Totally reorganizing everything…there were far too many words to keep on one website and even I was getting confused. So I set up a new site called brickpicks.com that covers broadly cultural things. It’s me in my critic persona. There’s another new site called brickspolitics.com that is my shill site, in Bernie-speak, though I thought shills got paid. Brickshistory.com is about the past. Bricksscience.com is about (or vaguely about) things scientific. Bricksbrain.com is about brains (mine, yours, anybody’s). There might be another site to come. Meanwhile, this here old site, brickwahl.com, will emphasize my usual storytelling and pretty writing that makes the ladies roll their eyes.
Sold a mess of LPs today, making room for books. Sold a mess of CDs this week, too. The collection gets smaller and smaller. The library–books–gets bigger and bigger. CDs I like, but they are certainly unhip. Plus I can’t read the liner notes. OK, I never did read liner notes. But even if I did read them, I couldn’t. Vinyl is hip but hopelessly analog. Cassettes I have because I haven’t transferred them onto anything wise. Otherwise I trawl YouTube, though spend too much at it and you get that lazy and worthless feeling, particularly if you read the comments. Eventually, I am reduced to humming to myself, off key, as I pull books out of the closet and slip them in the empty spaces where LPs used to be. I turn off the computer and retreat into a vast and erudite tome on the middle ages, the sort that makes me so dull to sit next to at cocktail parties. We’re still in the late classical period. Rome stands, though they’ve stopped draining the marshes and malaria has returned. The emperor is up in Ravenna, near Venice. Just ain’t the same. It’ll all be over soon enough, though, and things get all fucked up and eventually, well past the last page of the book, I’ll sit here typing this.
You know Silver Lake is not completely gentrified when the crackhead (possibly schizophrenic) babydaddy of your next door neighbor, who rants at all hours about how he is possessed by “el Diablo,” is caught sharpening a humongous machete in front of your house, spends one night in jail, and then he’s back in front of the door, macheteless but still screaming about the fucking Diablo.
Ah wow, nostalgia. This was the Silver Lake (though it was Silverlake then, before all the gueros moved back) that I knew and loved from the mid 80’s till sometime after its third or fourth cover of Los Angeles magazine.
Crack, cool. OK, maybe not cool, but you used to be able to buy that where the Silver Lake farmer’s market is now. Or on Micheltorena across from the school. Or at Parkman, right on the sidewalk, across from the liquor store where my pal Dave got beat up for badmouthing a couple cholos. Dave always was kind of an idiot that way. It didn’t pay to be an idiot back then. Now it does, and you get to write for the LA Weekly or be a reality star or an independent film maker. Back then you got beat up by cholos at Sunset and Parkman, or OD’d on junk or got AIDS. Maybe the cops busted you in somebody’s bushes with some bear you just met on Griffith Park Blvd. Try explaining that one to the new neighbors.
I heard the worst poetry I ever heard in a bar where Cheetah’s is now. A chick screaming in free verse about sodomy. Though she didn’t call it that. She’d written the poem while so engaged. Bent over and hating herself and writing bad poetry. Seriously, that’s what she told us. I wondered why I was there. But I digress.
There used to be lots of gays in Silver Lake too. No really, I remember. You could hear their sounds of love deep into the night, plus they threw great parties. And the dykes would beat the living fuck out of each other outside the club where the free clinic is now. They wore huge boots and drove big pick up trucks and beat each other up. No tea parties in Silverlake. Not then.
There were still a few hippies left, I knew some, theirs was a different world. Talk of soap factories and love ins. We just stared, blinking in disbelief. Then we’d smoke pot together out of some ancient bong. There even remained a few ancient beatniks. Embittered, angry, hating everything…they hadn’t changed a bit. And punks, though getting into their late twenties and beyond, still scared customers away.
There was a gay bookstore, a gay steakhouse, a gay hamburger joint, a gay coffee shop, and bathhouses you could emerge from sparkling clean. We had a zillion gay weekly papers, all outrageous, and one very serious Lesbian News. There was a lesbian auto mechanic.
We had crime too, lots of it. You could have your car battery, your car radio and your car itself stolen, sometimes in the same week if it was your lucky day. We had shootings and murders and a Colombian gang that specialized in pick pocketing and breaking and entering. Suicides were popular.
