An award-winning writer, Bruce F. Rosen shares the same publisher as literary greats Allen Ginsberg, Laurence Ferlinghetti, and William Saroyan. Featured on The Today Show and the cover of Personal Excellence and Publisher’s Weekly, he has written for the San Francisco Chronicle and the Baseball Hall of Fame. His “slice of life” pieces ran on BBC Radio. His mother, Alma Rose, who was a psychic that read tea leaves for, among others, Marlon Brando, inspired this memoir which is dedicated to her. This excerpt showcases his best friend from his youth, who lives on, only, in the author’s memories. Please visit his website: www.almarosepublishing.com
Phillip Rusty Siegler
I’m in my rocking chair now, an old Stickley chair from the early 1900s, rocking back and forth as “Wish You Were Here” intoxicates, filling me with reverie; wanting to live fully; missing my mom desperately; the early days of innocence with Sue; the days when my boys were young and in those overalls with a dogface on the front, big red dog tongue of felt sticking out; wishing for the football days with Phil and his dad; and missing another old friend, the best friend that I ever had, also named Phil. This friend from my youth, Phillip Rusty Siegler, knew of no other way to be, except loyal. We did so much together as kids, came of age together in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and then I went off to college, and he fell on hard times, desperately hard times. I miss him a lot right now. I’m looking at a picture of myself with my brothers, Jeff and Elliot, and best friend, Phil. There is so much chemistry and connection in this picture—we fit like a building held together by gravity and not cement or nails. There is joy, intensity and attitude in this picture. Elliot, my youngest brother, is about 16, good looking, with brown, wavy hair that is growing toward his shoulders. He wears a full smile—he’s enjoying the company of his brothers and their best friend. Jeff, the stud hockey goalie, has a mini-afro hairstyle, a beer in his hand as he
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looks off in the distance. I must have been influenced by the new disco craze, my shirt collar open, revealing a gold chain; a blue, unbuttoned vest; hair nicely styled into a long, round, natural; a mustache; and my carefully honed hockey glare. Phil is sitting on the arm of the sofa, leaning over on me to get into the picture, the haircut like John Fogerty, the plaid shirt right out of Creedence Clearwater’s “Cosmo’s Factory” album. It’s interesting; Phil’s look in the eyes is very much like mine, in contrast to my two brothers, who appear in a lighter frame of mind. As I look at this
picture, the words fill me—Phil and I heard them so many times together— “We’re just two lost souls, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year, running over the same old ground, what have you found? The same old fears. Wish you were here.” “Wish you were here,” I sing to myself, but loud enough to fill the whole apartment. “Wish you were here,” and tears start rolling down my cheek. When the song finishes, I play it again, because once is not enough. “Wish you were here!” I sing loudly; “Wish you were here.”
The song finishes and I go over to pull out a stunning, gorgeous vinyl that I bought at Bleeker Street records in the Village, across from John’s Pizza. I had first heard about John’s Pizza from “M,” and I went there with Jonathan on this last visit. After having the most delicious pizza that I’d ever tasted—sweet, ripe tomato sauce, with the perfect thin crust, baked in the brick oven; it even surpasses Tommaso’s of San Francisco’s North Beach—washed down with a couple of glasses of hearty red wine, we made our way over to the record store. It wasn’t cheap, but high up on the wall—far enough out of reach to require someone with a ladder to go up and get it, no doubt to discourage touching by window shoppers—was a first pressing of “Rubber Soul,” recorded in the original mono. I would have wanted this album at any time of day, but in this slightly buzzed condition—the wine had nicely washed down the pizza—I had to own it. And so I paid the couple of hundred dollars for the album. I put it on now for the first time.
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If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away
Bruce Farrell Rosen
Is there a song any more true of life, of reverie, of missing people, of trying to make the most of every minute, of accepting all of life, the good, the bad, the joyful, the painful, than Lennon singing thus:
There are places I remember!all my life, though some have changed!some forever, not for better, some have gone and some remain!all these places had their moments, with lovers and friends, I still can recall!some are dead and some are living!In my life, I’ve loved them all.”
The tone, the irony, the vocals from deep within the chest, emanating from the heart; the absolute beauty of feeling encapsulates the world for me at the moment. I play it again as I sing softly to myself, “Some are dead, and some are living; in my life I’ve loved them all.”
My mind drifts to summer of 1968. My family had moved on from Van Nuys, where we had landed after departing Campbellton, New Brunswick, Canada—the nation still in shock and mourning following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy—and had settled on Calvert Street in Reseda, deep in the bowels of the smog-filled San Fernando Valley. Calvert Street was like so many of the rows on rows of cheaply built residential housing tracts that made up “the Valley,” but we were among the lucky ones, because the house we had purchased had a swimming pool. My brother Jeff and I had become relatively popular on this street just weeks after moving in—and, of course, one of the chief reasons for this popularity had to do with our willingness to invite kids over to go swimming during those summer months, when eggs literally fry on the sidewalk.
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Having been in Canada the past couple of years, it was surprising to me just how insanely hot this turned out to be. I marveled at
how many of the neighborhood kids were able to walk down these incinerator sidewalks barefoot; their feet so calloused from absorbing the sidewalk coals that there would be very little to gain from sandals. It was crazy to me to see this—it was as though kids had several layers of extra skin on their feet. Given the competitive kid that I had been, it was paramount that I catch up to the barefoot abilities of the neighborhood establishment. But it didn’t happen easily. The first day I handled the hot stones for about 10 seconds; the second day, maybe 20 seconds; and by the end of the month I painfully walked about a couple of hundred yards on hot coals to hang out with some kids. And it was on one of these scorching one-hundred-degree-plus days that I met and admired Phillip Rusty Siegler. His middle name was “Rusty” for a reason: his hair was short, cropped along the ears and against the neck, but glistened copper as it grew longer on top. It was too brown to be blond, and too red to be brown. “Rusty” would be the only way to describe it. We were both 13 years old, and about the same height, maybe five foot six. But Phil was stockier than me, broader, and with more girth. If I was built like a wide receiver, he was a linebacker. If I were a centerman in hockey, he’d be the defenseman. His blue eyes were deeply set—a lot of eye bone surrounding them, and he had a squarish jaw, the chin dimpled. Freckles scattered across his nose and onto both cheeks.
