by Bessie the Cow
Chapter 4: Meet Mr. Watts
Most people don’t know that robotic bovines can schmooze with the best of ‘em. That we socialize, fraternize, and ally ourselves with people who can help us improve our service. But we do.
But before we locked horns with a red hot national act like Missing Persons, Kinn had a few adaptations in mind guaranteed to both further titillate our existing fan base and to draw scores more milkmaids and milkmates into the fold. You can't have enough allies when you go into battle; Kinn had identified a natural one and had been eyeing it for some time. The time had come for a meeting of the minds.
His line of thinking went like this:
We were a Boulder-based band called The Milkmen who had achieved instant notoriety by virtue of winning the 1981 KBCO Songwriting Contest with "Lolita," a 3-verse condensation of the risqué Nabokov novel. Watts-Hardy Dairy was a Boulder landmark humming along at a more innocent time in American life when most homes got their fresh milk delivered by an actual milkmen making the rounds in an actual milk truck.
The century-old Watts-Hardy Dairy building was situated within easy walking distance of downtown Boulder. Kinn had passed it numerous times as his plan began to hatch. In his milk-clouded mind, a visit to the like-minded souls at Watts-Hardy had been long overdue. Priceless dairy paraphernalia could be collected that could be put to good use at our shows and replicated in our promo material. The innards of a well-run commercial dairy facility could be observed; knowledge gleaned could later be used as fodder for Kinn's interviews. Perhaps some level of sponsorship was in the cards? These were the main objectives behind a possible exploratory expedition.
His call to the facility concluded with the best possible result: an invitation to come meet Mr. Watts. Kinn learned that the 95-year old patriarch still commanded everyday operations. He could not have been more thrilled when the meeting was set up.
From the spine-tingling early dawn moment that Kinn and Silva had hit upon the name “The Milkmen,” it was always their intention to see and be seen in the dairy scene. Now that fame was a foregone conclusion, Kinn envisioned making forays to dairy farms in holy lands like Wisconsin and Vermont. This was his variation on the theme of celebrities visiting orphanages and hospitals. Championing the dairy cause was a matter of great concern to him. At least that’s what he said when reporters were around. The purity of the dairy lifestyle was also infinitely appealing. Or so he was quoted in Westword. Oh, brother. I guess you have to sell yourself before you can sell others.
And speaking of selling yourself, Kinn's mental machinations had gone one step further. You know how race car drivers have patches with the logos of their sponsors all over their uniforms? Well, Kinn foresaw patches on our uniforms bearing the logos of dairy concerns in place of the oil company and car company patches. I have to hand it to him. He saw the whole world conquest in his mind, and he was willing this crystal-clear vision into existence.
Finally, the great day arrived. Before our impending appearance at the Temple of Lactose, Kinn had formed a mental image of Mr. Watts as a decrepit old-timer who was probably wheeled around the facility by a doting manservant perhaps dressed an an English butler. It didn't take long to find the polar opposite was true. In person, Mr. Watts stood nigh on 6’ 7.” His posture was straight as a flag pole. Kinn extended his hand, hesitantly, fearing a hearty handshake could harm the dairy tycoon’s fragile, arthritic digits. That was a mistake. As his own metacarpals became enclamped in Mr. Watts’ vicelike grip. Kinn smiled/winced, praying to his gods that his playing fingers had not been crushed into bone meal.
“That’s a mighty handsome heifer you got there, pardner,” quoth Mr. Watts.
“You’re not so bad yourself, big boy,” I replied. He was clearly stunned. I wondered: was it the talking, the flirting, or both?
“She’s a great gal, Mr. Watts,” Kinn added, adding a little spackle to the conversational gap which always ensued whenever I piped up.
“Hmm. Must be some kinda new-fangled cross breeding,” Mr. Watts managed after a lengthy pause.
“No, sir. She’s 100% AJ,” Kinn clarified. AJ was dairy lingo for “All Jersey.” Jersey milk was renowned to be the best of the best.
“Well I’ll be! How’s it that a young feller like yourself happens to know about AJ?”
