Saturday, November 16, 2013

Excerpt from Chapter 15: Hitching a Ride

'Back on the road, we were delighted when two guys,driving a rusted blue sports car passed us and then reversed their vehicle after reconsidering their decision to give us a lift. With only a little more than an hour to go we didn’t hesitate to jump in.
     The drive along the coast was exceptional, and even more beautiful than I had remembered, with every white sand beach more spectacular than the one before. The panoramic mountain vista behind us provided the kind of spectacle that could cure even the most cynical person’s mood. It seemed like ions ago we were freezing our asses in a teensy tent.
     Our car wheeled into the Big Sur campground (Big Sur is derived from the Spanish term: “el sur grande” which translates as “the big south”) and the guys let us off; they were in a hurry to make it to L.A. by nightfall. Our farewell was short and sweet.
     As they drove away, Jan and I stood motionless in the parking lot. Shouldered between robust mountains, cerulean sea, firey sun, and blue tinged sky, the landscape up and down the coast from the mouth of the Big Sur basin was nothing short of extravagant. For miles and miles in both directions daunting cliffs, sprinkled with a profusion of colored cacti perched upon jagged rock stretched beyond where the eye could see. We couldn’t have summoned a more heavenly place to rest our heads.
     Employing the same tactic we’d tried the night before but without success, we decided to give it another shot. Waiting until the park official was busy attending a carload of kids and parents, Jan and I proceeded to sleuth past the visitor’s booth and into the campground without paying. Once safely beyond the front entrance, we popped into the general store to pick up some cheap dinner items, and then scoured the property for the most idyllic setting to drop our tent, a respite for our bodies and our minds.
     It wasn’t long before we found it, a site located adjacent to a running brook just below a wooden bridge and pebbled pathway. Humongous fir trees, and the rugged Santa Lucia mountain range were not far off in the distance. Quickly, Jan and I set up our tent and unfurled our bags for sleep, which would likely be earlier rather than later considering we were once again ill equipped for light, and the means to keep ourselves warm. We didn’t say it out loud because we didn’t want to give energy to it, but I knew Jan was praying the same thing I was, that this night would not be a repeat of the previous one.
     I suggested we get our bearings.
     Suspended on a fallen tree trunk and bathed by sunshine, I decided to compose a letter to my family, depicting in vivid detail our San Francisco experiences. I described Peter, Michael, and Gerry in that order. It had only been two days since leaving the Order, but I missed the place and the people in it. I knew Jan did too. My family wouldn't likely be surprised by how fickle and capricious I seemed to have become since leaving home. I hoped they would try to understand.
     Just as the night before had sucked, this one did too – only worse. Here we were nearing the end of April in California, but the temperature felt like January in Southern Ontario as far as we were concerned, mostly because of our inept sleeping bags. It didn’t help that we were hungry – a bag of Fritos corn chips split between two people and an apple each doesn’t cut it when you’ve hardly eaten all day. Cold, hunger, and fatigue sends rational thinking out the window. I started to feel responsible for dragging Jan along on this unpredictable excursion. She, too, had wanted to travel, there was no question in her mind or in mine. The reality was, at barely seventeen years old she was sixteen months younger than I, and probably scared shitless. I know I was – of all kinds of things, the least of which being wild animals or crazy rapists running through the woods looking for unsuspecting victims to overtake and kill. Freezing to death in our tent flashed through my brain. In many ways, I felt like I should have been the prudent, older protective sister. I was, however, able to take small comfort in the fact that Jan was above holding other people hostage for her own choices.
     Lying silent in my sleeping bag that night wide-eyed and shivering, I felt increasingly guilty about how our trip seemed to be hitting the skids. Not good. We had no other choice but to accept our present circumstances. There wasn’t much else we could do but try to go to sleep. With the temperature dipping down to almost zero it would be another long and unforgiving night.'
