One debaucherous night in New Orleans in 2002-2003 ( I can’t remember! not surprising ), I encountered a strange, magical individual while tripping on acid. His name was : Tarka Cordell. Before even asking him about his name, he said “….After Tarka the Otter, you know…” (That was some “English children’s literary reference”, but since I am from Louisiana, by way of North Dakota, I had NO idea what the hell he was talking about-but I did like his name.)
Tarka had wild, prematurely (and gorgeous) silvery white hair, and a grin that suggested mischief. He was also wearing white jeans. WHITE JEANS- but he did *not* look like a douchebag….. -He looked, like he should have been hanging out with Donovan and playing Tambourine on “The Hurdy Gurdy Man”….
- In our first ten minutes of talking; about playing music, living life, New Orleans, drugs, adventures,-loving “sticky fingers”- somewhere, in a dive bar on Decatur st, he slyly said “You look like Nico…. come to NYC, you should play in my band……..” (I did have the textbook fringe/bangs. I am half German, half Swedish. -it worked I guess)
His “wingman” was talking to my ladyfriend (who sometimes “moonlighted” as a muscle car magazine model…..) She was a tough broad; She was from Slidell. (You may recall “Slidell” from a mention or two in a few Lucinda Williams tunes……) This gal taught me how to throw a punch and make a ROUX from scratch…
Tarka, seeing the vibe was a “festive” one, volunteered that he was flying back to NYC in the morning, had all these delightful substances, and since he obviously could not fly with them, …………we should just enjoy them all together.
The odyssey began.
Tarka said he was born into Rock’n’Roll. He stated that his father produced the song “whiter shade of pale,” discovered Tom Petty, and something to the effect, that his godparents were……………………………………. Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg. Of course, I totally thought he was full of shit, (turns out he wasn’t) but that magical night, he was so bizarre, effervescent, and interesting-I didn’t really care if he was! ha ha!
& I was also was a true devotee (and still am) of living Gonzo.- so I just went with it. (I didn’t have anything else to do anyways, I think it was a Tuesday…..)
The LSD made Tarka’s hair look like serpents slithering up to the heavens in an exotic fan dance. We immediately became buddies…and stayed up all night roaming around the french quarter with aforementioned “wingman” -CC Adcock (a talented Louisiana/Roots/Swamp Rock musician from Cajun Country-Lafayette, who now writes music/music supervises for HBO’s True Blood, and was involved in the film “THE PROMISED LAND” and in Lil’ Band o’ Gold- The film, which is about Louisiana, Swamp Rock, and living life in the glorious Dirty South) and ran around like banshees doing all sorts of substances I will not mention, (but you free to guess) assembling with us, through our bar crawl, now almost a mob of Louisiana ne’er Do wells singing and talking’ fast. Some of these cats I can’t remember-but they are probably still ‘quarter rats’ and doin’ just fine, OR dead, OR have found jesus.(aforementioned muscle car model/tough broad found Jesus shortly after nearly drowning in Hurricane Katrina after failing to evacuate in time due to getting ‘distracted’ on…..a coke bender. Hallelujah!)
3 days later (after recovering from that particular bender) I hop a $98.00 JetBlue economy class flight to JFK.
I show up outside of Tarka’s NYC rehearsal space, which was in the basement of a bar called M-15 on Walker St- between Church & Broaway, w/ my nord electro and a moog in each hand.
Standing on the sidewalk, outside the bar, Tarka and Alex were in the midst of doing a photo shoot with photographer Brian Ashely White.
Tarka saw me, and cooed ” Babe, Put those down-Here, come here, stand right here…” (and inserted me in his band promo photo…………..(I guess I was in the band?).
I had not even “auditioned” for the band yet, (nor taken off my coat,)
I hadn’t even crossed the threshold of the bar/rehearsal space!
But of course, I was in the band now. We gigged around NYC over the next 6 mos or so, It was Tark, Alex, Frankie, Jay, and Me. We played all the dives and rock clubs south of 14th street….The Continental, Sin-e, Plaid, Mercury, BUT alas- most of the time, Tarka and his crazy clan, went to a lot of fabulous parties, drank champagne, fought like cats and dogs, drank Guinness at Milanos on Houston St, and made super 8 movies in the lower east side. (some of these survive and Alex has post them on his youtube channel) It was, almost as if Tarka was so naturally ‘rock and roll’, it seemed (and sometimes became the reality, through our own ‘leisurely’ attitudes towards rehearsals/recordings/ schedules) to not even be ‘necessary’ at times to play gigs at all! We’d often get a message an hour before a planned rehearsal that Tarka had gone to the Hamptons (with some supermodel of course) and would be “back in a few days”- That was just Tarka.
