Yes, Frank listened to this as well. Noses held some fascination for him.
One time, I learned from my science readings (as my sister was studying anatomy then in preparation for her new career as a dental hygienist) that while the human body is usually asymmetrical (one foot, the dominant foot, is usually larger than the other ... and so on), most people's noses measure not much more than 2-1/4" long, usually no more than 2-1/2". So of course the tape measure came out. My father had a big nose because he had his nose broken prize fighting. His fell between the standard measurement, much to my surprise. As was everyone within reach of the tape measure, even my own. We had four broken noses in our family, counting my grandmother's, and when measured, they all fell within the standard. I did not break my nose until later, when I was surfing one day. I finally felt that I finally had something in common with my immediate family. Frank's nose, though it appeared larger than it actually was likely did not fall too far afield from the 2-1/2" outer standard, but truth is he declined measured verification.
Frank was the eventual recipient of all the nose jokes my family members had collected through the course of many many years, but he didn't hear those all at once. As to all that nose measuring, there really was not too much to do in town.
Petty Yankee Traders
We'd listen to KPFK now and again. I was very surprised to learn such a station even existed!
You couldn’t help but think about advertising sometimes,
it was everywhere. Ads were in
newspapers, in magazines, on billboards, on TV, and on the radio way too much
for my taste. When I went to L.A., the
ads were even on the sides of buses and back of taxi cabs. All of them telling you to buy something and it was usually dreck.
I began to like commercial-free radio a lot, and as that
station also played a lot of real “ethnic” music from far flung corners of the
world as well as offering music you just wouldn’t get to hear any other way, I
listened to it now and again. That was
KPFK, coming to our valley all those thirty-five airwave miles from L.A. KPFK was listener-supported instead of being
paid for by those big old companies sticking their icky commercial music or
commercial words in there to tell us to buy something. More especially interesting after that
“payola” scandal where record companies were bribing radio and tv personalities
to push certain records.
And even though a girl at school had told me about the Pacifica radio station, I was most surprised to learn others in town listened, too, and people I wouldn't have guessed. But even though they listened, we weren't always "sympatico".
In our home catch-up course on Black History in written form, my sister would read the life story of Billie Holiday and point out the harrowing first line and could get quite mopey just talking about Billie Holiday and listening to her records.
About this time, Lou Rawls was popular and suddenly an ad appeared in the classifieds of the little local paper, which was astonishing to me (that the paper would even obliquely mention a black person). Tickets to see Lou Rawls in concert, $5. Well, this was in a nightclub so I wouldn't be able to go, but I'm sure my sister and a friend would want to go ... so I called the guy up and because it was a small town, I knew who he was (the father of a girl in school! I could barely believe it when he gave me his address to pick up the tickets!) but on my way there, I ran into the Quaker girls who (always anxious to shun!) told me he had got those from a KPFK fundraiser donation he had made. This was my first introduction to .... there wasn't a word for it, but it seemed like ticket scalping somehow so I opted out, but returned home to call him and tell him I wouldn't be by for the tickets.
It didn't much matter, as Frank listened to a Lou Rawls album at our place, and the Billie Holiday one, and that may have even been his copy of her biography as the book disappeared after I read it.
I think my mother was eight or nine before she learned "damn Yankee" were two separate words.
Meeting Place: Mike Cooney
This is why we liked Mike Cooney (that little "ribs" noise he made with his mouth) and nice fingerstyling.
He also played concertina very well even back in 1962. He would start out by chatting a bit and settling in ... he'd talk and explain about the instrument (oh lord didn't those folk music people go on and on that way especially while they were tuning their instruments, but in this case it was thankfully a concertina so no explanations about how tuning forks evolved through the centuries or history of the capo just a friendly little monologue about the "concertina").
Which of course had buttons, so he had to explain that, and bellows for air (on and on he went sometimes but it was all interesting). Then he would rasp air in and out of the bellows without pushing the buttons (and the concertina would wheeze and pant) and Mike would point out that it was good instrument for making obscene phone calls. And the audience would laugh.
Then he would start his first song. He'd assume a serious demeanor and play a few bars from "Three Blind Mice" which got the audience laughing, too. Then he'd play the song, maybe one like this:
Can't You Dance the Polka?
1955 Elvis in San Diego
This is a very nice period piece that recalls the segregated hours for r&b broadcasts on white radio stations (day for white, black at night) pretty much standard broadcast code throughout Southern California at least, and another reason Frank liked Elvis (because Elvis was banned from San Diego performances after his first and only show, which is described in remarkable detail aided by historic hindsight, much like the Deacon was banned in Los Angeles when I was in that vicinity).
1955 Elvis in San Diego (and Frank I think was, too)
Julie London records, too
We'd think about music in the movies, too. Then play the album at home, over and over.
All my artsy friends were starting to make "cinema verite" movies with cameras they'd borrowed from their moms and dads or other well heeled relatives. Nothing too great.
Not just Martin Denny //// no no no no no
The real deal, Arthur Lyman! I was buying albums by then ... and had a few by Arthur that Frank would listen to, sometimes borrow ... he'd return those.
I thereafter learned a few songs from a Ewan MacColl record I borrowed from the girl who fired raku pots and told me to forget about Ezra Pound. I'd sing those for Frank and my sister (and anyone else who cared to listen back then).
Social Economic Theory and Frank Zappa
To really enhance your understanding of Frank's music, and my interpretation of his continuing growth as an artist (which is a recent undertaking for me because I didn't really collect his records or see his movies), you'd have to read a book we shared like a lending library when I was young (This was my book, I will point out, and it cost me maybe 75 cents):
Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class
When young students read this book for the first time, the first response is usually the correct one: Hey, he's making fun of us.
