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  • “Ooh, what a lucky man he was!
    Ooh, what a lucky man he was!”

    Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Lucky Man”

    Enjoy the song - one that always reminds me of this period:

    As luck would have it, two days after we walked off the job at Eat’n Park, my old busboy pal, Gordy – the same one who’d talked me into walking out of Locante’s Restaurant six months before – called me up and said they were now hiring busboys at the Red Bull Inn. Was I interested in getting back into the bus boy business? I could not believe my good fortune! I knew I didn’t deserve it – but I just rolled with it. I went over there the next day and applied, and just like that, I was employed again! I certainly was a lucky man.

    The Red Bull Inn turned out to be a great place to work. Jake the bartender was there, along with Gordy and one other busboy I’d worked with at Locantes, so I already knew a few people going in. I was determined not to get into any trouble at this, my third “real” job, and I did manage to keep my nose clean, the whole time I worked there. I wound up working there for close to a year, and when I did leave, I left on good terms.

    Over that next eleven month period, that job was just about the only thing that was stable in my life. It was my anchor, my tie to reality. That was the year that I got into just about everything else there was to get into, a year in which I really let my freak flag fly, on all fronts.

    It started with the trip to Kent, Ohio. That trip would be my first introduction to "maryjane". I scored my first bag of weed, from a guy at the gas station up at the corner of Pioneer Ave and Brookline Boulevard, where my brother used to work. It was ten bucks for an ounce bag. We made the exchange in the men’s room of the gas station, very secretive like.
  • We drove over to Kent, Ohio, about a two hour drive from Pittsburgh, in a friend’s van, getting high as we went. I wasn’t even sure if I was actually getting high, at first – I didn’t have any frame of reference for it. It certainly wasn’t like getting drunk. Things would just get – weird. I didn’t like it at first, but by the end of the weekend, I liked it a lot. It was just so….different. You would get spaced out, but so would everyone else, and it was o.k. to be all spaced out. I would get into some really deep thoughts, seeing things and thinking about things from a whole different perspective than I’d ever seen or thought about them before. We got to see a lot that weekend! Then, everything would get funny, and you'd get really, really hungry. They called this "getting the munchies."

    We’d gone to Kent for a concert at the college, Kent State University. The concert was set to happen on May 4th – it was 1971, exactly one year since the infamous Kent State killings of May 4th, 1970, where National Guard Troops opened fire on unarmed students engaged in a peaceful war protest on the campus, killing 4 and wounding about 16 others. The concert would feature Emerson, Lake and Palmer (the song “Lucky Man” had just stormed the charts, their first big hit), Cactus, and Livingston Taylor. The group “Free” was supposed to be there, as well, but had an accident on the way there. Cactus subbed in for them, but definitely rocked it out. They consisted of former members of Vanilla Fudge, the Amboy Dukes, and Mitch Ryder's Detroit Wheels.

    My cousin Rick lived in Kent, so we were staying at his place. One of the guys who joined us for the concert was Bob Casales, a good friend of Rick’s, who lived a couple blocks away. Bob would go on to be one of the original members of a band that would achieve significant rock cult status in its own right, “Devo”, along with his brother, Gerald, another set of brothers from Akron, Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, and Alan Myers. Imagine that - my very first time getting high, I wound up hanging out with a future member of Devo! Bob was just a regular guy - like me at the time, kind of quiet, with big feet that made more noise than he did. (Bob just died from a heart condition early last year at age 61, may he rest in peace - a good guy.)
  • The concert turned out to be amazing. In the town of Kent, the whole week leading up to the anniversary of the killings there, outside agitators were stirring things up, starting demonstrations and promoting “street action” on the night of the anniversary. Word was, after the concert, they were going to get all of the students and concert-goers to charge into town, and have a massive demonstration – many feared a massive riot. Tensions were very high all over. So were we. High as kites.

    We weren’t there for trouble – just good, live music. Again, I was a very lucky man. We got treated to a heavy dose of great music, that just went on, and on, and on. Apparently, school officials had petitioned the bands to play extra long sets for the show, in hopes that, by the time it all was over, everyone would be too damned tired to start any trouble in town.

    It was a great plan, and it worked! Emerson, Lake and Palmer jammed for about four hours, and Keith Emerson just went absolutely crazy on stage, doing things with his organs and keyboards and moog synthesizers that defied all known musical convention up to then. Of course, being high probably magnified the effect - it was certainly one wild show. By the time it ended, around 2:30 in the morning, everyone just dragged their happily worn-out bones home to crash. No riots, no street action, just sweet, musical bliss. It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

    The summer of ’71 was off to a damned good start. It would be the summer of many firsts for me.
    A little parting treat for you - whip it!
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