Music continued to keep the lines of communication open between us. I remember for my 12th birthday Daddy brought me a Walkman cassette player with headphones. For my 14th it was an all-in-one turntable with radio and cassette. My gifts to him were often record albums my mom knew he would appreciate, like Eric Clapton’s Slowhand or Bob Dylan at Budokan.
1972 photo of Quicksilver Messenger Service. Left top-Dino Valenti, drums-Greg Elmore, guitar-Gary Duncan. Author; Capitol Records
I remember my father’s sheer delight when he heard I was reading J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in 8th grade, saying it was one of his all-time favorite books ever, so literature, too, became a shared interest. In high school I was soon drawn to Kerouac novels from my mom’s bookshelves and I knew I was drinking from the same fountain as my father. In my mother’s paperback collection, I also discovered the likes of Carlos Castañeda, Henry Miller, Ken Kesey and Anais Nin.
When I later attended University of San Francisco, my father turned me on to Richard Brautigan, another late-Beat generation writer, handing me a collection of short stories, including one particularly haunting one called “The Abortion” set in San Francisco in the 60s.
Brautigan had been a voice for The Summer of Love and parts of his top-selling book Trout Fishing in America were first published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the legendary proprietor of the City Lights bookstore where the Beat poets and authors all hung out in the 60s. Ferlinghetti was still there during my time in San Francisco and for many years after. I saw that he just died in February 2021 at 101 years old.
“Vida was very amused by what was going on. She certainly was pretty. We were all very relaxed lying there on the bed. The whiskey had made us mud-puddly at the edges of our bodies and the edges of our minds. ‘This is delightful.’ Vida said.” — 1970 The Abortion: An Historical Romance
Taking another hit of sweet California sunshine (Quicksilver Messenger memories)
When Daddy came out to San Francisco for my graduation in 1995, we had some time together in my apartment at Stanyan and Oak. One quiet afternoon when everyone else was out, we sat in my living room with the bowed windows facing out over Golden Gate Park, listening to Quicksilver Messenger Service at top decibel.
“I took you with me to see Quicksilver in concert, you up on my shoulders,” Daddy’s voice is low, a little slurry from the wine. He keeps a jug hidden in his duffel in our extra bedroom. I'm kind of half-asleep, or pretending to be, on the futon sofa and he's sitting on the floor in front of me, leaned back against the futon frame. At some point I drape my right arm over his shoulder.
“You know who Dino Valente, the lead singer is, don’t you?” he asks.
“Mmm-nnnh.” I muster.
“Dino Valente’s real name was Chet Powers, ‘fact he just died last year. Guy’s a brilliant musician, also went by Jesse Oris Farrow. He wrote the song ‘Get Together’ you probably know, by the Youngbloods.”
I always felt completely inadequate when it came to such knowledge of music while Daddy was this living, breathing historical reference.
“Yeah, you up on my shoulders at that concert; everybody thought you were al-right, kid.”
I try to imagine my one-year-old self with my father squeezed into a packed indoor concert hall in San Francisco in 1969. Without any other details, the vision fades out. But as I’m lying here, together with my father in the city of my birth for the first time since we both left it when I was barely two, I am profoundly aware of why the music—particularly the Sounds of San Francisco like Quicksilver, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, not to mention Dylan, the Stones, the Doors, Buffalo Springfield--it has always felt familiar, like it’s way down in my bones and deep in my soul.
Daddy gets quiet again. We’re just taking in the music and lyrics, probably the only time we’ve ever listened to Quicksilver together like this, ever. Previously, we might have shared only in conversation. The music somehow just didn’t show up when we were together. (And hell, when were we ever really together, anyway? Rarely just the two of us during those 25+ years since he'd left me and my mom.)
But now Quicksilver croons, telling me to hold on girl and not to be blue. It's “Light All Your Windows,” the song that does it for both of us.
Daddy takes my right hand there over his shoulder, pulls it more snugly against his chest and pats it.
“Aww doll,” he says with effort, as if the weight of it all—my whole lifetime, mostly without him—is here in this moment, in the music.
Some years later, the first seven words of that song would be how Daddy communicated with me from Beyond. The lyrics “bleeped” across my forehead like a radio station tuning in momentarily and then gone again, when I had asked for a sign.
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When I came across this poem my father wrote, I decided to get interested in Route 60 and found that it runs from Virginia Beach right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, launching westward for 2,655 miles by way of Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and landing somewhere around Brenda, Arizona (pop. 676). Los Angeles is about four-and-a-half-hours due west while San Francisco—where my father would always end up—is a good 10½ hours further north of that.
Highway 60 would have been like an old familiar friend to him, traversed both ways numerous times by car, 18-wheeler, and motorcycle as well as with thumb or “palm a-waving” many a time, in all kinds of weather--trying to get east of somewhere he’d rather not be.
It is “here” I allow myself to be in the moment with Daddy, to grant him human being-ness outside of being our father, and just let him be who he knew himself to be for a moment. Let him be Neal Cassady, living with wild abandon on the road with nothing to tie him down and no one to answer to and no responsibilities to anyone. Just the call of the highway, warm smell of colitas rising up through the air in dingy rooms with mamacitas to drink and lay with and never see again. - Excerpt from Letters from East of Nowhere