Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Friendship Lost to Attrition

The Pits (named after my song You’re the Pits, my answer to Cole Porter’s You’re the Top) comprised me, bearing down hard on 30, a teenager, Len, from way out west in the San Fernando Valley who’d drummed with Randy California, a beanpole guitarist of 23 (R. Peter) from just south of LAX (I was myself from just north of it), and a bass player of approximately my own vintage, Richard, who’d been in The Motels. All three were hot stuff, but we disintegrated after a few months. Richard and I stayed in touch and became quite good friends, I thought. He hooked up with a guy who’d recently been expelled from Blondie. The Blondie evictee could neither play the guitar nor sing (he yelped, a la the guy in Television), and was the new band’s guitarist and singer, which meant that Richard had carte blanche to play whatever he liked. He was for all intents and purposes both the band's bassist and lead guitarist, and became rather a star in the Chinese restaurants and dive bars of the Los Angeles new wave scene, to the point of being known to the habitués of the bass guitar bars into which he sometimes chased skirts as God. Or maybe I just made that part up.

Every time I suggested we chase skirts together, or, later, that he accompany me and my girlfriend Lobsterhead to a swinging nitespot, he would reflexively decline, citing his pennilessness. I'd assure him I was happy to treat him. He would refuse to be treated, and refuse to be treated, and finally, after about half an hour, agree to be treated, as though doing me a favour. On one such occasion, we went to the Mucky Duck in Santa Monica to see a band led by two balding brothers who played Rickenbacker guitars, sang gorgeous harmony, and performed songs every sensible person loves, like The Searchers’ When You Walk In the Room. The drummer who’d accompanied Tom Petty to Los Angeles but then been excluded from The Heartbreakers was playing with the balding brothers. When he saw Richard, his eyes lit up, and Lobsterhead and I, who longed to leave, had to sit there and sit there and sit there while the drummer schmoozed Richard interminably. Richard pretended to be embarrassed, but obviously adored every syllable.  

After he helped me and Lobsterhead move up to the wine country, we still spoke regularly. I saw him whenever I returned to LA, and he came up to record with me and to go to the big annual Apple Computer extravaganza in San Francisco (at which grown men roll around and make animal noises for the chance to be thrown a particular software company’s T-shirt). We remained pretty close even after I relocated to the UK two years into the new millennium. But then, for reasons unknown to me, he seemed to lose enthusiasm for our friendship, and it got to the point at which we were in touch only on our respective birthdays. I was unaware of having become more difficult than I’d ever been. Indeed, I like to imagine that I become marginally less difficult as I hurtle toward oblivion.

I returned to Los Angeles in the autumn of 2012, and a mutual friend arranged for us to meet, surprising Richard. The two of them met at a deli in Santa Monica (MF had talked Richard into allowing him to pick up the tab), and I came over pretending to be their server. It took Richard a moment to recognise me. The years had not been gentle. He didn’t seem hugely delighted, but at evening’s end assured me he was pleased to have seen me.

I came to believe otherwise. When I actually moved back to LA a few months later, he didn’t seem very interested. When I phoned one evening to ask a technical question about a music software programme we both use, and then to chat, he was about as cordial as to someone who’d stolen his iPhone and was calling to demand ransom. We didn’t speak again. I didn’t want to be snarled at, and he seemed to have no desire to hear from me. The phone rings on both ends. When Mutual Friend, with whom I was sharing an apartment, invited Richard over one evening 16 months later, I made a big display of my indifference, barely greeting Richard. I felt childish, of course, but was damned if I was going to let him patronise me.
I’m like that. 

And now, all these years later, I find remarkable that I’m friendly, electronically (we live on different continents) with Len and Pete, the latter of whom had been pretty aloof and censorious in The Pits’ brief heyday. He and I even played together in a band in 2015, and it was infinitely more pleasurable than The Pits had been. It’s funny how things pan out.


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