Friday, July 29, 2011

And in the End…Maybe Baby Says Goodbye

In 52 stories, over two years, Maybe Baby has brought you its own version of rock and roll history, hitting the near-misses, breathing life into the accidental deaths and repaving the roads not taken. Partly truth, partly fiction, we hope you’ve found them as fun to read as they were to write.

With over 1,500 fans on Facebook, and countless more via constant reposting from readers and links from band sites, Maybe Baby has been read by many. Though the new stories are over (for now), we will stay alive through daily Twitter and Facebook updates and links to past stories. And someday, maybe, who knows, baby, we’ll come back in book form!

So my great thanks to you all, and lots of love.

Goodnight everybody, everybody everywhere.

Jeff Katz

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meanwhile at the Stupid Club

“We were in, I think we were in Ames, Iowa and I asked this kid, his name was Freddy and he played bass in the band that opened for us. They were like, they were, I think the best band in Ames, Iowa, right? So I said to Freddy, ‘Hey Man, you’re hip to the scene, where’s the action around here and…”

“Oh baby, you are crazy, I just love you man!” yelled Janis. She sat down on Jim’s lap, leaned in and plunged her tongue into his mouth. Jim crossed his eyes and made a face that screamed “not interested.”

“Aw, listen honey, this is my heaven too and if I wanna ball then you’re gonna ball!” Janis tugged on Jim’s left shoulder, hard, until she pulled from him another Jim Morrison. She grabbed the new Jim’s hand and led him away. The real Jim continued babbling.

“…and I met this blonde, she was like a farmer’s daughter or something, you know, a stone fox.”

“Oh, I know that kinda chick, man. Hey I wrote ‘Foxey Lady’ so I know what I’m talking about.” Jimi played the riff – wooo woo, wooo woo – on Charlie Christian’s Gibson ES-150 electric guitar – and let out a guffaw so loud that Sid was stunned awake.

“What? Where?” he spluttered in confusion. He turned his head from left to right in quick motion, soaking in his surroundings. “Oh yeah, I remember” and he free fell backwards into his beanbag cloud. Suddenly, a spike appeared in his arm and the plunger went down. As he drew it in, a figure appeared in the distance and Sid squinted to get a better look. Jim followed his gaze.

“Oh, I know that guy. Good band; they had like two or three albums. You know, they don’t make records anymore, it’s like a little silver disc from space and…”

“Oi! What ya doin’ mate,” Sid called cheerily. “I like your ripped jeans, but, what’s that then, your grandma’s cardigan?” His top lip curled up as he bent over and slapped his knees.

Kurt was a frightened sheep, his scared eyes darting back and forth. They were all here, all his rock heroes – Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Sid Vicious. Was that Janis Joplin straddling Jim Morrison? But Jim is here and he’s talking, but…

“I’m comin’ baby, hold on,” Janis whooped.

“Hey, I ‘eard you used to use my name down there you wanker, signing into hotels as Mr. and Mrs. Simon Ritchie with that slag of yours. I got a right bollocking from St. Peter, he of the pearly gates: ‘Were you down there again Sidney,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck you, you twat!’ Gave him the finger too!” Sid cackled louder than before.

Kurt was nervous as Sid approached.

“Ah, just taken the piss mate,” he grinned as he cuffed Kurt on the head, sending his dirty blonde hair over his eyes.

"Am I where I think I am?” asked Kurt quietly. A minute ago he was sitting in the room above his garage, a needle in one hand and a shotgun in the other.

Jimi spoke. “Yeah baby, this is heaven alright. Nice to have a brother from Seattle up here. How are things down in my old hometown? You know, I skipped out soon after ‘Louie, Louie,’ you know. But up here, everything you want. You just gotta think it.”

“Think it?”

“Yeah, you wanna play the hottest guitar, like this one, you just think it and it appears. You want the sweetest smack you ever shot up? Look at Sid. It just happens. It’s sooo warm. And you never run out of bread so you always get to use the best stuff. You wanna fuck Cleopatra, you just…”

In a long golden gown and tiara, Cleopatra appeared behind Jimi’s celestial throne. He looked over his shoulder. “Baby, it was just an example.” As she began to fade Jimi thought again.

“Wait, sugar. Jimi’s gonna need you in about 15 minutes. Don’t go away now.”

Kurt looked as Sid stirred. He was off on an even higher plane. Suddenly, Sid twitched and tossed a full beer bottle Kurt’s way. It flew over his head and descended through the clouds, landing in Pittsburgh.

“Stevie Winwood was wrong baby," Jimi said. "Heaven ain’t just in your mind. It’s the real deal.”

Kurt rubbed his eyes, holding the stretched out sweater sleeves in his palm. “Heaven,” he thought as he jumped backwards onto a cotton ball cloud. Kurt put his hands behind his head and stared up at the brilliant blue sky; the sky stared back at his brilliant blues eyes. He closed them and smiled.

