Monday, April 16, 2018

Rule 1 of Effective Writing

As I limp ever nearer the finish line, I find that the partners of more and more of my social media friends are becoming larger-breasted. 

I know that it’s wrong of me to spend the latter part of nearly every evening — that preceding my smoking cannabis, removing my contact lenses, and immersing my aching old self in a lovely hot bath — to ogle photographs on Facebook of and fantasise about a former acquaintance’s girlfriend, but I am unable to help myself. She has bewitched me. She has stolen my heart. 

I met Former Acquaintance decades ago while trying to put a little orchestra together in my native Los Angeles. He came over to my home on the Sunset Strip one afternoon, and was reasonably cordial. I offered him a place in my orchestra, but he wound up declining it because someone from a competing orchestra gave him a small bag of gold dust, or some cocaine, or something.

His girlfriend has me wondering if I should revise my strong views on cosmetic surgery. To this point, I have customarily made cruel jokes about it, and at one point even designed a T-shirt that proclaimed, “I want to fondle your implants”. But FA’s wife, who’s probably in her mid-50s, has unmistakably Had a Lot of Work Done — she is smooth-faced, and has the high, huge breasts of a 1966 19-year-old Playmate of the Month. It’s cheating, of course, but do I enjoy Mr. Tambourine Man any less for knowing that only one Byrd played on the backing track, with a bunch of Hollywood session guys in pompadours, cardigan sweaters, and menthol cigarettes? 

One past long-term life partner of mine had had a nose job in early adolescence, after all, and I was fine with it, even after I realised that she’d probably been fibbing about its having been necessary after breaking her nose. Without her cute little sniffer, she’d have resembled her mother, who was unattractive outside as in. Not long after our union dissolved, she became the second of my long-term life partners to rush out and get her breasts enlarged, and a face lift, whereupon her favourite recreation became displaying herself at swinging nitespots, where handsome young studmuffins would commonly guess her age to be very much less than it actually was. I found that hugely distasteful. 

I won’t pretend not to be vain in my own right, and sometimes even to wish I had the dough to get my punim restored to its earlier prettiness. I work out daily to keep myself from getting the belly that’s typical of men my age, but working out seems somehow more, well, noble than getting one’s face cut up. I dress inappropriately, in very tight jeans and black vinyl motorcycle jackets sent to me from China. Former Acquaintance is rather a hipster himself, so maybe his girlfriend will like the cut of my own jib should (a) she and Former Acquaintance split up, (b) I and my own longest-term-to-date life partner split up, and (c) one or both of us moves. We are presently many thousands of miles apart, not figuratively. 

I will confess that I find some small consolation in the 19-year-old Playmates of the Month after whom I lusted in vain beginning at around 14, now being in their mid-70s, if they’re still alive at all, and almost certainly rather less intimidating. 

Rule 1 of Effective Writing: Always start with a difficult, cumbersome, tangled sentence. Noting that the balance of the piece won’t be so demanding, the reader is overcome with gratitude. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Obee City — If Your BMI's High, You're Our Kinda Guy!

It’s well known that President Trump believes that one has only finite energy, and that undue exertion should be avoided at all costs. Last spring, at the G7 conference in Tiramisu, Sicily, he asserted American pre-eminence by riding around in grand style in a gold-plated golf cart while his fellow political leaders trudged and waddled. Now one hears that, in the same spirit, Mr. Trump has introduced new rules for the very rich at his golf courses. Where, during the Obama era, players had to get out of their carts and strike the ball themselves, they now have celebrity caddies do it for them. Tiger Woods is on course (did you see what I did there?) to earn more in 2018 as a celebrity caddy than he did on the PGA tour.

Lot of wonderful ideas have been come up with on golf courses, and we now learn that one of the best and brightest ideas of 2018, one that has put 200,000 Americans to work at sub-subsistence wages, was born at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Sterling, Virginia. I speak, of course, of the idea for Obee City, America’s  most successful new fast food chain since Papusatown. 

J. Bradford Olesker, a former television producer and  friend of Mr. Trump, is said to have recognised his concept as a winner from Moment 1. Putting people to work? Great! Encouraging morbid obesity, thus creating more medical and pharmaceutical consumption? Also great! Nor did he fail to note the burgeoning appetite of the very rich for the flesh of fat Caucasian youngsters since the repeal of Obama-era restrictions on canniabalism. A poor family in the Rust Belt making enough money on the sale of a little fatso to feed and shelter itself for month, and maybe even to put together a money-making meth lab of its own? Entrepreneurship! Super great!

As the vast majority of Obees are in red states, in suburban or even rural areas, there may not be one near you. The restaurant is geared to Trump voters and others sick and tired of being told by so-called experts (in this case, nutritionists with extensive training in human physiology) what to do, think, and, especially, eat, and offers a menu defiantly high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat. On being seated, the Obee customer is immediately presented with a platter of jelly doughnuts and a big bowl of molten lard into which to dip them. The most popular item on the menu as of the spring of 2018 was the Quadroopleburger — which actually contains five beef and beef by-product patties, and comes in a little cardboard clamshell container on which the chain’s freckled young icon, a dead ringer for Bob’s Big Boy, adorably proclaims, “Oops, I guess I don’t count so good, but tough titty!” Many folk's idea of a great meal is a side of Couch Potatoes — french fries in a crust of crushed M&Ms — with a Q-Burger, or two, or three. 

The restaurants in open-carry states provide gun racks in which what Mr. Trump has called “2nd Amendment people” can stow their weapons while dining, though they are welcome to take their AR-15s with them to their tables. Should a jihadist or George Soros enthusiast be so foolish as to come into an Obee shooting or spouting offensive rhetoric, he or she may be assured that a great, great many bullets will be flying back in his or her direction pronto! 

