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Friday, May 30, 2008

Courtroom Sketches!

While America was falling in love with celebrities on trial I was falling in love with courtroom sketches of the trials on TV news reports. After seeing crudely executed sketches of the Phil Spector, Robert Blake, and Michael Jackson trials I was ready to start my own Courtroom Sketches gallery website. It was an exciting idea for five minutes and then I got bored with it, so for your entertainment here are the best, or rather, the crudest images I would have posted on that aborted website. Enjoy! And courtroom guys, KEEP SKETCHING!!! (Keep up the bad work!)

Pictured (left to right): Michael Jackson crying in court, The courtroom sketch artist proudly showing off his craft, Robert Blake crying in court.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

God's Little Darkroom

I don’t remember how I met him, maybe he approached me, maybe I approached him, Yosef was a very cool guy for an Orthodox Jew. He talked the hip lingo, didn’t cop a self-righteous attitude as many did, loved science fiction, and collected vintage Citroens. Yosef was part of some Citroen collectors club so there were four parked in his driveway, some spilling over into the front lawn. He wasn’t a diamond dealer, he was an astronomer who worked at Griffith Observatory. If all Orthodox Jews were as hip as he was, well…

“You know, Andy, Citroens are pretty far-out cars, they have the most amazing pneumatic system that protects them. Let’s go see ‘Barbarella’ tomorrow night, man. It’s playing in Sherman Oaks, I’ll drive”.
“Barbarella, huh? Does Miriam know?” Miriam was his wife.
“No”, he smiled sheepishly. “We’ll tell her we’re going to the Observatory. She hates astronomy”.

Miriam didn’t hate astronomy, she hated everything. A cold, unfriendly Catholic girl who converted to Judaism, Mary, I mean Miriam had “NUN” written all over her. With no makeup on and her shawl around her head instead of a habit, Miriam didn’t resemble a Jewish wife so much as she did an angry nun. And acted like one, too.

It wasn’t unusual, though. After hanging out at Chez Yosef on the Sabbath I got to meet a few of their friends, who were either: a) Jewish ex-hippies who got on the rehab train from acid, speed or heroin; or, b) they were converts to Judaism. So when you met a Nordic-looking kid named Moshe Johnson, you shouldn’t be surprised.

I didn’t mind them at all except when they acted like they knew Judaism better than I did.
Yosef’s wife Miriam was like that.
“That’s not the way you hold a menorah”.
“You can’t be alone in a room with a married woman. It’s in the Torah”.
No it’s not, Mother Superior. I went to Hebrew school while you were eating pork out of a can, you stupid bitch. Out of respect for Yosef I kept my mouth shut from her.

When Passover came around Yosef invited me to come to his Seder (festival banquet). He practically begged to the point of embarrassment, so I gave in.
“Besides”, I said, “It’ll probably be safer than the Chabad House (UCLA campus Jewish institution) Seder I went to last year. The frat house next door was staging a Redneck Night:”
“That sounds funny”.
“No, it wasn’t”, I said, “After the Seder some drunken frat guys were following me down the sidewalk blathering about beating up some Jews”.
“That’s terrible! Baruch Hashem (praise the Lord) you’re safe.”
“The sidewalk was poorly lit and I was by myself. I was pretty scared, and to this day I hate college fraternities”.
“Well, we’ll protect you. I give you my guarantee this will be the safest Passover you’ll ever have. The most enjoyable, too”.

It wasn’t. I met Yosef and Miriam’s friends, some looked like they were visiting and some looked like they were now living in the house. Moshe Johnson was there, and then there was some guy everybody was excited about seeing.
“Herschel’s here! Herschel, when did you get back?”
“I got out on Sunday. They wanted to release me on Shabbos, but I said no”, he said, lifting up his arm to take off his jacket. All I focused on was the tracks on his arms. Herschel was a junkie, who with his sleepy eyes looked like he was still loaded. He always wore a large overcoat and beret. Junkie.

