One of those parties that will flash before your eyes

(2013)

I wrote this long beautiful piece on an endless party at the Cafe NELA last nite. It was gorgeous, that piece. Then Facebook froze and the words dissolved into electrons so fuck it. Good party though. Great even. One of those parties that will flash before your eyes.

It was kinda like Al’s Bar was but without the out of control berzerkness, puking and sexual tension. You know, old people. Fun old people, though. The guy next to me even fell off his barstool, right on his back. Wham! Thought he was knocked out. But he was just drunk. You could tell he was drunk because he said he wasn’t drunk. Not even ouch. Just I’m not drunk. That was Al’s Bar to me. Also, instead of the patio they had a whole glaucoma-free back yard with lawn chairs and booths that used to be where the stage is now. No photo booth, though, and even if they did I doubt anyone would fuck in it. Unlike Al’s.
But like Al’s, this had none of Raji’s heroin chic. But like Raji’s, this place was comfortable. And like the Anti-Club, it has a big open space out back. And like Mr T’s, it had Duley. Though he wasn’t bouncing anybody here. Just playing drums. It happens.
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Duley Toledo kicking out the jams.

Duley Toledo kicking out the jams.

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Thirty years ago

Thirty years ago. That’s Edwin Letcher and Edward Huerta of Moist and Meaty chatting up a rock star storm, though considering Edwin’s street garb I don’t think M&M were playing that night. Photo probably by Don Butler. Al’s Bar maybe?  I look like a bouncer. I wasn’t, but then I always looked like a bouncer. This was back when I invariably seemed to be the tallest, strongest, and gnarliest dude in a room full of ill fed bohemians and fucked up punk rockers. Pretty punkettes would ask me to walk them to their cars in the crackhead neighborhoods our hangs were always in.

That’s Dolph Lundgren’s jacket I have on. A friend was working a shoot and realized he had two matching jackets so she copped that one for me. I wore it to death. Then I switched to blazers. Before then I was strictly the flannel tied around the waist kinda guy, sort of the uniform of the day, though I believe only Mike Watt fans sport that fashion these days. Back then I could tie a long sleeved shirt around my waist.

Before then I used show up at the crazy clubs to watch berserk bands while wearing an outrageously hot pink shirt and telling people to fuck off. The chicks dug it but the dudes would back off, bewildered, a big giant scary guy who might hurt them in the queerest shirt they had ever seen. Punk rock, baby. Reagan was president, fuck the world.

Doubtless later the same night after this photo was snapped everyone piled into our little pad off of Sunset in Silverlake. We had loud crazy parties till nearly sun-up almost every weekend, people making a mad dash for the liquor stores before 2 a.m. and then coming to our place to wake up the neighbors. Thirty people crammed in a backyard bungalow, laughing and yelling and high as kites, the music–I had a hundreds of incredibly loud and/or weird records then–roaring incessantly. On a good weekend we had parties on both Friday and Saturday. I remember one weekend people leaping off the roof into the hedges. I have no idea why. After the people finally staggered home we’d screw loudly in whatever darkness remained. Oh, we were the perfect neighbors.

We threw hundreds of parties in our hosting career. Some spontaneous, some planned, none nice. I would so hate living now next to us then.

If I ever give up writing and turn to scanning, I have thousands of pictures from those days. There are ten photo albums–remember those?–waiting in analog silence above my record collection. Though they are just a couple arm lengths away, they seem a million miles from these quick and easy electrons I’m staring at now.

Brick, Edwin, Ed Huerta c. 1987

Edwin in his beloved green corduroy jacket with Dukie Flyswatter’s fake blood on it, Ed Huerta looking eerily like a stoned version of his current unstoned self, and me probably unsmiling because I had had a front tooth yanked and it made me look like a hockey player until they could replace it. The look did fit the jacket, though.

