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THE LATEST FROM THE RANCHO

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I don't remember it being a Thursday but I know it was the last day of spring.

Temperatures had cooled to around 100 at noon, from earlier in the week when it was hanging around 106.

Hospice nurses had told me there was nothing more they could do to ease Fred's pain. His fingers pumped the morphine drip but it was set to only deliver the painkiller every so often. It was mostly psychological now.

The last time Fred had left his house was a few evenings earlier, to wish Michael Callahan a happy birthday, or maybe to say goodbye to Mike and his wife Karen, the born-again Christian couple who held traces of having once been hippies (Michael's hair, for one, still all the way down his back) and who had given Fred his last true love, Kashmir, an Arabian Stallion.

One other time, Fred snuck out in his van, down to Sam's Market. I stood on the adobe wall to watch where he was going, not in the best shape to be driving around in the heat.

I had called Jo and Charles Drake in Houston to suggest that they fly to Ontario instead of driving to Joshua Tree, as planned. I had a feeling there wasn't time for them to drive. Fred had stopped eating and was only sipping cold Ginger Ale through a straw now. He had stopped smoking the pot that had helped with his pain and his appetite.

Jo had been out to visit a few weeks earlier, while Fred was undergoing radiation therapy. Fred hung the stereotactic face mask they'd made for his treatments on the wood panel wall above the bathroom door. It was a perfect likeness of Fred, which creeped his mom out a bit; a space-age, thermoplastic death mask.

There had been Mother's Day brunch at Twentynine Palms Inn. Fred had been told he had two to three months to live. "At least I went to Europe," Fred told his mother, causing them both to laugh, recalling an old Saturday Night Live skit where a grieving family took turns viewing a corpse, each remarking, "At least he went to Europe."

That was their relationship. Jo was an older, female version of Fred, down to the slender good looks, sparkling green eyes, cutting wit, coffee and cigarette. From Jo, Fred had, unwittingly perhaps, learned to hold court, to charm and to entertain his guests, for hours at a time.

Everyone in Fred's immediate orbit - because it was an orbit, where he was the dying sun - had spun in his or her own direction like spinning tops. My partner at the time, Elia Arce, had reacted to Fred's imminent death by taking a job in L.A., delivering packages for movie studios, alternately burning through town and sitting in L.A. Traffic.

That morning, she had delivered a package to a post-production house in Burbank in her recently purchased Saab 700, where she ran in to use the women's room. The keys, set atop the toilet, were sucked down by the powerful vacuum of the toilet's flush and lost. She gazed over the wall to see an onion dome, like on top of a Mosque, and took it as sort of unknown sign. It would take many days and several hundred dollars to replace the key and Elia would not get to the Rancho until after Fred was gone, later that night.

A young woman named Kathy, a friend of both Fred's, Drake and Burke, was cleaning around the Rancho that morning. When she'd done all the dusting and straightening up, Cathy leaned over Fred, who was lying on the sofa in the living room.

"Is there anything else you'd like me to do?"

"No, Kathy, your work is finished. Mine is just beginning..."

Across the room from Fred, I sat, as I had for most of the past few days, making cd's from dat tapes and rolling joints, now mostly for myself. In Home Health Services (IHHS) may have objected, had they known, in those days before the widespread acceptance of medical marijuana.

To Fred, somking pot made the difference between feeling sick and feeling hungry, between worrying and playing his guitar into a microphone.

"We started with blank tape," Fred would say, at the end of a productive, all-night session, in healthier times.

"Is this the best mix?" I would ask him now.

"I think there's a better one right after this," he would remember, correctly.

He wanted me to archive his recordings, and maybe just as much, he wanted to review his life's work, the music he had recorded at his home, the Rancho de la Luna, since the day he stumbled upon his dream, guided to this rental in Joshua Tree, 9 years and two months earlier.

There was his completed album, "Twice Shy," which had been released on 9/11; There were two albums with his band, the Earthlings?; There was a completed album of mostly rhythm based grooves he called "Ride"; and there was an ocean of ambient music, on top of a mountain of unfinished cowboy love-songs on dat tapes. (That didn't include the recordings he'd made with Daniel Lanois, Josh Homme (Desert Sessions); Victoria Williams (Musings of a Creekdipper), myself and many others.)

Fred's ambient music was filling the space between the silence and the long, deep breaths.

In meditation class, I'd asked my instructor, the former radical journalist, Art Kunkin, about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which Fred kept near his bed.

"Should I begin reading it to him?"

