I have known Commander Chris Toll, he of the Vladimir Lenin countenance, for long fabric yards of forever. Starting with our lean salad days of dancing together with Bob Fosse - it took poets to come up with "Jazz Hands!", no mere dancer could - through our fat cat corporate years of working on the space station cooling system and up to now, our gray aged years of being mocked by the new slick networking generation of strong young poets. But in all our years of friendship (and the one year he despised me for my slavish devotion to daytime soap operas) we have never arrived at our chosen destination without getting lost.
We never even made it to Woodstock at all despite being close personal friends of Sha Na Na, because we ended up stuck in Montoma after dumping all our weed when we got jumpy around some police officers outside a small diner. Chris even panicked so bad that he slipped his "Frodo Baggins" pipe that he'd gotten from Jimi himself backstage when Jimi was opening for The Monkees (the horror and the indignity) into a trash can. Chris at that time had a massive golden 'fro that the sunbeams loved to play off of and that the ladies all caught their digits in.
We also missed Jimmy Carter's inauguration entirely, circling the infernal bowels of D.C. traffic forever until a gentleman with a cast on his left arm that we picked up near Malcolm X Park decided he needed our vehicle more than we did. Even a simple attempt at catching "Oliver" performed at a dinner theater in Olney, Maryland ended with us slipping down a wormhole and doing battle with Daleks.
But the day of Shakemore, day of days, the sun working up yet another 100 degree crescendo , we glided right through the strip malls of Westminster to the house of a neighbor of David Fair. A big hand painted friendly sign let us know we'd made it. Parking was plentiful and accessible and we stretched our legs in the far reaching field.
Making a note of the Portapot locations - O in my drinking days I would have had quite an affair with one of them, ending with an addled walk down a back country road and a desperate late night call to a friend with navigational skills (come to thnk of it, it's intriguing to think of how my drunken runaways would have been changed by the present convenience of cellphones) - I made a beeline for the merch table where Jad Fair stood now looking like a wild California Old West miner who'd lived to tell the tale with thick shaggy gray and black hair. His specs are no longer needed due to laser surgery, so he has a more swarthy rugged look. He made some beautiful shirts and printed posters to commemorate the event. I quickly scooped up one of each and took them back to the safety of the toasty vehicle. I was happy to see that there was also a pool and a small felafel stand selling kabob, felafel and hummus sandwiches for only $3 each. I thought I'd be getting by all day on my chocolate and cherry granola I'd bought at the last minute at Zeke's coffee shop.
I was sad to hear we'd missed Don Zientara's set. I remember him from my days of living near DC and I know his stellar production work. It was close to 2:30 and we settled onto the grass under the big striped tent in time to watch emcee Barbara DeCesare give a well deserved passionate introduction to Coo Coo Rockin' Time, led by beaming bodhisattva David Fair. Charles Brohawn, who would later also play with The Tinklers, had on his Elvis shades and was looking lean and mean on guitar. Chris Mason, also of The Tinklers, was playing acoustic bass.
For me this high spirited set got the festival going and put me in the pleasure zone for the rest of the day and night. I thought with pride to that long ago night when I donned a ragged dress for She Bites and we opened for Coo Coo Rockin's record release party at the 14 Karat Cabaret.
When David sang the song about a neighbor frustrated with all the wild rocking going on, you knew that would not be happening here. There were only rolling fields and hills behind the stage and the event's host's house in front of it on a hill. Lots of space.
I got the honor of reading some poems after Coo Coo Rockin' played. I read "Is That Your New Boyfriend, The One Who Bought You the Sweatervest?" - a poem that Inow feel I have to explan I wrote during the Bush administration, "Ode to the Greek Man's Forearms" and a few others that I wrote, then closed up with a great poem about gargoyles written by Ted Brohl, thinking of one of my favorite Half Japanese albums - "Monsters". The poetry of Ted Brohl took a while to sneak up on me. Long ago I received one of those generic "Vantage Press" vanity press hardbacks from senor Brohl. Initially I thought it was just bad stuff, but it took a late drunken night with Courtney Camel McCullough for him to point out the magic brilliance of it. Soon Courtney was reading the works of Ted at Shattered Wig Nights to fill gaps.
