Another Song of Experience
of Poets and Dreams
There’s a deeper level of connection to the totality of the universe than most might ever imagine. Here’s proof, one man’s visions: we know more than we think we know. We are more than we appear, more than we suspect. We are not so ordinary.
Early on and for most of my adult life, I thought an affirmation of the spiritual would be miraculously Catholic, like a bronze statue moving, a stained glass figure winking, Mary descending in a grotto wrapped in an iridescent robe and bathed in an aura of white light lit mist, or sight replacing blindness at the hands of a Jesuit healer, but it’s more mental, more subconscious than physically miraculous in the outer world. It’s all in the mind, but proof, nonetheless, of the inner-connected-ness of this and other worlds. There are apertures between the worlds of here and there. Unfortunately, although perhaps for good reason, we are rarely gifted access to the continuity.
Did you know life ends with a ride in a vehicle symbolizing choices made? Literally, French
Symbolist-ly, figuratively, representational-ly, whatever-al-ly, . . . I know a drummer who left in a rock-n-roll tour bus heading east towards a rising sun, and a poet/cabbie who left in La Bamba, a very special party car from his oil-rigging days in Wyoming. A flying saucer arrived one night to chauffeur my son, but he missed the rendezvous. Stick with me, I know this sounds science fictional and complicated and far fetched, but its chemistry will all settle in a logic based on coincidence, not faith, and in the precipitate is the footprint of hope, a mendicant to mediate our fear that this is all there is.
I hate to admit it, but the word-smiths of churches and mosques and temples and such have some of it right. I can’t vouchsafe for the existence of hell, as most of the above referenced do, but I can attest to the existence of heaven. I know. I’ve been there. The near death of Passion, my older son, sparked my understanding to journey there. Fear of death and fear of grief can illuminate.
At the time, Passion was just about to turn fourteen. He went on a field trip to Ballarat, Denver Public School’s outdoor experiential classroom up in the mountains. It being March, the weather was unseasonably warm, and the viruses lush. The day before a class from a D.P.S. elementary school had spent the day at Ballarat, and one of the third graders who had recently been infected with varicella left something behind. The virus, a particularly virulent strain, in seeking to embrace the future, attached itself somehow to Passion. This was a Thursday. By Saturday morning, the varicella had announced itself with a thousand skin eruptions from which its vernacular name derives. The chicken pox was especially bad on the parts of Passion’s skin that had gotten sunburn on the Ballarat field trip. It’s surprising how reluctant we are as children to protect ourselves from sunburn. It’s too hot to cover up and too corny to carry an umbrella for shade. Hell, many adults never get it either. The beaches and mountain tops are magnets for people turning supple skin to sun burned toned thin leather. The advertisements really do direct and shape us. Sometimes culture is sick, sometimes it is silly and dangerous.
Apparently, few precautions had been taken by Passion, as his hands, neck, face and ears had been fried by the high altitude rays. Fortunately his naturally thick hair protected his scalp. His choice in hats that day, however, was none; his baseball cap wound up snug in his backpack, separating his undrunk water thermos and his unused sun block. The maturity of common sense in the progress of consciousness comes later than we’d like to think.
Passion was taking a shower when he fainted. I heard him fall against the tile from the kitchen. Following the advice of a doctor with whom I spoke earlier that morning when the fevered pox had appeared, Passion had taken some Benedryl to relieve the itching that tormented his skin. Perhaps, the antihistamine combined with a hot twenty minute shower to make Passion faint. Passion, to this day, indulges himself with long showers, daydreaming, I guess, in the pleasure of warm water.
During the course of the day Passion, unbeknownst to us, grew sicker. It was obvious that he had the chicken pox, something he was supposed to ride out. He’d be sick a few days, we thought. Everybody gets the pox sooner or later. I had it. Marcia had it. Both Passion and Z had been exposed to children who had it.
But by Sunday morning Passion was losing his ability to speak. His words were confused as the language area of his brain swelled to repel whatever anti-body, pathogen, virus, bacteria or black hole was invading from within. At Children’s Hospital the emergency ward doctors suggested a trinity of possibilities. All were not good. Passion in his fevered state had his own agenda, and he wanted home, to be home because tomorrow would be Monday and that would be his birthday, the Twenty-seventh. Fourteen, and already close to six foot!
As the day progressed, his growing verbal confusion and worsening emotional disconnect worried us terribly. The doctors were as serious as they were grim in their recommendation that he be hospitalized immediately. The results of a spinal tap, although inconclusive, were exceedingly worrisome. What might be happening could be fatal we were told.
I skip the details of what occurred next in the progress of Passion’s illness, but near midnight on Monday, the last minute of his birthday, Passion’s brain seized and he went into a coma from which he did not awake until the end of the week. During his unconsciousness, my wife and I referred to the attending neurologist as Doctor Doom - that’s how little hope he gave us; his glass was always half empty, as were the radiologists’, therapists’ and EKG-ists.’ But life sometimes beats the odds and, seemingly, prayers are answered, miracles do happen - after all my aunt did send a relic of Cardinal Neuman (patron saint of sick children) - and Passion eventually recovered from his round with, as it came to be called, post varicella encephalitis. I gloss over the details of his struggle because no one need suffer the fear and dread and helplessness Marcia and I experienced the week of Passion’s coma.
The first three nights of Passion’s coma I experienced a series of dreams, from the retelling of which, there are conclusions to be drawn. The first night of dreams star, sequentially, JW and Alfred, two dear recently dead poet friends of mine. Alfred, of course, is Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer the Third and JW is John McCullough.
