Saturday, September 20, 2014

Swallow The Sun (Wranglers' Canyon No. 3)

When you hang around somewhere long enough you get to being inquisitive and kinda snoopy and ask a lot of questions about things that you'd normally take for granted. One day after a few drinks Sheriff Frehley told me all about the legend of Sailor Jerry, who was more of a 1st Mate, almost a Captain, and then some gent said no, he wasn't that high up the ladder, he was more of a bosun.

"They don't make niggers 1st mates, Sheriff", Bo, the squarehead blacksmith, grunted.
Frehley frowned. "If they're in international waters they don't give a frig what color you are, just as long as you can set sail, keep a steady course and run the deck with your guts together".
Frehley poked me in the gut, and whispered, "Damn Swedes, they don't like darkies, Protestants or anybody else, for that matter". I threw back a shot of Stallion Sweat and sniffed.

Another thing nobody could agree on was where he came from. Some say he was from Trinidad, but he wasn't sporting no funny Island accent. Someone else said he was Moroccan, and that got shot down faster than a pigeon from a duck blind. Wherever he came from it sure wasn't the deep South because he had sea green ocean water running through his veins. He served behind the bar with sea legs, the kind that tilt every so often so they can handle all that rocking and rolling with the ocean waves.

There were several theories about how he came to sporting that hook for a left hand. Sheriff said it was for stealing a fortune in gold in Persia resulting in his black hand getting chopped off. It's supposed to be sitting in a pickled jar somewhere in Arabia while he buried the treasure in a pile of camel dung which he stumpily smuggled back here and paid for the saloon. The squarehead cut in again - I was getting mighty tired of his mouth - said it wasn't like that at all. He lost it when he got jumped by a bunch of bitter crackers in Mississippi.

Then some fancy blowhard jumped in and said everybody got it all wrong. He was a popular music hall entertainer in Europe and got real cozy with some rich old dowager in Austria who got a crazy mare that went ape shit kicking and whinnying her damn fool horse head off and Jerry tried grabbing the reins, his paw got stuck in the bridle and the damn fool nag ripped his hand off the arm, so he got a handsome reward for saving the old biddy's life. The Sheriff's story was the closest thing to a real one and I had trouble chewing on that one, too.

I nodded my head like a damn fool when the blowhard talked because it turned out he was the Mayor of Jonestown, name of Randall. Mayor Randall. Mayor Randall walked up to Frehley and asked him, kinda confidential, "Any doings over at the Hiss Ranch?"

"No, nothing at all, Mayor", Frehley looked kinda spooked for a second there.

I might want to also mention a few things about the people in Jonestown. I know I'm only generalizing but most of the people who passed me by were awfully pretty, the ladies young and old, even the fellas were right easy to look at. The folk weren't just easy to look at but acted real easy going, too easy going, like they never had anything to worry about, ever.

After a few drinks too many with the big shots I stiffly wobbled out of Sailor Jerry's. I staggered across the road and saw a fella hanging a banner that read: "JONESTOWN COMMUNITY FAIR". I almost fell over ass over elbows when I tripped on a bucket of tripe.

"Mr. Walker, are you hokay?" Mr. Butcher looked at me with concern, his apron smeared with pig's blood.
"No problem at all, Butch", I drunkenly smiled. I moseyed over behind the barbershop and fell asleep, flat on my face.

I woke up the next morning bright eyed and bushy tailed, no, just kidding, there were flies hovering all around me and the world's ugliest dog licking my face. The dog had a face so ugly I'd shave his ass and make him walk backwards, plus his dog breath smelled like he'd been working over his balls sun up to sun down before waking me up.

The sun was blasting me in the face and I got up, almost kicking the dog in his chewed up tail but he ran off.
"G'wan, git, Shit Ball!"

I dusted off my chaps and ambled around the corner only to find dozens of folks dancing and a band playing on a tiny stage. There were banners set up and tables with pies and fried chicken and other high stepping viddles. It was a genuine jamboree. I must of slept it off while all this setting up was going on.

The girls that danced with the dudes were real pretty, and clean too, like they never missed a bath. They were all well scrubbed and you could smell them from where I stood, all nice like flowers. I smelled gardenias, camellias, rose, geraniums, you name it.

I even saw Miss Willa dancing with some new beau and old Mumbling Pete standing not far away with a sorrowful look on his kisser. I reckoned the poor corn shucker needed some cheering up.

"Hey, Pete! Some party, eh Hoss?"
"Xcdgfs mkmfk ui edcbnjc po ijn!" Pete started blubbering like a new born babe.
"Oh hell, Pete, they're all whores. When are you going to get wise to yourself?"
"Vb gryt hjhg kiu ryt ckhjj wervn", he moped.
"Well, y'see that's a gal's job", I put my arm around him. "They're supposed to make a dude feel special. Until they find one with more money. Then they toss your ass out. That's how the game's played".
"Baw ahawboohoo bawlbawlbawl", he cried.

