Monday, September 30, 2013

Chapter 5 – Will the Real David Jones Please Stand Up?

It was March the third in the year George Orwell wrote about in his novel - 1984. I don't know why that date stuck in my mind other than I liked the numerology of it: three - three - one - nine - eight - four. If you add them altogether it comes to twenty-eight and two plus eight is ten, and if you boil that down further, one plus zero equals one. It was a "one" day.

I was living in Hollywood, California on El Cerritos Drive in a one room apartment with large planked wooden floors and tight molded ceilings which I shared with my faithful companion, Bridget Bardog. I think this was my seventh or eighth apartment I had occupied in my short, bitter- sweet life so far, and I would have roughly twenty more before I would leave Los Angeles for good. That night in March, I was up late drinking vodka, peppermint schnapps and snorting cocaine by myself, it was too expensive to share and I couldn't afford much more than a gram a week, which would set me back about a hundred bucks. Alcohol was bad enough, but I don't know why I did that horrible, self centered drug on top of it. It was never as good as the first time and I could never recapture the rapture of the very first hit - but I kept trying. Oh yes, I was well practiced at the art of getting wasted.
I got a collect call that night for “Jimmy” from a Mr. Bowie. It just so happened that I had the telephone number that used to belong to Jimmy Osterberg, who is better known by the moniker, Iggy Pop, the widely know innovator and godfather of punk rock. Since my name was also Jimmy, at least before 1980 it was - after I met Marly she insisted on calling me James, so anyone I knew before that year called me Jimmy, after that it was James. I answered to both, but not Jim. My father would only call me Jim when he was angry with me or I had done something wrong, which was more often than I would have liked.
The man on the other end of the line spoke in a low drawn out English accent and I guessed it was David Bowie, but I wasn't convinced. I thought someone was playing an elaborate joke on me but I went along with it thinking it could be real. I had to find out and the best way was to keep him on the line. Whoever it was, I could tell he was in low spirits and needed someone to talk to and since Jimmy Osterberg wasn't available, I figured I was the next best thing - after all we did share the same first name. He seemed to enjoy speaking with me, so after a few minutes, he called the operator and reversed the charges back to his number so I wouldn't get charged the exorbitant long distance fees. Those were the days when long distance calls could cost over a buck a minute and I told him I was a struggling musician, I guess if it was really Bowie, he could afford it, I certainly could not. He said he was calling from some friend’s house in Yonkers, New York which is three hours ahead from Los Angeles time.
He was more than despondent; he was clinically depressed over a few things in his life that weren't going the way he planned. He had just finished doing the soundtrack to the movie "Cat People" with Nastassja Kinski, who was now pregnant and nobody was sure who the father was –Bowie thought he might be, and it really panicked him. Apparently she was sleeping with three or four different men at the time and it was the question of the day, at least for readers of The National Enquirer and other tabloid magazines just who the father really was. He was spilling his guts out now to a complete stranger who was now playing the role of the amateur psychiatrist, something I did as a hobby besides astrology, numerology and reading Tarot cards. I looked at the clock on the wall and noticed it was seven pm, we were on the phone for over an hour and it seemed like he was starting to cheer up a little. I asked him if he wanted to hear any of the music I had been working on and he agreed. I played him a tape of a song I had written that was very Bowie-esque called Gone Again. He listened attentively, at least I thought he did, but who knows what somebody was doing on the other end of the line. For all I knew he could have put the phone down and had gone into the other room to fix himself a drink, or a line of coke but when he spoke up after the song was over and told me he really liked it except for one chord in the bridge which he thought was a bit too predictable.
"You know that A minor chord you played, I think it should be something a little darker," he said. "Why don't you try a diminished chord?"
"Diminished?" I said. "Maybe you're right." I thought if this wasn't David Bowie, it was someone who knew a lot about music, because he was right. I changed it later to that chord and it did sound a lot better. We talked about some of the musicians in his band, since I knew Mike Garson who played piano on his song "Aladdin Sane". I met Mike when I went down to San Diego with Larry Harrison a year earlier to see him perform at a Holiday Inn. Mike had given Larry a few piano lessons and was a great jazz player. Not many people would know about Mike, he was a bit obscure and he was a Scientologist to boot. Bowie, or who I presumed was David Bowie, knew all about him and he was the one who brought up the Scientology angle. I felt that he could be the real deal.
He was also tired of being a homosexual and wanted to go straight. "I would walk down the streets of New York past the Essex House on Columbus Circle and I'd see an old fag who would say, Hey David, why don't you whip it out; I’m bloody sick of it."
I said, "David, why don't you just grow a mustache and go down to a hamburger stand and go get yourself a nice chili-cheeseburger. Do some normal stuff, go bowling or play golf."
He laughed. I think he like the fact that I treated him like a regular guy, not some idolizing fan or someone who put him on a pedestal. It's funny because when I saw a photo of him a few months later he was wearing a mustache. Now I was not what you would call a real Bowie fan, in fact I thought he was responsible for the kind of music that was heading in the direction I was so diametrically opposed to with all the glitter, glam and gender bending. I had written a protest song with BJ about it in the seventies called Sequins and Rhinestones. I did like the song he had written, Changes, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Fame, the latter of which he recorded with John Lennon. Anyone who played music with Lennon was okay in my book.
