My music career

Just listening to some ancient cassettes of an old band of mine, thirty years ago. I was in a lot of bands for a couple crazy decades there–no one you’d ever heard of–but this band was my favorite. It was the apex of it all. I hadn’t listened to us in years, though. Not in forever. I didn’t realize I played so very fast back then. Wow. No high hat, either–I remember picking it up and throwing it in the corner when the linkage broke, kept playing and didn’t bother buying another. I was free baby, all over the place. The music was crazy hard, loose, wild, funny, loud and out of control. What a ball we were having. I think we might have been a wee bit high. And no, you will never hear it.

I’d even forgotten some of the titles. Things like Baby Baby you blow my mind! (“Oh baby, you blow my everloving mind!”). Or I love you oh baby oh yeah! yeah! yeah! (“I love you, oh baby, oh yeah yeah yeah/Will I leave you, oh baby, oh no, no, no”). The classic  “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, No, No, No” (“every time I wanna say yeah/everybody else wants to say no”). And a version of Mrs. Robinson we did because you could say “yeah” eighteen times in a row. That was important. The singer/guitar leader thought all rock songs should say yeah and baby. All of them. Indeed, that is all they had to say. I remember on one song I couldn’t make out the lyrics between the baby baby chorus, but it was because there weren’t any, the singer was making rock star noises. You don’t need words in rock’n’roll, he said, you just have to make rock star noises. Apparently he’d been listening to Exile on Main Street on acid, and on “Happy” Keith Richards made rock star noises. Those aren’t really words, he said. He had a point, and I wasn’t even tripping. I never did. But he did a lot of tripping. As did the bass player. I was ground control, I guess. We seemed to do a lot of tunes about acid. My favorite was My Balls Feel Fine where a guy goes to a love in and is afraid he got the clap, “but I look them over/ and I feel them over/ but they feel fine/ and I’m feeling fine/ Because my balls feel fine/ I said my balls feel fine/ I took LSD/ but did I also get VD….”. Can’t remember the rest–I lost the notebook with all his lyrics. This would be about the time in the set when I’d look at the crowd and they were sitting there, jaws dropped, bewildered and uncomfortable. Even the ones who hated us. The ones who thought we were the greatest thing ever were singing along. It did have a catchy chorus.

There were a lot of stoner tunes, too. “Let’s Get Naked and Smoke” (“I wanna use your boobs for a roach clip baby!”) was a crowd pleaser, even danceable, not to mention on our very rare button. No one made buttons then, they were so thin tie new wave hokey, so of course we did. There were two, but all I can remember is Let’s Get Naked and Smoke. We also did a million covers, none of which sounded like the originals….we filled them with yeahs and babys and people probably couldn’t recognize half of them. Somebody once told me that our song that goes we’re caught in a trap, we can’t get out really hit him hard, because he was caught in a trap and couldn’t get out either. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was an Elvis song. Thing was he really was caught in a trap, but that’s another story.

I remember playing the Cathay de Grande here in Hollywood and the hardcore kids hated us, one of them–he looked exactly like Ian McKaye–marched back and forth in front of the stage screaming you suck and flipping us off through every song. He was wearing a “make noise not music” tee shirt. Apparently we were too musical. Some proto-grunge long hairs were going nuts like we were the saviors of rock’n’roll. Everyone else just stared, bewildered. That made us feel good. Played again and the same reaction. Pretty much the response we wanted. If 90% of the crowd hates you then you must be doing something right. Every gig, though, we picked up more fanatical fans. This was just before the eighties underground explosion, when hardcore punk rockers rediscovered rock’n’roll and weirdness. We were on the cutting edge, I suppose, though we had no idea. We were just in this crazy band. We were original class of ’77 punk rockers, and had that edge. We didn’t care about politics or causes or ideology, we just wanted to act crazy and bug people and fuck shit up. There were a lot of bizarre onstage antics, anarchy, surrealism, Marx Brothers moments and unbelievably stoned weirdness. We were a power trio. We were incredibly loud. The guitar player–dubbing himself Charles Joseph Renfield III–came off like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Wayne County and that really weird guy in your high school gym class. Totally demented look, and this was 1984, when everyone looked like Ian McKaye and Henry Rollins. The bassist looked like a redneck–he was, actually, from Kentucky–talked and sang in a thick stage drawl and went by the name of Keltic Runes. I looked like a truck driver, a big giant strong as an ox working man–which I was–beating a tiny little jazz kit. I never stopped playing no matter how catastrophic it got on stage. One memorable night the other guys got tangled in each other’s chords during the long instrumental stretch in Let’s Get Naked and Smoke–I think they were copping the Mick Ronson-Trevor Boulder dance routine from Ziggy Stardust–and the bass became unplugged and the guitar amp toppled over with an enormous reverbed bang that echoed over and over. My brother jumped up on stage to helped untangle the mess–it looked like a Gordian knot of cables–and get everyone plugged back in, I’m still playing, the bass player joins in, the guitar player starts tuning up over the groove and finally comes back in like nothing had happened. People applauded with relief, I think they were sure we were just going to end it there, tangled and unplugged and sad. Afterward someone came up and asked if we’d planned all that. I said we had. He said he figured as much.

