BRAINDEAD SOUNDMACHINE (1990-1993) have ripcorded on the music business and now live in a dormant wind tunnel on the Morgan Salt Flats, east of China Lake Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. The facility also features a natural hot spring, a small cafeteria, and a sculpture garden consisting of welded early 70s muscle cars. The wind tunnels themselves are modified Navy diving bells powered by gas generators and automobile batteries. With mixed results, the former musicians promote their “Nitronic Research Wind Tunnels” as a point of interest for travelers on the way to nearby Death Valley.
BRAINDEAD’s lineage can be traced back to the late 60s, when former Strawberry Alarm Clock keyboardist Ikky Shivers performed his rock opera “BRIAN WILSON” in the abandoned warehouse district of downtown Los Angeles. In 1985, after having disappeared for some years into the not entirely unconnected worlds of Japanese pornography and top fuel drag racing, Ikky turned his head in a Hollywood Denny’s restaurant and saw that the man next to him was also reading a copy of NO TIME FOR RIMJOBS, the autobiography of Kenji Yoshi, a Japanese crossdresser who holds the unofficial speed record for unlimited top fuel funny cars after hitting 331 mph at Badwater, Utah in front of approximately 34 Jehovah’s witnesses, none of whom were accepted as recognized corroboration by the proper sanctioning bodies.
PART ONE: WE BELIEVED IT THEN AND I BELIEVE IT NOW
“We believed it then
And I believe it now…
This music is a manifestation
Of the rising tide of awareness on the planet.
“This music contributes to a positive environment,
It feels good and it casts a comforting spell
Over everyone who hears it.“
“Come Down from the Hill and Make My Baby.”— Dogvillasan, Coyote God from Vietnam
PAT BOONE’S DREAM DEBASED
Reality and I pick up Yoshi in the alley behind Club Mugi — the Japanese transvestite bar at the intersection of Hollywood and Harvard — at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. We are late for a live music television appearance and are totally geezed on cheap marijuana, a thermos of espresso and the fumes blubbering out of my 1961 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
And we are a fashion statement, decked out in borrowed polyester “Nitro Inc.” pit crew uniforms, leather jackets and cowboy hats.
The uniforms are a temporary gift from a Top Fuel team whose p.r. man had seen us — Reality, Ikky and I (aka the Braindead Soundmachine) — around, first while interviewed on a public access show and then as guests in the Top Eliminator Club at the professional drag races. The flak thinks we are rich rock stars. We are neither.
“Hey, aren’t you guys Braindead?”
“Why, yes. We are.”
“Hey! Great to make your acquaintance! I’m Benny Mayer and I do marketing and public relations for Nitro Inc. and seeing as how you guys are famous and drag racing fans and everything, we would love to do some photo opportunities with you guys. Maybe we can get you to endorse us in interviews … and maybe buy a 55 gallon drum of nitromethane for us, as a little quid pro quo.”
“Umm, we can’t help you with your fuel costs, but we can promote your race team. As a matter of fact, we’re going to be on a music video show this Wednesday. Give us some spare uniforms and we’ll wear them during the interview. Perhaps a proper sponsor will see your logo and want to give involved with Nitro, Inc. and start cutting you checks for your operating expenses.”
We didn’t tell him about Yoshi.
Like a cross dressing Norma Desmond. Yoshi is also attired for performance — “ready for (his) close-up” and television debut — with enough pancake and rouge on his cheeks to start an IHOP franchise.
The broadcast is happening in a little over an hour at a small Orange County studio owned by Pat Boone, located across the street from Disneyland. From Hollywood, we will have to cut some serious drive time in order to make the opening credits, and the freeways are fucked.
The moment should be bottled. Here we are at the Dawn of the Infotainment Age and all of this makes perfect sense: we pick up a Japanese cross dresser at a back alley behind Club Mugi, a transvestite bar whose squalid coordinates are where any manner of debauched and debased degradation and sexual congress transpire every night, and haul the proprietor, enabler and instigator of such degeneration to a humble local cable television studio owned by ‘50s pop-star-cum-religious-nut Pat Boone. All while pretending to sponsor Nitro Inc., a Top Fuel dragster team. Tutti Frutti, Aw-Rootie, indeed.
