Brian Cole, one of my partners in the vocal group The Association, died 40 years ago this month. I miss him all the time. In honor of him and a whole lot of other gone-but-not-forgotten friends of that time, I'd like to share a poem I wrote 23 years ago. It was written for performance with the Hollywood Poetry In Motion group. My very first such effort, it tells the story of a rare moment Brian and I shared with a crazy, fun group of other 1960s singer/songwriting friends. Among them were Timmy Hardin ("A Reason to Believe," "If I Were a Carpenter"); Phil Ochs (among the best protest songwriters ever); Blues harmonica star Paul Butterfield; and Zally Yanovsky and Joe Butler from The Loving Spoonful.
Faithfully written in the rhyme and meter style we employed then for our songs, I had great fun working on it until I got to the end of my tale -- what happened then, as I tried to wrap it up, left me in tears for days to come -- many of which I've discovered still there for the shedding as I finish this piece today.
Scratch The Surface of a Poet
Terry Kirkman, 1st edition, 6/89
This all really happened one '68 night
in the famous Tin Angel Café
about a month or so after Rev. MLK
was slain by James Earl Ray
Greenwich Village that year was alive with the hippies
and the spirit of peace and love
but while we white rock and rollers all mourned Rev. King
our push had not yet come to shove.
So there we were -- all sittin and slammin'
our beers, our liqueurs, and straight shots,
pouring all of them over a solid foundation
of quaaludes, cocaine and pot.
There were 7 or 8 of us -- as I recall
all high on acclaim and fame
all topping the charts and breaking girls' hearts,
a covey of dropable names:
Phil Ochs; Timmy Hardin;
Brian Cole; Joe Butler;
Zal Yanovsky; Paul Butterfield, and me --
and a couple of other
not so dropable names
Just as [messed] up as we could be.
All strutting our stories, talkin' women and riches,
one uppin' each other like mad
and I remember thinking' it was the absolute hippest
best time that I'd ever had
small town me -- there with big city them,
all my heroes becoming my peers,
and I could not have felt higher
If I tried -- though I tried
to recapture that high for years.
Goofin' and spoofin', strokin' and jokin'
trompin' on each other's pride,
and laughin' so hard that I nearly puked
so long I thought I'd die.
Joe Butler said:
With a big enough paper and a place to stand
he'd be glad to smoke the world.
Then Zally confessed that deep inside him
beat the heart of a sweet lesbian girl.
Then Brian asked how many toots it would take
to change a light bulb and when nobody knew
he laughed, "well neither do I, so let's find out now!"
And we began by each snortin' two
And the more stoned we got
the more stoned our thoughts
grew harder to express with words
till soon just the most basic of them
like "Wow!" and "Faaarrr out!" were heard
Then we all got quiet -- for a very long time
without a single whole sentence being said
til suddenly Ochs laughs this maniacal laugh
and this jewel pops out of his head:
"Scratch the surface of a pervert and you'll find a poet."
He just sits up and screams it like that
then he flashes his famous shit-eating grin
and I KNOW he knows where it's at!
It's like we're all paralyzed, can't believe our ears
and then, believe it or not,
in the beat of a heart we all reach for our pens
cause we all want to steal this thought.
"Scratch the surface of a pervert and you'll find a poet?!!!!"
was a line only Phil Ochs could write,
but you knew for damn sure it was going to appear
in a whole bunch of new works that night.
But then Butler jumps in, before a word can be stolen,
disrupting our thieving to yell,
Scratch the surface of a POET and you'll find a PERVERT!!!"
and totally blows us away..
And everyone gasps "Whoa...wooooowwwww!" Ooooohhhhhh, man!"
Struck dumb by the depth of it all,
a Phil Ochs-Sophical dilemma of psychedelic proportions,
it was a poets' and perverts' ball
That incredible puzzler kept us busy for weeks,
with debates and "high" introspection,
and though never resolved, it remains to this day
one of my favorite stoner questions.
A hip thing to ponder, a great story to tell,
it's the madness I love to recall,
but the more I remember the more I am touched
by the sadness and pain of it all.
What we couldn't know then was we'd all reached the top
of a high we'd all soon regret,
and right out of the gate we were headed for fates
that no one who knew us forgets,
we had just scratched the surface of our poetic potential
Zally got busted -- kicked out of the country
And Brian chased smack to his tomb,
and Ochs hanged himself back in '78,
from a belt in his sister's bathroom,
and tough Timmy Hardin, dreaming big to the end,
dreamed his last dream on bad China White,
And Paul Butterfield? A friend of mine found him
O.D.d in his kitchen one night
And Joe Butler and I, well we've both survived
in spite of our own insanities
and every time I stop and wonder- why we're here and they're not
it still tears a chunk out of me, man,
it still tears a chunk out of me.
Thanks for the reading. Until next time let's all do good.