(I am obliged to make an important point here. About Linda Ronstadt developing her "ears". Kenny Edwards was such a genius when it came to moving people into music and trying to bring out the best in them. He was quite patient with me, throughout all those early years and bits of time we spent together, he was encouraging. He helped me gather the nerve to learn to play "Whinin' Boy" on the guitar, and sing the song. If I had known at that time that Bessie Smith had sung that (which I didn't), I would never even have attempted it. I first thought the lyrics were "Winding Boy" when I was a teenager and first starting to play.
Aunt Ludmilla thought I could always get a job as a secretary, and as Uncle Taddeus had income from bonds and other investments safe from who after a lifetime in the Federal Reserve called "the crooks" on Wall Street, perhaps even a penny stock or two, a typewriter appeared long about 1959. Complete with a matching green brush to whisk away eraser debris if you made a typo. And it sat in a built-in carrying case that had a lock and key. Courier No. 10 type font. That's important to my story, critically important. I took typing classes in school from a man who was a bit effeminate and had perfectly colored windswept yellow hair despite his age.
There was a typewriter just like this in "Bell, Book, and Candle" (starring Kim Novak). Remember seeing that in the movie? I do.
The movie involved bongo drums and a little Greenwich Village beatnik club. A scene where musicians played a song speeded up.
Can you guess what might have influenced the naming of the Circle of the Zodiac (a beatnik coffee house down in Pomona, where Frank would play sometimes far back in time ... ). Frank liked this movie (about really different people getting together), and he liked getting records for Christmas. When I saw Jack Lemmon getting a couple of albums as a present, I nearly fainted in shock! That was an expensive present! A 45 was all I could afford.
(This scene above ,,,, that's what we all aspired to do, you know .... summon the power and make weird faces and discordant music and freak out the people who knew us in the past and made fun of us (ha ha ha, you're the one who always went barefoot and were put on probation at school) ... and they'd continue to do so, make those snot comments and maintain those attitudes, but we'd freak 'em ... freak 'em, daddy! If I were tracing the spread of ideas in cultural history, or even an intellectual history of the United States, and simultaneously wanted to provide an indicator of possible direction and future artistic growth of a couple of artists, like a narrative Künstlerroman
(yeah, you heard me right), I'd say this was IT! This was absolutely positively IT!
Nudie shirt just back from the dry cleaners prior to tour
In 1973, while sitting by a fence, I made a snide joke about success and show business and then borrowed a rock star's Nudie shirt for "publicity photos" his wife shot.
Then within a matter of a month, I soon fell off a cliff, suffering a green stick fracture of the right arm. But before that I saw a few alligators that had escaped a person's back yard and they were sunning themselves in the alley. I was taking a short cut through town and alleys are how we kids used to travel in Claremont proper to avoid the sidewalks and walking in front of houses where snoopy neighbors would be scanning the pedestrian traffic. I always kept a low profile there, and would to this day if ever I were foolish enough to return.
See the radio on the bottom right? That was in the den on a bookshelf of encyclopedias, next to a desk that had the typewriter (Courier 10 type font) in a room that had the swamp cooler blowing out. This one was stereophonic and had FM. A jazz station usually came out of that, sometimes KPFK.
Other noises. Snippets of conversation, from those earlier more innocent days of FM radio when broadcast frequencies were not so rigorously modulated. At times, inexplicably though probably dependent on some natural phenomenon like cloud formation, a scratchy-sounding two-way radio conversation would be picked up by my mother’s radio. The unshielded transmission suddenly would bleed through the round grill cloth of the table model, sometimes interrupting the music, sometimes blending around it. Always a bit startling, local cops in conversation not knowing they were being listened to by any but each other.
They would drive past on Arrow Highway talking to another cop somewhere on a radio. Sometimes they would park along our house on Arrow Highway and "hide" awaiting all those who speeding downhill on Mills would always run the stop sign at the corner Mills and Arrow because there was no reason to stop ... no cars, no pedestrians, no reason to stop except for the stop sign. Frank heard this "cop talk" on our radio more than once and laughed like we did. We'd run to the radio and try to hear what they were saying, or go out to the backyard and peek through the grapestake fencing to see if there was a black and white patrol car parked outside on Arrow.
Want to know what the bleed through sounded like? Listen to "Giddyup" by Corey Harris (on Downhome Sophisticate).
Other times, the AM radio in my bedroom, when I was listening very quietly to music late at night in the winter, would have intermittent bursts and pulses of static noise. I'd noticed that the heat would come out the vent in the room at the same time as the bursts. This sound would drive my sister crazy. But I assumed this was connected in some way with the electrical pulse of the thermostat on the heater, go turn down the wall thermostat in the hall, and this noise would eventually stop. That seemed to fix it.
When we first moved to Claremont there was one traffic light and two policemen in town. They worked in shifts: One for the day and one for the night. And there was one patrol car. Soon after, 1959, they started building the numbers on the local force in response to two new subdivisions on the south end of town, what the townspeople called "crackerboxes" (no blacks in there yet). And the one big fancy housing tract Claraboya to the north of Foothill. With the coming of the freeway in 1957, more people started moving in and around Claremont.