While dining, one may count on hearing the lively, uplifting, quintessentially American music of Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, Three Doors Down, and Reba McIntyre on the dining room sound system, and may watch New England Patriots’ games, some of Mr. Trump’s speeches, Sean Hannity, or Infowars, on any of a number of TV monitors. Analysts have shown that sales of Obee’s Beautiful Chocolate Cake spike when the TVs are showing the interview in which he talks about eating dessert with the president of China while bombing Syria. 

Pass them, Couch Potatoes, Junior! 

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Best Band of the 21st Century

I owe everything I ever was to the English writer Nik Cohn, whose style I shamelessly appropriated at the beginning of my career as a music journalist. About a decade ago, in a book about his experiences developing rappers in New Orleans, he spoke of himself as always having been attuned primarily to the lower frequencies, to the bass and drums, to  rhythm. I imagined St. Nik felt great kinship with the sort of guy who turns the bass up so loud in his car as to rattle the windows in any neighbourhood in which he encounters a stop sign. I, on the other hand, have always been about the midrange. While I enjoy a good groove as much as the next person, I’m all about melody, as I have been since my first exposure to music — specifically, the pre-Elvis pop my parents listened to on the radio. At six, the melody of “Where Is Your Heart?”, from Moulin Rouge, made me swoon. 
I was in Istanbul in mid-March. At a restaurant playing English-language pop, I heard an unidentified woman singer’s version of Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” and…swooned anew. It seemed to me that each phrase was more gorgeous than the one before it. And now I think Keane might be the best pop band of the 21st century so far. I can’t think of another group that’s had three songs to compare to “Somewhere”, “Everything Changes”, and “Bedshaped”, which I first heard when a young policeman who was going to audition for my band sent me a link to his singing it. When I found and listened to the original version, as sung by the sublime Tom Chaplin, the key change before the chorus made my heart stop.
Early in the band’s career, the baby-faced Chaplin looked the sort of boy on whom a school’s bullies would delightedly converge on first sight. He had lots of baby fat, sang in a register ordinarily ceded to women, and exuded vulnerability. When he abandoned a major tour to check himself into rehab, one UK working class hero rock and roll bad boy snarkily observed that, being posh and soft and fervently un-rock and roll, Tom must have become addicted to Portuguese dessert wine. Widespread snickering ensued. Keane had no guitarist. Who did they suppose they were — the second coming of The Thompson Twins or Gary Numan?
As far as I’m concerned, Tom Chaplin can drink hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows melted in it so long as he continues to sing as gorgeously as he does. I will also admit to thinking some of Coldplay’s stuff — “Yellow” and “The Scientist” are my own favourites — extraordinarily beautiful. I will be scoffed at by rockists, who think non-blues-based music lacking distorted guitars the province of drinkers of pink tea, to use the wonderful phrase of Ty Cobb — the baseball player, and not Donald J. Trump’s lawyer. 
Well, sneer ‘n’ scoff away, darlings! I do get so very tired of rockism. If I had a dime for every prospective addition to my band who, after hearing our stuff, accusatorily sniffed, “Well, it’s not rock, though, is it?” I could buy myself a doner kebab. Well, no, dearies, it isn’t going to remind anyone of Motorhead. Very little of it is bluesy, and I haven’t been big on, well, raw power for around 40 years, though my first couple of professional bands delighted in playing so loud as to pin audiences to the rear wall. (The Noted British Producer who produced the first one had told us, “You’re not very good, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t be really loud,” and who were we to argue?) But one could make a case for probably half of The Beatles stuff before they disappeared up their own asses being pop, rather than rock, and Elvis was nearly as often a pop singer even in his pre-conscription days as a rock one. Would you call The Beach Boys’ glorious Pet Sounds as rock, dude, or Love’s glorious Forever Changes
Rock is very often loutish, overstated (is there a single track in the Aerosmith canon on which Mr. Tyler doesn’t oversing as wantonly as the most brazen Mariah Carey clone on American Idol?), and one-dimensional. It kicks down your front door, or even smashes a window, whereas pop picks the lock on your door, enters your abode, and steals your art and wine collections undetected, and is capable of infinitely greater subversiveness. Balls-to-the-wall bombast can be exciting in small doses, but is there a blues-derived rock lick I haven’t now heard 40 million times? 

Call me a wuss and a judas if you must, but give me subtlety. Give me pop, by which I so do not mean that formulaic, marginally more melodic brand of rock known as power pop, played by persons in retro haircuts on Rickenbacker guitars. I wouldn’t take 20 The La’s — disproportionately celebrated for their tuneful ode to heroin addiction, “There She Goes” — for Keane, the best band of the 21st century so far.

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

With Dame Zelda in Byzantium

Between the two mega-mosques in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square, Dame Zelda spotted a quartet of Muslim women in hijabs taking a selfie with the majestic Blue Mosque in the background. All that could be seen of them was their eyes. I hope I will not be thought Islamophobic for having found this very funny, as I hope also I won’t be found Islamophobic for wondering why exactly we had to be awakened barbarically early every morning by the pre-recorded ululating of the city’s various muezzin blaringly summoning the city’s faithful to reaffirm their submission to Allah, as they would four more times over the course of the day. 

Honestly, how can Al be that impressed by the devotion of people who have to be so noisily reminded to express their devotion? Wouldn’t he be a lot more flattered if they remembered on their own? Doesn’t this insatiable need for affirmation remind you unpleasantly of the God of the Old Testament, the one forever proclaiming, “I am The Lord Thy God,” as though those to whom he presented himself might mistake him for Moise the shepherd, or Terry, the condescending IT guy?

