Singing With Gloria II

I’ve always preferred Santa Monica Boulevard to her slutty twin sisters, Hollywood and Sunset.

Oh sure, Sunset is the glam home to a thousand broken hearts and two thousand skinned knees.
Hollywood Blvd? That wacky tacky tourist cesspool, as whorishly gaudy as one of the faded stars trampled underfoot? Please.

Ah, but it’s always been Santa Monica, before it makes the shameful turn toward the Westside, where Hollywood works.
Lined with film labs and stark studio space , CA Route 2 was the last stand for the hustlers and chickenhawks, the charming porn houses, not to mention our 24 hour temple grease and sin, Oki Dogs.
You add in The Formosa, The Starwood and Pleasure Chest, and what we had was a playground for punkers in from the suburbs.

Meanwhile, on Santa Monica Blvd…..

“Better,” she said, “not good. But better.”

With that, Gloria closed the piano lid and started scribbling on the sheet music on the music stand.

She handed me the thin workbook she had notated, Shirmer’s Library of Classics: Twenty Four Italian Arias, Tenor.

“We’ll start here,” she said. She poked at the book with the tip of her red pen. “But always begin with the warm ups. The humming first, then the vowels, then scales, got it?”

She wasn’t smiling that first day, not that the uneasy parasitical relationship we began could ever be considered friendly.

I believe she saw in me the very corruption of her art. At least the metal heads and New Wave chicks that filled the rest of her appointment calendar for the week–hell, at least they tried to sing.

Me? I was shouting.

And although she got a lot of mileage from her other altern0 success stories, it was an uneasy trade with the punk rockers who haunted her hallways. I could imagine her shuddering at each pair of Doc Martens stomping up those stairs to her studio.

Tropicana Motel, 8585 Santa Monica Blvd

But I stuck with the weekly lessons, and a year became two.

Our usual routine settled into that of a weary married couple, each exhausted by the unchanging mediocrity of our time together, but neither owning the energy to end it.

I’d show up, we’d do the warm ups climbing along the major scale, and she would remind me of every crime I was committing against the throat. Then we’d hit Shirmer’s Library, and mangle the Italian language in song, a racial crime on par with Mickey Rooney donning Oriental buckteeth in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Then a cool off breathing exercise, pay up, and make the appointment for next week.

I would skip out into the cool night air of SM blvd elated, It was a relief like the un-noosing a necktie on the steps of a Catholic Church, with the promise of a masturbatory Sunday afternoon the only commitment left of the weekends denouement.
I began to wonder if I only continued these lessons because of the weekly climax of escape when they ended.

A couple times she sent me home as soon as I walked into her office, sniffing at the air and correctly detecting the two Bud long necks that just accompanied my carnitas plate at ElBurrito.

“Go Home. Alcohol and the voice, never,” Gloria said. “And what’s this I hear about you and a bottle of whiskey at Raji’s?”

She had weasly students all over town, each eager to get in her good graces by throwing another under the bus without a thought.

“Hey, whoa, heh. Part of the act.” I said. “What about Frank? The highballs in hand, what about him?”

“Sinatra. Don’t talk to me about Sinatra. He’s ruined. ” She narrowed her eyes. “Listen, Frank wanted out years ago, but the Mob won’t let him. The voice is gone. Now, you want to talk about a singer, go see Tony Bennett.”


But I did get a lot out of those lessons that stay with me today.

She taught me how to coax a voice back just in time to save a set, how to make a hideous cocktail of apple cider vinegar, honey and salt water that induced pitched screams and nightmares.

She had me taking so much Vitamin C on tours I shit Cheetos. I sucked on zinc lozenges that tasted like violent death, gargled an ocean of salt water.

And those vocal warmups.

I learned to disappear into alleys or darkened vans, thirty minutes prior to downbeat, and sing Verde’s Il Tovatore to the midnight sky.
Oh sure, no one bats an eye at a guitar player stretching the strings or a drummer tapping away at his pads backstage, but as soon as you hear a singer make a warm up peep the occupants of the green room roll eyes at each other and mouth the word: Diva.

Gloria taught me there were procedures and consequences of shouting over amplified instruments, and showed me how to survive, if I really must.

She talked now about visualizing the note, how the high note wasn’t up here (as she pointed a manicured nail to the ceiling) it’s down there, (waving to the floor). Pick it up, don’t reach for it!

But mostly, she talked about breathing, breathing.
About how it was more important than the air coming out, the way you took the air in, and how you held it.

“To sing, to sing is to breathe,” she would say almost every lesson.

In the daylight evenings of Summer, the tiny room above Santa Monica sultry with the thrum of an oscillating floor fan.
That goddamned jump rope back around my waist like a shameful cone around a dog’s head.

