THE HOT MOLECULE
Our next home was another small plywood barge, an upgraded version of the Hot Set-up. We called the new place the Hot Molecule. The phrase was one of Joe Tate’s leftovers from his college days, when he had amused himself by building a cyclotron, or atom smasher, in his spare time. This new domicile cost thirty-five dollars, and like its predecessor needed major repair. But it was already hauled out and sitting on blocks in a small boatyard on Gate Five Rd. The hull of the new houseboat was sound, unlike the sodden, decayed Hot Set-up, and layered with fiberglass. It was the fiberglass that needed repair, and the local experts told me the boat wouldn’t leak if the tricky material were fixed correctly. One thing they all assured me of was that working with fiberglass was one of the most miserable jobs in the boating world.
“You’ll need throwaway clothes,” said Ray Speck, “And a heavy-duty body grinder. The most important thing to remember is to take a cold shower at the end of the day. The cold water opens your pores and lets the tiny slivers wash out.” The tiny slivers were a new and disturbing concept for me, and I had no idea what a body grinder was, heavy-duty or otherwise, but I didn’t like the sound of it much.
I borrowed the big and heavy grinder from Don Bradley, a rugged individualist who did everything in a big and heavy way. When I picked it up the first time I almost cried. The job involved lying on the ground and holding the grinder up against the boat’s bottom as the spinning abrasive disk ate away at the old fiberglass, throwing millions of those tiny slivers into the air, in the exact vicinity of my face. However, there was no backing out. This was the world in which I now existed, and the job had to be done.
It took two days of grinding to prepare the hull for new fiberglass. The throwaway clothes and cold showers, along with safety goggles and respirators, kept me from becoming a pin cushion for tiny needles of plastic. Applying the new material was easy. I now had a houseboat that theoretically floated.
The next problem was getting it to the water, a quarter of a mile away. As I fretted over the seeming impossibility of this, Don Bradley and Ray Speck showed up. They laughed at my dilemma and said, “That’s easy. We were just waiting for you to get done with the hard part.”
The next day Bradley showed up in his big, heavy duty truck, hauling a trailer he’d made from an automobile chassis and steel I-beams. Speck came along shortly and without any help from me, they set to work with jacks. The barge was sitting on the trailer and out the narrow boatyard gate in a couple of hours. I followed along on foot as Don towed it to the beach by the ferry Vallejo. He backed around and parked so the houseboat and trailer sat on top of small knoll. After I had secured a line to the barge, Don unhitched the trailer and gave it a shove, sending it down the beach and into the water. The trailer disappeared beneath the surface, leaving the Hot Molecule floating on the calm water.
“What about the trailer?” I asked.
Don laughed and said, “I’ll pick it up at low tide.”
“What the hell can I do to pay you guys for this?”
Their answer was, “Just keep playing music.”
Mr. Larsen was an innocuous little man with a beer belly, who looked like someone’s kindly grandfather. As Marin County’s building inspector, it was “just his job” to tack abatement notices on the houseboats at Gates Five and Six. The papers said, “Notice to remove or destroy.” I watched one day as Larsen approached the Hwang Ho with one of these papers. Joe was aboard and saw him coming. Without a word, Tate untied his mooring lines and let the boat drift from the pier as he raised his sails. The Hwang Ho sailed silently away, leaving the building inspector standing helplessly at the water’s edge. Larsen’s ignorance of the difference between sailboats and houseboats aside, if he’d ever had chance to actually inspect that Chinese junk, he’d have found a quality of construction he or the other County “experts” couldn’t have imagined. But that wasn’t the point, and never was. There were forces gathering against the waterfront, and Larsen was nothing more than a stooge.
No one really paid Mr. Larsen much attention, or took the abatement notices seriously until the day when the County Sheriffs came to tow away Joe’s Camel, the first houseboat Tate had built and later sold.
When Joe “married” Maggie and me at the drydocks, it was a pretty ho-hum affair. Even the LSD we took only served to amplify the nervous discomfort that accompanies that sort of ritual, even on our tongue-and-cheek level. Nonetheless, any excuse for a party was good enough and we all wound up spending the night out there.
The next morning was clear and calm. When I woke up and went to take a leak, I could see a Coast Guard boat in the distance. It was heading north by the Clipper Yacht Harbor breakwater, accompanied by another, smaller boat. Sensing something ominous, I boarded the Hwang Ho, woke Joe and Pam and grabbed their binoculars. Sure enough, gold-helmeted Marin County sheriffs were aboard with the Coast Guard, and they were headed into the Gate Five anchorage.
