Kick Out the Jams
by Rachel Valentine
Summer of 1967.
“Hey guys, I’ve got a totally far-out idea!” Sunshine said, a smile lighting up his face.
His three companions turned and stared at him, their expressions a combination of bewilderment and annoyance. They knew Sunshine well; he was the idealist of the group. And he was the richest, coming from a comparably wealthy middle-class family.
Sunshine continued to smile optimistically at them. He persisted, unmindful of their apparent irritation.
“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately. . .”
“Really, you have?” Cloud said angrily. “There’s a shocker.”
Cloud was usually angry. Serving a couple of terms in the military can do that to you, the others figured. They found him in an alley behind a strip joint, simultaneously preaching to a group of his followers and trying to bum a cigarette. He was a pilot inVietnamright when things started to get really bad, and he persistently refused to talk about what he had witnessed. Since returning fromVietnam, he adopted a strict, take-no-prisoners anti-war stance.
Sunshine cleared his throat.
“We’ve been sitting in this field an awfully long time. . .” he began softly.
“Yes, and whose fault is that?” Rain piped in from his position near the rear of their psychedelically painted van. He was the intellectual of the group. They’d found him hitchhiking at the side of the highway, with nothing with him but a worn paper-back copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. He claimed to have met William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg while working as a male hustler inNew York City. Nobody dared contradict him.
“We’ve been in this field for hours, and we’ve accomplished absolutely nothing. What are we even here for?” Rain whined.
“We’re here to contemplate our places in this large, ever expanding universe,” Sunshine explained patiently.
“I can dig that, man, but we haven’t accomplished much.”
“I have. I’ve accomplished a lot,” chimed in a voice from beneath the grass. His bare feet were sticking straight up in the air, and a joint was sticking out of his mouth. This was Flower. He was the artist of the group. Nobody knew much about him, only that he was a wannabe-folk singer but more like Donovan than Bob Dylan. They found him in a bar inOakland, playing his old, beaten acoustic guitar and singing for anybody who would listen. Nobody would.
“I wrote a new song it’s really great and I think that it speaks to the soul on a deep, emotional level and all that, you wanna hear it?” That was how Flower always talked.
The others sighed good-naturedly.
“Guys, I still haven’t told you my idea yet. . .” said Sunshine.
“Well, it goes a little bit like this.” Flower strapped on his guitar and blew into his trusty harmonica and sang.
“I call it ‘Being High,’” Flower finished proudly.
Sunshine said hesitantly “Well, maybe you could. . . I don’t know . . .” he cleared his throat awkwardly. “Try to expand the subject matter of your songs a little bit?”
“What do you mean?” Flower said unwittingly. He looked genuinely confused.
“Never mind!” Sunshine said quickly. “It was great, Flower, really it was. It actually does speak to the heart, just like you said.” He turned to the others “Right guys?”
Half-hearted grumbles of approval came from the three hippies surrounding the van.
“Maybe now that we’re done contemplating the meaning of the universe, we can move on,” said Rain sarcastically.
“Move on? Move on where?” Cloud asked.
“I don’t know, but somewhere. Man is not meant to stay in the same place for very long. It’s not natural. The times change and we change with the times.”
“Get off your soapbox, Rain,” Cloud said crossly.
“Now, now, everybody, we don’t want any fights. This is supposed to be a happy place, remember?” Sunshine said, ever the peace-maker.
Cloud and Rain glared at each other through the tall grass.
“Anyway, as I was originally saying, I have a far-out idea. I agree with Rain. I think we should move on. “Where to?” you may ask. I think that we should go toSan Francisco.”
“San Francisco? What could possibly be there for us?”
“I don’t know, but I’ve felt this . . . this . . . calling, of sorts, to go. I think that there’s something happening there. Something that’ll be remembered for generations to come, and that we need to experience. Plus, I heard the Grateful Dead’ll be playing there,” Sunshine added.
The others didn’t look convinced.
“You think that this heap of junk will get us all the way toSan Francisco? We got it inDenverfor a harmonica and two joints, if I’m not mistaken. It’s not exactly ‘Ole Reliable,” supposed Cloud.
“Guys,” Flower interrupted, “Sunshine has had these types of ideas before. And they have usually always led us in the right direction.”
A look of recollection passed over their faces.
“He was the one who told us to sit in this field for five hours,” said Rain.
“That’s not the point. The point is that we’re like . . . brothers, man. So when we travel around and dig everything and get our kicks, we’re together. We have to stay together.” Flower said firmly. Flower was never this decisive about anything. The others were taken aback.
