In celebration of having cracked 100,000 words, yay me, here's another chapter of "California Screamin': Murder at Monterey Pop."
It's pretty self-explanatory: Rennie and Prax are at Big Magic, the anti-festival, and meet some people they know...Chapter 5Monday morning, June 12
BIG MAGIC'S OPENING DAY. Though the program wouldn't get seriously going until noon, there were already small musical knots strewn across the landscape, people playing, people digging the playing—or the players. Most of the musicians had been here for a day or two, like Rennie and her friends, showing up early to enjoy the hot springs and some kickback time before the gig. Already there was a bit of friction between the factions: the Power to the People hippie-fascist organizers; the Big Magic players; and the Monterey-bound musicians who were here merely to cop some vibes and maybe sit in on a set. But for the most part the scene was pleasant and calm.
Early risers both, Rennie and Prax came walking barefoot across the dew-soaked morning grass from Waterhall, shoes in hand and smiles on their faces. They were headed to the resort café, preferring superlatively hot and salty burgers on soft warm rolls, tops shiny with griddle grease, to the nice healthy breakfast gracing Romilly's table.
As they came down the grassy slope, Prax took a deep breath of the sea-cooled air and looked around, and continued, without preamble, their bedtime conversation of the night before.
"It was so nice to see Becca again. Too bad Danny and Brandi were there. Bit of a strain in the room."
Rennie nodded. "I just wish we—could have done something for her."
Prax slipped her arm around Rennie's shoulders, squeezed. "Honey, last night? I think maybe we did. She talked. She laughed. She understood. She remembered. She sat and talked to us nonstop for almost three hours after dinner. She was like her old self. Even Romilly said so. We were there, and she knew us, and she was happy to see us. That's so much better than it could have been. Maybe that's as good as it can get, with her."
She waved her arm across the landscape and changed the subject. "Look at them out there all biblical and Bedouin-ish—they're settled in for a week at least. I bet some would stay all summer if Romilly would let them."
Rennie allowed the subject to be changed, and looked. "Well, they'll have to clear out on Thursday if they want to make the scene at Monterey, which even the purity fascists who organized this little here–now blast want to do. Probably a lot of the camping contingent couldn't care less about Monterey and will stay put, but by Wednesday midnight Big Magic is done. Coaches back into pumpkins. Everybody except the diehards will be lemming-ing over to Monterey come Thursday morning. Including us. Oh, God, Praxie, don't look, quick, let's try to make it to those trees, before he sees us."
Too late. A young man was running toward them, waving wildly. He was small, slight, barefoot, with long brown hair and a touchingly eager smile on his extremely pretty face.
"Who's this, then?" asked Prax as they waited for him to come up. "Someone you know? Someone crazy and weird?"
"All those things. His name is Adam Santa Monica. Don't tell me you've never met?" At Prax's bewildered headshake: "Oh Lord. He's this demented groupie kid who thinks he's the bastard offspring of Elvis Presley and Jacqueline Bouvier, later Jackie Kennedy. Because they had an affair, you know, El and Jacks, and he was the happy result, but of course he could never be openly acknowledged, since Jackie was going to marry J.F.K. So his mother abandoned him as a newborn, in a shopping bag at the Wilshire Boulevard I. Magnin in L.A.—on one of her frequent trips there, no doubt. That's the usual story, though sometimes it's other places he was abandoned: in a large handbag in the powder room at the Beverly Hills Hotel, in a blanket under a table at the Brown Derby. It changes like that."
"No, I don't think you do, my little woodpigeon, not entirely. He was abandoned in a shopping bag, the poor kid. Just not by Jackie. So one can understand why he is the way he is. I guess I'm lucky he's not claiming I'm his mother… Anyway, I have been happily informed that he was finally made legitimate when Jackie married Elvis after J.F.K. was killed. Of course, since Adam was born in May 1951, El would have had to sire him at, let's see now, age fifteen—precocious but possible—and Jackie, age twenty-three, met Jack Kennedy for the first time that very month, so it's fairly unlikely that she was nine months preggers by Presley or anyone else just then—surely Jack would have noticed, dontcha think? And if she ever does remarry I somehow doubt it will be to Elvis. Still, he is the King and king outranks president. But anything's possible, especially in Tupelo. Or Back Bay Boston. Which are not as unalike as people in both places care to think."
"So, crazy as a bedbug."
