Subject talked in the office of one of his retail establishments. Born 1951, Missouri.
At the time, let’s face it – I was pretty young [in the 60s], and I was less concerned with my place in time than I was just with my place. I finished high school not really knowing what I wanted to do, but I knew I didn’t want to go to Vietnam. When I first registered for the draft, I registered as a conscientious objector. That never came to any kind of fruition because my college deferment superseded it. I can remember when I turned 18 and had to register. I went through a lot of turmoil knowing I was not going to go to Vietnam, and I didn’t know if that meant fleeing to Canada. I stayed in school until the lottery came out, and then I got a high number, so I really lucked out. Most of the middle class kids managed to stay out, one way or another, either by joining the reserves or getting a psychological deferment from a sympathetic psychiatrist. Not a lot of the guys I grew up with went to ‘Nam because most of them went to school. But then I met people after I started college who were getting back, and the reality of it struck home. That is when I did some protesting.
I got into pot my sophomore year in high school. I didn’t stop and identify it, but it was part of the culture I was moving toward, which was the counterculture. It was apparent in music, style, fashion, and pot was definitely a part of it. And even acid. I was able to get through high school and keep Bs and Cs without really participating too much; smart enough to figure out that system. It wasn’t like I was wild, running crazy, and abusive. I kept things under control. Before pot, I was drinking in junior high. My mother would like to have thought that everybody was a bad influence on me, but I have to confess it was the other way around. I just didn’t want to do things the way people wanted me to do them. Rebellion more than anything. I survived it all. I’ve come full circle to being a pretty moderate person, although even then, all these activities that I took part in, it may be ironic to say, I did it in moderation. If you’re 15, drinking taking acid stuff like that, you could say – where does moderation fit in? And yet I look at guys that really went over the edge. I worked all through high school, kept a job, put myself through college. Part of my rebellion was that when I finished high school, I was out the door. I didn’t want anything from my parents in terms of support because that would mean strings.
I did three years of college not really knowing what I was going to do, and after I got my high lottery number, I quit college. I was studying philosophy and religion primarily, and I realized I didn’t really want to go to school for that. A year later I went back to school and got a bachelor’s in science, an experimental program that included engineering courses, statistics, math, art courses, art history courses, and design (architecture).
So I started being a building contractor. I mean, I say being a building contractor. I started out painting porches. I had this background in design and structure, and that’s what I really wanted to do. That’s the main reason I moved to Fayetteville – the School of Architecture. But the work that I was doing was exactly the opposite of what I said about school, that I was never a student. Building was completely opposite. I mean, you could study that – you could study what it is to be a carpenter. But doing it is instant gratification, instant cause and effect. If you miss the head of the nail, the nail doesn’t go into the board. If you build something wrong, it falls apart. That always seemed to be the way I learned.
This is ironic, because I had studied philosophy. I mean, I was fascinated with philosophy and religion, but then, that was part of the ‘60s too, the existentialist stuff. I had a good friend who was very much involved in Hatha yoga and Swami Satchedenanda – a character who was an Indian businessman, smoked cigarettes and lived a life of desire. I had the opportunity to meet him and he was really cool. I liked the guy. This friend of mine was a monk in Swami Satch’s yoga movement, and I helped him. They got some property here. Somebody donated 350 acres to Swami Satch just outside Eureka Springs, by Hogscald Hollow. They also got the old schoolhouse up there. This friend of mine who was a monk got assigned to come here and develop this ashram. I worked with him for a few weeks, but it was an effort. I dug hanging out with him and I dug the yoga exercises. But sitting and meditating (whistles), boy, I never could do that. My mind – I was never able to turn off the chatter.
There was the back to the land thing, too, when we came to Arkansas. We bought some property out by Devil’s Den, and we were going to move there, and there was a community of people that we knew there. It was the whole apocalyptic vision, without any real specific prophesies involved. I must say that in some ways, although my lifestyle now has gotten very middle class, you would never know it probably to see how I live or what I do.
There is an interesting concept in my mind that still prevails and hearkens back to that time. I’ve observed that in the natural world, there is nothing that maintains continuous growth. There is always a process of growth, death, decay, and regeneration. In my naive mind, I look at everything our culture is promoting, and it appears to be based on continuous growth. Our whole economy is based on growth. So I still have in my mind somewhat of an apocalyptic vision that it just can’t go on. Now I’ve been saying that for 30 years, but I truly believe it.
