Monday, April 29, 2013

Chapter 45 - Dreamers

Stephen was now living at the El Cortez with Jon Marr, who had gotten engaged to the red-headed Carol. Stephen disliked her immediately and immensely. In fact, Carol would refuse to go into the apartment if Stephen was there with a girl, which was most of the time. So he would traverse the city on the bus and stay on the couch at Michael Japp’s then go back to Santa Monica on the weekends, without a girl, as not to rock the boat with Carol. Jon did end up marrying Carol and Stephen was soon completely out of the picture at the El Cortez apartment. He would be spending more time now in West Hollywood on the weekdays and on the weekends he would hang out with Michele Hormel (chili heiress) who also had an apartment in the El Cortez.
There was a scene between Stephen, Michael and his wife, Ciri. Michael and Ciri had lent Stephen some money, I think it was $500—he took his prized vintage Telecaster as collateral with the stipulation the money had to be paid back by the first day of spring. Stephen had gotten a job in a restaurant, or more of a sandwich shop, where the owner was a narcoleptic. He was seeing a beautiful French model at the time by the name of Stephanie who moved to Las Vegas. I don’t know how Stephen got together with her, but for a guy who is marginally good looking but extremely talented he had some of the best looking girlfriends I ever had the pleasure of knowing. Stephanie would come visit him one weekend and the next weekend he would take the bus to Vegas while his guitar lay in waiting for the spring equinox. The owner of the restaurant had a daughter who was being advised by the same psychic that Nancy Reagan used. While Stephen was in Vegas, the restaurant or sandwich shop was robbed, and a piece of crap stereo was stolen. After consulting the psychic, the daughter was told Stephen was the thief and he was fired on the spot. He tried to plead his case telling them the psychic was full of shit and besides, he wasn't even in town. They were adamant about it, since Nancy Reagan's psychic couldn't be wrong, or at least that's what they thought. He said good riddance to bad garbage and went back to Michael and Ciri's on the twenty-first of March with five hundred bucks in his hand. When he got there Ciri took the money and Stephen stood in the doorway waiting for them to retrieve his guitar. Ciri said that spring in 1977 fell on the twentieth of March, not the twenty-first and he was a day late. They kept the guitar.
 Not too long after that Michael would divorce Ciri or she divorced him and it was all for the best. Personally, I never liked the woman and was appalled that a person could be so unscrupulous as to steal a guitar on a technicality. She was only interested in (it appeared to me) money and status. Michael was too sensitive a guy to be involved with a barracuda like Ciri. It was the booze and drugs that were clouding his judgment.
 Michael got sober a few years later and remained that way until his untimely death in 2012 from the dreaded disease of brain cancer. He was one of the best singers I had ever heard, and it really is a shame that he never realized his full potential. He did have a few songs covered by “The Baby’s” (one co-written with Chas Sandford) and another tune or two recorded by Paul Stanley from “Kiss”. He released an album called “Dreamer”, the year before his death, which can be found on I tunes—it is a darned good record. Go buy it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chapter 44 - Joshua Tree

 I don’t know how it happened that we ventured out to the high California desert other than hearing stories about Gram Parsons going out to there looking for answers and truth and then inadvertently stumbling onto things not expected. In fact after he died in 1973 his body was stolen from the LA airport by a good friend, Phil Kaufman, and brought back to Joshua Tree to be cremated. There is a 2003 film, Grand Theft Parsons, with Johnny Knoxville as Kaufman, that tells the story, well most of it anyway.
Joshua Tree is a beautiful place in the high desert of San Bernardino County in California located between Twentynine Palms and Landers. It has a population of roughly seven thousand now, but in 1977 it had about one fourth of that number. That’s when Robin Stewart and I went out there to see what all the fuss was about – there were reports of UFO sightings in the area and we wanted to see for ourselves.
We heard that George Van Tassel (an American ufologist and metaphysician) had built a geodesic dome in Landers called The Integratron, a device constructed on the instruction for scientific research on rejuvenation, anti-gravity and time travel. It was constructed out of wood, fiberglass, various non ferromagnetic metals, glass and concrete. He built the structure in as a "rejuvenation machine" supposedly following instructions provided by visitors from the planet Venus. The structure was financed predominantly by donations, including funds from Howard Hughes. Van Tassel started hosting group meditation in 1953 in a room called Giant Rock excavated by Frank Critzer, a prospector. In August 1953, in the middle of the night a spaceship landed from the planet Venus, and an alien pilot woke Van Tassel up, showed him the spaceship and invited him on board where he gave him the technique for rejuvenating the human body.