My sister without asking me loaned my book "Black Boy" (by Richard Wright
) to either Frank or Don. I never got it back, though I inquired about it, and she was unapologetic, listless, and didn't give a damn. She didn't respect boundaries. I learned the word "Bildungsroman" and not from wikipaedia. I kept reading on and on, and so did they off and on, and soon we made jokes about "Thomas, Mann" and that was before I'd even set eyes on the Notesbooks of Malte Laurids Rigge, which a conga player who came from a rich family and so had attended a rich Eastern school despite his shoulder length hair and sandals (and this was 1964 before such things were faddish) had given to me as a farewell present. That was a kindly gift on his part, and one much appreciated, as aside from a copy of zenfrogpoems and "The Prophet" (bestowed by a friend trying to balance out my existential readings), no one had given me a book at a critical juncture. Frank would read my copy of D.T. Suzuki
($1.45) and Alan Watts who hoped to explain him.
In 1966, when I spoke with Frank on the telephone when I was in Laguna Beach and "Freak Out!" was offered on the KPFK fund raising telethon, he had no response when I told him that Alan Watts and Jano had just stayed over (and Alan had vodka in his orange juice for breakfast). And he had nothing to say about my trying to help build a harpsichord that summer, either. I hope KPFK didn't broadcast live all that stuff I said to Frank on the phone that day. I was headed to Berkeley at the end of that summer to begin regular studies there. In Laguna Beach, it was hard to find work, everyone wanted a job at the beach. I got a job as a dog sitter and two days as a baby sitter for the grand daughter of a rich old bat who was ashamed her daughter had met, married, and bred with an East Indian. My adventures in Laguna Beach that summer were myriad, colorful, and multifold, and my last gasp at being a teenager before moving on in my university "career".
Frank was interested in prunes. He would eat the prunes my mother offered him (she had digestive problems like his). He would eat our prune kolacki. Later c. 1962 (summer), I tried to introduce him to a Scrippsie I met while she and I were working at the Shakespeare Festival in town because she was a prune heiress and had a good sense of humor and had heard of the Grapes of Wrath. She pointed out that the people who came to work her dad's ranch lived in shacks and other dire circumstances, "Like something out of the Grapes of Wrath" she ... exclaimed her punch line with a bit of a laugh.
Frank and everyone else of the time enjoyed this prune commercial (1960):
One of Frank's favorites, but this is not the version .... his early performances were slower with him doing the deep voice.
Steel Guitar Rag
Frank. 1962-1963 record. (His composition teacher's record perhaps).
(Re: learning Steel Guitar Rag intro .... a letter to the NY Times today explains why musicians keep pushing onwards and upwards)
To the Editor:
Two aspects of music may contribute to “success.” First, music students always strive to conquer something just out of reach. The satisfaction of mastering a difficult étude is short-lived; then it’s on to a new, slightly too hard assignment. For type-A high achievers, music lessons leave no room for complacent self-congratulation.
Adult amateurs get a paradoxically opposite benefit: a reminder to “enjoy the process.”
Mark Damon's written his memoirs. I wonder if he mentions Sabu and the book he wrote on how to win at the gambling tables?
(There are just so many books to read! Even just the ones that relate to me in some weird way)
From Cowboy to Mogul to Monster: The Neverending Story of Film Pioneer Mark Damon Paperback
Frank, my sister, my family, and I genuinely respected Sabu, because he had come up the hard way
Life Through a Lens: Memoirs of a Cinematographer
McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP
, Oct 25, 2001
- 224 pages
Advertising as an influence
Almost everyone growing up in the U.S. around a television set saw THIS commercial. This is only part of the reason that Frank wrote Mr. Clean.
Frank had a lot of great meals at our house and out in restaurants. If he had shown up on the proper day, for instance, he would have had Baked Alaska that we prepared for a saxophone player. Or on another, FLAMING CHERRIES JUBILEE that we prepared for a bass saxophone player. I tell you, we girls could really BURN in the kitchen sometimes. And obviously not just those little mini muffins (which I later was at a loss for, as my sister had taken her pan with her when she moved out).
And my sister went on to learn how to make a Mexican delicacy, "cabeza" although she would roast the head in the oven (complete with little horn stubs) and serve it on a platter with its tongue hanging out of its yellowed teeth, and you were supposed to dig in with tortillas and eat the cheeks. That was Christmas dinner 1966 (?) or so with my sister one year at their place in Los Angeles, after she got married (again).
She also liked telling about the fish that were deep fried in their skins with little spiny back fins and served whole on a plate complete with staring eyeballs.
And back to Olive Oyl by the Mixtures .... that's totally a veiled reference to one of the first successful tours by an offshoot of the Mime Troup (El Teatro Campesino) and so without further ado, I will unveil my most secret now blog on where I was living and what I was doing with them while working in a blues club called Mandrake's in Berkeley.
Here it is, and you will gasp! in amazement at all the funny cast of characters! AND how we all inter-related. (But be sure to read the part about Padua Hills and the play "Los Olivos" because THAT's what started ....... El Teatro Campesino!
All of these history projects I have been writing about are just too much for me to ever get into anything other than a rough first draft, and I doubt I will have time to do more with them.
I have supposedly just opened this to all readers anyplace in the world, so please let me know if you don't have access to the page.
Frank's Driving Test
Did I tell you this already? My sister, because she was a few years older than Frank, employed, and paying off a second hand '54 Ford sedan, would drive him (and me, too) around places and she even took him down to the DMV in Pomona way down on Garey for his driver's license test. Because he was always begging rides from people and not only did he not have a car ... he did not have a license to drive at that time of his life.
