Monday, June 28, 2010

"You're way above our heads."

1973. Ein sehr kosmische jahr. A very cosmic year. 1973 was extremely busy for me. I did four plays that year, Love Rides The Rails, Nothing Is Sacred, and King Lear with Ford Rainey, all before May, and wound it up with Abelard And Heloise. While all the theatrical stuff was going on, the radio thing was bubbling under.

My Sunday evenings were now being spent accompanying David Ossman and his wife Tiny of the Firesign Theatre to the radio studios of KCSB. As I mentioned earlier, I had met the couple in 1972 while doing Man Of La Mancha and they graciously invited me to hang out with them while doing their radio show at the studios of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their program was called Rainbow Cafe and featured oddities from the golden age of radio. Wacky songs and bits from the '30s, '40s and '50s, mostly. It was a potpourri of oddness and a lot of fun. David and Tiny would on occasion have celebrated artists as house guests over at their Santa Barbara Riviera home and they would often bring them to the studio for casual, on-air conversation. You would never know who would be sitting next to you around the table for that show. It might be actress Helena Kallianiotes, who had appeared in Five Easy Pieces with Jack Nicholson and Kansas City Bomber with Raquel Welch; Wally Cox, of Mister Peepers fame and former roommate of Marlon Brando. Another time it's famed Disney animator, Ward Kimball and his wife. Kimball, one of the "Nine Old Men" of Disney's animation team, worked on every classic Disney cartoon you can think of. Otherwise, it might be one of the other three Firesign members like Peter Bergman. It was almost like a salon with its mixture of diverse artistes.

When David and Tiny needed to take a break from the show, I filled in the spot with my engineer friend Terry Newton and we did an extension of my old KTBT Garden Grove show, British Underground, now called British Underground, Now Loading. More import records and Beatles Christmas discs. Space Pirate Radio was in its birthing stage.

September 1973...a new freeform station has begun in Santa Barbara on 99.9 FM. It's called KTYD. The station was the former home of KGUD (were those letters prophetic?), a canned oldies station owned by Dick Clark. A program director from San Jose named Larry Johnson has started the ball rolling. David and Tiny have decided to take their Rainbow Cafe show to this new station. They have retitled it Easy Street. It is basically the same show, but it is now broadcasting from the eighth floor of the Granada Theatre building. It is their debut broadcast and they have invited me to tag along. We are going up the elevator to the infamous eighth floor, the top floor. This is my first time in the studio as well. Larry Johnson is a big fan of the Firesign Theatre, and as the doors open up on the studio floor, it appears that Mr. Johnson has not yet met his Firesign Theatre fave. He is a true fan of their work and he looks upon them and their entourage as royalty. We walk down the long hall and into the end studios. It's a rock station, man. And I have a sudden, strange feeling that I am going to be here a lot.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"Copy boy!"

Some random thoughts here regarding the previous entry. What was that all about, you might ask. And then again, you might not. But no matter. "On Turning 31" was an article I had written in September of 1980, near my birthday, as a loving parody of Henry Miller's work On Turning Eighty.

In 1980 I became associated with a bi-weekly newspaper in Santa Barbara called Night Light. It was a counter-culture, arts and entertainment periodical going head-to-head with the already established weekly paper, the Santa Barbara News & Review. I was going through a conflict with KTYD and my show Space Pirate Radio got taken off the air, which resulted in a cover story for the fledgling bi-weekly. The magazine was founded by Randy Campbell and the article on me was written by Heidi Benson. She also wrote a column for the News & Review called "Tiki Beat," which had printed favourable lines about the show. This article introduced me to the paper and opened up my continued desire to write satire, so I proposed the idea to Mr. Campbell of doing bi-weekly satires for the publication. I suggested the byline "In Light Of" for an ongoing series of parodies similar in spirit to what I was doing on the air. Randy was a fan of the show and has written elsewhere that he would be putting the newspaper together in the wee hours of the morning and listening to the esoteric sounds of Space Pirate Radio. So I found a little outlet to indulge more of my conceptual follies, make a few dollars, and have the agreement that the articles were still mine and would one day be compiled in some form or other (like Woody Allen had done with his articles for the New Yorker and Playboy).

My first article was a continuation of my yearly attack on the Santa Barbara Fiesta Days entitled "Viva La Fiasco." It was near Fiesta time when the article came out and I had done the live Viva La Fiasco parade coverage with David and Tiny Ossman and Mark Ward on KTYD in 1974. More on that later. Anyway, I was submitting articles regularly and Randy would publish each and every one; that is, until I submitted my Henry Miller parody. It didn't knock him out so he asked for me to do something else. Fast forward to 1981 and I have submitted another piece of timely comic observation. Up until this time, I would type the articles out, make a copy at Kinko's or somewhere and that would be that. So on this particular occasion, I figure, what the heck, you don't need to make a copy, time was permitting, whatever...I give the original to Randy. He phones me up a few hours before his print deadline and informs me he lost my manuscript. "I don't have a copy," I tell him. "You will either have to skip my contribution this issue the article that you didn't run in September." So there it is. Miller is revived.

I'm glad it did get to run finally. It was obscure but I liked the work that was put into it. The photograph was taken by a gentleman named Don Ury. The lovely model was his girlfriend. She was meant to represent Henry Miller's last wife Hoki Tokuda and longtime love and muse in his later years, Brenda Venus.

