Monday, June 21, 2010

In the White Room, With Black Curtains...

It's quite possible I lost my virginity to Cream's "White Room." Back then -- "then" being the late Sixties -- the melodramatic strains of "I'm so Glad," "Spoonful" and "I Freel Free" were regular accompaniments to the rebellious forays, experiments and exuberant separation adventures from our parents that kept us energized for years. I avidly pursued my independence in dorm rooms at first Miami U. of Ohio and then the much-sought after "off campus housing" (1009 Vine, true 'nuf, which you know if you read my novel) of Kent State where I drank Thunderbird, sampled skinny little rolled-up tastes of pot, and tried to get laid.

"Getting laid" sounds like the way a guy would put it. Oddly, I can't remember if those are the words I used for it then. But I know I wanted to "lose my virginity," strange erasure that that implies, well, I wanted it so badly that Mike Davison and I, both untutored in the mechanics of sex, tried for about three weekends in a row to make it happen, and stopped each time because it frankly scared us back into our bell-bottom pants. He was afraid to hurt me...I was afraid it was going to hurt. But finally that novel feeling, to be entered, to be filled -- and then all that movement, all that exertion, me "laying" there under him, paying exquisitely close attention to my body, to his body, feeling him sweat, feeling his breathing and already asking, I swear without guile, innocently, "so that's it?" -- well, we managed to get there. I was determined -- dogged, even, in a typical Scorpio fashion -- to have that experience. When Jimi Hendrix said "Are you experienced?" I wanted to be able to shout back, "Yes. Yes. Yes."

I'm remembering all this now because Saturday night Ted and Dennis and I went to Alva's Showroom on Eighth Street here in Pedro for a "Cream Tribute." It was performed with respectful exactitude in this sweet, small-scale venue by Kofi Baker, Ginger Baker's son, along with Fran Banish (fabulous name -- I looked it up to be sure I heard him right!) taking over the Clapton guitar parts and Rick Fierobracci emulating Jack Bruce's bass. They opened their two sets with "White Room," and the crowd lustily cheered. Including me.

Young Baker is a remarkable drummer himself, though far cheerier and, well, robust than his dad, who glared from album covers in the Sixties like somebody who's really, REALLY mad at "old people." Baker Junior and his mates have been making the rounds playing Cream and Blind Faith favorites, and at Alva's, the crowd, populated by folks of at least my age or older, ate it up.

And, sitting in the dark of Alva's, sipping Dennis's champagne from a plastic cup, I remembered Sixties sex.

My first lover and I worked at sex, as I remember it, in a low-ceilinged attic room in the house, which somebody rented out to about five or six Kent State "girls." I remember none of their names. It was usually messy and there were fights about food and who was supposed to clean the kitchen. My roommate for a time, a classically gorgeous blonde, had sex with her boyfriend in a single bed about three feet from me for weeks before I angled for my own room upstairs. I remember candlelight and incense burning -- I'm allergic to incense and had to bury my sneezes so as not to distract. She and her boyfriend didn't care I was trying to sleep right next to them. They were condescendingly worldly and didn't find me cool. I had a black portable stereo I'd bought from my tips busing tables at a Brown Derby Steakhouse. It sat on a bookstand at the foot of my bed. It had those two little matching speakers that attached on either side of the turntable. I had a small stash of records under an Indian scarf that covered the bookshelf: Al Kooper, Mike Bloomfield, Janis Joplin, Cream -- my shards of worldly accomplishments. In the game. One of the "us" that crowded into the culture then, making so much noise.

It was more like "so that's IT." Quiet, satisfied that I'd made it happen. Not the more cynical, jaded, pissed-off feminist reaction of later, "So THAT's It?" of later. It didn't feel particularly good physically. It was interesting. But not particularly pleasurable.

Part of the poignance of this memory -- this set of memories -- when I think about it today, an old woman of 60 on this longest day of the year, 2010, about 42 years since I lost my virginity, is how long it took me to learn how to fully experience pleasure in this world. Back then sex was so often about misplaced revenge, getting vindication for what I felt to be the smothering sameness and boredom of my earnest parents' lives. The fresh air of my new life, my freedom at 18 and 19 and 20 was endlessly intoxicating. And also intensely consuming, not exactly relaxing. Not relaxing at all.

It's possible to make a case that I didn't learn how to relax about sex until about a year ago.

I spend time every day teaching myself, over and over again, to Be Here Now: it is easier these days, with life's limits clear and most of my big decisions behind me, to simply Be Here Now. It still takes practice.

But I am grateful nonetheless for the energy of those tense years of my late adolescence. And I feel affectionate and appreciative of the rich, marvelous backdrop that came with it: music permeated everything. Cream -- Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton -- were there, pounding out their complex symphonies, soulful accompaniment to the melodramas of my own young life. It was fun to hear these young kids play it all again, and to remember.

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