The Aliens Have a Message (Pt. 1 of 2)
The story behind one of Bobby Bird's most iconic album covers.
Okay, this is how you end up with an alien album, or at least how I did.
It was nineteen-eighty-eight and Robert Redford invited me up to his Sundance Ranch woodland paradise for an "entertainment summit" of some kind, my role being to represent the "merry music makers." His words, not mine. I thought it was all going to be a blast, that actors and directors were probably a bunch of footloose goofballs like me and my rock n roll ilk. I figured we'd have fireside beers and roast weenies and maybe ride some horses, all while conspiring on how to integrate our various artistic pursuits. Nope.
I guess old Redford had read too much into my lyrics and figured that I had an intellectual streak. Cause this damned thing he'd invited me to was a series of formal, self-serious round-tables and lectures about the role of art in Reagan's America, and it's "potential to incite political and social change." Not knowing we had some serious clowns coming down the pike, Reagan being president felt like a big crisis to these folks and many others. Simpler times.
Anyways, rather than go with the flow and purse my lips and tskall the issues of the day alongside Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda and all these foreign-accented, gray-haired directors, I decided I'd play the foil to it all. Yes, I'd adopt the traditional role of the joker and add some much needed levity to the affairs. But instead of rousing bouts of laughter and knee slapping, my zingers and pratfalls earned only scornful glances and whispered admonitions. This teacher-like behavior from the other attendees only goaded me further into my tomfoolery, with duck quacks and armpit farts from the back of the auditorium. Sooner of later, I figured, I'd crack their icy veneers.
But then, before a big final dinner where we all supposed to sit 'round and give thanks for our privilege and take solemn oaths to use it only for good, a guru-bearded Persian film director took me aside with soft but stern urgency. He offered me a stout Arabian cigarette and said, "No foolishness at dinner. Please."
I smiled and said, "I'm guessing you don't direct comedies."
He took me gently by the wrist, which I assumed was a Persian gesture, and said, "There is no time for comedy right now. The situation is too dire. Only for you, Mr. Bird, a man who lives in a bubble, is there time to laugh."
Then he flicked his cigarette into the swan pond and walked into the dining hall. When I looked back at him, the celebrities were celebrating his entrance, welcoming him into their arms with earnest smiles and back pats and European cheek kisses. This was no place for a joker. So I threw mycigarette right intothe dining hall, kinda hoping it'd land in the folds of a curtain. And I walked back to my cabin where my big "Welcome to the Summit" Pepperidge Farms snack basket was waiting for me, along with a bottle.
'Bout halfway down that bottle, full of summer sausage and white cheddar, I actually started getting nervous about the way I'd disposed of my cigarette. What if the dining hall didcatch fire? What if the fire leapt to the treetops, crept 'cross the mountains, and turned all of Utah to ash?
Huffing and puffing, I wriggled into my pajama pants and boots, took one last slug from the bottle, and stepped out into the cold night.
Next thing I know, I awaken upside-down in my bed, my boots on the pillow, blood all over my collar from a big gash on the back of my neck, and zero recollection of the last few hours. Being no stranger to alcohol, I was no stranger to this phenomenon either. I'd simply blacked out.
I didn't go to the communal breakfast that morning either, and as I darted to the private 'copter I had manager Seth send for me, Mr. Robert Redford himself caught me by the elbow and brandished his big white teeth. "This didn't work out," he said. About the most obvious thing he could've said. But if being obvious is good for anything, I suppose it's good for getting rich in Hollywood.
"Nope," I said, wriggling free from his grasp. "I like fun things."
"There's a time for fun, Bobby," he said. "There's a time for fun."
When I get back to my Burbank condo, I'm telling this story to Marilyn Hyde, the very lovely and inquisitive young woman who I'm dating at the time, and she gets real serious about me blacking out in the woods like that.
I know I talk about this girl and that, and that I'm an admitted womanizer, but the relationship with Marilyn was very unique to my life. See, I'd met Marilyn in what I call real-life, totally outside the context of my fame. And that's a hard thing to come by for a laughing man living in a bubble.
One sunny Sunday I was out play-driving one of my classic cars, zipping here and there, when the thing got away from me and I careened right into her little Honda hatchback. We pulled into the parking lot of a Pic N Save to survey the damage and she only took a glance at the dent I'd put in her fender before she said, "Don't worry about it, my cars a hunk of baloney. Sorry about the scratch in yours though."
