Monday, May 23, 2011

"Cold hearted orb that rules the night."

Full moon.  The little one and I have been to the Rock Show.  We have seen The Moody Blues in San Luis Obispo.  It is our first concert together since Jon Anderson in Santa Barbara at the Lobero Theatre.  My full time cinematic commitments prevent me from having the mobile artistic freedom I had in earlier years.  My wife has more room in seeing shows than I do.  Besides the work ethic, the sincere agoraphobia doesn't help matters either.  This is why it is important to break habitual patterns whenever you can.

"Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night.  May become a wolf, when the wolfbane blooms.  And his trousers are too tight."

How I have never forgotten those classic words from looney Hungarian actress Maria Ouspenkayak in the classic 1941 Unilateral Film, The Wolf Guy.  Playing the eccentric gypsy lady, telling the fortune of actor Lon Chairs, Jr. (portraying the character Larry Tallbutt, so named after a family deformity).  "I see you live alone," she sez, reading the lines in his hand.  "How do you know that?" Tallbutt responds.  "Because your palm is so hairy."  Classic.

Back to the show.  Are the best concerts performed on Full Moon or nearly Full Moon days?  I remember Pink Floyd performing Dark Side of the Moon at the LA Sports Arena on a Full Moon.  When the show was over, they had the spotlights (the old fashioned theatre premiere arclights) trained up into the sky, circling the full moon.

So here we are at the Moodies.  Days of Future Passed was one of my most favourite albums in my youth and definitely inspired me to go into radio.  When I did, the band always appeared on my broadcasts.  I remember at KTYD the week that all the solo albums came out, like which Moody is your favourite?  Of course, this happened with Yes member albums and Floyd to a degree as well.

But back to the show...with all my concert going, I have never actually seen the Moody Blues perform in concert.  At KTYD in the nineties, we sponsored a show with Justin Hayward at the Coach House, which me and the wife saw, but only my wife had been to an actual Moody Blues show.  I sort of dropped out from the whole thing, thinking they had gone Elvis...too Las Vegas.  Well, I was pleasantly surprised to see the circle come full turned; that the psychedelic enthusiasm had returned and that the craftsmanship of the performers was in full bloom

Wolfbane bloom.

Of course, a show like that can make you feel antique.  Or optimistic.  Original member Graeme Edge comes on and tells the audience he just celebrated his 70th birthday (in March).  He dances on stage with the young girls who have been added to the band (and talented they are, covering flute, guitar and keyboard passages that early members Pinder and Thomas would have filled), before going back to his drum kit.  I think that this must look like me, trying to be young and cool, but really pathetic and more than a foot in the grave.  But wait.  Hope springs eternal.  And delusion is only an illusion with a passing grade of D.

It's ironic that I discard bands like the Moodies for decades and then come back when the unfashionable comes back in fashion (at least to me).  Maybe it takes that long for the drugs to kick in.  Or it could be because I can't travel down to LA to see the Yellow Magic Orchestra in June (Space Pirate Radio played them first on commercial radio).  Sad, really.  Trieste.

Lunacy, maybe. I would just hate to think that as a progressive rock n' roller, I've entered the Hallmark Channel phase of music.  It's Peter Fonda for the Time/Life collection "Flour Power"...blanched while, a whiter shade of pale, more days than nights in white satin, stronger than white...white power...mucho blanco.

Let me, I think everything is okay.  It was good to see the three key members of classic Moodies, reinspired and reinvigorated with the enthusiasm of the dream state--that which was 1967.  Parts of the show had the power and space of a Pink Floyd concert, the lyricism of a Yes concert and the raw energy of a Yardbirds show.  Nice.  I understand that Edge is the only cat from day one Moodies, and the boys kept referring to Days of Future Passed as their first album.  But to us oldster Anglophiles, Moody Blues #1 (The Magnificent Moodies) was the first album.  It's as almost pathetic as David Gilmour considering the first Pink Floyd album to be Saucerful of Secrets, 'cause hey, that's when Jesus was born.  Get over it.  Even Steve Howe plays on "Owner of a Lonely Heart" now.  And in the past he'd rather cut his wrists with a conductor's punch than touch that riff.

"Go Now" would make an appropiate final song. was a great show.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Monday, May 16, 2011

"You fill me with inertia."

