Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Golden Bird, Part One, Blackbushe

Here is Chapter 1 from my memoir, The Golden Bird. In the spirit of DIY, I have published through the Espresso Book Machine, an awesome piece of tech that prints, cuts and binds a flawless paperback book. The cover illustration was created by my wife Jennifer, and the text design was done by Vladimir Verano, who, in addition to having a really cool name, is in charge of the EBM at Third Place Books in Seattle.

What's it about? The back cover blurb reads as follows:

"The Golden Bird tells of a young man's coming-of-age in the 1970's and 1980's. It's the story of the author's love affair with an island witch and his year in a barefoot cult. The Golden Bird is about organic farming in the Pacific Northwest and lyric poetry in the Rocky Mountains. It's a tale of magic, sex, God, and fate.

The Golden Bird shows how the author survived strange days in the late 20th Century, with the help of a creature out of fairy tales and the songs of Bob Dylan."

If you are interested in reading more, leave a message and an email address in the newly added guest-book at the top of the page. While supplies last, I'll send you one absolutely free! I think you will find that the 203 pages of The Golden Bird will not waste your time or your mind. It is not without a sense of humor and although it begins with a voice of innocence and naivety, the tone changes as the story progresses. 

If you have arrived here from Expecting Rain, know that Dylan appears in my book almost as a chorus, or a shadow. Perhaps he has acted in your life in a similar way.

Part One

Chapter 1

Marie was a witch. Bob Dylan introduced us. I couldn’t
see her well at first because of the blood, but later, when I could,
I saw she was beautiful, and I fell in love with her. Her hair was
black and long, her eyes were dark, and she wore patterned
cotton skirts from India. She was a 70’s new age hippie witch,
but with credentials: Marie was from the island of Guernsey. 
Of course, I’d never heard of Guernsey or its wild magic be-
fore that summer night. I’d never heard of pagans or vegetar-
ians or T.S. Eliot or E. E. Cummings, or so many other things.
I had surely never heard of Jesus Christ Lightning Amen.
I knew nothing of Blackbushe, either, a week before. But
with the concert just minutes over, I hung suspended in time,
at a still point, a pivot between past and future.
I wasn’t alone. The rock festival froze the entire British na-
tion for one brief moment. Three hundred thousand people
strolled out on a July evening to watch the last glow of the
sixties hover on the horizon, then smear, dissolve, and darken
in the western sky.  
But for me, as I sat on the edge of the ditch — the pit, the
grave of my childhood — clutching a bloody rag, it was a be-
ginning, a night when fairy tale and myth escaped the bound
page, when songs coalesced out of the ether into pliable, joy-
ous, and heart-rending forms. Everything behind me receded
with impossible speed. Even the face of my traveling buddy
was falling away — I could barely make out his features as he
waved and shouted.
But coming toward me, the first form out of a red mist,
touching my wound, was Marie.