Another person that was eating away at Bowie’s psyche was his half-brother, Terry Burns. Terry had attempted suicide on more than one occasion and was now in the mental hospital At Cane Hill in Coulsdon, in the south London Borough of Croydon, (it was Cane Hill that was on the cover of the album The Man Who Sold the World). He had thrown himself out of a third story window in 1982 and was now a permanent resident of the asylum. The Bowie family was riddled with insanity and that Bowie’s tortured relationship with Terry, and his fear of going mad, inspired many of his songs but he was riddled with guilt about it as well. Certainly Terry Burns had been essential to his development; there’s little question as to that. Terry, his elder by ten years, had helped turn David Jones into “David Bowie,” having introduced him to everything from Tibetan Buddhism to jazz. A few months later Terry would lay his head on a railroad track outside of Cane Hill and pull it away seconds before the express train came. A few months after that in 1985, he did it again but this time it was a success. He died a few seconds later at the age of 47. I guess David had a premonition about it. He loved his half-brother and felt he neglected him, especially with the on-sought of fame and fortune. He had already written songs about Terry, one in particular called All the Madmen on the previously mentioned album, The Man Who Sold the World. Seven years later he would go on to write a song called, Jump They Say, which was on the Black Tie White Noise album. It was about his feelings about the death of his half-brother, Terry Burns. It was obvious he had a lot of troublesome stuff on his overcrowded plate.
It was now going on four hours and I knew it was getting late, especially in New York which was three hours ahead. I felt that I was monopolizing his time but he didn't seem to mind. I said if we wanted to call back tomorrow or if he needed to talk he could call back anytime. I felt like we connected—we were becoming friends. It was ten o'clock Pacific time and one o'clock in the morning when we hung up the phone. I took the last hit of my coke and turned on the TV not really sure if it was real or not. Did I just have a four hour conversation with David Bowie? I had no way of knowing for sure, and still, to this day, I am in the dark about it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Life After Silverspoon Chapter 4 – Independent Data Supply

1983 came in to existence much like its predecessor, without much pomp and circumstance, but with plenty of drugs and alcohol. Jim Phillips was raking in the dough since the discovery of that Virgin Islands phone book in the storage closet at Central Supply in Van Nuys. There was this balding, Middle Eastern looking Englishman in his mid-thirties who was applying for a sales job one day at Central Supply and he, of course, got the job. All you had to do to get the job was to be able to speak a coherent sentence and know how to work a telephone. If you could make at least one sale a day for a week they kept you, if not, you were shown the door. His name was David George, and after talking with him at the lunch break, I found out he, among other things was a musician. He had recorded a solo album for A & M records in Toronto a few years before and I figured he was a legitimate contender. David has a younger brother, Brian who is an actor playing parts of the Indian or Pakistani guy that reminded me of Peter Sellers in The Party. David could have played the same parts, if he was so inclined, but he had talents behind the scenes, as a director and writer, besides being musical. I have been blessed, at least, to have known some very talented people in my life, and David was another one of them.
One day after work we got together and jammed. It wasn’t anything like Silverspoon or The Two Guys, but it was doable. After awhile we wrote a few songs together, one called, Too Hip for Hollywood, another entitled, June Brides and January Babies. The latter song was a bit old style country and reminded me of something Ringo Starr might have recorded. It was a tale of a backwoods country girl who meets a stranger and gets married in June. Unfortunately, there was a baby born in January, and if you do the math that’s only seven months after the shotgun wedding. There was a girl who worked at central Supply, Leslie, who was hysterically funny and did a stand up routine daily in the office as well as at The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood from time to time—she also played the tuba. We asked if she could come over to my mom and dad’s place on the famed Oakhurst Drive and put down a rocking tuba part. She did and we thought it was terrific.
One day while searching for another phone book in the storage closet at work, I found a price list from Daisytek which had the wholesale prices and costs of all the typewriter ribbons and lift off tapes we were selling. I was shocked to find out that the ribbons we were selling for $49.75 a dozen cost only $5.25. The lift off tapes was even cheaper—$2.25 and Central Supply marked it up to $37.50. When I showed the catalogue to David he gasped and said, “Why don’t we start a company and sell this stuff. We could buy it from Daisytek and charge half of what Central Supply charges, and still make a fortune.”
I said, “Sure, it sounds good but there are other costs involved. We would have to get a Watts line and an 800 number. We would have to think of a name and have it registered in the newspaper. Stuff like that.”
“That shouldn’t cost too much. We’ll do it for the music. We’ll hang a sign over the doorway that will read, every sale is for the songs. What do you think, James?”
I nodded my head. “We are going to need some phone books and some leads. I can sneak a few out by stuffing them in the back of my pants and you do the same. It is going to take about a week, and get our existing leads, all of them, and fill up your pockets with ‘em. I’ll do the same.” He agreed and our new company was in its incubation period.
David lived in a one bedroom apartment near Santa Monica Blvd. and Fairfax and that is where the office of Independent Data Supply was hatched. We thought it was a good name since we had declared our independence from Central Supply. We acquired a post office box from a small store in the strip mall on the corner, and fortunately there was a small Post Office right across the street from that. It was perfect, or so we thought. I moved into a studio apartment on El Cerritos a block up from Hollywood Blvd. I could see the Stephen J. Cannel building from my second story bathroom window. It was a fairly large place with hardwood floors and a huge bathtub in a tiled bathroom and a nice sized kitchen with black and white tiles that reminded me of a place that could be in the West Village in Manhattan. Bridget liked it too, especially when I would throw on my skates and we would go outside, then fly down the smoothly paved, starred sidewalks of Hollywood Blvd.
