Although I have mainly written reviews on books by indie authors, I have written a few about books by established authors. The one following is about Toni Morrison’s very notable novel Paradise. It made quite an impression on me!
“Paradise” is the only book I have read by Toni Morrison and I found it pretty incredible. Any new book you read will be different but this book was really unique. I worked for the Los Angeles Housing Authority and came into contact with many races and ethnicities, but always through a Los Angeles prism. The all black world of Ruby, Oklahoma was unlike any other for me. I believe it was the dark strangeness of the story and Morrison’s gift with words that set it apart.
Of course the opening line “They shoot the white girl first” sets the tone of impending doom which travels throughout the story. It has this very heavy gravity to it that you can feel. I don’t recall hardly any light moments, not that I needed them. The reader can pull up the plot from other sources—but there are critical elements to the book: the reason for the town’s existence–an attempt at utopia by insulation which of course fails; the oppressed male blacks in the town become the oppressors to the ladies in the convent—this reminded me of the observation that often the most virulent oppressors of an immigrant ethnic group is the ethnic group that immediately preceded it; the tendency in human nature to rail against the outsider, the “other”. The ladies of the convent, with their unfortunate, desperate, and sometimes sordid histories, were certainly the “other”. There is also the tendency to depersonalize the outsider, which makes it easier to commit violence against them.
I had mentioned Morrison’s skill with words. Another thing that impressed me was given the sheer number of characters in both the town and the convent, the fact that she was able to develop so many of them. By contrast, in my longest book, I have a number of character within Filipino families but only developed a few of them.
Just by reading this one work, it is very obvious to me that Morrison is a writer of great substance and vision. It did not matter that it was #3 in a trilogy—it stood on its own. I recommend it heartily to those readers who want a different experience. I am now motivated to read the other two books in the trilogy and other works by her.
One of my true joys is reading and sometimes reviewing indie books. I have found there are some really great ones out there—great to the point that they deserve to be picked up by a regular publisher, if in fact they haven’t already. Here are two written by an author I met on the Goodreads site named Bryan Pentelow. Both are adventure stories involving a crazy combination of characters both human and animal. There are protagonists, antagonists, and lots of laughs. I heartily recommend both these books, numbers one and two in the Sprocket saga.
Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest
I just finished Sprocket and the Great Northern Forest, the second book I have read by Bryan Pentelow. One dark November night, Blaggard the crow, seated atop a telephone pole, observes a mysterious figure, clad in a black rain cape with a hood, slither along an iron fence. The figure suddenly thrusts a shoebox through a gap in the fence and then vanishes. The next day, a Mr. Brassroyd, on whose property the shoebox now rests, goes about his normal day at Brassroyd Environmental, essentially a scrap yard adjoining his house. Working hand and hand with him is his loyal English Bull Terrier, Mrs. Mumbly. That day, Mrs. Mumbly hears a ticking and a clicking, and discovers the shoebox. Managing to get the box open, she discovers a large egg, and transports it to her own basket in the kitchen. When Mr. Brassroyd heads out for lunch and an ale, Mrs. Mumbly witnesses to her astonishment, the cracking of the egg, and the emergence of a “being”. I won’t reveal what the being is but suffice it to say the being drives the story to its very satisfying conclusion. There is a villain too, the unfeeling malevolent, and producer of toxic waste Eurochem International, whose factory is right next door to Brassroyd’s property.
This is really a marvellous fantasy, replete with loveable characters and lush description. The description covers everything from the characters to the kitchen to the scrap yard to the surrounding area to the local bar. Everything, including the syntax and the expressions, is very British. I felt at times that I was back in the day of Dickens and Thomas Hardy. Mr. Brassroyd’s breakfast of “crispy bacon, biscuits, black pudding, and fried bread” had my mouth watering! I really appreciated the animals who occupy center stage in this tale, and who are both heroic and hilarious. This is a story for both children and adults, as it has a basic sweetness to it and it is so well written. I very strongly recommend it and fortunately for us, there are sequels.
Sprocket and the Great Museum Scam
I just completed the second story in the Sprocket saga, Sprocket and the Great Museum Scam, written by Bryan Pentelow. I enjoyed this story as much or more than the original. For those who remember the first story, it begins by Blaggard the Crow witnessing a mysterious cloaked stranger shoving an egg through a fence at Number Seven Pudding Founders Lane, the location of Brassroyd Environmental, run by the owner Brassroyd.