Hardly anyone had outboard motors in those days. The Loafer was one of the few power boats and Dredge was out of town. As fast as they could, everyone at the drydocks cast off and set sail for Gate Five. The Yipes Stripes was the fastest sailboat in the Redlegs’ fleet. Maggie and I got to Gate Five first, where the Sheriffs now had a tow line attached to Joe’s Camel and were preparing to take it away. The houseboat’s occupant wasn’t home, and the cops must have seen it as a sitting duck.
Saul Rouda had been shooting 16mm film footage of the waterfront for three or four years. He had movies of parties, sailing, boatbuilding, character profiles, even a mock wedding in the mud at low tide. Many of us took Saul less than seriously. We called him “Media Man” and sometimes wondered if he felt inadequate without that camera on his shoulder. It could be very annoying to be going about your business, or just trying to have a good time, with an Arriflex in your face. Saul may have had trouble living in the moment, but he was onto something nobody else had thought of. This place was too good to be true, and couldn’t last. He would have it on film.
Boats of all sorts were headed out to the Camel, and tension was mounting in the air. Maggie dropped me on shore and I phoned Saul. “You better get up here with a camera, Saul. The cops and Coast Guard are trying to tow away the Camel.” He was on the way in minutes, and got it all.
The cops were way out of their element. With all the metal they carried, they must have been terrified of falling into the water. Another problem for them was the nature of Joe’s Camel. A “camel” was a huge block of solid wood, made from smaller blocks and held together with steel bolts. They would never sink. Camels originally functioned as fenders, preventing close-moored military ships from damaging each other. The average dimension was 12 ft. long by 8 ft. wide by 6 ft. deep. They were like tiny icebergs, floating with only a few inches out of the water, and totally waterlogged. Even without the weight and windage of a house built on it, a camel was an awkward nightmare to tow, even for an experienced boatman.
The Coast Guard was helpless. With hardware-laden cops to protect and chained to an object that was nearly impossible to move, seventy or eighty small boats went around them in circles, full of people shouting at them to mind their own business and go home. The smaller police boat was a Boston Whaler, very maneuverable but helplessly outnumbered. One fat bald sheriff on the Whaler stroked his nightstick with gloved hands, a terrible angry scowl on his face.
One of the basic rules of boating is that sail has the right of way over motor. With this in mind, Joe, Maggie and others in sailboats deliberately passed in front of the police boats over and over again, allowing them no progress in any direction. A few overzealous types poked at police with oars, resulting in little tugs-of-war. This landed some people in the water, and enabled the cops to pull a few out and arrest them. The prisoners were handcuffed and left on the Coast Guard boat with no life jackets. To protest this, Joe rammed the Coast Guard with his “bow crusher,” a piece of T-shaped diamond-plate steel affixed as a figurehead on the Hwang Ho.
It was getting near the stage of really dangerous violence when Randy Farwell appeared in his Boston Whaler, one with a motor twice as powerful as the cops’, and led the police Whaler with the angry gloved sheriff on a futile high-speed chase. They didn’t get Joe’s Camel. We won the first battle but the war was only beginning.
“THE LAST FREE RIDE”
Things are gettin’ rough for the poor folks in this country
We can’t afford to travel very far
The price of gasoline is always raisin’ slightly
and few of us can still afford a car
I could take a train to somewhere
but I ain’t really got the means
or I could take a plane to elsewhere
but I’d get there broke and never be able to leave
Yes and don’t you know there’s many a poor man
Who’d like to live a rich man’s dream
And find him a ship to take out on the ocean
And set him sailin’ on the sea
Our last free ride is waitin’ on the water
Our last free ride is waitin’ on the wind
That’s only free way gonna take us anywhere
I guess we’re all gonna have to go sailin’
Lyrics & music © 1974 by Cici Wilcoxon
Joe Tate was the first one to see that this was the beginning of the end, that politics and big money would prevail. Waterfront property in the nation’s second richest county was too valuable to be occupied by what amounted to a bunch of squatters who thumbed their noses at the law. Real trouble was brewing in the Marin County Civic Center, where the Board of Supervisors and businessmen whose interests they represented were planning the conversion of the waterfront into a floating condo development.
