REALITY HAS GONE OFF
We are coming back from yet another commercial break and the entire production staff at Pat Boone’s studio has just had it. Cameramen are sitting down on the camera’s pedestals, with their heads buried in their hands. Speaking through his throat cancer patient “voice transducer,” Reality has gone off on a jag about the futility of spending four or more years at film school if the end result is just working at a public access station owned by Pat Boone. His ontological blasts are wreaking havoc on both eardrums and spirits. At every commercial break the director and the producer have come running out of the booth, telling us that Reality’s “transducer devices” for his throat cancer are overloading all the microphones and they nor the television audience can hear a word anybody else is saying: not the host, not Yoshi, and not even me, a point they make by pointing to me. They feel that my ego is somehow being stepped on by my sentiment, that I am aghast my voice somehow being muted, but they are barking up the wrong tree, as I don’t care if I am not heard, just as long as the host is not heard. It is a small and perhaps Pyrrhic victory, but that doesn’t matter to me, or Reality. The point is that just once the inexorable ticker and blather of infotainment must be drowned out, and if nobody else is up to the task, then this is a job for the fearless Braindead Soundmachine and their faithful mascot cum Maharishi, Yoshi. But of course, we are playing coy and are holding our deck of cards very close to the vest. We are supposedly here to promote our record, but instead have chosen to attack the beast.
“Can you turn that thing down?” The director points to Reality’s micro-amp.
“Unfortunately no,” I lie. “There is no volume control, only an on/off switch and it is imperative that it remain in the ‘on’ mode.”
“Who else is going to interpret and translate Yoshi? I certainly don’t understand what Yoshi is saying.”
We all look at Yoshi and Reality, who have resumed playing footsie and giggling.
“Can you at least allow us to move his speaker away from the overhead microphones?”
“Certainly. I don’t want you to get the impression that we are unreasonable or anything.”
A stagehand runs and procures more cables, allowing the speaker to move from Reality’s lap and away from the overhead mics.
Reality surreptitiously cranks up the volume control on his battery of fuzz boxes.
So yeah, we come back from commercial and Reality’s riff about “a career in quantum physics (is) far more noble and soul satisfying than the jail sentence of videotaping cross dresser for a UHF station” is in full song.
Only certain keywords make it through the din, therefore working on a rather Jungian level of post-hypnotic suggestion, but the entire studio is left with a growing awareness of the futility of existence and I could swear that in the darkness of the studio, a cameraman’s eyes were welling up.
After the vaguely Flame Starr/Vishnu stripper/singer debacle, Reality and I decide to get serious.
“It’s time to get serious,” I tell him. “No more getting jacked around by music industry-types who fancy themselves as taste makers or Svengali-figures, but who, in all actuality, just want to poke some stripper after promising her a record contract.”
Reality used to engineer the Baby Skulls, the band that I was thrown out of. One thing him and me have in common is that the same band had fired us both. They had fired him first. I had to deliver the news, even though I told the Baby Skulls that we have hired a guy with an astute set of ears who was willing to work for next to nothing, and that firing somebody with that kind of enthusiasm was a mistake.
Reality and I both knew we were right and they were wrong. This helped us form our bond.
After the Soundmachine’s debut, I was convinced we should make a record. Even though we don’t have a vocalist. Or even lyrics. Just a loop tape of Tammy Wynette. So Reality and I take a production meeting. We drive to his house, listen to “Surfer Rosa” by the Pixies over and over and over and whiff dope.
We discuss song structure. The Soundmachine already has the chord change(s) for four songs. A lot of it is the material we had recorded with the Vishnu stripper. We would just expand on the stuff we did with her, get rid of the half-baked Hindu lyrics and pretend that wrong turn had never happened. All we are lacking is proper lyrics, words that define and comment upon the existential plight of living in Los Angeles.
“And a vocalist,” he says.
This isn’t a problem, I tell Reality. “Singers are like spark plugs,” I say. “You screw ‘em in and you screw ‘em out.”
He puts on the Pixies record again.
That night Reality puts on the Pixies at least twenty times. Every time it spins, one or both of us has an epiphany, but we both fight for the floor and an opportunity to begin yet another cocaine filibuster.
Generally, epiphanies and brainstorms fueled by cocaine are doomed to be forgotten as soon as the drugs are passed one more time. But I have an idea — a crystallization of musical concepts that have been incubating in my brain for a while — and I spit it out. And it sticks.
“Okay, this is what the Braindead Soundmachine has to be. Two notes on the bass, and maybe a third note during the chorus. One chord on the guitar, only on the high strings, with a bunch of weird inversions of that one chord. Ikky making all kinds of bleeps, bloops and skronks. We’ll get some chick to sing dreamy existential elegies about the apocalypse over the backing track.”
It takes a year.
DOGVILLASAN AND FAYE GREENER
The Purple Haired Girl had come back into my life at the proper time. After her failed experiment living with a pseudo-beat poet in a squalid apartment in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, she bails and I pick her up at LAX and we resume a love affair. A couple of days later, she suggests we live together. Obviously, my apartment on Beachwood would never cut it.
It was time to move out anyway. I had had enough. I could no longer sanction life in the City of Dreams. The Scientologists, the model-actresses-whatevers, the Lou Reed and Axl Rose-wannabees, the parking nightmares. I knew of this house in Silver Lake that Bukowski was rumored to have lived in that was being vacated by a couple of harmless cokeheads.
It is a split-level built by Jesuits, and has three bedrooms, one of which will be converted to the new Wind Tunnel. Upstairs, the landlord is a Brit expatriate and survivor of Hitler’s Blitzkrieg aerial attacks on London, and therefore, I reason, can handle any aural bombast emanating from a downstairs bedroom turned into a recording studio.
It is there that Ikky, Reality and I record an album’s worth of instrumental backing tracks. We still need the proper voice and some lyrics.
I tell Reality and Ikky that I know a failed screenwriter who was now driving a forklift at a Pick Your Part in Pacoima. He writes poetry and plays on his lunch breaks.
“He has already has words,” I tell Ikky and Reality. “He has written this play, Mister Coyote, about a coyote that comes down from the hills of Beverly Hills and mounts a Beverly Hills housewife. We can just adapt his dialogue to song lyrics.”
BZ tells us to meet him and we’ll discuss his lyrical contributions to the Soundmachine. I suggest either the House of Pies or the Ski Room, a bar where the ghosts of Hollywood still smoke and share libations and the music is soft enough for us to talk over. He suggests Jumbo’s Clown Room.
The Clown Room reeks of popcorn and Lysol. The only thing it doesn’t smell like is beer or sex. A phalanx of men attempt to hide their hard-ons, while down on their luck models/actresses/whatevers slither and grind up and down the de rigueur silver pole that resembles a 9 foot marital aid.
The volume of some heavy metal power ballad fights for sensory dominance over the smell of the disinfectant. The beer is tepid, watery and sets us back five bucks per round.
“Gentlemen, I’m having trouble getting funding for my latest theatrical endeavor.”
“Okay,” I tell him. “We want to take your play ideas and turn them into a concept album, a sort of nonlinear, anti-rock opera.”
He seems reluctant and unimpressed.
He proffers: “I see your voice as equal parts Faye Greener — the anti-heroine from The Day of the Locust — and any gold-digging femme fatale hussy from a Raymond Chandler novel.”
