Do I approve? What’s to approve? I love the kid. His name is Vince Welnick, he’s my son, and he plays keyboards for the rock group the Tubes. Lord knows, it’s not how his father and I dreamed it when we bought him piano lessons. As a mother, I know too well how the rock scene cripples those not tough enough or wary enough to pick their way through its land mines. But I had to make a choice years ago: either live with the fear and keep a hand on the kid’s shirttail, or kick him out into the street and reject him along with his lifestyle. The latter would buy me nothing except the dubious right to claim I wasn’t involved if he were to fall prey to the pitfalls he would encounter.
His sophomore year at West High School in Phoenix was the last year it was unlawful for boys to attend any city school if they wore their hair long. There was no recourse to the powers that were. I know. I tried every avenue. The next year, too late for a lot of boys, the powers relaxed that rule. In 1967-68, though, hair length was an inflammatory and divisive issue. Well-meaning friends urged me to “kick that long haired freak out of the house.” But what for? He was neither vicious nor phony. His older sister. Nancy, and two brothers, the twins Joe and Steve, have always felt special about the youngest in the family. “The Kid.” as they call him. w as and is a bright and completely enjoyable human being. It seemed stupid to ace him out of our lives over a hair style. So we were all involved. Vin’s dad somewhat less so — except financially — because we were heading for a divorce. It was an amazing year.
When he announced he would be quitting school, the Kid wasn’t defiant or disrespectful. Very quietly he said. “I know how you and Dad feel about me getting an education and I won't blame you if you take away the organ and the amp and the van and kick me out of the house. But I am going to be a rock musician and I am going to make it.”
In my lonesomeness at this time, because I was still too ego-shattered and inhibited to start a social life of my own. I went along and watched a lot when the boys played. In fact, I had to act as chauffeur because they were too young to drive. And because by then I had decided to become a writer. I took a lot of notes. About what? About those drives clear across town to rent a one-lunged little amplifier so they could play at an eighth-grade graduation party (the girl’s father was a federal judge and he hated the din): about how as they progressed, the three-man group took the name the Equations, and proceeded to transform our den into a morass of mikes, cords, instruments, and amplifiers; about all those sweat strivings as the roof reverberated to snappy three-chord numbers like “Tequila” and “What’d I say”: about my surge of joy and hope when I heard Vin say, “Hey man, that’s a ninth chord! ": about our genuine excitement when they landed a “gig” playing for the opening of an Orange Julius; and about evenings spent cooking supper and yelling from the kitchen when the cacophony became too unbearable: “Stop that noodling around and play some sounds!” If this all sounds insane, so be it. Everybody is allowed a year to be insane following a divorce, and ricocheting around in this mad milieu helped ease some of the pangs. A song list from that time: “A Taste of Honey.” “The Kids Are Alright” (the Tubes do that one now), “We Gotta Get Out of this Place,” “Tobacco Road,” “Darling Be Home Soon.” “Sit Down — I Think I Love You.” “Ballad of a Thin Man.”
What do you do when you have a chance to spend a summer at a beach house in Imperial Beach, when Phoenix is too damned hot to be borne, and your boy is only sixteen and he doesn’t want to leave his rock group (by then known as the Next of Kin)? You take the group with you of course. The caravan consisted of Paul Buys (drummer), Alan Quinlan (guitar and vocals), Rick Anderson (bass), Mike Kessler (guitar and vocals), Vin, daughter Nancy, and the twins, who bounced back and forth between Phoenix and the beach.
It was the summer of 1967 and the boys were old enough to drive. So they spent evenings driving ... to the old Hi Ho Teen Club in El Cajon, where the Next of Kin made their San Diego debut for five dollars per person per night. Tragedy struck that summer in Imperial Beach when I insisted on pressing Mike Kessler’s jacket. When I found their pot stash in a pocket, I threw' an intense and dramatic fit and told the boys we could either break up the band — the others could go back to Phoenix — or I could take their promise: no more pot. They promised, and I walked the beach for days, wondering how I could contrive to die, though in a neat and tidy way. I gave up on the enterprise when I couldn’t think of a way to do myself in without God catching me at it. I elected to believe the boys’ promise. And I suppose I may have put on subconscious blinders.
