Nothing is Everything

NothingIsEverythingCover

I woke up this morning, reached into my treasure trove of lost manuscripts and pulled out a doozy titled “Nothing is Everything” set in my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, in 1977.

Eventually, I’ll compile these stories into one volume as I hope to do for C-U what Shep did for Hammond, Indiana, a decade earlier. Shep if you don’t know is a cat named Jean Shepherd, who I met briefly at Valparaiso University in 1970 along with Joe Heller.

The first in this autobiographical series is a black comedy titled East Village and involves Bugsy and Maarten traveling to New York City at the end of the summer in 1967 and landing in a crash pad in the East Village terrorized by a speed freak named Yukyuk.

The second, titled The Steam Tunnels, is a tragedy that takes place around the same time only set underneath Champaign-Urbana in a world that still exists today.

The third is The Stockholm Manifesto and involves my scheme to avoid the Vietnam War by relocating to Sweden for a few months.

And now we have the fourth, which takes place several years later.

After graduation from art school, Bugsy drifted around North America for a few years working odd jobs, while I went back to school and ended up with a masters in journalism. Right after I graduated, life in C-U, once a hotbed of counterculture activity, turned sour as the counterculture headshops and hangouts had already been displaced by chain stores.

My cynicism may have hit rock bottom around this time. The story about the girl-friend is 100 percent Bugsy though. I’d already written about my first real girl friend in The Stockholm Manifesto. My next story, however, could reveal one of my own tragic love affairs of 1979, a story that was rejected by The New Yorker, but with a nice note on the slip encouraging me to keep submitting.

When I put that rejection slip on display in my home office, Mark Bussell told me it looked pathetic. Soon, I’d stop writing fiction and move almost 100 percent into journalism. But I’m so happy these short stories are finally seeing the light of day, because they document a generation in a way no one else has, other than Guy Maynard, who was also there for the ride.

But you’ll have to wait until the next time I feel like dipping into my lost manuscripts file to find out what jumps out next.

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Two Books Worth Checking Out

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.

If you like these stories, please check out my eBooks. Just follow the links at the top-right of this page. And thanks for stopping by.

Birth of Destructo-Mania

Bob Nutt threw a famous New Year’s eve party in 1967, sort of a celebration of the fantastic success Blytham Ltd. was experiencing with their two main acts, The Finchley Boys and the Seeds of Doubt. There were cases and cases of Champagne available, a real rock’n’roll blow-out. Guy got into a discussion about “hangups” and decided to take off his clothes as a political statement. He walked around the party naked encouraging others to cast off their mental slavery and join his nudity. Everyone assumed he was drunk out-of-mind, but within a few months some of those same dudes wouid be streaking through campus while high on LSD as a political statement. Like I said, Guy was always ahead of the rest of us.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, Cole (left) has discovered a hammer and spots a bunch of empty glass bottles. He turns into a robot machine and starts saying the words “destructo-mania.” But everytime he says the words, he robotically smashes a glass bottle with his hammer. Eventually, the host, Bob Nutt comes downstairs, sees what’s going on, starts laughing and is soon joining Cole in this new game called Destructo-Mania.

It was the birth of the Destructo-Mania craze that overtook the twin cities for a few months, at least in our scene, but the apex of Destructo-Mania would not take place for over a year, and then it would be at the infamous house on Third Street where almost all the greatest parties of the decade took place.

Battle of the Bands

Even better than seeing a Finchley Boys’ concert was seeing the Finchley’s battle the one other famous garage band in town, the Seeds of Doubt, fronted by Urbana High senior Guy Maynard, a very influential figure in the twin cities in the late ’60s. I really need a higher resolution jpeg of this flyer for their first public encounter. Even at this resolution, however, I can tell this picture is priceless, revealing a very young Jim Cole, and somewhat more mature-looking Guy Maynard facing off, with their bands behind them. Within a few months Cole would have his growth spurt and morph into the local version of Bob Dylan/Mick Jagger rolled into one.

