Jelly, jelly so fine

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Purple People

One of the great joys of my life was coming of age in New York City during a very fertile and infectious time. The late sixties and early seventies bestowed treasures beyond measure on an impressionable young man newly located in the lower east side of Manhattan.

I lived at 330 Third Ave. On the second floor. A mural of a fat woman was painted on the wall of our apartment and traveled across half the ceiling. It could be seen from the street. Wonder if it's still there?

I would walk for miles and hours through the various villages surrounding my apartment. My favorite street was St. Marks Place in the East Village. Grizzly Furs, Naked Grape, Different Drummer, Electric Circus. Scads of head shops selling patches and patchouli along with the latest revolutionary broadsides. The Fillmore East was on its last legs and action was moving over to the seedy Academy of Music. The East Village was always much more primal than its western kin.

Sages of all stripes and colors abounded. Purveyors of potions and four ways and double domes could be found on various corners and the world was full of great mystery. Hippiedom was still fully a flower and we were ready to sail off the planet into the next incarnation.

Often I would walk down to Washington Square Park. It was not creepy then, instead it offered some of the greatest street musicians I have ever heard, from beebop to bluegrass. Crazy philosophers and poets stood on soapboxes and traded barbs with marxist revolutionaries and yippies and zippies. I got turned on to the sport of freestyle frisbee and the Washington Square Wizards were magical practitioners. Old men played chess, women walked their strollers. This is long before crack. Things were pretty safe.

I would often head uptown to the park. Bethesda Fountain was another epicenter. Huge conga circles. Hippie Central. Butterfield would show up once in a while at the bandshell as would other great musicians. Saw Quicksilver at Schafer which became the Dr. Pepper Music Series. Near riot when they sprayed the crowd watching the show for free with tear gas at a Roberta Flack concert and five thousand people ran en masse for Central Park South. The cool, slightly older hippies playing disc at Sheeps Meadow became role models. Allen Sunshine (later recreated as Tex), Indian, Mountain, JC, Douglas Monroe, Paul, Richie, Tad and Joe Sap offered me a paradigm into a slightly twisted but extremely fun lifestyle.

One of the more interesting things in New York was the really good graffiti that could be found on occasion. (before Taki 183) And the best I ever saw was always written in tight block letters and signed by a guy named Rev. Les Ego. His work was brilliant and timely. It would show up on the walls, in the subways, at strangely opportune moments. Messages from deep space. Once during a psychedelic excursion, I found a newspaper he created that was probably unreadable in normal consciousness, but was like manna from heaven at that moment to my needy soul. I think it was called zen tences but I may be mistaken.

Later I realized that the author was the strange fellow who would ride around the park dressed in purple with his wife and cats in tow on various trailing wagons. They were named the Purple People. Later I heard that he was instrumental in building community gardens in New York. Adam Purple would follow the horses in the park and collect the manure for his gardens. I didn't know what ever became of him...

It sounds strange now, but to a seeker, at a time of unlimited possibility, every street corner held promise of another teacher. My brother Buzz and I once went to the Academy of Music to see the band Hot Tuna but somehow picked the wrong night. Instead Allen Ginsburg and Ram Dass amongst other westerners in white robes were chanting hare rama and playing their hand cymbals. It seemed forced and bloated and stupid and we left. But on the sidewalk outside was an old black man with a pint of whisky and a harp and he was blowing fire from heaven. The real shit, while the academics and yogis had their little jackoff session. I will never forget that.

Guys like Adam Purple (real name David Wilkie) amaze me. Like a hippie John the Baptist, some people are fated to be ahead of the curve and to provide instruction for those that follow. Guys that traveled the road before there was a roadmap. I don't know why I think of him so many years later but want to extend my thanks for him to the universe. The original Mr. Natural.


Anonymous said...

I still see adam purple around
and at least 1/2 of those people you mentioned are dead:



Anonymous said...

“I was watching T.V.,” I explained, “and a reporter asked you if you were going to fight the city. You said – and this is what sticks with me – you weren’t interested in fighting people, you were interested in enlightening them.” I smiled again.

“Naaaaaaaaah,” Mr. Purple said, waving one hand. “You can’t enlighten people. Forget about it.”

Well then, that’s more like it. When an anomalous strand of experience like the enlightenment business is finally woven into the familiar grim tapestry, I am usually grateful. It makes me feel like life has symmetry, and if it has symmetry then maybe it has a purpose, and if it has a purpose, maybe its purpose is to teach me something. Upon later reflection, I tried to name one person in the last two decades whom I had enlightened. I could think of no one. I wondered if, in 1986, I should have just listened to Ivan Boesky and been done with it, and whether Mr. Purple had given me a new, more useful mantra to carry me through the next twenty years.'

Reminds me of Steve Martin's epiphany in LA Stories.

"Whut's it all mean Mr. Natural?

Don't mean sheeeet"

Ciao, Babe.