Saturday, October 18, 2014

Dirty Boots (Wranglers' Canyon No. 4)

Before I go any further into my story I want to tell you about Jonestown itself. A lot of the shenanigans happened around the center of town, where you had the saloon, hotel, jail, City Hall (a little bitty tower), horse stall, barbershop, post office, general store, a "parlor" and other provisions, and then a little yonder down a ways you had people's homes where the grass was greener and the air was cleaner. Standing in the center of all these homes was the school house and the church, all white and wooden. A little further yonder by the end were all the farms and stuff like that.

Folks were awful quiet and didn't seem to mind much. It didn't bother me at first, only most of the folks out there acted kinda slow, like they didn't catch much no matter how bad things got. Like rabbits. Like sheep. It was mighty funny, like if you lit a match under folks it would take them ten minutes to catch on and say "Ouch".

So there I was, standing around with the key to the city in my hands, catching my breath after singing "Campfire" and getting ready to roll into some Jim dandy yodeling when I saw the rodeo heading straight into town like a dad-blasted bat out of hell.

"Well, I'll be -" Mayor Frehley pushed his cowboy hat back of his head. "Well, I swear if I wasn't a dreamin' that's my cousin comin' a few weeks earlier than he was supposed to. I'll if I'm wrong may the Lord blast my ass to the next canyon!"

Unfortunately, he wasn't near wrong. Clouds of dust were flying every which way and wagons with bright colored paint saying, "DOCTOR TARR-NATIONAL'S RODEO, RIDING AND ROPING DAREDEVILS UNLIMITED".

"I'd like to sing another song-"
"Later, Walker, that's my cousin's show comin' in front and center", Sheriff Frehley beamed.
"Zyxxx?" Mumblin' Pete frowned.

"Well, thanks for the honor folks but I best be moseying' along", I smiled with my teeth and edged towards the lip of the stage to jump off. A very strong hand clutched my arm with a steely grip.
"Nonsense, Mr. Walker, you're going to show us all that fancy riding' you been jawin' about so much", Mayor Randall grinned with his teeth clenched. I could have punched him in his fat gray ass.

The wagons circled a spell and then finally stopped behind the crowd. A few of the horses had feed bags strapped around their maws and the rest popped some smelly chips out their big, round behinds. It smelled stronger than Samson pushing down the marble pillars of Babylon!

The man who rode the lead wagon looked mighty fancy, wearing a cowboy outfit equal parts white, red and gold. He looked like a lighthouse three hundred miles away from the nearest beach. Flashy. He had a big, droopy moustache with a pair of bushy eyebrows to match. He was white as snow, like if Santa Claus turned in his sleigh for a circus wagon.

"Cousin Elroy Frehley, I have arrived!" he yelled happily.
"Why, Doctor Augustus Tarr", Sheriff Frehley yelled back, "You're six weeks short of Sunday from having your show roll in".
"Yes, well, something came up, heh heh!" He tittered nervously.

I stood there like a dope holding on to that worthless key while Frehley climbed down the stage. Tarr climbed off his coach, too, even though the other rodeo hands stayed still at their wagons.

"Stand by, son", Randall spoke into my ear. "You're needed!"
I turned to see him smile as he also climbed off the stage. The band started up playing again and the folks went back to their dancing like nothing ever happened. I dropped the key and jumped off the stage, Pete waiting by the side for me.

"Well, ain't that peculiar!" I barked over the music to my pal. We walked through the crowd but not without catching a few gals stealing admiring looks at yours truly over their boyfriend's shoulders. Shucks. Who can blame them?

"Shit. I wonder if it's too late to catch up with that cattle drive? I never should'a skedaddled from them. What was I thinking about?" I cussed to Pete. His eyes were jumping around from me to the women and back to me nervously.

It didn't take a high-stepping professor to figure out the boys were sinking a few more at Sailor Jerry's so we tried to make a detour around the place, but it was no use. Randall stood not far from the entrance and caught us sneaking by.
"Over here, Walker! Have a few with us boys!" He laughed. "Don't be shy, kiddo!"

"Dad blast it if that Mayor don't grin like a rattlesnake!" I mumbled to Pete.
"Fdn gysaio iudiudi ik!" He agreed.