On the Big Bus hop on/hop off tour, we learned that one of Valide Sultan Mosque (the Mosque of the Sultan’s Mother) took a long time to be built because its site was in what was then a Jewish ‘hood, Eminönü. One imagines negotiations. 

Sultan Mehmed III: We'd like to build a mosque on your big vacant lot in the Eminönü quarter.
We’re prepared to offer you a trillion Turkish lira

Sol Finkelman, owner of the lot. A trillion lira he offers! In rags we should dress? 
Instead of such an offer, across the punim why not just slap us!

Later on the Red Route tour, we learned the Prophet is never referrred to simply as The Prophet Mohammed, but as The Prophet Mohammed Peace Be Upon Him, which we imagine his smart-alec classmates having shortened considerably, as when wondering, “Yo, Mo? So?”

We learned also that the number of minarets with which one was allowed to adorn his mosque depended on his social status, with four signifying someone indisputably A-list. The Blue Mosque has five, leading one to imagine that the sultan who’d built it, had he lived in the 21st century, would be the sort to click eagerly on penile enlargement advertisements. 

We were delighted to discover ourselves bivouacked a 90-second walk down a hill from a twinkly street lined with restaurants, but our delight was short-lived. Stop to glance at a menu and the hawker who is invariably stationed just outside will descend on you like a plague of locusts, virtually demanding that you dine within, using techniques of emotional manipulation that might embarrass even a spoiled American teenager. Many of the shopkeepers do likewise, and traversing even a short commercial lane can be an ordeal. On Dalbasti Street, where I traipsed for exercise while Dame Zelda napped, I discovered that it isn’t necessary to pause for a millisecond to glance at a menu. The proprietors of kebap places yelled, “Yes, please?” at me from deep within the bowels of their establishments. The good news is that few of them attack you with daggers for ignoring them.

I went for an early-morning walk our first full day in town, and was almost immediately befriended by a guy who turned out to want me to visit his rug shop. And here I’d dared to imagine that it was my personal magnetism inspiring all these strangers to welcome me to their city! 
We went to a restaurant with live music, to which a dervish who was either bored or ecstatic whirled. When Dame Zelda asked what sort of beer the place offered, our servers eyes suggested, “Die, infidel bitch!” We settled for pomegranate juice.  I will not pretend to have enjoyed the music, all of which sounded identically plaintive to me.

All the restaurants in which we dined displayed Sigara Içilmez (no cigarettes) signs, and much smoking was going on in all of them, on glass-bottomed water pipes in which fruit-flavoured tobacco is covered with foil and roasted with charcoal. I think the pipes are called shiksas. According to research carried out by the World Health Organisation, an hour-long shiksa session gets as much carcinogenic crap into one’s lung as five packs of cigarettes.

We went to the city’s two great bazaars, the Egyptian Spice, and the Grand. The first reminded me of the Notting Hill Festival or Black Friday at Walmart in that there wasn’t room to turn around for the swirling masses, which almost certainly contained a fair number of pickpockets and cutthroats. At the gorgeous, literally awesome Grand Bazaar, there are a trillion merchants all selling the identical merchandise — the same T-shirts, Turkish delight, trinkets, and baubles. It was there that Dame Zelda bought an Istanbul fridge magnet to replace that which she’d impulsively bought at the airport in 2011 during our brief layover before flying to Bodrum, and before she amended her Official Rules of Acquisition to make a new piece eligible for the collection only if from somewhere in which she had actually set foot. (Airports aren’t real places.) She will accept offers for the original magnet, which is mint condition.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Walrus Was Paul

I readily concede that John Lennon, namesake of Liverpool’s international airport, was a remarkable singer, with extraordinary power and even musicality, as witness his swoon-inducing Smokey Robinsonisms before the last chorus of Eight Days a Week. Maybe most remarkably, he never sounded like anyone but himself, even while Paul McCartney, after whom no airport has yet been named, occasionally aped the likes of Little Richard and Fats Domino. But there were dozens of sensational singers in the British beat boom of the early 1960s, and only a knucklehead would say that Lennon’s iconically fervent, soulful vocal on Twist and Shout was more fervent and soulful than, for instance, Ray Ennis’s on The Swinging Blue Jeans’ Hippy Hippy Shake? 

Lots of groups had great singers, but what made The Beatles (and The Hollies) ultradeluxe was that they also had a terrific harmoniser. Imagine If I Fell, for instance, without McCartney’s harmony part. Do you suppose it would be even half as glorious?

In the beginning, they’d both written highly derivative rock and roll songs. Which of Lennon’s — the perfectly awful One After 909, maybe? — has endured as McCartney’s I Saw Her Standing There has?

When he was ingesting too much LSD, Lennon defiantly stopped making sense and channeled Lewis Carroll. Some of his wordplay was fun galore, but was any of it much better than that in McCartney’s I’ve Got a Feeling? And which wrote the most poignant third-person song in the Beatles canon, Eleanor Rigby, and who the band’s most heartfelt and affecting song about emotional desolation, For No One? 

A lot of people, following Lennon’s lead, disdain McCartney’s cute vaudevillisms — When I’m 64, for instance, and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. They are so brazenly non-rock, dude! As though there’s something sacrosanct about rock and roll. Well, I, for one, find them considerably more enjoyable than Lennon’s studied thuggishness in, say, She’s So Heavy or Yer Blues. Can we not agree that, in the post-touring era, Lennon wrote far more than his share of crap — Good Morning, Good Morning, anyone, or Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite?

