We finally get the equipment loaded into Hippie’s car. It’s time for pizza and beer at Sorrento’s. Tom seems a bit dazed when Robby lights up a joint at our table in the back of the restaurant.
“Y’all gonna get stoned right here in public?” he asks.
“Don’t worry. It’s cool,” Robby passes him the lit doobie.
Checking to make sure no one is looking, he takes a furtive hit. We all watch for his reaction, as no one showed him how to smoke a Robby special.
“How’s our Miami weed?” Robby asks him, with a straight face.
“Ta be perfectly honest, it ain’t shit,” Tom is honest.
We all burst out laughing.
“What?” Tom complains.
“Here. Let me show you,” Robby moves over and holds the joint so the Robby special hole is blocked. Tom takes a massive hit, exploding almost the instant the smoke fills his lungs. We’re in hysterics.
“Still ain’t shit,” Robby asks, showing him the hole he had blocked.
“You little fucker,” Tom grabs and shakes Robby. We’re still laughing when two pitchers of beer arrive.
“Tryin’ to git me stoned and drunk?” Tom complains.
Jack stands up and sings our drugs song:
“Heroin and cocaine make a speed ball
Dilaudin or codeine softens the fall
Thorzine puts you away for a while
Pot and beer just make you smile.
Whiskey and ‘ludes make me real rude,
Acid and pot makes your brain rot,
PCP you forget about me,
Pills and beer chase away fear.”
“Ya got that right,” Tom enthuses.
Fully charged up, we go back to Michael’s and teach Tom all our songs. He’s a natural, picking up chords easily and throwing in his own licks. It becomes a big jam session. Mike Sr. wanders in and we make him play bass on Sinatra’s ‘My Way.’ I notice that Boy Reporter Jimmy Olson is scribbling away in his notebook.
“Writin’ ‘bout us?” I drawl.
“Check out the Herald in the morning,” he promises.
“Big time reporter now, huh?”
“Still just a stringer. You guys are my main beat.”
“We got the beat. Our aim is true.”
That night’s jam is so much more fun than the serious rehearsing we had been doing leading up to the Skynyrd concert. We get our happy vibe back. Tom fits in and gets us out of our heads about how serious we have to be to play to a stadium of drunk fans. Jack and I go to bed feeling it’s Christmas Eve, with the anticipation of kids awaiting Santa, without worrying about whether we’ve been naughty or nice. That night we are not nice. We awake to Robby swinging in our window, waving a copy of the Miami Herald.
“We got us a big write-up in the Arts section,” he crows, shocking us out of our beauty sleep.
“Jimmy Olson said he’d do a feature.”
“Yeah, there’s even a photo of the swim meet gig, with Tom and you two all playing Dixie.”
“Grant’s not gonna be happy.”
“He’ll figure it out. We did that rap jam in New York. When in Rome and all that..”
Robby is all hyper, jumping onto the bed and bouncing up and down. Jack moans and rolls out of the bed, naked as a jay bird. Robby takes a good look, notices me noticing him and shrugs. He winks and I laugh. Ever since Tom showed up, Rob is much less up tight. Having another Southern boy around has broken the spell of my anger for what he tried with Jack. Bygones.
We get dressed and bring the paper to the kitchen. Susan makes us pancakes and eggs. Dad reads the article. Ever since he accepted that being a rock musician is an actual job that pays, he stopped worrying that I’m a nihilistic anarchist.
“It says you guys continue to come up with crazy fun shows. Everyone should expect more antics and mayhem at the concert tonight. Who’s idea was it to play at a swim meet, or should I not ask?”
“Well, Scott won the state title again because we showed up and distracted all those crackers from up-state.”
“Mr. Castle,” Robby is actually having a conversation with Dad, “you’re a businessman. Do you think our band can be a well-paying enterprise?”
“Do you have a budget and a projection of next year’s income?”
“Hell, we don’t even know how much we’re makin’ tonight.”
“Who controls the finances?”
“Well, Tim is always givin’ our earnings away. He even pays the girls who do backups the same as the real musicians.”
