In which the Flaneur learns of the Peruvian custom of venerating the Lord of Miracles in October from a film entitled "Octubre."
After a flukey shower in the early part of the month, the summer fog pattern lifted at last. The sky now swept revealed its planets and stars. The view from my east window facing the hills has been most profound: one very bright planet Jupiter, Mars, the little dipper, Orion's belt, Orion's headband, a few of the eye-attracting sights in the night sky.
I was mesmerized as I focused on the little dipper to have it come in clearer through the miraculous light-gathering eye. Too complex to have been first dreamt of by any other than God. Just then a meteor appeared with the longest tail I had yet to see. It was as if an incomprehensibly vast perpendicular chalk line had been drawn across the sky and then disappeared. The meteor itself seemed to sputter off and on at the end of its trajectory.
Later I read that there were extraordinary meteor showers taking place these nights. An acquaintance conformed that many reported seeing the same fiery bolide that night.
All this was seen from the window of my pad in the trees, in the sky.
The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass came and went on the first weekend of the month. It was to be the first since the beneficent robber baron Hellman passed-over no doubt to be indulged and allowed to sit in with Doc Watson and Earle Scruggs who also died last year, joined by Hazel Dickens who died the year before. They were all HSBG veterans and when I made it down to the Banjo stage for Emmy Lou's lullabies I observed that the scrim behind the stage featured images of them all. Somewhat eerily it also had Emmy Lou and Steve Earle, both cornerstones of the festival and both quite evidently not yet dead.
This being my eleventh festival and there being relatively less spring in my chicken these days, I determined that I would attend only one day out of three this year and essentially park it at one stage for the duration of the day. This was to be the westernmost of the six stages, the one they call the Towers of Gold.
A mild hospitable day awaited me in San Francisco. Some clouds lingered, obscuring for the moment the thunderous passage of the Blue Angels. They have been a nuisance at many a past festival which often coincide with Fleet Week a annual show of pride when ships and sailors hit the town. It was a case of a few years of their absence that now brought a recurring feeling of dread--in some perhaps while others may have been patriotically stirred by their deafening exhibition of militarism. The Blue Angels certainly seemed attracted by the crowd as five death jets in formation buzzed us low.
As I arrived the Knitters were playing on the back-to-back Star stage. They are the folk incarnation of the original California punk band called X. They sounded fine and it was fun to eavesdrop. Then our stage was commandeered by the heavy New Orleans funk brass band the Soul Rebels. Impossible not to stand up and shake it from where I sat, "first row" stage right and just in front of giant bass speakers concealed beneath the stage--it hit you in the chest.
There then followed an occurrence of the hell-is-other-people factor. A guy came and weaseled-in between the front line people and the stage--who cared? He wore a small hipster hat wrap-around shades, a stubble beard and copious strands of cheap plastic mardi gras beads. Some sort of refugee or wannbe I guessed and, who cared? But he had a little dog with him which he ignored and the dog was freaking-out in the seismic noise there in front of these outdoor concert-sized bass speakers. I crouched down and held him a little. It was the fastest heart beat I have ever felt. In 45 minutes it was over and the little curly pooch survived to be mistreated at some other stage when as I had hoped the creepy hipster moved on.
A great-sounding tribute to Doug Sahm began next on the stage backing ours. Dave Alvin, Boz Skaggs and others played faithful versions of the hits--"She's About a Mover', "Mendocino" etc. Then our stage came back to life with Dwight Yoakam and his red hot band. Dwight wore his trademark white cowboy hat and denim suit --although with a panel of rhinestones on the back of the jacket. His band on the other hand was fully decked in all rhinestone Nudie-style suits. They had the mob on their feet the whole time with that rocking Bakersfield style. When soap bubbles blew on stage Dwight acted like he was tripping out. He's a charming funny cat, let no man deny.
Next we grooved to the strictly bluegrass sounds of the excellent Del McCoury band. Again this was sound without the picture as they were playing on the stage next door. While that was happening more and more people ebbed-up to the Golden Towers in anticipationof Patti Smith and band, some to my mild annoyance.
