“Come gather ’round people wherever you roam…” -Bob Dylan**
Folks gather ’round for all kinds of reasons: sometimes just a casual meeting up, later for reunions, and sometimes to say goodbye. On college campuses all over the country, students still come and go just as the wind blows and the seasons change. It is a curious human trait that friendships form so quickly there. Some hover around only for a few class changes while others last a lifetime. I first met “Doodle” not in a class or even on campus. It was hanging out with rock ‘n rollers that were all in some way connected to college life.
Overlapping schedules connect some together, but often as not, it is the distractions from academics that become so binding. A casual burger at the student center leads to a chat that leads to awareness of guitars back in dorm rooms. All of a sudden, the whole idea for going to college in the first place becomes secondary.
Impromptu jam sessions turn into bands where individual majors don’t matter. Maybe art, marketing, physics, math, history, sociology, theater, biology or management get mentioned in conversation, but it’s really all about the music and the band. Then comes the hard part: making a list of songs you can play. Everybody in the group has a different list of “favorites”, and the order they should be in. You don’t really have to be able to play it yet just to put it on the list.
To play drums, guitar, or sing is important, but no more so than the necessary talent of having a van or a pickup truck. A vehicle to transport amps, drums, keyboards and other equipment is of paramount value. “Satch” said he couldn’t carry a tune in a wash tub, but he had a truck. “Satch” became our manager. Somebody might fill in for a picker or even a singer, but nobody went anywhere without “Satch”.
Nicknames were common. Sometimes they made sense, sometimes not. I think I had one, but the other guys were kind enough not to use it if I was in the room.
Every band has its peripheral edges that touch on other bands and other musicians. Ours was no different. “Puss” knew “Satch”, and Dave knew a multi-talented picker named “Dusty” who knew a guy called “Doodle”. Doodle was a pro who could play the Hell out of a guitar and sing too. He was making a living at it. We met up often, but never as permanent members of the same band at the same time.
Along with members of several bands, Doodle got a party started that included finding a piece of plywood that would “just make do” as water skis behind a bass boat. At other times, dirt bikes needed crashing, and a lot of beer needed drinking. Without a whole lot of deliberation, and idea could spark an adventure, and often did. It happened that way then, and again even later as if experience had taught us nothing.
Years passed. After incredible adventures on our own, Doodle & I got back together. We had settled down, and as serious married family men now, we were going to face the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood. We laughed and talked about the old days when as “mere children” we’d taken so many outrageous and crazy risks. But all that was behind us now.
I don’t remember which one of us came up with the wine. There was no fancy label on the soon to be empty gallon jug of cheap Rose’ on the seat between us. I’m sure I’d had most of it because Doodle was diabetic, so he was being conservative–or reasonably so. Even now, I often wonder why he thought it was a good idea for me to drive. After all, it was his Volkswagen bus. We weren’t going anywhere in particular. Any road will do if you don’t know where you’re going, and that’s the one we took.
Doodle asked me if I ever missed playing in a band. All of a sudden, a U-turn through somebody’s front yard seem to make sense. All interest in studies, homework or term-papers were getting weaker, and soon diminished altogether. Both of our wives were at work, and we’d kinda taken the day off just to sorta chill out and rest up from all the stressful rigors of intensive study.
Pretty soon, we had managed to grab guitars and were on our way to a honky tonk dive where Doodle knew the manager and a couple of guys who played for beer and tips. During a break, introductions were made, and somebody asked if we knew a couple of particular songs. Without asking me, Doodle told them we did. With guitars strapped across our shoulders, we were on the stage before we knew it.
I kept up as best I could, and with full enthusiasm whenever I recognized a Chuck Berry riff. Pitchers of beer kept coming, but somehow I left there with three dollars more than I had when we arrived. I have no recollection of how we got home, but I’m sure it was in time for a lecture from our respective wives on the evils of alcohol, and how it can be harmful to marriage, health, economics and scholarship. The fact that I hadn’t spent any money on beer may have saved my life, but I think I did have to pay a three dollar fine for breaking some unofficial curfew set by common sense.
As I think back on it now, I also remember thinking back then on how all that had happened to connect us up in the first place. I’m thinking back on thinking back. With so many people on this planet, it is a curiosity how randomly some of us get together to form social bonds. I’m sure some serious musicians are pretty selective about their ensemble, but I never went through anything like what you’d call a serious series of interviews. It was more like someone would ask:
“Hey! Y’all wanna play?”