"Pretty much. Before you ask, I have no idea what his real name or story is. Lately he's been hanging around Chris Sakerhawk, who's about ready to kill him, but there doesn't seem to be any agenda there—he's not claiming Chris as his long-lost bastard half-brother or anything. Anyway, I met Alan backstage at the Troubadour a few months ago and made the mistake of being nice to him, which is how I found out all this stuff, and now he won't leave me alone. Why I seem to attract delusional psychotics, I haven't the foggiest. Not you, of course. Don't laugh at him, though," she added.
Prax looked wounded. "I would never."
Adam Santa Monica came hurrying up the slope to them, smiling eagerly. "Oh wow, Rennie Stride! Hi, I haven't seen you for weeks, so cool you're here—and Prax McKenna, groovy!"
They took him to the resort's terrace café and fed him, because he had no money and he looked hungry and they felt sorry for him. But charity and patience only extended so far, especially when he started bugging Rennie over the hamburgers and lemonade.
"I've told you before, Adam, I have no pull in Memphis and I absolutely cannot get you in at Graceland to see Elvis."
"My father," explained Adam proudly to a politely nodding Prax, whose perfect deadpan was an achievement in itself. "My mother, Mrs. Jacqueline Bouvier-Presley, abandoned me in the ladies' dressing room at the I. Magnin in Beverly Hills. She never came out to California, so she thought that would be the best thing to do—no one would recognize her if they saw her leaving me there."
"She's smart as well as beautiful! No wonder my dad fell in love with her. They were married a year after the assassination, you know, so I'm their legitimate son now."
At last they escaped, Prax pleading a splitting headache and Rennie an emergency trip to the village to buy aspirins for her. Prax made a clean getaway, but Rennie found herself immediately importuned by Adam for a lift into town and back, as if he were a happy retriever puppy longing to go for a ride, and she gave in with a better grace than she might have expected.
It was a mere five-minute drive into Mojado village. Parking on the main, indeed, pretty much the only, street, Rennie left Adam sitting in the car with his little backpack while she ran into the drugstore, where she saw Brandi Marron perusing cosmetics and instantly dodged the other way, and he was still there when she came out of the sporting goods shop next door twenty minutes later.
Approaching the station wagon, Rennie looked at him for a minute, unnoticed: he was humming happily to himself, watching the action on the tiny main street, and she felt a sudden pang.
How many kids were there like him around the scene? Okay, probably not that many others who believed they had the fairytale ancestry of a hidden prince—the secret son of the Queen of Camelot and the King of Rocknroll—but still there were hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of sad, wounded, innocent souls that nobody cared enough about to try to fix. Or even knew about at all. She herself had never come close to such a place, thank God, but she knew plenty who had—she'd seen one of them only last night.
She pulled the car door open and got behind the wheel. "Adam. Here."
'Here' was a shopping bag containing a pair of hemp-and-leather sandals, two heavy-duty cotton t-shirts, a pullover sweater, several pairs of thick, soft socks, a warm, hooded windbreaker, a red-and-black lumberjack shirt of heavy flannel, a waterproof poncho, a bucket rainhat, a pair of shades and, folded inside the socks, two twenty-dollar bills. And a sleeping bag, extra-thick and warm, which she tossed into the back seat. Everything she could think of, in a hurry, that he might need. It was a lot of stuff, but it hadn't cost that much, and even if it had, still it was money well spent; at least her conscience would be clear. She couldn't do anything for those other kids, or even for Becca, but she could help Adam out a bit. She could always expense it to Burke anyway, but if he wouldn't let her that was fine too.
"It's going to be cold tonight, maybe rainy. You need something on your feet. And on the rest of you. I don't want to hear about you freezing to death sleeping outside, so look around for a dormitory tent—the resort put up a bunch for campers who didn't bring their own. Or find somebody to crash with. And buy yourself something to eat, for God's sake, will you? Don't spend the money on dope, and don't sell the stuff to buy dope, either."
He thanked her all the way back to The Springs, putting on the new sandals, happily cramming the things she'd bought him into his backpack, asking if he could keep the shopping bag, faithfully promising food, not acid—those big thick burgers at the café were only fifty cents, even cheaper ones at the soda fountain in town, he could eat here and for the next two weeks back in town and still maybe buy a little pot, was that okay, if he did that?—and Rennie dropped him off at the terrace where they'd been sitting earlier. She had a previously scheduled interview, and now she pulled away, intending to drive the few hundred yards down to the resort cottages rather than leave the car at Waterhall and walk all the way back.
