It was a few months after The Summer Of Love, and I was back in The Grove. I was back from my first trip to Laurel Canyon, and the year was still 1967.
Given the guest room in Ric O'Barry's Biscayne Bay-side home, I could enjoy the passenger seat of his Porche, zipping over to the Miami Seaquarium, where he worked. Ric had been the trainer of the dolphins used for the TV show, Flipper, and when I got back from California, he was working with a baby Orca whale; working with the little big guy, to let Ric ride on his back while playing a wooden flute. Two years later, Ric would launch his life long campaign to raise people's consciousness to the needs of dolphins and whales, and that we ought to consider ecology in the oceans, when that word "ecology" was rarely used at all. Ric became the first man to rehabilitate dolphins back to their home in the open ocean. He launched that campaign by getting arrested, on the first celebration of Earth Day, for attempting to free dolphins from a cruel enclosure.
But, at that time, I was having a fabulous time with him, comparing the astonishing similarities between dolphins, whales, and the elephants I was raised with in the circus. Since I was half Czech, and his name didn't have a "k" in it, Ric always called me "Kid", as Humphrey Bogart called Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, and the subjects we dealt with were, indeed, more important than both of us. (*note)
This was also a time when I was writing tons of new songs, and revamping older material, reflecting the rampant sociological changes unfolding in our nation. Arriving at the Los Angeles airport, in June 1967, was the start of a multiple gigabyte brain download of more information than I'd ever had before. It would take months to sort it all out. Still 17, I was also sorting through the typical complexities of being a teenager. Ric's inviting coral and hardwood home, next to the blue water bay, was an ideal place to contemplate any big picture.
There was a job waiting for me at The Gaslight South. The summer special I taped in the spring of 67 had been on TV for the entire time I was in California, so my following grew in my absence. The Gaslight South had been opened in 1965, by Sam Hood, the owner of The Gaslight coffee house in The Village, (Greenwich Village) in New York City. Here, he converted a store into a tasteful performance space, embedded among the art galleries of The Grove. It was one block from the bay; close enough to hear the wind chime sounds of halyards on the sail boat masts, as they swayed in the jasmine scented breeze. Inside, the long room had been painted a warm, pale blue, with black cork board, strategically placed on the walls, for the best possible acoustics. Since it had been a store, it had a double windowed front, with the door indented a few steps between them. As you came through the door, there was a curtain on the right that led to the front tuning room. It had it's big window papered with psychedelic posters, for the musician's privacy. Turning left found you at the front entrance admission counter, where you paid to get in. Serving as a wall, they hung a floor to ceiling, diaphanous, pale blue curtain, so you could see the performers, through this misty veil, on stage at the end of the long darkness.
David Crosby had been in The Grove on a very happy mission. He had a dream, like his father before him, to sail the seas on a beautiful wooden boat, in complete freedom from the rat race world; to find all The Grove-like magic ports that celebrated creativity. He thought the success of The Byrds was waning, that his performing star days were coming to a close, and he should best use his talents in producing the finest musicians he could find. He wanted to produce a few artists a year, and spend the rest of his time, and money, sailing the seas. It was an idealistic, practical, and feasibly lucrative plan.
I had known David for two years. That is, I had been introduced to him as a fine musician, and jail bait, with a squadron of bodyguards, and my mother, carefully guarding me from itinerant folk singers and rock stars. We knew each other through the measured distance appropriate to my age, and his presupposition that I couldn't possibly be as good as they said I was. After all, a "chick singer" is just a "chick singer", and Crosby always managed to slip out the door when I stepped on the stage. Still, after two years of seeing me in the homes of everyone he knew in The Grove, after me being a house guest at his home in LA, after seeing me answer the door at Denny Doherty's home, when he angrily deposited his girlfriend, Linda, and her suitcase, at the threshold, he very slowly began to think I might be "cool enough" to begin to be an acquaintance.
On the subject of Crosby's reputation with women, contrary to popular belief, and over these many years, he has always been a respectful gentleman with me. You can't attract that many beautiful women without having some kind of something beyond just being a rock star; and he had it in spades. It was very similar to my father's energy, intensely present in the eyes. When my father took his final bow at the end of walking down the wire, he often had to run back to the trailer, with a mob of screaming girls chasing him for an autograph. In a room full of people, all the women would just happened to be looking at my father, and drifting towards him. Like my father, Crosby had a seriously developed energy field that could expand to the size of a stadium. It was more than charisma, it's charisma on a very important mission.
It was during this time of Crosby's slowly melting ice, that one night, after the last show, he scooped up a few of us, and drove us up to Bill Bolling's house in Fort Lauderdale. It was situated among the winding canals caressing well kept homes, with docks at the rear, for sea worthy vessels. Being very late at night, David led us sneaking around to the back of the house by the wide, intra coastal canal. There, at a narrow dock, running parallel to the land, tied like a white ermine queen draped upon her throne, sat the Mayan.
She was, and still is, a 73 foot long, two masted schooner, of great beauty and grace of line. A wooden ship, with her mast reaching up into the starry night, almost cleaving the small boat clouds drifting. David stood smiling, looking at her, looking at us, his eyes glistening with rapturous happiness. He sprinted on board and sat in the hammock he had strung between the main and foremast. He sat right in the middle of this majestic architecture like a fluffy headed Christ Child in the cradling arms of his queen mother. And with eyes still glistening joy, he said, "I still can't believe this is real!!! Peter Tork just gave me twenty-five thousand dollars! He just said take it and buy her! It was a steal for that price, but I didn't have it, and he just gave it to me, without signing anything; without a word about paying him back! Man, that's what it's all about! We're making all our dreams come true! Just keep dreaming real hard, and it just comes true! It's real magic!" Then he looked up at her mast, following her lines to the stern, and back up and over to her bowsprit, like he was adoring the look of a woman, and quietly said, " Isn't she beautiful? God, I love her so much. I can't believe how beautiful she is, and she's mine." At that moment, I didn't realize it would be just a few short days before I'd see those glistening eyes again, and hear him say those tender words again; and the "she" to which he would then refer, would be a vessel more graceful, and sea worthy, than any he had yet to dream.
(To be continued with Part Two)
* note: Ric O'Barry wrote a book called, Behind The Dolphin Smile, whose contents became the framework for the Free Willy movies. They changed Ric into a little boy, and changed the dolphin into an Orca whale; they took Ric's very life, his autobiography, and gave him neither credit nor one penny. Ric continues to rescue dolphins and whales in distressed captivity, all around the world. He truly is the Ghandi of Whales.
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