I drive, Reality takes shotgun and Yoshi rides in the back seat: Two nitro cowboys and their aging geisha quarry of indiscriminate gender. We are late, amped and stuck in traffic, somewhere between the Pai Gow Poker clubs in the Asian parts of East Los Angeles and the Matterhorn at Disneyland and we are laughing. Brake lights glow and glow like a kaleidoscope of bug’s eyes, but we are floating above the bottleneck, imitating angels and on some sort of collective out of body experience.
Reality asks Yoshi if he knows who Little Richard is.
“Oh yes. Very famous in Japan.”
“And Pat Boone?”
“Oh yes. ‘A-Wop-bop-a-roo-rop a-rop-bam-boo’.”
“Exactly. Pat Boone owns the studio we are going to.”
“Oh. I see.”
We continue floating and grinding south, with the demographic and quality of automobiles changing commensurately: There are now fewer Mexican low riders and blacks in hoopties but nearly as many Asians in Honda coupes. More and more upper middle class commuters in bucks up sedans are stuck within a quarter car length of the Cutlass, and are trying to come to terms with its peeling paint, billowing black exhaust and its strange cargo, a couple of grease monkeys and what appears to be an Asian meter maid, taking pulls from a thermos and then laughing maniacally in sync.
“So Yoshi, the interviewers are going to ask you some questions that you may not be able to understand.”
“So if you don’t understand the question, just answer them this way; say, ‘The Salamanders are coming.’”
Finally we get to Orange County.
“Aww, the Mattelholn,” Yoshi points to the Happiest Place on Earth.
Walt Disney. Pat Boone. Yoshi. The Braindead Soundmachine is really beginning to hit its stride, I think to myself.
LET THE MOTHERFUCKER BURN
I am in a bar in Hollywood, wearing a t-shirt with a dead rock star’s mug silk-screened on the front. The joint is crowded and incredibly dark, except when the owners sporadically pour Bacardi 151 around the perimeter of the bar and light it on fire. The flames provide enough foot-candles so that I can almost see what I am drinking. The other salient feature of the establishment is that you can buy cocaine from the bartenders. With a credit card.
Some guy in a plain yet stained white t-shirt and leather jacket picks a fight with me because of the iconography on my t-shirt. “What a selfish, self- indulgent prick.”
“That foppish, narcissistic excuse of a human being on your t-shirt.”
“Man, you are an unfeeling asshole. And buy a clean shirt.”
We argue about the artistic and existential merits of the singer’s suicide. I say the timing of his death, on the eve of the band’s premier in America, ratcheted up the band’s cachet and somehow made them eternal. His death was poignant, I say. Like James Dean or something.
The leather jacket is having nothing of it.
“Rock and roll is over. It is cooked. Put a bullet in its doddering corpse — but spare yourself. To snuff yourself under the delusion that you will somehow create this timeless legacy with your music is beyond megalomaniacal.”
He then proceeds to tell me that film and the written word are what are still relevant. It turns out he is a screenwriter, natch. He tells me the only place for music is as a score for film. I yell back, but my voice and whatever point I am making is drowned out by exhortations from the besotted bar patrons. The bartenders have lit the bar on fire.
The flame dies down.
“So what great cinematic masterpiece are you working on, Mr. Screenwriter?”
“Call me ‘BZ.’ And it is still embryonic. The working title is ‘Zombie Cop.’”
It will take years for either BZ or I to pick up on the irony of a screenwriter trying to inject life into the medium of cinema with a script based on the undead. But for now, we shake hands, BZ nods, gives me a business card and tells me to bring some samples of my music to the Avton Films offices on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.
The bartender douses the bar with rum again and drops a match. I stare into the flame. It is a bluish, fecund green and rather transparent.
“Los Angeles is on fire,” I say. I am drunk on bourbon, rum fumes and cocaine.
A couple of jailbait white girls are giggling. “We don’t need no water, let the motherfucker burn,” they bleat.
Soon enough, there will come a time when Los Angeles really is on fire. But then the teenyboppers will not sing.
THE MISSING EYEBROW
1988. A white passenger van travels west across Highway 1 in Canada, between Edmonton and Vancouver. In addition to its cargo of musical instruments, the freight consists of Mr. Odd, an Underground Pop Icon from England, his back up musicians and a technical crew of one, an Irish Hippie Soundman with One Eyebrow.
