April 3rd, 2004

john + yoko

How Jonathan Eisen and the Lakewood Public Library Messed My Mind Up

Ever since I discovered Abebooks.com a few years ago, and even before that in the case of a few choice gems I hunted down on eBay or the Web or via Amazon's old, grossly overpriced Rare Book Search, I've been busy collecting the out-of-print book friends I recall from my youth when I practically lived at ye olde Lakewood Public Library. A few points to make about Then vs. Now: (1) In those days, the library had stax and stax of actual BOOKS, as opposed to now when it has a few books and a lot of other doohickeys such as computer terminals. (2) In those days, books were located via a card catalog with the cards kept in lil' wooden drawer thingies and it was a fine day indeed when my teacher taught me the wonders of the Dewey Decimal System so I could actually go in the drawers and find all the books on, say, Rock Music, of which there were like a whole dozen! (Plus issues of Rolling Stone and Creem in the Young Adult Section magazine racks, which I tended to avoid because they had sex jokes and nekkid chicks in them and at 13 I just wasn't ready to be gawping at nude boobies and maybe having to bring it up in confession especially if Mom caught me and told me I was going to hell for digging that devilish ROCK MUSIC and associated garbajj.) (3) At this point in my existence I hadn't yet ruined the library experience for myself which I did at about age 22 or 23 by kissing someone in the back parking lot who, as it turned out, I would have been much better off leaving aloan and for which horror I compensated by avoiding that library as much as possible so as not to be reminded.

The thing is, it wasn't until I moved to Columbia MD, which had the Mother of All Lousy Libraries (it lent out more toys, games and videos than BOOKS, who the hell had time to read a BOOK with money to be made in Yuppietown?) that I realized that libraries periodically got rid of their old books. I realized this by finding a box of For Sale books in the Columbia library and, when I was done feeling horrified, rescuing at least one that I recalled fondly from my teenhood (yup, a rock book). Since, like I said, there was no Internet or Abebooks then, I had no idea where the old books went. I assumed they were probably thrown out or donated to obscure book fairs someplace. And, since most of the books I remembered were already old and out of print when I read them, I feared I would never see any of them again unless I was lucky enough to run across them in some junk shop. Losing touch with old books that I thought were always going to be there waiting for me was like coming home to find an old friend dead and someone else living in his house. On some future visit home I managed to steel myself past the bad memory triggers and visit the Lakewood Library to see if I could at least copy my favorite sections of a couple oldies but goodies (or maybe take Abbie Hoffman's advice and Steal This Book), but when I got there they'd already got rid of a lot of book racks and the ol' card catalog and started moving in the computers and the racks of stupid paperbacks and gardening books and other idiocies that the good people of Lakewood apparently prefer to dusty old volumes. I nearly wept. Seriously, I did.

Years went by and I got used to buying all my books so they were MINE ALL MINE and never giving my heart to another crummy library. It was an absolutely wonderful day indeed when I discovered used book dealers online who could sell me virtually any printed crack I could remember clear enough to search for. The very first thing I ever bought on eBay, in 1997 when eBay was new, was an old book. (It was Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg and the seller told me a long story about how Carl Sandburg tried to pick up her sister on vacation decades before and the sister couldn't stand the guy or the book and she was so happy to finally palm the dern thing off on someone who actually enjoyed it.)

Anyway, in the course of my dredging up ol' memories, I wanted to find a copy of a book that I recalled by Jonathan Eisen that the Lakewood Library had filed as The Age of Rock II and that contained a lengthy piece about a groupie named Sherry. Bear in mind I was originally reading this at age 13 so Miss Pamela had not even thought about drafting any memoirs yet, and I didn't find a copy of Groupies in paperback at the thrift store till I was about 20 and even then I had to hide it from my mom till I moved out. So this Jonathan Eisen compiled piece had made quite an impression on me when I was trying to figure out just how one went about hanging around Bands and Things Like That. The weirdest thing I remembered about this Eisen book was that for some reason, the inside cover of it wasn't called The Age of Rock II although the spine was stamped that and the card catalog said that. Instead it had some title page like California Dreaming that seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the book. I used to spend many hours wondering why the title page didn't match the spine, especially since I had very little else to do in those days but spend many hours wondering things.

So of course I went and ordered a copy of The Age of Rock II. And was rather surprised to learn that it did not contain anything about groupies whatsoever. I went through it several times to make sure. There were other pieces in there I seemed to recall, notably something humorous by Pete Stampfel regarding the Holy Modal Rounders, but nothing on groupies. Rather baffled, I did some research on Eisen and found he had also compiled something called The California Dream which was the title I recalled the library book having on its inside leaf. But said book didn't seem to have anything to do with rock, or with groupies. At some point I also got a copy of Twenty-Minute Fandangoes compiled by the same editor and that was about rock but was also the wrong book.

After beating this problem with a stick I discovered several things: First of all, sellers of these books tended to confuse Age of Rock I with Age of Rock II and it was entirely possible that some latter-day anthology had been cooked up containing pieces from both books. Second of all, the library's book had been screwed up six ways to Sunday because it had Age of Rock II stamped on the spine, California Dream printed on the inside flyleaf, and the actual contents were Age of Rock I. Thank you, boundless font of tax dollared knowledge, and the devil take you now for screwing with my head to the point where I was beginning to think I imagined reading the tale of Sherry. I am now, at last, holding in my hand a used, beatup copy of Age of Rock I that someone wrote copious notes in (very interesting to see that someone other than 14-year-old me actually did dorky things like write scholarly marginal notes about the Monkees) and yes it has the Sherry story in it that I haven't been able to read since I was maybe 19, and yes I am happy about this, and yes I guess I'm weird.

edited to add, i think i just found a pube hair on p. 343 as well. now that's rock n' roll!