Friday, June 22, 2012


“…Who are we?
Are we fictional? We don’t look
like our pictures, don’t look like
anyone I know…
Time is the treasure, you tell me,
and the past is its hiding place.
I instruct our fictional children,
The past is the treasure, time
is its hiding place…”   
Forbidden City, poem by Gail Mazur

“When I’m calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo
Will you answer too-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo…
Then I will know our love will come true
You’ll belong to me; I’ll belong to you”
Indian Love Call, popularized by Jeannette McDonald and Nelson 

“I'm the urban spaceman, I'm intelligent and clean
Know what I mean?
I'm the urban spaceman, as a lover second to none
It's a lot of fun
I never let my friends down
I've never made a boob
I'm a glossy magazine, an advert in the tube
I'm the urban spaceman, baby; here comes the twist:
I don't exist”
Urban Spaceman by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

At about the one year mark, Bongo resigned.  This was the guy who, from the very beginning, was our unofficial “leader”, keeping the place humming with his wacky zen/surrealist take on things, inventing most of the lexicon we used and encouraging everybody there to push their particular creative boundaries, no matter what musical style they presented.  Shortly before he left, he announced that he and his wife were relocating to Canada.  For reasons that are still unclear to me, we found out after he left that he was lying, and in reality, they had purchased a geodesic dome in the desert near Flagstaff.  Of course, when we figured out that he really wasn’t that far away, a group of us felt compelled to embark on a surprise pilgrimage to see him; we had to make one last connection.  (And perhaps that is an explanation for his original story?)

At the time, none of us really had a reliable vehicle that would without doubt transport a half dozen people from Sacramento to Flagstaff.  The closest thing to it was an old, green, sluggish ‘63 Chevy station wagon that Donna and I owned.  There was no choice but to make this journey, so we agreed to drive our car.  We somehow managed to all get time off together: along for the journey was Bongo’s closest friend at the Northern, Ichabod, his partner, the incredible singer Egg, Bo Richards, Happy Jack, and a non-Northern friend who we picked up in Los Angeles called Flaphoot.  How we actually made it to Flagstaff and then the dome is at this point unclear to me, but needless to say it involved a nearly non-stop 15 hour drive to get there, at least several frayed nerves, and a couple of road challenges that had us literally pushing the vehicle over semi-steep “hills” along the way.  

We finally arrived somewhere on the Colorado Plateau and could see his dome in the distance.  It was the only visible structure; everywhere else was desert and some distant hills.  We stopped our vehicle about a half mile away.  Deciding to make our arrival as dramatic as possible, we quietly approached and surrounded the dome.  When we were all in place, we broke the calm silence with a chant of “Bongalo-o-o!” over and over, seven wasted, exhausted travelers calling out to their friend.  A half-naked Bongo eventually came running out of the dome with a baseball bat, a crazed semi-maniacal look on his face.  You could see the anxiety slowly turn to disbelief and then to joy when he realized it was us.

Bo Richards and Happy Jack
We only spent a couple of days there, but it was an amazing 48 hours.  I hadn’t ever been interested in the desert (the ocean’s more my thing), but the calm, the glorious evening beauty, the sunrise, the stillness, exploring and finding beautiful pieces of indian pottery scattered about, it all was intoxicating and inspiring in many ways.  We sang and talked about future plans and of course agreed to stay in touch and see each other in the near future.  (I have not seen or heard from Bongo since.)     

A few months later, about eighteen months after it opened, I left the Great Northern.  I can’t exactly remember why.  As I recall, there were several things in my life at the time that were pushing me in some other directions.  But there were also some “issues” at the restaurant, I believe concerning the working conditions, that Antoinette (who I think was managing at the time) was trying to solve, and it was affecting the workplace “vibe”.  I believe she quit over it and I quit too.  I think she was re-hired a few weeks later, but I stayed gone.  For me, it was time. 

Ich and Egg
My last night there was somewhat typical (with one major deviation).  I played Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1 and Urban Spaceman early on, when there were only a half dozen C’s in attendance.  The place started filling up and Kevin really got things rolling: most of the night he always wore a short hair wig, but when it came time to perform, he would tear off his wig, spilling beyond-shoulder-length hair down his back, grab a guitar, and start pounding out Johnny B Goode, running and leaping around the room like a man possessed, belting out the lyrics and driving the C’s wild.  Dennis Broadway played his absolutely gorgeous version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  And the rest of the crew exploded with their most high energy songs.  After a particularly poignant a capella Indian Love Call duet with Antoinette, I started my introduction to Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light, which consisted of a nightly stream-of-consciousness “rant” before the song itself, usually delivered with the outraged intensity of a particularly volatile preacher, or a carnival barker off his meds.  Gray started playing the piano, Ozone joined him on guitar, and then, one by one, the entire waiter/bus/twinkie staff left their posts and came over, the musicians joining Gray and ‘Zone and the singers waiting to join in on the chorus. 

My final rant was about the evils of materialism and the almighty buck, so of course I had to prove my sincerity by giving away my tips that night.  I went from table to table, staring each C head on, bellering and fuming and leaving a couple dollars or more at each table, relinquishing my hard earned tips until my pockets were empty.  My fellow performers were aghast, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  When the money was gone, we launched into a splendid version of Hank's song, one of the best, I think.  It was a great way to end my Northern career.

It has been my pleasure to reminisce these past few weeks (and I didn’t even get to some things, like The Lost Great Northern Album!) and hopefully I have not mangled too many facts.  In any case, it was the spirit I was hoping to somewhat capture, because at least most of my time there, the spirit was joyous and inspiring.  Not that there also wasn’t emotional danger and tears because there was, but in the end, the camaraderie and creativity were without equal.

“I was a fool to wander and stray
For straight is the gate and narrow the way
Now I have traded the wrong for the right
Praise the lord, I saw the light
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight
Praise the lord, I saw the light!”

(Note: All photos taken by Donna Copeland-Fuller on the Colorado Plateau.)

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