Friday, January 27, 2012

"Navigator to heaven."

"Could we get much higher?"

Eight floors and rising.  100th entry.  Space Pirate Radio anniversary time and I'm beginning to feel the alternating energy.  The Chinoise Vaudevillians, Yin and Yang.  Three shows daily.  3, 5 and 8pm.  "And give up Showbiz?"

But I digress...

Zounds!  By Zeus's mighty Gonads (Doctor Zeus, author of Groin Legs and Gams)!  Can we be nearing up to what would be Space Pirate Radio's 38th anniversary?  All in a blink of a thigh.

Well, here in the Home for Aged Surrealists, I have to say, with no false modesty (BLAZE!), after all this time, I'm pretty darned proud of the show.  Oh, sure, it was a misspent life, nothing lost there...but hey!  It lasted longer than most parties.  And I'm not embarrassed to admitting being the last one to leave.

Also, if we believe at least 53% of what's been written elsewhere, I wasn't the only person having a good time.  It seems everyone liked the music.  Most guests enjoyed the party jokes.  All attendees seemed very cordial and engaging with the host, at least while they were inside the building.  Outside may be a different story.  But then, it can be very different when you are outside.

But back inside, to the party.  The music was good, wasn't it?

One of the reasons I know this party was a success is the continuing number of attendees who ask me what was the song playing at a certain time of the festivities.  Since this Space Party Radio was an all-nighter, starting from early 1974 till mid 2002, people came and went at all hours.  I'm surprised the coat and hat check girls could keep up.

Early arrivals to the gathering heard strange new stuff, but later folks were exposed to the next progressions.  This DOES NOT mean that the first audios of '74-'79 were forsaken for the newer stuff.  On the contrary.  It was important to keep the mix alive and show how the early experimentations had influenced the next wave of musos.  Some party-poopers of '79 left the gig too early to observe this growth.  No loss.  They would try and tell you they catered the party in the first place.  How quickly one can forget who sent out the first invitations.

Anyway, it was my party and I thank all those who came.  Sometimes the music was too loud (Amon Duul 2 - Mozambique), too soft (Steve Roach - Quiet Music), too retro (Les Baxter - Carribean Moonlight), too odd (Faust - So Far), too comical (Bonzo Dog Band - Hello Mabel), too Japanese (Sadistic Mika Band - Mummy Doesn't Go to Parties Since Daddy Died), too Italian (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Io Sono Nato Libero), too classical (Third Ear Band - Alchemy), too French (Ange - Au-Dela du Delire), too folky (Fairport Convention - Matty Groves), too French folky (Malicorne - Le Bestiaire), too odd (Pink Floyd - Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast), too uptempo (Re-flex - The Politics of Dancing), too downtempo (Heldon - III).  Too too tootsie, goodbye!

"Could we get much lighter?"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

"It's based on a novel by a man named Lear."

Thinking about Vaclav Havel's death on December 18th, 2011, reminded me of my first introduction to the man's work in 1968.

After being disillusioned with my senior year at John A. Rowland High School, Rowland Heights, California, this once enthusiastic, can't wait for college life misfit, arrived for duty at the humble Mount San Antonio College, in Walnut of the same state of the union, if not of the same state of mind.  It wasn't a bad campus.  It was just me.  I was tired from battles over dress code from gender confused principals and macho PE coaches.  Now in an environment that should have been nurturing, I felt numb.  I hated all the classes except English, Speech and Drama.

The Drama Department and Theatre were located in the front of the school, rather to the left (naturally), somewhat raised and landscaped.  This was my refuge. The Green Room was large (much larger than the closet that was Santa Barbara City College's).  Everyone smoked.  If you were an ACTOR, you smoked.  And the more ECCENTRIC your smoking choices, the better impression you made, darling!  French cigarettes, Egyptian cigarettes, English Ovals, coloured papers, Virginia Slims or Eves FOR THE BOYS!  Marlboro Menthols (hard to find at that had to drive to a Safeway store in El Monte to get a carton), Mapletons (which had maple flavoured pipe tobacco in them--harsh, not for wimps or anyone who wished for normal breathing after consumption).

The Green Room.  A nice place to lounge and smoke and pose and probe.  A salon for suburban Gertrude Stein babies.  Not exactly the Algonquin Table.  More the Foot Stool.  But still, a bunker from the outer world.

Most of us were unaware at the time of how progressive the Mt. SAC Drama Department was.  I had fallen under the spell of the department during my senior year at high school.  Our drama department had been invited to see their production of Ondine.  I observed the various performers onstage and afterwards off.  Many of these 'older theatricals' would become dear friends the following year.  After that initial show, under the direction or production of Drama chief Carter Doran, the department would do works of Bertolt Brecht and Arthur Miller.

In high school, I foolishly thought myself the top thespian.  Always the lead, turning parts down.  But at SAC, I didn't get my pick at the parts.  I auditioned for Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, fully confident that my flawless English accent--the accent that got me a job on FM radio--would serve up either of the leads.  As Bluebottle would say, "Not a sausage."  Of course, I'm sure I was lazy, undisciplined and probably a smartass at the time, if not

My second audition for Carter Doran was more fortuitous.  He was excited to be bringing to the stage the West Coast Premiere of an obscure new Czech play called The Memorandum.

