Friday, January 3, 2014

Janis, Peggy and the Garden of Glass



Ever since we moved into our house here in Coon Hollow overlooking the mighty Pacific, I have been hearing things. Besides the constant crash and flow of the surf on Stinson Beach, the foghorns in the summer, the mysterious ghost moan coming from Bolinas and my very vocal pup Mister Boo, I've been hearing faint strains of Big Brother and The Holding Company. (In sixth grade I didn't quite get the double entendre of a "Holding Company", which had nothing to do with corporate subsidiaries in the Haight of 1966.) I'll find myself humming "looks like everybody in the whole wide world/is down on me" or "take it/take another little piece of my heart now baby", or, in particularly desperate states, just the "whoa whoa whoa" of Ball and Chain over and over.
I wore the grooves out on those first two albums, the only two legit Big Brother records, and I think of them as Janis’s truly inspired and beyond-compare efforts, despite everything that came later especially the travesty of Me and Bobby McGee and Mercedes Benz. That’s not to say that her singing wasn’t still beyond compare, but you can start to hear the fame and the money and the dope, especially the dope, in those later recordings when at first it was just this raw Texas orphan nerve snapping and sparking like a severed high voltage wire. There wasn’t anything like Janis and there hasn’t been since, and those that tried were only successful in mimicking the death by syringe scene and not much else.
We had heard rumors after we bought Coon Hollow that Janis had hung around the party cottage that originally stood on our property, but it wasn't until this New Years Eve while having rather comedic and borderline pathetic dinner at the Parkside Cafe that a guitar player named Milty suggested that we google Peggy Caserta. After trudging back up the hill to our Coon Hollow residence we logged on to learn that hippie boutique owner and millionaire Peggy Caserta and Janis Joplin were lovers right here at the original Coon Hollow cottage, right up to Janis's death by overdose in Hollywood.
In 1973, Peggy Caserta's book about her relationship with Janis: "Going Down With Janis", was published, but has since gone out of print. Too bad. There's nothing like a little gay junky depravity. But there's also something rather run of the mill and predictable about the fallen angels of the Summer of Love: the swirling vortex of junk, speed, psychedelics and every other form of dope, initially tuning in, turning on, and completely dropping out and off the face of the planet. The stories are all the same: archetypal, once married to H, you're married for life until death doth part you and corporeal world. In other word’s I’m not about to go drop $100 to get Peggy Caserta’s out of print book just to read about another H bomb, even if it is about a bixsexual rock star and her rather comely lesbian lover. As Peggy said in an interview with the documentary TV show, BIO, in 2009: 

It worked for what it was. We had a lot of fun. We made a lot of love. It wasn’t a relationship that people think of or look at today as a ‘lesbian relationship.’ It was not like that at all. We were compatible and young and wild and interested in each other.”
Peggy Caserta

What’s curious about Coon Hollow and the inhabitants that preceded the razing of the falling down cottage in 1983 and the building of the spacious, wide open, high-ceilinged two story building we’ve called home since fall 2012 is...the glass. Shortly after we moved in around September of 2012 my son Jack was playing with Mr. Boo on a gopher
ridden patch of the former lawn - just clumps of fescue that the gophers would methodically pull under their mounds, leaving fewer and fewer clumps - when he came back up to the top story where the living room is and said "we can't play with Boo down there. It's nothing but broken glass." He was right. An area about thirty by fifty feet was strewn with shards of glass: brown, green, mostly clear, along with broken ceramics or perhaps the household plates, bowls, cups and so forth, a few pieces of clay pots and some weird ribbed, white siding or some other composite. The pieces range in size from almost full-sized bottles (only one has been found intact) to big 4" x 6" pieces to tiny shards that glimmer in the noon sun.

The earth is not much more than dirty rocks alongside a spring fed creek. A run over the dirt with a rake churns up more and more rocks - mostly golf-ball sized but some big daddies - and more glass the deeper we dig. It's hard to imagine what the Buckleys, the family that built the current house, did once they cleared it of ivy, blackberries both regular and pricker-less/fruitless (aka The Luther Burbank Blackberry), scotch broom and other brambles. We've found some of the green netting that sod is grown in, so it's likely that they Buckley's simply covered up the rocks and glass with several yards of topsoil and a big sod lawn.