BZ says he wants to keep the title Mister Coyote for his play, and suggest we should call our record It Came Down from the Hills and Took A Baby. Over the din of yet another heavy metal power ballad, I make one editorial revision.
“Look, the Coyote mounts the housewife, yeah? There we should call it “Come Down from the Hills and MAKE My Baby.’”
Ikky interpolates. “In other words, you can’t blame Mr. Coyote for being a coyote. The human being is at fault, as we as a species should know better.”
BZ is beyond it. “You see that woman mounting that pole?” he says. “She is a modern corollary of Faye Greener.”
The dancer writhing around in front of us has nasty scratches across her back. I figure they are from either her lover or her cat. I am having a problem understanding the attraction to this place.
A beer spills on the manila envelope containing the lyrics. This accident makes sense, conceptually.
After we recorded the basics for the first album, we decide we want a hit record. The easiest method seems to be to appropriate something that was already a hit record once, deconstruct it (keeping only the melody intact); rebuild it and Bob’s Yer Uncle.
We settle on “Walkin’ After Midnight,” the old Patsy Cline gem, an up-tempo ballad that tore up both the Country Music and American Top 40 charts in the early 1960s. This song is also suitably macabre for the Soundmachine’s decidedly fatalistic ethos: It was Patsy’s last hit as — concurrent to its chart success — her manager managed to crash an airplane into a mountainside, killing Patsy and a small entourage.
“If it was successful in two demographics already, what’s to stop it from charting on a third?” I reason.
“On one hand, this is almost better than plagiarism,” Ikky responds. “On the other, at what point is this ‘merely hipster revisionism,’ as BZ would say.”
“Look. We don’t have time to crunch the philosophical data on the whether or not this is a good idea,” I tell him. “We need a record that music industry types already understand.”
“Seeking the approval of the record industry: you are really on a dangerous terrain.”
He’s right. We are. But we do it anyway. I have laid down a drumbeat and fuzz bass line already. Eventually, the tune’s dreamy refrain of “searching for you” will be particularly haunting once we get a singer to wrap her diaphragm around it.
Ikky agrees to contribute, but only on his terms.
“I have not been happy with the way we have been recording my parts,” he says. “I really want to PUSH SOME AIR with this one.”
So I start the tape machine, engage the record buttons and Ikky turns some knobs and opens up some filters on his synthesizer and begins making noize before the song even reaches it cue mark on the tape. The synths cough and gurgle like the failing propellers on the small chartered aircraft that crashed into some mountain in the Appalachians and killed Ms. Cline at the zenith of her popularity. Thirteen bars later a weirdly arrhythmic syncopation kicks in and a Black Sabbath bass line tries to make sense of the entire arrangement.
Ikky is really sinking his teeth into this performance. This is perhaps his most inspired moment since Braindead’s debut, the night Reality and I shit-canned his crib sheets for all of his filter and oscillator settings and replaced them with nonsensical, onomatopoetic gibberish that we felt was somehow representative of the noizes he made.
We have run Ikky’s sound generators through a diminutive Japanese amplifier, with all the knobs turned fully clockwise. Everything is wide open. The amp has one speaker about ten inches in diameter, and the cone is really “pumping like a Vietnamese whore,” as Ikky put it.
As we record, the fucking walls are shaking like Krakatoa, all from the pressure waves coming out of a ten-inch speaker, and the Wind Tunnels are in full effect. Ikky is really leaning into it and really PUSHING SOME AIR.
It’s all, “WWWHHOOOKAHHH-BBLLAAAHHH – GAWWKKK-GAWWKKK – WWWHHOOOKAHHH-BBLLAAAHHH – GAWWKKK -GAWWKKK…” only louder than an aerial attack. When the song ends, we notice a banging on the front door of a ferocity that rivals Ikky’s work in decibel levels.
It is the landlord, an elderly British expatriate who lives upstairs and has never complained about the various noises and waveforms that seep through the floorboards of this modified dormitory for Jesuits, and we have finally hurled something at him that triggered a flashback of a childhood terrorized by the omnipresent Luftwaffe aerial Blitz.
He is twitching as if from shell shock and the veins in his face and neck are close to rupturing.
“What exactly are you doing in there?”
“Ummm, experiments in pushing air.”
He splutters something about experiments in eviction and, while closing the door, I assure him we are done gathering data.
We resume work as I back off the Japanese amplifiers down two notches to “9.” We get back to work.
Since real songwriters in the Nashville tradition penned “Walkin’ After Midnight”, the tune utilizes a few song-writing tricks (“devices,” in the idiom) that Ikky is not used to.
After he makes a pass all the way through, I then tell him we are going to punch in a couple of overdubs.
This is an anathema, and Ikky is not happy. To him, overdubs are correcting a moment; they are akin to historical revisionism.
“What I just did was fine,” he decides. “If you try to improve on it, not only will you make it worse, you will further compromise our purity of tone.”
“No, it was great, but there is a modulation in the song that we have to acknowledge.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ummm, after the second chorus, going into the third verse, the song modulates. It moves up a half step.”
“Okay.” He is humoring me. He does not care what “modulation” means. I tell him anyway.
“All right. The song is in the key of C. After the second chorus, it moves into C#.”
“Okay. C is the white keys. C# is a bunch of black ones. When I punch you in after second chorus, go to a bunch of black ones.”
“I’m already on the black ones.”
“Go to the white ones then.”
And he does. “WWWHHOOOKAHHH-BBLLAAAHHH – GAWWKKK-GAWWKKK – WWWHHOOOKAHHH-BBLLAAAHHH – GAWWKKK -GAWWKKK…”
THAT’S FILM… THAT’S MUSIC
We go to another drinking establishment. Over the noise of the jukebox, I hear glimpses of an argument that is developing between Reality and BZ. BZ has trotted out his “music is dead” rhubarb and has directed it towards Reality’s profession, the production of speed metal records. The argument continues and Ikky and I stare at our Mexican beers. Reality is having none of BZ’s rhetoric and tells him that if he is so full of caca that his “eyes are turning brown.” BZ excuses himself to use the bathroom… or… to give himself a break from Reality.
After giving it a beat of silence, Reality gives pursuit, following BZ into a narrow hallway where lavatories for both sexes reside. They are gone for a long while. I get up and tell Ikky I have to relieve myself and I am concerned about BZ and Reality — for fear that this could be ugly.
The hallway is bottlenecked with drinkers hoping to relieve their bladders, and the line continues almost into the main lounge. The walls and floor of the hallway reek of dank moisture. The boisterous walla-walla of the drinkers almost cuts through the smell.
To add to the septic entropy, one or more of the toilets have backed up and a thin flow of urine-diluted water and wadded up towels and toilet paper snakes its way down the hallway’s linoleum floor.
In the middle of the twin parallel lines of people waiting to go pee-pee is a minor commotion. My fears are realized.
“Look, you see that….” Reality points to a puddle of piss and dross. “Put your foot in that.” BZ is startled and uncomprehending. Reality grabs BZ’s left pant leg above the kneecap and physically drops his foot into the puddle. “That is film. Now put your other foot in this.” BZ is still too startled to move voluntarily. Reality grabs the other leg and sticks into the other puddle. “That is music.”
“This is ‘Film.’ That is ‘Music.’ Got it?”
The next morning the phone rings. It is BZ. He tells me, “That Reality fellow is an epic figure of our time.”
