From: Jobs I Once Held That Now No Longer Exist

I’ve been devoting a lot of thought, of late, to the myriad-stranded, convoluted web that is my employment history. As I pointed out last summer, the job at Small Egg Roll turned out to be the worst—and by far the most disappointing—of all of them, which is especially disheartening in the respect that it was the one job among all of them for which I actually had considerable aptitude and interest, and for which I was best qualified. In most instances, that wasn’t so much the case.

Reflecting on the “early days” of my nascent career as an adult, I can summon to mind several dubious instances of on-the-job experience, which subsequently afforded me very little in the way of applicable real world skills. What has happened to the call for fir cone dryer workers, for God’s sake?

The Sun

The Sun

Yes. Fir cone dryers. For eons of millenia the job of drying fir cones was left to the sun—always the most efficient at such chores, what with having nothing better to do than burn for billions of years and all. A heat source is, of course, at the core of any drying operation worth its seed.

But then mankind came along. And, as has long been known, mankind is always in a hurry—in a hurry to make the sun burn faster, hotter, longer, stronger, and with better air circulation. Thus the fir cone dryer was born. What would be the necessity of drying a fir cone in the first place you might very well ask?

There was a time when there was no cloning. I know that is very difficult for some to conceive. But it’s true. There was no cloning. Well, technically, Nature has been cloning all along, but for this particular postulate we need to leave things like the sun and Nature out of the equation. It is Man’s endless quest to duplicate these natural devices that have led Humankind to invent important apparatuses to duplicate Nature’s weaponry, just in case we destroy the original model. Hey, it’s happened!


It was probably going on before he came along, but you can blame Gifford Pinchot for implementing the concept of reforestation on a National forest level. Reforestation allowed the big timber companies to feel okay about clear cutting every last stick of original growth timber in the country. It’s okay folks, we’re replanting! It’ll all be replaced. We’ll plant little babies around the stumps of the great giants we cut down. What a system!

So, back in the days before there were clones, seeds were required in order to propagate the species. In the summer, fir trees produce fruit in the form of cones, which bear inside of them the seeds for creating little baby trees. As the cones mature, some will open while on the tree, allowing their seeds to fly upon the breeze, to land where we know not.

Fir Cone

But, as is often the case in life unfortunately, other cones fall from the tree unopened, as yet still fettered full with the seed which they are mandated to scatter. So, down they go, whereupon the sun will continue the process it began when the cone was still attached to the tree. The sun will gently heat the fallen fir cone so that, eventually, after not long at all in sun time, the cone will dry and open, and the seeds will fall out onto the forest floor. Many creatures of the wild (squirrels and rats especially, I might point out) consider fir seeds to be something of a delicacy. But, as these things go in nature, some seeds remain behind to sprout into seedlings and eventually grow into significant bodies of wood.

Such a process, of course, requires a great deal of time by our standards. According to the rings on the trees we’ve cut down, it can take hundreds of years for one to get monstrously huge. Here again, while hundreds of years doesn’t mean shit to a tree, humans are an impatient lot and they want everything yesterday, including their trees and the seeds required to get the ball rolling on fulfilling that desire. Fellas, we need a fir cone dryer!

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Main St. Dallas, Oregon

Now I came to the fir cone game through the back door. Sally and I had recently quit school and moved to Dallas, Oregon ten miles and a world away from the comparative collegial world, which lay in the Monmouth and Independence vicinity to the east. We chose to move to Dallas, I guess, to find new opportunities, though what opportunities those might have been were apparently not particularly well defined, as I don’t remember. It is the Polk county seat, so potentially there was some allure in that fact, though I doubt it. That doesn’t seem our speed.

Well, we did move out of the house in Independence because, as a newly founded couple, we felt the need to strike out upon our own—leaving behind my college roommates Tom and Doug—to forge in the smithy of our souls the uncreated conscience of our relationship. So, that and the fact that—as was customary in a household with Tom, Doug and me in it—there were at least three (actually five, I believe) dogs and an indeterminable number of cats, in that specific instance, jammed into a little two-bedroom bungalo. So, I suppose the motivation may have been weighted toward Sally’s perspective. It was a long time ago. We relocated.

We moved into a sad little dollhouse in Dallas, which was fine, as we had no belongings to put in it anyway. It wasn’t like we required spacious quarters. I believe the biggest bone of contention (as it were) was that the backyard was fenced, in order to corral Spider and Gypsy, who were wont to roam when given the opportunity. They were themselves a young couple, wild in their ways.