This new play was Havel's Franz Kafka meets Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows satire of a totalitarian corporate world, trying to instill a single, emotion free language, to the confusion of an Everyman employee.  It was Havel's rage against Communist interference and early Nazi echoes.

I wonder if Terry Gilliam read or saw this play before doing Brazil.

Carter Doran had decided on doing a somewhat gender bending interpretation of the work.  All the jackboot types were made to look like the current wave of dandy-clothed, neo-hipsters.  Long haired, lace wearing, lovers of lunch.  Armed with forks and knives.  The radical was the confused, drab looking common man of the Fifties variety.

The new, single language of the industrial future was called Ptydepe.  And I was it's instructor, Lear.  My Brian Jones-like haircut, John Lennon wire frame glasses and ease in a comfort for wearing lace sleeved shirts, got me the part.

Unfortunately, Carter Doran's enthusiasm for the play was considerably dampened when he discovered his West Coast premiere of the work was going to be eclipsed by a production opening sooner at LA City College.  I believe I may have discovered this information and had to break the news to him.  This also may have changed his interpretation as rehearsals continued.  Among the ironies, the LACC production was directed by Dr. Pope Freeman, the man who would later take the reins of Santa Barbara City College's drama department from Max Whittaker, and the Alhecama Players at the Lobero Theatre.

Carter Doran's production was a good one and I was happy to do a more progressive theatre work than the Kaufman & Hart plays I had done in high school and with the Diamond Bar Players.  Even though I wasn't fully aware at the time of Havel's dissident activities, the play's political tone moved me to my next involvement in Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade at Cal State Fullerton.

During this time, I got to know Carter Doran better than my first days at Mt. Anxiety College (as I called it on Space Pirate Radio, located not far from the Green Neon Motel).  He would be trumped a second time by Pope Freeman, after he applied for the position of SBCC's Drama Head.

Years after I had moved to Santa Barbara, I accidentally met him line at the Roxy Theatre where we were going to see the original Hollywood stage production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  We stayed in touch until his passing.  I liked him.  No disrespect to Pope Freeman, who I worked with quite a bit, pictured here before on Man of La Mancha and the TV show Crackers at Eight...but I wonder how the Santa Barbara Theatre scene would have been if Doran had been given the gig.

As to Vaclav Havel, I'm not sure.  A radical at the beginning.  Hated the oppressive Communist regime. Loved long haired Rock.  Hippie Radicals are loved in the West as long as they hate challengers to the free market.  Put them at Kent State or Occupy Wall Street...anarchy!  When  Havel came to the U.S. and met the Chairman of the Board: "God Bless...President Bush" or something very close, he rejoiced.  I cringed.  Trading in the KGB for the former head of the CIA.  Oh, my.

Havel smoked a lot.  Supposedly he died from this.  His hero, Frank Zappa, smoked a lot.  Supposedly he died from this also.

I quit smoking in 1974.  Don't hang around in Green Rooms anymore.  I do miss the furniture.  And quite a number of friends.

Still, just to be sure...check all credentials at the door.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"It's been real."

Friday the 13th, 2012.  I've been thinking a lot about this unlucky day for the past 2 weeks.  As I get in the frame of mind of Space Pirate Radio anniversary time, my mood has recently been nostalgic for the classic satire that inspired me.  In early 2011, I bought myself the Ernie Kovacs Collection; the six dvd collection of nearly lost, mostly never seen Kovacs comedy of Ernie's from the Fifties.  As a comedy innovator and surrealist, Ernie probably had the second closest impact on my hyper perceptive youth.  First would be Mad Magazine.  So as an influence on my mindset and later work, I would have to call this unit a collective.  The vision of Harvey Kurtzman, along with William Gaines and Al Feldstein.  The artists who had the cosmic effect of being psychedelicized without one realizing it:  Will Elder, Frank Kelly Freas, Wally Wood, Norman Mingo, Basil Wolverton, Mort Drucker, Jack Davis and Al Jaffee.  The writers.  Every electric bulb in the pack.

And that, on occasion, included Ernie Kovacs.  So back to the date at hand.  It boggles der mind that 50 years ago today, Ernie Kovacs was killed driving his Corvair into a pole on a wet Mulholland Drive after a late night poker party.  I remember seeing the photo in the Los Angeles newspaper, Ernie dead, crumpled out the driver's side.

A little too much for a kid still in Junior High.  All I knew was that this cigar smoking man with the moustache did the most insane things with sound and vision.  I lived for those monthly Ernie Kovacs specials on ABC-TV.  They came on late.  9:30pm or 10 on a weeknight, and I had to beg or plead to stay up.  I was hooked.  I had to hear Mack the Knife, see the oscilloscope and watch the magic lunacy.  The Fourth Wall fell down, literally...and Anything was Possible.

If I ever had any thoughts about entering the priesthood, watching Ernie Kovacs changed that forever.