I don’t know if it was the drugs I was indulging in, or the booze but I was getting a bit moody and unpredictable. David and I had completely different ideas on how the business should be run. He would call me constantly always asking question about sales, supplies, and it drove me nuts. He is a Libra and I am a Scorpio, not that it makes any real difference in the scheme of things, but he always had to have things in balance and loved peace and harmony. I, on the other hand worked best in chaos and, at the time, peace and harmony bored the crap out of me. I wanted to make money and be left alone. I was not a good partner and figured if I had a partner; it was going to be a silent one.
We never did hang the sign over the front door with every dollar going toward the music as we originally intended. In actuality, not one red cent went to the music and we were bickering all the time like a couple of old Jewish women playing Canasta. I knew Independent Data was doomed for failure, but I didn’t want to go back to Central Supply with my tail between my legs, or start out from the bottom again at some other company, so I tried to keep it together as long as I could.
It was now 1984 and foreboding thoughts of George Orwell’s novel resounded in the back of my mind. I would now only make sales calls from the kitchen table in my New York style kitchen and avoided David like the plague. I still enjoyed going with him to the P.O. box and seeing the mail slot stuffed with checks—but that was the only thing I enjoyed, everything else was a grind. I would still hang out with Carrie and we would purchase a gram or two from her friend’s father, Charles, whose other daughter was married to Stevie Winwood. We would stay up all night, night after night, playing Greed, while Joe the chiropractor hid in the closet trying to horde all the white powdery substance for himself. We spent the days, when we got up early enough to see daylight, going to the Equestrian Center in Griffith Park to watch Francie ride her thoroughbred Arabian horse and see then jump over those wooden barriers together while Carrie and I drank Bloody Mary’s.
By this time BJ had moved back to Philadelphia for good leaving in his wake a trail of bad deals, broken friendships and insurmountable debts. His art of ripping everyone off had reached new heights and was beyond the realm of my comprehension. He would never go back to LA again— if he did he would be a dead man at the hands of some very disgruntled people. I still believe in the laws of karma and knew I wouldn’t have to lift a finger—he would receive his own just reward.
I was beginning to think my using was getting out of control and thought back to the year before when, after partying at Larry and Jeffrey’s place in Van Nuys until the wee hours. There was the usual debauchery—stoned out naked people with their nonsensical raps. I watched the scene with a combination of intrigue and disgust while I indulged in the white powdery substance so freely administered by Jeffrey. I never did get unclothed, maybe because I was a bit ashamed of my hairiness or it wasn’t in my DNA to succumb to that level of sleaziness, where Larry ruled as king. When I attempted to drive my Toyota Corolla with the bald tires home, I found I was one of the only cars on Van Owen, and noticed there was a cop car following me. I tried like hell to keep it together, but that street had old train tracks and when my bald tires would cross over them. The car would sway and swerve making it seem like I was under the influence. By this time, after seeing the black and white in my mirror, I had sobered up. I was pulled over and the cop gave me the field sobriety test which I passed with flying colors, but when he looked in my back seat and saw the dozens of unpaid parking tickets he threw the cuffs on my wrists and read me my rights. I spent almost a week in LA County Jail and my very disappointed father had to pick me up in the middle of the night.
Now, back to ’84, I was starting to see the effects of my abuse. I looked tired and was much too thin and I knew it was time for a change. I would walk down Sunset with Bridget, the only sense of reality I had, and one evening I saw a meeting going on. It was an AA meeting and I stood by the door watching with Bridget at my side. I noticed that a speaker got up and talked about his rock n’ roll days of using and abusing. I knew that voice, and as I got closer to the door I could see it was my old friend, Doug Fieger. He was now sober and was receiving his one year chip—what they called a birthday. I knew I was getting close to stopping, but I was terrified to commit to never using again. It was a habit, and I dreaded the thought of breaking it cold turkey. I rationalized it by thinking I could cut down and get sober in baby steps. It didn’t work.
Charles was your typical drug dealer who played those stereotypical games. He would be happy to front you a gram of powder so you would be in the red and have to come back for more, if nothing else but to pay him the hundred or so bucks owed. While I was there, I had every intention of just giving him the money and leaving, but I always caved in and fell victim to my cravings. I would leave with another gram, even if I didn’t have the money. It was a vicious circle of depravity and I was caught in his sticky spider web like a fly waiting to be devoured. Every night was an attempt to balance my high. I would snort a line or two, then drink a Peppermint Schnapps mixed with vodka to chill out the effects of the high, then when I got too drunk, I would snort another line to counteract the drunkenness while Bridget watched with, what seemed to me, to be disapproval. I kept it together enough to make a few sales during the afternoon, but just enough to perpetuate my self-deceptive, damaging lifestyle. I was feeling sick all the time and had pains in my kidneys and thought that if I kept using and abusing it was going to kill me. Something had to change, and I knew the only person who could initiate that change was me. I was getting close, but I wasn’t quite ready...not yet, anyway.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Life After Silverspoon - Chapter 3 - Life’s a Beach

Living in Venice four blocks from the beach was a much different experience than I thought it would be. Once in a while I would get together with Stephen and have coffee at the Sidewalk Cafe while we watched the tourist with their black sock and sandals toting cameras, the beauties in their bikinis and various other crazies skate by. There was that guy with the turban playing his electric guitar, the one you see on television now whenever they want to depict the insanity of that beach scene. Yes, he was there even then. He was nuts, but not as crazy as Wild Man Fisher was. Remember him? He was that whacko Jewish kid who looked liked he hadn’t taken a shower or bath in twenty years and would run around in circles on Tee’s Beach singing songs like Merry-Go-Round with puddles of spit spewing from the corners of his mouth. Now that was vintage crazy.
