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Chapter 10

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago

Chapter 10

 

Peter Sinclair - the new fifth Burner Boy

 

Now free of Michael Trew’s odious conceit our spirits lifted, but then a new pall fell over Burner Mansion.

 

Mrs. Jensen, the owner of the house returned. The unfortunate woman had lost her husband to cancer and in an effort to short-cut her grief she took the unusual therapy of shipping out as a cook on a freighter. Whether or not it worked is another matter, but she returned with an attitude hardened by ship’s discipline. She was appalled at our slipshod lifestyle. No one cleaned. Hardly anyone cooked, except to boil water for thin tea. We were living off condiments, handouts and a large sack of wild rice we found in the back of a kitchen cupboard.

 

She immediately forced Steve into the most painful negotiations. She had the temerity to suggest he cough up valuable beer money for food, to be paid to her as part of the rent. In return she would shop for us, cook dinners and clean house, all at no charge. It was an unrefusable offer, especially when delivered by the matriarch of the house. Soon we settled down as one big unhappy family: Steve, Tim, Al and I, Mrs. Jensen, her junkie son Carl and an immense, obese beagle named Meego. This abominable creature, which we called Piggo, ate its own shit and vomit. The brute lowered the tone in what was to become an anguished relationship.

 

Mrs. Jenson ‘s grief and depression over the loss of her husband may have caused her to make unsound decisions, such as entering into this agreement in the first place. All the bedrooms were taken so she volunteered to sleep in a tiny room off the kitchen. The second night she was home a familiar routine asserted itself. We bolted dinner, went to the bar, came home late with a crowd of people, cranked up our instruments, and then raided the kitchen before going to bed in the wee hours. We must have blasted her out of bed in that tiny little room half a dozen times and made her night a misery. It was the same behavior that had driven Rish and Poppy into homicidal rages, but Mrs. Jensen seemed determined to suffer through it. It was like a perverse Burner Therapy - make the woman’s life miserable enough on a daily basis and she wouldn’t have time to fret about the past.

 

The next night’s dinner was pork steaks, mashed potatoes, beets, and crow. We ate, heads hung down like the low, incriminated dogs we were. From time to time we all glanced guiltily up at Mrs. Jensen, who ate her dinner quietly at one end of the table. There was an uncomfortable silence except for the tink tink tink of cutlery.

 

“Sorry if we were a little noisy last night,” Tim finally ventured.

 

“I understand how artists are,” said Mrs. Jensen. “Young people making music together is beauteeful, even if some of us have to suffer for it.”

 

Suddenly it became obvious someone had passed wind. A wave of effluvia swept across the table. For the next few moments we all suffered. I noticed Tim giving me a black look. Of all the Burners I was by far the most obvious culprit. I had a past.

 

”I didn’t do it,” I hissed under my breath.

 

“Don’t worry about me,” Mrs. Jensen ignored us. She nodded toward the door to her tiny bedroom. “I know how to suffer. We were all put on earth to suffer – some of us more than others.”

 

“This is a good dinner,” Al chewed, trying to change the subject.

 

“My husband suffered. That poor man was eaten up with cancer. I remember him, doubled over with pain, trying to come down the stairs.”

 

Another wave of heavy reek crossed the dining room table. It added an air of noxious pathos to her description. Mrs. Jensen broke into tears at the memory of her husband. Tim gave me a sharp look again.

 

“It wasn’t me,” I repeated under my breath.

 

Her son, Carl, materialized in the doorway. He was stoned on junk, which made his sardonic, catlike face seem more fluid and cruel. “Mother, if you’re gonna grieve, grieve with those who wanna grieve with you.”

 

“Yes, you’re right,” Mrs. Jensen wiped tears from her large dark eyes. She was an attractive woman. It was terrible to see her like this. “If you’re going to suffer you should suffer in silence.”

 

“We don’t mean to make you suffer,” I blurted out. “I’m sorry if we kept you awake last night.”

 

“Don’t worry about me. I’ve got nowhere else to go anyway. I think you are all fine young men. Except for Steve. He’s different. He’s an island.” Presumably she said this because she’d found Steve cold and distant on the subject of handing over money.

 

Suddenly there was more passed wind. This time the stench was overpowering and spread throughout the room quickly. All oxygen left the room. It was like trying to eat dinner in a Yugoslavian shithouse. Al and Steve gave me furious looks. I glared back defiantly.

 

Carl waded into the room. He kicked Piggo in the ass several times but the dog was so fat and lazy it refused to raise itself onto four legs. “This fucking dog’s farting again!” He booted it again, making it yelp. Still it wouldn’t get up. Finally he dragged it out of the kitchen by the collar where it slid, claws scraping across the linoleum, while issuing a trailing farewell fart as he threw it out the door.

