Thursday, October 19, 2017

London Under Sharia Law

As an American expatriate, I am very often asked what it’s like living in London, under
the Muslim mayor Shadiq Khan, whose first action after taking office was to declare sharia
law. The short answer is that it has its ups, and its downs too. Where once the miniskirted
dolly birds of London were celebrated in every magazine (except some the stuffier financial
and scientific ones) and on every early-evening television newsmagazine, it quickly became
rare after Mr. Khan’s coronation to glimpse so much as a female ankle, as local women
took to dressing no longer to inspire the lustful thoughts of men (and, to be fair, some
lesbians). The most one can reasonably hope for in the London of 2017 is an occasional
glimpse of wrist. No fewer than three new “lads’ mags” specialising in wrists have appeared
on the newsstands since Boris Johnson evacuated the mayor’s office.

Poundland and its archrival The 99p Store now gives away packages of disposable razors with any purchase, as men, forbidden to shave, no longer buy them. With characteristic resiliency and the panache that had once made Carnaby Street the centre of the universe, male Londoners havedeveloped the bewhiskered, flannel-shirted style called lumbersexual, though not in the hearing of Mayor Khan’s omnipresent thought police, recognisable from their MKOTP logo baseball caps. On the BBC television programme Dragons Den, on
which entrepreneurs try to get snooty tycoons to bankroll their ideas for businesses, a hundred hirsute boyos have introduced shampoos and conditioners formulated specifically for facial hair. The musical group Mumford & Sons introduced the lumbersexual look to the whole world, which, prudently, almost unanimously spurned it, except in a few craft breweries and determinedly old-fashioned (vinyl) record shops in Brooklyn, LA’s Silverlake,
and Portland, Oregon.

.As you might imagine, Mayor Khan’s ban on alcohol hit the city’s publicans and
sommeliers hard, and alcoholism, heretofore ranked third among Londoners’ favouriterecreations (just behind defiantly refusing to queue for buses and trains anymore, and refusing to pronounce foreign place names properly, but ahead of football, alcoholism denial, and football hooliganism), fell out of the Top 5 for the first time since 1931, though alcoholism denial strangely hasn’t relinquished its hold on the public fancy. A great many pubs have been converted to mini-mosques, though few have troubled themselves to amend their signage. A recent article in the weekly lifestyle supplement of the Telegraph amusingly compiled a list of the most incongruously named mini-mosques. The Goose & Syringe, in Wandsworth, a favourite meeting-place of foie gras producers, topped the list.

Though publicans and so on have of course been very vocal in their disgruntlement, they are
in fact considerably more gruntled than those formerly in the business of selling Prophet
Mohammed-branded merchandise — coffee mugs, key rings, fridge magnets — in the
popular-with-tourists West End. A great many of these latter businesses have been taken
over by the big retail names that clog every high street, mall, and airport. Exactly what
London needed, in view of the woeful paucity of soulless boutiques selling identically
boring, hideous clothing!

That which nearly all Londoners love about sharia is the public beheadings and stonings in
Leicester Square every Saturday afternoon. In a city in which tickets to the latest
Hollywood sequel or prequel can cost £20 (around $25 in real money), free entertainment
is avidly cherished, though of course there are nay-sayers who deplore the high cost (£7) of
the halal popcorn on offer at these events. Some who have tried sneaking their own nonhalal
refreshments in have been beaten so badly with sticks as to be unidentifiable except via

their dental records. Sharia is cruel, but fair.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dressing as the Pope

Dame Zelda, the Englishwoman to whom I am presently married, is an implacable entrepreneur whose latest brainstorm is to exploit her ordination by the Universal Life Church by conducting wedding and funeral services for dogs. I’m pretty sure that, for the right price, she would be happy to conduct them for cats, amphibians, the odd reptile, and even fish. The British are standoffish with each other, but are effusively affectionate with their goldfish. It can be unnerving to observe. 


In any event, Dame Zelda has designed a lavish Website for which she now wants me to take a photograph of her looking ecclesiastical. She has bought herself what might, in a dim light, be mistaken for a prayer shawl, and a clergy collar. But I am urging her to go farther, and to dress as The Pope, with a pallium, a chasuble, and of course a triregnum, the coolest hat in the history of headwear. I am pretty sure she’ll be cute as a button with a papal ferula, the staff topped by a crucifix, though she’s sure to worry that her clients perceive her as taking the piss (that is, mocking Catholicism). I won’t even suggest a Sedia gestatoria, the portable throne carried by a dozen footmen (palafrenieri) in red uniforms, accompanied by two attendants bearing large ceremonial fans made of white ostrich feathers. She’s far too avid an animal rights person for that. 

Few know that when I resided in Santa Rosa, California, in the mid-1980s, I owned what at one point was northern California's No. 1 papal supplies store. I originally called it Johnny’s Fashion, but my first wife, who believed herself to have a natural flair for branding, thought that too generic, and suggested Moda Vaticana, which she believed sufficiently upscale to attract the deep-pocketed fashionisto that every boutique owner wants as a customer. She was wrong about many things in our marriage, but right about this one. 

