Thursday, August 25, 2016

So Long, Soho. London in General Will Be Along in a Minute

The former Miss Zelda Hyde and I visited London, England, on whose southwestern outskirts we reside, this past weekend, and found it heartbreaking. TFMZH spent many of the happiest moments of her early adulthood in tawdry, naughty Soho, in whose adult bookstores I myself spent many a happy afternoon leafing through European fetish magazines, and on whose sleaze-coated pavements I enjoyed flirting with what the English call tarts, though their interest tended to dissipate very quickly on realising that I wasn’t actually going to hire them. 

Barely a trace of that Soho exists any more. The adult bookstores are chic little bistros now. There isn’t a tart in sight, nor any sleaze. Paradiso Boudoir, specialists in rubber fetishwear, at whose window displays I used to gawk with such delight, is no more. You might think of Soho as the Times Square of London — sanitised and denatured to the point of unrecognisability. The difference is that in Soho there are no Disney characters with whom to take photos of the kids.


Just round the corner from the Oxford Circus tube station, there is an Angus Steakhouse that’s been there at least since I first emerged from the Oxford Circus tube 44 years ago, on my first visit to London. One evening when I was first there an array of pinball machines was set up in Argyll Street. I played for hours while the most glorious music — British pop — blared overhead. I recall a moment of nearly orgasmic joy as, in the middle of Slade’s glorious, deafening-at-any-volume Come On Feel the Noise (I’m not going to try to recreate from memory their intentional misspellings), I lit up one of my favourite Gottlieb machines a treat, making the digit counters spin crazily. It was one of the peak rock and roll experiences of my life. And do you know what you see where Argyll and Oxford Streets meet in 2016? Hopelessly boring people of the sort you might see at a mall in Cuyahoga Falls or New Rochelle — consumers! — on their way to buy hideous, styleless clothing at Urban fucking Outfitters.

We proceeded, by accident, to Carnaby Street, which I suspect began to lose its great vibrancy 50 years ago, but as late as 1982 still had interesting shops on it. Nowadays, it has exactly the same chain boutiques you see on the high street of every upmarket town in England, as too does the Kings Road, which, when I first visited London, was the buzziest place in the rock and roll world, with glorious music blasting out of a thousand boutiques selling gloriously outrageous glamwear. Just to find something even faintly outrageous now. Just try. Just try too to spot a colourful eccentric on the Tube, or on a bus. As late as the early 90s, there seemed to be a member of the Thompson Twins or Hayzee Fantayzee everywhere you looked.

Last week TFMZH and I attended what I had understood to be a screening of a documentary film about the homogenisation of Soho. A panel discussion followed. An array of colourful and other Sohophiles talked about how the homogenisers don’t realise that the tourists, on which the economy of London is substantially dependent, will stop coming if the city gets much more of its life sucked out of it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Night Los Angeles Ran Out of Whisky

Their record company flew me to New York to make Procol Harum feel that their record company cared about them. In my absence, I offered the use of my spacious Hollywood apartment, on the third floor of a haunted house, to a dear (gay) friend’s ravishing new work colleague, whom I wouldn’t have had the nerve to approach without my friend having cleared the path for me, if you will. She was positively jaw-dropping. When I’d glimpsed her some months before at a concert in a posh venue, she’d literally seemed to glow.

When I returned from the East Coast, she picked me up (in my Porsche,  no less!) at LAX. When we got back to Hollywood, I saw she’d packed her bag, but I asked her to stay, and she did. I felt as though I’d won the lottery, as though I’d moved to a new country, in which no one recognised me as the excruciatingly shy wallflower misfit I’d been nearly throughout my teens, and which I remained (and remain!), to a very large extent, inside. 

We lasted three and a half years. Looking back, remembering the petulant, duplicitous, condescending, compulsively difficult little shit I was then (and shall ever remain, to some extent),  I can’t imagine how she managed it. I see now that she loved me, but I’ve always had a hard time with being loved (can people not see what and who I am?), and had an even harder one then. I cheated on her repeatedly, with women not fit to push her shopping cart. I sulked (as I still do). I raged (as I do much less frequently, and more quietly, now). I was pretty close to the perfect asshole.

As which I was of course shocked when she came home from her job at Capitol Records on a Friday night 42 years ago today and told me that she loved me, but was no longer in love with me. Only twice in my life — when my daughter revealed at 16 that she’d ceased to think of us as close, and when my mom phoned to inform me my dad had died — have words sliced through me like those did, each syllable a sharper machete.