1976: Tapes from California © 2013 Jill C. Nelson. Awesome Inc.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Oregon and California: Looking Back

On October 11, I departed from Toronto to Portland to spend the weekend with my friends, Judy and David, in Salem. It had been more than thirty-seven years since I'd last visited the state of Oregon during my initial trek with my friend Jan back in 1976, and my recollection was hazy at best. One of the purposes of this trip was to rediscover some of the locations (including Hemet, California) that Jan and I had travelled to many years ago in hope that I would not only be rejuvenated and inspired by the scenery, but that by returning to familiar and semi-familiar sites, my writing and my descriptions of those experiences would have clarity.
My memory of green mountains, far reaching landscapes with sea and sand hugging the corridor of the curvy terrain was prevalent, yet I found it tough to retrieve anything tangible beyond the firm impression of green. As it turned out, the strong green recall was not an apparition.
     As David and I drove between the airport and to his and Judy's home in Salem (their house reminded me of being enshrouded in an art gallery you never want to leave), we were ensconsed within flourishing verdant hues and hills proudly guiding us along on our route. Although we'd never met in person, David and I wasted no time digging into conversation; among other things, we chatted about extraterrestials and those fortunate souls that are attuned to receiving creative gifts in the form of words and writings bestowed upon them during slumber. It was a great opening to my journey and set the stage for things to come.
Pulling up to the Barker residence, we were greeted by Judy and their sweet golden retriever Franny (lovingly named after Franny in Salinger's classic novel, Franny and Zooey) eagerly waiting to welcome her dad and new roommate. Judy and I met 12 years ago and hadn't seen one another in 8 years since she visited our home in Ontario --  although we stay in touch weekly, we had a lot of catching up to do.
     With a delicous homemade serving of spaghetti and meatballs accompanied by some of Oregon's finest Pinot Grigio, we three sat around Judy's kitchen table and talked and laughed easily until it was time for bed; we had a busy day planned ahead. For Judy and me, it was surreal to finally be standing side by side in her diningroom in the house where she and David had raised their four daughters. I felt immediately comfortable as if I'd been there a hundred times. A library of books line the walls from floor to ceiling in their beautiful and eclectic home where there is no shortage of discussion of writers, musicians and artists - these two children of the '60s are abundant in their knowledge of all of the important facets of life that truly motivate a person to want to get up in the morning and greet the day. I know I did.
On Saturday morning we drove to pick up two of their girls, Taryn and Tessa, and the five of us spent the morning exploring the farmer's market in Eugene. There is something about autumn that draws people closer together with the anticipation of cooler days ahead. I felt like part of the family (and learned to pronounce "Oregon" properly!) as we wandered through the market stalls stopping at booths and talking with various vendors. It was beautiful with the fall colours and collections of pumpkins at every corner.
     From there we drove to the collosal and impressive King's Estate winery in Eugene to sample the goods and have lunch. The vineyards were bountiful, and in particular, we enjoyed tasting the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir generously poured by one of the friendly servers. Lunch was delicous with five of us around the table, fascinated, as Taryn shared the art of travel to exotic locales on a ridiculously reasonable budget. "It's all in the cards," she beamed, and impressively, Taryn has it down to a fine science, not to mention, she has great taste in wine and is an instantly likeable person. 
     After leaving King's Estate, we decided to treat our palates to Sweet Cheeks Winery just down the road in Crowe, for a uniquely different experience but just as satisfactory as King's Estate.
     Back in 1976, with Jan barely 17 and me just a shade over 18, not only did we not have any money to speak of, we were three and four years shy of the legal drinking age in most of the western parts of the United States., so an adventure such as wine tasting in Oregon or California was completely out of the question. This was manna from heaven.
     Sweet Cheeks definitely lived up to its cheeky name, and once again we enjoyed partaking of the winery's finest varietals and supple, smooth fruit of the wine. The scenery surrounding both of the vineyards was spectacular and so luxuriously green, you had to squint to determine if it was real. By the time we arrived back at the Barker household, I was certain that a part of that luscious colour had adhered itself to my body somehow just like Salinger's Seymour Glass and the lasting yellow stain on his hand from his little schoolmate's dress.
