Tuba City

That Sonic Spicy Chicken roller coaster commercial is conceptually disturbing. I was innocently watching a dull hockey game–Calgary hasn’t won a hockey game in Anaheim in over ten years, though Canadians prefer not to think about it–and then thirty seconds later I was rendered speechless and bewildered. All I could think was Bob and Ray with a chicken sandwich. WelI, I could think other things, actually, I mean I’m not that stupid, but I did think Bob and Ray with a chicken sandwich. I love Bob and Ray. I have a couple years’ worth of Bob and Ray radio shows. One time I spent an entire day at work doing paperwork and listening to Bob and Ray. I came out conceptually disturbed. Like the day after an acid trip. Everything looked different, weird, funny. I kind of liked it. I had the same feeling after this Sonic commercial. Maybe I’m just unusually susceptible to the weird and amusing. Not chicken sandwiches, though, which I don’t especially care for. I once got a chicken sandwich at the Sonic in Tuba City. Not so good. Great commercial, though. Incidentally, if there are any tubas in Tuba City I didn’t hear them. Not like Drum City. But that’s drums, not tubas. If there are any tubas in Drum City, I didn’t hear them.

If I were Herb Alpert….

Was reading about the lost art of cassette tape spines at Dangerous Minds. Silly little bit of nostalgia, maybe,but it brought back some memories.

I have sooooooooooooooooooo many of these…Found a mess of wonderful compilation tapes I made back in the 80′s (before they were even called mix tapes) and I don’t even know what all the music is, even though I made them. I remember watching High Fidelity and knowing how infinitely cooler, crazier and non-bogus my compilation tapes were than their weak record geek little things. And I didn’t need no fucking theme either. Then again, mine weren’t plot devices. And it was a good movie. But I’d never invite any of those losers to a party at my place. Jack Black maybe, if he promised to be an asshole. None of the sensitive little fucks, tho’. The world is full of sensitive little fucks, and they all irritate me. Anyway, some of the tapes I found have this stoned spine art, of course. I can’t really get into the mindset of the stoner cassette (or K7, to use 80′s hipster speak) spine artist, tho’. LIke what was I thinking. Did we really have that much spare time back then? What a lazily analog world that was. We read books. Whole books. Imagine that. And we hung out and talked with people we actually knew, and could even reach out and touch, especially if we were drunk and they were female and probably played bass in a band.

And then the non-DIY variety cassettes used to be something you could pick up for a quarter (as in two bits, not weed) at your local used record store. They’d be tucked away in some hard to find nook, the shame of the store (8-Tracks you couldn’t find at all, and reel to reels were under glass, with gramophone cylinders and music rolls and quad LPs). Suddenly cassettes are collectible. Why they are collectible I have no idea. But they are. I asked my brother why. He said because they’re analog. I said but they suck. He said yeah, but they’re analog. I said but it’s such a lame technology. He said but they’re analog. I changed the subject. But it’s a shame. picking up some obscure jazz release on cassette for a quarter was s small thrill. But I will not pay three dollars for a John Coltrane cassette, I’m sorry. That is just stupid. Four bits I’m OK with though. But anything more than that seems fundamentally wrong. So I stopped seeking out the corner where they hid the cassettes away. But I have too many cassettes already. And having any cassettes at all is having too many cassettes. Not that I’m getting rid of them.

Part of the problem is that it’s virtually impossible to actually play them anywhere. I still have my ridiculously fancy double cassette deck I bought cheap in the technology’s final throes. It has all these sad features that  attempted to match CDs. You can program a cassette and it will play the tunes in any order you want. One tune will end with a loud click, then the machine will whir, click, whir again, click again, and another tune will come out. All these tunes off a cassette played in random sequence. Both sides. Side A, track three followed by side two track seven followed by side one track one. Whatever. It seemed so sad and pointless. LIke making a really nifty adding machine to compete with calculators. A slide ruler that glowed in the dark to compete with personal computers. Yet I consider it a tragedy that cars no longer have built in cassette players. Best was a cassette/CD player. Ideal would be cassette/CD/mp3 player. Of course now cars come with a built in computer. So you have CD/mp3 player/infinite variety of web-based music. Which  is when  you crash the car. So you hire a chauffeur. A french maid/driver combo, ideally. She cleans the upstairs, she drives the BMW.  So the perfect car would have a cassette/CD/Mp3/internet/chauffeur/french maid combo. With a back seat quintet option. For those warm summer nights on a wide open freeway going nowhere fast and East Broadway Run Down blasting from the back seat, live.