NO MORE LOOP TAPES
Sometime during college, JenJen and a couple of friends, an art major and a business major, started Broomtree Disease, an experimental folk music group. Due to inexperience, ineptitude and their penchant for experimentation, their sound is rather unique. The business major, the bass player, is a novice and hits only upstrokes; the art major, the guitar player, is a painter who sometimes swats his strings with a brush. The drummer thumps the skins while standing up and lives in a campground. A few years later, I became their soundman.
During this phase, JenJen was somewhat earthgirl-ish, but had developed a floating and ethereal voice, constantly searching for the right pitch. Her vacillations in tone I interpret as searching for the secrets of the Universe. Her voice belied her somewhat fusty appearance and was an extension of her eyes, which I remembered all these years later from her patronage at the Cal State Long Beach delicatessen.
As it was my job to make sure she was heard over the band’s dreamy painter-rock. And to drench her voice in reverb.
We developed a rapport, not unlike a cinematographer and an actress, or a painter and a model. In the tour van one afternoon, I confide in JenJen that I am making a record in my spare bedroom, based on some instrumental tracks I had been tracking with Ikky and Reality. Hers is a voice that should grace the Braindead record, I tell her. She agrees to sing on some of the stuff, but cannot commit to live appearances because of prior comittments with her act, Broomtree Disease.
In the Soundmachine, she would know longer be frumpy. She would be reinvented as the sultry spawn of, say, Patsy Cline and a fallen Hollywood starlet.
She is the primary singer for the Braindead Soundmachine, replacing the phone machine loop tapes of Tammy Wynette.
PAI GOW POKER AND GINGER ALE
“Write your life upon a Denny’s napkin
Lay your head upon the warm-blooded highway
Take my hand and don’t be sorry
Training bras and pony tails, pai gow poker and ginger ale
“The Zulu dawn is in my hand
We’re going home… somewhere…”– Pai Gow Poker and Ginger Ale
BZ shows me these lyrics and explains that this song is about our heroine/anti-heroine giving an entertainment industry-type a blowjob on the steps of the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
In this narrative, after the deed is consummated, she gets contemplative and existential at a Denny’s on Sunset Boulevard as she gets mentally prepared for her shift working the floor at a Pai Gow poker parlor in Bellflower.
“This is sheer fucking poetry,” I tell him.
THE CHACO ROOM, PT. II
After a falling out with Mr. Odd, the Missing Eyebrow leaves London and moves to California to start a family and enjoy a nice suburban lifestyle with a chickee bass player from Broomtree Disease. He is hired by the Braindead Soundmachine to mix sound.
With the Missing Eyebrow getting married, the Soundmachine takes it upon ourselves to throw him a proper Bachelor Party. Reality suggests the Chaco Room.
Reality and I kidnap BZ from his apartment catty-corner from the Scientology Celebrity Center on Franklin and Bronson. He answers the door more or less nude, although wrapped in a mattress. “To what do I owe this surprise, gentlemen?”
We tell him we are going to the Chaco Room. He demurs. Reality and I each grab an arm and he feebly tries to defend himself as we drag him into the hallway. He begs off, insists he will accompany us if he can only put on a shirt and some pants. We grant him that reprieve.
Once, at the Chaco Room, the dancer’s shifts have not started yet. In the interim, a television is blasting a documentary on the making of some sci-fi motion picture epic. Alien creatures heads explode repeatedly, nay ad blah blah blahseum and BZ tells Reality and I that the secret to success in this town is to look inside “the head of the chicken,” which he equates with the prosthetic devices detonating across the screen.
“Have you ever looked at a chicken that has had its head cut off? We are living in an age where you stick your head into the disembodied head of the chicken.”
We think we know what he means.
Later, the bachelor party has degenerated into an utter debacle. The Missing Eyebrow demurs at every advance from the Vietnamese strippers. A stripper with a pasty complexion slips BZ her phone number. Another Vietnamese girl is rubbing her pubis against a greased pole while the song “Baby’s On Fire” is piped through the strip-cum-sushi bar’s sound system.
Hieronymus Bosch would dismiss this scene as too pushed — too over the top.
LEBANESE KARAOKE MACHINE
JenJen lays down some vocal performances at the Wind Tunnels and the record is really coming together, but we still need somebody to sing on some of the other tunes, as JenJen is only partially committed to the Soundmachine and leaving to go on tour with her real band, Broomtree Disease.
Ikky, the Missing Eyebrow and I go to the One Eyed Jack, a piano bar in Koreatown to brainstorm on the Braindead vocalist situation. On the second floor, behind a bamboo garden replete with water mills and the coy pond, a jazzy piano duo is performing pop standards. It is a typical LA tableau: some Lebanese chick singer crooning for Japanese businessmen toeing the line between kimono-hugging drunk and possible hari-kari.
The Missing Eyebrow points to an olive-complexioned brunette, as she glisses through some Cole Porter song.
“Get her to sing on the record.”
“No. She sings standards. She has no clue what we are singing about.”
“This could be genius. Utterly Machiavellian. Get a lounge singer who has no concept about what we are about to be our meta-Faye Greener and have her unwittingly sing about the Apocalypse,” Ikky concludes.
“Get BZ to write a song for her, then,” the Missing Eyebrow suggests.
“I think he already has,” I say.
During a break, I approach the Lebanese Lounge Singer — who answers to Khalsoum — and ask her if she is interested in singing on a heavy metal disco record. She is flattered. I tell her she will be paid a flat fee per song, but that the publishing rights are to be split between the musicians and the lyricist, a screenwriter I met in a bar.
“Why me?” she asks.
“Because if I worked for Central Casting, and I was looking for a Geisha for the Apocalypse to sing on a Braindead Soundmachine record, her name would be Khalsoum and your picture is the one I would keep. The fact that you can sing is a bonus.”
She bites. She tells me that the opportunity to sing for cash is coming at a good time as her gig at the One Eyed Jack is coming to an end. On the horizon is the phenomenon known as karaoke — where drunkards in the audience sing to canned instrumental tracks. It is sweeping Tokyo, then Little Tokyo, then Koreatown and eventually virtually every drinking establishment across the globe. Khalsoum The Lebanese Lounge Singer is to be replaced by laser discs and canned karaoke music. She is to be replaced by a fucking electronic bouncing ball.
I tell Ikky and the Missing Eyebrow what is up. “Technology is taking our jobs away,” I say.
Ikky is having none of that. He insists his job as synthesizer man is safe. He says, “No machine can replace me until it can learn how to drink.”
The Soundmachine is like antimatter. The rest of the Culture is matter. When matter and antimatter connect POOFFF, utter obliteration. And creation.
That is the philosophy behind the Soundmachine. The entire culture is so bloated, turgid and corrupt that the only logical coda to this phantasm is to start over. Completely. Pretend that this debased and dehumanizing Age never happened.
Reality says we are not art. At best, we are anti-infotainment. Art is not possible anymore. The only art forms — where the individual is allowed to shape and form his or her creation to its apotheosis of grace, beauty and elegance exists in the fields of advanced mathematics, theoretical physics and drag racing.
It does not transpire in the galleries or the bijous or the concert halls. Literature ended with the Beats. Art ended with Abstract Expressionism. Music ended with the Sex Pistols. Film ended with Citizen Kane.
