Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera

person playing brown guitar

Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera is a collaboration of two guys who played together in a Rhode Island garage band in the 1960s. This is a fictionalized account of lives that took different paths, but always remained connected by strands of shared music. These are not professional musicians or performers, just two guys who still play. They are novices in technology, playing by ear. They set a budget of $0, and used cell phones to record images and sound.

singer singing on stage beside guitar player and bass player

How to Experience Grendel

Grendel is a combination of words, images, and motion. To experience it chronologically, just scroll down the page (as you would read a book.) When you view a video, you are “transported” to another website (YouTube.com). At the conclusion of the video, YouTube tries to keep you on their website by showing you other videos that it thinks might interest you. This can be confusing, but you can continue with Grendel simply by continuing to scroll down the page. Technology … %!!$!**#

Ladie-e-eze and Gennulmunn … this is what you’ve been waiting for since 1966, which was the last time these two lads performed together in public. The world has changed greatly, and these two have changed a bit, but in great ways. Without further adieu, we bring you GRENDEL!


It’s About Time

There’s lost time, overtime, Island time, too much time, Hammer time, crunch time, maritime … the list could go on forever. The Rolling Stones may think that time is on their side, but try telling that to Charlie Watts. In this clip Greg, with a studio assist from Nashville, waxes lyrical about Time, and makes it so special, especially as you look back on it.

Don’t get accustomed to these slick production values. Soon enough we’ll be back to the realities of cell phones a zero budget.


Throat Clearing

Editors have a term for the portion of a story, article, or manuscript, usually at the beginning, that wanders aimlessly before the author gets down to the business of storytelling. They call it “throat clearing.” It’s the speaker tapping the microphone and saying “Is this on? Can you hear me? Test … one, two …” It can go on interminably, or it can be as short as “ahem.”

In this case it goes on for one minute and eleven seconds. Here are the Grendel lads some 50 years later:

Playing together for the first time in more than a half century.

And, in case you’d prefer the original, by The Diamonds, here it is, courtesy of the miracle of YouTube.

A-goopa-goopa-goopa-goopa …


The Boys Meet on the Field of Dreams

The Boys Meet

Del: We went to a private boys school called Obediah Brown. It was a very elite, expensive school. Greg was there because his father was a big shot attorney and the family had tons of money. I was there because my mom worked at an affiliated girls school that had an affiliation agreement with our school that allowed the children of employees to attend tuition-free.

Greg: Even though we went all through high school, we didn’t know each other well.

Del: That’s because you were in all the honors classes, while I was with the rank and file.

Greg: The first time I remember anything about you was on the first day of baseball practice, freshman year.

Del: Even though we were on the same team, we still didn’t talk much. But then I heard that Greg was learning to play the guitar, which I was, too.

Del Watson on left, Greg Brewster on right, circa 2022.

Let’s wrap this by having Frank and Gene take us all out to the ball game.


Grendel … C, Am, F, and G

Greg: We started getting together to practice, almost always at Del’s house. His mother (“Just call me Trudy”) was cool and casual, more a contemporary than a parent. She was always charging around, putting on make-up and getting ready to go out.

Del: That’s probably why your Dad (always Mr. Brewster) called her The Floozie.

Greg: But Trudy had a good name for him, too.

Del: Mr. Rod-up-his-ass.

Greg: Eventually, our noise started forming itself into songs. I think the first song we actually played through was Take Her Out of Pity. Here’s the version done by the Kingston Trio. They claim authorship, although what they really did was to take a traditional tavern song and make the lyrics even more sexist.

Del: You know, someone once accused Leonard Cohen of knowing only three chords. “That’s not true,” Leonard said, “I know five.”


Roots

Greg: After a year of practicing we had our first foray into the public. We put on our berets (seriously, we did) and played our first gig at an open mike at the Tete a Tete coffee house. It was absurd … two white kids who went to private school, singing about their roots. And that’s the truth. Looking back we were mud puddles … all surface and no depth. Roots? Don’t make me laugh.

Here are our musical roots:

Two guys with the depth of a mud puddle.

Lyrics to First Gig

We played an open mike at The Tête-a-Tête. It’s a coffee house for the beatnik set

The guys all smoked and the girls were hairy. We were Peter and Paul, minus Mary

Greg and I were shaking in our boots as we showed our our Americana roots.

Here’s a story ’bout a man named Jed just a poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed,

then one day he was shooting for some food and out from the ground came a’bubblin’ crude. (riff)

There’s hold-up in the Bronx, Brooklyn’s broken out in fights. There’s a traffic jam in Harlem, that’s backed up to Jackson Heights. Car 54 … where are you?