I vamoosed off Pete and walked over to a homely looking thing who didn't have Johnny Shit to dance with, so I grabbed her. Her face lit up real bright.
"Say, Miss, how'd you like to do a fancy step or two with me?"
"SURE!" This young spinster looked like she was going to boil in her drawers. Shitfire!

"Good deal, ma'am, but before you we step out you gotta to a few rounds with my amigo here, name's Pete". I practically smacked them into each other like a dry ham sandwich.
"Gc fyt wegn fohubj scg wklhjb!" Pete lit up and smiled.
"Well, go on, Boy. Show her some fancy steps!"

The plain jane's face kinda dropped but before she could run away Pete grabbed her waist and danced in a spin with the rest of the other folks, almost knocking over Miss Willa.
Mr. Butcher was dancing with his big fat wife, Bo the blacksmith did a squarehead waltz with some blonde, Mister Flint the barber danced with his short spinner wife, Shorty from the hotel was dancing with the pretty Mex maid. It was a right jamboree.

But I wasn't having any fun. Something was stuck in my craw, and I didn't know what. I kept staring at the dude Miss Willa was dancing with. He looked a whole lot like the gent named Rance from the swimming pond incident of a week ago. Couldn't be. Rance was dead, but this dude looked a whole lot like him, as if he was kinfolk.

At the end of the last song everyone applauded all nice and fancy. Mayor Randall held his arms out to quell the applause.
"Thank you, one and all, for coming to this year's Jonestown City Fair. Now you know we always welcome our friends and neighbors to come up and sing a little song. Is there anyone here who'd like to come up and sing with the band? And I mean someone who can really sing?"

Everybody got all shy and quiet, but that damn foghorn Mumbling Pete yelled at the Mayor, "Ty ghd bnxzgui iory vbd iojiji!"
Mayor Randall made a face, looked out at me in the crowd and said, "What did he say? What did he say???"
"He said, well, uh -" I stammered, still fighting off my hangover.

Mumbling Pete ran over to me and pushed me towards the stage.
"He said I'm the greatest singer West of the Pecos", I frowned.
"Kli sdgh vbhj wtdci jkks nuuihusj!!!!"
"Aw Pete, I wish you'd shut up for a change!" I protested as he pushed me closer and closer to the stage.

"Well, looky here folks! We got us a brand spanking new singer here, our esteemed visitor - Mister Crash Walker!", Mayor Randall yelled. "Let's see if we can get him to sing us a song. Come on up, Mister Walker!"

I got up on that stage and looked at the band who gave me skeptical looks like I should be shoveling shit instead of talking it. I looked at the drummer and the bull fiddle player and said, "Do you know 'Buffalo Babe'?"
The band picked it up and started playing. I began singing.

"Oh well the skies are dark and wide,
And your teeth are pearly white,
Your lips are ruby red and the hens are all fed,
We're going to bill and coo tonight,
Buffalo Babe, Buh Buh Buh Buh, Buffalo Babe, Buffalo Baby, be mine tonight".

I swung my hips, tossed my jet black hair and cocked my eyebrow rakishly. All the gals ran up to the stage, smiling and swinging their asses. The band looked surprised and picked up the beat, giving the music a little more gumption, especially the bitter faced guitar player.

"We're going to swing and dance by the barn,
Shoe the horses and hold you in my arms,
Drink corn liquor and kiss you a little quicker,
We're going to bill and coo tonight,
Buffalo Babe, Buh Buh Buh Buh, Buffalo Babe, Buffalo Baby, be mine tonight".

The song ended, I swiveled my hips even harder and all the gals shrieked like a bunch of wild turkeys. The gents applauded with bitter, angry looks on their faces. Jealous bastards. Pete had a shit eating grin on his face, though.

"Crash Walker, everybody!!!" Mayor Randall hollered. "Crash Walker!"
The applause doubled in noise. I tried to jump off the stage but the Mayor held my arm.
"Hold it! Now hold it, son!" he admonished.

"Now, you've only been here for a week but I think I speak for all of us here when I say you're our kind of people. You've made quite an impression on us, especially with that last song. So with that in mind, as Mayor of Jonestown..."
An old biddy in a bonnet handed him a big dingus-looking thing.
"...I am pleased to present you with the key to our fair city!"

Everybody applauded, especially the gals. I looked out at the crowd of people, and noticed the dude who danced with Miss Willa was gone. This big clumsy thing which looked like a melted key was shoved my way. I tried to hold it up and smile but it kept falling out of my hands.

"Would you like to say a few words, Mister Walker?"
"Thank you very much. I'd like to sing some more, Mayor", I mumbled. I turned to the drummer and the bull fiddle player and said, "Do you know 'Campfire'?"
The band picked it up and started playing. I began singing.