Guy was way ahead of most of us on a lot of fronts. He deplored the whole jock/longhair terminology, for example, as he knew the words contributed to the polarization taking place, a polarization that would erupt in violence in the fall of 1967, and grow worse the next semester following the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination.

Funny, though, Guy had been a known conservative,and stanch supporter of Barry Goldwater his last year in Junior High, but when he moved to High School, he suddenly started looking and acting a lot like Brian Jones! Guy was following the first garage band in the twin cities, most, if not all of whom, were from Champaign Central High School. They were doing a version of “Gloria” before the Shadows of Knight, and Guy was their biggest fan. Eventually the band decided they wanted Guy to be their lead singer, and that’s when they came up with the name “Seeds of Doubt.”

Guy Maynard

If you like these stories why not check out my band, the Soul Assassins, or my free eBooks, links at top-right column of this page. Please subscribe so you don’t miss out on future posts, and thanks for stopping by. Blytham Card courtesy Guy Marnard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turk’s Head

For over a decade I searched for a photo of the Turk’s Head building every time I went back to Urbana to no avail, but finally, some have arrived, thanks to the founder, Steven Simon and Bugsy. Turk’s Head was the center of gravity for the counterculture in central Illinois— until they demolished it around 1968. We assumed it was torn down just to destroy what had become central station for the emerging hippie culture. And the day after it was bulldozed, I went through the rubble in great sadness and found a silver ring with some Native-American-like etchings on it. That ring became my most powerful and longest-lasting magical possession. When I finally proposed at age 50, I passed it over as my engagement ring. That’s how much it meant to me. Here’s a shot of the interior of Turk’s Head (below).

It was an old 3-story hotel, one built far from the railroad tracks and downtown areas so certain people could keep a low-profile. Al Capone’s gang supposedly stayed there, for example, when they came down-state. There were two major gangs in Chicago back then, and once they crossed paths in a cornfield near Urbana while bird-hunting and turned the shotguns on each other. I don’t remember if there were any fatalities. My family was well-versed with the mob since my mom’s uncle ran the numbers racket in Gary, Indiana, and even paid skim to Capone, far as I know. Uncle Freddy paid his way out of the game and went straight after the Untouchables came to town.

The Turk’s Head had a wide set of  stairs leading a deck. The staircase and deck became the hangout (along with the two balconies above it), and since it fronted Green Street, the main drag through campus, just sitting on the steps was like being on display for all the passing traffic, and when you had a big group of hippies, there was a lot of rubber-necking going on. There was an advertising placard on the deck like the type used to update daily menus, only it said: “If I owned Champaign and hell, I’d rent out Champaign and live in hell.”

On the left side was Turk’s Head, a bohemian-style, beatnik coffee-shop that served food at people’s prices and often had free movies, like “The Wild Ones” with Marlon Brando, or a similar counterculture classic—with free popcorn. They also had a wide selection of exotic beers available. On the right was Mary Shirley’s business venture, In Stitches, and also Bob Nutt’s business venture, Blytham Ltd. (a name suggested by Jim Cole, for it’s British flavor). Downstairs was The Leather Shop, created by a jazz drummer who would briefly join the Finchleys. His name was Glenn Conkright (spelling?).

Turks HeadBob Nutt had a business partner named Irv Azoff. Originally from Danville, IL, Azof was a fraternity brother of Nutt, and they decided to hook their wagons to the garage-rock movement to see if it would take them to the stars. Only one would make it. Blytham had the bands completely under their thumb because they invested thousands in equipment and paid the band members nominal allowances until the cost of the equipment was paid off. In Stitches was probably the most fashionable rock’n’roll boutique in the world at the time. Mary’s designs were always daring and spectacular. She was so far ahead of her time. The bands were all outfitted in her clothes (if they could afford it, that is).