Phil didn’t live in this tract of homes, but rather several blocks away on one of the streets that ran perpendicular to the train tracks. He had been visiting one of his buddies, Mark, hair dark at the roots, then moving progressively from red, to blond to white, starting out straight, then becoming exceptionally bushy, frizzing out at a 90-degree angle very reminiscent of Bozo the Clown.
Mark and Phil had been throwing a football around when I arrived. And then I joined in, trying to impress the new guys with my spirals. And, indeed, good at sports, I was pretty darn impressive that day with the straightness and tight spirals of
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my passes. Phil and Mark had been passing the ball barefoot on the sidewalk when I arrived, but it was all I could do to make it there barefoot, so I quickly made it to the cool, comforting grass from which I participated in the throw around. Eventually Mark went into his house, leaving Phil and me alone to throw the ball. And this was where I became extremely impressed with Phil. The pavement was absolutely scorching, and he ran pattern after pattern down sidewalks, into the harsh pavement of the street, diving for balls across sidewalks into peoples lawns, jumping on the hoods of cars to catch a pass, running into chain-link fences, eventually ripping open some skin on the top of one of the fences. I kept throwing those passes from the sanctuary of the cool green pasture on which my feet rested. After about 45 minutes, Phil came back to where I was standing and suggested that I run some of the patterns into the street. “If I had some shoes, maybe,” I said,” but
I can’t run on that stuff barefoot,” I continued. “You ain’t got feet like mine, ha,” Phil answered, the words bathed in a drawl that was country, but not deep, deep country. “I like the way you throw the ball, you play Pop Warner growin’ up?” he started. “I did, as a kid in Simi Valley, but I wasn’t a quarterback; I was a halfback,”
I answered. “But ice hockey is my main game now,” I continued. “Been living in Canada the past two years, and really started to get into it. We’ve been back a few months, and I’ve started playing for a team out here. Do you know how to ice skate?” “Naw, though I sure like watchin’ it,” Phil answered, stretching the words out in a mellow, slow way. “I sure like watchin’ it, but I’m from Arkansas, only been here a couple of years, and we ain’t got any ice skating in Arkansas. But I really like the sport; be fun to go to a Kings
game one of these days.” “Yeah, maybe we’ll go to one together sometime,” I answered. “How would you like to come out and watch some of our hockey games when the season starts in a few months? I’ll introduce you to my brother, Jeff, he’s an incredible goalie; he was on the All-Star team in Canada.” “That would be real cool,” Phil answered. “Be real, real cool.” “Hey how about coming over to go swimming now? I’ll introduce you to my
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brother, Jeff.” “Man, that would be real cool, let’s do it.” “Let’s do it, let’s go,” I followed.
Mark had apparently disappeared somewhere, so Phil and I made it over to the backyard pool, where Jeff was already in the water. As we walked through the fence into the backyard, Jeff gets out of the water and onto the diving board. “Hey Bruce, watch this,” as he proceeds to do a one-and-a-half flip. “When did you learn to do that?” I ask him. “Just a few minutes ago,” he answered. “That’s pretty good,” responds Phil, as he gets up a full run and jumps far into the pool. After getting out, Phil makes his way over to the diving board, brings his toes to the edge, and does a sweet back flip. “Hey, pretty good,” Jeff yells out. “What’s your name?” “Rusty,” answers Phil. “Hey, nice to meet you, Rusty,” the bonds formed from the very first day.
There is a period during the development of a friendship when mutual respect is established. Sometimes this respect is earned through proving to the other guy that you are just as tough as he is, and that you are willing to “take his best punch” if need be, but he better be prepared to take yours as well—this certainly was the case on the playgrounds of Sequoia Jr. High School in Reseda, California, an area at the very core of the sprawling lower-middle- to middle-class, tract-home wilderness of the San Fernando Valley.
It is late November 1969, the early days of the Nixon administration—will never forget the horrible images of the war in Vietnam pouring into our living room each night, Nixon saying he had a plan to end the conflict with dignity—and Phil and I stayed after school to play football on the school field. A bunch of kids began to join us as we were throwing the ball around, and given the size of the gathering, it was inevitable that we would choose up sides for some tackle. Since Phil and I had been there the earliest— and it wouldn’t have been fair to have us both on the same team— we made ourselves captains and picked our teams. Our kicker kicked the ball deep to their team, Phil taking the kick
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for the runback. Phil wasn’t real fast, but very thick, and just as he fought off one of our tacklers I came in and made solid contact with him, my shoulder hitting his chest, my arms wrapped around his waist as I struggled to bring him down. I do bring him down, but as he gets up, he throws the ball at me, wiping blood from his lip onto his forearm. “Rosen, you tackle me like that again, I’ll pop you one,” he says with that slight Arkansas drawl, then walks head down, not even giving me a second glance, back to the huddle.
