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Chapter 3

Page history last edited by Al Hovden 6 years, 9 months ago

aChapter 3

 

 

Tim Francis (drums) and Steve Renshaw (bass) probably at Sutherland Jr. High in North Vancouver, B.C.

 

We were now so broke that I applied for welfare. The week after our Texada Island rock star triumph I stood in the gloomy welfare lineup on Seymour Street. In 1970 there was no such thing as direct deposit, or even mailed checks. People lined up in the rain for an hour and then were let in to sit on benches with dirty men waiting their turn. There were big VD posters on the walls and a bucket full of sand in the middle of the room where the broke and needy tossed their used cigarette butts. In 1970 the homeless had yet to be recognized as an underclass – they were officially bums. They lived and slept in railway switching yards or in parks. Where ever the police found them they were prodded with the toe of a boot or a billy club and forced to move on. Caught too often with no money and no fixed address they could be arrested for vagrancy, under the infamous ‘Vag A’ law. Upon release they were given a one way bus ticket out of town. Thus hundreds of starving men were forced to waste precious energy by being kept constantly on the move.

 

There was another element to the welfare line. Hundreds of hippies descended on the city on Welfare Wednesday to collect their checks then return to communes up the coast where there were plenty of babies, brown rice and mud.

 

 

At the end of my bench was a broke revolutionary wearing a bandana. He was troubled. The War Measures Act had not gone down well in the revolutionary community. He turned to a used-up, toothless little gay man in white socks.

 

“This is bullshit. We need meal vouchers too. They just put is here to get us out of the way. We ought to be downtown asking for spare change. Getting on their nerves. Watching them! STARING THROUGH THE RESTAURANT WINDOWS!!!”

 

By way of reply the little gay man got a look of concentration. Then, remembering, he began toothlessly crooning a vacant love song. When my number 17 was called he was still serenading to the consternation of the revolutionary. It set the tone for what was to come.

 

I was ushered into an office where a thin woman of about thirty took my information. I was worried about telling her I was in a band but that didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps it impressed her. She sat back and talked about herself - about her time spent in remote Fort St. James as a social worker. I couldn’t tell where this was going. She suddenly had all the time in the world, regardless of the benches full of hungry bums and hippies waiting outside.

 

“How would you like to come back to my place after work?” she changed the subject. It seemed like my welfare might be contingent on this. “Er, yes. Sure. Why not?” I replied cheerfully.

 

She quickly stamped everything and cut me a check for sixty-five dollars. I cashed it and went back at four. She drove me to her house in Kerrisdale and we drank tea. Amazingly for a government official she had Grateful Dead posters on the walls and saffron curtains hanging everywhere. She lit incense. Finally, fed up with my unwillingness to act, she undressed, slid into bed and invited me to join her. It was the most interesting government approval process I’ve ever been through.

 

The next morning I sat in the Alberni Street kitchen wolfing down bacon and eggs bought with my sixty-five dollars. Previous to this I’d gone up to Robson Street and bought one egg per day for twenty-five cents. I lived on this along with bread, margarine and thirty-five cent Egg Foo Young burgers for months. The house was getting more crowded. Tim moved in and quickly set up an elaborate peace and love chamber. There were also buskers and transients. The most remarkable of these was an American banjo player named Steve who traveled a circuit from Hawaii to New York to Miami, hitting each city in peak tourist season and making up to $500 a day playing on the street. We asked him to join The Burner Boys but he turned us down. He was a far superior musician to us and we knew it.

 

The food-sharing system had collapsed. Instead of a refrigerator filled with food based on the hippy code of honor, there were cardboard boxes and bags containing someone’s stash of food with a big FUCK OFF written on them. In moments of extreme hunger I’d been driven to peep inside the fuck off boxes but found nothing more than brown rice, wilted carrots and dry bread. The good stuff had already been stolen. Mike and Brian, the two chief drug dealers and legal renters called house meetings to lay down the law about fuck off box theft but were met with innocence from all quarters. I suggested that they should turf out anyone who didn’t live there but they had other business to attend to.

 

After my welfare breakfast I sat in the kitchen wondering vaguely how to circumvent the fucked up fuck off box system to store my food. Then I heard Mike shout from an upper window.

 

“Brian, the narcs are in the lane again!”