Oh, the Eighties!  What the Hell was that decade all about?  Orwell was right.  So, I believe...was Space Pirate Radio.  But hey, it was just a crazy paranoid radio show, going to extremes...which doesn't seem that extreme today.  Parody or Prophetic?  A warning, or a warming of the hearth?  Who can tell?  But I must say this: every time I try to write one of these manic musings, Windows comes on and shuts me down, telling me that new updates are being installed.  Master or servant?  It's f**kin HAL in monotone saying, "I'm sorry Guy...hold that inebriated thought...don't shut down your computer...32% complete."  Orwell was right.  Why do we even play with this toy created by the C.I.A. and the Pentagon?  No need to worry Mothers.  Let Donald Rumsfeld babysit your children.  Are you sleeping yet?  The pods are here.

Sorry, went off on a Tangent there (wasn't that the small Italian motorbike Gregory Peck whisked Audrey Hepburn off in Roman Holiday?).

Oh, yeah, the '80s...second to petroleum was peroxide.  Why were we all nuts to highlight our hair?  I'm a natural blonde.  Why did I need to be more blonde?  A case of Aryan identity?  Did we all think we were members of The Police?  Police state, more likely.

So during these mythical times of Big Hair and thin ties and electronic drums, yours truly subsidized his extreme artistic covert projects by appearing to be commercial friendly with RADIO PROMOTIONS.  Like Jekyll and Hyde, my late night persona was counterbalanced by a sort of slightly capitalistic friendly, but subtly irreverent host to promotional events of on air salesmanship.  Think Casey Kasem on mescaline.  The actor in me could do the total professional bit, while trying to sneak in hipster code to those who might catch on.

For awhile at KTYD, I became quite good at this.  It started with a live broadcast at a new Radio Shack in Carpinteria.  Giving away free pizza at a new Domino's on Milpas in Santa Barbara.  Opening a new blues club called BJs on State Street.  If it was NEW, I was there.  So the NEW had spread to Robinsons department store...and the hip NEW boutique, the Red Bag.  Can we turn it into the Red Brigade, while Pappa's got a Brand New Red Bag?  I'm there.

Robinsons department store in the La Cumbre Plaza.  I'm invited by management to host the radio premiere event of the Red Bag--a hip, youth oriented boutique located in the fashion department of the store.  I remember being driven by ultra-paranoid General Manager to meet the LADY director of promotions for the chain, to co-ordinate the opening affair.  This is the cat who hated me, but tolerated moi because it meant big bucks for the station, and I was the one they had requested to host this on air affair.  The lady was smart and well prepared and I clearly remember the visible agitation from el presidente swine-o being dictated to by a woman.  I loved it and wished the radio sales staff could see the blustering god of the mountain so easily emasculated.  Tee-hee!

The Event is planned.  Yours truly will host the radio broadcast from mighty department store.  There will be entertainment from a break dance group.  But the special guest will be an instore appearance by fitness expert to the stars, Jake Steinfeld, author of Body By Jake.  This is just before his TV fitness show of the same name became highly recognized.

Showtime.  KTYD's regular programming of Quality Rock (and a side of Roll) is interspersed or interrupted by breaks from yours truly, telling you that the air of excitement is SO THICK you can cut it with a garden trowel.  I have concert tickets to give away...The Go-Go's at the County Bowl.  This IS the place to be.

A couple of footnotes, anklenotes and a kneenote here...before my mega-successful career as a radio icon, I had actually worked at Robinsons.

First in shipping and receiving, and later as a mobile idiot who went from department to department, delivering items and sending stock to other stores throughout California.  When I did the latter, my in corpus appearance required the application of a cheap hair apparatus, this due to my Jesus length of spiritual (but not yet high dilated) blonde locks.  Wouldn't want to shock the Watergate wives of Hope Ranch who might be shopping for over-priced, nonessential goods.  The wig was some awful thing, possibly bought in a porno shop in Chatsworth, very brown and looking like a cross between Alfalfa's hair and Fess Parker's coonskin cap.  I'm sure it was made of missing cats in Thousand Oaks and not Peta friendly.  I remember some cat (the salesman variety) in Men's Apparel, wearing on his head what looked like Marilyn Chambers' quasi-blonde beaver, calling out to me while I'm hustling some coat from the Women's Department on the mobile rack, "Where did you get YOUR wig from?"  Who knows what he looked like without it. Fast forward to event:

Although I am here to promote this new cool boutique...I am wearing the glacier styled fashions of the Eighties from Gary Paul, the tres chi-chi clothiers on Middle State Street, a loogies distance from the old KTYD studios in the Granola Building.  Dig all that grey, man.  Only in the Eighties was it cool to look like Edward G. Robinson in a Thirties gangster film like Bullets or Ballots.

