Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ride The Wild Spinner Rack - Part 2


Editor's Update 10/17/2014: The Ride The Wild Spinner Rack series appears in multiple posts, including, so far, Part 1Part 2, and Part 3. Enjoy.

RIDE THE WILD SPINNER RACK

Part 2: The Last Wave


Needless to say, I was hooked.  My thirst for more Fantastic Four, Spiderman (which of course featured the FF on the first issue’s cover!), Strange Tales, The Avengers and the rest grew exponentially in the months ahead.  Midway through 1963 a FF #14 letters page writer said he had started a New York City FF fan club.  The person answering the letters asked if anyone else out there had started a club.  Bingo!  What a great idea!  I immediately drew up a charter for the Sacramento branch.  Membership: me.  I also held all the offices.  I sent Marvel my good news and a few issues later (I’m not sure which one because I no longer own it) there was a half page dedicated to listing all the clubs around the country.  The Sacramento branch, along with my address, was right there in the mix.

Surf fever brings them here to meet the test
And hanging round the beach you'll see the best
They're waxed up and ready just waiting for
The surf to build up on the northern shore
 The heavies at the pipeline are OK
But they can't match the savage surf at Waimea Bay
It takes a lot of skill and courage unknown
To catch the last wave and ride it in alone
Ride ride ride the wild surf
Ride ride ride the wild surf
Gotta take that one last ride”  Jan and Dean


A month or two after my address was published, a knock came at the front door and my mother said there was someone to see me.  Through the screen I saw this guy about my age, with naturally bleach blond hair combed like the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, wearing a vertically striped, button down short-sleeve shirt and holding a small brown box.  “Is this the Fantastic Four Fan Club?” he asked.  At first I was flummoxed (although I’m not sure I knew what that meant at the time).  I finally told him it was.  He asked if I wanted to see some of his comics, nodding down at the box.  In no time he became the second member in the club, another person who actually loved music as much as I did, and someone who lived only a few blocks away and would very quickly become my best friend.  When I first looked through his stack of comics, which was a treasure trove of the best recent Marvel and DC lineup, I was taken aback by a stamp on the middle of every cover with his address and name: James A Ford!  (The only other place I knew of that did that was Beers Book Store at its original location on J Street, where I got a lot of my back issues.)  Even then, this was a little disturbing to me.  Not because I had any concept of any loss of “value” such a practice might cause, but because I felt it marred the inherent beauty of the cover art.  But I let it slide.  I mean, this guy, who seemingly came out of nowhere, was the only person I knew that was even into comics.  A few “eccentricities” were okay. 

Our shared love of comics slowly waned in the years ahead, but our love of music only grew and grew.  I came to know his family well: his divorced mother (who I had a crush on) and sister were always welcoming and friendly.  As middle and high school came, I began keeping my comic book addiction on the down low for fear of deep social embarrassment, but I could always talk to Jim about it.  Our musical tastes kept pushing boundaries.  One of our favorite records was a late sixties Reprise/Warner compilation that featured a couple of songs by some guy named Captain Beefheart.  When we first heard “Ella Guru,” we couldn’t believe it!  What was this cacophonous mess?  We laughed and laughed, but played it over and over.  Then we listened to more of the Captain’s cuts, and a funny thing happened: we started to actually enjoy it.  One of us finally purchased TROUT MASK REPLICA, and we became addicted, much like we had to the Marvel comics of a few years earlier. 

“Now here she comes, walkin', lookin' like a zoo
Hello moon, hello moon, hi, Ella, high Ella Guru
She knows all the colors that nature do, High Ella, high Ella Guru
High yella, high red, high blue, she blew High Ella, high Ella Guru

We’d talk about life and our plans for the future: Jim was going to move to the coast, open a bookstore, become a writer and do a lot of surfing; I was going to be a filmmaker, or maybe a musician.  He was the one person I could really talk to in those days.  Unfortunately, toward the end of the decade, Jim’s mom fell in love with some guy who also had a couple of younger kids, breaking my heart, and they moved about 60 miles away to a small town on Apple Hill.  They purchased several acres of land and had their beautiful two-story dream house built from scratch.  Jim and I stayed in contact, but of course it wasn’t the same as being a few blocks away.  He came to Sacramento periodically, and I finally got to visit him at his new place.  I had to admit it was a beautiful location and a great house.  When we left that day and I waved goodbye, I didn’t know it would be for the last time. 

It was a few months into my freshman year in college.  A mutual friend showed up on my doorstep looking horrible.  He said there was a fire overnight at Jim’s place.  He said Jim had awakened in his second story bedroom and run into the kids’ room, grabbing one of them in his arms, but halfway down the stairs, the roof had collapsed on them.  The others escaped, but Jim and his half brother didn’t make it. 

As I was doing research for this post, I took a look at the very few early Fantastic Fours I still own, and discovered, right there on Sub-Mariner’s back, issue #14, the James A Ford stamp.  Now I remember why I’ve never sold or traded this one.  Here’s to you, Jim, you won’t be forgotten.  Seeya on that wild surf, my friend. 

TO BE CONTINUED  

Bill Fuller