Today’s the day that we on the left hand side of the Atlantic (and just downstairs from Canada) celebrate not having a clue what Boxing Day is nor knowing that we don’t. It’s my favorite holiday aside from Februaries 30th and 31st, which have been stacking up uncelebrated forever.
I cannot remember the last time I used a typewriter. 20 years ago? And a manual typewriter? 35 years ago? An adding machine…. I don’t remember. Decades and decades ago. I remember seeing slide rules in high school. They were beyond me. I learned to use the abacus in Maine in the 3rd grade……
Then there’s Polaroid cameras…that was wild. Going to Disneyland with a Polaroid camera. Everyone smile and there you are with Mickey. Magic.
We used to watch home movies at home a lot. Even better we looked at slides. Dad had boxes and boxes of slides. Dad would put up the movie screen, the light would go out and we’d all sit around the living room and watched slide after slide. The slide projector would whir and click and Niagara Falls. Whir, click Niagara Falls again. Whir, click and Dad pretending he’s falling into Niagara Falls. We loved it. I imagine there was popcorn and soda. We were a big family and that was cheap entertainment. There was a big chair I liked. I’d settle into it, curl up, and we’d eat popcorn and watch slides for hours. Wherever we were living at the time. Orange County, Tacoma, Maine, San Diego,Virginia, Maryland, or maybe a motel in Amarillo with the roads to icy to drive on—there’d be slides, whir, click, Niagara Falls.
I’ll have to start looking through our photo albums again. They’re very late 70’s, and all through the 80’s and most of the 90’s. Maybe a bit beyond. We threw a lot parties. There’ll be a TV and no VCR, there’ll be records spinning and no CD’s; there’ll be piles of cassettes and a ghetto blaster. We’d be heating up party snacks in a little oven and not the microwave (talk about revolutionary…an old technology that suddenly became essential.) Maybe one of those ghastly coffee pots….though I liked the percolating sounds. Our last one died, thank god, so we got a Mr. Coffee in the 80’s. It died the same night as Joe DiMaggio. Joe was always on TV somewhere, sixty seconds of him and Mr. Coffee. He was to Mr. Coffee what Mrs. Olson was to Folgers. Then the late news said Joltin’ Joe was dead and next morning my Mr. Coffee wasn’t working. It was still and cold. I jiggled the on off button and waited. Nothing. I unplugged and replugged it. Nothing. I checked the outlet. It was fine. Mr. Coffee was dead. It was my favorite coincidence ever.
The Irish, you know, anthropomorphize their machines. I’ve argued with tea kettles all my life, like my mom did, and my grandmother. I talk to my coffee maker. Talk to all kinds of inanimate things, like they could talk back. I thought everybody did this till my wife caught me bickering with the tea kettle. She looked at me like I was nuts. I had no idea she didn’t talk to tea kettles. She thought the whole notion was so stupid. I said, umm, it’s an old Irish thing. She said sure. I hate it when she says sure. There is something humiliating about being called irrational by a Sioux Indian. You guys with your dream catchers? And talking to a tea kettle is stupid? I didn’t say that of course. But when she walked out of the kitchen I gave the tea kettle a quick shake and it whistled in protest. Don’t listen to her I said.
Anyway, Mr. Coffee’s were gloriously noisy things, they grumbled and groaned, they had a personality. So when our Mr. Coffee died brokenhearted after hearing about Joe, well, it was very sad. I felt sad throwing it into the recycle bin. I’m sure I didn’t throw it at all, but dropped it carefully. I had to fight the urge to keep it. It still makes me sad to think about the poor thing.
My mother would understand.
Joltin’ Joe brewing joe.
Hockey season will be upon us soon. Now all this spare time I’ve been so productive with can be properly spent staring at the television in angst. Thank god…I found myself watching Strange Brew just for the evil robot hockey scenes. When it got to the part about the flying dog I felt shame.
In case my fellow Americans are wondering what hockey is, it’s what Canadians do to make money, move to the states and marry beautiful American women. That’s right, just like in the famous Canadian song. Except in the famous Canadian song the Canadians rear back from the beautiful American woman and their ghetto scenes and war machines. Then they grunt, unhhhh. Like a Canadian James Brown.
