Friday, December 30, 2011

Rock & Roll Confidential Part 8

In 1969, one of the biggest records to hit FM radio in Los Angeles wasn’t from a new singer-songwriter or Next Big Thing from England, but from a 42-year old jazz pianist named Dick Hyman. The track was called “The Minotaur” and it was one of the earliest records to use the Moog synthesizer in a swinging format. I stress the word “swinging” because up til then the Moog was only played in serious, academic recordings like Wendy Carlos’ groundbreaking “Switched on Bach” LP or in TV advertisements from guys like Van Dyke Parks. No, “The Minotaur” had a relentless groove working for it because a jazz dude got his hands on it and made it move in directions nobody ever heard before. Hearing it on the radio in 1969 may have been one of the most exciting sonic breakthroughs in music.

Hyman’s approach is playing the theme, going off into blues comping, and then stretching notes while bending the tones until he blasts into playing pure white noise, all over an electronic bass pulse with a hypnotic rhythm machine backbeat. If Jimi Hendrix was here to tell us we would never hear surf music again, then “The Minotaur” was here to tell us we may never want to hear long guitar solos again.

“The Minotaur” comes from an album titled “Moog: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman”, and was released on ABC Records’ schlocky subsidiary label Command Records. It was the biggest selling album in Command Records history, and for good reason: each track is absolutely awesome. Hyman produced one more album of synthesizer sonics, but by that point many more artists were getting into the act, learning from Hyman’s example that the synth can swing as hard as any other cool instrument. The last I heard about Hyman he was scoring several Woody Allen movies, no synth but mostly jazz piano.

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When people think of John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful they usually think of sunny, happy, good time music. Songs like “Younger Girl”, “Daydream”, “Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind” and that TV show theme song immediately come to mind when his name comes up. The only real rocker I can think of is “Summer In The City”, but that’s another story. I remember when his first solo album came out and hearing a track on it that didn’t sound like anything he ever did before.

Last month I had a strange nightmare and all through the dream I heard that song from the Sebastian album playing through it. What made it so creepy was the fact that I completely forgot about the song until it haunted me in my dream. The song is called “The Room Nobody Lives In” and it’s pretty weird by anyone’s standards. It’s a very slow, quiet, and almost funereal drone with an unsettling harmonium track, recalling Nico, who had released “Desertshore” around this time.

The song is either about someone who is dead or long estranged from their family. The words go like this:

“The room nobody lives in is up the stairs and four doors down the hall

And no one ever goes there, except for linens when the family comes to call

The room nobody lives in is always empty, but immaculately clean

And all is softly silent, except for buzzings of the flies between the screens"

The next part reads like some kind of John Cheever nightmare straight out of “Bullet Park”:

“But there´s a feeling, even breathing in the air, like there´s someone, when there´s no one even there,

And I'm hearing the cheers for the heroes, of scenes going down in this room, for so many years

But now nobody goes there for forty years or so, this room has been alone,

And starving for a moment, completely human...and completely all her own."

Maybe after playing with The Doors on their “Morrison Hotel” album John Sebastian picked up on their brand of suburban dark nightmare. It’s the most atypical track he’s ever recorded and easily one of the creepiest things ever recorded. Once you hear it you can count on it haunting you in your dreams.

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Two giants in music passed away this past month; one was Hubert Sumlin, arguably one of the original guitarists whose work laid down the foundation of what would eventually become rock ‘n roll. Brandishing a Gibson Les Paul as early as 1955, he strangled some of the raunchiest electric guitar of that era, distorting it to sound like a skillet full of eggs frying in bacon grease. His work with Howlin’ Wolf is some of the most exciting blues guitar ever played, influencing rockers from Keith Richards to Jimmy Page to Jeff Beck.

The other passing is Sean Bonniwell of The Music Machine, one of the finest singer-songwriters in garage rock. Although he was known by many just by his single “Talk Talk”, the three albums he released, “Turn On”, “Beyond The Garage”, and “Ignition” are unparalleled garage rock records. Amusingly enough, his fashion gimmick in The Music Machine was wearing one leather glove, predating Michael Jackson by a good twenty years. His life was more private than Roky Erickson or Sky Saxon, making him the ultimate garage rock mystery man. They will both be missed, and I thank them for all the great music I’ve enjoyed from them through the years.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dogville and "The Resurrection Shuffle"

When former computer programmer Anders Breivik went berserk and killed 69 teenagers in a Norwegian Islamic camp, film director Lars Von Trier freaked out. Breivik, a religious fanatic, listed “Dogville” as one of his top three favorite films. Von Trier already had an angry mob of critics and theater goers who thought the movie was strongly anti-American with its images of impoverished Americans during the end credits. But what really freaked him out was not the fact that the film was deemed anti-American, but that Breivik caught on to Von Trier’s real message: in “Dogville” Jesus is back, and he’s pissed.

Staged not so much as a narrative film but more like a passion play, “Dogville” is the story of a woman named Grace and her escape from an overbearing, powerful father, known only as The Boss. She hides in a town called Dogville, where the residents are, by and large, terrified and hateful of strangers, even when they look like Nicole Kidman. Like any passion play, the next three hours chronicles Grace’s trial and suffering at the hands of the awful residents of Dogville (an anagram for Evil God).

Grace accepts her abuse and punishment from the residents of Dogville in a passive, virtually Christ-like manner. Towards the end of the film she's shackled to a wheel, recalling the cross Christ carried on his back. The similarities end there, of course, because she’s freed by Her Father's gangsters once they've caught up with her. Her Father, The Boss, demands an explanation in the privacy of his confessional booth-looking limousine and she makes a deal with him. She will take over The Rackets (religion) if she can waste all the townsfolk that degraded and defiled her. The film ends with her exacting her revenge by having the entire town killed. So, this time Jesus gets even, kicking ass and taking names. The ultimate revenge flick, and it's religious, too.

“Dogville” presents a vindictive Son of God, which someone sick, like Breivik, could misinterpret as a reaction to non-believers. Christ as Charles Bronson. That’s not to say Von Trier made a dangerous movie, but that a violent film that criticizes religion could send a fundamentalist nut on a killing rampage. Von Trier still makes movies that broach religious subtexts like “Antichrist” and his new release, “Melancholia”, but personally I’d rather watch “The Idiots”, his fusion of Ingmar Bergman and Johnny Knoxville.

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In the early Seventies hippies moved towards forsaking drugs for a more transcendental lifestyle, namely religion. The born-again Christian movement hit the scene influenced by rock musicals on the order of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Godspell”. Even the previously meditating Beatles got into the act with “Let It Be”, ad nauseum, so a backlash was imminently due. Around this time a band of seasoned and jaded rockers called Ashton, Gardner & Dyke released “Resurrection Shuffle”, an insane piss-take on the now trendy Jesus Freak craze. As pop songs go it’s actually pretty solid, sounding a lot like The Jim Jones Revue, who should cover this song ASAP if they had any brains.

Nobody predicted that the most unexpected rockers were so enamored with this wild rocker that covers of this nutty parody proliferated like crazy. Lulu even got into the act. Check her out:

Tom Jones had to wrestle his vocal cords in this one, too. I think he acquits himself nicely on this version. By the way, notice how everyone seems to sport a shit-eating grin on their face whenever they cover this crazy number. It thumbs its nose at the God Rock trend of the time.

In the long run nothing compares with the version rendered by those nice Mormon boys The Osmonds, adding this brilliant rocker to their “Crazy Horses”–era repertoire. Merry Christmas Everybody! Don’t let your back bone slip!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Freezy's Big Day

In 2006 I posted a video on YouTube called "Freezy's Big Day". Rebecca took a series of photographs illustrating Freezy Sliddle delivering packages for Santa Claus to all the Liddle Kiddles. I wrote the text to this series of pictures and compiled it for a video on iMovies.

