Friday, November 17, 2017

White Rabbit - for Songbook 9 - at Post 134, Alberta Street

Blogging, first time in a while. Feels weird. Everything's different. Yet nothing has changed.

Maybe I'd like to make this a habit ... idea for a future blog, why have I resisted blogging for such a long time?

Anyway, that's for a future post. Right now I want to share that I'll be reading tomorrow night at Post 134 on Alberta Street, series called Songbook. I'm really excited to be doing this. I think I was at the very first Songbook reading and I thought, holy shit. This is awesome. I want to be included on this dais. And so somehow I managed to introduce myself to Adam Strong, the cat who hosts this series, and even become friends with him. And in fact I'm his regular sub for his digital arts class. (But that too is food for a future blog as well.)

So without further ado, here's the piece I'll be reading tomorrow. Enjoy!


Dad had a Realistic amplifier / tuner. It was all tubes, baby. Bragged about picking it up at the RadioShack – back when RadioShack actually meant radio. We’re talking Hi-Fi here, sound an audiophile might lose their shit over. It had a face that would glow green with AM numbers all the way from the 500’s, and up into the stratosphere. And it had FM too, baby. This thing would play in stereo, with speakers so big, the bass would make your bell-bottom trousers rattle like an actual bell had just been rung.

And Dad would take out the Jefferson Airplane record, Surrealistic Pillow, place the needle down on track number 2. Hear the crackling – that warm analog sound – as the needle digs down deep into the grooves, cleaning out the dust with that popping and static. Hear it …

When the truth is found – to be lies
And all the joy within you – dies
Don’t you want somebody to love?
Don’t you need somebody to love?
Wouldn’t you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love …

But this piece isn’t about that.

Flip the record over, side 2, track 5 – “White Rabbit.” 2-1/2 minutes of pure pop sensation, moving from innocence and perception into a crescendo of psychedelic bliss and Lewis Carroll imagery: the Queen of Hearts, that caterpillar smoking hookah, Through the Looking Glass

But we’re not there yet.


In our house, Saturday mornings meant house cleaning, and Saturday Morning Cartoons – something this generation has no concept of. Now they can get their cartoon fix whenever and wherever they are. Whenever that imperious urge strikes, just pull out your device and connect to the nearest Wi-Fi, hotspot, 4G streaming, and view the latest adventures of Gumball, or Steven’s Universe, Teen Titans – parodies of the great shows that we would wake up for early on a Saturday morning. I’m talking the Super Friends, Superman and Wonder Woman, the Adventures of Batman and Robin, all teamed together with Aquaman, the Flash, and of course the Wonder Twins with their monkey sidekick, Gleek. Gems of the Hanna-Barbera canon. Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang. Dick Dastardly and Muttley, Speed Buggy and Jabberjaw, Captain Caveman, the Super Harlem Globetrotters. These are some real gems here folks, some of the best writing for any 8 year-old mind!

Then we had the Warner Brother’s cartoons, shows our Dad would actually sit down and watch with us. Bugs Bunny and the Road Runner Show, Wile E. Coyote always trying to procure some device from ACME Inc. to help him catch that Road Runner – a 20 ton anvil to fall on his head, casks of TNT, roller-skates and electromagnets attached to train tracks, getting strapped to the back of a rocket (never a good idea), painting tunnels on cliffsides – and then actually getting steamrolled by a speeding locomotive. Defying Newton’s Laws of Gravity! We just loved it, Dad and all three of us boys.

Then it came time to clean the house. Every Saturday, spick and span. Literally, Dad did a white glove check to make sure that we dusted right. He had a sign in his garage that read CLEANLINESS IS NEXT TO GODLINESS. And he believed it too. But when it came time to cleaning, he knew what we needed. We needed music – especially for the vacuuming – and Dad was our DJ.

And that was when he would take out the Surrealistic Pillow record. A simple album cover, the band’s logo written in pink with a black and white picture of the group. There’s Paul Kantner sitting with the headstock of a fiddle covering his right eye. And the drummer, Spencer Dryden, holding up a banjo for some reason. And there’s young Marty Balin, holding a flute. And why is Jack Casady staring off to the right for some reason? And there’s Jorma Kaukonen, lead guitarist, looking as heavy as possible, wearing dark shades and striped shirt.

But there in the center, Grace Slick, the ringleader, the lion tamer, looking as pretty as ever, somehow managing to keep this motley bunch of pranksters together. Leader, by default.

But not without contest.

And there’s Dad, pushing that vacuum, singing along. And there’s Pat and me and Timmy, pulling couch away from wall so we can chase the dust bunnies back there.

And now here comes side two of the record, opens with the rocker “3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds,” which is followed by the mellow gold of “DCBA-25.” Takes you right into that zone.

Then “How Do You Feel” – has that Mammas and Pappas groove, sung in harmonies by Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, and Grace Slick. Then that gives way to Jorma Kaukonen’s acoustic masterpiece, “Embryonic Journey.” Beautiful, melodic acoustic guitars.

Which leads then into Jack Cassidy strumming out that bass line, a trance – the exotic, eastern sounds of “White Rabbit’s” intro. It’s in like an invitation, taken up by cadence, now tapped out on snare, a jazzy march – transports us to some other destination, maybe a riverboat, fully shaped now by hypnotic drone of guitar, feeling something like a snake charmer as Grace Slick replies …

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice – when she’s 10 feet tall

She chants; her vocals informing us now of this ceremony taking place – we are not just spectators.

Her low, lamenting tenor is mysterious, sexy. Grace Slick. She is the Acid Queen, prophetic, and this dance is timeless – the 2-1/2 minute song could last forever, seems to touch infinity; takes up so much presence, says so much in such a brief moment.

The perfect pop song, conjuring Alice in Wonderland – we are all players on this chess board, vacuuming the house, stacking chairs on kitchen table, to run that vacuum under kitchen table, behind curtains and couches and carpets. Cleanliness is next to godliness!

Takes us back to San Francisco – Top of the Mark. Eating dim sum in Chinatown with Aunt Peach and Uncle Dick. Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, now cloaked in fog.

Then hearing the stories before the three of us boys were even born. Dad, driving school bus on the hills in San Francisco, down Lombard Street. Mom riding the bus with her sister at five years old in the 1950’s with Aunt Mable.

Now Mom at Cal, pregnant with my older brother, walking through a protest – as the riot stops and pauses, waits for her to pass, as she goes on to her next class – and then starts up once again and she is safe. Vietnam War and Civil Rights, protests and marches – the 60’s that were just before my time.

Logic and proportion, the Mad Hatter – we’re all mad now! And as we run that vacuum cleaner, Dad singing away, playful gleam in his eye.

And now here we are, five days before Thanksgiving, we can all remember what the door mouse said, stuffing ourselves with turkey and cranberries, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie – hear the ghost of my Dad – spooky, groovy – and sing along with me now:

Remember what the door mouse said,
Feed your head!

Feed your head!