Monday, October 25, 2010
So those '80s. Pretty wacky. Even though I felt I was still a key leader of the resistance--a top operator of the underground--I certainly carried on like a loon. Can we ever not be in awe of the grandeurs of bad taste...er, I mean, cutting edge that the '80s personified? I mean, look at me. A perpetual, early midlife crisis. Who else would be a natural blond and try to dye his hair white like Rutger Hauer's in Blade Runner. After a first attempt, I looked like a bad country singer or maybe a canary. I had to get that special white tone. It needed to match the colour of my latest white automobile. And what does it say about a time and place when you could knock the girls out with a 1984 Pontiac Fiero? It was the world's first Snap-On tools car. A rubber car. Drive it like a condom. Perfect for bedwetters. The car of the future. How long did the future last? Four years. This is real. The day I paid the car off, Pontiac folded it. This was my first and last American car. And why did I have the damn thing in the first place? Because it sort of looked like a Fiat Bertone. But it didn't have the price tag. Fiat. The cool Italian car. Remember what they said Fiat stood for? "Fix It Again, Tony." Well, you know what Fiero stood for? "Fix It Entirely Right, Ortega." I was lucky, though. Unlike most of the cars, my engine didn't catch on fire. Despite the outward appearance of being a sexy car, the interior had all the mystique of an interstellar coffin. A two seater only, with a console dividing you and your passenger, it screamed "platonic relationships." The girl I was going with at the time, impressed by the sleek exterior but then enlightened by yours truly regarding the awkwardness of the interior, responded to my comments about possible limitations to romanticism within the vehicle by saying "well I guess you gotta be a real good talker."
Anyway, I had that car during my final days with KTYD and my new radio home at KTMS/Y-97. I drove in semi-style to my various professional, radio-type public appearances in that car. Those were the Dancing Days, my friend. At KTYD, besides doing my only constant connection to reality, Space Pirate Radio, I supplemented my meager income by hosting KTYD Night at a club in Santa Barbara called the Pacific Coast Dance Company. This was Tuesdays, folks. Featuring the fab cover tunes of the Young Adults, a nice bunch of guys who could replicate (Rutger Hauer, Rutger Hauer) your favourite current '80s dance tunes. I can still hear the Romantics in my head. Or the Fixx. Or Billy Idol. When the boys would do the Fisted One's "Flesh For Fantasy," the sound man would give me a microphone and I would karaoke in the darkness singing "Flush, flush your family, come on now..." Now how is that possible, you say? Well, part of my contract included an open bar. So after my second vodka collins I felt little pain and a hammy, Mickey Rooney-like love of the club. "Hey folks, dance contest coming." I would hustle the cutest or slightly uninhibited girls with their dates to enter the weekly contest. Dance finals were the highlight of the Tuesday evening, with lucky couples receiving album giveaways and the latest concert tickets: R.E.M. at UCSB or the Go-Go's at the County Bowl. This is as close as I came to selling out. I didn't feel I was selling out because I was still known for doing Space Pirate Radio and there were no compromises on that show. This was my down-to-earth, space boy persona. Making a little money, getting free drinks, and having the attentions of listeners and non-listeners. It was fun to be young. I did feel sad for the many single males who I would watch enter the club, hoping to get lucky, blowing their paycheck on drinks for ladies who would eventually disappear into the night. That was the saddest part. But being in a haze of alcool and the off-center of attention didn't stop me from returning to the happening club the following week.
Clubbing for me came into its peak when I hooked up with Zelo during the Y-97 days. Post-1985, Zelo was the uber-kool restaurant/nightclub for Santa Barbara. Studio 54 with really good food. Tres-moderne. They were so cool, they didn't do any radio advertising. Every pathetic account executive at both KTYD and Y-97 always hoped to get them to buy airtime. They didn't need it. Until I came along. Sploogie! After the success of my 12th Anniversary Space Pirate Radio party at Zelo, the restaurant/club was the hip spot to be at. I'll talk more about this later (sorry), but for now, I'm reminded only of that clubbing spirit of the '80s. I actually like to dance. Wild, geriatric seizures of expression. It was great. Isadora Duncan meets Martha Graham and Nijinsky at the Whisky A-Go-Go in an opiated, cappuccino moment. Hermes Pan on acid dancing to the Blow Monkeys.
