“We Gotta Get Outa This Place…. Girl, There’s a Better Life for Me n’ You… ” The Animals
In 1971 I was living in an A-frame cabin in Rist Canyon in the mountains outside Fort Collins, with about fifteen other people, when my boyfriend and I decided to migrate to Minnesota and take up a life together.
The whole thing emerges now as a kind of tie-dyed, torn-bandana bouquet of eventfulness.
First of all, the canyon was very beautiful–pine trees, rocks, sky, and creeks. Ether instead of oxygen.
The cabin had burned down once and been rebuilt. It was owned by the then director of the creative writing program at CSU who was making babies with his wife and having an affair with a graduate student. The A-frame really wasn’t habitable, but I lived on the second floor with a boyfriend we’ll call Joe.
I met Joe one day when I was visiting friends up the Davis Canyon Road off Rist Canyon; they lived in a seedy little trailer house barely anchored to a hill in the pines. I thought I had put the emergency brake on in my father’s Chevy II station wagon to keep from sliding back downhill, but as I got out, it began to roll back.
Joe, who has always said that he had been sitting in a glade on a prayer rug from Mello Yello, a little hippie store still in business here, jumped out of the trees stark naked, grinned at me, leapt into the vehicle and slammed on the brake, saving the day.
Later that night, I made his day on the floor of the back bedroom.
We lived together in that cabin, where I went on duty, no suprise there, as the caretaker chick, the one who insured that we had a full larder and a hot meal every night. Everyone else was wandering around in a 420 trance, grooving on Crosby, Stills and Nash and listening to sultry Buffalo Springfield warning that something was happening here. Where? We wondered. Here? Now?
That winter we were snowed in in the canyon and someone brought us a lunk of venison. I poured red wine over it and put it in the refrigerator for several days. I slow roasted it and everyone gathered around in anticipation. I carved it, and we choked it down; the wine hadn’t helped at all and it tasted like boot leather.
We had lots of cats, and bluejays that ate their food off trays in the trees, nailed there so that the plethora of dogs wouldn’t eat it. The cats went hungry and the bluejays became enormous and frightening. The dogs aimlessly bred, and we gave away the puppies and the kittens. The animals had names like Vishnu, Shanti. We had a rock python we had to find fresh mice for that people would stare at for hours, who stared back. There was a little excitement when he got out one day, but not much.
We did have some sane friends, a couple who lived back up the Davis Ranch road in one of the first solar powered houses ever; he was a Marxist history prof and she was beautiful and a great cook. We congregated there often, talkin’ about the revolution. We all marched against the war, and I got an A from the history prof for demonstrating.
Somewhere in there four of us went off to jail for awhile for growing and selling marijuana. The rest of us congregated under the barred windows of the bull pen on Friday nights, singing Bob Dylan songs. On the day they got out we would have butchered a pig if we had one, but we did get high and dance the night away, around a fire in the outdoor pit.
Unlike everybody else, I had parents who were close by, about three miles down the canyon, and a brother in junior high. My parents weren’t doing well, and I would come home and prop them up and then leave again to my extremely exciting life in the mountains with the host of oddballs and people traveling through, crashing on our living room floor
After a year or so of communal living, read cosseting drifters, ne’er do wells and people who would have died rather than get real jobs, Joe decided that we should set out together for Minnesota, where he had been an undergrad. He had a fellowship in East Asian Studies at the University of Minnesota, his passion then for a reason that escapes me now.
I had been stuck in Fort Collins for years, breaking away once to try a semester at a college on the East Coast and then, mourning my then boyfriend, a commie pinko poet, I came back. He had gone on down the road one day so that I had become available again. While we were still together I had grown out the hair under my arms and my mother had noticed it and called me a bolshevik.
Everyone living in that cabin was to go on to become somebody and do interesting things. One couple is still running an avant garde theatre company in Fort Collins. One of us is in politics in Montana. One is a photographer. We lived hard, played hard. I never did Acid but I drank a lot of wine. Marijuana made me cough and feel depressed, so that I was s.o.l. with respect to drugs.
Somewhat clear-headed and clear-eyed then, I helped Joe look for a vehicle for our odyssey. I tried to talk him out of a rusty little VW bus for sale in someone’s back yard for $500– a huge chunk a change in those days. But he was determined: we were bound for glory.
He and his friend Sam lay underneath it for days, wiring it together.