 

I looked out the kitchen window. Sure enough there was a dark sedan parked in the alley with two plainclothes cops. Mike and Brian had a unique method of keeping them away from the Albernie Street house. They now rushed down to the kitchen, brewed a quick pot of tea and took it down to the car. Then they tapped on the windows and offered the cops a cup. This was ignored. So they poured themselves some, lit cigarettes, leaned against the car and chatted. This was the signal for everyone else in the house to ramp it up. Soon there were fifteen to twenty freaks milling around the car drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and hanging out with the narcs, who sat with the windows rolled up giving everyone black looks.

 

Two days later Steve got a call from a booking agent we’d been trying to pin down for a month for an audition. Ray, ever elusive, agreed to come to one of our practices. On this pretext a meeting was held to find a new rhythm guitar player immediately.

 

One of the transients who had smoothly talked his way into sleeping on the couch was Jesse, a tall, thin laconic American. In his expensive western shirts, faded jeans, cowboy boots and shoulder-length blond hair he looked like he had just stepped off the stage at Nashville, and he alluded that he indeed might have. He would sit on the couch strumming his fabulous pre-1920’s Gibson guitar and talking about playing pedal steel for The Byrds on a world tour through Europe and the U.S. In his mid-thirties, he looked like one of the Byrds - that downbeat, country hippy look that said he had seen the world. The looks, the clothes, the drawl – it was the perfect picture of a veteran performer who’d hit a bad patch. Soon Al, Steve and Tim sat charmed at his knee while he talked the talk and strummed his Gibson like a musical tribal elder speaking to initiates. If they made a movie about a country singer down on his luck and cast Jesse he could have played it perfectly. In my mind he was playing it now. But he pulled it off so well it was intimidating.

 

“Jesse’s upstairs right now,” Al was pragmatic. “Sneak thinks he’d be a good fit. He’s already said he’ll play with us.”

 

“He’ll make us look good,” Tim suggested.

 

Steve was less sure. “It seems we don’t have a choice. What harm can he do?”

 

“I think he’s full of shit,” I said, but was outvoted, three to one.

 

Jesse’s fabulous Gibson acoustic was rigged with a pickup, but he didn’t actually practice. It didn’t matter. On the day of the audition we waited for four hours but Ray failed to show. Two days later he phoned to apologize. He’d been busy putting together a Burner Boys Northern Tour and now didn’t need to hear us. He already had the bookings. All we had to do was show up in the town of Smithers in two weeks and play. When we were finished we were to phone him and he’d direct us to the next gig. The tour, he estimated, would take two months, and we’d be playing three times a week.

 

This put into action a remarkable chain of events. Three gigs a week for two months meant we could buy new amps, guitars, drums, a P.A. system and microphones and pay them off. We went to Long & McQuade, Vancouver’s main music dealer where Steve had trouble limiting us to responsible purchases. To compensate for losing my guitar he allowed me to buy a tambourine and a red and blue kazoo.

 

Steve’s parents were among the most wise and tolerant I’ve ever met. From the basement of their house, where he lived, they endured endless thumping rehearsals by neighborhood bands. Beer was drunk and dope was smoked on their theory that they’d rather have it under their own roof than on the streets. Their refrigerator was always open. Inside there was always cold roast beef, a chicken, three different kinds of cheese, fresh bread and butter and gallons of cold milk. They fed half the neighborhood. I was surprised they could still afford house payments. So it was even more amazing when Steve's father agreed to co-sign for a $1000 loan for a 1965 orange Ford Econoline van.

 

 

 

 

The "Burner van" with "Hot Gigs Day or Night" painted on this side and a cannon with "Shot From Guns" painted on the other side.

 

Then came an even more remarkable stroke. Martin Jensen, a friend, poet and frequent Alberni Street visitor announced that his recently-windowed mother had taken a job as cook on a freighter in an effort to see the world. That meant her house would have five empty bedrooms for the next six months. Although Martin didn’t live there, he invited us to move in. It was a huge old rambling place, wrapped on three sides by a veranda and sitting on a double-sized treed lot in North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley. We couldn’t have done better if we’d ordered it. The surrounding streets were named after English poets – Chaucer, Spencer, Milton – making the neighborhood auspicious. The house was so big that another friend, Rish, and his wife, Poppy, moved in on the ground floor, so we thought that Poppy would probably do the cooking. Our reversal of fortune was complete. The universe had ticked over in our favor and a Burner full moon hung in the winter sky.

