artist educator, singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
We were settling into life in the city pretty well by now when Paul’s mother died. After Paul’s father had died, we had moved back east to be closer to our families and had gotten to know Cathy pretty well. She and I’d had a rough beginning. She was an alcoholic and, when I was pregnant with Jessie and far from any friends or family, she took to calling me late at night. Paul had taken the only available job and was working nights in a restaurant. This was in 1975 in Santa Cruz. She was never a nice drunk and would call me horrible names, accusing me of trying trap her son by getting pregnant on purpose. After failing to reason with her, I finally stopped answering the phone at night or answered and immediately hung up. When we moved back to Connecticut, where she also lived, I wanted Jessie to know both families, for better or for worse, and started a tentative relationship with her. It didn’t start out particularly good until I finally lost it and told her that she should have been enormously proud of her son for finding an evil woman who was just like his mother. The next day, she called to apologize, and things between us started to change.
Once we moved to New York, she would come visit for a few days at a time, staying with us during that time. I’d had a lot of experience with alcoholics in my own family and knew that requiring her not to drink would never work. She would either get sick or sneak her alcohol, so instead we tried to limit it. Even with that, she would go through a large bottle of gin in two or three days. As Jessie got older, she had less and less tolerance for this and started asking to go to a friend’s house overnight for those few days. I always agreed to this arrangement, insisting that she at least spend a few minutes with her while she was sober on that first day. Justin, on the other hand, who was only beginning to get to know her, was still young enough to be unaware of the alcohol. He thought it was hysterically funny when Cathy fell off the couch and rolled over laughing. He would often get down and roll around on the floor with her. He often said to me, “I love Dama, she always makes me laugh.” He didn’t seem to realize that was not her intent, but he enjoyed it and she enjoyed his enthusiasm, so I let it go. Luckily, she didn’t visit often.
We got the news about her death a few hours before a scheduled gig and decided to do the gig as a tribute. Paul and I always believed “the show must go on,” so it did. We did John Lennon’s song “Mother” which was an appropriate tribute to this woman who drowned herself in the bottle and basically ignored her children, leaving them to their own devices at a young age. But that is not my story to tell. We also did some very sentimental songs. Paul announced the death of his mother at the beginning, and it was a very moving show for everyone. Afterwards, it was time to go to Connecticut to meet with Paul’s siblings and make funeral arrangements.
A few years earlier, Paul’s sister, with whom he’d always struggled, got married in Maryland. She married the man who had put us to work on his herb farm for a few days when we were moving from Oregon to New York. The plan for that weekend was that we would go to pick their mom up in Connecticut on our way down south. We had arrived at Cathy’s apartment to find her almost overwhelmed with excitement about the upcoming wedding. She insisted on showing us the beautiful dress she had bought for the occasion. She was on a fixed income and could barely afford it, but it was beautiful. She was glowing. As we were starting to walk out the door with her suitcases in hand, the phone rang. It was her daughter calling to say that on second thought, her mom was now uninvited. She was devastated, and we didn’t know what to do next. We sat with her as she cried. Paul was furious both at the disrespect to his mom but also at the awkward and uncomfortable position it had put us in. After a few minutes, Cathy insisted that we go on without her. She didn’t want us to miss it and didn’t want to ruin it for her daughter. Paul’s sister called again wondering if we’d left yet and cautioning us not to be late. We were supposed to arrive that day. Cathy turned to her suitcase, opened the bottle of gin that was packed there and lit a cigarette. We reluctantly left her. Although we were sad to leave her there, we were also determined to try to enjoy this mini vacation. The kids were excited and unaware of what had just transpired, so off we went.
I have to admit that we did have a wonderful time at the wedding and was surprised that there was no further drama, except for having to go search for Justin minutes before the start of the ceremony. Paul was supposed to have been watching him while I helped Jessie with her hair and dress. We were all in the wedding party. Jessie was the flower girl, Justin the ring bearer, Paul was an usher, and I was a bridesmaid. When I realized that Paul had lost track of our wayward and mischievous son, I organized a covert search party and finally found Justin walking out of a barn with his shirttails hanging out and hay sticking out of his hair and clothes. The wedding was at the groom’s family’s estate with lots of land, many out buildings and was right on the Chesapeake Bay. It was quite relaxing, like being in a fairytale.
