Coming back down to earth after a wild ride on the BART and a great Dead show was difficult for me. I was up. Artie and Chris were up for some fun. We had a case of beer waiting for us in the fridge and I had a backpack full of fun, as well. It was going to be a good rest of the night.
When we got up out of the Market Street station, we had a bit of a walk to get back to the apartment we were staying at, so we trudged our way down the streets of San Francisco. It was probably about a mile or so to the pad and the weirdest thing was happening. The streets were completely empty.
We did see a few cars on the road, but there were no pedestrians. The further we walked, the more it seemed like SF was a wasteland and we were the only survivors of some comet (you might get the reference) or something. We were a bit weirded out, but all still very high, laughing, and looking forward to a bit more fun.
We got back to the guy’s apartment, and I cracked a beer and dug around in my bag for a little more inspiration. I had traded some consumable data for another kind of stronger (like going from a 5.25 floppy disk to 32gb thumb drive) data and plopped that into the drive and fired it up. As I’m doing this in the kitchen, Artie and Chris passed the fuck out.
What the hell? These guys were all geared up to drink some beer and smoke out. It was just about midnight, maybe even a little before, and I was stuck in this apartment on the 6th floor alone with my thoughts and a case of beer and a bunch of data. What was a 21-year-old man to do?
Well, the beer was tasting good, and the more powerful data was taking my brain to new and exciting places. Chris had taken the bed in the other room and Artie was snoring on the couch, so I was left with an oversized bean bag chair for comfort. It put me low to the ground, so all could see out the windows was the lights of nearby buildings and the bay bridge off in the distance.
Because the others were sleeping, I just sat there in the quiet and listened to the sounds of the city. My brain was traveling about a thousand miles an hour and San Francisco sounded alive to me. The cars began to sound like giant gremlins running through the streets below me and I became convinced there were gnarly creatures patrolling the city streets, screaming at each other in an unintelligible language.
These sounds fucked with me for a long time. I heard them for at least an hour, if not two. They were scary, compelling, and it really seemed to my addled brain that there were monsters roaming the streets and they would eventually realize I was onto them. At times I could almost make out words, but it was also similar to recordings I had heard of people speaking in tongues. Glossolalia was, and has been, fascinating to me for a long time.
Eventually I passed out on the bean bag chair. The guys were pissed off at me for drinking the bulk of the beer when they got up the next morning. My counter, though, was just as powerful when I called them out for being total pussies and leaving me hanging for a night of auditory hallucinations like no other. I had never experienced anything close to that before. We got past it quickly and planned out our day of going to the second of four shows.
I decided to sit out the show that night and caught a ride with the guys to the Coliseum so I could grab a BART train and head toward Berkeley to meet up with my friends, but the noises I had heard the night before stuck with me for a few years. I tried to tell my old roommate about them but couldn’t figure out how to share it without wrecking my brain again, so I didn’t talk about them for a long while.
A few years later, 1993 to be exact, The Great Ciarlino (guitar player and mirror master extraordinaire), the Boy (which is what we called our drummer), and I had forged the trio that would eventually be known as Hillbilly Devilspeak. We were practicing at Easy Street one Saturday after I had closed up the sandwich biz for the day and I was telling them about the trip to see the Dead. When I got to the part about the night of the first show, I was telling them what I had heard, and they asked what it sounded like.
Now, I had attempted reach real, true glossolalia before in my life, but had never really been successful. But on this day in Easy Street, though, I was able to pull it off. I opened my mouth and the sounds I had heard in San Francisco came out of my body for a few seconds. I opened my eyes and looked at Ciarlino and the Boy and they looked horrified.
The Boy said, “Please don’t ever do that again” and Ciarlino said, “You should write a song about that.”
I said, “Well, I’m going to call it ‘Hillbilly Devilspeak’ because that’s what it sounded like” and they agreed.
The song is on our first 7” that came out in 1994. If you have a copy, you can listen. It’s not on anything else. We started calling the band that soon after and the rest is history.
Sometimes I wonder if the universe knew what I was supposed to do with a bunch of my time, moving forward, and gave those sounds to me that night as a gift. I’m pretty sure a lot of the people at the Dead show that night would have believed it. It saved us from being the Oaktown Miracles, that’s for sure.
See you tomorrow.