The apartment was a two bedroom and I hardly had enough furniture to make it look lived in. I didn’t even have a couch; instead I used beach chairs (the plastic kind you find in Wal-Mart) as furniture. I did like the wooden parquet floors that had those angular geometric shapes, if I was still taking LSD it would have made a good place to sit and trip out on, but those days were long since gone. I was making up for it thought with the herb, the white powdery substance and the booze. Once in a while Carrie would come over and she would spend a night or two there, but I wasn’t in love with her and I should have never let it escalate from friendship. She was a great cook and would make us Caipirinha’s—a drink made from Brazilian rum and pure sugar with tons of lime. They tasted so good you hardly noticed how wasted you would get before it was too late. I guess that’s what led to our romance, that and our trip to Tijuana where I bought a tan, leather jacket, a guitar and a stiletto. That night on the balcony with the warm Santa Ana winds blowing and the sun setting reflecting in her green eyes I could have fallen in love with her if she was the right woman, but it never happened— I couldn’t let myself let it happen. I wished we could have gone back to just being friends but that is harder to do than it sounds. I think I was still in love with Marly and I couldn’t commit to a full time relationship. At least I had my dog to depend on. We would go everywhere together on skates. I had the skates; she just used her four legs to get around on.
I had gotten in to roller skating when I lived with Marly in Burbank a few years back and I had gotten pretty good at it. Bridget Bardog would be my constant companion and whenever she saw my put my skates on, she would run around in circles in anticipation knowing it was going to be skate time. She loved it. I would put on her red leash and we would traverse the streets and sidewalks of Los Angeles together. She had more endurance than any other dog I had ever known. I had to hold her back or she would have dragged me into a storefront or into a passing pedestrian. We left Burbank early one morning, me with my black four-wheeled skates and Bridget with only her four muscular legs to propel her and I had decided to try to make it down to the Santa Monica Pier. We’re talking over thirty, maybe even forty miles. I must say that going over Cahuenga Pass was a bit frightening, but I kept my beloved Bridget in check and it wasn’t too long before we were cruising down Highland Avenue past the Hollywood Bowl, the site of so many future events in my life, but at that point I had no idea of its significance.
We made a right turn on Santa Monica Boulevard and I stopped at a gas station to give her a drink of water out of a paper cup I had secured from the trash can. Yes, I rinsed it out. From there we headed west past Fairfax, past La Cienega, past Doheny as I waved to The Troubadour, the site of so many memories in my young, but potent life. The sun was beating down on my shoulders as it arced its way west through that sunny summer’s day. We followed its path and it wasn’t terribly long before we reached the coast. We made another left at the bike path and with the ocean on our right we made it to Venice Beach by mid-day. Bridget was a real trooper so I rewarded her with a hamburger and I had a slice of pizza I bought from one of those little kiosks by the main drag. I sat on one of the benches while Bridget ate her burger and lapped up about a gallon of water watching the mixed bag of skaters, bikers, walkers, tourist with their black socks and sandals and cameras, the whole nine yards. After about an hour of that it was time to head home. We made it back to Burbank by four in the afternoon no worse for wear. That was the longest trek we ever made together and I will never forget it. God, I miss that dog.
I was feeling lonely and isolated in Venice, which wasn’t really my scene at all and I missed the action of Hollywood. Now that the Two Guys were all but disbanded, I wasn’t playing live much but I was still writing songs. I always found time to do that and, of course, most of the songs in my life were autobiographical. I guess if I traced my life chronologically through my songs it would be an autobiography in itself. Songs like: Eventually which dealt with the eventuality of finding love, money and success—wishful thinking on my part in a three part harmony chorus that I borrowed from Nowhere Man—one of my all time favorite Beatle songs.
There were definitely two sides to my music now—the Beatle side and the Dylan side. I wrote a Dylanesque songs called Passengers, which is a story about a train hopping hobo talking to a baggage car man about how things have changed, how nobody even hops trains much anymore with the freeways and interstates taking over. You can thank old Dwight D. Eisenhower and Dinah Shore for that. You know, see the USA in your Chevrolet etc.
That year I had bought a Toyota Celica until someone decided to run a light and used it as a barricade. The car was totaled but fortunately I was alright. I got four grand in insurance money and decided I wanted to buy a Porsche. With my dad’s help, I found a 1967 black Porsche 912, which is really nothing more than a glorified Volkswagen. But with its sleek lines and curves I knew it would be a major chick magnet, at least I was hoping it would be, but they turned out to be the days of one night stands and failed romances. I must have had at least twenty or thirty of those disasters after Marly and before my next adventure in love with the teenage beauty queen from Germany. I would meet a girl on the street, or in a coffee shop, or on a bus, or at the office, it didn’t matter where as long as they were somewhat interesting, not repulsive looking, and had half a brain. The latter was the hard part. I was still looking for the magic and it seemed like the magic was gone, just seemed to have vanished like smoke in the lazy air. The girls on the west side of town were a little different from Hollywood girls—they were a little more health conscious and like to eat yoghurt and were opposed to smoking cigarettes. I didn’t mind that since I was probably in one of my no smoking phases, or just coming in to a no smoking phase. I think I only smoked then when I drank, which was every night, so I guess I was in a smoking phase after all. I guess I could take the time and try to name all of these women but I would have to strain my brain, besides it would be a bit boring since they all ended with the same basic result—nowhere. But still I will try and name a few. There was Eileen, the teenage ingĂ©nue who I met at Central Supply and would see off and on for years when I needed young love. Joyce, a flower arranger that I met at the park across the street from the Hollywood Bowl who lived in Santa Monica, Pamela, a girl that liked to have sex and had money enough to buy her own drugs, Doris, a nurse who came supplied with her own drugs, Campbell, a pretty girl from Chicago who I met at the park when she was walking her two St. Bernard’s, Carol, the freelance writer for The Detroit Free Press, who I actually visited in Detroit and had the head of my precious Gibson J-200 snapped off by one of the careless baggage handlers. That guitar never felt the same to me and I ended up selling it for $1800 on Ebay a few years later. The trip wasn’t a total loss since I visited my cousin Bobby and my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Norman. It was the last time I would ever see my uncle, who was my Mom’s older brother. The list of women went on and on and on but all ended the same. I was now past thirty years old and I was getting a little concerned about my future in music, love and money—especially the love and music. I always figured if the music was right the money would follow—a little naive but I was still a bit of a dreamer then, maybe I still am, but not anywhere near what I was.