The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was lost, if not for the courage of the fearless crew

the Minnow would be lost, the Minnow would be lost (riff)

Greg and I were shaking in our boots as we showed off our Americana roots.

We looked like twerps, we didn’t give a bleep. The truth is our roots didn’t run very deep.


February 9, 1964

We kept doing the open mike for almost a year. We’d watch Hootenany, then obsessively learn a new song for the next week. But our little world flipped upside down on February 9, 1964.

Grendel wannabees.

It took about a nano-second for us to transition. Goodbye berets, goodbye acoustic guitars … hello electricity. We found a drummer and singer from Cra-a-a-anston who were looking for guitarists. We were still Grendel, but we were now American outposts of the British Invasion!


No Remorse … Our First Original Song

Del: Then, the inevitable happened … we wrote a song. It was mostly mine, but Greg contributed, so we created an official songwriting partnership (Brewster and Watson), just like Lennon and McCartney. We even got Greg’s dad to write up an official agreement.

Greg: And we have stayed true to that agreement to this day, splitting all royalties 50/50.

Del: What’s 50 percent of nuthin’? Here’s our first song.

Greg: Ladies and gentlemen … No Remorse.

Del Watson in 1966.

Del: That song still rocks!

Greg: And it’s still moronic. Not only did you steal the opening riff, but the lyrics were all false, just pure adolescent posturing.

Del: I’m hurt …

Greg: Get real … you’re singing about lovin’ and leavin’ them. Had you ever been with a girl?

Del: As in “had sex?” No.

Greg: Not even close. Had you even kissed a girl?

Del: Do cousins count?

Greg: No … I’ll say now what I told you then … you’ve got to stay within your own experience to create good music. Dig deep. Get below that pimply surface.

Del: Dig deep huh?


I Think I’m in Love

Greg: I told him. You’ve got to write the truth. Stay within your own experience, no matter how limited that is, just stay within your own experience. Be honest.

Del Watson these days.

Accept with the Left

Here’s Grendel from the 1966 Obediah Brown yearbook (to see individual images click on slider in middle and move left or right:

Greg: And we were rock stars, at least on our own little stage of garage bands in Rhode Island. We were getting gigs playing fraternity parties at Brown. Plus we already had some bookings for over the summer, a couple of weddings and a regular gig at a little club in Pawtucket.

Del: We planned our work and worked our plan, hit the beach all day, get the perfect tan.

Then nighttime comes, get the guitars out, make a lot of noise, make ’em twist and shout

Greg: All that was left was graduation day. The day before we were rehearsed by the football coach, Umberto “Bertie” Zimino. Tough guy. Kindof talked like a gangstuh, but he did tell us something we never forgot.

“Youse guys gotta remembuh one ting tomorruh. When your name is called, walk toda stage and accept your diploma wid your LEFT HAND and shake wid da RIGHT. Sum dumfuk always messes it up, you’re dat dumfuk, they’ll tink Zimino didn’t do his job and I will track you down and I will make you pay.”

Scared the shit out of us, but we didn’t forget to accept with the left and shake with the right.

Del: That advice has stood me in good stead for all those trips to the podium I’ve made.

Greg: Took us forty-five years, but eventually it inspired us to write this song.

Alway Remember to accept with the left and shake with the right.

I still live in fear of Zimino showing up at the front door one day, screaming “I told ya to accept widah left!!”


Accept with the Left

I want to thank my Mama
I want to thank my Pa
I want to thank the little people
For making me a star.
I believe in God and country
I hope you’re suitably impressed
That I remember as I reach the stage
To accept with the left.

I want to thank the Mayor
For giving me the key.
I want to thank the members
Of the whole academy.
And to the faceless voters,
On the Internet.
I will remember as I reach the stage
To accept with the left.

Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer Prize
My future never seemed so bright.
But on my mind as I walk down the aisle
I remind myself to shake with the right
.

I’ve prepared a couple comments
That I hope you’ll like,
But there is no other option,
I’m the one who has the mike.
For the moment please indulge me
Be like monkeys in a cage
‘Cuz my message is short and sweet …
Life is but a stage.

I thank you all for coming,
but it’s time for me to go.
Rest assured another player
Will continue with the show.
What it really all comes down to,
Yeah, the litmus test
Will you remember when you reach the stage
To accept with the left?

Oscar, Tony, Pulitzer Prize
They all seem to come my way.
Nobel, Clio, and People’s Choice
This dog’s really having his day.

