When the band is on the verge of making it big, tragedy strikes and Jesse is confronted with the hard truth that life is often a spiritual obstacle course designed to see if you can get over yourself.
A book for rock and rollers of all ages and for restless souls who have chased a dream only to discover that what they really needed was with them all along.
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February 12, 1977
The early morning fog was thick as Jesse drove carefully across the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans. Visibility was less than twenty feet. Turning on the headlights made it worse. The only thing he could see in the reflective glare was the rounded hood of his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle.
A foghorn blasted from a barge on the Mississippi River below like an angry troll protesting his passage.
"How can that boat be going anywhere?" he asked Casey, who rode shotgun. Jesse turned off the headlights and braked to a crawl. "He can't see any better than we can."
"Keep going, man," Casey said. "There's nobody but us on this bridge."
"We won't even be on the bridge if I drive off it," Jesse said.
"Want me to get out and walk ahead?"
Jesse accelerated slightly. "No. I'll keep it slow. We'll be okay as long as I stay close to the side."
A tall, box truck exploded out of the fog, headed straight for them. It didn't have headlights on. Jesse grabbed the steering wheel and closed his eyes. The truck skidded and swerved and started to tip over on top of the Beetle.
Jesse inhaled and stiffened. He braced for impact. He tried to scream.
There was no collision.
The truck somehow regained its balance and missed the car by inches in a wail of screeching tires and screaming horns. A gush of displaced air shook the Beetle off its over-worn tires and moved it slightly to the right. The blast slapped Jesse in the face through his open driver's window.
Then, everything fell quiet, as though nothing had happened. The truck had roared out of the fog and disappeared back into it before the danger could fully register.
Jesse brought the car to a complete stop. The fog enveloped them. His eyes teared up from the pungent, stinging blast of burned rubber. Casey's eyes were wide and his mouth was open.
"Did that just happen?" Jesse asked.
"Man, I thought it was all over," Casey said. "All I saw was the grill of that truck, up close and personal. How did he miss us? That was so close it banged my head into the window."
"I think you banged your own head."
"Maybe," Casey said. "That thing was right on top of us."
"We should turn back," Jesse said. "That was way too close. It's a bad sign."
"No way. He missed us. It's a good sign, or maybe even a wake up call. Probably means we should start paying better attention to what's coming next. Yeah, that's it. I can feel it. Something big is going to happen on this trip. Keep going. We must be halfway across. Come on, we're sitting ducks here."
"That, my friend," Jesse said, "is an insanely positive spin on us nearly getting squashed like bugs."
"Call it what you want but let's get moving. Come on, I'm the navigator in charge."
Jesse inched the car across the bridge, sounding the Beetle's squeaky-toy horn every few seconds. Casey kept encouraging him to go faster. After a few nerve-wracking minutes, they reached the other side without further incident. Back on solid ground, it was still impossible to see anything but fog. Jesse drove resolutely, creeping along the highway, still shaken by fear.
"That could have been it for us," Casey said, backing off his previous bravado.
"Did you smell the burning rubber?" Jesse asked.
"Feels like tiny bits of rubber are lodged in my nose hair. I can't stop shaking. How about you?"
"I'm over it. Good to go." Jesse said. "I live for those existential moments."
Casey laughed loudly. "You and your existential moments. One of these days an existential moment is going to be your last."
The fog evaporated as Jesse drove further away from the river. The rising sun peeked through a dense layer of low hanging clouds. It was going to be a hot and humid day on the bayou. Jesse couldn't help but make the obvious comment. "It's comforting to know that we're out of the fog and still have no idea where we're going."
"Of course we do," Casey said. "The magic mushrooms are on Bayou Lafourche."
"Do you have any idea where that is?"
"Head south. It's the bayou. How hard can it be?"
"The bayou is thousands of miles of waterways and swamp. Bayou Lafourche is only one of those rivers." Jesse glanced at Casey. "Did you think to bring a map?"
"That would take all the magic out of it. Keep going south." Casey pointed out the window.
Jesse checked the rear view mirror. "We're headed west."
"How can you tell?"
"Look behind us."
Casey turned around. "I don't see anything."
"The sun rises in the east?"
"Oh, yeah, I see what you're talking about. Don't worry about it. Just keep following the road. My guys say cross the bridge and follow the road."
