Dirty River

In all the years I've been blogging, I don't think I've ever shared with you one of the most important eras of my life. It was a time when some dreams came true and others fell apart at the seams, so that may be the reason why I've never discussed it with you. It was a time when I was taken from the edge of hell to the very gates of heaven, only to be dropped again, left to find a new way back, a new destination, and new dreams. For years, even thinking about it created so much pain, there was no way I was going to talk, or even write about it.

It was a period of three years, 1978-1981. I was 27, 28, and 29, respectively, and music was everything to me, the do-all and be-all of my existence. Not listening to music, but writing and performing it. I'd been writing songs since I was 12 and performing professionally since I was 16, and I knew that I'd been created to one day be a standard of comparison among those I considered to be my peers. That was more important to me than being rich and famous, and I worked very hard to be the best songwriter, the best performer, the most charismatic personality I could be.

After my divorce in 1977 I began seriously thinking about going to England, where I hoped to get the attention of certain influential people and create a break for myself. In the spring of 1978, I met a dapper, elderly English gentleman named Doug, who was in Ventura visiting his nephew, who happened to be a friend of mine. I met "Uncle Dougie" at a nightclub where my friends and I used to go to dance to live bands (Disco sucked). Uncle Dougie was from Brighton, on the south coast about 65 miles from London, and when I told him how much I wanted to go to England, he invited me to stay with him and his family. We began a spirited, warm correspondence and I wondered how in the world I was ever going to get over there.

Fate is a funny thing. If I'd never let that teenage boy in my house when he, in a panic, rang my door bell saying someone was after him, he would have never seen that I owned a large collection of superior musical instruments, among them a 100 year-old lute-body mandolin and a Takamine 12-string guitar. If I hadn't wanted that water bed so badly in 1976, I would never have taken out that loan. If I'd never taken out that loan, I would never have had insurance on my many musical instruments. If I'd never gone to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind that night, that teenage boy wouldn't have broken into my house to steal all of my musical instruments. And if none of this had happened, I would never have received that check from the insurance company.

I paid off the water bed loan, made arrangements for Joel to stay with my parents, sold my red VW bug, bought a Yashika 35mm SLR camera and a ticket on Laker Airlines. Can you believe my air fare to England cost me a whopping $123.00? Yeah, and there were only about a dozen people on that non-stop DC-10 from LA to London. My parents had gotten me a new 12-string for my birthday the month beforenot a Takamine, but good all the sameand it sat in the seat next to me all the way to England.

I had a wonderful few months in Brighton. I made friends, gigged in pubs, and became as English as I could. I learned to eat in the continental style and how to say "Bloody 'ell!" like a native. I was in fact nicknamed "Bloody 'ell Kate" by my friends. I lost my California accent and people took me for a native everywhere I went.

I discovered favorite places. One was The Lanes in Brighton and one was the Newmarket Arms pub only a couple of blocks from Uncle Dougie's house in Mafeking Road, where I lived in an upstairs bedroom that overlooked the back garden, the bed of Brussels Sprouts, and a clothesline hung with those newfangled plastic grocery bags grocery had just been invented. Everyone reused them, rinsing them first then hanging them on the clothesline to dry. This was back when the question, "Paper or plastic?" was still unknown in the States.

I often bought a cheap day return train ticket to London (I was a Day Tripper!), where I prowled around Westminster, Chelsea, and Soho. I loved riding the Circle Line as I dreamed of a future in London as a music icon. I began writing a song cycle about London with the intent to create a concept album. This was back in the days of the Alan Parsons Project and the ELO, remember, and there was not a doubt in my mind that I'd be joining their ranks. Not a single doubt. I had the talent, I had the drive, I had the looks. I had "It". Everyone said so, anyway, even important people in the business.

My very favorite place, however, was the Chelsea Embankment, a tree-lined promenade that follows the north bank of the Thames. It was autumn when I first saw it, and the pavement (sidewalk) was covered in yellow and orange leaves that crunched beneath my boots as I walked in the crisp air. I spent many hours sitting on the benches, writing my songs.

The dirty river rolls,
And carries me along;
And when I'm feeling tired and lonely,
She sings to me her song.
Walking the Embankment,
You know it makes me smile;
Keep on rolling, dirty river.

From Tower Hill to Chelsea,
You know you'll find me here;
In the sun, the fog and rain,
I always hold her dear.
But I love her best in autumn,
Her pavements lined in gold;
Keep on rolling, dirty river.

There's more to the song, but since I lost all my music in The Big Dump of 2001, I don't have the lyrics, and I can't remember them now. It ends with something like,

So keep this bench saved for me,
'Cuz I'll see you again,
Keep on rolling, dirty river.

Needless to say, my brilliant career didn't pan out the way I'd planned and I eventually bought a ticket back to California. There's much more to the story. It in fact doesn't really end until sometime in 1983. Maybe I'll tell you one day. Anyway, when I found these paintings yesterday, they brought back a slew of memories.
  • Golden Moment on the Strand is by Charles Litka.
  • Autumn At Chelsea Embankment is by Fraser King.
  • Dirty River is my property and may not be used without my written permission. I've had enough stolen from me, please don't take what little I have left.