Later that summer we had to vacate the beach house for a month and it seemed a good time to let them look for a job on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. I got advice from all sides. “Have you seen how long they wear their hair?” “Your son will come back home a drug addict!” “By gosh, if that were my kid. I’d yank him out of that band now I’d stick him in military school!” I had long ago given up trying to explain.
When we drove past Oceanside and Camp Pendleton, we ignored the shouted obscenities. I think we found out what it might be like to be black in some parts of the country. Entering a restaurant, there was always a question: would we be threatened, ignored, waited on. or asked to leave? It was with distinct relief that we pulled up at the Pioneer Drive-In on Sunset Boulevard. The air was mild, the sun shone gently through a thin smog, we were all elated. Rick Anderson began to smile. “Boy! There are more of as than there are of them'.'' Them referred to the folks who drove down Sunset in a steady stream to stare at the freaks and hippies. As we drove away from the Pioneer, an elderly man took one angry look at the boys, stopped in his tracks, pursed his lips, and with his scowl consigned the whole lot to the gas ovens. I could just hear him: How do you tell the girls from the boys? What is this world coming to? Absently, I thumbed my nose at him. What, I wondered, was I coming to?
We quickly learned that more than 250 groups were trying to make it in Hollywood. A group called the Nazz, formerly the Spyders and later the Alice Cooper band, had earned all of fifteen dollars in one week. They would have been nearly starving except for a little help from their friends.
For eighteen dollars a week we rented a tiny studio apartment on Argyle, almost in the shadow' of the Capitol Records tower. Getting comfortable for the night was no easy matter. Mike had an inch-thick foam pad between him and the floor. Nancy slept on the floor on the couch cushions. Rick. Paul, and Rex (the amp boy who had joined us) all slept crossways on the fold-out couch, their feet resting on the coffee table. Vin and Alan slept foot-to-foot on the floor of a long-long closet. I had a tiny rollaway bed whose springs imprinted themselves on me and my memory through a thin sleeping bag. Nancy’s kitten slept in guitar cases, mostly.
If I sound a little blithe, don’t be deceived. This was not a blithe time. It was a time of devastating aloneness after twenty years of marriage. Often I was immobilized by the classic physical symptoms which can be counted on to assault one in times of stress. I observed the boys, figuratively and often literally, from another room, the wall of years between us. I listened and read and I wrote.
The Next of Kin were finding a job or two, but once, when I was gone to San Francisco for two days, they went through a great schism. I returned to find all faces stormy and the drum set out in the hall Drummer Paul, it turned out, wanted to go on smoking grass and the rest of the boys wanted to keep their promise to me (and also not break up the band). The rift soon mended, however, and they auditioned at the Cheetah in Santa Monica and Gazarri’s on the Strip. A simple audition was enough to lilt the spirits of everyone, but the auditions came to naught.
Within a year, Next of Kin did break up. Vin and Rick stayed together, though, and moved into a little place just two blocks away from Sunset on Formosa. I joined them again after discovering I didn’t want to stay in Phoenix. The funky little beach house my brother and I had inherited wasn't yet available, the three older children were on their own more or less. Vin was attending the Beverly Hills Academy of Music (courtesy of his father), and the divorce was final.
Living next door to us was Goldie Mc John, keyboard man for Steppenwolf, just then shooting to the top, and in the apartment above us lived Ray Collins, with the Mothers of Invention. In a typical Formosa scene, a mother cat died in the wall of Collins’s apartment. No one could get her kittens out, so here came the fire department, the rescue unit, ladders, great and terrible turmoil. The whole while, Goldie McJohn crashed away at the “1812 Overture” on Vin’s thumbtacked, ancient piano. Lord, what a wonderfully thunderous bass that piano had! A handwritten song list from that time: “Watermelon Man.” “Honky Tonk,” “Goin’ Out of My Head,” “Wavey Gravcy,” “Satin Doll.” “It’s Alright,” “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying.”