On the next play, I’m lining up wide to defend the receiver; Phil stands to the left of the quarterback and goes in motion to the right side, my side of the field. The quarterback pitches out to Phil and he turns the corner—not running straight up like a graceful track runner, but bent over like Rocky Bleier, a cannonball gaining density and speed—as I come up, adrenalin pouring through my veins, to take him on for the tackle, which I do successfully, but not before he buries his head in my stomach, hurting the shit out of me, driving me hard on my back. He gets up, smiles, “You okay
Rosen?” After seeing blackness and a few stars for a split second, I get up and laugh at him. “I’m okay, Siegler,” I respond, “but at least I can catch you. Wait till we have the ball; I’m putting you in my dust.” “Oh really, Mr. fast guy, hockey player,” he says to me, “We’ll see; we’ll just see.” “Yeah, we will see,” I answer. They had scored a touchdown on their first possession, and I am the deep guy for our team on the kickoff, taking the kick and running straight in the direction of Phil. He starts taking an angle toward me as I am running away from everyone down the sidelines; I see this and start slanting back toward the center of the field, at which point I’m caught and tackled from behind by Pat, a surfer kid, tanned, with long, sun-bleached blond hair, a good friend of Phil’s. Pat was a very nice kid—good athlete, quite non-aggressive— and I had recently started to get along nicely with him. “What happened to the speed burner?” Phil says to me, head down as he walks back to his defensive huddle. “Phil, what is it with you?” I say. “You’re acting like a punk!” I yell. “And you’re a pussy,” he answers. “Fuck You,” I say, at which point the other kids on the
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field begin to take notice. “Say it to my face,” answers Phil. And I walk up to him and say, “Fuck You,” about six inches from his face. He answers by pushing me, and I follow by pushing him. He pushes back, and I follow with another push. These pushes are getting harder and harder, beginning to take the form of miniature punches. After about six or seven of these back and forth shoves— it had become crystal clear to both of us that we didn’t want to fight each other—Pat comes between us and breaks it up. “What are you guys doing?” he says. “I thought you guys were really good friends. This is stupid.” At this point Phil and I look at each other and acknowledge that there is no real reason for this; there is not any good future in it for either of us. “Alright Pat, we’ll drop it,” I say. “Yeah, okay,” says Phil, “but one day we should spar
in my backyard with some boxing gloves,” he follows. “I’m for
that,” I answer. At this point we decide to end the football game, a relatively short time after it had started. And so Phil offers me a ride home on his motorcycle. Even though Phil was only 14 years old—not old enough to legally ride one—he had taken his brother’s motorbike to school that day, parking down the block.
I get on the back, thinking that bygones had been bygones. But, apparently, that isn’t what Phil was thinking. He starts up the bike and begins to warm up the engine loudly, bringing it to full throttle a couple of times. “Ready?” he says. “Ready,” I answer. At which point he quickly accelerates, bringing the front wheel up off the ground several times, speeding quickly down the street. “God damn it,” I say, “What the fuck are you doing?” I yell. “I’m getting off this thing.” “Got you scared, ha?” he answers. At which point he calmly, smoothly drives me through the streets of scenic Reseda, oil leaks staining virtually every driveway—there always seemed to be someone working on a broken-down Mustang or Chevrolet—back to my house on Calvert Street. “See you at school tomorrow,” he says as he revs up the engine to go home. “Thanks for the ride home,” I answer, the Arkansas smirk tightening that square jaw of his as he rides off.
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Phillip Rusty Siegler was a master at carefully rolling up a towel in such a way that from top to about three quarters down was a firm solid stalk, the remaining quarter a tail of cloth that he would snap with precision. After being stung a few times by his whip towel, my brother Jeff and myself learned his art and started using it back on him. He didn’t particularly enjoy being stung by the whip towel, and we learned early on that the key to deterrence with Phil was to come right back at him with your own trick, prank or
sabotage. To this day, I consider myself a master at rolling up a lethal towel that I only use when I am trying to knock a fly out of the air. My boys used to lecture me about knocking innocent flies out of the air, but I persisted in doing so in homage to my memories of Phil.
The first time that I saw Phil’s whip towel in use was in the shower room after gym class, perhaps a few weeks after our confrontation on the football field. Eighth grade at Sequoia Jr. High was the first time that I ever had my own gym locker for class, and it was also the first time that I had been in a gym class where I had to take showers with a class full of guys. One realizes at this point of human development that all kids do not mature in the same way as others, and that the Good Lord has provided early endowment for some, while withholding the fruits of maturity until later for others. It is certainly startling at first to be thrown into this jungle of male nudity, just as the body is going through major changes. Some boys are shy, holding onto their genitalia so that others cannot fully catch a look, but all the while trying not to look obvious in doing so. Others may not have much to be proud of yet, but they’re not inhibited at all, just letting it out without any embarrassment whatsoever. And once in a while there is a kid who appears much too manly for this age group, hair growing on his chest, well endowed, furry genitalia. And in this class there was such a man- kid. He was a Mexican kid, and he used to parade around the shower like he owned the place. He was, I think, in the next grade above Phil and myself, ninth grade. Phil’ s locker was at the opposite end of the bench from myself, and the Mexican
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kid had a locker right behind mine. The guy was always friendly toward me, joking with me from time to time as he dressed and put on that Brut aftershave. That Brut aftershave; I can smell it to this day. He’d pour a heavy splash onto his hands and rub it on his chest, neck and face. “Makes the girls go crazy,” he joked to me
once. And as he put it on, he’d sing, typically, one of three songs, a really good, deep voice, tinged with a touch of a Latin accent. His words ring clear as a bell to me at the moment.
With the strong scent of Brut as a backdrop, he’d sing the great Otis Redding: “Oh she may be weary, them young girls they do get wearied; wearing that same old miniskirt dress, but when she gets weary, you try a little tenderness.” On another occasion, he’d sing a song or two from Three Dog Night:
“How can people be so heartless; how can people be so cruel; easy to be hard, easy to be cold; how can people have no feelings; how can they ignore their friends; easy to be proud, easy to say no.” When he sang one Three Dog Night song, he’d usually follow it with another: “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do; Two can be as bad as one; It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” He could really sing. On one of these occasions, just as my Mexican friend is wrapping up with “but when she gets weary, you try a little tenderness”—he’s not fully dressed at this point, well- endowed genitalia proudly dangling—Phil comes up from behind and snaps his whip towel squarely on the guy’s ass. I absolutely was stunned, couldn’t believe my eyes. He snaps the guy squarely on the ass to the sound of stinging skin. The Mexican guy had a choice at this point, and in his eyes I could see the decision being made. He could have gone after Phil, grabbed his towel and destroyed him with it, or he could laugh it off. He did the latter, but vowed to my good buddy that he’d get even, and that Phil should never feel safe again when he was in that locker room. Perhaps Phil secretly knew that the “Latin lover” would take it as a joke and not retaliate, but he certainly couldn’t have known it for sure. It was pretty damn ballsy of him to snap that guy; from that
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Bruce Farrell Rosen
time on I waited—probably more concerned that it would come than Phil was—but the retaliation never came.
