Silver Lake when you could afford to live here.

(2013)

You know Silver Lake is not completely gentrified when the crackhead (possibly schizophrenic) babydaddy of your next door neighbor, who rants at all hours about how he is possessed by “el Diablo,” is caught sharpening a humongous machete in front of your house, spends one night in jail, and then he’s back in front of the door, macheteless but still screaming about the fucking Diablo.

G.T., Facebook

Ah wow, nostalgia. This was the Silver Lake  (though it was Silverlake then, before all the gueros moved back) that I knew and loved from the mid 80’s till sometime after its third or fourth cover of Los Angeles magazine.

Crack, cool. OK, maybe not cool, but you used to be able to buy that where the Silver Lake farmer’s market is now. Or on Micheltorena across from the school. Or at Parkman, right on the sidewalk, across from the liquor store where my pal Dave got beat up for badmouthing a couple cholos. Dave always was kind of an idiot that way. It didn’t pay to be an idiot back then. Now it does, and you get to write for the LA Weekly or be a reality star or an independent film maker. Back then you got beat up by cholos at Sunset and Parkman, or OD’d on junk or got AIDS. Maybe the cops busted you in somebody’s bushes with some bear you just met on Griffith Park Blvd. Try explaining that one to the new neighbors.

I heard the worst poetry I ever heard in a bar where Cheetah’s is now. A chick screaming in free verse about sodomy. Though she didn’t call it that. She’d written the poem while so engaged. Bent over and hating herself and writing bad poetry. Seriously, that’s what she told us. I wondered why I was there. But I digress.

There used to be lots of gays in Silver Lake too. No really, I remember. You could hear their sounds of love deep into the night, plus they threw great parties. And the dykes would beat the living fuck out of each other outside the club where the free clinic is now. They wore huge boots and drove big pick up trucks and beat each other up. No tea parties in Silverlake. Not then.

There were still a few hippies left, I knew some, theirs was a different world. Talk of soap factories and love ins. We just stared, blinking in disbelief. Then we’d smoke pot together out of some ancient bong. There even remained a few ancient beatniks. Embittered, angry, hating everything…they hadn’t changed a bit. And punks, though getting into their late twenties and beyond, still scared customers away.

There was a gay bookstore, a gay steakhouse, a gay hamburger joint, a gay coffee shop, and bathhouses you could emerge from sparkling clean. We had a zillion gay weekly papers, all outrageous, and one very serious Lesbian News. There was a lesbian auto mechanic.

We had crime too, lots of it. You could have your car battery, your car radio and your car itself stolen, sometimes in the same week if it was your lucky day. We had shootings and murders and a Colombian gang that specialized in pick pocketing and breaking and entering. Suicides were popular.

We had a laundromat that had poetry readings, next to a gay bar with oiled musclemen dancing on the tables. We don’t have that anymore. Plus we had a surplus store, and still do. That, and me and my wife, are still here. Surplus and antiques.

Nowadays we have breeders and lawyers and hipsters and a zillion lovely young women who I refuse to complain about.. And oh yeah, the food was better then. I mean it was worse, but it was better. At least you could afford it.

Anyway that story I opened with was from my former editor who yelled at me for spelling Esperanza Spalding wrong (I had whooping cough, no one can spell right with hooping cough) and who I once got in trouble because I said Lemmy beat me up. And that story of his brought all that wonderful old Silverlake back. Nothing like a good machete story. Especially if no one gets hurt. If it was a machete story and someone did get hurt, well, that was what Echo Park was for. Maybe hurt is an understatement. They fished him out of the lake. Maybe they found the head when they drained it.

Or maybe they’ll find it when they drain the Reservoir.

I like to think it was used by Santerias. We used to have them in Silverlake. The botanicas on Sunset sold powders and spells, and you’d find dead chickens in the park.

I’ve never told this to the lovely young neighbor ladies. They’d be outraged. Chickens have rights too, you know. Some stories are best left to the aged and cynical.