I could see Kinn searching his mental files for the appropriate response. He sensed spouting his usual hype about his dedicated quest to “coat the continent with milky effluvium” wasn’t going to go over with Mr. Watts.
“We feel it’s our duty to learn everything we can about how the dairy industry works and to help spread the gospel across the land,” Kinn replied. Maybe it was the impeccable choice of the word “gospel” instead of “effluvium” that connected.
"And to uphold the great milking tradition," he threw in. Unbeknownst to him at the time, it turned out that none of Mr. Watts heirs' had any interest in upholding the tradition.
"That's heartening to hear."
The old timer nodded approvingly, affording Kinn a perfect opening.
“I was wondering ... you wouldn’t happen to have any dairy paraphernalia that's just sitting around collecting dust that we could use in our show, would you?”
“Would I? I’ve been collecting this stuff for years. No one else seems to care about it or want any of it. I’ve got piles of the stuff. Why don’t you take a gander at that room over yonder? You’re welcome to take anything you can use.”
Despite their 66-year age difference, the kindred souls had bonded.
Can you say, "gold mine?" A half hour later, we’d harvested some terrific memorabilia from the Watts-Hardy stash including, “Milk’s The One” stickers, a tassel of wooden milk crates, stainless milk containers, two dozen milk boxes, and the crown jewels of the collection—four white milkmen uniforms replete with cinched waist jackets circa the 1940’s. What a haul!
Additionally, we were offered the run of the place for photo opportunities. Needless to say, a place more ripe for photo opportunities didn’t exist. Kinn was especially excited about the cottage cheese vats which harkened back to his love of The Who and a famous photo of Roger Daltrey lounging in a tub of baked beans which adorned the cover of The Who Sell Out.
Kinn thanked the old man profusely.
“Think nothing of it, young neighbor,” were the last words of the epic meeting.
We were back at Watts-Hardy dairy a week later for a photo shoot, with the donated uniforms completely updated to suit our unique needs. Jerry Aronson, a two-time Academy Award nominee (Director, Best Documentary), was behind the lens.
What? How did that come about? The uniforms were a story unto themselves. So was the connection with Jerry Aronson. You know how I once I get to talking I can’t stop, so here goes ...
The uniforms—the original Space Milkman suits and the newly introduced Traditional Milkman suits—resulted from The Milkmen’s fruitful collaboration with seamstress Kari Stordahl. Kari and Kinn were used to "collaborating." She was Kinn’s main milkmaid. The pert blonde Norwegian was fond of reminding Kinn she hailed from “the land of the fee-yords and the cool-blue vaters.” Conveniently enough, Kari really knew her way around a Singer sewing machine. Full credit must go to her highly-imaginative stitching: the outlandish unis were a major contribution to the phenomenon now being referred to as "milkmania."
Kari conceived the original pumped-up, quasi-heroic white satin space duds which went a long way toward delineating The Milkmen from the denim-set country acts and the polyester-clad funk acts who dominated the local scene before The Milkmen went on the prowl. These would heretofore be known as the “Space Milkman” unis. The Men of Milk felt powerful in their unis. That had something to do with the fact that they'd stumbled upon footwear known as "Alaskan Snow Bunnies," these huge white rubber shoes Kinn's friend Andy Celani brought back from working on the Alaskan Pipeline. If you were wearing them, they were so heavy and solid, it was nearly impossible for someone to push you over. They were the perfect compliment to Kari's Space Milkman unis. The resulting other-worldly ensembles clearly titillated audiences. You can’t ask for more than that.
When Kinn presented Kari with the forties white-cotton get-ups so generously donated by Watts-Hardy, she knew exactly what to do. She jazzed up the jackets and pants legs with accent fabrics cut from rolls of psychedelic Thai silk she'd picked up on a recent voyage to the Orient. Each Milkman was assigned his own luminous color. Kari tailored shirts which matched the accent colors. I was outfitted for matching silk bandanas. I still treasure them. The “Traditional Milkman” unis were almost complete.