The music originally chosen for the video was The Beach Boy's "The Man With All The Toys", but unfortunately it was too short to pad out the duration of the film, so I had to choose another song. At the time Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols had a radio show called "Jonesey's Juke Box" and he was playing a lot of hoary old glitter chestnuts on his show like Showaddywaddy and Alvin Stardust, but the one that brought back the best memories of Rodney's English Disco was Mud's "Dynamite". Perverse soul that I am, I decided to use "Dynamite" as the music to accompany Freezy's Yuletide flight to help jolly St. Nick to deliver packages to all the kids of Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas With The Hip Chicks

Saddle up a satellite, baby, and I’ll spin you a wild yarn about two hip chicks, the Scooby Dooby Sisters, why they might be the craziest chicks you ever did seed, keed. It was Christmas Day and Ellie and Millie bugged out on making the scene at their Mom’s humble three-story pad. They stayed in and sipped their holiday espressos, digging their crazy Christmas branch, a thick branch from an elm tree with a red balloon on it with glitter. There were four presents under this Christmas branch. One for each of them from their mother and one they bought for each other.

Ellie, the blonde with the ironed hair, opened up her Christmas gift from Moms, and pulled out a beautiful black Christian Dior formal. “Dig this. What am I supposed to do with these crazy threads?”
Millie, her sister with the ratted out auburn locks, shook her shoulder. “Zilch! She laid a century on you, though”, and pointed towards the $100 bill that fell out of the package.
“Crazy! Benjamin Franklin, dig those crazy shades. Never did make the presidential scene”.
“What a drag”.
Millie opened up her package from Mom and another $100 bill tumbled out along with a necklace of double string pearls. “Pearls? Dresses? Man, somebody GOOFED!”

Ellie picked up something that looked like a pair of bongos poorly wrapped up in some newspaper scraps stuck together with scotch tape that had blonde hair strands stuck on the ends.
“Hey, sis, dig this crazy present”.
“Man, that’s one suave-looking gift, lay it on me, chick”, Millie grabbed it and tore off the wrapping. “New bongos! They’re the most!”
“Lay some sounds on me!” Millie drummed wildly on the bongos while Ellie did a wild interpretive dance. This went on for five minutes until they both got tired.
Millie picked up her package and thrust it at Ellie. “Dig my bodacious bundle. Merry Commercial Christmas!”
Ellie tore open her package and it was a stolen library book called, “Famous Presidents In American History”.
“Ooh, solid, baby! All my faves are here: William McKinley, James Buchanan, the only swinging single President ever, Millard Fillmore –“
“-and don’t forget Zachary Taylor, the coolest President alive. He split the scene seven weeks after he got elected!”
“Yeah, he cut out right after he copped the Big Chief gig!”
The chicks got so jazzed that Millie picked up her dirty bongos again and Ellie went into her abstract expressionist dance with her book in her hands, the very stern face of Abraham Lincoln peering out of the cover. Her wicked dance cast shadows set by the flickering candle in the room, the shadows playing against the cheap Picasso prints and bullfight poster on the wall of their humble beatnik apartment.

Well, the dolls got so tired from dancing and crashing from their caffeine jag that they both sacked out on the sofa, making the sandman scene, both snoring more atonally than Brubeck, Mulligan and Kenton all put together.

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Millie and Ellie stood around a dark ballroom with brightly colored gels projected on a stage. There were hipsters of all sizes wearing brightly colored clothes and the men had hair as long as the girls they were with.

“Dig this crazy fallout shelter!” Millie’s crazy orbs got big clocking the weirdo establishment they were standing around in.
Ellie nodded. “Like nervous, baby, nervous! These cats got some caveman action going on, hair down to their-“
“Say girls”, a hippie with a bushy beard and Ben Franklin shades walked up to them. “I’ve never seen you chicks make the scene at the Fillmore West before. What’s shaking?” He handed them both a dirty, wilted flower that smelled like sweaty dogs.
“I dig your glasses, Clyde, you got that presidential thing going on, bippity bop, boop bop”.
“Far out, sunshine! They call me Star Sailor. Hey, are you going to the Love-In at the park by Haight Street this Saturday? The Dead are gonna be jamming.”
“You wanna transpose that in another key, Long Hair Daddy. Why would you be loving a place called Hate Street? That’s abstract!”
“Dead people jamming, chicky”, Millie added, “that’s some freaky rebop!”
“Later, chicks, much, much, later”, the hippie walked away, disgusted.
“What’s his scene?” Ellie asked.
“Too many test patterns. Sold American”.

A voice came over the PA as a band got on stage. “Give a warm Fillmore West welcome to Big Brother and The Holding Company”.
The band tore into their opening number and Janis Joplin started squalling. “Why-ie-ie-ie I need a man to lo-ove…”
“Man, dig those crazy branches! I gotta have a major pow-wow with her”.
Janis shrieked for two more numbers. "Love's like uh bawwwllll-een-chayunnnn- waw-wowow..."
“She’s flipping out!”
“What a drag!”
“When does she make with the finger cymbals?”
A stoned girl in a huge mu-mu crashed into them and fell flat on her back, prompting our two hipsters to split towards the back of the club.
“Flip city!”
“Bugsville, like too bugged out!”

They looked around the club near the back and noticed one of their heroes double-fisting beers and chatting up an acid-bleached hippie hag.
“Neal Cassady? What’s he doing here?”
“Man, he looks beat, like more beat than he’s ever been beat”.
“What a drag. Mayhaps Sal Paradise or Ginsberg are making the scene, too”.
“Man, Cassady, he looks like fell off one of Kerouac’s crazy peaks and didn’t miss a boulder”.
“Neurotic”.

“You chicks made the scene! Far out!” a familiar voice piped up behind them. They spun around and smiled to see –
“SCRUFFY!” they both yelled. It was their beatnik crush, Scruffy aka Sterling Holloway Scarborough IV, hipper and even richer than them with a large trust fund. His hair was a little longer than they remembered, but his cooler looks were still as solid as ever.
“Man, what is this tee-pee we’re at? Clue us in”, Ellie asked.
“It’s 1967, you’re in San Francisco, it’s the Summer of Love, dig? This is the Fillmore West, where it’s all happening. Those crazy test patterns are called a light show and these kids are grooving to Janis on some prime psychedelic Owsley, baby”.
“Ows-what?”
“Acid, baby, acid!”
“No coffee? Bongos? Poetry readings?”
“Negative, but all the interpretive dancing you ever did see”, he pointed at a 300-pound girl nine months pregnant doing an Arabic snake dance with herself. “Dig that crazy way-out doll, she strips at a groovy club to all the square johns down on North Beach".
“You must be putting us on!”
Millie looked perplexed. “But why is it 1967? We're from 1955”.
“Just let your mind flow, dig the ride while it lasts”, Scruffy smiled. “Have some love beads”, and he placed love beads on both their necks. “Gotta split, like dig ya later. OOOOOM".

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Janis finished her set and the girls moved up towards the front. The stench of pot was overwhelming, hemp stank of marijuana so thick you could cut it with a saber.

A short, thick Japanese girl with fried black hair down to her ankles got on stage with a guitarist playing noisy feedback. “Don’t worry, Don’t worry, Don’t worry, Don’t worry, KYOKOKYOKOKYOKO, AIEEEEEEE!” She shrieked and wailed like a cat caught in a threshing machine. The Hip Chicks clutched their ears and winced with pain.
“Bad scene!”
“Whaaaat?”
“BAD SCENE!”
“We gotta split from this oxygen tent, like, NOW!”

“AAAIIIIIIEEEEE, PEACE PEACE PEACE PEACE PEACE PEACE, GET IN THE BAG, KYOKO!” She growled and screamed, her demented Japanese witch face all screwed up. The high-pitched frequencies of her shrieking coupled with her grotesque features made our girls cry.
“Cut the rebop, Kabuki Witch!” Ellie cried, tears streaming down her face.
“Make with that square Hollywood jazz, sister, say it!”
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home”, Ellie chanted, clicking her scuffed moccasins over and over again. “There’s no place like home!”

_______________ _____________ _____________

Millie and Ellie both woke up from the sofa to the piercing whine of the test pattern with the Injun head on their tiny television set.

“I just had the craziest dream, sister”.
“I dig, like ditto. It was wilder than that test pattern on the boob tube”.
“Scruffy was in mine, and–“
“Me too, and Neal Cassady was in it making like a dirty old man, dig!”
“Yeah, and this beat geisha witch was screaming about bags and peace–“
“Ditto, chicky baby, ditto! That voice of hers jammed my wavelength.”

