We said goodbye to Bruce Springsteen and headed out to spend a weird night in a funky motel, right across from the beach. There was a lot of late night action in the parking lot, but it was nothing to get involved in. It was one of those “cover me, I’m going out for cigarettes” kind of places. In the lobby the night clerk was behind six inches of bullet proof glass. I went down to ask him for some towels and he about jumped a mile when I came in, kinda spun around, looking all sweaty and nervous, like I’d busted him doing something nasty, but I couldn’t see what it was. The chain lock on the door in our room had been kicked off and replaced about ten times. The repairs on the door where the wood had been ripped off made a ladder-like design up and down the jamb, and there was an intense stench of death coming from the dumpster right outside, but no one to tell about it, so we just went to sleep.
As soon as we woke up in the morning, we cleared out of our room and went straight over to the oceanside, and it felt great to be breathing the fresh air and looking into the blue wave-capped distance, even if we were still wearing matching shirts. We walked around, got some coffee, sat on a bench by one of those tourist telescopes, watching the clouds blow by, for a while, and then hit the trail again.
When you think of New Jersey, who thinks of a wild, rural setting? The image in my mind was of Newark as the only North American industrial area that was bombed by the Germans in World War II. But, we followed our directions from the agency, and they took us to see a whole other aspect of the state. We drove for a couple hours and found ourselves way out in the country, passing through dark woods, lush green fields of farm land, and occasional little towns.
It was well past the dinner hour when we began to close in on our destination. The street name was right, but the numbers? We were way off. We kept driving, turned around a couple of times, and finally came to the little village where the map told us the club was located. We drove right past it the first time, performed a “swoop and pounce” maneuver, parked and shut off the rod, and checked the joint out.
We knew nothing about the club, except that John Hammond Jr. had played there once. It didn’t look like much, just a little wooden building with pink weather tiling, and a sign over the door, shaped like a pig in silhouette, and the lettering Rosie’s Cabaret, and in smaller letters at the bottom: Dining & Entertainment.
The owner’s name was Chris, and at first he seemed an odd, myopic sort of fellow, about my age, with a modified bowl haircut, great thick lenses in his round wire rims, and a quiet, businesslike manner. He didn’t have much to say to us, in fact didn’t engage us at all, except to ask for a hand once, as he moved tables and arranged chairs in the tiny club.
He had the world’s smallest PA, but when I brought out my guitar, plugged in and turned it on, Josh got it sounding great in about 10 seconds and two flicks of the wrist. The sound was full, warm, and responsive. Even though I was beat, I suddenly woke up and felt like playing. It just sounded so good in there.
After sound check, I asked him about the lodgings, which the hotel had agreed in the contract to provide, and he said we’d take care of it after the show. I said fine. I wondered out loud who would come to see me out in these boondocks, and Richard assured me the show was “sold out,” even though it was scheduled to begin in half an hour and all the tables and seats were still empty.
About 15 minutes before the show, the screen door to the street opened, and a line of people with reservations began to pour into the place. Mostly couples of people my age, but the extremely elderly and the latest punk rock generation were represented at a few tables as well.
The place was packed out and noisy, but when I started to play, the audience shut right up, and you could tell they were listening. I could feel ’em hanging on every note. When I was trying to crack wise between songs, they laughed hard, and when I’d play a guitar solo they applauded in the middle of the song. You know it’s going good when people cheer in the middle of things!
I was playing songs I hadn’t done in years, things like Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages” and “Horse And Crow,” blues and folk numbers I’d thought I’d forgotten since my street-singing days. I even made up an instrumental for a break song, a fast unison guitar-and-harmonica jam sort of based on an old-time song I’d heard and loved, “Train On The Island.”
When I got done with the first set, they gave me a strong round of cheers, and Richard and some young waiters and waitresses began to serve dinner and wine. Everybody was eating and conversing and the place was loud with the ring of silverware on plates, the clink of glass, and relaxed but enthusiastic talk. The whole scene was very encouraging.
The second set went even better than the first. It was one of those gigs you go on the road for, small but sort of magical, the kind that make you glad you’re a musician, that you stuck with it. It was really fun. I played some encores for them, and they gave me a long standing ovation at the end, then finally a “walking ovation,” as they all disappeared back into the New Jersey night, and I could hear groups of them singing the last song together as they walked away in the dark, “Cool… Clear…. Water.”
Richard straightened out the place, stowed everything spic and span and ship shape. The wait staff cleared out and it was just us. Richard settled up with the pay straight away, handing me a few hundred bucks, which I counted out.
“So wheres the hotel?” I asked, and he said,
“Well, there’s no hotel.”
And I said, “I thought you guys had me covered.”
And he said, “Well, the musicians usually stay at my house.”
I said, “Is that what John Hammond Junior did?”
And he said, “Well no, he stayed at a bed and breakfast nearby, but it’s too late to get you in there now.”
And so we made the decision to follow him out to his place, which he said wasn’t too far, and crash there.
Cool. So he got in his pickup out front, and we pulled around behind him in the hot rod, and he took off and we followed.
We got down the main road for about 10 minutes, then took a left onto another road, which headed away from the towns, in fact, a little ways down the second road we weren’t seeing any house lights anymore, just cornfields under the moon, corn for miles. We took another turn onto a very small two lane side road, and after driving that for a few remote miles, we started to get a little antsy. It was really dark and lonely out there, no other cars in either direction, just the floating islands of light ahead from the pickup’s headlamps, and the little moving circle of light from ours.
“What if he’s taking us out here to kill us?” asked Josh, his face lit by the green dashboard, his eyes rolling towards me in the dark, and for a second I feel a slight chill all over my body. We both laughed too loudly: “Ha! Ha! Ha!” Then let it trail off.