“Mr. Antonio controls the money. He has trust funds set up for everyone. We only get enough cash so we have spending money,” I defend myself.
“Any idea how much it cost to take your ‘tour’ to New York?” Dad goes right to the details.
“We got a bunch of cash for the shows which I gave to Mike Sr.”
“Except for what you gave away to that church in Daytona Beach,” Robby argues.
“It looks like the money issue is already dividing you boys. If you wanna keep the band together, everyone needs to understand how the finances work.”
“Yeah,” Robby agrees, the little rat.
“Well, we hired Jay as an assistant manager. I’ll make sure we get a full accounting after tonight’s show is over.”
“Miami’s favorite teen wonder band, Falsetto Gods, made another pop-up appearance last night at Ransom School to cheer on guitarist Tim Castle’s swim teammate, Scott Watt, at the State High School Swimming & Diving Championships. True to form, the fish boy repeated his championship swim from last year as the band played a cover of the Credence Clearwater Revival hit ‘Proud Mary,’ dedicated to Scott’s mom. It was enough to send the Watts boy to tears at the start and to a come-from-behind victory in the 500 yard freestyle event. The band even played Dixie after joining in on the traditional Star Spangled Banner, much to the pleasure of the upstate Southern boys. Joining the boys was Gainesville’s Mudcrutch singer and guitarist Tom Petty. He ended the mini concert with his single, “Born a Rebel.’ There was much whooping and hollering in the crowd, even though it was a Miami boy who won the race.
False Gods opens tonight’s open air concert at the Miami Hydroplane Stadium, headlined by Jacksonville’s Lynyrd Skynyrd. The local boys will be hard-pressed to prove they play authentic Southern R & B against the ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ superstars from North Florida. What they’ll bring to the stage tonight won’t surprise their local fans who have watched these teens conquer the local scene with antics and energy. Overcoming the tragic death of band founder Jace Conning, they defied rumors of their demise with a knockout Spring Break tour of road houses in Daytona and Charlotte, a battle of the bands with Bruce Springsteen at Asbury Park, an opening set for Patti Smith at Max’s Kansas City in New York, two sets at the iconic CBGB’s, Easter Services at Abyssinian Baptist where bassist Gregory Hippie sang Amazing Grace, and finally a Pink Floyd tribute at St Patrick’s Cathedral where the altar’s crucifix supposedly wept diamond tears. What did you do on your vacation? Oh, they also set up homeless shelters for teen runaways run by the Catholics and Baptists in honor of their underground name, Teen Jesus. The shelters are called Jace’s Place, in recognition of their dead guitarist. In case, you weren’t listening, they also shut down Coral Gables High to end de facto segregation of the Black students being bused in from Hialeah. These boys defend all Southerners.
Tonight’s concert is sold-out, but there’s no limit for what is termed ‘boat people’ by those in the know. We’re not talking Vietnamese refugees. Any way you can get there, you’ll be sure to catch the show of the year. These boys are firecrackers.”
“Whoo-ee,” Robby is on fire. When we get to Michael’s the whole Out-Crowd gang is there, complaining they are left out of our show. Jay explains there isn’t room for any hangers-on. The stage is too small. We already have 5 musicians, 3 back-up singers, plus Tom and Jay (and probably Jimmy Olson), and the three U of M security team. I feel the boys’ pain.
“What’s the ‘boat people’?” I ask.
“Anyone can take their boat out to the hydroplane course and anchor between the stage and the stands,” Michael explains. “Know anyone with a boat?”
Mike Jr. pipes up, “’Sus and his brothers have a boat. I bet they’ll wanna go.”
He comes back with a big grin, “They’ll be here at six.” There’s a boat ramp at Michael’s, which borders a canal from which there is access to the Bay.
I worry about John.
“Call your mom and make sure it’s okay,” I tell Stu and John.
They give me the look which makes me feel like the older brother I am. Iggy wants to be on stage, and then there is Jenna, plus we all want Max there. That makes over ten people, which Mike Jr. says is too much for ‘Sus’s boat.