 

By default we inherited a new fifth Burner. Jesse happily transferred himself from the Alberni Street couch to a small room in what we now called Burner Mansion. We did long hard practice sessions in the living room but Jesse was often absent. As an ex-Byrd he kept his own hours and led a private life, the details of which we never knew nor asked about. Al held out that Jesse might be such a superior musician he didn’t need to practice – when the time came he’d just strap on his guitar and blow us all away. One night about a week after we moved in Al was sitting on the couch with a girl he’d brought back from the bar. He’d worked long and hard on her and nearly had her in bed. About ten o’clock Jesse rolled in. In under an hour he talked the woman out of Al’s arms and into his bedroom. After that Al wasn’t so sure about Jesse.

 

But it was too late. We were committed. On a December morning we left for Smithers, a sixteen-hour drive north of Vancouver. For us it was like Christmas morning. We thought it was the start of a two-month party that would make us rich.

 

The fairytale was shattered after about two hours with band members stacked in the back of the van on top of amps and speakers like freezing cordwood. The journey seemed to take place mostly in darkness. There was one bright spot. The van got fantastic gas mileage. Eight hours after leaving Vancouver we got to Prince George and the tank was only half empty. Prudently Tim pulled it into a gas station and hopped out to top up the tank. A minute later he was back with the gas money still in hand. “It won’t take any. The tank’s still almost full. This thing runs on fumes.”

 

For this we were naively thankful. Spending less on gas meant more for food and beer. It was only when we were thirty miles north of Prince George, good and deep into the wilderness that we ran out of gas. We flagged down a tow truck and got an expensive tow back into Prince George. The trouble, we were told, was that the gas gauge didn’t work and the overflow vent was frozen so it wouldn’t take any gas. After an hour we were on our way again, feeling like fools for believing a van could run on fumes.

 

When we got about thirty miles north of Prince George again, about the spot that we ran out of gas, the gear shifting linkage jammed up. That meant someone had to hold the engine cowl between the driver and passenger seats open while a second shifted the linkage manually and a third drove. Freezing air blasted up from the road. Now the wind chill inside the van made it colder than outside. Finally the linkage went altogether.

 

Tim and I walked a half mile to a ranch house where the rancher kindly agreed to come and help, and told us to meet him back at the van. We were so cold we ran back, taking in huge gulps of frigid air. When the rancher arrived we were in violent coughing spasms. He stuck his head in the window and asked, “What’s wrong with you two?”

 

“We ran back,” I hacked.

 

“You boys ought to know better. Run in this weather you’ll freeze your lungs. It’ll kill you.”

 

The rancher fixed the problem temporarily and told us to go to a garage when we hit Smithers. With another eight hours of driving, Jesse helped fill the time with his stories. No one knew where he was from but I was sure it was not Canada.

 

“I used to run trap lines north of Prince George a few years ago. I went partners with David Crosby to get started. We made some good bread.”

I wondered about this. Jesse was so skinny and snivelley that I doubted he could run a paper route, let alone a trap line in snow five feet deep.

 

“That’s back when I was playing with Jesse Colin Young,” he elaborated..

I wondered about this too. If I’d had this stellar cast of friends I would have been in California partying with David Crosby, not stuck in a freezing van halfway to nowhere.

 

When we got to Smithers, the lights from old time cafes shone out onto the snow-covered main street. Inside, the wooden booths were filled with friendly ranchers and miners eating steaks. With the huge Hudson Bay Mountain as a backdrop it was a pleasure just to walk the streets. We played at a rented Elks Hall full of young kids. Even though Jesse elected to sit it out they shouted for encores. A pattern was emerging - anyone under 20 loved us and anyone over 30 hated us. The middle ground was ours for the taking.

 

For this we received $200, minus Ray-the-promoter’s cut. Steve hoarded it along with our tiny, dwindling bankroll and refused all but the most basic expenses. Al, Tim and I formed a committee and petitioned Steve for beer money. He turned us down.

 

In the morning Steve phoned Ray for our next destination. No answer. A few hours later he called again. This time he got Ray’s wife who promised to give him the message. Night fell. Steve phoned again. No answer. We faced the fact we’d have to spend some of our precious gig money for another night in the hotel. I felt the ground shifting beneath my feet.

 

The next morning Al burst into my room, laughing and horrified. I expected word of our next gig but he had different news. “I just walked in on Jesse. He had his hair up in curlers and when he saw me he screamed. He looked like an old cat that had just been pulled out of the water.”

 

That was the only news that day. We spent an angst-filled Monday killing time. The streets of Smithers weren’t as pleasant to walk now. I felt less like a musician and more like a bum. We stayed one more expensive night, eating into the last of our gig money. In the morning we had a miserable breakfast still trying to get a hold of Ray.

