Wavy Gravy and Norikonoko

Jesus H, is it ever Christmas. Business today was five times the total of our busiest day ever, ten times as many sales as a typical Saturday. Before I could even get the stand unpacked and the table unfolded, there was an almost constant line of people waiting to buy fish.

Not much past noon, it was clear we'd be running out of all our best-selling fish, so I made several customers wait while I jogged over to a phone booth and called Jay for emergency replenishment. "Jay! I'm almost out of Darwin, Gefilte, Bob, Beer, Jerry Garcia, Gay Pride, and Anti-Christ fish, and quarters for change!" She said she'd be there as soon as she could.

This is the meaning of Xmas, for real. Cheap presents at a cheap price. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but mostly gold. Ring 'em up and praise the Lord.

Jay was beside me at the table pretty damned soon — barely more than half an hour after I'd called — and she brought plenty of merch and a spare chair. We worked side-by-side for the rest of the afternoon, with about five minutes without a customer.

For an hour or so, Wavy Gravy walked through the very crowded sidewalks and street, asking for contributions to buy toys for homeless kids. I of course had nothing to give, but Jay gave me ten bucks and covered the table alone while I blitzed across the street and gave him the money and a long hug.

I am a cynical bastard and try real hard not to admire anyone, but Mr Gravy is someone I admire.

Then, when business finally began slowing, Jay bought me a pair of warm, wooly socks from a vendor a block away, as a bonus for our record-setting day. Thanks, boss!

♦ ♦ ♦ 

As we were folding up the table, day done at last, Josh came by and said "Merry Christmas," just as Judith waved at me from across Telegraph, where she was doing her Christmas shopping. Introductions all around: Judith, this is Josh. Josh, this is Jay. Jay, this is Judith. And vice versa.

Then it got weird, because someone suggested dinner, and quicker than diarrhea we were at Norikonoko, a family-run Japanese restaurant a few blocks down Telegraph, where Judith paid my way, thanks.

I had some sort of noodle and vegetable soup, and nibbled off everyone else's plates. It was a very good meal, but holy crap — nothing on the menu was less than $7.50, and I could feed myself for a week on that.

It was as nice a time as realistically possible, but I am not a social animal. With one other person, on a good day I can carry half a conversation, but with three other people, even three friends, I was in the silent era.

Introvert here. I need advance warning before hanging out with people, and also I was exhausted from interacting with a thousand customers all day. Everyone else handled the talking though, and I handled the eating, and laughed at everyone else's jokes, and said next to nothing after ordering.

When I got home I barfed up dinner. There was nothing wrong with it, really, and I do sincerely recommend Norikonoko if you can afford it. It was just nerves and exhaustion screwing with my digestion. I washed the taste of puke out of my mouth with a few peanut butter sandwiches and a glass of milk, and then, what a day, glad it's over, and good night.

From Pathetic Life #19
Saturday, Dec. 16, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. Your Wavy Gravy reference made me think of this excerpt:

    On New Years Eve 1973 when I was nineteen and scribbling in my notebook in the subway station waiting for the train to the party at WBAI, where Wavy Gravy was the M.C, when a young thug came up to me and said,” Are you writing about me? Don't write about me.” He put a razor knife to my chest then sliced up my notebook. We changed trains and at Grand Central and he came at me again with fists raised, and I raised mine also. Just then, like out of a movie, a policeman bounded down the stairs and said, “I don't want to be in court on New Years day!”
    We all got on the train and when midnight struck the passengers got up smiling, going around shaking hands and saying, “Happy New Years!” (Eel Paradise)

    1. Never been caught out quite like that, for taking notes. Had you been staring at him, even taking notes about him, or was he just a thug?

      Somebody slicing up my notes, I might lose it and do something stupid. That's like slicing my brain.

    2. No, I was just scribbling away, not noticing anyone, still have that sliced notebook...

  2. I couldn't tell from the context of the story whether you already knew Wavy Gravy or met him that day. I've been following him and his wife Bonnie for fifty or more years (being a Dylan fan and all). Geez, the actual girl from the north country. And, of course, the Chief of Please. Pretty darn impressive.

    And they're still at it, although likely semi-retired. Nice story.


    1. Knew him? Nah. He hung around Telegraph, I worked Telegraph, and he stands out in a crowd so I'd seen him around. Spoke with him very briefly a few times, same as thousands.

      In an actual conversation he'd probably bug me, like everyone else does.

    2. Just on the off-chance that Mr & Mrs Gravy have done a decent thing or two over their long lives, it might be OK to add Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country" to one of your playlists. Even if they piss you off. (There's a version by Dylan and one by Dylan and Johnny Cash: it's your mind.)


