The Back Yard - 4th of July 1979

This print was taken by my friend Mike McDaniel with his Kodak Brownie Hawkeye.

The occasion was a special 4th of July display assembled by Mike and me for my mother and her sister Doris, who was visiting from Massachusetts. We bought a big selection of fountain fireworks (which were illegal to set off in Burbank) and arranged them along the far side of the pool, and connected the fuses with sparklers. The idea was that at night the pool water would reflect the light given off by the fireworks. Also, that we would only have to light the sparklers on either end and the whole thing would set itself off automatically and sequentially.

No, an impromptu jam session by me on guitar was not part of the proceedings. What I did was to connect my Fender 100 watt head with a couple of speakers to a cassette which played Sousa music and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture"; this was the music for the festivities. Mike's cassette player can be seen sitting on the amplifier. You can see a speaker wire leading to the top of a six-foot stepladder where I positioned the speaker. I'm sure the speaker would have sounded just as good on the ground, but this looked more impressive. Shown here, I'm merely doing a sound check with my guitar.

This was the longest my hair ever got, by the way. I am 23 in this shot. My first job out of the Marines was in a salvage yard at Lockheed moving junk around for $7.50 an hour. As this kept me outdoors my hair turned blond and my skin tanned. I am wearing one of my work tee-shirts. That weird orange glow on my arm is, for once, not some artifact of an aging photographic process with the print. It is the light given off by the jeweled red power indicator on the guitar amplifier.

As I recall the fireworks went off well with only an occasional failure to light - Mike and I were standing by with matches so it was no big deal. The Wedge sisters declared themselves perfectly entertained with the show and music. I can only guess what the neighbors thought. I had some crud from the fountains to skim off the surface of the water afterwards.

That guitar, by the way, is a 1975 Fender Telecaster in a sort of buttery color. I also had the Fender hard case for it. My mom bought it for me ($450) in November 1975. In the ensuing years I barely learned how to play it; I should have taken lessons, but didn't. When I started college in 1980 I found myself too involved with engineering classes to play it, and so it was kept under the bed for years. In 1987 I sold it to raise money for my first computer, which I assembled myself. The $450 I got for it paid for my first hard drive, which had the (then) impressive capacity of 20 MB.

My son has forgiven me for this - but grudgingly.

In the background you can see the ratty bamboo (it came in rolls) we stapled to the wooden fence, and a plastic bleach bottle on the ground. By this time Mom's roses had been removed. Why? Too high-maintenance. We were growing weeds, watered by the discharge from the washing machine in the back house.

Note: Shortly after showing Mike this completed page he wrote back saying, "I have some shots of that fireworks show. Want me to send them?" Indeed I did! Here are his scans:

Our clever sparkler linkage system. You can see that we included some firecrackers for added noise.

One of the fountains by the pool

The audience. Mom and Aunt Doris sit in chairs watching the show. You can make out the aluminum back house awning in the glare.

Summer Still Life: Tomatoes and Fireworks. This one takes some explaining. Mike was always an avid gardener and enjoyed growing tomatoes. So he made an (out of focus) still life grouping and forgot to advance the film. Hence the gold fountain taken later that evening appearing in the shot!

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