The closest I ever came to joining up with a spiritual master was in 1968 when I started hanging out at the Golden Lotus. To me it was just a health food store at first. I got to know Arran Stephens, the proprietor, and as he seemed like a cool guy I enjoyed shopping there and chatting with Arran. He may have worn a turban at the time but if he did it didn’t faze me. I’m an open-minded type. This was during a period of my life when i thought it was important to eat certain foods and not others in order to – i don’t know what – live forever, I guess. Now I’m in a period when I believe it’s important for me to smoke cigarettes and stay up as late as humanly possible. In any case, I spent much of that summer at Galley Bay, expecting to live out my days there; it was so beautiful and primal. No roads, phones, electricity, etc. I loved it but I also had citylife in my blood and spent half my time going to town. It was a little conflicting because the city seemed polluted, noisy, electrical by comparison with Galley Bay yet I couldn’t stay away. When I returned to Vancouver for good I started going to the Golden Lotus daily because by then the place included a vegetarian restaurant with a very serene vibe. It was like an oasis. I became a regular fixture in the place and was eventually encouraged to make my own meals for which I would wash dishes, sweep up and try to help out in any way I could. I believe every one there was a devotee of Arran’s guru, Kirpal Singh and many lived upstairs in an ashram kind of deal. I never asked, and nobody told me, what if anything this Kirpal guy was all about. But as I say, it felt very good to just be in the place eating their organic fruit salads, which I made myself.
I had recently hooked up with Tassillie and she informed me one day that her dad wanted to have dinner with us – get to know me better, I suppose. All my life I avoided everyone’s parents but this time I agreed on the condition that we eat at the Golden Lotus. Yes, once upon a time I was a jerk. Well, I really had no choice. I wouldn’t eat anywhere else. So we all went to the Lotus one evening. I hadn’t realized that the place was so serene and laid back that the average customer off the street would be lucky to get served. The staff were pretty well zonked on spirituality or whatever. So the three of us sat at a table for at least an hour, maybe more, with no one showing up to take our orders. Ever. I don’t know if we went elsewhere or just packed it in but as far as my relationship with Tassillie’s dad progressed the best that can be said is that we despised each other after that.
One day a notice went up announcing that there would be a kind of lecture on a Sunday afternoon at the Lotus at which they’d play a tape recording of Kirpal Singh. I thought I would attend and then just join up. It seemed a logical step to just become one of the adherents of whatever the hell it was. So I showed up for the thing. The tables had been stashed somewhere and chairs set up facing the back of the restaurant. A reel-to-reel tape recorder sat on a table in front of us, the curtains drawn, and then the machine was turned on. An old Indian voice began to speak, of what I cannot say. A flat monotonous voice that just droned on and on and on. My eyes started to itch, my ass was hurting, my head fogged up, and after twenty or thirty or a hundred minutes of this I thought I’d pass out from utter boredom and pain. I was dying for a cigarette, too. I don’t know what the guy had to say but I’ll tell ya, it didn’t seem to have anything to do with me. Or jazz music. Or girls. Etc. I walked out. It was an absolutely gorgeous day out and that was all the spiritual uplift I needed at the time. Worked wonders. I kept eating at the Lotus now and then and within the year I was also eating smoked meat sandwiches.
The Golden Lotus was right on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Bayswater and years later Ken Pickering turned it into Black Swan Records, specializing in unusual jazz records, so it was my karma to get to hang out there again. I spent a hell of a lot of time at Black Swan worshipping my guru Charlie Parker and his cohorts. Arran went on to found Lifestream and then Nature’s Path, “North America’s largest certified organic cereal company”. Ken Pickering became artistic director of the Vancouver International jazz Festival. I’m still a nobody.