Tuesday, December 12, 2017

My Favourite New Band!

The most humbling intellectual experience in modern life may be being unable to figure what something is called even with the might of Google behind you. Last night Dame Zelda and I watched a programme about how Laibach, sort of Slovenia’s answer to Gang of Four, Kraftwerk, and Devo, in 2015 became the first Western rock band to perform in North Korea. Our favourite moment was when the poor Korean guy charged with keeping Laibach from corruptingt his countrymen objected to lead singer Milan’s headgear on the basis of its evoking Nazism. I have been hearing about, and seeing photographs of, Nazis all my life, and watched the BBC’s coverage of the Charlottesville brouhaha, and have never seen a single Nazi wearing such headgear. But when I asked Google, with the utmost deference, to help me figure out what said headgear is called, it mocked me cruelly. A search for “French Foreign Legion headgear” took me to a page depicting legionnaires in kepis — visored caps with flat circular tops, of the sort commonly associated with Chuck de Gaulle. I didn’t think searching for “hat that looks like Slade’s Dave Hill’s hair” would stand a greater chance of success, and so, to console myself, reminisced about my brief romance with a sexy Australian woman with whom I failed to become romantically entangled a few months after the collapse of my first marriage.

I was living ln San Francisco’s Lower Nob Hill at the time, just across from what was then Cala Foods. The California Street cable car’s distinctive clanging would wake me in the morning. I would ride the cable car both to work in the Financial District, and then back after a long, demoralising day of processing the words of lawyers in the business of defending Chevron Oil against the Sierra Club and other environmental plaintiffs. One afternoon, instead of dashing up to my little studio apartment and grieving about not having seen my little girl in days and being employed by a big fascist law firm in the business of defending Chevron Oil against the Sierra Club and other environmental plaintiffs, I went into Cala to buy some zucchini. In the produce section, I espied a very presentable young woman contemplating broccoli. I hadn’t yet lost my looks at that point, and suavely wondered aloud, “Why don’t you let me take you away from all this?”

She smiled and said, “What, you’ve got something against broccoli?” I thought that quite wonderful, and that I might be in love. She agreed to come over for dinner later. Her name was Kepi. Antipodeans are so weird. 

We quickly discovered that we couldn’t stand each other, to the point at which we didn’t even agree that we would remain friends. I later surmised that she was homeless, and avoided sleeping rough, as the Brits say, by allowing herself to be picked up by a succession of local gentlemen, and, in my case, cads. We would see each other in the ‘hood and pretend we hadn’t seen each other at all. 

This was never supposed to be about Kepi, though. but about Laibach, whose name I at first hoped derived from that famous Republican politician who said that the best idea for a woman being raped was to lie back and enjoy it, though he almost certainly said lay, and not lie. As I write this, Laibach may be my favourite band. Their music is martial and anthemic, and In the one song we viewers of the documentary about their North Korean adventure saw them perform, there was much wonderful mass whistling that reminded me pleasantly of Peter Gabriels’ “Games Without Frontiers” and The Scorpions’ “Winds of Change”. Milan’s voice is half Cookie Monster, as re-imagined by the iconic vocalists of death metal, and half Froggie the Gremlin. 

All that said, I will not profess to love Laibach more than I do The Lucky Cupids, the kings of Slovenian rockabilly.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Pop Rock Sensation That's Sweeping the Nation!

Trying to make Isambard Jones & His Orchestra the pop-rock sensation that’s sweeping the nation (if not the whole English-speaking world), I recently sent five tracks to various friends, acquaintances, foes, and persons I didn’t know from Adam. My thought was that, on hearing this beautiful music, everyone would commend the band to dozens of friends, who would in turn commend it to dozens of their own friends, and soon that horrid snooty woman who books talent for Later With Jools Holland would be on the phone, begging us to appear. 

What a little fool I was! The very large majority of those to whom I sent tracks effectively pretended I hadn’t. They didn’t say they loathed the music, and God knows they didn’t say they liked it. They said nothing at all, leading me to suspect that it just didn’t do much for them, and they knew their saying so would send me into an emotional tailspin. I, at one time the rock critic America most loved to loathe — and the author of the Kinks liner notes that changed the lives of all who read them — have been unable to get Pitchfork even to acknowledge the email in which I offered the sample tracks. 

Yesterday, a noted writer and publisher observed that Isambard’s “delivery hangs between singing and speaking, in a distinctive voice that is not quite musical.” I honestly don’t know how it could be much more musical. “[It sounds as though] the notes are being hit individually rather than connected in a melodic flow,” NWP continues, and my baffledness burgeons. Isambard had a debilitating stroke a few years back. From one moment to the next, he has trouble remembering how a line is phrased. When we record, we spend a lot of time,because of his impediment, just making the lyrics ride the melodies as the composer intended, and sometimes I’m happy just to get correct — as opposed to imaginative — phrasing. But it seems to me that NWP is talking about Lou Reed, and not Isambard, who never, as far as I can tell, sounds as though speaking as much as singing. 