I want to thank my Mama
I want to thank my PA
And my friends up in the cheap seats
You know exactly who you are.
I will share with you my mantra
Then I’ll quickly turn the page
It’s “Play loud! Play fast!
Then get the hell off the stage!”
 (repeat, add spoken, thank ya very much, drive safely)


Two Paths

Greg: BUT our plan developed a little glitch about ten minutes after we accepted with the left…

photo of person holding graduation cap and diploma
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Del: After the ceremony, everyone was milling around, shaking hands, and inevitably, there’s that moment when you open up your diploma to admire your name in fancy calligraphy … but mine was blank, with a little note telling me to see the principal, the beloved Mr Stinchfield. I track down Stinchie and learn that it’s school policy not to award diplomas or release transcripts unless a student’s account is completely up-to-date. I was a scholarship student, so tuition was not an issue, but that my mother, good ol’ Mom, had not paid my bursar’s bill, for books, cafeteria, sports equipment, and incidentals for more that two years! Moreover, she’s been aware of the situation for over a year and has done nothing about it.

Greg: You looked like you had seen a ghost when you came back from that meeting.

Del: Money was always tight at our house, but we just lived with it. I hadn’t now how bad the situation was until now. I was hoping the earth would just swallow me whole. Trudd-dd-yy!! No wonder she didn’t come to the graduation.

Greg: Del just drifted off. I tried to get him to stay for the reception, but he was inconsolable. I told my Dad about the situation. He liked Del and understood the situation with his Mom, The Tart. He assured me that something could be worked out. Later, I saw him talking to Mr. Stinchfield. It took a few weeks, but Del eventually got his diploma in the mail.

Del: Looking back with a half century of hindsight. That’s when I first had a hint that our two roads were diverging, although not in a snowy wood, but on a perfect spring day in Providence, RI. Greg’s path through life would be different from mine. We might be best friends. We might be in a band together. We might be making music, but we were on different paths. He always had a safety net, always would. I would spend my life skating on thin ice.

Well, here the story of my state; it looked like I won’t graduate.

Mr. Brewster had my back, but it’s a loan that I’ll pay back

Don’t know how I’ll get the dough but I sure don’t like this taste of crow.

It seems it all comes down to bucks, I guess it’s fair, but I think it sucks.

Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera … END OF PART 1(of 4)

close up photo of black gorilla

What Will Happen to These Two Lads?

Are they destined for fame and fortune? Will they out-Beatle the Beatles? Or, are they destined for oblivion like so many other boys-making-noise in the late 1960s. You’ve completed part 1 (of 4). Stay tuned to silverbackdigest.com to be the first one on your block to view and listen to Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera, Part 2.

for updates on Part 2 of Grendel:The Four-Chord Opera

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END OF PART 1



Del: Once in a while something small brings a very big emotion flooding back in a rush. For me, this song never fails:

It’s summahtime-summahtime-sum-sum-summahtime … suddenly, it’s a spring day in 1957. The last bell is lingering. School’s out for summer, school’s out forever. The hiccups of graduation day, how to pay back Mr. Brewster, my flaky mother are suddenly in the rearview mirror. No test, no college applications, no shitty job. There was the band, the Beatles, the beach, and unfathomed adventures awaiting us. We had enough band jobs lined up that we didn’t need to indenture ourselves to humiliating jobs. It was fun-fun-fun, and no one’s daddy was taking our T-bird away.

Greg: It was many decades later that Del and I turned our musical attentions to this summer of unfettered emancipation and came up with this song. We filmed it on a September weekend in Vermont:

Good lip sync job, Del!

But here’s Summertime again, this time a really heartfelt, respectful version:


Something Good

Del: Have you ever had that feeling that something happened to you during the day that would change your life forever? It happened to Greg about two weeks after we graduated from high school.

We had a third Musketeer!


Casserole Blues

The summer was magic. Days at the beach with Cassandra, then nights playing in clubs. Grendel became a semi-big deal, for Rhode Island, that is.

Then, another twist of fate, but not a cruel one!

The teenybobbers loved it!


One Never Knows

Del: Greg wasn’t just into something good, he was into something fantastic. The three of us hung out every day. She must have read us The Little Prince a dozen times. I started dreaming in French, I mean en Francais. That set the theme of the summer. Greg and I were les petits princes. And Cassandra became our rose.

Who could blame Greg for falling in love? Unfortunately, who could blame me, either?

One day at the beach Cassandra finished up her twelfth reading, and I reached over and grabbed the beater guitar that Greg always brought with him, and said “I’ve written a song …”

You are responsible for your rose.