    3. Art is subjective. I tried twice, but yikes.

      As a poem I can feel it, but as a song it leaves me cold, sorry.

      Never heard it before. Maybe that's part of the problem. Most of my favorites I've heard hundreds or thousands of times.

      I don't know from the Chief of Please. What's up with that, chief, please?

    4. Art is individual, a relationship between the artist's work and, in this case, the observer's ears. I think it's a great song, but I've heard it since 1963. You might not be a fan of early Dylan, when he was trying to sound like Woodie Guthrie.

      Topic 2: Chief of Please

      Hugh Romney (Wavy Gravy) and the folks from the Hog Farm provided security at Woodstock (the first one: the only one that counts). He spent some time on the PA system keeping the crowd orderly and safe. His people always said "please" when they wanted people to stop behaving inappropriately. So Hugh became the Chief of Please at Woodstock.

      They ran out of food by Saturday, and were trying to get food that had been donated by locals from Bethel and other nearby towns to the attendees. Hugh famously took the mike and said, "What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000." He and the Hog Farm people managed to keep the crowd from rioting or worse. He quickly became a folk hero: The Chief of Please.

      I assume that and many other stories are in his wiki and in other Woodstock sites around the Web.


    5. I knew he was emcee of Woodstock, of course, but never heard "Chief of Please." Didn't even get the pun until I'd read it three times.

      The internet says Hugh and Mitt Romney are not related, and that's a pity. They could've made such a groovy family portrait.

    6. We haven't talked about Bob Dylan. It always seems to me that there's not much more to say about him, but of course there is. His first album sold 5,000 copies and was shit. His second album, released May 27, 1963, is The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, and it changed everything (if you think music is everything, which I sort of do). He had been in New York for over two years and had become a confident performer. He retained his Minnesota accent, and combined it with his old persona as "the Woody Guthrie jukebox". If you know him from Blood on the Tracks or even Blonde on Blonde a decade earlier, you really hear the Minnesota and the Guthrie. Since I started with "Freewheelin' ...", it doesn't sound odd to me. I was 13, and instead of a bar mitzvah (I was the wrong religion) I had myself a Dylan revolution. For the next six years (until "What is this shit") I bought every Dylan album and played the hell out of all of them. I listened to a lot of other music of course, including Leonard Cohen's brilliant first album, but I always came back to Dylan.

      That (sort of) first album (Freewheelin') leads to the renaissance of country music, which had been dead since WWII, and eventually country rock and folk rock. That's why, as annoying as Dylan is, he's the brick that holds the wall together in post-modern music. Not now, of course. He's can't sing and he's too lazy to play the kind of guitar and harmonica that he used to. But, like Jesus, Dylan is still important because many people believe he exists.

      I know I'm rambling, and I'm just getting started as I wind down. We'll likely never talk on the phone (PHONE!) or, heaven forbid, mano a mano, but, believe it or not, I have some opinions about the beginnings of post-modern popular music, and you have opinions about just about everything. We could talk about the history of professional wrestling in Seattle, but we won't, and I suppose it's better that way. But if you're traveling to the north country fair . . .


    7. Addendum: Every time I talk about, or anybody talks about country music, be sure to add, at least in your head, the words, ". . . except for Hank Williams". Genius abides.


    8. > But, like Jesus, Dylan is still important because many people believe he exists.

      I roared.

      Long as I can remember musically, Dylan has always been near-universally acclaimed. I can't think of anyone in any art that's like that, that's been so widely hailed as the Greatest Ever for so long. Carlin was pretty universally accepted as the best from the 1980s until his death, so 30 years or so. Brando and Capote had competition in their respective fields, you could argue about where they ranked at any time, but I don't remember any serious arguments about Mr D.

      So I'm wondering when that started. Was Freewheelin' simply well reviewed and a big hit, with everyone saying "Hey, this Dylan dude is pretty good," or were people already saying Greatest Ever the day after, on May 28, 1963?

      As with everything, I resisted for a long time, but that's mostly because I'm stubborn and music wasn't the #1 #2 or #3 thing in my world. When I have sat still and seriously listened to music as more than background, actually put the needle to the vinyl and listened, it's between Dylan and Cohen, but it's Dylan more than Cohen. Wish they would've co-written an album of duets.

      Hank Williams, yeah. Are they still turning out a new model every twenty years or so? Must be up to IV or V or maybe VI by now.

