcoming Adventure, but he thinks I’m insisting cuz I think it’ll collapse and he’ll fall in first.
Out we roam into the unknown . . . water raging beneath us . . . until at the end of the walkway we get to a little open balcony hanging right over the falls.
The perfect place to debrief on the arc of the day and night . . . and how Aaron flew all the way from Kansas to meet Michael who gave this fabulous colorful wide-ranging reading and talk — and their whole long private yak afterwards. And then I’m like — “Wait a minute!! The McClure chapter in my book ends with a waterfall!!” Ha!!
And the Grand Synch we’d been surfing all day came perfect circle.
Getting Things Done in Lowell, Day One.
For another grand LCK escapade, check out the Pawtucketville Social Club Adventure.
or more on the Boulder ’82 Kerouac SuperSummit check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or here you can check out Who All Was There.
Or to get a copy of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” you can order it here.
Or here’s a bunch of performance videos of The Hitchhiker’s Guide …”
And here’s a bunch of reactions to the book.
Or here’s a whole second round of the raves that came in from all over the world.
For another 2015 Kerouac summit Adventure Tale check out the amazing Beat Shindig story.
For a huge online photo album of the event check it out here.
Or for a video featuring several fellow Roadsters at this very Lowell celebration, check out this group effort bringing part of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” alive in Jack’s old hometown bar . . .
Or here’s a video of reading “the San Francisco epiphany” part of On The Road with Kerouac’s principal musical collaborator David Amram . . .
by Brian Hassett
Tags: Jack Kerouac·Lowell·Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!·Mass.·Michael McClure
“Life is good.”
A few years ago I became friends with this cool 70-year-old German woman who lived a few doors down.
It was one of those: recognizing each other from the moment we met — another member of the tribe — kindred travellers – explorers – pranksters – leprechaun twinklers.
And as the trip unfurls . . . turns out, her favorite author is Jack Kerouac!
And not only that — she’s got a shelf-full! — from Town & The City to Book of Dreams — front & center in her living room — the only author in her entertaining social center of the house so honored.
I mean — I live in a sleepy little out-of-the-way town . . . and 3 doors from me is this little wiry full-of-energy living ruth weiss . . . with a shelf fulla Jack!
So we hung, and talked road, and her adventure life out of Germany, and having the wanderlust — which is of course a German word — and how Jack spoke to her, and how he got her on the road and was the voice that inspired her — The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angles, On The Road, she even liked Satori In Paris because it was the one book set in places of her youth.
And I got to show her an advance proof copy of my “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” — but I knew she was a super literate reader — who was actually already reading e-books over print — and so I had to wait to get her a finished copy after the big week-long book release party in Indiana — that turned into a 3 week book release party!
She had the keys and was checkin on my house n stuff — and because I’d been so focused on producing the book, I hadn’t even thought about actually performing it — but had jotted down a few notes on what parts might work — then left town without them. Once I realized I was expected on stage (!) I had to email her to go into my mad writing studio and find a specific note in a specific pile in front of a specific lamp — and find it she did! and typed it out and emailed it to the site and the writer got it just in time and dashed to rehearsal in the Bertha Bus and turned in a performance that is truly dedicated to her because without her it never woulda happened!
And she was planning a book release party for me at her house — and everything was going along fine — and then all of sudden — early May — I’m still away on this same trip — when I could tell everything changed. It was a rockin ride up to that point — her and I as exuberant and pro-active as teenagers — both of us bouncing in our seats at a combined 120 years. And then it stopped. The emails, the phone calls — and it was one of those rare times you hoped it was something you said.
But it wasn’t. And I knew it.
And shortly after came the call she was in the hospice.
I’d just gotten back from 3 weeks On The Road — Marin, S.F., and Chicago for the Grateful Dead’s Farewell — where I’d written this quote into the story I wrote about it that I knew she’d lived — and I thought of her when I included it — and I read it to her on her deathbed:
“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one well preserved piece, but to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out and shouting, ‘WOW! What a ride!!’”
To which she was smiling, from before I even started reading it and all through the set-up cuz she knew … she knew where I was going with this — I almost didn’t have to read it — it was such an obvious articulation of what we both already knew — and lived — and just seeing the joy in her face . . . one week from her body saying No More — there she was beaming at the truth of The Adventure — the whole point of life.
“That’s it,” she said. “Enjoy every day you’ve got to the max. Life is good.”
And then her daughter Karen came by, and we had this challenge of tryin’ to track down Uta’s friend from Quebec — and we finally Get It Done — but her husband tells us she’s out at The Rolling Stones concert!
So — here’s one of Uta’s friends sitting beside her just back from three Grateful Dead shows, and her other friend’s out dancing to The Rolling Stones!
And then there was the part where she couldn’t drink alcohol once the cancer was diagnosed, but in her fridge she always had alcohol-free Beck’s, as well as regular for visitors. And she’d be hip to crackin’ ’em at the crack of noon!
And so was her brother! One day at the hospice, he and their sister were arriving from Germany at the same time I was from Bronte. And among other things, I explained to them how the communal fridge works, and how I wrote Uta’s name on a buncha the real McCoy Beck’s I brought over cuz she wanted ’em now that there was no turning back. So I take Homes over and show him the fridge and beer, and he goes, “You give me one now?”
“You want one now?” I ask in noon nursing-home hospice disbelief.
“Yes,” he says, in that German-English way, where it goes up at the end.
And Boom — we’re off! Sis is there. They’re working out shit. Talkin’ in German a mile-a-minute. I’m in the corner on the laptop surfin hospice wifi — the ball boy at the tennis match, the “runner” in showbiz, on hand for whatever needs doin’ — as they keep riffing tales in their native tongue, the three siblings united. And every once-n-a-bit old Otto or whatever his name was, wanted to go out for another smoke, and we’d cluster with beers n butts at the creek-side gazebo and he’d tell me stories about how she was always different, and they knew she’d never stay grounded at home, and she never did, and how she was always the big sister that they watched in amazement at all the things she was doin’. All life long. “Life is good.”
Her son-in-law said to me at her memorial — Uta was one of those people who always saw life as the glass half full.
I corrected him. “No — she saw it as three-quarters full — and she was topping it up while you were busy asking the question.” He liked it so much he put it in the center of his eulogy.
And then . . . the most amazing part was . . . her family wanted me to have her Jack books!
And thus, beatifically — this German Adventurewoman who ‘got’ and lived Jack will live on as these are preserved and celebrated in her honor. And if a young Uta should cross my path, and I see the same sparkle in the eye that’s there from youth to sign-off, I can pass on these secret sacred texts, the Road map, via Uta, to the young ones following in her path just as sure as she did Jack’s.
Here’s an ode to another AdventureWoman – Carolyn Cassady
And here’s a tribute to yet another AdventureWoman – my Mom, Enid E. Hassett
And here’s one to my AdventureDude Dad, Vernie V. Hassett
Or here’s one done in video . . .
by Brian Hassett
Tags: Jack Kerouac
When Conflict Television Was Born
or . . .
“I’ll sock you in your goddamn face.”
The year so much changed . . .
Martin and Bobby . . .
North Vietnam’s Tet Offensive galvanizing Americans’ opposition to the war . . .
The Beatles open their Apple Core . . .
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test . . .
The Prague Spring and Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia . . .
2001: A Space Odyssey . . .
Johnson says he won’t run for re-election . . .
Hair opens on Broadway . . .
Madison Square Garden opens on 33rd Street, and the Fillmore East on Second Avenue . . .
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In debuts on TV . . .
* And that was all before the political conventions hit! *
And boy – did they hit!
Although the three television networks were broadcasting in color, almost no one had color sets at home — it was still an absurd luxury — B&Ws continued to outsell colors until 1972.
And of those three networks, late start-up ABC was so far behind the others, as someone joked in Best of Enemies, “They would’ve been 4th, but there were only 3.”
To try to do something different than the rote “gavel-to-gavel coverage” of Huntley & Brinkley on NBC and Walter Cronkite on CBS, the new kids came up with the smart low-budget idea of putting talkative spokesmen for the right and left in chairs next to each other and let them go at it for each of the two single weeks covering the Republican and Democratic conventions.
This decision was to become as legendary and transformative in its field as Dylan plugging in at Newport a couple summers earlier. But sadly, just as that gutsy maneuver led to Ted Nugent and comedically adolescent showmanship, this initially admirable and bubbling-with-possibility idea similarly led to a lowbrow Crossfire hurricane of right-left hate-speech that’s dominated American political coverage for decades.
This now-famous tete-et-tete between two reigning intellectuals on either side of the ideological spectrum has taken on a sort of Lincoln-Douglas mythological status. But just as a transcript reading of those 1858 debates reveals — they were both far from civil or high-minded. In fact this more recent Great American Debate Legend was bitter, petty, vicious, uncomfortable, conniving, mean-spirited — and absolutely riveting live television.
ABC’s ratings spiked through the roof — even as the roof of their cheaply-built “studio” at the convention hall in Chicago literally collapsed on their heads. But network television, much like Hollywood, is nothing if not a rip-off-and-replicate industry. And thus the no-budget Point/Counterpoint style of belligerent blowhards yelling over each other was born.
And this documentary — made by the same team as the magnificent recent Academy Award-winning 20 Feet From Stardom — time-travels you back to the summer of ’68, but with 21st century perspective from the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Frank Rich, Dick Cavett, Andrew Sullivan and loads of erudite others. And it’s really fast-paced — running through the whole set-up, ten “debates” and the aftermath in less than 90 minutes.
The entire movie is just smart filmmaking — opening with dramatic old aerial footage of the Italian coastline that looks like unused B-roll from To Catch A Thief taking us to where pondering Gore Vidal lived and paced for decades — and ending with a machine-gun-collage of clips of shows that were born out of this television summer of ’68 — from Jon Stewart telling the Crossfire hosts, “You’re doing theater when you should be doing debate,” to, presciently, this summer’s talking-head star Megyn Kelly. They use the ring of a boxing bell to start each round of “debate,” and a perfect piano and cello-based soundtrack by Jonathan Kirkscey that sounds a lot like Philip Glass at times. In fact, there’s a real harmony here with Glass’s work on another great documentary, The Source (1999) by Chuck Workman, about how the Beat writers changed history.
And speaking of the Beats … who are these guys and why do they keep following me?
Not seven minutes into the film do we get Buckley walking and pontificating next to a four-foot-high photo of Allen Ginsberg! — wearing the “Pot is Fun” sandwich board, no less! Which then goes into a slow “Ken Burns pan” up the photo until it’s resting on Allen’s face (!) as Buckley’s voiceover spews his dopy Ayn Rand-ian gobbledegook, “As long as liberalism suggested that it could bring happiness to the individual, then people tended to look to government agencies for those narcotic substitutes for a search for happiness and contentment which they ought to have found in their religion, in their institutions, and their culture themselves.”
And of course on the streets outside the Chicago convention hall where Buckley and Vidal were debating, Allen was leading the crowds with chanting and other non-violent protests, alongside Jean Genet, Ed Sanders, Terry Southern, and William Burroughs who was there covering it for Esquire.
And then Allen shows up again when he was a guest on Buckley’s Firing Line! And of course any casual Kerouac fan knows of the author’s legendary appearance on that same show — which was — get this — the very first episode the next week! Immediately after this historic smackdown that would define Buckley’s television career (much to his chagrin), Kerouac was in the Vidal seat taking the flamethrower’s heat — and as he told his agent Sterling Lord afterwards, “Buckley kept kicking my shoes and telling me to shush.” (And the Ginsberg episode was on just 3 weeks after this!)
Then of course there’s the part where Jack wrote in The Subterraneans about meeting Gore Vidal at the San Remo in the Village in the summer of ’53 — when they either did or didn’t have sex, depending on whom you ask. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but Gore says they did, and Jack says they didn’t. In fact, Jack wrote his gay pal Al shortly afterwards, not raving about some rapturous night together but dismissing Vidal as “such a pretentious little fag.” And he wasn’t too keen on his writing either! — penning Allen the year before their 1953 encounter that it was “so ugly transparent in its method” and “regressing to sophomore imitations of Henry James.”
And there’s not just Beat cultural references.
This particularly inclusive & colorful doc also features Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Muhammad Ali, Sunset Blvd., Aretha Franklin, The Flying Nun, Norman Mailer, The Best Man, Woody Allen, Playboy After Dark, Henry Gibson, Ben Hur, Paul Newman, Saturday Night Live, John Lithgow and Kelsey Grammer voicing the authors’ respective left / right writings . . . and on and on appropriately appropriating mass culture into this political news philosophical debate story because it really was the beginning of the blending of the two.
Prior to this, television news was formal, staid and nonpartisan. Yes, there was a time when journalists reported news objectively. But this was televised New Journalism — just as was being invented in the literary form at the same time by Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer and others.
ABC’s slogan for their unexpected hit broadcast was “Unconventional convention coverage” — and this documentary captures every part of it — from the executives’ initial decisions to the carpenters rebuilding the studio roof that collapsed just before showtime. It sneaks inside the minds of both the two prize fighters in the ring, as well as those in the rings of repercussions rippling out from the splash in still waters these two giants made.
Aaron Sorkin (of West Wing, The Newsroom and The American President fame) has signed on to write a feature-length dramatization a la Frost/Nixon, and every network has pledged to give you the same on-the-verge-of-violence “debates” for the next 18 months of Presidential campaigning.
Make sure you see this movie soon or I’m going to sock you in your goddamn face.
For more film fun check out this Festival Express review.
Or here’s a recent one on the Johnny Winter doc.
Or here’s the On The Road premiere in London.
Or the other recent Beat movie Kill Your Darlings in Toronto.
Or here’s a Complete Beat Movie Guide to all the dramatizations.
Or here’s the surreal Dylan interpretation I’m Not There.
Or here’s the great Turtle Howard Kaylan’s My Dinner With Jimi.
Or if you’re diggin on the political stuff — here’s some Inauguration Adventures from Obama’s first swearing in.
Or here’s a page with a bunch of my own videos and “movies.”
Or here’s a whole book that’s a similar exploration of another historic event a few years ago — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac.
Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Allen Ginsberg·Democratic Convention 1968·Gore Vidal·Jack Kerouac·Philip Glass·The Subterraneans·William F. Buckley
aahhh — San Francisco — home of everything holy.
Home of the Beats, home of The Dead, home of the wild. The United States of San Francisco. The city that makes its own rules . . . and that’s that.
Of course we’re coming home. To the Museum that Jerry built. Cimino, that is. The Beat Museum. Of course there has to be a Beat Museum. How could there not be?
Just like that other Jerry from San Francisco started another institution that never died — Jerry 2.0 has finally put brick-&-mortar to an idea that was always in the air there.
The Dynamic Duo – minutes after first arrival
Photo by legendary S.F. photographer Dennis Hearne
And just as The Museum was his lifelong dream — so too was having a summit a la Boulder ’82 that he almost came to but missed by a hair.
And like a fat book that reads really fast, the million events and people in this weekend orgy of words and ideas passed in the blink of some beautiful eyes.
First there was the pre--opening party. I mean, it was all about the parties, let’s face it. And a company that accents beautiful eyes — Warby Parker — the high-end glasses shop named for a couple different character names the Jack-loving owner’s noticed in Kerouac’s notebooks at the NYPL show — decided to throw us a Welcome-to-Town Party complete with jazz trio and poetry readings and a typewriter to riff your own spontaneous bop prosody.
Mutt n Jeff, Hilary Holliday & Tate Swindell
But things really kicked into gear Friday night with the official Opening Night Party that took over the entire 2 floors of this action-packed Museum, with all the wine and craft beer you could drink. Tom Waits, the Dead and ’50s jazz played from the speakers in every ceiling corner. And filling every floor corner were Beats new and old.
There’s ruth weiss! Finally! Never met her before — with her blazing blue-green-tourquoise hair — an idea she got from a movie called “The Boy With The Green Hair” that she saw as a 20-year-old — and was still dancing on the balls of her feet and bopping with more energy than the 20-somethings.
There was Gerd (pronounced Gaird) Stern — the man who did NOT lose The Joan Anderson Letter — who I was hosting his talk tomorrow and had just met a couple days earlier on this secret sacred houseboat The Vallejo which he lived on at one time and was still in the same harbor he called home in the ’40s & ’50s. And there’s him and ruth seeing each other for the first time in 50 years!
And there’s Big Al Hinkle! Who’s not quite as towering as he once was but is still a giant of a man at 88. He was of course a star attraction — “The Last Man Standing” — the only guy who was in the car On The Road who’s still here to tell about it. And tell about it he does with a great memory and all his faculties and senses with him.
with Al Hinkle and Jami Cassady
And there’s Jami “Jack’s favorite” Cassady and husband Randy who are keeping the family torch burning bright after losing the matriarch just a couple years ago. Jami’s the most friendly, easy-to-smile, Spirit-filled being you could ever hope to meet. Growing up with Neal & Carolyn and Uncle Jack and Uncle Allen she’s seen it all and then some — so she always remains beatifically tranquil in any kind of maelstrom of madness.
And Next-Gen Merry Prankster Moray brought the original Anonymous who got On The Bus in Calgary as a 15 year old after having just read On The Road and, as she says, she was born “on the bus” — and was as tickled to be hanging with the Beat Founders as any of us.
There wasn’t even a bridge between the Beats and the Pranksters
— it was just a loving embrace.
And there’s Levi Asher — my old brother of the Greenwich Village Beat scene shows of the ’90s and 2000s — who I helped produce the big celebration for his web-pioneering LitKicks — their 5th anniversary at The Bitter End in 1999 with a symmetrical 9 hours of non-stop show . . . from a drumming sage-burning opening to John Cassady leading an all-star jam closing at 4AM.
And this weekend was the same damn thing — non-stop from Friday til . . . Tuesday, to be perfectly honest.
And there’s long-time Beat Neeli Cherkovski in the role of Gregory Corso — the portly disheveled poet always surrounded by a coterie of confederates on some mischievous mission of madness.
And there’s Chris Felver workin’ the room — the unofficial official Beat photographer and one of the five who were here in 2015 and there in ’82.
And there’s Dan Barth another of the Boulder ’82ers who read there at Allen’s Oracles on the closing Sunday night and became the Poet Laureate of Mendocino County and travelled down from The Great Green North to spread his Zen Beat poetry in the city lights.
And if you’re wondering — David Amram and Dennis McNally were the other two ’82ers — but they wouldn’t appear until tomorrow.
And there’s Hilary Holladay who founded the Kerouac Studies program at U. Mass. in Lowell, and just wrote the Huncke book, and brought out a bunch of her students from Virginia who were smart, polite and Beat to their core.
And there’s Tom Galasso who lived with Edie Kerouac in Detroit and is one of the few around I can swap first-hand stories with of Jack’s first long-term love.
And then Tom Lake appears — the major Beat player online … known the guy for years … never met ‘im … until I hear somebody say, “I’m Tom Lake,” and I turn around … and it’s the blind guy with the white cane!
Wait — what? The guy I’ve been interacting with online for years … is blind?!
But yes! And we bond like brothers and he ends up being a playful prankster sidekick for this entire Shindigian Adventure!
Which also included of course hangin’ at the Hudson . . .
and getting him to take photographs . . . (!)
a blind guy’s photography . . .
making art that he can’t experience
except by hearing other people’s reactions to it.
And there’s my Wight brother Orville, another longtime onliner I’m meeting for the first time and who’s been On The Road forever, dancing on both sides of the Jerry–Jack fuzzy line …
And there’s the beaming Shelly Musgrove who I first met over photos from Vesuvio’s and has been on a crash course in Beatlandia, including devouring my book in one sitting, and traveling halfway across the state to be here.
And this whole packed-Museum opening-night cocktail-party is running effortlessly because of beatnik-clad show producers Otto & Baby Doe, who’ve been doing off-Beat events for decades, and have rounded up an army of volunteers and liquifying sponsors, and weaving it all seamlessly in with the Museum’s inner cabinet of Brandon the visual design guy, and Bob the poetry organizer, and E.T. the novelist from another planet, and Niko the sharp-dressed man disguising the nature-loving poet revolutionary that all these Museumistas seem to be.
And all the first-time meetings and long-time reunions by so many segued naturally into a late night hang at Vesuvio’s across the street in a dance of interactive eye-blazing joy and story sharing across the universe.
Saturday — the first full day — was huge: Dr. Philip Hicks, the psychiatrist who Allen credits with giving him permission to be himself, spoke in public about that landmark diagnosis for the first time. Current San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía riffed his imagistic word magic as a harmonizing echo of Kerouac’s paeans to The Mission’s downtrodden. The brilliant funny modern-day Lenny Bruce / Mort Sahl of contemporary North Beach — Will Durst — laid down his political and cultural stand-up routine.
When I told him about the hitchhiking adventure of the book, he looked me deadpan in the eye and advised me — “You’re crazy, you know that?”
Director Heather Dalton screened her new “Neal Cassady – The Denver Years” film in its West Coast premiere. Local Beat authority Jonah Raskin brought the history of the city to life in a multimedia show. The perpetually beaming Tate Swindell and his brother Todd made sure Jack Micheline and Harold Norse made it to the Shindig through film clips and audio recordings and first-hand stories. Neeli held a poetry workshop. Felver riffed on Ferlinghetti. And Amram performed his patented Jack music & storytelling revue.
3 of the 5 Boulder ’82ers — me, Dave Amram & Dan Barth
with Mike Wurm, Jerry & Levi
And sitting outside in the secluded Fort Mason enclave that we took over along the northern shore of the city with Alcatraz in the distance were a bunch of late-’40s Hudsons bringing the material machines into the mindful mindfields of poetry and prose.
Inside the main building was this giant party room with a poetry & jazz stage; and all sorts of bookstores with tables of cool stuff; as well as the Cassadys set-up with Carolyn’s easel and paintings and stuff;
and there was a bar selling perfectly cold beer and wine. Across the outdoor atrium was an excellent cafe / restaurant with all sorts of healthy California delights to stay or go. What I’m sayin is — we were set! Self-contained. You could take a hundred trips without leaving the farm.
I hosted the Gerd Stern talk — of Joan Anderson letter fame — The Holy Grail by The Holy Goof — the letter that blew open the doors for Kerouac’s writing and did NOT blow off a houseboat in Sausalito — like Allen Ginsberg pinned on Gerd sixty years ago when in fact Allen had submitted it someplace and just forgot!
Howling with Gerd
As I say, I first met him a few days earlier on this famous giant historic houseboat called the Vallejo that was home to Alan Watts and all sorts of interesting people over the decades and where I had to sign a non-disclosure release just to step on board that said I wouldn’t tell anyone where it is or even take any cell phone pictures that might reveal its location by GPS.
We got along like two buds in a joint right from the git-go — jammin out the crazy storyline of his crazy life, so when we hit the stage that afternoon we were already makin’ beautiful jokes together. We went through the whole sequence of what happened, when and where, from his first meeting Allen and Carl Solomon at the Psychiatric Institute in New Jersey in 1947, and how he gave the manuscripts back to Allen in ’53, and his thoughts on why the story came into existence, and the whole yak was videotaped so that’ll be out before long. It was a packed room — and Jami Cassady was in the back beaming through the whole thing, and Levi Asher was in the front nodding in grooving agreement the whole time, and by all accounts it was a joyous jam.
As soon as this was over I had to bolt upstairs to the main theater to be part of the Cassady Family Panel with Al Hinkle and Jami Cassady, who asked me to be on it cuz I was pretty close to Carolyn n all. Brother John was supposed to be there, and we kept thinking he’d suddenly come bursting through the curtain and onto the stage but it never happened.
Good ol’ Levi was hosting, which I thought was great since we’d known each other for 20 years — until I realized — Al’s known Jami since her birth day! He’s seen her grow from a baby to a child to a mother to a grandmother . . . so he really knew the whole arc of the Cassady clan . . . and was the first person any of you ever heard of who met Neal!
And get this — he & Neal were actually a circus act for a while!
When they were both around 13, they were going to the same YMCA in Denver. Both of them were uncommonly strong for their age, and “that Y had the only high-wire circus act program in the country,” Al said. “The big net, the trapeze, the whole schmear. And I found out later it had been donated by the great uncle of Hal Chase. (!)
“I thought it would be fun. The first thing you had to do was climb up and jump and land in the net — on your back if possible, so you’d bounce right up. And then they taught you how to roll over and use your hands and get off onto your feet. Then they had us swinging on the trapeze and dropping to the net.
“They said to me — because I was almost six feet tall then, and I was thin and had a little muscle — they said why don’t you hang from the trapeze by your knees and see if you can catch somebody. They have a rope to the trapeze, and they pull it back, and get you going, and then they have another trapeze going the other way, and they’d have a guy there, and the only one that could do it was Neal.
“And then they wanted him to somehow do a flip, a roll, and then I’d catch him . . . and it seemed like that was pretty easy to do! We’d catch each other’s wrists. He’d catch my wrists and I’d catch his — and it seemed like … we could do it! And we practiced and practiced and got so we could do it most every time. And they had some other acts — I don’t remember — they had a tumbling act, and a human pyramid, I remember that because I was on the bottom of the pyramid.
“So . . . we put on two shows. And people’s parents were there. And we had a dress rehearsal type thing. I was supposed to catch Neal twice in each show. And I did on the first one — I caught him both times — and I missed him once at the second show. I think he came out of the summersault wrong or something, and he just went down — Boom! But he landed good.
“And then when summer was over, he was going to one school and I was going to another. I didn’t even know his last name. We lost track of each other, and I never saw him again until we were both about 19 years old, and Jimmy Holmes, who was an old high school friend, he introduced us at Pederson’s pool Hall.
“I was just back from the Merchant Marines, and one day I’m walking down the street and bump into Jimmy. I had a 1936 LaSalle convertible with a straight-8, and Jimmy had me come pick him up one Saturday, and I parked about a block away from the pool hall. And of course Jimmy knew everybody there, and we played a game of pool, and he was practically running the tables, just kinda showin’ off, and we’re just hanging out there, and then who comes in the back door, but Neal! And I looked at him, and he looked at me, and it didn’t register at first. And I kept thinking about it, and I guess he was thinking about it, too. And then we finally made the connection.
“Then at some point I made the mistake of saying I have to go move my car, and right away he went, ‘You’ve got a car?!?!'” and Al laughs heartily at the memory. “Now I’m his best friend!”
