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.
Until next year.