Sunday, July 12, 2009

Meetings With Remarkable Folks: fragments from the gone world

Devlin had met Freddy Alvarez, leader of the psychedelic Sonoma band Tearful Fred, twice.

The second time, in passing, on a Hell's Angel's sponsored boatride around NY harbor,where Alvarez and his solo band, with special guest appearance by Buddy Guy, knocked out some Dylan, some Rodgers and Hart standards, and some Bob Marley, while the Angels wreaked havoc. Devlin and his Windsor Terrace and Park Slope pals where making their way to the back of boat where there was rumored to be a less crowded bar. Ascending a stair, a crazed Angel appeared out of nowhere, and proffered a bottle of some medicated goo which he insisted Devlin & company sample. Or else. Devlin's wheels spun, in reverse, unfortunately, but it seemed there was no way out. Suddenly, Freddy Alvarez and another guy appeared, holding plastic cups of beer. The Angel was as surprised to see him as we were and stopped in his tracks. Devlin started to reintroduce himself to him when we were all distracted, however, as a blonde blur of woman ran through the ship, alternately laughing wildly and shrieking in a tone that was anything but joyful, pursued by two Hell's Angels, who were themselves pursued by two security guards. "Oooh, bummer," declared Freddy. We later saw the same woman at the bar drinking with the rent-a-cops. Somehow we all made it off the boat alive.

The first time, more memorably,was at the premier party at the St. Moritz Hotel for the first Tearful Fred film, which was an animated trip through the bizarro universe. Freddy was looking trim and tidy in t-shirt and jeans with a classy black velour sport jacket. Devlin, press pass and invitation from Independent Film & Video Monthly in hand, had breezed past the press agents and lone security guard in the lobby by the elevators. The guard, a middle-aged guy in a quasi-cop uniform, reminded Devlin of the cop in the centerfold of the original Live at the Keystone album. In that photo, a crowd of musicians, groupies and hangers on are sitting around the room, all bleary and weed-reddened eyes focused on Freddy. Off to the side, the middle aged security guard, who looks like he also may have shared a hit or two off of the sacramental bong, is aiming his flashlight at the camera, playing mind games. Notable because he alone is looking at the camera and not gravitating toward Freddy.

Anyway, as the elevator doors opened and Devlin was about to step in, there was a roar as some of the crowd of unregistered, un-credentialed, and unwelcome hopefuls tried to push past the registration table in a last ditch effort to gain admittance to The Presence. Devlin and a couple of other legit guests stepped onto the elevator. "Close the doors!" yelled a suited executive, as some of the blue jeaned and pony tailed press agents beat back the crowd with rolled up movie posters. The security guard was nowhere to be seen.

Upstairs, it was all thick pile carpets and silent hotel hallways. As he approached the suite at the end of the corridor, Devlin heard some music drifting down the hall. He picked up a white wine spritzer at the bar and began to circulate. Stepping around a giant saguarro cactus plant that had no doubt been shipped to Central Park South for the event, he was standing slightly behind Freddy, stage left. The musician was surrounded by a dozen or more reporters with microphones and tape recorders. This was still in the days before ENG and Fed Ex, which made the lo-fi recording equipment seem much less prosaic, and the giant cactus much more remarkable. Some intense little guy with a French accent who said he was from "Ze Crawdaddy magazahn" was just wrapping up a question about the semiotics of the film. When he was done asking, Freddy blinked and replied "That's a MEGO question, man, My Eyes just totally Glaze Over, man. I guess that makes it M.E.J.T.G.O.,which is a little harder to say and less euphonious, but well, my eyes still glaze over. Although a little more than usual, I guess."

Devlin, buzzing already from his spritzer on an empty stomach, jumped right in and asked from behind to the left, "Now that the film is wrapped up, can you tell us if you have been or plan to work on a new album?"

Freddy turned and smiled, apparently grateful for the softball question, and took a soft breath. It was that remarkable voice, the voice that launched a thousand trips, and transfixed stadiums and smaller venues across the nation and around the globe. It was the voice that so groovily nailed down the Presence, and here it was, answering his question. The voice that somehow at the same time clashed and fit so perfectly with the ethnicity of his surname, laced with a healthy dollop of the American west, and a strong dash of the gentle bitters of the Beat movement, its forebears from the early 20th century, along with its diluted antecedents. Devlin had always thought how he related with that, as he too was so strongly ethnically identified by his surname and his mere 2nd generation American identity, but in fact was so clearly, strongly and only American in his affect and mentalizations.

Freddy smiled, almost warmly thought Devlin,as though the counter cultural icon recognized him, which he didn't, and said, "Well, we're thinking about it, but its not first and foremost in our consciousness. To me, I guess I can speak for the rest of the band as well,making a record is like building a ship in a bottle. There is a strongly technical aspect to it, but it isn't really what we are about. Our first and foremost task is learning to be Human Beings."

Freddy started out with No Fear, and sure enough had tapped that one gently, and just about knocked it past Pluto.

The other reporters, including the French guy who said he knew him well, all turned to look at Devlin, the Kid. Whatever came next, whether it was the New York Times, or some mimeographed fanzine, or even a career in a totally different realm, such as hidden in some bureaucracy as he continued to scribble furiously in spiral notebooks, amassing many cartons of them, while raising a family and eventually scribing in some anonymous blog, Devlin knew that he was in his soul a writer and reporter. He had piqued the interest of the Presence, and no one could ever take that away from him.
--Brooklyn Beat




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-Anthony M. Napoli (c) 2009

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