     In 1954, Van Tassel and others began building Integratron structure to perform the rejuvenation. Van Tassel told us that the aliens had given him plans for the machine --- and that a small one had been built in Chicago. When they put rats through the small one, it increased their lifespan 200 to 300%. When I asked him about the '"time machine", he said it wasn't a "time machine per se", but that it increased the life span. But they were acting very mysteriously when I asked them that -- he and his wife...looking back and forth, at each other and then back at us.
       Van Tassel had written a few books on the subject of alien abduction and contacts made by aliens and humans. He was a good friend and colleague of George Adamski, who claimed to have photographed ships from other planets, met with friendly Space Brothers, and to have taken flights with them. The first of the so-called contactees of the 1950’s, he was called a “philosopher, teacher, student and “researcher of saucers”, though his claims were met wit much skepticism. He had written a bestselling book entitled Flying Saucers Have Landed detailing his experiences, co-written with Desmond Leslie.
We were both amazed and fascinated by the perfectly round structure and wanted to go in and see for ourselves but at that time the Integratron was not open to the public or you had to have special permission to enter – just being on the premises was enough to inspire some inspirational thought and actions. Robin had a friend in LA by the name of Marlene, a feisty little ball of fire, and she told her of our adventures in the desert. She wanted in. Marlene was an only child who sold real estate and lived on Sweetzer Avenue in west Hollywood right across the hall from Robin. One day when Robin was moving into the building she had set a chair down by her front door. When she came back upstairs with another load of her belongings, the chair was gone. That’s when Marlene came out of her apartment and Robin asked her if she knew any of the other tenants, someone who might have kleptomaniac tendencies. She didn’t have a clue about the theft but after a few minutes of gabbing they realized they had hit it off quite well. Marlene said she was a professional astrologer but at the party there would be various other professionals from the world of the occult. There were psychics who worked with the police, cosmic ministers, and a range of garden variety palmists and card readers from the local psychic fair, and the very short, well endowed, strident and excitable Marlene was waving her arms and offering everyone snacks and encouraging them to read Tarot cards and interpret astrology charts for each other as the party went along.
       Robin had also met Chery there who was not a professional psychic.  “She was there, as I was, just someone Marlene thought would fit in there." Robin said, "she had met Chery at an esoteric bookstore in Santa Monica. Here we are years later, and Chery is still one of my best friends.” Chery had a boyfriend named Chris, a professional drummer who did a few sessions with me and Robin at Pranava studios later on in 1978; there will be more later on that one. Stay tuned.
 Anyway back to Marlene, Robin thought she was right; it was the most amazing party she had ever been to. When I finally met Marlene I told her in passing about the trip Robin and I had made out to the desert and her eyes lit up like the rented the most expensive video and still photography equipment and the three of us headed down to Joshua Tree with the intent to find aliens and film them – hell even interview them. Early one spring morning in 1977 we were sitting at the local coffee shop on Main St. or whatever the name of the main drag was there in the small desert community. Marlene draped in the poundage of gear that almost outweighed her stood up and announced to the patrons in a loud voice. Marlene had one of the loudest, most strident voices I had ever heard and she belted: “Does anyone here know anything about the UFO’s that have been sighted here?” I was embarrassed and so was Robin. What was Marlene thinking? Did she actually think that these humble folk were going to speak to her (a city girl and no doubt a spoiled member of the Hebrew tribe with nail extensions and tons of make-up) about such things? I thought not. After the meal a tall rugged blonde hair man named Eric Short approached us. He whispered that there was a special meeting tonight at his father’s church that had to do with His father, Robert Short, had what he called “visitations” from beings that lived on one or more of the moons of Saturn, We were invited by Eric and his red-headed wife Jody to come along and see for ourselves – he indicated that he didn’t go in for all that stuff, but his father was dead serious about it.
        We entered the home of Robert Short at seven pm and were led downstairs to his church by his wife. Robert was sitting on the pulpit with his eyes closed apparently waiting for the “voice” to come through. I noticed before I sat down there were pamphlets stacked on a wooden bench that were the chronicles of his monthly service. I knew I was going to pick up a few of these pamphlets on the way out but what happened next was beyond belief. I saw Robert Short transform himself into a channel from another dimension. He didn’t actually physically change as much as his voice changed. He started clicking in staccato rhythm with his mouth and soon after a voice that sounded like a combination of Don Pardo and ET emerged. “Welcome visitors, I am Vorton, representative from what you call the rings of Saturn. I have come forth to give warning to the people of planet earth which is in great peril.” The voice went on predicting world events that were going to happen. Was this really happening? Was this guy for real or was he just another crazy cultist trying to make himself a household name? I thought I’d better wait and see before passing any judgments. On the drive back to LA, Robin, Marlene and I tried to make sense of what had happened in the desert. No, we didn’t get any photographs of aliens but we got something else – a channel of information from beings who he claimed lived in our solar system and was monitoring us. Why were they doing that anyway? It made me think of that Twilight Zone where aliens come down to Earth to save mankind and give them a book called How To Serve Man. It turned out to be a cookbook. I prayed it wasn’t going to be the same kind of thing as I thumbed through the pamphlets of past “sessions” (which were called The Solar Space-letters) from the church of the “Blue Rose Ministry” Reverend Robert Short and his family now live in Cornville, AZ., and he is still a spiritual counselor, and what some refer to as a "UFO contactee and channel.". Since moving from Joshua Tree, Robert and his family have all undergone UFO second, third, and fourth-type encounters.