While I was reading a colorful dapper gent from Brooklyn wearing shorts that looked like many assorted Sherwin-Williams tiles cobbled together was causing squeechy and screechy sounds to emit from getting his effects pedals together on stage. His name is Lumberog and he came on next and blew the damp socks off my curdled feet. Looking like one of the Watergate break-in boys - Ehrlichman mostly, I think, with maybe a dash of J. Gordon Liddy - he created a slippery, rubbery insanely catchy electro groove while physically shaking himself down on stage. At one point he danced off twirling into the field behind the stage, waving his arms around, and it truly felt like a sincere outburst of joy that was contagious.
The cherry on top of the soundcake was that occasionally he'd come to a stop on a dime and break into Rip Taylor-like kooky vocals: "I luuuuuv a charade". While he was busy blowing minds his beautiful toddler daughter sat quietly by the side of the stage in a Jean Seberg hairdo - for those of you under 40 or with no interest in classc cinema, think Emma Watson's brand new close shave. She helped him out on one song telling the story of the rabbit who lost its tail. She only had one line, but it stole the show.
Commander Toll got the tough job of following Lumberog. At the end of Lumberog's set Cliff Lynn and I are looking at each other, sweat dripping down our mugs, mouths agape, saying "Who's the poor bastard that has to follow that?" "It's Chris Toll," Cliff shouted. "Chris is going on, he's fearless! Who put the 'ear' in 'fear'?"
But Chris has had hardened combat experience from the drunken heckle-prone days of poetry in Baltimore in the '80s to the zoned out '90s period. His words are his sword and he cuts a wide swath. Two of his immortal lines I heard that day: "My mission is so secret I don't know it myself" and "Art is the bed where I cry myself to sleep". It was a beautiful, smart crowd, though, and the heartbreaking yet whimsical poetry of Chris, The Emily Dickinson of Mars, got just as much attention and love as the wild, skillful and loud dynamics of Lumberog.
And speaking of loud, this crew kept the hooting, whistling, calls for "Freebird" and random grabass going all day until Cindy on far right collapsed into the felafel stand holding a reporter from Spin's fake moustache she'd ripped off him. You'd be hard pressed to find humans more gentle, smart and funny than the four pictured here. Sadly, Charles can't read though, that book is a prop.
Chris Mason on the left and Liz Downing next to him took the stage in Old Songs after Chris Toll got down spinning the marvels of the universe in tiny word fragments. Mark Jickling of Half Japanese also plays in Old Songs and I believe does most of the translating of the ancient Greek and Roman poetry they put to music. Or perhaps Chris was just telling me that on this particular hot day to cut my "interview" with him short. One memorable chorus was "Wear the fox fur, do the hip shake, Dionysus says go go".
Cliff Lynn who curates a bi-weekly poetry series on Main St. in Annapolis, "Poetry and Main" - although I think he's about to move it to Westminster - followed Old Song's set: "I am the parts of you that belong on the moon". I have to note also that he is an ex-navy man who came late to the all consuming siren call of poetry when he ended up in a class taught by the powerful Shelley Puhak. He read a great poem using all the overused words of mainstream poetry: sanguine, alabaster, sublime......
He also had a great one line poem: "Hey, love is a bus, let's throw ourselves under."
I had a moment of shock when I first laid eyes on Sir Bob Wagner crouching on the grass under the tent preparing his gear for The Electric Junk Band set. He was wearing his international biking hat and I thought "Dear God, tell me he did not bicycle all these miles from Hampden in this boiling heat with his music gear on his back!" He is known to bike all the way out to 795 to get to his framing job and apparently he has biked to Ocean City with an "Acme" anvil on his back as a promo for Warner's languishing "Looney Tunes".