That evening, after pizza, Judy and David's youngest, Tessa (a compassionate and intellectual being), sat down at the family piano and beautifully performed Chopin. It was a perfect way to mellow out at the end of the day as we sipped on souvenirs from our afternoon at the wineries. Tessa and I also sang together, which was a lot of fun and something I don't get to do often enough. Tessa is not only an accomplished musician but she is blessed with a beautiful soprano voice. My rusty alto went a few rounds with her as we sang duets: "Falling Slowly," "There are Places," "For No One," and some Cat Stevens, among others. Tessa and David also broke out their acoustic guitars. What a great way for the four of us to casually spend time together.
     The next morning, we were off to Portland (the motherload of art communities) to have brunch with Hayley, David and Judy's eldest daughter who has inherited her supreme artistic ability from her father. Hayley is currently working on a series of paintings interpreting visions of Mary (Madonna of Medjugorje) that several children had witnessed in Bosnia during the early 1980s. Recently, Hayley met with the children (now grown) to discuss their experiences so that she could effectively depict their visions on canvas. Although we only had a couple of hours to spend, being in Hayley's presence felt like a gift; she is like an ethereal flower, with light and love emanating from her being. It was a real thrill to learn of her inspiring work and I would love to be able to attend her art opening once her work is complete. This is a huge achievement.
     After brunch, Judy and David took me to The Japanese Tea Garden in Portland situated on five acres in the west hills of the city. We walked all through the park, pausing every so often to meditate on the omnipresent beauty and serenity that engulfed us from every vantage point. The fall colours were at their peak: a bouquet of reds, oranges, golds and green. It was a gorgeous afternoon spent with  treasured friends.

Judy will laugh, but since coming home, I've realized by reading ahead in my 1976 journal, that in mid-June of that year, Jan and I had hitched a ride from Eugene to Portland after spending a rough, chilly night in a guy's car at Mt. Shasta, California while on our way back to Canada. We were in search of a youth hostel in Portland which turned out to be a bust as it had closed down. I don't recall much about Portland other than wandering the downtown part of the city almost flat broke. I can verify however, that I had always vowed to return to Oregon one day so it obviously left me wanting more. I'm a bit shocked to learn that I actaully was in Salem before, but not completely surprised. I'm grateful to Judy and David for taking me to places that not only nourished the soul, but helped to reignite my memory.
     Sunday evening, David, Judy, Tessa and I went out for dinner at a tasty eatery, not far from their home. It was a relaxed atmosphere and we had a great meal and good time talking, joking, and recapping the weekend. Tessa even remembered to make a toast to my Canadian Thanksgiving! When dinner was over, we took one more walk around their picturesque neighbourhood in Salem, with Franny in tow. It was a mild evening and the stars shone down upon us, adoringly, making me feel happy inside. When we got back to the house after Tessa caught the train home, the three of us (with Franny listening) sat around the kitchen table and picked up our conversation from dinner. I had to marvel at how effortless it was for us to engage in a wide variety of lively topics and I knew right then that although I would miss our comaraderie, our friendship would be forever sealed because of our weekend together.
    Judy is a like a walking encyclopedia of information and a warm and affectionate individual. She is a loving mother, a caring friend, and a very bright woman. David, a talented writer and artist, is one of the most down to earth people on the planet. It was fantastic to finally meet and talk about our shared interest in writing, and I look forward to the piece that David will be contributing to this book. Apparently, Oregon life has been good to both of these friends.
     The only Barker daughter I didn't meet in person was Molly but we did talk on the phone which enabled me to glance into her strong character and fun loving nature. Just like her three sisters, Molly is distinctively her own individual and the proud mother of two great boys beloved by their grandparents. We'll definitely catch Molly next time around.
