A LONG NIGHT'S JOURNEY INTO DAYLIGHT......
I held the Last Picture Show at the
Library on January 4th. Four people
showed up and we watched "The Wrong Box" and "Wuthering
Heights" with a passionate Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. We had seen some wonderful classic movies
and the whole program was a success as far as I was concerned. But I wasn't sorry to end the series for it
had been a long commitment. These
days, it was much easier to run up the hill to Phil's where we were always
welcome and to watch movies on TV in a more congenial atmosphere.
The year started with Carol and I
living in a state of armed neutrality.
We were spending more and more time apart and were both getting involved
in as many outside projects as possible.
When we were together we tended to argue incessantly. Extreme poverty was putting a lot of
pressure on the relationship for neither of us earned any income for weeks at
the start of the year and any money we did have seemed to go on our cars . The West Virginia country roads and the
winter conditions was very hard on our vehicles and at times it seemed as if we
were working to keep our cars on the road so that we could go to work to keep
our cars on the road. Sometimes it
seemed that it would be easier and wiser to stay at home and to let the cars
sit out in the road and just fall apart.
But then of course we'd both have to stay at home and deal with one
another and at that point, anything seemed preferable to that. I had a couple of little jobs, one of which
was baking once a week at the Uptop Cafe in Lewisburg which was a friendly
little establishment run rather unambitiously by some nice women I knew. I often worked as sound engineer for
Phil's band "Stratton Alley" too.
Phil had high hopes of taking the band on the road and being bigger than
The Beatles although I had my private doubts on that score. But I've always enjoyed being around the
music business in some capacity and although "Stratton Alley" didn't
really play my kind of music, I wanted to support Phil and my local rock n'
roll band. Besides it got me out of
the house and that was a priority at that time.
My forty-third birthday came and
went and I managed to add to my reputation as an eccentric (or maybe I mean
sociopath!) by not showing up at my own birthday party. Birthdays have long been uncomfortable
times for me and though I've thought about it often, I really don't know why. I don't think that my advancing age has
anything to do with it for I honestly don't worry much about that and am
actually rather proud that I've managed to survive for so long. Perhaps its the attention and focus on me
that I'm uncomfortable with, for I am still a rather shy person and hate the
spotlight at the best of times. Or
perhaps its all because I remember that celebrations like Christmas and
birthdays tended to be rather tense occasions at home when I was young. My mother was always anxious that they
should be Great Fun and great Family Occasions and my father never seemed to be
quite there. I remembered them as
being somewhat stressful times and I think that feeling has stayed with me ever
On St. Valentine's Day, I made a
quick trip to Washington D.C. to take down my batik show at the Textile Museum
where only one piece, my "Buick 88" had sold to a collector in
California. But I had already set up
a show at Gallery 1897 in Lewisburg and had decided to frame all the pieces
myself this time which was a mammoth undertaking of course. Elliott and Carol, my new friends in
Lewisburg, were tremendously supportive and I was spending a lot of time at
their house. It was in their garage
and basement, with Elliott's help in return for a batik, that I finally
completed that undertaking. I must say
that the batiks looked better framed.
About this time, I was referred to a
specialist doctor in Roanoke who carried out a colonoscopy on me. He told me what I had already
suspected. There was no sign of
anything wrong with my intestines. My
illness the previous December had been a severe virus infection and that I did
not have Crone's Disease. That was
quite a relief but I still resolved to loosen up a bit and to work a little
less compulsively. However I was
stuck with huge hospital bills that I would end up paying off for years to
My next show opened in Lewisburg in
April on the same day that a late savage snowstorm hit the area and dumped
several inches of snow on top of us.
The turn out was poor but my "Old Stone Church" batik sold to
two sisters who wanted to donate it to the Church. I finally went on to sell several more pieces from the show.
