Electric Nightmare Jelly

You don’t hear much about ESP these days.

My room was in the basement. This is the same room I gave up for a night so the Grateful Dead could crash there. Larry F and I had this routine where we’d go down there in the evening, smoke about six pounds of hash, and improvise on two electric guitars for a couple of hours. Neither of us could play in the traditional sense of “play”. We’d just plug ‘em in and produce sounds, noises, effects, rhythms, snatches of melody, etc., and one time Mort told us he could hear us from the floor above and we sounded incredible and should start a band called Electric Nightmare Jelly. We were ahead of our time for sure and had we made tapes, and kept at it till today, we’d have a hip cult following, be poor but revered.

No plan. No talk. Just closed our eyes and went at it. The music was consuming, we were in another world of pure sound and nothing else but the usual hallucinogenic light-show. Like when you’re very tired and rub your eyes real hard. Like roadrunner cartoons on the inside of your eyelids, a circus of strange happy beasts, wild horseback freeflight on the far side of the moon, a Macy’s parade of hieroglyph balloons floating in your hair, all your childhood friends dancing on the head of Zsa Zsa Gabor in a red room filled with helium. Suddenly I saw something so intense and real I had to stop. All it was, was three orange 5′s inside each other on a blue field. Larry stopped, opened his eyes and looked at me, wondering why I stopped. I knew he’d seen it, too.

What number? I asked.

Huh?

What number?

He thought a second and said, Five. Three 5′s. Orange on a blue background.

Three years later I saw this in an art magazine:

I have no explanation for any of this.

Charles Demuth painted The Figure 5 in Gold in 1928, inspired by the poem, The Great Figure, by William Carlos Williams, published in 1921.

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

William Carlos Williams, Autobiography, New Directions, NY, 1967, p. 172:
Once on a hot July day coming back exhausted from the Post Graduate Clinic, I dropped in as I sometimes did at Marsden [Hartley]‘s studio on Fifteenth Street for a talk, a little drink maybe and to see what he was doing. As I approached his number I heard a great clatter of bells and the roar of a fire engine passing the end of the street down Ninth Avenue. I turned just in time to see a golden figure 5 on a red background flash by. The impression was so sudden and forceful that I took a piece of paper out of my pocket and wrote a short poem about it.

Here’s my photo of Larry (with Bonnie) taken around the time of our musical collaborations:

I hadn’t seen Larry for thirty years when in 1994 he marched past me in the Quadra Island May Day Parade. I was at the side of the road when I spotted him and called him over. We talked for a few minutes and I took his picture. We planned to meet at the end of the parade in the park where the May Day celebrations take place. The park isn’t that big. There were maybe 300 people there. I never saw him again.

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