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.