The crowning touch came courtesy of another milkmaid, a fine lass who’d befriended both Kinn and Silva named Nanette Maxon. Nanette had a twin sister named Annette. Nanette started off with a rep as the “bad girl” while Annette was supposedly the “good girl,” but those generalizations were about to blur. Kinn fondly referred to the fetching duo as “Kitchenette and Basinette.” There are lots of good stories about the Maxon sisters and their matching round beds, but my publisher insists that I refrain from rambling during these narratives. Once this first-bovine account becomes a best-seller, he says I can follow it up with the saucier, “The Secret Life of The Milkmen.” But let’s get back to the subject.
When she wasn’t consorting with rock royalty in the infamous hot tubs up at Caribou Ranch, Nanette worked as a receptionist at an insurance company called, fantastically enough, “Woodmen of the World.” One fine day, Kinn went to the Denver Woodmen of the World headquarters to pick her up after work. In the lobby, Kinn saw the Woodmen of the World softball team waiting for a team bus, clad in spiffy satin warmup jackets. Kinn couldn't help fixating on the jackets’ winged, neatly embroidered “WW” emblems. A bell went off in his head. It turned out that Nanette knew where a drawer full of the emblems was stashed. Kinn grabbed a handful and turned them upside down: the winged “WW” Woodmen of the World emblems became perfect “MM,” or Milk Men emblems, just the right size to affix to forties-style Milkmen hats! Proper hats were located at a uniform supply store.
The finished results were spectacular. Freshly decked out in their new unis, The Milkmen begged to be photographed. The fact that there were presently no publicity pix featuring Young Tim added urgency to the situation. What fabulous lensman was up to the task?
That brings us to the role of Jerry Aronson—photographer/videographer/cinematographer extraordinaire—in Milkmen history. How did Jerry get in the picture? How did it come to pass that the gay, dark, handsome jewboy’s Daytimer listed “Photo Shoot w/The Milkmen” as its first entry upon his return to Boulder fresh from appearing at the Academy Awards gala? That’s right, Jerry’s Robert-Redford funded documentary about American Indians had been nominated for Best Documentary. Jerry would be nominated again, this time for a documentary on Alan Ginsburg who lived two doors down from Kinn at the Hotel Boulderado (William Burroughs lived next door) when for a few decadent years the evocative building served as a veritable Chelsea Hotel of the Rockies.
Let’s back up a moment. In the late 70s, Kinn was already an integral part of the regional music scene in his guise as editor of The Rocky Mountain Musical Express. The editor’s duties just happened to include writing most of the articles under various nom de plumes. Writing most of the articles gave Kinn entrée to all of the concerts in the Denver/Boulder scene. His job description at RMME also included finding photographers to shoot all the megatours; that is, photographers the paper could afford to hire.
That was a pretty iffy proposition. It became iffier as Kinn planned a big spread about ZZ Top’s McNichols Arena appearance. He got a phone call from a woman describing herself as a fabulous photographer. She was interested in photographing ZZ Top. Bingo, Kinn thought. Well, it turned out she was indeed fabulous at something, but it wasn’t photography. The last Kinn saw of her, she was leaving McNichols Arena and entering a limo in the tow of Dusty Hill, ZZ Top’s bass player. “What about the pix?” Kinn screamed as she disappeared inside the band’s longhorned limo. The pix she ultimately mailed were unusable.
A few days later, another photographer called. His said his name was Jerry Aronson. He wanted to photograph the forthcoming Bette Midler extravaganza. Kinn was wary, but this Jerry Aronson claimed to be a professor at CU who taught film and photography. Why did Kinn have to lose? He said OK. This time, the results were spectacular. Kinn was astonished at the imaginative, crystal clear pix of Bette Midler frolicking in the simian paw of a stage King Kong.
Jerry was only personally interested in big tours like Bob Dylans’ Rolling Thunder revue. But it turned out that his students were only too happy to shoot any and all concerts for free. For them, the fun and status of seeing the shows from up close and getting backstage passes was more than worth it. Jerry also gave them extra credit, so it was win-win-win all around. Jerry shot the choicest shows, his elves shot the rest. RMME started to look slick and professional.
