Giant inflatable robots

I love Hollywood & Highland. Inside is that trippy interior courtyard with the Intolerance elephants overhead and tourists everywhere, shuffling and staring and wearing stupid tee shirts they picked up on the Boulevard. It can be surprisingly blissful in there though, and sometimes they have jazz concerts, and sometimes it’s just full of people chatting or reading or napping. Yet just a hundred or so feet away, out on Hollywood Boulevard, it is utter madness, with demented superheroes and people who will never wash their hands again after touching John Wayne’s boot prints. You never know what will be happening out there. One night a few years ago we left the courtyard after a concert and nearly walked into the path of a police chase at 5 mph. A hundred police cars with lights flashing proceeding ever so slowly down Hollywood Boulevard and the lady they were chasing ran out of gas right there and coasted to a stop right in front of the Chinese Theatre. You couldn’t imagine anything more cinematically perfect. The throng of tourists, like extras, rushed into the street to touch her car as she emerged. The cops pleaded through bullhorns for the people to stay clear of the vehicle, the suspect might be armed. But it was Day of the Locust, baby, and nothing could stop grandma from getting that selfie. The suspect emerged from her little car, unarmed and exhausted and infinitely sad. She laid down on the pavement. A zillion cell phone cameras flashed. A man in Superman get-up rushed into the street to pose in front of the scene. A Michael Jackson impersonator moonwalked past. Spiderman watched, then slunk into the shot. The cops waved him off, and he slunk away.

I’ve always wondered what ever happened to that car chase lady. It was the most pathetic car chase I ever saw. I mean you could have pushed that car faster, with all four tires punctured and running our of gas right there in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard. It was a scene from a Buster Keaton silent. Just a week before, though, in the very same spot giant inflatable robots stood for some movie premiere. Every premiere ever it seems has taken place there with crowds and limos and red carpets, but this one had giant robot balloons too. That was different. I remember we came out onto Hollywood Blvd after a one of the Tuesday night jazz gigs in the courtyard and saw them, those giant balloons, looming. Then, as we maneuvered around the premier on side streets, heading home, we came upon another giant inflatable robot balloon held in reserve, looming in an empty parking lot, just in case. Just in case what I’ll never know. As we stopped at a light I watched that extra giant robot in the rear view mirror, and it looked both spectacular and idiotic, like the coolest stupidest thing you ever saw. I can’t remember what the movie was that was premiering, it sank without a trace. But somewhere, somebody has three giant deflated robot balloons, and not a clue what to do with them.

(2012)

Mutually Assured Destruction

(2012)

I did meth once. It was a gay drug then, and our gay friends were getting heavy into it. This was Hollywood in  the early 80’s, before AIDS. Everyone did everything, we all figured the world was gonna blow up any day now so why not? We actually thought that. There were so many bombs that they could blow up the world a hundred times over and still have bombs left for another go. Mutually Assured Destruction, they called it, M.A.D. There was a defrocked gay chemist living  upstairs from our friend Tim who’d lost his chemist license years before. It was a crowded apartment building full mostly of other gays  at Wilcox and Fountain right in the center of Hollywood. At night you could hear the inhabitants loudly fucking. Tim lived on the second floor. The crazy queen chemist was brewing meth on his stove on the upper floor. Cool! None of us thought about explosions or anything at all, really. This old ex-chemist certainly didn’t. It was obvious he’d lost his job due to the drugs he could make, and if I remember right he’d spent the 60’s making LSD, making a lot of money and a lot of friends. He was like a crazy mad scientist who laughed and laughed and spun a million disjointed stories about hippies and rock stars and handsome men.  Tim was a retired lieutenant colonel from the US Army, his friend Chris a talented stage actor gone over the edge. I forgot the name of the defrocked chemist. The gay scene in the 80’s was dark and decadent, all kink and leather and things we were not allowed to see, ever, innocent straights that we were. But we loved to party and had no hang ups and so all became great friends. Naturally we were invited over to their meth party. Meth party. Sounds so trailer trash now. Not back then, though, meth was the new blow, but at recession prices. Lasted longer than cocaine and you could make it on your stove if you were smart about it and no one got blown up. Tim was mad about classical piano, Horowitz especially, he had a hundred cassettes of Horowitz, and his living room echoed with great sweeping Russian arpeggios that would collapse into huge ivory pounding crashes. Rachmaninoff gone mad. The meth made our ear drums vibrate and it was Horowitz in a wind tunnel. My god it was exciting. The meth was piled on the coffee table, gleaming white, and there were plenty of straws. We drank cheap red wine in fancy glasses and ate nothing and talked all at the same time and laughed hysterically at nothing and I couldn’t take my eyes off of Fyl’s tits. I wanted her so bad just then, then and now, right there, and probably tried. No luck. We drank and drank and drank and snorted and snorted and snorted and went home who knows when, nine or ten in the morning. Sleep never came. I wrote. I still have that pad. The letters get bigger, more jagged, the grammar dissolves, soon the pen is shredding through the pages like a knife. I listened to crazy music. My hard-on had disappeared hours before, unthought of, impossible. Fyl finally crashed. I couldn’t. I just stayed up and up and up. I wanted to sleep but couldn’t. Just stayed up and up and up. It got boring. The eyes vibrated. The teeth ground. I was vibrating and grinding and twitching and bored. The trip finally became manageable and I got loads of things done. A zillion little things. I cleaned and straightened out and wrote but was too antsy to sleep. Antsy. Like army ants antsy. Too many ants antsy. Not itchy antsy, just twitchy unsettled antsy. But that feeling too subsided and exhaustion took over. Utter exhaustion. Two of three days worth of exhaustion. The thing was over. I slept hours and hours and hours. For a few days afterward I spit out pieces of teeth. There are gaps now where they used to be. I can run my tongue where they once were and remember.