"I don't think it's necessary. It could make him feel anxious...Just think about it when you're with him," Art advised. Art had been with his friends Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary - who had translated the Tibetan Book for the acid generation - in the hours leading to each one's passing, so he I trusted him. "Be a calming presence," he demonstrated, with the words he spoke,

Art had taught me that the Tibetans believe that, ideally, our 'essence' - what we sometimes call 'spirit' - passes out through the roof of our heads and shoots out into the cosmos. This is why the monks plant their feet firmly on the ground and take a deep breath at the time of passing.

A small group of Fred's friends, including Fred Burke, whom Drake called his 'brain,' for all the help he was, in remembering details, from musical rights agreements to daily regimen of drugs, Fred's 'cocktail' of anti-virals, anti-depressants, pain meds and other appetite killers; There was Victoria, praying aloud; There was Chrissie Wilson, Fred's "wife," his female counterpart from Wales; and myself, took turns saying goodbye.

"I'll always be with you," he promised.

Fred sat up straight on the couch, surrounded by the others, as I watched from the soundboard chair. A note hovered in the room, then faded out. Fred planted his feet, squarely, on the floor in front of the couch.

He leaned his head back as he exhaled his final breath. His essence seemed to pour like a fountain, out through the roof of his head, launching towards the heavens, like a Tibetan cowboy.

Chrissie and Fred Burke managed to carry Fred in to his little bed, in the room beside the recording console. Chrissie dressed him in his finest orange silk shirt. Nobody wanted to close his eyes, as Fred Burke said, "it made it seem so final."

Nurse Linda Hoffman, from IHHS, called a few moments later. Other friends, Tony Mason and Debbie Hotchkiss, began to arrive. "Cool," Tony said, upon hearing the news, which I knew meant, Fred's okay now.

When Nurse Linda arrived, from her 18 year old's birthday celebration, she noticed the serious expression on Fred Drake's face. We agreed that we should meet Fred's parents at Ontario airport and bring them back to Joshua Tree.

"We were just in time to meet Fred's parents as they were stepping off the airport escalator," Linda recalls. "It was a very emotional time, as they did not know that Fred had actually passed."

"Jo cried and cried. Charles wrapped her in his arms and held her...in the backseat, all the way back to Joshua Tree."

We arrived to a house full of friends, "respectfully quiet, with everyone speaking softly."

Fred Burke recalls telling Fred that Jo and Charles were on their way, before he died. "And I do remember his expression changing afterwards, when they arrived." Nurse Linda concurs.

"The one thing that I will never forget is the smile that was now present on Fred's face. He no longer had the 'serious' look he had earlier."

One friend who had arrived was Robert Allan, the third part of Fred's and my band, Ministry of Fools.

After Fred's body had been taken away, Robert and I went back to the house I shared with Elia. I found a picture lying there, of Elia, our dog, Negra, and, atop his horse, Kashmir, Fred, which I'd shot on occasion when Fred was riding past, with a handful of freshly-picked sunflowers from the wash.

"This is one of the rare times that he was here," I told Robert. "Mostly, we were always at the Rancho."

Just then, Joshua Tree went dark in a town-wide power outage.

It felt like a little prank that Fred would pull on his fellow Fools.

Elia and Clint, our sweat lodge leader's Buddhist husband, accompanied Fred's father to the crematorium. A memorial was planned and carried out for the weekend at the Rancho in Joshua Tree.

Then, just a week later, another Sacred Fool, Elia's friend, the performance artist Mario Gardner, took his own life. Another memorial, a jazz funeral in Santa Monica, and another story. But when we buried him, at Valhalla Memorial Park in Burbank, it was just a few feet away from that onion-dome that Elia had seen from the other side of the wall, the day she lost her keys, on the day that Fred Drake died.

Ted Quinn


Monday, June 20, 2011


Alta Lochridge, Joshua Tree's curiosity shopkeeper, was a jewelry maker, artist networker and sponsor to many recovering addicts. A visit to Alta's shop was like stepping into a magical world where you could find anything you needed and many things you didn't need but couldn't live without.

Alta's Curiosities was the treasure chest that provided the furnishings and accessories for Fred's Rancho de la Luna, from drive-in movie speakers (for monitoring the studio from the redwood hot tub) and an early Edison wax cylinder player (from the earliest days of recording, pre-gramophone) to cowboy lamps and coffee cups. The Rancho was an extension of Alta's museum of the outlived; filled with items from random estate sales and unpaid, emptied storage containers.

