He had hi-fi speakers up on the roof of the house and suddenly out here in God’s great green mountain ozone erupts a manic spade blowing on a plastic saxophone, namely an Ornette Coleman record. It’s a slightly weird path here that the tree loggers take: nutty mobiles hanging from the low branches and a lot of wild paintings nailed up on the tree trunks. Then a huge tree with a hollow base, and inside it, glinting in the greeny dark, here is a tin horse with the tin bent so tht the grotesque little animal is keeled over, kneeling, in bad shape.
The terrain Kesey was most interested in, in fact, was inside the house. The house was made of logs, but it was more like a lodge than a cabin. The main room had big French doors, for a picture-window effect, and exposed beams and a big stone fireplace at one end. Kesey had all sorts of recording apparatus around, tape recorders, motion-picture cameras and projectors, and Sandy helped add still more, some fairly sophisticated relay systems and the like. Often the Perry Lane people would drive over — although no one had moved to La Honda so far. Ed MClanahan, Bob Stone, Vic Lowell, Chloe Scott, Jane Burton, Roy Seburn. Occasionally Kesey’s brother Chuck and his cousin Dale would come down from Oregon. They both resembled Kesey but were smaller. Chuck was a bright quiet man. Casual and down-home. Dale was powerfully built and more completely down-home than either. Kesey was trying to develop various forms of spontaneous expression. They would do something like…all lie on the floor and start rapping back and forth and Kesey puts a tape-recorder microphone up each sleeve and passes his hands through the air and over their heads, like a sorcerer making signs, and their voices cut in and out as the microphones sail over. Sometimes the results were pretty- –well, freaking gibberish to normal human ears, and most likely. Or, to the receptive standard intellectual who has heard about the 1913 Armory Show and Erik Satie and Edgard Varese and John Cage it might sound…sort of avant-garde, you know. But in fact, like everything else here, it grows out of …the experience, with LSD. The whole other world that LSD opened your mind to existed only in the moment itself – Now – and in any attempt to plan, compose, orchestrate, write a script, only locked you out of the moment, back in the world of conditioning and training where the brain was a reducing valve…
Furthur Tripping on the little black pebbles
Steve Cohen reading through his or the Tom Wolfe library and texting me updates and excerpts and PDFs of excerpts.
Joe Zirker was reading me in real time and when Terry and I would say him time to time he would make a point of saying he liked a post. Generally there are few subscribers and readers find the Plastic Alto version of things in pretty random ways.
There is a man I admire, old enough to be my father and in fact the father of another man I admire, one of my main sources during the period (now apparantly passed into history) when I would follow and try to comment on Palo Alto politics and policy, who said he thought the title Plastic Alto was insulting or too harsh. Either he didn’t know of the musical reference or didn’t think it was a good enough excuse.
The title of this post or maybe the working title is actually incorrect in that this chapter “The Rusky-Dusky Neon Dust” actually refers to the time after Ken Kesey left Perry Lane and moved to La Honda. I’m on page 60, of Tom Wolfe’s 1968 work of non-fiction or new journalism The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test, Farrar Straus and Giroux in New York, although parts of several chapters of this book appeared in the World Journal Tribune’s Sunday Magazine, New York that’s the name of the magazine New York, which is also where this book was published. I bought an early hard-cover or cloth edition for fairly price mark, probably at Bell’s Books, in Palo Alto, likely on my birthday, maybe in 2014 or 2015. There’s an ex libris with a name and another similar name written in pen; not sure whether to search-injun them or even mention it.
Terry suggested I write a blog post. Radio silence for quite a spell in recent times. Was debating whether to reference that fact or not.
Too solipsistic already. Not really writing about Palo Alto, Menlo Park, La Honda, Oak Creek, Perry Lane, Western San Mateo County, the central coast, the Pacific Coast, the 1960s or jazz. Mostly so far writing about myself and my blog, Plastic Alto. I penciled in three hours to my busy schedule. Then I am off to Munich or Leipzig or Bayern v. Leipzig via the magic of these boxes and buses. It’s almost thematic in that what gave me the idea of Plastic Alto as a pun on Palo Alto is the construction of the soccer fields at the corner of Page Mill and El Camino Real; they are or were – in fact they were rebuilt recently after about 10 years — made of synthetic turf. I was tripping more or less or at least noticing and trying hard to have a unique thought about the little black pebbles that give the turf its realistic play. They slow the ball down. When the ball lands, after a long kick, it shoots a bunch of the black rubber balls into the air. So the field by my own logic is plastic but it features rubber balls. I thought it was interesting to try to watch or imagine watching a soccer game not as 22 men and women running around kicking a ball and such but as the black rubber balls dancing along above or below the horizon and sea of green plastic. From there for whatever reason I thought it would be interesting to produce a jazz concert there, on the new soccer field. Just for the parallax effect or change of pace of using the field in a unique way, to change the way people see or perceive the field. Something about Ornette Coleman and his semi-famous acrylic saxophone, a plastic alto, precipitated between or among my synapses and I briefly fantasized about raising the money to have the legendary musician play here. Several years after that — and come to think of it, maybe at the urging of the not-afore-mentioned son of a sage and source – -he’s actually a musician, whoever he was he let us change lanes, so to speak, he convinced me to drive on the write, I started a blog and took this name. And somewhere around there I did work in jazz, producing small concerts and managing some musicians and groups. So the idea of an extended rumination that bridges or stretches from current jazz musicians to local policy seemed to almost work. If you give it about 1,500 fits and starts and a half million words, maybe you start to recognize it. Some posts are maybe just a headline or a thought, say 20 words and probably a visual. This one is close to 1,200 words but so far no links or visuals. There is a 20,000 word essay on the history of jazz here, something about time travel in the title. Although it’s really more like 10,000 words if you actually edit it. Generally my philosophy on blogs versus publishing is that these are rough drafts. Rough on the reader, I admit. For me the writer, and maybe the other billion or so bloggers out there, it is meditative if not influential or productive per se. In previous lives I wrote more productively, for some newspapers or ad agencies. Or destructively if you think of it as trees killed for the cause or something. And I’m not sure if I formally swore off formal style, or just dove in skinny dip like into the stream of today’s stylists. But it caught my eye that there was an Ornette reference early on in The Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test. Ornette did not actually as far as I can tell do a concert in La Honda or for Ken Kesey and his pals or the Merry Pranksters, only that Tom Wolfe is pretty confident that you could hear his music playing from a machine if you hang out near Kesey’s abode or did in those days –when “the new thing” was actually new. (There’s also even earlier a Shig Murao reference; it calls him a “panjandrum” which itself is an obscure literary reference (and maybe a better obscure reference for a Palo Alto policy/arts blog — certainly a better name than Svi-ambh-ba_PA, which was an Anish Kapoor reference that i used for another blog and political campaign.
