Jeff Grimes is a writer, musician, photographer and record label mogul. He instituted the first creative writing program at Camarillo State Mental Hospital, which he ran until the hospital closed in 1997. He lives in Ventura, California.
BIO (optional reading)
It’s difficult to gather a clear accounting of Jeff Grimes’ life as much of it is obscured by long absences of verifiable facts. In particular, the late adolescent years known as the “Dark Period” are shrouded in mystery.
First, imagine a twelve-year-old boy hitchhiking everyday with a cheap, 9’3’’ pop-out surfboard under his arm to an Oxnard beach known for it’s fast, hard-breaking waves, cold water, strong currents and hooligan locals. What empirical knowledge gathered; skills assimilated; hard knocks received; life lessons learned moral and amoral?
A few years later, a still young Grimes, deeply wounded by his father’s World War II service-related death, followed by the tragic suicide of his first true love, travels the shadowy passages and environs of the mid-sixties and early seventies’ American underground. It was an enlightening, yet often intimidating and dangerous time: mingling with bohemians, revolutionaries, psycho-chemists, eco-warriors, radical feminists, free souls, subversives, dissidents and miscreants of all stripes including a short-lived dalliance with an outlaw group of surfers known as the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. During this period, Grimes was reportedly seen various times hobnobbing with miscellaneous bohemian and literary figures, among them Allen Ginsberg and Ed Sanders, whose influence on Grimes’s early writing and music is evident. It is also rumored, and certainly nothing has been substantiated, that, at one time, he had a torrid liaison with an associate of Richard Braugtigan’s, a topless dancer who purportedly picked him up when he was hitchhiking on a southbound onramp near the North Beach area of San Francisco.
Brief episodes of this era are, to some extent, documented in several of Grimes’s writings, in particular the short stories “Lost Mountain,” “Island of Beauty Island of Sleep,” and “The Girl Who Became an Owl in The Desert.”*
*Editor’s note: Each of these stories has been published in a print run limited to ten copies, hand-numbered and signed by the author. Highly prized by collectors, they are nearly impossible to find, in fact we are at this time, unable to obtain a copy or facsimile of any of the books. In addition, it is suspected that the author himself further exacerbated their scarcity. A credible source reports that in a small inn on the west coast of Ireland, Grimes burned four copies of “Lost Mountain.” Here our source quotes Grimes:
"Earlier in the day, I had met two raven-haired Parisian coeds while strolling the woodlands of Dooney Rook along the shores of Lough Gill. It was a bracing gray afternoon, a soft mist had been falling most the day and small drops of water formed on hair and skin. The girls explained they were literature students at the Sorbonne and had ferried across the channel to research Yeats. I’m a bit proficient in the life and work of old W.B. myself, in particular the earlier pre-Raphaelite period style and his themes of love and mysticism. I invited the jeune femme to dinner and an after-supper study session in my modest lodgings. We had just opened our books and a bottle of 12 year-old single malt, when I thought it good manners to warm the place so my guests, who were both scantily dressed considering the time of year, would be more comfortable. There was no proper kindling in the room to start the logs in the hearth. It was simply a matter of finding the best material for the job."
There is another period in Grimes’s life shrouded in mystery known as the “South American years.” During this time there was only one confirmed sighting, intriguingly in the very heart of the South American continent in an impoverished neighborhood on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. A DEA agent, posing as a photojournalist for National Geographic, snapped a series of shots of Grimes. He was standing in the midst of a gathering of bearded Mennonite men who were dressed in overalls and wide-brimmed hats; two Quechua Indians wearing hand-woven ponchos, red in color and decorated with an intricate design indicating they were from Urubamba Valley—the Sacred Valley of the Incas and three known local Narcotráficos dark, serious men in black pants and white short-sleeve shirts. In contrast, Grimes is seen in cut-offs, wearing a late 1940’s vintage Duke Kahanamoku Aloha shirt, chocolate-brown with white pineapple print, a pair of well-worn, hand-made Mexican huaraches and holding an ice-cold Cervecería Boliviana Nacional. The DEA agent reported that Grimes appeared to be mediating a conversation between the members of this diverse group in Spanish, German, Quechua and English. Shortly after these photos were taken, the subjects dispersed and Grimes was not seen again until he resurfaced working as a bartender in a popular, but now defunct restaurant in Ventura, California.
Back in his hometown, this was a particularly fruitful time of wave riding for Grimes and an interesting study in herd-mentality, as he noted in a letter to his old friend and one-arm Delta blues guitarist Stump Johnson. The following is an excerpt from the letter addressed to Mr. Johnson dated October 3,1977.
" …Stump, the zeitgeist spun by the surf media these days mandates that the shorter and thinner a surfboard is, the better. Surfers are practically giving away any board over 9 feet in length that isn’t a gun. So-called longboards are as scarce in surf shops today as "grass around a hog trough" (if I may borrow a line from that great song of yours “Too Many People Peeing Behind My House”).
This is all to the good as far as I’m concerned. Small, beautiful point waves, once the habitat of the multitudes, are now breaking virtually unmolested on the shores of several of my beloved local beaches, while the minions flock to waves and surf breaks more suitable for the new chic boards. Moreover, used Peck Penetrators, Yater Spoons, Edward’s Signature models, Nuuhiwa Noseriders are surfacing with regularity in garage sales and swap meets which offers numerous possibilities for those interested to test ride and enjoy the handiwork of earlier specialists…."
*Editor’s note: Grimes diverges here reminiscing about an old girlfriend. While Grimes’s dialogue is warmhearted and he articulates a sincere respect and fondness for this woman, due to the intimate nature of this discourse and to protect any innocent parties this short section has been deleted.
We return to the letter:
"…this is not to disparage the surfing avant-garde—the backyard shapers, eccentric philosophers, world explorers and progressive surfers—many of whom are rebels and freethinking innovators pushing their art to the limit. I count numerous friends and collaborators among them. However, vis-à-vis the conformists, the obedient, the unquestioning, it is an interesting reflection on the malleability of the groupthink, in particular in the hands of those in a position to persuade for profit i.e.
1. The surf industry mavens salivating to force-feed the market with the latest gear.
2. The 1 per-centers, the professional surfers and their sycophants whose goal is to suckle a lucrative and comfortable lifestyle with access to the best uncrowded waves, shamelessly flouting the “sport” and lifestyle in everything from surf contests to car commercials.
These companies and professionals attract thousands to the fragile environment of public surf spots resulting in overcrowding— stressing nature and individuals to the breaking point while these elitists enjoy their unfettered and often extravagant lifestyles. Repercussions for the 99 per cent, i.e. the rest of us, be damned."
Editor’s note: This letter written in Grimes’ own hand was delivered to our office by a circumspect but well-mannered man who gave his name as Hastings. He told us that Grimes is considering cooperating further regarding our requests for biographical information.
“However,” Hastings told us, “he is currently on an expedition somewhere along the Pacifica coast of Central America and communication is not only problematic it is often impossible.”
Hastings then quoted Grimes: “Tell them it can also be extremely tiresome and an unwanted distraction to the matter at hand.”
Hastings apologized and said, “ I must leave immediately, but Grimes hopes this letter will facilitate your endeavors and you should consider it a small offering until further material surfaces.”
At this point all communication with Grimes and his people was severed. Repeated attempts to re-connect have been met with silence.