(It is not like the Soundman has a Slavic unibrow or anything like that. He is actually missing one eyebrow, which has been shaved off by the musicians in Mr. Odd’s band.)
The Missing Eyebrow is reading James Joyce and drinking vodka cut with Orange Crush, mixed directly into the aluminum soda pop can he snagged out of a vending machine.
Mr. Odd notices that Ulysses is actually upside down.
“Oi! You’re reading Joyce ass over tea kettle, you daft cunt.”
“Emmm. I know. It’s fucking brilliant, isn’t it?”
Mr. Odd rears back like a pile driver and TTHWAACCKKKSS Joyce out of the Soundman’s hand, spilling the vodka and Orange Crush over the van’s interior and fellow passengers.
“Hey! For fuck’s sake,” yell the other musicians as the sickly orange fluid sprays and gushes.
“Fuck off, you fucking Irish Hippie,” Mr. Odd exclamates.
Nonplussed, the Missing Eyebrow picks up the empty Orange Crush can and examines it, holding it upside down and staring at the remaining drops of fluid dribbling out and then gathers up the Joyce, which he pinwheels 180 degrees, so that it reads right side up this time. “Emmm. Got any vodka?” he asks.
No one answers. Jonathan Richman is on the stereo, singing a folk song about double chocolate malteds.
The first drum machine imported into the United States in any mass quantities is the Dr. Rhythm, an analog device built in the early 1980s. Made in Japan and shipped across the Pacific on a cargo freighter, typically this primitive rhythm box came in on the docks where the barrio town of Wilmington meets Long Beach Harbor.
Wilmington. Or “Wee-mas,” in the pidgin patois of the local gang members and the semi-employed longshoremen. An industrial complex defying the economic recession threatening the very existence of the local shipyards, if it were not for the prodigious dumping of Japanese electronics — such as drum machines — at the docks.
Wilmington is where the future wafts through a choked skyline, and it smells of burning rubber from chemical plants that buttress the coastline. It is all angel dust and tacos. It is a monochromatic tableau of smoke and hard, strident graffiti burning into stucco walls and the bleached out sidewalks that buttress both asphalt and a smog so thick that the harbor winds refuse to blow.
From there, boxes and boxes of Dr. Rhythms are fork lifted onto a tractor trailer, trucked inland up the Alameda Corridor of South Los Angeles, unloaded at a music store in Hollywood and then safely installed behind a glass case. Among its first purchasers is one Ichabod J. Shivers (“Ikky” to his friends), a drummer from Long Beach. Ikky is a tall, lean fellow, whose height, build and rusty skin tone belie his art faggish aesthetics. For a drummer — notoriously the most primeval of musicians —Ikky has an open and progressive mind and sees the beauty in electronics doing the work of a musician. None of this “technology is taking our jobs away” Luddite claptrap from Ikky. A study in duality and harsh contrasts, Ikky is the kind of working man who embraces technology, and purchases a Dr. Rhythm as soon as they come off of the docks; he does so with no trepidation whatsoever, loading ‘er into his Japanese pickup trucks and carting the device back to Wilmington, where his band rehearses.
FUNNY CARS ON FIRE
Reality and I are mixing a record in an expensive studio. When making a record, Reality is fanatical about creating the proper work surroundings. Without the proper environmental stimulation, the work will suffer, he says. Ergo, the control room is decorated with various talismans and gris gris which Reality reckons will somehow mystically soothe, appease and charm the electrons in the signal path that flows between the performer, his or her instrument, the recording console and the tape machine.
This evening’s mise-en-scène: Centerfold pinups of porn models rubbing their private parts, which drape the front of speaker enclosures. Every time a bass drum hits (POOOMM… POOOMM… POOOMM… POOOMM…) and expands the loudspeaker’s woofer, the bottom half of the photograph moves and gyrates back and forth, giving the illusion that the model is masturbating.
The sexual imagery is not enough for Reality. Beyond appealing to the debased ghost of Venus and maybe Apollo, Reality has arranged for other totems to summon Pan or some other gods I am not familiar with.
