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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Jack Bruce Forever

I had an epiphany when I listened to “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream last night. Ginger Baker’s drumming was amazing, his brilliantly tuned drums accentuating the bizarre staccato melody and Eric Clapton’s lyrical blues guitar with its perfect setting of sustain making the song sound beautiful. But none of it would have amounted to anything without Jack Bruce’s eccentric blues melody and understated yet perfectly rhythmic vocals.

To call Jack Bruce the pulse, the spine and the real heart and soul of Cream would be an understatement. The band simply never would have existed without him. Many bands before Cream played the blues in a reverential manner. What made Cream stand out from the pack was the way Bruce never oversang the blues like too many have before and after him, and his blues melodies were perfect in their respect for tradition while still adding something new and intriguing with each listen.

Bruce was a tireless collaborator who shined no matter who he worked with, a partial list would make any music lover drool: Leslie West, Manfred Mann, John McLaughlin, Public Image Ltd., Carla Bley, John Mayall, Lou Reed (“Berlin”!), Chris Spedding, Graham Bond, and Frank Zappa, to name a few.

Most of Jack Bruce’s lyrics were written by poet Pete Brown and they worked brilliantly with Bruce’s dramatic songs, White Room being a good example. Brown’s lyrics were wild enough to keep up with Cream’s unbridled acid blues, my favorites being like SWLABR, Tales of Brave Ulysses, World of Pain, Deserted Cities of the Heart, and Passing the Time. The genius of his music was the way he balanced traditional blues with surprisingly sensitive flourishes, some viola playing here or some cello added to add a fuller dimension to Cream's sound.

Even after Cream’s demise Bruce still managed to keep the jazz/blues sound exploding on his first solo album, “Songs for a Tailor”. Tracks like Ministry of Bag, Rope Ladder To The Moon and Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune employed horns and keyboards, significantly expanding his musical palette after performing in a trio format for the past several years.

Occasionally he was driven to playing in Cream-style bands in the years to come because the fans demanded it: there was West, Bruce & Laing (aka Mountain pt. 2) and BLT and probably a few more I left out, so he was never remiss in keeping his fans happy. A true showman til the end.

I wish anyone seriously making a go of being a blues singer would study Jack Bruce because he embodies the best of blues in that he never hollered and always managed to sound Scottish even when tackling classics like Born Under A Bad Sign. Bruce never failed to steal the show, as witnessed by his grungy fuzz bass playing on Frank Zappa's raging instrumental "Apostrophe". And nothing was more shocking than hearing him sing lead on the chorus to Public Image Ltd’s song “Ease”. Jack Bruce was a timeless talent whose influence will be felt for a long, long time.

Also RIP to Clive Palmer of The Incredible String Band, Alvin Stardust, Rosetta Hightower, and the incredibly awesome Ian McLagan of The Small Faces and The Rod Stewart-fronted Faces. Music's getting better in heaven that it is down here!

Friday, December 5, 2014

I Thought It I Said It I Did It So There

As a general rule I don't make a habit of attending punk rock reunion shows. So many of them have the air of a high school reunion, people checking out each other to see who's still carrying off their punk rock moxie and who isn't; Who's held up through the years and who hasn't, and even worse, people who were never friends in the past blowing kisses to each other like phonies. But all those anti-reunion sentiments were blown out of the water when I heard about the Dangerhouse Records Show at The Echoplex on November 9, 2014.

The lineup, which featured The Alleycats, Rhino 39, The Deadbeats, The Avengers and The Weirdos, couldn't be beat. The show was amazing on several levels. Not only were all the performances top-notch but the bands stuck pretty close to the script: each set was a brilliant approximation of what it was like seeing any of those bands at the peak of their musical power in 1978. Every set was a perfect replication of what each band sounded and looked like back in the day.

The Alleycats played a locomotively charged set that was high on energy and low on frills, just like the old days. Randy Stodola was reliable as usual, although I thought his guitar could have used better grounding and a reunion with his signature Big Muff from the past. A lot of people were asking about former bassist Diane Chai, but like all punk legends she's just a ghost in the ethereal ozone.

Rhino 39 were pretty clever by doing a batch of Dangerhouse covers, like The Randoms' classic "Let's Get Rid Of New York" and Black Randy & The Metro Squad's "I Slept In An Arcade", so even if you weren't a fan of the band they still had your attention with their cool choice of covers.

The Deadbeats mixed their weird theater with atonal jazzisms and it was great to hear "Muggsy" and "I Just Shot A Girl Called Maria" again after all these years. Scott Guerin's voice is still pretty dynamic and it was great to see Geza X playing his awesomely warped guitar. I wish I caught their previous reunion show with my pal Pat Delaney on sax but there's always You Tube to catch some of that wildness.

The Avengers came on and played everything I remembered from the shows we used to play with them at The Whiskey in 1978. It was so close to the old days I was stricken with an overwhelming case of melancholy, and I don't even drink anymore. One great song followed another: covers of Paint It Black, Money, and the classics: Car Crash, The American In Me and White Nigger. The only blemish was Greg's overly chorus-laden guitar, a little too BritGoth for my taste, but there was no question that Penelope Houston is the queen of West Coast Punk and one of the first (I did a show with her at Mabuhay Gardens in the summer of 1977).

The nostalgia flashback got to be too much and we decided to leave The Echoplex - no Weirdos tonight but I'm sure they were great. Watching Dix Denney walk around the club in septuagenarian Keith Richards drag was disturbing enough! The show was sold out even at a ticket price of $22 - I remember when these shows were a quarter of that price, but nevertheless it was a priceless night watching old friends play and simply enjoying the fact that you can't go home again but every once in a while it doesn't hurt to pretend.

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If there's anything I like it's a band that doesn't take themselves too seriously and Status Quo are all that. I discovered a terrific collection by them of their songs played "unplugged" (they call aQUOstic) including their cover of The Everly Brothers' "Price of Love" as well as their classic "Paper Plane", sounding surprisingly less like the metal heads they once were and more like Nick Lowe's Rockpile. There's some great stuff going on here!

By no stretch of the imagination am I a big Everly Brothers fan but I'm loving this strange album they recorded around 1967 time called "The Everly Brothers Sing". Their arrangements take a more psych-pop approach to the great Everly's vocals, and there are several cool drug songs on here, too, like Talking To The Flowers, Mary Jane (MURRRRAAAY JANE!!!!!) and A Voice Within, which was the B-side to the equally great Love Of The Common People. Also check out their awesome cover of the Buffalo Springfield classic "Mr. Soul", which features slide guitar and mandolin from Ry Cooder, the premier session demon at Warner Bros. during the psych era. You can find Mr. Soul on You Tube - you won't believe your ears.

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Rebecca recently played at the Steve Allen Theater in Los Feliz on November 5, 2014 with her pop-up band Cat Sabbath. In addition to Rebecca from Frightwig, Cat Sabbath included the great Sara Landeau from Julie Ruin,

Marissa DeMeglio from Wolf Prize and a mystery singer. Rebecca's growling and crackling guitar was as menacing sounding as ever! It was quite a spectacle: four witches dressed like cats playing Black Sabbath songs like "The Wizard" and "N.I.B.", 21st Century variations on the "Double Bubble Toil and Trouble" incantation from Macbeth. Yeth!

By the way, if you're really into wimmyn rockers or Riot Grrl music you might want to check out my latest eBay auction: The Courtney Love & Hole cover issue of Flipside Magazine, which also includes Bulimia Banquet and Mudhoney. Here's the link, folks:

http://www.ebay.com/itm/171562661930?ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1555.l2649

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Lately I've been feeling pretty nostalgic for the good old days of rock brought to you by Circus Magazine, the gnarliest and ugliest rock magazine of all time. Although Circus was big in the late Sixties they really hit their stride in the mid-Seventies when they ran some of the most unflattering photos of rock stars performing. We're talking about live photos of Freddie Mercury coated in sweat with his hair getting nappy, Bryan Ferry singing with boogers hanging out of his nose or Ian Hunter from Mott The Hoople emoting with spinach leaves or stale pussy hair sticking in his teeth. You couldn't beat Circus Magazine in the disgusting factor.

Yes, hard-working musicians were shot at angles aimed right under their nostrils or luckily capturing their double chins, and there was always plenty of angles getting all those hairy chests just holding up all that valuable rock star sweat. Yum! Who couldn't resist dynamic snapshots of Ian Gillian's sweaty armpits with arms raised in the air? It's like that Junior High School newspaper covering the latest sports event.

The very pages of Circus just dripped ooze no matter how you sliced it and it was two steps away from being Scratch & Sniff. Why, Hit Parader Magazine almost turned green with envy. They tried to compete with their own brand of sweaty, smelly looking rock stars but they were no match for the true herpes festival that was Circus Magazine! Excelsior!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy 100th Birthday Jackie Coogan

This year's Scorpio Birthday Tribute is a special one because it's not only in honor of one of my favorite silent film stars but it's also his Centennial Birthday, the one and only Jackie Coogan. F. Scott Fitzgerald once remarked that there are no second acts in life, but Coogan not only disproved that by having a second one, but an enormously popular third one.