Most people are oblivious to how popular heterosexual crossdressing has become in the past 50 years. The singer Marvin Gaye’s father was an avid crossdresser, as too are former vice president Dick Cheney, RuPaul, and present Secretary of Defense “Mad Dog” Mattis, whose legs are said to leave Christina Aguilera’s in the shade. But if heterosexual crossdressing was popular up in Sonoma County, it couldn’t have been half as popular as dressing as The Pope. There was one summer in which I had to hire members of the Sonoma State University varsity wrestling team as bouncers to keep my shop becoming too crowded for fellows to get their credit cards out. They up from as far south as San José to buy Rings of the Fisherman, and from as far east as Nevada. I couldn’t keep mozzetta capes that cover the shoulders and are worn over rochets or cottas as part of choir dress in stock.

Fashion is fickle, of course, and by the end of the second millennium, most of my customers had tired of the papal look, and were wearing the preposterously ill-fitting canvas and denim fashions prevalent in the hip hop of the era. Having far more than they could hope to sell, the charity shops of Sonoma County took to declining contributions of triregnums, though some of the area’s teenaged smart alecs began turning up at school with papal ferulas. 

First Wife got my shop as part of our divorce settlement, but not even her natural flair for branding could save it. According to Google Maps, there is now a Subway sandwich shop where Moda Vaticana once stood. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why I Hate Women

I may be the only person you know (or, in many cases, don’t know) who can, at a party, recite the names of 23 singers and groups of singers who have recorded songs called Evil Woman. In every one of them, the referenced woman has caused the singer everything from humiliation to financial ruin. The blame is always hers alone. Typically, she should have known her beauty was such that it would inspire him to behave foolishly. I think shy teenaged boys make up most of the market for such songs. It comforts them to believe they’re getting nowhere with the classmates and neighbours after whom they lust because of said classmates’ and neighbours’ innate depravity. 

I spent the first part of my life being ravaged by female indifference. When I was in 3rd grade, I was secretly in love with a classmate called Jan Richter, but she didn’t know I was alive, and I was of course too shy to tell her. She wore poodle skirts — tres chic at the time — with incomparable panache, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life caring for her, providing for her. When my class went on a field trip, the teacher paired her with another boy — pairs of us were supposed to hold onto each other so that no one would wander off and the teacher would be fired, or even prosecuted for criminal negligence — and I thought to myself, “There but for fortune go I,” though not quite in those words. Some weeks after the field trip, Jan threw up in class, and there went my adoration. 

In sixth grade, it was Lynn Randolph after whom I lusted, but so did every other boy in Room 12, and she didn’t know I was alive. I wasn’t exactly the alpha male at Loyola Village School, though as a fifth grader I’d been named a Junior Helper, first preventing too many underclassmen (kindergarteners and first graders) from shoving into a particular boys’ lavatory at lunchtime, and later graduating to pushing the milk cart around at lunchtime, collecting five cents ($42.35 in today’s money) per little carton from thirsty fellow pupils. It was a fairly prestigious job, but Lynn wasn’t a milk-drinker, and seemed not even to notice, and I was of course too shy to point my accomplishment out to her. 

The half dozen sexiest teenage girls in the universe attended my junior high school. I had a fervent crush on Susan Pursell, who looked like Elizabeth Taylor, but I was too shy to make my intentions known, and by ninth grade she was being picked up after school by a high school boy with a car, to which I knew full well my bicycle had no hope of comparing. Three years later, Joy Ketner sat next to me in Civics, commonly in fuzzy sweaters. She would pick little bits of fuzz off her legs and then hold them into the aisle between us and drop them, and she might as well have been Sophia Loren in the iconic scene of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow  for the effect it had on me. I somehow worked up the nerve to ask her out. She turned out to have a boyfriend, with a car, at Santa Monica City College.  

I started college. I played in a band with Tot, a precocious 15-year-old guitarist from nearby University High School who’d already forgotten more about cool than I will ever learn. While I was stuck on The Beatles, he had already moved on to Paul Butterfield. He had long hair at a time when long hair got you suspended from school, and wore plaid trousers of the sort The Rolling Stones and Love had worn on recent album covers. He’d stolen them from Sy Amber, the Hollywood Blvd. gentlemen’s boutique at which Love had probably paid retail for theirs. 

He and his buddy Joel allowed me to accompany them to Hollywood one Saturday evening in the spring of my freshman year. Joel wasn’t happy about it, as I had no plaid trousers, and hair short enough for Air Force ROTC, in which I’d stupidly enrolled because I thought if I had to go to Viet Nam one day, it might be less awful if I went as an officer, rather than as a gentleman. I was the perfect nerd. The pair of them smoked marijuana, and giggled madly, and enticed a trio of girls with ironed hair to accompany us to the apartment of Tot’s dealer, who’d given him a key. On arriving, both of them began petting up a storm. The girl who’d chosen the short straw made clear that I wasn’t to get within three feet of her, and longed palpably for a time when she might be able to pretend to be preoccupied with her cell phone, though there were barely telephones at the time. She wasn’t exactly Claudia Cardinale herself, but what very little self-esteem I had at the time was nonetheless decimated. 