I reluctantly stepped up to the saloon doors.
"Hold it", Mayor Randall placed a finger on Mumblin' Pete's chest. "This is just between us boys. No need to come in, son".
"Pete goes wherever I go, Mayor. Giddyap, Pete!"
"Fdn johsn kirt fhr!"

"There he is! Crash Walker! Our newest resident!" Sheriff Frehley rose from their table. Doctor Augustus Tarr spun around to get a better look at me.
"So that's him, eh?"

We approached the table as Mayor Randall snapped his fingers at Sailor Jerry. "Three more rounds for us, Cap'n!"
"Aye aye!" Sailor Jerry set three more shot glasses up and filled them.
"Crash Walker, huh?" Augustus Tarr squinted an eye at me, appraising me. I felt like a broken toy and this Santa Claus-looking hombre was going to throw me off his damn sled.

"Just gave him the key to the city, yasss!" Mayor Randall harrumphed.
"Hmmmmm, well you're awfully god blessed in the looks, you got something for the ladies but how long can you keep that ass on a bucking bronco?"

"Well, he told me so hisself that he kin last twenty seconds on a powerful bull, the most powerful, meanest ass bull you kin throw at him. Can you imagine that?" Frehley burped, a cloud of hot whiskey wafting towards our noses.
Tarr's eyes expanded real huge over this story. "Twenty seconds? No bullshit? Where did you ride, kid?"

"Argentina, Dr. Tarr. I rode with the Pampas", I lied like a backwoods asshole. "Never did nothing Stateside".
"Is that a fact? Hmmmm....those South American bulls are pretty ornery. If you're as badass as you say you are, with those storybook looks of yours I could make a fortune. Hmmmm..." he buzzed some more.

"When do you plan on setting up the show?" Frehley asked before he hit up another shot.
"As soon as we settle in we can get a show set up, a few days. You don't have any pressing business to take care of, do you, Mr. Walker?"
"Um, no..."
"Good!" He banged his fist on the table. "This calls for a toast. More drinks, innkeeper!"
"Aye aye!"

"Fgdro ghvfi hjt riv!!!" Mumblin' Pete protested.
"What the devil's he kickin' about?" Tarr squinted his eyes.
"Why, that's just old Pete", I jabbed my thumb at him. "He kinda wants to be in the show, too".
"Naw, got no use for him. It's you I want!"

"Ghit dpou bgifrt hksdbeot!!!" Pete spat a big brown slash of tobacco juice angrily in a spittoon and then angrily kicked the damn thing across the room. He was pee-oh'ed!


For the next few days Pete and I bummed around outside the outskirts shooting at shit and combing Clyde's hide and sneaking peeks to see if the boys from the cattle drive were coming back my way at all. No such luck. I was stuck here and there was no way out.

You could hear the band from miles away playing their asses off. Folks were already stealing seats at the rodeo and yelling and whooping and carrying on making all sorts of noises from the distance. You could even smell all the barbecue and grub smoking its way from town. It was right seductive like some pretty gal.

I skipped the rodeo getting set up for a few days, but not without noticing that there was a crew of about six to seven fellas putting everything up. I think some of them doubled as riders and ropers. They sure were tough lookin' like they ate nails and horseshoes for breakfast. No doubt these were the boys I was competing with in the show.

Bulls and calves were mowing in the background, followed by the smell of their frightened dung. It was a sagebrush rhapsody, a symphony of sounds and smells.

"You wanna know why those cattle are kickin' and shittin' so much, Pete? Because when they smell that barbecue they smell family and they know it's their turn next". I took a last slug from my canteen. "Come on, let's get this shit over with".

I was walking to my death. I knew it like the beasts knew it.

We rode slowly and quietly into town, as close to the rodeo as possible. Frehley caught us riding and waved us down.
"There you are, Walker! Where have you been? We've ben searching high and low for you boys. Well, get off your horse so we can saddle you up for the show".
I hopped off Clyde who looked as nervous as I did. "Go ahead, Pete, take Clyde to the stalls and meet me back here".
"Ghsfsx iutir ccjui".

I walked closer and closer towards the chute where I'd get dropped on the bull for riding. As I did the drums were pounding louder and louder, the horns blaring like Joshua tearing down Jericho, the crowd in the stands cheering louder and louder. A lot of the gals screamed my name. That got my courage up a mite.

