I watched the carnage around me for a moment, utterly astounded – high speed freeway motoring with loaded firearms: these were some irresponsible drivers. I lowered the window to rid myself of the biker’s grim appendage when I caught a glimpse of something in his jacket’s inner pocket – an envelope. I snagged the correspondence, then dropped the nasty army jacket onto the calamitous freeway, where presumably biker and arms could be reunited. As I took off in a further cloud of tire smoke, I noted, with a certain sense of satisfaction, that the assholes in the sedan had burst into flames, a big fiery ball. I trembled at how close that one had come, realized that as long as Hoover lived, I would remain at grave risk. I needed to disappear, to become invisible. I continued south then cut over to LAX – it was time to go.
I left the Challenger (I now called it the Champ) in the long term lot under the care of Ramundo, whom I tipped with a C-note with the promise of another if the car maintained its viability in my absence. Ramundo was duly impressed and promised to take good care of it for me. I had given Lee a couple thousand to help her among the Hollywood disappeared but still had $2,500 to sustain me. Well, until the envelope. Faced with a severed forearm gripping a pistol, how I had spotted that moving stationery dangling right out my window was sheer caprice. I had worked fast, prying the gun from his grim dead hand; then, as I lowered the window to dispatch the whole mess, the flash of white, with spots of red, caught my eye, and I grabbed it.
Happy I was that I had for it contained 100 renderings of Benjamin Franklin – the Uncle of Our Country – and a scrap of paper with a phone number on it.
“Yeah?” “It’s done, I want the other half.” “Who is this?” “Who is this?” “I asked you first.” “What difference does that make?” “It makes all the difference in the world.” “You’re ashamed.” “What?!” “That’s it, you’re ashamed. You can’t speak your name because you’re disgusted by it.” “What are you talking about?” “That’s it, sure as we’re talking here. Shame. Shame that with all your money and potential you’re still just a garbage-man.” “Who is this?” “You tell me first or admit your shame.” “I’ll do no such thing and stop with the shame stuff. I’m very proud of my accomplishments!” “Really?” “I certainly am – nothing to be ashamed of. No sir.” “Yet you have to hire imbeciles to dispatch those you see as impediments to your dominion.” “What?! Who is this?!” “Who is this?”
I kept the number and called it occasionally to see who would answer. It was always the same nasally voiced dweeb, stiff, dry, humorless, and we would often talk for quite some time. Our respective anonymity I suspect led to increased honesty between us, the safety of the confessional without all the judgment or penance. It was the beginning of a very strange relationship and one I would not have imagined if not for all that had come before.*
*Especially the phone number.
I caught a red eye to New York City, another place easy to get lost in, yet one where I knew my way around so as to avoid getting lost losing myself. I would have to avoid my friends, associates, the places I might be expected to show up. I was a potential danger to everyone I met. Everyone I met was a potential danger to me. I flew first class, which accorded me less security scrutiny, useful as I was carrying drugs and a gun recently used in a shooting but no luggage. The $12,000 cash was of particular interest as it came devoid of principle and allowed me a little breathing room as I assimilated into my new identity: Artemis Martillo.
I rented a room in the West Village on Grove near Bleecker Street, a one floor walk-up on the fairly quiet street, the hood lots of red brick and fire escapes. I had again changed my hairstyle and facial hair, and I dressed more stylishly, having the money to afford extravagant clothing. I figured as this was so unlike me it would not only act as good cover, but get me laid by some of New York’s sartoria whores, who only give it up for Armani or Versace. As I was operating with my Spanish variant, I sported a tight goatee, and had my blackened hair slicked back into a tight pony tail – as always, I wore dark glasses during the day to make identification iffy at best.
One old haunt I tracked down was a fellow named Clayborn. Clayborn made, shall we say, alternate identities, for those displeased with their current ones. Or as in my case, displeased in other’s response to their current ones. Clayborn offered this service with almost total anonymity – I gave him a photo and a name, vital stats and $200 and in a week he gave me a driver’s license, birth certificate, passport and military discharge papers. $200 bought a lot in 1971.
