Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Day I Made it Final

At the height of my trumpet playing powers, when my embrasure was still good, my teachers and mother insisted I had a unique tone. My skull and nasal passages had something to do with it.

I always hated trumpet but never had the guts to admit it, maybe even to myself.

Trumpet had a blaring, rude sound. Other instruments' keys were played in order. You raise one finger, the pitch goes up. Trumpet was a combination of three buttons that were more like a combination code than a methodical method of pitch control.

The only reason I ever took it up in the first place was my brother Patrick. When I was in 6th grade he came home with a violin and announced he was taking lessons. No one had ever approached me at school about lessons and I never knew how it happened for him.

I was jealous. My dad had an old cornet so I was able to push my way into the class.

It became clear my dad’s old cornet, with its sticky valves, wouldn’t be adequate. My mom took me to St. Anne Music to rent a trumpet. St. Anne’s was the student instrument capital of the world then. We found one that had a copper bell. I had never seen anything like it. I thought it had magical powers. The guy at the store told me the copper attracted static electricity and enhanced the tone. I completely bought his silly story.

A year later, when our family was about to lose our house in the county, the trumpet repo man started knocking on our door. I knew he wanted the trumpet back, so I hid in the dark and pretended not to be at home. One night, I forgot to hide and answered the door. He asked where the horn was. I lied and told him it was in my locker at school. He asked how my studies were going. I told him it was going well and how much I loved playing trumpet. I never saw him again.

Years, and several schools, later, my teacher Thelma Lewis had me auditioning for Walter Susskind, the director of the St. Louis Symphony. I won summer lessons from one of the symphony’s trumpet players. I couldn’t care less. The lesson interfered with my vacation time so I quit.

This was right around the time I took up electric guitar.

Before I gave up public education all together, I spent a year at Southwest. I was in the marching band. We spent every weekend at a football game or parade. I’ll never forget playing the Budweiser tune in the Veiled Prophet Parade. I always suspected they donated money to the school band.

We were living in the Central West End at the time. I used to love to take the bus downtown. The tall buildings and crowded streets were totally intoxicating to me. I spent all my time at Ludwig Aeolian and Hunleth Music. They were magical places. Hunleth had exotic instruments that were impossible to identify hanging from the walls.

Through all of this, my brother was as impassioned as ever about violin. Unlike me, he meant it. He was still in grade school and needed a new violin. I knew what had to be done. We played hooky from school and took the bus downtown. I threw my trumpet case up on the counter at Hunleth. I opened it and showed the salesman my horn. He admitted it was beautiful and traded even for a violin for Patrick. I felt a sudden emptiness, but it was final. I would never be a trumpet player.

When we were back on the street, we were stopped by a truant officer. He assumed I was old enough to be out of school but wanted to run my brother in. I showed him the violin and told him I was taking my little brother to pick it up for school. He bought it and let us go.

My brother picked up the nickname Slash. As much as he loved his violin, this was no coincidence.

When I hear the sad little trumpet solo in Islands, by King Crimson, I really wish I still played.

Walter Susskind, a teenage Patrick slashing away, and me (Prince Valiant haircut) in the bleachers with the Southwest High School Marching Band.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Of all the shows my band ever played, probably the best loved and most remembered was in the basement of a kid named Nick Moon. Dominic dug up a blog a couple of years ago that referred to it as the legendary Wax Theatricks show in Nick Moon’s basement.

This was in the 70’s at the height of the Punk scene.

Although it was pretentious by punk standards we loved to pour on the special effects. We considered ourselves an art band and only had one real punk song. It was a song Dominic wrote called Ronald Reagan. I think it was actually written before he was President but I could be wrong. At the song’s climax Dominic ran to the front of the stage with an explosive plunger.

Strobe lights flickered as he hit the plunger that detonated a flash bomb leaving rubble and smoke machine fog pouring into the audience. Somehow this was more effective in Nick’s basement than it had ever been at the clubs. It blew everyone’s minds.

Nick lived in a mansion on one of the private streets in the Central West End. He was an only child and had terrible social skills. He tried desperately to win respect but he was just too awkward.

He thought we were spiritual brothers because we both loved Roxy Music. There didn’t seem to be too many Roxy fans at that point.

Nick was always in your face and had way too much enthusiasm.