One of the rodeo hands helped me up in the chute. His eyes were dark black pools, his arms big thick cables of muscle. his teeth gritted.
"Twenty seconds, huh? Put these gloves on, you're gonna need 'em".

I slid on some thin leather gloves and hopped on the bull. The bull was already kicking and snorting and pissing and jumping inside the chute. As soon as I hopped on the bull I noticed that the there were sharp metal spikes sticking out down the back of the beast from the head down to the back. The spikes were so sharp that if I were to fall on the beast itself I would be impaled and instantly killed.

The legs of the bull had leather straps festooned with barbed wire around them, so if he were to kick me I would surely be torn open by those garters.
"Say, bo, this isn't Western rodeo", I looked up at the brute.
"That's right. Welcome to Tarr Nation", he grunted with his toothpick almost falling out of his mouth.

Like an echo ringing out from Hell I heard a voice sounding not unlike Dr. Tarr roaring, "Ladies and Gentlemen, preeesenting the Daredevil Stranger they call Miiister Crashhh Walker!!!!"
"Yaaaayyyyy!" everyone cheered.
The noise made the bull go loco, muy pronto.

They lifted up the chute and I held on to the bull by the thinnest rope I have ever held in my life. It was like run-down twine lowering down into thread. The bull bucked like crazy and I almost lost my grip on that last buckle.

It kicked and my ass felt every sharp jump in bull's backside. It didn't help that the sun caught me in the eyes and I was blinded by the light, my vision only focused on the spikes sticking out of the bull's head.

He buckled and kicked like a wild drunk, so I punched him in the ears a few times. It was then I knew why my vision was completely blinded. The ground was filled with shards and shards of broken glass, the sun hitting the broken glass and reflecting the light in my eyes!

The bull stomped on the broken glass and caught a few shards in its hooves, blood splashing all over the place. I caught some of the blood all over me, staining my clothes. I held on but the rope just got thinner and thinner, finally breaking off in my hands.

I had no choice but to wrap my arms around the bull's neck, the spikes cutting into my flesh. The crowd cheered like crazy, thinking the whole thing was an act. Bull-shit it was an act! Wait til I get my scarred hands on Tarr's neck. I'll have him guzzling the bull's blood by the time I'm through with him.

Finally a spike cut into me real deep and I yelped and let go of the bull, thrown off a few feet away. It could have been a hundred miles away for all I knew. The crowd roared. I tried to pick myself up and got my hands caught in some broken glass, blood pouring out of my gashed open hands. I screamed in pain.

I stayed down on the ground and prayed for my life. As I looked up I saw a big, creepy clown looking down at me. He had a red wig with the hair sticking out and pointing all over the place. His face was a powdered mess of pale white with a big, long nose and a wide, twisted smile made of greasepaint smeared across his face.

"Do you want me to chase away that darn bull, Cowboy? Maybe I will and maybe I won't", he whispered.

He then did something I'll never forget for the rest of my life. He took a large, bright red handkerchief and quickly tied it around my chest and then ran off laughing.

The bull saw me with the loud red thing on me and charged right at me, horns and wire and metal spikes coming my way while I set on a bed of broken glass bleeding.

I waited for that horned bastard to get closer and closer to me until I made my move. The kind any red-blooded American boy would make.

I painfully drew my six shooter out of the holster, glass sticking out of my wrists, and shot the horned motherfucker in the face. He collapsed right at my feet in a bloody heap.

The barbed wire garters dug into his balls and chest, the spikes in his head stuck into his back. The glassy ground turned into a pool of blood, mostly the bull's. The beast kicked a couple of times, piss and shit flowing out and mingling with the blood. The audience cheered ecstatically.

A few of those rodeo thugs came racing out and helped me up. A few made a bigger fuss over that stupid bull than they did me, like maybe he was their boyfriend or something. I looked around and noticed the clown was gone, long gone.

Dr. Tarr came out and screamed at me over the noise of the crowd.
"YOU DARN BASTARD! YOU KILLED MY BEST BULL!!!!" His face was red. Almost as red as my blood.
"I told you I came from Argentina". My face and clothes were smeared with blood.
"Frontier bullfighting", I smiled. The rodeo thugs pushed me away angrily.

