Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm Acting As Fast As I Can

Like everyone else in the world, A Hard Day’s Night made me want to be in a rock and roll band, and I was in a succession of ‘em into my early 20s, when I actually did rock and roll professionally for a while, with a Musicians Union card and everything. The use of psychotropic drugs was epidemic in those days, and sometimes it could be tricky getting all four or five of us — whichever us was involved in a particular band — pulling in the same direction. But then, years and years later, I decided to try acting, and found that getting four ostensibly sober 40-something actors pulling in the same direction was around 14 million times harder than four drug-addled 22-year-old.

I formed a three-person troupe in LA to perform the character-driven comedy sketches I’d begun writing after reading the Playboy interview in which Robin Williams said that making a roomful of people laugh was better than sex. So far so good. I moved to San Francisco and worked with two new people as The Spandex Amazons. So far so good. But then, having written a great many new sketches and a great many songs to perform in between them, I got ambitious, and expanded the renamed (to The San Francisco Hysterical Society) troupe to five. My headaches didn’t increase five-fold, but around 5000-fold.

The Other Guy (I acted, as well as directed it) left the cast something like 10 days before the show was going to open so he could pretend to be Mick Jagger in a Rolling Stones tribute act. After endless weeks of coaxing, cajoling, importuning, imploring, and what have you, I persuaded the San Francisco Chronicle to run an item about us on the upcoming events page of its weekly arts supplement. We’d posed for the accompanying photograph weeks before. I showed up at rehearsal imagining that the rest of the cast would be tickled pink. But the lead actress so disliked the way her chin (or, more accurately, chins) looked in the photo that she sulked through the whole weekend’s rehearsals, effectively ruining them. By the time the show opened (and was hailed in the San Jose Mercury-News as pretty goddamned wonderful), she and I were speaking only on stage.

I relocated to London and staged more versions of the show, as The Ministry of Humour and Clear & Present Rangers. Horsy-faced Katy D— arrived to audition for the latter in a skirt, with an 80-year-old’s knee-high stockings, but what an actor! The problem being that she was also an insufferable prima donna, who never showed up for a rehearsal less than half an hour late. I grinned and bore it until she decided that it might be fun to show up at the last minute for actual performances too. This inspired me to issue an edict: Anyone, including me, who turned up late for a performance would forfeit his or her payment for the night. Katy’s response was to advise a key actors group that I’d sexually harassed her. 

Thoroughly sick of this sort of thing, I reverted to performing my one-man show about my experiences at Larry Flynt Publications, Wm. Floggin’ Buckley. I only occasionally kept myself waiting, and was considerably more aggrieved by the ghastly deep furrows in my once-lovely forehead than in my chin, of which I had, and have, only the one.

[In the UK, a certain kind of actor is called a lovey. You might like this track from the Do Re Mi Fa (Cough) album I made with Debbie Clarke in 2005. You almost certainly will!] 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Little Door, Big Pleasure

When, after a largely excruciating childhood and lonely, miserable adolescence, I suddenly became (sort of) rich and famous in my early 20s, I was insufferable. The world had spent 22 years hurting me, and I, by God, was going to hurt it back, worse. Of course, a big part of me felt that maybe the world had been right to humiliate and demoralize me as relentlessly as it had, so that part was fiercely contemptuous of those who treated the newly, well, validated me kindly. A third part couldn’t trust anyone’s kindness, and compelled me to try to hurt them before they could hurt me. There was just no winning with me! Naturally, most people just shook their heads, mumbled, “What an asshole,” and gave me a very wide berth.

Forty years and more after the fact, I and the missus had dinner Wednesday night with one who didn’t, H—, and his own wife, S—, and what a sublime pleasure it was. Even after calming down a bit in my 30s, achieving enough self-respect to be able to exist in the world, and ceasing to be monstrous, I have continued to think there’s something terribly wrong with me, as I just don’t enjoy other people as much as others seem to, so what a relief to enjoy an evening as much as I enjoyed last evening. 

We convened, at our friends’ invitation, at the wondrous Little Door on 3rd Street, on West Hollywood’s southern border. The food, sort of a French/Moroccan fusion, was breathtaking — the best I’ve eaten in a restaurant in this decade. I normally wince when people speak of good service, as though they're accustomed to being waited on, or feel they ought to be, but this was the best kind of Good Service, not just prompt and attentive, but joyful. You got the impression the servers took pleasure in presenting the glorious food, and were proud of their colleagues in the kitchen.