His nose involuntarily wrinkled as it got a strong whiff of cheap scotch. He opened them and saw Janis up close, her face nearly touching his.

“Hey baby, you’re new here, right?”

Kurt nodded his head.

“Wanna ball?” she asked plaintively.

Kurt shook his head.

“Aw, listen honey, this is my heaven too and if I wanna ball then you’re gonna ball!” Janis tugged on Kurt’s right shoulder, hard, until she pulled another Kurt Cobain from the original model. It didn’t hurt. She led the new Kurt off.

Kurt looked over and watched Janis Joplin fucking his other self. He laughed and looked back at the sky. This was good, very good.

Ah, Nirvana.

Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. Janis Joplin died on October 4, 1970. Jim Morrison died July 3, 1971. Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie) died February 2, 1979. Kurt Cobain died April 5, 1994.

When Kurt’s mother Wendy Cobain spoke to a reporter after her son’s suicide by shotgun blast, she sadly said of her son “Now he’s gone and joined that stupid club.”

“And so dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on. The dream is over.” – John Lennon

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My Friends Came to Me

With the comfort of Pete Ham at his right, George picked the opening notes to “Here Comes the Sun.” The crowd roared approval and George let loose a sly smile before returning to his terrified gaze. An hour into the concert, he still had a bit of nerves and though he had Badfinger with him now, and a horde of friends throughout, he was consumed with worry and deep blue thoughts.

So far, so good. It was happening, this Concert for Bangladesh, by all standards a huge success. He was front and center for the first time, his shoulder length hair spilling onto his burnt orange shirt, the white coat of his gleaming suit discarded. George’s serious demeanor, coupled with his long Egyptian pharaoh beard, made him look well beyond his 28 years. He stared out, thinking.

Would Bob show?

It was difficult for George to behave normally around Dylan; he worshipped the man and the man didn’t make it easy on George. Dylan wouldn’t commit. Oh, he had lots of reasons, most circling around his almost absolute disappearance from the stage these last five years.

“Hey man, you know this isn’t my scene,” Bob drawled laconically.

George was near breaking point from the gaggle of lawyers, record executives and accountants who circled like vultures, looking to pick the charity carcass clean. Bob was an idol and friend, but at this moment of great human suffering, he was acting selfishly. There was a higher purpose here.

“Look, it’s not my scene either. At least you’ve played on your own in front of a crowd before. I’ve never done that.” Never. He’d always been comfortable in the back. “The Quiet Beatle?” There was something to it. He didn’t want to be the focus, but that was the way God planned it.

Would John come?

John owed him. George had been willing to play with John and Yoko when others in the band wouldn’t. Avant-garde? That’s French for bullshit, but George was a dutiful friend. He’d played vicious slide guitar on John’s anti-Paul vendetta “How Do You Sleep?” George had played the dutiful follower but now he’d grown up and John was confused, lost in maya, apart from true love and unity.

He’d agreed though, at first. Even when George put his foot down and told him “No Yoko,” John was still ready to play. The last few days brought silence. George knew that for all John’s “peace and love” crap, he was a competitive bugger and was consumed by jealousy as George went to the top of the charts and sold millions of records. Little George as charitable hero? Well, that was too much for John to take.

George needed John’s help and knew he deserved it.

Would Paul come?

Ah, Paul. The yin and yang of Mr. McCartney. There’s love there and hate, friendship and spite. Hare Krishna. There was no surprise when Paul answered the request with a demand to end the Beatles’ legal partnership. He’s deep into the material world, and should see this concert serves the Lord; it’s not simply a matter of money and paper. But Paul is Paul and he behaves in a way that causes him to stand alone sometimes. It’s why George was surrounded by friends and Paul worked with his wife.

What does Bob say? “I waited for you when I was half sick; I waited for you when you hated me.” “I’ll wait still. These are my brothers,” George thought as he picked the notes at the end of “Here Comes the Sun,” and felt panic creep. With the song over, he grabbed a drink from atop an amp and began pacing, unsure, as he looked to his left. He’d written “Bob” on the set list, and if Dylan didn’t show what came next?

When he saw a dim figure in blue denim and tight curls, George relaxed. But when he saw another figure in denim and granny glasses, he was elated. It was John!

George stood behind the microphone.

“Like to bring out a friend of us all, Mr. Bob Dylan.”

Madison Square Garden exploded. The crowd saw John before George had the chance to announce him. John strutted on and did his spastic walk and retarded clapping. For all his reputation, John was a cruel bastard and not above making fun of the afflicted. But it was funny. George laughed; John always did that when he was nervous. When John stopped and beckoned offstage, George panicked. He brought Yoko!