In the hopeless darkness of January late afternoons, we talked about the diaphragm yet again, her hands on my midsection pushing with the strength that surprised me every time.

Eventually, the lessons became more infrequent. I came up with more excuses not to make a next appointment, didn’t protest or reschedule when I was bumped. Finally, I went a month without seeing Gloria, then a month became a year.

We had already ended our latest weary chapter of Channel 3 and were each pursuing other avenues: Kimm and Mike Dimkich were playing in the feisty Bulldog, Jay back with Steve Jones and Larry Lerma in The Unforgiven. I was playing with my pal Mike Eldred in a short lived band called Stagger Lee, though my heart wasn’t really in it.

Maybe it was just too late, maybe I had grown too old too quickly on that dirty street, a burnout at the age of 27.

The last time I played on Santa Monica was one of those soul sucking Tuesday night showcases at the Troubadour.
You would pick up a stack of tickets color coded for your band that night.
Then they counted them out at the end of the night, your stack of tickets that you shamelessly foisted off on family and distant work friends returned in a disheartening diminished ratio.

It was a December afternoon that I volunteered to go into Hollywood to pick up the tickets. I rode back toward the 101 on my trusty Honda CB400F, a thick stack of pay to play tickets weighing my messenger bag like a dead colorless bird.
The Boulevard was dark compared to the artificial Christmas cheer of Hollywood, a shadow to the neon audacity of Sunset. But driving along that street once more brought back all the memories held in the breathing asphalt, all the tears of laughter and careless booze splashed upon that street.
Maybe it was the spirit of the season, maybe it was the two Jack&Cokes that I sipped while waiting for those shameful tickets to come down from the top office of the Troub, but I decided to stop in and see Gloria once again.

As i got to the top of those familiar steps, I could already hear her clear steady Soprano and the sensible work of her hands upon ivory. I almost turned to leave, not wanting to disturb a lesson, but decided to stop a moment and listen.

Her voice soared still, and the walls of the old stucco building were graced by the sound of a more fitting time. The old gal still had the pipes, and though I never really learned how to sing, I could damn well appreciate her mastery of the mystery.

When she bought the piece down to a gentle landing, I could hear the soft thud of that piano lid closing once more, and I turned to leave. But her office door suddenly opened and she came out alone with her coat already on, her keys in hand to lock the door behind her.
It was then I realized that she was without a student in there, and was just playing the piano and singing to herself.

“Oh, you,” she said. She looked me up and down, maybe searching for a clue of my name. “Did you have an appointment tonight? Because it’s not in the book.”

Caught off guard in her presence one last time, I just explained I was in the neighborhood, wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas, then I went in for an awkward hug.

I imagined that there was some affection in our final embrace, but when I think about it now she was probably just testing my core once again, those familiar hands on my body.
Searching for that Diaphragm, seeing if it was tensed against the air in my body.

Checking to see if I finally knew how to breathe.

Singing with Gloria

You want to be in a band, and you want to be the singer, am I right?
And who can blame you:  I mean, who doesn’t want the ability to create and entertain with nothing more than  internal fleshy tissue and the air within your lungs?

Hell, even Bukowski needed a pencil and the back of the Racing Form.

When you are a kid you connect with that primal instrument first.   You are taught twinkle twikle and lulled to sleep by mammmy’s dulcet tones.

This long before your pubescent groin can discern the sexual  pull of electrified guitar strings.
 Then you saw those photos of Steven Tyler alone up front, and ya thought: that’s the fuckin life.
 Oh, & hey!-there’s  Joe on the floor, guitar slung behind like a spent six shooter, shouting the truth into the mic.
And what’s that?   Punk rock ya say?
Psssh–anyone could do that!
What? Shout into a microphone for 20 minutes, beer in hand, then collect the money??
Skate in right at showtime with your scarf and SM58, while the other kooks have been humping Marshall Cabs and anvil cases since 4pm?
I got this.
But what of the day you got a string of shows together, and even further down this graph, perhaps an actual tour, with dates in a row with one day off a week from next Thursday.
You went and blew that voice  on night one, not that the lack of sleep and all night with the shitty booze helped either, brother!

And now look at ya, sucking on lemons and gulping that ghastly Throat Coat Tea while the other guys are drinking their hangovers away.

You open your mouth to make a tentative protest, but only a raspy croak emerges.
Your thought:
Shoulda stayed with the fuckin’ drums!

You need some help!

In the back of our beloved Bam magazine, that tattered bible of the day,  you’d find the usual hokey ads:
Drummer wanted by punk band:(Drugs OK, Booze mandatory.  Must hate Government) and paid 2 x 2 ad space placed by poor chumps desperate to fill the Troubadour on a Monday night

There would be ads for guitar and voice lessons as well, and the one that caught my eye one day was for Gloria Bennett.