I'll bypass a full-fledged biography on Jackie Coogan and simply talk about his work in films. Let's start with the first phase of his career as a child actor and one of the brightest lights in silent films. Many of his movies as a little kid were mostly comedies, beginning with a small part in Charlie Chaplin's short "A Day's Pleasure" (1917), one of his best. Two years later he starred in Chaplin's classic "The Kid", where Jackie plays a child raised by Charlot in a glass selling scam by smashing in windows so Charlie can sell his glass plates.

Jackie, only six years old, had a natural talent for comedy with an equal knack for drama, and his talent provided a hit for the then-troubled Chaplin, who had the smuggle prints of the film past several states from being confiscated.

A year later he starred in "Oliver Twist" opposite the legendary Lon Chaney, who played Fagin. It was said that Coogan was afraid of the wild eyed Chaney who had to things down a notch or two once the cameras stopped rolling to gain the friendship of little Jackie.

Unfortunately, prints of his classic comedy "Circus Days" (1922) are lost with a few surviving scenes available on the Warner Bros' DVD of Charles Chaplin's classic comedy "The Circus". Jackie plays Toby Tyler, a character later made famous by Walt Disney on television, however, Jackie plays the character with a better feel for slapstick than the Disney version.

At the peak of his popularity, Coogan was the highest paid child star of his time, making $2,000 a week as salary with his parents as the trustees.

What was saved, however, by Turner Classic Movies, is "The Rag Man" (1925), where Jackie plays the crafty runaway orphan Timothy Aloysius Michael Patrick Kelly, who befriends a tired old Jewish junk dealer played by the great Max Ginsberg. By now Jackie was ten and growing but still adorable and funny. His constant negotiating and wheeling and dealing with an old East Side Jew on the streets of New York is very funny.

By the mid-thirties Coogan suffered two major tragedies: (1) His father and best friend died in an automobile accident with him as the only survivor; and, (2) His discovery that his mother and step-father spent every penny of his child-star earnings. Both tragedies sent him towards a downspin complicated by heavy drinking.

A three-year marriage to Betty Grable resulted in Coogan raising the ire of MGM mogul Leo B. Mayer, who offered Coogan a 7-picture deal, which Coogan turned down and earned a blacklist from the monstrous Mayer. Coogan didn't work in films for another eight years.

It's at this point that Coogan's career becomes even more interesting, because Phase Two of the Jackie Coogan Story has our hero acting in the Fifties doing mostly exploitation schlock classics like Mesa of Lost Women, where he played the mad scientist Dr. Aranya (joined by Dolores Fuller!). Now that Coogan had lost most of his pretty hair he had the freedom to play mostly bad guys and psychos, attacking every role with nutty abandon.

A string of wild late-Fifties psychotronic dementia followed, all illuminated by Coogan's demented presence: Eighteen and Anxious, The Space Children, but he really hit pay dirt when he joined producer Albert Zugsmith's cast of off-the-wall players Mamie Van Doren, Steve Cochran, Vampira, John Drew Barrymore, Jock Mahoney, and an endless cattle call of Hollywood star babies (Harold Lloyd, Jr.!!!!)

You've seen at least two or three of these crazy films: Sex Kittens Go To College - Jackie plays a rich tycoon using an unfunny W.C. Fields voice while Mamie plays the busty, brainy college professor, The Beat Generation - Jackie's a cop who has to put on the drag during a stakeout with his partner Steve Cochran (comedy gold), Night of the Quarter Moon - directed by the great Hugo Haas!, but the magnum opus of that period has to be High School Confidential, where he plays the sinister Mr. A, resplendent in dark badass shades and heroin pusher to the high school kids at his hipster jazz club.

But alas, the sleaze stands alone and the well dried up for high school crime flicks so Jackie did a bunch of sporadic TV appearances for the next four years, until he reached Phase Three of his career and arguably the role he's still notorious for, the role of Uncle Fester on The Addams Family (1964).

Some of Coogan's best comedy work is on The Addams Family and a lot of fans even say he steals many of the scenes he's in because he's that good. Coogan's signature comedy shtick on the film was to stick a light bulb in his mouth and immediately have it light up. Kids would tune in every week to see what he's say and do next. He was the Soupy Sales of Goth!

The bizarre irony of the Uncle Fester character was that Coogan wore a thick sweater virtually identical to the one he wore forty years earlier in "The Rag Man", making virtually the same smiles he did back then but now older and more worn out. Also ironic about his popularity is that although he was once a child star he now had every child in America following him just like the Twenties.

But nothing spells closure to the Three Acts of Jackie Coogan's career than the day his old boss Charlie Chaplin returned to the United States after 20 years to accept a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award. Upon arrival at LAX he saw Jackie Coogan there to greet him and hugged his once young co-star. He turned to Coogan's wife and said, "Never forget that your husband is a genius". From million dollar kid to exploitation films to TV horror comedy, Jackie Coogan always delivered.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Stacks of Style

During the course of my regular forays to the textile stores in the Garment District I saw some wild material that looked outer space-like with its use of craters, drifting colors and tech stripes. It came in three colors: red, dark blue and purple, and they were applied in a slightly hippie tie dye style, but not so much that it was overpowering.

I bought the purple to make a cool top (pictured above), the dark blue for pajama bottoms, and shined on the red (too feminine). The vendor called it zombie fabric and I think Shrine sells tops made of this material, also calling it "Zombie tops". I think it looks more Outer Space than Zombie, but whatever. I thought it came out pretty well.

I've always had a problem with t-shirts because of two things that bug me about them: 1) That annoying high "Fanboy Collar" that rides so far up it practically covers your Adam's Apple. As someone who suffers from claustrophobia I find this tight collar unacceptable, and 2) Those hug bat-wing cap sleeves that jut out of your arms. Since girls for the most part wear baby tees this isn't a big problem for them, but as a guy I can't stand the baggy cap sleeves.

With that in mind I've taken to remodeling my tees by cutting the tight collar for a more boat neck collar look. The boat neck collar is more flattering because it features a nice neck and a good pair of shoulders. It makes for a more body-friendly look.

As far as the bat-wing sleeves as concerned I've taken to rolling up my sleeves and sewing them in. This gives each tee a cool retro Fifties vibe to them which I like. They also show your guns to their best advantage, and it's my opinion that a man's guns are the masculine equivalent to a woman's cleavage: a sexy reveal that isn't dirty and shows a man's hottest feature.

While American Apparel is mulling over former CEO Dov Charney back to the fold - a big step back, I think - his old promotional formula of featuring swarthy, underage girls is being foiled by, horror of horrors, using three blonde drag queens to promote their new line.

The three drag queens are RuPaul's Drag Race superstars Courtney Act, Willam and Alaska Thunderfuck. This might be the greatest F-U to the sexist, homophobic monster who ran the most offensive retail marketing campaign in fashion history.

What makes this campaign doubly amazing is that it not only supports transgender models, blasted recently by fashion curmudgeon Tim Gunn, but that it also smashes AA's previous use of underage models. T-shirts of all three models marketed by AA have gone through several printings after selling out worldwide. In-store appearances have resulting in mobbing not seen since the heyday of Victoria's Secret's "Angels" campaign.

While some people like Gunn find this perverse it's a fresh breath of air from all the Gerber Baby looking girls one is forced to look at on a daily basis. Besides, the times they are-a changin', what with TG models like Carmen Carrera and Andrej(a) Pejic treading the catwalk modeling women's wear. It's time for the men to show all those Gerber Babies how to walk the walk.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Producing Is 10% Seducing and 90% Reducing

In the course of playing music in the past twenty-two years I have produced four albums of my own, remixed two for other performers (Michael T and No Policy), released countless singles and compilation tracks as well as played on a million other bands' records like Pressurehed, Ether Hogg, Anubian Lights, and a few others. If there's one thing I've learned in all those years is that no two recording sessions are alike. Musicians never get to say that each day in the studio's like "just another day at the office". It never is.

Generally, there are basically two kinds of producers: highly skilled, well-seasoned engineers who can work miracles in the studio and make any band sound brilliant, or someone who sculpts the band's sound and carefully arranges all the songs so he goes into the studio with the sound already worked out completely in his/her head. I belonged to the latter camp.

ARRANGING: My band Trash Can School had three guitarists and I had a pretty good idea of each one's strength and weaknesses, so when it came time to arrange the guitars I already had a clear idea of who could play which part the best. One guitar was delegated the lead, one for the rhythm and the third would play fills to thicken what the other two guitars were doing.

If one song needed a fast, complicated solo the first-string guitarist would get it, but if another song needed a slow, simple solo then the rhythm guitar played would get the lead, because they were usually good at that sort of thing. It always worked out real well.