Even if our show was bad, cancelled, or 15 minutes long- the after party would always happen regardless. (unfortunately, some aspect of this truth-despite its larger than life element- ended up being his some of his pain and eventual undoing.Despite all of this, Tarka was a good musician and a very talented producer. He had an ear for how things should go.He had a sense-he had style. He was…. a natural. It was in his blood.
& Me? I was just 21-22 years old and having the time of my life, thinking how my hero, (despite his popularity and “infamy”, or even the cliche’ cringe factor’ of saying he is a “hero”, -he is to me-I have no shame or pause in saying this) Hunter S. Thompson, would be so proud of me!……………..
for just going there.
A few months later, Tarka took me and the band to London to play some shows and do a tour of the Uk. I was on cloud 9. I got paid $1000, and I think it was definitely one of the coolest moments of my life thus far. I had been flown to London, put up in a loft, and paid money.(!!!!!!)…to shake a tambourine like Tina Turner, dole out 3, (maybe 4) tasteful synth hooks, and sing backups in a rock and roll band.
Also, fun fact: Magic Mushrooms had (conveniently) just become legal in the United Kingdom due to some, (very temporary) legal loophole, and Portobello Road was a three minute walk away!! -I was….off to the races……
Also, Within an hour of us of arriving at Tarka’s flat in Notting Hill from Heathrow, the phone rings.
I am instructed to pick it up. Tarka has decided to take a bath. A better word may be “declared he was going to take a bath….”-
I pick up the phone.
"Hello Darling… It’s Anita……Can you fetch Tark for me?" I almost fainted. It was HER. It was………Anita Pallenberg. I idolized her.
She was mysterious, unapologetic, had an impish grin, and always seemed to be up to something….
I had the pleasure of meeting her (very briefly), and though I cannot remember how it came up, she offered me this advice." Be smart. Don’t take shit from anybody-especially men……. and always be the best dressed in the room……"
I said nothing, stunned in her glow, and the queen sauntered away.
Tarka died young (2008) and it was very, very tragic.
Recently my friend Alex Elena ( who was on drums/production/cowrote a great deal of the songs-and now has now gone on to be nominated for Grammy awards/ is a successful producer and photographer in Los Angeles) assisted Tarka’s brother Barney, (also a music industry vet, and auteur) with a tribute cd of other artists performing songs Tarka wrote. Musicians like Evan Dando, Alice Smith, and Lily Allen all sang beautifully reimagined versions of his songs (in the best way to honor Tarka’s vision)to benefit a Mental Health Charity-A touching tribute to his memory, to celebrate his unique spirit,- and also serve as a loving warning, that often the coolest, most magnetic guy in the room, (with the fairytale life) is often the most ‘lost’……
Below is that picture I spoke of-(when I showed up at 21 years old at Walker St in Chinatown, fresh off the train with my keyboards, having no idea if any of it was legit-(or if I was about to be sold into sex slavery -or cut up into little pieces) but me
being crazy (and enough of a dreamer)-
I showed up anyways.
That wild night on LSD in New Orleans changed the course of my life forever. *Tarka even introduced me to the man I married at 23.…( we are now divorced) …….<On that note, to the ‘Silver Fox’s’ credit, he *did* say : "Jen, you stay the hell away from that Irish guy!.." (Of course, I immediately went over to where Irish Guy was sitting- and chatted him up.>
Tarka gave me my first shot playing keyboards and singing, despite the fact I had no experience (whatsoever), and I had been (and in some cases I still am) -just a mischievous musical dabbler, (more so than a “serious” musician (whatever you define that as), but all the other players were professionals, and still are)
I also never, ever forgot what Anita said to me, (as she grinned like a cheshire cat.)…. & yes, I don’t take shit from anybody (w/ a penis *or* a vagina), own 500 pairs of fabulous shoes, and depending on whom you ask- I’m glamorous, evil, crazy, (or perhaps a bit of all three…)
Moral of the story: GONZO.
&…. *ALWAYS* talk to the strange, handsome & charismatic, British guy in white jeans (who has snakes coming out of his head) who is playing Rolling Stones & Flying Burrito Bros on the jukebox…..
photo of Tarka band: Brian Ashley White
Some of Brian’s amazing photographs
( this is a well written article by another rock muse, ( & very talented writer) Shane Macgowan of The Pogues’ longtime love- Ms. Victoria Mary Clarke)
TARKA and Friends the record release
THE PROMISED LAND “A Swamp Rock Journey”