Kinn filled me in on his life at RMME before the photo shoot with Jerry at Watts-Hardy Dairy.
“What was it like being Editor of Rocky Mountain Musical Express?” I asked him
“There were some incredibly long hours and some incredible benefits. I saw every big tour that came to Denver/Boulder for three years. I was wined and dined in LA by foxy publicists. The ones at Atlantic Records were the most fun. They’d be charged with taking care of Led Zeppelin one night and me the next. I’d go to LA to tour all the record companies and get handed stacks and stacks of records. There were dinners at all the swank spots, trips to The Playboy Club, and interviews with whoever I wanted to talk to.”
“Who did you want to talk to the most?”
“Paul McCartney. The one person I was told I'd never be able to talk to.”
“Because when you’re Paul McCartney, you don’t need to do interviews. But I was buddy-buddy with his publicist, Marsa Hightower. She kept telling me I wouldn’t be able to talk with him when he came to Denver with Wings. But meanwhile, she was flirting with me all day on the phone. I went out with her when I went to LA. We got along pretty swimmingly. Something had to give. When the show ended, she beckoned me with her manicured index finger. I followed her backstage. And then there I was, in Paul McCartney’s dressing room with only one other reporter, some fellow from The Denver Post.”
“What happened then?”
“There’s only been one time in my life when I was speechless. This was it! On a conscious level, I was ready, willing, and able to perform my prescribed tasks as a reporter. On a subconscious level, this wasn’t just another rock superstar sitting in front of me, it was The Most Talented Musician Of The Twentieth Century sitting across me. Maybe even The Man of the Twentieth Century. I was already developing my own writer/musician ego, but I was speechless because I knew that no matter how much I tried or how long I tried, here was the one songwriter and musician I’d met that I could never top.”
“How long were you speechless?”
“Way past the point of obviousness. Like seriously twenty minutes. Fortunately, the Post reporter was full of cliché questions which kept the God of Gods occupied. It wasn’t like he was acting in any way unapproachable. Quite the opposite, he was as gentlemanly as could be, unlike his wife, “The Lovely Linda,” who was a complete bitch at all times. Finally, Paul McCartney asked me a question!”
“’Which song did you like best?’ I was so locked up I could not for the life of me remember one song they’d played! Finally, a song name came to mind. I mouthed the words ‘High, High, High.’ It was some throwaway song that no one in their right mind would cite as a favorite. ‘Oh,’ he replied, humouring me in the polite manner that a future Knight of the British Empire addresses a dullard. A manager interrupted the proceedings, charged with hurrying the future Sir Paul on his way. At that precise moment, an actual intelligent, original question popped into mind. ‘I have a question,’ I said. The manager and the late Linda McCartney did their best to extract Sir Paul from the pest—me. ‘Hold on a second,’ Paul told them. ‘I want to hear this.’ I spit out my question: ‘If The Beatles got back together—there was constant talk about a Beatles reunion when they were all alive—do you think the music could be as good?’ I could see that Paul was intrigued by the question. All anyone ever asked was if or when the event might take place. No one had thought to ask about the potential quality of the results. Paul launched himself deep into the hypothetical question, concluding that there would be no reason to reunite unless they felt that could produce something really great. I’d redeemed myself completely.”
“Sounds like quite an adventure. Why’d you stop being Editor of RMME?”
“I was wearying of the 70-hour weeks and the constant deadline pressure. I also had to sell the ads in addition to all the creative stuff. More importantly, going to all those shows and listening to all that music reinforced my growing conviction that I was spending my life on the wrong side of the stage. What’s really important to stress is that when we became The Milkmen, in my mind I was not competing with whoever was playing the bar circuit in Boulder-Denver, I was competing with all the great acts in the world I’d seen and met as editor of RMME. That’s why we aimed so high. And if you don’t at least aim high, how are you gonna hit high?”