It’s all over. So over. The Soundmachine exists only to shout that one thought ad infinitum over a drum machine, a bloated bass riff and one guitar chord. We figure the only way this will get heard is if it chanted by a chanteuse cum geisha of the Apocalypse.
It is doomed to failure. Reality, Ikky and I are well aware of the futility of it all. Still, we endeavor to endeavor.
THE PRESS RELEASE
BRAINDEAD SOUNDMACHINE originated in the late 60s when members of the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Alan Ginsberg released a German EP under the band name Brian Wilson. The name has gone through as many mutations as the band members themselves. Former monikers include No Time for Rimjobs, General Schwarzkopf, The Newts and T.P.F.M.H.O. (Tear Perry Farrell’s Motherfucking Head Off). The only remaining original member is keyboardist Ikky. Ikky’s notoriety stems from his East Village classic, “Kiefer Sutherland,” a 90-minute organ solo featuring an electronically altered video of various brat packers going down on each other and being pissed on by small Pekinese dogs with moussed hair wearing miniature Melrose bomber jackets.
BRAINDEAD SOUNDMACHINE is more of a flophouse than a band. Their “revolving door’ policy includes the willing and unwilling contributions of anyone committed to creating an entity capable of consuming and shitting the incessant bombardment of pop culture and then electronically distorting the results. The only rules, per se, are no chord changes.
BRAINDEAD SOUNDMACHINE operates the Nitronic Wind Tunnels and Research Facility, and is responsible for a 1985 patent on the Voorhees micro-bass, which would have been the first fully computerized bass synthesizer had it not caused disorientation and vomiting with test audiences. Some of their other productions include “Tony Danza: A Rock Opera” based on the banalization of Italian-American culture set against a blow-up of Madonna’s armpit from her Playboy spread and “Mr. Coyote,” an unfinished movie about a coyote who sneaks down and mounts a Beverly Hills housewife. The latter remains banned due to a lawsuit filed by a public figure. Its sequel is “The Sands Will Come Again,” a tale that considers the demise of Los Angeles during a week of 200 mph desert winds.
THE GUY FROM STAR TREK
Reality is making a record with The Guy From Star Trek. They are sitting next to each other, sharing space behind a console.
They agree that the vocal is not loud enough. Simultaneously, they reach for the same fader. Their hands glance across each other, the knuckle hairs intertwining. The Guy from Star Trek smiles. It is a prolonged smile. It goes from nervous to un-nervous.
Reality doesn’t smile.
AVTON FILMS IMPLODES
Avton Films implodes. BZ is fired in a wave of layoffs and an impending bankruptcy. Independent film has been co-opted lickety-split like, in a manner that took rock and roll decades.
BZ gets a job as a forklift driver at a junkyard in Pacoima. In order to keep one foot in the film industry, he begins rewriting “erotic thrillers” scripts at Paramount Studios on Melrose.
BZ IS DISTURBED
BZ leaves a message on my phone machine. He is disturbed, as he has heard some of the Braindead tracks and is appalled at our insistence of using a drum machine to lay down a 4/4 disco beat. “Do you think that is relevant?” he asks. “Aping the black man with your drum machine?”
LOOK AT THE PALM TREES
JenJen and Khalsoum, the two chickee vocalists are disturbed. Bemused, but disturbed. The Soundmachine’s ethos is about degeneration and complicity in the dehumanization that is a coefficient in an infotainment culture. The chickee vocalists are at odds and distant from the Soundmachine’s message and are ambivalent about being the conduit for that message. They like the attention, but don’t REALLY want to be complicit in pointing out that the “culture is going down on itself,” as BZ coined it. Ergo, JenJen and Khalsoum are symbols of compromised ideals — and they are beginning to figure this out.
Both are temporarily busy with their “real projects,” so the Soundmachine has to find yet another singer. Just before Reality, Ikky and I formed the Soundmachine; I had done a Halloween show with the Baby Skulls, the band that fired me. The act that went on before the Baby Skulls had this stacked brunette singer with a spiky, lopsided new wave-y haircut. The band was awful. Absolutely namby pamby. But the singer had nearly perfect pitch. And a nice set of pipes.
I engaged her in a conversation, enjoining her for her phone number. My interests were carnal, not professional.
Later, we meet for coffee at the House of Pies. Franklin and Vermont in East Hollywood. I barely recognize her. She is blonde. Shoulder length hair. Over blintzes, I find out the dark hair was a wig and was part of her costume. She was supposed to be a “punk rocker” for Halloween.
“Punk rock changed my life,” I tell her, with a hint of umbrage at the notion that someone would make a mockery of what I considered to be the only relevant art movement since the Beat Generation. She nods and says, “of course,” like she understands, but she does not. In a town swimming with bullshit, she had been conditioned to respond to any statement with a politically expedient answer. The correct answer is always the answer that is the most inoffensive, and tells the other party it needs to hear. She’s one of them, I think to myself.
So when it comes to time to find yet another singer to croon about being Faye Greener, I figure who better than Faye Greener herself. We meet again at the House of Pies and I tell her that since we last met I was fired from the Baby Skulls, but have started a new act and need a vocalist. She asks me to describe “the project” and I do. We go outside and climb into the ‘61 Cutlass and I play her some mixes of the Braindead stuff on a boombox. She shows some enthusiasm and deems the “project” “kooky.” “Kooky” and “Project” are two words I truly hate. There is an undercurrent of contempt by any Hollywood type who chooses to use these words. I say nothing. She agrees to do it, “as long as it doesn’t interfere with her other projects,” which, of course, are more important. Uh huh.
A WASTE OF FUEL AND RUBBER
We hire the Indie Rock Manager to manage us. She arranges a meeting with an upstart indie record label. The label was somewhat piqued, but the do-gooder Green politics of its president ultimately queered the deal.
To wit: During our lunch on La Brea, the Indie Label President asks Reality and I what Braindead sees as its goals.
“To create the perfect square wave,” I tell him.
“Like a Top Fuel dragster,” Reality clarifies.
“What? You mean like drag racing?”
“What a waste of fuel and rubber,” he sniffs.
“That’s what life is: Waste, entropy, chaos,” Reality retorts.
He doesn’t get it. He gets the check, however. Reality and I feel like less human beings after the exchange.
THE HEISENBERG PRINCIPLE (NOBODY CARES)
The Indie Rock Manager sends out cassette tapes of Come Down from the Hills and Make My Baby to various record labels. Nobody cares. But somehow Maximum! Records, a record label out of Chicago, bites. They are intrigued by the cover of the tape, which is a picture of a rather catastrophic explosion in a Top Fuel dragster, which Ikky jacked the contrast on so’s to highlight the mascara worn by the female driver.
The mascara and the explosion was metaphor, and Ikky really cranks on symbolism.
Maximum! Records does not know exactly whom they were signing, so they send us a letter of inquiry. “Mr. Reality.” “Ikky Shivers.” “JenJen.” “The Lebanese Lounge Singer.” Who are these people exactly? Could we send a picture of the band? Certainly.
But sending a picture wasn’t that simple. Ikky objects. He says that pop music is subject to the Laws of the Heisenberg Principle. “To observe something is to change it,” he says. “Besides, there is a meritorious beauty to generic anonymity.”
“Well, then we must not be observed,” I tell him.
“We must not change,” Reality agrees.
Reality and I drive down to the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles and peruse the magazine racks, in search of the most outrageous pictures of Japanese pop groups we could find.