Moving to the States is also the only way Canadians can win the Stanley Cup, which they then take home for a week, fill with Molson and invite over their friends. Once it’s drained of beer and retrieved from the bottom of the pool, the Canadians return to the States to play more hockey. And now that NASA doesn’t need that arm thing on the space shuttle anymore, playing hockey in America is the only way Canadians can make money.
Whatever happened to that Space Shuttle arm thing? Did the Canadians take it back? Maybe it’s up in Toronto, in the Hockey Hall of Fame, now the Hockey and Space Shuttle Arm Thing Hall of Fame. I’d go see it actually. Wayne Gretzsky, Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard, the arm thing.
Lorne Greene was a Canadian.
Leslie Nielsen was also a Canadian.
Bachman Turner Overdrive was several Canadians, plus some.
William Shatner is Canadian. And Neil Young. And Joni Mitchell. I never really liked Joni Mitchell. I alluded to that in a Brick’s Picks column once. Said something snide and forgot about it. Some old hippie sent me an angry email. Really angry email. Called me a young whippersnapper. It was some of the only hate mail I ever got. Until the time I said something nice about Esperanza Spalding winning the Grammy and I got angry emails from Justin Bieber fans.
Justin Bieber is a Canadian.
So were John Kenneth Galbraith and Oscar Peterson. So are Rick Moranis and Joey Shithead. And so was the beautiful blonde lady I saw in a movie about car crashes. She had no facial expressions. In a car crash, no facial expression. Having sex in a car wash. No facial expression. Another car crash, no facial expression. Having sex in a junk yard, no facial expression. Or maybe there were facial expressions but she was so blonde, blonde everywhere, that I couldn’t see her eye brows. No eye brows, no facial expressions. Huge eyebrows, huge facial expressions. That’s why Italians always seem so excited and Swedes make those dull Bergman movies.
Most of the Hanson Brothers are Canadian.
Ya know, I got a box from a Canadian once. I can’t remember what was inside. Not the Stanley Cup, that much I know. And not the space shuttle arm thing, because that was still up in space helping and flexing and grasping. Maybe it was a record album. Maybe a fruit cake. I don’t know. I do remember that the box was stuffed with pages from Toronto’s alternative weekly. Kind of like the LA Weekly but without all the ghetto scenes and war machines, or any American women at all, actually. Lots of Canadian women, though, and Canadian men. Not pictures, just their personals ads. I unkrinkled the pages to see what was happening. There were all these people looking for partners into bondage and whips. Dominatrixes and golden showers. I swear, hundreds of ads, all from horny, kinky Canadians. Some countries are into ghetto scenes and war machines. Others like to spank and pee. You can see the advantages. Wars lay waste the land, whereas Canadians can get by with a few rolls of paper towels.
I asked a Canadian friend of mine about that endless personals section once. How it went on for page after page. About the bondage and the pee. Oh yeah baby, she said, that’s how we roll.
She blamed it on the long winters.
I better stop now. I have Canadian friends, all of whom played hockey and can hurt me. And out-drink me. And who make more money than me. In American dollars.
And in what war did Canadians beat the shit out of Americans?
It was the War of 1812, Alex.
And Alex Trebek is a Canadian.
Was out late last nite. Saw some great bands in a little Mexican dive in Lincoln Heights. I love the East Side. Silver Lake used to be East Side. Maybe not the tops of the Swish Alps, but in the lowlands, along the boulevards, and almost everything south of Sunset. It was Latino and gay and leather and punk rock and bohemian with traces of hippies and hints of jazz even, left over from the Soap Plant daze. Alas, Silver Lake is so Westside now. I remember years ago watching a blonde–one of those ultra blondes–walking down a nearby street with tits like grapefruit. Perfect orbs. You could teach geometry with those things. I stared a minute and thought Good Lord, what has become of my neighborhood? It wasn’t much later at the Mayfair (now Gelson’s) that a gorgeous power blonde–she had to be an attorney, just had to be–stormed up to the manager on perfect legs and screamed You’re all out of vanilla Haagen-Dazs! She was livid. Gave him hell, the poor bastard. He apologized. She said something wealthy and angry. My wife, watching, burst out loud laughing.
