My email is email@example.com. My phone is 323-420-7410. I do a lot of short writing on Facebook, and really short writing on Twitter. I’m all over the goddamn internet and all over this goddamn town.
At Cafe NELA for Eddie Rarer’s birthday party yesterday. Eddie digs the solid rock’n'roll bands but fooled us by booking a lot of zany–way zany–avant garde acts. Whew. When I walked in the joint the blast of Hookah’s white noizoid sound knocked me clean back out into the middle of Cypress Avenue where I was run over by a Smart Car. Totalled it. I apologized and tried to enter Cafe NELA again. I leaned into the sound and made it to the bar. Hunkered down and clung to my beer. Then a rogue sound wave broke right on top of me and washed me back out into the street right in the path of a truck mounted on monster wheels so high it passed right over me. And I was standing up. I made it back to the sidewalk and hid outside. But I had left that beer on the bar. I got down on all fours and crawled back in. Hookah was raging, screaming, dissonant, artistic. But there was my beer. I could see it. With sisyphean effort I crawled slowly to the bar and hunkered down beneath it. With one hand I reached up and grabbed my PBR. The can quivered as if alive. The roar of Hookah went on and on and then suddenly, as if the very pit of Hell had opened up beneath them and swallowed them whole, all was silence. The audience burst into applause. It was Hookah’s crowd. They’d dug every blast. I’d survived. Art damage lives.
How cowardly I, a jazz critic, had become.
Went out into the beer garden while the next act set up. It’s a popular place, that beer garden. Full of bohemians, freaks and neer-do-wells. They tell stories, some even true, and wonder about lost hair. The women listen to the men’s aches and pains and roll their eyes. Twenty somethings mention their parents. Sometimes we know their parents. Even are their parents. And gigs are planned and bands discussed and suddenly they all have the munchies. A beeline is made for the Salvadoran place next door. They’re cheap and they’ll even bring your food to you right at the bar. I ate a delicious meal that way one night at Cafe NELA watching Don Preston and a free jazz saxophonist from Philadelphia. Yesterday the nice restaurant lady brought over the huevos rancheros I’d ordered. By the time I’d made it back to them the eggs had been sonically transmogrified into a chicken named Pancho who was now the bar mascot. So I skipped dinner.
Hanging out in the beer garden I suddenly heard the unmistakable guitar playing of Carey Fosse. Very talented guy, that Carey Fosse, trapped between rock and funk and jazz and avant garde. He touches on all of them, mixes them, drops them, picks them up again, makes weird shapes. He rocks rootsily, funks groovily, jazzes swingfully, avant gardes freakily. We stood down in the beer garden where by some sort of Twilight Zone miracle we could hear it all perfectly. Cool. We could hang and laugh and bullshit and rag on each other with a Carey Fosse soundtrack. I said time to go in and watch but Donny Popejoy showed up in a Pabst Blue Ribbon tee shirt easily worth another ten minutes chatter. OK, time to go watch Carey Fosse. He was riffing away way cool. I got to the door in time to see him putting away his guitar. It’s all in the timing.
But he had sounded great outside anyway. Very talented guy, that Carey Fosse. Next–unless I’m missing somebody–Ape Killed Ape was entertaining if drummerless. There was a real rock band on at the end I wanted to see but our colds caught up with us and we fled into the night. Great place, that Cafe NELA. The latest–maybe the last even–in the weirdo loser underground hang continuum. It’s been a long way since Al’s Bar. A lot of water under the bridge. And a lot more cheap beer.
Finally saw The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie last night. Maggie Smith, gorgeous locations, etc. It seemed a rather nothing story about an incredibly irritating Scottish teacher and her perfect little students. La creme de la creme she called them. She worshipped beauty, art, perfection, punctuality. It began to get more interesting. A few plot twists and character revelations developed–lust, weirdness, disturbing intimations of a warped sexuality. Then slowly she revealed a fascination for fascism. First in hints. A mention of Mussolini. A true Roman she told her students. The romantic definition of hero, the Shining Hero, something long since lost to us viewers in war and compromise and threats of nuclear annihilation. Finally she revealed herself as an out and out Fascist sympathizer. She showed the class slides of a holiday in Rome, a plaza full of uniformed Fascisti. She mixed with them, she said. They had excited her. She nearly panted at the memory. She remembered exactly what she’d been wearing. Somehow her own perfect attire had matched their perfect uniforms. That startled me. Fashion and fascism. How her personal Romantic ideal and the massed Fascist Ideal blended perfectly. Their muscularity and her femininity. Her sex, their power. Etc, etc. Come the Spanish Civil War the man of the hour became Franco. Oh she could go on about Franco. Near to swooning. I felt an automatic revulsion. We forget now that as many westerners supported the Nationalists as supported for the Republicans, people like Evelyn Waugh, J.R.R. Tolkien, Salvador Dali, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound. Even Gertrude Stein. Miss Brodie’s sympathies would not have been so shocking back then. Perhaps not really shocking at all. No more shocking than those enraptured by Stalin, perhaps even less so. Communists promised revolution and purges. Il Duce promised order. Brodie, we are told (by one of her skeptical students), was quite vocal about her sympathies. It became part of her curriculum. The humanities and fascism blending seamlessly. Her creme