Blogging from deep down beneath the Greater L. A. hipsterpolitan region….

I’m a writer, but there are zillions of writers, perhaps you’ve noticed. This here is a bunch of my stuff. I hope you dig it.

I try to blog at least once daily so there’s a lot of stuff here. You can browse by category or look at some selected essaysstories (non-fiction), neuroscience pieces, jazz writing or smartassery. Some flash nonfiction even.

My LA Weekly stuff can be found here.

My email is brickjazz@yahoo.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on my Brick Wahl page on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I get all professional on LinkedIn, all pensive on Pinterest, and all whatever the hell it’s for on Google Plus. You can even look through my library at Goodreads. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.

Peace is a beautiful thing

Commenting on Here’s Drone Footage Of What Auschwitz Looks Like 70 Years After Being Liberated From The Nazis

It’s an amazing testament to the force of will and power of fear. I haven’t been, but looking at pictures and reading about these place I am always a bit intrigued by how much the Nazis were able to accomplish at these places.

For instance how does one get someone to follow their commands, let alone a million-ish someones, when they know they are gonna die. What kept the prisoners subdued to the point that they would allow themselves to be kept there, when there were women and children and elderly/handicapped been led to the gas chambers.

Also, what kept the men in charge of said camps + the men of the rank and file from breaking down. What went through their heads on a daily basis as they conducted their “business”. What kind of mental issues became from this for them?

This isn’t to condemn the prisoners or hail the Nazis. I do think it’s better to try to figure out the mindset that would allow this, than to write them off as monsters. Monsters don’t exist. People on the other hand are much scarier.

May all who were involved, prisoners and guards, have found peace in their ends.

I know, I feel sorry for the guards too, the poor dears. The strain must have been unbearable. In fact, one of the reasons that the mass murders were done in gas chambers instead of open pits like Babi Yar was the wear and tear on the Einsatzgruppen members was just terrible. Himmler was quite concerned about this, as his correspondence shows. What a waste of perfectly good SS talent it was proving to be. So he automated the process. Auschwitz was sort of like a big huge and extremely efficient automated genocide machine.You could murder more Jews with far less stress on good SS family men. The big killing machine just whirred along and allowed the former Einsatzgruppen gunmen to pursue more rewarding careers as Waffen SS soldiers or Gestapo members or even in Holocaust management. And the camps themselves provided career opportunities for SS men too vicious or stupid to make good soldiers. It was a win/win situation. One must admire Nazi efficiency. They invented the freeway too. And Volkswagens.

You’ll be happy to know, however, that very few of the guards were ever brought to justice or seem to have had their long lives encumbered by any sort of emotional strain. A few were hanged, a few received extremely long sentences, a few were even beaten to death under unfortunate circumstances following liberation. Most of them, however, lived long and fruitful lives in gainful employment in Germany or Austria and spent their golden years surrounded by oodles of grandchildren. So there was a happy ending after all. Peace is a beautiful thing.

Too bad about those six million dead, though.

That scary, creeping anti-Semitism

“I used to be very interested in the subject of the Holocaust” a commenter remarked about a story of a man who survived a gas chamber at Auschwitz “but now it is just all tied up with Israel propaganda…”

The story never mentioned Israel, actually. It did mention the survivor was Jewish, which apparently was enough for this earnest progressive to decide that the story was mere propaganda. Something seems a little amiss here. Because whatever somebody’s feelings are about current Israeli policies toward Palestinians, particularly after the Gaza incursion/massacre, to somehow minimize what happened to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis simply because the murdered were also Jewish is just plain wrong. I read the exact same argument being made by right wingers about pictures of lynching victims hanging in a tree–they used to care about those people, they said, but after the riots in Ferguson they no longer cared.

That scary, creeping anti-Semitism that used to show up on conservative news sites–the Yahoo News comments were riddled with it–has begun popping up regularly on Progressive sites as well. The Nazis trawling the web have done their job well.

depopulation

This was a longwinded reply to a comment to a piece in the Atlantic. I didn’t realize I’d posted it to the blog….

