The following is an excerpt from my memoire, “The Kid Who Got Away.”
This account grew out of a discussion a former bandmate (we’ll call him “Brian”) and I had last year at my home in San Miguel de Allende.
In the early ’70s, we visited opium dens throughout the far east on a pretty regular basis. Drugs had become an integral part of our nomadic lifestyle. Opium dens were so much cooler then hanging out somewhere smoking joints with groupies and listening to Hendrix blow out your ear drums. They were just like Hollywood depicted them: shelf-like levels with people reclining on their side, small wooden pillows propping up their heads, while their pipes were refilled and lit. All you had to do was lay back and enjoy the ride while sweet opium dreams tip toed across your mind. For Brian, it became a problem. He was hooked.
He had connected with a wealthy young Chinese woman during our six-month residency at Singapore’s Ming Court Hotel After our six-month stay at Singapore’s Ming Court Hotel. That finished, we headed for Bangkok. All of us, that is, except Brian. He and his girlfriend took off for London. His goal was to book some gigs for the band in Europe. He was gone a long time and found upon his return that there was no room for him in the band in Bangkok. Brian hit the drugs with a renewed zeal. He was going down fast and we could all see it. He dropped by the club one night while completely out of it and asked to sit in with the band. He was such a mess that my partner Slim took him outside of the club and asked him, “Do you want to shake this stuff.” When Brian said yes, Slim hit him square on the jaw, knocking him out cold. He picked him up, carried him to his house and locked him in a room. It was cold-turkey time.
It worked for a while but, depressed by the band’s rejection, he returned to Singapore. Opium dens were illegal under it’s repressive regime. Lee Kuan Yew brought the hammer down heavily on anything that smacked of a counter culture. There were signs in every government office stating, “Long haired persons will be served last.” There were regular visits by a government official with a decibel meter checking the noise level at each club. In order to obtain a working visa we’d had to supply a photo of the band looking like the good, wholesome boys we were not instead of the hippie travelers we actually were. So we pulled our hair back and presented this:.
Officials turned something of a blind eye toward the few opium dens that still remained. They pretty much existed as a homage to the Chinese culture of the past. It was an unwritten rule that the dens were only tolerated if the visitors were Chinese. For a skinny white hippie to be seen making regular visits to these places was very uncool. On his way out of a den one night, sure enough, he got busted. The Feds arrested him and he was sentenced to prison where a “Midnight Express” nightmare awaited him.
There he was issued the usual prison uniform. It was basically just a big adult diaper. He was then escorted to his cell, a cramped, claustrophobic room with about one hundred other inmates, all Chinese. He was not a welcome visitor. The cell was lit by a single hole in the ceiling which provided sunlight during the day. There was a single hole in the floor for everyone’s bodily evacuations. There was no bedding. Soon, the beatings began.
He’d had a fair sized roll of money when he entered prison. It was confiscated and “held” for him until his release. They watched him closely. As soon as Skywalker came off his in-prison cold turkey experience, they dragged him out of his cell and offered him some heroine. He said that he was now clean and wanted nothing to do with that shit. The guards held him down and beat him mercilessly until he acquiesced. They brought him some of his own money, beat him until he asked for some smack and “sold” him some with his own money. They then held him down and shot him full of drugs. He was back in the race.
They then returned him to his cell. They would peer into his cell and laugh as the inevitable withdrawal began. Eventually, he would beg for more and they would “sell” him heroine paid for by his own confiscated money. If he protested, he was beaten. This repeated cycle of withdrawal, begging and beatings went on and on and on, seemingly forever
All this time, his girlfriend was trying to locate him to no avail. Eventually, she bribed the right official and the right judge and secured his released. His 3-1/2 years decent into hell had ended. The night he stepped out of the federal prison, he saw his girlfriend there waiting, raised his arms and cried out, “Free at last!” It was then the local police grabbed him, handcuffed him and locked him up in a local jail where his nightmare continued. They saw him as a cash cow and wanted their piece of the pie. Six months later, he was released after another fresh round of bribes, this time to local police and judges.If it weren’t for the persistence and deep pockets of his girlfriend, he would have probably died in that prison.
Thank God for wealthy young Chinese girlfriends.