Moondog’s Brokedown Palace
On June 28, 2016, a year to the day after local icon Jim Dwyer (aka The Rev. Junkyard Moondog) died on his way back to Chico from a Grateful Dead concert, Steve Metzger, a longtime friend, bought Dwyer’s house—with the stipulation from Billy Dwyer, Jim’s brother, that he leave Jim’s peace sign, made with freeway lane-divider dots, on the roof. He spent some $35,000 and untold hours fixing up the worn-down house to use as a short-term rental. Metzger, a one-time CN&R contributor, retired Chico State (and current Butte College) English instructor, is writing a book about Jim, the house and selected history of Chico, including the filming of The Adventures of Robin Hood, Woody Guthrie’s little-known visit to town, the Chico Army Air Base and the early 1960s protests of the missile silos and the beginnings of the Chico peace movement. Anyone with information/stories about any of this Chico history can contact Metzger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Arts DEVO is excited to share this excerpt from the current draft of Metzger’s Brokedown Palace: A Remodel:
I used to tell my writing students that you can begin a story anywhere. “Look,” I’d say, holding up a novel, short story, or narrative essay. “The writer could have begun this in a million different places.” Then I’d shut my eyes tight and let my finger run along a page, over onto another, dramatically brushing my fingertips over the words, then stop totally at random. “Ha!” I’d open my eyes. “‘Call me Ishmael’ is good,’” I’d say, “but so is ‘I stuffed a shirt or two into my carpet-bag, tucked it under my arm, and started for Cape Horn and the Pacific.’”
Or: “‘Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.’” Also good. More than. Classic. Iconic. But Joyce could also have begun at the end, with Molly’s soliloquy (as the 2004 film Bloom does): “Yes because he never did a thing like that before to ask me to get his breakfast in bed…” Or, with Chapter 2: ‘Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.’”
And so it is with any story: that of a young teenage girl running off to a bizarre and far-off land only to return to find that there’s no place like home; a lost extraterrestrial finding friendship in a lonely earthling; star-crossed teenage lovers in medieval Verona, dead at the hands of class conflict, blind passion, and a lost letter; a smirking, bow-and-arrow toting English ne’er-do-well who steals from the rich to give to the poor.
Or the story of a charmingly crazy poet-actor-scholar-altruist-environmentalist, who, in 2010, retired from his job as a university librarian and then spiraled into self-destruction and died trying to find his way home to his small northern California town after a long strange bus-train-and-taxi trip to a Fare Thee Well concert by a band that, 50 years prior and just a few miles away, had changed their name from the Warlocks to the Grateful Dead.
And, part of it all: the reimagining and resurrection of a small, long-neglected cottage, built in 1938, the same year that Warner Bros. released The Adventures of Robin Hood—and to which, on the day it opened, the local movie house (still open all these years later but now home to rock and hip-hop concerts) offered free screenings to school children, many of whom had watched the filming from the oak and sycamore “Sherwood Forest,” staged in this small northern California college town. And the same year that Woody Guthrie passed through town, singing in the downtown plaza and camping in Bidwell Park.
One place among many to begin: April, 1979, ten o’clock on a Tuesday night in a tiny cinderblock house—across town from that little cottage and about a mile from where Errol Flynn and gang had made their movie 42 years earlier. A handful of English majors with guitars are trying their best to summon Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, John Prine and Kris Kristofferson. “Blowin’ in the Wind” sounds okay, and everyone knows “Angel From Montgomery,” which resonates throughout the room.
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living’s just a hard way to go
And then, on “Me and Bobby McGee”: Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.
You can begin a story anywhere. As long as you find a way back.