Up From The Swamp
Psychology became the most important study of my life. If in the
language of an American game I had an Ace in the hole it could only have
been my indomitable spirit.
I had now to find the thread that would lead me from the swamp.
As in the quote from the Long Black Veil which, if memery serves,
was by the late great Lefty Frizzel, I was buried six feet deep.
A walking dead man. My Anima paced over my grave separated by a mass
of earth. One goal would be to reunite my Anima with my Animus.
The other would be to reunite my Ego or Animus.
Some very astute psychlogical truths find expression in popular music
if you analyze it correctly. A song or story emerges from the subconscious
embodying truths beyond analysis. The conscious mind then shapes
these truths into a coherent story. Lefty undoubtedly was unaware
of the psychological meaning of his song but at the same time the expression
of his truth came from an innate understanding of the organization of the
Songs are not the only place where psychological insights are common.
Comic books can ixpress subtle truths. At one time I had a substantial
collection of comics. 1947-1950, are you kidding. A favorite
of mine was a minor character called The Heap. The Heap never rated
his own book; there were few of us that understood him. Of course
my understanding was on the subliminal level. The Heap's situation
sumbolized my situation. Let's face it; that how favorites are chosen;
you can relate the favorite to your own psychological needs.
The heap had nothing to do with the Anima but a damaged ego or Animus.
The Heap's sumbolism also reflects Burroughs' situation.
There were twin brothers. One stayed hom, one became an aviator in the
Great War. When they parted a coin was cut in two each taking half
so that whatever happened they would be able to identify each other.
Each placed one half on each other's neck where it was worn as a necklance.
The halves of the Ego, or brothers, then separated. The pilot
(swear to God this was the story) was shot down over a garbage dump in
Poland. Still alive he crawled from the wreckage onto a garbage heap.
Too weak to move further he lay in the garbage for weeks drawing sustenance,
one assumes, by osmosis. Slowly the garbage frew over him.
When he finally rose weeks later he was, in fact, an animated heap of garbage.
Hence he was called The Heap.
You see why this story apealed to a limited audience. Standing
in the muck of my swamp I perceived an analogous situation to my own.
The Heap tramped all over Europe identified by his smell until one day
he found his twin brother. Still handsom, the undamaged half of the
animus recognized the Heap as his brother by the curiously cut coin which
he dug out of the garbage on The Heap's chest.
Now, at twenty-one, turned out on a friendless world in Oakland, California,
I, seriously psychologically damaged was turned out into life as a species
of the The Heap to find my formerly handsome self. Remember how Burroughs
in 'Lion Man' described the deformed God as a formerly handsome Englishman?
Close, possibly a cigar.
'Long Black Veil' which was popular about this time was always
on my mind while I thought of The Heap on a daily basis. On a conscious
basis a favorite song was 'Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy Of The Town.'
which was also popular at the time. On a conscious level I thought
of myself as Jimmie Brown.
Redemption was a long way off but I picked up my bundle and set off
down that long lonesome highway. Heigh ho.
I had obtained an early discharge to attend college. With grim
determination I began. My intent was to go to school days and work
swing or nights. I got the swing shift job but couldn't organize
myself to pursue a full time schedule so I cut back to two courses a semester.
You can see how grimly determined I really was.
Afater two semesters of bookkeeping I thought myself qualified to be
an expert accountant. Unlike Burroughs I didn't have the bluff to
pull it off. I did make it to the mailroom however. It was
a start from which I worked up to better jobs actually getting a job subsequently
as a Jr. Accountant.
Love came along. I met my wife. We were married in '63.
My colleges go like this: Oakland City College>Marin Jr. College>Chabot
Jr. College>Cal. State At Hayward and out with a BA in history. Not
much of an education but I was well indoctrinated, conditioned and got
the degree which was the only thing of value.
We newlyweds first lived in Marin County then moved back to Alameda
County when kind relatives provided the means for me to attend Cal. State
full time. Bless them. Without their help I would still be
ekeing out a course or two a semester.
I think Burroughs' poem 'Poverty' should be interpreted in this light.
Not want or real hardship but less than four years at Harvard with a several
thousand dollar a year allowance.
It didn't take me long to realize that my degree was nothing more than
First Class citizenship papers. As I hadn't entered college from
high school, completing the curriculm in four years employers were not
interested. Class thing.
Knowing there were no jobs and having a real interest in learning I
opted for graduate school. A summer at UC Berkely then to the University
ERB took Emma to Idaho at twenty-eight, at the same age I and Jeannie
trekked to Oregon. I quickly realized that by the time I got through
the Phd program my age would make me unemployable.
My spychological progress was slow but my ship was coming in.
The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley coincided with the transition from
the Beat to the Hippy. I was too young to have more than sympathy
with the Beats, they were all older gentlemen by the this time, but I had
been lurking on the fringes of the Hippies.
At this time I saw my ship steam up to the dock. I had only to
recognize my ship, catch the tice which when caught tec. and step aboard.
Did I do it? You bet I did. It was headed for the gold fields.
I loved the oster work coming from San Francisco, Peter Max and others.
I was intranced I thought Eugene would be too. Paris by Christmas,
you know, success unimagined. It should have remained unimagined.
I was a little bit ahead of Eugene on that score. Few feet other
than mine beat a path to my door. Thinking on those same feet I switched
strategies. Remembered how engaged I was by Judy Garland and her
clang, clang, clang. I decided to put my musical expertise to work
and sell records. Vinyl, remember that stuff?
Pernard Malamud would have been enraptured by me; I was a natural.
I had caught the burgeoning record industry at the crest of the wave.
From '67 to '81 I sold more records per capita than any other record chain
in the country. I was hot. I liked it. But all good things
must come to an end.
In '79-'80 there was a major sea change. A lot of people called
it Disco but that wasn't it. It went deeper, to diapers. It
was the passing of a generation. M-m-m-my generation. I wasn't especially
interested in transiting to the new conditions. I hung up my Rock
'n' Roll shoes. But as Robert W. Service wrote:
I wanted the gold - and I got it -
Came out with a fortune last fall.
Yet life's not what I thought it,
And, somehow, the gold isn't all.
No, it wasn't. It was 90% though. I could make up the other
10% with a small change of attitude. I made it. Here's another
interesting thing. I changed ships. My other ship came in.
I guess the first ship was just a ferry to the second.
At the same time I left the record business my psychological efforts
bore fruit. I exorcised my central childhood fixation integrating
my peronality. Wasn't that nifty?
I had made my way out of the swamp. Got rid of those things that
were growing on me. The Heap melded with his handsome twin with the latter
sunny side up. Hallelujah, I was no longer a bum.
There were still some details to work out. With a light jaunty
step I set about it.
The integration of my personality removed the mental block that had
prevented my being able to express myself in writing just as Jack Johnson's
victory over Jim Jeffries released Burroughs'.
Since '82 I have been reading 150-200 pages a day.
I was able to plumb the depths of Freud, who with the possession of
a couple keys (I mean, you know, likethe metal kind), proved to be not
And there you have it. My little profile.
As I have completed the integration of my personality I have been able
to reunite myself with my unspoiled child with the imperious finger.
The Heap had intervened between us but he has graciously withdrawn. Nice
chap, a little heavily on the aromatic side, but nice chap.
Just as I did as a child I tell people what to do which is as much proof
as you need that the child is father to the man.
I thought I was alone
But the past was just behind.
Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue
As the skinny little hobo said as he passed the jungle camp:
I won't turn in, boys, but I'll see you all this coming fall up on the
Big Rock Candy Mountain.