When she glanced in the rear-view mirror, she saw Adam, who was sitting again at the little table where they'd breakfasted, the sleeping bag and backpack at his newly sandaled feet, smile and wave with sudden excitement, as if he recognized someone he knew and liked, was pleased and surprised to see there. Rennie tried to follow the sightline into the milling crowd under the trees, but she couldn't tell who, if anyone, the kid had seen. Maybe he was waving to his parents.
But she felt better knowing she had provided for him over the next days and a bit beyond. A rock mitzvah, befitting a former Girl Scout. If he showed up at Monterey, she and Praxie would help him out a little more. They could both afford it now, she was happy to note, and, besides, it was a very nice feeling. No wonder the Lacings had gotten into philanthropism in such a big way—though, on second thought, that probably hadn't been their reason at all.
Rennie hadn't been lying just to escape Adam. She really did have an interview, or at least a meeting. Baz Potter, half of the British folk superduo Potter and Hazlitt (and widely known as the English Art Garfunkel, to both his and Artie's extreme mutual annoyance), had been staying at a Springs cottage to gather his strength before the main event at Monterey. He hadn't been able to get into the idea of Tassajara any more than Rennie had, and apparently he wasn't yet ready to head over to Monterey, where Baz and Haz, as they were known to fans and detractors alike, were opening the whole festival Friday night.
They and Rennie had been friends from her college days. Basil Potter and Roger Hazlitt, a folksinging duo then going by the name of Grendel's Mother and straight off the student-fare prop plane from Gatwick, had been a nightly piece of acoustic set dressing at the Sea Witch, an old-school Macdougal Street coffeehouse Rennie favored in the West Village when she and her friends at several upstate schools drove down to New York City on weekends, to hang out in the new hip clubs, or the newly hip old ones.
The Sea Witch was gamely trying to update itself to the Sixties ethos and compete with the hip places down the block and around the corner, like the Kettle of Fish and the Café Wha? and the Village Gate, where young Bobby Dylan and young Phil Ochs and young Peter, Paul and Mary were among the big draws, and which were always packed full of starry-eyed fans like young Rennie Stride.
The British lads—Baz a dark-haired, dark-eyed Welshman, Roger a fair-haired Scot—had come cheap, being hungry and eager to play, and they weren't as politically protest-y as most of those others, so they became the Sea Witch's house act, and had quickly developed a loyal following.
Rennie'd interviewed them for a Cornell journalism school assignment; they had hit it off immediately, though never romantically, and had been friends ever since. They'd even affectionately christened her Ace, for Ace Reportorial Goddess. Better than the acronymic Arg, she supposed. Anyway, the tag had stuck, though thankfully only with those two: with the recent exception of "Strider", and even then but few were granted the liberty, Rennie did not permit nicknames.
And now those boys of hers were folk icons. Baz and Haz—and it was BAZZ-il, not BAY-zil, thank you very much—toured endlessly; they had half a dozen albums out, and had written some truly beautiful songs. Baz's gorgeous tenor—though not as high and pure as Art Garfunkel's, nobody's could be that, and nobody could be more smugly aware of it than Arthur, either—combined with Roger's rich baritone, not to mention their lit'ry lyrics heavy on the Romantic poets, had improbably charmed the masses, and their audience crossed all age barriers. Which might or might not be a good thing.
Over the hill on the open stage, Big Magic had officially started up at the stroke of noon, with a local tribal shaman chanting to bless the scene, followed by an equally local band called Sycorax—experimental music that sounded like zithers being played with fish skeletons, and wordless shrieking vocals that could not only shatter glass but etch your initials into it on the way to the ground. Comfortably distant from the din, Rennie and Baz sat on his cottage's brick-paved terrace, under the shade of a spreading jacaranda in the middle bloom of its purple glory—the lovely trees came into flower a bit later in the north than in the Southland.
"So," said Rennie, sipping iced tea. "You and Pierce Hill work out your little issues yet? You can tell me. Off the record, of course. Unless you want it on the record. About the records. We've really never discussed it, you and I and Roger, and you don't have to tell me now, but maybe it might help."
Basil Potter looked at Rennie and sighed. "You decide, Ace. But off the record for now. As to our differences—creative, contractual, financial, personal—it wants a bloody U.N. peacekeeping force to sort them out. Northern Ireland will see happy days sooner than we will."
"Well, I'm not saying you should stay loyal to Pierce, 'cause I think he's an utter scumbag, but he did discover you two and sign you to Rainshadow. And he is your record company president."
"Yes, well, there's the rub. Not only did he discover us and sign us," said Baz gloomily, "he holds our publishing rights. Personally holds them. He talked us into signing them over to Rainshadow when he signed us up; in fact, that was part of the deal."
