Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Paragon of Cool

Forty-nine years ago tonight, I met my second girlfriend. Actually, she met me, as I was too shy to approach girls. Her coming up to me at a dance when my band took a little break confirmed what I’d dared imagine about playing in a band — that girls would come even to the shy. My little band was The 1930 Four. The organ player had speculated the name would enfranchise us to dress up as Al Capone types. 

We actually dressed as The Beatles. To our amazement, we’d found military jackets of the sort The Beatles had worn on their recent American tour in a little men’s boutique on 3rd Street in Santa Monica, whose Battle of the Bands we’d won a few months earlier, military jackets of the sort The Beatles had worn on their recent American tour. The boutique had three jackets of approximately the same beige as The Beatles’, and one dark blue. I, as the drummer, was made to wear the dark blue. There were three of us in The Four — I, the prodigious teen guitarist Tot, and the keyboard player, who fervently disdained my inability to read music, and that I didn’t even own a practice pad. I never practiced in those days. I thought that the ferocity of my yearning for stardom would carry me through. 

We’d been on a local Channel 9’s own Battle of the Bands a couple of weeks earlier, on a show called 9th Street West, performing a sort of jazz-rock version of The Zombies’ She’s Not There, if memory serves. The guy for whom we’d auditioned had been a jazz fan, and was impressed by the organ player’s Jimmy Smith imitation, and by Tot’s 9th and 11th chords. At the audition, I’d had nothing with which to anchor my bass drum, which had crept out of range of my right foot halfway through the song. (The following year at Winterland in San Francisco I would retrieve one of the nails (these were crude, innocent times), with which one of Keith Moon’s bass drums had been discouraged from falling off the front edge of the stage.) I got the band the booking by invoking our victory in the Santa Monica Women's Club Battle of the Bands and our being one of the dozen finalists in the 9th Street West competition on TV. Our repertoire comprised several Merseybeat favorites, a couple of selections from the then-new Revolver album (which the organist didn’t bother to actually learn, as he could read music), and Ray Charles’s “Unchain My Heart,” which Tot, who was very much hipper than I, though four years younger, insisted on doing. 

Atter our first appearance on television, a young woman had interviewed us on camera. She’d asked me what kind of girl I preferred. It was the sort of question interviewers asked rock musicians in those days. I’d said, “Girls with short curly hair.” I don’t think she got the joke.

The girl came up to me between sets and asked if I’d teach her to play drums. Behind me, I could hear the organist muse, “Who’s going to teach him?” I’d have tried to teach her Urdu if she’d asked, or scuba diving. She had very long straight hair with bangs that touched her eyelids (I didn’t actually like short curly hair in the slightest), very long legs, and a very short skirt. She looked a little bit like Jean Shrimpton, at least form the neck down. I already had a girlfriend, and had even been thinking of marrying her, mostly because I couldn’t imagine ever inducing another girl to go out with me. But when Jean Shrimpton asked one to teach her to play drums, one didn't say, "Can I think about it?"

We became an item, the long-legged girl and I, though she soon realized I wasn’t the paragon of cool I might have appeared at the dance. I was still wearing Thom McAn Beatle boots, whereas she believed I should be wearing lace-up shoes of the sort The Rolling Stones wore on the cover of their Hide Tide, Green Grass album. I realized years later that she was right, but by then it was far too late.

Five years later, my group Christopher Milk lip-syched two numbers from its United Artists EP on the Saturday afternoon show that had succeeded 9th Street West on Channel 9. Flame, from which the Beach Boys later recruited two members one of whom went on to greater glory in The Rutles) were on too. They were very friendly, and it embarrassed me, as I didn’t feel worthy. I disguised my embarrassment as aloofness, as I did so often in those days. All these years later, I still feel awful about it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Welcome to Old Age

In the musical Avenue Q, there’s a moment when one of the characters bewails his having gotten old — 23. It’s meant to be heard as absurd. It is absurd. But I think I started pretending to regard myself as ancient at around 20 so others would say something like, “Don’t be silly. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you!”

It’s been around seven or eight decades since I heard that.

Paris, the last night of 2012. Spousie and I, along with other British merrymakers with whom we traveled down to ring in the new year, have been disgorged beneath the Arc d’ Triomphe. It’s around eight-thirty, and our tummies are rumbling. We decide that restaurants on the Champs d’Elysses are likely to be charging an arm and a leg, and another arm, and several toes, for dinner on this gala occasion, so we hop aboard the Metro, which is free tonight. The train is crowded. An attractive young woman of the sort I’d have eagerly tried to hit on mere months ago, in my 30s or even early 40s, offers me her seat. I am flabbergasted, and deeply embarrassed. “Do you not know, my dear, who I am?” I want to scold my lovely benefactress. “I am the John Mendelssohn, the noted rock dreamboat, the king, according to no less than Bud Scoppa, of Hollywood.” I keep my mouth shut. My embarrassment and flabbergastedness are of no interest to anyone.

Welcome to Old Age, Johnny.

On expired drivers licenses and other forms of photo ID, I see little portraits of myself that at the time made me wail with anguish. I looked so ancient, so very non-dreamboat! Now I’d cut off several toes to look as good. 

In the mirror in my bathroom in Los Angeles, I didn’t fail to see the accelerating decrepitude of my once-gorgeous punim, noting with horror that, for instance, my lovely cheeks, once covered by the lip-prints of the nubile, have begun to cave in. In the bathroom mirror in Richmond, Surrey, UK, I am horrified to realize that its Los Angeles counterpart revealed only a fraction of the actual carnage. 

I'm on the left, Andrew.
I show a new UK collaborator a photograph of the second of the bands with which I performed in my rock dreamboat days. He is unable to discern which of the four depicted dreamboats I was. 

In March, I had my right shoulder re-replaced. (It had originally been replaced in 1995, when the arthritis got so bad that I could barely walk (one moves his arm while walking) without pain.) In May, intent on maintaining my boyish figure — and, indeed, on regaining the upper-body muscularity that made me so irresistible in my latter rock dreamboat days, after I realized that working out was probably a better idea than drinking, smoking, and fornicating with gullible girlies who imagined that I…was somebody. Everything went just fine until I got myself a case of bicep tendonitis so severe that I could barely walk without wincing every couple of steps. And did I mention that I’m now deformed and asymmetrical, my re-replaced shoulder being about half the circumference of the other one?

Last night on the bus, a trio of brats on the bus were becoming shriller and shriller. At one point the old man next to whom I was seated seemed able to endure no more, and turned reproachfully toward me, demanding to know if one of the brats were my grandson. Not my son. My grandson. And he himself was probably my kid sister’s age. 

I console myself with the knowledge of my increased knowledge, the wisdom that the decades have conferred at so high a cost.