That became our summer catch phrase. One never knows …


Gloria … is there mor-i-a?

Del:

Writing that Little Prince song, One Never Knows, I see know was a thinly-veiled attempt to worm my way into Cassandra’s Heart, but Greg came back THE VERY NEXT DAY with his own Little Prince song called Six Separate Planets about the asteroids that the Little Prince visits on his way to earth. Drat! Foiled again!

But then, in the spirit of One Never Knows, something very unexpected happened to me. Let me take a step back to explain.

My Mom, Trudy, was 17 when she had me. My dad was 18, but he wasn’t around long. I know his name, and I’ve seen a few pictures, but he’s never been part of my life. It’s always been me and Trudy.

It’s always been up to her to support us and that, I know, has been a grind. Her biggest break was getting a job as an administrative assistant (secretary) at a private girls school that had free tuition benefit for kids of employees. That school had a reciprocal agreement with Obediah Brown, which is how I happened to be there.

It’s was a long slog for Trudy, but with me graduating, the end was in sight, so I can’t blame her for wanting to bust loose and making up for some of the fun she missed over the last 18 years. Shit, she’s only 35, and she’s been chained to me for more than half that. I love her. She loves me. But she needs … she deserves, a new life.

Back in those days in Providence anyway Wednesday nights were Ladies Nights, meaning no cover charge and half-priced drinks. Mom and her best friend, Gloria, always took full advantage. What happened next, however, was totally unexpected.

We’ve Been Busted by YouTube!!

Our video has been deemed “Adult Content” by YouTube.com, so we can’t post it here. In order to view it–and it’s one of our best– you have to be an adult and to click on this link: https://youtu.be/uIlX_Xxlzc4

Ain’t No Cure …

Mom’s best friend Gloria’s another party girl.

They go out every Wednesday night and give the bars a whirl.

They came back home, it wasn’t late about 11:30

Mom was loud and boisterous, they both were talking dirty. (riff)

Mom wanted a nightcap, but Gloria simply said

“You’ve had enough already, girl, I’m putting you to bed.

Kiss your little boy good-night, thank me in your prayers.

Tonight is ancient history, I’m taking you upstairs. (riff)

I went back to practicing, trying to get it right.

Gloria came back and said “Your Mom’s out like a light.

It’s time to go to bed now, and I should do the same.

But I just had a funny thought … you wanna play a game? (riff)

I’ll play the teacher, my role is to instruct,

You can play the horny boy who wants his cherry plucked.

(F) Then her hand was on my knee, one thing led to another.

She put her finger to her lips “Just don’t tell your mother.” (riff)

(refrain) Gloria, is there more-of-ya to explore-i-a?

You’re not the girl next door-i-a … Gloria. (riff)

Gloria was twice my age, she was 36.

and just like my Mama she was looking for some kicks.

As she left, she told me “there’s more where that came from,

but just remember what I said, just don’t tell your Mom.”

If you breathe a word of this you’ll have to run for cover.

I’ll be a woman scorned, so don’t tell your mother.

(F) Then her hand was on my knee, one thing led to another.

She put her finger to her lips “Just don’t tell your mother.” (riff)

My lips are sealed, though I’d like to spread the news.

I think I found the cure for the summertime blues.

(refrain) Gloria, is there more-of-ya to explore-i-a?

You’re not the girl next stori-i-a! End of stor-i-a!. (riff)

caption: “And don’t tell your buddy Greg, either.”


Now and Again

Greg: Where does the time go? Doesn’t seem that long ago that Cassandra, Del, and I were sitting on Scarborough Beach, and yet when I look in the mirror a lot of water has passed over the dam. Or is it … “passed under the bridge?” I can’t even keep my cliches straight these days.

Jumping ahead a few decades, one of the things I can say for certain is that meeting Cassandra was not only something good, but something forever.

These days …

NOW AND AGAIN

Now and again my mind rattles loose

And my eyes see nothing but rain

Now and again my friends bring good news

And the smiles return to my face

When I’m up high I sing out old country songs

Til night comes and lays with the sun

When I’m low down I need my sweet Cassandra to hold me

Now and again

Sometimes I fear we just might not make it

And yesterday’s dreams slip away

Now and again we get through the madness

And live to love another day

When I’m up high I sing out old country songs

Til night comes and lays with the sun

When I’m low down I need my sweet Cassandra to hold me

Now and again, now and again


A Man Goes on a Journey …

Del: They say … don’t ask me who the hell “they” are … there are only two stories in life. 1. A man (I know, not appropriate language these days, but I’m not “they”) goes on a journey, 2. A stranger comes to town. I know who I am. Maybe that was the case for my Old Man, too, wherever he is.