"Come on pretty buh baby with me to uh cuh cuh cuh campfire,
Kiss me, roast some nuts and build my duh duh duh desire,
I'll tell you I love you and I'm no luh luh luh liar,
Cuh cuh campfire!"

Once again the lasses bailed from their men and wagged their tails like little pups in front of the stage. The drummer hit a rim shot and I swung my hips to the beat. The gents still looked pretty bugged, except for the band, who now mildly tolerated me.

While I sang the rest of "Campfire" I noticed a passel of wagons riding into the town. Some wagons looked like trailers and some looked it carried banners and all sorts of stuff. I was hoping it wasn't the rodeo Sheriff Frehley talked about the other day. I could bluff my way into singing but I wasn't sure I was ready to ride a bunch of surly bulls.

"Come on pretty buh baby with me to uh cuh cuh cuh campfire,
Kiss me, roast some nuts and build my duh duh duh desire,
I'll tell you I love you and I'm no luh luh luh liar,
Cuh cuh cuh campfire!"

Be sure to get a copy of the complete novel "Wranglers' Canyon" in eBook form to be released in July 2015 by Book Baby. Don't miss it!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What Is And What Should Never Be

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
-Stephen King

While I understand that a gym isn't a gathering place for all persons and things intellectual there are times when I hear things that are a little too ridiculous to be believed. While I was flapping my pins on the thigh abductor I overheard some young guy talking to an older gent about his college courses.

"Yeah, I'm taking English at UCLA but I really want to write for movies and TV", the 22-year old crowed. "I like all kinds of movies and I know how to write for them". I guess everyone's entitled to their daydreams but nowhere in the conversation did this kid say what kind of books he read and what sort of novels he enjoyed. The entire realm of literature didn't come up once in the conversation. And he talked about becoming a writer.

Let's talk about the guys that wrote for the movies, the greats: Stirling Silliphant, Dalton Trumbo, Robert Towne, Rod Serling, Charles Brackett, to name a few. Did any of them say when they were young, "I want to write for the movies?" No, I'm pretty sure they dreamed of writing brilliant novels but somehow got roped into the screenwriting game. And I'll wager anything they all had extremely prodigious libraries full of books and spent all their leisure time reading them.

The scary part is when you ask a clueless guy like Gym Kid who his favorite writer is and he'll probably say "Hitchcock!" People like this are completely oblivious to the fact that if it weren't for the writing of Cornell Woolrich, Robert Bloch, Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier, to name a few, there wouldn't even be anything for Mr. Hitchcock to film at all. He knew it, too: one of the first credits beginning each episode of his TV show names the writer of the story. Hitch even had a mystery magazine back in the day.

I once knew a hammerhead whose favorite mantra was, "I don't read books, I don't need books, I depend on my looks". What an asshole. Needless to say he now works in the motion picture industry.

Here's another story for you: Rebecca met a fast-talking blowhard who kept up about how he was going to write a novel and then write for the movies and went on and on about it and of course didn't divulge about what the hell he was writing.

"I couldn't stand him! You've already written two novels and this guy kept talking like he was King Shit just because he was starting some dumb novel he wouldn't talk about. I just wished he'd shut up!"
"I know how to shut him up", I said.
"How do you do that?"
"Ask him who's his favorite author", I smiled. "That always shuts them up".

One of my favorite mottoes is "In this place called Hell novels are written by people who don't read books". I'm not joking, either: we have friends who say, "I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT MY EXPERIENCES AS A STRIPPER IN SAN FRANCISCO". Okay, even if it's a memoir there needs to be plot development, character development (i.e. someone who started out as a rival becomes your best friend towards the second half of the book), fact checking, so on and so forth. And then what style is the book written in: Will it be funny sleaze like Bukowski, dark decadence like Hubert Selby Jr., erotically charged like Genet, what's your POV?

To say you want to be a writer without reading books is like saying you want to be Governor of California without knowing The Declaration of Independence (um, wait a minute, I just described Arnold Schwarzenegger, scratch that). It's like saying you want to play guitar without knowing who Les Paul, Hubert Sumlin, Chet Atkins or The Ventures are. Without an understanding of the history of your craft you're flying without a pilot's license, which means you'll crash and burn.

It also means your memoir of being a stripper in San Francisco will never be published. Read a fucking book. It'll probably change your life.

Illustrations by Rebecca Seven

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Tubes (1975)

In the early Seventies there were several collectives that combined glam music with theater. In London there was the highly successful Rocky Horror Show, Los Angeles had The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (some of whom evolved into the band Oingo Boingo), and San Francisco had The Tubes.

Although Rocky was a musical production, Oingo Boingo was a theater troupe and the latter was a rock band, they all had one thing in common: a talent for blending cabaret, high camp, retro post-modernism with a healthy dose of glam rock in the mix.

