Wednesday, January 7, 2015

1976: Lord, I Had Dem Bicentennial Blues

It dawned on me at the beginning of 1976 that composing an anthem for America’s 200th birthday might prove just the get-rich-quick scheme I’d been looking for since being invited no longer to be an employee of ABC Records. The result was a sarcastic toe-tapper in which the singer confessed, “Lord, I got dem Bicentennial blues, clear down to my Bicentennial shoes.” It wasn’t sensational, but if I’d been Randy Newman, all the world would have regarded it as a work of staggering satirical genius.

I got myself a job editing radio interviews for the Los Angeles media personality Lew Irwin. I’d record an interview with someone and then Lew would re-read the questions I’d asked. I interviewed some authors whose books I hadn’t actually read, and Danny Fields, who’d discovered and was managing The Ramones, and the group comprising the late Three Dog Night’s backing musicians and the guy who would go on to sing lead for Toto. What a very scintillating bunch they were, and how very unhappy I made them! I spent most of the interview verbally suckerpunching the bass player, who I knew three years before to have stiffed a member of Christopher Milk for some carpentry work.

Much amused by the original Pits drummer’s disco-style drumming, Greg Shaw released my 1975 demos as an EP on Bomp Records. The world was not set afire. I came into Rhino Records on Westwood Blvd. to cash in an armful of reviewers’ copies of others’ stuff, and was greeted by a sign suggesting that the record could be enjoyed only by a masochist. I borrowed a pen and appended “or philatelist or botanist.” My victory was Pyrrhic.

I lived on Sunset Blvd., first on the fourth floor, and later on the 12th, and dashed off a quickie biography of Paul McCartney. My band Christopher Milk’s former producer, who’d gone on to produce Paul, was not pleased about my having related unflattering things he’d told me about Paulie. Epic Records agreed to fund a demonstration tape, this in the days when you couldn’t yet record something entirely credible on a laptop in your bathtub. Peter Frampton was in the process of selling 17 billion copies of his live album, the appeal of which I was unable to discern. Jethro Tull released an album called Too Old to Rock and Roll, But Too Young to Die. Noting that I was months older than the song’s composer and singer, I became fretful.

On Memorial Day, I went with my girlfriend and her little girl to Will Rogers’ home in the Pacific Palisades, and, because it was a gorgeous day, and I the living embodiment of rude animal health, decided to sprint across Will’s polo field. I made it around 20 yards before collapsing to the ground in pain and embarrassment. ‘Twas at that moment I resolved to quit smoking and to exercise regularly, resolutions I have kept to this day.

I visited the UK for the second time in the autumn, hoping to get myself the record deal that had eluded me in my own country. No fewer than four A&R men pronounced me the Next Big Thing. None would respond to my letters or return my phone calls when I got back to California. I bought my girlfriend, who was fairly iffy about the whole idea, some PVC fetishwear at a boutique in South Kensington called She-an-Me for reasons known only to the proprietor. The pound had just been devalued, and the big department stores on Oxford Street stores were effectively giving clothing away. I bought a great deal. I almost saw The Sex Pistols, but one of the Bromley Contingent, loitering in front of the venue, excitedly told me they sounded just like The Stooges. “Been there, done that,” I thought. I visited Christopher Milk’s former producer and learned he was about to produce the Pistols. “They tell their manager to fuck off from the stage,” he marveled admiringly. I was of course beguiled.

I attended an Xmas party at the home of a woman who’d worked with my girlfriend at ABC Records, and there met a guy who worked for Warner Bros.’ music publishing company. When I assured him I was America’s greatest living songwriter, he invited me to come in and play him tapes. Thus did the year end with me feeling optimistic.

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