I was planning on moving back to Hollywood when I learned that Mom was having health problems. Mom and Dad had moved to the hills of Studio City on Canton Drive and there was a guest house in the back that was like a log house, very primitive, but it had all the accoutrements— a bathroom, a kitchen and a loft where the bed was perched like a crow’s nest. It reminded me of the room upstairs at the Rainbow without all the people.
It was now the early spring of 1983 and my brother Robbie was engaged to Carol Schulman, a girl he met at an actor’s retreat in Montana two years before. They had moved to New York together while she danced and Robbie tried to get work as an actor. They both struggled, which is to be expected, but it wasn’t until Robbie went to the local actors guild to get some leads or make connections that he decided the New York acting lifestyle wasn’t for him. When he saw the aging thespians in the lounge smoking cigars, playing gin rummy and telling war stories of their triumphs and defeats in show biz (mostly defeats), he knew he had had enough. They moved back to California (Carol was also a California girl) where Robbie thought he might try to get some commercials or television work. He did a Pepsi commercial and a few other choice spots while they waited with anticipation for their wedding in May.
. It was at the wedding rehearsal the week before when all the real drama took place.
Canton Drive had a large back yard that looked like something out of Rudyard Kipling’s, The Jungle Book, with bamboo and paths of stone that wound its way around a delicate stream. Bridget’s two of the three beautiful offspring’s, Danielle and Jean Claude (Dani and J,) were secured behind a fenced area in back of the secluded guest house. When Bridget had her puppies on May 16, 1982, I was staying in the back room on Oakhurst again for a brief time. I guess I needed a place where Bridget could give birth. After they were born, Edward the excessively gay neighbor upstairs had complained of the barking to the landlord and I was so pissed off that I told him to go, well you know, do something to himself that intimated procreation—this lead to a feud and the departure of the Haymer’s from Oakhurst Drive. They were so mad at me for losing my temper, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise since they would fall in love with that house on Canton Drive. The third dog, Genevieve, (Jenny) was given to a neighbor in Studio City who lover her very much and I would drive by sometimes and see her playing with the sweet black dog in her yard.
The rehearsal was a hit and everyone was having a glorious time and it looked like the wedding was going to go on without a single hitch, except for my mom, who was looking a little peaked. Her complexion had turned stone white. At first we thought it was the heat, or maybe she was stressed from working so hard at preparing the decorations and such. That night all the Haymer's and the Schulman's (Carol's maiden name) went out to dinner at the Shaghai Wintergarden on Wilshire and everything appeared to be all right with my mom.
The ceremony was at a Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and it was a lovely wedding. There was a string quartet playing as the young couple stepped up to the platform to take their sacred vows. I was wearing a gray suit I had been given by Jack, the retired aircraft employee that lived in the laundry room on Riverton in Studio City. It fit well because I was still indulging in that white powdery substance and I didn’t weigh more than a beanpole. By the afternoon the people at the temple were leaving and heading for the Beverly Hilton for the reception. Everything went fine and dandy and everyone gave a big sigh of relief when they had finally tied the knot. They had done it. It's funny how the youngest Haymer boy got married first, but I guess he was always a bit more mature than his big brother, James. That is at least one thing we both can agree on, except for the '88 Dodgers being the best team in LA history and Linguine with clam sauce. All that was left was the reception, a party, and how hard could that be to handle? Everything was going smoothly until my mom starting growing very pale again, looking much worse than she did at the rehearsal. In the middle of a hora or some Bobby Darin or Frank Sinatra song she fainted and fell on the parquet floor. Dad rushed to her aid and helped her back to her seat while the rest of us tried to give her some air and space. After awhile she seemed to have regained her composure but was not looking especially pert and wasn't her perky self.
After the reception the happy couple said their fond farewell's and in an hour or two were off to the airport Paris bound. They would land in eight hours time and hire a car to drive through France into Italy. They were so excited and wanted to check in with the folks at home. They stopped in a restaurant in Portofino and Robbie called home. It was Dad who answered the call and he sounded a bit strange and distant and Robbie couldn't for the life of himself figure out why. "Is everything all right?" he asked. "Robbie, I don't want to be the bearer of bad news and I sure as he;; don't want to spoil your honeymoon're mom is in the hospital. She had a mild heart attack and they did a bypass surgery."
"What!" Robbie screamed. "Are you kidding?"
"No, I wish I was. But don't worry the doctors say she is going to be fine and they think we were lucky to come in when we did."
"Yeah!" Oh God, is there anything we can do?
"Yes, enjoy yourself and maybe pick up a bottle of Chianti for your mom. They say it's good for the heart."
"I will Dad. Give her a hug and a kiss from both of us, will you?"
"I will son, call me in a few days and I'll give you an update."
"I will, Dad. Goodbye."
