Monday, October 11, 2010

Hitching in Marin during late 60s, early 70s

When I was a teenager, I bought my guitar stings from Van Morrison's mother at Caledonia Records in Fairfax.

It was worth the bother to get there as she'd make us a cuppa tea with shortbread. I was round-eyed—she sounded like my grannie but was from the north of Ireland. I looked for horns. We shared a name in common: Violet—but her fingernails and mouth were little scarlet wounds circling her cigarette.

Mr. Morrison, in his tweeds, was sitting on a stool, puffing away on his pipe, smiling at us from afar. Meanwhile one of Van's songs—maybe it was Gloria—was blaring on KFRC's Top Ten. I was learning Pastures of Plenty, and Cottenpicking—they chastizing me for not having a guitar case for such a valuable guitar.

One time she was shop-sitting for a friend at Amazing Grace Music, an old gas station cum music store on a tiny wedge of land between the Miracle Mile (Red Hill Ave.) and San Anselmo Avenue in San Anselmo. It was much farther out of the way for me so I rarely went there, but I had a Martin and I needed some Martin strings.

Mrs. Morrison made Van give me a ride home. Van the Man in the van was not pleased. He was seriously bent out of shape by the request so I was terrified to speak to him. And it was a long ride home held in utter silence. I lived far from town—way out in Forest Knolls, and he lived even farther out in Inverness.

There was no bus service out to The Valley so it was either thumb, or shank's mare. Van the Man drove a van. I had no real idea who he was at the time... I was so fecking shy I couldn't talk to him even if I wanted to.

It seems that every rock musician from the 60s moved out to West Marin—sort of a fallout from the Haight. West Marin was invaded by the likes of the Sons of Champlin, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane—to name a few. 

They saw us kids hitching home every day—to us, it was merely an alternate bus service. We didn't think twice that these guys were famous. The road out to The Valley was long and winding, and in those days, people generally stopped for hitchikers.

Jesse Colin Young, who also lived in Inverness, was much easier to talk to than Van. He had cute little kids who took swimming lessons with ze French Mrs. Zettl who lived half way up Arroyo Road—so I got a ride almost all the way home from Jesse.

Carlos Santana was silent like Van—absolute mauna. He had a nice Mercedes with fawn leather seats though... One morning, I was still half-asleep, hitching into Drake High School (emphasis at that point was on getting high), Carlos pulled over to offer me a lift.

It was pretty early so Carlos might not have been awake either. He was pulling pretty hard on both his coffee mug and a joint. He looked half-dressed—like he just rolled out of bed. I remember being a little shocked that he wore those baggy string pants. Them string pants were riding dangerously low on Carlito's hips as I recall....

Carlos moved into my friend Lindy Young's place on Tamal Road (right up from Linda Gregg's place—where Jerry Garcia later died) and he had horses too—that was our common ground. I don't remember much else—other than I got to school on time.

Got a ride from decopage artists Larry Fuentes and Dickens Bascom too.
Dickens' art car had an entire Remington typewriter that still worked glued to the trunk of his Fort Falcon. The sides and fins were lined with worn out sneaker bottoms—like fish scales. Poetic justice.

My College of Marin classmate David Best copied Dickens Bascom and Larry Fuentes' art-cars and came up with some amazing art-cars of his own—and made a career of it. I loved the flocked chia seed Cadillac punctuated with mirror shards and a water buffalo head hood ornament that he used to park at Micky McGowan's Unknown Museum in Mill Valley.

The Unknown Museum, (founded ca. 1974—but I think it was earlier than that) which closed its doors in 1989, was something to behold with all its repurposed Americana detritus as iconography—the ultimate recycler's wetdream.

David told me that at night the deer came down to graze on the car. Mickey the cobbler had a Fiat stuffed with Disney toys and Barbie dolls.The Fiat didn't run, but David's Caddy did—I sat in it with David and talked until the cows came home, but never got a real ride in it. So I guess it doesn't count. Somewhere I have the slides... fodder for another blog.

One time Dickens and Larry hauled a découpaged life-size fiberglass model horse out to a pond where the Dollar house once stood—on the San Geronimo Golf Course. I had my camera with me (and a fresh roll of Kodachrome) so I stuck around. They did a great Lady Godiva number at sunset. The girl wore a red cape and a fierce mane of red hair. Not much else. People nearly drove off the road. But I still had to walk all the way back home to Forest Knolls from San Geronimo. No one would stop along that section of road. Shank's mare.

I never got a photo of Dickens' art car, but I did manage to document his horse at the San Geronimo Golf Course. But Long's Drugs Kodak developer sliced all my negatives in two lengthwise. I was able to salvage a few sliced photos (magically healed with a cloning tool).

See Paul Liberatore's article on Mickey McGowan in Exhibit of 55 recycled, reused artworks gets once-over from Mill Valley's Unknown Museum's ex-curator

Somewhere in all this thumbin- for-a-ride business, I actually owned a car, or rather, a funky 1958 panel Singer Sewing Machine Volvo van that my uncle gave me—but keeping it running was a full-time occupation. The carburetor linkage was held together with baling wire because I couldn't find the parts. So I was often car-less. David Best wanted to découpage it. But I let it rot into the hillside when it died, thinking I would revive it someday—like Kesey's bus, Further. But the spare parts were just too hard to find.

Ken Kesey stopped for me in Fairfax on The Magic Bus, or was it Further? We generically called it the magic bus but its destination was further. Now, that was one way cool ride. The Merry Prankster himself grabbed the hand door crank and opened the glass doors and said with a huge grin, "Climb aboard!" 
Kesey's original Further (not Further 2) was like an old Bluebird schoolbus, like the mad buses in Guatemala.

Not only was the outside painted in rainbow hues, the entire inside of the old yellow bus was psychedelically painted and collaged. It was another world. I was like Alice down the rabbithole. I pretty much had the bus to myself. So I migrated up and down the aisles, sitting here and there, checking out the artwork. Lots of music posters from FIllmore and Winterland daze.

Some dude was splayed out, smokin' in the back seat with friends. I believe courtesy inhaling was involved. BTW, Ken Kesey pulled over for everybody who was hitching. So it took a very long time to get home.

Years later (ca. 1976), Ken Kesey told me that the fabled old bus was mouldering away in his lower south 40 field in Pleasant Hill, Oregon. He was doing a magazine called Spit in the Ocean and I was working for the Western Star Press 
selling tarot cards, of all things. Rosalind Sharpe Wall and John Starr Cooke made a New Age Tarot deck, The New Tarot: a deck for the Aquarian Age (1969). Ken wanted to buy some tarot cards.

It sold for $8

On Amazon now for $125+

During the mid-1970s I worked for Alice Cooke Kent at Western Star Press. I had to hand-sorted every 78-card deck I sold as the printer had a major collating fuckup. The decks arrived loose, jumbled in big boxes—it was like a colossal 52-card pick-up party. I sorted so many decks, I was stacking major arcana in my sleep. They're imprinted indelibly into memory. Rosalind Sharpe Wall, the artist, was my friend Miranda Micaela's mom. She and my mom, who also designed a deck—were arch enemies. So I was working for the opposition.

I was loath to cash that small check with that famous Ken Kesey signature on it. We struck up a correspondence of sorts and he sent me some signed books. I'd give my eye teeth and molars to have them now. I wasn't yet a poet, so I didn't pay close attention. Didn't take notes. Didn't listen to the music of the words that were coming unbidden.


$5revolutions said...

I still own a pair of boots made by Micky the Apple Cobbler

Maureen Hurley said...

I would love to see a photo of them, if you have one.