Other commentators have shocked me by saying that IJ&HO reminds them of several recording artists whom I loathe, and of whom I would never want to remind anyone. Name Withheld, for instance, chided me gently for being so palpably in the thrall, on such tracks as “The Lowly Cockroach,” of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, of whose work I would swear on a stack of Bibles, Quorans, and Torahs I am ignorant,except for Joanie’s early-‘80s hit about loving rock and roll. I remember thinking at the time that if she loved it so much, she wouldn’t perform it, as she seemed all black leather jacket and sneer, and no discernible talent. And now, all these years later, I find people asserting emphatically that she should be in something apparently called The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, apparently because she “kicked open the door for other women”, even though it seems to me that Wanda Jackson, for instance, was already walking unhindered into and out of the building before Joanie was so much as a tingling in Pater’s loins. 

Other commentators have wondered if IJ&HO are trying to sound like Ian Dury & the Blockheads. I find this marginally less gobsmacking, as guitarist Dazza du Toit is an avid admirer of such funky rhythm players as Carlos Alomar, and I, on bass, am the Jewish Duck Dunn. And Ian and I did have a brief fling in 1978, when a mob of Australians hired me to be the compere of a television special they were shooting in the UK, and I helped Ian, out of whose mobility polio had taken a big bite, off the stage in the club where his segment was shot, and was pleased to do so. Mere hours before, I had interviewed the smug, unpleasant young Paul Weller in the same venue, but he’d been quite able to get off the stage without assistance. I have never been able to understand what anyone liked about The Jam, but, there again, don’t see countless thousands of Jam bands flocking to iTunes to download the beautiful music of Isambard Jones & His Orchestra. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Overrated White Duke

The singer has moved far, far away, and the bass player has quit to concentrate on directing theatrical productions and playing covers for actual money, The Freudian Sluts are no more, and The Stonking Novels can’t play live because Isambard’s stroke makes it difficult for him to remember phrasing even if he has the lyrics on a music stand in front of him. I do enjoy playing live, though — there is no pleasure quite like seeing hundreds of faces beaming up at you rapturously! — and so thought I would recount my musical resume here in case someone wishes to hire me.

I first realised my innate muscality at age six, when I lived with my parents in the San Fernando Valley. We had no garage, but only a carport, in which Pop was polishing the family Buick (Pop  liked the iconic portholes) therein, listening to the radio one day when I began singing along so beautifully with Eddie Fisher on the radio that Pop paused in his polishing to marvel at the beauty of my voice. Neighbours urged him and Mama to get me an audition with the Vienna Boys Choir, but we weren't Austrian, and Mama wasn’t comfortable with the idea of my singing Christian liturgical material. None of this is true, except the part about Pop's love of Buicks.

At elementary school, I sang the National Anthem so beautifully before assemblies that the principal commonly took a minute or two to compose herself before taking her position behind the dais and scolding us for not being more mature, this in spite of under-10s composing around half her audience. This paragraph contains brazen falsehoods, though not about the principal, who was most assuredly not my pal. 

In junior high school, I played percussion in Senior Orchestra, which involved pretending to be able to read music. Once having noticed that I was only pretending, Mr. Bright gave me the cymbal, tympani, or triangle parts, and assigned the trickier snare stuff to one of my colleagues, whom I of course resented mightily, and quite unreasonably. I enjoyed the Vivaldi piece we performed at a big city-wide competition. Standing up there with the other percussionists, I thought we must be one of the best orchestras on earth. Years later, listening to a recording of our performance, I realised I’d been woefully mistaken. 

Once having seen A Hard Day’s Night, I formed a group, The Fogmen, at Santa Monica High School with various members of the school’s supposedly highly regarded jazz band, and everyone else whose charisma I thought might make us more irresistible to girls. The jazz band guys noticed that I couldn’t actually play the drums, though I remembered from junior high how to hold drumsticks, expelled me, and went on to star in The Inrhodes, sort of The Beatles of Santa Monica. 

As a young adult, I composed, recorded, and performed original music with a band tsigned first to United Artists, and later to Warner Bros. Many believe that David Bowie, on his first visit to Los Angeles, jammed with us on what had once been Charlie Chaplin’s soundstage, but in fact no improvisation was involved.  We played a couple of very easy Velvet Underground songs. Once back in London, Bowie participated in a Melody Maker poll, apparently because the MM couldn’t get enough better-known recording artists to respond to their questionnaire, and, a little bit surreally, named my band his third favourite singer. I played a lot of tennis with one-time Velvets violist John Cale. I was as good at tennis as at sight-reading complicated snare drum parts. I was never that avid a Bowie fan, though he was a nice guy, and have come to regard him as the wildly overrated white duke. 

Later in that decade, I wrote all the songs and was the front man for a sort of ill-conceived power pop band called The Pits. The three instrumentalists, hotshots all, deserved a far better singer than I. Not even Eddie Fisher’s “O Mein Papa” moved audiences, except toward the exits. 