 What a way to start off  a marriage. Mom was okay and they installed a big old pacemaker in her chest. I spent the rest of that summer in the guest house taking care of my wonderful mother (with Dad’s help too, of course) who had spent most of her adult life taking care of her three children, it was payback time and I didn’t mind it, in fact I was happy about having the opportunity to help her. She was the best! I miss her so much, but I will, as I wrote in the title track of my first solo CD, See You Around. Now I think I got the story right.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Life After Silverspoon - Chapter 2 - The Ballad of the Two Guys from Van Nuys

Running Around the World didn't become a top five record like the professional song testers had predicted, in fact the Mike Love album, Looking Back with Love, completely tanked. Maybe it was because Neil Bogart, the president of Boardwalk and before that, Casablanca Records dropped dead from a heart attack the week before the release of the record? Although I regret the loss of such a powerful man, like I would regret the loss of any human life except maybe for the Hitler’s, Kaddafi’s and Bernie Madoff’s of the world, it was a typical scenario in my musical career. Just when you think things are starting to come together, they completely fall apart—just like in Silverspoon. Was it me, or was this a something to be expected by any and every individual who attempted to do something other than sell orange juice, annuities or push pencils?
We did pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and continued to keep on keeping on as The Two Guys from Van Nuys. I don’t really remember how we met the person, who would be the next installment of genius in our lives, but one of the most brilliant bass players that ever graced the fret-board of a Fender Jazz bass had a house in the valley with a decent studio—his name was Bobby West. Bobby had done recording with a lot of my heroes: The Buffalo Springfield and its founding members, Neil Young and  Stephen Stills, Al Kooper, James Taylor, Cannonball Adderley and Tommy Roe to name but a few. I would come over to his studio after selling typewriter ribbons and lift off tape and then tried to switch gears from a shifty salesman who had trouble with the truth, to a sincere and heart-felt songwriter/ musician. Larry and I recorded roughly six or seven original tunes there and I thought they sounded brilliant with Bobby’s complex bass line pitted against my simple acoustic guitar strums and Larry’s flowering piano parts. Songs like: False Alarm, a Byrdsy, jangling ditty which would have been right at home on Tom Petty’s 1979 release: Damn the Torpedoes. Then there was Vagabond, StarbrightOld Timer, No Exception to the Rule and a few others that escape my memory at the moment. These tapes sounded like the logical progression for the duo that was in the process of putting a band together to play the Palomino in North Hollywood. I had sworn I would never play there again after having lost a talent contest to a fifteen year old girl in a bikini who sang Rocky Top. But sometimes, especially in the music biz, you have to be flexible and resilient.
After a grueling day at the office in the guise of Jim Phillips, I came to Bobby’s studio ready for action. Bobby was sitting behind the console in his skimpy red underpants and I guess I was getting impatient to start the overdubs on one of our songs. All of a sudden he flew off the handle at me and said things like, “I've been through shit like this before and I ain’t going through it again,” and “why don’t you take your attitude somewhere else, I haven’t got time for this bullshit.” I still to this day don’t know (Larry either, for that matter) what I said or did other than wanting to skip the preliminaries and get right down to work. I guess I didn't give Bobby enough time to chill or come down from whatever he was up on. We left the studio for good. At least we had copies of what we had recorded up until that point.
Out bi-monthly gigs at the Bla Bla Cafe were a mainstay for us and we were starting to attract a decent following. We had a somewhat mixed reviews from The Music Connection which said that it was a shame The Two Guys had chosen the more commercial route and it would have been better if they went with the road less traveled. It’s funny because after that, my music became a lot more avant garde and on the fringe, much to Larry’s displeasure. Now we had a seven piece band behind us which included, a sax player, a pedal steel guitarist, drummer and bass player and three background singers which added up to a total of nine people up on the crowded stage at that cozy nightclub in Studio City. We were confident that the stage at the Palomino would be plenty large enough to facilitate us. I think we were either way behind or way ahead of our time, and I am more inclined to think it was the latter. We were one of the forerunners of what is now called Root’s Rock or Americana music.
After the gig at the Palomino, which went well enough, we thought it would be a good idea to get this configuration of musicians down on tape. We booked time at a studio in the valley by the name of Fat-tracks and recorded five songs: Old TimerNo Exception to the Rule, Believe in Good, Jesus of Nashville and Angel of Love. These were probably the best overall productions we had to date, even thought Bobby West’s were unique, they weren't mixed properly and Bobby still had the masters which he refused to give up. Either that or I was too afraid to face him again in his red g-string panties.
A few months later Cary Hamilton, Joey and Jeff’s younger sister and Carol Burnett’s oldest daughter had secured a gig at Pepperdine University in Malibu. It was more of a college assignment than a gig, and she asked us if she could perform Believe in Good and have us back her up, me on guitar and Larry on piano. We said, “Sure, why not,” and we did. I thought Cary did a great job although she faltered on one and only one note when she did the high crescendo just before the bridge. It wasn't terrible by any means but to Cary it was intolerable. She was in tears. Larry and I tried to console her and told her that it was fine; nobody other than somebody with the finely tuned ears of a Bocelli would have noticed anything wrong. It didn't matter to Cary; she was a perfectionist and thought she had completely blown it. She hadn't, that’s all there is to it.