But it was Paul.

Paul sauntered on stage, cooler than John, exuding Vegas-y confidence, a real rock star.

Dylan gave George a nod of the head. John came close, grinning broadly as he patted George lovingly on his hairy cheek. George bowed imperceptibly. Paul gave him a brotherly hug, tight and warm. Both John and Paul turned to Ringo, already onstage, and gave a bow. The band – Klaus Voorman, Jesse Ed Davis, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton - stood at the margin of history and cheered.

That was it. George thought back to the happy moments recording Abbey Road, even when it was clear they were coming to the end of the road. It was great fun to work on his own, but he never wanted to see the end of The Beatles, at least not the Beatles as he saw them.

People had imagined The Beatles as something else entirely, but the four of them were the only ones who knew what it was like. Now, nearly two years since the breakup and speculation over what was happening, separating what was real from what wasn't, what could have happened from what wouldn't, it was all over.

Just like that.

After Ravi Shankar asked George Harrison to do something for the ravaged people of Bangladesh, George put together The Concert for Bangladesh, a charitable event. Bob Dylan refused to commit and George was unsure whether the elusive Dylan would show until the very moment he walked on.

John Lennon had initially agreed, though he was skeptical of benefit concerts. Though George had refused to allow Yoko Ono to appear, John didn’t seem to mind but as the date grew near he grew uncomfortable without Yoko. On the eve of the August 1, 1971 show, John bowed out and flew to Paris. Paul McCartney agreed to appear, but only if George would help dissolve the Beatles legal partnership. George refused. Ringo Starr, of course, immediately agreed to play.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Back Up Against the Wall

“Paul, have you cleaned up your room?”

There he goes again, the stern voice from beyond my bedroom door. He’s a bright fella, my Pa, self-taught and all that, but, on his own, Bob was a bit lost, a bit too rigid. Clearly he misses my Ma, but she’s dead, right, and we all have to go on the best we can. For me, that means carrying on with no rules.

Not so for our Bob, who must be obeyed. I can’t believe his views. Today, he showed Norman and me his new system. A list of who would be responsible for which chore. Do the beds, vacuum the floor, mind the washing. And all pinned on a note to the kitchen door. He was no Martin Luther, I can tell you that. Pa’s 95 Theses were about doing the bloody laundry.

And Norman was right with him, my big brother trying to be a big man. Who’s he to boss me around? I’m already 14. It’s too bad I missed him when I threw the kitchen knife at him.

The door swung open.

“Paul, did you buy the dinner like I asked you?” Pa was steaming; he didn’t even knock before he entered my cupboard sized box-room.

“Could you knock first? I could be busy, you know?” That’s not how to talk to the old man; I know that, but what of it? Who was he after all? A postal clerk who didn’t listen anyway. Oh, he’d go on about “Gerry this and Gerry that” from the office, but if I had something to say, something important, he was a brick wall. And if I talked back, he’d erupt, like the time I was ten and he locked me in my room. He could be an ass, for sure.

“It’s my house and as long as that is the case, I have no need of knocking.”

OK, fine, it was going to be that way. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of looking his way. Instead, I faced the floor, running my hands through my hair. If I closed my eyes could I make him go away?

“Paul, I know it’s been difficult for you since your Ma passed, difficult for all of us, but we need to come together as a family and you are not doing your part to help. Your brother Norman is working, I’m working and you need to care for the house. We’re….”

Ah, he keeps prattling on. I tuned him out. What a bore. Just like a Catholic, with their arbitrary rules and orders and guilt. Why’d a nice Church of Ireland girl marry a Papist and endure the wrath of her family and mates? My Ma was so sweet and gentle. She deserved so much better than Bob. Though Dublin’s no Belfast, it didn’t do me any good to come from a mixed marriage like that. I’m glad she brought me up the way she did. Let Bob Hewson go to Mass alone. He deserved it. Ma’s death was a punch in the gut and, when I gulped for air, my eyes widened and saw everything clearly. For the first time really.


“Will you just shut up, you bloody Fenian.” The words just came out. Not loud, not screaming. Cold and calm.

My Pa turned white as a sheet, though I hadn’t seen a clean sheet in weeks. Laundry was another one of my chores.

“What did you call me?” Oh, he heard me loud and clear and didn’t like it.

“Fenian. Well, you are aren’t you?”

Bob went from pale to scarlet in a flash.

“Listen you little whelp. Iris and I suffered enough at the hands of our parents and so-called friends when we married. I will not hear it from a snot-nosed little boy, even if that boy happens to be my son.”

I never thought about their struggles, not once, but I saw in the moment that my mother was wrong to marry a Catholic, that the troubles outside raging were the fault of Catholics looking to overthrow the rightful government in the north. And old Bob Hewson, my Da, he was one of them. I’d had enough of it.

