Saturday, February 24, 2018

Great Moments in Rock Obnoxiousness: Those Cursin' Gallaghers

Which musical family has been your favourite? Was it the Jacksons, who gave us not only the Jackson Five, LaToya Jackson, Janet Jackson, and the politician Jesse Jackson, or the Staples, without whom we'd have had neither The Staples Singers nor the chain of popular office supplies superstores? Was it the Wilsons, three of whom were in The Beach Boys, and the eldest of whom, Harold, was the prime minister of the United Kingdom, or the toothy, terrific Osmonds, or the even toothier Gibbs, or the Youngs, one of whom starred in The Easybeats, others in AC/DC? 

For my own money, the most notable family in recent entertainment history has been the remarkable Gallaghers, from Manchester, England. Interestingly, the eldest of the four brothers, Leo, who would become known professionally only by the family’s surname, wasn’t a musician at all, but a comedian celebrated for smashing melons with mallets, and, later, telling racist and homophobic jokes well past the time when his contemporaries had abandoned them. 

The second oldest brother, Rory, is thought to have owned the first Fender Stratocaster ever seen in the Republic of Ireland. He attained notable proficiency on the instrument, to the point at which in 2010, he was ranked No. 42 on's Top 50 Guitarists of All Time in spite of the fact that he was never known to play a Les Paul McCartney. He didn’t fare quite as well on Rolling Stone's ludicrous 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, coming in at No. 57, 53 spots behind Keith Richards and 40 behind Neil Young, neither of whom was fit to polish his tuning pegs. Interestingly, the player ranked No. 1, Jimi Hendrix, is thought, when asked how it felt to be the world’s greatest guitarist,.to have said, “I don’t know, man. Why don’t you ask Rory Gallagher?”  I always thought Rory should have hired a singer, rather than doing it himself, but have no reason to believe that he was ever advised of my feelings. 

Younger fans are no doubt much more aware of the two younger Gallagher brothers, whose group Oasis had hit after hit after hit after hit after hit between their emergence in 1993 with songs whose melodies had been pilfered intact from Coca-Cola jingles and their dissolution in 2009. Where, years before, Bryan Ferry had mastered the art of pitched sighing, younger, stupider, even more loutish brother Liam’s stock in trade was pitched sneering. 

During their long reign of terror, the pair established themselves as the most obnoxious siblings in the history of popular entertainment. Early on, they realised that what sells newspapers to a certain kind of imbecile in the UK is outrage. Just before every new record or tour, the two of them would shoot their mouths off like gangbusters. I thought they peaked circa 1995 when, at some UK awards show, they pretended to bugger each other with the statuettes they’d won. 

Occasionally, as when the slightly wittier of them, Noel, observed, “Why is Posh Beckham writing a fucking book of her memoirs when she can’t even chew chewing gum and walk in a fucking straight line at the same time?” they amused me. University of Leeds linguists have demonstrated that neither of the Oasis brothers is able to utter (or, more recently, tweet) a sentence not containing fucking

After their breakup, it turned out they’d actually been storing up their most bilious bile for each other. Said Noel of Liam, “He’s the angriest man you’ll ever meet, a man with a fork in a world of soup.” Observed Liam, the more scabrous of the two, of Noel, “He’s in one of his really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really big houses. Probably eatin’ tofu while having a fucking face peel. isn’t that right, man of the people?” One (that is, I, or you) was marginally amused, but for the most part felt as he had come to feel about John Lydon: OK, we get it, big boy — you’re superhumanly obnoxious. Do you know a second trick?

Charmingly, the brothers’ kids are now disparaging other on Twitter, where Liam’s son Gene (after Simmons, I think, but not really) recently advised his cousin Ana├»s, Noel’s daughter, “You look like your dad with a blonde wig on”, though experts question the authenticity of the tweet, as no known Gallagher, except maybe the late Rory, wouldn’t have put fucking before blonde wig

To their credit, neither Gallagher is not known to have tried to stab the other with a fork for helping himself to chips (to Americans: french fries) on the other’s plate, as Dave and Ray Davies did.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Foreplayer: Running Out of Alphabet

If they’ve done nothing else, the social media have made it relatively easy to find people from one’s past. At this point, the only former girlfriends I have been unable to contact have been Dirty Debbee — who lived with a big, scarily fluffy cat she called Sweet-Sweet in an apartment on Beverly Glen Blvd, and who shrieked a lot during sex — and several whose names I can’t remember, or was never told in the first place, from my promiscuous rock dreamboat days. 