Right after Labor Day, the answer became crystal clear to me … I was the one who goes on a journey. It was time for me to go. Clear as my windshield after going through the car wash.

Here’s how I remember it:

Greg: And, poof! There he was … gone … Del … my classmate … my bandmate … my best friend. I was devastated. The plan … over. College starting next week. Leaving home. Moving into a dorm. No Del. Band over. Cassandra back to high school. What the fuck happened?

I tried to put me in his shoes. No place to live? I knew he was envious of what Cassandra and I had found, but hadn’t we always gone out of our way to include him in everything? Could it have been painful for him to see our happiness? Yeah, he owed money to my Dad, but that shouldn’t have been a big deal, not to my Dad, anyway.

The worst part … I felt like Del was moving on without me. He was pursuing a dream. He was going for it. I was being a sheep and just doing what was expected of me. I had never in my life been so depressed.

And here’s how I turned it into song:


Rolling in Dough

Del: Now we’re able to laugh about it, but there was nothing to laugh about then. I felt certain that it was time for me to leave, but there was nothing else certain about my life.

I didn’t know where I would live, where my next meal would come from. Looking back I see a mixed-up kid whose emotions were all over the map. I was scared shitless, but utterly confident that I was doing the right thing. Not surprisingly my music from that period was at both ends of the spectrum.

This is where my head was:


Autobiografitti

The previous episodes have covered a highly-concentrated, but surprisingly broad spectrum of experiences. Between them our young heroes have fallen in love, experience success on a statewide level, honed their musical craft, become sexually active, gone to the beach (a lot), and made some life-altering decisions. To recap …

Now, the journey begins


Lyrics to Autobiograffiti, verse 1

Well in my golden years I thought I’d pen an ode

to the mysteries of my area code.

So here’s the story of my state. Sit back, let me pontificate.

I’ll tell you what this boy’s been through from the 4-0-1 to the 8-0-2.

4-0-1 is The Ocean State, where the skiing sucks, but the clams are great.

Surrounding Narragansett Boy, you can walk it in a single day.

I cut my teeth at Obediah Brown, in Providence, yeah THAT’S MY TOWN.

It’s a private school, some would call it “prep.” And I was there on scholarship.

But before I left, I was a star. I played four chords on my guitar,

and here they are!

C-Am-F-G7

My best friend Greg played the same four chords. We could see ourselves before adoring hordes.
We had a plan but it was not to be. Predictable was not our destiny.

Greg’s way through life was the proven path, while mine was God’s chaotic wrath.

I left to make my dreams come true. I’d find my fortune in the 2-1-2.

Part 3 of Grendel is now Published!

Does Del find fame and fortune in The Big Apple? Does Greg wander astray from The Proven Path? Are you believing Cassandra? These are the questions answered in Part 3. See it, experience in on the Grendel, Part 3 tab on the home page for SilverbackDigest.com.



END OF PART 2

A Sad Refrain

Greg: And, poof! There he was … gone … Del … my classmate … my bandmate … my best friend. I was devastated. The plan … over. College starting next week. Leaving home. Moving into a dorm. No Del. Band over. Cassandra back to high school. What the fuck happened?

I tried to put me in his shoes. No place to live? I knew he was envious of what Cassandra and I had found, but hadn’t we always gone out of our way to include him in everything? Could it have been painful for him to see our happiness? Yeah, he owed money to my Dad, but that shouldn’t have been a big deal, not to my Dad, anyway.

The worst part … I felt like Del was moving on without me. He was pursuing a dream. He was going for it. I was being a sheep and just doing what was expected of me. I had never in my life been so depressed.

bonus segment: here’s the elder Greg’s original performance.


Borderline

Del: Now we’re able to laugh about it, but there was nothing to laugh about then. I felt certain that it was time for me to leave, but there was nothing else certain about my life.

I didn’t know where I would live, where my next meal would come from. Looking back I see a mixed-up kid whose emotions were all over the map. I was scared shitless, but utterly confident that I was doing the right thing. To read my letters home you’d think I was having the time of my life.

“Hey, things are so happening here. Got a job working backbar at Max’s Kansas City. Meeting famous people nearly every night. Just the other day I was shooting the shit about the music biz with Lou Reed. I’m writing some great stuff! And the women here. I tell ya, New York has more pretty women than Carter Has Little Liver pills … gotta keep this short. Hugs to Cassandra!”