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Incredibly drunk writer

(2013)

An incredibly drunk writer went off on me at a party last night. That’s not unusual, writers and drinking kind of go together, and writers love to talk and, when drunk, they love to argue. It’s their charm. But this was different. This was intense. She came out of nowhere and was suddenly there, right in my face, ranting. Ranted at me about the LA Weekly–which I haven’t written for in two years–and editors and the business and how nobody pays writers anymore. She began crying once or twice. Outright weeping another. A lot of incoherence. She had me cornered with my back to an incredibly steep drop down the hill and I couldn’t move. Or say anything. What do you say? You slip outside to smoke a cigar and some demented chick in an Attack of the 50 Foot Woman tee shirt starts ranting at you. Yelling, crying, cursing, weeping, confiding and telling me I’m awesome. I’m not sure where the awesome came from. I had never seen her before in my life. I finally managed to break away. I saw her inside later, tear streaked, broken hearted, inconsolable, shitfaced.  She avoided everyone and they her. She apparently made a beeline for her poor ex and totally went off him. He got the full treatment, without the awesomes. Ugly scene. Glad I missed it, or maybe I wish I’d been there for it. Because that was a great party. And if a great party doesn’t have a disaster or two it’s not a great party.

One time at a crowded anarchic bash at our house my wife Fyl slipped on a rug while dancing and fell and struck the coffee table. Tore a three inch gash in her back. This was the night that the seven foot tall homeless schizophrenic (who’d been off his meds for some time) suddenly hated Jews and women. He’d liked them fine earlier in the evening, been quite pleasant. But he’d been partying…. He wasn’t violent at all about it, just verbal, right to their faces. Intense, this big giant dude looming over chicks and telling them how much he hated all women. Odd, even for our parties. Then Fyl slipped and fell and the whole houseful of drunken stoned people went into a panicking herd mode. They shouted advice, orders and admonitions. Concerned en masse, even the schizo one. They crowded around to help, which was useful.  They crowded and freaked and weirded out and panicked. If I didn’t do what they said right now  then I was the worst husband ever. They followed me around the house, admonishing me as I tried to recruit somebody sober to take her to the emergency room. I finally had to do a Sgt. Bilko routine–Attention! Shut up! Attention! You! Shut the fuck up!–to get them to calm down and get out of the way of the front door so Fyl could get out. They massed there, in our tiny slip of an entrance hall, so tight they could barely move. I managed to get them out of there, not quite by force, but almost. Somebody took (a very calm) Fyl to the emergency room and someone took the (also suddenly calm) homeless guy back to the park he lived in. Fyl, stitched up, tough as nails, returned from the emergency room and resumed partying. On top of all that I’d forgotten to invite the guy who’d been at every party we ever threw. Every one. An omen, the inebriated Greek chorus said, you should have known. But how does one know ahead of time what one his forgetting? This is the stuff of Aeschylus, not a mere blogger. So to ameliorate Fate, the gods and the drunks, we threw another party the following week. The missing man was there, and all the people from the first party except the homeless guy.  They bitched at me for being a party nazi and yelling at them the week before. They all remembered themselves as being perfectly calm and logical at the time

Drunk people do that when they’re not drunk. Think they were logical. Remember things they can scarcely remember. See things through rosé colored glasses. Well, cheap red wine and beer colored glasses. If they’re drinking whiskey they can’t see anything at all.

I have a zillion more stories I could tell but I still know all the people. They still come to the parties. In fact I just deleted a charming anecdote involving a pretty lady and a pair of roller skates, but nevermind. And then there’s the time I accidentally punched out the shortest guy in the room. Totally by accident. My knuckles connected with his eye socket with an audible crunch. He dropped to the floor trying to draw a penalty, but it was my party so I couldn’t be thrown out. Got a lot of stares for unsportsmanlike behavior, though. And I’d done nothing. Totally innocent. But when the biggest guy in the room punches out the littlest no one believes the big guy is innocent. None of you do reading this. You’re thinking what a brute

