The beatniks used to joke that the goats came from Eden Ahbez, who was still near enough in vicinity that people at the coffee houses knew his lesser known songs by heart. They wouldn't sing "Nature Boy" the song Nat Cole made famous, but another one Eden had written for his wife, "Anna Was Mine". Later, a guy I knew from Pomona when he was starting out (Arthur) had moved to Los Angeles and actually lived near Eden in the hills and went and took photographs of his music group near the Gong. I'd see Arthur once in a very great while in Venice when I was there.
And when I tried to describe the weird foreign accent I'd overheard and was laughing about the cirsumstances of it all and wondered who it was, somebody teased me and shouted, "Akim Tamiroff" as Akim had been in this old movie shot in Venice and apparently he was still hanging around the area a bit, maybe he'd made a friend or listened to jazz, or maybe he liked having a cup of coffee by the beach, who knows.
1967-1968. Does anybody but me remember seeing that new band "The Grateful Dead" on a local Let's Go Bowling television show? Where the Grateful Dead, or at least Jerry Garcia, bowled for the camera?
Or when in that same era the Berkeley Free Store on San Pablo Ave won a coupon for a free chicken dinner after being called by random by some local television host and answering a simple question?
And that was just daytime local television. Just try to imagine the other kinds of shenanigans that went on ... Those could be some great fun times.
¶ 12/31/2010 07:45:00 PM
I was a kid in Compton and the slightly older kids were heavy into R&B (and I also mean even the junior high and high school marching bands seriously kicked). The older kids went to the roller rink and for thirty-five cents plus the price of skate rental would roll around an oval wooden track to the beat of their favorite records, and I went a few times. Fortunately the rails were padded as awkward skaters gaining too high a speed would lose control and they'd aim their bodies at the rails to bring themselves to a stop, which was less harmful to the body than hitting the hard wooden floor and risk other skaters rolling over or in other ways colliding with them. Couples would skate together, their arms linked across their chests as if they'd studied the gliding graceful moves from Ice Capades. Some of those kids could skate backwards, and others could propel themselves forward at high speed when crouching like young roller derby stars in training for a double jam. Eventually, a promoter brought in a live band to play for the roller skaters.
¶ 12/31/2010 06:36:00 PM
I used to make jokes when listening to the radio driving around with people in the little foreign cars with manual transmissions. I'd tell them even your car is musical, man, "Four on the floor."
When I was there living near Venice, I'd take the bus up to UCLA sometimes and hang around the Ethnomusicology department and chat up Bess Hawes. John Fahey was studying there at the time as was a guy later to be called "Owl", though I never saw either one of them there.
Nearer where I lived was McCabe's (this is their old location now) and my friend Kenny Edwards had a job there repairing mandolins and stringing guitars and selling instruments. He eventually met up with some of the UCLA people as they'd be drawn to McCabe's like bees to honey ... and he joined up with the early Canned Heat. They were really solid and GOOD! Kenny played me some tapes (I'm pretty sure at his house where he was living in Mar Vista), but he told me they were from a band called "Truck". Also at the Ethnomusicology department was a fellow named Stuart Brotman, and I got to know Stuart a bit. One time we went to the beach and he played flute the whole time. One time I went to the UCLA campus and ran into Stuart who was on his way to his friend's lab, they were engineering or rocket scientists, and we drank some of the alcohol they distilled in the lab from pure lab alcohol, it was 180 proof. I have no idea how I got home, but I recall staring out the window of some kind of vehicle but the stop lights were all blurry and I had a case of the whirlies.
They might have already known him, but I mentioned Stuart to some musicians I ran into at a Lightning Hopkins concert and Stuart later got involved with the Kaleidoscope as he had some ethnic time signatures down majorly pat.
Within a short time, within the blink of an eye it seemed as life moved so fast for some, Kenny had dropped Canned Heat (or Truck) and had tied in with Bobby Kimmel and a friend of Bobby's named Linda Ronstadt.
The last time I saw Kenny there, he and I went to Cantor's and he pointed out Frank Zappa to me, and Frank was wearing a brown satin Tibetan Lama's outfit complete with a little peaked hat ... I recognized him by his nose. And Kenny said, "Frank Zappa" because he knew I knew Frank. I was surprised, as I had no clue that Frank was anywhere in the vicinity.
Or maybe the last time I saw Kenny there was when we drove up to some coffee house in Hollywood (Fred C Dobbs on Sunset Strip, I think it was on Sunset) and were stopped by the police on the way back. The police pulled a "funny one" on the driver. They made him get out of the car and he was talking to them at the rear of the car, then one of them came to me and asked to see the registration which I pulled out of the vehicle glove box and handed to him. Then the other cop talking to the driver asked him to produce the registration, and he came to the car and opened the door and looked in the glove box and pulled out the little book he usually kept the papers in, and I was trying to tell him the other cop had it, but he was walking back to the other cop with the little book in his hand confident he could show the registration. So he couldn't produce the registration to the cop who was asking for it and he was given a ticket. And as the cop was writing out the ticket, which I couldn't see as they were behind the car, the other cop came and handed me the registration through the window, and I put it back into the glove box ... so with that traffic citation, it was an expensive outing. He even hit the steering wheel with both fists when I told him what had happened on the way home.
They still liked pushing beatniks around. Seemed fitting. Fred C Dobbs got pushed around in the movie and by people who didn't need no stinking badges.
The guy I'd talked to Stuart Brotman about got stopped by the police, too, one night and he had to explain why he had a beer bottle neck in his guitar case. He played slide guitar and they assumed he was concealing a deadly weapon in his Volkswagen bug.
I thought it strange but telling that people in LA would name their coffee house after a character in a movie. A number of years later, 1967 or so, Kenny brought the tapes up to the Bay Area and I heard them again on KMPX broadcast. They were still good.
¶ 12/31/2010 04:02:00 PM
You know, I'm gonna have to look at these years more carefully. As I went to the VERY FIRST ROLLING STONES SHOW in the US ....
There were Nazis, Nazis everywhere nor any drop to drink!
The beginning of 1966 near Venice. That was so very long ago, that the liquor store on the corner actually had a delivery service. Can you imagine? And the clerk would drive around with bottles of booze, sometimes cases for the well to do, other times a near-daily single quart of gin carried up two flights of stairs in downtrodden hotels where aging alcoholic actresses lived out their remaining days in their bathrobes.
Down the street from the liquor store, was some kind of investment place that actually had a stock ticker that was held in something that looked like a large bell jar that you could see from the window outside, with streams of perforated paper unreeling like streamers for a parade feeding into a wastebasket waiting below. The strips were punched out with strange little symbols. It looked like they were in constant production printing sets of encyclopedia for the blind.
And there were little places to stop and rest (I usually rode my bicycle around town). After seeing Scorpio Rising, I stopped somewhere at a cafe near the beach and was drinking a soda as you had to buy something to sit there usually.
The boardwalk back then was nothing like the freak show it is now. Just some pensioners playing checkers at tables near the beach. And the POP tram was still running though the amusement park that was growing day by day every bit as worndown, shabby, and neglected as its neighboring town Venice.
So I was sipping through a straw and turning the pages of the LA Free Press, when a group settled in behind me ... and they were young men just coming into a cafe and talking about stuff, but then suddenly one spoke with a thick "Chur-man ogg-zent" und after der cinema mit all the Nazi flags waving and Nazi soldiery superimposed over leather boys, this too gave me the creeps.
And I casually turned my head around, to see if this accent was a put-on or what, and the guys were beefy and well muscled and in appearance at least reminded me somewhat of the Blue Velvet boys in the movie as this was near the old Muscle Beach ... Austrian accents were everywhere in Santa Monica, but I'm fairly certain that was Arnold Schwartzenegger, you know, who used to hang out at Gold's Gym down there maybe even about that time. Later, I saw this guy come into Zucky's, a Jewish deli around the corner from me. I saw him come in as he was noticably handsome and somewhat charismatic, and I was worried lest his thick Germanic accent might freak out the staff. I'd like to think this was Arnold himself, as I'd hate to believe there were two of him.