Maybe a motor home would be better. Can you imagine anything cooler? Hauling ass across the Mojave at three in the morning,, the craziest shit happening right behind you. That long sleepy night time stretch between Baker and State Line, all the scenery, the long dead volcanoes to the south, the vast beds of ancient lakes, the desiccated mountains all not there at three in the morning, utterly gone,, and you’d be ensconced in that driver’s seat, drinking coffee but thinking of whiskey and behind you some handpicked players playing as long. long set, hundreds of miles worth of jazz. Inner Urge? They’d tear into it. The Bridge? Like you’d never heard it. Giant Steps? Need you ask? Then next stop 88 miles and they break into East Broadway Run Down and you’re barreling past all those goddamn trucks. You’re flying. Like this is the most righteous motor home ever. It’s maxed out, tricked out, pumped up, and fully stocked. There’s a bar, a bartender even, and it’s like a 747 lounge but way cooler. I read about a party Jackie Gleason threw on a train from New York City to Los Angeles. A solid week of a rolling righteous party. People got off that train and they died right there in Union Station of shock. Too many sober everywhere.  Bad for the system. They hadn’t seen somebody sober who wasn’t in a Pullman uniform since Albany. (The city, not Joe.) Well I’d throw a motor home party and zig zag across the states with live jazz and beautiful scenery and local eateries and picnics full of leftovers and produce from farmer’s roadside produce stands. Stop late at night, sit round a fire and talk and talk. Drinks, marshmallows, the sweet smell of reefer coming from somewhere. Low volume chatter, people are sleeping. Early next morning we’d relaunch with a scatter of gravel and an open road. Put something into the cassette/cd/mp3 player. Something easy to start with. And more coffee. There’d still be a little pink in the eastern sky. No fixed direction, no plan, no nothing. Just moving and looking and breathing all that air. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere the band would start., just jamming on a blues. A long lazy trumpet solo. A river off in the distance. Mountains ahead. A fork in the road. Someone flip a coin. Left or right. East, west, north, south. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just keep moving and jamming and living a crazy, beautiful life. Of course there’s the money thing, the reality thing. But if I were a Herb Alpert, say, this is what I would do.

Man, this story got a little off track back there. We were talking about cassette covers. Blogging is like a too long saxophone solo, or an acid trip. Or a crazy guy on a bus, talking and talking.

But I really have thought those thoughts out there on the road. Alas I have to work like everyone else. All the stories I could be making, but can’t afford to, so I make them up.

Analog

There’s nothing like accidentally posting a random collection of notes to your WordPress blog and then having to go into all the social media sites and deleting it. This didn’t happen when this stuff was all analog, with an analog pen and analog paper and analog edits and analog scratching out and analog illegibility. Not to mention the lost art of margin doodling. Times were simpler then. Messier, but simpler. I almost miss ink stained hands.

I have a whole box full of analog words like that. Page after analog page. I like looking at the edits. The sentences lined out and rewritten in the margins.The paragraphs lifted up and dropped onto a whole other page. Sometimes there are entire pages scratched out that I really like now. This was a much younger brain, I wonder what it thought when it saw this stuff. And this was before email, before instant messages, before texting and tweets and Facebook posts. Before the comments sections on news sites. Before blogging. This was a different universe. In that universe none of you people would be reading this. In fact none of you would have read anything I wrote unless you picked up a West Coast Review of Books or an obscure rock zine or two.

But that universe was pure creativity, a lab, a mass of failure, the occasional gem. Rhymes even. Certainly a lot of epilepsy. I keep thinking I ought to drag that box out of the closet and zap some of that stuff into the digital universe. But there’s so much. It’s a helluva lot of work, transcribing. And it feels weird going back in time like that. You begin to feel the way you felt decades and decades ago. That fresh, unwrinkled skin. The raging testosterone. The stupidity, on one hand, and then all those brain cells long since gone. What would it feel to be  dropped into your twenty-five year old body with a brain half again as big as mine now? Would it be noticeable? How could it not be? Like moving into a sprawling ranch house from a two bedroom apartment. All this snuggly comfort would be gone in all those rooms, but think of the views you’d have. Views you’d given up as your life got smaller, narrower, quieter.