As melodists, there was no comparison. Lennon’s Across the Universe is exquisite, but I’d venture to say his output of exquisite melodies was maybe a tenth that of the man Aunt Mimi is famous for having called “your little friend.” And how very lazy Lennon could be, as at the beginning of the verses of Help!,, in which, rather than devising a proper melody, he sings the same note nine times in a row. Or is it 10?

McCartney, on bass, was a revelation. Lennon’s lead guitar playing on the unspeakable Ballad of John and Yoko, the worst song in Beatles history — if you don’t count such Harrison creations as You Like Me Too Much, Blue Jay Way, and Not Guilty — is appalling. Behold the difference! 

We remember and scoff at McCartney’s icky post-Beatles expressions of the perfection of his and Linda’s love, but are they really more cloying than (let alone as incomprehensible as) Lennon’s expressions of devotion to Yoko, for whom I have not yet, 50 years after the fact, managed to develop a taste?

It all began for America, of course, when The Beatles appears on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Spend half an hour on YouTube and tell me which Beatle exuded infectious joy at being where he’s always wanted to be (in the spotlight), doing exactly what he’s always wanted to do (sing and play rock and roll). Tell me which of them, by exuding that joy, was principally responsible for The Beatles being THE BEATLES!!! 

“The Walrus,” John Lennon sarcastically “revealed” in Glass Onion, “was Paul.” Well, if you ask me, The Beatles were largely Paul. 

[It was naughty of you not to have read this 24 hours ago in my new ezine!]

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pupusas! Where Salvadoran Cuisine and Rock and Roll Intersect

I hadn’t wanted to admit this before now, as I’m a little embarrassed about the whole thing, but for around 10 months at the very end of the 1970s, I was a (disguised) member of a Los Angeles punk band, The American Lesion. 
The band had begun a few years before as Preen, a typical preening Hollywood hair metal outfit in leopard print spandex jeans, big hair, and, you know, attitude, which manifested itself in behaving on stage as though the mere thought of us got gals sopping, and acting as though we were doing the audience a huge favour by having shown up. The guitarist played lots of 16th note triplets at the top of his fretboard while making the sort of face most commonly glimpsed while enjoying conferred oral sex. The singer imitated Robert Plant imitating a piglet in agony. We thought we’d ticked all the boxes, but even audiences in polyester didn’t seem to cotton to us. 
We changed our name and approach the week Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols entered the Billboard sales chart at No. 3. We played everything 50 percent faster than before, and gave ourselves fancifully repulsive names. The singer became Dennis Diarrhea, the guitarist — a recent refugee from El Salvador (where ABBA was very popular) — Billy Ulcerous. I opted for Johnny Truculent, with which both Dennis and Billy were displeased because truculent is a big word known only to the erudite, and erudition was much disdained in punk circles, and  even rectangles. 

We tried to compensate for not having a genuine psychopath in the group by becoming addicted to heroin, and by trying to be more disgusting than our rivals on the circuit. Billy’s uncle owned an outhouse-pumping business, and we tried to get him to spray our audiences with the contents of one of his truck’s tanks while we performed, but he was pretty sure he’d get in trouble with The Board of Health, and refused. The punks seemed to sense our inauthenticness, and by the spring of 1980, having read somewhere that 100 percent of the population of Los Angeles was going to be Latino by 2016, changed our name to Los Hombres (Spanish for the men), and learned a repertoire of Santana and Julio Iglesias numbers. The problem was that we mispronounced hombres in the way most American do — as AHM-brayz (rather than the correct OHM-brayz). Hambre is Spanish for hunger, and our audience took to pelting us with pupusas and empanadas de leche as we played, much as British teenagers had pelted The Beatles with jelly beans in the 1960s, and spat on such punk pioneers as The Clash a decade and a half later. Dennis suffered second degree burns when one over-zealous fan hurled a bowlful of steaming sopa de pata at him at our show at El Monte Legion Stadium. 
As our reputation grew, we started seeing in our audiences record company talent scouts who’d read the same article about demographic trends that we’d read, and we were invited to come confer with the powerful manager Saul Scheinbaum in his swank Century City penthouse office overlooking the smog. He beamed at us as his former Miss Universe runner-up receptionist showed us into his office, and urged us to call him Shiny, as no less than Madonna and Sonny & Cher did. That accomplished, he got on his intercom and told Miss Universe to “send ‘em in,” whereupon we found ourselves surrounded by charming young women with attractive figures. But some of us were married, and others of us were gay, though we didn’t know at the time. The two we later found out were gay claimed to have headaches, and we left Century City without having signed anything. Which turned out to be a good thing because Scheinbaum was later discovered to be less than forthright, a rarity in a music biz manager.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

My Performing Career Resumes!