With trepidation, I packed up a few precious things– my great grandmother’s antique writing desk, my old singer sewing machine with which I made voluminous and loud harem pants and tunics.. I brought along my manuscript of poetry recently marked up by Robert Bly when he was a visiting writer at CSU. We stuffed a few cats and a little dog and her puppy into the bus and set out across the West, breaking down on I8O, on the prairie, sagebrush and Black Angus everywhere.
I remember that I wasn’t helpful, or supportive, just highly irritated that our Conestoga, my chariot to freedom, was such a dud.
Stay tuned: next installment, next Friday.
Oh, this brings back some memories. I never did drugs and I never lived in a commune but after college, I did caretake my brother and his girlfriend and another couple and their many friends and after a year had to get out. It was a good experience, showing me exactly what kind of life I didn’t want.
I’ll be waiting for the next installment.
Have a great weekend.
Ooops. I did drugs during the 70’s and was always looking for a caretaker!!
But I’ve made up for it since. And it’s not like the drugs had any lasting effect like making me do the same thing twice or anything.
That’s o.k. I fixed it. I can’t fix much, so it’s fun to fix some things. xxxj
I am anxious for the next installment! I love your writing and this voice especially, perhaps!
Thanks, Laurie…. Scribing away at all hours here….xxxj
Lyle Daggett said:
I also loved reading this, and can’t wait for part two.
Sometime back during the 1990’s, CBS or one of the T.V. networks did an hour-long “news” documentary on the resurgence the use of LSD among “young people.” The talked about rave parties, had a segment about a huge outdoor concert in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and interviewed various people about one thing and another.
One brief piece of interview was with a slightly-aging hippie-looking guy in (I think) Berkeley, or somewhere in the San Francisco area. He pointed out that LSD is derived from the ergot fungus which is found on the rye plant, and then he said, “You know, it could be that LSD is like a way for the plant kingdom to talk to the animal kingdom. And I guess I think that’s valid.”
The part of Minneapolis where I live was, during the 1980’s and 1990’s, a big hang-out area for punk-rocker looking kids, whatever “kids” means, such terms being relative. I remember thinking now and then, as I enjoyed the parade of people with dazzling tattoos and body piercings and rainbow-colored hair spikes and pink leather and turquoise lace and dog collars and spiked boots and black painted fingernails and green painted lips, that it was now possible to see in real life the sorts of people that one used to have to take things in order to see.
I found this (and find it) quietly and profoundly encouraging — that our ecstatic visions had become flesh, and were (and are) having visions and making worlds of their own and — sometimes — having babies.
This is hilarious. Now we don’t have to take anything to see them. So true. What’s this thing with the pants down around the crotch and falling off the ass now? Good grief. I remember the dog collars too, so far afield from the dog tags I’m thinking about today….xj
I took hallucinogenics just twice, first time a bad trip (lasted WAY longer than it was supposed to, I was seeing beautiful flowers on the ceiling in math class and bugs swarming on the screens). Second time (oh no she didn’t, oh yes she did) much different…with a good friend, throwing the hairbrush up to see it fall to the floor in “trails,” listening to Steely Dan, walking to the center of the town on a sunlit day (she says it was the day of LBJ’s funeral). Anyway that was that, no more. Never booted anything. And like you said Lyle, it’s a show in itself nowadays, but Jenne, I find myself getting anxious when I see the pants falling down and the underwear waistband. Truly anxious. Like, please don’t fall all the way down on my watch.
My life was so sedate compared to yours, though I did smoke marijuana a few times (and don’t regret it). Interesting how it made everything slow waaaaay down. Had the opposite effect on me, though. I couldn’t stop laughing and got a severe case of the munchies, lol.
I’m looking forward to future installments! What a crazy time that was 🙂
Great! You guys are giving me so many ideas…. thanks! xj BTW I need to know how to put emoticons in my posts and embed badges on my site. xxxj
I love this voice too – I get the chord changes and the ethos and feel like I was just ALMOST there but not quite – you captured the soundtrack and scenario that my babysitters lived but I was too much at tail end to experience – aware but just a few years to young to participate.
We were laughing about “Eric Burden and the New Animals!” playing at our local blues fest this past weekend. Please.
Thanks, Maggie! I heard the Animals’ song the other night on the World Cafe on NPR, and it really took me back…xxxj