Wednesday, August 19, 2015

They're the Top. They're the Mona Lisa.

In 1977, a guy at a major music publishing firm said that if I put together a band, he could put it on the road in Canada. I’d never glimpsed Sasketchewan (as I still haven’t (bucket list!)), and so put together The Pits, named after my wonderfully wry answer to Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” You’re the pits, stripes and polka dots with plaid. No one else’s vibes are half as bad. I was going to play keyboards, adding little bits of melodic interest here and there, but the singer on whom I’d been counting turned out to be maddeningly unreliable, so I impulsive as ever, decided I’d be the front man myself, and surrounded myself with three very good musicians.

Richard, the 28-year-old bassist, whom I liked hugely from the get-go, though it took me a while to realize what a good player he was, had been in an early version of The Motels. I knew within four bars that I wanted the 20-year-old drummer, Len, who, at his tender age, had already performed at the hallowed Whisky a-Go-Go, with Randy California. He was a very nice kid, and swung like mad. Everyone in Los Angeles was all, “Eddie Van Halen this,” and, “Eddie Van Halen that,” so I recruited Pete, a 23-year-old guitarist widely acknowledged as one of the hottest of all local hotshots.

Pete drew a line in the sand at our first rehearsal, plugging into his Marshall amplifier and going ker-rang from Bar 1. Insofar as guitar solos were concerned, George Harrison had always suited me just fine — four bars of restating the vocal melody, four bars of a very slight variation on said melody, and let’s have lunch. But times had changed. Following Van Halen, Los Angeles guitarists’ playing seemed to say, “I didn’t spend those millions of hours in my bedroom practicing until my fingertips bled so I could restate the fucking melody, pal.” In my view, Pete very often overplayed. I recognized that he was a superior musician, though — his rhythm playing was impeccable — and convinced myself that we sounded a little bit like Cheap Trick, whose guitar player wasn’t exactly distortion-averse, with him in the group. Maybe, I thought, I’d be able to get him to play fewer 32nd-note triplet blues licks.

I was pretty iffy about his (or Len’s) very long hair. The Sex Pistols had recently emerged in England, and my intuition was that long hair was soon going to be the province of the same sort of person who had clung to his greasy DA a year after The Beatles. But I held my tongue.

From L: te blogger, Richard, Len, and Pete
Socially,  Pete and Iidn't connectd. When the group met extracurricularly, as at my 30th birthday party, it was always Len, Richard, and I, with another mutual friend where Pete should have been. When said mutual friend made a video to advertise his own services as a recording artist, Len, Richard, and I appeared in it while Pete demurred.

Thirty-eight years and five weeks ago, we made our big live debut at the reasonably prestigious Starwood club. I noticed between sets that Pete was surrounded in our dressing room by generic LA rock star types with hair even longer than his own. When our engagement was over, he resigned from The Pits to try his luck with them. Len, Richard, and I auditioned a succession of prospective replacements, found no one we liked, and drove up to San Francisco to perform at the famous punk venue Mabuhay Gardens, with Len’s hotshot cousin filling in condescendingly. The sparse audience thought we were hippies, and loathed us.

Len, saying that it was the hardest decision he’d ever had to make, left me and Richard to join his hotshot cousin in a can’t-miss l band of young hotshots that wound up missing. We lost touch in around 1980. Given the nine-year gap between our ages, I’d never felt that we had an awful lot in common. To a 21-year-old man, a 30-year-old seems inconceivably ancient. I understood him to have played later in last-gasp versions of Iron Butterfly and Badfinger, and in a Major Label-signed band that Eddie Van Halen assembled and produced, and which opened for Van Halen in many Major Venues, not least Madison Square Garden.

Pete, meanwhile, played in a succession of hair bands with ex- and future members of Iron Maiden, Quiet Riot, and Whitesnake, among many others. I didn’t speak to him between the day of his resignation from The Pits and his emailing me early in the 21st century to protest how I’d characterized him in my 1995 autobiography, I, Caramba.

Richard and I, meanwhile, had remained close (I thought) friends until around 2002, whereupon he seemed to lose interest in our friendship and withdrew from it without explanation.

