Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Year-Ending Spasm of Self-Loathing

As a shy, timid kid, I never went to summer camp, nor ever slept over at a friend’s house, and no one ever slept over at my house. I was 19 by the time I finally ventured out alone — specifically, to San Mateo, California, south of San Francisco, to try to ensure that my second girlfriend wouldn’t go back during Xmas break to the boyfriend she’d left three months earlier when she came down to Los Angeles to go to college. 

I rode a succession of Greyhound buses, and felt quite the bold adventurer. All on my own was I!  At one of the places I stopped, a concerned father urged his teenage son not to befriend me because I was wearing a Mr. Zigzag button to signify that I had experimented — extensively! — with marijuana. As soon as the bus was out of sight of the station, the young man and I became friends. 

I spent three days with Second Girlfriend, who wasn’t so easily talked out of Old Boyfriend, and headed back to Los Angeles. I was melancholy, of course, but felt quite the worldly young hotshot, having undertaken an 800-mile round trip all on my own. I decided to get off the bus where Topanga Canyon Blvd. meets Pacific Coast Highway rather than continue all the way, as my ticket entitled me to do, into Santa Monica. As I walked the mile or so to the house in which I’d spent the second half of my adolescence, I sang the Stones’ “Going Home”, making myself feel even worldlier. Guess you’d say I’ve seen the world, but I’d rather see my girl. When I finally made it up the hill, I discovered that my dad, who’d driven to Santa Monica to pick me up, was a little peeved about having done so in vain. Feeling my oats, all worldly and self-sufficient, I suggested he fuck off.

I can still see the shock and hurt his eyes, and to this day I’m tempted to punch myself, hard, in the face. Behold the worldly, self-sufficient tough guy, being awful to one of the two people in the world who loved me most, and who I was pretty sure wouldn’t punch me in the nose! 

Two years and change later, a record company flew me to New York, New York, to show one of their biggest acts that not everyone at the company was a middle-aged embarrassment in far too much men’s cologne and a lurid polyester leisure suit, matching white plastic belt and patent loafers. Hanging out with Big Act made me feel a hotshot again, especially after I persuaded one of its groupies, who hadn’t enchanted any of them, to escort me back to my hotel, for what turned out to be the worst sex of my life to that time, thanks to her being SO not into it. Nonetheless, when I flew home to Los Angeles, and my dad met me at LAX, I said not a word to him on the drive home. I’d just cavorted with major British rock stars, and balled, however badly, with a groupie in a black lace top that had left little to the imagination. And now I was supposed to chit-chat with a Hughes Aircraft lifer whose idea of excitement was going out in front of the house to sneak a smoke? Oh, fat, fat chance!

You unspeakable little monster, I say to myself around 1000 times a week. But there’s a sort of upside to the guilt and shame that sometimes threaten to suffocate me. When I think, in view of how fervently I adored her and what a good job I did of how deeply unfair my 15-year estrangement from my daughter is, I remind myself that I deserve every bit of pain I’m in. And more.

I’ve got similar confessions to make about my cruelty toward my mother, her mother (my grandmother), and her brother, for whose suicide, when I was 16, I hold myself partially responsible. I’m pretty sure he was miserable and alienated before I was even born, and I was only a punk teenager, but a punk teenager who could have been a much better friend to him, rather than an eager conduit of my mother’s censure.

It wasn’t that I thought they’d all always be around, so much as that I felt they would. The feeling turned out to be inaccurate. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t give to be able to tell them how deeply regret my cruelty toward them, and how much I love and miss them.

Friday, December 29, 2017

At Play Among the Trumpists

I have a fervently right-wing friend, PC. We remain friends because, although I disagree with pretty much everything he says, I respect that he does a lot of reading and listening, and knows his stuff, however wrong the conclusions he may draw. A couple of nights ago, he was excited about Nikki Haley proclaiming at the UN that Fucko the Klown (aka Donald Trump) would take personally any country not endorsing his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. A fun exchange of views ensued! [I have, of course, edited the thread to make myself appear wittier and more exotic than I really am.] TF is PC's friend, and apparently the sort of fervent right-winger who doesn't do a lot of reading and listening, and who doesn't realise when he's being teased. 

TF Is there anything better than a PATRIOTIC WOMAN standing up to the corrupt UN?

Anything would be better - to a leftist malcontent. :-) 

Mendel Illness You rang? Isn't Ms. Haley the one who called for Fucko the Klown to answer the multiple allegations of sexual harassment? I can't imagine you superpatriots being very pleased about that!

Yes she is. She also said if any of those women have hard evidence, let them pony up. Don't waste our time with he said she said.