 

Steve laid it on the line. “We don’t have enough gas money to get home. The only thing we can do is keep heading north. We can make it to Prince Rupert but that’s it.”

 

This appealed to Al’s pragmatic side. “Prince Rupert’s a big town. Ray should be able to get us a gig there.”

 

“I think Ray’s a bullshit artist,” I said, nearer the mark than usual.

 

Seldom has a band on tour operated under such odium. Nearly broke, we were being conned by two people – our booking agent and our rhythm guitarist. We left for Terrace, the next town up the highway. Out of ideas, we drove to the local high school and tried to beg a $50 noon sock hop. One look was enough for the principal. “We don’t hire people like you. You’re bad for our kids.” We detoured to the mining town of Kitimat and were told to bugger off there too. On the last of our gas money we drove further north to the end of the line - Prince Rupert.

 

We arrived in town, a thousand miles north of home, broke, at 2 a.m. in the middle of winter and I was doubting my new profession. I had no idea it would come down to cruising frozen streets and asking strangers where we could sleep. The bars had just let out. The sidewalks were full of the weaving dark forms of drunk fishermen and native Indians.

 

I leaned out the window and shouted at a fisherman. “We’re a band. Where can we sleep?”

 

“Ahhh fug you.”

 

I tried again. “We’re a band from Vancouver. We need a place to sleep.”

 

“Vancouver? You think you’re so smart, but you’re not even.”

 

Truer words were never spoken.

 

On the third try a native Indian pointed vaguely west and mumbled, “Friendly House.” With that to go on we drove along the empty streets until we found an old clapboard building perched on a rise with a sign announcing ‘Friendship House’. It was dark and locked. I pounded on the door. Nothing. Shivering in the parking lot we shouted. Still nothing. Finally we threw stones at the windows. After a long time a bad-tempered manager let us in and marched us to a dank germ-filled room full of men snoring on cots. We were less a band than group of street people who happened to be able to play instruments.

 

 

The only satisfying thing about it was seeing Jesse, the ex-Byrd, trapper and personal friend of Jesse Colin Young, huddled under a single blanket like the rest of us.

 

Steve, who had developed a cold lay beside him. Each time he coughed, Jesse peevishly tossed on his bed. After a while I could see Steve was making a game of this. Every two or three minutes he coughed, then with a flash of humor in his eyes deliberately cleared his throat. Jesse jerked around as if on a chain. I happily watched this until I fell asleep.

 

The next morning we sat down to a standard bum’s breakfast – a big box of dry bread squashed and rolled up like softballs and a half eaten five gallon drum of dried peanut butter. We choked it down with weak tea then were thrown out until sundown. We immediately drove to the local high school and this time told the truth. We were destitute and marooned by a bogus booking agent. Out of pity the principal hired us for a noon sock hop for $50, minus Jesse. The ex-Byrd did consent to join us afterward for our first decent meal in two days. Steve phoned Ray and got his wife. He informed her that we were in Prince Rupert and waiting. She promised she would pass it on.

 

With nothing better to do we walked the streets until we could get back into Friendship House. Where Smithers was a friendly little ranching town, Prince Rupert was a downbeat grey seaport already on the skids. The sun never shone. The main drag was called Squaw Alley, in the shadow of old hotels that survived by selling beer to drunks in big gloomy pubs. We canvassed these to hunt down a gig. I went into one and asked the bartender about playing a live guest set of original jug rock.

 

He looked at me as if I’d proposed holding a seminar on physics. “We don’t need live music,” he pumped the taps. “Beer is our entertainment.”

 

I sat down, spent a quarter on a glass and looked around. A drunken woman of indeterminate age approached my table. Beer in hand she waited until she had my attention then did a disjointed version of the Charleston. The Charleston is the ‘flapper’ dance from the 1920’s. The hands are swung forward and back, opposite the direction of the corresponding foot. Often the fingers are held together pointing sideways away from the body, leaving the palms parallel to the floor. It amazes me to this day how the woman pulled it off. I stared back in bewilderment. Perhaps this was a Prince Rupert mating ritual. She went back and sat down. I realized the bartender was right: the need for live entertainment worked on an inverse ratio to the amount of beer consumed, and here it was a river.