Some guys played slide better than the others so they got the lead part to show off their slide guitar skills. It was great having three different guitarists with diverging styles to choose from. The funny thing was that Trash Can School was the reverse of the old Fifties band where there was one guitar and three horns, with us it was one saxophone and the three guitars, a veritable guitar section. The result, on tracks like "Silver Surfer", was astonishing.

Whenever I arranged a song I always thought of showcasing a band member if it enhanced the song, which is why I stuck in a wild Gene Krupa drum break in "Yes I Mean No", or a melodic pulsing bass solo in "Pistol Whipped/Pussy Whipped". I wanted to give everyone a chance to show their stuff.

When it came to arranging covers I wouldn't tackle anything unless it fit within the parameters of what we could play. We tinkered around with "Horses" by Patti Smith by playing the first half of "Gloria" and the second half of "Land" as a slide guitar drenched dirge. After performing "Shove" by L7 a few times and getting bored with it I decided to gravitate towards "Godzilla" by Blue Oyster Cult, which sounds identical and allowed me to insert a ripping saxophone solo on top of it. Later on in Cockfight I covered The Plasmatics' "Sometimes I" and gave it a driving, moody Cramps back beat.

RECORDING: But enough about arranging, let's talk about the recording process: some of the best recording studios I've worked in were as small as a living room, which is exactly what Radio Tokyo was, a converted living room in a craftsman style house. We got some big sounds there.

Setting levels is something adjustable to your preference, but one thing I distinctly went for on my records was more of a jazz drum sound. I always veered towards rhe ride cymbal rather than the crash cymbal. A rock record will always emphasize the crash cymbal but I went for a hot ride cymbal sound. The ride rules in jazz; the crash rules in rock.

I also think too much baffling can make a record sound too sterile and flat. Baffling for those who aren't familiar with the expression is when baffles, which are large dividers, are placed between the drums and the guitars and the keyboards so each instrument gets a good, clean sound in their channel. I always enjoyed working at Radio Tokyo because of all the leakage in the room. Leakage means when the other instruments sonically leak into each others tracks, which gives the band a definitely live sound.

My records sounded pretty live to me but there always a few people who said my "record didn't sound like the live show". Of course not. When I'm in the studio I have a large vocabulary to work with in terms of effects and instrumentation. Why would I want it to sound like a live show when I can make it sound so much more dynamic? Some people think too small.

On the other hand there have been reference vocals that turned out better than the polished vocal, like when I kept the Yoko Ono braying in "Powershred" that was originally meant to mark the saxophone solo, but it sounded do witch-like I kept it in.

Another reference vocal I kept was in "Liquor Store" where I overdubbed a more frantic vocal over the reference, then we lower the octave eon the reference like a slowed-down record, so you get a double vocal with different octaves. I was pretty happy with the end result.

Now as the title of my essay states, producing involves seducing, also known as persuasion, persuasion meaning making musicians play things that they either don't think they can play or simply won't play because they don't think it "fits their style". While there's nothing wrong with having a style, it's an artistic thumbprint, I know, it wouldn't hurt to expand their skills to make their bag of tricks that much more exciting.

As a result I have assured many musicians that they can play all sorts of strange things they're not accustomed to doing. Reluctant at first, after a few takes they actually find themselves very excited in the knowledge they've just expanded their vocabulary because somebody believed in them. I've never accepted a drummer saying "I can't play that" or a guitarist saying "That's not what I'm known for". Too bad. You begged to play in my band, prove to me you were worth the trouble of my bringing you into my band.

Sometimes you have to make lemonade out of lemons, like when the drummer came in a beat too late at the beginning of "Horses". Instead of throwing a fit about it I simply overdubbed a horse whinnying saxophone line covering the flaw, which enhanced the drums kicking into the song pretty well. Happy accidents mean covering any flaws that happen during the recording process.

I hate the idea of having the band just coming in and playing the same rock band crap over and over again. I'm definitely a fan of bringing in sound bites, non-rock instruments like vibes on "Hardware", or even industrial percussion, like Ted Carroll of Distorted Pony banging on car parts during "Godzilla". Once you're in the recording studio you have an unlimited palette of sounds to work with. Fuck this live band sound bullshit.

Sometimes the way you visualized a song in your mind doesn't pan out the way you wanted it to once you get into the studio, and it's a battle you sometimes can't win, so be prepared to let go, or else you'll just go crazy. You'll have to settle for less than perfection, or to put it more coldly: IF YOU CAN'T GET IT DONE IN FIVE TAKES IT CAN'T BE DONE.

MIXDOWN: Many terrible recordings have been saved through the magic of mixing tracks and adding effects to make the unlistenable sound listenable. Its truly miracle working made flesh. I remember leaving the studio after recording "Baby Lust" and almost crying, thinking I'd just wasted my money on a shit recording. I called Donnell Cameron at Westbeach Recorders and booked some time and he helped me save this track from being a bomb to being a hit.

I already had some familiarity with Donnell's work when he pre-mastered my track "Silver Surfer" for the Flipside compilation "City of LA Power". Donnell had a pretty unique approach to mixing I'll never forget. Halfway through mixdown once our levels were set and we did a rough mix of the song, he would transfer the tape to cassette, and then pop the cassette into the world's most beat up boom box I'd ever seen.

"Okay, we know what it sounds like on some nice, big, expensive studio speakers. Let's hear what it'll sound like booming out of your car".
The song started playing on this dinky player and all the cool parts as well as the shitty parts rang through loud and clear.

"Well, dude what do you think?"
"Wow, this makes everything sound totally different", I opened my eyes.
"Track definitely needs more low end and the vocal needs to come up higher. A little chorus on the guitars should smooth out a lot of the overdrive on the treble".
"Yeah, I agree. Let's go back in and make those changes".
I think we did the Ghetto Blaster Test two more times as we went along, the last pass being the final mix and sounding pretty majestic.Donnell's a brilliant engineer and we got a wild Plastic Ono Band sound on that crazy song.

Getting Geza X and his studio on my album Volume War was great because we already had a history together. He mixed the sound for The Screamers when I played with them and we played in our punk big band Arthur J. and The Gold Cups in the late Seventies. His guitar playing in The Deadbeats was legendary for its twisted inventiveness and made even more manic in his solo configuration Geza X and The Mommymen.

We also shared an affinity for avant garde music, so I didn't have to explain myself or my strange musical ideas to him. He already knew where I was coming from, so there wasn't a lot of head scratching as some engineers did whenever I asked them to use weird effects or filters on my tracks. In fact Geza came up with a lot of great sounds and contributed greatly to the hairball cacophony of that record.

Mixing tracks also gives you a chance to have the last word in the recording process. I had a guitarist who had to end every track with an orgiastic wail of long, long droney feedback. EVERY track. Instead of losing my shit after every take I simply thought, "Well, we'll see about this idiot's feedback orgy when it comes to mixdown". Once I was alone with Geza X in the studio, we'd look at each other smirking and do a quick audio fade on his track as soon as that clown would do his feedback dick slapping. Geza X is the best recording wizard on the planet.

Then there was another time when the rhythm section in Cockfight decided to have a party the night before our recording session (GOOD TIMING, ASSHOLES!) so they ended up hungover the next day at recording. And they played like a pair of bombed out dick heads. The drummer was guilty about his shitty playing he offered to pay for the session. I said, "No, the damage is already done, thanks a lot".

When it came to mixdown Randall O'Malley and I did a lot of jumping up and down of levels with the drums whenever it was time to hide his fuck ups. It was like an audio trampoline. No shit. There were some parts that were so tore up that we had to throw a few space echoes just to hide how shitty he played. Thank God for Randall O'Malley, he rules.

The funny thing is that after all the bullshit you go through you DO end up with a great record that makes other bands want to use your engineer and recording studio, and sometimes even your musicians. The magic is in the music and the music needs your magic.

Friday, October 3, 2014

American Biblioteque

It's been years, nay, decades since I really bothered going to the library. Most of the ones in my neighborhood were stuffy and understocked with books and what they had was simply awful. I was pretty disgusted with the Ivar Avenue library in Hollywood, especially since they remodeled it to look like a maximum security prison, and the Gardner library by the old Pan Pacific Park of my childhood looked like an unmade bed, books and videos scattered in a heap all over the book shelves. It was depressing enough to swear off getting a library card forever.

It wasn't until seven years ago that I walked into the Santa Monica Library and it turned my head around about the book lending game. Modern but beautiful, it had a used book store inside as well as its own built in coffee house with lux patio. Even better it had a considerable collection of art books, instructional foreign language CDs (Farsi, Chinese and Russian, get it now), and a great YA selection. I was pretty blown away by the choices. And I haven't even gotten around to the impressive DVD section, large enough to rival any DVD store.

What also killed me about the library was the amazing CD selection they had there. What was the point of listening to Pandora or Spotify if I can rent out any Neil Young or Psychedelic Furs CD or the amazing "Mingus Dynasty" with Cholly all done up on the cover like Po Xiangyang. The amount of rentable music made me crazy, never mind the String Quartets or Baroque Trumpet Sonatas, you could get Public Image Ltd. or the entire David Bowie collection for nothing.