I was beside myself for months.  I could think of nothing but her for longer than two minutes. I couldn’t wait for it to reach four o’clock every afternoon so I could drink a great deal of Scotch. I drove my friends crazy. I was on the phone to my mother, who was tirelessly supportive and encouraging, three or four times a day.  Fully a year later, when I began running every morning on the Fairfax High School track, I achieved ever-faster times in the mile by telling myself that if I bettered the previous day’s, I’d get her back.

After about six months, she’d seemed to relent, and asked if she could come see me in the apartment I’d rented overlooking the Sunset Strip. I was the best — charmingest, wittiest, least petulant— version of myself, sort of the person I should have been all along. It became unmistakable, though, that the best version of myself wasn’t good enough. I managed to tamp down my petulance and walk her to the elevator. As its doors closed on her, she looked a thousand times more beautiful than ever before. I pretty nearly fainted from the pain of it. There was hardly a drop of Scotch left in Los Angeles that night.

Decades later, it occurred to me how awful I’d been to her. A mutual acquaintance was able somehow to secure her email address in spite of her having left the music business years before. I emailed her to apologise, profusely. She was ice. I persisted. She didn’t thaw. Eventually I gave up. Forty-two years after the fact, I’m still not sure I’m over the pain “she put me through,” as I used to see it. I had every bit of it coming.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

I Find Love on the Interweb!

In what may be my favourite scene in any motion picture ever, the Scottish distance runner in Chariots of Fire responds to his sister’s urging him to abandon running to devote himself full time to the seminary by saying, “But, sister, when I run I can feel God’s pleasure.” I feel God’s pleasure when I write songs, and when I design graphics, and when I write prose.  I used to be paid handsomely to do the latter, but in recent centuries haven’t been paid a dime, but: God’s pleasure. So in around 2006, I began writing a blog, originally called For All in Tents and Porpoises, and later A Yank On the Edge of England. I imagined that lightning might strike a second time — that my zesty wit and way with words might make me rich and famous again, as they had when I was two and twenty, and writing snide things about rock bands I hated for Rolling Stone.

No such luck. For the first several years, my little essays typically attracted maybe 25 readers on a good day. “Be grateful for those 25,” my psychotherapist in Dutchess County, New York, advised, “rather than feeling bad there aren’t many more.” That resonated, and I kept writing until my old buddy and formidable adversary depression, relentlessly whispering, “Why are you bothering with this when no one cares?” finally snatched the pen from my hands. I compiled the knee-slappingly hilarious little fictions I’d composed about working for the Palin for President campaign in a book I entitled When Times Are Tough, the Tough Try Human Trafficking, and self-published it on Amazon. Not a single person bought it. “You see?” my depression gloated. “You see?”

I thought maybe I could win the world’s love with videos. This was watched by 217 persons, as many as were watching Hannah Minx pretend to teach Japanese every 30 seconds.

My depression nonetheless went on vacation or something, and I revived my blog, renaming it Mendel Illness after the eminent future Sandersnista Elle Smith talked me out of Self-Loathing: An Owner’s Manual. Reader interest remained almost too low to be detected. I finally broke the 100-reads barrier with I Don’t Love My Country, in part because I promoted it relentlessly on Facebook. A piece I wrote excoriating Bruce Springsteen for participating in a veterans benefit concert (a pox on anything that honours the War Machine) also did well. When Straight Outta Compton generated a lot of interest in NWA, the (never-published, but paid-for) piece I’d written about them for Playboy did very well. I tirelessly flogged What to Say to Someone With a Trump for President Bumper Sticker, and induced over 500 people to read it.

I went into why-even-bother? mode again, and several months elapsed. I wrote a satirical piece about Trump that I pitched to several newspapers and magazines, none of whom so much as acknowledged that I’d done so. I gnashed my teeth, and published it in Mendel Illness. Sixty-two people read it. But then, this last week, the strangest thing happened. I wrote about how sometimes the participants in a marriage have to choose between infuriating their spouses by urging them to shed a few pounds and going gentle into that good night of sexual indifference. Sixty-one. But when I wrote about the slow death of my friendship with the bass player in my late-‘70s band, 230 people read it in a single day. None of its 676 predecessors had elicited anywhere near that much interest.I was flabbergasted.