Alfred was a friend of mine for fifteen years. We met after the era of his institutionalizations when he was happily ensconced on the second floor of his father’s Tremont Street optometry shop with Michael Trego; Richard Collier introduced us. Ric, the founder of the Trident Theater and its principal director during its Sixties’ hey-days, was having a Sunday summer afternoon art show of recent paintings - he was between plays - in an empty storefront in North Washington Park on First Avenue in the alley west of Washington, and Alfred Dietrich Kleyhauer III was playing piano. Like nothing I’d ever heard, his playing was a mix of creative irreverence and classical mastery on both the composing and performance levels. He had the minds of Beethoven and Mozart in the mortar of his mental foundation, and the outrageousness of Rimbaud in his church bell towers. The meeting room of his mind was a banquet of humor.
Alfred’s second floor walk_up consisted of two large rooms with windows facing west. A kitchen sink was on the south room’s interior wall with a closet of a bathroom in one corner. The ceilings were high and much of the walls was painted black, which, coincidentally was the name of Alfred’s first and only book. Alfred was a frequent contributor of prose and poetry to Passion Press and Moravagine. He also wrote pornography for an obscure East Coast publication and did bounty writing research for a web of university students. He was living, more or less, with Michael and the two of them were in love and thriving: writing, painting, assembling collages, singing, partying, and they held monthly soirees, pot lucks with happiness and music, food, booze and drugs. I often attended with my wife. Tragically, Michael died early on in the AIDS years, and Alfred suffered terribly living without his true love the last few years of his life.
Alfred was the first, and so far, only, fatality of Denver’s Light Rail. He had his head crushed when he was knocked down and dragged under by the Light-rail trolley at Fifteenth and California Streets in downtown Denver right across California Street from the sidewalk where the City’s brass Kerouac quote proclaims, The West. When I heard there were shooting parlors on Fifteenth Street, I had to go. The West. Curiously enough, along with an assortment of Alfred’s artwork and two large volumes of his bound work (after two or three hundred sheets of writings, drawings and collage, Alfred would bind his papers into a book) _ I have in my possession, a Kleyhauer cartoon wherein Trumble and Ding (alter egos of Alfred and Michael) are riding on a trolley car that announces in its destination window its destiny: Eternity. Trumble and Ding are dressed as happy conventioneers. Coincidentally, a block south of where the trolley killed Alfred sits the Denver Convention Center.
Alfred was a rare genius. As a high school-er, he was the first Colorado teenage member of Mensa. Black, the self-illustrated collection of his first poems, was published here in Denver by the small press impresario Alan Swallow in 1969 when Alfred was only twenty and living in Paris. A decade or so later he sold research to wealthy college students on any subject, and Alfred guaranteed an A, at any level. He started his subterranean black market pirate paper research writing after starting a term paper typing business. He found it easier to write and type something original on any given topic than to correct the mistakes of the sophomoric writers whose papers he had been hired to type, and he wrote brilliantly, no matter the subject, like Shakespeare rhyming in iambic pentameter or Woody Guthrie chiming with lyricism perfecto. He was an extraordinary poet both on paper and in person. His theatricality was often alarming. He would insist on being introduced as Butch Cocksucker and do readings wearing psychedelic clown wigs. His greatest gifts, however, had much to do with art and even more to do with religion.
Alfred sought and found pleasure in spiritual wisdom and creation. One of his favorite haunts was the public library down on South University. He researched the most obscure thinking and read all the guru teachings he could find. He had emeritus understanding of most major religions and was much fascinated with alchemy and the occult as interpreted by Crowley. A conversation with Alfred would burble with Meher Baba teachings and multi-spiritual allusions to mystic consciousness and higher planes of being and the names of those visionaries who’d first seen and spoken of, or written about, their enlightenments.
I once wrote in a poem, with reference to Alfred, Library corridors of wine, indeed!, for he was as much the hedonist as he was the black market scholar. His excesses with alcohol, however, never seemed to impair his wisdom. When he died the newspapers said he was drunk. Well, of course, he was drunk. Alfred was drunk - Everclear was his stand-by and wake-up _ the whole fifteen years I knew him. He was smashed when he wrote doctoral theses for the sons of sheiks. He was intoxicated when he wrote over a hundred songs for The What-Nots. He was drunk when he spilled his brains on California Street as he was drunk when he mimicked Mozart the Sunday afternoon I met him. His composition, “Dancing on the Grave of War,” is the most haunting tune, with or without the lyrics, that I’ve ever heard, and Alfred composed the music on a twenty-nine dollar Woolworth electric keyboard. The other half of his hedonism, Alfred’s sex life, did not involve me, so I can only imagine its eternal desires and cross centuries pursuits. Alfred was a Pagan not a heathen.
Alfred had been dead five months when he appeared in my dream.
JW set me up for it somehow, and JW, at the time, had been dead since the earthquake in LA. The year before, John became one of the curious statistics that commits suicide as an after shock of sorts following a quake. JW called me up within minutes of it to announce, “I’m drinking again.” He’d been mostly sober the last decade, but the quake rattled something fundamental in him. Two weeks later, after drinking large quantities of rum and after running up thousands of dollars in long distance marathon conversation telephone calls, world wide, to his far away friends, John drank enough to kill himself again with a fistful of pills that the VA had prescribed, and he had stockpiled. I say “again” because JW had committed suicide once before but failed, due to the intervention of a friend who found him and an nearby emergency room doctor who pumped his stomach. It was not a quake the first time. Just a shaken dream.
