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Friday, May 28, 2010

Stuff I Burned From TCM, Part 10

TCM has decided to somewhat circumvent the movie burners by issuing a series of DVDs called “The Warner Archive Collection”, which is no better than what we fans do at home. In fact, they’re not even DVDs, but DVD-R’s, just like us, and they’re bare-bones releases, i.e. no special features, no commentaries, nothing. It’s as if TCM/Warner Bros. authorized some guy at home to burn their films and then market it at high profit ($19 each). So for that reason, this will be the last edition of “Stuff I Burned From TCM”.

Roadblock (1951)
– Charles McGraw takes a break from playing a cold-blooded killer in “The Killers” to play a cop on the take in “Roadblock”. This quick-paced noir potboiler is classic RKO Studio stuff: McGraw has to keep embezzling stolen money to keep his high price-tag girlfriend happy. Even she sees him getting out of control until he has a final showdown with the LAPD in the middle of the dried-out Los Angeles River. Edmond O’Brien played a similar kind of crooked cop in “Shield For Murder”, but I think I like this one more. Script written by the awesome Steve Fisher.

The Rag Man (1925) – Jackie Coogan (aka “Uncle Fester”) rose to prominence playing the title character in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”, but acquitted himself later on in movies like this, where he plays a pesky runaway orphan who barges in on an old junk vendor’s heart and business. With the name of Timothy Michael Patrick Aloysius Kelly (…”and a few other names I’ve forgotten”), Coogan behaves like a Harvey Comics character in the flesh, performing such unforgivable stunts as convincing a rich man’s son to dump his entire vintage wine collection because the bottles are valuable. Pretty funny stuff.

West of Zanzibar (1928) – There’s a lot of brilliant Lon Chaney films neglected by DVD release, it was a toss-up between this or “He Who Gets Slapped”. This one wins out because in addition to being directed by Tod Browning, it also co-stars Lionel Barrymore. Chaney plays a magician whose wife and child are taken from him by a rival magician. He retires to a remote jungle village playing a character not unlike Marlon Brando’s in “Apocalypse Now”, complete with creepy African slaves. A young girl journeys to his jungle village where he tortures her, gets her hooked on drugs, only to find much too late she’s his long lost daughter! Sick, and has to be seen to be believed.

Paris Blues (1961) – The only reason I can see for this movie’s inability of DVD release are the music rights for Duke Ellington tracks or possibly Louis Armstrong’s estate maybe blocking this. Otherwise, this film’s chock full of excitement, Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier portraying expatriate American jazz musicians making the beat club scene with Barbie Doll tourists Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll falling for them. The bohemian night club scene is handled nicely with some gorgeous black and white cinematography. I found the faux Django Reinhardt dude with the heroin monkey on his back character fairly droll. This is one of the best jazz movies ever and a class act all the way. But hey, let’s not release this amazing burst of superfine coolness, let’s release more Jennifer Aniston chick flick crap. The decline of Western civilization continues.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yeah, I'm Lame

Yeah, I'm lame. After posting a blog every week for three years I missed a week. I'm sorry. I'm too busy reading Patricia Highsmith's lesbian classic "The Price of Salt". Brilliant shit. Now I'm reading Chester Himes' "The Real Cool Killers". Damn!

Before you decide to hate me I posted some cool pictures of Veronica Lake, a woman who could look funny and totally slammin' at the same time. All those Alan Ladd films, crap, she made him look cool, once she was off the screen he looked like a damp rag.

Later this week I'll post something great. I promise. Don't hate me, I'll even take a day off work to stay home and write something cool for you. In the meantime listen to the best album of 2009, "Invisible Girl" by King Khan and The BBQ Show. Genius. Or rent the best film of 2009, "A Serious Man" by Joel & Ethan Coen. Or just wait. I'll be back!

Friday, May 7, 2010

I Was A Juvenile Delinquent For The JDL

In 1972 I went to Rambam Torah Institute, a division of Yeshiva University. Not a big school, but infamous in teenage Jewish circles. When word got around that Rabbi Meir Kahane was scheduled to speak at our school you could have knocked us over with a feather. Rabbi Kahane was a legendary figure in the Jewish scene, one who was controversial in a world that disdained controversy. Orthodox Jews, for the most part, want to be left alone in their own little world and don’t want to rock the boat, but Rabbi Kahane couldn’t rock the boat hard enough. He was fed up with Jews being depicted as eternal victims and punching bags for every angry minority that needed an easy target for their frustration.

