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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Legend of Arthur J. and The Gold Cups

Describing a punk band from the deep, dark past has always been hard work but when there's precious little documentation on the band then it's well near impossible. I played in a first wave Hollywood punk band (1977-1978) called Arthur J. and The Gold Cups and although we played with every huge band of the era (Avengers, X, Germs, etc.) we never recorded, so there's almost nothing to go by, but that's never stopped me before.

Arthur J. and The Gold Cups was named after two Hollywood coffee shops that catered to gays; Arthur J.'s was on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland - it's now a strip mall. The Gold Cup was on the corner of Hollywood and Las Palmas and it's now a trendy tourist trap tattoo parlor. Both establishments provided late night hustlers and Quaaludes.

One block away from the The Gold Cup was a tiny alley off Cherokee Avenue with a huge steel doorway that took you down to a basement that held several rehearsal rooms; a long, cavernous room with a stage; and tons more space for anyone to do whatever they liked. This was The Masque, leased and operated by Brendan Mullen, founder and drummer of Arthur J. and The Gold Cups.

In Charles Martin Sharp's brilliant book on the Los Angeles avant garde music scene, "Improvisation, Identity and Tradition: Experimental Music Communities in Los Angeles", he described The Gold Cups as "attracting and bringing together people who were already interested in experimental aesthetics by merely advertising for members at The Masque".

In Mullen's book "We Got The Neutron Bomb" I am quoted as saying, "When I saw the bulletin at The Masque for Arthur J. and The Gold Cups, everything that was listed in that ad was right up my alley. I said 'this is the band of my dreams' cause it mentioned Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, James Brown, The Soft Machine, T. Rex, The NY Dolls, and The Sex Pistols all in the same band. I couldn't believe it. This in some bombed-out punk basement? A pretty sick concept. Then I found out it was Brendan and Spazz (Attack, Gold Cups vocalist) and Geza (X, Gold Cups guitarist) and a bunch of other people who worked at The Masque who jammed there all the time for fun, so I rushed home to get my horn".

When The Gold Cups first performed it was on a Sunday night at The Masque. I passed on playing the first show because rehearsals were a shambling mess with no direction all, and I lived to regret not playing that night because the band was simply amazing. On stage there were three Deadbeats (Geza, Pat & Scott), The Moreland Brothers from The Skulls, Hal & Kelly (Weirdos roadies), and Brendan on drums.

Center stage on vocals was Spazz Attack, so named for simulating a full blown twitching and drooling seizure and performing eye-popping back flips - he always landed on his feet, brilliant. In addition to being a brilliant acrobat Spazz also designed his own punk-bondage fashions. He had a crazy habit of dyeing his hair - two, sometimes even thrice a week. Ouch! He's notorious for his strait jacket seizure in Devo's classic "Satisfaction" video. It's right after Booji Boy sticks a knife into a toaster.

The band sounded like they were combining The Standells with John Coltrane's "Ascension", furthering the punk big band sound with a dense wall of sound: two guitars, two keyboards, a horn section and drums that played whatever the fuck it wanted to. The band always returned to Earth by drifting into The Soft Machine's "We Did It Again", which sounded more like "You Really Got Me" than the hoary psych classic, but that's the point. Musical anarchy made reality, and not just sloganeering about anarchy from the musically structured punk bands.

Although they only played for half an hour it was the greatest drag noise band of all time, Brendan, Geza and Scott wearing makeup and dresses serving up some Albert Ayler realness. I couldn't kick myself hard enough for boguing out on this awesome punk display!

I finally pulled the stick out of my ass and returned to the band a week later and toughed out the rehearsals - try getting nine mentally disturbed musicians to show up to rehearsal at the same time. Mission impossible! We ended up learning a few ridiculous covers, like The Beach Boys' awful "Long Tall Texan", the Cal Worthington used car ads commercial jingle, The Challengers' surf classic "Out of Limits" and we also did "Miserlou" (aka the Pulp Fiction theme song). "We Did It Again" always got played every six minutes.

I wore a mask on stage every time in honor of the now departed Marc Moreland, who wore a mask that fateful night on stage, to maintain the tradition of masked musicians. This not only got me attention when we played but I even scored a pic in Slash Magazine when our show got reviewed. Unfortunately nobody knew it was me on stage. I was always in disguise!

Reviews for the band were always hateful - the LA Times said our "joke wore thin" and even Slash Magazine said we were "annoying". I've met both reviewers in person since those reviews and I assure you these are the two most pompous, humorless people I've ever met, so the reviews weren't terribly shocking.

Since Brendan promoted the band he'd package three-day weekend shows at The Whisky A Go Go with us playing every night and a revolving door of punk bands supporting us. We played with The Avengers, X, The Alleycats, The Dils, Negative Trend, Black Randy & The Metro Squad, The Plugz and The Germs.

