Just Up the Road

We were into the music. The war was going to go on, the napalm was burning and the old fools stomped through the country roaring the American dream. We tuned in, turned on and dropped the fuck out.

In my 1966 it was about psychedelics, meth, smack, weed and the music. Those hot days we worked at the Los Gatos Car wash, mitters in suds, in black rubber boots while our skin absorbed the fragrances of car wash soap and hot wax. Shifts end would mean climbing soaked into Keith's black 54 Ford convertible, Smitty mufflers crackling, and wheel up Highway 17 to Black Road leaving the Santa Clara valley for the Santa Cruz Mountains, hammering the Ford in second gear, hanging it out hard through those gravel Gist Road switchbacks up through the oaks and madrones to the redwoods. He would sling that Ford for all it was worth slamming it into the narrow spot to park that looked down on our always behind-in-the-rent cabin roof.

If it was Friday, that was money day and the first trip was to the record store and maybe some burgers. The rest, after some serious arguments, inevitably was for the drug of the day and if it was meth the chances of showing up for work the next week were slim. Outfits fashioned from Murine eye droppers, baby pacifiers and rubber bands came out, cotton balls and cartons of Pall Malls, and economy packs of Juicy Fruit gum. By morning the cable spool table would be filled with abalone shells stuffed with cigarette butts, papers, cotton, spoons, matches and bags of weed. A poster of Huey Newton staring out from a wicker chair on one wall and the Incredible Hulk loomed out in dayglo lime green on the other. The sound system often consisted of a tired old turntable wired through a stolen Marshall amp. The reading material was Zap Comix, the Realist, the Oracle and the Barb. People we didn't even know would appear in the night with tokes of weed to sit and groove. The cabin would be filled with Rick, Keith and I along with an ever-changing cast of lost hopelessly stoned ghosts.

We were not the angels of light and peace. We weren't on the high school football teams and we didn't go to Senior Ball. We had read On the Road, Howl, The Dharma Bums and the The Junkmans Obligatto, many had tweaked with Neal and peaked with Ken. We had sold our blood for food at San Jose Blood Bank too many times already. We were what was wrong with the American mythology. Most of the extended group had done CYA and Job Corps time for drugs, one had done two years for a lid.

All of us had given up on a system that couldn't give a shit.

Richie Haven's Run Shaker Life touches off those memories. Those years were filled with the Doors, Quicksilver, Cream, The Yardbirds, Ten Years After, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, Muddy Waters, The Blues Project, Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, Paul Butterfield, Big Brother, The Young Bloods, Canned Heat, Jim Kweskin Jug Band, The Joy of Cooking, The Mothers of Invention, The Chambers Brothers (Uptown), Jimmy Reed (did I mention Jimmy Reed?), Dr. John, the Night Tripper, HP Lovecraft, Savoy Brown, Cold Blood, It's a Beautiful Day, Junior Wells, Led Zeplin, Howlin' Wolf, Traffic, The Electric Flag, The Buffalo Springfield, Steve Miller, Spirit, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, Jeff Beck, Wilson Picket and James Brown. Of course the Beatles and the Stones.The Fillmore, The Avalon, The Longshoreman's Hall, and The Barn. It goes on and on.

Dylan was different. He didn't hit our seventy-two hour speed run top forty. He was a personal thing. When I crawled out of that cabin looking for cover, slipping deep into the hard depression that was a brutal stew of hallucination, paranoia, and sleeplessness, I would try to find a space in time to let his voice quiet me. If I was lucky, very lucky, I could score a half spoon of smack, have some change left to stock up on quarts of Spur malt liquor and begin the impending flameout. Dylan's early acoustic stuff could help pull me through.

Corrina, Corrina where you been so long.

During those real early years, after struggling as a runaway on the beach streets of California feeding on shoplifted meals and tourist car break-ins, I gave up in 64' and enlisted to "get myself together." A year or so later I was hanging in the Haight on leave and on "unauthorized" absences learning the ropes and dope of the counter culture. I had an artistic affliction that manifested one morning by carefully inking a poster of the lyrics to Dylan's Masters of War on the inside of my barracks wall locker. During an unexpected inspection by the squadron commander, he personally ripped them off the door. My rage was evident.

This brings me to the point of all this. A few weeks ago I was watching Democracy Now and they played Dylan's Masters of War as a regular musical interlude in the news programming. I was taken. I checked the collection of CD's and realized I didn't have a copy. I took off for the music store and secured a copy of Freewheelin recorded in 1963 and brought it home. What I did next was unexpected. I printed out the lyrics and sat down after dinner to read them as a poem to my kids. I did fine until I reached the lines:

You've thrown the worst fear - That can ever be hurled - Fear to bring children Into the world - For threatening my baby - Unborn and unnamed - You ain't worth the blood - That runs in your veins.

Without an interior warning of any kind I broke down. The tears rolled out right in front of my family and I couldn't control it. I tried to gather myself as I am not known for this kind of display but I had to fight for it. After a few minutes of struggle watching the faces of my stricken family sink into emotion, I managed to finish those last hard lines. I had no idea that this would happen. At that moment I again realized the stakes of this game.

How far have we come to reach this point?

© 2003 - Mark Hebard

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