Garagebands form, merge, change members, breakup, and reform just as many professional bands do today. I took a gig in Southeast Asia, leaving college and rock ‘n roll behind for a while. Around that time, Doodle and his friend Buddy hooked up with some of the members of my former group, but only for a short time. Soon, Buddy and Doodle felt the call, and were on their way to Hollywood and Las Vegas.
They cut an album, and were hobnobbing with rock stars, movie stars and producers. When their album was pressed and ready for release, Doodle and Buddy were presented with the bill from the studio. Turns out there was no sponsor, and they were expected to pay for the studio time; all the recording, the records and production costs right there on the spot. Doodle told me later that he couldn’t even say that much money out loud, much less pay it!
In the wee hours, it was decision time. So, they quietly packed their bags along with as many boxes of the LP record albums that would fit in their car, and left town looking nervously over their shoulders, knowing they could never return. Instead, they re-entered the music scene back home, and almost as if they’d never left.
The wild and zany times didn’t stop. Soon Buddy had his own club near a beach resort, and Doodle put together a group that could get work as often as they wanted it. But now he was a family man, and wanted a future outside of rock ‘n roll. He sampled several careers to see how they’d taste, but finally decided to go back to college about the same time I did.
Now and then, we’d end up in the same room holding guitars, but it would never go back to what it was before. We both had to get serious about school if we ever intended to finish. Our wives had explained it to us.
With the changing times flowing like white water rapids now, several of us gathered to say goodbye to “Satch”. Hanging around rockers had slowed his academic speed some, but he had finally graduated, and was accepting a management job in another city. After helping him load all his worldly goods in the cargo box of a rental truck, we took him to a local pub to have a brew and say our well wishes.
Doodle was not able to help much with loading for religious reasons, and I’m sure he’d prayed that the rest of us would carry all the heavy stuff before he got there. But he was just fine when it came down to joining us for a beer. We laughed and talked, and went over a lot of old times.
“Satch” had grown up on a farm, and moved with a firm and steady pace needed for endurance unlike some of the knee-jerk behaviors seen in some of us city boys. He was contemplative and sometimes deliberative, and rarely seen as impulsive at all. He was generally a quiet, but good natured man. He had put up with us a long time, and more than once was our only adult supervision. He would be missed.
While the rest of us carried on in a rowdy way, Satch sat quietly considering the logistics of his move. He must have been running the inventory through his head making sure all of his valuables were loaded and secure. He had several nice pieces of furniture, and a killer stereo system. But it was for none of the expensive items he was showing any worry. All of a sudden, he spoke:
“Did you put the ironing board on the truck?”
Doodle had a mouthful of beer, and quickly shared it with the rest of us. Napkins were put to use, and laughter got louder. It became an inquisition as each person at the table was pressed about whether in fact the ironing board had made the manifest. After a lot of reassurance, Satch calmed down, but we continued asking the question over and over all night long. As far as I know, nobody ever went to the truck to check.
With permanent press being so common these days, perhaps some of you don’t ever use an ironing board, but back then, a single man without one either had to hire it done or go to work wrinkled. Even then, ironing boards were not expensive and would’ve been easy enough to replace, so it was a surprise to us that he would be so concerned about it.
For years, I would answer the phone in the middle of the night only to hear Doodle’s voice asking me: “Did you put the ironing board on the truck?” The question was always followed by riotous laughter on both ends of the phone.
Doodle and his friend, Buddy, are both gone now, but not from my memories. Sometimes on a quiet day even in the midst of noises I am not hearing, I think of them and others, too. But I especially think of Doodle. Maybe you don’t need an ironing board in the afterlife, but if you do, I’m sure he would’ve remembered to take one even if he forgot everything else.
Like so many things, ironing boards are a bit of nostalgia. I almost never iron anything, but we do have an ironing board in the house. Whenever I look at it, I always think of “Satch”, and always think of “Doodle”. Since so much else has happened since then, I also sometimes think about a song Bob Dylan wrote. But in those collective thoughts, it’s Doodle’s voice, and not Dylan’s that I hear singing the words:
“…And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’” **
** “The Times They Are A Changin'” by Bob Dylan
Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music