That Much Further West
Being twangfully high on I See Hawks in L.A.
By Gabe Meline
No area of the country has produced what’s commonly called “cosmic American music” with such frequency and authenticity as Southern California, that strange, hot land that feels to us in NorCal like a different planet, let alone a different state. I See Hawks in L.A. are quite simply one of the finest exports from the land of contradiction—concrete and flowers, asphalt and palms, tanning salons and beaches—and their vision of life down south is one that’s as much influenced by their rugged neighborhood of Echo Park as it is Nashville twang. An added psychedelic element is key to the band’s sound, emanating from bassist Paul Mitchell’s time spent playing with Strawberry Alarm Clock—that’s him singing in Russ Meyer’s Roger Ebert–penned camp classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—and evidenced by the band’s swirly ode to their northern neighbors, “Humboldt.”
If the names Dave Alvin, Gene Clark, Gram Parsons or Tom Brumley ring any kind of bell for you, don’t miss this band. They play with David T. Carter and the Trailer Park Rangers on Friday, June 5, at Aubergine, 755 Petaluma Blvd., Sebastopol. 9pm. $10. 707.827.3460.
We’re rolling through somber deep redwoods and deciduous dense growth on the narrow winding highway outside of very hip and mellow Sebastopol, woods yielding to cow pastures and taking back again, to the hamlet of Occidental and radio station KOWS, for a taping. Nice, nice, nice.
Post KOWS interview. Our gentle and enlightened Songs In The Round DJ host Scott guided us through an acoustic performance and interview that went in our favorite direction–a consideration of the fauna and flora of our surroundings and of Los Angeles. It’s good to be with people who think about the land, about the mall and its consequences. We bought a strawberry tart with a long German name and delicious nettle/mint aqua fresca from a sweet 60’s mama at the farmer’s market that had burgeoned in the parking lot below the radio station, which is housed in an old wood frame mercantile building. The tea’s green goodness is suffusing our sytem and souls, and we are so digging the vibe on Bohemian Highway.Thin shadowed twisting highway. We dip into deep forest, passing thin young trees making kinescope of the green mysteries behind. An old wood cabin with only a dirt road for access through forest. An abandoned pickup truck with its brains blown out. Roadside gardens bursting with vaginal fertility. We stop at a roadside organic bakery, and inside are tables overflowing with the most beautiful earthy seedy fruit chunk bearing loaves and scones we’ve ever seen. The scone tastes as good as it looks, and the espresso is perfect. Are we dreaming these green fields, these flowing skirts, these goddesses, this nuclear free zone, into existence? Are we in a matriarchy? Heal us.
After an active and reflective day out on the Bay, we are well grounded in the history and earth of Marin for our show tonight at the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax. The pub is run by a wise and generous Irish couple who have taken the model of an Irish pub from the green rolling hills of Ireland to the yellow rolling hills of Marin. The beer is cold, the taps are clean, and the food is hearty and nourishing. You can even bring your kids. The Sleeping Lady (named after the local nickname of Mount Tamalpais) is a welcome new venue for the Hawks. Lots of friends and relatives of the band live nearby and they populate the tables as we launch in to our evening acoustic set. The sound is a little tricky at first, the crowd wants more guitar and we figure out how to give it to them after a while. Learning a new room and a new sound system is always a little tough but we’ll be ready for it next time. Sleeping Lady, we want to sleep with you again.
Thursday morning comes early at our undisclosed location in a city in Marin county whose name means shark in Spanish (oops, almost gave it away!). The young Waller children are traveling with the Hawks on this journey and PM and PL are generously waking early and hanging with the lively Waller youth. Even Richie adds his experienced hand to entertain and care for the children at the early hour of waking. RW is a lucky man to play with such talented and child-friendly musicians.
After hearty cups of strong milkless coffee that galvanize our spirits to nearly a state of ambition, we make our way down the hill and board a ferry to Angel Island. The weather is cool and partly cloudy, a lovely day to hike on the historic island. In recent history the Island served as the “Ellis Island of the West.” But that name is a bit misleading. This western immigration station was really more of a holding pen than a gateway to America. Asian immigrants, particularly the Chinese, were quarantined here for years and often sent back. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 laid the legal framework for these policies. According to Karen Polster of UC Riverside, in 1876, the Marin Journal published charges against the Chinese presence in California on behalf of the white working men of the state and their families:”That he is a slave . . . no fit competitor for an American freeman . . . That American men, women and children cannot be what free people should be, and compete with such degraded creatures in the labor market . . . the health, wealth and prosperity and happiness of our State demand their expulsion from our shores.”
