I wrote California Dreamin.’ You know the one, by the Mamas and the Papas. I ran away one day in ‘65 and went north where I met Mama Cass outside a tent commune somewhere near Monterey. She put a stamp of acid on my tongue and sang me hymnals until the sun rose. That’s how I know God is real.

It’s also how I became the around town roadie for the quartet before they’d even recorded a song or settled on a band name. It didn’t last. Being sixteen and all I wasn’t any good at keeping tabs on guitars and tambourines, high-hats and strings. Then one night I turned off the power mid-set while tripping and Mr. Graham from the Fillmore was in attendance looking for new acts. That was the end of the road for me as around town roadie. A voice told me to do it. A deep and convincing voice that tickled my ear.

John understood that enough to give me a ride to the train station the next morning as I read him poems. That’s when he asked for a copy of what I called “Stopped into a Church Along the Way.”

“Hey that’s real nice,” John said. “Reach into the glove compartment there and pull out a contract.”

I signed on three dotted lines against the dashboard waiting for the light to turn green somewhere near Post and Divisadero. We got it notarized at the train station post office, hugged liked brothers and parted ways. 10 percent was the cut. Now I got two houses — Malibu and Maui — a number one, three more top tens and four books of prose poetry. I got stocks and bonds and trust funds for all four of my kids from three marriages. My kin has generational wealth now because I was handy with words, dumb enough to read them out loud and smart to get away from the terror of my father’s fist. Isn’t that nice?

No, down on Post and Divisadero I gave that poem over for the rest of the weed John and I were smoking. I never saw a dime. Heard the song a year later in the back seat necking with soon-to-be wife number one. That was one hell of a high.

8 Comments

  1. Bud Smith

    Hello Saxon, I really liked this it’s such a poignant way to explain what it feels like to be so close to something and to have it both fail you and succeed you and not be able to explain what that really means to ones’ self, like yes, the kid has written a hit song but he had to become a fuck up to do it and he does it tripping upwards, very nearly recreating manifest destiny … the boy who wants to, needs to, get to the ultimate west. Here, the boy has accidentally written the ultimate sad song about a generally regarded cheery paradise. I love this premise and I wonder a few things, 1) where is he from originally 2) it’s a secret he wrote the song, how does he feel about this? under what circumstances is this secret being revealed to us?

    Fine work, excited to read the next draft of it if you post here!

  2. Benjamin Niespodziany

    I love opening with such a big claim and then guiding the reader through the tale. Great pacing and laid back storytelling. I’d love to see that final paragraph be a bit longer. Contrasting the daydreaming glamour from the paragraph above (ah, to have four books of prose poems) with the harsh reality of the world below.

  3. Jack O'Connell

    I liked the sing-songiness and lyricality of some lines “around town roadie” “three dotted lines.” I think at the core it’s a really sad story and you could dive into the pain that’s behind this guy telling these stories. Make more of the turn at the end, get really into his sadness, really empathize with why he needs to lie, maybe tell us more about what his actual life is like, perhaps even intercut it with the fantasy life, who knows

  4. Kara Vernor

    Hi Saxon, I love the playfulness of this, the easy-come-easy-go. You have a ton of great, zinging lines, and lord, “I signed on three dotted lines against the dashboard waiting for the light to turn green somewhere near Post and Divisadero.” is a killer. I also think you have the essential shape and arc of the piece already. Like others, I’d love to see what happens if you thread in a bit more sadness or vulnerability. When you mention his “father’s fist,” the weight of it reads a bit out of tone to me compared to the lightness of the rest. I think if you tried layering that in earlier, it would come across as more integrated. That’s really all I got, though. The piece already has so much going for it.

  5. Rachel Pollon Williams

    Ah man, I thought for a second that the narrator was going to have that happy ending. Damn it! Love this situation. I suppose I would like to know more of how he ends up. Where is he in time and space telling this story? Is he at his J.O.B. job where he hears the song on the radio for the millionth time and it spurs him to do ___? He could be anything now. A cop at a diner, a line cook, a teacher. Interesting to think about however he turned out, whatever he ended up doing with his life, there is a different opportunity for where this story goes. Does he see any of the Mamas and Papas or other musicians of that time further on down the road? Anyway, great terrain to explore!

  6. Greg Oldfield

    Saxon, I like the connection of the acid trip and how it lends itself to the shape of the story, stretching the plausibility in a way that’s both real and freakish. What’s most compelling to me is the relationship between his rags to riches story and the lyrics of the song. That back to reality paragraph toward the end is key in giving us a greater sense of what the lyrics mean to him, why he’s running away, who he is etc. but without the need to explicitly share those lyrics because the stripped down version will provide just enough. So a detail or two more either earlier on or at the end that connects his poem with the song that made it. But I’m digging this so far.

  7. Traci Mullins

    Saxon, I really enjoyed this and wasn’t expecting the ending at all. I’m one who likes an unexpected twist, and you pulled it off beautifully. One thing you might try is to clarify up front why the boy ran away (permanently?) so that getting away from his father’s fist doesn’t feel jarring when you get to that part. Also, I’m not sure you need the phrase, “Isn’t that nice?” Nicely done.

  8. Bill Merklee

    I love this story. The opening paragraph is killer. The last very satisfying. That you take us straight where we hope the story is going only to have that “just kidding” moment is like those film scenes that take us in one direction only to find we’ve been watching a character’s daydream. Well done. I agree with what others have said about more info up front about the narrator’s father and the need to leave.

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