But, alas all good things must come to an end: as of last year, the Santa Monica Library imposed a $25 annual fee for all borrowers not residents of their fair city. Yes, proof of local ID was required. I needed to get my fix of Joe Lansdale and Robert Cormier classics that only (I thought ONLY) was available in Santa Monica so I paid the $25, but that may end next year.

I dropped by my old favorite library of teenage years past, the Beverly Hills Library, next door to the BH Fire Station, BHPD and City Hall, and it's even better than I remembered it. A CD and DVD selection to rival Santa Monica minus the smelly bums hogging up the computers and the men’s bathroom toilets. I even got a card with a pic of the BH Library circa 1964, reminiscent of when I used to go (1968). Good times!

I took out half a dozen Miles Davis classics, the Prestige sides with Milt Jackson on killer vibes and the demented Burt Bacharach autobiography (memoirs?). My head also spun at the sight of their impressive collection of graphic novels, big enough to impress Bill Lebowitz (RIP) and get me to rent out tons of sequential dementia. They also had a pretty good used book store and coffee house, too.

All I need to do now is get a card with the killer downtown Los Angeles Library and my trifecta will be complete!

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The reason most music sucks these days is because it's created by people who have fucking headphones on all the time: headphones on when they're walking down the street, working out at the gym, shopping at the supermarket, the headphones/earbuds/whatever are so far up their ears they can wipe their asses with them.

What are they listening to? Music, music, music. In doing this they are depriving themselves of some of the most important elements in the development of musical composition: the cadence of people's voices, the rhythm of machines, the reverb of an ocean wave, or the timbre of birds chirping and squawking.

If you think I've lost my mind, listen to this: the cadence of a human voice influenced Miles Davis' trumpet playing, the rhythm of machines has influenced bands like The Stooges and Black Sabbath, the timbre of bird's voices influenced Eric Dolphy, and the reverb of ocean waves influenced the sounds of Brian Wilson and surfing music. These examples of sounds are all instrumental to building a musical ear, more instructional than any record anyone could possibly listen to. If you really want to build your ear then you'll never do it listening to nothing but records all day and all night.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What Is And What Should Never Be

"If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
-Stephen King

While I understand that a gym isn't a gathering place for all persons and things intellectual there are times when I hear things that are a little too ridiculous to be believed. While I was flapping my pins on the thigh abductor I overheard some young guy talking to an older gent about his college courses.

"Yeah, I'm taking English at UCLA but I really want to write for movies and TV", the 22-year old crowed. "I like all kinds of movies and I know how to write for them". I guess everyone's entitled to their daydreams but nowhere in the conversation did this kid say what kind of books he read and what sort of novels he enjoyed. The entire realm of literature didn't come up once in the conversation. And he talked about becoming a writer.

Let's talk about the guys that wrote for the movies, the greats: Stirling Silliphant, Dalton Trumbo, Robert Towne, Rod Serling, Charles Brackett, to name a few. Did any of them say when they were young, "I want to write for the movies?" No, I'm pretty sure they dreamed of writing brilliant novels but somehow got roped into the screenwriting game. And I'll wager anything they all had extremely prodigious libraries full of books and spent all their leisure time reading them.

The scary part is when you ask a clueless guy like Gym Kid who his favorite writer is and he'll probably say "Hitchcock!" People like this are completely oblivious to the fact that if it weren't for the writing of Cornell Woolrich, Robert Bloch, Patricia Highsmith and Daphne Du Maurier, to name a few, there wouldn't even be anything for Mr. Hitchcock to film at all. He knew it, too: one of the first credits beginning each episode of his TV show names the writer of the story. Hitch even had a mystery magazine back in the day.

I once knew a hammerhead whose favorite mantra was, "I don't read books, I don't need books, I depend on my looks". What an asshole. Needless to say he now works in the motion picture industry.

Here's another story for you: Rebecca met a fast-talking blowhard who kept up about how he was going to write a novel and then write for the movies and went on and on about it and of course didn't divulge about what the hell he was writing.

"I couldn't stand him! You've already written two novels and this guy kept talking like he was King Shit just because he was starting some dumb novel he wouldn't talk about. I just wished he'd shut up!"
"I know how to shut him up", I said.
"How do you do that?"
"Ask him who's his favorite author", I smiled. "That always shuts them up".

One of my favorite mottoes is "In this place called Hell novels are written by people who don't read books". I'm not joking, either: we have friends who say, "I WROTE A BOOK ABOUT MY EXPERIENCES AS A STRIPPER IN SAN FRANCISCO". Okay, even if it's a memoir there needs to be plot development, character development (i.e. someone who started out as a rival becomes your best friend towards the second half of the book), fact checking, so on and so forth. And then what style is the book written in: Will it be funny sleaze like Bukowski, dark decadence like Hubert Selby Jr., erotically charged like Genet, what's your POV?

To say you want to be a writer without reading books is like saying you want to be Governor of California without knowing The Declaration of Independence (um, wait a minute, I just described Arnold Schwarzenegger, scratch that). It's like saying you want to play guitar without knowing who Les Paul, Hubert Sumlin, Chet Atkins or The Ventures are. Without an understanding of the history of your craft you're flying without a pilot's license, which means you'll crash and burn.

It also means your memoir of being a stripper in San Francisco will never be published. Read a fucking book. It'll probably change your life.

Illustrations by Rebecca Seven

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Tubes (1975)

In the early Seventies there were several collectives that combined glam music with theater. In London there was the highly successful Rocky Horror Show, Los Angeles had The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (some of whom evolved into the band Oingo Boingo), and San Francisco had The Tubes.

Although Rocky was a musical production, Oingo Boingo was a theater troupe and the latter was a rock band, they all had one thing in common: a talent for blending cabaret, high camp, retro post-modernism with a healthy dose of glam rock in the mix.

What made The Tubes wilder and creepier than the others was the way it took glam rock, North Beach strip club sleaze, video technology, S&M and good old American excess (from both average Americans and decadent rock stars – no one was innocent) and presented it in a flawless stage production with brilliant musicianship.

Released in 1975 and produced by Al Kooper, The Tubes is one of the strangest debut albums ever recorded, a stunning mélange of glam rock, progressive rock interludes, cheesy Broadway showbiz vocals and breathtaking high-tech electronics.

The band’s stage show had them flanked by television monitors, at least twenty in all, hence the band name. Some of the monitors showed the band performing in real time and others showed interactive routines going on as the band played.

The first track on the album is Up From The Deep, sung by Bill Spooner, one of the two guitarists, letting us know that the music can be changed and morphed whenever the spirit moves them. His voice is recorded as if he’s underwater. The melody has an Indian-type wail to it until it goes into a bizarre prog rock interlude that takes several flashy twists and turns, finally breaking into an explosive boogie woogie piano rave-up.

Guitarists Roger Steen and Bill Spooner played great Alice Cooper-style guitar while Michael Cotton on synthesizer and Vince Welnick on keyboards created brilliant aural soundscapes that set the atmosphere for each track.

When I first saw The Tubes at The Roxy in 1975 (previously home to The Rocky Horror Show) they performed Haloes in matching suits a la The Temptations while a pre-recorded track played behind them. No great shakes these days, but in 1975 it was unheard of, but funny.

Space Baby sounds like a retro-Fifties ballad about an intergalactic babe that space traveler Fee Waybill pines for down on Planet Earth. Waybill sings in a wailing David Bowie style. The song also features the aforementioned Broadway choir-type backing vocals with the synth playing as an electronic horn section, all very Bowie meets Flash Gordon.

Mondo Bondage was probably the very first exposure many rock fans had to the world of S&M since most bands never even went there. Fee and show girl Re Styles both donned bondage outfits and masks during this number and it was a pretty intense show stopper. The song was pretty weird, too, with a wild jazz-metal interlude while the two performers went into a creepy session, giving us all a taste of North Beach live sex acts to a rock beat.

What Do You Want From Life? is a Frank Zappa-type parody on super consumerism that’s still powerful today, and even posits that proposition that even if everybody got what they wanted would it still be enough? Really???? The more excessive the needs the faster, quicker and more manic Fee Waybill’s voice gets.

At some point during the show Fee sang Bali Hai from South Pacific – there goes that Broadway shtick again, and then after rips into a manic rendition of Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” with a quintet of naked girl dancers backing him up.

The finale to the stage show, as well as the album is Boy Crazy and White Punks On Dope. The reason why both songs are lumped together is because they both share the same thing in common. The Tubes turn the spotlight away from themselves and point it at the audience, something most punk bands took credit for a year later. In an era when most bands sang about the pain of being rock stars this approach was highly subversive.

Boy Crazy is about teenage sexual promiscuity – I seem to recall hardcore porn playing on the video monitors while the song was played. Fee, once again, sings it in a decadent David Bowie-style wail. It’s a great track, more direct than the others in spite of the big Broadway treatment. It would be interesting to hear from the band whether the big production was their idea or Al Kooper’s?

