that beginning time was fire and ice. The war was cold, a looking
glass, spectral abyss into which people fell never to rise again.
An epidemic of stinging accusations descended upon the land like
locust and devoured men whole. Telescopes and microscopes, plows
and shovels had been traded in for briefcases in which were contained
lists of hundreds, no thousands, of card carrying Reds. Mothers
were strapped to vacuum cleaners and sent out to get more vermouth.
Oppenheimer was in disgrace and Edward Teller held center soap box
with a hydrogen bomb in one hand and a half eaten baby's brain in
the other. It was the fifties.
arrived in a discharge of blood and smoke. Blessed with a full mouth
of teeth at birth, he bit through his own umbilical cord, punched
out the doctor and slipped the attending nurse the tongue. His mother
screamed. The doctor cursed. The nurse swooned. Before being tackled
by security, Johnny breached the medicine cabinet and ingested a
hearty quantity of pharmaceuticals. It was an auspicious birth.
began roaming when he was four. Some say it was because his parents
use to leave him by the railroad tracks in hopes that the gypsy
bitch his mother swore must have birthed him would find and rightfully
claim the boy. Others credit Johnny's peripatetic tendencies to
a chemical imbalance that was aggravated by a penchant for bourbon.
Who can rightfully say? Johnny himself claims he was being guided
by interstellar beacons from the dog star Sirius. but then Johnnys
claims a lot of things, most of which are unpresentable to good
Christian folk. Suffice it to say the youngster had a nose for trouble
and a hankering for disturbances.
the adventures Johnny boasts of is a jaunt down Memphis-way in 1953
to see the King. Of course at that time Elvis wasnıt even a prince.
A snot-nosed cheeseburger grunter in a pick-up truck is the way
Johnny described him. Backwards even for country, a little too sweet
to let the trouble in his soul come to full boil, too damn attached
to his momma, it was hard to imagine young Elvis would amount to
ran into Elvis at a roadside grease joint. It was five in the morning
and Johnny was trying to convince the waitress he was really a midget
and it would be all right to dose his coffee with a shot of Old
Colonel. He caught a look of Elvis eying him from across the way
with that special lip sneer E had.
blowing up your rear, cracker?"
now, little buddy. I donıt believe thatıs the way for a young fella
like you to be talking."
cause Iım a midget doesnıt mean I canıt call 'em as I see 'em."
midget? Why little buddy, I donıt believe youıre this side of six
yeah, grease ball. Letıs you and me step outside and weıll see who's
rather just share a plate of beans and rice, if thatıs all right
and rice? Why yes, that sounds like a mighty fine meal to start
also alleges to have had encounters with Alan Freed, Jerry Lee,
Carl Perkins and Howlin' Wolf. He swears to having been instrumental
in the career of Little Richard. The story involves a poker hand,
an accusation of cheating, and a whiskey bottle cracked across Richardıs
bare sconce. The result, besides a nasty bump and several hours
of unconsciousness, was those high notes that rocketed Penniman
to fame. Richard claims to know nothing about no Johnny and to have
never done no gambling.
the decade wore on and his peers took to ducking under school desks
at the first sound of a siren, Johnny fell in love. The first sight
of a fold out Marilyn laying naked against a red background and
his young heart went South. With a kitchen knife he carved her name
into his thigh. When "Some Like it Hot" opened, Johnny
spent a week hiding in a movie theatre so he could catch every showing.
Twice he set out for the West Coast to find her. The first time
he was arrested in Chicago after mooning Vice President Nixon at
a ribbon cutting ceremony. Trip number two was terminated when,
hearing Pat Boone sing "Love Letters in the Sand" at a
supermarket opening in Des Moines, Johnny was picked up for trying
to purchase a fire arm. It wasnıt until nineteen sixty-two that
Johnny finally made it to California. The night he was arriving,
Bobby Kennedy was leaving. Every year Johnny makes a pilgrimage
to Marilynıs grave to sprinkle it with rose petals.
the plane crash that took out Buddy and the scandal that castrated
Alan Freed; after the army barber cut Elvisıs hair and Pat Boone
sanitized Little Richard's love moan; in the last two years of the
fifties when everyone shut their eyes and made believe that Ike
would never go; as the bomb shelters were dug and Annette grew tits
and shed her mouska-ears, Johnny took to hanging out at coffee houses
and shooting junk with the beats. His clothes were black and his
gospel Zen nihilism. It had to be like, snap, now, snap, or it was
like, snap, nothing. Johnny refers to a time he and Jack Kerouac
shot a game of pool in a Greenwich Village cat house. Ginsberg stood
in a corner chanting mantras. Gregory Corso raved about a new poem
he was dedicating to Van Goghıs ear and, weaving around the room
with a razor, proposed they all slash themselves as a statement
against imperialism. Outside the night howled like an angry celestial
beast driven to madness.
