"Don't think. FEEL. It's like a finger pointing at the moon.
[Looks at student who is looking at the finger; smacks student again]
Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of the heavenly glory!"
Sir Charles had us in karate fever.
Before being torn away from my home to become a cadet at SMA, Charlie was getting us all into karate. He had been studying with master Kang in South Charleston and in turn, he taught us. Or rather, he tried to teach us. I bought a Gi, the white uniform, and took some classes with Charlie and another Tae Kwon Do teacher, Rev. T.
Imagine a small gymnasium with three young men, all in their teens and Rev. T leading us in exercises. One must warm up the body before the discipline of martial arts, so we did stretches first, push ups (That was when I could do a push up.)- the regular kind and those of the knuckle variety. Then came time for jumping jacks.
This is one of those experiences that was simply amazing. I know we toss around amazing and awesome to describe the most mundane things until those words have lost their meaning, but this was quite so, gentle readers.
So here are, trying to stay up with Reverend T doing jumping jacks. Slowly, he increases his speed. Man, I am just a kid, but already I feel pooped. Then suddenly, and I am not shitting you my friends, he goes into warp gear. The man's body was at a speed where his arms and legs are a blur. He's at a blinding speed. All of us break into smiles, double over to get our breath and watch the Six Million Dollar man break bad. He was driven with pure purpose and it was a beautiful display of athletic grace and power.
Then, up and down the floor, over and over again, doing the forms. "KEE-YAH!" we'd yell as we punch imaginary opponents. "KEE-YAH" comes a forward kick. Up the floor and back again. Over and again. It is grueling and my Gi is soaked. Zowie. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, but the physical toll was a bit much. I continued to have sporadic lessons with Charlie, but nothing really ever came from it. Bottom line: I didn't have the discipline. And if you did make contact, it hurt like a motherwriter. No one told me that.
By then, the guitar had already taken hold of me and the mere thought of knuckle push ups was unbearable. Or even worse, breaking my fingers or hand(s). Big wuss that I am.
Denny La Groove
One last addition to the dramatis personae of this time period: The Denmeister (No, we didn't call him that, but I try to keep names vague for obvious reasons.). I met him in the most unusual way.
When I was at SMA, Charlie said he was training a ninja warrior and kept telling me to stay in shape because I'd have to fight him. I did and got pretty good at nunchucks. I practiced them when I could.
Now, why in the hell did I take this seriously? Beats me.
The first time I met Den, we got into a fighting stance and began demonstrating our nunchuck skills to one another. It was like a martial arts movie standoff. I do believe that we both were ready to actually inflict harm upon one another. Charlie - Should we add Manson to your name?
He and Den were best mates at that point and had even shot an 8mm martial arts movie at an abandoned sanitarium (Now the site of a tennis megadome for the $noots of our fair city.). I was just so impressed that they had gone to such lengths. They even choreographed a fight scene and had the timing down pat. This was tribute to the very famous Bruce Lee-Chuck Norris fight scene (This was when back hair was not illegal. Is it just me, or does Norris' body hair seem to grow? Maybe I need my meds adjusted.)
Den was smart, funny as hell, extremely organized and was always thinking ahead. He was an extremely disciplined person at times, even bordering on the neurotic. Sometimes, he and Richard would crawl off into what amounted basically to "bummer" sessions; that is, male bonding consolation sessions whining about girls and playing songs about such. As someone who possesses an artistic temperament and who dealt with the turmoil of adolescence, I could fully relate to the occasional forays into what we might call folk emo today: Neil Young, America, CSNY, et al. If it was soft, acoustic and had lyrics about girl trouble, then these dudes were fully immersed. Trouble is, my occasional bouts of balls-out confidence didn't always jive with their soft, acoustical reveries.
One night, I shot my mouth off.
"Still into Neil Young?" was my sarcastic observation and note of condescension. They looked at one another, but did not reply. Needless to say, my presence was not welcome that night. It was an asshole thing to say, but because I was trying to free myself from the basics bonds of guitar playing, I felt that I had to be critical of who passed the guitar test and those whom I dubbed as lesser-thans. Old Neil was one of them at that time. (Neil is favorite now, as all that "having to prove something" nonsense is gone. I love his style.) This incident passed without notice and we were all pals again.
Le Groove would later be another guitar aficionado, joining Joe, T Bird and myself for Neil Young-a-thons. Even later, he would don a bass guitar for the early days of the band most smooth. (In fact, all but Charlie played the guitar. Curious.)
I met the Smoothmeister atop the Devil's Tea Table-a collection of rocks high above a ridge overlooking the valley. Even in those days, making that hike up to those formations was tough, but because we heard there was going to be a group of people up there spending the night, we just hiked right up. (I wouldn't try today not without a cell phone, a friend and a defibrillator.). No way Jose.)
I remember that there was a fire on a mountain ridge far across the valley. It was like watching a giant cigar ash slowly burning its way across a mountain side. The moon was out and kept watch over these teenage revelers. I mentioned something about the Moonlight Sonata and that was the beginning of our friendship. He liked Beethoven and Debussy; composers quite out of step with the likes of '70's rock gods like Aerosmith and Fred Zepplin. He was digging Brazil 66 and Vince Gauraldi when his peers were shattering their ear drums to Fog Hat and other musical delicacies. In fact, I was to learn that the Smoothenator was sort of out of step with the times and time itself.
You could never count on him to be on time anywhere. If he said a half hour, you must expect an hour to an hour and half to that time. We called it the C Variable. All who knew him knew this fact.
For as smooth as he was, the Smooth was prone to prat falls and such merriment. One such fall was while he was crossing a log and friends saw him tumble into the creek. Physically unharmed, but his dignity was a bit damaged as he emerged absolutely soaked to riotous laughter from his friends. I personally did not witness this, but later pressed him for details. You'd think his ego would be damaged.
But ego was never something he suffered from. You'd never accuse him of being arrogant or cocky, even when he had Jodie-an impossibly hot blonde-as a girlfriend. He was assured of his opinions as if they were facts as if the other person was simply misinformed (This has become more so as time has passed.) and would calmly insist upon his point, but he never has suffered from the blight of the big head.