That was the same night that the guitar player, quite out of his mind–he wound up in a mental hospital soon afterward–tried to get in a fist fight with the Cathay’s doorman, Lawrence Fishburne, who’d have none of it. He just spun him around and I nearly got clocked instead. His fist stopped an inch from my face. He would have knocked me out cold, I’m sure, he was so high on whatever, vibrating, tweeked, quite mad. But he dropped his fist. Sorry Brick, he said. Then he started raving at the kids, trying to start a riot. They just stared. I managed to get him down into the bowels of the club and onto the stage. He’d used about two cans of hair spray and in profile had this incredible alpine pompadour that from the front was maybe two inches wide. Not a hair out of place, though. The rest of his get up included beat up jeans, demented high heeled boots with doll heads attached and a girl’s blouse. A scarf, too. He was a PCP hallucination of Jimi Hendrix. His stage banter was half Elvis, half Hendrix, half cartoons. I know that’s three halves, but then so was he. If you’re gonna be weird, be weird. I remember him once telling somebody we were the greatest band on the planet. They scoffed–on the whole planet? Yeah, he said, just not this planet. It became our slogan.

We never did record. We were supposed to do a session for Mystic Records but I had to cancel it because Charles Joseph Renfield III had been out all night plumbing the depths of downtown L.A. on dust and was a mess. I didn’t even know people were still doing dust. But the end, clearly, was nigh. He’d actually become his stage persona, Charles Joseph Renfield III. Weird thing to watch. We later talked about just recording one of the gigs and calling it Liver Than Living Fuck. But it was too late. He was way out there by that point–it got very strange, strange and disturbing–and I had to break up the band. Shades of Ziggy, I know. We all went our own ways. He got strung out, stayed that way for years, was in and out of mental hospitals and eventually died a sad, messy death. The bass player moved to Nashville to sell used Cadillacs. I wound up a jazz critic. Years later I’m at some club looking sophisticated and some geezer comes up to me and said he saw us at the Cathay and we’d changed his life. I thanked him and edged away….

A couple years after all this we were reviewed somewhere–Flipside?–which surprised the hell out of me. It came out of nowhere, a previous life. The reviewer said we “were either the world’s laziest musicians or light years ahead of everybody else or both”. I was very proud of that quote…. True on both counts. The only other review I ever remember getting was for my first band and Flipside said of us that “they could hold their own with Fear and Black Flag in a hardcore guts contest.” I’m still proud of that one, too. I even had my picture in the ‘zine. That was so long ago, 1979 I believe, and I don’t think I even have a copy of that. Of either. I just remember the quotes. But those two quotes were enough for my music career.

.

Advertisements

Giggling

I heard that my brother was on the radio giggling. I didn’t hear it myself–I can hear him giggle anytime, little private giggling sessions, laughing and laughing as only brothers can laugh and laugh. But tonight he was–is, actually,as I write this–on the radio, he and Alan Hambra, giggling and chuckling and thoroughly bechortling themselves. You can do that on college stations, giggle and bechortle yourself. Bechortle yourself silly even.*

But you can’t giggle on KCRW. You can’t even think about it. Not Henry Rollins, not nobody.Though there was a time before the lighter, friendlier Henry that giggling wasn’t even conceivable. He was like one of those mean, gnarly L.A. rappers that took names and kicked ass and shot people. Now he’s more like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Happy. But still giggle free. If you have wine and cheese fundraisers like KCRW then you are required to chill since no one in Santa Monica is funny. So by chill I mean rich white people chill which the rest of us would call boring but what do we know? And I never even use the word chill unless I’m making a jello salad, but when you talk KCRW-speak you gotta say chill. It’s chill or be chilled.

But on KXLU you can giggle. A little irony helps, but giggling is encouraged. Which is a good thing. Giggling on the radio is a positive life reinforcement. It’s like kayaking or volunteering at the neighborhood youth center or dancing with a mailman. It’s like petting a wiggling puppy or waving to the little towhead in the stroller. It’s like watching tight jeans walk away, slowly, with just the hint of a swish. A good thing.

Not on jazz stations, though. No giggling at all. No one has giggled in jazz since Ella Fitzgerald, unless they are way stoned or posing for album covers. And sometimes Ella doth giggle a little too much. Like maybe she wasn’t giggling inside.

OK. One time me and the legendary artist George Herms were at Charlie O’s. I can’t remember who was on but they were hip. Way hip. And Charlie O’s was hip, jazz hip. And the two hippest cats in the room–we were that night, so hip–were sitting in front of the stage a couple feet from Charles Owens or Chuck Manning or somebody which was hipper than living fuck, I mean it was so happening. Two hip cats digging the sounds. People watched us. Waited to see if we applauded first. We were that hip. You ever been that hip? I’m not that hip anymore, but George sure was, and still is, and I was, and how. Hip.

Then we started giggling. Laughing and chuckling and, thoroughly bechortled, we giggled. Couldn’t help ourselves. The very air in there was laughing gas and the music was so alive and on that we, well, giggled. Giggled and giggled, giggling and giggling.