As we moved into 1970, Phil was in the front row for virtually every hockey game in which my brother, Jeff, and I played. Just as our winter weekends were consumed by playing hockey, Phil’s weekends were spent eating slices of pizza and burritos, always downed with a large Coke, pumping a fist at me as I laid out a solid, glass-shaking body check, or yelling an opposing player’s number at me for revenge when I was on the receiving end of a hammering. And at Jeff’s games, Phil would sit directly behind the net encouraging the league’s top goalie—indeed, Jeff was an
Phillip Rusty Siegler, myself, my brother Jeff, and my brother Elliot. We looked like a rock band. Approximately 1975.
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incredible goalie, lightening-fast reflexes, courageous almost to the point where he was stupid—to stay focused. At the end of a period, my brother might swing his stick against the glass in acknowledgement of Phil’s presence, and Phil would respond by yelling at Jeff that he couldn’t let in more than two goals because he had a serious bet on the game. Jeff would turn around, take his mask off, and make a kind of ape face at Phil. Those two had great banter with each other, and just as Phil and I had become completely tight as buddies, Jeff and Phil had the bond of brothers.
By the time we were deep into 1970 the enjoyment of music had become a huge part of my friendship with Phil. His older brothers, Johnny and Nick—they loved Jeff, and I was always pleased that they took a liking to me as well, because they might be very scary if one found themselves in their disfavor, arms as large as tree trunks, driving a low-rider car, barely inches off the ground—had passed down to Phil the love of the Motown sound. We’d come
home from school, each grabbing a corner of my bed, and Phil would pull out his cassette tape of the The Four Tops. It was with Phil that I heard these words for the first time, and I was totally blown away:
Now if you feel that you can’ t go on (can’ t go on) Because all of your hope is gone (all your hope is gone) And your life is filled with much confusion (much confusion)!Until happiness is just an illusion (happiness is just an illusion)!And your world around is crumbling down, darling Reach out for me!I’ll be there with a love that will shelter you!I’ll be there with a love that will see you through
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If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away
Bruce Farrell Rosen
The song begins with the high, delicious, strawberry-candy notes of the organ, the snare drum sounding almost as though someone is keeping a perfect beat on a garbage can—raw, primitive, rousing—
then the lyrics burning a slow ember of soul, the texture of deep, dark chocolate sauce; unforgettable. “Now if you feel that you can’t go on, because all of your hope is gone, and your life is filled with much confusion,” the chorus chanting the refrain like honey, a few octaves above the burning embers of the vocals; the song hypnotized me (and as I listen to it now in the middle of writing these words, it has the flavor of a rare scotch, a smoky, tobacco flavor that lingers on one’s breath, a scotch from one of the islands off the Scotland mainland, such as Islay).
And from this song we started bouncing up and down on the bed as these words took over:
Standing in the shadows of love!Waiting for the heartaches to come!Can’t you see me standing in the shadows of love? I get ready for the heartaches to come!I’d run, but there’s no where to go!Cause heartaches will follow me I know!Without your love, the love I need!It’ s the beginning of the end for me.
And then on to, of course, could there be anything better, Phil dancing and snapping his fingers, lip-syncing to an imaginary mike:
Ooooooooooooooh, Sugar pie, honey bunch, You know that I love you,!I can’ t help myself,!I love you and nobody else
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When I think of my soul-buddy Phil, I go no further than the Four Tops.
Phil’s love of motown influenced me irrevocably, but I had an equal effect on him. He had never really sat down to listen to a Rolling Stones album until one afternoon after school when I put on “Big Hits (High Tide And Green Grass).” Even at 15 years, Phil was not a big talker—though he definitely was a prankster—but he always had a serious, thoughtful answer when asked a question.
When listening to music, there was a side to him that enjoyed relaxing quietly, laying back, head down and grooving to it. Given his R&B- and soul-influenced tastes, he immediately took to this album. I’ll never forget the sheer bliss that came on his face— really truly hearing this song for the first time, though no doubt he’d heard it on the radio before—when this one came on, Jagger intoning his reverie and bluesy philosophy, Richards bathing it in a warm, sensuous pool:
Time is on my side, yes it is!Time is on my side, yes it is!Now you always say that you want to be free But you’ll come running back!(said you would baby)!You’ll come running back!(I said so many times before)!You’ll come running back to me
After this there followed—Jagger measuring his words clearly and slowly, the Englishness dripping from his London accent, invoking an almost Southern United States R&B at the same time, the texture of the vocals coming from a warm place deep within his core—the base notes and the words:
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There’ve been so many!Girls that I’ve known!I’ve made so many cry!And still I wonder why!Here comes the little girl!I see her walking down the street She’ s all by herself
I try and knock her off her feet!You’ll never break, never break, never break This heart of Stone.
“That’s fuckin great,” Phil had said. “It’s my favorite by the Stones,” I had answered. We listened to that song again and again for years. Several years ago the Stones came to the Bay Area for three shows. I went to one of them and got lucky. About halfway
through the concert, Jagger—thanks to my ticket guy Stu at Mr. Ticket, I was really close—says that “we’re gonna dig way back into the past and do one that we rarely do in concert,” and then I’m drenched in those opening English, southern-blues licks followed by “There’ve been so many, girls that I’ve known.” It was ecstasy, and I was back in that moment when Phil and I were sitting on my bed, laying back against the wall and listening to it for the first time.
