14.) The Hitchhiking Years: The Eugene Stop - Part 2
I had made it to the Eugene, Oregon home of the former lead singer of the first great rock and roll band ever to come out of Saudi Arabia. It was the Spring of 1972 and I was hitchhiking around America. I knew Mandis's parents really well since his father and mine worked in the same department of the oil company: Government Relations. In fact, throughout my childhood, I would occasionally pick up the phone and hear Mandis's Dad asking to talk with mine. So this was ancient tribal stuff because the little American oil towns in a far-off kingdom had morphed into a tribe, with the fun-loving offspring blazing a path through the unique set of circumstances.
This was why Mandis himself was so blue, because his time in Arabia had seemingly ended. Nobody relished life in our hometown of Dhahran more than he did. I got one letter from him where the return address on the envelope read, "Eugene, assuming it hasn't washed away yet." Let's just say there was an adjustment period from the desert sun to the rain.
One of the great things about hitchhiking is that you drop in on these people and experience a slice of their world, and then simply move on, while they are left to deal with the consequences. This came down to a party that one of his college classmates was giving. It was a pretty tame affair - at least until we got there. We had with us a 3rd reveler named Tom and this guy had the spark of true comedic genius. The scene I'll always remember was a coed sitting calmly on the sofa reading, and Tom sitting down next to her. He tried turning on the charm and said, "You know, darling, you can't learn everything from books." It was truly one of those Marx Brothers-style moments that I'll never forget. Suffice it to say, we were too far ahead of the party and were eventually asked to depart. I can only imagine that the next time they all met up in class, things were awkward, if not downright testy, but I was long gone down the highway by then.
In a boisterous mood that night, we returned from the party to the Mandis residence, and began playing the rock and roll. This was all put on a 2-reel tape recorder and the tapes exist to this day. One of the songs was "Duke of Earl" and the other was not. Periodically, the intercom sprang to life with Mandis's Dad requesting that we turn it down and wrap it up.
The reason this night in 1972 was such a future indicator of how my life would go, is that 16 years later I was working in a hotel in downtown Portland when Mandis's sister approached and informed me that he was living here in Portland. Calls were made, and rock and roll was performed. It was quite a story really. There were approximately two great rock bands from Saudi Arabia in the early days. Here was the lead singer of one and the bass player turned guitarist from another, living unbeknownst to each other, a few miles apart on the other side of the world from where we had grown up. The final weird touch was that we both had the exact same model of Teac Tascam 8-track studio recorder.
This led to many years in a duo of many names: The Likely Stories, the Koola Wahids, the Opposable Thumbs. Finally we settled on the Whateverly Brothers. I began playing tambourine with my foot and teaching Mandis to play my old instrument, the bass. With 2-part harmony we were able to present enough sound to play at dances and clubs around Portland, including Harrington's, and the Dandelion Pub. This was the great rock and roll dividend - after all the fun times of youth, I found myself still playing more rock with an actual childhood hero. This is one part of my life that I consider blessed.
13 years into the duo, there was the inevitable rock and roll split. We were playing a gig one month after 9/11 and everyone was in a terrible mood. At least we were anyway. It was the Dandelion Pub and the place was packed with a Halloween crowd. The tension between us made for a crackling final few sets.
After the duo ended that night, I went onto play in a local band. Eventually I suggested to the lead singer, that we should try a trio with Mandis on bass, and it worked. Last year we played the Rose Festival and various other venues in the Portland area and elsewhere. Sadly, it now appears that trio has gone the way of all bands, and I am truly bummed about it. Still, it lasted something like 4 years and that's not all bad. As far as rock and roll goes, I have been jamming away in my basement waiting for the next way forward. It never ends. Even when it ends, it doesn't end. It won't end until I physically can't do it, which could happen anytime.
Rock and roll for me was not what you would call a profession, but it was not what you would call a hobby, either. No, this has been a way of life, and that Spring of 1972, hitchhiking through Oregon, and playing rock and roll with Mandis, I was staring at a large chunk of my future.