We find an act with pinnacles of massive, teased and dyed hair. Kabuki makeup. “THAT is Braindead,” Reality gushes. “Let Ikky jack up the contrast on that.”
So Ikky does, and this generic Japanese glitter rock band is now truly representational of the Soundmachine.
Maximum! signs us anyway.
THE OIWAKE PUB
Los Angeles is Ground Zero for everything that is wrong with Western Civilization. Greed. Materialism. Degradation.
The Japanese want all of these things, of course. They just haven’t gotten it down yet. Yet… Little Tokyo in Los Angeles is Western and Eastern civilization at a crossroads.
It is strange: The Japanese want nothing more than to shit-can the values that make them noble and unique, and supplant this rarefied cosmic piety with the base inhumanity of the West, of which its quintessence manifests itself in Los Angeles, the home of show business.
Which is why we have to have pictures of Japanese musicians in pancake makeup feebly trying to emulate an American glam rock band. THAT is the Braindead Soundmachine, Reality says.
Reality and I know the layout of Little Tokyo pretty well. It is the one area of Los Angeles where we can feel comfortable, both aesthetically and philosophically. Ironically, in the non-Japanese sections of Los Angeles, we feel like gaijin. Uncomfortable. Later, we go to have Japanese beers at this karaoke joint for Oriental businessmen. The patrons are plastered on sake and caroling to various oldies. On a silver screen, there is a visual accompaniment to the music, which is generally teenage Japanese girls in various states of undress on an overcast beach.
The bar patrons are completely banzai. So are Reality and I. We are the only round-eyes in the joint. Reality signs up to sing “Heartbreak Hotel.”
The MC announces over the p.a. system to welcome “Mistel Learity.”
The teletype reads out “Well since my baby left me, I’ve found a new place to dwell…” but Reality ignores it completely.
Instead, he begins chanting, “SATAN! … SATAN! … SATAN!”
The Japanese businessmen are with him. The entire crowd is standing up, flicking their lighters, chanting “SAYLL-TAN! … SAYLL-TAN! … SAYLL-TAN!”
I am in the only person in the joint, not chanting, but I could not be happier.
As we leave, we walk out over a wooden footbridge flanked by ivy and waterworks. I can’t contain my glee any longer. “I really love this place,” I say to Reality.
“Los Angeles. Little Tokyo. All of it.”
A couple of months later the Oiwake Pub is bulldozed and replaced by a chain office supply store.
CONCEIVE, BELIEVE, ACHIEVE
In the hill behind my house is a transmitting antenna for a radio station that just changed formats from rap to Korean talk radio.
The radio broadcasts blast into my neighborhood like a shotgun and permeates every piece of metal. People are picking up Korean talk shows on their chain link fences. Old men pick it up in the silver fillings in their teeth.
The new format is perhaps more takeable for these geezers, as opposed to booming bass and a torrent of expletives in one’s mouth. Yes, rap music physically implanted in one’s head. Unfuckingbelieveable…
The Korean talk radio station is an invasion and an epidemic. It has infiltrated every electrical connection in my house. This makes recording a difficult proposition, fraught with Asian gobbledygook and mumbo jumbo insinuating itself onto every guitar, track and vocal performance we are recording.
We — me, Ikky and Reality — are kind of okay with the Korean broadcasts every once in a while. There was a sort of Zen serendipity to the whole process, and although none of us believe in predestination as a cosmological concept, if something wants to make its way onto our vocal tracks, who were we to argue? “There are no mistakes,” Ikky says.
Still, it is in everything else in my house: the television, the phones, and the radio. I call the radio station and file a complaint. They know just the phenomenon I am pissed about. They send an engineer down to troubleshoot and correct the frequency jamming that is enveloping the ether at the Wind Tunnels.
The engineer is a brother from South Central, probably hired during the station’s last format and by its prior owners. He has a toolkit with him and is sporting a baseball cap embossed with the initials, “CBA.” He says his name is “Sporty D.”
The guy does some electronic hoodoo voodoo, using variations of the divining rod approach with a sort of Geiger counter and then declares (after a series of beeps and boinks) that I am, in fact, under magnetic siege from his employer. His solution? He has these small donuts of some preternatural kryptonite-like material, and he commences to wrapping and insulating every piece of wire in my house with the stuff. Power cables, speaker cables, and any connector he can find.
“We’re not done,” I tell him. I open the door to the Wind Tunnels, where we are making the Braindead record, and expose the galaxy of blinking lights, cable runs, tape machines and sundry exploding electronic spiders. The engineer is like a child at Shangri-la.
“Man, this is the bomb,” he whistles. “When I first looked at you, I could tell you were the kind of guy that had a song in his heart and could lay down some jams.”
“What kind of jams you got?”
“All kinds of jams. Mostly with hip hop drums and fuzz bass. Funk guitar.”
“Man, if you got some jams, I gots some rhymes.”
“What are your rhymes like?”
“DMC. The o-l-d DMC, not the new DMC. Do you like the old DMC?”
“You mean ‘Kings of Rock,’ that kind of thing.”
“Yeah, I like the old DMC.”
“You got some extra jams?”
“Yeah, I got some jams.”
We make a date to record some of his rhymes at the Wind Tunnels, he proceeded to wrap every cable in the studio in his Korean radio-repelling quasi-kryptonite and then I ask him if he ever played semipro basketball.
“Because of your brim. It says, ‘CBA.’ Isn’t that for the Continental Basketball Association?”
“Nnnaaaooo, man. That means, ‘Conceive, Believe, Achieve.’ I’m a positive rapper.”
I did not want to tell him one thing I enjoyed about rap was its utter nihilism.
THE MOTIVATOR (THE M, THE O, THE T)
Sporty D comes over with his rhymes.
We set up, I roll the track and he begins rapping.
It is this inscrutable, inexorable screed of platitudes.
“Drugs are bad on any levels/Hand in hand, remote control
with the Devils,” as a for instance.
It goes on forever.
I stop the track. “Sporty, you need a hook. A chorus.”
“The part that people keep singing after they’ve turned the radio off.”
Sporty D is entered in a rapper’s competition in South Central. I tell him the judge’s and his “peep’s” eyes are gonna glaze over if he keeps jabbering away without a break and without a hook.
“Yo. What do you want me to do, man?”
“You’re Sporty D, ‘the Motivator,’ right?”
“Well start there. After the ‘drugs are bad’ bit take a breath and wait for the downbeat. Then come in with something like, ‘I’m Sporty D, the M-O-T-ivator, the M, The O, the T-ivator.’”
“Yo, that is dope, blood.”
“Okay, you try it with me.”
We start rapping together.
“All right, all right. Let’s roll tape.”
After the “drugs are bad” bit, I punch in his vocal and point.
“Yo, I’m Sporty D, the M-O-T-ivator, the M, The T, the O-ivator.”
I kill it. “Sporty, we gotta’ stop dude.”
“What’s wrong, man?”
“It’s ‘the M, the O, the T-ivator.”
“Damn! I got it.”
We start again.
“Yo, I’m Sporty D, the M-O-T-ivator, the M, The T, the O-ivator.”
“Sporty, stop man, stop.”
I tell him.
“Damn. I got it. I got it.”
We roll again.
“The M, the T, the O…”
I let it slide. We play it back.
“Man, that… that… what did you call it?”
“Man that chorus is BAD!”
I knew he meant good.
