Love in the Time of Corona: Joan Baez Motorcycle Meditation

CRAWFORD, TX – AUGUST 25: Singer Joan Baez and former Marine Jeff Key stand among crosses setup to represent soldiers killed in Iraq as they attend the anti-war rally August 25, 2005 near President George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas. The camp sprung up after Cindy Sheehan setup a vigil asking to speak with the U.S. President George W. Bush about her son, Casey, and the war in Iraq. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

All you gotta do is come up with one sentence to start. One sentence, a life sentence for you and for others, a prayer, a cheer, an anthem, an incantation or a spell. All you have to do is sentence yourself to Life and then figure out how you’re going to serve that sentence. You’re the one who has to write your mantra; if it’s your life’s code shouldn’t you be the one to set it in stone, well, you that whatever it is you consider to be greater than yourself? You believe hard in Science? Believe the fuck out if. Believe that the great scientific minds of all times, those who have lead us to new realities based on their breakthroughs in medicine and science and space travel and the like. They looked as do the Tibetan monks into the mysteries of the unknown to determine where to go and what to do next. I never really got the whole battle between science and religion. To me, I want no part of a religion that needs to dispute science nor do I want any part of science that is somehow threatened by the even the ponderance of anything metaphysical. I find all that silly. Just anybody who believes that electrons spin around that nucleus in predictable patterns believes in some kind of universal structure. The only reason I now believe that any “thing/being” that is “greater” that the human individual exists is not because I grew up being told there was an anthropomorphic God but because I believe that apples don’t come from orange trees and they don’t come from nothing. The fact that I think, that I have consciousness, that you do, that we have this mutual observance of each other, even through a blog or social media. That you have this “me” in your mind and I have a “you” in mine. And what is that mind after all? Allan Watts said, “I’m a philosopher because existence is weird.”
I went to South America to take part in a sacred and ancient Ayahuasca ceremony with an Indigenous elder and several members of his tribe. “Ayahuasca,” as Americans call it, “Jagé” to the tribe who honored me by allowing me to seek with them in this way. I found it interesting that that term for the Sacred Medicine sounded conspicuously like, “Yahweh,” one of the ancient Hebrew names for G_d. That’s all I’ll say about that experience except that I know that there is more here than this. I have seen it. I have stepped outside this dimension and looked back at it. I have experienced all my fears at once. I know that my mind is so much more than my brain and I know that there is much that transcends the obvious and the seen. As Shakespeare so eloquently puts it in Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. 

I think it might be time for us to rename the demographic currently called LGBTQIA?+, or as I like to refer to us, “the alphabet people.” It’s just too clumsy and too cumbersome. Some propose “Winkte” which is the Lakota word used for “Two-spirited” people but the actual literal translation of “Winkte” is “wants to be like a woman” so, despite what the New Agers who appropriate Indigenous culture to fit their ideology would say, I really don’t think “wants to be like a woman” really encompasses all that we are, the people who stand under the rainbow umbrella. But I would advocate for one word to describe that group that wasn’t so unwieldy to a would-be poet. One of the most beautiful things about language is its music. “LGBTQIA?+ (and all its many variations isn’t even percussive! Hell, it ain’t even Jazz. It just sounds like a bunch of marbles falling off a shelf. Of course there’s currently a lot of drama and politics among the letters of the alphabet soup (couldn’t have picked a better time for that leading up to an election) and there’s a big war going on between the “gays” and the “queers” and hell, I’ve been calling myself a Queer since about 1982 when I went to my first Gay Pride demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama. If you look up the word in the dictionary it makes me smile to think that I’d be any of those things: peculiar, odd, out-of-the-norm. Fuck! I hope to God I’m out-of-the-norm. Have you seen “the norm” these days? Fuck that. I was raised better than that. 
There are dried tears on my face from my earlier motorcycle meditation. I headed up Vine and then banged a left on Hollywood Boulevard and started riding toward the sunset, the palm trees silhouetted against a sky in the hour of its relaxation. I stopped in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, took off my helmet, put on my mask, and did a Facebook Live to say hello to my friends. Then I headed West again, the direction of Introspection, the way of the Buffalo. The color of the West is black. The throttle helps me outrun my thoughts. I lift my visor so the wind can wash the anxiety from my brow. Stupid, useless, boring, ancient bullshit is pulled out in the liquid form of tears, my eyes’ connection to the oceans. It feels good to be back in my ole stompin’ grounds. I spent hours on my Ducati souring to the top of Mulholland, riding Sunset Strip on a Saturday night– once with Joan Baez on the back. (No shit. Remind me to tell you the story sometime.– 

