Planet Clair 

Goofy Pastimes Make the World Go 'Round

A few years ago the New Yorker ran a piece on people who are trial groupies. They hang out at City Hall nine to five Monday through Friday, taking in all the drama, heartbreak, and dead airspace that is the American judicial system.

Ed Nortonsup's character in Fight Club had a similarly odd hobby; he was addicted to free self-help groups. Well, Berkeley's got these types in spades, especially a group of folks Planet Clair dubs "the Freekies". Freekies go to lectures, open houses, record release parties, and wakes that are advertised in the paper and offer free food/drink. Yes, they have a lust for life and a bottomless stomach, and usually one or two crackpot theories that they are ready to offer to the other freekies in attendance. (Freaky + free stuff = Freeky.) When the invitation came for a CD release party for Jim Hudak, the piano player who has a regular gig at the Berkeley Radisson (complimentary wine and appetizers!), card-carrying freek Clair cleared her appointment book. What sweetened the pot was that Hudaksup1s new CD, Gratefully Yours, was a collection of Grateful Dead songs done piano-bar style. Hum baby!

No one really knows that the Radisson is there in the Berkeley Marina. Itsup1s completely hidden, and surely the dark, Byzantine parking lot is host to many a intro text big:Goofy pastimes make the world go sup1round. A few years ago the New Yorker ran a piece on people who are trial groupies. They hang out at City Hall nine to five Monday through Friday, taking in all the drama, heartbreak, and dead airspace that is the American judicial system. john/hooker pow-wow. The lounge is nice, with a huge windows facing the harbor, but it is still mired in the mauve/'80s tar pit that all hotel chains seem adhered to. The party was off to the right, with chafing tables and a bucket of iced wine. Hudak's had an interesting career, everything from playing piano at Nordstrom's to working for ASCAP. Now he's trying to move his background music to the forefront. This shindig was his chance to unveil his easy-listening interpretations of rock for all the appreciative ears in attendance.

But on to the freekies. Many of them are retirees who like to keep their mind stimulated and their purses full of ziplocked fried cheese sticks. One older chap was enjoying a glass of chardonnay, his hat at a rakish tilt and a faint smile on his face.

"How did you hear about this?"

"Oh, it was in the Daily Planet," he responded, taking a generous bite of his mini-pizza. "I love music." "Jack" was born in 1920, worked for HUD most of his life.

"Yep, I love music," he continued loudly (seein' as he was hard of hearing). "I like soul music, like B.B. King."

"Have you ever seen him live?"

"Oh sure!" he retorted, "I like to watch all the colored girls. They scream and carry on, they think he's the livin' end!"

About this time a blonde woman came to sit with us: a Deadhead Freeky. She had a scarf tied around her head Janis Joplin style, lots of rings and silver dragon jewelry, an embroidered vest, and bright blue eyes.

"She's a journalist," Jack announced to the newcomer, "and I'm in the witness protection program." The woman, Sylvia, explained that she was a "lyrist [sic]" who listens to instrumental music and then pens her own lyrics. She especially enjoys the work of Steve Vai. "It's a special gift," she says with a tilt of the head and great solemnity. Glancing at her words, one sees phrases like "The lion hungers" and "The heat of the night."

"Actually, I'm very prophetic. It scares me sometimes. When I'm writing, I become alive and warm inside. We are all merely bags of bones, yearning for love. Does this make sense to you? As a journalist?"

"Well, maybe not as a journalist, but it damn sure makes sense to me as a woman."

Soon it was time for the entertainment. There ain't nothing better than getting a good buzz going whilst piano interpretations of "Walk Away Renee" and "Lay Lady Lay" tickle your ovaries. The Grateful Dead stuff that Hudak played was way better than the originals, probably because one could forget you were listening to the Grateful Dead. All the while Sylvia was poring over her notebook, the words spilling out as an extension of her spirit. When Hudak began playing some Kinks songs, "Celluloid Heroes" and "Lola," things really started to cook.

"Wow," says Sylvia. "That last part of the song said to me: 'Leave the Antarctic alone.' It spoke to me through his song -- that's what I mean by 'prophetic.' It said, 'No more drilling.'"

Yep, free food, good music, and apocalyptic prophecy. Only in Berkeley. See you at the Novato Ford open house.

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