Never again, I said. Never ever again.

Press thing

So Channel 36 is showing a gig from the John Anson Ford Theatre here in Hollywood–something called Jail Guitar Doors–and there’s all these bands and they don’t give any of their names. There were two rock bands I liked, then this Jackson Browne kinda deal that was, um, a little rough in the playing and harmony thing, and I’m telling my wife there’s some band here trying to sound like Jackson Browne–she can’t stand Jackson Browne–and suddenly they really did sound like Jackson Browne and no wonder, it was Jackson Browne, the real one, not the wanna be, running on empty, and I guess that was David Lindley. Then it was another act. No idea who. The crowd was up on their feet, following orders, and seeming to dig it. I was kinda uhhh but they jammed some on one tune which was cool. Still no hint who anybody is. They’re mostly young. I also don’t know what Jail Guitar Doors is, aside from a Clash b-side.

It just occurred to me that when I was at the LA Weekly I would have known who all these people were. They’d have this press thing, we’d all go, meet the promoters, a few musicians, be mugged by ill-clad samba dancers (well, that happened once), get a tour of the joint, be fed little finger things and drink lots of wine. One of those events where you’re just some bum on Cahuenga until you pull in and your name is on the list and you’re somebody and hanging with Lee Solters at a tiny table and eating pizza. Lee Solters, baby. One degree from Frank Sinatra. Hollywood. I said I’d tell that story some day and I just did. Ya know, the music press lives for this kinda shit. Free food, wine, samba dancers, people kissing your ass. And I always liked that event, but I had to be so nice back then. Not anymore. The less you get invited, the meaner you can be.

Uh oh, all the musicians are on stage doing a Kiss song. I wanna rock’n’roll all night and party every day. This is where I would have left, pulled out onto Cahuenga and been a bum again.

rear view

Those same samba dancers. Or three of them were, anyway. And maybe mugged is an exaggeration. This is from the Queen Mary, though. I was at this event. The table was right about where the photographer is standing. It was a tough gig. I was with a lady who was wearing about as much as these girls were. Weird things happen to jazz critics.

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Frisco

Don’t tell anybody, but San Franciscans used to call their town Frisco. I know, I know, perish the thought. But that was before they kicked out all the working class people. Now it’s strictly San Francisco or even worse, The City. Terrible what gentrification can do to a town.

A few years ago I unthinkingly let slip a Frisco while talking to a San Franciscan. He winced. I could feel his pain. Before I could apologize he told me, slowly, so that I could understand, that they really cannot abide “Frisco.” He winced at the sound. Please say San Francisco or “The City”. 

I’d never been admonished over urban nomenclature before. I felt like a Cockney being lectured on enunciation by Rex Harrison. If I insisted on speaking to a resident of San Francisco, please use the correct designation. Otherwise leave them alone.

So I said you don’t like Frisco, huh? Another wince. What’s wrong with Frisco? Wince. I don’t see the big deal. Why do you care? He grew exasperated. How do you like it, he said, when people call your town Hollyweird?

But we call our town Hollyweird, I said. You do? Of course. We live in Hollyweird, and you live in Frisco. He winced again.

So what about San Fran?

End of conversation.

