Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ringo Apologist Rebuffed!

When I was 13, a little quartet led by the clarinetist Robert Bright, also the music teacher at Orville Wright Junior High School, performed at my best friend’s bar mitzvah. I was transfixed by the drummer’s glittery blue drums, and decided I wanted to be a drummer myself. My dad prevailed on Mr. Bright to allow me into Beginning Orchestra, though membership therein was customarily restricted to 7th-graders, and here I was entering 8th. By and by, I became one of three percussionists in Senior Orchestra. I wasn’t very good at it.

Four years later, I saw A Hard Day’s Night and decided I wanted to be a drummer myself. I’d never played a kit (that is, had never used my feet and hands simultaneously), but was pretty sure that my knowing how to hold drumsticks, and having heard of The Rudiments of Drumming (none of which I’d come close to mastering) would be quite sufficient. I took two lessons, didn’t like them, resolved to teach myself, and had a fool for a teacher. I didn’t practice, wasn’t very good, and stopped playing for around 42 years, resuming in the spring of 2014. I practice hard every day nowadays. My chops aren’t going to make anybody’s jaw drop, but maybe I swing a little bit, and dare to imagine myself qualified to comment on the videos I’ve been seeing lately in which a succession of Noted Drummers talk about what a genius Ringo was.

Here’s what a genius Ringo was. When I was around 19, someone who’d gotten my phone number at Ace Music phoned to talk about my maybe auditioning for his group, a prospect that he abandoned sharpish after I described myself as playing like Ringo. "We need," he sighed, "someone who can actually play."

When I would buy records around this time, I always hoped, as I put them on the turntable, that the drummers wouldn’t be 1000 times better than I. I remember thinking this particularly when I brought home the first Hollies album I ever bought, only to discover that Bobby Elliot was terrific —  and, by my estimate, around 900 times better than Ringo. The only two drummers of whom I dared imagine myself within shouting distance were Pink Floyd’s and The Moody Blues’, both pretty clueless, it seemed to me.

How, now, to explain the exalted likes of Jim Keltner (one of my own drumming idols), Stewart Copeland, Tre Cool, Chad Smith, and the inescapable Dave Grohl all lining up to rhapsodize about Ringo, whose style, as best I can make out, was distinguished by sloppiness, imprecision, and lack of technique? Maybe it’s because they love the Beatles’ records, and would, 50 years after the fact, feel churlish pointing out that Ringo’s having been better than the apparently dire Pete Best didn’t mean he was good. Maybe it’s that they saw the 2014 PBS documentary about The Dave Clark 5, and feel that if that group’s namesake, in comparison to whom Ringo was Elvin Jones, was being venerated, it was hardly fair that Ringo wasn’t. Or maybe share a wonderfully arid sense of humor.

Mark Brzezicki, originally of Big Country. Now there’s a drummer.  Or the kid at Sam Ash last weekend who was trying out the posh Roland electronic kit that costs as much as used (oops: previously owned) car. On the best day of his life, Ringo wasn’t fit to carry this kid's sticks, Ringo's having had the excellent fortune of being in the second greatest white English rock band ever notwithstanding.

Don't be hoodwinked!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Three Bucks Each and All the Tap Water We Could Have Drunk!

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire. After around seven months of responding to perhaps 75 job postings (for graphic design, writing, and videography jobs) per week, and having been invited in for a grand total of two interviews, I decided to stop trying to fight City Hall, and commenced beating my head against the wall in an entirely different way — trying to secure bookings for my delightful new pop/rock combo, The Romanovs.

I’ve never actually done this before. Back when I was pretty and unlined and had both original shoulders, I didn’t actually have to grovel and plead very much to get my band of that era booked. I was the rock critic American youth most loved to loathe in those days, and I think club bookers believed that lots of persons whose heroes I’d pooh-poohed in print would swarm to my own group’s performances to look at me askance, or even to pelt me with rotten produce, or the lifeless rodents their cats had dragged in.

But the world has passed me by, and those who procure talent for the niteclubs and so on of present-day Los Angeles seem not remotely impressed to hear from me. To date, I have sent out half a dozen zany, custom-designed little advertisements to niteclub bookers to try to get them to have a look at our Website. Until last Friday afternoon it was though I’d clicked Delete rather than Send.  But then a gentleman phoned to ask if we’d be interested in opening for three heavy metal tribute bands at the end of the first week in August at his club in the San Fernando Valley.

