Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Study In Slightly Beige: or, the case of the Japanese doormen.

Further Memoir of Dr. John H. Watson M.D. (for Madman).  It was late Autumn in the year 1899, when I found myself once again in my old familiar lodgings at 221 B Baker Street.  The home of my dear friend Sherlock Holmes.  The many adventures we had shared up to this date.

I was going through my old tin box, which contained so many notes on the singular habits and baffling cases that had confronted my old roommate.  Each case revealed certain traits that made Sherlock Holmes the most famous of consulting detectives.

My profession as doctor was seeming to take less and less of my time, save for my deep love of gynecology.  I had been picking up a bit of income from selling the stories of our adventures to the Strand and Singles Register.  Which story should I recount next?  So many titles appeared to me.  The Singular Case of the Aluminum Crotch, or perhaps The Adventure of the Five Dancing Dips.  As I pondered these notes, I suddenly heard a scream come forth from Mrs. Hudson, the Dutch porno queen, who had since become our landlady.

The next thing I knew, the front door of our sitting room burst open to reveal the cloaked figure of a woman.  Recovering from my initial surprise, I was amazed to realize that I was looking upon the form and visage of Sister Blase Chalant, or Nun Chalant, Mother Inferior of the Convent of Our Lady of the Total Experience.  Before I could ask the dear Sister what she was doing in my living room, I heard the less-than-feminine voice of my old friend say: "Well, Watson.  The case you call A Study in Slightly Beige is closed for good.  All decent interior decorators of London can now sleep soundly.  The nortorious Wimpner and his illicit Drapery Gang are safely in the hands of Inspector Lestrade."

And with those words, Sherlock Holmes tore off the habit of Sister Chalant, to reveal the leather disguise of Mrs. Emma Peel.  That was the way with Sherlock.  Like living with a flesh and blood Chinese puzzle.  Holmes was a master of disguise.  The tight leather garments hugged his form well.  I was certainly fooled.  And curiously impressed.  Was the room getting warmer?

"Why do you think it is Watson," my friend asked, "that most English men like to dress in drag?  Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Robert Morely, Morecombe and Wise.  They all share this common trait."  Holmes was unwrapping a pack of Quentin Crisps, as well as removing the disguise of Mrs. Peel.  Certainly the stage had lost a brilliant actor in Holmes.  He had nice legs, too.

Holmes was now in his old familiar dressing gown, filling his pipe with shag tobacco, made from the finest shag carpets.  "Quick Watson, the sewing machine!" he shouted.  I disapproved of this habit, and told him so.  "Oh, stop complaining Watson.  You'll make me lose a stitch."  In these moods of his, he was impossible.  The pattern, including the one on his arm, was often the same.  He would measure the ash of cigar; inform me of some little known fact in history, like the Etruscans invented the first vacuum cleaner; recite a somewhat saucy limerick in Esperanto, and finally, quietly nurse on his violin.  After a while he would start to thumb through the newspapers and magazines.

"Look at this Watson," he said to me, waving a copy of National Geographic.  "It says here that penguins are mysteriously disappearing from the Antarctic.  They can't understand why.  But the answer is simple."  I was always amazed at how quick my friend could understand a seemingly impossible situation.

"Good Lord Holmes!"  How is that?"  I asked.

"Elemenopee, my dear Watsong," Holmes said, casually sitting on his violin case.  "Japanese fishermen are kidnapping the penguins, and smuggling them into Japan.  The penguins are then used as doormen at various hotels in Tokyo.  It's very cheap labor."

"Incredible Holmes!" I said, rising to go down the hallway, clutching my latest collection of Industrial Postcards.  "How can anyone know whether or not they have a real Japanese doormen or a penguin instead?" I asked, standing by the door.

"Good question, Watson," Sherlock said, stuffing a new shag carpet into his pipe bowl.  "I would imagine if your doorman takes his tip in fish, that would be a good clue."

[First published October 6, 1981.]

Monday, September 27, 2010

"...Now here in this forsaken jungle Hell, I have proven that I am all right!"

And hoo boy, it's hot!  Hellish heat.  Late at night, and as Marilyn Monroe would say, "We're having a heatwave."  This is obviously going to have an effect on today's entry.  Please bear with me.  Any crankiness for this week is barometric--not cinematic, as in past weeks.