Bob Scobey's Frisco Band

Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band

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Jello Biafra

 [unsent letter, 1980, apparently transcribed and annotated in the 90’s ]

Since that last phone call was a killer costwise, I’ll be sure simply to write this time. Especially since this friend of mine gave me this allegedly “mild” speed to cope with today, and I ate a whole tab, and am now buzzing along [at work in a staid old office in Beverly Hills] and maintaining a sober is-it-really-Monday already disguise only with difficulty.

Actually why I was to have trouble coping with today is because I did not get home until purt near 5:30 am last night—or this morning, rather—since I was out carousing—or creating, if you may be so generous—without mind about getting up at 6:00 am to catch the bus to get me to work by 8:00 (and then traffic court by 8:30). I might as well tell you what happened last night, with the dual object of a) boring you to tears with the trivialities of my day to day existence and b) try to work off some of this dexedrine rush coursing through my veins.

Well, seems me and Fyl were still in bed finishing up a final round in a bout with Old Mr. Sandman when the phone should ring and our good mad friend Christian Lunch, presently in attendance at the much vaunted Pasadena Art Center, makes himself audible on the other end, informing us that we’ve been invited to a party featuring the Dead Kennedys—premier and most notorious punk band (of “California Über Alles” fame), way the hell over in Malibu, right on Pacific Coast Highway. Unfortunately, Christian had a) no gas and b) no cash, and as we had c) no car to get there ourselves, some sort of arrangement had to be made. So we arranged to have me hop a bus out to Pasadena, put gas in his car, and then both of us would go on back to H-weird [Hollywood] and retrieve Fyl (and incidentally, some dinner)—which, after a few minor but time-wasting mishaps on my part, I did, taking a bus from Hollywood, over the hills past Griffith Park, out through Glendale, back through Eagle Rock and finally, an hour plus later, into downtown Pasadena, a few blocks from Christian’s Art-Trasho designed pad. Don’t ever let me hear you  complain about BART. I mean, L.A.’s a wonderful place and I love it—but having a car here is as important as overcoming one’s fear of queers is to living in San Francisco. The rapid transit system is still in the pre-Cambrian stages in this city.

Speaking of which, I am reminded of an incident that occurred Saturday night—Fyl and I were going to downtown Hollywood to meet some friends of ours’ at the record swap meet [the legendary Capitol Records Parking Lot swap meet], and carless yet, we were compelled to hop a bus, which, as if to rub salt into the wound of being reliant on public transportation, was twenty minutes late. While we were waiting, feet tapping exasperatedly, this couple sits down next to us, and the guy asks me if I know if this bus will take him down to the nightclub action. He wanted to show his wife (or whoever the quite attractive Asian woman he was escorting happened to be—”old lady” will serve) the “action”, the “hot spots” in town. He was middle aged and obviously, by accent, from Boston or thereabouts; a pleasant enough fellow as Bostonians go, in that coarse, Irish cop manner all Bostonians seem to have. Anyway, I told him just to follow this bus down Sunset and get off at “the Strip”—a name he obviously enjoyed, for I heard him say it at least a dozen times afterward, using it in an “in the know” elbow-nudging way; and he thanked me, and we talked a bit. Then the bus finally comes up and as we board, this guy has the gall to tell me that this is the “fun of Los Angeles—taking buses.” Like he’s a tourist visiting a semi-civilized land and taking pleasure in the quaint, backward ways of the natives. “Yeah” he goes on, “all over back East the cities got subways and El’s and trains and they’re a lot faster but not as much fun as these” and pats the gnarled aluminum side of the bus. I wanted to punch his face in, of course.

It’s also depressing when you’re punked out—I was wearing a ragged, biker-looking sleeveless camouflage jacket with “MC5” painted on the back; and Fyl had a Harley Davidson jacket and a chain for a belt—trying to be coolly repugnant on a Saturday night, and I’m the one, of all the people n the bench, that the guy asks directions of. It happened again later. I guess despite my bulk, I’m pretty tame looking (sigh)….

