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Friday, November 27, 2015

Big Mouth Bass

The backbone to any band or recording is the bass, no doubt about it. The drums are the legs, but the spine to any record lies in that big bass sound. Without the bass there’s no spin e to hold up the rest of the instruments. Even John Mayall knew that in 1969 when he recorded The Turning Point, dispensing with a drummer but keeping the bassist. Steve Thompson anchored the rhythm with a bottom that underscored the melody while giving life with the beat.

I think bass players are funnier people than guitarists. A bassist friend of mine used to always start every sentence with the opener, “BASICALLY…..” I thought that was brilliant.

On the other hand some of them are moody bastards, the worst. One bassist I played with had the word SPEED tattooed on his arm…um, gee, wonder why? He had a hair trigger temper and nodded his head vigorously every time he talked. Yeah….I think he had an extra hobby besides playing bass. He was a good player, though!

Bass players have every reason to be pissed, though. They don’t get to show off like drummers and they don’t really get to goof off like showboat guitarists. They’re too busy trying to make them both look like they know what they’re doing. Take away the bass player and the guitars and drums sound foolish.

But nobody worships that ass-shaking bass throb more than the hip hop maniacs. I live on a main drag where there are always gridlocked cars stuck in front of my house, and as sure as sheep dip you can bet our windows will rattle like an old lady’s teeth from the powerful bass frequency booming out of some homeboy’s car stereo. Sometimes even the walls shake.

But relax, haters, it’s all for love of the mighty bass sound. Which brings me to a story which takes place in the early Nineties, when I worked at Dodger Stadium. My car was out for the count that week so I had to walk across the humongous Stadium parking lot. A coworker, we’ll call him Miguel, pulled up right by me in his sled, and needless to say, the bass was thumping to wake the dead.

Miguel was a thick kid with Chinese eyes and dressed like the souvenir concession collapsed on him: Dodger baseball cap, Dodger tee, and he would have worn matching sweats only they were either out of stock or didn't carry it in his size. He was a good guy.

“Need a lift, guy?”

Miguel drove down Sunset Boulevard nodding his head hard to the beat. I looked out the car window and could have sworn the titanic palm trees around us were trembling from the rattle this car was kicking out.

Needless to say the car was throbbing, my balls were rattling in my pants, even the tires of the car seemed to be shaking on the road from the ridiculously loud frequency.


The car stopped at a red light and older guys in the BMWs were glaring at us sideways in their pussy Aviator shades. At that point I laughed because I realized the bass guitar had done more than the entire punk scene ever did: shake people up and offend them. The bass ruled the streets. The bass stood supreme. The bass owned.

Me (in scared Jerry Lewis voice): “YOU MEAN IT GETS LOUDER?”

We narrowly missed an ambulance zooming by the right of us because the Chemical Brothers bass drowned out the siren. When I saw we narrowly missed the Paramedics wagon by a few feet I decided to bail out for safety and pointed at an arbitrary house down the street.


The bass abides, forever forward and onward.

Artwork by the great Chris Reccardi.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Day The Mannequins Frowned

Sometimes you get so busy you're the last to know. Case in point: In late June of this year Out Magazine reported the closing of International Male and its offshoot Undergear. I didn't know! I was wondering what happened to all the perpetual emails and monthly catalogs I used to receive in the mail. They just stopped coming, and I never knew why.

People had a good laugh over International Male, and for good reason. A lot of the fashions in the catalog were gaudy and ridiculous, with models striking poses even more absurd than the clothes. Unfortunately there were the odd things here and there which caught my eye. An occasional gem, like the nice black leather pirate coat, which I still have.

There's also a pretty cool pair of jeans I bought from them with big industrial zippers in the front and rear pockets with heavy stitching a la True Religion jeans (at a fraction of the price!). And what can I say about Undergear but that I bought a lot of great bikinis from them.

On the minus side, their mail order was outrageous with exorbitant fees tacked on to your order, i.e. California state taxes, shipping and handling, if ordering more than 3 pieces add an additional $5 (on top of everything else!), etc.

With special charges costing almost as much as the items themselves it was time to look elsewhere like Chi Chi Larue, Showtime and other men's clothing boutiques in West Hollywood. Other customers had similar ideas about blowing off this increasingly out of touch with the times online men's boutique.

I got a kick out of getting those catalogs but I'll continue buying my bikinis from International Jock, Pistol Pete, Nasty Pig and C-In2 mail orders, all of them cheaper than Undergear. And then there's al those great sites from Korea, so goodbye International Male and Undergear. It was fun while it lasted!


H&M's probably the strongest premium fashion outlet for men (next to the awful Uniqlo) and one of the reasons is their collaboration with high end designers for a powerful limited edition they can sell to their faithful customers. This year H&M chose Balmain as the designer to carry for their limited edition line. Oh, dear.

Before the clothes hit the stores a hokey video featuring a Kardashian-Jenner doing some subway dance was dropped online, like Balmain really even needs to go there in terms of hype. But hype it did and hype it happened.

