Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band 50 Years On

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I must begin this blog by admitting that I was two years old when the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released.  I grew up already knowing the music, well aware of rock ‘n’roll through my parents’ record collections and as I grew up, my own.  Music was an important part of our lives.  The radio was always on in the car when going anywhere.  At the house, the Beatles, Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Joplin blared from the stereo system, located in the living room.  My dad recorded me and my two younger brothers on eight-track tape singing along to “Joy to World” by Three Dog Night.  “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!  Was good friend of mine…”

I had my own stereo system in my room from an early age.  I could listen to my own records in my own room (Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion was a favorite, as was the 1970s classic kid album Free to be You and Me, featuring Marlo Thomas and Mel Brooks).  Later, I received rock records for my birthdays and Christmas and my great love of music took off.  Growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood, I had no idea how rare it was to have your own stereo and records until I began going to school.

Although my parents didn’t have the Sgt. Pepper album, I was given the Beatles double anthology album (or blue album) as a present one year.  On it was the song “A Day in the Life”.  I remember being terrified of it (perhaps the crescendo in the middle did it).  I was a rather sensitive child, prone to a vivid imagination and nightmares.

I’ve since lost my fear of most things, including “A Day in the Life”.  With the fiftieth anniversary of the album I decided that I should listen to it from beginning to end through headphones.  Over the years, I have often thought about and marveled at what it must’ve been like to experience that album for the very first time, to experience the birth of psychedelic rock.  Being born into rock ‘n’ roll, it’s impossible to conceive of a time when it was new.  What could that have been like?

I cued up the album and began my morning walk, a four-mile roundtrip through the better part of town, which is across the street from where I live.  I concentrated on the music and the nature around me:  large trees lining the streets, beautiful flowers and interesting plants, squirrels and occasional cats, birds and insects like huge, bumbling scarab beetles and monarch butterflies.

Being so familiar with the album, it was hard to listen to it with the fresh ears that I’d hoped I could.  The diversity of the music on the album is the most evident thing to me.  From the opening track (“Sgt. Pepper’s…”) and subsequent segue way into “With a Little Help From My Friends”, the mood seems playful, cheerful.  Following is “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, which John Lennon has sworn ad nauseam has nothing to with LSD, but listening to it you can’t help but put the two together.  I must confess that as a twenty something-year old Deadhead in the mid-1980s, I took LSD on several occasions, but never experienced anything remotely like what is described in the song.

Onward.  “Getting Better”-another jaunty number, followed by “Fixing a Hole”, a song that always really appealed to me for some reason.  “She’s Leaving Home”, with its timely tale of a young girl running away to find her true life/self being sung so beautifully over that sort of rambling, Victorian-sounding music and then the strange sounds of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” and that BOOM-CHA, BOOM-CHA beat behind the swirling carnival music!  That must’ve been a revelation.

It is morning, but not too early, around 8:00 or so.  The sun is out, there’s a nice breeze.  I am looking up through the trees, seeing the streaks of rainbow sunlight pulse through and “Within You Without You” begins.  I am a huge fan of Indian music as well as other Eastern sounds like Moroccan music.  I listened and kept my eyes skyward and finally caught a glimmer of “that feeling”, what it must’ve been like to hear something so new and unimaginable.

“When I’m Sixty-Four”…well, when I hear that song now, I think, “Most of the people that heard that for the first time in 1967 probably ARE sixty-four or older…”  I also think that I myself will be sixty-four in a mere twelve years and how impossible that seemed to me when I was twenty.  “Lovely Rita”, never one of my favorites, but it never fails to make me smile and think of my own dear friend, Rita (who is not a meter maid).

“Good Morning Good Morning”, a brassy, sort of balls-out young man feeling his oats song with all those farm animals blasting off behind him.  This is followed by a second, more rocking version of “Sgt. Pepper’s…” that followed by the dreaded “A Day in the Life”.

Since I have since lost my fear of the song, it’s hard for me to realize what was so terrifying about it, but it’s a snarky song, to be sure.  A statement on the burgeoning state of disengagement from the world and its events, kinda like how things are today with social media.  At least parts of it seem that way to me, a human who has skyrocketed from living in a world where riding your bike unattended all day was the norm and plastics were more than okay to one where kids and adults alike live vicariously through their computers and are deathly afraid of using microwaves.  (I am fully aware that my perceptions about this song are wrong, by the way…)

And how about that last bit of weirdness at the end of the album?  Back in its day, you’d have thought that the record was defective since that bit with the noise and the indecipherable muttering (actually Paul McCartney saying, “Never could see any other way”) stuck in the run-out groove and played over and over until the needle was picked up.  Clever boys, those Beatles.