Sausalito was going the way of all charming seaside “bohemian” communities, inundated by tourists and filling up with businesses that catered to them. As in all such places, the very people that made it interesting would be driven out by the elements they attracted.
Gates Five and Six were attracting their own tourists. The grounded Charles Van Damme ferry, the Ark, was visible from Highway 101 and curious travelers would take the Marin City exit to check it out. When they found an entire community of unusual, colorful characters behind it they were delighted. We were sometimes treated as if we were costumed employees of a theme park, there to answer questions and entertain the visitors. Groups of ten or fifteen people with cameras would walk down the docks, looking into windows and doorways, snapping away. Some would be discouraged if anyone asked for money to pose for them, others were indignant. Most of these would have called the police if a stranger even walked down the street in their neighborhood back home. Sometimes we got little old ladies’ art classes, who set up their easels and lawn chairs in the parking lot.
In some cases the curious stayed, or were absorbed. Pete Retondo arrived on the waterfront as a journalist on assignment for San Francisco magazine, searching for “hippie vegetarian pirates.” He was right about the “pirates” part. By the time the article was published, Pete was fixing up his own houseboat.
By 1973, the Truly Rank Motherfuckers had faded into legend. Captain Garbage went north to fish for salmon. Peacock disappeared and showed up only once in while. Strung out on heroin, Dredge sold the Loafer and moved to Vancouver, Washington and eventually to Quilcene, on the Olympic Peninsula, to try and clean up. Jesse Crocodile went home to Oregon.
Little by little, better docks were built, people had babies, and the place began to seem safer. No longer were all but the most adventurous kept away by some intangible aura of danger. Stories went around about National Geographic coming to do a pictorial.
“The waterfront is over,” said Joe one day after navigating his way past a dozen Japanese tourists. “We need a big boat, so we can take the band and sail anywhere.” It sounded like a great idea, a seagoing rock and roll band. We could play the ports of the world and not be bothered with bureaucrats, building codes, or tourists. It would be Fuckabunchabullshit in its purest possible form.
While the developers and the county moved in and turned the screws tighter and tighter, waterfront political types went into action and began organizing meetings. Up until then, parties had been the common meeting ground, and as I sat at the first meeting, listening to my friends and neighbors argue, I knew Tate was right: the waterfront, as I knew and loved it, was over.
Meanwhile, Saul Rouda got serious about making a movie. He’d studied political science at Berkeley, and the Houseboat War had fired him up. Here was just the angle he needed to make a real film out of his miles of waterfront home movies, an antagonist in the form of heartless developers and corrupt bureaucrats: a bad guy. He brought in another, commercial filmmaker named Roy Nolan and they set about concocting a script. The movie would be titled “The Last Free Ride,” after the song by Cici Wilcoxon.
We’d sit around at night talking about taking the band to sea, financing our travels by setting up gigs in waterfront dance halls and bars all over the world. But even with all I’d seen here, the fruition and realization of possibilities and dreams, the big boat seemed like too much. Could it really happen?
The band went on playing. We traveled north to Humboldt County and played on the Avenue of The Giants. We played Bimbo’s (the old Mafia showroom in North Beach), Bill Graham’s Winterland, Keystone Korner, the Old Mill in Mill Valley. The Built-In Failure Factor followed us to all these places. It seemed the further from the water, the worse the failure. I began to think of this as the Shangri-La Effect. In James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon,” the protagonist tries to take a beautiful young woman out of the fabled valley. When they cross the border, the girl becomes an aged hag and dies. Once we traveled two hundred miles north for a big party and found a dingy, dirty cellar with fifteen drunk hippies and no electricity. I raided the medicine cabinet, found Seconals and Nembutals, and passed them out to everyone in our entourage. We slept in the Znarghmobile, on top of each other and the equipment, and drove home in the morning without touching an instrument. But our parties on the Sausalito waterfront, especially the Ark dances, were great successes and became legendary.
Without any fanfare, Joe had put the word out that he looking for a big boat.
STATEMENT TO THE MARIN COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS BY PIRO CARO.