“Let’s cross our paws and wish it stays 1955 forever”.
“I dig, 1967 sounds like a stone cold drag”.
“All I gotta say is, we wish you a real gone gasser this Yuletide”, they both smiled and said. “And a groovier New Year”.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Every Picture Tells A Story

Rex Reed once remarked in his review of the film “Out of Africa” that the cinematography was so beautiful that every frame was a picture suitable for framing. The same thing, in my opinion, could be said of Kenneth Anger’s films. Unfortunately, at his show “Icons” currently exhibiting at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) you don’t get huge printed stills from his films, but rather a few screens erected in a dark room playing his films on a loop.

Kenneth Anger's films have influenced a wide range of directors from Terry Gilliam to David Lynch to Tim Burton, and artists that have appeared in his films include Anais Nin, Donald Cammell, Marianne Faithfull, Anton LaVey, and Manson Family killer Bobby Beausoleil. Titles to some of his films are "Kustom Kar Kommandos", "Invocation of My Demon Brother", "Rabbit Moon" and "Scorpio Rising".

I thought the installation somewhat deadened the impact of a great artist who pioneered images that amalgamated fetishism with male sexuality and threw in the dark arts (read “occult”) for good measure. Let me just repeat, a bunch of cool blown-up stills from his movies would have made a much better show.

Anger made a very rare public appearance on November 19th playing theremin in a two-man performance group called Technicolor Skull. I missed it, as usual, but I heard it was very visual and very DTLA. The room adjoining it was dedicated to his legendary book “Hollywood Babylon”, displaying movie stills, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia showcasing early Hollywood movie stars and their various vices and deaths.

I hope the next time Kenneth Anger exhibits his work it’s done in a more satisfying format. If you really want to experience Anger at his fullest, invest in the two DVD compilations, “The Films of Kenneth Anger, vols. 1 and 2”. Both volumes have great commentary from the master himself and provide a much more exciting audio than the dreary doo-wop and syrupy orchestral tracks dedicated to those films.

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Far more satisfying down the hall was Weegee’s “Naked Hollywood” show. This exhibit was significant in being the very first exhibition of Weegee’s photography in a major museum. Weegee, if you don’t know by now, was a crime photographer named Arthur Fellig who could usually be counted on to be the first guy on the crime scene to take snapshots.

Crime reporting lost its glamour for him so he turned to Hollywood, shooting intense pictures of stars and their manic fans. He even pioneered the tabloid photographer strategy of shooting movie stars blowing their cool in public, i.e., Dean Martin jamming food in his face, Jackie Gleason writing down horse track faves on a pad, and Shelley Winters putting the “fug” in fugly.

Weegee had quite an ego for a reporter, titling himself “Weegee The Famous”, even rubber-stamping this weird handle on the back of his photos. He was a bit of a Rodney Bingenheimer-type, too, posing for photos with a newly married Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, a ravishing Leslie Caron, and many more.

The best part of the exhibit, however, was an ultra-cool documentary of Weegee pounding the pavement, Hollywood Boulevard, to be exact, looking for “interesting” people to shoot. He seemed to great delight in hounding some old coot with long, white hair and an even longer beard - a “hermit” by his description. The thing that killed me was his way of prepping a shot. He spit on the lens and then shook his camera like an unruly child, which may ne the first time in photography that abusing your gear guarantees a great shot. And yes, he still used flash in broad daylight which is also pretty weird. So that was the show: Kenneth Anger and Weegee, a billing that could have been curated by James Ellroy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday Leftovers

When it comes to posting blogs a small surplus of pictures and other supplemental material begins collecting like a crowded garage. Sometimes you toss out the extra material and other times you let it sit around on the oft-chance it might get used again in some capacity. For your entertainment I offer you assorted leftovers from blogs I've posted in the past six months.

In my blog "Rock & Roll Confidential Part 7" I posted a mail-out flyer from The Screamers celebrating the Christmas season, but that wasn't the only artifact I had in my vast punk rock collection. In addition to other Screamers goodies I owned was this terrific Screamers Fan Club entry blank. To the best of my knowledge nothing ever got sent out to their fans, but what an easy way to get $2 out of people.

While we're on the subject of Christmas, I always found it ironic that the band the symbolized fun in the summertime, The Beach Boys, had such a great Christmas-y sound during the later days of their Capitol Records career. "Pet Sounds" up until "20/20" had so many pretty choral arrangements that verged on the spiritual it's uncanny: "You Still Believe In Me", "Cabinessence", "I Know There's An Answer", and many more tracks sound so seasonal. In fact, I strongly urge you to listen to any Beach Boys circa 1966-1969, five albums in all, while sipping spiked egg nog and signing your holiday cards and dressing up your Xmas tree or any other weird religious arboretum.

When I was a teenager I used to get the Los Angeles Free Press regularly, and one of the highlights was reading "Notes of A Dirty Old Man", Charles Bukowski's weekly column. It wasn't really thought of as high art back then; to be perfectly honest Buk was considered a bit of a crank back in the day, which probably suited him well. Nevertheless, I still followed him avidly, even catching him at a reading at The Troubadour in 1976. Memories are made of this. (Click on image to enlarge)

Another weekly column I followed loyally in the Los Angeles Free Press was The Glass Teat written by the irrespressible Harlan Ellison. I had the pleasure to expereience the sci-fi legend in the flesh at The Silent Theatre (aka The Cinefamily). The Silent Theatre was a very tiny and intimate place to see this dynamo of speculative fiction. Mister Ellison spent the beginning of the show hanging out with the fans waiting in line to see him, channeling Don Rickles and Shelley Winters with his extremely extrovert exhortations to one and all. Just writing about him makes you write like him. Crazy, baby!

Harlan talked about his career writing for television, with brief video clips showing past works, including a great "Burke's Law" segment written for Buster Keaton that completely honored and respected Mr. Keaton's comedy schtick, even for a silly cop show. Ellison related a tale of scamming Gloria Swanson out of retirement to do a "Burke's Law" segment, no small feat as she had no intention of returning to movies or TV at all. He was also humiliated by a "Flying Nun" credit which he couldn't run away from, and finally confessed he only wrote it in the hopes of getting into Sally Field's pants. Who could blame him?

A great time was had by everyone, even Harlan. The only criticism I had of the show was that questions about the current explosion in sci-fi/fantasy/horror in popular culture was never breached, because everyone thought it was more ntertaining listening to Harlan talk about his past crazy antics. A little more writer and a lot less personality wouldn't have hurt.

In my blog post on "Christopher Milk" I mentioned John Mendelsohn's band The Pits playing The Starwood and actually doing the freakbeat/heavy metal hybrid before Cheap Trick. Well, here's the handout set list (programme?) handed out at the show. It was a night to remember.

Before I go I'll leave you with yet another great yodelling performance from the fabulous DeZurik Sisters from my "American Yodeling" blog. Here they are singing "Hillbilly Bill". Enjoy!

The DeZurik Sisters performing "Hillbilly Bill".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tramping The Galleries

Saying that the Autumn 2011 season on the gallery scene is the hottest in years would be an outrageous understatement. There’s something for everybody: “Pacific Standard Time”, the most sprawling retrospective of Modern Art In Los Angeles, dozens of photography shows featuring the most outrageous American shutterbugs, and even some wild lowbrow favorites. If it wasn’t happening at the movies or in the nightclubs it was definitely popping in the galleries!

Late October set the stage for the opening of the Ellen Von Unwerth show at the Fahey/Klein Gallery on trendy La Brea Avenue. Her new show coincided with the release of her new Taschen book, “Fraulein” ($500 – cheap?). The pieces featured were black and white - no color shots this time, and looked like some kind of Louise Brooks porn shoot complete with “Story of O” masks, making the models look like off-duty steampunk superheroines getting into sexual mischief. In the smaller room was the incredibly awesome fashion surrealism of Melvin Skolsky, showcasing his “Paris 1963” work. Skolsky is the photog who shot those insane “Model In A Bubble” in the streets of Paris series. The limited edition book was on sale there, also. One of the best Fahey/Klein shows I’ve been to.