So there were people hanging in the area with careers about to take off once they moved away from the beach I guess.
I saw quite a bit of the sights and heard the local lore. The Merry-go-Round near the pier was supposed to be haunted by the ghost of someone who had been murdered there.
Where the horse race track used to be. The canals. The old columnades in Venice proper, and elsewhere a funky kind of smoke stack. The Pillar. Stan Laurel lived in the vicinity. Debbie Reynolds mother lived in such and such hotel. People surfing at Venice Beach and riding near the pier. The wooden lifeguard stands. Rusty dumbells. Olivia's cafe. At the bottom of a steep street slightly up North in Santa Monica, there was a huge 3 or 4 storey building on the beach with Synanon painted in large letters. I heard the name "Claire" floating in the air of someone else's conversation. I met beatniks and political types. One of whom was both, and he ran a commune in town where transients and beatniks lived as well as the local Venice West Coffee House. He eventually ran for Governor of California on the ticket of a new political party in 1968, the Peace and Freedom Party which he had helped found.
I'd been there a few times in the previous years, they sold Picayune cigarettes from Louisiana and Faros from Mexico at the counter where you got your coffee. I saw the man who could write upside down and backwards with both hands simultaneously -- exactly the same sentence and the same sentence was a mirror image of itself. I'd heard poetry and sometimes music.
A few doors down, a man ran a left wing bookstore and he was something of a local celebrity, a raconteur on KPFA radio. I got to know him a bit.
I even encountered a very weird guy who owned and played a national guitar who was eventually written about by none other than Philip K. Dick, the science fiction writer, in a long letter the author had composed to the FBI:
He had the reputation even then of trying to lure young women into posing for "naturist" magazines ("nudist" beach parties scenes, or "nudists playing volleyball on the beach") and he also had the reputation in certain circles of being a light-fingered type, stealing from people whose gatherings and parties he went to and from acquaintences and friends. One person said a gun was missing after he'd been by. Other people were missing money. Some paranoid types thought he worked for the FBI as an informant. Before I learned all that about him, he had given me an 8x10 photograph of beatniks in Washington Square Park, which he autographed on the back: "To Babs, May you always be in love. Sincerely, Loveable Ol' Doc Stanley." He said he had taken the photo. At the time, I thought he meant "as the photographer", but now I'm not so sure what he meant. "Loveable Ol' Doc Stanley" was his stage name, and he even had a small folk act he performed with a blond woman where they sang old timey songs as a duet and played guitars. They were serious about that act, and even had 4x5 publicity stills made up.
I looked at that inscription once in awhile. But especially then, in that current moment in time, it was such a mock.
You know, I actually ran into him in the Bay Area a few years later when I was over in San Francisco trying to connect with Chester Anderson and the Communication Company, and he walked me around for a few blocks and showed me the very first Free Store the Diggers had brought into being.
(Everybody knows by now that not only the club called Jabberwock in Berkeley but also the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco had drawn their names from the same Lewis Carroll poem, and the meter the poet struck often echoed that of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner ... yes? Basic stuff. And the club in Berkeley on San Pablo called the Albatross likely took its name from the Coleridge poem. Weren't people more literate then?
They sure were. A fellow I met in Venice, a car mechanic by trade, had named his piece-of-crap, sputtering, and occasionally running Fiat, the car he could never fix, "Harry" after Harry Haller in Steppenwolf.
RAND, I'd ride past RAND and sometimes hear the skirl of bagpipes as the LA police bagpipe squad marched and practiced on a large lawn near there.
¶ 12/31/2010 10:34:00 AM
So, screw those underground movies, too. I thought. Some aren't so great. As we rode along the streets I told my friend driving about a really crappy Japanese film I'd suffered through at some student showing, that just kind of went on and on. It was so boring, the projectionist probably fell asleep and couldn't keep track of the reels and mixed them up. So the audience had to sit through an entire reel they'd already seen, with shots of factories and stuff, but because the movie was like that anyway, some long drawn out existential repetitive boredom that was about the long existential repetitive bordeom of modern life, almost nobody noticed.
¶ 12/29/2010 08:19:00 AM
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The Real Last Date
So Mick was in the area. I was living near Venice and getting to know some more of the remnants of the beatniks in the area and having some adventures. I was having a little trouble finding a job, which I thought would be more plentiful in the greater Los Angeles area and I was living off meager savings that I had hoped would accumulate and help pay for more semesters at college.
I had seen a poster of some "underground" movies that were to be shown, and it was a double bill put on by The Moving Finger (which itself is a line from a poem, "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on" ... the Rubaiyat ... I feel a need to tell you that, and that the line means taking responsibility for your actions). A double bill of "Freaks" and a Kenneth Anger film "Scorpio Rising".
I'd been seeing a lot of arthouse films in the area at that time, "Woman of the Dunes" and some Japanese films at UCLA so I was happy there were going to be some films close by to see.
So I think I met him at the theater and we sat together to see "Freaks" which was wonderful. I'd seen it before, and thought it was great, worth re-seeing.
And then the extremely weird Anger film. Now I realize that people all have their own individual experiences when watching films. But the Scorpio Rising was uncomfortable with all the Christ images, homoeroticism and bikers and Bobby Vinton singing "Blue Velvet" ...
and another song called "Torture", a hokey little song that when placed in this context of visuals was just a little creepy to me
so I was getting uncomfortable watching this, as it was just a very different sort of film .... and once in awhile I'd glance at Mick sitting next to me and he was ... he was just sitting there watching all this like it was a movie! Quite casually watching this and seeming to enjoy it immensely. Which made me more uncomfortable, you see.
And the scene at the very end, and thank God the movie was at its conclusion, the scene where some weird leather guy stands with his legs apart over a traffic cone .... that was a long held shot, and Mick turned and gave me this really creepy smile ... you know? And I was thinking oh shit, now what?
(I'd hoped that was the concluding scene, but it WASN'T! That film went on and on, it seemed awfully, unbearably long for a twenty minute film)
The lights came on and people started rustling and standing up ... Amazingly I saw a woman I knew seated a few rows down, and I bolted down and asked for a ride home.
You know, I'd just broken up with my boyfriend and I just thought it would be nice to have someone to go to the movies with. But as we putted along that evening in some kind of little foreign car, with the windows down, I decided I didn't mind not seeing that guy again ... neither of them. And I could justify not being around Mick quite easily, as I even recalled the time he had been a bit rude to my mother.
¶ 12/28/2010 09:10:00 PM
You know, my family tried to be nice to Mick because he was my guest in the house. One time I'd arrived home and my mother had actually let him go to my room and take a nap because he was tired from driving. He was still asleep when I'd arrived late in the afternoon. He was actually driving a car with a small trailer behind it, an open trailer carrying a small load of some of their band equipment all covered with a brown oilskin tarp and roped tightly down.
¶ 12/28/2010 08:43:00 PM
Ieri, oggi, domani by any other name
So it's maybe still 1965 now, maybe early 66, and everybody's going through a lot of changes, they're growing their hair long and facial hair and wearing different kinds of clothes and the war is escalating. I was still in the vicinity of my parent's home and Mick stopped by again, this time driving a pink Cadillac. I wasn't home when he arrived, I saw the car parked across the street as I walked back to the house and thought somebody in the neighborhood must be buying cosmetics. And Mick was there on the couch waiting for my impending arrival. So we chatted and he was wearing a seer sucker suit but with thin pink stripes. He pulled out a ringbox, a deep very expensive looking blue velvet box, and set it on the table. I picked it up and opened it to see a beautiful emerald cut diamond ring ... I think it was a diamond, or a clear white transparent stone that flashed an occasional dazzling yellow as if powered by a miniature sun embedded in the stone sitting atop immensely shiny gold band and bezel. My sister walked in as I was examining the ring, and I said, "Oh, this is so sudden!" as a total joke because I knew it was for someone else. He'd just bought it and was going to give it to his girlfriend, Marianne. But truthfully I was quite amazed as that was a most valuable piece of jewelry.