I called Dickie Mertz for the first time in two years.
“Dickie, my man. It’s Tim Castle.”
“Tim, my rock n roll hero. You must want something to be calling.”
“Well, to be honest, do you know about our show tonight at the Hydroplane Stadium?”
“Of course. Everyone reads the Herald.”
“How’d you like to attend?”
“What’s the catch? It’s been two years since we’ve seen each other.”
“The concert’s sold out There’s no room for friends due to the small stage. How’d you like to be one of the boat people?’
“Do I look Vietnamese?”
“If you squint your eyes…”
“Hah. You’re still a card, Tim Castle. I guess you mean will I take your friends in my boat.”
“That would be great, my man.”
“Listen, old chap, I really want to see this wild and crazy show by you and your band. Where do I meet you?”
“Do you know the boat landing at the Antonio’s?”
“Of course, they’re real Gables people.”
“Well, Michael Antonio’s our drummer. Be here by six. There’s another boat coming as well.”
“Sounds like an armada?”
“Don’t they teach you anything in public school? The Spanish Armada? Trafalgar?”
“Ya got me there, but let’s hang out tonight.”
“I can barely wait.”
Robby and Tom are in stitches listening to me suck up to the preppy.
“Was that the Alaska Cracker version of a good ol’ boy accent?” Tom gasps.
“Fuck you boys. He’s got an 18 foot Whaler and he’s comin’ tonight.”
“Do we all havta suck up to ‘im,” Robby laughs.
“Ya can suck yerselves, boys.”
“That idea requires a joint,” as Robby pulls out a special from behind his ear. Tom shakes his head, then expertly negotiates the Robby hole.
Jay arranges another sound check with the added amps. A limo picks up the five of us musicians and we drive out the Key Biscayne Causeway. A boat takes us to the stage. Spec’s Music has gone all out with true Marshall Stacks for each guitarist, including Tom. Wireless mics are a new thing. We have to be hooked up with bulky transmitters strapped to our lower backs. Since our show attire is the normal low-cut frayed jeans and unbuttoned long sleeve shirts, the wireless equipment makes us look like robots. It’s worth it to be able to move around the stage without a trailing cord. Our guitars are still tied to the amps. It takes some time to be hooked up and get used to the new sound system. The stacked amps put out an incredibly loud sound. We’re given individual monitors so we can hear ourselves over the amped sound. I hate the monitors as they only work when I stand right in front of them. I figure I’m not going to listen to myself. If I screw up, who cares anyway? We finally are hooked up and able to run through a couple of songs. All the wattage is overwhelming. This is not the sound we play at small clubs and parties. We play Dixie, and the sound guy is pumping his fist and singing along. It’s a good sign for tonight.
By the time we get back to Michael’s, the Jacettes are there, looking especially sharp. We go over the backup vocals on Tom’s ‘Born a Rebel.’ Tom likes to repeat the ‘hey, hey, hey’ line and has the girls echoing him. The excitement is building. I tell Iggy he is in charge of the boat people plus waving the Confederate battle flag. Dickie has arrived with his Whaler. I introduce him to the Out-Crowd kids. He proceeds to inform them that he is Captain. He has a list of do’s and don’t’s to follow. They totally tune him out. Robby grabs him and proceeds to get him high for the first time in his life. He’s soon a blithering idiot. He totally fits in. Max runs around, trying to score a second-hand high. Weed is in the air. I keep Jack under tight control, figuring he can wait until we’re going on stage, to be at the peak of his testosterone high. ‘Sus and his brothers arrive in the smallest boat I can imagine. They even bring their 10 year little brother whom they call Chewbaca or something. Stu, John and Mike Jr. pile in with them. There is only a couple of inches between the gunwale and the water. I tell Iggy to keep Dickie’s boat next to them as they motor out to the Hydroplane Stadium. There are seven in the swim team boat and seven in the Whaler (Dickie, Iggy, Dave, Jazz, Debbie, Grant & Clyde plus Max). They take off just as we’re loading into the two limos. They really look like Asian Boat People in their overloaded fishing craft.