I change the order of the syllables with a razor blade. After he leaves.
Yoshi and Club Mugi could only exist in Los Angeles.
BZ discovered Mugi. He and a struggling actor friend had been tipping strippers at Jumbo’s Clown Room. The beer wasn’t cheap and it was watered down. Equally diluted and tepid was the response the women were giving BZ’s actor pal as he stuffed paper currency into their g-strings. It was all a flash and a promise. Feeling cheated and existentially numb, BZ and the actor leave, and en route to their car parked on Hollywood Boulevard, they hear music wafting out of the back entrance of an establishment named “Mugi: A Club.” It is a siren’s song…
Mugi is a dive bar out of a particularly homoerotic rendering of From Here to Eternity cum Apocalypse Now.
The back entrance from Hollywood Boulevard is siamesed and labyrinthian, and its convoluted layout seems to indicate that the proprietors do not want to encourage any walk-in foot traffic. It is like entering a cavern, catacombs or an opium den.
Once inside, the mouth of the entrance opens parabolically and blossoms like a lotus flower, but the ambient light contracts rather than expands. A right angle of a bar is anchored to a concrete floor. A multicultural smattering of lounge lizards and gender-non-specific geishas plant their anatomical private parts on a haphazard arrangement of bar stools. There are Asians and Caucasians, maneuvering and pairing off non-linearly. Some of the white guys have the look of Vietnam Vets who got their libidos rearranged on weekend furloughs in Saigon and they now patronize Mugi in hopes of rekindling a love lost ten or twenty years earlier in, say, Okinawa or somewhere in Southeast China. They have a far away and forlorn look of wistful nostalgia for a Police Action that, on the one hand, decimated tens of thousands of young American boys, but on the other, provided a playground for kinky Caucasians to satisfy their depravity and fetishes uhh, unmolested, and away from prying, puritanical eyes and Cold War busybodies.
“He-rro goh-jus,” says this four-foot something gender bender with Hiroshima Mon Amour eyes and pink cheeks so bulbous that it is entirely possible a canister of CO2 is going to detonate at any moment.
It is the voice of Yoshi, the four-foot something transvestite expatriate from Tokyo, who sought refuge in Los Angeles twenty years ago after being disowned from his family in Nippon because of his sexual orientation. Once in the states, Yoshi allowed his fruitiness to blossom and ripen like so many tangerines, and he becomes a sort of underground icon amongst the Japanese homosexual community. He reaches critical mass with his sexuality and his sense of community when he became the floor manager of Mugi: A Club.
That night, Valentines Day, Mugi is in full effect, with a floorshow. BZ, who had been objectifying women at Jumbo’s Clown Room, is now the one being objectified, as Yoshi plies him with repeated rounds of Cuervo shots.
I get a message on my machine. It is BZ. “You’re not going to believe this one,” he says. He leaves directions to Club Mugi on my machine, which he insists we are to patronize on Valentine’s Day, and then says, “prepare to be objectified.”
SOMETIMES VALENTINE, SOMETIMES HALLOWEEN
BZ is late and I am there by myself. I order a Golden Oj and Yoshi bats his eyelashes and demurs.
As alluded to, Mugi is a most debased scene. It reeks of beer, perfume, dank septic concrete and hormones. There is one restroom and it is flooded, which enhances the bouquet. At the bar and on the dance floor, a smattering of sundry third world drag queens intermingle with straight looking American men, many of whom are veterans.
There is a rectangular concrete stage raised half a foot above the muck. A costume ball cum floorshow is in effect, and a parade of faux Brazilian ladies high step and pussyfoot across the stage, to the delight and glee of the assembled smocklers. The choreography is loose as prison flatulence, but the lack of discipline and rehearsal cuts no truck with this crowd.
BZ is still late. The Golden Oj has been drained, and supplanted by a series of shots of Cuervo.
“No Chal-ge.” Yoshi says, and matches me shot for shot. As soon as his shot glass is drained, Yoshi yelps like Carmen Miranda hit with a horse syringe full of ketamine. More shots appear. Yoshi is working me for my phone number, and yes, I see what BZ is talking about. For once, I am the one who is objectified.
Another shot, another show tune, another attempt at my personal digits. I tell Yoshi I am a “one man woman,” in hopes that he will take a hint and throttle back and he laughs and says, Okay, I see” and cackles again like Ms. Miranda.
BZ comes in, sits down next to me and Yoshi rouuoarrrs like a caged cat. “Herro go-jhus. You no say you have speci-arr fliend.”
BZ orders a drink and then makes his way to the unisex bathroom. Yoshi swoops in for my phone number one last time.
I relent and write 818-554-6729 on a napkin. Yoshi hurriedly stuffs this into his blouse. It is Reality’s phone number.
PURPLE HAIRED GIRL REVISITED
She is a schoolteacher who once had purple hair. At first, I would see her studying advanced mathematics in the dining area of the university cafeteria where I worked. I left her a note saying I would like to tickle her with a Twinkie or any other crème-filled dessert while we calculate its shelf life.
Which we did. Intermittently. For eight years. During which the Purple Haired Girl matured from a post-punker into a schoolteacher. But whenever a schoolteacher is living with somebody who thinks the spare bedroom is a wind tunnel to test the pressure waves of a drum machine… well, nerves fray.
So one day I come home and there is half as much furniture as there was that morning.
I couldn’t blame her for leaving. Part of the tension was living in a house that had been converted into a Wind Tunnel, with the same bass riffs and synthesizer noizes squeaking through the air gap in closed doors. Over and over. Ad fucking nauseum.
ALESIS HR-16 PT. 1
I replace the Roland TR-505 with an Alesis HR-16. Out of the box, it sounds less like the drum sounds on the rap records we are attempting to emulate, but with some tweaking and manipulation, the Alesis yields some bizarre and unexpected results. For a bass drum, we de-tune the HR-16’s tom tom sample down one octave. Again, the idea is to make something beyond drum sounds, but still punctuate the beat.
Like being in a relationship, reliance on other human beings is kind of a problem. The fewer you have to rely upon, the better off you are. That’s where we are as a society: emotional and intellectual syllogism is easier achieved with an electronic device than it is with another human being. McLuhan was wrong: People are a far cooler medium than machines.
It is a simple flat gray box, with a wedge shape and a slight rake to its topside. Opening the lid reveals a simple matrix of square plastic buttons, each designed to trigger one of sixteen different drum sounds, be it tom toms, or a bass drum, or sundry cymbals or a snare.
A liquid crystal screen displays jagged, bit-mappy black text against a backdrop of a yellowish mutant orange — a shade only otherwise used as a dye in food coloring. A couple of sliders lets the “drum” programmer access a variety of menus, adjusting such parameters as volume, pitch and some basic routing or circuiting.
As an object de anything, the HR-16 is excruciatingly prosaic. Indeed, there is nothing about this drum machines’ styling that inspires any particular technological fetishism or enthusiasm. Any desire to actually touch the machine really stems from the user’s dissatisfaction with its analogue, the real deal. i.e., a human being. Or at least a drummer.
The drum machine is a surrogate, and there are reasons why people resort to surrogates. The drum machine means you do not have to rely on other people. Humans are more flawed than their electronic replicas. A drum machine means you do not have to rely on human beings.
