The Redleg Boogie Blues (Part 1)
by Jeff Costello, May 24, 2007
After eight years in rock and roll bands on the east coast, living in motels and doing everything from playing frat parties and low-life bars to backing popular singers and working as a session player in New York recording studios, I went west. Sick and tired of the road, and disillusioned with the music business, I caught a flight to San Francisco, a place which seemed to hold some kind of promise... I was invited to visit someone who lived on a houseboat in Sausalito. It was an unusual and colorful sight, but there was more to the waterfront than met the eye.
“Those people on the Oakland [an old boat resembling a ferry], are definitely on their own trip,” I was told. “There’s a guy there named Captain Garbage who eats seagulls. Shoots them right off the pilings.”
In a short time I was carried by fate into the Oakland scene, the mysterious inner circle inhabited by a group of people who called themselves “Redlegs.”
“Drafted” into the Redlegs’ band (they needed a guitar player), I gradually became part of the larger waterfront scene, learning sailing and seamanship as well other everyday survival skills. Life on the road playing music had taught me nothing like this.
There was no law on the waterfront, and while this was frightening at first, I learned that in a community with real trust, authority in the normal sense was unnecessary, and that the System feared and hated us for it.
Meaning only to be free and have fun, we often took things to extremes, including drugs. This abuse ultimately made us vulnerable to our enemy (authority in the form of police, city and county bureaucracies, and real estate developers), and contributed to the destruction of the band and the dream.
The Redlegs were not about money, or success in the traditional sense. We had a built-in failure factor that kicked in every time we encountered record companies or the “Big Time” in any form. But according to one observer, we were “one of the few real rock and roll bands that ever existed.”
Although the bureaucracy and developers eventually prevailed in Sausalito, the spirit of fun and freedom lived on and stayed with waterfront people--the ones who remained, and the ones who migrated to different places.
In the early ‘70’s, the “magic” and wonder of the 60’s were still at work and the “counter-culture” wasn’t yet out of the honeymoon period. The Redlegs band, part of a larger, controversial social phenomenon, became in one sense wildly successful, and in another were a monumental failure.
The Redlegs had brushes with fame and fortune; there were offers from big record companies, gigs at major "showcase" rooms like Winterland and Keystone Korner, a feature film. Something went wrong every time; we always seemed to walk smack into a psychic brick wall, something phony and weird that was intolerable. The bigger the opportunity, the creepier the feeling, the worse our attitudes, and the more offensive our behavior.
SHANGHAIED BY ROCK & ROLL PIRATES
None of the actual band members came to take me away. Jesse (revoltin’ Bolton) Crocodile was there, and Danny Joe Crumb (the Public Offender), and some loudmouthed Texans I’d never even seen before.
“Come on, we're going to a party,” said Jesse, through his pointy yellow teeth.
“Yeah, motherfucker, let’s go. You're the new guitar player,” said Danny Joe, lurching around with a bottle of Green Death in his hand.
“What party? Nobody told me about any party. If you think I’m going back to Sausalito with you, forget it,” I said. The Texans laughed.
“Is this your amp?” one of them asked, picking up my Twin Reverb and heading out the door. Jesse grabbed my guitar case, shook it to make sure the instrument was inside, and grinned his Crocodile grin.
My objections were futile. A bunch of sleazy-looking, intimidating waterfront outlaws had my equipment, and I was going to a party.
The Summer of Love was over, and the Cole St. house where I had a room was full of glassy-eyed followers of Stephen Gaskin, the last of the Haight-Ashbury gurus.
I had come to San Francisco with my friend Joey the drummer to find a bass player and singer to help record some tunes we had written. Things hadn't worked out for us in New York or L.A. We found a good vocalist, brought in a bass player from L.A., booked some time at Funky Jack’s recording studio, and sold three songs to Dave Diamond, the “drifting through seafoams of yesterday’s flashbacks” DJ, for 500 dollars.