"You keep calling them your guys. Do you even know them? Jesse asked.
"I don't know their names, except for the one who calls himself Gypsy. I buy psychedelic mushrooms from them. They've got the best shrooms around. Gypsy says they come from Bayou Lafourche."
"And did this Gypsy of yours tell you exactly where to find the shrooms?"
"What's with the cross examination?" Casey asked.
"Obviously, they didn't give me a treasure map with an X marks the spot. They can't be that hard to find. From what I gather, they're everywhere."
Jesse kept driving west on Highway 90, feeling more and more like he was on a wild goose chase. It wouldn't be the first unsuccessful drug run they'd made. One mission to Ohio State in 1969 had seen them pay $2,000 for 500 worthless pills.
Jesse and Casey had been close friends since they were ten years old. They grew up together in Indiana and had both graduated from college five years earlier. They were now twenty-seven years old. Casey was a second year law student at Loyola University. At 6'2" tall, he was a ladies' man with California-surfer good looks. He had a strong chin with a big smile, playful eyes, and curly, blonde hair. Jesse was playing in a four-man, acoustic-rock band on Bourbon Street. He was 6'3" tall with a full beard and frizzy hair that flowed over his shoulders and halfway down his back. The one-inch difference between Jesse and Casey's heights had always been a factor in their never-ending competition with each other.
Casey had helped convince Jesse to bring his band to New Orleans. "It's the perfect place for a musician. Tourists come from all over to hear the music of Bourbon Street and New Orleans. They do the traveling. You stay in one place and make the money."
Despite finding somewhat steady work in the bars on Bourbon Street, the band hadn't exactly hit the big time. Jesse was in the process of learning, the hard way, that New Orleans is not Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he was determined that his band would find a drummer and hit the road to rock and roll stardom.
"I'm telling you, Jesse, if we find shrooms, we can make a fortune. Let's face it. We could use the money."
"If we can find them."
"Don't be so negative," Casey said. "What's the worst that can happen? We get a tour of the bayou."
"If we can find the bayou."
The sun kept rising to disappear into the clouds. It looked like the day might be rained out. Jesse drove on with continuing misgivings. He didn't know where they were going but he knew where the conversation was headed.
"You know, if the band thing doesn't work out, you can always go to law school," Casey said.
"That's not going to happen." Jesse slapped the steering wheel with both hands. "I knew you were going to bring that up again."
"Why not?" Casey asked. "Your father's a lawyer. You two get along great."
"I do love my father. But I don't want to end up in a suit and tie, upholding a system that throws people in prison for doing what we're doing now."
"What are you talking about?" Casey asked. "There's no cops on the bayou."
"I'm not quitting my band to sell out and go to law school."
"You always say that. Going to law school doesn't mean selling out. Once you get your degree and pass the bar, you can represent all the revolutionaries and rock poets you want. You can change the system from within."
Jesse slowed down the car. "What a load of bullshit. The system's going to change you more than you will ever change the system."
Casey leaned forward to stretch. "Why not give law school a try? You don't have to make any career decisions. Just try it. You could still play in a band."
Jesse took a deep breath. "How many times do I have to say it? I'm not going to law school just because you did. And I'm not going because my father wants me to. I'm a musician, and I'm going to make it in the music business or die trying."
Casey didn't respond. Jesse decided not to rehash the argument. At the moment, he was more worried about getting hopelessly lost on a mushroom mission.
The Beetle had no air conditioning and no radio. The only sound during the conversational lull was the hot air gushing through the open windows.
As the road headed south again, an oncoming Louisiana State Trooper slowed down and looked them over carefully as he passed. Jesse's VW Bug was a car any self-respecting law enforcement agent would want to pull over and search. It had a banged-up front hood held down by a bicycle chain. The rear bumper had been beaten into a wavy shape from multiple accidents. The red paint job had faded into a rusty-orange color. Two decals of Goofy were pasted on the front. Jesse called them his twin Goofys like they were some kind of fuel injection system for his little cartoon of a car.
Jesse had named the car, Harley, after the motorcycle he could never afford.
"What were you saying about no cops on the bayou?" Jesse said. "Shit, he's slowing down. He's going to turn around."
Casey turned around to look. "Wow. What's he doing down here?"
"Apparently, we're still in Louisiana."
