Raspberry Steamboat

April 21, 2007

Keith Haring Coming out image

I have a fond memory of being in a rock band in 1968 with some guys that were two grades ahead of me. Russ Beverstein played drums, Jeff Nichols played bass, I played rhythm guitar, and Bruce Nelson played lead guitar. When I joined they were trying to decide what to call themselves. The first name was JAMES MORTIMER CARVER AND THE STIFFERINO BAND — a sophomoric and funny name that didn’t stick. This WAS the 60s, and we liked the name THE STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK and so we decided to go with THE RASPBERRY STEAMBOAT — I blush thinking about it, but it was good fun. After a few months we changed the name again to COBBLESTONE ROAD. We played music by the Doors, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Cream, and other 60s groups. Russ was the lead singer, I sang the high parts and taught Bruce and Jeff the harmonies. We played for a couple of proms, high school dances, church dances, YMCA dances, and at some night clubs. We were based in Green Bay Wisconsin and in the summers we played in Door County (the “thumb” of the state that has Green Bay one one side and Lake Michigan on the other). We were never “famous” in a national sense — we never put out a record or played original material. We were just famous in northern Wisconsin for a couple of years.

Joining this band corresponded with my girlfriend’s (sic) departure to Cincinnati. It also was the same time I started realizing I was gay and was terrified of that possibility. I was able to throw my energies into the band for the rest of my time in high school. I eventually became a Theory and Composition major at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1971. For five more years I avoided the gay thing and put all of my energy into my music studies and writing music. In retrospect I’m sooo glad that I was celibate through my undergraduate time, and would advise students to try to do the same if they can bear it. I came out when I began my graduate studies in Boston. The challenge of being at a cool school, combined with the excitement of being in a cool city, and the new life of being a sexual person all worked together to NOT ruin my scholastic momentum.

Half way through my graduate studies I came out again — this time as a tonal composer. I was tired of trying to be Elliott Carter or Luciano Berio, I had to figure out who I was. So, around 1978 I started writing tonal music and have ever since. I could give a rat’s ass what the musical establishment would prefer that I write, the rewards of being one’s self is far greater. Moving to Los Angeles freed me from the tyranny of the East Coast music mafia, but soon discovered the West Coast music mafia was just as icky. Well, the “I’ve gotta be me” hormone kicked in and I am living happily ever after.

So this morning I smile and recall how the Raspberry Steamboat launched my musical life and also provided an effective distraction from truly “facing the music” of my own musical and sexual nature.

[Illustration © Estate of Keith Haring]

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