Raji’s

(unpublished essay–2011)

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Heard the Small Faces “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” over the weekend and it’s been going thru my head, and just found myself wiki-ing Steve Marriott to see when exactly he died. I remembered he was an old geezer at the time, one of my heroes. Well, that was 1991, and he was the ancient age of 44. I was 34 then. Funny how ten years seemed a much longer time when you’re 34 than when you’re 54. But there was that whole musical revolution between us, too. He was a hippie, me a punk. But goddam was Steve Marriott cool. I remember being hit kinda hard when he died.  I suppose all the Humble Pie I’d grown up on. Then a couple days later when Johnny Thunders died it was more of a thank god he’s finally gone, that pathetic junkie. Harsh, maybe, yeah. But he was. I’d known too many junkies and junkies-to-be that idolized him. Poor Johnny. He might be alive if he was his hero Keith Richards, maybe. The stupid, stubborn fuck. Great sound he had on that guitar, though. One of the great rock stylists. Of course he wasn’t original, but then neither was Keith Richards. So what, it’s just rock’n’roll. Not art, just great rock’n’roll.

I was at Raji’s a couple weekends after the two of them died, at the bar upstairs. It was the coolest joint in Hollywood for a stretch there, God what a place that was in its glory days. Anyway I was at the bar there in the upstairs lobby talking about Steve Marriott dying with some pal of mine, can’t remember who. There was one of those Hastings Hotel junkies standing next to me, listening. He woke up. Steve Marriott is dead? Yeah, man, a couple weeks ago. He shook his head…..oh man. Yeah, he died just before Johnny Thunders died. Silence for a long second. Johnny Thunders is dead? I said yeah. Oh man. He shook his head and you could nearly see emotion on his face, and he slunk off.

That’s that story. The junkie wandering off into oblivion, all his heroes dead or dying. Nowadays you’d say LOL. Back then we just watched and shook our heads. Sometimes I wonder what happened to all those junkies when they tore the place down? I wonder if any are still even alive. Maybe the found Jesus. Or L. Ron Hubbard. LOL.

Actually, one of the most heartbreaking incidents in my entire life happened at Raji’s, though I didn’t know it at the time. Maybe you remember how the Hastings Hotel upstairs was notorious as a hang out for old queens and the young men who serviced them, the skinniest, creepiest, saddest little fags you ever saw in your life. You rarely saw the old queens, though. They were more into chanteuses and drag bars, like the Gaslight a few blocks over, but the kids, all in their teens and twenties, would sometimes hang inside Raji’s for the rock’n’roll and because so many of them were strung out and hell, so was a lot of the Raji’s crowd, gawd bless ‘em. Well, way back in the early 80’s before there even was a club at Raji’s (it was all about the Cathay de Grande then, a couple blocks west) me and my buddy Chuck were trying to put a band together (which was realized in the madness known as Renfield Brick, but that’s another story.) One of the guys we tried out for a while was this kid we’ll call Ron. Ron from Ventura. He was a tall, lanky, good looking rock’n’roll kid, a great guy. He was paired up with Connie, one of those hot Debbie Harry-esque blondes all us guys were so taken with back in that era. Connie (we’ll call her Connie) was a hottie, too, a tightly built badass little thing. Everyone wanted to do her, even girls wanted to do her, but she and Ron were tight, to the point where Ron’n’Connie became like Brick’n’Fyl–one name. (She did do Chuck, though, virtually raped the guy, leaped on him and tore off his jeans and pulverized him into the floor. When she was sated–which apparently took some doing–she swore him to secrecy, which he maintained till one drunken, grinning confession years later…..wearing me to secrecy, which I maintained until now, when it no longer matters, since so many of the parties involved are dead.) Anyway, they all lived downtown in a loft at 5th and Los Angeles, right at the epicenter of Skid Row, this horrible, stripped ancient wreck of a turn of the century flop house. It looked like what was left of Berlin in 1945. A great place for band practice, but a horrible place to live. (Remember the Fear song: “A man with no legs crawling down 5th street/Trying to die or get something to eat?” It was exactly like that outside.) Heroin, you’ll remember, was sold openly–no, blatantly–on Spring Street just a couple blocks over. You put some kids in the 20’s and heroin next to each other and experimentation is inevitable. A little chipping. They still call it that, just chipping a little smack. Just for kicks. Chipping turns into a habit in no time, sometimes just a couple weeks. Every one of the kids living there got strung out. Every fucking one. Even my best friend Chuck, who’s buried on a shady hillside far from all this. But I thought Ron had been spared. He and Connie moved out soon enough, into Hollywood. But Ron had been chipping afterall. Connie hadn’t. You can score junk readily in Hollywood too, a better class of junk off a better class of dealers. Go from that black tar crap to the nice white stuff preferred by rock stars. Soon Ron wasn’t just chipping anymore. I didn’t know that, though, and wouldn’t have believed it anyway. Not Ron. I did hear later that Ron’n’Connie were sundered, split into two words again. But she was a hot blonde chick, and hot blonde chicks who move to Hollywood from the sticks always eventually split their small town men. You can sleep with a better class of men in Hollywood, stars even. Amazing how hard and cynical you get in this town after a too many years living here, but that’s how we saw it then. And I had no idea she split because he was a junkie. Or maybe she split because he was chipping and then he became a junkie. That way you can pin the blame on her. I put the blame on him. My pal on her…but they’d dated somewhere at some point and he was still bitter years later. But who really knows why Ron and Connie split, and I lost track of him completely. Forgot about the two of them. We were busy, our lives full and exciting and that was so long ago and insignificant.

