Thursday, December 31, 2015

Hot Wire My Heart

Dante got off the street car when it reached the North Beach tourist trap, cough cough, club district. His stomach had trouble adjusting to riding up hills and then dropping down them, no matter how long he haunted the streets of San Francisco. Scaling heights and then down again made him nervous.

Dante Sterno was torn in his feelings towards North Beach; he hated the gaudy night clubs with their blinding neon signs like The Roaring 20's, Big Al's with its ugly Al Capone image looking down, The Condor trumpeting the ancient Carol Doda taking it off for the 3,000th time. On the other hand he never got tired of wasting time at City Lights Book Store, and then there was the Filipino restaurant turned punk club the Mabuhay Gardens.

"STEP RIGHT UP! COME ON IN AND SEE THE SASSIEST AND CLASSIEST LADIES IN THE ENTIIIRE BAY AREA, AND CAN THEY DANCE!!!!"

It was the start of 1978 and punk rock was in the air. San Fran rose to the challenge with bands like The Nuns, Crime, The Avengers and The Mutants, and you could feel the excitement on the streets. Your heels would shoot off sparks on the sidewalks, the electricity was so palpable. Dante was twenty four years old and his youthful ignorance was his ace in the hole.

"TWO DRINKS AND ALL THE GORGEOUS BEAUTY YOUR EYES CAN FEAST ON! THEY'RE BUSTY, THEY'RE LUSTY, THEY NEVER GET RUSTY! THE SHOW BEGINS IN FIFTEEEEN SEXY MINUTES!!!"

He zipped up his leather jacket and walked into the damp foggy air, the moisture visible in the night air like a million fireflies just drifting, illuminated by the lights shining from all the strip clubs down the street. He could feel his chestnut brown hair dampening and cursed quietly to himself. In just a few minutes he'll get to the club.

"GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS, AND MORE GIRLS! ALL SHAPES, COLORS AND SIZES! EYE CANDY AND LOOK MA, NO CAVITIES!!!! STEP RIGHT IN AND SEE THE GIRLS THAT COULD MAKE CLEOPATRA GREEN-EYED WITH JEALOUSY!"

Dante weaved through the crowds on the sidewalk, tourists, Chinese women, Berkeley hippies reeking of pot and patchouli, curiosity seekers all rushing towards him as he threaded through to the club.

Tonight was a special deal: the newest issue of Ripoff was getting passed around Mabuhay and he wanted to get his personal copy. His column The Agony Anarchy Column was going to be read by everyone and he was going to get free drinks, smokes and drugs. He was rough and ready.

"COCKTAILS AND CUTIES!!! WHAT MORE CAN A RED-BLOODED ALL-AMERICAN MAN ASK FOR????? BEAUTIFUL, GORGEOUS, SEXY, WELL-ENDOWED FEMALES FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT, DANCING EVERY DANCE KNOWN TO MODERN MAN, AND THEN SOME!!!! COME ON DOWN!!!"

Dante was feeling mighty chuffed about himself. He wasn't just any run of the mill fanzine writer; he had his own column. No, he wasn't just another typewriter jockey banging out reviews about some dumb fucking rent party on Valencia. He had his own column, a really important one for the zine that everyone in SF read religiously. It made him feel like a big wheel.

"LADIES WHO KNOW HOW TO TEASE, HOW TO PLEASE AND HAVE YOU ON YOUR KNEES THROWING YOUR HOTEL ROOM KEYS! THE SHOW STARTS IN TENNNNN FOXY MINUTES!!!"

His pulse raced faced faster as he got closer and closer to the bamboo draped restaurant. He saw a few punks milling around the sidewalk in front, boys and girls alike swathed in Ramones-style regalia of leather jacket, jeans, tees and high-topped tennies. Some sipped from cans of Royal Crown Cola with bourbon poured in.

There were also several guys dressed in the British style with torn tees held together by safety pins, forked-up hair wearing dog collars and expensive bondage pants they must have mail ordered from the back of the NME or something.

Dante nodded at them like he was The Badass King. It was a futile effort. The punks barely acknowledged him. The doorman apprised Dante and quickly said, "Three fifty admission".
"Three fifty?" Dante howled. "What a ripoff!"

A bookish looking man with a thick thatch of hair standing up high like Eraserhead raced to the door.
"RIPOFF! That's the magic word! You get in free!"

"Warren!" Dante yelled at the man, Warren Arrest, editor of Ripoff Magazine. "Did I really say the magic word?"
"Fuck, no. You're on the guest list, you idiot!" He nudged the door man, who stamped Dante's right hand.

"If you're drinking, pull out your ID", the doorman bawled. Dante complied, but not without the doorman staring at the ID and then back at its owner, studying both like a forensic scientist. After a long beat he relented. "Well, OKAY!"

Dante and Warren strolled through restaurant tables and chairs towards the open dance floor with punks furiously pogoing and jumping about.

"Well, looky here! Right on stage, Fuck Face! The very subjects of your latest column, The Working Class, right on stage", Warren smirked sadistically. "Wonder if they've seen the latest Ripoff Magazine?"
"You didn't show it to them, did you?"
"No, but it's a small scene and word gets around".

The Working Class were a punk rock power trio that played songs about the evils of American Capitalism and the virtues of Communism. They played songs like "Comrade Rocker" and "Rich People Are Wrong". The only good song they had was "Trotsky In Tijuana" because it made him chuckle.

The band was fronted by two absolutely humorless brothers who originally hailed from the highly prosperous suburbs of Del Mar, California, a factoid that Dante was more than helpful to point out in his column. So helpful was he that he managed to contact their former high school and get yearbook photos of them playing badminton, playing golf at their father's country club and going to the prom in their brand new Corvettes.

The Working Class was ripping it up on stage to their new hit "Steal From The Rich And Give To The Poor", banging their guitars like demons while the drummer was doing overtime on the cymbals like a maniac. The kids were going berserk to the ricocheting beat.

"Cracked the piggy bank and robbed the store
We steal from the rich and give to the poor
The people make do but fat cats always want more
We steal from the rich and give to the poor".

The guitars looked like they were thrown out the window of a pawn shop and sounded just as bad. The band wore tee shirts with crudely drawn hammer and sickles on them. Many thought they were one of the worst bands in town.

The guitars never played in sync with the drums, so when the guitar and bass would go into a tempo change, the drummer was still playing the previous part of the song. It was the musical equivalent to a poorly dubbed foreign film where the actor's lips would move and the dialogue would follow a beat after.

Dante looked around the room and the usual suspects were there: scenesters like Keith Crime, the world's biggest Crime fan, a very thin guy with razor sharp cheekbones who resembled a young Richard Widmark; Raggedy Ann, dressed like the children's doll complete with red spotted cheeks, but punked-up with red dreadlocks and ripped up false eyelashes, with her best friend, Just Plain Sally. Just Plain Sally was pretty boring but she was Raggedy's ride to all the shows because Raggedy was too scared to take the BART. Just Plain Sally was a skinny Patti Smith-looking girl who never smiled and stared at you vacantly with her big brown eyes.

They all worked at Ripoff Magazine, either writing the "copy" (Keith Crime and Warren) or stapling the xeroxed behemoth (Raggedy Ann and Just Plain Sally). There were a lot of other club goers, some already with staked out personalities and some as yet undecided what they were. The undecided were dressed kind-of punk but still had hippie hair or they had short punk hair, but wore tie dyed tees or Mill Valley peasant dresses.

The Working Class finally finished their brief set and began packing up their gear and amplifiers. Dirk Dirksen walked out of his office and stared at the crowd milling around the club as the PA blasted out The Damned's first album.

"Heya, Bud!" Raggedy Ann smiled. "How long have you been here?"
"I just came in", Dante shrugged his shoulders. "Is Animal here?"
"I didn't see her. Did you see her, Sally?"
"No".

Dante coughed falsely and said, "I'm getting a beer. You guy's coming?"
Sally stared at Dante, then said, "No".

"RIPOFF MAGAZINE, ALL THE SHIT THAT'S FIT TO PRINT AND ALL THE SHIT THAT'S FIT TO STINK!"
Warren hawked the zine by the bar, a stack tucked under his arm. Boys and girls, mostly girls, were handing him a dollar a copy of the zine. They were going fast, and while the bartender was fixing drinks for the scenesters they were poring through the zine looking at the pictures.

"I'll have a Budweiser. Hey, Warren, where's my copy? I want to see my column".
People were chuckling over the pictures of their punk heroes in their upper class high school yearbook photos.
"Look, ohmygod, is that Biff in a shiny new Vette holding a corsage? Shit, that's too funny!"
"Jesus, what a bunch of spoiled brats!"

"Thanks, Warren", Dante took his copy in his left hand and grabbed his Budweiser in his right. He spotted a short, cute punk girl with a big rack chuckling over his column. "Yup, that's me, Dante Sterno, read all about it, The Working Class' high school pictures".