Joey had moved out to Sausalito and was living with his girlfriend Maria in a rusty 22-ft. lifeboat in the parking lot at Gate Six. People lived there on floating objects of every conceivable type, from crude boxes built on styrofoam to war surplus lifeboats and landing craft, from salvaged Chinese junks to opulent palaces on concrete barges. He was playing drums with a bunch of rowdy freaks who hung out on the four huge drydocks scuttled in the middle of Richardson’s Bay. They were called the Redlegs, and had red stripes painted down the legs of their jeans. Tales of the goings-on at the drydocks were enough to keep even the cops scared away.
I visited Joey at Gate Six. He introduced me to Joe Tate, the leader of the Redlegs. His gaze was so penetrating, I looked down to see if I was really there. I told myself he must be crazy, but I sensed immediately that he knew something beyond my reach, that he was comfortable, even intimate with things and ideas that I feared. He started talking about music and I snapped out of it. Joey had told Tate about selling our songs, and he wanted to try it. We decided to record some of Tate’s songs in my half-assed recording studio, a stereo reel-to-reel machine, two microphones, and some discarded mattresses for insulation in the dingy cellar of the Cole St. house.
They arrived the next night with Kim, the bass player, who never said a word and looked bored. We recorded two songs, “Bottle of Wine Blues” and “Saturday Night.” Despite my apprehension about Tate, we played together well, and I liked his music. But the DJ didn’t. He had no use for rhythm and blues.
Joey told me the Redlegs band was going to audition in a few days at a private club near Gate Three, south of Gate Six near the Big “G” supermarket. I went to check them out. It was still daylight, and when I walked into the club I couldn’t see a thing.
When my eyes were used to the dark, I could see that no women were in there except Maggie, the singer in the band, and that most of the men wore shiny leather and silver chains. It was a private club all right, for homosexuals only. When questioned, I quickly explained that I was a friend of the musicians.
The Redlegs band was on stage -- Tate on guitar, Maggie Catfish singing, Kim the bass player, Joey on drums, and another guitar player named Eric. I liked their sound, especially Maggie’s voice.
Only Eric seemed out of place. He was clearly not in synch, like a misfiring cylinder in an otherwise perfect engine. I remembered playing with them in the city, and knew that if I were playing in Eric’s place, the band would sound right. The manager of the “Fairy Factory,” as Tate called it, did not hire the Redlegs. No one was surprised or disappointed.
After the band packed up their equipment, I went back to Gate Six with them. Eric invited Joey and me to his houseboat and offered us some heroin. That explained at least partly why Eric was out of the band’s groove. We left him with his dope and agreed to have another session in my cellar studio.
I went back to the city. The Cole St. house was depressing, but the Sausalito waterfront was something else. Although its atmosphere was more vital and intense than anything I had experienced, it was frightening to a city-boy musician. And to top it off, the whole Redlegs thing, from the scene at the drydocks to the painted pant-legs, smacked of a cult.
It was two or three weeks before the Redlegs came to the Cole St. house again. This time Maggie was with them. She had just returned from a near-disastrous sailing trip to Bodega Bay in her 19-ft. folkboat, the Yipes Stripes. She was exhausted, filthy, and starving. I thought she was beautiful. I fed her some scrambled eggs and potatoes and made a hot bath for her, and for this she thought I was the kindest person in the world. She fell asleep after a song or two. Kim was also nodding off, so we quit early.
Tate invited me to go sailing. He lived on a Chinese junk he had rebuilt from a wreck. It was called the Hwang Ho and looked like something out of National Geographic. I had never been on a sailboat and I wasn’t crazy about going back to Sausalito, but since Maggie was going along, I talked myself into it.
We were going out to the drydocks to pick up a wood burning stove called “Old Fogmouth.” It was a warm day with a pleasant breeze. The short trip was pleasant and I enjoyed trying to figure out the rigging of the junk sails.
Arriving at the drydocks was like landing on another planet. Each of the four medieval-looking structures was nearly large as a football field and had 6O ft. high walls on two sides. We tied up the Hwang Ho and climbed a chain ladder to reach the deck. No one else was there.
I was awed by the sheer immensity of the drydocks, and there was a magical desolation about them. It was an alien world, but I felt strangely comfortable there.