And you ask why I hate women?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Rock Stardom or the Wall of Brick

It didn’t work out having the woman to whom I am wed as the singer in The Freudian Sluts. Oh, did it not work out! I invited the fellow who’d been the singer on a side project to replace her, and he said he would, but then he said he wouldn’t. The stroke that had robbed him of the sight in one of his eyes had made it impossible for him to memorise lines in plays (he was mostly an actor) or lyrics, and even my saying he could have his lyrics on a music stand on stage didn’t help, as he didn’t think he’d remember how to phrase them. I became the group’s singer by default, but continued to advertise for someone much better.

And to receive virtually no replies. There were a fair number of responses to my ads, but when I would send links to our Website, there to watch videos and hear our songs, only one was ever heard from again, a fierce-eyed young Moldovan immigrant with a Paul Ryanesque widow’s peak who audition consisted of his growling along with an MP3 of The Thompson Twins’ Hold Me Now on his mobile phone, not impressively. 

I could certainly understand that we’re not everyone’s cup of tea. We’re not very jazzy, for instance, and a balls-out metalhead, dude, would undoubtedly find us insufficiently…rawk. Still, one audition in three months! When I’d formed The Pits in Los Angeles at the dawn of the punk era, if you put an ad for any kind of musician in The Recycler, your phone wouldn’t stop ringing for two years. My impression is that millennials don’t want to be in bands. They want to win a televised singing competition and become instantly rich and famous, or to be DJs, as its they who make the enormobucks, without having to be able to sing in tune, or to learn a lot of complicated chord positions on a fretboard.

Finally, in the fourth month of my being the reluctant lead singer, we got a fellow American expatriate, a 36-year-old MBA with a high-paying corporate PR day job that required her to wear uncomfortable shoes. She had a lovely understatedly soulful voice, but was able to rehearse at most three times a month. Worse, when we tried some recording together, she accused me of stifling her creativity. Having learned to dislike run-on sentences in Miss Marian Titangos’ junior high school English class, I asked her not to sing “and” at the end of every line. A skinny blonde woman with a nasal voice professed to like the songs, and seemed musical, but then announced that, as A Professional, she would rehearse only if paid. Oh, you betcha, Natali!

And then, finally, a breakthrough! The lovely and talented Susan P—, who lived north of north London, but had a car, and was willing to drive it long distances through Greater London traffic, seemed to like what the band was doing, and joined it. She sang beautifully, and didn’t hesitate to buy herself a sparkly red Jessica Rabbit gown to perform in when I suggested it, and was a pleasure to work with. But then, after a few months, she went through a painful romantic breakup, moved back to her native Midlands —  very far north of north London! — and pronounced herself available for no rehearsals, no recording sessions, and a maxiumum of one — count it! — performance per month. 

Back to gumtree.com, and to joinmyband.com. And to getting lots of completely inappropriate responses (as from persons who imagine that homemade videos of themselves rapping might fill me with enthusiasm) or persons from foreign countries. As I write this, I have now heard from four singers in eastern European countries who, apparently imagining the streets of London to be lined with gold, think The Freudian Sluts are going to fly them over to audition. 

We pause to note that it was exactly the same in Los Angeles in 2015. My band The Vexations (later The Romanovs) advertised for a singer, and got four responses.

A young Metropolitan Police constable with a beautiful voice responded to the ad. He provided a link to a video of him singing a Keane song, quite beautifully. He was also in a Led Zeppelin tribute band, in which he wore a chest-baring blouse and a curly blonde wig, so he was apparently versatile, and not easily embarrassed. After having watched our videos and listened to the music, he texted me, “I want to be part of this.” Which yearning persisted until around 35 minutes before we were to meet face-to-face. I began the 90 minutes’ bus-and-train journey an hour early to ensure that I showed up on time, and was sitting there in the pub he’d nominated, tapping my fingers on the table, when he texted to inform me that, on reflection, he found my songs “too dark” for his taste. It was kind of a nice change from people seeming not to note that, while many Freudian Sluts songs are upbeat and satirical, the majority, in one way or another, are about the myriad ways in which we hurt each other, or about my perpetual loneliness and despair. But I looked at the bright side. What fun I’d had travelling three hours back and forth for nothing!

It’s 14.00 as I write this. Up until a couple of hours  ago, I thought I was going to be meeting an actual Brit who'd sent me an MP3 of her performing A Natural Woman a cappella. Her intonation was far from impeccable, but her low voice had an appealing raspiness, and beggars can’t be choosers. But now she’s texted me that she’s decided she’s going to hold out for something more up-tempo and disco-y. 

Having an original band in London in the autumn of 2017, or standing six inches from a brick wall and trying to knock it down with my forehead. Decisions, decisions. 

Fats Domino Was Walkin', and So Am I

I walk about an hour a day because I can no longer run. I mean, I can run, but if I run too far I’m afraid of the high price I’ll pay in pain. I don’t have resilient joints (my right shoulder’s been replaced twice, and I’m losing my left hand), and my knees and ankles took a beating when I ran on the sidewalks of West Hollywood for eight years. Then, nine years ago last month, I was hit by an inattentive teen driver in Beacon, New York, and my left meniscus was ripped. My left knee’s never been the same. Most nights, even with walking instead of running, I’d be howling from the ache if Dame Zelda didn’t bring me a hot water bottle. 

