Thursday, June 18, 2015

Boys of a Certain Age

Well, I think I’ve finally decided what I want to be when I grow up. No, not a fireman, nor a cowboy, nor an astronaut. Give me credit for greater maturity than that, OK? What I want to be now is what I wanted, and tried, to be between the ages of 23 and 30 — a rock star.

Toward this end, I and my comrades have put together a little combo, The Romanovs, which was around 15 months in gestation. First, I and Friend 1, into whose makeshift orchestra he recruited me to play drums at his high school reunion in October 2013 because he’d run out of alternatives, thought we’d invite various musicians over to jam — that is, fool around musically. I met an excellent singer of approximately our own vintage at a birthday party the following February, and invited him, successfully, to form a group with us. We sputtered along for months and months, adding and then later subtracting a succession of lead guitarists, until finally I summoned the courage to invite the legendary Pete Castle, who’d played briefly with my band The Pits in the late 1970s, to consider joining us. 

To my astonishment and delight (he’d become a very much more versatile musician and very much more accessible on a personal level since 1977), he accepted, whereupon he and I and Friend 1 agreed that we weren’t likely to get anywhere rehearsing only three times a month, which was the most our singer could manage. I ran an ad on Craigslist and heard from a young Russian-born woman whose YouTube videos showed her to be beautiful and a fab singer, and to love performing. Various nay-sayers that when she got a load of me, Friend 1, and Pete — combined age 191 — she’d say she’d forgotten something down in her car, and run away screaming. But she didn’t.

We conferred, she and I. I showed her a video of The Divinyls, on the tour they undertook after their single "I Touch Myself" captivated American audiences, performing at Madison Square Garden, and the glorious Chrissy Amphlett being casually ultra-provocative. “I could do that,” Motorina said without perceptible hesitation. Music to my ears!

She energized us. It was very much easier imagining us attracting an audience with her front and center than it had been ever been before. She improved us. None of us three boys of a certain age wanted to look like the group liability with her around — a pretty tall order for me, as I resumed playing the drums, after a 43-year estrangement from them, only for F1’s high school reunion.

Boys of a certain age aren’t supposed to behave this way. We’re supposed to pull our thinning gray hair into ponytails and play "Brown-Eyed Girl" just like on the record. From the get-go, I, for one, wasn’t having that. Let’s play songs no one else is playing as no one else is playing them, said I. We worked up a version of Carl Perkins’ "Honey Don’t" that’s half Bo Diddley and ha;f breakneck rockabilly, breakneck rockabilly also being the style in which we play The Who’s "The Kids Are Alright," which used to be my big vocal number in The 1930 Four in 1967. We do The Velvet Underground’s "Waiting for the Man," which Mr. D. Bowie taught my and F1’s band to play, on the A&M Records soundstage, 20 years before Motorina’s birth. We play Freddie & The Dreamers’ "I’m Telling You Now," perhaps the lamest song of The British Invasion (if you don’t count Chad & Jeremy’s "Willow Weep For Me") in the manner of Black Sabbath. Boys of a certain age aren’t supposed to behave this way.

I dare to imagine we’re going to become the toast of Los Angeles, and then of the world, and will continue to so believe until someone can produce the rulebook in which it’s specified that musicians my, F1, and Pete’s ages are allowed to rock without embarrassment only if we had a big hit in the distant past — a hit that entitles us to Legacy Act status.

I’ve puzzled over this idea in the past, beginning around the time The Magic Numbers broke through in the UK. If the idea is that the deep furrows the decades have etched in our foreheads, and the expansion of our bellies make us too physically repulsive for young audiences to embrace us, how to explain the popularity of so many acts that may indeed be young, but will never in their lives know what it was like to be as gorgeous as F1 and Pete and I were all those decades ago?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More Misadventures in Karaoke

The missus adores karaoke. Depending on the venue and who’s filling it on a particular night, I either sort of enjoy it — as I did in February at our hotel in Tenerife, where the audience lustily applauded my version of Conway Twitty’s "Only Make Believe," maybe because they thought (wrongly!) that doing so would shut me up for the night — or passionately hate it. The other evening at the Brass Monkey in LA’s Koreatown, I hated it as I have rarely hated any purportedly recreational activity before.

A succession of young singers with whom I felt I had very little in common swaggered up to the singer’s area and performed a succession of tuneless songs with what seemed to me must be the stupidest, most vulgar lyrics in the history of the English language. Ever hear Erykah Badu’s "Tyrone," in which the singer advises a lover who apparently hasn’t been spending enough money on her to send his friend over to collect his belongings from her house? “I think ya better call Tyrone and tell him come on/ Help you get your shit.” She notes disapprovingly, “Every time we go somewhere/ I gotta reach down in my purse/ to pay your way and your homeboys' way/ And sometimes your cousin's way/They don't never have to pay.” Compared to this, Bo Diddley’s “Bring It to Jerome” wasn’t Rodgers & Hammerstein, but Mozart.

