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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.

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".