We had a laundromat that had poetry readings, next to a gay bar with oiled musclemen dancing on the tables. We don’t have that anymore. Plus we had a surplus store, and still do. That, and me and my wife, are still here. Surplus and antiques.
Nowadays we have breeders and lawyers and hipsters and a zillion lovely young women who I refuse to complain about.. And oh yeah, the food was better then. I mean it was worse, but it was better. At least you could afford it.
Anyway that story I opened with was from my former editor who yelled at me for spelling Esperanza Spalding wrong (I had whooping cough, no one can spell right with hooping cough) and who I once got in trouble because I said Lemmy beat me up. And that story of his brought all that wonderful old Silverlake back. Nothing like a good machete story. Especially if no one gets hurt. If it was a machete story and someone did get hurt, well, that was what Echo Park was for. Maybe hurt is an understatement. They fished him out of the lake. Maybe they found the head when they drained it.
Or maybe they’ll find it when they drain the Reservoir.
I like to think it was used by Santerias. We used to have them in Silverlake. The botanicas on Sunset sold powders and spells, and you’d find dead chickens in the park.
I’ve never told this to the lovely young neighbor ladies. They’d be outraged. Chickens have rights too, you know. Some stories are best left to the aged and cynical.
One time I thought it’d be fun to get all my lady friends at work to join me for a lunch. A bunch of them, actually, eight, maybe ten. Maybe a dozen, I can’t remember. They’d all been asking me out to lunch as people in offices do and as I never went to lunch with anybody I figured I could take them all out to lunch simultaneously. Get it over with. I didn’t say that, of course, but it was the idea. And it made perfect sense to me.
I explained this all to a friend. She looked at me like I was nuts. Do you have any idea what you’re doing? Going to lunch, I said. With all of us at once? I said sure, why not. How long have you been married, twenty five years? Twenty eight, I said. And in twenty eight years you haven’t learned anything? I was confused. She laughed. You’ll see. So you will come, I asked? Absolutely not, she said. But she wanted to hear all about it. That’s a lot of estrogen, she added, cryptically.
It was a catastrophe. I lost any control of events about one minute after I proposed the idea. They started fighting. The restaurant got expensive. Then more expensive. Then really expensive. You’ll need a tie, I was told. More fighting. Someone was being pushy. Another one really resented them being pushy. I’d get snippy messages, complaints. The emails began getting crazed. One of my best friends—the gorgeous, icy, brilliant blonde—backed out. She didn’t want to meet any of the others, but don’t tell them that, she said. I didn’t have to, they just assumed it. Factions developed. Some of the ladies wanted to go here. Another there. Another got so mad she just lost it and started yelling at me for what reason I do not know. Totally blew her stack, a furious Filipina explosion. I was in the eye of a female hurricane, the storm swirled all around me.
Eventually they were all mad at me for having such a stupid idea in the first place. After a couple days of this, I called the whole thing off. That only made them madder. More fights started. I hid in my corner of the office floor and avoided them all for a week or two. Never went to lunch with any of them, wouldn’t dare. Lunch was a minefield.
The lady I’d first invited laughed and laughed. I warned you, she said. Then she asked me to lunch.
Wow. My twenty year old CD player died last night. It was Gato Barbieri’s fault. My brother Jon was over spinning Sonny Rollins’ CDs and then put on both discs of Gato’s Latino America. Must have been all that crazy Argentine yelling, or maybe the bandaneon doubling up on the melody but behind the beat so Gato’s skronking and the banadaneon’s wheezing a half beat later and there’s crazy ass obscure Latin rhythms dancing in and out of everything and the CD player said fuck it… I’m never shuffling another goddam disc ever. I’m Irish, inanimate objects talk. Even better, they argue. But twenty years. They just don’t make things like they used to. Twenty years ago I could jump up the stairs two at a time and comb way more hair and remember things. They don’t make me like they used to either. Now I’m down to vinyl and cassettes. How analog. An analog monologue in fact.
My wife and I have lived in Silverlake for over thirty years now. Excuse me, Silver Lake. Back when we moved to Silverlake people who had been here thirty years called it Silver Lake. Then they all died and it was Silverlake for a few years. Then it got on the cover of Los Angeles Magazine and was Silver Lake again.