Jerry Aronson stayed in touch with Kinn even after Kinn became a civilian. He’d show him around the decadent gay bars on South Broadway with his Beat Poet buddies like Alan Ginsburg, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs. This trio of asshole-buddies became regular attendees at Milkmen gigs along with the rest of the Naropa/Beat Poet community. The Naropa/Beat Poet scene in the late 70s and early 80s was an awfully good creative incubator for Kinn to hang around. Being around real poets put the fear of god into him about his own lyrics, so he’d really pore over them. He told me that he recounted those halcyon days in a novella entitled Naropa.
At the point in time and space, it seemed like the universe was showering one serendipitous thing after another on us in a grand plan to further our milk fortunes. When it came time to get license plates for their cars, Kinn was first to the DMV and received, by dumb alphabetical luck of the draw, plates reading MEN255. A few weeks later, it was Silva's turn: darned if he didn't leave with MLK413. Put them together and of course you get MLKMEN. Was our ultimate success preordained? It couldn't have looked any more like unseen forces had launched us on a collision course with the outer stratospheres of stardom.
Anyhow, the photo shoot at Watts-Hardy was a complete blast. The nudie shots taken in vats of cottage cheese were the unquestioned highlight. It was a great opportunity and we took full advantage of it.
The resulting photos were sent out to an eager press which gobbled them up as predicted. The next task was deploying all the booty we'd acquired from our new ally into its proper place in our stage set. But wait—if all that wasn't enough, the stage set got even kinkier when Kinn and Kari returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—Wisconsin—with a bunch of milking apparatus that resembled stainless steel sausages. These were soon liberally strewn about the already inspired dairy diorama, the better to stun the unprepared punters at our live gigs.
Preparation for the looming gig with Missing Persons and our first crack at national exposure wasn't limited to acquiring new uniform material; in an all-out assault, we were simultaneously weaving new material into the show. The primordial, Kinksesque "I Mean What I Say" in particular was going to be pretty hard to resist. I have to say the humans in our act were readying themselves as intensely as I ever observed them. Kinn sidled up to me during one of their brief breaks. I'd barely had a chance to talk with him since he came back from dairyland.
“What was the most memorable moment of your trip to Wisconsin?” I queried Kinn.
“When the 12-year old kid at a working dairy we visited excitedly asked Kari if she’d like to see his semen straws.”
“Semen straws are these skinny tubes filled with frozen bull semen. Large dairy operations use them to artificially inseminate cows. Cuts down on the muss and the fuss. They store them in a high-tech, freezer thingamajig. Looks like a centrifuge.”
“We learn something new every day, don’t we?”
“I guess so. Especially when we’re new on the planet like you, Bessie.”
It was true that I was picking up loads of dairy lore thanks to having the opportunity be around humans who revered the idyllic dairy lifestyle like Mr. Watts.
Years later, I was saddened to learn that Mr. Watts, who had seemed so indestructible, had passed away. Sadly, no one else in the Watts clan stepped up to manage the dairy and for several years it languished as an abandoned building.
But the story doesn’t end there. By the time we’d mobilized forces for Milk Crusade II circa AD2000, the abandoned Watts-Hardy dairy had been rejuvenated as The Dairy Arts Center. It’s the logical home for The Milkmen’s first live gig in 15 years.
The spirit of the late, great Mr. Watts lives on in the hearts and minds of The Milkmen. And, speaking of indomitable spirit, ours was now about to go on full display: the date to open for Missing Persons had arrived.
Most people don’t know that robotic bovines can schmooze with the best of ‘em. That we socialize, fraternize, and ally ourselves with people who can help us improve our service. But we do.
Chapter 1: Dashing Dairymen
Chapter 2: Rick Plays The Snare Drum With His Head
Chapter 3: Tim Takes The Stage
Chapter 4: Meet Mr. Watts
Chapter 5: We Open For Missing Persons
Chapter 6: Conquering Colorado
Chapter 7: Ric Sees His Successor
Chapter 8: Westward Ho!
Chapter 9: A Cow Writer Co-Writer
Chapter 10: Welcome To LA
Chapter 11: Madame Wong's or How Quickly They Forget