Why Me?

A note of caution: The following is almost exclusively about me, not Chet, so proceed at your own risk. I am not responsible for any lost or stolen personal property.


Having concluded that my impending collaboration with Chet Helms to produce an account of his life was, because of his recently-stated quest to achieve literary perfection, destined to be a full-blown disaster, I forced myself to think about something else for a while.


What I came up to think about with was this: Why did Chet choose me as the person with whom he wanted to work on his autobiography?


Answer: Not only didn’t I have a clue, I didn’t have a clue of a clue.


Oh, sure, I could have simply asked him, and he no doubt would have told me, but that would have been way too easy. I preferred to ruminate and postulate about it.


It certainly wasn’t because Chet knew much, if anything, about me, other than perhaps my name and the fact that I was able to find my way to his apartment unassisted. I’m fairly sure he knew I had written a few books and several dozens of magazine articles. He may have even known that I had written one-liners for the comedienne, Phyllis Diller, for a few years during the late ‘60s. I’m also fairly sure that he didn’t know I was working as a Senior Accountant for a medical management company in Foster City, CA, a shiny, scrubbed, sterile suburban community that I like to think of as a ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on steroids.’ And I’m absolutely sure he didn’t know I had been divorced twice, had two grandchildren, one moving violation and had attended over a hundred Grateful Dead shows.


During our first meeting a month earlier, I was uncharacteristically astute enough to try to let Chet know that, although I was never an ‘insider’ during the San Francisco ‘60s, I was, in fact, around at the time and had, beginning in the late summer of ’64, developed an  avid and continuing interest in the various goings-on in the Bay Area. Two months after I graduated from high school in Denver in June of that year, I moved into a rambling, rustic cabin down the road from Ken Kesey’s La Honda headquarters deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains, high above Stanford University.


I was a scared, scrawny, 17-year-old, sporting Buddy Holly glasses, a fresh crew cut and a complete and utter lack of sophistication. All I knew about California was that it wasn’t Colorado and that it was the stomping ground of the Hell’s Angels, whom my mom had specifically warned me to avoid, and The Beach Boys. (I never had the nerve to tell mom that the Angels periodically rolled into La Honda, sometimes in large numbers, and that I had enjoyed a friendly encounter or two with a few of them.)


I was immediately fascinated by Kesey’s scene – The Pranksters; the infamous, painted bus; the hill behind his house that was wired with speakers; and the local rumors of, uh, the stuff that went on out there on Highway 84 – but I wasn’t fascinated enough to do anything beyond paying attention…from a safe distance.


Within a few weeks of my arrival in California, I fell in with a group of ‘flatlanders,’ most of whom were recent graduates of Woodside High School, and they introduced me to a Menlo Park bookstore/musicians’ hangout called Kepler’s; a pair of Palo Alto folk music clubs, The Tangent and St. Michael’s Alley; and a particularly pungent herb. One of my running buddies during this time was the effervescent Teda Bracci, who later became the drummer for The Freudian Slips, one of the first, if not the first, all-girl bands. The Slips played a number of gigs at The Ark in Sausalito and even got their picture in Life magazine. After the band broke up, Teda snagged the second lead in the LA production of Hair and once starred in a movie called CC and Company with Ann-Margaret and – Are you sitting down? – Joe Namath. (You can look it up.)


But I digress, which is something that regular readers of this space, should there be any, might as well get used to.


So let’s flash forward to my first meeting with Chet on November 9, 2004.


Several times during the course of my ‘interview’ that night, I managed to drop in relevant references – La Honda, 1090 Page Street, Luria and Ellen, Longshoreman’s Hall, etc. –  that were intended to let Chet know that I was familiar with many of the major players and events from back in the day.


Now let’s flash backward to the title of this piece: “Why Me?”


All of a sudden I had the answer to that question, or thought I did, anyway.


I realized that my lame and misguided strategy of attempting to convince Chet that I was some sort of minor league scholar of the Sixties probably had no influence on his decision, but that my proclamation that I was never an ‘insider’ probably did because it meant that I had no friendships to protect nor axes to grind. It meant that I could be relentlessly objective in telling his story.


But, wait.


