Monday, April 30, 2007

Captain Toothpaste Returns

WHO IS CAPTAIN TOOTHPASTE? asked the bold print on the last page of the Knox Magazine spring 2007 issue. That’s easy. I am.

Or I was in 1968. I cut a record under that name, which was included in an issue of the Knox College literary magazine. The song was called “Nightdove.” Thanks to Knox Magazine, you can hear it yourself, right here. That’s me singing and playing guitar. I also wrote it--my real name is on the label as well, paired with a “J.Rider” as co-author. That was me as well.

I was also the co-editor of the magazine, with Wendy Saul. It was called “The Siwasher” then. Knox College was known as “Old Siwash” from stories written about it using that mythical name. It also turned out to be something of a racial slur which Native Americans found offensive. Our Spring 1968 issue was the last one with that name. Some years later, the school officially dropped references to Siwash, and adopted a new name for its sports teams.

The magazine had followed the same format for the years I was there: student stories, poems and reproductions of art works. After publishing such an issue in the fall, we decided to go multimedia. We broke out of the book with 8x10 reproductions of the work of four photographers, plus an art poster suitable for hanging. We talked a lot about how popular music in the 60s was a vital and representative art form for our generation, so we wanted to include records. We kept to our budget for all this by collecting the usual stories and poems in a booklet with a generic cover. And we put it all—book, photos, poster and two records---in a manilla envelope, with a poem by Howard Partner on the flap.

The record with the hot pink label (both were small but played at 33 1/3 format) featured Rick Clinebell’s rendition of the Joni Mitchell tune, “The Urge for Going,” on one side, and three cuts on the other side: a piano duet of an original work by Karen Janecek, a tune by the Knox folk group, Four in the Morning, and a rock tune by the Bushes.

The record with the yellow label had three tunes by the bluegrass Stoney Hollow Boys: Rick Lindner, Tom Stern and Mark Brooks, all from our class of '68. And on the other side, “Nightdove” by Captain Toothpaste.

Rick Clinebell was our music director. I was about to take the tapes of all the music to a record company in one of the Quad Cities (Davenport?) when he rushed me into a practice room in the Fine Arts Center with his guitar to re-record “Nightdove,” because something was wrong with the original tape. So I played and sang it just once, messed up the lyrics a little, but that was all the time I had. That’s what’s on the record now.

The recording studio where the tapes were turned into masters and then into records was run by an older gentleman and his wife. She loved the name “Captain Toothpaste.” She said she thought of it at night when she brushed her teeth and it made her laugh. While she was telling us this, her husband was at his mixing board, and asked me if I’d like some echo added to my song. I said sure. I was there with Wendy and Barbara Cottral. It was a sunny spring day. Later we had sandwiches at a little airport, watching small planes take off and land.

The print part of that last issue of the Siwasher were stories by Barbara Ann Cottral (now the famous story writer, Barbara Bean) and Jeremy Gladstone, a play by Sherwood Kiraly (now the famous novelist, Sherwood Kiraly), and poems by Nicholas Brockunier, Harvey Sadow (the world famous ceramicist), Wendy Saul (the famous writer,) Anne Maxfield, Bob Epstein, Phil Ralston, Linda Pohle and me. The next fall the magazine became “Catch.” I had a story in that first issue, too.

I don’t really remember but the whole multimedia thing was probably my idea. Influenced partly by Marshall McLuhan, I was fascinated with the idea of creating interrelated works in various media, specifically of publishing a novel that would be packaged with its own movie and soundtrack. It was barely practical then, and of course it’s much more doable now. I did something like it in the mid 1980s, when I recorded two songs (“The Malling of America” and “Mall Rats”) in the studio with musicians and backup singers, etc., to go along with my book, The Malling of America. The songs were a big hit at my speaking engagements for awhile, and actually got some radio play.

The “Captain Toothpaste” identity was very 60s, of course. Although there’s a homage in there to Howdy Dowdy, too, who was sponsored by Colgate toothpaste, creators of Happy Tooth and Mr. Tooth Decay. Also some satire on commercial culture that included the music industry.

Especially with that little echo added, “Nightdove” turned out to be kind of country surrealism. It reflects a lot I was feeling and thinking about at the time, especially in view of the world we were being drafted into a few weeks later.

Of course I’ve long since left such youthful preoccupations and pretensions behind. And I’m much too mature to call myself Captain Toothpaste. These days I’m known to readers of Daily Kos, Soul of Star Trek and everywhere on the Internet as Captain Future.

It is as Captain Future that I was invited to chair a panel this fall at the 40th anniversary Star Trek convention in Seattle, where I met some of my readers, including Walter Koenig (Chekov) and Jonathan Frakes (Riker). I’ve met Leonard Nimoy (Spock), Marina Sirtis (Troi), George Takei (Sulu), Levar Burton (Georgi LaForge) and Nichelle Nichols (Ahura), who introduced me to Neil Armstrong, the first human to set foot on ground not on this Earth. But Captain Future is not all about space. The Climate Crisis on the only world we’ve got is a primary preoccupation of my main site, Captain Future’s Dreaming Up Daily.

But Captain Toothpaste is a part of me, too. Save the nightdove, save the world.

Update 9/9/07: Just got the fall issue of the Knox Magazine, with their follow-up. I don't know why they won't mention blog addresses, especially since they basically got their information from a link to this post. They did add some information about the Stoney Hollow Boys. I don't remember Rick Lindner ever being called "Willy," but they name him and Tom Stern, but also Peter Schramm, former professor of biology, and Ken Pahel, another faculty member, as the string bass player. No mention of Mark Brooks. I distinctly remember him playing a washtub bass, the first I'd ever seen. I wonder whose memory is faulty here. I suppose I can be forgiven for forgetting Peter Schramm, since he failed me in a course which led to my never graduating. It was a course in evolution--pretty ironic, since failing the course selected me as not among the fittest, and doubly ironic because I've written a lot on the subject of evolution since, and have become the go-to guy for reviewing books on it--and science in general--at the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. I also created the official web page for one of his predecessors, Paul Shepard, one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century, about evolution and so much more.

I also see that our 1967 anti-war poetry reading got into the history of Old Main, and that the post-Kent State/Jackson State takeover of the deans offices in 1970 is described as "peaceful," which it was, apart from the rock band playing in the hall. It was scheduled to be less peaceful, when the college decided to call the cops and have me arrested (or so I'm told.) But we left before then--specifically we declared victory and went home, which was our solution for how to get out of Vietnam.

Though Knox likes to give "credit" for leading that action to former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, it was actually me. He wasn't even my chief of staff! Though they did get the name we called ourselves right--"The Students Are Revolting." I ask you, who else but me would have come up with that? I was reading about Dada at the time--and reading our generation's dadaist, Abbie Hoffman. But more about all that another time.

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