He walked towards the wall and watched the stage. The Working Class' drummer was gone and the two brothers, Biff and Jimmy, leaped off the stage towards Dante. Dante fidgeted nervously.

"Hey, you little puke, we want to have a word with you", Biff bounded first to the scene. "You think you're pretty fucking funny, do you? Did you have fun posting our school pictures in your shitty rag?"
"Yeah, man!" Jimmy spat, grabbing Dante by the neck, placing him in a head lock (which he probably learned in wrestling class at high school).

"This is what we think of funny guys, asshole!" Biff yanked Dante's beer from his right hand and poured it over his head while Jimmy tightened his choke hold on Dante.
"Yeah, man!" Jimmy spat as Dante tried wriggling free from his grasp, his face getting more and more purple.

"Hey! Let go of him, you assholes!" Raggedy Ann yelled at the two Commie Rockers with Just Plain Sally adding, "Yeah! Let go!"
Embarassed at being caught, the two prom kings turned Communist pitchmen let go of their prey.

"Watch it, you prick!" Biff jabbed a finger in Dante's face before he turned on his heel to leave.
"Yeah, man!" Jimmy spat and stormed away.
"Attacking a reporter!" Dante gasped hoarsely, trying to get his breath back. "I report the news! The people have a right to know!"

Raggedy Ann handed a few cocktail napkins to Dante so he could dry his wet hair.
"Hypocrites! They're totally Commies", Dante bitched bitterly. "They don't want The Fifth Estate to furnish The People with the truth, just like their boyfriend Castro!"

"Who's Castro?" Just Plain Sally stared. "Isn't that a street?"
"I'll tell you about it later, Sally", Raggedy Ann helped Dante up to his feet. "Crime's coming up next, the club's starting to fill up. Is that Jennifer Miro standing in the corner? She's so cool. Jesus".

Dante coughed from the beer trickling down his hair and into his nostrils. He wanted to shake his head like a wet dog, but he was all out of humor. He wanted to go home and hoped Animal would be there to keep him warm. His night was filled with cold beer and cold weather.

in reality, he stayed for the first three Crime songs and then went home, walking by the bar where Warren Arrest was still yelling, "RIPOFF MAGAZINE, ALL THE SHIT THAT'S FIT TO PRINT AND ALL THE SHIT THAT'S FIT TO STINK!"

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Without Schmaltz

I've heard more than a few people complain about Christmas music and how vapid and horrible they find it. Some people hate really religious numbers like "O Holy Night" and others hate pop tunes like "Silver Bells" or that thing about chestnuts roasting. I agree about the overwhelming sentimentality, however there are a few tunes that bring up images of Christmas without broaching upon issues of religion or spending money on presents.

A pretty good example is The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds album, which sounds very Christmas-like, songs like "I Know There's An Answer" or "God Only Knows". You could play Pet Sounds all through Xmas and still get the holiday spirit. And old JC or Saint Nick get no mention anywhere in the lyrics.

At any rate, here are a few of my personal selections of music that could convey the Christmas spirit but don't get enough play.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor (Ode To Joy) - Wendy Carlos

Taken from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack album, this particular track definitely conjures images of wintertime solstice and Christmas joy, courtesy of the great mind of Ludwig Van Beethoven. I'm not sure the extremely violent footage from the movie accurately conveys that Christmas spirit, but enjoy the music anyway.

By the way, I remember The Beatles singing Beethoven's Song of Joy in the movie Help! to calm down a wild lion from tearing Ringo apart in a German cellar. Great movie!

On The Rolling Sea When Jesus Speak To Me - Van Dyke Parks

While not a Christmas song at all, but still an inspirational tune written by Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, Van Dyke Parks' arrangement is one of the most surreal ever recorded. Parks bangs gospel piano sounding more like a roadhouse saloon, all Elmer Gantry grooves galore while a robust choir sunnily chant the lyrics, the volume of their voices going from fortissimo to pianissimo and then back again, the timbre shifting up and down like the waves of the sea. Salvation Army horns blast away with a strong Charles Ives southern gothic flair, and the whole thing is alternately exhilarating and horrifying.

I remember hearing this first on the Warner Brothers Records compilation "Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies" in 1970 and never forgot it, so hearing it again on You Tube is nothing short of great!

The Man With All The Toys - The Beach Boys

The standout track on The Beach Boys' Christmas album is this merry song about Santa Claus, a very perky little number with a light wintry guitar sound. It's funny how they have Santa Claus on the brain, what with this tune and Little Saint Nick also praising the great toy giver.

Jingle Jangle Jump - Dexter Gordon

A pretty jazzy tune about Christmas for hipsters sung by Gladys Bentley and featuring the great tenor sax playing of bebop icon Dexter Gordon. Bentley's definitely no Dinah Washington, but that's okay, this one's strictly for Gordon fans. Another cool Christmas song played by a legendary jazz giant is It's Christmas Time by The Qualities featuring Sun Ra.

Other songs I could mention is Slade's million-selling "Merry Christmas Everybody", Roy Wood's Wizzard's goofy "I Wish It Was Christmas Every Day", and Jethro Tull's dour message tune Christmas Song. No matter what the genre of music there's no shortage of Christmas music that's bound to be halfway fun to listen to without resorting to depressing maudlinity. Yeth!

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Another tiny pleasure is this brilliant Mad Magazine beatnik takeoff on The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Wally Wood. Mad Magazine, beatniks, and Wally Wood; it doesn't get much better than this:

Friday, December 18, 2015

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Chaos

Normally this time every year I work busily away at an office job, enjoying all the free cookies, candies and cakes my generous co-workers have to offer. Unfortunately this year has been such a shitty wash employment-wise that I've decided to do something I've never done this time of year: I've become a professional runner.

In the past I've been a runner for wardrobe houses and special effects arts teams, but this time I'm a runner for an agency that caters to upper level boutiques across the Westside - mostly Beverly Hills 90210, with clients ranging from movie stars to foreign royalty (a Russian Princess, for instance).

It's an easy job and I get to drive around Bel Air a lot, it's kind of nice, blah blah blah. But then again it is Christmas season and people are more than a little out of their heads with holiday hysteria. One of the perks of the job is getting to watch how terrible people are at driving. The more lousy the driver the more indignant they are at their fellow drivers not giving them the right of way.

The Von Bondies - It Came From Japan

On a good day people get the Christmas spirit and tip - it's not required - it actually happens so seldomly that when I get something it always comes as a pleasant surprise. Wish I had a few more pleasant surprises this holiday season.

I have noticed that people in general are much more courteous to me in my delivery boy drag, opening doors and letting me use their restrooms at the drop of a hat. Try dressing like Ziggy Stardust and find out how nice people can be...not!

Christmas is a nice, pretty holiday, but watching people (mostly men) losing their shit over small stuff like somebody not driving fast enough or passing them on the freeway is pretty fuggin' crazy. Some Xmas spirit!

You can almost hear the All-American Consumer quietly screaming in his head, "IF I DON'T BUY SOMETHING SOON I'M GOING TO KILL SOMEBODY!" Pushing others aside, elbowing them out of the way violently, ready to bite anyone getting too close to any salable item needed or not.

Hopefully I'll score a nice clerical job next year so I can go back to being a runner on weekends only. And I could sell a few more books, too. Just got another royalty check, which is always encouraging.

Tyrades - Let Down

Since next year marks a special milestone in my life (guess) I'll be releasing not one, not two, but three books. One will be a children's book that even adults will like, because the best kid's entertainment should be smart and not talk down to kids; the second book will be a pretty comprehensive collection of my short works, which I'm pretty excited about; and, the third book will be yet another punk rock crime novel. Why not? The boy can't help it.

The Hentchmen - Yesterday's Trash

Friday, December 11, 2015

Broke And Seductive

The holidays always look differently when you don't have a lot of money to play with, and I'm not talking about being homeless. I'm talking about being heavily in debt and pouring all your money into paying all the money lenders off, becoming so bad that all your credit cards have been shut down. Drat. It makes you see ridiculous things in a different way, like emails from the same vendor sent to you three times a day: "SALE!!! SAVE NOW FOR THIS HOLIDAY SEASON!"

Yeah, it's bad: I'm so skint I work two jobs, seven days a week and still not really making a dent in anything. But Best Buy and Nordstrom Rack don't care. There's this constant nagging to spend unlimited amounts of cash which you haven't got. I'm at my poorest in I don't know how many decades: maybe three? It's despairing, but I'll pay everyone off.

This constant banging on the door of our lives making us pay for crap we don't really need:
"BUT THESE SHOES LOOK REALLY COOL!"
"You already have FIVE PAIRS of shoes you barely ever wear!"
And that's me, not my wife.

Being broke allows you the insight to see that your holiday should never be defined to how much crap you get or even how much you buy. As long as you're not coughing out bloody phlegm from an acquired cold or scratching your chapped hands until they're raw then you're having a great holiday.