Breaking Through: From Rock to Opera, the Basic Technique of Voice
Her ad listed her credentials: Her past with a NY Opera Company, and boasted past students:  Axl Rose, Exene…… Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers   Yikes.  Let me in on this.

And so one fine afternoon I discovered my legs walking up 2 flights of stairs to her studio off a particularly grimy section of Santa Monica Boulevard.

This was one of those old workshoppy buildings, all beige stucco turned 20 shades darker by the years of cigar smoke, probably some training mill for the studio contract gals of the 1940’s.
Give the starlet a shot with the acting and voice before she inevitably ended up behind the counter at Philippe’s or turning tricks off Fountain.
You walked those plastered hallways and heard the ancient clack of tap shoes, operatic trills, and, god help us all, the overwrought emoting of method acting.

As heartbreaking as the resigned whimper of a furry creature caught ankle deep in a toothsome trap, these are the desperate sounds of showbusiness.

I had the overwhelming urge to run, back to the street and into the darkened safety of The Firefly.

Oh, I had no illusion that I could suddenly be taught to sing.  The sad truth is that you can only do so much with what your ancestors bequeathed upon you in length of throat and capacity of lungs.  But as we started to ……expand our musical repertoire (sellout) it became clear that my voice was the weak link in the band.  And if I could not learn to sing any better, than by God I would at least learn how to sing badly night after night on tour!

Gloria opened the door and sized me up.  She must’ve been pushing 80 by this time, but still held that stylish aura of a woman who had grown up in the classy days of overcoats and pearls.

She took a look at my hair, the ripped jeans and cowboy boots, and cocked her head with a resigned sigh.  I imagined she had quite enough of the scruffy rockers that filled her waiting room, so far away from the glamor of her youth in New York.  She had once been a promising young star of the Opera world there, a lifetime removed from the desperate ooze of Sunset Strip. Now here she was, trying to teach us desperate hacks how to butcher her beloved art yet again.

She sat down at the piano then , and played the major scale up and down, effortlessly Mee-Mawing along in her crystalline coloratura soprano  voice.   She raised a contoured eyebrow and nodded, and then it was my turn.

Oh, we all know our Do-Re-Mi-etc, don’t we?  Who doesn’t think of Julie Andrews in those Austrian alps, chiming the scales in perfect pitch to her audience of Nazi youth?

But now imagine those very same notes punished, finally the Doh! of High C bleated out, goat-like,  my face reddened by  oxygen deprivation and shame.

She closed the lid of the piano and sat there a moment, pinching at the bridge of her nose.

Then she simply said, no.


No, that was not singing, she explained to me.
What are you doing? Do you think you sing from here? pointing at my throat.
Listen, what about babies, you ever hear them cry?  You don’t see them going hoarse, losing their voice, now do you?

And then she got up and went to the closet and came back with a child’s jump rope.
Here, she said, tying the braided strand around my mid section, you feel that?  That’s your diaphragm.

And then she molded my body like a she was dressing a stubborn mannequin.
Knees slightly bent, hips up, support the diaphragm, she pushed her strong hands at different points of my  body.   When satisfied with my posture she said,  now breathe!   I took a deep breath and then she slapped me on the back,

Not there, not the lungs, down here–tugging at the rope.

I took another breath, this time feeling my belly fill with air, the rope straining at my mid section, and held for a moment.

She once again struck the note on the piano, and I let the air up, through my body, found the note in middle distance between us.  For the first time, really, I heard this foreign sound come out of my body, effortlessly clear and easy.

And for that brief moment,  for the first time, I sang.


To be continued


She Never Wanted it This Way

…..way back where she comes from, the sun goes down in flame
And when she shuts her eyes she sees it all again
She brings her brush down to paint


I circle LAX once again, here to pick up Jay on the eve of Superbowl 51.
Eyes peeled for that familiar tangle of crimson hair and insouciant jawline.

It’s a tricky task though, as the usually insane avenues of the International Terminal are now overflowing with protesters of Trump’s latest threats to humane Immigration Policy.

And just days earlier, he had let loose this gem:

Nothing like a little insane non-information to set our anxiety levels to nuclear.

I imagine him lying on his princess bed, typing out these babies on a Hello Kitty clamshell while Melania braids his hair:   Our Leader.

Anyway, the thrum of the Drum Circles and war cries of the hijab wearing masses gives the arriving travelers a glimpse of this Blade Runnery, dystopioid, really cool Los Angeles if it were not also really terrifying.

Jay finally crosses the Police Line and jumps into the Ford Focus and can only say what anyone would.
What the Fuck?

Welcome home!

When we reported to the spare Brian Elliott Studios in North Hollywood to lay down the Fear of Life Record– I’m thinkin, what?, 1958? Posh Boy had sent Jay Lansford down to keep an eye on things.