I guess the only real way for me to fully appreciate the brilliance and absolute revelation of the album is by learning of all that went into its creation.  The Beatles before this time could be easily categorized as a very talented pop/rock group, but once Sgt. Pepper’s came out, the sky cracked open and people’s heads exploded with new ideas about music.  Of course, there is also the time in which the album came out.  Nineteen sixty-seven was the Summer of Love.  Young people all over the world were dismissing old ideas and conservative ways of living, they were dropping acid and believing, really believing that if the entire world were to turn on, tune in and drop out, there would be world peace, communal living, money would no longer be valid, hunger would end and all preconceived notions would be universally and immediately dismissed.  Music was a part of all of this-a big part.  Back then, musicians often set the pace and tone of the times, they were a tangible part of the youth culture.  People listened to them.  (This could also go horribly awry, as when Charles Manson claimed that the Beatles were speaking directly to him through the White Album, also known as simply The Beatles.)

I have many friends who are older than me, who actually did experience the birth of psychedelic rock, who heard Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with fresh ears and minds.  I envy them because as hard as I have tried, I cannot imagine the world before it.  Since those breakthrough years of rock ‘n roll, when electric guitars went freeform and wild, drums went tribal and loud and singers lost themselves in soulful self expression, there hasn’t been any movement in music as important or groundbreaking.  And that says an awful lot about a great many things.

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Teaser Excerpt from the Upcoming Sequel to Red, White & Blues. San Francisco, 1986

  • every seven minutes

In mid-September, President Reagan actually mentions AIDS in a public speech where he vows to make the epidemic a priority.  There is great hope in the gay community, as the issue has finally gone all the way to the “top”.  Anticipation of change and financial aid is higher than ever.

Asher and James decide to put together a celebration of hope, something to direct people’s attention toward positivity and away from the death and fear that have been constant shadows in the city for far too long now.  After all, there are things to celebrate despite all of the hopelessness and sorrow.  The community has grown stronger than ever and due to safe sex education; transmission of the disease has decreased.

With a generous donation from Louise and Avery, the boys rent a large hotel lobby for the event and begin getting the word out via the community’s many channels. Some of their activist friends suggest making it a fundraiser, but Asher is adamant-he wants this to be simply a celebration, a fun evening of music, dancing, food, drink and camaraderie.

Plenty of people step up to donate their talents and time to help get the event off the ground.  Despite all of the excitement, James’ priority is still making sure that the patients are getting what they need, including meals, help shopping, cooking, dog walking and transportation to doctor appointments.  Toby is a great help with these things as he always has been and this leaves Asher free to promote the event as widely as he can.

The day before, a huge group of volunteers arrives at the hotel to decorate, blow up balloons and prepare any food that can be made ahead of time.  Asher stops in to check on the progress and is overwhelmed with the number of people helping out.  He immediately finds James to hear the details.

“Hi, honey,” James says, kissing him.  “Isn’t this amazing?”

“Yes.  Who are all of these people and where did you find them?”

James spreads his arms out.  “Everywhere.  More and more of them just kept showing up asking what they could do.”

Asher looks over the group.  Most of them are friends, but there are some that he definitely doesn’t recognize.  His face grows worried.

“What?” James asks.

“How many people are going to show up tomorrow?  What if there isn’t enough food…”

“Don’t worry about it!  Everything will be fine!”

Philly, who has grown light-headed from blowing up so many balloons, takes a seat nearby.

“What’s he worried about now?” he asks James.

“Too many people showing up.”

“That’s not a problem, honey!  That’s a good thing!”

“See?” James says. “Now go on home.  I’ll be there soon!”

Asher does as he is told.  He has slowly been getting back to his studying and has plenty of reading to catch up on.

The following evening, everything runs like clockwork.  The lobby is filled to capacity with mostly gay men, but their “sisters in arms”-the lesbians-have been showing support for them in growing numbers and many are here tonight.

A DJ is spinning records and music fills the air as volunteer waiters pass around trays of hors d’oeuvres.  Maura, Dan and Toby, along with Louise and Avery are sitting down at a table together.  Not being involved in the community and seeing so many men visibly suffering from the disease is sobering for Avery.  There are many men here tonight who are rail thin and pale, the sores of Kaposi’s sarcoma mark their faces and bodies.  He is still not comfortable being around them, not only because they are gay, but because he is afraid of AIDS.  Dan, too, is unaccustomed to being around so many gay men, but he instantly admires their fun and happy enthusiasm while feeling incredibly sad for the sick ones.

