Saturday, September 20, 2014

Swallow The Sun (Wranglers' Canyon No. 3)

When you hang around somewhere long enough you get to being inquisitive and kinda snoopy and ask a lot of questions about things that you'd normally take for granted. One day after a few drinks Sheriff Frehley told me all about the legend of Sailor Jerry, who was more of a 1st Mate, almost a Captain, and then some gent said no, he wasn't that high up the ladder, he was more of a bosun.

"They don't make niggers 1st mates, Sheriff", Bo, the squarehead blacksmith, grunted.
Frehley frowned. "If they're in international waters they don't give a frig what color you are, just as long as you can set sail, keep a steady course and run the deck with your guts together".
Frehley poked me in the gut, and whispered, "Damn Swedes, they don't like darkies, Protestants or anybody else, for that matter". I threw back a shot of Stallion Sweat and sniffed.

Another thing nobody could agree on was where he came from. Some say he was from Trinidad, but he wasn't sporting no funny Island accent. Someone else said he was Moroccan, and that got shot down faster than a pigeon from a duck blind. Wherever he came from it sure wasn't the deep South because he had sea green ocean water running through his veins. He served behind the bar with sea legs, the kind that tilt every so often so they can handle all that rocking and rolling with the ocean waves.

There were several theories about how he came to sporting that hook for a left hand. Sheriff said it was for stealing a fortune in gold in Persia resulting in his black hand getting chopped off. It's supposed to be sitting in a pickled jar somewhere in Arabia while he buried the treasure in a pile of camel dung which he stumpily smuggled back here and paid for the saloon. The squarehead cut in again - I was getting mighty tired of his mouth - said it wasn't like that at all. He lost it when he got jumped by a bunch of bitter crackers in Mississippi.

Then some fancy blowhard jumped in and said everybody got it all wrong. He was a popular music hall entertainer in Europe and got real cozy with some rich old dowager in Austria who got a crazy mare that went ape shit kicking and whinnying her damn fool horse head off and Jerry tried grabbing the reins, his paw got stuck in the bridle and the damn fool nag ripped his hand off the arm, so he got a handsome reward for saving the old biddy's life. The Sheriff's story was the closest thing to a real one and I had trouble chewing on that one, too.

I nodded my head like a damn fool when the blowhard talked because it turned out he was the Mayor of Jonestown, name of Randall. Mayor Randall. Mayor Randall walked up to Frehley and asked him, kinda confidential, "Any doings over at the Hiss Ranch?"

"No, nothing at all, Mayor", Frehley looked kinda spooked for a second there.

I might want to also mention a few things about the people in Jonestown. I know I'm only generalizing but most of the people who passed me by were awfully pretty, the ladies young and old, even the fellas were right easy to look at. The folk weren't just easy to look at but acted real easy going, too easy going, like they never had anything to worry about, ever.

After a few drinks too many with the big shots I stiffly wobbled out of Sailor Jerry's. I staggered across the road and saw a fella hanging a banner that read: "JONESTOWN CITY FAIR". I almost fell over ass over elbows when I tripped on a bucket of tripe.

"Mr. Walker, are you hokay?" Mr. Butcher looked at me with concern, his apron smeared with pig's blood.
"No problem at all, Butch", I drunkenly smiled. I moseyed over behind the barbershop and fell asleep, flat on my face.

I woke up the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, no, just kidding, there were flies hovering all around me and the world's ugliest dog licking my face. The dog had a face so ugly I'd shave his ass and make him walk backwards, plus his dog breath smelled like he'd been working over his balls sun up to sun down before waking me up.

The sun was blasting me in the face and I got up, almost kicking the dog in his chewed up tail but he ran off.
"G'wan, git, Shit Ball!"

I dusted off my chaps and ambled around the corner only to find dozens of folks dancing and a band playing on a tiny stage. There were banners set up and tables with pies and fried chicken and other high stepping viddles. It was a genuine jamboree. I must of slept it off while all this setting up was going on.

The girls that danced with the dudes were real pretty, and clean too, like they never missed a bath. They were all well scrubbed and you could smell them from where I stood, all nice like flowers. I smelled gardenias, camellias, rose, geraniums, you name it.

I even saw Miss Willa dancing with some new beau and old Mumbling Pete standing not far away with a sorrowful look on his kisser. I reckoned the poor corn shucker needed some cheering up.