In my days as a teenaged and barely-20 parking attendant I’d always found it distasteful when pairs of couples drove onto the lot with the husbands talking about the Dodgers or ham radio or foreign policy in the front seat while their wives, in the back, talked about fashion, recipes, and The Children. As we were seated, it appeared that sort of thing might take place at our table, but the conversation soon began to flow in every direction with each of speaking to the two others to whom he or she wasn’t married. And at our table, it was H— and I discussing fashion. I’d met S— once, I think, decades ago, and liked her, but didn’t realize how wonderfully tart her sense of humor was. In the car on the way home, the missus told me that S— had asked her many questions — that is, had seemed genuinely interested in her, and what a treat it always is to meet someone who wants to talk about something other than him or herself! I not only wasn’t bored, as I so often am (even by people whose great niceness I don’t dispute for a millisecond), but wanted to keep going even after we finally surrendered our table and went back outside, H— and S— pointing out that it was past their bedtime.  
Inside, the four of us had (possibly to fellow diners’ dismay) demonstrated our respective abilities to sing The Who’s “Pictures of Lily”. Once outside, the missus and I performed our famous impression of Yoko Ono sitting in with the Days of Future Past-era Moody Blues, and we all headed home, I with a carton containing the main course (vegetable couscous) the missus had been too busy chatting to eat. Tonight, for the second time in 24 hours, I shall eat like a king!

Have I neglected to mention the crème brulee, which somehow managed to be even more heavenly than my scallops had been? Have I neglected to mention that our friends treated us? 

A red-letter evening. One of my three or four happiest of a year that I’ve thought at many points I might not endure to see the end of. Sometimes I almost feel like a real human being.

Another Remarkable Milestone in My Writing Career!

It should be no surprise to you that my writing career has had highlights nearly too numerous to count. The one of which I’m proudest? Being shortlisted for the Nobel Peace Prize the year I wrote those liner notes for whatever that Kinks album was called. What will surprise many is that there’s been some awful humiliation among all the glory, like that time in approximately 1979 when I was desperate to get into Oui, Playboy’s younger, hipper offshoot, and a smug little dickhead editor, ?Ed Dwyer, invited me in to discuss possible assignments, but when I got there I discovered that he and his fellow little dickhead editors had decided to go to lunch early. If I so chose, I could go over to the restaurant where they were dining.

They’d apparently smoked a great deal of pot on the way to the restaurant, and found it terribly amusing to ridicule me for wanting to write for their magazine, for which they found it hilarious to profess great disdain. And I, hoping to appear a good sport, wanting desperately to get my freelance writing career moving again, didn’t pee all over their appetizers.

Thirty-five years later, I’m feeling nearly the same. You’ll recall that I recently invited 186 literary agents to read my latest novel, Who Is Keri Fetherwaite?, and that a grand total of one agreed. She didn’t like it, or my novel Insects On Fire, about the sadism of children, but agreed to pass the latter along to some decision-makers at a publishing house that had recently published one of her authors. Forty-eight hours ago, I received this email from one of them.

My name is Harris K—. I'm an acquisitions editor for Koehler Books. Recently [literary agent]  forwarded me your work Insects on Fire. I forwarded to our Executive Editor Mr. Joe Coccaro for consideration. I'm happy to report that after having spent time with your manuscript, Mr. Coccaro strongly believes it is worthy of publication through our Emerging Author (EA) program. Please consider what he had to say about your work:

 [Said Mr. Joe Coccaro:]
John Mendelssohn's novel, Insects of [sic] Fire, is a gritty tale of life on the edges of society. It's a portal into a world most of us hope to avoid for ourselves and kids. Drugs, whores, bikers, violence, abuse, racism and shattered innocence. It's raw but real.

I read the first few chapters, skimmed the mid-section, and studied the end. I'm convinced there is a compelling story here that would appeal to a YA crowd and lovers of darker side. The book is intense, as is its language and characters. The writer needs to better harness that intensity by extracting it through the characters, rather than a narrator's voice. I honestly think Mr. Mendelssohn's book would benefit if he worked closely with one of our line editors. The book could be tightened and focused and brought up to top-notch professional standards. As it now sits, there are words missing, verb tense confusion and stylistic inconsistency. That sounds worse than it is. The point here being that this could be a compelling novel if reworked and buffed.

The best course for this work would be to pair Mr. Mendelssohn with one of our editors and then after a line-by-line treatment, have a copy editor scrub the manuscript for grammar, style, spelling....Once professionally edited and formatted, the novel could be prepped and designed by Koehler Studios for publication. At that point, Mr. Mendelssohn could pursue a couple publishing options. Koehler Books emerging authors program is certainly one option, or the work could be released through IngramSpark.

Under either option, I strongly recommend that Insects of Fire release as an e-book first. My gut tells me that's where the primary market for this work resides. The ebook option would also be much less expensive for Mr. Mendelssohn than a full print distribution deal.

Less expensive, but still pretty expensive. Koehler believes I should pay them $5000 to rework and, uh,  buff (but not actually print!) my novel, of which I will admit I’m actually pretty proud. (I might not be the best person to ask, but I think I’m around 100 times better a novelist than I ever was a music critic, as which I was internationally lauded, rather than patronized by slimeball hucksters such as Harris and Mr. Joe Corraro.)