White Punks On Dope was The Tubes’ big anthem and told the tale of wasted, wasted youth in the high class suburbs. Once again, it was released one year before punk rock so it’s uncanny how much ground The Tubes broke and received scant credit for their innovations. The blend of ray-gun synthesizer with heavy metal boogie guitar is infectious while Waybill delivers another uncanny David Bowie imitation in his sky-high platform heels and huge platinum blonde fright wig. His Quay Lewd routine was the other show stopper after Mondo Bondage.

Nina Hagen’s highly operatic version of White Punks also has to be heard to be believed. I saw her do it at The Greek Theater – the show with the spaceship and nearly fell on my ass. Good times!

Clocking in at only thirty-seven minutes and some change, The Tubes’ debut album is like the Daffy Duck magic trick where he blows himself up and laments that it’s his “best trick, but he can only do it once”. The Tubes couldn’t really produce anything as powerful as their first album, but in spite of it they managed to rack up several hit singles during the New Wave Eighties – Talk To Ya Later, Monkey Time, and She’s A Beauty. But the debauchery of the stage show never went much further or wilder than that first tour. Perhaps it was just a sign of the times.

The Tubes’ first album is still a crucial work because there’s a timelessness to it, it’s musically challenging, endlessly inventive and the sonic soundscapes are downright creepy at times. Like The Residents, there’s a post-modernism that anticipates the beginning of punk rock and even the dreaded behemoth of New Wave. Like the foreign radio voices that herald and close the album you will be transported to a strange land unlike any other.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Halloween In August

In the early Seventies when I lived in New York I bought a litho of a creepy painting titled "Masks Fighting For The Body of a Hanged Man" by an artist named James Ensor. Pictured above, it's an illustrations of two skeleton women literally fighting it out with brooms and mops over a hanged man with groups of masked freaks and witches looking on from a doorway. It was unlike anything I had ever seen, and it was my entryway into the art of James Ensor.

James Ensor, born in Belgium and creative during the turn of the century , may be one of the most under documented artists ever known. His artwork is an endlessly creative line of grotesque images rendered in a naive art style that can truly elude any easy classification. Sometimes impressionistic, other times expressionistic, yet neither, perhaps his inability to be classified explains his regrettable obscurity after all these years, almost 100 years after his death.

All this "regrettable obscurity" came to a close one afternoon this summer when I drove down Pico Boulevard and saw huge banners of Ensor art hanging from street lamps announcing The Getty Center exhibiting a show called "The Scandalous Art of James Ensor" (June 10-September 7). I could hardly believe my bloodshot eyes!

The Getty Center show is truly a feast to the eyes of any Ensor fan, providing an absolutely comprehensive retrospective this side of Brussels of the great artist's works. I also learned a lot about the great man himself, and was surprised by what I learned. Mr. Ensor may have been The Original Goth Kid. A portrait of his maternal grandmother informs us that she was a seller of grotesque masks which excited and influenced his art in the years to come.

He was also a big fan of Edgar Allen Poe's works and his paintings based on several of his stories, i.e. Hop Frog, including the bizarre "King Pest" were on display at the Getty. He also had a cool harmonium (Nico's keyboard of choice) in his studio that he enjoyed playing. This dude was Goth before Goth got cool!

For all the horror business Ensor served up I don't think it was all gloom and doom. I detected notes of humor in many of his works, and his depiction of government and military officials were reminiscent of George Grosz in the cartoonishness (Ensor predated Grosz so it's presumptuous to say he was an influence on the German expressionist). The subject of death breached a cross between humor and horror, and I liked the party and horror mask paintings the most.

Ensor's wild masterpiece "The Entry of Christ Into Brussels" (1888) was not only displayed in its full splendor but also had a little magnifying glass-style display you could peruse all the details of this unique masterwork. Ensor's mixture of colors and even brush strokes were so erratic which left disturbing hints of a runaway psyche on every piece displayed.

I was happy to see so many people analyzing and enjoying Ensor's works - attendance was pretty robust for such an obscure art star. I also chuckled when I saw an endless line of Ensor souvenirs on sale at the sale counter. I wasn't ready for an Ensor coffee mug, but I got a few magnets and punk rock-style buttons. Now maybe Taschen can put their Ensor retrospective back in print!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Every Bitch For Himself - Punk Rock Crime Novel OUT NOW!!!!

It's 1978, and Hollywood Boulevard is burning with punk rock energy and with it the advent of career criminal Big Jason Gulliver, an amoral monster in silver hair, torn t-shirt and army fatigues. Big Jason plans to knock over Rocket USA, the most popular punk club in town, using his friends who all work on the inside of the club.

Standing in his way are three psychopaths who run Rocket USA: Jack Sterling, owner of the club, a has-been television star with severe OCD; Chuck Steakhouse, punk surfer thug with a capacity for rape and torture; and Miggy Sanchez, a thug every inch the equal of Big Jason in amorality.

Every Bitch For Himself captures all the energy of the 1978 Hollywood punk scene with episodes of violent rock & roll, perverse cult rituals, and nightmarish parties. Just as punk rock bands twisted old songs to fit its explosive style, Every Bitch For Himself corrupts old film noir scenes culled from The Killing, The Asphalt Jungle, Born To Kill and The Killers, to name a few, to create a new punk rock crime novel.

Andy Seven’s previous novel Every Good Boy Dies First captured the fervent pace of the Nineties music scene, drawing on experiences from his music career to craft a chilling novel. Once again Andy draws on his memories of the 1977 Hollywood punk scene to create Every Bitch For Himself.

How and why did punk happen? Popular music split into two factions following the demise of glam rock in the late Seventies: disco and punk. There was disco for the club kids who wanted to keep all the glamour, danceability and sexual decadence of glam alive, and on the other side there was punk, which continued all the outrage and drama of glam. Like two unruly siblings both styles of music hated each other.

In addition to playing in numerous punk bands on the '77 Hollywood scene Andy Seven can also be read discussing the history of 1977 Hollywood Punk in books like We’ve Got The Neutron Bomb by Brendan Mullen and Marc Spitz; Improvisation, Identity and Tradition by Charles Michael Sharp, and Lexicon Devil by Brendan Mullen and Adam Parfrey.

Every Bitch For Himself, after all is said and done, is still a crime novel. It follows the tradition of the standard heist gone wrong story, but how it goes wrong and the disaster that follows it is an exercise in severe karmic payback that needs to be read to be believed. Who gets away with crime and who doesn’t is the real kick of the story. Are there double crosses or are there consequences to everyone’s actions? You’ll have to read it to find out.

Ten things you can count on reading in my latest novel:
1. Drunken punks playing Bologna-Toss on loaded chicks.
2. Has-been TV Western cowboy stars.
3. Mods vs. Punks battle it out on the beach.
4. Squeamish Los Angeles police detectives.
5. Discotheque chase scenes.
6. Blood-drenched performance art rituals.
7. Beauty products weaponry.
8. King Kong scales the Capitol Records building.
9. Miracle Mile shopping sprees, and:
10. The world's greatest shithouse fist fight.
Yep, if it hasn't been written yet, you can count on me to write it for you. May God and Ringo Starr forgive me!

Every Bitch For Himself, Andy Seven’s second punk crime novel is available for $4.99 at all popular eBook retailers, including:

Amazon Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/Every-Bitch-Himself-Andy-Seven-ebook/dp/B00MIBTIAC/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1407503272&sr=1-2
iTunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/every-bitch-for-himself/id906954217?mt=11
Nook (Barnes & Noble):
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/every-bitch-for-himself-andy-seven/1120084022?ean=9781483533902
Scribd:
http://www.scribd.com/book/236143482/Every-Bitch-For-Himself

Each website provides a short sample of the novel for previewing before purchase so you can see what deviltry is brewing on each page.

Every Bitch For Himself combines two violent art forms, punk rock and film noir to create an exciting new hybrid of crime writing. Check out the new novel and experience it for yourself.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Menswear Bash & Flogger

Well, it ain't over until the satin bomber jackets get pulled out again, and thanks to Diesel you can relive the magic of bad Seventies fashion even if you were swimming in your Daddy's balls back then. Diesel touts a red satin bomber jacket with "Venice 1978" stenciled in vintage Gothic gang lettering along with an embroidered eagle flying eastward and westward, ho. The advertising copy of this re-animated monstrosity reads thus: "JAPAN BOMBER - Circa 1970's Tokyo served as an inspiration for this collection, hence the Japan Satin Bomber". Actually, that doesn't tell you a whole lot but the fashion world never really has much on its mind, anyway.

So, what's new in the world of fashion? David Lynch launching a line of women's sportswear? No. American Apparel appointing their first female Board Director? Maybe. Paris Fashion Week came and went with the SS15 fashions making their mark. I found most of it underwhelming with designers either stumped for ideas or simply reviving looks every bit as tired as, well, the satin bomber jacket.