"Hey, Pete! Some party, eh Hoss?"
"Xcdgfs mkmfk ui edcbnjc po ijn!" Pete started blubbering like a new born babe.
"Oh hell, Pete, they're all whores. When are you going to get wise to yourself?"
"Vb gryt hjhg kiu ryt ckhjj wervn", he moped.
"Well, y'see that's a gal's job", I put my arm around him. "They're supposed to make a dude feel special. Until they find one with more money. Then they toss your ass out. That's how the game's played".
"Baw ahawboohoo bawlbawlbawl", he cried.

I vamoosed off Pete and walked over to a homely looking thing who didn't have Johnny Shit to dance with, so I grabbed her. Her face lit up real bright.
"Say, Miss, how'd you like to do a fancy step or two with me?"
"SURE!" This young spinster looked like she was going to boil in her drawers. Shitfire!

"Good deal, ma'am, but before you we step out you gotta to a few rounds with my amigo here, name's Pete". I practically smacked them into each other like a dry ham sandwich.
"Gc fyt wegn fohubj scg wklhjb!" Pete lit up and smiled.
"Well, go on, Boy. Show her some fancy steps!"

The plain jane's face kinda dropped but before she could run away Pete grabbed her waist and danced in a spin with the rest of the other folks, almost knocking over Miss Willa.
Mr. Butcher was dancing with his big fat wife, Bo the blacksmith did a squarehead waltz with some blonde, Mister Flint the barber danced with his short spinner wife, Shorty from the hotel was dancing with the pretty Mex maid. It was a right jamboree.

But I wasn't having any fun. Something was stuck in my craw, and I didn't know what. I kept staring at the dude Miss Willa was dancing with. He looked a whole lot like the gent named Rance from the swimming pond incident of a week ago. Couldn't be. Rance was dead, but this dude looked a whole lot like him, as if he was kinfolk.

At the end of the last song everyone applauded all nice and fancy. Mayor Randall held his arms out to quell the applause.
"Thank you, one and all, for coming to this year's Jonestown City Fair. Now you know we always welcome our friends and neighbors to come up and sing a little song. Is there anyone here who'd like to come up and sing with the band? And I mean someone who can really sing?"

Everybody got all shy and quiet, but that damn foghorn Mumbling Pete yelled at the Mayor, "Ty ghd bnxzgui iory vbd iojiji!"
Mayor Randall made a face, looked out at me in the crowd and said, "What did he say? What did he say???"
"He said, well, uh -" I stammered, still fighting off my hangover.

Mumbling Pete ran over to me and pushed me towards the stage.
"He said I'm the greatest singer West of the Pecos", I frowned.
"Kli sdgh vbhj wtdci jkks nuuihusj!!!!"
"Aw Pete, I wish you'd shut up for a change!" I protested as he pushed me closer and closer to the stage.

"Well, looky here folks! We got us a brand spanking new singer here, our esteemed visitor - Mister Crash Walker!", Mayor Randall yelled. "Let's see if we can get him to sing us a song. Come on up, Mister Walker!"

I got up on that stage and looked at the band who gave me skeptical looks like I should be shoveling shit instead of talking it. I looked at the drummer and the bull fiddle player and said, "Do you know 'Buffalo Babe'?"
The band picked it up and started playing. I began singing.

"Oh well the skies are dark and wide,
And your teeth are pearly white,
Your lips are ruby red and the hens are all fed,
We're going to bill and coo tonight,
Buffalo Babe, Buh Buh Buh Buh, Buffalo Babe, Buffalo Baby, be mine tonight".

I swung my hips, tossed my jet black hair and cocked my eyebrow rakishly. All the gals ran up to the stage, smiling and swinging their asses. The band looked surprised and picked up the beat, giving the music a little more gumption, especially the bitter faced guitar player.

"We're going to swing and dance by the barn,
Shoe the horses and hold you in my arms,
Drink corn liquor and kiss you a little quicker,
We're going to bill and coo tonight,
Buffalo Babe, Buh Buh Buh Buh, Buffalo Babe, Buffalo Baby, be mine tonight".

The song ended, I swiveled my hips even harder and all the gals shrieked like a bunch of wild turkeys. The gents applauded with bitter, angry looks on their faces. Jealous bastards. Pete had a shit eating grin on his face, though.