Just for the fun of it, I last week contacted half a dozen of those with whom I dallied longest to tell me if they remembered our sexual interaction as fondly as I. I’ve always thought sex, along with writing, singing, dancing, graphic design, and basketball, was one of the many things at which I’m unusually good, and was expecting nearly all A’s. I was frankly flabbergasted when what I did in fact get was three C’s, two D’s, and this message from Denise, the department store window decorator I, uh, dated through the second half of 1988: “I thought I made clear the last time you contacted me that I never want to hear from you again. But I guess you were listening as attentively as when I tried to tell you what I’d really enjoy in bed. I can’t give you a letter grade, as we run out of alphabet well before we descend to the sub-abysmal level of your lovemaking. Do NOT contact me again. Ever.”

Erica, the Hollywood H-list sex goddess who wound up paying me in sex after I testified on her behalf on The People’s Court — her publicist was suing her for stiffing him, though that may have come out wrong, and she’d asked me to tell the court he didn’t deserve to be paid because his press releases were grammatically nightmarish — screamed even more than Dirty Debbee, so I always imagined I’d done some of my best work with her, but was apparently mistaken. When I phoned her on Skype to ask why she’d given me a D, she couldn’t believe I hadn’t recognised her shrillness as affected. “It’s what sex goddesses do, you smug, pompous jerk,” she explained. “Have you never watched porn? Do you really imagine those girls, when they’re screaming, ‘Oh, yes, oh, God, yes!’ aren’t at those moments thinking about what they need to pick up at Trader Joe’s on the way home?” 

The other D was from Renata, who in the mid-80s co-managed an English art-rock star. Hiis first day in the mansion in Bel-Air she’d leased for him, he phoned at dusk to ask what he should do since it was getting dark outside. She suggested he turn on some lights, but he didn’t know how — back home in rural Hertfordshire, his mum or governess had always done it for him, and R— had to walk him through first locating and then flicking the little switches on walls throughout his new home. I’d bought her a form-fitting black latex catsuit to wear for me, and she’d looked sensational in it — but so sensational that getting jiggy with her when she was in vanillawear felt like dining at a restaurant at which one’s server didn't, as was de rigueur at the time, come over and ask if one wanted fresh ground pepper. Not nearly as flavourful, you see. “Do you have any idea how hot that thing was?” R— asked, “or that it started to feel it was the catsuit you were fucking, and not me? Why don’t you forget we ever knew each other?”

Jakki, the hotel concierge with whom, after the dissolution of my first marriage, I spent four years that I remembered as very happy, especially erotically, also gave me a D, largely for the same reason. “When you first began asking me to dress as Elvira Queen of the Dark for you,” she wrote, “it was fun, but do you have any idea how much I came to resent having to spend 45 minutes doing my makeup every time we got it on? And I guess there’s no reason I shouldn’t tell you this, all these years after the fact: You were almost inconceivably horrible at foreplay. You seemed not to know Thing 1 about female anatomy — at your age! Why don’t we draw a line under our relationship and agree never to be in touch again?”

Kirsten, the urologist from whom I got one of my higher grades (that is, one of the C’s), made no mention of my deficiencies as a foreplayer, but instead addressed what she thought of as my meagre proportions. “As you can well imagine, given the field  in which I specialise,” she wrote, “I’ve seen male genitalia of all shapes and sizes. I have rarely seen another as tiny as yours. Certainly size isn’t everything, but your combination of physical inadequacy and general ineptitude was fatal. Can we agree that this will be our last communication?”

The Mitsubishi assistant parts department manager S—, bless her heart, turned out to be the most generous of my former lovers. She said, “I know you tried your best, John, but I can’t, in good faith, give you any better than a C. It was fun to hear from you, though.” 

I have changed none of the names. If they're going to be so very, very mean, I don't see why I should conceal their identities.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Worst of The Beatles

To the casual observer, it probably appears as though I have gone from triumph to triumph. God knows that I’ve had more than my share of good fortune, but in every life, a little rain must fall, and I have had my share of business failures along with the many glittering successes. Take, for instance, the drive-in theatre in which I invested the $9,000 I’d earned dealing peyote my last two years at the University of California. It seemed to me that the business’s profits would surely soar if it began offering matinee screenings, but nothing of the sort turned out to be the case. Many of our customers — it was not yet fashionable to refer to customers as guests — complained about the difficulty of seeing what was happening on screen in daylight. Snack bar staff, a ticket-taker, and a projectionist all demanded to be paid regardless, and within three months I had no choice but to allow my partners to buy me out for dimes on the dollar. 

