Perhaps the greatest gift a writer can leave behind is his story. And perhaps the greatest blessing he can wish for is someone to keep it alive.
Richard Stacy of Cambria left a fascinating story behind in his memoir, and he had someone to help him keep it alive: his wife of 30-plus years, Stephanie. She published his work as a Kindle book in November under the title “Tales of a Psychedelic Warrior … You’ll Never Believe the Ending.”
Stacy died in May at age 70 after a two-year battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
I’d interviewed Richard and Stephanie for a feature in The Tribune’s annual “Living Here” section a couple of years ago, so I had some idea what to expect when I read the book. I knew Richard had run a nightclub called the Sweetwater Café in Redondo Beach, where he’d crossed paths with such notables as Willie Nelson, George Thorogood and Vince Gill (who had his first wedding reception at the club).
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I also knew he’d given up the nightclub and started a second life with Stephanie in Cambria, where he owned a tile business and spent his spare time playing bridge, dancing and volunteering with the North Coast Ocean Rescue Team (NCOR).
What I didn’t know was that Richard’s story was even more interesting than I’d suspected.
“His first 35 years were his wild and crazy days — free spirit, everything under the sun,” Stephanie said in an interview. “His smuggling days, his prison days, sailing across the Atlantic and then the Pacific. …”
Not only was I reading it, but I was hearing and seeing the look on his face as he would tell the story.
Hippie and pot smuggler
Whoa! Hold on a minute. Smuggling? Prison? Was this really the same upstanding businessman who became a proverbial “pillar of the community” since moving here in 1986? As it turns out, the answer is yes. Even his children will be reading about some of Richard’s stories for the first time when they pick up the book, Stephanie said, “because he didn’t really want them to know.”
Richard’s first 35 years include adventures as a long-haired hippie at the height of “flower power.” He attended the Newport Folk Festival and, in 1967, the Monterey Pop Festival, where a crew documenting the event filmed him — long, blond hair held in place by a red bandana — drinking coffee near a firepit. (He appears about 48 seconds into the accompanying video.)
When Jimi Hendrix took the stage, Richard was “astounded to see that this great new artist was someone I had met back in New York. When I met him, his name was Jimmie James. His show (in Monterey) consisted of mostly new material, but he was still playing some of the cover songs that I heard him play at the Café Wha.”
The book takes the reader from New York to San Francisco to Paris to Casablanca to Baja California — among other places — and, finally, to Cambria. The journey is filled with encounters such as the one with Hendrix. At Terminal Island Prison, for instance, Richard shared a dorm with G. Gordon Liddy, who had been convicted of wiretapping, burglary and conspiracy in the Watergate scandal.
How did Richard wind up on prison? He had just sailed from Tangiers to Charleston, South Carolina, with a boatload of marijuana when he was caught in what he writes was “the largest hash bust in the history of the country at that time.”
It was after his release from prison that Richard became involved as manager and part owner of the Sweetwater Café.
A change is gonna come
But the radical change in his life came at age 35, when he sold his share of the club and met Stephanie at the Church of Religious Science. “One of the reasons I left Sweetwater was because I wanted to get away from the drugs,” he wrote. “I didn’t go through a 12-step program or go to a rehab facility, but I did need to stop seeing all my friends who I previously got high with. The church gave me refuge, and I made several friends in the process.”
Richard referred to the first 35 years of his life as “B.S.” (Before Stephanie), and the contrast between that period and his last 35 years is certainly striking. But Stephanie points out that, despite his change in lifestyle, he was still the same person.
His love of the ocean, nurtured during his smuggling days, found new expression in his involvement with NCOR. His bridge skills, which he had honed in prison, gave him an outlet after he retired and as he struggled with ALS during the last two years of his life.
“You don’t just turn responsible; you have to have a responsible core inside you,” she said. Whether it was smuggling drugs, running a nightclub or working as a tile-setter, “he just had a responsible nature of taking care of business.”
For Stephanie, going through Richard’s memoirs and making them ready for publication was “a beautiful healing process.”
“Not only was I reading it,” she said, “but I was hearing and seeing the look on his face as he would tell the story. This is literally a living memory for me. … (His stories) come alive in his memoir, just like he’s right there telling me. Richard’s with me forever.”
Richard’s two mottoes, she said were, “Go for the laugh” and “Life is an adventure.”
For Richard Stacy, it certainly was.
Stephanie Stacy plans to offer “Tales of a Psychedelic Warrior” for sale as a print book in the future. She’s also getting ready to publish a book about her daughter Courtney, who died in 2007 after battling cystic fibrosis and undergoing a lung transplant. Next up: a five-book series of paranormal-themed novels she’s writing with her daughter Melissa.