JW had been real close to a shot at writing and acting for Saturday Night Live, but his agent producer slash insider at NBC got the axe out of the blue and after months of anticipating fame and fortune, John’s emotional equilibrium crashed. That he survived his first suicide, I count as one of the blessings of my life, for I got to meet him a year after his failed attempt, one day at Jerry’s Records on Colfax, just east of the Capitol. He was in the company of Bob Peek who, coincidentally enough, was Alfred Kleyhauer’s partner in The What- Nots. I was there to show John Loquidis some of the footage I’d shot of his wife. I’d edited together a rapid sequence of shots of Juliet, and I wanted my friend to see them lest he think the time I was spending with his wife wasn’t on the up and up. I wanted to impress and reassure him that I really was going to make this video movie I’d been talking about. Anyway, JW was in the record store and he butts into the conversation with the offer, “If you’re making a movie, count me in.” I did count him in and three weeks later we had Sylvia and the Green Bird completed. JW played Sylvia’s lover in the movieo, helped direct a half dozen scenes, and wound up with co-producer credits. His Philly accent - even though he was from Vineland, New Jersey - endeared him to me right off, and we became great friends fast. He didn’t hide his drinking from me, but he did keep secret his EXCESSIVE drinking from me. His physique, hairline and style reminded me of my father, or, more truthfully, reminded me of how I imagined my father might have looked, had he not married young and had a family _ and taken up drinking.
During the ten years I knew him, JW lived in Denver half that time. The last few years of his life he was a research subject. He was paid to take experimental drugs, usually in a lock-down setting, as all effects of the drug or placebo had to be recorded. John used to tell me that half the time he figured he’d get the placebo. His only demand in the beginning of his career as a research subject was access to a phone. John was in the world when he was on the phone. His phone voice was like his poetry, outrageously surreal and comic. He dove into writing with the mischievousness of a merry prankster, and because he was so prolific, he unearthed more gold, more magic, than the less passionate. He wasn’t exactly compelled to write; it’s more like he was, to conjure a word, impelled to write. When he was living here, we made the rounds of the poetry readings together. John Macker and I were producing events then, and JW always wound up in our lineups. Sometimes he played guitar and sang, sometimes he blew long forty minute riffs of Dali-esque literature that he wrote by playing with language as a child might play with an indestructible toy. He hammered at the typewriter and batted words around. Sometimes they took on the form of concrete poetry, as JW paid as much attention to the shape of words and phrases as would a die-hard letterpress typographer. John was so enamored of Salvador Dali that he and his lover, Vesna, moved on an afternoon’s whim from Philadelphia to Gainesville, Florida, to be within easy driving distance of Saint Petersburg, home of The Salvador Dali Museum. The move flew in the face of practicality: hell, John had just been awarded a grant by The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and things were looking up for the two of them in his adopted hometown. He and Vesna had wowed the Philly art scene with a year long ever changing series of performance art shows (The Wuzagators was the name of one, and The Butterboat Show, another) and they were getting good press, but the move to Florida pulled the plug on the connections they had made. John wrote me hundreds - no exaggeration - of letters during the year he lived in Florida. Each envelope was an exercise in the reinvention of envelope addressing protocol. Whenever I crossed paths with my mailman, he’d smile his appreciation at the clever art adorning the face of the envelopes he delivered.
Whenever Passion Productions put on a show and JW was in Denver, he would be the MC and “Antic Man.” He claimed he liked antics - like Supergluing the locks on the Sixteenth Street Mall because winter was depressing and JW figured: why not cheer up downtown workers by providing them with the means to a day off? JW’s mind was a wind up toy that seemed never to need rewinding. Sometimes, as in the end, alcohol got the best of John. He told me he never drank at all during his teens and early twenties until one day when he opted for a cocktail because he liked the sound of its name, mimosa. The next day he went to the liquor store and filled a shopping cart with fifty different liquors. JW threw away great chunks of time in pursuit of the intoxicating nepenthe that alcohol is for some. Supposedly John’s chemistries, his blood sugar parameters, were such that alcohol affected him with far greater than normal impact. His relationship to alcohol was the opposite of Alfred who always seemed so little affected.
The VA says that post traumatic stress syndrome, a result of naval duty in the far Pacific during the Vietnam War, contributed to his final suicide. I say his suicide was the last creative act of his performance art career. Ten days into his last drunk, he convinced the poet SA Griffin to arrange for him a ride in a brand new Cadillac convertible, and three days before he died he called to tell me he had proof that he had made it: for now his name was listed in the Hollywood phone book.
My journey to the other side begins with a phone call dream from JW.
Even as the phone rings I know that I am dreaming and sense that I am actually participating in, not just watching what occurs. Myself and others - John, Alfred, and later Larry and Brad - are writers as well as actors in the progress of these dreams.
JW’s got my ear hypnotized with some radio metaphor riff of an antic that I heard once before at The Alternative Art’s Alliance Open Show in 1992. That year the performance art showcase was a Passion Production, and I had lured JW back to Denver with the promise of two hundred bucks and a large, hip Denver audience. And damned if, at the last minute, he didn’t fly in from New Orleans where he’d migrated to after Gainesville, stripped pants and all! The radio song poem is long and I can’t wait for John to finish it. Besides, he keeps interrupting his poem with scattered facts of his day: things like what he had for breakfast and what some woman was wearing at the grocery store, and I’m growing anxious and passive aggressive.
I interrupt his poem and John starts laughing to quell my terror at the unasked questions between us. He knows what I want to ask him, and he knows the answer to my questions and speculations, the outcome of my turmoil. But I don’t ask and he doesn’t tell. He just keeps the radio metaphor going. John’s phone voice is not enough to comfort me and I manage via the high jinks of dreaming to join him in his space. I know he’s dead; he, too, knows he’s dead. Out of our misunderstandings, we get a laugh. We chat while JW looks Hollywood saintly out an un-curtained window.