My next venture was inspired by the burgeoning popularity of musical so-called tribute acts. I had long been a fan of the English singing foursome The Beatles, but southern California already had dozens of Beatles tribute acts. I hit on the idea of not performing the familiar hits such groups as The Red Sullivans and The Across the Universes were already performing to great acclaim, but instead to call my show The Worst of The Beatles, with a repertoire that included Mr. Moonlight, You Like Me Too Much, Drive My Car, Yer Blues, and my own least-favourite Beatles track, the lugubrious Blue Jay Way. When audiences seemed not to love the concept, I scrapped the existing set list, fired the musicians, and instead hired John and Yoko lookalikes to lie side by side in a bed onstage, mumbling messianic nonsense about peace and art and whatever else popped into their heads. Audiences enjoyed this even less than they had Mr. Moonlight, though, and I accepted a job selling ladies’ shoes at an elegant Beverly Hills department store. 

I am very suave, and was good-looking at the time, in a sort of saturnine Semitic way, and the ladies loved the way I looked at them soulfully and gave their feet a little massage after removing the various shoes they tried on, or had arrived in. Within a month of beginning my job, I was regularly…visiting half a dozen of the richest women in southern California., who passed me back and forth like the latest Danielle Steele novel. 

The husband of one of them, an avid cuckold and even avider voyeur, had made his fortune in gay pornography. Noting that I have an unusually deep, resonant, and sexy voice, he encouraged me to look into gay phone sex, at which I turned out to be even more successful than at selling shoes.

One of my most avid clients, Cal, who’d made his own fortune with alkyl nitrite poppers of the sort he enjoyed inhaling during our little chats, owned the radio station that broadcast the games of one of Los Angeles’s most prominent professional sports teams. He suggested that if I were to serve as his main broadcaster’s on-air sidekick, his station’s female and gay listenership would probably increase geometrically. I had enjoyed sports as a child and teenager, and agreed to give it a try, only to discover that many of the foreign players had names I doubted they themselves could pronounce. Cal laughed and said that since the retirement of St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Braves infielder “Red” Schoendienst, broadcasters had had it soft, and that if I found the job too difficult, I could decline it and spend the rest of my life titillating lonely gay men on the phone, or selling $800 Ferragamo pumps to women with walk-in closets more capacious than the hovels in which the world’s poorest lived lives of unspeakable deprivation. 

“Point taken,” I said, hating myself for it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Junior High School PE, Where Character Is Forged

It has occurred to me recently that one of the lowest forms of human life is the high school PE teacher. That isn’t to say that there aren’t many kind, tolerant, generous PE teachers, but the the job, in my experience, does seem to attract a special sort of asshole. I give you the boys’ PE staff of Orville Wright Junior High School, a few miles north of the airport not yet known as LAX, in the early 1960s. 

One didn’t change for PE at OWJHS. He didn’t swap the chic attire in which he attended his academic classes for the shorts and T-shirt in the school colours his parents had been compelled to buy him. He stripped for it, and how the coaches loved saying that, seeing how it made the timid 12-year-olds a couple of months out of elementary school tremble. If one were ill, or otherwise unable to participate in the day’s activities, a black mark called a non-strip was recorded beside his name. Strip, strip, strip!

As though it wasn’t bad enough that we, who in most cases hadn’t been naked in front of another human being since infancy, had to shower together! I hadn’t even discovered the pleasures of my own hand yet, and here I was being informed that I was expected to…strip, and let all my peers see that which no one had glimpsed since I was an infant!

In every boys’ locker room in the world, there are a few boys — the alphas, the badasses — who are really gifted at towel-snapping. I have never been whipped, but I can’t imagine a whip is able to sting much more than [Name Withheld}’s towels did. And do you suppose Coaches Heydenreich and Rall ever uttered a word of discouragement about it? Not one. I’d bet money they imagined being terrorised by a sadistic classmate in the showers Built Character.

(The shyest boy at my elementary school, and maybe in the Los Angeles Unified School District — a boy who was heard to speak, very softly, around once every semester, with eyes averted — was said to have…developed well before any of the rest of us. I can’t say for sure because I was no more likely to glance at my classmates’ genitalia than to stare unblinkingly at the sun. I do know that his priapic precocity made him a favourite target of towel-snappers. God, not that He exists, has a really cruel sense of humour.) 