 

We stared at this spectacle over our half-eaten dinner.

 

“Young people making music,” Mrs. Jensen repeated. “Just beauteeful.”

 

Carl winked at us. It was like being at home with The Munsters.

 

We finished our dinner in gothic silence. Mrs. Jensen washed the dishes and retired to her tiny cell. In an agitated state we went to the bar where we realized our days at Burner Mansion were numbered. We were like monks caught in a religious dilemma. While Rish and Pop had fought fair, responding to our bad behavior with plain hostility, Mrs. Jensen used the far more potent weapon of guilt. Clearly she felt the need to suffer, yet morally there was no way we could contribute to this self flagellation. It was either the move of an unhinged woman, or a very smart operator determined to rid her house of riff raff at the earliest possible moment.

 

Robyn showed up – the woman who had holed up in the bathroom with Paul Grey, the night club owner. She was now in love with Steve and would stop at nothing to have him, including plying him with drink. “Let’s go back to Burner Mansion after the bar,” she said. “I’ll buy all the beer.”

 

Clearly, in light of the ethical crisis at Burner Mansion we should have been on our best behavior, yet an offer of unlimited free beer made this impossible. For the second night running we blew into Burner Mansion with cases of beer and a crowd of people. The kitchen outside Mrs. Jensen’s door was packed with noisy drunks. The band cranked up, making sleep anywhere in the house impossible. From time to time I glanced at the door to her room and knew she was in there, suffering her brains out.

 

The next morning I woke up and snuck downstairs in the silent house. The kitchen was a mess of half eaten food and empty beer bottles. Mrs. Jensen moved slowly about the room in a wine colored bathrobe. Her hair was half up and half down. She picked through the debris like a zombie, dark circles under her eyes.

 

“Young people making music together,” she said weakly. “Beauteeful.”

 

It was clear to me now there was no such thing as good Burner behavior - only bad. I went back upstairs and knocked on Tim’s door. I knew he was the only other early riser. He lay on his neatly made bed, gazing dreamily at the ceiling.

 

“Mrs. Jensen looks terrible,” I said.

 

Tim didn’t respond.

 

“The worst part is she isn’t even mad.”

 

“Huh?” he turned his head. He wore a sappy, contemplative smile. I sniffed for dope but there was none so he wasn’t stoned. Besides, it was too early in the morning to smoke dope, even for him.

 

“Mrs. Jensen looks like hell,” I repeated. “If we keep this up she’ll make us move.”

 

“Mrs Jensen? Move? Oh yeah. Sure.”

 

He gazed dreamily back at the ceiling, unperturbed. I stared down at him a long time but he seemed to enjoy the silence. My patience ran short. “Hello? Can you hear me? Hey, if you don’t own a brain, rent one.”

 

Tim was normally charged with nervous, hostile energy and would rise to any imagined insult, but now he did nothing. He was placid as a jellyfish. I had never seen him like this. He was clearly off in some romantic, idealized world where the sun was shining and the cotton was high.

 

I crossed my arms. There was no bible beside his bed so I knew he hadn’t turned into a Christian overnight. There could be only one other answer: “You’re going to get married.”

 

Tim dreamily placed his hands behind his head. “I’m going to ask her today.” He was talking about Gerry, his off and on girl friend of two years. She was a beautiful, refined young woman and a musician in her own right with a unique, silky soprano voice. There was no way she would consent to live in the grubby chaos of Burner Mansion.

 

“I guess we’ll have to move,” Tim added, as if the thought had just occurred to him.

 

This lighthearted remark shattered the Burner economy in a single stroke. Three of us couldn’t afford to live at Burner Mansion, and not one of us wanted to live with the mantle of guilt involved in doing so. We started looking for a new house, but places that would accept a band were huge, rotting dumps so remote as to render them untenable. Up to now the money we made from playing covered our payments and the cheap rent at Burner Mansion, while our welfare checks allowed us to live hand-to-mouth. As tenuous and seedy as our lifestyle was, Burner Mansion had spoiled us for anything else.

 

We immediately put out the word we were looking for a house but no one was forthcoming. This is not surprising. If we had run an ad it would have read : wanted – one large band house to serve as an epicenter of constant disruption, noise and endless parties. Will not clean nor take out empties. At the last moment a friend of Tim’s named Bob Burns offered a small, neat house on Viney Road, a few blocks from Burner Mansion. He invited Tim and his new fiancée Gerry to move in. There was one spare bedroom up for grabs. This they immediately awarded to Steve in deference to his responsible nature and control of the money, which ensured the rent would be paid. Shut out of the action and broke, Al gave up and moved home with his mother.

