A few days before Christmas, 2015, I motored cautiously out of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, headed towards the Caribbean Coast. I was cruising in a surprisingly nice Daihatsu ‘BeGo’ 4-wheel drive craft, sporting an alarming grin and sparkling eyes. I’d finally done it: escaped the clutches of The Evil Empire and gotten somewhere worth going to, someplace I’d never been, someplace I felt truly at home!
If you’re lucky, you get to have great memories and look forward to making more. This time I was totally on my own, headed towards the exotic, fabulous tropic coast, not a God-blessed care in the world. I’d retired! No job to return to, no obligations of any kind, and feeling like a little kid at the start of summer vacation… All the time in the world to do as I pleased. But where would I stay? I didn’t give a fig.
I was in shock, I realized, as I goosed the BeGo and passed a exhaust-belching truck in the bright morning sun. Ahead, a cloud-capped volcano. I’m dreaming, right? I didn’t crave anything more than this except… music! Let’s have some tones, baby. This thing has a CD player, so dig through that bag on the passenger seat. Don’t crash while doing so, dammit. These roads are crazy. But root around and pull out a disc. What’s in there?
Ohmygod… It’s my Ed Mann CD’s, the ones I’m on. I forgot to put them in storage back in L.A. Actually, they might not have fit. The freaking 8 by 5 closet couldn’t have taken a single piece of stuff more. What a hidjous nightmare. Yes that’s right, the full English Butler pronunciation. Towards the end, I was throwing stuff away, gleefully busting up funky furniture and tossing it out. Even then, the door barely closed on the wall-to-wall pack job. But compared to what I’d started with, I was liberated! I howled and slapped in the disc with the title “Have no Fear.”
Now, if you’re a Zappa fan of more than casual nature, you know Ed Mann. No, we ain’t related. But he’s my spiritual brutha, yes indeed, crazed mallet percussion bonker, and I am blessed to be on a couple of his discs. Blessed! Mann played with Zappa for a major portion of his adult life, over a decade of recording and live gigs. And Ed chose ME as a harmonica player for some of his solo projects? Hell yeah. I blow harp on other people’s stuff, but these couple CD’s remain peak achievements. Ok, I’m just on a couple tunes, but still… I’ll take it.
And the other players rock on “Have No Fear,” featuring the mighty Burleigh Drummond of Ambrosia, pounding artfully at his drum kit. What a gas, what a groove. I dodged a broken-down hulk on the highway and zoomed towards my tropic swim, too long postponed. Onwards, By God! I semi-danced in the seat. It’s all too much! The music seemed synched up with the visuals, the perfect sound track.
Up into the mountains now, deep clouds and mist. Yeee, gushing waterfalls! A dead thing in the road, better slow down. What is that bird. Yow, getting mighty real. Oop, mind the slow bus. Not in a hurry, eh? All good. Ah, here’s the long slow CD track, Sun Day. Grammy-Award winning stuff, shoulda been. Man, that air smells good, rain jungle fresh. This must be the top, I’m headed down. Up ahead, Limon, the big shabby town on this coast. I ain’t stopping. Turn right at the Caribbean and drive on till you run outta pavement. Even then, keep going in this 4×4. No limits, baby. Push it! All the way to the end.
Jeeze, more touristy than I thought over here. Looka all the damn yoga retreats. Ah ok, all good. Here’s the smallish town Cahuita. Cute. Woah, high surf. Right, it’s full moon and king tides. White foam splashes on the road. Screw it, keep going. Oh my god a fresh coconut stand. A buck? No prob! Oh yum, ok back on the road, with the damn green husk and protruding straw between my knees. Music! Need more music!
The other, older Ed Mann disc, that he named with brutal irony “Perfect World.” Now this was closer to the Zappa era. ’91, something like that. Crimminy. But the picture. There I am, with half the Zappa band, faces of Wackerman and Fowler… Anyone can be on a record. Getting your photo on one with rightfully famous players, that’s a big notch up. But it’s not the tracks I’m on I suddenly wanna hear. No, I know the cut I need.
Man I love this tune. Symbolic of a new era. Vida’s soulful singing, Wackerman’s whacking, Mike Hoffman’s chopping unique-toned chords. The lovably crazy Ed Mann structure perfect for this Costa Rican Coast. I don’t need booze, I don’t need pot, don’t need anything but this blasting sound on the surprisingly decent car speakers, a big messy drinking coconut and this responsive steering wheel beneath my fingertips, headed into an unknown future on a beautiful wave-lashed coast I’ve never explored.
Shivers. Close to tears. The voice in my head. “Do you know how lucky you are?” Yes, thank you. Thank you. Choking up as the song’s Meaningful Lyrics continue.
“Who can we thank, for sayin’ something true?
“Sometimes it’s Frank, but baby sometimes it’s You!”
“I’m tired, and lonely
“That’s why I’ve gotta be working for chaaange…”
And with that, Ed Mann begins the ultimate mallet percussion solo, perfect for this Carib coast, a sort of woody vibraphone, unique, people turning to look as the crazy complex notes soar out the window. Littler towns now, driving real slow as we approach the Panama border. We ain’t gonna make it that far though, a big nature park blocks the way. Fine, perfect. Hawkers grin as I trundle past, Ed Mann’s mad xylophone arpeggios soaring ever more frantically as he practically rips his instrument to pieces and shoves it into the listeners brain, limits, no limits he’s saying, this, do this, and this and this…
The last town now, Manzanillo. The torture of L.A. is over. The ghosts of failed relationships. The shattered vibrations. Tattooed beggars in Mohawks glaring at the bottom of the freeway offramp. Ugh! Now. Near the end of the line. Stunning beach on the left, dirt road beneath. Jouncy. Not many vehicles come this far. What’s this? The road ends here. A footbridge over a river if you want to go further down the coast on foot. Yes, this is where I wanna be. Right here, right now. The last maniacal Ed Mann notes fade to surf and rustling fronds. I eject the CD and put it away. Thanks Ed. OK. Take a deep breath of incredibly fresh air. Only one question now, where to abide. Hmm.
And then, as if anyone’s gonna believe this, The Affirmation. “Don’t go down there without a reservation,” the locals in the capital had told me when I rented the car. “Not kidding, it’s the Christmas season, you’ll wind up sleeping in that thing.”
I ignored it all, trusting my luck, and here I was. Luck, I command thee, appear! So let’s drive back, just a quarter mile or so through the palms and past roaring surf, and, and… There, those cabins… That girl, putting out a “For rent” sign. Dreamy swimming beach just steps away. I pull up with my shit-eating grin, arm on the windowsill. Cool little house! “Hi, you have a vacancy?”
She smiles broadly. “Just had a four day booking cancel.”
My grin becomes painfully intense, cheeks stretching, eyes crinkling. “Great!”
I made it.
Jan. 6, 2016