Monday, February 21, 2011

"Morgan is sad today. Sadder than yesterday."

Thinking back to the early days of the Diamond Bar Players has gotten me in an old theatrical mood.  I loved the drama classes in high school, but my constant fights with authority took away my enthusiasm for the academic life.  When I was at John A. Rowland High in Rowland Heights, CA, I wanted to be treated like a college student.  Dress in my mod, chord jacket and turtleneck look and pursue a career in English literature, speech and drama.  But I kept running into battles with the principal and some uptight P.E. coaches over hair length and dress code.  And this is where they lost me.  The rather moderate academic being created into the subversive radical.  The suburban anarchist.  I had some very cool teachers.  Looking back now, it is easier to tell the more free thinking staff from the closeted (and I mean this is in an almost gothic sort of a way), neurotic stick-up-the ass instructors who brought their hidden home abuses and inflicted them upon the tiny pets that they make bark and cower.  It is very clear.  The storm trooper types hated clever.  Or at worst, the smart ass.  But most of all, in these hallowed halls of learning, they despised any student who asked questions.  You were only supposed to have the answers to questions that had already been asked, with only one correct conclusion.  NEVER ask a question that hasn't already been answered.  Only in this way can true progress be controlled.

So there were the cool teachers.  I wish I could go back and talk to some of these people now and see how they really lived.  I remember that the hip ones were drama teachers, English teachers, an occasional eccentric math teacher or the cool sports instructors, the gymnastic cats.  An anecdote here: I hated physical education. Year after year, freezing my nuts off in the morning drizzle, while neanderthal coaches, heavily bundled, drank their coffee and told us to do laps.  Swine!  Slacker whiffs of Leni Riefenstahl.  Showering with smelly alpha-males. Jock-straps shot like sling shots.  Is this how civilized people live?  I hated it.  But I had a good yet goofy friend in Diamond Bar named Brian Brumby who never had to attend a P.E. class in his life.  How?  Because he signed up as a coach's assistant, attending all the after school games.  Football.  Baseball.  Basketball.  Doing the stats and such, and coming home after six or seven p.m. on the last bus.  By my Senior year, I realized this was the way to get out of the army.  No more sit-ups for me.  What sport wasn't taken up my friend Brian?  Gymnastics.  Section 8, sign me up.

And trust me, the cool guys were the coaches on this sport.  Individual achievement as opposed to team sports.  The coach didn't give a fart about my longer than normal blonde hair.  As long as I could write what the high jump numbers were in the little book, that's all that mattered technically.  And the assistant coach was a Bryan Ferry looking like cat who I'm sure read Playboy and had a liquor cabinet next to his folk records or Blue Note jazz collection.  I recall having conversations about his previous night's escapade with some bird de jour.  I may be reading more into this than was real, but I do know it was the uber-butch baseball coach, who kept bitching about me having my hair too long and sending me over to the principal's office to get a reality check.  I probably reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. Or...?

Anyway, to make a long story thanks to the cool teachers.  The others, being so uncool, must find the heat excessive.  I will come back to these moments.  Examples of this kind of madness popped up in junior high.  High school definitely changed the equation.  I lost a sense of discipline until two colleges later.  At Santa Barbara City College in the Drama Department, that early love of academia returned.  I got it in the Speech class as well, but I was still uninterested in all other required subjects.  Coming around to my original inspiration for this entry was the fact that only in the drama classes were we (in an artistic sense), able to ask the questions that did not have a preordained answer.  Call it a liberal bias if that's your hang-up, but the questioning of authority seemed to be in the drama department. 

My first play at SBCC was the distinctly anti-war work, Bury the Dead.  A drama in the spirit of Orson Welles' Mercury Players, this almost Brechtian meets Rod Serling production considered the possibility of war dead refusing to die and being martyred and ultimately forgotten for the sake of war profiteers.  I was one of the undead.

Later we did The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, another pacifist play.  Then later, Abelard & Heloise, on suggestion from yours truly, who had seen the show done in Los Angeles with Diana Rigg and Keith Michell.

A quick slide back to the tyrants who ruled the high school.  Our school had a principal whose last name sounded very close to the word Anus.  Well, this Anus kept suspending me for my ultra cool Illya Kuryakin look of wearing my blonde hair slightly over the ears, and not buzz-cut on the neck like I just landed off of Iwo Jima.  So I was suspended just before the end of my Senior year.  I trimmed my cool mod looks down to a slightly "I've just been released from Baden-Baden camp thanks to the Allies" look by wearing a low cut shirt rather than my usual turtleneck.  Anus sez, "Well, that's good enough ('guden auf') to get back into class.  But you will have to cut it again for Graduation.  You can't look like that if you want to get your diploma."  My response?  "Mail it to me."

