My knees were shaking and the sweat was rolling down my face. And it was only May—the fucking cherry blossoms were blooming on America's Lawn and I was about to be shot for treason.
We looked at each other and we looked at them. It was like a Peckinpah movie.
I could almost hear the feds mumbling to each other as they set to work, but I couldn't understand what they were saying. I only perceived a gushing in my ears, like I was underwater. The only other sound I recall was my way-too-fast heartbeat.
That little fog started to set in, the one where you think you might just pass out.
Now the guns were cocked and ready to fire. They schlepped off our little plastic box for further examination. When it returned 10 minutes later, the faceplate had been pried off and the box was dripping water.
"It's a metronome," they declared. Good work, guys.
That was the longest 10 minutes of my life.
Many months later, we received a check from the White House for 17 dollars.
The party itself was pretty crazy. I've heard reports from a couple of the band members who had actually gone up to the roof of the White House with some CIA guys to smoke a joint before soundcheck, but I wasn't part of that bunch. (In fact, I actually read it in one particular Turtle's autobiography. Someone had to test those mikes, and I guess that's what I had been doing.)
However, later, when we returned to do the show, we were given President Lincoln's library to use as our dressing room. Unbelievable! In fact, we were told that the entire first floor was OK for us to explore—just as long as we didn't enter the private quarters, everyone on staff was to let us have the run of the place. And we did. It was amazing. We were loaded—high from smoking pot back at the hotel and a wee bit tipsy from all the French Champagne that was being freely dispensed—and we were roaming around the most important home in America unsupervised.
One member of our crew still had a few tricks up his sleeve, however, and not only did I get to take a few precious tokes of his mystery stash before the show started, but we were able to actually lay out lines of coke on Mr. Lincoln's desk. As the powder flew up my nose, I wondered if this was exactly what the founding fathers had in mind. Land of the Free, indeed. Well, I felt free and on top of the world.
Now I think, jeez, they must have had cameras, but back then, the thought never crossed my mind.
The show was wonderful. Hey, what can I say? We were always a great band. And although our other vocalist, my career-long partner Mark Volman, had a few balance issues—he fell off the stage a few times, much to the amusement of all present—the actual concert was a huge success. Just looking around the room at the dignitaries, the emissaries and the luminaries was like LSD to a stoner Democrat like me. That made things even more fun. I was smiling from ear to ear. Even the Temptations, who were also on the bill, were drinking and singing and laughing right along with us.
And we were funny. We didn't hold back just because of the venue. Hell, I thought, we've been thrown out of better places than this! But, of course, we hadn't been. Jokes at America's expense … literally.
Right after the show, Mark decided to hit on Lucy Baines Johnson, LBJ's daughter, which would have been questionable under any circumstances, but was especially so with her husband, Pat Nugent, squaring off at Mark from inches away. Spittle was flying. I'm not exactly sure how peace was restored between them, but man, there was an almost-incident that was happily avoided. History would have loved that one.
Tricia and her friends seemed to love us. Most of her acquaintances were college kids and, probably unbeknownst to her, were busy spending their evening passing out subversive SDS flyers to the crowd.
And, much to our relief, Tricky Dick was off on a foreign mission somewhere, killing our troops, and so he never made an appearance. I've always been thankful for that. I am absolutely positive, considering our states of mind that evening, that I—or some other equally messed-up Turtle—would have given him an earful of our contempt and probably would have ended up in Gitmo.
They took some photos. One shows five shaggy guys, one psychedelic road manager, Ron DeBlasio, Jeff Wald and his wife, the singer Helen "I Am Woman" Reddy, and there in the center, looking like a Hummel figurine in white, Tricia Nixon, herself. Another depicts only four shaggy guys—all of the Turtles except me—and Tricia. That one made it to the cover of Parade Magazine. Read into my missing visage what you will. Was I up to something subversive? I wish I could say I was, but I was probably just exploring the presidential restroom or something. It all kind of makes you proud to be an American, though, doesn't it?
How in the world had I gotten here?
From the book Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa by Howard Kaylan with Jeff Tamarkin. Published by Backbeat Books.
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