Friday, August 19, 2016

Another Friendship Lost: Bev

The Move that I met in the infamous Continental Hyatt House hotel on the Sunset Strip in the autumn of 1969 were amost comically ill-assorted. Singer Carl Wayne, Mr. Showbiz, oozed self-delight and self-confidence. I wondered how the bug-eyed, outrageously hirsute guitarist and songwriter Roy Wood had managed to survive the group’s drive across the American Southwest without being shot or set afire by good old boys outraged by his appearance. He could hardly have been more shy, while Bev Bevan, the big, broad-shouldered, deep-voiced drummer, was irresistibly charming. After I wrote a rave review of their sublime Shazam! album for Rolling Stone a few months later, it was he who wrote a letter of appreciation on the group’s behalf. We began corresponding, a state of affairs about which I was tickled pink, as I’d been a Move fan since first hearing Flowers in the Rain years before.

When my girlfriend Patti and I visited England, Bev and his wife entertained us. He and his wife took us to dinner at a favourite restaurant of theirs, out in the wilds of Warkwickshire, and it was glorious. I didn’t cause his Aston-Martin to be damaged when I forgot that everything in UK motoring is backwards, and blithely swung the passenger door open right in front of an oncoming lorry. I’d never seen the blood drain from anyone’s face as it drained from Bev’s at that moment. Bev introduced me to Monty Python, and the mere audio of the How to Defend Yourself Against a Banana-Wielding Attacker sketch made me laugh so hard I thought I might split open. 

The Move faded away and was replaced by ELO, which I disliked almost from the get-go. Jeff Lynne’s music seemed strangely second-hand and contrived to me, as Bon Jovi’s would 15 years later, and I hated how he threw a wet blanket over Bev as a drummer on the grop's records, his playing on Shazam! having taken my breath away. But Bev and I became better and better friends. He and his wife spent a lot of time in LA to avoid UK taxes, and my new girlfriend, The Nib, and I had them over a lot. We played Boggle and savoured proper homemade American hamburgers, this in an era when I was still eating red meat. Bev and I drank much brandy together while the…girls chatted. He and his drum roadie came out to the San Fernando Valley to play touch football with me and my bandmates, The Pits. We watched the Super Bowl together. I regarded him as one of my closest friends.

He hired me to ghostwrite his autobiography. He’d read Ian Hunter’s Diary of a Rock Star, and found it crap. He wanted Bevan’s Illustrated History of ELO (the title I proposed) to feature much more stylish prose. I did my best to provide it. I used lots of $10 adjectives, and eschewed what he’d have called full stops and I periods, as nothing says erudition like a long torturous sentence. I inserted much snark, though it was still called sarcasm at the time. But then his prospective publisher advised him that they wanted the usual crapola. I gnashed my teeth and wondered about my kill fee. None would be forthcoming. If he didn’t get paid to appear in videos that wound up not being completed, in his view, it was unreasonable for me to expect payment for my work on a  book that wasn’t going to be published. We disagreed about that, and didn’t speak for 15 years.

I tried, after the publication of my own autobiography — a polysyllabic snarkfest that Rolling Stone described as “like Portnoy’s Complaint rewritten by Pete Townshend” — to revive our friendship. He commended me for having been forthright in my book about a lot of things a discreet gentile might have left undisclosed. But when I actually moved to the UK in 2002, and tried to invite myself up to the Midlands to see him, he didn’t seem to like the idea very much, and eventually I stopped trying.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Another Friendship Lost: Mistress Antoinette

In the late 90s, it occurred to me that a fetish-oriented Website might be a highly pleasurable way for me to showcase my burgeoning Photoshop and design skills. The idea of Heartless Bitch, as I entitled it, was to publish interviews with the world’s most glamorous dominatrices that would reveal what they were like out of their dungeons. Implacable altruist as I am, I hoped to demonstrate that most of them were loving daughters and moms and wives, scrupulous recyclers, all-around good eggs. Along with a few vainglorious nincompoops, they included a  few women with whom I formed enduring friendships.