I had made several trips to Joshua Tree after that and introduced most of the friends I had who were willing to experience this odd ministry for themselves, just as I had. Chas had come down a few times and others too that I can’t remember. Before we went to Joshua Tree, Chas and I would stop at his retreat in the mountains of Idyllwild located in the San Jacinto range not far from Palm Springs and Tahquitz Canyon where I some spent time before. He called this special place deep in the forest “Studio A” – more about this later.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chapter 43 - BJ 'S Exodus Part 2

Whenever I felt lost or frustrated with the Spoon, there was always good old Beej to wield his special brand of bullshit to make me feel better. I remember one time when BJ lived on Larrabee with Mike Sheehy and his girl Schotzie, a little ball of fire waitress from the Rainbow. He lived in the  converted attic upstairs and you had to climb up a ladder through a small hole in the ceiling which was also his floor, as Paul Simon said, "one man's ceiling is another man's floor". It was around five or six in the morning and I was pretty loaded. I didn't want to go back home so I went over to  BJ's. The front door was unlocked and I gingerly snuck past the sleeping room-mates climbed the ladder and woke up the Beej. He didn't mind even though he was sleeping with some gorgeous blonde and her knockout mother. It was a tag team. I sat down next to  him and proceeded to call information which was the numbers 411. When the operator came on the line I asked her for the number of God. I guess I was putting on a pretty good show, I always loved a good prank, and I was pleading with her to connect me to God. I guess she must have thought that I was suicidal or something because I had her on the phone for more than an hour, I could see the sun's golden rays shining through the eastern window in the loft. BJ was laughing his ass off and so were the mother/ daughter act. Unfortunately I never did get that number -- I guess it was unlisted.
I guess I was always a little jealous of him for the way he could pick up women. Larry was the same way but I later realized that I didn't want to be that guy. There was this model, Jean Manson that BJ was going out with and I guess I fancied her, who wouldn't she was beautiful and funny. There was this charity softball game in Griffith Park to benefit Viet Nam vets or something like that and we were invited to play in the game. Well as I said, I wanted to be a ball player so this was a win-win situation for me. The game proceeded along nicely until the players started to drink a little to much beer and before too long it turned into a football game. I knew I was in trouble at that point since some of the guys on the other team were huge, freaking monsters but I stayed in the game trying to impress Jean. The ball was hiked and I was on defense and this bearded goliath of a man with a football in his hand came running toward me. I stuck my right arm out like one would stick a toe in a cold pool of water and it bent the elbow backwards, not it's natural way of moving, and I knew I was hurt badly. It wasn't broken I found out later, but the ligaments were badly stretched and torn. I did get some attention from Jean later on that day but BJ went home with her. Moral? Never reach out for something that is not meant to be yours, like Jean Manson or a behemoth of a running back. It took me a few months to heal myself from that faux pas.
To BJ, I was like his little brother and he was the big brother I never had. Forgiveness is the name of that tune, but after a while I saw too many promises broken, too many lies told to women, to bill collectors, to everyone in general and it was taking its toll. He knew it was time so he left LA and headed back home to Philadelphia with his tail between his legs. He was out of money and had exhausted all of his connections. I guess bullshit can only go so far if there isn’t any substance behind it. It’s not that he wasn’t talented, he is a great singer and interpreter of a song but the promises he made to the plethora of people in Los Angeles never came to fruition. We did write a few great songs together especially one called “Sequins and Rhinestones” about how the glitter movement taking over the biz from the singer/songwriter. Even though I love artists like David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Ian Hunter, I didn’t like the direction that music had taken and these artists were somewhat responsible for that---although I did wear those blue platform shoes with the stars on them but there was no way I was going to wear make-up, unless I was in a stage play or film.