But I held my ground and soon enough there was the old gal-still full of spunk. I'd first seen her perform in 1976 and she's still a unique kick for me. The San Francisco absolutely crowd loves her and it made "Pissing In a River" hit heavier when the crowd joined in singing the line "What about it?" with real gusto. Patti, now in her sixties, snarled growled and torch-sang her way through it just like the the punk dynamo of yesteryear. A big black guy working security beneath the stage was laughing, visibly blown away by all the fury emanating from the little old punk rock lady.
There was also a rather transporting trance version of "Southern Cross" I particularly enjoyed. Of her new material I would say only "Bangra" really connected as the crowd twitched sinuously to its crazy Punjabi beat.
Then it too was over and for me one last quest remained--to walk the length of the festival to the main banjo stage where Emmy Lou Harrison was closing the show. I stopped at the shore of the crowd to have lunch on a picnic table with her distant figure ringing over the dale clear and pure. Then as I have done for the past eleven years I infiltrated down in front of the stage to let her alleluias and lullabies sail me away toward the sunset sky over the sea. For me autumn always seems to descend at that twilight moment. On the walk toward home through the dark woods I always feel somehow changed.
October is also my medical marijuana evaluation for a new recommendation letter to cover the forthcoming year. I ventured to a cut-rate low-end place in the old Sears building on Telegraph in Oakland. It is easily the most informal "doctor's office" one can imagine. A young receptionist behind a plexi-window takes your driver's license and you wait in a room furnished in plastic chairs with a flat screen playing dreck. Color photos of remarkable cannabis buds appear on walls otherwise decorated in the formerly fashionable "distressed" look. No bathroom: I held on until I after had my conference with a small Hindu doctor at a desk in small office at the rear. I already know the drill so I efficiently state my case and produce a minimum of documents to support it. I give him my usual, "It's a gift from God" benediction. He seems to dig it as I get my letter before I finish talking.
It was only out at the receptionists booth that I looked long enough at the document to notice the his name for the first time. I now was the bearer of a doctor's letter which enables me to possess and use medical marijuana in the state of California as authorized by the signature of the eminent Doctor Toke.
A few years back I had been strolling on campus after dark one evening when I heard the unmistakable vocalizations of the inimitable folk-rock troubadour Bob Dylan carrying downhill from the Greek Theater. I decided to go close and listen from outside the venue as has long been a time-honored tradition here in Berkeley. He sounded rip-snorting while performing "Workingman's Blues" as I climbed up to the area behind the natural amphitheater where folks recline and groove. Sadly again as we hope for things to survive along the rim I was to discover the experience had begun its descent into the commodious black hole of general societal entropy. Fencing had been installed where folks used to sit and pesky asshole private security hassled the young hipsters who didn't shell out for a ticket. Now one had to sit past an intervening parking lot with high-illumination streetlights to help spoil the show for you.
So when I saw Bob was back there on a mild October night I thought again about listening in for free. I came up with a different strategy and this time positioned myself on the steps of a campus building across Gately Road from the Greek. Despite the solitary sensory-deprived atmosphere I spent an enjoyable few hours there, smoking and eavesdropping on the concert. His tone was lovely as he once again performed his old song in radically new arrangements. Mark Knopfler opened and his guitar tone was similarly adorable. No collaborations between the two however: Dylan is in his unique orbit, twas ever thus it seems.
Somewhat odd to see the students walk past the theater without apparent interest in the show when one remembers the mythic significance we attached to his shows when I was a student like them. I watched their shadows passing on the front of the building as if it were the wall in Plato's cave.
The warm nights and clear skies of October prevailed as we rolled up to Hallowe'en. There was a thrilled quality in the neighborhood children's voices as darkness descended earlier and the jack-o-lanterns began to appear.
A light rain early Hallowe'en night and then reappearing intermittently, may have slowed the youngest children's turn-out. But by seven the costumed gaggles grew more profuse and the haunted house across the street drew cheers with its life-sized flying skull-faced witch hurled past them ( a pully and tight-rope deal).Candy-fueled kids, practical jokes, a romney-masked guy, abounded in the mock-spooky scene; our house cat Mao Mao ran from kid to kid excited by the festive mood.