In one sense, the second story serves as a bit of a prequel as it gives background on this stranger, who is named Septimus P. Thing. Thing is at heart a bad sort who deals in rare eggs and stuffed specimens of rare animals. In his various dealings, it is the acquisition of this egg, which in his possession begins to tick, that his problems begin. He knows he will get into trouble with his landlady should the egg hatch which precipitates his getting rid of the egg and his link to the gang at Founders Lane.
With his accomplices Likely Smalls, thief, and Fauntleroy Pratt his taxidermist, nicknamed ‘Stinker’ due to his malodorous state, they embark on their life of scamming and crime. However, they are up against a formidable combination of humans, dogs, birds, and dragons,in short, the good guys. Readers of the first book will remember Sprocket the dragon, Brassroyd, Blaggard, and Mrs. Mumbly, the English Bull Terrier. New humans, birds, dogs, and dragons are introduced in this saga.
What I found so funny in this saga is the utter ineptness of the bad guys, and how they are foiled time and again. I am sure readers will share in this reaction. I look forward to more stories in the Sprocket saga!
Having just returned from a trip to Europe which included stays in Berlin, Helsinki, Milan, Greece and by accident, Qatar, I feel compelled to describe to you my sensational dining experiences along the way.
The story actually begins in my original home of Los Angeles. I now spend nine months of the year in the Philippines having moved there in 2012. The other three months I spend in Los Angeles from which I take various side trips. Although I enjoy eating in the Philippines, the town I live in there lacks a restaurant with my absolute favorite food which is Indian. In Los Angeles, I am always looking for the very best Indian restaurant, and my current pick for the top nod is Anarkali Indian Restaurant on Melrose Avenue.
A friend turned me onto this eatery. The interior reminds me of an Indian palace with chandeliers and booth-like tables which foster an intimate experience. The lighting is subdued helping to make the ambiance quiet and comfortable. The service is attentive without being oppressive. We have been there twice and each time we ordered a superb combination plate, the “Anarkali Dinner For Two” for $49.95. It consists of samosa, mixed grilled chicken tikka masala, sag paneer, vegetables, tandoori chicken, coconut curry, rice, raita, dessert, and drink.
I recommend the mango lassi for a beverage—a tasty blend of yogurt and mangoes. I chose the medium spicy option for the food and did not regret it. The chicken tikka masala includes among other ingredients lemon juice, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, and ginger in an orange creamy sauce and is excellent. The sag paneer, spinach with Indian cheese, seems almost pureed and is also wonderful. The rayta is a very nice side dish combining yogurt with cooked vegetables. The condiments, onion chutney, curry sauce, and masala sauce were perfect with the naan bread. The only item I could fault unfortunately were the samosas which I found to be too bland and too homogeneous, both in taste and texture.
For those of you venturing to Berlin, do not pass up the Restaurant Hof swei at the Movenpick Hotel in the center of the city. I stayed at the Movenpick and I strongly recommend doing likewise but that is for another post. Airy and atmospheric and featuring a movable glass roof, the restaurant specializes in contemporary Mediterranean and Swiss cooking.
They offer a splendid breakfast buffet for 22 € with so many delectable items to choose from. The regular meals are generous with quantity so you won’t go hungry taking that option.
Three menu items really caught my attention. Their Swiss style rosti potatoes are somewhat equivalent to our potato pancakes but better. Fried in hot butter and goose fat, they are crisp on the outside and soft within—fantastic for potato fans! Do also try their muesli yogurt which is very tasty and creamy with blueberries and lingonberries–fiber galore! Another group of entrees I had never even heard of let alone tasted was based on their curryworst. To prepare it, they take pork sausage, steam then fry it, soak it with curry ketchup and finally top it with curry powder.
Venturing outside the hotel, one night we followed up on a recommendation and headed to Restaurant Maximilians Berlin featuring Bavarian cuisine. Located on the ground floor of the Quantmeyer-Haus, a wing of the Kontorhaus in Friedrichstrasse, Maximilian’s restaurant offers homemade Bavarian specialities and freshly tapped beer.
