Planet Waves | Bones Where Hearts Used to Be, Part Two







by christopher grosso

illustration by michelle waters

Part Two (Return to Part One)

I DIDN'T TELL FRED that I used to have a poodle when I was little. GiGi was her name, a little black French beauty I had gotten right about the time I began masturbating.

God, I loved that dog.

I pulled the car onto the cracked and curvy asphalt of an isolated parking area off the shore of Lake Mead, the exquisite reservoir that was formed by the construction of the monstrous Hoover Dam.

Legend has it that some workers fell into the deep vaults of concrete as they were being poured and, rather than try to fish them out, the foremen said "piss on it, let it set." Of course there's no evidence to that effect; at least, not until San Andreas wakes up for the Big One, when all the "desert rats" will suddenly find themselves with prime oceanfront real estate. Some of them are awaiting that day. I've met them; lived among them.

The sun was approaching the red and purple stone horizon in that glory that seems unique to the desert; dawn, noon or dusk, the quality of the light itself has an amplified silent presence, like ownership. We emerged from the car's confining fuselage liberated into the vast and surreal lake flat to the tune of soft-breaking surf and acoustic guitar waves riding the warm cross-breeze through a stand of trees and some brush which obscured the beach from our view. We looked at each other, then headed through the brush in the direction of the music.

"Hello-o . . ." Fred announced us before we made eye-contact. A group of people sitting on blankets at the shore turned around. A girl's voice called out "Heeey!"

As we came upon them we saw the girl wasn't wearing clothes. She was our age, early twenties, long black, dirty-looking tangled hair. Brownish skin, high cheek bones. Big, white toothy smile; her small, firm, lively breasts punctuated by her earthen dark brown nipples, or "valves" as Freddie called them.

Her name was Penny, but she was considering changing it, she told us later, to Wild Child. Scattered about on blankets was a small clan of about seven or eight others in various degrees of naturalness. They had been mixing in with the land for some time, hair tangled and unwashed; earth-wise faces glowing with the absence of societal pettiness. A kind of wildness shone through their eyes that contrasted noticeably with the eyes of people we saw in Las Vegas, or anywhere else I could remember. I noticed it when they looked directly at me.

Penny scooted over and made some room, patting her blanket to show us where we could park our asses, and we sat down and listened to the guitar player and scanned faces and studied wind currents while Penny looked us over with smiling eyes afire with welcome and curiosity; she thought she knew us, thought she had seen us somewhere before and she was glad to see us again. I breathed her strong scent in.

The guy playing guitar must have stumbled on the clan, too; he wasn't one of them. I could tell by the clean-cut hair and polo shirt and khaki shorts he was wearing. And the music he was playing on his acoustic-a Cars song-didn't translate well idiomatically to an acoustic rendition, without the bass, drums, backing vocals and synthesizers, on a blanket on a desert lake with the current audience, who mostly made their own music when they weren't listening to Woody and Arlo Guthrie, John Prine and Joni Mitchell, the Grateful Dead and whomever else they fancied. The kid seemed oblivious to the cultural divide. The clan was polite, even shaking a furry tortoise-rattle here and there in support. But the truth was they were over his head, and they sighed subsonically when he attempted another song.

I've come to understand-from playing bass in a rock and roll band-that, in the Universe, the Rhythm Section follows the finest Strings. Cycles are linked to Something greater, Somewhere beyond it all. The drums follow the guitar, which reaches up and draws down the high vibrations of inspiration.

So in becoming a band that grooves with the Cosmos, the guitarist learns to be sensitive to the dialogue with Whatever that greater Thing is, while the rhythm section (drums and bass) learns to follow and to listen, and to lock in loosely.

Leave the singer out of it for the time being. He or she pulls it all together, yes, but I'm talking about The Boys right now: Keith Moon followed Pete Townsend; Charlie Watts followed Brian Jones (then, of course, Keith Richards); Bonzo followed Page; Ginger followed Slowhand; Mickey followed Jerry; Levon followed Robbie and Dylan; Ringo should have followed George.