By David Barker
In the morning, David and Judy drove me back to Portland to the airport, where I was scheduled to catch an early afternoon flight to Los Angeles. We hugged and kissed one last time and promised to try to get both couples together next year. I know we'll do everything we can to try to make good on that promise. Love you guys.
     I touched down in L.A. just before 1:30 in the afternoon and caught a cab to my favourite place to stay in the city, Elaine's, tucked into in the loveliest section of Hollywood between Hollywood Blvd. and Sunset on Sierra Bonita Avenue. This was my third time staying at Elaine's and I was able to rent the "Pink" room, the balcony overlooking the back garden with avocado and lemon trees. I picked up some wine, guacamole, and crackers from Ralph's and dug in.
     It was great to kick back for a couple of hours to resume reading the new biography on Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn. Admittedly, it was a little ironic to be engrossed within this particular book during my time in L.A. My stay in Los Angeles with Jan back in 1976 involved visiting the site where Spahn Ranch had been located near Simi Valley. Here I was, thirty-seven years later, still fascinated by the psychology behind Manson's evil deed and the concept of group psychosis.
     I have visited L.A. many times over the years since Jan and I travelled there those decades ago. In addition to having family living in the area, I've made many friends throughout the process of having written two books and every time I stay, I get together with a few folks. It was great to spend time with special friends again during the designated time I had in the city. In particular: Margarita lunch with Joel, a quiet dinner with Kay, and also with Chris who joined our group at Musso and Frank for drinks. One of the highlights during those three days was appearing with six of the ladies I'd featured in my most recent book, Golden Goddesses, at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood on Wednesday evening October 16 for a celebration of the book's one year anniversary. I won't elaborate about that here as this blog is dedicated to Tapes, but a splendid time was had by all.                   
     On Thursday morning, I headed south of L.A. in a rental car to a room I'd rented in Carlsbad for one night at Pelican Cove. The B&B was situated on the coast and I looked forward to being near the sea again. One of my primary reasons for heading to the San Diego area was to visit my good friend Julia (JSV), and also to navigate the Hemet desert region of the state where "Meadowlark," the site of Friendly Hills Fellowship had once stood. Meadowlark was a holistic centre/health spa/youth hostel owned and operated by the father of homeopathic medicine, Dr. Evarts Loomis, during the time that Jan and I had stayed there in May 1976. I was curious to know the status of the twenty acre ranch. Was the place and the surrounding buildings still standing? I would soon find out.

     Julia came over to meet me at Pelican Cove and after sitting upstairs on the balcony for a couple of hours catching up and having a few laughs, we headed out to the Coyote Bar and Grill in downtown Carlsbad for a bite to eat and listen to live music. The band wasn't at all bad and we sat outside next to the firepit, ordered a delicious rib dinner and chatted away. Life was grand. Although we'd seen one another the year before, it was great to spend time together again. Julia is smart, gregarious, funny, outrageous, and sweet all rolled into one fuzzy human being and she keeps you on your toes.
     I couldn't resist sampling Pinot from one of the local vineyards which turned out to be a good choice, and since Julia (bless her heart) doesn't drink, she didn't mind being the DD. (Sorry Enterprise, I promised I'd be the sole driver of the vehicle.)
     The next morning, I walked down to the beach and alongside the coastline for a while before meeting with Julia to spend the better part of the day exploring some of the local arts and crafts prior to heading down to the boardwalk to stroll along the path. It was a typically gorgeous, sunny day in Southern California with an ideal temperature of 80 degrees. In the late afternoon, I packed up my belongings and drove over to Julia's house in San Diego County to spend the weekend before flying home. Set on a half acre, Julia's home is spacious and artfully decorated with her keen and unique sense of style and taste. I admired her diverse collection of antiques, angels, and fairies. Her main outside patio has one of the most phenomenal vistas in all the state.