Two of us opted for their Weiner Schnitzel with Bavarian potato salad for 19.80 €. I was most impressed with their potato salad. Unlike its American counterpart which often includes eggs, mayonnaise, onion, celery, pickle relish, bacon bits and more, Maximilian’s potato salad was made up of just mustard and vinegar. Nonetheless, I loved it. The schnitzel made from veal was lightly breaded and had a nice texture. However, I felt it needed a little more seasoning. Another of our party ordered their Bavarian sausage parade consisting of veal-Palatinate and “Nürnberger Würstel” pork sausages, served with Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes for 14,80 €. I took a bite of one of them and it was tasty.
Heading northeast over the Baltic Sea, we landed in Helsinki for the wedding of my friend’s son to a beautiful Finnish girl. For our first dinner, we chose Ravintola Tori for what is described as “the best meatballs in town”. It is located at the beginning of a street called Punavuorenkatu. Five of us chose the meatballs, called “Torin Lihapullat”, and were not disappointed. Although Finland, like the other Scandinavian countries, is known to be expensive, the price for this dish was a very reasonable 14 €. It consisted of a large serving of meatballs with brandy gravy, and lingonberry sauce, all served on top of creamy mashed potatoes. I tried to separate the lingonberry sauce from the rest as I do not like to mix salty and sweet sensations. However, a more experienced Finnish diner informed me that it should all be mixed together. I tried that and was surprised to find out that it worked.
One person in our party went with “Talon Hampurilainen “, the house burger with bacon, cheddar, and fries for 16 €. The dish looked great when served and stealing one of his steak fries, I decided it was the best I ever tasted. I’m going with that dish next! (Unfortunately, never got back there).
I am staying at the Klaus K Hotel and while I find it a bit inferior to the Movenpick, their breakfast buffet is superb and more distinctive than the Movenpick’s. They have two fabulous fish, smoked trout and smoked vendace caught from Lake Pielinen. In addition, one can choose perfectly done scrambled eggs—fresh warm bread that you can slice yourself—four types of jam including rhubarb—sliced salami and pork—four types of cheese including bread cheese (which I decided I didn’t care for—too bland)—a vanilla and berry yogurt which you can mix together along with various toppings including powdered hemp protein—and various pastries including a very nice not overly sweet cheesecake.
Following the wedding at the church which is part of the Suomenlinne Sea Fortress on a small island reachable from Helsinki by ferry, the reception took place at the Pirunkirkko Banquet Hall which to me looked like it could have been an old Viking great hall. Along with some delicious salads, the main course was reindeer served with tasty reindeer gravy.
Pirenkirkko Banquet Hall, Suomenlinne Sea Fortress, Helsinki
For the next three days, we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the bride’s parents in the city of Jyvaskyla, 168 miles north of Helsinki in the heart of the lake country. The food was fabulous with items prepared differently than what I am used to. I really enjoyed a meat patty that taste-wise, seemed part burger, part meatloaf.
Flying south and radically changing countries, cultures, personal demeanor, and taste sensations, I arrived for my first visit to Milan, Italy. A very substantial city with wonderful architecture, it also boasts some of the best food in the world. I am staying with a very good-natured Italian guy, the boyfriend of my girlfriend’s cousin, who, for my first dining experience here, took me to La Taverna, whose pizza he describes as “the real thing”. One review described it as “the best choice if you want to have the flavor of Napoli in Milano”—in fact, the birthplace of pizza is Naples.
My friend recommended I try the “Quattro Stagioni” (Four Seasons) pizza consisting of pomodoro (tomato), mozzarella cheese, prosciutto (ham), funghi (mushrooms), carciofi (artichokes), and olives. Although advertised as thin crust, I found it to be a medium crust. Although I did like it very much and it was such a healthy choice, I would give a slight edge on taste to Spontini’s pizza (covered later).
The next day we took a trip up to the wine country and had lunch at the Trattoria Pautassi in the picturesque town of Govone. It was clean with a modern interior. We split what was called “The Tasting Menu” for 30 €. Included in this was their ravioli. With small shells, it was the best ravioli I ever had.