“And,” he added, “The Grateful Dead are playing there, right? And they have, like, the grooviest shows ever!”
They all looked at each other.
“Okay, okay. I’m in.”
“Well, we better get a move on, brothers! The times they are ‘a changing,” Sunshine said happily as he got into the driver’s seat. “Pile in!”
The others got up from the grassy field which had been their temporary home, and obliged.
The bus sounded like it hadn’t been started in years, but they were off, nonetheless, on a life-changing journey to the absolute center of the entire counter-culture movement.
Flower stuck his head out of the window and made a peace gesture to the sky. He shouted, “Whoa, man, whoa! We really are brothers, man! Forever and ever. Nothing will ever break us up.”
“SHUT-UP!” screamed Rain, throwing the book of poetry that he had been steadfastly reading at Flower. “This is completely infuriating in every conceivable way possible!”
“What did I do?” Flower said dazedly. He held his guitar up over his face like a shield.
“You’ve been playing guitar and singing out-of-tune for the last . . . last. . . How long has it been, Sunshine?”
Sunshine turned around in the driver’s seat to answer him. His eyes were dilated and he was swaying back and forth ever so slightly. “I think it’s been, like, six hours, maybe. We’re like in the middle of a huge flipping desert. I’m guessing the Mojave. Just miles and miles of emptiness. Just think of the things this desert could tell us.” He stared out the window dreamily.
“Thank God. That means we’re almost there, right? Right, Cloud?”
Cloud had been gazing out the window for the last few hours with a thoughtful but angry look on his face. “Yes, yes. And I’m grateful. I guess I’ve never really noticed how cramped this van really was.”
And it really was. Sunshine was driving, and the other three (plus Flower’s guitar) were crammed into the back. Their combined body odor had really started to stink up the inside, and the long shag carpeting was starting to get matted. The black paper that Sunshine had so carefully hung up on the walls was starting to tear and yellow at the edges.
In short, tensions were high. And they were running low on narcotics.
“You know what, Rain? You know what? I don’t have to! I don’t have to be quiet if I don’t want to! You’re . . . you’re just like the man! Fascist and all that!” Flower said trembling. He was curling into the fetal position, cuddling his guitar.
“Do you even know what ‘fascist’ means?”
There was no response from Flower.
“Oh, knock it off, Rain,” said Cloud. “See what you’ve done?”
“And just what have I done exactly?” Rain said angrily.
“He’s having a bad trip because of you.”
“No, he’s having a bad trip because he took too much drugs. Weak-minded people can’t take drugs,” reasoned Rain.
“HEY, MAN! That’s not cool,” said Flower feebly.
“And anyway, what right do you have to rag on me?” Rain said, puffing up furiously.
“I have every right. I fought in the war for people like you.”
Sunshine turned around in his seat looking worried. “Now, now, everybody. We’re all friends here. Remember, brothers until the end, and all that-”
“SHUT-UP!” Cloud and Rain screamed at him.
“Keep your eyes on the road, pot-head.”
Sunshine hesitantly did so.
“Anyway, I wasn’t implying anything,” said Rain, “I was simply saying that some things in your story don’t add up.”
“Some things in MY story don’t add up? Well, how about your story, buddy? You claimed to have met all those heroes of yours while hustling at 53rd and 3rd inNew York City. I call “bullshit.” I think you’re just an attention-whore, mooching off of everyone around you.”
“Ummm . . . guys. I’m feeling the bad vibrations all the way up here,” moaned Sunshine.
“And you!” screeched Rain.
“What did I do?” said Sunshine weakly.
“You’re always preaching that shit. ‘Bad vibes?’ You’re a flipping walking stereotype of a flower child. You’re just afraid that people are going to find out that you’re actually a normal guy from a normal background. That’s why people hate you. You can call up your mommy or daddy and they wire you some money and you leave this life as quickly as you entered. Some of us don’t have that option.”
Sunshine looked like he was going to burst into tears. He sniffled. Rain relented for a second.
“Sunshine? Sunshine? Aw, man, don’t cry. I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, he did,” mumbled Flower from his nest of blankets.
“SHUT-UP!” yelled Sunshine, Rain, and Cloud.
“Anyway, Sunshine. I didn’t mean it. I was being. . .” Rain cleared his throat. “A little bit too harsh, I think.”
“That’s not what he’s looking for, man. You need to apologize,” Cloud said, clearly relishing in Rain’s pain.
Rain glared at Cloud, but continued. “Sunshine.”
Sunshine turned around in his seat, hope began to show in his eyes. “Yes?”