Drummers are the most heinous derivatives of human beings to ever de-evolve. They are subhuman cavemen who lack the intellectual prowess to rub their two sticks together and create something useful like heat; instead out of frustration from their inability to either a) make fire and b) express themselves beyond grunts, they must resort to banging on a drum, a primal chest-beating and cock walking designed to make the opposite sex look at them. Which doesn’t really work of course, because once they do have a boy or girls’ attention it only reveals the drummer’s lack of articulation and the futility of these primitive gestures only cranks up their angst and neurosis.
Conversely, like a dog — an animal more evolved than a drummer — drum machines are receptive to input. They do what you tell it to do. They will not argue with you about the syncopation of the hi-hats and they will not mack on your girlfriend.
That night at Tex and King Hang’s loft, as we were listening to “Rapper’s Hall of Fame” and marveling at the first wave of hip hop out of Compton and how fucking funky the drum machined programming was on those records, Tex told me the best way to make a drum machine have more of a “human feel” was to pour a six pack on it.
Ikky Shivers is the best drummer in Los Angeles, precisely because he is too smart to be a drummer. He programs with a human feel, alright.
“When a butterfly flaps its wings in Australia,” he tells me one day while we are programming music, “it changes the weather patterns and cloud formations in Manhattan.” Meaning what, I ask him. “Meaning in nature, small changes in input equal large changes in output.” Okay then. “That is a basic tenet of the Chaos Theory. Our programming and our machines must be analogous to what happens in nature. When we push a button, or adjust an algorithm, chaos must ensue.”
Ikky stopped drumming — and began programming — for hyper-intellectual reasons. That, and because he didn’t want to schlep a drum kit around anymore. Ikky is a rare human being, in that his input yields large changes in output. Actually, with him (and with BZ and Reality), the output surpasses the input logarithmically, just like in nature.
But in relationships — and with drummers — the calculus is reversed and far screwier and far more unnatural. The output is less than the input; any attempt in communication or conveying information or emotions is an exercise in diminishing returns.
You push a button and you get the desired result.
Yes, machines will fail you, but only when bits of plastic break or when solder joints turn cold. One expects that obsolescence as part of the deal. There are no emotional attachments to a drum machine. And ultimately, the input equals the output.
There is emotional attachment to other human beings, though. And the input is never equal to the output.
After years and years of chasing and wooing the Purple Haired Girl, including a sordid history of her having affairs with an ersatz beat poet in San Francisco, she came back to me and we moved in together.
AIRPLANE LIGHTS LIKE A STRING OF DIAMONDS
The Indie Rock Manager and I fly to Chicago. Maximum! Records has sorted out that the Soundmachine is not, in fact, comprised of Japanese kabuki glam-anarchists, but will not offer a contract unless they are able to put a face to somebody or something associated with the act they are about to throw a bunch of money at.
Maximum! is owned and operated by two gay men — “life partners,” who used to run a very popular underground record store and whose cachet and equity has been transformed into a very successful independent record label. One of the men takes cares of the artistic and business decisions, while the other takes care of the office maintenance and struts around sporting a tool belt and fixing light fixtures. Maximum! employs a baker’s dozen or so workers, busybee-ing out of a modified warehouse on Division Street.
The employees all have either lopsided, multicolored hair or shaved heads. Other touches of couture include goatees and a ridiculous amount of piercings and tattoos. Drugs float through the office and into employee’s orifices like a drunken midget emptying his bladder.
We are having a listening party for what will become Come Down from the Hills and Make My Baby.
“I really like that one,” the Tool belt says. It is an instrumental track that Reality and I recorded while we were drunk. He played some wobbly country chords, I imitated Zamfir on a battery-powered Radio Shack synthesizer and a cheap drum machine chicka-chicka’d in the background.
Label representatives take us to a nightclub for drinks. As we walk in, “Dogvillasan” by the Braindead Soundmachine blares over the club’s sound system. Joan E. Jones croons BZ’s lyrics over a heavy metal bass line:
Airplane lights like a string of diamonds
Frozen in the sky, cast a shadow on Compton
Kick it on the porch and fire up a camel
I’m blowing smoke rings just to dry the enamel on my nails…
Synchronicity or not, We are golden.
Coming back from LAX, the Indie Rock Manager and I are in the diamond lane, heading east on the Century Freeway, an elevated thoroughfare of concrete, asphalt and composite sound barriers, whose function is not to keep the rumble and whine of automobiles out of the homes below as much as it is designed to keep the motorists from noticing that as we are like hovercrafts above the dire ghettos of Los Angeles, the southern tip of South Central. The car pool lane rises up on a trestle whose pitch and trajectory acts as a stairway to the stars. It separates from the rest of the matrix that is the Los Angeles freeway system. As the ramp curves and bends en route to merging with the Harbor Freeway North, I see a queued phalanx of aircraft waiting to make their approach onto LAX. They are, in fact, like a string of diamonds.
“The record contract is as good as signed,” the Indie Rock Manager says to me as we drive over Watts.
“Come down from the hills and make my baby,” I say.
And then I begin day dreaming behind the wheel, entering a sort of omniscient meta-awareness, careful not to crash the car into the roof of a household of third world immigrants, but still visualizing the ghosts of writers both living and dead who wrote about Los Angeles before BZ did. BZ is right: Nathanael West was dead on about so many things, and had the prescience to see where this town was going. I mean, they all nailed that Los Angeles would be the epicenter to a sort of apocalypse, but did not fully tap into the banality of such a cataclysm. We cross over the Santa Monica Freeway. East LA is to our right, Koreatown to our left. From our perch, I can see it bubbling like a cauldron.
LOLITA’S MOM’S ATTORNEY
Maximum! sends us a record contract. I play basketball with an entertainment attorney who is in a People magazine story about the guy who represents a show biz mom who is trying to reclaim parental custody over her famous adolescent pop singer daughter, Lolita, who has been advised by her manager that Mom is a piece of sharking, opportunistic trailer trash, who is salivating to get the little Lolita’s righteous record company money.
Lolita’s Mom’s Attorney looks at the Maximum! document, skims the pages and says, “Sign it.”
So we do. Maybe Lolita’s Mom’s Attorney thinks the contract sucks, and that the Soundmachine will never get another offer.
Maybe he’s right.
THE HOUSE OF PIES
After the contracts are signed, the Maximum! Label Types fly out to L.A. to meet the rest of the Braindead Soundmachine. They are very curious to meet BZ, the lyrical visionary.
We arrange a meeting at the House of Pies, Franklin and Vermont in East Hollywood.
BZ is quiet and in a black mood. Since the implosion of Avton Films and the mothballing of his “Zombie Cop” screenplay, he gets surly around entertainment industry types — even ones cutting him a check.
After they ask him to explain his concept of the Coyote God from Vietnam, he gets supercilious and leaves.
In passing, he calls the Label Types, “bald, goateed, booted testicles.”
They laugh nervously.
“I am not being ironic,” he spits. “I don’t ‘do’ irony.”
It is a sort of dark Quonset hut of a discotheque, stuffed and folded ninety degrees behind a lavanderia.
The building puffs and expands with every four-on-the-floor thump of a hyper-amplified bass drum.