We wandered among the surprisingly graceful block detention buildings nestled in the cliffs of a cove. Poems are etched into the walls that tell of the aspiring-immigrants fate. Here are a few examples:
I am distressed that we Chinese are detained in this wooden building.
It is actually racial barriers which cause difficulties on Yingtai Island
Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox.
I intended to come to America to earn a living.
Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America . . .
[to attain] my ambition and become successful.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,
I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.
Long before Chinese immigrants came to America, indeed long before there was an America at all, the Miwok Indians made their way out to the island in boats made of reeds which could hold as many as ten people. Like the brotherhood of ISHILA, the Miwoks had an animistic philosophy. They trod lightly on the island, apologizing to spirits of the animals and nature whenever they disturbed them, they also used local plants to create trances. It’s a beautiful island and the Hawks are nourished by their visit walking and hanging with the ghosts of history.
Wednesday brought us to our now familiar haunt, in what most would describe as Berkeley but is in fact Emeryville: Strings, a secret concert house that forbids bands to advertise or tell where it is. An oasis on decaying San Pablo (oops, almost gave it away!) with a Japanese-style garden designed with secret nooks, secret hot tubs, and delicate shrines, big Persian carpets on walls and floors, and lots of wood weathered by years of Bay fog, rain, and sun. Our kind host Joey opened the show with his unique guitar instrumentalizing. Richie Lawrence, in from Sacramento, added his tunes and tunefulness, a fourth unofficial Hawk in the middle of our tourette, and a mellow night of music was had by all. It’s a real trip to play at Strings — a trip back in time (or is it sideways?) to a reality that could’ve come to be on a much larger scale if the hippies had won. A bearded man wearing a big smile comes up to the merch table to tell us he got all our records for free, only paying the 40 cent cost of the blank CDR. Wow. File sharing has hit the flower children.
We bid farewell to our fine friends at Strings and head back out into the harsh, impersonal world of triumphant 21st century capitalism. But it’s not all harsh. We use Richie’s iPhone to locate the nearest Nation’s hamburgers — an East Bay chain of 24 hour burger and pie stands that delivers on every level. The shakes are thick and malty, the burgers are piled high with cheese and onions and mayo. They fall apart before you can finish them. They even offers a delicious salmon burger to which PL grants an enthusiastic seal of approval. We are happy, full, and sleepy. Next stop, bed in Tiburon.
Our apologies, dear reader, it’s been a while since we’ve taken the time to chronicle our journey here on the pages of our humble web log. When last we wrote, we were headed north on the 99 towards our show at the wise and benevolent Palms, the cultural Center of Yolo County. If memory serves, and sometimes it does, the show was grand. Two acoustic sets with brother Hawk Richie Lawrence as special guest, singing some wonderful songs from his soon to be released solo CD. A generous crowd filled our hearts with pride and resolve. We played “Yolo County Airport” and the crowd, now familiar with the song, cheered heartily between verses. We have penned a regional anthem, and are setting our sights on a new national anthem, although the opening of “Freebird” is a already a strong contender for the post-empire era. We said our farewells to Palms resident poet Dave Fleming and drove into the night. What a wonderful place this is.
We stayed at our central California home away from home, the Tyson mini-estate in the fields and marshes near Winters, chief subject of aforementioned “Yolo County.” Kathryn and Carlos are very generous people, and even more interesting. Kathryn has lived a cat’s nine lives and then some, including teen queen hoodlum in reservation country in North Dakota, and flight attendant on a sketchy and perhaps CIA owned airline servicing Vietnam at the height of the war. Now she and Carlos do land preservation work, and their marshy surroundings are indeed a hotbed of wildlife activity. We saw a Swenson’s hawk divebomb a huge wild turkey that was encroaching on nesting territory. Better than Animal Kingdom, and commercial free.We got a late start for the Bayarea, after a many tales told Tyson breakfast, but we were late for nothing. A sweet day off in the hills of Marin.
San Francisco is wrong. Who first said this? Was it Marc Doten? Was it Anthony Lacques? Dear reader, you are perhaps concerned: where is this going? Surely the Hawks aren’t going to bash an entire city. Surely their anonymous but acerbic scribes are not going to unleash their full verbal vitriolosity in broad stroke broadside against what some, the more shallow among us, consider one of the shining gems of urbs Americanus?