“We're making an album,” he said."And I need a guy who knows a lot of chords." The timbre of his voice sounded as though he was ever-so-slow in the head, but a job was a job. He handed me a card upon which was written “David Peel - Orange Records.”
I showed up at Peel’s East Village tenement later that night, ready to work, but after a stream of guitarists began showing up, some of whom I recognized from the park, I realized it was just a party. He had no musician accoutrements to offer guests, but instead basked in the glow of his long-ago tenure with John Lennon and Yoko Ono who produced Peel’s third album of hippie anthems, “The Pope Smokes Dope.”
He was a novelty act and the music sounded worse with more musicians, but it was a night’s floor, and there I crashed. A few days later, I took the train in from Westchester specifically for Peel’s recording session in Tribeca.
Peel’s songs were similar to Peel, but his recording methods were novel in that he gathered 15 acoustic guitarists in one room all playing the same thing around a single microphone, producing a purposeful Phil Spector-ish “Wall of Sound”. I played bass on the 3-chord song after the assemblage had laid down the guitar tracks, and all were satisfied.
At the end of the session I asked when I might be paid, but I'd learned by that time that if Peel didn’t want to answer any direct question, he’d somehow turn an answer into something about John and Yoko, hoping to bamboozle.
“That comes later,” said Peel. “When I was with Elephant’s Memory, it was all for one and one for all!”
“You’ll learn, you’re young. Que Pasa New York? Call me.”
I was trusting and excited about recording, and somewhere inside I knew I wouldn’t get a penny, and it was ok. I had seen how Peel lived and I had evaluated his talent and chances for massive album sales, and I knew there wasn’t any money. It was back to the park.
I saw Peel two weeks later one early, drizzling evening, walking by himself. He didn’t recognize or remember me, then said, “Oh, yeah! The yuppie!” which was an indication of the state of his melted but harmless hippie noggin. I bore him no grudge and demanded payment of no debt; instead we just blabbed about music, and I still wasn’t sure if he actually remembered me. Presently he lit a pipe he was carrying, took a long drag himself, and offered it to me.
I didn’t smoke pot or do anything that would damage my voice, but it was raining and the park was getting deserted. I decided to take a puff.
Within a few moments, my consciousness went sailing back into a tiny, tiny portion of my brain, and I turned into an instant, floating collection of muscles, veins, organs, limbs and hair. I hadn't thought to ask what was actually in the pipe. PCP? Angel dust? I didn't know. All I remember was slowly sliding down the wall of the arch until I was sitting, the universe exploding in front of my eyes and the outside world of Manhattan erased. I sat there like a building on fire, feeling the drug devastate my consciousness, unable to play the guitar, and hoping no one would take my money or cart me off to the hospital. I was profoundly, deeply drugged in a very public place, and the only thing that kept me from panicking was the mantra, “You’re on a drug and it’s going to wear off. You’re on a drug and it’s going to wear off.” When would it wear off? I didn’t know; it might be 20 minutes, an hour or 12 hours.
I called Nick Max and told him what had happened.
"Are you ok?"
Yea, I was ok. There was nothing to do but wait while the world shimmied. In about an hour, the world started speeding up again like a steam train gathering momentum, and soon I was back to relatively normal. Peel was gone and I never saw him again, or heard the record we’d made.
I played and sang and sang and played that whole summer, broke all 6 strings dozens of times, begged a shower or a floor here and there, had to stand in between a homeless guy and my case full of money a couple of times while swinging the arm of my guitar as a warning, was drowned out by ghetto boys walking by with boom boxes, was offered every kind of drug known to medicine, was chased away by the police, got soaked by sudden rainstorms, smiled at N.Y.U. girls, hooked up with a few who allowed me to, and became that which I set out to be.
One early Saturday morning, the wind bit my fingers as I tried to chord a song, and I decided to wait until noon when the sun would defrost the West Village. It never warmed up that day, though, and as truly inured as I’d become to every obstacle that would chase a musician away from his spot, in the end it was cold that shook me off the public stage of Washington Square Park.