John’s room looks down over a busy street. People fill the sidewalks and well-appointed cars clog the roadway. The sky’s color, its yellow hue (yellow like the shirt he wore to Passion Production’s Return of the Snakes, a Nineteen Eight-nine, Saint Patrick’s Day multi-media extravaganza at the Whole Person, a short-lived jazz joint at Twenty-second and Champa, site of Muddy Waters of the Platte Coffeehouse’s second incarnation), suggests France or early morning anywhere. The chatter rising up from the sidewalks and into the room is East Coast vernacular, maybe Philly, Baltimore or Manhattan. The room is mostly Spartan, as were all the hotel rooms he lived in. Like a stand-up comic of a sailor on leave, that’s how John had visited earth, and his heaven is a stage of eternal shore leave.
“Come on, he tells me. Alfred’s play is opening, and we’re going.”
Alfred’s play is archetypal theater. The sheer number of actors and the enormity of the set (there are Greek columns rising up, supporting clouds, and an amphitheater similar to the Greek Amphitheater in Civic Center in downtown Denver), together with the sheer intensity of catharsis produced, adds up to what the most cynical press would call SUCCESS ! Everyone in the audience, myself included, feels jolly and happy, and I return a second night, only to find the play is not at all like the brilliant play the night before, but even more brilliant. As I had the night before, I search the audience to see if Passion’s here among the throngs of strangers, if he’s here with my dead poet friends, Alfred and John, and am relieved when I determine he’s neither in the crowd nor among the actors. “Everyone who’s everyone is here,” Alfred tells me. “Tomorrow will be even funnier! Even more joyous.” Happiness in Perpetuity is what one critic tells me he’s going to write. The cheering at the play’s conclusion is thunderous, almost warlike in its celebration of comedic triumph. I think of sports fans cheering and armies rumbling for their king, and fear the hubris of it, but after one glance of a look at Alfred, I change emotions to beatitude and the bliss of blind benevolence. I am relaxed and renewed, relieved of fear and uncertainty. The word in poet heaven is cool. I tell my dreaming self that John or Alfred would have let me know if things were going to turn out badly.
I’m not being simple-minded or superstitious or unsophisticated or unscientific when I say these dreams and those that follow are quite different from what I’d call normal dreaming. They were bigger than life and expressed a sorrow-less-ness, a divine happiness and perfect-in-place-ness, and throughout the dreams, I knew I was dreaming. John used his phone voice the whole dream time, even after I’d joined him in his hotel room; and Alfred, that is, Trumble, was again with Ding. I dreamed their dreams. And during both dreams, Billy Burroughs came to mind.
Billy Burroughs was the son of William Burroughs. Both were novelists. Senior out-lived Junior. I met Billy at Larry Lake’s Bowery Books on South Pearl Street one afternoon when he and Allen Ginsberg dropped in. Allen was introducing Billy around to the Denver poetry crowd as Billy was now living in Denver, recovering from some serious surgery, a liver transplant. Billy B, as I came to call him, was a hospital junkie when I met him. He lived a hundred yards south of University Hospital on Colorado Boulevard in The Oxford Apartments on the east side of the street. As a result of the steroids he took to ward off organ rejection, Billy had arthritis serious enough to warrant morphine three times a day. Without pain relief, he could not raise himself up out of his chair, a battered Lazy Boy his buddies, Ernie and Ray, had procured for him.
Billy B had a certain precious sensitivity, not unlike JW’s. He was someone who had died and caught a hint of the bliss to come. Billy had blown out his liver via speed and alcohol and had basically expired in the Greyhound Bus Station in downtown Denver. Rushed to University Hospital, he was somehow revived and then underwent an emergency transplant operation. If he had not been comatose, he would most probably not have signed up for the surgery as he had already spiritually and emotionally died behind the chemical toxicity of his spent liver. He had given up, utterly. And then he awakens one day in a hospital with another’s liver and a new lease on life. He’s experienced the light of death or the bliss of death or the release of death, and he’s a walking, talking angel in the service of light. Yes, he still had a drug problem to deal with, but this time he had a prescription. After a while, the hospital even let him take the morphine home to self-administer.
Ironically, Billy would die at age thirty-three after another bus ride, this time to Florida in hopes of scoring on the streets for his pain, as the hospital had cut him off from his out-patient morphine status. One of Ronald Reagan’s first Presidential Directives after he took office in January of Eighty_one had been to change the policy regarding the use of morphine for out-patients, and Billy had been told - no matter his arthritis and addiction - to clean up. In search of pain relief - he bussed it south and east towards Florida, to a town where he once lived with the hope that he might be able to connect. He literally caught a cold and died. His immune system had been so weakened by the anti rejection drugs he had to take that, when on rare occasions he ventured out into the poetry nightlife, he used to joke, “If I look at a cold, I catch it.” He must have gotten a good look at one on that cross country bus ride.
I expected Billy to appear in my dreams because he was, as were Alfred and JW, a dead friend and poet; furthermore, there was a mystical connection between Passion and Billy as Billy had actually predicted the birth of Passion. On Billy’s thirty-third birthday in the summer of 1980, Marcia and I threw a little dinner party for him and two of his friends, Ernie and Ray. Larry Lake and Barbara Timmons, who were about to marry, were also there. Marcia and I cooked up a fine dinner for our friend, complete with champagne and a homemade birthday New York cheesecake.
Before blowing out the candles and mumbling to himself some black humor wish that made him chuckle slyly to himself, Billy asked Marcia, “When are you going to make your big announcement?”
Marcia had no idea what Billy was referring to, and told him so. A hush and hesitancy filled our small Pearl Street dining room. Even my three dogs - Maku, Chieba and Dylan - quieted.
Then, surprised that either she didn’t know or that she was feigning ignorance, Billy gently but assertively said, “The Baby. When are you going to announce to us all that you are pregnant?”
Marcia blushed and responded by saying that she certainly was not pregnant. She, in fact, vigorously denied it.