“Allegations” is the key word
Mendel Illness Gotcha. You right wing fanatics will settle for nothing less than wet semen, right? Let's get Franken to resign on the basis of allegations, the key word, but find mere allegations, the key word, quite insufficient in the case of one who has bragged openly about his history of sexual assault. As noted, gotcha.

But of course, whom will you believe? Some cheap little bimbo, or the president of the greatest country in the history of geography, whose word one can always take to the bank?

John, it was senate democrats who urged Franken's resignation. That said, please tell me you don't subscribe to the lynch mob mentality that would allow ANYONE to be forced from office on allegations alone.
Mendel Illness I don't subscribe to the lynch mob mentality that would allow ANYONE to be forced from office on allegations alone. I do have to wonder, though, about...what is it now, 20?...women having claimed that Fucko assaulted them. And you've always been perfectly willing to waive the presumption of innocence when it's someone on the left accused. Ladies and gentlemen, hello and welcome to another edition of The Pete Castle Double Standards Show with tonight's musical guests, folk singer Ted Fuentes and the Make America Great Again Singers.

I don’t like folk music. I like ass kicking music like metal
Mendel Illness Me too! Rock ON, dewed! You know, Pete used to like that sort of thing too, what I call the 32nd-note-triplet-at-the-top-of-the-fretboard school of guitar playing, until he became the most in-demand jazz session guy on the West Coast. Now it's nothing but 13ths and 17ths. Sometimes, when it's 31sts, he has to recruit a member of the audience to come up and help with the D string.

Now me, I've never had a music lesson in my life. Everything I have achieved, and I think my mantelful of awards tells the story better than I could ever hope to, I have achieved solely on the strength of my extraordinary native musicality. Everything just comes naturally to me!

It's a lot like I am socially. I mean, I just have a knack for making people like me. I've always had it. Call it charisma, if you must.

Spoken like a true liberal...tell us how great you really are. I think you’re selling yourself shot [sic]. I just counted 12 me’s and l’s in your previous two posts
Mendel Illness As for your counting me's and I's, Ted, that's bad news for me. I and a mutual acquaintance I won't embarrass by identifying had a bet that you could count no higher than nine, on a good day. I now owe him lunch at The Sizzler. Thanks very much! And can we please remember that there's no TIME without I'm? 

And yes, how like a liberal, speaking of his own greatness. You'd never catch one putatively on the right, but actually nowhere at all, like Donald J. Trump, indulging in that sort of thing! He has too much dignity!

TF Yes you sound a lot like him, with very little success to compare

Mendel Illness Exactly right, Ted. He is A Successful Businessman! Over the course of his career, he has turned an inheritance that would be worth $12 billion if he'd invested in Blue Chip stocks and played golf for 40 years into a $3 billion fortune, and declared bankruptcy, damaging the fuck out of many creditors, many times? Three? Oh, the greatness of the man!

He got a loan of 1 million from his dad. I would do the same thing for my kids if I had the money.
Mendel Illness Now THAT made a world of sense! And the fact is that you DON'T have the money, Ted, because, rather than A Successful Businessman, you are a Trumpist crackpot who wouldn't detect Irony if it were delivered to him in a big box labeled "Fragile! Irony!"

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Continentals Fail to Save Rock and Roll

Rock and roll began so gloriously, with giants like Little Richard, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, Richie Valens, and Chuck Berry emerging nearly on a monthly basis in the first few years. But then Elvis got drafted, Chuck Berry imprisoned, Little Richard sanctified, and a lot of key disk jockeys disgraced in the payola scandal. By 1960, with Dick fucking Clark pushing the frankiebobbies — insipid little twerps like Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and, worst of all, Bobby Rydell — on American Bandstand, to that era what MTV would be circa 1985, and American Idol and The Voice in the second decade of the 21st century, the thrilling, defiantly sexy, anarchic pop music of three years before had been supplanted in the chrarts and on the airwaves by such horrors as wee Mr. Avalon’s "Venus", and wan Mr. Rydell’s extremely tame "Wild One". Rock and roll fans had to try to make do with the nearly-as-wan-as-Rydell Ricky Nelson, whose catatonic musical performances at the end of The Adventures [sic!] of Ozzie and Harriett each week made Rydell look in comparison like James Brown. 

But I am now able to identify those most responsible for making the musical Dark Ages between the payola scandal and The Beatles so very dark — The Continentals, from Mamaroneck, a northern suburb of New York City. Their 1961 performance of an original (but not very, as it’s 45,000 other songs, with different words) song called "Thunderbird" on The Ted Mack Original Amateur Hour is one of the most ghastly spectacles to which one can subject himself on YouTube. 

