Posts Tagged ‘George Faber’
The Risk of Being Ridiculous by Guy Maynard got me interested in blogging about the 1960s. Maynard grew up in Urbana, Illinois, a year ahead of me, and was one of the leading figures in the garage-band movement that started around 1966. His book takes place in 1969 and really captures the intensity of the times. I gave it a rave review in High Times and it inspired me to dig up my own archives from the 1960s, especially a short story I wrote called “The Steam Tunnels.” I was surprised at how well my story had held up over the years. I’d forgotten most of the trauma I went through in the mid-’60s. People called it a “Generation Gap” but it was really a “Generation War.”
Well, there’s another novelist from my home town who wrote extensively about Carpenter and Cole, who (along with Guy and George Faber) had led the garage-rock movement in Central Illinois. Mandy Moores was actually one of my sister’s best friends in high school, and she ended up briefly married to Carp, and lived with him down in New Orleans when he and Cole were both deep-sea diving off oil platforms around the world. It was incredibly dangerous work, although the pay was pretty good.
Mandy’s book, Dream Palace, came out many years ago, but I just got around to reading it recently. Mandy’s brother, Brian, was the original drummer for my band, the Soul Assassins, as well as one of the drummers for a later incarnation of The Finchley Boys, the greatest garage band to emerge from Central Illinois. I’ve lost touch with both Brian and Mandy, so maybe this blog will bring them back into my orbits.
You can pick up a copy of Dream Palace for around a buck on Amazon. I kinda wish I could have helped Mandy edit this project, because she’s clearly a very talented writer. This first novel could have been something spectacular, on a similar level as Maynard’s book, but it has some flaws. For one, Mandy was a little too close to the subject when she wrote this, and had a lot of issues she was working out. Carp had a well-known anger-management problem, and we all knew you didn’t push his buttons unless you were looking for serious trouble. But Carp could also be a heroic figure, and this side of him is mostly missing. I also would have loved to have gotten more details on his garage band origins in Urbana, as well as more details on the dangers of deep-sea diving. For example, When Doug Blair got beat-up for making fun of the football coach (Smitty), it was Carp who went after Frank Sowers to take revenge. Reading the book, I couldn’t believe how tough Mandy was, pushing Carp’s buttons big-time, forcing confrontations with him, and basically not taking any shit at all. Unfortunately, their marriage was doomed because they were headed in completely different directions. Mandy had a fairy-tale view on life when in high school. I remember her many paintings that evoked this magical dream life. The book does a good job of capturing this side of her personality, but her fairy tale turned bad when Carp started getting violent.
Bugsy’s not in the book far as I could tell, although he was also part of that New Orleans crew, working as a deep sea diver. Carp always had some major schemes going on. Mandy goes into great detail on his 50-foot sailboat that he overhauled and eventually took to Jamaica for a load of pot. Unfortunately, this trip coincided with an anti-smuggling campaign supervised by then-Vice President George Bush. On their way back to the Florida Keys with a boatload of ganja, Carp and Bugsy were unexpectedly intercepted by a fleet of warships that had been deployed to root out drug smugglers. With the Coast Guard bearing down on him, Carp went into action-mode, and tried to dump all the bales before they were intercepted. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough and the Coast Guard was able to pull a bunch of the bales out of the water.
In a most amazing coincidence, the head prosecutor in Florida handling their case was none other than Ralph Hersey, who’d been a columnist for my underground paper, The Tin Whistle. I tried to recruit all the best writers in my high school and Ralph had been suggested by one of the English teachers. Ralph was a good counterpoint to Charlie Geron. They were both black, but Charlie was angry and confrontational, while Ralph was the model of common sense and morality. We also had a great poet in our class, Jim Guthrie, and I remember going to Jim’s house and trying to recruit him. Jim took one look at the first issue of The Tin Whistle, however, and decided it wasn’t for him. His work was considerably more mature than what most of us were doing at the time and Jim would go on to win many poetry awards in the 1970s.