The cultural centre of our quiet neighbourhood is the little parade of shops a couple of hundred metres to the south. There’s a pharmacy, and a newsagent’s/post office, and an off-licence (Californians would call it a liquor store), a Chinese takeaway place, a beauty parlour, an opium den, a German bakery, and a German deli. Many Germans have settled here because of the nearby German School. I was only joking about the opium, but one can dream, can’t he Sometimes, in clement weather, the village slag may be glimpsed sipping coffee, smoking, and contemplating her semiweekly change of hair colour, from blinding blonde to darkest black, outside the bakery. I have never bought so much as a pretzel from it, nor patronised the deli, nor conversed with the village slag, though I have watched her try to seduce a geezer on the 371 bus from Kingston.

Most of my walks begin with me heading east, toward central London. I walk past the field on which Queen’s Park Rangers develops young football talent, and on which the Richmond Reprobates baseball team has been known to practice, past a playground, and then through the path between two long brick walls featured in so many Freudian Sluts videos. I emerge in a big field popular with equestrians, and then, after traversing much grass, wind up on a wide dirt bridal path. On my left is the Ham Polo Club, the only polo facility in London. There are commonly matches on weekends, and I enjoy listening to the play-by-play announcer through the facility’s PA system. He reminds me of Chick Hearn, the brilliant Los Angeles Lakers announcer of yesteryear, though I’ve no clue what he’s on about. 

Finally i reach the comically narrow main road that links Richmond and Kingston, the mighty A307, and salute the Fox & Duck, on the opposite side of the road, with my middle fingers. (The proprietor’s daughter booked the Sluts to play there, cancelled on us when someone booked a birthday party on the night we’d been promised, and then never made good on her promise to give us a make-up night. I’ve been in there once, with Dame Zelda, to see a Bowie tribute band that pretty nearly deafened me.) 

Walking north on the mighty A307, which I suspect I could cross, given a running start, in four steps, I must remind myself not to be clumsy and to step off the pavement, as there are always buses coming, and there’s no margin of error whatever. (My telling myself not to be clumsy is sort of like the sun telling itself not to rise in the morning.) I do not turn left on to the footpath that would lead me to the Petersham Nurseries, whose stock in trade isn’t plants, but cuisine, and to which foodies from all over London flock eagerly on weekends. I ascend Star and Garter Hill as fast as my ancient legs will take me, for I am intent on getting my heart beating as fast as possible. I pass the spot on Richmond Hill where I encountered Pete Townshend a few months ago, admire JMW Turner’s view, as immortalised in a celebrated painting, and then descend down the hill depicted above, heading homeward at last, with the Thames on my right, and the beautiful Petersham Meadows on my left. The Thames is a tidal river, and sometimes the tow path is flooded. I bid Eel Pie Island, on which I think Pete used to have a studio, a mental howdy, and overhear many conversations, an alarming majority of them in Spanish. 


The other day, as I neared the car park in which I make the last left turn of my traipse, I espied a wonderful couple. The guy was around my own height — 1.85 metres — and his girlfriend a dwarf who literally came up to his waist. He was walking at probably a third his natural speed in concession to her steps being so much shorter than his own. 

True love, I thought. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Who Sang the Background Vocals on Whole Lotta Love?

In Led Zeppelin’s entire recorded canon, there is only one song in which Robert Plant’s voice is joined by others’. It is of course the group’s iconic breakthrough hit Whole Lotta Love, in which Plant suggests to the woman he’s addressing that she consider renewing her academic career, and promises that, if she does so, he will give her every inch of his love (all four and a half, according to a friend who claims to have enjoyed coitus with him in the mid-1970s). 

It is commonly assumed that Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John (Bongo) Bonham — rumoured at the time to be contemplating a CSN-style harmony album they would release as either The Three J’s, or as Jimmy Jonesy & John — did the supplementary singing on the song’s title line, but Mendel Illness has found out otherwise from the wife of the group’s late road manager, now a psychotherapist in New Zealand (the wife, you see, and not the late road manager, who is of course deceased). 

Smarting from the disparaging things i’d written about them in Rolling Stone and the Los Angeles Times, Page recruited an all-star cast of critics and critics’ darlings to do the referenced singing, including Greil Marcus, Janet Maslin, Matthew Sweet, Big Star, Tom Waits, and two members of The New York Dolls, David Johansen and Dag Hammarskjöld, later to become Secretary General of the United Nations. 

Johansen affected oafish nonmusicality with the Dolls, but in fact had a velvety Nat "King" Cole-ish baritone, and three years before had been a featured soloist in Staten Island High School’s much-praised choral group, The Concertaires. 

The rest is history! 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

You're Only as Old as People Think You Are

Autograph-requesters and first responders in restaurants and other public places very often ask me, “John, at an age by which most men have devoted themselves to worrying about their prostates, you are, as well as a prolific composer and implacable fitness enthusiast, an essayist and author, and America’s best loved expatriate heterosexual humourist. Why do you do it?”