And I started thinking about things, you know. Because in the few times I was out exploring with Mick, it always seemed like I was the one holding up the conversation about all the interesting things, and I was at that time a very very shy person. But I figured what the hell. I used to talk with him about some of the musicians I knew. Frank Zappa ... who didn't have too much of a following then ... and when I mentioned Stone Poneys Mick asked me to introduce him to Linda Rondstadt, like he wanted to go out with her. I said, "I'm no pander." But word got around, I guess, and they eventually got together.
¶ 12/28/2010 08:28:00 PM
So, it's still 1965 (I think it's 1965), but it has to be summer, because summer is when the single local theater would show "foreign movies". And Mick came out to where I was staying in Claremont to my parent's home. We sat around on the couch for awhile, and decided to go to a movie, and checked the single listing for the single movie theater in town aptly called The Village Theater. There was one choice and he decided we would go see a foreign imported film with Sophia Loren called "Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow".
I went off to change into something more suitable for a "date" but only at my mother's and sister's insistance. I still rebelled, and though I wore a tan sheath skirt I was wearing a blue work shirt, which horrified the ladies when I came out. And I was horrified that my mother, who should have known better, had decided to offer Mick a bottle of beer and he had actually accepted it and was on the couch casually sipping from a bottle of my mother's own Miller's High Life ("The champagne of bottled beer").
Mick liked Sophia Loren, you see, that's why we went to that film. The only thing slightly unusual that happened was that the popcorn vendor was my arch rival in high school, the girl who not only had a job in this small town but who was awarded every single available scholastic award and scholarship. I didn't think I'd run into anyone I knew on a quick trip to a small movie house at night in a small town. And she was surprised to see me in town, as I wasn't living there any more you see, and asked for an introduction to my friend. And I hated that town so much, and everyone in it, so I said, "This is my new friend from England, Linnie."
Then we went home and Mick drove back to Los Angeles. The film was not memorable, and in reading about it just now I figured Mick and I probably liked different parts. He probably liked the prostitute part and I am fairly certain I preferred the black market cigarette part.
¶ 12/28/2010 07:39:00 PM
In late 1963, I had visited the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco, which was located right in the heart of North Beach, a short walk down the alley behind Vesuvio's Coffee House which was next door across the alley from City Lights Bookstore.
I knew of the owner Muldoon as his ex-wife Bernie lived in Claremont. So I wanted to see his gallery.
In 1964, I had Muldoon's home address at an apartment in North Beach and impolitely went there to see him, he politely offered me a cup of Yerba Santa tea and apparently his gallery was closed and would not reopen until after the trial. "The trial?" I asked ....
I'll tell you a secret now that I've told no one else. I got to know Mick Jagger a bit a very long time ago. Like friends, we would pal around and go places, not very often, but once in awhile. To a movie. Or two. Out to eat. To a gallery. Nothing people would find very interesting.
When I first met Mick, I made a ridiculous first impression (as I usually do). A group of friends and I had decided to go to hear this new group the Rolling Stones over in San Bernardino in 1965. Tickets were five dollars. So there were benches kind of like a football stadium benches, with empty space behind them. Suddenly as we were sitting there, my friend said, "Oh, my purse!" and she noticed her purse was missing, must have fallen through the cracks down to the walkway far below. Someone would find that purse and steal it, so I dashed down the stairs into the hallway and ran towards the purse ... when I saw some uniformed guards kind of looking at me and starting to walk towards me like I was an opportunistic thief stealing the purse ... and I was pulling the purse towards me by the strap and I got it in hand and was at last holding it ... and the cops were walking towards me now ... and I was explaining, "This is my friend's purse, honest!" And the cops were walking faster towards me and I bumped into someone, who had longish hair, and I turned and thrust the purse into that person's arms, and said, "Hey, Linnie, here's your purse!!" Just then my friend appeared in front of us and skidded to a halt, and looked at the person holding her purse, and she said, "Oh, my purse .... THANKS! .... Wow .... hey .... helloo ...." like she was starting to flirt. I'd handed off the pass to Mick Jagger. He was out walking around checking out the crowd I guess. I didn't know who he was.
Last Date (Also an instrumental by Lloyd Kramer, so you can play that in your mind as you read along)
So I eventually got to know Mick Jagger a little bit, though I sometimes called him Linnie as a tease. Anyway, we talked about everything that was current or we found interesting. Music mostly, the haps, gossip, politics, books, etc. And I had small passing familiarity with show biz and radio and tv and such, enough to fill a thimble, really. But I wanted to show him there was something other than the Plastic America that I suspected he was being treated to on the circuit. I wanted to show him what was left of the beatniks. Like a living history tour.
So I think it was 1965 and the Vorpal had reopened and had the Kama Sutra exhibit reinstalled back in place and I was in the Bay Area for a bit, and "Linnie" appeared so I took him on a tour of North Beach. This was back in the days that he drove himself places. So he drove us over from Berkeley in a rental car, we saw the Vorpal, City Lights, Vesuvios, and walked through China town, where we stopped and looked at curios and where we stopped and had a small meal.
I ordered won ton soup and all he said during the meal was "You're going to get fat" (which ticked me off, because that was a snotty thing to say, especially when it might be true, and also in part I had ordered a bowl of soup as I planned to pay for it myself and I hadn't much money). Then I walked him all the way down to a little Chinese museum in China town and we went through that looking at the small exhibits, and then on the long walk back to the car, I suggested we stop into the Vorpal again to see the Boise sculptures as they were so rare. Which we did do.
And I was still a little miffed, and Mick was still ignoring me and lost in conversation with the clerk who was probably was trying to pick him up, and I peered at the tiny statuary and said, "Hey, these aren't very expensive, are they?" (Maybe I misread the teeny price tag of $400, or I had a speck of dust in my eye and thought I saw a decimal point), so I gathered three of the little pieces up and carried them to the counter and asked Mick if I could borrow some money "til I get home and get my allowance". Mick blanched. Of course we didn't get any of those statues, but I was strangely satisfied.
I'm fairly certain this was 1965.
This is the exciting world of rock and roll as I knew it.
Next time I'll tell you about our next "date", where we went to see a movie that Mick picked out himself. Bring your own no-doze.
(Or you can listen to Last Date by Sandy Bull. I kinda lied when I said I hadn't told anyone this story. Sandy thought it was funny.)
(1.16.12 In re-reading this, I realize I did not pick up the small sculptures. There were small signs on the display area asking people not to touch the delicate sculpture, like a museum's commands, so I had to beckon a person standing by the wall and point to them. I was, however, allowed to touch and even encouraged to touch and play the musical instrument Ron had fashioned which was also pushed back to a wall, as it tall as I remember)
¶ 12/28/2010 05:58:00 PM
Monday, December 27, 2010
Well, I used to know Frank Zappa in the far distant old days. Most of my early memories of him basically involve him coming over for a visit at my home and what would happen. He was a familiar figure in our home and he felt welcome and at home there. He glanced at a pile of incoming mail we always held on top of the television 'til my Dad returned from work. Frank spotted the little return label on one of the letters, a distant relative of ours writing from far away, which read CDRE Jim Guy, U.S.N. Our relative was a commander in the Navy, and I told Frank he'd never become an Admiral because he had risen through the ranks as an enlisted man, and that was as high as he could go in his career without going to Annapolis. So now he was thinking about working at the Pentagon. Frank thought the name so funny ... "But his name sounds so ordinary .... a GUY" .... and he even knew another "Guy" named "Guy". Frank at that time was writing a song about "Mr Clean".
In 1966, some Hollywood squareballs named the Byrds got hold of the idea of "Mr Spaceman" and made a truly terrible recording by the same name which became a big hit for them. So bad it was, I was tempted to not link to that dreck here, but I will.