Actually, between 80 and 90% of the population of the western Hemisphere was dead within a century and a half of the arrival of Columbus, and nearly all of this was due to disease. 100 million is a very high end estimate, a more realistic number is 40-50 million, still incredibly high. Vast stretches of the New World were nearly depopulated and there were places with 100% mortality. The disease spread at a stunning speed so that the Spanish were unaware of just how much mortality there had been because in many places they arrived several decades after the local population had been destroyed by smallpox, influenza, etc. By the time the English arrived in 1607 arrived there were very few Indians left to oppose them which allowed them to settle with far less resistance than they would have met a century and a half before. Germs had done all the dirty work for them. Even the most minor European malady–a mild flu, for instance–could lead to a pandemic with mass fatalities.

The Spanish conquest hit the population of the Americas like a thermo-nuclear war. The loss of 80-90% of the population a was reasonable estimate of the cost of a US or Soviet attack in the 60’s. The Spanish, via the germs they released almost always accidentally, inflicted by far the worst human catastrophe in the history of the world. After the various plagues had done their work, settlement by English, French and Dutch was easy and profitable. The French, incidentally, inadvertently devastated entire populations in the Great Lakes region who had been spared some of the effects of the Spanish conquest when they explored the interior of the continent by canoe. And even today, uncontracted tribes in the Amazon can suffer 90% mortality from illness when making contact with the outside world. And those people might be remnants of the estimated seven million people who once lived across the Amazon in large, complex societies, destroyed by diseases that followed conquistadors down the Amazon or came in from the coast.

There are a number of excellent Wikipedia articles on the effects of the Spanish conquest on the population of the Americas. A side effect of this was the African slave trade. The Spanish bought huge numbers of slaves brought over by the Portuguese from present day Angola to do the work that the Indian populations were too ill and dead or dying to perform. They began doing this in the mid 1500’s. Mexico City was built by African labor. The mass deaths in the New World were not part of the plan..something commonly misunderstood today. The locals were to supply the labor and taxes and farm production required by the Spanish empire but they died too soon. The difference had to be made up for with immigration from Spain. Hence Mexico is most Spanish now, genetically, the Spanish men marrying the healthy indigeneous women–and reducing the supply of mates for the indigenous men. The indigenous genetic component of the population just crashed, in particular the male genetic side. By the middle of the 17th century the population of central Mexico, once home to millions, was down to a few hundred thousand. That is a mortality and population reduction that is higher, much higher, than the death toll of the Black Plague even. And when the Spanish began exploring the gulf coast, they came across empty settlements and scattered bones. The Plains Indian cultures we think of as having been there forever in the American Midwest were actually in large part the remnants of a much larger and more urbanized civilization. Our own Indian wars, like that of Mexico, were merely mopping up (it’s forgotten, by the way, that the Mexican government was engaged in a much bloodier war with the Apache for much longer than the US government. Mexico had inherited Spain’s Indian policy and it could be quite brutal.) The tribes here fought like hell and inflicted far more casualties than they took, but their populations were small and eventually they were doomed to lose.

My wife and in-laws are all tribal (Sioux and Oneida). In fact my wife and her siblings are the first in her family line not born on a reservation. She is descended from the very few survivors of the waves of disease that swept her ancestors three centuries ago. She never gets sick. Not even colds. She has the most extraordinary immune system. Apparently that is why her ancestors survived when nearly everyone around them died.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if nine out of every ten people you knew was suddenly dead. It’s a lot like what happened to European Jewry, actually, who died at a similar rate between 1941 and 1945. And what could have happened to all of us had nuclear war happened. Scary, scary stuff.

Sorry to drone on here.

Cow Bop: Too Hick For the Room

A few years ago Bruce Forman asked me if I’d do liner notes for the next Cow Bop release. I said sure. He said he didn’t want the usual boring liner notes. I said OK. He said none of that track by track shit. I said of course. He said I want you just to go nuts. I said fine. So I did him a take. He said he liked it. Got any more? I said sure and wrote four more. Total time, maybe an hour. If only all liner notes were as fun as this.

Anyway he used one of these on the CD. Another on the site. The rest he sold to Taylor Swift.

