The subtlety of bizarre changes in the Family was hard to determine, since everyone pretty much went along with Charlie. Still, the focus and cohesiveness of the scene had disintegrated. Most of the Family simply weren’t ready for the utter solitude at Barker’s. Charlie’s own detachment was obvious.
One night during a rap, he paused in the middle of a sentence and stared straight ahead, as though addressing a presence above our heads.
“I came to you,” he said softly, his face wearing a distracted expression, “as a deer in the forest. I came to you with wonder in my eyes and love in my heart for you. For you were man and you were God and I could see it. I came to you with love. And you slaughtered me.”
Though it didn’t register consciously at the time, his statement was a prophetic one. It was the first sign that the flower child in
Then, all at once, things changed dramatically. Charlie returned from
“What we need to do is program the young love to split… when the scene comes down, they’re gonna need someplace to go. Well, we got that place. We’re here, and we can show the young love where to come. And we can show them with music.”
Suddenly we were no longer “coming from nowhere and going nowhere,” with “nothing to do but make love.” Now we had a purpose. The timing was perfect. As things had started to fragment on one level, Charlie (perhaps unwittingly) had shifted gears, jolting us out of our passivity and indolence into an attitude of action. We had a responsibility to the real world. What we had worked to achieve at Spahn’s – a level of psychic and spiritual freedom, a “oneness” – would be communicated to others. Since we had all tasted of city corruption and violence, we saw a virtue in leading “the young love” away from it. That’s why we had come to the desert. The more Charlie talked about it, the more convincing it appeared.
I began flashing on the article about the cop who shot the sixteen-year-old black kid. I recalled what had happened in Watts and I remembered the rap of Black Muslims in
Each time I went to
It got colder. Thanksgiving came, and we had a huge meal around the fire at the Meyers ranch. The next day it snowed. Brooks Posten chopped wood. So did I. In early December the weather drove us together in huddling, cuddling groups. To sleep, we packed side by side like sardines under blankets and sleeping bags; bodily friction was no longer a luxury; only Charlie’s raps fired the air. Bundled in sweaters and a parka, he clomped the floor at night in his motorcycle boots, his hands thrust into the pockets of his jacket, his words crisp against the cold, his respiration visible white puffs. He no longer looked like the inspired, soft-spoken guru, but like a general briefing his troops before the battle.
Now there was structure to what he preached. Everything that had seemed so nebulous before now had direction. Our songs reflected the change:
It’s time to call time from behind you
The illusion has been just a dream
Now is when on a sunshine beam
So bring only your perfection
For their love will surely be
No pain, no fear, no hunger
You can see, you can see, you can see
Naively, perhaps, we all thought Charlie was right, that we had a duty and that everything we had worked for could now be applied to our music. I’ve often wished we had recorded some of the sessions we did at the Barker ranch at the base of the mountains. We worked hard; hours and hours. And it showed. As a professional musician, I can say without reservation that what we were doing was as good as, and in most cases better than, some of the top-selling recordings of the day. Though Charlie had spoken to us of violence – the violence of the revolution – there was never any talk of us doing anything but music. We had yet to hear the words Helter-Skelter.
In mid-December Charlie sent out two contingents from the ranch, one to Sacramento, one to Los Angeles, The Sacramento group, which included Tex, Sadie, T.J., Katie, Stephanie, Ella, and Leslie Van Houten, went to buy zuzus from a candy connection on the outskirts of the city. We were all pretty much addicted to zuzus and Charlie wanted an excuse to put the bus on the road again. He didn’t like leaving it parked unattended at the foot of the wash. Meanwhile, I was to take Snake and Gypsy with me to
The first night in
Two days later, Charlie drove the bus back from
That night we all hiked up to the Meyers place and built a roaring fire. Everyone was back. We had a full supply of food, candy, beverages, and enough wood to keep the fire stoked and blazing. Charlie was completely energized; his mood charged everyone. It was like a ritual gathering of some desert tribe to make New Year’s resolutions. A ceremony before the fire. The flames reflected in Charlies’ eyes as he spoke.
“Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying?… Dig it, they’re telling it like it is. They know what’s happening in the city; blackie is getting ready. They put the revolution to music… it’s ‘Helter-Skelter.’ Helter-Skelter is coming down. Hey, their album is getting the young love ready, man, building up steam. Our album is going to pop the cork right out of the bottle.”