winter before the Beatles arrived was dark and heavy. Radios vomited
the carmel-scented treacle of Sugar Shack and Roses are Red, My
Love. Kruschev threatened the world with a shoe. Lenny Bruce was
sweating out a mean speed habit. Across America could be heard the
collective splosh of olives dropping into tumblers of unbruised
martinis. Fire hoses attempted to drown the song of freedom, Malcolm
was rethinking Islam, white folk huddled around their televisions
to accompany a choir of Mitch Miller trained ducks in a rousing
version of "Nearer My God to Thee." Silently the black
hole of Vietnam had begun sucking at Uncle Samıs soul. Johnny spent
the winter locked in his basement cooking up medicine.
Beatles were the young boy calling out that the emperor was naked.
They were the stone in David's sling that felled Goliath. In one
of the last interviews he gave before his assassination, John Lennon
compared the Beatles to a sail on the world ship that filled with
a strange wind and took us into uncharted seas. They were the vehicle
that the Spirit that moves us employed to take us deeper into ourselves.
When Elvis first shook it on the Ed Sullivan show, the censorship
of the times had prohibited the cameramen from focusing below his
waist. It was as if the entire arsenal of the military-industrial
complex was trained of the E manıs crotch. Western civilization
was girded in a cast iron chastity belt wired to a hundred megaton
bomb. One lascivious move and weıd all be winging it to eternity.
A decade later, the chastity belt was ripe for picking. With a laugh
and a wink the Beatles handed us the key.
Love and LSD. These words still ring in Johnnyıs ears like a divinely
inspired mantra. What a powerful and sweet time those years of the
sixties were. It was as if for a short while we were all allowed
the knowledge of what it feels like to be rocked in the lap of God.
Holy prophets burned their draft cards. Angry women burned their
bras. A century old stereotype of Step'n Fetch It eating watermelon
and whistling shoe shine melodies was dynamited into oblivion by
Malcolmıs children: the Black Panthers. Incense scented winds from
the East swept across the nation whispering of the thousand and
one faces of God. Down every alley, on every street corner, in the
swamp lands, in the heartland, sweet as a young girl's first blush
of ripeness, hardy as the bulge in a teenage boyıs jeans, America
was throbbing, bobbing, pulsing, gyrating, sweating and bleeding,
growling and soaring, awake, suddenly Krishna-like, the scales of
a thousand years of slumber falling from her eyes. And from every
one of those scales arose a song. Hillbilly, blues, country, gospel:
ears were open and imaginations glowed like the eyes of a hibernating
beast awakened from a winterıs nap by a sharp pang of hunger. Sitar
driven ragas, heroin sick white boys warbling on warped necked Fenders,
feedback jagged and dangerous as a barbed wire fence slicing up
no manıs land, country wailers simple and devious as a fifth of
Kentucky bourbon. Suddenly it was good to have appetite, to experiment,
to collapse into a heap of what you didnıt know, to live by a creed
the first and last word of which was "yes."
I mention the LSD? Johnny's first trip was in the spring of 1964.
A friend of a friend who'd been studying psychology at Harvard under
the tutelage of those two mad monks Leary and Alpert appeared with
a vial of what he proclaimed to be wizard's juice.
"A drop on the tongue, my man. A single drop and youıll experience
Satori," responded an unenlightened Johnny. "I want a
the vial from this friend of a friend, our intrepid voyager swallowed
half its contents before being subdued.
shit, man. Thatıs so uncool. You drank too much, man. Youıre going
to be so uncool."
uncool can a cyclone of naked angels chanting backwards from the
Tibetan Book of the Dead be? Or a glimpse of the foot of God tapping
on the treadle of the world loom? But I get ahead of the tale.
first thirty minutes after ingesting the wizardıs potion, Johnny
paced back and forth cursing the fraudulent claims of this would
happening," he screamed. "I don't feel a Goddamned thing."
two companions had grown curiously quiet. They eyed the frothing
Johnny with a bemused expectancy. The Harvard student kept looking
at his watch and nudging his companion.
up with you two turkeys? You feed me this turtle pabulum with the
promise of some mystical banshee roller coaster ride and all I'm
feeling is a big fat nada. Do you hear me? Nada, nothing, zippo,
less than zero. Why I oughta...."
paused as if preparing for a renewed verbal assault. He felt a gentle
stirring somewhere in the primitive register of his limbic lobes.
