DON”T MISS IT. Tonight The Sixties on CNN, 9 pm (EST), 6 pm (PDT), plus there are usually several re-runs. Covers the war from its beginnings through 1968. The face of war changed forever with this escalation. Combined with the pictures that brought the brutality of the war to the home front, a new sense of power and disenfranchisement from the country’s youth, and the hangover from the loss of a young and popular president, the support for this war faded as the commitment to it by the government went up. Up until this war, as Bill Murray exhorts his army buddies it in Stripes, “We’re 10 and 1!”
For me, it was trying to find a way to stay with my band when the army was bound and determined to induct me. I had no political viewpoint in the beginning, and to the degree I did, I tended to trust the government implicitly then. That all began to change when it started to impact my life and I had to figure things out.
My most personal experience was when Stark Naked and the Car Thieves performed for a couple of months at a nightclub in Honolulu in April of 1968, as the buildup of American forces followed the Tet Offensive during the height of the Vietnam War. 80% of the guys in the club were either on R&R coming from the war or going home. The emotional power of the songs we played to remind these warriors of home, girlfriends and wives, high school, families, and buddies, some of them lost by their side, came through to all of us there. As the messengers through our music we became instant friends, somehow passed into the intimacy of one solder to another, and it was all we could do to hold onto our own feelings sometimes. We heard many stories from the battlefield, reminisces from home and witnessed soldiers at the outer limits of their ability to endure. But as humans do, they found humor and understanding and love in their experiences. While they thought we were enriching their lives, it was they who were enriching ours.
Over the last few years I have received a surprising number of messages from soldiers who saw us at the Lemon Tree on the beach in Waikiki. To a man they remember us for the music and how it helped connect them to the things most important to them. God love them all.
I’ve been doing a lot of research for the Hawaiian chapters that’s now starting to pay off, even though I’ve finished writing these chapters. It mainly will help me go back to the chapters and enrich them.
I’ve had excellent help from a researcher named Alexis who has dug around at the state library for a lot of stuff, including this cool little cartoon that was in the April 1, 1968 Honolulu Advertiser, on the front page of the Perspective section, Hawaii’s Week In Review, Section D.
Another outcome is a chance to contact one of the surviving owners of the Lemon Tree who is also helping me add detail.
These nine weeks in Hawaii are among the most important in the book. An amazing number of highs and lows are compressed into this engagement.
Hi, I’m Larry J. Dunlap, and I’m introducing my memoir BAND, memoir of A Naked Car Thief. I’ve been writing since the late seventies when I was in the business side of music. I did artist reviews and a cartoon strip for local music magazines then. Wrote my first story, a science fiction tale about built around a play-by-mail space empire game I was addicted to about then, too. I began professional technical writing after I’d gotten involved in technical training, eventually writing for Fortune 100 companies on contract. In recent years as the press of professional life lessened, I have returned to something I knew I’d have to do before embarking on any other authorial projects, a remembrance of my transition from a young Midwestern man/boy dreamer to a creator’s life in the warm California sunshine via a mid-sixties rock band. An excerpt from this memoir was published in an Inlandia Institute anthology last November.
I’ve always known it was likely I’d be a writer since I have been such an inveterate and addicted reader. For many reasons, I never attempted to write for a wide audience until relatively recently. During the six plus years I was leader of the rock band that grew out of my homespun vocal group in Indianapolis, I formed incredible bonds with my band mates. When we gathered to reminisce, we’d always remind ourselves of the interesting adventures we’d survived. I was always prompted by the guys saying, “Man, you have got to write a book about this.” As the years went by I heard from several of them saying that it was hard to talk about what we’d accomplished because no one could relate to their memories. When I could finally devote myself to this project I wanted to rectify that impression. I realized that vignettes, told out of context, sound like either bragging or disconnection. Telling our story would put it all in context. However, with our fading and differing memories there was only one way to do that, as a personal memoir. The more I settled into the project the more I realized I’d come to the right conclusion. I needed to write about my story, how I felt, what it meant to me, and let the rest of it shine through as I remembered and retold it.
My memoir starts on New Year’s Eve of 1964, though chapter one covers a dangerous and violent night relating to the near hit record our vocal group in Indianapolis almost accidentally had in our nearby big city, Chicago. As a husband of two wonderful little boys and my high school sweetheart wife I loved, I was struggling with finding my creative place in the world. The environment around us in the structured world we grew up in and the hard line taken by our parents finally blew up when the group and I tried to turn ourselves into a working band. Though the first incarnation failed, a miraculous event sealed my fate and I was off to California to join my old buddies in a desperate attempt to create a rock band within a week in the seething musical chaos of San Francisco’s east bay dive bars. At the cost of the wrenching destruction of my family, the journey began that would carry us into adventure after adventure, to the top of San Francisco’s night life, through Hollywood, famous personal managers and record producers, to the heights of Las Vegas’ rock scene and the top of the largest Vegas resorts. A side trip to the Hawaiian islands found us performing for American warriors on R&R during the height of the Vietnam war, where I met a Hawaiian girl who touched me as deeply as my first love. As our status as performing stars rose, though we struggled with recording success, I was certain I’d reached the pinnacle of happiness and success. But there were undercurrents beyond my control that would bring me to the edge of sanity and the end of the music. Somehow I’d have to save my band, hope to save my new family, and try not to lose myself.