We arrive at the staging area which is a whirlwind of activity. We enter the band tent, face to face with Ronnie Van Zant and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Man, you boys are young.” All their members have shoulder-length hair and scruffy beards.
“Not so young we don’t git high,” Robby stands up to him, pulling a joint from beneath his shoulder-length blond hair.
“Spark ‘er up, boy,” Ronnie proclaims. Several joints are soon going around.
“This weed is primo,” Ronnie says.
“That’s why y’all come to Miami.” Jack quotes our song.
Their manager walks in and promptly grabs the joints.
“Looks like yer mama’s here, boys.”
“I ain’t havin’ no stupid time on stage,” the manager states.
Robby, Ronnie, and Tom silently go out the back of the tent to continue their new friendship. The remaining musicians stand around yakking about the lineups. We tell them we use double drummers like they do. I describe how we play Neil Young to get the crowds riled up, then bring them back with ‘Sweet Home Alabama.”
“You play our song,” one of them asks.
“We’ve always been a cover band until we got this show. We started playing our own songs jist a coupla months ago.”
”Ya gonna play one of our songs tonight?”
“Only if’n Ronnie sings it with us,” I pipe in.
“She-it. Y’all wanna jam on stage?”
“Let’s jist see how it all goes?” I respond.
“We do ‘Free Bird’ as a duet,” Jack confesses to Skynyrd.
“What part of ‘I’m leavin’ here tomorrow,’ don’t y’all get?”
“Mary sings like she knows she’s goin’ with.”
“You boys are all crazy. Who has that weed. Where’d he go?”
“Robby always has weed. He and Tom took Ronnie out back.”
There is a mass evacuation out the back once the manager leaves. Jack and I go out the front of the tent to check out the crowd. The stands are filling up. The boat people have arrived early. The prime center-stage water spots already are filled. We look in vain for the Out-Crowd, until I see Iggy waving the Confederate flag. He has Dickie, moronically under Iggy control, drive through the bobbing boats until they arrive at the stage. They’re towing the ‘Sus boat. Iggy jumps on stage but is tossed back by security. He keeps waving the flag and screaming at security. The crowd is loving it, unless your boat is dislodged by Iggy. Then Robby appears with Tom and Ronnie, hauling Iggy and the flag onstage. Security watches as the four of them run off together. The crowd is really cheering now.
“It’s time to go on.,” I yell at everyone. We all jet out to the stage. Everything is set up. We pick up our instruments and begin playing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ yelling at everyone to stand up. People start yelling back and booing. Then we play ‘God the Save the Queen,” which makes the crowd even crazier. I look around for Robby who isn’t on his drum set, no surprise there. He’s higher than ever running around the stadium with Iggy (flying the Stars & Bars), Tom and Ronnie. They’re at the chain link fence beside the stands conversing with the crowd that is trying to break in. Tom has his mic-headset on.
I yell into my mic, “Hey, Tom. What’s next?”
“ Dixie,” he shouts back.
“Then you better sing it,” I tell him as I start playing the Southern Anthem, with Jack picking the notes as if he’s on a banjo.
“Well, I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Old times there are not forgotten,” Tom sings on cue.
Right from the start half the crowd is singing along. I can see the stands shaking and boat people jumping so much it is pushing the boats back and forth. The crowd outside the fence surges forward. People are able to jump the fence, overwhelming security.
“Hey, leave them kids alone,” I yell into my mic. “That’s our drummer.”
Iggy raises the flag. Their group runs into boats next to the shore, making their way from boat to boat to the stage with Tom singing, “Away, away, away down south in Dixie.”
“Yeah, Miami The Confederacy lives tonight.” I observe, while I play a few bars of Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man,’ over and over. People start listening and recognizing the hated song. I switch to a few bars of ‘Sweet Home Alabama, “Neil Young will remember….”
