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.

 ✽ ✾ ✿ ❁ ❃ ❋ ❀