The band had one particular fan at the time: running down to LA after his band's legendary show at Winterland in 1978, Malcolm Maclaren saw the band perform at The Whisky and enjoying our penchant for shambling punk covers, he returned to England to produce "The Great Rock 'N Roll Swindle" featuring, you name it, shambling punk covers of songs like "My Way" and "You Need Hands". Oh well, it was cool seeing him laugh his ass off at our show.

With the band's advancing notoriety new members joined: Paul Roessler (Screamers, Nina Hagen) on keyboards, Hector Penalosa of The Zeros on bass, Steve Berlin of The Blasters on sax, Jeff Jourard of The Motels (!) on guitar, KIra Roessler of Black Flag on bass. It was a busy rehearsal studio.

The usual humbug broke the band up: a side project called Hal Negro & The Satintones featuring half the band doing awful lounge music covers, combined with a more polished and ordinary set of covers (Love Potion Number Nine, Let's Get Together from the movie The Trouble With Angels). The drag and the noise disappeared, no fun. Plus some of the members took the band way too seriously.

Geza left to pursue his own band Geza X & The Mommy Men and became one of the foremost producers in the industry, Spazz joined Toni Basil's dance troupe, Pat Delaney became a college professor and Brendan wrote several successful rock biographies. Everyone left and did better, anyway, even me.

Slash Magazine ultimately delivered the best eulogy for The Gold Cups. It went something like this: "One of the most lunatic outfits to hit the scene, but unfortunately one of the flakiest. Made up of various outcasts from other bands, The Gold Cups also featured some inspired fringe cult figures. In limbo at the present, but if everyone involved (all 250 of them) ever learns to show up at rehearsals at the same time their long promised comeback may add a welcome touch of madness to concert nights. Probably forever unrecordable".

To read more about Spazz, Geza and Brendan pick up "We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk" by Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen, available on Three Rivers Press.

"Improvisation, Identity and Tradition: Experimental Music Communities in Los Angeles" by Charles Martin Sharp can be read via Google Books.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Them Changes

Here we are at the end of 2013, which marks the end of the my seventh year writing “Out Demons Out”, and while it’s been nothing but fun it’s also been a lot of work. In light of that, I have decided to make the following changes effective next year, 2014 to my blog:

1. Serialized novels will no longer be available on Out Demons Out. This month I will post the last two chapters of Every Bitch For Himself online and then the rest of it will be available when the book is published in October of next year. The decision is based as a preventative measure against online plagiarism.

2. Out Demons Out will go bi-weekly. After seven years the task of coming up with fresh new content every week has been exhausting. Writing a new blog every two weeks will allow me more time to do a better job at writing. Besides, a week off will allow me time to finish my current novel.

What else is new? I've been listening to Junior Wells as well as his great guitarist, Earl Hooker (see above). Some people call them blues legends but it sounds pretty rock & roll to me. Call it what you will, there's some great stuff by them you ought to check out.

Before I go I just wanted to post a video of Kid Koala performing a live version of “Drunk Trumpet”. What makes this video so significant is that Drunk Trumpet is a track with some pretty involved scratching, braking and other finger-spinning turntable tricks, so it’s to Kid Koala’s credit that he flawlessly replicates the track perfectly in a live concert environment. If you liked this also check out his version of "Moon River" on You Tube. Check this out and enjoy!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A Hanukkah Story

Since Hanukkah is falling abnormally early this year, on Thanksgiving even! I've decided to write a small tale for the holiday. Here it is:

It was December 1968 and I was a mere stripling of 12 years. It was a cold winter by Los Angeles standards and the holidays were approaching, Christmas and Hanukkah. Usually around Hanukkah we would visit a childless elderly couple, The Pollaks.

Although they were the happiest and warmest elderly people I have ever known, the Pollaks met under less than romantic circumstances. Henry Pollak was a concentration camp survivor who saw his wife and four daughters killed by the Nazis. Agnes Pollak also suffered through seeing her husband and children murdered in the camps. Survivors both, they shared their experiences and mourned together and eventually married. When my father came by to visit he would reflect his experiences with them. Most of his family was wiped out as well.

One night when we visited the Pollaks, they left the living room and my brother changed the channel on the TV from a wrestling show to a World War II war show ("Combat"). There was a scene when army tanks rolled into a small village and as we were watching it my father and the Pollaks came back into the room.

The normally mellow Mr. Pollak dropped his customary friendly tone and shouted at my brother, "CHANGE THE CHANNEL! CHANGE IT RIGHT NOW!"
"Put something nicer on. Take it off", my dad said.
A little freaked out by the reaction, my brother quickly turned the TV knob to the next station, taking us back to two wrestlers beating the crap out of each other and drop kicking each other in the face.
"HAHAHAHA, oh that's funny!" The Pollaks laughed hysterically.