And Mitch Mitchell tried to follow Jimi Hendrix. I can't say exactly What lies beyond the Finer Strings, or What they lead To or connect With, but I sense that, wherever and whatever It is, Jimi was kissing It.

So the drums follow the guitar, never the other way around. And the bass follows the drums. Or more accurately, bass follows the foot of the drummer. He's literally on the drummer's heels. The bass player keys in on the drummer's kick, if he knows what he's doing, to get that powerful druidical authority that slips behind your sternum and spreads along your nerve endings through the rest of your body. This is how rock n roll helped open hearts all over the world, but especially in America in preparation for the subsequent civil rights movement.

Fortunately, it kept going for a while. Some rappers are still sampling George Clinton grooves.

Kids today. They're driving around with 15" woofers filling up the ass-end of their Volkswagens Golfs, causing grandpa's pacemaker in the Cadillac next to them to skip a few beats. I think they're trying to equal the power of that bass lined up with the kick that spawned new solar systems and defined their parents' generation.

But in their electronic drum-bass-machined music, where nothing much follows anything except a bunch of $s following 1s and 0s, they can't quite reach the stars.

That's why Eminem is so defensive. And why I make my funk the P-Funk.

The drum as a symbol of the grounding of cosmic rhythms (or sackles as grandma would say), has an interesting signatory presence that any drummer-or astrologer-would recognize in the word "Sabian." As a cymbal, Sabian is one of the finer brands available; and as a symbol, it is a mind-expanding system of interpreting the degrees of the zodiac.

It seems to be how organic creation works: you take two different things and marry them-or blast them together-and you have nuclear fusion. The Sun at the center of our solar system doesn't really do anything more than that, after all.

The kid closed out his set of top 40 hits, put his guitar in the case and, after a sentimental goodbye, went on his way, wiser than he was a few miles before, if only subconsciously.



I went off into the black, back to the car, to take a piss and get our guitars, feeling like the clan might dig the songs Fred and I had been playing with. The songs were like the clan themselves; simple, loose and unpretentious. We left space for the harmonics to intertwine and create waves of overtones within themselves. Stillness, in music, can be highly underrated, even unrecognized as valid expression.

But the strings are always in motion, always vibrating, whether or not you lay your fingers to them. Air molecules, and whatever else, are constantly bouncing off the strings, chiming their tones back through the atmospheric matrix, and you don't need to be a dog or cat to hear it, only attuned. Harmonics. They're there. Even without Warner Bros. Especially without Warner Bros.

The piss was long over due, so the stream of urine was rather robust, felt good. You know the feeling. Relief.

I aimed it into some grass which sliced the stream aerodynamically enough to produce minimal resistance. I listened to the sound the pee made as it hit the blades:

flit . . . flitflit . . . flitflit . . .

I fanned the stream out in an arc, so no one tuft of grass would get more than its fair share of my urine, and the piss hit a plant with a broader leaf, one that tends to grow in the shaded areas, you know, so the leaf has to be more efficient at gathering the rays. And I noticed the sound was deeper, more resonant than the flitting of the thinner grass. I fanned back to the grass [flitflitflit], then to the leaf [pahpahpah], then back to the grass again. Then to the broad leaf again. I got a little rhythm going. High-hat and snare.

Slightly disappointed when my bladder finally emptied, I zipped up and walked toward the car to get our guitars, and that's when it came-a realization: The purpose of everything in the Universe, without exception, is to give voice: to sing!

Birds sing. Bees sing. Their wings sing. Everything. Weeds, grass and broader leaves, planets, stars and centaurs. Songs recorded, but still in the can. India singhs, and Pakistan.

Life, it seems, is about finding everything's voice. But there's a catch: None of these things can sing alone. The bird needs another bird to call to. The bee needs the blossom. Their wings need each other. A thunder clap needs two air currents. Eminem needs someone to dis. The grass needs a stream of piss.

So, next time you find yourself sitting up a mountain top and the "student" claws and scratches his way up to you, seeking the sure path to enlightenment, the proverbial meaning of life, you might say, simply:

"Piss on it."

It's easy. A little more labor-intensive of a path for our sisters, but great fun to watch, I suspect. Call it a dance ritual.