My friends George, Tony Patti and I think Fojammi had an apartment at Clayton and Taylor. Like so many of my Central West End apartments, it’s now a Washington University parking lot. One snowy night at Nick’s we decided to visit. I’m not sure who all was there but I remember Benet was.

Nick was always trying to impress us. He decided to steal his parents antique Mercedes. He had no business driving at all, let alone a manual transmission you had to double clutch like a truck. Every moment of the drive was hair raising.

He took the corner at Taylor and Clayton way too fast. We turned on our side and drove on two wheels like a stunt in a movie. I remember, miraculously, we drove up on a sidewalk between a telephone pole and a cyclone fence before we rolled all the way over.

I remember excruciating pain in my hand as I looked over at Benet. He was unconscious. Nick scoped out the damage before yelling, “My mother is going to kill me!”

I don’t think I ever saw Nick after that. I did hear stories about his being cruel to animals like Jeffrey Dahmer. I never wanted to believe it, but Nick was just a bit off.

This Mercedes pic looks right, even the right color.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thank You All

Man, I have a lot of friends. I have to post the birthday card Valerie made. I look like their buddy Charlie Manson.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Deaf Eddy

One of my first real jobs in the early 70s was dishwashing at Duff’s Restaurant. I was turned onto the job by my buddy Dominic. The West End was just building its way back up from urban blight and normal people could still afford to live there.

Washington University/Barnes Hospital hadn’t bought all the property yet. I would end up having to move 4 times as they bought up apartments out from under me.

Dirty dishes were sent to the basement by dumbwaiter at Duff’s. It was a swamp down there. There was a huge walk-in cooler and employees would sneak in there to get stoned. I remember one dishwasher who worked totally naked except for a pair of fishing boots. The famous Bill Burgdorf washed dishes down there. He told me his book store had been raided because he sold the novel Candy. I never read it but the movie was pretty silly. Do they still ban certain books?

Bill and a small group of us were smoking a joint in the alley in back of the restaurant. I started talking about traveling four light years a second past stars. Someone else started talking about Viet Nam and war in general. Bill asked, “Can’t we get back to traveling four light years a second past stars?”

My friend David Parker said, “He should be ashamed of himself. I would never be a dish washer at his age!”

I was watching a sermon given by Reverend Larry Rice late one night on TV. Parker was seated in the audience. Knowing David was atheist I could only guess he was fighting the good fight for the poor. I knew he had been politically active.

Speaking of Larry Rice, the City of St. Louis was about to claim eminent domain and kick a bunch of old people out of a building in South St. Louis. Coincidentally, it was gospel group The Lester Family’s old recording studio where our band used to rehearse. I sent Rice a little money for their defense fund. Larry wrote me a long and interesting letter of thanks. It was stolen from me years later in a briefcase I used to carry.

We were at a birthday party for a friend last summer and Parker’s name came up. Someone said he was in a jail in Nicaragua. He never had any sense of tact. I can only imagine what he did. I remember someone drunkenly calling out, “Let’s bust him out!” I must’ve been drunk because I was ready to go.

My Christmas bonus was a gram of hash.

I can’t remember if I told this story. My manager was a gay warlock named Vance. The first time I met him he pulled a large kitchen knife on me and said, “Hey lover, how’d you like whisker burns on your butt hole?” We got to be great friends.

Dominic and I wrote our rock opera Webster Hangover in that basement. It opened with an instrumental called E Harmonics that was good enough to make it to our first LP. The guitar had to be tuned differently. I think John Steffen came up with it. He should have stayed in music!

One night I was dishwashing on acid and someone sent a rack filled with glasses down the dumbwaiter. They put the rack in upside down as a practical joke. When I pulled it out, glasses fell shattering everywhere. I lost it. “I’m not washing any more dishes,” I swore. My buddy Kent jumped in to take my place. From that day forward he worked there too.

As I left that night, I walked past a character standing in the darkness of a shop doorway. He was a very tall, very thin, black man dressed in a long purple coat with a purple hat that had a long feather. It was classic pimp drag of the day. He stood silently, looking knowingly at me. In my state I took it as some kind of omen.

Years later I would come to know him as Deaf Eddy. He was a really sweet guy who had gone to the Central Institute for the Deaf. It’s supposed to be one of the best Universities for the deaf.

He told me someone had pulled a knife and stabbed him that night.

