Actually, I don’t know quite where Patrushka found these artifacts. They were somewhere in her box of youth, put away when she was an eighteen year old refugee from San Gabriel and the Sopwith Camel was about as cool as cool as cool as it was possible to get in the untrammeled San Francisco of 1966…
I would have said as groovy as groovy as groovy as you could possibly be but you would have thought I mocked them, which I could never do, old Hump gone to the moon…
“Would you like some of my tangerine?” Inevitable, when I hear that famous Sopwith Camel line, that I should see their lead singer, Peter Kraemer, strolling out the door of the SF State Commons with his main man Chris Latham beside him and he’s looking for Lori Haymann because he’s got a mad crush on her and he’s eating something small and orange as he walks. It’s a warm October day in 1962 1963 1964 1965 at San Francisco State and the folkies are sitting on the grass on the right hand side if you’re coming out the door with their guitars and mandolins and dulcimers and five-string banjos and their House of the Rising Sun and no one has yet got the idea to start a rock band, and the bearded peaceniks are setting up a blue felt-covered table next to the Young Americans for Crewcuts where they can harangue each other in peace while the Cost Plus peasant-skirted and sandaled angel girls of my youth admire and accept Peter’s tangerine or possibly mock him and look for someone with a pomegranate, but in the most fetching way ah ah Roseanne Forest, Eva Bessie, Lucy Lewis, Robin McGill, Shauna Pope, Bess Farr, Natasha Someone thanks for dropping by my vision I wish you were all still here today on this planet to mock us more and let Peter peel an entire tangerine for you.
Ah ah to be “one of the Bay Area’s most exciting new rock groups…setting attendance records at the Matrix that surpassed the Jefferson Airplane, the Greatful (sic) Dead and even Quicksilver Messenger Service.” And now “approaching their first recording session” with New York folkie producer Eric Jacobsen looking for a quick hit, which he found in Peter’s uniquely friendly voice and Martin Beard’s well-constructed, funny bass solo. And, of course, the vibes from a sunny October afternoon on the San Francisco State lawn. Hello Hello charted at #26 on Billboards’ Top 40 Hits of 1966, right behind Gene Pitney’s long-forgotten Backstage. Kama Sutra records sold them as five zany but safe guys with clean hair and kazoos, hugging silly absurdist trees like the Monkees did. They went along with the gag, who wouldn’t? In 1966, the idea was hits, lots of hits like The Lovin’ Spoonful, like The Mama and The Papas. There was no model yet for any other kind of rock band. The only thing the Camel did was wrong was to stay out of the charts too long. Before Hello Hello, Sopwith Camel was one of the top attractions on the San Francisco ballroom circuit, after Hello Hello, they basically disappeared for the moon. A shame, really, because the band got better and better. For a free listen , check out their 1972 album, The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon at the Sopwith Camel website.
So now it’s 2010. The honey-pale moon lay low on the sleepy hill, so I fell asleep in a dell high up on San Bruno Mountain and there amongst the nodding garter snakes and elfin butterflies I dreamt a sleeping giant, the 21st Century Sopwith Camel was trundling towards San Francisco to be born yet again.
P.S. Actually, I made up that last part. Last November, I was paying no attention whatever to the great white roaring city below but idling with dog and pipe when a note came fluttering on the back of an endangered butterfly. It was from the unextinct Sopwith Camel itself:
We had a great debut with new lineup at J. Tony Serra’s Halloween party in the Great American Music Hall, lights and sound and all. Martin Beard, original bassist & self from the ballroom days, and Mike McKevitt, and Bruce Slesinger, with whom I’ve played occasionally for years. Mike and i were in a big avant garde blues band around Y2K; Bruce was the drummer for "The Dead Kennedy’s." We are very modern, nice and loud and psychedelic and now we need a gig.
…Jes’ so’s y’know this is the best version of the band yet; I’m so happy to be avant the garde again; the prospect of playing the retro circuit was giving me the creeps. If anyone in your extended sty is or knows an agent or manager who might like to book a modern band with an aging name—Peter Kraemer