In 2013, I hadn’t spoken to Len in 33 years, or to Pete, except by email, in 36. I’d formed a band, one that was having a devil of a time finding a lead guitarist. I thought there was about as much chance of Duane Eddy wanting to be involved as Pete, but damned if he didn’t agree to come up from south of LAX with his guitar and countless dozens of stompboxes, and damned if he didn’t find what we were doing amusing and join the band, which came to be called The Romanovs. As whose guitarist he was unrecognizable from the late-70s version of himself. He was uniformly good-natured, patient, nonjudgmental (not once has he said to me, even with his eyes, “After all the great drummers I’ve played with, now I’m playing with you?”), scrupulously punctual, and a pleasure to work with — a diamond geezer, as the Brits would say.

As he approaches 60, Len, with whom I only recently realized I share a penchant for despair, remains one of the nicest people drawing breath. He’s as sensitive as I, very bright, and very funny, drily, and has  joined Pete among my favorite people. Meanwhile, Richard and I have spoken exactly once since I relocated back to Los Angeles at the dawn of 2013. I phoned to shoot the breeze, as in the old days, but made the mistake of beginning the conversaton with a technical question  about the music software we both use, and he snarled at me as he might have at someone who’d stolen his girlfriend and drunk his likker from an old fruit jar.

Funny how things turn out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Evening With the Trump People

It’s bad, folks. There are indeed functioning American adults who regard Donald J. Trump as a viable presidential candidate, who hear him say he'll make Mexico pay for that giant wall of his and think to themselves, "Hey, this guy makes a lot of sense!". But it isn’t quite as bad as I feared. Some of them understand xenophobia, racism, and sexism to be undesirable. How they can simulatenously be enthusiastic about Trump and disdain xenophobia, racism, and sexism baffles me. But I’ll leave you to your own observations.

Last night, I started a discussion on one of the Trump for President Facebook pages by noting, “There's been a lot of discussion about the huge cost of mass deportation. I believe that one of President Trump's first official acts should be to authorize NRA members and open-carry advocates to shoot on sight anyone they hear speaking Spanish or otherwise manifesting illegalness. Let the streets run with their blood, say I! Let's make America great again!”

The following exchange of views ensued:

Brianne Marie Kirschner Almost a great idea only then we are left with cleaning up the mess it will have cost us much less in the long run to deport and if they want to gain citizen ship I believe they must be willing to also serve in our country's military that will provide the boots on the ground to cover the war against Isis , but not only must they be willing they must be qualified for the PT to join

Melissa Rebuck Wow. Ok. A little racist don't you think? I'm white, American and speak Spanish. Gonna shoot me?

Crystal Denise Byrd Ok no. Please hush.

John Mendelssohn Not if you don't speak it in public, Melissa. And you look pretty hot in your picture. I    can't imagine that President Trump is going to authorize the assassinations of hotties. There aren't enough as it is!

Melissa Rebuck Wow. Racist and sexist. My new favorite idiot.

Shane Smith Whoa, you are now the biggest idiot I have come across this month.
Michael D Vellian psychopath

John Mendelssohn Perhaps you'll be good enough to explain to me what's so objectionable about appreciating a hot woman. Do you suppose future President Trump doesn't? As for you reckless racism charge, maybe you'll be good enough to explain to me how I'm any more racist than he is. It so happens that I have a Mexican friend, Jesus, though you have to be careful how you pronounce that. Hey-SOOCE.

Melissa Rebuck Amen Shane, and I'm a bartender, I see a lot of stupid

John Mendelssohn Unclear what you're saying, Michael. Are you self-identifying as a psychopath? I hope not, but if so, I think they have medications now to treat that sort of thing.

Melissa Rebuck Oooh...the I have a ______ friend excuse. Shoot anyone speaking Spanish and let their blood flow in the streets? You're a special kind of idiot aren't you? Done. No point arguing with someone with no brain

Crystal Denise Byrd Please someone remove him from the group. He's just wanting an argument. frown emoticon. Sad you exist fellow.

Michael D Vellian I'm calling you a psychopath. You're also xenophobic or more likely a liberal thinking he's clever by trying to troll Trump pages.

Melissa Rebuck I'm just hoping this is satire, or sarcasm.

Crystal Denise Byrd Let's post fun pics and ignore him!

At which point my new friends let fly a barrage of cute and other images intended to express their distaste for my sexism, racism, and xenophobia. I found that a little bit heartening. 

Trump supporters write really awful English. I don't think it's significantly worse than non-Trump supporters'.