 

That left me. I did what I always did when faced with homelessness. I went slum hunting. In 1970 it was still possible to find good, old fashioned slums. I had some expertise in this as I had already lived in the most notorious slum on the North Shore after my original drug arrest. Ironically named Best Apartments, it was like an impoverished galleon that had run hard aground on the mud of lower Lonsdale. I got a 3 room ghetto apartment with a shared washroom for $25.00 a month. Fellow residents watched from the elevated walkways that ran alongside the building as I came and went. They drank Bon White, a toxic wine. The narrow walkways connected our quarters and served as multi-level, common balconies. There was always a late morning wine party on the second story. One of the eaves troughs had half-collapsed. One end was still attached to the roof, while the other was imbedded in the ground so it slanted diagonally down across the building. Up on the second floor, a Bon White drinker would place an empty bottle in the slanting trough and send it rattling to the ground in a unique recycling system. By early afternoon the party of winos was always in full swing. Each time I came and went I was pressed to join the party. Finally I couldn’t refuse anymore and tried a swig. The primitive wine tasted like turpentine and Nutrasweet. I nearly gagged. My next door neighbor, a gay, withered up little alcoholic stared at me with love-struck, bloodshot eyes and used the occasion to read a poem he had written about me which began, ‘O the hippie wanderer, he has such a beautiful life.’

 

This time I was looking for something more private and exclusive. I found it on a weedy bluff at the corner of 4th and St. Georges. Nowadays slums often disguise themselves as regular buildings and can be hard to spot from the street. In 1970 they were clearly visible and easy to shop for. They dotted the landscape like outposts of poverty from a distant age. Most were from the 1920’s or before and had been constructed as bunkhouses or shabby worker housing and nowadays might actually be considered heritage buildings. In 1970 they’d been bought up cheap and were rented out by slum lords in anticipation of rising real estate prices. The house I found rested uneasily with two others on a corner lot and had been built around 1910 The one behind was occupied by a Meitis Indian named Ernie Robicheaud who was trying to feed a wife and four teenaged daughters on wages and tips earned as a beer waiter at the Big O. Next door was occupied by a 300 pound California ex-Hell's Angel named Gary Free and his wife Joy. The first night I moved in he beckoned me to his front porch. This wasn’t so much a neighborly gesture as to let me know who was boss.

 

“I’m convalescing,” he informed me from a big, overstuffed chair on his porch. He stroked his brown beard like a giant, obese pirate. Bits of dried food and other crud fell out of it.

 

“Really? I acted interested. He was clearly the block war lord.

 

“I had a heart attack. The doctors said the only reason I lived was I had so much speed and cocaine in my system it kept my heart beating until I got to the ER.” He said this as if it were a medical precaution I should consider myself.

 

“How fortunate for you,” I tried to maintain polite conversation. “What about the neighbors?” I winked in an oblique reference to the beer waiter’s four teenaged girls living behind.

 

Gary Free’s eyes clouded. “Those women are dumb.” His face got a black look as he became angry. Unpleasant memories were coming back. He sat up and looked like a volcano wanting to erupt.

 

“Dumb!” he repeated, his fury growing.

 

He stood up and motioned me to follow him through his house to the back porch. Once there he yelled at the house behind for someone to open the window. After a moment two of the teenaged girls did this and stuck their heads out.

 

“DUMB!!!” he roared at them.

 

This was how slum society was conducted in 1970.

 

I settled in to my grim shanty. I had no furniture, no food and only a few plates to use in the event I should ever get it. To make matters worse, without a fifth Burner we were very much on our back foot. We did a couple of gigs as a foursome and argued about where to start looking, since every time we had run an ad all we got were jerks and hacks. Disillusioned and downhearted, we took a day off and went to a local hippie counter culture event called the Pleasure Faire in Deep Cove’s Cates Park, a few miles from the mud flats.

 

A Pleasure Faire would be strictly forbidden today. That it happened at all shows how out of touch the authorities were with popular culture. In 1970 it consisted of about a hundred unregulated hippie entrepreneurs who invaded a public park, hacked a storefront out of the bush and brambles off one of the many trails and set up shop, peddling anything from sand candles to drug paraphernalia to tie dyed skirts. The twisting, confusing trails were thick with dope smoke, jugglers, and wandering minstrels who played guitars and lutes for the pleasure of passers by. Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy and cast bright spangles on the trails. It was entrancing - like being transported back to the 13th Century and the age of Chaucer. We quickly became separated. I found myself wandering in a pleasant, medieval daze until I came to the beer seller’s booth. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Without consulting authorities a bunch of good-timing hippies had set up a plank counter on two saw horses and had a huge stock of home made beer lined in big carboys behind the bar. I used my last quarter to buy a big frothy plastic cup. I sipped it. It was delicious.