Early that evening, just as the sun was going down over the mountains, I noticed a big glowing ball rising up from behind the canyons. The moon was full that night and it was spectacular, especially when witnessing it from my vantage point while poised on one of the high back chairs on the patio. This monster moon was significant in many ways: while Jan and I were at Meadowlark, Hemet, we attended a full moon rising party up at Cottontail ranch which was part of the property belonging to Loomis and his wife. The celebration of the full moon rising soiree was one of the high points of my young life those many years ago. We communed, drank, smoked herb, and feasted on superb vegetarian cooking with produce yielded from Meadowlark's own organic garden - the same one that Jan and I worked in every morning with Hal, in exchange for food and shelter in the way of two soft hay beds in the horse's stable. Our feast that night was in anticipation of the magnificent moon that eventually greeted the big group of us standing in the still night air, watching until it finally consumed the vast California sky.
     Julia laughed when I told her about our full moon party (she has a full moon story of her own from back in the day that is the polar opposite of mine and far more entertaining) and my need to reconnect with this mystical place that had left a lasting impression thirty-seven years ago. Her words were something to the effect of: "Jill, why in hell would you want to go to the hottest fucking place on the entire planet?"I laughed knowing full well she really didn't mind... too much. Realizing how important it was to me, she agreed to accompany me (and share the driving) the following morning out to one of the steamiest desert locales in all of southern California to try to pinpoint Meadowlark ranch. Gotta love her.
Find it, we did, but it took some doing.
Julia was dead right about how oppressively hot it would be that afternoon -- to the tune of a very intense 94 degrees. We cruised down the main drag in Hemet with our air blasting full tilt and noticed at once that the downtown core was far more developed than I expected. As we drove along Florida Avenue we kept a look out for one of the main offshoots of the road which supposedly would eventually lead us to our destination. It seemed that we searched for a good half hour and finally reached the old part of town when I decided to pull over at a barbershop. We both needed a pee break anyway and this would give us an opportunity to stretch our legs and ask one of the locals if they could steer us in the right direction. Floyd, the barber (he could have easily passed as Mayberry's Floyd), was cutting hair while a man around our age, sat reading a book waiting his turn. Julia had ducked into the restroom so I approached the fellow, explained that I was 3000 miles from home and that thirty-seven years before, a friend and I had stayed at Meadowlark hostel that was actually a holistic center which administered to people from all over the world.
     The man looked up and his light blue eyes appeared to probe my thoughts as he smiled and said, "Sure, the old Meadowlark ranch is just around the corner from here. But you won't recognize it anymore."
     To my surprise he told me that he'd been at the ranch himself in 1974 when he was 14 years old. It was where his older sister had gotten married and her reception was also held on the premises. By this time, Julia had joined us, a little stunned to overhear that in less than a minute I'd found someone who knew exactly where we needed to go.
After exchanging email addresses outside, the man disclosed that he would never forget the reception because one of the women at the party had stripped naked much to his delight.Then we got back into the car but not before he invited us to a big old party that night up in the mountains. It was tempting, but we were both feeling hungry, not to mention dehydrated at this stage so we declined. We still needed to reach Meadowlark.
     As we drove off toward the ranch, Julia didn't waste time mentioning that it must have been destiny to stop the vehicle at that precise place when I could have pulled over anywhere. It seemed that some of Meadowlark's magic was rubbing off on my friend, who by that time was starting to become a believer in my quest.
     We turned around and made a sharp right turn. About two blocks up the road on the left hand side was what remained of the center just inside of a gated front entry that was open. We drove onto the premises and parked the car so we could get out and investigate. One of the buildings I remembered which is pictured on the home page of this blog where Jan and I are standing, was no longer there. That was disappointing, but another one of the buildings pictured in a photo of our friend, Bruce F., that Jan had taken the day we left Meadowlark, was still there. I was excited to see it again, and although it had changed with many of the shrubs and trees removed, the stone wall was still intact. Julia shot some snaps including one of me posing on what was left of the original covered wood benches.