“Hey, girl,” Philly says to Louise, dancing over to their table.  He kisses her cheek.  “You look beautiful!  All of you do-even you Avery!”

Avery laughs and Louise takes his hand.

“Maybe you’ll dance with me later,” Philly teases him.  “You might even like it!”

They watch as he dances away and joins the others who are moving to the sounds of the Bronski Beat’s seminal hit “Smalltown Boy”.

James is circulating the room, making sure everyone has food and a drink while Asher sits biting his thumbnail and worrying.

“Would you stop it?” James scolds him.  “This is supposed to be fun, remember?”

“I know.”

“Dance with me.  Come on!”

In the hotel kitchen, vats of spaghetti and meatballs are bubbling, garlic bread is toasting in the oven, salads are being dressed and cupcakes frosted.  The all-volunteer cooks are having a blast dancing to their own boom box as they begin dishing up the food.  Plates begin making their way out to the tables and Asher watches nervously.  He doesn’t know why he is so concerned except that he wants this night to be perfect without any hitches or disappointments.  He goes up to the DJ and asks him to stop the music, much to everyone’s dismay.

“Sorry,” Asher says into the microphone.  “I won’t take long.”

James rushes to his side.

“First of all, let me say welcome!  We have all been fighting so hard-first for our rights and now our very survival.  So many of us are not here tonight, dead from a disease that no one wants to hear about.  Why should they care about a disease that kills gay men?”

James puts his arm around Asher’s shoulders.

“But we pushed and will keep on pushing until there is a cure!  We will fight to end discrimination against those with ARC, fight for new definitions and diagnoses so that treatment can be available to everyone that needs it.  We will fight for funding for aggressive studies and new treatments.  For answers!  We will fight LaRouche and Jerry Falwell and everyone else that wants to tell us that we do not have a right to live.”

The crowd is cheering; James is getting misty-eyed.

“But tonight we stop fighting, just for one night.  Tonight we enjoy ourselves, forget about sickness and death, panic, uncertainty and hate. I remember when Harvey was assassinated.  I remember the pain, the anger, the candlelight march down to City Hall.  Many of you were there, just as I was.  Harvey fought for us and I know that he would have been very proud of you all.  I look around this room and I see a group of people that refuse to give up, refuse to step back into the closet, just as he asked us not to. James and I have been so lucky to be a part of this community.  So lucky to be with all of you here tonight.  We love you all and thank you for your support!”

Asher waits for the applause and yelling to die down before ending his speech.

“One last thing:  I want to acknowledge and thank Louise and Avery Booth for putting up the money to rent this place for the evening; Maura and Louise for the selfless support and kindness that they have shown our community from the very beginning and Toby, Maura’s son, who has sacrificed so much of his teenage years to help us get food to you, visit patients and help in any way he can.  He’s going to make one hell of nurse!”

Asher begins clapping heartily and James, along with everyone else, joins him.  As Asher steps away from the mike, James takes it.

“Everyone, please enjoy yourselves!  Food is coming out of the kitchen thanks to our awesome volunteers.  Please take a few minutes to eat and relax.  And don’t forget to pick up the pamphlets and other info that we have by the door.  There’s also free condoms, so please be safe!  I know that safe sex seems like a step backwards, but it’s how we’re gonna save each other now.  Thanks for coming out everyone and enjoy!”  He then turns to Asher.  “Come on, sweetie!  Let’s eat!”

Finally, Asher begins to relax and enjoy himself.  The sight of everyone dancing and laughing, hugging and kissing one another, especially the sick ones, is everything that he wanted this evening to be.

“This is really good,” James says, twirling spaghetti onto his fork.

Asher smiles.  It is strange.  James has been the one so distressed with genuine concern and worry over the community, but as soon as Asher expresses worry, James always changes his demeanor and becomes carefree.  He probably doesn’t even know that he does it, but Asher is grateful.  He takes James’ free hand and brings it to his mouth, kissing it.

“Thanks,” he says.

“For what?”

“For being you.  For loving me.”

“Aww!  How could I not?” James leans over and kisses Asher on the lips.  “I do love you!”

“I love you, too.”