Our brains are at the maximum size in our twenties…after that the brain doesn’t bother replacing the cells–neurons and glia both–it doesn’t think are necessary. We don’t have a choice, it does it for us, it economizes. Such a shame. We’ll never know exactly what we’ve lost, but we know we lost something. I lost all those analog thoughts and memories. I’d love to have them back. Or maybe I don’t. Digital is easier, Editing so simple. Mistakes so easily hidden. Things, worthless or not, so easy to save. I guess that’s a good thing.

So I’ll put off pulling out that box again and live in the now. It’s easier that way. As much as I reminisce about the analog universe, this digital one is much easier, while it lasts. Civilization is on the cusp of the next step. You can feel it. Something beyond this even, something beyond the written word. And people like me will be museum pieces then. Historical oddities. We wrote. You what? Wrote. What was that? This. That? Yeah this. Why?

Why? I have no idea why. We just did.

Obamajam

Every time a prez or a pope visits Los Angeles, or a Michael Jackson dies, there are traffic jams for a couple hours.  Except now they get on Facebook and the whole world shrieks. Remember when Carmageddon was gonna end civilization as we know it?

It didn’t. 

I was just down on the prez’s motorcade route a bit a go and had no idea he’d even been there a couple hours earlier. Traffic was normal, the secret service all gone, and civilization remained. Even the birds flew.

I think in a decade or two Facebook and Twitter will stop controlling our thoughts and actions, and we’ll all start thinking again.

The 405 in the Sepulveda Pass. Sometimes it moves.

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The Bags

A great band the Bags were, hard and fast and smart and totally L.A. They didn’t need the English, not the Bags. This was home grown, our own town sound. Actually, there never was an Alice Bag Band as they call them in this movie…legal reasons meant they couldn’t be listed as the Bags (there was  a law suit, ugliness). It’s a shame when a band gets their shot at posterity and finds out they can’t use their own name. Oh well. I still have their lone single, on Dangerhouse, I bought it back then. Its B-side was their best tune, I always thought, Babylonian Gorgon:

Don’t need no false reasons for why I’m out of place,
I don’t goose step for the master race.
I don’t scream and twist just for the fun of it.
I’m poison blood when im pissed! * 

And oh yeah, Alice was hot. Dangerously hot

This clip of the Bags playing “Gluttony” (see below) is from The Decline of Western Civilization. We even knew back then that it was a classic flick. Director Penelope Spheeris nailed it. If only she could have filmed twenty bands, there were so many great bands in town back then. Spheeris and her camera people really captured the feel, sound, smell, and energy of those shows. The exhilaration and the scariness. It was cool, that music scene, it was happening. We went opening night. You’ve never seen so many cop cars. Hollywood Blvd looked like a black’n’white parking lot. Fuck the pigs we said. Not long afterward like Lee Ving I spent a night in the Wilcox Hotel, aka the Hollywood jail, where I took on eight cops. They won. Later I became a well behaved intellectual.
 

Everybody had the soundtrack album, I still do, and most of us can recite extended passages from memory. I even quoted this movie a few times while writing all those Brick’s Picks columns, and the jazz fans never knew. I wonder if they wondered who Lee Ving was. One of those session cats, maybe. Or a bebop disc jockey from Hong Kong. I never explained.

Wow, going back,way back…that scene was thirty five years ago almost. A swell time was had by all, though a bunch died. In fact two of the Bags did. It happens. Though listening to this cut, about a minute in, when the tune explodes out of a dirge into pure, electrifying L.A. punk rock, you’d think nobody is gonna die, ever.

Oh yeah, check out Alice Bag’s well crafted memoir, Violence Girl. Saw her do a reading a few months back at a hip hang in Los Feliz. She read a chapter, talked some, and then did a remarkable little take on “Babylonian Gorgon”. Glad I went.

