As George Carlin put it: “If God’s so great how come everything He makes dies??”

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I do this thing constantly — and I’m not sure it’s a healthy thing — where I’m constantly thinking about people that have died. They’ll just pop in my head for no reason. “Remember Mott? . . Chip . . Annie . . Robin . . Bubble Guy . . Soup . . Harold . . David . . Craig . . Teddy. . Claire . . Vince . . Yumie . . Duncan . . Hate Man . . .?”

I don’t know why I do it. Maybe its a way of trying to understand the mystery of death. Or maybe its a way of AVOIDING thinking about death — if I keep their memory alive it’s like a part of them is still alive.

As I get older this world seems less and less solid and less real. When I was younger the world seemed more solid and real (you’d think it would work the other way around). And I think its because so many people I know have died. They just disappeared, and its like they never really existed in the first place. And maybe I don’t really exist. Maybe I’m just a ghost temporarily trapped within human flesh.

Of the 7 billion people on the planet (or is it 8 billion? we’re multiplying so fast its hard to keep track) almost all of us will be completely forgotten within 200 years. Entire ancient cultures are completely forgotten — the kings and great men of their ages now little more than dust, gobbled up like all of us, by the endless expanse of eternity.

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One more rainy night on Sproul Plaza

It’s fucking unbelievable! The weather tonight is like a middle-of-the-winter type rainstorm. On fucking April 6th. Sirens and firetrucks are blasting in my ears on the Ave. The wind actually breaks my umbrella in half. I start screaming “FUCK!! FUCK!!” at the top of my lungs as I’m walking down the street in the pouring rain. So I’m handling adversity with my usual maturity.

For a second I thought I was gonna completely crack up. But then I remembered I had cracked up a long time ago. So that was a relief.

I grab my back-up umbrella from my stash spot and head to my favorite late-night hang-out spot — this secluded awning over-looking lower Sproul Plaza.  But some other bum has already grabbed that spot. Fuck!

So I trudge in the pouring rain to my second favorite late-night hang-out spot — this little nook in the basement of Dwinelle Hall.  But wouldn’t you just know it??  There’s someone else hanging out there, too.  Fuck!

So I go to my third favorite late-night hang-out spot — the lobby of Dwinelle Hall. It’s almost 10 o’clock, but there’s still a fair amount of people hanging out.  But I find a spot in the back where I can probably get away with discreetly drinking my beer while I charge my cellphone.  So I take off all my wet jackets, plug in my cellphone, pull out my 6-pack of Racer 5, and reach into my backpack for my bottle-opener. But wouldn’t you just know it?  My bottle-opener is gone. Fuck!  I search through every pocket of my backpack.  Pull out everything in my backpack.  To no avail.  My bottle-opener is gone.  I briefly try to open the bottle of beer with a pair of scissors. But there’s too many people milling around to be able to pull it off discreetly.

So I pack up ALL my shit, put ALL my jackets back on, and trudge off in search of a bottle-opener. It’s been just an unbelievably weird sequence of events over the last half hour.  Where everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong — one thing after another after another after another.  Like the Universe is fucking with me for sport, or something.

As I’m heading for the door I noticed a discarded umbrella lying on the floor by the trash can.  I already got an umbrella, but I figure I might as well grab a back-up in case the wind destroys this umbrella, too.  But as I’m walking out the door, this college student sidles up to me, and he’s following me step-for-step as I’m walking, and glaring at me with anger. So I stop and face him to see what his fucking problem is.

“Did you just steal my umbrella!!” he said.

“You mean this?” I said holding up the umbrella.

“Yes!  That’s my umbrella!”

“Oh man, I just thought it was discarded and was gonna get thrown out.” I hand him his umbrella.  “I apologize.”

“OK. It’s cool,” he says, still glaring at me. And storms off into the storm.

So it’s unbelievable. How everything keeps going from bad to worse. And everything I touch turns to shit.  I mean, 90% of the time that would have been a perfectly good move, grabbing that umbrella — I ground-score all sorts of great stuff lying around that’s been abandoned. But when the stars are aligned against me — like they obviously are now — it was stupid of me to make any unnecessary moves. Because whatever I do is likely to back-fire on me. So I feel like an incredible fool.

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Now some Hindus believe that when a person dies, his spirit lingers heavily in the area where he lived for several weeks. Before it finally disperses and merges back into the Cosmos.  And for those several weeks, the spirit can have all sorts of effects on the area.  In extreme cases, it can rein lightning bolts down on it’s enemies. Or it can bestow gifts to it’s friends. Or it can just send out weird little signals as a way of saying good-bye.