"YOU'LL PAY FOR THIS, SONNY BOY, YOU HEAR??? YOU'LL PAY FOR THIS!!!' Now his face turned purple instead of red.
"Fuck you, Tarr", I lifted my pistol hand and pointed my piece in his face. "Fess up. Who the hell was that Rodeo Clown?"

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Producing Is 10% Seducing and 90% Reducing

In the course of playing music in the past twenty-two years I have produced four albums of my own, remixed two for other performers (Michael T and No Policy), released countless singles and compilation tracks as well as played on a million other bands' records like Pressurehed, Ether Hogg, Anubian Lights, and a few others. If there's one thing I've learned in all those years is that no two recording sessions are alike. Musicians never get to say that each day in the studio's like "just another day at the office". It never is.

Generally, there are basically two kinds of producers: highly skilled, well-seasoned engineers who can work miracles in the studio and make any band sound brilliant, or someone who sculpts the band's sound and carefully arranges all the songs so he goes into the studio with the sound already worked out completely in his/her head. I belonged to the latter camp.

ARRANGING: My band Trash Can School had three guitarists and I had a pretty good idea of each one's strength and weaknesses, so when it came time to arrange the guitars I already had a clear idea of who could play which part the best. One guitar was delegated the lead, one for the rhythm and the third would play fills to thicken what the other two guitars were doing.

If one song needed a fast, complicated solo the first-string guitarist would get it, but if another song needed a slow, simple solo then the rhythm guitar played would get the lead, because they were usually good at that sort of thing. It always worked out real well.

Some guys played slide better than the others so they got the lead part to show off their slide guitar skills. It was great having three different guitarists with diverging styles to choose from. The funny thing was that Trash Can School was the reverse of the old Fifties band where there was one guitar and three horns, with us it was one saxophone and the three guitars, a veritable guitar section. The result, on tracks like "Silver Surfer", was astonishing.

Whenever I arranged a song I always thought of showcasing a band member if it enhanced the song, which is why I stuck in a wild Gene Krupa drum break in "Yes I Mean No", or a melodic pulsing bass solo in "Pistol Whipped/Pussy Whipped". I wanted to give everyone a chance to show their stuff.

When it came to arranging covers I wouldn't tackle anything unless it fit within the parameters of what we could play. We tinkered around with "Horses" by Patti Smith by playing the first half of "Gloria" and the second half of "Land" as a slide guitar drenched dirge. After performing "Shove" by L7 a few times and getting bored with it I decided to gravitate towards "Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult, which sounds identical and allowed me to insert a ripping saxophone solo on top of it. Later on in Cockfight I covered The Plasmatics' "Sometimes I" and gave it a driving, moody Cramps back beat.

RECORDING: But enough about arranging, let's talk about the recording process: some of the best recording studios I've worked in were as small as a living room, which is exactly what Radio Tokyo was, a converted living room in a craftsman style house. We got some big sounds there.

Setting levels is something adjustable to your preference, but one thing I distinctly went for on my records was more of a jazz drum sound. I always veered towards rhe ride cymbal rather than the crash cymbal. A rock record will always emphasize the crash cymbal but I went for a hot ride cymbal sound. The ride rules in jazz; the crash rules in rock.

I also think too much baffling can make a record sound too sterile and flat. Baffling for those who aren't familiar with the expression is when baffles, which are large dividers, are placed between the drums and the guitars and the keyboards so each instrument gets a good, clean sound in their channel. I always enjoyed working at Radio Tokyo because of all the leakage in the room. Leakage means when the other instruments sonically leak into each others tracks, which gives the band a definitely live sound.

My records sounded pretty live to me but there always a few people who said my "record didn't sound like the live show". Of course not. When I'm in the studio I have a large vocabulary to work with in terms of effects and instrumentation. Why would I want it to sound like a live show when I can make it sound so much more dynamic? Some people think too small.

On the other hand there have been reference vocals that turned out better than the polished vocal, like when I kept the Yoko Ono braying in "Powershred" that was originally meant to mark the saxophone solo, but it sounded do witch-like I kept it in.

Another reference vocal I kept was in "Liquor Store" where I overdubbed a more frantic vocal over the reference, then we lower the octave eon the reference like a slowed-down record, so you get a double vocal with different octaves. I was pretty happy with the end result.