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

A week later we had assembly in the gym at school and there was a projector in the back. Nobody knew what they were going to watch. Sometimes we saw films like the instructional CPR training movie but this time no one knew.

The school principal, Rabbi Goldstein didn't help with his obscure introduction. Walking up to the microphone stand he simply said. "You are going to see a film about your future and your parent's future and your friend's future".

With the lights turned off, the film started and we watched a black and white film of concentration camps....Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Treblinka....a voice narrated over the footage of genocide.

"During the Nazi purge of World War II, Nazi Germany exterminated millions of Jews, young and old alike..."
-An emaciated Jewish boy with a shaved head and haunting eyes stares at the camera.
"...Man, woman and child, the Nazi death camps showed no mercy to anyone, slaughtering people by the hundreds whether by bullet or by gas chamber..."
-Piles of dead, emaciated, naked Jewish bodies are pushed into a huge, bottomless ditch by a tractor.
"...The Nazis showed no mercy to the Jews of Europe, even making lamp shades made from human skin..."
-Skeletal Jews are being gently carried out of the concentration camp gates by American soldiers, liberating them.

"With the end of the Jewish nightmare comes a new paradise, the State of Israel..."
-The film is now in color and shows olive groves around a sunny desert. The sky is a clear blue.
"A Jewish state brimming with industry and promise, one can live here safe from threats of genocide..."
-Fifties era Israel shows Israelis farming and laughing, enjoying their jobs on a Kibbutz.
"Women participate in the Israeli army or they work on a Kibbutz. A Kibbutz! A cooperative farm where man, woman and child enjoy the fruits of The Holy Land..."
-Footage of dark women in fatigues with rifles drilling, date trees in a static desert surrounding them.
"This is The New Holy Land, Jerusalem of Gold!"

The film ended with a rising crescendo of music to stir the soul and the lights turned on. The principal returned to the mike.
"After you graduate Hebrew school, I want you to consider Israel as your new homeland and work on a kibbutz. It would be a life-changing experience. Talk it over with your parents tonight!"

Returning to our regular classes, I wondered why I would give up a city that housed the Whiskey A Go Go, the Santa Monica Pier and Irwindale Raceway for a farm in the desert. I didn't even like looking at short-haired girls in shorts juggling rifles.

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

My school would often employ Israelis newly arrived to the States as teachers. Many of them did not have teaching credentials at all, but as long as they could speak Hebrew they had a job. The worst teacher and class I ever had was the one called Jewish History. Jewish History consisted of a Six-Day War veteran named Mister Gur newly emigrated to the US teaching us what he did during the Six-Day War. He was a red-haired man with a handlebar moustache and thick horn-rimmed glasses. He spoke with a lisp and never bathed. Every day he wore the same white dress shirt open down his chest so you could see his chest hairs.

Class consisted of him pulling down a yellowed map of Israel in front of the blackboard and using a wooden pointer to show each little town where there was war action. He spoke very slowly and knew very little English. If you knew Hebrew you had a fighting chance of understanding him.

"Tho, we went to....Haifa and got our orderth to go the Gatha Thtrip, and blah blah blah..."
I started daydreaming.
"Hmmmm..." I thought. "If The Beatles put out a white album cover and The Rolling Stones also put out a white album cover does this mean EVERYBODY'S going to put out white album covers? That's so dull-"
"THEVRIN!!!! Are you paying attention? What did I jutht thay?"
"Um...." think fast. "You surrounded the Egyptians and they all surrendered!"
Everybody laughed. Mister Gur's face turned red.
"Go to the printhipal's offith!!!!!"

Great, now I have to tell the Zionist principal I didn't pay attention listening to a bunch of war stories.

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

Most Gentiles don't really know what Hanukkah means, but most Jews, especially American ones don't really know what Hanukkah means, either.

Hanukkah is a holiday about the empowerment of the Jews who fought back against the Greeks when they took over the Second Temple and outlawed Judaism. A family of rebels named The Maccabees fought against them and emerged victorious. Hanukkah is a holiday celebrating Jewish strength over adversity and not one of sorrow or persecution.

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

Today marks the Centennial birthday of my Uncle Alex who I wrote about in my story "Hungarian Kitchen Fight Club" (August 11, 2007). A remarkable man who began as a mechanic in my grandfather's machine shop, he survived The Holocaust and moved to the United States where he repaired motorcycles, maintaining a highly loyal clientele among countless biker clubs across the greater New England Area. When I asked him if he was offended by their swastikas, he'd just smile and say, "They don't really understand what the hell it means".

Although he worked long hours in his garage he still managed to find time to put on tefillin and pray in the morning. Happy birthday, Uncle Alex, 100 years old today.