A lot of readers have been imploring me to reveal why, at an age at which other men had dedicated themselves to problems with their prostates, I dared dream of resuming my career as a performing musician. 
I don’t think there’s a feeling in the world quite like stepping on stage and being greeted with a roar of applause, and that isn’t a feeling one easily forgets. It makes one feel so…validated, so loved. It compensates for all the excruciating rejections of childhood, for one’s parents’ casual (if usually unintentional) denigrations, for the indifference of the girl (or boy!) for whom one secretly pines. And the drugs and alcohol! We’d come off stage and be affectionately greeted by the dealers of the best, you know, shit available, and importers of the best vodka and cognac, for which they’d want no remuneration beyond our posing for selifies with them. The nostrils of the king of Ecuador weren’t welcoming purer cocaine than we hoovered up greedily before every performance — and, toward the end, between songs. 
And the women! Oh, my god, the women! Around the time our popularity peaked, we added to our road crew a tour manager who, back in his native England, had worked for Rod Stewart, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Soft Cell. He said that if the most gorgeous young women in those artists’ dressing rooms and those in ours had entered a party thrown by the sultan of Brunei from opposite ends of a ballroom, no one would have noted the other acts' gorgeous young women. Everything was coming up roses!  
I gave it all up at 30 to pursue a career in legal word processing. Between that awful night at Mabuhay Gardens in November 1977, when punks jeered at us for not having the prescribed new hairstyle, and late 2013, when my roommate, in desperation, asked if I’d play drums with the band he was putting together to entertain at his 40th high school reunion, I went on stage only as an actor, male stripper, and motivational speaker. I hadn’t owned a drum kit for 20 years. All I had was one of those electronic pad things. But anything for friendship!
It was clear from the first number we played at the reunion — a really horrible version of The Animals’ We’ve Got to Get Out of This Place — that I still had whatever it was that had attracted the most beautiful women on earth in the 1970s. I assumed a lot of my roommate’s former classmates were married to the gentlemen with whom they were dancing so caucasianly, but they seemed to forget all about Hubby as we played. Several of them, through a combination of regular exercise, sensible diet, and good genes, had remained shapely and attractive even into their 50s, and I won’t pretend not to have loved their flaring their nostrils at me as I played, at their standing up just a little straighter and more protuberant. 
I guess I’d gotten older myself, though, for the evening’s highlight for me wasn’t four of the referenced MILFs slipping me their phone numbers (and, in one wonderful case, panties) during  the band’s breaks, but the remarkable empathy I discovered I had with the impromptu ensemble’s keyboard player, who apparently played the organ (I intend no pun here, and hope you have the maturity not to infer one) at the church at which my roommate worshipped every year on Easter because even the most lapsed Christian generally makes a display of piety on the anniversary of Christ having risen.
Any musician will tell you there’s no pleasure quite like that of performing with others whose hearts seem to beat at exactly the same rate as his or her own. Some musicians refer to it as being in “the pocket”, others “the zone”. Whatever you call it, this fellow and I had it — truckloads of it, especially on Girl From Ipanema, at the end of which the audience was eerily silent for a long moment before it tendered us an ovation as loud as any from my rock dreamboat days. Was it any wonder that I dared dream anew, even at an age to which David Bowie hadn’t lived, of a career as an entertainer? 

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Saving Our Marriage: The Way Forward

You’re wondering why I’m saying all this in an email, rather than phoning you. Do you remember, when we negotiated our trial separation, how loudly you shouted at me, and how you threw that vase at me? And then, two months after I’d moved back, and confessed I might have underestimated how much alone time I needed, you came at me with my favourite paring knife, and if my attorney hadn’t stepped between us, I might be dead now. Can you blame me for not wanting to go through anything like that ever again, Judi?

You keep asking if I…saw anyone during that second trial separation. Of course I did, Judi, for the same reason I’d seen Susanella, Gail, Bobbi, Jakki, and Dyan during the first one. Oh, and Candice. How was I supposed to determine how much you meant to me in a vacuum? It was only by getting intimate with others that I was able to corroborate that it’s you with whom I want to spend my life. My discovering that I still wasn’t completely sure is why I hooked up with all of them except Gail again. (She was on vacation.) I wanted to be nothing less than 100 percent sure. Excuse me for assuming that’s what you wanted too!

I’m not going to lie to you, Judi. Sex with Bobbi, Dyan, and Susanella was better than it’s ever been between you and me, but what I realised is that sex isn’t everything. Bobbi doesn’t get my jokes as you do, and I’ll let you in on something. A man wants to feel funny almost as much as he wants to feel a superman in the sack. Dyan’s put on some weight, and turned out to resent my having offered to pay for her to see a personal trainer. Susanella’s needy, and begged me not to leave her almost as piteously as you did, the difference being that you and I are married, whereas she and I were just two ships that passed in the night, so to speak. Which, at the end of the day, is to say I’m yours, Jude, pending your acceptance of certain conditions. 

Do you remember how happy we were two and three and four years ago, when we were footloose and fancy-free, and before you got the stretch marks I’ve tried my best to ignore, but just can’t? If we wanted to hop in my car and drive up to Santa Barbara or down to La Jolla for lunch, that’s exactly what we did. I love spontaneity, and it was my understanding that you do too. If we wanted to lie in, we lay in to our heart’s content. If we wanted to spend the night somewhere, we did, without a care in the world. What fun we had, Jude, and how we loved each other!

When you told me you were pregnant, I was the happiest guy in the world. I think you know very well I’m not just saying that. Do you remember how I would talk to The Bun [in the oven], whose sex we didn’t want to know, during your pregnancy? Do you remember how I’d say to your tummy, “This is your daddy speaking, little son or daughter, and I already love you, but if you’re considering having some sort of weird defects, I’m going to kick you ass, OK?” Don’t you remember how you laughed at that, Jude? 

So finally our little man was born, and I let you name him after your late dad, whom I didn’t particularly like, but I knew it was important to you, and our whole world got turned upside down. While you were going through your post-partum depression, and seemed to forget all about the fact that a man has certain needs, I held my tongue. I manned up, Jude! God knows I did. Didn’t I change Jerzy’s diapers that time? Or have you conveniently forgotten that?