de la creme becoming perfect little fascists, she hoped. They didn’t, except for the simple, suggestible one who, swept up in Miss Brodie’s excitement, made for Spain to join her brother fighting for the Nationalists. The poor thing was machine gunned at the French border. Miss Brodie showed little remorse, as the girl had died for the cause, for the new order. A silly eighteen year old girl meeting a glorious death. A heroic death. HInts of ancient Greece. You and I know it was a squalid ugly death, terrifying, an utter waste. In my head I heard her screams. Miss Brodie’s other students, the poor girl’s friends, knew better as well. (Indeed we find out later that the dead girl’s brother was fighting for the Republicans, something that had never occured to Miss Brodie.) By this point the movie had slowly, subtly turned creepy, a fascinating look into just how high minded intellectuals bought into the Fascist ideology. How Mussolini and then Hitler had so many admirers in England, in Europe, throughout the Western world. And just how insidious a thing it was, this fascism, how it could mix with art and poetry and perfection, co-opt Romantic ideals, send middle class kids off in shiny uniforms to conquer and gas and execute and massacre without compunction, leaving tidy notes of how many were killed that day, how many men, women and children, and the inventory of what they left behind, hats, hair, overcoats, gold teeth. We think of Nazis as brownshirted thugs, but the SS took the best and the brightest. There were more brilliant minds in the Reichssicherheitshauptamt than ever joined the German resistance, many times more. Fascism in all its forms–Italian, German, Spanish, Romanian, Hungarian, English, all of it–was fundamentally an intellectual movement. A middle class movement, rooted in universities. Indeed, deep down it had begun in poetry and art. Italians shocked into a new reality, hard and unyielding, by the lunacy of the Great War. As the old world destroyed itself then, empires fell, monarchs executed, tradition and history tossed out the window, the world seemed divided between the deary proletarian future of Bolshevism or the beautifully limned and muscular Fascism. I can’t fathom the appeal at all, that thing that sent chills up young fascist spine, made the hair stand up on their arms, rushed the blood to the brain and loins. But you can see it in Miss Brodie, in her prime, remembering the musk of young rippling fascists on parade and taking unsaid fantasies with her to bed that night on a Roman holiday.
It took total annihilation to rid the world of Fascism. We lopped them off like a gangrenous limb. We hung the thugs and the intellectuals by the neck until dead or pulled their lifeless heads out of their kitchen ovens. We shot down Hitler Youth in their suicidal charges. We jailed nazi functionaries for years and put Ezra Pound in a cage. The trials were endless and humiliating, The denazification more so. Hitler shot himself in his bunker to avoid Mussolini’s fate dangling from a meat hook. Only Franco, smart enough to stay out of the War, survived the collapse of fascism, isolated and silent. Fascism as a living, growing ideology was dead.
Or so we thought. Some Nazis escaped and helped keep the idea alive in South America. Peron seemed fascinated by fascist demagoguery, Pinochet goose stepped with the best of them. But that was a more Latin American thing, more Franco than Italian, devoid of Nazi racial theory and efficiency, their armies incapable of anything but parades, torture and repression. But it’s the idea of fascism that remained in Europe. Some strangely replicating meme that grew from the wreckage of fascist empires. That weird, warped romance, the thuggish hero, the big black shiny boots. The websites full of hate and purity and uniforms and alternative history, A reich that will rise again. There aren’t many of these new fascists–they’ve come nowhere near to seizing power anywhere–but they are there, vocal and obvious and scary. In milder form they’ve influenced elections in France. In savage form they’ve made headlines in Greece. They’ve infected football crowds in Italy and even, shockingly, held rallies in Moscow complete with placards of Adolf Hitler himself. I ask myself just how warped a Russian must be to idolize the very man who tried to exterminate them. Now we’re told that nazi sympathizers pitched in and helped depose the old communist regime in Ukraine, much to the delight of Russian propagandists. If so, that would be the first constructive thing that fascists have done since their post war re-emergence. And what does that mean? I wonder if we’ll ever rid ourselves of the romance of fascism, if it will ever go away. Will it take a generation or centuries? Perhaps,like cancer, it’s built into the very DNA of European civilization, and it will never go away. Perhaps it will even come into intellectual fashion again, with Miss Jean Brodies teaching it to the creme de la creme.
Oh, the movie. It was good. It really was. I thought I was going to hate it, but I couldn’t tear myself away. Maggie Smith was splendid, of course. So were several of the girls. And the artist, though his lechery has not aged well since 1969. The scenery was gorgeous. And if the dialog was oh so precious in too many places, perhaps it might not be to a viewer in Great Britain. At least I told myself so. And yes, it’s utterly ridiculous to reduce a movie review to a tangent on fascism. There was much more going on. I certainly missed the point of the story. But I hadn’t really. It’s just that it was Miss Brodie the fascist that bothered me as I watched the movie. And still bothered me this morning as I drank coffee and listened to the rain, bothered me enough to write this. What an oddly horrible world it must have been where teachers taught fascism with art and etiquette and knew in their hearts they were right.