As a matter of fact, Monday's film du jour was the Columbo 5th season episode starring Hector Elizondo and Sal Mineo.  Hector plays a murderous, Middle Eastern politico.  I've never seen this episode.  My wife bought this set because of Patrick McGoohan, so the Hector episode is a bonus.  I and my wife got to know Hector through my old, dear friends, Sandra Liddell and Harry Reese, talented artists and bookmakers, founders of Turkey Press in Santa Barbara.  Hector's wife, Carolee Campbell, is also a talented bookmaker, and through Harry, the chain of friendships began.  All very nice people, lovely memories in Sandra and Harry's home.  And through their friendship, Hector became a dear friend and guest on Space Pirate Radio and my KTMS Entertainment Magazine radio show.  So, despite the heat, I'm not as cranky as I was previous blog-time with Harry Brown or Werner Herzog. 

So, onto the next bit.  Here we are winding up September and it feels like we are halfway up the Amazon.  Odd, as I write this from the miraculous community known as Santa Madre Teams Teresa ("Mother of Trucks!").  The All-Armenian City.  More earthy, more working class than my previous haunts of Santa Barbaria.  A more religious, conservative community than I'm used to, there are shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Pep Boys at every crystal meth lab on every block near you.  This is the home of Darth Maul-De-Nada.  Culture?  You'll find it in yogurt.  This is the home of tri-tip, trucks and big tires.  Once a year, men with accordions and bubble machines ride cattle.  They call it the Lawrence Welks Rodeo.  Wunnerful, wunnerful.  It's a military town with an overflow of people who work at the Jean-Claude Van Damme Denberg Air Force Base.  It's like an old Bowery Boys movie:  spooks galore (Langley types who hate the cold).

And you can hardly call it a jungle. Vegetation has long ceased to exist here.  Between pesticides and petroleum, anything green and over 1' doesn't exist. This town hates trees.  The only trees in this town are actually cell phone towers.  The native Indians, before creating casinos, called this place the Valley of Sickness and refused to live in it. They chose the highlands.  Sometimes I think it's purgatory or a rejected M. Night Shyamalan script.  And that's bad.  Because every script by M. Night Shyamalan should be rejected (sorry, I can't stand takes him 2 and a half hours to do what Rod Serling could do in 20 minutes).

So here in this forsaken jungle, it's kind of jungle free. I certainly don't feel the sort of atmosphere of Tarzan or Ramar of the Jungle or Jungle Jim.  No Johnny Weissmuller.  No Jon Hall.  No Sabu.  Some, but not enough Maria Montez.  And definitely no Turhan Bey.  So, "See Jungle See Jungle..." What does this all mean?  Well, you may ask. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

"..Outlawed in a world of science which previously honored me as a genius..."

An old friend, Joe Palladino, wrote me a while back telling me that he was putting together a film about the history of radio station KTYD and would I be involved.  Like a smart ass, I joked "seriously, is KTYD still around?" and made derogatory comments about voice tracks created in Bakersfield and endless ads for shooters on another Eagles classic rock weekend.  As I have said here before, for me, KTYD died in 1985.

Joe's letter created mixed feelings in yours truly.  Anyone who has read previous recollections about Space Pirate Radio can easily detect a love/hate relationship with the station.  Let me try to explain some of the smoke and mirrors here.  I really love radio.  I mean, I really love radio.  The magic of it.  All its possibilities.  The problem is that not everyone in radio shares this enthusiasm.  So when I found myself involved with freeform station KTYD in 1973, I assumed we were all free radicals, doing it for the passion, the love of music and trying to make a change.  I wasn't expecting so many of those long-haired, dope smoking individuals to be harboring a desire to turn into balding, 50-year-old businessmen so early.  Some of them were already bald, but they had that Ben Franklin look.  So you still thought they were cool.  But back to KTYD.  There's been much written about the station and I'm amazed at how wrong a lot of it has been.  There was a KTYD reunion a number of years back, held at Fess Parker's thing (in 1974, we would have wanted to burn the place to the ground--not assess its property value).  Many old faces gathered together.  Sadly for me, the gathering of the tribes bordered on the pathetic.  Instead of a reunion of kindred spirits and creative anarchists, it had the air of a sodden sales convention for the Scooter Store.  Ironically at this party, I was the designated driver.  Besides the horror of seeing the room filled up with sales lemmings of the new KTYD (those who had signed a pact with Clear Channel), the greatest disappointment was the fact that no one remembered anything of substance or importance.  There was a lot of talk about drugs and who had or hadn't been with the female music director. But basically, the revelation of then and when in the here and now was completely absent.