I do it to give voice to the mute, strength to the feeble, and hope to the despairing. I do it, very simply, because I must, and all this while looking decades younger than my actual age. But don’t believe me as regards my preternatural youthfulness. Believe the countless dozens of perfect strangers, deeply flawed strangers, and passers-by whose impressions my insecurity has compelled me to solicit since my recent birthday.

Only yesterday, on a crowded Piccadilly Line train I’d boarded in Finsbury Park, a woman I didn’t know from Eve affirmed my youthfulness as we sped, glacially, toward Hammersmith. Smiling like the sun emerging from behind rainclouds, I asked how she was doing. She, of course, looked at me with a combination of incredulity and censure, for it is an unwritten law that no one speaks to anyone else on The Tube, unless previously acquainted. Londoners like to be left alone with their own thoughts and standoffishness. But I have only a small portion of one life left to live, and have no intention of living it in the abject loneliness toward which I am by nature propelled, and invariably greet my fellow passengers with great cordiality. On at least a few occasions I have even attempted, with varying degrees of succeess to get carriagefuls of commuters to join me in a cappella versions of If You’re Happy and You Know It, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and REM’s Losing My Religion

“Just fine,” she finally said, and then immediately returned, in a way that made clear she wished to be harassed no more, to her free copy of The Evening Standard

“Glad to hear it!” I exulted. “Would you mind my asking how old you’d guess me to be?”

She looked for help to our fellow passengers, all of whom, of course, pretended they didn’t know what was going on, as it was None of Their Business. 

“I wouldn’t, actually,” she aid, smiling hatefully, and returned to her Evening Standard

“I’ll give you a hint,” I said. “Almost everyone gets my age wrong by up to a couple of decades.”

“How lovely for you,” she said, eyes glued to that horrid celebrity gossip page without which the ES believes its readers would be inconsolable. 

“I attribute it to good genes,” I said, “weight-lifting, and a good diet.”

By now she was feigning deafness, but she certainly heard me — gals are so vain! — when I told her I’d guess her own age at between 31 and 33. (She was in fact probably pretty close to 50.) For a moment, her face lit up. “Well, a few years older than that, actually,” she said, managing to banish the delight from her face.

“Now it’s your turn,” I persisted as the train pulled into Caledonian Road station, which I remembered from the time in around 2003 that Dame Zelda and I alighted there en route to the London Fetish Fair. 

She glared at me. It didn’t work. I kept grinning. She sighed. “For fuck’s sake,” she said under her breath, and then, more loudly, “Sixty, maybe? Fifty-eight?”

“Most people guess a lot lower than that,” I said. “Some people guess as low as 45.”
Apparently intending to alight at Kings Cross/ St. Pancreas, probably the only railway station in the world named after an endocrine gland. she rose, gathered up her possessions, and left her Evening Standard on her seat. “Have it your way, mate,” she said. “Forty-five it is.”


Didn’t I tell you?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

You Can Tell It's Mattel: It's Swell!

I like to imagine I made a wonderful new friend yesterday, but nothing comes either cheap or easy for one of my accelerating decrepitude and iffy personality, and I had to travel far from leafy Ham to grim London EC2, to the environs of the Barbican Arts Centre, to accomplish the task. I suspect there isn’t a more charmless neighbourhood in all of Western Europe than that surrounding the BAC, in which there is no greenery, but much fervently hideous architecture — none, my new friend Anatoly (not his real name, but I’ll disclose it to those who send me $25 via Paypal) assures me, more ghastly than BAC’s brutalism, which he believes would have been right at home in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. 

You might have imagined they’d have opted for something rather more lighthearted in view of BAC’s having originally been called the Barbiken, and conceived as a celebration of the universally loved doll. But that didn’t sit well with the doll’s manufacturer, Mattel, whose solicitors bellowed, “Copyright infringement!” so shrilly that the Centre agreed to alter the spelling of its name. Mattel wasn’t pleased with the Barbi part remaining intact, but the Centre was able to convince the court that Barbican is a legitimate place name derived from the Low Latin word barbecana, meaning a fortified outpost or gateway over a gate or bridge. Mattel vengefully funded research that led to the development of heavy mattel music, as played by Black Sabbath, and, in the late 1980s, by mobs of Barbi-resembling young men in teased hair and immoderate eyeliner like Poison and Motley Crue. I regarded those as very dark days, little imagining how much darker they would be a decade and a half into the new millennium. 

Wishing to distance itself from a company whose iconic play figure inspired those who played with it to aspire to unattainable slenderness and vacuity, Black Sabbath changed the spelling of mattel to metal, and never looked back, except when its lead singer’s substance abuse problems compelled them to conscript a succession of surrogates lacking his weird slob charisma.

But on to Anatoly, with whom I’d exchanged messages on Facebook for some months, but never met face to face. We shared both fierce disdain for Donald J. Trump, whose closest friends call him Deeje, though he has no close friends, and affection for certain music artists. A former local hero in his native Detroit, and more recently a participant in multiple musical alliances in Boston — and in London to perform with Magnetic Fields — he had seemed at one point to like some lyrics I’d sent him to set to music, though I am of course perfectly capable of composing my own. 