Piro Caro was one of the elders of the waterfront. He lived on the City of San Rafael ferry in Gate Five, and had been one of the original North Beach “hipster” artist-intellectuals in the forties and fifties. This statement was made in 1973 to the Marin County Board of Supervisors at the first public hearing on the new houseboat building code ordinance designed to eliminate the nonconformist Gate 5 and 6 community:
“...I’ve lived on the waterfront for more than twenty years... For more than those twenty years on that mud flat, a very important, a very healthy community has come into existence. This community is composed largely of your sons and your daughters, the children of the middle class. They come in usually very incompetent, often psychotic, often with cops at their backs...not knowing how to saw a board, but they come in and nobody says yes or no to them. They find a place, and they spend the next year, and sometimes two or three, building and rebuilding this, their houseboat. which turns out to be an interestingly vernacular architecture. Very interesting, and very important.
Also, they come to do another very important thing. They come to find a world in which they can operate and they can move. The reason that they come is because the world, your world, cannot accommodate their needs. They either have to much energy, or too much talent, or too much rebellion. In any case, they’re the young, and accommodations have to be made for them...
Well, you can build more hospitals, you can build more jails, you can hire more police. You can have more social workers, probation officers... That’s what would have happened if these people had not come onto this waterfront.
As it is, for twenty years I’ve watched these people come in. And now they’re all my old friends. A young man comes in and makes himself a home, finds a chick, and has kids; the kids are now grown up and in high school and college. It’s a very healthy and excellent community, where people live freely and well... I sincerely hope you do not pass this ordinance.”
The ordinance was passed.
THE ARK DANCES
The first Redlegs dance on the Charles Van Damme, commonly known as the Ark, was a direct reaction to the battle over Joe’s Camel. Legal money was needed for the people who had been arrested and charged with “illegal assembly.” Joe went to Don Arques and got permission to use the old ferry for a benefit, and the waterfront went to work. The cleanup job inside the ferry was enormous, and done willingly by a crew of enthusiastic volunteers. This was the best excuse for a party yet.
Joe came up with a gimmick: free beer. This meant no I.D. at the door, no liquor license problems. Andy Goodman, who called herself the band’s Number One Groupie but also functioned as a sort of den mother and road trip organizer, fronted money for the seven kegs and two legally required rent-a-cops. Maggie went to work on a poster design, and the Oakland shop became a silkscreen factory.
The party was only two days in the making. The poster contained information about the benefit and location but the big print, the gist of it was this:
TONIGHT! THE REDLEGS! FREE BEER!
Joe and I left with a pile of fresh posters at nine in the morning and by four o’clock had stapled or taped them to nearly every corner telephone pole, bulletin board and store window in Marin County. When we got back, Don Bradley, Gene Lee and Jeremy were rolling kegs into the Ark.
Besides the Redlegs, a good variety of entertainment had been lined up. Our own Mary Winn set up a puppet theater and did a childrens’ show. Cici Dawn, along with Gate Three resident and former Los Angeles nightclub character Robbie “The Werewolf” Robison, and semi-legendary convict-folksinger Doc Stanley, put together a high-energy folk group called Free People. The group was named after Robison’s song “Free People,” hastily but spiritedly composed after the Houseboat Battle. The song opened with the lyrics, “It’s gettin to be the time when they’re puttin’ on the screws to the free people...”
To insure a long night of strong, danceable rock & roll and add drawing power, Joe hired the raucous local band Flying Circus. This began a long and colorful partnership. For the next few years Flying Circus would be a regular fixture at Redlegs dances and road gigs like The Garden of Earthly Delights.
By the time Flying Circus had done their set, the energy level was nearly over the top and all the local-hero Redlegs had to do was walk on stage and the place went crazy. The event was a huge success. The Ark was jammed with over eight hundred people and there was only one fight.
We had one stage creep that night. A guy came in with a guitar and claimed to be part of a band called the Flamin’ Groovies. He was fairly polite about asking to play, so we had a little conference on our break and decided to let him go for it. Joe sat out and left it to me to deal with him. I had eaten a capsule of mescaline and the drug was coming on strong as Joey, Kim and I took the stage with our “guest.” He started playing in a biting, staccato style that I found immensely annoying. The mescaline had made me highly sensitized and I knew right away that something unpleasant would happen if this guy was allowed to cut loose. But it was too late to just get rid of him. He would have to be dealt with musically.
“Flamin’ Groovy” kept up his aggravating barrage of stiletto-blade notes and the mood in the Ark began to darken. Joey and Kim found a groove and the crowd danced, but the tension stayed. As the mescaline took a firm hold, the stranger developed a dark aura and I began to perceive this ordinary-seeming jam session as nothing less than a battle between Good and Evil. I was utterly convinced that it was my responsibility to neutralize the malevolent forces being unleashed by the alien presence across the stage from me.