Mid-November got even crazier starting with Travis Louie’s “Curious Pets” show at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery. The pieces were black and gray acrylic portraits with static white backgrounds fabricating the illusion of old turn of the century engraved photographs, but naturally with a wicked twist. Pieces included “Martin and His Bat”, a young man with a vampire bat sitting on top of his head. Then there’s “Agatha and Her Beetle”, a frail, anemic lass with a big, gnarly beetle resting in her wiry hair. Each piece was accompanied with a short fable telling a tale of these folks and their strange pets.

Pictured above is "Uncle Six Eyes", a great resin bust created in two versions: a white version and a black version. It's a great parody of the Ludwig Van Beethoven bust that was de rigeur in every home during the 1950s and 1960s. Overall the style of the pieces in the show was like an ungodly union between Mark Ryden and Basil Wolverton. By the way, a quick scan of the upcoming show schedule at Karnowsky’s gallery shows every indication that she will be the mid-city lowbrow capitol of Los Angeles.

Getting back to photography I saw the Hedi Slimane show, “California Song” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) at the Pacific Design Center. Slimane’s right up there with Von Unwerth, Richardson and LaChapelle in the new breed of crazy fashion shooters that’s burning up the editorial fashion magazines internationally. The show appealed to my deadpan sense of humor: on the ground floor his photographs (all black & white) were on display, all unlabelled and mounted on drab wooden crates, as one-dimensional as you can possibly get.

Upstairs was another matter entirely: slides of the very same shots and more were projected on a three-sided wall over 10 feet tall, creating a much more satisfying and, dare I say it, moving experience. It sort of makes you question the whole gallery system in one fell swoop. There were enough showbiz photos to keep you happy (John Lydon smoking, a rotting Brian Wilson, and LOTS of Michael Pitt, maybe too much), but the best shots of all, ironically, were his surfing photos.

That’s ultimately a true testament to the brilliance of Slimane’s artistic eye. Taking exciting surfing pictures makes you a good photographer, but shooting awesome ones in BLACK & WHITE makes you a GENIUS.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Smell Check 2011

Xmas is just around the corner and Jesus may be the reason for the season, but so are massive purchases made on alcohol and men’s colognes. Next to Father’s Day no other time of the year inspires more panicky runs to the men’s cologne counter at the department store. As a result, this time of year there are more cologne testers in magazines and department store mailers than ever, so it’s time to review the prime candidates vying for your attention. In other words, welcome to the 4th Annual Edition of Smell Check. Let’s get started:

Guess Seductive: Touting itself as “an alluring oriental woody fougere”, the first thing I want to ask is what’s a “fougere”? And can a fougere have the capacity to be alluring? At any rate, it didn’t smell very woody to me, but rather talcum-like and too faint to leave a lingering, let alone alluring memory. So, fougere to all that!

I Am King (Sean John): I’m confused, does this cologne aspire to make me worship Puffy Combs and say, “Yes, your Highness, yea verily, you are King” for making this cologne, or is the cologne supposed to make me say, “Yes, I AM KING!” for wearing this swill that smells like dried grape soda. Quelle ghetto.

Eau De Lacoste (Lacoste): Yes, the polo shirt kings have entered the fragrance fray with three different tones: Pure, Powerful and Relaxed (sounds like me). Pure was okay but had a generic drug store scent to it, Powerful smelled a little sportier, and Relaxed smelled kind of woodsy. At least none of them smelled like an old alligator.

1 Million (Paco Rabanne): Designed like a bar of gold, this came with high hopes because Paco always makes great colognes. This tester made me go back over and over again with its insane conglomeration of bubblegum meets musky sex odors. Whoah! I’m losing my mind, we have a winner here.

John Varvatos USA: Nice bottle, shaped like a chemistry test tube for all you “Breaking Bad” fans out there. Usually Varvatos doesn’t disappoint but this one just smelled very citrus-like with no real standout olfactory pleasures. Back to the old chemistry set for you.

Armani Code Sport (Giorgio Armani): The ad for this cologne shows a naked guy in a swimming pool standing before a rich woman wearing a backless formal. That might be the only interesting thing about this scent. On a separate note, I used to enjoy wearing Armani Code until I found out the surly janitor in my building wore Code, too. Thanks for nothing.

Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens): You’ll never catch Lutens hawking testers in Esquire Magazine, and it’s just as well. He’s way too cool. Ambre Sultan is an explosive symphony of coriander, amber, oregano, bay leaf, myrtle, angelica root, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, and the ubiquitous stench of vanilla. Lutens’ publicity team describe it as “a trip to a Bedouin tent in a desert far away, thick incense burning on coal with spices filling the air, mysterious eyes flashing and pierced female slaves succumbing to your BLAH BLAH BLAH”. For once the scent is actually better than the Yul Brynner hype. Etcetera, etcetera.

One thing to bear in mind when you buy a cologne is what makes one special and what doesn't? A men's cologne is a lot like a night club. One year it's pretty cool, but once the d-bags know about it and use it the coolness factor's long gone. A scent like Acqua Di Gio or YSL Homme had a coolness factor when it first hit the scene, but now it's the kind of slobber your aunt buys you for Xmas or the swill you smell on some oily hip-hop bastard. That's when you go for the more private clubs in town, like Serge Lutens or the more exotic Rabanne stuff. Happy buying!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy Birthday Louise Brooks and Veronica Lake

Somehow the idea of wishing someone a happy birthday who’s deceased is kind of like showing up to a party thirty minutes after its ended, but there has never been two actresses more unorthodox than Louise Brooks and Veronica Lake, this year’s Scorpio birthdays. On first glance they don’t seem to have much in common, but upon closer inspection are very similar.

Both Ms. Brooks and Lake share the same birthday, November 14 – different years, of course, but their lives were very closely alike. Professionally both actresses were as adept at doing comedy as they were in drama, work was hard to come by, and their careers were heavily battered by studio systems that were too simple-minded to utilize them properly. The negligence that damaged their careers culminated in serious bouts of alcoholism and misanthropy that would make a riot grrl run home to Momma.

Still and all, the fact that Brooks and Lake are now regarded as major glamour icons of the cinema is highly ironic, an irony definitely not lost on them. As Veronica Lake once said, “I’m not a sex symbol, I’m a sex zombie”.

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Although Brooks was recognized by French cinephiles in the 1950’s for her amazing screen presence she was widely forgotten worldwide until she published her memoirs, “Lulu In Hollywood”, in 1981. Her candid account of Hollywood’s golden age and working relationships with legends like Fatty Arbuckle, W.C. Fields and John Wayne were off-beat, revealing and occasionally shocking.

Her early career includes some cool comedy turns from her with W.C. Fields in “The Old Army Game” and “Love ‘Em and Leave ‘Em” (both 1926) where she plays the roommate from hell, stealing her friend’s boyfriends and snaking all their dresses. It’s kind of a slapstick “Single White Female”. In 1928 she made a fine drama for neorealist director William Wellman called “Beggars of Life”, which also starred Noah Beery and Richard Arlen. A year later she went to Germany and starred in her two greatest films, “Pandora’s Box” and “Diary Of A Lost Girl”, both available on DVD.

A typical Louise Brooks performance showed a woman who effortlessly vascillated between acting like a frenetic little girl, sexy vamp, and illuminated angel all in a matter of seconds, like some enchanted flicker ring. This could either be attributed to great acting or as the product of a personality scarred by a childhood episode of being molested by a neighbor and receiving no sympathy from her mother.

After turning down the James Cagney classic “The Public Enemy” (which eventually went to Jean Harlow), Brooks had trouble finding work, eventually opening up an unsuccessful dance studio, a stab at writing a novel (never finished), a Saks Fifth Avenue counter girl, and unfortunately ending up as a pilled-up Manhattan call girl. Several marriages failed, but through it all she was always close to her brother, her only friend until her death in 1985 from a heart attack due to emphysema.

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While Veronica Lake didn’t earn the enmity of the entire state of Kansas like Brooks did, she just about pissed off everybody else. Married four times to Louise Brooks’ two, she turned off every leading man in her films, with the sole exception of Alan Ladd. Lake made four films with Ladd because she was shorter than him – she stood at 4’11 ½”. Like Brooks, her comedy chops are underrated, based upon her great performances in “Sullivan’s Travels” and “I Married A Witch”, the O.G. “Bewitched”. She even has some excellent deadpan humor lines in “The Blue Dahlia”, thanks to Raymond Chandler’s screenplay. (Chandler allegedly hated her, too. You just can’t win!) Just about the only guy on her side in Hollywood was Preston Sturges, who fought the studios to cast her in “Sullivan’s Travels”, her first major movie role. She was pregnant during filming, posing a serious undercover challenge for designer Edith Head.