Old Fogmouth was a large rusty cylindrical steel tank converted to a stove. It was very heavy, and it took all my strength to carry my end just a few feet. When we finally got it to the edge of the deck, I was ready to collapse. Tate secured a line to each end of it and we began to lower it to the deck of the Hwang Ho. I had no experience with rigging of any kind, and I was lowering too fast. The line ran away from me and pinned my hand to the wooden deck. I tried desperately to hold on while the skin scraped off my fingers, right down to the bone. The stove made it to the Hwang Ho’s deck, and I collapsed, in shock and sick to my stomach. It was my left hand, my guitar playing fingers.
We found some toilet paper to wrap my hand, and Tate landed me at Gate Three, the nearest convenient shore access. I said a quick goodbye and hitched back to the city, intending never to see them again.
I rode across the Golden Gate Bridge in a van full of drunken degenerates, all raving and carrying on about much fun it all was. My hand had taken six weeks to heal, and now I was on my way, against my will, back to Sausalito where I had almost lost three fingers. I sulked and cursed my fate while my companions laughed and swilled their beer.
It was nearly dark when we arrived at the Texas Star, a big houseboat moored near the road at the north end of Gate Six. The drunks carried my equipment while I followed reluctantly. Inside, people greeted me as if I were already part of the band, and therefore one of the gang. There was no point in protesting my abduction -- I would find no sympathy -- but when Joey walked in with his drums, I felt more at ease.
Right away, drugs were offered. I didn’t drink much and didn’t like drunks, but I liked an occasional hit of speed or psychedelics...
Joey and I took snorts out of a sandwich bag full of brown powder that was going around. It was Nestle’s Quik mixed with synthetic mescaline. Joey set up his drums while I plugged in the electric guitar and tuned it. At the sound of the first twang, people started yelling, “ROCK AND ROLL! GET IT ON!” Where was the rest of the band? I ignored the shouts while Joey tuned his drums, setting off more stomping and howling. Maggie staggered in with a burly man dressed in blue denim and motorcycle boots. As they fell down laughing, I felt a pang of jealousy and wished I was anywhere else. Joe and Kim finally showed up as the scene reached fever pitch. With Joey already pounding a strong beat, Tate started the riff to “Bottle of Wine Blues” and the place erupted.
My musical automatic pilot took over, and as the crowd danced and screamed I realized, above and beyond my fear and resentment, that this was what rock & roll was all about, and the Redlegs were the best rock & roll band I had ever played with.
By the time we took a break, the drugs had taken hold, and the room was suffused with a metallic white glow. Some people seemed to be floating around the room, while others were crawling about like reptiles or scurrying like rodents. A blonde rodent named Wieners ran around dishing out cocaine and mescaline. Danny Joe Crumb, the Public Offender, had turned into a lizard. A girl named Tracy, one of the Texans, was lying flat on the floor, face up, as Crumb hovered over her on his knees, trying to guide his penis into her mouth. He gave up when she nearly bit it off.
As fascinating as this all was, I still felt uncomfortable when the band wasn't playing. At sunrise, when we finally quit playing, I wanted to leave, but I had no offer of a ride.
A small group of bearded, greasy-looking men were huddled in a corner, talking in a low murmur and making menacing gestures that seemed to be directed at me. They had names like Dredge, Peacock, Lizard, Toothless Tom and Captain Garbage, and called themselves the Truly Rank Motherfuckers.
When their little conference was over, Dredge left the room and the rest of them walked slowly over and surrounded me. Maybe they were going to beat the shit out of me, maybe they weren’t. They started patting me on the back, but their drunken grins and bloodshot eyes told me nothing. Trying to escape was out of the question, so I just stood there and waited, trying to be cool.
Dredge reappeared, carrying a gallon can of paint and a brush. The others opened the circle while Dredge knelt on the floor and opened the can, exposing the bright red paint inside. So that was it. I was being Redlegged. There was no point in resisting; this was an honor not bestowed freely, and from the looks of these guys, I figured I was lucky to be smeared with paint instead of blood.
The ritual over, the Truly Rank Motherfuckers dispersed, and I was left alone in the wreckage of the party.
I went outside and was shocked to see that the world was functioning as usual. Highway 1O1 was jammed with commuters on their way to work.
