From Apprenticeship Of The Mule
‘They hand you a pen and perhaps some small corner to make
your home. And if you discover the strength which carries one
past exhaustion, if you are blessed, perhaps someone will arrive
to look over your shoulder and read what you are doing,
what you have done.
And if you are of the word, and if you have the duende,
they’ll be standing there, reading, long after you have gone.’
(Duende or tener duende (”having duende”) loosely means having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity…)
I was moving some of my books around so I could free up two shelves in our library so Izze, our daughter, would have accessible room for her school materials and I came across a book… The Apprenticeship Of The Mule by Charlie Mehrhoff. A sliver of a book with no more than twenty poems in it… hand bound… fragile but compelling. I opened it without thinking and the poem above fell into my hands and pulled me in.
‘…And if you are of the word, and if you have the duende,
they’ll be standing there, reading, long after you have gone.’
As an older artist, I think of these things. The things of this world are not designed to last long without some sort of providential intercession. And so with these thoughts circulating in my mind, I drove up to Columbus with my friend Jerry Sullivan to pick up Wes Wilson as well as Jerry Miller, Terry Haggerty, Fuzzy Oxendine and Keith Graves. Wes Wilson, of course, is probably most remembered for his psychedelic band posters from the 60’s. Needless to say, in his late 70’s, Wes has continued to be an artist of significance, and if indeed our legacy has been engendered by something that brought us notice in youth… well then so be it. Not much grass has grown under Wes’ feet. Anyway, the same could be said of Jerry Miller. I remember when I first heard Jerry play with Moby Grape. He was such a sophisticated player at that time that I found his prowess to be both exciting and intimidating. The same could be said of Terry Haggerty who was playing with the Sons of Champlin at the time. I was just breaking out of being a finger picking follkie at the time, and these guys could really play the electric guitar. Yow!
Anyway, when we put together yesterday’s Psylodelic Gallery Event at the Fur Peace Ranch with all these characters, frankly I had no idea how compelling I would find the day.
Now, our little gallery celebrates not only the art, music and spoken word of what we gratuitously call the 60’s, but also the intellectual and spiritual veritas of those moments.
Now time is time and I’m not sitting here writing and ruminating about the lost voyages of the ‘good old days,’ but you know, there was a special magic in the air in San Francisco in that time.
As I was talking to Wes Wilson, he pointed out after sound check with the guys, that artists, (in this case, graphic artists,) create artifacts, whereas the true art of music is constantly evolving even within arrangements played often. When a painting is done, it lives in that state until it is vanquished by time. For live music in any given moment, you have to be there. It comes, it surrounds our spirit and it leaves for the next town.
With this thought in mind, I looked forward to hearing what my old musical friends from the 60’s would bring to life here in the present, in Southeast Ohio of all places. I would not be disappointed. We have had so many great players grace our stage here at the Fur Peace Station and for many of them their art seems to be etched in crystal… sharp edges surrounded with prismatic clarity. It has been a long time since I lived in the San Francisco Bay area and a longer time since those halcyon days in the mid 60’s to early 70’s. The magical creative mindset that accompanied the creative community in those moments was one of those once in a lifetime comings and to have been present then was, in retrospect, an honor and a blessing.
What am I talking about? It’s really simple. Terry and Jerry didn’t just replicate their musical identity of almost fifty years ago… they gifted us with a vision of their ongoing musical journey. There was a mindset of exploration prevalent in the musicians of that time. The use of mind altering substances were indeed sacred doors to perception and the time had not yet come when the opening of the third eye would be accompanied by the blurry party epithet, ‘I’m fu……..d up.’ The search for a parallel universe was a sincere vision quest.
That spirit of being the ‘Intrepid Explorer, ‘ to borrow one of the names from Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, was a badge of honor.
Fast forward to today where we all live the different lives that are bestowed upon us by the reality of age. Where to go and how to get there? Well… Jerry and Terry and Fuzzy and Keith play together on a regular basis, obviously but like a GPS with a penchant for back roads I can tell that they seek their destination with no regard for the ‘quickest way.’
How would I fit into all this? When artists come to the Fur Peace Ranch to play at the Station, I do not presume that I will sit in with them. Sometimes bands need to do their show and their show has no room for outsiders. I related these feelings to the guys and they graciously asked me to join them, which I did. Two songs at the end of the first set and about a third of the second set. As always, at moments like this, I said, ‘Be gentle with me guys. I’m a simple man.’ Of they threw a bunch of tunes at me some of which I knew intuitively and others where I just tried to follow the roadmap they were handing me. Of course as a third guitarist in a band with two great guitarists, it is easy to lay out and just join in when the moment is right. There’s more frosting on the cake though. When I do my shows with either Jack Casady and Hot Tuna or my sundry incarnations with Barry Mitterhoff, (all of which I love) there is always room for improv, but for me it’s more clearly architected. Playing with these guys last night threw me into a heightened state of excitement where the journey was fresh in a way that that I haven’t experienced in many years. It was like discovering the fountain of youth for a few moments. Now this is something that doesn’t happen to often in any universe.
The musical evening rolled into closing time and they got ready to come in for a landing. I played the last song with them and then left the stage as they played their well earned encore. This was a long day but what a rainbow of experiences.
The San Francisco Sound as nomenclature, was certainly a bit of 60’s hyperbole but it was grounded in reality… a mindset rather than a technique… a place in the heart and the spirit rather than a number on a Billboard chart.
It was alive and well in a small town in Southeast Ohio last night, and you know, perhaps somewhere in the universe, someone will look over our then distant shoulder and read and listen to what we have done!