It’s quite common in Los Angeles to have to pay to play. A booker will say, “I imagine your band has a great many fans?” You mumble ambiguously, or clear your throat, hoping he or she will hear it as affirmative, whereupon the booker says, “Well, what we’ll do then, is sell you 100 tickets for $5 each. You, in turn, can sell them to your large following for $10.” I was much heartened when the guy proposed no such thing, but said he would actually pay us to play.

Three bucks each.

I thought I might buy some sugarless chewing gum with mine, though I fret about the chemical sweeteners they use instead of sugar being carcinogenic. 

I accepted the gig. After weeks of frustration, I’d have agreed to open for a pile of Styrofoam clamshells for a buck each. Two of the other three were pretty delighted, but the third, who turned out to have played the venue more times than he could count, and who recalled its booker offering to book an earlier band of his if he would supply nude photos of his girlfriend, was highly undelighted. We decided jointly to pull out, though I’d already begun looking forward avidly to a clubful of over-tattooed young metal fans indignantly gasping, “WTF!” in unison during our closing number, The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright,” which we perform in the style of Johnny Cash & The Tennessee Two tune.

Two hours after the rehearsal at which we agreed sadly to decline the gig, I looked in my emailbox, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but an email offering us a Saturday night showcase at a club in Hermosa Beach.
Sometimes it appears for a few minutes as though hard work and tenacity really do pay off!

Eschewing complacency, I did another emailing yesterday morning, and damned if another heretofore-unresponsive booker didn’t respond. Of such small triumphs are my new hopefulness made!

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Discomfort of Hot Young Women

You have heard until it’s coming out of your ears how, in 1980, I worked as a senior editor at Larry Flynt Publications, and how the guy in charge was The Worst Boss ever, living proof of how monstrous cocaine could make someone. I felt pretty much from the moment I arrived in the morning until I scurried to my car at day’s end as though my intestines had been tied in knots. I wasn’t much of a drinker in those days, but spent pretty much every lunch hour guzzling enough Bass ale in a nearby sports bar to get through the afternoon, during which I would try, usually in vain, to improve some of the worst prose that had ever been written in English.

I wasn’t very good at the job, and in only three months was urged to explore alternative employment options. Solely on the basis of its being the only job anyone was offering, I accepted a copy-editing position at Playgirl, where the prose was, if anything, even more horrid than at Chic, the rather demure offshoot of Hustler at which I’d worked. Rather than on the 38th floor of one of glamorous Century City’s Twin Towers, I worked on the second floor of a soulless, glamour-less office building in the most desolate corner of Santa Monica. At Larry Flynt Publications, I’d had all the pens and paper for which a boy could yearn, but now I had to fill out a form if I needed a pen, and was making $10,000 per year less. I gnashed my teeth a lot.

A few months later.
In Century City, I’d been a universal object of desire. I’d get in the elevator in the morning, and women who’d boarded before before me would cease chatting and gape at me with lust in their eyes. Sometimes they’d suck their tummies in and stick their chests out. A couple flared their nostrils, or pouted, and I came to know first-hand the discomfort of hot young women. In the most desolate corner of Santa Monica, it was as though I’d ceased to be physically noteworthy, not entirely because the two-story building had no elevator. At lunchtime, I would scurry over to Santa Monica Place, where I would lust in my heart after a stunning black woman who worked in a confectionary there. She neither flared her nostrils nor agreed, when I finally worked up my nerve, to go out with me, or, better yet, to stay in.

The magazine got a new editor, a woman. One by one, she invited the sad-eyed souls whose boss she now was to drop by her office, with its lovely view of the parking lot, and say howdy. She had one of the sub editors (and by this I don’t intend to suggest that she was erotically submissive) in with her when I swung by. As I entered the office, they exchanged glances of the sort the gals in the elevators of Century City had commonly exchanged when I joined them.  I sat down. She posed some bullshit question about how I, if I were in her position, would improve the magazine. I kept from laughing and tendered some bullshit answer. The two women exchanged glances. The editor asked if I’d mind standing up. I stood up. She asked if I’d mind turning around. She seemed to want to see what I looked like from behind.

I thought she might invite me to a Dreamboat of the Month, or whatever they were called, but I had no mustache, and my upper body wasn't the marvel it would later become. I had to be content with remaining the magazine's copy editor, which I was for around 72 more hours, before they fired me for dropping out of men's room window empty soft drink bottles in which I'd enclosed my rèsumè and a note reading, "Please help me!"