Last night I dreamed of Bohemia, or at least as near to it as I’ve ever been. Richmond, Kentucky around the turn of the millennium, and for nearly a decade after was a very special place to be. There was a living, breathing and vibrant counterculture that existed in such numbers as to almost be “taking over the town” not unlike a certain band of cowboys from Hell. This not-terribly-hostile takeover was signaled by names like “Art Attack” and “Boom Boom Tattoo Room”. (Remember when Big World and a bomb floated down Main Street to the Gap Band?) Music cried out on every corner, from every bedroom and basement ranging from folk and bluegrass to jazz, metal and all sorts of weird, wild hybrids. A creative class of folks played Pied Piper to an entire community for years, wrapping art, music, and camaraderie in an atmosphere of sex, booze, drugs and business that existed in broad daylight and darkness of night for anyone willing to see it. We had the cure for the common clothes well before Macklemore went shopping.
Many nights we wandered the streets like gypsies from the Buddha Belly where a jazz quartet had the whole room swinging two doors down to M.F. Hooligans where mosh pits erupted and Jagermeister flowed endlessly to a melodic metal sound and down the hill to the first incarnation of the Paddy Wagon. Then, for the dedicated, or delusional, up another hill to the Bear and the Bull for $1 Beam shots and foot-stompin’ bluegrass from Finger Lickin’ and the Goods. Generally, the night wasn’t complete without a quick sleaze-through of the Manhattan, and by closing time a clarion call was issued for all these players, patrons, and other nocturnals to meet at a mutually-agreed upon location. Oftentimes, that was my house: the Big Spooky. Well, OUR house, to be sure. A 200 year old, 3-story home on Main Street that truly looked like one of the haunted houses from the old Scooby Doo cartoons.
Eddy Green would continue to convince anyone within earshot to accept whiskey as their personal savior, and would hold pride to their head should they dare refuse such sweet salvation. Steve Sturgill could make you believe it was summertime in the dead of winter, and Wendell Hess managed to cause many an irregular heartbeat. The crowd (or mob, depending upon whom you ask) was as eclectic as the music. There were bikers, Peacemakers, and Bad Moon Boys, Shadetrees and so on drinking beer with fraternity boys and sorority girls. Tattoo artists and body piercers shooting shots and the shit with attorneys, small business owners and college professors. Random elderly couples would wander in from time-to-time to say “We’ve always wanted to see the inside of this house, do you mind if we take a look around?” Many times, Monti Weaver would give them the grand tour. The Big Spooky, as well as the folks in it on any given Sunday, howled at the moon and defied both gravity and authority.
Then, on Monday, we’d go back to work, or school, or whatever. Building homes, teaching classes, slinging booze, ink, and vintage clothing…maybe even manufacturing high explosives, depending on the time of year. It was possible to see Trevor Jones riding a skateboard down the sidewalk with a feather boa, maybe even a fur coat, as John Ryan Sparks chuckled through the smoke. A few unfortunate souls recognized that in Richmond, sometimes a Cool Breeze might not be the most pleasant experience. And yea, there were ninjas. And pirates. And pirate-ninjas! The Thanksgiving feast is something I still think about to this day.
Not that it was all kitties and ice cream. There was blood spilled. My own more than once, and I had it coming at least once. A few folks went to jail, and more than a few to the graveyard. Still, there was something wonderful in the air, and I wonder if I’ll ever breathe deeply in such an atmosphere again, or if we were merely riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave like Gonzo poets?