It was now 1982 and the music was changing again and we felt we had to stay ahead of the curve of be swallowed up by the new wave of new wave music that was taking over the scene. The top song of the year was Physical by Olivia Newton John, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor and I Love Rock N’ Roll by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. We weren't about to go any of those routes by any means so we asked Curt Boettcher to produce a couple tracks for us. The first was a song called, Here in the Twilight and the second was entitled Incommunicado written with Curt and a fellow West Hollywoodian, Bill Bowersocks. These sessions lasted until the wee hours of the night and I supplied the white powdery substance for motivation. It turned out, in my opinion to be a total disaster. I hated every second of it except for the amazing vocals Curt had overdubbed. He was a magician when it came to layering parts and when I looked out into the studio while he was singing I could have sworn I saw an aura of purple and silver spinning over his head like a cyclone. It was one of the most brilliant feats of vocal ability I had ever witnessed in my life. These two songs turned out to be the last ones the Two Guys from Van Nuys ever recorded.
On November 2, 1982, The Two Guys performed live on a TV show a song we had written for the main character that was a puppet. The show was called Madame’s Place and it was the first TV series my father had ever gotten. Sure he was a semi-regular on M*A*S*H playing the part of the gruff Sgt. Zelmo Zale, the guy who smoked the cigar and was always fighting with Klinger, but this was his first full time lead role as the butler, Pinkerton. It might have nepotism or something along those lines but we still had to audition. We borrowed the music from Jesus of Nashville and wrote some zany lyrics about Madame. That day was also my 30th birthday and it was the second best day of my life up until that point. The very best day was when I went with my Dad up to Wallingford, Connecticut when he was playing the part of Applegate in the musical Damn Yankees. It was just the two of us and was around ten or eleven. We stayed in a motel with the rest of the cast and in the morning I noticed there was a baseball field in the back. Since the cast all had baseball gloves, they were Spalding Whitey Ford models, a pickup game of hardball ensued. I loved every minute of it. That night I accompanied my dad to the show and got to hang out backstage. I was wearing my sunglasses and a sports jacket trying to look older so I could flirt with the showgirls. They would say things like, “Oh what a cute little man you are,” and “if only you were a few years older I would love to go out with you.” I smiled the smile of a boy who knew what he wanted from life and hoped he didn't have to wait too long to get it.
Anyway, back to Madame’s Place. We did a pretty good job except I thought I could have smiled a little more, but the sound was good, I sang in tune, and we didn’t make any mistakes. That afternoon I had lunch with my mom and Patricia at Musso and Franks on Hollywood Blvd. and afterwards I went back to Patricia’s apartment and we made athletic and friendly love. Later that night, after cleaning myself up with a long cool shower, I visited with Marly, my ex-girlfriend and, if the truth be told and not to sound too sleazy, we also made love—happy birthday to me. In all honesty I don’t think it was sleazy in the least because I truly loved both of these women in completely different ways. One was out of deep friendship and the other was goodbye lovemaking. Actually they were both goodbye romances since I never slept with either woman again. Marly had moved on in a physical and spiritual sense and Patricia had really moved on in every possible sense. By the way, my wife hates this story and I, much to her relief (except for this final exposĂ©), have stopped telling it.
 It wasn't long after that Larry had decided to take his series 7 examination and become a stockbroker. I had given him the name of someone who knew about such things, a woman I was seeing from time to time named Juliella Parsons from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I had met Juliella through the infamous BJ Taylor. Larry picked every brain cell in her head and went on to pass his exam. I was a little heartbroken, thinking he was going to desert his craft and leave me in the musical lurch. It was a moot point when I look back on it since I didn't really like the direction he was trying to take our music and I need to dig deep into my heart and soul to come up with the kind of songs I wanted to produce. I knew it was going to be a long arduous process, but I was on my way—I knew I was going to do something great and it would express what I wanted to express. I had no idea it was going to take as long as it did because, as usual, life gets in the way and throws you in directions you never could predict with even the greatest of mystics or Ouija boards at your disposal.

Life After Silverspoon - Chapter 1 - Say Goodbye to Hollywood

When Joey snuck out of the studio during the Last Autograph sessions he held Silverspoon for ransom, threatening it at gunpoint and when no money was offered in return, he fired his weapon where it slowly and painfully bled to death. He then threw it in a plywood box, hammered the last nail in the makeshift coffin and then buried it in his backyard.  Yes, Silverspoon was officially dead. I don’t blame Joey, it was not his fault, and he was only the last straw in a series of mishaps and disappointments which paved the road that started out as glory and promise but ended so potholed and twisted it was beyond the repair of any structural engineer’s capacity. Even though Stephen still held out hope of a rebirth, Larry and I knew it was a lost cause, the war was over and the white flag of surrender flew alongside the flag of our brotherhood which was waving at half mast.
I was upset and felt like I had wasted the best years of my musical life, but now it was time to pick myself up by my guitar stringed boots and carry on. I was tired of being a studio musician and wanted to experience what is was like to play for the people, the people who still went out to see a live performance, maybe buy a cassette or two, and pop it into their home or car stereo system. On September 30, Larry, Patricia and I went to the Forum to see the great and inexhaustible Bruce Springsteen and his E Street band. It changed mine and Larry’s life forever. The next night The Two Guys from Van Nuys was born and we played our first gig at The Sidewalk Cafe on the beach in Venice, California. I had my Gibson J-200 and Larry had a Wurlitzer electric piano, but I think he only used the upright and out of tune piano supplied by the restaurant’s establishment.