I walked across Bridgeway and stood hitchhiking at the Marin City freeway entrance, hoping the drivers wouldn't see the Z-Spar Signal Red marine paint dripping down the sides of my pant-legs onto my shoes.
There was a surprise waiting for me at the house on Cole St. The landlady had made a sudden decision to turn the place over to her son, a San Francisco police officer. None of the tenants was making a peep about not receiving notice. I met the cop, a big burly Irish redhead. He was barely succeeding in his struggle to be civil with the seedy-looking hippies milling around the house packing their things.
When I walked into the living room, I saw something that made the waterfront seem suddenly benign by comparison. On the mantelpiece sat a human skull wearing a nazi helmet, flanked by two gleaming black enameled metal swastikas. Being evicted was bad enough, but in my worn-out, drug-addled condition, this sudden glimpse into the psyche of a police officer was too much to bear.
I grabbed my bag of clothes and hitched back over the bridge to Sausalito. I tried to convince myself that I was only going to retrieve my amplifier, but then what? Hit the road? Back to Los Angeles? New York or Boston? Not only did I have no car or money, but I had left those places because things weren’t right there.
A dim bulb was beginning to glow in a small room in the back of my brain, and the walls were covered with pictures of the Sausalito waterfront. There was a radio playing in there too, and it sounded like the Redlegs.
“Hey, it’s the new guitar player!” yelled Danny Joe Crumb to no one in particular, as I slogged through the Gate Six parking lot mud carrying my electric guitar and bag of clothes. I didn't even bother to wonder why he was standing around in the cold rain drinking Green Death by himself, I was just glad to see anyone who wasn't a dogmatized guru zombie or a gestapo-worshipping cop.
“You know where Joe Tate is?”
“Sure,” he said. “Come on, motherfucker, we were wondering when you’d show up.”
He led me across a wooden walkway leading to the Oakland, an old potato barge with a number of smaller boats tied alongside. I recognized the Hwang Ho, Tate’s Chinese junk. There was a fairly large workshop in the main cargo space of the barge, and Danny Joe left me there.
An ancient-looking bandsaw stood in the center of the room, surrounded by scraps of wood and piles of sawdust. The walls were lined with shelves and work benches covered with tools and mysterious-looking junk. There was a filthy shower stall in one corner next to a revolting sink, empty beer cans everywhere, and a bum sleeping on the floor.
Joe walked in presently carrying an armload of wood. He looked at me and turned on the bandsaw. After cutting the wood into six-inch pieces he walked out with it, saying he’d be back in a few minutes.
When he returned, he went to a dark corner of the shop and lifted on old moldy sail, revealing the band equipment.
“Well, shit. Let's play some tunes.”
The equipment had been ferried to the Oakland by Dredge on his tiny black tugboat, the Loafer, along with his regular crew -- Toothless Tom, Peacock, Captain Garbage, and Jesse Crocodile. The tug was tied up next to the Oakland, and through the shop window I could see that the Loafer was flying a Jolly Roger. I was relieved to see my amp still intact.
As we set up the equipment, I kept looking at the bum sleeping on the floor.
“That’s my brother Hank,” said Joe. “He just got in from Rantoul, Illinois, straight through on a motorcycle.”
“Maybe we should let him sleep,” I suggested.
“He doesn't give a rat’s ass.” I guess he didn’t. We played through half the night and he never complained.
I found out very quickly there was no such thing as a “rehearsal” with the Redlegs. On the waterfront, music meant a party. It wasn’t long before the shop filled up with the hardcore who weren’t burned out from the night before. Maggie had arrived to sing, but Joey and Kim weren’t around.
Around two in the morning I began to be concerned with a place to sleep. A guy from Gate Five named “Stark” Raven said I could stay on the Binnie, an old cabin cruiser, for one night. He wasn’t using the cruiser because had just acquired a navy surplus amphibious duck, a tank-like contraption that could travel on land or water.
“I’ll show you how to get there,” said Maggie. We were walking in the rain through a maze of rickety walkways, muddy parking lots, and slimy planks, talking about music, when she asked if I minded if she stayed with me.
“I would have been too shy to mention it,” I said.
“I know,” she replied.
