The Edge of the Brink

[This is another excerpt from from my long-awaited, highly-anticipated entitled Extra-Ordinary: A Step-by-Step Memwah. Here’s an update from the author: “You’re going to have to keep awaiting and highly-anticipating for a long time, because this sucker ain’t never gonna see the light of day, except here on the ephemeral pages of Silverback Digest. SB SM]

The summer of 1966 was my summer of emancipation. In the ten weeks between high school graduation and leaving for college there were no tests to worry about, no sports teams to stay in training for, no college applications … I had a car (a 1960 Pontiac Catalina) and a guitar (a 1965 Fender Mustang). Gas was cheap, and I was in a band. I tell ya … it don’t get no better’n this. If Hollywood had been writing the script, then the time was right for my first love and sexual experience.

Never happened, but as you’ll see a little later, I’ve even come up with a post facto solution for this.

Ralph (call me “Randy”) Smith, the drummer in the Van Goghs and our business manager, kept us busy. Since it was summer, there were no college jobs, so we started playing clubs and had gigs in Misquamicut Beach, Newport, and even Lake Winnespausaukee, where a bunch of kids got drunk and decided to throw our sound system into the lake. The equipment had been rented specifically for the party, so what the heck, Ralph took care of it.

My first original composition, “No Remorse,” was anything but original. This might show you why the Van Goghs never became famous. What the heck … I still enjoy it.

My hair, no longer constrained by the Quakers at Moses Brown, began creeping down my neck. Dylan had taken folk electric the previous summer, so the Newport Folk Festival was definitely on the downswing, replaced by the British Invasion that was now in full force. The Stones, the Kinks, the Animals, the Zombies … there was music in the air, and it was loud and distorted. No more hootenannies.

Van Gogh memorabilia. Don’t look for me in the final shot, I’m New Haven-bound.

A funny thing happened with the Van Goghs- we got good. Playing regularly just made us a better band, kind of like the Beatles when they went to Hamburg. (Speaking of the Beatles, my band mate Billy Gannon scored two tickets to the Beatles playing live at Suffolk Downs, the racetrack just north of Boston. The concert was most memorable for me in that the opening band was Barry and the Remains, for whom the Van Goghs had opened earlier that summer in Rhode Island. What is that … two degrees of separation?)

The Beatles were transitioning from teenage idols to cultural phenomena. Unbeknownst to us, or them, Suffolk Downs was their next to last live concert, the last coming the next night at Shea Stadium. An era was ending, right before our eyes. And, fittingly, a new one was beginning. Best of all, no one knew it, although everyone could feel it.

Towards the end of summer the Van Goghs played regularly at a club in Pawtucket called The Edge. The venue was utterly unremarkable except for the fact that it would get so hot and sweaty inside that moisture would condense on the ceiling and, subsequently, fall back on the audience (and band) as “rain.” It was at The Edge that I played my final gig with the Van Goghs. The club managers treated it like an historic event and had a special cake and bottle of champagne for the farewell. At 18 I was “retiring” from rock and roll. It had been a great run with the band, however, so I was leaving with “no remorse.”

As I reflect on my life in this memwah, no period was revisited, resurfaced, regurgitated, and reflected upon as this ten week period between high school graduation and departure for college. Perhaps this shouldn’t surprise me. It’s a time of transition, of coming of age, of transformation. And, 1966 was a pretty interesting time in the culture as well. The post war afterglow had faded. There were indications that the nation was turning away from beer and adopting marijuana. (Not to worry, beer would make a comeback!) There was an overwhelming sense that we were on the edge of the brink. Mixed-up cliches add spice to an extra-ordinary life.

There is a song in Old Rockers, the epic musical, called Accept with the Left that is rooted in the graduation ceremony:

Accept With the Left was written about 40 years after the event.

Back when I thought I was destined to become the Green Mountain equivalent of Garrison Keillor, I published Stories and Tunes, the final installment in my four-part trilogy.

Within it is the story of Gary and the Gang Green, based on an incident that happened with the Van Goghs that culminated with lead singer Bill Gannon and I, wearing only our underwear, cowering in the closet of a Scarborough Beach motel while “Cousin Clarence” banged on the door. It turns out he was the fiance of one of the girls we were with. Oops …

More recent was the hiphop phase of my life which featured by my old man rap, Autobiograffiti, with the lyrics:

I cut my teeth at Moses Brown

in Providence, yeah that’s my town.

Those Quaker values never fail,

and they prepared my ass for Yale.

Before I left I was a star.

I played four chords on my guitar.

I was one of five Van Goghs,

… a Beatle clone, yeah, one of those.

Even more recently, in Old Rockers (co-written with my bandmate Greg Morrison), I used the artifice of fiction to go back and address that real life issue of unrequited, adolescent lust. 18 year old Del is seduced by 36 year old Gloria, who also happens to be his Mom’s best friend. She wisely warns Del, “Don’t tell your Mother.”

Co-writing credit is given to one of my rock ‘n roll idols, Eddie Cochran

As I closed the door of our white Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon to make the two-hour trek to New Haven, little did I know that in one week I would be fighting a war.

4 thoughts on “The Edge of the Brink

  1. Excellent memwah (loved the Step-By-Step).

    Were you guys wearing tighty whities or boxers?

    The Edge was a great bar owned by the Kiley brothers, Danny and ? It was my favorite place to play cause it was always mobbed, sweaty and wild on weekends. Not to mention, they loved us. I remember my mom and dad came once and my mom danced all night with anyone who would dance with her. She danced with her Care package: a scotch and soda in one hand and a Kent cigarette in the other. Ah, the good old days.

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