Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Does This World Make Me Look Flat?

When I was a kid I went to my music school's talent show. It was a fairly dull affair; lots of classical piano pieces, a homely girl on clarinet, even some operatic aria.

Just when all seemed lost, however, the big finale was worth the trip: ten boys and girls came out with electric guitars and music stands to perform Heartbreak Hotel. It was absolutely glorious. Half the guitars were out of tune, louder than sin and no one played in time with each other. It was the most no wave thing I ever heard, DNA, Mars and Theoretical Girls be damned.

On a separate note, I don’t need to go into laborious detail about the bizarre victory of a highly unstable and unqualified man for the most coveted position in the free world, the President of the soon to not be United States. Get ready to see reversals of everything resembling remedial thought, including the concept of the World being flat. Science, along with our natural resources will be taking quite a beating for the next four years. I’m sure even Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity will be destroyed by these imbeciles in the years to come. No one is safe.

How will that affect art for the next four years? I suspect that there will be a lot of artists playing it safe out of fear of the new bully regime. On the other hand I suspect we’ll see more Joel Greys than ever, artists becoming more decadent and defiant as a form of revolution.

On the way home from the psychedelic dance party I had to drive through Skid Row. In the middle of the street was this girl who looked like Cissy Spacek all covered in blood a la Carrie. She was looking for her other sneaker. When she saw my car slowly crawling she made this intolerant Aileen Wuornos face and threw her arms up to wave me through. If I could put subtitles under her it would be "WAIL CUM ON, SPORT!"

Am I the only one who nurses a strange nostalgia for obscurity? Thanks to the internet, nothing can honestly be branded as obscure anymore. What I’m referring to is a day and age in my childhood where tons of data couldn’t be gleaned from a computer and had to be simply discovered. Case in point, when I’d take a bus up to Hollywood Boulevard and I’d walk up and down the street and its many side streets, an endless labyrinth of old pulp magazine stores, magic shops, stores specializing in Eastern herbs (not yet approaching the mainstream as this was 1966), and even the odd witchcraft store with black candles. Bereft of any advertising, one had to roam through the Hollywood jungle to discover all these esoteric shops.

But all the mystery and kink of Hollywood Boulevard is gone, now, it’s just a jumped up Disneyland for tourists with the odd teen runaway wearing a Misfits t-shirt. Kids nowadays don’t even have a clue who Sid Vicious is, even. That might be a good thing. Maybe Sid can finally rest in peace.

Speaking of Syd I’ve posted a picture of the late Syd Barrett in the autumn of his years. I find the photo interesting, probably because the resemblance to Brian Eno is more than coincidental. Barrett was definitely a big influence on Eno during his Taking Tiger Mountain/Another Green World period, China My China and Third Uncle, for example. Kink and mystery, kink and mystery…it’s all over now.

Guitar art by Tim Biskup; DJ picture by Chris Reccardi.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Quark, Strangeness & Charm

I'm not one to obsess much over milestones because it's a game one can play indefinitely ("The 50th Anniversary of Sgt. Peppers", "The 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima", etc.), but I'll break my rule and let you know that this Monday, October 31st, will be my 60th birthday. Sixty years of...quark, strangeness and charm (thanks, Hawkwind).

This week also marks the 60th Anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, where I was born. I find it ironic that there was fighting in the streets as I was born, and that the cacophony of street fighting somewhat influenced me into a life-long love for playing free jazz and other areas of improvisational music. By my parents' account, I was smuggled out of the country as they escaped to the USA. Contraband is my middle name.

Now that I've turned 60 I have to confess that I've started moving slower for things. I no longer run for anything - I just take my time. I've been here long enough. What's the point of running for anything? I've seen enough shit to know how things will turn out.

But in essence the importance of getting older is that there's less a feeling of guilt in general. I find it harder and harder to feel bad about anything. And even worse, I find my self-esteem rising higher and higher. I really like myself and all the things that I've done. I've lost all sense of shame. I won't dwell on self-hatred.