During this whole period I kept trying to make my life over, from suburban super-mom to self-sustaining single lady and free-lance writer. There were a few mild slips along the way. Once, when I felt impelled to attempt your standard momma-natter, to launch off on a preachment about chemicals, lost brain cells, and getting thrown in jail, Vin replied, “Mom, we’re not deranging our minds. I never even get carried up the stairs. I always wind up in the right bed, and when I wake up. I’m not sick.” What could I say? I felt all I could do was pray for him behind his back. I still lived on the edge of terror, never free of the lurking fear that they would get busted. They would be persuaded to try something stronger. Someone else who got caught would be tempted to betray them. Every stranger might be a narc in disguise.
It was a time of feeling almost like an outlaw, a time of isolation from my own peers, most of whom I felt would have ostracized me (as some may yet if they read this). In fact, I wasn't doing too grandly on the social scene. When I sallied forth to the Palladium in my silver lame dress. Vince groaned. “Oh, Mom. you aren't going down there with all those nonhappeners?” I went alone to this mecca of Middle America, there to dance to the strains of Lawrence himself, bubbles and all, and forty-three union musicians wailing away most impressively. And there to fall afoul of a retired movie bit-player who fancied himself the reincarnation of Jimmy Cagney, and who, had I not resisted strongly, would have hoisted me about and thrown me over his shoulder during the swing numbers.
Then I met a mad musician of my own age, Cliff Holiday. He took me to visit one of the first of the hippie communes and convinced me one puff of marijuana would not lead to reefer madness. I found that, having been born high, grass was for me sort of redundant. Cliff was a true outlaw but he treated me wonderfully well. Every woman should have a Cliff Holiday in her life. But not for too long.
By now Vin was only seventeen, but with a growing copper-colored beard and a quiet, sure, pleasant manner. Nobody ever asked to see his fake I.D. I never asked how he got it. For a while he and Mike Condello, another talented musician from Phoenix, played a job in a dreadful little comer bar off Holly wood Boulevard. “It’s one of those places,” Vin explained, “where the older blue-collar workers go to mellow out and the neighborhood ladies get loaded and lift up their skirts and try to dance solos.”
He walked miles posting notices: “Wanted: A group. Good bass man and keyboard man available.” The underwhelming response left him ample time to earn cash stringing hippie beads for psychedelic shops. He also baby-sat for a dancer at the Pink Pussy Cat and sold office stationery as a telephone solicitor.
All this time we were in each other’s orbit but not interfering with one another very much. I would interject a feeble note of caution now and then, and we enjoyed listening to music together. He was always nonjudgemental about what I wanted to do.
After a few months I left Vin and Rick on their own and I moved to the house in Imperial Beach to stay, but we visited back and forth. One time Goldie McJohn came down and we all decided to walk to the Mexican border five miles to the south. I still remember the mixture of horror and fascination on the faces of the Mexican sun-bathers as Goldie capered about clad only in red nylon bathing briefs, with his wild hair, a twelve-inch-diameter fuzz ball, crinkling in the sunlight.
Finally, Rick and Vin left Hollywood. In tow they had Bill Spooner, another Phoenix musician they’d met there. The three of them stopped by the beach house on their way back to Arizona and said they were going to go find a drummer and form a real going group. Rick was tired of making picture frames and Bill and Vin were tired of being broke and of not playing steadily. When they got to Phoenix, they found Bob McIntosh, a superb drummer and a beautiful human being, and they became the Beans.
A note: The Tubes are not fond of excessive sentimentality, but that’s tough, lads.