But now, Cathy had died, and Paul’s sister was insisting that their mother be buried in that same dress that she never got to wear to the wedding. Paul was outraged, but it was one of those situations where you had to choose your battles, and there were much bigger ones than that. His sister insisted that it shouldn’t have gone to waste. She also insisted on having the funeral in the Catholic church. This was another battle that was eventually lost. Cathy had been excommunicated earlier because of getting a divorce on the grounds of adultery. That was odd in itself since their Dad was not excommunicated with her at that time. Usually divorce was enough for excommunication regardless of the grounds and applied to both parties because marriage was considered a sacrament. he Catholic church was often money driven and a big part of upper crust society in that region, so I assume they targeted her because of the adultery charge. At one point, we found some plenary indulgences that she had bought over the years. It was suggested that maybe these were enough to get in the door. We doubted it, but everyone finally gave in.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Catholicism, plenary indulgences are pieces of paper signed by the pope that you can buy. Basically, they are a way to buy your way into heaven, and she had a whole stack of them. I guess she figured she would need a bunch since she just kept on sinning. After a lot of persuasion, we finally found a priest willing to do officiate at the funeral but there was to be no communion ceremony. At the funeral, he gave a eulogy that was basically an inventory of the items that had been donated to the church by Cathy’s millionaire mother, pointing out specific statues, land in Italy and more. He ended by saying that “although Cathy was a grave sinner, he hoped that she might find a place in purgatory due to her mother’s generosity to the church.” There was an audible gasp and many people stood up and left. I also stood up and turned to leave, but Paul asked me to stay, so I did. I lost much respect for the church on that day and have always tried to avoid it at all cost.
The only good thing that came out of that trip was getting to know my brother and sister-in-law for the first time. Paul never spoke much about his siblings. They all had survived extreme trauma, and he wanted to block most of it out. We had always been close to Sage, his oldest sister, but here was an opportunity to connect with more family. In spite of my own trauma as a child, I still believed in family connections and strove to have those within Paul’s family as well. His brother and wife had become Mormons and were also very invested in family. We got along well, and it was a fun time for everyone. Paul was fond of saying that the Cavanaugh’s put the “fun” in funeral. They definitely did.
When Cathy died, Paul inherited quite a bit of money. When she was still alive, she cautioned me that this would happen and gave me the task of making sure it was spent wisely. She told me that she knew Paul would just blow right through it but that I seemed more sensible. She made me promise, and I told her that I would do my best. I also knew Paul and foresaw that this would not be an easy thing to accomplish, but I had promised, and I tried. The first thing we did was sit down and make a financial plan. We had never had money, so this was a huge opportunity. Paul was not open to any discussion of investment for the future beyond physical things. We decided that we needed to buy a home and a reliable car. Next, we needed our own sound system that would support a band and would last. The kids needed bikes, and Paul wanted me to have a keyboard so that I could teach piano from home. Paul was also exploring the idea of going to school. He’d always wanted to be a lawyer and had successfully defended himself a few times with trips to the law library in Albany. The last thing we wanted was to take another cross-country trip to visit our old friends. We knew it might be our last opportunity.
We had no idea how much money he was getting, just that it was “a lot.” It also didn’t come all at once. I still have no idea how much he ended up with in the end because it came in multiple small installments. When it was time to go looking for a place to buy, Paul pulled out an area map, closed his eyes and circled his finger all around finally landing on a spot. He circled that spot in red, folded the map back up and stuck it in a drawer. We went looking all around for an inexpensive but livable home. It was not easy. We were starting to feel a little desperate when the realtor drove us to an isolated place on a dead-end dirt road in Stephentown. Just before turning onto the road where the land was located, we passed the most spectacular view. We were already sold and bought land in Stephentown with a mobile home on it. It was in our price range but needed quite a bit of work. We hired someone to put in a septic system, and our friends helped us out at a few work parties, putting in a new driveway. Pretty soon, we were ready to move in. Before we actually signed the papers, we took out that map again, this new home was right in the spot Paul where Paul’s finger had randomly landed.
We bought a Toyota station wagon and all the other items we had agreed on. There was still more money to come but again, we had no idea how much or how many installments were left. Our relationship was suffering again after his mom’s death, and we knew we needed to make some kind of change to put things back on track. We loved each other as much as ever but our old childhood hurts were still overwhelming at times, and stress of constantly trying to survive with two children was killing us. Even our music, which had always brought us closer, was starting to suffer. Traveling always energized us both, giving us a new outlook on life, so we decided to take a big cross-country trip.