"Crash Walker, everybody!!!" Mayor Randall hollered. "Crash Walker!"
The applause doubled in noise. I tried to jump off the stage but the Mayor held my arm.
"Hold it! Now hold it, son!" he admonished.

"Now, you've only been here for a week but I think I speak for all of us here when I say you're our kind of people. You've made quite an impression on us, especially with that last song. So with that in mind, as Mayor of Jonestown..."
An old biddy in a bonnet handed him a big dingus-looking thing.
"...I am pleased to present you with the key to our fair city!"

Everybody applauded, especially the gals. I looked out at the crowd of people, and noticed the dude who danced with Miss Willa was gone. This big clumsy thing which looked like a melted key was shoved my way. I tried to hold it up and smile but it kept falling out of my hands.

"Would you like to say a few words, Mister Walker?"
"Thank you very much. I'd like to sing some more, Mayor", I mumbled. I turned to the drummer and the bull fiddle player and said, "Do you know 'Campfire'?"
The band picked it up and started playing. I began singing.

"Come on pretty buh baby with me to uh cuh cuh cuh campfire,
Kiss me, roast some nuts and build my duh duh duh desire,
I'll tell you I love you and I'm no luh luh luh liar,
Cuh cuh campfire!"

Once again the lasses bailed from their men and wagged their tails like little pups in front of the stage. The drummer hit a rim shot and I swung my hips to the beat. The gents still looked pretty bugged, except for the band, who now mildly tolerated me.

While I sang the rest of "Campfire" I noticed a passel of wagons riding into the town. Some wagons looked like trailers and some looked it carried banners and all sorts of stuff. I was hoping it wasn't the rodeo Sheriff Frehley talked about the other day. I could bluff my way into singing but I wasn't sure I was ready to ride a bunch of surly bulls.

"Come on pretty buh baby with me to uh cuh cuh cuh campfire,
Kiss me, roast some nuts and build my duh duh duh desire,
I'll tell you I love you and I'm no luh luh luh liar,
Cuh cuh cuh campfire!"

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What Is And What Should Never Be

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
-Stephen King

While I understand that a gym isn't a gathering place for all persons and things intellectual there are times when I hear things that are a little too ridiculous to be believed. While I was flapping my pins on the thigh abductor I overheard some young guy talking to an older gent about his college courses.

"Yeah, I'm taking English at UCLA but I really want to write for movies and TV", the 22-year old crowed. "I like all kinds of movies and I know how to write for them". I guess everyone's entitled to their daydreams but nowhere in the conversation did this kid say what kind of books he read and what sort of novels he enjoyed. The entire realm of literature didn't come up once in the conversation. And he talked about becoming a writer.

Let's talk about the guys that wrote for the movies, the greats: Stirling Silliphant, Dalton Trumbo, Robert Towne, Rod Serling, Charles Brackett, to name a few. Did any of them say when they were young, "I want to write for the movies?" No, I'm pretty sure they dreamed of writing brilliant novels but somehow got roped into the screenwriting game. And I'll wager anything they all had extremely prodigious libraries full of books and spent all their leisure time reading them.

The scary part is when you ask a clueless guy like Gym Kid who his favorite writer is and he'll probably say "Hitchcock!" People like this are completely oblivious to the fact that if it weren't for the writing of Cornell Woolrich, Robert Bloch, Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier, to name a few, there wouldn't even be anything for Mr. Hitchcock to film at all. He knew it, too: one of the first credits beginning each episode of his TV show names the writer of the story. Hitch even had a mystery magazine back in the day.

I once knew a hammerhead whose favorite mantra was, "I don't read books, I don't need books, I depend on my looks". What an asshole. Needless to say he now works in the motion picture industry.

Here's another story for you: Rebecca met a fast-talking blowhard who kept up about how he was going to write a novel and then write for the movies and went on and on about it and of course didn't divulge about what the hell he was writing.

"I couldn't stand him! You've already written two novels and this guy kept talking like he was King Shit just because he was starting some dumb novel he wouldn't talk about. I just wished he'd shut up!"
"I know how to shut him up", I said.
"How do you do that?"
"Ask him who's his favorite author", I smiled. "That always shuts them up".

One of my favorite mottoes is "In this place called Hell novels are written by people who don't read books". I'm not joking, either: we have friends who say, "I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT MY EXPERIENCES AS A STRIPPER IN SAN FRANCISCO". Okay, even if it's a memoir there needs to be plot development, character development (i.e. someone who started out as a rival becomes your best friend towards the second half of the book), fact checking, so on and so forth. And then what style is the book written in: Will it be funny sleaze like Bukowski, dark decadence like Hubert Selby Jr., erotically charged like Genet, what's your POV?