And lastly there’s a memorial page for guitarist Craig Lee, who had become the quintessential LA Weekly music critic. AIDS killed him in 1991. People took it hard. The next day someone spray painted “We Miss You Craig!” all along Hyperion Avenue in big broken hearted punk rock letters.

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“Gluttony” by the Alice Bag Band from The Decline of Western Civilization:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWKidzzA2FQ

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* “Babylonian Gorgon”….I think Craig Lee wrote both song and lyrics. I assume he was talking about what they used to call the Huntington Beach scene in 1979, the year this single was released. Though maybe he was alluding to Darby Crash (of the Germs) as well, who seemed a little fascinated with the dark side. That Bowie thing that people have forgotten about. Neither of them meant it, it just shocked the hippies. That went all the way back to the Velvets, with Lou Reed going on about shiny boots of leather…that weird place where bondage and leather and Nazi look and fashion meet. I think that theme has exhausted itself here in the States, maybe so many of the devotees died during the AIDS epidemic, and most bikers you see now are lawyers and stockbrokers. Europe seems as fascinated as ever, though. Then again they invented both kinky leather bondage and fascism, not to mention nice uniforms. We’re just dumb,sloppy Americans. Even as the Third Reich met its cataclysmic end in fire and ruins and annihilation, you have to admit their soldiers looked better.

But I think Craig Lee was also over reacting to the demographic change then taking place in the L.A. punk scene. By 1979 kids were pouring in from the suburbs. They’d listen to Rodney on the Roq spinning all this amazing music and get their high school outcast buddies and head to the Hong Kong and Madame Wongs and raise holy hell and scare the bejesus out of the jaded old–almost twenty five, some of them–Hollywood scenesters. And the English music press–which is what we all read then, Zig Zag and Sounds–was full of frightening fascist punks and the Rock Against Racism response, and I think Craig saw those white surfer kids here with their close cropped hair from “the Beach” (Huntington to Hermosa, inclusive) and assumed they were all big scary nazis. But this wasn’t England, and these kids weren’t nazis, they were bored surfer kids exploding with testosterone and energy. And as the Hollywood scene sank into heroin the best new stuff began coming out of Fullerton and San Pedro and Hermosa Beach anyway. But that was still in the future a bit. The Bags were part of the first wave of Los Angeles punk bands who played the Masque–that demented bashed up little hole off Hollywood Blvd–and  helped changed rock’n’roll forever. For a couple years there, from 1977 to maybe 1980, the Hollywood punk scene–all the Dangerhouse bands–made some of the best rock music of its time. There was so much creativity in the clubs back then, all this spontaneous brilliance and inspiration, and rock’n’roll–our rock’n’roll, raw and new and uncompromising–seemed like the most important thing in the world.

Now that was a footnote.

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Nate Morgan

Pianist Nate Morgan has slipped away.

He’d been ill for some time, his playing days behind him. But those were some days. You’d have been hard pressed to find a more inspired and exciting jazz piano player in all of L.A. There were nights at Charlie O’s that were extraordinary, and nights at the World Stage that defied my powers of description. That was his scene, Leimert Park, going way back. I always thought that was where you saw the real Nate Morgan. It was at the World Stage that he truly connected. And I’m so happy I got to see him all there those times, and that I later even got to know him, gruff and silent and smartassed in that jazzman way. 

The thing about jazz is that it’s so improvisational and when you hear something, no matter how brilliant, you’ll never hear it again. Certainly not live. Of course you can listen back over and over if it was recorded. But like most LA jazz players, especially our black jazz players, his recorded legacy is thin, so thin. There was an era when a Nate Morgan would have had a dozen albums, maybe two dozen. They’d be classics, too, all of them. Now instead you have to hear him playing up a storm on other people’s records. And it’s hard to find most of those, even. L.A. jazz just disappears with the players anymore. Everything they were on their instruments, all that glorious music they pitched into, it just disappears. Fades with the time. People talk and remember and tell their stories. They relive in their heads the magic nights in Leimert Park or Charlie O’s. But even we rememberers will be gone too, eventually. And what happens to jazz when those that remember it are gone? I don’t know.

But for now I’ll remember big, hulking Nate Morgan spinning those incredibly beautiful solos of his. I’ll remember his perfectly understated comping, the hints of the melody dropped in just right. I’ll remember too the sheer intelligence of his playing, the grace in his fingers, his fearless improvisation. But mostly I’ll think back on those truly memorable nights when Nate Morgan seemed like one of the greatest piano players you had ever heard.