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Of course nobody's buying books anymore. Actors and rock groups and models and standup comedians are on talk shows every night. How often do you see an author on a talk show? How are books supposed to sell if television ignores the written word and people of letters?

Once upon a time, talk show hosts like Dick Cavett and Merv Griffin(!) had writers on their programs on a regular basis. I vividly remember seeing Henry Miller on the Merv Griffin show in the 1970's, back when people used to read and regularly buy books. He was a pretty interesting guest and I'm not even a big Miller fan.

Television is one of the best promotional tools around, and there's no better proof than when Harvey Pekar used to appear regularly on Late Night with David Letterman, which immensely goosed up sales for his books. Unfortunately, if TV insists on ignoring writers then books will never make money. Would it really kill people to see James Ellroy or Joe Lansdale on a talk show? I think they would be great.

I think the great fear is that many writers would probably punk out these lame hosts and outsmart them and out-talk them, but so what? It wouldn't be the end of the fucking world. So Harlan Ellison told you you were stupid. Control freaks! I hate them all.

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Recently I watched Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra, the closest thing to a Ken Russell film not made by Ken Russell. Claudette Colbert pouring on the sexy charm with aplomb, more playful than Elizabeth Taylor's strident performance; Warren William as a cool, very likeable Julius Caesar and Henry Wilcoxon as party boy Marc Antony.

The movie's a 90-minute model of decadence, like erotic entertainment for Marc Antony of leopard-skinned honeys being trapped and tied up by muscle bound brutes. Fish nets dragging more cuties from the Nile River brandishing pearls and gems by the fistful.

Colbert gives a seductive and playful performance as the great Egyptian queen. The film is every inch a spectacle: DeMille liked to take liberties with hoary Shakespeare and Bible classics, making them more erotic and surreal to add an extra dimensions. DeMille's Cleopatra is absolutely dazzling with great costumes, art direction and nutty special effects, but after all is said and done, none of this would be worthy of your attention without the outrageous, seductive charm of Claudette Colbert.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Big Mouth Bass

The backbone to any band or recording is the bass, no doubt about it. The drums are the legs, but the spine to any record lies in that big bass sound. Without the bass there’s no spin e to hold up the rest of the instruments. Even John Mayall knew that in 1969 when he recorded The Turning Point, dispensing with a drummer but keeping the bassist. Steve Thompson anchored the rhythm with a bottom that underscored the melody while giving life with the beat.

I think bass players are funnier people than guitarists. A bassist friend of mine used to always start every sentence with the opener, “BASICALLY…..” I thought that was brilliant.

On the other hand some of them are moody bastards, the worst. One bassist I played with had the word SPEED tattooed on his arm…um, gee, wonder why? He had a hair trigger temper and nodded his head vigorously every time he talked. Yeah….I think he had an extra hobby besides playing bass. He was a good player, though!

Bass players have every reason to be pissed, though. They don’t get to show off like drummers and they don’t really get to goof off like showboat guitarists. They’re too busy trying to make them both look like they know what they’re doing. Take away the bass player and the guitars and drums sound foolish.

But nobody worships that ass-shaking bass throb more than the hip hop maniacs. I live on a main drag where there are always gridlocked cars stuck in front of my house, and as sure as sheep dip you can bet our windows will rattle like an old lady’s teeth from the powerful bass frequency booming out of some homeboy’s car stereo. Sometimes even the walls shake.

But relax, haters, it’s all for love of the mighty bass sound. Which brings me to a story which takes place in the early Nineties, when I worked at Dodger Stadium. My car was out for the count that week so I had to walk across the humongous Stadium parking lot. A coworker, we’ll call him Miguel, pulled up right by me in his sled, and needless to say, the bass was thumping to wake the dead.

Miguel was a thick kid with Chinese eyes and dressed like the souvenir concession collapsed on him: Dodger baseball cap, Dodger tee, and he would have worn matching sweats only they were either out of stock or didn't carry it in his size. He was a good guy.

BOOM BUZZ BOOM BUZZT BOOM
“Need a lift, guy?”
"Meh?"
“I SAID, NEED A LIFT GUY?”
“YEAH! THANKS!!!”
BOOM BUZZ BOOM BUZZT BOOM!

Miguel drove down Sunset Boulevard nodding his head hard to the beat. I looked out the car window and could have sworn the titanic palm trees around us were trembling from the rattle this car was kicking out.
“DO YOU LIKE THE JAMS, DOG?”
BOOM BUZZ BOOM BUZZT BOOM
“YEAH, THESE ARE FINE. MAN”.
“THIS IS THE NEW SNOOP - JUST DROPPED LAST MONTH - KILLER SHIT!”
BOOM BUZZ BOOM BUZZT BOOM!

Needless to say the car was throbbing, my balls were rattling in my pants, even the tires of the car seemed to be shaking on the road from the ridiculously loud frequency.

“DUDE, CHECK THIS SHIT FROM MOBY! SUPREME!”
BOOM BDOOM BLAT ZIT BLAT BLOP!!!!

The car stopped at a red light and older guys in the BMWs were glaring at us sideways in their pussy Aviator shades. At that point I laughed because I realized the bass guitar had done more than the entire punk scene ever did: shake people up and offend them. The bass ruled the streets. The bass stood supreme. The bass owned.

“CHEMICAL BROTHERS, HOMES. LET ME TURN IT UP!”
Me (in scared Jerry Lewis voice): “YOU MEAN IT GETS LOUDER?”
BOOM BDOOM BLAT ZIT BLAT BLOP!!!!

We narrowly missed an ambulance zooming by the right of us because the Chemical Brothers bass drowned out the siren. When I saw we narrowly missed the Paramedics wagon by a few feet I decided to bail out for safety and pointed at an arbitrary house down the street.

“THAT’S MY SHACK OVER YONDER, BRO. JUST LET ME OUT HERE AND I’LL HOOF IT THE REST OF THE WAY”.
“RIGHT ON, SEE YOU TOMORROW, DUDE”.
“YEAH, LATER! THANKS FOR THE RIDE!”
BOOM BOOM BDAT BLAP ZIZAT BDAP!!!!

The bass abides, forever forward and onward.

Artwork by the great Chris Reccardi.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Day The Mannequins Frowned

Sometimes you get so busy you're the last to know. Case in point: In late June of this year Out Magazine reported the closing of International Male and its offshoot Undergear. I didn't know! I was wondering what happened to all the perpetual emails and monthly catalogs I used to receive in the mail. They just stopped coming, and I never knew why.

People had a good laugh over International Male, and for good reason. A lot of the fashions in the catalog were gaudy and ridiculous, with models striking poses even more absurd than the clothes. Unfortunately there were the odd things here and there which caught my eye. An occasional gem, like the nice black leather pirate coat, which I still have.

There's also a pretty cool pair of jeans I bought from them with big industrial zippers in the front and rear pockets with heavy stitching a la True Religion jeans (at a fraction of the price!). And what can I say about Undergear but that I bought a lot of great bikinis from them.

On the minus side, their mail order was outrageous with exorbitant fees tacked on to your order, i.e. California state taxes, shipping and handling, if ordering more than 3 pieces add an additional $5 (on top of everything else!), etc.

With special charges costing almost as much as the items themselves it was time to look elsewhere like Chi Chi Larue, Showtime and other men's clothing boutiques in West Hollywood. Other customers had similar ideas about blowing off this increasingly out of touch with the times online men's boutique.

I got a kick out of getting those catalogs but I'll continue buying my bikinis from International Jock, Pistol Pete, Nasty Pig and C-In2 mail orders, all of them cheaper than Undergear. And then there's al those great sites from Korea, so goodbye International Male and Undergear. It was fun while it lasted!

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H&M's probably the strongest premium fashion outlet for men (next to the awful Uniqlo) and one of the reasons is their collaboration with high end designers for a powerful limited edition they can sell to their faithful customers. This year H&M chose Balmain as the designer to carry for their limited edition line. Oh, dear.

Before the clothes hit the stores a hokey video featuring a Kardashian-Jenner doing some subway dance was dropped online, like Balmain really even needs to go there in terms of hype. But hype it did and hype it happened.

When the clothes finally lined the shelves in early November endless lines of shoppers hit the stores with many being turned away. H&M's website crashed due to heavy traffic and needless to say, eBay already has some of these babies up for bidding. Personally, I find some of the styles underwhelming and not worthy of all the hype. But, still it's Balmain.

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One fashion outlet that can use a lesson or two from H&M is The Gap, who are already predicting a sluggish final sales quarter of the year. The Gap, just like International Male, is stuck in an old era and shows no signs of updating its image. The last time I walked into a Gap the clothes looked like everything I saw the first time I walked in there 20 years ago. American Apparel's still on its last legs. In terms of clueless outlets, can Urban Outfitters be far behind?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reality Begins With A Dream

When a couple romantically fall in love with each other one of the most common cliches uttered is, "Let's grow old together". The reality of it is, and check your marriage vows is, "Let's get gradually ill together" or "Let's get poor together". Both happened to us which is partly responsible for the closing of Viva Rebecca LLC, also known as Suite 103.