With the subways, I didn’t need a car to get around, very different than LA, and with the Walther I didn’t fear the subways anytime, day or night. I had become hardened, cold – the wall between me and the world fortified, impenetrable. I could not afford the luxury of friends; they would only be used against me, harmed or destroyed. I became a hermit, locked for countless hours in my room, reading or writing, always writing. I began to only feel that I could communicate on paper, of course conflicting with the reality that nothing I wrote would be published or read.
I began to despair. As I couldn’t reasonably track down any of my old connections and as I sure wasn’t buying anything off the street, I had taken to fighting my demons by feeding them liquor. As always, I ran with the smart ticket. But the programming is deep and addiction unforgiving. I found that I hated me more than my circumstance and that hate poisoned me, made my fine life intolerable. Made me seek resolution in the gun. I stared down the barrel of that deadly contrivance, saw the end of my self-loathing in the simple tug of the Walther’s unequivocal trigger. I was a prisoner in the open air. I was an ex-pat on my native soil, the reviled alien offering nothing but decay upon any who welcomed him, who showed a simple human kindness…
“Hello?!” The voice, then the knock. They do things backwards in this place.
I opened my door. She looked at me curiously, smiling. She was a big girl, probably about 25, medium length reddish hair, not really styled but falling nicely across a very remarkable face, almost beautiful but decidedly striking, unforgettable. She had a little extra on her but not enough to honestly call her fat, healthy perhaps. Her healthiest region was her chest; she had some of the biggest breasts I had ever come across – two of them – and it was hard for me to not stare at them. Her large blue eyes made it easier. “Uh, hi.” I found that I had to keep forcing my head up to focus on her eyes. “Hi.”
“I live a couple doors down, in 24. I’m Lynn.” She smiled and nervously offered her hand. I looked at her, quite drunk--she was actually very cute--but I was very drunk so I made a note to watch that; things could change should I sober up. “Of course you are.” I took her hand and kissed her fingers, no tongue. “I am Artemis. How can I be of pleasure to you?” She looked at me oddly; upon hearing it I realized how stupid it sounded, so I tried again. “A pleasure. How can I help you?” She smiled, a little embarrassed, considerably more intrigued, yet somehow it wasn’t achieving the desired effect. Then I felt the draft.
In my efforts to maintain eye contact, I kept my head up, regal, even proud – quite the feat for a despondent drunk, I assure you – I neglected to note that I had once again neglected to dress. As this was the first knock upon my door in the near month I had been there, I hadn’t formed the habit of dressing for company, as company hadn’t dressed in habits* forming for me. While at first surprising to darling Lynn, her surprise gave way to delight at my growing appreciation of her social outreach. “If I knew you were dropping over, I’d have put on a tie.”
Lynn explained that her buddy, Tricia, and she had tickets to a show at the Fillmore that very night, but that Tricia found out from another friend about the previous night’s performance and bowed out. “Don’t need to listen to that filth.” Lynn asked me if I would like to go in Tricia’s place and, as an aficionado of fine filth, I affirmed forthwith. “They’ll likely insist that I put on some pants.” Lynn’s eyes became seductive and mischievous. “We’ve got a couple hours. I like the way you’re dressed.” She came readily into my room and I came happily into her.
The show was a hell of a thing: Frank Zappa and the Mothers, with their new line-up including front-men Flo and Eddie. Flo and Eddie were singers in a popular pop group with a big hit single under their real names Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, so when they agreed to trade pop fandom for rock ignominy, their record contract demanded that they change their names. So Mark and Howard from The Turtles became the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie of the Mothers (shortened for brevity purposes) and one could only trust they were happy together. With this line-up Frank entered a phase of sexual crudity and social satire pretty much unparalleled in the realms of popular entertainment. The high school locker room with accompaniment – in my drunken slobberishness, I found it hysterically funny.
*Or any ecumenical garb.
The end of the show marked a first; John Lennon and Yoko Ono joined the Mothers for a jam. This was an amazing thing to see. Frank performed and conducted his band; they were so tight as to be able to switch from song to song by little more than a gesture or expression, in a beat-- virtuoso musicians all. John was clearly amused by the irony of one of the richest and most popular musicians in the world performing on stage with some of the least popular and most poorly rewarded artists in the world – and at their command Frank Zappa, a fucking musical genius. John had no possibility of jamming with the Mothers on their songs – those were rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed – so he stood there with his guitar strapped on but nothing he could reasonably be expected to play. So he began to conduct. And the Mothers responded to his conducting, which clearly pleased him.
