Here’s some liner notes I wrote a quarter century ago. I had two knees then, a lot more hair, a lot less me. That pool hall–actually a warehouse turned pool hall–I remember well, a great place. I kept the guitar player from getting his ass kicked one night by bikers after he smashed his axe in a Hendrix like rage and hurled it across the room. It soared high overhead and nailed a big overhead light which exploded in spark and flame. Cool. Two big dudes grabbed him and were about to lay an Altamont on him–he deserved it–but I jumped in and claimed I was his manager and if they laid a hand on him I’d sue. They backed off, but a couple beers and a cooling off later, the band discovered their van busted into and the guitars–and only the guitars–had been smashed to atoms. Everyone figured it was a fair trade.
I think I had to do that manager bit a couple times over the years, keeping people out of trouble. One time I was an A&R man for Sony, I think, and I went up and offered the guitar player of another band a contract. The security guard has just tasered him–they were making a complete mess of the stage, smoke and creamed corn all over the place, and the guard flipped out and tasered the dude when he said you taser me and I’ll kick your skinny ass. The guard tasered and the guitar player writhed on the stage while the band kept playing. That band never stopped. The guard could have shot him and the band would have kept on playing. When it looked like the guard–a little Barney Fife of a guy–was gonna taser the guitar player again I stepped in with the contract offer. The suit and tie helped. Guard looks at me and says you wanna sign THESE guys? But he did put the taser away.
I’ve yet to see a taser used on a jazz stage. Or creamed corn, for that matter. Maybe I’m just hanging out at the wrong clubs.
Anyway, here they are, the liner notes I wrote about the band in that first paragraph. I’ll leave the second band, with the smoke and the creamed corn and the taser, to your imagination for now. That giant pool hall, incidentally, burned to the ground a few years later with one of the bikers inside. A case of arson-murder apparently. I remember they called him Machine Gun.. Apparently he came back from Nam a little damaged. There’s probably one in every biker gang. As for the metal club (was it called the Metal House?) I doubt it’s around anymore either. I remember it was owned by one of the Village People. Don’t know which one. Maybe the sailor.
(Liner notes from the various artists compilation album Gimme The Keys, the band is Lexington (aka Lexington Devils), the tune “Wisconsin Death Trip”, 1987)
I can remember the first time I heard “Wisconsin Death Trip”. The band was playing in a biker\bar in an industrial stretch of Anaheim—you know, all parking lots and dumpsters and broken glass. The club was an immense pool hall, really, row after row of billiards tables surrounded by bikers and their women, punks trying to look like junkies and junkies like punks, old hippies with beads and bellies, barmaids with them perfect asses. Typical rock’n’roll environment. Lexington was playing to an indifferent crowd, the crowd being those who stuck around the stage long enough for them to do a song. They had a bunch of loyal, even fanatical fans who squealed and yelled to everything they did, especially the tight little Replacements-like numbers: verse, chorus, verse, lead, chorus, Thank you, “Singapore Sling”, “Mama Wants Her Baby Back”—good songs, don’t get me wrong, damn good songs. But the band looked so weird. I dunno. Not so much the way they were dressed—Frank in that James Dean / Monterey Pop Jimi outfit and that trashed little Les Paul in his giant Mexican hands; Derek like Keith Moon might have looked like if he had played for Gene Vincent, with those giant sticks he launch off his ride, actually hitting and hurting people; Eric, beautiful, serene, stoned, even if he weren’t, fingers snaking across the frets bloozin’, jazzin’, rockin’ it—and Lex, that crazed rasping voice belied by the almost pretty face El Greco’d in the shitty bar lighting, body twisting, rolling, writhing, staggering—drunk off his ass, pounding his head on the mike stand, laughing laughing laughing, the pretty pink scarf draped besodden round his neck billowing in the breeze blown by Derek’s giant floor fan. Frank is in the middle of some bloozy rock shuffle (“Lord of the Highway”) and it is an audience favorite, they’re digging it at the pool tables, shaking their cues to the beat, when he starts strangling his guitar, I mean choking it, trying to kill it, you can hear its feedback screams over everything, and he doesn’t stop and it just screams and screams and Eric just digs it and nods to Derek who brings it down, way down, all closed high hat and rim shot, and Lex struggles to his feet, kicks one of the toms laying around across the stage, and just stares at Frank, watching, studying, waiting, catching a breath. Frank’s playing with the guitar now, moving it around in front of the amp, making funny feedback noises. Eric stops, Derek taps out a quiet blooz on his shut high hat, its jagged shattered edges sticking out in all directions. It goes on like that for a while, seconds, minutes, this electric squeal and garbage can tapping. The audience doesn’t get it, a few applaud, some hoot, a big drunk biker yells something unintelligible. The band stands there. The breeze from the fan blows Lex’s scarf. It quivers a little, barely alive. Frank pulls his fingers off the guitar’s neck. The feedback expires. The stick taps arhythmically, slowly, even more slowly. The bar is hushed. Billiard balls clack. That biker mumbles. A lady with beautiful legs is walking round by the bar, looking antsy. People hit furtively from the joint being passed around. What a weird way to end a set.
I remember the next few seconds in slow motion. Frank bolts upright and turns on us, some freaked out “Foxy Lady” triplet riff distorted beyond belief explodes out of his amp and then the whole band follows, punctuated by Derek’s tom tom blasts and it’s a freakin’ Motorhead/Hendrix/Zeppelin hurricane, Lex is screaming and it goes on like that for a minute or two, the audience rockin” out or just staring frozen wondering what the fuck has just happened when it stops just–like–that except for Derek’s out of time descending roll skin-crackingly loud and it hangs there, just for a minute, then BOOMP BOOMP BOOMP BAM and what’s this? Weird guitar, soaring, building on an incredible bass line that just goes on higher with an almost intolerable suspense, drums one two three four five six one two three four five six and Lex on the floor writhing and hurting, first almost in a whisper “Saw your face in the paper…” oblivious to us, to everything but the band, “You know you looked so fine” the vocal melody alien, fragile as a child’s noodling on the piano, or a fragment of a birdsong, recorded and slowed down a hundred times. Frank is chording now, big guitar chunks smashed together, following the bass line, then leading it, then staggering away crazily into feedback then back into he melody again, Derek’s drums grow louder, Lex is walking across the stage, bumping into Frank, away from Eric, tripping on chords, kicking aside pieces of drums and empty cans, yelling into the microphone, yelling at someone in the song, , then screaming this curdling blues howl into the cacophony of drums, guitar and bass blasting this twisted “Dazed and Confused” riff till the remains lay scattered about the stage and the band asks for a beer for Lex. “He looks thirsty. Come on.” The crowd stood silent for a moment, and then screamed.