Our old friend Vernon, who had spent a summer with us in Hebo, Oregon, was moving to Denver, Colorado. We had gone to New Jersey that weekend to help him pack up his rented truck. As we were leaving, I asked him to show me where his new neighborhood was located on his city map. He did, we said a tearful goodbye and went back home. Now we decided to try to surprise him at his new home. Never ones to waste any time, we decided to leave the next day. Jessie was older now and often spent the night at a friend’s house. It was a way to escape the now endless fighting that we hoped to put an end to with this relaxing trip. When we picked her up that morning, we announced that we were leaving that day. I was a seasoned traveler with children by then and had a whole pack of things for them as well as an educational plan. Just like neither Paul not I ever wasted time, I never wasted an opportunity to educate. Jessie and Justin also got to help plan the trip picking spots they wanted to visit along the route. The first request was to see Mount Rushmore. We were all excited to be on the road again.
Now, the band was starting to gel. Andy, Paul and I all wrote songs. Paul and I generally wrote together, but sometimes one or the other of us would bring a completed song, then came the editing. The arrangements always happened collaboratively. When we first started writing, we made the decision to copyright everything as P & D Cavanaugh. The writing was so intertwined, even on those songs we wrote individually, that it made sense. Over time, we even tended to forget who originated it. But some stood out as either Paul’s or mine. “Visions of an Airplane” was definitely Paul’s. It was written over the course of many years. In 1974, he had read that a suite consisted of five distinct parts and quickly decided to take on the challenge. In 1975, he wrote the first part in Santa Cruz, California. The second part soon followed. In 1977, while back in Connecticut, we lay on our backs in the middle of a football field tripping during a meteor shower while Paul composed the third part on my nylon string guitar as bats came swooping down a little too close for comfort. The fourth and fifth parts were written in Oregon in the early 80s. Another song that Paul wrote was “Long, Long Night.” I so vividly remember that song. I had been on the other side of the country visiting family for a couple of weeks, needing a serious break from the fighting, considering whether or not I could keep living with such an angry man, and then coming home to that love song. Paul always knew how to mend our rifts.
All of the members of the current lineup of General Eclectic had experience with psychedelics, so we were all on the same wavelength musically and psychically. We even tripped together to solidify that connection. I loved playing music on psychedelics because it dissolved all of my inhibitions around music. I reached for new heights without the fear of falling. I rarely played the piano because it brought up too many frightening memories, but I played it when tripping because nothing could hurt me in that psychedelic haze. I knew that these drugs had saved my life. You’ll notice that I don’t write a lot about my early life, just little glimpses now and then. There are good reasons why I’m not yet ready to share those dark times. LSD, mushrooms, mescaline, peyote … all healed my wounds. I still had scars, but I didn’t notice them as much. And I was convinced that it could heal others, too. Paul was in the same boat. Although he still had big anger issues, he seemed to be more grounded after tripping. He was more connected with the outer world and less ruled by his inner world. We also admired the West Coast scene especially The Grateful Dead and Ken Kesey and the Acid Tests. Because of all of these factors, we decided to put on our own Acid Test.
The original idea was to do three of them because three was the magic number for us after finding a bamboo bong with a Chinese inscription about the power of the number three. We started organizing the first one with a musically diverse group of friends, and the idea took off. When trying to figure out how to best distribute the doses, it was decided that it shouldn’t be in actual Kool-Aid. That seemed too risky. That meant someone had to be in charge of it, and I was nominated. Everyone thought that I was probably the most responsible party. Ha! I have to laugh at that now. We made the flyer with hints about the event activities and mostly depended on word-of-mouth. Word went out that if we were booked as The Eclectic Koo-aid Band, it would be one of these unique events, and word got around fast!
That evening, I was handed a piece of foil with plenty of hits of blotter. Paul and I immediately took one each, and I folded the foil back up. The room was set up with a liquid light show. I had borrowed an overhead projector from the school, not telling them why I wanted it. We put two Pyrex pie plates on the surface with cooking oil and food coloring that swirled around and was projected on one wall. Our friends from the band Con Demek showed black and white porn films on another wall after being asked to stop showing them on the band while we were performing. The people downstairs in the “smoking section” were blowing smoke up through the holes in front of the stage, and the place was packed! Within the first couple of hours, the neatly folded tin foil was now a ball of foil in my hand with little bits of blotter sticking out. I found a friend who was not imbibing, handed it off to him babbling something, probably gibberish, and left him shaking his head.
We had many different musicians and bands including some impromptu jamming. There were partiers on all three floors of the building and even outside lining the sidewalk. It was an amazing event. So, we decided to do the second. This time I was smart enough to put someone else in charge of the psychedelics so that I was able to just concentrate on running the show. Mostly though, the show ran itself and I was able to enjoy the fruits of my labor. We were starting to plan the third and final test when the real owner of the Half Moon Café returned to Albany. There was a loose collective of young people running it up to then. Now things changed. When I went in for the first time to meet him, he started complaining about all of the crazy things that he’d heard went on there. “Did you know there was an actual Acid Test here,” he asked. To which I replied, “Wow! Crazy, man.” I always tried not to lie outright and didn’t then. He and I became friends, but I never did admit that we had been the ones responsible. And, although Paul and I tried to build up the energy and excitement for another one, we knew it couldn’t be there and never found another suitable and safe site.