Security tries to secure the gate. Fights break out until the Miami PD shows up with six German Shepherds on leashes. The crowd moves back. The stage manager yells, “Play.” We start with ‘False Gods.’
As we play, the Iggy group jumps from boat to boat. Their new best friends struggle to follow and soon many boats have fellow gate-crashers suddenly sitting with them.
“Hey, share that beer,” I yell at a bickering boat that is about to break into a fist fight. “Y’all gots in fer free. Share the love.”
I look over and see fear in Dickie’s eyes. Without Iggy there to direct him, he panics, gunning the Whaler as he tries to break free from all the surrounding boats. ‘Sus’s swim team boat cuts the line attached to the Whaler, as Max jumps into ‘Sus’s boat to protect John. All of Dickie’s random motion pulls them close to shore and a line of Miami PD police dogs and their handlers.
“Okay. Okay,” Jack yells. “Where’s our special guest?”
Tom bursts onto stage raising his guitar high. The crowd is itching for a cause to riot and ‘Born a Rebel’ is what they need.
“Live from Gainesville, this is Tom Petty, late of Mudcrutch,” I announce him, to scattered applause. Iggy is right with him waving the Confederate flag like mad.
The song starts with a slow verse about Tom’s hot rod days, but when he hits the chorus, “Hey, Hey , Hey…” the Jacettes echo him and our guitars, all three of them plus a bass and double drums caused a sonic boom that brings that stadium to their feet. The gate-crashers surge forward. The chain link fence collapses, letting hundreds in at once. Pandemonium ensues. The police dogs are let loose on the gate-crashers. I see one boy go down as a German Shepherd sinks his teeth into the boy’s nuts. The crashers dash toward the hoped-for safety of the boat people. Dickie’s wild driving finally gets his Whaler free from the crowd. He heads directly back to Coral Gables, alone in his boat. We keep playing, repeating the chorus over and over. Iggy drapes the Confederate flag over Tom’s shoulders. The Miami Police round-up a small group of crashers. It is an insult to their sense of authority that so many fans escaped their control. They start searching the boat people for faces they recognize from the gate-crashing. After Dickie’s mad dash, the remaining boats move toward the shore creating a meager 5 foot gap between the shore and the boats. It appears to be a stand-off and things settle down. We finish ‘Born a Rebel,’ to much applause and hooting. Tom takes a deep bow, pleased to get the recognition he deserves. Robby jumps up from behind his drums and yells, ‘Monkey Song,’ as our next offering. I have a twinge of instinctual fear that we will be mocking the cops, but since we were safe on stage, I think, “What the hell. Why not?”
Robby grabs the stage mic,
Makes a stand
To take his joy
Going hand to hand
Flying out free
Branch to branch
Through the trees
“Free to be
A monkey like me
Ha ha ha
He he he
Haw haw haw
Chee chee chee”
He takes off going boat to boat, singing the chorus:
“Ha ha ha
He he he
Haw haw haw
Chee chee chee”
As we keep playing to his antics, he arrives at ‘Sus’s boat, 5 feet from the police line, jumping up and down, scratching his underarms and mocking the cops. It’s too much for them. One dog handler lets his shepherd loose from the leash, and yells, “Sic ‘em” to the dog, indicating Robby. Max, standing with his paws on the gunwale, lets out a menacing growl and sharp bark. The shepherd is confused, whining at his handler and looking nervously at Max. The cop reiterates his command and the shepherd makes a leap for the boat over the five foot gap. Max snatches the dog in midair, snapping his neck and tossing him into the water. All the other dogs are whining and cringing.
Earlier – Lying in his corner of the music room at Michael’s, Max is intrigued by all the comings and goings that day. He’s disgruntled by the lack of smoke to stay high and his mood mellow. When Robby shows up, Max trots up to him and gives his perfunctory bark. Robby is usually a ready partner in getting high, but not this day. Max’s afternoon delight is slowly fading with no immediate means to keep it rolling along. He is able to delay his second-hand high, but his patience is wearing thin. Even his demanding single bark elicits no response. The situation is becoming dire.