How do I hate The Continentals? Let me count the ways! Seeing The Beatles, everyone wanted to be in a rock and roll band. Seeing The Continentals, absolutely no one wanted to. I hate their plaid shirts and their dorky haircuts. I hate the three guitarists’ half-assed dance steps, and that they’re palpably not enjoying doing them, bur rather find them embarrassing and onerous. Seeing The Continentals, young men of the era looked in the phone directory for the address of their nearest armed forces recruiting office.

I hate a big portion of the song being given over to Joseph Messina’s drum solo, as he sounds the sort who took lessons to supplement natural aptitude. (Do I sound jealous?) I would later hate Loggins & Messina, but that may not be Joseph’s fault. I particularly hate lead singer Ralph DiForio’s dancing. It isn’t that it’s bad, in the sense of arhythmic or uncoordinated. It’s just so…dorky, so joylessly — so…dutifully!…executed! Someone on YouTube — who almost certainly thinks Donald Trump a really good idea — has remarked that Ralph was as good as Michael Jackson!  And it bears mentioning that the 1961 Thunderbird was one of the ugliest cars on the road, this after having been epically cute in its original, mid-'50s two-seater incarnation. As rock and roll had gone, it seemed, so had gone the T-Bird!

Credit where due: our heroes anticipated the basslessness of such later giants as The Doors, The Young Rascals, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and The Cramps, but I suspect that was less an aesthetic decision than a function of none of the three guitarists being willing to reconcile himself to fewer, much thicker, strings. I suppose one could also assert that their three-guitar lineup inspired such post-Allman Southern guitar armies as Lynyrd Skynyrd, but why would he or she want to take a chance of encouraging these boys, even 56 years after the fact?

Between the likes of The Continentals and the accelerating Great Folk Scare, which saw clean-cut white college boys in matching short-sleeved…sport shirts crooning earnestly about dem old cotton fields back home, and Joan Baez warbling in her virtue-dripping soprano about, you know, injustice and shit, is it any wonder that I turned to the West Side Story soundtrack album? Oh, sure, I could have listened to Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, or John Coltrane and Miles Davis had I ever heard of them, but I had not, and in fact still haven’t.

[If you enjoyed the foregoing, and God knows you did, you will almost certainly like this too!]

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When Hate Speech Came to Ham

I posted this last week on a neighbourhood Website: 

The Greenwich council has declared the deceitful, indecent, inhumane, xenophobic monster Donald Trump persona non grata in their borough. I, an American in Ham, avidly urge my neighbours to petition their own councillors to do the same.

Many of my neighbours were not pleased, in a way that made clear that Americans might have an awful lot of it, but certainly have no monopoly on political naivete. And the Brits can't punctuate they just can't!

MS, Bushy Park 
You, and your like, pose a real threat to democracy. We should remember that not only was he  elected democratically but the very essence of the democratic process permits individuals to travel as they wish no matter how much we may personally disagree with their views.

The gentleman accuses ME of threatening democracy, and is not bothered by Trump's campaign to disenfranchise voters of colour, muzzle the free press, and elevate himself above the law at every turn? I won't pretend not to find that incomprehensible.

CS, East Twickenham
So agitating about him on this local forum now is simply virtue signalling- see how righteous I am!  Since we are all agreed that we don’t like him, there’s no reason to keep going on about him. As my old mum used to say, if you can’t find anything good to say about someone, much better to say nothing at all.

RK, Canbury Gardens 
He should come and we should have a dialogue with him. He does some good things and many bad but banning him isn't the answer. We should have discussions

AL, Latchmere 
John Mendelssohn must be barred from this website. His vile, unsubstantiated abuse of the President of just about our only ally is actionable in law and has no place on this forum.

DS, Teddington Park
Freedom of expression is great, until someone calls you a "deceitful, indecent, inhumane, xenophobic monster". There are limits, and in a country that calls itself civilised we should be able to see that.

With which part of deceitful, indecent, inhumane, xenophobic monster did you disagree, Mr. S? I'll concede that "monster" involves some editorialising, but the rest of it is abundantly documentable. 

Mr Mendelssohn there is a post from earlier that suggests American nationals should go back to America and protest in person, i've seen people take offence and call the police for less. I merely asked people to respect other peoples opinions as we are all entitled to have them. Freedom of speech welcome, no policing here.

We diverge on this, Ms. or Mr. Police. This is The Idea That Poisoned America, and that led to Trump's election:  My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge, and just as deserving of deference.  I do not automatically accord respect to anyone simply on the basis of his or her ability to type words into a little box. As for people taking offence, as the great British sage Ricky Gervais has pointed out, the fact of one's being offended doesn't make him or her right, but only offended.