Decades whooshed past. I recorded many little demos on a TEAC 3340, and later on an Atari computer, and later still on Apple computers. Please buy the below-depicted compilations. I played the drums in a Los Angeles band called The Romanovs, and then in the SW London-based Freudian Sluts, a little better than I had with The Fogmen. I can sort of sing harmony parts unless others distract me, and, frankly, am not as sexually charismatic as when in The Pits, though I might be a marginally better person. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Prettiest Star

I suspect we can agree that the late David Cassidy was one of the three or four prettiest (as distinct from handsome) pop stars of the post-Elvis era, but we’’ll probably find that we don’t agree about the physical attractiveness, or lack of it, of many other prominent performers. 

Leslie West
Who, for instance, would you say has been the least attractive male rock star ever? I would nominate Leslie West, he of the morbid obesity and pubic-looking hair, and Ginger Baker, he of the ghastly hyper-English teeth, pallor, and caved-in-looking face,. Ultimately, though, I would  present the cake to Roy Wood, who worked harder at grotesqueness than either. And don’t get me wrong about Mr. West. I hugely admire how fervently he embraced his being as far from pretty as it’s humanly possible to be. When I saw his pre-Mountain group, The Vagrants, at Winterland in San Francisco, opening, unbilled, for The Who, Les waddled out with a bright pink feather boa wrapped around his neck, the circumference of which probably exceeded that of many middle schoolers’ waists. “You got a problem?” the boa seemed to demand. I giggled delightedly. 

There have of course been many very handsome rock groups. Many would surely say that Duran Duran was the handsomest of all, but my own belief is that their average level of pulchritude was exceeded by that of LA’s little known chicano “punk” band Los Illegals. It amuses me to think of my spouse, Dame Zelda, not having allowed Double-Duran’s future lead singer into her own little prog group at Pinner Grammar School because he was chubby, and rather an embarrassment. 

Los Illegals
Duran’s bass player, John Taylor, has to be considered one of the handsomest musicians in rock history, but would you say that he was more gorgeous than Roger Taylor of Queen, or would you assert that it’s an apples-and-oranges comparison given the young Roger’s androgynousness? Many would surely argue that, just as there has never been a better singer than Little Richard, there has never been a handsomer male rock than Elvis, though Jon Bon Jovi was quite hot stuff there for a while. I always thought Bon Jovi, the group, sounded like the result of intensive market research, and so am unable to think of him with much fondness. 

There are a great many contenders for ugliest male rock band. Tied for second place we have umpteen late-70s Southern rock bands with multiple guitarists, like the Outlaws and Black Oak Arkansas, and my own favourite, Canned Heat, whose lead singer might be perceived as the apotheosis of the Hell’s Angels look that flourished for several years in spite of the Angels’ dreadful behaviour at Altamont. 

It’s difficult to think of the loveliest and least lovely all-female rock band — and perilous, as doing so invites accusations of sexism. I can’t imagine anyone thinking The Go-Gos lovelier than The Bangles, and Vixen, with their enormous hair, were pretty hot stuff too, in a much more overstated way. Such of their predecessors as Fanny and Birtha seemed intent on being judged solely on the basis of their musicianship, a point of view I have traditionally disdained. 

Janis Joplin
My guess is that if Janis Joplin, who had famously, and very cruelly, been voted Ugliest Man on Campus while in college, had had Vixen’s (or, for that matter, Duran Duran’s) stylists on her team, she might have been perceived as traditionally attractive, but would still be no match for the single most gorgeous rock star of either sex ever, whom I suspect I needn’t name. 

Special mention must be made in closing of an act that shrewdly to neither uniform gorgeousness nor uniform defiant non-gorgeousness. Cheap Trick revelled in the fact of half the group being traditional dreamboats, and the other half the sort of fellows to whom the hotties in high school 
would never have allowed themselves to be seen speaking. In this, they brilliantly married the aesthetics of Duran Duran and The Outlaws, a feat seen neither before nor since. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Classic Rock Superstar and His Dad Play Benny Goodman

Nearing the studio, the rock superstar, hereinafter TRS, tells his driver Mick to find an off-licence. He need some brandy. He badly needs some brandy. Mic got his job only after first convincing TRS, and then, in turn, TRS’s lawyer and psychotherapist, that he was just the guy to keep TRS on the straight and narrow. When TRS longed for alcohol or one of the substances to which he’d been addicted over the years, Mick was to divert him, and to keep him sober and clean. “But we’ll be late if we do that, guv,” Mick says. “Let me deliver you on time, and then see if I can’t find you some Rémy.” In the back seat, TRS decides not to threaten Mick with the loss of his job, and reverts, with a vengeance, to a habit he finally managed to break at almost 27 — nail-biting. Mick’s never seen him so terrified. 