We were a bit intimidated of course, Jay being the very epitome of LA cool rocker in those days.

Oh, he had done his time in the punk trenches, with the legendary Simpletones as well as with a dozen other acts that formed and broke up while we were still lip syncing Starz songs in the mirror.

By the time we were ready to set the punky rocky world on its pierced ear, he had already burnt out of those days and was now nipping at PopRock stardom with the awesome Stepmothers.

But we hit it off right away, and he famously filled in as bassist on the Lights Out Summer tour 1983, and blah blah, you know the rest.  What am I, fuckin’ Wikipedia over here?  Do your own homework kid!

But yeah, we shared the same pop sensibilities, always suckers for melody and not afraid to dip our toes into the cheese vat, if not too a bit too often for the hardcore crowd.

When it was time to get back to work on this record, it was only natural we bring it back to its wobbly roots and have Jay as producer.

We wove our way out of the packed airport and onto the packed 405, and caught up on all the insanity of his former home.

Jay had successfully escaped to a fine Germanic lifestyle decades before, and I could tell he was attacked now, lights too bright and voices too loud.  We made a pinky promise to not bring up the T word the rest of the week, and to get to business of the Rock at hand.

A quick dinner and bed, for a full week of work lay before us.

After a fitful night of sleep, we got Jay up on a rainy Superbowl Sunday and headed over to Nick’s rehearsal room in Signal Hill.

It was Nick’s first time meeting Jay, though they had communicated almost telepathically through the song clips bouncing back and forth over the Atlantic this past month.

Ant, he knew Jay from European tours past. And Kimm, hell, Jay probably still has some of his underwear, borrowed from 1984.
Familia reunited.


We began:
Pre production seems to come down to editing really.
That really cool idea for a 4th verse? can it.
A bridge there, solo here? nah.

We’d learned through the years that our listener had a short attention span and even shorter temper for our hijinks, so we made each song a quick punch and weave.

Intro and done before the listener even had a chance to move a lazy finger hit NEXT: Beat ya to it bub!

We broke down the songs to just drum and bass, now pinpointing downbeat to downstroke, then got into the very color of rhythm guitar.

A small resolve here and there, some key changes on a track that was charmingly out of my old man vocal range.
Two tracks left untitled and unplayed.
Countdown to tracking: 75 hours.


There was one track that we didn’t really have a handle on yet, but we knew it was the pop song.

But it just wouldn’t spark just yet, and was in danger of being tossed aside for something else.
Late in the day we chopped up the verses to give it some breathing room, and it all fell into place.
Nice when that happens!

We left the room exhausted at sundown,  ears ringing and fingers grooved by steel string.

A light rain still fell and the industrial streets of Signal Hill now glittered like an abandoned outlying  arrondissement in Paris.  I had to wonder, did Jay regret leaving his Safe European Home for this?
What would you think, to come back to the cultural, political, black smoke cauldron we have become?

I accompanied Jay over to King Neptunes to catch the game in progress with his brother, former Rams place kicker Mike Lansford.

I’d met Mike a few times before, once notably at a pre season bash he threw in the Anaheim Hills when they played at the Big A down below.  Hell, I could’ve gotten a selfie & autographed Wilson from Eric Dickerson, but was far too interested in the ignored keg of beer in the landscaped backyard to pay attention to the NFL Royalty inside.

The bar is packed with the usual Superbowl suspects, all flashing Bud Lite visors and Jagermeister beads, conversations shouted over the blaring televisions.  Enormous amounts of greasy treats are washed down by watery beers, burps are encouraged and judged by tone and volume.

The locals howl at the commercials, repeating the inane punchlines to each other with jabs to the ribs.  And now here comes Lady Gaga, floating down into the stadium suspended by a Goodyear Blimp that is being towed by a Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.  
I truly anticipate her tremendous tits to now shoot red white and blue laser beams into the sky, bringing a bald eagle down in a flaming ball on the 50 yard line.

Somewhere in the bar, someone starts up a chant to make America Great!….Again!

I look over at Jay who now clutches 32 ounces of shitty American lager while a girl in a Falcons jersey tries to stick her tongue in his ear.   It is as if he is being force-fed AMERICA in one terrible sitting.

We may have allowed you to leave once, but we will always have you!

I left them there with the Pats trailing 28 to 9–nine!  I mean, who comes back from that?

I went home to work on the lyrics a bit more, get ready for a full day of guitar and drum work with Jay and Nick.

But when I got home, the game was still on, overtime now, with those goddamn Patriots coming back with 19 unanswered points in the fourth.
And as they embraced the most cliché of all Hollywood endings, rode the very atmosphere of triumph into a stunning victory, I shut off the TV and thought of the project ahead.

A success in the face of impossible odds, after all.
That was all we were asking for as well.