“Ma was right to bring us up Anglican. That’s who she was and that’s who I am.” It was time for my own Reformation. “The Protestant Ulstermen are right.”

Pa’s ruddy face blanched. He seemed to shrink a tad.

“You’re part me, you may have noticed,” he put forth without passion.

I thought on that a moment. He was wrong.

“Nah, not really. I can’t imagine the life of a postman, shuffling papers and waiting to have a pint and a singsong with my mates on Friday night. There are big things out there, big causes, and I’m going to find them out.” I stood up and there you have it.

“You’re a 14-year-old schoolboy. I forbid you to leave this house.”

I surprised myself when I pushed him aside from the doorway he blocked. I’d read about the Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the Ulster Defence Association. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d find my way North and, even if I got there, how I’d find the loyalist sons of the land.

“You’ll regret this son. I swear on your Mother’s memory that you’ll be back. And when the day’s come that you return, don’t be so sure you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” That was my Pa, strict and cocksure, to the very end.

“You’re wrong there,” I answered, giving him a steely look. “Someday, Bobby, someday, you’ll get yours.”

He was dead silent as I brushed by him. My new passion overcame me and I spun around, fist upraised.

“No fockin’ surrender! Remember 1690!” And I was gone.

Paul Hewson, the youngest son of Bob and Iris Hewson, grew up in Dublin, the child of a mixed marriage. Though Dublin wasn’t victimized by the religious violence of the Northern “Troubles,” his parents mixed marriage (Bob was Catholic and Iris was Protestant), caused young Paul much uncertainty and confusion. After the sudden death of his mother in September 1974, Paul rebelled against father. Though Iris had taken Paul and his older brother Norman to Church of Ireland services, Paul had no religious affinity as a result of his parents differing religions. Soon after his mother’s death, Paul found a religious awakening in the early “Charismatic” movement at Mount Temple School. Now known around school as Bono Vox, Paul answered a note posted at school by Larry Mullen, looking for kids who wanted to start a band. David Evans (The Edge) and Adam Clayton also responded to the post and in the fall of 1976, these schoolboys were on their road to becoming U2.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

2000 Light Years from Home

Like a sunrise, the top of Brian’s strawberry-blonde head peeked out over the black and white issue of Rolling Stone. Sunken into the couch, surrounded by Moroccan cushions, he was almost invisible but for his hair and hands. The long lounge room was still until Keith shattered the quiet.

“What does it say?” At the other end of the sofa, Keith stared intently at the cover, four headlines straight down the center screaming in capital letters about Pigpen, The Beatles, Monterey and The Doors. Framing the stories were photos of Jim Morrison.

“Well, he writes that our status is in jeopardy. That it’s an insecure album with poor production. Let’s see, ‘amorphous, aimless.’ We mistook the new for the advanced. And Mick can’t sing consistently well.” Brian hissed his “S’s” slightly, and lowered the magazine slowly to reveal a devilish grin. He relished a good poke at Mick.

“What’s that ‘amorphous’ bit mean?” asked Keith, his dark brows knitted with confusion.

From his spot alone on the hearth, Mick snidely commented. “It means without form. No substance.” He stood to remove his green velvet jacket.

Keith, his hair a wild, angry mass of strands attempting to escape from their roots in every which direction, turned to face Mick.

“I bloody well told you we shouldn’t have done it! I knew we couldn’t pull it off. The Rolling Stones? Flower power? Nobody would believe we love anyone! ‘We love you.’ Bah!”

“Look, Keith,” Mick spoke coolly, calmly and collected, as if addressing a dim schoolboy, “I told you that psychedelic music is where the money is at,” Mick said condescendingly, shaking his shoulder length hair. “Their Satanic Majesties Request is selling, isn’t it?”

“I don’t give a fuck about that, man. You’re not at the London School of Economics anymore. We ain’t the Beatles, baby. You have Beatles on the brain.”

“What of it? We haven’t gone very wrong following them, have we? They took from America, we took. They sold a lot of records, we sold a lot of records. They got into drugs, we got into drugs. Now they’re into peace and love and so are we. It’s not so very complicated.”

“None of that means monkeys to me,” Keith snarled. “You’re not a poet, you’re not John Lennon. You’re a middle class bloke from Dartford, a white blues singer. And not a very good one based on what Brian just read us.” Keith looked back at Brian and they shared a giggle.

“Well, Sgt. Pepper was a gas. I never said I liked what we recorded, it just made sense to go with the flow.” Mick protested mildly.

“That’s a lie. You said you loved it, that you were happy with it,” countered Keith.

Brian jumped up, mouth opened wide, pointing. “You did say that! You did!” He turned to Keith. “He did say that.” Then he fell back into the warmth of the pillows, pulled his fur-collared Afghan coat tightly around his chin and closed his eyes.