I was looking for a new creative
project to get involved in and remembered a trip Marie Luz and I had taken to
Holland ten years before. Our friend
Phillip had flown into Amsterdam from Bali and we had driven up from Ibiza with
his girlfriend Ana to meet him there and to bring him back down with us. One night, we had all gone out to the
famous "Melkveg Club", The MilkyWay multimedia club, which was
situated in a huge old milk processing factory in the middle of the city. I had one of the most memorable and
exciting nights of my life there. You
had to pay about $5 at the door to get in and once in, you were free to go
anywhere and to stay there all night if you wanted to. The building had three or four floors and
there was something different happening in each room. There was a really nice cafe with food and drinks, an area with
stalls selling clothes, books and records and, this being Amsterdam in the
permissive Seventies, a room where drugs of all kinds were openly displayed for
sale. There was a candlelit room full
of cushions and low tables for the customers to enjoy their drugs in. Next door, a small cinema showed a festival
of old Buster Keaton movies. Upstairs
there was a small theater where an avant- group were performing and the
hilarious American comedian Jango Edwards was putting a show on next door. A Jazz band was playing upstairs and there
was room for people to dance too. We
all spent a wonderful night at the club and I'd thought about it often
In Lewisburg, our German friend Helge owned a whole building on
the main street where he rented out rooms and spaces to various different
people and groups. The UpTop Cafe was
situated in the building as was the Trillium Dance Group who had a great dance
studio on the top floor with an adjoining outside deck on the flat roof of the
building. I came up with the idea of
turning the whole building into a Club every month and putting on mixed media
events and performance art there on a regular basis. Some of the people involved took a bit of convincing but in the
end, everyone thought it a great idea as a money raiser. The first event was planned for the end of
May. It wasn't easy to agree on a name
and we went through quite a few ideas like The Atomic Cafe (my choice), the
Human Condition, Multi Media, The Womb etc. etc before we agreed to call the
event "The Paradise Club".
"Paradise Club #1" was a great success. It was the talk of the town for weeks and
even got a write-up in the local paper.
There was a really good turn out for the event, always a problem in a
rural area like ours where people have to come long distances and where the
weather can sabotage a show quite easily.
Local people were notoriously casual dressers but everybody was dressed
to the nines for the evening. Some
people even went so far as to change into new fineries halfway through the
evening and we awarded a prize for the best-dressed guest. Our local clown and mime artist, Glenn,
gave an absolutely hilarious show, the "Trillium Dance Group"
performed a new piece, there were video movies in one room, massage in another
and the UpTop Cafe was open for the night.
We ended up with a Disco dance with a good lightshow. I got to be the D.J. and a rather reluctant
Compere for the evening. We followed
it up with #2, "You are the
Show", a month later and did just as well. This time various people gave slideshows, "Trillium"
premiered new work and we had another Disco, which began to be a regular
feature of the Club. We ended the
evening with the late appearance of a modern jazz group which was appearing at
the Greenbrier Resort at the time and came on to play at "The Paradise
Meanwhile I wasn't neglecting my
real work and worked steadily away all summer. I sold another small piece at the White Sulphur Springs
"Dandelion Art Show". A complete
stranger who was apparently passing through the town, stopped his car to run
into the show for a moment, bought my batik and then drove off again.
In July, I accompanied Carol and her
brother Gary to the Ripley Arts and Crafts Fair where Carol sold her bags at a
stand under the name of "Bag Lady".
It rained heavily the whole week and as we were camping out there, we
got pretty damp and muddy before we were through. I sold another batik,"Tractor and Snow", through a
show at the Woolery in Marlinton where I stood in the front shop window for a
week demonstrating the batik process to the public. And I was somehow roped in to do the sound for an amusing little
review for the West Virginia Postal Service called "Wait a Minute, Mr.
Then it was time for "The Third
Annual Spring Creek Festival" which didn't do nearly as well as the
previous two years. The more
conservative elements in our group took it over that year and pushed it as
"The Family Festival" with heavy security and no alcohol of any kind
allowed on the site. A lot of people
stayed away figuring that a music festival without beer was like a swimming
pool without any water in it. Once
again I organized the food and sold burritos at the concession booth and kept myself
busy the whole weekend. If the same
faction organized the show next year, I resolved not to get involved.