     I felt melancholy to finally return to this residence and surrounding structures for reasons of which I'm not quite certain. When young, the select memories we tend to foster seem to have some bearing upon our future so I simply put it down to that. Sometimes, we don't need to understand the reasons for seeking.
     When we were eventually advised to leave the private property, I was ready to leave. The brief honeymoon encounter with my recollection was enough for me and I savored having set foot on the grounds once again. I could say goodbye, happy and contented. Before heading back, we followed a road sign that read "Cottontail" and got out. Although it seemed that the former Cottontail ranch had become a subdivision, the mauve-tinged San Jacinto mountain range and view of the landscape from where we stood was exactly as I'd remembered.
.On Sunday morning, the 20th of October, Julia and I embraced tightly before I coasted down the hill and made my way out onto the freeway. I had a plane to catch at San Diego airport and as I drove along, images of my nine days away replayed in my mind during the one hour trip. Two weeks after returning home, I am about to resume writing "Tapes." It's always an adventure to write, particularly after having reunited with a deeper glimpse into some of those integral days during our 1976 road trip shared through the eyes of entrusted friends. I'm excited to relay our story and hope that readers from my generation especially, will be able to detect a kind of spiritual synchronicity in our journey and relate it to something personal and perceptible in their own youth.
     Thank you Judy and David and the Barker girls, and to Julia for welcoming me into your homes and for making me feel a part of your lives as I attempted to rediscover pieces of mine.  ☮

1976: Tapes from California © 2013 Jill C. Nelson. Awesome Inc.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Excerpt from Chapter 6: Riding on the Walter Express - Round One

The following excerpt from Chapter 6 details our first attempt at crossing the border into the U.S.
     'Toting our backpacks behind us, we climbed on the Burrard St. bus and pulled away slowly from the curb. Soon we clicked along the highway toward Walter’s friend’s home located in the east end of the city. Upon our arrival, we counted three boys and two girls and waited for the rest in our group to land in before getting loaded up to go. Walter, a sketchy looking, fiftyish German man with three days worth of stubble, exuded occasional wafts of body odor but at least he was affable and laid back. His van was a standard-sized shaggin’ wagon, nothing out of the ordinary for the mid-seventies. If all of the seats hadn't been hauled out excluding the front Captain’s chairs, the vehicle would have seated six comfortably. Right away, it became obvious that the majority of us were going to be sitting on the hard metal floor in the back of the van for the duration of our eighteen-hour road trip with a few blankets strewn around the interior. It would be like riding in the back of a U-Haul truck for a thousand miles – a fair deal for 25 bucks. As more kids started to pull up in cars and on bikes to the house, we counted eleven, seven men and four women, including our driver. This would be one hell of a ride.
     While backing out of the driveway, two new male friends, “Curly” and “Ponytail,” shifted over to where we’d skillfully made a couple of tiny spots to sit, and we happily proceeded to engage in conversation with them consisting mainly of “Where are you from and why are you going to San Francisco?” all the way to the Washington State border crossing. It had been predetermined before we left that the only person worthy of claiming the Captain’s chair next to ole Walter was Cathy, who offered to relieve Walter of his chauffeur services whenever he got too tired to drive. Little did we know on our virgin run that Walter had liked to drink and pop amphetamines during long roadies and he would become too drunk to drive just barely outside of the country.
     The trip to the border was approximately sixty miles and considering we were eleven people squished into a battered van with no seats or seatbelts, we cruised along making great speed until we ended up in queue at the Peace Arch border. It was the tail end of the morning rush hour traffic and the line of cars, trucks and vans was lengthy which created a bit of friction inside the van with people needing to pee after downing cups of early morning coffee. Some of our gang got out and walked around until border officials corralled them back inside. We finished the lunches we’d packed which helped to pass time, and I held my bladder as we edged closer to the gate, figuring I’d be able to pee in the U.S., now just a stone’s throw over the border. In those days, passports weren’t required when traveling between the sister counties – a birth certificate would suffice and Walter collected them one by one from our motley crew, some Canadian, some American, as we joked about being pressurized together for the next seventeen hours in a smelly van. As teenagers, there were far nastier things to suffer through.