It is early in 1971, and I had just tried marijuana for the first time. A couple of friends, Chad and Glen, had been smoking it for a few months and had been trying to get me to try it, but I had steadfastly refused. Walking home from school through a little alley that I always used as a shortcut, I happened on the two boys just as they had lit up a thin, but tightly rolled joint. Actually, I smelled the stuff—an alluring scent, sweet and earthy, something like a combination of burning flowers and rope, with a hint of mint—as I turned the corner to go into the alley before actually finding my friends. “Brucie boy, sit down and smoke this joint
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with us,” Glen said. “Yeah, nothing to be afraid of my dear boy,” followed Chad, his eyes closing as he takes a deep, long hit, then exhaling very little of what he brought in.
Both these guys had very short hair, as short as mine, up until just a few months before, but at this point—the culture of marijuana taking over their brains—their hair was becoming quite long. Chad’s hair was dark brown and totally, perfectly straight—I had always envied guys with hair so straight, mine always an unruly ball of curls and frizz—and was approaching the top of his shoulders. He wore a green headband inlaid with native American designs, and was doing his best to grow a beard, which at this point
amounted to a crop of red fuzz from one ear, continuing along the jaw line to the other ear. Glen’s hair was blond, very thin, also perfectly straight. It was crossing the boundary from short to long. He played on my hockey team, and was a good skater, though not really fast. But he had good puck-control skills, and just a few months earlier had given me a beautiful pass as I was breaking toward the center of the ice, hitting me in full stride as I got past the two green-clad defenseman of the Burbank team, assisting on my third goal of the game, as I whipped a shot low and to the stick- side of the goalie. I had so badly wanted to score a hat trick (three goals in a game) and it had evaded me all season. But on this day I scored one against one of the best teams in the league, though I wouldn’t get another one the rest of the season. Yes, Glen’s hair was getting quite long—though not as long as Chad’s at this point—and he was starting to receive a lot of flack for it from our French coach, Guy Fournier. Guy kept threatening to bench Glen, if he didn’t cut his hair, but up to this point Glen had been playing well enough to avoid being benched, managing to retain his locks. So, just several weeks earlier, he had assisted on my hat trick, and now he was trying to assist in “turning me on.”
Chad passes the joint to Glen, who takes a deep hit, but doesn’t hold it in as long as Chad does, releasing more smoke than Chad had done—releasing it into my face, the alluring scent of those burning flowers mixed with dirt, rope and mint. “If you’re
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ever going to try it, this is the stuff to try,” Chad says to me. “It’s Panama Red; no shit, it is the real thing, Panama Red, I assure you of that.” “Try it,” Glen follows, “We just started; you can finish it with us.” I sit down next to them and receive the cigarette from
Glen. And then I take a shallow hit, holding it all in as I feel the warm smoke infiltrate my throat, mouth and lungs. I exhale virtually no smoke at all. “Good hit!” exclaims Chad; “Nice hit,” follows Glen. I pass it to Chad, who takes another of his long, slow inhales, holding it in as long as he can, closing his eyes, a beatific look on his face—Chad is in ecstasy, totally absorbed in the enjoyment of the moment. He passes it to Glen, again taking a deep hit, but letting out a fair amount of smoke; and then back to me, as I bring in a shallow, but full hit, again releasing very little smoke as I exhale. We finish the joint, and at first I’m not sure that I am experiencing anything different, though I do definitely notice that the ground on which I am sitting has a unique texture, softer than pavement, my hands and ass feeling as though they are melting into the ground. And as my hands and ass begin to become one with the asphalt, my entire body begins to heat up.
I feel as though I am getting warmer and warmer, beginning at the core of my stomach, extending to my legs (as we stand up), through the arms to the fingertips, continuing into my chest, heart, into my ears. Suddenly my ears are burning, and though I am not scared, I am a bit alarmed. “Are your bodies hot, do you guys feel this in your ears, are your ears hot?” “You are stoned!” Chad says, “This guy is really stoned.” “Want to play some hockey?” Glen says to me, pretending to take a slap-shot at an imaginary goalie. “No really, my whole body feels hot,” I continue. “Are you guys hot?” “No, I’m not hot,” Chad answers, “but I’m buzzing, that’s for sure,” he continues. “I’m really ripped,” Glen follows, “Let’s go up to my house to listen to some music.” And we all walk across Tarzana Avenue, turn onto a street that brings us up a hill (it felt as though we were climbing Mt. Everest, never had this hill seemed so steep), and then up another hill to Glen’s place. Glen had a gorgeous house, built on different levels up a hillside.
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The middle level had a pool, though this being early winter, the
pool was drained. His parents—the father was really cool, Jack was his name, he had long hair, entertained a lot of people from the counterculture, famous people, though Glen would never tell me their names, and was, clearly, very wealthy, giving us a ride from time to time in his blue Corvette—lived in the upper house, above the pool, while Glen had the lower house, below the pool, to himself. Glen’s bedroom was exceptionally comfortable, with a few cushiony beanbags on the floor. I blissfully land in one of these bags, Chad crashing in another one, as Glen puts on an album he had bought just a few days ago. The needle crisply cuts through the vinyl like freshly sharpened ice skates slicing through outdoor ice on a cold winter’s day, the speakers conducting the sound
with such precision that there was no separation of the music from my ear.
Four times Jimmy Page strikes the opening chords—two chords each time of pure fire power, raw, electric, filled with heat and gravity—followed by John Bonham introducing himself for the very first time, keeping time in the background as he breaks into his pounding, muscular, rhythmic beat. And then I hear Robert Plant for the very first time, as he sings with raw energy about the confusion of a boy reaching manhood. The song is “Good Times, Bad Times.”
That was it for me. There was no turning back. Led Zeppelin’s marketing had its desired effect: I was hypnotized. I remain hypnotized to this day. Led Zeppelin’s first album—this was their debut album, incredible, it was the realization of a platonic musical form, if one might apply it to rock music—entered my bloodstream, a bloodstream warmed to receive it by an agent they call Panama Red. It just kept getting better. The gorgeous, acoustic, slow, bluesy, rainbow of notes played by Page, as Plant begins to sing the opening lines of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.”