 

The Pleasure Faire in Deep Cove’s Cates Park

 

 

“This tastes a little skunky,” I told the blond haired hippy behind the bar. “It’s not really all that drinkable. You’ll need some help if you want to sell it.”

 

“Really?”

 

“You’ll need some salesmanship, but don’t worry, I don’t mind helping out.”

 

“That would be cool.”

 

Thus with one turn of phrase I insinuated myself from the paying side to the free side of the bar. As a now unpaid member of the beer conglomerate I gave my advice to the team. “First we have to show how well the product works. So have a few beer until you are having fun then start hollering at people to do the same.”

 

They gave assenting nods.

 

We did this. An hour later it was like a beer wagon had overturned in the wilderness, the kegs had rolled out and the drivers had been surviving for days on suds alone. People gaped at the spectacle. We laughed and passed joints as we slipped on beer slicked grass. To outsiders it must looked like the world’s happiest drunks being tossed around in a bliss machine. The spirit caught on and people packed the bar three deep to join the fun. I was amazed at how we managed to drink, serve people, take money, and open the big plastic barrels every time one ran empty. The beer would gush out onto the grass until one of us got covered in the frothing beer until we capped it, at which point a huge cheer arose from the hundred or so people now surrounding the booth enjoying one huge party. It occurred to me this was probably what happened when wayward beer sellers had showed up at a fair in The Middle Ages. Then through the crowd I saw one serious face. Al. He approached the bar.

 

“I’ve found a job,” I gave him a free beer.

 

“I’ve found a guitar player. I want you to hear him.”

 

“I have commitments to my associates,” I waved a hand behind me. The blond haired owner of the beer booth was now under a barrel putting on a show for the crowd as he coaxed dribbles of foam from the tap into his mouth in a final sales push. He was happy and drunk and rich.

 

“You’ve already done enough,” said Al. “Follow me.”

 

I did this unhappily. I was literally soggy with beer from head to foot. It was even in my hair. I wanted to go and throw myself in the ocean to clean up but Al dragged me on.

 

I didn’t want to see another band because of the many pretenders which had risen up in our wake. We steadfastly stuck to writing original songs and hooking audiences on them and sometimes suffered for it. I felt at the very least other North Shore bands riding on our coat tails and getting gigs after we had opened the way should have followed our lead, tried to raise the bar and write and perform their own songs like we did. Surly that was the litmus test. We were trying to set an example for others to follow. The result was a huge disappointment.

 

A good example was the first band to appear after us, the Ambleside Blues Band. The name itself was an oxymoron. Ambleside is a wealthy old money water front community in West Vancouver full of pampered, blue-haired old ladies and poodles. The only way anyone living in Ambleside could have the blues was if they were deprived of their daily $100 to burn off on shopping and lunch. The band members were all decent individuals on their own. Unlike us, all had money and worked for the movies or lucrative fishing jobs. Being true to their name and roots they should have written songs like Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagel Blues, or Give Me Chianti, Dead or Alive, but they didn’t. To their credit they did try and cover twelve bar blues songs but since no one in the band had ever had the blues, nor would they, the result was a lot of whitebread noise. Try as I might I had never heard any redeeming features from any of them, nor could I separate their cover material from the songs they might have written and performed, if any, as they all sounded like loose, crappy back-up music to a stripper at 2 AM. They were the worst kind of disappointment. The boring, sloppy slap of a snare, the riff with no hook, and Bill Thum, the lead singer, who was said to practice by screaming into a pillow. Yet still they persisted. I’m afraid history will not be kind to the Ambleside Blues Band. I know because I am writing it.

 

In this case the band Al was dragging me to see was Dirty Trout. They were set up on a small stage in the middle of the woods with generators powering their amps. They were a slightly sad, dorky looking basement band from Deep Cove who had somehow got invited to play. Standing in my beer soaked clothes I listened and yawned.

 

“So what’s the big attraction?”

 

“Wait.”

 

A tall, thin 6’ 2” guitar player stepped forward on the stage and tore a strip off his guitar that left the rest of Dirty Trout in the dust. It was tight, hard, hooky blues edged rock, but completely spontaneous. It was like he didn’t need to plan or think out his solos – they came out whole and all of a sudden. I had never heard anything quite like it. Apparently he had dipped his finger, however unwittingly, into the river of musical truth.

 

“Christ. Who’s that?”

 

“Peter Sinclair. This is their last song. Come and meet him.”

 

“I’m not sure I feel comfortable meeting him in my present condition,” I wrung beer from my shirt sleeve. “I’m soaked in beer and I’m feeling kind of sluggish.”

 

“Twenty beer will do that.”

 

“I want to make a good impression.”

 

“I wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t think he’ll notice. Look.”

 

Peter had now stepped down from the stage He had a beer in his hand and seemed unsteady on his feet. Drunk, he soon he entertained himself by spitting food at people.

