The Long Strange Golden Road by Courtenay Pollock - Starting Out - The Prequel
The band had left for the ‘Europe 72’ tour and I had planned to meet up with them later in the tour.
I flew to London to visit family that I I hadn’t seen since I left England in 1968. I had left my job in London working as a Quantity Surveyor and gone to New York City to ‘seek my fortune’.
In the four year interim since I had last seen my Mother, Father, Brother, Sister and six half brothers and sisters, plus twenty odd cousins I had gone through many experiences and adventures and transformation.
I had neglected to cut my hair since leaving London and starting a Boutique / Head shop in Greenwich Village. New York City. I had left my three piece suits behind and was wearing tight bell bottom pants and bright and fancy dress shirts.
I met a beautiful and exotic gal who was a Fire Eater and exotic dancer. Samantha walked into my store one day where I was actually living and ended up staying over with me. She moved in with me with her 18 month old child Jason. Turns out she was with Miles Davis (the legend even back then) and had run away from him with their child. She had to meet up with him to discuss child support etc. Samantha wouldn’t meet with him on her own so I accompanied her to the appointed coffee shop that Miles had emptied out and posted two really big brothers outside the entrance to maintain privacy.
Miles really didn’t like ‘Whitey’ and he particularly didn’t like that Samantha had left him and moved in with this ‘rather proper’ and cultured Englishman. He avoided looking at me or acknowledging my presence. It’s a wonder he didn’t have me disappeared.
I eventually went on tour with Samantha who was the ‘Top Billing’ Star of the burlesque scene by then. She was
22 years old and a fabulous beauty and entertainer.
It was the pioneering days of breast implants and most of the young gals in that ’Show Business’ had been courageous enough to have their breasts enhanced. Poor things, they probably had perfectly appropriate and delightful breasts that suited their body types. Well, I would stay backstage with little Jason and all the performers awaiting their moment in the spotlight. Most of the girls would approach me to have me assess their breast jobs for them. Tough job but hey! Most of the great jobs in those early days where crude and some were pretty bad. All had heavy scars and some the wrong shape. I never understood why bigger is thought of as better.
Those silly young girls were so eager to be more attractive.
Of course when Samantha came offstage they would all stop trying to seduce me and keep their distance from the ‘Headliner, Star of the Show’. Not only was Samantha a stunning looking person she was also really tall and in great condition so no gal was gonna mess with her.
Over the course of the summer of ’69’ I discovered tie dyeing. We sold tie dyed bandanas that I bought from a guy on the street. They were simply colours swirled together with no particular pattern but colourfully attractive. One day Samantha walked in wearing a tie dyed bed sheet. It was simply a sunburst with a hole cut in the centre to pull over your head. I loved it and pretty soon we both were barefoot and wearing just a tie dyed bed sheet robe. That was when I decided I wanted to try my hand at tie dyeing.
My partner Moses Morales and I had opened a second store called ‘Carnaby Street West’ so named from the store on the Kings Road, Chelsea, in London. The new location was on Bleeker Street, just a half a block from our first store ’The Tijuana Shop’ on MacDougal street. Our stores were just a few blocks down from the famous Fillmore West music venue. There were coffee shops on three of the four corners at MacDougal and Bleeker streets and sometimes Bob Dylan would play at one of the coffee shops on the street.
I had been creating fashion design for hipsters at ’Carnaby Street West’, named after the first store of its kind in Chelsea, London. I would put on impromptu fashion fashion shows late in the evening to catch the foot traffic coming from the Fillmore after the gig. I had a raised ’stage’ set up in the store and with Samantha and her fabulously gorgeous friend naked on the stage and I would create various wraps around each of them using exotic silk and cotton yardage I bought from Indian, Moroccan and Taiwanese importers.
My store would get packed with people and I had a young fellow, who styled himself as a tailor, measuring girls up for the designs I would create on the Models. Typically the designs only require a bit of ‘nip and tuck’ to the yardage to be made into a garment. Of course these designs looked fantastic on my tall and gorgeous models and many of the young women were all excited to be fitted for my creations. Purely improvisational.
As the steamy summer waned and winter drew near Moses went to Mexico to buy leather goods for our stores. He had installed some Mexican cousins to look after the Tijuana shop and spell me when I went to buy fabrics.
I returned from such an expedition to find two of the ‘cousins’ telling me that Immigration agents had come looking for me to “kick out my arse”. I was freaked out, I had no experience with the authorities and really believed these guys. Of course it was just a scam to scare me off so they could get my store. Well it worked! I grabbed a few cases of junk jewelry and with just the $70 remaining in my pocket I high tailed it to the Greyhound bus station and chose a university town as far away as I could get on my cash in hand.
I ended up in Syracuse, upstate New York. My idea was to sell some Puzzle rings and Eye rings and Poison rings to a boutique or Head Shop near the college campus. Well, I stepped off the bus after getting directions from the bus driver to University Ave where I thought I could make a sale. OMG! It was freezing in Syracuse.
