January-February 2020

Art and Barry's Magnificent Adventure

By Art Podell

Muholland DrDear Reader,

By the time this column reaches you, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years and all the warm fuzzy tales, poems, songs, and feelings that accompany the holiday season will be behind us. We will be facing the treacherous slope of a new year and this columnist will have been deprived of having contributed to your holiday basket of sappy and fuzzy lore since our previous edition was released at the beginning of November, far too early for the holiday buffet mentioned above. Not to be denied my share of seasonal goop, I humbly offer this tale of adventure and reckless youthful charm that is designed to touch music history yet leave the reader with a warm smile. I promise that going forward, I will adhere to seasonal parameters.

Art and Barry's Magnificent Adventure

“Hey McGuire, I wonder if your car…if we stay to the left of that batch of cactus over there, and the gully to the right of it, then we could circle around that big boulder next to the bush, we might be able to make it to the back yard of that house and out the driveway to the street..."

"Whaddyathink?”

We were standing at the edge of a steep decline that dropped off a small scenic viewing spot on Sunset Plaza Drive at the very top of Laurel Canyon. The terrain dropped off at roughly forty-five degrees, down a scrub dotted, rutted and rock-strewn hill to a housing project that was under construction about two hundred yards away.

“Hmm... y’know I think we could… yeah, I bet we could. Hey, what street do you think that is?”

“Wanna find out?”

art 2No answer was necessary. Cautiously waiting for the last of the traffic to disappear around the curve up ahead, and making sure that another car wasn’t coming, we jumped over the low door panels of Barry’s 1955 MG TF like two bank robbers making a getaway. Barry fired up the engine and we drove off the edge of the cliff in a cloud of dust.

Plainly put, Barry McGuire and I were playmates. Friendships take many forms and yield many pleasures, but none are so pure nor yield such pleasures as the pleasures enjoyed by two friends spending their time in fancy for no other reason than fancy itself. True, Barry and I played music together, performed in concerts together, and worked hard together. But when we played together, life was the sweetest.

We became friends in the Los Angeles folk music scene the year before, and now we both were members of The New Christy Minstrels, living in L.A. while we were regulars on the Andy Williams Show. When we weren’t working, it was fun time – endless talk about cars, women, inventions, you name it. We’d fantasize about cars we wanted, talking endlessly about them for months, get tired of them one at a time, then we’d switch to another. It went like this until we had driven every car imaginable - in our imaginations. Mind you, this was before either of us had ever thought about smoking pot. The dark clouds of the protest movement and the British invasion were nowhere on the bright Southern California horizon, and the only stimulants you got were from your doctor with a prescription. Folk music was bursting through the cracks in the concrete up and down the West Hollywood streets. The Troubadour and The Ash Grove were the Meccas for any and all itinerant folksingers who passed through town.

new christy minstrels

With our newly found income from the Minstrels, Barry had bought the MG and had painstakingly painted it himself. It was his pride and joy.

“Whooo-eee, son of a gun… we made it! Now let’s see where this street goes”

The driveway of the partially completed house led to an unmarked street, then to another, and we were suddenly careening down Doheny Drive above Sunset Boulevard, dust billowing behind us, directly toward The Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard, squealing hysterically all the way. Lewis and Clark could not have been more exhilarated when they first realized they had reached the Pacific Ocean.

From that moment, it became our secret route to The Troubadour, which we visited regularly on Monday Hootenanny nights, and nights when our friends were performing there, which was often.

At the time, I was living in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills just below Mulholland Drive. I shared a house on Wonderland Avenue with Jim McGuinn (later changed to Roger), but Jim had moved on to performing with Bobby Darin, and McGuire often slept in the empty bedroom. It was a two-minute drive from our Wonderland Avenue house to the top of Laurel Canyon where it met Sunset Plaza Drive.

We knew that no one worked on the half-built project on weekends, or after five o’clock weekdays, and those were the times we used our shortcut. At first, we waited for there to be no cars behind us before we drove off what from the road looked like a sheer precipice. The more we did it, the braver we became.

After a while, with devilish purpose, we would drive Mulholland at night full speed and drive straight off the cliff instead of making the curve, to the horror of motorists behind us who would screech into the parking area and rush to the edge expecting to count the bodies at the bottom of the cliff. Instead, a pair of tail lights bumping along in the dark, and faint shouts of laughter floating through the dust cloud that surrounded it. Had cell phones been invented then, we never could have gotten away with it, but they hadn’t.

On several occasions, someone would be visiting the house, and the conversation invariably went like this.

“Meet you at The Troubadour” – they would say.

“Race you there” – we would answer.

“In that old British putt-putt?” – they would say.

“Why not?” - we would say.

We’d all jump into our cars like fighter pilots scrambling for a mission and with shouts of glee we’d swing a screaming U-turn and head in the opposite direction up to our spot to their total disbelief and distraction.

When they pulled up to The Troubadour, Barry and I would be leaning on the hood of the orange MG smoking cigarettes and laughing at their bewildered faces. Better yet, sometimes we’d be sitting in the bar with half-finished beers. We’d look up quizzically:

“What took you so long?”

Those were days lived in the timeless pleasure of friendship and the excitement of newness. Sure, we had other adventures worth the telling, perhaps in another chapter. Time and events move us along the paths of living and we forget. But I must admit, sometimes at night when I drive a curvy mountain road in my goings and comings, my headlights flash on a blind curve, and suddenly I’m in a 1955 MG TF on a warm summer night, my friend in the seat next to me, and we’re headed for the cliff. I chuckle out loud every time.

Don’t worry mom, if you’re up there listening, I make the turn.

Art Podell was one half of the iconic Greenwich Village duo Art and Paul before moving to L.A. in 1961. An original member of the New Christy Minstrels, Art wrote songs for many of the artists of the day. He continues to perform and write and he rotates as a host of KPFK’s Roots Music and Beyond.

  

All Columns by Art Podell