At close to midnight, Louise, Avery, Maura and Dan leave.  Toby wants to stay behind to help clean up, so once again, Maura leaves him in the care of Asher and James.

“Everything turned out perfectly,” Toby tells them.

“It did, didn’t it?” Asher marvels.

Toby watches the thinning crowd on the dance floor.  He doesn’t know why he likes being around these men so much.  He knows that his mother wonders if he is gay and the truth is that he doesn’t know.  He does think some of them are attractive.  They’re certainly nice and fun and most have a great sense of humor and style.  He cannot deny that he has fantasized about being with one or two of them, but he has also done the same about some of the girls that he knows at school.

At the end of the evening, many people stay to clean up and secure the leftover food which they will take out tomorrow to the patients that couldn’t make it to the party.  Asher pulls his car up front and the food is loaded in.  James and Toby say goodbye to everyone and jump in as well, waving to a group of men standing outside.

“That was so fun!” James says.  “It was great to see everyone, especially the sick ones like Joey, Luke, Brian, Bobby…”  His voice trails off and he sighs, knowing that none of them have long to live.  “We gave them a good night.”

“Yes, we did.”

They drop Toby off at home.  Their apartment is quiet; even Freud gives them a silent meow as they enter.  The answering machine is flashing.  James walks past it and gets a drink of water and then he and Asher go straight to bed.  They lie in each other’s arms knowing that in the morning, everything will start all over again, but for the next few hours there is peace.

Chapter One from the Forthcoming Sequel to “Red, White & Blues”.

Chapter One:  1979

July 4th.  The last one of the decade.  Edie Clark is busy with food and children.  Her husband, John, is out in the garage with some of his brothers from the motorcycle club, the Souls of Liberty.  Stories and bottles of liquor, spare motorcycle parts, sweat, laughter.

It has been nearly two years since John’s brother, Pete, was murdered while working the late shift at a local gas station.  Two years without convictions or sentences.  Every day John calls the prosecutor.  Every day he is told to be patient; that they will get what they deserve.  It is all John can do not to attempt to take justice into his own hands.

Sandy Porter, the woman Pete Clark left behind to raise their now nearly ten-year old son, is sitting on a swing in her backyard.  She is drunk.  She holds a cigarette, nearly burnt down to the filter and stares off into oblivion.

“Come on, Mom,” Jimmy says, taking the cigarette from her fingers.  “Aren’t we gonna go to Uncle John’s?”

Sandy sighs.  There are so many reasons why she doesn’t want to go there this year.  Two of them are men.  Men that used and then discarded her and they will be there, staring at her, telling stories about her.

For seven months, she had an intense affair with Lucas Blackhorse.  He and Julie Hartford, his girlfriend and Sandy’s best friend, had moved in after Pete’s death initially to help with the mortgage and taking care of Jimmy.  After six months of living under the same roof, Sandy took more than just monetary help from Lucas.  She was so vulnerable and he was perceptive, selfish.  One cold night, an extra glass of wine, a sympathetic touch.

Two months passed before Julie realized what was going on.  Rage fueled by bitterness and betrayal lead to Julie moving back to her old apartment in Pacific Grove and taking her six-year old daughter, Pandora, with her.  She and Sandy’s relationship has never been the same.  In the aftermath, Lucas and Sandy’s relationship began breaking down.  Five months later, Lucas left.

December 1978.  Enter Kevin Miller, the one-eyed biker.  He and Sandy hoped to weather the holidays in a drunken, lustful haze.  For two months, they staved off depression and a real fear of being so lonely over Christmas that they simply wouldn’t make it alone.  They shared some good times, but it was clear early on that Sandy would never be able to fit into the biker lifestyle.  Too headstrong, opinionated, stubborn.  Besides, Kevin’s devotion to his club and motorcycle left her alone much of the time, so the relationship really did nothing to put her fears to rest.

The worst was yet to come for Sandy.  In January, Lucas contacted Julie.  He wanted her back.  She refused and he left the next day for Wisconsin, intending to spend the summer-maybe longer-with his mother and relatives back on the old reservation.  By March, Kevin had gone and Sandy was alone again.  Julie called Lucas; he could return if he married her.  In April, there was an informal ceremony in San Francisco.

This is why Sandy does not want to go to the Clarks’ 4th of July party.

“Mommy?”

Sandy is shaken from her thoughts.  She follows her son back into the house.  He pulls a tub of store-bought macaroni salad from the fridge, setting it on the kitchen table next to a bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes. Sandy packs it all into a paper grocery bag.