PHHHUUMMMMPPPHHH … PHHHUUMMMMPPPHHH … PHHHUUMMMMPPPHHH … PHHHUUMMMMPPPHHH … Quadruple time over the inexorable bass drum wafts shards of staccato sawtooth waves, looping in a minor key riff… every couple of measures some ersatz soulful wail from what could be either a black chick or a computer generated simulation of a black chick cries and “whoa whoas…” and so it goes, ad infinitum…
Meanwhile, there are a handful of humanoids strung upside down and swathed in gauze and white cloth. They are mummified and hanging by their ankles for the night, and won’t be released until after the deejay packs up his gear. This is their punishment and penance for what I cannot decipher. But they feel the need to be punished. The music seems punishment enough.
Representatives of our label have taken us here, because all of their other acts are in heavy rotation on Club Fuck’s deejay’s playlist. I am not sure what we have done to be swept up in this milieu.
By comparison, our record is not aggressive like this stuff. It is just a weird pop record. Perhaps this is all a mistake.
Meanwhile, in the center of the dance floor a queue of people clad only in leather thongs and handcuffs are having their lips sewn together and then hot waxed.
“Man, that looks uncomfortable,” Ikky says from beneath his cowboy hat.
It is all beyond unpleasant. Suddenly, the deejay drops the needle on a song by the Soundmachine.
“This is not what I had in mind at all,” I say.
It is a Mexican disco on the corner of a tertiary intersection where Vermont, Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards collide. The proprietor of Los Globos is a grotesque homunculus Chihuahua of a drag queen — a green, hideous replica of a woman. His/her physique is that of Quasimodo, although only more lopsided. A macabre shade of pancake makeup is swathed across the creature’s face. A green gown hangs down to the Adam’s apples of its ankles. The drag queen holds a microphone attached to a real cable running to the deejay booth. The microphone is not switched on.
The performance begins. The deejay drops the needle on the vinyl. The transvestite is mimicking to a record of ANOTHER Mexican drag queen that performs comedy. The cracks and pops are louder than the canned laughter and the punch lines.
There is no equilibrium, no symmetry to any of this. It is beyond absurd. Again, like all things in Los Angeles and beyond, it is a simulation of a simulation. It is a drag queen miming a man miming a woman. The only step further would be a WOMAN impersonating a man impersonating a man impersonating a woman. Doing comedy.
Reality is not only suspended, it is bent and paralyzed, like light from the stars as it hits the carbon dioxide in the ether. Everything is a house of mirrors on peyote.
Nobody in the smattering of gay gauchos and caballeros is laughing. The only laughter is off of the comedy record.
The lip sync is off, like a Japanese horror film. The homunculus is oblivious and continues to mime.
The act tanks. The only applause is off of the comedy record.
Next, Yoshi is on. A Japanese cross dresser in a Mexican bar — the mind boggles. Yoshi is, in fact, the star attraction. There are nine people in this puke-colored abortion of a nightclub. But when Yoshi is announced with a fanfare along the lines of “Viva Par Masturbar, con Yoshi!” (at least that is what it sounds like), the nine homosexuals erupt, only their applause and whistles are enhanced by a canned audience reaction cued up from the last act’s Mexican comedy record.
Yoshi waltzes into the spotlight sporting a red dress splattered with white polka dots. She (?) also has a lollipop and her hair is done up in blonde pigtails. Yoshi is doing 5-year old Shirley Temple drag.
The music starts and it is some manner of 1960s Japanese bubble gum pop song, with the verses in Japanese and the chorus in English.
“Itty Bitty Baby, Hi Hi.
come-a come-a Baby, Hi Hi.”
As the song reaches its bridge, Yoshi choreographs a series of curtsies, which segues into a lot of licentious licking of the lollipop. The pedophiliac implications are staggering. The song goes into its last chorus of “Itty Bitty Baby, Hi Hi,” but Yoshi breaks sync and begins downing shots of Jose Cuervo Gold proffered by the drunken and appreciative caballeros.
Instead of taking the audience out of the moment, the breaking of sync takes the audience further into … into what? Further into the disembodied head of the coyote. Or something.
CROP DUSTERS COLLIDE (THE TOUR IS ON)
The tour is booked. For the next three months we are to crisscross America as the opening act for something called DMFDM, a Frankfurt, Germany-based “industrial rock” act who also record for Maximum! Records.
Ikky has a day job repairing phone lines for the government. They will not grant him a leave of absence, so we have to find another synthesizer player.
Not to worry. I put in a call to a pal from high school, Bo Fingers, a synthesizer prodigy who now lives in Birmingham, Alabama.
While we both are in high school, Fingers worked in a pharmacy after school. This was the proverbial fox guarding the hen house. The drug store’s inventory had to be all over the map, as every night after the drug store closed, Fingers and I would cross-reference the pills he lifted with the Physician’s Desk Reference. As often as not, these narcotics would leave us completely rubber-legged and unable to function in a world that adhered to four dimensions.
Finger’s stint at the drug store was brief, but his tenure’s brevity was more than compensated for in his pillaging of booty.
Despite our hormone and ennui-fueled appetite for sampling chemicals of any atomic number, Fingers was able to stash away a reasonable cache of pills that he hid from his parents in his rather primitive and soon to be obsolete collection of synthesizers.
When the synthesizers were mothballed in his bedroom closet, so were the narcotics. We wouldn’t discover them again until our paths crossed again, over a decade later, when he joined the Braindead Soundmachine as the pinch-hit synthesizer man…
Once I have Fingers on the phone, I tell him of our dilemma. He’s with me. Sort of. He tells me about this great new gear he has. I explain the Soundmachine’s ethos to him — “Look, the Soundmachine is a postmodern attack on the Age we live in and we cannot use contemporary electronics in that assault; we are a postcard from the past and a Polaroid of the future — either the past or the future is far more takeable than what is happening now” — and patiently tell him that his new expensive electronic keyboards are of no interest to us.
I remind him of the synthesizer he owned when we were in high school, the one that served double duty as a repository for hiding pharmaceuticals from his parents. These are the keyboards that are perfect for the Soundmachine.
Fingers arranges to patch and circuit the aforementioned electronic relic and then he calls me back.
“Okay, let’s start the audition,” I say.
“Audition? You mean over the phone?”
“Sure, the phone is the perfect setting for this.” I then tell him about the gig whereupon Reality and I stole and destroyed Ikky’s notations for his synthesizers. I tell him there are no mistakes.
I play him “Dogvillasan,” which is in G major with a minor 7th, but then advise not to worry about that too much. His contribution doesn’t have to be musical, per se. It can be shards of noize.
“Hey, I got this one sound that reminds me of four crop dusters colliding in midair. Maybe that’ll work for the verse.”
“Play it for me.”
He does. It’s perfect. He has the job.
THE MOTOR HOME
Reality, the Missing Eyebrow, Khalsoum and I drive down to Yorba Linda to pick up the motor home.
She’s a beauty. A Lindy. Over thirty feet long. Sleeps six. A built-in shower and commode. We’’ be touring America in style.
The proprietor is some Orange County hillbilly named Glen. He and his wife are both wary about sending us out with this new vehicle, particularly as the Maximum! Records has not dispensed with the deposit.
Frantic phone calls and faxes ping and pong across half of the continent. I sign a rental agreement; Glen hands me the keys. Three months later is the return date.
To make our first date in St. Louis, we embark upon a banzai burn across California, Arizona and into New Mexico. We make it to Albuquerque as the sun is coming up. It is forty degrees colder than our point of departure, eighteen hours earlier.
Reality climbs on top of the motor home and stretches, his torso expanding. It is like he is trying to climb out of his skin.