Apart from Las Vegas, the only other trip I made while I lived in LA that required a plane flight was to San Francisco where I and several other music writers gathered for lunch in the Dipti Nivas Vegetarian Restaurant and Natural Food Store at 216 Church Street in the Mission district, an unassuming area of the city where road works were ploughing up the streets to make way for BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transport system. The restaurant was owned and run by Devadip Santana, formerly Carlos until his guru Sri Chinmoy counselled a change of name, and serving at the tables was his wife Urmila, formerly Debbie, who flitted about with a cloth among the cheese, tomato and avocado dips.
I was sipping my carrot juice and reluctantly observing the no smoking rule when Devadip arrived, all smiles and healthy of countenance, spiritually beaming, delighted that his divine enterprise was doing good business today. A master of sustain on the electric guitar, he now wore his hair very short, his clipped moustache the only clue to his former identity as leader of the band named after himself that wowed Woodstock with Latin rhythms fused with American rock. His clothes, too, were conservative: a navy-blue blazer, unfaded denim pants, a tee-shirt with an Indian design and a badge with the face of his guru. He was remarkably thin and greeted everyone with clasped hands, bowing slightly in the mild manner of an elderly clergyman greeting his flock.
Carlos/Devadip talked to me with a Latin-American accent and was primarily interested in discussing how his meeting with, and acceptance by, Guru Sri had changed his life. “My main purpose in music,” he told me, “is to inspire people to learn about the Supreme. I am not interested in whom they pray to, how they do it or why they go to see, as long as they realise they all have a supreme, a father of the Universe, to recognise. Intellect and wisdom are two different things and what I am trying to do is inspire people to get up in the morning and have a direction to live for. They can do it through Jesus, Buddha or Krishna or whatever. It doesn't matter as long as they do it.”
Duly inspired by Devadip’s sermon I spent a pleasant hour as a first-time tourist in San Francisco, gazing out across the bay to Alcatraz Island and wandering around Ghirardelli Square. The air was crisper than LA, and the day was bright and clear. In Fisherman’s Wharf I was entranced by the human juke box – a sentry box a bit like a garishly painted upright coffin, inside of which was a man who played requests on a trumpet – which was doing good business, and I opted for ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’, a popular choice. I knocked on the front, placed a dollar in the hand that emerged from a hole, made my selection and backed off as a trumpet appeared through another hole higher up. The crowd that gathered burst into spontaneous applause when it was over, by which time I’d wandered off to admire a VW Beetle painted in psychedelic colours whose bodywork was covered in sea shells. But I also had an appointment to keep.
Back in London a few months earlier two Melody Maker-reading, Grateful Dead-loving, hippie girls from San Francisco had turned up at the office with the express intention of befriending the writers whose stories they’d read and whose bylines they’d memorised. This didn’t happen often, and when it did it was usually schoolgirls who were after pictures of Marc Bolan or Donny Osmond.
These American ladies, however, were certainly not schoolgirls. They wore suede dresses, lots of jade jewellery and moccasins, and they garlanded their waist-length black hair with beads and dried flowers. Both had seductive Latin complexions and smelt of patchouli oil, and they seemed very exotic indeed to us pale-skinned Englishmen. Those of us who were unattached sensed an opportunity in the waiting. We took the girls for a drink in the Red Lion behind the Fleet Street offices, where they turned a few heads, and then on to the Speakeasy where they had difficulty keeping up with the pace of our British drinking habits. As I recall, they spent the next few nights of their stay at photographer Barrie Wentzell’s flat opposite the Nellie Dean in Soho, where Roy Hollingworth occupied the spare room. I was more than slightly envious.
The two girls left maybe a week later but they kept in touch with us and one of them, whose name was Marcella*, discovered through reading her MMs that I was now living in LA. She contacted the London office, inquired my whereabouts and sent me a postcard with her phone number. I responded and we met up that afternoon in San Francisco, and over coffee in Ghirardelli Square I invited her to spend a few days with me in LA. She readily agreed and the following weekend flew down to stay in Phil’s flat. Apart from a liking for sex, and plenty of it, however, we had absolutely nothing in common which isn’t surprising really, so after three days she packed her bags and went back to San Francisco. I never saw her again. It didn’t help that I never much liked the Grateful Dead.
No sooner had Marcella fled than I was introduced to Christine*, a girl from Kent who had somehow infiltrated the Rainbow Bar & Grill, which was where we met. She explained to me that she had travelled by Greyhound bus across America with her English boyfriend but that he had abandoned her in Los Angeles and hitchhiked down to Mexico. Without much money and at a loss what to do, she had found a job in Santa Monica as an au pair looking after two young children of a prosperous family. I sensed she was displeased with the errant boyfriend and I asked her out, thus embarking on a relationship that lasted about six weeks.
On our first date I took Christine to Calabasas, a 40 km drive from Santa Monica, where the Sundance Saloon, a western style bar, hosted music nights. It was a fun thing to do, imagining ourselves transplanted to the wild west of John Wayne movies, but our night out took a turn for the unexpected when we decided to play pool. While we were at the table another costumer placed a quarter on the edge, thus signifying his wish to play the winner. I won and faced him. As it happened I’d played a bit of snooker back in the UK so pool, with its smaller table and bigger pockets, was easy-peasy for me. I won again, and again, and again, eventually retiring undefeated. Meanwhile, Christine was sat at the bar accepting drinks from several admirers and when we left it was clear to me she’d overdone it. Too drunk to talk or walk properly, she was in no state to return to the house where she was employed. She threw up on the drive back to LA and when we got back to my apartment I helped her up the stairs, laid her down on my bed, took off her shoes and coat, threw a rug over her and went off to sleep on the couch.
Christine woke up quite early the following morning with a roaring hangover and while she showered I cleaned off her clothes as best I could. Then I drove her to where she lived. These courtly attentions on my part endeared me to her and sealed her loyalty, at least for the time being, and that night she returned to Phil’s apartment and cooked me a roast chicken dinner, after which she expressed a wish to be reacquainted with the bed, this time with me alongside her.
Because she was English, easy to talk to and as pretty as a picture, Christine was the first girl I’d met in LA to whom I was minded to remain faithful, but no sooner had the affair began than the situation was complicated by the totally unexpected arrival in Los Angeles of a girl from London with whom I’d stepped out earlier that year, name of Sarah*. She worked in the press office of a record company, Atlantic I think, and used to buy me expensive meals in Mayfair on her company credit card, and she assumed I’d welcome her into my arms in LA, which might have been the case were it not for Christine. I didn’t have the heart to show Sarah the door but after one night I persuaded her that staying with me on anything other than a (very) temporary basis was unfeasible, no easy task, and she left LA forthwith, disillusioned by my capriciousness.
It didn’t take me long to realise that the role of Melody Maker’s man in America simply wasn’t conducive to steady relationships. Casual was the name of the game in this job, and I was probably fortunate that many American girls felt the same way, especially those in some way connected to the music industry.
* Although they share the same first initial, I have changed the names of these three girls to protect their modesty, but all other details are correct as far as I can recollect.