In the late Sixties there were too many incidents involving Jews being attacked in New York by rabid minorities deluded into thinking that Jews were meant to be shoved into ovens for the rest of their lives. Rabbi Kahane was angry as hell and fed up with this shit, forming the Jewish Defense League and fighting back every Anti-Semitic dickhead in New York. He was coming to LA’s most psychopathic yeshiva ready to recruit a West Coast chapter, and I was in on the ground floor.

Our assembly hall was a tiny chapel at the top floor of the school. When you looked out the window all you saw were clouds, birds, the sky and the sun. Nearer thy God to thee. As we filed in Rabbi Kahane was already on stage, nervously pacing up and down. Instead of seeing an old codger with a long, white beard I saw a dead ringer for Tyrone Power in “Nightmare Alley” (with a yarmulke).

“An elderly Chasidic Rabbi was attacked by three Puerto Rican thugs as he was going home from shul on Erev Shabbos (Friday night). Jewish Defense League members saw this happening and fought back with baseball bats. The police arrived at the scene and arrested these criminals who had a history of robbing and beating innocent citizens in the past. The Holocaust was a despicable chapter in Jewish history and has unfortunately given the goyishe (non-Jewish) world the mistaken impression that we’re chronic victims. Well, the JDL is here to show that Jews aren’t targets for anyone.

Just like the Maccabees we believe in fighting back. Our motto is ‘Never Again’ – never again will we allow goyim to attack our people, and in keeping with that philosophy we have neighborhood watch groups patrolling yiddishe neighborhoods like Crown Heights , Queens, just like the Guardian Angels. We’re here to expand our chapters nationwide. Volunteers are encouraged - a sheet will be passed around for signing. I look forward to each and every one of you volunteering for this great mitzvah (good deed) – the mitzvah of protecting the world’s oldest civilization from being crushed by vicious criminals. Yasha Koach (more power to you”.

Of course, I signed. A lot of kids signed but many “disappeared” from JDL activities, partially out of apathy and some because their parents hit the ceiling after hearing about their new commitment (ha,ha). The first JDL activity was at the Hillel Hebrew Academy (9120 W. Olympic Blvd.) gym for Boxing Class. Teaching skinny yeshiva scholars how to fight. As we filed in a very non-Jewish looking pug was skipping rope furiously, kinda showing off if you ask me because he kept at it for five minutes after we came in. Once he got bored being the Big Man of the Gym he paired us all off and had us put on boxing gloves.

“Okay, kid, you cover your face like this with yr. left glove, and then you hit, Hit, HIT with yr. right. That’s the way, champ! Okey doke!” he instructed in his Texas beat-down drawl. I was paired off with a kid I used to see leaving the Reiss-Davis Childrens Institute, a sort of psychiatric clinic for disturbed Jewish kids. I know cause I went there myself. We squared off and this nerdy kid with the crazed elf face started swinging wildly and punching everything in sight, my shoulder, my arm, my collar, my ribs, everything but my face.

“Punch harder, kid, harder! Aim harder!” the Dallas nutcase roared, jumping around like an epileptic referee. Since this monkfish swung with both arms and didn’t cover his face I took a clear right hook to his cheek and flattened him. The horse trader made a disgusted face because he didn’t want me to win, so he pushed me away and spat, “That’s enough with you two! Next!”

Boxing lessons didn’t last long because the kids got bored and the check from the JDL probably bounced, so it came and went. We had bigger fish to fry, anyway. Dr. Linus Pauling was going to speak at a banquet held by the Russian Consulate in Hancock Park . We, along with fifty other Jews were there to protest the inhuman treatment Russian Jews were suffering by their government. Any Soviet Jew applying for a visa to Israel was arrested and placed in an asylum for the criminally insane, and the American government, not smelling a profit, typically turned their backs. We carried placards saying “Save Soviet Jewry” and “Let My People Go”.

We demonstrated in front of the building and chanted “Shame on you, Mother Russia” and “Let the Jews Go”. Russians spat at us and screamed at us in Lithuanian (Litvak), Armenian, Ukrainian, and every other Russki dialect they could think of. Bottom line, it was Anti-Semitic. When we chanted “Never Again” the color would drain from their faces because we were Jews who wouldn’t take it lying down. We had TV exposure on the news and Rabbi Marvin Hier, later of the Simon Wiesenthal Institute, commented on the protest.

