Saturday, December 27, 2014

1975 Contnued - Speaking Ill of the Dead

One afternoon, the ABC Records art department, which commonly went to lunch en masse, and commonly drank itself paralytic, staggered back to Beverly Blvd. to learn that someone had observed my mentor, the former king of LA rock publicity, being fellated in his office by his notably protuberant secretary. 

Speaking ill of the dead makes so much more sense to me than speaking ill of the living, as the dead don't mind in the slightest. While we're talking about Immorality in the Music Business. Ahmet Ertegun, who is widely understood to have exemplified class during his reign as the head of Atlantic Records. I have a woman friend whom the great man, failing to seduce with assurances of impending wealth and fame as a recording artist, loudly and publicly decried as a lesbian, back in less enlightened times, when lesbians pretended they simply Hadn’t Met the Right Guy. Call me old-fashioned, but I view with particular contempt older men who use their power and influence to get laid, as I do men who imagine that only lesbians could resist them. And yes, I have indeed considered that my disdain for the power-'n'-influence complex might have to do with my having neither, though God knows I certainly have the older part covered.

Within a few days of starting work there, I fell in love with the hair of a female member of the publicity department — a huge, globular, honey-colored Afro of the sort that the Brit chanteuse Julie Driscoll had sported notably years before. Its owner turned out to have a pretty face too, and a fetching manner, and I lusted after her in my heart (as Jimmy Carter would put it the following year) and elsewhere, only to learn that she was married, with a little girl. 

Bob Marley & The Wailers made their LA debut, at the Roxy. None of my romantic entanglements from the Starwood had lasted over 48 hours, not even that with the call girl with the heart of gold, so I took my friend and former bandmate The Kiddo. I hit on a waitress, only to realize that she was the former girlfriend of a former roommate, whom she’d treated like a human doll. I was’t nearly as pretty as he'd been, or as The Kiddo was, but she went for it anyway. 

Feeling pretty pleased with myself, I repaired to the upstairs of the Rainbow, a narrow parking lot’s width to the west, there to see if my sexual charisma might open additional doors. Honey-Colored Afro, of all people, made her interest in me manifest, marriage or no marriage. We jitterbugged to Sparks’ “This Town, Etc.”, which it had previously pained me to hear (I'd briefly been their drummer, and why them, Lord, and not me?), and repaired to my apartment across from the Comedy Store. She left her marriage, to an up-and-coming songwriter, and moved in with me. As a great many of her friends rang my phone off the hook trying to ascertain what had gotten into her, I took to referring to her as Her Nibs, later changed to the shorter, punchier The Nib. 

Once home from ABC Records, we would smoke Thai stick, listen to the Pink Floyd album with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and copulate with considerable zeal. She would make pork chops, indescribably delicious friend fish in the southernmost Minnesota style (she was from Austin), or a weird folksy concoction of tuna, cottage cheese, and dill, after which we’d resume copulating, after which we’d watch Honeymooners reruns. It was a nice life.

We observed Thanksgiving in a woeful restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and then, on getting back to Los Angeles, were both fired from AB fucking C Records. Learning of my return, after five months, to joblessness, I put my fist through a wall in the art department, wishing that it were the face of the former publicist. In fairness, it wasn’t a terribly thick wall. 

Writing this has given me a headache. I don’t like to remember having been a smoker, or an eater of pork, or a fairly prolific consumer of benzedrine, or promiscuous. The long and short of it is that I was rather a sleaze in 1975, mere mention of which gives me an unpleasant feeling, as too, come to think of it, do 1968, 1978, 1986, and 1996. I realize that doesn’t happen so much any more because one year turns into the next lately in around a week and a half.

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Year of Sleaze

Accustomed, as I am, to maybe a couple of hundred at most endorsing anything I do on Facebook, I was pleasantly shocked to see that over 1800 had LIKEd the photograph I recently posted of me with my former girlfriend The Nib at Xmas in 1975, I in the same lime green satin bowling shirt I’d worn to my high school reunion, and she, as the Festive Holiday Season prescribes, in red, and an understandably skeptical expression.

I welcomed 1975 in the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where boys hoping to be mistaken for rock stars and gullible girls would grope one another in preparation for hurrying back to one another’s squalid digs in the hinterlands. “Fuck you, 1974, and good riddance,” I said, holding my glass aloft. During the referenced 12 months, my musical career had gone nowhere, Rolling Stone had cruelly spurned the big Rodney Bingenheimer feature article in which I’d imagined myself to do a really good Tom Wolfe imitation, and Patti Armageddon [not her real name] had broken my heart.

