Brian O’Laughlin

That’s us with Brian O’Laughlin, he on the left. Funny, musical, soft spoken, gentle, sharp, stoned, and a little lost, he’s long gone now but still much loved, still remembered. Yet this seems to be the only picture of him we have. It was 1985 or so in a motel room in San Francisco between a pair of John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America gigs and Brian was filling in for Michael Rosen on drums. We’d made a memorable weekend of it. There’d been the gig at Berkeley Square the night before and a bunch of us drank all of Camper Van Beethoven’s beer and they looked at us angrily but they thought if they said anything we’d kick their college rock asses. I suppose me and Ugly Janitors Brian and Jon Sharkey plus Ed O’Bryan, also along for the trip, did loom somewhat. That was the night before this pic was snapped. Later that night after this pic was snapped the band played the Viz on Divisidero, the old Viz, still a bar, on a frigid San Francisco night. The Janitors played an incredibly memorable set highlighted by the old Brel tune No Time To Live in which Trubee gave one of the most expressively gorgeous guitar solos I’ve ever heard by anybody. It was stunning. I recorded the set on cassette, and it still knocks me out. Brian was on loan from Richie Hass and the Beatniks, who we were really tight with, but that’s another story.

Actually I think I have that chronology reversed. The Viz gig was first, a Friday, then we drank all Camper Van Beethoven’s beer on Saturday night. There was a local band on the bill, also large, the Morlocks I think they were, and we and the Janitors and the Morlocks owned the Berkeley Square green room, drinking all the beer and eating all the little sandwiches and smoking bowl after bowl of dope and it was like backstage in Mad Dogs and Englishmen but without the Texas Butter Queen. I remember loudly complaining that the cheap ass club hadn’t supplied us with enough beer, and these skinny little guys across the room muttering amongst themselves. A bartender brought out more beer, told us it was for Camper Van Beethoven and the skinny little guys glowered at us so we drank some of it and stole the rest while they were on stage.

Later back in the room the three of us cracked open the beers and smoked more dope and told stoned jokes and spun stoned stories, some even true. We found some Dead on the radio and Fyl complained and Brian laughed and laughed.

Advertisements

Day trip

Rented a Dodge Ram pick up yesterday and headed out to the desert. No CD player. The low point had to be east of Pearblossom in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a 38 Special rock block to listen to. Hold On Loosely has been earworming its way into my skull since, breaking me down like my own personal Room 101, southern rock. Freedom is slavery, war is peace, you see it all around you, good lovin’ gone bad. The high point musically was…well, there was no high point. A lot of high desert hard rock and ranchera. We had dropped by Charlie Brown Farms in Little Rock for a date shake, then the long drive out to Barstow. The desert is great from the cab of a climate change special, you feel like Mike Dukakis in a tank. I watched the ruins of Job Harriman’s Llano Del Rio disappear in the rear view mirror, probably the only time all day I thought about politics. The 18 was closed, and they dog legged us along the 138 and then up another desert road to rejoin the 18 near Phelan. They farm a lot of meth out in Phelan. Cook it right on the rocks. A guy explained it to me one night, unbidden. I don’t think he had slept in years.

We passed through Barstow, picked up the 40 for a couple miles and got off at the Calico exit. Calico Ghost Town has been a slow favorite since I first went there when I was a kid. Hell, that was over half a century ago. Back then I thought it looked like a less fun Knotts Berry Farm (apparently Walter Knott had grown up in Calico, and used the proceeds from the mine to recreate Calico in Buena Park) but I didn’t know then that you could take your beer right on the train. Doubtless some of the appeal for me is how the old pre-Snoopy Knotts Berry Farm was cloned from the place, somehow redolent of ancient times in Southern California. Fantasy world and Calico girls I’m coming back. But to be honest my single favorite thing there is the extraordinary display of tortured seismology looming over the parking lot. Sedimentary layers bent all which ways, even straight up vertical. It screams earthquake, but all you hear is desert silence.