He is to perform live this evening on In the Midnight Hour With Jewell Flanders, the highest-rated late-night music programme on UK television, but not with what’s left of the group with which he achieved global renown. Jewell’s producers read in TRS’s autobiography about how TRS’s clarinetist dad had led a popular jazz band in the first years of TRS’s childhood, and came up with the idea of dad rounding up as many of his old band as were still alive and getting TRS to play with it. They would perform the Benny Goodman-popularised Stompin’ at the Savoy from 1934. 

TRS rejected the idea out of hand. Before he became a famous rock guitarist and the composer of two of Uncut magazines’s Classic Rock Top 5, Dad never gave him a syllable of encouragement — and eloquent paragraphs of discouragement. “Music isn’t what you’re good at, boy,” Dad had said, smirking, the night the 15-year-old TRS had played for Dad a Hank Marvin solo he’d worked on for weeks. “Think of something else to do in life.” TRS had always thought of it, with great bitterness, as his equivalent of Lennon’s aunt’s “A guitar is all well and good, but you’ll never earn a living with it.”

Within five years of that pronouncement, Dad had given up on trying to earn a living with music, and had opened an antiques shop, while TRS’s group had had a No. 3 hit and performed not only all over Britain, but also in France, Germany, and Scandinavia. In the intervening decades, two of them have died, but they died very rich, the group having been the world’s highest-grossing concert attraction through much of the early 1980s.

They arrive at the studio. An awed production assistant tells TRS, fast running out of fingernails to ravage, that he grew up listening to TRS’s music, and is thrilled to be working with him. TRS barely hears what he’s saying. He can think only of how desperately he wants a very large brandy. The production assistant will later tell his friends that TRS was cold and high-handed with hm. 

TRS enters the soundstage on which his and Dad’s segment will be filmed. Dad, schmoozing with his musicians, loudly proclaims, “Enter the rock star,” and a couple of his lads snigger dutifully. But then Dad thinks better of it and comes over to embrace TRS. It’s all for show, of course — the two men have never actually embraced like this in private. It’s only in the past few years that even the closest fathers and sons have done more than shake each other’s hands manfully. There’s gin on Dad’s breath. 

Jewell Flanders, who made his name playing boogie-woogie piano in a pub rock band of the late 1970s, comes over beaming and says, “I see you two have met.” Two production assistants and a camera operator chuckle dutifully. “Well,” Jewell says, “shall we make some magic?” He seat himself at the piano. As his custom, he’ll be sitting in.

TRS straps on the 1951 Gibson ES-175 he had his guitar tech buy for him especially for this performance. He has made a career of two-note power chords. Many of the chords Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman’s guitarist, played on the original version of Savoy were pretty much unknown to him when he agreed to the gig. He has practiced them twice as diligently as he practiced the Hank Marvin piece at which Dad scoffed all those decades ago, but as he and Dad’s band run through the song together so Jewell’s sound mixers can set their various levels, his fingers feel very thick, and he’s aware of occasional dead strings beneath their tips. Dad says nothing, though. It’s his band he addresses at the song’s end. “Have we still got it, lads, or have we still fucking got it?” They’re all delighted with themselves.

It’s time to record the performance. “I’m the one’s who fucking got it,” TRS tells himself, as he’s always told himself before going on stage, there to battle the flamboyant singer and maniacal drummer for the audience’s attention and love. He needs no brandy now. He has something to prove, and will bloody well prove it!

Or maybe not. He plays a wrong chord two bars into the first chorus and Dad glares at him. Jewell heard it and waves to stop the filming. 

“Bit more demanding, real music, innit?” Dad asks TRS. He’s smiling. Two of his band snigger again. 

“My music’s real enough to have sold 100 milion albums,” TRS says, “and for me to be worth £118 million, and for me to have been able to buy this fucking guitar just for this gig without batting an eye. My guess is it cost more than you’ve earned as a musician in the past 20 years. How are things in the antiques business then?” Having said all of which, he explodes in tears.

The soundstage has never been this quiet. It is full of statues. Jewell Flanders’ mouth hangs open. Mick is the first person to move. He steps between father and son. Having  seen TRS takes his guitar off and hurl it at someone after swinging it around a couple of times by its neck, he is taking no chances. It is his heroism that keeps TRS from injuring Dad with his £4200 new guitar. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

99 Reasons Not to Be Famous (No. 31 Will Amaze You!)

Having had a brief flirtation with fame in early adulthood, and having had famous friends, I believe fame can be summed up as always being able to get a table at a restaurant, but then not being able to enjoy your meal. From the moment you’re seated, people will be gawking at you, straining to overhear your conversation, or coming over wanting to take a selfie with you, or to get an autograph — never for themselves, but always for a third party like a sister-in-law who’s loved you ever since your second album. It wasn’t that she didn’t really like several tracks on the first album, you are to understand. While your soup grows ever colder and your date wonders more and more aggressively if dating a celebrity was a good idea, your uninvited guest will eagerly provide a detailed inventory of which songs he or she did and did not adore.

