Anyone who has ever experienced my photographic journey to the good ol' days knows how the narrative begins with the first four black-and-white, 8X10 images in the black binder: "Sex. Drugs. Sex and drugs. And rock 'n' roll."
The first photo is of a long-haired brunette in her kitchen immediately following an afternoon tryst in her South Grant Street apartment. The second is a pot plant growing under a roommate's window sill. The third is a petite blonde in jeans and a sweater curled up on her bed with a joint. The fourth is a close-up of guitarist Al DiMeola, who's actually a jazzman and not a rock star.
To say the decade between say 1965 and 1975 was a blue-moon time for a young man to come of sexual age would be understatement in the extreme. It was the magical period between the invention of the birth-control pill and the onset of the incurable disease epidemic, a convergence of events that has never been experienced before or after, and never will again. The Daily Show's Jon Stewart once interviewed independent filmmaker John Carpenter about the subject. Carpenter said he lost his virginity the day they discovered the pill. Stewart said he lost his the day they discovered AIDS.
Having grown up in middle-class Indianapolis, I've never been disdainful of the mainstream. My roots are firmly implanted there, and I've benefited enormously from them. But I never aspired to join it. From the time I was a kid, I was always drawn to the "madmen and artists," as Allen Ginsberg called them, even though I had never heard the phrase or his name. Poetry wasn't big in my peer group.
By the time Tony the Dope Dealer cracked my reality, I'd known more than my share of madmen. I have more stories about dying young than anyone I've ever met. But artists? Can't say I'd known a single one growing up. A couple guys from my neighborhood played guitars and sang folk and rock at the Hummingbird Cafe in downtown Indy's Talbot Village. One of them plays Christian rock today, at least I'm pretty sure it's him. But that was it.
Tony was a madman. I knew that the moment I first heard his voice. And while I didn't share his dream of earning a hundred thousand dollars dealing pot, his preoccupation with it intrigued me. "Money, that's what I'm into," he told me in one of our first conversations, "money." He was also an artist, and the money, he said, was a means to an end. He would earn enough dealing to quit and then focus on his art.
Life in Bloomington in the early 1970s was tantamount to that of a Wild West town, without the shootouts (although, eventually, there were some). The place was wide open and oozed wealth generated by a burgeoning hippie economy. And few cared that the boom was fueled by contraband. Too many people made too much money off marijuana. Society accepted it. And the community embraced it.
I can say with unimpeachable confidence that a walk down Kirkwood Avenue and around the Courthouse Square anytime between 1971 and '75 would have passed at least a half dozen businesses whose owners were or had been pot dealers, and probably more. With equal certainty, I can say the first communication a high-powered local attorney shared with three green asses busted cold with five pounds of marijuana in 1974 were: "I've talked to the prosecutor, and he said to tell you not to worry, you're not going to jail."
The Monroe County prosecutor was a Republican named Greg Carter, who would represent the Indiana chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) after he left Bloomington. The attorney was John G. Baker, who would eventually be, in turn, Monroe County Judge, Monroe Superior Court Judge, Monroe Circuit Judge and Indiana Court of Appeals Judge. His office in 1974 was located in what is now the Old National Bank building at Kirkwood and Washington.
I’ve always believed in destiny. And I’ve always found mine in Bloomington’s Bryan Park neighborhood a half mile or so south of the IU campus. I started three lives there -- young adult, father and divorcé -- in three Bryan houses within a six-block walk of each other. Each appeared when I needed new life.
For example, after a year-and-a-half in the fraternity house, where I made great friends and gained insights that serve me well to this day, I knew the Greek life wasn’t for me, and I had to get off campus. The Bryan Park fates aligned the first time when two friends found a duplex on the corner of Dunn and Allen, and we moved in in the fall of 1971.
Fittingly enough for that era in Bloomington history, my first adventure in adulthood was a slumlord experience.
The military is the most sexist institution in the United States.
Helen Benedict's The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq exposes the oppression of women in the armed services.
Women constitute 11 percent of GIs serving in the Middle East today. When The Lonely Soldier went to press, 160,500 women had served in Iraq. Women serve in combat, though not officially. Not since World War II have as many women soldiers died while serving in the armed forces.
I’ve never spent much time thinking about the future or the past. For better or for worse, I’ve always lived in the moment. Until now. For reasons that I may get into at some point, my focus these days is increasingly directed backward.
One of those reasons, however, is impossible to exclude from this saga, even for a guy who still lives a mile from campus and does laundry at the Third Street laundromat. Indeed, it’s the catalyst for the this dramatic departure from my writing routine: Forty years ago this summer I experienced Kirkwood Avenue for the first time. And it feels like it’s time to write my memoirs, even if it’s unknown whether anyone will care to read them.
Indianapolis’s Locals Only Art & Music Pub, located at 2449 E. 56th St., half a block east of the intersection of 56th and Keystone Avenue, is one of the Circle City’s most outstanding original music venues, and its noted open mics are active incubators of that music. All three of the CDs reviewed below have strong ties to those open mics.
Johnny Ping, creative force behind the Accidental Arrangements, used to host the Tuesday night open mics, while Jethro Easyfields has long hosted the one on Wednesday nights. Simeon Pillar, Muncie singer/songwriter and musical collaborator with Easyfields, has been playing at the Locals Only open mics for three years now.
Editor's note: George Fish was waylaid by back-to-back viral infections for much of February and March. This month he has two new CD reviews of indie and small-label artists that are well worth checking out.
Shout Sister Shout--All that Jazz (Oh yeah!)
Shout Sister Shout
Hit that Jive
MC Records MC-0063
Shout Sister Shout is an excitingly different quintet hailing from Lansing, Mich., capital of the Wolverine State, right next door to my old 1960s college stomping ground of Michigan State University, in next-door East Lansing. This quintet -- Rachel Davis, vocals; Joe Wilson, trombone, steel guitar and background vocals; Andy Wilson, harmonicas, trumpet and flugelhorn; Dominic John Suchyta, standup bass and background vocals; and Joshua Davis, guitars and vocals -- loves the music of the 1930s and 40s, and lovingly re-does these songs in a uniquely different way.
My Mind Gets to Ramblin'
Out of the Past Records TP003
You Don't Know Your Mind
Out of the Past Records/Rhonda Sue Records TP004
The-gray and white in the facial hair of Steve Howell and David Egan, as pictured on their respective CD sleeves, shows that these are two seasoned veterans who've been honing their chops for a long time and have devoted years to mastering their musical art.
Long before I actually "discovered" the blues when I went to college, I was an avid fan of the rock 'n' roll and R&B/soul I heard on AM Top 40 radio. In fact, I was just knocked out by R&B and even blues before I really knew what it was! It was "only rock 'n roll to me" as I eagerly rocked on to the sounds of Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Hank Ballard, and even Jimmy Reed and Bobby Bland that I heard on Top 40 radio, not really knowing what I was listening to, only knowing that I really, really dug it.
Rock 'n' roll is often considered a bastard child of the blues, but it was Muddy Waters himself who said, "Blues had a baby, and they called it rock 'n' roll." Rock 'n' roll was the "jungle music" dismissed by the highbrow critics that just excited the hell out of me and millions of other youth across the land.
Rock 'n' roll was also the great leveler and door opener that brought the music of the riffraff, African Americans, and the other "undesirables" of the Eisenhower Era to our young white ears and, for some of us, was the opening wedge that made some of us more receptive to the countercultures that would explode in the mid-1960s.