Tuesday, March 3, 2009

double back to a cul de sac

i was living in san diego at the time w/john sideris. it was 1974. it was during nixon's first recession & i was starving, quite literally, in those days. i'd go six days just drinking kool-aid & on the seventh day i'd treat myself to hamburger helper or a frozen chicken pot pie. it seems like i'd heard that the human creature could go w/o solid food for a week before dementia set in. this was not a deliberate experiment testing that hypothesis. there was no control aspect to it. sid was in the navy & posted to the aircraft carrier there in port in san diego. he had the uncanny ability to show up from off the ship the day my florida unemployment check arrived. john was a big boy & always seemed to appreciate the groceries my money bought. when they ran out, he headed back to the ship & all that delicious free food the navy provided him. he always said he HAD to go because it was his turn for "watch-duty."

i mixed a new pitcher of cherry-flavored kool-aid & sat back to enjoy the aromas of a baking pot pie wafting through our little tri-plex apt. unbidden, thoughts of the previous weekend came rushing into my mind. van morrison had played up in westwood, his tour promoting his newest release, the great "veedon fleece" album. several years before, he'd toured w/a gigantic band(strings, horns, various percussionists)& recorded his double live album as a result. he would be w/a stripped down band on the current tour. he could have been solo or w/the lawrence welk orchestra as far as i was concerned. i'd be there one way or another.

i checked on the potpie. it was bubbling up & getting all brown & toasty good. ten more minutes & i'd feast! morrison's concert was memorable for a couple of reasons & none of them was how great the concert was. he played in a big venue, one of those twenty-thousand seating arenas, & they had come expecting a big show w/the full big band treatment. morrison came out w/a drummer, a bassist, a pianist, & himself on guitar & sax. he was also feeling jazzy. the crowd was not prepared for a free-form version of "moondance" & started letting him know it. i'd seen the mobile alabama fools boo ronstadt off stage but i wasn't prepared for seeing my hero & the headliner jeered at by toked up mouth-breathers. van, however, was very prepared.

as the crowd got louder in its disapproval, the lights on stage started to dim. somewhere into his sixth or seventh song, the stage went black & while the band kept playing, the vocals became a mixture of grunts & roars. he'd actually done some of this vocal styling on the veedon fleece album & it was strange there. if you stretched things, you could call it scat singing but here it was clearly operating in a more scatological mode. as this live song drug on & on, the grunting became more guttural. finally, the lights started to come up. the crowd, by now very confused had a mixed reaction to the tableau on the stage as it was finally revealed: morrison laying on the big piano flat on his back, the lighting now smoky blue, & van still grunting into the mic he held to his mouth. suddenly, after nearly 30minutes of this, it ended abruptly . morrison hopped off the piano & led the band through two quick songs, domino & blue money, & then he was gone. he'd played just over an hour(his contract probably imposed that on him), eight songs & the 30 minute grunt improvisation. my head was spinning. he didn't come back for an encore.

i took the potpie out of the oven. the look & smell of it nearly intoxicating. i felt my saliva glands involuntarily filling my mouth w/spittle. i swallowed it down, imagining the creamy chicken-y taste i was about to experience. i let it rest, like you'd do a proper roast, & thought about the rest of my trip to see morrison. as usual, i hadn't really calculated just how far westwood(pauley pavilion) was from san diego(& imperial beach). i just drove. i had to see morrison. of course, i was blind to the practicalities of having enough gas to get there & back. i made it back to somewhere outside of oceanside. i slept in the pinto in a shopping center parking lot. sideris wasn't answering the phone down in imperial beach. another fine mess. bobo wired the money to get back down to imperial beach. it took nearly all day.

i'd lit candles & made my place to feast directly in front of our ancient record player. at the time, i had cohen's new skin, morrison's veedon fleece, & dan fogelberg's souvenirs. they'd all come out that year, 1974. i'm not sure which album was playing as i carefully carried my dinner out to the living room. i think cohen is more appropriate but i'd like to think it was morrison's song "cul de sac." just steps away from my repast, i dropped the potpie onto the cheap-ass shag carpet. it landed top down & oozed out all into the long dirty carpet. i stood there, gaping. as i slowly crumpled to my knees, nearly weeping, i made the decision to return to p'cola. maybe it was dementia, i've thought later to myself. things were so clearly out of control. still, i didn't want to double back. but god knows, even after this, i would again & again.

we lost track of john sideris. i had some good times w/him out there in san diego & definitely in in high school in p'cola(his mother was a middle-school principal). i fixed him up w/regina & they had a brief fling. i remember he was put out w/me for leaving cali, even tho some of his navy buddies had shown up once(during one of john's "duty calls") & been so appalled by my circumstances, they bought me dinner.

while i have very very mixed feelings about our adolescent music heroes doubling back to their great past moments, i have to say this one pretty much works. van's voice is still a marvel & the band is tight. the material is beyond dispute. after all these years, "astral weeks" might be the only album that still holds up from beginning to end. it certainly still sounds "new." nyt gave his new york appearance a thumbs down, based mostly on his odd behavior, as i read it. that's morrison. dat what he do. too late to stop now.

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