PG, Petersham
Enough, John Mendelssohn. Your bile filled language is bordering on hate speech and your thoughts on "subliterate idiots" as opposed to "distinguished members of political science faculties" is one step away from the herrenvolk concept.

Nope. Hate speech is that directed at an ethnic, sexual, or other minority on the basis of an involuntary characteristic, like skin colour or erotic preference. That said, I do indeed hate the defiantly stupid — people whose credo is "My ignorance is just as good as your wisdom". Such people elected Donald Trump, the most ghastly political leader in the history of Western democracy. But they're not the only ones I hate. I also hate racists, homophobes, Pink Floyd (a free lunch at Gregg's to anyone who gets the joke), violent religious fundamentalists, misogynists, litterers, and those who park so sloppily as to occupy two spaces. And I submit to you that the foregoing sentence did NOT constitute hate speech.

People feeling that their ignorance should be given exactly as much credence/respect as someone else's expertise is what got us in the ghastly pickle we're in, with a dangerous moron in the White House. That's actually one of the things I can't fathom about democracy — that the subliterate idiot with a [Sarah] Palin for President 2012 on the back of his pickup truck and an eighth-grade education gets the same number of votes as the most distinguished member of the political science department at Harvard (or Cambridge, or Oxford, for that matter). As for the ludicrous statement that Trump has done some good — like what, I wonder, tossing rolls of paper towels to Puerto Ricans who'd lost their homes? — I continue to believe that those who spew utter nonsense do NOT have an automatic right to respect.

DC, Petersham
So let me get this straight, Mr Mendelssohn. You're suggesting that only a privileged group (from Harvard or even Oxford or Cambridge) get the vote, while others ("who spew utter nonsense" ) are denied it?

This seems somewhat discriminatory and turns respect for others into a travesty don't you think?  But while you're on your soapbox and we're on the subject of discriminating according to education, do you have any other groups who aren't quite good enough for your world?  Perhaps some gender, religious, ethnic, socio-economic, disabled groups too?  What about cyclists?  Pet owners?  How about Catholics? Why reserve your vitriol and wish to limit the vote and respect based only on education?

John Mendelssohn 
I am turning respect for others into a travesty by objecting to the idea that someone defiantly stupid and uninformed deserves equal footing with one who has troubled himself or herself to understand the issues? You may wish to note that when I speak of education, I'm not speaking necessarily of formal education. I have known some products of Prestigious Universities whose opinions I respected far less than that of other friends who did a lot of attentive reading and listening. And now you've got me depriving disabled Catholic pet owners of their rights! Has anyone ever told you you don't do sarcasm very well, and ought to look for a different hobby, Mr. Craig?

DC, Petersham 
Sticks and stones, Mr Mendelssohn. I'm sure disabled Catholic pet-owners and others will rest easy now they have your imprimatur. A pity about the irredeemably stupid and Pink Floyd fans though. Where should  the restaurant bill be sent?

You could send it to my office, Mr. Craig, not that you seem to have understood the joke. But seriously, can you outline your objections to my idea that the vote should be restricted to those able to pass a simple civics test? [Which of these was NOT a UK Prime Minister: (a) David Cameron (b) Gordon Brown (c) David Beckham (d) Margaret Thatcher.] One must pass tests to become a citizen, or to drive. Why not to help decide who's going to make decisions that impact the lives of tens of millions of people? 

In my country in 2016, something like 65 million people heard a presidential candidate declare, for instance, "I know how to deal with Isis: we'll bomb the sh*t out of'em!" and thought to themselves, "Hey, this guy's pretty terrific!" He said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, so what we'll do to keep 'em out of our country a great big wall!" and the cousin-marriers thought, "This guy's making a world of sense! Where's my polling place at?" And you're asserting that such people should help determine whose finger gets put on the nuclear button? I'm sorry, but I SO disagree. 

I have never met a disabled Catholic pet owner I didn't like, and don't actually have an office.

MSJ, Ham
It’s all a load of stuff and nonsense if he comes he comes if you don’t like it don’t go

Beautifully expressed, madam. I guess I'd just lost sight of how simple the situation is when viewed with the clarity you have brought to it.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Heartwarming Tale for the Last Day of the Year

In any group of males, it’s never the smallest and weakest most cruelly bullied, but one whose size would suggest he need never stand for such treatment. Wasted size offends smaller males, and makes them vicious. Such was the case at Frederick Douglass High School in Napierville, Illinois, where freshman Brandon G—, already 6-1 three months after his 15th birthday, couldn’t walk between classes without being loudly ridiculed on good days, and, on bad ones, ridiculed, slapped, and even spat on. 

