I remember at the house on Edgecliffe in the 80’s we had hundreds and hundreds of albums but I was so punk rock they were in no order whatsoever. Anarchy, I said. Sometimes if I was tired of hearing the same record every week—we were having parties almost weekly, loud obnoxious drunken punk rock parties that went on till dawn—I’d hide the record way in the back somewhere. Only the most determined digger—The Panther was the best—would flip through hundreds of LPs to find Sticky Fingers. Most would just pick something that looked cool and it might be some frenzied Yugoslavian punk rock or squealing Swiss saxophones or bad Lee Michaels. Then there’d be a drunken screech of the tone arm across once perfect vinyl, a pregnant few seconds, and Brown Sugar again.
Back around 1980 and someone puts on the Cars or the B-52s or Joe Jackson and you bellow I don’t wanna listen to this shit, put on something real and they know exactly what you mean, though it’s almost impossible to explain what you meant to people now, and you might not even know anymore yourself. But sometimes, when the circumstances are just right, it comes welling up out of nowhere, that feeling, and suddenly you’re an asshole again, cackling at shit going wrong and heckling the musicians like some crazed geezer uncle the kids aren’t sure what to do with.
Not that I’ve ever done this.
Didn’t know I had this one, a shot of the Creamers from back in the mid 80’s, Sue Gorilla on guitar, and Leesa Poole just gorgeous at the microphone. I liked Leesa a lot, we were good buddies, and for a while she ran an office on Wilshire Blvd next door to where I worked, her day gig and my day gig side by side. I think we’re talking 1987. I can’t remember what she did, maybe corporate recruiting, while I worked then at the corporate headquarters of US Borax, running the mail room and shipping department and a small warehouse and sundry other sections. It was my sole stint as a manager, with a crew of ten or so. Leesa had called and said let’s do lunch in a couple days and at the appointed time she came down to my basement office to pick me up. I was in my usual blue collar business casual. She wasn’t.
No, she was dressed to kill in a leather mini miniskirt and crazily ripped black hose and wild heeled boots, while above she was in some tight spangled tee shirt and a studded denim jacket and her hair a platinum explosion. There was a billowy scarf and jangly bracelets and rings and necklaces and look at me earrings. There was even a tattoo. She looked fabulous and was probably the wildest thing seen on Wilshire Boulevard east of La Brea in years. I laughed—I mean I’d never seen her in this get up, on stage she looked positively puritanical in comparison, but this I assume was her daily office duds. My crew, on the other hand, did not laugh, or do anything. They were stunned into complete silence and just stared, eyes wide, jaws dropped. Remember, this was still the Reagan 80’s, dreary and conservative, and nothing had been seen like Leesa since the wild 70’s, and none of that even then had ever permeated my crew’s working class enclaves. As Leesa and I headed out they found excuses to follow us down the hall, one even ran ahead to hold the elevator door open, and when the door opened again on the first floor there was somehow a small audience trying to look like they weren’t staring. I have no idea how they collected there so quickly, but office buildings before the internet were like villages of a few hundred people, and juicy information could be passed from floor to floor with astonishing speed. Before we’d even left the building the chatter had begun.
I can’t remember where we had lunch or what we talked about, but I do remember that by the time I got back to the office the news of my supposedly wanton escapade had gotten all the way to the ninth floor. It didn’t help that I quite literally knew every single person in the building, especially the secretaries with whom I worked very closely. Every secretary, even today, is like a switchboard. If they heard that I was messing around with a real live movie star who looked exactly like Debbie Harry (as the report had it by the time it reached the ninth floor) then their entire department would know it as well, as any nearby secretaries. Over the next couple days I had to explain to the secretaries that no, I wasn’t having a fling with a wild rock star. It was just lunch, I said. Yes, my wife knows her, we’re all friends. Yes, my wife knew about the lunch. No, she’s not a movie star. No, she’s not a rock star. She’s a singer in a band. No, not a famous band…. I must have been convincing as the chatter and whispers faded away. Besides I was a nice guy. I wasn’t chasing anybody around any desks or being a creep. There wasn’t much to hang such a juicy rumor on. But lesson learned, and that was the very last time I ever let the day gig get a glimpse of my real life, something I stuck by for the next twenty five years of my professional life. It’s better that way. Let them think I’m normal became a mantra. Well, sort of normal anyway.
I hadn’t remembered any of this in years, perhaps decades, until I saw this photograph. Fun band, the Creamers. I doubt Leesa ever knew the stir she caused at US Borax. I doubt anybody I knew outside work ever did. I never told a soul. Some things are better left unspoken for thirty years or so.
Scott Drake, center, with Chris Bag of Claw Hammer and one of those unidentified women. This was at Edwin & Debi’s legendary New Years in August bash some time in the late 80’s. One hundred drunken weirdos yelling Happy New Year at the stroke of midnight on some Saturday in August in Lincoln Heights. Best New Years Eve Party I ever attended, and it wasn’t even cold. Anyway, Scott was in fine form, and not long after this he totally weirded out a pair of gothy satanists. They looked great, all in black everything, and they had the whole jaded thing down, but then Scott showed up in the middle of their Anton Lavey shtick, they introduced themselves, he wordlessly burbled and squeaked, and they fled. Who needs language anyway?
