Poppa Neutrino dies; led sea-faring band stranded in Southport
Published 3:03 pm, Monday, January 31, 2011
He called his musical troupe the Flying Neutrinos.
But sputtering and stalling might be a better way to describe their mode of transportation on numerous sea-faring voyages.
For nearly 12 weeks in 1991, David Pearlman, his family and his Flying Neutrinos, a traveling jazz band, called a floating dock home as they attempted to right their sinking ship in Southport Harbor.
Pearlman, 77, who anointed himself Poppa Neutrino, died Jan. 23 of congestive heart failure in New Orleans.
"He was congenial, affable, engaging and, in my opinion, irresponsible," recalled Ronald Manning, who, as Fairfield's then-public works superintendent, helped provide parts, welders and mechanics to get Pearlman back onto the high sea and out of Southport.
"I call him irresponsible because he had children aboard that boat," said Manning.
And Manning uses the term "boat" loosely to describe Pearlman's vessel.
"It was the most unbelievable unseaworthy thing I had ever seen," he said. "To be an adult and to risk killing yourself that's your choice, but to have kids on board, that's being irresponsible."
The two-story, pink-and-weathered-gray vessel was cobbled together from a condemned barge, wooden planks and discarded dock floats. It was powered by two motor vehicle engines bolted together, which slowly pushed two side-wheel paddles.
"The two side-wheel paddles were snot-welded together," said Manning. "It was a very poor weld. The boat was so full of holes it looked like Swiss cheese. The only thing keeping it afloat was the Styrofoam pushed into the bottom." The boat, on a journey from Newport, R.I., to Mexico, limped into Southport on Dec. 24, 1990, before running aground just outside the waterfront home of the late actor Jason Robards. It stayed there until the tide pushed it to the Ye Olde Yacht Yard's dock.
Aboard were Pearlman, a former merchant marine turned guitar player and itinerant philosopher; his saxophone playing fourth wife, Betsy Terrell; three of their children; three other musicians and several cats.
Then-First Selectman Jacquelyn Durrell boarded the crippled boat on Jan. 19, 1991, with Manning and Michael Koolis, a town-employed welder.
"Speaking with the mayors of other communities where they have stopped," Durrell, who died in 2009 told the Connecticut Post, "they all say the same thing: They're lovely people, but you do have to give them a nudge (to get them on their way)."
Manning vividly remembers that day. "He brought me coffee in a dirty old cup," the retired public works official said. "It was so foul I just wanted to throw it overboard."
In appreciation of the donated sprockets, chains, drive shaft, truck axle and technical assistance, the troupe gave a free jazz and rhythms and blues concert Feb. 17, 1991, which 200 attended at the Pequot Library in the Southport section of town. But it wasn't until March 8 that they departed Fairfield. Within a day they again ran aground off Port Jefferson, N.Y. There they stayed until August, when the vessel was towed to Manhattan and determined to be unsafe for voyage by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Pearlman was born on Oct. 15, 1933, in Fresno, Calif., and led a life designed for a made-for-TV movie. He lied about his age and entered the U.S. Army at 15, studied at a Baptist Seminary in Texas and became a preacher in San Francisco and New York, where he founded the First Church of Fulfillment. Pearlman's eccentric life became fodder for Alec Wilkinson's "The Happiest Man in the World," published by Random House in 2007.
He is survived by his wife, several children and grandchildren.
And his journey from Newport to Southport to New York was not his last.
In June 1998, he set off for France from Canada on a 40-foot ramshackle raft with his wife, three dogs, two crew members and a piano. In two months he got as far as Ireland.
A third trip around the world was planned and scuttled when a new raft smashed near Lake Champlain.