Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Jukebox of Eternity

Out of respect, and because China is China – I carry on with my daily life, cleaning the debris out of my old apartment, fiddling with my syllabus, buying cheap movies, endlessly struggling with communication; I cannot blog at the moment. Sometimes, while you are lost in your day to day struggles, an event - personally cataclysmic - stops you in your tracks. The tragic (yet life affirming) death this last weekend of Tod Lilburn is such an event. I add life affirming because he most certainly lived life to the fullest. His premature death because of a helicopter malfunction is a testament to that.

Tod Lilburn was the ultimate mixer – and welcome wagon. He was the most up person I think I have ever met. He was always smiling, always laughing and he enjoyed a good ribbing. He was David Melton’s childhood friend. Sadly, David was in a car accident which took his much too young life almost twenty years ago.

Whenever we went out to eat, Tod would always order the deluxe. He was well versed in downhome food culture before I knew there was such a thing. If there was chicken fried steak on the menu he ordered it. If you had the option to add chili and cheese on the burger, he took it. He loved food. Having a meal with him was always a giddy endeavor. When he ate, he enjoyed every last bite. He was the same about life. He enjoyed every bit of life.

In the summer of 1982, he and Bill B. and I took a road trip in Tod’s questionable decade old B210 Datsun to California. Before the trip, Tod took the B210 to a mechanic to get a tune-up and check-up. The mechanic did not give the car a favorable prognosis. We went anyway. The car made it across the desert and through the mountains with no problems. The mechanic did not know the stamina of a loved and abused Datsun. Nor did he know the power of three boys in their late teens ready for the adventure of their lives.

Now the details of the trip have faded into that place of mythology and folklore. We drove at night across the desert listening to T.Rex, Joy Division, and Motorhead. The person in the back seat got the best listening experience because the speakers were mounted in the back. I assume the speakers were Jensen. There was no air conditioning so we kept the windows rolled down.

We stayed with a friend of a friend’s sister’s in a tiny apartment which already had more than a full house. We walked around Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Westwood so much that Tod got blisters on his feet which made him complain which of course made the sadist in me laugh which made him complain more which made me laugh harder which finally made him start laughing. He always always laughed. I do not think ten or twenty minutes went by without him laughing.

In San Diego, we stayed with my aunt and uncle in their house on the hill. We went to see Fear at an in-store at Off the Record and we went to see them that night at a packed VFW. None of us were drinkers really. We were powered by adrenaline and youth. And, of course, our mutual love of music.
On an unseasonably chilly day, we went to Black’s Beach, a nude beach in San Diego. Whether this was liberating, I do not remember. Due to the weather, there was not much in the way of frolicking. The only other bather on the beach was an otter. Or, maybe the otter was in a beach story I read by Fitzgerald or Forrester.

The highlight of the trip was an all night party at Magic Mountain which was supposedly thrown for the local high school graduates in the area, but was actually just a way for Magic Mountain to re-open after close and make more profits for the day. New wave girls struck up conversations about Sparks and 20/20. I was donning buttons in support of both bands. We rode a few rides with the girls and then went our separate ways.

By the time we got to San Francisco, I was starting to get ill. There was the ultimate punk show that could not be missed which I believe was the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag. While Bill and Tod went to the show, I stayed in the car in the parking garage, not that I blame them one bit for leaving me. At the time, I would have done the same without giving it another thought.

Nevertheless, while I was incapacitated so to speak, I was afraid to leave the car because there was a parking attendant in the garage and I was afraid he would kick me out so I was very incognito. When you have to piss and hack loads of phlegm, it is hard to be incognito. Needless to say, in my less than stealth way, I accidentally (and I do want to emphasize accidentally) peed on Tod’s pillow –he was the only one who thought to pack a pillow - and perhaps I hacked a bit on it too. When they came back from the show, of course, I did not tell him. I was able to clean it to some extent. “That must be some water I spilled.”

Eventually, I told him and I heard about the event for years to come afterward. Of course, I would counter with the time he tried to kill me. We were both working at the Phillips 66 employee cafeteria. He worked from 4 pm to 7:20 pm. I worked from 10:30 to 7:30 pm. When I got to work, the parking lot was full so I had to park in the nosebleed section. By the time he got to work, many of the morning shift workers had left, so he got a good spot.

We walked through a tunnel under the train tracks to get to the lot. At the lot, I asked him to take me to my car. He said “Sure, hop on the hood.” What I was thinking, I do not know because I did, I hopped on the hood. Incidentally, this was soon after we met. I knew him through David. I was a few years older and probably not that nice - in a few years older sort of way.

As soon as I hopped on the hood, I swear he floored it. Granted it was a somewhat stalling Datsun B210 but as we careened across the parking lot, I thought for sure we were going about 80. In retrospect, he was probably pushing 30.

Somewhere in the vicinity of my car, he does some sort of quick turn because he was acting as if he was going to hit my car. I go flying off the hood and land on my back and elbows which I still have small scars on my elbows where the concrete ripped the skin off. When I picked myself up off of the pavement, I was furious – in that same few years older sort of way. He could not understand why I jumped. “I didn’t jump,” I screamed. “I was thrown off.” Now, over 25 years later, I do not blame him in the least. What kind of fool would hop on the hood of someone’s car and take a ride?