The following owners, who moved in around 1994, let the place completely go to seed, so by the time we got here the glass - Janis's and Peggy's glass - was practically jumping out of the rocks and dirt. It's not difficult to imagine cadres of stoned hippies showing up at Peggy's beach palace, sitting on what they might have imagined was a buried treasure under brambles ten feet high, so high the creek was a tunnel of water running through Coon Hollow, heard but not seen, and pitching their bottles into the brambles, listening to their delightful destruction on the rocks.
Not Peggy's cottage, but similar
It is an image of a big party and a little party, of times intimate between the lovers applying suntan lotion to each other's naked loins on the sun deck, completely hidden from prying eyes in the folds of the hollow,  hearing the surf crash on the beach below just barely masking the squeals of the kids - always the squeals of the kids drifting up the creek as if they were right in our backyard. Regardless of how ramshackle the original cottage was, there must have been some rip-roaring parties here in Coon Hollow.
I can see the jittery, writhing, multi-colored 20-something hippies in their beads and stovepipe hats gobbling down and shooting up every drug imaginable, back when all the shit was pure as the driven snow: China White, Peruvian Flake, Thai Stick, Owsley Acid, Crystal Meth, orange barrels of Mescaline and Psilocybin Shrooms oh joy of joys! Boys and girls and girls and girls and boys and boys and girls and the little kitty cat going off in threes or fours to the back rooms of the cottage, a copy of Naked Lunch in hand, or in the main room on the overstuffed couches and bean bag chairs, watching the sunset while the back door was slammin’ and the kids were rammin’ n’ jammin’ on axes that would now be worth thousands - the ubiquitous Gibson 335s, the Country Gentlemans, Strats, Tellys, Les Pauls, Firebirds and SGs, Vox Continentals, Jaguars, the vibra-wiggling Farfisa, polished wooden Martins and Guilds ringing clear and true against the perpetual crash of breaking glass on the rocks below. 

Falstaff and Lucky, Busch Bavarian, San Miguel and Mickey Big Mouths - that’s what the Redwood high kids were drinkin’ down in front of The Castle on the beach in 1970 while Janis, Peggy, Pig Pen, Bloomfield, Butterfield - the bluesers - were shootin’ up in Coon Hollow, tossing bottles over their shoulders: Seagrams, Royal Gate, Beefeaters, Jack Daniels, Early Times, Hiram Walker and his brothers Johnny the Black and Johnny the Red, Jose Cuervo and the sweet syrupy nastiness that Janice was famous for drinking: Southern Comfort. I remember seeing Janis on stage with the Dead at Pepperland, playing Love Light for hours while she goosed Pig Pen and fondled Jerry with one hand and wielded her ever-present bottle of SC with the other. She sat in with the Dead,  but Janis sang the blues, played the blues, lived the blues, like Pig Pen.  Stick a loud Farfisa and slap a little tremelo on the ES 335 with a shuffle chuggin’ underneath and you got the San Francisco Sound.

All happening right here in Coon Hollow at Peggy’s little love getaway, next door to Cold Comfort, the name given to the house uphill from ours over 50 years ago, perhaps after Cold Comfort Farm, a comic novel by English author Stella Gibbons, published in 1932 and made into a TV series by the BBC.  The phrase? Shakespeare, of course:
King John, 1595:
KING JOHN:
Poison'd,--ill fare--dead, forsook, cast off:
And none of you will bid the winter come
To thrust his icy fingers in my maw,
Nor let my kingdom's rivers take their course
Through my burn'd bosom, nor entreat the north
To make his bleak winds kiss my parched lips
And comfort me with cold. I do not ask you much,
I beg cold comfort; and you are so strait
And so ingrateful, you deny me that.


There is a curious connection between Shakespeare’s morgue vision and the silly, fatalistic parody of Britain’s country gentility in Cold Comfort Farm. Sometimes these hidden yet powerful ironies make the most sense in light of senseless death, like Janis Joplin’s. As Sam Andrew, her bandmate in Big Brother and the Kosmic Blues Band once put it:  
“Janis had a big appetite for everything: living, having a good time, everything,” he
recalls. “If it was food, she wanted the most and best of anybody in the room. If it was a good time, she wanted the most. She had a big appetite for drugs, too, and she had the opportunity and money to indulge it. Maybe if she would have had less of an appetite, it would have turned out better. She didn’t have a lot of caution at times.”

Peggy Caserta is still around, according to the available info, living somewhere in the Inland Empire of SoCal, clean at last after a long career with the needle. But Peggy’s a business person, not a musician. My theory is that the forces that drive the creation of truly inspired music - that yearning for complete catharsis and the accompanying mindless euphoria - are the same forces that can get a blazing heart and head to run for cover, shoot the moon, drink a case of Miller bottles and a fifth of Early Times and heave the bottles off the porch. 

I might have to give it a try myself, except that I've cleaned up all the rocks and am in the process of transforming the garden of glass into a field of grass. And let me tell it's just such non-stop euphoria and catharsis I can't hardly stand it.



Looking for a new and interesting way to hack a little true romance?