The place was on Southwest 10th Street between Birch and Cherry on the hill overlooking Fairview Avenue by the A&W at the western edge of town. I’m not sure what we did for money at first. I believe rent was $85 a month and bills amounted to about $25, so we cobbled that together from leftover student loan money, I would imagine. Allen moved in for a time into the cubby-hole room in the converted attic, second-story plywood affair. I’m sure we charged him a princely sum to maintain those luxurious quarters. We were merciless.

I don’t think it took very long before it became apparent that a job or two might be required somewhere along the line. My only previous job experience was a mostly failed experiment in the construction trade the summer following my senior year in high school. The only benefit that came of that experience was the fact that it could be noted on subsequent job applications. More about construction adventures another time.

Filberts, For the Pickin'

Filberts, for the Pickin’

At first we tried “picking” filberts (hazelnuts) at an extensive orchard out toward Pedee. That’s a terrific job if you like to be bent over in the autumn dew rooting through fallen leaves for the husk-y little suckers like a truffle snuffer. I think we made like two or three dollars in four hours or so, before it started raining so hard that we quit for the day. We never went back there again, I assure you.

Some Town's Country Inn

A Country Kitchen Kind of Place

Sometime not long after that, Sally found a job at a little restaurant on the other side of town at the Country Kitchen (everything out there is named “Country” something. Hell they ARE out in the country and they are mighty damn hickily proud of the whole damn deal). The place was about the size of a double wide with similar ambience, if you were to fill it with a counter and three or four booths, thirty smelly guys and a palpable layer of cigarette smoke.

I think the only job requirement was to get the orders right and to battle the indefatigable, degenerate advances of the horde of misfit and misbegotten males, relentlessly bent on converting trees into some unrecognizable form. Sally was capable of contending with that sort of bullshit without a lot of undue duress, therefore the job was hers and one aspect of her personality was in its element. She held court.


Waitin’ fer Breakfast

She worked the morning shift at the Country Kitchen, four-thirty to two in the afternoon, serving greasy breakfasts and bestowing endless cups of coffee to loggers preparing to ride the crummy out to the woods of the nearby Pacific Coast range to denude any remaining pristine patches of forest. No sooner was that clan gone, around six, than the guys who worked at the Willamette Industries mill at the south end of town would trundle in. They’d leave around seven-thirty and all the construction crews would show up, seeking fortification before they headed out to their various job sites. It was a regular eco-system. The fellers, the planers, and the builders. Nothing left but saw dust and fir cones.

Stumpy, Three-Finger Bill, and Lefty--Lucky in the Foreground

Three-Finger Bill, Stumpy and Lefty–Lucky in the Foreground

Oh yeah, fir cones. So Sally had her finger on the local employment pulse at the Country Kitchen. She knew too of my limited job history, lack of any real proficiencies, and my incredible phobia for losing digits and/or appendages—a fear that in the community of Dallas was widely scorned and ridiculed by the likes of Lucky, Lefty, Stumpy and Three-Finger Bill. However, despite her diligent efforts, Sally was unable to immediately generate any satisfactory leads for my narrow occupational skill set. Still, I persevered.

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Falls City, Oregon when the Town was Thriving

Through a friend (one of like ten guys named Mike I knew back then) who lived out in the tiny coast range timber dimlet of Falls City, I had occasionally found labor (the term “work” seems so formal), picking Douglas fir cones. Commensurate with my resume, it was a low expectation job, to be sure, one that in many ways bore a distinct resemblance to filbert picking, an occupation for which I had demonstrated some limited capacity, though that was perhaps coupled with a distinct lack of ambition and enthusiasm.

The job responsibilities of a fir cone picker were few. One was encouraged to fill a burlap sack with the things, picked up from the ground by the novice, or expertly plucked from the boughs above by veteran fir cone pickers, such as my friend, Mike. Were one to successfully fill a bag with fir cones—which, while similar to filling a bag with filbert clusters, was considerably easier and less time-consuming to accomplish—an opportunity was thus created for the prospect of fair recompense for the effort. There was the reasonable expectation to get paid a couple of bucks for a filled sack at the fir cone dryer loading dock.