In 1969, I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on television in Berkeley at the Chinese scholar's house.
In early 1970, I read aloud from "Of a Fire on the Moon" for a radio broadcast on KPFA in San Francisco.
In 1979, Tom Wolfe wrote a book called "The Right Stuff" an account of the pilots who became the first astronauts.
In 1983, a successful movie was adapted from the book, "The Right Stuff". A fella I knew back at the time of the moon walk snagged a bit part in that movie.
In 1988, I met and worked with astronauts and scientists who have since become famous in science. Funny, isn't it? I'm just trying to put some order in my life today.
¶ 12/27/2010 02:00:00 PM
Sunday, December 26, 2010
In Los Angeles, because entertainment is an industry, everybody knew somebody who was on television, in the movies, or in commercials, or who were on records. Or you'd run into these stars everywhere it seemed, or at least anyplace that they happened to be. And somebody (consider them a member of the audience when spotting the star) always recognized them and said, "Oh, look, there's so and so, the one who (is on TV in such and such a show, usually calling the actor by the character's name he'd made famous) or that movie ("You know the one I mean"), or in commercials (and they could recite the actor's lines about whatever product), or on record (and they knew at least a line of a song the person had currently made famous).
Now that Captain Beefheart manager I told you about before. He went to school with and knew the children of a man who had a famous underwater television series. They were such close friends, they'd even given him a pick of the litter, a St Bernard puppy dog.
But not only THAT .... just imagine this incredible stroke of good fortune from sheer propinquity to Hollywood. When the Beefheart manager was but a teenager and wanted to ride motorcycles, who was it who taught him how to ride?
A real life motorcycle policeman. And not just any motorcycle policeman, as was soon pointed out to me, but one who rode very well indeed. In fact, he could wire a short piece of chalk onto the handlebar grip and ride his Harley Davidson around an oil barrel leaving an uninterrupted chalk mark, all without putting his foot on the ground.
Imagine that! And to thrill you more, this motorcycle policeman had appeared on an episode of "You Asked For It". That was a weekly television show where people wrote in with strange daredevil requests ("A viewer from St Louis, Missouri writes in saying, 'I've heard about a man who can drive his convertible blindfolded. Are people pulling my leg or is there really such a man?' And Art Baker, the host with silver hair and sometimes small checks on his sports jacket he wore out into the field, would assure the viewers that there is indeed such a person, and they'd show a film of the guy driving in a convertible down the freeway blindfolded). So the television show honored the request by televising the stunt in action.
That story alone should make you hold your chin in your hand as you shake your head in disbelief and say "Damn!" Yes, even the local policeman was a television star in Hollywood.
On this show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZorF_YUWLM
So even when you were stopped by the police, and the cop was writing out a ticket, you could imagine the credits rolling over his head.
¶ 12/26/2010 09:30:00 PM
The theater was near an appliance store that in the evenings had a large neon white star on a sign out front. At that very same theater where I'd watched the Saturday cowboy matinees and assorted serials, one summer under new management they began showing foreign films. I saw the "Red Balloon" there and also Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast" each of which made a major impression on me even as a child and both remain to this day two of my favorite films.
¶ 12/26/2010 08:22:00 PM
Not only was I a daredevil bicycle rider as a child, I had an artistic bent. As but one small example, I drew a color picture of Sparky the Firedog and they showed it on television, all through Los Angeles, on a major broadcast by Fireman John.
I also watched the Sid Cesar Show with my parents. And I would write fan letters to Imogene Coca on large lined pieces of school paper used to practice handwriting, a faint green in color with an inch between each line, using a different color crayola for each letter. One time, someone from the studio called and asked that I send in another letter. So I did. Unbeknownst to me, the staff would tease Imogene Coca mercilessly about these fan letters, which she was convinced the show's own staff of comedy writers were writing themselves just to give her a hard time .... and one time they even worked my fan letter into a skit on television. The guy who called and spoke with my mother way back then in the 50s was named Woody Allen. My parents thought the situation was hysterically funny. But the humor of it was above me. From what I understood from their conversation, as a kid, I kind of thought those tv writers and even Imogene were making fun of me, and I silently swore revenge. So, on one level, I said to myself as a child, maybe I can even write jokes for television someday. Not bad for a six year old child, hey?
And I got to meet some celebrities right in Compton. One was Polly Bergan, a singer, whose family lived in Compton near us (her sister and my sister were the ones pretending to babysit, remember, before meeting friends at Metrick's Market and sneaking off to stand around outside Johnny Otis's club to hear Big Jay McNeeley play saxophone).
Another was Captain Jet, who I had to travel to another town with my parents to meet and shake hands with and do the Zooom moooz hand jive. And I even met the man who broke the sound barrier in the 1940s, Chuck Yaeger, whose brother ran a Cadillac dealership in a neighboring town and who had invited Chuck out to meet the folks in the hopes they'd buy a Cadillac. Onstage at the local movie house right in Compton, Lash La Rue dressed all in black from head to toe, from black hat to black cowboy boots with a black satin shirt and black trousers in between, would do lariat and whip tricks. Ca--rack! And one time, Monty Montana came on a Saturday to the movie house and he rode his big white horse onstage, and his horse reared on his hind legs and Monty took off his hat and waved it in the air!
But meeting Rin-Tin-Tin himself was the best. The absolute best! I even got his autograph, on a postcard they'd made up in advance, like a dog had put his paw on a black ink pad and pressed it onto the postcard. Someone else had even signed his name for him, "Love, Rinty".
¶ 12/26/2010 07:34:00 PM
People always tend to think of Compton now as a crowded urban area, because that's what it has become. When I was a kid there, people knew other people by sight. My sister would point out Charles Mingus walking down the street, and he would be wearing a Chinese hat woven from straw (we called those "coolie" hats back in the 50s). He lived in kind of a funny looking house on stilts. Which was good because the area flooded quite often back then. One of the streets I lived on there ran so heavy with rainwater one year, I watched neighbor boys go down our street in a canoe. I walked into the flood waters, up to my chest into our big backyard, because I thought I heard our cat Maggie crying outside. She was inside as it turned out, and I was scolded for getting so wet.
When the rains came like that, later in a field about 10 blocks away a pool of quicksand would develop.
The street I lived on at that time was quite close to the Los Angeles River, not that that made a difference in the rainy season because the river came down our street. On a corner a few blocks away, a donut shop opened, and I was there for the grand opening when a trapeze artist in a sparkly blue bathing suit swung back and forth in the hole of the immense donut. Actually she came on second. A small black boy had climbed the ladder first, he couldn't resist, and made a few quick short swings back and forth before he was removed from the trapeze. The Big Do-Nut eventually became Randy's Do-Nut, and a Los Angeles landmark of sorts.
The concrete walls of the Los Angeles river were steep, but as a daredevil child I learned to ride my bike at an angle down the wall and go all the way down from the top to the bottom. I just couldn't ride my bicycle back up the wall.
¶ 12/26/2010 06:35:00 PM
Friday, December 17, 2010
Goodbye to Don Vliet
I first discovered Captain Beefheart was someone I knew when I heard a song from his album being played on the loudspeakers in a record store in Berkeley and they played it on request from a customer, and Beefheart was already kind of famous by then. I didn't know Captain Beefheart was that someone I had known some in my past. And my previous brush with him was quite limited. But as I knew the person who acted as major domo and manager for the Beefheart group, a person I brought into the mix myself, a trustworthy and eventempered sort who said he wanted a career in show business, I have an anecdote about Capt Beefheart.
The Captain and his wife Jan tried I think to escape what they saw as the madness that was Los Angeles music biz by moving far into the Northern Coastal reaches, where as the folk song aptly has it "North Coast, the wild coast, is lonely..." They'd moved farther North than that, even up past the Lost Coast, onto a little promentory, a squiggle on the coastal outline called Trinidad. They chose Trinidad because the place was said to remind them of Mendocino, but also mentioned was that (then, at least) it wasn't as expensive or exclusive as Mendocino. Well, things weren''t going well for them there. They were nearly starving by all reports as money or royalties weren't arriving as expected. And, truthfully, having a history of metro living, they were quite unsuited to the kind of planning needed to survive much less ease the rigors of rural coastal living. They hadn't so much as pulled in a stick of firewood for the cold rainy winter months and had they remained much longer, they in all likelihood may have soon fallen ill if not frozen to death.
