Poised in Amber

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.

Precisely half the fun of attending a Jose Sinatra show is watching the reaction of the audience. Often hopelessly confused as to whether this "clown" takes himself seriously or what, you can read in their faces synapse connections being made or failing with such input as "You Ain't Nothin' but a Hound Dog" sung to the tune of "The Sounds of Silence."

Two men in particular caught my attention, and I followed their expressions through Medley #1, which begins with James Brown's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," segues into a few bars of "A Horse with No Name" (here the blatant absence of connection -- of any kind -- between these two pieces of music has always produced in me a visceral reaction of laughter), and launches into "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone." One man, the younger one with dyed blond hair and a look of studiousness, accepted this aggregation in stride; perfectly logical to him. The older, ponytailed gentleman seemed the unwilling witness to an atrocity. By the time we went from "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" into "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me" and then into "Pinball Wizard" (which Sinatra has transmogrified into lyrics about a man who wants his girl to take a urine test before accepting her as the mother of his child: "...The girl for me is pure as what she pees/ A urine test would put my mind at ease"), the man accepted with a kind of punch-drunk amusement "Born to Be Wild" melding into "Born to Run"...only sung with the lyrics from "Close to You" by the Carpenters.

During this medley, Buddy Pastel Jr. launched into a four-minute drum solo. Given the late start, I thought it best the solo be abbreviated. I tried signaling him. At one point his cell phone rang. He picked it up from the kit bag at his side and answered, still flailing expertly at his set. It was me, my own T-Mobile handy, begging him to stop. "This isn't a good time," he told me. "Let me get back to you."

The younger blond man seemed to be taking mental notes, only breaking into a smile when the Hose turned the lyrics on Karen Carpenter herself and whether or not on the day she was born the angels got together, etc. Jose sang: "...I don't believe in angels any more than I believe in Santa Claus or sodomy laws...so eat it raw/ I don't wanna be close to dead people." Yes, Hose had won over that young man. In fact, pretty much the entire audience of, say, 60 to 80 folks were applauding heartily. Anyone gnashing their teeth, rending their garments, holding their ears, or being sick escaped me.

Phil's wife Liz, sometimes billed as Tipsy Holiday, joins the group for a few songs during the set, and Saturday was no exception. With practiced, angelic weaving, Liz and Phil harmonized on another Sinatra distortion of "You're Gonna Lose That Girl," now "You've Gotta Use That Girl." In a pretty darn good imitation of that Lennon/McCartney/Harrison magic, Hose, Tipsy, and Phil crooned wholesomely, something like, "...I will take her out and I will bone her blind."

I can never focus exactly on the lyrics; I tend to crack up and forget what I'm playing. The audience, I could see, had the leisure to listen and rewarded the stage with smiles, laughter, as well as looks of dawning horror, indigestion, and panic. A rewarding spectrum of response altogether. During CSN&Young's "Teach Your Children," now with the added lyrics, "Teach your children well, they'll never tell, you're Michael Jackson...who needs monkeys in your bed when there's little boys instead..." the couple looked not unlike the famous American Gothic portrait on stage left as they expertly warbled, "...Take them in your hand in Neverland there's always action..."

Finishing with "O.J.'s Comin'," audience members approached Jose with questions, congratulations, smiles, appreciation. A photographer from the Troubadour, Steve Covault, introduced himself with a charming grin and indicated he had enjoyed the short show. I thanked him, looking over his shoulder for anyone breaking into a run for the Legion of Decency, the vice squad, or the religious right. Except for some kids playing happily away in the closed-off streets, I saw only fairly entertained adults. Perhaps the others had already bolted in fear and loathing for the nearest authority, any authority.

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