Now as the title of my essay states, producing involves seducing, also known as persuasion, persuasion meaning making musicians play things that they either don't think they can play or simply won't play because they don't think it "fits their style". While there's nothing wrong with having a style, it's an artistic thumbprint, I know, it wouldn't hurt to expand their skills to make their bag of tricks that much more exciting.

As a result I have assured many musicians that they can play all sorts of strange things they're not accustomed to doing. Reluctant at first, after a few takes they actually find themselves very excited in the knowledge they've just expanded their vocabulary because somebody believed in them. I've never accepted a drummer saying "I can't play that" or a guitarist saying "That's not what I'm known for". Too bad. You begged to play in my band, prove to me you were worth the trouble of my bringing you into my band.

Sometimes you have to make lemonade out of lemons, like when the drummer came in a beat too late at the beginning of "Horses". Instead of throwing a fit about it I simply overdubbed a horse whinnying saxophone line covering the flaw, which enhanced the drums kicking into the song pretty well. Happy accidents mean covering any flaws that happen during the recording process.

I hate the idea of having the band just coming in and playing the same rock band crap over and over again. I'm definitely a fan of bringing in sound bites, non-rock instruments like vibes on "Hardware", or even industrial percussion, like Ted Carroll of Distorted Pony banging on car parts during "Godzilla". Once you're in the recording studio you have an unlimited palette of sounds to work with. Fuck this live band sound bullshit.

Sometimes the way you visualized a song in your mind doesn't pan out the way you wanted it to once you get into the studio, and it's a battle you sometimes can't win, so be prepared to let go, or else you'll just go crazy. You'll have to settle for less than perfection, or to put it more coldly: IF YOU CAN'T GET IT DONE IN FIVE TAKES IT CAN'T BE DONE.

MIXDOWN: Many terrible recordings have been saved through the magic of mixing tracks and adding effects to make the unlistenable sound listenable. Its truly miracle working made flesh. I remember leaving the studio after recording "Baby Lust" and almost crying, thinking I'd just wasted my money on a shit recording. I called Donnell Cameron at Westbeach Recorders and booked some time and he helped me save this track from being a bomb to being a hit.

I already had some familiarity with Donnell's work when he pre-mastered my track "Silver Surfer" for the Flipside compilation "City of LA Power". Donnell had a pretty unique approach to mixing I'll never forget. Halfway through mixdown once our levels were set and we did a rough mix of the song, he would transfer the tape to cassette, and then pop the cassette into the world's most beat up boom box I'd ever seen.

"Okay, we know what it sounds like on some nice, big, expensive studio speakers. Let's hear what it'll sound like booming out of your car".
The song started playing on this dinky player and all the cool parts as well as the shitty parts rang through loud and clear.

"Well, dude what do you think?"
"Wow, this makes everything sound totally different", I opened my eyes.
"Track definitely needs more low end and the vocal needs to come up higher. A little chorus on the guitars should smooth out a lot of the overdrive on the treble".
"Yeah, I agree. Let's go back in and make those changes".
I think we did the Ghetto Blaster Test two more times as we went along, the last pass being the final mix and sounding pretty majestic.Donnell's a brilliant engineer and we got a wild Plastic Ono Band sound on that crazy song.

Getting Geza X and his studio on my album Volume War was great because we already had a history together. He mixed the sound for The Screamers when I played with them and we played in our punk big band Arthur J. and The Gold Cups in the late Seventies. His guitar playing in The Deadbeats was legendary for its twisted inventiveness and made even more manic in his solo configuration Geza X and The Mommymen.

We also shared an affinity for avant garde music, so I didn't have to explain myself or my strange musical ideas to him. He already knew where I was coming from, so there wasn't a lot of head scratching as some engineers did whenever I asked them to use weird effects or filters on my tracks. In fact Geza came up with a lot of great sounds and contributed greatly to the hairball cacophony of that record.

Mixing tracks also gives you a chance to have the last word in the recording process. I had a guitarist who had to end every track with an orgiastic wail of long, long droney feedback. EVERY track. Instead of losing my shit after every take I simply thought, "Well, we'll see about this idiot's feedback orgy when it comes to mixdown". Once I was alone with Geza X in the studio, we'd look at each other smirking and do a quick audio fade on his track as soon as that clown would do his feedback dick slapping. Geza X is the best recording wizard on the planet.