Nutt would be yelling to someone on the phone, threatening to never let some venue book the Finchley’s again unless they took all of Nutt’s other bands, like the Seeds of Doubt, or the Knight Riders, and they also had to promise not to book any band not affiliated with Blytham—since they had cleverly signed every competent high school and college band around. Blytham was establishing a virtual monopoly on live rock music in the area. Irv seemed like a nice guy. I bought some buttons from him and he was fun to talk to. Blytham had a huge collection of anti-establishment buttons for sale. Buttons were really big back then, as this was before t-shirts carried any messages.

Guy Maynard of the Seeds of Doubt was blossoming into a real revolutionary and had a big confrontation with Azof at the House of Chin. Guy evolved into a world-class novelist and will probably release the story himself some day, but the upshot was that the money from the rock entertainment business belonged to the people, not the rock stars and their managers. Irv really exploded when he heard that line. (I guess you know Azoff turned into the most powerful person in the music industry?) Here’s a picture of Nutt (below, wearing hat) and Azof in 1969, after they grew their hair.

If you like these stories, why not check out my band, the Soul Assassins, and my free eBooks, see links at the top-right of this page. Please subscribe so you don’t miss future posts, and thanks for stopping by.

Finchley Boys versus The Seeds of Doubt

The Tiger’s Den was a one-story wood building located in downtown Urbana, Illinois, with a large, empty room that was used for a wide variety of functions, including weekly live music performances. In 1966, two local bands emerged, The Finchley Boys and the Seeds of Doubt, and they were among the first bands in Illinois to be influenced by beat music and the British Wave, what we know today as garage bands. The picture above is a performance of the Seeds of Doubt at the Den with a psychedelic light show in full effect.

Guy Maynard

The Seeds may have come first, but the Finchley’s sort of roared by when lead guitarist Mark Warwick wrote the first of many originals: “Only Me.” James Cole and Guy Maynard, the respective two lead singers, were the most charismatic teenagers in town, but they had different personalities. While Cole bedded what must have been dozens of the most nubile teenagers (who were throwing themselves at him), Maynard decided to save his virginity for a great love affair. Both were 16 at the time. “Only Me,” shifted the balance of power inside the Finchleys. Previously, the highlight of every performance had been Cole’s rendition of “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” during which he would prowl the stage and sometimes even come out into the crowd. Many of us were facing extreme battles on the home front (see my eBook, “The Steam Tunnels”), and Cole expressed our intense commitment to preserve our hard-fought long hair and counterculture principles.

But “Only Me” raised the bar. Obviously written after the effects of the glue party the Finchley’s had secretly held at the Shirley sisters’ barn: “Only Me” championed our belief that the emerging psychedelic substances could open doors to true spirituality. I felt like I was in church whenever I heard the song. But it wasn’t really Cole’s style of song and didn’t suit him. So the harmonica player, George Faber, took over singing it. Faber was already a showman, but he took “Only Me” to another level, eventually incorporating yoga positions and a live boa constrictor into the act. But when a minor dispute broke out between Cole and Faber, Cole left the band instantly, saying he wanted to play guitar. A few weeks later, he joined the Seeds as their third guitar player, and they probably became the greatest live act around for the brief few weeks they lasted.

Jim Cole

Cole would put down the guitar for one song: “I’m Not Like Everybody Else.” In 1967, I joined the Knight Riders, a junior version of The Finchleys and Seeds. We hung out with them when we could and were booked by the same managers (Bob Nutt & Irv Azoff). The Knight Riders introduced me to Carole, who I quickly resolved was the greatest teenage goddess in the universe. One morning I showed up at Urbana High with some LSD. I’d been up all night tripping with Doug Blair, my first experience with the psychedelic state-of-mind. The Knight Riders were horrified and kicked me out of the band on the spot for being a drug addict, even though they’d been smoking the local ditch-weed (which didn’t get you high) for weeks and would eventually evolve into huge potheads. That same afternoon I took my 2 LSD tablets to Uni High and gave them to Carole. Within minutes, the entire school heard through the grapevine that Carole had LSD on her and Steve Hager had provided it. My brother was a junior there, and I’m sure he must have been greatly concerned, for he told my parents that night before dinner, which precipitated the most violent response from by father, known to my friends as “Bad Dad.”