Once having…stripped, we assembled on the basketball court outside, and there learned to impersonate soldiers. The coach would snarl, “Ten-HUT!” (macho asshole for attention), and we neatly lined up athletes would snap to the requisite posture. If pleased with us, the coach would then begrudgingly grumble, “At ease,” which stance involved rather less rigidity. I see now we were being primed for the armed forces, in which, half a dozen years hence, we would defend The American Way of Life against the Viet Cong. 

Surfing was gigantic at OWJHS at the time, and it was very fashionable for teen surfers to lighten their hair with hydrogen peroxide. Coach Heydenreich’s advising us that lightening one’s hair was a sure sight of incipient homosexuality dissuaded pleasingly few boys. We were also advised not to lift weights with each other, as that too might turn us into queers. 

Most of the time, Rall and Heydenreich seemed bored to tears with their job. But they came dramatically to life in mid-fall each year for the big all-star football game between the ninth-graders who would graduate the following June, as nature intended, and those who would be banished to Westchester High School in January. It was obviously just cruel random fate that had kept the pair of them from overseeing major universities’ football programmes. 

I suspect a great many of OWJHS’s female instructors — including the wonderfully named, bullet-brassiered Greek spitfire Marian Titangos — lusted for Rall, whose permanent deep tan beautifully set off his blue eyes and gleaming white teeth. No one had ever seen him and Paul Newman in a room together. I like to think that, given his affinity for tanning, he was leathery, prolifically creased, and no longer remotely attractive by 45, and that his final years were marked by awful loneliness, or random fellow sadists snapping towels at his ass. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mendelssohn's Rock Bible: When The Band Backed Barry

In 1968, when they first emerged, The Band was greeted as the salvation of American popular music. While most of their contemporaries were dressing as Indians (the Bombay, New Delhi, and chicken tikka sort) and composing flatulent concept albums about what they’d learned from their gurus, The Band looked like goatherds or subsistence farmers, and sang with authentic-seeming raggedness about someone jacking his daw, and other quintessentially North American recreations. But by the middle of the following decade, the record- and ticket-buying public — blaming them, unfairly, for Joan Baez’s deeply annoying hit version of their Civil War song — had turned its backs on them. In desperation, they requested a meeting with their manager, Harvey Weinstein, who hadn’t yet begun his careers in a motion picture prodution and sexual predation. It took nearly two months for Weinstein to respond to their telegrams. Behold how cruelly their stock had been devalued! 

When Weinstein finally found time for them, he didn’t tell them what they hoped to hear — that their audience was probably just taking a breather, and was sure to re-embrace them with all its might in time for the American bicentennial. Rather, he suggested they hitch their proverbial wagon to a fast-rising star, as years before they’d hitched it to Bob Dylan. The rising star Weinstein had in mind had had a huge hit the previous year with an excruciating schmatlzfest called “Mandy”, whose opening lines — I remember all my life raining down as cold as ice — had probably made Dylan wince, as “cold as ice” has traditionally been invoked by North American English teachers as the least imaginative simile in the history of language. The Band was appalled by the idea, but became more receptive when Weinstein pointed out that they were likely to have to revert fo flying coach, as in their scufflin’ days, if they didn’t go along with his idea. 

Even before introducing them to Manilow, Weinstein urged The Band to jettison their ample facial hair. Organist Garth Hudson, normally the easy-goingest and most sober of the group, was aghast.  His chin hadn’t been exposed to direct sunlight since 1951. He envisioned a time in the second decade of the following century when tangled whiskers like his would be very fashionable among hipsters. “Do it for the team, Gary,” Weinstein, who wasn’t good with names, urged him.

Manilow turned out to be cordial enough, though hardly on The Band’s wavelength. When he told them how much he’d enjoyed Baez’s version of their most famous song, Rick Danko had to excuse himself to inject some heroin. The musicians compared notes on their respective scufflin’ days. When Richard Manuel recalled having to sleep in sewers back when The Band was called The Hawks, and backing the basketball star Connie Hawkins, and being paid 45 cents for three 90-minute sets, Manilow quipped, “Well, backing Bette Midler was no day at the beach either.” None of The Band seemed to realise he was joking, and he appeared to be very embarrassed. Nonetheless, The Band signed on to accompany him on his upcoming North American tour and provided the backing on his hits "I Write the Songs" and "Copacabana".  It later emerged that someone else had actually written "I Write the Songs".

