Peter Case

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Chapter 7




I ended up sleeping in the back seat of Bert’s old blue Oldsmobile, parked in front of his pad in Bernal Heights. His car was becoming my new home. First thing each morning, Bert came out and drove, with me still in back, a few blocks, to the free breakfast at the St. Vincent De Paul’s, where the Christian communist workers waited on the tables of the indigent, bringing plates of eggs, sausage, toast and fruit, along with steaming cups of coffee.

I was playing on the streets every day, from about 11 a.m. until midnight, 2 a.m. or later on weekends. I’d lose my voice, get sunburned, play ’til my fingers bled, and I never made much more than a few dollars change, but I just kept singing and playing and learning new songs.

Sometimes on a break, I’d go stand in the book shop and read the display copy of Bob Dylan’s Writings and Drawings, with its pink cover, which had just come out. I loved the inscription in the front: “Dedicated to the rough riders, ghost poets, low down rounders, sweet lovers, desperate characters, sad eyed drifters and rainbow angels—those high on life from all ends of the wild blue yonder….” I’d started writing down lyrics to the songs in the book that hit me, ones I didn’t already know, like the blues called “California.” I put that one straight into my set. Another I learned right away was the epic “Long Time Comin,” a minor key ballad about a young kid ramblin’ the country alone.

When no one was on the street to listen, I’d keep playing for hours, anyway, trying to figure out favorite songs from memory, just guessing at the chords. Or with nothing close at hand to imitate, I’d make up licks or improvise a song of my own. Sometimes I’d just hate the way I sounded and the things I could play. My voice was thin, and I’d get self-conscious, feeling like the reedy little teenaged punk I knew I was deep inside. I had something I wanted to do, but now I just couldn’t get my head, or my fingers, around it. I’d figure everybody could see through me, could tell I wasn’t that tough, knew I was faking, could read that I lived in fear most of the time, scared of who would be coming down the street, afraid of my past coming to get me, and terrified of my own mind.

I ‘d lay the guitar down in disgust, put it away, walk across Maritime Park to the Bay, sit in the concrete bleachers and stare out over the water. I’d watch freighters passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, heading across the sea for the Orient. Maybe the Merchant Marine would be a better life for me.

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