Anyway BJ did have a place to go back to on Oakmont Drive in Philly where his elderly parents lived and he felt it was time to pay them back for all the years they had taken care of him. He did wait on them hand and foot and it was a mitzvah, a good deed done. He changed his name to Brian Taylor and got signed to RCA Records and released a self-titled album in 1977 with a bunch of songs written by other competent writers. One song in particular, “Lovestruck” was a catchy little ditty that did fairly well in the local charts. In the back of his mind he was charting his triumphant return to sunny California which would come to fruition a year later with his partner in crime, Walter Hallanan.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chapter 42 -BJ's First Exodus part 1

Sometimes I wonder why people pick the friends they do in life, or maybe life picks them for us. Some people believe that we pick our own parents before birth indicating that we have all been here before and we're trying to work out our, for that lack of a better word, karma. I think about these kinds of things a lot these days. People sometimes say that I have too much time on my hands to contemplate these things but I wish I had more time. Wireman, a character in a Stephen King book says that when it comes to the past people have a tendency to stack the deck, which means to arrange the cards in a way that you will always win. Wouldn't it be nice to stack the deck in your present and future too? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe that would take all the karma and fun out of it. Everybody can't win all the time, I guess, and they say losing makes you stronger. If that is true than I have to be one strong-ass mother. Oh its not that I have lost all the time, I have had some major wins too, like the day I met my beautiful wife in 1988 on the Fourth of July and the births of out three amazing sons, but when it comes to Silverspoon it seems the losses far outweigh the wins. What was my karma then to pick the friends that I had? It seems once I called you friend, I would put you on a pedestal and you could do no wrong in my eyes. I did it with Larry, Stephen, Chas and especially with BJ. I am beginning to see that now.
People like them, (except for Stephen, we are very much alike in some ways - idealistic dreamers) have qualities that I lack and I have qualities they lack. For instance I am not very comfortable with "selling myself" or putting myself out there, as my dad used to say. I would always find it very un-humbling and down right conceited, but these afore mentioned friends of mine had no trouble with that. I guess I thought I could let them do the selling and I would just do what I do best, writing songs. Every experience or nearly every one ended up in my spiral notebook. Sometimes they became songs and other times they sat there waiting to become a song or a story. Song-writing was my solace, it was my retreat like that back room was on Oakhurst. What did they get from me? Loyalty, creativity, honesty and maybe a song written about them.
Like I said before when I met BJ he that silken silvery tongue that could sell sandcastles to an Arab and in the back of my mind I thought that he might be able to sell my music. That is also why I thought I needed a band, strength in numbers and all that jazz. Of course strength in numbers also comes with everyone else's weaknesses and faults. It's only natural. Another one of my faults was that I was loyal to a fault even when I knew deep down that I should run away as fast as my feet could fly - I would stand firm and stick up for people I loved. This happened in 1973 when the rest of my band cornered me in Rosemary Clooney's kitchen with forks and knives demanding to know what BJ was doing to solidify a deal for us with Warner Brothers. There are too many examples of these kinds of things to count. No matter what my friends would do short of murders, rapes or anything as sinister as that, I would stand up for them.
When BJ first asked me to write a story about him and paint him in a good light so his friends would be able to see from someone else that these things really happened, I was more than willing to do so. As time went on through this process I realized that it was not all wine and roses and there were some less than stellar memories that would surface. If it were fiction (sometimes it seems like it was), it would be much easier to tell these stories with protecting the guilty but it is not fiction and I have to be careful not to offend or incriminate any of these real and living people in my life. 
Having said that I want to bring 'ole BJ back in to the picture. He, as I said, made a lot of promises that were never kept but he also did some wonderful things too. I remember when my parents friend, Mickey Meltzer from Sarasota by way of Long Island came out to LA to visit. When I was a kid I really looked up to him but he never knew about my musical endeavors since I left Long Island when I was 12. He thought I was going to end up playing baseball for the New York Yankees or Mets because I talked, walked and dreamed about nothing but baseball. So when he came to LA in '74, my dad wanted to show him some of the sights of Hollywood and BJ invited my parents and Mickey to the Rainbow. Well let me tell you BJ not only put out the red carpet for Mickey he had that carpet steam cleaned and the doorknobs polished and shined like the midday sun in the Sahara. He made sure the waitress smiled more brightly and he told the cooks to make sure the food looked and tasted exquisite - he even told the bartenders to spike up the drinks with extra alcohol. After dinner we all went upstairs to the Crows Nest where BJ made sure that Frank Sinatra's New York, New York would be playing as Mickey walked through the door. No stone was left unturned and he was over the moon with joy and appreciation. Mickey is pushing 90 now and he still talks about that night.