On the other hand, now, because of the business I’m in and the people I’m exposed to, I see the people that adhere to this as a religious dogma, the Y2k’ers, and I’ve come full circle to realize that death is inevitable and if that’s the worst thing that can happen to us, well, so be it. Quite honestly, if the only people who survive some kind of major catastrophe are the wackos I’ve met who are really into this – they can have it. I don’t want to survive with them. These people with semi-automatic rifles that have hoarded grains and foods, totally paranoid, and yo-yos to begin with. They’re getting prepared.
I’m still trying to earn a living and I’m more successful now than I’ve ever been, and yet my means are so simple. I’m not extravagant. I spend my money on the things that give me the greatest pleasure, which are music and food and some travel. I don’t care about having a fancy car. I live more comfortably than I ever have but it’s not extravagant. I don’t want to make the buck at any cost. The way I handle my employees, I mean, when I train an employee, I tell them their first job is to help the customers. And the way to do that is to identify what their means are, what it is they need, and how much they can afford. Then plug them into the appropriate technology. If we don’t have it, I send them to the competition, somebody who does. Or if they are trying to buy something that you know is not really appropriate, but they’ve been sold this idea, then show them the alternatives, even if they’re cheaper. I feel like, in my heart, that’s the way it should be done. And now having been in business for quite awhile, I also believe that’s the best way to do business. Because you convey that ethic to people and they come back to you and they trust you. I’ve got to live with myself. Making money is a weird thing. I mean, the whole concept of being in retail, buying something for one price and selling it to somebody for more – it’s a little bit foreign to me. With carpentry, I was selling labor, skills and knowledge. To some degree, I think you still do that in retail, if you incorporate the ideals I was just talking about.
I think that a lot of things that were part of the counterculture and spawned in the ‘60s were things that were always part of the American motif. Repackaged, given different trim. Essentially, it was self-dependence, thinking for yourself, not being afraid to strike out into new ground. Each generation thinks they’re discovering it for the first time. And they are, in fact. But I guess that’s the value of history; we might look back and avoid some mistakes, although mistakes are just as important. Learn something from it and survive the mistakes. I may be a person who knows more from my mistakes than from successes. I expect things to go well, and if they do, I take them in and keep moving without relishing them. But when something doesn’t go well, that’s when I tend to analyze more.
Part of my ‘60s consciousness was to be the Renaissance Man, being able to do everything, whether it be fix my car, build my house, and I was really into that, big time. It was part of the back to the land thing. That fit in well with my psyche. It’s one of the reasons it has taken me four years to do a room addition on my house. Because, oh, I can do that – well, when are you going to do it? – well, I’ll do it, but I’ve got these other things I have to do first. Now I’m coming to the realization, just with maturity, that time is not a bottomless jar.
We heated with wood exclusively in an old 1920s house that had a central chimney with flues hooked up from all the rooms, so we had a wood cook stove and a wood heat stove. My wife did most of the gardening, and we had goats which we raised for butchering. I did the slaughtering, although that was pushing the envelope for me. I had never really done that and I wasn’t into doing it. The times that I did it, actually rendering the meat, skinning, none of that bothered me. But it was that instant of pulling the trigger, seeing the animal alive and then dead, that had a real profound affect on me. I was bound and determined to do it, as long as I was eating meat. I felt I should be willing to take responsibility for killing the animal. Even now, I like to eat meat but I don’t like to hunt, so I’ve gotten around that by knowing people who are obsessed with hunting. They just want to hunt, and they’ve got ricks of deer meat put up that they’re never going to eat, and I just get deer meat from them. And I’m not down on hunters, but it’s a whole other mentality. It’s not one that appeals to me.
