East Meets West and Makes Wonderful Music
By Christie Seeley
It is funny how a particular smell, a piece of music, a random photograph can bring the past to life for you. For me, memories appear suddenly like that and bring back people I knew and things I experienced years ago as if it were yesterday. And then, I remember the woman I was back then and can scarcely recognize her.
For example, the mention of a name I hadn't heard for years brought images of sitting on exotic tapestry-covered pillows on the living room floor at the Berkeley home of friends from Oregon in the mid-'60s. My host's family had been owners of a successful grocery chain before a fatal accident left him a wealthy heir with no need to labor or study further. Their home, an arts and crafts studio that I later learned was built by Bernard Maybeck, in the woodsy Berkeley hills, rafters stuffed with expensive weed and the kitchen always plentifully stocked with food was the place of many a gathering. My friend's wife enjoyed tie-dyeing and drove a new Lotus Elite sports car. She dressed in the fashionable attire of the period with that goodwill counter flavor but monied appeal. Plus, she was married to one of the funniest guys I knew.
A Ravi Shankar record was playing on a modern sound system when at the doorway as if swept in by the wind appeared an impressively large man. He, wrapped in a long, elaborate purple cape, his untended beard and hair flowing, recounted tales of wrestling with grizzly bears in Alaska. Those were memorable days!
My husband and I lived on a shoestring, but we were happy. Our possessions were few: a carved Mexican bench we purchased at the newly introduced Cost Plus Market, a small, used coffee table from a flea market decorated with colorful Venetian glass tiles but never quite finished, a mattress on the floor that functioned as our bed, and a vintage drop leaf kitchen table and chairs gifted us by my parents at our wedding the year before.
As far as we were concerned, life was good and we wanted for nothing. We owned an oldish, grey Citroen 2CV that took us where we wanted to go "in style." We imagined ourselves the protagonists of the artsy French films we devoured with our friends at scruffy little theaters in questionable neighborhoods. We then spent hours discussing Truffaut, Resnais and Godard over coffee in little bohemian-style cafes.
In those earlier days, I also recall spending a birthday weekend in a little Seaside, Oregon cottage owned by the family of another friend from University. A law school graduate, our buddy spent time working in Mississippi at the beginning of the civil rights movement. He and his wife, an amazing woman from an unconventional but very well-educated San Francisco family he had met while studying at the renowned and transformative Reed College, lived in Portland. My husband and I drove up from Eugene, where we lived, joining them. At that time, everyone was talking about the Beatles. As our little circle of friends was more into Ravi Shankar than pop music, we were somewhat uninterested in their arrival. Still, we decided to listen to their debut on the radio to see what the fuss was about that evening. We surprised ourselves by being impressed. We went to bed early and woke to a strange sight. As we left the house to find coffee, we saw cars floating in the river and debris all over the streets. When we attempted to go down to the beach, the police stopped us. There had been a massive tidal wave! Well, we thought, those Beatles did create a stir!
The following day, our friends parked their car to walk to the beach and had all their Ravi Shankar records stolen!
Ravi Shankar and George Harrison of the Beatles! Who was to know how these two musicians would influence the music scene and the culture of the next 30-40 years!