Spontaneity went out the window. I was no longer No. 1 in your life. Jerzy was. Do you suppose that didn’t hurt? Do you suppose I didn’t resent his being the only one who got to enjoy the remarkable fullness of your boobs, or being woken up three times a night by his crying for more of them, not that I claim to be able to speak baby. Do you have any idea how the sound of his eager…is it called suckling?…made me feel? 

I have an idea how we can save our marriage, Jude. I can anticipate your being uncomfortable with it at first, but it seems to me the only viable way forward. Our son is white, and not defective, though it may be too early to know if he’s going to be autistic, or to suffer from ADHD or one of the other fashionable acronyms. Let’s put Jerzy up for adoption. I am advised that there are any number of good Christian families in the area who would love to have a little cutie like him as their new son. Most such families will probably want to change his name to something less ethnic, if you will, but that’s a small price to pay to save our marriage, isn’t it? 

Shall I get one of my attorneys to make some enquiries? 

Your loving husband, 

Jack xxx

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Parfumier

I’m a little fed up with being a glamorous literary lion in the traditional mode. I go over to the nearby Tesco Micro to see if they have anything appetising in their markdown section (I can taste a bargain!), and am invariably asked for an autograph, or to pose for selfies. Though I’m unaware of there being any Asians (the British kind — from Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka) in Ham, the Tesco Micro is staffed exclusively by such persons. I am unable to explain this, but can reveal that my disgruntlement with the literary lion  life has inspired me to think in terms of a new profession. I am too nearly deaf to revert to being a jazz critic, as I was when I was young and full of semen and collagen. Over the course of a typical one-hour cop drama of the sort we watch in such profusion on the television, I am apt to turn to Dame Zelda and ask what a character just said, and then not hear her answer, usually tendered in an impatient hiss because she’s trying to hear what the characters are saying as I pose the question. What I have resolved to become is a parfumier, in significant part because I really like the word. As I write this, I have just listened 25 times to the little guy on the Internet pronouncing, “pɑːˈf(j)uːmɪə/“. I find his voice very sexy, but that might be a subject for another essay. Knowing that it's spelled with an a, rather than an e, will make me feel superior to those who do not, and one with my self-esteem issues snatches eagerly at every opening. 

Anyway, I’m old and deaf enough to know that in this topsy-turvy world in which we’re all just dust in the wind, a product’s actual quality is of no relevance to anyone. It’s all about how ingeniously it is marketed. A whole industry exists to make consumers crave things they neither need nor even want, to get men who watch football on television believe that drinking something called Bud Lite will make them more virile, and maybe even get them invited to the table in the school cafeteria at which the jocks eat. But I didn’t need a so-called branding consultant in fashionable eyewear and a self-assured smirk to think of a name for my first fragrance — Promiscuous — or its all-important tag line: Smell easy.

In the wake of the Harvey Swinestein brouhaha, and all those that followed, we are not comfortable talking about this sort of thing, but have you noticed that on Halloween, a very large percentage of women dress as sluts, and only a handful as nuns or associate professors of English at stuffy women’s colleges? Many women, while understandably not wanting someone fat and repulsive and altogether ghastly like Swinestein to demand “massages” from them, obviously revel in the power of their sexuality, and I believe that before the midterm elections have plunged us even more deeply into despair, all your most fashionable models and actresses and female electronic journalists and pundits and celebrity chefs and oncologists and what have you will be wearing Promiscuous, and, though they won’t admit it, savouring the lust they inspire in it. 

I have of course considered Promiscuous for Men, but some of the brand consultants I’ve been pretending to be considering hiring (gerunds on parade!), based on their responses to a few preliminary questions intended to demonstrate how far out of the box their thinking is, have pointed out that the name is redundant, male promiscuity being assumed. It’s biological, having originated at a time when many died in childbirth, and the survival of the species depended on fellows filling as many gals as possible with their rich, frothy cum. Now, of course, there are far, far too many of us on the planet, and the oceans are apparently full of plastic crap, but the wheels of biology turn slowly. Moreover, the sort of man who’d consider wearing a cologne called Promiscuous might well be iffy about his product being an offshoot of a ladies’. 

Can you imagine how much Bud Lite one would have to make a big show of guzzling publicly to compensate for that?

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

An Evening With Dumpster Fyre

To start with, the band really sucked. I think they were called Dumpster Fyre, with a y. I can’t be sure because whoever wrote the name on the front of the bass drum must have been like totally gouged. They played a lot of music that I kind of recognised from my dad playing it at home, all miserable and like, I don’t know, grinding? They were louder than anything I’d ever heard. They wore stuff that would have gotten them sent home if they’d shown up at actual school in it —greasy jeans with the knees ripped out (not like intentionally, like the ones you can buy at like Target and even Walmart), and like lumberjack shirts, the kind Daddy wears if it ever cools down enough. They had the longest hair I’ve ever seen, except for the one whose hair looks like an explosion at the frizz factory or something. Daddy pulls what hair he has left into a ponytail, but Dumpster Fyre had theirs tied up on top of their heads in that kind of Japanesey way.  

For a while everybody just sort of stood there like gaping at them, unable to believe how bad they sucked, or how loud they were. Marty Collins, the class clown, made a big point of standing right in front of one of the big speakers to either side of the band, grinning. I wondered if he’d ever hear again. After a while, everybody seemed to like resign themselves to either liking Dumpter Fyre or lumping them, and kids began to dance. 

i didn’t expect to be asked. I never am. Marty told me just before Xmas vacation that I’m one of the four least hot girls at my school, and two of the other three have gone since then. Kirsten Morales might be the only girl who gets like ridiculed more than me, and she weighs like 300 pounds. She doesn’t come to dances because she’s so like self-conscious, and hasn’t learned the cell phone trick. Lissa Feldman's dad, who owns three dry cleaning places here and in Castor, I guess is making a fortune laundering money now, and moved his family to a house in Coates that I hear is humongous. I haven’t been invited. Me and Lissa had a falling out at the end of last year and don’t speak any more. Sissy Tomlinson was even lower than me and Lissa on the hotness scale, but I don’t count her because she got killed in February when Joey Dasilva’s tweaker uncle like barged into English with a machete. Mrs. Stover shot Sissy dead before she finally hit Joey’s uncle.