At one point, during Frank’s song “King Kong,” John started screaming into a mic, “Scumbag!” to which Frank sardonically told the audience, “The name of this song is ‘Scumbag.’ ” Soon the band was chanting “Scumbag!” at the appropriate intervals and John was having a lovely time being wholly inappropriate on stage in front of a receptive audience. Now during this musical collaboration of the oddest sort, Yoko presented what appeared to be totally unrelated material. She performed with gusto and verve to be sure, gripping the mic like Janis Joplin or some other singer with an impressive grip, feet planted, belting her soul into the microphone.
The problem was that she couldn’t sing and had no words to sing even if she could have. So during this mad spectacle, Yoko stood screaming into the mic. The extent of her capacity to improvise on stage was to wail like a banshee in front of a stage full of musical virtuosos. During “Scumbag,” Eddie produced a large black sack and placed it over Yoko, which we all agreed held aesthetic appeal but did little to reduce her caterwauling, the volume of which she increased to compensate in case we missed any of her brilliant vocalizations, one supposes. Nuance is often lost in the sack.
She was another artistic embarrassment. I had met her unoriginally at the Factory. She fit in well with Warhol’s posers, dilettantes and hacks as she had nothing to say but was still intent on saying it. She would sprinkle conversation with cryptic bon mots which upon close examination had no more substance than cotton candy. She wasn’t in fact an artist (any more than most of the Factory workers) but instead in search of one, preferably one with money and a following. All she required to be an artist in her own right was for a real artist to enlighten the public about her intrinsic depth and creative wisdom, and she would be heralded among the rabble she saw as the peers she wished to supersede.
John fit the bill nicely. A provincial mind turned international voice, he strove for substance in the avalanche of emptiness that defined the music world, that defined the Beatles. He was in search of something more, something different, out of the ordinary, something dangerous and exotic: he was in search of anal sex.
Now of course, this is merely speculation on my part, but speculation based upon years of research augmented by abundance of personal experience. John had married before the Beatles became The Beatles and thus the sexual rules established at the beginning of their relationship carried over, even though John’s pussy credentials went through the roof. As a rock messiah, he had heard often from rock apostles and even disciples about the delights of butt sex – with a girl. Or at least a female. That way it didn’t seem so queer.
As John-fucking-Lennon, it seemed to him he should be getting all this ass sex his mates were always on about, but to Cynthia, he was still just the regular John Lennon she’d married, not the new turbo-charged high-performance edition he had become. And the regular John Lennon didn’t get no anal. So he kept his eye open for some open ass, or at least some ass open to his eyeballing it. And he found the odd acolyte willing to give it up, but none he could keep it up for, for more than a score. Because most guys don’t know how to properly fuck an ass, most women don’t enjoy it in the least, so most he bung-diddled weren’t down for further trips to the brown.
And then he met Yoko. She knew what it took to get ahead in the world: whatever it took. When she met John she knew her hard times were all behind her. She was everything Cynthia wasn’t, though she was much that she was or became: a mother, wife to a philandering husband, a divorcee, fond of John Lennon, fond of his assets…But it was the differences: Yoko was an artist, a bad one, but still; she was mysterious and exotic, a good combo for the second go-round; she possessed a simple wisdom, usually the product of a simple mind but John wasn’t picky because the biggest difference of them all was that Yoko took it in the ass. Repeatedly.
John climbed right up that shitpipe and thought he was in heaven. So he dumped his old ‘You’re not puttin’ that in there, luv’ wife and moved into the ‘Whatever pleases you’ new version and everything was hot shit. But then Yoko decided her muse of the poos warranted her views on the news and she started sitting in during recording sessions, helping the Beatles finally get it right. Then she started performing. Then the Beatles broke up.
I know this is perfectly awful stuff, how could anyone even suggest such a thing, what a sick, depraved mind I possess, yadda yadda yadda…But I ask you, honestly, gloves off, warts and all, what else could it be? He’s John-fucking-Lennon; he can fuck pretty much anyone, male or female, that he wants. That’s a fairly broad statement, but we’re talking about John Lennon, not Ted Nugent or Bob Dylan. Models, actresses, socialites, gymnasts, contortionists, you name it, all were open to John. Yoko Ono. I’ve seen some beautiful Asian women, we all have, and Yoko was hardly even plain. He clearly didn’t marry her for physical beauty. She wasn’t rich, witty, energetic, sexy. Her brain? I’ve heard her talk, I’ve seen her perform, heard her perform, I’ve read her lyrics and seen her art. He clearly didn’t marry her for her brain. Bed peace? Bag peace?
