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.
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!"
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!"
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.