Del, in letter to Greg and Cassandra

But … the reality was an entirely different story. I’m living in a rented room in a sleazy building, eating crap food, working a shit job that pays next to nothing. You can hear it in the music I was doing …


Six Separate Planets

Greg: That first semester at college seemed to last forever. Cassandra was bugging me to teach her the guitar, and she picked it up pretty quickly. Then she wanted me to teach her Six Separate Planets which was another Little Prince song I had written the previous summer, although we had never played it in Grendel. It suited my mood of the moment pretty well, because I felt like I was on my own lonely planet at the moment. Next, after the New Year, she decided to make her professional debut at the Tuesday at the same club where Grendel was born, the Tete a Tete, rebranded as the Carnaby Cafe following the British Invasion.

She did a nice job with the song, even though she was nervous. As soon as she finished, a voice from the back called out, “Play Soldier Boy.”

Greg: We swiveled around to see who made the request, and there’s Del standing in full dress uniform! To call us shocked is an understatement. Was this some kind of joke? We assumed Del was in New York, finding his way in the music world. We hadn’t heard much from him in the last few months. Just a few really upbeat letters.

Here’s the evening through the gauze of memory.


The Last Weekend

Greg: The stories came flooding out. While we thought Del was in New York, paying his musical dues, he was in basic training. Now he had a three-day pass before he had to report to Fayetteville, North Carolina pending assignment. “Fayette-nam” joked Del. No one laughed.

Del: I came clean on the fact that life had spiraled downward much faster than I ever anticipated. Despite the humiliation of it all, Greg and Cassandra were as rapt and attentive as I had been last summer (Man! … was it just last summer?) listening to Cassandra reading from Le Petit Prince.

We laughed, we cried, we sang, we toasted, we promised, we swore … we did it again. We packed half a lifetime into those three days. If something happened to me in Vietnam, hey … at least I had lived more than half a lifetime.


Believing Cassandra

Del: On Saturday night, the Brewsters put on a big, celebratory dinner for me. I was wearing borrowed civvies of Greg’s. His two sisters were there, Cassandra, and his mother and father. His mother pulled out all the stops on dinners, and Mr. Brewster was the expansive host. He even let Cassandra and Greg’s younger sister, both still in high school, have a glass of wine.

We made a round of toasts. When Cassandra’s turn came she said “Three years. It’s not that long. Greg will be a Junior in college and I’ll be a Sophomore. Del will come home and we’ll start a new band.”

“The $64,000 question is, what will be the name of the new band?” asked Greg.

“‘Grendel,’ silly boy” said Cassandra. “We’ll take Rhode Island by storm, then take off to New York and do the same.”

“First, we’ve gotta kick Lou Reed’s ass,” said Greg.

“One thing,” I said, “It shouldn’t take me three whole years to win this war.”

It was Mr. Brewster’s turn. “I’m believing Cassandra,” he said, raising his glass.

That set the tone for the rest of the weekend. We’d pass each other in the hallways, raise our arms and shout “I BELIEVE!” We’d pour a cup of coffee and … “I BELIEVE!” Even Mrs. Brewster was believing that weekend.

Only took me about 40 years to write a song about it, but eventually I did. Here it is performed by a band that call themselves The Spawn of Grendel:


Del: On Sunday morning of the Last Weekend I got up early, even though we had been up late. I went into the kitchen to make coffee. Cassandra was already there. She beat me to the punch.

We were futzing around, and she grabbed my hand. I knew this was the moment, but for what …?

“I …” I stammered, ready to profess my love. She held up her other hand to stop me. “Me, too,” she said. Then, she drew me closer and kissed me quickly. “I’ll see you in my dreams.”

“Greg’s my best friend,” I said.

“You won’t be cheating,” she said. “I’ll be Pamela, you’ll be Johnny. Sweet dreams.” And she kissed me again … maybe a second longer. The entire encounter was less than a minute, and that minute kept me going for … so many years.


Keep Your Powder Dry

Greg: We dropped off Del at the bus station for his trip to Fayette-nam. We all cried, not knowing when, or even if, we’d be together again. Cassandra said “It’s going to be ok. We’re going to get through this. We’ll be together again.”

I said “I’m believing Cassandra” and put my hand on her shoulder. Del put his hand on mine and said “I’m believing Cassandra.” Then he turned to board the bus.

Afterwards, we were drained.

That night I tried writing Del a letter. I intended that it be honest and sincere, but it quickly deteriorated into the realm of male banter. I knew it was a cliche, but I signed off with keep your powder dry.