Billy, with a cherubic smile, repeated his claim and blew out the candles on his last birthday cake. And Billy, of course, was right. A week later, haunted by Billy’s prediction, Marcia did an early pregnancy test and discovered that she was indeed, pregnant. At the time of Billy’s assertion that she was, Marcia was at most three or four days pregnant, given the date of Passion’s birth, March 27, 1981, and at the time we had not been pursuing parenthood.
Anyway, I always felt that if Passion had a guardian angel, it would be Billy, and that’s the reason I kept searching Alfred’s audience for Billy’s face among the crowd, but I never saw him. I hoped that I’d get to share his dream, his heaven, to talk with him, and thereby get the skinny on Passion’s fate. I think my wanting desperately to hear from Billy concerning Passion’s prognosis led me back, the second night, to the place were worlds overlap.
Now the appearance of all these poets in my dreams is not unlikely given the ritualistic circumstances of my evening earlier. The evening had been a sort of test of my belief in the powers of poetry. This was so because I had been booked months before to officiate a wedding the evening of March 27, the second night of Passion’s hospitalization. Passion was still conscious but out of touch. His language ability had completely shut down and he was having minor seizures. I had no desire to leave the hospital to perform the ceremony but I couldn’t, in good conscience, just forsake the bride and groom; thus, I left the hospital for the time it took me to join the couple, Steve Batura and Cameron Jones, in the bonds of Holy Matrimony in the Jungle Room of the Mercury Café, scene of the weekly Friday night poetry readings that I host. Cameron and Steve left their hand prints in gold leaf on the wall of the stairwell that leads up to The Merc’s second floor dance hall; even though they later divorced, Steve’s and Cameron’s palm prints still mark the wall with the date of my trip to heaven. The wedding was a vital affair and all I could tell myself was that my job was to conjure up the Muse. I had to believe in the poetry I wrote, in the poetry to which I had dedicated my life, to the poetry with which I would
bless their marriage. It was a huge dilemma, but in the end, the choice to perform my priestly duties, was the right one. I never prayed to Jesus or Mary or Buddha or cosmic consciousness during the progress of Passion’s coma. I only begged the Lady.
The second night of Passion’s coma I got to set foot in yet other worlds. I credit my faith in poetry for the glimpse of heaven revealed. The coincidences that mark what I’m about to relate are the stuff of Bibles and Blake, of visions and wakes.
Just before dawn, I arrive on foot at The Image Maker, our studio and gallery, where a huge rock and roll charter with privacy windows and chauffeur sits parked in front. The bus seems most modern with neon starlight-like running lights along the roof lines and above the darkened windows. No one gets on or off the bus. Its passenger door is closed and its electric motor hums at idle. I can see the chauffeur through the front window but no one else. I imagine there’s a party going on inside that must have something to do with the arrival of all these players at the studio.
Bobbie Blanc, the widow of Warren Blanc who sold Marcia and me our business, is ushering the crowd on the sidewalk into The Image Maker. As I approach this scene, I am quite confused and apprehensive, for I have no idea an early morning shoot has been scheduled. Bobbie sees my worry and takes me aside to calm my fears. Conspiratorially, she tells me, “You’ll make a lot of money on this.”
I’m beginning to worry at the number of people being crammed into the studio. I recognize no one at first, but then I encounter an old friend, Rich Sallee, who seems to be in charge. I’m relieved at his presence yet still have no idea what the hell is going on.
Rich is a great friend. We met as waiters in the Seventies when he formed Images with a roommate of mine, Lee Bartley. Rich plays bass and writes tunes. He’s also a promo man for Redstone Records. The music biz has always been his Tao. We shake a quick, “Hey, hey,” and Rich informs me, nodding in the direction of the bus, “We’re gonna be on the bus with the Big Boys.” For some reason, I get the idea that the “Big Boys” are some English rock stars - maybe the Rolling Stones or maybe, even, the Beatles. With this, the charter heads east on Twelfth Avenue, quietly, almost without any sound at all. It is like watching a soundless film, watching the bus depart. The East is impossibly starry and dawning at the same time _ like two photo negatives overlapping to create an image that spans time. The running lights of the departing bus leave psychedelic trails that linger before disappearing. I figure the bus ride with “the Big Boys” is something that the future holds. I think to myself, that’s a bus Billy B might like. I notice now island steps of clouds in both the eastern and western sky-scapes and appreciate the ocean quality of the heavens.
Rich gets down to business and lets me know that today we’ll be shooting a promo for the band, not the band that just headed east, and not Images, but yet another band. Rich tells me quickly of his idea then goes inside and disappears among the crowd there.
From my brief exchange with Rich, I gather Marcia and I are going to set up and shoot an image consisting of a hundred faces, interspersed among which will be the faces of band members. In the final layout, the faces of the band are going to be crudely highlighted or circled with the album title, Faces Above the Crowd, floating and shadowy above the lay_out. It seemed a lame concept, and a difficult shot to arrange, but I figure: What the hell, if the record company is paying, it ought to be worthwhile financially.
Suddenly, I’m concerned about Marcia. Where is she? I wonder if she knows anything about this shoot. It certainly had been news to me. I’m looking east again in the direction the bus had traveled, testing my visual acuity for signs of any lingering trails, when Marcia appears, gorgeously back lit with golden dawn light. She’s wearing her long blue denim duster and sauntering towards the studio. I’m still frazzled and concerned about this unexpected photo shoot, while she appears not at all perplexed at all that’s going on, at the crowd of extras who surround me. She quickens her pace only the last ten feet of sidewalk and informs me (in an aside) that she thought the shoot was at noon. That she had been aware of the shoot relieves some of my tension. I figure she already has a game plan and go inside to organize the extras who are sitting and standing throughout the assorted rooms and spaces of The Image Maker: on the stairs and in the kitchen, my office, the hallway, the gallery, the Sixties Room, the loft, the dressing room and the shooting studio. I don’t, as of yet, go downstairs into the basement where the shop, film room and dark rooms are; still, I sense and expect even those rooms are full of extras waiting to be called or organized.