After a while the broken promises and his classic line, "don't worry about it, I'll take care of it," seemed to lose its rosy glow. I'm sure it was demeaning for him to go from the big Kahuna to the lowly peasant serf working for five bucks and hour spinning records at the "Bow". It was a long way down and there was nothing or no one to break his fall but the people who loved and trusted him. You have to keep in mind that everybody gets something from the people they choose to be with, some of them are positive and some are negative. The women he slept with the friends he partied with and the investors and lawyers he did business with all got something in return. He made the women feel loved and appreciated, the friends shared the booze and drugs and the investors got to be apart of the elusive thing called show business, at least for a little while.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Chapter 41 - You Can Call Me Al

     There was a recording session at Larrabee Studios which was being produced by Al Schwartz, a wannabe music aficionado who lived across the street from the Red House on Kings Road. He was a no nonsense craggy faced, bald headed dude with a take no prisoners attitude that demanded respect — this is what Silverspoon desperately needed. We were still under contract with Larry Gordon and we were trying our best to get out of it. Al was trying to help out in that area but Larry G. was being obstinate ever since we decided to leave his imperial domain in favor of Mal. He and Mal had a split because Larry's partner, Jim Nash, had him convinced that Mal was only a figurehead not being able to produce his way out of a paper bag. Nevertheless, Al felt confident that Larry G. was a non-issue and we were heading into the studio anyway.
Three songs were picked, Everything's Gonna Be FineCornerstone and Give Me Back That Love, all three of which I had penned. While Stephen and Larry H. were busy going through their traumas, I was going through some of my own. The only difference was instead of hanging out at the Rainbow or chasing alcohol, drugs or pussy, I would write songs. By this time I had compiled a list of songs that numbered almost 600. I wish I still had that list but alas it was lost over the many moves I made while living in LA. I made a list of that as well and came up with thirty-three different apartments and houses from birth until 1979. I am happy to say now that I am not quite the gypsy I was back then.
Joey was out of the band now but Jon Marr was back in and was designated to sing lead vocal onCornerstone, a song I had written while I was living with Debbie Taylor on McCadden Street in 1971. Al Had a nephew named Evan who was slated to play drums but as usual Larry H. thought he wasn't cutting the mustard, neither did the rest of us for that matter and Al got Beau Segal to replace him. He had a bass player, Chuck Fiore, who he worked with on earlier sessions, but was out of town so instead Peter Freiberger filled in. These guys were professional musicians with a capital P, and it felt awesome to finally be playing with LA's best. A few years later Chuck and Beau would go on to produce and play on my Electra Records demo in 1979 and I would reacquaint with Peter in Nashville when we both had an interest in playing the pedal steel guitar, probably one of the toughest string instruments there is on the planet.
These sessions went on without much of a hitch and Al did his best trying to promote them to a few of the top record companies in LA – unfortunately without success. He started to lose interest in us, not only because we were constantly bickering over nonsense, women, Stephen showing up late for rehearsals or not showing up at all and Larry H. could never decide on arrangements or musical parts. I was getting a bit cynical which I'm sure didn't help matters either. Al was now focusing his attention on screen-writing and was working with Jon Voight on a project that later would be sold and released in 1982 called Looking To Get Out starring Mr. Voight and Ann-Margaret. After a few months of this, Al had had enough and gave us the boot; at least we had to tapes to try and do something with and there were plenty of people, or at least we thought, who would pick up the slack. Stephen and Larry H. had moved into the Red House to work with the disco queens, Patty and Christa and Robin Stewart and I moved to Detroit Street near La Brea and 6th Street that October.
After quitting my job with the Hungarians, I got a job at Mr. Coney Island across the street from the La Brea Tar Pits slinging New York style hot dogs for ninety dollars a week while Robin tried to get work as a back-up singer while working temp job as a secretary. I will never forget the acrid smell of grease and smoke that clung to all of my clothes and was impossible to wash out. The place on Detroit was a large one bedroom with wooden floors but the neighborhood was a bit funky and far away from where things were happening especially without a car. It only took me half an hour to walk to work and that seemed to be my life, work then coming home and drinking beer with the neighbor across the hall, a guy named Walter Ferguson who was an aspiring actor that looked a cross between Jack Lemon and Buddy Holly. My best friend was this feral cat I called The General because he had half of his left ear missing probably from a fight with a rival alley-cat. He was tough as nails and I could only imagine how the other cat looked. The landlady, Mrs. Lambert, was this real piece of work who reminded me of Mrs. Peenman, the landlady from the movie, The Mask with Jim Carrey, and I couldn't wait to move out of that place and dreamed of the day we could own our own home; a pipe dream that wouldn't come true until 1991 and it wouldn't be with Robin.