The first several months of 1975 were more of the same, except with a lot of promiscuity thrown in. I would go to the Starwood, the West Hollywood nightclub at which acts of insufficient prestige for the Whisky or the Troubadour would perform to audiences made up largely of persons on their way to the Rainbow. I would guzzle a great deal of vodka for courage, and some coffee to keep me lively, and try to persuade some platform-shoed maiden from a suburb I’d heard of in weather reports, but never actually glimpsed, to come home with me. A fair number did.

To perform the new songs I'd been writing, I put together a little group, the most notable member of which was a sensational, if unendurably truculent, R&B drummer from the Palm Springs ghetto (who’d have guessed there was one?). A future member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers came to audition, listened for a few minutes, made the face of one who has just smelled something unpleasant, and went home without playing a note, but someone at a record company gave us money to record a demo. A prominent manager, scoffing, described it as sounding like Neil Diamond singing Dr. Hook. I’d intended Scott Walker singing Cole Porter, with a big, brash beat.

One night at the Starwood I came upon one of those record biz publicists to whom I’d formerly been ritually awful when I was The King of LA, and amazed him by being cordial. He offered me a job writing a little newsmagazine in my characteristic hilariously cynical style that might make ABC Records appear something other than hopelessly clueless.

My mentor pulled the plug when he discovered that I intended to make the third issue a celebration of Immorality in the Music Business, and to load it with photos appropriated from bondage magazines and of a pompous female executive who’d rubbed me the wrong way, both with the caption, “Stomach-turning scenes like this are all too common in today’s record industry!” At the time, all I knew about bondage was that I really liked the outfits.

[You won't want to miss a syllable of my account of the rest of 1975, coming tomorrow, right here!]

Thursday, December 25, 2014

My Day of Atonement

I am commonly neck-deep in shame, most of it to do with having hurt people who love me. I could write (and, if I remember correctly, indeed have written) whole books on the subject of my horrid, cruel behavior, but today, my friend Christopher Femmenino's birthday, I’m going to revisit some of my lesser crimes.

When I was eight years old, and newly relocated from the San Fernando Valley to the environs of what would later be renamed LAX, I was deeply offended by something or other my classmate Chris Dejan said or did to me. We both collected stamps. After school one afternoon, I told him I’d acquired a stamp after which we’d both long lusted. When he pleaded to behold this wondrous item, I told him to close his eyes while I got it out. He complied and I belted him in the kisser with all my might, an act of cowardice for which I have never forgiven myself. I feel no less bad about it for his having six years later become a star pitcher in the Pony League in which I played, without distinction, only because of my dad’s string-pulling.

Around the time of the Dejan ascendancy to athletic renown, I attended a dance at my junior high school. I lacked the nerve to actually talk to the prettiest girls, but not to invite them to dance, as I could always pretend to have other things on my mind as we moved about the dancefloor. While I danced with Barbara Myers, with whom I’d secretly been in love all semester, Diane G—, the least attractive girl at Orville Wright Junior High School, cut in on her. I lasted around four bars with Diane before being overcome by the fear that I would never cease to be an object of disdain if we were seen dancing together, and abruptly excused myself. 

In my early and mid-20s, after wealth and fame came on me quite suddenly, I was commonly brusque to persons I deemed less groovy than I, which took some doing in view of my not feeling remotely groovy deep down, but in fact living in constant, if sometimes repressed, terror of someone exposing me as wretched little Johnny Mendelsohn from Playa del Rey rather than the rock dreamboat as whom I was masquerading. I wrote a lot of gratuitously cruel reviews, and then pretended I’d done so not because I was a vengeful little bastard, but because I wanted to avoid wishy-washiness at all costs. And even while writing these reviews, I was gleefully accepting bribes (though I think we called them something else) to write liner notes that looked to the naked eye like endorsements for several acts about whom I wasn’t at all wild. Venality, thy name was Johnny.

(For a long while, we will not fail to note, I ridiculed the LA Times’ decision to hire the hopelessly bland, 29-year-old Robert Hilburn to be its pop music critic instead of exciting little 22-year-old me. I look back at that now and laugh, hollowly, imagining myself raining fire down on a world that I’d experienced as very unkind in my (de)formative years — and lasting around a month before I was fired.

I like to imagine I’ve become a much nicer person in my life’s December, but I can still be counted to drop the ball every now and again.I found some poor devil’s wallet in a park in central LA in the early summer of 2013, resolved to contact him the next day, put it in my backback, forgot about it, and didn’t remember it until he was sure to have gone through the nightmare of cancelling and then replacing all his cards. 

