Meeting with my Draft Board …: At some point in the spring of 1969 I received an invitation to a meeting with my draft board. I’d neglected to notify them of my enrollment at the University of Houston and they were about to reclassify my status from 2-S (a college student exemption) to 1-A (potentially available for military service). I gathered the paperwork and appeared at the office of the Selective Service in downtown Houston at the appointed time on the appointed day, expecting to deal with some bureaucratic minion so I was probably stoned when the minion ushered me into a large wood paneled meeting room. Around a large conference table with stacks of files strewn haphazardly over the polished wooden surface sat a small group of elderly very white men, who were drinking coffee, smoking and casually chatting. The youngest, a gentleman in his sixties, looked at me then opened a file and said, “You must be… ahhhh… Mr. McHattery.”
He invited me to take a seat and introduced me to the other members of my draft board. Since 1917 the Selective Service System has been the method by which American males between the ages of 18 and 26 are conscripted into two years of military service. The law has been changed over time but the basic design remains intact. On your eighteenth birthday you’re required to “voluntarily” register with the SSS. If the Department of Defense finds itself in large scale war and in need of fresh cannon fodder, those young men who are unmarried and without dependent children, not students in college or without a critical job at a defense contractor and who are so unfortunate as to be deemed physically and psychologically “fit,” can be legally conscripted for two years of military service.
Holding a manila envelope containing the required university enrollment paperwork in my hand, I sat down across from this sad collection of snorting and coughing men and nearly cracked up with the mental image of dinosaurs dressed in cowboy hats and bib overalls playing dominoes on the porch of a small town BBQ joint.
I was flashing on a standup routine from a Lenny Bruce album when he riffed about a group of Mafiosi in the front row of a club in Miami. Despite my herbal induced amusement I managed to keep a relatively straight face and after five minutes of very polite question and answer, the sixty-something spokesman sent me on my way with this bit of advice, “James, ya seem like a smart fella. Do yerself a favor and stay in school. This mess will probably be over and done with before ya get yer degree.”
None of the other elderly gentlemen said a word.
… and Blood on the Walls: Shortly after my encounter with the Draft Board, Chuck Fox invited me over to his house to meet his older brother Hank and we gathered in the low lit night club atmosphere of Chuck’s converted garage which was dominated by Chuck’s palette knife portrait of Charlie Parker. Chuck lived at home with his widowed mother and Hank had just returned from San Diego after a three year stint in the US Navy with a full medical discharge and a disability package because one night he’d walked into an open cargo hatch, fallen thirty feet and broken his back. This was just fine with Hank because after they patched him up and he’d gone through rehab, he could still get around with a minimum of pain and more importantly he was free to pursue his career as a professional jazz drummer subsidized with a guaranteed income from Uncle Sam.
I’d brought some acid to the party so we sat back, drank some beers, smoked cigarettes and listened to some great tunes on Chuck’s monster 60 watt per channel stereo. Hank had an incredibly charming and enthusiastic personality, and he was full of tales about California and Hawaii and playing at late night jam sessions with various jazz artists when he toured in various US Navy Bands. Chuck worshiped his big brother and it was easy to see why. At some point we got into a discussion about what to me was the mysterious magic of music and Hank set out to explain it to me. “Music is really nothing more than slicing time,” he said, “It’s all about time. The notes, the instrumentation, harmony, it’s all just different frequencies. Even lyric is metered rhyme, and the hook, the hook, whether it’s instrumental or just a phrase in the chorus, the hook is what we all remember. A great hook just fuckin’ kills! It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first eight notes of Beethoven’s Fifth or Buddy Holly singing “Peggy Sue,” if you come up with a great hook, you’re on your way to some great music.”
We went back and forth for about ten minutes and I still didn’t quite get it when Hank asked Chuck if he had The 5th Dimension’s “Up, Up and Away” because it had both the orchestration and the kind of great hook that he was talking about. Chuck dug out the album and dropped the needle on the track which hissed and popped as Hank cranked up the volume and when the 5D broke out into that dippy Jimmy Webb lyric, I thought Hank was losing it. “Close your eyes and listen,” he said, “And I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”
He then lit a cigarette and began moving the burning tip through the air and in the dimly lit room it appeared like the signal on an oscilloscope before my closed eyes. Hank carefully showed me exactly what the time signatures were for the music and how each musician playing each instrument was doing their particular variation on the orchestral arrangement. He did this while we were both blazing on some very good acid and thanks to his patience and ingenuity I finally comprehended the mysterious magic of music.
Then he picked up a polygon plastic calendar from the coffee table and shook it like a Maraca to demonstrate the rhythmic variations of the instruments adding an audio dimension to his music lesson. It worked beautifully. Then he told me to open my eyes and handed me the plastic polygon and we went through it together until I could separate and clearly hear each element of the orchestration. It was so damned cool.
About that time Mrs. Fox called us in for fried chicken, but I’d eaten and having taken acid I had zero appetite even for Texas comfort food. I begged off and Chuck and Hank went in to eat supper while I stayed in the converted man cave garage and listened to the whole side of the album. I was ecstatic with my newly discovered understanding of how each track was literally nothing more than very talented people “slicing time.”
Eventually Hank and Chuck returned with a plate of cold water melon and freaked when they saw the walls splattered with my blood. It seems that in my enthusiasm, I was gripping the plastic polygon too tightly with my hand and without realizing it, I'd cut my fingers and palm wide open on the points and edges. After the clean up, we sat back, ate cold slices of watermelon and enjoyed the music until well after midnight. Despite my inadvertent blood letting, it was one of the very best acid trips of my life.
Next up on JMac1949 - Memories, 1969 - Meeting with the Econ Professor, a Trip up to Stillwater to see David & Brenda and Meeting with a Philosophy Professor.
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