Back at my host’s apartment, he served up an array of appetizers including various cheeses (giglio-sardo, fontina, mozzarella, and gorgonzola), cooked and uncooked salami, raisin bread, focaccia, and grilled pepperoni in olive oil and vinegar. However, his specialty was pesto, and I would also rate it the best pesto I have had with no hesitation. He used thick pacchori pasta and added basil, garlic, pinoli (pine nuts), pecorino-romano (Italian sheep’s milk cheese), parmesan, and olive oil—fantastic! On my last night in Milan, my host whipped up another good one—risoto a la Milanese. Bright yellow, it was rice with cheese, a little champagne, and saffron.
I did have one more pizza experience and it was a novel one. We went to the infamous Spontini Buenos Aires, a place that serves only one pizza, the “Marjherita”. In Via Spontini no. 4, on the corner of Corso Buenos Aires, they serve a new modern version of the thick Sicilian pizza, the “sfincione”, a specialty of Palermo with a light base. It’s left for a long time to rise, and is cooked in a wood-fired over and topped with just a few ingredients: tomatoes, onions, and anchovies. It was oily and thick, and honestly, it was tastier than the one at La Taverna.
I left my generous Italian hosts and flew southeast over the Adriatic Sea and met my brother’s first wife at the Athens airport. I am now staying in her nice condo in Saronida, Greece. My only other time in Greece was 43 years previous in 1973 when my mother and I traveled here to see their wedding. I can feel the difference being in Southern Europe, a region and people that by reputation are more open, more expressive, and more passionate than their northern counterpart. Plus, I am now right on the beautiful Aegean Sea and it is warm with wonderful refreshing breezes.
Having to deal with the distraction of a vandalized suitcase and with disposable cash not in abundance, I am finding the Greek part of my trip to be simpler and more casual. My host prepared some homemade moussaka, a Greek specialty which I remembered from my previous trip. I really enjoy moussaka but add a caution that it is a very rich dish. My host advises that in order to avoid using excessive flour, one should cook the olive oil to a very high temperature, and put in 3 to 4 tablespoons of flour. If you gradually add lukewarm milk while continuously mixing, it will cause the flour that is there to expand. Recipes for it are as follows:
One sunny day, after a tour of Athens and the Acropolis, we found ourselves in one of the main Athenian attractions—the Plaka. With its narrow winding streets, big crowds, and touristy shops, it also features some good restaurants. Very hungry from all our walking, we located one of the best ones, Thanasis. Some have said it has the best souvlaki in Athens. However, I took my host’s recommendation and we split their excellent kebab meal, which she says derives from an ancient Armenian recipe. It combines elongated half beef, half lamb patties, with onion, slightly cooked tomatoes, parsley, red paprika, and some secret spices, served with pita bread on the side. We also ordered a white sauce called tjatsjiki, which is yogurt with chopped cucumber and crushed garlic, to spread on the patties. Combined with some decent French fries and cold Fix beer, it really hit the spot and was reasonably priced! Interestingly, while walking through the Plaka, I saw a sign advertising Movenpick ice cream (from the previously mentioned Berlin hotel).
The next day, after visiting the magnificent Temple of Poseidon, we went swimming and then rounded the peninsula ending up in the town of Lavrin, once a major source of silver. Here we went to a small restaurant named Kafeneio where we had a wonderful late lunch of octopus, calamari, and sardines, accompanied by bread and ouzo (a licorice-like drink and another Greek specialty). They were kind enough to throw in some sweet Mastiha liqueur gratis. Such a Mediterranean experience!
There was still one more Greek delicacy I remembered and needed to taste again to make my stay complete–souvlaki! Fortunately, on my final night in Greece/Europe at a lively outdoor plaza in Saronida, I had a scrumptious pork souflaki. The pork was thinly sliced, with tomatoes and onion, and the same wonderful tjatsjiki sauce.
I begin my flight back to my home base in the Philippines today. Although I love Arabic food, my 50-minute stopover in Doha, Qatar will not permit me the time to indulge that desire. But I was wrong!
My flight from Athens to Qatar was late, causing me to miss my connecting flight to the Philippines, and I was given free lodging and food at the Hotel Musherib in Doha.
Although not spectacular (practical for missed flight holdovers), the hotel and food were decent and the staff was very gracious. Last night I had a good lamb curry and this morning, a solid breakfast buffet. My steak for lunch, although a little tough, was flavorful.