“Sunshine, I’m really sor-”
Smoke began to pour out of the engine and it was much more than usual. Flames were licking out from underneath the hood. Everyone screamed, and Sunshine desperately yanked the steering wheel from side to side. They suddenly swerved off the road into a ditch. Dust flew up all around them.
They all blinked for a second in bewilderment. The hippies threw open the back door of the van and did the same. Flower was still carrying his precious guitar.
They stood in the desert and simply stared at their wrecked van. Smoke was still pouring out of the front. Sunshine was the first to speak:
“Yeah, I’d say so. ‘Bummer’ is a bit of an understatement, Sunshine,” Cloud observed sarcastically. “Did you forget to check the engine for overheating?”
“Hey man, I can’t do everything around here. I tried,” said Sunshine defensively.
“And that’s why we never let the resident stoner do the driving,” declared Rain.
“Hey,” protested Sunshine, “It’s my van. I bought it.”
“Yeah, for a harmonica and two joints.”
“Guys,” Cloud interjected, “What are we going to do? We’re three hours away from any sign of life, which just so happens to beSan Francisco. Three hours driving, that is. I don’t know how many hours walking.”
“Let’s not get worried. I’m sure it’s just a loose fuel line. That can be fixed easily enough,” Sunshine remarked optimistically.
“I think Sunshine is right,” stated Cloud. Everyone stared at him in shock. “What? I think he is. We can’t lose our heads in this. What tries to kill us only makes us stronger. We’re brothers until the end, remember?”
“Let’s get our stuff out of the back of the bus, at least. Then,San Franciscohere we come!” announced Sunshine happily. They moved towards the van, a slight bounce in their step.
All of a sudden, the bus burst into flames, and was completely engulfed. Heat was positively radiating off of it. Beneath the blueness of the sky, the orange and yellow flames looked strangely beautiful. None of the hippies saw it that way, except for maybe Flower.
“Or not.” Rain and Cloud turned to glare at Sunshine.
“Well,” murmured Flower. It was the first thing he had spoken since the van had crashed. “At least I still have my guitar. This whole experience has given me an idea for a song. You want to hear it?” He strummed his guitar without waiting for a response.
Cloud was silently fuming. He was about to have a meltdown.
“Ummm . . . maybe now’s not the right time, Flower,” said Sunshine quickly.
Too late. Cloud stomped over to Flower, yanked his guitar out of his hands, and threw it on the desert ground. He proceeded to jump up and down on it and curse. The guitar became splinters.
Flower took a long, deep breath. He spoke:
“I’m going to take the high road here. I really hope after that totally un-karmic freak-out, you’ll mellow out and maybe embrace a new peaceful way of life. I’m hip, I understand, you’re just sad and confused and you chose to take your negative emotions out on me when I’m sure I wasn’t the real target at all. It’s okay. I’m here for you. I love you, man.” He opens his arms for a hug.
Cloud clenched his fists and looked murderous. “You touch me, and I’ll shove that harmonica so far up your-”
“Well,” Sunshine interrupted hastily, sensing the mounting tension. “Maybe we should start walking?”
“What else are we supposed to do?” Rain said hopelessly.
They started to trudge down the long country road. Out of the blue, a truck sped past them, and the occupants threw the contents of a bucket at them while hooting, pumping their fists and bellowing “Stupid bums! Get a job, hippies!”
The hippies ascertained that the brown filth on them was in fact manure. Really, really stinky manure. Rain spoke up as he was trying to wipe some of the shit off of his face:
“I guess that the manure is a metaphor for the whole trip so far. Allegorical, if you will.”
Flower and Cloud could do nothing but agree bleakly. This trip was not going as planned. Sunshine, however, had lost none of his usual optimism:
“Nonsense! It can only get better from here on out!”
The odd group of hippies walked down the abandoned road in the middle of nowhere. They did not see another car or truck the rest of the day. It was a hot afternoon, and the sunlight pounded down ruthlessly on them. There was not shade in the desert as far as they could see. It was like walking through the fiery corridors of Hell itself.
“Hey,” said Rain, breaking the obvious tension and silence which had loomed over them like a black cloud. “Guess what? I was just reading an existentialist novel the other day and it was about a man in exactly our situation right now. He was forced to confront his inner demons and embrace a disconnected morality to the world around him and-”
“Be quiet. You don’t really know what that means. You’re just trying to be hip and the whole beatnik thing is so over. It’s been over for ten years. Get a life,” Cloud interrupted angrily.
Sunshine massaged his temples wearily. “Not again,” was his response.
Rain puffed up angrily. Sweat was dripping off of his face and his fists were clenched.