The Flaneur recently attended an evening in the Berkeley Art Museum's series called "L@TE: FRIDAY NIGHTS for an event entitled "John Cage Celebration: Pico." It actually began really early and the Cage connection was somewhat difficult to make, but it was not without moments of genuine amusement.
Although the event began as early as five or five thirty my guest ticket would only arrive with a friend at six thirty, so I had time to pleasantly spend. I rested on the benches amid the knobby trees on the Sather Tower plaza. Aside from the tightrope walkers the student scene was not that different than TV's The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis-- studies mixed with tentative boy girl socializing. Now the cast consists of the new square Asian students.
I had brought a lunch with me--a banana sandwich on whole wheat walnut bread and an apple. As I finished it the gigantic clock hands approached the straight up and down position of six. I elevated with a wee whiff of my herbal medicine just in time for a carillon recital. The dulcet but slightly eerie tones drifted down around me like huge flower petals. The lowering sun overwhelmed the view of the bay and the Golden Gate. I turned for a last adieu before proceeding on laterally to the museum.
The front doors had entirely been painted over in graffiti style--some irrelevant word, a bullshit semiotic that I have since forgotten. Lo, there on the apron, gasping tobacco smoke, stood my old friend and collaborator Don Joyce. Don is the mix-master of negativland and of the radio program on which I occasionally appear known as Over the Edge.
He was here with his "band" mate Mark Hosler to mix the evening's audio. We shook frontal extremities and then headed inside where the scenesters were already underway. It was a young demographic indeed, one which I had anticipated and for which I had dressed accordingly as sort of a John Cage manque, highlighting the age difference. I wore a tie, dress shirt and vest sweater: real grandpa drag. I had by chance just watched a video of a Cage performance from 1966 entitled E.A.T. Cage and five others in white shirts and ties had done a entirely live electronic musical performance creating an audio mushroom cloud of oscillating noise. They were walking around tables as light threw huge shadows of them on the walls behind. It was more or less the origin of every music act in which the performers essentially sat and twiddled knobs including everything from negativland to the Chemical Brothers etc.
A brisk tour of all the upper galleries was next on my agendum. While I climbed and perused a poet read on monotonously on the main floor--his name escaped me. The gathering crowd dutifully sat on the hard stone floor of the main lower gallery--there were no seats for attendees anywhere in sight. At the lowest sub-gallery, where Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau was reconstructed last year, someone was spray-painting on a large wall size mural, how ho-hum. Mental note do not approach close enough to this to smell the paint. I scanned the profuse Barry McGee exhibit. He seems to be an obsessive type who draws similar, very-involved cartoon faces quite a lot. Spawned I believe in a Graffiti art and zine scene genesis. The exhibit seems to have not only emptied out his portfolio but also his various scrapbooks and printed matter storage to include every single artifact he'd pack-ratted away. One is not put off by this though and it does seem to be after all part of a more democratic vista.
The top gallery had a lot of queer art and seemed just a tad cruisy in its tea-room sparseness. The next gallery descending from this had a jewel-toned array of religious art by ye olde masters. A Last Supper predella looked as if it was comprised of mug shots of the apostles. It gave me a mystical frisson--a split second out of time..
Around down to the lobby again I joined Don at a mixing desk above the lowest galleries where the main performances happen. Then we are joined by the David Lynchian figure of Mark Hosler, tall wearing tails, and with swept-back, newly gray hair. It had been more than a dozen years since we performed together in San Francisco and that long since I've seen him last.
Minutes later Don had taken his position in the lower gallery where he would mix sounds from an audio archive together with live performance on piano by Sarah Cahill on the balcony several floors above and a rather ostentatious cellist all situated at considerable distance from the the others.
As the music began the dancers arrived in a procession---many festooned in LED lights or with glow sticks, all carrying empty picture frames with which they mimed as museum tableaux. A dozen or so danced completely in the nude.
Prior to the commencement of festivities I'd attempted to sit on a free-standing set of stairs on the main gallery floor but was soon asked to push off. I observed at the point of the dancers onslaught that the stairs were part of the act. As if not prominent enough in their youthful birthdays suits and shaped pubis, the nude dancers repeatedly mounted the stairs for better exhibition.
