Last night while I was on my midnight J train ride over the Williamsburg Bridge I was thinking about writing this morning’s blog, running through the various themes that have been kicking around in my head since Tuesday, undecided.
I was listening to music on my iPhone, when “Smashed” by Mose Allison came on. And I knew what to write about.
When I was 16, I bought an album called “Cactus,” at the urging of a friend.
“Carmine Appice is on it.” He’d said. My friend was Italian, so I guess it was important to him that someone named Carmine was making Rock and Roll. It was all right, nothing to write home about, but I did like one song, Parchman Farm. The credits said someone named Mose Allison had written the song, but when I was 16 there was no Internet or Google so I just forgot about it.
Three years later, when I was a freshman in college, at the famous (or infamous) Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, just blocks from my home, I met a fellow student that introduced me to the real Mose Allison.
We were in a class together called Light, Color, and Design; and he came up to me and started talking. I was this very insecure poor kid from the projects and here was this very confident looking middle-class white kid who seemed to be a little older than the rest of us and he wanted to talk to me. We became friends and we agreed to meet at the local watering hole, Eric’s on DeKalb Avenue that night.
His name was John, and he was tall and Jewish, looking like a cross between Maynard G. Krebs and Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld fame.
Maynard G. Krebs
He wore a goatee like Krebs, and his hair stuck up in the air like Kramer’s. He wore these big square framed black plastic glasses like Buddy Holly’s. He wore torn t-shirts underneath a well-worn brown tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and used words like “dig” and “cat” and said “man” a lot. I thought of him more as a beat generation holdover than as of a hippie, which was what I thought I was. He was also much cooler and hipper than either Maynard G. Krebs or Cosmo Kramer and a hell of a lot more seriouser. (Yes, seriouser.)
We met at Eric’s; a dive bar hole of a place that catered to the Pratt crowd with 50-cent beers and a drink called the Skip And Go Naked (which a lot of people did after having a few of these) that cost two bucks and came in a 16-ounce mixing glass.
John introduced me to Becks beer, as in his opinion Heineken was “piss water.”
He expounded on a great many vague ideas about the state of the world and the people in it, I just listened as he was buying. He invited me back to his place, on Adelphi Street just a couple of blocks away.
It was half of an old railroad apartment up a fight of stairs, in one of those dilapidated aluminum sided tenements that line the streets of Fort Greene. There wasn’t much in the apartment, just a mattress on the floor, a chair, and a record player, and a big stack of albums.
We cracked open a couple of Becks as he put an album on the record player. A very smooth, rich voice crooned “I’m smashed, better try me later…” I was hooked. All I ever listened to at this point in my life was Rock and Roll, the harder the better. Folk music was for pussies, and Jazz was for old farts. We drank and sang along to Smashed, and Wild Man On The Loose. I listened to Parchman Farm for real for the first time. He let me take home a record, Wild Man On The Loose.
He told me how he wanted to build a fish tank into the floor, so he could look at the fish as he walked through his apartment.
“Sounds like a good idea,” I said.
One day in class he displayed his homework assignment, I forgot what I had painted but it was supposed to involve colors, and his was simply a piece of white 18×24 inch foam-core with probably 100 dead cockroaches pinned to it. He stood by his piece the whole hour and a half the class lasted until the teacher stood in front of it and shook his head wordlessly and walked away. The teacher was like that.
I avoided him after that; I didn’t want people to think I was friends with a nut.
One night I went to Eric’s and someone said, “you should have been here last night. Your friend John was drunk and he was handing out $50 bills to everyone in sight.”
What a drag, I thought. I missed out on a free $50.
I never saw John again, I heard that his rich father talked him into checking into a mental hospital after the giving away of the money incident. I didn’t get a $50 bill, but he gave me something much more valuable that I still have today. He gave me Mose Allison.