The joys of being in a comedy group are few, but they are indeed precious and seem to be worth more to me these days than I ever thought they should. I was beginnning to feel that forty years of being in mine brought with it a stack of troubles hardly matched by any joys. By this time in the little tour, the show had reached the last of its evolutions. Things were set, almost rehearsed. And many more people than expected showed up at San Rafael to a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building shaped like an arc, with long rows of seats and no intersecting aisles, so if a person is late to the show and has been assigned a seat near the middle of the theater, he has to step apologetically over the many knees and shoes of quite a lot of people, destroying as well the view of quite a lot more behind. I suppose this is evidence that Wright had some small, Grecian sense of humor.
There is a large pond, a small lake, outside this Ark. Above broad lawns, Mt. Tamalpais looms the horizon and ducks settle down at sunset on the pond. Winter sunset, cars come in and park and people stand in brief lines and then stand around for a while looking for people they know and then they find their seats, sliding sideways to reach them for what seems an eternity. Backstage, there is no easy access from the dressing rooms which sit a floor above the stage on the right, to those on the left. Oona and I stake out the right stage for ourselves, after we learn that everyone else has moved into the left hand side, near the catering tables. We are briefly alone, isolated from the infighting. And the infighting has been intense. It’s hard for people to understand, even when they’ve been told a million and a half times, that people who do comedy are just as unhappy and fretful as anyone else and that they’re quite capable of bringing that worry and fretting to the creation of comedy. The Firesign Theatre, after forty years of working with itself, is more than especially prone to this behaviour, since none of the four members has permanently left the group. We’re stuck with each other, at this late date, and the horrifying prospect of people in their sixties and seventies continuing to engage in internicine fights with one another was hard upon me and the Big Blonde at this stage of the proceedings. That’s why I wanted to contrast such things with what happened to us after this show – which went very well, by the way – and on the general theme of friendships. Three people came to the show, each of whom contribute mightily to this blog, and as well Taylor Jessen and I were there, working on the FST show. With the addition of Oona, it meant that for a couple of quick minutes, there were six Blogofunknown contributors staring at each other. Mark Trail is huge, the man is at least, big. and he and Bernie and Len and Mark were pronounced – by Oona – to be “nice guys,” which is a huge compliment coming from someone surrounded by the Firesign Theatre. I was just bonkered for a couple of minutes. I’m most interested in writing and over the past couple of years, I’ve so enjoyed reading these guys and their stuff that I was momentarily starstruck. Taylor was up to his ears in aftershow duties, counting t-shirt revenues and so forth, and none of us got more than a few minutes with each other, but I want to say right here that I thought this meeting more than made up for anything negative I’d been feeling. I headed south, after this show, feeling much better about writing and humor and history than anytime in recent memory and if we’d had Rich and Richard Brown and the Intrepid Margolis family with us, we’d all have been staring. I realized that this blog had just released me, had just blasted me, and the ten or so of us who’ve hung in with each other here in this little blue world had indeed become friends. It’s just a literary group hug, but there it is. It makes me feel better, that’s for sure, and I left San Rafael that night a happier person than when we’d driven in a few hours before.
Out to the parking lot, carrying our stuff, and I’m thinking about how a dozen years or so ago, I’d been in the Bay Area by myself – O had to work down in Hollywood – and I’d had to stay up north in order to attend a Grateful Dead Concert in order to solidify my and the producers’ ties to the group, since we’d convinced them to go along with us on a comedy movie that would star the entire band, but which was originally designed to star John Candy about a man who goes to a Dead Concert. Menno, the producer, and I drove to the Oakland Venue with Bob Weir, Menno having driven – or was I driving, I forget – to Weir’s house to pick him up and then made it on the Earthquake Highway’s to Oakland. I sat with Senor Garcia before the show and I still have guitar string he took off his guitar as we talked. I got to stand out on stage and talk to Phil Lesh and look at his rig and his stack, I got to meet and talk a little to The Lyricist, but mostly I got to sit almost in the middle of the entire band as everyone came into Jerry’s black tent set up on stage left, and discuss exactly what they were going to do. The conversation was kind of:
Mickey: So, what’ya think?
Lesh: That thing in A, right?
Garcia: Well, I’ll do that D thing and then …
Garcia: And then we’ll get into that other thing.
Bill: Do we want that thunk thunk thing again?
