Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leaving Detroit

I left Detroit for the last time and moved out to the Bay Area in 1978. I was twenty-nine years old. Ten years earlier I had lived in San Francisco for a few months and had fallen in love with the place. It was always in the back of my mind to return and live there someday.

During my twenties in Detroit, I'd had a lot of musical success, with Brainstorm and all that. But there was also a dark side to those years. When I was twenty-two I'd started going to gay bars and having various love affairs and romances. Gay liberation was exploding all over the world. It was exciting and wonderful, actually it felt like a miracle, to finally have a chance to find someone to love. But I felt compelled to keep all of this secret from my family, my friends, and the musicians I worked with. There's a reason why so many of the greatest British spies were homosexual. We were forced to learn how to live double lives. Constantly covering our tracks, deftly lying or changing the subject to protect our identity.

Gay people were so loathed by society (and in most places still are), that at a very young age we learned one extremely important survival skill. We learned to keep our true feelings hidden. It's a terrible thing to live a double life. It takes a serious toll on a person's emotional and mental well-being. It's truly poisonous to the heart and soul. By my late twenties, I knew, somehow, I was going to have to "come out" and start living a more open life. And I knew this would be difficult around the people I had grown up with.

So I packed my musical instruments and a few suitcases in my car, gave my cat, Festus, to the sweet old lady next door (who was actually not too thrilled about it), and headed out Interstate 80. Bound for California and a new life.

Now driving across an entire continent can be quite a grind. You drive fourteen hours, sleep in a motel, get up and drive another fourteen hours, sleep, get up and drive another fourteen hours.... Finally, on the fourth day, bleary-eyed and half-crazy from boredom, you find yourself within striking distance of San Francisco.

But on the other hand, there's something exhilarating about crossing North America, all by yourself, in your little Datsun station wagon. You feel like Lewis and Clark, or even Magellan, circumnavigating the globe. I remember at one point I was highly caffeinated, my radio was blasting some ecstatic pop song, and I was yelling out the window, with the wind in my face, "Wait for me, California. I'm on my way. Come on kids, don't start without me. HERE I COME!".

It was winter. Very early in the year of 1978. The Detroit I had left, four days ago, was dirty, gray, barren, and cold. The snow on the city streets had been lying there forever, and was filthy, almost black. There had been no green grass, or leaves on tress, or flowers, or really any signs of life for many months. And crossing the Rocky Mountains on highway 80, I had just been driving on icy roads through tremendous snow storms and freezing winds.

So as I neared my destination, my old musician friend Ed DeDeo's place in West Marin, just north of San Francisco, I couldn't believe my eyes. The soft, rolling, grassy hills of Forest Knolls and Woodacre were brilliantly green. Breathtakingly green. The sun was shining, and the air was balmy and fragrant. It seemed that I had magically broken through some kind of time and space warp, and was driving my salt-encrusted Datsun into a glorious and sparkling midsummer day.

And in fact, I had broken through all kinds of barriers of space and time and emotion. My courage was rising, and I was on the verge of a great new adventure.

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