Friday, December 13, 2013

Opening King Tut's Tomb

I've spent most of the past couple of weeks hauling a couple of boxes of books in from the garage each day, going through them, discarding the ones most eaten by rodents and insects (not nearly as many as you might think, but some), then going through the ones I clearly don't want but kept out of inertia, and looking up their ISBN numbers to see if they're special in any way. If so, they get listed on my Amazon store.  I'm selling about one book a day, and had to de-list some because of interest from a rare book dealer.

But oh, that gets tiresome. There are these other boxes, boxes with, well, stuff. I do accumulate stuff. Stuff tends to be the documentation of memories. Which is a good thing: I didn't remember getting a large poster for the Residents' album Third Reich and Roll with a letter from them on the back. I do remember going to a San Francisco art party with my pal Hudson in the mid-'70s and us wandering around looking for someone interesting, and Hudson spying four guys standing together and saying "Those guys are the Residents," only to have all four say in unison "No we're not!" So I've seen them without their eyeballs. I bet that poster would bring something on eBay. If I could only figure out how to use eBay, that is.

But like I said, this is documentation of memory. For instance, I think I was on assignment, probably for Creem, at Willie Nelson's horror-filled 4th of July extravaganza at College Station in 1974 when Charlyn Zlotnik caught me and some other low-lifes backstage.

L to R: Himself, Joe Nick Patoski, unknown, Patrick Carr

Now, I have some memories of this three-day error in judgement left. It was terribly hot, and Jim Franklin, the artist-in-residence at Armadillo World Headquarters, had distributed salt tablets to one and all, most likely keeping us from dying. If you could get into the Lone Star Beer bus, Jerry Retzloff would give you a beer. That was all the nutrition available until some brave students drove an old station wagon through the fence, opened its tailgate, and started selling barbeque brisket sandwiches for a buck apiece. Words cannot convey how good they were, and, their tuition for the next two years in hand, they zoomed off as quickly as they'd come. Just as the thing got started, a catalytic converter on a car set the field of grass in which it was parked on fire, and people watched helplessly as a dozen or two cars were turned into art. (One, I think, belonged to the poor bastard who was performing at the time). I have no idea where I slept, but on the last night it vanished (probably along with the record company person who was paying for it), and I wound up with the Mother Earth Band, most notably Toad Andrews and family, on the floor of a Holiday Inn. The record company person who'd driven me there having vanished, I was very, very grateful to hear a voice asking if anyone needed a ride back to Austin, and that's how I met the late, great Joe Gracey.

But wait, there are other pictures here. Dozens of me cooking gumbo, as if that were some kind of remarkable event. Hell, now that I'm back in Texas I'll probably do that again relatively soon: I'm out of the land of eight okra pods for €7.00 now. There are pictures of bands snapped during performance, but who are they? More than that, there are scads of posters, lots from a band I was going to produce called No Sisters, who really were four brothers (and one drummer), and who almost got signed to A&M right after I moved to Texas. (They went for D-Day instead, because their wealthy manager was absorbing the expenses). At some point I'm going to have to sort through these posters, because I'm certain some of them are worth money, and I have multiple copies of some of them, too. Ah, but here's another photo of me in my back yard in Sausalito taken by my long-vanished friend and colleague AJ Bernstein.

Gentleman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. A year later I was in Texas. Probably saved my life. 
But there were other artifacts that were less disturbing.

Ashtray, candle
The way I used to cope with Texas summers when I worked at the newspaper was to save my money, and put in for my two weeks' vacation sometime in August, when I could be sure that I'd reached the limit of my endurance and very little would be happening to write about. I would fly to London and then make my way to Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, where I would be retrieved by a gent named Pete Frame, who would then convey me to his thatched-roofed former pub in the tiny village of North Marston, which didn't have a post office, store, or much of anything except sheep and cows.