“He says, ‘Would you mind if we took a drive to the drive-in? My wife works there.’ On the ride over we reminisced about the circus together. Anyway, we get there and LuAnne’s working as a car-hop. And I’m thinking, ‘Boy she is a beautiful girl!‘ . . . but really young. I guess she was 16 at the time … and they were married. And we have a Coke or something, and then we go back to the poolhall, and Neal and Jimmy start playing pool, and then these two girls come in the back door, and Neal goes over and gives one of them a big kiss, and introduces me to his girlfriend!!
“Those were the first two times Neal and I hung out together.”
And all sorts of stuff like this is going down. And once again the whole thing is on video, and as soon as I get time I’ll get it out there.
But then the deal was — John Cassady was supposed to be on the panel — then we were gonna drive-like-Neal from there to the Dead show in Santa Clara — basically back to San Jose where he lives. . . . But the guy never shows up!
And I dunno how this happens — just the magic of the universe — but I’m in the post-show hang with people in front of the stage and mention to somebody I gotta get from Levi’s panel to Levi’s Stadium . . . in a hurry. And this girl overhears me and says, “I wanna go there, too. You don’t have an extra ticket, do you?” Well, as a matter of absent-John-fact, I think I do. “Well I’ve got a car.” BOOM! Dun and Duner. And Weir outta there in Flash!
Just like ’82 — The Grateful Dead are playing smack in the middle of this Big Beat Conference. Who are these guys, and why do they keep following me around?
So we have this whole massive insane Adventure . . . the Dead’s opening night of their Farewell to home-base California — prophet on the golden shore and all that — but it’ll take about two days to tell you that whole story … I mean, bunch of stories, sheesh!! If you really wanna hear a Farewell Dead riff, here’s a Grate story about Chicago.
And while yer at it, you prolly don’t wanna miss The Phil Lesh Story. 😉
But get this — not only did this girl wanna drive from the Cassady Panel to the Cassady Band — but she was staying in frickin’ Chinatown!! — so was driving all the way back to about two blocks from where I was staying in North Beach!!!
I dunno, but sometimes the lights all shinin’ on me . . .
Anyway, next thing you know it’s Sunday Sunday Sunday — the day of the big “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” show. Thank god, ol’ Bill-Graham-Jerry moved it to the 4 PM slot so there was time to recover n all.
But first in the day — I mean it was unreal — there was Jerry doing a show with Dave Amram with the usual colorful storytelling and all that jazz. And the authentic rare living Beat poet David Meltzer was there doing his funny poetry and mesmerizing storytelling. And there was the great Beat filmmaker Mary Kerr screening her movies from North Beach in the ’50s. And the artist Eric Drooker who did all the animation in the movie Howl putting on a whole show. And Brenda Knight who did The Women of the Beat Generation book among other things — and there was more stuff to do than any one person could.
Plus! Dennis McNally was there! — who I still think wrote the best biography of Jack, Desolate Angel, not to mention The Official History of the Grateful Dead, and he’s riffin on the great Wally Hedrick who I’d written about fairly extensively in my Hitchhiker’s book.
Which led me to meeting this poet / professor, David Rollison, who was good friends with Wally, an artist who vociferously shunned the spotlight.
And it was David who set me up on a whole other series of adventures just before the Shindig happened — including taking me to the very house I stayed in on the Marin detour in the Hitchhiker book,
And turning me onto the people who live in the Dharma Bums house where Jack & Gary Snyder stayed for a while,
Lying down in front of Jack’s old headboard.
and all sorts of other sacred and weird places in Mighty Marin.
And a cool thing had developed by Sunday where this area outside the main front doors became this perpetual groove center — where everybody went in or out . . . but there was me and whomever else at any given time just hangin on the loading dock landing that looped around the entire building — and in a way this was the most fun time and place of the whole Shindig Shabang. Besides our late nights at Vesuvio’s, this was the most Beat scene of the summit.
I of course arranged for us to go to the nearest cold beer store and come back with four armfuls loaded for bear. And we could smoke jazz cigarettes in the cool San Francisco Bay breeze, and there was this constant flow of people, all of whom would stop for a while, and some of the most interactive subject-leaping conversations of the weekend took place on that stoop. Coulda been New York in the ’50s.
One’a the Stoop Groups – TKG, Levi, yours unruly, James Stauffer, Dan Barth
There was the great S.F. poet James Stauffer who I finally got to meet after we tried to put together the huge “Holy Fools” festival in the Mid-West about 20 years ago . . .
and that colorful Beatific artist Philippo LoGrande from Mexico who’s been floating around all conference drawing me and all sorts of other people in the ongoing jam of it all . . .
and there was Dan Barth, my Boulder ’82 brother, finally with time to hang and groove in poet’s grove down by the docks of the city . . .
and Tate Swindell and Jerry and Gerd and Levi and James and . . .
. . . holy shit! — I still have a show to do!
And then this crazy thing happens where — everything had been going perfectly — but sometimes I get these fainting spells where if I don’t get horizontal as soon as I feel it coming on, I’ll black out and drop like a stone. And sure enough, I hadn’t really ate much (or slept much after the Dead Spectacular) and when I picked up a box of books to help somebody move — BOOM it hit! . . . And this was 45 minutes before I’m supposed to be “on” — and there I am lying on the floor seeing stars behind the Cassady’s table . . . !
Way to go, B! You’re passing out 5 minutes before showtime. What? — you trying to pull a Kerouac? I know yer into the guy — but do you really have to be unable to stand before you go on stage?! I don’t think that was his strongest attribute, I’m thinking, as the ceiling’s spinning like a merry-go-round.
I very gradually rise to the occasion, and frailly and slowly make my way to the room with the help of Dr. John Wight — and there waiting for me is the unspoken superstar of the conference, Brandon from The Beat Museum setting up to do the visual show with the laptop. And there’s a whole room fulla people! . . . as I’m one wrong breath away from falling over.
So . . . it was a wild trip. But as people noticed, including me, I was gradually gaining strength as the hour-and-a-half show progressed . . . and about half-way through it started to feel like I was coming back. It was cool talking to people afterwards . . . that the audience could see this happening . . . almost like a Dead show where the first half / set was basically warming up, then the second half killed. I was actually up and running around the stage, and at one point, I don’t know what the hell story I was telling, but it required me running across the stage and smashing into the far wall! I have no idea. But I do remember hitting this wall and seeing the paint microscope-close to my eyes and thinking, “Well, I must be feeling better.”
Anyway, the whole thing’s on videotape — and this is starting to feel like Steve Goodman’s song coming to life.
But at least I was a hundred percent for both Gerd and the Cassadys, and that’s what really matters. Honoring your elders and extended family. Which is really what this whole conference was for all of us.
But of course it was no where near over yet!
After my show’s done, a bunch of us encamped on the stoop again, and hung there in a most festive space until it got dark, then hung sumore. And then ruth weiss came on for the final performance of the conference up in the main theater where we did the Cassady Family show the day before, and we all went up and man, she was great! She had an upright bass, sax, and her partner on a drum, and she read this very Beat stuff … as in, with a beat, the same kind of breath lines as Jack blew, and about finding freedom and yourself in a sea of blandness and conformity.
And very cooly, she pulled out all this stuff from her repertoire that dealt directly with Beat subjects — poem-stories about meeting them, and about their lives together back in the day. I know she’s continued to write since the ’50s, the more recent of which is what she normally performs, but for this shindig she specially and thankfully selected all her original Beat-based material and quite rocked the house — with more energy than I’ve seen in performers a quarter her 80 years.
And this was naturally followed by more jazz cigarettes and cold Sierra Nevadas on the stoop while everybody mill-valleyed about, and by now me and ol’ Blind Tom had become a somewhat inseparable duo — he was so observant — and I convinced him to not leave the next day but stay for the aftershow glow when everyone’s relaxed and radiating with the meter off and it’s Vesuvio’s time. 😉
And so ol’ Blind Tom wisely does this, and we have a whole day’s Adventure . . .
And I’m encouraging him to write up his Shindig story cuz he’s about my age when I did the first one and it would be so amazing to read how he perceives everything — how he can’t see but he’s all ears — and the way he so highly functions and learns geography and is so self-reliant and Getting Things Done is just mind-blowing.
And we happily bop all over North Beach, including hanging with Paul Kantner at the vividly historic Caffe Trieste and I tell him about staying in his old house in Marin, and he sits there reading that whole section of the book just like Phil Lesh couldn’t put it down a week earlier …
But the coming night was one of those Classics you play for.
It began with the official debriefing hang with the core crew at Vesuvio’s — just as I had prophesied to Jerry we’d do months ago — that beaming lingering evening when we’re no longer looking at our watches after months of planning and deadlines — Bill & Chet, as he & I started jokingly calling ourselves, honoring the two great San Francisco promoters — and debriefing we did! — including with old show-producing New York partner, Levi Asher …
. . . taking over the best booth in the best bar in town — right on the street, right on the corner, right under the Kerouac Alley sign, right inside the door, everything wide open and wild!
And off we riffed on the vibe that was pulsating from the opening night party to the closing night stoop; on how so many people met each other for the first time; how Gerd and ruth were like two playful kids even in their 80s; how cool the Prankster presence was and how natural the blend was with the Beats; how effective the big party room was except maybe we should have the poets’ stage somewhere else so it’s more focused; and how taking over Fort Mason was so perfect, giving us our entire own world in the middle of downtown San Francisco; how glitch-free everything had rolled; and how everybody got home safe.
And suddenly I remembered — “Oh Wait! There’s a super-important scene in the book that takes place here! I sat in here in ’82, right above where we are,” I pointed up. “This exact spot, except on the second floor! We gotta go there!” So I Pied Pipered the crew upstairs just before they closed it off for the night, and we took over the very table where me and Croz met that actor! (ch. 27) Another one of those sites from the book I hadn’t been to in 33 years!
And dig — right under Levi’s chin you can see the Kerouac Alley sign outside!
That certainly wasn’t there in ’82;
but the historic Tosca Cafe above my peace sign certainly was.
And after a few more rounds, responsible Bill Graham bids us adieu — and it’s pretty much a wrap on the wrap party. And outside in the aforementioned Kerouac Alley, Levi and I have a perfect fare thee well moment, where the giant arc of the rainbow came down just like it did over Levi’s Stadium, from East Coast to West, from our first deciding to do this and getting together for the first time in years for this perfect Adventure in Beatlandia, and now the rainbow arc ends in Kerouac Alley between Vesuvio’s and City Lights — the bar and the bookstore with Jack the bridge — the only two Shindiggers who did both the conference and the Dead shows hugging goodbye, so much happier than Dean & Sal at their sidewalk farewell in On The Road.
And now there were three . . . amigos in the alley . . .
And I figured we had to figure out once-and-for-all exactly where that famous Robbie–McClure–Dylan–Allen photo was taken. And ol’ wiz-bang Brandon pulls out his smart-phaser and beams up the photograph and zooms in on the doorframe and a-ha! GOT it! Nailed it. Know it. Now.
So we gotta take the fer-sure pictures in the fer-sure spot — and so Yes! We reprise the Blind Tom trick and have him take the photo!
Outside the door in the Dylan-Beats shot.
Photo by Tom Lake.
And eventually brilliant Brandon bolts for the boonies, and I walk my new Brother Tom home — this Beat conference’s Brother Tom, reprising the real-life character so central to the first one — back to his Green Tortoise Hostel a half-block from The Beat Museum — in itself one of the coolest places in North Beach — a center for off-Beat Travelers and Adventurers since the mid-’70s.
After the drop-off, I was still way too jazzed n burnin’ to remotely sleep, and there was a whole city left to explore! Suddenly I was on my own, no direction home, free to roam under the starry dome.
I hung a right up some little alley next to The Beat Museum towards The Saloon — since 1861 the longest continually operating bar in San Francisco and home to all the desperadoes since Jack London and Jesse James. Or something. But by now it’s already past the last call for alcohol and they’re not lettin people in the door. But I look closely and there’s ol’ Per (pronounced “pair”) — my Danish Deadhead brother who’d flown here from Copenhagen for the Fare Thee Well shows — and actually was at the historic Tivoli show on the Europe ’72 tour! We’d been beaming all over North Beach ever since we both arrived about the same time, and together we could do a lot of damage.
So I see ol’ Per sittin there, and this seems to be enough for the Wild West Saloon cowboy doorman to let me slip through the swinging doors, and ol’ Per’s just laughing his Danish head off that I found him, and of course it’s time for another Adventure.
We pour outta there, and fall in with this whole German crew who are similarly prowling the streets of No Good, and head round the corner past the closed Trieste and back out to Columbus where we got caught up in the whole strip-bar scene with these hookers and whatevers and guys & dolls of all ages and ethnicities working the hungry sidewalks for a mark & a buck, the full-on hustle of end-of-night scores and hook-ups and tricks and trades and what a circus!
We linger in the swirling scenery of barkers and colored balloons — because life is a carnival, two bits a shot. But then we remember our mission for beer and continue back to Broadway where the Danes and Germans hold a curbside summit to determine the next drinking hole. But it takes this Canadian to break the news it’s a hard 2 A.M. cut-off in this town — and if Vesuvio’s and The Saloon have had last call on a Monday, there ain’t nuthin more late-night than them.
I looked at the deli on the corner and the watch on my wrist and told ol’ Per — “That’s the last beer in town, mate. And it closes in 15 minutes.” He doesn’t wanna believe me, so we sit down on these iron bolted-in bus stop chairs they have, and have a smoke to think about it, watching the open deli door as the minutes tick by. And sure enough, since ol’ Per hasn’t come up with a better plan, at 1 minute to, we grab a half-dozen Rolling Rocks, which Per has some crazy elaborate backstory on about how he discovered them on some mad mission in America way-back-when and they hold some special power for him — secret energy juice — and I’ll go along with anything for a night.
So we happily load up my road bag and head for my office — this outdoor patio place just down Columbus at Kearny — the perfect setting for the sunset of the trip.
As fate and geography would have it, we had to pass Specs on the way — the other historic hideaway bar in North Beach that’s been there forever.
I get us to swing left the sweet chariot on ol’ Saroyan Alley to the tiny bar you’d never know was there . . . unless you did.
And sure as you’re born — the door’s standing wide open. And as I start to walk in the empty space, the barkeep calls out, “We’re closed!”
“Yeah — I just wanna look around” I say, all wide eyed I am — and completely knowing the play I’m playing.
And he lets us wander in . . . and I stay in character . . . the scholarly studious student of history . . . appreciating said bar . . . painstakingly exploring every inch of the framed history on the walls . . .
. . . buying time . . . showing interest . . . while Per goes over and starts talking to the last lingering local at the end of the bar . . . who I actually happen to already know as he’s the sometimes doorman at Vesuvio’s, the guy who told me how the scene around North Beach had changed so much for the better with the announcement of the Dead shows . . . their first in 20 years . . . and how he, as a street barometer, had noticed a visible change in the hugs and love of strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand that had been missing for a long time in this Times Square of Bohemia.
And so, with everyone duly occupied, and me tossing out the occasional inquisitive question to the clearly erudite bartender . . . the desired bond seemed to be developing . . . and as the last of the now-drinkless locals wafted out the door . . .
. . . sure as you’re born I hear The Magic Words:
“Could you go close that door and lock it?”
Where everything changed
BOOM! DONE! In. The coolest tiniest bohemianest bar in S.F. . . . the greatest POSSIBLE moment and place to be . . . the old The-Bar’s-Closed-And-The-Drinks-Are-Free Routine.
And it turns out this bartender, Michael, is a doppelganger for the comedian Colin Quinn — accent, heritage, looks, mannerisms, humor, thoughts . . .
And he re-fills my pint without asking whenever it’s thirsty, and as he’s putting everything away and cleaning up, he says more than once — “If you were 5 minutes earlier or five minutes later, this wouldn’t have happened. . . . But you came in right in that window.” We both knew the routine, and were mutually happy to have worked it together.
And boy, was he smart. A classical music and film scholar, he starts playing all these obscure movie scores that are positively Vivaldian! And as he’s putting stuff away he stops and POUNDS out the beats on the bar like a teenager does rock n roll — and fist-pumping the air at the crescendos. The guy got his B.A. in film, minored in religion and African studies, and one of the refrains our many-pints-long conversation keeps returning to is — “respect your elders.” And it was that I respected the history of the bar that was my pass into this world — as he reverently tells me about the legendary eccentric owner nicknamed “Specs” who was a jukebox of one-liners — “If I’m not in bed by midnight, I go home” —
and how he made their business cards double purpose that can also be used to protect female customers . . .
The place is like the original Kettle of Fish in New York — just a bar — no TVs — no frills, no nuthin ‘cept music and people and drinks — because what else do you need? I search for the authenticity in everything — the real, the core, the truth, the root, the undoctored, the natural in both the outdoors and the indoors — and this place is bona fide, certified, Beatified real.
With Per — the Wavy Gravy / Chet Helms / Ken Kesey of Copenhagen
at the legendary Table of Tyranny in Specs
And after we have this glorious perpetual-pint-refilling classical music class and North Beach history lesson, ol’ Michael’s about finishing his chores, and I can read music on the wall and knew this score was coming to its natural resolution, and knowing not to overstay our gracious welcome, I suggest to my Danish Dangerman that we continue on to my office, cuz we’ve still got that 1:59AM purchased six-pack of Rolling Rock to play us through the nocturnal groove-down.
Back on the desolate angel streets of deserted North Beach, America, the only two Beatniks still beating the conversational adventure drums on this sleepy Monday night in June, euphoric in our score of an after-hours bar that looked so impossible when we were last roaming these empty streets of newspapers blowing . . . as we whooshed around the corner to my corner office with a view.
Quite ecstatic in the ecstaticness of the 4AM universe — we’ve pulled it off! From slipping into the closed Saloon to find him hours ago, to the magic moment in the coolest Kettle this side of 1957, we surfed the waves of this Beach like masters of the never-bored.
And as you can just barely see in the picture, I’ve pulled out my notebook . . . and am readin’ my notes and writin’ new ones . . . cuz if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s — you gotta write it when it happens.
As me and Per are taking the talk for one last loop around the track, I know I got work ahead of me. Gotta get this down. Now.
So we walk back to the hotel weir both staying in and met over Grateful Dead t-shirts in the lobby, and bid each other goodnight.
Now, ya see — when I’m burning, I smoke. And I gotta have a space to write and burn. Normally it’s the street — but this is crazy half-lawless North Beach at 4 A.M. When I write, I leave the planet. But one needs to be alert and monitoring the radar systems when you’re out in war zones. And I could not leave earth and be safe with my instrument on the sidewalks of this crazy.
And then — ol’ Levi came flashin’ back. Of course, as The Grand Fates had it, I was hanging out front when this brother-from-another-mother arrived to stay in the same joint. And having experienced Brian in New York, Levi asks as I’m walking him to his room, “What’s the roof like?”
I say, “There’s no way up.”
He goes, “Whadda you mean? There’s always a way up.”
Now, A) he’s not right about that, but B) the moment he says this, we walk past a hallway with a window at the end . . . and a fire escape ladder going up . . . hmmm . . .
The conversation immediately leapt to another subject, as he and I are wont to do, but the snapshot was logged at CentCom for future reference. “Roger that.”
Back to the room — download everything — meaning leave in room everything you don’t need; pack for Adventure: laptop; cold beers from mini-fridge, replaced with the last Rolling Rock; glasses for long range optical enhancement; camera so I can see what we captured from tonight; notebook for retrieval; I.D. because I’m anticipating being caught, and have the whole honest play in my head — “I’m just a writer visiting from Canada and it was my last night, and gosh, I’m sorry, but there were no signs saying you can’t take the fire escape to the roof.”
BOOM — like Batman, I’m climbing up the side of the building, in the 4AM dark of Big City, America, and sure as shit, it takes you right up!
POW! On the roof! Scout it out. Walk softly and attract no attention.
It’s a bit cold, but I’m puckin here! And to prove to anyone maybe watching me from higher buildings, I go and sit and get right to work on the roof hatch cover — the only “seat” on the roof, coming up from a locked room and locked hatch below.
Safe on Heaven’s roof.
I’m freaking out I’m here — but I got shit to do. And I start writing the story you just read. But it’s really hard cuz the Coppola Building is hauntingly hovering above me, and Coit Tower’s beaconing on the horizon, and Washington Square Church is looming right in front of me . . . and I’m on a roof in North Beach . . . so it’s all happening, but I’m forcing myself to get the story down — no hope for full sentences — just exact images — I’ll weave ’em together later — as I look around again — surveying the two fire ladder routes to the roof — the only two access points for any enemy to appear — and they’re both a long way away — as the city lights are painting moving abstracts on the fog — “So this is where psychedelic light shows come from!” — and . . . “quit lookin around” — Boom — back to the flashes of story images in sequence — get it down, get it down — even though it’s also see-your-breath cold — and see your life-flash-before-your-eyes visual — and the computer screen’s fogging with unreadable mist in this rainforest San Francisco Bay moisture — adverse conditions at their best — but write on, muthrbruthr, write on . . . .
And then suddenly — Oh Shit! — I’m interrupted by — the pitch black beautiful sky beginning to turn . . . a smidge off black . . .
“Oh no — it’s getting light . . . “
Which quickly gave way to … “Oh my God! It’s getting light!!”
And thus The Shindig Sutra ends . . .
My corner office from above
H……… With a toast to all the new days.
For the original conference Adventure check out The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac
For reactions to that AdventureTale check out this raving page
For another Kerouac Adventure with the Cassadys check out The Northport Report
Or here’s some storytelling videos about some other Beat Adventures
Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Al Hinkle·Grateful Dead·Jack Kerouac·Neal Cassady·North Beach·San Francisco·The Beat Museum
Reviews, feedback, and other buzzes over the transom . . .
Brian Hassett had the presence of mind to pack a good old cassette recorder in his rucksack back in 1982 when he was alerted to the Jack Kerouac Conference being staged in Boulder, Colorado. The real spark to get him travelling across country to be there was Ken Kesey and The Grateful Dead. Brian was 21, knocked out by Jack Kerouac’s writing, and the Beat Generation as a whole, when he hitched his way there, thousands of miles, having incredible luck in obtaining lifts as he went. He blagged his way into being part of the conference set-up — there seems to have been a little Neal Cassady-ish conning going on — but it got him at close quarters with all the major participants at the event, presented by The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.
There was Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, John Clellon Holmes, Herbert Huncke, Ken Kesey, Anne Waldman, Timothy Leary and hordes more. Panels, discussions, debates, films — it went on for ten days. And Hassett was at the centre of it all, recording on his cassette player as he went: Kesey recalling his regret at being in England while his father died; John Clellon Holmes telling the real story of the birth of On The Road – who knew because he was the first person Kerouac let read the scroll version. Holmes explained the true genesis of it all.
The book is a youthful memoir with all the never-to-be-recaptured frantic zest of a young man. Everything is wonderful in the Hassett world, even bad luck. Every cloud he sees has a silver lining. This attitude takes him far as he finds himself pals with Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey. Kesey’s wife Faye tells Hassett as the conference winds down that her husband thinks Hassett is a great guy. Bursting with happiness, and the thought that Kesey rates him, sustains him. Especially given the fact that he idolizes Kesey like no other.
It’s the sheer unbridled enthusiasm that pours from Hassett that is so engaging. His close up portraits of Kesey, Ginsberg, Holmes, Huncke, Gregory Corso, Ken Babbs, Jack Micheline, Michael McClure, and others salvaged from his cassette recordings in themselves are wonderful on-the-hoof artifiacts, as the Beats relax outside the formal panel discussions which were the staple of the conference. Because they’re so important, you forgive the eager young Hassett the sometimes intrusive ‘cool’ slang he uses throughout the book. He hasn’t airbrushed it out to his credit. That’s how people often talked.
This is the Beat Generation colliding with the rock world of The Grateful Dead. I wasn’t aware that the band helped finance the event and were willing participants in the ten-day jamboree. They all knew of Kerouac, he was part of their history. They knew him through Neal Cassady, whose ex-wife Carolyn was there — as was Jack’s daughter Jan, and his first wife Edie Parker.
Then there’s the story about possibly being given a lift by Steve Jobs … or was it Bill Gates?
This is a brilliant read.
— Hilary Finch, Beat Scene magazine (out of England)
Knowing where it’s at and being there is a gift for you.
That you are such a fine writer and take us with you is a gift for us.
— Chris F.
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
— Will Durst
I just finished a cherished early printing of this book … and it is a mind blower!
Brian has both the credentials (he spent time with ALL the Beats that were still around in 1982), and he has the chops! He not only writes about the Beats … but he is the best “Beat writer” I have encountered in a long time — riffing from page to page like a wild be-bop jazz musician.
Brian’s story is about attending a pivotal Jack Kerouac conference in Boulder Colorado in 1982. Using his experience with concert promoter Bill Graham the summer before (on the Rolling Stones 1981 Tour of America), he segues from being a conference participant to a job helping stage the event. For him it is like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. He finds himself accepted into the core group of his heroes — and he brings us along on his wild ride.
My favorite chapter came as a surprise. It happens to be 17 which is a number with much significance in this book! It’s a conversation he had with Michael McClure on a stroll after a screening of Robert Frank’s Rolling Stones documentary. The discussion wanders between poetry and philosophy and brings incredible clarity to the question of what impact the Beats had on today’s culture. It goes on to a very serious discussion on drug use from a man with a depth of personal experience, who has lost many friends to a wide variety of substances. The youth and enthusiasm of Brian, plus the wisdom of age and experience from Michael, make this chapter alone worth the price of admission, particularly for anyone looking for words to talk to kids about drugs. Not heavy folks … just wise!
For two days, in the middle of the conference, Brian attends Grateful Dead concerts at Red Rocks. This puts us all in that scene, running with the Deadheads! But it all fits. The Dead do a show honouring Jack and their buddy Neal who of course drove Ken Kesey’s bus. “The bus came by and I got on / That’s when it all began.”
Brian connects more dots than anyone before between our beloved popular culture and its roots in the Beat world.
Anyone interested in Jack, Neal, Allen, Bill and the gang needs to read this riveting account of chance meetings and lifelong friendships with so many of the principals in the movement.
He draws lines between Jack Kerouac and much of the pop culture that he influenced over the last half century!
This book is the best addition to Beat literature in many years!