 On the fifteenth of July, 1978, a warm and clear morning
that tasted of full summer, of cut grass and hot tar, my friends
and I began a journey — from my aunt’s home in the Lon-
don suburb of Leigh-on-Sea to a concert site on the southern
downs of Surrey. As we came up from the Tube into Waterloo,
I hummed a few bars of an old Kinks’ hit, “Waterloo Sunset.”
I vaguely knew that some old battle had given the station its
name, but in my eighteen-year-old mind, rock and roll had
made it famous.
On the platforms, a motley assortment of youth waited on
trains to Blackbushe. Dapper hippies in paisley waistcoats
mingled with shiny rockers in silver boots. Kids with orange
Mohawks, clad in torn clothing, safety pins, and zippers, stood
in clumps and jeered. The Sex Pistols had assaulted Lon-
don the previous year with a hit single called “God Save the
Queen.” I had read about them in Rolling Stone, but I didn’t
really understand the punks. In the suburbs of St. Paul, Min-
nesota, hard rock still meant Led Zeppelin, Foghat, and the
Blue Oyster Cult.
An hour later, in the village of Camberly, signs at the sta-
tion directed us to the concert grounds two miles down the
lane at the Blackbushe aerodrome. We walked like an army of
sleepers through a dream of pastoral England. I thought of the
comics my grandmother had sent to me when I was little. They
featured a bear child named Rupert who lived in the idyllic
country village of Nutwood and spent his days wandering the
local hills, forests, and hedgerows. He would meet his friends
— Podgy Pig, Bill Badger, and Algy Pug — and together they
would have extraordinary, magical adventures involving Imps
and Bird Kings. These well-loved children, dressed snugly in
woolly plaids and stripes, inhabited a vivid natural world and,
within it, they were free to find the fantastic. The artists had
drawn the English countryside in fine detail and true tones,
inspiring me, in childhood daydreams, to run and jump along-
side the little bear. On the road to Blackbushe, I walked in
Rupert’s world. I wondered if a Pixie might be spying, hidden
behind a thicket of gorse, or sitting on the branch of a silver
birch, masked by the flashing leaves.
Around a curve in the road, we came to the festival gates.
Once through, my eyes widened to accept the view. Tens and
tens of thousands spread over an endless plain. The stage was
barely visible — a dot on the far horizon. All these people
had come to see Dylan, a young man raised in my own North
Banners had been raised all through the fields, decorated
with dragons, or mysterious symbols I would only come to un-
derstand later — Yin Yangs, the Om sign — or strange group
names like Welsh Bastards for Free Love. It was difficult to move
among the legions so we found an open place on the scabby
grass and sat. We scalded in the sun. We bathed in the murmur
of a hundred thousand conversations.
In the first hours, the music was only an ambient buzz over
a human swarm. Large speaker columns, scattered through the
grounds, blasted strong sound but I couldn’t see the musicians.
A band called Lake opened with psychedelic metal. In the in-
tense heat, my friends and I sprawled drowsily across our few
feet of brown turf. Graham Parker and the Rumor came on
next, playing a set of rough white soul.
I barely moved all afternoon. The crowd humbled me and I
was afraid of getting lost or crushed. Surges of anxiety passed
through me, a sort of claustrophobia, as if I was trapped in a
vast pen of swine. Eventually, I went in search of a toilet and
returned with a concert t-shirt showing an old red bi-plane
skywriting “The Picnic at Blackbushe” in smoky billows of cur-
sive. My friends wandered away and my nervousness returned.
I watched the Asian couple next to me make out.
The scent of marijuana drifted by and I wished I had some.
A young British folksinger, Joan Armatrading, came on stage.
Her clear strong voice chimed across the fields, soothing my
jitters. I was away from home for the first time. Despite the
company of two boys from my high school, and despite the
company of hundreds of thousands of young Britons, I felt
Of course, Dylan would be on stage soon. Two weeks ear-
lier, he had danced through the air in my Midwestern cellar,
and whispered in the dark about things no provincial teenager
could understand. “Isis, oh Isis, you’re a mystical child, what
drives me to you is what drives me insane!” What? What drove
him? And why did “insane” sound so good?
I had only guesses. I’d read that Dylan said “Isis” was “a song
about marriage,” which was also mysterious, because the lovers
weren’t even together through most of the story. Isis was some
sort of Egyptian goddess and the singer desired her fiercely. It
was like no marriage I could see around me — my parents’ or
my neighbors’ — but it was one I wanted to imagine.
My mom and dad had been born working class, in London’s
East End. They had emigrated in 1947 as newlyweds, fueled by
Dad’s ambition and his engineering degree. They escaped the
deprivations of post-war Britain for the promise of America. I
came along in 1960 — the last child, the third son — covered
in a constellation of birthmarks. After a deceptively settled
early childhood — forever, to a twelve year old — my fam-
ily’s leave-taking began again. We moved to the isolation of
St. Paul’s northern suburbs. Over the years of my adolescence,
my sister and brothers fled, one by one, for colleges in Denver
and Portland.
I’d lived in the Twin Cities my whole life but, at the cusp of
adulthood, I had few allies and no kin save my parents. Mom
was around, in an absent sort of way. Dad lived mostly at the
office or on a plane. Since fifteen, I’d been living on the fumes
of fantasy and marijuana.
Underground, in the cellar, I played Dylan’s Blood on the
Tracks over and over. “Beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll
make it mine . . . down the highway, down the tracks, down the  
road to ecstasy!” I thought, me too. But where could I find these
things? And how?
I’d never been to England as a child. Dad rarely mentioned
family or history. Mom held her losses more closely. Nearly
every Sunday morning, she sat at the kitchen table, writing
tissue-paper letters to her own ‘Mum,’ left behind in London.
Later, after a drink or two, she might speak of her childhood
— hardship and war and her father’s good humor. Her voice
might catch then. Grandad Harry had died suddenly one sum-
mer, before I turned ten. It was only his death, and Mom’s rare
tears, that woke me to the fact that he had lived.
An imaginary Britain lived inside of me, like a fantasy or a
folktale. In the last days of high school, I cut most classes. I sat
on the front bench of a hand-me-down ‘69 Ford LTD by the
lake in the park, smoking weed, stoned to the edge of sleep and
dreams. One afternoon I made a connection: Isn’t that where
ships drop over the horizon, in old legends? Isn’t that where
the gods and goddesses live?
For Mom and Dad, the past was not a romance or an ad-
venture story. It was a tough life, abandoned for a better one.
Still, they agreed to finance my idea: a graduation trip to their
homeland in the company of two responsible and well-heeled
new friends. Maybe they thought it would straighten me out.
Maybe I should see their humble beginnings after all.
In my parents’ youth, the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the
Royal Air Force rose from the tarmac of Blackbushe airfield,
defending the island from invasion. More than thirty years lat-
er, in a world made safe for rock and roll, Eric Clapton jammed
and then finally, as the stars flared above, Dylan took the stage.
I was attentive, alert, and calm but, with the band so far away,
it was more like listening to a soundtrack from the sky than
seeing live music. People swelled and ebbed all around as Bob
began to sing:

I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade, cast your dancing spell my way
I promise to go under it
Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to