Five or six years later (an eternity at that age) I’m at Raji’s. Maybe 1990. This ghostly figure, thinner than thin, pale, made up and in ghastly drag right down to the ridiculous nail polish sidled up next to me while I was watching some band. Hi Brick. I looked and didn’t recognize him but said hi back. He tried to make conversation and if I remember right he even told me his name but I didn’t know who the fuck he was and he realized it and said see ya and so did I, ever polite. I remember he looked kinda hurt but seemed resigned about it. I’d been around the scene a long time and a zillion more people know me than I know them and my memory has been so wrecked by epileptic seizures that I’m used to not recognizing people. He was just another of those people I don’t recognize.  Raji’s was full of freaks, anyway, like all the best clubs were back then, and I was pretty buff in  those days and was used to confused if gutsy queers hitting on me every once in a while (thought typically they wore leather.) But there was something a little disconcerting about this time, like maybe I did know the guy somehow, enough so that it hung with me for a long time. But hey, that’s life in the big city. These were hard ass times, the tail end of the Reagan Bush years. Everyone was broke, embittered, fucked over and surviving despite all that. No room for sentimentality. Fuck all that. The world would end any day anyhow, the streets are full of crackheads, cops are shooting people, AIDS is epidemic and no one gives a fuck about us anyway. We just wanted to rock out, raise hell, fuck and party. Whoever the hell that dude/dudette was certainly never bothered me any.

Years later I was talking with a pal about Ron’n’Connie. Asked whatever happened to them. Connie was married or divorced maybe and working at a studio somewhere, just another aging blonde at some shit studio job in Hollywood. And Ron? My buddy looked at me funny. He’s dead, didn’t you hear? OD’d. They found him dead at the Hastings Hotel. What the fuck? He overdosed? Yeah, he was living there at the Hastings. Totally strung out. He was doing the old queens upstairs just to score enough shit to keep him going. He wore make up and painted his nails and was just this side of being a drag queen. He was a male whore. I looked stunned. Sorry. I thought you knew. No, I’d had no idea. Yeah, man, it was the saddest thing ever. Sadder than sad. It was better that he died, since he was already dead.

Fuck. Ron? Our Ron?

Yeah, Ron.

Holy Jesus.

And suddenly I realized who that ghostly figure had been–or once been–at Raji’s years before.  Why he came across like we were friends. Because we had been. Hell, we’d been band mates for a little while, something deeper than being a friend. We’d made rock’n’roll together. We’d hung out and played records and argued music and drank and smoked big fat joints and watched girls walk by and talked about their legs and asses. All the stuff young men do…. My heart just broke. Man, this town is rough.

Of course, the building that comprised the Hastings Hotel on the upper floors and Rajis underneath is long gone, a victim of the Northridge Earthquake. It’s a parking lot now. Every parking lot in Hollywood was once something else. We used to hang out in the parking lot behind Raji’s and pass joints around. We’d take deep hits and keep an eye out for cops. Then we’d all go back into Raji’s through the back entrance because the bouncer was cool and we’d rock out to the next band.  What a scene. What a blast. None of us knew then that the parking lot in back had once been the Hollywood Legion Stadium, the boxing ring. The stars would all hang there to watch the fights and bet and mingle with the mob. It was one of the hottest places in all Hollywood during Hollywood’s glory days.  Now you’d park your car there. $5 most nights. Today that lot is the Hollywood Athletic club, and where Raji’s stood is a parking lot. $10. Being a parking lot, there are no ghosts at all. Memories blow over the asphalt till the rememberers die. Then there’s nothing left at all. When that time comes, Ron will cease existing altogether. Not a trace left. Not a memory, not a name, not a meme. Like he’d never been.

Nothing beside remains.

Nothing beside remains.

You can find more of my stories here and essays here and humor here and even jazz writing here.