 

“Wow,” I said to Al. “He’s already way better than Michael Trew. He’s just like us.”

 

By now Tim and Steve had joined us. Al handled the negotiations. He told Peter we were the Burner Boys and wanted him to try out for the band. Peter for his part had heard of us and was mildly enthusiastic. Perhaps he would at a future date. I was tired of flakey musicians, however talented.

 

“I warn you,” I pointed an unsteady finger “That we write our own songs and that’s what we play. You’ll be expected to learn these and contribute.”

 

His eyes lit up. “You write your own songs?”

 

“Of course. Who wouldn’t? Why else would you be on stage?”

 

He grew excited. “I’m working on a new one. Goodbye Holy Roller.” He ran and got his guitar, played it through and sang the melody. In his high, curving voice it sounded like a Wilson Pickett style hit with a huge, melodic rock chorus. He finished it then confessed he didn’t have any lyrics other than the title - Goodbye Holy Roller Now my eyes lit up. As a lyricist I had never written a song like this before. Al and I had always worked in the American Standard Tin Pan Alley method – coming up with an idea then crafting and fine tuning the song until it was tight and commercial. They often took weeks to write. By contrast this was pure rock blues – one from the heart – and as such seemed to carry an extra jolt of soul power.

 

“No problem,” I said. “I can put lyrics to this in a few days. Come on over tomorrow and we’ll learn it.”

 

That sold him. He showed up at our new practice quarters in Steve’s parent’s basement the next day where we learned the song and Al made the chorus more catchy. But writing the lyrics proved to be a different matter, once I realized where the song was coming from.

 

Peter, it turned out, was a very complex young man. He had been raised a Jehovah’s Witness and inculcated into church doctrine at an early age. As I was able to piece it together from different sources of heresay information I got an approximate if not altogether accurate picture. It boiled down to a cult of paranoia. They were required to follow a narrow church doctrine ruled by Elders enforcing a fear motivated discipline requiring heavy tithes, serious missionary work and a strict, lifelong belief preparing for a terrible day of judgment called Armageddon. They anticipated super volcanoes, nuclear war, mega tsunamis, asteroid impacts, plagues of used car salesmen, people letting their dogs run loose and any other event heralding the end of the world.

 

The only ones to survive would be right-living Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the righteous dead ones. In 1970 they had estimated that number to be 127,000. Hopefully that has since increased, because even in 1970 that seemed like a ridiculously tiny number and lot of them weren’t going to make the cut. As I investigated further I was told that the dead Witnesses who qualified for resurrection would be raised though the Jehovah’s Witness churches known as Kingdom Halls, and also through places of serious arcane ritual like Masonic Temples, which, since the Masons would all be dead and burning in hell, they wouldn’t need any more. Hence the souls of the righteous Jehovah’s Witnesses could use them to find a clear way through. Possibly Legion Halls were included on the list as well. One pictures crowds of the newly risen Jehovah’s Witnesses pausing for a drink and toasting a portrait of the Queen before being off and away heavenward.

 

It was the biggest load of bizarre, paranoid crap anyone could imagine. Worse, Peter had been violating church rules by smoking dope, drinking and having the odd bit of sex – all fairly normal behavior for a man in his early twenties, let alone a rock guitarist, and all strictly verboten. For this he had got himself disfellowshiped, the Jehovah’s Witness equivalent of excommunication. This put him in a horrible position. Either he could give up a life he had come to enjoy with gusto, go back and beg forgiveness, or go it alone and be damned on Armageddon, a concept with which he had been brainwashed since childhood and probably still believed in to a degree. He was a deeply conflicted young man and Goodbye Holy Roller was his way out. I had to admire him for his courage and gave the song a lot of thought and care before I wrote it.

 

*********************************

 

Goodbye Holy Roller

 

You say you get a special feeling

Each and every time you pray

You say you get a new emotion

Every time you turn your head away

You say I’m just a hopeless sinner

And I’m Armageddon bound

You say get your ass on the right side

On the day the deal goes down.

But when they pin you up in Nazareth

I’ll be there to watch the show

Goodbye!

I’ll be there to watch the show

Goodbye!

I’ll be there so

Goodbye goodbye goodbye Holy Roller

 

You talk about a day of judgement

When you’re gonna make the guilty pay

You say you’ve got to spread the good news

I never listen to a word you say

You love to wear your Sunday best

And look down on the rest

You can’t stop yourself from preaching

You think your life is blessed.

And when you put the run on Jesus

I’ll be glad to see you go

Goodbye

I’ll be glad to see you go

Goodbye

I’ll be glad so

Goodbye goodbye goodbye Holy Roller.