Oh hell, tonight’s as good  a time as any and who knows what the morrow brings? This day and time, and especially if you got gray in your beard, I reckon we should think of it like if we’re gonna do something in this life, we best get to doing. My greatest prayer for you is that you don’t die with your stories still inside you.

Joan and I ran around together (as friends) for a few years. She’d slept in my arms among the crosses as we protested outside the Bush Ranch in Crawford, Texas. The crosses I mention, “Arlington West,” was a mobile exhibit of crosses to memorialize the Iraq and Afghanistan war dead; it had been brought there by a Marine who would go on to be my friend for life, Markus Eriksen. Uh-oh. This story is spider webbing. 
CUT TO:

EXT. SUNSET STRIP IN HOLLYWOOD. SATURDAY NIGHT 

Joan Baez rides on the back of the Ducati Jeff Key is driving. Past the strip joints, the $20 martini dance clubs, the lights zipping by us like we were attacking the Death Star. Along Sunset and up toward the hills. And then I realize.  Joan is scared.
JOAN: (yelling to Jeff through her helmet) Can we just go home?

I never understood why she’d gotten so scared. She was such the adventurous type. We’d had more than one skinny-dip in cold and moving mountain streams and she’d stood up to Nixon and the KKK after all. 
Months later I would learn of Bob Dylan’s terrible 1966 motorcycle accident that had stripped him from Rock/Folk/Pop superstardom (and from some, spiritual veneration) and placed him in artistic exile. He wouldn’t perform or record for years.
One night Joan and I were sitting on the floor in front of her kitchen fireplace singing gospel songs accompanied by the guitar in her lap. One didn’t mention Dylan around Joan. He hurt her bad. Like most geniuses, he wounded the ones who loved him most. But that night, when she’d put down the guitar and we were drinking tea in preparation for our ascent to sleep in her tree house, I just said, “The motorcycle. You were scared because of his accident. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
About a year later Joan was performing at Linda Ronstadt’s Latino Music Festival in San Diego. She’d invited me to come. On this trip, as whenever I flew to The Bay, my buddy Scotty leant me his Dual-sport BMW motorcycle to get around. Joan had given me a ticket to the concert and I was excited to go. The promoters sent car service for Joan and I left on the bike in my black leather jacket about the same time her black shinny limousine pulled out. Just before, I walked up to kiss her and wish her break-a-leg. I said, “Y’know Joan, it’s a full moon tonight. If you want to send the driver home and ride home with me on the back of Scotty’s bike, I swear to God, I won’t go any faster than that big yellow moon.” I wanted to give her something to think about during the concert. 
If I live to be a hundred years old I’ll never forget that night, my “do-over” from Sunset Boulevard, with that skinny, crazy, talented folk icon and peace activist stuck to my black leather like electric glue and connecting to the heart that vibrated my white t shirt. I never got the speedometer over 55. She trusted me to get her back to the treehouse safe that night and I did. 

This and a hundred other memories of that friendship were awakened by my ride down Sunset tonight. I point the bike toward home and a warm California afternoon has turned into a cool California evening. As I descend into the underground parking garage I feel the fear start to grip me. Oh please God, let me write. 
I pray that the spell will be broken and my two-months paralysis will finally come to an end and I can write something. Dear God, help me write. 


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