“Okay, honey,” she says.  “Go and get a jacket.   It’ll be cold later.”

Mike Blackhorse packs his family into the Jeep that he bought his wife, Sarah.  With the two children growing, he thought it better than the Volkswagen Bug that Sarah had been driving them around in.  Free, now almost nine, and his six-year old sister, Eve, climb in the back.  Eve holds a Tupperware container filled with cut-up vegetables; Free balances a bowl of dip on his lap.  Sarah has a cake up front.  Mike starts the car and they are off.

In February of 1978, Mike purchased the vacant lot next to his auto repair shop and hired two more mechanics, Greg and Paul.  Mike’s old mentor, Ernie Mueller, came down from San Francisco and literally wept at the site of Mike’s shop and his success.  It was one of Mike’s proudest moments. The two men had a picture taken in front of the shop that was now hanging in the office.

At the Clarks’, more club brothers have arrived. The driveway is crowded with choppers; chrome glistens in the sun, burning oil fills the air.  Morgan Stewart is in his sixth year as President; John is still the Sergeant at Arms.  VP Big Al Riley had begun to have heart issues, so Salem Lund was elected Vice President.  His co-ownership of Full Throttle Customs and the Swizzle Stick with Morgan and his general intelligence made him the natural choice. His old position of Road Captain went to Justis Jones. Dewey Leightner is still Treasurer but Melvin Robideaux is now Secretary as Clayton “Spider” Carvell had been imprisoned for possession of an illegal firearm and a small amount of methamphetamine.  In his absence, the club looks after his wife, Sam, and two very young children, two- year old Travis and one- year old Casey.

Alex Lund, Salem’s twin brother, is now an unlikely part of this scene.  Since starting his own legal practice and moving to Carmel, the twins had resumed their close relationship, spending a lot of time together.  Alex has also become the club’s go-to attorney, except for any cases that involve his brother.  Those he gives to his newly acquired partner, Frank Abbott.

Now Salem arrives, Sadie in tow.  She is carrying their eleven- month old daughter, Rowan.  After discovering that she was pregnant, Sadie and Salem had married. To please his parents, there had been a wedding at the Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, much to the amusement of his club brothers.  Clearly, the ties that he had to his parents were still strong, despite all the grief that he continued to inflict upon them.  A more fitting party was held the following weekend at the Souls’ clubhouse before the newlyweds took off for a honeymoon in Sweden, where Salem’s younger sister had returned after her own marriage.

Sandy and Jimmy come through the back gate.  Edie gently lowers her three and a half- year old daughter, Jessica, down to the grass and goes over to help with Sandy’s bag.

“Hi, sweetheart,” she says, embracing Sandy.  “How are you?”

“Great,” Sandy replies, but flashes a look to Edie that means she is anything but.

“Is Pandora gonna be here?” Jimmy asks.

“I think so, but why don’t you go and play with your cousins for now?”  Edie steers the boy in the direction of her two sons, Warren, six, and Shane, five.

Sandy follows Edie over to one of the picnic tables.  “I assume that means Lucas and Julie are coming?”

“They’re invited,” Edie says, uncovering the macaroni salad.

Sandy sighs.  “Well, I guess I can’t avoid them forever.  I’d like to, though!”

Free and Eve Blackhorse come over and set the vegetables and dip down on the table.

“Where’s Jimmy?” Free asks.

Edie points him to the front yard.  He goes off running with Eve trailing behind him.  They nearly trip their parents on their way back out the gate.

“Stay around here!” Mike shouts.

Sarah sets her cake down with the other desserts while Mike goes off to grab a beer from one of the many coolers.

“Happy 4th!” Sarah says.

Sandy nods.  “Yep!  I’m gonna go put this wine in the fridge.”

“How’s she doin’?” Sarah asks Edie.

“Not great, but she’ll be fine.  She’s got to get back on her feet.  I think it’s a good sign that she came!”

“Yeah, it ain’t gonna be easy seein’ Lucas and Julie,” Sarah admits.  “I could just kill him for doin’ what he did.”

Morgan Stewart spots Mike at the cooler and walks over.  He opens the lid and pulls out an icy bottle.

“How are ya, Blackhorse?”

“Great!  You?”

“Never better!”

Morgan pops the top off his beer with a pocketknife and drinks down half the contents.  “That’s good shit!  Gotta keep Ol’ Smiley grinnin’!”