So there might be some difficult characters in show biz, see? Anyway, the major domo/manager was as I said a pragmatic sort when dealing with odd or unusual behaviors and he played some sort of role in rescuing the couple from the inclement though scenic Trinidad. In his formative years, my friend, the domo, had been forced to take on the role of guiding adult in the family home as his own dad had for years suffered and deteriorated from myasthenia gravis, a nerve disorder. The major domo later went on to tour every body from Manhattan Transfer to Ry Cooder for the record company. He ended up with nearly a lifelong career in the music biz, managing tours for Beefheart, then managing the Beefheart group, then the Beefheart ensemble called Mallard. He had an office in London, at least a house or two in the Canyon, and (accustomed since childhood to the traipings of upper middle class wealth) wore fancy suede jackets. I heard he died a few years back from picking up a virus that attacked his heart muscle from some soil that was delivered for his organic garden.
Keep in mind here, too, that I think the good stories come from the past. Don loved Mendocino, and I even had wandered around the sand dunes with him a bit one day. He loved Trinidad because the dunes and coast were like Mendocino's. I'm glad he finally got back up there to live in a place he loved.
Other times John Fahey could be quite witty. He liked an idea I came up with, so he went out on the "Win A Date with John Fahey" tour, a direct rip off from a teenybopper magazine to "Win a Date with Bobby Rydell" (or some such person). He had a sign made up and it would be posted at the concerts.
¶ 12/16/2010 10:57:00 AM
Hard to believe now that music once came on vinyl records, small, medium, and large in size. And to listen to music on anything but a radio, that meant acquiring a record player. In those old days of 64, all anyone with ears wanted was a MacIntosh amplifier and preamp as the clarity was so remarkable. You could spend a ton of money and buy one assembled, or for a lesser amount of money MacIntosh offered a kit with parts that you could assemble yourself.
All to listen to the New Lost City Ramblers warble,
"Here's an old lady hanging out the wash And now she's hanging a macintosh"
Chris Strachwitz likely couldn't afford the new UHER tape recorders that folk loricists from universities used for some of their field recordings and oral history projects. They were smaller, more portable which meant more easily transportable, and resulted in astonishing sound quality. Those were very expensive items. Almost nobody could afford those. Eventually Frank Zappa had one.
¶ 12/16/2010 10:06:00 AM
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
That summer of 64, I also went to a concert featuring "Mississippi John Hurt" at some coffee house on San Pablo, I believe it was the Cabale. Chris Strachwitz was there recording the show on a big reel to reel stand up recorder and everyone had to be quieter than normal. Only snapping fingers for applause in that beatnik-style coffee house. Mississippi John Hurt did a different style of "Candyman" than Dave Van Ronk or the later Donovan version. And by 1964, Hurt had been performing that song quite a lot during the folk music craze (He first recorded it in 1928!) "Candyman" is a naughty little tune if you listen carefully to the lyrics, but the alternating bass line is what caught me.
In hindsight, there is something a little weird about a teenybopper girl smiling to what sounded like a harmless little ditty when an old black man was singing about the size of his penis and sexual prowess. John Fahey thought so even at the time.
And John occasionally shared his views on the matter, from events which he said he'd observed, or from witnesses or first hand accounts, and from the amount of data he'd acquired, it was as if he were gathering evidence for some future treatise. He had a long string of stories about Rev Gary Davis, for instance, who toured regularly on the folk music circuit. All of which would be quite funny in the retelling, but they were John's stories not mine. The problem was that Fahey seemed to be entirely serious about the matter. And he would warn me away from these "pervs".
¶ 12/14/2010 04:20:00 PM
Oh, God! I just remembered! You know, tea parties are popular now, and always have been in American history, but in 1964 I went to a tea party. A Teton Tea party and I think Joe MacDonald was there. No one except me drank tea. They were sipping some dreadful wine substitute called Red Mountain, which was sold in glass gallon jugs for some minimal amount of money. Maybe as much as a dollar a gallon. The beatnik wine of choice. This was some sort of fermented grape beverage that was alcoholic in nature and nowhere on the label was the word "wine" used.
The Teton Tea parties were a spin off from some mountain climbers who would also play guitar and sing as they gathered round the fireplace. In the older days, there would be books lying around on table tops titled "Petons in the Tetons" to better inspite the hearty mountaineers to climb, rope, and rapel.
This was a spin off group, lots of folk music being played and a jug or two of Red Mountain. And those jugs were perfect for blowing across the top of, so you can see how naturally a jug band might evolve. (Although most jug band players used the plastic gallon jugs as they were easier to transport to gigs and stayed in tune better).
I could get in the swing of things back then, and play a substitute kazoo by putting a piece of kleenex over a pocket comb. Shit, weren't we hip?
The poster announcing the gathering said it was a "Teaton Tea Party". They threw in an extra "a" in Teaton, maybe by mistake, maybe that's how it was handed down and spelled in those days.
¶ 12/14/2010 10:52:00 AM
Old Scales from the Fish House
Robbie Basho was on a trip all to himself. I visited him once or twice back in the early 60s when he lived in the Fish House. Actually, more often than not I would visit his empty room as he would not be at home, and truly, he always seemed to be "elsewhere". So I'd sometimes wait for him to show back up, and sit in a small chair by his little table that held small bowls of woodrose. Robbie, from all accounts, was just like his music. Even when he was around, he always seemed to be "elsewhere." ED would say, "Spacy .... very spacy."
This is an example of his music theory as it continued to evolve through the years:
I was in the Bay Area in the summer of 1964, studying classical archaeology because that was something I was genuinely interested in. I met a number of people at that time. I'd encountered Robbie Basho, and I began meeting some of the people who worked at the local Pacifica radio station. Almost everyone was a volunteer there.
One person who'd I met casually one day was named Dave. He was from somewhere else (as was not unusual, as it seemed most people were from somewhere else in Berkeley). But he struck me as someone from the East Coast somehow because he wore a tan cotton raincoat like New Yorkers did and an English driving cap.
As I grew to know him a bit, he struck me as a little odd. Words would remind him of other things and he would connect them in conversation, and sometimes it was hard to relate and justify his associations.
"How did he get there?" I would wonder.
For instance, if you happened to mention the word "singer", he would launch into a discussion of "Springer", a German publishing company which as he continued in conversation he believed had dark and twisty Nazi connections which had deeper scarier roots in the Illuminati. That kind of stuff. But he'd never reveal all of these connections at once in a single line of conversation, they were too dark and scary to do that all at once.
Anyway, he took me into the station one day, and this happened to be the very day that a young student of Segovia named Carlos Barbosa Lima was in process of taping an in-studio performance. As it turned out, that was Lima's broadcast performance debut. The slightly built young guitarist came out to listen to his tape in one of the rooms in the studio, and he was horrified by what he heard. I was trying to encourage him, "People always are surprised by the sound of their voice the first time they're recorded" and the same is true for the guitar. I talked about Segovia and how Segovia said he would practice continuously, "If I go one day without practice, the audience doesn't notice it. If I go two days without practice, I notice it."
So the guitarist was standing there listening deeply to his tape squirming, almost saying "Oh dear ... Oh my GOD! Oh no, this is so very terrible .... " and Dave was a little antsy and would whistle along note for note with the piece as it played, to show he knew about classical music, and that whistling got on both the guitarist's and my own nerves so I would tell Dave to "sh-hh" and I'd put my index finger to my lips to tell him to be quiet.
So that tape was over and Dave even hit rewind before the studio tech could walk over to do it, he knew his way around a radio studio and was familiar with using equipment okay, and the guitarist and tech with tape in hand walked away in conversation about the performance.