As I struggled to find the right musical focus, the bad vibes spread into the crowd and the fight broke out. Gene Lee was in the middle of it, being attacked by six or seven short-haired rednecks. As the crisis grew, the answer struck me: it wouldn’t help to outplay my opponent, that would only add to the problem by building the pitch of battle. No, the trick was to underplay him. I established eye contact with Joey the drummer to let him know something was about to happen. As Flamin’ Groovy hacked away in a “G” blues mode, I hit a long, slow Eb major seventh chord, and Joey and Kim shifted into a new, smoother rhythm. From that point on I played no more tonic, fourth or fifth chords, and worked soft-sounding chords around the key of G without touching it, putting his blues notes out of context and making them seem soft, as if a pillow of air was forced under them.
The fistfight fizzled out and everyone was back to dancing by the time the song was over. Flamin’ Groovy walked over, shook my hand and said, “Nice jam. Thanks.”
The first Ark dance led to another, and then more. The next few were “benefits” for the houseboat cause, but we dropped the word “benefit” after a while. The Redlegs now had drawing power and filled the Ark to capacity every time. The word “concert” was never used for a Redlegs event. It went along with the big-business gentrification and pretense that had been corrupting rock and roll since the mid-sixties. I could never get over the idea that there was something wrong with an awe-struck audience sitting in reverence before a group of superstar guitar gods strutting around the stage in carefully contrived poses, the stage lined with armed security guards. Rock and Roll was about having a good time, wasn’t it?
Every Redlegs dance had a different theme, which Maggie incorporated into the posters.
“THE REDLEGS THROW A DANCE”
The poster for this one depicted a cartoon character resembling the Incredible Hulk lifting a crowded dance floor above its head like a tray, as if about to the throw it into space. If life ever imitated art, it was on this night when Don Bradley, stone drunk on Green Death, got the urge to express himself and joined the top echelon of stage creeps.
Don rarely wore shoes, and had the kind of rugged-looking feet that brought to mind the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot, the legendary man-ape creature of the Pacific Northwest. But when he ascended the stage in a drunken blackout, without shoes or shirt, Bradley, a powerfully built man, was the perfect image of the Incredible Hulk as depicted on the poster. He grabbed a microphone, and for fifteen full minutes grunted, howled, and moaned unintelligibly but passionately into it as the bewildered crowd stopped dancing and stared, or cleared the dance floor entirely. We had no real choice but to let him run his course, and he eventually retreated to a corner and passed out.
THE REDLEGS CHALLENGE THE ROLLING STONES TO A BATTLE OF THE BANDS
Why not? They were coming to San Francisco, and we needed a theme for the next dance. Besides, I was sick of hearing about them being referred to as the greatest rock and roll band in the world, and the reverential tones in which they were discussed.
“Let’s challenge the Rolling Stones to a battle of the bands,” I said to Joe. Even Tate had more respect for Jagger and Co. than I did, but after giving a me funny look his eyes brightened up and said “Great, let’s do it.”
Maggie went to work on the poster, drawing two broken and bandaged electric guitars and using day-glo orange ink for the lettering. After plastering Marin County with the flyers, Joe and I went to The City and covered the area around Winterland, including the front and stage entrances, where the Stones would be performing that weekend. Although it was unlikely, we now had to consider the real possibility of them responding, and we hoped they would.
The dance was on Saturday, the second night of the Rolling Stones’ engagement at Winterland, and we scheduled it to go to 3:00 A.M. to give them plenty of time to show up. Michael Woodstock went to Winterland with a handful of posters, spreading them around the lobby and managing to toss one at the feet of Bill Wyman, the Stones’ bass player. According to Woodstock, Wyman picked it up and read it.
The Rolling Stones never showed up at the Ark, but a capacity crowd did, and at 3:00 A.M. we closed down after announcing that we had won the Battle of the Bands by default.
DEFACE THE REDLEGS
We learned to get pretty loose with the word “benefit,” and decided since the band needed money, we would have a benefit for ourselves. This one would be called the “Down and Out Musicians’ Ball,” and feature a contest with a real houseboat for a prize. The boat in question was a sunken derelict, a mud-filled twenty-foot surplus lifeboat with a crude plywood superstructure, but it was a houseboat and could be floated and fixed up. As a second prize, Joe came up with an odd-looking leather strap and buckle device, and called it a “Tijuana donkey-fuck harness.”