In between designing her own fetish party clothes under the label Viva Rebecca she sewed wardrobe for TV, movies, rock videos and an endless chorus line of metal bands. Life was simple then; we didn't have a lot of money but we had each other and the fetish parties we'd go to to sell our weird clothes. She was the designer and I was her partner. Ahem.

In the beginning Viva Rebecca headquarters was our living room in a small apartment in the Miracle Mile district, which was largely inconvenient until the Northridge Quake of 1994. The hundreds of after shocks we experienced were largely tempered by our sleeping under an army of indestructible sewing machines largely made in the 1920s and 1930s.

International television camera crews from Canada and Germany filmed us in our native habitat working and goofing around. We were famous but broke until a government agency finally picked me up for permanent employment. Then the money rolled in, quickly followed by a move to newer digs in a soon to be trendy hipster neighborhood.

Viva Rebecca was still located in our spacious living room with me helping out diligently on my time off from working for the LA County Department of Children & Family Services (who still have me listed in their phone book after all these years!).

In 1999 our next door neighbor, a very old, eccentric shut-in accidentally died (his portable television fell on him in the middle of the night - he slept on the floor). When the apartment was up for rent we moved in and turned it into the new home of Viva Rebecca. Things were getting better.

I still managed to find time to help Rebecca with her projects, even sometimes getting up in the middle of the night in my pajamas to help her with an all-nighter. I could always be counted on to trace patterns, cut material and even do some light sewing duties. Rebecca thought I was great.

Two years down the road I transferred to the Executive Office at the LA County Board of Supervisors for a radically large promotional position and a much higher salary. Rebecca was doing well, too. She was getting more popular and in demand for her ability to finish projects ahead of schedule. We were both getting hot in our careers.

Getting hot in your career largely means you're more in demand by everyone and have less time to goof around, party, see friends, vacation, you name it. Rebecca didn't even have time to sleep any more; the all-nighters were happening more and more. We had money and no freedom.

I was the first one to crack: in 2011 I walked out on the Board of Supervisors. The mental abuse I endured there was like none I'd ever experienced. There were weeks when I was called on the carpet by management at least five times a day. The discipline at that job was severe to the point of insanity. My insanity.

After leaving the Board I still worked as Rebecca's assistant - projects included a great fruit juice commercial building a monster truck designed like a poodle, and then there was the Twisted Metal project and I did some scattered work for LA County.

When Rebecca was on the road working I'd go into Suite 103 and sew up some great shirts or accessories for myself. I had a lot of fun sewing things for myself and learned a lot about menswear that way. I even managed to find time to design and sew some dresses for Rebecca!

I saw less and less of Rebecca. Either she was doing more all-nighters or going on the road working on more sewing jobs. When Rebecca returned from these jobs I would offer to help and she refused, no longer wanting my help. My best was no longer good enough.

Because of the new demand for her to sew for an endless army of stylists there was no longer any time to design or sew Viva Rebecca originals. It was over. The jobs were never ending and Rebecca took them all, mostly as a one-man band. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say she did the work of a ten-man crew all by herself in 48-hour spurts. I hardly ever saw her.

When she did accept assistance it was largely from women who "liked fashion" but had no real sewing skills. When I occasionally offered to help I was turned down flat by her. She finally reached a point where she couldn't run the whole show by herself any more. Viva Rebecca had been run into the ground.

Physical and mental health problems in addition to astronomical debt closed down Viva Rebecca. Having had enough, she decided to close down the work shop for good. Many of her clients didn't take her decision very seriously, still calling with projects they wanted her to work on.

For weeks Rebecca worked hard at closing the workshop down. I was left with putting the finishing touches to clearing out Suite 103. It was one of the saddest experiences I've ever had.

Rebecca left for the next three months to convalesce with a nurse, and I think it's all for the best. She needs a little time to re-evaluate things and understand what's really important in our lives. Yeah, there's still "us" as far as I'm concerned.

After 16 years I'll always remember Suite 103 and miss the early years, but what it turned into won't have me missing it too much. Things may come and things may go, but we'll still be here. Someday we'll be together.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Moonlight Mile With The Dandy Warhols

Rebecca had me on standby late Friday night, making me wait for her to finish a dress that she had to deliver up in the Hollywood Hills. While I was waiting on her I banged out the final chapter of my crime novel while The Dandy Warhols Come Down played in the background.

The space drone of Be-In washed over the room as I typed, so quiet and hypnotic, sinuous sounds with reptilian guitars wrapping and unwrapping themselves around my mind as I typed furiously away.

Rebecca finally came in and said the dress was ready and we could go up and deliver the dress. It was well past midnight. We drove up to Beverly Hills and drove past dark, grainy streets punctuated by endless rows of palm trees with their shadows leaning over us like some unholy tribunal.

The streets were empty and quiet with the artificial street lamps flickering light on us like some defective strobe light. And Be-In just played over and over in my mind as I drove. The drone, the guitars and chanting voices which may as well be the palm trees singing to us.

"Turn here!" Rebecca said. "This is the street! Cielo Drive".
I froze.

Cielo Drive, the street where the house of the gruesome Sharon Tate-Jay Sebring murders committed by the Charles Manson Family, long remembered as the one of the ugliest murders in Hollywood history. As we went up a steep, hilly road I noticed that the street lights were getting scarcer and scarcer and that the road was almost pitch black. And The Dandy Warhols still played in my head. "Am I, Am I, Am I", the chanting went.

Higher and higher we went, and it seemed as if the higher we went the road got darker and darker. So dark, that whenever a car quietly drifted by us with its low headlights it looked like a slithering shark around the bottom of some dense ocean. As I drove towards the Sharon Tate murder scene I wondered what kind of music Sharon and Jay and Abigail listened to that night: was it bad hippie shit like Crosby, Stills and Nash or was it dark, hypnotic drone like The Dandy Warhols?

Finally the GPS told me we'd reached the house of the drop-off. We reached a cul-de-sac in front of a gated estate where the lights were out, looking like there was nobody home.
"Are you sure this is the place?"
"Yeah, they said it was a corner estate and no one would be home. Just leave it on the gate".

Rebecca got out of the car with the dress in a five-foot long garment bag. I sat behind the wheel with the motor running, only my headlights providing any relief from the darkness.

Rebecca decided to push the security bell, again and again. No answer. Double checking the address, this was definitely the home for the drop off. She hung the dress on the gate in the darkness, and ran back into the car.

And as I drove down the hill, away from the darkness, towards life and light and the mortality of Beverly Hills, all I could hear in my head was the haunting drone of The Dandy Warhols playing Be-In. Later on, later on, later on, later on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Volume War (1993)

The year was 1993 and that behemoth called grunge rock was going strong, bands with punk backgrounds playing sludgy spluzz with lots of guitar and little else added. Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana and many, many, too many others.

I had just completed a tour of the United States with my band Trash Can School and it was largely a success considering many people didn't have any idea who we were. With the momentum of the band gaining its new-found popularity, our record company SFTRI wanted us to go in and record a new album.

Cutting a new album was easier said than done, because A: our previous engineer got a fat head and wanted a hefty producer's fee in addition to getting paid studio time, and B: the album budget was something like $3-5,000, pretty minuscule even by early Nineties standards. To put it in plain English we had to look for a new engineer, studio and they had to be nothing short of amazing.

A fan and friend of the band told us Geza X was in between big jobs and was interested in recording any crazy indie bands. When I said I was interested I asked her to remind Geza that we were in Arthur J. and The Gold Cups together. Geza accepted immediately and he was nice enough to take our poverty row budget like a mensch.

Half the album was not only written in advance but was road tested on our national tour - DT's, TV Blues, Dog Town Girl, Powershred and Steel Purse, to name a few. The other half hadn't been written yet so I had to cobble together at least seven new numbers. The newer songs were Steroid Shock, Big Time Full-On Cop Out, Taxidermist, Volume War and a couple of others.

Geza X's studio was called City Lab and was situated in a house above the Sunset Strip, high above the Comedy Store. In fact, Pauly Shore, Mitzi Shore's son lived next door with his purple jeep parked out in front. Across the street lived Peter Weller, who had a huge, resplendent villa-style home. Not bad for the guy who played William Burroughs and Robocop.

Having Geza as producer was important to me, because by this time the band had fallen heavily under the influence of the Great Pacific Northwest and the Sub-Pop sound, and to me Geza was a kindred soul in the pursuit of strange and unusual sounds, and encouraged me to go farther out than I ever had before.

With the band becoming more musically conservative in their musical tastes it was important to assert my influence on the band by emphasizing even more bizarre sounds than was previously displayed on the first album.