And Frank .... FAILED the written portion the first time and so couldn't take the actual driving part to get his license.
Which humiliated him greatly, and my mother, in trying to be encouraging to him, actually said, "Oh, don't worry, honey, just study your booklet and you'll pass it the next time."
And then she added, "I got a 100 point perfect score on mine."
(Which may have made it worse for the moment for Frank).
(Did I say the Texans next door to our home when I knew Frank were Lutherans? I was wrong! They were Jehovah's Witnesses!! And I should add here that I lived off White Boulevard in Pomona in when I worked for The Phone Company in 1964 turning into 1965 and was starting to have difficulties with the guy who was going to become Beefheart's road manager. You see, "White" .... that was kind of a funny name for a street when I was living in Pomona then.)
Me, I was happy about my job, kind of.
Turkey Time! (by the Mixtures, kind of). (Frank, my sister, and I all liked songs about Turkeys because of all the turkey farms of our youth, you see. And ostrich farms.)
(Just kidding! It was THIS "TURKEY TIME" the Mixtures played!)
But scroll down, it was "Olive Oyl" that was really funny!
Swimmin' at the Rainbow
Not only did we go Stompin' at the Rainbow,
We went Swimmin' at the Rainbow
And there are scholarly studies about everyone who went there! (YAY!)
Generations of Youth: Youth Cultures and History in Twentieth-century America
Joe Austin, Michael Willard
NYU Press, 1998, 474 pp.
Because that's how important we all were, and "youth" is not a "passive and unchanging concept."
By 1963, the Rainbow Gardens was sold to another owner who owned another "Mexican" nightclub. I don't even know what happened to the place. Maybe I'll do a google street view search.
Stompin at the Rainbow
So the Rainbow Gardens Ballroom started having more rock and roll/r and b shows, and continued on. In 1964, though I didn't go there anymore as the place was gone and I was miles away, they had Mark Guerrerro
(that's Mark and the Escorts) who mentions one of his earlier gigs there, and his big gig pay starting out at $5 a show. (I missed Mark and the Escorts in July 1964 playing at Claremont High and the Rainbow Gardens as I was studying at Berkeley by then, the second summer session, although at the end of June that year I had seen Don Vliet perform on a small abandoned football field at the Claremont Colleges, almost his stage debut in town.
Here's an old photograph of the inside
of the Rainbow Gardens (though it didn't have all that drapery over the stage as I recall.)
This is where I saw Frank Zappa dance for the second time in my life. And he by all reports I've heard since never danced (or if he did, not too much nor often.)
There's a lot to write about the Rainbow Gardens. Because it was famous as a big band club in the '40s, but run by Mexicans (here's an book excerpt on Cande Mendoza
)* and they pretty much were convinced no Anglos went there, or knew about it, or just ignored it, and everyone would have to keep the surrounding streets cleaned up after shows so as not to piss off the white city fathers of Pomona).
*(A World of Its Own
: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970
By Matt Garcia
Univ of North Carolina Press
, 2001 - Social Science
- 330 pages
And citrus was HUGE in Southern California of the time, although not so much today.
Anyway, as I said in an earlier post I was becoming "political" at Berkeley but not entirely humorless, I don't think. And I floated on the edges of a little theatrical troupe that eventually was known as "The San Francisco Mime Troupe" (which absolutely no one to this day outside of San Francisco seems to have heard of, that's how famous we became. And they haven't heard about the Magic Theater, either, and wouldn't give a rat's ass if I told stories about Ronnie throwing a cup of coffee on a competing company's director, they just couldn't relate to it, or pea shooters, or pies in the face, I mean any of it. It's like a turf thing, and only San Francisco knows about us at all because everywhere South of let's say San Jose is "Hollywood" media.)
So I have been obliged to create yet another blog, where I am tracing the history of the San Francisco Mime Troup as I know it, and of course I mention other things like flying saucers, Ezra Pound, and so on. And mathematics, and maybe a little bit about space science. I have to explain I go to all this trouble because I believe out there somewhere a real social historian will arise who needs some of this information to make a point or something.
There is a postcard photo in the digital collection of the Rainbow Gardens in the Pomona Library that I can't access, which I find frustrating/ http://content.ci.pomona.ca.us/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/Frasher&CISOPTR=4788&CISOBOX=1&REC=3
(Stompin' at the Rainbow, PART TWO!!!)
And all of this will give you some flavor of the times, and help explain WHY Frank Zappa, in his early years at least, always insisted on "Louie Louie" as an audition piece for prospective musicians (because the song was imbedded in the cultural zeitgeist of the times as a marking point). The Mixtures did a strange blend of songs, everything from "Turkey Time" to "Besame Mucho" and played the Rainbow Gardens every single Friday night for a time.
So when I was young and knew Frank, and my sister got to know Tina better after they played the Rainbow Gardens Ballroom in Pomona
long about 1961 (?) mebbe 1962, from the gossip and talk with Tina and her singers, my sister casually announced that Little Richard may have copped some of his moves from a guy who turned out to be Esquerita
. And I was frustrated because I couldn't track that person down to buy a record and see ... because there were no records, his was a stage act in clubs I was much too young to go to. But by then, Frank or someone near him had been able to find one of the rare records (an album I borrowed) and after listening to it for a few days, I decided I kind of preferred Little Richard. He was more raucous.
But for fans and scholars, the important thing is that Frank or someone close to him had the Esquerita album in his record collection by 1961 or 1962 because we borrowed this for a few days. If you want to listen to all the music that Frank listened to, that is. But it was the album that just had a head shot of Esquerita on the cover back then.