To win these fabulous items, contestants were obliged to deface the photograph of the Redlegs on the “Down and Out Musicians’ Ball” poster. Entries poured in by mail and by hand, right up to the night of of the dance.
Bob Seal’s contribution was the most creative, or at least the most extreme. He had smeared the photo with his own feces, swirling it around in a nice spiral design. And he had the good taste to let it dry completely, too. For this he won the Tijuana donkey-fuck harness, and as Joe made the presentation, he wished Bob the best of luck with it.
The Grand Prize winner was our old buddy the Sun King, although I cannot vouch for the objectivity or fairness of the final decision. The prize houseboat, the sunken wreck in the mud, was visited a few times by its new owner but never repaired.
BLACK AND WHITE HALLOWEEN
The waterfront went all out for Halloween. It definitely wasn’t just for kids, and after trick-or-treat was over, the real hobgoblins came out. At the Ark Halloween parties, the dark, cavernous interior of the ferry with its huge open beams, unusual shapes and smokestack running up through the middle of the room was the perfect place to get weird. Psychedelic drugs also helped.
I never dressed up in really elaborate costumes, using the excuse that as a guitar player in the band I needed freedom of movement. I didn’t even like jewelry or heavy boots. But I always did something, like spray my hair with glitter and go as a “rock star,” or smear my face with charcoal, put on a straw hat and go as a sharecropper.
It was the time I went in blackface that someone gave me a dose of LSD in a drink. As the acid came on I wandered around the Ark trying to get some sort of orientation, but the costumes and bizarre behavior made that impossible. One man was trudging around balefully, and stinking of low tide, wrapped in what looked like two hundred pounds of kelp. He had to have gone over the mountain to the coast to get it from the surf. It was Pete Retondo, the journalist-turned-houseboater demonstrating, I presumed, his dedication to the aquatic life. A huge, floppy Raggedy Ann doll with gigantic breasts danced by and nearly bowled me over as I tried to communicate with the Retondo kelp-creature. Later I learned that the floppy doll was Annie Hallatt, the Gate Three mask artist, when she won the costume contest. But with the LSD just hitting its pace in my brain, it all seemed disturbingly real, as if what I was seeing was not costumes at all, but what everybody really was.
A common trait of people on LSD is that they tend to think everyone else is also high, whether the others are under the effect of the drug or not, and the tendency can be to surmise that human behavior is generally much stranger than we would like to think. I had to sit down and ponder this. I found myself at the end of a long, medieval-looking table. It seemed like a meeting was taking place, but no one was talking. It was as if the costumes and masks were making the statements, and that was enough. Slowly, I looked at each of the characters before me: a prostitute, a nineteenth century fop, a vampire, Satan, a bozo-type clown. Each of them made eye contact, and there was a vague but deep understanding of something in all their faces and I felt not quite part of it until I noticed the figure at the opposite end of the table, facing me. At that moment, time stopped and I understood. Staring back at me was a white face, greasepaint done in mime fashion on a body dressed up a black tuxedo and white gloves. Between the sleeves and the gloves I could see the natural skin, and it was black. Only then did I remember my own blackface persona. The white-face black man and the black-face white man at opposite ends of the table just stared at each other and understood.
Jeremy was a nice ex-college boy from Connecticut, an old pal of Buck Knight. One summer, while Buck was on vacation, Jeremy came to
Sausalito to stay in Buck's quarters in the stern apartment on the Oakland. He was well-mannered and reserved in the New England Yankee style. Well-educated and articulate, he came from New London, where the Navy builds and launches nuclear submarines. The area has a rich nautical tradition, and Jeremy felt comfortable in the waterfront environment.
The Redlegs band was ensconced in the shop at the bow of the Oakland, and eventually Jeremy came around to see what was going on. Not surprisingly, he liked rock & roll music, and after a few discussions, I found out he had gone to the University of Connecticut, where I had played frat parties and student union dances. We told Connecticut stories and had a few beers. Jeremy discovered Rainier ale, or “green death.”
It wasn't too long before Jeremy was part of the scene, helping the
band with the equipment and dancing merrily at parties with his bottle
of green death in hand. He also joined boating forays and got with the
pirate spirit easily.