 

As night fell Al and I walked the streets. The stores were straight out of the 1950’s – Five and Dimes, hole-in-the-wall haberdasheries run by grim old men past retirement, pre-war Chinese greasy spoons. Some had already failed and closed. We passed a defunct shoe store. Its windows were taped over inside with brown paper. Instead of the normal ‘Out of Business’ sign penned in black felt marker there was more ominous information: ‘THIS STORE ILLEGALLY CLOSED BY BILLY BOND!!! Billy Bond head of PRINCE RUPERT MAFIA!!! STORE OWNERS DEFEND YOURSELVES!!! ’ We put it down to the political infighting of losers fighting over the scraps of a dying city.

 

Back at Friendship House dinner was an abomination of mushy macaroni and canned tomatoes. I felt like I was back in prison. Around us were the lowest of the low - men who’d gone to the dogs in a town that had gone to the dogs. Some were insane. Others were criminals. Many were illiterate. Later that night as Al lay on his cot he heard a bank robbery being planned. If we stayed here much longer we could reasonably expect to have our van broken into and ransacked.

We hit the streets the next day looking for work. Since we had no gas this was done on foot. While I was supposed to be looking for work I phoned a cousin who lived in Prince Rupert. She invited me to her house where I ate a pound of bacon in ten minutes. I never told anyone.

 

Somewhere around noon I met Tim. We gave up looking for work and drifted down toward the harbor. By now I hated this town for its infernal drunkenness and depressing pall of failure. Then we saw a big white hotel with a sign reading: ‘Live at the Ho Ho Room! Applejack! Mon to Sat.! I wandered up to the front desk and asked for the manager.

 

“There is no manager.”

 

“Who runs this place?”

 

“The owner.”

 

“Then I want to talk to him. Our band is on extended tour from Vancouver and has an open date for next week.”

 

Tim and I cooled our heels in the lobby. This in itself was a good sign. It was the first hotel we’d found that actually had a lobby. Twenty minutes later a compact, potbellied dynamo appeared. Dressed in a blue on blue suit, tie and shirt he stuck out his hand. “Billy Bond.”

 

“We’re the Burner Boys. From Vancouver.” Tim said.

 

Billy Bond blinked, uncomprehending.

 

“You might not have heard of us but we’re cutting edge.” I lied. “All the right people love us down there. We are doing a northern tour and we have an opening in our calendar. Now it’s only a week, and Vancouver fans can’t wait for us to come back, but we can make that week available to you.”

 

Billy Bond sat, chin on fist, and thought intensely for a few moments. He looked a svelte little hood who took pride in dressing in the high fashion of 1970 as he understood it.

 

“Tell you what. I’ve had a cancellation for next week. Maybe we can do some business.”

 

“You won’t be sorry,” I said warmly.

 

He ignored this. “Come on. Chop chop. I want to audition you here at five.”

 

We moved our pathetic Traynor amps and P.A. onstage, dwarfed by Applejack’s huge, high tech Fender equipment. Then we played as if our lives depended on it. Jesse, the after-Burner, sat alone at a table in the nightclub. Billy Bond sat some distance away. He may have lacked the intellectual blueprint for modern club music. Either that or he was so over a barrel for a band and had to hire us, not wanting to lose money on an empty club the next week. If it was loud it was all good. We were to teach him otherwise.

 

He walked up to the stage. “Okay. You start Monday. You can stay at the hotel until this other band clears out of the band house. But you’ve got to get smartened up.”

 

“How so?” I asked. I was in a sky blue double-breasted suit top with huge lapels from the early 1950’s and faded blue jeans. Very fitting for the times, I thought.

 

He ignored me. “Meet me here,” he scribbled an address, “at eleven tomorrow.” Done with us, he marched out.

 

As a result there was an immediate outcry from the band for Steve to release beer funds, which he finally did. We had to throw rocks at Friendship House to get in that night but who cared? We were moving to the best hotel in town. When we met Billy Bond the next morning it was outside a clothing store in the same block as the shoe store featuring the anti-Billy Bond posters. He hustled us in. It wasn’t a matter of shopping. He pointed the salesman to the cheap rack and had us outfitted in uniforms reflecting his personal taste. To Billy Bond, the free-thinking fashion idealism of the 1960’s had disappeared in the wind. We were issued blue paisley shirts, blue ties and tan bellbottoms. Because I was the lead singer I got a better tie, or at least a different one - black and lavender with embossed geometric shapes. Jesse refused to be part of it, arguing he was a ‘feature performer.’ In the end we looked like exactly what we were – a bunch of bohunk nerds pretending to be from the big city club scene.