    9. There's only the one. All others are pale imitations.


    10. As for Dylan he hasn't written a really great song for 45 years. After having more or less flopped for 13 years and washing out with the Dead and having brief collaborative success with the Wilburys, then having a kid and getting married and leaving his second wife, he went on tour on June 7, 1988. Except for time out for Covid, he's been on tour since. It's always called the Never Ending Tour and I won't bother to look up how many performances, but he's still on the road heading for another joint. Virtually every performance is a sellout, but Dylan is one guy I'd rather hear on records than in person (I've done both). So why is he Devine in certain circles?

      Yeah, he published one of the great albums of the rock age in 1975 (Blood On the Tracks). But timing is everything: ten years before Blood, he went on a hell of a streak. He "went electric" and dropped three albums in 14 months in 1965-66. They form the foundation of three or four rock styles that flourished over the following decade: folk rock, country rock, singer/songwriter, and maybe confessional, although he didn't confess to much. One person can't invent all those styles, but rock writers pretty much agree that the first three of those either wouldn't have happened or would have happened very differently without Dylan. And the guy doesn't really write songs: he writes lyrics and steals melodies. He keeps saying he's not a melodist, but people somehow think he's being modest. Dylan isn't a modest guy fer godsakes. He, his publicist, Columbia, and a couple of PR firms he hired campaigned tirelessly for the Nobel, and finally bought it. I have no idea whether he deserved it, but why not?

      In summary, he came along during a period of maximum social change in America, and within a few short years dropped a bunch of culture/music-changing albums, sang in the March on Washington with Dr. King, performed with the Queen of Folk, Joan Baez, and, at the height of his popularity, after dropping Blonde on Blonde, perhaps his best album, he fell off his motorcycle and virtually vanished for four or five years. It's the stuff of Myth, aided and abetted by an emerging Rock Press.

      Any more would be a book instead of a comment, but there's plenty more. There are seven or eight bios and an autobio if you're interested. I wasn't interested enough to finish Chronicles, or even get very far. But sometime, when it's late and the house is asleep and you're thinking of long-gone times and friends lost and dreams smashed, put Tangled Up In Blue on the virtual turntable, and let the rest of the album play. There is human genius there, and we celebrate that.


    11. I love it when you give me the facts of music. You could've been a teacher, and book-length comments are nice but you could've written the book.

      Some people know stuff. Other people *love* stuff. And other people can explain it. Usually they're not the same people. You're the same people.

      I got no smart comments in reply, but you've reminded me that I need more Dylan in my playlist.

      More Cohen too, while I'm at it.

    12. Thank you for the kind words.

      Epilogue: Great art comes not from perfection, but, like the most beautiful pearls, from flaws. In music the very best songwriters of the last four generations, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, McCartney/Lennon, Chuck Berry, John Prine, Willie Nelson, and the rest. I don't know any of these people, but by reputation Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry stand out as notorious assholes -- and the rest of these writer/arrangers have their own flagrant flaws. That's where Dylan's best work has come from: written to impress a woman, to get laid, to keep up with his reputation until he no longer could (thus the motorcycle accident?!). Then the muse flew away, returned briefly ten years later and vanished again, never to return.

      The best writing of everybody on that list came from their relative youth. They didn't get better, they got less inspired. Dylan has been coasting for 45 years. At least Simon tried. Why does genius fade with passion? It's one of the human questions worth pondering.

      I mentioned the Never-Ending Tour because that's Dylan's way of trying (and making gobs of money).

      Last thought: Who did I leave off that list? I wanted to name ten, but stopped at nine because of an unavoidable 50-way tie. Maybe there's an obvious tenth, and maybe I just have goofy taste. I'm getting old too.


    13. You're not counting anything from Oh Mercy, Time Out of Mind, "Love and Theft" or even "Things Have Changed"? Wow.

    14. After Blonde On Blonde, Dylan released 32 more studio albums, 15 live albums, 28 compilation albums, 22 box sets, 15 albums in his "bootleg" series, and 83 singles. Out of those 195 releases there were a few good tunes -- good by anybody else's standards -- but except for Blood on the Tracks, I didn't hear any songs that equal the consistent quality of Blonde on Blonde and the two preceding albums.

      You have certainly picked out two of the best albums in Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft, and since appreciation of music is an individual enterprise, I won't argue about their quality. I don't think it's up to the quality of the early stuff, but if you do it's a close enough call to call it a draw. I do think that the single Things Have Changed is a slightly sad revisit to the lyric and tone of his early work, but it sounds fine.