Two days later, Charlie and T.J. split for
Charlie’s burst of energy seemed to revitalize everyone from the stupor of winter cold. While he was gone we all listened to the album over and over, particularly to five songs; “Blackbird,” “Piggies,” “Revolution 1,” “Revolution 9,” and “Helter-Skelter.” Sitting high in the Panamints around the fire, the songs did seem strangely prophetic. We listened to “Helter-Skelter,” to the discord and caterwauling of “Revolution 9,” which ends with machine guns firing and people screaming in agony as though it were the end of the world.
Indeed, at that point Charlie’s credibility seemed indisputable. For weeks he had been talking of revolution, prophesying it. We had listened to him rap; we were geared for it – making music to program the young love. Then, from across the
From the day I joined the Family, Charlie referred to the Beatles as “the soul,” and later even called them part of “the hole in the infinite.” Certainly the group had affected (and directed to some extent) the early Family philosophy; their album Magical Mystery Tour set the tempo of our entire trip during the early days: the idea that life is what you make it; that you’re free to be what you are, so long as you submit to the forces inside you: “turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.” Charlie believed in the Beatles and we believed in Charlie. By the time The White Album was released, with “Helter-Skelter,” both Charlie and the Beatles had been more than validated in our minds.
Around the tenth of January T.J. returned from
“Charlie… says… we should all come to
By three that afternoon we were packed and on our way – all but Brooks and Juanita, whom I asked to stay at Barker’s to keep an eye on things. With the big bus out of commission, we took one of the Dodge power wagons and an old vintage pickup we had acquired from someone in
The Family’s new residence was a two-story house at
Charlie had immediately dubbed the place “The Yellow Submarine.” From there, he said, we would remain “submerged beneath the awareness of the outside world” while working on our music.
Things got more intense, Charlie’s raps more elaborate and graphic: “You know what’s gonna happen one of these nights… the blacks from Watts are gonna break into the houses of some rich white piggies in Beverly Hills and start wasting them… you know… and it ain’t gonna be very pretty… like they’ll be vicious… they’ll chop them up and mutilate them and fling blood around; then whitey is gonna retaliate… he’ll go into the ghetto and start shooting blacks. I can see it happening. Then, blackie will go on TV and appeal to the government. ‘Hey look what you’ve done to my people.’ And the war’s gonna start, man… it’s gonna be worse than any war this country ever knew, ‘cause it’s gonna be here on these streets in these cities and it’s gonna come down hard. It’s gonna be a war between whitey and the Uncle Tom niggers… for keeps, ‘cause this war has been a long time comin’… the slaves are gonna have their day. But dig it, the smart ones will be the Muslims, ‘cause while the shit’s comin’ down they’ll be hiding in their basements with all kinds of weapons and strategies, and when the time is right they’ll come out and finish off what’s left of whitey. That’s why we got to get our scene together and get back to the desert.
“We gotta be ready,” he said, “to save the babies… there’re gonna be lots of homeless babies from this, and we got to take them with us. So we’re gonna need vehicles to transport people… dune buggies, motorcycles, and good maps.”
The more he rapped, the more we sensed the impending holocaust. I remember sitting in the living room beside Snake and Clem and looking out the window, wondering if the violence would reach us. We listened to The White Album for hours to “Revolution 9,” the gunfire and the screaming. It gave me chills. Meanwhile, we practiced our own music for hours, wrote new songs to operate beneath the level of people’s awareness and to program those “who were one in their minds,” to come to the desert.
Everyone who is a One
Is looking for the last door
So if you are a One, my friend,
You don’t need to look anymore
And everyone who is a two
Knows there’s nowhere else to go
So get on down that road, my friend,
Let it go, let it go, let it go!
The more Charlie talked about revolution, the more we agreed. We had been conditioned “to agree,” to accept and submit; we had also learned that often just agreeing was enough, that if Charlie saw you were willing to experience something, it would not be necessary to actually do it. At times I felt Charlie was merely testing us, gauging our reaction to his gory descriptions. Later, when he started talking about mounting machine guns on the roll bars of our dune buggies to defend ourselves against the pigs – “while the guys drive, the girls can man the machine guns” – it sounded pretty farfetched and I felt often that he was playing games. When people said, “Yeah, sure, Charlie, far-out,” subconsciously they were playing the “old” games without really digesting what he said. Yet, they agreed.