He IS a Beat writer … not just writing about the Beats. Riffing like Dizzy and Bird!!!
Hoping to get my copy signed in the near future.
— Dale T.
This is good stuff.
— Zane K.
Here’s the part where Phil Lesh couldn’t stop reading it.
“This is top level. It’s breezy and friendly and fun to read. It’s naturally gripping stuff, full of personality, and it works. There’s a nice rhythm – chunky, meaty, bouncy, like a good Grateful Dead road song. Plus, the book is offering valuable original material.”
— Levi A.
As an avid reader of the Beat writers I was a bit dubious regarding this title.
How do these subjects correlate? Another wannabe? Another boring perspective? Another academic trying to prove something? WRONG!
I was attending a gathering where this author would be present so I thought I should read it.
First off, the writer knows his stuff. Very informative.
What happened to this generation of people? Read on ….
How do all these things tie together? It’s in here.
This book is not the tedious standard fare re: Kerouac et al.
The writer takes you on an interesting adventure, with a wonderful cast of real characters, while somehow making you feel like you’re along for the ride.
Hassett’s prose is lyrical and refreshing.
A hands down must-read for Beat fans.
I enjoyed the whole book in one sitting.
And I walked away smiling.
Thank you, Mr. Hassett!
— Shelly M.
My hero you are.
— Mitch D.
What’s so significant about book is that — there are a lot of very good books that come out about the Beats, Jack, Allen etc. — but this IS a Beat book.
It’s an addition to the Beat canon. This is not only a book about the Beats — it’s a contribution to the literary legacy of the Beats.
It is a Beat book. It’s the perfect merging of subject matter and author. The two come together so naturally. And it reads as though you are in the room telling the reader the story.
— Prof. R
“It reads wonderfully. The stories of your adventures are always intriguing and fun. Despite what’s going on in the moment — you have an outlook on the world that is just joyful. And I love your play with words ”
— Jerry C.
I blew through it in one weekend, and came out the other side with a new appreciation for this eternal Prankster and his visions of Jack and that natural progression to Kesey (and The Bus), to the Dead, and the ideology that continues to bring in the Tribe.
I need to take the trip all over again.
This is action writing as Jack Kerouac intended.
And Hassett is certainly no bench jockey!
The energy, desire for experience, and the ultimate in “living” while in constant movement makes this book a must for anyone that wants to know and understand what Jack so eloquently stated about “the ones that never say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn ….”
The anecdotes, the life on the road, the Boulder Conference, the Kesey farm visit, and the characters and heroes in between reads like some wicked dreamscape of Beat-Hippie Nirvana.
This book is past the point of a professorial doctorate dissertation. This effort is what happens when an intelligent, no-holds-barred, experience-soaking sponge comes out on the other side after decades of looking for, chasing after, and acquiring the elusive “IT”.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide is first rate storytelling and a very important addition to that sagging bookshelf called Jack Kerouac.
— Ken M.
“A Wonderful Ride”
This amazing story is, on the surface, about a crucial Beat conference in Colorado in 1982, but in reality it is about the entire history and spirit of the Beat Generation writers and how they passed this history and spirit on to Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, Abbie Hoffman — and Brian Hassett, who here takes his rightful place as a true carrier of the torch.
Once you hear Hassett’s unique voice you won’t want to stop reading — and laughing — until the book, unfortunately, comes to an end … but you will have had a few new worlds opened up to you before it does.
— Walter R
My granddaughter is RIGHT NOW reading YOUR book!!!
My son visited yesterday (first time since the Beat Shindig).
He FLIPPED SIDEWAYS!!!
He saw her reading it and took the book.
After looking at it asked, “Who is this guy?”
I knew he was a Dead fan but had no idea he knew all about Neal!!!
His best bud was at the concert the same night you went. And his last name is Cassidy. (!)
Telephone calls fly back and forth between them.
Picture of your book sent.
Both ran out to get it!!!!
My granddaughter tells him I met Jami Cassady (thank you!)
The energy level in this house is knockin’ on heaven’s door.
Thanks to Jack.
Thanks to you.
I find it remarkable that you can write of your life’s journey with such joy and detail with such a lack of ego!!
The facts of the trip speak for themselves, you relate that whole process. For those of us that have not journeyed physically across country, etc, it’s sheer fun to read about. And of course, the conference, the spontaneous meetups, etc. I think my favorite part is the personal conversations. The fact that you taped a bunch of that stuff, wow! I mean, there is no guessing as to what was said. It’s kind of like Visions of Cody, you know? And your descriptions of people you interacted with — really fun — and I can see those people.
I dug the book! I truly did. It’s sitting on my little table next to my dining room sofa waiting to be reread. It’s that kind of book.
And you’re right — it’s meant to be read in a big gulp. Next time I’ll try to do that.
I hope you sell heaps and heaps of this fun and thought-provoking book.
That poem at the end and your reading it with the band — I love that!!!
THIS is a great book … loving it! Great job . . . fantastic!
Just read the first 133 pages in one setting. Can’t put it down.
I found myself saying “Yup” to myself a whole lot. And I dug Cassady’s foreword … sounds like John.
This is making me realize why I love Kerouac so much. It’s a great read … I’m loving it so much … bringing back so many great memories … you have NO idea … but then again you know because we’re both on the same Kerouac/Cassady/Burroughs/Ginsberg/Kesey and all the rest wavelength. You really made me realize again why and how much I love Jack and Neal.
I can’t thank you enough for writing this book. It was a God Send. It really was.
Your book made me want to write again.
Here’s what I posted to Amazon . . .
A fantastic book … for any fan of the Beat Generation, this is a must read. Mr. Hassett has a way with his words to make you feel like you’re right there hitchhiking with him, on his way to Boulder, CO. You will meet Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs and all the other characters that Jack Kerouac spent so much time with. You will journey with Hassett to Ken Kesey’s farm and feel the warmth of the ole bus, Furthur, as the author takes it all in. Again, a fantastic trip … a great journey … a must read book.
— John D.
Magnificent stories and insights on the Beats
This book is incredibly good. The author attended the big Kerouac conference in Boulder in 1982 as a young man. He got free entrance for volunteering. Brian took along his tape deck and finally made a fantastic book albeit 30 years later. He saw the Grateful Dead play Red Rocks midweek and has some vivid recollections. Loved it!
— Grateful Dead Books
Just got this yesterday and read the whole thing, and it is more than fascinating. It’s a great book! 400+ pages of excellent memories, and he sounds just like a friend of yours.
It’s a great mix of Beat writers, Grateful Dead folks, Canada, Colorado, Manhattan, all over the map, Merry Pranksters, road stories, tips and tricks for higher living skills, advanced literary shenanigans, and a most interesting life trajectory. I went through it pretty fast.
I’ve written four non-fiction books myself, and I greatly appreciate the amount of thought and effort that it takes! You should be very proud of this remarkable achievement, especially as it provides so much really absorbing insight into so many important topics and fascinating people — really a road-map of modern thinking in not only the Beat and music worlds, but also of great interest to anyone with a brain and a heart.
— Sam S.
“You made lightning strike.”
— Brad K.
Started the book around 5PM, and made it thru chapter 5 still in the sunshine … read the rest that night in one long uninterrupted flow!!!
Loved it! A fantastic, exciting and informative tale of adventure, inspired by and written in the style and soul of the Beats themselves. No doubt Kerouac himself would approve!!
Hassett is the real deal, having begun a love affair with the Beats at such a young age back in 1982 and following through with an epic trip “on the road” to attend and participate in the Jack Kerouac Conference in Boulder, Colorado. We soon find out that Hassett is not only there but throws himself into it head on, and ends up actually helping organize and run the event itself. Making contact with everyone from the main participants, relatives of Kerouac and Cassady, to fellow “road” travellers, he takes the reader on a magical journey covering thousands of miles, a detailed account of the conference, Grateful Dead concerts, mishaps, adventures, and the amazing face to face meeting with the King of the Merry Pranksters Ken Kesey. It’s all a wonderful read.
The spirit of Neal and Jack hover over every page of this epic adventure!!
— Joe M.
“I think you nail Herbert perfectly. I can hear him say those lines in my mind’s ear. And nice job on Edie and Henri. This book might help give them the credit they deserve.”
— Tim M.
If you’re a fan of Jack Kerouac, The Beat Generation, or The Grateful Dead, then you’ve probably heard stories — legends even — of the great Jack Kerouac conference of 1982, in Boulder, Colorado. You’ve probably heard stories like “Jan Kerouac was up on the panel! …. That’s a sight I’ll never forget.” Or, “Oh yeah, Corso was at it again!!!” Or, “The Grateful Dead played at the Kerouac conference …. What a trip!!!”
But unless you were one of the lucky few who had the good fortune to be there, you just flat-out missed it. Either you weren’t born yet, or were too young to appreciate it, or too far away, or too tight for cash, or too busy, or you just didn’t know about it until it was too late … whatever it was, you missed it, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. The biggest, grandest meeting of the Beats plus concerts by The Grateful Dead all rolled into one rollicking adventure!!! But you missed it. Or did you……?
Here’s the thing … a mad scientist genius angel poet by the name of Brian Hassett has recently invented a time machine to transport you back in time, just before the convention started. Even cooler, this brilliant alchemist has cleverly disguised this time machine as a book, and it’s really easy to use!
All you have to do to get the time machine started is open the front cover. This will immediately engage the system and you’ll be transported back to the summer of ’82 where you will encounter a young man who will accompany you on a wild ride, hitchiking from Canada to Colorado for the conference. He will gladly show you around all the different lectures and panels. He will introduce you to the likes of Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg puttering owlish over his schedules and list, and running around shouting contradictions to the skies.
He will show you the magnificent allure of Anne Waldman as she holds the crowds in awe. He will point out William Burroughs mumbling on the sidelines. And he will take you to the concert of The Grateful Dead. You will attend every one of these lectures, every one of these parties. You will have conversations with Herbert Huncke. You will be gifted with advice from Michael McClure. You will witness facets of Ken Kesey’s character rarely seen before, and experience the grandeur of Carolyn Cassady alive and shining with the brightest of stars.
I won’t say any more here, so as not to spoil too much of what’s ahead, but if you have a touch of road fever, then there’s nothing more satisfying and exciting than to pick up this book and to read it in one delicious blazing eye burning whirlwind reading tornado. You will not be disappointed.
You have left me breathless, speechless and totally smiling. Way way more than excellent…… Absolutely Wondrous!!!!!!
— Carol D.
Loved the book …
Besides your voice — which I’ve dug ever since the first short story I read back in ’84-ish (about you helping someone move) — I remember saying to you then that you’d already developed a unique voice for a narrator … and you’ve never lost it — you’re just painting on a much bigger canvas now.
What I liked best about the book is how you skillfully wove everything you’ve learned about the Beats SINCE 1982 into the story of the summer of 1982 so that the effect is seamless. We never feel that a 50-year-old narrator is commenting on a 20-year-old adventurer …
in other words your perspective now on what happened then and your memory of how you felt then merge beautifully.
This book should be the definitive statement for all Beat lovers and scholars on a definitive Beat event.
This is the book you were meant to write. No one else could have written this. Your 30 years of accumulated knowledge shines through.
I thought (at first), as an English professor, that the structure was wrong and it should have ended on the big Saturday night at the conference. “Oh no — there’s another hundred pages – what’s this?” But then I was surprised I didn’t not like it — and in fact did like it. It was honest and what really happened — like Jack wrote.
And I loved that you didn’t romanticize Kesey.
It’s just so alive and fun to read.
And the expository chapters were great — they were what the book was about.
You hit the ball out of the park.
And you’re a damn good writer.
— Dr. R.
Just finished the book and totally dug it! I’m still processing it … and my reading list has just gotten longer.
Practically had a flashback during the Red Rocks chapter. And the class with Holmes … Go, man, Go! You’re lighting my fire!
Hell, I might even read it again! What a trip! I was totally into Kerouac and the Beats around that time (’82) … brought back so many memories … felt like I was right there with you.
— Bob B.
1:07 PM – Just started reading it from the beginning … no jumping ahead….. Man — the way you set up your “17” paragraph — Brilliant!!!
2:01 PM – On page 86 …. this is making me feel alternately even more furious than before that I wasn’t around then — yet elated that the writing is so clear and realistic. You were around my age when this all starts — and this really gives the reader the feeling of being present for all this amazing stuff.
4:31 AM – Finished, in one blazing, eye burning read. Great book! Spectacular. Lots of cool accounts of these remarkable writers!
After reading about this event I now feel like I was there myself — couldn’t be cooler!
Also you’ve got a great, clear prose voice, man, like Jack’s.
— Aaron L.
I dip in to some of my copy every single day.
— Karen N.
I’m knee deep into your book and I’m fascinated with your story.
You are an incredible writer and you capture every essence of the Beats.
I have been a songwriter for 35 years with my band, Change To Eden. I come from the School of Jack Kerouac, Jim Carroll, and Taoism.
With that as my reference, I can truly see how much you ARE the Beats — and a big thank you for keeping the stories vibrant and alive.
It matters greatly, and you’ve done a magnificent job of capturing your experience and the grander picture of it all. I admire and respect you greatly, Brian.
I hope to hear you speak some day soon — and just know the kindred spirits out here are paying attention.
May your journeys remain magical and profound!
You keep writing and I’ll keep reading with a voracious appetite for your stories.
— Mark S.
This book is awesome Brian! I’m really enjoying it. The screenplay for the movie should be next!
— Craig M.
Ah, I loved this book!
It has the inside scoop on the 1982 On The Road Boulder Conference which united the Beats with the Grateful Dead, those joyous jammers.
Written by a young man who was there for the whole conference and had the foresight to bring his tape recorder. This is important, because he got to have fascinating conversations with the poets, writers, movers and shakers who were present at the conference, due to his working as a production manager at the event.
He starts his story with how he found out about the conference and how he gets there, hilarious tales of hitchhiking. When he arrives and talks himself into the managing gig, we are along for the ride with him, able to feel his exhilaration and appreciation of all the inspiring people he gets to meet. And the private conversations are some of the best parts. After-hours parties, etc. You get the drift.
This could have been a name-dropper book, with a morsel of gossip here and there. But it isn’t. It’s a fun ride … oh yes it is. Lots of humor and A-Ha moments. Coincidences — but are they really? It has a bit of that, “Wow, am I really experiencing this?!” kind of vibe.
This is a book with great heart and positive thoughts.
— Jeanne M
Happy Earth Day, Brian. This is a true gift to the planet.
— David W.
Having just binged on yer book I had to write and tell ya … your writing makes me smile. Best Jack impression I’ve ever come across.
Thanks for the insights into where his world revolves these days. One step higher than Ann Charters … and I can’t pay it a higher compliment.
Many of us look around each day and are amazed by the fact that Weir still here … and … tellin stories.
You spin a nice tale in a warm way.
— Dennis O.
“I don’t want to give you this book back.
I’ll give you $20, but I’m not giving you this book back.”
I’ve dabbled in some reading about various Beat generation luminaries, but I’m certainly not that well versed in the literature.
Nevertheless, I found Brian’s memoir of his trip to the Boulder ’82 “On The Road” Conference made for compelling reading. He recounts hitchhiking to the conference, becoming immersed in helping to run the conference and meeting many of the Beat icons (too numerous to name). He even spent time at Ken Kesey’s farm in Oregon on the way home. Brian saved all his notes, photos and cassette recordings from the trip and they’re used to complement the text as you read along. He interviewed many of the participants at the conference and also did research with archival materials.
Brian tells his story in a casual friendly style.
Something else I really liked about the book is that the type size is nice and large. It makes for easy reading. Your eye floats effortlessly across the page.
A wonderful achievement, and great reading. Highly recommended.
— Sharry W.
Best book I have read in a long time. Thanks Brian!
I’m so stoked to be getting back into some good reading after being reminded of all those old books that started my crazy adventures.
You’ve rekindled my love of well placed words!
— Sunny D.
It was 1982 when the 21-year-old narrator was in a Vancouver bookstore buying a copy of ON THE ROAD for a friend’s birthday and spotted an event poster that “changed his life.”
When he saw the poster, Hassett got on the phone to the coordinator. (Neal Cassady’s family nicknamed Hassett, “Gets Things Done.”) He had no money, but he had a long list of production credits and he heard the magic words, “Yeah, we could use you. Come on down.”
A bus, 17 rides, and two days later he was in the midst of 300 participants and 3,000 attendees. At one point he says, “It was the Super Bowl of the Beats, and The Grateful Dead were playing the half-time show.” He describes the panels, interviews, and just plain hanging-out with those who touched Kerouac’s life.
Hassett took along his cassette deck, and his readers get 1982 conversations taped verbatim. Among the many are Herbert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes, Ken Kesey (who invited him to the his farm after the conference), and a crazy, fun encounter involving Al Aronowitz (who introduced Dylan to the Beatles), Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Micheline.
The Guide isn’t limited to Beats and counterculture figures. We’re in the passenger seat listening to many drivers who pick him up; for example, a cab driver (or a cab thief) in a New York City Checker with a gorgeous babe, who might have been a working girl, in the backseat smoking a joint. Later going to Kesey’s farm, he gets in with an “Ernest Borgnine-looking guy” going to Cheyenne who snarls, “Are you a hippie? You look like a hippie.” When Hassett says he’s from Canada, the guy says, “Canada? What the hell is there in Canada.”
Some chapters are written with the non-stop enthusiasm of the 21-year-old that Hassett was in 1982. In others his voice is that of the thoughtful man he is today whose love for the Beats has not diminished. And there are some 60 photos throughout.
The book ends with Dessert: “In Memoriam,” (the departed conference participants). “Love the Living in Your Life” (surviving participants and what they are doing now), and The Five Documentaries Shot at the Summit.
— Mary E.
“What a fresh light you’re shining on the Beat Scene. And in a loving, lyrical style. Showing, in a way no one has before, how those around Jack influenced him and helped preserve his work for us. Your book will be an important addition to the ongoing Saga of Jack.”
— Cor v.d.H.
Your timing is perfect. Things couldn’t be better lined up. Prankster events — the Beat Shindig in S.F. — Dead shows in Chicago … with the band that personified “On The Road” … it’s just all right.
The world is so ripe for this book. It’s like people went to Yellowstone as a kid, and now you’re taking them back as an adult.
You’ve baked a delicious pie and put it on the windowsill — and there’s a hungry world just waiting for something like this.
And it’s not some scholar-sounding university dissertation with big words and a bad attitude. This is a romp … it leaves no one behind.
You deserve everything that’s coming to you.
— Wizard of Wonder
First and foremost, Brian Hassett, is an outstanding writer and you feel you are a part of this legendary journey. He is a brilliant storyteller.
The presence of Kerouac is felt throughout this book. You can sense his wanderlust and the impact he had on so many of us in the post-Beat era.
Somewhere in the mist, Jack sits quietly, nodding his head in approval. All the Beats are widely recognized and discussed in this book. You’ll have to read it to get the whole picture. Just know the picture is accurate, profound and presented with the insight of a young man who knows his Kerouac.
Hassett delivers a tasty and exquisite tribute to the movement, writers and poets that changed America.
The Beat philosophy is alive and well — and we are all much better for it!
— Spike S.
This is a book that had to be written.
— Sylvia G.
And here’s a whole second round of these raves that came in from all over the world.
Or here’s some excerpts if you wanna take the ride . . .
Meeting Your Heroes 101 — Allen, Gregory, Holmes, Burroughs & Huncke
Who all was there … of which John Clellon Holmes said, “More of us were together than had ever been in one place at one time before.” And it never happened again.
My best pal and my best gal — Edie Parker and Henri Cru, with Allen Ginsberg sandwiched in the middle.
Arriving at The Grateful Dead shows at Red Rocks Amphitheatre during the summit in ’82
Or here’s a bunch of performance videos of various excerpts, and some great radio interviews.
Or here’s where you can buy prints of the best photos taken at the Jack Summit, including some seen in my book — from the Lance Gurwell Collection.
Here’s where you can get the book direct from the publisher (where the author gets the highest royalties)
Here’s where you can get the book in the U.S.
or in Canada
or in the U.K.
or in Germany
Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Grateful Dead·Jack Kerouac·Neal Cassady·The Beat Generation·The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac
I saw the best minds of many generations,
dancing, hysterical, naked …
at the Farewell send-off of the Gratest live band in history.
While The Grateful Dead were breaking the all-time attendance records for Soldier Field stadium in Chicago — I was seeing them in a small venue from about 5th row center. I was so close I couldn’t get all the band members in a single frame of my camera, and had to turn my head from left to right to watch Trey signal Hornsby and Bruce receive it.
I’d “won” the mail-order lottery — a 1-in-10 chance — and had requested pit / orchestra tickets for opening and closing nights, and then an expensive side seat for the middle July 4th show.
I’d just finished two weeks in the Bay Area — everywhere from the Kerouac–Snyder Dharma Bums house in Marin to the “Dear Jerry” show in Santa Cruz, while also headlining 3 appearances at The Beat Shindig put on by The Beat Museum in North Beach, and catching the opening Santa Clara show — with some carefully-timed discipline, on the Thursday leading into the final weekend shows I stayed grounded and writing and in transition. There were non-stop incoming calls & messages going off like a blinking Christmas tree promising grate presents in the presence of my GD and Merry Prankster families arriving from all over North America, but I paced myself knowing there were entire days of non-stop standing and dancing coming up for this 50-something geezer who had to actually practice walking again just to be in shape for this very real 3-day-long Acid Test in Chicago.
And the opening day it was even worse in The Distractions For Fun Dept. Everybody was gathering everywhere around this massive ancient coliseum of warrior Soldiers, and everywhere was a song and a celebration. But I had this idea — “What if I went in as soon as they opened the gates? Maybe there’s a chance I could actually get somewhere good on the floor … get to know the people around me … and see it from someplace I could see it.”
I went ahead and got in the early-entry line while my phone was still going off with “Meet me here” messages — and scootilee-doo — I end up inside the stadium well before the 70,000 other people arrived.
The open chair-free floor was divided in half at the 50 yard line — the back half being TicketMonster General Admission floor tix, and the front being the mail-order winners. The front section was also divided in half down the middle of the field, and I first went over audience right (formerly Jerry side) and immediately realized I wanted to be Phil side, so I went to the back of the soundboard where there was the only passageway between the right-left sides, and motored my way up to the still nearly empty front of floor.
Deal was — if you bought the expensive I’m Special tickets, you got to go on the floor before us plebes with regular tickets, and these Special folks had laid down blankets and such to commandeer the front-most space. The first roughly 20 feet from the front rail was taken up by these seated picnic basket types eating grapes — but what I was able to do, being a solo flyer, was weave my way between the patchwork floor tapestry and find some place to stand just a few feet from the front rail that wasn’t really on someone’s blanket. If I’d been traveling even as a duo, this wouldn’t have been possible. But since it was just skinny little smiling me, I was able to insinuate myself (to use Keith Moon’s phrase for joining his band) into the picnic basket crowd and immediately start talking to whoever was there … making you, by accepted conversation, one of them.
And following shortly behind me were the rest of the regular Pit ticket krewe, often in groups, who would get to the outer edge of the blanketed floor and stop there. Once they stopped and stood, the people coming after them would stand behind them. So right away there was this dividing line of packed-in standing people, and sitting down blanket people. And I was sure on the right side of that divide — in front of stage right, at the right time. By the time the band came out at 7:30 and blanket nation stood up, I was effectively 5th row center for opening night (!) . . . with tons of room to dance!
Once the show started, if someone tried to crash into where we comfortably and spaciously were, we knew they weren’t one of us (after our two hours of being there) and the improvised leaders in our improvised community would tell the interlopers to go back where they came from.
And another cool thing was — this was not a high stadium stage as used to be the design choice. In fact my eyes were about exactly even with the floor of the stage — which, in cool thing #2, was not set very far back from the front audience rail. Suddenly I was standing maybe 20–25 feet from the front line of musicians I’d flown to Chicago to see.
Except for the width of the stage, this could have been the Village Vanguard or Bottom Line. I like to see the visual interaction between musicians in a band — especially one that’s good enough to improvise as they play entirely different shows and every song live (as this incarnation) for the first time. I don’t know if I was hearing the stage amps or what, but I could look at any player and zone in on an iso audio of their lines. It was the most fun, perfect thing I could imagine. It felt like I was sitting on the stage — watching that freak of nature Phil Lesh conducting the orchestra with his six-string bass — the first ever played in rock n roll that I know of. I remember thinking, “I could read the time on his watch if he’d just turn his wrist a bit.”
And there was the brother-like relationship between Phil and Trey. They both came out of dressing rooms on audience left — the rest of the band audience right — with Bruce & Jeff in one room, and the Core Three in the other.
And on the first night there was obviously serious tension between Phil and Bobby — Phil just wailing away and having the time of his life, and Bobby scowling and with a sour face playing discordant chords as a way to voice his displeasure — a detached self-isolated sourpuss all night. There was Trey and Phil signalling right past him, cueing the keyboard duo stage left, who would respond with popped eyebrow solos whenever stage right tossed them the look — including the memorable moment where Trey called an audible during Franklin’s Tower and gave Hornsby the solo for the last song of the night — a player who’d been way-ignored musically to this point — and for the first time we heard a Franklin’s that was piano-based and not guitar. And everafter, Hornsby and Jeff became infinitely larger parts of the shows than they had been thus far. In fact, this exchange during Franklin’s felt like the moment they really became a band.
Or seeing the playful bond between Mickey & Hornsby. Or between Hornsby and his protege Jeff Chimenti (on Brent’s old B3) — who, not incidentally, is so much more coherent, grounded and versatile than the GD’s final keyboardist ever was.
Note the reflection of the audience in the shiny Steinway.
But mostly it was the ability to hear any instrument at any time. And except for the keyboardists’ hands and Billy being somewhat hidden behind his kit, you could watch-to-hear whatever they were doing string-wise, vocally or percussively.
And the music was as complex and interesting as it gets — jazz soloing; polyrhythmic patterns you could follow any one of while two or three others played simultaneously; soulful vocals that literally brought tears to my eyes more than once; in-the-moment interactions as players were racing all over fretboards at breakneck speed but still locked into one another in a unified whole made of 7 very different parts.