So, as I’m walking in the rain, it occurred to me.  The whole bizarre sequence of events that I just experienced was probably being directly by Hate Man and his recently disembodied spirit (he had just died a couple days ago). I mean, the whole thing was exactly out of Hate Man’s playbook.  Battling with a rainstorm on Sproul Plaza.  Cursing in rage.  And getting into an angry confrontation that managed to somehow resolve itself peacefully.

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So I head to my fourth favorite late-night hang-out spot. This secluded table under an awning in the back of the patio of the Golden Bear restaurant on Sproul Plaza.

And — miracle of miracles!! — the spot is deserted and I can actually hang out there.

And there’s a metal grating on the side of the wall. I put the top of my beer bottle into the grating and pull the bottle cap off with ease. The beer foams up out of the bottle, like champagne when you pop the cork in celebration.  But I manage to pour most of the beer into my cup before it all spills out.  I take a big hit off the beer.  And it tasted damn good.  Things are finally starting to go my way.

I look in my backpack. Notice I have one last cigarette in my pack of Virginia Slims 100s that I bought yesterday in honor of Hate Man. I light it up, take a big hit. At that exact moment the Campanile Tower bell starts chiming as the clock hits 10 PM.  Just as it had done on the countless nights when Hate Man had set up his Hate Camp on Sproul Plaza back in the day.  Adding an other-worldly dimension to my smoke.  And I thought back to the countless nights I had spent on Sproul Plaza with Hate Man and the crew.    Thinking of all the memories. From all the years. . .

The rain kept pouring down for hours.  Pounding down relentless on the pavement. The over-hanging tree branches nearby me kept swaying back and forth in the fierce gale winds.  It was a pretty powerful storm. So there was really nothing I could do except hole up at my table under the awning and pop open 5 more beers over the course of the evening.  Mostly thinking about nothing.

Then — it must have been after midnight but I was starting to get a little sketchy on the details at this point, if you know what I mean — after having finished off all the beer. I took out a couple of slices of leftover pizza that I had also ground-scored earlier at Dwinelle Hall (and no, I didn’t “steal” it!).  And as I’m eating the pizza, completely out of the blue.  A skunk shows up.  And starts trotting towards me. Fuck. I have no idea what the skunk was doing back there.  He was probably holed up in the far back corner of the patio, huddling under an awning, waiting out the storm. Just like me. But the smell of my pizza had probably roused him.

So I tossed the skunk one of my slices of pizza.  Which he gobbled up readily. And then trotted past me. And disappeared out onto Sproul Plaza.

And then it occurred to me.  That skunk was probably also a manifestation of Hate Man’s spirit.  I mean, the similarities were striking.  The skunk was black-and-white. Just like Hate Man’s black-and white shoes and uniforms.  The skunk was kind of an “outcast,” mostly living on the fringes of human society.  Just like Hate Man.  The skunk had been huddling under an awning on Sproul during a rainstorm. Just as Hate Man had done countless times over the years. And I had shared a slice of leftover pizza with the skunk. Just as I had shared countless slices of leftover pizza with Hate Man, night after night after picking up the leftover pizza from Greg’s Pizza every night.

Even weirder. Just as the skunk disappeared onto Sproul Plaza. The rain suddenly completely stopped.

Which made me even more convinced that that skunk had been a manifestation of Hate Man’s spirit and magic.

Or maybe it was just a fucking skunk.  Who really knows.  But one thing’s for sure. This life is a hell of lot more mysterious than some people think it is.

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Blondie the feral cat turns 50

 

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Blondie the feral cat turned 50 recently.  That’s 50 in cat years.  Which is about 10 in human years.  But it was a poignant birthday.  For Blondie disappeared 3 months ago.  And she’s almost surely dead.

Blondie was of the first litter of feral cats to show up at my campsite in the Berkeley hills when I first started camping there in 2007.  She was still a kitten, actually.  About 9 months old.  Her mother had been hit by a car (I could tell it was Blondie’s mother when I spotted it lying on the side of the road because she looked just like Blondie).  So she was faring for herself at an early age.

Incredibly wary and timid, it took Blondie years to come to trust me and be comfortable around me.  If I made the slightest movement in her direction, she’d immediately jump backwards, always keeping a certain distance from me.  And I never pet her in all those years.   It was only in the last years of her life that I could tell she had come to accept me.  Like a gear finally clicked in her cat mind:  “OK. This one is on my side.”