It may well be that in time, with so many people going for his rap, Charlie became a victim of his own imagination – perhaps the power of all that agreement created a reality, until ultimately he really believed he was destined to engineer a race war.
One day in mid-February around ten A.M. Charlie asked me to ride up to Spahn’s with him in the jeep. I grabbed a handful of plums from a bowl in the kitchen and followed him out to the car. We drove to the end of
“I want to see how things are shaping up at Spahn’s… talk to Juan and get a little scene going there again. I’d like you to bullshit with George while I look around.”
When we passed
“Dig it, man… that’s why blackie’s been so pacified… still got a handle on whitey’s women. He’s up in Haight Ashbury now raping the young love, expending all his energy. But now that the young love is starting to split, he’s gonna get real frustrated, you know. And that’s when he’s gonna blow it.”
Just before we reached the foothills, Charlie stopped at a liquor store and ran inside to buy some doughnuts; he was already eating one when he climbed back into the jeep and handed me the package. I took a doughnut as he Brodied out onto the highway, then turned onto
It was good to be out of the congestion. Though Spahn’s is just five minutes away from the business district of the
“Hey, man,” Charlie said after a long silence. “Speaking of young love, how about you hustling some new blood? You know, maybe enroll in that high school. I see some fine-looking girls walking to school in the morning. Can you dig that?”
“Sure, why not… maybe I can get my diploma!”
Charlie chuckled. “Yeah… get educated… study the mystery of history, and the ramis-jamis… and in the meantime, we’ll call it the in-between time. Then, on the other hand, of course, you have a ring.” Charlie looked down at his left hand, the middle finger of which sported a turquoise ring. “Now,” he went on, “take the toad’s toenail… pretty ain’t it – bleep, bleep – ride in a jeep.”
We turned in at Spahn’s and drove alongside the saloon and parked. Tommy Thomas emerged from under the building, barking, and Charlie stooped to pat him. Moments later, Randy swaggered out of the barn, and when Charlie shouted, Randy waved back and smiled.
“Look, he’s grinning,” Charlie said through his teeth, still grinning. “Must have taken a good shit for himself.”
“What’s happening, Shorty?” I greeted Shorty Shea as he came out of the tack room behind us, carrying a saddle and a handful of bridles.
“Not much. Howdy, Charlie… where you guys been?… Oh, yeah,
“Colder than a well digger’s ass at night,” Charlie quipped.
“I bet.” Shorty gave Charlie a long expressionless look, then hoisted the saddle to his shoulder with a grunt. “Got to get these horses saddled and ready to go.” He ambled off toward the corral, where Larry and Juan Flynn were saddling mounts for a gang of tourists. Juan had moved back to Spahn’s to work full time for George as a wrangler. He showed up on occasion at Gresham Street, but infrequently. Juan was one of the first to start drifting away from Charlie’s orbit. Charlie sensed this and wanted to find out why.
Charlie slapped at a fly on his cheek, “Same old shit… got to submit to these poop-butt motherfuckin’ flies. Go on up and check George out, will ya, Paul? I want to look around a bit, then I’ll be up there.”
I called Tommy Thomas and he trotted ahead of me up to George’s house. I knocked and the bell sounded.
“Come in, come in,” he shouted. “I’m blind as a bat, can’t see a thing.”
I went inside and sat down at the table next to George. Gypsy winked from across the room; she was doing the breakfast dishes. I asked George how things were going and he told me that a few months back Charlie had given him the money to pay the taxes (money the Family had gotten from Juanita) but that the government wanted more all the time.
“Hell, if it keeps up, I’m gonna have to sell this place off. If it wasn’t for Ruby Pearl, nothin’ would get done.”
“What happened to Dody?”
“Hell, they come and got her… dragged her off to some funny farm up north. Damn shame, is what it is… she never done nothin’ to hurt anybody.”
“Who ya got living in the back ranch house?”