One odd thing:
I’ve been in the audience for all the different band incarnations since Jerry died, and never do I remember really missing The Voice and The Tone and The Soul … until this version. Maybe because those were all known to be new ensembles taking it furthur — and this was so much … The Grateful Dead. Chicago was more of a reflective look back and celebration of where we’ve been than a progression into the future. And although Trey carried the day and was as adept and well-studied and playful and energy-infusing and able-to-handle-it a guitarist as you could find, for the first time since hearing a re-birthed Dead post-’95, to these ears, there was very obviously someone missing.
But two things that were actually better than the Jerry days were Drums and Space. Although Phil’s an even better player (and now a bandleader) than he was back then, the instrumentalists who have really taken their gig furthur were the drummers. Particularly the first night in Santa Clara (where it clocked in at 22 minutes!) and the middle night in Chicago, Drums became a wildly expanded percussive exploration — and for the first time the audience was able to watch it via a robotic HD camera flying above The Beast, as well as roving handhelds surrounding them. And Mickey, being a smidge more of a ham than the rest of the flannel & Birkenstocks band, played to the cameras at times like Jagger — but all in the service of punctuating the music.
And throughout the show it was interesting to see how often Mickey used wide-fanned brooms (thick stemmed brushes). And just like the way the band started, Billy was totally The Beat, the rock n roll kit drummer who drove the engine, as opposed to much of their career when it was largely both of them. Now Mickey’s not even on a kit, has no cymbals, stands the whole show, and works this array of toms with the versatility of a large orchestra’s drum section but with the passion of a Latin combo at Carnival.
And then Space — which was always performed on a pitch-black stage — was now filled with a subtle but illuminating white light — and especially from my 5th row center spot I was able to see how they worked the non-musical sounds as an ensemble — the three guitarists gronking out whale cries and wolf howls while the drums and keys kept a close eye and added their subtle fills in response.
By the end of that first night, I felt like I’d lived that quote, “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in one well preserved piece, but to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, worn out and shouting, ‘WOW! What a ride!!'”
The middle night — July 4th — I was 11 rows off the floor with a view of the whole spectacle including the massive fireworks they set off not just that night but to open the second set of the final night as well.
The sound and mix in the stadium was as crystalline as it gets — once again the Dead pioneering live sound reinforcement — but instead of the Wall of Sound it was a Circle of Sound — as they employed true 360° surround-sound that added to the surreality of an already very altered space.
And the video screens! Oh my! There were the huge digi hi-def images of the players (on both sides and above the stage) but also a dancing fractal morphing rainbow visual show that was the colors and undulating images of a Grade A acid trip. In fact, the visionary Candace Brightman came out of retirement to do the lights, and she incorporated the original Joshua Light Show era gel projections as part of her palette. No matter where you were in the 70,000-person stadium you were hearing the show like you were wearing earbuds and seeing it in technicolor like you’re on 5 hits. And frankly, these guys don’t get enough credit for discouraging drug use by creating acid trips without the acid! … although, when you do put them together . . .
For the third and closing night, I figured my front-of-floor routine was a long-shot since everybody else would have figured it out by now — but I went for it anyway — and sure as shootin’ got right to the same 5th row-ish spot Dead center (!) and saw several of the same 1st show peeps . . . and once again —>
I was experiencing the Dead’s farewell in a small venue!!
And by this 5th show (and even by the 4th) the band had really gelled into a unified collective. Whatever internal conflicts that were so obvious at the first Chicago show were happily gone, and the keyboard’s background-singer-status had been elevated to full participating players.
Y’know — if these guys just stuck with it, they might get somewhere.
From this vantage point — the many-hours-long fond Farewell was beyond my fondest dreams.
And another funny thing — back in my run of a hundred-sumthin shows between 1980 and ’95, every time I saw them they played at least one song I’d never heard them Dew before. But with this very limited 5-show Gratest hits retrospective finale there’s no way they’re gonna play anything you haven’t heard even once over the entire second half of their career … right?
The first night in Santa Clara, they played not one, not two … but five songs they hadn’t performed live since the ’60s (!); the first Chicago had two; the second Chicago had The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion) which was actually the very first Grateful Dead song I ever liked (!) from when I bought their greatest hits “Skeletons From The Closet” album as a curious 14-year-old in 1975 — a “hit single” song they (naturally) never played live again after 1967! And the final night I was absolutely floored on the floor by a 14-minute Mountains of The Moon (!) — that Middle Ages Canterbury Tales-meets-Lewis Carroll ballad written for harpsichord that they played famously on Playboy After Dark in 1969 and never since!
And all that’s not even getting into the scene! which is what made this a Grateful Dead experience and not just a Phil & Friends / Ratdog / Whatever. It always was about the natural mixing of the band and the audience that made Dead shows special, and there’s no band (or anything else) in history that created a friendly party on the scale of the Dead. From every brief elevator encounter in a hotel miles from the venue to the stranger dancing next to you for 5 hours, we were all instant old friends, where a rightly timed smile could convey volumes of truths you’ve both internalized.
And this party went on for miles . . . from the front of the pit through every corridor and seat of this giant stadium; from the grass hills outside to the Shakedown parking lots down the way; from the underpasses with massive drum circles to Grant Park-facing Michigan Avenue that was unabashedly taken over for block after block after block; from Hunter Thompson hotel rooms to the giant Buckingham Fountain in the park in front of The Congress … it was “strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand” all over town.
Around 2 AM outside the Hilton on Michigan Avenue.
And another beautiful thing was that the crowd was almost evenly split between those who’d experienced the Jerry Dead and those who’d missed it but who’d somehow internalized and manifested everything that journey was about. And both were an equal joy to share it with — the veterans who knew the score and how to run it up, and “the kids” who were clearly having the time of their lives and gushing with a Christmas morning orgy of rapture.
If Phish was once a cousin band to the Dead, the two became siblings this weekend. Deadheads gained respect for the very respectful Trey, and Phishheads I talked to had studied the entire Dead repertoire in the months since the announcement. Every player on that stage will continue making live music, and this was just a roundabout in the road that will slingshot each of them into some reinvigorated orbit backed by generations of new listeners.
And how interesting they chose to not include a single “guest star” after being the biggest (by number of members) band inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame, and probably had more people sit in with them than any other band in history — and certainly any that sold out stadiums! But the Farewell didn’t need gimmicks or distractions. It was just some cats playing music — complex “electric bluegrass,” as Crosby calls it — with nary a hit song to their name — but who ended up breaking the all-time TicketMonster record for one event, as well as the most people to watch an online or music-based pay-per-view event in history, while setting a new attendance record at Soldier Field … then breaking it each consecutive night!
And all this while being the most overtly unprofessional act in show business! They start their concerts with the Bang of tuning up for two minutes. The few quasi-hits they have – they almost never play in concert. They wear what appear to be rumpled Goodwill clothes on stage. They never say so much as “Hello” to the audience all night — until Phil comes out after it’s over and asks for your organs. They flub lyrics and cues all over the place … and laugh about it. They take one hour intermissions … and the audience doesn’t blink an eye … about that or anything else — because the music and the high and the vibe and the energy is So Overwhelmingly Positive and Powerful.
And the other thing — this was all one-take stuff. Other than their anthemic Truckin’ that they played once in each city, and Cumberland Blues, which they did once solo Bob, and once group vocal, there were 80-something different songs played once and one time only. Everything one take — just like rock n roll was invented.
This sure has been a long strange trip — and this was one helluvan encore!
You might also enjoy the time I met Phil Lesh about two weeks before these shows.
Or here’s when — The Grateful Dead Played My 30th Birthday.
Or here’s a Grate review of Furthur playing Madison Square Garden a few years ago.
Or there’s this excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac about going to a show at Red Rocks in 1982.
And you can buy a copy of the book here (in the U.S.) or here (in Canada) or here (in the U.K.)
Or here’s The Highest Peaks from RockPeaks — the live music video site I wrote for for years.
Or here’s the feature story on Festival Express that appeared in Relix.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Chicago·Deadheads·Grateful Dead·Soldier Field
Getting My Phil at The Crossroads
It’s the Father’s Day weekend, 2015, and my bassist bud Al Robinson tipped me that PhilZone.com had its countdown clock to the next Phil show indicating Sunday night. That was the only lead I had.
I was out in the Bay Area where, a few years ago, Phil bought a nice large restaurant and performance space in San Rafael, calling it Terrapin Crossroads. Conferring with my local live music confrère Adrienna, we were able to put the two-and-two together of his son’s band, Midnight North, and their Father’s Day booking at his father’s club, and guesstimated that was the spot.
At the time, I was staying down the coast in the Capitola / Santa Cruz area with the Cassadys, but wanted to do a few days in Marin, so it seemed like Father’s Day was the perfect time to transition from Adventures South, to Adventures North.
I stopped in at John Cassady’s in San Jose on the way up, left there about 5:30, and made it to Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael in an hour and 15 minutes. (!) “You could have been waiting in the line for the [Golden Gate] bridge for an hour and fifteen minutes!” locals later told me, in near disbelief at my Cassady-like road time.
Terrapin Crossroads (TXR for short), is a very large multi-room family-style seafood-leaning restaurant right on the water of the San Rafael harbor, and just a couple blocks from the band’s legendary office / rehearsal space on Front St. It has a separate “Grate Room” for larger shows, but every night (and often daytimes too) bands play on a small, low stage in the main restaurant / bar room.
This being 7PM on a Father’s Day Sunday there was a long line of people waiting to get in. Having never been here before, I thought they were in line for the Phil concert, and I’m like, “Is this the ticketholders line?” To which I got strange responses, cuz, see, there are no tickets … it’s a restaurant, you tourist.
The dining tables were all full, but right in front of the tiny stage were a few high bar tables and chairs, and one of them was empty, except for a guy named Cliff. And if you’ve read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” you know that’s a sacred name, a guiding light, in my AdventureLife. Soon weir joined by a guy named Jeff, with this table looking right onto the stage. I asked these regulars if they think Phil is going to play tonight, and they point out there’s no big bass rig on the little stage, so they doubt it. “But you never know. We could be sitting here and Phil could come walking right through that door.”
And not three minutes after he says this — it happens!
Here comes Phil, with his wife Jill — and they go sit in a large open unused area up a couple steps behind the stage.
I’m kinda freakin out. There he is. The Man himself. Just a regular dude in a restaurant. About 30 feet away from me.
I’ve already told Cliff & Jeff about my book and how I’d love to talk to Phil and maybe give him a copy.
And pretty much right away, Jill leaves the table they’ve encamped at, and as he’s just sitting there, Cliff says to me, “This is probably a good time to go talk to him. He’s all alone. It’s only going to be busier later.”
Five minutes earlier it looked like a long-shot he would be here, and now, with no prep or no liquid courage to speak of yet, I was suddenly “on.” It was showtime.
Luckily, blessedly, perfectly — a lightning bolt across the skull hit me — a-ha — what I could tell him — how I could start talking to him . . . I had an angle from an angel . . .
With Coach Cliff pushing me into the deep end, I grabbed a copy of the book and jumped off the diving board into sumthin I couldn’t turn back from.
He was sitting with his back to the far wall, facing into this large unused extra room, and could see me coming from the moment I crossed the threshold. I just went for it. Cliff was right. It was early, things were quiet, and this was the best shot in what might become a long, long, crazy, crazy night.
“Yes,” he looks at me, not unfriendly.
“I have a story for ya . . . ” I said with a Prankster twinkle, as I dropped down comfortably in a chair facing him. “I just wrote this book about the ’82 Kerouac conference in Boulder where you guys played Red Rocks as part of it, and I actually go into the connection between the band and the Beats more than any other book ever, including Dennis’s or anybody’s,” and I’ve definitely got his eyebrow-arched attention.
“I’m friends with the Cassadys, and was hanging out with Neal & Carolyn’s son John a couple days ago — ‘Neal’s kid’ as you guys called him,” I said, pointing to him and smiling, and he’s nodding yes yes, totally with me. “And … did you know that the very last question Jerry was ever asked on film … was about Neal?” And he makes this “Wow! I didn’t know that!” face.
“John didn’t know either, so I read him — rather dramatically — the answer Jerry gave about his Dad, and it was so moving, John actually got choked up and started almost crying. It was unreal.”
Here’s the part I read to John —
In fact, the very last question in the very last interview Garcia ever gave on camera (to the Silicon Valley Historical Association), was about Neal Cassady. “I got to be good friends with him. He was one of those guys that truly was a very special person. In my life, psychedelics and Neal Cassady are almost equal in terms of influence on me.
“Neal was his own art. He wasn’t a musician, he was a ‘Neal Cassady.’ He was a set of one. And he was it. He was the whole thing — top, bottom, beginning, end, everything. And people knew it. And people would be drawn to it. He was an unbelievable human being — the energy that he had, and the vocabulary he had of gestures and expressions — oh boy he was funny. Phew! I really loved him.” … were the last words Jerry Garcia ever said on camera.
And John was sitting there shaking with emotion and trying not to totally lose it in front of his friend.
“And then, a while later,” I keep tellin Phil, “Something reminded me of what you wrote in your ‘Searching For The Sound’ which I quoted in my book — you wrote so passionately about Neal — it was so beautiful — so I read John that part — and this time, John started crying almost from the moment I began reading, and so much so, that I started getting choked up … ”
Phil devoted much ink in his memoir to this milestone moment in his life [Neal’s death], including, “It hardly seemed credible that a life force like his, so generously endowed with the rhythm of motion through time, could be smothered and shut down at such an early age. . . . Neal’s death had hit me harder than I knew; I’d been obsessing on the loss of one of the most inspiring people I’d ever known personally. . . . I vowed to myself that in the future I would live up to Neal’s inspirational example.”
“… and I could barely finish reading it … and the next thing I know we’re in each other’s arms hugging and shaking and crying together.”
“Wow! That’s . . . beautiful!” he says, laser-beaming me in the eye. “Thanks for sharing that with me.”
“I just thought you should know. … You wrote so passionately about Neal … I thought Johnny should hear it,” and we both looked into each other’s eyes in a prolonged moment of respect and reflection.
And with that, I gave him a copy of the book, and said Thanks for making the connection to history like he did, and left him to his privacy, as I walked back out of that room, eyes bulging out of my head that this just happened!
Back at the high bar tables in front of the stage, where we had a direct view straight into this wall-less room where I’d just talked to him and the guys had been watching me, I was freaking out. I bought a round for the table in gratitude for their coaching, and I felt like my life was now complete. I’d finally written a book about how the Grateful Dead connect to the Beat writers … and had passed on copies to both the Cassady family and the main guy in the Dead.
And as we sat there, eventually I realized, “Geez, I prolly shoulda gotten a picture with him.” And ol’ Cliff says, “Well, he’s still just sitting there. I could take it for you if you wanted.” And I looked over at Phil, but he seemed all immersed in something, and I didn’t want to disturb him asking a dumb favor. But after a few more moments of reflection and sips of frosty liquid courage, I figured I better do it now — again, while it’s early, pre-show, quiet. So I said Yeah to ol’ Cliff, “Let’s do it.”
And as we walked up the couple steps into the extra room where Phil’s the only person there, I see he’s bent over reading something … and I’m like, “No! . . . there’s no way . . . ” And sure as shit — Phil is sitting there reading my book! I couldn’t believe it!
It certainly made it easy for me to ask, “Hey Phil, can I get a picture with you?”
And he looks up with the biggest smile on his face! “Yeah, sure!” he says with genuine enthusiasm!
And he jumps up for us to do it, then goes, “Wait,” and reaches back to the table and grabs the book and holds it up front and center!
Couldn’t believe it!
And then the night rolls out, and his son’s band plays their first set — a mandolin–electric–guitar bluegrass–rock amalgam with Grate 4-part harmonies — and luckily for all, as a vocalist, the son did fall far from the tree — as Pops comes and sits right behind us for the set.
Generally speaking — I’m thinking — “This must be heaven; tonight I crossed the line …”
I’m just a beaming Brian, floating on the golden road at the end of the rainbow, with a stage-side seat to some fantabulous music, surrounded by new friends, and a photo with Phil on my camera!
And then during the set break, Jill and some other people come and join Phil at their kinda private table in their kinda private room, basically right in front of our field of vision, and I’m sorta keeping an eye on him every few minutes. And then I notice, he’s not talking to the other people at the table. He’s sitting there, looking into his lap.
“No! . . . no way . . . don’t even think it … ” . . . but I do. And I get up and go to where I can get a clear view of his lap . . . and sure-a-gawd-damned nuff . . . on Father’s Day, with his son’s band in the house . . . on a non-work night out with his wife and their friends . . . he’s sitting there at their table … reading my book!
And then more crazy shit goes down, there may have been some jazz cigarettes involved, and another set of smokin’ bluegrass–rock-n-roll, and another round of — get this — Prankster beer!!
And we’re talkin at the table about all sorts of stuff including my book, and this other author named Sandy Troy is there, and Merry Prankster Adrienna, and dancin’ cowboy Harri, and it’s a very High Time with some very hardcore cool Marin County cats, and at some point the jam rolls around to one of the photos on the back cover …
from Halloween night, 1980, right after the final Radio City Dead show — and how I only asked to have the picture taken because I’d just found Molson Canadian in a deli for the first time since moving to America a month earlier!
And … I’m actually wearing a Phil Lesh button in the photo!
And then I realize — Shit, I should tell Phil this. He’ll never be able to see that that’s him on the button. So, sure as heck, being well-primed with some well-placed Prankster beer, I decide to go over one more time — which, y’know, is verging on being a pest. But when I walk up to his now full multiple tables of friends, he looks up, and as joyously as could be, goes, “Oh, hi Brian!” And this is a guy who back in the day had a reputation for sometimes being a little less than friendly to people. But he was just as nice and open and into-it as a person could be.
So I go on one knee beside him with the book on his lap and point to the picture and start to tell him the story about Halloween Radio City, and he goes, “What year was that?” Kinda blew my mind that he played this historic run at Radio City Music Hall, made two double-albums and one movie from it … and doesn’t have a clue what year it was!
Anyway, I tell him the funny story about why I had this picture taken and the only reason it exists — because this Canadian was just so jazzed he could get beer from the homeland in New York City — and Phil, being an old Heineken man himself, obviously appreciated a good beer story, and as soon as I told him, he popped his head back and let out a huge laugh, and totally got it.
Not only was I not being a pest, but he completely dug why I was telling him this vitally important background.
And then a few days later — while in the middle of another Beat conference — I joined him and 75,000 others at Levi’s Stadium, as this beer-and-book-worm played his band’s Farewell to California . . . including their song about Cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to Never-Ever Land.
Because that’s when it all began.
For more GD fun — here’s the Grateful Dead Chicago story.
Or here’s when The Grateful Dead Played My 30th Birthday.
Or here’s an excerpt from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” about the GD at Red Rocks.
Or here’s a ton of other people’s reactions besides Phil Lesh.
Or here’s a whole nuther round of rave reactions from around the world.
Or here’s a bunch of performance videos of various excerpts with numerous different line-ups.
And here’s where you can get the book in the U.S.
. . . or in Canada
. . . or the U.K.
And for Facebookers — there’s a photo album of the whole “trip” here.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Phil Lesh·San Rafael·Terrapin Crossroads·The Hitchhiker's Guide to Jack Kerouac
Somewhere in America . . .
Pranksters are gathering . . .
and in this case it was Wonderland.
A dozen acres of wilderness hills and valleys, with a sunken natural amphitheater on the highest point of land in sight.
150 or so Pranksters came from across the land, traveling by every mode there is to play the play like only Pranksters play. No passengers. Everyone here’s a participant, a character — a bunch of characters.
And there were babies, under 10s, tweens, teenagers, 20-somethings and every-somethings through their 70s … everyone interacting on an equal level … no cliques … no divisions … no separation … and everyone in a beaming mood all weekend … nuthin’ but fun on so many levels in SO many locations — the house, the front porch, the covered shed, the clothes painting area, the RVs, the Bertha Bus scene, the sign painting scene, the yurt, the first party tent, the second party tent, the Mad Hatter hat, the 300 section looking down on the amphitheater, the natural balcony level, the stage pit, the bonfire pit, the camping scene, the chess table and other installations in the field — that’s about 17 different scenes I can think of right off the top …
And then there’s the part where right afterwards people were saying things like . . .
“One week ago, I left New York to see people I’ve never met and to experience something like I have never experienced before. It was by far the most memorable weekend of my entire life, and I cannot express my love enough for each person I met. You all radiated an energy that I can’t even put into words. And you brought the spirits that couldn’t be there right to the party. Sometimes you invite spirits and they don’t show, but with this amount of positive energy and love in the air, the spirits couldn’t help but be there with us!”
Or . . .
“One day at your party was better than my entire vacation in Hawaii last week. It’s one thing to be in paradise, but quite another to be around incredible people.
“I just lost two of my mentors in the space of a few days and I was feeling pretty down about it all … and suddenly there I am standing in front of the stage … talking to some magical people … and seeing this amazing performance art … then in the mist of the music and the night … the message came from the singer on the stage … “anything is possible.”
Or . . .
“I met my best friends that I never met before … I feel so rich.
“I can’t even begin to to describe how much fun being a Merry Prankster has been! I’ve met some of the Greatest People that I would have never known if it wasn’t for taking that chance last summer. I have over 100 New Friends (and some I’m still meeting) from all over the country.”
Or then . . . Original Bus Prankster Anonymous saying . . . “You have no idea … I’m already rebelling and having thoughts of cross-country driving … the wonderful thing is you awoke this sleeper … and nothing is the same anymore ….. ”
It was three days … but really it was five … or two weeks for some … or six months for a few … and lifetime for all. Leading to this place.
Like … up on the hill, a giant 15 foot high top hat … and if you cracked the hidden slit in the side — there was a full Mad Hatter’s tea party going on inside with teapots and teacups and teaspoons and a full compliment of Mad Hatters sitting around speaking Jabberwocky.
Or there’s Grandma Tigger baking cookies by day and blowing fire by night.
Or there’s the kids painting their faces and putting on a play on the main stage. Or there’s Anonymous who jumped on The Bus in Calgary in ’64 holding court with tales of The Road. Or there’s me on stage reading On The Road with the Adam’s Ale soul-swingers behind me, or my own Road Tales with JoJo Stella gettin’ stellar with the groove. Or there’s Aretha’s trombone player blowin’ his rhythmic squonks across the land – and who said of my humble performance, “You made lightning strike.”
Pranksters. Nuthin but Pranksters. And they’re nuts! You know the type. A little too crazy to fit in naturally with regular folk … they’re always on Adventures … and playing … and goofing … and smiling … and hugging. And man! … a first-thought best-thought was to add up how many miles each person travelled to be here. Could you imagine?! East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, Canada … but then … you know the way sports are covered? — with every hit & shot & everything counted? — what if you counted all the hugs n kisses over this weekend?! We’d be burying Babe Ruth numbers.
Maybe a lot of groups feel this … and I’ve been in some pretty huggy close families … from Landmark Forum to MTV Networks to Deadheads United … but there was an inhibition-free love here I haven’t experienced before. Cool as the best work family collectives may be, you’re prolly not the You you are on a secret weekend getaway. Or in those self-help groups, you have to buy your way into their advanced programs before you’re in a really special place. But being a Prankster costs nothing. You don’t even have to like the Dead — although most people do.
It’s a mindset. It’s about being playful and participatory. Maybe you’d find this in a cool theater company’s get-together. Or an invitation-only musicians party. And oh my gawd — the music!
Part of Wiz’s whole idea, which he worked up with Yoda, was that all the musicians would play together. He hired four killer bands of the kinda players you could listen to all night … and that’s just what the hell happened. Saturday there was no break in the music from about 8PM till 5 in the morning. A non-stop improvised amalgam of jazz-level cats merging in and out of the flow for nine hours. It was musical medicine alright … just as Yoda prophesied. And meanwhile on the hillside next to the stage there’s a dancing psychedelic light show playing out among the trees as people dance in it and dogs run through chasing the lights causing wolfian sculptures of shadows dancing to the Fire On The Mountain. And then an octopus appears . . .
And then there’s this part where everybody paints or performs or pranks or cooks or makes installations or photographs or cleans up … or lots of the above … and it’s this communal gathering with not just people being nice to each other, but everybody letting their freak flag fly and creating whatever it is they do. Maybe that’s playing with somebody and tweakin’ their Twanger. Maybe that’s bringing 50,000 beers and giving them away like Gubba, Uncle Mike and Hootie did — after flying in from Vancouver and Albuquerque. Or maybe it’s tracking down one of the original Bus travellers and flying her in like Moray, the laugh-after-every-line Babbs of the Next Generation, did. Or maybe it’s arriving with a half dozen costumes for a three day party. Or maybe it’s becoming a Butterfly and dance-flying all around the garden.
Whatever it is — everyone brings it.
And the whole gall-darn point is — it can be done anywhere, by anyone. It’s just upping your Prankster game, and beaming in on those who shine. Weir everywhere.
But of course this one was silly special. The first Family Reunion after the 50th Bus Tour last year that brought all the Pranksters out of the woodwork. And now with The Summer of The Dead … and everything going on in Chicago in July … this is obviously a springtime to feel free to freak freely — “Let your freak flag fly,” as Crosby put it — letting out whatever’s inside that wants to emerge. That’s the Prankster ethos.
As I talked to people all weekend, from kids to old folks, there was a leprechaun glisten in their eyes, an electric wildtude, a Prankster twinkle. Nobody here was normal. Everyone was touched and screwy in their own way. Didn’t fit in. Reminds me of a line in my own book about Jack’s friends being odd ducks. I dunno, but it worked for him, and it’s working for me. The weirdest and most twinklingly playful people around you are prolly the ones you wanna get closest to.
For more Pranksterness — here’s when I first met Ken Kesey.
Or here’s The Pranksters at Woodstock.
Or there’s always The Pranksters on a Mission.
Or the Prankster / Beat spirit alive at a show in the Village.
Or here’s a Prankster Adventure with the Cassadys.
Photos by Jeremy Hogan, Wizard, Gubba, Joanne Humphrey & Brian Hassett
Story by Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Adam's Ale·Merry Pranksters
Then Along Comes Kesey
Excerpted from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac”
I was well into Jack — and this whole conference kicked that up a few dozen notches — like it did everybody else — but The Chief and The Boys (the Grateful Dead) — those were the magic beans I wanted to come home with handfuls of. So I immediately parlayed myself into being Kesey’s handler — the guy who was supposed to make sure he was where he was supposed to be. Good luck with that!