Got a call last week about the perfect day gig. One of those out of the blue dream jobs. They loved the resume. Tracked me down. I aced the phone interview. The in-person went even better on Monday. I was “the perfect candidate”. Felt good about it, I was obviously the prime contender. Went out for drinks and dinner with the wife. It was hot and the restaurant was cool, the margaritas even cooler. Tuesday began ominously…no genius grant. Again? Hell, I write good. Or would that be the Pulitzer. One of those aw shucks it was nothing awards. Whatever, I didn’t get one. Could have used that half a mill. Who do you have to fuck in this town to get a genius award? Still, the day went well. Then at 5 pm came the email. Spare, impersonal, third hand even…I was no longer under consideration. The prose was taut and resonant. Think Hemingway read aloud by HAL the computer. I stared in disbelief. WTF? What had happened? I had dressed nice and everything. Even in the 106 degree temp there I was looking sharp, all in black, black blazer….hell, I’d hire me, and I don’t even like me. Maybe my “agent” was a prick. Agents can be pricks, even employment agents. Though mine is a really nice guy, actually. So maybe the weasely guy at the interview black balled me. You know the type. Or maybe one of my references talked trash, tho’ why I can’t imagine. Maybe I just came off as a jerk and they were way too nice to tell me so. Whatever. Poof…the dream gig was gone. Yet another good break gone bad…. A lot of those lately. Four years’ worth. I must have pissed some goddess off somehow. One of the ball breaking, unforgiving ones.
Anyway, I should have gotten drunk. You would have gotten drunk, admit it. But I didn’t. I had a PBR that was in the fridge, Then some milk. Milk. What kind of loser drinks milk when his dream job slips through his fingers? What kind of Irishman am I? The disgrace of the family, the sober one. A long line of boozers singing Little Bit of Heaven Fell From Out the Sky One day and mumbling about Bing Crosby and then there’s me, the lightweight. Sigh…. Well that PBR wore off hours ago and here I am still sulking, awash in an ocean of self-pity and what am I doing? Writing this. I always write stuff like this when things go wrong. And lately a lot of things have been going wrong. A novel’s worth. A War and Peace. The remembrance of things pissed right down the drain.
Well, time to hit the bricks again, I tell myself and punning unintentionally. Maybe I’ll get off my creative ass and try and score a writing gig, as is such things existed, or that I liked doing them. But money is money and money I like.
Saw a chunk of A Day at the Races today. God those Marx Brothers were funny. Even after Thalberg tamed them. Too much anarchy for Hollywood. But you watch the Marx Brothers and wish life were like that. Just like that. Anarchistic and giving it to the man. An endless blur of self referential jokes. Pianos that disintegrate and authority figures so dumb they don’t know they have their pants on. Blondes to be chased up stairs and down again. Singing Sweet Adeline and eating crackers in bed. But you need a day gig to pull that off. And oh what a day gig that would have been. The most beautiful studio I have ever seen. Fountains, streams, a pond the size of an olympic pool. Koi the length of your arm played in its waters, living slow, perfect, endless lives and looking absolutely beautiful. I watched one rolling lazily near the surface, all gold and creamy white and tried to imagine being one. I couldn’t. All I could think of was just how cool it would be to work in a place that was more beautiful than any jobsite deserved to be. I imagined walking the grounds on some errand or another, belonging there. It was fun to think about.
But back now to reality. I promised the wife I’d take out the garbage.
And maybe another PBR before bed. Living dangerously. F Scott Fitzgerald would dig it. He and Zelda. They probably roamed these very streets. They might have staggered down the very steps outside my window after some wild Hollywood party. Raymond Chandler lived only a hill away, drinking and unable to write. Sylvia Plath tried suicide at the far end of the reservoir. Bukowski lived in squalor nearby, writing his shitty poetry. Don Van Vliet discovered words at the other end of Waverly Drive, and my brother lives in Tom Waits’ old house. Tom told him so himself.
Me? I got to take out the garbage…..
Just saw that it’s been 20 years since Nirvana’s Nevermind came out. Great record. Too bad it wrecked everything.
