The summer of '68
In the summer of 1968, 50 years ago, a great milestone came to pass in my life, and even though I was homeless, among other issues, I still recognized it as a powerful and meaningful moment. I was actually homeless for most of a couple of years. That started here in Cleveland Heights, and then went to Boston and then to New York City.
It was an offshoot of mental health issues, which were exacerbated by drug problems, both of which started when I was in my teens. But one night, in the summer of 1967, when I was 18 and had recently quit high school, I knocked on the door of a fellow folk musician, who lived in an apartment above the Heights Art Theater (which later became the Centrum) at Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard.
Another fellow folk musician opened the door and handed me a pipe, from which I gladly started smoking, unquestioningly. I could tell it was “hash” (short for hashish). What I couldn’t tell was that the hash had been soaked in another substance, a highly potent hallucinogenic drug.
The drug produced an intense effect, much like a super-condensed LSD trip (and I knew an LSD trip when I saw one). And this particular drug was known for going to work instantly. I smoked a little of it still standing in the apartment’s open door. Then I took three steps into the place and stood between two giant speakers that were blasting an album by the Who. The “horror-rock” song “Boris the Spider” was playing.
I listened for about 30 seconds before I felt my spirit leave my body through the top of my head. Then I watched the whole scene—via my now-freed spirit—looking down from the ceiling. My girlfriend, who had refused the pipe, took me by the arm and said, “Let’s take a walk.” I guess I was acting funny.
We made our way slowly down the stairs and out onto Coventry, heading toward Mayfield Road, Mary holding onto my arm tightly, and me stopping to look at everything, and maybe trying to climb a few storefronts. I remember reaching Irv’s deli and marveling at the salamis hanging in the window, slowly wiggling and changing colors. It was beautiful.
I eventually came down enough to function. I made it to my parents’ house, where I still lived. When I stepped into the living room, I stood and stared at the TV, wondering why I had never noticed before that the picture broke each object down into a palette of all its attendant colors. And when my mother asked me to move out of the way, so she could see the TV, I was amazed at how I’d never noticed that each note of every word she said was fully harmonized by an orchestra. How could I have missed all of this before?
I went to bed and hallucinated wildly all night. The next morning, Friday, I had to go to Dayton to perform at a coffeehouse called the Lemon Tree, where I was headlining the whole weekend—three nights, two sets a night.
I went, driven there by my friend, who accompanied me on wind instruments. But I couldn’t come down from the trip I was on. I also couldn’t eat or drink anything. Or sleep. Or indulge in any of my horrible habits, like drinking tons of coffee and caffeinated cola, and smoking lots of cigarettes. So, I was also going through withdrawal.
I’ll omit the rest of the details of that weekend, except for two things: (a) I somehow made it through five out of six sets, or two and a half nights, at the Lemon Tree; and (b) by Monday night, every system in my body was failing and I wound up actually dying. But (spoiler alert), it was just for a few seconds and I survived. That part took place in the emergency room of Doctors Hospital, at the top of Cedar Hill, which was later torn down, and that space is being developed again. Well, I was kind of torn down and redeveloped, too.
That began with this dying incident, which led to a series of events, including getting kicked out of my house, which led to my becoming homeless. I usually could find some place to stay—the hippie era was pretty tribal and you could often find other tribe members. But sometimes, especially when I got to New York City, I was on the streets. Luckily, I was still having mental health issues, so most of it didn’t bother me.
And, over time, I fixed all those problems. The first major step was realizing, in the summer of 1968, that it had been one year since my big breakdown and that I was going to be okay. It still took a while, but that milestone gave me confidence I needed to begin the process.
David Budin is a freelance writer for national and local publications, the former editor of Cleveland Magazine and Northern Ohio Live, an author, and a professional musician and comedian. His writing focuses on the arts and, especially, pop-music history.