Beat at the Sweet Notes by J.Macon King
On with the Show
Wavy Gravy of Woodstock Festival MC and counter-culture fame, made a grand appearance to the Sweetwater before the show, in some kind of tux over blue-and-designs shirt, with his entourage. Everyone parted in awe.
Nicosia kicked it all off trying to read without his glasses, not finding his amongst his trademark shirt pocket of pens and pencils. He put on a hip rectangular orange pair, offered by guitarist Dana Alberts, I think, which drew chuckles from the filled hall. Perfect.
Ari Maslow read with animation and simian ooh-ooh-oohed his crowd-favorite poem “Simian Scribe.”
Another highlight was sitting next to Big Ed Dunkel, or Slim Buckle, or Ed Buckle. I mean Al Hinkle, the man of the names Jack Kerouac gave him in his novels. Known as the “Last Man Standing,” referring to his distinction as the only male character remaining alive from On the Road, long after the others had passed. People listened with rapt attention during his time on stage. (Al moved on to meet his Beat brothers about six years later, December 26, 2018 at age 92.)
At show midpoint, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, whom I had seen perform at West Marin’s Rancho Nicasio, played a long set. At one point he became irritated at flash photographers aiming at him, and sternly told them to stop, and later threw a tirade about it. Jack played his long tune about running around with Jack Kerouac, “The 9-12 Greens.” Unfortunately, Ramblin’ Jack lived up to his name and reputation and played so long, the remaining performers were running out of time. Including me.
Jerry Kamstra performed a fine reading, from the beginning of The Frisco Kid.
The rest of the show’s lineup did great readings for a pretty full and enthusiastic house. As I did not attend as a journalist, and now write this up 10 + 1 years later, pardons for not covering the other pro poet readers. (The aforementioned Rick Dale’s “Daily Beat” blog
At the end of the show, Ari introduced me to come on stage but I had other plans, that I had confided in only Ari. I stood in front of the back bar. As a former theatre director I wanted to perform, not just read. There read my “Genie in a Bottle” poem, a cautionary ode to alcohol, deconstructed from my then upcoming novel, Circus of the Sun. As I was the only performer not to read onstage at the opposite end, this elicited some surprise. Especially to the sound and lights man, who earlier had told me he couldn’t help me and that I should’t do it. For my performance, mid-poem, on the line “swallow it Burning down” I downed a (free) shot of whiskey. I almost choked which the audience thought was an act.
The applause was barely over when Gerald Nicosia, also feeling the pressure to end the show at the allotted time, 11 PM, rushed me to stop me from reading my agreed upon second poem. I side-stepped Gerald, ran to the stage, hopped up and sat on a folding chair. Mimicking I was driving a car, I hurriedly recited another poem, before “the hook” could come out. A short Beat-infused tribute to Kerouac, Cassady, and fast cars, titled “Muscle Memory.” To his credit, Gerald never yelled at me about my off-book act.
My drinking performance made me some fans, particularly those at the bar. A young man and his friends started buying me drinks. After the show, I was invited to this young Beat fan’s home, a brisk walk up a Mill Valley hill for a little after-party of attendees. While we walked through January-chilly-damp night, the man complained to me about Kamstra’s book title,The Frisco Kid.
“I can’t believe Kamstra used that title. I don’t like it. Don’t call it Frisco!” he kept repeating.
I explained to him that was just an old line from Herb Caen (famed and beloved late San Francisco Chronicle columnist). A term that natives may not like, or pretend to not like, but transplanted non-natives, like me and almost everybody I had met in the City, didn’t care, and used it if they wanted. And Jerry Kamstra is from Riverside, for god’s sake, and second generation American. He can be The Frisco Kid if he wants.
The admonishing line is actually the title of Caen’s 1953 book, which he continued to sprinkle in in his three-dot-columns. Herb Caen wrote, “Caress each Spanish syllable, salute our Italian saint. Don’t say Frisco…” (The Italian saint of course is St. Francis of Assisi.)
Really, I was thinking, sixty years later it’s still a thing?
The friendly, accommodating young man’s second-floor apartment party had a view overlooking downtown Mill Valley.
And a view of Kristen Stewart!