To say you want to be a writer without reading books is like saying you want to be Governor of California without knowing The Declaration of Independence (um, wait a minute, I just described Arnold Schwarzenegger, scratch that). It's like saying you want to play guitar without knowing who Les Paul, Hubert Sumlin, Chet Atkins or The Ventures are. Without an understanding of the history of your craft you're flying without a pilot's license, which means you'll crash and burn.

It also means your memoir of being a stripper in San Francisco will never be published. Read a fucking book. It'll probably change your life.

Illustrations by Rebecca Seven

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Tubes (1975)

In the early Seventies there were several collectives that combined glam music with theater. In London there was the highly successful Rocky Horror Show, Los Angeles had The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (some of whom evolved into the band Oingo Boingo), and San Francisco had The Tubes.

Although Rocky was a musical production, Oingo Boingo was a theater troupe and the latter was a rock band, they all had one thing in common: a talent for blending cabaret, high camp, retro post-modernism with a healthy dose of glam rock in the mix.

What made The Tubes wilder and creepier than the others was the way it took glam rock, North Beach strip club sleaze, video technology, S&M and good old American excess (from both average Americans and decadent rock stars – no one was innocent) and presented it in a flawless stage production with brilliant musicianship.

Released in 1975 and produced by Al Kooper, The Tubes is one of the strangest debut albums ever recorded, a stunning mélange of glam rock, progressive rock interludes, cheesy Broadway showbiz vocals and breathtaking high-tech electronics.

The band’s stage show had them flanked by television monitors, at least twenty in all, hence the band name. Some of the monitors showed the band performing in real time and others showed interactive routines going on as the band played.

The first track on the album is Up From The Deep, sung by Bill Spooner, one of the two guitarists, letting us know that the music can be changed and morphed whenever the spirit moves them. His voice is recorded as if he’s underwater. The melody has an Indian-type wail to it until it goes into a bizarre prog rock interlude that takes several flashy twists and turns, finally breaking into an explosive boogie woogie piano rave-up.

Guitarists Roger Steen and Bill Spooner played great Alice Cooper-style guitar while Michael Cotton on synthesizer and Vince Welnick on keyboards created brilliant aural soundscapes that set the atmosphere for each track.

When I first saw The Tubes at The Roxy in 1975 (previously home to The Rocky Horror Show) they performed Haloes in matching suits a la The Temptations while a pre-recorded track played behind them. No great shakes these days, but in 1975 it was unheard of, but funny.

Space Baby sounds like a retro-Fifties ballad about an intergalactic babe that space traveler Fee Waybill pines for down on Planet Earth. Waybill sings in a wailing David Bowie style. The song also features the aforementioned Broadway choir-type backing vocals with the synth playing as an electronic horn section, all very Bowie meets Flash Gordon.

Mondo Bondage was probably the very first exposure many rock fans had to the world of S&M since most bands never even went there. Fee and show girl Re Styles both donned bondage outfits and masks during this number and it was a pretty intense show stopper. The song was pretty weird, too, with a wild jazz-metal interlude while the two performers went into a creepy session, giving us all a taste of North Beach live sex acts to a rock beat.

What Do You Want From Life? is a Frank Zappa-type parody on super consumerism that’s still powerful today, and even posits that proposition that even if everybody got what they wanted would it still be enough? Really???? The more excessive the needs the faster, quicker and more manic Fee Waybill’s voice gets.

At some point during the show Fee sang Bali Hai from South Pacific – there goes that Broadway shtick again, and then after rips into a manic rendition of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” with a quintet of naked girl dancers backing him up.

The finale to the stage show, as well as the album is Boy Crazy and White Punks On Dope. The reason why both songs are lumped together is because they both share the same thing in common. The Tubes turn the spotlight away from themselves and point it at the audience, something most punk bands took credit for a year later. In an era when most bands sang about the pain of being rock stars this approach was highly subversive.

Boy Crazy is about teenage sexual promiscuity – I seem to recall hardcore porn playing on the video monitors while the song was played. Fee, once again, sings it in a decadent David Bowie-style wail. It’s a great track, more direct than the others in spite of the big Broadway treatment. It would be interesting to hear from the band whether the big production was their idea or Al Kooper’s?

