Hounds of Hell
As long as the Warren Report stays on the books as the officially recognized "truth" about the JFK case, there will be an open wound in the body politic that defies healing. Assassination researchers are so virulent in scavenging the field in search of any shred of evidence, they have come to be known as "The Hounds of Hell."
But there's another public cause that has captured the imagination of the Hound mentality. Vote fraud. Consider the strong emotional values that we Americans attach to the sanctity of the U.S. ballot. The ballot is America's number one export. It is the hallowed ground and shed blood of generations of "those who made the supreme sacrifice."
As with the JFK breed of Hound, vote fraud trackers have the gut feeling that some fundamental outrage has occurred and is being covered up in the highest levels of government.
One never knows the exact moment of transition from common citizen to Hound.
After the the Reno-Rubin confrontation, the investigation seemed pretty much over. Rubin wouldn't take our calls and there was no point in pursuing him any further. We figured that whatever Reno told him in her private chambers that day must have scared the hell out of him.
Jim said: "I can't imagine him acting like that unless she had something on him."
"Well, I doubt that it's political," Ken reflected. "Maybe she painted a really frightening scenario, possibly threatening to expose him somehow, to embarrass his kids and family you know what I mean? After all, we're not dealing in torts here. If Reno called for a full investigation the lid could blow off the Establishment. That's why Gerstein didn't want this case, so he gave it to Reno and she wasn't about to bite the hand that feeds her."
"She must have torn into him something fierce," Jim speculated, "like 'Ellis, if you pursue this it could take down the entire structure, not only of the city, but possibly the state. Do you want to do this for the Collier brothers?'"
"Sure," Ken nodded, "but that look on his face, that stark blank stare... it was eerie... I don't think just politics would do it. It had to be a personal threat."
We were both in the midst of divorce proceedings. It seemed like something in the stars was breaking everything apart. The Daily Planet was going out of business. The public was more interested in the Bee Gees than in revolution. DC Comics was threatening to sue over what they claimed was the use of their Superman trademark, and The Underground Press Service was turning into High Times magazine. During the Sixties the suntan lotion business was the engine that drove our small financial empire, but it required a full time effort and we just didn't have it in us anymore. Politics is a strong drug and anger was replacing the drive we had to make money.
Back when we started Sunscrene, Kennedy was in his second year as President, and the world seemed bright. Now it was the Nixon-Ford era; we were growing older and there wasn't much challenge left in selling suntan lotion to beach boys.
The five-year renewable leases on our beach stores were coming due and without wives or kids to support, they just didn't seem important anymore. Ken's wife was a millionairess who didn't want child support, and she didn't want Ken around either, at least not as long as he was willing to pursue Votescam. Jim's wife was twelve years his junior, and after five years of a childless marriage and listening to Votescam, she wanted some fresh air in California.
"If we give up Votescam," Jim told Ken, "when we're old men we're going to look back and ask why didn't we fight the bastards. We're going to add up the plus and minus columns and all we'll have is money. I don't want to spend the rest of my life with this seething anger because I know I let them get away with it without going the last fucking inch."
"How are we going to live?"
"Let's do a Siddhartha -- lets give it all up: the pool table, the cars, the townhouses, the business."
Ken took a long toke on the pipe Jimi Hendrix had given him that night his concert got rained out at Gulfstream Race Track. It wasn't our concert, but the promoters, Michael Lang and Marshall Brevitz (Lang was a co-producer of Woodstock) had no way to refund the ticket money. So we invited Hendrix to Thee Image, where we would throw open the doors to anybody who wanted to walk in. Jim went on stage at Gulfstream and invited everybody to come to the club.
It was now about 8 o'clock on a stormy tropical night.
We called all of our concession people, the ice cream vendors, the chocolate cake sellers, hot dog guys, the body painters, and asked them to come right down.
The body painters gave away Day-Glo paint that lit up under black light, which was the big deal in concert lighting at the time. Thee Image boasted a hundred blacklight bulbs.
Hendrix and his roadies and his band turned up, as promised, for free, and started to set up on the stage. The club already had a wall of Ampeg speakers with enough amps to blow out a window. There were also the two giant strobe lights with a slow to fast speed dialer that made people look like they were moving very fast or very slow like a haywire silent film.