I was never totally immersed in the works of Henry Miller but I knew enough about him and Anais Nin to kind of replicate a loving parody. Playboy had done a wonderful interview with Miller in the '60s, which I enjoyed. I later had the pleasure of speaking to Erica Jong who had written a marvelous book about Miller called The Devil At Large. This was after the fact in 1994. But the parody itself still contains my love of books and writing and that's what I enjoyed most about these little journeys into arcana. Kind of like a psychedelic Robert Benchley. It was always fun to have these little frivolities printed in the newspapers of Santa Barbara. I was able to get this trash printed in all of the local papers, at one time or another: the daily Santa Barbara News-Press, the Santa Barbara News & Review, Night Light (which later became the Weekly, and ultimately merged with the News & Review to form the Santa Barbara Independent). I believe I also wrote for the Goleta Valley Today and the Isla Vista Thrift Shopper. These were placed under the windshield wipers of cars at various locations.

There were many fine writers and artists working for those early papers. Matt Groening and Bill Griffith had their early work printed there. And Heidi Benson went on to be the Book Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle and have quite a prolific writing output.

Of course, there are many people who never actually read the articles but did use the paper as a rustic alternative to Charmin. Handy, yes. But it did cause the outdated ailment known as Minstrel's Buttock. Hey, don't yell at me. It's in the medical books.

On Turning 31

Preface: Nine months have elapsed since the writing of these birthday memoirs. The author now resides at A Home Away, occasionally grabbing the thigh of a nurse. Wife Suki Mothra is currently dating producer Sol Megabucks and acting as a technical adviser on a film based on the author's life story. The film's working title is Groins of Passion. Despite the time, we still feel the author's recollections are timely, amusing, and uh___. Oh, I'm sorry. I must have dozed off.


Thirty-one years old. Frightening number, 31. Adds up to a 4, which is a dismal number. It doesn't really matter unless you're into numerology. Not much into that anymore. 31? Well, rubber ducks and cheese Ritz! Might as well be 81. Feels like 81 sometimes. Why that gives me fifty more years. Ah, yes! I remember now. The memories come flooding back to me. That's the problem with poor plumbing.

Picasso used to say to me that life was like fighting the bull. Conquer it and you will be fed for a year. Turn your back on it and you'll get a horn in the butt. Not many people know this, but Picasso was an incredible dancer. He used to drink a combination of cheap Spanish red wine and hand soap. Camay beaujolais, I believe. "Cleanliness is next to drunkeness," he would say, staggering around in my Paris studio. Then without warning he would start his little erratic jumping dance. The Barcelona Pogo, he called it, finally collapsing in the corner, still singing Lady Insane, I Adore You. I'll never forget him, Marvin Picasso. He used to work as a waiter at the Chez Bon Tits Cafe. I never met Pablo.

Paris, 1933. What a time to be alive. At the time, of course, things seemed to be rough. My artists friends and I all had one thing in common: We were starving. But we didn't seem to notice much.

We were all in the Montmarte flat of Anais Ninge. A most delightful eccentrique lady she was. She had taken up smoking opium as a fashion, but never knew that she had only been lighting up her slippers. She was so happy and so innocent, that we never told her the truth. After all, Colette had smoked her boots. Puffing away on her shoe, Anais said, "We could all write dirty stories for money." It seemed like a joke at first, but Anais was serious. We all added various naughty bits to the stories. Some rich patron was buying the stuff. We didn't care. It meant more wine and fish. Years later, these stories would become the collections called Dented by Venus and Little Toasters. I remember one passage from the latter book that Anais and I had worked together. The story was called A Model in Her Kitchen.

"The model couldn't understand her passions. Why was it that Pierre failed to excite her when she saw him in the club! Didn't his saxophone playing bring the other girls to the brink of ecstasy? She could still remain aloof. But once Pierre was in her kitchen, she became an untamed animal. What was it about him? Perhaps it was his smell. It was like an incense. She had smelled it on certain women in India. An odor of Musk. Like the African veldt. Was it because Pierre slept under the sink? She didn't care, especially at moments like these. He came to her now. Her eyes couldn't escape from the sight of his spatula. His saxophone playing was second rate, but Pierre knew how to cook." Writing stuff like this was a giggle to us then. Years later I would try to recapture the feeling with Tropic of Virgo. I'll never forget Anais, however. Seems strange, though. My friends say I've never lived in Paris. They may be right. It's the syphilis, I'm afraid. Great Grandfather and his sheep. Curse his knees!

Ah, yes, the women! I'll always love the women. Still can't sleep with them, though. Keep waking me up. The Curse! The Curse! Still would like to have an affair with a Japanese ballerina. If she gives back massages, I might be able to sleep. She could dance Aurora's Wedding Ballet on my back. I'll hum Tchaikovsky. It would be bliss. "Women should be put on a pedestal and then under the sheets, " Casanova once said in Venice after eating a mushroom and sausage pizza. I have never forgotten those words.

My memory is pretty good for a man in his thirties approaching his middle eighties. I always thought an octogenarian was a non-Oriental who ate only squid. Sushi yourself. I'm sorry. The old war wound is acting up. Adventure! Adventure! Quick, get the nuns in the cellar! I'm sorry, again. If only the treatments would take.

Things are starting to calm down now. So many cities I've travelled to: Paris, Tokyo, Munich. And never once leaving the Home.

Life has been good. Only people disappoint me. But now I live on the California coast. I look out across the ocean. I see a range of mountains. Qu'est-ce que c'est? I realize I am facing the wrong direction.

(Photograph shows the author with then-wife, Suki Mothra, at their home in To Big Sur, With Love, CA.)

[First published on June 16, 1981.]