“And now we are right fucked.” Keith picked up a stack of papers and read the quotes.

“Disastrous.” He dropped the tabloid to the fur-carpeted floor.

“As unfortunate a recording as any for any group in the world.” Splat.

“Pretentious, non-musical, boring, insignificant, self-conscious, worthless.” Another fell on the pile.

“Junk masquerading as meaningful.” The last one fluttered to earth. Keith glared at Mick, the heat from his stare scorching Mick like the fire from behind.

“You led us into a little Sgt. Pepper trap, didn’t you,” Keith spat. He bent over to grab a review. “Look at this one, ‘concepts too large and too advanced for them.’ We’re bloody fools.”

“Well, I hated it. I told you it would bomb,” Brian chirped.

Mick would have none of it. True, he did like the songs, though he didn’t think they were much good. The effects, the electronics, it all made for a pleasant sound experience. And it was where the cash was.

Mick spoke soothingly. “We’re progressing. We’re just changing.”

“NO!” Keith yelled. “We don’t progress, we don’t change. We’re The Rolling Stones! We play rock, we play blues, and we don’t make ‘art.’” Keith dripped sarcasm. “I didn’t fancy art school when I was there, you know.”

Mick thought on it for a second. “Well, what shall we do about it then? Are we going to be a bunch of London wankers playing old Chicago blues songs ‘til we’re 70 years old, or a hugely successful pop group that changes based on what’s happening all around us?”

“Ooh, wait, he wrote about that,” Brian interrupted as he thumbed through the Rolling Stone. “Yes, here it is. ‘An identity crisis of the first order and it is one that will have to be resolved.’”

“How shall we resolve it then?” intoned Mick, the hand of fate holding each word. He’d known Keith for years, since they were kids, and knew it was impossible to win him back after he’d made up his mind. There was a chill in the room, like the February cold outside.

Keith felt it too. He picked up the new album and stared at the eye-bending 3D cover. It was atrocious, a contrived bit of gaudy self-mockery. Look at me, he thought, a clown in a floppy hat holding a lute, or something. And Mick, a bloody wizard! A clown, taken in by Mick’s greedy logic. It won’t happen again. Not to me.

“Sorry mate, back to basics for me, Chuck Berry, Elmore James.” Keith faced Brian. Remember when we met you at the Ealing Club? You were playing slide guitar. Never saw anything like it before. It knocked me out.”

Brian rubbed his face, smoothing out the bags that hung deeply. “Ah, those were fun days. I’d like to get back to that, play the blues, Chuck Berry, those blokes.”

Keith and Brian chatted about the old days, as if they were decades passed, not six years earlier. But it felt like so long ago, before the fame, the girls, the drugs, the harassment from the law. They were oblivious to Mick’s presence. As they reconnected, Mick stood by the fire, the flames burning his ass.

As he left without a word, he could hear an old bit of music where Brian and Keith play seamlessly together, as if they were one. He chuckled to himself as the ending strains of “It’s All Over Now” ran through his head.

Brian Jones hated the Rolling Stones’ entry into psychedelic music. Though Their Satanic Majesties Request would “ship gold” upon its December 1967 release and make its way to #2 on the US album charts, it was the most critically savaged record of the Stones’ career and led to a crisis for the band. That year saw the potential end of the group with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ arrest following a drug raid at Richards’ Redlands home. Mick would spend two nights in jail. In a separate case, Jones pled guilty to smoking pot and was remanded to Wormwood Scrubs.

The Stones rebounded in 1968 with Beggars Banquet and survived well past Jones’ 1969 death. Mick and Keith would eventually break up the band during the second half of the 1980’s, before reuniting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Promised Land Callin’

“What are you doing Brother Berry?”

Well, any fool could see what I was doing. I was mopping up the damn mess hall floor. But I wasn’t about to go off on Big Earl Little. No doubt, Earl was the biggest, baddest man locked up at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, MO.

“Just mopping the floor, Earl, minding my own business.” Didn’t matter that I answered politely, he got angry all the same.

“I can see what you’re doing right now. I’m not a blind man,” he hissed from behind clenched teeth. “What are you doing with your life?”

A lot. I’d been studying some business management, some law, and a lot of history. I loved reading about American history, but world history, you could take that. I hated it. I figured while I was doing my stretch of time I could get my diploma. I always felt embarrassed about not graduating high school.

“Oh, nothing much. Writing some songs, working in the kitchen, doing half-assed jobs to make the time go by. I’m studying for my high school diploma and –"

“Now why you doing that? For the white man’s stamp of approval? You need the white devil to tell you you’re qualified? That you rate? That’s not where it’s at brother.”