Three weeks ago, I was practicing conversation with my LA Public Library Adult Literacy Program student Eunmi, and she was telling me about how teachers in her native Korea are viewed as excellent prospective spouses. I asked if she had herself considered teaching, and saw in her eyes the disappointment of my not having remembered her telling me some weeks before that she had indeed been a teacher back home. I hated her thinking that I didn’t value her enough to pay attention. 

I'm sorry, everybody.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Somebody Up There Likes Me, Occasionally

In the mid-1980s, after my daughter had just been born, I realized I needed to bite the bullet and start earning a steady paycheck. I saw that a big law firm in San Francisco was hiring people to process words for them. During my days as a contributor to the LA Times Book Review section, I’d laid hands on their first word processing machines, and had since written lots of articles for Creem and a couple of unpublished novels on my own Kaypro II computer, and so thought, “Why not?” I put on a tie, wiped the characteristic sneer off my still-handsome phizzog, and went down to San Francisco, only to have, as Ms. Mary Ellen Lavis sat me down at a big, intimidating IBM Stylewriter and handed me a floppy disk, to admit to myself that I knew as much about IBM Stylewriters as I did about jet propulsion. I’d come a long way, though, and gas wasn’t free, so I figured out a way to substitute my own name for that of an earlier applicant who’d seemingly done really well on the tryout, on the same floppy disk. Ms. Lavis was impressed, if puzzled by the fact that so many applicants seemed to have a problem with the same little task. I kept a straight face and schmoozed her a bit, though she was all business and seemingly immune to my famous charm.

At the end of our conversation, noting her protuberant belly, I, a new parent myself, was just about to ask when her little one was expected, when a voice inside my head whispered, “Don’t!” I didn’t, and found out my first morning on the job that she wasn’t in fact pregnant. I suspect my sigh of relief rustled leaves on trees all the way back up in Santa Rosa.

Disco became very popular in the mid-1970s. I adored George McRae’s “Rock Your Baby,” and hated most of the rest of it. It seemed to me that it was all about the insistent rhythm, in the least interesting way imaginable. THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! It occurred to me that those who enjoyed dancing to it might not even notice if everyone but the bass player and drummer went out for a malted milk or something.

Around this time, I reconnected with the young woman I’d taken to see The Who support (as in play second on the bill to) Herman’s Hermits (I’m not making this up) at the Anaheim Convention Center late in the summer of 1967. In the eight years I hadn’t seen her, she’d become arty and fashionable, and had come to have many gay friends. She mentioned that she was going to be hosting a big holiday party, and needed a band. I told her I could put one together. My idea was to hire a bass player, with whom I, on drums, would go, “THUD! THUD! THUD! THUD!” all night. Because it would be wonderfully…conceptual, Barbara’s gay friends, with their distinctive puckish sense of humor, would surely be greatly amused.

For reasons not remembered by me, she wound up not having the party, and you will notice that I am alive to recount the story. Looking back, I think there would have been a pretty good chance of my, and probably the bass player’s, being tarred and feathered by those we’d been hired to get dancing. My intuition is that tar and feathers applied by an indignant gay mob is probably no less difficult to get off than that applied by the Ku Klux Klan, for instance.

Somebody up there likes me. Once every few decades.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fortune Smiles on Some, and Lets the Rest Run Free

This past weekend I attended an Xmas party as a guest of someone acquainted with the host. They both sing Xmas carols in a group that tries to cheer up the hospitalized and homeless. The host turned out to be about as far from homeless as one can get. His hilltop home in the San Fernando Valley is enormous and opulent, with a huge swimming pool. He sang a couple of duets with his grown daughters, and was of course lustily applauded. Others too were encouraged to regale fellow guests with a song or two, ranging from "Ob La Di Ob La Da" to "Somewhere Out There." 

The drum kit set up in one corner of the living room seemed to call to me. After at least one more glass of red wine than prudence would have poured me, I volunteered my services, only to learn that I would be accompanying a middle-aged woman who believed everyone would enjoy her interpretation of Dobie Gray’s "Drift Away," which I have always regarded as pretty inane. (One drifts away to Satie, perhaps, or to the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra performing Schumann, or to Miles Davis at his most wistful. One does not drift away to rock and roll.  One dances feverishly, or bellows, “Whoo-hoo!”)

