Where There’s Smoke

United Kingdom October 1976

In those days, the cultural difference between Americans and Europeans was expressed in what are now called “delivery systems.” In the US we rolled up bud into joints. In Europe they mixed hashish with tobacco. I’d quit smoking cigarettes some years before. So when I made my first foray across the pond, I was prepared to make some exceptions. As they say, when in Rome.

In my case, London. My British friends had access to both of the common varieties: powdery tan Paki and gummy black Afghani. The Paki was smoother, the Afghani more potent. Mixed with their flavored loose tobacco, I found both to be somewhat nauseating. But that didn’t stop me from smoking. The things we put up with to get high.
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A Tale of Two Cities

The House on Hampstead Heath

It was 1976, I was 24 and between bands. I quit my day job, gathered up my guitars, left my Brooklyn commune and flew to London to visit my old mate Jeremy. He met me in the car park at Heathrow Airport. He had a friend with him. Turns out he didn’t live in London anymore, having just moved up north to Bradford. “Howard will take care of you.”

I crashed at Howard’s flat in Finchley for about a week. Then he found me a room in a 4-story Victorian on a circular road called South Hill Park Gardens, a block from Hampstead Heath. Quite the fashionable neighborhood.

Bill Oddie’s place. Howard had gone to secondary school with Bill’s then estranged wife. Estranged in an odd sort of way. Bill bought his wife the house next door after she said she wanted to move out. Bill hosted a children’s show on the BBC. Hung out with George Harrison and the Monty Python guys. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Cities”

The Astoria Blues Society

In the introduction to The Mansion on the Hill (1997), baby boomer author Fred Goodman relates a story from his youth about how you sized up a new friend musically, back in the 60s. First you checked them out on the popular radio bands (Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, etc.), then the more esoteric album-oriented artists (e.g., Dylan, the San Francisco bands). The last yardstick he offers up is that “anyone who was into the blues pre-John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers was an intellectual.”

By Goodman’s standards, the Astoria scene I grew up in was a goddamn graduate school. Continue reading “The Astoria Blues Society”