His most avid tormentor, Jalen D—, wasn’t quite 5-2, and skinny, but the son of an alcoholic father who’d insisted early on that Jalen learned to defend himself, and sent him to boxing lessons. Jalen didn’t stop with self-defence, but discovered that lots of boys reflexively submitted to a classmate who seemed to carry a big enough chip on his shoulder. There was a girl Jalen hoped to impress — Ashlei, who sat two rows away from him in homeroom. He’d commonly try to impress her, or at least make her laugh, by hassling Brandon in the corridor. “Make way,” he’d announce loudly, “for The Big Dickwad.” When that stopped amusing Ashlei, he took to trying to trip Brandon, or slapping him. At his urging, Ashlei began filming a highlight reel of Jalen’s daily humiliation of Brandon. Seeing him slapping the much bigger boy around gave her much more pleasure than seeing Stepdad slap her mom around. 

One Wednesday lunchtime, though happend that no one — including Brandon himself — expected. Just as he was about to burst into tears, something in Brandon snapped. He grabbed Jalen, lifted him horizontally to chest level, and hurled him to the ground — spiking him, in football parlance — eliciting a mass gasp from those watching. Brandon looked amazed by what he’d done, and terrified that Jalen might get up and come after him, but Jalen was going nowhere. Lying at Brandon’s feet, he seemed amazed by how much pain he was in. “Awesome!” one of the onlookers observed, on the mutual behalf. 

That afternoon, Ashlei put her little video of the encounter on line, entitling it Awesome Body Slam. When she got back on line after dinner, she discovered that 32,452 people had already watched it. By the time she went to bed, half a million people had done so. 

Jalen seemed to have lost all feeling below the waist. His father’s lawyer was seen on the local news promising to win millions of dollars in a lawsuit against Brandon’s parents and the school district. Douglass’s wrestling coach tried in vain to persuade Brandon to try out for the team. The jocks tried to get him to eat with them at what the not-cool kids sarcastically called The Table of Heroes in the school cafeteria. He refused the coach and very warily accepted the jocks' invitation. He was afraid that some of them might resent his new fame — within a week, over two million had viewed Ashlei’s video — and try to test him. He wasn’t at all sure he could be that brave again.

He was invited onto local television shows, whose hosts acted as though he hadn’t been overcome by anger long enough to stick up for himself, but cured cancer. Literary agents sure they could get him a book deal kept calling his parents during dinner. Of the 329 comments on Ashlei’s video, 322 were positive. Brandon couldn’t have been more embarrassed. Ashlei sent him a text message asking if he wanted to hang out. 

As the physical therapists tried at length to restore his ability to walk, unsuccessfully, Jalen had a lot of time to think about what had happened. It occurred to him that if he’d continued on the path he’d  been on, he’d be his dad one day — someone everyone feared, but no one loved. He decided to try to make up for having been a vicious little shit by doing good stuff, like tutoring younger kids, and helping those newly immigrated to America with their English. He decided to stop pretending, for fear of other kids resenting him, that he wasn’t bright. He was actually exceptionally bright.

Brandon, meanwhile, tried in vain to make sense of having been embraced by those who’d always most fiercely disdained him. When the star of the basketball team pointed out that he needed to do some bullying if he were to maintain his place at the table, Brandon wasn’t sure if the guy was kidding, but decided not to take a chance. The great thing was that, having paralysed Jaden, he didn’t actually have to do any fighting. Everyone backed down. It felt to him like payback for all the years he’d been picked on so mercilessly. He was dreaded  by the sort of ordinary shy kid he himself had been until so recently, but felt that at any moment he might turn back into such a kid himself. 

He began drinking — a lot. One day in the 11th grade, he came to Spanish class drunk, and the teacher noticed, and embarrassed him in front of everyone. Brandon's asking if the teacher would like his fucking nose broken impressed many of his classmates, but also got him expelled from school. Jalen was their class’s valedictorian.

Chronological adulthood arrived. Brandon had grown to 6-4. Intent on never again looking like anyone might dream of bullying, he spent every spare minute at the gym. No matter how buffed he became, though, what he saw when he looked in the mirror was the shy, pudgy outcast who as a teenager had been routinely humiliated by cruel classmates. At the urging of one of the gym’s other obsessives, he began taking testosterone supplements. He and Other took to going out drinking, but their greater interest was in intimidating other men. Other tried one night to steal the wrong guy’s — an up-and-coming welterweight boxer — girlfriend, was thoroughly humiliated, and hanged himself the next morning. Brandon had never felt so alone. 

Jalen got his teaching credential, and was hired to teach special needs kids in Schaumburg. His kids loved him. Their parents loved him. His fellow teachers loved him. He wrote Brandon an email apologising for having tormented him, and received no response. He married a speech therapist. They seemed to adore each other,  Jalen’s sexual limitations notwithstanding. 