I can’t let Bob McIntosh disappear unspoken and unsung. The Tubes sang about him in “Golden Boy” and I have to speak about him here. He was the original Mister Straight, a gigantic talent, the original health-food nut and physical fitness buff, highly intelligent, low-key. perfectly adjusted. always in control, an amazing kid. He was to be dead of cancer before the Tubes' first album came out. Near the end, he stayed with Vin and daughter Nancy, who were then sharing an apartment near Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. On the last Christmas before he died, in December of ’73, he finally had to go to the hospital. Vince wouldn’t come home till the last minute that holiday evening, he was so determined Bob should be able to come home with him. Only a short time after that, when everything else had failed. Bob’s physician agreed he could try Laetrile. I went across the border to Dr. Contreras’s clinic at Playas de Tijuana to pick it up. Let me state that I have not been nor do I intend to be a Laetrile smuggler, but for Bob I would have been. While I waited at the clinic’s counter, a call came for me from San Francisco It was too late for medication. I didn’t cry then because I was relieved he wasn’t hurting anymore. But I did later when I heard “Golden Boy.”
“He did know He didn’t get the news, boy.
It ain't far away
From the first note you play
Till the last one.
He was a Golden Boy.”
As the Beans, the four were to become the top rock group in Phoenix, and Phoenix at that time was a center for good rock music. The Beans would join with Roger Steen's group, the Red, White, and Blues Band, to form the bigger Beans group, with Roger on guitar. Prairie Prince on drums. Fee Waybill as lead singer, and later with Michael Cotten on synthesizer. All were Phoenix boys.
With manager John Speer, who was the original drummer for Alice Cooper, the Beans moved to San Francisco in 1970, in search of bigger challenges. For a long time they dropped from sight just as surely as if they had jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. I visited them at the “Stately Beans Mansion” on Noriega near the Great Highway. The house was a gray, crumbling, old wreck of a place. Vin slept in a hammock in the attic, which he reached by climbing a ladder. More tears for Mom.
During the next three years they played little clubs in the Bay Area, usually not making a fistful of money, but having a good time. I saw them once at the Orleans Club in Berkeley. Almost nobody was there but friends of the band. Vin was still wearing the same clothes he wore two years before. But they sang a schmaltzy, slurpy rendition of “Stairway to the Stars” and I was enchanted (and too naive yet to know that this was probably among the first of the many sarcastic, satirical, and increasingly outrageous bits these kids would be doing).
I was also there at the Bodega Club in San Jose when the crowd was with them, on their feet, for the “Theme from Peter Gunn.” Fee wore a raincoat with a slocking over his head. I couldn’t believe it. Fee with one long, muscular thigh showing, with black garters. Rats, I wrote at the time. I hate this. Damn. damn. damn. The crowd cheers, stomps, whistles. Mondo bondage. Lord, what next? I hate it. Damn.
Also during this period the Beans became the Tubes, and they added to the group a young female singer. Re Styles. I asked why they changed their name and Vin said it was because “Beans” had already been copyrighted by a New York group. He told me. “We picked ‘Tubes’ because it meant a lot of things and it meant nothing.” They wanted to leave it to others to decide just what kind of tube. Toothpaste tube? television? inner? Fallopian? down-the? eustachian? vacuum? Whatever.
An enormously likable guy named Kenny Ortega, who had performed in Hair, came along in 1975 and choreographed their act into a more professional (and still more outrageous) show. Vin has said of Kenny. “He can tell you which moves are best for you. He teaches you moves that make you look good, based on your body build and on your personality, but that aren’t beyond your ability.”
On February 29, 1976, while the Tubes were recording their second album for A&M records in Hollywood, they all came to San Diego. We had a wedding. Vince had fallen in love with the gorgeous Lorene Gear. They were married aboard the Bahia Belle while it floated about on Mission Bay, with all the Tubes, the dancing girls, friends, and assorted relatives in attendance. They took their vows before a kind and patient justice of the peace who seemed to enjoy the whole procedure and the rather unusual cast of characters. A friend captured the ceremony on video tape and I was later able to see what Vin and Lorie looked like as they took their vows. And it is recorded for posterity that the mother of the groom, in an excess of joy and champagne, came tripping down the gangplank of the Bahia Belle a sprig of gladiolus between her teeth. We held the reception at the beach house, where the bride borrowed my cowboy boots to run on the sand and fly one of those kites that look like a giant sperm in the sky. It was indeed a grand party.