I made concessions toward the trendy grunge sound by writing songs like Taunt, the Ballad of Peter Green and Big Time Full-On Cop Out, but even the latter composition had a quirky Voidoids-style bridge that broke up whatever Mudhoney vibe ran throughout the song. And then there was that atonal saxophone break.

In spite of these concessions I still created walls of discordant noise with a free-form jazz ending to Taxidermist with a wall of guitar feedback. Then there was Powershred, featuring a sample of Sun Ra playing white noise on his synthesizer while a scratch vocal imitating a sax solo made the final mix, bringing some Yoko Ono good cheer to the proceedings.

Steel Purse had a stop and go pulse all through the song, like a demented roller coaster, and for good reason: it was about the Long Beach Pike, a busted-up amusement park where sailors got rolled and gangs got into knife fights and tranny hookers flashed steel, as well.

I also incorporated a great 12-string guitar that Rebecca made for TV Blues and Dog Town Girl. It added a very light touch to the band sound, which we needed badly. DT's had a backwards saxophone track to add to the menacing voodoo drone the band was laying down. I don't think we're in Seattle any more, Toto.

And perhaps that was the big problem in a lot of the fan's eyes (and ears). The album received unanimously bad reviews and even earned the enmity of Papa Bear at SFTRI. He felt he got gypped out of his money because instead of getting Nevermind Part II he got Andy's Wild Years. He'll never realize he got the most original album ever released on his label.

Making a bad grunge album would have been the easiest task in the world but that's not my calling. I made in abundantly clear to everyone that I was dedicated to making the most unusual rock music of its time, and people kept nodding their heads like I was talking drunk again.

Needless to say, the accompanying tour in support of the album was an unqualified disaster, leading up to the breakup of the band. I still listen to Volume War (named after the three guitarists turning up their amps over each other throughout rehearsal until one couldn't even hear themselves anymore) and am amazed at what a great piece of work I created with these guys. One day Volume War will have its day because all maverick works get the recognition they're due.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Pride of Artistic Ownership

Owning a work of art is not unlike owning a pet: Do you own your cat and does your cat own you? Do you own a painting or does the painting own you? Even though you own a painting, yeah you paid for it, but nevertheless, everyone can have access to it on the Internet or as an illustration in a book. So is the painting ever really yours exclusively? Probably not.

On the other hand, having it live in the flesh in your home is more dynamic than looking at some photo of the same piece. I had a friend who had a prodigious Robt. Williams art collection and none of the magazine and book repros did his pieces any justice. You just gotta see these babies in person to get the full weight of their dynamism.

The funny thing about owning paintings is that after awhile they begin to pile up in your collection whether you intended on being a serious collector or not. I began buying paintings by great artists if they were affordable, and lucky for me I caught a lot of these great works when they were still affordable.

My bout with collecting began while spending an eternity attending openings at Copro Nason Gallery, which at the time was in sleepy Culver City. Always a major fan of the works of XNO, when I attended a show and noticed that his Quisp painting was available at a super cool price I snapped it up right away (thanks, Gary).

I discovered the great art of Sharon Leong when her work was included in a book my wife Rebecca was in called "Vicious, Delicious and Ambitious", compiled and edited by Sheri Cullison. I net her at various shows promoting the book, La Luz De Jesus and once again, at Copro Nason. The content of her art combines bizarre erotica with the snarling menace of vintage dime store paperback novels from the Forties and Fifties. The painting I'm holding pictured above is titled "Do Men Want Clinging Girls?"

Although I couldn't afford any of The Pizz's paintings we managed to work a deal where we could get a few of his master sketches for his paintings in exchange for a handful of Nauga monster dolls we made (we even made a black one for him!). In exchange we got the sketches for Hardware, DT's and The Stoner and The Stripper, all based on songs I've written and recorded. By the way, Pizz was suppose to have painted the cover for my first album, but the record company guy was dead set against it. He thought some shitty blurred Xerox of me was more aesthetic. What a wasted opportunity.

More paintings were acquired: a great Dave Leamon piece of the Three-Eyed Elf Bitch, also acquired at Copro Nason, one I'll treasure forever. Speaking of multiple eyes, I also purchased a brilliant limited edition bust of a Six-Eyed Man by Travis Louie, which was beautifully displayed at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery.

Some pieces Rebecca acquired include a great Lisa Petrucci painting on lacquered wood of a Cowgirl In A UFO, as well as a few Gary Baseman works, given in exchange for the work we did on his Skirball Museum show, "The Door Is Always Open".

Sometimes surprising things happen, like the time Gil Kane's son ran into my friend and bandmate Jack Gould and asked him for a Trash Can School tee, which we appropriated his art. He was so thrilled he got some indie cred on a tee shirt he gave Jack an autographed poster, which Jack let me have. As a Gil Kane fan I was totally honored.

I own a few signed Frank Kozik lithographs, as well, but by now you're getting the gist of what I'm walking about: I never entered this trying to play the grand art collector big shot. It's like they say, if you hang around Hollywood long enough you'll either meet everyone you've ever wanted to meet or become the person everyone wants to meet. Hang around a gallery long enough and you'll eventually get every art piece by every artist you've ever wanted to own. Shazam!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Paperback Criers

Many people have been applauding the decreasing popularity of the eBook and the return of the paperbound book. Hipsters and Baby Boomers alike have been thrilled to read that Kindle reader sales have been dwindling, eReader library rentals are dropping at a rapid pace, and paperbound books are on the rise.

These very same people were the same ones that demanded on "going green" and bemoaned the brutal murder of thousands of trees to produce a Harry Potter blockbuster or Victoria's Secret catalogue. It didn't matter not a bit that eBooks are more economical money wise and space wise for both readers and writers.

The economy of space with an eBook is that you can store hundreds of books on your Kindle or iPad. If you had to stack hundreds of the same books in paperbound format you would have to rent out a separate apartment, one that didn't smell like stale pulp.

The economy of money with an eBook for the reader is that more and more vintage novels are available at rock bottom prices of $1.99 or $2.99, on average. You can't beat those prices with a stick! Thanks to the digital revolution you can buy short stories in digital format, sold separately like an old time 45 RPM single*. Dig it, Baby Boomers!

If these very same books were produced in paperbound format they would have to cost at least $9.99 a copy just to cover production costs, distribution and promotion, as well. Plus many publishers will release an old Gil Brewer or Vin Packer potboiler at a $1.99 price tag, but selling same novel in paper format brings a large risk in their investment costs. Smaller cult writers stand a better chance of being published in eBook format than they ever would in paper, for the simple burden of publishing economics.

The economy of money with an eBook for the writer is that they're much cheaper and cleaner to produce. If you design your own cover and format your own work in PDF form (not hard), it will only cost you somewhere between $100-300 to have the book released, distribution and all. If you took the same book and released a paperbound edition it would cost you at least $1,500 for production, editing and distribution. And! According to BookBaby you would only get one copy to keep. That's all you get just to see your book wrapped up in paper. Wowie zowie.

It should also be noted that the release of an eBook is a lot quicker, because once it's properly formatted to fit all eReader screens it can be released within days, whereas a paperbound book will take on the average a few months. Do you really want to wait that long for your masterpiece to come out? I don't.

I wonder how many hipsters and nostalgic Baby Boomers understand that going green is economically and socially better than schlepping a ton of unwanted paper around. I also wonder how many have had a hard time making the adjustment to reading an eBook. Some claimed the light bothered their eyes. I don't know, if people can make the transition from vinyl to CD and VHS tape to DVD then they should weather the changes that eBooks bring.

On a personal level, I hate seeing hundreds of books I can't get around to reading this week sitting on my bookcase staring me in the face, waiting to be picked up. They would look a lot happier simply sitting in my Kindle with a cool thumbnail cover illustration.

To be perfectly frank with you, I have no intention of converting my novels to paperback, and in addition plan on releasing the next few efforts in that plagued, beleaguered, and much threatened format: the kind, defenseless eBook. And don't forget to tap the right corner for the next page, the left corner for the previous page, and always remember to tap the About The Author page at the end to take a look at me.

* I recommend "I'm Dangerous Tonight" by Cornell Woolrich.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Now Playing ABSOLUTELY FREE on You Tube - Mauro Bolognini Edition

Lately in my sojourn across You Tube I happened upon a channel that has so many goodies lined up that I'd be a wretched creep not to share it with you. It's called Belles Actrices and if you like French & Italian films from the Fifties and Sixties you're going to hit the motherlode. There is such an embarrassment of riches in terms of great obscure foreign films that you won't be able to decide which movie to watch first.

Every film features a great European actress in some obscure movie you've probably never seen before: Catherine Deneuve, Elsa Martinelli, Claudia Cardinale, Jane Fonda (during her French period), and a whole bunch you've never even seen before. While some of the films I viewed were directed by Julien Duvivier, Claude Chabrol and Roger Vadim, many of them were directed by an Italian I've never heard of before: Mauro Bolognini.