Blondie used to do this thing that killed me.  Every night around midnight she’d be waiting for me at the foot of the trail that led to my campsite.  As soon as she spotted me, she’d go running up the trail towards my campsite.  Leading me to the cat food dish, natch.  And it was very helpful.  Because the woods were often pitch dark at night, especially on moon-less nights.  So it was helpful to follow Blondie’s blur of white fur which really stood out in the darkness.  It helped me to stay on the trail (as opposed to bashing my head against tree branches or falling down the hill to my death).  Any cat owner will tell you that they benefit from having a cat in all sorts of unusual ways.  It’s definitely a two-way street between cats and humans.

But anyways, as Blondie was running up the trail, she’d do this odd thing. About every hundred yards or so she’d stop running and she’d roll over on her back.  And she’d rub her back on the ground back and forth like she was petting herself.  And she’d stare up at me with this incredible expression of pure joy and happiness.    All night long she’d been waiting for me to show up.  And now her cherished dream of supper-time was about to come true.  So it was like she was beside herself with happiness as she laid there on the ground, wriggling around, rubbing her back over and over in ecstasy.

Then she’d jump back on her feet and resume running up the trail.  Cats. Ha ha.

I always thought Blondie was the most physically beautiful of all the feral cats.  She had this spooky, ethereal, self-possessed quality.  Haunted almost. Like she was always thinking about something.  But I could never be sure of what. Of course I miss Blondie. But I don’t mourn for her.  She had one hell of a great life.  She had the best of both worlds. Being able to run free and wild and feral in the woods all of her life, completely indulging her natural cat instincts.  While also getting regular meals twice a day.

 

RIP Blondie.  2007-2016.

 

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Rain Hawkghost

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In 1981 I moved up to Eureka and went to Humboldt State for a couple of semesters. I became friendly with this woman in one of my classes named Rain Hawkghost. I always loved her name. Rain Hawkghost. What a beautiful name. She was a full-blooded Native American Indian.

After class on Friday evenings me and Rain Hawkghost liked to stop in at this Holiday Inn on the highway and drink beers at the bar. They had a free buffet — little meatballs on toothpicks, egg rolls, deep-fried zucchini, stuff like that. We really loaded up while we were drinking. Ha ha.

Sometimes I’d spend the night at her place. She had this big three-story suburban house. She’d been married to this rich lawyer but she divorced him and got the house as part of the settlement. As well as a nice monthly alimony on account of their 7 year-old-daughter. So she was set (I guess she got a better lawyer than him).

She had this big double bed with the softest mattress I had ever slept on. You’d sink way down into it to the point where you felt like you were submerged underwater practically. I remember flailing away on that bed, like bouncing back and forth on a trampoline, while we were getting it on. As they say. And in the morning Rain’s 7-year-old daughter would jump onto the bed and jump up and down for fun.

I was still madly in love with this woman in Berkeley who had dumped me. So I couldn’t muster much passion for Rain Hawkghost. But I was hoping something would develop, if only to take my mind off the Berkeley chick, who I thought about obsessively and relentlessly.

And Rain was sort of “dating around.” Rebounding from a bad marriage and hoping she could find someone to share her life with (and preferably not an asshole like the last one).

So we were both sort of looking at each other thinking: “Is this the one?” That thing you do when you’re searching for love, searching for a mate.

And I remember thinking: “If this clicks I could move in and live in this big suburban house.” Which would have been a big step up from the little hotel room I was living in with nothing but a bed and a sink and a hotplate.

One thing I enjoyed about Rain Hawkghost. Together we looked like John and Yoko. I resembled John Lennon somewhat back then. And she was short and skinny with thick, frizzed-out black hair and she was about 10 years older than me. So she had the Yoko Ono thing going. People would sometimes comment about it as we walked down the street side by side.

Anyways, a couple years ago I wrote a blog about Rain Hawkghost. Shortly after I got an email from this woman who turned out to be Rain’s daughter. She had done a Google search on “Rain Hawkghost” and she had stumbled across my blog. So she was curious who the hell this guy was who was writing about her mother.

I asked her whatever happened to Rain. She said: “She died in a car crash in 1984.”  She was 39.

But that’s the weird thing about the internet. No matter how distant a person is from your distant past. They’re only a click away nowadays.