The next morning, I started looking for a place to live. I went to Joe Tate. He introduced me to “Green” Gene Lee, so called because of his perpetual consumption of Rainier Ale, or Green Death. Lee was the proprietor of Bailey’s Barge, an industrial hulk with a small habitable structure at each end. He had “inherited” the barge from a crane operator whose lust for young girls had made him a long-term guest of the State of California. Gene told me I could crash on the barge, but I’d have to get a skiff, since it was accessible only by water.
“I know a rowboat you can use,” said Tate, “My old lady has one she never uses. It leaks like a sieve, but it's not far to the barge and I'll give you a bucket to bail it with.”
I waited on the pier while Joe went to get the oars. In a minute he came running out of the Hwang Ho, and I heard his old lady, Pam, shrieking, “NOBODY uses my skiff! Tell that asshole he can find his own goddamned boat!” (Pam and I later became good friends.)
He had another idea. There was a tiny barge with a plywood box on it sunk next to the Oakland. It belonged to Jack Harshberger, one of the partners in the workshop. Tate did some quick detective work and found him on a yacht in one of the downtown marinas. We walked into town and boarded the boat. Harshberger was involved in a long-winded discussion with the Jefferson Airplane’s drummer. I managed to penetrate a long discourse on the origin of the wah-wah pedal long enough to buy the sunken wreck for twenty dollars.
At low tide the next morning I surveyed my new home. I knew nothing about carpentry, boats, or how to fix anything, and I was the proud new owner of a tiny, rotting plywood houseboat sitting sadly in the mud at Gate Six. I was staring at it without a single notion of what to do when Tate appeared and said, “Hey, this piece of shit looks like it could be the hot set-up. We’ll drag it up on the beach at high tide and give it some float’em. There’s two main things about boats: float’em and sink’em, and they gotta have more float’em. When the tide starts coming in you’ll see how fast it’s leaking. Then you’ve got to keep it floating until there's enough water to get to the beach.” He gave me a five-gallon plastic bucket and I was on my own.
The mud at Gate Six was slimy and deep, had the consistency of petroleum jelly, and stank like a sewer. My “hot set-up” was sitting twenty feet away in the ooze, and I had no rubber boots. I found some plywood scraps and threw them in front of me at three-foot intervals until I had a walkway.
By the time the barge was bailed I had moved two or three tons of water, and my back was screaming that death would be a pleasant alternative to this kind of work. But when the tide came in, the barge floated, Joe showed up with a skiff, and the Hot Set-Up was towed to the beach.
The little vessel was only eight feet wide and sixteen feet long. It had been sunk for some time, and the inside was coated with gray-green stinking slime but it was mine, a home, something I’d never even thought about before. And since fate had landed me here with an undeniable finality, I managed to find in myself a glimmer of determination to get on with it and try to make the thing float. The trouble was, I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to do it.
When the tide receded and the boat was high and dry, I stood on the beach and looked at the hull, walking around it, trying to find the holes where the water leaked in. What if the leaks were on the flat bottom? Would I have to find a way to turn it over on its side to expose them?
As I agonized over these questions Tate showed up with Captain Dredge and Jesse Crocodile. They had jacks, scrap plywood, hammers, saws, nails and black roofing tar, or wet-patch. In a few minutes the little barge was sitting on wood blocks two feet above the beach, and Jesse and Dredge, the “Truly Rank Motherfuckers” who had frightened me so much, were crawling around in the mud looking for holes to fix in my new houseboat.
They found plenty of leaks. Under Tate’s instruction, I cut six-inch squares of plywood for patches. He showed me how to smear wet-patch on the plywood pieces and nail them over the holes in the barge. This was no high craftsmanship but it worked. When the tide came up again, the Hot Set-up floated, and I had a home -- a floating version of a slum chicken coop, but a home.
The next Redlegs gig was at a bar in South San Francisco called the Balkans, owned by an uncle of Kim’s, on New Year’s Eve. It was my first real professional job with them. “Stark” Raven was driving us to the gig in his amphibious duck. We loaded the equipment, including the Redlegs’ P.A. system, a cheap microphone from a Sears tape recorder and a wrought-iron lamp for a mike stand.