“Some fella and a gal and a baby… fella says he’s James Dean’s brother… damned if I know… but they’re okay… pay right up.”
A few minutes later Charlie came in. Gypsy poured us all coffee and Charlie bullshitted with George about the business of running a ranch. Soon Charlie was crackin’ jokes and both he and George were laughing uproariously.
“Damn,” Charlie gasped. “All that laughin’ makes me fart, George.”
“Nothin’ wrong with that,” George snorted. “You know the old sayin… a fartin’ horse will never tire, a man who farts is good to hire.”
After we left George’s, Charlie grabbed his guitar from the backseat of the jeep and we walked up the trail to the outlaw shacks. We sat on the steps a while and talked, then Charlie started to play.
“Just like when you first come to Spahn’s,” he mused. He began singing nonsense songs and I joined in; he’d do a verse, then I’d join in; then I’d do one and he’d sing along. In a matter of minutes we were in perfect syncopation, anticipating each other with almost absolute precision. Since the day I met Charlie, we’d always had this uncanny sense of timing; it was like complete psychic harmony. It was always there, and it seemed to amaze Charlie as much as it did me.
What Charlie and I achieved during these duets is what he sought to bring together with all the Family on all levels – a single flow of energy; such co0mplete submission to impulse that all energy became a single force unto itself. This was a profound concept, one I came closest to experiencing when we did music together. While it tied me very closely to Charlie, it also linked him strongly to me.
Suddenly he set down the guitar. “Hey, man,” he said, “take my hand.” He held out his right hand.
“Rub it… go on, pretend I’m Snake.” He sniggered.
I rubbed his hand with the fingers of my right hand.
“Do it again… keep doing it… yeah, wait.” He pulled his hand away. “Dig it, never make the same motion twice. Vary it, you know.” He took my hand. “Rub it like this, then change it, improvise, get the feel… you see. It’s like music, man, you change the beat, you feel it, you tune into the soul. Hey, it’s like making love. You can’t just bang away – bang, bang, bang, with no rhythm, no sense of surprise; it ain’t the meat, it’s the motion. That’s where it’s at with anything that’s got some soul. But you have to let it flow… let it be what it is, ‘cause it’s all one rhythm. Hey, you ever seen motion like this?”
Charlie began moving his hands like a belly dancer’s, weaving them around, under and over each other. “See,” he said, “no two motions alike… every motion its own… pretty soon they go by themselves, you know. Look at the motherfuckers, they’re alive!”
Later we walked back to the ranch house to say good-bye to George and Juan. When we passed Randy on our way out, he waved.
“Take it easy, Paul… Charlie.”
“Hey, don’t stop in any horseshit,” Charlie bellowed.
Driving back, Charlie told me the vibes seemed okay at Spahn’s. “George ain’t no problem. Gypsy and Squeaky take good care of him. I want to start stashin’ some vehicles and parts up there, put some campsites along the creek, you know. Maybe we better check back on the Fountain too, see what those crazy bastards are doing.”
As we turned off Santa Susana, Charlie asked if I wanted to hear a song he’d just written, and without waiting for an answer, proceeded to belt it out. The song, “The Eyes of a Dreamer,” a fast-moving ballad, was one we would later record on our album; it said a lot about Charlie during those days before “the holocaust.”
It’s all in the eyes of a dreamer
It’s all in the eyes of a man
All the things we’ve done in life
And all the things we planned
Can the world be sad as it seems
Where are your hopes, where are your dreams
They’re in the eyes of a dreamer
In the eyes of a man
All the songs have been sung
And all the saints have been hung
The wars and cries have been wailed
And all good people have been jailed…
Charlie glanced over, grinning; he had both hands on the steering wheel; his head was tilted back, his hair flowing. “Dig this next part.”
The moment is ever constant in the mind
Everywhere I look the blind lead the blind
Here’s your chance
To step out of time
There ain’t no reason and there ain’t no rhyme
For the trouble you bring
Is the trouble you bring
And a thing is a thing
Is a thing, is a thing…
It was two o’clock by the time we got back to the house. I had Stephanie draw me a bath, then I changed clothes and drove the BSA bike I’d just acquired down to Birmingham High to enroll.
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD
COPYRIGHT PAUL WATKINS AND GUILLERMO SOLEDAD