Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Matte Kudasai."

The new month begins in a post Weimar mood of Putsch Pappas.  "Quick, Bertolt!  Load up the Rheinland and point it to Switzerland."  It's auf on der Trans Europe Express Sunderland fur der Tanz der Lemmings.  Koncertze im der City of Engel.

First it is Scottish band Mogwai, performing at the classic United Artists Theatre, now the Theatre at Ace Hotel.  I saw films here in my teens, later to become the sanctum of tongue meister (or meistress ?), Pastor Melissa Scott.  This is my first visit since the new look.  It is a cool theatre.  Very Goth.  Very Gaudi.  With acid lighting and melting architecture.  Mogwai are performing along the film ATOMIC, which they did the soundtrack.  It is my first concert with the band. 

We are back in our familiar haunts of DTLA and Little Tokyo.  I use this time to buy an Obi, a Kimono I admired on our previous visit, but hesitated on.  However a box of cookies in the local Japanese market illustrated with distinctly LOLITA-like anime, is no longer on the shelf.  I am saddened by this for artistic reasons which I will explain later.

Ironically, in the wee hours of morning, I see a broadcast of Pastor Melissa Scott on the hotel TV and snap many photos, which I later delete, like some guilty lover.  Her sermons still make no sense and are like a sublime Monty Python Sketch.  Did she really make hardcore adult films before meeting eccentric evangelist Doctor Scott?  Bambi something or other?  I used to do parodies like this.  Proof about satire: no matter how outrageous you make the joke of warning, the reality will top it.  Still semi-perversely attracted to her.  Anyway, I dug her ex-theatre.  Not sure how many times as a youth, I went to see films at the old United Artists Theatre.

The old Downtown LA of my youth, has turned into the new Downtown LA of my dotage.  Always new discoveries.  And a curious sanctuary in Little Tokyo.  The restaurant I prefer to get takeaway from (vegetable tempura dinner), the Japanese market, the stores to explore.  It's Fritz Lang meets Ridley Scott a little bit more each time. 

And the feel of the Lunar New Year...

Our second return to the area, with only a two day break, is to travel out from DTLA to Studio City, to Universal Studios and a two night get together with Stick Men.  I've been looking forward to this event for quite a while.  King Crimson members Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter are lodged for two nights of two shows a night at cult club the Baked Potato.  And old friends Paul Bergevin and Hugh Mandesen are coming up from Santa Barbara to see the first night.

Of course, the little lady and I must check out the Chinese or Lunar New Year Celebrations at Universal Studios.  Impressive displays from Po and Tigress are on view, as well as a slightly ominous/cuddly combination from that Transformers guy.  Photo ops for all.  The decorations are quite lovely and every Year and its Avatar are represented.  I'm a Year of the Ox cat, so I note my years on the banner and meditate on the connection with its fellow years.

This is my return, or second inclusive visit to Universal Studios, and I feel comfortable.  The wife even entices me on the "really mild Harry Potter Ride," which of course, is quite sudden, violent and exciting for an ancient carbon based creature as myself.  It is quite fun.  And occasional images of Emma Watson gave me reason to survive and live on.
Universal Studios by day.  Clubbing by night.  "This is the life, eh, Moriarty?"

To say The Baked Potato is an intimate club, is like saying group sex is a form of networking.  It REALLY is an intimate club.  And exactly what I have been looking forward to after concert horrors like the Greek Theatre and Hollywood Bowl.  I love that my dining room table is EXACTLY on the equal stage as the performers.  This is cool.  Like letting Coltrane have a sip of your Rum & Coke before knocking over everyone's drinks with a wild axe garnish. 

Seriously, our table, chosen because Paul & Hugh have arrived first ("Are YOU with those loud two?" asks our first night host) is on the stage with Tony Levin's bass position and Pat Mastelotto's drum kit.  Parfait.  By the second evening, Pat, seeing the wife and I in the same seats, while performing, smiles at the little lady, and moves his microphone and music stand out of the way, so we can get a clearer view of his mastery at work.

And mastery it was.  Three great musicians.  Tony I first met in the Eighties with Crimson in Santa Barbara.  Pat dazzled me at Crimson's trio of drummers at the LA Orpheum and Markus, finally meeting after a long correspondence.  It was like being invited at home for a studio rehearsal.  Two superb evenings.

So we enter into a new portal.  The Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year of all things Eastern.  SPACE PIRATE RADIO quietly hits the milestone of 43 years on January 27th.  When enjoying the displays at Universal for the New Year, we appreciated the banners, in a circular display, for all 12 signs of the calendar.  My wife is Year of the Rat, quite apropos.  Myself, the Ancient One, is Year of the Ox.  I was struck by the listing of all the other years within that animal, included the year I created SPACE PIRATE RADIO, 1973 and 1997, the year my father died and I married for the first and only time.

On SPACE PIRATE RADIO, I remember celebrating the new year as the Year of the Drip Dry Shirt.  It was Lunacy! 

Happy Year of the Rooster everyone.  We could use some Miracles here.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

"More wolfbane?"

Going through the long shelved archives, amongst the programs of plays done at John A Rowland High School and the Diamond Bar Players, the goofy bits of writing for the High School Newspaper, THE BRANDING IRON ("yuck"), and poetry that actually ended as a runner up in a Buffalo Springfield lyric writing contest (more on that later), I found a number of artifacts pertaining to my long running relationship with THE COUNT DRACULA SOCIETY of the early '60s to mid '70s.  I am always amazed at how many important, interesting and influential persons were at those get-togethers, be they at some multi-purpose building in a Los Angeles park, a celebrity's home in old Hollywood or a vintage hotel like the Knickerbocker.  I've discussed days with THE COUNT DRACULA SOCIETY on these pages in the past.  And have included photos with Vincent Price, William Marshall, Robert Quarry and Ray Bradbury.  But rediscovering the programs for the annual awards banquet, reminded me how rich the company was.  Especially for a 15 or 16 year old boy.