Shades of a keg boogie at Aleister Crowley’s pad in some gothic mansion; crosses are mounted upside down throughout the control room. Candles are burning, and wax is dripping. Pictures of funny cars on fire complete the tableau.
Reality feels the funny cars melting are a perfect metaphor for his approach to the recording process, as there is a danger when you drive or redline a machine too far or too hard. The machine will blow up in your face.
Num-E-Num, the second engineer, who is really working as an apprentice and is responsible for gathering the porn mags and hanging most of the artifacts, brings Reality and me some deli sandwiches and asks about the pictures of the race cars.
“Hey, do you guys like Funny Cars and Top Fuel dragsters?”
Reality and I answer in the affirmative. When we aren’t making music together, we often go to the drag races to get dosed with more noise.
“My dad helps sponsor a couple of Top Fuel dragsters.”
A few weeks later, Num-E-Num takes Reality, Ikky and I to the drag races. We get preferred parking, and access to the corporate suites where deals are struck while drag racers blow up their equipment in the background, on the other side of some tinted glass.
In the suites, everything is first class, including the hospitality. Num-E- Num’s dad is mixing a Bloody Mary and using his pinkie as a swizzle stick. He makes sure everyone has drinks and then takes us outside to meet the dragster drivers he sponsors and some of the crewmembers. We are in the pits and they warm up the engine. It is deafening. Ikky comments that it is a series of perfect square waves, uniformly spread over every cycle in the broadcast spectrum. The pressure waves are pummeling our chest cavities. Num-E-Num’s dad is stirring another Bloody Mary with his pinkie. “YOU FEEL THAT BOY?” he bellows in my ear. I nod in the affirmative. “AT MY AGE, THAT IS THE ONLY THING THAT MAKES MY DICK HARD.”
JENJEN (LOUISE BROOKS’ BANGS)
1983. She is a dough-eyed post punkette with Louise Brooks’ bangs, Joan Crawford’s eyebrows and an air of no expectations. Every afternoon during the fall of her junior year at Cal State University, JenJen goes to the campus deli and orders an avocado sandwich with alfalfa sprouts on wheat bread.
I make sandwiches behind the counter. The two of us have similar haircuts.
When ordering, she speaks to me in obtuse, diffident riddles sans question marks. Her eyes are Zen koans without the Buddhist subtext of suffering. And, despite my vomit and piss colored food service uniform, she develops a schoolgirl’s crush on me, the Guy in the Smock. I may be one of the few people on campus who understands what she is saying when she bats her eyes. And, likewise, I am intrigued by her rather aphilosophical philosophical bent — not to mention the Louise Brooks’ bangs, but a potential fling goes unrequited, as I am smitten with another piece of eye candy, a Math Major with Purple Hair who orders only coffee from me.
This — ignoring the charms of one for another — is a mistake; I will later come to understand. In this matter of the heart, I had been backing the wrong horse.
THE COYOTE GOD (Myth and Mythology)
1975. Saigon falls and a wave of Vietnamese seek sanctuary from the encroachment of Ho Chi Minh and his Red Chinese Horde; but not just the peasants fleeing from imminent genocide hop on American helicopters and boats.
Joining the exodus is a Man-Dog-Deity even more baffling and perhaps even more brutal than Ho Chi Minh hisself: Dogvillasan, the Coyote God.
Like the South Vietnamese peasants, Dogvillasan bails out of his homeland before dealing with the wrath of some mighty pissed off Maoists.
Dogvillasan, the chameleon Coyote God from Vietnam, born in a land torn by tyranny, and despotic, genocidal turf wars, catches a boat and a helicopter and stowaways to the New Mecca: The City of Garden Grove in Orange County, California. Later, he will start a religion based upon the acquisitioning of distressed real estate and 1-800 numbers.
Dogvillasan. Fable? Allegory? Fascist Oppressor? Master Capitalist? Or some meta-being tapped into the foibles and neuroses of the popular consciousness? Siddhartha for the Infotainment Age? Or an immigrant cum real estate magnate in Orange County?
Yes. He is the x and the y. The yin and the yang.
He is the Son of the Nixon Doctrine, Henry Kissinger and Allan Dulles, with a stated goal for rebuilding America — and, in the 1990s, on Sunday nights he takes human form at a Japanese cross-dresser bar in East Hollywood: Club Mugi.