There was Freyer, the Johnny Cool Jew with dreadlocks, resplendent in shorts, sandals and the ever-present tallith under a green t-shirt. Tallith is a prayer shawl that married men wear when they pray. Well, he wasn’t married, and you don’t wear it as a clothes accoutrement 24/7. But all the girls loved him.
“Ooooh, Freyer, when are you going to Israel?”
“Oh, Freyer, will you make the blessing? Yosef won’t mind!”
Even Yosef thought Freyer was a posey little tool but had too much class to spit it out. But he’d get a little snatchy some times.
“Ahhh, Freyer”, Yosef slyly appraised the bad Hebrew hippie outfit, “I see you’ll be working in a nice Shabbos hat with those sandals, huh?”
“Far out, Brother”, Freyer would insincerely drawl. Trash.

Yosef and Miriam had a cute little boy, Mendel, three years old, and a little girl, Chana, two years old. Chana was a show-off and being the youngest got all the attention. I liked Mendel immediately. He was always asking me questions.
“How do you know my abbah (daddy)?”
“Did you stop taking drugs, too?”
“I can count in Hebrew. Wanna hear?”

Miriam had a new friend, a fat, surly black girl (Leah) who wore the same ugly scarf around her head as her. She also disdained makeup like her mentor, and I suspected there was a little more going on, too. I had the nauseating notion that she was now living in their home. Now that Miriam had a sneer sister it was a waste of time trying to befriend her.
“It’s time to set the Passover table, Leah”, Miriam coldly commanded.
“Can I help?” I offered.
“No thank you”, Miriam said, not smiling.
“You’re not taking a mitzvah (holy deed) away from us, okay”, Leah grumbled angrily. I think this was the only thing she ever said to me. For the rest of the time I was there she just kept grumbling quietly about everybody to Miriam, and refused to speak to anyone else. It was astounding how dysfunctional all of these hippie Jews were with their new found gift of God.

The Seder went okay. No, it was irritating, I’m sorry. Freyer sang so loudly he drowned everyone out. Herschel almost passed out in his matzos, and Leah kept grumbling in Miriam’s ear. I wanted to be home and in bed reading Raymond Chandler. The only thing that kept me there was Mendel, whose huge brown eyes kept darting around the room. He couldn’t ask the Four Questions which the youngest in the house is supposed to sing. It was Chana’s job now, and she struggled through it for seven agonizing minutes. Everybody thought it was cute. Leah didn’t smile until Miriam made it okay for her to smile.

Once the Seder was over I was fixing to leave. Moshe Johnson was asking Yosef more questions about Jewish traditional laws in his hippie way.
“So this cat was rapping to the Rabbi, and-“
“Andy, where are you going?”
“I’m going home, it’s been great. Thanks for having me as a guest, I enjoyed myself, and-“
“You can’t go home now”, Yosef ran up to me. “You drank too much wine and it’s very late. Please stay, we’ll go to shul (temple) together tomorrow. Stay!”
“Yes, Andy!” Miriam yelped. “Please stay!”
What the fuck does she care whether I stay or go? I looked over at Leah and she was still cleaning off the table with an angry look plastered on her fat, black face.

It creeped me out: ten people sleeping on the floor of the living room like a hippie commune. I just wanted to shoot myself in the head.
So the lot of us prayed in the house, same area where we slept, is it starting to get claustrophobic for you? Then we walked five feet to the dining room for lunch. Same people, same little house. By one p.m. I was getting a little freaked out by the commune environment, so I escaped to the back yard.

I watched Mendel digging up worms excitedly. Leah walked over and freaked out.
“Mendel, no digging on Passover, it’s a Yom Tov (holiday)”. She sneered at me.
“Oh, okay”, Mendel sighed. Leah trotted away. He looked up at me.
“Listen, Mendel”, I said to him, “the reason you can’t dig around here is because there’s buried treasure in the back yard.”
Mendel’s eyes lit up. “There is?”
“Yeah! There’s gold, diamonds, sparkling jewelry of every color you can imagine. You can’t dig it up because then burglars will find out”, I gave him my best Treasure Island rap.
“Wow!” He ran away all excited. I stretched my legs out on the back yard lawn staring up at the trees. In two minutes Miriam’s face replaced the trees.