That was probably my first real memory of Tod. Fortunately, I have much better memories. As I said, Tod was the ultimate mixer. Before I lived in Norman, each time I went to visit, he had a new group of people to introduce to me. He introduced me to Terry Slade – the doctor of music. Terry is one of the smartest people I have ever known. He introduced me to the beautiful gregarious Lori Vincent. When she went to model in Paris, all of us thought it was the coolest thing ever. She was one of us and she modeled for the same agency as Isabella Rossellini. And of course, he introduced us all to Meridith -Meridith who was probably the Dorothy Parker of our group. Or maybe he introduced them to us. We were all from other groups but Tod was the catalyst that brought us together.

Before I was a student at the University of Oklahoma, Tod lived with these young upstarts that called themselves Defenestration, me being one of the young upstarts. We all shared the top of a two story house that had been converted to a rooming house – three rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. Tod had one of the rooms since he was the only one in school. Clark Walker drifted from room to room in a sleeping bag. He never could be tied down to something as mundane as a bass. He had Kerouac and Burroughs in his veins. He would someday become a writer. I slept on a army cot (which had been liberated from South Base) in the bandroom. Todd Walker had a couch and Paige had a bed; they shared the third room. We each paid 80 bucks a month, bills paid.

At this point, I needed a job so Paige and I went out applying together one day. The job we got, which Paige quit soon after, was the unprecedented distinction of being Pizza Shuttle’s first pizza delivery guys when it was in the strip mall where Christie’s Toy Box is now. This lasted from September to November. The band played one show. We argued all of the time. I moved back to Bartlesville.

At this point, I checked out, I started a new life; I enrolled in a junior college in Kansas and disappeared for a year. During this time, the seed to have a band – Defenestration - grew. Back then we had nothing but landline phones (calls were expensive) and snail mail. Occasionally, during the next year, I would visit Norman. Each time I visited, Todd Walker would get me excited about the band. At a pivotal moment, Todd W. found a 5 bedroom house for rent. This house had a basement where we could practice. This sealed the deal; I moved back to Norman and continued with my degree.

Tod Lilburn was the welcome wagon. The night I arrived, after doing my stint at the junior college in Kansas, Tod took me everywhere to a ton of parties. He introduced me to a ton of people. He knew everyone. All of the girls loved him. All of the guys loved him. He was very popular.

That night, he introduced me to tequila slammers. I had never seen or tasted anything like it. I loved the slamming of the glass on to the counter to make it fizz. For the first time, I thought I was in love, in love with tequila. In Kansas, my preferred drink was Mellow Corn, a very disagreeable whiskey. This tequila drink went down smooth, nice. I kept drinking them. By now, we were stationed at one party. I was probably babbling about Patti Smith, Cheap Trick or the Psychedelic Furs.

Needless to say, I have never been as sick as I was the next day. I threw up until 7 or 8 the next evening. At one point, Paige (Defenestration’s original drummer) who was living in the 5 bedroom told me to shut up I was getting on his nerves. In retaliation, I puked more bile. Abruptly, my love affair with tequila slammers was over before it began..

Tod was the curator, to some extent; of college party culture in Norman for a few years starting in 1984 (some might say 1983). There was nothing cooler than walking into a party with Tod and a gang of 7 or 8 other friends who had been introduced to each other by Tod and seeing someone from a French class or an astronomy class. Usually, we would leave as soon as we arrived. We would then trek to the next party.

Later that spring, Tod had another friend Todd (Felker) who was helping another friend do a student film. The name of the film was to be called ‘Night of the Living Drag Queens.’ The premise of the film was a seductress, our friend Gretchen, brought boys back to her room and seduced them and that turned them into drag queens. This was done in Gretchen’s mess of a room that had cooked chicken parts hanging from the lights. Volunteer drag queens were needed. Tod, Todd and I (I was once a Todd) said why not.

We showed up on site which by coincidence was the place where Defenestration had lived during my pizza delivery stint. All of us started putting on the make-up that the young filmmaker or Gretchen provided (I cannot remember which). We were all made up and then this cackling and clunking of feet and tripping of feet progresses up the stairs.

An actual real live drag queen arrived. Later I would learn that drag queen’s name – Scott Belson. Said drag queen was tripping on acid. This drag queen collided into the room in a flurry of clumsiness and hallucinations. She gave us the once over. She looked at Tod L and exclaimed “Helen, we have got to do something about the dress.” She looked at Todd Felker and exclaimed “Josephine, who did your eyes?” She looked at me and just shook her head no and said “Sister Jesus.” She then got busy remaking all of us for our cinematic debut. During the filming of this film school master stroke, the real drag queen would raise her head and ask if we saw various flying objects flittering across the room.

After we finished filming, I was dropped back at the house. My mom was staying with me that weekend. Of course, I had traces of make-up on when I came into the house. I told her I had been helping with a film. She was not surprised; in Kansas I had actually starred in a few plays. She thought it was nice I think were her words more or less.