So it’s maybe 15 minutes before 11, when the chaperones will realize their dream of being able to take their fingers out of their ears and tell Dumpster Fyre the party’s over, and I’m standing alone, as I’ve been standing there all night, trying to pretend I’m getting a lot of texts on my phone. I notice Joey Dasilva — speak of the devil! — looking at me. There's something like 360 boys in 11th grade with me, and Joey’s maybe 10th or so from the bottom. It’s not that he smells or eats his own boogers like some of my male classmates, or that he’s like deformed. It’s that he had his personality surgically removed or something. He’s probably the shyest boy at my school, He eats alone every day, with his face like buried in a book. I like that he reads.

Maybe he’s had something to drink or smoke. We make eye contact and he doesn’t immediately look away. In fact, he actually smiles at me. He’s got braces, and not the expensive invisible kind. I never realized. Who’s ever seen him smile? I do something really stupid, something I know much better than to do, and smile back. I think he might come over and ask me to dance, or at least like talk to me. Or maybe smiling at him wasn’t so stupid after all. Maybe the stupid thing was always to expect the worst, and keep myself like isolated. He’s still smiling, and coming toward me. 

it’s happening! He asks me how I’m doing. He smells like a distillery, and if he smelled 1000 times worse at this moment, I’d still be just about peeing myself with like excitement and delight. I tell him I’m doing good and ask how he’s doing. We’re conversing, the second least-hot girl at school and the shyest boy! At this rate, I’ll be dancing any minute now.

Or not. He thinks me and Kirsten Morales are friends, and wonders if I’d be willing to ask her if she’d like to chill with him some time. I don’t know how, but I manage not to burst into tears. and not to try to break my cell phone in Joey’s ugly face. 

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Art of the Rock Star Interview

During my career as a music journalist, I interviewed a great many ultradeluxe rock and pop stars, losing my cherry to Procol Harum, who were boring and difficult, not that I was much help. I was so frightened as to be barely able to read my (frankly inane) questions. The organist, Matthew Fisher, seemed to take an instant disliking to me, as I, in turn, took to him. He said something derogatory about “Presley”. I thought he might be the only person in the world who didn’t identify the guy as Elvis. 

My most difficult interview ever was with a surly and monosyllabic Iggy Stooge, who hadn’t yet rebranded himself as Iggy Pop, at the infamous Tropicana Motel on the eastern edge of what even then was becoming Boys Town in West Hollywood. I complained to his manager Danny Fields, who apparently phoned him to read him the riot act. When I returned the following morning, our hero was a changed man, welcoming and voluble. 

Pete Townshend and Peter Noone were a journalist’s dream. One said howdy, turned on his tape recorder, sat back, and let them talk. And talk, and talk, and talk. The most common headline on the covers of rock magazines in the 1970s was something like “Part XVI of Our Exclusive Interview With Pete Townshend!” Most of what he said, you see, was indiscardably interesting. Noone, better known as Herman of Herman’s Hermits, was just as garrulous, if unnervingly short. 

David Bowie effectively interviewed himself. He was pretty clear about what he wanted Rolling Stone’s readers to know about him, and didn’t allow me to distract him. I interviewed Mick Jagger, dreadfully. He too interviewed himself — I was too starstruck to speak, especially after he claimed to be aware of my own group — but didn’t do so as well as Bowie had. Years later, the two would appear together in the worst music video in human history, “Dancing in the Street”.

I went through a punk phase, and was horrid to Queen’s drummer, Pat Benatar, and Mike Love. Queen’s drummer had just released a solo album, and I disapproved fervently of the idea of drummers releasing solo albums, so I was intent on annoying Roger Taylor, whom I interrogated in the new home he’d bought himself in Hollywood just up the hill from the notorious Continental Hyatt House, off of which Led Zeppelin were thought to hurl 14-year-old groupies to appease Satan, or something. I thought having bought a house just up the hill from the so-called Riot House betrayed a woeful lack of imagination, but a person’s real estate choices are his or her own, and I didn’t ask Roger about his. I asked instead why Queen’s choral singing sounded so much like that of a junior college men’s glee club. He didn’t know what a glee club was, and wasn’t amused when I told him. I asked if he were ever embarrassed to go on stage with Fred Mercury in a harlequin body stocking, for instance. 

As the interrogation continued, I could sense his sussing that my intention was to rile him, but he wouldn’t give me the satisfaction. He was of course English, and when the English aren’t bitching and moaning (whingeing, spelled that way, in their own parlance) petulantly, which they are a great deal of the time, they pride themselves on their ability to endure hardship or even provocation stoically. When it came time for me to photograph him, though, he seemed to decide he’d had quite enough. After allowing me to snap a single frame of him sticking his tongue out at me, he wondered pointedly if I might wish to vacate his home. 