But all kidding aside, I've done just about everything I've ever wanted to do. I was a rock musician, touring the country and recording several albums; I've designed and made my own fashions, many of which have been featured on this blog; I worked for every strata of American government (Fed, State, County and City); I've done private investigative work, and now I'm doing what I love best, writing punk rock crime novels. If I died tomorrow I couldn't ask for a refund. I got on all the rides.

For the celebrity obsessed I've shaken hands with John Cassavetes, helped Harrison Ford at the election polls, hugged Raquel Welch, attended Julie Newmar's birthday party at her home, attended Gene Simmons' own 60th private birthday party, hung out with Iggy Pop and Shaun Cassidy at Rodney's, danced with Patti Smith and made Sun Ra smile. Yeah, I got on all the rides.

I don't cry much over terrible things that have happened in the past. Crying isn't really that cathartic and I prefer to just keep moving. anyway. My pain is a luxury I can't afford. Life is mostly loss, anyway. You lose friends who decide they hate you. You lose parents who pass away.

So what's it all about? Sex and death. Sex - getting it, dodging it from lecherous men, singing about it, writing about it - by the way, writing sex scenes in my books have always been the easiest part of my books. I don't get writers who can't knock out a decent sex scene in their novels. If you like sex then writing about it's the easiest task in the world.

Death, not just the end of mortality but the end of friendships, relationships, marriages, i.e. anything that entails someone yelling FUCK YOU as a parting shot. Life is filled with a lot of that, sometimes just a wee bit too much of it. For fuck's sake.

But still, what's it all about? I don't know. I just keep writing about people doing bad things to each other, laughing my ass off as I type away. And this week I'm listening to The Slits...Ari Up, passed away six years ago this week...Who invented the typical girl? Do a runner, do a runner....and then I hear the answer. In the beginning there was rhythm. Silence is a rhythm too>>>>>.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Fish Eye

When I was young I remember when fish eyes lens album covers were a big deal. Generally meant to depict the effect of a distorted, drug-induced hallucination, the fish eye lens was developed in the early 20th century but didn't become available on the marketplace until the early Sixties.

The popular fish eye lens is the circular lens, best explained by Wikipedia:

The first types of fisheye lenses to be developed were "circular fisheye" — lenses which took in a 180° hemisphere and projected this as a circle within the film frame. Some circular fisheyes were available in orthographic projection models for scientific applications. These have a 180° vertical angle of view, and the horizontal and diagonal angle of view are also 180°. Most circular fisheye lenses cover a smaller image circle than rectilinear lenses, so the corners of the frame will be completely dark.

By the mid to late Sixties it was de rigeur for every popular band to have a cool fish eye lens photograph of themselves. Several bands released iconographic album covers employing this exciting new look.

Three album covers which immediately come to mind are Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience (shot by Karl Ferris), Safe As Milk by Capt. Beefheart & His Magic band (shot by Guy Webster), and Mr. Tambourine Man by The Byrds (shot by Barry Feinstein). These particular shots expand on what would have been considered average stock rock photos.

The fish eye camera lens craze enjoyed its heyday in the Sixties and its use in the decades to follow slowly dropped into obscurity. I think we're due for a revival any day now....

***************

Speaking of a revival I've been listening to the Edgar Broughton band a lot lately. Talk about your overlooked geniuses, they were so far ahead of their time they couldn't even catch a break in their own home country.

The band's first album Wasa Wasa inaugurated their sound in 1969. While it recalls classic stoner rock like Black Sabbath, it sounds more like what would be considered The Birthday Party's signature sound over 10 years later. Case example: Love In The Rain, shown here on Beat Club.

Although the Broughton Band was more song-oriented compared to, say, the more freeform Deviants, the lyric content from Broughton was far more outrageous. One of the more extreme examples is “Psychopath”, the recalling of the rape/murder of a young teenage girl. The track unsettled rock fans with the way the crime is recounted with more than a trace of humor. This twisted sense of humor earned the band more than their fair share of enemies and made the band fairly reviled in a scene that accepted just about everyone. The Edgar Broughton Band stepped over the line and fans were not amused.

Nor did they endear themselves to the vegetarian hippie corps by posting a photo of a line of slaughtered cattle in an abattoir on the cover of their second album. They were pushing buttons far ahead of the punk rock bands of 1977, but nobody was ready for it yet.