     When it was our turn to pull up to speak to the border official, ever so cautiously, Walter rolled down the window patiently anticipating how he would appropriately respond pending the official’s queries about the large number of guests, in tow. Requested to step out of the van in single file, we did so, and kept our mouths shut unless spoken to as we’d been programmed to do by Walter while waiting our turn. Despite what many would consider at first glance an unruly gang with unkempt hair and curious clothes, uniformly, we were a friendly, polite bunch, quick to appease the death stare of the officials so we could get back on the road and to our destination. It seemed however, there was a problem with the information on one of our birth certificates. Walter was waved over to the official to be scrutinized a little more closely. After about a minute, the man in the booth glanced in Jan’s direction beckoning her.
     “Come on over here.” The officer hadn't meant to sound abrupt. With her short brown hair, and freckles, Jan, red-faced for being centered out, suddenly looked about 14 as if she’d been scolded by a sour teacher. She approached the booth slowly while attempting to conceal her fears. The intimidating official stared her down.
     “Do you have a note from your parents?” His question fired like a bullet. Not realizing that she required a note from her parents to travel at the ripe age of barely 17, she shook her head.
     "Are you able to obtain one?” Obtaining one certainly one wouldn’t be a problem, but it would require some time - in all likelihood, days.
     “Yes,” she responded meekly. “Why?”
     “You’re under 18 and unless you have written parental consent to travel in to the United States, I can’t permit you to go.”
     Walter tried to intervene, as did I, and some of the other kids on the trip, specifically Curly who assured the officer that he would watch out for Jan. No go. It was a matter of guardianship and if we’d done our homework prior to our departure from Vancouver, we would have discovered that at 18, I could have vouched for Jan as her personal caretaker. Stupidly, we were unaware.'

1976: Tapes from California © 2013 Jill C. Nelson

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Excerpt from Chapter 11: A Small Circle of Friends

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
The following excerpt is from Chapter 11 titled "A Small Circle of Friends" and tells of our arrival at the Holy Order of Mans, the location of a youth hostel on Steiner St. in San Francisco, where we stayed April of 1976. This excerpt introduces a beloved American folk artist whose music became the inspiration for the title of my book.   
'As I sat down at the long pine table, I glanced over at the record player, and noticed a young man with long wavy brown hair tied back in a ponytail, wearing a chocolate brown corduroy jacket. He appeared to be in his late twenties and I hadn’t noticed him in the hostel the night before. Sifting through the albums, the man discarded one LP after another, a who’s who list of exceptionally talented pop artists whose music I would have been more than mildly happy to hear, in an effort to find something to his liking. The stranger stopped, held up a jacket with a man’s portrait on the front, and slid out the round black disc from its sleeve. After plunking it down on the turntable, he lifted the arm, and ever so gently, placed the needle down on the record.
     I didn’t recognize the voice of the singer, but others in the room who had already started to mill about did. Curiously, a couple began to complain about the young man’s choice, but he waved them away ignoring them. Jan entered the room and quietly took a seat next to me at the table as we listened to the distinctive, yet strange vocals of the singer, a man we soon learned was political activist and topical American songster, the late Phil Ochs. The album was titled Pleasures of the Harbor (1967) and the song, “A Small Circle of Friends,” emanated ominously through the speakers as it told a true story about a woman, Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death in broad daylight outside of her home in Queens, New York in 1964 while neighbors ignored her cries for help.
     “A Small Circle of Friends” became one of Ochs’s most popular compositions and a personal anthem.
