Janis, Peggy and the Garden of Glass - Part II
A satirical imagination can be a dangerous thing.
Since I originally posted this imagined fantasy of Peggy Caserta's rock-star party cottage that once sat on my property in Coon Hollow, I received several comments from readers that I was unaware of until now. (I thought Blogger platform was supposed to notify me with comments...maybe I need to adjust some settings or something.) Anyway, the comment below from username "Brass Ovaries," is ostensibly from the real Peggy Caserta.
Hello Jeb, It's Peggy Caserta. I'm here to set a few things straight about what did and did NOT happen out at Stinson under my watch. This home was not a party house. It was a retreat, a sanctuary, a much treasured HOME. If I even saw a piece of paper blowing across that canyon I would scramble out and get it. Throw bottles? Never! Anyone who knows me knows this is ludicrous. I don't drink, and Janis would never, EVER be so classless and thoughtless as to throw trash into a pristine setting. No one threw bottles, trash, or anything from that deck while I owned it. They wouldn't dare. There never were any "parties". None of that is "Janis Joplin's Broken Glass". Not a chip, not a shard, nada. Heroin did not come in bottles, and there is no such thing as a "tie off widget" that I've ever heard of. Butterfield was never a guest, nor was Jerry, or Pigpen. Who ever trashed that canyon is no friend or guest of mine. So, there it is Jeb. The truth. Verifiable.
If I could, I would paste Peggy's comments into the original article with a disclaimer that reads "WARNING. The descriptions of Peggy's house and the activities therein are entirely products of my IMAGINATION! My apologies to PC for fictionalizing her Coon Hollow cottage in what some may perceive to be a squalid light." Unfortunately Blogger doesn't support the editing of old posts.
Yes, there was a cottage that belonged to Janis's girlfriend, Peggy, on Buena Vista Ave. in Stinson Beach. Yes, the property is littered with broken glass. Nobody knows how it got there. Perhaps Coon Hollow, which was probably choked with vines and creepers, was once a dump. I was 15 in 1970. I didn't go to any acid tests, but I read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, the story of Ken Kesey's Merry Prankster's odyssey across the US in a day-glo bus, around that time. Is it any surprise, then, that I imagined a non-stop bacchanalia in Coon Hollow?
It is even more bewildering, to me, that someone would look at the picture of the broken glass and take it literally. I mean, really?
So, now that your curiosity is piqued with frothing slobber, I'm sharing the original post below.
Ever since we moved into our house here in Coon Hollow overlooking the mighty Pacific, I have been hearing things. Besides the constant crash and flow of the surf on Stinson Beach, the foghorns in the summer, the mysterious ghost moan coming from Bolinas and my very vocal pup Mister Boo, I've been hearing faint strains of Big Brother and The Holding Company. (In sixth grade I didn't quite get the double entendre of a "Holding Company", which had nothing to do with corporate subsidiaries in the Haight of 1966.) I'll find myself humming "looks like everybody in the whole wide world/is down on me" or "take it/take another little piece of my heart now baby", or, in particularly desperate states, just the "whoa whoa whoa" of Ball and Chain over and over.
I wore the grooves out on those first two albums, the only two legit Big Brother records, and I think of them as Janis’s truly inspired and beyond-compare efforts, despite everything that came later especially the travesty of Me and Bobby McGee and Mercedes Benz. That’s not to say that her singing wasn’t still beyond compare, but you can start to hear the fame and the money and the dope, especially the dope, in those later recordings when at first it was just this raw Texas orphan nerve snapping and sparking like a severed high voltage wire. There wasn’t anything like Janis and there hasn’t been since, and those that tried were only successful in mimicking the death by syringe scene and not much else.
We had heard rumors after we bought Coon Hollow that Janis had hung around the party cottage that originally stood on our property, but it wasn't until this New Years Eve while having rather comedic and borderline pathetic dinner at the Parkside Cafe that a guitar player named Milty suggested that we google Peggy Caserta. After trudging back up the hill to our Coon Hollow residence we logged on to learn that hippie boutique owner and millionaire Peggy Caserta and Janis Joplin were lovers right here at the original Coon Hollow cottage, right up to Janis's death by overdose in Hollywood.
In 1973, Peggy Caserta's book about her relationship with Janis: "Going Down With Janis", was published, but has since gone out of print. Too bad. There's nothing like a little gay junky depravity. But there's also something rather run of the mill and predictable about the fallen angels of the Summer of Love: the swirling vortex of junk, speed, psychedelics and every other form of dope, initially tuning in, turning on, and completely dropping out and off the face of the planet. The stories are all the same: archetypal, once married to H, you're married for life until death doth part you and corporeal world. In other word’s I’m not about to go drop $100 to get Peggy Caserta’s out of print book just to read about another H bomb, even if it is about a bixsexual rock star and her rather comely lesbian lover. As Peggy said in an interview with the documentary TV show, BIO, in 2009:
What’s curious about Coon Hollow and the inhabitants that preceded the razing of the falling down cottage in 1983 and the building of the spacious, wide open, high-ceilinged two story building we’ve called home since fall 2012 is...the glass. Shortly after we moved in around September of 2012 my son Jack was playing with Mr. Boo on a gopher ridden patch of the former lawn - just clumps of fescue that the gophers would methodically pull under their mounds, leaving fewer and fewer clumps - when he came back up to the top story where the living room is and said "we can't play with Boo down there. It's nothing but broken glass." He was right. An area about thirty by fifty feet was strewn with shards of glass: brown, green, mostly clear, along with broken ceramics or perhaps the household plates, bowls, cups and so forth, a few pieces of clay pots and some weird ribbed, white siding or some other composite. The pieces range in size from almost full-sized bottles (only one has been found intact) to big 4" x 6" pieces to tiny shards that glimmer in the noon sun.