Mickey: Like the rehearsal?
The crowd outside is on their feet, screaming with anticipation, huge human scarecrow masque figures tower and sway over the crowd, and inside this little medieval soft cloth tent, I’m listening to:
Weir: I was thinking that we should …
Garcia: I want to do that in E.
Lesh: I can do that. Do you remember?
Hart: That’s what rehearsals are for.
Bill: We should do it.
Quick clasped hippie hands, I skoot for the sidelines, Menno and I stand under Lesh’s amps. We are in the dark and I watch an audience in its light and the band in theirs as the two meet and my head gets knocked forward by airpressure generated from the fingers of a guy with whom I not only share a first name, but who – a few months later – I will make sit in a plush suite at the Fairmont for two hours while I read aloud a screenplay I’ve written. He and Garcia and Weir, my little audience. A movie script is a long document and I’m supposed to be a comedy writer, in other words, I was hoping I could get a few laughs out of this little audience, or at least a grunt or two or three of approval. It was a performance, but all I had was a voice and my considerable reading skills and a hundred and ten pages of writing I wasn’t at all sure about. I got the job done, they laughed, they sat and listened and said they liked it. I’d sit on the floor sometimes in front of them, and read, or I’d get up and wander around, reading from a script like some guy in a Preston Sturgess movie who thinks he’s got the greatest idea for a screenplay in human history.
Me: We don’t have a title for it.
Garcia: We should call it, “The Dead Sell Out.”
It didn’t get made, but that’s seldom the point, down in Hollywood. You wrote it, that’s what counts, and it may be made into a story or a novel, or it may be sitting in a cardboard box in your garage in a water-stained cardboard box, but still, you wrote it.
And the Dead did.
And the Firesign Theatre did.
And doing something is better than not doing anything, and that’s why Oona is this month’s winner of the Blogofunknown “Genius” award, for being smart enough to realize that if we didn’t just charge in and start pushing and spending, these kids would be spending their nine and twelve and fourteen year-old Glorious Summer of Freedom in houses in which obese people smoke, in which families have been shattered and true uncertainty reigns. Watching them in Hollywood is fun, as they turn a little browner every day, each one of the little porkers visibly losing weight. Wrapped in towels, they stare at the high-speed world of “Need For Speed” in all it’s fender-smashing glory, adeptly tapping the controls, watching, intent, learned. They spend hours in our little pool and Oona has become the self-styled “Swim Nazi,” she and I both realizing why we had spent all that time on swim teams in our own youths, as we teach and watch all four kidz get that feeling for the water and for speed and grace that have enriched our lives. It passes on, it turns out, and now I realize why I got that brief national record when I was fourteen, me and my three buddies on the relay team – the Mealiffe twins and Hal Coulter and me, (the slowest of the four) – that broke the – get this – national record. I have authority with the little bastards because of this and besides, she and I still look like a million bucks in the water. We both hated competition, but we loved the grace and the flow and the ease that comes with water familiarity and watching the kidz get it ??? well, you can imagine how good we feel. They were good in the Suburban on the two day trip down and they got to go to Universal on the rides and Esther, the Sainted Esther, took them and her kids to Zuma beach for the day, but mostly they are in our pool and thank Submariner we’ve got such a thing. Ah, Hollywood. Ah, Fresno. Ah, Tacoma. We’re going to go to the Redwoods on the way back and I’m going to get to watch them look up at the Gigantic Trees and hopefully we’ll get to camp at least one night at Gold Bluffs beach where they will see the huge Roosevelt Elks and maybe see the Giant Whales swimming and where they will see what a wild beach is really like.
And so at night, coming out of a theater somewhere near the Bay, I’m remembering after that concert in Oakland, that night, as we looked for a place to eat and drove – Weir, Meyjes and I – to Berkeley to a restaurant that turned out to be closed, and talked to Garcia who was alone in a huge black limo idling in the empty parking lot. He didn’t go with the rest of us to – I swear, Denny’s in Mill Valley – and we drove away and I’ll never forget this lonely man, this genius, idling alone with his driver – and there is, as is said in the style of Rudyard Kipling, no greater loneliness than this, my children, my beloveds.
I’m not lonely, as it turns out, as my life turns out. I’m the opposite, pretty damn full. Full up. Full of it. Fullness itself, that’s me. And busy.