I have a theory, again based upon much observation, research and personal experience, that men, for the most part, the first time they get married, marry their mother. They don’t know it, but that’s who they’re looking for. Good old mom – the young hot version. Before marriage she is more girl, the initial attraction. But upon matrimony she becomes the new mother to the man. Pick up your mess. Turn down the music. You’re not bringing that in here. Because men are such children, girls-turned-wives have to become mothers just to keep them from killing themselves or others. Often, men – sometimes after the kids have grown and moved to the garage (just till they get on their feet); sometimes as soon as the kids start talking or learn about money – will seek to return to that time when girls were girls before dealing with men turned them to mothers, and thus the second marriage is to the stripper. The stripper takes it in the butt.
Thankfully, Yoko was no stripper.
An important thing to remember is that guys are nuts about fucking butts. We’re regular shit monkeys. We’re so into it that many guys will even fuck guys in the butt, self-designated straight guys, no less. It's a guy thing. So wife/mothers who wish to avoid potential stripper losses need to consider using the back door for more than just taking out the garbage. And guys need to learn a little analquette. Very few places we barge into are very welcoming to us, and most of them are bigger than an asshole. That means to enjoy the delights thereof, barging in isn’t recommended. Lube is essential and the best is applied by tongue with lots of love. Things not done right rarely lead to delight.
A couple of days after the show I happened into Bluto’s on West 7th and was intrigued to see Frank and John seated at a booth, talking over lunch. Not wishing to disturb them, I sat at the counter and ordered some eggs, bacon, that kind of stuff. “Nice to see Art back in New York.” I looked over at the table. Frank smiled at me, John sat across from him, and oh shit – Yoko. Great, this won’t be uncomfortable. Not in the least. To make matters worse, Frank and John sat opposite each other on the ends of the booth with Yoko nestled beside John, a vast gulf between she and Frank. It was into that gulf that I sat, after Frank actually stood up and placed me between him and Yoko. She looked at me as if I had been rolling in dog shit.
“Like your duds.” Frank was focusing an inordinate amount of attention on me – I didn’t know why. Not that he wasn’t correct in his appreciation; I looked sharp, rich. I wore a tailored black Armani, a red silk shirt with a dark blue ascot. My shoes were two-tone black and white Yamaguccis with thick Vibram soles for traction in the snow and sleet, very unique. My dark glasses were round which caught John’s eye. Both actually. “Nice shades.” “Thank you.” Frank handled introductions, “John, Yoko, this is Art, a friend of Jimi Hendrix.” We nodded at each other, John responding, “A pleasure. A bloody tragedy about Jimi.” I was remarkably impressed being referred to as Jimi’s friend in such auspicious company. Yoko seethed rancor at me, about 120 degrees with a little ginger soy.
I didn’t understand her hostility. I’m a huge fan of butt sex and happily stand behind those women inclined to such delightful behaviors. And kneel behind those who prefer to recline. She was getting me all wrong. All women entice men with sex, that’s how our social dynamic works; she should be praised for bringing her A game. I’m sure John loved her, but all I felt was her distaste, but it wasn’t just for me, it was directed at Frank as well. I understood what it was: Poser Envy. She was in a cheesy vinyl booth at a fairly pedestrian diner in New York City surrounded by real artists – she had nothing to bring to the table. Good then for the waiter.
Frank looked at me, avoiding the tantōs Yoko glowered at him. “I wondered if I’d see you again. When I heard about Jimi, I thought of our meeting here. Last time I saw him.” I looked ahead, a little overwhelmed. “Broke my heart. Business is not kind to art.” Yoko interjected, “Business is an art, kind of.” I looked at her. “Art is a creative statement. Business is a bank statement.” She was surprised at my challenge. “Without the one, it is difficult to do the other.” I was a little surprised as well. “Art existed long before money. The only art business is interested in is printed on hundred-dollar bills.”