The old cliche is that if you remember the '60s, you didn't live them.  And the same could be said for the '70s.  I lived them and pretty hard.  But I recall them quite vividly, more often fondly, rather than with horror.  Of course, the Virgo in me (theme--"thanks folks for all the cards and letters") retains being an archivist, so that might help.  So I've kept the pertinent information.  As is, the basic facts about KTYD should be that it began in September of 1973 and that the program director, Larry Johnson from San Jose, turned an old county & western/oldies, Dick Clark owned, canned radio station into a living, breathing, freeform rock broadcaster.  24 hours, pretty much all live.  So Klassic KTYD 37 years ago (oh, me organs) pretty much revolves around who Larry Johnson hired to the station.  Besides Larry, the main headliners were music director, Laurie Cobb, and disc jockeys Ray Briare, Mark Ward, Bill Zimmer, and Jim Trapp.  It is at this part of the story, kids, where Larry brings on David and Tiny Ossman of the Firesign Theatre to do their stoney, retro nostalgia show, Easy Street.  And, has been noted in a previous remembrance, yours truly is in the entourage. 

The story so far.  As you remember last time, I enter the 8th floor studios of KTYD, high atop the 'Hotel' Granada Theatre building.  I get a weird feeling that something's going to happen here.  And I am quite sober.  As mentioned earlier, Larry Johnson, friendly and outgoing, is a big fan of the Firesign Theatre.  So anyone who is a friend, is probably somewhat annointed.  Up until this point, even with my previous background in radio, I assumed that the concept of Space Pirate Radio was so obvious, that someone else would probably do it ahead of me.  But they hadn't.  And especially not on commercial radio.  So, struck by a bolt of energy from Zeus, this son of Hermes decides I will pitch the concept to Mr. Johnson over lunch.  I explain the idea for the show and what I wish to do and he agrees.  Without an audition tape, resume, or sound sample, an on the air premiere is scheduled for Saturday night/Sunday morning, January 27, 1974. 

Now before "founding" members Edward Bear and Dave Heffner have even been heard on the station.  Not to try to pick nits here, but so often people who came on years later are listed as the original KTYD.  I don't even claim to be original because I wasn't there in September of '73.  I was there in November of '73.  In my mind, so-called "founding" members of KTYD are pretty much all together in the first year.  The ball is rolling.  The feeling is there.  The spirit is happening.  People are picking up on what's going on.  Disc jockeys around the state and country are hearing the buzz and want to be a part of it. As long as Larry Johnson is the program director, later people coming onboard are still a part of the momentum of the station, but the fundamentals have already been established. 

This is not to discredit those who came later.  On the contrary, the station fleshed out even more and became for the community the idealistic, multi-formated, (dare I say it) utopian radio station that the corporate blood suckers would do their best to disassemble.  I mean, freeform, man.  This means that at one time we had complete freedom.  We didn't make much money; in fact, we were quite poor.  But we felt rich in knowing that everything we did was based on what we believed in.  The music we played, we loved.  We weren't told by some wanker market consultant from Florida that the song we were playing had tested well in Sarasota...we played what we liked and what the audience connected with.  So to wrap up this KTYD thing, the original station was a collection of eclectic souls with many tastes, many talents, and many flaws.  But we did it 'cause we loved it and you knew that sometime, somewhere on that station, what you particularly liked, whatever style of music (from blues, jazz, hard rock, folk, country, classical, avant-garde, whatever), you knew that someone on that station was playing it 'cause they dug it and you dug it.  And that's why you tuned in.  For a while, you could tell there were no strings on the voices that were talking to you.  No puppets.  So we are back to my love/hate relationship with radio.  I love it for what it was and what it could be.  I hate it for what it became and what it is.  In a way, this continues my original concept for Space Pirate Radio.  Although a part of KTYD, I felt apart from KTYD.  Space Pirate Radio was always a sputnik.  A satellite revolving in orbit around home base.  Beaming a message down, hoping to reach a few.  In orbit, necessary...but separate.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

"I was classed as a madman, a charlatan..."

