When I first let my hair grow long, there were maybe half a dozen males on my college campus with long hair, and we lived in dread of being gang-raped by fellow male students who hated us for our perceived bisexuality. When I would walk past the football team with my girlfriend, they would bellow, “Which one’s the girl?” You couldn’t win. I was thus thrilled to note that in my Italian 101 class, there was another long-haired boy, though he seemed to have no interest in communing with me. That boy turned out to be Rusty Mayo, who I later found out to be a singer, and to have an elder brother, Ronnie, a multi-instrumentalist.
A year or two passed, and the brothers, who’d got wind of my playing the drums, sort of, asked if I wanted to look into forming a group with them. They and I and my friend Dennis Castanares — who was superhumanly musical, and who could sing McCartney-ish high harmony, and who regularly attracted huge audiences on campus when he sat down with his guitar and performed the whole of Sgt. Pepper, except Within You, Without You — convened in the basement of the dormitory I inhabited. Ronnie played lead guitar, of all things, and Rusty bass, both about as well as I played the drums. Castanares sneered. It was their notion to call themselves The Bel-Air Blues Band, Bel-Air being the second-richest neighbourhood in Los Angeles. (The richest is so rich that one dares not utter its name: Holmby Hills, where the Playboy mansion is.)
The Bel-Air Blues Band never actually materialised. I detested the blues, and I don’t think the Mayos were that wild about them either, and Ronnie wasn’t exactly Peter Green. But then, a couple of weeks after my graduation, they contacted me to say they’d put a new group together with an engineering student of comparable sympathies, and needed a drummer. They\d apparently forgotten that I barely knew on which side of the kit to seat myself.
They’d written a sheaf of songs based quite brazenly on hits of The Kinks, to whom I was in the process of becoming linked because their record company had hired me to suggest ways in which they could be made to seem more interesting to an American audience that had turned its collective back on them. We rehearsed at a veterinarian’s office in the San Fernando Valley. After our first rehearsal, the engineering student, who played lead guitar marvelled at how terrific I was.
But then it got ugly. The Mayos, it turned out, wanted to be cute (no, I’ll say the actual word: precious), whereas I thought we should be The Who — deafening, violent, and a little scary. Ronnie didn’t look pleased. I was soon invited to cease belonging to the group.
But I need to backtrack. They had a backer — their original drummer, whose silver Slingerland kit I got to play. He paid for us to go into a studio, where we recorded some godawful demos of the Mayos’ very precious songs. In spite of the presence of the engineering student, who would go on to get a lot of production work because he was good with sound, they mixed my drums so low as to be barely audible. Nonetheless, no record companies pleaded to be allowed to release the record. The Mayos’ fervent anglophilia somehow became known to boy wonder Rod Tundra, formerly of The Nazis, Philadelphia’s answer to The Who, and he recorded an album with them for the label of Bob Dylan’s former manager, who renamed them Spackles. It was just awful.
But then the Mayos jettisoned everyone in the band to whom they weren’t related, and flew over to England, where Rusty’s wildly theatrical, unapologetically cutesy falsetto, fake Scottish accent, and Ronnie’s catchy melodies, clever word play, and Charlie Chaplin impression made them very huge for around two weeks. In fairness, Ronnie did develop into a good songwriter, though he was never anything but wry. Half a decade later they enjoyed a resurgence when they made an awful New Wave sort of semi-hit with one of the lesser members of The Go Gos, and went on to have a career as Cult Favourites spanning over four decades while I, in the meantime, processed words at a big fascist law firm in San Francisco, redeemed empty soft drink bottles, and wondered, “Why not I, Lord?” a lot. And my present, second, wife regards Rod Tundra as The God Who Walks Among Us.