"MICRO-DOTS Of TIME" Moby Grape & Wilson Mower Pursuit (Grande Ballroom - Detroit 1967)
You'd better hurry back, Mischa!”
I heard my father's admonition as I scurried down the stairs of his barber shop on Junction Avenue. He was anxious for me to be on time for our family dinner, but there was something I wished to do first.
A rather odd-looking curiosity shop on Plum Street had caught my eye earlier that day, when I hadn't had the time to stop. In its heyday, Plum Street had been the locale of a musical and artistic community in the city of Detroit, very similar to Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. But unlike its West Coast counterpart, Plum Street's lifespan had lasted but a few short years. The budding businesses had received little support or recognition from the city, and the area lacked adequate bus transportation. The construction of I-75 had been the inevitable last straw in the demise of Plum Street.
As I hopped into my Chevy and drove towards my destination, I recalled my surprise earlier that morning at even seeing a building still standing on Plum Street, much less an open boutique. The last store I remembered, Rick's Rags, had gone out of business ages ago. I was eager with anticipation. Taking a left off of Michigan Avenue, I wondered how I had managed to miss the shop before—especially with its flashy neon sign. After a moment I turned right onto Plum Street, rolling about half way down the block.
There it stood, with a pulsating, day-glo-coloured sign right above the boutique's entrance, proclaiming “Psychedelic Trips Inside.” Wow, what an extraordinary find!
I parked my car and walked briskly to the entrance. It was a damp and chilly day, but the charge I was feeling warmed me from within. Was it possible that a '60s resurgence was on the horizon? I reached for the door handle, only to find it locked.
Damn it, I knew this was too good to be true! I peered through the store window for a long moment. Perhaps when I was back in town again from Santa Cruz, I would make another attempt to stop by. But just as I was turning to leave, an exotic-looking woman in a green velvet dress, with long, dark red tresses, magically appeared at the door.
“Come on in, dear!” she invited cheerfully as she held the door open for me.
Much relieved that my drive here had not been in vain, I happily stepped inside. The pleasant aroma of incense immediately enveloped me, and for a split second I had the uncanny feeling that I had actually stepped back into the past, not just into a vintage shop. As my eyes scanned my new surroundings, I realized the reason for my momentary déjà-vu it seemed that every nook and cranny was cram-packed full of museum-quality artifacts from the 1960s.
“This is spectacular!” I exclaimed.
We exchanged greetings, and my host introduced herself as Dawn. I told her my name was Mischa, and that I was in the “D” visiting my father. She mentioned that she could tell I was a Detroit native by my mannerisms. I complimented her on her perception, and added that there is something about our city—no matter where you go in this world, you always maintain a spiritual connection to Detroit.
The walls of Dawn's shop were covered with vintage posters: “Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You”; “Killing To End War Is Like Fucking To End Sex”; a pregnant hippie girl with the caption, “Nixon's the One.” How authentic was this! She even had a black-light highlighting some of the pipes and buttons in the glass showcases. I was astonished to see vintage “US out of Vietnam” posters, the ones where the paper was so thin they could be pasted up on flat surfaces with PET milk (and would stay up practically forever).
Any remaining space between the posters was filled with rare albums. Everything from Timothy Leary's You Can Be Anybody This Time Around to one by the obscure ultra-psychedelic band German Oak, and everything in between: The Electric Flag, Captain Groovy and His Bubble Gum Army, Lothor and the Hand People, Peanut Butter Conspiracy, SRC, the Amboy Dukes, and even Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, along with a prized reel-to-reel box of the Blues Magoos' Electric Comic Book. A bass guitar was prominently mounted, which Dawn informed me had belonged to Dave Alexander, along with a bullet strap she said had belonged to Rob Tyner. Rare still photos, both b/w and colour, were scattered over the counter tops: informal pics of The Last Heard, The Gang, The Pack; prominent social/political events such as SDS, White Panther Party and Black Panther Party protests; impromptu pics of some Belle Isle gigs; along with other incredible shots.
“My goodness,” I remarked to Dawn, “some of these items I haven't seen in years, and others I never even knew existed!”