Cow Bop Take 1

Too Hick For the Room my big city ass. Sounds just right by me.  This town, hell this world, needs a lot more Bob Wills. Western Swing is air you can breathe, smoky and boozy and dudes out in the parking lot fighting. Inside the honky tonk everyone’s grooving and swinging, hell there’d be dancing with the ladies if all them uppity jazz swells and slick hipsters would or could take a step or two. Man, can these cats play. Cow Bop ain’t no country radio band (not yet anyway), ain’t no jazz band either, but mama they sure swing, and yup that’s some pure Charlie Parker you’re hearing there in that mind blowing guitar solo. Bruce Forman that cat is, a barbed wiry, smirking smartass in a Stetson. The fiddler trading licks with him is Phil Salazar, and the hottie singing sweetly in the middle is Pinto Pam. Hands off, fellas, she sizzles. A dude I knew heard this album just once, jumped into his car and headed straight up the Grapevine where the mule deer and antelope play. Bakersfield is up that away, he said, next best thing to Amarillo. They got pickup trucks there, and cows and oil fields and chicken fried steak, and they got the Silver Palace and Merle and honky tonking Saturday nights. They got Cow Bop?  No, he said, but they should. Best western swing in the land.

Cow Bop Take 2

Never expected to see something like Cow Bop in a jazz club.  Saw ‘em take the stage in cowboy hats, pronghorns glued to the bass drum, singer in a long cowgirl dress. The regulars in the jazz joint stared over their cocktails, not getting any of this.  The music was lightning fast, kinda swingy but awfully down home too. And man could those cats play. Solos zipped back and forth from fiddle to guitar and back again. Damn if that smartass guitar player wasn’t quoting Charlie Yardbird Parker. And ol’ crooked horn Dizzy too. And a lot of Bob Wills. The pretty girl sang about Texas, and dancing, and drinking, and men doing ladies wrong. By set’s end I was hooked, line and sinker. Y’all got any records? They said they had a couple. We got a new one we’re working on too. Yeah? Any good? Goddamn right it’s good. It’s gonna make us stars. And they packed up their gear and tossed it in the back of an old red Chevy pick up and took off in a cloud of dust. Well, that new one is this one here, Too Hick For the Room. Hot damn. What they call great driving music. That long stretch of highway between Tulsa and Bakersfield went by in a flash. Cow Bop. Continue reading

Sky Saxon

(2009)

I see Sky Saxon died.

I remember my pal Ron E’s birthday party, a long time ago. I was playing drums behind my brother Jon (on sax) and a bassist. I remember Sky storming the stage and singing along to some tune we were doing. Later I was playing in a trio with Ron E. (on his big giant loud fast guitar). Sky, stoned, beyond stoned even and out of his mind high, suddenly rushing out from backstage and storming the stage again. He kinda shouted-screamed bellowed-wailed. Which means I actually had the (mis)fortune of playing with Sky Saxon in two different bands on the same night.

When he wasn’t sucking on pipes and joints, he was trying to talk chicks into getting it on with him. Young chicks and big chicks mostly. He liked ’em young and/or big around.  Rock stars, ya know. Old hippies. Lost visionaries. Fruitarians. God spelled backward is dog. Really.

Part of me is slightly envious. I mean I was never really a fan, never got the whole Sky cult thing, but what a lifestyle. No one keeps you from getting on somebody else’s stage. No one keeps you from rolling somebody else’s weed. No one stops you from hitting on somebody else’s wife.

I have a few more Sky Saxon stories, know of many more…who knows how many there are? I’ve had the hippest jazz critic I know regale me with Sky Saxon stories. I told him mine. He nodded, impressed. What to me was just a weird night was to him a bit of history.

Well, Sky’s dead now. Writers gushed in all the magazines, on the websites, even in the newspapers. Not because of “Pushin’ Too Hard”. But because he was Sky. Or is Sky, the myth. Musicians shake their heads and wonder. Dope dealers hide their stashes. Ladies tingle and blush.

I didn’t mention that I hung backstage with him that night between the stage stormings, smoking out with Sky, experiencing Sky, wondering how the fuck Sky ever got there. He’d smoke, talk batshit crazy, then leap up and chase down some poor chick. She’d say no and turn red, not sure if it was a compliment or not. Most of them said no. Most of them. He was Sky after all.