It was as if whoever was responsible for keeping track of things
in his mind had taken a giant step backwards and fallen through
a trap door. The last coherent thing Johnny said was,
the hell was that?"
gift, a blessing, a cosmic lube job. A chance to move beyond the
word of the prophet and be a part of the vision. Not for the faint
of heart, not for those whose stock and trade is accountability.
To witness the divine descending on the tower of Babel and experience
that last moment when all men knew what all men knew, to drink from
the water Christ had turned into wine at Cana, to awaken from the
dream of a lifetime, to be ripped naked and bleeding from the womb
of illusions. It was funny beyond word. It was terrifying. At once
confusing and liberating, horrible and sweet. And on top of it all,
that strange background noise, a sort of amusement park rumble,
like a hurdy gurdy being dubbed over a backwards tape loop of sea
became a disciple. And for a moment it seemed as if the entire world
was on the verge of initiation. How can I explain how it felt to
one day wake up and hear Bob Dylan wailing "Like a Rolling
Stone" over an AM radio station. A few months before the most
adventurous musical foray to assault American ears had involved
singing Chipmunks and a Christmas wish for a hula hoop. Now the
Byrds were chanting about disappearing through the smoke rings of
my mind, the Stones couldn't get no satisfaction, the Yardbirds
had a heart full of soul. It was Zimmer-zen-arific, Dylan-tao-o-ese,
Bobby-Krishna-alacious. Every day was like a celebration, a new
it just got better and better. The Jefferson Airplane took off into
uncharted regions: Jimi corralled the screaming shrapnel and fiery
napalm of a distant war into our private head space: Janis had us
moaning for just one more sip from the loving cup. And the art work.
Beardsley in wonderland, Mr. Natural a-go-go, portholes of perception
warped and twisted back on themselves, color requests that drove
printers mad, a-Kelly-a-Mouse-a-Griffin-arama. It was all too much
but only left you hungry for more. It was just ahead, around the
next corner, veiled in the shadows, a world waiting to be born,
a vision rip for revelation, blessings light as sunshine and rich
discovered the Dead in '66. He was pursuing a commercial venture
out on the coast when an acquaintance took him to a dance at the
Fillmore West. It was a blustery November night in the bay and our
hero was nursing a purple mood. The government had reclassified
LSD as a dangerous substance and possession had become a jailable
offense. A month earlier, Ken Kesey had been nabbed by the FBI after
sneaking back into the country from Mexico. Leary, too, was experiencing
the heat and advising his followers to stay on Buddha-Vishnu ice
until the next psychic wave cleansed the nation. After making his
delivery back east, Johnny was contemplating a move down to South
Dead changed that.
started as a kind of shuffling in his feet, a shucking, jiving,
like wading through a cosmic cotton field. All the weight of the
world, an eternity of sweat and toil, rolled off Johnnyıs body and
shimmered in a puddle before him. From that pool rose a ruby moon.
It bounced around the auditorium teased and coaxed by the slithery
riffs that Garcia squeezed from his guitar. Light played across
the gathered tribe, momentarily settling on each memberıs crown
chakra. Touched, you could not suppress the smile that blossomed
upon your face. Licking your lips, youıd swear they were oozing
honey. Someone somewhere must have opened a door. A mist laden wind
swept across the room and a hundred voices whispered into each ear,
calling, entreating, promising. Johnny could feel every pore in
his body breathing. And more. He could no longer be sure where the
music was coming from. He could see the band before him, follow
and relate the sound to their movements. Yet it felt somehow as
if the music was inside him, being generated by his heart, his gut,
his shuffling feet. Johnny began to spin. And everyone in the tribe
was spinning. Then the lightning bolt struck.
what it was about. Thatıs what Johnny came to the Dead for. The
moment when the restrictive seams of consciousness burst, when the
tick-tocking of linear structure imploded and beneath the event
horizon you could sense a beast stalking. To see yourself sliding
down the helixes of your own DNA; to know yourself before your birth,
after your death; to see your spirit shaking impatient and ruthless
at the starting gates of incarnation; to know all your thoughts
at once and then move beyond, to be the power within thought. It
was holy and wicked. It was indescribable. You were open, vulnerable,
cleansed, out of control, out of line, out of your ABCing, one-two-threeing,
cotton pickin' mind. It was the tribal stomping, chemically altered,
karmic tricksters, Zen outlaws, Godıs emissaries to the human race:
the Good Ole Grateful Dead.