The Junk Band got their grit on and played like they were on the tilting deck of the Titanic as it was going down. That is a good thing. I believe emcee Babs compared the singer to Tom Waits crossed with the Tazmanian Devil drinking bleach from a shotgun, or something along those lines.
It was either right after The Electric Junk Band or The Go Pills that cruel emcee Babs forced me onstage to read "doorlock". It felt good to spread the gospel of Little Debbie to the new generation of youth there. See me hunch, I am an old sweating huncher, hunch old man hunch. Liz Downing of Lurch and Holler said that if I ever turn "doorlock" into an opera with its tragic tale of Little Debbie, Big Frank, gothic murder, debilitating hangover, crouching maintenance men and failed space travel, she and Michael would perform in it! Just about right after she said that, the jug of corn squeezin's fell from her hand and she collapsed onto the grass and slept like a baby for quite some time.
During Aliens' set Michael of Lurch & Holler and I had wacky satori of not realizing the female half of the duo was indeed not playing a keyboard at all, just a horizontal guitar case that she tapped her fingers on and occasionally used as a tambourine table.
Around this time, my friend China - The Gentle Giant of Hampden - told me "a widening secret" that is probably common knowledge by now like the fact that Kurt Cobain lives in a jungle cage with Roberto Clemente on Guam.
Next up was complete delicious ear candy from Animal Eyes. Madame Selena began with "Strange" made famous by Patsy Cline and I thought where can she possibly go from there? Her vocals have grown incredibly rich, full and confident. As an added treat she had on thick frightening clown makeup on, I think in homage to her mom who was there (since she lives in the area) and who is a clown trinket collector (must be a real sicko). She also had two hula hoop dancers - also in stripey costumes and clown makeup - performing a cough syrupy Lynchian ritual off to the side of the performance tent.
Skizz Cyzyk took the stage again, this time with esteemed Don Peyton on standup bass, in The Lefties. Don was just getting his sea legs back from an illness and looked lean and strong, his distinguished silver wig already grown back fuller than my rapidly diminishing cabbage patch.
Skizz sang a version of supergenius Fred Lane's "The One Who Cut You". Needless to say, not a song you get to hear often under a circus tent in broad daylight. Skizz has been working on a documentary about Fred and I hear it's great. Mr. Lane is apparently very reticent to talk about this side of his life and is mainly involved in the whirligig circuit now. The holy man Skizz has been trying for years to get Fred into Baltimore and have the capable Swingin' Swamis be his backup band. Dierker would knock that ball both off our planet and through the parallel universe where Richard Nixon is a respected dub producer.
Bubbly zaniness descended into awkward wriggling uncomfortableness and back agan when next cruel emcee Babs forced some youngsters to read the lyrics to the "Thong Song". There are far more lyrics and repeated refrains to that song than you'd think.
An expanded double drummer assault of Leprechaun Catering brought the freaky deaky twitchiness. Dr. Borax always looks like he's one electronic dial away from blowing up the Mothership.
The brutal sun started its descent during Leprechaun Catering's set and some nice promising breezes began to blow. A little after six the five piece bluegrass group Bald Mountain played followed by the visionary operatic country myth deconstructers Lurch & Holler. "In a corner of my room by my bed floats Jayne Mansfield's head". They also played another of my old favorites, "Liar Liar", which for me really showcases both their fantastic voices to ultimate advantage. As always Michael was working some demonic snakey shimmy grind and Liz's beatific face was glowing with Word. I definitely feel like I need to take a few courses in ancient mythology and literature from them.
Molly Andrews was another nice out of town surprise for me. According to Barbara, Molly has played with John Zorn and Mike Seeger and she followed "Don't Play Cards With the Devil" with a jaunty circus-like cover of the "Speed Racer" theme song on a Magnus electric chord organ. We have it on good knowledge from Don Peyton that a hummingbird hovered near Mz Andrews at one point during her set.