The tank-like vehicle was crammed with people. The Truly Rank Motherfuckers with some truly rank-looking girlfriends, Danny Joe, Gene Lee and others, all swilling Green Death and cheap whiskey. They were priming up for a party and my heart sank as I tried to imagine this crowd in a civilized nightclub, at MY gig.
Kim's uncle greeted us at the door and didn't seem to mind our crowd. They were customers. The few regulars at the bar hardly noticed, and our crowd turned out to be the only crowd. We set up, started playing and another waterfront party was on. After the second set we were visited by the local representative of the Musician’s Union. He was short and nervous-looking, and couldn’t look anyone in the eye. “Who’s the leader of this group?” he asked me.
I indicated Joe, who was standing at the bar. He introduced himself to Joe and asked, “Do you know that you played for a full hour that last set?”
“So what?” replied Joe.
“Union rules are forty minutes on and twenty off. You should know that. Do you have your union cards?”
“Well, let’s see,” said Joe. He fumbled around in his wallet and found his card. It had expired in 1966.
“This card is no good,” said the rep. “How about you?”
I showed him my 1967 card.
“Does anyone in this band have a current Union card?”
Joey offered his 1965 model.
“These cards are no good. You'll have to leave this club. Take your band and get out of here, or I’ll have the place closed.” The Union man’s eyes darted around the room as if he were following the flight of a bat.
Jesse had wandered over to listen and heard the rep’s last remark. He said, “Who the fuck are you, you little weasel? What are you trying to do, ruin the party?”
“I represent the American Federation of Musicians. This band is in violation of Union regulations. I can close this place down.”
“I don't think you represent these musicians,” said Jesse.
“The Union never got me a job,” said Joe.
“Come to think of it,” I joined in, “All the Union ever did for me was take money and interrogate me about being a Communist.”
A circle of Truly Rank Motherfuckers had formed around our little group, all grumbling about the lack of music. The Union man looked very uncomfortable.
“Why don’t you just go home and forget about it,” said Joe to the Rep.
“Yeah,” said Jesse, “Fuck a buncha bullshit. We wanna hear some music. We wanna dance.”
“Well, you guys won't be working in any union clubs, I'll make sure of it.”
“Who gives a rat’s ass?" said Joe, and the union man walked off in a huff.
My “professional” musician self was squirming at all this. What if the guy really tried to blackball us? But another part of me was laughing.
THE OAKLAND SHOP
The “landlord” of the Oakland was Buck Knight, who rented the vessel from Don Arques and sublet the two apartments and shop. Buck lived in the main pilothouse and rented the small wheelhouse to Maggie, who stored her art supplies there. Jack the Fluke and his family lived in the middle apartment, adjacent to the shop, and the stern was occupied by Buck’s hometown buddy Jeremy.
There were five partners in the Oakland shop: Tate; Jack Harshberger and Greg Baker, who had given themselves the genteel-sounding name “Sausalito Shipwrights;” Jim Gibbons, a Milwaukee poet who was rigging out a clumsy but colorful little lifeboat conversion called the Cowpie; and a socially inept (even by waterfront standards) psychotic named Bob.
Bob “the Glob” was rigid all the way through, and had a steely glare in his eyes that called to mind the term “hatchet murderer.” As Gibbons put it, “It was quite clear that Bob had serious brain damage (and he didn’t even drink!)” He hated the music and parties, and it wasn’t long before he took action. One day I found the shop door locked, and a note taped to it: “This is my shop. I want Joe Tate and his equipment out of here within twenty-four hours. If necessary I will take legal action.”
The little turf war ended with a tense confrontation between Joe and Bob. People were drifting in to support Joe and the band, and “Bob the Glob” left the shop in defeat.
Baker and Harshberger eventually moved on, and the shop became the full time practice and party room for the band, and social center for the neighborhood. Gibbons remained. He was having a good time, and writing poetry about the band and the waterfront scene.
The shower in the Oakland shop was used by most of the residents of Gate Six; to have one of your own was an impossible luxury for most small-boat dwellers. As more and more wayward souls drifted into the scene, the shower traffic reached the saturation point. There was always someone in the stall, and usually someone waiting.