Although I wasn't at the shows I gleaned all my information from the awesome website Dazed And Confused, whom you should definitely follow. Anyway, here are my impressions from what showed:

Comme Des Garcons Hommes Plus: Teddy Boy quiffled hair, goofy shoes and man skirts. The hair was a lot worse last year but this year's clothes didn't impress much. Drape jackets in 2015? No.
Anne De Meulemeester: Long, drapey black and white coats and robes. I don't see guys wearing these on the streets except in Tokyo. Maybe.
Balmain: Loud, bright beaded jackets that reminded me a little of Missoni, but still very colorful stuff. A lot of fun.

Bottega Veneta: BV showed weathered, faded resort wear, looking a lot like the unwanted stuff at a vintage clothing store in West Hollywood. They're usually pretty cutting edge so this was a major upset.
Burberry Prorsum: Pastel color blocking on jackets, pants and shirts, looking like everything you can get at H&M but costing way more and lasting just as long.
Raf Simons: Look out world, Raf Simons has discovered color. No black this year. Goth kids mourned the world over, more than they usually do.
Topman: Topman brought back the Nineties Britpop look, Richard Ashcroft mod hair styles on all the models with big Oasis sunglasses. The clothes were kinda lacking but the skull styling was A plus.

Yohji Yamamoto: Kinda cool, avant garde suits with big, floppy hats. Spaghetti Western drag goes to Wall Street.
Rick Owens: Bad, asymmetrical designs with long, draped fabric. Surprise! All austerity and no fun. A Rick Owens and Raf Simons beer bust would be more fun than a barrel of hemorrhoids.
Dries Van Noten: This was interesting: neatly tailored prints, all style, all fashion.
Givenchy: Black and white floral spotted clothes, looking like inkblots. I didn't like it and I think it would probably work better with women than men.
Yves Saint Laurent: Hedi Slimane designed the new collection as a homage to the Seventies, bad Laurel Canyon hippie chic, by bad I mean ponchos, Injun hats, John Phillips velvet corduroy pants. It looked old before it even hit the runway.

Moschino: Colorful Nineties hip hop-style clothes, looking like exploding billboards, very vibrant and colorful. I didn't find the shapes daring enough. It just looked like a lot of well printed fabrics.
Fendi: Well, alright! Nice lines, cool elegance, and nice leather bags modeled by dudes who looked old enough to shave (for a change).
Heider Ackermann: Better retro than YSL because Ackermann served up the shabby Keith Richards on the Riviera look, shabby rocker chic, "I just got out of bed and I still look bitchen". How elegantly wasted! That's fashion!

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

Beverly Center in Los Angeles is preparing for the launch of a gigantic Uniqlo store, and for those who don't know about Uniqlo yet (you will) it's a Japanese fashion premium outlet that's already made a big hit around the rest of the world. I've seen some of the menswear fashions and think it's a little too preppy for me, but it will probably still make a ton of money with the average buyer out there.

Uniqlo will be a big hit because menswear at most premium outlets are stuck in a rut and haven't changed much. Who's the competition, well, we already mentioned American Apparel who have yet to master the art of correct sizing; Urban Outfitters, catering to the slacker college kid from Portland look - schlubby; H&M, still suffering the schizoid dichotomy of deciding whether to rock Casual Resort Guy fashion or the Business Casual Guy.

I don't know, but right now my money's on Zara, which lately has been selling Burberry-style menswear at rock bottom prices. Zara might be too radical for the average shopper but as far as I'm concerned they're the only premium fashion line that's delivering exciting designs at affordable prices.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Rack Jobbers (Robt. Williams title = 12-Inch Plastic Peons Push Vapid Vinyl Thrills Whilst Farting Jive & Junk Food)

Work is a lot like love. People who look for jobs never get them. People who never look or don’t want them in the first place always get hired. I got a job as a rack jobber and I wasn’t even looking for one.

It was 1978 and I was sitting around my friend Donnie Albinoff’s cozy apartment. Cozy because between a plush sofa Donnie laid back on and the easy chair I sat on were book cases filled with tons of albums from every music scene and every era, so many that there was even a steamer trunk packed to the gills with albums.

We were tapping our feet like a pair of spastics to Donnie’s latest catch, “Eternally Yours” by The Saints, “Know Your Product” blasting through his speakers with the buzzsaw guitar ripping our ear drums out and a knife edge horn section ripping out punk rock soul.

“Fuck, this is great. Did you say this is so new it’s not even in the stores yet?” I sipped a beer he handed me.
“Yeah, and I also got this great Sham 69 album, too. We got a shipment from Sire today”, Donnie sipped his beer and got ready to light a roach. He showed me the roach and I did the “No thanks” wave.

“You’ve got the greatest job, getting all these cool new records even before the stores get them”, I gushed while Donnie sucked some weed smoke into his hipster lungs. Donnie paused for a moment and gave me a blank stare.

“You know, Sevrin”, Donnie talked while a gusher of lung clouds flew out. “You’re always making noises about needing a job to pay for rent and records and shit. Why don’t you come down to Spin Central and join the team? They’re always looking for new guys. I think I can get you in as long as you’re willing to work and you don’t make me look stupid. It pays okay and you get a discount on all the records you want”.

I mulled the offer over while The Saints were blasting in my face. “Okay!” I swigged my beer and tapped my feet harder.
“Good. I’ll put in a word for you tomorrow and with their okay you can come down later in the week and fill out a bunch of paperwork”.
“Great. Put on that Sham 69 album nobody’s heard yet”.

WEEK ONE: Spin Central One-Stop Distributors was a record distribution center in the Pico-Union district – corner of Venice Boulevard and Normandie Avenue. There was a cemetery around the block with a crematorium you could smell as you walked down the street towards work. It was a good appetite killer if you were too short to buy lunch.

My boss was Stan, heavy set in a dress shirt with slacks who was balding but wore the rest of his long hair in a pony tail. I never saw him smile. He seemed conflicted between looking hip and acting overly serious. It was a serious conflict for him. The only bands he swore by were Gentle Giant, The Dixie Dregs and PFM.

“Sevrin!” Stan barked. “Go to the loading dock with the dolly and pick up the new product and replace the pallet, let’s see, replace that Steely Dan with the new product. Take Freddy with you. Go now!”
Freddy was a morbidly obese man with short hair, a peach fuzz moustache and stained clothes who didn’t even look like he cared about music.
“Are you sure the boss asked for me?” He whined quietly.
“Yes, let’s get going! The truck’s here!” I insisted. Freddy trailed reluctantly behind me.

Freddy threw several boxes angrily while I held the dolly and held my breath. The burning dead were really pumping it out today. Freddy cursed under his breath, sweating through his Hagar executive shirt, pit stains spreading like a busted levee.
“Sevrin, I’m thinking of having Chinese for lunch. Are you in, man?”

I raced into the warehouse with the dolly, escaping the corpse stench.
“Cigarette break. Back in five!”
Freddy wandered off to smoke, leaving me alone to move the gigantic stack of Steely Dan albums off the pallet. The really big sellers were usually displayed in stacks on the pallets while the medium sellers or loss leaders were stocked in much smaller numbers on the shelves. It was my turn to grunt and sweat. Finally I got around to tearing the cardboard boxes open and loading the new albums on the pallet. Expecting the new Dead Boys album I was crushed to see hundreds upon thousands of Linda Ronstadt albums.

“LINDA RONSTADT LIVING IN THE USA”. Linda Ronstadt was rocking a secretary bob clad in satin shorts and roller skates singing the oldies. Boxes and boxes of Linda Ronstadt in roller skates. I felt my back almost going out humping all this vinyl product out. Freddy’s five minutes were way past over but he was still out somewhere.

I ran back out to get more product to stack on the pallets and instead of feasting my eyes on the new Captain Beefheart masterpiece I ripped open the boxes to find copies of “BOZ SCAGGS SILK DEGREES” to stack. A million seller in 1976, people still clamored for more Boz Scaggs two years later. I had to take a back break before my back broke.

“Are you having fun yet?” Donnie walked by, joking in his deadpan voice.

WEEK TWO: After buying records for five years at Morty’s Records it was wild to see the man himself, Morty Simon plucking albums from the racks to sell at his store. His face was set with steely determination picking out which albums he would retail that week. He pulled two copies out of the four Ramones albums we had in stock.

While he pulled a few copies of the new Kraftwerk album – too cool to be stacked on pallets, I made a fool out of myself and approached Morty.

“Hey Morty, how’s it going, man? It’s Andy, I come into your store all the time to buy your stuff. What’s happening?”
“Yeah”, Morty mumbled, just looking through me. What a dick.

When I ran into Donnie I said, “Hey, that guy from Morty’s Records just snubbed me. What a dick!”
“He doesn’t talk to anybody”.
“That’s a hell of a sales approach”.
“I’m getting Mexican for lunch. I keep smelling enchiladas”.

WEEK THREE: One night after work I was back sitting and drinking at Donnie’s apartment. “So, how’s Freddy working out in the warehouse?” Donnie sipped his beer.
“Oh, that fat fuck’s useless. He takes a lot of long cigarette breaks whenever shit gets too busy”.
Donnie chortled. “He doesn’t even smoke that much. He just camps out in the john either taking long, smelly shits or he’s busy playing with his tiny needle dick”.