And a pub. The Bell, it was called (like about 60% of the pubs in England). Mel the Bell was the landlord, and I was a novelty: no American had actually stayed more than a day in North Marston, and since I had Pete's imprimatur, and bought my rounds as a decent pub-drinker should, I was accepted. What I was drinking, at any rate, was ABC Bitter, a lovely drink with lunch and after dinner, and just the thing to dissipate any lingering tension from working for The Man. I met a lot of fine folk there, including Rob Gurney, Pete's running buddy, and a budding mariner at the time. He's a full-fledged captain now, and has places in Aruba and Belgium, but has held on to the family farm. Pete lives in Dingwall, in remote Scotland, and pretends he loves it. He was down visiting the captain recently and tells me that ABC Bitter is no longer made, that in fact that whole brewery complex in Burton-on-Trent has been eaten alive by The Man and the Aylesbury Duckling is no longer seen on glasses or ashtrays. Which is a shame, because I have a pint glass and it's chipped. That, too, was in storage.

The candle is a very wry piece of post-modern commentary, although it just looks like a bust of Lenin made out of mud. Waxy mud. But I had one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments in 1990, when I drove from Berlin to Prague what seemed like moments after the Velvet Revolution. At the time, the word was that it had been a bloodless revolution except for one student who'd been shot dead. Immediately a wall with a huge John Lennon graffito on it became a place of pilgrimage and hundreds of candles burned there in his memory. Now, it appears that some people knew the truth, because if Wikipedia is to be believed, this guy, Martin Smid, was fictional. In the spirit of punk -- or something -- a bunch of entrepreneurial students cleaned away the candle wax, melted it down, and, with some molds they'd found, cast candles of Marx, Lenin, and so on, and then sold them on the sidewalk. I bought one because although I didn't know all the story, the involution of the idea of recycling memorial candles into an ironic icon of the now-defeated enemy sold for profit appealed to me. And yes, that was an amazing trip.

But before I get sucked into that, what about this (sorry about the framing)?

The real action's on the back.
This is a souvenir of a story that never happened. A friend of mine was on the comedy beat at the paper, and invited me to go see this new guy, Bill Hicks, at one of the local clubs. He wasn't local: he was from Houston, where, he insisted, a wild comedy scene was happening. Being unemployed and freelancing, I sold Mother Jones magazine on the story, and thus it was that I found myself in Houston doing a story on the Texas Outlaw Comics which would culminate in an appearance at Rockefeller's. A day or so into hanging out with these guys made me realize that there was no way a magazine as politcally uptight as Mother Jones would even go near this material, but I stuck with it until the show, which was magnificent -- I particularly remember Bill Hicks' piece on Jesus returning and walking into a church and seeing, first thing, a crucifix -- and at the end of my stay in Houston, I was presented with the above artwork, signed by all the Outlaw Comics including Bill. I wish I could tell whose signature was whose.

Then there are other souvenirs of I know not what: the odd duo of a wind-up sushi chef who chops at a fish (which wriggles its way out of range of his knife) while reading what is presumably a how-to-cut-sushi book and an enamel advertisement for Casanova Cigaretten, showing a scarf-wearing Boston terrier smoking a cigarette and blowing a smoke ring. I must've gotten the latter at a flea market before moving to Germany, but the other is anyone's guess.

And then there are memories that go back much, much further.

Tammany? Los Angeles 1911? I swear I wasn't there. 

When I was in college, my friend Terry, even then a great photographer, became obsessed with the dying city of Springfield, Ohio, near where we were going to school. One of the great things about the poor side of town, where he went photo-hunting, was the antique shops, which were loaded with the most miscellaneous things. I've always loved advertising ephemera, and there was tons around. Buttons, too, matched my fashion sense as a kind of East Coast hippie. ("NO SALOON!") People collected cigarette cards, which came with every package of some kinds of cigarettes, and then didn't know what to do with them. I also found a copy of what is probably the first country music record, but no other recorded treasures (turns out they were still for sale in a strange old record store I only went to once). Anyway, Terry got some great pictures over the years. I got some of the odder corners of my own personal King Tut's tomb. I just hope there isn't a curse on this one.

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