 

******************************

 

To my great relief Peter loved the lyrics. Suddenly we had a new song. To everyone’s great relief he decided to join the band so suddenly we had a new guitar player. It felt like we finally had the elusive fifth Burner. Now our songs took on unexpected life as he peppered them with bluesy rock solos and licks. Soon we had never sounded better and were dying to get on stage, but then, maddeningly, the gigs dried up. Hiring Peter, talking big talk, fame and money and then not even being able to produce a single appearance made us look like twits. I was sitting in my slum shanty on a Sunday contemplating having left over chicken livers for dinner for the third time in a week when my phone rang.

 

“Hello? Is this the Burner Boys?”

 

“Absolutely,” I said with keen interest. It sounded like work.

 

“We’re having a birthday party this afternoon. The owner of Jelly Beans for Jeans is hosting a party for Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids. It’s up in the British Properties. Are you interested?”

 

“Damn right,” I said. I liked the sound of this already. Jelly Beans for Jeans was an immensely successful chain of blue jean and sports wear stores, owned by a millionaire who lived in the British Properties, a West Vancouver hill-top bastion of old money looking down its nose on Vancouver’s English Bay. Even better, Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids were a wildly popular retro band based in Colorado Springs who went on to appear in American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now, on TV's Happy Days and most recently with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The whole thing was weighted with possibilities.

 

“He’ll pay you half a yard,” said the flak. “Be here at two.”

 

I got on the phone and tried to round up the other band members. It was hard. This was Sunday. They were spread all over the place like cattle at pasture. Tim was spending the day with his new fiancée Gerry and didn’t want to play. Al had the flu and wanted to stay in bed. Peter was game, and Steve said we needed the money. I argued that it if nothing else it would be a rare networking opportunity. Other millionaires would see us along with Flash Cadillac, whom we could impress, schmooze and more importantly, get them to endorse us to their manager or booking agent. Aside from that it would be a chance to showcase Peter and impress Tim’s wife-to-be, who was also coming.

 

The networking side won. The heavily laden Burner van labored up the steep streets toward the residential heights of our benefactor. Inside the van we sweated in the summer heat.

 

“How much is half a yard?” I asked.

 

“Why?” asked Tim.

 

“I think its fifty bucks,” said Steve.

 

“Because that’s what we’re getting paid.”

 

A collective, crestfallen groan spread through the van. There was a sullen feeling that, despite the networking possibilities, we were doing this guy a major favor. Half a yard was hard to swallow.

 

Finally we arrived at the foot of the final hill – the owner’s steep asphalt driveway. The narrow hilly strip of tarmac was choked with BMW’s, Cadillacs and Mercedes. As the host watched from his porch, our beatup orange van was forced to lurch its way up the thirty-degree incline, threading its way around luxury cars. It was a miracle we didn’t hit anyone. In view of what happened later thank God we had the foresight to back in.

 

We hauled the equipment into the living room. It was stifling - late on a hot summer afternoon when the sun stabs into your temple. It heated up the perfume and hair gel of the wealthy guests, and the Flash Cadillac members seated in a large horseshoe around the living room. I immediately marched into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and helped myself to a cold beer. As lead singer I didn’t have a lot of equipment to set up, so I went back into the living room to break the ice with the guests. I sat down in a big chair, facing them,

 

“We’re the Burner Boys. Don’t worry, you’ll love our stuff. Wait until you hear our new guitar player.”

 

It was then I picked up on a nasty vibe. No one answered. No one moved. They glared at me with strange, rictus expressions. I took this as a crass class conscious snub. You’re good enough to play for us but we won’t talk to you. After all the trouble we’d gone to I felt the bile rising. Suddenly I heard a disturbance in the kitchen. The host had made his appearance and was hollering at Steve. The millionaire had taken exception to my helping myself to a single beer.

 

Many bands have performance contracts containing special clauses stipulating that bowls of fruit, sandwiches, whisky, lemonade or whatever chosen amenities be provided free of charge for the performers. The lower down the scale of bands you go, the less elaborate and demanding the clauses. When you went way down on the scale to the level of The Burner Boys there was no contract at all. Nevertheless it was an accepted convention that, at the very least, cold beer is provided gratis to any band. I’ve never seen it otherwise. In fact, failure to do so on the part of the host often results in the band stealing what they need to get through the night.

 

Now the host was raising hell over one unauthorized beer. Concerned by the man’s volatile personality, Steve apologized on my behalf then asked for the half a yard payment up front.

 

If the host was upset before, now he was furious. Steve was saying in effect he didn’t trust him for fifty dollars. He stomped off in a fury, presumably to find the cash.

 

A few moments later we were warned to leave immediately. The host was in the basement, not looking for money but for a weapon. I couldn’t believe how quickly things had fallen apart. Now I was mad – at being called up at the last minute to entertain this houseful of weird snobs only to be treated like dirt.