Redlegs drummer Joey “Crunch” had a 36-foot Navy surplus lifeboat, which had been equipped with an engine, a deck, and a crude tiller for steering. This job had been done for the purpose of ferrying people back and forth from the drydocks when the Redlegs finally opened that scene to the publicand staged a play-for-pay party. The Cruncher was also a perfect salvage boat and often came back to Gate Six loaded down with booty. Coming back from one salvage raid, the crew had misjudged the tide, and the boat ran aground near WOF Island, at the end of the Gate Five main pier. To make matters worse, they threw out a stern anchor in an attempt to kedge out backwards, and in the process wrapped the anchor chain around the propeller. Jeremy, clad only in bluejean cutoffs and pickled with green death, volunteered to jump overboard and free the chain. The tide had receded further, making it easier for Jeremy to free the chain, but making it impossible for the boat to go anywhere.
In the spring there occurs in Richardson’s Bay an algae growth
that turns the water green and thick. It was that time of year and when Jeremy emerged from his attempts at freeing the chain, he was covered and dripping with green slime. This, combined with his well-known habit of drinking green death, gave him the name Green Slime.
The Green Slime character began to evolve, with no help from Jeremy. Green Slime was everything that Jeremy was not. Rude, belligerent, crazy, sometimes Neanderthal, totally fearless, and often hilarious. Jeremy had been brought up in a strict Catholic family, and like many of his ilk was still struggling to rid himself of the horrors of such an upbringing. Not so Green Slime. Green Slime was liberated. There was a comic book circulating at that time called “Binky Brown meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” about a young Catholic boy who has sexual fantasies about “God’s Mom.” Jeremy liked the comic but Green Slime became obsessed with it.
Green Slime was becoming a fixture at Redlegs shows, sometimes getting into fights, and encouraging mayhem in general. The second time we had a dance at Whitey Litchfield’s Bermuda Palms, we hired Marin County bands Flying Circus and Clover, and Ricky the Mad Cuban Harpist. Ricky always called himself God, unashamedly and in no uncertain terms, and could be heard on the waterfront at any hour of the day or night proclaiming loudly, “I AM GOD, SOY DIO!” He played flamenco-style music on the harp, with real Latin passion. He showed up at the gig dressed as Fidel Castro. The audience thought he was nuts. After Ricky’s (God’s) set, Green Slime took the stage dressed in priest's robes and with his face painted day-glow green, delivering a carefully prepared monologue, or sermon, consisting of three words: “FUCK... GOD'S... MOM!” He uttered this again and again, in every conceivable tone and inflection, until we had to gently lead him off the stage before the angry crowd attacked him.
Green Slime had become notorious in the Truly Rank Motherfucker sense. I once encountered him on the subchaser, whereupon he mumbled incoherently and pulled out a knife and was about to stab me in the gut. Strangely, I felt no great fear and just walked away. Maggie once beaned him on the temple in the Oakland shop with a green death bottle because he had ripped the pay phone off the wall and smashed it to bits in search of beer money.
His greatest moment happened on Market Street in San Francisco, at a used car lot. A scene was to be filmed for “The Last Free Ride” with the band playing on a stage built at the base of a huge billboard overlooking Market St. just above a used car lot. The billboard was a Lark cigarette ad, showing a racing yacht sailing along with beautiful suntanned people aboard. At the very top of the sign, some 40 or 50 feet above the pavement, were the words, “PUT SOME PLEASURE IN YOUR LIFE.”
As the winos and other street characters danced, a few of them started pointing upwards and yelling about something. I turned around to see Green Slime, dressed in nothing but cut-off jeans, climbing up the side of the billboard. Jeremy had once been an ironworker and wasn’t afraid of heights. Green Slime knew this. He had something hanging from his belt, and ascended steadily despite the pleas from the crowd. Reaching the top, he straddled the sign and reached for the thing on his belt, a can of red paint. Unfortunately he had no brush, so with his hand, he smeared paint on the billboard. He inched along, dipping and smearing, dipping and smearing. That day, Green Slime managed to pull off a grand stunt, upstaging the band and nearly getting all of us arrested.
A cheer went up from the street when he was finished. Over the word “pleasure,” he had smeared “Redlegs,” leaving the message:
“Put Some Redlegs In Your Life.”