Clicka dem Bones
Author: Robert Force, Albert d'Ossché
Date/Studio: 1984 Altman, San Francisco, CA
Engineer: Sandy Stone
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: When the Moon Fell on California (KM318)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
Ha ha! I still laugh. Oh the reason for writing this tune was serious enough, but the recording session in San Francisco with Albert and I doing “moving voices” in a deep south tradition and Alex DeGrassi punctuating the background with belly slaps and rattlesnake add ons was truly hilarious. The liner notes credit me with vocals and dem bones, Al with vocals and dem claps and Alex with dem rattlesnakes.
There was a period in my life when I truly loved three women-- one a poet, one a musician and one who just made me smile every time I was with her. But I am a one-woman kind of guy. A decision had to be made. I hitchhiked over to the Okanogan country of Eastern Washington to visit my long-time friends, David and Cheryl Reitz. I thought I'd hike back up into the mountains around their place, camp out overnight and come to some kind of resolve about what to do.
Dave assured me there were no hazards up in those hills and I could quite comfortably just climb until I was tired and then camp out. No cell phones in those days, he'd meet me at the trailhead sometime later that next afternoon. With bedroll and a jug of water I headed out that bright morning. Before too long I came to a bend in the trail and right there in the path was a snake. David had assured me there were no rattlesnakes up there.
Prudently I watched for a minute. Just as I was about to continue the hike, the snake turned and there on its tail were about twelve beautiful buttons. Yikes! Snakes! It slithered off the trail. What to do? I wasn't about to give up my quest. I gathered up two 10-inch pieces of dry wood that comfortably fit into my hands and began making a figure-eight form back and forth, clicking them together. I figured if the rest of the snakes thought I was one of them, they wouldn't bother me. I guess that worked. I never did see another snake. Later I learned snakes can't hear. Well, I could, and it kept me focused on the trail ahead, clicking for hours.
That night, staying up under the stars, I had the only vision I can ever truly say I've had. As I thought about these wonderful women in my life while posing the question, “Who should I be with?” I swear a voice said, “Be with the one who wakes up happy in the morning!” That's it. Maybe I should have asked about world peace or poverty or life after death. Ah, no matter. That answer was the right one for me because I am still with that woman almost fifty years later and she still wakes up happy.
Full of resolve to pursue Janette I jauntily headed back down the trail that next morning. Thistledown was glowing in the early sunlight and blowing about in the slight breeze-- soft tuffs from a tenacious thorny bush-- a good metaphor. In a distant meadow stood two young black bears cubs. Oh how cute I thought, wrapped up in the euphoria of love. Then mama appeared and made a short run toward me. I got the message: move on!
Back in Bellingham, ready to woo my intended, I was working (inattentively) in the wood shop where Michael Moore and I built musical instruments and ran my left-hand index finger-- my main fretting finger, into a table saw blade. Horrified, I clasped it tightly with my other hand and ran uphill five blocks to the ER at St. Joseph's Hospital. Babbling my plight, a sympathetic doctor who identified himself as a guitar player, stitched it shut, throwing in a few extra to make sure it was tight and would close properly.
And that's the song. Watch out for rattlesnakes, mama she bears, power buzz saws and listen to that man on the mountain. Pay attention and clicka dem bones!