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Friday, October 30, 2015

Moonlight Mile With The Dandy Warhols

Rebecca had me on standby late Friday night, making me wait for her to finish a dress that she had to deliver up in the Hollywood Hills. While I was waiting on her I banged out the final chapter of my crime novel while The Dandy Warhols Come Down played in the background.

The space drone of Be-In washed over the room as I typed, so quiet and hypnotic, sinuous sounds with reptilian guitars wrapping and unwrapping themselves around my mind as I typed furiously away.

Rebecca finally came in and said the dress was ready and we could go up and deliver the dress. It was well past midnight. We drove up to Beverly Hills and drove past dark, grainy streets punctuated by endless rows of palm trees with their shadows leaning over us like some unholy tribunal.

The streets were empty and quiet with the artificial street lamps flickering light on us like some defective strobe light. And Be-In just played over and over in my mind as I drove. The drone, the guitars and chanting voices which may as well be the palm trees singing to us.

"Turn here!" Rebecca said. "This is the street! Cielo Drive".
I froze.

Cielo Drive, the street where the house of the gruesome Sharon Tate-Jay Sebring murders committed by the Charles Manson Family, long remembered as the one of the ugliest murders in Hollywood history. As we went up a steep, hilly road I noticed that the street lights were getting scarcer and scarcer and that the road was almost pitch black. And The Dandy Warhols still played in my head. "Am I, Am I, Am I", the chanting went.

Higher and higher we went, and it seemed as if the higher we went the road got darker and darker. So dark, that whenever a car quietly drifted by us with its low headlights it looked like a slithering shark around the bottom of some dense ocean. As I drove towards the Sharon Tate murder scene I wondered what kind of music Sharon and Jay and Abigail listened to that night: was it bad hippie shit like Crosby, Stills and Nash or was it dark, hypnotic drone like The Dandy Warhols?

Finally the GPS told me we'd reached the house of the drop-off. We reached a cul-de-sac in front of a gated estate where the lights were out, looking like there was nobody home.
"Are you sure this is the place?"
"Yeah, they said it was a corner estate and no one would be home. Just leave it on the gate".

Rebecca got out of the car with the dress in a five-foot long garment bag. I sat behind the wheel with the motor running, only my headlights providing any relief from the darkness.

Rebecca decided to push the security bell, again and again. No answer. Double checking the address, this was definitely the home for the drop off. She hung the dress on the gate in the darkness, and ran back into the car.

And as I drove down the hill, away from the darkness, towards life and light and the mortality of Beverly Hills, all I could hear in my head was the haunting drone of The Dandy Warhols playing Be-In. Later on, later on, later on, later on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Volume War (1993)

The year was 1993 and that behemoth called grunge rock was going strong, bands with punk backgrounds playing sludgy spluzz with lots of guitar and little else added. Bands like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana and many, many, too many others.

I had just completed a tour of the United States with my band Trash Can School and it was largely a success considering many people didn't have any idea who we were. With the momentum of the band gaining its new-found popularity, our record company SFTRI wanted us to go in and record a new album.

Cutting a new album was easier said than done, because A: our previous engineer got a fat head and wanted a hefty producer's fee in addition to getting paid studio time, and B: the album budget was something like $3-5,000, pretty minuscule even by early Nineties standards. To put it in plain English we had to look for a new engineer, studio and they had to be nothing short of amazing.

A fan and friend of the band told us Geza X was in between big jobs and was interested in recording any crazy indie bands. When I said I was interested I asked her to remind Geza that we were in Arthur J. and The Gold Cups together. Geza accepted immediately and he was nice enough to take our poverty row budget like a mensch.

Half the album was not only written in advance but was road tested on our national tour - DT's, TV Blues, Dog Town Girl, Powershred and Steel Purse, to name a few. The other half hadn't been written yet so I had to cobble together at least seven new numbers. The newer songs were Steroid Shock, Big Time Full-On Cop Out, Taxidermist, Volume War and a couple of others.

Geza X's studio was called City Lab and was situated in a house above the Sunset Strip, high above the Comedy Store. In fact, Pauly Shore, Mitzi Shore's son lived next door with his purple jeep parked out in front. Across the street lived Peter Weller, who had a huge, resplendent villa-style home. Not bad for the guy who played William Burroughs and Robocop.

Having Geza as producer was important to me, because by this time the band had fallen heavily under the influence of the Great Pacific Northwest and the Sub-Pop sound, and to me Geza was a kindred soul in the pursuit of strange and unusual sounds, and encouraged me to go farther out than I ever had before.

With the band becoming more musically conservative in their musical tastes it was important to assert my influence on the band by emphasizing even more bizarre sounds than was previously displayed on the first album.

I made concessions toward the trendy grunge sound by writing songs like Taunt, the Ballad of Peter Green and Big Time Full-On Cop Out, but even the latter composition had a quirky Voidoids-style bridge that broke up whatever Mudhoney vibe ran throughout the song. And then there was that atonal saxophone break.