Brandon had a relationship of his own, with a waitress at the chain coffee shop where he got a job as a line cook. He hated her for loving him — couldn’t she see who he was inside, under the bulging muscles? — and slapped her around when drunk. He was very often drunk.  His hating himself for his slapping her around made him drink more, which in turn made him more likely to slap her around He’d found another source for his testosterone supplements. He re-read Jalen’s email a hundred times, and was furious to know that Jalen is so happy. 

Where was the fairness?

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Rugged Outdoorsman's Generous Endowment

I am often fanciful here. I will, just for the fun of it, suggest that Katy Perry bore Bruce Springsteen’s love child, or that Bruce Springsteen is one of South Africa’s most notable musical exports. But I am not being fanciful when I tell you that Annie Liebowitz, later America’s  most famous photographer of celebrities, once implored me to pose naked for her. I decided not to in the end, for the same reason many fellows would not — I was worried that I might be seen as stingily endowed. 

I discovered later in life that I am in fact very generously endowed, and cannot blame on the hardware that the post-coital remark I have heard most often in my life has been “Well, that was pretty disappointing”. It’s more a software problem. I may not be imaginative enough, or empathetic enough, or, as I’ve become fond of saying the past several weeks, enough enough. After all these years, it may be I have no idea what I’m doing. 

But we’re getting distracted. It was my worry about being inadequately endowed that made my skinnydipping with W— and C— and W—’s fat, neurotic male roommate in Tuna Canyon all those years ago all the more remarkable. 

You’ll need some background. W— was my pal, and C— his girlfriend. I lusted after C— in my heart, but knew I had no chance with her, as she preferred younger, very pretty men. (She and I were 22, and W— 21, and absurdly pretty.) A few months before, she and he and I had driven up to San Francisco together in my VW microbus, on LSD. Leave it to me to drop acid for the first time on Highway 1 north of San Simeon, where it gets twisty-turnier than any road anywhere in the world! While I concentrated hard on preventing our plunging into the frigid Pacific far below, C—, in the back, teased W—’s hair.  For hours. For literal hours.

But back to Tuna Canyon. The four of us discovered a little waterfall, with a pool at its base. For the reasons outlined above, I wouldn’t normally have removed all my clothing and leapt in, but we’d all taken mescaline, and I didn’t want to appear unfree, uncool, or unhip. Splash! Wouldn’t you know it, though? Not two minutes after the three of us had begun cavorting naked in nature, we realised two grizzled outdoorsmen straight out of Deliverance were looming over us, leering at C—’s wonderful firm 22-year-old breasts. It occurred to me they might slash my, W—’s, and Roommate’s throats and rape C—, so I leapt out of the pool, yanked my clothes back on without even drying off first, and tried to strike up a conversation with our visitors, who were by now licking their lips. 

But then a large wild, malevolent-looking rodent of some sort materialised at my feet, and I thought maybe The Lord Thy God had sent him to help me demonstrate to our prospective assailants that I, like them, was a nature-loving outdoorsperson. As our would-be assailants readied their crossbows, I gave Mr. Rodent an affectionate little pat on the head, which he reciprocated by taking a bite out of my finger. Our two prospective assailants looked at each other, apparently agreed without speaking that I was crazy, and disappeared quickly into the foliage, or whatever we rugged outdoors types call it. I went to the emergency hospital in Santa Monica and got my finger stitched up, and a tetanus shot. C—’s chasteness was uncompromised, as two were my, W—’s, and Roomate’s throats. 

Years later, I attended the debut performance of Bob Marley & The Wailers at the Roxy Theatre. I was enchanted by the sight of a waitress with bleached blonde hair, and passed her a note suggesting we become an item. She turned out to be C–. We did indeed become an item, for around 24 hours, after which she reverted to favouring very young, very pretty men.

Some gratitude.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

What's In a (Band) Name?

How many times a day on Facebook do you encounter the comment “That would be a great band name”? I encounter it entirely too often!

Like fashion, band naming conventions are cyclical. When The Beatles first came along, bands were commonly called [Lead Singer] & The {Nouns]. The idea was that a name that took 30 seconds to say bestowed an air of gravitas. A group that advertised in the Santa Monica pawnshop turned music store in which I used to hang around waiting to be discovered called itself Only Alternative & The Other Possibilities. I audtioned for them without success, but that was just fine, as the only good thing about them was their name. But then, a decade later, bands realised that shorter names tended to be put on marquees in larger letters, and instead of Paul Rodgers & The Middlesborough Mangetouts, say, you had…Free. Then The Lovin’ Spoonful and Jefferson Airplane made the world safe for non-plural names, and the whole world went mad, as witness Sixpence None the Richer. 

