Minstrels Anonymous on Bandcamp

Friday, August 31, 2018

Minstrels Anonymous

I couldn't tell you where my love for the mandolin started, but it started early in life. Maybe it was Ian Anderson playing his great song Fat Man ("people think that I was just good fun, man") or maybe it was all those brilliant Warner Bros. pop records featuring Ry Cooder, but I was so smitten with the instrument that I bought a Nonesuch Records album of classical mandolin music featuring sonatas by Beethoven and Hummel. I've always had mandolin fever but never got into the game. Until now.

Last summer I finally took the plunge and bought a mandolin set - that is, the instrument, a backpack-style gig bag and an instructional book with chords. I went for the completely jet black lute made by Rogue instruments. I set the bridge up and immediately started playing. I was in Seventh Mandolin Heaven!

I taught myself a few chords and started digesting as many YouTube tutorials as my nosy mind would absorb. I also discovered some great mandolin players of the past (Bill Monroe) and the present (young Sierra Hull and the equally amazing Justin Moses).

In addition to playing the easy songs in my instructional book - Wayfaring Stranger, Song of Joy aka Clockwork Orange, and Big Rock Candy Mountain I also began learning some of my own tunes, as seen below.

My decision to engage in acoustic music wasn't as quirky as it might seem. It was a serious decision made regarding my return to music, which I wasn't looking forward to because of my tinnitus. The prospect of performing loud music again was painful just to think about.

That's me at Holmby Park playing my song Husband Material, a song I used to play with my band Trash Can School. I've been playing in parks all over Los Angeles a lot lately and I really enjoy it. It's very invigorating to be able to play outdoors and I try to do it every weekend. Beats playing to a brunch of drunks in some nightclub!

En route to playing all this wild stuff I also got heavily into folk music, and I don't mind listing my favorites: Dave Van Ronk, Tim Buckley (even the gigolo shit), Judy Henske, Fred Neil and even some of the cornball Kingston Trio stuff is decent - check out Hangman by them. Beats Nick Cave at his own game IMO. Listening to these wildmen and women of folk has been a great education in song crafting and phrasing.

In addition to learning my own stuff I'm also learning a few punk songs on my mandolin. I'm working on a cool version of Nice & Sleazy by The Stranglers as well as Ex-Lion Tamer by Wire which I plan on posting soon on YouTube. Keep your eyes peeled on my channel. I've created a monster - a Mandolin Monster and I couldn't be happier.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Vanishing Masterpieces

Although there’s a big difference between street art and graffiti the one thing they have in common is that they’re not welcome to the side of a building’s wall. What they both lack is the owner’s consent as they would a commissioned mural. Street art can be seen to some as a visual invasion, however beautiful it may be.

During my short time as a fashion courier I’ve run across several displays of street art that I captured on my cell phone, and I’m glad I did. To this day all of them have been painted over and are lost forever except in the memories of mine and other’s photographs. I’d like to share just a few of them with you.

Alec Monopoly’s art can be seen all over Hollywood and mostly employ the iconic character Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly board game. Of all his works my favorite was the Goldie Hawn mural on Melrose one block west of Crescent Heights. Showing Hawn in her Laugh-In go-go dance resplendence with blue alien skin, it was an extra-large image startling to all those engaging in conspicuous consumption along the street of high-end fashion boutiques.

I also ran into several pieces in the alleys (!) of Rodeo Drive. Here’s one of Barbie’s mod cousin Casey with the line “PORNSTAR” atop her crown poised above her head. Could this be a soft indictment of all over-pampered blondes of Beverly Hills? Hard to tell, and even harder now that it’s been painted over.

Then there’s the matter of Becca, a street artist who’s been posting her work spasmodically for the past twenty-plus years all over Los Angeles. This work was also posted in the alleys of Rodeo Drive, and in true Becca fashion is done in her classic children’s book style. While some may find her work surreal and even creepy in its uncorrupted innocence, I find something very peaceful and bizarrely reassuring in her refusal to seek social commentary in her work, or am I wrong? Is this piece meant to advise one and all that her piece is the only thing innocent in all of Beverly Hills, populated with the most decadent and corrupted souls in all of California? One wonders.

One wall which probably won’t have to lose sleep over being painted over is the vintage store wall on the corner of Melrose and Curson. An area at once chic, consumerist but funky, this wall is a great jam of multiple artists allowed to post their work together in one cool as hell gallery (of sorts). This is how Melrose Avenue got its groove in the first place, and it’s reassuring to know that some people still remember and probably revere the old days. The days of art over money, however short lasting that was.

Monday, January 15, 2018


The delivery to The Montclair Group was going to be later than expected due to the delay caused by the multiple car accident on the freeway. Once I reached Laguna Beach I turned off at the nearest supermarket to do some major evacuation.

I’d been driving for four hours straight without using a restroom and my body was cramping badly. I needed to find a good restroom, and there are a few that are best for a driver to use. Department stores are too fussy and finding their restrooms can be a little too labyrinth-like to reach. Supermarkets are pretty good because they don’t place demands that you buy something in order to use their facilities.

