John French writes about The Woodland Hills House

In March 2000, John French sent me a message commenting on Angel’s photographs of the house in Woodland Hills where the Magic Band lived and rehearsed Trout Mask Replica. I asked him if he would like to write a paragraph about the house that I could include at the Radar Station. This is what he sent me, many thanks, John.

Actually, I know the people who live there and had their email address for a time. They allowed me to come in during August of 1998 and take pictures inside and out. However, the shots of the outside didn’t show as much detail because:

  1. it was a cloudy day and
  2. they must have had the trees trimmed, because you could barely see the house for the vegetation.

I went over to where the bridge was that is on the back cover, however, there was nothing left but a couple of beams. I took a picture in the same spot to commemorate my nearly 30-year-earlier pose beneath the bridge. You can still see the brick retaining wall in the background.

I had a lot of magical experiences there and always have loved that yard, because it was more like being in a national park. It was completely untrimmed and so everything just grew everywhere. The twin eucalyptus trees that were beside the kitchen door died (the ones that Don sent for the tree surgeons to look at.) Those trees were Gigantic! When you stood to the north of the house looking at the right side of the house, the trees absolutely dwarfed the house and had they fallen, would have probably crushed the place.

During one period of time, there was a tremendous amount of rain in the area and several neighbors had smaller eucalyptus trees fall. At night, we could hear limbs and sometimes whole trees crashing down. This was actually why the tree surgeons were called. Don was not nearly as concerned with the trees as he was with his own neck. It just made better copy, especially in lieu of the ecological and environmental themes of the songs, to allow it to be assumed that Don was concerned that his music might hurt the trees.

All the windows in the front of the place reminded us of that Jules Verne airship in Master of the World. It also had a little spookiness like the Victorian in Psycho. When I visited it, it was quite run down and still had some of the same original paint on it. Pink trim with brown wooden shingles, if I recall.

I remember once climbing on the roof to adjust the television antennae (remember those anyone?) and when I walked onto the part where it was two-story, I stepped on berries or something that had come off the trees and they acted as ball bearings and I went rolling down to the edge of the roof, I thought I was gone for sure, but then quickly I thought “surely if I just flatten out on my stomach, I’ll stop rolling.” It worked, but I had one leg dangling off the roof, and every time I moved, I went down a little more. I was terrified of heights anyway, so this was panic time for me. I think what finally happened was that Mark had to come up and sweep a path off for me (as berries rolled past my head) and work his way down to give me a hand back up. I never went up there again.

There is a retaining wall to the south of the property that had an impression of a coca cola logo, probably from one of those round signs. Also, near there was a small concrete birdbath with figures of two children, a boy and girl.

I am going to try to draw a floor plan of the house. It was rather bizarre. Because it was split level, the “front” door, the one approached from the stairs in front, actually opened into the downstairs bedroom (there were only two in the place). The front door to the living room wasn’t on the front at all but the south side.

The pictures do bring a nostalgic feeling. Time is so important. That is the message I get. It doesn’t seem that long ago. In my mind, it can be right now, yet it was 30 years ago, almost 31 now since the events that transpired. As I walked around there, I thought of it as an old friend, looking more worn with time. I talked to it and myself. Sometimes I just wish I could walk back through time and be the person then that I know now should have been. It’s not so much a regret as a realization that I’ve grown a great deal since then.

More about this in the book.

Best Wishes to you in Beefheart Land.

John French (March 2000)

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