We did songs like Cat Stevens’ Wild World and Bob Dylan’s Just Like a Woman, and sparsely throwing in some of our originals which was discouraged by the management. I was still working at Central Supply in the valley, waking up at five in the morning, so I had to limit the time spent at night, drinking, smoking, coking and generally carrying on. As I said before in my last blog, Patricia was a godsend. She had asked her father, who ran a music store in Baltimore to send me harmonicas, strings and whatnot, all for free. She was still Larry’s old lady at the time and I felt bad for her knowing their relationship was like a sinking ship. I could see the holes in that vessel but was powerless, at the time, to do anything about it. Larry was my partner and I was a loyal and naive participant in that partnership. I also felt bad that we were playing in Venice, not more than a mile away from where Stephen lived with Portia, but he was too proud and pissed off at us for not including him in our musical endeavor. But Stephen was a studio guy and Larry had the live experience and it came down to a choice between the two of them. I chose the latter and now I wonder if I made the right choice, but unfortunately I don’t have a time machine at my disposal so the past is the past and will remain that way. It’s the present that I must deal with now, but looking back to what got me here is a worthwhile task.
I had a friend at Central Supply when it was in Hollywood named Stephen Paul who I talked about before. He had a friend who was a genius at vocals and production by the name of Curt Boettcher who lived at the Oakwood apartments in Burbank. Whenever I was bored on the hot summer days, I would sometimes stop by and see Curt lounging by the swimming pool at Oakwood. He got a kick out of me and said I was the only writer he knew that picked subjects that nobody else wrote about. He loved the song Old Timer, written by myself and Larry, about an old man living in a retirement home reflecting on his youth while his children and grandchildren only visit him out of guilt on Sundays. Another song we penned called Vagabond was a three part verse that depicted three different types of vagabonds in three separate voices: I’m a vagabond, he’s a vagabond, and we’re all vagabonds. I still think it’s a great tune and Dave Mason thought so too when he recorded it later that year. There was one song of ours that Curt could never get out of his head—Running Around the World. Later that year he was hired to produce Mike Love’s solo record he thought about that song and called me to ask if he could have Mike sing it on the record. I waited a beat and said, “What are you kidding? Of course he can record the tune!” The original demo was one of the songs I recorded at my Electra Records experience in 1979 and it had a straight four/ four rock and roll feel. Curt thought it would be better in a shuffle kind of like Help Me Rhonda. Who was I to argue about something as minor as that and Larry said “I don’t care if they make it sound like Liberace (Larry’s alter ego) with his hair on fire, as long as it gets cut.”  It did get cut and was market tested as being a top five record by a company that does that kind of thing.
A month or two later, Mike was doing a gig in the valley at some large club and we were told he was going to perform our song live. We asked Curt if we could be on the guest list and he said he would clear it with Mike. We never heard back from him and time was running out so we headed out to the club thinking we most likely would be on the list. When we got to the ticket booth we asked the girl behind the leaded glass if out names were on the list. They weren’t. We had to shell out $17.50 to hear our own song being played. That was a lot of money back then, especially for a couple of starving musicians. It was still a thrill I will never forget when they went into that shuffle intro and we heard one of our songs being played to an audience of over a thousand appreciative people. I felt that we were on our way to the big time, so did Larry.
I was still living on Highland Avenue north of Franklin and across the street from Chas when BJ showed up saying he was looking for an apartment to rent in the area. It was an old Hollywood mansion that had been subdivided into four separate dwellings. I lived in the northwest corner and next to me was a Latino gent named Luis who had a Doberman Pincher called Sasha, Sadie, or something of that ilk. She was good company for my dog Bridget Bardog when we would take them across the street to the large park which was behind one of the Hollywood Bowl parking areas. BJ expressed an interest in the room in the back that was in shambles. He told the landlord he would help fix the place up if he reduced the rent. As I said before BJ, who could sell sand to a camel, had convinced the landlord that he would do a crack-up job and he moved in with his accomplice, Walter Hallanan, the BJ look-alike.
BJ had become friends with Carrie and Francie the fancy equestrian (we later wrote that song together about Francie) and he got into the drugs big-time. He was losing weight and losing all of his scruples, which he didn’t have much of in the first place. He was selling everything he owned to stay afloat and he even stole Carrie’s small television set that she kept in her apartment beneath her childhood home occupied by her mother and sold that, too. He was incorrigible but was still convinced that his demos, the ones he recorded at the Record Plant with Michael B. behind the console were destined to become classics. They were good, but I still don’t think that justified his criminal behavior.
After Patricia moved out after the “rat incident” and into the apartment with her warlock husband to be which eventually led to their sad demise, there was an event to occur which I don’t think I can ever forgive BJ for. I was going to New York for a couple of weeks to hang out with Larry, his Robin and Martine and try to get a little playing and exposure in the Big Apple as the Two Guys from Van Nuys. I left BJ in charge of my apartment and the love of my life, Bridget Bardog. I knew he wouldn’t know how much to feed her so I bought twelve large cans of dog food and gave him explicit instructions on how much and when to feed her, when to walk her and so on. When I came back from my trip I noticed that Bridget was looking awfully thin and asked BJ if he had been feeding her like I had instructed him to. I looked in the cupboard and saw that all the cans of dog food were gone, so I was scared that she might be sick. I called the vet and made an appointment and he told me she was not sick but was extremely malnourished from being underfed and dehydrated. I asked BJ again if he had fed her and he swore up and down that he had. I found out later from Luis that BJ was selling him the dog food in exchange for cigarette money. I was appalled and livid. The next week I moved out of that apartment and got a place in Venice by myself on Washington Way. I left BJ there to fend for himself and hoped that I never would cross his lying, deceitful path again. You can mess with me to a point, but whatever you do, don’t mess with my dog!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Appendix 3 - Last Autograph Video Clip

Here it is kiddies, Silverspoon's Swan Song. This is a rough mix of Last Autograph recorded January of 1981 and written just days after John's untimely death.