.

Remembering Herman Riley

The sad thing is not many people remember Herman Riley. Unless, that is you saw him and heard him. Then you’d never forget. But he did so little recording. One 80’s release under his own name. A zillion live gigs with Jimmy Smith but not on any of Jimmy’s dates. I remember asking him if he had any plans to record again. When he was ready, he said. But he just wasn’t ready soon enough. How many times has that happened in jazz? Far too many than we realize. Not that we’ll ever realize it. If you don’t record, who will know?

I wrote the following about Herman back in 2006. He poured his life story out to me for an hour on the phone. I had to put that all into 160 words:

Lockjaw and Prez made him pick up the saxophone. This was New Orleans. There was a teenaged “Iko, IKo”, the very first. By ’63 he’s in L.A., playing Marty’s every night, and players—Sonny Rollins, everybody—dropping by, sitting in. Steady work with Basie and the Juggernaut and Blue Mitchell. Twenty years with Jimmy Smith. A million sessions for Motown and Stax, and first call for a slew of singers—that’s where you refine those ballad skills, with singers. Live he slips into “In A Sentimental Mood” and everything around you dissolves. There’s just his sound, rich, big, full of history, a little bitter, maybe, blowing Crescent City air. He gets inside the very essence of that tune, those melancholy ascending notes, till it fades, pads closing, in a long, drawn out sigh. You swear it’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever heard, that song, that sound, and you tell him so. He shrugs. “It’s a lifetime of experience” he says, then calls out some Monk and is gone.

LA Weekly, 2006

Found a phone message a week later. I’d been out and missed the call. It was Herman and his wife, thanking me for that tiny little essay. It was the first press he’d ever gotten, he said. 148 words plus a photo. He was gone a year later. One of the greatest saxophonists I’d ever seen, hushed, unrecorded, unheard.

I still miss Herman Riley.

Herman Riley, with John Heard on the bass.

 

Rejection letter

Hello S….

You can keep the Thucydides piece if you want, but I’m afraid I’m won’t be a very good fit for your [excellent literary zine, actually]….I’m not an academic writing kind of guy, just the opposite. I only had one writing course ever, with Barry Farrell, and he told me to never lose my voice. People would try to refine it and take it away, he said, but don’t let them. And while you did some nice edits on that piece, you tried to take me out of it and replace me with a graduate of some university creative writing program. That is not me. Those programs are fine, but if you read lit mags all the writers sound the same. I don’t sound like them. I don’t make careful distinctions between mood and opinion, any of that stuff. I write with passion and energy and am driven by be bop and punk rock and epilepsy. I don’t read literature, I read linguistics. What you read is me. If you met me you’d realize that the guy writing is me. That is being sucked out of writing today. People now are supposed to sound like an academic ideal of what a writer is. I’m a drop out. I believe all the rules are made to be broken.

Just the same, though, thanks for the excellent advice, it’s much appreciated. But I’ll continue on my own way. If I can score the occasional paying gig, fine. If not that is OK too. I have hundreds of thousands of words in print already and am no longer thrilled at seeing my name in a byline. And to be honest, I never really cared if anyone read me or not, I just write for me and in my own voice. The LA Weekly gig just dropped into my lap and I was going to turn it down but my wife talked me into it. That’s how I became a journalist. And I only started a blog when the computer couldn’t handle the million words I had tucked away in there. I was afraid of losing them and a blog seemed the answer.

Thank you for the terrific advice otherwise, though. But I know now, as I suspected, that me and the literary scene are not on the same planet.

By the way, we we’re working on my first ever reading, it’s going to be a genuine happening with my brother’s crazy rock band opening, and wild jazz blowing session following, and me in between doing a raucous reading, taking requests, telling stories, encouraging hecklers and baiting the audience. I am also going to ask if [a crazy artist friend of mine of note] wants to get involved. We’re looking for a venue that can handle a couple hundred people. It should be pretty wild. A happening. A party. Loud. Boozy. Crazy. Not normal. All of which fits me better, I think, than lit zines do.

Take care and again, thanks for all.

Brick