He turns to watch Kim Daniels walk over to Sarah and Edie.  True to his word, he still hasn’t married her.  His two sons have joined him this 4th of July.  Lane is now twelve and has grown sullener with each passing year.  Invariably, it is Morgan’s fault that the boy is the way he is.  The four hundred miles between he and Valerie is no barrier for blame.  Being raised in San Francisco by his mother, Victoria, seven-year-old Max seems to be faring better.

“Oh, God!” Edie says as Kevin Miller enters the backyard. “Here comes trouble.”

Sandy is still inside.  Kevin strides over to Morgan and Mike, claps his president on the back and then grabs a beer.  He is unconcerned about seeing Sandy and does not understand the awkwardness it will bring her.  Hell, he was never looking to settle down and if that’s what she thought, it was her fault, not his.  Still, when he sees her come out of the kitchen and stop short, his face flushes.  Gathering herself, she walks past him and back toward Sarah and Edie.

“Hey, girl,” Kevin says and grabs her arm.

Sandy stares him down, her body tense.

“Calm down,” he says, and then loosens his grip.  “We had some good times, didn’t we?”

Sandy laughs.  “Yeah,” she says and walks off.

Morgan shakes his head.  “Let it go, brother.”

“What?  I don’t want any bad feelings and weepy chicks ruining my day, that’s all.”  Kevin downs his beer.  “Besides, it ain’t your business.”

“I know,” Morgan says, and walks off to find another distraction.

Kevin reaches into the cooler for another beer.  “You know that broad pretty well,” he says to Mike.

“Yep.”

“Well, you know what I’m talking about, right?”

“Not sure.”  Mike does not want to get involved in this.  At all.

“Fuck it!” Kevin says, and then he, too, walks off.

It is dusk by the time Lucas and Julie show up and she marches straight over to Sandy.

“Look, we need to talk,” she says.

Sandy finishes off her glass of wine.  “Alright.  Let’s go inside.”  She refills her glass and offers one to Julie. They sit down at the kitchen table.

“It’s been three months since Lucas and I got married,” Julie starts.  “Please, can’t we put the shit behind us?”

Sandy runs her finger around the base of her glass.  “He hurt me, Julie.”

“He hurt me, too!  So did you, but I can’t go on like this.  We’ve been friends for too long to let a man get between us.”

“So you’ve forgiven me?”

“Yes.”

“What about him?  Have you forgiven him?”

“I don’t know.  No, I guess not fully.  Not yet.”  Julie sighs.  “The truth is I guess if it really came down to it, I’d rather have you than him.”

Sandy smiles.  “That’s funny.”

“Why?”

“That’s how I feel, too.  I just don’t know if I’m ready to see him again.”

“You don’t have to.  Besides, I don’t think he wants to see you, either.  He knows he’s an asshole!”

Julie gets up from her chair and goes around to Sandy, hugging her from behind.  “I love you!  I’ve missed having you in my life!”

Sandy can feel hot tears rolling down her cheeks.  “Me too,” she sputters.

Mike has found his way to the garage.  Under a huge Souls of Liberty flag, a game of darts is going on in one corner, a game of pool in another and lots of drinking and laughing in between.

“Hey, Mikey!”  John says.  His eyes are red slits and he sways slightly on his stool.

It always amazes Mike how much alcohol these guys could put away, but then he remembers when he had just returned from Vietnam and how much he was drinking himself.  These guys were doing it in happiness for the most part; he had been doing it in despair.

“Come on in,” Morgan says, raising a beer bottle.  Pretty wasted himself, he throws an arm around Mike’s shoulders.  “How’s your bike runnin’ these days?”

“Pretty good.  I keep it up even though I don’t ride it too much, ya know!”

“Hey!”  Morgan says conspiratorially.  He points his beer bottle in Mike’s face.  “You know what?  We both have a brother who spent time with Sandy…and didn’t survive!  Is she a man eater or what?”

Mike smiles, but is not sure where this is going.  These guys were so unpredictable when they were drunk.

“Yah, I guess we do,” he says.

Morgan nods.  “You know what else?”  He leads Mike down the driveway, his arm still around his shoulders.  “You ever think about joining a club?  Our club?  We could use a guy like you.  You keep your bike running, you’re responsible, you were in Nam.  I bet you can fight.  You get along with all of us…”

Mike is taken aback.  He has thought about it, but only in fantasy terms.  Only when he sees them ride through town in a pack, wishing he were going wherever they were off to.  To be a member of the Souls of Liberty would take so much of his time.  Time that he simply didn’t have.