We continued to play at The Half Moon and possible every local bar in town. People either loved us or hated us. There was a review in The Backroom Buzz about a show we did at QE2 that described the band as “a bunch of aging hippies with a lead singer who looked like a milking cow and sang like a cat in heat.” You can imagine what that did to my self-esteem. I was devastated. I didn’t want to go out of the house let alone go on a stage again. All of our friends were horrified and encouraging but it wasn’t until Paul came up with a new poster idea that I agreed to do another show in Albany.
We printed quotes from the article with an illustration of each taken from underground comics, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Mr. Natural and more. Then we added everything we could find that our fans and other press had said about us. Paul convinced me that we should use these terrible things the reviewer had said to our advantage. Our next show was standing room only, and I developed a thick skin. I didn’t care any more about getting publicity or reviews or any accolades. I was doing my music for myself, and if people liked it that was a bonus, but I no longer needed that reassurance. This was huge after being put down as not being good enough by my dad throughout my life. And it was a relief. Oddly, I sometimes feel thankful for that horrible review. It's reminded me that my music is ultimately for me. I'm happy when others enjoy it, but I do it for myself first.
When I was hired at Hilton Music to teach piano, I decided to work as many hours as I could to try to get ahead a little financially. We were living in section-8 housing, so we were surviving, but that was all. Of course, the more money we made, the higher was our rent, but we could still keep enough to make a difference. To get to work on time, I left home at 7:30 am to walk to the bus stop. Then, so that the family could use the car to do fun things, I took two buses to reach my job in Troy by 9 am and worked until 7 pm, getting home between 8:30 and 9. I was exhausted when I got home but also happy to be working and doing something on my own away from the house and family. Up to that point, our kids had gone everywhere with me, parties, rallies, gigs, and more. I even taught at their school. I was teaching music mostly to young people, most of whom really wanted to play.
I was also meeting other musicians. I quickly met Rudd Young, who was also working there. He was a manager and a salesman. He was a good one, too. He was, and still is, a very friendly and likeable guy. I soon found out that he played bass. We had just recently lost our bass player, so I organized a jam. Rudd not only joined the band, but he offered the store as a practice space after hours. He set everything up, we started practicing once or twice a week. I had met enough people by then to be able to arrange for a babysitter. It was usually the teenage daughter of a friend from Rok Against Reaganomix. Cheralyn was great. She was a no-nonsense sitter, which was exactly who I needed with Justin, who was becoming a handful. She also had a brother and was able to either negotiate gracefully between my two fighting children or just nip it in the bud. It was such a relief to have someone I trusted be with them.
We must have had a drummer, but I don’t remember who that was. We went through many musicians in those early Albany days. We had a variety of guitar players including one who was into more contemporary and heavier rock than we were at the time. He influenced the band in a good way. Danny was young and a bit flashy. Around the time he was playing with us, someone saw our cat in the window and reported it. Pets were not allowed in this complex but, as she had traveled across the country with us and was part of our family, we weren’t willing to give her up, so we snuck her in hoping for the best. My parents refused to take her, and we couldn’t find anyone else. Out of desperation, we asked Danny to take her until we could figure something else out. We also explained how attached we were to her. Poor Jessie cried as we handed her over, but we assured her that we would find another place and get her back. This was only temporary.
We asked regularly how she was doing and noticed that Danny seemed a little nervous each time we asked. He finally admitted that he gave her away to some old lady who seemed to love her and was looking for a cat. We were angry and devastated. Autumn was Jessie’s cat, and she was broken-hearted. We insisted that he try to get her back, but he had no idea who this woman was or how to find her. He told us at the next practice that he looked and asked around to no avail. We felt betrayed. He never even checked with us before passing her on. We could see that he felt guilty, but that night we fired him. Paul had a lot of faults, but to him loyalty was an important attribute. Danny had failed at that.