Al’s Bar

Going to a PopDefect gig at Al’s Bar on a Friday night in July, before the smoking ban and the house is packed, beyond packed even…you came home, threw all your clothes in the washer and washed your face, as if that would help. Woke up past noon smelling like Perth Amboy. Jump in the shower and then likely do it all over again on Saturday night if the line-up looked good. It usually did. What a glorious hell hole Al’s Bar was. All of us will die early from the air in there. Plus the bathroom fixtures were sticky. And the Pope getting everyone way too high on the back patio. How did they put their band sticker way up there? I saw your name in the men’s room. It says you rock. You put your cigarette out in my beer. What a stupid band name. There’s somebody fucking in the photo booth. My car got broken into again, and I gave the homeless guy a dollar to watch it. No, the bartender’s boyfriend is in the band. No, not the drummer. We’re not on the guest list? Jackson Brown, here, really? It was better before they earthquaked it. Art fag! Damn, if my wife wasn’t here I could get so laid right now. Can we get anything in the monitors? Wow, Seattle. God that art sucks. Are the smoke machines really necessary? You live upstairs? Uh oh, I owe her money. I go to Raji’s now but I drank too much. I was way up front and that blonde’s ass was rubbing against me the whole time. Dude, you gotta lay off the junk. Tip or die! Shit, took so long to find a parking space I missed the first band. Who were they? They don’t serve food in here? Yeah, I know, but I’m clapping because they put me on their guest list. I used to walk here from the Brave Dog. It was cool then. Spoken word? In here? It’s five bucks for the single but it’s colored vinyl. Cliff said no way. I saw a dead guy out on the sidewalk once. My band is here next month. Can I get a martini? No? We’re kind of a Stooges meets Velvets meets Exile on Main Street era Stones thing, but all original. Just talk to the bouncer, he always gets me in. How come there’s never any toilet paper in the ladies room? Wow, another Flipside guy. The beer is warm. I couldn’t hear a fucking thing up there. Yup, I smoked a joint with Kurt Cobain where that pile of boxes is now. I didn’t know you played the saxophone. I met Angie Bowie here once.  I met my ex-boyfriend here. I thought I met Robert DeNiro here once but it was just some guy. Either I’m way too stoned or that band is way too weird. After party? Where? Can I come? Their seven inch is worth big money now. She’s a performance artist, but be nice. We got reviewed in Maximum Rock’n’roll, but I couldn’t tell if they liked us or not. Yeah, but he’s an asshole now. We wanna shoot our video here. Under the table at rock’n’rolI Denny’s? Really? I dunno, some shitty band from Boston or Austin or something. They’ll be done soon. I can’t find my shit. She’s naked. Completely. We got banned from no talent nite ’cause we were too talented. Here’s a flyer. Who didn’t you sleep with? We need gas money. A naked guy jumped into the drum kit when I closed my eyes. This is a drinking song! My feet are killing me. It’s on compact disc, but all I have is a cassette player. I liked ’em better when they couldn’t play. Wiener Gotcha. Hey, that’s George Herms. The band wasn’t much, but the chick on bass was hot. Whose getting laid on top of the volkswagen? No, outside. I played pool with Jerry Brown but my girlfriend danced with Linda Ronstadt. Dude that’s way too many piercings. Would you guys mind, we’re trying to conduct an interview here. Sounds like he blew an amp. Yeah, the hot little bartender is a writer, I always tip her extra. El Duce pissed on me once. You should have seen the encore. We were getting high in the soundbooth..we know the guy.Those assholes can’t play pool worth shit. The singer showed me her boob job. TURN DOWN!!!! I hate this place. Wait, I’ll go to Bloom’s for more rolling papers. That guy’s been hitting on me all night, I think he’s from Orange County. I never liked this punk metal shit. There is no industry list. The dominatrix at the bar teaches at my kid’s school. Art damage, they still call it that? Oh, that smells good. They’re trying to find the drummer now. What does a fluffer do? Whose beer did I just sit in? There’s glass all over the floor there. I think I got her phone number. Remember when these guys were good? The toilet overflowed. She’s one of those Brat Pack chicks, ignore her. It’s a fanzine, there’s a xerox machine at work. I think of them as art films, actually. She hated the band so much she threw the money at them and told them to get off the stage. Look across the street, a yuppie. Let’s fuck with him. Meet ya at the Chinese Denny’s, you can sober up there. Sonic Youth, here? Or just somebody from New York? Jack Brewer weirded me out. He always does. You get a flyer? Puppet shows never work in here. Sex Bomb! Not rockabilly, swampabilly. This is the greatest place in the world if you’re fucked up.  There’s not enough graffiti in the bathroom. She thinks she’s Siouxsie Sioux. He’s drinking all the half empty beers. I know all the backstreets. Oh god, another yuppie. There goes the neighborhood.