"And you idiots fell for it? Who was your manager? Where was your lawyer? Asleep at the wheel?"
"We had no money, as you may perhaps recall? We couldn't afford to hire anyone, so…"
Rennie cast up her eyes to heaven. "Oh, let me guess—so Pierce recommended an entertainment lawyer he knew who wouldn't ask you to pay up front and would only take his legal fees once you'd made some money off the first record."
"What a prince. You babes in the woods realize he screwed you with your clothes on, don't you? That they both did?"
"We figured that out pretty quickly," said Baz ruefully. "But Pierce has got us over the proverbial barrel. We'll never leave without our songs, and he'll never give them back to us."
"You guys have made many, many truckloads of bucks, even working for Pierce's slave wages. Couldn't you hire someone to break the contract? Or failing that, take out a contract? On him?"
Baz set down his empty lemonade glass and poured himself a refill. "A tempting idea. But we've tried. To break the contract, I mean. Technically, we can break it. But only if we're willing to give up every song we ever wrote up to now. He's got them locked down tighter than a nun in a chastity belt. He even named the publishing company, with our songs, for his little daughter's nickname. Scout Music. It's like some horrible Faustian nightmare. That's one of the reasons he's here, at Big Magic and Monterey. To keep an eye on us, to dump a few of the Rainshadow old guard, and also to look for his next big score."
"Well, he'll have to queue up right sharpish. Every record company president in the galaxy is going to be here personally or at least is sending a rep. RCA, Columbia, Isis, Atlantic, Warner, Sovereign, A&M, Centaur, just for starters. And every big-name manager too, from Albert Grossman on down. They're all after the same thing: fresh meat. Fresh meat that's going to make them all a ton of money."
Baz nodded. "I know. But Pierce really means it. He wants to sign as many hip new rockers as he can and drop as many as he can of the unhip old folkies his label established, like Ushuaia and that Irish bloke Finn Hanley. He wants new people. People he can get cheap, people who'll be grateful and humble and won't make waves. And yet he won't let us go, we who have got our walking shoes glued to our feet, ready to decamp at a moment's notice. And that's not off the record, Ace; the more people who see what a greedy prick bastard he is, the better, maybe. You might want to warn Prax and Tansy, by the way, make sure they're on their guard—I have no doubt he'll be sniffing after them and their bands."
"I'll do that. But what do you want, my dear, both of you?"
"You already know what we want. We quite desperately want to either split up and go our solo separate ways before we kill each other, or else to follow Dylan's fine example and change our sound and style to something harder and rockier and electric. Hopefully without a near-fatal motorcycle accident in the mix. But I have to say, we'd pull that too if we thought it would work."
"But that still wouldn't stop you from wanting to kill each other."
"It would not. It's gone too far for that. But if we're doing new stuff we might be able to stand being around each other. Of course, if we're both dead, no problem." He laughed at her exasperated expression. "Well, I never said it was uncomplicated, babe…"
No, he was right about that, it certainly wasn't. Rainshadow, their folkie-purist record company, whose current prosperity was founded largely on Potter and Hazlitt catalogue, and whose spiffy new midtown Manhattan offices had been funded entirely by Potter and Hazlitt royalties, had said no way in hell. In fact, in the personal person of Pierce Hill had it said no way in hell.
"And when he said that, what did you say?"
"We said we'll sue to get out."
"And when you said that, what did he say?"
"He said we'll change our sound or break our contract only over his dead body."
Rennie gave a short laugh. "Meaning of course 'Over your dead bodies, lads: if we wanted a new sound from you we'd ask for one, and anyway we hear there's plenty of other groups out there already doing that newfangled hard rock stuff so just stick to what you know and what you can do and what makes us all rich and happy even though you're not happy because we don't give a flaming toss whether you are or not as long as you keep coming across with the same old sound and bringing in the same old money.' "
Baz stared at her. "How is it that you know these things? That's exactly what he said. You're quite frightening, really. Can you control storms and sway the future?"
"Something like that. No, it's just that I know Pierce Hill, I know his little weasely ways. Everybody thinks he's such a cool dude and a friend to the music and all, but really he's just annoying forty-three-year-old pissant Percy Epps from Rego Park, Queens, getting even with everyone who beat him up outside yeshiva school. Hardline, but not hard to figure out. Listen, he discovered you boys in that Yorkshire pub singing for cheese sarnies and ale and got you to America, and you were all lucky and grateful to have found each other. As well you should have been. But the times they have a-changèd: now you're big huge stars and he's used to the filet mignon you put on his table and the lovely Connecticut estate you put his behind into and the fan behinds you put into all the concert seats that he's getting a nice piece of change out of. You deserve so much better, we all know you do; but he's not about to give all that up without a fight."