His first event was a big press conference with Allen and Burroughs. And of course he’s late. Way late. I’d called him at the house where he was staying, and he promised they were just leaving. Like, an hour ago.
After much pacing and looking back and forth from my watch to the furthest cars driving anywhere near — Kesey finally just “appeared,” all alone, blissfully walking up the sidewalk … and I was quickly learning what was known as “Buddhist time” in Boulder: Things were supposed to happen at a certain time. Unless they didn’t.
You’re immediately struck by his size and stature, and I don’t just mean literary reputation. This was a big man — a wrestler with a tree-trunk neck, a barrel chest, and Popeye forearms; a mountainman with ruddy cheeks and glowing skin; but more impactful than anything was his ever-present smile, his big, easy and infectious laugh, and the Prankster twinkle perpetually flashing in his leprechaun eyes.
“How was the trip here?” I asked.
“Great. We drove 40 hours non-stop,” and he turned and smiled a wide one in pride at their Cassady-like achievement. In fact, I’d hear him tell people this for the next week. “All the way from Eu-gene,” he’d say, emphasizing the first syllable and not the second, like he always did.
This all sounded well and good and very On The Road and In The Spirit and all that, so I never broke it to him that I got here from Portland, which is furthur, in 42 hours — and I didn’t even have a car! Smoke that in your pipe and hold it.
As we speed-walked the sidewalk to the gig, he also shared, “It was a return trip.” I looked at him. “My pa packed up the family and moved us from right near here to where we live now. I was born not far from here. Smack in the middle of the war he up and moved us all to Oregon, been there ever since. But this was my first home.”
And then, oh man! That press conference was sumpthin! I’ll just say straight out — there are very few people I’ve been around who change a room just by walking into it, but Kesey’s one of them. This was just the first of many times I would experience it. It has to do with energy, there’s no other way to explain it. People radiate energy, and I saw the effects of Kesey’s many times. He’d enter a room, and the whole space would change, even for people who didn’t know he was there or who he was. It would get louder and more animated. He was this huge splash in the energy pool and ripples would roll across the room, hit the far wall, and come rolling back again. Mind you, he was also partnered with his Lieut. Babbs, the former Vietnam helicopter pilot and Senior Prankster who’s got a bellowing baritone to match his big Oregon frame. So . . . things change when they walk in a room. As they did to the nines in the Glenn Miller Lounge at this press conference.
Lined up next to each other were Babbs, Ginzy, Anne Waldman, Burroughs and Kesey in front of the microphones and cameras and tape decks and standing-room-only reporters. The first question was to Kesey, and he was off, galloping with words and thoughts and obscure references, and leaning forward into the questions, not sitting back in his chair, and playing the room, merging the artists and audience like the best musician magicians can do.
The one and only time my trusty Kodak Instamatic X-15 screwed up and took multiple exposures was with Kesey and his convertible.
You can order a copy of the book from CreateSpace here . . . or Amazon here.
Or you can check out a bunch of performance videos with various musical line-ups here.
Or here’s a ton of different readers’ reactions to the book.
And here’s a whole second round of rave reactions that came in from all over the world.
For more from the Boulder Beat Book — check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or here’s . . . Who All Was There.
Or here’s another part about Jack’s wife Edie and best pal Henri.
Or here’s the part where we arrive at Red Rocks for the Grateful Dead’s show as part of the conference.
For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.
For a story about the London “On The Road” premiere at Somerset House — check out this sex & drugs & jazz.
For a great story of the world premiere of the new shorter final version of “On The Road” — check out this Meeting Walter Salles Adventure!
For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.
For an inspiring and colorful description of being at a Beat jazz-&-poetry reading in Greenwich Village — check out Be The Invincible Spirit You Are.
For a story about Henri Cru’s birthday — check out The Legend Turns 70.
For an account of the historic Beat show at the Whitney Museum in New York — check out Wailin’ at the Whitney.
For purchasing prints of the best photos taken at the Jack Summit, including ones with Kesey — check out the Lance Gurwell Collection.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Boulder Kerouac Conference 1982·Ken Kesey
With all the energy peaking over The Grateful Dead’s 50th anniversary shows, here’s a little excerpt from my upcoming book — “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac” — that shows part of why we keep coming back.
These shows at Red Rocks in ’82 were part of the largest gathering of Beats ever assembled, before or since — and The Grateful Dead played the half-time show.
Here’s what it was like as we arrived . . .
And man — what a scene! A Grateful Dead party on the top of a gorgeous red rock mountain with a natural amphitheater carved right into it! And the colors immediately start to kick in — 10,000 tie-dyes, maybe more, tripping through nature’s brilliant rock masterpiece to nature’s brilliant rock band under a brilliant multi-hued sky at a giant family reunion. Everyone’s infectiously smiling, and hugs are free n flowing.
There’s girls in short shorts and bikini tops, and guys in short shorts and no tops. There’s colorful clown costumes complete with jester bell caps, and straight looking doctors and lawyers and such with close-cropped hair, ironed alligator shirts and expensive watches … coming to their 100th show. There’s people walking around with giant backpacks like they just came down from the Himalayas, and unencumbered wide-eyed Coloradans at their first show, meandering in mouth-opened silence.
Moveable feasts surround every car, van, customized truck and psychedelic school bus — every one with a different state’s license plate — and you can just walk right up and start talking to anyone who looks interesting. “Strangers stropping strangers just to shake their hand …”
Veterans could talk to veterans, but someone at their first show was absolutely golden and had an All Access Pass to everything. Deadheads really make a fuss over show virgins — anyone who has the interest and the courage to make the trip is immediately embraced. It can appear to the uninitiated like a most intimidating world that’s functioning on a very evolved party level — and if you haven’t been through the arc of a night even once, well, help’s on the way.
Which reminds me of a beautiful moment from the Dead’s Rainforest Benefit a few years later at Madison Square Garden — the ninth of a nine show run when they broke the Garden record for most sell-outs at the world’s most famous arena by anything other than a sports team. All sorts of special guests joined them that night — Mick Taylor, Baba Olatunji, Jack Casady, Bruce Hornsby (who later became a member of the band for about a year and a half!), Hall & Oates (?!), and … The Muppets via satellite!! And at one point Suzanne Vega came out, this petite fragile sensitive singer who I was hanging with on the bar stools at Folk City in the early ’80s when we were all regulars there and before she became famous. So this now well-known tiny delicate flower walks out onto this giant dark and Deadly stage in this roaring arena full of the only unbroken chain of raging concert goers since the sixties, thinking, “We aren’t in Folk City anymore!” But the beautiful part was — with this petrified little bird at center stage and all the spotlights on her, Jerry walks from his normal spot in the shadows by his amps to the front and center line and stands right beside her and looks to her and plays to her and smiles to her … and carries the whole room with him. He gave her his 100% attention, and by so doing, he brought this whole crazy rock ‘n’ roll audience with him — and graciously handed them to her. It was the most touching generous beautiful thing.
And that’s the spirit we DeadHeads show to everyone, especially the most fragile among us.
And on a whole other level — there’s countless tour-heads strolling the scene holding up gorgeous hand dyed, hand lived t-shirts for sale, and quickly flipping them around so you can see the back as well. Asking 15, but they’ll take 10. Some are printed with classic all-purpose Dead lines — “The bus came by and I got on” — and others are customized just for these shows with “Dead Rocks” or “Mountain Dew” along with the dates.
In between unicyclists and bike riders and girls twirling hula hoops are people hawking bumper-stickers like “Grate things happen to Good people” and “Who are The Grateful Dead and why do they keep following me?” or buttons with the original family motto “The Good ol’ Grateful Dead” which was first winked between the knowing as early as 1966, or carrying bags of gooey-gum-balls (basically, round pot brownies), or there’s a long-haired girl in a long-flowing summer dress with tinkling ankle bracelets passively carrying a small rack of homemade jewelry as she silently and blissfully wanders the rows of cars in the spiritual belief someone will just walk up and buy one. And someone does.
You can order a copy of the book from CreateSpace here
. . . or Amazon here.
For some performance videos of various excerpts with numerous different musical line-ups check this out.
For a bunch of readers’ reactions, check this out …
Or this second round of rave reviews from all over the world.
For more excerpts from the book you can check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or here’s where you can check out Who All Was There.
Or here’s another part about Jack’s wife Edie and his best pal Henri.
For a vivid account of being at the historic “On The Road” scroll auction — check out The Scroll Auction.
For a story about the London “On The Road” premiere at Somerset House — check out this sex & drugs & jazz.
For a great story of the world premiere of the new shorter final version of “On The Road” — check out this Meeting Walter Salles Adventure.
For a complete overview of all the Kerouac / Beat film dramatizations including clips and reviews — check out the Beat Movie Guide.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Boulder Kerouac Conference 1982·Grateful Dead·Jack Kerouac·Red Rocks
February 8th, 2015 · Movies, Music
Pet Monkees & Other Oddities
So … hold on — the guys who made Pet Sounds were the same people who made the The Monkees’ “music”?! And the goofy band on those Sonny & Cher albums were the same cats who played The Byrds’ Mr. Tambourine Man? What?! Crazy! But true. And they have a great story — told by the players themselves in this new documentary The Wrecking Crew — which was the name they were dubbed by the old guard they replaced — because these whippersnappers and their new-fangled rock n roll was “wrecking” the music business.
What happened was — because L.A. was where television and movies were being made, they built a lot of different recording studios — and they were very busy. Add to that the Beatlesization of the world, and by ’63 or so, the star-maker machinery for pop music was in full rage. The old maestros of the musicals were suddenly getting invaded by smoking, bearded, dungaree-wearing beatniks. Who could play. A few years hence, groups of young people would form themselves into bands and this whole manufactured record-company-creation of pop stars would become obsolete, but while it happened, this same loose collective of 20 or so players made the music on everything from Sam Cooke to Paul Revere & The Raiders.
You’ll hear more Top 10 hit records in this documentary than in any film you’ve ever seen. And they’re all played by the same people! You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’, Strangers In The Night, Everybody Loves Somebody, Good Vibrations, California Girls, Help Me Rhonda, Surf City, California Dreamin’, Monday Monday, Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In, Be My Baby, Da Doo Ron Ron, Up Up and Away (In My Beautiful Balloon), These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, Windy, Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves, Love Will Keep Us Together, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, Eve of Destruction, Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds, A Little Less Conversation by Elvis, and The Beat Goes On and on and on …
And besides all that, members of the Crew also played the famous sax melody on The Pink Panther Theme, the galloping electric guitar on the Bonanza theme, that ridiculous Green Acres song, the acoustic guitar behind the M*A*S*H theme, the Mission Impossible theme! … and Batman fer gawdsakes! Not to mention the music in Cool Hand Luke, The Deer Hunter, Cocoon, Field of Dreams, Caddyshack, Around The World In 80 Days and on and on.
And that’s a whole backstory on the film — it was made by Denny Tedesco, the TV producer son of the main guitarist in The Wrecking Crew — but in order to include the music that makes the story he actually had to do a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds for the music rights! He wisely started shooting interviews back in the ’90s when the Crew were all still alive, and it was finished as a film in 2008, but has taken until now to get the licensing fees paid!
The documentary itself is really fast-paced and snappy, with choice stories of how licks were written and what life was like for a working session player. One of the producers had a great line — “If you want to be successful in this business — never say no until you’re too busy to say yes.”
The story’s told by not only a bunch of the core Crew themselves, but also Brian Wilson, Leon Russell, Frank Zappa, Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Jimmy Webb, Lou Adler and a host of others. Basically these musicians were The Beach Boys. The Mamas & The Papas. The Association. The 5th Dimension. Gary Lewis & The Playboys. Glen Campbell’s band. Phil Spector’s band. Herb Alpert’s band. They were taking on more different roles than the busiest Hollywood actors. And as the wonderful bass player Carol Kaye put it: “I was making more money than the President of the United States.”
There is a stark contrast between the lives and the music in this documentary and that depicted in other recent excellent behind-the-scenes docs including the one about another studio scene, Muscle Shoals, and about another batch of unknown but widely heard musicians, Twenty Feet From Stardom, but put together they weave a rich tapestry of the stories behind the music you’ve been dancing to your whole life.
In select theaters starting Feb. 20th, 2015. DVD release to follow.
For another great music doc — check out Festival Express.
For another one also coming out this year — check out Johnny Winter: Down & Dirty.
For another story on the behind-the-scenes of making a hit — check out Seinfeld, The Beatles and The Beats and such.
And speaking of The Beats you might wanna check out — The Beat Movie Guide.
Or the world premiere of the final cut of On The Road at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Or here’s sumpthin on that wild Dylan movie I’m Not There.
Or for another great ’60s music story check out My Dinner With Jimi by The Turtles’ Howard Kaylan.
by Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Brian Wilson·Frank Zappa·Pet Sounds·The Wrecking Crew
The Pranksters on A Mission to The Mission
It’s New Year’s Eve in the universe
………..and we’re on a mission.
The Wizard of Wonder called on Christmas Day. Seems The Pranksters are needed for a little Merry Jerry conjuring on New Year’s Eve in O-Hi-o. The official good-time resident Grateful Dead-vibed band of the state, Adam’s Ale, is having their big album release party, and they’re loopin in a few friends to bring it home.
A nice addition to the magic ‘n’ mystery is — it’s being held in a church-cum-theater called The Mission, just down the road from the Football Hall of Fame in Canton — disguised as best you could possibly be by a surrounding buffer of industrial warehouses — in a hidden forbidden green-space under old-growth trees, down by a creek at the end of a road where nobody er nuthin comes snoopin ‘cept those invited with an underground wink.
And thus we Merry Pranksters from Indiana, West Virginia, North Carolina, Canada and more roll in for this Woodstockian New Year’s in an old performance space with a half-dozen jazz ‘n’ Dead-friendly bands, and a whole night of magic, madness and mischief.
It was all put together by Adam’s Ale bandleader John Welton — the kinda guy who knows all the best players in the state. The psychedelic power-trio Big Black Galactic, the funk bomb droppers Jive Bomb, and Ohio’s own homegrown Prankster, Smilin’ Joe, are just some of the musical caravans that carried the vans fulla people from all corners out to the dancefloor and up to the rafters of surreal euphoria.
At the far end of the main room from the stage, the playful character who rescued this Mission also believes in physical play like us Pranksters and has filled the space with foosball and ping-pong and bumper pool and pool tables … and air hockey! which this traveling prairie Canuck grew up on and hadn’t seen in millennia! Not to mention a huge fully functioning kitchen that’s churning out everything from sizzling fresh stir-fry and pizza to bacon & egg breakfasts the next morning.
We’ve got the whole playground to ourselves — and anything goes. Trapeze artists are flippin around mid-air in the old theater wing, fluorescent hula-hoops are spinning easy hallucinations, homemade bars are being set up next to tents in the indoor camping sections, castaway couches surrounding the dance floor are filling with necking couples, easels are set up that people are painting on, gems and jewelry are being sold by craftspeople on tables, non-stop music’s makin’ the masses move, and crazy Pranksters are tootling the multitudes as everyone becomes instant family.
Patty Cake and Stage Left, who’ve also driven down from The Great White, are bouncing balloons they’ve rigged up with glow-sticks inside, and have a bunch of clothespins with funny or prophetic expressions written on them that they’re surreptitiously clipping onto people’s clothing when they’re not looking. Grandma Tigger and Mountain Mama are dancing around with bags full of glitter and iridescent rainbow tinsel and streamers and such and are sprinkling it on people making everyone sparkle in the flashing psychedelic lights. The Wizard of Wonder dons a different costume every 90 minutes, adopting different characters and keeping the masses guessing all night. Brother Pooh Bear is in charge of liquor and brought a case of crazy indy brews and ciders and wines and is manning the bar and instigating toasts every chance he gets. And Tater Bug brought a couple of her teenage musician sons who weave their way into some jams but stay off the toast.
Before the festivities roar into gear, Gets Things Done talks to promoter / bandleader / Bill Graham-of-the-night John Welton, whose CD release event this whole shindig is, and he’s got it all mapped out, including how his band’s going on at 11 which’ll lead into the balloon drop at midnight, and he conveys the whole blueprint to us M.C.ing Pranksters, and all the world’s a go.
‘Cept it was the craziest show-producing thing I ever seen — and I’ve been doin this since I was 16 and have worked with said Bill Graham and stage managed and produced shows all over the world. The way staging of multi-act shows works is — there are always delays caused by personnel and/or equipment, and the stage manager / promoter are in a constant battle with the band on stage to get them off when they’re suppose to. And on this night, even though we’d started nearly on time, as the first band Big Black Galactic funked on including really interesting interpretations of Pink Floyd’s Money and The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows —> Within You, Without You in an otherwise all-original set, as they’re getting to the end of their allotted slot, they say something from the stage to that effect, and Big Bossman John is meanwhile happily engaged in a pingpong game at the back of the house, and calls out for them to go ahead and play a few more. Never seen that happen before. Throwing off your own show’s schedule, especially when you’ve got a hard deadline of midnight everything is built around. But that’s just the kind of 21st century acid test we’re living.
So, this is all happening … then this Steve-Goodman-meets-Bob-Marley songwriter Smilin’ Joe comes on, and he’s playing these funny perfectly Prankster topical tunes like Help Me Find My Way Back To My Tent and I Believe In Circles If They’re Round about not believing in false prophets but only in things you know to be true.
Then the funk-jam powerhouse Jive Bomb fly in . . . and they need to be off by 11 in order to get John’s own headlining band on for the midnight magic — but as they’re reaching the end of their set, again, they say something to this effect, and again John calls out from the back of the room, this time from the pool table where I hear him proclaim he’s now won 38 games in a row on this table! to keep on playing … and he says out loud, though it seemed mostly to himself, “Maybe just keep rollin till midnight,” as he cracks another ball into the corner pocket.
Here’s the guy who’s put together this whole massive event to promote the release of his CD, which should obviously have his band on stage for the key pre and post midnight slots, but he’s just la-de-da … lettin it roll out however the vibe feels. Never seen a looser approach to show production in my life. Bill Graham would be hemorrhaging about now.
Eventually there’s a bonafide balloon drop from the cathedral ceiling, corks’a poppin, noisemakers screeching, glitter flying, genies unleashed, wishes granted . . . and finally the headliner takes the stage — a New Orleans quality quintet complete with Dr. John voodoo vocals and squawkin’ dirty trombone with comical lyrics to balance their serious groove.
There’s the bass player formerly of Ekoostik Hookah in his satin wine-colored Jimi Hendrix smoking jacket delivering a passionate knee-dropping Isis, while the psychedelic Solar Fire Light Show flashes dancing colors all over the room, and the reggae-meets-funk-meets-jazz starts melting faces and limbering limbs as the dancefloor begins to bubble like gumbo on the grill.
And all set long the original lyrics are baptizing the room in a harmonic hymn of music as medicine — “Heal your heart with musical medicine” — “I’m closer to God whenever I hear it” — “If you’re sinkin’ down deeper than you’ve ever been, and feelin’ like you’re never gonna smile again, let the music be your friend” — “I wear my music on me everywhere I go” — “Move your body with righteous vibrations” — “You’ve got to free yourself if you want to be yourself” — “I’m gonna make a difference in the world with my songs somehow” — “It’s not the singer, it’s the song; with the best of intentions, how could it go wrong?”
And this musical Elixir rolls on for a couple ever-expanding sets through the first several hours of 2015 until by 3 or 4 o’clock the final peak’s been climbed, the final silver mined, the church bells chimed, and the guitars lined, as the final spunions spun, and the post-show groove-down’s begun.
And in the looseness of the gooseness, visionary John scheduled Sister Charmaine to step into the air on her keys and fill the mellow with her Tori Amos-like etherial voicings — a sort of choir in the church, a female voice all alone after an all-male high-energy funk-jazz powerhouse of a night — a contrast, a soprano, a Carole-King-meets-Fiona-Apple singer-songwriter at the piano to refreshingly cleanse the palette.
And as she’s winding down her solo choir, so is the audience, as people are gradually retiring to various indoor camping sites, while Gilligan’s homecookin restaurant in the back corner is quietly serving up late-night recovery dishes, and all the musicians are starting to really play together after they no longer have to play.
And up on stage after Charmaine’s gone, I notice some kids setting up — I guess in some exit filler slot — prolly sons of one of the many middle-aged masters we’ve already been groovin to. With the room largely emptied out, and us having been raging since … well, day before yesterday … it was time for Gets Things Done to Get Some Lie-down on the giant air mattress the Wizard of Wonder set up in the Pranksters’ 10-person tent. And … good ol’ Wiz — none of this would’ve happened without his twisting my arm from afar and settin up not only the tent but this whole Prankster summit — the Next Generation Kesey katalyst ringing the bell that our kat ears are trained for herding.
Lying down on the heavenly air in the theater’s acid echoes, my body thanks me for the horizontal while my mind dances in the sky of kaleidoscopic rainbows spinning to the music from the other room.
And this is when things get weird.
As I’m going on this wondrous visual and auditory ride floating on air … I’m thinking … there’s no way this music’s coming from those kids on stage … they must have put on a tape … drift off in the swirling spectrum … dreaming in the immensity of it … distant music scorching a soundtrack and conducting a light show … and wait … Zappa’s Muffin Man?! … naw … must be a weird live recording … drift away … ou … nice colors … morphing fractals … drift back … is that … Peace Frog by The Doors?! … what is happening out there … must be a mix tape … ride the lovely lightning waves … but then … Crash! into the shore of … massive cheering … ??? … the room was empty … the night was over … there’s no one there … the headliner’s done … who the hell is screaming in joy? … and who the hell is playing?!
After a couple more of these I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-hearings — that’s definitely Willie Dixon’s Spoonful ! — I realize this thing must not be over! and roll myself off the air mattress onto solid ground where from I can rise again in the sleeping silence of this echoing church and weave back into the performance space — into one of those moments that so rarely happens …
All the other band members who were still here and a few still-standing Pranksters are gathered like for an all-star final bow — except weir not on the stage but at the foot of it applauding this … kid … who was obviously channeling something from way beyond.
I quickly learn it’s some quartet called Jojo Stella — with a 24-year-old old-timer driving the kit in a ball of sweat, a 20-year-old calmly thrumming Leshian lines on the 5-string bass, a 21-year-old goateed jazz beatnik on the keys who luckily loves the sound of the Hammond B3, and out front this hair-in-his-eyes 22-year-old singing like a young Keith Richards with gusto, or if Tom Waits was dosed and really going for it. He’s got this bluesy, personality-rich timbre and story-telling style that’s emotive like Tina Turner, but growly and old and edgy like Howlin’ Wolf. And then there’s … his guitar playing! … uncategorizable for sure … a Hendrix unconventional openness to playing every part of the instrument … with a thrashing Neil Young passion but with precise Jeff Beck or John Scofield jazz lines … but somehow tinged with heavy metal riffs … and all run through a filter of old-timey Robert Johnson blues.
And just as I had emerged from my psychedelic hibernation, people are steadily drifting up from downstairs, rising from sleeping couches, stirring from their nests, and the once empty New Year’s Eve-littered dance floor is filling again at what’s it gotta be? 5AM?
The eyes I was looking into before my air mattress ride were retiring eyes, satiated eyes, drifting off eyes … and now in front of the stage it was balloons popping as Frank would say — every face lit up, every jaw a little dropped, every eye beaming electrified brightness at What the Wow?! — including in the hair-covered eyes of our wailing bandleader who knows well he’s left this Earth and is flying with family in some uncharted galaxy without a net.
“Are you seeing this, too?” every face is gasping.
And Brother John who put the whole thing together for his band’s big CD release party is not only not bemoaning these kids miraculously stealing the show and having things run until 6 in the morning … but he’s on stage cheering them on! Their hour set had grown to two, and he’s giving these little raps between songs, telling them to keep going and how they’re the new generation that’s gonna carry the torch for us geezers … just as we had advanced the story from those who came before.
And although I was hearing Paul Simon singing, “It’s late in the evening and he blew that room away,” instead they broke into a Young Man Blues / Love Supreme medley! And they’re not just playing them, they’re changing them, readapting with new lyrics and altered melodies into this hybrid of psychedelic jazz rock … by these … kids.
And they’re improvising like crazy … and feeding off each other and following different paths as the guitar pairs into a duet with just the bass, or just the drums, or just the keys … and this is all prestissimo — and suddenly we’re in a downstairs jazz club in Manhattan for the after-hours set when the front doors are locked and it’s just fellow magician musicians collectively powering the room and creating the elevation where any leap is possible — dancing on tightropes crisscrossing the stage — no separation between band and audience as fellow players are yelling “Go! Go! Go!” and “Yes! Yes! Yes!” just like Kerouac captured Cassady doing at the birth of Bop.
And suddenly I realize Mountain Mama is standing next to me, and we look at each other with speechless amazement. Eventually I hear her lean in and say, “This is the kind of performance people are going to be talking about 20 years from now. You know? Like — Were you there?!”
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Stage photos courtesy of Dancin’ Chuck Mayfield.
For more Adventures with The Merry Pranksters check out The Pranksters at Woodstock.
Or the Pranksters In Wonderland family reunion and Hitchhiker’s book release party.
Or here’s sumpthin from my book coming in 2015 about all this Prankster – Dead – Kerouac stuff.
Or for another Grateful Dead themed story here’s the time they played my 30th birthday party.
Or here’s a recent Adventure with Dr. John who was evoked a few times during the epic long night.
Or here’s the Adventure The Grateful Dead, The Band, Janis and a trainful of others took across Canada.
Or here’s where The Dead sans Jerry came back to the Garden in 2010 and blew the roof off.
by Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Adam's Ale·Grateful Dead·Jojo Stella·Ohio
If you’re a Cat Stevens fan — and you know who you are! — stop reading this.
Close the link and go somewhere else. Anywhere.
Keep your music and memories intact. Beautiful gardens are too hard to find in this world.
Okay? Nobody here who doesn’t want their bubble burst?
Just makin sure.
Holy historic frickin weirdness!
Apparently “Cat Stevens” died a long time ago of a self-inflicted something back in the 1970s, and he is not currently on tour. As brother Barnaby caught me afterwards, “That was not Cat Stevens on stage. That was some guy named Yusuf playing Cat Stevens songs.”