A Fine Fir for Pickin' Cones

A Fine Fir for Pickin’ Cones

Soon I was scaling forty or fifty feet up young fir trees, climbing to the upper limbs where the cones were easy picking. Filling several sacks with cones was easily accomplished up there, especially if one didn’t mind heights. Among my other disinclinations in life, heights ranks chief among them, just behind loss of limbs. However, Mike taught me how to ride the outer boughs, gently sliding down on the furthest limbs from the top of the tree to the ground, assuaging to a great degree my apprehensions in regard to gravity, as encountered from a lofty perch among the firs.

That endeavor went well, as far as it went. But I longed for stability, a future. I longed for permanence. I longed for warmth. Winter was approaching. As it so happened, one day while delivering our load of sacks to the fir cone dryer dock, where we got weighed up and paid. Wild Bill, the boss man of the entire dryer operation, made it generally known that they were hiring. Eureka! I didn’t need to be told twice. It was under cover from the rain. It was warm. It required very little extended effort and even less consistent thought. There was a lot of down time, passed in countless intoxicating ways.

Not long after I was hired, Allen got hooked up working there too, most likely of his own initiative. It wasn’t like I had any pull with Wild Bill or anything. The fir cone dryer lay fixed upon a rolling hill, about a mile out of town on the Kings Valley Highway. It looked like an old, weathered barn—which may very well have been one of its former incarnations. I never asked.

Most likely it was always some sort of dryer. There are plum orchards abounding in that green region of the mid-Willamette Valley. Lots of cherries. Filberts too, of course. All might require a dryer in some instances. I can’t imagine that a fir cone dryer differs very much from something like a prune dryer, the process and preferred outcome being essentially the same.

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

A Prime Barn for a Fir Cone Dryer

The design of the structure thoughtfully utilized the lay of the land. The dryer itself was a segmented wooden shaft enclosed inside a two-story barn. The shaft was about twelve feet wide—divided by two partitions that formed three compartments—and it was six feet high. It descended from the top story to the lower, twenty-five feet in length, at a gradual declining gradient. At the bottom, an oil furnace was mounted in a smaller structure abutted to one side of the barn, with massive air ducts leading into the shaft.

Just off the “highway” at the front, there was a small gravel parking lot. The loading dock and storage area adjoined the building on the town side. There was a cramped office with a door out to the dock and a door opposite that opened into to the work area at the top end of the dryer. Beneath the window between the office and the exterior entry doorway at the other side of the barn, sacks of cones were stacked and served as an impromptu row of seats.

Rookies primarily tended to remain in that vicinity. That’s where you learned the ropes. The demands of the position were few. Those there were involved some occasional moderate exertion and plenty of waiting around—which I was pretty good at, as occupations go.

Somebody's Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

Somebody’s Idea of a Fir Cone Dryer Operation

The action portion of the day was spent cutting open the twine-sewn burlap sacks of (usually) wet cones and distributing them upon the drying screens. Once the cones were evenly spread upon those trays, a guy would feed each one down into one of the dryer via slots at the sides of the each compartment wall. Five screens could be slid down per slot, and the slots were spaced about a eighteen inches apart, horizontally—so that the hot air of the furnace could circulate among the cones. Altogether there were three chutes twenty-five feet long, with four planes of five trays. A lot of cones! Forty or fifty sacks at a crack.

Typically it took the better part of a couple of hours for two guys to perform the task. One guy would cut open the sacks with a curved knife, dumping the cones on a screen. The other guy would spread them out evenly, and then slide the trays down the shafts.

Each row had to be addressed from top to bottom, as extending too far laterally on any one level would create certain future regretful acrobatics in trying to slide the other segments of screens into place. It was hot work. Even in the chilly, wet late fall, the place was toasty—and fragrant. It always smelled of musty balsamic forest and Christmastime around there.

It could take up to four hours for the cones to bake sufficiently enough for them to open and drop their seed to the floor of the drying shaft. It was a hiatus during which “work,” such as we knew it, would come to a complete halt and “break time” would ensue.

Workin' Hard? Or Hardly Workin'?

Workin’ Hard? Or Hardly Workin’?

Around six-thirty the early birds would arrive to convene the Royal Order of the Fir Cone Dryer Friars social club for yet another evening of merriment. Most came packing a bottle of something stiff or at least a six-pack. Several guys would show up with guitars. Rick. Mike (another Mike) played guitar. So did Allen. Me too. So did Lee.

