Tuesday, February 27, 2007

13.) The Hitchhiking Years: The Stop in Eugene, Part 1

So I left my future hometown of Portland and hitched south towards California. It was the Spring of 1972 and rock and roll was still young, but it had already changed the world. Over in Arabia we had waited breathlessly for any news. I would read the Rome Daily American, or the International Herald Tribune during the late 60s and any mention of the Beatles was like getting a message directly from heaven.

In those days Aramco families had a long vacation every 2 years to travel back to the States, and a short vacation in the other years usually spent in Europe. Yes, folks, it was quite an upbringing and I can still see images of my family trekking around some incredible locale. I'll tell you something that might sort of stun you: I remember being a small child walking across the tarmac towards a prop plane with three tail fins. One of those old Constellation airplanes that automatically mean you are watching an old movie.

When a kid brought back a record from the States it was a major event. Word spread throughout town. It was so exciting. I can literally remember where I was when I first heard Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone." God, what times.

I actually built my first electric guitar. I had this screwed up acoustic purchased in the local Arab village of Khobar so the plan was to buy the electronics which I did on a short vacation in Greece. The guitar was a complete disaster but it led to an actual electric from a catalog and by the time I was in 7th grade I was performing before crowds. I had better leave the details of this to another post, but there was one rock band a few years ahead, and they were probably the first rock band in the whole country. The lead singer whom I'll just call Mandis since he's not fond of his nickname, was a legend in my eyes. As a child I would stand outside this little building, just to hear these guys practice.

Part of the band I would eventually be in started with me and my friend Walker as guitarist and drummer. Then Walker joined 3 other guys and I was brought in later on bass. I don't care how many jokes I have on TV - I will always be a bass player at heart. It's my core identity. Anyway, my band would rise up and challenge the older group's reign. These were the best years - I should bag the hitchhiking stories and explore them, instead. Just imagine the scenario. We were kids living in Arabia so we had the adventure of that - the skin and scuba-diving, and the exploring of the Arab culture, and oh...one other thing...we were in the best rock and roll band in the country. You tell me that situation doesn't rule.

This is not to imply we were famous or anything - not even in those three oil towns. However, we meant a great deal to the partying American kids, and we were - dare I say it - beloved. You have to remember that being in a rock group was still a politically heroic thing to do. I challenge anyone to come up with a better scenario in history than this: Scruffy punks who could barely play 3 chords were looked upon as heroes, and I was part of it. One night on a band break a beautiful young fox took me out on the beach to make out, and when I told her I had to go back and play the next set, she resisted. It slowly dawned on me that she wanted me to stay a little longer just so people would see us walk back in together. I mean a few years earlier, I was too shy to talk to a girl, and now I was desirable? It was completely ridiculous and I knew it, but why fight it? How shy had I been? If it weren't for rock and roll, I'd still be a virgin.

Heartbreak befell Mandis, the lead singer in the other group as his family left the Kingdom, and he ended up in college in Eugene. There had been one magic Christmas vacation when the two rock bands combined, so I had played some fun gigs with him. Hitchhiking south from Portland, there was only one thing to do: Stop in Eugene, see Mandis, and play some rock and roll.


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