The best are probably shopping malls because the bathrooms are large and plentiful, and always situated by the food court. The only minus are their gigantic parking structures, which sometimes demand you pay a small fee to park.

Some restrooms have keypads you need to punch a code in, but this time I got lucky. This was a multi-use walk-in restroom, so I walked right in and got to business. There were three stalls in the bathroom and the only open one was in the center.

The stall to the right of me was a little boy being instructed by his father how to use the toilet. They spoke very loudly.
“I don’t have to go anymore”.
“Are you sure? You said you really had to go”.
“I just had to peepee a little bit, but now I don’t need to”.
“Are you absolutely sure? We have to get back in the car pretty soon and then you’ll have to wait for awhile. Well, okay, pull up your pants”.
“Wait a minute! Now I have to go”.

In the stall on my left was a guy playing music videos on his cell phone and probably having a wank watching them. It didn’t sound like he was taking care of business in there.

I washed my hands, staring down at them as I lathered them up, refusing to look up in the mirror. I washed them very thoroughly and then, keeping my head down turned to grab a few paper towels. I wiped them very slowly and then finally gave in, looking up in the mirror at my face.

I looked younger than my years would admit, an almost childlike face in spite of the fact that I’d been through quite a lot in the past few decades. My hair was still in full growth, no baldness there and my eyes still looked bizarrely innocent, bizarre because they’d seen too much, but still full and colorful like it hadn’t seen enough springs and summers yet. There was a defiant, pouty little boy mouth, with the disturbing appearance of one who still expected a better tomorrow even though their world was falling apart in front of them. My body was still fit and trim because lunch breaks consisted of bottled water and tiny supermarket baguettes.

I finished up and walked over to the sink and saw a bum at the next sink giving himself an impromptu bath. He had his shirt off and took heaps of hand soap, lathering his arm pits with the stuff and washing it off with the endlessly running sink. He had a sunburnt face and neck while the rest of his body was lily white. Thankfully he kept his baggy pants on.

“Sup?” he asked while giving me a conspiratorial nod. I just smiled. He was definitely humming.

Once I was done freshening up I bought a bottle of water and a pack of chewing gum and proceeded to my delivery.

Two hours later I was back in Beverly Hills. My next pickup was at Roku Bank on Wilshire Boulevard. I picked up a packet of money, about $10,000 in cash, and assigned to deliver it to a Mr. Walter Webster in Malibu.

Of course, I had to show ID and sign a few papers before I was off and on my way to Pacific Coast Highway. Mister Webster was so far down Pacific Coast Highway that he went beyond Zuma Beach and was on the border to Ventura County.

Pacific Coast Highway was the main road running through Santa Monica Beach and Malibu. It ran even further than that, but for our purposes we were just going to go as far as the outer reaches of Malibu.

You coast down a busy road that opens up to the beach on one side and a sea wall on the other. Going south I had the beach with its pounding waves to my left and the high-cliffed sea wall to my right.

Although PCH was always busy with traffic everybody always left enough room so you never felt like anybody crowded you. You felt free even in busy traffic. It was funny like that.

After half an hour the GPS advised me to turn off a tiny rustic road that planed higher and higher up the hill to Mr. Webster’s home.
“You have arrived at your destination”, she chirped. “Your route guidance is now finished”.

I got out of the car with my sign-off sheet and the packet of cash. I opened a polished steel gate and walked through a faux Spanish villa front yard. I rang the bell and waited for my delivery.

A big, sandy-haired man in his fifties opened the door with a sandwich in his left hand, chomping away. He wore a stained polo shirt and tan Bermuda shorts with fat white sneakers that looked like baby shoes.
“Um, yeah?”
“Hi, Style Runners”, I smiled. “Your funds are here”.
“Oh, yeah”, he grunted, munching away on his ham and wheat.
“Please sign here”.
“Oh, um, huh!” he puffed away, signing with something that didn’t even look like a legitimate signature. He just wanted his dough and for me to fuck off.

I got my signature and left as he slammed his door, back to his sandwich and money. He certainly didn’t look like a rich man, bit he had the house and it was none of my business.

“Okay, 757, come back to the Westside”, my dispatcher said after I reported the delivery made. I drove by more vistas of crystal blue skies, crashing waves against perfectly sculpted rocks and pretty girls peeling out of west suits in their bikinis. People were having fun but I had money to make.

“757, head over to Barney’s New York on Wilshire”, the dispatcher called.
I headed east on Santa Monica Boulevard until the two right lanes were blocked off for construction.
“ROAD WORK AHEAD”, a sign flashed.

Traffic slowed down and people tried cutting each other off to get ahead of each other. Horns blared angrily and road construction workers nonchalantly walked in front of oncoming traffic just to shorten everyone’s temper even more.

I decided to cut down Olympic Boulevard to avoid the jam but it was even worse down there. There was road work also on Olympic Boulevard (repaved road), finally reaching a full-stop where everyone had to detour further south to Pico Boulevard. I was now miles off-course because of my poor decision making.