The public loved Lake until the late Forties, when Paramount passed on renewing her contract. She had to file for bankruptcy on the heels of her mother suing her for “support payments”. Her mother later wrote an awful biography on her daughter which pulled in a tiny chunk of change. Lake wrote a slapdash autobiography a few years later as a rebuttal to her mother’s tawdry book.

Lake, like her predecessor Brooks went through a downward spiral in New York, living in fleabag hotels and getting arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct. Her beautiful long locks now long gone, she found work as a barmaid at a downtown hotel. Busted by reporters who found her working there, she garnered sporadic TV and theater gigs from all the attention, even appearing on “What’s My Line”.

Veronica Lake died in Vermont at the age of 50 from hepatitis and acute renal failure as a result of her alcoholism. Her ashes were scattered over The Virgin Islands per her request. A memorial service was held in New York which her son Michael attended, her three daughters long estranged from her.

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I hate tired Hollywood clichés but there is one that sometimes rings true, and that’s when someone says “The camera loves her”, and it was definitely hypnotized by these two ladies. Whatever Louise Brooks and Veronica Lake’s faults were, there are few actresses that can rival their ability to illuminate the movie screen. That means when Louise Brooks celebrates Christmas in a cold cellar in “Pandora’s Box” we forget how hard her situation is because the warmth of her beauty is enough. That means whenever Veronica Lake is on screen in “The Blue Dahlia” or “This Gun For Hire” everyone else disappears because she commands your absolute attention. That’s no small accomplishment for a dame that can’t even clear 5 feet.

Whether these ladies got along with the car crash we call civilization or not almost seems unimportant. Aspiring actresses, clothes designers, filmmakers, models, and even artists can tell you what Louise Brooks looks like or what Veronica Lake looks like. Their hypnotic beauty is immortalized by the silver screen, and for that we will always revere them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

"American Yodeling"

Everybody likes to brag about the great deal they got from downloading music, but there has never been a deal as amazing as the one I got early this summer. For a mere $11.98 I downloaded a 100-song, 2-disc set of incredible sounds called “American Yodeling”. You will never find a deal as truly phenomenal as this.

“American Yodeling”, as you can assume is a compilation of songs featuring singers yodeling their hearts out, but the compilation itself is so sprawling and sweeping in its scope that it covers an endless panorama of genres. The first assumption is made that you’re going to hear nothing but country music, but alas, you’re wrong. Sure, there’s tons of cowboy music, great stuff, too, but there’s also Cajun music, cowgirls singing, folk, bluegrass, polka, blues, western swing, Swiss mountaineer jive, and even Black hot twenties jazz yodeling. Everybody’s covered and get to twirl their tonsils out.

There’s something bizarrely athletic in the way these crooners go into their yodeling pyrotechnics. Tracks like “She Taught Me How To Yodel” by Kenny Roberts are almost surreal in the way he can make his voice bend at supersonic speed that has to be heard to be believed. Legendary faves like Bill Monroe’s badass “Muleskinner Blues” get represented here, too. Some guys really tear it up with several tracks on here like Yodeling Slim Clark with his “I Miss My Swiss” who has a classic Swiss mountaineer tone to his yodeling. Elton Britt’s pretty awesome with “Chime Bells”.

The cowgirls like to put a nature slant in their yodeling, making wild bird noises, purring like kittens and scatting in their vocals. My favorites include Carolina Cotton with “Mockingbird Yodel” and the demented Dezurik Sisters with their insanely bitchen “The Arizona Yodeler”. Their harmonies are so perfectly synchronized it would put an army of talent show losers to shame. Other range fillies include Patsy Montana, Girls of the Golden West, Rosalie Allen, and Texas Kitty Prins, to name a few.

A lot of the perennials are on here, too, like Rex Allen, Gene Autry, Patti Page (!), Hank Snow, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry, who all sound incredible here. But the obscure names are the real finds, like a rail-riding hobo named Goebel Reeves who really swings his dirty panhandling pie-hole. Sweet!

When the crooning’s not about riding the range there’s a whole lotta jive about romance in the Swiss Alps: songs with titles like Visit Me In My Swiss Chalet, Swiss Echo Yodel, My Swiss Moonlight Baby. The girls have some pretty sexy songs, too, with titles like Salt Bush Sue and I’m Gonna Straddle My Saddle. Woof!

If you want the Cajun stuff there’s Paul Brunelle’s “Le Boogie Woogie De Prairies”, The Guidry Brothers’ “La Valse De Marriage” and a couple of other crazies.

“American Yodeling” never gets boring and almost sounds quaint in its depiction of a world that’s virtually vanished from the American landscape. It sounds like radio broadcasts from a parallel planet that’s saner and happier than anything we’ve ever created. And what’s better, it makes everyone smile real wide whenever they hear it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slacks For Slackers

Unfortunately there won't be a big blog this week because I sliced my thumb open last Sunday. It's amazing how much power your thumb wields over the rest of your hand, especially your right one. The thumb is basically the boss of your fist, and the boss is severly injured, so once my six stitches have been removed and I'm back to normal I'll be back to type in more cool stuff. In the meantime here's a picture of a great new belt I created before the accident. The cool Frankenstein buckle was made by Lucky 13 Belt Buckles.

One thing I haven't exhibited much of are the dress slacks I've created. Dress slacks aren't terribly sexy, but pretty crucial. You need to wear them to work or the worshiping place of your choice. I tend to lean towards striped material myself because it means you mean business. A good, lean pinstripe should do the job, preferably with a black or dark brown background. In the pair shown below we have a dark brown pair with gold pinstripes in narrow, fine lines. Fat lines would look too comical, like a bad Ralph Bakshi cartoon.

In order to break the monotony of wearing something traditional like striped pants throw a few kinks here and there, so I designed a leather waistband with belt loops to this particular pair. It makes the slacks stand out a bit from the pack. The leather shouldn't be too tough or it'll fight the rest of the material, so a soft leather like lamb or suede will work best. By the way, I don't like to discuss politics, but I don't think West Hollywood's proposed ban on fur vending will succeed, given the poor economic situation in the country. Now isn't the time to place restrictions on what vendors can sell to improve the city's economy and raise sales tax revenue that can only benefit the idiots that run the City of West Hollywood.

The next pair is a cool black cotton material with solid purple stripes running through it. This material was so flash that even the cutter at Mood drooled over it. "Where did you find this???" His eyes were greener than the money I pulled out to pay for them. Needless to say, he's probably making a pair of his own slacks out of this awesome fabric. Now, normally, I would model these great pants as I always do, but I was a little torn about posing in them with my stitched up Frankenstein thumb. Then again, what could be more in the Halloween spirit?

BY THE WAY....that cool steak bag I posted pics of in my blog "Accessories Bought And Made" is now available at Etsy. Click here to buy if you're interested: http://www.etsy.com/listing/84890911/meaty-steak-bag

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baboon Dooley and the Hardcore Hall Monitors

One of the inevitable things to emerge in any pop culture phenomenon is the proliferation of serious scholars and experts, and even something as low-rent as hardcore punk was not immune. By the early 1980’s you couldn’t crack open a punk fanzine without a self-appointed expert running down their version of history of punk. Even worse, they would force their yardstick criteria of what was admissible as punk and what wasn’t allowed, so an entire subculture that encouraged anarchy now had these hall monitors throwing down restrictive rules.

The fun was squeezed out by these Nimrods, always espousing clichés about supporting “The Scene”, whether it be by living a straight edge lifestyle, sharing everything you had to uphold some imaginary Socialist punk wonderland, or even worse, doing everything for free.

One of the few blasts of fresh air during this dark period were an indefatigable series of cartoons from a guy named John Crawford who mercilessly cut through all the punk rock double-talk and hardcore bullshit courtesy of a Neanderthal character named Baboon Dooley. According to ZineWiki, the punk fanzine Wikipedia, Mr. Crawford’s comic strip ran in over two hundred different fanzines, like Forced Exposure, Flipside, and Maximum Rock ‘N Roll, who eventually tired of his attack of said fanzine.