Dave asked me if I wanted to really hear something. And I said sure. He walked up and down the hall to insure no one else was about, and he was growing quite nervous, nearly jumping back in fright when someone casually opened a door and popped a head into the hall to see us. That person left, and Dave looked into a room, then he waved me in and closed the door, and put his finger to his lips. He pressed himself back into the door as if to give himself support.
He commanded me to wait right there and to be quiet. "Don't say a word ... don't say a word" he continued as he pressed some big studio earphones on my head. He disappeared out of the room again and returned with a record in a plain white cover. He showed it to me. As I recall it didn't even have a label and it was bright and shiny as if it had never been played. He checked all the switches to make certain, and I think two little lights were on the board with the embossed notation "Headphones only."
He put the record on the turntable and I settled back into the secretary chair and he dropped the arm on the record.
In the world of recorded music, there used to be an expression about "Dropping a bomb" which meant a deejay playing a really hot record for the first time on the air that would become a major hit, and just, you know, kill everyone dead. I don't know if that phrase was in usage at that time.
But Dave dropped a bomb, all right. A big one.
I was listening to the recognizable voice of President Lyndon B Johnson announcing to the American people, or anyone still alive within listening distance of the sound of his voice, that nuclear war had begun.
I struggled with this as the President drawled on ... and turned to stare in disbelief at Dave to ask if this was a joke? Is this for real? And he was smiling broadly and nodding his head as if to say this was the real deal, this is not a test, this is not a joke.
I didn't listen to all of this record. Dave pulled it off and I took the headphones off. He slipped the record back into the cover and disappeared down the hall. When he returned he wasn't carrying the record with him that I noticed.
That was a strange experience, to say the least. I had listened to a record that was made to be broadcast in the event of a future nuclear war. A secret record. That's why Dave was so nervous about it. Dave advised me, "Don't tell anyone about this."
I lost all contact with Dave after a few days, then I ran into him once in Los Angeles a month or so later. Then I never saw or heard from him ever again. But I heard about him.
In 1969, Dave gained some notoriety by locking himself into a room of a Colorado radio station, at the height of the Viet Nam conflict, and he broadcast the record for all to hear over the airwaves.
The door was pushed in when the police arrived, the record taken off the turntable, and he was arrested, and deemed mentally ill. This was part of an official investigation now, and the newspaper account said he would occasionally play the record for friends. I don't know if they ever found out really how he'd acquired this particular recording. But he'd carried it with him all those intervening years, keeping it hid, obviously determined to do something with it.
Wow. In thinking about it, I much preferred hearing that first Jimi Hendrix record for the first time.
¶ 12/14/2010 08:12:00 AM
Monday, December 13, 2010
Compton. I lived in Compton so very long ago in the early 50s that edges of the town had a dairy farm and people grew crops. Sometimes a farmer would have his son drive the pick up truck carrying a load of watermelons in the back and he'd saunter down the street singing an old song shouting out "watermelons!" every now and again. Then he'd go up to a door and knock to see if people inside might want any. Others would park their old pick ups on a major thoroughfare, near a market, and the back would be spilling with yams still with dirt on the roots.
And it's more than a little weird to consider it, but George Bush senior and his wife and their young family also lived in the town at that very same time. So I can say I lived in the same town as a couple of presidents, but the place wasn't anything too much like Washington D.C.
¶ 12/13/2010 09:26:00 PM
Sometime maybe I'll tell you how my parent's very own whoopie cushion naughty party record helped inspire a young musician to make his own version and actually sent him to jail. But that's a little too depressing an experience to consider recounting at the moment, and I am currently very tired.
¶ 12/13/2010 09:11:00 PM
Almost nobody saw Deacon and the Suprelles that audition night. And I don't know where they got the name "Deacon", and their Deacon was a fiction, just part of a gag, "Deacon isn't here tonight..."
Charlie Musselwhite saw the name on the poster and said, "Deacon" and then "The Deacon". After what seemed a long strange minute, I KNEW who he meant. Charlie meant Big Jay McNeely called "The Deacon" because he did a tune called "The Deacon's Hop".
I like reading and hearing about shows I didn't see, especially if they were good ones or give a glimpse into culture or history.
I never did see Big Jay McNeely, but my sister did, and not only was her evening memorable, I remember her account of it to this very day. Johnny Otis had a weekly television show broadcast throughout Los Angeles direct from Compton (might have been channel 5) and he owned a club in Compton, not exactly a shack on the tracks (which is how some historians would like it to be), but more like a storefront on Wilmington or some other big boulevard, but the rear door faced an alley, then a wide expanse of prairie, then there were the Southern Pacific railroad tracks (though it might have been Union Pacific).
My sister, being an adventuresome music-loving teenager, would on weekend nights tell my parents she and her neighborhood friend were baby sitting, and they would sneak off to hear "that jungle music." They'd arrange this like a military operation, at a pre-arranged time a carful of friends would be waiting for them in the food market's parking lot a block away, and they'd head out to go hear music at the Olympic or another big ballroom. In the times I am speaking of, those uneasy times of pre-Civil Rights movement integration, the white kids could come and listen, and the black kids could dance. Once in awhile I would hear some of the stories of those ball rooms -- one kid diving off the balcony. Others dancing the "dirty boogie", hopping towards each other while the boy suggestively unzipped his jeans, and always stories about the music!
Big Jay played on Johnny Otis show, and in clubs. He was eventually banned by city ordinance from playing in Los Angeles because "he stirred kids up" and they "turned into wild Watusis" as the expression went. My sister saw him, and described how he played while walking up and down the bar stepping past people's drinks and how he would lay on his back on the bar and solo for half an hour, all while playing the same song. They'd switch off the lights, and you could only see his saxophone, which glowed eerily as he played in the dark because he'd painted it all up with flourescent paints of orange and green.
She thought he was so cool, she and some other girls copped part of his act for the junior high school talent show. They painted white cotton gardener's gloves with flourescent paint then switched off the lights during the song, so all you could see were the gloves moving in the dark and hear the singing.
Anyway, Big Jay's music was well known and to most only by reputation. I think he made just a very few records back in the '50s when he was most renown, I've heard because he was suspicious of the business, having watched others get ripped off getting paid $50 for their record while the record company owner ended up driving a Cadillac from it.
Anyway, one evening my sister and her friend went "baby sitting" again but that particular ruse came to an end when they returned home earlier than expected, arriving in the back seat of a police car. It was simply was not allowed for white girls to listen to black music even from a sidewalk outside a club, and the policemen who would cruise in front of the club had caught them unawares. He threatened them with arrest for loitering and a curfew violation which could guarantee them a stint in the California Youth Authority while driving them safely home.
Here is what The Deacon (Big Jay McNeely) looked like back then:
After Jerry & Friends played at Mandrake's, some Hells Angels types took an interest in coming back to the bar to make friends with the bartender. We (Mary and I) didn't like the hard core biker vibes, though the bartender thought it was cool because he wore a fancy leather motorcycle jacket with buckles and such and rode a white Honda or something. I didn't like them for a lot of reasons, not the least of which because they'd developed an early irritating publicity-mad habit of confronting peace marchers and threatening them with their motorcycles and violence while proclaiming their own "patriotism". And whether Mary took an active role in discouraging their future attendance or whether they didn't come back after a few visits was because they didn't like the music or the prospects, I simply don't know. But for me it was a pleasure not to have to squeeze past and wiggle around a greasy biker making out with his girlfriend just to serve a drink.
I do remember the time that the Commander Cody band were shorted on the door. They'd been becoming buddies with the bartender and bouncer, remember. Their good buddies, their friends had "lost count" and a serious amount money was missing. And they'd no idea where it could be. Mary had made a career of dealing with the fabrications of hardened juvenile offenders and could find a solution just like a snap of the fingers. She had the band talk to the door guys and after watching them squirm she then straightened everything out. I asked her where she had dug these guys up (the bartender & bouncer) and she said they were the children of a friend. So she was a loyal person, and tried to help her friends as well as manage a music club.