“What kind of garbage are you telling MY SON? Who do you think you are filling his head with your vile lies? “ She screamed at me, the cords in her neck bulging like cables. “I want you to stay away from my boy!”
That does it. I try to have a little fun with some kid and I get my ass handed to me by a lesbian pseudo-nun with pretensions of being a Jew. Fuck her.
“Okay”, I said half-heartedly, “I’m sorry-“
“Sorry won’t cut it! You’re filling Mendel with impure thoughts! Such rubbish! You know what I think? I think you must be some evil spirit sent to test us from Satan!”
Okay, that did it, my Judaism questioned by some trendy Cross banger. I turned. “Gee, I’m sorry. Maybe I should be a junkie with a yarmulke and dreadlocks, and-“
“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE! NOW!!!” she screamed.
“Yeah, fuck you, too”, I grumbled, imitating Leah. Yosef was nowhere to be found, probably in the bathroom jerking off thinking about Barbarella or something like that. I was finally booted out of the commune. And that’s all it took.

Months later I ran into Yosef, once, twice, etc. He was always trying to invite me over to another religious function at his creepy house. After the third invitation whenever I saw him I would duck out of sight from him. I liked him, actually, he wasn’t a bad guy. After all, it’s not like he put the fear of God in me. No, he put the fear of religion in me.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Jesus And Mary Chain Will Drive You Insane!

Just like thousands of music fans I couldn’t play “Psychocandy” by the Jesus and Mary Chain often enough. The way pop melodies would be offset by continuously howling feedback guitars and a bottomless pit of reverb on the vocals was an irresistible exotic music nightmare. They were compared to the Velvet Underground quite a bit but they never seemed clumsy like the Velvets did.

I caught them at The Roxy Theatre shortly after, and it was quite possibly the worst show I’ve ever been to. Following a painfully awful set from Frightwig (who opened with “Delta Dawn”, so much for alternative music), the boys finally got up and dosed us with their psycho candy. And it tasted like dog shit.

The guitar had the tinniest tone with more reverb on it than I’ve ever heard on a guitar, so it sounded thinner than tin. The bass was inaudible, so all we were left listening to was bad ghosty guitar and the stand-up drumming from Bobby Gillespie (who shortly quit the band to sing for Primal Scream).

Lousy sonics aside, the band was so loaded they played “In My Hole” a second time…two songs later. By the time they played it a third time, two songs later, they were getting booed big time by a sold-out crowd. Their set only lasted thirty minutes, shorter than their album. It reminded me of the Woody Allen joke where he said, “Oh! The chicken they serve is so awful…and in such small portions.”

So after getting burned by these junkie dicks I wrote JAMC off as the greatest joke in music. For awhile they were, too, putting out pedestrian junk like “Sidewalking” (Ouch, sorry for the pun) and those boring duets with the girl from Mazzy Star who seemed to have been beaten with the untalented stick.

It all turned around when I was on tour in South Carolina, setting up my gear and the PA was playing intermission music when on comes “Blues From A Gun”, explosive drums kicking the room around and the most lethal guitar (no longer reverb diarrhea), and I thought, “Nothing I play tonight will sound as powerful as this. Shit!” As soon as I heard the whispery cool kat vocals I knew it was the fucking Jesus and Mary Chain, rising from the dead like it’s Easter. You couldn’t write them off, the bastards.

Other manic recordings soon followed, like the amazing “I Hate Rock ‘N Roll”, with the lines, “I love the BBC, I love the way they’re shittin’ on me, I love MTV, I love the way they’re pissin’ on me”. And of course the vocals are all lovely melody with more growling guitar than the last sonic skull fuck they recorded. The coda at the end is the greatest of all time, with the prettiest melody sung, “Rock and roll hates me, I hate me, I hate me, I hate rock ‘n roll hates me”. Genius.

Their final hour was the sequel titled (of course) “I Love Rock ‘N Roll”, with it’s reptilian slide guitars and All-American horn section, sounding so crassly commercial and yet so powerful like the best rock music. Needless to say the song infuriated their purist fans to the point of dementia.

A true sampling of their ability to split music fans straight down the middle can be found on the message board of any YouTube video that shows their videos. Here are a few comments:

“The COOLEST band ever!”

“They’re boring and pathetic now. Psychocandy 1985 was the only good thing they ever did”.

“I loved this band for 23 years and I am not giving up on them. They are hot!”

“Oasis and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are MUCH better than the JAMC”.

“Still wild after all these years!”