So my trip comes to an end (barring any more misadventures) and probably none too soon as I have probably put on at least 15 pounds since the beginning of it. I hope you enjoyed this post and that you are fortunate enough to visit some of these wonderful eating establishments!
Would anyone be interested in reading one of my eBooks? One is a children’s story, one is a multi-cultural drama, and one is a computer fantasy. Reviews of them are available on Amazon and Goodreads. See the following.
With a childhood grounded in the peaceful, predictable, family-centered, Eisenhower 1950’s, I was raised in the surfing environment of Hermosa Beach, California. I attended high school and college in the tumultuous 1960’s, finishing at UCLA. Those were defining years for my generation and I remember so much from that time—the idealism and the sense of possibility, the culture clashes, the movements, the demonstrations, the changes in lifestyle, new paradigms for looking at the world, and of course the music which included concerts that seemed to transcend.
Taking a sharp turn, I ended up working in aerospace for eighteen years and later the government (low-income housing) for another seventeen years. Currently, I am retired from full-time work and live in the Philippines. I love to travel and enjoy touring the US, Europe, Hawaii, Mexico, and Asia. I have also had the experience of being a quiz show contestant and was background in a really mediocre Matthew Broderick movie.
I love good movies and documentaries but feel reading opens me up to an even wider range of human experience. I like to think that I am influenced by a whole range of authors, from skilled crafters of children’s stories, historical fiction by the likes of Michener and Vidal, Mailer, Updike, Nelson DeMille, Dickens and Jane Austen, extending out to the more esoteric fantasy writers like Philip K. Dick, Dan Simmons and my famous namesake, and everything in between. Nothing fascinates me more than the human mind and new and different ways of perceiving life and people. I look forward to getting to know other readers and writers.
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Tense Situations (TITANIA: Top Independent Talented Artistes of N.I. Awards Book 3)
I am a member of the Goodreads reading/writing site. We will often write reviews of each other’s Indie books, of which there are many excellent ones. I really enjoyed one, entitled Sebastian: The Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene, and its sequel, Sebastian Two: Dark Times Arising, both written by Elizabeth Johnson. They are wonderful stories about an indelible vampire romance. My reviews of them follow.
Sebastian: The Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene
Can you imagine, on your eighteenth birthday, stumbling over your father’s lifeless body in a lonely alley, a father with whom you had had a wretched relationship, no small part of that due to his drunkenness? Then, mere moments later, a woman grabs you and sinks her teeth into your neck—with the predictable result–and that woman turns out to be your mother, who you thought had died ten years prior?? It gets worse–the mother, who teaches you to live among humans without murdering them, gets killed by a pack of humans seeking revenge, as they stake her through her heart and burn her. Seeking revenge yourself, you go on a murderous rampage—-but one night you kill a woman carrying a couple of bags–and right after the murder you hear from one of the bags, a baby’s cry—and you discover a baby girl, only days old with big beautiful blue eyes. You name her Hanna, after your mother.
I just completed Sebastian: The Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene. This was actually the first work I have read in this genre. I’ve never read Anne Rice, nor have I been a devotee of the many vampire movies which engulf us now—so I confess to having a little resistance to this novel going in. However, that resistance was quickly swept away as I embarked on this absolutely masterful tale about Sebastian and Hanna. It is a work that takes place in England, New York, South America, Italy, and France, and contains humans, vampires, wolves, and dogs. It beautifully describes the passions, the tenderness, and the love between Sebastian and Hanna—-but also the secrets and the deceits. I felt there was a constant struggle going on within Sebastian—a struggle between his head (what he should do) and his heart (what his gut compels him to do), and, due to his life and circumstances, that heart can turn black. Danger lurks at every turn and this book contains wonderfully frightening and hideous villains. The author takes us on this journey with a straightforward writing style, without pretence, which perfectly matches the story being told. I strongly recommend this book to all readers, even those like myself who would not normally gravitate to a book in this genre. Fortunately for us, I believe we have a sequel coming.
Sebastian Two: Dark Times Arising
I just completed Sebastian Two: Dark Times Arising, the second in a series of books about a bizarre vampire world by author Elizabeth Johnson. I will reiterate what I said in my review of the first book, which is that this is hardly my favorite genre of book, in fact far from it. However, Ms. Johnson weaves such an incredible tale, with such great characterizations, that I could not put it down.