Off in one cobwebbed corner, I noticed a rare MC5 poster comprised of a sepia-toned picture of the band and some female fans, surrounded by a manila border, and with masking tape upon the edges. How odd, I thought—I used to have that very same poster taped upon my basement wall when I was a teenager, with, of all things, masking tape. I mentioned this unusual coincidence to Dawn and was completely taken aback when she firmly stated, “Yes, I am aware of that.”
I loved this shop and made no qualms about my admiration of this woman's collections. I informed her that, unfortunately, I had not planned on spending much cash and had brought little on my current trip.
“Take a look around and take your time, Mischa, by all means,” Dawn said in reply. “After all, is time not our most important currency? Let me know what you like and we will talk.”
As I continued to canvass the plethora of items that filled her shop, much as a treasure hunter who has discovered the hidden chest, I began to hear some familiar music coming from a reel-to-reel TEAC player.
“Unbelievable!” I exclaimed. “I never heard this version—it sounds amazing!”
Dawn smiled broadly, a twinkle in her eyes. “It's an unreleased live recording of the Unrelated Segments at the Grande Ballroom.”
It was just at this moment that I spied the cards. They were the standard Grande Ballroom postcards—advertisements for upcoming gigs—that I had collected as a kid. My older sister had been on the venue's mailing list, and the cartoonish-looking cards would arrive at the house from time to time. One such card caught my attention now. It looked no different from the cards I remembered, and in fact I was sure I had a copy of this same one—Procol Harem and The Wilson Mower Pursuit at the Grande Ballroom. But as I looked closer, I noticed that this particular card was different. The whole thing was perforated into tiny little squares, and the outer edges of the card were serrated. I was stunned—I had never heard any mention of such a variation as this to exist.
I ask her what she wanted for the card.
She grinned. “I knew that you would find that postcard! I picked it up from a traveler and I set it aside for someone just like you. It is yours for one dollar!”
“No!” I replied. “I could never just pay a dollar for such a find!”
But she refused any more money and said that it was meant to be. I briefly told her about my family and the dinner I was to attend that evening, and that I looked forward to seeing her sometime tomorrow. She waved goodbye and murmured something undecipherable about seeing me sometime yesterday. Did I hear her correctly, I wondered? No, surely I must have misheard. I turned, waved, and said goodbye.
Throughout the evening with my family, my mind continually flashed back to Dawn and her shop. I was excited by my plans to return and see her again tomorrow. I excused myself early that evening, went upstairs, and began to retire for the night.
As I sat upon my bed, I took another look at the rare Grande postcard I had had the good fortune to acquire earlier that day. From a glance, the card looked no different than any other; it was only upon close inspection that the perforations became evident. This was baffling indeed. But sleep was catching up with me, and I was beginning to fall under its spell. As I went to set the card upon my nightstand, it lightly brushed against the rim of my wineglass, causing one of the little tabs on the edge to fall right into my glass of merlot. It dissolved immediately. What a shame, I thought, the card now has a tiny piece missing. I finished the wine, laid back, and rested my head upon the pillow. I was yearning for the nirvana of a well-deserved slumber, but almost immediately, my thoughts began spinning, whirling out of control. Perhaps too much drink, I thought.... Before I knew what was happening, my consciousness had been transported into a dream-scape of colourful astral-projected transformations.
“Hurry, Mischa!” My sister Betty awoke me, shouting for me to get ready as she left her bedroom. But I really wanted to stay home today and watch Ricky Nelson on TV.
“Please sis, can't we stay home? Why do I have to go?” I pleaded.
“Because, I am babysitting you and you have to stay with me!”
“But geez, why do we have to go to a place where grandma goes.... Why there?” At this point I only knew the Grande Ballroom as a place where our grandmother had used to go on weekends to dance to orchestrated swing music from the '30s and '40s.
“Cuz, my friends will all be there, and besides, it's going to be fun!”
Well yes, it did sound funny, especially to me. “Moby Grape” and “Wilson Mower Pursuit”? My young mind flashed on a gum machine with large purple gum balls for a nickel, and as for the “Wilson Mower Pursuit,” I thought of poor Mr. Wilson and some terrible thing that Dennis had done to his lawn-mower.