Marcia has disappeared and I presume she’s downstairs loading film. I weave among the extras, all the while keeping an eye out, like in last night’s dreams, for Billy Burroughs or anyone whom I might know. I’m also looking for mutual friends of me and Rich, but all are strangers, professional extras, hired faces, unknown souls. No Lee, no Renee, no Oz. It’s quite hot, what with all the people crammed in and milling about, and I’m wishing there was some way of cooling the temperature in the studio _ for once we turn on the strobe modeling lights, it’ll get even hotter _ when someone, maybe myself, flips a switch, and overhead fans come on, producing a breeze that will help to cool things down.
Now, the presence of fans hips me to the understanding: I am again dreaming. Up to this point, I have had no hint that this be dreaming as most everything has been probable, realistic, credulous and believable. Even the overlapping image of dawn and night sky and the trails in the wake of the bus had a realism and credulity about them.
Again I scan the crowd for Billy Burroughs - after all, that’s who I had been thinking of when I went to sleep - but do not find him. (I always associate weddings with Billy because he had accompanied me to Larry Lake’s wedding in Lyons the last summer of his life, a week after his prediction of Passion’s conception, and I had written about that day in a poem that appeared in citysight, my first book, a poem that to this day that I particularly like.) While scanning the faces of the extras, I do, however, spot an acquaintance whose name presently escapes me. It’s like that a lot with me: I have a terribly inadequate visual memory. People, whose identity is a mystery to me, often say “Hi” as if we have been friends for years. The nameless acquaintance nods in my direction and lets me know with his body language - he sort of waves with a tilt of his head - that we’ll talk later when I’m not so busy, indicating a professional respect between us, between actor and director, between artist and subject. The mystery of his identity will probably clear up later as I often remember something I’ve been trying to remember only after I stop trying. I usually can place people when they talk, for as bad as my visual memory is, that’s how good my auditory memory is.
I go downstairs to confer with Marcia, and as I’m on the basement stairs, I think back to a question that Straley asked me once: Do I worry about thieves when I let strangers into the studio? He had asked me this the evening that I hosted Alfred’s Kleyhauer’s Memorial Service here in the basement of The Image Maker. Paranoia strikes, and I begin studying the strangers about me. I note different people are opening doors and attempting to open drawers and closets. I’m annoyed, but figure, there’s nothing really to steal, unless one is a photographer.
I go into the wood shop and discover it, too, is crowded with extras. I ask everyone in the wood shop to please go out into the work room and shoo people in that direction as the wood shop is, more or less, my inner sanctum. As I’m closing the door on the furnace room, I again spy the guy whose name I can’t remember.
He’s sitting on the floor against an exposed stud - there’s no sheet rock on the wall next to the furnace room door - and the horizontal and vertical studs are cross-like. He’s again speaking to me with body language, this time, emphatic in his hope that I remember him, that I remember his name. He mouths the words, “Remember me,” as I pass out of the wood shop and into the work room. He exudes a certain despair. I fret that I can’t stop to help him now. A silent lamentation, an unexpressed consternation darkens his face. Still there’s about him an air that’s cocky and assertive; after all, he’s gotten my attention twice.
As I enter the main room of the basement complex, the work room, Marcia and Rich join me. Marcia is the confident photographer, ready to shoot what Rich, the art director wants. It’s Rich’s call. Assistant that I am, my job is to facilitate. We’re all three thinking of the complexity of the shot.
My mind is on the physics and the geometry of the shot - I’m thinking that Marcia will need to be high on a ladder, shooting down, with the blue abstract I painted as a backdrop, the extras, a sea of souls, a soul of faces, with just a few to be raised above, perhaps in sharper focus - the band members will stand on phone books for added elevation - when Rich interrupts my thinking with, “Hey, never mind. We’ll do with what we shot yesterday,” holding in his hands some Polaroids of an earlier shoot. “These will work fine,” these being perfectly in focus and likewise exposed Polaroids of a Denver drummer, name of Larry, who I know the last fifteen years.
A good friend of Rich, Larry is the perfect choice for model of an aging rock star. Larry has hair he hasn’t cut for thirty years, wild, and full as a lion’s. I think, the last time I saw Larry, he was right here in the work room. He had come down to see Alfred Kleyhauer’s paintings which hang here. He’d told me he’d seen me and my boys riding one afternoon along the Cherry Creek bike path. He’d said that it - the sight of me and my sons - had made his day. He told me we old hipsters all take strength from each other, pursuing our dreams, his to be a rock n roll solid ass player and mine to be a poet of sacred proportions. “It’s nice to know there are others like me,” he’d told me.
So in the photograph that Rich produces from his pocket and hands to me, Larry is lying barefoot in one of four coffins. He’s wearing clothes even more wild than anything JW or Ric Rainbo might have worn. His hair is perfectly combed out behind him, like a wild mountain flower, like a wild savannah lion. And in the photo he looks twenty years younger than he is. I wonder who did the make_up for the shoot. I don’t recognize the others in their coffins, but the other three musicians, they, too, are all decked out in replicated Hendrix and British Mod attire and barefoot _ ready for the big lights or for that “bus ride with the Big Boys,” I think _ some ok media hip reference to the Beatles’ Abbey Road, and, perhaps, a better concept than the day’s intention, Faces Above the Crowd. As if this new CD will answer the question, Who among us is to be rescued?
