he summer I was out of high school I got busted for pot. But I got out of it because I paid a lawyer to tell the judge that I was a nice boy and that this was the first and the last time I would ever be in trouble.
I had this $500 publishing advance from Elektra's publishing company, Nina Music, and it was used to buy off some smarmy judge who had the same twinkle in his eyes as my lawyer.
There were 200 black and Chicano kids in court that day and it was an inescapable fact that they were all going to the slammer, while the other three or four clean-cut kids like me whose parents had paid a lawyer to stand up and say how "upright" we were -- well, you just knew we weren't going to jail. I mean, I was glad not to be going to jail, but it was pretty obvious that whoever had the bread was gonna be all right.
I graduated high school in '66 and hung around Hollywood and Orange County for about six months. And then in January '67, some of my friends and me drove across the United States in a Rambler station wagon. It was the dead of winter and it took us less than four days. We never stopped, we just barreled straight through.
I remember listening to the Clay-Liston fight while we were driving across the Texas panhandle. My hair was down to my shoulders and I had people genuinely mistaking me for a girl in places like Missouri. We'd stop for gas, and I'd ask for the restroom and this old guy dressed like a sack of potatoes says, "Right over there, dearie."
Being from Orange County where people were normally hostile to anyone who looked like a freak, I was used to it. But this old guy had really directed me to the women's restroom. When I came back and asked him for the key to the men's room, he got real embarrassed. He really did think I was a girl.
In New York, I lived for a while on the Lower East Side. New York was such a fascinating place. I was there in the spring of '67 for the first be-in. They had a be-in in New York and a be-in in San Francisco and a love-in in Los Angeles, and it all happened on the same day. It was some sort of synergy going on, people heading for these places with this wild understanding happening between everyone. It was really amazing.
Tim Buckley was in New York at the time and I went to see him play at this place called the Dom. Dom was mod spelled backwards, and there was always this carnival of people around. Andy Warhol with his entourage, a film loop of Lou Reed eating a Hershey bar, Nico sitting at one end of the bar in this Dietrich pose singing those incredible songs, and Tim Buckley as opening act.
When I got hired to play, Nico was being accompanied by various members of the Velvet Underground. They'd trade off. Lou Reed would back her one night, John Cale the next, and so on. And she was getting crazy about not having the same guy backing her up every night. So she asked Tim to do it and he said no. Then she asked me. First thing they asked me was whether I could play an electric guitar. I said yes, but I didn't have one. They said if I could get one, I could have the job. So I borrowed a friend's.
But I wound up leaving New York shortly after spring. Back home I was all set to have this group, the Soft White Underbelly, as my backup band. I spent a week trying to figure out some arrangements to my songs that would fit this band, but it didn't matter because they later became Blue Oyster Cult.
They were great musicians, they really were. And they played my songs really well. I'm afraid I was the least proficient musician among them.
And then I remember hearing "A Day in the Life" on the radio. It was off a Beatles acetate, before the Sgt. Pepper album even came out. Nothing before had prepared me for this incredible song. It was a milestone, and it changed everything.
The Troubador was big then, but I'll tell you something, I don't really think there was ever a songwriter's around the Troubador. It was like Bob Dylan said: "You probably call it folk music, but it's not."
It wasn't folk music at the Troubador, and nobody thought of it as folk. People came in with a full band. They'd come and they'd get record deals and then they'd go. A lot of them were really corny. And flashy, too.
If you hung out there long enough, you could almost chart someone's progress. You'd see them one day by themselves, and the next day with two or three people and they'd be forming a band. Like J.D. Souther and Glenn Frey began playing as a duo, and eventually you'd hear J.D. go up there by himself. And then a couple of weeks later Glenn would be in rehearsal with these other guys and they'd become the Eagles.
A lot of people hung out at the Troubador, but I used to be wary about it. I wanted to be taken seriously, and I would show up with my guitar, and I would sing or I wouldn't sing, but I couldn't really hang there in the bar.
I think back now on that time and I wish I had been in a band in high school. One of my best friends, Eric Brow, he loved the Righteous Brothers, and he used to stand on his bed and just howl. Eric wound up joining a group.
And another guy from our class was the guitar player. They played at all the school dances, and I wish I'd done that. It took me until making my fourth album before I realized how cool the drums were.
The truth is, I don't even know what I do, and I don't quite know how it's supposed to be done. My songs are the residue of my life. When everything else is done, the songs are what's left. Generally, it tends to be sort of looking in the rearview mirror. The songs are about a time that is past, or a resolve about the present that in some way relates to the past.
I've never been able to collaborate with others. Another person with an idea is a problem for me. I'll be thinking of something, and then another person will say, "Hey, how about this?" And I won't even know what they're saying because I've been off in my head thinking of something else.
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