I’m writing in moments of clarity that happen a few times per day. I’m still sick and cannot smoke a cigar. I believe I am improving but it is in such small increments that it is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
So, lucky you…I am pulling stories from my past that I haven’t explored in my comments or anecdotes in my cigar reviews or afterwards.
I have great trepidation in writing about the upcoming subject. But it happened so long ago, that the people involved are either dead or missing.
The only person I’ve told the following story to is my wife, Charlotte.
I’ve gone on ad infinitum, and ad nauseum, about my time in the Brit prog band, Curved Air.
It is no secret that the drummer went on to greater things. And it is also no secret that his father, Miles, was in at the start of the C.I.A.
Miles was a musician and played with several big bands of the 1930’s. When WWII started, he signed up to serve. He was given the usual tests and it was determined that none of the armed forces needed another trumpet player.
His test scores were off the chart. And he was invited to be part of the OSS…the intelligence service that was a precursor to the C.I.A.
He served honorably and was stationed in a number of places to help the U.S. determine policy in those areas of the world.
Miles’ three sons grew up mostly in Beirut. Miles ran the intelligence station there. He rubbed elbows with kings and sheiks. As well as important politicians in Britain and the U.S.
He was especially best buds with Egypt’s President Gamal Nasser.
While in the Mid-East, he helped design several major coups of Arab nations. He was in on plots for high profile assassinations.
In the late 1950’s, he left the CIA and became a businessman while still having ties to his old job.
He went on to write some very critical books about the C.I.A. He became a regular commentator for the BBC.
I learned of the drummer’s dad’s occupation early on in Curved Air. The first time I met him was at a rehearsal at his oldest son’s home in St. John’s Wood. He drove a huge Volvo station wagon. As I approached the house, the Volvo was parked in the driveway with the rear hatch wide open. The back seats were folded down. And in that huge space was the biggest dog I had ever seen. To this day, I have no idea what it was.
I liked dogs. I walked up to the back of the car and proffered my hand to the dog to smell. The dog took a nano second to charge me with a giant mouth wide open and teeth bared. I was young, so I still had a quick reaction time. I pulled my hand from the dog’s mouth so fast that I may have shat myself. The moment I stood back, the dog lost interest and laid back down in the too small rear of the Volvo.
I was pretty shaken up.
When I got down to the basement of the huge house, where the rehearsal studio was placed, everyone in the band was already there. And so was Miles Jr.
I was introduced to this large man. He had white hair and wore a casual British blazer and slacks with a woolen waistcoat. He was all smiles as we shook hands. He seemed very pleasant and not at all put off by my giant afro hairdo.
I told everyone about how I almost lost my hand to the dog in the Volvo. The Copelands all laughed. Miles Jr. told me that the dog was his bodyguard. I had no retort.
I was with the band for a couple of years. I ran into Miles Jr. many times. Unlike the rest of my bandmates, and his boys, I urged him to tell me stories about his exploits during the war and afterwards. He was always polite, and we would find the time whenever possible to talk. Actually, he talked and I listened in awe…with the occasional request for clarification. Often, he told me couldn’t go any further than what he just told me. I nodded and didn’t push.
I loved real story tellers my entire life. Maybe that is why I was so exhilarated when we had our little conversations. I was the only one interested in the band’s circle and I believe that Miles respected me for my quest for knowledge of his history.
Now and again, just he and I met at some pub for a beer and some chit chat. Now this man was an experienced interrogator and he figured me out pretty quickly. He trusted me and probably felt I had no agenda other than curiosity.
Then one day it happened…as we were about to leave a pub, he reached into his blazer and took out a sealed envelope and handed it to me. He reminded me that we were about to start another tour and would be in this country or that country. I don’t want to mention specifics, but we always toured England and Western Europe…constantly.
He asked if I would hand the envelope to a close friend of his in Country X? He gave me a first name but no last name. He knew our touring schedule. “Phil, when you are in Amsterdam, go to this park and sit on this bench.” He gave me a time and specific place. “My friend will spot you easily…” and he laughed. Yeah, I got it. I was a long-haired freak with a massive fro.
“Hand him the envelope and then join your bandmates.”
I saw no harm in this and agreed to do him this favor. He did ask me not to tell the rest of the band or anyone else for that matter.