     Phil Ochs, who’d had a uniquely prolific, but uneven career as a songwriter, singer and performer, had committed suicide on April 9, just two weeks before our arrival at the Holy Order of MANS (HOOM) Youth Hostel in San Francisco. At the time of his death, Ochs had lived with his sister Sonny in Far Rockaway, New York. After a disturbing and self-destructive final few years, the singer had been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, and was prescribed medication. During the weeks leading to his suicide by hanging, Ochs was despondent and did little except watch TV and play cards with his young nephews. One of the boys eventually found Ochs’s dead body upon returning home from the store one afternoon after Phil had sent him out for ice cream.
     Phil Ochs and pop culture folk hero, Bob Dylan, had come up the ranks of the New York music scene together during the early 1960s in Greenwich Village and were close friends at one time. Over the years, their union slowly unraveled with the final blow wounding Ochs deeply when Dylan accused Ochs of having amounted to little more than a “journalist" rather than the poet (like Dylan) he had desired to be. Jan and I had seen Bob Dylan in concert in Toronto the fall before when he was on tour with the Rolling Thunder Revue – a traveling caravan of musicians that hit all the major cities in Canada and the United States. We’d sat ten rows from the stage and witnessed, not only Dylan up close and personal (he with painted white face finally faced the audience for his final two numbers), but we’d enjoyed the musical styling of Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, Mick Ronson, Emmylou Harris, in addition to violinist Scarlett Rivera heavily featured on Dylan’s Desire album in 1976. I later learned that Phil Ochs had been designated to appear alongside Dylan on the tour but was cancelled out last minute. Rumors swirled that the final ultimate rejection from his former friend and comrade had aided Ochs on his downward spiral. (In recent years, Dylan is conspicuously absent from the brilliant 2011 documentary, Phil Ochs: There, but for Fortune, about Phil Ochs’s life, music and tribulations.)
     The young man who had inadvertently introduced us to the wit, poetry, and inexhaustible writing talent of Phil Ochs, explained to the critics in the room that in Ochs’s defense, the song they were listening to was still relevant and profound. He was emphatic in his argument that the piece paid homage to the recently deceased poet and tortured folk singer who had penned the controversial tune almost ten years before.'

1976: Tapes from California © 2013 Jill C. Nelson.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

1976: Tapes from California ~ An Introduction

Beacon Hill Park, Victoria, Vancouver Island - March 1976.
Welcome everyone to the new blog for my forthcoming book, a memoir titled 1976: Tapes from California. As many friends, family and acquaintances can attest, "Tapes" is a detour from my previous two works, John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches and Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985 Admittedly, it's a bit frightening venturing away from authoring a book about a subject that is familiar to me and thoroughly rewarding. It's also scary to write about a personal story while attempting to understand the emotions that mirrored the experiences we encountered and revelled in. However, in keeping with the tradition of writing about the retro erotic film era, my new book is a reflection of the same rebellious fortitude that was at the very core of the birth of the renegade industry during the late 1960s. That resilient spirit lingered throughout the 1970s decade and reached its pinnacle in and around 1976, when I set out for new horizons just after turning 18.
     "Tapes" explores the highs and lows of a 6 month road trip I made with a friend to British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California and back home through Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It was an extraordinary, life altering journey for two teenage girls thirsty to experience 'real life' as we youth hostelled, hitched rides (2400 miles in all), and took planes, trains and automobiles to get to where we wanted to go. The title of the book is inspired by a song written by one of my most beloved folk heroes, the late, great Phil Ochs.
     The evolution of this project is currently being composed derived from a journal I'd kept during the trip, and also from my friend's personal diary. I am blessed beyond belief that both of us had the foresight to document so many of our experiences and episodes during our travels. I am reconstructing our encounters and the people who were a part of our journey to the best of my memory while using the books to chronicle our timeline and to help keep me on track.
     I have to extend huge gratitude to my friend and travelling partner, Jan, for holding on to many of our precious memories in the way of photos and memorabilia - many of which will be included in the book.
     In the weeks to come, I plan to share excerpts and a few select photos.

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