|The Truth About the Great In-A-Gada-Da-Vida Lie!
You know me. I tell only the truth in my stories. (Mostly.)
So maybe this once I told a big lie, just so I could tell an even better story
that's actually true (mostly.) Was it worth the sacrifice of my very soul? You
Jim Ottea and I had been cruising through Colorado for several days, he on his
Yamaha FJR, me on my BMW K1200LT. After almost two weeks on the road, the trip
was nearly over, but the fun was not. As far as we're concerned, it's not over
'til it's over. People have been hurt trying to prove us wrong.
We'd been laying our bikes down low enough to kiss the pavement up near
Telluride, traveling from Silverton to a little town called Ouray (pronounced "OO-ray")
where the cutbacks are sweet and the drop-offs are steep. The roads were so fine
we spent two days on them, staying more than one night in a nearby town so we
could play on Highway 550 again and again.
Winding down into Ouray on our last day in the neighborhood, I rolled out of the
final hairpin and pulled up next to Jim on a road-side pull-off, with Iron
Butterfly's In-A-Gada-Da-Vida blasting out of the speakers on the Beemer.
"How many times have you listened to that record?" Jim asked, possibly annoyed
for having heard it blaring at the last 3 or 4 stops. (I'm also not sure he was
completely comfortable with my wanting to play my ABBA CD whenever we'd pull up
near Harley guys in their leathers and do-rags.)
"About seven," I answered, "I just found it this morning in my CD case. Pretty
nice stuff, huh? Ever hear this song?"
Jim snorted, and I continued, "The drum solo alone is good for 20 miles, even on
these winding roads." I cranked it up a little more for his listening enjoyment,
just in time for the song's big finish.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," he winced, obviously jealous of my six-cd-changer. I
shrugged, and we pulled back onto the highway and out of town, headed toward
Gunnison and points east - the general direction of home, although neither of us
wanted to face that ugly fact, not yet.
The next day we were on our way to raft the Royal Gorge, although we didn't
realize at the time that we were on our way to raft anything, for conceptually,
that adventure hadn't yet occurred to us. We pulled into a little park where the
Arkansas River storms past a wooden deck overlooking the water. On the platform
stood a kid about 20 years old, snapping pictures of the white water rafters as
they splashed along in the rapids below (to sell at outrageous prices when they
returned to the rafting company's headquarters.)
While Jim went back to his motorcycle, undoubtedly to see where he might be able
to mount a six-cd-changer and 8-speaker sound system on an FJR, the young man
and I chatted about his job and his cameras, about life in general and about
nothing in particular.
"Hey," the kid said to me, out of Jim's hearing, "Anyone ever tell your friend
he looks like a rock star?"
I leaned back against the railing, taking in the full warmth of the sun, and
replied with nonchalance, "Funny you should mention that. Which one do you think
he looks like?"
I already knew where this was going. I am the Bad Ted, and it was out of my
"Well, I'm not sure, but he looks familiar. He just looks like some rock star I
might have seen somewhere."
"Someone recently said he looks like Keith Richards," I suggested. "You think?"
"Wow, yeah," the kid agreed, animated now. "Hey," he added, more hopeful than
doubtful, "He's not, is he? Keith Richards?"
"Nah," I laughed. "But..." I drew it out as if I was hesitant to reveal A Really
Big Secret, then relented.
"Ever heard of a band called Iron Butterfly?"
"Yeah...?" ("C'mon," his eyes pleaded, "you're going to tell me he's someone
really cool, aren't you?! I KNEW it!")
"Ever heard of a song called In-A-Gada-Da-Vida?"
"Jim played the drum solo on that song," I confessed, with dramatic reluctance.
"That's Jim Ottea, man. That's HIM!"
"No shit? WOW! Hey, I play drums, too."
"Ask him for his autograph when he gets back, he'll be glad to give it to you."
About this time Jim came strolling back along the wooden pier, and as he
approached, I announced, "Jim, I told this guy you played the drum solo for Iron
Butterfly on In-A-Gada-Da-Vida. Think he wants your autograph."
We locked eyes. Jim gave me a look of disbelief -- poor guy, he has a little
trouble overcoming his own, deeply ingrained senses of what's honest and
righteous and just.
"You gotta be kidding me," his piercing eyes accused. "Nope, not kidding," my
conspiratorial wink replied. "You're in on this, like it or not."
"Sign an autograph for this guy," I coaxed aloud, "He's a drummer, too."
Then I explained to the kid, "Jim's embarrassed about that drum solo. Thinks
it's immature and childish, now. But believe me," I assured him, "you can still
learn a lot about rock 'n roll drumming from that classic In-A-Gada-Da-Vida drum
I don't know if that is true or not, I'm not a drummer -- but to my credit, I
thought perhaps it could be true when I said it.
"I can't believe this," Jim muttered. I don't remember if he actually said it
aloud or simply implied it with another piercing look of profound disappointment
in me, but I was having none of that. The game was on, and it didn't matter in
any case -- celebrities are known to be bashful and sometimes reticent. Jim's
acting squirrelly now could only enhance the charade.
The aspiring drummer produced paper and pen and even a clipboard, not believing
his fine fortune on that happy day.
To his everlasting shame, Jim fell fully into the wicked spirit of the thing.
His reluctance resolved quickly into alacrity. His eyes twinkling, Jim Ottea
(Wow! the REAL Jim Ottea , it's HIM, man!) graciously produced an autograph that
could one day be worth hundreds, perhaps even thousands of dollars -- if he ever
actually does make something of himself.
Meanwhile, I grabbed the camera and captured the moment, while Jim, with bold
hand and proud flourish, shamelessly autographed -- HA! Get this:
Stick with it, kid.
Jimmy "Rotten" Ottea
The two of them spent the next few minutes discussing the subtle differences
between traditional drumming styles versus I don't know what. I must say Jim
held his own in the conversation, even though he hadn't a clue what the hell
this excited young fellow was jabbering on about. Mostly, "Jimmy Rotten" just
nodded sagely and grunted in a manner befitting an accomplished professional. I
was very proud of him in that moment.
And, of course, he offered the lad much encouragement. That's important for
young folks, and Jim is a caring sort.
Now, I should admit that before we left the scene, we told the kid the whole
truth, explaining it was all intended as a harmless jest.
I should admit that, but I can't, I won't, we didn't. We never confessed a
thing. The way we saw it, why spoil a young dreamer's big day, just to save our
own miserable souls?
And now you know the truth about the lie. I swear.
Ted A. Thompson
P.S. On our way home two days later, halfway across Kansas in 104 degree
temperatures on the ungodly, flat, baking-hot, wearisome Interstate that cuts
through the Midwest prairie, I pulled up next to Jim on my motorcycle, matching
his speed at about 85 MPH.
I got his attention with my horn, grinned, and as he watched and wondered what I
was up to, I put the Beemer on cruise control and pantomimed wild drumming
motions with my arms, fists closed tightly around imaginary drumsticks.
It was a close call. Somehow Jim maintained control of his bike, but I almost
lost my good friend to the evil Kansas asphalt.