In person, I liked him from Moment 1. I have a great many acquaintances who are quite happy to talk about themselves ’til the cows come home, and to whom it never occurs to demonstrate reciprocal interest, but Anatoly listened attentively, and there were oceans of kindness in his eyes. We talked about everything from our mutual susceptibility to depression to basketball to our common aversion to the bogus Dust Bowl twang with which Bruce Springsteen sings if you put an acoustic guitar in his hands. He told me about a beautiful woman he’d glimpsed at a swinging nitespot in Liverpool only days before, but didn’t chat up because her false eyelashes and stylishly emphatic eyebrows suggested impenetrable vacuity. 

He got my jokes. I got his. I headed back to the Tube station feeling enriched. 


Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Beatles of Ham

Ham is a quiet (because nearly commerce-less) neck of the woods between Richmond-on-Thames, to the north and Kingston-on-Thames, to the south. The Yardbirds came from Kingston. On an autumn morning, one is apt to glimpse Mick Jagger or Pete Townshend mowing his front lawn in Richmond, at whose Crawdaddy Club, right across from the train station, The Rolling Stones first caused a stir. The noted karaoke singer Dame Zelda and I have resided in a tiny semi-detached house just across from the Ham Lands (a wild area under which World War II rubble is buried) off and on since 2005. 

By virtue of my membership in hugely popular The Freudian Sluts, purveyors of the SWinging new sound of SW London, I have taken over from the local slag — a stout, brazenly common, chainsmoking woman of around 50 whose Bardot-ish updo is apt to go from raven black to blonde, and then back, twice during any given week, as Ham’s No. 1 celebrity. But being The Beatles of Ham hasn’t been entirely enjoyable. 

Having grown accustomed to being mobbed when I alight from the 371 bus at Mariner Gardens, I have taken to getting off at either Ashburnham Road, 500 metres to the east, or at Lock Road, 350 metres to the south, which in both cases means a considerably longer walk home, which can be onerous if, for instance, I have bought a four-pak of sparkling water at the Aldi in Kingston. 

On the towpath parallel to that section of the Thames a couple of hundred metres from our little house, I am commonly besieged by autograph-seekers and persons who enjoy taking selfies with the glamorous and renowned while trying to derive comfort from the ducks and flowing water and foliage and so on. After having yearned for fame for countless decades — it was always my hunch that the adoration of strangers would make me feel less desolate inside — I am loath to turn such persons away, but sometimes I get writer’s cramp, and the aerobic benefits of my daily constitutional are woefully attenuated by the endless stopping and starting. 

The same sort of thing happens when I suddenly find myself craving some spring onions, say, and traipse over to the local Tesco Micro, the cultural hub of the ‘hood. To the average customer, the self-checkout machines will say no more than, “Thank you for shopping at Tesco,” or even, “Please place your item in the bagging area,” but they get very much more voluble on hearing me thinking in my cute American accent. and will get unnervingly fawning, gasping, “Wow, you have no idea what a thrill it is to accept payment, in the form of cash or credit or debit card, from one as famous and glamorous as yourself!” Hearing this, other shoppers, who may otherwise have been content just to sneak peeks at me, and to whisper excitedly to their companions, are commonly emboldened to whip out their selfie sticks and implore me to pose with them. You may not have had the experience of seeing unflattering photographs of yourself and a perfect stranger on Facebook or Twitter, but I have, more times than I am able to count. I always wish I’d worn something more stylish, and at those moments envy those who can swan over in whatever saggy leisurewear they happen to be wearing when they find themselves craving spring onions. 

I have read that there is a higher concentration of fine restaurants in northern Surrey than anywhere else in western Europe. Between them, the three best known bistros of Ham have been awarded four Michelin stars, two Bridgestone trapezoids, and three Yokohama parallelograms. My celebrity enables me to get a table at any of them whenever I please (others need to reserve up to a month in advance), but what a conundrum! That which gets us ushered immediately to a table also makes it impossible for us to enjoy a meal in peace, as fellow diners come over to request autographs or to ask — yes, again! — if I will pose for selfies with them, all of this while my cervelles au beurre noir get cold or my gazpacho warm. 


Be judicious about that for which you wish. Fame ain’t always fun. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Facebook Is Making Me Feel As Though Back in Junior High School

I’m in the mood for love, simply because you’re near me. Actually, you’re not near me at all, and what I’m in the mood for is a rant. I feel as I did when I wrote “A Man of Mirth and Song” for my (universally ignored) album Sorry We’re Open three-quarters of a decade ago. The world is in a meeting every time I call. 