 

I stalked back into the living room, grabbed the offending beer then slowly turned. I approached each snotty guest on the couch in turn and gave them a deliberate middle finger under their nose. They stared back like gargoyles. Somehow word of my public incivility reached the ears of the host, who was still downstairs. It made him crazier.

 

The band immediately fell into the emergency response drill we’d never practiced but knew must someday come.

 

In a minute or so we’d broken down the equipment. It was thrown into the back of the van. Steve peered through the windshield to see the millionaire on the porch with two guests trying to wrestle a shotgun from the his hands. He broke free and ran down to our van. I was sitting in the passenger seat and still had the same beer in my hand. I now finished with a last sip. His friends were still holding him back with the shotgun. He hurled abuse and threats. In what I consider to be an elegant response I simply dropped the now empty beer bottle onto his driveway. It landed base down without breaking, perfectly upright, with a defiant thunk. He went ballistic.

 

Steve backed the van down the steep driveway and grazed the side of a parked Cadillac, inscribing a long scrape. It made a loud ugly sound. Tim, Gerry and Peter followed in an old sedan, backing down wildly. At the curve at the bottom of the driveway they veered too early and tore off part of the rear fender of a red Mustang convertible. Perhaps the people on the porch thought it was intentional. It escalated the conflict. A posse was formed. Soon we were being pursued down through the twisting, hilly, tree lined streets by furious millionaires in big luxury cars. It was truly a Keystone Cops style chase. We only escaped because of our superior knowledge of the terrain.

 

When we finally got home the band was so rattled Steve authorized the withdrawal of $50 from the band’s communal savings account so we could go to an air conditioned bar, drink ice cold beer and debrief. I sat beside Al, still sick with the flu. “I think we did the right thing,” I said. “I’ve never seen such rude people. I tried to be friendly with them but they wouldn’t talk. They wouldn’t even smile. They stared at me like I was some kind of paramecium.”

 

Al laid his hand on my shoulder like a weary doctor dealing with a dim-witted patient. “Dave,” he said tiredly, “they couldn’t do anything. They were all stoned on acid.”

 

This caused me to reflect. The effect of having an enraged, long-haired six-foot-two singer thrust his middle finger two inches away from one’s nose while peaking on LSD must have been terrific. At least we had made an impression.

 

Wanting to make an even greater impression I wrote a furious letter to the Georgia Straight about the debacle which they published as a full page article the following week entitled Jelly Bean Puke. Thus we managed to extract a measure of revenge and, more importantly, to get some good, edgy publicity.

 

Still, we were frustrated and wanted badly to test our new act with Peter’s sound on a live audience. A week later we got the chance. A strange gig came through where we had to play on a harbor cruise for the Association of Psychiatric Nurses. I looked forward to it eagerly. I have always considered myself a touch demented and imagined myself after the gig happily drunk in the arms of a beautiful nurse, having her sort out my mental problems while she stroked my forehead.

 

The ship was small and old, but at least had a stage and small dance floor. Some of the psychiatric nurses were far older and fatter than I had hoped for, but these I looked forward to jolting with some of our more outrageous songs. At eight o’clock we mounted the stage, but Peter had vanished. As we waited we started jamming to fill in the time – a hateful way to start any performance. Ten minutes passed. The nurses grew restive. The jam plodded endlessly on. I hated it. We were used to doing well- rehearsed songs but when we jammed we sounded like some wimpish lounge band. Another ten minutes passed. Finally the jam petered out into an embarrassing silence. It was probably the most pathetic opening set ever played. I announced we were taking an early break to look for our lost guitarist.

 

Al and I looked everywhere until we found an out-of-the-way downstairs washroom. When we entered a low moaning was evident from one of the stalls. Opening the door we found Peter sitting on the can with his head in his hands.

 

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked.

 

“I’m sea sick,” he covered his face with his hands and rocked back and forth.

 

Al crouched down to examine him like an army medic studying a casualty in the field. His eyes narrowed. As the son of a Norwegian fisherman he used his superior knowledge of the sea to see the real problem. “You’re not sea sick. You’re STONED!”

 

“Yes,” Peter broke down. His confession poured out, ‘yes, yes, I’m so stoned. I never should have done it.” He buried his face in his hands again.

 

I desperately tried to find a bright side. “Think of this,” I said. “If you’re that stoned when you get up on stage you’ll really get into the music.”

 

“Dave’s right,” Al confirmed. “I frankly wish I was as stoned as you so I’ll be able to keep up with you once you get on stage.”

 

“Really? Do you think so?” Peter blinked with wet eyes. He was like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz being told that the red shoes would get her back to Kansas.

