Jim Lovell, Commander of Apollo Thirteen Shook My Hand

Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo Thirteen shook my hand.

excerpt “History of the Groove, drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm © 2013

all rights reserved

Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo Thirteen shook my hand. “I’ve been wanting to meet you.” he said sincerely.

“No. Wait.” I said, “I’m supposed to say that.”

He nodded to Elvis’s beautiful third cousin, folksinger at the strip club in Cocoa Beach where the astronauts hung out, mascot of the Apollo team. “Trish has told me all about your band.”

We were in the University of Miami Student Union building at the end of June, Nineteen Seventy. He and fellow astronaut Conrad had given a moving speech on a new study called Ecology. They had seen effluviant feeding into the great bodies of water coming from cities and factories all over the world. It was fouling the precious waters of the earth. They had been the first humans to get a removed perspective and were very concerned about pollution. On their own dime, they toured and explained their sense of urgency about what we were doing to our planet.

“Would you like to come over to Coconut Grove, to our place, this evening? I offered.

He nodded. “After a dinner engagement on Miami Beach.”

Holly had rented the downstairs to the Cape Cod house on Royal Palm. She was a good soul and very supportive of the Bethlehem Asylum, acting as occasional secretary. I lived upstairs and was reading as much of Wilhelm Reich’s lab books as I had time for.

Orgone was Dr. Reich’s word for the Life Force. He was given research facilities at an Army base in Virginia, not far from Washington, DC, in the early nineteen fifties. He isolated samples from living human cells, put it on a slide, put it into a powerful electromagnetic field and observed the blue/white glow under the microscope. It was something that we all had, to a greater or lesser degree. But he observed an astounding side effect of his research; influenza epidemics were killing thousands of people across the U.S. even in the Army base he was working in, but none of his personnel got sick. They were thriving because they were drenched in Orgone energy. It was keeping them healthy. His mission/goal was to amplify Orgone in the modern foot soldier so that it would throw off radiation poisoning. He developed an Orgone Accumulator, where a person could sit inside and gather Orgone in a gradual manner from the surrounding environment. He described the box as layers of organic and inorganic material. But he had found a much more powerful and quicker way to generate and amplify Orgone in the modern soldier,  …Good, really good…really, really good…..sex.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff read his reports and freaked out. This was in the mid fifties, and sexual research was verboten. Forbidden territory, especially on a military base. They burned his reports and eliminated all evidence of his work. When he protested, threatening to go public with what he considered to be the greatest discovery of technological civilization they put him in Leavenworth Penitentiary for the rest of his life. “Listen Here Little Man.” was his last bitter polemic from prison. I will always remember one of his quotes from that book, “You just want another Hitler so that you don’t have to think for yourself.”

Our albums had no relationship to the live Bethlehem Asylum jams that were getting longer and more trance like.  We were fueled in part by Fred Neil’s acoustical raga improvisations. Way ahead of his time. Christian knew all about trance raga grooves since he was from India but his jazz technique took us where no band had gone before. Charlie’s thorough knowledge of modal and jazz scales on flute and sax were a perfect match for Christian’s keyboard genius. Danny composed many modal songs including ‘Theme for Bethlehem Asylum’ in an esoteric guitar tuning that made it difficult to perform live but had a mesmerizing effect. Jim on bass and me on the drumset had developed our psychic ability to anticipate and lock in the trance/dance grooves with compelling stamina and grace, slipping from Caribbean to RnB grooves to straight up jazz, folk, blues and rock. Jim’s operatic opus of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”  swung like no tomorrow with bone and sax.  We sounded great but weren’t playing hit song ditties. We developed a style of meditative, trance jazz grooves that would last for hours and transform people’s consciousness, but it was intense. “I can’t trip when I listen to you guys.” someone said.

“Good.” Jim responded.

Commander Lovell arrived with Trish about nine in the evening, still wearing suit and tie from his formal dinner speaking engagement on Miami Beach. I suggested he take off his tie and relax. Get comfortable. He looked questioningly at Trish. She nodded her head in approval. This was a safe place. He could relax. He explained his predicament; “I have been through the most amazing experiences, and all I can say is, ‘It was very interesting.’ I don’t know how to describe what I went through.  I thought meeting artists like yourselves would help my communication skills.”

Our Jim, bass player and singer for Bethlehem Asylum, tonight dressed as General Custer with thin chin goatee, Errol Flynn mustache, and his ubiquitous prescription sunglasses suddenly prowled stealthily around Holly’s large apartment closing Old Florida jalousied hurricane blinds and hibiscus flowered drapes, then sat down on the sofa opposite Jim Lovell. He leaned forward and spoke right in the Commander’s face,

“Take us to the moon, Jim.”

excerpt “History of the Groove, drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm © 2013

all rights reserved


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