La Benatar was surrounded, when I interviewed her, by two slobberingly unctuous PR types who called her Patti — they were best friends forever, the three of them! The video for “Love Is a Battlefield”, in which she foils a greasy little villain with a pencil moustache by dancing poorly, was in heavy rotation on MTV. I’d read that she was bright, and dared imagine she might have a sense of humour, so my first question was what she disliked most about being so short (around 4-11, if standing on one of the PR people). She sighed unhappily and said sometimes she was unable to reach things in the kitchen. So much for the sense of humour idea. The two PRs hated me, passionately, and about that, I felt nothing but terrific.

I interviewed some of the Beach Boys, but not Brian. Interviewing Carl was like interviewing a roll of grey wallpaper. I’d heard that Mike Love was a jerk, and a dedicated transcendental meditator. If I’d been obnoxious with Roger Taylor, I was twice as obnoxious with poor Mike, but he was a living advertisement for meditation. I couldn’t get him to wince perceptibly no matter how hard I tried, and as the interview progressed, I tried ever harder. I think his heart must have been beating around 40 times per minute. 

I’ve been on the receiving end many times. A kid called Danny Sugerman, who would later “co-write” the Jim Morrison biography No One Here Gets Out Alive, read me a list of inane questions, often cutting me off in mid-answer. He then told everyone who would listen — as he would later tell everyone who would listen about his addiction to heroin — that I’d come on to him. I’m straight, and hadn’t, and was much annoyed, but not nearly as annoyed as when a greasy-haired bodybuilder who called himself Johnny Angel interviewed me for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, took no notes, made no recording, spent our whole conversation sneering at me disdainfully, and then went home and made up a collection of quotes intended to make me look foolish. 

I may have accused Queen of sounding like a junior college men’s glee club, but I never did what Mr. Angel done, and have never hurled a virgin from atop the Continental Hyatt House, though I lived right across the street for three years. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Trumpist Wants to Slap My Face While Wearing a Leather Codpiece!

Brad (R), with a friend
Pete Castle was briefly the guitarist in my band The Pits 41 years ago, until he allowed some hair-metal hotshots to poach him for their own project. Then, in 2015, we played together anew, in The Romanovs. He’s a remarkable musician. When, out of sheer perversity, we decided to append Robbie Krieger’s guitar solo from The Doors’ “Light My Fire” to our re imagining of The Zombies’ “Tell Her No”, he played it flawlessly without ever having tried to, his fingers and mind’s ear working in tandem perfectly. He has a beautiful Muslim Indonesian wife these days, and a house, very near where he grew up — and thus very near to where I too grew up — with a small swimming pool, and is a staunch apologist for Donald Trump, whose personality he finds appalling, but whose policies (to whatever Donald Trump may be said to have policies) he believes will ultimately benefit America. He is as far from the usual Trump apologist as you can get. He reads in depth about the issues, and can discuss things, as most Trumpists cannot, in an informed, non-visceral way. I enjoy jousting with him on Facebook. 

In the course of said jousting, I have of course encountered in his threads a number of more traditional Trumpists, belligerent idiots, and occasionally enjoyed trying to get under their skin as well, none more than one Brad V—, whom I believe to embody many of the worst attributes of Trumpism, and to stand a few feet to the right of Alex Jones politically.

I felt bad about myself a couple of exchanges ago. Every time he spewed some mindless Trumpian jingoism in one of Pete’s threads, I mocked, and infuriated him, never more than when he asserted that it had clearly been Barack Obama’s intention to destroy the country, as I apparently wanted to destroy it myself. I said something snide, but later realised that running roughshod over him intellectually was no less distasteful than a big muscular 14-year-old bully physically intimidating a small classmate. In a spirit of conciliation, I sent him this private message the following day: I’m going to make a sincere effort to understand your point of view, without name-calling or sarcasm. How do you feel about the very high incidence of gun violence in our country? How do you feel about Trump's campaign to defund the arts? What leads you to imagine that the country is any less mine than yours, and that I want it destroyed? What I actually want is for my country to live up to its own branding, and be a place of compassion.

I then pointed out that, according to Facebook, we’d grown up very near each other, and wondered if he remembered, for instance, Woody’s Smorgasbord, on Sepulveda Blvd., where one could put his own condiments — in whatever quantities he wished! — on his charbroiled hamburger. I theorised that both our dads had probably eaten lunch at Joe Petrelli’s, a few blocks south on Sepulveda. 

I thought Brad's ignoring me voided our non-engagement pact. So when I wandered onto another of Pete’s threads last night, about gun control, and saw that Brad had posted the meme you see here, and declared, Hestonishly, that the only way anyone was going to disarm him was if he were dead. I said, approximately, “Go get ‘em, Brad! The American Way of Life has nothing to fear so long as patriots like you are here to protect it.”

Whereupon Brad pointed out that for six years he had Defend[ed] Our Liberty (capitals mine) by flying A-6 Intruder attack jets off aircraft carriers for the United States Navy. I wondered against whom exactly he had been defending said liberty — the Viet Cong? The Grenadians? The Iraqis, who hadn’t actually been involved in 9/11, but who cared when there were fortunes (like Dick fucking Cheney’s) to be made if “we” invaded their country? Whereupon Brad, apparently displeased, said, “Go fuck yourself,” told me how much he wished he were able to slap my smug face, and called me a piece of shit.

I pointed out that “go fuck yourself” and “[you’re a] piece of shit” are what one might expect from an unprecocious third grader. Did Brad not recognise them as not only witless, but also really…corny? As for the slapping part, I wished I’d said that I liked the idea, provided he wore his black leather codpiece, or pointed out that wanting to lash out physically is something most people stop doing at around age seven, but it was late, and I was tired. 

Today I tried to find the thread so I could quote brave, patriotic Brad verbatim, only to find it deleted. But we will look horns another day, he and I. His truth goes marching on!