Okay.  So the choreographed street dancers do their thing.  Next, Jake is going to show slightly aged ladies how they can stay in shape by gyrating with a broom.  Seriously.  While all this is going on, I am phoning in heated on air reports to the mothership.  Of course, no one in the store is hearing this.  So on air, I tell the listeners, "You really got to come down here and see this Jake Steinfeld.  He IS INCREDIBLE!  He's built like a concrete bunker.  He's like two separate gorillas.  This man is AMAZING!  Now listen folks, I have a pair of tickets to see The Go-Go's this weekend at the County Bowl.  If you have the GUTS to come up to Body By Jake and SAY something RUDE to him, I WILL GIVE you these pair of tickets."  :)

The show progresses.  It is going well.  Lady promotion director is pleased with the success of the turnout.  Breakdancers are doing their thing again.  We are off to a side of the store.  Jake comes back.  "How did that work for you?" she asks Jake.  "Fine," he says, "except there were a bunch of people who kept saying rude things to me.  Someone said I was big poo-poo.  Or 'are those muscles real?'"  I feigned shock and amazement that people could be so RUDE.

Years later, Jake Steinfeld and I would appear in the motion picture, Into the Night, but not in the same scenes.  I would have told him.  The truth, I mean.  Seriously.  I would have.  I really liked him.  If we had been in the same scenes.  But we weren't.  So I couldn't tell him.  But I would have.

The poo-poo people won the tickets.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Most Forgotten Cult Films

What is it that turns a film into a cult classic?  Usually the film is of limited appeal, or dealing with a controversial subject.  Cult films are mostly smaller budgeted affairs, or films featuring actors in lesser known roles.  What usually sets the cult film apart from other celluloid ventures, however, is that it is god awful.  Here is a list of some of the lesser known cult favorites:

This is the grand daddy of them all.  A favorite of the weekend midnight movie set.  This film brings out audience members dressed as their favorite Jay Ward animated character.  Though most imitate the lead character of Bullwinkle J. Moose, as well as countless femme fatales posing as Natasha, quite often a Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody or Wrongway Peachfuzz appears at these gatherings.  This reviewer was complimented on his Sherman costume.  I was wasn't wearing any.

Many consider this film the worst ever made, but I profess a secret love for the movie.  Directed in 1956 by furniture transvestite Edward D. Drapes (who often appeared on the set decked out as a Danish modern coffee table), this is the last film to ever feature famed vampire actor Bela Lumbago.  Lumbago died during the making of the film, or so everyone thought.  Actually, he ran off to Tustin with his secretary Mona, in an attempt to cure himself from his fromage fix, a deadly addiction to cheese aged long enough to smell like gym towels.  Scenes with Lumbago early in the film do not match with later ones, partially because director Drapes curiously replaced the actor with a standing three-way lamp fixture, a move never explained to this day.

The plot of this film deals with outer space beings attempting to take over the world by raising dead condoms.  Not a pretty sight.  The film is intercut with quack fortune teller Kitschkin intoning doomlike lines such as "Who can say for sure that beings from another world may not attempt a world takeover bid by controlling douchefoam?"  My favorite line in the film, however, is when space guy, Mister I.U.D. says to the captured earthmen, "All you of earth are seriously bogus!"  Truly of what a cult film should be made.

This three-hour film takes place entirely at a lunch time restaurant.  The famed frog director Louis Air Maille attempts a random film made up of chowtime banter.  The longest scene in the film is when each of the men slowly pulls out his respective wallet waiting to see if the other will pick up the tab.

This is truly a curiosity.  A Chinese film attempting to imitate the English Mod movement.  Bands of rivalling Mods and Rockers in Shanghai are simply called Woks, who meet in China's first four-level shopping mall.  Music is supplied by Wokband, the Wu, lead by riveting guitarist, Pete Taoism (who earlier had written the first Wok Opera about a blind Sushi cook called Tatami, featuring the famous lyric, "Sashi me!  Touch me!  Heal me!").  Many classic Wu songs appear in Quadrapateria, including the lost sales slip anthem, "I Can't Exchange."  Truly, there has never been another film to better depict the rise of youthful Mandarin angst. 