Don was down there among them mixing by himself. He had donned his zebra-patterned cowboy hat over his black leather jacket atop his forever young Beatle haircut now as white as Christmas snow. "Look, Don's getting a lap dance," I quipped to various amusement that didn't appear to include Mark's. Mark was a Montessori teacher years ago and a certain prudishness not to say repressiveness still obtains. After all, the MC had just invited us to misbehave.
The cellist was gimmick-heavy playing an instrument made up of screens at one point. A sort of promotional film of her ran on a screen behind her satellite stage. I checked out of it when I read the statement, "Life doesn't have a rewind button." I wished I could rewind and erase that bit from my memory.
The dancers, more specifically, the nude dancers had live cameras held on them and their somewhat abstracted images also appeared on screens. Where we were was a prime vantage spot and I felt the warmth of a small crowd pressing up behind us. Without turning to look and assuming it was comprised of students who had reached majority age, I remarked, "The nude ones are forming a huddle...funny how that always happens." I looked over my shoulder and realized it was a flock of thirteen-year-olds craning for the peep show. One young man replied in sort of sexy-knickers tone of voice, "Yeah, funny how that always happens." I thought I could detect a wistful boner in his voice. This I can't verify as he seemed to take a sheepish step back from pressing in on me when I turned around and spoke.
I was getting sleepy myself with the hypnotic onslaught of sound and vision. I asked if there were to be different "acts" or if it was to be more of a continuum. I was told to expect the latter. Mark, who was required to maintain the illusion of this being cool and expressive, seemed to have his fill of me. He said something about not talking if I wished to remain sitting beside him where I was. But I was incurious, I didn't really want to see where this all was going and so I made my excuses before heading onward.
Outside a frenzied buzz scene was taking place as the September-mad students learned the gig was now sold-out. I over-heard one enthusiastic girl telling friends that she was unable to gain entry but was certainly returning for next weeks' event (it was to feature Devendra Banheart). I understood her fervor--I was a freshman once too.
"Would you like a ticket, my dear?"
I gave her mine and she in her sweetness returned to me a hug.
This column means not to imply that the Flaneur approves of this sort of thing.
A roaring crescendo Friday morning at approximately ten:twenty in the morning.
It sounded like a skateboard approaching behind you in raw existential threat.
It was coming through the floor the walls the air the subsonic viscera.
To the window I went unprepared.
There over central Berkeley at what seemed a meager altitude,
flew the leviathan of a 747 with the space shuttle strapped on its back.
A slender black jet flew just behind it in the wispy-clouded sky.
Others who knew in advance gathered on hilltops and piers.
Yet none of these were startled in delight more than I
caught as I was unprepared.
Five seconds and it was outside my field of vision.
I thought I could see dollar signs raining down as it went
and global warming waving in its wake.
My mind accepted this outlandish sight on a conditional level,
the way one accommodates watching special effects films
that create similar spectacles in similarly familiar skies.
That is, one watches "actuality" with a certain suspension of doubt.
Had I expected it I might have been on my roof to see it go by.
But then I would have lost the exhilaration of an all too rare intrusion of surprise.
All the day long leaves of diaphanous cloud prevailed above.
These were intersected by the vapor trails of conspiracy.
A new looking jumbo jet flew over us with curious lucidity.
"Something's going on today," said a black lady with a dachshund in a park.
It was in fact the first of Fall, subtle colors in the trees,
with an autumnal shiver of the inevitability of challenge and change.
The Flaneur had an unusually eventful month this year. Here are a few fleeting impressions for my unfaithful readers.
Seismic activity of human origin continues along Milvia Street. While the venerable New Deal Post office building threatens to tumble into the claws of rapacious real estaters, the bulldozers and cranes have been busy dismantling the ancient gymnasium building at the high school. A steady stream of dust swirls up from the athletic fields still under construction behind the gym now collapsing in clouds of particulate matter. The whole area smells like someone's musty cellar from the 1930s.
