I belong to a very cool, very secret yacht club—as far as I know the only one of its kind in Western Massachusetts. It’s so secret I can’t tell you its name. We store our yachts in a faraway harbor to keep intruders off our “scent,” as it were. Since our members are so few and far between, we have even been able to pool our resources and invest in a secret series of underground tunnels connecting each of our homes to the clubhouse. Whenever we want to get together, we are treated to a downright magical cart ride through a subterranean maze lined with rare posters and ephemera. Polish cinema posters, large-scale Loren Mazzacane paintings, early drafts of Shadow Ring artwork, Nico promo shots…you get the picture.
Arrive at the club (which you won’t because it’s a secret) and you’ll find a classy, cozy space with rich oaken doorways, a Greaser’s Palace poster above the fireplace, a tube-powered hi-fi, and thick mahogany shelves containing a pretty nice (if we do say so ourselves), museum-level record collection. From Joseph Beuys gallery editions to early Carla Thomas singles to a complete run of early United Dairies, Come Organisation, and Broken Flag titles. There’s plenty of Italian prog and obscure psychedelic folk. Like European hard rock? Or Klaus Schulze? You’re in luck. Remember that Velvet Underground acetate? We’re the ones that bought that.
For the past many years, on December 31, we’ve held our Annual New Year’s Eve Cognac Splash, an event that sure beats the pants off of the Shittiest Gingerbread House contests I used to enter on those dismal New Year’s Eves before I took up yachting. The loser of said contests always had to get into a hula skirt and go down the “sandpaper slide,” which was just a huge slide covered in sandpaper. No fun.
What is fun, though, is this Cognac Splash event. The general idea is somewhat akin to the Rain Gutter Regatta popularized by the Cub Scouts of America. Each member of the club arrives on New Year’s Eve with a miniature model of their personal yacht, the only limitations being that it must be crafted solely out of milk cartons (soy and almond milk are legal), toothpicks, and old liquor receipts. At a certain point in the night, we gather around tubs of cognac and have little races. Any two given club members place their tiny yachts at the far end of one of the tubs and, blowing through a cocktail straw, zip their vessels across the turbulent sea of hooch. You guessed it: Winner Drinks Tub! This may sound easy, but believe you me, blowing through one of those thin little straws with lungs full of stogie is no small task! We do this until 11:15 or so, then we start eating as many pretzels and meatballs as possible before midnight. It’s funny because the pretzels we eat are huge and the meatballs we eat are very small. We laugh and laugh. Very fun.
A few years ago (it was December 17, 2010 and so right before New Year’s), the American artist Don Van Vliet died. Many of us boaters like his music, which he made under the moniker “Captain Beefheart.” His passing caused us to alter our midnight ritual a bit. It used to be we would pick a different fanfare from the court of King Louis XIV and let it blare out over the tubs of cognac and half-eaten giant pretzels. But with Beefheart gone, even though he hadn’t made any records for a long time, we decided to honor him as one year stumbled into another. Luckily, his Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) record contains the most fun song ever and that song is “Tropical Hot Dog Night.”
It’s a great song for hugging and dancing and saying words like “Hey!” or “Hey You!” or “Happy New Year!” or “I love you Old Bean!” “I love you you big dummy!” or things like that. And so for the last three years (it’s so fun that we keep doing it), at the end of the big countdown, we are greeted by that weird, tinny guitar, those woozy horns, that insane pulse and crazy words that put crazy images in our heads and we hug and dance and say those sorts of things I just said. We actually try to step out of a triangle and into striped light and, just like our little boat race, it’s tougher than it seems! But it’s fun to try. Try it yourself some time. It’s a great song and if you don’t actively want to meet the monster afterwards I don’t know what to tell you.
And even though we started that tradition on New Year’s Eve because that’s close to when Don died, the thing is that today is his birthday and so that’s why I’m telling you all of this now. Because usually this stuff is so secret I’m not even allowed to mention it…