32 comments:

  1. Very interesting! Last night was the first time I had ever heard Peggy's name ( i was born in 1980) and I have since been trying to find out everything I can about her. Being a lesbian myself, I find it fascinating to hear about great love stories of the past. Peggy apparently did an interview on 20/20 back in 2000 but i have yet to find it online. I did however, find one she did with Biography but it wasn't very revealing. I have always loved Janis's music and spirit and its a shame she died so young. How lucky are you to have a piece of history...if those walls could talk, eh? Is it possible that I may have a shard or two...Pretty Please?

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    1. Hey Megan - I've been reworking this piece and am reminded of your request. Did I ever send you a shard or two?

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  2. Thanks for the fascinating post. I'm very interested in this story. Such a crazy but creative time.

    I attended MGCCC the same Junior College in Mississippi as Peggy Caserta 40 years apart. But I never knew the connection until the past couple weeks when I'd been reading some Janis Joplin biographies and they mentioned Caserta and Perkinston (my campus was the satellite one at Jefferson Davis in Gulfport). Frankly I was stunned. I knew Janis and her story and Caserta and her story but never thought to actually link them to my Junior College!

    Caserta appears quite a few times in the 1959-1960 yearbook: http://www.mgccc.edu/?wpfb_dl=2172

    What a terribly strange trip the '60s were from Stone County to San Francisco to Woodstock to Janis to the addictions. The story of Janis and Peggy is so strange and over the top at times I can't believe a movie has not been done. It would take two daring actresses but I think it could be done but I know it would be shocking.

    Thanks for keeping this history alive as sordid as it was at times.

    Chris

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    1. I meant to add Peggy Caserta is on pages 16, 33, 51, 56 of the 1959-1960 Perkolator Yearbook mentioned above.

      Chris

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    2. You're welcome, Chris. I'm reworking the piece for literary journal submission, and was tickled to see your reply. No doubt there was some crazy shit happening in this neighborhood. Some of the local old-timers recall see Janis's psychedelic Porsche around town quite a bit. As you know, her ashes were scattered in the surf just down the hill from here. Anyway if the revised piece gets published I'll let you know - there's a whole added dimension that you'll get a kick out of. Thanks for visiting Limboland.

      Jeb

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  3. Back in the mid 1990's I met Peggy as she was just getting her new business put together, "The Tropic's", a coffee shop in Long Beach CA, that was across from the "Park Pantry". The Tropic's had an opening in the ceiling "... to let the Sun Shine In ... " that she just had finished. The counter top, where sales were done and the coffee made, was covered in copper, which looked awesome, until one of her employee's 'rocked out' to some music and started to use the Espresso handles as drum sticks, and the copper surface as the drum, then it looked 'distressed'. She was into the "organic' thing, bagels, bananas, muffins and fruit for the smoothies, when I had first met her, I told her it was "all organic". She put together a musical venue for some of the local musicians, which still does well, last I saw (she sold the business some years later) . She did pretty well, at the coffee house, and other side work of some kind, which kept her busy and out of trouble with Mr. H.. She invested in "WebTV", just as the internet was taking off, and was instrumental in getting "Hoodlum Welding Helmets" into the market place, which is still in business. She left her home here in Southern California, to go live with her mother, back in Mississippi, a year just before hurricane "Katrina" did its worst to the gulf coast areas. She still is alive last I heard.

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    1. I would love to meet that lady...!

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    2. Most people who connect with Peggy Caserta on Social Websites or want to meet her do because of Janis Joplin and it's their only interest in her. Jim be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

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  4. Thanks for the reply, Mr. Inventor, sir! I'm reworking the piece for literary journal submission, and was tickled to see that you weighed in. Stay tuned - more to be revealed. Thanks again for checking in to Limboland. Jeb.

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  7. Hello Jeb, It's Peggy Caserta. I'm here to set a few things straight about what did and did NOT happen out at Stinson under my watch. This home was not a party house. It was a retreat, a sanctuary, a much treasured HOME. If I even saw a piece of paper blowing across that canyon I would scramble out and get it. Throw bottles? Never! Anyone who knows me knows this is ludicrous. I don't drink, and Janis would never, EVER be so classless and thoughtless as to throw trash into a pristine setting. No one threw bottles, trash, or anything from that deck while I owned it. They wouldn't dare. There never were any "parties". None of that is "Janis Joplin's Broken Glass". Not a chip, not a shard, nada. Heroin did not come in bottles, and there is no such thing as a "tie off widget" that I've ever heard of. Butterfield was never a guest, nor was Jerry, or Pigpen. Who ever trashed that canyon is no friend or guest of mine. So, there it is Jeb. The truth. Verifiable.