My choices in film viewings before I contemplate these writings seems to be having a questionable effect on the direction the article takes.  A few weeks back, an attempted innocent entry on my bohemian bachelor lodgings went all Cockney Charlie Bronson thanks to having watched Michael Caine in Harry Brown just before.  So this week, we've just finished the new David Lynch produced Werner Herzog film, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done.  Oh boy.  It's kind of happening again.  Though I'm trying my best not to be as cranky as I was post-Harry Brown, my planned attempt to continue my Virgo-themed series for the month of September has been somewhat fumed by the filmic experience.  This is a fairly recent occurrence.  As this is my 43rd entry, I have watched many other films previous to writing with no outward effect.  Perry Mason episodes seem to be the most innocuous.  But Volume 2 of the 5th season isn't out yet, so we have been forced to pick and choose from the weekly offerings of new dvd releases.  This has caused these latest permutations.

So now instead of waxing nostalgic, commenting on the music and arts, dazzling you with the wit and wisdom of things gone by, I am trying to detox from the 91 minutes spent beforehand.  And I feel a rant coming on.  I will try to keep it soft and fuzzy.  David Lynch and Werner Herzog.  That's a collaboration that's got to be interesting, right?  If there were ever two directors whose names spoke mental health, these are it.  I used to be a really big supporter of Herzog in the '70s.  I mean, Klaus Kinski and the music of Popol Vuh.  Aguirre.  A fan from day one.  Played all the soundtracks on Space Pirate Radio.  Had them all.  German and French vinyl.  His stuff was right up my alley.  Being German helped.  David Lynch however, was not my favourite.  I was not in awe of Eraserhead like everyone else was.  This is probably because I preferred my mental illness from Europe.  Disturbing images by Americans was too close to home.  I mean, I was working for these type of people.  Fellini, Roeg, Russell, Antonioni and Bunuel interested me because they were not like the bosses I worked for.  And even my favourite American directors tended to be the ones who went to London or Europe, like Lester and Kubrick.  So what does this mean?  I prefer my madness European-style.

This attempt at a world view, coming from a US born person, was more often than not, met with confusion or hostility. I mean, it took forever to explain the concept of Space Pirate Radio: foreign, experimental music being heard in the US of A.  "But they're singing in I-talian.  I can't understand what they are saying."  "But this is good," I would reply.  "You can make up your own translation.  They may be singing about crab lice and washtubs, but it sounds like pure poetry."  A well known disc jockey on air once asked me what the band Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) meant in English.  I said it meant "good sex on the radio."  Premiata, meaning prime, Forneria meaning fornication, and Marconi, the inventor of the wireless.  I just made it up.  I didn't know until later that it actually meant the number one bakery in the city of Marconi  I was mattoCapiche?  Playing the leetle joke.  Oh Eddie, kiss me goodnight.

Okay, so I succeeded in getting Space Pirate Radio on the air and I succeeded in producing several of my plays, but trying to do film was something else.  In 1979 I did a 20 minute short film called Crackers At Eight.  It was a shortened version of themes from my 1973 play, Nothing Is Sacred.   A lot of short sketches dealing with a day in television where the afternoon matinee movie, a sci-fi film called Crabs, ends up being the real thing by the evening news.  This was where I wanted (at the time) to take the direction of comedy. It was for myself, a progressive evolution of all the comedy, music and art that had influenced me up to that time: Mad magazine, Steve Allen, Jack Parr, Ernie Kovacs, the Goon Show, the Beatles, and Firesign Theatre.  It was far from perfect.  But it was for me, fresh and fast.  At at the time, very new.  The finished project caught the attention of the vice president of comedy development at 20th Century Fox.  She loved it.  Thought it was perfect for the studio.  She just wanted to fly it past her boss, the president of comedy development.  A meeting is set up, I drive down to the Fox Studios, have my reserved parking permit, armed with my quarter inch tape of the show.  Entering the plush offices of El Presidente de Comedia, being seated in comfy chairs, we watch my humble effort.  VP lady starts to laugh and smile as first jokes become visual.  But then she notes El Jefe is not sharing in on the fun.  She begins to cover her mouth and acts like a new internal discomfort is beginning.  The signs become visible.  The sounds and flurry of images are having no effect on her boss.  Her enthusiasm has disappeared.  End of showing.  El Jefe says to me, "this is not the direction comedy is going in.  We here at 20th Century Fox know that real comedy has to be story based, which is why MASH is our most successful television series.  This sketch style humor will never catch on."  I believe I told him he was quite wrong.  And I was amazed that the president of comedy development was not aware of something called Saturday Night Live or Monty Python's Flying Circus.  A true visionary.  Thank god he saved the world from my comic masterplan.  Perhaps we can also thank him for delivering the solid, story driven comedies that Fox would later be known for.  The list is endless.  Which one is your favourite, kids?  Date Movie, Epic Movie or Meet The Spartans?