White Punks On Dope was The Tubes’ big anthem and told the tale of wasted, wasted youth in the high class suburbs. Once again, it was released one year before punk rock so it’s uncanny how much ground The Tubes broke and received scant credit for their innovations. The blend of ray-gun synthesizer with heavy metal boogie guitar is infectious while Waybill delivers another uncanny David Bowie imitation in his sky-high platform heels and huge platinum blonde fright wig. His Quay Lewd routine was the other show stopper after Mondo Bondage.

Nina Hagen’s highly operatic version of White Punks also has to be heard to be believed. I saw her do it at The Greek Theater – the show with the spaceship and nearly fell on my ass. Good times!

Clocking in at only thirty-seven minutes and some change, The Tubes’ debut album is like the Daffy Duck magic trick where he blows himself up and laments that it’s his “best trick, but he can only do it once”. The Tubes couldn’t really produce anything as powerful as their first album, but in spite of it they managed to rack up several hit singles during the New Wave Eighties – Talk To Ya Later, Monkey Time, and She’s A Beauty. But the debauchery of the stage show never went much further or wilder than that first tour. Perhaps it was just a sign of the times.

The Tubes’ first album is still a crucial work because there’s a timelessness to it, it’s musically challenging, endlessly inventive and the sonic soundscapes are downright creepy at times. Like The Residents, there’s a post-modernism that anticipates the beginning of punk rock and even the dreaded behemoth of New Wave. Like the foreign radio voices that herald and close the album you will be transported to a strange land unlike any other.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Haywire (Wranglers' Canyon No. 2)

I decided to stay a spell in Jonestown, partly because I was worried about running into that drive team I ran out on and partly because, well, for such a small town they had more than a few pretty lookin' gals.

After my regular morning shit and shave I grabbed my stuff and left my room at The Jonestown Hotel. The first person I saw when I entered Sailor Jerry's Schooner was my dear friend Mumblin' Pete, who was holding a mug of beer in one hand and helping himself to the free lunch by the bar.

"Morning, Walker!" Sailor Jerry's dark bronze face cheerfully greeted me, looking dapper in his shirtsleeves and bitty string tie. "What'll it be, Hoss?"
"Shot o' Cactus Piss, Skipper!"
"Aye aye!"

"Mnnnbbgdlogfh!" Mumblin' Pete burbled at me, grabbing endless slices of meats, some reaching his little plate and others hitting his hungry maw before he even had a chance to breathe. What a hungry hombre! And who could blame him?

"Grab a plate and eat up, Mr. Walker, the Real Hungry Boys should be arriving at eight strokes of the bell", Sailor Jerry planted a shot glass in front of me.
"Eight bells of what?"
"That's sailor talk for 12 noon, Mister, uh, Walker was it?" A tall, gray-haired man, somewheres scratching about fifty-five years old with a star on his chest walked up to me, extending his hand.
"Crash Walker at your service", I stammered. I always get nervous when the law wanted to know my name, a fear I've faced since childhood.
"I'm Sheriff Frehley, Elroy Frehley". We shook hands and I hope he didn't feel my hands trembling. "Well, don't stand on ceremony! Eat up!"

We both walked over to the little table with all the pickled eggs, potatoes, chili, bread, beans, and dozens and dozens of meats, all red, pink, gray and brown. We both started picking at all the meats and slapped them onto our plates.

"So tell me, Mister Walker, what business brings you to our modest little town?"
"I'm looking for work, Sheriff Frehley".
"Call me Elroy, son".
"That's quite a handle, Sheriff".

"What kind of work exactly are you looking for, if I may ask?"
"Why, I'm a rodeo rider, bulls a specialty!" I bluffed. Always lie to the authorities. A habit I picked up from when I was a little sprout.
"You don't say? How long have you lasted on a bucking bull?"
"Why, about twenty seconds!" May I not be stricken dead for lying. "I was taught the ancient art of bull riding by a New Zealander of Brazilian ancestry".

Sheriff Frehley grabbed as much meat as he could. We occasionally knocked over Mumblin' Pete out of our way, who kept getting in our way near the delicious looking beefs.
"Why is there so much meat here? This is a real spread", I asked nervously.