I advertised " Paradise Club
#3" as an evening of "Gorilla Theater" and it was almost my last
show. Various members of the Gesundheit
Institute wanted to perform pieces and a theme of Sex for some reason started
to emerge. I had no problem with that
and figured that a little bit of controversy would attract a bit of attention
which probably wouldn't do us any harm.
So, on a hot night in early August,
we opened the most ambitious "Paradise Club" yet, with five or six
acts and an expectant West Virginia crowd.
Eva was the opening act and somehow managed to get things moving straight
away with everyone on their feet "kegeling", that is tightening and
then loosening their buttock muscles, to the loud music of ZZ Top. It was actually a healthy form of
self-massage designed to loosen up the pelvis but most people there were pretty
baffled. Kristin came on next and
delivered a little lecture on the importance of Safe Sex in the Terrible Age of
the Plague. I thought that she had
done much better in rehearsal and was obviously rather nervous in front of an
audience. As she delivered a slightly
dry lecture about Aids, standing there dressed in a rather severe suit outfit,
I projected some sexy naked slides of her that I'd taken about eight years
previously on top of her. The effect
was quite bizarre and not at all erotic.
The climax of her show was when she blew up a condom like a balloon and
pulled it over her head. She then
threw dozens of condoms out into the audience and invited them to do the
same. The act ended with people
batting condom balloons backwards and forwards and was a bit poorly paced, I
felt. The Trillium dancers did their
obligatory improv performance and they were followed by Diane and Helge. They had been upset by Kristin's act and
were making some kind of retaliatory gesture, I realized. Diane was heard to say that sex wasn't
supposed to be safe and then performed some rather slow and tedious little
ceremony in which she blessed different elements. She had a rather round, even portly shape and the supposedly
erotic "Tantric" dance that followed was comic rather than
provocative. The act went on much too
long, well over the allotted ten minutes agreed upon. At this point, J.J. made a quick entrance dressed in one of
Patch's gorilla suits. It was a touch
that I just hadn’t been able to resist.
Charlie and friends ended the show with some very amateurish buffoonery,
which definitely defused any excitement that a show about sex might have built
up. We had the usual movies and a
dance afterwards but from an aesthetic and professional point of view, I
thought it was the worst show yet . The
video that I had filmed of the performances confirmed my opinion though that
didn't stop Diane stealing the tape at the first opportunity, presumably to add
to her collection of erotica.
I was rather glad when the night was
over and was completely unprepared for the outcry that followed the next
week. I'm told that condoms were found
on the street outside the Club.
Stories immediately circulated that we'd had a live sex show upstairs
and that afterwards couples had been seen copulating in the street. The owner of the local health food store
which was situated next door claimed that the show had severely damaged her
business although we all knew that she'd been struggling for months. And some ladies who ran dance classes for
kids in the Studio upstairs, claimed that mothers had taken their children out
of their classes because of the bad reputation that the "Paradise
Club" was giving them. I must say
that I preferred to believe that the fact that a new dance studio had opened up
the street, run by a local woman rather than the hippies upstairs, had
contributed to poor class attendance.
There was a strong move to close down the "Paradise
Club". It took all my
considerable persuasive powers and my glib English tongue to talk the
reactionaries around to letting me continue with what had become my new
creative outlet. I loved producing the
shows, loved the process of having an idea and then finding some way of getting
artists or even total non-artists to perform and realize my concept for me. But I don't think that we ever tried to put
on anything too controversial at the Club again. My programs were monitored a bit more closely from then on
although that didn't stop me trying out a lot of interesting new ideas. Helge, who owned the whole building was
always very supportive and became my partner behind the scenes in the
"Paradise Club". Besides,
everyone needed the small amounts of cash that the Club generated.
Later that month, Carol and I
somehow found ourselves with a booth at the State Fair again. I guess we couldn't bear being thought of
as wimps and desperately needed whatever money we could make. But once again it rained the whole week and
profits were slim.
Around about this time, we started
to see a lot of a new couple, Craig and Brenda, whom Carol met originally up at
the Spa in Snowshoe. They were from
Ohio and came down to West Virginia looking to buy cheap land and a house in
the area. He was an old rock and
roller, an excellent drummer and had a sound engineering business and lots of
excellent sound equipment. She was
pregnant and expecting their first baby.