There’s an ethnic slur in the excerpt which is troubling enough that I should comment upon. It’s used several times so far. It refers to the fact that Ornette Coleman’s fore bearers probably came to this country from a more recent sojourn in Africa. He is or was black or African-American and maybe at some points of his life was a Negro. This particular term to me connotes playing cards, one of the four suits, black. It reminds me — because it’s topical or because that’s the way my mind and not yours works — that when I started to read One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest somewhat recently I was put off by the racist references to the staff at the hospital. On the other hand, I have a fairly consistent pattern of recommending and defending the Mark Twain classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn despite the fact that Jim is actually called N-word Jim. Huck loved Jim, is my defense. My ancestors, by the way, also came from Africa, or so I was told, although somewhere along the way, from what I can put together, they wandered to the Middle East, then to Spain, then to Russia and Germany and then to the U.S. in the 1880s. People sometimes guess by looking at me that that’s part of my family history, or they like to lump me together with others who make this claim. Fewer people say “You do or do not look like me, but if we go back far enough in time, we all look alike, or if you look down on us from far enough in space we all look the same.” Nobody says that.
Jerry Q pointed out that I was using old data and there are now 7.1 Billion of us not 6 billion like I’ve been saying for many years. I have 7.1 Billion — that’s seven billions and 100 millions — of brothers and sisters and nephews and aunties and cousins now. Sometimes I think we are all one being and are just being taught for whatever reason to think of ourselves as individuals. (I think in the East they are more open to the thought; the individuation is a Western construct; and it’s a long way from Ornette’s Grafton but Edie Brickell has a line about maybe cereal box philosophy or a smile on a dog; I ain’t deep I’m barely well-read and I repeat myself but there are still a couple idea bouncing around, like them black pebbles on the green sea, and I mean to catch a few and line them up, for you, if you check back here. Seven point four rather. Up from 3.2 when I entered the picture.
check back to see the list below grow to 20 links: 1) link from “if you look down on us from far enough in space” to “blue marble” from 1972 on wikipedia which is also a Stewart Brand reference and he is also in the Wolfe book and the phrase or question “why don’t we see a photograph of the whole earth from space” he started asking and buttoning in 1966 and was also a prankster and maybe heard ornette’s plastic — so the concept is not to illustrate this per se but to but up 20 links and then as an addendum or footnote list them here; 2) David Remnick on Ornette’s funeral in the New Yorker, but you can only read the first bit unless you are a subscriber. I presume I already linked previously to the New York Times obituary; at “ornette coleman” first reference; 3) Robert Stone, the novelist and like Kesey but not Tom Wolfe a Wallace Stegner fellow, although Wolfe did spend time at Stanford researching I am Charlotte Simmons, I presume is here Bob Stone, not to be confused with bobbing pebbles of black rubber; I link to his 2015 obit in the Times by Bruce Weber although somewhere in there, just now and a couple times previous I was sussing Stone and “jerusalem syndrome” which is a theme in his book “Damascus Gate” and is a disorder or so we are told in which people visit that city and think they are getting special instructions from a divine being or the divine being. As compared to Palo Alto syndrome in which tens of thousands of young people move here and believe they will quickly become billionaires, (as distinct from a guy who turns 30 and thinks salvation for himself and the planet is hiring 500 rock and jazz musicians over six years. I was gonna add this above but the reference to the plastic instrument or saxophone or alto is about modernity, say from about 1959 onward roughly simultaneous with the more ubiquitous cultural reference “silicon” I am saying that we hear about “silicon” and its conducting or semi-conducting properties and all that follows from that but we also are influenced and moved and shaped by “plastic”. Not in all bad ways. Plasticity is modernity and moldability and ubiquity and adaptability not phony or inert; it is not a slur. 4) I am late for my ‘trane to Munich but I had to log back in to add this link to Blair Tindall because now she’s famous for the adaptation of her book about classical music lifestyles “Mozart in The Jungle” but while she was at Stanford apparently getting a degree in journalism she also researched and wrote for the Palo Alto Weekly a long article in 2000 about Psychedelic Palo Alto, including Victor Lovell (and Winter Dellanbach of Struggle Mountain and now Buena Vista fame). If I read this before I didn’t think twice about the byline, Tindall. Not sure what adding Blair Tindall to the tags does but tag you’re it. And Victor Lovell is sometimes called “Lowell”. Oh, well.