My mom and Tod would occasionally run into each other at thrift stores in Bartlesville. She adored him. Actually she adored all of my friends. However, when she would see him at the thrift stores she would check out what he was purchasing, making sure it was not something I might want. She loved to tease him. He loved being teased by my mom.

Those days have slipped into a murky pond, a pond which each day seems to get farther away. Sometimes, I wonder if they happened at all or if they are some sort of experimental implants.

I saw Tod Lilburn two or three years ago. I was in Norman. I may have been back living in Oklahoma City at the time. He came into the Midway where I would loiter around the metaphorical pickle barrel. He had tracked down Paige. They both came in together. We talked for a few minutes, sadly, not long. Sadly, I did not tell him how important he was to me, to my social skills development and all of that. I did not tell him how much I now appreciate his welcome wagon skills, his mixer skills. Obviously, I thought I would see him again. Obviously, I thought in the future, I would come visit him and Corinne(his wife) and their son David in San Diego.

As I am walking to the bus, the bus to take me to Songjiang to clean the last of the debris from my old apartment, I get angry. I get really fucking angry. I have not been this angry in a long time. I want to hurt someone. I want to scream. I want to run through the street shouting and punching. All I can mutter is: ‘Wo ting bu dong.’ ‘I do not understand.’

This is not what I pictured. This is not how it is supposed to be. He has a wife, a kid. He loved life. He seemed to love life everyday that I was around him. He is not supposed to be taken. He is one of the ones who should grow old, have grandchildren, talk about the skirts he used to chase with those grandchildren. Wherever you are Tod, we love you.

However, I do have this vision, this crazy vision, part Ballard, part Dickens. I have to keep this vision in my head to pacify myself. There is this crazy hereafter; a small town with the best thrift stores, flea markets ever and the best diners, and places to see bands. The flea markets are unimaginable they are so big. The thrift stores and diners are the sort of secret finds you would find in Memphis, Dayton, or Topeka.

Tod has just arrived. He walks in the door of the best thrift store. David, my mom and Russ (another dearly departed friend) are there to welcome him. It is a perpetual sunny Saturday. They go to the town diner filled with laughter; music is playing on the jukebox of eternity; the music is from the past, present and future. During lunch, they talk about everything, they talk about us. They cannot wait to see us. Tod meets the whole town. The town though it seems small stretches to infinity. This small infinite town is inhabited by the greatest artists and minds through the ages from Plato and Socrates to Shakespeare and Da Vinci to Mother Teresa, Jackson Pollock and John F. Kennedy. Immediately, they love him. He is home.

Tod – Wherever you are, I am writing this for you and you alone buddy. By now I know you must have hit 40. But, in my book, you will always be 21. I love you and I know without a doubt, when I get to where you are; you will introduce me to a whole new cast of characters. We miss you. You belong here with us.

The story from the Daily Oregonian:
From the Daily Oregonian

3 die in helicopter crash off coast

Three members of a San Diego-based team retracing the Lewis and Clark expedition by air died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning off the Oregon coast near Astoria.

Coast Guard rescuers found the debris field left by the helicopter soon after receiving an 8:20 a.m. call that the chopper was missing and later recovered the bodies of two men and one woman, said Coast Guard Lt. Brooks Crawford.

Scientists and aviators with the Flight of Discovery traced the westward journey of the famed explorers in 2004 and 2005 and planned to leave Monday to follow the trail east in several private aircraft, according to the group’s Web Site. The volunteer group of about 40 said it was dedicated to furthering the scientific history of the expedition and to uncovering environmental changes in the 200 years since Lewis and Clark crossed the continent.

On Sunday, the crew was scheduled to film elite Army runners on the Discovery Trail on the Washington side of the Columbia River and then to follow them on the trail from Fort Clatsop to the sea on the Oregon side, according to Sally Freeman, a Fort Clatsop park ranger. She said it was her understanding both events were canceled because of the crash.

Crawford said two helicopters from the team were flying together off the coast in early-morning fog when one, a Robinson R44, lost contact with the crew of the other helicopter. The second helicopter landed in Astoria and called the Coast Guard, which responded with an H-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Astoria and a 47-foot motor life boat from the Cape Disappointment Coast Guard station.

Crawford said the names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of next of kin. He said they were all from Southern California.


Blogger billb said...

Whew! Your piece had me crying and laughing. I am going to cut and paste the text and save it.

You summed up Tod perfectly. Man, you remember more of the CA trip than I do! The drag queens story is still too vivid - (David Dickerson-filmmaker?) The basement parties were THE scene w/ Tod the legendary host.

As the funeral is scheduled for Friday, you may want to write something to Todd Walker to give to the Lilburn family. Your impressive words have inspired me to pen my feelings to give to them. We were darn lucky to live in the times we lived, despite Reagan's continuous knocking on nuclear's door, and Tod kept things fresh and exciting.

I have no doubt that your closing vision will ring true.

9:15 AM  
Blogger sponson said...

Thank you.

11:42 AM  

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