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If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away
Bruce Farrell Rosen
And then, eventually, the slow, deep, descending bass notes, leading into the stratospheric, piercing high notes of Page, the mournful wail of Plant taking over, in “Dazed and Confused.”
And this followed by the pure fire of Page’s guitar.
“Phil has to hear this music in this way,” I thought to myself. And while I had a real sense that smoking this stuff was taboo— and I knew that Phil would absolutely think so—it was something I wanted to try and experience with my best friend.
A couple of days later I told Phil that I had tried marijuana with Glen and Chad, and that I had heard this Led Zeppelin album that was “just unbelievable;” that it brought you to “another place,” and that I’d never heard anything “sound as incredible as that.” Phil looked me directly in the eyes, shook his head with a touch of derision, and tilting his head to one side said, “I can’t believe you did that. If your mom ever finds out, she’s gonna be really, really pissed, and you’ll be in big trouble. And you know what will happen if your dad finds out.”
This occurred in the months before I hopped the freight trains, during that period when my father’s anger, his desire to control every aspect of my life, his threats to “smash my head” had become intolerable. This was the period when I had decided that I wouldn’t back down from him again, if he came after me violently; and it was during this period that his threats to my mom that he would “leave if I didn’t leave” (my mom answering, “That’s easy Larry, just leave”) had become constant. “He’s a total asshole, Phil, a total asshole, and he’d better not come after me, because I’ll knock him down next time,” I said. “Naw, that’s your father, you won’t knock him down. He ain’t all that bad; he takes you to hockey games,” Phil answered. “You don’t know half of it, you
don’t know half of it,” I answered. And then Phil addressed my request that he try smoking this stuff with me, and that we then go hear music afterwards. “You don’t need to smoke that shit, like Glen and Chad; you don’t want to be like those
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guys. Just drink beer; what’s wrong with drinking beer? I ain’t gonna smoke that stuff; if my dad ever found out, he’d absolutely destroy me.” And so I dropped it. But in dropping it, I didn’t stop smoking, though I would only do it on weekends, after my hockey games were finished.
Phillip Rusty Siegler, I love you like a brother, and how nice it would be to have a friend who cares about me as you did, a friend who gave and received friendship like you; who wanted nothing more than to be a friend. I miss you buddy; I really miss you, I think, as I look out on this very dark February night in San Francisco, pellets of cold rain splashing against my window. The foreground is dark, the ever-present beam of light from Alcatraz breaking through the darkness in rhythmic, timed sequence; the Golden Gate Bridge visible only by the lights that distinguish it. I am that boy, late in his 15th year, my hair getting longer now—I hadn’t cut it in a few months, and my father was raging about that—lying down in the bedroom of a friend of Chad’s, headphones on as I’m listening to Jimmy Hendrix for the very first time.
A group of us had just smoked a couple of joints—didn’t have the burning sensation this time, but rather a feeling of drifting on a magic carpet—and I had plugged in some headphones to the cartridge player. I press play and am taken over by the music of rocket ships transporting me to a place far into the ethereal night.
After that opening intro known as, “And the Gods Made Love,” the musical currents flow seamlessly into the sound of an instrument—I had never heard a guitar make music like this, virtually the essence of a sound, but more like a vibration of gently, flowing waves, flowing for miles. And then the voice, rich, soft, layers of depth below the surface, the texture of silk
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If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away
Bruce Farrell Rosen
that caresses. He sings or rather glides, “Have you ever been to Electric Ladyland?”
During this song I had visions to which I succumbed. I saw the vision of a rabbi, full beard, yarmulke on the head, and he was saying words to me in Hebrew. I remembered the words briefly, but cannot remember them any longer. And he kept saying them. He was at peace. Was he a guardian spirit? Was he an ancestor? A universal archetype of a rabbi? I don’t know, but the experience was profound. He came to me with a message, and I succumbed to it, inherited it, allowed it in, though I knew not what it meant in words. But I did have a knowledge on another level, and I feel that I carry that knowledge with me today.
The music poured through me; and it was a journey into the recesses of my mind that I had never explored. Mr. Hendrix’s magic wand had had its effect, and to this day I remember the journey of experiencing “Electric Ladyland” for the very first time. The spell was partially broken, though, when I came walking toward my front lawn late that Sunday afternoon, Phil playing ball with Jeff. Thinking that I’m being nonchalant, I walk up to Phil and say hi, my intention being to go directly into the house and
to my room. Phil takes one look at me and says, “You are totally stoned. You should see your eyes. They’re completely red. Better get some Visine or something. If your mother sees you like that, she’s gonna know instantly that you’re stoned. I wouldn’t go in there if I were you. Come over here, Jeff; look at how high your brother is.” I start to smile it off, saying, “No way, I’m not high.” “You can’t fool me,” Phil answers; followed by my brother saying, “Bruce, you really look stoned.” I take Phil’s advice and walk down to the corner store and have a Coke, and did that ever taste delicious. By the time—an hour and a half later—I returned to the house, I was much more presentable, according to Phil.