“Morgan, I appreciate it.  Really!  I’m…honored that you would ask me, but I just don’t think I could find the time.”

Morgan nods.  “Yeah, well, you think about it, okay?“  He lets his arm slip from Mike’s shoulders.  “It’s a good club.  I think you could use us.”

“I know what you mean,” Mike says.  “I do.”

“I know you do.  Think about it, alright?”

Mike remembers the morning when he confessed his absolute worst secrets from Vietnam to Morgan.  Aside from Pete, who took the knowledge to his grave, he was the only other human being in Mike’s world who knew what he had done.  He knows exactly what Morgan means.  And they both know that Mike will decline the offer.

San Clemente is a sleepy, Southern California beach town.  Haven Hartford has made it his home.  He and his girlfriend, Seta Kapoor, had tied the knot after being together for two years and now have a five-month old daughter, Drisana.  After spending the better part of his time working on new paintings, Haven had an extremely successful run of shows at galleries in Laguna Beach where he sold all of his work.  As the money came in, he began to think more and more about opening up his own art store and studio in San Clemente, a town where he had become very comfortable.

In October of 1978, The Art Haven opened downtown and the Hartfords moved to a two-bedroom apartment near the San Clemente Pier.  Haven began offering art classes on Thursday evenings and was so over-booked that he had to place tables out on the sidewalk.  Life has finally fallen into place for him.

When Pandora, his daughter with Julie, comes down for the summers, he takes her surfing with him.  The little girl amazed her father and friends with her innate skill. With determination, fierce brown eyes fixed on the waves, Pandora seemed older than her mere four years.  Haven had no doubts that this girl was something very special.  Despite his excitement and pride, he couldn’t shake another feeling that seemed almost like fear.  Seta, too, saw something unexplainable in the child, a maturity that seemed overbearing in a sense.

In San Francisco, Maura Weston is managing the bookstore, Moonstone Books.  She and her son, Toby, now twelve, live in a small house near Golden Gate Park.  Louise Powell still owns and oversees the operations of the bookstore, but has given up many of the daily duties to Maura, concentrating on her tarot card readings instead.

The apartment above the store has been sitting vacant for some time now, and Maura is on her way to meet a new prospective tenant.  As she walks toward the store, she can just make out a man standing near the stairs that led up to the one-bedroom apartment.

“Hello!” Maura says, extending a hand.  “I’m a little out of breath!”

“Hi,” the man extends his hand.  “I’m Asher Levin.”

Maura takes his hand.  “Maura Weston.  Come on up.”

The man follows her up the stairs and then waits on the landing while she opens the door.

“It may be a bit musty,” Maura says.  “I’m afraid I haven’t been very diligent about opening the windows up here.”

Asher Levin laughs, closes the door behind them.  “It’s a one bedroom?”

“Yes.  It’s great for one person…or a couple.  Would it just be you or…?”

“Yes, just me.  Oh!  And my pet cat, if that’s alright.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”  Maura pulls the curtains back in the kitchen and opens the window.  “What do you do for a living, Mr. Levin, if I may ask?”

“Of course!  I’m a teacher over at City College on Phelan, but I’m also studying to get my PhD in Psychology. I’d like to teach at one of the universities.”

“Well!  Impressive!  That’s wonderful!  What do you currently teach?”

“General Psychology.  It’s interesting, but not really enough for me.”

Asher peeks into the bedroom.  “May I?” he asks, and then proceeds into the small room.

“Of course!”  Maura says.  “There’s an attached bathroom back there as well!”

“I like it,” he says, returning.  “What do we do about that?”

“Great!  I just have some paperwork here…”

Maura watches as he fills out the application.  His writing is neat, small.  His hair is black and curly; he has a well-kempt beard and moustache.  He wears round glasses.  He somewhat reminds her of Cat Stevens.

As they head out of the apartment, Maura explains the hours and operations of the bookstore below.  Asher listens politely before heading back to his car, a well-worn red Karman Ghia.

“See you next week, then!”  Maura calls.  “Oh!  What’s your cat’s name?”

“Freud!  What else?”

Louise Powell has been engaged to photographer Avery Booth for one month now.  Micheaux, Louise’s nine-year old son, has taken a deep liking to Avery, which has made things easier on everyone, especially Louise.  Knowing how much the boy had loved his father, Cain, she feared that he would never allow another man to be as a father to him.  However, Mikey was only five when Cain was shot and killed on duty while working for the Oakland Police Department, and although he remembers his father well enough, he had still been young enough to be able to accept someone else.