As La Hynde sang, I gotta have some of your attention, but how on earth to get it? Yesterday, outraged by the thought of Fucko the Klown (previously Donald J. Trump) having the ability to order young Americans to put themselves in mortal jeopardy, I created a little graphic. Something south of half a dozen people liked it. Meanwhile, a Facebook casual acquaintance of mine commented, “We’re screwed now,” in response to FTK’s latest oration, and 128 people’s LIKES suggest they thought him notably wry and insightful for having done so. Maybe, I thought, the guy has a great many more Facebook friends than I. Nope. Fewer. I’m back in the amphitheatre at Santa Monica High School now, wishing I didn’t have to eat my lunch alone while the ocean breezes torment me with the blown-over-the-Administration-building laughter of popular, confident classmates who don’t know I’m alive.

I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to how many dozens of hours it takes me to compose a song, rehearse it with the band, record it, mix it, and make a video of our pretending to perform it. And yet none of the several Freudian Sluts and Stonking Novels I’ve posted here in the past 18 months has been viewed by a quarter as many people as found “We’re screwed now” a source of delight and intrigue.

Back, always, to the Sluts. Maybe you’ve gotten the impression that we don’t play the sort of music you most enjoy. I get that. Not everybody likes everything, and maybe some of those who do generally like the sort of stuff we play don’t think we play it well. I get that. But nine fucking viewings? 

The group’s exquisite and talented singer, Suz eQ, leaves London to move back to the Midlands, whence she sprang, and declares herself available for one performance and no rehearsals per month. With the utmost reluctance, I advertise on line for a new singer. Perhaps two dozen respond, several in barely intelligible textspeak, to my gumtree.com and joinmyband.co.uk adverts. I send them to our Website. Not one gets back to me. I'm well aware we’re unlikely to appeal much to a death metal or jazz or folk singer, but is our stuff not pretty distinctive? Are our videos not quite professional-looking? Does the site not suggest that we’re smart, funny, and committed? And a month after I began advertising, we’ve yet to get someone over for a live audition, and I’m asking myself the same question I asked a million times as a kid: What am I doing wrong?

I send 45 UK literary agents what I imagine to be quite irresistible emails inviting them to read my latest novels. Three say OK. Of those three two don’t think they can sell my work, for whatever reason, and the third is never heard from again. I send a snazzy, well-researched proposal for a nonfiction book about a particular erotic subculture, and this time two are willing to look at the sample chapters. I revise the proposal to send to magazines. Not a single editor responds. 

I apply on line for countless dozens of graphic design jobs. (Of all the things I do, design might be what I do best.) I have worked for posh, prestigious employers like Deloitte, and have put lovely MAC lipstick all over the pig that is my CV. And what do I get back? Crickets, and the occasional form email telling me I’m really terrific, but Not What We’re Looking For At This Time, But We’ll Keep Your CV on File In the Event a Position That More Closely Matches Your Skill Set Opens Up. I make a series of life-changingly hilarious little radio shows. They seem to interest no one. OK, maybe they're not so hilarious at all, but the stat counters don't tell me that listeners are tuning out after a few seconds. They're not listening even that long. 



I haven’t that many years left, FFS. What am I doing wrong?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Most Obnoxious Song in the World

Having already written the most beautiful song in the world, and the most heartbreaking song, and the wittiest, I have now resolved to write the most obnoxious. 

It will of course be a rock song, full of braggodoccio and petulance. When recorded, it will of course be very guitar-heavy. The guitars will be very distorted, with the rhythm guitar imitating the iconic, template-creating rhythm guitar in Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild. The lead guitar will play a showoffy, 16th-note-triplet-laden solo that ends ‘way up at the top of the fretboard. The singer will squeal in such a way as to evoke a piglet in agony. The chorus, in the manner of Def Leppard, will consist of a dozen or so multitracked voices shouting the name of the song — Cockblocked — three times, with the lead singer squealing maniacally over the top. "I been...cockblocked! [Guitar riff] Cockblocked! [Guitar riff] Cockblocked! [Guitar riff]. 

Yes, Cockblocked. Some of the most obnoxious songs ever have been sung from the viewpoint of rock stars displeased with the women hurling themselves at them. Grand Funk’s ghastly “We’re an American Band” comes immediately to mind, and Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me". In my song, the singer will have had his eye on a little strumpette who’s come backstage to tell hm how wonderful he is, only for someone in his entourage to point out that she’s almost certainly underaged, and potentially very much more (legal) trouble than she’s worth. Hence the singer’s feeling of having been cockblocked. you see. Being a rock star, though, he doesn’t recognise the value of the advice, and gets all peevish about being thwarted. 

Just, as I was about to click Publish, I realised that, during the penultimate chorus, all the instruments except the drums will drop out. When they thunder back in, led by a flurry of 64th-note triplets by the guitarist, and the singer shrieking the highest note he's hit over the course of the song, the listener will want to punch the air above his head. Rock and roll, dewed! 


Honestly, don’t you love it so far? 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Lookalikes

No one does idol worship as the Brits do it. I remember going to the Kings Road during one of my first visits to London, back when London was exhilarating and gaudy and spectacular, when it was rock and roll made flesh, and going into successive boutique in which Marilyn Monroe and James Dean seemed to be employed, though both were long deceased. They were a couple of local kids, you see, and wondrous to behold. Their impersonations were richly detailed. They couldn’t have looked more like their respective idols if the makeup, hair, and wardrobe departments of lavishly funded movies had spent hours on them.

