Between Joe, Pasquale and me, we had exactly five dollars left in the piggy—enough for one day’s motel payment, due that day, two days before Christmas. The fifty dollars my mom sent via Western Union went to Hollywood Florida by mistake.
“Nothin’ doin’, other than panhandling on Hollywood and Vine,” Joe scolded to me.
“Time to go home,” the CFO of our bankrupt fraternal order said grimly.
I crawled into my corner of the bed that night groping for answers in the dark, drifting into the infinite void of why, where, how and what. Other than a few grunts, snores and stomach rumbles in the tiny motel room, I heard nothing but the cool indifference of silence. Four months of knocking on doors in LA, now all of them shut, some even shut tight. But I couldn’t go home empty handed—not again. Whatever I had to do to remain on the West Coast I was resigned to do.
By 5:30 am, my eyes still wide open, punching holes in the ceiling, while Joe and Pasquale slept, I crept out of the room and walked along Sunset Blvd, getting a leg up on the sun, hoping to dream up a last ditch leap forward. Where would I sleep and get some grub, at least for the next few days while I searched for a more permanent solution, I grilled myself.
After thirty minutes or so of walking eastward, to my left, I noticed a church with a soft brown, ornate Renaissance facade. I climbed the steps and to my surprise the heavy wooden doors were unlocked. The sharp creaks travelled far into the large sanctuary as I pressed on the weighty doors. I stepped cautiously through the middle isle, each footstep piling upon the other, then, rolling into a solid block of sound. Not a soul in the sanctuary. I decided to park myself in a pew for a while.
How dark and mysterious it was to me, after all that time of having abandoned my childhood beliefs. The painted murals dug up many buried memories. I wondered if I had enough pluck to stay. Clearing my throat, or even just swallowing, ricocheted off the finely sculpted walls decked with Stations of the Cross and stained-glass windows above. I was uneasy—as if I had returned to face a beloved I had walked out on many years ago. But I was desperate and out of options. This was at least a chance to sit in silence and think, even if it meant sharing a seat with a few old ghosts. So, I unwound and melted into my wooden pew, closed my eyes, and took a trip into the reaches of inner space.
My head hung down, as if frozen in supplication, I dreamed such dreams, so real, that they seemed more than the handiwork of unmet wishes or a heavy heart. There was an odd clarity to them, as if the dreams were being broadcast in hi-def. I opened my eyes four hours later, suddenly filled with certainty, as if I had found the missing address and directions to my next stop. I hurried back to the Motel Orange.
“Joe, get outta bed,” I shouted, as I entered the ochre-shag carpeted room.
“What is it?” he moaned.
“Don’t ask! I might blow it if I answer. Just get up and get dressed,” I replied, impatiently.
“Where we going,” Joe asked, as we did a quick march to the old Charlie Chaplin studios on La Brea, home of A&M Records.
“Just trust me,” I whispered, trying to reassure both of us.
No sooner did a few minutes go by, when the uniformed guard keeping watch from the tower beside the open gates, stepped down and asked what we two young tramps were up to.
“Waiting for a friend,” I lied, with all the spit I could marshal to pry my tongue from the roof of my dry mouth.
The guard gave me that don’t-give-me-that-shit look, as he cocked his head.
“Sir, it’s a free country and we are on public property,” I ran to my own defense, with just the right spoonful of indignation on my face.
“Yea, well, make sure you stay on public property and keep clear of those gates,” he warned, as he rested his palm on his holstered revolver.
Twice he came down from his tower to check up on Joe and me, and twice more I stood my ground. After a few hours of ambling in small circles, my hopes beginning to dim, thinking I might have been dead wrong about my church dream, suddenly Herb Alpert walked out of his office and strolled across the A&M parking lot. As if it happened once before, I knew precisely what my next move would be.
“Take this, Joe,” I said in a huff, as I handed him my guitar and ran through the tall gates.
“ I knew it, I just knew it!” cried the guard, adding a few expletives, as he hobbled down from his tower, waving his gun.
It turns out that Johnny, the watchman, was a Vietnam vet and had been wounded during the war. He had a bad limp, thus I knew I would have at least a ten second jump on him.
“Herb!” I shouted, as I stretched out my hand.
Herb looked gray and baffled, wondering if this was round two. Seems Lani Hall, his wife, had narrowly escaped kidnapping a few months prior.
“What do you want?” Herb asked, nervously.
“I wanna be a star!” I hollered, unable to articulate a more nuanced response, while the angry guard hauled me off.
I turned to Herb, as I was shown to the front gates. Our eyes met and locked for a moment—not a blink.
“Wait a minute, Johnny,” Herb cried.
“What are you really looking for?” he asked me.
“I think you’ll like my music, Herb. Give me a chance to play for you.”
After what seemed to be an eternity, Herb said, “Come back in thirty minutes.”
He instructed Johnny to write me up a visitor’s pass.
Johnny, appalled and nodding his head in disgust, holstered his gun and begrudgingly wrote up and handed me a yellow slip. (In later years we would laugh about that day)
“Welcome to the family,” Herb Alpert said, after I played five or six tunes on my beat up nylon-string.
“On one condition,” he added, “that you let me produce your record.”
It was 1972, Christmas Eve, and we were on our way back to Montreal. Even with the incredible good fortune of being signed to A&M at twenty years-old, Herb himself wishing to be personally involved with my career, throughout the whole trip on that 707 I thought mostly about those four hours when I had dozed off in that church pew. I wondered where the sudden clarity had come from? Who or what blew the unexpected wind in my sails? How could I have possibly seen what had yet to transpire? Was this the work of a higher power, a sixth sense, or merely the play of coincidence—synchronicity, as Carl Yung would say. Such questions would follow me for years. It was the first of a few transpersonal incidents that would alter my perception of life (and death) and urge me to search for Truth in pages and places both welcome and hostile to my sensibilities. It would incite me to follow my heart wherever it would lead, no matter how remote the destination was. In time I would come to see magic in the most ordinary things.
The Soulmates 1968
Signing my contract with RCA Canada at 17
Gene Krupa, one of my childhood idols
Pasquale and me in the late 90’s
Receiving gold records from A&M (left to right: Jerry Moss, me, Jerry Lacoursiere, Herb Alpert and Joe)
The front gates of once A&M Records, now the Jim Henson Company.