Newcomers were not encouraged to use the shower. They often endured insults and cruel pranks like shutting off the cold water from the outside, sending them screaming into the middle of the room naked, dripping, soapy and scalded. Even this proved futile; I’d never seen such unflappable characters.
Dirty Dick, who responded to this abuse by refusing to bathe for months and walking around with dirty underpants on his head, was eventually invited to take a shower. He celebrated by taking Jeremy’s visiting sister with him and screwing her standing up in the shower while twenty people cheered them on with every moan and groan. Dirty Dick emerged victorious waving a clean white towel and shouting,
“I am now CLEAN RICHARD!”
Another new arrival was Michael the Hippie, complete with long hair, beads, astrology, tarot cards, radical politics, and his wife, a pregnant English rock & roll groupie named Penny. When he walked into the shop with his towel for the first time, he was greeted by a group of surly, drunken Truly Rank Motherfuckers. Frank “the Lizard” Stewart asked him,
“What the fuck d’ya think you're doing, hippie?”
Without batting an eyelash the hippie replied, “This is the community shower, isn’t it?”
“What do you think this is, a commune?” I snapped.
“Far out, brother,” said Jesse, sneering.
“Hairy Christian, Hairy Christian,” chanted Dredge, “Ommmm...Power to the Peephole!”
“I don’t know what you think this is, asshole, but it ain’t Woodstock,” said Frank. “Got the picture, brother? This ain't Woodstock.”
Michael the hippie was not intimidated. He undressed, took his shower, and went back to his boat, the Magic Mushroom, with a new name: Michael Woodstock.
With Bob the Glob gone, the Oakland shop parties took on a life of their own. After a while strangers were coming in off the street, out of the woodwork, maybe from other planets.
We knew it was getting out of hand the night Michael Woodstock ran into the shop yelling, “The pigs are coming, the pigs are coming!” That was all we needed, the cops coming to shut down the party, and some idiot running around calling them “pigs.”
The cops told us there a been a complaint about the loud music. They were clearly uncomfortable here, but were surprisingly reasonable and polite. We assured them we would turn it down, and they left satisfied. Michael Woodstock had been taken away quietly and given a lecture on the disadvantages of trying to start a riot.
Right next to the Oakland and extending forty feet past its bow was the Subchaser. This whole area of the waterfront, from Gate Six south to Gate Three, had been known as Arques Shipyards in World War Two. The property owner, a cattle rancher named Don Arques, had overseen the construction of Liberty Ships, Subchasers and other military craft for the Navy during the war, and many of these vessels were still around. Some, like LCVP Landing Craft and Balloon Barges, had been converted to houseboats. A few Subchasers had been scuttled and used as makeshift docks, like the one at Gate Six.
The Hot Set-up had originally sunk in the area just off the bow of the Oakland, right next to the port side of the Subchaser. When my newly repaired houseboat was floated off the beach, we moved it back to its old home. With a recently discarded but still floating wooden dock (gleaned from the Army Corps of Engineers) tied to the Subchaser, Maggie and I settled in and were the first to take up residence in the new spot. Kim and his girlfriend Heather tied their boat, the Susie, to the other side of the new dock. Jeremy, originally there for a visit, had decided to stay and bought a small houseboat called the Camel Shack from Adam Fourman, a loner who played piano and was the part-time sixth member of the Redlegs band. Dredge towed the Camel Shack in and Jeremy moored it to the Subchaser. Gate Six now had a new sub-neighborhood.
It didn’t take long to get a name for the new dock. Jeremy and I had been trading friendly east coast insults and one of our favorites was “Bite The Bag, Whitey” as in, “Hit The Road, Jack.” So we called the new place “Whitey’s Marina.” I listed Whitey’s for the home address on my new California driver’s license.
THE DRYDOCKS and TV LIBERATION DAY
The drydocks era was coming to a close. The band had moved to the Oakland, and the Truly Rank Motherfuckers to Gate Five, but going to the drydocks was still an adventure, and could be profitable. There was a good supply of scrap metal (steel; the copper and bronze were long gone), and giant planks. The last remaining forest of red fir, it was rumored, had been used to build these monstrous devices during World War II.