So where have we been, kids? We've talked about the '80s and we've talked about dancing. So were we all lemmings dancing towards the edge? Too many thoughts on that area. Philosophical questions you can't answer. Like how many angels can you fit on a pin giving head? Hmmm! Still love dancing, though. Even now in my wheelchair, cramped by my iron & wine lung, if you put on "The Politics of Dancing" by Re-Flex: "I can dance mein Fuhrer." Terpsichore! "We are most a Muse."
Monday, October 18, 2010
One of those later shows that proved as much a pleasure to the audience as it did to yours truly was when American synthesizer artist Steve Roach did an all-nighter with me in 1988. Steve was one of the select few American artists who appeared on my predominantly import oriented show due to his love of European electronic music. Steve had made a reputation as being the most internationally experimental artist in the US at the time. His influences had been Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis, but he was incorporating a highly original amount of Native American and Aboriginal sounds to the mix, creating a truly original twist in the world of ambient music. In each work you could feel the spirit of Castaneda, Borges and Peter Weir's The Last Wave. You felt the magic of the desert in Roach's soundscapes. His work Quiet Music was one of my all-time favourites.
He was on my program to play and discuss his epic work, Dreamtime Return, the double cd of sounds inspired by his travels in Australia. My friendship with Steve had been instigated by my long-term friendship with record producer, Eckart Rahn. His record company, Celestial Harmonies, had picked up Roach's Fortuna label and was now releasing Steve's current works.
Slight detour...only because I have to say here and now that I could go on and on about Eckart Rahn. This delightful German music lover I met in the mid-'70s because of my playing German bands like Amon Duul II, Can and Embryo. He represented the German artists musical rights to Americans and I met him through my mad passion for eclectic German sound experimentation. I discovered he had his own labels, Kuckuck and ERP, which released unusual titles. He introduced me to Deuter and Peter Michael Hamel. And he released the works of my already favourite artist, Florian Fricke, aka Popol Vuh. He also released non-Japanese versions of Kitaro and non-French releases of Jean-Michel Jarre. He was a jazz man. Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. He was a bass player. Was involved with ECM Records. A big part of the German jazz scene. Got sucked into the psychedelic bit. That's how he gets stuck with me. He visits me in Santa Barbara from his home in Connecticut. I visit him at his office in Munich in 1982 (I will always remember being in the restarurant by myself in the Munich Hilton, scooping up the beef stroganoff in the smorgasbord-like atmosphere, wondering what the hell am I doing alone in this city of Hitler, when I see a far door open up and a tall, good-looking, slightly rain-drenced blond Siegfried-type of a man comes in and says "Hello Guy").
So thanks to Eckart, he brings Steve Roach up to Santa Barbara. Eckart is now living in Tucson, but Steve is still headquartered in Los Angeles. Steve will relocate to Tucson and start his Timeroom Studios in the not too distant future. Eckart's visits to Santa Barbara are always a pleasure, now doubly so with Steve in tow. We do the town. With Eckart, that means plenty of coffee and sushi too. We go to my favourite Japanese restaurant, Kyoto, where much tuna and yellow tail is consumed. Down to lower State St. for cappuccinos. I suggest to Eckart that he should start the world's first sushi-coffee bar, thus cutting down travel time. Another good idea lost.
But on Sunday night/Monday morning, the three of us are in the sub-ghetto studios of Y-97. Eckart is very shy, low-key and wishes not to take attention away from his artist's work. Pity, in a way, because it would be so easy to do six hours just talking about his experiences in the German avant-garde scene. His life in Munich alone is a wealth of information: the commune of Amon Duul, his friendship with Can, Fassbinder, Herzog and Wenders, the jazz and classical artists. So many stories. But not to be told on this show. The focus is on Steve Roach. In fact, Eckart will bow out after the first hour and head back to the hotel, leaving me and Steve to delve into the hypnotic realms of his music.