Thirty years. Maybe 31. Maybe 32. Whatever. You think we would fit in by now. But every time we start to fit in the neighborhood changes again. Now we know maybe four people in Lago del Dorado, and none of us fit it. Sketch Hall, who lives over by the Bates Stage and does his laundry in the San Gabriel Valley because that is where all the Chinese restaurants are; Carey Fosse, who also lives over by the Bates Stage but never does his laundry; and Mikaleno, would hang out by the Bates Stage a couple sheets to the wind before heading off to Sketch’s for a night cap but who lives south of Sunset and you know how we north of Sunset people are. Actually all three of these guys lived south of Sunset. That just occurred to me. Shows you the class of people I have been hanging out with. But at least Mikaleno does some great laundry, perfect Navy creases, he gave me a lesson in folding a handkerchief once but no matter how I tried his looked like a guy who had folded handkerchiefs in the navy and mine looked like a guy who had been a college drop out. I can’t remember who the fourth person is. Maybe they bought a fixer upper in Highland Park and are being picketed as we speak.
Anyway, we used to be the cute straight couple on the street and now all the unstraights have moved to Boystown or out to the country to live in a cute little cottage and go mad with boredom and have been replaced by beautiful young starlets who could be my children if not grandchildren but they are far too beautiful so I must have adopted them.
And that is Silver Lake to me.
A buddy of mine was smoking a jay with Warne Marsh outside Donte’s after the last set. Warne said hey man, you think you could spot me a joint for tomorrow’s gig? Sure man, love to. Turned him onto to a very nice bomber. Next night Warne died on stage, sax in hand, just like that. Warne was stoned, he was playing, he was gone. Poof. It was sad, but it was jazz. My pal explained it to me…ya see, I turned him onto his last high. Yeah man, I said, wow. My friend said well sure, you get it, but a lotta straights might think that’s fucked up, Warne Marsh being dead and everything…but I think it’s kinda cool. I mean he died with his boots on. He died stoned. He died blowing beautiful stoney solos. Damn man, what else could you want? I said I did think it was kinda cool. Yeah, my friend said, that’s what Warne’s compadres were saying. They said dying flying blowing has gotta be the way to do it. Warne was no dummy. Wasn’t nobody’s fool. Makes sense to me, I said. My friend nodded, concentrating on the joint he was rolling. You have any Warne Marsh records? I pulled out one of the sessions with Lee Konitz, and Warne is weaving around Lee’s airy lines, and my pal takes a deep drag off that freshly rolled joint and closes his eyes and I think he’s back at Donte’s. He hands me the joint. I declined. I gotta drive, I said. So I remained in the now listening to a record, while he slipped into a Warne Marsh space. He held up the joint. This is some good shit man, tightly rolled, slow and steady burning. He sounded like an old Lucky Strike commercial, though I didn’t know if he meant the weed or Warne. Or both. I took a deep breath and got a second hand taste. Wow. I closed my eyes and there was Warne. Just like that. Magic. A marijuana time machine. The vinyl spun and the analog music was right there, like real. Those grooves grooved, man. Warne takes off. I could almost see the golden bell of his horn. My friend’s pot smoke weaved around my head. I leaned back and listened.
It’s years later now and I’m digging Apogee as I type this, and if I had a jay right now I’d be at this session too, watching and listening. I don’t. But Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh are dancing around each other on Magna-Tism, the student giving the teacher a run for his money. Damn.
This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.
I saw Sham 69 at the Whiskey (the Dead Kennedys opened) back in 1979. Right there on the Sunset Strip. Great set. I loved Sham 69. Loved that first album. OK, it was dumb. Way dumb. The Ramones looked like intellectuals compared to Sham 69. What about the people who are lonely?/You don’t really give a shit/People that you never meet. It wasn’t exactly poetry. It was oi. Oi! None of us Californians had ever even heard somebody say oi! before punk rock. Now snot nosed rich punks from Pacific Palisades would say oi! Oi? Yeah, oi! It was a very deep time. The hippies had Dylan. The Beats had Ginsberg. And punks had oi. Well not all punks. Just the less coherent ones. Swilling beers and yelling oi! They don’t say it now, though, they are lawyers. But this was 1979, and they were all here at the Whiskey for Sham 69. Though criminal as they tried desperately to look, none of them stole the microphone when Jimmy Pursey, the singer, stuck the microphone in the audience for the sing along. A bit of English football camaraderie, that. If the Kids are United we all chanted, they shall never be united. Deep stuff. Rhymed even. To this day when I hear that ferocious guitar riff I can’t help singing along, me, a very late middle aged jazz critic, singing if the kids are united, they can never be divided.