And you won't find that little pearl in Carlos Castaneda. Or the Bible, for that matter. So thank you, Jesus.

I used to think Wavy Gravy was silly. Now I know. He is me.

I got the guitars and went back to our new friends on the shore.


I noticed that Penny was petting a small furry animal she seemed to be protecting in her arms. It was darker now so it was hard to tell, but it looked like a fox. A black fox. "You wanna pet him?" she offered.

I hesitated, you know, the rabies thing. But I gave in. "Sure," I said and reached over to pet the top of the fox's head.

"Yaaahhhh--!" she screamed, shoving it in my face, a skull with the pelt still attached, knocking me on my back, scaring the hell out of me. She just cackled and Fred joined her, bobbing his head side-to-side.

"You're not from PETA, are you?" I said, dusting the sand off my elbows.

"I'm from a Rainbow!" Penny said. I thought she was being poetic, only to learn as the night went on she was describing her tribal affiliation.

"You are a Rainbow, aren't you?" she asked me.

"Sure," I answered, "I'm a rainbow." I was joining in her allegory, thinking Roy G. Biv, as she cackled.

We took out our guitars and began stroking some notes from the strings, caressing out some chords, and watching them congregate into simple patterns and pools that formed what you call a song. The water sparkled.

"Yah-ya-ya-ya-yaaahhh!" Penny hollered.

When the song disappeared, the tribe began introducing themselves one-by-one . . .

"I'm Two Ravens," said one of the men. He played the part of the "older brother" in the family of outcasts. Knotted beard and stringy matted hair. Deep set, intense eyes. Highly articulate-meticulously so. I introduced myself.

Fred had taken a small walk down the shore line, looking up at the sky, and he had returned.

"And you are Stargazer!" Two Ravens dubbed Freddie. It pleased Fred.

"It's good listening to you two play," Two Ravens told us. "You have a gentle touch, but a firm command of the sound. You play rhythm guitar . . ." he said to Fred, and turning to me he said, " . . . And you play sort of lead." Fair enough, though I was following Fred the whole time because I didn't know the chords as well as he did. After all, he wrote them. Two Ravens handed us a pipe.

"What is it?" Fred asked.

"Jimson," said Two Ravens, his jaws slowly chewing on something. "Mixed with some tobacco."

We looked at each other and shrugged, and drew in the strange tasting smoke, as our new friends smiled and seemed pleased. We had entered some kind of ritual.

We picked our guitars back up and began to finger the strings, emitting soft raindrops ambiguously into the lake of onyx, as Penny interspersed with a "coo" . . . an "ahhh" . . . A wave lapped on shore, delivering sparkles and squiggles. Spiggles. Someone giggled. And it spread through us all, ripples on the lake. Gradual crescendo. Quieting rapidly. The fullness of the tribe's attention. Someone started to cry.

It was the blonde-braided girl; the youngest of them all. Her hair was so matted and her heart was heavy. She was Two Ravens' biological sister and he was driving her crazy with his nit-picking.

Penny asked us if we knew "Wild Horses." I knew Fred knew most of the chords. We took our guitars off into the dark, downshore, and kneeled down and learned it for our hosts.

"What was he using, Nashville tuning?" I asked Freddie, referring to Keith Richards' trick for getting that nice ringing and chiming sound. "I don't know how to do that."

"Just play regular," Fred said.

When we came back, Penny was draped with a wool blanket to ward off the chill. We played her song for her.

Soon rhythmic sounds of hand against skin slowly grounded our flurry of raindrops, pulling them toward the earth, giving definition and substance to the etheric tones precipitating from our fingers, into streams, then rivers into the lake. It was Penny on a hand drum, slow and steady.


Then a tuneful wooden voice joined us; Two Ravens had taken out a bamboo flute and was fluttering its airy breath through the meandering current of our chords and Penny's cloop-cloop-clap. Soft and steady.

Then brighter and swifter. Quicker and sharper. Deep pops with her palm, bright wacks whipped from her fingertips. Wild Child had emerged, lighting us up into a rhythmic frenzy.

We followed her.

"Yah-ya-ya-ya-yaaahhh!!!" she screamed.