Then it flashed upon me like a bolt of lightening—Grande Ballroom, the postcard—I am an adult now, dreaming about my childhood—or was I? This felt more real than any dream I'd ever had. Had I drifted back into the past? It was certainly real enough. Or had I drifted into a dream of my own childhood? I wondered. It had to be a dream—there was no way I could have floated back to the past. There was no way in hell that this was anything more than a dream! Or was it?
It was like I was in a time-warp machine. Could I be tripping? I didn't notice the rainbow of colours that would indicate an acid trip. This had to be just a dream, but one of a very memorable time from my childhood that had influenced me greatly. I decided to enjoy this ride down memory lane within the realm of a wonderful sleepy-time menagerie. And ride this I did, as I journeyed down this previously-trodden path, my mind enjoying things and incidents that I remembered occurring long ago.
“Okay sis,” I replied, “I just need to brush my hair and I will be ready.” In a few minutes there was a knock upon the door, and we were soon in her new boyfriend Phil's dark red Chevy Bel-Air, driving up Southfield freeway to the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. I sat in the back, very content, as we drove towards our destination. My sister snuggled next to Phil in front, smoking her Kent cigarettes and flicking her burning embers out the wing window.
We found parking in a lot nearby and walked to the Ballroom. I felt so much larger than life venturing out this evening, attending an older kids' concert that my sister would help get me into. I was wearing her rainbow-coloured heels, making me appear much taller than I was. This, combined with the magic she had worked upon my face with her eye-liner and lipstick, resulted in a mature image that belied my years.
Betty found a seat for me near the front, where she said she would be able to keep an eye on me while she hung out with her friends. I knew it was pot they were smoking, but I would never tell our parents. Eventually the lights began to dim, and I noticed an older kid and a girl playing with a liquid bubblier maker that projected what appeared to be a colourful spectrum of liquid bubbles upon the backdrop of the stage. I asked my sister about this, and she said that their names were Gary and Leni and not to bother them, as their work was an important part of the show.
The first band took the stage, resplendently adorned in the height of sixties fashion. The vocalist gave a nod, and their performance began with the startling sound of crashing symbols. Soon, growling vocals and a menacingly melodic guitar were dominating the room. Tales of brave Ulysses, how his naked ears were tortured….
Wow, I thought, this was way cool, especially with the coloured special effects of a magic veil light show. I was having so much fun, and I was keenly aware of (and enjoying) the attention I was receiving from some of the older boys in the ballroom. The band kept jamming with a most forceful bass guitar groove (...to the twilight of the sun...), and the audience was transfixed with every word.
Suddenly, an older man came running out from the backstage area, wildly exclaiming, “It's The Cream, it's The Cream!” It seems that he had mistakenly mistook the Wilson Mower Pursuit for The Cream, who were scheduled to appear at the Grande a few weeks later. Unbeknownst to me, this man was a major executive with Capital records and was in town scouting some Detroit talent for the label.
The Wilson Mower Pursuit then began a full-on screeching fuzz guitar assault into “Freedom Machine,” which had the audience bobbing around in hypnotically flowing movements. The music was so loud, it moved my very soul as if I was a part of the sensory sound vibration. The lead guitarist launched into a wildly impressive solo, which had many of the long-haired audience members loudly shouting their approval. The band, feeding off the applause and excitement of the crowd, launched into the opening notes of “Cold, Rain and Snow.” By this time, the concert-goers had begun to openly express evidence of psychedelic enhancement: fingers dancing in front of eyes; arms flailing deliriously in the air; barefoot girls dancing hypnotically, as if in a trance, all throughout the Ballroom.
By the jubilant reception of the crowd, the band had successfully bridged the psychedelia of San Francisco with the power of Motor-City energy. It was an excellent crowd-warmer for the next performers, who were themselves from San Francisco: Moby Grape.
My sister and Phil had reappeared from backstage to check on me. With them were two long-haired cool-looking guys, who she introduced as Steve and Rick. Betty told me that they were in a band themselves, and they had invited us to see their show at the Grande in the next few weeks. She told me that since she was babysitting me that weekend, I would be able to go as well. I nodded emphatically.
Steve then asked me how I was enjoying this show. My ear-to-ear smile said it all. (The massive amount of marijuana smoke in the air had everyone in a good grove.) “This is more fun than I ever could have imagined!”