"Are you holding?"
"Nope," Jesse said. "They can search me all they want. You?"
"I'm good. Or bad, depending on how you look at it."
"It's a rare moment in sports when neither one of us has any drugs," Jesse said. "How did we even get in the car without a couple joints for the road?"
"I thought you had some," Casey said.
"If I had any, we'd be smoking it by now."
"And that's the problem with getting an early start." Casey closed his window halfway. "The early bird doesn't get the worm. He forgets his maps and his stash because he didn't get enough sleep. The worm gets to sleep in."
Jesse wasn't listening. He was looking in the rear-view mirror, eyeing the trooper's brake lights shining bright.
"Oh, shit," Casey looked over his shoulder again. "He's stopping. He's going to come after us."
"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you," Jesse said.
"Very funny," Casey kept his eye on the trooper's vehicle.
The brake lights went off and the trooper kept going, much to Jesse's relief. There was no telling what a thorough search of Harley might reveal.
"That's right," Casey said. "Keep moving. Nothing to see here."
Jesse felt invigorated. Nothing makes the heart beat like seeing a police car while on a drug run, even if you haven't scored yet.
It started to rain, an annoying drizzle at first, then hard enough to make deep puddles in the road. The more it rained, the more lost Jesse began to feel.
He was looking for a gas station to get directions when he saw a sign for Boutte, Louisiana. Next to the sign, a man was holding out his thumb for a ride. His clothes were ragged, mainly blue jean. His shoes looked like they might be Converse high tops but they were so battered and worn it was hard to tell. He was short and thin and maybe a mix of black and Creole. His Afro was flattened and matted from the rain and whatever he'd slept in the night before.
"We should pick that guy up," Casey shouted as he pointed. "He might know where the shrooms are."
Jesse pulled over and stopped. Casey got out of the two-door car, flopped the front passenger seat forward, and helped the hitchhiker wedge himself into the back seat. The new passenger smelled like wet dog as he mumbled some kind of thank you in an indiscernible dialect.
"I knew it," Casey said, reaching back to shake the man's hand. "You're Cajun, aren't you? Say something in Cajun."
The disheveled man, who looked to be in his mid-thirties, held out his hand and said, "Laissez les bons temps rouler."
"Yes," Casey said so loudly it made the man jump in his seat. "Let the good times roll. I know that one."
The three men laughed together as Jesse got back on the road and shifted through four gears and up to highway speed. Harley still ran like a top, despite its battered appearance.
"We're looking for magic mushrooms and Bayou Lafourche," Casey said, wasting no time, getting to the point.
"I can take you there."
"To the bayou or to the mushrooms?"
"No, you're kidding. You really know where the shrooms are?"
"Ya, mon," he said, sounding a little too Caribbean.
"What's your name?" Jesse asked.
"Nice to meet you, Gabriel. I'm Jesse. You'll have to forgive me, here, but I've done some hitchhiking myself and I'd hate to think you'd let us drive you all the way to your house just because you say that's where the mushrooms are."
Gabriel laughed in a way that made him seem charmingly believable. "No, no. I wouldn't do that. But the best mushroom fields do happen to be right near my house."
"How far from here?" Jesse asked.
"Not far, maybe half an hour, maybe a little more."
"What do you know about magic mushrooms?" Casey asked.
"I know the cows eat the mushroom spores and their body heat germinates the spores and they shit them out and their manure fertilizes them," the hitchhiker said. "After that, all it takes is heat and moisture. We've got both today. They don't need sunlight."
Casey looked at Jesse in triumph at having found the right man for the job.
"That's good enough for me," Jesse said. "How do you know the psychedelic mushrooms that are safe from the poisonous ones that can kill you?"
"The good ones have little purple rings around the stem," Casey interrupted.
"I was asking Gabriel."
"Yes," Gabriel said. "Only eat ones with the purple. You be fine."
The hitchhiker pointed out a road sign that said turn right for Raceland, Louisiana. "Okay, turn left. We don't go to Raceland. This is Highway One. Turn left and it runs by Bayou Lafourche. On the west of the bayou is Highway One and on the east is Highway Three o' Eight. The bayou is in the middle."
"Man, this is some of the flattest country I've ever seen," Jesse said as he made the turn. "I thought Indiana was flat. This place doesn't even have a bump in the road."
