Elizabeth Reed must have been one hell of a woman. Not only did the Allman Brothers compose a 13-minute song in memory of her but she got me through a root canal process as well. People make jokes about rather having a root canal than, say, watching FOX News for any length of time, or listening to a Barry Manilow record….but I wonder about that. And I sort of put it to the test today.
The dentist office was only two blocks away so I walked to my scheduled appointment this morning under cloudy, late winter skies. Into that brisk, enigmatic wind that blows down from the north this time of the year and forces you to pack a jacket with you even though the sun may be shining. That was all a moot point anyway once I got inside the warm, glass-enclosed medical building.
Unlike the last time I had a root canal four years ago, I remembered this time to bring along my Ipod. And my dental assistant Cassandra led me into a well-lighted room where I had a distant view of the snow-flecked Uncompahgre Plateau and the burgeoning mass of gray clouds coming into the Valley. But I didn’t have that view for long as the chair was tilted back and the dribble bib applied. As the hardware was being installed into my propped open jaws, I turned on the Ipod and held fast to it.
And as the noise of the drill escalated, so did the volume on the Ipod. We started with Hard Work by John Handy, a breezy jazz number that lasted long enough to make me feel relatively comfortable under the circumstances. After John Handy came Huey Lewis with The Heart of Rock and Roll, a nice foot thumper. I wasn’t going to think about any pain, only the music. So I was delighted when the Allman Brothers announced from the stage of the Fillmore East that they were going to play In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. I was immediately transported away from the sterile office. No amount of pounding or probing was going to distract me from Duane Allman’s guitar riffs or Dicky Betts’ sinuous solos.
I thought about those old days at the old Fillmore off of Geary Street in San Francisco. The anticipatory drives up from the Peninsula along the Bayshore Freeway. Away from our safe suburban streets and into the concrete maze of downtown. Homing in on the music just a few blocks away. Parking anywhere we could find a place in the heart of the black neighborhoods, and blithely heading for the dance hall entrance. Bill Graham was usually hanging out in the lobby. There were free apples. Posters for next weeks concert. And lots of smoke.
Then wandering into the hall itself and finding an appropriate spot on the floor in that mid-zone between the stage and the dancers. The colored lights and film loops up on the wall. And that sweet, sweet smoke. Four or five hours of hard driving music before being expelled into the street once again, trying to find the car for the long drive home.
This was a weekly ritual for a couple of years. It only cost $3 to get into the Fillmore or Avalon back then. I saw Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix on their first tours, when they were third on the bill. Caught old timers like Chuck Berry and Howling Wolf. Saw a new band, The Doors, up from L.A. And reveled in our own local talent like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and Santana.
Santana is playing right now. The Allman Brothers have left the stage and now Santana is doing Soul Sacrifice as the dentist makes his last few assaults to my jaw. My oh-so-sore jaw. But wouldn’t it have been so much worse without Elizabeth Reed and the memories of those youthful, naïve nights near the bay. All these years later, Elizabeth lives on and I am grateful to her and the Allman Brothers and Santana and those artists who have infused my life with such magic and memory.