John wanted me to write this. The last time I saw him sitting backstage at the Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz he and Spencer Dryden were chuckling to themselves about how John had suckered me into helping the other roadies change his broken guitar string. "You'll always be a needle,'' he told me, "Unless you get your book done and really retire from this crap." He was talking about 'True Tales From The Next To Last Tour,' a book he helped inspire during several short jaunts and a couple of longer stays out in America, walking the rock'n'roll beast on tour.
I met John long before I started working for him. I was hustling a tape for some band I knew and gave him a copy at some Dead show. Two years later, he still bugged me about it because I used to give his roadies a hard time when the Dinosaurs were first cranking up, and we didn't see eye to eye. "Are you still pushing disco music?" he would ask. I usually countered with "So, you still trying to play guitar?" I was, in his words, "A monkey on [his] back." Only after he saw that I wasn't going to give in, did he finally accept me. I still bugged him about it though, asking who his favorite monkey was every time he walked out on stage to play.
John seemed to be afraid at times. Not scared, Cipollina wasn't scared of anything, but he was leery of the people that worked for him. Too many prized guitars or amps had disappeared after roadies or friends decided the equipment was worth more to them than John. Nothing pissed him off more. At his studio, he would tell me stories about the guitars and other equipment lying around, then shake his head sadly and whisper, "There used to be a hell of a lot more."
John was also saddened by the fact that his fans sometimes missed the point he was trying or not trying to make at any given time. After gigs, sitting around in hotel rooms, we'd talk about how hard it was doing and being the way people expected you to be. "I'd rather trade fucking recipes than talk about the good old days with Quicksilver sometimes." He was put off too by the rumors and remarks passed along by his so-called adoring fans. Too many times some kid would ask if John remembered some off-the-wall time and place where the two of them allegedly did some inhuman amount of drugs or re-wrote sexual history, and John would answer by saying "No, but I'm sure you do." I remember when the demands, favors, and questions overpowered him and he would ask me to keep him away from the crowd. "Tell them to leave me alone." It seemed to me that too many people knew John, or had a piece of him that he wanted back but couldn't afford to buy. Sometimes he just seemed tired of it all. "These people want to see John Cipollina, not me." It wasn't that he didn't give; when he played, he did it for those who came to listen. But still, he sometimes felt that the point was missed, misconstrued. The show was always important, but there was always something more. He used to joke about how badly he wanted to walk out on stage one night and do a puppet show while wearing a clown suit. He gave me a red rubber nose one night and told me to wear it at the appropriate time.
I let John down a few times during our relationship. Usually when things got too heavy for me, I'd split, leaving some dork (Dr. Waldo and some others excluded) holding the bag for the Dinosaurs. When I'd return, John would tear into me about leaving him with some idiot who couldn't tune his guitars or fix his amps. I'm sorry, John, you know how it is sometimes.
I came out of retirement the other night and attended a memorial gig at The Chi-Chi club in San Francisco. I was curious to see what would happen, and came away thinking that John would have been laughing. Not because he was cruel and saw humor in peoples' sorrow, but more so because no one could seem to grasp the reason for being there. Yes, to pay homage; sure, to relive the good times, but still, why?
John is dead. I know he's happy. I'm sure he got back the $15.00 he'd loaned Hendrix all those years ago, but I'm positive he'd want everyone to lighten up; things ain't that serious. Put on those big floppy shoes and red rubber noses, man. I'm wearing the one John gave me. I'm sure he'd ask the same of you.
[Kevyn Clark has emailed me, kindly giving me permission to put this article here, providing I mention his web site (www.kevynclark.com) which has sections about his poetry, the Roadies From Hell, and Buddhism. The Roadies From Hell section starts with a John Cipollina anecdote, and the History page has a few pictures of Kevyn with John. Kevyn's published book of poetry, Corner of Divisadero and Whatever, includes a lyric, "Rock Star, Roadie, Cherry", that was inspired by a series of conversations he had with John while cooped up in cramped hotel rooms while on the road. Added 31 December 2002]
[Photo of Nick Gravenites, John Cipollina (and Greg Anton on drums) - Nick & Chip]
[Photo of John Cipollina with Kevyn Clark]
[Photo of John Cipollina]
When John checked into a hotel room where he'd be staying for more than a few days, the first thing he'd do was carefully remove the thin white paper band that was stretched across the toilet seat and deftly place it in an empty drawer, out of harms way.
Just before he checked out he would expertly replace the strip and wait around for the maid or someone to notice. Chances are, the maid, still off balance from the unused toilet, would flick on the unused T.V. and the picture tube would be upside down.
John had those extra long, ultra-thin, guitar calloused fingers. Musicians' hands. Delicate instruments that he loved taking to their limit, performing delicacies like the toilet seat caper. John would chuckle about something like that for days. And talk about it for years. He loved to talk. He loved fun. He revered quality. And he hated sushi.
He cared deeply about people and what they cared about, and exhibited an abiding kindness towards everyone around him. He had a profound respect for his audience and was adamant about being truthfully represented.
At John's funeral, a priest said that everyone who knew him had a unique and different relationship with him. Everyone fortunate enough to have that relationship truly cherished it.
J.C. Triple Virgo. The Quintessential Rock and Roll Gentleman; guns, girls, guitars, ganja, lucky strikes, and a lifetime subscription to the National Enquirer.
He worshipped bats, drove a bloodmobile, and filed his teeth.
He played guitar with Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Charles Manson, Groucho Marx, and the Governor of New Jersey.
Totally nocturnal, nighttime was John's habitat. Going by waking hours, John was 100 when he died. He never wanted to miss anything. "I'll sleep when I'm dead," he said.
He'd been known to fall asleep with his fingerpicks on.
John Cipollina was one of the finest people that has ever lived. Everyone who knew him knows that.
(Greg Anton, drummer with Zero, has recorded six albums with John and performed with him for the past 15 years.)
Here I am
On the street
Where you left me
I wonder what those bloodshot eyes saw last night
I just wish that my feet weren't so shaky
I know the monster inside me was out on the prowl last night
In the day
I'm as straight
As the next man
You might even think that I'm just a regular guy
But at night
I make slight alterations
And I emerge from the alleyway
a Honky Tonk Jeckyl and Hyde
Someday I'll get busted
Folks will be disgusted
Probably try to put me away
But when I'm on the loose
I keep myself amused
And terrorize the village everyday.
Candy for the kiddy
You never should accept strange rides
If I could just remember what happened after she got inside
Though I'm not in control
The night has got my soul
How long have I been keepin' this inside
But I'll be alright
When the moon goes down
And the sun shines bright
How can I keep things right
and be a Honky Tonk Jeckyl and Hyde
How can I keep things tight
and be a Honky Tonk Jeckyl and Hyde
How can I keep things light
and be a Honky Tonk Jeckyl and Hyde
"Honky Tonk Jeckyl and Hyde"
Unpublished song by John Cipollina
copyright 1978 - John Cipollina
Relix, August 1989, Vol. 16 No. 4