|Illustration by Mitch Handsone|
AFTER SHAKING HANDS WITH HIM, almost everyone commented
that my friend Curtis Grasswood looked like Jesus. Not your neo-Christian blond
Jesus, mind you, but dark, genuine Jesus, like someone with roots in the greater
Bethlehem–Nazareth metropolitan area. The few who didn’t mention Curtis’ resemblance
to Jesus sometimes mentioned, especially if they’d been smoking pot, that he
looked like Phineas Phreak of Strawberry Flats, Texas, one of the three Fabulous
Furry Freak Brothers, stars of the eponymous underground comic penned by Gilbert
Shelton and available at finer headshops since 1968. Curtis, Phineas and Jesus
were all toothpick-thin and gangly, with deep, friendly eyes, huge, untamed
black curls and noses discernible from great distances.
Curtis Grasswood was also a virtuoso pianist and gifted composer
who became a respected ghostwriter of Hollywood motion-picture scores. Straight
out of college, he took an apprenticeship at a studio in downtown L.A. run by
the famous film composer Dorian Kelmscott. Kelmscott taught him to use all the
equipment, and within a few years, Curtis became an engineering wizard and was
running things himself. Kelmscott retired to the Canary Islands, leaving Curtis
to live in the huge loft and manage the thriving studio alone.
AT A TIME when I didn’t have a static home, Kelmscott’s
3,000-square-foot loft was a wonderful place for me to sleep. The studio part
of it was a self-contained, soundproof room in one corner; the rest of the space
had been divided into a kitchen, a dining area, a bedroom, a huge bathroom and
an enormous living room with five extremely comfortable black leather couches
and, of course, a fantastic home-entertainment system. Curtis often worked through
the night, with the door closed, and I could hang out and do whatever I wanted
— mostly write and draw in my notebook at the kitchen table, drinking heavenly
Pasquini espresso and smoking top-quality cannabis indica, a combination
that, contrary to all the prohibitionist propaganda, affects many people quite
Some of these people — rock stars, movie stars and directors —
visited Kelmscott’s place sometimes, to see how their projects were coming along.
Very late one night, halfway between Christmas and New Year’s, I woke up to
find ’60s druggie icon and film director Wesley Cropper on an adjacent couch,
staring at me. His brow was clenched in what looked to be a painful, painful
memory, while his mouth somehow maintained a wide, toothy smile. It’s this expression
— you’ve seen it in magazines — that makes Cropper so recognizable. (That, and
his supernatural mood swings.) It’s a scary expression, and if I hadn’t been
expecting him (Curtis had mentioned that he might show up), I might’ve screamed.
“Welcome back,” said Cropper, his brow loosening considerably.
“That was quite a dream you were having.”
“You saw my dream?” I said, sitting up and stretching,
checking my watch: 4:06 a.m.
“I saw your eyes moving, your REM,” said Cropper. “And
you were talking.”
“What’d I say?”
“I don’t know. It was the way you were saying it.”
“I don’t know,” Cropper cackled. “But it must’ve
been quite a dream. Here. Kill this.” Cropper passed me a small wooden
pipe and a lighter.
“Thanks.” I took a deep hit and, holding it, said, “I’m
“Wes Cropper. I was admiring your drawings.”
“You see my dreams and admire my drawings.” The pipe
went back. “Happy New Year.”
“Likewise. I wasn’t poking around or anything,” said
Cropper. “Your notebook was open on the kitchen table — Curtis said it
was yours, and that I could read it while he made coffee. Good shit, man. Very
dark, very angry. Are you doing anything with it?”
“What do you mean?
“You know, man, like, a book, a graphic novel, a movie. It’s
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m
The door to the studio opened. Curtis poked his massively haired
head out, revealing bright and shiny red eyes and an open, giggling mouth. “You
guys!” said Curtis. “Come check this out! I just had a perfect accident!”
Wes and I rose and walked into the studio. Curtis closed the door
behind us, giggled, said, “Check this out,” flipped switches, slid
sliders and pressed buttons, said, “Check this out” again, and killed
the lights. We hovered over the mixing board, watching the small monitor, listening
to the big sound.
SIX MINUTES LATER, Curtis hit the lights, and Cropper shouted,
“Fucking beautiful, man! Fucking perfect! No way anyone could do that on
purpose!” Cropper was going off, pacing, gesticulating fiercely as if clawing
his way through a corridor of cobwebs: “Oh, man! It was like we were at
the end of the 14th century! Only with electric guitars and beer! And the sky’s
like a blue bullet melting in the sun, man! And Mozart’s there, conducting these
snakeskin cowboy boots, making them walk, and . . .”
“18th century,” Curtis interrupted, but pleasantly.
And Cropper stopped. Instantly. And all glee disappeared from
his face, leaving it suddenly sober and angry. And Cropper knit his brow and
Curtis and I froze. Cropper’s mood swings were world-famous, but
in person, the shock was overwhelming. I was thinking — and I believe Curtis
was, too — that Cropper was about to take a swing at him.
So Curtis said, in his best Jesus voice, “Nothing, man. Just
. . . Mozart lived in the 18th century. You said 14th.”
For a full 10 seconds, which is a long time, Wes Cropper just
stood there, brow tight, silently staring at nothing, his eyes fixed somewhere
between panic and rage and an unshared, unexplored dimension.
Then, as quickly as it had stiffened, Cropper’s face went limp,
and he burst into howling laughter. “Jesus! Yes!” said Cropper, catching
his breath, then losing it again. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Then he turned
to me. “Dave, man!” he said. “Did you see that?”
“The expression on his face!” (Curtis’ face.) “When
he said, ‘18th century,’ he looked exactly — exactly — like Phineas Phreak!
You know who that is?”
“Yeah. Freak Brothers. He always looks like that,” I
“Or Jesus,” said Curtis, meekly, still half-bracing
to be hit.
Cropper couldn’t stop laughing. I found it really frightening.
But I figured the danger had passed, so I walked back outside to the living
room, to the couch, to the cannabis indica, and carried it to the kitchen,
to the heavenly Pasquini espresso machine. “Jesus,” I heard Cropper
tell Curtis Grasswood, “you’re really good, man! Fucking perfect accident!
Let’s do another round of coffees! Dave! Where’d he go? Where’s the weed?! More