Thoreau, Blind Owl and The BearBy Chuck A. Stetson
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Good memories are precious things. Sometimes they come to us at the weirdest of times, but come they do, and when relived, a resettling of the consciousness is obtained. All last night and this morning, I’ve been grooving on such a memory.
…1968, I’m fourteen years old and hanging out with my obnoxious, schizophrenic cousin, Ricky. He’s eight months older than me, and because his father is a genius stock broker-investment-making-son of a bitch, Ricky lives a good life; everything he wants, he gets. This time it was electrical parts purchased from Radio Shack—he’s building an amplifier for what reason, I don’t remember. But I’m there in that rec room, watching, as I sip some Carling Black Label Beer procured from my uncle’s refrigerator. So much red cans of beer, intermixed with Gablinger’s Diet Beer— gifted to my uncle along with the Carling Black Label. I want to play my acoustic guitar, lying on the ping-pong table, but Ricky demands quiet as he channels his inner-Einstein and Oppenheimer. I knew not to complain, my mother said we Stetson’s had to deal with the disappointment that was life, but I hated being second class around my aunt, uncle and cousins. I hated that my mother was my aunt’s sister. I hated much back in 1968, but this is about a good memory….
My uncle’s office/den was built adjacent to the rec room. Earlier, he warned us that he was going to be doing some quick business with some recording company; he preferred we be outside or upstairs. I asked Ricky if we should leave, but my cousin didn’t want to be disturbed—his father could kiss his ass, which he often did. So, I finished my beer, picked up my guitar and tried fingering a B minor chord. Ricky again demands quiet; he needs silence in order to concentrate. Too late. My uncle and his business meeting were walking down the stairs: one business looking dude and two musicians: one large, loud bearded guy and a small shy looking guy wearing thick glasses. My uncle’s gregarious laugh echos through out the rec room. He introduces my cousin and I and then asks Ricky to join him in his office/den. Ricky’s demeanor changes: he laughs and cajoles me with promises of a quick return. I got back to trying to play a clean B minor chord. I really wanted to go home.
It wasn’t long before the large bearded musician dude broke from the meeting. He “hey’d” me and asked where the beer was. I began to tell him, but he opened up the foot locker-type freezer and discovered the treasure of Hood ice cream products — also given free to my uncle. “Hey Owl,” he yelled. “Owl…!”
The small musician dude with the thick glasses came out of the den, escaping my uncle’s bullshit. “You play?” he asks me.
“Owl,” the large bearded musician dude said holding up a bag of Dixie Cups and Chocolate Sundays.
The small musician dude with the thick glasses ignored the large bearded musician dude he called “Bear.” He just stared at my acoustic Yamaha. “You like the blues?”
I didn’t answer him. I started playing Spirit in the Sky.
Memories sometimes get clouded. I don’t remember just what Owl said as he took my guitar, tuned it, and began playing. I do remember loving the way he played and sang that new song — a song, I would hear many times throughout my life. I do remember him telling me about an upcoming European tour — my uncle was helping to finance it — and this double album they [band] put together. He then spoke of Walden Pond and Thoreau, before reluctantly heading back into the meeting. I wish I paid more attention, or acted intelligent in some cool way. I knew nothing about Walden Pond, Thoreau or the name of their band, Canned Heat. I just knew I wanted to learn how to play that new song, Going Up The Country.
… 2009, I wish I had a guitar as Alan Wilson’s soft voice again speaks to me from my speakers. … I’m going up the country, Babe don’t’ you wanna go? I’m going to someplace where I’ve never been before….