Saturday, December 24, 2016


I have long thought that the reason so many rock and movie stars drink and take drugs is that they’ve discovered that great success and happiness actually remain hand in hand for maybe a couple of months, after which the inner emptiness that drove them to yearn for mass adoration remains just as cavernous as before.

Behold my newly late one-time friend Rick Parfitt. We met as neighbours in a big riverside block of flats (that is, apartment building) in suburban southwest London. He and his long-suffering childhood sweetheart turned second wife, whom he was forever abandoning, and then reconciling with, were in the restaurant adjoining our building. Though I didn’t look especially rock anymore, he seemed to sense that we were kindred spirits, and did the approaching. He was flatteringly solicitous, and the four of us (we two chaps, his P—, and my wife) took to meeting fairly regularly. He would always insist on buying the drinks, of which he downed a great many. We talked a great deal about him and his band, and very little about us, but that's the way it is with big stars.

It emerged that he was haunted. His toddler daughter had drowned in his swimming pool with him and his first, German, wife a mere few feet away several years before. Being a member of a group that had been enormously popular (to the tune of 128 million album sales) in a great many countries didn’t dull the awful memory of the tragedy. He was by far the better of the two singers in his band, but the other guy had claimed the spotlight with the group’s first (and only American) hit, and Rick had never been able to yank it away from him. He’d made a solo album of which he was very proud, but his record company had decided in the end not even to release it. Quo toured the same countries annually, playing in the same venues to the same fans, who were a little greyer and a little paunchier at every year’s show, but no less insistent on hearing the group’s many hits, which Rick was sick to death of playing. And so he drank — and, in spite of major problems with his heart, smoked. A great deal. It emerged that when he wasn’t on the road, he was commonly too depressed to get out of bed almost until it was time to go down to the restaurant and get legless again.

He and P— invited us up to their flat one evening. Rick asked me to come into the kitchen with him, threw his arms around me and told me he loved me. No sexual element was involved. Back out in the living room, with its gold records on the walls and the Thames glittering beneath us, we listened to a couple of the songs from the album I’d made with my wife. He dismissed them as New Romantic rubbish. I took some small consolation in his not having cleared his throat, squirmed for a moment, and pronounced them..interesting.

He could be cruel. One evening, it came out that it was P—‘s birthday. He made clear that he couldn’t be less interested, and her pain was unmistakable. I got the impression her unconditional devotion to him might have made him contemptuous. It was Groucho Marx’s joke about not wanting to belong to a country club that would have him as a member writ large. He later left her again, and married a woman who bore him twins. P— must have died a little bit more, but not so much that they didn’t get back together yet again.

I was lucky to have known him.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Bieber and Beyoncé: What They Hope Jay-Z Will Never Find Out!

I curse every one of the hundreds of miles I jogged after I quit smoking, as I curse the quitting itself. I curse the alcohol not guzzled, and the rich food not eaten. I curse the guy who taught me to meditate after my doctor suggested meditation as a drug-free way of lowering my blood pressure. I curse my not having gotten addicted to heroin, and the drunk drivers who left their office parties or bar-and-grills a minute too early or a minute too late to victimise me. I curse the friends who talked  me out of getting myself a motorcycle for my 60th birthday because motorcycles are so dangerous. I curse the airline pilots who always got me where I was going, and my sexuality. Maybe if I’d been gay, I’d have gotten AIDS. I curse my never having seduced other men’s wives, as maybe one of them would have been homicidally furious, and I wouldn’t be here dying of boredom and loneliness — but not nearly quickly enough! — in Beigeland.

My daughter washed her hands of me when she was 17, and we’ve not spoken since. My younger brother was lucky enough (though of course it didn’t seem so at the time) to have a drunk driver in his life, in 2003, and we were never mad about each other anyway. Him and his positiveness, his eternal looking for — and finding! — the clouds’ silver lining!

There was no one to take me in, so the council put me in here. First-time visitors are forever telling my fellow residents how nice Riverview Assisted Living is. It’s fairly light, and airy, all tastefully combined muted yellows and beiges to which nobody could object. I overhear a lot of the other residents’ visitors remarking on how nice it smells. They must get through bloody lakes of air freshener every month here, but you can still make out the incontinence and disinfectant if you concentrate.

Behold the oppressiveness of good taste. Beige is the colour of blandness and resignation and boredom, and if I had a great-nephew or something, I’d ask him to sneak a couple of cans of the most lurid purple or orange spray paint he could buy. Some obscene graffiti might give this place a little personality. God forbid. I object to the beigeness.

You can’t die of boredom. I’ve found this out the hard way. Every morning I wake up and think to myself, Oh, no: still alive. If you’d call what I am alive. They wheel me into the dining room and bring me a plateful of something vaguely resembling food, but without flavour or texture or even aroma, and I watch the usual suspects drooling all over themselves, and Caroline Somebody being so bloody…upbeat and friendly to everybody that I’d like to strangle her with my bare hands, except the left one is far too arthritic for the job. What a pair she and my brother might have made! Then the staff try to persuade me to join in the morning’s activity, which will be something like Resident Karaoke, at which only Caroline bloody Somebody will sing, and she’s the worst singer in the United Kingdom, so I ask to be wheeled back to my room and try to read until lunchtime. The type in the Large Print books might be large, just like it says on the tin, but it’s also too blurred for me to make out. Sometimes I’m able to fall back asleep until lunchtime.

Can you guess what’s for lunch? Nor can I. I suspect it’s just breakfast, on a different plate, with a fresh bloody parsley sprig. Flavourless. Texture-less. Aroma-less. And then I spend the afternoon missing Maggie, and getting angrier and angrier at myself for not appreciating her as I should have, for not realising when she was alive how much I’d miss her. I can’t remember the last time anyone in her got one of my jokes, as Maggie did every once in a while. But to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I bothered making one. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

What Axl Rose Looks Like Now Will Shock You!

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.