“Oh yeah?” he said, “Well, at least I don’t pretend to have an interest in politics like you do. And at least I don’t have your aggressive, angry personality and your self-destructive life-style. At least I’m not a nihilist!”
Cloud opened his mouth to answer. Sunshine interrupted hastily: “Maybe we should try to get along. Just for a little while.”
Cloud furiously kicked a nearby cactus to relieve his inner frustrations. He muttered curse words as he hopped on one foot, trying to relieve the pain of the needles.
“You know what always mellows me out? Sing-along’s!” Flower said happily and seemingly oblivious to the personality conflicts around him.
The others froze and stared at him in disbelief. Was he serious?
“What’s a song we all know? Oooh . . . I know: ‘The Yellow Submarine’ by the Beatles, because everybody in the whole universe knows that song! I’ll start, and you guys join in when you’re ready. He started to sing.
He paused. “Ummm . . . guys? Anytime.”
They stared at him dumbfounded. Cloud was frozen, foot in his hand, with his mouth wide open.
Sunshine, Rain, and Cloud joined in enthusiastically. They skipped down the road, singing loudly and deranged.
They ran the rest of the way toSan Francisco.
“Quite honestly,” said Cloud as they neared the end of their journey. He was out of breath from all of the singing. “I’ve never liked that song very much.”
“I think, for once, I’m going to have to agree with you, Cloud,” said Rain unexpectedly. He, like Cloud, had a raspy voice. They had been singing nonstop literally for hours.
“Guys! Look over there!” Sunshine screamed excitedly as he pointed to the horizon.
“It’s . . . it’s . . . wonderful. It’s beautiful. It’s . . .” Rain was at a loss for words and stared in wonder at the glorious sight of:
“San Francisco!” they all said in perfect unison. Their eyes lit up with happiness at the thought of arriving in paradise.
Flower pumped his fist in the air and shouted “Grateful Dead here we come!”
Rain looked at his watch. “And, according to my mental calculations, we still have a few hours to spare,” he announced triumphantly.
They could seeSan Franciscofrom where they were standing, and they all immediately sprinted towards the golden gates of the city. Tears were pouring down their faces.
As they reached the entrance, they joined together for a group hug.
“I told you guys that we were going to be brothers until the end. I told you,” Sunshine said happily.
“And you’re always right. We are. I take back any bad thing that I’ve ever said about you. All of you,” Rain said as he wiped his tears.
“Apology accepted, Cloud.”
They heard the sound of a large crowd of people marching. They sounded very angry. As they approached, more physical details became clear. They were smelly. Most of them were wearing pseudo-military green clothing covered with badges. A man stood at and shouted revolutionary slogans through a megaphone. They could tell right away he was the leader because of his obvious charisma,
“Brothers and sisters,” he shouted, although they could not see a girl in sight. “You have to ask yourselves one question.” He leaned towards them conspiratorially, as though he was going to share a valuable secret. “The question is: do you want to be part of the problem or do you want to be part of the solution?!”
“The solution!” his followers shouted back at him.
“I thought so.”
Sunshine, Flower, Rain, and Cloud stared at him in wonder, Cloud especially. He looked at his own pseudo-military green shirt and back at theirs.
“Anyway,” the speaker continued, “You don’t want to be a pawn in their games, do you?”
“Ummm . . .” Cloud hesitantly asked and raised his hand as if he were in school. “Who exactly is ‘they’ ”?
The speaker and the mob turned towards Cloud and his friends. The speaker seemed slightly taken aback by his question.
“They are, y’know, the people who draft innocent citizens to fight in pointless conflicts that could easily be solved non-violently,” he answered.
Cloud looked offended. “I’ll have you know that I fought in the Vietnam War. I’m an injured veteran.”
His friends looked shocked. This was the first they’d heard of him being an injured vet.
“And? How was the war?” asked the speaker.
“It was,” there was a long awkward pause, “not good. Not good at all.”
“Exactly,” replied the speaker, looking smug. “That’s why you’re the perfect person to join in the struggle against The Man, man. You can, like, lecture us about the horrors of the war and all that.” He waited expectantly for an answer.
“I’d love to,” Cloud said unexpectedly. He looked at his friends defensively. “Sorry, guys, I think it’s time we parted ways anyway.”
Sunshine stared at him with his mouth wide open. Cloud departed with the crowd of protesters, whooping and hollering right along with them.
“And then there were three,” said Rain, smirking as he pointed out the blatantly obvious.
Sunshine tried to put on a happy face. “I guess there are. Well, guys, let’s continue onward.”
They edged further into the heart ofSan Francisco. They were standing underneath theHaight-Ashburysign when they heard another noise.