Fred joined her. "Yah-YOW-ya-YOW-yaaahhh-YOW-YOW-YOW!!"

We played on and on until we couldn't play anymore and as the last chord drifted off across the lake, Penny shouted some more.


Laughing and giggling, the night's blanket wrapping us warm and secure, the pipe came around again. A flashlight beam penetrated our creative atmosphere, breaking the continuity most rudely.

It was an older cop. He said someone had "reported a bunch of kids drinkin'."

Drinkin'. You mean, like, drinkin' in the love of creation? Drinking the nectar of the passion for existence? What do you mean, 'drinkin'?

"Are eeyoo drinkin' beer?"

I accidentally laughed out loud. The cop shined his beaterlight into my face. Two Ravens got up, the Spokesman.

"No, officer, we weren't 'drinkin'."

The cop scanned the little camp with his light.

"Are eeyoo people 'ded-heds?" the cop asked.

"What's a 'ded-hed'?" I said. We had just transcended together any realm in which such a thing had any meaning, but I knew what he meant.

"You cain't drink beer here," he said. "You're not even s'posed to camp here without a per-mit."

Two Ravens was spoiling for an argument.

"And you write the laws!" he said raising his voice, talking to his dad, in a way.

"I enforce the laws," the cop said firmly, careful to use only enough vocal force to clarify the situation, like he was talking to his hippy son, in the presence of his wife.

"I'll let you stay here just for tonight. Then you gotta git on your way."

Thank you, officer. Bye, officer.

The celebration was over; we had climaxed. So we went to sleep after that.

Next morning we woke up on the bare shore. The tribe was packing their things into their truck over yonder. It looked kind of like the truck from The Beverly Hillbillies; stuff tied up on the roof, things hanging off it. A pickle bucket, a kitchen chair. The pickup was old, had those round, curvy fenders. I didn't think it would go. We joined them at the tailgate, stomachs growling. Two Ravens had whipped up some breakfast in a big bowl, dipping his fingers in and eating it, looked like some sort of salad. He was offering us some from his bowl.

"What is it?"

"Hmm," flicking his greasy fingers around in it, identifying each ingredient as he chewed.

"Avocado . . . artichoke . . . squash . . .
beans. . .some carrots . . . "

We each took a plate, just to be polite, but we ended up leaving them set on the bumper deck of the truck. Those old pickups have the flat shelf like that, so we just casually set the plates on the bumper.

It was time for us to go. We thanked the tribe, said goodbye and jumped in our car.

As we began pulling out of the parking area, Penny ran up to the car and handed us something. A gift. It was a postcard, with two wild black stallions on it.

She kissed me, then ran around to the passenger side and kissed Freddie. And we said goodbye once again, slowly driving past the truck, waving and peace signs.

Freddie yelled for me to stop the car.

"Why? What is it?"

"Look at their bumper!" he yelled.

I looked over at the bumper of the truck . . .

"C'mon, Gross! Stop the car!"

"Get outta here!"

I laid my foot down on the accelerator, and drove off toward Arizona.

We drove in complete silence for a good half hour, not a word between us, each of us alone with our thoughts and feelings about the night before with the clan; so much swirling around in there to feed our minds that words had taken on a new economy.

Fred suddenly broke the silence.

"Two Raisins."

Snot nearly hit the windshield. The strain from the laughter that coursed through us for the next half hour made our abdominal muscles ache, even after it petered out into quiet, measured breaths.

Another long silence, followed by a spark of a snort rekindling another full blown blazing laughter fit. It went on like that for several cycles, with nothing else said except, "Oohh, my side hurts!"


Two New Mexico State Troopers who pulled us over after we crossed over from Arizona because my seatbelt was unfastened didn't find us all that funny. They played "good-cop, bad-cop," scattering our stuff out on the side of the highway, searching for a big score in the car. Fred had some herb on him and a brass gas fitting he used as a one-hitter. The "bad" cop crumbled the two or three buds into the wind as rigs rocketed by, blasting it into smithereens.