Besides raising the hackles of the Jewish community we also made enemies with the White People’s Party, headed by head Nazi Joe Tomassi. They were located on Peck Road in the city of El Monte, and they followed us around in their Nazi uniforms and their spaced out German Shepherds, too stupid to scare a six-year old. They even had a hot line you could call where Tomassi had his Hate Message of the Week, e.g. “Niggers are led by evil Jew devils to wreck schools and churches. We must stop their sleazy deviltry right now. My message next week: shipping those taco eating wetbacks back where they came from. Please leave a message when you hear the tone:” And of course we’d crank the asshole.

We managed to also get their direct line and crank them like crazy; because of our “deviltry” they had to change their phone number on a regular basis. We also kept track of every demonstration those pigs attended, at L.A. City Hall, at Olvera Street, they even tried to demonstrate at Jew Central, Fairfax High School. We ran up their asses and made life hell for them. It was a waste of time, though; if there’s anything Nazis do best its kill their own. Just like George Lincoln Rockwell was killed by a fellow Nazi, Joe Tomassi suffered a similar fate by being shot to death by a rival Nazi Party drone.

By the late Seventies/early Eighties my involvement in all things militant had waned. Shucks, punk rock was as militant as I could get back then. Besides, by that point in time, many civil rights groups like the Black Panthers, Womens Liberation, and the JDL evolved into such an extreme reactionary caricature of all the things that made them valid in the first place.

Many of the original followers of those groups moved away as quickly as possible because their original agendas had been replaced with an extremist slant. Rabbi Kahane spoke less about defending the Jewish community in America and more about racial discrimination towards black Jews in Israel. Whatever happened to the “defense” in Jewish defense???

But the most horrifying vision was in 1981 at a Passover seder where I saw some punk-ass creep bragging loudly about his work with the JDL, his voice rising to get attention. I finally turned around to take a look at an ugly kid with a yarmulke in a brown shirt, a little moustache, and his hair parted to the side almost resembling Adolf You-Know-Who. Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss. L.A. got its own JDL leader, too, the unfortunate Irv Rubin. Irv meant well when he wasn’t screaming at everyone and shoving them out of the way, which was fairly often. My last memory of him was when I was waiting for a bus on Fairfax and espied him chasing some stupid black kid down the street because he made the mistake of grabbing some kid’s yarmulke within ten feet of Rubin.

Violence begets violence, of course: Rubin ended up brutally murdered in County Jail. Kahane was assassinated in a New York hotel by one of the Palestinian rats that blew up the World Trade Center parking lot in 1993,and Kahane’s son and daughter-in-law were ambushed by Palestinian terrorists. So now you ask me, was it worth it? Was all the fighting worth it? Absolutely. Before and even after Kahane’s death there are too many Jews that refuse to fight back or even stand up to discrimination. The world gets too comfortable accepting the fate of a race that too often has been beaten down, and we need more leaders that teach us the importance of self-defense, because birds do it, bees do it, even Jews must do it. Never again.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rock & Roll Confidential, Part 4

The Troubadour (9081 Santa Monica Blvd.) = What better band to play The Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd. than Turbonegro , the Norwegian Tom of Finland tribute band playing songs like "Rock Against Ass", "I Got Erection", "Rendezvous With Anus", and the sublime "Sell Your Body".
I thought the bartenders were pretty friendly for such a big club, so I always tip them well. Unfortunately later (15 mins) I have to pee out my cocktail and find out the men's room is as small as a cat bed. Noooo!
So then you walk around the club, walk, walk, walk, and then you realize that the sound and visibility in the club varies from corner to corner, so keep rambling because there is no "sweet spot" there. Just keep rambling around.
I finally let it go in the alley, but the great thing about a Turbonegro show at a WeHo club like the Troub is location, location, location.

El Rey Theatre (5515 Wilshire Blvd.) = Standing proud in the sleepiest part of Miracle Mile where no one ever sleeps is The El Rey Theatre. The El Rey is a nice concert hall because it's smaller than the Hollywood Palladium but bigger than your average nightclub.
When I think of The El Rey two stories come to mind: seeing Morphine on their last tour before Mark Sandman passed away, his sleepy, grumpy slide bass guitar rumbling and shaking the old theatre silly and Dana Colley's baritone saxophone bitch slapping my ear drums around...and making me love it. It was bodacious, it was foxy, it was Morphinous.
The second time was when I modeled for the Retail Slut fashion show - my prop was a gigantic magnum of champagne which I spat across the room while dressed in Melrose goth sloth finery. The LA Weekly gave me a special item in their gossip column, "The Low Life", and I quote:
"The models worked that runway with attitude to spare: one swaggering male mannequin took a swig of bubbly and lobbed a big spurt that splashed our poor photog". I don't know if Janice Dickinson would approve, but she's been a bad girl lately, too.