In spite of these concessions I still created walls of discordant noise with a free-form jazz ending to Taxidermist with a wall of guitar feedback. Then there was Powershred, featuring a sample of Sun Ra playing white noise on his synthesizer while a scratch vocal imitating a sax solo made the final mix, bringing some Yoko Ono good cheer to the proceedings.

Steel Purse had a stop and go pulse all through the song, like a demented roller coaster, and for good reason: it was about the Long Beach Pike, a busted-up amusement park where sailors got rolled and gangs got into knife fights and tranny hookers flashed steel, as well.

I also incorporated a great 12-string guitar that Rebecca made for TV Blues and Dog Town Girl. It added a very light touch to the band sound, which we needed badly. DT's had a backwards saxophone track to add to the menacing voodoo drone the band was laying down. I don't think we're in Seattle any more, Toto.

And perhaps that was the big problem in a lot of the fan's eyes (and ears). The album received unanimously bad reviews and even earned the enmity of Papa Bear at SFTRI. He felt he got gypped out of his money because instead of getting Nevermind Part II he got Andy's Wild Years. He'll never realize he got the most original album ever released on his label.

Making a bad grunge album would have been the easiest task in the world but that's not my calling. I made in abundantly clear to everyone that I was dedicated to making the most unusual rock music of its time, and people kept nodding their heads like I was talking drunk again.

Needless to say, the accompanying tour in support of the album was an unqualified disaster, leading up to the breakup of the band. I still listen to Volume War (named after the three guitarists turning up their amps over each other throughout rehearsal until one couldn't even hear themselves anymore) and am amazed at what a great piece of work I created with these guys. One day Volume War will have its day because all maverick works get the recognition they're due.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Pride of Artistic Ownership

Owning a work of art is not unlike owning a pet: Do you own your cat and does your cat own you? Do you own a painting or does the painting own you? Even though you own a painting, yeah you paid for it, but nevertheless, everyone can have access to it on the Internet or as an illustration in a book. So is the painting ever really yours exclusively? Probably not.

On the other hand, having it live in the flesh in your home is more dynamic than looking at some photo of the same piece. I had a friend who had a prodigious Robt. Williams art collection and none of the magazine and book repros did his pieces any justice. You just gotta see these babies in person to get the full weight of their dynamism.

The funny thing about owning paintings is that after awhile they begin to pile up in your collection whether you intended on being a serious collector or not. I began buying paintings by great artists if they were affordable, and lucky for me I caught a lot of these great works when they were still affordable.

My bout with collecting began while spending an eternity attending openings at Copro Nason Gallery, which at the time was in sleepy Culver City. Always a major fan of the works of XNO, when I attended a show and noticed that his Quisp painting was available at a super cool price I snapped it up right away (thanks, Gary).

I discovered the great art of Sharon Leong when her work was included in a book my wife Rebecca was in called "Vicious, Delicious and Ambitious", compiled and edited by Sheri Cullison. I net her at various shows promoting the book, La Luz De Jesus and once again, at Copro Nason. The content of her art combines bizarre erotica with the snarling menace of vintage dime store paperback novels from the Forties and Fifties. The painting I'm holding pictured above is titled "Do Men Want Clinging Girls?"

Although I couldn't afford any of The Pizz's paintings we managed to work a deal where we could get a few of his master sketches for his paintings in exchange for a handful of Nauga monster dolls we made (we even made a black one for him!). In exchange we got the sketches for Hardware, DT's and The Stoner and The Stripper, all based on songs I've written and recorded. By the way, Pizz was suppose to have painted the cover for my first album, but the record company guy was dead set against it. He thought some shitty blurred Xerox of me was more aesthetic. What a wasted opportunity.

More paintings were acquired: a great Dave Leamon piece of the Three-Eyed Elf Bitch, also acquired at Copro Nason, one I'll treasure forever. Speaking of multiple eyes, I also purchased a brilliant limited edition bust of a Six-Eyed Man by Travis Louie, which was beautifully displayed at the Merry Karnowsky Gallery.

Some pieces Rebecca acquired include a great Lisa Petrucci painting on lacquered wood of a Cowgirl In A UFO, as well as a few Gary Baseman works, given in exchange for the work we did on his Skirball Museum show, "The Door Is Always Open".

Sometimes surprising things happen, like the time Gil Kane's son ran into my friend and bandmate Jack Gould and asked him for a Trash Can School tee, which we appropriated his art. He was so thrilled he got some indie cred on a tee shirt he gave Jack an autographed poster, which Jack let me have. As a Gil Kane fan I was totally honored.

I own a few signed Frank Kozik lithographs, as well, but by now you're getting the gist of what I'm walking about: I never entered this trying to play the grand art collector big shot. It's like they say, if you hang around Hollywood long enough you'll either meet everyone you've ever wanted to meet or become the person everyone wants to meet. Hang around a gallery long enough and you'll eventually get every art piece by every artist you've ever wanted to own. Shazam!