Louise is relieved when she hears that the apartment has been rented.  She hopes that he will stay for some time as the added income really helps.  Avery’s photography business did very well (as did the bookstore), but extra money always came in handy, especially with a growing boy in the house.

Louise had hoped to move to Monterey, especially after Pete Clark’s murder, but the bookstore and Avery’s photography didn’t make it plausible.  Instead, they rented a large, four-bedroom apartment on Fulton St. that was within walking distance of Moonstone.  There was plenty of time to plan for their future.

Why Now is the Perfect Time for “Red, White & Blues” to be Made Into a T.V. Series

AARP Baby Boomers (Sean McCabe)“What did I just read?”  You may well be asking this question, but by the time you finish reading this blog, you will (hopefully) be agreeing with the headline instead.

With the sequel to my novel, “Red, White & Blues” getting closer to completion (yes, I’m STILL editing the final draft), I have been thinking about just how much material I have between the two tomes for a great fucking television series.  With the first book at 760 pages and the second threatening to be close to that, there’s many seasons worth of material with lots of great stories, characters, locations, etc.

When “Sons of Anarchy” first aired, I thought, “A show about a motorcycle club!  Why hasn’t this been done before?  Will this even be any good?”  I wanted it to be.  After all, my own novel involves a fictitious motorcycle club (Souls of Liberty) and it would sort be like fantasizing about my own story being played out before my own eyes.

It was good.  It was engrossing, the characters engaging , likeable and sympathetic-even the ones that did bad things.  Just like my own characters whom have garnered sympathy and likability from those that had read and reviewed the book.  While the show had some contrived, cliched and over-the-top moments, it was far and away one of the best television shows I had seen (along with “Hannibal”, “Mad Men” and HBO’s “Deadwood”).  And those moments didn’t bother me much because I am a firm believer in the need for cliches and the like when trying to reach a broad and varied audience.  Sometimes it’s the only way to reel everyone in.

Now that “Sons of Anarchy” has ended and Kurt Sutter has moved on to other projects (which I applaud him for as well as ending the show), there’s a gap that needs to be filled.  A new show about a motorcycle club needs to be placed in front of the now starved and longing public, who  have developed a special place for those guys that some of them probably never even knew they could have.  But it also needs to be more.

A new show has also caught my eye that could be seen as bridging the gap between something like “Sons of Anarchy” and the brilliant modern period piece “Mad Men”, also now gone.  “Aquarius” has popped up on CBS and although it isn’t the greatest show out there, it is tapping into a niche that someone feels needs to be filled (myself included).  The Baby Boomers are feeling nostalgic and hungry for shows that cater to them.  Where are all the hippies, hipsters, bikers, stoners, musicians, freeloaders and just plain Sixties and Seventies folk?

Here!  Over here!  “Red, White & Blues” follows a group of diverse (ethnically as well as personally) friends through the seminal years of 1964-1977.  We’ve got hippies, artists and bikers.  We’ve got the Vietnam War and those left behind.  We’ve got men returning to find a changed country and little sympathy or understanding.  We’ve got sex, drugs, rock n roll, babies, children, marriages, divorces and deaths.  We’ve got changing ideals and lifestyles alongside those who stay true and steady to what they believe.  There’s whites, blacks and Native Americans.  There’s San Francisco, Vietnam, Wisconsin, Mississippi and Monterey.  In short, we’ve really got it all!

With the sequel picking up just two years later and covering the years 1979-1990, the show can go on!  The children are becoming teenagers now, growing up in an era of new technology and a changing music scene.  And there’s a new group of people introduced:  the gay community in San Francisco during the early days of the AIDS struggle.  Now we have familiar but also new situations to deal with:  puberty, teen sex, personal goals and successes and failures, intertwined lifestyles, AIDS and cancer, deaths and births.

So all you screenwriters out there or scouts looking for that next big television show that will fill a growing gap, I suggest you look at the Baby Boomer Generation, of which I am a proud member (albeit on the tail end).  Here is where your audience is, your material, your stories.  It’s time to retell our stories, let us revel in our nostalgia and show the younger generation (who are for the most part quite curious about the Sixties,Seventies and even Eighties) what we lived through and why were are who we are.  For better AND for worse.  “Red, White & Blues” and the upcoming sequel is your answer.