I think the worst name in pop music history was that of the group to which Bjorn Ulvaeus belonged before Abba — The Hootenanny Singers. On the other hand, behold the sublime genius of The Swinging Johnsons. The best album title in the history of recorded music is of course Joe Walsh’s sublime You Bought It, You Name It.

In Los Angeles just a few years back, I was in a group provisionally called Thee [a wee homage to East LA’s Thee Midniters] Vexations. –Tions names evoke Motown for me, as I think they did for Elvis Costello when he named his little band The Attractions. I’d wanted The Well Hungarians, but discovered that there was already a band with that name. Singer Richard Steven Black, the best male singer in LA, and a supremely nice guy, suggested we change it to Caviar On a Ritz, but then he left the band, and I wanted to call the revamped version The Romanovs because I thought it sounded cool, and because the girl singer was a Russki. The bass player, whom I was fast becoming less and less able to stand, fervently objected because Vladimir Putin is Russian, and homophobic, so the name was sure, in his mind, to offend any gay prospective fans. Behold what I had to contend with! I can't work in these conditions!

I moved back to the UK again, thinking the band I was going to have with my spouse would call itself Zelda & The Deathgrips, a name she’d devised in 1977 for a punk band she’d never got around to actually forming. (My own idea for a punk band, which I used in an unproduced screenplay, was The American Lesions.)  But wouldn’t you know it? There was a hip hop group back in Oakland, California, called The Deathgrips. I decided instead on The Freudian Sluts. For years, I’d amused myself, whenever anyone, uh, misspoke, by declaring, “Freudian slut. No! Slip!” I thought it so wonderful and hilarious and original that I didn’t bother to look on YouTube, on which I was later horrified to discover that someone had beaten me to the punch. I didn’t tell the rest of the band for fear of appearing a numbskull..

I believe the best band name I ever came up with — one I bestowed in 2005 on my recording project with the celebrated Essex (UK) jazz singer Debbie Clarke, was Do Re Mi Fa(Cough). My inspiration was my discovery that Johnny Rotten had written The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant because he wanted to hear himself shouting, “Cunt!” (“We’re so pretty, oh, so pretty va-CUNT!”) on the radio.

I envision a day when corporate sponsorship will come to band-naming, and big corporations will sign up promising bands called, for instance, Samsung Presents Johnny Finite & The Denouments, as I intend to entitle my next project, even though I’m pretty sure everyone will pronounce it “denim mints”. But that’s fine, of course, because it will enable me to feel superior, in a sort of shallow, pathetic way. Having spelled Ulvaeus correctly without checking makes me feel pretty darned terrific about myself too.

[Don't miss the Samsung Presents Johnny Finite & The Denouements single, soon to be recalled] Swinestein. And FFS buy some of my books, please.]

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Voice, Talking Dirty

Having moved from Los Angeles up to Sonoma County with First Wife and our infant daughter, I did the responsible thing, and got a wage-slave job processing words at a big horrible law firm in San Francisco. I’d been heartened to discover they had what they called the Environmental Group, only to learn it was in the business of defending Chevron Oil against the Sierra Club and similar plaintiffs. I was surrounded by gay male fellow “support staff” who disliked me for not being gay, and by overweight female support staff who disliked me for wondering why they bothered drinking Diet Coke, rather than the ordinary sort, when they went through whole boxes of chocolates over the course of an afternoon. The attorneys hated me for hating them — for being, in most cases, arrogant little twerps who couldn’t write grammatical English and who adored the Grateful Dead. 

I’d gotten the job by guile, passing the test on the IBM Stylewriter by finding on the floppy disk they gave me the test of someone who’d actually known something about the IBM Stylewriter, and copying it. I seemed not to be the first who’d had that idea. Reviewing what I pretended to have done, the examiner scratched his head and marvelled at how many people had been unable to complete one particular task. I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Or, for that matter, crying.

The firm had offices in three buildings in a miserable, windy, gloomy corner of the Financial District. Many afternoons on the 21st floor I would think that either I or one of my little twerp attorney tormentors would go out the window by afternoon's end.

I found solace where I could. One source of delight was the voice of one of the telephone operators who would page people over the firm intercom broadcast in all three buidlngs. |Her voice was pure carnality, a Lili St. Cyr advertisement in the back of a second-tier men’s magazine made sound — a contralto purr that combined what sounded to me like disdain with…well, lust.  ”Will Mr. Carmichael please phone his secretary?” she would purr, and what I would hear was “Do you honestly imagine you’re man enough for me, darling?” She made Kathleen Turner, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, sound like Lisa Simpson. I’ve always found haughty women sexy. 