Then it happened…..Someone hushed us. Loudly. An angry shushing. Shush!!!  And we froze, looked sheepish, and giggled.

Sometimes a man, even a hip man, just has to giggle. I suppose if you’re a Prussian you don’t giggle. You hold it in and it forces its way out in excessive boot heel clicks or the rearward song of the pumpernickel. But not a couple good ol’ American boys. No, we just did what a man has to do.

We giggled.

.

* And you can make up words like bechortle if you are a writer and don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.

Grammy Museum

One night I finally gave in and went to one of these events at the Grammy Museum they were always after me about. It was dull, dull, dull. There was the inevitable private reception afterward with an open bar with expensive wine. The bored waiters slipped about with trays of bite sized things I couldn’t identify, but generally tasted odd. The crowd was all music industry types and hangers on and ass kissers and aging star fuckers and their rich kid freeloaders and not my scene at all. Not one bit. I slipped away for a minute and looked at some photo display in the gallery. Big shiny photos perfectly positioned and mounted and framed and very artily significant. Most of them were of rock stars, this being the Grammy Museum. Boz Scaggs and Rod Stewart and Bonnie Raitt, some Debbie Harry and David Byrne and Sting, like that.  For some ungodly reason, right there in the middle of them, was a shot of crazy, hardcore, anarchist, music business-hating Black Flag, with Henry Rollins all serious and fierce and young and not quite so buff. I recognized the beat up van they were sitting in and laughed….I remembered smoking dope in that very same van. Getting very high. That was, what, some thirty years ago? A couple party attendees came up, maybe wondering what I found so funny.  I got high in that van I said, aloud. Maybe too loud. They backed off. I laughed again. Nice people did that when we laughed back then too, thirty years ago. We would laugh, they’d retreat, we’d laugh again. Funny how laughter can be dangerous. Everyone took themselves very seriously in the seventies. So we’d laugh at them. It worked. This and the rest of my life three decades ago passed before my eyes. I was dying in there, surrounded by these photographs,  these people, this place. 

Suddenly I wondered just how the fuck I wound up hanging around a bunch of music industry hacks at the Grammy Museum. I hate the Grammys. I hate the music industry.  At that moment I knew I would never make it in this business. Me, who’d shared a bill with Black Flag in some hole of a club long ago. And me now, who only wants to sit in a small bar somewhere and listen to intense jazz improvisation. I just want the music, the pure stuff, all creativity and inspiration and intensity. Not this shit. Not this ultra hip industry crap. Not their fine suits and  fine cars and arm candy. I was hating myself for even being there. I had promised I never would, but there I was. Just another jazz journalist on the make. I had to get out of there, so I gulped down my two hundred buck chuck and split. The valet brought my car around. I got in and cranked up the radio. A saxophone screamed. I pulled into the city traffic and went looking for some jazz, feeling clean.

Henry Rollins

Just got an email from Concord Records about the Claremont Folk Festival. Henry Rollins is one of the headliners. Now I’ve seen Henry Rollins in some unexpected places….in particular a Miles Davis tribute party telling the MTV cameras that he we was SO influenced by Miles’ MUSIC and sounding like a steroidal eruption (the reporters ate it up), but no matter how hard I try I can’t see how he fits in at a folk festival. Maybe he was SO influenced by Pete Seeger’s MUSIC. Maybe he plays the ukulele. Maybe he’s added a twang to his spoken word. Whatever.

Actually I like Henry. He’s done really well and done it all himself. He’s got that great radio show on KCRW, and I like his column in the LA Weekly. I remember him from the Black Flag daze, way back in the last century. He even used to live in Silver Lake, right behind me, he on Maltman, we on Edgecliffe. His solo career was just underway, and he was already a bit of a rock star. We had a nice chat on the sidewalk once which he wouldn’t remember but I do (rock stars never remember). I saw him once coming out of Big Mac’s liquor store on Sunset with a bevy of punk rock babes and was impressed. But I especially remember him at the local market, where I loutishly grabbed tomatoes like they were tennis balls but he gingerly squeezed each, looking for perfection. I felt shame. I saw Glenn Danzig do the same at a different market not long after. Both had a lot of tattoos, I had none. And both knew a lot more about squeezing tomatoes than I did, tho’ now, when I carefully pick through a pile at Super King, I ought to thank Henry at least. Henry, incidentally, was a lot taller than Danzig,  Danzig was more tatted. I was always hoping to run into Lemmy squeezing tomatoes, or all of Metallica or even Pat Boone during his heavy metal stage. Nope. There was Henry and there was Danzig. I’d seen Danzig at Al’s Bar with the Misfits. We talked about that over the tomatoes. I can’t remember what I said to Henry over those tomatoes. Maybe nothing, maybe I was too jarred by the sight of the way gnarly dude from Black Flag who’d smashed that mirror on the cover of Damaged and was here with that very same fist–well, same hand anyway–handling tomatoes like they were baby sparrows, just fragile little things, so easy to bruise.

And now he’s one of the headliners at the Claremont Folk Festival. One never knows, does one.