Lee was a wistful wisp of a man, prematurely old, with a jaunty black moustache and a permanent five-day growth of salt and pepper stubble scattered on a gaunt, hollow-haunted visage. He had a sweet, pudgy, wife with glowing roseate skin, who was very plain; and two cherubic blue-eyed young daughters. The four of them lived in a small, ramshackle yellow rental on Ellendale Loop at the far outskirts of town.

That's Lee in the Back

That’s Lee in the Back

Whenever I read Carlos Castaneda books, I would always picture Lee in the role of Don Juan. He was a restless lonesome wind, sonambulently ambling the dryer premeses like a persistently distracted ghost. I was never absolutely sure of his position there. I thought he might be some sort of watchman—as we worked the swing shift, from four to midnight, and probably needed security—though I can’t imagine what for. Maybe he performed some other function in the grand scheme of things, I don’t know. He just wandered around.

Artist's Depiction of Wild Bill

Artist’s Depiction of Wild Bill

Allen remembers Wild Bill looking like Lee Marvin. I remember him to resemble a red-faced Patrick Dennehy. He probably looked like James Coburn. He was in his late thirties, broad, with sandy graying hair and a certain larger than life quality. We agree that his chief feature was that he popped open a can of Oly at any available opportunity—which was most of the time. Wild Bill served as host when the festivities would get under way. Eventually he would head out to his pickup and down a succession of beers, blankly gazing out the windshield while listening to Charlie Rich and Donna Fargo on the radio.

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

Yer Everyday Lift Carrier

The Social Club served as a refuge for old-timers and misfits—castoffs from the slowly dying timber industry. With few forests left to fell, or logs left to mill into boards and beams, work had become scarce. It was true they were hiring at the Caterpillar plant and Towmotor. Those two operations pretty much kept Dallas and much of Polk County alive. But most of the Clubbers were too decrepit or inept to be retrained for a position so sophisticated as D2 bulldozer assembly or the manufacture of lift carriers.

Many of the old farts would come by just to get away from the little woman bedeviling them at home and to get a snoot full without her knowing about it. The younger guys turned up to hang out (as well at the dryer as anywhere else in Dallas), get a free buzz on and jam. It was pretty much a nightly affair.

Bucky and his crew of two from down below, didn’t participate in playing music. They’d come up at break and pretty much keep to themselves. They sat bunched together on a row of sacks along the side wall next to the office, chain-smoking cigarettes, staring vacantly into space. Bucky was in his early 30s, round-faced, effusive curly blond hair stuffed under a dirty black Greek fisherman’s hat. He was a typical country clyde, nice enough guy, with a ferrety face and big, wide, buck teeth. He maintained and operated the furnace and oversaw his seed sacking crew of two down at the bottom of the shaft.

So we’d sit around for the better part of four hours getting smashed and playing guitars. There might be as many as twenty guys sitting around doing nothing—although only seven of us were getting paid to do so. Allen was by far the best guitarist. Allen always was the best guitarist in any situation, under any conditions. Mike played with a sort of bluesy, Dead-y, country flair indigenous to the region at the time. I’ve always been pretty much of a strummer, rhythm guitar guy.

Rick was a rhythm guitarist too, but he had a voice that was as big and husky as he was. He was blind in one eye and it had a tendency to wander, so that sometimes its gaze might follow you around while he was looking in a completely different direction. It was often quite unnerving, especially if you had never before witnessed the phenomenon.

I would guess that it was that eye (or the general regional malaise) that prevented Rick from meeting with great success. He wrote wonderful songs. The lyrics were typically meaningless, but the words always sounded very nice together. In most cases something about his “old lady.” “My old lady has green eyes, as green as emeralds in the sea.” I’ll never forget that one.

So, anyway, when he came around. Rick was the song guy. He could get something “formal” going, like a real song with actual structure that everyone could more or less play together on—rather than each of us just showing off the licks we knew in endless jams. But, after a few drinks, even those pointless jams got very interesting.

Merle Travis

Merle Travis

Lee had a very unique guitar style. He wasn’t a good player at all. And he was rather shy as a performer. But he had a distinctive manner of playing that I had never heard before, nor have I since. I would say that it had its roots in Travis Picking (think “Wildwood Flower”), or whatever style it was before Merle Travis popularized it—a certain bluegrass feel—with vague, Arkansasian overtones.

Allen says the music Lee played sounded like Hank Williams retreads. I don’t remember it that way at all. Whatever Lee was up to, his guitar playing was very unique and he probably employed the same technique that Hank Williams and Merle Travis heard and imitated when they began to create their own music. It preceded them. It was an old, rural style that probably doesn’t even exist anymore. I remember his music fondly. Or, perhaps more accurately: I remember being quite fond of Lee’s music.