While the band weren’t about to unseat Donovan in the peace and love sweepstakes, they still managed to be as eclectic as possible. One of the earliest bands to cover a Captain Beefheart song, they merged Dropout Boogie with Jorgen Ingemann’s instrumental hit Apache.

But if you want to hear the proper precursor to The Birthday Party, I recommend tracks like Evil (“Evil, evil, black as night…”), Crying and Love In The Rain, where the trio play distorted acid rock with swinging jazz time signatures. And for those of you who like ballads, you may never hear a ballad more gorgeous about suicide than Hotel Room.

On the other end of the spectrum is Elysian Fields, a band led by New York couple Jennifer Charles (vocals) and Oren Bloedow (guitar and piano). Their sound is very slow, moody and torch song influenced. For the past twenty years they have produced a line of albums that sound like Julie London transmitting messages from the dark side of the moon.

Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Sixties-era Jane Birkin, Charles sings in a low whisper while the band, a revolving group which included members of Jeff Buckley’s backing group play behind her. Bloedow and Charles write haunting melodies that are both erotic and romantic, Songs for Really Modern Lovers.

Some of their more haunting torch songs include The Moment, When, and Climbing Up My Dark Hair. If you go for more of a rock sound, they do rock out in a Romeo Void-kind of way with songs like Timing Is Everything, Jack In The Box, and Bend Your Mind. You owe it to yourself to discover this great band. You won’t be sorry.

Friday, September 30, 2016

My Goat Can Totally Beat Up Your Goat

A few decades ago I attended Los Angeles City College to study the art of screenwriting. The teacher wasn’t very good, in fact he was rather lazy and instead of instructing us how to write for film he merely had us write our scripts and then have us read it to the rest of the class. Groan. This wasn’t screen writing, this was a bad creative writing class.

What kind of scripts did my classmates write? One graying pipe-smoker of a fella wrote a coming of age tale which took places in the Fabulous Fifties and included slow motion scenes of wrist cutting and other suicidal rituals. There was also tedious dialogue between man and woman about “going all the way”.

Another classmate wrote about a plucky woman trying to make it in the food catering business. It wasn’t very funny and it almost read like a diary of her working day. While she read I stared at her metal braces and concluded she looked a bit like a shark.*

What’s the point? Well, sometimes when I read social networking sites it reminds me of that screenwriting class. Everybody’s got something to say but they’re not saying it very well. The irony is that everyone has a great story to tell, but they usually need someone else to tell it for them. Illiteracy breeds inarticulation.

I enjoy watching videos of writers discussing how they plot their story. I like the ones from Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, etc. I skipped the one from Joyce Carol Oates because her stories take forever to get going and her advice meandered just as badly. Stephen King’s advice is better than his actual writing. Paul Auster was drawn out and boring I had to turn him off after five minutes. He just took so long to get to his point. I wonder if he ever took a screenwriting course.

Charles Bukowski inadvertently gave advice in his German TV interview when he criticized other writers, saying that very sentence should move the action further and that overly describing things was deadly. A similar remark was made by Alfred Hitchcock when he was interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show. Films should be about action, not second unit footage of the scenery and the sets. Keep things moving!

I’ve always been accused of writing too briefly and not being too overly descriptive. This is good. This means I lie in the Buk/Hitch camp of storytelling. Keep things moving! Do you really want to read three hundred pages of this:

“You know, I was contemplating the early years of my life, those summer years of red sky dawns and cold frost forming on the windows of my Northeastern home. The newsboy pedaled by our house in his new Schwinn, throwing the paper with his expert right hand. Father read the news at the breakfast table as Mother prepared a hearty American breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, erc………………” The scary part is reading books where this prattle goes on for pages and pages. You want to cut your throat reading it.

Yes, my writing is very tight and spare. People want you to get on with it. Time is tight. If I ask you to describe an automobile accident nobody wants to know what everyone wore or how big their noses were. I want to know who did what to who and how did one car hit the other one. The name of the game is action. As in movies, so in writing.