Sheriff Frehley told me about the town butcher who had a Polish name nobody could pronounce so they renamed him Mister Butcher. Mr. Butcher slaughtered everything in sight, cows, pigs, lambs, goats, possum, venison, chicken, rabbits, squirrel, the occasional snake and anything else he could get his burly bohunk hands on. I swore I smelled some cooked gopher and prairie dog on the table, too. All of the meats on the table were dried, smoked, boiled, fried, pulled, or broiled. We ate and we ate heartily, but I wondered what animal I was chawing on each time.

While old Frehley was telling me all this - by this time we were both kinda drunk and getting on just fine - Sailor Jerry got away from the bar and sat down to an old pipe organ and played it with his good hand while he banged his hook on a broken piano next to it. The broken down piano leaned to one side since the leg was broken and some of the keys sounded out of tune, but it didn't matter. He played a bunch of old sea shanties. He sang songs about gals waiting by the harbor for him, his voice rising higher and higher.

"I left my true love at the altar,
Standing alone by the shore,
Bid her fare thee well on a frigate bound,
To the ocean blue forever more".

Sailor Jerry's big purple lips wailed and howled like crazy and I looked over at Mumblin' Pete and noticed he stopped his chawin' because his lower lip started trembling something awful and his eyes welled up like an overflowing gully.

Mumblin' Pete cried into his beer, makin' me wonder if Pete ever left a girl high and dry at the altar. I kinda believe he did. That old rascal.

While one man was playing and another man was crying I looked into the mirror of the saloon and saw me, Crash Walker, twenty-five years old staring right back at me. He was about six feet tall, head of black hair, dark blue eyes and a lot of faded blue and gray clothes with a heavy brown leather pair of chaps from my cattle driving. No matter how many times I washed up my face always had dirt lines marking the contours of my face.

I became a ranch hand when I was only sixteen years old (I bluffed to get that job, too) but I was always a restless young buck and ran off to do other jobs whenever the spirit possessed me. I always did a little of everything else. Everything but bull riding.

"Well, Walker", Frehley woke me from my spell, "You're just in luck. My cousin runs a rodeo, a traveling one, and they're fixing to come by these parts within the next few weeks, so I guess we're in for a little treat. Get to see your twenty seconds of power on top of a bucking bull!" He slapped me on the back.
I thought I was about to chuck-a-luck all my greasy meat and rotgut all over the saloon floor.

"If you'll excuse me, Sheriff, I gotta tend to my horse for a spell. I'll be right back!" I waved at Pete, who followed me out of the place.

Things settled down some once Mumblin' Pete and I rode out to the plain, away from town, away from the Sheriff, away from Sailor Jerry, away from Miss Willa and all those dance hall gals and everybody else. All there was the vast expanse of the plain with me and Mumblin' Pete.

Pete set up a line of medicine bottles, whiskey bottles, food tin cans, hair tonic bottles, beer glasses, and other fool things on an old wooden fence for us to shoot at. I had first crack at shooting, and stepped out about ten feet away from the line of bottles and cans.

"Alright, now, Pete, don't get too jealous now when I show you what a great shot I am, but anyhoo, here goes", I went into my best pistol stance, got a good bead on the line of targets, reached for my six-shooter and drew my gun. I fired away and only hit three of the ten objects lined up. My faced turned red as a rooster's butt.

"Mgh wtrerdrgdgf?" Mumblin' Pete cocked his head sideways at me questioningly.
"Hell, I'm just gettin' warmed up!" I snarled. "What the heck!"
"Ghbctou!" Mumblin' Pete cussed.

I put my best shooting face on and aimed at the targets lined up, the sun burning down on me and the white heat lighting everything up until I thought I'd go blind and then a big gust of wind hit me from behind with a loud roar. I turned around and saw five horses race right past us from behind.

They rode right by us, just a bunch of regular hombres riding with rifles hanging from their saddles, all except the dude in the middle, an elderly man dressed all in black who turned to stare at me for a second. I'll never forget his face. It was long, thin and scaly. He had the smallest eyes which looked like tiny pools of black holes. The expression on his face was a mean, bitter, pinched face filled with venomous hatred. He had the face of a mean old rattlesnake. They rode towards Jonestown.

As they rode away, Mumblin' Pete said, "Khgl moubf ervdjy!"
"I don't know what the hell that was all about, Pete. Let sleeping hogs lie, boy!"
I reached and drew my gun, blowing four items off the target line.
"Fiddlesticks! Those bastards just blew my aim!"

"Huh!" Mumblin' Pete waved his hand at me and scoffed. I felt like kicking his old fashioned ass clear across the Pecos for handing me that business.
Pete took my place, stared long and hard at the targets and drew his piece. He blew out every can and bottle off the fence.

He turned to me and smiled.
"Well, alright, Buddy Boy, it's my turn to set everything up, don't get such a big head about it. And, by the way, don't lose your head over Miss Willa spending the night with us. Once she saw that horse-dick gambler's roll you were flashing you looked prettier than a gold coin piece to her".
"Kitrf dfvjh erwv hjgsi!"
"I'm just telling you for your own good, don't fall in love with her. It's not your good looks she's after".
"Pogh frew miku cfdes".
"I AM NOT jealous".

We both sat down for a spell and I pulled out my makings, filling the tobacco over the paper and rolling the paper and lighting up. Mumblin' Pete pulled out his chaw of tobacco and started chewing away, then spitting up a storm.

"Jhity frop bhij dekoo festry lwep", he grunted and then spat another dark brown missile of spit, splashing against a big rock, making a spotted lizard run away. The lizard probably thought it was raining shit.
"Listen, Pete, you enjoy your tobacco your way and I'll enjoy it my way!"

We both got real quiet for a second and then Pete buzzed.
"Klop fedts jik ubb greft ilhy sdet mkoij quelo ctroiyu ahjty?"
"I don't know who those hombres were but they sure were ornery looking. That old gent had a face like a mean old horny toad".

I pulled on my cigarette and Mumblin' Pete kept spitting away. I often wondered if it was all that chaw in his mouth that made him talk all funny like that. We had a few more hours to kill and then who knows what we were going to do next?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Halloween In August

In the early Seventies when I lived in New York I bought a litho of a creepy painting titled "Masks Fighting For The Body of a Hanged Man" by an artist named James Ensor. Pictured above, it's an illustrations of two skeleton women literally fighting it out with brooms and mops over a hanged man with groups of masked freaks and witches looking on from a doorway. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was my entryway into the art of James Ensor.

James Ensor, born in Belgium and creative during the turn of the century , may be one of the most under documented artists ever known. His artwork is an endlessly creative line of grotesque images rendered in a naive art style that can truly elude any easy classification. Sometimes impressionistic, other times expressionistic, yet neither, perhaps his inability to be classified explains his regrettable obscurity after all these years, almost 100 years after his death.

All this "regrettable obscurity" came to a close one afternoon this summer when I drove down Pico Boulevard and saw huge banners of Ensor art hanging from street lamps announcing The Getty Center exhibiting a show called "The Scandalous Art of James Ensor" (June 10-September 7). I could hardly believe my bloodshot eyes!

The Getty Center show is truly a feast to the eyes of any Ensor fan, providing an absolutely comprehensive retrospective this side of Brussels of the great artist's works. I also learned a lot about the great man himself, and was surprised by what I learned. Mr. Ensor may have been The Original Goth Kid. A portrait of his maternal grandmother informs us that she was a seller of grotesque masks which excited and influenced his art in the years to come.

He was also a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe's works and his paintings based on several of his stories, i.e. Hop Frog, including the bizarre "King Pest" were on display at the Getty. He also had a cool harmonium (Nico's keyboard of choice) in his studio that he enjoyed playing. This dude was Goth before Goth got cool!

For all the horror business Ensor served up I don't think it was all gloom and doom. I detected notes of humor in many of his works, and his depiction of government and military officials were reminiscent of George Grosz in the cartoonishness (Ensor predated Grosz so it's presumptuous to say he was an influence on the German expressionist). The subject of death breached a cross between humor and horror, and I liked the party and horror mask paintings the most.

Ensor's wild masterpiece "The Entry of Christ Into Brussels" (1888) was not only displayed in its full splendor but also had a little magnifying glass-style display you could peruse all the details of this unique masterwork. Ensor's mixture of colors and even brush strokes were so erratic which left disturbing hints of a runaway psyche on every piece displayed.

I was happy to see so many people analyzing and enjoying Ensor's works - attendance was pretty robust for such an obscure art star. I also chuckled when I saw an endless line of Ensor souvenirs on sale at the sale counter. I wasn't ready for an Ensor coffee mug, but I got a few magnets and punk rock-style buttons. Now maybe Taschen can put their Ensor retrospective back in print!