The book starts where the first book ended, with Hanna Greene, upon learning that Sebastian had earlier killed her birth mother (or did he?), decides she must leave the very charismatic hero, who is her passionate boyfriend/lover. This sets in motion a chain of events involving many of the characters from the first book—of course, Sebastian and Hanna, the omniscient head vampire Mason Benedict, and the two separate sets of three malevolent vampire brothers.
New characters are either brought into the story or given greater emphasis. They include Hanna’s birth mother Hope Lane, the powerful Hilda Denali, the ultra-deceitful witch Ruth, and the deceased Isobel’s beautiful mother, Margret. The action in this book spreads further afield to Mexico, Nigeria, Pacific islands, and Japan.
I don’t want to give away any of the story but I will add there is one great kick-ass vampire battle near the end of the book you won’t want to miss. And of course, it ends unresolved, which means we need to see the next book! I strongly recommend this book, even to non-vampire fans, as I did the first one entitled Sebastian: The Secret Life of Sebastian and Hanna Greene. You won’t be disappointed.
Tomorrow I begin my journey from the Philippines, my adopted country since 2012, back to my original hometown of Hermosa Beach, California. I will be staying with my younger brother and nephew in the same house I grew up in, less than a mile from the beach. Hermosa Beach, a long-time surfing hub and at one time a family-oriented town, is now home to big time volleyball tournaments, fiestas, and trendy eateries and clubs.
After seeing family and a few friends, during the July 4 weekend I will take a side trip with another friend to the remote plains of Eastern Arizona, and stay in a small trailer with no amenities (water, electricity, or bathroom!). I am looking forward to solitude, and catching up on reading on my Kindle.)
The next weekend I will take another side trip in which I pick up one friend in San Jose and we journey to a buddy’s house to the small town of Isleton in the Sacramento Delta area. (I see these same two guys every November for a week in Puerto Vallarta at a luxurious time share.) I have a feeling not many people know about the Sacramento Delta.
It has many waterways, bridges, marinas, and restaurants set on marinas. It also contains the town of Locke, a historic Chinese-American rural community, now designated a National Historic Landmark District. The Ryde Hotel, with its own interesting history and style, is located in this area. Supposedly once owned by Lon Chaney, it was frequented by the movie elite and politicians, (Herbert Hoover stayed there in 1928), underwent some scandal, and even turned into a ‘swingers palace’ in the 1970’s.
Another feature in the area, for those into very tall structures, is the KXTV/KOVR television mast, 2049 feet tall which makes it 57 feet taller than the Freedom Tower in New York City!
All of this paves the way for the major side venture of the greater trip—heading to Europe starting July 15! The Europe trip will include:
Meeting a couple and staying 4 days in Berlin.
Going with that couple and seeing their son’s wedding in Helsinki, Finland.
Visiting a different couple in Milan, Italy.
Finally, visiting my brother’s first wife in Greece.
Only Greece have I been to before. I promise a post each from each Europe locale.
Alas, my first guest post. Since it was William Ohanesian who first suggested I start this blog, I asked him to contribute some pieces to it. His first essay is a remembrance of two very different concerts by the Doors that he attended in 1968 and 1970 in Los Angeles.
It’s an odd time-out-of-mind sensation that keeps recurring.
At local hangouts, conversation with young people occasionally drifts to music. At my age (60+), there’s the inevitable, hopeful curiosity: “What was it like in the 60’s? What bands did you see?”
Their default frame of reference about the period is the standard YouTube stock footage blur of half-naked hippies, blithely Woodstocking, Altamonting or Isle of Wighting their lives away in a marijuana haze.
Formulating an answer can make you feel like a veteran of foreign wars that you may have never served in. Still, given all the misconceptions, you genuinely want to shed some light for those who want to hear from someone who was around then.
“Were you at Woodstock? Did you live in a commune and do drugs? Was that what everybody did in the 60s?”
“Well, not exactly. Actually…”
“–Did you ever see the Doors?”