Jesse kept driving into the rain, past low-slung houses and shanties with wooden docks along some kind of canal.
"What kind of traffic goes down that waterway?" Casey asked.
Gabriel leaned forward between the seats. "Shrimp boats and tourist riverboats and pirogues."
"What's a pirogue?" Casey shifted into interview mode.
"It's a small boat with a flat bottom so you can push-pole it through the shallow swamp," Gabriel made the motion. "It's a Cajun thing."
"What is a Cajun, anyway?" Casey asked.
"It's a mix of French Creoles who came down from Canada, Indians, blacks, and some English," Gabriel said. "My momma says I've got a little of all of them in me."
"Looks like you might have had a rough night last night," Jesse said.
"It was a Fais do-do," Gabriel said. "An all night party. I guess you can tell I haven't been to bed yet."
"Don't worry about it," Casey said. "You look fine. We've all been there."
"What do you do for a living?" Jesse asked.
"There it is," Gabriel pointed as a waterway came into view alongside the road. "Allow me to introduce you to Bayou Lafourche. It's more than one hundred miles long from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. It be Main Street for Cajun country. Here you find real Cajun cooking and the Zydeco music. Do you know Zydeco?"
"Oh, yeah," Jesse said. "I play in a band. We've got a fiddle player."
"Do you have an accordion?" Gabriel asked.
"So, come down here and find you one," Gabriel said.
"Zydeco is Cajun folk music. It's like country music only with an accordion."
"I can't believe we found Bayou Lafourche," Casey said.
"Gabriel found it for us," Jesse said. "If it hadn't been for him, we would have driven right past it."
Jesse was driving through a part of the waterway that was nearly overgrown with Chinese Tallow, Bald Cypress, and Willow trees when Gabriel said, "The bayou is so far south it makes New Orleans look like a northern city."
"Most of what I know about the bayou comes from the Hank Williams song, 'Jambalaya,'" Jesse said.
"Goodbye Joe, me gotta go, me oh my oh," Gabriel sang. "Me gotta push-pole the pirogue down the bayou."
"That's the one," Jesse said.
"Hey Jambalaya, crawfish pie, filé gumbo," Gabriel continued singing. Jesse joined in on the chorus and they sounded pretty good together as they finished the song. After a little instant harmony, Jesse felt he could trust Gabriel.
Casey turned around in his seat to ask Gabriel a direct question. "This is where the Voodoo comes from, right?"
"Ah, yes, the bayou has all the Voodoo you can imagine," Gabriel's eyes widened in Jesse's rear mirror. "Some of it can haunt you." He thrust his open hands into the front seat. "Some can protect you, even from yourself. It is the magic of the spirit world." He clasped his hands together as if in prayer. "There is much magic here. Today, you will find much more than you are looking for."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Rock and Roll Voodoo"
Copyright © 2019 Mark Paul Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Boutique of Quality Books Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter One Magic Mushrooms,
Chapter Two Fritzel's,
Chapter Three Sauce Piquante,
Chapter Four Carmen,
Chapter Five Public Television,
Chapter Six The Safari Club,
Chapter Seven The Sea Shell,
Chapter Eight The Voodoo Voice,
Chapter Nine The Prison of Self,
Chapter Ten The Truce,
Chapter Eleven Pete,
Chapter Twelve Tipitina's,
Chapter Thirteen Raceland Music Hall,
Chapter Fourteen Metro Gnome,
Chapter Fifteen Rod's,
Chapter Sixteen The Warning,
Chapter Seventeen Rick,
Chapter Eighteen Johnny's Cimarron Club,
Chapter Nineteen Rose,
Chapter Twenty Dmitry,
Chapter Twenty-One Slave Revolt,
Chapter Twenty-Two The Barmuda Triangle,
Chapter Twenty-Three Mad Dogs,
Chapter Twenty-Four Red Light,
Chapter Twenty-Five Maced,
Chapter Twenty-Six Dallas Alice,
Chapter Twenty-Seven Jail House Rock,
Chapter Twenty-Eight Running on Empty,
Chapter Twenty-Nine The Wedding,
Chapter Thirty The Tape,
Chapter Thirty-One Box of Time,
Chapter Thirty-Two The End,
Chapter Thirty-Three People,