I stopped mopping and leaned my chin on the handle. Is that why I was doing it? I didn’t think so. The Man was never going to give me his blessing. That was sure enough. What’s it been, five years, since the law got on my tail, starting in June of ’58 when a tire blew out on the way home from Topeka? Joan was in the car, a fine young thing, when that flat-top stopped and the state patrol officer got out.

“What’s the trouble, boy?”

Not that boy shit. I got all humble and sweet.

“Just fixing my tire officer. Then I’m on my way home to St. Looie.”

It wasn’t long before he searched my peach Cadillac and found a week’s pay, almost $2000, and my revolver, which I always took for safety on those long car rides after a gig. He didn’t ask me no questions, just slapped on the cuffs and brought me to the station. Possession of a concealed weapon. I signed my own bond and got out of there pronto, but they kept my money, and my gun. Joan was escorted home.

“I don’t see it that way Earl. Just trying to better myself.”

Earl clucked his tongue.

“Have you heard of The Honorable Elijah Muhammad, The Messenger of Allah?”

I shook my head.

“He’s a black man, like us, and a great teacher. Do you know the true knowledge of the black man? We are the original men, raped, murdered and exploited by the devil white race. Just look at what they did to you.”

December 1959. Two black plain clothes cops came down the stairs at Club Bandstand, my club.

“Do you know Janice Escalante?”


“Did you bring her from Yuma, Arizona?”

“No sir, from El Paso.”

“Do you want to make a phone call?”

That was it. Charged with white slavery, but made bail again. She said she was 21, but I didn’t know that for sure. Find ‘em, fuck ‘em, forget ‘em. I forgot that last one when I hired Janice to be a hostess, dressed as a squaw. After all, she was an Apache Indian.

“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad has said that black prisoners are the symbol of white society’s crime of keeping the black man oppressed and turning them into criminals. The true history of the world has been whitened. Blacks have been brainwashed for hundreds of years, told they are worth less than the white man, especially in this country, a country that made us slaves and cut us off from our African history. We have no knowledge of our true identity Brother Berry.”

I was listening; maybe this Elijah fellow was onto something.

“The Negro,” he spat out the word like something foul in his mouth, “was beaten into worshipping a blond, blue-eyed, golden haired god. They turned the Negro against himself, taught him that black is a curse, and the Negroes learned to turn the other cheek, grin, bow, shuffle, sing the devil’s music and prance around for the amusement of white society.”

I thought of my eye-rolling and duck-walking and a wave of shame swept over me. I was an entertainer, a clown, a joker and a minstrel for the white man. I was left wide open to take in his words, words that seared my soul.

“Once there was a paradise on earth, a blissful world of black men and women. The moon separated from the earth, then the original men came and Mecca was founded. But there was one man, Mr. Yacub, who preached angry words in Mecca and was exiled. He put a curse to create a bleached out person as revenge on Allah. It took centuries and centuries to make the devil whites dominant. When it happened, the devil race turned our heaven into their hell.”

My hell began in January of 1960. They said I violated the Mann Act, that Joan was underage when I took her across state lines. Then, in March, I appeared before a cracker judge, again charged with violating the Mann Act. This time they said Janice was only 14. They had no proof, but all you had to do was look at that girl to know they were wrong. No way she was 14!

Two weeks later I was found guilty, sentenced to five years behind bars and fined $5,000. I won an appeal, and then the Joan case was dismissed in June. But they weren’t going to let me off that easily. Not the racist white judge, not my Jew lawyer who started by begging for mercy, not even trying to show I was innocent. It made me sick to my stomach. Three years, $10,000 fine. That’s why I’m here, 35 years old, in prison clothes, a black man who never stood a chance. I saw that as clear as day now that Earl explained it to me.

I was deep in thought when I realized Earl was still talking.

“Muslims do not defile their bodies with narcotics, tobacco or liquor. A Muslim does not eat pork, a filthy creature that bathes in its own excrement. The key to being a Muslim is submission, reaching toward Allah. Brother, could you bend your knees and pray with me?”

It was hard to kneel in prayer. Why? I’ve bowed and stooped and strutted and walked like a beast for the amusement of the white world that only responded with scorn, prejudice and violence. Why couldn’t I bow to Allah?

As if he heard my thoughts, Earl said, “You’ve bent down for shameful reasons. Do it now for exalted ones.”

My knees hit the hard floor. From that position there was nowhere to go but up.

“You are lost Brother Berry. Are you willing to be found? Are you willing to join your brothers and sisters in the Nation of Islam?”

I would be getting out in October, again a free man. But now, with the things I’ve learned, I’m already there. Sorry great white father. You can’t imprison my soul.

