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Charles Mingus


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In the following excerpt from his autobiography, Beneath The Underdog, Charles Mingus relates his experience and connection to the Towers as a boy growing up in Watts:

“At that time in Watts there was an Italian man, named Simon Rodia – though some people said his name was Sabatino Rodella, and his neighbors called him Sam. He had a regular job as a tile setter, but on weekends and at nighttime, under lights he strung up, he was building something strange and mysterious and he’d been working on it since before my boy was born. Nobody knew what it was or what it was for. Around his small frame house he had made a low wall shaped like a ship and inside it he was constructing what looked like three masts, all different heights, shaped like upside-down ice cream cones. First he would set up skeletons of metal and chicken wire, and plaster them over with concrete, then he’d cover that with fancy designs made of pieces of seashells and mirrors and things. He was always changing his ideas while he worked and tearing down what he wasn’t satisfied with and starting over again, so pinnacles tall as a two-story building would rise up and disappear and rise again. What was there yesterday mightn’t be there next time you looked, but then another lacy-looking tower would spring up in its place. Tig Johnson and Cecil J. McNeeley used to gather sacks full of pretty rocks and broken bottles to take to Mr. Rodia, and my boy hung around with them watching him work while he waited for Gloria Scopes, one of his classmates who happened to live just across the street.

Mr. Rodia was usually cheerful and friendly while he worked, and sometimes, drinking that good red wine from a bottle, he rattled off about Amerigo Vespucci, Julius Caesar, Buffalo Bill and all kinds of things he read about in the old encyclopedia he had in his house, but most of the time it sounded to Charles like he was speaking a foreign language. My boy marveled at what he was doing and felt sorry for him when the local rowdies came around and taunted him and threw rocks and called him crazy, though Mr. Rodia didn’t seem to pay them much mind. Years later when Charles was grown and went back to Watts he saw three fantastic spires standing there – the tallest was over a hundred feet high. By then Rodia had finally finished his work and given it all to a neighbor as a present and gone away, no one knew where.”