John comes over and scratches his ears, always sensitive to his change of moods.
“What’s the matter, boy?” he asks. “No one paying you any attention?”
“Woof,” Max agrees.
“But I’m not smoking anymore ‘cause of swim team. I’ll go look for Iggy. Robby had to go for sound check at the stadium.”
Max doesn’t like the sense of what John was saying, “Woof, woof,” he encourages John. Then he lies in his corner, dispirited by everyone’s lack of concern over his needs.
Shortly he hears a motor coming from the canal at the edge of the backyard. Sometimes Robby deals pot with people traveling on sailboats, anchored in the Bay near Coconut Grove. Rushing down to the boat landing, he is confused to see four boys in a little boat pull up.
“Woof,” he asks, hoping they know what he wants.
John, Stu and Mike Jr. rush up, talking loudly with the boys in the boat. Max sniffs, but it only smells of old oil and dead fish. He turns back toward the house, as the boys excitedly talk about their plans.
A second boat pulls up. It smells much cleaner, but unfortunately no wafting weed odor. Suddenly Iggy rushes up.
“Woof, woof, woof,”
“Hey, Max,” Iggy greets him. “I know what you want. Jump on board. Let’s see if this preppy snob smokes weed.”
Max follows him to the back of the clean boat. A boy dressed in white, smelling too much like soap, is sitting by the motor. The boys argue for a while before the newcomer gives in. Out comes a spliff of Iggy’s Jamaican Ganja.
“Woof, woof,” Max celebrates. Ganja is his favorite.
The new boy is a light-weight, the smoke too quickly exploding from his coughing mouth. Max barely gets a whiff. Iggy comes to the rescue, exhaling steadily into Max’s face. Max nuzzles Iggy, his true friend. The boy can’t hold in his smoke which again bursts from him too soon, Max is frustrated. Iggy makes sure he gets his smoke. Max sits by Iggy, content to stay by his benefactor.
Next, both boats are motoring across the Bay. Max has never been on a boat before. Soon he has his sea legs and is standing in the bow, breathing in the clean, fresh sea breeze. Iggy gets up, waving a stick with a cloth on the end. They enter the cove where there are many boats, all tied up together. The people start cheering when they see the waving cloth. Smelling various grades of weed, Max answers their cheers with hearty barks. They start yelling his name. These are his people.
It was a confusing scene in the cove. Tim and Robby are with their friends on a concrete stage about 100 feet from shore. Everyone wants to get close to them. Iggy comes over and says he is leaving.
“Stay, Max. Protect John,” Iggy instructs him. Max looks at the boat that has been closely following his boat. John looks happy with his new friends. Max remembers when he lived with John and Jace. Max misses Jace. Max likes living with Tim; it is closer to Robby’s house, where there is always weed. He knows it’s his job to protect John. He remembers a similar time when he was to protect Jace, sensing that somehow he failed. He never saw Jace again. Max is determined to not let that happen twice. He edges closer to the other boat, ready to jump, if trouble arises. The soap-smelling boy is acting confused and agitated. Trouble is brewing. When the boy guns the engine, Max leaps into the other boat, ready to guard John. The boys are excitedly watching the action on the shore, while the band is playing so loud it hurts Max’s ears. Suddenly Robby jumps into the boat. Max barks, hoping Robby plans to blow smoke in his face. But Robby is too busy yelling at the line of dogs on shore. Max understands their nervousness. Standing on a seat with his paws on the edge of the boat, he growls at the other dogs. They nervously whine at his show of dominance. One of the handlers yells “Sic ‘em,” to his dog. Max knows that means to attack. He barks to stop him, but the dog leaps at him anyway. Max instinctively catches the dog by its neck, snaps it, and throws the dog into the bay. As he turns to check on John, he feels a sharp sting and is knocked off his feet. John is right there, holding his head in his lap. He feels happy that John is safe. He is so sleepy. Falling asleep in John’s arms makes him know he is ‘a good dog.’
R. I. P. Max.