When I and a famous friend I’ve not seen in decades made plans to meet for lunch recently, he nixed several venues I proposed for fear of being besieged by well-wishers and selfie-seekers. Even as she or becomes able to fly first class anywhere in the solar system, the famous person’s world inevitably constricts unless he or she is that very rare person who likes cold soup and endless flesh-pressing.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that the really nice, adoring fan can be far more exhausting than the abrasive, demanding one who feels, on the basis of having recognised the celebrity, that he or she is entitled to several minutes of the celebrity’s rapt attention. Whereas celebrities can tell — or get their bodyguards to tell — the obnoxious, entitled fan to take a hike, they might very well feel duty-bound to listen patiently while the kinder, gentler fan explains how their music or movie or even book gave his or her life new meaning. 

If I happen to find myself behind Dame Helen Mirren in the checkout queue at Aldi or Primark, it’s very likely to be the most notable part of my day. It will have made not the slightest impression on Dame Helen. What a burden to star in the most noteworthy moment of a succession of strangers’ lives as you move through the world minding your own business! 

Failure is an orphan, while success has many fathers. David Bowie spoke once about how, when he first got huge, he would wake up in the morning to find his house full of people he didn’t recognise, every one of whom would have had him believe his success wouldn’t have been possible without him or her. And Ringo Starr, of all people, has spoken of how, once fame becomes a much greater source of pain than of pleasure, one simply can’t turn it off. Once having become a household name, he or she can become fame’s prisoner, submitting to what amounts to house arrest, moving to a part of the world where the food or water will give her savage diarrhea, or grin and bear it.

In the United Kingdom, and increasingly in the USA, the famous are hounded mercilessly by paparazzi and the tabloid press. The former’s newsstands abound with magazines called, approximately, Celebrites Looking Utter Rubbish Without Their Makeup. Can you imagine how maddening it must be not to be able to leave your home  hung over and rumpled without photographers descending on you, hoping to get damp-underarm shots they can sell to Celebrities Whose Deodorants Don’t Work? And in the UK, the paps will commonly shout things like “I shagged your kid sister last night! Without a condom!” in hope of your turning around looking furious. Fury sells magazines. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Awful Conundrum of Superstardom

I’ve come to think there really isn’t much more you can do about depression than you can about your ring finger being longer than your index finger. You can of course undergo psychotherapy,. I have had lots and lots and lots of it — some from nincompoops who spoke of my inability to Establish Boundaries and kept glancing at the clock to see if they’ve earned their $60 yet (this was years ago, obviously) to smart, kind, insightful people who made lots of interesting and maybe even accurate observations that I savoured intellectually. None put a perceptible dent in the ugly black limousine in which my boredom and despair travel. Of course, if psychotherapy doesn't appeal, you can — and, indeed, will be encouraged to — try psychopharamacology. The problem being that the magic little pills that make  you feel marginally less desperate, will also mute your libido. 

Let's face it. If you're born depressive, there really isn't an awful lot anyone can do about it.

When I go into my darkest places, I feel worthless and meaningless, bored and purposeless, a waste of space, in the wonderful British locution, a nobody, a never-was, a loser. But then I think about such notable spiritual forebears as Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, and realise that even those with the grandest purposes have spent huge portions of their lives feeling wastes of space. If I were made King of the World, I would expect to be fantastically happy and fulfilled for a couple of weeks, and then, regardless of my grand good works, to feel a piece of shit again. It’s who I am.

All I’ve ever wanted is the Pope’s balcony — to be adored so fervently by so many that a deafening roar of delight greets my every stepping outside for breath of fresh air. But in the past few years, I’ve come to recognise that depression snickers contemptuously even at the mass adoration for which I’ve long longed. 

During my friendship with Rick Parfitt of Status Quo, who were gigantic in the UK, and remain fervently loved both here and in Europe, I saw time and again how he’d get home from a sellout European tour and immediately start trying to drown himself in vodka. When I happened, quite by chance, to bump into my one-time idol Pete Townshend a couple of months ago, he was so disconsolate as barely to be able to speak. 

And now I read that Jim Carrey, who at one time was a bigger movie star than Rick was a rock star, has recently achieved a major breakthrough in his own battle again depression, and is able to describe himself as “sometimes happy”. Whoopee! In his glorious autobiography, Bruce Springsteen, whose balcony the Pope might well wish were his own, speaks of depressions so severe as to be immobilising. 

I get now why so many famous and universally adored musicians, actors, artists, and writers who seem to the untrained eye to Have Everything drink or abuse. Imagine that you enter adulthood feeling not good enough, not loved enough, not something enough. You pour yourself into your art or craft imagining that mass adoration will at long last change that feeling. When it doesn’t, you might be worse off than when you started, for back then, you could at least hope. It must be like being painfully dehydrated in the desert, and realising that you’ve been dragging yourself with the last of your strength toward a mirage.