“I'm glad you're having a good time, Mischa. Just stay in your seat so I know where you're at,” Betty instructed me. “We'll be backstage if you absolutely need me.”
Moments after my sister's group departed, the much anticipated Moby Grape walked onto the stage, bringing the audience to their feet in a rousing chorus of loud applause. The band appeared like a hipped-out army of psychedelic nomads, and wasted no time in slamming out their sound to a most appreciative crowd.
They opened their set with an instrumental titled “Rounder,” which showcased the band's talent and musicianship. It was an excellent transition into “Indifference,” in which various members sang in such a way as to produce a wonderful echo effect, which vibrated throughout the Ballroom. As if in a surreal orbit, I saw some audience members attempting to catch the serendipitous notes and echos of sound as the musicians propelled them outward. How can you catch a note, I thought, and what to do with it if and when it is caught?
The band then slowed with another song or two, much to the euphoria of the crowd, which grooved to each and every note as if in a slow-motion world. The guitar playing was unsurpassed, along with the entire performance.... The band then accelerated their pace and broke into “Omaha,” which, as if in witness to a testimony, had the entire audience rising to their feet, shakin' and dancin' about. It was pure pandemonium at its finest. Shouts of “Rock on!” and “Rock 'n Roll!” were heard everywhere. The band energetically moved in such motions that offered the me, along with the rest of the audience, a performance to remember for a lifetime.
Wow! These two bands certainly complemented each other, and exemplified the psychedelic blues-rock sound of the age. And what a treat it was! Especially being able to be a part of it in what I was beginning to suspect was real time once again.
It was at this juncture that I began floating, in translucent form, up and above the crowd, evaporating into petite particles that drifted above the performers. Some in the crowd appeared to be seeing me in this form, and some even pointed to me. If this wasn't enough of a mind-blower, I looked down and saw myself still sitting and enjoying the show. I continued upon my astral travel, touching and then moving through the ceiling of the Ballroom, and then out into the night sky, where my body began to gradually dissipate into tiny molecules. Then, just as suddenly as the adventure had begun, it ended, and somehow I was back in my room.
My sleepy dream-scape had come to an end. I turned in my bed, and awoke to the smell of coffee brewing. My drowsy head slowly became aware of what had happened during my apparent night's sleep. I was uncertain as to whether this had been a dream—albeit an extremely vivid one—reliving an event in my life's past, or a renewed appreciation of what a good hit of LSD could accomplish. I quickly scurried downstairs and approached my father.
“Please! Please, Dad! I need to go somewhere right away, and I need a few hundred dollars, but I'll be back as soon as I can! I have to pick up some important items that I saw yesterday at the shop I told you about.”
My father questioned me little and handed me the money. I threw my leather coat on over my night wear, flew out the back door, jumped in the car, and started off in the direction of the boutique. As I made a right onto Plum Street, I was feeling all aflutter, but this emotion was soon to fade, to be replaced by a feeling of disillusionment.
Where was the shop? I slowly cruised down the street and back again. The shop was simply not here, and there was no evidence to show that it had ever been. Absolutely no sign, no indication, no remnant of the structure existed in any way, shape or form. I stopped my car in the middle of the road, across from my best estimate of where the shop had stood; the only thing in my vision was a field of gently swaying overgrown weeds.
Had my experience been real, or had I dreamed the entire event? Then it flashed into my mind—THE CARD—in an image so distinct I could seemingly touch it. I jammed the car into gear and sped back to my father's house. Carefully negotiating a few red lights, I made it back in record time. I threw the car in park and jumped out, leaving the door ajar. Swinging the back door open with a bang, I ran heedlessly up the stairs toward my room. It had to be—it had to be here! I hoped against hope. Yes! There was the card, still on the nightstand where I had left it.
I now knew that this was beyond a mere dream. The card confirmed it! I picked it up, only too thrilled to feel that it most surely did exist. And with this came the realization that my life was never to be the same again.
I now saw my life in an amazing new dimension, one that was no longer confined by time and space. Somehow I knew that this was only to be the beginning of many such incredible journeys to come. With a smile on my lips and a song in my heart, I went downstairs for breakfast.
"The Micro-Dots of Time” is an excerpt from The Incredible Adventures of Mischa,
by Michele Saint Thomas.