 

That done, Billy Bond jerked his thumb. “Follow me.” We marched half a block up the hill to a barbershop, which Billy Bond also owned. “You,” he pointed to Al, “get a haircut.” Al’s long, straight dishwater blond hair now reached all the way down his back. With hair parted in the middle and his old horn rim glasses he tended to look like a Rumanian peasant woman. What followed reminded me of a scene that Norman Rockwell might have painted – a forlorn hippie in an old barber chair getting his hair hacked off while his less longhaired friends in beat up pea jackets and sheepskin coats looked gloomily on. It reminded me of my own prison cut four months earlier, except the prison barber had more empathy.

 

Not that it mattered. For the next three days we were guests of the best hotel in Prince Rupert. We practiced during the afternoon and watched Applejack rock the dance floor at night. Steve established a system of running tabs allowing him to dock individual beer consumption from our pay. I didn’t care. After a nearly food-less and beer-less ten days I felt like a sailor on shore leave. While Al and the rest hobnobbed with Applejack on their breaks, I became fascinated with the Ho Ho Room’s second attraction: Tiny Bubbles. As a peeler she was a unique physical specimen. She was well under five feet, with slender ankles and a petite, fine-featured face. On stage she looked like a regular peeler who had been put into a machine and shrunk to two-thirds her normal size. Yet she had these enormous 38 D breasts out of all proportion to her body that shot straight out like big rockets wanting to be launched. There were no boob jobs in 1970 so what she had was natural. I felt she should be studied, and that I should be the one to do so. She was friendly in her own hard ass way and kept coming back to socialize. After a few nights I sensed it was time to make my move. After her show I went up to her room and knocked softly on the door.

 

“Come in,” she moaned.

 

I entered. She was in bed in a teddy negligee. “I’ve brought beer,” I said brightly and sat down on the bed.

 

“Where’s Steve?”

 

“Steve’s downstairs.”

 

“I like Steve.”

 

“Steve’s not feeling too well right now,” I lay down beside her.

 

“What’s wrong with him?”

 

“Too much beer.”

 

“I want Steve.”

 

“Steve really likes you too. It’s just that he’s sick right now. But I’ll tell him you’re waiting for him.”

 

“Oh Steve, Steve,” she moaned and buried her head in my shoulder. After a few minutes of this we both became excited and she climbed on top. What followed was like riding an English racing bike over railroad ties – rapid-fire pelvic thrusts of a tiny jackhammer.

 

“Steve, Steve!”

 

“Yes, yes!”

 

Dazed, afterward I went downstairs and sat beside Steve. “You just screwed Tiny Bubbles. But don’t worry, you can do it again tomorrow night. I told her you liked her but were sick. She’ll be waiting for you once you get better.”

 

Steve sniffed. He had thin nostrils in his taste for women. Instead he turned to Jesse. “Hey Jesse, I’m working out the expenses here. I need to know when you’re going to start playing.”

 

“Well,” Jesse drawled, “I’ve still got some wood sheddin’ to do to get my chops tight.”

 

Steve ignored this. “So what song are you starting with?”

 

Jesse twitched a little at this direct reference to work. “I reckon I can do some Neil Young.”

 

We opened the Ho Ho Room Monday night to a circumspect crowd. When we played our first set they stared back in puzzled silence. During the break a woman approached the stage.

 

“Play Yellow River!”

 

“We don’t know Yellow River!” I shouted back.

 

“Well learn it.”

 

We ignored her and battled our way through the second set to an audience increasingly determined to stay in their seats. More voices yelled at us to play Yellow River. In response, Jesse, our long-awaited feature performer stepped up from his table in the third set and delivered a caterwauling version of Neil Young’s dirge, Only Love Can Break A Heart. That did it. People started leaving. The high point of the first night had been Tiny Bubbles, peeling to Sentimental Journey and giving Steve a glimpse behind her g-string when her back was to the audience.

 

The low point was that we had to move from the hotel into the ‘band house.’ This was not a house at all, but a bare, rundown apartment in a section of family quarters in a vast, gloomy abandoned military camp filled with derelict barracks. Billy Bond obviously owned this and had probably gotten it for a song. It made me wonder if there was anything in Prince Rupert Billy Bond didn’t own. Applejack left the place a dismal mess. The bedding hadn’t been changed. Our next night at the Ho Ho Room was a repeat of the first, with a slightly smaller crowd. Apparently word had spread. Jesse sat in the audience, drinking and smoking, then came up and did his solo which drove more people out. That night during a break we discussed Jesse, who had left after he finished his song.

 

“He’s like American beer,” said Steve. “All fizz and no buzz.”

 

“Billy Bond said he’s a freeloader and we should get rid of him,” Tim added.

