Remembering Skip Battin (Batten?) (Battyn?)
I don’t know if this is National Alzheimher’s Month or something, but this demoralizing disease is getting more print and TV space than ever. Today I read in the NY Times that HBO will air a four-part series called “The Alzheimer’s Project,” starting this coming Sunday, May 8. Their marketing slogan is “Hopeless, ” with a line struck thru the last four letters. I guess it’ll be upbeat.
Whenever I hear something about Alzheimer’s I think of Skip Batten, my once-partner in a band we started together in the late ‘60’s. Skip was stricken with the disease in his later years and passed away at the age of 75. Long before that he had played bass and sung with the Byrds’, the New Riders of the Purple Sage and, I think, the Flying Burrito Brothers. But before he did any of these things he was co-leader, with me, in a band called Evergreen Blueshoes (q.v. all over this blog).
Skip’s having Alzheimer’s is ironic because he was almost obsessive about with staving off the ageing process.
Skip felt he was ten years older than he should have been, whatever that meant. He hennaed his hair at least as early as 1967, when we went around the bars and beer joints of LA looking for other potential band members. He would have been 33 at the time the counter-culture didn’t trust anyone over 30. This was the music revolution of the ‘60’s, and it belonged to us, not the establishment.
To be in the thick of it was Skip’s dream and the reason he’d opted out of the Top 40 copy-band trap he’d been in since having a hit record, Cherry Pie, in 1959 with Gary Paxton, his partner in Skip and Flip. He wanted to be part of the underground movement percolating just below the surface, like the Incredible String Band and Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.
And he was. EGBS did that for him. And although the band fell apart before we sold many records, we had some direct influence on several other groups, including the Buffalo Springfield and, by extension, Steven Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay.
But more important for Skip, he’d now become steeped, if not skilled, in “the underground mentality,” as he called it, trying to write offbeat songs and off-the-wall arrangements (like me, but less successfully, people said) and playing at places like the Ash Grove and the Topanga Canyon Corral.
I never knew exactly how old Skip was for the entire—and intense—two and a half years we were together. And it was intense. We ate our meals together at his house in Laurel Canyon, went on trips (as well as “trips”) together, co-composed and co-arranged songs, quit smoking together, tried to pick up women together, blah blah blah. He even occasionally let me watch him and his wife, Jackie, shoot up with vitamin B, which he thought was a youth rejuvenator.
Once, on a road trip to Vegas, we were stopped by the Nevada Highway Patrol, rousted out of our van and told to “spread ‘em.” They looked inside the van for dope, found none, decided we were harmless and just asked us for our I.D.’s, probably as part of the drill. They seemed perfectly relaxed–until they got to Skip’s.
They looked back and forth between the Skip in front of them and the one pictured on his driver’s license. Now, this happened a lot in those days, because our driver’s licenses were often gotten before we grew our hair long and oozed beads and fringe from every place on our bodies. If you don’t believe me just check out the photos of Skip in this blog when he was Skip and Flip, and later, on EGBS‘ record jacket.
But what really got the cops going was the D.O.B. on Skip’s license. They couldn’t believe it. He was older than they were, but dressed like a hippie, who’da thunk it? They called whoever cops call and found out the I.D. was legitimate. They handed it back to him, laughing, while he pleaded with them not to rat him out to the rest of the band. They didn’t. They were Nevada cops, not CHP.
More than anything else, Skip found his youthfulness in the groupies he bonked. He would shoot for the freshest, dewiest nymphet in the room no matter where we were: the Cougar Lounge in Reseda or the Whiskey a’GoGo on Sunset Blvd. He was good at ferreting out the youngest chick in the crowd, and, in the wildness of the ‘60’s, that could be pretty young.
And no place was wilder than the Topanga Corral. That was the only real roadhouse I’ve ever played in, and I’m going to do a post on just the Corral. But for now I will only say there was probably more pussy available to any guy with a guitar and a dick than any other place I ever worked
Skip had a simple technique: he would pick out one girl in the audience and romance her with his eyes and body language all nite long. And he just couldn’t pick a female demographic low enough: Chicks? Teeny-boppers? Bubble-gummers? It didn’t seem to matter to him or the rest of the world. It seemed like everyone was more or less homeless in those days, i.e., all the home & family stops had been pulled.
But even more important was the prevailing zeitgeist.
For many people, expressing themselves was the highest form of perfection a person could attain. And for a certain kind of groupie, fucking the leader of an underground band in the back of the band’s van was the heaviest thing she could think of. For Skip, the youth of his conquests seemed to be the anti-ageing agent he needed to keep doing the thing he thought he was a decade too old to do.
And, listen: if the guy was able to confound cops and maybe a dozen or so feminine youths in the 30 months I knew him…hey, I don’t judge, I just report.
As I said, it seems the ultimate, leering irony that Skip should spend his last years suffering from the affliction most identified with advancing age. I hope he didn’t realize it, or, at least denied its hold on him. I knew Skip pretty well. He was a philosophical guy, and quite reflective. It’s just possible he was grateful for the many years—including the extra ones he got by demanding them—that he was young and potent. I don’t think this was a frustrated man.