"He may have to," said Baz grimly. "If we should happen to suddenly find ourselves unable to write songs…"
"Oh, bad idea, sweet boy, don't be doing that! He'll just hang on all the harder, like a lobster to the side of the steamer pot, and he'll make your lives even more of a misery than they now are. You owe how many albums to Rainshadow? One? Right. Hold your noses, make the damn record, give it to him and then hightail it out of there. I don't see what else you can do. It's too bad about your beautiful songs being lost forever, but you'll write more, either both together or each of you on your own."
"If we kill him, will you give us an alibi?" he asked hopefully.
She laughed. "Don't tempt me."
"Well, we may just take the hit. Split up, go our separate ways. In fact"—Baz took a deep breath, pausing for maximum dramatic effect, or to gather his courage, or perhaps merely to make sure that Rennie was giving him her full attention—"we're going to announce it onstage at Monterey Friday night. I am, actually. That's what I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to have the scoop first."
Rennie looked and sounded every bit as surprised as she, in fact, was. "Wow, that's…"
"Yes. It is. The public demise of Baz and Haz, in front of a jury of our peers. Nice and dramatic and satisfying, something we can't deny or step away from later. So sucks to Pierce bloody Hill and all his bleeding works and pomps. It will be deeply worth it. For some very personal reasons."
"More personal than money and being artistically ripped off?"
"How about Roger is sleeping with my wife? Is that personal enough?"
Yeah, that could do it… "I'm sorry, Baz, I didn't know."
"No… We aren't exactly proud of it, the three of us. And I haven't been the best of husbands to Pamina. It's my fault, not hers."
He was distinctly uncomfortable. "I've ignored her a lot. I've been away a lot. I've had other women really a lot. And I've—-smacked her around a bit. Quite a bit, actually."
The air between them chilled so fast Rennie was surprised that a tiny thunderstorm didn't form over the terrace. "I'm very sorry to hear you say that. And very disappointed in you, my friend."
"I know. It's drugs, it's booze, it's the pressure, it's the biz."
"No. No, Ace, it isn't."
"Is that why Pamie started balling Roger? To get back at you?"
Baz looked surprised. "No, they seem to be genuinely in love. Which we haven't been, she and I, not for years now. Though revenge may have been part of it for both of them. At least maybe at first."
"Do you mind?"
"The revenge or the balling? Well, either or both, less than I thought I would, to tell you the truth."
"But enough to belt her around."
"I hadn't been keeping up my end of the marriage. In fact, I've had several serious affairs myself, not just trampish groupie scruffs. But somehow, when she did the same, it was different. You're married and separated yourself, you know how it is," he added.
"Not like that, I don't, no."
Rennie wanted to be sympathetic to her old friend, especially given her own situation, but she found she really couldn't manage it. Stephen had never once struck her, not even when he found out she'd started sleeping with other men. And she'd only begun doing so after their separation, after she'd moved out—she'd never have been unfaithful before that, under the same roof as him, sleeping in the same bed with him. And after she'd left him, of course he'd been free to sleep around too.
But Baz was shaking his head. "That was before. I haven't seen enough of her lately to get pissed off enough to—well, anyway, that's why I'm staying here at Mojado. They're together over at Monterey, at least until I get there. Then Pamina will come swanning back to me as if nothing whatsoever was amiss. She's very good at that. And of course I'll take her back as if she'd never even been gone, because I'm very good at that. But I don't know how long I can keep on doing it; hence the need of breaking up the act. I just can't deal with any of it anymore, on any level."
Rennie reached out to put a hand on his arm. "Why have you never told me any of this before? We're friends."
He covered her hand with his, squeezed hard. "We are. Forever. I was too embarrassed, I suppose. I've been a cuckold and a dupe."
"I don't think people still consider themselves cuckolds so much anymore. Not since the last century, at least."
"If you say so." He looked straight at her, with a kind of sad desperate resolve. "Just a dupe, then... But no matter what Pierce Hill or a whole squadron of his flying devil monkey solicitors have to say, this is the last hurrah for Roger and me. After this festival, not only will we be free of our servitude to Pierce, one way or another, but we won't be performing together in public ever again. In fact, I very much doubt if we'll ever even be seeing each other again. Friday night's the night."
And so it would be.
(c)2008, Patricia Morrison