"You write the laws!" I shouted, standing on the shoulder of I-40 as tractor-trailers roared by. The "good" cop noticed my name on my license and associated it with a famous New York City cop who had busted an international heroin smuggling ring known as the French Connection: Sonny Grosso.

"I would think with a name like Grosso, you would be a little more respectful of law enforcement," the good cop said, brightly smiling. Bad cop was still rifling through our bags. He found an empty beer can from our pass through Colorado.

"Shoot, I have an uncle in Pittsburgh who OWNS state troopers!" I said. It was sort of true, only he wasn't really an uncle but was my grandfather's cousin. His name was Tony Grosso, big tri-state gambling racketeer who paid Pennsylvania State Troopers upwards of $100,000 a year to keep him abreast of pending investigations. He paid out more than double what the government paid in the state lottery, generating a loyal following among the working class who played their numbers through him; a modern-day Robin Hood. It had all been coming out in the press right at that time. A couple of the troopers had committed suicide.

"Really?" The good cop was genuinely interested.

"Yeah!" I said, defiantly, sure that Two Ravens would be proud. Fred was unimpressed, though, looking at me through those round spectacles with that cold, sterile stare.

Good cop continued with his investigation: "You have any more marijuana on you? In your car? Don't lie, or we'll take you down county lockup at Grants. They got some nasty boys down there-you don't want to go there." Bad cop had our guitar cases open and one of the guitars in his hands, shaking it above his head looking in the sound hole. A pick fell out.

"That's all we had," Fred chimed in. "Unless you got some, Chris." I didn't.

We got our citations for the beer can and seatbelt, got the pick and threw our stuff back in the car and made our way to the reservation before nightfall.


It's illegal to bring alcohol on the reservation. Janine explained the reason was a belief that Native Americans were genetically predisposed to alcoholism, but I was skeptical of the reasoning then and I'm even more dubious now. If any culture is predisposed to addiction, it's mine; the one that forced them off their lands and onto reservations: This land was made for you and me.

But we decided to keep the unopened bottle of whiskey in Fred's bag, at least for a while. Bad cop had mistakenly placed it in mine after digging through them.

The rez wasn't what either of us had expected; it was a tiny trailer park on a vast mesa, with a school, a gas pump and a maintenance building.

Reservations are American refugee camps, for the most part, for the most down-to-earth and awake people among us, I believe. If you hike some of the rock formations, such as El Morro National Monument near Rama, you'll find 16th Century Spanish mercenary graffiti painted over ancient American Indian glyphs.

When you come face-to-face with the realization that the Navajos (in their language, The Diné, which means "The People") had endured the invasion by heartless and blood-drunk Catholic Spaniards, only to win WWII by breaking Japanese codes for the United States war machine (despite Hirohsima and Nagasaki, and the Normandy Landings), you come to the edge of the gorge that exists between the truth (where your feet now stand) and the historical fiction at the feet of the millions of numbly overfed boomerbabies who just need to find an all-night All-Mart.

After feeding us delicious black bean soup and an unusual heavy, crusty Navajo bread, Janine laid out some bedding for us and bid us goodnight. Tomorrow she would take us to the school up the road. The whiskey stayed in the bag that night.

Next morning, we walked up the road with our gracious earth-mother host, toward a stone building-a large modernized hogan. This was the school where she taught Navajo middle-school students. It was a warm building; a large stone fireplace and stone hearth greeted us on our entrance. Otherwise, it was an ordinary school with ordinary classrooms. Being Sunday school was out as she took us into her empty classroom. She had been teaching The Tao of Pooh.

"What are your students like? Is it a challenge for you, being an outsider and all?" one of us asked.

"It's cool, but it can get really lonely. If I have to redirect my students, or discipline them in any way, I'm reminded of where I am and where they are and what their situation is. When it comes right down to it," she said, "I'm a 'beladonna bitch!' And then I have to say 'Goodbye! Go to the office!"

She told us Native American children were the most creative people on the planet, and guided us down the hall to the art room.

"Wait'll you see this . . . "

She opened the door and inside was a huge room with cathedral ceilings. Artwork was everywhere, up the walls, stacked all over the floor, standing against furniture that was underneath there somewhere. Paintings, charcoal drawings, rugs, tapestries. The pottery. You could barely walk through the room, except via a narrow path that was cleared away.