They were a lot of fun and a relief from the sometimes claustrophobia of
the small mountain community. We were
able to put them onto a good deal of a house and acres near to us off Lobelia
Road. They would show up periodically
and were slowly getting their scene together in the country while still living
a life in Warren, Ohio. Craig had big
plans of putting on rock festivals locally and I wished him all the luck in the
world. By now I knew how hard it was
to really challenge and stretch the slow quiet fabric of rural existence.
Eva and J.J finally got married on the Gesundheit land at the
start of September that year. They threw a huge non-stop three-day party
with over three hundred guests and two nights of dancing to DJ Jonathan and
local bands. Craig brilliantly
provided superb equipment and expertise in sound engineering and we set up the
new Gesundheit three-story building as a party palace for the weekend. Actually Gesundheit was doing very well by
now, with extensions made to the original shack, yurts and trailers springing
up all over and the enormous wooden workshop building well under construction
next to the newly-dug artificial lake.
The festivities were great fun and the wedding was held outside and
performed by Patch wearing a short hair wig and a very convincing English
parson disguise. But first, an
obviously pregnant Eva and J.J. acted out the story of the Frog Prince on a
stage in front of a huge audience. Her
son, Josh played the role of cupid dangling from a rope high above stage and
shot arrows all over. There was a
wonderful moment when young Josh was swung up and out in front of the crowds
below and suddenly beamed a fabulous big smile at everybody as he realized
where he was and what he was doing.
Finally Doug with the 180o revolving camera lined us all up and took a
big group photo, which I still have and cherish.
On the Marriage Front, Carol and my
situation was definitely deteriorating with constant bickering and rows that
sometimes escalated into real anger and violence. I knew that we had to separate as soon as we could. I put up fliers all over town which were a parody
of typical Lonely-Hearts Club advertisements and said:
"Shy, sensitive, European male,
artist and fanatical music lover, thoroughly house-broken, desperately needs
inexpensive living and studio space as soon as possible, anything
I didn't get any serious replies and
everyone laughed at the adjective "shy" to describe me. It was interesting to see how others
perceived me. Apparently, my off-times
timidity was sometimes seen as some kind of arrogance by others. Oh, to see ourselves as others see us!
Meanwhile I was working hard at home
to get some new batiks ready for a new show at the Allegheny Highlands Arts
Center in Clifton Forge, Virginia which was to open in October. And I had a new idea for the next "Paradise
Club" which kept me busy all that September.
I had wanted to feature live music
at the Club for a long time. I decided
to try and put a band together from scratch, rehearse them and have them
perform in public, all within a short period of time. I'd long had a belief that almost anyone, under the right
circumstances and with the right motivation, could learn to play an instrument
well enough to perform before an audience.
I had even thought of writing a movie script in which the hero, a regular,
middle-aged guy, picks up the cello at the age of forty five and within ten
intense, highly directed and motivated years, performs a successful concert at
Carnegie Hall. I believed that it was
possible and tried out a little experiment locally. I invited a bunch of disparate and unconnected local friends who
all dabbled with music and instruments to form a group and to commit to
performing at the "Paradise Club" within a month. Jan was the best musician, a local country
and folk singer and guitarist, but she had never played in a rock band. The others that I got together were reggae
and heavy metal fans and Jan knew nothing at all about that kind of music. But finally we got a basic band together,
Jan and Raymond on guitars and Andy on drums. Nobu, a Japanese boy living at Gesundheit that summer who had
serious rock star aspirations but was a terrible musician, was on bass. But he looked good and we named the ensemble
"Music Therapy" and the three women backup singers which included
Carol, the "Chanterelles", after the mushrooms which had just
appeared again like magic in our garden.
The new Gesundheit building became a rehearsal studio at night and
practice started in earnest three weeks before the date that the show was to
take place. "Music Therapy"
must have broken up and reformed ten times during that intense month leading up
to the Big Gig. I often privately had
doubts about the validity of my theory.
