It was early January 1974.
New Jersey was in the grip
of winter and there wasn't much of anything going on.
was in my room in Montclair awaiting the arrival of Alf,
was on his way down from Cedar Grove, the little town where we grew up.
Our experiences went back to the time when I was 7 and had gone to the South End Woods
with my older brother Eddie to look for salamanders and snakes.
On the footpath we encountered a group of kids building a fort, hammering away and chopping branches to use in the construction.
We stopped to watch, becoming aware of one fellow stacking logs, all the while chanting poetry that was slightly obscene.
He was tall and
older than me, 8 or 9, with wavy hair and an attitude that made him seem a
I was intimidated and kept my
mouth shut as he barked out poetry while continuing to stack logs.
After we left I asked my brother who the tall
"That's Alf.....he's in my class.....
He lives right down that street in one of those houses......"
I was glad to head for home but the poetry Alf had been reciting stuck in my mind.
From that day on I gradually got to know him and found
that his gruff exterior
was a ruse to hide a Vulnerable
An intense person, he had a tendency for good natured mischief
and we complimented each others personalities.
By the time I was 10 and Alf 11, we were hanging out regularly.
We both liked music and found that our tastes were pretty much the same.
In 1963 The Four Seasons were very big
and "Sherry," "Candy Girl" and "Walk
Like A Man"
resounded from Transistor Radios all over
Everything was unfolding logically until one day
pouring over the airwaves unlike anything we'd ever heard.....
"I Want To Hold Your Hand" was
a quantum leap from the music of the era
and The Beatles, "overnight, swept up the youth of the world."
Not only did music change but styles of clothing, hair, language and culture.
Life took on a whole new meaning and Alf and I, like everyone else, were caught
up in the craze.
harbored fantasies of forming our own group.
remember walking up Pompton Avenue one afternoon
a pact that one day we would form our own band.
even shook on it.
Christmas when he got a tape recorder,
we spent hours
singing into it and trying to come up with our own tunes.
He still had his talent for poetry
and as we got older he used it as a shield against the cruelty of
The strategy was simple, if he could keep
they'd be less inclined to lash out at
him which is what some people liked to do.
the travails of Alf, whose life wove in and out of mine on a regular
Now, a decade later, profound social events reshaped the world.
I was home in Montclair awaiting his arrival which could be a haphazard proposition.
He might not show up at all depending on who he ran
into on his way over.
If he got wind of a Party you might not see him for days but when you did,
he'd always have an excuse to explain his absence.
Whatever, you could
never pin him down and he would disarm you,
forcing you to forgive him......
He had that kind of charm.....
I picked up my Yamaha
and started strumming chords.
I knew that
when he did arrive we'd be spending time "jamming" as we liked to put it.
Jamming with Alf was always fun and we never knew what creativity might come up
stared around the room, typical for a young man in 1974 ..............
a stereo with a stack of LP's, 8 track tapes, girlie
pictures on the wall,
Bohemian Garb consisting
of jeans and flannel shirts draped over the sofa in the corner.
It was below "shabby chic" and I was poor as a church mouse
but it was a roof over my head so
I couldn't complain. It was home.
When I heard a knock at the kitchen door I ran downstairs
and there Alf stood in his Winter Coat
and hat with a smile on his face and holding a 6 back of beer.
happnin' bro, come on in!"
He placed the 6 pack on the table and extended his hand.
A handshake was always the first order of business with Alf.
We shuffled into the living room to say hello to my Grandfather.
He was in his 80's and spent his days sitting on the couch watching T.V.
and smoking cigars, blowing huge clouds of blue/gray smoke that hung around the room.
The dense smoke could almost knock you over but provided an atmosphere
that was both Mysterious and Soothing...... It meant that the old man was content.
"Who's that Alf?"
"Yeah, how's everything?"
everyone was regarded with the same courtesy
won my Grandfather's respect with his Winning Personality
never failing to chat when he felt it was required.....
We bounded up the stairs and into my room.
"What took ya so long, man? I was
waiting for hours."
In the house for 5 minutes and already under siege, Alf launched a counter
"I had to hitchhike down here man, then I had to go to the liquor store. It took time!"
"You hithchiked? I thought your father was driving you down."
"He was..... but I
got caught up in some (pregnant pause) .....bullshit."
He had a special way of embellishing the "b"
in bullshit that gave it added effect.
lips would purse as the word slowly erupted.
gave authenticity to his woes and always made me laugh.
"What kinda bullshit man?" I said, smiling.
"Just some....Bullshit !!!.
into some kind of strange.....bullshit," he said with a pained expression.
A moment later two brews were cracked open.
We drank a lot of beer in those days. It cushioned us from the
Once we were caught up on the latest news Alf's eyes wondered over to the guitar
propped against the sofa.
"Grab the ax Davey, I've got an
huddled together and as I strummed, he geared up to sing,
for the right moment to jump in, he listened then began to croon:
"Well see the mountains, see the trees, see the ocean too,
gettin down the road..... cause I'm feelin kinda blue
Hey, I'm tired of this old world, this bullshits
You'd better get out of the way my friend before I blow my top...!"
fun had begun, a give and take that ranged from Poetic to Hysterically Funny......
I listened with a smile as inspirations of my own began to bubble to the surface:
I gotta get away from here, gotta get away from you
not because you're so uncool but that you haven't
got a clue...."
It went back and forth with
Alf fumbling for the right words
but in the end pulling
a rabbit out of his hat.
I'd play slower chords, mellowing him out and he'd
sing in his most sincere voice,
"Well see that girl with the long black hair
and the crystal
eyes of blue,
She used to ride in my Riviera
but now she rides with you....."
I would strum, stifling laughter until he'd look up and start laughing
It was all part of the fun and there were many jam sessions like
would sit in but it was always Alf and me
away on that guitar........
as the Wicked World was closing in around us..........