“Stan really stuck it to me”.
“Freddy really hates you, too. He told me, ‘I hate Sevrin. He’s always shuffling his feet’”.
“He said that? Are you kidding? What’s wrong with shuffling your feet?”
“Nothing, he’s a big, fat idiot. I had to kick him out of here once when he came over. Check this out, as soon as I left the room to take a piss he made a pass at Dora”. Dora was Donnie’s girlfriend. “He actually said, ‘What are you doing with a loser like Albinoff’?”
“Shit! In your own house”, I popped open another beer.
“ON MY PROPERTY!!!” Donnie yelled, fired up a bomber and I gave the “No thanks” wave again.

WEEK FOUR: Stan ordered me to sit in a little room upstairs with a turntable on a desk, a relief to be off my feet from stocking records on pallets and on increasingly shrinking space on the racks.

Stan raced in with a stack of Al Dimeola and Neil Diamond records almost spilling over on the floor.
“Okay, Sevrin, I’ve gotta special job for you”, he dropped the stack of heavy albums on the floor. “I want you to slit open every album, take out each disc and put each one on the turntable. You see those magic markers next to the turntable?”
“Oh!” I pulled one out of the box. “Yeah, sure!”

“Play the record on the turntable and take one of these markers and very carefully black out the Columbia Records emblem that’s circled around the label. Can you do that? Let me see you do that with this Al Dimeola album!”
I spun the disc and very simply took the marker and dragged it around the circular Columbia Records emblem on the label.

“Great! Perfect! We have an important shipment going out to Bangkok tomorrow. Get going. Oh, and keep the door locked!”
Stan slammed the door shut and I got busy, wondering when my employee discount would kick in so I could buy the new Johnny Thunders album. Otherwise I’d have to go to Morty’s Records.

I spun disc after disc on the turntable studiously blacking out the Columbia Records logo ring on each disc, just thinking about all those Neil Diamond albums being sold in Thailand. I was known around the warehouse as being pretty quiet, quiet enough not to squeal that Spin Central was selling albums on the black market in Bangkok and all points East. Well, it was alright. I was getting off on the fumes from the magic marker.

WEEK FIVE: I was back in the Private Room. There were no magic markers on the desk but a pair of headphones and a stack of Waylon Jennings albums.
“Okay, Sevrin, we’ve been getting a lot of complaints about this inferior RCA Records product. I want you to open all these Waylon Jennings albums and play the first track and let me know how many of them skip and how many pop. Leave the albums in three stacks: The Ones That Skip, The Ones That Pop, And The Perfectly Good Ones”.
“Okay, no problem”.
“And keep the door locked!” He slammed the door shut.

I pulled the first disc out of the cover and immediately noticed how thin and light the vinyl felt in my hand. The disc even felt kind of hollow. I put on the first disc and adjusted my headphones.
Waylon sang:
“I've always been crazy and the trouble that it's put me through, I’ve been busted INTENTIONALLY HURT ANYONE One foot over the line I SHOULDN’T COMPLAIN Going insane”. Whoah. I tossed that one in The Skip Stack.

I pulled out the next disc and it was warped to hell. It felt more flaccid than a flat tire. I didn’t even bother playing that one. I simply threw it into The Skip Stack.

I put the next disc on, and listened intently: “I’ve always been crazy and the trouble INTENTIONALLY HURT ANYONE One foot COMPLAIN insane”. I threw that one in the ever-growing Skip Stack. Jesus, all this vinyl sucks. It feels cheap and it doesn’t play for shit.

I took my headphones off for a second and heard a bunch of yelling downstairs. I opened the door and looked down the stairs over the warehouse and saw a seeping flood of water coming from the bathroom.

Stan was yelling at Donnie.
“YOU’RE FIRED, YOU SON OF A BITCH! GET YOUR SHIT AND GET OUT OF HERE!!!!”
“FUCK YOU! I’M NOT A FUCKING JANITOR, ASSHOLE!” Donnie yelled back. “I DON’T CLEAN TOILETS!”
“YOU’LL DO WHAT I TELL YOU TO DO IF YOU WANT A JOB HERE!”
“YOU CAN’T FIRE ME!!! I QUIT!!! YOU CAN STICK THIS JOB AND THIS JOHNNY BRUSH UP YOUR ASS, MAN!” Donnie stormed off.

I walked back into The Private Room and locked the door. I thought about all those albums maybe making their way to Bangkok. I opened up the rest of the Waylon Jennings albums, put two in The Pop Stack, three in The Skip Stack and the rest in The Perfectly Good Ones stack.

I quietly left the job after two weeks’ notice and three weeks later got a job at an adult book store in Silver Lake. I used my stock clerk experience from Spin Central to score a gig selling dildos and butyl nitrate poppers to terrified stockbrokers. Weeks later I moved over to the Rexall Drugs on Hollywood & Highland, across the street from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. It’s all show business!

c 1978, “I’ve Always Been Crazy”, written by Waylon Jennings. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)

Everybody wants their stuff and they want it now. "We want the world and we want it now", Jim Morrison bleated almost fifty years ago and nothing has changed. If you want a song or an entire record you can get it a matter of seconds, movies, books, you name it. But it wasn't always that way.

In 1975 glam was going through its last gasp - you knew it was over when The Edgar Winter Group threw on the spackle and platform boots. Punk rock crawled its way through just like the freaks crawled under the circus wagon in the thunder storm with knives in their mouths, ready to gut Venus and Hercules.

I followed the glam scene closely in Rock Scene Magazine and there were gurgles about punk bands in New York like The Ramones, The Fast, Patti Smith, The Mumps, The Stilettos and Television. Television was the most interesting looking as they were the very antithesis of glam: short hair, no makeup, torn clothes and crappy pawn shop guitars. One particular photo by Christopher Makos of Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell made them look like Richard Speck and Charles Starkweather formed their own noise band. The only nod to glam was Richard Lloyd, who sported platinum blonde hair like Debbie Harry.

Rock Scene Magazine printed a little caption announcing an exciting new single by Television called "Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)" on Ork Records. It only cost $3.00 and could be purchased post paid from a P. Laughner in Cleveland, Ohio. It was the most eagerly anticipated single of its time. Yeah, back in the day we had no downloads. We had to send money across the country for a 45 RPM single. There was a quite a wait (more on that in a second) but the wait was worth it.

After sitting out for an eternity waiting for the single to arrive I received an interim postcard from Peter Laughner, the front of the postcard advertising Television with his band Rocket From The Tombs (who would later split into The Dead Boys and Pere Ubu). On the other side of the postcard was an apology from Peter Laughner for the delay.

"Dear Avram*- As regards TV all orders were forwarded to New York City as the response was fantastic they had to do a third pressing of the record to meet demands - please be patient and thank for your support.
Peter Laughner
P.S. As further correspondence should be directed to me at the above address (Cleveland Heights, Ohio)".

Well, I eventually got my single and it was so bizarre, not what I expected, it wasn't rock but it was definitely a very New York record. What does that mean? Well, I see the Museum of Modern Art when I hear the single, I hear some jazz club like The Five Spot. I feel beatnik frequencies ripping into my head, ESP-DISK nightmares, even some of The Godz and Silver Apples in their sound. Very New York.

"Little Johnny Jewel (Parts 1 & 2)" sounds like a dark, dark, dark beatnik coffee house, seductive in its intimacy. You can smell the burning candles - the record sounds ascetic for its time, avoiding the decadence of Queen or The Tubes or any other overproduced glam rock of the time.

Part 1 begins with Fred Smith playing a very simple bass line over and over while the guitars make twittering and plucking noises, like they're waking up and then Billy Ficca's drums kick in, not playing a simple 4/4 punk beat, but shock horrors (!!!) it's a disco beat.
As soon as the drums simmer a cool disco beat the guitars wail a remedial, almost naive fanfare. Tom Verlaine sings a very cool, laid back vocal like Lou Reed in "Here She Comes Now".

What's so remarkable about the recording is that it's a veritable textbook in dynamics, drums exploding one moment then simmering, guitars howling and then whispering, emitting moods of slacker cool and boiling tension equally. I like the part where Tom whispers like a hypnotist, "And he ran down to the airport...the rush, the roar...and he crouched down behind a fence...with a chest full of lights..." The guitars go impressionist, playing sparse but bright notes like winking airport lights, quiet hypnotic guitars and the drums sending us out of Part 1.

Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, the hypnotic part building up into a noisy palette of sounds, guitar picks banging against necks like Jackson Pollock splatters of paint, and then explodes into a perverse flamenco guitar solo punctuated by a high shrieking note. All the guitars eschewed the big fuzz Marshall stack arena sound, Richard Lloyd strumming simply behind Verlaine's freedom guitar playing.