How Mauro Bolognini flew under the radar for so many decades without attracting the attention he deserved is a mystery to me. His films are provocative, intelligent and have some of the best visual composition of any films I've ever seen.

And The Devil Leads The Ball, 1962/dir. Grisha Dabat - A French teen noir starring a very young Catherine Deneuve, Devil is the tale of Eric, a very spoiled, arrogant teenager who racks up an expensive roadster which naturally doesn't belong to him. The garage he borrowed it from gives him 48 hours to come up with the cash to pay for the damages or have his legs broken.

With no money to pay off the debt he runs off with his rich girlfriend (Deneuve) to a teen party pit where two other couples get high and trade partners. The usual teen movie sex play goes on until Deneuve's rich daddy shows up and tells Eric to dump his daughter or, you guessed it, he'll break his legs. It's easier said than done because Deneuve clings on to Eric like a new born puppy dog. It's not easy being a kid! Also starring Bernadette Lafont.

La Notte Brava (The Big Night or Bad Girls Don't Cry), 1959/dir. Mauro Bolognini - Working with a script co-written by Pier Paolo Pasolini, you can bet that this film will be gritty and sleazy. The film begins with two prostitutes (Elsa Martinelli and Rosana Schiaffino) brawling on the street, only to have it broken up by three joy riding yobs who pick up the two hookers and take them to a fence who'll pay them for stolen war rifles (?). Yeah, it's pretty weird.

More guys and hookers get picked up until the yobs decide to ditch the hookers in the middle of nowhere, not realizing that the hookers have snatched the fence money behind their backs. Realizing this, the boys hurry back to the empty countryside to find the sneaky hookers and get their dough back.

Careless (Senilita), 1962/dir. Mauro Bolognini - Based on an Italo Svevo novel, Careless stars Anthony Franciosa taking a break from his normal spoiled playboy roles to play Emilio, a plain, dullsville office clerk madly in love with Angiolina (Claudia Cardinale). Angiolina is all sweetness and virtue at the beginning of the film, until 20 minutes in she does a complete 360 and becomes progressively more and more slutty with all the men in town. Every time Emilio goes out on the town he catches Angiolina with a different man, acting looser and looser as the film progresses. Sounds like most of my ex-girl friends!

Bolognini's compositions are really outstanding in this one, esp. a scene where Franciosa's agonizing behind a stone column with a ridiculously steep stone staircase descending to the left of him in utter darkness (dig the heavy symbolism). Where the fuck is The Criterion Collection when you need them? Highly recommended.

The Game Is Over, 1966/dir. Roger Vadim - Made around the time of Barbarella, Jane Fonda plays the spoiled, over-pampered horny wife to Michel Piccoli who flirts just a wee bit too much with her stepson Peter McEnery. This film is about as bad as most Roger Vadim films and Fonda's ridiculously uptight about her body, too uptight to play a Bardotesque sex kitten, but the mod/psych fashions are eye-popping and Peter McEnery is always fun to watch.

Wise Guys, 1962/dir. Claude Chabrol - One of Chabrol's earliest efforts, this is a sort of malevolent Jules & Jim about two guys and a girl running around reaping anarchy wherever they go. Comedy doesn't really suit Monsieur Chabrol and it shows: the humor is mean spirited and poorly staged. It's still worth a view for its strange morality play - the climax is too weird, and the performances by Jean-Claude Brialy and Bernadette Lafont (yes, her again) are top notch.

Highway Pick-Up (Chair De Poule), 1963/dir. Julien Duvivier - Based on a noir novel by James Hadley Chase, the Robert Hossein movie is about an escaped burglary suspect who hides out in a beat gas station run by a friendly fat guy and his hot, banging wife. Faster than you can say Postman Always Rings Twice, the sticky wife finds out Hossein is the escaped safecracker from the newspapers. She blackmails him into busting the gas station safe and proposes they run off together. Guess what happens?

Three Faces of a Woman, 1965/dir. Mauro Bolognini & Michelangelo Antonioni - Three Faces of a Woman stars Soraya, former Persian princess divorced by the Shah of Iran in the Fifties for her inability to bear him any children. Following the divorce, she fled to Europe in hopes of becoming a hot Italian starlet, which obviously didn't take off much. While she isn't very pretty and can't act too well, she appears well suited for the trilogy of stories presented in this picture.

The Antonioni segment is about a Princess who's about to give her first screen test and she's just a bundle of nerves and having second thoughts, etc. This is notable for the wild set design and angular composition, which is really a feast for the eyes. The Bolognini story fares much better in that she's married to Richard Harris, who can't deal with her stardom or the constant barrage of paparazzi accosting them wherever she goes. There's a wild scene with a fashion photo shoot which has to be seen to be believed.

The third segment is some weird comedy thing with Alberto Sordi that doesn't really go very far. It's a bad sex comedy type thing, a dime a dozen back in the Sixties. Although the film is called Three Faces of a Woman, I have never seen so many hair and costume changes on one woman in any film that I've ever seen (more than What A Way To Go!), so if you hated the way Soraya looked a minute ago, don't worry, she'll look better in the next scene. This movie's definitely 100% weird!

What's surprising about all these movies is their lack of DVD release or even TCM/Sundance broadcasting. These are all pretty decent films that are worth a watch, and even the lesser ones deserve a view. Just remember that you have to click on the "CC" Closed Captioned circle on the far right of the play slider to get your language preferences. You can even choose your subtitle color and opacity controls. And don't forget, Mauro Bolognini lives!

Friday, September 4, 2015

America Drinks And Goes Home

Dizzy Dean played guitar in a Guns & Roses tribute band and my wife Ruthie made stage wear for him, so he put us on the guest list for an all-tribute band show at the House of Blues. Ruthie plus one; I was the plus one. We were going to see three tribute bands, curious to see who would look the most and sound the most like the real thing. There was a Poison tribute band, the other was a Judas Priest tribute band, and then there was the aforementioned Guns & Roses tribute band.

We were going slowly down the Strip towards the club, the traffic sludgy being that it was Friday night. All seemed to trudge along well until we had to stop at a red light across the street from The Star Strip, a notorious strip club.

In a vain effort to entice potential patrons to drop what they were doing and go across the street, a big-assed stripper in a halter top and ass-baring shorts in sky-high heels strutted onto the crosswalk. Lucky for her she still had the green light.

She went into a little dance, no a twitch, the kind an antelope does when stuck in a bear trap. Then she began twerking, pumping her big bubble butt ass up and down faster than a Dupont paint can mixer. The light changed to green for me, red for her. Still, she twerked in our faces.

“TURN IT LOOSE, WHORE!” I yelled.
“She’s not going to get out of the street”, Ruthie groaned.
“Oh yeah?”

I slammed my size 11 on the accelerator headed straight for Little Twerk. With absolute terror in her cheap blue contact lenses she jumped out of the way from my Murder Chariot. I missed her by that much.

It was a good thing we got to get on the guest list because we didn’t have enough to get in, not enough to drink anything, and just enough to pay for parking on an expensive Sunset Strip parking lot. The House of Blues sat on the Sunset Strip, with an old Mississippi Delta wooden shack frame house and old country porch sitting atop the massive concert hall. There was nothing country about the building – most of the customers were the same old gaggle of coke sniffing Porsche riding cosmos haunting the Strip since time began.

When we entered the club Thorny Rose, the Poison tribute band, were already up and playing loud enough to make an airport jealous. I nudged Ruthie and pointed up.
"Let's go upstairs!"
"Yeah!"

We walked up the stairs to the balcony with a few chunky girls dressed to the nines falling into us running downstairs.
"JESSICA, WAIT FOR ME!"
"Excuse you!" Ruthie yelled. "Bitch".

We pushed through the crowd in the balcony only to find an Olympic sized bar with patrons waiting three deep for their drinks. I looked above me and smiled.
"Hey, check it out!" I yelled. "There's a higher level and it's pretty empty!"

There was a higher level practically kissing the rafters of the barn-roofed club and there were a few scattered night clubbers here and there. Not crowded at all, so we made a bee-line to that level.

"I wish I had a drink", Ruthie complained. "It might make this place a little more bearable".
"Yeah, I know".
I looked below me at the ground floor of the club and there was a dense crowd of fans rocking out to the placebo looks and sounds of Thorny Rose. The guitarist was short and fat, looking more like Buddy Hackett with a wig than like C.C. Deville.

"I've heard of Unskinny Bop but this is ridiculous", I yelled into Ruthie's ear. Ruthie turned to me with some chewing gum.
"As long as we can't have anything to drink let's have some gum. Maybe it'll make things better!" she said. I guess it did.

We hung from the railing enjoying the show, and it was alright. Well, alright until more people began racing up to our level with their drinks in tow. Thorny Rose played their big Cat Dragged In song or whatever the hell it was and after a failed attempt at wringing an encore, got the boot from the sound man, who burbled over the PA, "THORNY ROSE, EVERYBODY....THORNY ROSE. NEXT UP, APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION!"