A typical Dooley comic strip would be titled a “Scene Report” and then satirize what was going down in Berkeley, D.C., Orange County, or any other hardcore hotbed. Dooley would come down there trying to freeload on free records, food, beer (unless he was fronting straight edge), or even a place to crash. Gimme gimme gimme, as Darby would say.

Other Dooley strips would flat out spoof popular figures on the published music scene, whether it be the self-titled Dean of Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, Bob Guccione, Jr., publisher of Spin Magazine, or even Mordam Records chief Ruth Schwartz.

Some strips simply showed a pair of simian-faced punks spouting inane rhetoric of punk rock principle in the most pedestrian form of didacticism possible. Needles to say, neither one bothered to listen to what the other one said. Speaking and not discussing, hearing but not listening.

Crawford's artwork was reminiscent of Edwin Pouncey aka Savage Pencil’s distinctive scrawly penciling style with a heavy-handed ink brush and screaming lettering. It definitely grabbed your attention in between the dull Homestead and SST Records ads.

While some of the humor may have gone overboard from time to time, I found a lot of these comics to be very funny and, dare I say it, punk rock in their efforts to burst the balloon of crushing self-importance and stuffiness that frankly ruined a “scene” that previously thrived on outrage and spontaneity.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

French Crime Time

It’s simply a matter of propinquity, but lately I’ve discovered a lot of great crime novels and movies this past summer, all produced in France. Nobody renders crime stories the way the French do. Their slant on noir is unique for two reasons I can think of:

1. They are the biggest fans of noir, bigger than America. Writers like Cornell Woolrich, Jim Thompson and David Goodis have enjoyed greater popularity there than in their home country. Many American noir novels have been adapted into film on a routinely regular basis, so as a result their influence on modern French crime writing is considerable; and,

2. The French have always suffused their noir with erotica, so in addition to all the cold-blooded misanthropy the story-telling serves heaping dollops of sex. Many of the books and movies listed below have strong sexual activity in them that serve the stories well.

One of my discoveries this past summer was the works of Sebastien Japrisot, a highly successful, award-winning writer who’s virtually unknown in the United States. That’s a shame, because he’s a brilliant story-teller and deserves to be read by more people. My favorite books by him are:

One Deadly Summer, the tale of a beautiful but amoral girl who moves into a small town and marries into a family that she believes played a role in brutally attacking her mother. In the course of her revenge there’s lots of Brigitte Bardot-styled sex shenanigans.

Trap For Cinderella, a tale of two girls, one rich and beautiful, the other poor and plain, trapped in a house fire in the South of France (where else?). One girl survives with her face reconstructed and her memory lost. Which girl survived the fire? An inheritance of millions is at stake, so if the poor girl survived she’ll require lots of training from an insane female guardian.

The Lady In The Car With Glasses And A Gun, a timid yet beautiful secretary drives off with the boss’s expensive American convertible, picking up hitchhiking gigolos near the South of France (here we go again!), having her way with them and finding a dead body in the trunk of the car.

Another great crime writer is Jean Patrick Manchette, whose novel Fatale is the bizarre tale of a female hitman losing her grip on sanity. She stops in a small upper-class village and foregoes the chance to blackmail the richest citizens after having a meltdown and simply kills them methodically, one after another. This one also had some surreal touches in them, as well, like the professor who serenely urinates all over the banquet room wall in one chapter.

Right around this time I also caught TCM’s Summer Under The Stars series on the day they highlighted crime star Jean Gabin. They screened Jean Renoir’s classic film, La Bete Humaine (Human Desire), a great noir with a brilliant performance by Gabin. The film has a recurrent theme of a speeding train during scenes of murder and lovemaking. The love interest is played by Simone Simon of “Cat People” fame, and she’s also very good in it.

Another Gabin film I saw was Georges Simenon’s The Night Affair, a hipster noir about a police inspector who falls in love with a strung-out jazz singer who frequents a beatnik night club. Made in the Fifties during Gabin’s older years, it has that weird French underground vibe with a TV detective show vibe (think “Johnny Staccato”) combined. I liked it a lot, and of course there’s lots of sexy Fifties gals like Nadia Tiller in it to keep it French and noir.

The French love for noir is the stuff of legend. Film critics have always professed their love for film directors like Anthony Mann, Robert Aldrich (“Kiss Me Deadly” being a big favorite), Sam Fuller, and many others, while upper-echelon directors like Francois Truffaut have directed noir classics like “Shoot The Piano Player”, “The Bride Wore Black”, and “Mississippi Mermaid”.

I really like the French spin on noir and intend to investigate more great stuff that hasn’t enjoyed enough popularity in our country. What we take for granted here in the States is a revered genre in France, and sometimes we need the superfans to remind us what an important art form it is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fearless Food Faves


I’ll be the first to admit I’m not much of a foodie, but I know what works for me and what doesn’t. Poorly prepared Mexican food (99.9% in Los Angeles) always gets me sick with equally poor Chinese food running a close second. The best eats are the ones I discover at the market to prepare, and lately I’ve discovered a lot of great stuff I want to talk about.

I’m pretty fond of the Near East line of flavored couscous (http://www.neareast.com/#products/couscous). My favorite is the Mediterranean Curry flavor, but the Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil and Wild Mushroom & Herb flavors are excellent as well. They’re also the quickest cooking sides I’ve ever made. A full saucepan will cook in less than five minutes, pretty awesome.

Also on the Middle Eastern front is Tribe Hummus (http://www.tribehummus.com/) and Ralphs market Tabouli. You can probably get fresher and tastier from a specialty store, but for the folks that live out in the smaller cities this is the best option. Tribe makes a wide variety of flavored Hummus, but I’ve found that the regular classic recipe is still the tastiest.

Not being a big fan of salmon in general I found myself addicted to Trident brand Wild Alaskan Salmon Burgers (http://www.tridentseafoods.com/retail/products.php?id=537). They’re surprisingly easy to make and taste great even to a seafood hater like me. I think they’re formed firmly like a meaty hamburger so there’s no fragile flaking that you get with a standard fish fillet.

Gekkeikan Kobri Plum Wine (http://www.gekkeikan-sake.com/product.cfm?start=10&type=domestic) is a white wine that’s infused with plum flavoring and caramel so it’s the most golden-colored white wine money can buy. This plum wine isn’t for everyone, but it's so sweet and candy tasting it’s hard to resist. It’s got a fruity versatile taste that matches well with meat and fish alike. Dig in.

On the cooking front I’ve been using Armenian Cucumbers, aka The Snake Melon, because they stay crunchy longer than the average cucumber. I think this is due to the fact that it doesn’t hold as much water so it keeps longer. At any rate, I use these for my cucumber salads and I think they taste better than regular cukes, anyway.

These are a few of my favorite things I’ve been cooking and eating lately. It’s a great antidote to the eating-out blahs I’ve been experiencing. Cooking with these great products eliminates any kitchen nightmare you could possibly think of.

I leave you with a picture of some salt-stick rolls I baked last week. We couldn’t eat these breadly devils fast enough. Starch out!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Smokin' Like A Villain

I’m not going to justify my enjoyment of smoking and drinking because it will inevitably result in a debate with some blue nose, usually female, who takes great pride in leading a supposedly sanitized lifestyle. The argument usually culminates on how the sanitized female will live forever, which of course raises my favorite question: Who the fuck wants to live forever? What are you looking forward to? Economic recovery? World peace? Another awful contest show on television?

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I want to talk about smoking. I first started smoking when I worked as a clerk in bustling downtown Los Angeles in the 1970’s. Girls in skimpy outfits stood on street corners around 5 o’clock handing out free packs of Winston cigarettes, and they just wanted to get rid of them sitting on those trays hanging around their necks. I liked Winston a lot, and soon tried out different brands to taste the difference in the tobacco.

I tried Kool menthols which made my sinuses freak out worse than pot, I tried lights which felt like smoking toilet paper, and I even tried old school unfiltered brands like Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, and Chesterfields, which Captain Beefheart once said should come with your own iron lung. I stayed with Winstons.

