The Inland Empire is the only part of the country I’ve ever seen that is virtually built on a swell of heat and wonder. I was raised on an egg ranch in Fontana California, my father was a carnation milkman, and my grandfather made his own brandy in the basement of our Spanish revivalist Date Street dwelling. He was actually one of the fabled copper miners in Woody Guthrie’s acclaimed ballad, The1913 Massacre. I remember crawling and climbing through the black walnut orchard in a 1960’s sunshine that struggled with the steelmill emissions like Cain and Abel chosing a reality. My friends and I grew up on the music of Grand Funk Railroad, Blue Cheer, and Buck Owens like a good swatch of our individually stamped pubescent America, but I still brought my steel guitar to high school and kept it in my book locker, taking the pick-ups apart at recess. We all had the slight varnished inkling of a 4H vibration; smoking pot turned the clouds to sheep.
(Photo credit: Mike Brayer)
In 2004 my wife and I moved to Claremont California, it with its five plump colleges and rats tightrope walking the power lines, seeming to wear the very burglar tights of dusk. I’ve never felt more sympathy and solidarity for the birds than I did out there. I thought that the birds ruled the domain of the trees, at least that’s the way it was in my mind growing up in an old grove town. But to be a bird in Claremont means looking over from your roust and seeing, a squirrel, a possum, a couple of raccoons, and a rat. I mean that seems a little like Barbara Billingsley and Aunt Bea seeing Nazis in a spumoni colored beauty parlor. We now have about us a phenomenon called the West Nile Virus which it is said have killed over 50,000 crows and blue-jays in the past few months, and now I’m starting to see it as a conspiratorial cover up, the birds growing ever more depressed, unable to open whiskey bottles with their beaks, and the media just unable to cope with the mass suicide. But where else but Claremont can I walk three blocks to the Folk Music Center and get a calf skin head for my banjo, and a set of gun-groo dance bells, a skate board that turns into a lap steel, and then walk over to Chris Darrow’s house on Faculty Row, skipping across a eucalyptus stretch of route 66 and talk surf culture, and 99 cent store etiquette until five in the morning. And I am now happy to report that the mass transportation problem has also just been solved, now that we can walk the fifty miles to Los Angeles, stepping from roof top to roof top, the moon coming up over San Bernardino like a monster truck tire being coughed up by a manger of mountain range.