Ya see, there was this underground scene before that, hopelessly uncommercial, a global thing of all these crazy little bands struggling along from gig to gig, record to record, party to party, and it was a blast and innocent and all our own and no one paid attention to us. That was the 80’s scene…amazing shows every weekend, almost every night, all these brilliant bands. It was all about creativity and attitude. It was glorious.
Then Nirvana broke big, bigger than big. They broke huge, enormous, they turned our entire world upside down and suddenly there was money everywhere and it was so fucked. The music got duller and duller and safer and safer, all the clubs and labels and tours got taken over by business. Things just got safer and safer. Predictable. Boring. All that underground music (the labels called it “alternative” and now “indie”) just disappeared.
I lost interest. Started buying jazz records. Now look at me. I’ve become distinguished, despite myself.
Nevermind was a good record, that’s for sure. But Kurt knew what he had done. Hence the shotgun. On my birthday, no less.
That was my 37th. My 40th was a total manic blow out at Al’s Bar. Absolute craziness. Like the last gasp of my punk rock life. It went out in style, though:
Fearless Leader had spent an hour putting on make-up and diapers full of chili and creamed corn and chocolate pudding and when they hit the stage the packed house was in a frenzy but they had what seemed like the worst drummer in LA and were so incredibly awful it was hysterical, Sarge’s amp all fucked up going on and off and on and off irregularly, the drummer beating away ametrically in the background, insults flying. As the band started the second song Sarge was in a fury packing up, a guy in a diaper and clown make-up, in the middle of the stage putting his guitar away in its case. Finally I sat in on drums and things tightened up somewhat but this only seemed to work up the audience even more and the food starting flying thick and fast and within seconds a large slice of birthday cake slammed into my arm and slid off slowly and grotesquely. (Bob Lee later took credit for that—”It was your birthday” he explained…) Then came more cake, beer, cups—meanwhile the contents of the various diapers came loose and poured all over the stage and the three clowns before me were sliding and falling about, Sarge—guitarless now—screamed into two mikes and began to slither across the stage like an evil serpent and bit the others on the leg. Basically it was punk as fuck—raunchy and rockin’ and fierce and funny and stoopid and scary with maximum audience participation. Finally—I looked up, trying to concentrate on these songs I had not played in a decade (if at all) and there was Alien Rock butt naked (well not completely—I’m told that he was wearing a rubber) and I started laughing so hard I couldn’t play and just sat there being pelted as they ranted and slid and danced and screamed and oozed and then I got back under control and launched into the toon again (it was their drawn out classic “Sunshine Superstar” with the classic chant “Peace / Love / War / Hate” and the chorus “it’s the way you are (x4) you’re a super star (x2) you’re a sunshine superstar, Baby”) and it ended in a huge finale when suddenly Alien Rock, nude and covered with slime and crud threw his skinny nekkid body into the drums and the kit flew apart all over me and the stage.
That was my send off to the pre-Nevermind era, I guess. Though I didn’t realize it at the time. That was the end of anarchy for me. It’s such an orderly world now. I hate it.
Fuck you, Kurt Cobain the dead guy. I liked you way better as a live guy. No hagiography. Just a fucked up punk wondering what the hell happened. Well, it’s your fault. You wrote the goddamn song. That goddamn great song. Smells Like Teen Spirit. Did anyone even get that? No. They just got that killer riff. A whole industry was built on that riff. People started selling out in droves. Kurt Cobain the live guy sure noticed. I’ve seen you on your hands and knees, unable to walk. It was awful and sad and so punk rock. The real punk rock. I saw that fight too, in the movie. You braining some security asshole with your guitar, then that big stage melee. I loved that. Anarchy. But now you’re dead, and all business. 100% business. How many Neverminds shifted at Christmas? A zillion? You don’t know? Maybe they aren’t keeping Kurt Cobain the dead guy in the loop on these things. Oh well. It’s all business now. You can’t even be a millionaire punk rock junkie anymore. No time for heroin in today’s rock’n’roll. Not anymore. It’s business all the time. Career 24/7. Work work work. No recess, dead guy. No recess.