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The first issue of The Tin Whistle included my endorsement for Larry Green for Senior Class president, our counterculture attempt to take over the political structure of a school that had always been dominated by the winners of the annual Daughters of the American Revolution awards. You’ll notice Larry wears the magic cross that was also the secret symbol of my elementary school streetgang (see “From Violent Streetgangs to Merry Pranksters”). I took both photos the same day, cut them up and glued them together to create the effect of Larry as teenage monster towering over Urbana High. The story “Tales from the House on High Street” is an obvious reference to Eric Swenson’s pad, our favorite hangout. After the Knight Riders kicked me out of the band for being an LSD addict (or so they thought), I toyed around with the idea of starting a band with Eric and we held a bunch of rehearsals at his house, but I soon came to the conclusion being in a band with Eric wasn’t really going to amount to anything real, as Eric was more than content to just jam in his living room and nothing more. He always had a cigarette in his mouth when he drummed, and used an overturned cymbal on the floor as his ashtray.
Meanwhile, The Finchley Boys were going through their own changes. Somewhere along the line, they started doing an Animals’ cover, “Outcast.” Actually, “Outcast” was originally an R&B love song Eddie Campbell and Ernie Johnson recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1964. The Animals version was faster and they dropped the horn riff and replaced it with a guitar. The song rocked hard, had a powerful hook, and it instantly became a major highlight of the Finchley’s set, eventually becoming their new signature song. It was no longer a silly love song, either. Now “Outcast” stood for the position we longhairs found ourselves in, as we were not being accepted by the establishment. Faber was the lead singer on “Outcast.” Although Faber had started as the roadie, then played harmonica on one song, he was now singing the two biggest hits the band had. One day when the band was arriving in a car together at Urbana High, Faber and Cole got into a little dispute over some minor matter and Cole announced he was leaving the band so he could concentrate of becoming a guitar player. Cole soon left high school and moved into a room on the second floor of Eric’s house, right across the hall from the padlocked room Daddy Swenson slept in.
One day I brought Larry with me on one of my visits to Carole’s house. We were sitting on the floor of her porch talking, when Larry went into his imitation of Timothy Leary. Carole started cracking up. It was the first time she noticed how smart and funny Larry was. I had this idea we should cover ourselves with a blanket and pretend we were all in a womb together, about to be born as a set of triplets. I don’t know where I came up with this shit, maybe I was already aware of the Living Theater, because this was essentially an improv-exercise right out of a Viola Spolin handbook. We went to the back yard, threw a blanket over us, and curled into a ball, all spooning each other. I was on the outside, and, of course, Carole was in the middle. It was all very innocent, really. But I could tell right away from the way Carole was petting Larry’s hair, that she’d taken a sudden interest in him. When she went back inside, her mom was super pissed. “What are the neighbors going to think!” Carole stood her ground, however, saying we were just playing a game and nothing sexual had been going on at all, which was true.
I could see there were speed bumps ahead with my grand scheme to make Carole my girl friend, as she seemed to be easily distracted by other dudes.
Early in the ’60s, Lenny Bruce appeared on Ed Sullivan and performed a skit about some kids on the West Coast who were caught sniffing glue to get high, which Lenny found hilarious. Little did Lenny know, by broadcasting that story, he created a sudden interest in the effects of glue across America.
When the Finchley Boys decided to hold their second infamous glue party (there were really only two), they naturally selected the barn at Mary Shirley’s as the appropriate location. Mary was a gorgeous rockn’n’roll blonde who designed and sewed her own outfits—hooded purple velvet cape and Carnaby-street miniskirt was a typical look. Plus Mary had two gorgeous sisters close to her in age. I never really penetrated their scene but once, for a huge ceremony and celebration in 1969, but the Shirley’s undoubtedly captured the center of gravity on the Finchley’s social life for a while. Mary was an accomplished musician on many instruments, violin probably being her best. She was also an asset selecting songs and helping transpose them, as well as letting them know which worked and which didn’t. Mary’s opinion was pretty much final.