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During the next couple of months, I continued to smoke the occasional joint, but not pushing Phil at all to join me. He wasn’t interested, and I certainly didn’t want to be the kid his parents would call a “bad influence.” And, clearly, there was a touch of guilt that I felt in smoking, because if I couldn’t share it with my best friend, and if I was afraid of my mom finding out, then it was hard to fully embrace. But the music was so delicious and electrifying, mind-changing after smoking, that I continued to partake and enjoy. One afternoon after school I met up with Phil and he offered to give me a ride home—he was now a legal rider, having recently turned 16—on his yellow motorcycle. We pulled into the local liquor store, located just across the railroad tracks that abutted the alley I would take to walk home—the same alley where I had met Chad and Glen that Panama Red afternoon—to get a Coke. We get on the motorcycle—each holding our Coke in one hand—and Phil crosses the tracks, diverting from the main street, and pulls into the alley for the shortcut to my place. Pulling into the alley we come on the nice, slightly secluded open space where I had smoked that first time. “Phil, pull over, right in here,” I say to him. “Why?” Phil answers. “Just pull over for a second, I want to show you something,” I answer. So he does, and as he gets
off the bike, the wool is not pulled over Phil’s eyes. “You’re gonna try to get me to smoke with you, aren’t ya?” he says. “You’re a bad influence, Rosen,” he says to me. “Phil, I haven’t asked you
in a few months, ever since that first time when I tried it, but yeah, you’re right, I have a joint on me. It’s really, really good—and you won’t believe what music sounds like on this stuff.” “Okay Rosen, all right, I’ll try it. But if I get busted for this, you’re in big, big trouble.”
I pull out the tightly wound cigarette, and it is aromatic, sweet, another version of the combination of mint, dirt, flowers, dry grass, warmly but not hotly filling the lungs. Phil smokes it like it is second nature to him. He inhales, holds it in, slowly exhales. We smoke the whole thing, and I’m very, very buzzed. Getting back on the motorcycle Phil says, “I don’t feel a thing.
~ 435 ~ If You Ever Need Me, I Won’t Be Far Away Bruce Farrell Rosen
Maybe this stuff won’t affect me. I’ve heard that it doesn’t affect some people.” It is just a few blocks to my house, and when we get there, Phil pulls down the kick stand, looks at me, smiles; I laugh at him, he laughs back at me, and then we are laughing together, and it is getting louder and crazier, completely euphoric. “You are high, Phil,” I say to him. “I know,” he answers, “I have no idea how I ever got my bike here. It’s like it drove itself.” My dad was gone, my mom was at work—she had recently taken a job (her first job in many years, outside of reading teacups) at a Country and Western record label in Hollywood, working with Buck Owens, Dusty Rhodes and other country names—so we went into my bedroom to listen to music. I had recently graduated from the “Led Zeppelin 1” album to “Led Zeppelin 2,” and I put it on for Phil, just as our high was reaching its crescendo. Jimmy Page’s opening
chords to the first song are raw, elemental, combustible, and for a 16-year-old guy, really buzzed on some good stuff for the first time (Colombian, I had been told), life changing. And then Plant begins to sing the “crawling on the floor and wanting to fuck” opening lines of “Whole Lotta Love.”
And this occurs against the pounding, throbbing (centurions could be marching to the sound of it), powerful, muscular, testosterone- filled drumming of John Bonham, in my mind the greatest rock (maybe of any genre) drummer of all time. From here, Jimmy Page soars, the language of his guitar not so much audible as penetrating the entire circulatory system, Bonham again taking over as he trades solos with the magician on guitar. And then again, Mr. Robert Plant.
The look on Phil’s face—absolutely shocked, astounded, intoxicated, cerebral, ecstatic, intense, happy, very very happy. “See what I mean, Phil?” I say. “These guys are fuckin’ amazing— this music is incredible; incredible.” “Yeah, I see what you mean, Rosen, Mr. Hockey Player,” he answers; the Arkansas drawl more prominent in his very stoned marijuana state. And we start laughing uncontrollably as the words “I want a Whole Lotta Love” are repeated again, and again, and again.
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About a month and a half after our voyage with Led Zeppelin I went on my own brief, but very intense journey of self-discovery when I hopped freight trains across the country with my friend of Native American descent, Steve Pencille. That trip, as I have described, will be with me, has become part of the chemistry of my blood, forever. I reflect on it now, and there are very few weeks of my life when some of those moments do not present themselves to me.
I am thinking of the time that the train stopped for a complete day in the red clay desert of Texas—Steve and myself eating the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that we made from that revolutionary jar, where the peanut butter and jelly were mixed together; I marvel at the significant risk I took that night when I took leave of the train stopped in the Tucson yard—searchlights beaming all around the train yard, where I read a sign that said that, “Stowaways will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”—darting across the tracks to buy the few groceries (including the peanut and butter and jelly in the jar), barely making it back to the accelerating train as I jump on it (trying to stay below the search lights) several cars down from our home car; I remember the phone call I made from the El Paso train station to my tormented mom, the phone ringing and ringing to no answer; I’ll never forget the horrible breathlessness I felt from an asthma attack that stormy night in the Midwest, as I tried to sleep in the boxcar; and the words play in my head, just as they did the day that I heard them, the words telling me that if I wanted to go home, it wouldn’t happen unless I took the action to turn myself around—the music of Bob Dylan’s, “Like a Rolling Stone,” the sound track to my thoughts. “How does it feel, to be on your own, no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?” were much more than the lyrics of a song to me; they cut to the core of this adventure/ crisis as I considered that I had gone far enough, and that I would need to split apart from Steve and return home. I did, of course,
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make it back home, and about a month and a half after that, my father left the family for good. That he left was a good thing at the time, because I don’t think that I would have ever been able to expand in my youth, actually live out the “call of the wild” for
which my soul ached, been free enough to travel the roads of Costa Rica and the trains of Europe, so overwhelmingly repressive and violent had he become. Not long after he left, Phil, my brother Jeff and I hitchhiked to the Colorado River in Arizona, where Phil’s family had a trailer just yards from the river.