Eventually, the cones would actually dry and we would have to go back to work. I don’t even slightly recall what my tasks were at that point in the procedure. It’s all a sloshy, dim blue memory. I faintly recall the guys from below sweeping the seeds down the chute with wide push brooms (or maybe that was us from the top). But before that could happen, all the de-seeded cones needed to be dumped from the screens into bags that would eventually go to the bark dust facility, wherever that was. And the trays needed to be collected and placed back on the hand truck up at the top of the shaft. I have no idea how that happened.

wreckThe job at the fir cone dryer didn’t last long—maybe six months. I remember my last night there Bucky didn’t show up. Bucky never didn’t show up. He was always there. He was the most paycheck-motivated character I’ve ever known. But the night before he had tried to drive back home drunk from Salem and he got in a wreck out on Highway 22 near Rickreal. The other driver was killed and Bucky ended up doing seven years in prison for vehicular manslaughter.

When spring came, Allen took off to go live with Juanita in Monmouth. Sally and I moved out of the house on 10th about ten blocks east to the cool, old two-story house on the corner of Clay and Hayter. Tom and Terri moved in to the lower half of the dwelling and it wasn’t long after that Tom and I got jobs doing construction with Mike (yes, a different Mike). Those Days of the Golden Homes were a story unto themselves.




Well, the past year has been full of chaos and turmoil and I’m hoping for things to settle for a while so I can get some work done. I re-edited Unreal Gods last winter and took out three chapters. So now it’s under 600 pages, at least. I think I’m pretty much the only one to read the new version. I think three people (including me) have read the original. The hell with trying to get editors to read the damn thing, I can’t even get my friends to read it. Which brings us to our next installment of biblical haiku.


The Bible VII

Matthew, Luke and Mark

Had an argument with John

The pissed apostle.


Wire We Here

Allen now.

The other day my longtime friend Allen reminded me of the synthesizer class I took in college. It’s not that I had forgotten, but the evolution of my interest in electronics is such that I sort of left those days to the remnant past. You see, synths have changed quite a bit over the years.

I met Al in college when I was living in the legendary L-shaped house on the S-curve between Monmouth and Independence. The house was desperately notorious for many arcanely sinister reasons (we were “alternative” types in a blue town), which I will spend some other blog elaborating upon. Tom and Doug and I were the primary inhabitants, although we dragged (or maybe drugged would be the better operative verb) many other more temporary roommates into the household from the Oregon College of Education campus.

Marv now

One of the guys we flagged down as roommate material was Marv, although I’m not entirely certain he enjoys being reminded of this brief portion of his life. Poor Marv endured being our roommate for a term, I think. I can’t imagine it was any longer than that in duration. His stay was chaotic, for many reasons, not the least of which were three big dogs and a smaller one, a rabbit and twenty or more cats. The most imposing cat was an albino feline gigantis that appeared one day from the field behind our house. He was huge.


I called him Moby. The great white cat.  He weighed more than my dog Gypsy and she weighed around forty pounds. I think Moby was closer to fifty pounds. Seriously. He just showed up at the back door one day and none of us had the guts to try to get him out of the house once he got in. He just sort of moved in. The cat who came to dinner.

Moby size approximation

One day Moby was draped across the back of the couch when my dog Spider (half-Golden retriever, half-Newfoundland and well over one hundred pounds) came nosing in for a definitive cat sniff. Moby sat up indignantly and took a swipe at Spider, and promptly knocked him down to the floor with a single punch (and it sounded like a punch, too). Spider ran off and nobody ever bothered Moby again. One day Moby disappeared. Probably went back out to the field behind our house where the sheep were grazing. Better hunting out there.

Lew now

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So Marv lived in the L-shaped house on the S-curve for about a term, I think. Somewhere along the line he introduced me to his buddy from high school, Lew. And Lew brought into the fold Allen, another Madison high school graduate. We were all musicians and worked together and in other configurations over the years. Allen was renowned for his unparalleled abilities on the guitar. He played Bach’s “Bouree” using his thumb to execute the intricate contrapuntal bass lines.

Allen then

Eventually, many years later, after we both had moved back up to Portland from Monmouth, Allen became the (exceptional) lead guitar player in my band. If I can ever get my web guy to give me an mp3 player on this website, I’ll let you hear how good he was. He lived in the band house for a while.