Farther along Milvia an even more disruptive scene takes place in the dust. The phenomenal quixotic soccer field at Carleton is being crimped into a ballpark. A breathtaking expanse of open lawn where I would sit and rest in the sun, a halfway point from the Berkeley Bowl to my home, is gone. The digging began July 5th and now represents a hazardous walk past the sad defunct Ice Land skating rink building through dirt borne by howling winds. A microcosmic remnant of a once-happy town, appears today as a kind of a melancolony.
But demoltion derbies, surgeries and hypodermics of all sorts aside, one finds the golden vein of wonder in everyday life even still.
A birthday rolled up with a real bateau ivre of a picnic with a primordial pal down at the kite-festive Berkeley marina.The wind blew steady over our salmon and stout as we sheltered in the weeds. The part of the brain that exists in the future was stimulated by a fortune of sidereal indications. One leg I left in the sun in a new pair of shorts came home sun-burned-- a rarity for me and all part of my slightly seasick evening. But all for pleasure as the water waved into cat's paws and a phantasmagoria of kites snapped overhead. A stack of jelly fish kites were condom-like with a submarine subconscious effect suspended in the air.
We drove back toward the golden wall of the Berkeley hills looking smaller now as the bay remained so vast behind us.
So the actual birthday arrived with the early morning fog still chilly around me as I hiked up to the San Francisco train. I stopped in the Park as the Farmer's market swam alongside. Smoked here to enliven my long quiet passage by rail. Good times good travel under the Bay and under the city to emerge up around the Mint and submerge again until Irving street riding the N Judah out to Golden Gate park.
Always a light-footed ramble down past the Botanical garden with its lonesome fountain--tourists are sparse now that they must pay to frolic there. Over to the grass-roofed, hobbiton amusement park of the Academy of Science I stroll.
Obtaining my ticket ($35 for adults...the ones who have to pay it), I sidled off to a deserted corner of the grounds to consume my double-dose blonde brownie. I notice a nice fenced-in garden there that I would access for lunch. A slightly dour bored-to-tears guy loiters around the garden, presumably to thwart fence-hoppers. He observes me boredly.
Next I slip inside the dense forest of signage, screens, out-landish interior architecture and occasional live creatures. Twenty-five years since my last visit and it certainly is a changed place. I tunnel about and take a breather on the living roof before lunch follwed by parking myself beneath the sloping glass of a very deep coral tank with myriads (might as well use the proper word) of colorful fish in kinetic patterns over waving heads of coral. In this I drifted quite a long while. A tower of luminous jelly fish recalled the jelly fish kite formation of last week. Little kids commune with me telepathically. I try to use my mind-power to affect a chambered nautilus hovering in his tank--he moved to keep his eye on me
The grand finale was two viewing of an earthquake program in the dish-screen of the planetarium. Great fear of falling effects and a scene on a beach in which the cliffs behind you advance in a most hallucinogenic splendor. A real head-kick as we descend to the earth's molten core of fear.
from my notes: a
tower of luminous jelly fish, chambered nautilus head trip, baby
ostrich races and synchronized sea horse shows, anemones wave to me on the
bottom of a coral reef, the earth moved inside the seismic planetarium
All in all, a lively summer in a refusal of being made to suffer by apparent sensory phenomena.
To the Flaneur's wizened resignation time and entropy march on.
It was the beginning of May I was managing a busy first-of-the-month day. My itinerary included a stop at the cannabis drive-in in order to restock my home supply of one of God's great gifts to mankind.
It operated out of a mirror-windowed building that curved and sloped over a parking lot giving away its origins as a fast-food place.
The advantage to the place in addition to being walking distance from my home was that it offered a room where one could prepare and consume one's purchases. Fine coffee was provided by the house, an idea I always found to be a prudent one--everyone had a coffee and woke up a bit after the magic indica dust made them a little sleepy.
But today low and behold and without prior notice even though I had been there a week or so earlier, the gate was locked on the business at noon. Their landlord it seems had been intimidated by the federal district attorney, a woman aptly named Haag, and given them the boot. A few familiar employees manned a table to get the hapless customers like myself to sign up for home delivery. Chagrin falls on the local scene.
As for myself an hour later I was at the old place on telegraph where I had gone for years and was very happy with the buds I found.