Del: The next three weeks were an advanced course in tedium, interrupted only by letters from Greg and Cassandra and nightly dreams of Pamela. An air of fatalism hovered over Fayette-nam, and it didn’t disappoint us. We finally got our marching orders, and our unit was getting an expense-paid excursion to Southeast Asia!


Suite Dreams: Pamela & Johnny

Del: The life in Fayette-nam was an intensive exercise in tedium. There was nothing for unit to do while awaiting orders. Occasionally we’d be put through bullshit drills, but mostly it was boring, waiting for the ax to fall.

I read a few books, borrowed a guitar to play, made believe I was writing new music, and spending endless hours reliving events of The Last Weekend, especially the brief interaction with Cassandra on Sunday morning. Did she know I was going to say “I love you,” and did she stop me because she loved me, too. Or, did she stop me so that she wouldn’t have to say that she didn’t feel the same way. Or, was she just giving a scared, lonely boy a piece of driftwood to cling to.

And what did she mean when she said “I’ll see you in my dreams,” and came up with the personae of Pamela and Johnny? I didn’t know, and in some ways I didn’t want to know. That left me free to enjoy my own fantasies.

Welcome to my dreams!

The marching orders came eventually. We were headed to Saigon. After the weeks of waiting, news that we were shipping out came as a relief. They shipped to Camp Pendleton in California for a couple more weeks of waiting around, then … we’re off to the war!


The 20-foot Snake

Greg: You watch the news. You hear the body counts. Suddenly, everything took on a new dimension. Reality … I guess it’s called. Del didn’t write a lot, but he did tell us he was wounded in a training accident. I wasn’t until many years later when we heard more of the story. Mostly he sounded pretty miserable and depressed. Once in a while he would send a reel-to-reel tape of a song.

Greg: I thought a lot about the discrepancies in life. I was building up more and more rage about the folly of this war in Vietnam, but I’m doing it from the safety and comfort of a college dorm room where my biggest worry was whether or not I would wake up in time for my econ class.

I hated the war, but I didn’t hate the soldiers. I did hate the fact that most of them were there, because they didn’t have the privileges that I enjoyed with my student deferment. And, honestly, if the deferment went away, I would (admittedly with Daddy’s help) probably find a doctor who would send a letter saying I had flat feet, or something equally flimsy.

This led me more broadly to thinking about human migration. The Brewster family was so proud that they were among the travelers on the Mayflower, but were they brave pioneers for setting off to live in foreign lands. Or, were they kicked out? Were they the losers who lacked the privilege and resources to stay in the homeland?

I haven’t really come up with the answer to that one yet. Once thing was crystal clear … I was the one who stayed, and Del was the one who had to go.

Those Who Stay and Those Who Go

Felt queasy in my easy chair

About those who left and those who stayed

About dire deaths and deep despair

Of innocence lost in the fray

Make sure you write least once a week

To assuage the guilt of us who stayed

Wrapped up in life mundane and bleak

We oft forgot to check the mail

The welcome home was short not sweet

So many fought the will to live

While we in shame looked at our feet

And I for one won’t soon forgive

Myself

In one of my classes I learned that there are two basic stories in the world: a man sets off on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Which one was which?

I was definitely feeling queasy in my easy chair.


Songs from Vietnam

Del: I got out of the hospital in Saigon and was temporarily assigned to the office of the quartermaster. Our job, collectively to make sure equipment, materials and systems were available and functioning for missions. This was good, because I was safely out of harm’s way, but it filled me with survivor’s guilt.

Greg: As time went by, and the Vietnam War dragged on, I became increasingly uneasy. My anger at the U.S. Government grew sharply, while at the same time I felt embarrassed by the fact that I was ensconced in an ivory tower of privilege. The people fighting this idiotic war were uneducated, underprivileged, black or Hispanic. And while I felt some level of sympathy, it was nowhere near enough for to give up the comfort of my student deferment. I ranted, I marched, and I wrote letters to Del, mostly about music stuff.

Del: I treasured Greg’s and Cassandra’s letters, but my response weren’t very inspired. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them about life in Vietnam. It toggled between excruciatingly boring and terrifying. Like most everyone here, I got as high as I could as often as I could. My unit was out in the field, and getting shredded. I went through basic with those guys. If we were taught one thing, it was to have each other’s backs. I wasn’t doing my part.

Greg: I was a hypocrite, and proud of it. I ached for Del, but at the same time thought he was an idiot for his decisions. He could be drinking beer, smoking dope, making music and having sex like all the rest of us. Fucking, stubborn idiot!