So like with this song, I noticed the rhythm was more jagged than Little Richard's, and Frank and I would talk a bit about whether the beat was driven by the piano or the drummer (who we could barely hear in the background) as Frank was so immensely interested in DRUMS. Frank by that time was learning to notate drum lines. Which was a complete mystery to me .... but the piano, that rhythm sounded like something from Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns, and I would mention that, as I had an "ear" for music.
We'd listen to Buddy Rich, too. We both liked Gene Krupa on television on a prolonged drum solo, but didn't care for his music and his reliance on sharp sounds. Listened to Stanley Turrentine, but didn't like him too much. LOVED the Resurgence of Dexter Gordon.
My sister remained friends with Frank and one year (1968 or 1969), she brought home a present Frank had given her for Christmas ... actually two presents. One was a pair of crotchless red underpants from Frederick's of Hollywood and the other a squashed looking dildo, that she showed me, too.
And I, because I was political by then and thought people with money should do something useful with it rather than buy silly presents, didn't find the dildo amusing at all, and was a little like Woody Allen in that movie where he gets hooked up with a prostitute who tells him all the stuff she does, and my sister called me "a prude" which Frank by his constant jokes and sneers seemed to think I was all along.
Yeah! They both started putting me down or teasing me viciously right about the time that Shelly Fabares appeared at the Rainbow Gardens Ballroom on some teen show, which I had gone to. And Shelly sang her current famous song (which wasn't my cup of tea at all), and they were teasing me about that ... that I would like Shelly, you see, they were /// casting aspersions because I went to wholesome teen shows and later because I was not, well, like my sister ... who spread her joy around.
I wasn't too crazy about Shelly Fabares
as she was related to a famous Hollywood actress, and it seemed that might be the only reason she got a movie contract and record contract in Hollywood (but later Elvis said she was one of his favorite actresses to work with), through her familial and industry connections, but back then for me it was enough Lou Adler liked her and brought her on the show to town, and he was okay, so I found her act and song more amusing.
I wish I could get a performance list of all the people who appeared at the Rainbow Ballroom in Pomona during that time, 1960-1962 as that would help set the dates for these pivotal conversations with Frank and my sister.
In fact, I wish some local scholar would write a paper on the history of the Rainbow Ballroom, how it changed from a country western dance hall into a place for occasional teen shows, because I'd be curious ... as it was a big deal for them to bring in an r&b act like Ike and Tina, it was going against the grain of the place, but they did. Ike did a call for musicians to come out, and he played a few lines from "Steel Guitar Boogie." The guys wore rented tuxedos (more like cocktail tuxedos from a local men's ware shop). And if I had the dates, and I might be able to reconstruct Ike & Tina's set list, and tell you exactly WHAT song they were singing when Frank drawn by the music, just couldn't resist it anymore, and actually HIT THE DANCE FLOOR!!! And I saw his head bobbing in and out through the blond teen heads on our side of the room on the dance floor and he was grinning like he was having the best old time.
And I was blown away by the casual impromptu set call mustered by Ike, because it would take forever just to learn that!
Holy water sprinkled on coinkydink: Pair o Dice
Pay attention to coincidences.
(You would have to work mighty hard as a music historian/pop psychologist/theorist to determine the causality in any of Frank's use of coinkydink in his music or influences upon composition or performance. The evidence can be slight.)
Sambo's was not the glittery neon establishment you may have ventured into at some point in your youth when we first went there before the parade.
And though the connotation of the name was harsh, the drawings were of an East Indian motif, closer to a reading of Rudyard Kipling. (The "tar baby" syrup set below was in no way associated with Sambo's the restaurant, but rather another artist's interpretation of the story.
Sambo's had a lot to recommend it, as the coffee was the right price for quite some time.
Like a concerned older brother, Frank would comment on the boys I would meet or go out with. He found my story interesting though anything I seemed to do was humorous about how I met a boy at POP during one of the pop music events or school outings and we decided to hang out together and go on rides. And the boy turned out to be the son of the man who had started Sambo's restaurant
in Santa Barbara (a pancake house near the ocean that my family had actually dined in when we went up to Santa Barbara one time for a day's outing which culminated in watching a parade of some sort with the added attraction of the Eugene Biscailuz mounted posse
. This boy and I would talk on the telephone every now and again, teenage stuff.
So that was about it, you see. Rudyard Kipling in restaurants and Joel Chandler Harris at home all mysteriously end up as pancakes that people eat without thinking about them too much.
Television was much better when I was young. Frank, my sister, and my whole family watched a short from the UK on how spaghetti is harvested. This was a 1957 skit but this was inserted a few years later into some comedy program from LA of the time. We all laughed ourselves silly.
Listen to the lines from "Going to Montana Soon" and imagine where some of the lyrical imagery might have come from.
That college in the desert was poo poo. I'd recommended that to a friend in Berkeley in the mid-60s because (as I understood admissions process, for reasons I won't go in to at any length, he could attend college without having graduated High School. I had looked into this while hating my high school experience in Claremont, and was willing to attempt the leap, but an older more experienced adult warned me away from that track of thinking. "If you don't graduate from college, then you won't have any degree" which meant working behind the counter of Newberry's dishing out bread pudding (although if it were good bread pudding I wouldn't mind so much) but I realized I had to earn enough money from working a job to be able to make a living which I certainly wouldn't be able to get at Newberry's.
There was a great lunch counter in a drug store in Pomona I could stop in at after work and sometimes have a dish of bread pudding there.
