Friday, February 6, 2015

My Big Boss Beat, and What It Won Me

I wasn’t even out of the cinema in which I saw A Hard Day’s Night before resolving to parlay my experience as a percussionist in my junior high school orchestra into a career as the American Ringo. I recruited a bunch (a very large bunch!) of Santa Monica High School classmates (lots of people I hoped to make like me) to be my fellow members of The Fogmen, so named because The Beatles were English, and London, which was said to be very foggy, was the English capital). The two or three who could play a little were dismayed to discover that I’d never actually sat down behind a drum kit before, but bit their tongues on learning I’d secured a gig entertaining our fellow students at lunchtime in the school’s Greek Theatre. We were awful, and it was more fun than I’d dared to dream possible, and when the two or three who could play ran off to form The Inrhodes with other former members of the Samohi jazz band, I didn’t read the writing on the wall, but looked for another group on whom to bestow my big boss beat.

I responded to ads scrawled on index cards and the backs of receipts on the bulletin board at Ace Music on Santa Monica Blvd. To get me out of their hair, the brother proprietors arranged for me to audition at a local bar for two hard-core actual musicians with actual long hair. One of them, the alcoholic one, seemed to think I was just fine, but the other was much offended by my incompetence, and I was underaged anyway, so I shuffled back up Santa Monica Blvd. with my tail between my legs and the $99 Japanese red sparkle drum kit the brother proprietors had sold me looking sheepish in the back of my dad’s VW Variant.

I auditioned successfully for The Consouls, three old men (they were all at least 21, and I think one might have been 23), with pre-Beatles pompadours that I wasn’t able to persuade them to jettison, and a repertoire of R’n’B classics like "Walkin’ the Dog." The fact that they thought I was pretty terrific owed to their being pretty awful themselves. When they refused to get striped T-shirts of the sort Brian Jones had worn wonderfully in a much-circulated photograph a few months before, I lit out for greener pastures, but at first found only a red one — a group of young Communist folkies who called themselves — what else? — The Workers. I disliked their trying to indoctrinate me, and they didn’t think my touch, to whatever small extent I might have been said to have a touch in those early days, was light enough for their staunchly proletarian repertoire. I auditioned way out in Malibu with a group that included Robbie Krieger, a few months later of The Doors, and not yet very good. The singer and I were allergic to each other.

I played with The 1930 Four, about whom I wrote only recently, until they invited me to stop doing so, and auditioned for a band being assembled by the son of LA’s weirdly banjo-voiced mayor Sam Yorty. Sonny wished to perform many of the songs on an import album by an English group of which I knew almost nothing, The Who. He, no great shakes himself, discovered over the course of my audition that he wished to perform them with someone other than me playing drums.

I got back from the Monterey Pop Festival wanting to be Keith Moon, and auditioned for a group in the Valley that made me promise before letting me hear their songs that I wouldn’t try to recreate them with anyone else. The songs were, they assured me, Art. I imitated Moonie through one and a half of them, hitting everything in sight as hard and often as possible. One of the co-songwriters asked, pretty contemptuously, if, given that his songs were Art, I might consider making less racket. “You guys do what you do,” I said defiantly, “and I'll do what I do.” I hadn’t thought their songs artful, but precious crapola.

I found refuge in a group of avid substance abusers who played Cream and Hendrix numbers, and who were very pleased with my playing, though I’m pretty sure they’d have been pleased with a ticking clock. I performed in public with them twice, realized I couldn’t stand them, and was provisionally hired to join a group of premed students who aspired to perform note-perfect versions of Moody Blues and Procol Harum favorites. I am not a note –perfect sort of person, and was soon invited yet again to go delight someone else, but before I could, I’d somehow become a famous music critic.

Some months into my career as which I rejoined forces with the former saxophone player of Dave & The Vantays, University High School’s best-loved mostly-Japanese surf band. We called ourselves Christopher Milk, and our influence on the popular music of the early 1970s cannot be underestimated, even though I foolishly allowed one of our succession of managers to talk me into relinquishing my place behind the drums, on which I had begun clawing my way to mediocrity with semi-weekly practice sessions, for stage-center.

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