It was very transcending. We felt extremely other-worldly and yet were quite sober. The power of Steve's music. We played all of his album, as well as some of his favourite artists. Much discussion on his Australian experiences. During one part of the show, while listening to the music, I turned to Steve and said "I know this is cliche, but I felt an intense deja vu." And he said "so did I." Perhaps we had spent too much time in candlelit rooms listening to Klaus Schulze. Or maybe it was the bunker-like decor of Y-97's studios. I mean, really, folks. Sometimes these radio stations at night really make you feel like you should have the cyanide capsules ready for any moment. I should get out more.
I wanted Space Pirate Radio to put on a concert with Steve at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara and plans were set. But then the city slapped the Lobero with an earthquake retrofit and the date had to be scrapped. Fortunately, it was never announced, so fans and listeners were not disappointed. But myself and Steve were. That would have been a show I would have liked to have attended. Anyway, that Space Pirate Radio broadcast of 1988 was a special show and I was pleased that it was a favourite among listeners.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Sherlock Holmes is constantly interpreted and re-interpreted. I believe the character has been portrayed more times on film than any other fictional character. Like Hamlet, it can always be viewed in a different light. I've been lucky to see all of the best interpretations: Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Christopher Plummer, John Neville, Christopher Lee, and for most fans of the books, the work of Jeremy Brett. There have been many variations and transmutations: Robert Stephens in the Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Nicol Williamson in the Seven-Per-Cent Solution, Spielberg's Young Sherlock Holmes, and now Robert Downey's. And let's not even start about the parodies: Gene Wilder, Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, John Cleese... Before Billy Wilder did the Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes with Robert Stephens, it was announced that the film would be made with Peter O'Toole as Holmes and Peter Sellers as Watson. Later, around Magic Christian time, this developed into being a project that Sellers would play Holmes and Ringo Starr would play Watson. Anyway, it's all too much.
So a year later in 1982, I'm in London to put together my Space Pirate Video pilot and continue work on my Peter Sellers documentary. Where shall I stay while I'm in this magnificent city? My parents had been to London previously and they were supposed to be booked into the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street, but they were given accommodations in another hotel in the Mayfair district. They liked the hotel they were in, but were kind of looking forward to being in the hotel named after the famous character. Remembering this, while booking my accommodations, I suggested to my travel agent friend, "howabout the Sherlock Holmes Hotel?" So it was done. Not a five star hotel, I still found the choice a pleasant one, the hotel conveniently located on upper Baker Street near Marylebone. With Marylebone station around the corner, transportation throughout London was fast and easy. I spent much time in the Marylebone station. Trains could take me out of the city to East Finchley and Golders Green Cemetery--places connected with Peter Sellers. The Underground would take me to Piccadilly or to the Thames Embankment. And Baker Street itself was an easy street to walk south into London, down to Hyde Park and King's Road. The hotel was at the north end of Baker Street near the famous lodgings at 221B which were, at the time, a bank that incorporated a small museum. True Sherlockians, however, throughout the years, have debated where the actual lodgings were. Supposedly at the time of the stories, 221B would have been at the south end of Baker Street--not the north. I wasn't obsessed. It was just nice to be on Baker Street. You know, the Gerry Rafferty song, flowing through your head. When I walked down the street, I failed to realize while passing number 94 that I was going by the former home of Apple House, the Beatles empire, as well as the old The Fool painted Apple boutique. But that's London. Every inch is history. And you can't help but miss it all without knowing it.