Mary was a huge fan of the Yardbirds, who weren’t really all that super famous at the time, playing gigs in small clubs, and Mary would get her dad to drive her and her sisters hundreds of miles just to attend a show. The first time she saw them, Jimmy Page pulled her out of the audience to be brought backstage. They treated Mary as an equal and for years, Page would call Mary whenever he was in the Midwest. It wasn’t a gushy teen fan thing either. They weren’t looking for sex and Mary wasn’t offering (until later, that is). At 16, Mary could go toe-to-toe with the biggest rock stars and command their respect. After Mary was done hanging out at these after-parties, she and her sisters would head down to where her dad was sleeping in the car, waiting to drive them a hundred miles back home. It was at one of these late-night hang-outs that Page asked Mary to transpose a sheet of classical music (Chopin). He wanted to work the melody into a song he was writing. (It eventually became the opening to “Stairway to Heaven,” by Led Zeppelin.)
But in 1967, that hadn’t happened yet, and everyone was going to the Shirley’s to get high on sniffing glue for the first time. Glue wasn’t like the ditch weed we’d been smoking, it actually got you high—way high. It was probably the first psychedelic experience for most of us. The first glue party was a relatively small affair arranged by Phil Mayall and attended by Jim Cole and a few others. It was held in a second-floor apartment on Green Street. But after that second party at the Shirley’s, some of the Finchley’s could already tell glue wasn’t going to be their bag. Mayall was now known as Dr. Pheeoo and he already seemed to be close to a junkie on the stuff, sniffing morning, noon and night, and keeping a journal of his experiences. His dad got suspicious, found the journal and called the police.
Next thing the Finchley’s know, they get a message that the cops know everything, and it’ll “be a lot better for you if you turn yourself in.” So the next day, George and a few others go down to the Urbana Police Station and turn themselves in for sniffing glue at the Shirley sisters’ barn. George’s mom was horrified. “Glue!” she said, “you won’t even drink a coca-cola because you think it’s bad for you!”
It would take another year or two before Phil completely gave up his obsession with glue. For a while, he even holed up at my place, the Den of Iniquity, and did his sniffing there. Here’s Phil in England in 1970, living the high life.
Warren Smith was the most famous high school football coach in central Illinois by 1958, an innovator of the Single Wing Offense originally created by Pittsburg’s Pop Warner. (Single Wing was the precursor of today’s shot-gun formation.)
In the early ’60s, Smith invented an ingenious training device known as ‘The Blaster,” used to teach running backs to slip-off tackles. John Cage incorporated a Blaster into a “Happening” at the Stock Pavilion in 1968 (See “The Importance of John Cage”). Unfortunately, Smitty became obsessed with running his entire team through the Blaster, with springs cranked to near maximum. And if you got stuck in the device, you had to wait for the next guy running full speed right behind you, to punch you on through to the other side. As a reader of this blog pointed out: “people were not designed to get slammed in the back.”
Everyone called him “Smitty,” except his players who just called him “coach.”
Roger Ebert was a sports reporter for the News-Gazette in 1958, (which was then-owned by Johnny Roselli’s lover—see “Smartest Kids in Town”), when Ebert wrote: “…the royal coach turned into a pumpkin, and the Cinderella Urbana Tigers stumbled and fell…”: as the opening line for a story covering a game they unexpectedly lost.
Smitty blew his top and immediately confronted Ebert: “From this day forward, you are banned from all Urbana sports under my jurisdiction. You can’t buy a ticket to the games.” The ban didn’t stick forever, but it gave Ebert a schooling on Smitty’s explosive temper and somewhat fragile ego.
When I entered Urbana High after winter break in January, 1967, I was on top-of the-world. I had a bass guitar and amplifier and was taking lessons with Jim Brewer. On our annual shopping trip to Chicago, I’d been allowed to select my own wardrobe for the first time. I was wearing blue stovepipe corduroys, only the welts ran horizontal to the ground. (I’ve never seen another pair of pants like ’em since.) They were severely-tapered to the knee, which was great, ’cause I had super skinny rock’n’roll chicken legs. The stove-pipe from the knee down made them look like bell-bottoms, which had not yet become popular. Of course, once the Beatles were seen in bell-bottoms, they took over the jean market for a few years, but I had these pants years before that fad hit. I was wearing blue-suede zip-up boots with Cuban heels, similar to Beatles boots but flashier. My shirt was long-sleeved white and navy stripes with a half turtleneck. Most important, however, was the black leather jacket, double-breasted but cut shorter than a sport coat. Bugsy had found this jacket first, at Kuhn’s in downtown Champaign, and it cost around $100. Very soft lamb’s leather. (I wore it to the first Woodstock, then to Sweden, San Francisco and beyond; it’s in my closet and fits 46 years later!)
