"I played San Diego in 1994 with a band called Sleep, I think," Hawkwind founding member Nik Turner tells the Reader. "I was on my way to Mexicali. They flew me in to San Diego, and then picked me up on a bus. I remember the docks, and the military ships. Spectacular." He laughs, but not at the memory of the wartime hardware: "I remember trying to get a taxi to Tijuana."
"I was over here again [in the U.S.] in about 1996 or something like that," the London accent giving an abrupt outline to his words. "I've been on tour with a few unknown bands just for the fun of it." Otherwise, Nik Turner, 73, has not toured Hawkwind material for decades.
"I'm enjoying being here mentally. We're staying at different people's houses in every city. We don't have much money, and we can't afford hotels." Then, as if in anticipation of the thought of having the Hawkwind of old as houseguests he is quick to add, "We're well behaved people now." Drugs and alcohol, he says, are 30 years behind him.
Hawkwind carved their place long ago in pop music history as one of the earliest space-rock bands. They used the tools of hard rock to make an acid-y sort of rock, which some viewed as jazz with power chords. Nik Turner was a founding member in 1969 because he had a van and offered to be the band's roadie. But when co-founder Dave Brock heard that he could play both sax and flute, Turner's role in Hawkwind was enlarged to include stage time. He stayed until 1976.
Back in the day, Turner would appear onstage wearing a variety of costumes. His favorite? "A green body stocking with moons and stars painted all over it. I had a frog's mask, and I would put the frog mask on top of my head. It looked like a Bishop's mitre. Then I'd go forth and bless the audience. Then I'd turn, and pull the mask down and be a frog." He giggles at the memory.
"I took a lot of LSD at one point. I had quite an exciting time. I took this stuff in Roman Polanski's house. This was in 1973. He wasn't there. Or maybe he was, and I just didn't recognize him. Maybe it was the peyote."
Today, there are two different versions of the Hawkwind band, owing to an acrimonious split between Brock and Turner. They are simply known as either Dave Brock's Hawkwind or as Nik Turner's Hawkwind.
On the death of rock icon Lou Reed, Turner says, "It's really sad. I never met him, but I did hang out at Max's Kansas City in 1972 with one of Andy Warhol's girls." He remembers one in particular named Victoria Viper. "I had gotten quite drunk. I passed out under a table. And when I came to, she was standing there. She was covered with these little flash bulbs that she could make go off at will. Well, she knew Lou Reed. He comes around at 5 a.m. she said, wanting speed, or wanting other drugs and whatever. He's a pain in the ass. And that," he says, "is my only connection to him."
Nik Turner's Hawkwind appears Friday November 15, at the Casbah.