It was so show biz there. The side no one talks about. The kind of people Perez Hilton would never draw gonads on. At one point I was hanging with a legendary weed dealer (though that’s virtually legal now), a wholesale hashish dealer (“By the pound only, $3,600”) and a music journalist turned bank robber and now, paroled, a music journalist again. Well, a heroin dealing music journalist. I didn’t know that at the time, but writers all need that day gig. And I really liked the guy’s writing. The best of it he wrote in prison. All that spare time. He’s dead now though, a car accident. I liked him, but it was for the better. I hate heroin dealers. Come to think of it I have known two bank robbers, one that writer/heroin dealer/dead guy I mentioned, the other a musician. He was paroled and became a history teacher. A poetess I know was a heroin dealer. I lost track of her. It’s best to lose track of heroin dealers. It’s best to lose track of heroin addicts, too, but only because they steal your stuff and break your hearts. Dealers sell their souls to deal, it goes with the gig, they sell their souls to steal other’s. A fucked up biz. But I digress….. Let’s see, I hung out with Panama Red once at a politician’s house. He sells computer hardware now. A crazed amazing drummer I know got into the meth trade, freaked out, dumped all his guns off at a sheriff’s station because he was being followed by black helicopters and later found Jesus, became a preacher, and a damn good one. We let him preach at our 20th anniversary party and all the punks and freaks hated it. Hated it. It was beautiful. Then he beat the living fuck out a drum kit. Punk rock, baby. I knew a defrocked chemist who’d made acid for the hippies in huge quantities and then, queer as a three dollar bill, brewed meth for the boys in his kitchen upstairs, He had to be careful, he said, or he could blow up the whole building. He’s probably dead by now. AIDS, overdose, heart attack, whatever. Then there’s the defrocked Academy Award winner who must have done something illegal at some point, it’d be too romantic not too. There’s so many of these guys, too many to write down here. I had a boss who got strung out on meth and wound up dealing it and they say hustled himself around too. A bass player I played with got strung out on smack and wound up a whore in drag. The saddest story I know. I wrote about that already (“Raji’s”). And there’s a war hero in Viet Nam who cracked up, joined the Weather Underground and eventually got popped on a Greyhound bus with a duffel bag full of marijuana. Wound up in a cushy prison which did him a world of good, since he’d been crazy most of his life. Used to be he wouldn’t shake hands with anybody, and was forever at the sink with the soap and water. I liked him though. War fucks with war hero’s heads if they have to kill a mess of people at long range, people you look at through the scope, pull the trigger, and watch them die. Hard to tell what’s war and what’s murder. He couldn’t and the devil ate him up inside. I’m digressing again. A bandmate of mine once served on a chain gang. That was different. He also bit off a guy’s ear at a night club but that’s another story. Besides, it was only part of an ear, and the asshole was asking for it. Now he’s a rich kid Van Gogh. Lots of time people ask for it. This big lug of a guy I know, a real sweetheart, beat a little guy to death in a bar. The little guy was asking for it. A couple years worth of involuntary manslaughter, they said. Kind of like what happened to the father of a tough kid I knew. Pop was a boxer and killed a guy in a bar. One punch. That guy had it coming, too, but he was a cop. You don’t kill cops, so pop got a life’s worth of manslaughter. But I didn’t actually know him. I did know a pianist who got life for murdering his wife. Lost track of him, though. Good player. Another guy I know gave his buddy a little too much smack and the dude turned blue and died right there. That was murder. So he shot himself up a fatal dose and died there right next to him. Sort of an accidental murder-suicide thing. He was a lovely guy too. Not so lovely was the odd little queer we hung out with one night, he and his partner and bong loads of weed. Hollywood is full of odd little queers and their partners, though this one seemed a little odder than usual. Later that weekend he cut his partner into chunks and stuffed the chunks in a garbage bag and hid the bag in his closet and then flew to Mexico. A vacation, he said. They caught him. But that’s so disturbing I wish I hadn’t remembered it. But I’m glad I remember the one legged jazz fusion tuba player who ran numbers for the mob…I always wondered if he ever walked into a bar and the bartender said sorry, we don’t serve one legged jazz fusion tuba players in here. And then there’s the drummer/drug dealer/gangsta rap recording engineer I met at a party who took two bullets in the skull at point blank brain for some reason he would not elucidate. Now he records jazz. I became a jazz critic. My friends were appalled. How could you? they asked. I’m not sure, I said, it just happened.