Bank robber

(2013)

I had a friend who was a bank robber. Actually I had two friends who were bank robbers but one of them only tried it once, surrendered immediately and is doing great now, squeaky clean and legitimate, better than most of the non-bank robbers I know. Not that I recommend it as a career path. My other bank robber friend robbed a whole string of them in nasty fashion, I don’t know which or where but I was wishing at the time I didn’t know him. Problem was he was a helluva writer. Not so much skilled as overwhelming, spewing vast amounts of prose at a sitting, thousands of words. A true hypergraphic. In fact I have never known a music critic (did I mention he was a music critic?) who wrote so much.

He did his best work in prison. It’s hard to write with a cellmate hanging over your shoulder, asking stupid cellmate questions and squabbling about space. But he’d been in jail so many times (did I mention he was a junkie?) that he had a system worked out. His first day there, he’d wallop some poor bastard, just jump him and wallop him for no reason, so they’d toss him in solitary, and then convince the prison shrink that he was anti-social enough to get his own cell. Worked every time. And then he could sit and write for hours.

Bands and pals and fans and the magazines he wrote for would send him cassettes of new stuff. They must have sent hundreds to whatever prison he was in at the time…they must have because he would review more bands and albums than you could imagine possible. He seemed to know everything about rock’n’roll, no matter how obscure, no matter how remote. Everything. If you ran into him at a club between prison sentences, he knew everybody playing and everything they played. He’d hit as many shows as possible, bumming rides from people apparently thrilled to death to chauffeur him around. When he got out for the last time I’d bump into him occasionally, and we’d talk music critic talk, me the LA Weekly jazz guy and he the ex-con, and he had so much respect for me it was embarrassing. I’d never had to beat up anybody to write a column, and certainly never robbed a bank. The occasional misdemeanor is nothing compared to a serial felon. Nothing. Besides, he’d written more than I had ever written anywhere. Maybe I was more stylish, but his was packed with hyperactive energy. I’d dance around writing pretty, showing off while he poured out pure, white hot information. I’d never known a music critic like the bank robber, never read anything like his prose. I tried to write prose like jazz, swinging and loose and cerebral, but his had all the muscle and jet engine velocity of Black Flag or an especially unhinged Stooges gig. They don’t make music critics like the bank robber anymore, thank God, because he was a menace. Doing bad things, real bad things. Junkie things. A sweet guy, though. We had some good talks. He even showed up at one of our big loud parties. He didn’t spin records, but he listened intently and asked a lot of questions, sucking in information. He was a good party guest. He was a good writer. He’s dead now. His was a helluva life, hopefully some one will write it up some day.

As for me, I won’t even tell you his name. I don’t know why, but I won’t. I guess I’ve never worked out the contradictions. I probably never will.

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.