05:26:19 pm on
Monday 15 Jul 2024

RIP Bill Hawkins
Bob Stark

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The Mad Hatter of Hip, Bill Hawkins

Once upon a time, in a land far away, a teenage kid from the western suburbs, of Ottawa, went downtown one night to “Le Hibou,” the new campfire circle for the new tribal villagers. Something was happening there but, as his neighbour Mr Jones, he didn't know what it was. Then he opened the door, of “Le Hibou,” and like Alice chasing rabbits, never really came out quite the same person.

There was a small crowd that night, circled around tables of checkered tablecloths and candles listening to folk songs. Sitting by alone, at the back of the room, was an intriguing looking character, a multi-coloured scarf wrapped around his neck, horn-rimmed glasses, light brown sports jacket. He wore all the regalia of a post-Beat Poet that would carry a new generation into the optimistic times of change, with his music and his poems and his larger than life and death persona.

Teen Boy had encountered, but had not yet met, the Mad Hatter of Hip. 

The legendary Grand Parade Marshall, of “Le Hibou,” would lead Teen Boy and his friends up the steps and onto the marvellous magical mystery tour bus. There was a weekly movie matinee, replete with a soundtrack by “The Children” and “The Heavenly Blue”; everybody would become "as the times are.”

Such moving and spiritual melodic songs, such as 'Gnostic Serenade' and 'Cotton Candy Man' helped shape not only the soul, of Teen Boy, but stir his own meagre but budding creative urges. Even today, many years later, Teen Boy wonders if he has ever even come close in achieving such 'immortality,' in any of his songs, or poems; such has been the influence of Wild Bill on him. "If you go chasing rabbits, you know you're bound to fall."

Flash forward to 1973. Times had certainly changed and not necessarily for the better. Teen Boy had grown older. He entered, somewhat reluctantly and obscurely, the working world, with the CRTC, where he spent his day listening to tapes of radio stations and writing unintelligible graphic symbols on paper. No one had seen, since Cleopatra had sailed the Nile, what future archaeologists might misinterpret as psychotherapy exercises for the post-modern hippie sub-culture, not quite ready to surrender to the staleness and stagnation of the suburbs from which they had only recently escape.

Each worker had his or her own cell, called an office.

This was, perhaps, to enhance the therapeutic experience. Possibly, it was drive these employees mad, a la the LSD experiments performed by the late Dr Ewen Cameron, at Allen Memorial Hospital, in Montreal, where the 'inmates' were 'de-patterned.’

Stranger still, down the hall from Teen Boy, behind another closed door, sat the then immortal Bill Hawkins, mildly stewed on Benylin. God has a twisted sense of humour and malpractice justice, thought Teen Boy. It was never lost on Teen Boy that, as each coder toiled away, in their radio tower of song, in the jailer's office, down the hall, a record spun and spun and spun;  'Close to The Edge" by “Yes.”

Alas, confinement can breed camaraderie, the passing of conspiracy notes, coded taps on the walls. Such became the case with Teen Boy and his hero poet. Every morning Teen Boy would check in on his wounded outlaw friend, who, on more than one occasion, had already 'left for the day,' if ya catch my drift.

One of the wardens, Sjef Frenken, whose heart was bigger than many government zoo keeps, provided recreation for the incarcerated. Every Friday afternoon, before the assembled got their weekend passes, there was a musical fair held in one of the adjoining courtrooms.

There are many memories for Teen Boy, now. Strapping on his guitar, most weeks, one of his usual songs was a John Prine creation, 'Sam Stone,' about a soldier returned from Vietnam with a heroin addiction. Bill always loved hearing Teen Boy doing that song.

The life of Bill Hawkins existed on a parallel plane, as did the life of Sam Stone. Both were unable to re-enter the civilian conclave, after serving in the battles of freedom and having lost a part of themselves in their defeat. There was a hole in another daddy's arm.

Bill always told Teen Boy that, as much as he'd love to have him over to visit his home; things were a bit crazy, what with the booze and drugs. Strange, somewhat dangerous characters lived in his home.

Teen Boy, who had morphed by then into a performing musician, again due to Bill and the early influence of his musical cohorts, was ever hopeful to pull his friend back from the abyss and back on stage. Teen Boy offered him an opening set at the Wasteland Coffee House.

The re-emergence, if temporary, of Bill Hawkins was touch and go.

It was touch-and-go, would a very nervous Bill Hawkins show. Bill had warned him of that, not sure he was up for playing in front of people again. The good news is that he did appear, strutting to the stage, with a determined swagger or 'let's get this over with' attitude, likely fortified heavily with his constant opiate sideman. The old magic returned, for Teen Boy, for one night at least. 'Louie Riel' lived again.

Now, as the years have rolled on, stories told or written, of Bill Hawkins, emerged. Teen Boy learned Bill could be rather obnoxious or, more politely, direct with people. He was the first of the last angry young men.

You know, not that Teen Boy was ever really that close to Bill, save those few months in civil servant stir, but he never had any visitations by the Dark Prince side of the man. More often than not, the encounters of Teen Boy and Bill always left Teen Boy laughing. Such was the man's sense of humour.

I think it might be fair to say that Bill could see the absurdity in everything but with an underlying passion, tortured and damaged though it was at times, to get through to the next awe-inspiring doors of perception.

One lasting memory for Teen Boy, again from “Le Hibou,” is walking in there one day for lunch. Famed psychiatrist, R D Laing, was sitting at a table near the stage. Awe-struck Bill strode by Teen Boy saying "R D Fucking Laing man! R.D. Fucking Laing!" Teen Boy, who had studied psychology at Carleton University, couldn't think of a more serendipitous or appropriate 'meeting' of two of his leading cultural orchestra conductors; it being within the sacred sanctuary, “Le Hibou,” where all had worshipped so many for so long.

The last time Teen Boy remembers seeing Wild Bill Hawkins was at Chopper McKinnon's 50th Birthday celebration at the “Manx,” on Elgin Street, in Ottawa; that was 1996. Teen boy even took a picture, an icon of an icon.

Well, surely there were a few 'drive and thrive' cab trips, the ever-entertaining Bill Hawkins at the wheel. He regaled Teen Boy with his wit, now they were both cynical and self-deprecating, but somehow, as always, still transcending the times, the moment, reminding Teen Boy to keep the flames burning, so that maybe one day we could once again be as the times were.

Today, Teen Boy is playing the Bill Hawkins tribute CD, "Dancing Alone.” On opening the cover, he read the signed note from Bill: "To Bob Stark.. Fellow Artist!" Fellow artist! Thank you for that, Cotton Candy Man.

R.I.P. William. May you be dancing lightly and lively across the universe among the golden stars?

Teen Boy encourages you to read the following, including the poems near the bottom, on this website: cameronanstee.wordpress.com/2016/07/05/william-hawkins-1940-2016/

If you haven't already done so, already, you should read of the history of “Le Hibou,” in “We Are as the Times Are,” by Ken Rockburn.

Click here to listen to "Thin Green Candle," an ode to Bill Hawkins by Bob "Teen Boy" Stark. It's from his CD, "Love Songs for Bureaucrats." Also performing on "Thin Green Candle" are Pepe Danza, percussion; Andre Lachance, stand up base; Bill Sample, piano; Steve Dawson, lead acoustic guitar and Michael Friedman, juice harp.


Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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