Phil’s father’s last tour of duty was back at Fort Gordon where Phil crossed the line into his early teens. With a bicycle as chief means of transport and his mother not driving, he was permitted to cruise around all day before and after school as well as on weekends and he used this freedom to explore the neighbouring city of Augusta, including its black culture.
Lying to his mother that he was going to see a rerun of ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, he instead made it to the front of the stage at the Civic Centre for a James Brown concert, the only visible white person in the audience in those pre-integration days. His reward for this was getting showered with Brown’s sweat when the singer did a sudden turn and split within a few feet of Phil, staring him in the eye. And with a mighty HUAAGH! Brown seemed to levitate back onto his feet as Phil realised he’s been baptised into a new church.
The only other musical event he’d seen as a seven year old was at a drive in theatre in Tennessee when his older brother, forced to babysit him that night, snuck him in with his girlfriend to a concert on a stage erected just below the screen. When the music started up, Phil awoke to an empty car and wanting to see what was shaking, crawled up on the roof. There, spotlighted in front of the screen was a wild white kid gyrating his hips and causing girls to scream and faint. It was Elvis, just before he hit the big time and Phil was enthralled. Elvis and later James Brown and The Fabulous Flames made an impression on him that drove him into music and away from the orderly mission of a military life.
In his various schools where Phil went, he took up band, saddled first with a Sousaphone because he was late joining and it was the only instrument left. With its massive bell, equally huge mouthpiece and only three valves, Phil was able to master counterpoint and rhythm in marching band. He didn’t look cute wrapped in a white mass of piping. But he was loud!
Phil’s father retired from the military and the family moved from the sweltering heat of Georgia to their family home in the tiny town of West Poland, Maine which was a snowbound slum in winter and a home to summer camps full of city slicker kids in summer. He stuck out like a sore thumb among the snowbillies with his advanced education and linguistic skills as well as his embracing black music.
Aside from two black lesbians who were the town pariahs but who taught Phil about jazz and beatnik philosophy, life was firmly frozen in Dullsville. The 400 population town was stifling, but because he lived on a farm, he had plenty of animals to relate to, among which were wild but harmless snakes living in stone walls and the farm’s foundations. He also became a lover of birds and caught insects and butterflies of all types for a college professor who was assembling a fauna collection.
The next year though he started playing drums in a marching band for parades, football and other events. He also joined the chorus “Because that’s where the girls were”. He didn’t do shop or sports like his Maine redneck revheads and jocks thrived on, nor did he get covered with chips and dust in wood shop or sprinkled with shavings in metal shop. He opted instead for typing and home economics because, “That’s where the girls are.”
His male classmates called him a fag for taking girlie courses as they got sweaty, greasy and dirty in shop or hung out in the showers after battering themselves silly playing football, comparing tool size and swatting each other with towels. He was also starting to embrace anti-Vietnam and hip thinking which made him an even greater target of bullying. By going to New York for a few weeks to attend the World’s Fair and Washington DC to meet his state senators and other representatives, his vision was broadened only to be returned to the narrow minds of Maine.
Unfortunately, his father and mother drank to excess during the long winter nights–the joke being that there are only two seasons in Maine, ‘Winter and July’–and soon Phil’s father became even more violent, directing most of his wrath against the 14 year old. At 15, after being beaten with straps, belts, sticks, pipes and finally, a garden hoe, Phil snapped and knocked his father out into a snowbank with one mighty punch in front of his mother. The humiliation proved too much and Phil’s father moved out, leaving his wife who was recovering from a hysterectomy with a small farm to run.
She had to take a job and a Job Corps Centre had just opened up in an old hotel complex in neighbouring Poland Springs which became home to over 1000 young women between 15 and 21 years of age who were yanked out of cities and planted there to learn trades. Olga became a counselor and kind of surrogate mother to these wild women and Phil started meeting them when he went to pick her up from work.
After investigations into their character and strict monitoring, local boys were allowed on campus and allowed to ‘date’ the women there. Phil passed muster, visited every weekend and soon became a popular friend to many girls away from home–some merely lonely, others with massive problems, criminal backgrounds, drug problems or other life tragedies. From delicate to dangerous, they taught Phil a lot of street smarts which would go to serve him well in life later.
But it was here that Phil learned all about black music, how to dance and he was also taught how to make out and had his sexual awakening with a Latino/Africano woman in the back seat of a fold down Rambler. He smoked his first joint, drank his first beer and started to grow his hair long after 16 years of crewcuts.
He was thrown out of one school in his sophomore year for stealing the chemistry department’s entire set of exams and was placed on probation in his senior year at the subsequent Oxford Hills High School for supposedly getting members of the band and chorus drunk on an exchange concert to another city. But he still graduated with honours and had to only make the concession of having a haircut to participate.
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