A further side note regarding principal Anus.  Long after I left the multi-purpose rooms of John A. Rowland and was doing my thing in Santa Barbara, I saw my old alma mustard mentioned in the news regarding a political embarrassment.  It seemed the high school band had been invited to play at President Richard M. Nixon's arrival at not-so-nearby Ontario airport.  A band member, not being a fan of Tricky Dick, but still having to play for the Fearless Leader's arrival, felt he would show his right to dissent by placing a McGovern sticker in his tuba horn bell.  The result from my former principal expulsion from high school...and those rip roarin' raiders. You can't write better drama than this.  I wonder where my Anus is today?  He seemed to give us all PILES of trouble.

Drama folks.  It started with the Greeks, maybe earlier.  The Trojan Women or Johnny Got His Gun.  Liberal Arts.  Me likee.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"No, thanks. Bad luck. Three on a midget."

Happy Valentine's Day, folks.  "Love is in the air."  And it's stuck on the bottom of my shoe as well.  Seriously, folks.  I was going to write more about Space Pirate Radio, but I thought in honour of the holiday I would keep it light and airy.  So we are back in the re-Tardis and voila!  We are in Diamond Bar, CA 1969.  Look, my first car.  The Melting Watchtowre has now presented photographs of all three cars that I've purchased in my life.  Los Trios Autos Blancos.  I believe it's a 1964 Volkswagen.  But with the onset of senility, it could be a 1962.  I'm not that sure anymore.  I do know that I had to have a Bug because it was the hip, bohemian car to own.  It never sunk in that Adolf Hitler promoted this car.  "The people's car."  The Volks Wagen.  A free spirited, hippy girl I knew at the time had one, so I was just a copycat.  My car was a bit different, though, as it had actually been a grey model which had been in a wreck and had been repainted white.  This made the front interior grey, rather than the normal interior for the white Bugs of the time.  Grey being my favourite colour, this made my Bug a special travel machine.  Any VW owner knows: a snug fit, a funky shift and the sound of driving a washing machine.  No silent escapes from a late night tryst in that car.  Dig this.  I even had one of those label maker stickers on the glove compartment.  It was a quote from Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet:  "But He that hath the steerage of my course, Direct my sail."  What do you expect?  In 1968, Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet had been released and we all thought we were Shelley With A Stick Shift.  We drove madly down the San Bernadino freeway, guided by the image of Olivia Hussey. 

Diamond Bar, folks.  I lived there when the city first began.  A former ranch located north of Orange County and south of Pomona, it became incorporated in the mid-60s with one set of track houses at the south end and another set of track houses at the north end.  Brea Canyon Road twisted up from Fullerton and Brea into what seemed like an urban version of Borgo Pass from Dracula.  The rolling hills dotted with oak and walnut trees reminded yours truly of being in Mario Bava's Black Sunday.  It was quiet.  Deer would come down from the hills and drink in the fountain that welcomed the weary traveler into this new Stepford community.  For a while it really was tranquil.  An escape from the madness of Orange County.  Ugh, Orange County.  Flat and Republican filled.  A place where its sense of history was re-fabricated in Disneyland.  Every street corner was the same.  Three gas stations and an Alpha Beta.  I used to say to people that if they wanted to get rid of me, all they would have to do is break my glasses, put me on any corner (like Beach Blvd.) and I would never know where I was.  But I digress.

So Diamond Bar became a refuge for this young man with flights of fantasy.  I left the Alcatraz-like environment of Fullerton Union High School and began my sophomore year at the fresh, multipurpose room adobe of John A. Rowland High School, located in the dreamlike community of Rowland Heights, CA.  Home of the rip roarin' Rowland Raiders, this unique learning establishment tried its best to change European-styled yours truly, Guy de Maupassant--man of letters and culture--into my actual namesake, Guy Madison--branding, tumbling cowpoke.  This made for an amusing clash; a mutation of merriment, which I will discuss in detail later. 

Diamond Bar was the home of the illustrious Diamond Bar Players.  A high spirited group of theatricals nestled in this quaint community, I auditioned for them and they were impressed by my youthful Orson Welles-like vocal gymnastics.  I suckered them, folks.  And like Dick Powell in those Busby Berkeley films, for a while, I became their perennial juvenile.  I did a number of plays for them: George S. Kaufman stuff like The Solid Gold Cadillac; Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, playing psycho red herring Christopher Wren (pictured); and a piece of fluff called Slice It Thin.  Acting in these productions got me in prison.  Of which, I mean, this little group was invited to bring our humble productions to all of the illustrious penal institutions conveniently located near our dream community.  Besides doing our productions in one of the local schools, we would hit the road and go on tour, bringing our little repertory company to the entertainment starved felons of the Chino Institute For Men, the Norco Narcotics Rehabilitation Center, and (my favourite) the Corona Womens Prison.  Let me tell you, folks, a young man's hormones can light up the imagination when you're in The Big Bird Cage or Cell Block H.  Young girls holding hands would give the heavily made-up Illya Kuryakin looks of invitation.  You could feel the subdued power of tension in this incredible B-rated drive-in movie.  The facility in Norco was an interesting place--a former posh hotel resort turned into institution.  My companions wondered why I kept humming the theme from the Great Escape as we entered through the gates.  Chino was interesting as well.  I remember the male lead who looked like Jack Cassidy being made-up by one of the inmates, heavily tattooed and rugged.  As he was being shaved and powdered for his role, the slighty nervous lead asked the man, "so what are you in for?"  As the blade trimmed the actor's neck, the inmate replied, "I murdered my wife."  There was no need to powder the actor's face.  He had become white enough. 