Frank joined the fray, “I could do with more of that kinda art, Art. Think about what you could do with an unlimited budget.” Bed Peace – Hair Peace – Bag Peace. A billboard proclaiming “War is over. If you want it.” An unlimited budget is forever trumped by a limited imagination. Give peace a chance. Yep, that should do it. The funny thing (“telling” perhaps a better term) is that Hoover and Nixon were terrified of this man and that woman. More the man. Mr. Bed Peace and Ms. Ass Piece were a tangible threat to the USA. How can the citizens of this nation possibly be accused of being paranoid by the government that was afraid of John Lennon? The USA is the most paranoid of notions and it comes from the top down, like all madness. If you let it.
“So as to the otha thing…” John got back to business, Yoko approved. Frank acquiesced, “Yeah, we’ll each have access to use the master as we deem fit. You working with Spector?” John looked a little put upon. “Yeah, Phil is producin’. Got us some blocks booked over at the Plant.” I noted that passersby and other patrons were quite enamored of our table, Art and the anti-art sandwiched between John-fucking-Lennon and Frank-fucking-Zappa – not one’s usual fun, to be certain. I dropped a little namey. “I worked with Phil and Dylan at Brian Wilson’s studio in LA.” John fielded, “That’s an interesting pairing.” I crunched on my bacon. “A misguided fail. Well, I suppose a success, as none of us got shot.”
John and Yoko looked at each other concerned. “He does get a little, passionate, at times.” I looked at a couple of cute girls in miniskirts who were flashing us through the window. “He’s a bully and a hack. Not to put too fine a point on it.” This pleased the men but concerned Yoko, who pulled closer to John. Frank smiled at me, “Not a fan of the Wall of Sound?” I kept watching the girls, their little butts were mesmerizing. “Not a fan of bad music. In those cases the Ear of Plug. Not sure why he’s such hot shit. His music is pretty awful across the board.”
It was true, but they couldn’t say it, especially as he was producing John and Yoko’s disastrous Two Virgins, unquestionably some of the worst music John Lennon ever released. But I just kept watching the girls, lost in some paradigm where I only spoke what I felt (life) irrespective of social propriety or consequence, slamming the lunatic they were paying to make John sound pretty. Pretty awful. John spoke up, “You should come to the session. Tonight.” Yoko, who had been burning holes into me for openly flirting with strange girls while ignoring her completely, elbowed him. Frank smiled and I returned to the table at hand, “Really? Why is that?” All eyes turned to John. “I dunno. Maybe you could help with the album, Art.”
The session was a disaster from the start. At Yoko’s insistence Spector dropped out Flo and Eddie’s vocals on “King Kong” and cranked her caterwauling up along with John’s shouts of “scumbag.” The real problem came when I pointed out that the song “King Kong” was clearly not improvised, meaning it was an actual composition, a fairly complex one at that, and as such could not be credited to John and Yoko. Spector agreed and insisted that it be credited to John and Yoko and Phil. I took issue with that and then out came the gun and Phil started telling everyone that he would keep the master and that there was no good reason that I was there anyway and that the newly retitled “Jam Rag” was a wholly owned property of Phil Spector, Inc.
Not choosing to get into a shootout with crazy Phil, I kept the Walther holstered and left the Record Plant, exhausted. It had been a long ass night and I was happy to be out of there. I had smoked out with Jimney Clud, the assistant engineer’s assistant and we had exchanged numbers: I gave him my even ones and I got his odds. I couldn’t count the odds of him calling even with our exchanged pleasantries, but subtracting all the divisions multiplying in my life I was happy to add him to my short list of long-suffering associates, comrades and well-wishers.
One night in early November, after we had gotten royally baked, Jimney and I reminisced about the Zappa/Lennon jam; one song in particular struck us as disturbingly amusing, “Mudshark.” “Mudshark” is a song about a famous rock band that stayed at the fabulous Edgewater Inn, in Seattle, Washington, where guests could actually fish from their windows, which necessarily meant that they would reel fish and ‘mudsharks’ into their rooms. This particular band liked young girls and young girls enamored of the things they’re taught to be enamored of will often do strange things to please their enamorers.
