Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Panic Attacks and Spurned Screenplays — I Remember 1978

Nothing much seemed to go right in the first half of 1978. The Pits had broken up in the wake of our teen prodigy drummer having run off with another orchestra. Rolling Stone had published my article about Andy Kaufman, and it had been well received, but my next big assignment was to profile Foreigner, whose music made me long for temporary deafness, and whose founder I found rather a dullard. I wrote my first screenplays, and those were the days when you could actually get agents to consider unsolicited work, but I got no offers. It seemed I’d hardly had adequate time to congratulate myself on having been so brave about leaving my 20s before it was time to admit to being 31, which had an unpleasant metallic ring to it.

Finally in midsummer something promising happened. A minion of an Australian television producer saw a Pits poster somewhere, noticed how very photogenic I was, and asked if I’d like to be the host of a program about punk and New Wave music he proposed to shoot in London. Did I!  I and other members of the crew were ensconced in a hotel near Primrose Hill in London, where we did a great deal of waiting around for our proposed guest stars to agree to our terms. I met The Jam and Ian Dury, and got sneered at a lot because my long hair was very 1975. We drove up to Manchester to see The Clash, who were boorish to me in a way they’d obviously rehearsed, but I was charmed by the sight of the fearsome-looking punks who composed their audience cuing patiently for sweeties during the interval. I wasn’t at all good at the job — I addressed the camera as though it were a camera, rather than my dear friend, the viewer. I secretly fell in love with the local girlfriend of the chief cameraman, but she didn’t know I was alive.

The Nib and I had moved to Ocean Park, south of Santa Monica, which turned out to feel a million miles away from The Thick of It. Bored and depressed, I spent lots of time bicycling over to Marina del Rey or running on the beach in my ridiculous oversized Radio Shack headphones. I wrote a short story and sent it to my former close personal friend Jann Wenner, who suggested — maybe with tongue in cheek — that I try the New Yorker instead. The New Yorker didn’t trouble itself to acknowledge that I’d sent them anything. Frankly, it wasn’t a very good story anyway. I got in a fender-bender leaving Dodger Stadium after the last game of the World Series. Not even the Dodgers could do anything right.

I had a panic attack. After leaving a grim little party at the home of the Australian videographer, who I worried I might have a crush on, I felt my heart trying to explode my chest, and couldn’t catch my breath. My sister, who lived nearby, drove me home. I managed not to seize the steering wheel and aim us at oncoming traffic on the Santa Monica Freeway. I longed for the year to end, and of course, by and by, it did exactly that.

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