Janis and Preston
So when I'm in my little helicopter hovering just above the 25th floor of my dentists mid-town office, I think of Preston and I think of Janis...
Janis Joplin never knew my friend Preston Laris. But in my brain their vibrations are as entwined as strands of DNA. I don't often feel the connection. Only when I go to the dentist. Unfortunately, or fortunately, that's about four times a year, three deep cleanings and one surprise tooth implosion or vaporization. If I did't live for candy, any and every type of candy, when I was a kid, and if there'd been fluoridated water back in the Fifties and Sixties, I might not have the annual heart-stopping moments of discovering a tooth swimming around my mouth when it shouldn't be.
But the only way I will sit in the dentist's chair is if I get the Nitrous. I tell the hygienist, even if he or she knows me, to turn it up all the way and take the oxygen down. "I went to Woodstock," I might say, as if the twenty-something has any idea of the joke I'm trying to make. I haven't gotten high in over thirty-five years, so the damn gas is the only chance I get to momentarily escape this wicked world and float a bit above my daily worries and dental bringdowns and zonk out to Hendrix or the Airplane or the Dead, my personal go-to stoner music. Think what you will. If it wasn't for the gas, I'd be a walking jack-o-lantern and that would be rather shocking for the toddlers that I make music with every day.
So there I am, up there, not exactly where I'd like to be, but off the ground at least and my mind instantly slips back to around 1968. I loved Janis. Loved as in the way a fifteen-year-old wants to lick the sweat off her beefy body and inhale her animal odor and do what I never really did when I was that age. Or had any earthly idea how to do. What I may have done with an older girl who called herself Mary Christmas before she laughingly enquired one night in her musty East Village walkup if I wanted the clap. I'm not sure if I answered her. I didn't.
No matter. Janis's voice from the instant I heard it on the Mainstream album, before the big success of "Cheap Thrills," turned me on. You dig? Now, the only previous time I remember my body physically, electrically reacting to music that way, not so much "down there" as "in here," in my guts, was the first time I heard the Beatles' "Twist and Shout" single. Something in Lennon's lacerated voice lit a fire in me and, frankly, scared the shit out of me. This was a guy. Why was I feeling this unnamable sensation in my entire eleven-year-old body? I guess I shrugged it off and assured myself that I didn't like boys the way I was starting to like girls, because I listened to it again and again and again and again, as I did with every 45 I purchased. Who didn't? Then I'd turn it over and listen to the b-side, again and again and again and again. If it was good. As most b-sides turned out to be, with rare exceptions. So Janis's voice, husky and somewhat sweet with that Texan twang, immediately got my motor running. And I thought she was hotter than a pistol in that kind of rough-girl way that teen boys lose sleep over. I appreciated all different sorts of females, just about all of them probably at that age. But as the song says, she lit my fire.
Preston didn't really share my enthusiasm for Janis and Big Brother, but we were pals and respected each other's obsessions, whatever it tok us to get through the mess that was school and the tumult of teenhood. We shared other bands and things and each other's company. That was more than enough.
So when I'm in my little helicopter hovering just above the 25th floor of my dentists mid-town office, I think of Preston and I think of Janis, and those years when we only lived for each day, perhaps not in the most forward-thinking way, but in the only way we could. It's amazing to me that I'm always transported back to that particular time, and Preston and Janis dance in my brain cells like two Fillmore-bobbing hippies, though I'm sure I never saw Preston dance one step and he never aspired to be a hippie. He was too much of a Preston, with his big wirey hair and strong opinions and curiosity and intelligence to want to be one of any crowd. And David, or Zappa as he was called, or Trip as he was called before that, the most charismatic person I have ever known, who, like Preston recently, died in his sleep last year alone in a tiny apartment leaving behind such faded great promise and a scattering of friends whose hearts he never left, and summer afternoons in Washington Square Park, before it devolved into a no-man's-land and...Until the doctor pats me on the shoulder and says we're all done. Hello world. You can't take that away from me.