Circa 1964 in Casitas Springs, CA, riding the bus to St. Catherine's by the Sea in Ventura with the Cash girls. Once sitting next to Roseanne around the time of "Just Like a Rolling Stone", I asked her if her father knew Bob Dylan. It was interesting to see a small segment in the film, "Walk the Line," devoted to Casitas Springs with mention of Bob Dylan. Casitas Springs was about as backwater a California dust bowl holdover you could find. My mother had the first thrift store there. My parents for a brief time owned "The Purple Wagon Restaurant" in nearby Oak View, another spit as you drive through small California town. Whenever any of the Cash family came in (Mama & Papa Cash owned a trailer park in Oak View), my baby brother would play "Ring of Fire" on the jukebox. The restaurant was one of many ill-fated ventures my parents tried their hand at. It must have been so strange, my father, a famous French Chef, who had once run the Garden of Allah, the Ben Blue Night club and famed Malibu, Holiday House, trying to dish up French culinary classics in a diner setting, a diner painted purple out in nowhere!
Quansit huts lined both sides of the highway in and around Casitas Springs where lots of down and out elderly people lived. leftover from the dust bowl diaspora to California. One of them, Minnie, used to help my mother in her shop. She always seemed breathless with excitement whenever she worked in the store where I sometimes helped out after school. In those days, a high end thrift store was rare, about as rare as a purple diner. The local clients really appreciated my mother's stylish window displays. Later in 1965, when my family moved to New York City, travelling by train accross country, the sale of that store funded our move and a lot more too. I remember my mother, Olga, standing in our kitchen saying that if she failed at the store, her life would be meaningless, or something like that. From then on, she always had some kind of antique or second hand store until her death in 1987.
Not much happened in Casitas Springs. Some days, Mrs. Cash would drive down to the country store & post office next door to pick her girls up from the bus. She was always dressed up--I remember once I saw her in a silver lame pants suit, her hair done in a beehive. Another time, I remember, seeing Johnny slumped over in the front seat while she went inside the post office store. They lived on a hill overlooking the town as a respite from Nashville. The video clip of Dylan and Johnny Cash singing together a few years later that I found on another blogspot this morning reminded me of the connection between them and my rocollections of Casitas Springs. That period must have been really a rough time for those girls who semed so serious and self-possessed--especially Roseanne, the oldest. I had my own family problems too that emerged around then compounded by normal teen age angst.
It was in Oak View a year earlier when I was thirteen, I first learned about Allen Ginsberg. One night getting up to go to the bathroom, I noticed the TV was on, my father asleep on the couch. As I went to turn the TV off, a wildly bearded man with a distinct voice magnetized me. It was Allen Ginsberg on the Les Crane Show. At that moment, my hand still on the dial, I heard the sirens of poetrymnd beckon. Here was the epiphanious moment when I told myself that I wanted to know people like him. Odd how that eventually happened years later. I guess one should be careful what you wish for. The power of Allen's voice just grabbed me out of the blue TV haze. Those years in Oak View/Casitas Springs had their own magic. I wasn't born there but my cultural mind was--my ear glued to the transistor radio my grandmother had gaven me one Christmas, tuning into kindred mindsets out there in the world. The Southern pacifc railway tracks were not too far off and every night I was filled with a longing for something greater. It all begins in the hinterlands, the swamp, among the lost and forgotten, the wasteland, outsiders of no import, the diamond in the rough, the "old weird America" of blues and raw vocals--where one hears the true range of duende soul found in American poetics. Listening to Dylan's radio show brought it all back.
By November of 1965, my family would be living in NYC where my father landed a job as the head chef for the Hilton Hotel and at age 15 I was let loose into the cosmopolitan energies I longed for so much. But I never really forgot those years in Southern California. I'm reminded of C.D. Wright's poem, "Lake Return."
by C.D. Wright
Maybe you have to be from there to hear it sing:
Give me your waterweeds, your nipples,
your shoehorn and your four-year letterhorn jacket,
the molded leftovers from the singed pot.
Now let me see your underside, white as fishes.
I lower my gaze against your clitoral light.
Yeah--that's where the bliss is--white not as in race but in naked mind infused with light. What a line, "I lower my gaze against your clitoral light." Maybe it is about sex but to me it resonates more about body and mind consciousness coming together in the first awareness of greater forces at play.
I'm on a roll here using up my vacation time. Nobody really out there but stay tuned anyway. Next time more on Harry Smith, my karmic debt to Allen.