The buildings down Vine Street were short, leaving insufficient relief from the blinding Hollywood sunlight. Griff walked past the Musician’s Union building, The Drum Shop, and MK Stein’s Music Instrument & Supplies, burning from the heat and focusing on the dust and insects flying around all over. He walked past a beat donut shop, maybe a Winchell’s and saw a familiar figure wearing an overcoat and drinking a hot coffee. Griff turned away as quickly as possible from this sight.
Griff. He was known as Griff, short for Griffith. He didn’t want anyone to know his first name, setting all sorts of speculation from friends and enemies alike. Some said he had a geeky name like Humphrey or Bennett, while others rumored he had a girl’s name, like Vivian or Audrey, which embarrassed him greatly. One thing was certain: people always had something to say about him.
“He looks like he just got in a fight”…Griff had dark, disheveled hair, his clothes too big for him and torn boots…
“This band’s pretty cool, they’ve got a homeless bum singing for them”…He was homeless for a few months but someone asshole thought it was funny to parlay it into a gimmick to sell the band he created, called Garbage Truck.
“That guy’s a big drunk and doesn’t know what he’s doing”…Griff wrote all the songs and picked all the musicians in his band. It was true he drank a lot before he performed. It was also true he didn’t do drugs, which everyone else on the punk rock music scene was hitting hard.
“Griff’s insane. You can’t believe anything he says and I can’t trust him, to be honest with you”…The truth was that Griff scared people and had virtually no friends. He probably wasn’t very likeable and everyone was jealous of him.
Griff put together Garbage Truck, wrote all the songs and sang them. He had a dark sense of humor in every thing he did, which didn’t sit well with people who preferred their world view simple and obvious. Garbage Truck had a big audition later that night at The Other Side, a punk club that booked all sorts of angry hardcore crew cut jockeys. Griff’s hair was a little too long for the club but he was going to try his hand at doing a few songs. They’ll probably hate his trumpet playing, but that’s too bad.
Garbage Truck was a punk band that featured Griff’s jazz-influenced trumpet playing, so the band had a tough front line of twin guitars roaring over a blistering back beat while Griff played horn like Lee Morgan or Miles or Don Cherry during Ornette’s most progressive period. The two guitarists, Bobby and Bert, were good, although Bert had a lot of concerns.
“How many songs are we playing tonight?” Bert asked him earlier on the phone.
“It’s an audition. We get about fifteen minutes so I guess we can do about four songs, maybe five if people scream loud enough. You know how that goes”.
“We’ll have to invite our biggest screamers tonight then”.
“Yeah, let’s do the shorter songs. We really nailed a few down last rehearsal, those’ll work out fine tonight”.
“What time are we going on?”
“10:30, give or take a half-hour”.
“I gotta speak at a meeting at 10 PM”, Bert attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings and sponsored a few former addicts, “but I’ll get there as soon as I’m done”.
“-Okay, later!” Click, he hung up.
An hour later Griff talked to Bobby. “Kitten Claws are coming tonight. Dude, that’s major, they have some serious connections. If they like us we can open for them at The Whisky”.
“Ah, cool”, Griff mused. Kitten Claws was an all-girl band that had a sizeable following in town. “We each have only one guest on the guest list, and I don’t have anyone lined up yet”.
“Miri’s coming, Shawna’s definitely going to be there, and they’re trying to get the other girls to show. If Buddy sees Kitten Claws there in full force, man, we’ll be getting booked every month”. Buddy was the club owner and booker of The Other Side and had a weakness for punk girls, especially ones that played guitar.
“What’s going on with The Devil’s Den? Did you speak to Betty Frost?”
“Did I ever! All I had to do was show her a picture of us pointed at you, and she said, ‘I’ll let you guys play here and even if he sucks I’ll let you play here again, anyway’. She likes you, dude”. Betty Frost, the booker for The Devil’s Den was a rough, homely dame with poorly dyed platinum blonde hair.
“Ouch! All the creepy girls want me. Oh well, it’s a living”, Griff groaned. Bobby laughed.
The Other Side was a tiny club, so packing the club wasn’t hard at all. Anybody could say they played to a full house. Garbage Truck was due to go on in half an hour and two members were still AWOL, making the band nervous as hell. They didn’t want to lose their spot, especially since 10:30 was a good time slot and there were six other bands in line that would only be too happy too shove their way into that time. Griff sat at the bar drinking his free comp beer wishing it was cognac, worrying about the rent, which he was three weeks behind on.
“Made it! I thought I was never going to get here on time!” Bert smiled with his guitar case in hand.
“Bert, damn it!” Bobby yelled, holding an ice-cold rum and coke.
“Kitten Claws are here”, Griff said, seeing Shawna.
“Not all of them. Miri couldn’t make it, but Fritzi and Shawna are here”, Bobby said.
“Cool, Shawna”, Griff liked her. She had pretty blonde hair and wore a dark purple leather jacket. “Is she seeing anybody, hint hint”.
“I know Shawna”, Bert piped up. “Bobby, is that a Coke?”
“No, it’s a rum and coke”.
“Can I get a straight coke?” Bert yelled at the bartender. “I’m in The Program!”
“One straight coke coming right up!”
“I know Shawna, she’s in The Program, she’s pretty nice, but her boyfriend’s kind of a dick. You oughta talk to her, Griff, she’s pretty awesome”.
Griff looked across the room at Shawna, catching her wiping her runny nose with her jacket sleeve. Pure class.
Bert nudged him. “Hey, where’s my drink tickets?”
Griff handed him only two drink tickets.
“I only rate two tickets?”
“You know the drill – one guest per member and two drink tickets”.
“This dump makes so much money and we get hosed. There oughta be a punk band union, I say”.
Griff scowled. “Cool, we’re all here, let’s tell Buddy we’re ready to play”.
Garbage Truck ripped into their four best songs, “Green Blood and Ham”, “Everybody Wants Somebody Else”, “Toss The Midget”, and “The Riff That Killed”. Guitars exploded while the bassist and drummer dropped rhythm bombs. Griff drunkenly shouted out his words of a burning planet and blurting out ear shattering trumpet bleats that would make Dizzy Gillespie turn green all over.
Fritzi and Shawna stood in front of the stage as they played, fake slammed and goosed the crowd into screaming for more. Buddy gave them the high sign from the back of the room, his signal to let the band play another tune. They did “Polka Dot Flag”, their tribute to Wire. After the band finished, Buddy led Griff to the bar and bought him a scotch and soda.
“So whadda ya think, Griff? I think I can squeeze you guys in for a Wednesday next month”, Buddy slapped his back. “You start at 9:30, and since you’re doing your first OS gig there’s no pay, but if you can get all of Kitten Claws to show I’ll front you all the booze you can drink. Are we cool?”
“Yeah, it’s done. Set us up”, Griff smiled. Shit, playing for free. What’s the point?
Griff looked around for Shawna in the crowded club and she was gone. He packed up his horn and thought it was a good time to get lost.
There was a stark contrast between the punkmetalpoprock noise of the crowded, dark club with its beer and cigarette stench and Griff’s apartment, so quiet with its soft lights and emptiness.
Griff was happy people enjoyed the short set his band played. He wished he could have played a full one and actually got paid for it, but the Hollywood scene was so crowded with groups that club owners easily got away without paying them. It was disgraceful.
He tried not to get too angry about it, so he decompressed by playing his Thelonious Monk album, scratched and scarred from being played so many times since he was a teenager. He stretched out on the battered sofa and listened to “Crepescule With Nellie”, and felt himself fading.
He sat by the piano with his music teacher, a funny little man. A man who looked a lot like someone who would wear an overcoat on a hot day.
They were both studying a piece of sheet music. He was pointing at the notes with a No.2 pencil. “These are the notes in a bass clef: E,G,B,D,F. They’re very important to the structure of every piece of music. Remember them, because they play a big part in theory and composition. Repeat after me, Audrey, Every-“
10-year old Audrey repeated, “-Every-“
“-Good”, Audrey looked at his teacher, and noticed he had no eyes in his head. He turned away to stare at the music.
Audrey quickly glanced at the teacher and noticed his ears were missing. “-Dies-“
“-First”, Audrey looked full at the man sitting next to him, his head empty of a pair of eyes, ears and no longer possessing a mouth with which to speak.
Griff kicked his legs up in the air and jumped off the sofa. Three notes played endlessly. The record player needle was stuck in the grooves of “Ruby My Dear”. The clock by the wall read 2 AM. The record had been stuck in the grooves for two hours, playing the same passage over and over and over again.
Artwork by Tara McPherson