That was enough. The next day we fired Jesse. In a final shameless act of freeloading he had the nerve to ask for ferry fare home. Getting money from Steve was harder than getting money from the government, yet Jesse become such a simpering pain in the ass Steve agreed to get an advance from Billy Bond just to get rid of him.

 

In the meantime I let it slip to Tiny Bubbles that Steve wasn’t sick anymore. She immediately forgot about me and sidled up to him at the band table. It was enjoyable to watch him squirm as the object of her affection. Eventually she grew weary of his fickleness and forgot about him too. By Friday our stock had fallen so low that she’d stopped sitting with us altogether. Normally early in the week a club is sparsely crowded. As Friday approaches it packs up. We reversed that trend. On Friday night there were only about ten customers, presumably the only ten people left in Prince Rupert old enough to buy a drink who hadn’t heard about us. Still no one danced. After each song there was silence.

 

“Play Yellow River!” someone shouted the rallying cry. It echoed through the empty club. We ignored them.

 

On Saturday I went for a walk along the railroad tracks next to the harbor. The sky was an iron gray overcast. The sea looked like cold dirt. I dreaded a deserted, hostile Saturday night at the Ho Ho Room and was extremely depressed. I also had an annoying itch which I put down to nerves. The night before I’d overheard a couple of fishermen talking. One worried about the treacherous conditions at sea that night. He was concerned about his friends’ safety. ‘Don’t sweat it,’ said the other. “There’s lighthouses down the coast.’ This lodged in my mind as a poetic line. Now, feeling lost and at sea myself I got a coffee in a Chinese café, settled down in a booth and wrote.

 

 

Listen to "Lighthouses Down The Coast". This was a demo performed by Al Hovden with Nelson Lapine on the 2nd acoustic guitar. Nelson lives on Bowen Island now and was and is a great singer/songwriter. This song was like an anthem when the Burner Boys played it live with the whole audience singing along to the chorus - a theme for a lost generation. It was used the night CBC National Television News did coverage in Vancouver, B.C. of the first Stanley Park Be-in - a perfect background to the whole event. (see copyright restrictions below)

 

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

 

Lighthouses Down The Coast

 

Down there a man sells shoelaces

Newspapers on an old war wound

It’s so cold he’s holding in his heart

Can’t I hear him singing?

 

No use in denying what you’re feeling

Don’t sleep with the things you’re trying to hide

The blues, nobody has to tell me

You’re lonely fingers on the telephone

 

Chorus:

 

Hey I don’t know where I’m going

And hey I don’t know where I’ve been

Hey I don’t know where I’m going

And hey I don’t know where I’ve been

Tonight the ships sail in darkness

But there’s lighthouses down the coast.

 

Nighttime in a town going nowhere

It seems my room is the only place to go

I rolled out of bed and I rolled a cigarette

Celebrating ‘cause there is nowhere to go

 

Chorus:

 

Hey I don’t know where I’m going

And hey I don’t know where I’ve been

Hey I don’t know where I’m going

And hey I don’t know where I’ve been

Tonight the ships sail in darkness

But there’s lighthouses down the coast.

 

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

 

 

When I returned I was in a slightly better spirits. I handed the lyrics to Al. He read them, nodded then put them away. He gave me a dour look.

 

“What’s wrong? That’s a great song.”

 

“Have you been itching?”

 

“A little.”

 

“You have crabs.”

 

“That’s not possible. I was with Tiny Bubbles over a week ago. They would have shown before this.”

 

“No Dave,” Al said patiently. “We all have crabs. They’re in the bedding. The mattresses are full of eggs.”

 

I had to respect Al’s long experience with venereal diseases. Crabs were the final indignity Prince Rupert had heaped on us. It also meant that every band that played the Ho Ho Room had crabs. This was cold comfort as we itched and played our last night to a deserted club. By now there were only employees left – bartenders and waitresses standing idle, staring with hostile looks, their livelihood for the week ruined. As lead singer and front man it was my job to keep up the patter as if everything was just fine. No one could have asked for a better boot camp.

 

At the end of the night Billy Bond paid us off, anxious to be rid of us. He subtracted all beer and meals, the hotel rooms, the band uniforms, Al’s haircut, and, of course, Jesse’s ticket home. When he was done we made $468.00 for a week’s work. Even with that for Billy Bond it was a financial disaster, perhaps the first he’d encountered in years. We later found out that Applejack had received $2000 for the previous week, but that included attracting a paying audience, so presumably he remained in profit.