But back to Holmes. Or rather, his hotel. It was very hot and humid that July in '82. My rooms were located actually at the far end of the hotel, overlooking Baker Street. The proper entrance to the hotel was actually located on the side street. Looking at the other rooms, I would have been disappointed not seeing and hearing the life and action of the street itself. My view of the street below included a post office, I believe a Wimpy Burger, a street corner with signs denoting the direction of Hatfield and the North. Cool. I took this as a good sign for my love of progressive music. Now the irony. You would expect the Sherlock Holmes Hotel to be the epitome of true English-ness. It was, however, owned by some Middle Eastern group. All of the staff and bellhops were from Pakistan. Thank god I had the minibar, which, by the way, they would check each day to see how many tiny bottles of vodka and mini orange juice containers I had consumed the previous night. Now, seriously here, I'm not being racist. This is 1982 and I don't have any kind of Muslim stereotype going on here, right? I'm just in London at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel and I expect to be bathed in some Baskerville-like fog of mist and mood. Instead, my not-unfriendly bellhops speak little or no English and it's the England of the Raj. So instead of being in a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle store, I'm in E.M. Forester's A Passage To India. Near the end of my stay, I trundle down to the bar for another cool vodka tonic, and I discover the bartender is a woman and she has an English accent. Oh my god! I say to her, picking up my drink, "My god, you're the only English person working in this hotel." Her reply to me: "I'm actually from Australia." (For the record, I did actually meet an Irish maid working in a hotel on my trip. It was at the Munich Hilton. Go figure.)
But I digress. While at the hotel, from my room, on the phone, I am using the services of British Telecom. I am attempting to get the phone numbers of Peter Sellers's children, Sarah (who owns an antique shop) and Michael. I am hoping to speak to them in regards to the documentary I am making on their father. The young lady I am speaking to is very helpful. She is explaining to me which numbers are listed and unlisted. I tell her my desire to get these phone numbers for my film project, etc., etc. And it sort of dawns on me that this conversation is seeming to be longer than what would be a normal conversation with an American operator. As it turns out, I am speaking to a woman named Sue Caliburn, who happens to be married to an up-and-coming English actor named Nigel Caliburn, and she is being as helpful to me as she possibly can. The Seller's children's numbers are unlisted and unavailable to me through British Telecom. I can't get them for my project this way. I do, however, get to connect with the wife of a man who works for the BBC and is sympathetic to my overall project. Through this chance encounter I meet both of them during my stay in London at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel.
Funny how these things turn out. Almost like a blind date, I have the joy to meet this young couple in the lobby of the Sherlock Holmes Hotel. Nigel Caliburn, also known now as Nigel Carrington, is a talented young actor from Cheshire who shared my love of the Goon Show, Peter Sellers and his passion for Sir Laurence Olivier. It was a magical, solid friendship and made my trip to London very special. In regards to the Sherlock Holmes connections, Nigel, as an actor, appeared with Jeremy Brett in the Sherlock Holmes episode, The Dancing Men. Also, Nigel told me that he and Sue had their honeymoon at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel. I enjoyed my long friendship with Sue and Nigel. I am sure I will speak more about this later. Nigel has worked long and hard at his career. He has many credits on the BBC and has worked with many actors I have admired. He understudied for Timothy Dalton (who, by the way, he can do a perfect impression of) and played opposite Vanessa Redgrave in Anthony and Cleopatra while Dalton was off testing for James Bond. Nigel loved Olivier and I loved Sellers. I seriously suggested to him that we create a play called "Green Room," where both the spirits of Olivier and Sellers are in purgatory in a green room in the afterlife. It was my idea that this vehicle would give Nigel a chance to do all his best Larry impressions and I would do all my best Peters. That we could act out our favourite scenes and make a comment here and there. Perfect for the Edinburgh Fringe. I liked it. Another pipe dream. Ironically and sadly, I called Nigel and broke the news to him regarding Olivier's death. The last time I spoke to him was, sadly in the same vein, when I broke to him the news of the death of Princess Diana. This is one of the painful realities of west coast time versus British time. Despite this, I am happy to see that Nigel Carrington's career progresses. He does many books on tape and appeared in the uber-successful film, The Dark Knight.
Quick Watson, the needle! Needle Nardle Noo! Thinking back to those days at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel, having a supper of filet of sole and white wine at the Ristorante Moriarty, getting a second wind, deciding to take a cab and head to Leicester Square...well, that does it for me. Although I never joined the official Sherlock Holmes society, the Baker Street Irregulars, it didn't matter. I always thought their problem was due to a lack of fiber.