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Bye, bye Bowie

 

Diamond Dogs full spread eagled coverI first saw David Bowie in the summer of 1974 at Madison Square Garden.  New York City, baby.  Age 17.  The “Diamond Dogs” tour. . . I don’t think I had actually heard any of David Bowie’s music at the time.  Aside from maybe “All the Young Dudes” by Mott the Hoople (which Bowie wrote).

My older sister’s boyfriend was a huge David Bowie fan.  Which was weird.  Because he was mostly a Grateful Dead Deadhead.  And you wouldn’t think that somebody like that would be a David Bowie fan, too.  But there you go.  Anyways, he had an extra ticket for the Madison Square Garden show. So I tagged along.

I knew that Bowie was a big sensation in England at the time.  The leading light of the “Glitter Rock” movement.  The Next Big Thing according to the media.  But he hadn’t quite caught on in America yet.   Though the media hype machine was pushing hard.   Bowie — who was always one step ahead of the game — captured his own phenomenon perfectly with his Diamond Dogs album cover.  Presenting himself as a Barnum and Bailey freak show.

Myself?  I was a 17-year-old high school jock at the time who was just beginning to dabble with LSD.  So the whole David Bowie thing seemed a little too gay and campy for my tastes.  But what the hell.  I couldn’t turn down a free ticket.

I still vividly remember that Diamond Dogs show 41 years later.  Big dramatic entrance.  Bowie reciting his “rats as big as cats” soliloquy.  This apocalyptic rant.  Ending with him shouting:  “THIS ISN’T ROCK’N’ROLL THIS IS GENOCIDE!!”  And then bursting into the music.  And David Bowie bursts onto the stage.  And he’s got these two half dog / half-human creatures that he’s holding on long leashes.  And they’re scampering across the stage like barely-controlled wild animals while Bowie is singing.  A helluva’ entrance.

And, unlike so many other concerts, Bowie held your attention for the entire rest of the show.  There was something captivating and magnetic about Bowie.  You couldn’t take your eyes off of him.  But it wasn’t just Show Biz schtick.  Even at age 17 I could tell there was a high intelligence behind the sensation.  Something conceptual.  The allusions to Orwell’s “1984” and all the rest of it.   For once there was some real substance behind the Next Big Thing hype. 

There was also this zany humor along with the outrageousness.   And people forget:  This was the era of “jam rock” where rock stars took the stage wearing blue jeans and work shirts and turned their backs to the audience and did 20 minute guitar solos.  It was very innovative for the times, the way Bowie put together this show that was choreographed almost like a Broadway theater production, but without losing the spontaneity and rawness that made rock music so great in the first place.  But the bottom line (which sometimes got lost in the mix because of all of Bowie’s other talents) was that Bowie was an extremely tuneful songwriter, belting out one great song after another.

What can I say.  I became a life-long David Bowie fan after that Diamond Dogs show in 1974.  And I’ve enjoyed just about everything David Bowie has done since then.

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POPISM: THE WARHOL ’60S: A book review

 

POPISM: The Warhol ’60s by Andy Warhol is literally a year-by-year account of Warhol’s experiences in the ’60s, starting with 1960 and ending with 1969.  It’s also an interesting history of how America’s cultural mores evolved (or is it devolved?) during that seminal decade.  As well as a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how Warhol’s art career developed turning that period.  (He started the decade constantly asking his friends, “Do you think Picasso has heard of me?”  And ended the decade as an international sensation who would be mobbed like a rock star at art gallery openings.)

Needless to say, Andy Warhol was a peculiar fellow.  I’m a Warhol fan, myself.  He was a clever, brilliant, sharp-minded, industrious, entertaining, funny, soul-less zombie.  Ha ha.

The “soul-less zombie” rap came from a certain bloodless quality Andy Warhol had.  Or, as Warhol put it, “Now and then someone would accuse me of being evil — of letting people destroy themselves while I watched, just so I could film them and tape-record them.”

Warhol had this weird quality where he’d get more demonstrative over the  latest gossip (“Did you hear what so-and-so SAID about so-and-so!!!”) than he would about the news of one of his latest Superstars committing suicide (which he’d usually just shrug off with a pithy one-liner and then never mention them again).  TO be fair, Warhol displayed the same nonchalant attitude towards his own suffering.  When he was in the hospital recovering from a near-fatal shooting, he said, “I was very moved to see that people cared about me so much, but I just tried to get everything back to a light, gossipy level as quick as possible.”  So who knows if Warhol’s seeming indifference towards the suffering of the people around him was a sign of cold-bloodedness. Or just a coping mechanism to detach himself from suffering in general.

