The Anti-Mogul (aka Long Gone John of SFTRI)

(Written for Noise Works, a Washington D.C. music zine, 1992)

The Headquarters of Sympathy For The Record Industry–perhaps the world’s pre-eminent truly independent label–is in Long Beach, California in a smallish house crammed to the eaves with record boxes and artwork and tapes; but also with paintings and wacky looking statues and ghoulish dolls and odd photos and little figurines and beggar’s bowls carved from human skulls. Everything. The office, far in the back, is the most crammed room of all–spikey death bronze pagan ritualistic voodoo punk rock’n’roll souvenir shit from floor to ceiling so that it’s almost sacred in some tattooed way–lots of weird funny cartoon art on display or in piles–Sympathy records and discs and paraphernalia everywhere…oh, and a desk, a little clutter of papers, a calendar and Long Gone John, self-proclaimed Anti-Mogul.  “Where’s your files?”  Dumb question.  “What files?  Here’s the receipts, here’s some mail.  There’s a couple of boxes in the garage….”

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Jon

(Preface for a collection of my brother Jon’s lyrics put that came out in Europe in 2010. It’s a remarkable book, incidentally, Jon’s very literary songs and his matching introductory essays. Good luck finding one though.)

We pick Jon up. He’s in one of those little pads that clings to a lane that’s tucked against the side of a hill. Right near Spaceland. Cool spot if you don’t mind the yuppie bohos moving in from the Westside, thinking a cool ‘hood will make them cooler. It doesn’t. You can paint yourself black in tattoos with Sanskrit that reads fuck me in the ass but they told you was something deep and meaningful. You can grow the tiniest, hippest beard. Drink wine at the local wine shop and listen to KCRW till you pass out but you’re still a nothing. Just Westside rich kid garbage that washed in with the 90’s boomtide. Now your life sucks, that mortgage is killing you and no one gives a flying fuck about your exotica collection. You’re just an aging little hipster fuck.

So that’s Silverlake.

We pick Jon up. He’s hanging out front of his little pad watching a stray pigeon in his dirt yard. Nothing grows there, not at ground level. Not enough sun. There’s bushes and shade trees and vines spindling up walls into the sunlight, there’s crabgrass by the curb, snatches of Bermuda grass left over from the sixties, when they thought it looked nice (maybe it does in Bermuda), there’s trails for skunks and raccoons and possums and coyotes and cats for coyotes to eat. There’s babes coming back from dog park, and the men who want to mate with them. There’s a lot of mating in Silverlake anymore.  Goddamn breeders colonized the place after the queers did all the work raising property levels. The gay bars turned straight. The gay bars book rock bands with Facebook pages for you to like. The gay bars turned into restaurants that would die for a visit by Jonathan Gold. Once heavy leather scenes now make delicate cups of coffee, and you can’t even tell where they’d hung the sling. And those who slung are dead. AIDS, baby. Fear. That dry cough and the look of death. Estate sales with all kinds of cool stuff. Gays always had the best taste. We’d pick and choose. Straight people houses full of the things of the dead.

We pick Jon up. He likes our car. He melts into the back seat and listens to me babble on relentlessly, or sits up front and watches Silverlake go by and I flip through the satellite radio relentlessly. An old hippie tune. Steve Winwood singing about Mr. Fantasy. Jon knows to be quiet when that second solo starts in. Older brothers have a lot of hippie in them, deep down. Jon never laughs at it. We go to clubs, to parties, to things with the family down in Orange County. There are six Wahls—me, a sis, Jon, Lex, another sis, another brother, the baby of the bunch, with all the kids. Mom died just a bit ago. Jon was there in the room with her, playing bits of Mozart on the piano. She shuddered and was gone. We’d had a family party the night before. Lots of goofing around and joking as always, a small feast, Mom laughed and joked and even ate. She was so thrilled we’d all made it out. The priest came by and delivered Final Unction. She was ready. We had a smallish wake that day, in the Irish way. A bigger one after the internment. It was beautiful. Jon and Lex and baby brother Jim jammed. They are all such great musicians. Dad died decades ago. Hit Jon hard. I can scarcely remember him. Jon fills me in. He remembers everything. Details you can’t believe, he doesn’t remember like you and me remember, doesn’t see things in dull washes of black and white, faded pictures, colors long gone. Jon sees the past like he’s there now. Say we picked Jon up fifteen years ago. Jon could tell you the car, the color, the weather, the party, the jokes we told. He can tell you how he felt, what bugged him, what scared him, who he longed after, why his neighbor was an asshole and not to forget we’re going to Mom’s next week and can you pick me up?  He remembers all that. His short term memory is long term memory. His emotional memory retains its vividness for years. He can tell you about some ancient painful moment and you can tell he still feels it likes it’s happening today, right now, as we’re picking him up. My memory has slowly been destroyed by epilepsy, huge chunks have vanished. I don’t miss them especially. And I’ve learned that having no memories is much easier than having too many. Jon has too many. You can see them in this book. Vivid details. He remembers the feeling of long ago fog on his skin. Who remembers that?

We pick Jon up. Turn onto Silverlake. Spaceland’s on the left. We saw Jon there a zillion times in the Clawhammer days. Most of the words in this book are from those days. When Clawhammer played the place was packed with intellectuals and freaks and hipsters and stoners and musicians and record collectors. The music was unbelievably, gloriously loud. Awesome rock’n’roll. You could light up the whole city with the energy they expended. The songs were so rocking, so smart, so weird. Jon’s passion was palpable. No wonder. Read these lyrics here. See how close to the bone he wrote. When I pass by Spaceland I always remember those days. The drunken forays to the 7-11 across the street for more money. Hanging out on a porch behind with Pope and Dean and Bomb and getting way stoned. Loving everything. Loving life. Wishing it could go on forever.

That was so long ago. I’m getting lost in the past. Jon’s an Amadan now, and plays sax for people. I write about jazz and get in places for free. We still throw huge crazy parties. Jon’s always there. Thanks, Jon, for being my brother.

A duck walks into a bar…

My brother used to annoy the hell out of me with this joke: A duck walks into a bar. Bartender says what do you want, duck? Duck says you got any grapes? Bartender says no, I don’t have any grapes. I got whiskey, gin, vodka, run, beer, you name it, but no grapes. And besides, I hate ducks. You show up here again I’ll nail your web feet to the floor. The duck leaves. Next day the duck walks into the same bar. Bartender stares at him. Duck says you got any nails? Bartender says no, I don’t have any nails! Duck says you got any grapes?

My brother told that joke a hundred times. I began to hate that joke.

A couple nights ago there was a delay in the set as Charlie Haden’s orchestra was getting together the right charts. Someone said tell a joke. Haden looks up. A joke? OK. I know this great joke. He hobbles up to the microphone. Let me get it straight in my head first so I don’t screw it up, and thinks a minute. OK. Here it is: A duck walks into a bar…..

OK…when your brother deliberately torments you a zillion times with a stupid duck walks into a bar joke it’s one thing. I mean you wind up hating the joke. But when Charlie Haden tells the same joke, do you seethe or do you laugh? I laughed. I had to. Everybody else was.

Besides, it was funny.

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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.

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