Of course you know it’s coming. Even back in the proverbial day, no musical outfit personified the drama, passion, sensuality, proclamations and provocations of the late 1960s like these guys in their prime. Or more accurately, by that one guy at the mic: the Navy admiral’s son as American cultural outlaw. It’s as if Richard Nixon begat a son that grew into Abbie Hoffman. Or if John Wayne’s trusted young frontier deputy drilled the Duke between the eyes, stole his hoss and hit the dusty trail as Billy the Kid.
Young people have downloaded the songs, the photos, the old scratchy videos, the corny Hollywood movie, but still… this possessed, leather-swathed pre-digital ghost from the past eludes and entices them. “Did you ever meet Jim? What was he really like?”
I’m dying to tell them how I whupped his ass on the golf course, except for the fact that they might believe me.
“Well, we didn’t exactly hang out together.” The hopeful faces drop. But their eyes bulge when I reassure them that, “But yes, I did see the Doors perform.”
“Was he drunk on stage? Was he crazy? Did he swear at everybody and pull his pants off?”
I know what they want to hear. And here’s where the expectations go south again. “Sorry, but no. No. And no.”
“But I heard… I read…”
“I know. I didn’t see the bad nights, but what I did see was pretty interesting.”
I tell them that during the singer’s tenure, I saw the band twice. The first time was late 1968 at the height of their most notorious badassery. The second time would be during their last tour of duty, in 1970.
Most everyone who asks, knows the front-end story. In ‘68, the Doors were pedal-to-the-metal musical madmen barreling toward the infamous crash-and-burn implosion of Miami. What most listeners can’t connect, is how fourteen short months later, they were practically written off as who-cares has-beens.
In retrospect, thinking about the two public performances at either end of the spectrum offers a fascinating study in contrasts and expectations.
As a teenager, I was no different than today’s young people. I was enticed by the lurid magazine profiles. Savored the bold insolent photos. Overdosed on the music daily. In two years, they had exploded from the LA underground into the big-time pop stratosphere. I was in my 15th innocent year on the planet as we drove to Inglewood’s 1968 LA Forum concert, where they would preview songs from their new album, “The Soft Parade”.
Driving to the show, I relished my expectations of the screaming wildman on stage, the swirling electric organ, slipsliding guitar and hard driving percussion. What I got was a lesson in Doorsville reality.
The Doors’ calling card fused mystery, unpredictability, and confrontation. Therefore, it’s no wonder something seemed indefinably out-of-whack that night. The opening acts floundered through. An elderly Japanese solo instrumentalist was oblivious, a country pop band came and went through a few songs, the pissed-off early rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis was booed off the stage.
Then with a blare, on came the hometown heroes to barrel into their new songs. Heroes? Barely a couple of songs in, people began heckling the band to ditch the new stuff in favor of their big radio hits.
I didn’t get it. You come to a concert and rudely demand what you want to hear? Isn’t that what you do at home around the record player?
This clearly wasn’t going down well with the guys on stage. They played their set with conviction, but somehow weren’t delivering the spectacle that people expected from this group. What was missing? What else was supposed to happen? It was a rock concert, not a magic show. Or was it? After all, hadn’t we been sold that he / they were the baddest of the bad, the smartest, the sexiest, shamanistic drunken demonboy sorcerers of the 60s?
Just play songs? No way!! DO something! Get it on! Burn down the night!
The antsy Forum cauldron was bubbling toward the boiling point. Who was calling the shots here – the paying audience or the pop heroes?
Suddenly out of nowhere, the big guy stops the music cold and starts talking.
“Cut that shit out”
Some gasps, some cheers, then silence.
”What did you come here for, anyway?”
Nobody seemed to know.
“We can play music all night, but that’s not what you want, is it?”
Personally, I wanted “Moonlight Drive” and was quickly coming to realize that probably wouldn’t happen.
Some meek catcalls were followed by more taunts and unanswerable questions. What did we want? Showtime? Reassurance? Power? Deliverance?
Then, “Well, fuck you. We came to play music.”
There was a nervous applause of relief. As if, Ok, he had his little hissy fit, now on with the show!
But what followed wasn’t exactly another three-minute crowd pleaser. Instead, the band launched into an unheard 20 min. poetic, discordant, multi-movement, avant-garde magnum opus that went through, if not over the heads of most of the audience. The musicians gave it their all. When it was over, the lights came on, applause was minimal, the band left the stage and we quietly filed out into the Los Angeles night.