In any event, I started out pretty solidly, even though I was playing an unfamiliar kit (different drummers like things at different elevations, and I’m accustomed to playing my tiny electronic kit. It was like going from my tiny Smart, which I am able to park in spaces a skateboard couldn’t get into, to one of those SUVs which is like someone’s apartment on wheels — a Chevy Suburban, say. Perhaps six bars into the song, I dropped my right hand stick, snatched a replacement from the quiver attached to the floor tom, dropped that one, picked it up, dropped it again, played maybe a bar or two, and then dropped it yet again. It was like something you’d dream, and hope never to dream again. At song’s end, the vocalist looked at me as though I’d just murdered everyone she’d ever loved.

I can understand your chagrin, missus, and only hope you understand how my unintentional subversion of your performance might have been a blessing in disguise. Celebrity, my countless celebrity friends (including Dave Beckham, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of the Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra) assure me, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. One can be pretty confident about getting seated in even the most fashionable restaurant on Saturday evening at 8:00, but once seated, you could count on being interrupted over and over by well-wishers who imagine you desperate to hear which track on your latest album was their favorite, and why. A disgruntled sound man will sell a soundfile of your isolated vocals on a night you had a cold, or your pitch correction software was on the blink, and the whole world will snicker cruelly, as it did recently at Mariah Carey. Those ghoulish clickbait Websites will find a photo of you and your mate in which you look very far from your best, and publish it as one of 10 Hideous Celebrities With Hot Spouses. Had your fame spread internationally, British women’s magazines would have gleefully published photos of your stretch marks. The hosts of late night television talk shows would have made cruel jokes about you.

I might have saved you from incalculable tsouris, madam.

You’re welcome.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bottoming From the Top

There is a scene in the fifth episode of the second season of the very erratic, but occasionally jaw-dropping, Netflix series Peaky Blinders in which the corrupt cop gloriously played by Sam Neill humiliates the sister of his Midlands crime boss nemesis, played by the preposterously (and, I suspect, incongruously) gorgeous Cillian Murphy. It’s a foregone conclusion that she’s going to have to fuck him, but that’s not enough for Inspector Campbell. He wants her to be small and weak, and calls her a Gypsy Fenian slut. I found the scene remarkably poorly directed, but I…got it.

I think I know where my proclivity for erotic dominance comes from — a subconscious dread of being my dad, and perhaps a complementary desire to avenge him. There wasn’t a day in my childhood and adolescence that my mother didn’t emasculate him with her tongue. If he’d stopped, at her request, to pick up a few things at the grocery store on his way home (she was too busy with keeping the house almost unlivably immaculate and tidy), and had bought the oranges that were 29 cents per pound, rather than 27, she would react as though he’d just lost the house in a game of craps. Kids accept as normal that to which they become accustomed, and I was as accustomed to my father’s being humiliated as to breathing. It was only after I began flirting with adulthood (a flirtation not yet consummated, by the way) that I realized how deeply fucked up my parents’ relationship was.
What I’ve been saying erotically since my mid-30s is, I guess, This one’s for you, Dad.

My great dilemma has always been that I detest the patriarchy nearly as fervently as I detest racism and homophobia. Those countless hundreds of millions of brilliant women cruelly suppressed, muted and blinkered, over the millennia! Male dominance very quickly came to look to me like shooting fish in a barrel. The culture stacked the deck for those of us with balls and cocks. And when I began meeting others Into Kink, there were two kinds of men to which I immediately took a passionate dislike — the knot-tiers (the beer-bellied boyos who thought kink was all about the many intricate ways you could put your partner in bondage) and, even more, those who began braying, “But there isn’t a submissive bone in my body!” whenever the idea of letting their partners get behind the steering wheel every now and again was expressed. God forbid someone should think of them, even for a moment, as anything other than traditionally manly, unfalteringly brave 'n' strong 'n' resolute.

As I saw it, though, dominance and submission were opposite movements of the same muscle. For me to submit, I had only to channel my dad.  I might have been better at it if I had more patience, but I found myself nearly always wanting to grab the proverbial steering wheel. An implacable topper from the bottom, as we say in the trade, I.

The real thrill of kink, I don’t think, isn’t reveling in absolute power over another, on the one hand, or in helplessness, on the other, bur rather about the exhilaration of the dance. The sublime fun of it, done right, is probably comparable to being a member of a basketball or hockey team firing on all cylinders, or to playing music with skilled, sympathetic collaborators. At its best, it’s two dancers understanding each other so profoundly that every action elicits the desired reaction, which in turn inspires another pleasure-inducing action. Around and around they go, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in gleaming black latex.

We do have the best outfits, of course, and yes, one does indeed dress for sex, as to go out for pizza, as to meet prospective lovers in bars.