Ah, to be young, artistic and in New York City. It was 1964, a magical time. John Sebastian was playing at the Night Owl Cafe, coffee houses did abound and you could pass the hat with the likes of Peter Tork, Fred Neil and Richie Havens.
Bob Dylan wrote “She's got everything she needs; she's an artist, she don't look back.” That was me: I was nineteen.
Just when I was about to be kicked out of my basement apartment, my job had ended abruptly and my parents cut me off for the third last time, I knew a door had to open somewhere. The door was to the basement club on Bleeker Street in The Village, at MacDougal. The Cafe AuGoGo was in need of a light and sound man. The job paid $35 a week, which even then was not enough to live on. But it was at the Cafe AuGoGo and it was in The Village and it was 1964. What could be better?
I arrived at the job with a suitcase, two guitars and a banjo. I slept on the floor of the light booth. On the down side, the ice machine had a nasty habit of waking me up in the middle of the night and once the lights were out, there was no light at all. On the up side, I could slip out after the show, sing for a couple of hours at the local clubs and come back before the regular janitor closed up. One night, I even threw on the lights and sound, climbed onto the stage with my guitar and did an entire show – just me – to the dark, empty house. Playing to the dark must have been what it was like for George Carlin and Oscar Brown Jr. – except there were no applause for me.
I lived in the Cafe Au Go Go sound booth until on night the relief night janitor tripped over me in the dark. I was reported as a dead body. The police made me find a new place to live.
The hotel a block away had a bed and a chair, with no room for more, with a shared bath down the hall, for $11.00 a week. It was a dangerous place but at least I could shower.
As the light and sound man I also supplied guitar picks to Mike Bloomfield, told a joke to George Carlin, heard Eric Anderson's newest song that was his only hit and was snubbed by Bob Dylan.
Richie Haven's manager told me to mic his foot, so I did. Oscar Brown Jr. told me to sing my own song and if people didn't love it, sing it again – or rewrite it. George Carlin told me to stop telling jokes. John Lee Hooker told me to let the music flow from my soul and I'd never have to worry if it was right. Then the Draft Board told me it was time to come home.
National finger-picks were no longer available because the metal was needed to make shell casings for Vietnam. Young idealistic musicians, it seemed, were needed to fire them and the magic ended. I left The Village behind in August.
I didn't get discovered, but in retrospect, I didn't get hooked, shot or arrested either.
Dear Mr. Leno,
I suppose you could call this a hate letter. Somewhere I heard that you get a lot of those. So I thought, if writing you hate mail is so popular, I'd give it a try.
So, I hate that you left late night TV. For a week or two I hung on to see if anyone – anyone – was going to be funny. They weren't. On the up-side, I got more sleep, as I went to bed at 11:00 instead of waiting up to see you at 11:35.
I hate that you went on the air at 10:00, as it cut into some of my favorite shows – on another network, but I did switch over to you on the commercials, sometimes losing track of the time and in the process a large part of the story line. Sometimes I just abandoned the show and left it on NBC.
I hate it that you are back on the late night slot, because that means that I can't get that extra sleep any more, or that I have to miss your monologue. I hate it when that happens.
And I hate that you are taking flack from so many for being rich and successful. I mean, isn't that what we all want? Isn't the goal of every single individual to eventually become so successful that we are rich as a result? Believe me, every male worth the label wants your garage. Every female wants a male who has your garage.
I hate that you are taking flack from other talk show hosts for being popular and funny. Isn't that what they are trying to do – and failing miserably? They should study you, maybe they can become popular and funny.
And finally, I hate that someone as broadly popular, a fixture in today's society, the hallmark for having arrived, should endure this crapola. It just goes to show what I have said for so long: America hates heroes. The American press and people have always longed to see every hero brought down. They love a story about someone who should be beloved arrested, divorced, in rehab, in an accident or on trial for murder. There are snakes in the popular press that begin looking for smut the very moment someone comes into the public spotlight.
So now you're back on late night TV at NBC, in beautiful, downtown Burbank. Life is as it should be, God is in his heaven and all is right with the world. There will still be grumblings, after all, you are everything that a good American should want to be: rich, successful, popular and (I mean this in the most manly and non-sexual way) attractive. There will always be those who will want to bring down a celebrity, a hero. I hate that.