That the shoot is being canceled introduces a certain frustration that darkens my thinking. I add up the time for which we won’t be billing. I calculate the dollars we won’t be making. All this work, the tension I’d felt, the expense of early morning extras, a hundred or so, the studio time, the fans installed! . . . and now the shoot is off?! My annoyance grows, but I conceal it. Looking around the room I see my nameless friend again, standing alongside the stairs. We catch each other’s eyes for the third time. I sense I can’t help him with whatever it is he wants to speak to me about. All he’s got is hope that I’ll remember, but still I can’t place him.
Up the stairs, down the hall, through the gallery and out the door to Twelfth Avenue I go, passing not one face that I know or that I might remember. Once outside I see that the five or six extras gathered on the sidewalk are all pointing and looking west. I pass through them and step off the sidewalk into the street where I can gain an unobstructed view of what has transfixed their attention. I cross into the middle of the avenue and look to the mountains in the west where strangely and oddly enough sits a flying saucer in a western sky cloud dawn lit painting of beatific vision. This flying saucer, off in the distance amongst the steps of clouds that stairway the western sky, seems perfectly in place and not un_ ordinary. The distance between the saucer and us, me and the extras, I calculate at miles. It must be somewhere in the air between Lakewood and Golden.
I sidestep my way to the curb on the far side of Twelfth Avenue, all the while keeping my eyes on the saucer off in the distance. When I look down at the curb so as not to stumble, I loose sight of the saucer. I scan again the western sky but can’t find it. I look to the others across the street and realize they are staring at me and the saucer which, unbeknownst to me, is directly overhead. Their pointing fingers and staring eyes lead my eyes upward to where it floats, not thirty feet off the ground, the most unspectacular UFO imaginable. Simple lettering announces its identity, NC-112. I am not surprised at the English language of the lettering. What I can see of its underbelly reminds me of what I imagine a Hollywood replica of the bottom of a P.T. boat might look like in a submarine rescue movie. It bears an amusement park ride aura and has characteristics in common with the bottom of a water tower as well: bent sheet and riveted metals. I feel no fear but consider joining the others across the street - so as not to be alone - in the presence of whatever is above me. I step out from under the umbrella of a small tree by the bus stop, and I am immediately hit with a perfect circle of spotlight-ike intense white, a whiter than milk white, light that makes a perfect circle of contrast on the black asphalt roadway. I note the light is only on me as it tracks me perfectly across the street. This time I stumble at curbside and fall fetal to the sidewalk. I am alarmed, although I know the light seems more searchlight than attack light. I want to look up again to see what I can see as the beam seems to be doing me no harm. I just feel it has selected me. For what? I do not know.
I remain in the circle of light and stick my head out of the milky beam to look up. I am reminded of an old fashioned Yellow Cab spotlight used to read addresses at night, with a handle for manual motion, a much larger version of what adorns most patrol and rescue vehicles. The saucer seems somehow helicopter like as well. I think of Civil War submarines, their primitive vessel design. I try to see who’s operating the light, but only am able to catch a quick glimpse of a hooded silhouette against the sky, masking the true shape of the shoulders, neck (if there is one) and head. I sense eyes looking at me as I stand up now outside the circle of light that had allegorically pinned me to the ground and stare upward.
When I look over towards the extras to be sure they are seeing this, no one shows me any sign they are. Or if they do, they act as if the events that have just happened are not out of the ordinary. I think, Marcia’s got to see and photograph the light, the craft, the dawn, and in search of her, I walk back into the studio, down the hallway, through the kitchen, down the stairs to the workroom where things have changed, where I find a vast desert savannah-like amalgam of prairie and grasslands beneath my feet. In the near distance there is the feel of giant sand dunes, much like the Sand Dunes of Southern Colorado. The desert quality of the setting reminds me of what I’ve read of Beau Geste’s outpost Algiers. The first person I see is bearded and wearing robes associated with Greek or Biblical times. Maybe he’s a shepherd or camel master or wine merchant. He reminds me of a guy I knew who held poetry readings in his Seventeenth Avenue restaurant, the only guy I know who had both a wife and another woman, both mothers to his children, living with him in the same house; he was sort of like a Greek Mormon.
The sun is late afternoon. We make our way a silent distance down the gentle slope of a dune of warm sand that turns to grassland at the bottom near the savannah watering hole, our destination. A serenity encompasses all who gather here, be they animal or plant, human or divine. Time suspended or time non-existent matters not, even though time does pass. Evening approaches. Here there seems harmony with a capital H. And peace with a capitol P. And love with a capital L. And timelessness with a capital T. The water is a sacrament of ablution and nourishment. The robes of the gathered are white. The animals here all look like extras from “The Peaceable Kingdom.” The lions are only interested in drinking and the people seem only interested in taking comfort in the company of others.
I notice there’s a picket wire fence that surrounds the watering hole. A group of children are playing near the fence line, on the other side of which a herd of what look like bison grazes in the grasses while gazing at the last light of day. All’s well with the peaceful animals inside the fence, but I don’t trust the buffalo so close to the children. I’ve seen and been in the midst of a buffalo stampede. The hint of a barrier that the picket fence provides certainly would be no match for the buffalo should they decide to get a drink. Paradise or not, something is wrong with this picture.
I approach the children who seem of different backgrounds, and with my panic masked, I indicate to them with body language only that they should follow me. They do and soon we are back in the basement of The Image Maker. We step into the side room where we keep stock imagery. A door that shouldn’t be there is on the east wall. I open it and lead the children up a set of stairs that gives egress to the street outside. Strangely, however, we wind up on Seventeenth Avenue - not Twelfth - outside John Ashton’s Seventeenth Avenue Theater. A crowd mills, as if it had just finished watching a successful production and the children disappear within it. Again, I feel upbeat and happy that Passion was not among those gathered at the watering hole.