It was somewhere around here that I hit the felafel stand for the second time to get more water and a third coke. While I was gone Lady Susana took the liberty to adorn my earnest notebook with a pretty drawing of a pegasus and a princess! Did Studs Terkel or Lester Bangs ever have to suffer such indignity?
Professor Beaudouin, he who would rather take on a ravenous cell of Taliban fighters bare-handed rather than wear socks with his Gucci loafers, came on and read many illuminating verses of his long love affair with Baltimore: "but it will never be anymore real than here".
Bring on the stage clamp lights for it has gone beyond dusk at this point and it's time for The Tinklers. As always there was physical comedy in their set revolving around Charles' untamed drum kit. Ricardo the soundman tried to straighten it out at one point and the results were like a greased pig chase carnival game. But like all great comedy and literature, The Tinklers' lyrics get truer and more poignant with time. When I first heard "Come On Down to the Beach" about cleaning the beach with loved ones and rakes I thought it was "adorable". Then came Exxon Valdez and now BP's Deepwater Horizon. Then the New York Times ran an article saying that oil companies have been destroying the water in Nigeria for 50 years. It is now wonder that Chris now hops during this song.
After the mutant visionary pop folk of The Tinklers came another reading from Professor Toll - "Who pays the rent in 'incoherent'?" - and two great punk bands, The I Don't Cares (although it was obvious they did) and The Degenerettes. Once Rahne got a capo from Chris Mason The Degenerettes were off and running in fine form. Their bass player is my favorite current rock bassist other than my beloved friend Chuckles. Sinuous backbone from which to launch cries of pleasure, rage or pain! Stand out song for me this evening for me was their cover of "Candy Says". They made it their own.
. The crowd in the tent immediately bunched up to front and center. The 12 to 15 year olds (probably some related or even children of the band) knew the songs and laid claim to them just as much as the band's peer group. And there was no faking the joy caught fire. It was particularly great to hear two songs of the "Monsters" album - "Thing With a Hook" and "Rosemary's Baby". There was also a dynamite version of "Charmed Life" (which should be the lead song for the documentary on the life of the Fair brothers for sure) and a great cover of "You're Gonna Miss Me" by the 13th Floor Elevators. I could not help but dance, forgive me those who may have seen.
It was at this point, after The Degenerettes, that emcee Babs was at her ice-blooded cruelest, forcing me to go on after Rahne and crew had everybody dancing. I held my breath and dived in, starting with "summoning the source" and telling the crowd that they were welcome to interpretative dance to the poems. Which Barbara and her son then did, which truly saved me. They did great stuff to "I Wake Up Screaming". I would love to shoot a You Tube video of that with the DeCesare dancers.
Amazingly, it was now 12 hours - or about - from the start of the day and the best was yet to come. Half Japanese, the original lineup, took the stage with great gusto. The first time I had ever seen them was in the University of MD, College Park cafeteria opening up for the then ubiquitous Insect Surfers in 1979 or '80.
The crowd in the tent immediately bunched up to front and center. The 12 to 15 year olds (probably some related or even children of the band) knew the songs and laid claim to them just as much as the band's peer group. And there was no faking the joy that caught fire. It was particularly great to hear two songs of the "Monsters" album - "Thing With a Hook" and "Rosemary's Baby". There was also a dynamite version of "Charmed Life" (which should be the lead song for the documentary on the life of the Fair brothers for sure) and a great cover of "You're Gonna Miss Me" by the 13th Floor Elevators. I could not help but dance, forgive me those who may have seen.
Despite the crowd still being hungry for more, there were neighbors to consider and us old folks, so they wrapped things up with "Night Train". The youngsters immediately started up a snaking conga line and at one point Barbara's son pulled me in. But the thing about a conga line is you have to place your hands on the shoulders or waist of the individual in front of you. When my wet clay-like paws rested as lightly as possible on the sharply dressed teen girl preceding me she darted a look back and the look of fright was as if she saw "The Thing with a hook, out on lover's lane". But this monster was having too good of a time to be hurt by it, or to worry on mortalty for the moment.