One of the first dommes I contacted to ask if she’d submit (oh, the irony!) to an interview was the Tampa-based blonde bombshell Mistress Antoinette. Her Website was as ugly as she was striking, and she asked if I might, for pay, help her with it. For one who’d been struggling for years to earn money as a graphic designer, and whose boat fetish really floated, the question wasn’t difficult to answer.

Toni, as she asked me to call her, turned out to be a major sweetheart — friendly, generous with her praise, and self-effacing. The only thing I didn’t like about her was that the boxful of photos she sent to be scanned for her site reeked of the cigarettes I would never be able to persuade her to stop smoking. She lusted (well before he was exposed as a colossal dickhead) after Mel Gibson. She found my own music rather too genteel, if you will, and worshipped Tool, exemplars of art/grunge. I discovered that she'd been fat and not-popular as a girl, and then a mother in teenage. She claimed to play bass, and we fantasised about forming a band and making a fortune on the fetish event circuit. I could picture her appealing to Chrissie Amphlett’s constituency, though I couldn’t picture her sitting on the edge of a stage, legs apart, in a very short skirt, as Chrissie did, so wonderfully nonchalantly.

We became ever better friends over the course of many phone conversations, and then — after the photo I sent her of me in my rock dreamboat days inspired her to see me in a whole new light — almost lovers. I flew to Tampa to spend a weekend with her, but we got along as dreadfully in person as we’d always gotten along splendidly on the phone. I wound up spending pretty nearly all of the Sunday alone in my nice air-conditioned Holiday Inn room, hiding from Tampa’s hellish heat. But when I got to the airport on Monday morning, I heard myself being paged. She’d driven all the way over from Lakeland to ensure I didn’t fly back to San Francisco angry or hurt. That was as close as we came to a falling out.

I continued, over the years, to design for her. I stopped accepting payment. I, uh, shaped her branding. ‘Twas I who came up with the slogan “The sound of male whimpering is Mozart to my ears”. I was going to ghostwrite her autobiography, but couldn’t get an agent or publisher interested. (Holler if you’d like me to send you two sample chapters.) She visited me in Beacon, New York, and I her in Dunedin, Florida. She was my best woman — I had no best man — at my wedding to the former Mistress Chloe.

I marvel, 19 years after it began, at my inability to find any trace of our friendship in my life in 2016. We speak, every 18 months or so, when I phone her. “I’ve just been so busy,” she will invariably sigh. I wonder aloud why we’re not friends anymore. “I’m just so busy,” she’ll sigh again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Don't-Blink-Or-You'll-Miss-It Career of an LA Pop Band

Oh, the memories that flooded back yesterday, the first anniversary of the first —  and only — public performance by my LA band The Romanovs. The St. Rocke club in Hermosa Beach, south of LAX, had finally agreed to let us play after I’d sent them (and every other club between Santa Barbara and the Mexican border) around a million emails eloquently imploring them to give us a shot. I drove down on the big day with our Russian-born singer, Lisa Motorina, as my passenger, though I’d gone off her for never being on time to rehearsal, and for regularly keeping me waiting 10 minutes, after I’d shown up right on time, in front of her squalid Hollywood apartment. 

We arrived at the club approximately two minutes late (that is, two minutes after Pete, the exquisitely punctual guitarist), and then waited interminably for my roommate, who doubled as the band’s bassist, to materialise. I’d come in the preceding months to cease to be able to stand him, and to think ever less of his musicianship. He seemed to have reverted to his old ways (we’d been in a band together decades before, and then good friends) punctuality-wise, which is to say there was no sign of him even when the club’s sound guy gave up on the idea of our having a sound check. (I later learned that my roommate was upset because a member of his family had suffered a health crisis. I’d have been terribly upset myself, the difference being that I’d have found a way to inform others I knew to be waiting for me what had happened.)

It was the hottest day of the year in southern California, and I can’t imagine I was alone among the three male Romanovs in wishing we hadn’t agreed (mostly at my urging) to wear matching suits. I was soggy before we even reached the stage, on which my roommate promptly positioned all 260 pounds of himself right in front of me, making it impossible for me to glimpse the audience, or the audience me. By and by, I was able to persuade him to move over slightly. (In the little photo below, I am NOT preparing to try to bounce a drumstick off the back of his head.) 
Not that there was much of audience. I’d induced five people to attend. An apparently deranged Russian woman had come to assess Motorina’s suitability as a bride for her son. Neither Pete nor my roommate had put a single butt on a single seat. Because I was the one who’d implored her so implacably for a chance, whom do you suppose the club booker phoned to howl at indignantly 36 hours later?