My favorite party ever was at our pal Edwin’s place on the 4th of July some time ago. A bottle rocket set the hillside on fire and mere anarchy was loosed upon the world. With minutes it was a regular conflagration. The fire department helicopter showed up and dumped a load of water which missed the fire but completely soaked a guest. He came back sopping wet and disgusted. Those things look so accurate on TV. Some idiot hipster chick parked her car in the middle of the lane and ran off screaming. I remember she left the car door open and music blaring for who knows what reason. I saw mini-dressed party girls in brightly colored fuck me pumps trying to run down the street. Their heels clicked and clacked crazily on the pavement. The firefighters couldn’t get their trucks through and were pleading through megaphones for people to move their cars. A valiant bunch of party dudes got a hose and held it aloft to douse the flames which would have worked had it been connected to a water line. The young and hip were in a complete panic, though you can’t blame them, really. San Diego county had just gone up in flames, houses gutted, people dead, the moon a vivid orange. But the geezers couldn’t give a flying fuck. We sat around swilling beer and cooking hamburgers and cracking wise, having a helluva good time watching the show. A party-side view of a brush fire is a rare thing. They’re usually off in the distance engulfing houses but this was right across the street. Flashing lights and screaming sirens. The crackle of two-way radios. The sky filled with rockets and whizbangs and Roman candles. Whistling Petes shrieked like incoming shells and festive projectiles big as bombs exploded loudly. Someone had dragged an old Wurlitzer organ out on the lawn and above all the din you could hear the strains of Light My Fire.

Hours later some of the hipsters came back to retrieve things they’d left in the panic. Hats, ice chests, a purse, a boyfriend. The geezers made fun of them, not to be mean…well hell, of course it was just being mean. It was funny. The kids looked ashamed. Sometimes you have to be tough to have a good time. And so a crazy drunk lady flipping out last nite at Mona & Jeff’s was just the sign that the scene was rocking. Mona and Jeff would tell you that too. Anarchy is a good thing. We’re all old punk rockers anyway. We may not act like it, much, or look like it, but put a bunch of us together with too much beer and it’s fuck you, weirdness and laughter all night long.

Critique of Pure Reason

There was a time when all jazz musicians did was party and chase women and blow amazing saxophone (or whatever.) Now they are smart and do this:

So I got to ask this..
Let’s say you are sitting under an oak tree, and there is a guy next to you, let’s say he’s reading a book…Suddenly, the tree sheds a branch, hitting him, but you are (miraculously?) unscathed..
Do you proclaim “God is great” “I am blessed” or variations on this theme (which I see a lot of here on good ol FB…)
And, equally importantly–what about the dude who is injured by the branch?
Did God decide he was a bad man?
You were better?
More blessed?
More worthy of not being pounded by a falling tree branch?
I am genuinely interested in hearing rational non reactive responses from at least relatively sane individuals.

Holy shit. That was Rufus Philpot, the real thing. A bassists’ bassist. People don’t talk through his bass solos. So his philosophical quandary was not something easily blown off. Not bad poetry from a singer songwriter poet with hair like the Flying Burrito Brothers. Not some kid writing in a journal in a dark corner at the Blue Whale, discussing tonality. Not a philosophy major like the editor who so got on my nerves instantly at the LA Weekly that I walked, Johnny Paycheck style. No, this is Rufus Philpot, a heavy. Not to mention with the rare ability among jazz musicians of writing well (he should be blogging those jazz album reviews of his, they’re beautiful.) But last night I gave several smart ass responses to this and forgot about it. But you can’t just forget about it on Facebook. The next day they stare at you again. Your comments, I mean. Sitting there. Glaring. No wonder everyone is so mewly nice on Facebook. No wonder that everyone writes as if their grandmother is reading everything they post. No wonder it’s so Mr. Rogersesque. Because you can’t escape. You write the wrong thing–OK, the way wrong thing, like bragging about Hitler or something–and all virtual humanity will loathe you, make you miserable, cost you your job, and weird if beautiful women with a thing about losers will want you. Of course if you write something no one noticed nothing of the sort will happen. But it’s my blog, so I will exaggerate–well,lie–and say everyone noticed and you will probably keep reading anyway, waiting for the punchline.

