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Original Essays

Lithium Cabbage

by Seth Greenland
  1. The Bones: A Novel
    $6.50 Used Hardcover add to wishlist

    The Bones: A Novel

    Seth Greenland
    "A pitch-perfect sendup of Hollywood's endemic self-importance....the book's pace is fast, furious and fun. The author slows down enough along the way to expound intelligently on topics ranging from self-knowledge to 'the anxiety of affluence,' but the pace of this raucous thrill ride never slackens." Publishers Weekly

    "Mr. Greenland writes beautifully. His book is a stitch." David Mamet

When people ask me why I put aside writing screenplays to write a novel, I tell them it was because of Lithium. Lithium Cabbage, actually. My first rock 'n' roll band.

We were twelve-year-old suburban kids, but, oh, how we rocked. It was 1967 and there were five of us: Haas, the pretty-boy guitar player and nominal leader whose father was a Baptist minister; Bones, the preternaturally talented, Pink Floyd-obsessed drummer, whose polyrhythmic banging placed him miles ahead of the rest of us sonically; Mock, the singer, handsome but flat-toned; Face, the bass player, so named because you couldn't see it; and me, Sex, my presciently punk-like (and wholly inappropriate) moniker having arrived on the cultural scene nearly a decade early. I played keyboards ? terribly, but that didn't matter.

Because of the era in which we raved, our repertoire consisted of various Cream, Hendrix, and Rolling Stones chestnuts, crowd faves all. But what we lived for were our originals, future classics like "Soul Redeemer" (a title that sounded suspiciously like an actual song by Al Green, a musician we would have eschewed for the simple reason that he wore a suit), "Calvin the Treeman," and "Ghee Has Problems." A word about Ghee, if I may ? Ghee was the mythical deity in our Lithium Cabbage world: Vishnu, Allah, and Jesus rolled into one, our personal godhead. He was the invention of our guitar player, Haas, who likely thought in deistic terms due to his professional Baptist patrimony, the hellfire and brimstone served for breakfast by his preacher dad, who also made spectacular fried chicken.

Most boys start playing rock 'n' roll because they think it will help them in their endless quest to get girls. Sometimes, this strategy works. I know a thirteen-year-old who was considered a dweeb, a nerd; whatever current word is used when the more powerful creatures of the tribe want to verbally emasculate those less powerful. But he purchased a Gibson Les Paul with his bar mitzvah money and after a few months of lessons, he was using the instrument to fend off squeaky minxes in training bras. But I digress. We in Lithium Cabbage were not like this kid. We were not about the sex. We didn't know what we were doing outside our little rockin' circle. We didn't even know what lithium was, although we would find out soon enough when Bones' older brother flipped out and was treated with it a few years later. No, we were not rockin' for pussy. We rocked for art!

The Beatles were still together when Lithium Cabbage ruled. They cast a large shadow and it wasn't just because of the impossibly cool boots they wore, boots my mother would not allow me to buy in a million years ("You'll look like a hood!" she said, to which I replied, "That's the point."). Badfinger wasn't the only band to rip off The Beatles. Lithium Cabbage did, too. Inspired by A Hard Day's Night and Help, the two best movies of the decade in our view, we purloined Haas's parents' 8mm camera and shot All You Need Is Ghee. It was a long time ago, and I regret to say all I remember was the five of us gamboling across verdant suburban lawns, sprites feeling the new weight of puberty's onset, wrapped in white bed sheets. The sheets were meant to evoke what we perceived to be the whimsical world of mental patients, not the Ku Klux Klan, and as we dipped and swooped through the neighborhood, it was our aim to create a series of images that I would later, collegiate sophistication having reared its head, learn to refer to as Fellini-esque. Mercifully, our film never saw the light of day (or a projector, for that matter), but what was revealed to me through the engagement in that process was the power of unbridled creativity, the electric juice that runs up and down your spine when engaged in the pure act of bringing something in which you believe to life. Even at twelve I sensed its vivifying power.

Lithium Cabbage (how I love typing the name, so evocative, yet so idiotic!) only played a handful of gigs. We went our separate ways in high school. I remember getting worked over by Bones for liking the music of The Band, transparently inauthentic in his view. I was dead to him after that. Years later Bones, who was truly a young Keith Moon, experienced what Face's dad (a psychologist, so he would know) referred to as "personality disintegration" in the manner of his hero, Syd Barrett, co-founder of Pink Floyd. I never learned if he recovered. The last I heard about Haas he was playing in a bar band in Florida. Mock became a paparazzi, a haunter of red carpets, plaintively calling the names of celebrities descending from limousines. As for Face, he is the Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, which sounds like a joke but assuredly is not.

Unlike Mötley Crüe, who recently reunited for a 401k tour, Lithium Cabbage will never ride again. We will instead remain a memory, preserved in amber, to be held to the light and revealed to my children who have a hard time believing their father was ever not in his forties. As for his having rocked, that is incomprehensible.

Twenty years of writing movies, television, and plays, all of which are blueprints for a director and actors, left me wanting to do something new; or, rather, something old. I didn't care to drink from the fountain of youth; that is pathetic and, worse, middle-aged. But I wanted to recapture the mojo that coursed through my veins when I stood on stage as the curtain rose, literally, on our first gig at the Community Baptist Church (where we had connections with the booker) and launched into "Soul Redeemer."

So I wrote a novel. Of course, it's not the same feeling because what can replace being twelve and thinking you could, in a few short years, be headlining at Madison Square Garden? But it doesn't need a director to indicate he wants to do it and it doesn't need actors to say the words. It is its own world, a singular one.

Ghee may not live there, but nothing's perfect. spacer

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