A big howl from the crowd and I looked down at the lower level to see the bar now five man deep.

A blonde girl with a drink in each hand snuck in next to us with someone who didn't look like a boyfriend. Her hair stuck up from sweat and her skin looked clammy. Her glasses were fogged up like a midnight harbor.
"HEY!!! IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!" she yelled, her eyes rolling up in her head. "WASN'T POISON GREAT? THOSE GUYS CAN REALLY ROCK THE HOUSE WHHHOOOOOOOO!!!!"

We both smiled with her and at her. Her male friend grabbed at one of her drinks.
"Let me have some of your drink, Marcy!" he yelled.
"NO, RANDY! YOU BOUGHT THIS JUST FOR ME! IT'S...MY BIRTHDAY!"
"Just a sip!"
"SHIT! ALL-RIGHT!"

Randy practically tore the plastic cup out of her cold, nearly dead fingers and took a rather long, generous sip from her drink.
"HEY, ASSHOLE! THAT WAS MORE THAN JUST A SIP! GIMME THAT!"
"Oh, okay! What the hell!" Randy was getting kind of drunk clammy himself.
"DON'T BOGART MY BIRTHDAY DRINK, DUDE! GET YOUR OWN!"
"You got two drinks, girl!"
"I - SAID!" Her eyes began closing down like she was ready to go to sleep. "GET YOUR OWN COCKTAIL, RAN-DEEEE!"

Finally the lights turned down again and the crowd cheered. The Wizard of Oz voice from the PA wryly yelled, "GIVE A WARM HOUSE OF BLUES WELCOME TO....APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION!"
"WOOOOO-HOOOOOOO!" Marcy hooted loud enough to split my already broken ear drums.

Appetite For Destruction came out to low, cold blue lights as the band cranked up the highly dramatic beginning to "Welcome To The Jungle". Dizzy Dean wore a top hat, black curly wig, dark sunglasses with an unlit cigarette dangling from his lips.

They slammed into that perennial metal classic when the fake Axl Rose went into his patented Jimmy Cagney soft shoe shuffle, swaying back and forth with the mike stand. Marcy lifted up her drink in the air and one-sixth of it sloshed on us.

"WOOOO-HOOOO! AXLLLLLLL!!!! HEY, I'M SORRY GUYS! IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!" Marcy yelled.
"It's no problem", Ruthie smiled. "We have to freshen up!"
"Let's get the fuck out of here!" I yelled in her ear.

Illustration by Derek Yaniger.

We quickly went down one level, the one by the bar, but the steps to the ground level was jammed with people and took a lot longer. For one thing one guy was pushing and shoving his girlfriend on the staircase.
"DAMMIT, MISSY, WHAT'S IT GOING TO TAKE TO MAKE YOU BELIEVE I LOVE YOU????" He then shoved her so hard I thought she was going to fall on me.

Ruthie was about to step down to the ground floor until I saw something grotty and yanked her by the arm back up on the stair case. "LOOK OUT!!!!"

We both looked down at a deep puddle of bubbly orange vomit with spiky white speckles sticking up from the mush. As soon as anybody stuck their foot in that sickness they would surely slip across the floor with their pants painted in that puke.

"YUCK!" Ruthie grabbed her nose and mouth. We traversed around the vomit puddle and walked around the heavily packed ground floor.

In the dark all over the club we could see overweight men in their thirties and forties wearing their best black tees bearing the emblem of their favorite band. Aging groupie faces were marching around in fishnet stockings and short skirts, sized too small for most of them.

We found a small area by the sound board and club goers jealous of our discovery kept trying to stand in our spot. The room stank of stale beer and the floor was sticky of not so dry drinks. There was even a faint stench of wee in the club, which greatly enhanced the drama of "Paradise City".

Because of our unintentional sobriety everything appeared clearer and sounded more vivid than ever. We processed people with disabled motor skills, pissed to the gills, and it crackled with a disturbing electricity. I took a look around and saw grotesques worthy of a George Grosz caricature.

Above the noise and smell of Clubland I started thinking: When I drank, did I ever act like this? Was I really that bad? I must have been the most unbearable asshole in the world. This is so bad I just want to call up everybody on the planet and apologize for ever getting drunk and obnoxious. This is the hardest wake-up call I've ever been handed.

The topper to the show was the acapella section of "Sweet Child O' Mine" WHERE WILL WE GO? WHERE WILL WE GO-OH-OH???? AYE-AYE-AYE! when a few club-going commandos began swinging at each other and the bouncers dove in like a pair of firefighters putting out a blazing skyscraper.

"I think I've heard enough", I yelled over the loud music. "How about you?"
"Yeah, let's go", Ruthie agreed. We spat out our gum in the bin, done with the show. As we exited the club I took one last look and swore I saw a cloud of steam rising in the air around the room.

When we got outside the stars popped from the dark might blue sky with harsh punctuations of glaring street lamps every few feet. The air was comparatively fresh and clean from the night club's olfactory cocktail of stale beer, urine and vomit. We got to the car, I pulled out of the lot and looked at Ruthie.
"So that's the House of Blues. I not only heard everything, I smelled it, too".
"Yeah, we got a lot of bang for our non-buck. Well, Dizzy was great!"
"Yes, he was". I drove down Sunset Boulevard thinking about club soda on ice with a splash of lime juice. Straight, no chaser.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Menswear Apocalypse

Up until twenty years ago, when the word menswear came up the most common visual brought to mind were very well-groomed guys in suits, safari jackets and houndstooth slacks. Slacks, slacks, slacks, a real menswear word. Repeat after me: Haggar, Jantzen, Bally.

The pantheon of male fashion was Playboy, Esquire and GQ Magazines, manly graveyards of stiff, stodgy non-style. Every fabric was of a barfy earth tone, and on the opposite end of the spectrum when Miami Vice was the rage, colors were so alarmingly explosive, it was impossible to wear something with a modicum of modesty.

And then something funny happened: designers began taking notice of what rock musicians were wearing and incorporated this influence in their designs. Clothes looked more rock & roll in design and colors became freer, not Technicolor goofy as in the past, but tasteful.

With the advent of designers as diverse as Commes Des Garcons, Paul Smith and a few others, menswear became as challenging and as exciting as women’s fashions. Choices in menswear became more diverse, and consequently there is now a larger market with men making these choices, rather than enlisting their girlfriends to make them.

While female models were getting younger and thinner than ever, the whole Paul Newman/Sean Connery looking model was slowly getting weeded out in favor of a new male counterpart. Models like Andrej Pejic, Paul Boche and Cole Mohr were now getting major editorials and runway work, garnering huge followings in the process.

New exciting menswear magazines began popping up like Another Man, V Man, Essential Homme, Numero Homme, Fantastic Man and too many more to mention. These exciting new models could be seen in all of the aforementioned magazines.

As I stated in a previous blog title, “Once Rock Stars Looked Like Models, Now Models Look Like Rock Stars”, and the posted pictures bear this revelation out. Most of the models shown here (Erik Andersson, Dylan Fosket, Val Bird, Jaco Van den Hoven and Karl Byrne) could easily be in a rock band and garner a huge following.

What’s the significance of this? Well, once upon a time rock music was all about the packaging of a band, with cool hair and clothes being an important component. With that in mind, menswear designers have been employing the same strategy to sell fashion to young men, launching bombshells of hard rocking visuals as potent as the first New York Dolls album cover or a Supergrass CD.

The end result is that men of all ages and persuasions can enjoy fashion like they never have before, looking cool without having their girlfriends to run the show for them. This is truly Men’s Liberation at its finest, and everybody wins.

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

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the late, great Craig Lee, my former comrade in punk rock noise. One of my earliest memories was when he and Alice Bag approached me about joining The Bags on saxophone. I was flattered, but I didn’t really think there was a place for me in their band; it seemed pretty complete to me. I went to see them perform at The Whiskey A Go-Go just to see if I could mentally place myself in their songs.

Craig played good punk guitar and he did this odd Harpo Marx routine as he played, making these cross eyed wild Harpo Marx expressions. It wasn’t that weird if you think about it, because around that time Ron Mael was doing a Charlie Chaplin thing in Sparks and Rick Nielsen was exhuming Huntz Hall in Cheap Trick, so Craig was probably getting into the whole slapstick rock look.

At any rate The Bags were tearing it up, but I just couldn’t hear my squalling saxophone fighting itself through their sonic skronk. As a side note, my horn playing is very loud in general and many singers have a major chore singing over my sax playing, so it would have been a constant battle, anyway. Unfortunately they took my rejection personally, which wasn’t the intention, but I ended up playing with old Craig a few years later.

In 1980 I played in a band he put together called The Boneheads which also sported a gaggle of scenesters including Robert Lopez of The Zeros (aka El Vez) and Elissa Bello of The Go-Gos. It wasn’t a band that took itself too seriously, which I really enjoyed. We sounded like a cross between The Contortions and The B-52’s, very Alphabet City + downtown New York. Craig wrote most of the material, sang a lot and I thought he did a great job.