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    1. Hello, Peggy, may I mail you a poem about Janis? My work is in about 60 magazines, I m Jason Lynn (the terrible child), 424 283 0646, riding the torrents of the apocalypse of the
      advertised doldrums and The Idiotae,
      right into the better, beautiful brushfires...

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    2. Just wondering if Brass Ovaries really is Peggy Caserta?

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    3. jim if you do you won't be disappointed.

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    4. Wow...I'm just seeing this for the first time today, Peggy. Thanks a gazillion for your reply, and for setting straight my wild imaginings. I do hope I have thoroughly positioned the story as a fantasy. Perhaps "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" had too profound an effect on my imagination (I was 15 in 1970). I will revise the post to ensure that all readers are able to differentiate between my fantasies and reality. Meanwhile I hope you are healthy and happy. Thanks again for getting in touch.

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  8. I am 58. Never ever have liked Janis Joplin's "Music"! Screaming and yelling and talking...isnt "Music" to me! Her voice is irratating! Of course...just MY perspective!

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    1. Like the pixies, Kurt Cobain, led Zeppelin, Otis redding, the clash, the smashing pumpkins, the pretenders and many other rock'n rollers, she was smooth and abrasive, gritty and sweet. If you never heard the sweet side, you must not have actually listened. Janis was an artist. She could have been a painter or writer, but probably not as well, because the magic of Janis was her delivery. If you want to see magic, watch the performance that made her a star: Ball and Chain at Monteray Pop. Perfect shooting, perfect guitar and bass and drum, and perfect voice

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    2. Nikita
      Initially in my twenties and thirties, I felt that way about Janis's singing. Now I am huge fan at 60. The older I got and the more I listened to her, I could relate. For me, I had to grow a self awareness that I didn't have when I was that young. Now I love her songs and singing style and fashion style. Fearless on stage. That is a beautiful thing in and of its self. Listen again. You may change your mind!

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  9. To hear truth ice-dance lime Peggy's rejoinder is so delectable in this era of auctioned fakery and projective narcissism.
    Awwww but in the end, beauty wins, and Peggy was just overpowering in hers, a statue come true, and I was born just ten, twelve years too late, but I d love to send Peggy a poem I wrote involving Janis, I am Jason Frederick Lynn, of anyone can help me send it, I'd love it(424 283 0646)

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    1. Whoooops, my what all night debauchery does against spelling: sorry, that is LIKE not "lime," tho tasty
      anyway, yep, that hourglass, oh, and
      not "of" but IF, but oh well so long as born female I shall swing anyway wanted to reincarnate the Roman days...

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  10. This is so interesting...I grew up in the 60's of course listening to Janis and all the others from that era...I watched a special a few weeks ago on KPBS about Janis and became completely obsessed. I went to the library and special ordered Peggy's book which I just finished last night...I also watched The Rose
    which for some reason I never saw...it breaks my heart to hear of so many great talented folks getting trapped into drug addiction..I never did any drugs so I really don't get it...I will say growing up in the 60's was something I wouldn't change for anything.....a movement like no other....I would like to know where Peggy is today and how she is doing.....she is blessed to have survived her addiction...I hope she has done some things to make the world a better place now that she if drug free.....Blessings...

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  11. I wish i was there. Herion is a crazy journey. Worst relationship ive ever had. Everythings perfect. Than it all goes down hill

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  12. I wish i was there. Herion is a crazy journey. Worst relationship ive ever had. Everythings perfect. Than it all goes down hill

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  13. Holy mud! What have I stepped in!?! All of this is so interesting! Particularly the response to Mr. Harrison by Brass Ovaries. Clearly someone who would like to protect the dignity of someone the world probably saw as having none. That is what you do when you know someone like no one else does. That is what love and decency call you to do.

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    1. Andy, I wondered too if Brass Ovaries is really Peggy Caserta? Love your comment. We who don't know her can be influenced by those who did know her until we ourselves experience her and make our own mind up about her.

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  14. I had adored Peggy Caserta since my childhood, around maybe 10/11/12, can't remember, but was very young. I finally got the chance to connect with Peggy via email and although it didn't work out in the way I'd hoped I can honestly say she is a truly lovely lady. It's just all too sad Janis lost her life to heroin and Peggy the best years of her life.

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    1. Forgot to add the last I knew of Peggy Caserta is she was writing a book called Sliding Into Home and it had generated a lot of interest. I don't know if Peggy is still writing the book, I hope so. It would be nice to hear Peggy's story in her very own words and not have to read someone else's interpretation of it which is never flattering. It's unfortunate when writing a book about someone else the author doesn't take into account reprisal and consequence and how many people it affects.

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  15. To hell with Peggy Caserta. I know Bill Brasky. He wears a live rattlesnake as a condom.

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Let's get the conversation started, people!