These were relaxed times.  Where fans of gothic horror movies, literature, fantasy and science fiction, could rub elbows with top professionals in all fields, and not be corrupted by blatant commercialism or attempts to hustle a gig.  It was for the love of the genre.  How things have changed.  And why I gravitated away from it by the late '70s, early '80s.

It all started with the youthful obsession with FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine and its enthusiastic editor Forrest J Ackerman (he never liked a period after the middle J).  This magazine was the bible for twisted youths in love with weird movies.  And its editor was very available to its fans; being run by the biggest sci-fi fan of all.

In a way, like in the bohemian past, Forry ran a sort of salon.  The door of his home was almost always open to seekers of the strange, in awe to walk through his collection of mind-bending artifacts.  His Robotrix from METROPOLIS at the front door, his collection of Universal Monster Heads, his original sci-fi magazine art, film posters and photos.  Ray Guns and movie props.  It was a trip, Man!

Getting to know Forry led to the discovery of a new organization called The Count Dracula Society.  "Devoted to the serious study of horror films and gothic literature."  I got my sympathetic, fantasy loving father, to take me to a meeting in some multi-purpose room at some park in South Los Angeles, where we met Forry and the Society's Founder and President, Doctor Donald A. Reed.  This is where I sat next to a still rather unknown George Kennedy, there to say hello to Forry, as he had just finished filming a movie written by PSYCHO author Robert Bloch, whom Forry was his literary agent.  And so an association began with the society lasting under 20 years.

I'm always dazzled by the company that one elbowed with at those meetings, award banquets and film screenings, public and private.  Three of the earliest award recipients, I never met: Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr.  But Vincent Price crossed my path at an awards dinner and the world premiere of DR. PHIBES at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.  Hosted by Army Archerd, I also got to meet eccentric voice actor Paul Frees, who was on the soundtrack album, doing impressions that had nothing to do with the film.  Still, this was Boris Badenov from ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, company member with Stan Freberg, the Pillsbury Doughboy and every other voice in the English language release of RODAN.

 I met two of my three favourite sci-fi authors there:  Ray Bradbury and A. E. Van Vogt.  Also Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber, Jr.  Hammer screenwriter Jimmy Sangster sat next to me at a dinner once, which I didn't realize till halfway through the meal.

Many of my fellow youthful enthusiasts went on to careers in the field.  Randall Kleiser, Joe Dante and John Landis, who I got to work with in two of his movies, THE BLUES BROTHERS and INTO THE NIGHT.  Special effects and makeup people came out of this group too.  Stop motion animator David Allen was a good friend; he living in Anaheim while I lived in Fullerton.  David was a student of masters Willis O'Brien of KING KONG and Ray Harryhausen of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.  David went on to work for George Lucas, another fan, in STAR WARS and likewise fan Steven Spielberg in YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES and John Landis in OSCAR.  The circles were small in those days.

The more one participated in the Society, the more one was rewarded by Donald Reed with governing positions in the club.  Over the years I became a Governor, Vice Chairman and Assistant Secretary.  The perks of this meant hobnobbing at organizational meetings with Forrest J Ackerman, Ray Bradbury and others.  Donald Reed was a very nice guy who had endless enthusiasm for gothic literature and classic horror films.  I liked the classic gothic edge the society had in the beginning, with many worldwide scholars attending and lecturing.  That aspect of the society diminished over the years as the Hollywood aspect pervaded and the use of The Count Dracula Society as a publicity machine for new projects.  The organization tied in with the Hammer Film release of DRACULA A.D. 1972.  I had letters of introduction and was able to contact Peter Cushing and his wife Helen in Kent and Christopher Lee at his home in Cadogan Square in London in January 1970.  Later when Christopher Lee moved to Los Angeles, he attended one of the awards banquet (at that particular affair, one not only met Lee, but actors Strother Martin and John Agar).

I remember one time, under my official capacity as one thing or another, I had the privilege of giving out to the other Governors, a skull & crossbones pin that had been designed by Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello fame.  They had been made as parting gifts for cast and crew of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD with Boris Karloff.  They were quite beautiful, with red stone eyes and the words "Your Pal, Bud Abbott." in the mold underneath.  I kept two for myself, one of which I gave to FIRESIGN THEATRE friend David Ossman.  At the banquet I had the pleasure of pinning one on the lapels of director Robert Wise, there to accept an award for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE HAUNTING.  Did I mention that Bud Abbott was a friend of Reed's and had donated his remaining collectable pins to the Society? 

Those were heady times.  I've posted pictures here in past entries, with Vincent Price, William Marshall, Robert Quarry, Rock Hudson, Ray Bradbury.  There's more, of course.  I remember one banquet with director Curtis Harrington, there to pick up an award with a table filled of cast members from his film GAMES.  Method actor Don Stroud was there, quite intoxicated, laughing hysterically at all of the speaker's foreign names, like Devandra P. Varma.  Otherwise, the more intimate meetings at old Hollywood mansions in classic screening rooms were pure magic.  Was it the home of director Rouben Mamoullian, who did THE MARK OF ZORRO and THE GARDEN OF ALLAH that we joined actress Carol Borland in a rare screening of THE MARK OF THE VAMPIRE?
Pure Magick!