I ran off a little while later to play with someone else, but I saw Craig again nine years later at a show. It would be the last time I would ever see him, and he was unnaturally friendly - he had a tendency to be abrasive with me in the past. I didn’t know that he had medical problems, so I had no idea he was so close to leaving us.

He said the funniest thing to me. “Andy, you know, you really ought to be a writer. That’s your true calling. That’s what you really should be doing. I bet you’d be so good at it”.
Looking back, not only do I now agree with him, but there’s a touch of clairvoyance in that remark that only the dying can see. I’ve never forgotten that advice and I have even more difficulty forgetting Craig after giving me that message. That’s a send-off message I will take to the grave with me.

Friday, August 21, 2015

WRANGLERS' CANYON/CRASH WALKER Double Novel Out Now!

Meet Crash Walker: a man too obtuse for trouble, too lazy to kill anyone, and in addition incredibly boorish, self-centered and incredibly good looking enough to earn contempt from everyone he meets, especially from other men. He is the star of my double novel set WRANGLERS' CANYON/CRASH WALKER.

The western novel format is an extremely limited one. Most stories from that era are rigidly defined; they have to be, of course, since they are confined to a specific point in time. The standard western tale has been told countless times via literature, television, radio shows and motion pictures for over a hundred years. The biggest challenge for me was to write something fresh within that classic genre.

I made a concerted effort to avoid the current nouveau Western clich├ęs by drawing on a pair of disparate influences: With Wranglers' Canyon I went for a more surreal approach, so I used Alejandro Jodorowsky's classic film "El Topo" as a major influence, but more importantly I drew from the erotic horror films of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco.

As for our hero, Crash Walker, although he populates both novels, no two stories could be more different; in Wranglers' Canyon our hero is a floater, drifting between jobs as a cattle driver, ranch hand, rodeo rider, singing star, convicted criminal, ultimately promoting to Sheriff of Jonestown. He accepts the role forced on him.

In the second novel Crash Walker,which takes place 100 years later, he's a western television star in Hollywood during the post-JFK era. This time he’s the target of an ominous conspiracy to exploit him as a puppet politician propped up to serve a small Californian committee of powerful businessmen. In the second novel, unlike the first, he doesn’t accept the role forced on him.

He’s also charged with the murder of a right wing television star, making him simultaneously famous and notorious, but not quite the way he wants it. Through it all he films toy commercials, performs publicity stunts, makes public appearances, visits his mentally insane missile designer father, and dodges an even more mentally unstable ex-girlfriend.

Walker is even more of a fantasy figure in the second novel than in the first one, i.e. his name isn’t even real, it’s a showbiz name created by a casting agent. While the first novel challenges the bridge between fantasy and reality, the second one has its feet firmly planted in reality with our star earning his keep with fantasy.

TV westerns were a major pop culture force during the Sixties, putting our hero squarely in the center of the action in Hollywood, placing him at Sunset Boulevard parties, teen festivals by the beach and Hollywood movie premieres. If it happened in the Sixties then Crash Walker was most likely there.

The book you’re reading is presented in the double novel format so popular during the paperback publishing boom of the Forties and Fifties. Both novels have been joined together in one volume because in addition to starring Crash Walker they also have parallels in characterization and plot development. This was a surprising coincidence, given that both novels were written four years apart of each other.

In both novels Crash Walker responds to a whirlpool of turbulent change forced upon him by men of control, greed and societal pressure. These are tales about troubled times and the man who meets them head on.

Wranglers' Canyon/Crash Walker, Andy Seven’s double novel is available for $3.99 at all popular eBook retailers, including:
Amazon Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Wranglers-Canyon-Crash-Walker-Seven-ebook/dp/B0149J3P8Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1440213205&sr=1-1&keywords=9781483557540
iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/wranglers-canyon-crash-walker/id1032555968?mt=11
Nook (Barnes & Noble):
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wranglers-canyon-crash-walker-andy-seven/1122574654?ean=9781483557540
Oyster:
https://www.oysterbooks.com/book/APoGRc2kxCC2tR8NZvJNtm/wranglers-canyoncrash-walker

Each website provides a short sample - about four chapters worth - of the novel for previewing before purchase so you can see what deviltry is brewing in this shiny beast.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Now Playing ABSOLUTELY FREE on You Tube - Tortured Women Edition

During the 1970's a whole slew of films documenting the unhappiness of American women proliferated, whether it was John Cassavettes' "Woman Under The Influence" or Alan Rudolph's "Remember My Name". One thing was certain, in the Seventies women were unhappier than ever and the cinema was there to document it so well.

Some of these films have finally made it in their fullest form on You Tube. One of them, That Cold Day In The Park is available on DVD, but the other two are not. Fortunately they are now available on You Tube for your viewing pleasure. They all come highly recommended.

That Cold Day In The Park (1969) - Directed by Robert Altman, this film stars Sandy Dennis as a young spinster who socializes with couples much older than her. Just when you think she's going to drown in her cobwebs she looked out her window and sees a meek-looking teenage boy sitting alone on a park bench, staying in the same spot even in the pouring rain.

She runs out to get him and gives him shelter in her apartment. He's a mute and doesn't speak, virtually behaving like a small infant (shades of The Baby!) with her bathing him and all the rest. Of course, things are never what they seem and we find out that there's more to this teen than meets the eye. Dennis progressively behaves more carnally towards this puppy boy until things take a deadly turn.

Filmed during the hoary hippie era, That Cold Day in The Park has a trashy groovy vibe about it that's dated as hell but still has that kitschy TV rock star veneer about it. Luana Anders has a great part as a Patti Smith-type hooker that raises the energy level of this mostly downbeat film.

By the way, as a side note did you know that Sandy Dennis was girlfriend to cool jazz bop genius Gerry Mulligan? What an angular silhouette they must have cut.

Looking For Mr. Goodbar (1977) - Although the only full movie version is in German you can still follow along and figure out what the hell is going on. Based on Judith Rossner's best seller, Goodbar is the disturbing story of good Irish Catholic daughter Theresa, a teacher for deaf mute children (Madonna) who prowls the discofied bars of naughty New York at night (Whore). There's some serious sexual Jekyll and Hyde hijinks afoot in this story.

By day Theresa juggles her teaching with trying to get a decent hearing aid for a sweet ghetto child, trying to gain the confidence of her protective brother (a great LeVar Burton) and arguing with social worker William Atherton (best known in Day of the Locust).

By night Theresa falls for no-good hustler Richard Gere, sleazier here than he was in Breathless, if that's possible. Before she meets Gere we see her hooking up with guys and actually charging money for her services. What a tramp! The scary part is that she's supposed to be the stable daughter in her family. Guess who plays the unstable one? You guessed it, Tuesday Weld.

I won't give the ending away, but I will say that things don't go well, and why should they, when a brazen hussy flings her quiff like a party favor? Oh well, at least the poor kid gets her hearing aid. Someone gets a happy ending.

Looking For Mr. Goodbar has never had a proper DVD release in the United States because of clearance problems regarding the heavy disco soundtrack. Basically what this means is that the DVD company would have to pay a small fortune to the songwriters and publishers for permission to use their songs in the picture. This also explains why films with rock heavy soundtracks have either taken forever to be released or not been released at all.

As a side note, director Richard Brooks co-wrote the screen play for The Killers with John Huston but never received credit for it. I hope he got paid, anyway.

Play It As It Lays (1973) - I reviewed this before a few years ago on my blog (The American Nightmare of Frank Perry). In fact, I was the one who posted this little gem on You Tube, so don't forget to subscribe.

Play It As It Lays is the story of Maria, former model and star of a 10th rate flop biker film. The unhappy wife of a wild, temperamental film director, we see Maria get an abortion, mope about the beaches of Malibu, visit her autistic son and drive endlessly down the freeway in her convertible shooting off her gun. Does any of this really lead up to anything?

Tuesday Weld is perfectly cast as the disillusioned California blonde swilling booze and popping pills with gay producer friend Anthony Perkins, reuniting them professionally for the first time since Pretty Poison. It's great seeing Perkins play a sane human being for a change. This time Tuesday's the psycho in an empty headed blonde way.

That's it. This is only a small sampling of films demonstrating women at their most tormented. What makes the these films so deft is their reluctance to simplify their subject in a Phil Donahue women-are-victims sort of way. Make no mistake, these dames are screwed up badly and are living wrecks, but that's what makes these movies so enjoyable. You want to see them wreak havoc on their lives and everyone else's, and there's no Joan Crawford quick fix happy ending going on here, either. I didn't even mention Diary Of A Mad Housewife, also directed by Frank Perry, also available on You Tube and a must see on your YT list. But anyway, watch and feel the pain, the sadness and madness of what it means to be a woman.