I hate to say it … I love the guy’s music … but sadly there was just no authentic anything there. Just . . . nothing. “Soulless” was the word that kept coming up in my mind over and over all night in hopes of it being dispelled … but it never was.
This is a guy hitting the jukebox (which, hey! I love to hear ’em too!), but this is not “a band” by any stretch … in fact, what WAS this? It can’t be a money grab. He’s loaded. He’s not trying to reestablish himself in music or he’d have a top-notch band … and be doing more than 6 puckin shows! Like, … what is this? A toe in the water of a sea he swam away from a long time ago?
Sumpthin’s off here . . . and I’m a fan! And in fact I’m a little “off” meself, and I actually think his new album rocks! But … boy …
The Cat who wrote those songs — that beatific joyful soul bouncing on a stool, the cherubic smile … doesn’t exist …
I flashed on Donovan — similarly cherubic guy — peace & love — same era, same dozen Top 10 Hits — you go see that guy today and it’s a very soulful experience — he makes you feel like you’re the only one in the room . . . that connection between an authentic artist communicating … with an audience he has no fear walking among … [See Security Warnings Ahead]
And who knows what it is with Yusuf’s religious stuff — but not only was there no Allah / Islam at all (and I didn’t spot a hijab all night), this was more of a Christian gospel show if anything — Morning Has Broken being a Christian hymn he turned into a hit single, and his Curtis Mayfield cover of “People Get Ready” is straight-up gospel —
but it’s more that this guy hasn’t been functioning as a band, as a performer, as a conveyor of songs — he’s superficially warm, but with these pat showbiz lines you can hear echoing from every place he’s said them for years.
And he’s definitely not a “band” guy . . . like, you know how at the end of a show the bandmates come together and hug after their amazing once-ever journey … and salute the audience for their role … yeah, well, there’s none of that here. Bandmate connection nor audience acknowledgement.
Picture, if you will, any major singer-songwriter type person you’ve seen in the last year, or five, or ten . . . call up that band in your head . . . the one supporting Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Paul McCartney, Phil Lesh, Roger Waters, Robert Plant … all similar hit-rich people from the same era … where you wouldn’t even need the front guy those bands are so good. I mean, I saw Gordon Lightfoot last year — and his band was better than this!
And by that I mean — they were part of the equation, the conversation, the storytelling, participants, accents, taking a solo for a ride … some fuckin purpose other than musical wallpaper.
But then — when the players are set back 25 feet away from the leader in the far corners of the stage, in the dark, with the rhythm section separated from the keys & guitar by a 50 foot train station such that they can’t even see each other — it’s pretty hard to lock into a groove.
And then there was the part where — you know how you hit the men’s room right after a show — I can only speak for the pants side of the divide — but people are whoopin’ and singing the songs and “Hey, wasn’t that great?!!” And, “How ’bout THAT!” And everybody’s yippin and yappin and jazzed from the magic they just experienced . . . but the basement of Massey Hall (the only men’s room in the joint) was a fuckin morgue. Not one person was saying a thing — it was creepy ominous weird — and this is a huge bathroom with like 50 guys in it — and … dead. Nuthin. Like when you’re at a sporting event and the home team’s lost and no one’s talking about it and everyone just wants to get out of there.
Oh — and then before it started ! … don’t get me started! . . . all I’m sayin is, there’s sumpthin screwy in the belfry. You won’t believe it but . . . so, fer one, it was this whole ticketless ticket scheme to circumvent scalpers — which is admirable in theory — except … they have to check every single person’s credit card and print a ticket — and even every guest’s photo I.D. … for why?! — and there was a line around the block from 6:00 til 9:00 . . . for an 8:00 showtime …
and THEN half the time when people got to the door the credit card scanner didn’t work — and they had to go stand in a second line … and it’s like minus ten celsius — and they’ve been waiting for an hour on the first line!
and THEN there’s the full blown walk-thru airport metal-detectors … with guards and wands … and you put your stuff in this grey bin while you walk thru and they search you … sick shit. Over the night I talked to a bunch of longtime Massey staff and they’ve never had anything like this. And even the will-call guests like Ron Sexsmith I spotted … had to empty their pockets and go thru full-on full-body metal detector. Any of my showbiz friends ever remember seeing this?
and THEN … you can’t take photographs! . . . maybe with a flash, sure, I can understand that … but people paying 2 or 3 hundred bucks a seat should be able to take a lousy picture with their phone for their kids — especially since they couldn’t buy them tickets cuz a person could only buy two. And so all night there’s these photo narcs running around poopin on these pleasant aging beatific hippies just wanting to have a good time one last night in their life.
and THEN you couldn’t even stop pre-show in front of the stage to check it out — seriously … I mean, like, a half hour before the show … just standing there checking out the stage gear … and “You can’t do that.” What?
At one point I circumnavigated them, and got talking with the guitar tech, cuz I wanted to ask about that cool lookin National electric he’s playing. And the guy says, “It’s a piece of shit. A $3,000 piece of shit.”
And then the fuckin security narcs swoop in and that’s the end of that little chat.
So . . . all this shit’s goin’ on …
and then … “Cat Stevens” comes on stage … right? … except it isn’t Cat Stevens at all. Whoever this guy is, he’s definitely not Cat Stevens. And he should stop using his name.
And for sure I dig — despite the fatwa and all that shit … this cellularly walking Cat-Yusuf human was given the Nobel “Man of Peace” Award, and gives tons of money to charities and stuff, and I’m sure in his weird convoluted heart he’s trying to do good things … but … music’s sure low down on that totem pole.
remember “I hope I die before I get old?” How that made so much sense when we were dumb. I mean, young. … before we learned that artists can, y’know, grow.
This is really a case where a guy retired from the big leagues long ago, and never really kept up his chops … and now he’s comin back in the World Series … at least he’s chargin World Series prices for a nearly seven-game series of theater shows … and he’s comin in with these School of Rock kids backing him singing the old hits … passionlessly … I mean, beyond the showmanship way that he pretended he gave a shit, it was so fucking inauthentic … I got the feeling he didn’t even “get” his own songs. Or at least didn’t give a shit. Maybe I’ve been blessed and spoiled over the last many years seeing all the masters I mentioned above, but this was the least authentic musical show I’ve attended since I can’t remember.
Here’s this guy singing, “If you wanna sing out, sing out, … If ya wanna be free, be free …” who brought the first airport metal detectors into Massey Hall, and won’t let his fans take a picture of him on stage or stand in front of it. It’s a pretty fuckin funny idea of freedom this guy’s got.
And, y’know, I keep trying to get to the music here to tell you about it … but there was just so much bullshit in the water … and it was so phoney … just … Not Real. And I’m 10 rows back on the floor right in front of him. This is not a real guy makin real music. And the kicker — his new album is rockin. If he’d only apply himself, this guy might get somewhere.
On the upside, they got a really purdy (Peace) Train Station set and bigsky backdrop … dressed ‘er up mighty fine, but, Musicians Alert: if you weren’t in on a song, you had to sit on a bench outside the faux Train Station acting like you’re hot and waiting for a train …
And musically . . . every fucking song was 2½ minutes or less, made to Casey Kasem / Jack-radio Jackshit order. I mean, really? The only time he broke out of the rote bullshit was when he was playing the new stuff. Which is so weird! I mean, maybe he can grow this groove . . . there’s an optimistic line to follow . . . and maybe someday he’ll get back to the promised land of soul in sound.
In the meantime, I’ll always have the memories of hearing Peace Train at Massey Hall — but boy was it weird!
If you wanna hear the hits of Cat Stevens sung in the original voice you can theoretically do that in one of 6 theaters in North America. And if you’re there and close your eyes you can maybe hear it like you once heard it … but if you opened your eyes and looked at this guy, in so many ways … he’s not there. So … keep that original image and sound alive … “preserve your memories” as Paul Simon put it.
Cuz like a lot of others, Cat Stevens died in the ’70s.
For some other musical Adventures . . .
Check out the time The Dead, The Band and Janis took a rock n roll train trip across Canada on the Festival Express.
Or there’s the time Paul Simon did Graceland in Hyde Park with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jimmy Cliff and loads of others.
Or here’s the great Johnny Clegg recently at a small venue Toronto show.
Or here was when Neil Young was at this same Massey Hall doing both acoustic and electric back in 2007.
Or here’s the Dr. John in Toronto adventure.
Or here’s the time Dylan showed up at a Springsteen Stadium at Shea Stadium.
Or here’s the time John Lennon left the public sphere not long after Cat Stevens did.
Or here’s the time The Grateful Dead played my 30th birthday.
Or in general here’s the RockPeaks greatest live performances ever captured on film.
by Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Kaddish in Canada
We Are Continually Exposed To The Flashbulb Of Death
The Allen Ginsberg Photo Exhibit
University of Toronto Art Centre
Sept. 2nd – Dec. 6th, 2014
So, here’s a weird trip!
I’ve been going to Beat gatherings for 30 years — and even at the very first one — the Kerouac SuperSummit in Boulder in ’82 — I actually knew a couple of people — the beatific publishers Arthur & Kit Knight who I’d hung with at an NYU book fair the year before. I’ve been to about 50 billion of these things since, both mega-huge conferences and tiny club readings — but never once where I didn’t know a single person! It’s always an “old home week” of hugs n howdies at these things … but here I was for the first time walking into this nearly naked gallery all alone … no schmooze, no booze, no wailing music from a bandstand in the corner, no cluster of smokers out front. No one.
But tons of Allen!
The show’s on the University of Toronto campus, which is a trippy other-world to begin with — one of those massive, sprawling, tree-filled labyrinthian fantasylands of old stone castles and planetariums and co-ed touch football games in the rustling leafs with Marshall McLuhan’s ghost breezing around. I finally found the show in the very back of a dark cluster of galleries in some wing of one of the hundred buildings, and the whole hour + I was there, there was all of one couple and two other lone women who wandered around for a few minutes … once again reminding me, “I’m not in Manhattan anymore.”
The wall inside the front door.
A funny thing — they’re playing, fairly loudly over some crystalline speakers mounted in the ceiling corners of each of the five big rooms, Allen reading Howl and Kaddish from 1959, and Father Death and some other meditations with the harmonium. Somehow in clean and proper Canada, his shocking candid candor sounds as jarring here as it probably sounded in middle America in the 1950s. Ya just don’t get a lot of “fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists” round these parts.
About 200 photos are on display of the nearly 8,000 that came with the massive archival bequeath. For old beatniks, there’s not a lot new here, but … there were a lot of shots that included ol’ Allen’s peepee. Those pics you’ve seen of him nekked but covering up also had other shots on the same roll … and for just a moment it did feel like I was back in New York again.
(Taking photographs was strictly prohibited, you understand. 😉 )
It’s a collection of all Allen’s greatest hit snapshots — Jack on the fire escape with his brakeman’s manual in pocket; on the beach in Tangiers; Burroughs & Jack play-fighting on the couch — and most of them printed on large 18″ x 12″ paper with Allen’s chickenscratch captions nearly big enough to be readable! .
My favorite might have been the bearded Lucien Carr portrait sitting at a dining room table in 1986. Besides the touching capture of a quiet touch of grey moment between two brothers, photos of him post-1950s are so rare period. And a crazy thing — in discussions about Lucien on one of the Beat message boards a few months ago, something hit me — I bet in some weird ironic way, Lucien may have been the most widely read Beat of them all, with all his years writing wire copy for the U.P. that went into countless newspapers all over the world. I thought this was some pretty new thinking — I’d certainly never seen anyone suggest it before — because we all want Allen, Jack or Bill to be The Beat Supreme … Well, imagine my surprise when I squint at Allen’s chickenscratch under the Lucien portrait and he’s written, “More eyes read his anonymous wire-service prose than Jack K’s & mine all these years, I’ll bet.” !! . 😮
There was one flat glasstop display table in the middle of each room with various smaller snapshot prints and other ephemera, and the whole museumy nature of the space brought flashbacks of that historic Whitney show in ’95.
It’s great that Allen’s photos have been preserved, and that exhibitions are rightfully devoted to him, but even with his peepee hangin out, Beat shows just don’t feel right in these pristine, fancy, sanitized, sterilized showrooms. As much as everyone in the Beat world strove for that imprimatur of respectability — me and Allen included — once there, it just doesn’t feel like home — and only made me long to be sitting on some wobbly chair in a small crowded club listening to barely published poets howling out their lives.
For the first-meeting-Allen story at that Jack summit in ’82 check out Meeting Your Heroes 101.
Or for another tale from that crazy Boulder adventure soon to be a major motion picture check out this Allen, Edie & Henri Cru riff.
Or for, say, a Carolyn & John Cassady adventure there’s always that classic Northport Report.
Or here’s a tribute to my late great friend Carolyn Cassady.
Or here’s the account of being at the auction when the On The Road scroll sold for a world record amount.
Or here’s a piece on that historic Whitney Museum Beat show referenced above.
Or here’s a poetic riff on the Beat poetry-&-music shows in the Village that I pined for in this sterile art gallery.
Or here’s the On The Road movie premiere in London adventure story that began at Carolyn’s cabin in the woods.
Or here’s me tellin some tales of all this stuff on YouTube.
Or here’s where you can buy a bunch of different Beat photo prints nearly as good as these — taken at the Jack Summit in ’82, including some seen in my book — from the Lance Gurwell Collection.
Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Allen Ginsberg·Beat Generation·Jack Kerouac·Lucien Carr·Toronto·William Burroughs
October 19th, 2014 · Movies, Music
Up and Clean –
How “Down & Dirty” Captured Johnny Winter’s New Spring
Johnny Johnny Johnny … where for art thou, Johnny?
In the long strange lineage of tragic rock n roll irony — see: Keith Moon sitting in the “Not To Be Taken Away” chair on his last album cover — Johnny Winter made his “comeback” documentary just in time to leave the building.
Johnny was messed up for decades — mostly methadone, booze & bad management — and all in his already compromised albino’s body. The hero of the story turns out to be one Paul Nelson, who joined Johnny’s band as his complementary guitarist, and finally “risked everything” by telling Johnny his manager was killing him. He knew he could be terminated on the spot, but instead turned out to be The Hundredth Monkey — the final person in a long line who told Johnny to get away from the man who was keeping him too “medicated” to think — yet another tale of a music business slimeball taking advantage of the very artist he was being paid to protect.
Paul Nelson & Brian Hassett at RIFF opening night.
With his new guide’s guidance, Johnny was weaned off anti-depressants, booze, methadone, cigarettes, and pot, in that order, and came out of the darkness and into the light. Once this happened and he was lucid and presentable for the first time in decades, Paul told the record label it might be a good time to do a documentary. As the fates would have it, shortly after this, a Texas-born, New York-based indi film & video maker named Greg Olliver heard Johnny spryly soloing on an NPR interview and approached the label about making a film on the still living legend. And as the fates would furthur have it, the guy turned out to be a true auteur with a storyteller’s vision and musician’s timing who basically ended up shooting and creating the whole optical opus himself.
This could never have been made back in the day when you needed a crew with lights and sound and production. It was shot entirely on a small Sony digi in such close backstage / bus quarters even one more person would have been too much.
This may be the most open, honest “warts n all” rock doc you’ve ever seen. The Beatles and Metallica may have faught on camera, but this is a senior citizen surrounded by “family” who long ago stopped giving a damn what anybody thought.
This has the raw confessional intimacy of the Maysles’ “Salesman” — except it’s about a famous public figure. Almost universally, entertainers (and their handlers) overly manage every image, every soundbite, every split second of exposure. Johnny, being from another century and another planet — Bluesmania — just doesn’t give a shit about bullshit. All he ever cared about was the sound his fingers could make, and the stories his smoker’s cords could sing. Once filmmaker Olliver passed the entrance exam, he essentially became part of the band, and was there when Johnny woke up, went to bed, and everything in between.
And the bonus is — he’s a helluva filmmaker. You’ll love when the movie opens and closes with “Highway 61,” fast-cut to the lightning beat of Johnny’s playing. Then there’s the long-exposure time-lapse road shots that bring the poetry of the highway to life worthy of Kerouac. And there’s a beautiful sequence where Johnny has (what turns out to be) the last drinks of his life on his 70th birthday in New Orleans that is the most realistic cinematic portrayal of a drunken revelry ever captured on screen — the distortion, the pacing, the volume, the confusion, the surreality, the dreaminess, the mayhem, the unhinged laughter . . . all echoing that classic Rick Danko–Janis–Jerry scene in Festival Express — with Johnny in the role of Rick. We can love their playing, but it’s also a joy to see them playing with their friends.
As Paul confided after the opening night RIFF screening in Toronto, he saw to it that the four tall Stoli-on-the-rocks Johnny ordered only had about a half ounce of booze each. But with his frail tiny body off the sauces, combined with Paul’s placebo psych-out, Johnny got himself quite smashed — or thought he did — and had one helluva final birthday.
This is what it’s like to be in the krewe of a blues / rock legend on the upswing.
There’s the autograph-hound scene — comedically edited, creating a funny Buster Keaton routine of the put-upon nice guy being trampled by the outside world.
We see the tricks brother Paul came up with to get his boss to eat food and drink water, the physiotherapy to build back his muscles, and the little boy’s joy shining through an old man’s body.
We see historic footage of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Son House, Willie Dixon, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King and all the rest who created the music Johnny built upon.
Blues Brothers — John, Muddy, Johnny & Dan.
We hear contemporary masters like Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Billy Gibbons, Joe Perry and others explain how Johnny inspired their approach.
We meet Edgar Winter, Johnny’s beloved younger brother, who had been kept apart from his hero elder sibling by the evil former manager, and we see them hugging again, and their vastly different lifestyles of the limo-riding rock star with hit singles that’ve been licensed up the wazoo in ads and movies and who didn’t spend his money on dope, versus the dyed-in-the-Blues junkie. As Paul summed it up after the screening — “That’s the difference between success in rock n roll and the blues.”
We see Johnny playing records at home, recording in the studio, on the road, playing gigs, and classic TV appearances over the decades. We see the arc of his musical life from his first guitar teacher, to playing the closing night of Woodstock with The Band as his opening act; From B.B. King letting this 17 year old kid sit in for a song, to Johnny producing Muddy’s late career comeback album; From his early Johnny “Cool Daddy” Winter persona as a young regional hit-maker in Texas, to getting the biggest record company advance in history at that point.
We hear him tell stories about the first Rolling Stone article mentioning him that changed the trajectory of his life, and his recent Christmas when he was given the gift of being methadone free.
We see him playing with B.B. King and Muddy Waters, and singing a passionate, monumental “Georgia On My Mind” via Ray Charles at a karaoke bar in Japan.
We hear the stories about getting beat up as a kid and the prejudice in the South — “It’s just nuts. Just cuz you’re a different color, they don’t like you. They don’t like black people because they’re black, and they didn’t like me cuz I was too white. It’s just stupid.”
We hear a deejay explaining how seven years ago when Johnny came in for an interview he was so out of it he gave one word answers and didn’t seem to even understand the questions. It was so embarrassing, they couldn’t air it. As St. Paul first began his Mission, Johnny came back and was answering in complete sentences. And now we see him at the same radio station telling long colorful tales in full paragraphs.
This was supposed to be an upbeat story of redemption, the old “overcoming obstacles comeback” routine, until one night in Switzerland in July Johnny ran out of breath in his sleep, and this suddenly became an invaluable eulogy, a priceless profile that couldn’t be made now, any way any how. And yes, Johnny was still alive and well when he attended the film’s world premiere at SXSW in his home state of Texas.
In the last scene in Johnny’s movie — both this one and writ large — he said, “Most of the stories about musicians with drug problems don’t end well. But mine has,” as he laughed in his transcendent ageless twinkling send-off sparkle.
Giant hearts all around.
Some Bonus Extra Weird / Cool Things learned from “Down and Dirty“:
— “What made you first pick up a guitar?” Johnny: “Chuck Berry.” !! (and the movie has a scorching version of him doing “Johnny B. Goode” circa 1983)
— He’s still playing the same Gibson Firebird guitar he bought in 1970 for $225. (!) And like a happily long married spouse, he still calls her, “The coolest lookin’ guitar I’ve ever seen.”
— Edgar Winter played with Johnny at Woodstock. In fact Edgar says, “Woodstock changed my life.” And Johnny called it, “Still one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Although the film is still being screened at festivals around the world, it was shot more for the small screen than the big, so I’m sure it’ll be on some movie network / Netflix / DVD store near you soon.
For another great movie on debauchery gone bad then gone good again check out Festival Express.
Or here’s a night with Johnny’s gris-gris brother Dr. John in Toronto.
Or here’s Howard Kaylan’s crazy cinematic real-life adventure in chaos My Dinner With Jimi.
Or here’s a few hundred people like Johnny & Edgar who didn’t had kids.
Or here’s some adventure stories in the Birthplace of Music at the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Or here’s some of the greatest Peaks in the history of live music at RockPeaks.
Or here’s going to the U.K. premiere of On The Road at the palace in London.
Or here’s a night with The Dead at Madison Square Garden.
Or here’s the great Bob Dylan cinematic trip — I’m Not There.
Or here’s the night Bob showed up with Springsteen at Shea Stadium.
Or here’s The Rolling Stones via Martin Scorsese in Shine A Light.
Or here’s a night with the great Johnny Clegg in concert.
Or here’s Paul Simon doing Graceland in Hyde Park in London.
by Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: documentaries·Edgar Winter·Johnny Winter·Muddy Waters·Rock n Roll
October 5th, 2014 · Music
I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time! As a teenager in Winnipeg in the ’70s, Neil was a god to us. We drove the 500 miles to Minneapolis during grade 12 at Kelvin to see him for the first time — and to our great dumb-luck fortune, it was the Rust Never Sleeps tour!
I went and found his picture in the old yearbooks in the Kelvin library, but beyond that it was really hard to find out anything about his life in the Peg. Just like Lowell Mass ignored Kerouac for decades, Winnipeg never really embraced any person from there who did anything with their lives. It’s so sad. And so stupid.
Well — everything’s changed now! Woo-hoo! FINALLY I got to read about every gig, every band line-up, every guitar he ever played, every girl he ever flirted with, every teacher he had, every house party he went to . . . FINALLY the detailed scoop!
It feels like the author interviewed every living person Neil ever came in contact with. I happened to go to the same high school and community clubs where he played, but I gotta think this book would bring that world to life for anybody from anywhere. It was high school, it was dating, it was insecurity, it was being broke, it was a search for adventure.
But the biggest take-away for me was how Neil didn’t give up. How he kept re-approaching from different angles all the obstacles of having a band and making his way in music. Things were hopelessly bleak — no amp to play through, bandmates for whom music was far from their first priority, very limited gig options, pressures from teachers at school, a broken marriage by his parents, being a weird kid in a new town who was shy and awkward and couldn’t play sports and didn’t cotton to authority — I mean, EVERYthing was against him. This is the template storyline of somebody who went on to become some famous badguy … or one of the millions of petty criminals we never hear about.
And it wasn’t like he was some sort of genius prodigy. When you read biographies of those people, they’re so above-&-beyond and different from most of us that you can’t really imagine yourself in their shoes. But this isn’t some Stevie Wonder or Stevie Winwood playing with the masters before they’re old enough for a driver’s license. This guy was next to helpless, I mean hopeless — no babe magnet, no supernatural gifts, no money, no father figure … and stuck in Winterpeg a thousand miles from anywhere. There’s no WAY this guy should ever have amounted to anything.
And that’s the beauty of the story. And why anybody can relate to it and be inspired by it. All he did was keep at it. All he did was not give up. When Winnipeg didn’t work, he went to Toronto. When Toronto didn’t work he went to New York. When nothing else worked, he went to L.A. When bands fell apart he formed new ones. When he didn’t have an amp he played through a stereo. When his car dropped dead on the side of the road he jumped on the back of a motorcycle and kept going. He always found some way to keep moving forward, around all obstacles, against all odds. And that’s what makes this so inspiring. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Don’t be denied. Cuz you might end up in the supergroup of your dreams.
Here’s a review of Neil’s historic return to Massey Hall in 2007.
Here’s a list Neil makes of “Great Americans” not born in America.
Here’s some of the greatest live performances in the history of music.
Here’s a couple of his peers jammin’ together — when Dylan showed up with Springsteen at Shea Stadium.
Or here’s where Bob busted the bubble at Copps Coliseum.
Or here’s the Bob movie I’m Not There.
Or here’s a trip Neil sure shoulda been on — Festival Express!
Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Neil Young
Here’s some early songs in sound and light . . .
My tribute to the late great Carolyn Cassady on the one year anniversary of her passing …
Or “The Pranksters Invade the Woodstock Museum” . . .
Or here’s a riff for French filmmaker Noemie Sornet’s documentary on Kerouac and “On The Road” . . . including the Adventure Story of the movie premiere in a palace courtyard in London . . .
and part two including “On The Road’s” final cut world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and meeting Walter Salles and that whole Adventure . . .
Here’s the written tribute to Carolyn when she first passed.
Here’s the full Pranksters at Woodstock story.
Here’s the “On The Road” in London premiere story.
Here’s the full “On The Road” final-cut world premiere Adventure Story.
Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: Carolyn Cassady·Jack Kerouac·On The Road·On The Road premiere·The Merry Pranksters·Woodstock
The Prankster Woodstock
“I’ve got to get back to the land and set my soul free … “
Two of the coolest events of the ’60s just came together in the 21st century — and I lived it from start to finish.
The Merry Pranksters’ Bus, which pulled out of Ken Kesey’s house in La Honda on my June 14th birthday in 1964, came to Max Yasgur’s farm where Woodstock was born in 1969. Since then each of these events — painted buses traveling around full of fun-loving friends, and gatherings in fields for weekend concert communes — have become part of world-wide culture.
But this is where it all began — with a Bang!
And this time it all began with an unplanned dash — when the Kesey krewe got cancelled last minute out of some other festival and suddenly was heading for … Woodstock! … of course! … where it was supposed to be goin’ in the first damn place!
Mmmm … home again … Gotta be there — on Max’s farm, where Woodstock as we know it began … and where the Oregon creamery boys first joined up with the New York dairy farmer.
If you don’t know the backstory on Max, he was a respected, if iconoclastic, ‘elder statesman’ farmer and thousand-acre landowner in this area of Sullivan County, NY, even though he was only 49 years old at the time of the festival. (And what a 50th he must have had that December!) Max was known to speak his mind and go his own way in a conservative old-world rural culture that was very much go-along-get-along.
