Kage Baker considered the Faire Bus a rolling smorgasbord of story ideas. She commented once (watching delightedly as Marque Siebenthal traveled up and down the aisle by swinging from the luggage racks like Spiderman): “It’s like Schrodinger’s Box on wheels! You never know what will happen to the cat until you look!”
We were all her cats.
Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters didn’t have a patch on The Bus. For the riders (50 beautiful seats! 53 lovely passengers!) the weekend’s performance began on Friday afternoon as we pulled away. The entire lot of them reverted to a mental age of 5, and stayed that way for the next 8 hours. Inspired, creative, often drunken kindergarteners, crammed into a bus with most of their props, instruments and costumes: it’s a wonder we never drove straight through a black hole from the weight of our own insanity.
What motivated Kesey’s lot? Politics, boredom, a need for attention, copious amounts of drugs? What motivated the inmates of The Bus was the urge to Make Art. Mostly they did that by working Faire, spending their weekends in a 24/7, 360-degree, 48 hour orgy of historical recreation – but there was all that time on The Bus, too, and it was never wasted.
This was in the days where the most sophisticated electronics available to us was someone’s Bible-sized cassette player – and even those were frowned on, in the Golden Age atmosphere of Faire. We made our own music. We made music literally at dinner and bathroom breaks, where people would run to fetch food and drink for the musicians who obligingly stood in the hot dark parking lots and played for the rest of us. Then we danced. The parking lot of the Orange Julius in Buttonwillow was the only place I ever got all the way through a set of Goddesses, in a furnace wind and a storm of tumbleweeds and hamburger wrappers – it was an ecstacy.
People threw money (and sometimes rocks). We passed out flyers and discount tickets. One evening J. Paul Moore, in flawless white tie and tails, set up a tiny folding table with a linen cloth and candlebra, and sat there sipping champagne while the rest of us stamped and clapped and danced. I can see him clearly, nodding and keeping time with one magisterial hand in the air. At the end he pulled a flower out of thin air – he was a magician, too – and presented it to some Bakersfield matron who had been watching us with her mouth hanging open.
We sang on the bus, for our own entertainment. There were a lot of standard Faire songs, of course, most cribbed from Steeleye Span and The Watersons; or the after-hours things you couldn’t sing where the audiance could hear (and I hope to never hear The Ball at Ballymore again in my life). But Monkees songs were also very popular, as were commercial jingles and musical comedy scores and Victorian music hall. I learned Rule, Britannia on a bus on I-5. Terry Collier could change into the MC from Cabaret so fast it was scary … sooner or later, though, every evening, we sang Amazing Grace for Barry, our long-suffering driver – perfectly straight, perfectly serious, perfectly gorgeous.
There was a noise gradient from the front to the back of the seats. It was moderately quiet in the very front, so as not to bother Barry; then very noisy indeed in the middle (lots of jingles there); then not quite as noisy but much smokier in the back, where most of the musical theatre happened. The smokers could only light up in the very back, too, and we somehow fondly imagined the smoke abode by the rules and didn’t drift forward; but in those days, you could even light up in hospitals.
And how do I remember all this? Kage. Kage Baker remembered everything.
Tomorrow: Strange Scenes Inside The Gold Mine