There, he and I performed many unusual scientific experiments—including efforts at remote viewing and attempts to generate infrasonic 4-8hz sound waves (much too low to be audible, but the body knows they’re out there, count on it), which were rumored to have all sorts of physical effects. There is some research that suggests one such low tone (the infamous “brown note”) can convince your bowels to evacuate spontaneously. Other tones could put you to sleep. And others could conceivably kill you. It is my recollection we were after the sleep/relaxation component—as that sounds more our speed.

Anyway, that’s who Allen is. We’re still friends and we’ve kept in touch (though somewhat sporadically) over the years. He’s in Michigan now. So our emails and Facebook exchanges are about the extent of our communications nowadays. But we’re both windy writer-types—so brevity is no real obstacle.

Last week Allen sent me this Facebook link

It’s about professor Joe Paradiso who while attending Tufts University in 1973 began work on constructing a synthesizer (now on display in the MIT museum). If you watch this video, you can see what synthesizers were like, back then. They really lived up to the futuristic name. Synthesizer.

Synthesizer circa 1965

It was all cables and jacks, envelope generators and oscillators, and modulators, and waves, and filters. They were amazing devices.  Huge. Some took up a whole wall. The one at U of O was massive.

Early monophonic modular synthesizer

In those days, getting one of the damn contraptions to even make a noise took a lot of effort. The idea of attaching a keyboard to one of them was a bit like trying to extract electricity from a kite. For the longest time, you could only generate one solitary note at a time (monophonic) on a keyboard hooked up to a synthesizer.

Technically, synthesizers had been around for a while. Gee, “musicians” were using tone generators clear back in the 20s. That’s what a theremin is. If you’d like to learn more about the theremin go here to read an article I wrote for Buko magazine about a local surf band that uses one. There’s some history about the instrument there.

Bob Moog: It’s all his fault

Around 1964 Robert Moog emerged as the first developer to create a modular synthesizer that included a keyboard. The set-up was primitive, to say the least, and not at all stable—likely to wander off into oscillatory la la land at the slightest voltage drop. It was in the later-‘60s that Lothar and the Hand People, previously a theremin-based band themselves, started using a Moog Modular system live.

The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman

In 1968, a well-known jazz pianist named Dick Hyman (who is still around today at age 85) put out Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (I guess they had room for longer titles on LPs). That album was something of a precursor to Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Innovative.

Switched On Bach

About that same time Walter Carlos released the revolutionary Switched On Bach. Carlos could only play one note at a time on his Moog set-up. So he put together his elaborate electronic renditions via multitracking. Laborious, tedious and amazing. An incredible piece of work.

Walter Carlos

Switched On Bach set the standard for achievement in electronic music for many years to follow. In that time Walter Carlos broke further new ground by initiating hormone treatments in 1967 and living as Wendy Carlos from that time forward.

Wendy Carlos

Wendy underwent sex reassignment surgery in 1972.  Honestly, I don’t remember much public brouhaha surrounding that event. The turmoil of the times made anything possible, it seems.

Groundbreaking? You be the judge

I always thought the Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” was the first use of a synth on a pop record—Abbey Road in the fall of 1969—but I recently read somewhere that Micky Dolenz had bought one of the first twenty or so Moog Modular systems produced and employed it on two songs on the Monkees album called Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. released late in 1967. Those Monkees. Ever the groundbreakers. Dolenz has said he eventually sold his Moog to Bobby Sherman, which is just a chilling thought.

An unfortunate turn of events at OCE

By the fall of 1971 I had lost my direction, scholastically. After some practicum, I very quickly realized that my goal to become a high school English teacher like my uncle was entirely misguided—when I determined that, even under the best of circumstances, I might realistically be able to reach only three or five students in any particular classroom. The rest of them would be lost to: well, the American Dream, I suppose. Is that what we’re living, here? It also dawned on me that I really didn’t like kids all that much.

I’m certain this is how life will be, Miss Feeney

So, that fall term, I abandoned my formal education and adopted an informal education instead. Tom, Doug and I had moved out of the L-shaped house by then and were living in Mrs. Robinson’s rental in Independence. We had become somewhat disillusioned by the Oregon upper education system. OCE, which had once been considered one of the top teachers’ colleges in the nation, was turning out mindless proles in serving to erect the American scholastic conveyor. Tales of our adventures in attempting to recover our misplaced funding of that facility will have to wait until another day.