The earth is not much more than dirty rocks alongside a spring fed creek. A run over the dirt with a rake churns up more and more rocks - mostly golf-ball sized but some big daddies - and more glass the deeper we dig. It's hard to imagine what the Buckleys, the family that built the current house, did once they cleared it of ivy, blackberries both regular and pricker-less/fruitless (aka The Luther Burbank Blackberry), scotch broom and other brambles. We've found some of the green netting that sod is grown in, so it's likely that they Buckley's simply covered up the rocks and glass with several yards of topsoil and a big sod lawn.
The following owners, who moved in around 1994, let the place completely go to seed, so by the time we got here the glass - Janis's and Peggy's glass - was practically jumping out of the rocks and dirt. It's not difficult to imagine cadres of stoned hippies showing up at Peggy's beach palace, sitting on what they might have imagined was a buried treasure under brambles ten feet high, so high the creek was a tunnel of water running through Coon Hollow, heard but not seen, and pitching their bottles into the brambles, listening to their delightful destruction on the rocks.
It is an image of a big party and a little party, of times intimate between the lovers applying suntan lotion to each other's naked loins on the sun deck, completely hidden from prying eyes in the folds of the hollow, hearing the surf crash on the beach below just barely masking the squeals of the kids - always the squeals of the kids drifting up the creek as if they were right in our backyard. Regardless of how ramshackle the original cottage was, there must have been some rip-roaring parties here in Coon Hollow.
I can see the jittery, writhing, multi-colored 20-something hippies in their beads and stovepipe hats gobbling down and shooting up every drug imaginable, back when all the shit was pure as the driven snow: China White, Peruvian Flake, Thai Stick, Owsley Acid, Crystal Meth, orange barrels of Mescaline and Psilocybin Shrooms oh joy of joys! Boys and girls and girls and girls and boys and boys and girls and the little kitty cat going off in threes or fours to the back rooms of the cottage, a copy of Naked Lunch in hand, or in the main room on the overstuffed couches and bean bag chairs, watching the sunset while the back door was slammin’ and the kids were rammin’ n’ jammin’ on axes that would now be worth thousands - the ubiquitous Gibson 335s, the Country Gentlemans, Strats, Tellys, Les Pauls, Firebirds and SGs, Vox Continentals, Jaguars, the vibra-wiggling Farfisa, polished wooden Martins and Guilds ringing clear and true against the perpetual crash of breaking glass on the rocks below.
Falstaff and Lucky, Busch Bavarian, San Miguel and Mickey Big Mouths - that’s what the Redwood high kids were drinkin’ down in front of The Castle on the beach in 1970 while Janis, Peggy, Pig Pen, Bloomfield, Butterfield - the bluesers - were shootin’ up in Coon Hollow, tossing bottles over their shoulders: Seagrams, Royal Gate, Beefeaters, Jack Daniels, Early Times, Hiram Walker and his brothers Johnny the Black and Johnny the Red, Jose Cuervo and the sweet syrupy nastiness that Janice was famous for drinking: Southern Comfort. I remember seeing Janis on stage with the Dead at Pepperland, playing Love Light for hours while she goosed Pig Pen and fondled Jerry with one hand and wielded her ever-present bottle of SC with the other. She sat in with the Dead, but Janis sang the blues, played the blues, lived the blues, like Pig Pen. Stick a loud Farfisa and slap a little tremelo on the ES 335 with a shuffle chuggin’ underneath and you got the San Francisco Sound.
All happening right here in Coon Hollow at Peggy’s little love getaway, next door to Cold Comfort, the name given to the house uphill from ours over 50 years ago, perhaps after Cold Comfort Farm, a comic novel by English author Stella Gibbons, published in 1932 and made into a TV series by the BBC. The phrase? Shakespeare, of course:
King John, 1595:
Poison'd,--ill fare--dead, forsook, cast off:
And none of you will bid the winter come
To thrust his icy fingers in my maw,
Nor let my kingdom's rivers take their course
Through my burn'd bosom, nor entreat the north
To make his bleak winds kiss my parched lips
And comfort me with cold. I do not ask you much,
I beg cold comfort; and you are so strait
And so ingrateful, you deny me that.
There is a curious connection between Shakespeare’s morgue vision and the silly, fatalistic parody of Britain’s country gentility in Cold Comfort Farm. Sometimes these hidden yet powerful ironies make the most sense in light of senseless death, like Janis Joplin’s. As Sam Andrew, her bandmate in Big Brother and the Kosmic Blues Band once put it:
“Janis had a big appetite for everything: living, having a good time, everything,” he recalls. “If it was food, she wanted the most and best of anybody in the room. If it was a good time, she wanted the most. She had a big appetite for drugs, too, and she had the opportunity and money to indulge it. Maybe if she would have had less of an appetite, it would have turned out better. She didn’t have a lot of caution at times.”
Peggy Caserta is still around, according to the available info, living somewhere in the Inland Empire of SoCal, clean at last after a long career with the needle. But Peggy’s a business person, not a musician. My theory is that the forces that drive the creation of truly inspired music - that yearning for complete catharsis and the accompanying mindless euphoria - are the same forces that can get a blazing heart and head to run for cover, shoot the moon, drink a case of Miller bottles and a fifth of Early Times and heave the bottles off the porch.
I might have to give it a try myself, except that I've cleaned up all the rocks and am in the process of transforming the garden of glass into a field of grass. And let me tell it's just such non-stop euphoria and catharsis I can't hardly stand it.