Back in 1978 I was hanging out with my pals Mike Oran and Ian Hill at KCSB, the UC Santa Barbara radio station. Jose Rizo–twenty years now with KKJZ–was program manager then, already doing the Jazz on the Latin Side thing. He took a little convincing (Beat on the brat with a baseball bat…what’s that about?) but let the guys have their show. Mike and Ian’s was maybe the first all punk/new wave college radio show on the West Coast, maybe in the whole country. It went beyond hip, this stuff was all so new, so edgy, so crazy and so unbelievably fun. Anyone lucky enough to be around then remembers that feeling. A revolution. Everyday something new, something different, something you had never imagined before. What a perfect age to be 21, the old world crumbling all around you and this new crazy music everywhere. It’s all we talked about, listened to, thought about, cared about. So being there in that little radio booth at KCSB was like being at the epicenter. I’d bring in records and they spun them. Stuff I liked, I bought, and now it was being played and you could hear it all up and down the south coast and out to sea, provided you were up past 2 am on a Sunday morning. Most people in Santa Barbara weren’t. But the right ones were. People who listened to punk and no wave stayed up all night anyway. Sunshine was for hippies, and we hated hippies.
Can’t remember where I’d bought the Tuxedomoon 12″. But the song No Tears was a knock out, a mind blower. My friends played the tune–I think I even back announced it later–and as it was jamming the phone lit up. A lady wanted to know what was playing. They handed the phone to me. I told her it was No Tears by Tuxedomoon, that they were from San Francisco. She said she loved it. We talked a minute. No idea about what. She sounded cute and wild. Then we said goodbye and hung up. I wondered who she was. It must have been four in the morning. No tears for the creatures of the night Tuxedomoon sang. No tears.
That was the first time I ever spoke to my wife. We met a year later. I’d kicked her boyfriend out–I didn’t know it was his place, actually, not that it mattered–and was pretty much living there. I brought along some records. We listened to the records and partied and talked a million miles a minute. I put on No Tears. I love song that song she said. I heard it on the radio. I called and asked who it was and some guy told me it was Tuxedomoon….
Someone said it was fate.
It’s impossible to pick just one Betty Grable photo. When I start writing a piece I’ll find a bunch of photos that I can pick from, and I’ll tuck them away into some dark corner of the blog. These have been hidden away for a long time. Still, every day, someone googles their way in. Until now that was the only way to get there. Yet it’s one of the most visited pages on the entire blog…and that’s without key words (though I just added some.) Betty Grable still has fans, or her legs do, anyway. I’ll need one of these pics for a piece I’m writing on Betty Grable’s house. The one she shared with Harry James. The essay is mostly about Harry James. There’s a page of his photos too. But no one ever googles their way into that one. Nobody remembers Harry James much anymore. Not like they remember his wife and her million dollars legs. Betty may be long gone, but a great pair of stems is forever.
Alas, as soon as I finish that piece these disappear. So enjoy.
Today was one of those days I was wishing I was in Bakersfield. Jonesin’ for a day trip again. And I don’t mean George Jones–well, I do, but I really mean Merle. Or Buck. Or just drinking whiskey at the Old Corral, listening to a good honky tonk band, the Kern River meandering by way down there at the foot of the bluff, innocent as a new born baby.
My bro Jon’s over at the pad now, listening to the test pressing of his new record. It’s an EP, five songs, on some very nice vinyl. Calls it The Angst Blues of Jon Wahl & the Amadans. I think it’s the best he’s ever done. Certainly knocked me out. Magnificent stuff, state of the art, lots of improv but never just a rock band fucking around. It’s a three piece recorded like a classic Blue Note session (with a bit of overdubbed guitar). That’s Jon’s long time drummer Bob Lee (of Claw Hammer) and Bill Tutton (of the legendary Geraldine Fibbers) on bass. Loud beautiful edgy swinging rocking strange righteous grooving walloping stuff. And dig that crazy Telecaster. Jon’s still a killer songwriter as well as player, with an ear for melody but never simpering powerpop shit or hokey rock’n'roll will never die crap. Not my brother. Can’t wait till it comes out.
And if that is a Nick Drake cover–”Pink Moon”–Nick Drake would never recognize it. He’d probably love it, though. And Jon swears that the intro to “Her Eyes Are Like Perhaps a Gem” is Beethoven’s string quartet Grosse Fugue, Opus 133. I couldn’t tell. But he says people do, live. People are so smart anymore. I did pick up on the Moby Grape licks, though. But then I turned him onto that album a zillion years ago. Older brothers, you know. But I didn’t know that “Her Eyes Are Like Perhaps a Gem” is an e e cummings reference. Little brothers are so smart anymore.
Anyway, this will be coming out on Elastic Records and will be vinyl only and the initial run is 500 copies so when it hits the stores the middle of March be there. You are gonna play this one to death.