I sat in traffic with the rest of everyone else, my mind drifting towards things in general. I began thinking about Karol and the changes in our relationship before things went bad. She started taking herself seriously, too seriously.

I once went shopping with her one afternoon in the Wilshire District. Karol took great pride in everyone in the store calling her on a first name basis; it was a frighteningly big deal to her. Bored with her making a big show of how popular she was in the store, I walked out to the sidewalk to check on my car.
A car loaded with black teenagers drove slowly by me.
'YO, OZZY OSWALD!" "SUP, OZZY OSWALD?" They yelled at me from the car, laughing. I laughed right back.
Now there's a great hip-hop name, Ozzy Oswald. Make me a cross between Ozzy Osbourne, revered metal singer of Black Sabbath with Lee Harvey Oswald, notorious killer of the great President John F. Kennedy. Those kids had spunk. Those kids had genius.

I stood around five minutes more and then a car of white teenage girls pulled up asking me all kinds of questions. Talking to teenage girls is a lot like being abducted by aliens: once it's over you have no recollection of what just happened. I think they were asking me about my 7-star tattoo sleeve, but then again I might have imagined that as the topic.

Karol came out of the store and asked me where I went.
"Oh, a couple of cars full of kids pulled up to talk to me".
"I used to be famous".
I smiled and said, "But this isn't Facebook, this is real life".

Well, it didn’t seem like much but it was fairly symptomatic of her rampant egomania getting out of control, with my head on the chopping block because she had to be the alpha queen of it all. Shucks. I just couldn’t comply with her megalomania.

I continued to meditate on that in a daze, until the spell was broken by an angry car horn growling behind me. I jumped a little bit and pumped the accelerator. I moved up in line and after snaking through many detours and cut-off lanes finally snaked behind Wilshire Boulevard to Barney’s.

I grabbed the Dolce & Gabbana and avoided all the detours to make the delivery to Century City. Century City earned its name from being a former backlot of 20th Century Fox, who had to sell off some of their land to developers to keep their studio from going under.

Since all this deal making was done in the late Sixties during the height of the Space Race many streets were named after celestial bodies, like Galaxy Way, Constellation Boulevard and the like. Bored from the constant task of driving all day, I started singing a song in praise of all the streets of Century City.

There was no intelligible melody in all this, but I began crooning, “Century Park East… Avenue of the Stars…Solar Way…Constellation Boulevard…Galaxy Way…Century Park West…Avenue of The Stah-hah-hars….”

I just went on and on, singing these silly street names to myself over and over again until they actually sounded like something musical.

“Solar Way…Con-stell-ay-shun Boo-leh-vard…”, I crooned like a fool. Was the loneliness overtaking me? I wondered.

“757, what is your ETA?”
“Twenty minutes”, I responded. I always said twenty minutes no matter how far I was from my destination. It was the safest answer.

The roads looked grayer and my vision felt blurrier but I kept my mind occupied with my stupid song.

“Century Park East… Avenue of the Stars…Solar Way…Constellation Boulevard…Galaxy Way…Century Park West…Avenue of The Stah-hah-hars….”

I drove slower and let everyone pass me, the transit buses, endless growling motorcycles, the taxicabs, the tourist buses, aggressively macho convertibles, even the bicyclists. It was their road and I didn’t feel like fighting over it. I didn’t care. With a song in my heart, I sang…
“Century Park East… Avenue of the Stars…Solar Way…Constellation Boulevard…Galaxy Way…Century Park West…Avenue of The Stah-hah-hars….”

I pulled up to the townhouse, which had its own private yard. I walked through the wooden gate, and in the yard was a gray pot-bellied pig, rooting around the lawn. I was taken aback because I was used to dogs, cats and birds, but not a large pig hobbling around the front lawn. It grunted at me a few times.

The lawn was surprisingly clean and I didn’t smell any scat, so this was a well-kept city pig. It just kept grunting over and over like a sick ARP synthesizer.

I walked around the pig and knocked on the delivery’s door. A pretty young girl answered.

“Hi, Style Runners. Your Dolce’s here. Please sign here”, I handed her my pen and clipboard. She noticed my unease.
“Don’t let my pig bother you”, the woman smiled. “She attaches herself to everybody”.
“Oh, I get that sometimes. She doesn’t bite, does she?”

“Oh, no”, the woman laughed as I handed her the garment bag. “You won’t have anything to worry about. Thank you!”
She closed the door and I turned to leave, but….

The pig positioned herself right in front of me and refused to budge. I tried to walk around her and she moved towards me. Her head half lowered to the ground and half looking at me from below, She was a strange one.
“Come on, kid. I got to go”.

The pig wouldn’t move over, so I started charging at her. Instead of attacking back she started squealing and squealing to beat the band.
“Shut up, you dumb bitch. I’ve got to go”. I shoved her gray ass over with my foot with her still squealing her head off.

I got back in my car and forgot the words to my stupid song. That fucking pig ruined my space age mantra.