Everyone's familiar with the term confabulist (and I am thinking of the classical definition here used to describe a Baron Von Munchausen tale teller), or raconteur, the person whose natural ability to entertain and tell a story derails somewhat by his personal attachment to the narrative. Though often entertaining, these story tellers take elements of historic fact and weave them together in an ongoing ever growing skein that is knitted together and embroidered upon and decorated as a glorious new garment for them to wear to impress the listener. I've never been able to do that.
I have a very simple story. I heard about this group which eventually auditioned as the Commander Cody Band one night at Mandrake's. The person telling me about them seemed an unlikely person to know much about country & western music. She was the daughter of a diplomat who was stationed in Africa, where she had an elephant as her childhood pet and she was made a princess of an African tribe by the time she was eleven or twelve years old. She'd just informed me they played boogie woogie and what she described as country and western music, too. I didn't mind hearing about the boogie woogie part at all.
But just hearing that "country western" description made me uncomfortable, as I wasn't so certain "country" (i.e., "rednecks") let alone "western" (i.e., "cowboy" like from Texas) when combined into "country western" (i.e, "redneck cowboys") ... and because we served beer there (and because that is known to be the preferred beverage of choice of "rednecks") that likely meant "drunk rednecks" and "drunk cowboys" ... I just wasn't at all certain that society would fit easily into the landscape and culture of Mandrake's. I had been around rednecks and hicks and hillbillies and lint-heads and maybe crackers as I'd grown up albeit in a much less cosmopolitan geography than the Bay Area. And truthfully the Bay Area had Oakland, and even Berkeley had South Berkeley.
But in that more distant time and era, when I was growing up in a much less sophisticated locale, whenever such a white guy encountered a black guy especially in a bar (which outside of a casual pick-up basketball game was one of the few location with wavy social boundaries where they were even likely to meet) there were inevitably some "remarks" made and trouble waiting to happen. Sometimes the trouble didn't even wait for the remarks, and someone would end up with a dislocated jaw or worse. Or even for me, and I was just a small white girl, especially when I was a child, I was beaten over the head with a baseball bat and knocked unconscious by some little redneck kids who took a sudden inexplicable dislike to something about me, and I was just a ten-year old girl at the time. I mean, rednecks to me were unpredictable and usually violent, even as kids. And they usually grew up to be Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs, know what I mean?
And I wasn't so sure about this country and western group at that first instant, because I didn't want any trouble in Mandrake's, if only because there was trouble quite enough then in every other place in the world. And a "country western" star (a guy named Spade Cooley) who I'd watched on Town Hall Party as a kid (until he was thrown off the show as persona non grata for generating bad publicity by beating his wife up so bad that she testified in court against him as grounds for a divorce) had made a recent reappearance in the Bay Area, but now he was in San Quentin for murdering his second wife in front of his own children. Well, even country and western entertainers onstage could be weird, you see. But Jeanie, the African princess, went on to describe the boys in the band a bit, and had met some of them, and so on, so ... the band auditioned, then got the job and so stayed on.
The guitarist Billy K of the band started acting up and blowing it almost as soon as he walked through the front door, as I was nearly positive would be the case this being a "country western" band. This is probably the band's first job as a band, and by the second night this guy is acting up in a noticable way. He'd pass out on stage. He'd drink too much and get nasty, and brush past black male patrons, his eye flashing an angry hateful look ... like "how dare you bump into me, I'll beat your ass if I need to" (and this guitarist was skrawny and could be snapped in two like a twig, so it was all liquor talking). Billy was just off stage from a set and the band was stampeding to the bar to swill, and I mean those boys would race (just try to beat them, Daddy) straight to the bar). The patron was dressed in a nice dark suit and even a tie, out on a weekend date with his girl, and just on his way to the men's room. And this musician gives him a dirty stink-eye look for just no reason.
And there were a few more incidents like that, that seemed to show bad judgement on Billy's part, like his preferring to sit at a table during band breaks and hang with the guy the bartender brought in who nobody liked and who later pistolwhipped Mr. Buddy. And that guy was showing Billy his gun, which he had pulled from his pants pocket (and that was a no-no, an unspoken rule no guns allowed in the bar), and I because I was getting pissed at both of them, I wanted to say, "Oh, Billy, did he let you touch his gun?"
And I even said that very thing to Mary later, as I spelled it out for her, "He had a g-u-n."
So one night into their first week of performing anywhere as a band, Billy K was quite in his cups, I guess, drunk as could be, and he became verbally abusive and was quite rude to me, and like a loony he focused on me all evening with this crap. And because he was drunk or whatever and drunk and had already made a small alliance with the bartender and bouncer based on their common interests (the "whatever"), I knew those two wouldn't help me out in any way if anything else were to happen or the situation were to escalate. So he went on and on, becoming increasingly obnoxious all evening, until a patron at the bar noticed his behavior over the hub-bub, and said loudly, "What a creep!"
Then it all kind of simmered down for the evening. But the next night, I took George aside and I did this even though I didn't have a rapport with him at all. I told him what I'd noticed about his guitar player, that the guy was blowing it and needed to level out, and if he couldn't do that, George should fire him and find somebody else. To which George replied, "I can't do that - he's half the band!"
Mary and I discussed this matter, as well, and we decided the band should cut back on the beer onstage. Because George himself would drink beer by the pitcher and from the pitcher like a frat boy in a drinking contest, and would go through three, four pitchers in a single short set. At the end of a set, the top of his piano would often be lined with empty pitchers sliding through beer and foam. And sometimes it could be funny, like when he was pounding the piano and the pitchers would vibrate and skid as they danced their way to the end of the piano top to fall off with a "crash!" onto the floor.
But still. Thus when Billy K called out onstage to demand a pitcher of beer after a couple of rocking sweaty tunes, "Hey, we're thirsty up here" (like everyone is to drop whatever they're doing and fetch massa his sip of water, and usually I'd hang back and let the waitress in the leather cowboy hat fetch them their booze ('cos she the one who would yell "yew-hew" like she really meant it), and I'd be behind the bar watching, and singing, "Run grab a bucket fetch the baby some beer, run fetcha bucket get the baby some beer."
So next time they yelled, "Hey, waitress! We're thirsty up here" I carried up a pitcher of water drawn from the bar tap, and I suspect the band was most surprised and somewhat disappointed.
After Billy K's abusive, taunting, perfectly hideous behavior towards me on that one single evening, I never wanted to have anything to do with him again, and it didn't even matter that he had been drinking that night and probably couldn't even remember the evening, as I couldn't forgive the attitude and tone of his remarks. They played Mandrake's again many, many times. And they could be a lot of fun, and I would even encourage people to come catch their act. Their act became more polished, and early on Billy K could do that vocal trick with the microphone where he rocked back and forth and it sounded like loudspeakers were staticky and fading in and out at an auditorium or football stadium (like you can hear now on record on his "Rockabilly Funeral", and who knows maybe he even sang that, and kept it as his song when the band broke up).
Over a short period of time, I watched them get more club dates around the area, make a little more money, be disappointed in not getting a record contract, get a record contract, go on local television, make friends with young men who grew up to be music critics for Berkeley underground papers, make friends with guys who became music critics for more metropolitan publications, go on tour and on to make another record, and make a little more money and their stage costumes gradually changed from simple checkered gingham brown and white off the rack cowboy shirts with snap buttons to gabardine garments embroidered with bright roses and ropes and cow horns and pearly snap buttons for the fancier venues.
But that situation though defused was never really resolved, you see, and I did in my own way see it as a portent. If only because I was wise enough to know even as a young person that if he kept on acting that way and being that way, well, "One day he's gonna get in a lot of trouble he can't handle" as I told Mary, and she recognized that as a simple truth.