*By the way, my screenplay was pretty bad, too. Six months after I wrote it I burned the stupid thing, but I do recommend you try writing one to get a fine appreciation of dialogue and scene staging. It will help your writing.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Antonyms and The Homonyms

I was at the pet store yesterday and I was chewing gum like Sterling Hayden, when I looked down and this fucking Pomeranian stared at me with his little button eyes and started imitating me, making chewing faces, snapping his jaws open and closed. What a clever little fucker.

Thought I was having a bad day at work until I saw Larry King walking alone down Rodeo Drive. Larry looked short and frail as if someone washed him in hot water instead of the cold. He was talking into his cell phone to Caller #000 with his shirt buttoned up to the collar in 82dgr weather. He walked as if it was a harder job than spitting into a prop microphone.

This old guy was complaining about the heat to me today.
I told him there was nothing wrong with the heat, there's too many people and too many fucking cars and if you took them all away you'd love the heat.
Well, when Pop heard this his wrinkled eyes got real big and he screamed, "YOUNG MAN YOU'RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!"

Thanks to a site called Creepypasta (creepypasta.com) I discovered the work of a great performance artist from Belgium named Olivier de Sagazan. He utilizes clay and other media to distort and modify his appearance. Here's a pretty wild sample of his work:

I like the way he mumbles to himself a lot while he works, like he's really possessed. He can also be seen in a movie called "Samsara".

Just saw Paula Abdul standing in front of Pepperdine U for the 9/11 memorial. She wore a cowboy hat, a mini-dress, with cowboy boots (matched the hat). She was alone and looked very happy. I never liked her until I saw her then. What made it so great was that the expectation is for her to be surrounded by a large, annoying entourage, but there she was, hanging out by herself and smiling, taking pictures of the breathtaking 100-flag display on the front lawn of Pepperdine University. Her cowboy outfit and the 100 flags gave me a true Myra Breckenridge poster moment.

Wow, what a find. Shortly before she passed away from cancer Sandy Dennis wrote her memoirs, and it's every bit as weird as she was. The star of such bizarre films as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Fox, and That Cold Day In The Park, Dennis was also the inseparable girlfriend to cool jazz juggernaut Gerry Mulligan. The book was written while she slowly succumbed to her disease, surrounded by her 30 cats. Yes, Ms. Dennis was a Cat Lady and goes into great detail about her cats. Highly recommended.

Getting back to Creepypasta, it's funny how the younger kids these days are creeped out by videos of clowns and weird people romping around in mannequin masks with weird, droney electronic music. None of these videos really scared me, and I wondered why. Then I remembered I grew up on a diet of Devo and Residents videos, all of which put a lot of these dumb videos to shame.

I once went shopping with this woman one afternoon in the Wilshire District. She took great pride in everyone in the store calling her on a first name basis; it was a frighteningly big deal to her. Bored with her making a big show of how popular she was in the store, I walked out to the sidewalk to check on my car.
A car loaded with black teenage boys drove slowly by me.
'YO, OZZY OSWALD!" "SUP, OZZY OSWALD?" They yelled at me from the car, laughing. I laughed right back.
Now there's a great hip-hop name, Ozzy Oswald. Make me a cross between Ozzy Osbourne, revered metal singer of Black Sabbath with Lee Harvey Oswald, notorious killer of the great President John F. Kennedy. Those kids had spunk. Those kids had genius.

I stood around five minutes more and then a car of white teenage girls pulled up asking me all kinds of questions. Talking to teenage girls is a lot like being abducted by aliens: once it's over you have no recollection of what just happened. I think they were asking me about my 7-star tattoo sleeve (by Ace Farren Ford of Purple Panther Tattoo fame), but then again I might have imagined that as the topic.

My friend came out of the store and asked me where I went.
"Oh, a couple of cars full of kids pulled up to talk to me".
"TALK TO YOU? WHY WOULD ANYBODY WANT TO TALK TO YOU? YOU'RE NOT FAMOUS!"
"I used to be famous".
'NO, I'M FAMOUS!!! I HAVE OVER 700 FOLLOWERS ON FACEBOOK!"
I smiled and said, "But this isn't Facebook, this is real life".

Did you ever see the black version of Roxy Music's Country Life album? I thought i was pretty amusing. Here it is: