Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I've Got Friends: The Sunset Of Celso Chavez

On May 9, 2012, my friend and colleague Rob Zabrecky reported the sad news that Celso Chavez had passed away at 1:42 pm that afternoon from pneumonia due to complications brought on by lyme disease. The news was surprising because of all the musicians I’ve ever played with he was probably the healthiest and most physically fit.

I first met Celso in early 1989 when Lucas McClelland, my bassist, brought him to our rehearsal. Celso picked up the songs right away and brought a great positive attitude to a band of jaded cynics like us. To be perfectly honest I look back on the 1989 edition of Trash Can School with affection and nostalgia. After searching for so many years for players that shared my quest for musical exploration it was a genuine gift to have Celso, Lucas and Manny share my enjoyment in exploring new sounds and sonic landscapes.

Celso was responsible for our most memorable song, a cover of Patti Smith's “Horses”. At one of our rehearsals out of sheer boredom we started playing a feedback-laden version of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”, and instead of crooning the familiar opening line of “Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today”, I went into “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”. Lucas and Manny followed Celso’s and my lead and, well, the rest is history. In fact, when you hear the opening chords to our recording of “Horses” that’s Celso you’re listening to.

One of his favorite stories he liked to tell was the time we recorded that single at Radio Tokyo. When it was time to record “Phantasm III” I asked him, “Well! Are you ready to lay down your solo?”
“I’m playing the solo? No way”. (Getting nervous)
“Didn’t you prepare a solo?”
“No! What am I gonna play?”
“I don’t know but you’re gonna have to come up with something amazing in about five minutes”.
“Dude, I’m totally scared. I’ve never played a guitar solo before!”
“Perfect, you’ll be great. Take all the fear that’s inside you and pour it out of your guitar”.

Celso recorded his guitar solo in one take, a manic, screaming slice of atonal brain shred sounding like a Latino Sonny Sharrock at his most homicidal. For the rest of his life every time Celso saw me he said, “You told me I was a lead guitarist and I wouldn’t believe you but you made me believe!” His gratitude always touched me because it was genuine, like everything he felt.

In the brief time he was in the band (less than a year) he made a substantial impression on our music as he co-wrote “Baby Lust”, another one of our biggest songs. Celso’s knack for writing and arranging great, catchy rock songs was always fine tuned.

Celso shortly left Trash Can School to play with Possum Dixon, writing and recording “Friends”, a hauntingly brilliant song about the irony of friendship with layers of feedback guitar and an eerie reverbed vocal.

“I’ve got friends who sit around
And laugh each time you walk in the room
With your candy clothes and cigarettes
The way you smile and undress
I’ve got friends…”

© 1990, Apartment Music, BMI

We went our separate ways, but in 2002 I left a comment on the message board for his new band, Pill Module. He called me shortly after and we started meeting for lunch periodically. He was working for the LA Unified School District or a similar non-profit educational agency and I worked for the LA County Department of Children & Family Services. Celso was always happy to see me and fun to talk to, telling me about how proud he was to be a father and how much he loved his wife and son.

During the time I saw him I turned him on to Emmitt Rhodes and David Garza since they both played pop music with an edge, both of whom Celso never heard before. When I told him David Garza was going to play Café Largo soon we almost went, but we both lamed out and flaked.

After another lunchtime I remember taking him to the Jewelry District downtown to my favorite jeweler because he was getting a diamond necklace for his wife, Veronica. I totally hooked him up and he never stopped thanking me for it. Another time I took him down to the LA County Department of Human Resources to check out the clerical positions there because he wanted something that paid better and had better job security. He was pretty serious about keeping his life together. Eventually we drifted apart again; I guess friendship has its irony all the time.

When I think of Celso I remember a man who always maintained a positive attitude, an open mind to new ideas, and a free-spirited willingness to gamble with a crazy bandleader who always went for broke. Although the sun has set for my friend Celso, after the sunset is the coming of the stars in the sky, and the brightest star in the Hollywood sky tonight and every night is Celso Chavez.

Photography by Chris Blum

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Fashion Inventions

One of the great things about working for Viva Rebecca is being able to take advantage of the great equipment, resources and supplies on site to create my own fashion inventions. Since nothing has been sketched for the most part I hesitate to call them designs, but anyway here's a preview of what I've been doing.

Pictured above is a Purple and Gray Striped Top made of a cotton/lycra blend (stretchy) with a boat neck and long sleeves with arrow-shaped cuffs that can either be rolled up or let out to cover mid-hands. Lately I've been foregoing t-shirts for more long-sleeved knits because they fit me better. (By the way, I need to mention the fact that if it wasn't for Rebecca's generous guidance and supervision none of this shit would be possible. Amen.)