The pickup was pulled over now to the left side of the road. Richard hopped out to open an ancient wood and wire gate, and then he pulled his truck onto the dirt road behind it, cutting into a dark wooded area. We followed him in, then stopped as he ran back again to lock the gate behind us. He was way up ahead now; we were just trying to keep an eye on his taillights. We drove for another five minutes, back and in, winding through trees, the road deeply rutted, us trying to keep up.
“I’m sure it’s okay,” I mumbled, and then suddenly we were in a large clear area, surrounded by trees, very dark except for the sliver of moonlight, the sky crazy with stars, and nothin’. I was trying to get my bearings.
Chris stopped, shut off his car and came over; we shut down, and then I made out the shape of a very large house against the night sky, a huge darkened farm house, not a light on in the place, and Chris set off towards it, gesturing for us to follow him. So I grabbed the Gibson in its case out of the back seat, Josh grabbed his bag and we went over and up some steps, apparently to the backdoor of the house.
He lets us in, and we were standing in the pitch-black room, some sort of anteroom or hall. We bumbled ahead in the dark; it was very quiet for a moment, then we heard the sound of feet, a rustling on the floor, as of something running, many somethings, very large, strange, moving in the dark, coming at us. “ARGGHHHHHHHH!” We were paralyzed.
Chris hit a switch, the lights came on, and we were in an ordinary American farmhouse kitchen, that was entirely filled with pigs. Little pigs, big pigs, running around the room, squealing; all were very excited to see Richard, who was greeting each and every one.
“Hello Winfield! Jimmy! Oh Rosie, there you are. We have visitors! Don’t be afraid, they’re very nice people!” And then to us, as he plopped down into a wooden chair by the table with a tiny pig on his lap, “They’re cleaner than cats and smarter than dogs. They’re nearly as smart as humans!” The pigs swarmed around his feet and under the table, hidden by the red checked table cloth, grunting and making other odd humming sounds, breathing hard, all very fast and wiggly, demanding our host’s full attention. “Oh Jerry Lee!” he called, and a medium size pig scampered up. “You guys did your show tonight. Would you like to see Jerry Lee do his? Come on Jerry Lee, it’s showtime!”
Jerry Lee hopped up on a stool. Chris reached under the table and pulled out a huge pair of red sunglasses and a little toy piano. He put the glasses on the pig, set the piano on the table, and as Chris started singing “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Jerry Lee started bangin’ the piano, eight to the bar, in a real rough style, but really pretty good, for a pig. Chris was excited now, sweating, wide awake, energized. The pigs were all rockin’ n rolling. I was sitting over by the piano, but Josh had gone over to the door, sitting on a wooden bench there, with a big porker on his lap.
“Dad, come here, check this out!” Every time he would reach over and touch the pig with his hand, the pig would immediately vibrate and hum. It was like completing an electrical circuit. Josh would take his hand away and the hum would stop. “Uhhhhh. Uhhhhh.” Josh tried the shave-and-a-haircut-bo-diddley-beat, touching the pig’s backs in time. “Uh Uh-uh uh-Uh! Uh uh-uh UH!”
Everybody settled down a bit down after that. Chris told he’d been a touring musician for years, and had only recently retired and opened the restaurant. But he wanted to pass on some encouragement to me.
“Peter, you should go tour Europe, they want the real thing over there, they’d love you…”
After a while it sort of seemed like everybody’d had a lot of fun, and had a good talk, and it was time to go sleep, so Chris headed off to another part of the house to get things ready, while Josh tried some Morse code on the back of the “hummer,” and I just sort of idly looked around.
The room we were in was a chaos of pigs, pots, pans, and assorted useful junk, most of it old.
I poked around there a minute or two, and then sort of thought of looking for a phone to call the West Coast and see if I could reach any of my other peeps out there, but I couldn’t find one. I went around the corner and through a door to a little office. It was just a little larger than a closet really, with a dark wood floor, and a desk piled with papers pushed up against the wall, and a lot of random seeming items lying around. In spite of the clutter, the room was oddly empty, didn’t seem like it was used much. I couldn’t find a phone. Josh came in too. The door closed into the room, and behind it was a little bulletin board Josh was checking it out.
“Dad, come here and look at this.” He was talking in a whisper all of a sudden.
The bulletin board was empty except for one faded, curling, yellow newspaper clipping from a small hometown paper in the Midwest. The headline was about a man acquitted in a trial, in a city far away. There was a picture of the man, hard to make out. He was sort of a medium build, had a bowl haircut, and was wearing glasses. He looked a little like Chris, but not exactly, and Chris wasn’t his name. The story told how the man had been acquitted, found completely innocent, though circumstantial evidence had pointed to his guilt. I couldn’t really figure out what the crime had been. We were standing there kind of silently mesmerized, when Chris’s head popped around the door, and interrupted our snooping. “All right then. Follow me, guys. I’ve got your rooms ready.”
We followed him up the stairs to the two guest rooms, which were situated, for some reason, at opposite ends of the second floor. The rooms were typical American farmhouse: brass beds, overhead fans, wild life pictures on the walls—bird and flower prints—historical portraits, dusty, massively overstuffed mattresses and pillows.
Chris left me in mine, and then went off to show Josh his. I felt agitated, and had been trying to go to sleep for a while, when the door quietly opened and someone was tip-toeing in through the dark.
It was Josh.
“A pig just tried to get into my room!”
When we woke up in the morning, the world was shining again, but Chris was gone and so were the pigs. We went down stairs and found this note on the kitchen table:
“Pete and Josh,
Thanks for the great gig guys. Hope you had a wonderful night. Help yourself to breakfast. Bacon’s on the stove.
But the next show was up in Boston, so we split.