How the world goes round

Danzig (he replies to Greg Burk), twenty-five years a rock star already… I remember seeing him with the Misfits at Al’s Bar (I think Saccharine Trust went on before them, can’t remember who else.) Must have been, what 1983? ’84? I remember being minorly disappointed that they didn’t play “Attitude”, of which a terrific live version existed on some I think Flipside comp I lost track of decades ago, but they did a great “Astrozombies”. Funny how things that bug you then wouldn’t bother you at all later, not one bit. Saccharine Trust kind of blew them off the stage in a weird LA way tho’. Or whoever it was that opened did. At the time LA punk rock, some of it, was heading outward while NYC’s was so conservative…which is what became the legacy, actually. Ramones/Misfits. All that explosive creativity reduced to a simple formula. But I think I’ve lost my way here. I was going to mention that I opened once–or was that twice?–for Corrosion of Conformity, back before they were a three piece. They weren’t metal yet, just scary intense. I remember their singer–who onstage was  completely insane, the skinheads backed off, intimidated–was the son of their road manager, who was an old hippie Mom and nice enough but she beat some guy up soon afterwards at a show and he had to be hospitalized and both she and her son–who had pitched in–were jailed for a spell. Hence both he and she were outta the band.  I was impressed. I believe the beat up dude was a promoter in the process of ripping off the band. You can guess where my sympathies lie. Anyway, I was in this completely mad power trio then. The leader Charles Joseph Renfield III (whose real name was Charlie Berger until watching Dracula on acid) actually went clinically mad towards the end of the band, the voices, unrestrained by a weekend of angel dust, kind of took hold and he joined a local offshoot of an offshoot of a splinter group of somebody’s Nazi Party. The other member of the party later committed suicide by motorcycle in one of Orange County’s trickier canyons. We found that out much later. Charlie–well Chuck, as we all called him, when he was not in the his band persona, which was increasingly not that often–was a rather zen nazi, self-admitted, which I could never figure out but it rendered him sweet in a nazi kind of way. He could have been Reichblumenfuhrer. He soon got strung out on smack which broke a lot of hearts but settled him down. Certainly it quieted the evil little nazi voice in his head. He moved to Tacoma to live near Mom, bounced in and out of mental hospitals and on and off smack, apparently got married somewhere and bore a son, and died of an overdose of heroin in a Tacoma parking garage on an Easter Sunday. I think that was fifteen or twenty years ago. How time flies when you’re dead.

He’d been writing a rock opera, I remember, writing it for years. I’ve forgotten the title. He couldn’t write music but he used to strum bits of it for us, sing us passages, hum the string parts he dreamed up. No idea if he ever sung or strummed or hummed any of it into a cassette recorder. I doubt it.  It’s just gone. I sometimes wonder how many things like that are just gone. Throughout the history of the world, I mean, there are always dreamers, always have been. They dream up rock operas and novels and revolutions, movies and towering skyscrapers and flying machines. I wonder what enormous cathedrals never left some monk’s fevered brain. I know of at least four vast novels that never left mine. One was about a Russian, another about a guy in the trenches in WW1. One was about a guy in Connecticut, and one was about a detective in Cairo, Illinois. There’s nothing but scraps now. You can’t do much with scraps but wonder.

But  what’s the point. They would have lousy novels, all of them. And Chuck’s rock opera no work for the ages. And the cathedral in my monk’s fevered brain would have soared too high and tumbled down, smashing workmen and monk alike. People would come ever after to the heap of granite blocks and look up and wonder just how far it was supposed to go. Some of them, the damn fools, would dream up their own doomed cathedrals. And that is how the world goes round.

A shame about Chuck, though. He’d been such a sweet, funny kid, even brilliant in his own odd way until the madness took hold. I never had as much fun bashing a drum kit as I did with Chuck, not even before in that thrill of being in my first rock band, or later, playing to audiences who didn’t stare bewildered or angry even. Madness changes everything. The voices. Who knows why they take command. Maybe the drugs, there are drugs everywhere when you join a band in the bowels of the big city. Some of us avoid them, some of us can’t help themselves. Or maybe it’s just growing up. The brain is huge then, you know, in your young twenties, bigger than it will ever be*. A huge mess of neurons and synapses and there’s so much room for things to go wrong in all that, it doesn’t take that many neurons connecting the wrong way to turn someone into a raving lunatic. But no one knew that then. Well they did, a lot of it, but they didn’t know what to do about it. They just locked you up, gave you all kinds of pills or big zaps of electricity. It was a bad time to be nuts. It’s so much better now. People functioning, living normal lives who once might have been standing on street corners arguing with someone no one else could see. I might still be hanging with Chuck now, laughing, remembering the crazy bands we were in. But it’s best not to dwell on these things. People with HIV live forever now too. People with cancer. Or ghastly head wounds from Iraq. Some people keep living even if they don’t want to. The miracle of modern medicine. My wife died once but she is still here like she’d never been dead at all. I think about that every day. Funny thing, life.

Funny how that power trio wound up, too. The bassist moved to Nashville and sold used Cadillacs. Later he came out as gay. Chuck came out a junkie. Me, I came out a jazz critic. Maybe that’s how the world goes round, too.

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* The brain is huge then, you know, in your young twenties, bigger than it will ever be…. In volume, that is. You actually have more neurons at birth but the pruning process has already begun even in the womb. I have no idea why that is. Perhaps some are transformed into other kinds of cells during fetal development. And perhaps it’s this fetal surfeit of neurons that has made the increase in brain size possible, because there are so many neurons available for use. I’m guessing here.