The banks of the Colorado River in Arizona had been an extremely popular place for high school and college kids to come with their sleeping bags during Easter break or spring recess. It was festive, with kids forming circles around a few guitarists; lots of Dylan, the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Arlo Guthrie songs filling the air, the hashish peace pipe being passed around, lights of matches and lighters flickering up and down the shore, billowing clouds of sweet, rope- smelling smoke forming wherever the circles of kids had congregated. I didn’t actually experience the river during spring break until I went with Phil during my first year of college, 1974, my father well into establishing a new life for himself in Montreal. We’d hang out at water’s edge into the evening, partying, singing songs—I have vivid memories of us all singing, “Coming into Los Angeleees, bringing in a couple of keys, don’t touch my bags if you please, Mr. Customs man,” by Arlo Guthrie—then the two of us would go back to spend the night at the trailer, which his family kept at the river year-round. But the first time I ever went to the River was in the last weeks of June 1971, just weeks after my father left, and a couple of months after hopping the freights. Indeed, we had hitchhiked there, but chills run up my spine when I think back to the fact that two 16-year- old boys—granted I was seasoned from the train tracks and felt mature, and Phil was certainly a reliable foxhole partner—and a 15 year old (my brother, Jeff) were hitchhiking across the desert. We
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had told my mom we were getting a ride there, but the truth is we hitchhiked. Yes, it was much more common than it is today—as a father of two college-aged young men, I am horrified at the
thought of it—but, Lord knows, there were huge risks. But I was not averse to taking risks, as was the case in the late morning of our second day at the river.
It starts to become very hot at the Colorado River in late June, so you don’t find many people sunbathing on the banks. Those who come here at this time of the year to play usually do so in their motor boats, enjoying the miles on miles of this snaking river—the current passive in some places, quick and accelerating in others— fishing poles sometimes extended, the sun strong on their backs, the dry air soothing the bones and comforting to the spirit. Near to where Phil’s trailer was situated was a bridge that is not much wider than the train tracks for which it was used to bring freight across the river and on into the desert to its destination. The bridge stood maybe 50 feet above the river, and if one jumped from the bridge, there was a little island in the river, about 100 yards from the landing place. And that is exactly what we did that hot, hot morning—jump from the bridge into the water, the destination being the island. It had been Phil’s idea to do so; Jeff was enthusiastic, and I not that much so. It wasn’t something I was excited to do, and I had a hard time convincing myself that I would enjoy it. Their minds had been made up, so I followed along with them as they walked up the road to the entrance of the bridge.
The sun had become oppressive at this point, its hot rays feeling like prickly needles on my scalp and back, an itchiness up and down my back that I wanted to scratch but wasn’t able to do. “No problem, it will be nice to cool down in that water,” I had thought to myself. First Phil jumped, barely looking down at all, just going up to the edge of the bridge beyond the tracks, looking down for a second and jumping. Then he began his swim to the island, and he was swimming smoothly and easily. Then
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Bruce Farrell Rosen
Jeff jumped; he looked down for several seconds, doing his best to bury his fear, and followed Phil into the water, laughing with exhilaration when he came up, splashing his way without too much difficulty to the island. When I approached the edge of the bridge, Phil was just making his way onto the island, Jeff about 50 yards away. I stood there, essentially paralyzed with fear, unable to jump. It looked very far down, though their jumps lasted just
a couple of seconds. “Jump, it’s easy, it feels great when you get in,” Phil yelled from the island. I continued to stand there, totally psyched out by my perception of the distance, my thought process interrupting the action of jumping. And the more I thought, the more I started imagining the things that might go wrong. What if I landed the wrong way; what if I couldn’t make it to the island? A few minutes pass, Jeff and Phil relaxing on the island, veterans of the jump. “Is it a hard swim, any kind of current?” I yell at them. “It’s really easy,” answers Phil. “It’ll be a piece of cake for you,” follows my brother. “Go on and just jump,” continues Phil. “Don’t think about it, Bruce, just do it,” follows my brother.
So I jump. I was petrified as I did so, hyperventilating when I came to the surface. And now the swim. Gasping for air as I started the swim, I was at a huge disadvantage. I swam earnestly, but felt short on oxygen. I was using way too many strokes for the distance I was moving. And then I started to get tired. I continued swimming with all the energy that I had, but it didn’t feel to me that I was getting very far. And I continued to become more and more out of breath. I had barely reached half way to the island when I realized that it was too far to go. I decided to turn back. “Come on Bruce, keep swimming; you’re halfway here,” yelled Phil. “You can make it Bruce, it’s not much further,” echoed Jeff. But I proceeded to swim back toward land. And as I did, I found myself being caught in a current. There was no current against which I was pushing as I was making my way toward the island,
but now that I was heading back toward land, I was up against one. “Guys, I’m in a current, and it’s pushing me. It’s hard to make it to land; it’s pushing me down the river,” I had the strength to
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yell. There was a moment of deliberation—just a split second of pause—and then Phil yells to Jeff, “We better go after him.” I’m in this current, unable to swim against it to get to the land that didn’t seem very far away at all, and Phil and my brother are ripping through the water like Olympians, their strokes quick, efficient, life saving. I’m keeping my head above water, but as I’m so
doing, I find myself nearing exhaustion. And I’m afraid. And I was particularly afraid of some motorboat ripping by, not being able to see me. In the current, I was right in the path of these motorboats.
Phil is on me, Jeff just behind him. As he approaches me, Phil yells, “Keep your head up; don’t let it go under. Keep it up.” Phil reaches me. “Grab my arm,” he says calmly, “Just grab my arm, and I’ll get us to shore. “Push him,” Phil yells to Jeff. “Push him, as I’m pulling him.” And then what do I do? I jump on Phil’s back. “Get off my back!” he yells. “Just grab my arm.” My brother, Jeff, all the while pushing me forward. Phil then has the presence of mind to make a joke, “They always tell you to make sure they don’t jump on your back, if you’re saving somebody. Now I know what they’re talking about,” and then he starts laughing. As he laughs, my momentum now going forward, cutting through the current, I start to become relaxed, gaining my wind, taking it the remaining 30 or so yards to the shore myself. When I reach the hot, scorching sand, I go into a prayer position, kneeling, hands outstretched on the earth, “Thank you God,” I say. And then I kiss the ground. Phil and Jeff laugh as I do this. I get up and hug Phil with everything that I have, and then I hug my brother. They didn’t say that they had saved my life, but it was understood. They saved my life. And I carry Phil and my brother Jeff with me forever.
~Bruce F. Rosen