When the Tubes appeared on the Cher TV special in April of the next year, I was almost overcome by a fit of the whips and jingles as I waited for the time to go by. It was an agony of suspense, for fear the boys’ segment would wind up on the cutting-room floor. When they came on at last. I could see everybody just fine — except Vince. He stayed hidden behind the keyboards, which were almost completely off camera, on the left side of the screen. I actually jumped up and tried to peer in behind the frame of the TV set. I heaped maledictions on the director’s head and desired to assassinate the cameraman. It was all very artsy and kaleidoscopic. Finally, I caught one short glimpse of Vince. At least they played “Smoke,” a song he helped to write. Their sound was marvelous, largely because I could keep the set turned down as softly as I liked.
Not long after the Cher show I drove to Hollywood to see them perform at the Whisky. It was sort of surreal to drive down Sunset and come upon a sign with letters four feet high that read, TUBES. I began to recall the old Argyle apartment days and the time the kids were so broke they had to leave all their equipment with a service station manager as collateral because they couldn’t pay the deposit on a jack to fix a flat tire on the van. But for me, the Whisky was funky, overcrowded, too smoky, and the performance was not fun. The bare derrières, the grinding pelvises, the schoolgirl smut Re was spouting — at the time it all seemed too tasteless for words. Fee and Spooner’s use of the monotonously undeleted expletives were boring and irritating. Probably a lot of the bad vibes were coming from me, but at intermission I hugged Vin and told him I would be leaving. He understood, as always.
I left feeling just fine about the person Vince was becoming, and tried not to shed tears over what I felt was a terrible waste of real talent on debased and depraved material. But, in my view at least, the show would get worse. They went on tour after the Whisky, and their appearance in St. Paul. Minnesota was picketed by an odd mix of concerned citizens who. like me, thought their act was a bit obscene. About this time a spread appeared in Playboy magazine featuring Fee and Re that uncurled my naturally curly hair. I carefully did not mention it to anyone I knew. (This bit of raunchy publicity meant the group would have to post an obscenity bond when they played in Kansas City.) By the end of the year, Billboard listed them as the number-two box office attraction at auditoriums in 1976.
Next came a tour of Europe, then another, and a spot on television's P.M. Magazine. What a joy it was to see them, and my kid's face filling the TV screen! Cool and articulate and poised, he was saying. “It's the American dream to make it to the top. Sinatra, Elvis, the Beatles . . . why not the Tubes next?" And Fee said, “We have decided to make it on our music alone. If the folks don't like us, we'll just find another gig."
At their February, 1978 performance at the Fox Theatre in San Diego, all I could do was to put in my ear plugs, hang onto my best friend’s hand, and cry. And then try to get my eyes back in shape so Vin wouldn't know it when I went backstage after the show, where, again, I found those kids I loved and admired so. What a dichotomy. I could only accept the people and shut up about the material. I couldn't have made any difference, anyway, except to pile negative on negative.
In the spring of 1979 they performed at San Diego's Civic Theatre, and it was truly one of life’s peak experiences for me. With no stage show to distract — no dancing girls in G-strings, no four-letter words, flashy stage effects, shock value — the energy in their music came through strongly. Their new songs were still sophisticated and yet a little more commercial, more hummable. They had definitely cleaned up their act. And in my exuberance at this new tone and tenor of things. I joined in on their old favorite, “Stand up and Shout." and roared with the rest on “White Punks on Dope." I was higher than a hawk’s nest on pure happiness. When the show ended, the girl sitting next to me grinned and asked. “Whose mom are you?"