Long story short, as they used to say on The Sopranos: my gut told me to invite Harris to take his Emerging Authors program and insert it, vigorously, in his southernmost bodily orifice. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Retail Therapy

A few decades ago (isn’t it sexy how casually persons of my vintage toss that phrase around?), indoor malls were all the rage. In my Universal Object of Desire phase, before my marriage, ‘twas to malls I headed every weekend in which to try to meet statuesque and other blondes, brunettes, and redheads. Now you can’t give indoor malls away, at least in southern California, where the weather is pleasant 363 days per year. The new trend is to outdoor retail sectors like the very nearby, very Disneyland-ish Grove, where there is fresh air and natural light and gorgeous women dressed to impress each other, and of course an Apple store, in which there is neither fresh air nor natural light, but lots of bright-eyed young persons in zany coiffures, tattoos, and many long-unused piercings, and the prettiest computers in the world. Cleverly, whoever dreamed up the place directed that swing music — perhaps the music least objectionable to the widest range of people — play at all times. Sometimes I find myself snapping my fingers as I walk through the place, possibly to witness a free performance by a former American Idol finalist whose band includes a drummer I wish I were as good as.

The Grove’s (physically) biggest retailer is Nordstrom, through which one wishing to enter The Grove from the southeast passes unless he wishes to schlep all the way over to the official entrance a couple of blocks to the north. My understanding is that Nordstrom has the most liberal return policy in the history of retail, and that one can, for instance, take in an old tire and ask for his or her money back with confidence of receiving it, even though Nordstrom doesn’t actually sell tires. I’ve never tried it, but that doesn’t keep me from loving the place.

My impression is that the male staff is approximately 100 percent guy, which is to say, in this case, impeccably attired, scrupulously moisturized-looking, slender, and fragrant. They always smile welcomingly when I come in, and nobody ever comes over to hassle me when I indulge in my favorite Nordstrom recreation — laughing incredulously at their price tags.  A T-shirt of which you could very easily find a reasonable facsimile across the street, at Ross Dress for Loss or even Kmart (whose men’s department offers attire either personally designed or at least endorsed by Adam fucking Levine, whom I understand to be some sort of entertainer) for $7.95 will set you back $129.95 at Nordstrom. For what you’d pay for a jacket (though why anyone would buy a jacket in Los Angeles eludes me), you could fly to and enjoy a week in Reykjavik, where, at certain times of year, jackets are strongly advised.

Proceeding Grove-ward, one passes through the women’s shoe section, where fashionable, extremely uncomfortable-looking footwear of the sort a woman might wear to, well, shop in The Grove is available at prices that snicker disdainfully at those of the jackets.

A couple of weeks ago, as I took the Nordstrom shortcut toward 3rd Street, heading home, I saw a wonderful Trophy Wife type examining shoes there. She had a remarkable body. She probably spent more on her hair each week than I earn in a month. Her eyebrows should have been on the covers of magazines. When she looked up from the pair of probably-$1200 ankle boots she was considering trying on, we enjoyed a moment’s eye contact. In that moment, she quite correctly surmised that I wasn’t the sort who would buy her three pairs of the boots in different colors, secure in the knowledge that they would probably languish unworn in the back of her walk-in shoe closet. She flared her nostrils at me disdainfully.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maherket Research

We queued up on Fairfax Avenue, perhaps a mile south of Cantor’s, the worst delicatessen in the western United States, and one whose walls are covered with Guns N’ Roses memorabilia because the place has been one of Los Angeles rock and roll’s favorite hangouts since the 1960s because it’s open very late and persons under the influence of the sorts of drugs popular among rock and rollers aren’t exactly discriminating. We were ushered onto the CBS Television lot proper, where we queued to be relieved of our smartphones, stupidphones, and comparable electronic devices, and to be treated as though about to enter an airport’s boarding lounge, except slightly less brutishly. We had to pass  through an electronic scanner. I had to lift my arms though it is painful for me to lift my right one because of my shoulder problem, about which I will indeed bore you, but not here, not now.

Once having been pronounced non-threats to the show’s star, his special guests, or ourselves, we were guided onto two very long benches, there to wait at great length, and to view a video about how Bill and his vast writing staff come up with such wonderful shows week after week. Grievous reverberation problems rendered the audio unintelligible, but I enjoyed seeing Bill attending meetings of his writing staff in casual attire, and even in a baseball cap in one instance. He is a very small person.

At least we were ushered into the very studio in which several million episodes of The Price Is Right had been (pardon the expression:) shot over the decades, and, way back when, The Carol Burnett Show, by which I never allowed myself to be amused because it wasn’t something a hipster would find amusing. Spousie and I had to seat ourselves way over on the left, the good seats, in the middle, having apparently been reserved for attractive young persons with whom Bill and his guests might wish to have sex. We smoldered with resentment.