Sham 69 did White Riot in their encore, too, the Clash song. Jimmy Pursey stuck the microphone into the crowd again and the kids all sang I wanna riot, a riot of my own! They repeated it. Repeated it again. And started to repeat it one more time when the microphone cut out. Jimmy pulled the microphoneless cord back from the crowd and shrugged. They’ve stolen the microphone a stage hand yelled. The band roared on, Jimmy grabbed another mic and finished the tune. The audience was mad with testosterone, swirling, bouncing, pushing and shoving. It was a moment of punk rock heaven. Meanwhile the stage was flooded by stage hands and sound men and bouncers peering into the boiling mass, looking for the culprit. No one leaves till we get the microphone back someone announced over the PA.
Let me explain. I was in a punk rock band then, the drummer, and we had drums and guitars and amplifiers and even an avocado ranch to practice at. But we didn’t have a microphone. Our singer had to scream bloody murder to be heard above our proto hardcore din. Suddenly right there in front of me was this beautiful, state of the art, zillion dollar microphone. Being a drummer, I didn’t make the connection between it and us, but my guitar player–who shall remain nameless, as he has three beautiful daughters and a grandchild–did. Take the mic, he yelled into my ear. What? Take the mic! Steal the mic! We need a mic! So I stole it. It took a tug or two but it came off the cord. I stood there in the packed crowd, staring at it. Hide it! my guitar player yelled. Hide the mic! Stick it in your pants! So I did, hoping it would pass for a rather impressive hard on.
A small army of bouncers began moving through the crowd. Big dudes, muscular, mean. The sound man announced that someone had stolen the microphone and no one was going to leave till it was returned. They began patting people down on the floor. We better return the mic I said, stupidly. My guitar rolled his eyes. Then they’ll know that you stole it, he said. It dawned on me that it was actually me who had stolen it, and it was in my pants, feigning manhood. I must have looked panicky. Drop it on the floor, my guitar player said, and we’ll tell them we found it. So I retrieved it from my pants and dropped it on the floor. He picked it up and yelled Hey! We found it! We found it! He held the microphone aloft for all to see. Several bouncers rushed over. He found it, one said. He found it said another. My guitar player said and since we found it for you can we go backstage and meet the band? The bouncers rolled their eyes. C’mon, we found this expensive microphone for you! He whined like that for thirty seconds. OK, alright, let them backstage for a minute. And lucky felons that we were, we were led through the mass of sweating kids, past several other bouncers and either up or down some ancient stair to the backstage area.
It wasn’t what I expected. No lush chairs. No cocaine on mahogany tables. No greenless M&Ms. And the girls appeared perfectly nice and fully clad. Someone with an English accent said these guys found the microphone and want to meet the band. The girls rolled their eyes prettily. We were led into another room and there, exhausted, was Sham 69. Oh my god, real rock stars. It was like meeting the Rolling Stones in 1965, if the Rolling Stones were midgets. Because Sham 69 were dinky, like five foot tall. Well, five foot four maybe. We towered over them. I remember them peering up through exhausted eyes. Back home guys our size were always trouble, the toughest football hooligans. Here we were just kleptomaniac punk rockers. I shook Jimmy Pursey’s hand. You were great, I said, with genuine originality. Fanks, he said.
Their manager ushered us out again. C’mon now, the lads have another set to do. Back up (or down) the stairs we went, thanking the bouncers profusely. They thanked us for finding the microphone. You guys really helped us out, they said. Most people would have tried to steal it. I still feel a tinge rotten about that. Then they let us out a back door and into the December night, where the punks were chucking beers at passing cars.
Meanwhile a buddy of mine I didn’t know yet mouthed off to the bouncer at the door when they tried to search him for the microphone. I don’t have your fucking mic he said and got worked over good. Beat up by bouncers at the Whiskey for being such a punk. He told me this twenty years later and I laughed it was so funny but I bought him a beer for his pain. When he reads this I’ll have to buy him a whole six pack.
(And I don’t want to use without permission, but there is a great live shot of Sham 69 at the Whiskey by the Jenny Lens here.)
This story can also be found on Brickspicks.com, along side all the cultural stuff I’ve written about.