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Virgin On The Ridiculous"

September.  The month of Virgo.  When seven turns into nine.  The third earth (sign) from the sun.  The Mercury Players.  Quicksilver Messenger Service.  I'm in the year of my Septembers.  Astrology used to play a large part in my pagan past.  I used to be into it a lot.  Every girl I dated, I needed to know when she was born, exact time and location.  The Sun sign was important, but so was Moon, Mars, Mercury, and especially Venus (heh-heh) and Rising.  Placement of the Moon?  Lunacy, perhaps.  It did seem that certain patterns emerged.  But, oh well. 

On early Space Pirate Radio shows, I even did a weekly astrological/astronomical outlook.  Telling the audience where the planets were and in what elements for that particular show.  It's not that I wanted to turn into Walter Mercado with a weekly los mundos astrologicos type of thing (I've never met the fellow, but I kind of like him even though he reminds me of a combination of Liberace meets Jon Anderson).  Those introductions disappeared after a while, but later on in the '80s, I got to know poet-astrologer Rob Brezsny.  He came on Space Pirate Radio, did a wonderful interview, promoted his book at the time, and I suggested that he do twelve astrological IDs for the show--a different one for each sign--which I would play at the appropriate time of the year.   In the ID, he would introduce himself, kindly say he was with yours truly, impart a bit of philosophical arcana, and then say that "today the Sun is in Virgo, the Moon is in Space Pirate Radio."  Twelve of these, which I could rotate throughout the year during the show within the music mix.  It added to the alchemy.

But back to Virgos.  Obviously I'm partial.  I understand the Virgo mindset.  Technically, extremely critical.  Virgo, the Critic it was sometimes called.  Perfectionist.  Analytical.  Twit.  Or twit like.  Definitely with essence of twit.  As in too witty.  Conway Twitty?  No.  Twit.  Sometimes appearing extremely cold and arrogant.  But that would be pure Virgo.  Being aware of the mix of elements, it's important to tone it down a bit.  For myself, I was glad to turn the earth into a bit of mud with a few water signs: Moon in Cancer, Cancer Rising, and the ever notorious and obsessive Venus in Scorpio.  You've seen my bathroom, haven't you? 

Virgos good and bad:  Roger Dean, the artist who designed the fabulous logo for Virgin Records, Virgo.  Romantic author Goethe, Irish fantasist Sheridan Le Fanu, and famed Ruskie Leo Tolstoy (hey, it's the Labor Day weekend...excuse me while I turn down The Internationale).  Greta Garbo was born on my birthday, that double G thing.  I'm a triple G myself (Garbo Talks, but Guden Walks!).  Frankie Avalon was born on my birthday too.  An early hero of mine, David McCallum, is a Virgo born on September 19.  In my high school years I often patterned my look on Illya Kuryakin:  long blond hair, black turtleneck, black coat.  I thought this cool Scotsman portraying a jazz-loving, Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent was the epitome of hip iconoclasm.  It wasn't until very late in life that I discovered quite the opposite about him.  This cool, mod Russian is actually a Socialist-fearing, Bush-loving conservative.  Oh god!  And I thought Thrush was the enemy!  More on this later. 

Lyndon B. Johnson was a Virgo.  That's awful.  Hated the man till he had a final days mea culpa.  Virgos don't normally get along with fellow Virgos.  I found this to be true.  In most cases, when I was single, if I met a Virgo woman, there was little spark between us.  So I never could understand the supposed romance between Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren, both Virgos.  Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe, fellow Goons, were both born on the same day, September 8.  And Sophia Loren is not the only beautiful Virgo.  Raquel Welch is also amongst the vestals.

Oh yeah, besides that David McCallum misinformation, I once thought that Twiggy might be my perfect soulmate.  This was only because she and I were born within 24 hours of each other: her in Neasden, UK; me in Detroit, USuck.  Oh well, that was probably a case of minor delusion.  I was in a movie with Twiggy, but unfortuantely I never met her.  Probably for the best.  If I had spoken about this, it might have come off as a bad scene from little known British cult film, Goodbye Gemini.  That would have been bad.  Nice soundtrack, though.