The festival organizers were kicked off of their months-of-development site just 30 days before the festival was to begin. Max had been reading in the local papers about the trouble “these kids” were having, and told them when they first met, “I want to help you boys. You got the raw end of the deal.” He had a very evolved philosophy of equality and justice — a living 20th century Thoreau, he was a pro-active ethicist for whom a handshake was a binding contract — and injustice did not sit well with him. Plus, he was also a pretty sharp businessman.
Picture Woody Allen meets Jack Benny – as Max is noodling around his farm all weekend licking the end of his pencil and jotting down every bucket of milk a cow didn’t deliver to make sure he was covered for it. But beyond his pencilings, because it was Max, and the respectful relationship they evolved, the promoters spent months and tens of thousands of extra dollars restoring his land to what it was when they arrived.
One story, to give you the idea, and something only his wife Miriam could relate: When word spread that Max was talking to these ‘hippies’ about having this banned festival on his farm, somebody put up a sign along the Route 17B road in front of his house — “Stop Max’s hippy music festival — Buy no milk.” When Max & Miriam saw it for the first time, as she recalled — “I thought, ‘You don’t know Max. Now it’s going to happen.’ That did it. He just turned to me and said, ‘Is it alright with you?’ … I knew he was not going to get past this sign, so I said, ‘I guess we’re gonna have a festival.’ And he said, ‘Yup, we’re gonna have a festival.’ And that was it.”
Max would have been a great political leader or writer or millionaire businessman if just a couple cells had been different. But ol’ Jack Fate cast this activist philosopher as a farmer — who happened to have a perfect natural amphitheater in the same neck of the world as that little artists’ colony that Dylan happened to stumble into a few summers earlier.
And thus, in one of the festival’s innumerable karmic twists, the organizers were thrown out of the town of Wallkill and onto Max Yasgur’s farm along Happy Avenue in Bethel(hem). There was a whole lotta Shinin’ goin’ on with this man and this moment. .
And up to his homestead we did roll — bought in 1985 by Roy Howard and now run by his widow, Jeryl Abramson, in The Spirit, letting Woodstockians the whirled over gather on Max’s land every anniversary since 1998. And this was only the second year it’s been legal!
Jeryl Abramson taking The Oath at The Bus.
As soon as you come up the small rise onto the land — there’s Max’s house — where the deal for the festival was consummated — and where it’s honored with an official historical marker befitting an official historic figure.
And there’s … The Bus! The Magic Bus. The Kesey Bus. Furthur. The psychedelic painted school bus that spawned it all.
It wasn’t the same Beat-up 1939 International Harvester that Neal Cassady drove across the country in 1964 or came to Woodstock in ’69, but as Father Ken maintained: It was the same spirit — much like Max’s homestead wasn’t the actual field for the concert in 1969 — but was the same spirit being created by its current inhabitants.
The Bus at Woodstock ’69
In the Crazy Karma 2014 Dept.: So, we hang out Thursday night in the anticipation glow, then I retired to the nearby cheap motor hotel I found for the night — flipped on the CNN — and there’s Kesey’s bus!! . . . wait–what?!?! And there’s Kesey & Babbs talkin’ about La Honda and the birth of it all! And they’re ravin’ on about Kerouac!!! Rub my eyes and ding my bell! It’s their series “The Sixties,” and the “Sex, Drugs, & Rock n Roll” episode! Jack didn’t make Woodstock or ride on The Bus — but here he was being described on CNN as The Father of us all ! — the On The Road back-to-the-land mountain climbing searcher who put into poetic prose the rose we were all smelling so sweetly.
And The Chief saw to it that they were reunited in the driver’s cockpit of the new starship to deep space.
On Friday morning, there was Zane bright and early manning the merch tent, selling everything from painted toy buses and fridge magnets (I got one of each), to prankster t-shirts and DVDs of “the world’s mightiest home movie” as the original Pranksters dubbed their footage from the first trip (I scored a shmancy original Acid Test poster t-shirt – already had the movies).
Floating around The Bus were the film crew — appropriately from British Columbia — and all sorts of Next Generation Pranksters like Chris Foster who appeared as The Wizard, Carmen Miranda, and a psychedelic cowboy over each of the three days, and actually lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where I’d just recently summited with Neal’s son John Cassady, director Walter Salles, and On The Road scroll preserver Jim Canary for the “On The Road” movie premiere.
And then there was Milton, the George Walker of this incarnation, responsibly covering the practical bases; and Thumpah who came from the High Times Cannabis Cup tribe and had actually filmed my induction of Jack and Neal into the Counter-Culture Hall of Fame in Amsterdam in 1999. And in the role of Babbs on this tour of duty is Lieutenant Derek Stevens making sure the operation ran with military precision. Or at least Prankster precision.
But this was no dosed-kool-aid acid party. It was a business, and they’re rightfully concerned The Bus is a blazing target in this crazy militarized America — so they have to play it clean.
The real action and spirit evocation was out in the woods where decades of the owners hosting events had resulted in dirt roads and footpaths and campsites and drum circle centers and full-on stages for non-stop performances all day and night. There were deliciously elaborate kitchens making the best pizza I’ve had since New York, and a breakfast guy making vegi-rich omelets that put the best restaurants to shame — in price and quality. Then there was the giant tent general store selling everything — camping supplies, toiletries, first-aid stuff, cigs, batteries and whatever a prankster or camper of eternity might need.
Then there were the art installations, like Christopher VanderEssen’s, who created a florescent blacklight dreamcatcher weaving through the woods —
and custom painted clothes like on the back of the new Kesey Acid Test poster t-shirt — with Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, The Grateful Dead and The Merry Pranksters listed as the entertainment!
Or Eddy Miller the bubble man using giant nets to create clouds of bubbles sparkling across the fields as little kids screamed in joy chasing them …
and eyeful Canadians captured them …
It’s where you’d meet people named Dragon Fly or Band-Aide or Thumper or Normal or Sky or Lake, and every single person is saying “High” to every single other person in this church of camaraderie. . . . “Everywhere was a song and a celebration …”
Meanwhile, back at The Bus, I ended up talking to this colorful couple, Rick and Sherry. He went to the first Woodstock, arriving Thursday morning, parking his car on site, settin up their tent in the woods, then wandering over to the field where they found a spot 30 feet from the stage and never moved (or went back to their tent and car) until Monday! He was wearing this cap of rainbow dreads, and she was under a colorful jester’s hat with dangling bells, and to be quite confessional, I was feeling a little under-dressed.
And they were like most of the people I met here — super smart. This wasn’t a bunch of brain-dead loogans, but rather highly evolved explorers and sophisticated pranksters. People who knew how to Adventure, and survive on a farm for a long weekend, and how to make fun happen. In fact, it was over an in-depth discussion of Obamacare (not positive) that Rick & Sherry & I really bonded, and were joined by The Wizard, Chris Foster, talking through his costume, and the four of us thereafter became a fairly inseparable quartet — and by Sunday realized we would be for life.
The Spirit of Woodstock was alive — and being created by the people — not rock stars or anyone else dictating from on high. It was an organic connection among souls who’d been driven to drive some distance to spend a formless whacky weekend in the woods. Not only was no one aggressively drunk, but I never heard a harsh word spoken over four days. When I first heard someone impatient and frustrated a few days later, it sounded so foreign and out of place and unnecessary and unhappy.
And that’s what these things do — the fabric of your soul becomes dipped in a rainbow dye and permanently transformed by the swirling colors of love and happiness and peacefulness and camaraderie all collectively blending together — all based on happenstance … with a purpose. Who knows what’s going to happen or who you’re going to meet? But tossing yourself into this tribal gathering of like-minded Adventurers, you’ll go lots of somewheres cool. Like the endless jam sessions going on all over the fields — with the Grateful Dead dominating the airwaves — and sumpthin I never saw before — a tent with two drum kits!!
Then there was the woman running the booth for the non-profit Eden’s Rose Foundation that sells handmade alpaca clothes and hardwood carvings (including of the Ice Cream Kid and Cats Under The Stars and all sorts of Grateful Dead images) made by native tribes in the jungles of Peru and Brazil and Bolivia, and the money goes directly back to the local tribes to keep their ancient cultures self-sustaining.
And hanging here at this soulful booth I learned about “spunions” — the new term for people who are well spun and happily blazing in the middle of the night. And in this scene — where no one is drunk and stumbling around and starting fights, but so many are so high — it really puts a lie to our drug & alcohol laws. High people wander through the woods like a pack of wild comedians cracking each other up, their laughter heard long before you see them, or like gentle little children in a fairy tale amazed at everything they see. Hanging at the booth and seeing all the traffic flow in and out, it would have been completely different if they were as drunk as they were high.
And in a perfect parallel corollary, the Woodstock Museum Director confirmed what friends and facility staff had already mentioned — that it was the drunks, particularly at the “country” shows that were the only times they had problems.
Anyway . . . There was this HUGE arc of people — an anthropologists delight! — from 4 & 5 year old kids running around playing, to 70 & 80 year olds shuffling along who’d been at the first Woodstock — and both ends of the spectrum beaming beatific faces of joy. Whatever your age, there was a gorgeous farmful of friendly people to play with.
And a funny-nice thing from Sunday afternoon — all weekend we’d been hearing excellent bands play their own stuff along with The Dead, The Band, Santana, CSNY, etc. … as you do at any of these Woodstock reunions or music festivals in the woods. But all of a sudden I’m hearing some girl singing “Brand New Key” by Melanie!
“No way! This is so great!” Melanie and I had a memorable flirty evening on the night of the Folk City Anniversary Concert and afterparty in New York in 1980-something, and I always thought she was the real deal — very spiritual and spirited. So, I’m boppin’ away to this, and what does the girl singer on stage do next? but the hit song Melanie wrote about her historic unplanned performance at Woodstock, “Candles In The Rain.“
And dancing in front of the stage is Rachel, who’d been Stage Manager on the main double-stage all weekend. You don’t meet many women stage managers period, let alone running the main stage of a major festival — with acts one after another using two stages side-by-side so each band has the other’s performance time to set up. And they had a different act every 15, 30, 45 minutes from 9:30AM till 3AM. Finally by Sunday afternoon here she was dancing with me and everybody else to “Candles In The Rain.” And after it’s over we have a big hug, and I say, “How great is it to hear Melanie played at Woodstock?!”
And she goes, “And by her daughter no less!”
And sure enough … a little later I’m hangin’ at the Blue Bomber which was centrally located between The Bus and The Woods, and I look over next to me and there she is! Jeordie, Melanie’s daughter, with her guitar player! And the poor bastards are trying to open some nice indi beers without an opener. See … that’s the difference between our two countries — even cool Americans don’t know how to pop a cold one with a lighter. And these micro-breweries have quite the pop with their lively brews — and I could send those puppies half-way across the field, impressing the hell out of ol’ Melanie Jr. And suddenly we’re huggin’ n flirtin’ and I’m thinkin’ this whole Woodstock thing is alright.
Back at The Bus, there were any number of adventures. At one point they said they wanted to go “out front” to take some pictures with The Bus on The Farm. ‘Course I wanted to be in on that, but Prankster plans are like dreams — they might be real or they might go poof — they might be right now, or in ten days, or just a goof.
At some point I’m hanging in the woods at the dual main stages when a telepathic spark went off in me bean — “Wait a minute — maybe they’re takin’ the picture!” And as I walked out into the clearing — sure enough — The Bus was missing! I scooched as fast as my skinny legs could scooch me back to The Mighty Blue Bomber, jumped in to go find The Bus, and Boom! right around the corner there they were parked under Yasgur’s big barn sign! Bolted over with my camera … just as they were coming down off the roof! . . . Bummer!!
But there was no way I was going to miss this if I could do anything about it, so I ran over and spotted this girl Angie Lee I’d been talking to in the scene, handed her my camera with instructions to shoot away like crazy, then ran to the back of the bus before everyone got off, and climbed on up and said I had to get my pic with the Woodstock and Yasgur’s signs — which was a bit forward of me telling these stray cat Pranksters what to do — but sure enough they went for it — and it led to a whole new round of shots — with other photographers falling into the scene who’d missed the spontaneous moment earlier now catching it, and suddenly there was a whole second photoshoot going down cuz I’d insisted on it!
As my new best friend Sherry wisely says, “What’s meant to be will not pass you by.”
See … these are the truths you re-learn at Woodstock.
Or then there was the time The Bus was thinking of maybe going to the original Woodstock site and museum just a mile down Route 17B at the new Bethel Woods Arts Center. ‘Course this plan muddled around all day until I decided I wanted to go over there for reasons also including porcelain facilities and free wifi. So I did, parking with a nice view of the road, and sure enough before long this bright blue bus came barreling along out of the dark tree tunnel with a loaded rooftop including Thumpah tootling the multitudes with his flute and everyone whooping and waving and pranking the unsuspecting touri wandering the fancy grounds.
Furthur at the Woodstock corner — Hurd and West Shore Roads.
And just as this was happening, in the magic Crazy Karma synch that is Pranksterhood, Museum Director Wade was just leaving for the day and spotted them and screeched over in his car, and offered to let The Bus drive up the walkway to the front doors of the museum! So, suddenly there was the larger-than-life psychedelic Magic Bus parked at the doors to Woodstock, just like the first Bus had been. And of course Mr. Museum Director comps us all in (normally $15 per) and before you know it the unsuspecting museum goers are overrun with Camp Prankster colors and voices and giggles and music.
I hadn’t yet shown Zane the fancy Bethel Woods pamphlet that had an aerial shot of the ’69 crowd on the front cover — and a Prankster bus on the back!
And just as I’m showing him this, we turn a corner in the museum — and there it is! A bus based on his Dad’s is the promotional and literal centerpiece of The Woodstock Museum! And we climb aboard and … they’ve made a movie about The Bus and the Hog Farm that’s playing on the inside windshield of the bus! And they’re interviewing Max’s son Sam … and I’m … sitting with Ken’s son Zane … in a psychedelic school bus at Woodstock watching a movie about his Dad’s psychedelic school bus at Woodstock … while Furthur’s sitting out front!
Mind = blown!
Or there was the time we all went for a Pranksters Walkabout late Saturday night, about 20 of us in a roaming nomadic crazy loud krewe with light sticks and magic wands and guitars and flutes and drums and pretty girls and silly boys making noise and begetting smiles and breaking into song as we ambled along.
At some point we found ourselves at the giant nearly abandoned 3-ring drum circle in the jungle dark, and the band members and some singers broke into funny falsetto versions of Led Zeppelin songs, while Zane’s throwing out zany one-liners like his father would — delivered dry and coming from some alternate universe. Somebody mentioned the bell that fell off the bus and almost hit the follow car, and he goes, “That car isn’t done being hit yet.” Somebody said, “There’s certain things that must remain unsaid.” Zane pops, “That’s the first rule of Prankster Club.” And it was all in perfect harmony with The Unspoken Thing — San Francisco comic and de facto Prankster Robin Williams … who we just lost and were collectively mourning.
It wasn’t dark, but it was getting there. Comedy in the dark, but not dark comedy. You didn’t know who was riffing unless you recognized their voice, and everyone was playing along, banging the gong, beating the drum, all with a Robert Plant falsetto as the giggling soundtrack.
Or there was that sunset moment on Sunday where I was tuned into the simultaneous sacredness of the celestial and human event, and going around suggesting to people like new Prankster Moray that I use their camera to take pics of them in that special light, when Zane picked up on what I was doing, the moment I was capturing, and he rounded up the stray cat krewe and wandered us out to the open field between Max’s house and barn and took our jumping-for-joy-Woodstock photos.
And Zane tells us this story of how his Dad would gather people for sunset and watch for the green flash of light just as the sun crosses out of sight, and of course we all do this … and I think I’m seeing flashes — but it may have been from all the jumping we just did!
Anyway, as he’s telling the story in his big booming Oregon farmer Kesey voice — he was looking me right in the eye and telling it directly to me. And I’m thinkin’ this whole Prankster thing is alright.
Later I started riffing with the Canadian film crew, some B.C. buds that went by Colby and Puds, and even though it’s late in the proceedings I’m spewing my usual nonsense that to some people occasionally sounds articulate, and Puds sez, “I gotta interview you for the movie. Would you mind?” It felt like I hadn’t had a shower since July or a night’s sleep since June, but The Bus was clanging it’s bell to leave for D.C. in the morning, and now the bell hath tolled for thee.
Puds starts lookin around for a set — someone’s on The Bus doin’ sumpthin’ — and he remembers the giant Woodstock banner he bought that afternoon using Prankster dollars, which was just play money they printed but were able to trade for cool shit. So, BOOM! We hang the flag over the inside of the back door of their equipment truck (which Zane calls, “Our trunk”) and climb inside and do a whole long interview there where I riffed on some lessons I learned from Father Ken (soon to be available in my book about our first hang), and how I could see the father in the son with his quick dry one-liners, and how the bus has influenced generations — and even in my three-days-of-Woodstock madness I knew any answer had to be 15, 30 seconds tops. No long winding Brian stories here — conscious to speak in soundbites cuz they’re making such an epic new Mightiest Home Movie that there’s gonna be a whole lotta noodles to tootle.
And by the time we’re done, it was 10:30 Sunday night, and Lieutenant Hassett’s watchin’ his watch and knows the only nearby beer store is closing at 11, so in this wonderful living flashback to our Canadian roots, me and ol’ B.C. Puds make a last-dash Beer Run just like the old days — two wise Canucks swimming away from the ducks to try our luck and sure enough! Bingo! We’re bongo with bounties of brewskies for blast-off!
And after Zane and I had not really connected when I first arrived, by the end of the last day, it was just he and I together at the back of The Bus as he wound up the giant flags into ropes so he could tie them to the ship — the Stars & Stripes and the Oregon State (the only state flag in America with something on both sides, he tells me with pride) in preparation for their highway-driving departure in the morning. It was just the two of us rapping and wrapping the show — about what worked (everything above plus the impromptu gig they did one morning that I missed), and what didn’t (they shoulda been parked down in the woods), but he had a beatific smiling calm about him that another show was successfully done, and of all the sites they visited this was the first one The Bus had been to before, and that living history was meeting living history (maybe it was me who said that) and that the two family reunions had blended so well. . And by now the Woodstockians and Pranksters have morphed back into the world around us, and maybe you can’t even recognize who we are. And The Bus has continued it’s Trip, toootling the multitudes in Washington and New York and Cleveland and Chicago on the never-ending Road Trip started by Jack and driven by Neal and jumped on by Jerry and captained by Ken that’s still hugging hearts with loving arms and ever going → .
And if you wanna go Furthur here — here’s the part where I compared the first Obama Inauguration to Woodstock — and one Michael Lang, conceiver and creator of Woodstock, chose to use it as the climax of his book on the matter.
Or here’s the time the Pranksters brought in New Year’s.
Or here’s the Merry Pranksters in Wonderland family reunion Adventure.
Or here’s Levi Asher’s tale of meeting the Pranksters in New York.
Or here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book on Kerouac, the Dead and Ken Kesey — about arriving at a Dead show at Red Rocks in 1982.
Or here’s a whole Prankster riff on the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
Or speaking of unusual road trips, here’s this early feature story in Relix about the Festival Express.
Or there’s my tribute to Neal’s wife and my dear friend, Carolyn Cassady.
Or here was another Road Trip where a bunch of us Beats including the Cassadys invaded Jack’s longtime hometown of Northport, Long Island.
Or here’s the tale of first meeting Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Clellon Holmes and Herbert Huncke at “the Woodstock of the Beats” — the Boulder ’82 SuperSummit — where I also met Ken for the first time and he invited me back to his house and I wrote a whole book about it coming out later this year.
And since we’re takin about The Road and The Bus made Manhattan for the first time since 1964, here’s a Wild Tale of driving the whole length of that badboy island in one fast shot.
And since On The Road seems to be a working theme, here’s going to the movie premiere in London via Carolyn Cassady.
Or here’s the North American premiere story in Toronto where by wonderful Pranksterness I ended up becoming good friends with its director Walter Salles.
Or here’s a colorful riff on doing Beat-and-music shows in Greenwich Village with the likes of Cassady’s kids.
by Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Furthur Bus·Furthur Bus 50th Anniversary Tour·Jack Kerouac·Ken Kesey·Melanie·Neal Cassady·Pranksters·Woodstock anniversary·Yasgur's farm·Zane Kesey
Larry David & Jerry Seinfeld were the Lennon & McCartney of comedy.
That’s the way I see it, anyway.
Larry was a Lennon — mercurial, opinionated, sharp tongued, bull-headed, idea generating, creatively uncompromising, a supremely gifted artist born to his medium, with an enormous elaborate expansive vision.
And Jerry was the McCartney — an equal creative master, but more easy-going, conciliatory, more camera-friendly, certainly more camera-comfortable, and definitely more “pop” and popular.
They each excelled at things the other didn’t — while collaborating in their common passion — and making each other laugh. They found their equal, their sparring partner, their riff mate, their sentence finisher, their line perfecter, their bullshit detector — or as Jerry called it, their “cross filter.”
Like Lennon & McCartney, Larry & Jerry might have ended up having successful individual careers had they not met the other, but the two forces collaborating, bouncing ideas off each other, harmonizing on both the surface and the deepest levels, created something that outshone all their peers around them.
Michael Richards actually makes the comparison here — at 19:57 (the year Lennon & McCartney met!) —
And both duos have fans who still argue over which of the pair was better!
Both the band and the TV show lasted 9 years, and the dissolution of each was a major cultural event when it happened.
Here you can hear Jerry citing The Beatles as the reason for ending the show when he did.
And they were both Fab Fours — both based on four creative characters, all of whom were masters of their domain. I mean — their instrument.
And it was the senior creative pairings who selected their supporting players, which in both cases were integral to the endeavour’s overall success.
And each one of both pairs went on to acclaimed solo careers, but in this case Larry was more the hit-making McCartney with his Emmy-winning “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Jerry more the reclusive John with his unannounced small club appearances and out of the mainstream (not on TV) “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.”
And in the synchronistic symmetry of it all, both pairings had a fellow creative genius in the booth with the same name as one of the principals — Larry Charles collaborating with Larry David, and George Martin with John, Paul, George and Ringo.
And both tandems were based first and foremost on writing — 2:30 songs or 23 minute episodes. Without the writing, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Early in the Seinfeld run, Jerry said, “People always ask me, ‘What show is your show like?’ And I always answer Abbott & Costello.” The rapid-fire banter — or what Jerry calls the “musical math” — runs through the whole series, especially in, say, The Bubble Boy, or the classic Kramer–Newman exchanges in The Ticket when Kramer’s been hit on the head and can’t remember his alibi. Although there was a wide spectrum of colorful characters to employ, the dialog Larry & Jerry were naturally predisposed to write was up-tempo duets.
And in further keeping with their love for Bud & Lou (as they called them) and their other comedic hero duo Laurel and Hardy, they were conscious to have the physical distinctions of the short chubby guy (including Newman) and the tall lanky guy — with the hair that started to stand straight up and make him even taller by season 3.
Larry & Jerry even bequeathed George Costanza the middle name of Louis as an homage to Lou Costello; and as Jerry says, he saw his role as the Bud Abbott straight man. He talked about some of this with places like the New York Times and Major League Baseball (and here) discussing “Who’s on first?”
The brilliant comic Larry Miller said of the Seinfeld–Abbott & Costello comedic harmony — “They’d both take a premise that it tissue thin, and just keep dancing on it.”
Jerry talks a bit about his love for Abbott & Costello here —
And here’s the ’93 Abbott & Costello special he refers to —
Their roots in the classic comic masters runs deep.
Jason Alexander said Ralph Kramden was a big inspiration for how he played George. Michael Richards talks about studying the Marx Brothers and how he consciously brought that ensemble rapport to the Seinfeld team. Among other things, the show did their take on the classic stateroom scene from A Night At The Opera in the episode where Elaine’s using a broom closet as a fake apartment. At different times Jerry can be seen doing the besieged and flustered Don Knotts. And of course the futile yet never-ending scheming by the less than honorable leads follows in a direct comedic lineage from Sgt. Bilko to The Three Stooges and W.C. Fields.
Another source Larry & Jerry drew heavily from was The Jack Benny Program where an always put-upon well known comedian played an always put-upon well known comedian of the same name, involving the typical events and wise-cracking characters in the performer’s life. And their homage extended to stylistic choices like using exaggerated facial expressions as punch lines, putting a painfully petty cheapskate front and center, and being happily impolitic, unsentimental, and unrepentant — living up to the famous Seinfeld writers/cast motto: “No hugging, no learning.” 😉
A noted cinephile friend of mine, Ted The Fiddler, pointed out other subtle connections between the two show’s writing styles — “Having Kramer hit a golf ball into the ocean at the end of an episode as the credits roll, and then George finds a golf ball in the blow hole of a beached whale two weeks later. The idea of setting up the joke a week or more before the punch line. Each joke having three punch lines, each one getting a slightly bigger laugh. 19 major events in a half hour show … the pacing of the show. As a big Jack Benny fan, those are the echoes I enjoy the most.”
Here’s a great conversation between Larry David and Ricky Gervais about the roots and execution of Seinfeld and Curb comedy —>
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Here’s a brilliant interview with Larry David by America’s premier television critic, New York Times’ Bill Carter.
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When Jerry, Larry & Larry describe the motivation behind the writing, they use words like tight, dense, clean, no fat. In fact, the shows were so scrupulously trimmed that a “scene” might be less than 5 seconds with only one word or line of dialog before the next fast cut. Because of this precision sculpting and intricate four-story plotting, Seinfeld scripts often ran up to 70 pages — 20 pages longer than a one hour show.
Also of interest — every joke, routine, and script Seinfeld ever wrote, was originally written longhand on a yellow legal pad using a clear-barrel blue Bic pen. From his first days striving to be a comedian until the present, he’s never varied from his method.
Here’s an excellent NYT video on how he crafted his material –
The initial casting was so determinative to the success of the show. The talent and alchemy of The Founding Four was the reason it became a show. The series was such a longshot to begin with and got the smallest first season order in the history of network television — 4 episodes. If they had scored about one percentage point lower in ratings, it would not have just made the cut for a slightly longer trial of 13 episodes for a second season, which it then only barely survived to be given a full order for the third season. If the three hired principals — Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus — had not been as exceptional as they were, it never would have survived those lean early years.
