Coffeehouse of Glory - the Complete Recordings version
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1990 Synergy, Chimacum, WA
Engineer: Neville Pearsall
Producer: Nick Dallett
Original Release: Port Townsend Dreams (BAF 2)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
This song marked a turning point in many ways for me-- both as a songwriter and as a person living in the world. It is about the passing of Charlie Berg, Bergo Deano, as he called himself. Of him I could easily write an entire book. Like the song says, he was my teacher. He taught me songs. More importantly, he taught me to just sing what I heard the way I heard it.
He and I made several cross-country trips together, once in a VW bug he had “borrowed” from an old skipper of his. Several months later he returned it to the skipper's consternation who had reported it stolen. Charlie was never big on property rights. Later I learned he had to build a fire under it in Montana to warm the oil up sufficiently to turn over the engine. Original. But he was from Bozeman and I suppose that was a trick the locals all knew.
He started off a damn fine violinist and even had invented a vibrato bowing technique that won him some acclaim. Over the years he got worse and worse-- or better and better, depending on how you look at it. He forsook the violin and took up fiddle, scratching out Holy Modal Rounder tunes, AmTrads and even a little Grateful Dead when the fancy struck him. He LOVED being irascible.
From time to time he'd wander into people's houses and remove Gurdjieff's, Beezelbubs Tales to his Grandson if he thought that person wasn't reading it. He himself had read it three times just like the master asked. He'd hold it ransom or pass it along to someone else he thought should have it. Strange as it sounds, it was a part of who he was. No one who ever dealt with Charlie thought it odd.
The song takes up when he was living in a cabin in the town of LaConner, WA and using his Volvo PV544 as a chicken coop. At that time Tom Robbins was hanging out in the local tavern and pumping the river rats for stories to use in his book, Another Roadside Attraction. I am more than sure Charlie gave him earfuls. He was never short on flights of the imagination or home-spun homilies.
An image from the song talks about “lighting up the grass 'round Fishtown Slough.” His cabin was on the edge of a marsh. In the Pacific Northwest we often only see the sun for a quick glimpse as it sets below the clouds in the west. In that magic moment, the tips of the grass light up with an ethereal, bright fire. It is not quite as elusive as the “green flash” but close.
If you netsearch on “Fishtown LaConner” you will find it was an early “boat people” gathering place, harboring writers and poets who were later to become well-known and quite a few other quasi-miscreants and sailboat hippies who weren't so destined. It's all gone now. Just like Charlie. The coffeehouse era is also pretty much gone except maybe in my version of heaven where Charlie has angels slamming down beer mugs, pounding out the tune and belting the words to Old Plank Road.
Perhaps one of the most poignant lines is, “If you have to knock, you don't need to come in.” That was Charlie. The door is open and if you don't know that, you shouldn't be here. That line, I learned later, originated with Joe Breskin when they were inner city, gung ho, bicycle riding, health food fanatics in Seattle, Joe being the lead guitarist of a seminal psychedelic Seattle band, The Clockwork Orange.
I recorded an earlier, string band version just after Charlie died. The one on Did You I wanted to be a stand alone-- just me and my dulcimer. Charlie's was the first time I knew in a very visceral way we, none of us, are immortal. My kids still remember me suddenly getting quiet and writing the words on a napkin as we returned on a ferry boat from visiting where we thought he'd be found up at Jeff Margolis' cracker barrel hangout, Everybody's Store, near Deming, WA. The words came all at once.