But back to Mr. Philpot’s quandary:

I’d say it was just a tree branch that was ready to fall off–eucalyptus, probably, they do that, I saw one smash a Volkswagen once–and Mr. Philpot was in the right place and the guy reading Critique of Pure Reason was also in the just right place, but at the wrong time. So what’s to do but dial 911 and see if he’s breathing.

I say that now. But last night I came home from three hours of Bruce Forman and gave acerbic, misanthropic responses for which I am truly ashamed. I said that God hated that arrogant book reading motherfucker…He does that, for no reason. And then later I said that it was the guy’s fault for pissing off God in the first place. I told another lady that if she stood on her head and coughed it would get her high. There were more, too, on Facebook, on Twitter, in email. In my blog. I was making vicious fun of everything. I felt possessed by Ambrose Bierce. Had I lived near the beach I would have slipped an insulting note into a bottle and tossed it into the sea. My wife finally bopped me on the head and told me to cool it. This is what happens when you hang around jazz musicians. My mama done told me.

Of course, this mea culpa itself might be yet a further extension of cynical misanthropism. A nightmarish gyre of irony. I’m a writer, and embittered old jazz critic and we get like that. It’s all those solos. They screw up the head. I was a nice guy when I did my thesis on Peter, Paul and Mary. Oh well. But that anyone who does read Critique of Pure Reason is asking for it, you Kant deny.

I’ve never read Critique of Pure Reason. For one thing I was not smart enough. One paragraph in and I knew that. For another thing, I had a life. You can spend years on a tome like that, and by the time you finish you’d have none of your old friends left, though some very irritating new ones. And I was gonna say you can’t get laid reading Critique of Pure Reason but actually that is not true. I discussed this in a previous essay. Had I known the truth, I would have changed majors. But what, then, is Truth? The truth is I dropped out of college, joined a punk rock band and got laid instantly. I was the drummer, and came out on stage that first gig and warmed up using logs for sticks. That’s all it took. That’s the Truth. Epistemology didn’t even come into it. And while I know the jazz musicians among you won’t understand the logs thing, this was the late seventies. Two words: “Disco Monk”. And that was Sonny Rollins. Logs for drumsticks, Disco Monk, thrift stores full of abandoned pet rocks. It was an ugly time.

OK. Daylight Savings Time is over and I’m thoroughly confused. To make it worse I saved up the last twenty years of Daylights Savings Time and used it all at once so now it’s sometime next Tuesday. You don’t fuck with the calendar. I wish someone had told me.

Jazz Critics Awards

My favorite music columnist ever was Bob Tarte, who never let the fact that it was completely untrue get in the way of weaving an odd story into what should have been a collection of world music reviews. I mean he’d still review the cds, but the reviews would be worked into a strange narrative that sometimes was true and sometimes flat out bullshit. No matter. He wrote well, was funny as hell, and never met a genre he didn’t like.

One Sunday nite I was putting together the week’s Brick’s Picks and man what a dead week. It happens. I tried over and over to write a column that didn’t bore me to tears. No go. So I decided this was my Bob Tarte moment. And here was my opening paragraph:

Well, the Jazz Critics Guild had their awards ceremony, perhaps you saw it on TV. Stars galore, and world famous jazz musicians, and Hef and all the girls. Paparazzi and autograph seekers and Joan Rivers on the red carpet, trashing all our clothes. Billy Crystal couldn’t make it, but fill-in Ricky Gervais was sweet as pie. Quite the gentleman. Boney James grooved but unfortunately no one could understand anything he said the jive was so thick. Great hat, though. The presentation went on all night, and every critic went home clutching his Lenny except yours truly. Couldn’t even win the Tallest Jazz Critic award (who knew Kareem was reviewing jazz now?) All the critics left with their statuettes, Joan Rivers gushing and all the rock writers green with envy. Empty handed, I left for the after party. It was a drag. Kept getting mistaken for the bouncer.  Eventually everybody wound up in the recording studio under the pool at the Sunset Marquis laying down “We Are the World” in different time signatures. I couldn’t get into it and split for the Rainbow, got into an argument and was beaten up by Lemmy. This town will break your heart. 

