Peter Case

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Chapter 5

 

 

YOGANANDA STREETFIGHTS

A few days later, after nearly burning through all my dough, I checked out of the Hotel Edward and hit the streets of the city for real. The Indian man at the Edward said I could leave my duffel in a closet for a few days—he was very fine with that—so I just took my guitar and split. I had no real idea where I could stay, just a couple of vague notions, but I wasn’t too worried about it. Something would turn up.

I traipsed across town under the overcast, checking out all the usual haunts, and no one I knew was in any of them. Nothing was to be seen of Wilhelm or Eric, or my other new street singin’ friends, Danny Ray and Bert.

I’d met Danny Ray and Bert down on the wharf a couple days earlier, and we’d jammed a little. We’d all become friends, though they hadn’t been friends with each other before. I’d met them separately.

Bert, at age 22, was already a great singer and guitar player. He knew a lot of music, had a car, a place to live, and even had a life: he was studying film on a scholarship at The SF Art Institute. But he was lonesome, troubled, and had recently had someone vow to kill him over some personal situation. This kind of shook him up, it seemed, but he didn’t talk about it much.

Crazy Horse Danny was 25, a skinny, long-haired hippie dropout from Dallas, Texas, who, I soon found out, loved rock and roll as much as me. He was crazy about Little Richard, Brian Jones, Roky Erikson, Chuck Berry and Hendrix. These were his heroes. Also Eric Dolphy, Yogananda and Sitting Bull. He thought the Beatles were choirboys, but he dug Ringo and kind of reminded me of him, too. But Danny loved to fight. It didn’t take long to find that out. He really seemed to enjoy street fights with belligerent strangers. That was his specialty. He’d also taken a lot of LSD by this point.

Danny was on the run from the law down in Texas. He went by the name Crazy Horse, was incredibly cautious and frightened of police, and, for reasons he explained to me soon after we met, never wanted to be too much the center of attention.

He’d been starting a career as a hairdresser down in Dallas, working in his Cuban pal Armando’s hair salon, and things were going well. He was a young, good looking guy, with a flair for style and hair, and had a way about him that most all his female customers liked. On the side, he was playing music, making money and everything was going fine. I guess he was about 21 years old at the time. He had long hair for Dallas in ‘69-’70, though, and that was starting to cause problems down there.

One Sunday, he’d placed all his clothes in a washer at a friend’s house and borrowed a pair of jeans and a long sleeved work shirt, put them on, with the shirt tails hanging out, and went to a local shopping center. A security guard at a store started following him around, and when Danny went into the men’s room, the cop followed him in and caught a glimpse of an American flag patch on the seat of Danny’s pants.

The Dallas Police were summoned, and Johnny was arrested and charged with felony flag desecration. The Dallas District Attorney was up for re-election and decided to make an example out of Danny, so they prosecuted him to the full extent of the law. A guilty verdict held a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the DA announced to the press that he would be going for the full penalty. A Marine Color Guard from Fort Hood was assigned to daily courtroom duty, and arrived each day in Full Dress Blues. They were just sitting there in the courtroom, the whole time of the trial, for the jury to see. Here are the good boys; there’s the bad boy. Here are the patriots…there is the traitor who deserves whatever punishment he gets. Nevertheless, Danny never told anyone that the pants were borrowed. His big brother was an East Side San Antonio gangster, and Danny hadn’t been brought up to be a snitch. He never even considered it.

Danny was out on bail for the duration of the trial, but right before the verdict came in, he freaked out and went on the lam. For the next two decades he lived as an outlaw, in terror of being apprehended and brought back to prison in Texas. That’s why he was singing on the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk, why Sewer Seven, Tube Eleven was his only address. He was ready to rock his life away, as long as he never got too big for the corner bar. He was afraid of the spotlight.  So anyhow, Danny was living in a junk yard on the Bay in Sausalito, and he’d invited me to check it out sometime, it was supposed to be a swell place to crash in a pinch. You could just pick out an old truck, get a blanket or two from somewhere and climb in. Sounded great, except Danny was not to be found anywhere. Neither was Bert, nor Wilhelm, not to mention Eric the Cabdriver.

I walked a hundred blocks, mesmerized by the city, and the nighttime caught me by surprise. I went into a Foster’s restaurant, sat at a table drinking coffee and writing—just playing with words. Hours went by. I was thinking ‘bout the trouble I’d left behind, wondering if

it would ever catch up…thinking ‘bout the people I’d never see no more: Jerry, Banana, Veronica, and Duffett. I’m thinking ‘bout what Bray told me: “You don’t have what it takes. You don’t have the depth of feeling.” I was thinking about how he said that I sold out the revolution, but I didn’t know what he meant. I hadn’t seen no revolution back there, only Bray taking unfair advantage over a bunch of street kids. What had begun with high hopes and great motives, had turned into its opposite, and now the picture wasn’t coming clear. I got confused like this when I was alone, and lately I was most always alone.

I went across the street to the Richelieu Theater, spent my last couple bucks on a triple feature: Performance, Charlie Is My Darling and The T.A.M.I. Show. When I got out, it was late, the bars were closing, the fog was rolling in. I had nowhere to go, so I just started walking.

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