      Dylan's influence on musical trends, though, faded rather quickly after the 60s. In 1966, most everybody was trying to sound like Dylan; by the end of the 70s, hardly anybody was, and that was more or less my point. I don't know anybody who characterizes Oh Mercy as a work of genius, or Things Have Changed as an all-time classic like early Dylan, but they sound OK.

      Mostly, if you enjoy the albums and single you named I'm glad. Dylan should be enjoyed while we have him. He's a fine songwriter and I think he was a very good singer and multi-instrumentalist. And nobody can doubt that the Never-ending Tour has established Dylan as a multi-generational star of epic proportions.

      Thanks for your thoughtful feedback.


    15. Apropos of nothing is my motto, and it occurs to me that the only way I've *ever* heard new music is if it's pre-selected by radio executives, or used in a movie soundtrack, or recommended by friends (thanks, btw).

      Now there are algorithms that suggest what you might like based on what you already like, but that seems like a spiral toward stuff that all sounds the same, and anyway, everything the algorithm suggests has been pre-screened by someone in it for the money or kickbacks, same as radio.

      I've recently discovered this project, MusiCat where indy music-makers provide their tunes to local public libraries for streaming, make a little money, and make my ears tingle a little.

      Seattle Public Library is a member, and I've been listening to some of the music between all the movies I watch. Haven't discovered the next Dylan yet, but there's a lot I like...

  3. And best wishes on your food plan. I'm down a few pounds since my heart stopped working six year ago, and I'll probably have to take off more before the present medical crisis is resolved, one way or another. It's a difficult thing because the bad food is so available and the good food requires some hunting and pecking. But it's worth it to, for one more day, week, or year, keep breathing the atmosphere that clings perilously to this ragged rock of ours. It doesn't seem like much, but that's all there is, so it's damn fine compared to the alternative. It sounds silly, but one day at a time.


    1. Thanks for the best wishes and right back atcha. Let's stay alive.

    2. … Now the seats are all empty
      Let the roadies take the stage
      Pack it up and tear it down

      … They're the first to come and last to leave
      Working for that minimum wage
      They'll set it up in another town

      … Tonight the people were so fine
      They waited there in line
      And when they got up on their feet they made the show

      … And that was sweet
      But I can hear the sound
      Of slamming doors and folding chairs
      And that's a sound they'll never know

      … Now roll them cases out and lift them amps
      Haul them trusses down and get'em up them ramps
      'Cause when it comes to moving me
      You know you guys are the champs

      … But when that last guitar's been packed away
      You know that I still want to play
      So just make sure you got it all set to go
      Before you come for my piano

      … But the band's on the bus
      And they're waiting to go
      We've got to drive all night and do a show in Chicago

      … Or Detroit, I don't know
      We do so many shows in a row
      And these towns all look the same
      … We just pass the time in our hotel rooms

      And wander 'round backstage
      Till those lights come up and we hear that crowd
      And we remember why we came

      … Now we got country and western on the bus
      are and be ,
      we got disco in eight tracks and cassettes in stereo

      … We've got rural scenes & magazines
      We've got truckers on the CB
      We've got Richard Pryor on the video

      … We got time to think of the ones we love
      While the miles roll away
      But the only time that seems too short
      Is the time that we get to play

      … People you've got the power over what we do
      You can sit there and wait
      Or you can pull us through
      Come along, sing the song
      You know that you can't go wrong

      … 'Cause when that morning sun comes beating down
      You're going to wake up in your town

      But we'll be scheduled to appear
      A thousand miles away from here

      … People stay just a little bit longer
      We want to play, just a little bit longer

      … Now the promoter don't mind
      And the union don't mind
      If we take a little time
      And we leave it all behind and sing
      One more song

      … Oh won't you stay
      Just a little bit longer
      Please please please, say you will
      Say you will

      … Oh won't you stay
      Just a little bit longer
      Oh please please please stay
      just a little bit long

      … I bet promotors don't mind
      And the roadies don't mind
      If we take a little time
      And we leave this all behind
      Singing one more song

      Maurice Williams, 1960
      (Jackson Browne version)

    3. I heard you say "Let's stay alive .... (just a little bit longer)" and that song came tumbling through my faded memory. It's been covered repeatedly, but by none better than Jackson Browne.


    4. No conscious tribute was intended in my remark, but hooray man. That's my favorite song from Jackson Browne. Hummable tune, sweet lyrics about how much he enjoys what he does for a living, and then the surprise segue to an ancient oldie. I still remember the first time I heard it, same as I remember my first read of The Death Ship and first watch of Casablanca.