The best was yet to come. Last Friday, I published a piece about my lapsed friendship with ELO’s drummer, and the Internet nearly crashed, as over 700 people read it. At first, I was pleased senseless — I felt so…loved! — but then, being me (or, grammatically, I), I began looking for the cloud to which the silver lining must be attached. Ah, there it was:  when I write about music, the world is very, very much more interested than when I write, however insightfully, about The Human Condition. Though, in the past 30 years, I have been no more a rock journalist/critic than a trapeze artist, arms dealer, or female impersonator, it appears as that for which I will be remembered is some liner notes and a couple of snide record reviews I wrote at 22, when I barely knew on which side of the typewriter to seat myself. That earlier essays, a wee click of a mouse away, didn't ride the ELO's pieces coatttails to much higher numbers suggests that it wasn't my writing folks liked, but the subject matter. Grr.

Honestly, though, what could be more intellectually fulfilling than debating the merits of a particular brazenly commercial pop group? It’s as though people halve their IQs when they go on Facebook. My piece was about the fragility of friendship, but that hardly got mentioned, as the I-Really-Loved-ELO and I-Really-Detested-ELO types delightedly squared off against each other, asserting that such-and-such album was pure genius, while another sucked.

Grr, said I, who am so hard to please. Grr.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Shame of the Body-Shamer

 When I declined to denounce the wonderful statues of a naked, castrated Donald Trump that the guerilla art collective Indecline displayed last week in New York, San Francisco, Cleveland, Seattle, a few politically hypercorrect Facebookians hurled themselves reflexively at the I Am Offended, and You Must Be Too button and pronounced me a bigot and fascist.

I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Trump naked, but infer, based on photographs of him clothed, that the depiction of him as a misshapen fat cat wasn’t wildly inaccurate. They say that, at 50, one has the face he or she deserves. Well, I think Donald J. Trump, at 70, has the body he deserves. But I was to understand that by accurately depicting the physique of one who apparently disdains exercise more strenuous than tossing raw meat to the cretins who intend to vote for him, Indecline was body-shaming Trump, tacitly encouraging the persecution of the obese. 

Poppycock, said I, though in rather earthier words.

But to the idea that fat people are all alike, and that none are fat out of sheer laziness and lack of self-discipline, I say poppycock anew., more emphatically.

I am very well aware that, for genetic or psychological reasons, some fat people can’t help themselves. (How could I not be, when every week UK television broadcastss around 35 programmes called, for instance, People Who Weight More Than Their Cars?) Some people who chronically overeat are no more able to stop than I am to cease being prone to depression. I really do get that the eating disorders are real, and can kill.

The kind of obesity born of self-indulgence and laziness — the Trump kind —  is popular with those who imagine they can eat too much in proportion to how little they exercise and nonetheless remain slim. Their mantra: I really must get over to the gym more often. It’s a lifestyle based on self-deception, with a generous dollop of refusal to accept personal responsibility stirred in.

For the vast majority of obese people, I would guess, obesity is indeed a matter of choice. Every day that they eat too much and exercise too little, they make the choice to be potbellied, spare-tired, love-handled, and tubby, though, very commonly, such persons will profess to be baffled by their tubbiness. “I just don’t understand it,” they’ll say, shaking their heads in perplexity, “I do exercise. I play golf five times a week.” Which is to say that they waddle down to their ballroom-sized Cadillac Escadlades, drive to the golf course, hand their cars over to parking attendants, waddle onto the first hole, hit the ball, and then ride in a golf cart to wherever it landed, where they’ll hit it again. Repeat this process nine times and you’ve had a hell of a workout!

For the record, I was fat myself once, as a 9-year-old. My mother detested cooking, and we could taste it. The only part of the meal she or I actually enjoyed (my dad enjoyed everything) was dessert — store-bought cookies, of which we ate far too many. I knew the pain of my classmates’ ridicule — oh, did I, but had forgotten it by early adulthood, when I smoked and drank, encouraged my girlfriend, who had an expense account, to take me to rich dinners at my favourite French restaurant (Au Petit CafĂ©, in Hollywood) and, in a good month, played basketball maybe three times. But I had a torrid young rock dreamboat’s metabolism, and never got much above 182 pounds. (I’m 6-1.) On Memorial Day in my 30th year, I discovered myself unable to run all the way across Will Rogers’ polo field with my de facto stepdaughter, thought, “Fuck this shit,” and resolved to change course. I found that jogging helped keep my mind off how much I longed for nicotine, and began doing it nightly. I’ve worked out in one way or another pretty much every day since. I consciously choose not to be tubby, and have very little patience for those who pretend not to have made the opposite choice, even passively.

To me all that saggy fat-cat flab looks like untrammeled capitalism, arrogance and avarice made flesh. In the vast majority of cases, it is indeed something to be no less ashamed of than bad hygiene.