Quality education

My immediate choice was to take some classes that really interested me instead of classes that were mandatory and dullardly.  Having no funds for such an expedition, I decided to sit in on classes until the final class enrollment lists came out and I would be forced to take a hike.

I took a really cool Astronomy class. I took a class in Romantic World Literature from one of my favorite professors. That was great. I took my third term of Music Theory, although Professor Funes was totally cool. He knew I was masquerading, but he never did blow the whistle on me, because he knew it was about the music. And it really was and it always has been.

Synthesizer: VCO, Envelope Generator, VGA. Yeah, baby!

I also took a synthesizer class.

OCE had a very sophisticated synthesizer in-house, for being such a podunk little college out in the middle of nowhere. I guess they figured (like four, and me) future teachers of the device should be trained, or something. I know I was there to figure the whole synthesizer thing out.

EMS VCS3: The Putney Synthesizer

It was an EMS VCS-3, nicknamed the “Putney,” after the London suburb where its designer David Cockerell lived. The Putney came with a keyboard that allowed an individual to play only one single note at a time, like a lead instrument. Monophonic. No polyphony, no chords—although you could sort of approximate them with arpeggios.

Putney pin board

And instead of cables and phone plugs like its predecessors, the Putney utilized electronic pins on a matrix pad. The pin board resembled somewhat a game of Battleship. The pins created various connections between oscillators and filters, and other effects, which could then be manipulated via a joy-stick and an array of knobs mounted above the pin and key boards.

Doctor Wallace

Doctor Wallace was the instructor for that class. He was the head of the music department. Sort of a stodgy, fastidious old guy. I’m not sure why he was the instructor. Professor Funes would have been the logical choice. But the prevailing thought was that Doctor Wallace wanted to guard at all costs the department’s big investment toy. No hooligans. Little did he know there was a hooligan in his midst.

Synth students at work/play

The six of us were stuffed into a corner of the little sound control booth located above the concert stage in the performance hall. I quickly became Doctor Wallace’s pet, eliciting from his prized machine the sort of far-out sound effects for which it was renowned. David Cockerell was responsible for creating sounds for the original Doctor Who series, after all.

Putney with keyboard

Over the first half of the spring term I put together some tapes of my best electronic vignettes. The piece de resistance among them was Space Bird Suite. I had figured out how to deploy a direct mic from the concert stage and run it into the Putney. It wasn’t supposed to be able to do that. One afternoon while I was up messing with the Putney (I spent five or six hours a day up in that little room) a woman began playing Bach pieces at the grand piano on the stage below.

I was able to ascertain the key in which she was playing and to jam along with her in single-note contrapuntality.  Once in synch, I turned on the Revox A-77 tape deck and let ‘er rip. Afterwards I mixed in strange, synth-generated bird sounds, pieces of an odd B-movie we roommates watched one night, a classical-like guitar performance and some other electronic detritus. Doctor Wallace was knocked out. I was on my way to getting an A.


I wasn’t enrolled in his class or any other. I wasn’t enrolled in school. Whenever he asked, I had always managed to convince Doctor Wallace that there was some sort of bureaucratic administrative mix-up or what have you, and he would let me slide for another week. Well, we’d better get this cleared up. Yeah you bet. Top of my list.

I had nearly completed my final version of Space Bird Suite. It was on a ten-inch 15 ips reel stored on a shelf above the Putney and the Revox. One day in early May I was on my way into the performance hall and up to the studio when Rick Morrison came sprinting up in my direction.

Doctor Wallace: pissed

“Hey Clarke, Wallace is on to you and he’s pissed!

I took that as a bad omen and got the hell out of there. I was told that at some point Doctor Wallace played my composition for the class and extolled upon its virtues. I don’t know what became of that finished version. I never saw or heard it again. It wouldn’t shock me if Doctor Wallace recorded over it. It was a ten-inch reel of Ampex tape!

Space Bird Suite was an exotic piece, a “Revolution #9” sort of affair with a Bachian sheen overlain. I still have a strangely edited working-version that I had ended up recording various sections of at different speeds in order to get it all onto the short piece of tape I had available. I keep telling myself that one day I’ll put that one back together to its rightful ten minute length (I still have the recording), just as a curiosity. But I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to it.


In keeping with tradition, here is the latest installment of Biblical Haiku.

The Bible IV

Moses descended

Mount Sinai with two tablets

And a big headache