 

“There’s no question,” I said. “If you play like you've played before we’ll probably all get laid afterward.”

 

With that we raised him up and helped him out of the cubicle like an invalid on rubbery legs. We straightened him up, walked him around for a bit, doused his head in cold water then escorted him back up to the lounge where the nurses waited, none too impressed. We started playing and it sounded tentetive for the first few songs until Peter found his stoned groove. I looked over and he was standing with his back to a wall, chin elevated, eyes closed, with an immense smile on his face.

 

Still, the psychiatric nurses’ response was tepid. They danced a bit and then went and lined up for a cold buffet. At first I thought they were mad at us for our ghastly opening set, but as the night wore on I thought no one could be so frumpishly unforgiving. Later I thought that in their jobs they must be so preoccupied and weighed down with the mental problems of people like me that they could never really have fun again. Or perhaps they were analyzing our songs on a deeper and more serious level than we could imagine and we had failed the test.

 

The money for this barely covered our own payments for the month. From what was left over Steve issued a miserable stipend. I used part of mine to buy more chicken livers, now my regular diet. It was clear we needed regular work – not irregular gigs phoned in from random sources or even Sneek Snider, who’s booking was spotty and seemed to depend on who he had talked to in the bar the night before. Otherwise we would perish. Out of ideas, the following Friday I used the rest of my money to buy my way into the Olympic Hotel, now only a block from my house. At twenty-five cents draft beer was so cheap in 1970 that you could dump the change from your pockets on the red terry towel tablecloth and have enough for at least three or four.

 

The Big O was busy. It had been a hot day and people were thirsty. Behind the bar Teddy Rogers cooled himself by occasionally opening the big, old fashioned glass and chrome beer coolers and poking his stomach in. There were lots of young women in the crowd and the local Indians hadn’t started fighting yet. In the manner of poor men in bars everywhere I made my money last but by nine o’clock I was broke. More acutely aware than ever that the band needed a regular income, I left.

 

Out in the lobby, instead of a front desk there was a glassed-in cage with an iron barred window where the clerk sat. It looked like a security checkpoint for an armored car company. A line of grease balls and crooks waited at the window. In 1970 some old hotels operated as informal banks and cashed paychecks. They even cashed personal checks. The hotel required no complex credit reports, but only one’s assurance based on personal history that you would take the cash and spend it all in the bar next door, so, if the check bounced they would still have their money back. I was watching the line of lowlifes shuffle toward the window and thinking at least they have paychecks when I became aware of a distant thumping.

 

I walked down the hallway toward the rear exit and saw a tiny amber colored sign jutting out from the wall. It read’ Club 140’. The sign looked like it dated from the late 1940’s when the club had presumably been named after the postal address of the hotel – 140 East 2and Street. This was where the bass guitar was coming from. I opened the door and walked in.

 

I emerged into a dim inner sanctum. It was a hidden, good sized lounge, preserved in time. It had the original décor, unchanged from the postwar era. There was a bar at one end, with a terminally bored bartender, and at the far end a stage. On the stage a band was riffing away, playing dull, ghastly versions of songs like Tiny Bubbles and You Are My Sunshine. Other than the band and the bar tender, I was the lone occupant.

 

I sat down to listen and watch. Lettered on the bass drum was Bob Huish and the Playboys. It was easy to spot Huish, a smooth looking lounge lizard singing lead and playing rhythm guitar. While they crooned a few people walked in, saw the deathly deserted scene and left. An idea was forming in my mind. When the set was over I walked up and talked to them.

 

“How long have you guys been playing here?” I asked innocently.

 

“About a year,” said Huish. “It’s a good gig.”

 

“Where else do you play?”

 

“Nowhere. This is it.”

 

“You make a living playing here?”

 

“Oh shit no. We’ve all got other jobs. I’m an auto body repair man.”

 

“I drive a dump truck for the City,” the drummer volunteered. He was a greaseball with a truck driver’s gut and hair done in an oily waterfall with sharp sweeping sideburns.

 

“Where do you practice?”

 

Huish laughed. “We never practice. We just leave our equipment here during the week.”

 

I was incredulous. “Don’t you ever need to learn new songs?”

 

“What for?” he asked smugly. “No one seems to be complaining.”

 

He had a point. There was no one left to complain. At this point they took their break. We chatted amiably. They even bought me a beer. Under no circumstances did I let slip that I was in The Burner Boys. Then they went back up to play.

 

I knew we could fill the club. There was a whole bar full of customers right next door to start with. As The Playboys happily played their archaic music to an empty house they created a coma of boredom. They were like helpless dinosaurs from another age, dumb, obsolete and unsuspecting. I sipped my beer and eyed them the way a lion watches a gazelle.

 

I have never felt more like a predator in my life.

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