So, “What was it like?” Think of it this way: can you imagine that today from any major arena-level pop group? Impossible! But in 1968, the singer wasn’t just there to dish out musical fast food and score a big payday. He strove to liberate us from our preconceptions, dared us to look inward and ask ourselves, not just what, but why?
In 1969, it all went south for the band, figuratively and literally – as in Miami south. Hammered by legal indictments, alcohol abuse and assorted personal dramas, the band’s 1970 concert trail was a far different landscape than the ‘68 one. Expectations were low. The band was no longer a cultural phenomenon, but simply, four musicians trying to resurrect a career threatened both from outside and within. Not known at the time was that both the drummer and singer were ready to jump ship at the drop of a hat.
Considering their prior devotional- fan reverence, the fall from grace was the equivalent of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from a rocknroll Garden of Eden.
Warming up the Long Beach Arena stage in Feb. of 1970 were the newly formed Gram Parsons’ Burrito Brothers and blues guitarist Albert King. The Burritos turned in a lively, winning set, but it was Albert who laid down the law. He set the stage on fire like I’d never seen a barely-known supporting act do. Called back for a rousing encore, he threatened to overwhelm the headliners.
Given the fact that Morrison and the band had been written off by the hipoisie for being dated, out of control, rich sellouts, self-indulgent alcoholics, etcetc., there was more than a little dread at what would happen onstage. Were they just a nostalgia act, only going through the motions for the money? Yesterday’s psychedelic news nobody wanted to read anymore? Did anybody besides stuck-in-the-past groupies and late-to-the-party teenyboppers even care what the Doors did anymore?
They took the stage, yet again riskily opening with new songs few people had barely heard yet. Uh oh. Except this time, the outpouring from the faithful was overwhelming.
They played their full set to rapturous response, with Morrison visibly grateful for the reception. He told jokes, improvised lyrics and even nailed the (still?) hecklers with some choice verbal uppercuts that got everyone on his side. No longer presenting himself as Mr. Bad-ass, he was relaxed, funny, even a little hoarse.
The standard encore ended with a defining memory: they finished with “Soul Kitchen”, and it was that song’s closing verse that drove the audience through the roof:
“The clock says it’s time to close now…” triggered a spontaneous arena-wide chorus of “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”s
“…But I really want to stay here / all night” ignited the loudest foot-pounding “YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHH”s I’d ever heard for a rock band.
And with a wave, they were gone.
“MOOOORE!!!!” Sorry folks. Show’s over. House lights on. Roadies started unplugging cables. People kept yelling for more. An announcement was made that the musicians were homeward bound. The arena slowly emptied, leaving a few stragglers (yes, including yours truly) still yelling in what-the-hell futility. Ten minutes passed… fifteen…
Morrison himself trots back on to the fully lit stage, past the surprised stagehands, grabs the mic and off-handedly asks “Hey – does anybody have to go home early tonight?”
What the hell?
The stragglers were not shy. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Well, let’s have some fun, then!”
People ran back in. Chaos! Roadies scrambled to get amps plugged back in, etc., etc. The band proceeded to play for another hour, taking requests, joking, jamming, doing cover songs, even aborting the hypnotic “Crystal Ship” half-way through (JM: “If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s an out-of-tune ‘Crystal Ship’”). Generally just kicking back and cutting loose. They had us as much as we had them.
In retrospect, it was a night of genuine connection between audience and performer, a mutual gratitude almost never seen since on a rock concert stage. Their special gesture for the faithful who stuck it out created an intimacy that made the cavernous Long Beach Sports Arena feel like your living room.
In a final pronouncement that was more prescient than anyone could have possibly foreseen, Morrison announced that, “Unfortunately, all good things must eventually come to an end”, his introduction to the last song he would ever sing in front of the hometown audience.
“It hurts to set you free… “
So while I was “there”, I’m not even sure if “What was it like?” is even answerable without knowing what “it” was. Reflecting on these two experiences decades later, “it” may ultimately be the unknowable journey from the idealism of our hearts to the sentience of our minds.
William Ohanesian is a Los Angeles-based video documentarian, Writer and Videographer, He is currently editing a documentary on Turnbull Canyon, a place of notorious local legend.
He may be reached at WOProvideo@gmail.com