Word had gotten out. Kids started calling kids. By nine o'clock the parking lot was packed. So was Collins Avenue, and there was a traffic jam down to Haulover Beach. Jimi started playing about nine. He began by using all of Thee Image's speakers and his own to produce wild feedback wailing.
That got people's attention. Then he jammed with the house band, The Blues Image, (Ride, Captain, Ride) in a set that never stopped until after midnight. The audience, full of painted bodies, mostly sat on the floor and listened, in various states of high, higher and highest, while Jimi played rock guitar that was more dramatic than anything most of the audience had ever heard. His guitar solos melted down andre-formed, turned into vivid images and then into smoke.
It was a wild night of cheering. Then the ice cream battle began. Somebody brought Jimi an ice cream cone with a ball of chocolate on it. Jimi threw the ice cream ball to somebody in the crowd. That somebody threw it back at Jimi.
"Get me ten cones," Hendrix called.
He passed them out to everyone in the band, and they began to throw ice cream balls at each other. Pretty soon hundreds of members of the audience raced to the concession stand to buy scoops of ice cream, forget the cone. In 15 minutes the air in the club, under the Day-Glo lights, was filled with flying ice cream balls. They hit the walls, the speakers, people's heads, hair and clothes. Then, when the ice cream ran out, they all began throwing chocolate cake.
Meanwhile, Jimi and the band kept on jamming.
Then Jimi says: "Let's go swimming."
He left the stage without his guitar, walked through the crowd and out the front door. Like a Pied Piper he walked past the International House of Pancakes up to Collins Avenue, three to four thousand kids dancing insanely behind him.
This was a few months before Jimi played his irreverent [sic] Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock.
All those memories were attached to Ken's pipe as he thought of leaving the security he'd always known.
For a couple of guys who were raised middle class in the mid West, giving up the easy life was truly radical. We'd seen Tom Hayden live out of a sleeping bag as he fought his battles for social equality in the Sixties, and we even housed him when he was worn out and bedraggled.
One time Tom came to New York with his first wife Casey, and an old station wagon. He had the key to a friend's empty apartment, so Tom and Casey took an old mattress off the street and spread it on the floor. The next night they knocked on Jim's door on East 88th Street.
"We got bedbugs," Tom said, lifting his pant leg and showing a track of bug bites. Jim paid for a hotel room on 86th Street.
Now Ken pondered the idea of living out of sleeping bags on Miami Beach.
"Where do we put the sleeping bags and how do we eat? And do we really want to do this?"
"Well, it's that or give it all up and just be merchants. What's money gotten us but divorces and abject comfort?"
"But what about Sunscrene, we can't just drop it."
So we gave it all away to our top salesman in Daytona Beach, named Ron Rice, and he changed the name to Hawaiian Tropic.
In the fall of 1974 we were living in the sea grapes near 86th and Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. It was less than two blocks from the Holiday Inn, but it was tropical and secluded. Sea grapes are trees that grow about 15 feet high with leaves like large green pancakes. The leaves formed a cathedral ceiling, screened the sun and provided some privacy from the public on the beach. Foreign tourists had heard about this wild stretch and although it was against the law to camp there, they had found the sea grape patch as inviting as we had. We often had to roust a sleeping German, Frenchman or Italian out of our favorite spot.
There were freshwater showers nearby and a public bathroom. There was no place to cook, so we subsisted on fruit and cheese. A high grassy jungle-like area hid the sleeping bags. When it rained, which wasn't that often, we rolled up our bags, hid them, and ran for motel cover.
From our refuge in the sea grapes, we wrote, with pen and pencil, a rock opera entitled "Year One." The title was based on John Lennon's concept, conceived at John and Yoko's bed-in in Toronto in 1970. John said that we should label all our correspondence Year One A.P. (After Peace), and that there should be a new beginning. So the story was about the Children-at-Arms, a rock group from the Center of the Galaxy, ordered to earth to reunite Sgt. Pepper's team.
We wrote the basic book and lyrics and Gregory Scott Kimple wrote the music. Although the studio album wasn't bad (Lou O'Neil, Jr. of Circus Magazine called it "one of the top ten albums of the year"), we decided to re-record the album live and videotape the Year One band at the Grand Canyon.