As I look over the flyers for many revival theatres, I am amazed at the quantity and variety of films that become the so-called cult film.  Old time musicals like Meet Me In El Monte.  Foreign films like Federico Fettucine's 6 & 7/8.  And hardcore X rated A-Dult entertainment like Grunting Squatties.  It warms my heart, and sometimes other body parts, to see this truly international, ageless, and philosophically unfettered array of cinematic offerings.  To heck, I say, with the Hollywood hype of wide run motion pictures.  Give me the cult film, the revival festival.  Now what should I see next?  Harlan Elementary's sci-fi classic A Boy and His Slug?  A Matt Dullard brainless youth film festival?  A French farce like Pierre Regurge in The Tall Blond Man With One Bland Sandwich?  A psycho slasher film like I Was Beau Bridges.  Or maybe a classic Hollywood adventure film like Tarzan and His Common Law Wife?  Ah!  So many films and so little time.

[First published May 9, 1984.]

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"What they've got was an apparent flash from the master."

Frank Zappa taught me a lot on how to do an interview on radio.  What I learned was not to compromise.  Frank demands total creative control in his realm.  So should you in your own.  Here's how that all went about...

In the early '70s, I thought I had BIG IDEAS for what radio could become.  And I was test driving; trying every Mad Scientist experiment one could do in terms of audio alchemy on my living wireless lab, Space Pirate Radio.  The audacity of youth.  I believed anything was possible.  And this included the idea of a community of artists.  Although raised on Top 40 radio, inspired by the British and European (and even Mexican) so-called Pirate Radio stations and then charged up by Freeform FM stations, I wanted to take it further.  Old '30s, '40s & '50s radio drama, coupled with the international hook-up of shortwave, added to the immediacy of ham was hi-fi/sci-fi time.  "I have a dream...actually I have a whole bunch of them!"  Meet me on the glowing cathode.

Visual Aural.  Sounds like high tech porno from Prague.  Well...maybe a bit.  But really, it's Rotwang's early answer to Clear Channel, only with the Soul remaining intact.

KTYD in Santa Barbara in the '70s was a great place for all of us On Air loons to do our Own Thing.  I'm sure if you tapped on the glass enclosed case of the breathing apparatus that houses the few remaining semi-conscious members of the airstaff, held up a large written piece of paper, scrawled in big letters with black or red ink...something simple, like..."DID YOU HAVE FREEDOM TO PLAY WHAT YOU WANTED ON THE RADIO?" they might gasp through the airtube a gargle, that the Berlitz School of Language would "Yes."

So I had heard Frank Zappa say in an interview that there was NO FREEDOM on commercial radio.  The commercial radio stations wouldn't play his music, no diversity, etc.  Well here we were, in Santa Barbara, definitely a commercial radio station (we had commercials and some of them were the most outrageous commercials you could possibly have on the air, but that's another topic later).  Zounds!  Methinks I will invite Frank to come on Space Pirate Radio.  He can play ANYTHING he wants to play, SAY anything he wants to say...and he will witness the true freedom of our Utopian radio station.  Progressive radio!  Progress in action!

So I call Herb Cohen, his manager at Reprise Records, and see if we can make magic happen.  Frank and the Mothers of Invention are coming to play the Big Avocado...UCSB's own Metropolitan Opera House...the Robertson Gym!

This will be great!  Frank will come aboard the Space Pirate Radio airship, have the freedom to play what ever he wants, say what ever he feels.  What liberation!  What a joy!  He will share the communal ecstasy of kindred spirits.  It's all placed in motion.  A new age begins with a tiny step in radio freedom.  Except...

Now let me say here, I was a fan of Zappa, but not as in awe as others might be.  I did buy Freak Out when it first came out...I am that old.  I loved Peaches in Regalia from Hot Rats and admired 200 Motels as a film and album (I used Mystery Roach as a song in my X-Rated play at Santa Barbara City College, Void in Wisconsin).

But I have to admit my interest in Frank and the Mothers was more in how they had inspired the psychedelic, experimental bands of Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  Amon Duul 2, which was first played on commercial radio with Space Pirate Radio, saw the Mothers of Invention as a major influence, as well as Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead.  However, much was lost in translation.  Guru Guru was another. The problem with these bands in Europe was that they were inspired by the freakiness of these Kalifornia bands, but not aware of how diametrically opposed their philosophies were.  The German bands were utopian.  Frank, despite the long hair and Donovan like psychedelic photo shoots, was definitely dystopian.  An East L.A. lowrider, Mad Maximillian dystopian.  And wait for ultra conservative.  The mind explodes!

This will all come out in the wash later.

So there are major differences between the Mothers and their European inspired counterparts.  Politics for one.  Sensuality and Eroticism for the other.  The Euro bands had a more Romantic core to their work.  Frank saw women in a much more crass way.  After all, this was the man who wrote music inspired by the actual Enema Bandit.  The Germans enjoyed free love.  Frank had the GTO's.  Communal as opposed to dictatorial.  I'm not aware of all this contradiction at the time.  I just want to get him to play radio.