Our tours of Europe would last from 6 weeks to 8 weeks. We’d come home for a couple weeks and then head out again, starting the tour in Britain each time.
This became a regular request from Miles. He knew I was keeping my mouth shut. Spies know that kind of shit. So not only was I delivering things to Boris Badanov types in Europe, but sometimes, I would need to meet a second person somewhere else in Europe. It didn’t take long before I figured out what he was doing. But I also figured that that they couldn’t have been very important messages if he was trusting a musician in his mid-20’s.
The roadies always took the massive truck with all our gear, PA system, lighting, and instruments a few days before the band left for our destination from Britain. I always placed the envelope(s) in my bass guitar case. I pulled a section of the velvet lining away from the wood and slid the material where it wouldn’t be seen. But in the entire time I played with the band, customs never once checked our semis.
In fact, I got so cocky, that I would buy an ounce of hashish and unscrew the face plate of one of my basses and stick it in the hollowed-out section where the electronics lived.
So, I was a smuggler. One ounce at a time for personal use.
At the end of my tenure in the band, I headed back to Long Beach, CA. It was shortly after I returned that I met a guitarist/composer who found me and wanted me for his band. I liked the guy and the other two musicians…the keys player and the drummer.
I honestly can’t remember how Rick found me. But he did.
He and I would hang out working on songs in his home in Marina Del Rey. I discovered that he had served three tours in Viet Nam. He was a sergeant in the Marine Corps. He was wounded multiple times. And always returned.
He was a tall lanky fella. And dangerous.
One day, I waited for him while he showered. His girlfriend (who was a doppelganger for a young Faye Dunaway) was a gorgeous girl who was smart, funny, and down to earth.
On this day, while waiting for Rick to clean up, I sat in their living room kibitzing. She leaned over the coffee table and asked if I’d like to see something? I said sure.
She ran into their bedroom and returned with a case that had the Medal of Honor inside. My jaw dropped. I looked up at her and she just smiled a little smile and nodded. Then she closed the case and ran like the wind back to their bedroom to put it away.
I was fucking shocked.
But I never betrayed her trust. Rick never told me of this citation. And I didn’t ask.
Not long after this, friends of Rick would show up during the day and we’d hang out. He knew them from Nam. But they weren’t musicians or long hairs. They looked very professional and normal…and honestly, out of place.
Before I found out they were C.I.A. agents, they played a game in front of me. Rick’s living room was large but cluttered with furniture.
Spy A challenged Rick to a duel. He pulled out a strange looking .22 caliber gun from his back hidden by his jacket. He stood on one side of the living room and Rick stood on the other.
There were two couches, a coffee table, and a magazine holder, etc between them…about 15 feet apart.
Spy A told me to watch what happened next. He held his pistol in his right hand but did not extend it. He let it hang from his arm, so it was parallel with his leg.
Rick had a K Bar knife. One scary looking weapon.
Rick told me to count to 3. I did.
I then saw something that defied physics. Rick leaped over the clutter of furniture and had his knife against Spy A’s throat before Spy A could even bring his arm parallel to the floor. It was a blur. I have no idea how he did this. One moment, Rick was standing 15 feet away from this other guy…and before I could blink, he had Spy A in a situation he could not survive if this was not a game.
Spy A and Rick laughed hilariously and hugged each other. Once again, I stood there like a moron not believing what I had just seen. I asked for them to do it again. Rick immediately told me no.
As weeks passed, Rick, me, and Spy A & B went out to the desert to shoot guns. These guys did things I had never seen. I was allowed to shoot their specialized weapons, but I was terrible. The .22 was a strange looking pistol. I was told it was an assassination weapon. I kind of laughed but sort of choked on that laughter. We also had automatic weapons.
One of the guys told me that Rick was also a retired agent due to his smarts, strength, and amazing physical ability. I was actually afraid to bring any of this up. I let Rick or his friends do that. I listened to stories that made me want to cover my ears. I was nearly 30. So, not a real kid any longer like I was in Britain.
I’m guessing that once the two friends of Rick were comfortable with me, and trusted me, opportunities arose. Not from them directly, but from Rick’s mouth. A lot of money was there for the musical project to go first class as long as we did things.
There is a lot more to this story…
To be continued…
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