[Just found this amid the drafts, it appears to have been pieced together from various bits and might be ten years old, and some of it perhaps twenty or thirty years old, I don’t remember. It’s a rough draft, obviously, but I’ll leave as is.]
Someone asked about the ON Klub. In Silver Lake, right? On Sunset? Facebook archaeology. Look for the old people that remember. A few of us did. Had actually been there even. I could even recite the address, though how I have no idea. But it was 3037 W. Sunset. Silverlake–it was one word then, though it’s back to two again now–was terra incognita then. People knew Hollywood, and people knew Echo Park was next to Dodger Stadium, but Silverlake was an amorphous area inbetween, and it’s stretch of Sunset Blvd was dimly lit and dark shadowed as night fell, dingy old gay bars and botanicas and liquor stores and abandoned storefronts. Everything old and if not quite falling down, aging less than gracefully. You could tell that a generation or two before this area had been something. If you dared to turn left or right and chugged up the steep hill in whatever beat up seventies lemon you were stuck in (it was the end of a decade of terrible American industrial workmanship, when everything was built just to break down, and a whole nation was topographically divided by whether the car could make it up that hill or not) the darkness would close in around you, the houses hidden behind steel bars and lush foliage, the apartment buildings peeling and battered, and who were those sketchy guys on the sidewalk? The streets twisted upon themselves immediately, dead ended or narrowed to the width of a single car and Sunset Blvd disappeared somewhere back there and you were lost, instantly. We were new in town, just a year or two, and lived in East Hollywood with the Armenians and Mexicans and gays and losers and ancient people who tended roses in yards in front of old clapboard houses they’d lived in since the silent days. We never explored Silverlake. We’d pass through it on the way downtown till we figured out a quicker route. But that was it.
Our car had died and we were dependent on the RTD–now MTA–for transportation for a year. That was a drag. You miss a lot of things that way. At some point we scraped up enough cash for a car and bought a Pinto. They were homely and cheap and deadly in a collision. Ours was blue and it rattled and it never saw the fast lane of a freeway. But it was wheels. I’m pretty sure this was the car we first went to the ON Klub in. We kept reading about the place in the LA Reader–never bothered with the LA Weekly back then, the Reader was much hipper and Matt Groening wrote the music column–and all these bands I’d hear on KXLU occasionally seemed to be playing there. Weird bands, crazy bands, punk rock bands that annoyed everybody. We had to go there. It was a Saturday night. We’d worked our shit jobs that week and collected our paychecks. Put almost enough in the bank to cover the bills, and the rest in our pockets. ATM cards didn’t exist yet, and credit cards were beyond most of us. It was a cash only economy at our level. Cheap restaurants, cheap clubs, cheap beer and rag weed. We had apparently just smoked a whole joint’s worth because I remember being stoned out of our minds as we crept down a darkened Sunset Boulevard looking for the address. We went right past it at least once, turned around, and headed back. 3037 Sunset, that’s it. There was a marquee I think above the door. I think it said Oriental Nights. Maybe it said ON Klub too. I can’t remember if that K was to make it punk rock or if it was some affectation left over from its history as a rather notorious gay bar from the days before Stonewall. Silver Lake–two words way back then–had been a center and hide out for Hollywood’s gays since the twenties. Fyl once described a bus trip down Sunset sitting behind two elderly queens. As the bus made its way slowly along, these two kept pointing to their old haunts and reminiscing. Remember that place? Oh and that one? Mary, this, Mary that. The Silver Lake Lounge. The Black Cat Tavern. Oriental Nights was one. They giggled and whispered something about the place. By the time she got off the bus downtown she’d had the whole tour. But that was twenty years later. I have no idea what we thought the place had been as we entered that night. You didn’t really ask questions about punk rock clubs, you just took them as they came, hoping it would last more than a week. When you’re twenty something the past isn’t especially important anyway. Or shouldn’t be.
The place was a dive. It was old, built into a hillside, almost a cliff, it was almost like it was built into a cavern. East Hollywood was flat as Kansas but here just two miles away weird bars were excavated into bedrock and the neighborhoods clung to hillsides along streets undulating who knows where. It was a different world. Gays and hippies and vatos, ancient bohemians and chattering Filipinos and breathtakingly beautiful Latinas that returned your stare with a sneer. It didn’t feel like home, yet, but I liked it. We found parking along Sunset somewhere near the joint and went in.
Think the place began booking punk around 1981? But only for a couple years. It was there for years afterward, first an empty shell, lonely and sad and weed choked, and then was a film studio storage place or something for decades, might still be. I don’t remember as much ska there as later at the ON Klub in Hollywood. I remember some really nuts underground shit, though. Nip Drivers in 82 or 83 remains one of my favorite shows ever, it was demented, plus some guy was fucking with Fyl and she poured her drink over his head, but it was the wrong guy, and he got mad, and Fyl told him to fuck off, and he got madder, and she told him to fuck off, bitch, so he got even madder, all dripping and sticky, and I told him to leave (think I just pointed at the door) which he did, but he wrote us a nasty personal ad in the LA Reader, called me a “hulking boyfriend”, which we still have pressed in a photo album somewhere. I loved punk rock.
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.
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. 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?
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.