Nate Morgan

Nate Morgan

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Harvey

You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space — but any objections! 

Elwood P Dowd, Harvey 

Facebook exists outside of time. It’s like the past and present are one. A story ten years old will be posted and commented on as if it’s happening right now. Yesterday I saw a thirty year old story that people assumed was new. I politely pointed this out. The commenters didn’t see the point. Thirty years ago or now, it didn’t matter. Forget it Jake, it’s Facebook time.

I keep seeing hoaxes and urban myths reappear. They  invariably are believed, often by the same people who knew they were hoaxes years ago when they went around via email. But email was a different universe. Different laws of physics. Time was sequential then. Email was how we communicated on the Internet, and the Internet was virtual reality. It followed the rules of reality. There was a then and a now, and what was then could not suddenly be now. People noticed.

People don’t notice now. And even if they do, they don’t care. They just hit the Like button. There’s time and there’s the like button. Liking trumps temporal reality every time. Facebook is becoming a whole other reality, devoid of linear time, devoid of objective truth, devoid of any standards of accuracy whatsoever. People will believe anything they see, and whatever is posted becomes reality, though only in Facebook. You repeat a Facebook story at a party and somebody will go to Snopes and make you look stupid. Someone else will go to Wikipedia and make you look stupider. There’ll be an orgy of smartphone fact checking at your expense. You’re not on Facebook anymore. Reality is harsh, real time is linear, and people can be rude, cruel and brutally sarcastic. They laugh, you turn red and retreat into the security of your iPhone. At Brick’s party, you post, surrounded by a**holes.

Sometimes I think that the Internet made people much more informed than they had ever been, and Facebook is rendering us all stupid again. But then again, Facebook is nicer. Pleasant, even. No one  trolls, and no one’s an a**hole.

Years ago my mother used to say to me, “Elwood, in this world you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Elwood P Dowd, Harvey  

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Elitist

I can’t remember what the battle was over–and it was via email,long before Facebook–but I was once being accused of being a Reagan Republican. Me, a lifelong Liberal Democrat, and a Yellow Dog Democrat at that, accused in the angriest possible tone, in brilliant, beautiful prose of being a Reagan Republican.. And no matter what I said in my defense, it just proved that I was a Reagan Republican. My not being radical Left didn’t help my case any, if anything my aversion to Marxism  just proved his point. The guy was insistent that I was a Reagan Republican.

By then I was getting pretty irritated. So I said look,man, like what have you ever actually done aside from posting angry comments online? That’s all you do, right? Just write angry emails. I mean I’ve been an activist. Doing what? he said, knocking on doors for Reagan?  I  said no, back then I was organizing support for the UFW.

Silence.

Elitists like you make me sick, he said.

I gave up.

Global warming

One of global warming’s guilty pleasures is that it has made life in Southern California so much more pleasant. The warmer waters off shore have given us much milder winters (and lower heating bills), while those same warmer waters have made the air mass over southern california in the summer more stable and less easily dispersed by the baking hot air mass from the deserts. That has made santa ana winds much less frequent and much less intense. Which in turn has dramatically reduced local wild fires and improved our air quality substantially.

On the down side it has lifted pollen counts substantially and made pandemic hay fever a fact of life. Plus it’s not the heat anymore, it’s the humidity. So there.

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In death as in life

Ya know, since Lou Reed died I’m hearing the Velvet Underground everywhere non-stop, but only the nice stuff. “Jesus” is suddenly everyone’s favorite song, and it’s all about the third album or that mellow live 1969. I mean I like those too but come on, if that’s all there was you wouldn’t even remember who they were. Just another sweet folkie band. You know the Velvet Underground because of Heroin and European Son and Sister Ray. It was all that crazy noise that set them apart. Noise and heavy, ugly lyrics. Heroin is not a pretty song. New York’s not a pretty place.
 

I think that when someone dies and you only show his sweet, sensitive side you’re insulting him. In death as in life, I say. Turn it up.

Sister Ray:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53F5nY68cBM

Just like Sister Ray said.

Just like Sister Ray said.