Earlier on in school in Claremont, when I was quite young, perhaps in my last year of grammar school, all the boys I knew would make plastic models of airplanes, and some even made remote control airplanes on a wire attached to the wooden box with the controllers for flaps, tails, and joystick, and they would fly on the school baseball fields until they crashed in front of their uncles destroying their creation completely and they'd be embarrassed.
I figured I could make models, too. So I rode my bike to the Safeway center, new then, and over the course of a number of months bought a few things in boxes. One was a 1959 Ford Galaxie convertible (that I painted deep blue), which is the car I wanted to own.
Another was the statue of a knight that I was assembling as a father's day present for my dad, rather than just giving him the usual tie or after shave (although I had purchased a pretty damn good after shave for him one previous year, in my Banana Boat years, but he apparently didn't like it. And my mother hated it, as it would seem my Dad had been drinking when he used it, and she was constantly giving out strong anti-alcohol messages because of her own upbringing).
So I assembled this statue of a knight (to say "you are a brave defender and knight in shining armor to us") in the back of the house, secretly with the door closed so no one would spoil the surprise, and with only the window slid open for ventilation on a hot summer day.
I worked for hours reading the instructions in small print and following assembly protocols. Well, those sure are some strong fumes the plastic cement would put out, and I barely noticed the difference when I finished the gray plastic knight but my sister thought the results hilarious, as he was standing quite alist, like the leaning tower of Pisa. I probably was, too, and I hoped to disassemble the figure while the glue was still moist to make for a more proper posture, but my sister had stolen the remaining tube of glue and one of my mother's nylons, so I would have to give the statue to my dad as it was.
Which I did do and I later caught my sister showing my creation to Frank one time (it was on my father's dresser by then, a bit after Father's Day). Frank would talk with me about this, what did I like about knights, then the jousting on horseback and how the horses wore clothes, and so eventually down the road we'd watch a puppet show on television that had puppet knights jousting on puppet horses who would wear clothes. Everyone had a shield with a coat of arms, and as it turned out, so did my Dad's family, despite all odds, and I was quite proud of that.
And suddenly my mother would erupt when they came back in the living room, after listening in on some our conversation, and scold me and say, "What's so great about knights anyway? All they did was ride around killing people."
Other times after Frank had visited, she could only talk about the conversation they'd just had, which I didn't hear, which must have frightened her a great deal as she was familiar with hearing about mustard gas from the stories the old wounded veteran told her when she was a kid in Kentucky. She'd go on and on about mustard gas and .... give vivid details from the original All Quiet On the Western Front and almost act out all the parts of the film characters as she continued.
My dad had a stressful job and he had developed ulcers. We were sympathetic to ulcers, and when on occasion we would see Frank doubling over at the table and not able to eat the meal we had prepared, we understood and felt for him.
We would also tell Frank about all the current ulcer research we had access to and the special bland diet my dad was on and even give him mimeographed copies of that diet (as my Dad would pick up extras at the doctor's office). We would lie and say we enjoyed the food, too, dinners with Dad now that he was on a bland diet. But the diet was so bland, my father would push away his plate in disgust as if it were a reminder of his own frailty, and I couldn't blame him a bit.
/+In that vague period 1963-1964 which is a blur of activity and movement in my mind peopled sometimes with names and places you might recognize, I could sit still long enough to read a book and contemplate my possible future ... if I went this way or that way. Aunt Ludmilla tried to be helpful and suggested I might consider going to Las Vegas and becoming a croupier or card dealer, as she had encountered a Morman who made a lot of dough working at the tables there and I had been skilled at card tricks in my youth, but I would have to wait until I was of legal age to gamble to do that.
I read "What Makes Sammy Run
" (which gave me the creeps) because "Hollywood" was so close by to me and seemed a real possibility, just given my propinquity to it all and people I knew and so on.
I liked this cover version of "Slippin' and Slidin'" because it was by the Rivingtons and (I think in associations, see Budd Schulberg above) so naturally served as a reminder of "Hollywood" and what I was learning about show biz there, but show biz in New York seemed to be just the same. I liked the way they said "sleepin and a hidin" rather than muffling the lyrics through the mic.
Why I preferred the Rivingtons suddenly, although I loved dearly loved Little Richard's version, is that a friend of mine and I had encountered a fellow in the Greyhound bus station in Los Angeles as we were waiting to board a bus to San Francisco sometime in the summer of 1964.
I thought, "He looks a lot like Little Richard ... Can't be! What's he doing here?"
And I kind of smiled at him and he smiled back. I went to get a coke or something, and came back to find this man now sitting and talking with my friend (she was wearing sunglasses, sandals, a lightly flowered blousy top with blue design, and light brown corduroy jeans and he was in a greenish brown suit and white shirt and had taken off his sunglasses.)
She was sitting with her sandaled foot on the wooden bench. Her right knee was up in the air with her arms wrapped casually around her leg, the beginning of a casually defensive posture if I've ever seen one, as he was seated on her right. Then he turned and looked at me as I settled back down with my coke, and he smiled and cupped his hand and whispered something in her ear.
At which point she exploded in laughter. And he got up and left.
So I asked her what he had said. And she would just break into laughter again.
That was Little Richard in the Greyhound Bus Station in Los Angeles
sometime during the daylight hours in the Summer of 1964, and he had suggested something that involved me to my friend, which caused her to explode in disbelieving laughter right in his face.
So I shoved the much beloved black and white labeled Specialty Records to the back of my collection for quite some time after that encounter, and in my mind I thought "Hollywood."