I suspect that the bigger a star you become, the harder it gets. Imagine that your fans are spending $125 on a ticket to see you perform. At that price, they're going to cut you an awful lot of slack, and to be very intent on convincing themselves they're hearing and seeing something quite wonderful, even though you recognise your own playing or singing as subpar. It's bad enough when, on a night you've performed well, the audience's delight doesn't fulfill you, but wouldn't their deilght at a subpar performance make you feel not just unfulfilled, but mocked? What could be more soul-destroying than the realisation that your audience couldn't tell, or didn't care, if you were awful?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Turkey, You've Got to Give Up This Jivin'

[Recommended listening. A track by my power pop band The Pits, from 1977.]

I was always a problem in school, often because I perceived myself as smarter than the teacher. Haven’t we all had teachers who, in retrospect, we realise should never have been allowed to open their pieholes in front of impressionable young people? My report cards were filled with AEUs — an A in the class, an E (for excellent) in study habits (how could they give me an A in the class without conceding my superior study habits (my main such habit being doing  my homework), and a U (unsatisfactory) for cooperation. I was pretty good at wisecracks that would get the rest of the class snickering, but weren’t quite offensive enough to get me sent to the Principal. (Passive aggression has always been one of my main knacks.) The Principal, in high school, being an amiable dunce who seemed to exist solely to make a big display of drooling all over the cheerleaders at our frequent noontime pep rallies, at which we were expected to pledge our undying fealty to the bullying thugs and morons who staffed our football team. It was sort of like a high school version of patriotism. Get ‘em while they’re young! 

As they indeed tried to. When I was a senior, a trio of square-jawed gung-ho types in uniform came to tell me and others nearing graduation that, by virtue of having been born in it, and been educated in its dire public schools, we had A Debt to Our Country, which we could pay off only by enlisting for military service and fighting in, for instance, Viet Nam to protect Our American Way of Life. God forbid that the likes of Thuan Pham, should one day become Uber’s CTO, or that Tommy Pham, no relation, should play for the St. Louis Cardinals!  How I wish I hadn’t allowed their military glowering to cow me. They’d probably have gotten in major trouble for beating me senseless.

Looking back, I kick myself for not having been a great deal less cooperative, as when I was the Commissioner of Entertainment at Santa Monica High School, and the boys’ vice principal, rumoured to be A Major Movie Star’s baby brother, forbade me to invite local boy and girl made good Dick and Dee Dee to perform at an assembly because they were too lascivious, though lascivious wasn’t a word the guy wouldn’t have used, as he seemed to be only marginally smarter than the wilted house plant in his lightless, Dickensian little office, which reeked of the breath mints he sucked implacably to try to mask the smell of the whisky of which he enjoyed a wee sip several times a day. 

But let’s talk turkey. It’s Thanksgiving morning. In SW London, you’d know that only from the several signs advertising tomorrow’s Black Friday sales. Dame Zelda, for one,  is not at all pleased with Black Friday having made its way over here from the USA in the past five years. We won’t be having turkey tonight, and not only because of Dame Zelda’s vegetarianism. It makes no sense for me to bewail my having deferred reflexively to the tyranny of tradition in my squandered youth, and not to blow a raspberry at tradition now. I will eat turkey only under duress, and never, if I can help it, on a holiday. Turkey just isn’t that delicious. It makes no sense that tens of millions of people sit down sheepishly every Thanksgiving to a meal featuring a main course about which no one’s very excited. 

Why are tens of millions not sitting down to broiled lobster with drawn butter?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Something I Forgot to Confess

Well, now Al Franken has been accused of sexual harassment. It appears as though no man alive won’t be so accused in the current climate (many, of course, rightly), so I’d better come clean about my own transgressions. 

The first was in around 1973, at the infamous Rainbow Bar and Grill on Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood, where an occasional B-list rock star was occasionally glimpsed, but which was much more the domain of kids from the hinterlands dressed up as rock stars and groupies. I was there with the guy in my first band with whom I used to chase skirts when this teen idol type came in with a pair of twins, one per arm. My personal lust-o-meter shot immediately into the red, as the twins were spectacularly wanton-looking, all excessive liquid eyeliner and white foundation, huge dyed black hair and blood-red lippy, and scandalous  attire. There wasn’t a streetwalker on Sunset Blvd. that night who looked more streetwalkerish. 

They were ultra-Elvira-ish years before Elvira first appeared on TV.  They were Motley Crue before Motley Crue, Siouxsie Sioux when said personage was still a puffy, plain teenager in the southeast Lonoon sticks.They were The Ronettes times ten. Compared to them, Amy Winehouse at her most dissolute would have looked like Karen Carpenter. 

They were everything I’d ever wanted in a woman, at least visually.

I’m not kidding about this, though everyone always thinks I am, just as when I say I adore gloomy weather, and am exultant when it starts getting dark before five in the afternoon. My two best friends, both bass players, seemed to prefer cheerleader types. One of them explained that he enjoyed the idea of debauching such a young woman. I always wanted one pre-debauched. The guy in my band would forever after refer to the twins as The Sisters of Death. 