  4. In attempting to respond to the brief critique from Anon above, I omitted to say that we are inevitably captives of our times. I mentioned that I was 13 when Dylan published Freewheelin', and I adopted that album and Dylan's next six or seven albums as my fundamental music, although I was just as enamored of music by the Beatles, the Stones, Eric Burdon, Brian Wilson, Jefferson Airplane, The Dead, many more, and, in 1967 by my man Leonard Cohen. I bought those Dylan albums the day they dropped locally, and sort of lived and died by their quality and their sound.

    So I am biased by my times. Maybe were I twenty years younger and Dylan was partly history and partly current events I'd feel different about his later stuff. I've spent a lot of time listening to, reading about, and thinking about the music of my time, and I try my best to be objective, but if I don't admit to the possibility of temporal bias I'm not allowing for all the possible influences on my taste, whatever that is. So thanks again, anon, for reminding me how old I am. And thanks for keeping me honest.


    1. We're all prisoners of the times we live in, I suspect. Or, most of us. If I'd been born twenty years earlier I'd love Perry Como. Twenty years later, maybe Kurt Cobain.

      What would we be listening to, I wonder, if we'd been born in the sheet music era, before music was recorded?

    2. Well, not Perry Como I hope. The first generation of rock AM DJs hated rock. Little Richard came along followed fairly closely by Elvis and the other Memphis guys (Sun, then Stax), that is, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Otis Redding, Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper. A Seattle AM DJ said on the air around 1960, "What ever happened to Kay Starr? We used to play musical music."

      Rock 'n' roll was a revolution. Most musical changes are evolutionary, so the change isn't so dramatic. The Andrews Sisters were hot, then they were not. Of course, it wasn't all that revolutionary in terms of the music. The big band boys could cook. Sing, Sing, Sing With a Swing.

      Shit, I'm time constrained. Just when I was warming up. Whatever DID happen to Kay Starr?


    3. > The first generation of rock AM DJs hated rock.

      Huh. I never thought of it before, but that makes perfect sense. It's the kids that loved rock, and the first generation of radio DJs would've been at least half a generation older than that, probably more in big cities. I feel curiously illuminated by this info, thanks.

      Sing Sing Sing with a Swing has been on my playlist since forever. It's usually my answer when someone talks about the invention of rock'n'roll. Louis Prima.

      In what sense is that *not* rock?

      As for Kay Starr, says here she's at Dougherty Cemetery in Oklahoma.

    4. Yeah, she came from Oklahoma as I recall. Louis Prima's stuff was the kind of big band pre-rock that I was talking about. It's one of the parents of rock 'n' roll. Of course "race music" is another: the kind of music that, by the very late 40s, genteel people called rhythm & blues. The third was hillbilly, which by the early 50s was called country and western. Yeah, three parents and an explosion: that explains a lot.


    5. . . . and for the sake of your own sanity and pleasure, order Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll by Nick Tosches from Amazon. Not too expensive, and it could change your life. Thirty or so bite-sized bios of the people who created rock music out of its predecessors. I have found it indispensable.


    6. Unsung Heroes seems like the wrong title for a book about rock stars. :) I imagine Mr Tosches touches on this.

      Louis Prima is another of my favorite grandfathers of rock'nroll. I'm not certain but I *think* he invented the term "Yippie kiyaa," but the motherfucker came from Bruce Willis.

    7. The entire title is, "Unsung Heroes Of Rock 'n' Roll: The Birth Of Rock In The Wild Years Before Elvis". I had never heard of, or barely heard of, about half these people/groups when I first read this book 30 years ago. It turns out that since I was unfamiliar with The Treniers I didn't have any idea how Bill Haley and the Saddlemen, a rockabilly group transformed themselves into Bill Haley and His Comets, a rock 'n' roll group just about overnight.

      The stories interweave throughout the book. Some, like Hardrock Gunter are wild enough all by themselves.


    8. I've tapped my toes to some Hardrock Gunter, but doubtless you're harder and gunterer.

      And this one too. I like his instrumental stuff. When he sings, though, it's too corny and country for my tastes. So yeah, let's let him remain "unsung."

    9. I think Hardrock was included primarily for writing Birmingham Bounce, which was proto-rock covered by a half dozen country western players. And the fact that his name came from his occupation as a miner, not from his preferred musical form of expression, which didn't exist yet under that name.


    10. Faskinating — I'd never known or notices that about Hardrock, but of course it can't mean hard rock when there was no rock at all except geology.

      I swear, man, only know you for a year or so but in that time I reckon you've boosted my IQ by a few.

    11. And your posts -- like today's -- boost mine.



The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.