But when I stepped into school on the first day in this outfit (expecting oohs and aahs from the multitudes), some chuckle-head pointed at me and yelled, “He’s wearing girlie pants!” This did not phase me, as I knew I was a lot cooler than that nerd.
One day, however, I was walking past the library when I heard a loud voice and some commotion and saw Doug Blair backing up fast, running into the library and being chased by some huge jock from the upper classes. Nobody was helping Doug as he danced around the stacks and ran underneath tables, trying to stay out-of-reach. Finally Doug bolted out the door and out of school. What was that about? Well, I soon learned Doug had written a paper for English class called “Smitty,” and made hilarious fun of our school icon, who was already a commander in the Generation War—on the opposing side. For example: when Faber had showed up with long hair that year, Smitty had thrown him against the lockers and said, “What happened to you, boy?!”
“Maybe I found out there’s more too life than running around a track,” replied Faber calmly. But most people didn’t dare talk to Smitty like that, and George was probably written-off as a lost-cause from that day forth, even though he was one of the stars on the cross-country team. But Doug had really crossed the line with his English paper. And it was just a matter of time before one of Smitty’s devoted players would take revenge.
Jim Cole stopped by Eric Swenson’s house and discovered this clean-cut kid (Mark Warwick) with a red guitar playing Beatles, Stones and Animals songs with Eric accompanying on drums. Since Cole already had experience singing along to some of these records in his bedroom, using a hairbrush for a mic, he convinced the two to start a band with him as the lead singer. Mark soon enlisted another guitar player (Steve Dyson) and a bass player (Tim Anderson) both of whom went to high school in Champaign.
According to legend as I know it, Tim was singing “Hey, Joe,” during a very early rehearsal when he started channeling some deep force inside. It’s a song about a murder, and Tim lost himself completely while rampaging through the house, standing on furniture and jumping around. It may have been the first inclination that these young kids actually had the power to become a real rock’n’roll force. Once Tim stepped up to the plate, others would quickly follow. Eric was at the end of a tortured love affair, having just been dumped, and he wrote a weepy ballad begging this girl to come back. Cole played drums on that one.
Right away, people who were dropping by began to take notice. Among the first were George Faber and Larry Tabling, who offered to build speakers for a PA system. They volunteered to be roadies on the spot. George had already tried to start a band with his friend Bob Carpenter, but Eric’s outfit was clearly on another level. Eventually, a student at the University named Bob Nutt came by to hear the band, and volunteered to be their manager after hearing one song. He booked their first gig in front of the Co-Ed movie theater on Green Street. I don’t know if they got paid, they were set-up on the sidewalk, and everyone was really nervous, but it was a huge success. Cole had tremendous sexual charisma, even at the age of 15 and clearly had the makings of a rock star. Eric, however, did not like the gig, and was not up for the rigors and realities of being in a band. He just didn’t have the personality, and his moods could be a big stumbling block, so Nutt quickly located the best high school drummer in town to replace him, Michael Powers. Unfortunately, Tim was the next to go. I guess his grades weren’t that good so his dad made him quit as soon as it became obvious the Finchley Boys were going to take off. I’m sure that must have crushed Tim. But that opened the door for Larry Tabling to step in on bass.
The name of the band was lifted off the back of a Kinks album. (The original Finchley Boys were a street-gang in England who got into fights with the early Kinks.) That’s Jim Cole (above) in 1967, at one of the early gigs. His version of the Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” became the signature song of the group, and Cole sang it with a lot of passion. The lyrics spoke directly to all of us on the front lines of a Generation War that was already in full effect.