I was nonetheless able to get him to sign onto the idea of inviting the Sisters to join us in our booth. Teen Idol invited himself too, and began tellling us what a big star he was in the process of becoming, which is what one did at the Rainbow. As he droned on and on, I put my hand on the fishnet stocking-clad leg of the Sister beside me in the booth. She didn’t seem to dislike the idea, and my hand headed higher, and then higher still. I think she viewed me as a better prospect than Teen Idol. But then she said, “Don’t,” and I immediately withdrew my hand. I felt a little spurned, and neglected to get her phone number.

A few weeks later, I was walking down the squalid part of Santa Monica Blvd., with its wall-to-wall adult theaters, when whom should I spot but the victim of my unsolicited touching, or her sister. She seemed to be employed in a massage parlour. I made the mistake of considering What People Might Think, as my friend and I had, in the interim, met another pair of maidens at the Rainbow — one the daughter of the star of a popular sitcom. They’d been gratifyingly gobsmacked to be meeting the John Mendelssohn, and when we exchanged phone numbers, one of them, the one I fancied less, had observed her having mine was like a young man having that of Joey Heatherton, who was quite hot stuff at the time. 

She never phoned, and when I returned to Santa Monica Blvd., the massage parlour said the apple of my eye had been accepted into medical school in Boston, and I am course of just kidding about that last part. 

We might have been so happy together.

Formerly Wanton http://amzn.to/2htyAlo is a detective story set in the tawdry milieu of late-‘80s Hollywood hair metal. Who Is Keri Fetherwait? http://amzn.to/2zIrFPM is a satire about a no-talent little dweeb from a TV singing competition who attains Taylor Swift-ish success. Every paragraph will make you roar with laughter! The Mona Lisa’s Brother http://amzn.to/2hDxQh6 is a heartwarming fable about an amateur guitarist who does a good deed and suddenly finds himself playing like Hendrix, except better! 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What If It Turns Out Joan Jett Isn't the Queen of Rock and Roll?

I have just read Camille Paglia’s new biography of Fleetwood Mac frontperson Stevie Ray Nicks, and found it fascinating. I have always disliked her singing, and Stevie’s too, and was unaware that her relationship with Lindsey Buckingham-Palace had been abusive, as I’d further been unaware of her having been the second cousin, once removed, but later replaced, of the 37th president of the United States, the one who spelled their surname Nixon, resigned in disgrace, and then made a fool of himself by trying too hard to look exultant as he boarded the helicopter that whisked him out of American public life. 

Honestly, I can understand trying to put on a brave face while enduring the most intense public humiliation of any American politician ever, but all that desperate grinning and tennis backhand waving and V-sign-flashing, intended to evoke his glory days on the campaign trail, succeeded only in making us think, "Jeepers, he really is stark raving mad."I have often wondered if, when inside the chopper, and out of sight of the photographers, he let out a bloodcurdly wail, burst into tears, and tried to slash his own wrists with a shard of broken glass. I'd be willing to bet Donald Trump doesn't show us half Nixon's courage when he makes his own Last Walk to Marine 1. 

I know Stevie Ray Nicks, in any event, to be a person of great shortness from having stood next to her for a moment in the early 1980s, at a time when young people routinely pelted her with stuffed animals and bouquets every time she stepped on stage. Even in her trademark platform boots she barely came up to my solar plexus, and I’m only 6-1. 

Of course morbid shortness is hardly rare in popular music. I think Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones is around 5-4. The band had to hire Brian Jones to play rhythm guitar just so Bill wouldn’t feel self-conscious about being so small, in much the same way Tom Cruise, who’s 4-11 if standing on last week’s Variety, is always cast opposite a very, very short leading lady. I think a great many rock stars became rock stars in the first place because they thought it was the only hope anyone as stumpy as they had of getting laid. When I met Tom Petty backstage at the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood, I felt as though being introduced to an eight-year-old. Benmont Tench, his organist, came to audition for my band The Pits before Tom became the dance sensation that swept the nation, and was shortish, but not an embarrassment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are no photographs of him and Tom standing side by side.  

I was intrigued to learn that, when Bon Scott drank himself to death, AC/DC tried, in the interest of continuity, to draft the then-unknown Jon Bon Jovi to replace him, but that he demurred because he was even then making plans to captivate the world with his affected singing and hypergeneric rock music. The band then approached Stevie, but she was iffy about changing her name to Bonnie, worrying that people might think she was trying to leap aboard the Bonnie Tyler bandwagon, even though she had by that time sold many, many more records than the raspy-voiced Welsh songbird, whose marriage to Steven Tyler was rumoured to be on the rocks. One has to wonder about a person who decorates his microphone stand with scarves. 