The song rang through my head like an incantation.
His large band, with horns, a violin, and several guitars, also
played cuts from a dense and difficult new record, Street-Legal.
Three black women sang harmony and response, adding a bi-
zarre religiosity to Dylan’s personal tales. The artist projected
strength and confidence, but the music and words suggested
a crack-up. Something dangerous was happening. These new
songs passed an urgent message in a language I spoke but in a
dialect I couldn’t quite make out. Maybe Isis — whoever she
was — had really driven Dylan insane and insanity wasn’t so
great after all. The crowd too had grown crazier throughout
the long day, first with heat and then with drink. Dylan’s voice,
fierce and triumphant, rode high on the barely contained ca-
cophony of his band and the drunken shouting of the mob.
“Boooaaaoooobb!!! Booooaaaaaaoooob! Aaaaaaargh!”
Sometimes, now, listening to a bootleg cassette of Black-
bushe, I hear that sound — a blurry, distant majesty, thick with
promise and dread.  
Close to midnight, and before the set was over, my compan-
ions and I pulled ourselves up and tottered toward the exit. We
were still jet-lagged, needing bed. My uncle had agreed to pick
us up in his car at Waterloo station. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only
Bleeding)” echoed and faded in the air. We stumbled through
the dusty field, past fires and mounds of trash. The road lead-
ing to the train had been transfigured by the night into a dark
and living tunnel of trees. We siphoned into it and marchedshoulder to shoulder with laughing, shouting, chanting Brits.
 Then I plunged into the earth. My head hit violently on an
edge, something sharp — rock or concrete. I thumped to the
bottom of a pit.
I lay for a while in the cool ground, alone in a strange bed,
After a few minutes or an hour — I couldn’t tell — I heard
voices and roused myself.
I managed to climb up and sit on the precipice. Something
warm and wet dripped into my mouth. I dabbed at it with my
t-shirt. My high school companion, a boy I barely knew, stood
a few feet away, waving his hands. The crowd flowed by in slow
motion, faces distorted, heads turning toward me and away,
bobbing like puppets. The world had become cinematic — an
epic scene with a cast of thousands.
I couldn’t will my legs to stand.
A woman appeared at my side. She looked at my head, spoke
an oath, and disappeared. In a moment, she sat next to me
again, and whispered in my ear, “You’ll be alright, now. You’ll
be alright.”
Had she come from the crowd, or from the breach in the
An ambulance arrived, incredibly, through the congestion.
As I was bundled in, my friend yelled some words at me, but I
couldn’t make any sense of them. Nothing made any sense. All
the molecules that gave shape to things had fragmented. They
spun crazily around my bleeding head, rearranging themselves
into new patterns.
The woman hesitated for a moment at the door of the ve-
hicle, in the strobe of lights. She looked at me, thinking hard.
Was there any choice? She climbed in beside me.
I retched and trembled all along the winding road. The
minutes stretched and tore and exploded inside my head until
we arrived back at the festival grounds. Inside a first-aid tent,
I sat on a folding chair next to the other casualties. Judging
from the smell of vomit, most of them suffered from too much 
drink. Eventually, a doctor appeared and while Marie — her
name was Marie — held my hand for comfort, he stitched up
the two-inch gash in my forehead.
Then the medic set us loose, “Off you go. Be a bit more care-
ful this time, lad!”
Marie protested, “He’s in shock. He has a concussion! He
can’t walk anywhere!”  
“No, there’s no room, no transport; sorry love.”
She stormed a bit more, but all in vain.
We trudged out into the night and found that the concert
had ended — the main exodus had begun. I wondered what
had happened to my companions. Waves of tired refugees
walked the lane to Camberly. I hobbled along weakly, leaning
often on my new friend. Several thousand small steps later, we
came to a halt in the village, well short of the station, where
the crowd had stopped, dead still. A resigned and ragged army
filled the high road from one sidewalk to the other. Appar-
ently, the trains had broken down.
Desperate for rest, I dropped to the road and sat in the rus-
tling underbrush of legs and shoes. After a while, Marie pulled
me up, held me, and we stood and shuffled through the slow
dark hours. Occasionally I pushed to some nearby bushes,
vomited, and staggered back. I felt anxious and claustrophobic
again, like a lamb in a feedlot, waiting for the chute to open,
the gateway to an unfathomable destiny.
A woman appeared at an upper story window, scolding us.
“Shut it, you noisy buggers!” She came again later and threw
a bucket of water on us. Another lady, in curlers and gown,
toasted us with a cup of tea.
Through the night, Marie smiled and propped me up.
Finally, at first light, we moved forward. As Marie and I
gained seats on a train to Waterloo, she said, “You’ll remember
this, eh? You’ll see this night on your head for a long time to
Thirty years on and a scar still lines my brow, faint but vis-
ible. It’s a reminder of a song and a dancing spell. It’s the mark
of a black night, an opening in the earth, and a blind fall. I
spilled blood in the soil of England. Something hidden shiv-
ered and woke.


  1. Magic.

    So real.

    I could almost touch the vomit.

  2. Thanks, Frank. I think.

    If you would like to feel more of my pain, and the occasional taste of pleasure, contact me through the guest-book and I'll send you a copy.

  3. I would like to have this book, but can't find your guest-book. How can i get a copy of "The Golden Bird"? Is it available for purchase?