My marriage collapsed. I moved to The City. 

I learned The Voice’s owner was named N—. I contrived to meet her, and I did. I phoned the operators’ room and asked if she might be kind enough to record an answering machine message for me. She sounded flattered. 

There wasn’t a woman on earth who could have lived up to her voice, and N— didn’t. And she was ancient — in her mid-40s, probably, and I not yet out of my thirties, and still getting stopped in airports and asked for autographs by people certain I must be a rock star they couldn’t quite place. But that voice! I imagined us…getting intimate (have you ever noticed there’s no really good middle ground between “fucking” and “making love”?), and her purring into my ear, “Oh, God, darling! Fill me!” I ascertained she lived in Sonoma County too, and told her that on Sunday evenings I customarily drove past her neighborhood after driving my little girl back to her mother’s home. I hoped she’d invite me over. 

She invited me over.

I’d been without a woman for a couple of months, and N—‘s was the sexiest voice in the history of speech. Entering her apartment, though, I realised that some of the irresistible huskiness of The Voice was a result of N—’s chainsmoking. Her place reeked of cigarettes, but not as badly as it reeked of cats. Every surface was half an inch thick in cat hair.  I was nonetheless able to make out that she had perfectly dreadful taste. Not even the promise of The Voice talking dirty into my ear was enough to keep me there. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mutt and Shania Was Sweethearts

During my and Dame Zelda's recent visit to Malta, we chatted with a local about the music scene on her little island. So far as she knew, Malta had never produced a notable rock or pop star, though Nathan B—, who auditioned for the Freudian Sluts in the spring of 2016, and who would have had the job but for the fervent objections of our very straight bass player, who found him too theatrical. And in fairness, it was Nathan’s grandparents who were from Malta. He himself had been brought up in Gibraltar, and performed prenatally at John ’n’ Yoko’s wedding. Gibraltar has itself produced the celebrated songwriter Albert Hammond, of "t Never Rains in Southern California" fame, and the father of one of The Strokes, whose appeal I was never able to ascertain. I mean, I’m not stupid. I know that a certain kind of music fan becomes putty in the hands of any young rock musician in Converse high-tops. I used to have a pair of my own — red ones — but I can’t recall anyone ever having been putty in my hands. I’ve had to work like a slave to achieve the lofty level of acclaim I enjoy today!

Many African countries are tied with Malta for number of rock and pop stars produced, but South Africa isn’t one of them, having given us Manfred Mann, the producer Mickey Most, and several others with non-alliterative initials, like the famous producer and jilter of Shania Twain Mutt Lange, Stonking Novels guitarist Darryll du Toit, and Bruce Springsteen. 

Mention of the latter makes me think of what I call the high tide effect, whereby when one artist emerges from a particular place, or with a particular style, there’s invariably a huge rush to sign others who look or sound like him, her, or them, or come from the same place. When The Beatles hit. the only musicians in Liverpool who weren’t signed to ghastly exploitative management and record deals were those who hid in their parents’ attics, or disguised themselves as Osama bin Laden. When Bruce Springsteen burst out of Johannesburg in 1975, every gruff-voiced guitar player who’d ever worked a shitty factory job, or was the son or nephew of someone who had, got signed. After The Sex Pistols, anyone who could feign uncouthness and the inability to play a musical instrument was given truckloads of money. After Nirvana, all you had to do was not use conditioner, own a ratty flannel shirt, and sing as though newly returned from a dental appointment that required much novocain. The funny (not LOL funny, mind you, but peculiar) thing being that, with the exception of Pearl Jam, the high tide acts have invariably wound up losing money.

But none of that is what I have been burning to disucss with you. In my life-changingly hilarious satire of the music business, Who Is Keri Fetherwaite?, Keri, who’s sort of a cross between Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson,, but without any discernible talent — except the ability to project fragility in a way that enchants audiences — is booked, along with a Justin Bieber doppelganger, to perform on a big TV special called We Remember Martin, as in Dr. King. Remembering that last night, I laughed aloud, and wondered why my book has to date sold fewer than 1000 copies.When I wrote it, I had envisioned it being as popular as Harry Potter. I envisioned bookstores opening at midnight to sell it to the hundreds who’d been camping for days outside in spite of the cold and lack of hygienic facilities. I pictured doing book signings at which I had to sign so many books that I got writer’s cramp, which turned, inexorably, into writer’s block. 

Oh, the cruel irony. The public’s fervent love of my writing had rendered me unable to do more of it. I don't suppose I need to tell you  that most mimed-to song in every drag bar in the world the past 15 years has been Shania's "I Feel Like a Woman," but my own preference has always been for Mark.