When the show first aired, prolly like most people, I focused on George. Jason Alexander was already a well-known (and Tony-winning) theater actor in my and the show’s hometown of New York, and he was the fresh television voice of the never-heard-before Larry David.
When I revisited the series in reruns, I couldn’t take my eyes of Julia, especially when she was not delivering lines — all the little things she was doing to support the moment.
And then in the last year, watching all the outtakes and interviews and the “How It Began” doc and so on, Michael Richards has absolutely blown me away. What a masterpiece of a character he created. And it was largely Michael who did that. Kramer was written (at first) as a “hipster doofus” but it was Richards who came up with the idea that Kramer was not dumber than everybody else — he was smarter. And that became the key to how the character evolved from Larry & Jerry’s original concept.
As Jason Alexander put it, “Michael drove himself to these levels of creativity that were extraordinary. I don’t think I’ve ever come across another actor that had that combination of manic drive, that off-beat sensibility, and the genetics of what his body could do to create that character. It was one of those kismet meetings of actor and role that becomes legendary.” Or as Jerry Stiller put it succinctly, “He had a mercurial mind in a weightless body.”
If there had to be multiple takes, he would play every one differently, which in turn kept his castmates on their razor’s edge. And he was so funny, as the blooper reels reveal, he regularly caused the other actors to lose it in the middle of a scene, often literally doubling over with laughter … and the whole time, he never breaks character.
And then to learn how he studied with Stella Adler (who studied with Stanislavsky, and who taught his Method to Brando, De Niro and loads of the other best actors you’ve ever seen) … and all of the on-set stories about his concentration and preparation … and how he was the first of them to win an Emmy … then won three of them … and how he’s equal parts cerebral and slapstick, and an absolute master of both … he’s now up there in the very highest pantheon of actors in my book, even if just for this one character … one who can pratfall alongside Basil Fawlty and Ed Norton as the funniest physical characters in the history of sitcoms.
He did the role for 9 years and there isn’t a bad Kramer episode. In fact there isn’t a scene — or line — that he doesn’t absolutely slay.
And as a funny aside and proof of his effectiveness, the producers eventually had to instruct the studio audiences to not applaud his entrances because it was throwing off the timing of the scenes.
I highly recommended this clip on how Michael Richards created Kramer —
On a personal level, during the entire run of the show, I was the same age as the characters, living uptown in Manhattan, working and performing in the arts (like Jerry), with all sorts of crazy friends like Kramer and George, and a girlfriend whose face looked very much like Elaine’s.
For us New Yorkers, it was kind of “our” show, and it always sort of surprised us that it was also so popular everywhere else. The issues were our issues — parking spaces, urban dating, transitory jobs — and the characters were the characters we lived with — cab drivers, street people, oddball proprietors. It was so definitively New York — even though the creators were by then living in L.A. — like James Joyce creating Dublin from France.
In fact, the out-of-town popularity is exactly why the show was picked up in the first place. The first four episodes did well on the coasts and in large urban markets, but what surprised NBC was that the ratings in small towns in the Midwest were the same as they were in New York and Philadelphia.
It really did become “Must See TV” as the NBC slogan of the time called Thursday nights because you knew whatever you did the next day, somebody’d say, “Did you see Seinfeld last night?” … plus … you really wanted to see it!
My theory is that although it was a take on big city life, Jerry himself grew up in the quintessential suburban town of Massapequa (Long Island), which could be Anytown, North America. As Jerry said of his world, “Massapequa is an old Indian word for ‘near the mall'” — with noodgy parents, gossiping friends, and the same first world problems and aggravations that everyone else was trying to shake off by watching a little tube after a long day.
And then there’s the whole Kerouac angle I love. One of my favorite authors was an early proponent of using the stories of one’s life as the subject for his autobiographical novels — and here’s autobiographical comedy! There hasn’t been a sitcom in the history of television that was the writers’ real lives as completely as Seinfeld.
When the network made one non-negotiable demand for the first season greenlight, it was that there had to be a strong female character equal to the three male leads. Larry David thought of an old girlfriend, Maggie Cassidy, I mean Monica Yates, who became a friend after they broke up, and realized that was the way to do it. Jerry had had a similar experience with the comedian Carol Leifer, and so with each of the creators strongly grounded in the concept of the ex-girlfriend as friend, Elaine Benes was born.
And of course the roman à clef copping extends to the real nextdoor neighbor named Kramer — and to countless scripts — from the Soup Nazi to waiting in a Chinese restaurant, from negotiating rules with an ex so they can have sex to the entire show-within-a-show storyline. And they also actively encouraged and mined the other writers’ and friend’s real-life moments and stories as comedic fodder. The B.O. in the car, the cutting a chocolate bar with a knife and fork, the trying to help a small neighborhood restaurant and endless other storylines and details were plucked from their personal conversations and turned into national conversations, yada yada yada.
But I mean … the whole Kerouac / Beat symmetry … set in New York … almost in the same neighborhood around Columbia … young New Yorkers on the town, on the make, out for kicks … with George Costanza as their Gregory Corso or Henri Cru, always scheming, always workin’ the angles, but never hitting the jackpot.
Kramer is obviously Burroughs — the tall, skinny, knowing, oddly dressed, unpredictable eccentric who didn’t quite fit in with the others but yet was somehow part of them.
Jerry is clearly Kerouac — at the center of everything and using his friends as the inspiration for his work. And of course Jack’s longtime hometown of Northport isn’t that far from Massapequa in geography or mindset.
The Beats never really had an Elaine, but in a way she was the Ginsberg through-line, collaborating with all the others, ambitious, always with an eye for the boys, and an ability to turn on the charm and work the room that the others just didn’t have.
And if anybody’s Neal Cassady it’s the behind-the-scenes (unpublished) Larry David, the catalytic partner for Kerouac/Seinfeld, the manifestation of the entire enterprise, the “god” the others looked up to.
And I think I’m fine with keeping Leo & Gabrielle as Jerry/Jack’s parents. But since we’re here, I’m gonna go ahead and cast Truman Capote as Newman, Lou Little as the Soup Nazi, and Peter Orlovsky as Puddy.
Some tasty tidbits I came across on the journey …
NBC President Brandon Tartikoff after the Michael Richards audition: “Well, if you want funny … .”
George Shapiro and Howard West, who managed up-and-coming comic Jerry Seinfeld in the ’80s, also handled Carl Reiner, so they had regular contact with his son Rob, who had just started Castle Rock in 1987 (along with 4 others), and who ended up producing the show starting in 1989.
For Jason Alexander’s audition, and in his performance in the pilot and first couple episodes, he was playing George as Woody Allen. A couple episodes in, he found out George was based on Larry David, so then began doing “the best Larry David I could.”
It originally premiered as “The Seinfeld Chronicles” before being shortened to “Seinfeld” — but when Jerry & Larry were developing it and submitted the first script, they called it “Stand-Up.”
Just before the show first aired, Jerry asked the most experienced veteran in the ensemble, Jason Alexander, if he thought the show had a chance. Jason answered it didn’t, “Because the audience for this show is me, and I don’t watch TV.”
Larry David wrote / created and was George.
Jerry ditto Jerry.
But it was Larry Charles who specifically focused on / wrote for and developed Kramer (along with Michael Richards).
To see how Larry and Jason created George, check this out —
Every episode title (except “Male Unbonding”) begins with “The…” then names something from the episode. Larry & Jerry instituted this because they didn’t want the writers wasting time creating clever titles.
Although Larry & Jerry have official writing credit on only 60 and 16 of the 180 episodes respectfully, they re-wrote / transformed / “worked their magic” (as the other writers put it) on every script once it was handed in.
Not only were the NBC execs famously opposed to the Chinese Restaurant episode, but also to the entire show-within-a-show story arc. And so was Jason Alexander. (!) They all quickly came around, however, once the first shows were taped.
Both Jerry and George had two dads. Each of their fathers started out with actors who were replaced by different actors by the character’s second appearance and thereafter.
Keith Hernandez found out after-the-fact that his two-episode storyline was written to be cut back to one if it turned out he sucked.
Joshua White (of the famed psychedelic Joshua Light Show of the late ’60s) actually directed an early episode of Seinfeld (“The Library,” 3rd season, 1991). He had directed a Carol Leifer special the year before, so that’s prolly how it happened, but it certainly shows the renegade Prankster mindset of the project. 😉
And yet, from what I’ve learned, none of the principals drank at all, and definitely didn’t use drugs. Just about every other artist in every medium I’ve ever loved, had a drug or alcohol problem. But all four leads plus L.D. (and probably most everybody else, if that was the standard set from the top) were mind-bogglingly stimulant-free.
Jerry’s fictional apt. was at 129 West 81st Street, apt. 5A — but the exterior used in the show is actually a building in Los Angeles. Then the real Jerry Seinfeld ending up buying his multi-condo New York uber-pad at West 81st & Central Park West.
The trademark funky bass lines between scenes were actually played on a Korg synthesizer. Bummer.
Out of the four central characters, Kramer is the only one to never have had an “inner monologue.” ie; He’s the only character whose inner thoughts we never hear.
During the show’s run, players on the Buffalo Sabres nicknamed their teammate (and the greatest goalie of all time) Dominik Hasek, “Kramer” because he was so weird and funny (to go with his tall and lanky).
Michael Richards crossed over and appeared as Kramer in a first season episode of Mad About You, playing the guy who subletted Paul’s bachelor apartment.
In another crossover, on The Larry Sanders Show, Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) wakes up on Jerry’s couch.
But most cooly — Sopranos creator David Chase suggested after both series had concluded that his show and Seinfeld should have switched endings.
Think about THAT for a minute. 😉
Various recurring and one-off guest stars (many of whom were not “stars” at the time) —
Jerry Stiller (as George’s father)
Lloyd Bridges (in his final TV appearance)
Philip Baker Hall (the great character actor from Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Argo and about a 150 other movies)
Paul Gleason (who was Jack Kerouac’s friend in the early ’60s)
Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill Murray’s brother)
Bill Macy (Maude‘s husband)
Robert Wagner and real-life wife Jill St. John (Diamonds Are Forever)
George Wendt (from Cheers, whose time-slot Seinfeld took over the following year)
John Randolph (as George’s first father)
Bill Saluga (the “You can call me Ray, …” guy)
Candice Bergen (as Murphy Brown)
Teri Hatcher (and she was spectacular!)
Raquel Welch (and what’s more than “spectacular”?)
Bette Midler (who’s always spectacular!)
Courtney Cox pre-Friends
Kristin Davis pre-Sex and The City
Michael Chiklis pre-The Commish
Debra Messing and Megan Mullally pre-Will & Grace
Rob Schneider and Molly Shannon pre-SNL
Sarah Silverman pre-anything
Ana Gasteyer in her first television appearance
Denise Richards, age 21, playing a 15 year old with cleavage
the Farrelly brothers (as writers) before they’d ever done a movie
the Flying Karamazov Brothers in their first and only acting appearance
and Keith Hernandez and numerous other baseball players.
The Vagaries of Network Scheduling:
Season 1 — The pilot originally aired at 9:30 PM on Wednesday, July 5th, 1989, following Night Court.
The four episodes of the first “season” were run as a summer try-out in NBC’s prime slot following Cheers at 9:30 PM Thursdays, in May and June 1990.
Here you can watch Jerry first talking to Johnny Carson about the show the night before the series premiere (starting at 6:30 on the clip) —
Season 2 — ’90 – 91 — When they came back for 12 episodes as a mid-season replacement in January of ’91, they were first slotted in their original 9:30 Wednesday spot following Night Court (replacing the soon-to-be-cancelled Dear John starring Judd Hirsch) and up against time-slot winner Jake And The Fatman. But when NBC’s soap-opera satire Grand underperformed in the post-Cheers slot, they were moved back there for the next 7 episodes, before once again being bumped back to 9:30 Wednesday by the end of the season.
Season 3 — ’91 – ’92 — When they came back for their first full (22 episode) season in the fall of ’91, they were still in their original Wednesday slot following Night Court (now it its final season) but they still consistently lost in the ratings to Jake And The Fatman. At least, for the first time, they stayed in the same slot for the entire season.
Season 4 — ’92 – ’93 — In the fall of ’92 after Night Court finally ended its 8-year run in the spring, Seinfeld moved into their 9 PM Wednesday slot for their 4th season, followed by a new similarly New York 30-something show, Mad About You. But then half-way through that season (in Feb.) they were switched back to the prime 9:30 Thursday slot behind Cheers when Wings was failing to hold the audience. Finally having cracked the Top 30 rated shows in the country (finishing 25th overall for the year) Seinfeld became the network’s heir-apparent when their top-rated Boston bar show finally closed its doors to much hoopla that spring.
Season 5 — ’93 – ’94 — At the start of the fall ’93 season Seinfeld took over the prime 9 PM Thursday slot once Cheers vacated the premises, where they would finish as the 3rd overall show in the ratings for that season.
Season 6 — ’94 – ’95 — Thursdays, 9 PM (for the next 3½ seasons) — finishing the year as the #1 highest rated show on television.
Season 7 — ’95 – ’96 — Thursdays, 9 PM — the last season with Larry David. Finished as 2nd highest rated show of the year, behind only George Clooney’s E.R. (also on NBC).
You can watch the cast and crew talking about the impact of the Larry departure here —
Season 8 — ’96 – ’97 — Thursdays, 9 PM — again finished 2nd only to E.R.
Season 9 — ’97 – ’98 — Thursdays, 9 PM — until January ’98 when the network moved it up to 8:30 for its final five months. The show finished its last season #1 overall in television ratings. The only two other shows in television history that ended while in first place were I Love Lucy (in 1957) and The Andy Griffith Show (1968).
Most watched TV episodes of all time in the U.S.:
#1 — M*A*S*H finale (106 million viewers)
#2 — Cheers finale (84 million)
#3 — Seinfeld finale (76 million)
Bloopers and Outtakes
You’ve prolly seen every episode many times and there’s no chance you’ll ever see anything new, right?
Don’t be so sure about that!
Check these outtakes! They’re as funny as the show.
Once you get started with this, if you’re on YouTube you’ll see all the other seasons appear in succession at the top of the righthand column.
Also check this “Must See TV” — The Making of An Episode — if you wanna know how this masterpiece was painted.
Spoiler alert: it’s all about the writing … 😉
If you pause at 12 minutes you can get a visual of how the show was structured — the table read with LD (and director Andy Ackerman) at the head, Jerry and “George” right next to them, Michael and Julia next, then the priceless “Puddy,” and on down the creative line.
And here’s the super insightful documentary on How It Began with interviews with all the principals telling the story from concept to on-air success.
And you can read all the scripts for every episode here.
For a rough primer on one of the other funniest shows ever produced, here’s my loose riff on Fawlty Towers.
For more on John Lennon check out my story of being at the Dakota the night he was killed.
For a more upBeat New York story check out Election Night 2008.
For more Henri Cru and the krewe surrounding Kerouac, check out this excerpt from my book.
For some comedic storytelling videos, check out Makin’ Movies.
For a Kerouac on Long Island story, check out The Northport Report about a bunch of the Beats gathering in ol’ Jack’s hometown.
Or for another Long Island story, check out the Long Island Mansions Adventure.
Or for a more Manhattan story check out this tale of downtown to uptown.
Or for more on Kerouac and the Beats on screen, check out the story of the “On The Road” movie premiere in London.
by Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
Tags: creating Seinfeld·Henri Cru·Jack Kerouac·John Lennon·Kerouac and Seinfeld·Larry David·Larry David and John Lennon·Michael Richards·Neal Cassady·Seinfeld in Massapequa
Not Fade Away — Birthday Adventure 2014
The start of the Adventure.
Just home from the 5-show birthday blow-out! Sheesh! Started with New Orleans’ Soul Rebels outdoors in a park with my New Orleans Soul Brother Ross Perlmutter. The funky brass-n-drums combo were joined for some songs by Toronto’s own frontline horndogs The Heavyweights, creating a new 11-piece band called The Soulweights, or maybe The Heavy Rebels. But whatever it was, it was a living incarnation of the collaborative jazz that’s makes New Orleans the birthplace of music as we know it.
The show’s part of this massive luminous 2-week Toronto arts festival called Luminato with thousands of artists from all over the world putting on theater, film, photography, readings, magic, dance, installations, interview talks, improv street theater, and of course — music!
And as part of the park concert scene, this Cuban collective called Los Carpinteros (art carpenters) created the illusion of a beach with deck chairs, beach umbrellas, cabanas, and even a lifeguard tower — all made out of cardboard! You could lounge on the beach chairs or climb up in the guard towers of this temporary installation … but all made from recyclable paper products!
Ross and I groove post-show on the picnic tables in the enormous outdoor bar with some frosty Canadian microbreweries for company as we’re sharing crazy tales of mother Nawlins. After I walk him to his car to end Part One of the day, I head back to the park and sure enough Ziggy Marley’s doing his soundcheck for the evening show! I smooth-talk a security guard that I’m an out-of-town promoter and wanna scout the site, and he lets me in! And there’s the son-of-a-Bob and his enormous band that just won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album for his “In Concert” live disk last year, and he’s rockin’ steady with the real roots including a couple joyous run-throughs of his Dad’s inspirational incantation “Lively Up Yourself.”
Then it was a mad dash up to Bloor Street to hit my favorite little bookstores, where I walked away with a cool Evergreen Review collection with Kerouac and all the boys in it, and the Jann Wenner oral biography of the mighty doctor, Hunter S. Then it was a synchronistic sojourn back to the site of my 50th b’day, The Cadillac Lounge on Queen Street West, to meet up with the next round of loogans, Damo, Greg, Peanut and the boys, who were all caught up in a New Year’s Eve-like party of screaming World Cup “football” fans from a half-a-dozen face-painted countries in this multi-cultural metropolis, guzzling beer using pitchers as glasses!
With a Herculean effort, I finally pour my bloods out of the sports stream, and we toss Damo’s bike in the back of the Blue Bomber, put Dr. John’s “Locked Down” on the jukebox, and bolted off to the next big park party scene — with a Led Zeppelin cover band! Of course just as we’re walking in they begin the ultra-trippy “Dazed and Confused” which they proceeded to play for about the next week. Then in keeping with the New Orleans theme, they noticed we were there and broke into “When The Levee Breaks” which I thought was quite nice of them.
From there it was a bolt over to the main course of the day’s feast — a Jerry Garcia Band in a funky old neighborhood pub, the Linsmore Tavern, that’s been hanging there on the same corner wonderfully unchanged since the 1930s. Fulla Deadheads — in a place you wanna go where everybody knows the game. And they’re already playin’, both band and audience, in that magic unspoken collaboration between listeners and musicians that we all know and live — playing in combo and rising with the tide of the vibes.
It was Mark Thackway’s band, and of course I ended up hanging with him and the Merl Saunders/Melvin Seals keyboard player, Wayne “Shakey” Dagenais. Although you’d never know it, it was actually these two veteran’s first public performance together — a new musical adventure for both them and the audience. And work it did!
They played three sets and all the songs you’d wanna hear … That’s What Love Will Make You Do, Sittin’ Here In Limbo, They Love Each Other, How Sweet It Is, After Midnight with an Eleanor Rigby woven in the middle, Sugaree, The Weight, Deal . . .
But it was really this one Moment that brought it all together:
In this perfectly small bar, the quartet was perfectly replicating the small bar the Garcia Band was born and raised — the Keystone in Berzerkeley, California. With the band set up by the front windows and the tables and chairs cleared away all around the stage and corner door, the dancing music energy was at its vibrating peak at the very threshold where you stepped into the room.
And that’s right where this Magic Moment occurred numerous times . . .
As the musically motivated would arrive mid-set, when they pushed open the old inner smoke-windowed door they were already sporting a grin from ears to cheeks, and their face was beaming like an incoming stage light, as they gratefully, gracefully, dancefully floated into the improvised scene — not looking for a seat, not ordering a drink (till the set was over) — but falling seamlessly into the rhythm groove and group move, strangers dancing with strangers, just to shake their body, rub-a-dub dubbed, and the hugs were free.
And speaking of hugs, Magic Moment #2 happened right in the middle of this mayhem as some girl I’d been sorta dancin with n stuff overhears somebody wishing me Happy Birthday, and goes, “Oh — it’s your birthday!” Big smiles. “Well, what kind of a drink do you want, birthday boy?”
“Well, aw geez I don’t know …” cuz see, I don’t really drink the hard stuff anymore. But she’s quite persistent, she is.
“You gotta have something special. I’m buying. It’s your birthday …” And finally I come up with my old go-to — tequila & orange. And she squeals in delight and jumps me with a hug and kisses me on the cheek!
“I LOVE it!” she says, and heads to the bar, and all of a sudden I’m headin for trouble.
And, ya know … we start dancing side-by-side arm-in-arm, swayin’ in the groove and talking in the downtimes, and she’s very soft and bright-eyed, and it’s definitely The Old Flirty Bar Fling Routine. But to be perfectly honest I’m still in love with all the girls I’ve ever been in love with, and all my memories of intimacy are fairy-tale idyllic. And in this moment in this bar on this reflective day, I just didn’t want to mix some new bleary beery images with the tender magic I’ve lived. Not to mention mixing bodily fluids with a complete stranger. I believe it’s written somewhere — When A Girl Buys You Drinks On Your Birthday, You’re Supposed To Go Home With Her. But then … see … I’ve never been much of a rule follower.
And THEN right when this is not going down … The Giant Downer Happens — where my ever-present everything-in-it over-the-shoulder bag was stolen! What an insane birthday bring-me-down! I’m talkin to some other vivacious girl post-show and go to grab something out of it — and … it’s gone. I mean — gone gone. Nowhere. Definitely. A bunch of people start looking around for it, so I bolt out the door to see if maybe I’d see somebody leaving with it or find it ditched somewhere or something … but of course … not.
My camera. Cell phone. Notebook. Car keys!!! What?! I’m totally fucked. It’s totally gone. I’m shaking, white as a ghost. I tell my bloods Damo and Greg while the blood is draining from my face … lost and gut-punched, in a trembling trance. Then at some point I turn around blankly and hear some guy say, “Did you lose a bag?” … And he’s wearing it! The guy was so dazed and confused by the end of three sets of Jerry, he walked out and started heading home with my bag instead of his own!! Oh my Lord! I had it back! Cashin’ in a buncha karma coupons right there! Had to have a whole sit-down chill-down after THAT!
And THEN as a final evening musical encore — out on the sidewalk along the Danforth at 2-something in the morning, some brother strapped on an acoustic and began singing us all onto the road and into our night with “On The Road Again,” which I always thought harmonized so beautifully with my brother Jack’s most famous motif. 😉
And THEN he breaks into one of my handful of favorite songs ever written! “Not Fade Away” by the immortal Buddy Holly, which became a climactic singalong anthem in the Dead’s repertoire for their whole 30-year run. And not only is it a personal favorite, but it’s also the song where I appear in the movie of their Radio City shows, Dead Ahead! And there we all were, singing like buskers without a case on the street-corner of eternity.
And that’s the name of that tune.
“Love for real, not fade away.”
A smoky night in The Big Smoke.
(miraculous photo and tale exactly as happened)
For more Grateful Dead birthday adventures, check out “The Grateful Dead Played My 30th Birthday“
or here’s where Furthur brought the magic back to Madison Square Garden
or here’s arriving at a Grateful Dead show at Red Rocks in 1982.
or here’s the story of The Pranksters invading Woodstock
or here’s a feature story I wrote for Relix Magazine about Jerry & the Boys on the Festival Express train trip across Canada
or here’s the Toronto Dr. John adventure from last year
or there’s the Johnny Clegg adventure from a couple months ago
or the Paul Simon in Hyde Park adventure
or here’s some riffs from a recent New Orleans Jazz Fest
or here’s a fantastic collection of the best live music performances I reviewed for RockPeaks
or here’s something on a decision I made — as did a lot of other cool people — to not have kids.
by Brian Hassett firstname.lastname@example.org BrianHassett.com
Tags: Jerry Garcia·Jerry Garcia Band·Linsmore Tavern·Mark Thackway·Soul Rebels
May 27th, 2014 · Poetry
Spring Peace piece
Gonna ring a big ding
Calling out from Sing-Sing
Gonna have a spring fling
Kinda have an inkling
Everything is gonna sell
Comin’ out the dripping well
Middle East a burning hell
Clanging morning warning bell.
The toast is up, the jam is done
Twisted people think it’s fun
Blowin’ neighbors with a gun
Sneaky-creepy bang-bang run!
B for bombing and belabor
S for slitting with a saber,
I don’t know, but “Love thy neighbor”
Seems to me was from your labor.
Jumpin’ Jesus what went wrong?
Rodney King sez “get along”
Lennon leaves us with a song
Bloomberg does it with a bong!
The Dalai Lama makes the case,
And Jerry did it out of space,
Alicia’s singing soul’s new face
But best of all is this new place!
I’ll tell ya why, it’s cuz we’re here,
It’s live, it’s now, ya have a beer!
Top me up with living cheer!
I’m Sargent Pepper feeling gear!
We’re … water water everywhere,
Make us grow and make it better;
Water water everywhere
Take the dry and make ’em wetter
Spring is here, I smell the bloomin’
Many minds on Bowery zoomin’
Beatin’ back the glummy gloomin’
Trippin’ like you’re mushy schroomin’
Honest like you’re Harry Truman
Shooting wicked witches broomin’
Martin Luther King exhumin’
Everybody here’s a crewman,
Take your soul and keep on groomin’
Spike the spirit, keep on zoomin’
All it takes is bein’ human.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Some other poem riff-rides you may enjoy . . .
Be The Invincible Spirit You Are
Sans Sons — A Song In Names Only
Where Wayward Jekylls Hyde — The Mighty Bama-Rama Rap
The Royal Woods of Cassady County
The Boys Who Grew From Northern Lands
A Song of Enid I Sing
The Carolyn Cassady Birthday Poem
A Shakespearian Cassady
Smokin’ Charlie’s Saxophone
The Ballad of The Profiteers
Sittin’ On My Roof In New Orleans
by Brian Hassett email@example.com BrianHassett.com
photo by Brian Hassett — Olympic Park, London, 2012