Stevie apparently decided to stay with Fleetwood Mac largely because of very lucrative offers from McDonald’s and Kraft Foods. The former wanted to licence the band’s name for a new midrange hi-fat/lo-nutrition menu addition for diners who found the Quarter Pounder inadequate but the Big Mac excessive. Kraft, on the other hand, believed that Fleetwood Macaroni would be very popular among college students, and those on fixed incomes. In Mark Haddon’s The Pier Falls, there is a deeply harrowing story you should read about a morbidly obese man who eats a ghastly paste he makes out of sugar and butter. 

Stevie Ray's Wikipedia entry suggests that she's widely acknowledged as the queen of rock and roll. I'd always imagined it was the prolifically talented Joan Jett, about which I am of course only kidding. No sensible person disputes that the late Chrissy Amphlett of The Divinyls is the greatest performer in the genre's long, and soon to end, history.

[And now a word from our sponsors. I've written three rock-themed novels you may very well enjoy. Formerly Wanton http://amzn.to/2htyAlo is a detective story set in the tawdry milieu of late-‘80s Hollywood hair metal. Who is Keri Fetherwaite? http://amzn.to/2zIrFPM is a satire about a no-talent little dweeb from a TV singing competition who attains Taylor Swift-ish success. Every paragraph will make you roar with laughter! The Mona Lisa's Brother  http://amzn.to/2hDxQh6  is a heartwarming fable about an amateur guitarist who does a good deed and suddenly finds himself playing like Hendrix, except better! 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Statutory Rape and Me

Having seen much lately about David Bowie’s allegedly having deflowered then-14-year-old Lori Maddox [not pictured], who later went on to inspire Jimmy Page to compose Layla, or whatever the story is, I thought, in a spirt of full disclosure, that I’d recount my own past as a statutory rapist.

If my (that is, Wikipedia’s) reading of California law is accurate, my first girlfriend and I statutorily raped each other for around three months between our promising each other eternal adoration and our turning 18 a week apart. (I was immobilised by shyness and self-doubt as a teen, and got a very late start on dating.) There was no actual coitus, but a great deal of erotic touching and what is still known as petting in parts of the country that wish to be perceived as either quaint or cute. I then statutorily raped Second Girlfriend. who was 17 (to my 19) during the first month of our romance. With her, much coitus! Then, with Third Girlfriend, the one with the fantastic thick blonde hair she so delighted in flinging about attention-demandingly when she danced, no coitus (we didn’t last very long), but more statutory rape, as she too was 17, and I a worldly, world-weary 20-year-old by then. 

Three years later, Bowie visited the West Coast for the first time. I wrote about him for Rolling Stone and we became BFFs. He was at the time an unknown who looked like Lauren Bacall and performed the songs of Jacques Brel with a straight face and much earnestness, and I The King of Los Angeles, so I was rather the bigger catch, in spite of his cute English accent. He cavorted just before flying home to London with a gorgeous (very, as in around 16) young woman called something like Keysia, who's in at least one of the more rigorously researched Bowie biographies, I think David Buckley’s. She was on the phone to me pretty much the moment he left for the airport. We might have gone on to wed and spawn gorgeous children but for the fact that she was either terribly vacuous or terribly shy, though not so much in bed. 

One living — nay, embodying! — the glamorous rock and roll lifestyle in those days was hardly expected to pay attention to age-of-consent laws, just as he or she was expected to use drugs, operate motor vehicles while under the influence, look thoroughly disreputable, and have stolen his or her instrument, preferably from a music store, rather than a fellow musician. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Keysia (now a home economics teacher in the Antelope Valley Unified School District (I’m just making this up)) was actually much more experienced sexually than I, and I didn’t worry even for a moment that I’d debauched her. 

One of the members of my first signed-to-a-label band openly lusted after very young girls. I found it distasteful. Another of us dated the very young Terri Nunn (later of Berlin and Top Gun soundtrack hit fame). I don’t know what went on between them. The drummer’s girlfriend was around 16, but I didn’t think it any of my business. She and I couldn’t stand each other. 

I would occasionally swan into Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, Lori Maddox’s home away from home, to seek the companionship of a lovely maiden. The closest I came was whisking one away in my blood-red Porsche one summer night, and up to my house in chic Laurel Canyon, but she was very nervous about the whole thing, and I drove her back to Rodney’s without so much as kissing her. I saw La Maddox and Sable Starr there pretty nearly every time, and found them the opposite of attractive. Every Saturday afternoon, Sable and other Rodney’s girls would dance lasciviously on The Real Don Steele Show on LA’s Channel 9, TRDS’s cameraman must have been the dirtiest old man in southern California at the time. You wouldn’t have believed some of the angles. 

I pause to marvel at Mr. Buckley (or whoever it was) finding Keysia, whose surname I didn’t know, as I strongly suspect Bowie himself didn’t either. I suspect neither of us spent more than a couple of hours with her. His blink-of-an-eye affair with her being recounted fully 28 years after the fact takes my breath away, to quote Terri Nunn’s biggest hit.

The central notion of statutory rape laws is that persons under a certain age are incapable of making informed erotic decisions. I have known a great many 45-year-olds who didn't make very good erotic decisions.