I wasn’t the one who would be telling his story, he was. So my relationships or lack thereof would have absolutely no bearing on our project.


So I didn’t have the answer, after all.


Oh, well.


(Many months later, I finally did get the answer I had been seeking and it knocked my socks off. I’ll share it with you soon.)  







Published in: on May 16, 2008 at 5:10 am  Comments (6)  

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  1. It was CC and Company. Namath played CC Ryder and Ann was awful cute. They filmed it down here where I live, near Tucson. I think Teda Bracci was in one of the Billy Jack movies too, though I might be wrong.

    Whenever I hear CC Rider, I think of Pigpen growling the old classic… see what you have done…

    Looking forward to the answer to “why me?”

  2. You’re right…once again. It was CC and Company, not CC Rider as I originally wrote. And I too think of Pigpen’s version of CC Ryder, which is maybe what I was doing when I botched the title of the movie.

    And, yes, Teda was in a Billy Jack movie.

    A few weeks back, I stumbled across a lengthy YouTube clip of the LA cast of Hair on the Smothers Brothers TV show. (As I recall, Tommy Smothers had something to do with the LA production.) During the clip, Teda got a lot of camera time, which brought back a flood of memories. The last time I had seen her was after a performance at the Aquarius Theater on Sunset Boulevard in April or May ’69. She introduced my wife, Christine, and me to Gerome Ragni and James Rado, who wrote the show’s lyrics and book.

    Anyway, I set about tracking Teda down after some 39 years and I succeeded. Since then we have had a couple of wonderful phone conversations.

    During our first talk, she reminded me of something I had totally forgotten. In November ’64, Teda and I decided to become a famous comedienne and a famous comedy writer, respectively. Towards that end, we worked out a stand-up routine in which she played a debutante, which was the polar opposite of her real self, and we took our act to The Purple Onion in S.F. to audition. Teda, wearing a long prom dress, ackwardly hoisted herself onto the stage early on a Saturday morning and had the three or four Onion staffers in the room laughing even before she said a word. The club’s talent booker was very kind and complimentary, but said that since Teda was, like me, only 17-years old, she couldn’t work in the club for four years. Something about alcohol being served in the joint.

  3. I don’t know which I should look at first on this blog – the main title or the trailers! Your comments are as entertaining as your blog posts so I must resign myself to reading for a long time when I visit the Chet Helms Chronicles. Keep going, Greg. Or as Sal Mineo and the Boomtown Rats used to say, ‘Go Man Go!’

  4. Thank you, Mr. Pig, and keep going I shall. The interesting thing to me is that since I have begun tossing off these ramblings about meeting Chet, negotiating with Chet, and so forth, the writing of Chet’s biography, which is in a less flippant tone, has gotten easier.

    For me, writing this blog about the book is sort of like a pitcher warming up in the bullpen before the game. It somehow loosens me up. Go figure.

    That having been said, I cannot consider my efforts, lusty as they may be, to be successful until I have received a searingly insightful comment from the lovely, legendary and mysterious Patrushka.

  5. Aw. Patrushka will tell you that you are a genius and a wordsmith extrordinaire, which you already know to be correct. She’ll tell you that your aim is true and that your emphasis is on target. She’ll also tell you that the Pondering Pig is the smartest man in America. But she’ll never divulge the digger’s bread recipe. Man, I’ve tried. Go figger.

    As Jinx, I have no choice but to do what I do. I don’t comment to make the way clear, I come to muddy the water.

    But, by the by, blogging is about personal recount and subjective limitations. Me and the rest of the crowd on the farm think you are insightful and sufficiently humorous. Don’t let the Pig tell you otherwise. If he does, ask the squirrel.

    I’m glad you didn’t bring up Perry Lane and the venison chili. Me and the rooster still have a hard time with that scene.

  6. Perry Lane? Hmmmm. Wasn’t he Clark Kent’s boss at The Daily Planet?

    I once spoke, albeit briefly, to Patrushka on an actual telephone and I’m pretty sure we bonded. (I have always had a way with women – unfortunately, it’s always been a way of repelling them.) In any event, I’ll get that Digger’s bread recipe out of her and send it along. Just be patient, because it may take a while.

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