"Don't worry about a car. You don't got a crick in yer neck or nothing?" I said. "I'll take care of you if you do."
"I'm a Jazzercise instructor," she said. "Takes more than a little fender bender to phase me. Have a good rest of your day." Then she got back into her car, and started the engine.
I walked over and knocked at her window.
She looked up at me, then rolled it down an inch or two.
"Miss," I said, pointing to a dirty little donut shop adjacent the Pic N Save. "Can I at least buy you a donut or two?"
She looked me up and down and said, "Sure, why not?"
As we sat at a little pink table together, I intro'd myself as Robert, and it wasn't until after an hour of fun and easy-flowing conversation fueled by burnt coffee and maple logs that she said, "Wait a second. You're Bobby Bird."
"I am," I said. "And I live in a lonely mansion on the top of a hill with a scarecrow tree. Would you like to come over and check out my cobwebs and candelabras some dark and dreary Wednesday?"
She accepted my invitation, and beautiful twenty-eight year old Marilyn and I started dating. I was forty-four at the time, and a scant sixteen year age gap with a woman on the verge of thirty sounded like something to me. Sounded like a potential wife situation. And with my creaking knees and diminishing appetite for sexual variety, I loved that idea.
Anyways, she was pretty excited about me having spent a long weekend with Robert Redford, whom she said she was her first crush, so when I got back from the stupid summit she had about a million questions. As much as I tried to explain that Redford was little more than a handsome gasbag who told a lot of skiing stories, she wasn't having it. She wanted every little detail. I didn't really feel like talking about my failure as a jester, so I just said, "I ate some good snacks and blacked out in the woods. Redford's summit wasn't shit."
"You blacked out? What do you mean?"
I described it in a bit more detail, and Marilyn said, "That's called missing time, Donut." Then she told me all about this book she'd read called "Communion," about the author's macabre and true-life encounters with a group of thin and spindly space monsters he called, "the grays."
I've always loved spooky stuff, so I borrowed her copy. And I'll be frank, the book scared the hell out of me. Just a few chapters in, I was fingering the gash in the back of my neck and feeling like it only could've come from some kind of intergalactic scalpel. I showed the cut to Marilyn. "It looks precise," she said.
What had happened in between my opening the door to my cabin and waking up upside-down? Was the topsy-turvy positioning of my body some kind of clue? Was an alien race sending me a message? I wanted to know, and so did Marilyn.
In search of answers, we visited one of her esoteric bookshops in the San Fernando valley, a den of frankincense and myrrh sparkling with crystal-refracted light and peopled by shambolic seekers. The roman-nosed clerk recommended a professional and sympathetic hypnotist, and when I called to make an appointment he enthusiastically announced himself as a fan and asked that I come in for a session that very evening.
Dr. Greenberg's office was very legitimate looking with two plush leather chairs square across from each other between a bookcases full of leather-spined books and high-class knick-knacks. The doctor himself was a tailored suit filled to the brim with butter.
First thing he asked me was what I needed from his services. To lose weight, to stop cigarette smoking or nail biting?
"No," I said, "I'm here to recover alien memories." Then I told him about my missing time at the Sundance Ranch, about reading the book Communion and feeling an odd and upsetting familiarity with the author's descriptions of encounters with his capital-V Visitors.
After a quick series of tests to guage my susceptibility to being hypnotized, Dr. Greenberg put on some soft music and asked me to try and recollect the odor of Robert Redford's aftershave. It told him it was peppery and cedery. He used this "sense memory" to whisk me back to the the scene of the crime, the Sundance Ranch, and from there we walked through my humiliating days of unsuccessful joking around until we arrived at the moment of my leaving my cabin to check on the cigarette. And then boom, it all came flooding back. The blinding white light cutting in through the blinds and inducing paralysis. Squat and cone-headed humanoids mincing into my room and secreting me away to the forest, depositing me into a silver, egg-shaped vessel clouded with a B-movie's roiling mist. Then the examination table, and entrance of long-limbed grays with big, black, piercing eyes. And their devices! Terrible things with whirring, gleaming, pinch-poking parts!
Just five minutes into the session and I was soaked in sweat and shouting like a madman. Dr. Greenberg counted backwards from five, and when I opened my eyes he was staring me square in the face, his hands on my knees and his nose an inch from mine. I could smell the milk and cigarettes on his breath. "Mr. Bird," he said. "I don't want to startle you, but this... What you've experienced here is... big."
We scheduled my next session for the following day...
TO BE CONTINUED on 4/22/21