On the northwestern wall of the drydocks, facing Bridgeway, there was a tremendous daisy, with the inscription “LOVE IS.” It had been done with plywood, near the top of the wall, the flower and letters painted yellow and white.
Joe and Maggie and I were sailing the Hwang Ho one day, hatching up new ideas for the band -- parties, happenings, maybe a publicity stunt. We were just passing the drydocks when Tate nearly had a seizure. He started jumping up and down, yelling, “That’s it! I’ve got it.” Maggie and I shot each other a puzzled glance. Joe brought the boat around and headed home, telling us the Great Plan.
We landed at Piledriver Island, a collection of barges and sunken hulks offshore near Gate Five. Kim had a barge there, an old pile-driving rig called the Port of Oakland. There was an underwater power cable out there, and piles of plywood, and electric tools. Joe went to work on the plywood with a sabre-saw, Maggie drew outlines, and I went to scrounge all the red paint I could find.
The preliminary work was done, and Dredge joined the operation. It was past nine o'clock at night when we set out in a stiff westerly. The materials were stacked on the Hwang Ho’s bow, tangling the foresheets and making it difficult to negotiate the deck.
We sailed into the channel between the docks and tied up. It wasn't hard getting the 8-foot plywood pieces up to the lower deck. It wasn’t even that bad hauling them up the ladders to the top of the 60-ft tower, because we were still on the lee side of the wall, but when we reached the summit and were slapped in the face with a 30 mph wind, things got a little hairy. The wind turned the huge plywood cutouts into very effective sails, and any of us could have been blown down to the deck with one wrong move. I quickly learned the proper way to carry plywood in a high wind. Dredge rigged a boatswain’s chair while Joe and I went up and down, carrying the goods. Carrying hammer and nails, Dredge lowered himself into position. The wind blew him around like a feather but he managed to get stabilized. With block and tackle, we lowered the first piece.
It seemed a long time, but finally we were done. We sat in the cabin of the Hwang Ho drinking hot chocolate and brandy, exhausted but satisfied.
We sailed back to Gate Six and got some sleep, but not much. First thing in the morning we drove to the Napa St. Pier and admired our handiwork, a sight that thousands of people would see every day:
LOVE IS Redlegs
The Redlegs were a group that people loved or hated; no one who had experienced one of our events left without an impression, good or bad. We had enemies. The Redlegs were a real terror for anyone who was afraid something might happen, because something always did.
Our publicity prank at the drydocks was viewed without much humor by the business community and bureaucrats of Sausalito. The waterfront scene (outside of the wealthy marinas) had been an embarrassment to the City for two decades, and away from the waterfront, the Redlegs were perceived not as a rock & roll band, but a vicious gang of communists. The criminal thing about the sign was that we had created a promotional gimmick of epic proportions with no money.
The LOVE IS Redlegs sign disappeared from the drydocks in two or three weeks. Taking it down had to be as risky as putting it up, or very expensive. Someone was very upset.
Joe told me about a dream he had: In the bowels of the Bank of America there was a little black box code-named “Mind-Dog.” It controlled all TV programming, and thereby the mind of the American Public. We discussed this at length and concluded that something must be done. It had to be symbolic, to keep us out of jail, and fun. The answer was Television Liberation Day.
We used Kim’s Port of Oakland barge for the event. The public was invited, free of charge, to bring any and all TV sets and publicly smash them to bits. Sledge hammers and wrecking bars were provided. We set up the band just after noon. After smashing a few TV sets ourselves we played for five or six hours as TVs came in a steady stream and people danced, not with each other, but with crowbars, sledge hammers, and boob tubes. At the end of the day the pile was huge: shards of glass, bits of plastic and twisted sheet metal.
The tradition was carried on by various groups, notably the Ant Farm, a mysterious collection of weird artists who showed up in strange places and did strange things. We met them at a party where they served raw carrots and showed slides of dead, squashed animals on highways. A few years later, they took TV Liberation to new heights when they drove a Cadillac through a 30 ft. mountain of television sets.
The “Mind Dog” nightmare eventually became reality at Gate Six. As big money and bureaucracy made their inroads and the spirit of the place faded, television sets appeared in one houseboat after another until the whole neighborhood took on the lonely blue glow of suburban America.