So—where were we before that little excursion there—oh yes…. So we drive all the way out to Malibu and can’t find the party. We look up and down the street, wondering if it really was 20202 PCH, or actually 20222, or 22202, checking them all out, convincing ourselves that maybe it didn’t even begin with a 2, when lo and behold there are some odd types, looking bewildered out in front of 20202 PCH. We stop—sure enough, they’re looking for the party—in fact they have come all the way out from fucking Covina for it. And they’ve also got 20202, and had gotten it from main man Jello Biafra (singer of the Kennedys) himself. Then someone comes out and asks us if we’re looking for the Dead Kennedys party and we say yes, and he leads us a few doors down, apologizing that the Dead Kennedys had left rather quickly as soon as they’d arrived. Too bad we said, and then, upon entrance to the party, we soon understood. The ominous reek of marijuana that greeted our noses as we entered gave us a good clue about the kind of party we’d been snared into—not that the smell of pot itself necessarily portends a bad party—but when not accompanied by other, sharper odors (like that of amyl nitrate) or grating, excessively loud music from the stereo means this is a mellow party. Sure enough—upon entering the darkened room, a dozen or so pair of glazed eyes stared blankly out at us through the wafting haze, uncomprehending; each pair of which was encased in a creamy tanned body clad scantily in de rigueur beach shorts and/or summer dresses, straw hats and thongs. The immediate reaction was almost a physical sense of alienation and feelings of being hopelessly out of place—that we weren’t wanted here, and somehow we’d been invited to the wrong party. The eight of us fled to the back of the room, threading gingerly through the almost comatose sprawled or sitting Indian style on great floor cushions—not that they all were reduced to a THC-induced, but those that were not acted as if they were. It was that kind of party.

Not since Santa Barbara had I been witness to such a stagnant pool of wasted youth, and I was not used to it. Once the initial shock wore off, and I realized the soft forms scattered across the floor were not threatening, I began to get aggressive, wanted to spill beer, talk loud, throw things off the balcony onto the beach below—but nobody I was with wanted to do—not even Fyl, who in any such situations likes to get insulting. Frustrated and a little bewildered, I shuffled about uncomfortably on the balcony, commenting in low tones to Christian that we should make an exit to anywhere, just out of here.

The question running through our heads was where had Jello and the Kennedys run off to. I’m sure upon arrival they had been just as taken aback at the planned nature of the evening’s entertainment as were we, and fled like rabbits from a burning forest—probably back into Hollywood. I mean this wasn’t even one of those thin-tied new wave parties—I mean I’m used to those (from the Isla Vista “scene”) and can adapt quickly and enjoyably into an ominous looking hulk of a punk drummer: drinking and spilling prodigious amounts of beer and liquor (straight or in bizarre and repulsive “mixed drinks”); talking loud, throwing things off the balcony, ripping the Elvis Costello off the turntable and putting on the loudest, rawest punk (or most alienating, dissonant weird stuff) I can find. Anything to cow the [left blank, but fuckers would be appropriate] in their mod get-ups, and scare them into thinking that this is what will become of them if they keep listening to Elvis Costello or the Ramones. [By this time I considered the Ramones wimpy. This was before the great Ramones Revival of the mid-’80’s.] Just for the sheer obnoxious hell of it you understand.

But this party didn’t invite this kind of behavior. These people were a whole other species, acting like assholes to them would either leave them thinking we were acting out our favorite scenes from the last Cheech and Chong movie, or else they’d call the LAPD who’d knock us senseless with some new stun gun and drag us off to jail on some strange charge, beating us all the way. We had to get out.

After a few moments some of us remembered we had some phone numbers, one of which might tell us where Jello had retreated to. While they were out at the phone booth out front, we stayed inside, out of the light. The music, which had been some brain-gelling Kenny Loggins/John Klemmer mellow fusion refuse, now became a heavy, syrupy classical piece; meant to show, I suppose, the sophistication of the host. Looking at the decor in the room, I noticed it consisted mainly, besides the pillows and low tables, of driftwood and seashell knick knacks and ornaments, little potted plants placed carefully about, and on the walls were strung fish nets and a giant, grotesque replica (at least I think it was a replica) of a sailfish. I remarked earlier about the affair’s resemblance to Santa Barbara parties—but in Santa Barbara there is a stale hippie pyramid power/holistic healing feel to everything; but this was straight Santa Monica beach party/seafood restaurant. These people were [figuratively speaking] the models used in those Pepsi and Sunkist orange soda ads with the tanned kids playing volleyball and football on the beach, drinking soda, to the funked up version of “Good Vibrations”.

Meanwhile, the evening’s entertainment came on—an old silent movie about the evils of marijuana and cocaine. The audience laughed wastedly, interjecting comments in the likes of the name of their favorite drug (either “Yeah pot!” or “Yeah coke!”) or simply let loose a “Smoke it!”. Things were getting desperate.

