UNFINISHED DOCUMENTARY, STATE OF GRACE | Mid-1970s
Interviewee: CHARLIE DANGER
Like many of my generation, I remember where I was when I heard that Devon Bentley had died. I was driving back up from surfing the break off PK’s Beach all morning with Chae Burton. I still had the ’66 Olds back then. The top was down, of course, and the breeze coming off the ocean was blowing her long black hair around like we were in a TV shampoo commercial.
I had the AM radio tuned into a station from Lihue and they were playing a block of tunes from Bentley’s old band, the Nightingales—not really my favorite as I’ve always been more of an R&B guy, but they were enough of a radio staple back then to provide the soundtrack to what was looking like a stunner of an afternoon.
At the end of Ride the Nightingale, their last hit before Bentley was politely asked to please get off the Nightingale due to his erratic behavior and alarming—even for that time—drug use, the DJ broke in and laid the trip on us that he was gone.
It was still all rumor and conjecture as to what had actually happened to him. I remember one story had it that he had choked on his own vomit while crashing his motorcycle into an airplane. Not fucking likely, but as we had already lost Jimi, Jim, and Janis, we were getting used to the shitty feeling and could afford to be macabre.
Chae, however, was a big fan, especially of the more personal solo stuff he had put out after the break. Personally, I couldn’t stand that singer-songwriter shit. For my money, if you can’t say it with a five-piece horn section, then maybe you should just keep it to yourself, but that’s just me. Chae was pretty upset and moped around the rest of the day playing Nightingales records until I secretly started being glad he was dead.
Bentley had checked out at the appropriate age of 27 and the rock press made a big deal of him being another member of the “27 club,” yet another case of wasted youth and potential. I’m here to tell you that 27 didn’t seem all that young back then. A lot of us had grown up hard and fast when the ’60s went up like a house fire next door to a fireworks factory and all the “flower power” bullshit that you hear about those days was just that: bullshit.
Myself, I did one tour flying Hueys in ’Nam—lift and assault—and got out just before the shit really hit the fan. It was no picnic, but nothing like those poor fuckers had to deal with after Tet. At least I ended up with a marketable skill after all that.
Back on Kaua‘i, I found there was enough action on both sides of the law to keep me flying with enough under-the-table cash and out-of-the-volcanic-soil weed that I was able to by my own chopper before too long and usually stayed high enough to forget where I had last seen it.
My main gig on the island either involved flying tourists up the Na Pali Coast and/or flying rescue for the county and those same weekend warriors once they got themselves in a bind. When I wasn’t out hauling the haoles, I ran night missions upcountry come pakalolo harvest time. Back then I was the only motherfucker crazy enough to make that run, although our drunk Uncle Sam was churning out flyers younger and crazier than me by the plane load.
It was actually my involvement with upcountry cultivators that first got me mixed up with the group out at Milakale. My man Zongo Khumalo was still running the show back then, back before things got really weird. I used to party with Zongo when I first got back from Vietnam, back when he was still going by what he started referring to as his “slave name.” Now, Zongo’s tan as a motherfucker, but he’s not Africa tan, if you know what I mean, and the only two things he’s ever been a slave to are weed and pussy. As you can imagine, we hit it off from day one.
You could say that I feel partly responsible for what happened, but to be fair it was really Devon Bentley’s fault from the jump. If Chae hadn’t been feeling so bummed out that day, I wouldn’t have taken her with me to Milakale and she wouldn’t have been mixed up in all that foolishness. I guess some things are just written in the fuckin’ stars.
You know, I read somewhere lately that the word disaster actually means “bad star.” Maybe that’s when the trouble really started, when that bad star showed up.