Chuck Berry’s legal troubles began in June 1958, charged with possession of a concealed weapon on his way home from Topeka with Joan Mathis. The following December he met Janice Escalante in Juarez, Mexico and hired her to work at his club. Berry was arrested on white slavery charges at the end of the month. The Mathis trial began on January 25, 1960 and was dismissed on June 2. The Escalante trial started on March 12. Two weeks later Berry was found guilty but won on appeal. In October 1961, he was found guilty and sent to prison. Berry wrote “No Particular Place to Go,” “Nadine,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Promised Land” while in Springfield. Chuck Berry was released on October 18, 1963.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Twentieth Century Fox

All the colors faded to black and white before they returned, brighter and more brilliant than before. From the floor came a voice.

“Ray, you’ve seen The Wizard of Oz, haven’t you?” asked Jim, an earthen vision in brown corduroys and t-shirt.

Ray thought he heard someone speak in a muffled walrus sound. He sat on the couch, under an Indian bedspread, unmoving. Time had stopped.

“Whoa. Do you feel it Jim?” Ray spoke, starting his own conversation. “This is great shit.”

“Where did you get it?”

“World’s Biggest Drug Store!” They erupted into a paroxysm of laughter, reveling in the reference to Huxley.

Jim returned to his own line of thought. “Well, you remember how it all starts in black and white, maybe sepia, I don’t know. Then, but then, when Dorothy’s house crashes and she opens the door, everything is incredible, the colors, like, they jump out of the screen.”

Ray wasn’t listening, stuck in his own head. “It’s like the end of 400 Blows, you know. When Doinel is at the beach, locked in the frame, frozen for all time.” It had been four hours since Ray had sucked his LSD-laced sugar cube until it dissolved and he was so tired.

Jim was anything but lethargic. His energy was without bounds, and when he talked about movies, or literature, there was no stopping him.

“Do you think everything was in black and white back then? It’s like, you know, you never see things in color from 30 years ago?” Jim was sprawled out on the Oriental rug, looking off into space beyond the ceiling, some of Ray’s film magazines strewn at his side.

He’s an interesting cat, I gotta give him that, thought Ray. Ever since the two met at UCLA, both enrolled in film school, sharing classes, he was intrigued. The guy was smart, though strange. He knew every book he’d read by heart, wrote poetry, made movies, had wild ideas.

“I’m pretty sure things have been in color forever, but I never thought about it.” Jim could be right, couldn’t he?

“When I was back in Florida, there was a person there who put me in a movie for Florida State. It was a gas. I had to walk to the mailbox, and read a rejection letter. I had a scene with some old square. I had to ask him, uh, ‘What happened? How come my parents didn’t look ahead?” Jim emitted a snide chuckle.

“Is that why you decided to study film?”

“Ah, no, man. That wasn’t a movie, it was a commercial, man, a warning. I wanted to make movies, movies that say something, you know.”

Ray had seen Jim’s student film. It was crazy, man, wild. It had no plot, something about a stag film, and hand puppets. There were Nazi storm troopers, some broad’s ass jiggling as she walked, the sounds of balling and kids chanting in the background. Oh man, the professors hated it. Everyone hated it. Ray thought it was pretty good, though it was clear Jim knew nothing about editing or camera work.

“Film is where it’s at, Ray. You know that - Kurosawa, Fellini, Truffaut. They’re for real. They know, man, they know what’s going on. Even tripping we were both thinking of movie scenes. It doesn’t get more real than that.”

“Hey, did I tell you about this cat I met at my meditation class?” Ray and his girlfriend Dorothy were hip to the TM scene, attended talks by the Maharishi himself. “I was talking to this guy, John, he’s a pretty good drummer, and I mentioned the 400 Blows. He cracked up, man, thought it was about blow jobs or something.” Ray laughed; Jim didn’t.

“I’ve been thinking about a film I’d like to make. It starts with me swimming in a quarry, waterfalls surround me. I get out of the water and dress, and, I’m walking alone. It’s very quiet and I’m walking through jagged stones, desolate, immaculate. Then I’m hitchhiking in the desert but no one will give me a ride.”

It didn’t sound like much of a movie to Ray. Where was the story? Jim was in a trance-like state, watching the weird scenes playing in his head.

“Then I talk about the Indian workers, you know, from that truck accident. I’ve told you that story, about the Indians scattered all over the highway, bleeding. I must’ve been around four years old, I think, looking out the window my parents’ car, redskins lying all over the highway. I felt like the soul of an Indian, leapt into me while I was locked in the car.” Jim paused dramatically. “I tasted fear man, for the first time.”

Jim went on.

“Then there’s an old junked car half-buried in the sand and, and, I come out of it. Finally a car pulls over to pick me up, but, this’ll blow your mind, there’s no driver. I’m the driver! You get it? And, and I’m driving down the highway, just me, no one else for miles around, only desert and mountains.”

Ray didn’t get it. “I don’t see the point. I don’t know, it sounds kinda boring to me.”