“What was that, dudes?” asked Flower as he spun around trying to locate the origin of the sound.
“I think it came from that alley.”
“Well, let’s go check it out!” said Rain impatiently. He was already marching down the space between two brick buildings. The others followed hesitantly.
It was dark and dreary. There were puddles of rain, and shadows everywhere. But they could undoubtedly smell:
“Cannabis,” said Flower expertly. He knew his recreational and psychedelic drugs like the back of his hand.
They almost walked past the noise-makers because they blended into the shadows. It was a group of about a half a dozen men, all dressed identically in black turtle necks and berets. One even carried a set of bongo drums in his hands, and another was reading out loud.
“I fall out of my bed one morning,
And my feet touch the cold, hard floor.
I walk into my bathroom and look in my mirror,
There I see a man who isn’t me,” he read.
The other beatniks clapped their hands slowly for him.
“That was really good, man. It is very Kerouac of you,” said one, as he wiped tears of admiration from his eyes.
“Yeah,” said another, “I really felt your existential dread.”
“Hey,” said Flower. He was obviously making a connection because he kept looking between Rain and the beatniks. He was also starting to feel the effects of second-hand pot smoke. “They kind of look like you, Rain.” And it was true. They did.
“How’s it going?” Sunshine asked the beatniks.
They looked at each other in genuine confusion.
“‘How’s it going?’ That’s a pretty complicated question to be asking, man. Do you mean morally, or emotionally, or physically, or psychologically?” countered one.
“You see, we’re reading poetry and giving each other constructive criticism to make our writing even more revolutionary and meaningful. It’s really very righteous. You want to join?” inquired the one carrying the bongos.
“I think I would.” Cloud said as he looked sheepishly at his companions. “Sorry guys. I’m with my own people now. I never fit in with you guys anyway. Don’t judge.” He flashed the peace sign at them and left with the beatniks.
“And then there were two,” alleged Flower. He was completely stoned by this point. His eyes were focusing on everything but Sunshine.
Sunshine was desperately trying to keep his happy demeanor intact. “I never really liked him much anyway.”
Sunshine and Flower left the alley and the beatniks behind, and headed towards the main park. They heard loud music and laughter within.
“At least we got toSan Franciscoin time for the Grateful Dead show,” said Sunshine halfheartedly, as they took their seats on the grass among the other hippies like them. Well, not exactly like them. Sunshine and Flower were completely filthy and considerably more tattered looking than the others. Also, the hippies surrounding them had an air of naïveté that Sunshine and Flower had lost when they had shit thrown on them.
“Oh yeah!” Flower said excitedly, “I’m in my natural element here! I can practically feel the power of my aura being enhanced with all of these positive vibes.”
Sunshine looked sideways at him, trying to gauge whether he was serious or not. He was.
“Sure, man,” he replied, “At least we still have each other.”
Flower mumbled an agreement and started to sway and turn in circles in time to the music along with everybody else. He started to sing as well.
A cluster of hippies abruptly approached from the stage. They were dressed nice, nice for hippies that is: velvet button-down shirts and bell-bottoms.
“Whoa, man! That’s out-of-sight!” exclaimed one. He seemed to be talking about Flower.
“What?” inquired Flower hesitantly.
“We heard you from the stage singing along to the music. We’re the band on next, and our singer just died from an overdose. We need a replacement, and you’ve got talent. Lots and lots of talent.”
“Of course,” he answered. “We were wondering if you’d like to join our band, tour around a bit, and probably cut a record. We have a feeling that we’re about to hit the big time.”
The other band members nodded in agreement.
“Would I get drugs?” asked Flower, thinking intently.
Flower still looked hesitant. Sunshine decided to speak up.
“Flower,” he said, “you need to take this opportunity. I know we’ve been through a lot together and you’re really the only one I have left but you need to reach for your dreams. You’re a really talented singer-songwriter and the whole world needs you. I’ll be fine. Of course, it’s your choice to make in the end and-”
“Let’s go!” said Flower to the assembly of people. He started off with his new band.
“Wait,” shouted Sunshine desperately at him, “Isn’t there anything you want to say to me before you go?”
Flower turned back and walked towards him. “Yes, there is actually. Remember, I’ll always be with you, in here.” He touched Sunshine’s heart in what he probably thought was a profound way.
“Peace, love, and happiness, man. Now let’s go!” And he was gone.
Sunshine sat there alone, contemplating his place in this large, ever expanding universe that we find ourselves in. He leapt to his feet suddenly and raises his outstretched hands towards the sky, as if he had had an unexpected epiphany.
“You know,” he spoke out loud, “Maybe hippies aren’t so great after all.”