With the mystique of a fortuneteller and the intuition of a coal-miner's daughter, Alta loved nothing more than introducing her many friends to fellow artists and musicians. Her passing, 10 years ago, left a gap in the heart of Joshua Tree, but her legacy, including referring the original Crossroads owners to the site of the old Winners' Circle bar, is indelible. Alta took us to Pappy & Harriet's for the first time, when it was still a place of line-dancing cowboys, marines and aging long-haired bikers. Her whispered jewels of advice, delivered like a secret, ancient formula, included the desert wisdom of turning on the swamp cooler well before it got too hot outside, to beat the heatwave of summer afternoons.

One of her creations, a beautiful, glittery mermaid she transformed from an adult bookstore mannequin symbolized her own transformation from an abused child, to a biker with beloved husband and partner Bob, to a healer of broken spirits. On the day of her memorial the mermaid was paraded through town on the back of the flatbed where she always wanted to stage concerts. Her wish came true when Victoria Williams, the late Buzz Gamble, Fred Drake, and many others, sang in her honor on the back of that flatbed, then parked in Alta and Bob's magical junkyard at home where the overflow from their shop found a place among Airstream trailers, railroad ties and garden gnomes.

Alta left the desert on the first day of a long, hot summer, at the age of 60. 365 days later, on the last day of spring, 2002, Fred sat up on his second-hand couch, where so many visitors had slept, took a deep breath and joined Alta in the Mysterious Otherworld of Curiosities. A year apart, each of these sages of the high desert chose to beat the heat of summer, just before the swamp coolers were to be called upon.

Signed prints of Marcia Geiger's portrait of Alta, above, will be available at Red Arrow Gallery on Saturday, July 2nd.

Ted Quinn


Friday, January 28, 2011
Hey, Fred...

Hope you and your dad are having a great birthday party in heaven, my friend.

We miss you and Charles, and think of you often.



Charles Drake 15 June 1932 ~ 24 November 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010
Hey, Fred...

The cottonwood struggles on, still surviving the red dot fungus which has taken down so many others in the neighborhood. I need to get some lower limbs pruned.

The second annual JT gay pride event includes a "Fred Drake Stage," and Ted and Patti are playing a set of your songs. There's even been mention of some "Ask, Tell, Pursue" t-shirts. Your impact -- and music -- continue to reverberate.

Dave tends the Rancho with loving care, and it's full of your vibe, spirit, and stuff. All that is missing is you, our wonderful, irreplaceable friend...

Fred B.

Thursday, January 28, 2010
PRESIDENT OBAMA, THANK YOU FOR THE LOVELY BIRTHDAY GIFT OF REPEALING
"DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL."  SOMEWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE FRED DRAKE IS PROUDLY WEARING THE T-SHIRT MAREINE AT COUNTRY KITCHEN MADE FOR HIM:
ASK TELL PURSUE!!

HAPPY 52ND BIRTHDAY FRED DRAKE.

TED & TONY ARE FINISHING UP A NEW ALBUM AT TONY'S, THE EARTHLINGS? JUST PLAYED PAPPY & HARRIET'S, THE HONORABLE DEAN CHAMBERLAIN & BILLY BIZEAU CAN BE SEEN PLAYING AROUND IN L.A...

& FRED BURKE, KEEPS THE FLAME BURNING & THE COTTONWOOD GOING.

WE LOVE YOU & MISSS YOU EVERY DAY!! BUT YOU ARE ALWAYS WITH US...

THANK YOU, FRED.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
You would have loved the party Dave threw for New Year's, Fred. I hadn't been inside in many a moon, but it looks just as you left it. Your old compadres have a new earthlings? record out, and I'm looking forward to giving it a listen.

Ted threw an inaugural bash at the JT Saloon. Obama's ears remind me of you and your dad -- a sign of good character.

Sage has turned into a little man, running all over the place. You'd have been his favorite uncle, for sure.

Happy Birthday, Fred. Thanks for sharing so much with us...

Fred Burke

Thursday, June 19, 2008
The full moon rises over Joshua Tree. A crockpot full of chili bubbles in my kitchen.

Ted, Tony and friends just got done playing some Fred-written and Fred-inspired songs at Water Canyon. "Little Blue" and some great photos from the Rancho Missing Angel Juan party are gracing Ted's Myspace page, if you're a member. Hard to believe that shindig was fifteen years ago.

Tomorrow is the longest day of the year... I'd kill for a cigarette.

Fred B.

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