is no time in the Garden. Each note of the birdıs song is new and
now, each ripened fruit is the first fruit. A day is as long as
it needs to be: the cycle of life, like the cycle of breathe, is
autonomous and unfolds without investment of thought. And if we
could, weıd always be staying there. Or so we believe. Johnny certainly
did. Along with his tribe of misfits, radicals, flower children,
acid heads, mystics and visionaries. For a time it seemed as if
the ranks were swelling, that a wave of peaceful revolution was
on the verge of washing over the land to sweep away the evils of
war, prejudice and greed. No doubt this was naive, wishful thinking,
even a bit maniacal. In a recent interview recalling these times
of the late sixties, Mickey Hart notes that he had believed there
were tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of freaks in the
nation eager to usher in a new life. But the fact was there only
were a few hundred. As for the rest, they were what Ken Kesey called
weekend warriors: a little LSD and some motorcycle partying Friday
night through Sunday. But come Monday morning it was coat and tie,
office job, Yes, sir, no, sir, of course Iım voting for Tricky...I
mean Nixon, sir.
try to point to the moment it was over. The Stones at Altamont or
the election of Nixon. The assassination of Martin, the assassination
of Bobby. The arrest and flight of Timothy Leary, the street fights
at the Democratic convention. The breakup of the Beatles, Johnıs
marriage to Yoko, the death of Paul. When the hard drugs hit the
Haight, when the tourist buses hit the Haight, when Chocolate George
bought the farm. The official version would have it that at the
heart of the hippie movement was a darkness that eventually erupted
into violence, hard drugs and the lunacy that was the Manson family.
As with all official versions, this is just slightly wide of the
mark: coded with references and symbols to make any decent man shudder
and turn away. Thank God, Marge, weıve escaped that hippie plague.
truth is the garden the hippies sought to cultivate was, from the
beginning, set in a landscape fertilized by rotting corpses. Vietnam,
the first war to be brought to you accompanied by Swansonıs T.V.
dinners; Vietnam, where poor menıs sons were given the privilege
of donating their body parts to help further the corporate security
of rich menıs sons who despised them; Vietnam, where racism and
technology mated to give birth to the three headed bitch of genocide,
mutilation and rape; Vietnam, where warriors were shipped without
instruction, sacrificed without accountability, sent home without
honor. Upon this we tried to build a garden.
magnolia trees bearing the bitter fruit of castrated black men hung
and emasculated because they'd grown tired of the shuck and shuffle;
Racism, four young girls ages nine to thirteen blown from this sweet
life in a church bombing in Alabama; or, three young civil rights
workers found shot and buried in a gravel pit in Mississippi; Racism,
more than the fire hoses and the German shepherds, more than the
burning crosses and the hooded killers, but would be decent folk
scared blind by the trash talk that what little they had the black
man would take; Racism, a nation of deeply spiritual people who
for millennia had lived on this land and maintained her in harmony
and beauty rounded up, lied to, poisoned, infected, brutalized,
kept in poverty and alcoholic squalor. On this we tried to build
Fear of gays. Fear of women. Fear of the sexual fun house the Creator
built for us. On this we tried to build a garden. Materialism. The
sacrifice of spirit in exchange for stock options in the Electro-Demonic-Capitalistic-Headhunters
Co., Inc. On this we tried to build a garden.
the sixties broke down, some got disciplined and some got deranged;
some built hope while others drowned in despair; some put down their
fists and took up a briefcase, some dismounted from their stallions
and stuck their heads in a hole. Johnny spent time in a Zen retreat
trying to sort out the Orwellian from the Divine. He traveled extensively
in South America where he had the opportunity to study with several
shamans. On a journey to the underworld, Johnny had one of the jewels
of his soul stolen by a winged sloth. When he returned gasping and
pale, a medicine man took him to the river and bathed him. Johnny
was advised to return to his own land and plant a seed. The only
way to recapture the missing spirit diamond, his instructor told
him, is to cast you image out into the storm of this world. Such
a lure would prove irresistible to the thief and the stage would
be set for reunification.
was Johnnyıs born. A ripple of psychic disturbance, a sanctuary
for the lost jewels of our soul, hunting ground for merry pranksters,
rodeo for day-glo cowboys and star-spangled hustlers. For some a
homing beacon, to others a soulless palace of debauchery. To some
a rainbow hued freak flag, to others a civic and moral disgrace.
A place of myth and rumor, would be busts and stone cold resurrections.
A crunchy taste of hilarity and nuts, a punch bowl filled with electric
kool aid. East meets west and Krishna gets an STP charged stratocaster.
youıve heard about Johnnyıs could be true. Then again, no single
story can be more than the sum of your own words, your own worlds.
Stunningly simple when you come face to face with it. The seamless
broadcast of your own reality. Like the pulsing of electrons going
on in the dot of an i. Be careful. This store is set with traps
designed to snare winged thieves of soul stones.