When the clothes finally lined the shelves in early November endless lines of shoppers hit the stores with many being turned away. H&M's website crashed due to heavy traffic and needless to say, eBay already has some of these babies up for bidding. Personally, I find some of the styles underwhelming and not worthy of all the hype. But, still it's Balmain.


One fashion outlet that can use a lesson or two from H&M is The Gap, who are already predicting a sluggish final sales quarter of the year. The Gap, just like International Male, is stuck in an old era and shows no signs of updating its image. The last time I walked into a Gap the clothes looked like everything I saw the first time I walked in there 20 years ago. American Apparel's still on its last legs. In terms of clueless outlets, can Urban Outfitters be far behind?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Reality Begins With A Dream

When a couple romantically fall in love with each other one of the most common cliches uttered is, "Let's grow old together". The reality of it is, and check your marriage vows is, "Let's get gradually ill together" or "Let's get poor together". Both happened to us which is partly responsible for the closing of Viva Rebecca LLC, also known as Suite 103.

In between designing her own fetish party clothes under the label Viva Rebecca she sewed wardrobe for TV, movies, rock videos and an endless chorus line of metal bands. Life was simple then; we didn't have a lot of money but we had each other and the fetish parties we'd go to to sell our weird clothes. She was the designer and I was her partner. Ahem.

In the beginning Viva Rebecca headquarters was our living room in a small apartment in the Miracle Mile district, which was largely inconvenient until the Northridge Quake of 1994. The hundreds of after shocks we experienced were largely tempered by our sleeping under an army of indestructible sewing machines largely made in the 1920s and 1930s.

International television camera crews from Canada and Germany filmed us in our native habitat working and goofing around. We were famous but broke until a government agency finally picked me up for permanent employment. Then the money rolled in, quickly followed by a move to newer digs in a soon to be trendy hipster neighborhood.

Viva Rebecca was still located in our spacious living room with me helping out diligently on my time off from working for the LA County Department of Children & Family Services (who still have me listed in their phone book after all these years!).

In 1999 our next door neighbor, a very old, eccentric shut-in accidentally died (his portable television fell on him in the middle of the night - he slept on the floor). When the apartment was up for rent we moved in and turned it into the new home of Viva Rebecca. Things were getting better.

I still managed to find time to help Rebecca with her projects, even sometimes getting up in the middle of the night in my pajamas to help her with an all-nighter. I could always be counted on to trace patterns, cut material and even do some light sewing duties. Rebecca thought I was great.

Two years down the road I transferred to the Executive Office at the LA County Board of Supervisors for a radically large promotional position and a much higher salary. Rebecca was doing well, too. She was getting more popular and in demand for her ability to finish projects ahead of schedule. We were both getting hot in our careers.

Getting hot in your career largely means you're more in demand by everyone and have less time to goof around, party, see friends, vacation, you name it. Rebecca didn't even have time to sleep any more; the all-nighters were happening more and more. We had money and no freedom.

I was the first one to crack: in 2011 I walked out on the Board of Supervisors. The mental abuse I endured there was like none I'd ever experienced. There were weeks when I was called on the carpet by management at least five times a day. The discipline at that job was severe to the point of insanity. My insanity.

After leaving the Board I still worked as Rebecca's assistant - projects included a great fruit juice commercial building a monster truck designed like a poodle, and then there was the Twisted Metal project and I did some scattered work for LA County.

When Rebecca was on the road working I'd go into Suite 103 and sew up some great shirts or accessories for myself. I had a lot of fun sewing things for myself and learned a lot about menswear that way. I even managed to find time to design and sew some dresses for Rebecca!

I saw less and less of Rebecca. Either she was doing more all-nighters or going on the road working on more sewing jobs. When Rebecca returned from these jobs I would offer to help and she refused, no longer wanting my help. My best was no longer good enough.

Because of the new demand for her to sew for an endless army of stylists there was no longer any time to design or sew Viva Rebecca originals. It was over. The jobs were never ending and Rebecca took them all, mostly as a one-man band. It wouldn't be exaggerating to say she did the work of a ten-man crew all by herself in 48-hour spurts. I hardly ever saw her.

When she did accept assistance it was largely from women who "liked fashion" but had no real sewing skills. When I occasionally offered to help I was turned down flat by her. She finally reached a point where she couldn't run the whole show by herself any more. Viva Rebecca had been run into the ground.

Physical and mental health problems in addition to astronomical debt closed down Viva Rebecca. Having had enough, she decided to close down the work shop for good. Many of her clients didn't take her decision very seriously, still calling with projects they wanted her to work on.

For weeks Rebecca worked hard at closing the workshop down. I was left with putting the finishing touches to clearing out Suite 103. It was one of the saddest experiences I've ever had.

Rebecca left for the next three months to convalesce with a nurse, and I think it's all for the best. She needs a little time to re-evaluate things and understand what's really important in our lives. Yeah, there's still "us" as far as I'm concerned.

After 16 years I'll always remember Suite 103 and miss the early years, but what it turned into won't have me missing it too much. Things may come and things may go, but we'll still be here. Someday we'll be together.