Then—rescued. Someone came back and said he found Jello’s number and we all filed out as quickly as possible, to the confusion, I imagine, of the people sitting on the floor. Party Hearty! we said, leaving a string of exploding firecrackers on their front porch as a calling card, and took off for where Jello had told us he’d relocated the party.

We went in separate cars and after a round about trip through Santa Monica to drop off the guy who had to be at work at 4:00 AM (and who wants me to drum for him for some upcoming gig in a throw-together band) we made it into Hollywood; on Highland at the foot of the Hills, where the incredibly loud punk music blasting forth from the open windows of a room in a motel around which punks were staggering out of the door or hanging from the balcony above gave us a clue that it might be the place.

It was, and up the stairs we went, into a rather large room almost devoid of furniture save a few folding chairs and the cushions of a couch. The punks—and it was an almost completely punk party—had been rather restrained: the walls were not written on or punched in, and except for the mounds of paper plates, styrofoam cups and beer cans about the floor, it was in fairly good shape. We were late and there was only some red and white wine left—a half bottle of each. The barbecued chicken was gone, but somebody sliced up a watermelon and it was real cold and good—although it had a slight trace of a chemical taste to it—which was nothing after all but for a moment I suspected it had been dosed with LSD [I had been dosed with PCP or something like it in Santa Barbara not long before]; I waited half-hoping for the tell-tale rush sensations at the base of the brain but nothing happened. It was just a peculiar watermelon, that’s all. None-the-less, I managed to scare some people telling them it might have been dosed, and though I told them I was jokingly they laughed uncertainly. You can never tell….

The party was OK, but we got there too late—the people there were obviously enjoying themselves, as the myriad of empty liquor bottles and the guy traipsing around the living room floor with a saw horse over his shoulders trying to save everyone from hellfire and damnation, would attest. Also, I didn’t know too many people there—in fact, aside from the people we’d just run into outside the party in Malibu and Jello, I only knew these two guys (Greg Ginn and Chuck Dukowski) from one of my favorite bands, Black Flag, with whom my band Keene White had played in Santa Barbara a few months back. And then there was the gorgeous little Asian lady with wild hair, wearing a body fitting shiny black spandex outfit with shiny boots who kept staring at me and who I would just love to—well, fidelity and all that, you know. Love has its price…

Anyway, Jello collected the seven of us who had been out at Malibu plus his girlfriend all together, and after we told him what a hot party he’d missed out there in Malibu, he wanted to go somewhere else. So we all went outside, and after an abortive attempt to run into a supermarket, grab all the frozen pizzas and fling them into the air and then run out (there were only three pizzas in the freezer); we decided to go to a punk rock eatery downtown called the Atomic Cafe; first splitting into two parties (there being two cars): one of which, including myself, was to travel directly to the Atomic, the other would mark its way hurling strings of firecrackers at targets the likes of which I never found out.

On the way, we discovered that—and isn’t it a small world?—the people we met, members and friends of a band called Silver Chalice, were old acquaintances of the guitarist in Keene White (Ron. E. Fast) when they had lived in Santa Maria, and had been in the San Luis Obispo-Pismo Beach-Santa Maria scene in its early days. So we had a lot to talk about—as you can imagine, having all kinds of mutual friends, etc. [It ends here, which is a shame as I don’t think we ever went to sleep at all but hung out all night at Christian Lunch’s pad in Pasadena making a weird recording with Jello Biafra. But since I didn’t write about it, I can’t remember any details.]

Jello Biafra and friends

Jello Biafra and friends

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No commas

No commas. No idea why, but there’s no commas. A whole email without any commas. It’d probably be a bad idea to write my Great American Novel this way. Anyway, feel free to parse.

We have to go the Omaha Steaks store on Pico which is next to Norms which we go to commemorate the Norms we used to go to at Sunset and Vermont and have the 99 cent breakfast because we were that broke back then like when we used to go to Greens Soul Food on Yucca on all you can eat chicken night which I think was Tuesdays and get more than we could eat of the chicken and sneak it out when the lady wasn’t looking but that Norms was demolished and replaced by a Kaiser facility 25 years ago at least and we get all our meds there now plus been to doctors upstairs and we haven’t been to that Green’s since 18th Street took over that block but the gangs there are long gone now but I don’t know if Greens is even still there and then after we eat cheap at Norms we’ll drive east on Olympic with our boxes of gourmet burgers we got for half price or even less and take them up the stairs and put them in  the freezer and change clothes and socks because I love fresh socks and then we’ll pop into Jax I imagine around 9 pm which I think is what you asked so if you and friend are there we’ll see ya. OK?