I used to have this recurring dream. I would find myself in a little corner store, in some unidentified city, maybe San Francisco. The place would have been lost in time. Inside was a glass case and inside the case was a marvelous collection of old fireworks with fantastic labels, for sale.
The dream came true, in a way, when, in the late 1980s, we stumbled across a strange little shop on Judah Street. We walked in, for what reason I don’t remember, and there we found Rudy Cipolla. The shop did have a glass case with musty, interesting old things in it. Among those was a box of caps for a toy gun, a firework of a sort, which I bought. The label said “72 Big Shots.”
The proprietor of the shop introduced himself as Rudy Cipolla, and in a few minutes our acquaintance had progressed to the point that he started to tell us that his name meant “Onion” in Italian, and that he was related to John Cipollina, the lead guitarist for the Quick Silver Messenger Service, a famous 60s band. He also told us he played the mandolin and that he was a composer. Then he gave us an autographed cassette tape of a piece he’d written entitled “La Civetta” (The Flirt, in Italian.)
We wandered out and into a gray fall day in the Inner Sunset district, never to see Rudy again, but I never forgot the literally dream-like encounter.
Later, I learned that the shop was called the Book Nook, and that Rudy Cipolla was revered by local musicians, mandolin players especially. David Grisman counted him as an influence and friend, and indeed, he was a very prolific composer.Rudy died in 2000 at the age of 99.
Photographs courtesy of Owen Hartford