I was bartending at the Broadway Oyster Bar one night in the 80s when an old girlfriend showed up with a bunch of her friends. They were really impressed that Eddy and I were having an intense conversation in sign language. Eddy taught me words like Busch, whiskey and fart. He told me there were bands he liked and bands he hated at the Oyster Bar. “How can you tell?” I asked. He could feel the vibrations of the music through the floorboards.

The last time I saw Eddy he was playing darts at 1860s Saloon in Soulard. His initials on the scoreboard were DE. Even he called himself Deaf Eddy.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of Eddy. The picture of my band Jon Cotton was taken in the early 70s at the time of my days at Duff’s. The band are Dominic, Benet, John Steffen, Jimmy Hill and me.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


At some point in the mid 80s I bought a couple of hammocks in Mexico. I had heard the best were from the Yucatan Peninsula and I can attest to that.

It is generally accepted that hammocks began approximately 1000 years ago in Central America by the Mayan Indians. They produced the most accurate calendar, built pyramids and stone palaces, created their own writing system, were extraordinary astronomers and mathematicians, and designed a web-like hammock which is still in use today and considered to be the most comfortable of all hammocks.

There are single, double and triple weaves. There are large ones called matrimonials that can sleep two.

I bought a double and a triple and they’ve been everywhere with me. I’ve even had a sexual experience in one and let me tell you, that’s not easy!

As much as I love loafing in my hammock, I could never sleep in one.

I remember reading The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s about General Simone Bolivar “The Great Liberator” of South America. He and his men slept in hammocks strung from trees in the dense jungle. I’ve always wondered about the minutia of events in the past. They obviously couldn’t have slept on the ground.

I’m thinking about this today because it’s my buddy Benet’s birthday.

Years ago Benet and I used to take his dog Mel camping. On one trip, instead of pitching a tent, I decided to string up a hammock. I ran a rope between the trees above me and stretched a tarp across in case it rained. It did.

I was warm, dry and very comfortable, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I guess you have to be awake to fully appreciate loafing in a hammock.

My plan for retirement is to have a huge screened in porch with a yard full of trees. I will loaf on my hammock and contemplate the passing of the seasons.

But if I have to, I can settle for waiting for summer, driving out to the woods, stringing up my hammock and getting some hard core loafing in.

My ex thinks I’m not ambitious.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Here It Comes

It’s time to shake off that nasty experience called 2010 and get down to some livin’. I lost some good friends in the last year. The rest of us are all getting a little older and a little slower. I only seem to have enough energy to spend about 2 hours in the studio before I burn out. Maybe I’ll start taking speed. The good thing is I have no shortage of material.
Every January 1st we drive out to wine country to our friend Dennis Connelly’s farm. My son Dylan loves adult parties and insists on going with us. My daughter Chloe hangs with her own friends on New Years.
People literally come from around the world to the party. When we’re lucky it’s warm enough to hang around a bonfire. This year it wasn’t. His house is tiny and there must have been a hundred of us.
The living room was filled with musicians of every genre playing together. It kinda makes world peace seem possible. Dennis’ wife Noel always sings Funny Valentine.
This year Hillary Clinton’s State Department assistant was there.
Dennis has always felt like a dad to me. He’s a larger than life character. He’s seen and done everything. He always told me it was important to pull your own weight. He doesn’t have time for people who can’t.
I worked for him for eight years at the Broadway Oyster Bar. He and his partner Donna Jean split up. My girlfriend Joanie, Sharon and I were offered her half of the bar. I had no intention of going into business with my girlfriend. I had bad judgment. Joanie owns 2 restaurants now and is very successful.
I didn’t realize how much Dennis was counting on us. He sold the bar.
The last time I remember working with him was New Year’s 1989. He jumped behind the bar to help me pop champagne bottles open at midnight. Donna Jean wasn’t coming around any more but for some reason Dennis expected to see her that night. He was looking forward to it.
I’ll never forget feeling every bit of his heartbreak as we poured wine in the middle of that midnight storm. He looked at me and said, “No sign of what’s her name!”
New Years is a chance to bury our regrets, remember everyone we love and look forward to another chance to make everything work out.
I can’t wait!
Pics are Dennis on New Years Day 2009, 2010 and 2011 doing what he does best; shucking oysters.