 

 

 

"It also meant that every band that played the Ho Ho Room had crabs."

...at least Applejack got paid $2000."

 

After the gig we returned to our grim quarters. There we either had a collective nervous breakdown or went mad with revenge for the horrible week we’d just spent. For lack of a better weapon of vengeance we threw water on the walls, the floor, the furniture, on each other Then Al found some paint. Out of character he defaced the living room wall with a huge mural – the Burner van heading out of town with a big ‘Fuck You!’ written on the back. By the time we went to our crab-infested beds the place was ruined and there was an inch of water slopping on the floor.

 

The next morning we packed up and left fast. There was no thought of phoning Ray, our booking agent and promoter. Instead of calling him we wanted to drive back to Vancouver and kill him. We stopped at a Prince Rupert drug store to buy a big bottle of Quelada, a stinging white lotion guaranteed to kill crabs. One by one we went into a gas station washroom to apply it. When it was my turn I went and slapped it on my scrotum. I got a violent jolt of pain like an electric current. My balls suddenly shrank to nothingness. The shock threw me back onto the toilet seat where I nearly fainted. I staggered out. With everyone doubled over with stinging armpits and crotches we started on the thousand mile drive back to Vancouver.

 

A thousand miles in winter is twenty-four hours straight driving. We drove though the day and the night, spending half of our $468.00 on gas and food. Al spent his time humming the melody he’d figured out for Lighthouses Down the Coast and arranging it in his head.

 

By dawn of the next day we passed through Cache Creek, 200 miles from Vancouver. Tim, sleepless and delirious, started rambling about how he wanted to paint the Cache Creek sunrise. Worried about safety we removed him from the driver’s seat and replaced him with the equally sleepless Steve. I sat in the passenger seat to keep him awake. At Hope, about 90 miles from Vancouver he turned to me.

 

“Pardon me for asking,” he calmly inquired, “but do you see all those cats along the side of the highway?”

 

I turned to look at him. He was so tired he was hallucinating but we didn’t have another driver. Tim was out of action and neither Al nor I had a license. “I’ve seen a couple of cats now,” I said agreeably.

 

“Good,” he replied dryly. “I was worried it was just me.”

 

That seemed to hold him until we pulled into the driveway of Burner Mansion. We arrived with $200, rent to pay, plus a crushing debt load due on our equipment and van. The Burner full moon of three weeks ago had shrunk to an invisible sliver. We slouched into the house and applied the required final treatment of Quelada. Then, twitching and burning we crawled into bed and slept for twenty-four hours.

 

It was, at least, Christmas.

 

***If you wish to read more let me know who you are and we can make the whole book available to you. We are trying not to leak the book out to the public while the film is being produced and we look for a publisher for the book. Contact: al@theburnerboys.com

 

 

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Comments (3)

Anonymous said

at 3:56 pm on Jun 8, 2006

Al,...there was a song named Yellow River,can't remember who did it but the melody is still in the "Useless music section" of my brain. Martin Elliott.

Anonymous said

at 1:43 pm on Jun 9, 2006

To clear up the confusion between Yellow River and Proud Mary, Yellow River was written by Elton John and covered by another band who had a huge, one time hit. The Prince Rupert crowds kept demanding we play Yellow River, not Proud Mary. I remember this because I loathed Yellow River and refused to play it. Had they demanded we play Proud Mary I wouldn't have minded because I thought it was a great song.

Anonymous said

at 1:23 pm on Jun 10, 2006

I don't know if this clears things up more... but a band called Christie had the hit Yellow River in 1970 - #1 in England and #23 in the USA. Elton John did a cover album of songs including that one but I'm not sure what year it came out. Must have been after 1970...

Christie was a British pop band formed at the end of the 1960s.

In addition to Jeff Christie (born Jeffrey Christie on 12 July 1946, in Leeds, England) - vocalist, bassist and songwriter; they initially included guitarist Vic Elmes and drummer Mike Blakley. Christie had initially worked with several bands including the Outer Limits, who released "Just One More Chance"/"Help Me Please" (1967) and "Great Train Robbery"/"Sweet Freedom" (1968), and Acid Gallery, whose single "Dance Around The Maypole" (1969) was written by Roy Wood.

That year Christie offered his composition "Yellow River" to the Tremeloes, who included Mike's elder brother Alan. They recorded it to release as a single, but when they changed their minds they allowed Christie to use the backing track themselves. The result was a UK No. 1 hit in May 1970 and subsequently No. 23 in the USA.

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