That word will hardly leave my mind as we drive up, up, up and up this fucking mountain. The birds are wearing oxygen tanks. (Little ones, obviously.). A narrow road that climbs through this landscape like the trail of a drunken sidewinder. San Bernadino State Park is beautiful. As far as I can tell. The road is never straight for more than a few yards and on either side it drops, practically straight fucking down to the more reasonable sea-level freeway. At points it feels as if all that's keeping us on the damned road is the change in my left pocket..
Put yourself in my shoes for a moment (they're big, there's plenty of room...). I live on a small, flat island. A three minute walk from my front door means that I am looking at the Atlantic ocean. Now, I'm nearing the 6,000' elevation mark. What the actual fuck? Looking back down towards the freeway that brought us here, I am somewhat reminded of a giant guitar neck illuminated by the red and white strings of the cars' front and rear lights.
We pull into a small town and drive to a liquor store called the Four Brothers. I walk inside, grab 12 bottles of Modello, a very fine Mexican beer and two packs of Winston cigarettes. The man behind the counter is about to put the twelve bottles into a plastic bag. "No, thanks. I'm not going very far. " "You have to, it's state law. " "Oh, I see. Um...could I have that in a plastic bag, please?". "Sure thing. " "Gee, thanks. "
More narrow roads, more blind corners and more up....the sun is sinking and I can see a small amount of fog on the road. SB corrects me. Those are clouds. We're that fucking high up.
We take a series of arterial roads to the cabin. It's pretty dark and the evening has turned cool. Beer on porch, luggage by my bed, joint rolled, I light a cigarette and take it all in...the air tastes different up here. Away from the carbon monoxide and diesel smoke that blanket the greater Los Angeles area, I can taste trees and local flora. It's a sweet, brown flavour.
We break out the acoustic guitars and proceed to play. SB favours some Elvis Costello and Gillian Welch covers. I run through a series of songs that stitch together like someone frantically tuning a radio, looking for a song. Beatles, Jon Brion, Echo & the Bunnymen, Psychedelic Furs, Billie Holiday and many others that have no connective through line. It's been a long time since I just sat and played music with or near anyone else and apparently these songs are well nigh desperate to get out of my head, lest I forget them.
The cabin interior has a warm cedar glow. There is a fireplace but I am informed that it is in poor condition and would not be suited to the kind of fire that it seems to demand on a night like this. I drink more beer, smoke more pot, play more songs (some of which I don't think I've played in many, many years) and begin to understand why such a remote location appeals to some. It's the quiet. The kind of quiet that makes the universe seem intimate and yet aloof. The stars overhead hang in milky, wide clusters. It occurs to me that I'm seeing a chunk of the galaxy that I've never seen before.
We are joined later by SB's friend BP. An amiable dude whose parents live just across the way. He drinks Coors beer, which out of politeness I decide not to mock. (It tastes like poison-lite and the company's politics are shameful). He seems impressed by some of my clumsy jazz chords and requests that I write some down for him to learn. He tells me of a recording project featuring Angeleno bands covering songs from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He is wondering how to approach the song his group is covering, the opening number, 'Science Fiction'. I offer the opinion that if other bands are taking wild liberties with their covers, the most radical way to approach his song would be a straight up cover. No fancy time changes, analog synths or lo-fi production. Stand above the rest by not trying so damn hard to be different. The concept seems to elude him and I don't press it any further.
The evening winds down, I finish my beer and prepare for bed. Tomorrow we are heading out to the high desert. This has been planned for several months and incorporates both SB's birthday party and my chance to commune with the ghost (conceptually, at least) of one of my musical idols.
Two days and I've barely stood still.
Next: Surprise sandwiches, more late night songs and a gold plated door.