I met Andy Paley either through Patti Smith or Seymour Stein; I can’t remember which. At this memorable concert in Stockholm in 1976 Patti introduced Sweden to Andy Paley— and then again. I already knew him by then. But I would never have met Andy if it wasn’t for Danny Fields who found him passed out in a storm on a snow bank and rescued him. I figure I’ve known Andy for over 5 decades. And I don’t ever recall him being in a bad mood. Not ever. No matter what happens he never seems to allow himself to sink into negativity. The other day after I mentioned him in that Otto/SpongeBob post, I e-mailed him at his new digs in Vermont.
We immediately disagreed about the details of a Brian Wilson encounter. I mean Andy had Brian Wilson encounters every day. It was rarer for me. But we had all gone to a concert and after we piled into a crowded limo and someone said, “where should we eat?” No one was enthusiastic about any of the suggestions. I offered “Indian food.” Andy and I both remember Brian getting excited, but Andy remembers him asking “American Indian?” And I’m 100% positive he said “Pemmican?” Just because Wilson famously called Paley “the greatest musical genius I’ve ever come across” doesn’t mean that Paley’s memory of this incident is clearer than mine. I know he said "pemmican."
Anyway, that got us talking about Egypt. Andy didn’t come with Roland and I when we went there in 1997, but he’s the reason— or part of the reason— we had such a memorable trip. Andy’s part was to get us an introduction to Dr. Zahi Hawass Governor of the Pyramids at the time, through his old friend Kelly Simpson, curator of Egyptian Art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There was another factor though, a tragic one. For me Egypt had always been one of my ultimate bucket list destinations... I mean since I was a kid. Look, in our culture-- replete with Bible stories, mummy movies, Napoleon, Israel, hi-tech aliens building pyramids, Cleopatra-- how could it not be?
We planned to spend about a week in Cairo and a couple weeks roaming the country (including a Nile cruise to Aswan and a trip down to Abu Simbel). Although it didn't seem so at the moment, some real misfortune for everyone else turned into a break for me and Roland. Just as we were leaving L.A. in November, a bunch of religionist fanatics slaughtered a busload of tourists from Switzerland or Austria and Japan. It was really a spectacular horror show with scimitar-wielding terrorists chasing unarmed tourists through the ruins and mercilessly slashing them to death. It was a bloody slaughter; 5 dozen were murdered. Egypt, one of the world's biggest tourist destinations, immediately emptied of tourists. And they stopped coming (at least for a couple weeks). I feel terrible for the Austrians and Japanese, of course; I mean what a way to go! But... well, Roland and I pretty much had Egypt to ourselves. I mean it was just us and the Egyptians, who, except for the scimitar-wielders, are an extremely generous, friendly and gracious people.
Example of how this worked: the cruise. Normally these big boats are packed-- hundreds of people, including the very young and the very old making a lot of noise and slowing everything down. And the cabins are tiny little cells. I mean really, really tiny. The giant ship had a full crew (which included an Egyptologist) plus me, Roland and two sprightly old Brits returning to London from a lifetime of foreign service in Oman and seeing Egypt on the way home. That's right; instead of a couple hundred tourists, we were four. The first result was that instead of Roland and I having to share one of these tiny cells, we each got our own tiny cell. Still horrible but a vast improvement. Later the Egyptologist explained to us that no tour group in his experience on the Nile had seen as many things as we had. That's because normally the tour goes as slow as the oldest and most crippled tortoise-like tourist. The 4 of us were all really into seeing everything-- and we did.
Anyway, we had flown into Cairo on TWA direct from L.A. They're out of business now. A guy from the Warner Bros affiliate picked us up at the airport and whisked us through an otherwise tedious customs rigmarole and hassel-hell. We checked into Le Meridien on Roda Island right in the center of town connected to the Corniche by its own bridge, and got a great room with a balcony overlooking the Nile. Good hotel with the best views of Cairo in the city and not expensive at all (although it probably is now). I have a feeling that all the prices were down because of the recent brutal murders of all the tourists.
And here’s where Paley comes in— Dr. Hawass treated us to a tour usually reserved for heads of state. He literally closed down the Great Pyramid and made everyone else wait in the sweltering sun while we had it to ourselves! It's pretty awesome. Most things don't live up to expectations; that one did— and then some. He said we could sleep in it if we wanted to. We didn't at the time but now I'm sorry we didn't take him up on it. Afterwards he showed us a small, locked up pyramid that no one was allowed in except Charles De Gaulle and other people they wanted to impress. They don't want general traffic in there because of breathing. Next door they had a little museum with an ancient ship with a bunch of mummified pharaoh's servants on it. The Sphinx, on the other hand, was covered in scaffolding and seemed to be crumbling into the sand. Roland claims they were injecting silicon into it.