Meanwhile, I was starting to burn out on my job at the music store. The hours were draining, and the owner wanted me to push the sales of sheet music. Most of the kids were beginners and weren’t ready for much more than the standard lesson book. I’ve always incorporated ear training in my lessons as well, so they were satisfied playing some of their favorite songs by ear or with the simple arrangements I made for them. Although the other employees understood, the owner did not. Another issue was what I was coming home to after work. Paul had warned me back in 1980 when I was offered a full-time job in Portland, that he was not a reliable caregiver. I knew this and hoped that he could manage for a day, but this was not to be. The first few weeks, things went smoothly. Both kids were happy. They’d seemed to have had a good day with their dad. Then, things gradually started to slip through the cracks. I started coming home to chaos. Paul often lost track of the time and hadn’t fixed dinner. Then I would find out that the kids hadn’t had lunch either. When I realized that he wasn’t taking them out anywhere, I stopped taking the bus, shortening my travel time by a lot. However, all things considered, this extra job had stopped being worth all the downsides, so I quit.
We continued to practice in Troy and soon found another guitar player who fit our style better than anyone before. Andy Roth had a style like Jerry Garcia and also sang and wrote songs. He fit like a glove. He also brought a new group of people into our circle including one young man who kept saying, “You guys have to meet my dad.” Until then, we were of the mindset, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Eventually, we agreed to meet him, and Ron became our percussionist. He was the coolest older guy we’d met since leaving San Francisco in 1975. Although we were lacking a drummer, we had someone on congas and bongos, and I played percussion. That summer, we did another show for Rok Against Reaganomix both as a duo and with our latest group. We’d learned quickly that we needed to be flexible and make ourselves available for any kind of venue. We played at most of the rallies as a duo, though occasionally we added players. We played in bars as a whole band and coffeehouses and cafes in a variety of configurations. We also continued to play on the streets since busking was how we’d gotten started, and I never forgot Arlo Guthrie telling me that he went back to the streets regularly as a reminder of where he came from.
We were developing a large following but, like any other unique band, we had our critics, too. There were a lot of people who wanted us to fit into a category, which we didn’t. They couldn’t understand how we could cover Frank Zappa and Hank Williams in the same show. In 1988, with another addition to the band who played guitar and keyboard, we decided to do a show entitled “On Beyond Zappa.” We did a song for every letter in the alphabet then did some of our own to end. It was a hard to come up with every letter, but we did it. We did a song by the Allman Brothers, Irving Berlin, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young … Grateful Dead …Waylon Jennings, Kinks … Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Willie Nelson, Pink Floyd, Queen … Ramones, Steely Dan, Traffic … Velvet Underground, Hank Williams, XTC, and finally ending with “I Am the Slime From Your Video” by Frank Zappa. We handed out sheets with each letter to fill out with the artists’ names. There was even a prize for whoever could correctly name all twenty-six artists. As it turned out there was only one winner who received a homemade cassette tape. Later on, we did a second of those called “On Beyond Zevon” and chose all different artists. We did cheat a little on that one and chose Xavier Cougat for “X” because we couldn’t think of anything else. This was before you could go on the internet and find just about anything.
Some of our shows at The Half Moon Cafe, including that one, were so packed that there were folks hanging out on the sidewalk watching through the plate glass window. There was also the basement that turned out to be the smoking room. There were holes in the ceiling right in front of where the stage was, so the smoke would filter up through those holes, probably getting the band high just from standing there. Before too long, people were smoking everywhere outside, too. We were known as a “get high band” but, for some reason, still attracted mainstream fans which was fine with us. Knowing how to blend into any situation, being a chameleon, was a survival skill that Paul and I learned during our tough childhoods. As a result, we each seemed to attract a diverse group of people. And that was true not just at our shows.
One year, we decided to throw a party in our Green Street apartment. I made sure the kids stayed with their grandparents that night, knowing that it might turn out to be a wild time. I was right. One of our friends was an ex-biker. We called him “Rev.” He explained that there were only two ways to quit the club, die or become a minister. So, he sent away to become a minister mail through the mail. That night, he brought his best friend’s daughter, who was a “biker chick” through and through. She arrived carrying a “keg killer,” which was the biggest beer stein I’d seen. The deal was, whenever anyone drank the whole thing, she would flash her tits. There were a lot of drunken men at that party including one who ended up in our bathtub with her. Our old friend, Vernon, the extremely shy man who stayed with us for a summer in Oregon, just sat in a corner watching and doing a lot of blushing. Meanwhile, Rev was in another corner totally engaged for the entire night with the straightest man at the party talking about country music. It was a night to be remembered, and I was glad I’d had the forethought to send my kids away for the night. Not only did they miss the excitement, but Paul and I had a chance to recover the next day before stumbling in to pick up the kids. We were settling into this community nicely and felt as though we were just getting started. Paul was satisfied to stay put, at least for now.
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