I submitted and forgot about it.

A couple days later I get a panicky email from my editor. URGENT!!! Call me ASAP about column!!!!!!! So I called him. It was the first time we’d ever spoken actually…in fact he was one of the only of my thirteen editors at the LA Weekly to ever hear my voice. And to this day he’s still never met me. None did, I think, except the first couple. I preferred being the mysterious cat who turned in copy no one there could understand without ever being seen. That way they didn’t bug me and I didn’t demand they pay me what I was worth. (Writers got paid then. We didn’t yet owe it to our readers to write for the sheer privilege of having them read us. I have actually been told this, more than once.)  Anyway, my editor was freaking out bad. He said my first paragraph didn’t make any sense, and the other editors–his bosses–freaked. Apparently they couldn’t tell if it was real or not.  Maybe they were freaked out about lawsuits. Ricky Gervais would get all uppity English and sue. Joan Rivers would say something perfectly awful. Lemmy would beat them up. I have no idea. But my editor killed the lede. He editor was effusively apologetic. I think they expected me to throw a writerly tantrum. I guess we do that. But I just said no problem, I just made it all up anyway. It was a dull week. He sounded bewildered but relieved.

Hell, I said, I just thought it was funny. He didn’t. He would now, as he’s no longer there, but being an editor at the LA Weekly at the time was like working for Stalin in the 1930’s. A people’s hero one week, a non-person the next. All traces removed. At least the bullet to the back of the head was metaphorical.

Anyway, when the issue came out that Thursday the offending paragraph was excised, as I was told. In its place was the following:

“It’s awards season and even the Jazz Critics Guild got in on the red-carpet action.”

Which means they believed it. I don’t know who exactly–was it my editor (which I doubt), or the editors above him, or Stalin him or herself? I have no idea. But whoever it was, they believed it. The Jazz Critics Awards, the Jazz Critics Guild, Ricky, Joan, Lemmy, all of it. Even “We Are the World” under the pool ar the Sunset Marquis. I liked to think they fell for the whole bit, hook line and sinker.

I said to myself I can retire now.

And I did, a year later.

The new thing with feeling

(expanded from an online conversation today with John Altman) 

Ya know, if I’d stop writing my self-indulgent stuff and went back to writing about jazz I’d start getting invited to the pricey jazz things and fancy digs. Something to think about…..

But the last couple years I was at the LA Weekly writing Brick’s PIcks I was really hating the way I was writing. It was stuck, in a rut, doing the same thing over and over. It was so easy and I’d gotten cynical. I was feeling very dishonest as a writer and that is death.  I had to re-learn how to write so it was time to woodshed. Like breaking a badly set arm and letting it heal all over again. So I up and walked.

That gig was killing me. I absolutely hated it by the end. Hated it like you hate the worst job you ever had. It was turning me into a fake. I’d invented this ridiculous Brick’s Picks character, him with his royal we and oh so ridiculously hip, turning the emotional faucet on and off…I hated that guy. He was a joke. That’s what happens when you wind up a jazz journalist without ever wanting to be a jazz journalist. Finally I got my zillionth idiot editor and said fuck it, I’m gone. And I was.

So that’s where I went. People still ask, which amazes me. They still bitch, which irritates me. Sometimes I say nothing, sometimes (if they’re older) I mumble an apology, and sometimes (if they’re a friend and ought to know better) I tell them to just shut the fuck up. And I’m feeling better about my writing now. To quote Eric Dolphy’s post card to Oliver Lake (I wish I’d saved the picture), I’m trying to do the new thing but with feeling.

Ya know, I don’t think people realize that writing is like music and you have to practice every goddamned day. Practice till your brain hurts. Practice till everything around you is language, everything, and you need to stop and just look at things and try not to think.

Then start writing again.