Amoeba Music (6400 W. Sunset Blvd.) = There's a scene in every children's film where the lil' urchins are about to be banished to an evil factory to toil for the rest of their lives and it's cold and gray and unfriendly. Well, I think I've been there. It's called Amoeba Music.
Your tot will surely get the chills when you take them there, for they won't see heart-warming Oompa Loompas but guys with pockmarks, zits, dandruff and other hygienic violations sullenly elbowing you out of the way for that valuable copy of "Radiohead Live In Poland". Out of my way, I'm looking for entertainment!
The true collector (usually a guy whose high standards in girls makes him celibate until he's 43 years old) flips through the records at lightning speed as you can be impressed by this one (1) dexterous skill they possess.
After waling in with a laundry list of 10 records and maybe finding one you kinda-sorta want, you get in line, the one that winds towards the back of the store. You feel like little Olaf Nilsson at Ellis Island come to the big country to become American like Mr. Thomas Jefferson. Scheiss!
You spend the next 20 minutes staring at every tattooed arm and leg in line, and then it's your turn, i.e. the cashier's waving their arms frantically at you and looking pissed because you can't see them from 5 miles away. Ka-ching! Finally you escape the cattle call and feel like a million bucks because just like in the movies you escaped the evil factory for wayward children.

Anaheim Convention Center (800 W. Katella Ave.) = Weel, shit, I finally made it to the NAMM (aka North American Music Manufacturers) show at the beautiful Anaheim Convention Center. What did I see there? Well...
-Parking was very easy if you show up early. If you show up late don't despair, there's only 500 hotels all over the area with gigantic parking lots. Your ass is covered.
-The staff and even the security guys were very friendly and helpful. I was waiting to get "Punk'd", it was too copacetic for comfort.
-The phone signal inside the Convention Center was very low. My wife and I tried sending texts to each other across the hall and didn't get them until ten minutes after we sent them. This is pretty frustrating if you're lost in a big clusterfuck like the NAMM show.
-I was in the world's biggest Guitar Center. All I could hear was either bad metal guitar or geriatric blues-dude guitar (think "Ghost World" bar scene). Every old creep thought he was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Well, he's dead, just like Buddy Hackett.
-Ten years after quitting the music biz and sound men are still the most arrogant assholes on the planet. They all walked around with a big Peavey-sized cabinet up their ass.
-Celebrities galore graced the NAMM show: Paul Stanley, Mick Mars, my wife said, "What the fuck am I doing here? I might as well be back at work". (She makes clothes for metal bands).
-Every instrument was represented there, they even had see-through ocarinas (WTF?). Is there a more lesbian instrument than a see-through ocarina?
-I'm not a big violin lover but the electric violins were insane, some of them were shaped like jet fighters and some were cast in cubist Picasso-styled shapes. Wild!
-The best guitar maker was Johnson Guitars, showcasing axes shaped like shotguns, AK-47's, Gumby, King Tut hieroglyphics, you name it, these crackers were off the hook!
-There were multicolored saxophones, multicolored music stands, it was every bit a feast for the eyes as it was to the ears.
I finally made it to the NAMM show, and I had fun. I hope I never go back there again!

Capitol Records Tower (1750 Vine Street) = If there's a sight prettier than the Leaning Tower of Pisa it's a building shaped like a stack of records on a spindle. I always thought the Capitol Records Tower was the coolest sight in Hollywood, but what a tore-up structure.
A musician I played with worked there and said the building hasn't seen much change since it was built, and I suppose that includes asbestos issues (yikes), structural funk and other antique building problems.
I was inside twice. Once, when they had their record collector swap meets in the parking lot (a long time ago), and : twice, when I attended a recording engineer training course and we had a class in the enormous recording studio in the Capitol Records basement. They told me Nat King Cole pinched a loaf down there. I was in the presence of greatness.
Check out the gigantor wall mural of Miles Davis, Tito Puente and Billie Holiday. Ironic how Ringo Starr and Brian Wilson aren't on the mural and they brought more money to those bastards at Capitol than the artists chosen.