Ah, the memories come flooding back.  The problem of poor plumbing at this age.  Diamond Bar in the early days before it became the inspiration for the TV series Weeds.  It all went to hell when they put the Orange Freeway in.  And all those special folks got smog-trapped within the once beautiful but now barren hills.  It was time to rethink the area after the Pomona Freeway became an alternative route into Los Angeles, instead of the previous choices of the Santa Ana Freeway or the San Bernadino Freeway (which I tended to use the most).  I left in 1970 and have not returned to Diamond Bar for even a visit.  My wife has heard enough stories about the area.  And when I've had more psychic courage, have told her that perhaps we should look and see how much it has all changed.  Personally, I'm afraid the shock would kill me and that's why it hasn't happened so far.  So we look at the photos instead and share a few mildly amusing anecdotes.

By the way, before I owned the first white car, I had a motorcycle.  It was a Bridgestone 90.  I thought I was a midget version of Steve McQueen in the Great Escape.  Do you hear it?  Do you hear it?  There's that theme again.  The thrill of driving in those pre-helmet days on the highways near Walnut, CA.  There's nothing more fun than having some big green bug squash in your mouth.  One bug leads to another. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

"We got the message. I heard it on the airwaves."

Okay kids.  I am here all alone writing in my tower of darkness.  Just finished watching Tamara Drewe, the Stephen Frears film about writers and sex.  Love writers.  Love sex.  Love writing about sex.  Pathetic, really...and going off course again.  Always love talking about writers.  And speaking of writers, we just celebrated the 183rd birthday of Jules Verne this week.  The father of science fiction.  So who was the mother?  Captain Nemo was always a sort of radical hero to me in my youth.  James Mason in 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea.  Or Herbert Lom in Mysterious Island.  And the character Vincent Price played in Master of the World.  All very early anti-war characters.

Question: If Captain Nemo wrote poetry on board of the Nautilus...would he be considered sub versive?

And so I had hoped to carry this Nemonic spirit into the wireless world of Space Pirate Radio.  What does this all mean, you might well ask?  Good question.  I am still caught up in the nostalgia of the show that happens around this time of year.  It seems like a dream...that's got me hypnotised.  It was a dream.  A dream show.  A dream I wanted to share with friends.  I was never motivated by profit.  Never.  Ever.  If I was, I wouldn't be here now.  I'd be unreachable, and soulless and most likely dead.  That is not to say I wasn't a hustler.  I was.  I just wasn't very good at it.  I hustled enough to get my mad projects floating, but not greedy enough to turn them into an empire.  Never was empirical.  Utopian, yes.  Dystopian, no.  Dystope addicts.  There are enough of those folks around to sap all of the oxygen out of the room.  In the early days, all the PROFESSIONALS said Space Pirate Radio was lunacy.  "No Commercial Potential," as someone I once artistically encountered was quoted.  When the avant-avant garde became commercially viable, well... that was another story folks!  Once the crazy cult program was a commercial viability, the number of people in the room changed dramatically.  "Sounds a tad bitter, Steve?"  You bet kiddies.  The circle of friends or the cool commune becomes a convention center.  Check out time: 12 noon (or 11am...don't you just hate those hotels?).  The New Age Hustlers.  Do you want a list?  It's Adolphe Menjou or Robert Taylor testifying before the House.

Captain Nemo.  What a man.  Hello, sailor.  "Are you a Matalot?"  I can hear Charles Trenet singing "La Mer."  Or Debussy. (I don't think Debussy ever sang "La Mer."  Well, maybe after a couple of absinthes. Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.)  Pirates.

Well, there was a sort of master plan here.  It weathered many stormy changes and transmutations and an ever changing of the guard.  Let me go into details...I will name names. :)  Happy birthday, Captain Nemo. And to Jules Verne El-Equinox.  And looking on birthdays for Thursday February 10th, I noticed that both Glenn Beck and Bertolt Brecht share that date.  Talk about yin and yang.  Beck and Brecht.  Sounds like a rock band or hair shampoo.

But first, the other week, I was down by the harbour...and a couple of wharfs called out and said, "hey Guy, we loved the show...and we're glad to see you doing your thing on the blog."  I was touched to hear the wharfs say this.  It is always a pleasure to be recognized by your piers.

Now the story so far...

Paul Latex of Danzig (...the Paul Latex of OOO feeling good...) :)