June 23, Saturday afternoon, a celebration of fun, sun, food, tunes, jewelry, junk, and groovy funkinabulation on the planet Obie -- a cluster-funkinabulized vibefest of love.
The outpouring of Obecians and pilgrims to the time-warp surf world of incense, tats, guitars, and coconut oil seemed at first themeless and meandering beneath the new summer fireball. Musical communicants wound their way from stage to stage, sampling reggae and rock, punk, funk, and folk. Before long, those glazed smiles in a fast-food fugue state became dyspeptic grins of gaseous glee, rictuses (ricti?) of rock rage and rebellious revelry. The ingredients of Mickey's widemouths, Polish dogs, bomb blunts, ultraviolet rays, and J...germeister virtualized my editor's vision when he told me to "Cover the Ocean Beach Street Fight...er, Street Fair...Street Fair."
As an observer from a stage on the north side of Bacon Street armed with an electric guitar awaiting my cue, I got down with the zany cats of Gadfly performing in front of Winstons before some 80 to 100 audience members either seated or floating aimlessly toward Newport Avenue; wherever scents, sounds, thongs, or muscles might lead them.
Thinking I might have been late (we were to perform at 2:15, I understood) I swayed, nodded superbly, and boogalooed in place to the punk/reggae/acid-jazz and raga rock twangulations coming from what I assumed would be our stage. Then word was passed to me from our equally displaced singer, Jose Sinatra, that in fact we were at the wrong stage and had been for 45 minutes.
Another of our band members was performing solo at the correct stage across Newport, some tonnages of street flesh away. I quickly stubbed out a "straight" smoke and returned the satanic rock finger salute to a few toddlers who clearly recognized me. I grabbed my guitar and booked, but not before shouting over my shoulder, "Grab that, will ya?" to Sinatra, who wheezed and sweated through his make-up and full costume as he lumbered behind me with my 300-pound amp. "Pacemaker," I added, exhaling that last drag and tapping my chest, which apparently caused a nearby guitar to feedback: amplified doom.
At the correct stage, San Diego Phil Harmonic was leading a near-middle-age, straw-hatted audience of 20 to 30 gray ponytails, one Mohawk, and a possible Maori tribesman in a rendition of "Peggy Sue." It may be too late was the silent message Sinatra and I shared in a panicked look. "We've got to keep our heads," he said, and none too soon. At any moment, Harmonic might start bullying the audience with commands of "You, you," stabbing a finger. "A little bit higher now! Everybody! Yes, you, c'mon... Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue."
Confused backstage banter: "Where were you?"
"We were at the right stage."
"No you weren't. This is the right stage."
"I just found that out. The guy who booked us walked up to me, bummed a cigarette, and kind of by the way said, 'One of your band members is already playing with himself over at your stage.' I said, 'Whaaa?!? That's a parole violation for him!' "
"He meant by himself."
"I know that now. Where's Buddy Pastel?"
"I don't know. His drums are here."
"Skid's not here either." Skid Roper is, in this band, the bass player.
I was eyeing the crowd nervously; now growing in the wake of Sinatra's gaudily costumed arrival. "This mindless pap isn't going to hold them for long," I said.
"They seem to love it!"
I was jostled to the stage by fans: my ex-wife and son, his friend (who appeared so hung-over on top of his psych meds that his pinwheel pupils managed to appear on the same side of his head like a Picasso painting), also an old high school friend, his daughter, and a woman I didn't know who thought I was Jose. This same woman, later, also held a conversation with a speaker column during our rendition of Laura Nyro's (or Three Dog Night's) "Eli's Comin'," which "the Hose" had co-opted as "O.J.'s Comin'." (Shortly after the gig there were rumors, later confirmed, of several complaints -- safely termed "outrage" -- regarding the choice of lyrics, including, "O.J.'s comin' and you'll never get away from the slicin' and dicin'... He'll cut you and Paula Barbieri," as well as other irregular phrases.)
While I was grinning and fumbling for the fourth chord (an F# major, by the way) in "Peggy Sue," Roper appeared looking, as usual, something like a homicidal Al Hirt with his waxed and curled mustache, goatee, and upper lip shaved in the middle. Buddy Pastel Jr. had mounted his drum kit, and it was as if we were those guys on Mount Suribachi in the Big One and had just hoisted our flag. Who were we by the way? Some talk of Purgatorio or the Purgatorians after Troy Dante left and we could no longer be called the Inferno. There had been the usual suggestions: the Note Fuckers, Waitress Sweat. None sang.
Meanwhile, the audience was sweating out the saccharine from Phil's Buddy Holly jamboree. But, he had held them all right, just long enough for reenforcements to arrive. When the last note died away, I studied the crowd and noticed an influx of youth at the rear of the intersection, and they were coming our way. Surly, hopped up on their parents' old Anthrax records that they had probably cooked down then mainlined, they took one look at Jose and folded over laughing. "The Hose" lifted one karate splayed palm pontifically, waving to the newly arrived lads, and we were into "Heather Raye," a pop rocker that rolls and was written by the late Tom Richardson.
Opening riff: It was as if we had thrown gunpowder and meat to the street kids. Then a stiff cup of tea with some Valium to the gray ponytails followed by a deceptive wash of innocence to children under 25. Finally, a weird wave of nostalgia everyone seemed to share for a song no one had ever heard but stung nonetheless with first- or secondhand memories of the 1960s, full of bright, jangling guitars, mystic crystal revelations, and that last-ditch pre-Nixon patch of hope where Ocean Beach seems to be poised in amber.