Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hell's Cave

Right about 8th grade my mother completely lost control of me. I did whatever I wanted and went wherever I wanted. I spent just about every night that summer sleeping in some tree house somewhere. It wasn’t just me. There were a lot of us. We were a society of post pubescent cultural dilettantes. Boys and girls were finally mixing and we were all smoking to prove we were mature. Bicycles were still our means of transportation.

There was an abandoned limestone quarry that was so forgotten it became a lush, hidden valley. The forest was so dense you had to chop your way through. In a corner, at the bottom of a tall bluff, a giant boulder had been pushed to cover a small opening.

All the kids knew about Hell’s Cave. Years later when we mentioned it to the older folks we learned that kids of every generation knew about it. The memory would fade with adulthood.

I used to go there with my friend Don Belk. He was the one that got us started with our bike theft ring. I took most of the heat from the parents because I was naturally guilty, being from the city.

Don and I would spend hours playing air guitar on yard sticks to “The Pusher” and “Magic Carpet Ride” from the Steppenwolf Live album and “Lola” by The Kinks.

A couple of years later, after I moved back to the city, I would hitchhike back to Don’s. By then he was playing bass guitar. He turned me on to the Mel Bay grab box in Kirkwood where I bought my first electric guitar for $25.00. I think his bass actually belonged to Tracy. Don introduced me to Tracy who became one of my best friends and bass player for years. We would end up living together. He’s my son’s god father.

At that time Don introduced me to Chuck Taylor and Leland Smith. Chuck came up with the name “Blue Mist” and we had a band. We were literally a garage band. We’d load up a little red wagon with our gear and carry it 5 blocks to someone’s garage. We put a board across it and loaded it up with amps, drums, axes, --- everyting. We had to surround the wagon and hang onto all of it. When the cops answered a peace disturbance call we’d carry it another 5 blocks to the next garage. The only song we knew was “18” by Alice Cooper and we didn’t know the chorus. We’d play a loop of the verse that could last for hours.

I brought my friends Dom and Benet out there from the city. I was just beginning to play with them. For a while I was in 2 bands. Chuck always asked me if he was a better guitarist than Dom. He was very insecure. At that time Dom let me into his band because I had an amp and he could share it with me. He taught me how to play “Down by the River” by Neil Young. I was finally starting to learn complete songs.

Don would eventually end up doing time and died a few years ago.

Anyway my mind wandered way off course, back to Hell’s Cave. There was rumored to be at least 20 large chambers in the cave and it eventually ended up at the Meramec River. We knew of 3 of the chambers. Usually we would crawl to the first one and smoke cigarettes. We were lucky there were no gas pockets. One weekend we planned to crawl all the way through. We camped on a giant slab of limestone outside the cave’s entrance. I remember looking up at the milky white soup of endless stars and listening to Nilsson’s “Spaceman”. Someone must have brought a radio.

About 3:00am we decided it was time. I took the lead. After the first chamber you had to climb up to continue through the narrow path to the next chamber. There was a spring flowing through that was very cold. It was probably what cut the cave in the first place. The crawl space got smaller and smaller and finally opened to the next chamber. At times I would get stuck and a claustrophobic panic attack would start to get me. This went on for hours. I did make it to a 4th chamber that none of us had made it to before. This one was different. It was very tall, wide and very thin. It was really a giant crack in solid rock but at least I could stretch. After regaining my composure I started back through the cave. It got tighter and colder. I felt like I was climbing through Satan’s colon.

I got to a point where it was getting very hard to continue. In exhaustion I rested and aimed my flashlight into the water. I gazed straight into Hell. There were tiny creatures writhing in the water. Monsters I didn’t know existed outside of a fever dream. They had huge bulbous eyes and you could see through their bodies. They seemed to be staring at me with hatred. They wanted me to suffer an agonizing death. I screamed and yelled for everyone to back out, I was coming through. It seemed like it took forever to get out of the cave. I think it was about 10:00am and the sun was blazing. It was really hot but I collapsed on our slab that was cooking in the sun where I fell asleep.

Later someone did a little research and found a picture of the monsters I saw. They were called water crickets.


dominic schaeffer said...

You had the amp AND the long hair! BONUS! Chuck had nothing to worry about- i was/am NOT a guitarist. I just used it to dabble and write. That's why i hung out with you! (well- the amp and hair helped!)

Tony Patti said...

Yeah Dom, you were not a guitarist, but you could play songs. At one time, that was the beginning and the end of it. Later, as we learned our scales and started playing in key, you were a little less facile but still there with the rest of us. I would never think of you as not being able to play guitar if you wanted. Do you still play it ever?

Tony Patti said...

David, where is this picture from? Is it as recent as it looks?

Doggie said...

Don't let Dom fool you. He was a great guitarist. He and Benet were a band all by themselves. His brother Daniel taught him blues songs and his sis Maria turned him onto flute. I stole the pic but it looks just like the opening to Hell's Cave.

dominic schaeffer said...

This Hells Cave story is very cool and the shit nightmares are made of. First i ever heard of Water Crickets.

I appreciate the compliment re my guitar playing... when i don't overthink it i can get it right, but it's rare that i can get my stupid brain out the way and just let it happen. That's why flute then sax were so much to my liking- only one note at a time to deal with!

But one time... at band camp... er- i mean Venice- on a whim I picked up Angelos SG (with his blessings) and with Matt Smith on bass and Mike Collins on drums did the "Live At Leeds" version of The Underture... it was flawless, don't ask me how but i had nothing to do with it...!?! Trust the event, i guess.

rita martinez frazier, st louis said...

while at my uncle jorge (george martinz's) 80th birthday party last night, he had pictures posted of himself at the velvet plastic ball in 1967. it got me curious and it let me to this page. he is still as hip and groovy as ever, living it still large and the youngest 80 year old you are ever going to find. these posts are interesting and didnt know he was such a young scoundrek in the days. all i know is that he lived large and still does! this was a great read about the lacede days. knew he was always involved in it, just never got all the stories,...thx!

wutdaheckisdat said...

So I had a dream last night about Hell's Cave and when I got home from work to try to find something about it I found your blog and it was EXACTLY how I remembered it. Thanks for bringing that back to life for me!