Owning cigarettes was only part of the ritual: Zippo lighters were the next step. I got a great one with an image by Robt Williams that Amphetamine Reptile used to sell back in the day. They sold lighters with images by Pizz, Dennis Worden, Gary Panter and Kaz, to name a few. Then you had to have a rockin’ cigarette case because those crush-proof boxes were garbage. I got a nice metal one with a Chinese dragon on it to match my Chinese dragon bracelet. A vice is incomplete until one acquires the proper paraphernalia for it.

One of my favorite stops in Palm Springs used to be The Tinder Box which had at least three cigar stores on every block. There’s a good one in West Hollywood, too, and I always like checking out all the smoking paraphernalia, like smoking stands for your sofa for that old lounge vibe. Cigarette holders are pretty weird, too, the longer the better. Some of the best smoking paraphernalia can be found at truck stops, so on that next trip to Vegas keep your eyes peeled for that Winchester rifle lighter.

I do confess to calling a moratorium on smoking several years ago when I started chain-smoking and having choking fits, which I no longer do and no longer have. When I did chain smoke, I didn't do it as weirdly as I've seen some people do it, which is lighting the next cigarette with the butt of the previous one that's burning out. Even as a smoker I found that practice creepy, quite frankly. These days things are different. I have one coffin nail a day and even skip a few days here and there. It’s not that terribly important like it was 20 years ago, so when I skip a few days I don’t start nervously twitching or overeating.

But if there's anything weirder than chain smokers it's the actual haters themselves. While some people object to cigarette smoke in patios they think nothing of toting their dogs. If there's an odor more offensive than Marlboro Lights it's the smell of a wet dog when I eat. Then there are those hipster parents that shoot daggers at me when I light up in front of their children like I'm the devil. These are the same clowns that think nothing of dragging their kids to the supermarket at 10 pm. Perhaps these Orwellian moms and dads are bugged because the kids look a little excited to see my cigarette case, lighter, and other tobacco toys in action. Roll over, Joe Camel!

The most extreme case of smoking hatred might be the time someone posted a movie review on the Independent Movie Data Base (iMDB.com) ripping into an old Cary Grant movie because he counted people lighting up 35 times in the film. His review didn't critique the nice set design, cool Edith Head wardrobe or dazzling performance by Cary Grant, no - cigarettes were lit up and smoked 35 times in this movie, so he hated it. What a freak!

Why do people smoke anyway? Why do people consider this recreation relaxing? I’ve always felt that smoking is the only time one can breathe deeply in a social situation and not look like a total freak. The calm inhaling of tobacco makes the body relax and stimulate the mind. So the next time you see me and my friends standing twenty feet in front of a building out on the sidewalk puffing away it’s because we’re chillin’ while the healthy blue noses are insanely screaming at each other driving on the road.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Rip, Rig and Panic



Back in the Pleistocene era of punk rock (1977-1979) the top fanzines of the West Coast were Slash (Los Angeles) and Search & Destroy (San Francisco), which were both written and designed by people that worked in the field of graphic arts, cinema and publishing. This meant that both fanzines not only covered the new music that was emerging at the time, but also covered cutting edge artists, filmmakers and performance artists. Performance artists got an extraordinary amount of coverage in Slash/Search & Destroy, and a lot of these artists were every bit as exciting as any punk band.

In an era of Siouxise Sioux, The Slits, and Cindy Sherman, no other artist embodied femininity gone awry better than Johanna Went. Playing every feminine role with the manic ferocity of a mental patient, Went portrayed nuns bathed in blood carrying crucifixes, violent housekeepers throwing flour around the stage with baby dolls tied around her neck, speaking in tongues, babbling and shrieking into a microphone. A terrific jazz-noise combo would punctuate her whirling dervishes, creating an aural wallpaper as disturbing as her I Am Woman nightmarisms. She even released a great EP of jazz-noise bludgeon called “Hyena” (available on eMusic with bonus tracks, yes!).

 

If there was a British Music Hall act from Hell it would be The Kipper Kids. Two stocky men who favored a cross between British lorry drivers and The Blue Meanies from “Yellow Submarine”, a performance from them would include: a boxing match between them clad only in jock straps – who would you root for, Harry Kipper or Harry Kipper?, a version of The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” on ukulele, or an argument between them in a language only they knew. And of course, a lot of blood, animal entrails, food product and fluids all over each other, which is the sort of “Johnny B. Goode” or “New York, New York” of the performance art world. No performance artist could complete their show without making a mess all over themselves.

But performance art was more than just a spectator sport. When I lived at The Masque (1978) I once woke up to the sounds of metal being banged around, kind of like a garbage can fighting its way out of an alley. When I got up to see what the racket was all about I saw Z’ev auditioning on stage, which meant him hurling a gauntlet of metal cans, pots and scrap metal all tied together and creating a cacophonous metallic soundscape. I thought he was great, but I wanted to jam, so I busted out my saxophone and walked into the hall blowing some wicked atonal tenor saxophone. Z’ev looked shocked and probably a little pissed that I was playing along, but Brendan Mullen and company were entertained by my contributions.

 

Word got around The Canterbury (where I lived after the Masque) that Hermann Nitsch was doing his“Orgien Mysterien Theater” (trans: Theatre of Orgies and Mysteries) at The Otis Institute of Art and if you had a horn you were invited to play. My neighbors Don Bolles of The Germs and Pat Delaney of The Deadbeats were going but I couldn’t make it, and I was bummed. The day after the performance Pat had dried blood all over him, and he said I missed a great show. Naked men and women were tied to crucifixes behind hacked animal carcasses as Nitsch poured blood and cow entrails all over them while the horn players blew a wall of noise. I kicked myself all week for missing that one!

Another phenomenon that was fairly big at the time was tons and tons of loft parties in the warehouse district in Downtown LA where all you had to do was show up with your horn and blow. Sometimes with a band, sometimes just by yourself along to prepared tapes, it was important for the maximum effect of the loft party. Nobody played crummy rap records, it was all about the originality of the environment and even if youdidn’t know the host of the party you were welcome to play. Shit done changed after all these years. People need to loosen up!

At the risk of writing yet another whiny piece about how cool the scene used to be I just want to testify that there was a time when punk rock was more than just a lot of bands and party merchandise. It was a living, breathing wall of sound and vision, and I’ll always fondly remember those days of watching, listening, and even participating in the sonic outrage of the Seventies.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"A Salty Dog" - Procol Harum (1969)



It all happened one beautiful Sunday afternoon in Beverly Hills. I walked into the Burberry boutique to view their fiendishly fashionable Prorsum line, and the first thing that hit me was “The Wreck of The Hesperus” by Procol Harum booming over the Burberry speaker system. So sweepingly cinematic, it brilliantly complimented the dramatically beautiful and quintessentially British Burberry fashions in the boutique. Matthew Fisher’s airy vocal melodiously drifted through the room, making us all feel as if we were out to sea, singing the maritime lyrics of Keith Reid:
“We’ll hoist a hand, becalmed upon a troubled sea
“Make haste to your funeral”, cries the valkyrie
We’ll hoist a hand or drown amidst this stormy sea
“Here lies a coffin”, cries the cemetery, “You will surely see”…

Majestic English horns blew fanfares while Robin Trower’s guitar conjured an endless seascape as 1,000 strings laid a melodious pattern of sheer ardor. I almost forgot I was supposed to be looking at the new Burberry Prorsum line.

It’s been an eternity since music had the power to transcend its environment, but then again I haven’t owned “A Salty Dog” in years. Although I enjoyed “Shine On Brightly” I forgot how unique “A Salty Dog” was, one of the great albums that never really received the attention it deserved.

Procol Harum released their third album in 1969, an album so eccentric, a much too British maritime-themed album that it turned American listeners away. 1969 was a year for outrageous album covers, i.e. Blind Faith, Trout Mask Replica, and the great Blodwyn Pig cover that still disturbs people, etc. “A Salty Dog” featured a take-off on the Player’s Navy Cut cigarette box; rather than show a respectable English sailor a shaggy gob of indeterminate origin wearing a cap with the name “Herod” stitched on top. That got my five dollars in a flash. I thought it was cooler looking than some ugly naked girl holding a toy plane, really.