On 7/7/77 we produced the first free rock concert ever performed live in the Grand Canyon. Rolling Stone Magazine wrote ahead of time that six million people would turn up for the concert (to hear "The Year One Band"). The Interior Department, concerned for the ecosystem and crowd control, cancelled the event. Now for the first time in our lives we had no mama, no papa, no businesses, no money -- but we did have George.
By the grace of George, our friend and chess master, Ken flew out to Arizona and talked the park ranger into letting us stage the show. To make it hard on whatever crowds might want to show up, the ranger restricted the concert to the West Rim, which is off limits to the general public. Nonetheless, about a thousand people hiked overland and gotto the site to watch us film the sun coming up over the East Rim, an event almost never seen by anyone other than a Native American. We shot through the day, catching the full sweep of the sun to the West.
Songs were sung at different hours as the sun produced different moods. And as the sun was setting, we taped two lovers standing atop a mega wall of amplifiers against a purple haze. The band sang: "Champion, Where Are You?"
After the concert we drove back to New York with Satan, who taught Kiss how to eat fire.
For awhile we lived in a radio-TV commune on 14th Street and Second Avenue in a building called The U.S. Senate. The commune owned the old Second Avenue Yiddish Theater, then called The Phoenix, where Ann Corio held court while doing "This Was Burlesque." When she left, the theatre folded until two off-Broadway actors bought it. They fed and housed us in the U.S. Senate, while two blocks down on 12th street they were remodeling the theater.
Because most of the people working on remodeling were performing artists and not real tradesmen, at least not the kind who should be reupholstering 499 seats, someone gave the order to unscrew every seat in the house and stack them up in the foyer. Then they had us rip all the staples out of all the seats, take off all the Naugahyde, and pull out all the stuffing.
It was our job, that is, us and Satan, to put those seats back together, restuff them, recover them with Naugahyde, and use that plier device to stretch and restaple. The color was orange. The job tooks [sic] weeks, eight hours a day. Then the time came to put the seats back. We started with the first row, but none of the seats fit. Nobody had bothered to mark the seats as to where their original places were. Thus we had 499 seats and not the foggiest idea where to put them.
As we sat around with the rest of the crew, understanding what purgatory was, Satan, who had a rock band on Bourbon Street in the Sixties, started picking up the seats, studying them, and separating them into size piles. Some of the seats were minutely bigger than others. After the sorting he took the largest seat off the first pile and walked around looking for the largest empty hole. It took him four days, but he put every single seat back in its exact spot. We know that because when we got down on the floor we had to turn thousands of screws into thousands of holes. They all fit.
The new theater with the bright orange seats opened with "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" in its off-Broadway debut.
On June 23, 1978, Jim's 39th birthday, we raised the money to produce a live rock concert, called "Rock Wars," on the highest man-made stage in the world: the helicopter pad atop the South Tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
Every rock star who had nothing better to do that night was at the party. The Year One Band and For Shakes Sake from Brooklyn played from dusk until midnight. People brought their own everything, and down on the 107th floor the Trade Center opened a sumptuous bar and smorgasbord. It was an incredible, perfectly clear night with a full moon and a grand piano. People called the radio station that was broadcasting the live performance and said, "We can hear it over here in Staten Island," and somebody else said they could hear it all the way into New Jersey.
The next day the New York Daily News said: "The World Trade Center was made for three things: The Wiz, King Kong, and the Rock Wars party held last night."
Ken met an artist at the 14th Street commune who called herself Shakti. She was a medical doctor from Australia who was tall, blonde and beautiful. She had painted murals on the walls of the theater we worked in, so Ken asked her to illustrate the story we had written about rock and roll, where the Children-at-Arms come from the Center of the Galaxy to reunite the Beatles. For the next fourteen months we, including Satan, lived and worked together on the Rock Wars storyboard. It eventually turned into a 96-page, full-color Doubleday Dell trade paperback that sold 42,000 copies before John Lennon was shot and killed at The Dakota.
Rock Wars died with the most intelligent man in rock.
Ken wrote an epitaph for Lennon and it was reprinted in Billboard Magazine and in The Washington Post (read it in the back of this book). Yoko Ono wrote Ken a letter telling him that she had hung a copy on her wall.