But Little Richard actually is how I first got to know John Fahey, in the summer of 1964, at some little coffee house recording of Mississippi John Hurt. Because my friend related that story to him, again with much laughter on her part (and I was sitting at a table away from them and I knew what she was telling him which .... was irritating beyond belief) and he moved close so we could all sit together and he soon began launching into all the stories he had been collecting on the pervy behaviors of black folk musicians, Rev. Gary Davis in particular.
The rush for Christmas Releases
Here is the Greeter's actual voice, just like Frank heard him with his own ears!
TPC and FSM
So after that stupid Bob Dylan concert and a summer session at Berkeley (where I crashed for a few days at the home of some musicians I knew, one from San Diego), I returned to the more familiar environs of the Pomona Valley to work and save money to go to school. Beginning in October of 1964 (and I had just returned from Berkeley and even had to have my parents sign a slip saying it was ok for me to work there because I wasn't old enough to work a regular job legally), against my father's advice, I took on a full-time position as a long distance telephone operator at the National Phone Company in Pomona (which was almost next door to the much larger General Telephone Company that serviced nearly every telephone in the greater Pomona Valley). The National Phone Company was allowed to exist and maintain some connectivity to a small pool of paying clients in order to stave off complaints of Mother Bell's well known monopolistic tendencies.
So I was a long distance operator in October of 1964. But I had seen close up the beginnings of the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley ...
Because "Get Smart
" was popular on television, and given my first name, I was actually assigned "99" as my operator's number. Well, I said to myself, somebody in this bureaucracy has a sense of humor.
Today October 16 is National Boss's Day so that's why I made the posts about telescopes, gas stations, musicians, encyclopedia sales, and phone companies. With a brief interlude on disco music, but I did manage to work in a mention of the National Forest Service, if you remember, and even the tram driver if you think about earned money and worked for POP while shuttling tourists and beatniks up and down the Venice Boardwalk.
Greaser Car Culture
Not only did Kenny Edwards help me land a most unlucrative job in San Francisco in 1963, and carry Arthur Lee and me to surf movies, but he was a student of cello. I tried him out in Pasadena on a borrowed cello, and he played "Louis Louis." Absolutely true story. But he was passed over in favor of Emmet Sergeant. Kenny and Linda actually went to New York and lived in the same apartment building as Frank Zappa at one point, and I would be most interested in seeing if that is mentioned in Linda's memoirs.
It likely will be, because Frank Zappa is a famous name now.
And on the flip side, "Talk to the microphone in the piano strings." Frank recorded ALL of that and kept ALL the tapes. They probably could find what Linda or Kenny said to the piano strings, if speak to them they did. And depending on what you've written, Linda, this might be on some record in the future and you might not get royalties because no one not even record company loggers might be able to recognize your voice.
Kenny and I as kids would hold hands and run across 8 lanes of Los Angeles freeway traffic at night and surge with a mutual adrenaline rush when we made it across safely.
I could run pretty fast, because of the physical fitness programs John Kennedy had installed in the schools so we could better fight against Russians or other landforces, and I took two gym classes back to back so I could fulfill those requirements and graduate high school early, as I really didn't want to be stuck in there too much longer. And of course there was all that bike ridin' up into the foothills ... where I never made it to the top of Mt Baldy because I was on an English 3-speed and I would fall over from exhaustion along the way, but I got to coast downhill very very fast.
One time a friend of mine whose father owned a gas station in Pomona drove me up there in her brother's 56 Chevy sedan, nosed but not decked, and painted a light blue. He had been working on the engine which he seemed to do constantly but when he worked in the station on Saturdays he would sometimes let her have his car ... and in the altitude, the fuel line would sputter a bit ... and cough .... Hell's Angels would ride up there, too, and they were behind us on motorcycles and closing in fast ...
The car sputtered and stalled and they passed us, then turned around to return to the car filled with two teenage girls. We were stuck alongside the road in the car and they were off their bikes approaching us in the middle of nowhere. They wanted to help us with the car, just like good Bubbas do everywhere for ladies in automotive trouble, so they opened the hood, and would tell her when to gun the engine or pull the choke while they fiddled with the carburetor settings (and they complimented her on her brother's choice of exhaust). But it was frustrating, because the engine kept choking out.
One of them grew frustrated and pulled his gun and held it to the engine laughing as he did and threatened to shoot it. My friend and I just looked at each other in growing concern.
Then the car started, and the Angel without the gun slammed the hood shut. The guy with the gun came over to my side of the car and invited us to join them for beers. They'd obviously had a few.
At which point my friend became a stunt driver, threw the car into reverse (and this was a column shift) and I yelled "Thank You!" out the window as I leaned out and waved in a friendly way while she backed up down the curvy mountain road at tremendously high speed with the tires squealing and burning smoke until she reached a wide point in the road where she could turn the car around facing the downhill all without stopping. And so we went home laughing a bit.
So for Don to fail at The Dips was sad for me .... he did drive fast, though, his foot was heavy on the pedal just like all people who are raised driving on desert highways.
Although, sometimes because of my upbringing I could feel we could all be real losers.
Tropical Influences from Far Away
I forgot to mention the important part about the art shows down the street from the Schtink Tank. Frank had a copy of "The Bird" framed on the wall (not installed in a frame, but centered in a wood frame affixed to the wall with the 45 held up by a pushpin through the hole in the center), and a basket of 45s beneath it. Of course, they were for sale.