What made The Tubes wilder and creepier than the others was the way it took glam rock, North Beach strip club sleaze, video technology, S&M and good old American excess (from both average Americans and decadent rock stars – no one was innocent) and presented it in a flawless stage production with brilliant musicianship.

Released in 1975 and produced by Al Kooper, The Tubes is one of the strangest debut albums ever recorded, a stunning mélange of glam rock, progressive rock interludes, cheesy Broadway showbiz vocals and breathtaking high-tech electronics.

The band’s stage show had them flanked by television monitors, at least twenty in all, hence the band name. Some of the monitors showed the band performing in real time and others showed interactive routines going on as the band played.

The first track on the album is Up From The Deep, sung by Bill Spooner, one of the two guitarists, letting us know that the music can be changed and morphed whenever the spirit moves them. His voice is recorded as if he’s underwater. The melody has an Indian-type wail to it until it goes into a bizarre prog rock interlude that takes several flashy twists and turns, finally breaking into an explosive boogie woogie piano rave-up.

Guitarists Roger Steen and Bill Spooner played great Alice Cooper-style guitar while Michael Cotton on synthesizer and Vince Welnick on keyboards created brilliant aural soundscapes that set the atmosphere for each track.

When I first saw The Tubes at The Roxy in 1975 (previously home to The Rocky Horror Show) they performed Haloes in matching suits a la The Temptations while a pre-recorded track played behind them. No great shakes these days, but in 1975 it was unheard of, but funny.

Space Baby sounds like a retro-Fifties ballad about an intergalactic babe that space traveler Fee Waybill pines for down on Planet Earth. Waybill sings in a wailing David Bowie style. The song also features the aforementioned Broadway choir-type backing vocals with the synth playing as an electronic horn section, all very Bowie meets Flash Gordon.

Mondo Bondage was probably the very first exposure many rock fans had to the world of S&M since most bands never even went there. Fee and show girl Re Styles both donned bondage outfits and masks during this number and it was a pretty intense show stopper. The song was pretty weird, too, with a wild jazz-metal interlude while the two performers went into a creepy session, giving us all a taste of North Beach live sex acts to a rock beat.

What Do You Want From Life? is a Frank Zappa-type parody on super consumerism that’s still powerful today, and even posits that proposition that even if everybody got what they wanted would it still be enough? Really???? The more excessive the needs the faster, quicker and more manic Fee Waybill’s voice gets.

At some point during the show Fee sang Bali Hai from South Pacific – there goes that Broadway shtick again, and then after rips into a manic rendition of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” with a quintet of naked girl dancers backing him up.

The finale to the stage show, as well as the album is Boy Crazy and White Punks On Dope. The reason why both songs are lumped together is because they both share the same thing in common. The Tubes turn the spotlight away from themselves and point it at the audience, something most punk bands took credit for a year later. In an era when most bands sang about the pain of being rock stars this approach was highly subversive.

Boy Crazy is about teenage sexual promiscuity – I seem to recall hardcore porn playing on the video monitors while the song was played. Fee, once again, sings it in a decadent David Bowie-style wail. It’s a great track, more direct than the others in spite of the big Broadway treatment. It would be interesting to hear from the band whether the big production was their idea or Al Kooper’s?

White Punks On Dope was The Tubes’ big anthem and told the tale of wasted, wasted youth in the high class suburbs. Once again, it was released one year before punk rock so it’s uncanny how much ground The Tubes broke and received scant credit for their innovations. The blend of ray-gun synthesizer with heavy metal boogie guitar is infectious while Waybill delivers another uncanny David Bowie imitation in his sky-high platform heels and huge platinum blonde fright wig. His Quay Lewd routine was the other show stopper after Mondo Bondage.

Nina Hagen’s highly operatic version of White Punks also has to be heard to be believed. I saw her do it at The Greek Theater – the show with the spaceship and nearly fell on my ass. Good times!

Clocking in at only thirty-seven minutes and some change, The Tubes’ debut album is like the Daffy Duck magic trick where he blows himself up and laments that it’s his “best trick, but he can only do it once”. The Tubes couldn’t really produce anything as powerful as their first album, but in spite of it they managed to rack up several hit singles during the New Wave Eighties – Talk To Ya Later, Monkey Time, and She’s A Beauty. But the debauchery of the stage show never went much further or wilder than that first tour. Perhaps it was just a sign of the times.

The Tubes’ first album is still a crucial work because there’s a timelessness to it, it’s musically challenging, endlessly inventive and the sonic soundscapes are downright creepy at times. Like The Residents, there’s a post-modernism that anticipates the beginning of punk rock and even the dreaded behemoth of New Wave. Like the foreign radio voices that herald and close the album you will be transported to a strange land unlike any other.