Notes written in January, 1980: Noting with a small surge of pleasure the large size of the letters in the name TUBES on the big sign outside the Catamaran Hotel, I walk in and look for Vince. We hug each other. I greet some of the other guys in the band, and we talk as he waits for sound checks. This is Friday. I have asked for my free seat for Saturday's performance only, but the security people at the Catamaran are already showing a constipated attitude. No. I could not stand anywhere tonight. I am admonished: it is against fire regulations. No, I cannot have Vin's seat; he has no seat except in the band. Methinks the steely-eyed blond young lady at the door is a bit drunk with power. And perhaps puzzled at a vintage-aged lady wandering around this scene clad in skirt, boots. Tubes sweatshirt.
Later, while the opening act, the Lion, plays. Rick Anderson is backstage doing Tai Chi-cum-Yoga-cum-calisthenics. Fee is doing warm-ups also. The wreckage of a cold-cut buffet lies desolate on a platter. Prairie Prince studiously partakes of one olive. Fee is pulling his hair into shape. I hear the sliding whine of a guitar being tuned by Roger Steen. Bill Spooner, looking like a poorly embalmed corpse, lies supine atop a stiff-action Yamaha baby grand. Vin sits down and plays nice sounds, big, fat chords, a tricky rhythm. He tells me it is a new piece, “Rat Race," written by Mike Cotten. I try hard not to look too fond-momma smug. Fine harmonica blues notes drift in from the Lion. Now Rick is tuning his bass. How the hell do they sort out all these sounds?
When it is time for them to go on stage, it’s time for me to go home. I will be back Saturday to watch them. “Play purty," I tell them as I have for so many years. Outside, a gang of kids, on seeing my Tubes sweat shirt, holler, “Yeah, Tubes!" “Right!" I holler back, and I think how different this is from the scenario eleven years ago when my social event of the day might be if I could find a good bit of sea glass on the beach.
Saturday night, while Vin is doing a sound check. I talk to Fee. "I'll bet it’s easier without the stage show. This all seems so much less hectic than things used to be for you guys."
Fee nods. “It's just great." he says. “And people are not going away disappointed, not in the slightest. They keep coming back. We've written about sixteen songs for the new album and have about eight of them learned."
I ask. “If you could relive it, what would be your idea of the peaking, freaking, tip-top moment of that last tour in Europe?"
Fee grins ecstatically. “Those beautiful girls in Sweden!"
“Fee. I meant that question musically."
Another big smile. “Portugal. That had to be the top. They have never had a rock group there before — unless you call Blood, Sweat, and Tears rock. The people went totally mad. There were 10.000 seats in the place and 20.000 people showed up. But they had it under control — big barricades to funnel the people down so not too many got near the entrance at one time. Lots of cops and security. This was a giant concrete basketball court. The people inside at the top broke out the windows and the kids climbed up the sides of the building and filled it to bursting. Still, there were thousands outside who couldn't get in. They went berserk — stood the whole time with their hands waving over their heads. We went nuts, too, played a lot longer than we were supposed to. We had to have little armored cars to get us out of there. Then there was this fabulous hotel on the beach and an Olympic-size pool and we had four days off. Nobody wanted to come home from there."
Though encounters with management, security, and staff at the Catamaran made the Tubes’ Saturday performance far from a happy one, I loved their new material and sincerely think their talent and writing is great and growing. It is a happy thing to know Vince wrote one of my all-time favorites, a slow ballad called “I Don’t Understand," for which Todd Rundgren (who produced their latest album) wrote the lyrics.
In looking back, I wonder: What did I do right? Where did I go wrong? Could I have made any difference? And I remember when my children were little and had to be punished, sometimes I would say, “Nothing you could do would make me stop loving you. But right now I sure am not enjoying you very much." At this point maybe it is success of a sort to be able to say I am — definitely — enjoying all my kids right now. And although the guys in the band are a bunch of gonzos and I still cringe over some of their material, I love the whole bunch. In his hotel room at the Catamaran, Vin told me something worth remembering. He said, “There’s no such thing as failure, if you never give up. Your plan might fail, but then goat it with another plan. If you decide to do a thing and give your whole life to it, there’s no way you can lose."