Although I've done Moon Crater Wristbands before it was in black leather. This time I got ahold of some faux wood finish leather and stamped my moon crater design on them, and pictured here is a sample of the new line. Looks pretty sick! Another new fashion invention in recent months was a Black and Red Striped T-Shirt Dress I made for Rebecca, very stretchy so it's recommended for evening wear (aka parties and nightclubs). Still trying to get Rebecca to pose for pictures in that one.

One of my favorite sections at Michael Levine's in DTLA is the Denim Section because the selection in colors and textures are so versatile. As a result I've fabricated a pair of aquamarine jeans, a sort of sea sick blue-green hybrid shade that has to be seen up close to be believed. Another pair of jeans is a great gold-olive green hybrid blend of denim that we framed with gold leather front and rear pockets. The leather pocketing was influenced by a pair of X-Ray Jeans that I owned with a similar feature.

Pictured below is a green linen knit top that was also very stretchy, kind of a challenge to sew but the end result turned out very well. Most of these tops are either recommended for night time wear or in colder climates. I can't see anyone wearing this in Phoenix on a hot August afternoon!

Since both of my H&M Henleys are falling apart I decided to create my own striped Henleys, one in red and one in yellow, both in cotton and easy for sewing. We made a pattern from the H&M Henleys in disrepair and cut the new ones from the same design. H&M shirts for men aren't very durable but their pants are an entirely different story altogether. I recommend you go there for the pants. At any rate, with the construction of my Henelys I don't think I'll be missing my H&M originals too much.

Whether I want to get serious about clothes making professionally or not is something I'll think over. Right now I like working with Rebecca, and I certainly don't harbor fantasies of being on frightening contest shows like "Fashion Star" or "24 Hour Catwalk", but there's a certain rush you get when you create your own cool Rock & Roll clothes. Kind of like the day you picked up a guitar for the first time and banged out a few chords and realized you've just written a song. It's that real.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Rock & Roll Confidential Part 9

One of the most attractive releases of 1971 was an import LP that looked like a cross between a Command Records stereo demonstration album and a Euro techno album, when in fact it was neither. It was the second release from Curved Air, simply titled “Curved Air Second Album”, following up their dazzling picture disc from the year before, “Airconditioning”. The album performed well with British listeners, peaking at #11 on the album charts.

Curved Air was a product of their time, less prog and more like a hard rock band with lush symphonic sounds courtesy of Darryl Way and Francis Monkman’s keyboards and violin playing. Many of the sonic textures on the album recall Euro sex horror films of that time, sounding like they belonged in a Jean Rollin or Mario Bava movie. In addition to the vampire opera vibe of their sound was the presence of lead singer Sonja Kristina, who wouldn’t look out of place in any of these films, looking like a sister to Ingrid Pitt, Maria Perschy or Soledad Miranda.

Some of the lyrical content focused on wayward urban girls with titles like “Young Mother” and “Back Street Luv”. The pastoral textures of “Piece of Mind”, “Puppets and “Jumbo” have that lush-cum-nightmarish sound that makes me think of movies like “She Killed In Ecstasy” or “Requiem For A Vampire”. Kristina sings in a dreamy falsetto that compliments the Dracula in St. Tropez vibe of the music.


By the way, here's a picture of Keith Richards serving up some Larry Fine action for you just in case you want to believe he still looks like a badass outlaw. Put that doo rag back on, playa!


I've always had problems trying to like Kevin Ayers even though I like the idea of a prog-rock troubadour a la the great Peter Hammill. I think the reason I could never embrace him as a serious artist is because he comes off as some lazy bastard who just wants to fuck and get loaded. His records for the most part give off the image of Artist As Vacation Resort Gigolo. Frank Zappa once wrote a song called "Honey, Don't You Want A Man Like Me?" All humor aside, the scary part is that Ayers aounds like he really means it.

An album like "Shooting At The Moon" is pretty indicative of both his strengths and weaknesses, the strengths being great Henry Cow-style jazzy art school workouts like "Shooting At The Moon" and "Colores Para Dolores". The weaknesses come in the form of his bad samba gigolo tunes like "May I?" returning later in a French version just to underscore the sleaze of his advances. The paradox of Ayers is that just when you're ready to slap him for a lech ballad like "Clarence In Wonderland" he counters that with a slice of menace like "Lunatic's Lament".

At first I thought I was being a little hard on everyone's favorite blonde playboy, but even Wikipedia weighed in with, "one of the frustrating and endearing aspects of Ayers' career is that every time he seemed on the point of success, he would take off for some sunny spot where good wine and food were easily found". While I came to praise and not bury Ayers I think his preference to having a good time made his music suffer because the urge for self-indulgence and narcissism spoiled what could have been further records with the daring of "Joy Of A Toy" and "Shooting At The Moon".


Here's a picture of the Voxmobile, and from what I understand (which means that I'm leaving room for error, so don't scream) is that guitars could be taken off the side of the roadster and played. I also understand that an amplifier is built into the car with an organ in the rumble seat, also. For further information go to Imagine that, now that's what I call really rocking on the road.