Bill’s Head Writer came out to warm us up with very much the same standup routine he’d performed in mid-2013, when we’d attended another taping. He claimed to be Billy Martin, but my impression was that he wasn’t the borderline psychopath who’d played second base for the New York Yankees, and then managed them. This one was much too young, and had sideburns.

Bill came dapperly on stage. He appeared to be around five feet tall, with a very large nose. We gave him a standing ovation, as Mr. Martin had urged. He lobbed conversational softballs to Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky via video hookup. The two women to my left oohed and aahed as Sen. Paul, an admitted member of the Tea Party, made a succession of surprisingly reasonable statements, such as that he’d immediately stop the War on Drugs, and looked pretty handsome and charismatic in his casual attire and soft Southern accent. Bill, that old softie, pronounced himself prepared to campaign for him in the 2016, should he decide to run for president. One can picture Bill’s doing so making Sen. Paul ever so popular with other teabaggers!

Bill introduced the week’s three panelists, who didn’t include the noted atheist Richard Dawkins. It did include a blonde conservative woman with lavish eye makeup from CNN and Andrew Sullivan, the gay conservative political blogger who’s lost his British accent while living in the USA. The problem with this segment of the show for us in the live audience was that every time Bill said something hilarious, we would howl with laughter, as Billy Martin had instructed, and in so doing drown out the next couple of sentences. There was nothing nearly as exciting as Ben Affleck calling Bill’s Islamophobia racist. Martin Short of SCTV and SNL came out and communed with his host in a way that made one contemplate shouting, “Get a room, you two!”

“New Rules” wasn’t as side-splitting as it is commonly, and in his editorial Bill repudiated Russell Brand and scolded those who don’t vote because they hold the view that if your vote really counted for anything, “they” wouldn’t let you cast it.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Gay Agenda

Attentive readers will recall that a psychiatrist I consulted once, at 32 (because my, uh, attending psychotherapist wasn’t an MD, and unable to write me a prescription for Elavil), speculated that my depression owed to self-deception regarding my sexuality. He’d taken one look at me (this was in my traffic-stopping) days and decided I must in fact be gay. There was a good chance he was trying to hit on me, and also a pretty good chabce he wasn’t. I’m famous for being unable to tell. I went home to my long-suffering girlfriend and fucked her like Superman. How gay does that look, pal?

I think I might have had crushes on other boys as a child and adolescent, or maybe it was just that I so desperately wanted to be cool and athletic and self-assured  — everything I was not. I never let on, and God knows those crushes, if crushes they were, barely nudged the needle in comparison to those I had on girls. 
The guy who “discovered” me as a writer, and who went on to be the wise older brother I’d never had, and confidant, dear friend, and, after the breakup of my first serious adult relationship, saver of my life (he talked me down off the proverbial ledge) turned out to have been gay, and, I suspect a little bit in love with me. He had the grace never actually to say so.

I was quite the tastemaker there for a while, and one of the great unsung managers (of two hugely influential artists) in rock and roll history sought me out. At his room in the Tropicana on Santa Monica Blvd., he inquired with the utmost gentleness about my sexuality, and “admitted” that he was himself pansexual — that is, drawn to prospective lovers on the basis of their attractiveness, without regard to their sex. When I later related this to a mutual acquaintance, the era’s pre-eminent female rock journalist, she laughed and asked if I hadn’t realized that Mr. Tropicana had been trying to seduce me. 

The homosexual agenda (he said with tongue in cheek) became an ever more prominent feature of modern American life. Major (that is, adult) Girlfriend 2, pissed off at me for having had an (heterosexual!) affair, took to spending her nights at discos with gay friends. I, unspeakably, called her a fag hag. Shame on me. 

I might have been stopping traffic, but gay men couldn’t have been less interested. Not a single one ever tried to lower the boom on me in those years. Women friends speculated that it was because I subtly exuded heterosexuality. I got a good (inward) laugh out of that. It actually wasn’t until 1985 that I first got propositioned — by the very good (and very handsome, as in early Clint Eastwood) friend who (with his wife) had taken me in after the breakup of my first marriage. I graciously declined. I’d thought we were out chasing skirts.

As noted, I was a product of my culture. In my benighted youth, I made and laughed at "fag" jokes. I like to imagine, though, that I made up for that a little bit when I interviewed Tweety Bird Loc for the famous unpublished gangsta rap piece I wrote for Playboy in 1992. Tweety was gigantic and scary, but at the moment I got wind of his being homophobic too, I got to my feet, and declared, “Interview over. I don’t talk to bigots.” He glowered at me and of course inferred that I must be gay myself, an inference of which I refused to disabuse him. If his slightly less benighted manager hadn’t calmed him down, I might not have survived to crow about my rare display of courage.