We didn’t play very well as a unit, I don’t think. Having had no sound check, we couldn’t hear each other properly. I was drenched with, and blinded by, sweat eight bars into our third number. Motorina forgot that during one extended guitar solo she was to take selfies of herself with her cell phone, and that during another, she was to read and send text messages. Wry commentaries on extended guitar solos, you see. On the long drive home to Hollywood, during which I was pretty well silent with disappointment and disgust, she got exasperated for my failure to tell her how terrific she’d been.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up early the following morning and emailed the two SW London-based musicians with whom I’d discussed starting a band in their neck of the woods, where the missus continued to reside, that I’d be over soon.  And damned if I wasn't.

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 habitu├ęs 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.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Singer Sought. Must Lack Ponytail and Unintelligible Foreign Accent.

I don’t want to be the lead singer of The Freudian Sluts. I really don’t. I mean, I don’t, and of course I do. I enjoy being front and centre, and think I’m good at making a spectacle of myself. But I’m well aware that my doing so at my age might not have quite the same effect as when I was nine and twenty, say, and am further aware that my voice is weedy and my intonation iffy. But Miss Zelda Hyde, who dislikes being front and centre, has abandoned her post, and Darryll and Andrew and I are having a devil of a time finding a suitable replacement.

Back in Hollywood in decades past, you could put a Singer [or other] Wanted ad in The Recycler (sort of a pre-Internet, hard-copy eBay) and your phone would ring off the hook. In 2016, in London, you put such an ad on line, on Gumtree or Bandmix, and get someone coughing at the back of a nearly empty auditorium, or, if you prefer, crickets, or, if you prefer, radio silence. As the celebrated author Barney Hoskyns has noted, “People don’t want to be in bands anymore,” possibly because they’ve noted that all anyone wants to hear, if they can’t afford a ticket to Adele or Beyonce, is tribute bands. 

Last week, we contacted 49 singers on Bandmix and heard back from five, three of whom said thanks, but no thanks. Last week we auditioned one of the other two, a 50-year-old gardener who’d many years before enjoyed singing in pubs. He was wry and gloriously personable. We all thought him a diamond geezer, as I think one says here — a good egg, a splendid egg, in fact — and were a little heartbroken when he turned out not to be a good enough singer to distract from his being overweight and ponytailed. 

One cannot perform my beautiful music with a ponytail.

We auditioned a young (26) Gibraltarian whose Soundcloud site included a gorgeous, lavishly overdubbed version of an old Platters hit I loved. He was very musical, and personable, but Andrew, on bass, found him unendurably theatrical. He and Darryll, on guitar, have worked long and hard to become the cohesive triumvirate that we are, and I will not jeopardise that cohesion by adding someone to whom either of the others objects.

Last night, though, was much worse, as we were pretty sure we’d finally found our guy. He was (relatively) young — barely into his 40s! — played guitar (and dobro!) well, and liked The Byrds and The Who. His singing voice reminded me faintly of Liam Gallagher’s, which would have made it ideal for our several sarcastic numbers. He was a transplanted New Yorker, and it was difficult to get a word in when we conversed on the phone, but his recordings revealed him to play guitar (and dobro!) well, and he liked The Byrds and The Who. He turned up unprepared, and, as he tried to fake his way through three of my best-loved melodies, sounded rather less like Liam Gallagher than like Ethel Merman. He didn't sing so much as bray.

Since then, there have been two more responses on Gumtree, the problem being that it’s mostly foreigners, persons who speak (and, presumably, sing) in nearly unintelligible accents, who respond there. I work hard on my lyrics, and can’t bear the idea of their being unintelligible, though I am able to make no promises about my own delivery. Playing the drums in 9/8 while singing isn’t as easy as it sounds. All of my songs are in 4/4.