Then there was another time when the rhythm section in Cockfight decided to have a party the night before our recording session (GOOD TIMING, ASSHOLES!) so they ended up hungover the next day at recording. And they played like a pair of bombed out dick heads. The drummer was guilty about his shitty playing he offered to pay for the session. I said, "No, the damage is already done, thanks a lot".

When it came to mixdown Randall O'Malley and I did a lot of jumping up and down of levels with the drums whenever it was time to hide his fuck ups. It was like an audio trampoline. No shit. There were some parts that were so tore up that we had to throw a few space echoes just to hide how shitty he played. Thank God for Randall O'Malley, he rules.

The funny thing is that after all the bullshit you go through you DO end up with a great record that makes other bands want to use your engineer and recording studio, and sometimes even your musicians. The magic is in the music and the music needs your magic.

Friday, October 3, 2014

American Biblioteque

It's been years, nay, decades since I really bothered going to the library. Most of the ones in my neighborhood were stuffy and understocked with books and what they had was simply awful. I was pretty disgusted with the Ivar Avenue library in Hollywood, especially since they remodeled it to look like a maximum security prison, and the Gardner library by the old Pan Pacific Park of my childhood looked like an unmade bed, books and videos scattered in a heap all over the book shelves. It was depressing enough to swear off getting a library card forever.

It wasn't until seven years ago that I walked into the Santa Monica Library and it turned my head around about the book lending game. Modern but beautiful, it had a used book store inside as well as its own built in coffee house with lux patio. Even better it had a considerable collection of art books, instructional foreign language CDs (Farsi, Chinese and Russian, get it now), and a great YA selection. I was pretty blown away by the choices. And I haven't even gotten around to the impressive DVD section, large enough to rival any DVD store.

What also killed me about the library was the amazing CD selection they had there. What was the point of listening to Pandora or Spotify if I can rent out any Neil Young or Psychedelic Furs CD or the amazing "Mingus Dynasty" with Cholly all done up on the cover like Po Xiangyang. The amount of rentable music made me crazy, never mind the String Quartets or Baroque Trumpet Sonatas, you could get Public Image Ltd. or the entire David Bowie collection for nothing.

But, alas all good things must come to an end: as of last year, the Santa Monica Library imposed a $25 annual fee for all borrowers not residents of their fair city. Yes, proof of local ID was required. I needed to get my fix of Joe Lansdale and Robert Cormier classics that only (I thought ONLY) was available in Santa Monica so I paid the $25, but that may end next year.

I dropped by my old favorite library of teenage years past, the Beverly Hills Library, next door to the BH Fire Station, BHPD and City Hall, and it's even better than I remembered it. A CD and DVD selection to rival Santa Monica minus the smelly bums hogging up the computers and the men’s bathroom toilets. I even got a card with a pic of the BH Library circa 1964, reminiscent of when I used to go (1968). Good times!

I took out half a dozen Miles Davis classics, the Prestige sides with Milt Jackson on killer vibes and the demented Burt Bacharach autobiography (memoirs?). My head also spun at the sight of their impressive collection of graphic novels, big enough to impress Bill Lebowitz (RIP) and get me to rent out tons of sequential dementia. They also had a pretty good used book store and coffee house, too.

All I need to do now is get a card with the killer downtown Los Angeles Library and my trifecta will be complete!


The reason most music sucks these days is because it's created by people who have fucking headphones on all the time: headphones on when they're walking down the street, working out at the gym, shopping at the supermarket, the headphones/earbuds/whatever are so far up their ears they can wipe their asses with them.

What are they listening to? Music, music, music. In doing this they are depriving themselves of some of the most important elements in the development of musical composition: the cadence of people's voices, the rhythm of machines, the reverb of an ocean wave, or the timbre of birds chirping and squawking.

If you think I've lost my mind, listen to this: the cadence of a human voice influenced Miles Davis' trumpet playing, the rhythm of machines has influenced bands like The Stooges and Black Sabbath, the timbre of bird's voices influenced Eric Dolphy, and the reverb of ocean waves influenced the sounds of Brian Wilson and surfing music. These examples of sounds are all instrumental to building a musical ear, more instructional than any record anyone could possibly listen to. If you really want to build your ear then you'll never do it listening to nothing but records all day and all night.

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 COMMUNITY 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