Picking the right material was very difficult. Jan was willing and eager and could sing and play the guitar
but mostly only knew weepy country standards.
But she wrote some nice songs of her own while Raymond only wanted to
perform the Bob Marley Songbook and his own thrash metal compositions like
"Death King" and "Monsters of War". Poor Nobu kept on looking good in tight
jeans and leather but had difficulty playing the simplest bass patterns. The "Chanterelles" surprised us
all and sounded really good, Carol had a real feel for harmony singing and
would sing anything given to her.
"Paradise Club #4" was held on September 25th and
featured a young local actor David. He
did a rather risqué comic turn which everyone, to my surprise, enjoyed and
applauded. Condoms were apparently a
bit too real while openly sexual jokes were quite permissible . Glenn, our excellent local mime and clown
premiered his new act which featured him on a hobbyhorse. He was as brilliant as ever although he
felt acutely upstaged and threatened by young David and I had to practically threaten
him to go on at the last moment. Ah,
these sensitive, insecure artistes!
"Music Therapy featuring the
Chanterelles provided the dance music at the end of the evening and didn't do
at all badly considering. For about
six songs towards the end of their act, they really kicked in and sounded
tight. The singers were fabulous, Nobu
looked every inch a star although he still couldn't play the bass and everybody
danced like crazy. I couldn't help
but notice a young woman introduced as Catherine who arrived really late but
danced until the end. She kept herself
to herself but was pretty good dancer.
It was a memorable night at the
Paradise Club and I felt that my theory had been well vindicated.
Then a solution suddenly materialized
for our living arrangement problem.
Craig, who had got his house habitable but who was still living in Ohio,
offered it to Carol until he and Brenda had their baby and could move to West
Virginia. It was a perfect arrangement
for us and Carol packed up her possessions, moved down the road to Bruffey's
Creek Road and into Craig's house.
Lest she should ever say that I had come out of the marriage better than
she, I gave her my good little Subaru Station wagon. Her own VW Bug wasn't too reliable. Two days later, she ran the Subaru into a truck while taking a
corner on the wrong side of the road.
It was only a quiet country lane and she wasn't going very fast but the
Subaru was a complete write off.
So, feeling decidedly relieved but
rather shell-shocked, I found myself single again. I didn't have a penny but that wasn't an unfamiliar
experience. It was obviously time to
review my options once more. Brother
Philip called from England to ask me to come back and see the family and that
seemed like a good idea. And my friend
Jennifer, a long-time faithful correspondent, invited me to come and visit her
in Texas where I'd never been, which sounded intriguing.
In mid-October, old friends of
Kristin's and mine, Steve and Debbie, came to visit from New Jersey and brought
their new baby, Jonathan, with them.
We all went out for the day and drove up to Cass, a little old village
where history was faithfully preserved and where an old steam train took
passengers up into the hills to look at the incredible Fall foliage. We had a fun day together and took the
train ride although the trees. But
they didn't look as beautiful as they did back on Lobelia Road.
That night, Phil came by and asked
me to come to a "Stratton Alley" rock n' roll gig at a little bar
near Lewisburg called the Oakwood Inn.
I wasn't terribly keen to go out but Phil said that he needed help with
the sound engineering and that it would do me good to get out of the
house. I really wasn't interested in
another night of rock n' roll but Phil was insistent. Later that night, I found myself at the Oakwood, mixing sound
for the band and telling myself yet again that this wasn't my kind of music and
that I ought to be home in bed with a good book. I was sort of twitching to the music as I stood there when I
noticed that young woman Catherine again, dancing right in front of me. I've always loved to dance, couldn't
resist dancing next to her and pretty soon we were dancing together. One thing lead to another and soon, when
the band took a break, we sat down and started to talk together. I realized that Catherine was really nice,
very friendly and extremely bright. She
was a little overweight I thought and I wasn't particularly attracted to her at
first, but I did like talking to her.
I found out that she was a Vista volunteer and was working at the local
domestic violence shelter in Lewisburg for a year. We spent the rest of the night dancing and hanging out together
and made a date for her to come to my house the following day to go for a walk
together. Things were looking up