I’ve reached this level of comfort that works just fine for me and quite honestly, it’s more important to me to have the music thing be part of my life than to earn any more money. I do have this missionary zeal about jazz. I feel like I’m not politically informed, although I will align myself with certain issues. I think recycling is good, using less is important. In my heart I’m convinced that there’s enough in this world to go around and everybody could be pretty comfortable, but it’s just not going around. I think – this may be a utopian vision, but not necessarily – the wealth of the world is so unevenly distributed and so exploited and so wasted. That disturbs me. Yet I’m not someone who will march on city hall to try to get a better recycling program. I will go to the merchants within my immediate influence and get a recycling program going for this shopping center. I’ve done that. Particularly when I can piggy-back it with something that hits deep in everyone’s consciousness. For example, I got a cardboard thing going here when the city changed over their garbage policy. You had to buy a container and you were charged by how many times they emptied it. I knew that for 95% of the merchants in this area, 80% of their garbage was cardboard. Cardboard is not garbage. It’s traded on the commodities market. So all I had to do was find some way to contain it and somebody who wanted it, and I could go the merchants and say, look, this is not going to cost you anything. This is going to save you money. You’re not going to have to buy as big a waste container and have the city come put this in the landfill, which they’ve screwed up on anyway. So those things, when they’re right there in front of me, I can get pretty involved.
I think that ultimately, almost everything that people do – almost everything that everybody does – is for themselves. It’s good if in your life you can identify that and accept it, and then realize that the best way to make yourself happy is to make the people around you happy. Maybe that comes off as being generous. But I still feel that most of our drives and ambitions have to do with our own survival and well-being.
Music has always been an underlying element in my life. I used to play the piano when I was very young, but again, my inability to stay focused and disciplined and to glean from a teacher and books and what not led me astray. That probably will always be one of my regrets. My mother tried to get me to study piano when I was young, and I didn’t. I love music. I’ve approached the abyss several times, thinking, OK, maybe I’ll study it again, but then realize that it’s a really formidable thing. I feel like my ears are way ahead of my discipline and skills, and the demands I would put on myself – it’s an avoidance thing. Rather than approach and fail and not achieve the level I want, I just have never made the commitment to be a musician. I’ve always been around musicians, music, and in some ways, I have some friends who have said to me, that I shouldn’t regret it because quite probably through my work as a [radio jazz show] producer, I’m bringing more music to more people doing what I’m doing than I would if I was a musician. When they say that, it’s like, you know, they’re right. In that respect, there is a lot of gratification.
I think music and the business of music are a good metaphor for a lot of things in life and a lot of things that have to do with the ‘60s: The real essence of what we believe in or love or seek is often lost by the pursuit of it. In music, the business of music is probably one of the most bullshit-wrought professions anybody can be in. It’s really just a lot of crap. It has absolutely nothing to do with the music. But you have to go through it to get there. I think the 60s in a lot of ways is like that too. There was a lot of bullshit. I look back at the ideals that I had and some of the bullshit I was involved in that was counterproductive to those ideals, to where those ideals would ultimately lead you. I think the same is true with religion, anything that becomes organized, quantified, turned into a bureaucracy, or a committee. It immediately starts diluting the essence of it. The purity of anything, I think, happens within a person’s own experience, whether it be music or religion.
Music is more than comfort. Sometimes it’s a discomfort. It’s probably the closest thing I’ve come to that has, like religious significance to me. Absolutely. It also reflects back on the skills that I have and the skills that I don’t have, which have to do with comprehension. There is a level of comprehension that I feel through the sequencing of certain notes that create certain chords, which create certain chord changes. That level of experience has more meaning to me than words. It’s cosmic. It’s beyond understanding.
I can tell the difference in my comprehension of music and how the music moves me, how it works mechanically, and that’s another level of joy, when you can understand relationships and things like that, on that level. Part of the joy that people get out of music is the familiarity, their recognizing it, being comfortable with it. That’s popular music. What sets jazz apart is that which is unfamiliar, that which leads you to new levels of appreciation. It pushes you to the edge and you go, “What is that? That’s not comfortable.” And then you listen to it again, recognize it, then listen again, and you see some inner beauty in it, and then it’s part of your repertoire, part of your understanding.
It’s tied in to spirituality, but even into politics. To me, music is so political. It’s such a reflection of culture and what people are thinking. Talk about Jung and analyzing people’s dreams. Just look at what people listen to. Look at the music that really means something to them, granted it might not always be a real straightforward connection in terms of – there might be seemingly opposite personalities attracted to the same kind of music. But I still think that it’s very political. In fact, I know it is. There’s a musician in Brazil who played instrumental music during one of the particularly right wing regimes in Brazil. His music was outlawed. There were no words. And yet the government outlawed his music. This guy – Hermeto Pasqual – they decided his music was too politically radical even though there were no words. The fact that they felt they had to outlaw his music is quite a statement, quite a testimony to the importance of his music. I mean, what could make you want to hear it more than to find that out?