Del: Life was getting pretty damn confusing.

Then things got worse!

Some asshole sitting behind a desk in the Pentagon thought it would be a good idea for the next of kin for every deceased soldier to receive a sincere, handwritten letter from someone who personally knew the deceased. Try telling a platoon leader in the bush that he’s got to write three condolence letters before going on patrol!

But, as with all “mandatories,” compliance was required, so who’s actually going to churn out these letters … what’s the name of that new kid in the quartermaster’s office ….?


Absolutely Nothing

Del: I wasn’t the only one assigned to the personal letters, officially deemed “Condolence Notes, or “CNs”, to the next-of-kin for deceased soldiers. Three others– Homer, Jay, and Rocco– were similarly honored. We became fast friends, bonded by beer, black humor, and deep resentment of the U.S. Government. By this time (we’re talking 1969) you couldn’t find anyone on the ground who actually supported the U.S. war effort. We mostly did as we were told and tried to help each other to survive. Each day we’d get a list of names, addresses, and next of kin for the dearly departed. We’d divvy them up and write the letters during lulls in our regular jobs.

One night, totally wasted on pot and beer, we deemed ourselves “the Con Men.” We’d fall into hysterical laughter relating our literary fabrications of the day.

Greg: We heard less and less from Del, and when we did get a letter, it was bizarre and disjointed, flowery stuff about courage and duty and honor and profane pokes at Asshole-in-Chief William Westmoreland and Richard Fucking Nixon. It was hard to make sense of it.

Del: Believe it or not I was now in the final year of my service obligation. So were my fellow Con Men. Time flies when you’re having fun. Rocco was officially a short timer with only ninety days of active duty left. We spent all our spare time drinking, smoking dope, and commiserating with each other. I wasn’t sure, but I think Rocco was using cocaine and heroin, although he never talked about it.

Greg: Not a word about what he was doing over there, Not a word about his plans when he came back. An occasional comment, or a song fragment on a reel-to-reel tape. Once he did an entire version of The End by the Doors. He sounded very stoned.

Del: We talked mostly about how we could fuck things up for the Government. In our jobs at the office of the Quartermaster we had the power to create chaos with just a subtle manipulation on a procurement order. A slight slip of the pen could reroute a shipment of munitions bound for Da Nang to a Naval Base in the Philippines. We talked about subversion a lot, but we never acted, knowing that in the end the ones who would suffer would be the grunts in the field, not the assholes responsible for us being there.

Greg: Even though I was a Junior I had to think about taking the LSATs and where to apply for law school. I kinda wanted to be somewhere other than Providence, but my Dad lobbied for Brown, where he went, plus there was Cassandra to consider … what would be best for her?

Del: Then the bottom fell out of my life. I woke up to the sound of sobbing. It was Homer. “Hey, what’s up, man?”

“Rocco’s dead,” he said. “Fucking overdose. 82 fucking days to go, and he’s fucking dead, man.”

I had to write his Consolation Note. At least this one was truthful and sincere. Six weeks later I wrote another letter for one of my fellow Con Men. Jay blew his brains out with his service revolver. More guys than you knew were doing that. I was with him that evening. We were drinking and laughing. I wake up in the morning. He’s dead.

Homer seemed shaky but stable, but with the way he was drinking my guess was that there would be issues down the road. For practice I wrote my own condolence letter.

Dear Mrs. Watson … It is my privilege and honor to tell you that your son, Wendell, was my most dear friend. Although it saddens me greatly to know that he is gone, I can tell you honestly that he died with a great sense of pride and duty. Wendell was a loyal and patriotic American. In fact, when he was fatally wounded, he was in the act of rescuing a fellow soldier from certain death. It’s a cruel twist of fate that Wendell died as a hero.

Del’s self-penned CR

Greg: The last few letters from Del were rambling and incoherent, but made frequent reference to The Plan. We assumed that was Cassandra’s plan from The Last Weekend when we’d reunite after 3 years and reform Grendel. You know, I was ready for a little rock ‘n roll!

Del: I came up with a new plan. … one to help me survive.

End of Part 3

What is the New Plan?

Does Del make it safely out of Vietnam? Does he return to Providence to re-boot Grendel? Does Greg stray from the Proven Path to become a rock ‘n roller? Does he marry Cassandra? Or, does something entirely unexpected happen? Follow our plucky lads to the conclusion of Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera

Coming up soon on silverbackdigest.com …

Part 4 of Grendel: The Four-Chord Opera

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