Most of the tracks on the album are dirges, the most notable one being the title track, the lyrics articulating feelings of hopelessness on a restless and poorly charted sea. While the keyboards and strings play staccato minor notes, Gary Brooker sings mournfully,
“Across the straits, around the horn: how far can sailors fly?
A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive…”
“We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die,
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain’s eye…”

Ironically, while many of the songs allude to distress and despair aboard the ocean blue, the lyrics also define the despair of drug addiction. “The Devil Came From Kansas” reflects these feelings:
“There’s a monkey riding on my back, he’s been there for some time,
He says he knows me very well but he’s no friend of mine…”
“For the turning and the signpost and the road which takes you down,
To that pool inside the forest in whose waters I shall drown…”

While Gary Brooker leads a monkish sounding choir chanting the chorus, Robin Trower’s blistering metal guitar screams over a tattoo of tribal drums, setting this anti-Wizard of Oz fable in a tail-spin with descriptions of “a dark cloud just above us” and “for the sins of those departed and the ones about to go”.

The lost-at-sea analogy as drug damaged casualty is also expressed in the blues dirge of “Crucifiction Lane” (dig the pun):
“Tell the helmsman veer to starboard, bring this ship around to port,
And if the sea was not so salty I could sink instead of walk,
In case of passing strangers who are standing where I fell,
Tell the truth: you never knew me, and in truth it’s just as well”.

In spite of the fact that the tempo to every song is slow like the languid waves of a calm sea (with the exception of “Kansas” and “Hesperus”) there is enough sonic seafaring to keep the record from sounding like one monotonous moan. I don’t know why I set this one to the side, but I’m glad it’s back on my deck. And to think, a trip to Burberry Beverly Hills made it all possible. I wonder what they’re playing tonight?

All lyrics (c) 1969, Keith Reid (Onward Music)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fancy Dress (red COFFEE Chapter 13)



I remembered that the society column in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner had the nerve to publish the guest list for the masquerade party thrown for designer King Vivian scheduled for tonight, so I planned ahead. I had a feeling a certain dangerous, uninvited guest might show up so a bit of subterfuge was in order.

Since it was a masquerade party I dressed up as a black bird, my pale blonde skin glowing luminous against the black feathers on my dress, long opera gloves and matching headdress and mask. The task at hand was disguising a half-cast black girl like Ida Parker to look just like me. If that wasn’t the hardest disguise to pull off, nothing was.

“You won’t be completely covered in white, just your face, arms, some leg, and, voila!” I helped her with her outfit, a silver angel with wings.
“I’ll be glowing in the dark”, she complained.
“That’s the point, how else are we gonna catch this creep? You have to be my decoy”.
“I don’t know why I agree to these things. I must have rocks in my head”.
“No, you’re just a good friend. Put this mask on!”
“I hardly even know you. Why am I putting myself in danger like this for a semi-stranger?” She put the silver mask on.
“You’ll be catching a killer, just like in the gangster movies. Teddy’ll be there to keep an eye on you. Here’s your blonde wig, Ida. Get a look at you! Why you’re looking more and more like me by the minute”.

I helped her into some 3” high heels so she can match me height wise since I was a pretty tall bird.
“Well, if I’m not a regular Svengali, kid. Walk over to the mirror and get yourself an eyeful. Why, your own mother wouldn’t recognize you!”
Ida reluctantly sashayed over to the mirror, and practically jumped at her image in pale skin and blonde hair. “My mother wouldn’t want to recognize me!”


We took an expensive cab ride with our wings folded up to the Lovell Health House on Dundee Drive. If you haven’t been to this house it’s a nutty kind of place: imagine a bunch of boxes on top of each other but messy like in a shoe store where the boxes are all crooked and ready to crash down on you and the whole thing’s held up on stilts. This was the joint for King Vivian's soiree.

Mr. and Mrs. Lovell were hosting the party, of course, and they’re strong health nuts. There were classy tonic bottles lined up in a row for all the guests. A very healthy, fresh-faced Nordic guy in a boiled suit handed us our bottles.
“Tonic – for your health! Healthy bodies, healthy minds for a strong America!”

We ambled over to a corner of the room away from all the rich swells. I pulled a flask out of my wings and spiked our drinks. “For our health!” we clinked bottles, toasting each other.
I lifted the beak strapped to my mouth and took a relaxing swig, and then stopped. “Do you hear that record? What are they playing?”
“I don’t know, sounds like some long hair music. Why?”
I listened closer. Drat, it was that record again.
“It’s Anitra’s Dance from ‘Peer Gynt’. Jiggers, I can’t get away from that lousy tune. I’m going to take that record off and break it!” I started towards the sound of the phonograph, but Ida the silver angel pulled me away.
“Nix, nix, that’s the rye talking”.

The room was getting more and more crowded with people. I couldn’t help thinking that our target, one Mr. Shep Rogers, was lurking about somewhere. After all, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some well-heeled big shot there. King Vivian got around.
“Lois Angelus! Back from the dead!” King Vivian ran up to Ida, resplendent in a well-tailored, spangly matador outfit. “And how fitting, as an angel!”
“Uh-hum!” Ida coughed, looking at me with fear in her eyes poking through the mask.

“Lois dear”, I lisped, flapping my wings, “You promised me you’d show me the powder room”.
“Uh-Hum”, Ida already ran towards a dark room down the hallway, her angel wings scraping against the ceiling. King Vivian stared at me.
“I thought you had to use the powder room”.
I spun around and raced after Ida.

A cowboy in a mask floated around the room and approached me. His lips looked familiar.
“Psst…Teddy”, I whispered.
“Lois, is that you?”
“Of course. Say, there’s a mighty suspicious character walking around here, dressed like a lumberjack. He looks kinda like our man Rogers”.
Detective Braintree laughed. “Boy, I’d hate to have you pick a mug in a line-up. That’s one of my guys!”
“Well, he does look like our man”.
“I’m keeping a close watch and so’s he. Are you sure he’s gonna be here?”
“Sure I’m sure. My feminine intuition’s driving me crazy”.
“You said it!”

I started for the bedroom Ida was headed to, but immediately got pulled back by Teddy. “Say, Lois, let’s have a quick kiss in between crime chasin’”, Teddy clutched me. I pecked him like a bird.
“There, are you happy?”
“Say, you don’t have to peck like a bird, even if you’re dressed like one. Make this one count!” Teddy leaned in. I glanced behind me and noticed that the bedroom door was closed.
I gave Teddy a matinee idol kiss. “Okay, Valentino? Now get back to work”.
“Awww”.

After our clutch the creepy song from Peer Gynt started playing, "In The Hall Of The Mountain King". I glided over to the bedroom and tried the door. It was locked. The next thing I heard was a weird, scuffling sound with things banging around inside. Nobody really heard much because the music was loud and the room was set far from the living room area. I jiggled the door knob and got nervous.
“Ida! Ida! Open up! Come on, open the door, it’s me!”
No answer.

Since the door wouldn’t budge I finally gave up and decided to find Teddy. I collared him while he spun a six gun in his hand like a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy.
“Teddy, Ida’s in the bedroom, but I’m locked out”.
“What do ya mean?”
“Ida’s in the bedroom with him!”
Braintree signaled to the lumberjack across the room, who joined us towards the bedroom, attracting everyone’s attention for a few seconds, which predictably passed back into their socializing.

“I hope the home owners aren’t anywhere around. I caught hell for doing this the last time”, Braintree pulled out a long file from his holster and jimmied the door open, not without tearing out some of the door sill along with it.

Braintree and the lumberjack jumped into the room and pulled out their guns to an unoccupied but messy bedroom.
“Look, chief, there’s signs of a struggle”, the lumberjack pointed to a fallen dresser and torn bed sheets.
“Yeah, she put up a fight”, he scanned the wreckage, running over to the open balcony. “Get a load of this!”
We ran out to the balcony and saw a line of torn bed sheets knotted together in a link for escape out the back.
“Well, Lois, your feminine intuition paid off”.

I broke out into a cold sweat. “Teddy, what are we going to do? We have to find Ida. She’s my only friend”.
“What about me?”
“Why, you’re more than just a friend”, I wrapped my wings around me.
“That tears it”, the lumberjack grunted. “I’ll get the car, but pronto!”