After Calico we went over to Rainbow Basin Natural Area, the reason for the pick up truck and 38 Special, it was perfect for driving the back roads. Not a bit of pavement in the place, just badlands bisected by narrow twisting graded road, gullies, loose rocks, and the occasional diamondback rattler. It is a perfect riot of geology, the land eroded for so many eons was absolutely gorgeous. This was once–actually several times–a large Miocene lake bed. Winter rains carve it anew every year, and tectonics torture the area–there’s a syncline to die for–though the black layers of ash are from better days, when nearby Amboy and the Cima Dome were alive with volcanos. Nearby are layers packed with fossils–most of the large mammal fossils you will see in our local museums that were not plucked from the La Brea Tar Pits came from the Rainbow Basin and thereabouts. The striations are vividly colored, everything from deep sandstone red to a brilliant green clay. So many colors, it would be a ball high on psychedelics and not driving or being way too old and epileptic for that kind of thing. Somewhere in the middle a Foreigner rock block came on and I turned off the radio. There was no other sound at all. Not a bird, not a bug, not even a breeze. Nothing.

After a glorious couple hours in Rainbow Basin, we tooled back on down Irwin Road towards Barstow in our giant pick up truck, trying not to go too fast. It’s the hemi, I explained to the wife, just to actually use hemi in a sentence. We hopped a left onto Old Highway 58 for Idle Spurs, still my favorite steak house ever. Incredible steak and a couple Jamesons. (You can pretend I took a picture of our food here.) We took our time eating, thoroughly enjoying it, and it was nearly dark as we climbed back into the cab of the pick-up, a little too late to drive all the way home on the 66. I love that old trestle across the Mojave, linking the two sides of Barstow, north and south of the tracks. Nearby was the old Harvey House, and I can only imagine the disappointment of Judy Garland fans who pilgrimage here. For a moment I thought On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe was going to stay in my head forever, like The Trolley Song did one terrible year after hearing it on a Palm Springs radio station twice in one weekend, but it disappeared back into the closet.

We turned right onto the 66 and as we headed west Barstow faded into Lenwood and then into nothing. It was too dark for sightseeing, and the excursion was nearing the twelve hour mark anyway, so we made for the interstate. All seemed perfect, the last of the light disappearing behind the mountains as we got back on the 15 heading south, nestled contentedly in the cab of our gas guzzling monster truck. There was just the night, the road, and us. There is something profoundly reassuring about driving through the desert in the dark, just you and the wheels and the stars. Then a rock block of Boston interrupted my philosophizing. Egad. People livin’ in competition, the singer complained, and all he wanted was to have some peace of mind. Bad seventies memories came flooding back and I realized that I was entering my 59th year to a soundtrack of lame classic rock. I hate these songs, with all their inane lyrics and uninspired riffs and soulless guitar solos. Can’t I find any good driving music out here in the desert? More Than a Feeling came on, and as the singer watched Marianne walking away, away, awaaaaay, I asked the Lord in a moment of existential crisis why, oh why, had He forsaken me. The Lord let the guitar solo finish before answering. The desert is beautiful but cruel, He said, like good lovin’ gone bad.

.

barstow sign

Thunderclap Newman

Alas, Andy Thunderclap Newman has passed on. What a strange thing his namesake Thunderclap Newman was, and even stranger what a thing that Hollywood Dream LP was. I remember playing it in the car as I drove down Hollywood Blvd right after moving here in 1980, blasting the title cut out the window and thinking wow, I’ve made it. I wish there was a Hollywood, I sang along, just like there used to be, with long black cars and paper hoods and a film star on my knee. Except that my canary yellow (with grey primer) Buick Opel didn’t have a cassette player when I first moved to Hollywood, it had an AM radio, and unless KHJ was playing Something in the Air, Andy Newman’s unhurried piano never saw the inside of my beat up little car. Now, as I mash together memories, formats, and automobile sound systems I’m listening to an Accidents (long version) that I copped off the internet. Andy takes a wonderfully ancient solo like we’re watching Buster Keaton chasing his hat in a windstorm, so unhip it hurts. “I see Jimmy climbing on the milkman’s van, laughing,” sings Speedy, “on his feet were a pair of granddad’s shoes / Then I looked around / And he was gone / Are we to lose?” Then a melodic solo by Jimmy, a penny whistle, and more of Andy accompanying Buster Keaton. I recall how unpopular a party album this was at our pad. It was an acquired taste, like an aged but weird wine. Andy himself, I always thought, was even better on a b-side of Something In the Air called Wilhelmina that one can safely assume probably did not get as much airplay as the a-side. He sings nothing like Mick Jagger over a barrelhouse piano nothing like Keith Emerson and though Jimmy McCulloch does a very nice psychedelic fill it’s as unrock’n’roll a thing as you can imagine. I love it. Now Andy Thunderclap Newman is gone, following Jimmy McCulloch and Speedy Keen, and the band is gone too. Life is just a game, you fly a paper plane, there is no end.

Thunderclap Newman

Speedy, Andy, and Jimmy on the cover of Tiger Beat.

 

Check out BricksPicks.com for more reviews.

Good drummers are a dime a dozen

(I have about 500 stories in my draft file. Most are unfinished or just ideas, but occasionally I find something that I just never posted, like this. It’s a few years old.)

I knew I was a lousy drummer the day I popped myself in the eye with my left hand stick. I never lost a beat, however. Nor an eye. I was also never able to quite figure out how I’d done it. But it was punk rock, so no big deal.

I feel a story coming on. My drumming career. I mean good drummers are a dime a dozen, but the true fuck ups are something special.

My favorite drumming injury was when I noticed the crash stand, a big heavy thing, hadn’t been tightened properly and when I reached over to adjust it and the whole thing slipped and tore out a big chunk of my index finger. Blood everywhere. My wife ran up, duct taped my fingers together and I was ready to go before the guitarist was finished tuning.

I hear duct tape is good for severed limbs too.

At some point stuff like this stopped happening. No more injuries. No more screwball pratfalls. I had learned to play. And I got bored. Nothing went wrong anymore. You set up, sat down, played, got up, tore down. No fights, no riots, no naked dudes falling into my kit or naked chicks running across the stage. No crazy bouncers or outraged club owners. No demented mountain men threatening to kill me. No onstage joints laced with PCP. No police. No nothing but nice, safe rock’n’roll. It became tedious. At some point in a drummer’s life he’s cramming his bass drum into the trunk of his car and thinking why am I doing this? The real drummers know why, they’re real drummers. The amateurs know there has to be a better way of not making a living.

So I took up writing. There’s no money in it either, but at least I don’t have to lug a drum kit around.

Crooning

Oh wow, I recognized Matt Monro’s voice. Matt Monro. An obscure tune from an obscure movie, too. Southern Star was no Born Free. Sigh….I can recognize so many crooners by voice alone it creeps me out. When I was a kid I hated that crooning shit. That’s what I called it. I loved my dad’s big band music but couldn’t stand the crooners my mom used to swoon to. Album after album of them. Vaughn Monroe and Al Martino and Tony Martin. Frank Fontaine, Vic Damone, and Sergio Franchi. Eddie Fisher, that bum. But I find myself liking Andy Williams and Robert Goulet and not minding Steve Lawrence at all. Steve Lawrence? Yes, Steve Lawrence. Is this what getting old is like? Sleepy becomes a good thing? Oh god. Look at me, one Matt Monro tune and I’m shaking. Another aging rock’n’roll kid terrified that memories of Perry Como will morph into nostalgia.

A very young Matt Monro, no idea who's conducting the orchestra outside the booth. I'm assuming it's a London studio. Copped this from mattmonro.com.

A very young Matt Monro, no idea who that is outside the booth conducting the orchestra. I’m assuming it’s a London studio. Copped this from mattmonro.com.

 

Bing

Somebody just told me Bing Crosby was jailed for drunk driving in 1929. Right here in Hollywood even. I had no idea. 1929 was the middle of Prohibition. And Hollywood had been a dry town to begin with, before the movies came. So they hauled him in. They wouldn’t have dared a decade later, but this was 1929, and Bing was still a jazz singer then, and cops didn’t particularly like jazz singers. Or jazz trumpeters…the LAPD busted Louis Armstrong for marijuana possession a couple years later, in 1931. Vice cops were busy saving the city back then. They knew about Bing’s drinking back then. Who didn’t? But did they know that Bing and Louis would hang out smoking reefer in Chicago just a bit before? Probably not. That was a secret.

We didn’t know it, not in our family. Along with Jack Kennedy (or simply Jack), Bing Crosby (simply Bing) were icons in our house. Jesus and Jack on the wall, Bing on the Hi Fi. We didn’t know about the jailed for drunk driving, and we certainly know that he’d been a viper, getting high and cracking wise and singing with Satchmo…but we knew generally that he was quite the heller in his young days. That was a good thing, being quite the heller in your young days. It was expected. A drunk driving bust would have been perfectly understandable. Besides, the cops probably set him up anyway. That’s what we would have said. I don’t believe he was set up. I just think he was drunk. Bad luck. Somebody smacked into his car. Rear ended him. What can ya do? Looked it up–he was busted on Hollywood Blvd right there in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. No doubt I’ll think of that now every time I pass .Every time.

My mother called me the day he died. Bing died she said. It was like losing a grandfather’s brother, a relation you never saw in person, but knew all about. When my grandmother told my grandfather that Bing had died, my grandfather went pale. You aren’t gonna die on me too now, she asked. He recovered. No, No,  I’m not going anywhere. But he did not long after.

There’s never been Irish Americans as important to American Irishmen since Jack and Bing. Jack’s story is too sad for words (and Bobby’s even sadder), but Bing’s ended just right. That was a great game, fellas.  And it was.

Bing on the phone.

Bing on the phone.

.

.

Lou Reed

I never got into Lou Reed’s solo stuff much, don’t even think I ever had an album he did past the Velvet Underground’s Loaded. I loved that one, and still do, especially Rock’n’Roll–which I remember hearing on the AM radio, Head Held High, with the terrific drum break announcing the change, and Sweet Jane, one of my favorite songs ever. I remember even quoting that somehow in a bit I wrote on Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter in the LA Weekly. About how those were different times, the poets studied rules of verse and the ladies, they rolled their eyes. I hate calling anything poetry–some of the worst crap in the English language is called poetry, it’s an insult almost–but that is poetry, that rules of verse, rolling their eyes bit. Rock’n’roll poetry. I hear jazz purists tell me no one has written a decent lyric since the Great American Songbook and I think to myself yeah, fuck you, those guys never wrote a Sweet Jane. They wouldn’t even know how.

That first Velvets album sure had an enormous impact on me. Huge. I actually had a used copy I found in O.C., of all counties, complete with the peelable banana intact. Considering how few copies were sold (Brian Eno said it was thirty thousand in five years), it’s weird I found a copy in some used record store in Tustin way back when. I was in high school or maybe junior college. I just had to have a copy so I could listen to Heroin whenever I wanted. Which I did, with headphones, Lou’s jabbering words against John Cale’s searing viola….the tension building, building, Maureen beating almost ametrically back there, like a heart gone crazy with that first flush of the narcotic, and Sterling Morrison and Lou explode in frazzled, frenzied guitar. Damn. God damn. There was nothing, absolutely nothing like it at the time. Not even Hendrix had gone that far over the edge, and Hendrix inevitably gave in to virtuosity. You couldn’t hang that on the Velvets. They couldn’t play worth shit compared to the other stuff coming out in 1967.  As if it mattered.

All us early punks were vastly influenced by that album. Our music’s lyrics pretty much came from that. The MC5 were rowdy and crazy and loud as hell, but were basically Detroit hippies. Free love and rock’n’roll and inchoate revolution. Awesome band, the MC5, but they weren’t us. Nor were the Stooges, mostly, because mostly the Stooges were a Stones in hell rock’n’roll band. Iggy even did a bad Jagger impression singing. It was rock’n’roll, some of the best ever, but it wasn’t us in 1977.  Lou’s Velvet Underground, though…well, intellectually they set the scene for NYC’s CBGB’s and Max’s scene in the 70’s, from which our music sprang. And like I said, they couldn’t play, and neither could we. But it didn’t matter. That was the point. The brilliant Beat story telling, the dissonance and scraping scratchy guitar noise, the berzerk rave ups, that demented viola, the total fuck you hippie about it all…that first Velvet Underground album kinda created us. It’s still one of my favorite records ever. And to top it off Nico’s take on Femme Fatale is one of the most gorgeous ballads you’ve ever heard.  Something I wish I hadn’t said, because it means I have should explain the whole album, and how different the tunes are, and perfect, and still spooky and evocative and rocking and thoroughly sad and depressing. But I won’t.

But he Citizen Kane’d himself with that one, Lou did, and didn’t help anything with the ferociously noisy follow up White Light White Heat. A zillion minutes of Sister Ray, all colossal noise. And the absolute rock out freedom of I Heard Her Call My Name. I felt my mind split open. Poor Lou would never again create anything that could possibly top those two. It was so right place, wrong time. That’s how we felt about ourselves, stuck in the demoralizing misery of the 1970’s. We wanted to be back then with Lou, in the wild and free sixties, money everywhere. We formed crazy bands and played terrible renditions of Heroin. I remember it was the encore of my first show ever, and my arms nearly fell off laying down that bup bup, bup bup beat on the rack and floor toms, the guitar player losing his mind in a ferocious rave up. When that heroin is in my blood, and that blood is in my brain….. I never did heroin. That song helped that, I’m sure.

Heroin fucked Lou up. Heroin and alcohol and you name it. I wonder when he quit. He looked like death warmed over years ago. They gave him a new liver but something went wrong. It happens. Lou died. It was October 27. And today Facebook is overflowing with heartfelt paeans to Lou Reed, hero, saint, beautiful artist, beautiful man. Tragedy. So sad. Depressed, you mope around this cloudy day, lighting candles, wallowing in self-absorbed pity. Poor Lou, you say, poor Lou. You tell your little stories. But come on, the dude was a prick. He was famous for it. Which is all well and good, as far as I’m concerned, as there were no nice people in his songs either. They came from the mean, sleazy streets of New York, dark and greasy and rank with wino piss. The people are fuck ups, doomed, scuzzy. There’s nothing nice about his music at all. At least not back then. He wrote about ugly people in ugly places, about people utterly wasting their lives. His songs took place in New York, grey and dirty and in black in white, and full of death. So today Lou joins them. Becomes one of his own characters.  Let’s not make him out to be nice. Let’s not insult the man with gushing praise. Lets not make him pretty, label him a poet, write florid rock critic prose, somber and badly metaphor’d. The hell with that. The world sucks. People die. Heroes aren’t heroes, not in their own eyes. They just want to write songs and be left alone. It’s hard enough to get a cab in that damn town. You can score smack easier quicker than you can hail a cab. Just ask Lou, or ask the people he wrote about.  They’d tell you that beatifying a New York Bowery bum is a joke. That the world is out to get them, all grey and heartless and cold, ugly old brownstones and dances with men in dresses, loud rock’n’roll feedbacked through a horrible P.A., and the wasted, the fucked up, and the dead. Yeah, people die. Lou died. He probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course it wasn’t up to him. That’s the last laugh. People cackle in the alleyways.  The Factory is off there somewhere, full of queens and freaks and degenerates. Flash forward half a century and most of that crowd is dead. Those that aren’t tell everybody they fucked Lou Reed, but it wasn’t very meaningful.

Meaningful. Like all the stuff I’m seeing on Facebook today, so heartfelt and meaningful. As if that meant anything in Lou’s dank, dark creations. As if he’d care what you think. Like you could possibly know. Lou Reed didn’t care about you. He didn’t care about your world at all. It wasn’t his. His had no time for you and your emotions and poetic turns of phrase. And if you don’t get that, you don’t get it any of it. So just fuck off. Just fuck off and die. He did.

But just the same, Lou Reed, rest in peace.