Nowadays, the colour is gone from London. One doesn’t find himself sat next to on the Tube by someone who looks exactly like his or her favourite member of The Thompson Twins or Hayzee Fantayzee or Culture Club. The thrill is gone.

But the tradition isn’t without its die-hard defenders, and a friend of my spouse, recently escaped from a soured marriage, is in love with one of them, a guy who works as a kitchen porter in a school cafeteria by day, and by night does his best not just to look like Brian Eno as he did in the early days of Roxy Music, with the very high forehead, the Edward Scissorshands-anticipating jacket, and the immoderate makeup.  He apparently makes a bit of money doing this, though I, an American, find it difficult to imagine many people thinking that an Eno impersonator will be just what their party needs.  A lookalike agency gets him work. When he attends meetings of the Eno Adoration Society, he is greeted with rapturous delight. The fact of his being a 56-year-old man impersonating the 25-year-old version of his idol apparently troubles no one at all.

I have never met him, but he will presumably be attending Dame Zelda’s forthcoming birthday party, and I have devised a wonderful plan for meeting him. I will say, “You know, you remind me so much of someone, but I can’t for the life of me pinpoint whom.”
“Sure you can,” I can envision him responding, perhaps a little desperately.

I will furrow my brow and walk around him, considering him from all angles. At last my face will light up, as I say, “Kramer from Seinfeld, right?”

I suppose I should explain.

It used to be that I couldn’t walk through an airport without somebody stopping me and saying, “You are somebody, aincha?” There have been those who believed me to resemble Paul Stanley, and later Prince, of all people, though he was 4-9 and I’m 6-1. One young woman on whom I lowered the boom in a supermarket in the San Fernando Valley in 1980 believed me, without pharmacological help, to be the bass player of The Cars, like whom I couldn’t have looked less. In the first months of this century, three perfect strangers, over the course of around six months, felt I might be delighted to hear how much like Kramer they thought I looked. I was not delighted.

And then it got even worse. On the evening of my recent birthday, a young hip hop type in Brighton felt called upon to inform me that I looked just like Christopher Lloyd in Back to the Future.


I was very much happier with the guy from The Cars.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Early Retirement

As a child, teenager, young adult, and older adult, I tore my own fingernails apart in self-loathing and anxiety. By the time I was able to muster sufficient restraint to get little white bands at the top of the pink part, I had the shortest pink parts in all Christendom. How ironic that I should clip my fingernails and file them smooth today.

But I want to look my best. I shave with great care, carefully getting the whiskers at the latitude of my Adam’s apple that I commonly neglect. I rub Vitamin E crème into my face, and remember when, as a young man, my blackheads, the result of insufficiently diligent face-washing, quietly disgusted my first live-with girlfriend, whose great sweetness I failed to realise until decades later. I have always been a great one for failing to recognise people’s sweetness until they have exited my life, shaking their heads in dismay. 

I shower at greater length than one intent on minimizing his impact on the environment would dream of. Come and get me, coppers. I shall be as nearly immaculate as I’ve ever been. I floss my teeth. I pluck a couple of white hairs from my eyebrows. I curse the many intersecting creases that have taken up residence on my face. There goes the neighbourhood. The decades have scarred me.

I put on the suit I splurged and had made for myself in 2005 out of a shiny ruby fabric the tailor in Hua Hin, Thailand, told me was actually for ladies’ dresses. I’ve worn it maybe half a dozen times. I don’t feel very good-looking it. But of course I don’t feel very good-looking in anything the past 25 years or so. I put on the shoes with Spanish heels I bought online three years ago and wore exactly once because I forgot I had them. They are approximately the sort Rod Stewart wore in the early 1970s. I am around 6-3 in them. I re-tie my necktie because it was too short the first time.

I leave my cell phone on the kitchen counter and get the handcuffs and the most expensive vodka I’ve ever bought (Absolut). I go into the garage. I have crammed towels in the gap between the garage door and the ground the whole width of the garage door, and now you see where this is going. I handcuff my left wrist to the steering wheel, and it’s crunch time. If I toss the handcuff key away, there’s no turning back, unless, of course, I’m willing to suffer the humiliation of having to get someone to come over and free me. I’ve suffered more than enough humiliation in this life, and toss the little key out the window, bursting into tears as I do so.
I owe this to all those I’ve hurt. I have hurt most of those who’ve loved me most. The fact that most of them would surely tell me not to give my past horridness a second thought only makes it worse. Behold their loving me enough to forgive me.

I take a healthy swig of my Absolut, and then another. I curse the world for having hurt me so badly that I hurt others in a fool’s retribution, and feel my Dutch courage swelling. I turn on the ignition and have another swig of Absolut. “I can so fucking do this,” I declare aloud. What a tough guy is Johnny! What a badass! I am proud of myself, and drink a toast to my remarkable resolve.

I am feeling no pain. In a moment or two, I will exempt from it forever after. I think of a little couplet around which I was going to base a song I never managed to write. I didn’t do the best I could. I did the best I did. It wasn’t nearly good enough.