“Oh, no, it’s not boring, not boring at all,” Jim was on a different plateau now.

“Well, it’s, you know, come on, it’s obvious. Then I’m at a service station, or a truck stop, looking at the magazines, spinning the paperback book rack, around and around. There’s a dog bleeding on the highway, wailing a sad mournful cry. But I’m back in the car, bopping along, screaming for it to stop, you know. It’s in my soul, it takes me over. So, OK, so then, I drive the car in circles, spinning the tires, kicking up dust. Then I’m jumping up and down with these kids, but I’m really in the car, driving. It was like, it was a vision. Then it’s night and I’m reading a map by headlight, trying to figure out where to go.”

“Where?” asked Ray, hoping this would lead to something interesting.

“I don’t know that’s not important. I’m searching, you know, on a quest. Next scene, it’s morning, and I need gas. You know where I’m headed? Joshua Tree. That’s what the attendant says. You see?” Jim points to his temples.

Ray lit up a joint and took a long drag. He said nothing.

“But I don’t go there. Now I’m headed into L.A. through different neighborhoods, Chicano, white, black. Lots of cars, a long way from the desert, right. Houses and palm trees, like a dream. I go to Venice, lots of freaks and old people. Then to Hollywood, the Strip. Gradually day destroys the night, but it’s not like night in the desert, when I was reading the map. Oh no. It’s noisy, horns honking, traffic rushing by, music in the air. I’m in a phone booth, telling someone I’m back in town from the desert. Just a regular conversation, as if nothing happened.”

“But nothing did happen.” Ray was lost. Or Jim was crazy.

Now Jim sat up and stared deeply at Ray. He began to yell.

“Listen man, you got a problem? Don’t you see? It’s spiritual, it’s deep. I killed someone out in the desert! And I don’t care. It was the guy who gave me the ride. I wasted him. That’s why you didn’t see him. I walk the streets; no one knows my terrible secret. I ask a guy outside a club if there’s any pussy, or LSD, trying to provoke him. Last thing you hear are sirens and gun shots and alarms and, so, they catch caught me, see?”

Jim exhaled, instantly calm. A beatific smile played on his lips.

“That’s the kind of movie I want to make. Beautiful, spiritual. It speaks to the human experience. We’re all killers.”

Ray didn’t know what to say. It was ridiculous, valueless. Ray switched the subject.

“What about music?” Ray started seeing glowing colors, the weed kicking his waning trip up one last notch. He pulled off his frameless glasses and rubbed his eyes.

“What about it?” Jim replied crisply, annoyed that Ray was disinterested in his epic.”Film is the great art form of the twentieth century. There are no rules. I like that.”

“OK, but remember we talked about starting a band? I could ask John if he’s interested and if he knows anyone who would want to join. We could be the American Rolling Stones!” Ray chuckled. He knew Jim loved the Stones; they really blew his mind. Not now though. When Jimbo got angry, he didn’t let go.

“You really think The Rolling Stones are gonna last forever? The Beatles? Come on. Film is where it’s at, eternal. Remember that class we took with von Sternberg? I mean, his movies are like 40 years old and they’re still important, dark, mysterious; they still survive. I didn’t start living until I began to study film. I’m not ready to stop now. I want to live forever man, immortal.”

“Poets live forever. Your poetry makes for great lyrics, great songs. They’ll last. And songs are only three minutes long.”

“I’m no singer. You think I want to be the next Fabian?” Jim snapped. “That’s not my bag. Rock and roll is for teenyboppers and little girls, man, it’s not serious.”

Ray was taking another drag when Jim ripped apart his future plans.

“Anyway, I’m going to New York, that’s where the real film culture is, not Hollywood, not plastic L. A.”

Ray knew that when Jim left he’d never see him again. Jim wasn’t much on staying in touch. He didn’t talk to his own family. There was only one thing to do.

“Want some more?” Ray offered another sugar cube.

Jim smiled, an inscrutable smile of innocence and deviltry, as on his knees, he leaned forward, mouth open.

The ceremony was about to begin.

Ray Manzarek met Jim Morrison at UCLA, where they were enrolled in the film school. Both graduated in May 1965, Jim with a B.A. in film, Ray with a Master’s. After talking about music while walking Venice Beach in July, they formed The Doors (taken from Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception). The group, which included Ray’s friend John Densmore from his meditation class, and John’s friend Robbie Krieger, made a demo in September. Signed to Elektra, they finished their first album in the fall of 1966, though it wouldn’t be released until January 1967.

Jim maintained his interest in film, directing promos for “Break on Through” and “Unknown Soldier,” as well as a 51 minute movie entitled HWY- An American Pastoral (1969), described by Jim in the story above. At the time of his death, Morrison was rumored to be working on a feature film project.