"Did you know Native Americans invented the wheel?"

"You're kidding."

"I'm not," she said. "They weren't the first people to use it with such productivity. They mostly used them for children's toys."


Back at the trailer as the evening wound down, Fred and I sat reading some of the books on her shelves about the indigenous culture surrounding us; the myths and legends, the ceremonies and the terrain. There was a book of Navajo poetry, translated into English, of course.

In a corner of her kitchen sat a 10-pound burlap bag stamped with the words COUS-COUS in black stencil lettering. On her coffee table sat a wooden kaleidoscope. I looked inside, rotating it around . . . click . . . click . . . click . . .

I was thinking about the signatures of modern poverty stamped on the reservation, thinking about the energy that must have been expended in corralling a whole diversified race of people spread throughout a huge continent; the strain of effort that such systematic deception requires . . .

click, click . . .

I set the kaleidoscope back down on the coffee table, picked up a note pad and a pencil, and began writing a poem about what I saw.


How is it
That a single,
Comes to dominate
All manner and
Number of
Bingo chips,
Tiddly-winks and

With Mirrors.

Some years later I miraculously bumped into Janine coming out of a movie theater back in Pittsburgh, not even knowing she had moved back east. The movie was Forrest Gump and late in the film, during the scenes where he was running across a southwestern mesa, my thoughts returned to Janine and our trip out West, through New Mexico, how beautiful the sunsets were, and the light cast on the purple mountains majesty, just like in the movie. As the credits rolled and the audience began filing out, I had noticed the woman in front of me had the same stringy blond hair and earth-mother countenance that Janine had. How strange.


I don't think I've ever embraced another with such unexpected zeal when I realized it was her. We all went out for coffee, her and her new husband and me and my date, and she told me the poem still graced her refrigerator. I had forgotten all about it. But she had memorized it. And I could barely speak the whole night.

The next night on the reservation, after Janine had gone to bed, Fred and I decided to crack open the whiskey, play our guitars and pound drums and shake tortoise-shell rattles she had laying around, and generally act like a couple of ignorant fools. When we woke up the next morning, Janine had gone off to school and, as we went outside into the bright sunlight, we saw the rear windshield in our rental car had been smashed to bits.

Out of our peripheral vision we both thought we saw the curtains in the window of the trailer next door move, like someone had been watching us and suddenly popped back into the house. A haunting paranoia gripped us the rest of the day, as Fred made calls to find out how much it would cost to replace the glass. It was more than we had.

When Janine came home from work, she said there had been a hail storm earlier that morning. Out here hail storms are frequent and the hailstones are often the size of whatever familiar thing your culture feels comfortable using to measure them: golfballs?

That could have done it.

We stayed on the reservation 3 days longer than we had expected while we decided what to do about the rear window. Couldn't drive 2000 miles like that.

After a few test runs, we decided to patch the window with black plastic garbage bags and duct tape. It was iffy, but it would have to do. We had a gig in 36 house at a shithole called The Electric Banana, where we would be playing for the door.

We made it back in 18 hours, the wind whipping at the plastic, sounding like a 747 jet engine in the back seat.

We couldn't listen to our tapes on the way back to where we started, the vibration was so loud.

We couldn't even hear ourselves think.

Introduction to Navajo Culture

Genocide Documents

Indian Country Today

Asteroid Keywords from Martha Lang-Wescott:

TISIPHONE: Seek justice for "crimes against kinship, family;" dose of one's own medicine; fairness; just desserts; how and where and if one gets "what they deserve."

HOPI: Native American peoples, culture, memories and behavioral inclinations; indigenous peoples; minority groups; contact with knives/cutting, corn_based foods, feathers, snakes and ambushes (inc. of the psychological variety); territorial claims and disputes; attack or ambush perceptions; deep-seated defense (of points in axis or aspect.)

PHAETHON: Instances that involve cars, transport, driving; other forms of recklessness-feeling out of control-as though you've taken on more than you can handle; having trouble keeping to the middle of the road!

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