I was dressed for the summer in Lilac coloured skin tight bell bottoms and with a frilly nylon dress shirt. The street that was my destination turned out to be a mile or so away and I’m lugging a sixty pound suitcase full of junk jewelry.
I arrived on University Ave at 5 pm. There were no hip shops up here but I saw a jewelry shop and went inside .
The owner said he was closed at 5 but I talked my way in announcing that I was fresh from New York City with
goods he would be interested in. I displayed some of the racks of rings and he decided to buy three of four dozen. He wanted to pay me by check but that wouldn’t work for me in my predicament being unsuitably clothed and with nowhere to sleep and hungry and tired and freezing. Just then an attractive young lady was passing by and I caught her eye. She stepped into the store and said she wanted to try on the chain link vest that was in the window. The shopkeeper seeing a potential sale brought it out to her.
OMG! What are the odds? It’s a creation of mine from my store that I had made from a variety of metal chains and links. The store keeper produced two needle nose pliers and I proceeded to customize it to the young lady’s fabulous body.
Well, here was my salvation. I got my check and we introduced ourselves and Gail invited me to coffee. She introduced me to the only hip store in Syracuse at the end of the street. Gail was friends with the owner of this Boutique / Coffee Shop. We chatted over coffee and Gail invited me to stay with her. She had been telling me about some zany friends of hers who had heard there was free marijuana growing along the freeway down in Tennessee or somewhere and they had gone off in an old truck to bring back a free load. Ha ha! Well we were laughing at the absurdity when those very characters walked in fresh from the road.
Such a cosmic moment. She introduced me to ‘Far out Fred’ and ’Swami’ and we became immediate friends.
Yes, they had a truck load of pot mulching outside in the cold. We went to look at the haul and it was just hemp that was now just mulch. What did anyone know about marijuana back then. Huh!
We went back to Gail’s house, a lovely Georgian style home on a quiet, wooded street, and devised a game plan.
They had friends that distributed LSD and they figured they could do a trade. Good luck with that.
We smoked a little of Gail’s weed and made dinner. They eventually left and I stayed the night with Gail .
The next day her X husband shows up with their two year old boy. Wow! life is full of surprises. But he was friendly and not at all put out and we got along fine. He left the boy with us and I ended up assuming the role of
a parent for several months.
Gail was a comedian and still did some entertaining while I stayed home and looked after Jeremy. I decided to
follow through on my intention to try the tie dye method that I had imagined. I knew of a dye company on Chambers street in New York City that sold commercial quantities of dyes. I had gone there while I was still in the city and spoken with the old fellow who was the proprietor. I explained that I wanted samples of primary colours plus black. The dear old guy liked my intention to produce an art form using his dyes and he said he would put some 2lb. tins together. I called him up and asked if he would mail me the dyes and I would mail him a money order. He sent me Blue, Turquoise, Golden yellow, Fuscia and black from which I could mix most any colour I wanted. These were commercial hot water dyes that are no longer available because they are so toxic to use. But oh the brilliance of the colours!
I had bought some cotton shirts and sheets and yardage to experiment on and was ready to try my idea.
The dyes arrived and I had cloth prepared and folded and ready to dye.
My visualization was designs of symmetry employing geometric folds tied to a specific density that would absorb and hold dye without it running through the cloth. I started with just two colours only, The dye was designed to be boiled into the cloth for an hour to set them. I had two wooden slats of wood that I used to sandwich my cloth bundle by tying them on either side of it. I suspended the bundle by resting the slats on the rim of the dye pot with the lower half in the simmering dye. I would then reverse the bundle to dye the other half. It was slow and laborious but the end result was better than anything I had ever seen in the craft.
I figured out how to streamline the process by dipping into my colours, wrapping in tin foil and baking in the oven at 220° F. (Instead of boiling for an hour). This way I was able to use as many colours as I wanted to build my design by laying any combination of colour imagined at varying amounts and angles across the matrix of the multiple folds. The results were spectacular. My visualized method worked better than I could have expected.
Within a week I had numerous art panels and T shirts and yardage produced. I would work all day and late into the night compelled to try differing effects. I learned fast and furiously until I was confident that I had a product that people would love. I went to the University campus with forty shirts and sold them all in a few hours.
Gail often worked alongside me and had some good constructive ideas to add to the process.
We went to her friend Leah who had the boutique and she loved the work. She bought shirts and cloth for her store and then showed me the large meditation room she had built for her friends and herself. She gave me my first custom commission, to cover the walls and floor of the meditation room with a continuous repeating design. She also wanted a big Mandala at the end of the room that would be the visual focus for the meditation room.
Next chapter. The Mandala.
Hi Courtenay, I enjoy reading your life’s history and look forward to the creation of your first Mandala. “What a long strange trip it’s been”.
I can’t wait for more. Fantastic!
Hi Courtenay, I don’t know if you remember me. The lawyer from Mill Valley that you approached in the early 80s to represent you with regard to a certain problem. But I have been wearing your shirts now for a while and enjoying your autobiography. Thank you for both! Lee
I can wait for more.