Freewheelin’ with Finlayson

by Devon Jackson

forward by Daniel Link

When we first conceived of the concept of Story Keepers for CitySwivel, I approached Murdoch Finlayson to be our set the highest standard in terms of who CitySwivel spotlights & identifies as the heart & spirit of Santa Fe.

I was incredibly humbled when Murdoch accepted my offer...loved the idea in fact. However, as we were preparing our introduction to Murdoch & the amazing way he became part of the fabric that is Santa Fe's eclectic history, we lost him.

This is part two of our tribute to Murdoch, written by our good friend, Devon Jackson... back when we were preparing the way for our first Story Keeper. We will continue to honor this New Mexican trail blazer in 2019.

Since 1985, The Santa Fe New Mexican has been putting out its Ten Who Made a Difference—its “Thanksgiving tradition of honoring local people who use their time, talents and passions to give back to the community.”

Sort of in that spirit, I’d like to offer up an alternative: Ten Who Have Made Santa Fe Santa Fe. To say they’ve made Santa Fe the City Different would be too easy. And corny. And painfully unoriginal. It’d also trivialize the uniqueness of someone like my first offering, Murdoch Finlayson.

Yes, I already wrote about Murdoch. And not even two months ago. But he truly embodies what makes Santa Fe. Or what made Santa Fe.

First off, it’s that voice. That booming stentorian voice that could drown out the groans of Old Man Gloom. Then there’s the hair. The shock of reddish-yellow-white hair that’s still thick and full and wavy as it was 30 to 40 years ago. And the suspenders. Which aren’t just a fashion statement but a necessity: the man has no hips; if he didn’t have the suspenders his pants would slide right off.

So aside from his work as a preservationist or and dealer in New Mexico furniture, what Murdoch also offers is a glimpse—an honest glimpse, minus the gloss-over or marketing B.S.—at what made Santa Fe different.

For instance, there was the time the Goodwins (specifically, Peter Goodwin’s uncle John) had invited Truman Capote to town. It wasn’t too long after the release of In Cold Blood (the movie), and John had invited Capote out to stay at their Camino Monte Sol home for a couple weeks. And then decided to honor him (or show him off) with an invitation-only high tea event at The Senate—“the gayest bar in the West until you got to the Castro,” says Murdoch. “That place was beyond gay. It was fucking beyond, man. It made up for everything that gives North Carolina nightmares about bathrooms.”

At the time, Murdoch’s ex-wife was still in town (she has since passed away). “She was a very delicate soul, man,” recalls Murdoch. “Just perfect for Truman. Just like him. Except more unbalanced.”

Capote had the head table, and Murdoch’s ex there with him and John Goodwin. And even there, where “the fucking rotgut of the earth [would come] passing through with their fucking teepees,” Capote stood out. “He was a high dresser. And to be a flamer in American today,” adds Murdoch, in language that in print might come off as un-P.C. but is anything but—it’s just Murdoch calling it like it was, as Capote or Quentin Crisp or Oscar Wilde would’ve put it—“is based on Truman Capote.”

Another unlikely guest: Abbie Hoffman. Not of the Goodwins, and not so much by choice. But by default—a kind of forced visitor thanks to the Feds. This was back in the mid- to late-70s, after Hoffman had been busted for cocaine possession. He’d skipped bail, underwent cosmetic surgery, and turned up in town and gotten a job washing dishes. Of course, Murdoch and Hoffman knew each other, and lived right next to each other, back in New York City. “He lived next door to me on St. Mark’s Place,” says Murdoch. “They were running Pigasus for president in 1968. [Kinda like what the Republicans have been forced into doing with Trump—only in reverse.] That was part of the Hog Farm and the Yippies.

“I did two to three things with Abbie at the Village Theatre—the Fillmore East,” adds Murdoch. “Cocaine wiped him out. Wherever cocaine showed up it was fucked.”

As for why he and others of his ilk chose Santa Fe over Albuquerque back in the day, he has this little nuggety insight: “Santa Fe has always changed. But Albuquerque reminded everybody of where they’d come from. That’s why we never went down there.”

And Taos? “They beat you up in Taos. It wasn’t hard to get run out of there.”

Another unlikely Santa Fe appearance: Charles Mingus. “He played the back room of La Fonda one night—and he had no idea where he was,” remembers Murdoch, who’d gone there that night with the actress Marge Sinclair.

Those were the days when it would take Finlayson an hour just to go from one end of the Plaza to the other. “Tony Hilton would be there with a brown paper bag of pot. It was sweet.”

When he wasn’t getting his pot locally, he’d fly out to New York, ostensibly to visit Robin (his future and current wife) or buy antiques—as well as pot and/or hash. Which he would tape to his legs on the flight back to Albuquerque.

That was also when he “couldn’t get up and go to the bathroom without throwing the pennies [for the I-Ching].” And when he’d have Robin read his Tarot cards. And when he told Jane Fonda to shut the hell up. And when he knocked over Jeff Bridges—after getting high in the bathroom of his store and then opening the door without realizing Bridges was right there on the other side. Or the time he told off Wolfgang Puck’s second wife, Barbara Lazaroff.

“I told Puck’s wife she was awful,” cops Murdoch. Or, as Robin adds: “He says to her: Lady, suck a rope. She was scouting out locations for the Coyote Café. Later on, we saw her on 60 Minutes. And I said to Murdoch, Look, there she is.”

About as complementary as two people can get, Murdoch and Robin seem to have been each other’s best friend, best partner, best ally. “Robin’s brother introduced me to Miguel Chavez,” says Murdoch—grateful for how kismet brought them together (and for Robin’s perseverance). “They liked to smoke pot and I liked to smoke pot. So I met all the Hispanic carpenters.

“And Miguel’s studio was right next to Luis Tapia’s and to Gary Moro,” adds Murdoch. “So I learned a shit lot about New Mexico furniture from all of them.”

Still at work on his memoirish history of New Mexico furniture and its makers (with Luis Tapia’s wife, Carmella Padilla), Murdoch is never at a loss for a good story. And always good at giving credit where it’s due. “I was lucky, I met Robin,” he says of his Santa Fe-born-and-raised wife. “She’s a homeboy and I’m kind of a homeboy.”

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