The second side ends with Verlaine returning to the main theme, crooning cooly, "Oh Little Johnny Jewel...he's so cool...but if you see him looking lost...you ain't gotta come on so boss!
And you know that he's paid...you know that he's paid the price...all you gotta do for that guy...is wink your eye". Mysterious lyrics, mysterious music. Entranced by TV.

Rock groups weren't supposed to be mysterious or quietly sly, music was by and large loud and brash. Television made people nervous because they weren't a quick study. Personally I thought "Little Johnny Jewel" was a far more auspicious debut than Patti Smith's "Piss Factory" which had a corny Broadway musical jive to it. It could've been a show stopper in a musical like "Rent". But I digress.

Television released a single which sold out several times over and captured the mystery of New York. It was executed so well even the band had trouble living up to their promise with subsequent recordings. It wasn't punk rock but it wasn't average Joe rock, either. It was lightning in a bottle set to music. What a great five minutes it was.

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

* I used to use my Hebrew name in correspondence, in this case being Avram, Abram also known as Abraham before God anointed him as Father of the Jews. In other words, as Sun Ra once said, "I have many names, names of mystery, names of splendor".

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Fifty Years in Los Angeles

This is the year and that was the year and it all comes down to half a century of living in Los Angeles, mostly Hollywood. No, it doesn't all seem like yesterday; in fact it feels like several lifetimes ago. The Twentieth Century didn't fuck around, what with every decade feeling like another life spent.

How did I even get here? I was just a European boy living the Yankee life in Rhode Island and liking it. I was living in Kennedy Country (New England) and our man John F. Kennedy was in The White House. Everything seemed cool. My father was in the electronic designing department at Brown University in 1963. A few months later Kennedy was toast and so was New England for us.

My father joined the New Frontier headed towards outer space and the psychedelic landscape of Hollywood. He got a job offer from Aerospace in Redondo Beach. Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Long Beach and all points south turned Southern California into a veritable Boomtown for Aerospace workers. My father heard the siren call to Boomtown USA, not mere gold but better, designing spacecraft, missiles and rocket appendages. Welcome to Los Angeles.

Sixties: My first home in Los Angeles was around West Hollywood in the Fairfax District...it was insane, we were sandwiched in between CBS Studios with its ever watching eye, the Silent Theatre and the enormous Pan Pacific Auditorium...we'd have dinner at Canter's and I'd stare at the freaks with their long hair and beads...my Mom said, "Andy, don't stare"...people were getting pissed...I remember watching the Watts riots on TV and my parents said "Stay home today"...

Two years later we moved to Beverly Hills...I went to a modern Hebrew school where half the kids looked like they came from mixed marriages but I didn't care.... they were building Century City down the street and LBJ was going to speak at the Century Plaza Hotel with kids marching down Olympic Boulevard, protesting the Vietnam War...we were too broke to do anything big on Saturday night my dad took us out for a ride (families used to do that sort of thing) down Sunset Boulevard which was crowded as hell, especially since there were so many paddy wagons pulled up in front of Pandora's Box on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights.

Seventies: My teenage years were spent in endless nights at Rodney's English Disco and watching countless glitter bands at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium...glam rock seemed like it would never die, it just got bigger and crazier and I got into the scene, platforms and velvet flares...Westside days spent going to summer school at University High and Rhino Records in Westwood...taking endless jazz music courses, harmony theory and the whole damn Big Band thing at the Dick Grove School of Music in North Hollywood...

Then driving down to gay discos like The Other Side in West Hollywood...Santa Monica Boulevard haunts like a weird old dream even to this day...and then there were punk rock memories at The Masque, playing there and even living there with Spazz Attack and Brendan Mullen, moving to punk palace The Canterbury, big mistake but so what?

Eighties: Disappointed by the decay of Hollywood punk and shitty new wave I retreated into endless movie shows at The Beverly Center, sitting in my car in the darkness of the Centinela Drive-In with the Studio Drive-in across the street, right by LAX so during the film you'd watch the jet planes swooping down for a landing...

I lived across the street from A&M Records on la Brea Avenue in a trashy courtyard next door to a massage parlor..one rainy night I found a hundred dollar bill by the parking lot...bought a leather-bound saxophone case with it...Rajis was the rockin' club by the end of the decade and I watched The Nymphs, Haunted Garage and Pygmy Love Circus, the greatest club ever...I started my own band Trash Can School and we recorded at Radio Tokyo in Venice for about three years (1988-1990)...it was epic.

Nineties: My band played with some amazing bands at The Shamrock and Jabber Jaw, I'll never forget them...I lived at The Gramercy Apartments in Koreatown, apartments that recalled every noir film you've ever seen...Elisha Cook Jr. must have drifted through the walls several times...after I broke the band up I moved to the Miracle Mile and went to every lowbrow art show at Luz De Jesus on Melrose Avenue, there was Pablo and Pizz and Robt. Williams and XNO and Billy Shire, Golden Apple Comics representing, too...

Then there was Johnny Legend and Eric Caidin putting on sleazy movie shows at the Florentine Gardens on Sundays...I married Rebecca and we created fashions for The Fetish Ball and every other kinky fetish event in town... we also had a band called Cockfight and made a funny video with Ron Jeremy, it was clean, it's cool.

Y2K: Rebecca and I worked morning, noon and night...dealing with bullshitting imagineers who knew nothing about art, smarmy stylists who knew nothing about fashion and a lot of TV people who wanted to interview us and show our clothes....then there were the Comic-Con assholes who knew nothing about anything and the money slowed down so I worked at Dodger Stadium for awhile in the executive office designing their merchandise catalog...the palm trees circled around Dodger Stadium looked like a dreadlocked tribe of dinosaurs looming over the city...bored with that I drifted into a 15-year career with Los Angeles County....played my last show ever at Headline Records on Melrose Avenue...LA, always LA.

Teens: So fifty years later I still eat at Canter's and haunt the streets of West Hollywood. Now I'm a writer, writing, always writing...tell the story even if no one wants to listen, read the words of God even if no one believes anymore...making clothes for myself and other people, hitting the Garment District in the early morning...although there were a few detours here and there in New York and Europe I always returned to Los Angeles like an old habit I couldn't shake off..I'm still in Hollywood...still making noise, still making trouble...take my advice, don't forget to go to the beach.

\

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cruel Story of Youth

I didn't count on thinking too much about the past because it's something I don't normally do. Silly fool, I believe in looking forward, always now and forever, but the past comes back when you least expect it, like it or not. Case in point: a single I recorded in 1977 just recently turned up on a punk rock CD compilation for the first time.

It was the first band I ever played in, it was called Max Lazer and the single was "Street Queen", released on Siamese Records. Max Lazer was a singer-songwriter who looked like Thor minus the muscles and he had shiny platinum blonde hair that drove the girls all wild. He had a glam rock image but was more of a metal-punk sounding guy. Siamese Records up to that point was known only for putting out Iggy & The Stooges' bootlegs of "Raw Power" outtakes.

Anyway, the CD featuring "Street Queen" is called "Godfathers of LA Punk" (ouch!) and also has tracks from The Controllers and yup, some Iggy & The Stooges tracks. The entire album could be bought here: Godfathers of LA Punk, or better yet, just buy the download of "Street Queen" HERE. I didn't play on the other Max Lazer track so you're on your own there. I don't think we were very punk rock, in fact the most apt description of our sound would be glam-period Mott The Hoople. If you liked "All The Way From Memphis" or "Golden Age of Rock & Roll" then you would have liked us.

The funny thing about Max Lazer was that I remember playing a show with him at Baces Hall in Los Feliz around the spring of 1977. I caught the punk rock fever the previous summer when I went to London and saw The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks, so when I did the gig I wore a ripped wife beater with Polaroid photos safety pinned all over them. No big whoop in jaded 2014 but it seemed like a big deal back then, especially to one person in particular.

Brendan Mullen, punk rock impresario and author of several punk history books, confessed to me a year after my show that he was in the audience that night and said I was the very first punk he saw when he came to Hollywood. Too much! He also thought it was awesome when I occasionally broke into extended free jazz sax breaks on some of the more sludgy metal songs. There were a lot of people at the show that night so I'm sure he was there. As Lou Reed once sang "those were different times".

"Different times" which people still miss! Rebecca has a friend who scouts for anything designed by the SEX label from 1976 aka Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Maclaren's store in Chelsea. I wrote a blog about it called The Rubber And Leather T Chronicles (http://blackhairedboy.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-rubber-and-leather-t-chronicles.html).

I recently unearthed some pics of myself rocking the leather and silver rubber tees I bought from that store way back when. Just a few of them are posted here for your entertainment, and no, neither one is for sale. Well, the rubber tee decomposed two years after I bought it, anyway. The leather one's still around here somewhere.

Here are some of the pictures, and it's funny. I had so many taken during the late Seventies and then for some weird reason I became very camera shy in the Eighties and didn't have any pictures taken of me until 1988 when it was time for my band Trash Can School to get publicity shots taken. That's when I broke out the eye shadow and eye liner, etc - but that's an entirely different story.