Paul Andersen: Fair Game
September 10, 2012
His home in L.A. was on the stepped hillside right below the Hollywood sign. He was my drum teacher in high school. A few months before he died this summer, he claimed without irony to have smoked a million cigarettes in his life.
Quince was the coolest kid I knew at New Trier High School. He played a Rogers drum set in a suburban Chicago rock band, and he grew out his beard when few of us could sprout a peach-fuzz shadow. Quince was a pseudonym, but that’s how I knew him as one of my oldest friends.
I think about Quince every time I play “Truth,” an album by the Jeff Beck Group. Beck was my introduction to rock ‘n’ roll with a bluesy guitar style that had soul, charisma and volume. I crank up the stereo on that album every time I listen to it.
Quince introduced me to Jeff Beck in 1968, my first rock concert. We were both 17 when Beck opened at the Electric Theater (later the Kinetic Playground) on North Clark Street in Chicago. Quince drove us downtown in his VW beetle – early ’60s vintage – from our tree-shaded neighborhoods. We paid at the door and stepped into another world.
What had been the ballroom of a big-band jazz venue from before World War II had morphed into a rock haven. Such was the fate of many old ballrooms of that era. The Rainbo Room was a resplendent mausoleum to the Jazz Age, its ornate decor falling into a terminal state of decadence amid the hippie invasion.
The cavernous ballroom was pungent with the smell of weed. A cloud emanated from the few hundred people sprawled across the hardwood dance floor. That heady aroma would define my peer gatherings for decades and sometimes still does.
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As I followed Quince across the dimly lit ballroom, a bank of strobe lights suddenly flashed on overhead. I lost my equilibrium and reeled under a slow-motion spell that set the tone for psychedelic effects throughout my concertgoing years. Perhaps it was a potent metaphor for the surreal flashes that constitute our daily lives.
Quince and I sat cross-legged among the largest concentration of hippies I had ever seen. I had to keep my cool just to resist staring gape-mouthed at a circus of characters populating a surreal stage set. Soon, a light show came on a huge screen with amoeba-like blobs of color swirling like marbled candy.
The Jeff Beck Group took the stage with Nicky Hopkins pounding the keyboard, Ron Wood stroking the bass, Aynsley Dunbar wailing on the drums and Rod Stewart all but swallowing the microphone. Beck, the former Yardbirds guitarist, postured seductively on every flashy lead.
Quince would later realize a rocker’s dream by collecting guitars for the Hard Rock Cafe from the likes of Bo Diddly, Stevie Ray Vaughn and others with whom he made backstage deals. Another business venture of his was making chocolate vintage guitars in collector cases.
When we weren’t at rock concerts, Quince and I would go night skiing at Wilmot, a dinky ski area just over the line in Wisconsin where conditions varied from slush to glacial ice. In the warming house, we smoked Camels over hot chocolate while Leslie Gore and Buddy Holly played on the jukebox.
We remained friends when Quince went to the University of Denver and I to Western State in Gunnison. Later, Quince studied at Parsons and then moved to Germany as a fashion designer for Bogner. He had the notoriety of designing his girlfriend’s prom dress in high school.
Ten years ago, I visited Quince in L.A., where he was wrestling with ill health and terminal disillusionment, though he somehow retained the subtle wit and characteristic smirk that marked his avant-garde urbanity. In high school, he had predicted that he would not live past 30. He died in his sleep at 61.
Beck will always conjure memories of Quince as the old friend who took me under his wing. I, the wide-eyed innocent, peeked under the flap of the circus tent at an expanding universe revealed by the strobes at the Electric Theater. Life would never be the same.
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