And I can hold a grudge, and perhaps many times rightfully so, that band should be thankful I wasn't in charge of the booking there. Not that Billy K even as far gone as he was would talk that way to Mary, or at least I hoped he wouldn't. Even years later, 1971 or 1972, I would see him walking wearing a fancy blue wool overcoat (the thick wooly kind you can only get back East for hundreds of dollars) walking down Telegraph and though I recognized him, I wouldn't acknowledge his presence in any way. I wouldn't give a casual wave, nor even say "hi", nor smile a bit nor catch his eye, nor even slightly raise my eyebrow in acknowledgment he was there, not that he noticed I wasn't saying hello to him in any way, but I did. And because he was on the bill, I wouldn't see any of their shows, not even the benefit for Charlie Musselwhite after his car accident at the Keystone. Mary and I were in touch about that long about then, and she shared details of the accident that were tragic, heartbreaking, and very very bad, the kind of details not reported in newspaper accounts but are known by intimate friends or family. Poor Charlie, we agreed.
Well, I could easily justify not going. I was far out of town at the time.
So in 1974, I was back in the area and stopped in to Mandrake's. Lee was there, tending bar, and no bands were onstage when I went in early around 5 pm. I tapped a quarter on the wooden bar, and shouted, "Bar keep, bar keep, I need a drink!" And Lee came over and we chatted a bit, and I learned the club wasn't doing so well, because he said the place was not so busy as it once was. He brought me my coca cola and refused to let me pay for it. "Your money's no good in here," he said.
And everybody knew, without even saying, that it was because in part of the great Satan Bill Graham and his clever-lawyer exclusivity contracts that our own little corner oasis of occasional happiness and sometimes great music and everybody trying to get along despite their differences went out of business. He had managed, probably without noticing our existence at all because our small venue could never have been regarded as any sort of real economic threat, to extinguish Mandrake's and forever suck whatever small joy there could be from many people's lives. But like a python squeezing the life out of its prey, that just seemed to be the nature of some people. But that's-ssss-ssss-sss an entirely different ssss-ssss-ort of ssss-ssss-ssstory. That and likely the landlord kept raising the rent, and bands kept raising their prices because they were getting used to the higher paychecks from some of the other more glittery club owners with deeper wallets.
There I was back in the area and rifling through the depository of memory and thinking about Mandrake's and my own history there.
As fortune twists and turns, events sometimes combine in singularly odd ways. On the kitchen table the daily local newspaper appeared, and I turned to the entertainment section where I read Joel Selvin's account of Billy K's latest adventure. Or I think it was him. Billy made the mistake of hanging with and partying with some Hell's Angels in Las Vegas. Billy apparently made a remark to one of the "mamas" to which the bikers took great affront and beat and kicked Billy K quite up and down and landed him in the hospital, maybe with a few broken bones, and the biker guys for some reason may have been arrested but were never charged or prosecuted so they got off scot free for kicking the crap out of him. Billy K was being interviewed from his hospital bed, and said, "What am I supposed to do, cry about it?"
"I told you so," I thought to myself as I finished the paragraph and I folded the newspaper. And then the goading imp arrived and stuck his pitchfork in me, as I soon thought "He kind of deserved it, didn't he," I asked myself. And the nasty imp gave the pitchfork a little twist, and "I think Commander Cody band has completely disbanded by now." Wow ... I realized that basically nothing really had changed, and certainly nothing really had ever resolved, but sorry to say I finally gained a slight understanding of the word Schadenfreude. And Schadenfreude really is a ten dollar word, isn't it?
In all those evenings at Mandrake's, I never once saw an actual fight there. There were the beginnings of scuffles, but things always simmered down. The closest thing I saw to a fight was when the twins who worked the door got into a tussle one night, a little push and a little shove, and a short lived wrestling match with one holding the other's neck in a hammerlock all in front of a wall. Because these guys were identical twins and looked exactly alike, someone later described as "It looked like a guy was fighting with himself."
That about summed it up, for some of the guys who were spoiling for a fight and for and some who drank too much too often that, somehow, they were still fighting with themselves.
¶ 12/13/2010 06:59:00 AM
Sunday, December 12, 2010
And The Beat Goes On
I read a Counterbalance describing the first few notes of Purple Haze.
The internet can be so strange. Once upon a time, this article "The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies" (NY Times magazine, 1967) is posted in entirety at a place appropriately called Ugly Flashbacks (a site which otherwise is entirely in Russian, I think).
Not much to report first hand from my side as I only ventured across the Bay into that world a few times, and my short time in the Haight Ashbury was much earlier (1963) long after what was left of the beatniks had straggled over from North Beach (where the original Anxious Asp was once located and whose jukebox played Shirley Ellis's "Nitty Gritty" many, many times each evening) into the Haight's (where the Anxious Asp eventually relocated) crappy lowrent apartments, I mean historic Victorian lofts of such breathtaking vintage that even the woolen carpets had decayed from age, with wainscotting heavily layered by many coats of paint, and high ceilings that dispelled any chance of heat.
And the walks in the park then could be good, because that year the sun would come out at least once in awhile, and stumbling across a statue of Vivaldi in a hidden glade was cause for wonder, or more wondrous yet the discovery of the solarium, which was dazzling dressed out in many coats of super-gloss white enamel though sometimes too brilliant in the direct sun, and which occasionally made me laugh (especially when thinking of the one caricatured by Heinrich Kley).
I wasn't anywhere near the Haight Ashbury. And in 1967, my connection with music was tenuous, but the underground radio station poured generously for me each night. There were just a few trips to record stores for me, and hearing the new imported lp by a guy named Jimi Hendrix. I didn't hear that on the radio or not just yet. I was lured into the back room of The Store by a friend teasing and asking me, "Are you experienced?"
So I clinked through the wooden beaded curtain into the sanctum sanctorum where he played that whole Experience album, newly arrived from England and pressed on a different sort of vinyl you could tell by the heft and feel, and both sides, on a turntable. There was a jukebox in that room, too, but needing repair the machine only lit up when it was plugged in -- so he plugged it in, and that was our version of a light show I guess. The music was unusual, and unique enough that I knew I needed to be more comfortable for an extended listen, and so sank farther back into the battered itchy mohair chair and listened all the way through. And he flipped the disc over and played the other side and had to go out and wait on customers and such. I realized I was already running a bit late to make it all the way to campus for class, so I left. And though I didn't rush out anywhere to buy the record, I did stop back in a few days to inquire if he had it handy, which he didn't, as the record was so precious to him he didn't want to risk leaving it at the store or carrying it in on a regular basis. (So I heard it on the radio after that).
The Store (a most generic name for the time) was a for-profit place of unique ephemera, semi-antiques, cultural artifacts, kitsch, and collectibles on Telegraph that as I recall a guy from the mime troupe (and Diggers) named Peter (Berg) was running. Because he is famous for starting the free stores, you see, The Store isn't mentioned too much in the more official versions and literature that is currently handed down and received, or maybe I'll hedge and suggest perhaps I'm not remembering correctly myself. (And I kind of doubt the latter, as I know the lady named Mary Moore who said she told him he should be doing something like that, and as she was busy and struggling at the time, she was a bit miffed she had given that golden notion away; but this digression has a happy ending because she went on to open a wonderful establishment herself, a club called Mandrake's).
Anyway, it wasn't he, that big bear of a man with beads over wooly turtleneck (who sometimes was tardy depositing money into the bank and so people who sold him the kooky trinkets suffered through the indignity of a rubber check drawn on his account, but to be fair he tried to pay most people in cash from the register) who played the Jimi Hendrix record for me. But a handsome, well-groomed fellow I knew from Los Angeles who was in the area to study the fine art of printing and bookmaking who has since gone on to fashion for the true effete many books of poetry and art, some of which you might recognize. His name was Wesley Tanner. He later went to work and shared studio space with David Lance Goines (who as it turned out was the guy I used to sit near in a classical archaeology class before he went outside one fateful day to gain unexpected notoriety in the beginnings of the Free Speech Movement.)