Alongside the quaint and mildly pleasing news that Harold way which runs between Kittridge and Alston near the Library and Post Office would be changing its name to Dharma Way. A large Tibetan Buddhist school and book and tanka shop had acquired all properties on the short street and moved the wheels of the City it seems. Jack Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums about Berkeley when he lived here for in the mid-fifties. It foretold of a wave of "rucksack revolutionaries" to follow in the sixties, some of which marches on in the post-apocalyptic new century.
But the big whammy arrived with the news in the Daily Cal yesterday the the great funky old building on the National Historic Register that has been the Berkeley main Post Office for 97 years will abruptly be closed and sold off. Roll with it or blast off, baby.
In which the Flaneur fesses-up to slacking off this year, a brief and incomplete round-up.
Someone called "hey, Raymantico" in my open window from the street. It was Ian my former house-mate who is active in Occupy. He came up and invited me with him to visit the latest encampment, "Occupy the Farm" in nearby Albany. A doctoral candidate in music his appearance had changed since we'd first met. From the clean-cut grad student (who nevertheless played in at least two bands, one Ethiopian-pop the other wooly dense stuff like Mahavishnu Orchestra on nitrous oxide or something) to the back-to-the-land-archist cat with beard as long and wild as his head-hair. He hurtled through back-streets and crowded boulevardes both at what is for me breakneck speed toward the agricultural tracts owned by the Yooniversity and occupied by a mostly young bunch of students and friends.
The place had a charming mood of the makeshift practicality, and good vibe gathering. A small kitchen wafted aromas of the evening meal on its way. Ian became engaged in several conversations so I pushed on for an unguided tour. In the near distance beyond the central mid-way as it were planting and watering took place in the extended evening light of spring. Closer to were a couple of information tables and other operations some adjourned for the day. The concourse culminated in a ring of hale bales above which folks were stringing light bulbs. Tonight was to be a jamboree and various folk guitar toting young minstrels bided time as a stage-area was wired for sound. I sat in an available canvas lounge chair and watched the long shadows across the ruled farm land.
Who would not sympathize with the quixotic idealism of some the stated goals of this action? That is to make a statement about preserving some of the last viable farm land hereabouts versus the publicized plan to create a whole foods market and modest retirement housing there. But seriously considered it has less chance of prevailing in the courts of property than did the appeal to UC's better nature in the call to preserve the monumental oak grove. That legacy was, as we know, eventually shredded for the uber-stadium plans the funding for which, what do you know?, have recently been exposed as a fraud-ridden part of the boom boom war and investment scandal years. As the last secretary of state once asked, "How could we have possibly known?"
At some later court proceeding against Occupy the Farm, a UC lawyer referred to this state-owned public property as "private property." In other mad mad courthouse news the judge who had issued draconian stay-away orders for enrolled students arrested on campus at Occupy Cal, has since been indicted for elder abuse and grand larceny from an octogenarian trustee lady. Accept judgement from the moral high ground, ye must.
And as it inevitably shook down, platoons of police state overkill arrived and ejected Occupy the Farm a few weeks later. Some were arrested one brave soul allegedly urinated on a riot-clad cop from a tree. Shortly after ward both the city of Albany (trapped in a mutual support agreement with the gestapo-like UC police) and the UC police themselves both submitted a bill for police expenses to Occupy the Farm members. Albany asked for less than four-thousand dollars. UC's villainous mouth-piece Mogolof has demanded around four-hundred thousand and counting. People who are humble enough to sleep out with their crops are thereby damned to a huge financial liability for daring to protest UC officials for selling off public holdings to bankroll their own careers and gild their own parachutes.
On that idyllic night in May, Ian and I didn't hang long enough for the show to begin. The meal smelled great but the line was long and I was happy to leave the vittles for the others especially those hauling water to remote crops. Instead we decamped to an area where instruments were played and the smoking chalice was passed about. As we pushed on through Ian again held up in conversation I climbed a little tower like outdoor airport stairs and looked over at the small group enchanted by music and herb. Hope among the remnants of the natural world getting smaller as we were soon winging toward home.