Since I had already played guitar since the age of ten it was only natural to form a rock band in my early teens. To my mind (and that of about ten thousand other adolescent males with screaming hormones) a guitar was like a fishing pole for catching girls.
One of the first songs I wrote (I have since written another 257) was a tribute to Edgar Allan Poe. In early 1969 my group, Curé or Ares, recorded Oval Portrait. I nicked the title pretty much directly from Poe’s short story The Oval Portrait.
The song was basically about a young guy who falls in love with an old picture or dreams he does. It’s not quite clear. The lyric goes, “asleep beneath the starry skies above, a portrait that I found became my love.” Not exactly great stuff but really no more insipid than some other Pop lyrics of the time.
I would still take it over the 1968 Ohio Express opus which opines. “Yummy, Yummy,Yummy–I’ve got love in my tummy.”
At any rate, local radio picked up the song and it became a small regional hit and we (the group) reaped the rewards, so to speak. Soon an agent appeared as if by magic. He was a cagey old codger who knew the value of a greenback and didn’t allow scruples to interfere with good business sense. In other words, a real pro.
Soon my cohorts and I were scurrying all over the hinterlands. A lot of this had to be done on weekends, of course, because the band members were all about 16 years old and still in school. Thanks to our intrepid agent we would soon trod the boards of every tavern, beer joint and grog shop of every village and hamlet in the cultural backwater of the Upper Midwest. Not a mission for the faint of heart.
In an effort to find a distinct visual identity the band members somehow stumbled on the idea of costumes. Thanks to the drama department of our high school we would soon don Camelot costumes replete with tights and fairy slippers. This, we figured, would give our act an air of theatricality.
A weekend trip to play a curiously named venue in remote Iowa called Joe Jenkin’s Farm would be good testing ground for our cool new outfits we reckoned. But we reckoned wrong. From the get-go old Joe Jenkins proved to be someone you shouldn’t trifle with. He first regaled us with his story about how he alone “made” the career of Lawrence Welk, a distinction of dubious merit to a group of nascent Rock musicians.
Also, the venue itself was peculiar. The “dance hall” as old Joe euphemistically called it, was located upstairs from his milking parlor. Five rickety chairs stood on a hay wagon with one lone swinging 40 watt light bulb above the contraption for effect. This was the “stage” we were to perform from. We were hardly the toast of Broadway at this point but even we had become accustomed to a bit better than this. The mooing and piquant aroma of our bovine brethren one floor below was something we would simply have to endure with grace and dignity. Such is the nature of show biz we reasoned.
Still, the show must go on. Donning our 12th century regalia we mounted the stage. The slack-jawed farm boys standing in the front of the hay wagon fell on the floor in hysterics because “we was wearing dresses.” Soon their jocularity however morphed into spite. They shouted crude epithets and said our outfits were “scaring the cows” and that we were “tempting their women”. How our accoutrements could achieve both of these feats simultaneously stumped me but before I could come up with a logical answer about this, things turned ugly. Employing the simplest words of mono-syllabic eloquence we rebuffed the yokels but that only further raised their hackles.
To make a long story short we reached the Minnesota border with a special escort from a pair of police cruisers. Old Joe only gave us enough money to pay for gas and “your damned lucky you got that” barked the choleric old coot.
End Installment One…