In this instance, get fucked by a fish. There was some debate about who did what to whom with what and why no one intervened when it was clear both the fish and girl were under age, though I cannot state for certain what age it becomes legally allowable to fornicate with seafood in Washington. The upshot being that the road manager fed her little pussy some fresh fish and when Frank heard of it, he wrote a song about it, as Frank was wont to do. And they played it that night prior to John and Yoko joining them.
Jimney asked me if I’d like to open for that notorious band, who were previewing their new album Untitled at Madison Triangular Gardens, diagonal to the Square Ones, closed owing to aphids. I explained that I didn’t have a band and Jimney smiled. “Bands don’t open for them anymore. It’s too musically risky. But you do stand-up, right?” I struggled with the final hit on the joint we’d been smoking, then, “What band opens with a comic?” Jimney watched me grip it between my fingertips, then accidently suck the deconstructed, flaming roach into my mouth, then spit and spew as my folly again reminded me, “Use a roach clip, dildo.” Jimney smiled widely at me as I sputtered at him, flusterpated, “What?! What?!” He shook his head. “You won’t even need any material – you’re a riot. What do you think of Led Zeppelin?” I smiled back with ashmouth, “We had some laughs in San Francisco. Be happy to say a few words.”
It had gotten to the point that lesser bands wouldn’t open for Zeppelin knowing what would happen to any of their good original compositions – it was right there in the performance rider: Section D. sub-paragraph 3: All music performed from stage during any Led Zeppelin concert is the property of Jimmy Page, a holy owned obsidiary of Led Zeppelin Inc. in perpetuity, in any medium possible or impossible, know or unknown in this Universe and the next.
“I understand Led Zeppelin is releasing their fourth album, what are you calling it, guys? What? You don’t have a name for it? Just a picture of some old guy with a bundle of sticks on his back. That should work. Why not Led Zeppelin Four? Not creative enough? I gotcha…I know that a lot of us are wondering how one band can put out so much new music in so little time. Especially touring constantly. And all the groupies. What it comes down to is that they write so little of their music that they have more time for recording and performance. And royalties. Jimmy Page is an incredible composer and an unbelievable songwriter: less cutting edge than cut and paste but still, he has written some of other musicians’ most memorable songs. As his. To be fair, it does take some work to come up with songs you can get away with stealing. That’s not easy. Take the current radio darling “Stairway to Heaven.” It was originally written by Randy California with Spirit, as “Taurus,” but Jimmy liked it so much… I’m sure it will do much brisker business under the Page credit default system. And now four guys who are a credit to their profession, whatever that is, let’s give it up,’ cause they’d probably just take it anyway--Led Zeppelin.”
I left with little fanfare. As it occurred my scathing commentary went unsurprisingly unnoticed by the largely drugged out audience, there to hear loud raucous versions of other musicians’ songs, not some guy talking for 20 minutes on the stage. I had billed myself as Don Rickles in case anyone took offense, figuring he made a living offending people, let them talk to him about it. As I wasn’t doing music, the band had no interest in my routine and it was only when Lester Bangs reported some of my choicer comments in Creamed Magazine did I become persona non grata with the Zep. I mean, Don Rickles; he became persona non grata. Don was in the audience that night taking notes during my routine, but I attributed that to the low company thereabout.
I picked up a paper at Boggsy’s News on Flemper at 13th St. West. Edie Sedgwick was dead. Sweet little Edie, a victim of tragic excess, overt opulence overwhelming, another who had everything yet felt nothing, had lost herself trying to find herself only to find herself lost. Poisoned by a drug that only a decade earlier she would never have even imagined herself ingesting; that only a decade before she would never have considered seeking out, cooking up, spiking into her soft flesh to kill a pain that realistically should never have existed, yet which in the end consumed her.
But as with so many others, she was drawn in by the allure created in the media of the “counter-culture,” promoted and advanced and profited from by some of the West’s richest and most conservative interests, which through the media made drugs, and thus their consumers, cool.
I thought of her generosity to me, her innate decency, the fun girl trapped in the sad woman, each dream realized as the continuation of the nightmare of a full life perpetually unfulfilled. I thought of her care for me as I struggled through my imposed demons, her compassion helping me overcome my addiction only to succumb to her own, her benevolence to me when I was lost. Another friend dead.
I hung my head and wept.