Let’s just say, there was a reason people called him Drella. (“‘Drella’ was a nick-name somebody had given me that stuck more than I wanted it to, they said it came from combining Dracula and Cinderella,” he explained.)

People often speculated on how much of Warhol’s act was for real, and how much of it was a put-on.  Who was the REAL Andy Warhol, after all?  I suspect his act was basically who he was.  But he no doubt exaggerated and camped up certain aspects of it.

One part of his act that was probably fake was his “innocent, naïve, star-struck waif who was just stumbling through his life” façade.  In fact, Andy Warhol was a guy with a great amount of “functional intelligence.”  He was one of those guys who could walk into any room and instantly sum up the situation correctly.   He was one sharp dude.  And as for being “naïve.”  Try getting some money off of him (and good luck with that).

One of his famous quotes was:  “If you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface, of my paintings and films and me, and there I am.  There’s nothing behind it.”  And, like so many of his quotes, it was clever, funny, thought-provoking and completely false.  In fact, Andy Warhol was a highly conceptual artist who’s primary concept was to pretend that there was no concept to it.  Ha ha.  And he was savy enough to know that by projecting no meaning himself onto his artwork and his life, that allowed his audience to use his work like a Rorschach Ink Blot and project any meaning they wanted onto it.

Warhol constantly played up the idea that human life in human society was mostly an act, a form of role-playing.  Life is a stage.  Therefore, the ones who admit they’re fake are the most real.  Ironically enough. (I think that’s why he liked drag queens)  Life is nothing more than a really weird movie.  And the only

POPISM: DIARIOS (1960-69). ANDY WARHOL / PAT HACKETT. ALFABIA (Libros de Segunda Mano (posteriores a 1936) - Literatura - Narrativa - Otros)

important thing is that you put on an entertaining show (the worst put-down in the Warhol circle was that you were “corny”).  Humans were merely a collection of masks.  One mask on top of another mask on top of another mask.  All that mattered in the Warhol scene was constructing a cool mask.  Everything was on the “surface,” after all, as Warhol put it.  Warhol rarely speculated as to what, if anything, might be behind our masks.  Which was probably the weakest aspect of Warhol’s world-view.

Like most people, I have my own personal standard as to who I consider a great artist.  And one of my standards is:  They have to do it more than once.  Anyone can get lucky and be in the right place at the right time and be a one-hit wonder.  But Andy Warhol did it repeatedly.  And in different mediums.  Having his first big hit with his Pop Art paintings — the Campbell soup cans and all of that.  And then he did it again with his underground films and the whole bizarre Factory scene.  And then he did again with his collaboration with Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground (Warhol personally paid for the recording sessions for their first classic album).  And then again in the ’70s with his unique spin on fame and celebrity and the jet-set crowd with his INTERVIEW magazine.

I was always fascinated with the whole Factory scene in the ’60s.  The artists, the bohemians, the creativity; rubbing shoulders with the street scene, the druggies and the crazies.  It reminded me a lot of the Berkeley street scene we had going in the ’90s; the Telegraph street scene and the Hate Man’s Hate Camp scene in particular.  Though, if anything, we were even more wild than the Factory scene.  For we were right out there on the streets which was completely free-form and unsupervised.  As opposed to the Factory scene which at least took place in a building and had a certain structure to it.

Probably the most endearing thing about Andy Warhol was his sense of fun, his sense of play.  When you look at those photos of Warhol working with his assistants on  some huge canvas on the floor of the Factory, you get this image of little children playing together with their crayons.  And his movies, for all their decadence, were like little children play-acting.  “Let’s play pretend!”  And even the sex aspect, which seemed so shocking in the ’60s, looks more like a pajama party today.

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One of the many odd things about Andy Warhol:  After he died (at age 58) they went to his house to figure out what to do with all of his stuff.  And they were shocked to find that virtually every room in his four-level house was crammed from floor-to-ceiling with boxes and boxes of stuff that he had bought over the years.  Almost all of the stuff had never even been taken out of the packages.  They were sitting their in their original bags with the receipts, un-touched.  His entire house was crammed with this stuff.  In every room.  Stuff he had bought and never even used.  His house was more like a storage locker than a home.  It took them MONTHS just to inventory all the stuff.  Weird.  Andy Warhol.
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