To offend your fans 25 years after your first album is a major accomplishment. It’s also a true testimony to their ability to be the most controversial band of all time. For that reason The Jesus and Mary Chain have outpaced their peers like The Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus and The Birthday Party in terms of sheer outrage. The zombie keeps rockin’ and bullets to the brain cannot stop them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Moms, Mommy, Mother

My mother’s birthday was two weeks ago, I was going to write something about her but I ran dry and wrote something else instead. I don’t even remember what it was, maybe some essay on chimps and why little boys like to laugh at them. Something like that. Well, Mother’s Day is here so I’m going to give it another go.

My mother (Elizabeth) was a very striking brunette, tall, thin and very pretty, kind of a Sophia Loren look; my father (Ernest) was good looking, too, he reminded me of Desi Arnaz. Watching TV was fun because my parents looked like the characters on TV shows, only better looking.
My mother had very arched eyebrows and always looked at me with a look of amusement, as if her face said, “Okay, what’s this kid going to do now?” A lot of parents like to brag about how bright their kids are - my mother would just sit there and trip out on how nutty her new born son was. I made her smile and laugh a lot.

She had a great laugh and a great smile. I liked the way she listened to rock ‘n roll, not like most parents my classmates had, who wouldn’t allow them to listen to rock or read comic books. One of them didn’t even allow my friend to watch television! My parents were cool; they were pretty open-minded. Except for old people.
My mom HATED old people. It was funny to watch. Once an old lady got on the bus she moved towards the back, harrumphing and staring at me sitting in my seat. My mother held my hand tightly and muttered through gritted teeth, “Don’t you dare get up and give her your seat”. In Hungarian, of course, so the graybones couldn’t hear.

And when we moved to Hollywood from New England my mom carted us around all the Hebrew schools in the area, looking for a good one. I remember this school we visited that had the playground on the rooftop with a low fence. Upon seeing this mother’s pointy eyebrow shot up with withering disdain. I didn’t miss that for a second. Five minutes later in the principal’s office a boy raced in harried, screaming, “Rabbi, Rabbi, the toilet’s flooding in the Boy’s Room”. The pointy eyebrow raised disdainfully again. Once again, my mother hmmphed and growled, “We are NOT going to THIS SCHOOL. Come, children!”

But she wasn’t always a bitch. She babysitted kids on the side that would have tested the patience of a saint. She was always nice to them, no matter how irritating these tots were. Of course, once they left the house she would do hysterical imitations of them whining and pissing all over themselves.

My parents were the most exciting couple to me: My father would come home with blueprints of missiles and rockets he designed at Aerospace during the Kennedy/Johnson-era Space Program. My mother had sewing machines, tailor’s forms and tons of material, pattern paper and designing gear to work with. I knew more about seam rippers, bobbins, and pattern wheels than I did about baseball or dirt bikes. I developed a fetish for machinery and design at an early age.

I remember going to textile stores with her and she’d say, “Okay, Andy, if you see a shirt pattern you like, pick it out”. I’d go through all the pattern books and find a cool Nehru shirt design (psych era, don’t laugh!). Then we’d walk around and look at the different material and I’d pick the most psychedelic, colorful print, and say, “That’s it, Mommy”.
We’d go home and she’d sew the cool shirt for me, and my brothers would razz me about it. They were jealous.

We’d also go for long walks in Beverly Hills and go for miles up Olympic Boulevard until we reached the deepest excavation site with dozens of bulldozers roaring around. There was a big sign in front: “Coming soon – Century City, a new experience in city living and entertainment”. Hah!

The walks around Beverly Hills went from sunny to dark when my mother contracted cancer and I’d walk with her to the Doctor’s office on Wilshire and Roxbury. I’d sit in the waiting room with my comics until she came out from her treatments. She smoked quite a bit, so much so she sewed a cigarette case cover for her Kents.

I was thirteen when she died, it was in the peak of the summer. I remember her funeral was sunny and hot – the sun was blinding and everyone was dressed in black. The contrasts were very extreme. I was in shock and felt as if the floor was pulled out from under me. The shock was so intense I couldn’t even cry.

To this day I still visit the same grave, almost forty years later. I’m sure if she could see me now I still make her smile and laugh a lot.