Somebody got up and performed one of Adele’s signature hits. I have never enjoyed Adele’s music more. I will never enjoy it as much again.

The respite was brief, as a young man then treated us to the lovely and talented Chris Brown’s "Look At Me Now," in which the singer best known for beating up Rihanna asserts, “Lil nigga bigger than gorilla/ 'Cause I'm killing every nigga that try to be on my shit/ Better cuff your chick if I want her, I can get her/ And she accidentally slip and fall on my dick/ Oops I said on my dick/ I ain't really mean to say on my dick/ But since we talking about my dick/ All of you haters say hi to it/ I'm done.”

Yes, yes, I know. I’m a grumpy old man, and I’m doing in 2015 what the TV star Steve Allen did in 1957, or whenever it was, when he amused his studio audience of hopeless white, uh, squares with a dramatic reading of “Be Bop a Lula.” I should be ashamed of myself, but you know what? Not one little bit.

After what seemed around two months of this stuff, the DJ finally summoned the missus, whose version of The Hooters' "Satellite" must have sounded to the assembled Chris Brown and Erykah Badu fans like Martian music. The lyrics weren’t especially belligerent, and came pretty close to rhyming in many instances. There was a discernible tune.

She received approximately as much applause as the Adele guy, and the DJ turned the microphone over to a succession of small Korean women who seemed to believe that a note sung very out of tune isn’t objectionable if sung at the top of one’s lungs. I have not, to my knowledge, ever heard cats being tortured, and never want to, but I can’t imagine it sounding very much different.

I have been in this situation before, and know that the missus wlll eagerly endure the unendurable for another chance to sing. I was pretty sure that if I had to listen to one more young woman screaming in the key of H, I might kill someone, but then the missus uttered the words I most enjoy hearing at karaoke: We can go if you want to. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Report From Las Vegas

Most agree that there’s nowhere else on earth like Las Vegas (by which I mean The Strip, and not those glitzless parts of town in which ordinary people live), and thank God for that. There’s more vulgarity per square foot there than anywhere else in the solar system, and small armies of the ghastliest possible Americans, Americans who haven’t glimpsed their own toes without bending ‘way over in decades, waddlers, watchers of junk television, avid consumers of junk food, laughers at the films of Adam Sandler, voters for Republicans who laugh disdainfully at their eager stupidity and gullibility. And those waddling up and down The Strip (but mostly either up or down, as one doesn’t want to exert himself). And the waddlers aren’t even the most appalling people there! The most appalling people there are the ones chainsmoking behind the slot machines.

We stayed, because we had a Groupon, at the Hard Rock Hotel, in which one can get tattooed (rock and roll, dude!) pretty much around the clock, and in which the most obnoxious form of rock — that in which the guitars are always very distorted and the singer always sounds very, very anguished — blares day and night. There’s lots of excellent memorabilia on display  — my own favorite was the stand on which the young James Brown’s shoeshine clients used to plop their fat white asses — and a lot of stuff formerly owned by acts of which you’ve never heard. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not interested in T-shirts once owned by Puddle of Mudd.  

I ventured down one afternoon to the Beach Life swimming pool, and found it infested with young men all over whom someone had scribbled and drawn pictures, and young women with breasts they’d had surgically enlarged to increase their appeal to such young men. A meeting of the Tats 'n' Fake Tits club! A DJ was playing unspeakable hip hop music at an oppressive volume, and I hightailed it pronto back to our gigantic room, in which I’d been delighted to discover a large framed photograph of the lead singer of Kaiser Chiefs, the best UK band of this century. It served to divert my attention from the one of Korn, with its ultra-anguished lead singer.

Not all the, uh, action is on The Strip, of course. One evening we ventured up to Downtown Las Vegas, whose Fremont Street is roughly comparable to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, though rather less wholesome.  A swarthy young man in too much male cologne virtually tackled the missus, and began dabbing goop under her pretty green eyes, claiming it would make her look 15 years younger. It was fairly impressive, and jaw-droppingly expensive. I wondered if it were re-packaged hemorrhoid ointment. A Strats-'n'-hats group called The Voodoo Cowboys, featuring a Stetsonned singer with one of those tobacco-chawin’ voices you hear so much of on the country stations, asked the crowd between songs if it liked Walmart. The crowd eagerly roared its assent. Las Vegas!

We could afford to, uh, take in only one show — Donny & Marie at the Flamingo, I think it was. I am delighted to report that, even after having produced 239 beautiful Mormon children between them, they’re as adorable and ingratiating as in the late 1970s. Some of their patter, in which Marie, in the castrating bitch role earlier played on a competing network by Cher, makes her big brother out to be a woeful knucklehead, had me in absolute stitches! And what a finale! When they brought not only the rest of the Osmond Brothers and their families out on stage, but also Gov. Mitt Romney and his five indistinguishable sons, I worried for a moment that the stage might collapse under their combined weight. 

That’s entertainment!