I’m currently working my way through the second edit. Memoir is a special form that I’ve come to really appreciate; I learned a lot from Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and Candy Girl, by Diablo Cody, and read many, many others as I prepped for, and continue to write. I’ve adopted a narrative style including dialog to my memoir because that’s how I remember it even though it was so long ago. We moved through a time of great historical and cultural change the background behind the events of the story; there is no need to embellish the dramatic arc at all, it just is what it was. I hope other memoirists see their story as vividly as I see mine. I’m looking forward to finding more examples of this style to continue to inspire me.
Unfortunately, most memoir readers and many memoir authors see them as tearjerkers, while there’s certainly a low point in my story, so low that it feels more like black humor to me, I’m not looking for sympathy or redemption. Personally, I hate saccharine sweet stories. In my eyes I’m just trying to recount what I think of as a great adventure that I was lucky enough to be a part of, and survive — without judgment. To do this requires honing the skills and dramatic arts of authors of fiction. I hope from the Memoir’s Discussion Group on LinkedIn to be influenced by others who approach their life adventures in this way, and to be a source of influence to others in the style I’ve chosen.
After leaving Hawaii and stopping in L.A. long enough to do the Steve Allen show, we flew to Indianapolis for four weeks at the Holyoke club in Indianapolis, our first trip home since I had left for California three years earlier. Stark Naked and the Car Thieves was a big success by most considerations. Most of the guys from here seemed to bask in the admiration of friends and family. But whatever personal redemption I had hoped to find in Indianapolis didn’t materialize. No one in Indianapolis would recognize our name; to them, if they remembered us at all, it would have been as the Reflections. Our new record, apparently breaking in the east wasn’t getting local airplay. None of my school boy friends or antagonists came to the club, either moved away or indifferent. Despite the warm welcome from my folks and little sister there was unexpected turmoil as I revisited old landmarks and haunts reigniting bittersweet memories of my lost wife and sons; all complicated by the magnet that drew me four thousand miles away toward the islands we had recently left.
Nevertheless one of the highlights was the group visiting the 500 Mile Speedway just a few miles from the house where I grew up and could hear the race cars growling through each May as they circled the track. Les (second from left), me (Larry, second from right) and Dave (right) were excited to show this amazing facility to Mickey (left) and Leonard and Mac (not in picture), where nearly 300,000 people, less than a week earlier, had jammed into the stadia and infield for the 1968 race.
In spring of 1968 our band found itself in Honolulu, Hawaii, playing in a club at the very tail end of Waikiki. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget and not just because the girl I was going to meet here. It was the height of the Vietnam war and maybe 80% of the guys in our club were military, either stopping here before heading to the jungle, back for R&R and returning to the jungle, or finishing their tour here before heading home from the jungle. We were in a bubble, neither going or coming but a little piece of home to them. I nearly lost my life here, discovered how good but how sick Blue Hawaii’s can make you, how high gange from southeast Asia could get you, discovered how magical and exotic a tiny speck of land on the top of an undersea mountain can be and brushed across people in the International sex trade. Hawaii was the most beautiful and the most dangerous place I’d ever been in, and that includes Las Vegas. How much of this will make it into the book, that is already so jam-packed with our adventures I cannot say but the memories come flooding back as I write.
In researching the background for this section of A Naked Car Thief, I Google Earthed myself to the island to view again Sandy Beach and other places where we went to on the island. The last time I had been in Honolulu, I had looked for the site of the Lemon Tree, the club we played at, and the hotel that was just across a narrow alley from the club. I remembered the club as huge, directly across the street from this incredibly beautiful but usually deserted beach directly across Kalakaua Avenue. But I couldn’t find it. Yet with the magic of Google Earth I found the corner of Kalakaua and Liliuokalani Boulevard and there it was. Of course the building was smaller and cut up into smaller stores, the most prominent a McDonald’s. But behind it was that creepy, ramshackle hotel we stayed in, now some kind of a Korean barbecue restaurant. Even the curved columns from the old hotel showed up. It was great to look down nearly 45 years later on this fateful corner of the world and the feelings it brought back from the bones of these buildings. I’m sharing a screen capture of this corner for all my old band buddies.