The next night, powerful dreams continue. I am in the back seat of a very strange vehicle. It’s a cab. My youngest son, Zenith, who is eleven years old, is behind the wheel. We’re parked and he’s trying to enter traffic, heavy four lane industrial traffic. The real cab driver, whom I cannot see, is riding shotgun. The cab is quite surreal. Where one would expect to find a dome light, there is an alcove with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Day-of-the-Dead-like accouterments adorn the statue. Rosary beads hang down out of the assemblage. The upholstery of the backseat is outrageously pleated, like something you’d find in a low rider vehicle. A strand of twinkling Christmas lights outline the back window. I am just about to ask the cabbie why he’s letting my son drive - after all the traffic is heavy and I don’t think Zenith has a clue as to how to use rearview mirrors - when the dream abruptly ends with me looking into the rearview mirror, my eyes pinning and being pinned by the dark eyed cabbie. I am quite relieved because I knew how dangerous that cab ride would have been with Zenith driving. The danger was imminently present and electric, like lightning about to crack.
Now after three nights of dreaming, I had written down what I remembered of my dreams. With Passion still in a coma, time was a morass of slow passing. On the fourth morning of Passion’s coma I called Rich Sallee who had figured prominently in my photo shoot dream. I called to ask him about Larry, the drummer in the dream. I couldn’t remember his last name and wanted to include it in my notes.
“Ferris,” Rich told me, “Larry Ferris.”
Rich also went on to say that he had been thinking about Larry himself, and that he hadn’t heard from him the last week or so. “I think I’ll give Larry a call and let him know about Passion. Larry’s always asking about you and your kids. You know, Larry hated the breakup of his family that his divorce caused, and he’s always saying how good you seem to have it, Ed.”
As it turned out, Rich never did reach Larry by phone so Rich called Larry’s daughter to ask if she knew of Larry’s whereabouts. The daughter knew of no reason why Larry wasn’t at work or at home, so she went to Larry’s second story garage apartment to check in on him. She thought maybe his phone wasn’t ringing. Sadly, she found her father on the floor of his apartment. Larry had suffered a blood clot in his brain. Although his heart was still beating, he was dead for all practical purposes. Larry lingered on life support for a few days, but when it became obvious that his brain was never going to function again, life support was turned off, and Larry technically passed away days after he’d appeared in my dream. If I had not called Rich to ask about Larry’s last name, he might have lain undiscovered longer. To this day I can’t help but think that Larry and Passion and others (like the fourteen year old crack vandal who died in a backyard in Aurora inside a crashed stolen Jeep Cherokee the same night Passion went into coma, and probably the same one who sideswiped and blatantly smashed into more than a dozen parked cars, my cherry Seventy-three Chevy Citation, included, on the Friday night before the chicken pox appeared) were waiting for a while in the place where worlds overlap.
Now the mystery of the guy with no name wouldn’t be solved for a week.
I’m still in the hospital. Passion has awoken from his coma and is making progress. His recovery will take weeks in the hospital and months more at home. I’m spending nights with him while Marcia spends the days. One evening I’m riding in an elevator on my way back from the cafeteria when I realize that I know the guy standing beside me. Again, it’s one of those awkward situations where I know I know the guy but can’t remember his name. He’s a short blonde haired guy. I turn and ask him, “Don’t I know you.”
He’s preoccupied and hasn’t noticed me, but when I speak and he looks at me, his face beams recognition of me.
“Ed, it’s me. Scott. We met at Michael Klahr’s Kerouac party. Remember? The party where you and Brad Meyers read poetry?” With this mention of Brad, his face saddens, and he asks, “Have you heard about Brad?”
“No,” I respond.
“He was murdered in Aurora. His funeral was last week. Some fucking punk shot him in the head from the back seat, point blank range, over a six dollar cab fare.”
Immediately, it all came rushing back as if I was dreaming. Brad was the extra whose name I couldn’t remember. He was also the cab driver riding shotgun in the dream with Zenith.
The hair on the back of my neck stood on electromagnetic alert. Scott recognized something had jolted me and asked after my demeanor. “Are you alright, Ed? You look like you just saw a ghost.”
The elevator door opening on the Intensive Care Unit distracted me. I had to grok what I had just heard and its implications. Not only had Larry Ferris appeared to me in my dreams as he lay unconscious and dying on the floor of his apartment, but Brad had appeared to me while he lay dying, murdered, on the front seat of his cab. I felt blessed by these visions, but kept them mostly secret, as I knew not how to express what I believe to be the import of them.
And it was even more baffling, when six months later, Michael Klahr, who had introduced me to Brad, hosted a private memorial service for Brad in his North Denver home. A few poets were in attendance, but mostly it was Brad’s friends from his oil worker days. Brad had been a seismic reading oil worker for quite a while when he had first arrived in this part of the world. He had worked a few years with this crew of guys, some now from Wyoming and some now from Colorado Springs, who had all come to attend this memorial and poetic tribute as most had missed the funeral back in March. Most had kept in touch after Brad pulled up stakes to pursue poetry in the big city. Some hadn’t known Brad had died until Michael informed them. During the affair, Michael read some of Brad’s poetry and I retold the story of my dreams and Brad’s place in them. After I finished, one of Brad’s old friends announced, as if in toast, “La Bamba. Ed, you described La Bamba.” As he went on to explain: La Bamba was a Fifty-nine Buick that Brad and his crew had purchased for forays into town back in Seventy-nine. Working in the boonies the crew had purchased the oversized twenty year old car as a party car to use on weekends. At one point before they owned the car, the interior had been customized in the fashion of a low rider, complete with the Catholic statuary I described.