So, it's all set.  Till...the last minute.  Cohen tells me, Frank doesn't want to do the radio show.  But he consents to an interview after the show.  Rat turds.  Hot Rat turds.  The concept, the euphoria, the freedom is gone.  It's now Dick Clark with Syd Barrett.  If I had been smarter, I should have said no.  But it's Frank Zappa...let's improvise.  When I was Entertainment Editor for KTMS, I had no problem with those kind of on the run, Access Hollywood, Showbiz Tonight, toady catch as catch can backstage, soundbite type glamour interviews.  But this was meant to be different.  It's all new and there is no net here.  We will learn from our falls, as long as our spine is not broken.

Now it's different.  Instead of getting Frank in a comfortable environment, I will have to try and create some sort of artistic rapport backstage, surrounded by others, after an intense performance.  Like smoking on the Hindenberg.  Safe.

Actually, it started out pretty cool.  I was invited to the soundcheck and this was quite special.  I recorded it and it is hidden in the SPR archives.  Frank was not the aggressive persona he liked to play.  He played beautiful guitar solos that never appeared in the actual show.  I'm in the bleachers, taping away.  He's doing a wonderful piece of guitar work, stops and yells out to me..."Is that too loud?  Does that hurt you?"  Not at all.  It's sublime.  This feels good.  I am optimistic that some of the spark that I had hoped would happen in the studio can be generated in the field.

Showtime.  Concert goes on but with none of the softer, sensual moments of the soundcheck.  It's like a different persona comes on for the crowd.  Hmmm.  Aftershow, backstage, the interview...I'm not sure this is going to translate Space Pirate Radio style.  Is there a style?  Well, it's new...and we are still experimenting here.  Now realize, this is before Howard Stern and all those idiotic morning zoo type of jocks.  It's late night, freeform with all my influences: Mad Magazine, Ernie Kovacs, the Goon Show, Firesign. Music and humour.  Both avant-garde and progressive.  Can this alchemy work?  Lead or gold?  Maybe, yes.  Maybe, no.

I meet Frank Zappa with microphone and this Frank is different from Frank I met in soundcheck.  He has his entourage with him, wife Gail I assume (no introductions), a bit of a harem (Sheik Yerbooti?).  I start the interview tongue definitely in cheek.  Conceptual artist, try new concepts.  "So, Frank," I ask..."What do you think of the new revolution?"  "What revolution?" Frank replies.  "The one that will happen when President Ford is assassinated in Lincoln Theatre."  (Now I think this pun is super high concept...surely the Zappmeister will be dazzled by this unique take on the traditional interview.  Light years ahead of the Colbert Report.)

"You're full of shit," Frank responds to my creativity.  We're friends immediately.  I knew I could set the right tone.  "No one has the guts to play my music," Frank implies.  But Frank, it is pointed out...We (KTYD AM & FM) played your song Billy the Mountain at, a song with the F word quite pronounced.  Even manager Herb Cohen in the room sez, "It's true Frank. I heard it driving up."  Frank's response: "Well the F.C.C. will throw your butts in jail."  It was at this point I realized that with Frank Zappa, if you loved his were an asshole.  If you hated his were an asshole.  It was a no win situation.  There was only one spotlight and it was on Frank.  No wonder so many talented musicians and artists came and went through the doors.  Again, I noticed that after the tape recorders were turned off, he became more human.  It seemed like it was a role he had to play.  Frank vs. the world.  To the outside world he was a freak, but his family mindset was ultra conservative, atomic bunker type.  Very strange.  When he got sick later in his life, he moved to the left, or so it seemed, but it was too late.

Missed opportunity.

But it changed how later Space Pirate Radio interviews would be held.  No more compromises.  I really only wanted to talk to the artists I truly liked or wished to get to know on a creative level.  And it had to be friendly.  Like with Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band, with his wife Janet...we went out to dinner first, got to know each other, felt comfortable before going in front of the microphone.  The chat was perfect, easy going, spontaneous and sincere.  And it was fun.  No bullshit.  This pattern continued in all my later interviews: Bryan Ferry, Bill Bruford, Edgar Froese, Steve Hackett, Pete Bardens, Thomas Dolby, Richard Butler, Mike Oldfield as well as my non-music guests (the film & literary types).

Just friends, hoping for a bit of Utopia.