Anyone in the know would know this almost comes almost immediately and directly from Martin Denny records of the time, and Frank would laugh about THOSE, too, when he saw them in my record collection. I was sailing wide during my Banana Boat phase in music then.
(I never mentioned too much about my brief career in show biz when I was in the tropics, but I always tried to dress well when I visited the telescopes as if I really wanted to impress them)
("Play that funky music, white boy ... "
Autobiography in Music and Roots
Remember that business I told you about, about the institutional bullying in a talent show at one of those science institutes ...
they dressed in capes?
This is what they sang and played, and one of the guys dragged out his old platform shoes and wore them for the performance.
I was going to be more organized in my recollections this morning, and tell you why Frank liked Magritte: "the mystery of the ordinary" and what I perceive as his compositional intent,
and why I always laugh (or coo and say "oh ... wow" like I'm watching a good puppet show and the puppets suddenly become completely human and the feeling is sentimental or a kindly warm and fuzzy nostalgia) when I hear him mention Greyhound lockers in a lyric line in the middle of a song (which I did the other day, when I watched one of his movies online, as I used one of those lockers to temporarily keep my guitar safe when I first hit San Francisco in 1963 when I was in search of the disappearing beatniks, and when Kenny Edwards and I had a brief unsuccessful stint together on the coffee house circuit there, and of course I thought I was the only person in the world who knew about them ...
I could turn the key, and they didn't keep track of the time accurately then, so you could leave your guitar there for days for a dime while you explored and it would remain safe. They were the best invention, I thought. Frank and my sister would hear about some of my beatnik adventures there, and of course a bit later I was always outdone even talking about the death of Aldous Huxley, but still I thought it a marvel that someone I'd met had even met Aldous Huxley! But mostly I would laugh about door to door sales jobs, as I had tried selling encyclopedias door to door in San Francisco in between my folk songs in the evenings. A straight commission job, but a job, that Kenny Edwards had helped me land because one of our church group's dads ran the business.
That phrase about "greyhound lockers" just jumped right out and touched me, and I'll bet it jumps out and touches other people, too, but in different ways and wrapped in their own personal experiences or unique autobiographies of themselves).
So I always was, also, interested in people's personal connections to music. I like hearing those stories.
I also like, for instance, informing people about music roots. For instance, yesterday my dog got out a gate someone had left open and went missing, so I went down with a leash to retrieve her because my neighbor called. He's nice that way, and in between discussions about what he's been doing and who he's seen lately (he 'd also, strangely for a recluse, had a recent visit from another neighbor to reclaim a chicken on his fence), he imitated the "myip myip myip" sound a wild cat makes when staring in the window at his cat (the cat comes around often enough for him to give the cat a name "Spookycat", his home improvement projects, and last but best the fig trees (because we were snacking on those) and how gophers go after the roots of those trees, and communication and how people talk, when he suddenly (I must have mentioned something about music and my current Frank Zappa "memory project") and abruptly I thought brought up the song "Voulez Vous Coucher Avec Moi" that he had seen in Moulin Rouge on Roku
So instead of talking about Toulouse Lautrec and the bottle of absinthe I have squirreled away and I keep a box of sugar cubes in the event (because he doesn't drink alcohol), I said "what a great song!" but because he had worked as a forest ranger during the period of its first release and was away from great metropolises and media, he was totally unaware of LaBelle, the original version.
So I just sent him a link to Patti LaBelle singing Lady Marmalade, so he could understand better what I was talking about (I turned to his friend, who had graciously given me his portion of figs, and said, "Don't you remember THAT? You must! It was famous in dance clubs everywhere!") and this might turn into a music lecture next time I see them.
There was another great one at that time, "All night long, we did the bump, bump, bump" (and that developed into a dance almost anyone could do).
Gas House and POP
1965 - Venice Beach was much quieter and smaller when I lived close enough to ride my bicycle there. I'd been there before, more than once .... in the years previous. The tram from POP when I was visiting that wonderland many times to hear POP music around the dolphins, televised, cost a dime and you'd ride out among the beatniks. The beatniks sometimes would ride the tram, too.
Frank went along on some of our family outings. These were events and sight seeing excursions common to Southern Californians who loved a day trip back when gasoline was 19 cents a gallon.
One summer's evening, perhaps in August, we went to Laguna Beach. Frank and my sister took off to explore, but joined up with us at an appointed hour to dine at the Jolly Roger. Expensive grilled hamburgers, and my mother drank a large iced tea with extra ice. In that arcade was a faux beatnik coffee house called Caffe Frankenstein with unique artistic beatnik printing of the name. Down the street was the Pottery Shack (hand thrown dishes and fiesta ware, quite expensive for the tourist.) Out front was a life sized statue of The Greeter
, who was famous in town -- a real old man with a long beard who we may have just seen waving and saying "Hello There" to every car that came down the canyon road onto Pacific Coast Highway. Famous in town for taking that on as his job; he was harmless the townspeople recognized.
Then we headed over to the Pageant of the Masters
, which had a stiff entry fee maybe six bucks for adults. I looked at a cross painted on a canvas and laid out for viewing on the floor, it must have been 16 feet tall, maybe more. Frank and my sister had taken off again to look at exhibits on their own. There were painted reproductions of master painters, too ... the clock by Dali (I ran into Frank and my sister there and asked "Don't you want to see the cross?" No, they didn't). Frank had his portrait charcoaled, almost a caricature of him.
Be sure to watch the video in the link to the Pageant of the Masters
. That was pretty much the era, a million or so years ago.