A very great man (okay, Henry Ford Jr.) once said, "Never complain. Never explain." Words to live by, especially when you write essays on what's supposed to be a weekly basis and then life comes along and sits on your face. Goomph!
But despite any evidence to the contrary, I'm not going to apologize for being off the air anymore, I'm not I'm not I'm not. It's my little internet feifdom. No comments, no guestbooks, no amenities, no schedules, no deadlines, no regrets. Lots of merch. Like you care.
So, you ask (I assume), whatcha been up to Thaddie laddie? Never mind, don't ask, I'll tell you anyways. After eleven long and winding years, I went back to that august (July, actually) function, that essential event, "The world's largest hippie petting zoo," (R. Chumleigh), the Oregon Country Fair. Even as Miles Davis dropped out of Julliard to attain true mastery of his craft in the dives on 42nd Street, OCF might well be my true alma mater. Or in this case mebe alma nutter.
If I were a bitter old fart I might claim that I spent the best years of my life, all three of them, orbiting around the dwarf star of Veneta. That was in the halcyon Carter 70's, a time of recession and odd hope, when the first acid-rush glimmerings of the hippies gave way to a hundred different impulses among the young and not quite comatose. I'd actually graduated from an institute of higher learning with a degree of some kind (What can I say? TESC), after having previously run screaming from standard academia. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up (a problem I still face), and in the absence of blinding revelations streaming down from the heavens I took the path of least resistance and ran away to join the circus, in this case an extremely small, fiercely independent circus instigated by none other than the afforereferenced Reverend Chumleigh, a performer of stupefying feats and leftwing rants in public spaces who coaxed me into tootling my VW bug with the passenger seat removed and a bunk put in (I was skinnier then) down to Oregon with promises of a real New Age experience.
Well, if hacking a dusty haybale-seated stage and theater out of the brush and inventing crafts fair carnie mythology is New Age, I got it in spades redoubled. My principal creative contributions to the happy bacchanlia were 1) Naming it Chumleighland (I'm good with names) and b: Writing a march, initially titled Marche Grandioso but all too quickly receiving the sobrique it has borne into history, The Chumleighland March. My greatest hit. The tune that paid the rent on my body.
The first year of the circus, we had a marching band consisting of a trombone (me), a baritone and clarinet (two members of the Flying Karamazov Brothers), a tuba (our Wobbly carpenter), a fiddler (only marching fiddle player I've ever heard of or seen), plus a genius snare drummer and two volunteers on crash cymbals and bass drum. I sat in my VW bughouse and scribbled parts, handing them out the window as they were completed. Great traditions were initiated, chief among them the Midnight Show on Saturday night and its accompanying parade, torchlit and torch-juggled, an unkempt mob of merrymakers second-lining behind. And playing my song. And it was all magic.
I participated in the wild ruckus two more years, gradually adding parts to my magnum opus as more performers showed up, a flute here, a saxophone there. After that I was a merry married minstrel and traveled extensively with my beloved, passing thru the Fair less frequently, my orbit more cometary than ellipsoid. Every time I returned the band was bigger and they were still playing that tune. Thru the late 80's and 90's I maintained a tenuous but solid connection with the circus and with OCF, a low-rent legend.
Then my sweetie got sick, and rustic craft fairs with metaphysical benefits became logistically intractable. Years went by. My sweetie up and died. I made one final pilgrimage to Vaudeville Mecca, presented, represented, paid and received respects and went home, I presumed for good.
Never say never. This year, OCF celebrated its semicentennial, fifty years of counterculture retention. Not all that important, really, just another decimal-centric odometer rollover. I hadn't been back for half a generation, saw no reason to go. And yet...call it nostalgia, call it the cold breath of mortality, call it late for dinner, I was called. I wouldn't be who I am without Fair, and in a small but very real way it wouldn't be what it is without me.
I made calls. I wrote emails. I pulled strings. I played the March Card. And at the end of the day, out popped a last-minute camping pass and vehicle permit. I was privileged to experience the daily mob of muggles ogling glittering crafts and daringly-clad hippies (most of them other muggles cosplaying), the unsettling feats and terrible jokes of Nu Vaudeville, the joys of sleeping on a far-too-thin foam pad on root-encrusted woods ground while electrostages ranted and roared into the night. At the Midnight Show, the MC pulled me out of the band and introduced me to the crowd as That Guy That Wrote That March, and a thousand gaga hippies gave me The Clap (as we say in show biz).
But it was only the next morning that the real tribute came, the one that made me realize that I had, indeed, left a mark on this tiny fragment of the world. A fellow musician, new to the Fair, inquired about "that march the MC mentioned," and I obligingly whipped out the trio on stalwart Bertha, my bass trombone for all these past 55 years and change. And a bee-YOO-tee-ful young woman in a staff tee proclaimed, "That's the music of my childhood, as far back as I can remember! And that's you!"
Take that, entropy.