Manilow did everything in his power to make his new accompanists feel valued, and even offered to add "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight" to his live repertoire. “Honestly, guys,” he is reported to have said, “could I be any worse than Joan Baez?” But having to wear tuxedos and ruffled shirts on stage made them feel woeful dweebs, and when the Belgian martial arts star Jean-Claude van Damme called to inform them of his intention to make the documentary film that came to be entitled The Last Waltz, they jumped at the chance. Seeing that The Band had invited Neil Diamond and Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees to perform, but not him, Manilow removed them from his Hanukkah card list, and the six haven’t spoken since, in some cases because of some of The Band having passed away. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Don't Take Away the Insane's Guns — or Anyone's!

I should make my prejudices clear from the outset. Getting pleasure from going into the wild and shooting living creatures dead seems to me strongly indicative of insanity. I know that a certain kind of oblivious, entitled sadist regards hunting as sport, but as has been widely pointed out, what’s sporting about only one side being armed, and only one, the other, in mortal jeopardy? I also think that voting for someone like Florida's present governor indicates grievously impaired mental functioning. "We're going to get together to discuss what can be done to keep our school kids safe"? Oh, Governor Rick, you unspeakable puddle of gonorrheic discharge, you! 

The vilest living Americans — politicians subsidised by the National Rifle Association — have taken to telling us that the problem isn’t the availability of AR-15s, but the country’s deteriorating mental health. We're to understand that if we can just identify the insane among us — make them affix scarlet I’s, to their clothing (or, better yet, because I’s are ambiguous, C’s, for crazy) — we might be able to keep dozens of schoolchildren from being mowed down every year. 

Not selling weapons of mass destruction to the insane strikes me as an eminently sane idea — at least until I think about it for a minute. 

Have we not noticed the monstrousness of which the Republicans are capable? Is it really that hard to imagine them seeing opposition to Donald Trump’s plans for a big, beautiful wall along the USA's southern border as indicative of insanity? And have no doubt they’ll be waving the flag with all their might as they implement said disenfranchisment, and that they’ll describe what they’re doing as Standing Up for America. 

That son-of-a-bitch Colin Kaepernick? Nuts! The ultra-conservative columnist George Will? Well, didn’t he refer to Mr. Trump (quite wonderfully, mind you!) as a bloviating ignoramus? Crazy! Noam Chomsky? Sean Penn? The Philadelphia Eagles who refused to visit the White House after winning the Super Bowl? Stormy Daniels, Don Lemon, and Karen McDougal? Mad as hatters! Any member of the National Organisation of Women or Black Lives Matter? The American Civil Liberties Union? Stark raving mad, the lot of them! The Yale forensic psychiatrist who spearheaded the campaign to make Mr. Trump submit to a psychiatric evaluation? Physician, heal thyself! Onto the Don’t Sell Firearms To list with all of them!

But why stop there? Once having identified persons of impeachable mental health, forbidding the sale of guns to them won't be enough, not as long as there are machetes, and tire irons, and poison, and shoves in front of oncoming trains and buses. We must follow the lead of Russia, where the historian Yuri Dmitriev, who unearthed a mass grave containing the bodies of thousands who displeased Josef Stalin during the Great Terror of the 1930s, is widely expected to be declared insane, and institutionalised, this coming week. Mr. Trump’s homey Vladimir Putin, you see, has decreed that failure to honour Stalin’s memory is indicative of mental imbalance. Is it not the moral duty of the citizens of a free society, or of Russia, to protect its Beautiful Young People by banishing the mentally ill to a distant archipelago? 

Thank about it! It was only in 1973 that the fine folks of the American Psychiatric Association voted to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. How hard would it be, with such stalwart Christian soldiers as Cruz and Mike Pence leading the charge under the personal direction of Jesus H. Christ, to get that ruling overturned? In The Handmaid’s Tale, gays and lesbians are accused of gender treason. Do you honestly believe that couldn’t happen in Donald Trump’s America? 

Having had lots of it, I’m not sure there is such a thing as effective psychotherapy, but I think we can agree that, however slim the chances of a therapist truly helping a troubled person in the best circumstances, those chances will be reduced to none if the patient isn’t free to speak candidly. Can you imagine how many troubled people won’t dare to seek help for fear of having their names put on The Right's list of undesirables? 

There's a much easier way. I don’t think we have to ban gun ownership by anyone, regardless of his or her mental stability. Let what Mr. Trump calls The Second Amendment People devote whole wings of their tastelessly appointed houses to their gun collections. Don't deprive them of the sublime pleasure of holding their guns, and feeling mighty. Just outlaw the manufacture or sale of ammunition, and imprison those do defy the law as prolifically as we now imprison black teenagers who sell crack.