Safe European Home

Senate Square, Helsinki

We gather ourselves after yet another security check going into Terminal 3 Heathrow.
Perhaps it’s the quality of in-flight entertainment, maybe just the degenerative loss of any nerve endings in our kneecaps, but these trans Atlantic flights don’t even faze us any longer.
We arrive resigned, stumble through yet another TSA checkpoint shoeless, holding trousers up with one hand: Our humiliation complete.

Like cattle herded into the final chute of the slaughterhouse, our only avenue of protest is to shit: we hit the United Lounge and take a crap.

Helsinki dawns bright and warm, 25C air temperature mocking the NorthFace jackets and Polar thermals in our carry on luggage.

We wander supermarkets and Town Square, take a ferry out to the stony Fortress guarding the harbor.
There, we run our hands along the rough-hewn walls, wondering at the gallons of steaming blood spilled here in the name of Sovereignty.
Would we have the courage to stand among the ice and rock, grip a scabbard slick with viscera, to defend our land against the invading horde?

We take another photo and post it to Instagram instead.
We are not men.

A backstage conversation with Posh Boy

Robbie Fields has made adjustments to his never-ending World Tour and appears, incredibly, in the check-in que of the Presidentti.
We chat easily there in the Lobby, interrupted only by the waitress bringing a tray of overpriced drinks and the shy tourists looking for Anthony Bourdain’s autograph.

We begin with the small talk of the weary old men we have become, but are soon transported back to the garage in Cerritos, youth and excitement barely contained before Mom comes in and tells us to shut off the amps and come eat some dinner.

Tavastia Club

Berlin lies waiting, less a mother with open arms than a patient spider in the dark corner of her web.
Everyone passes through this city.
Some stay, recognizing the limitless possibilities of this place: Old and New, East and West.

Some stay because they never close the goddamn bars in Kreuzberg and they miss the tour bus.
Doomed to a future of wee bottles of Jagermeister and a daily diet of Donner Kebap, it is a fine purgatory indeed.

Punk & Disorderly Fest Berlin

We pay our respects at the Ramones Museum and then eat currywurst in the shadows of Brandenburg Gate.
Then it’s on to Dresden to witness the legacy of horror there.

There, we gaze upon the cathedrals blackened by fire bombs.

A sudden revulsion now, and we are forced to pay up the 30€ to use the WC at a Starbucks.
We blame our knotted intestines to curry powder and room temperature Mayo, though we know our nausea bubbles up from a deeper source.

I am unable to find the ß upon my keyboard when referencing Roßwein.
A minor inconvenience, surely cured by some cryptic combination of ALT/CTRL/F6 etc.

But I like that I cannot spell this character, its stubborn refusal to bend to the Anglo invaders.
Everyone here, everyone everywhere speaks English.

They do so with charming accents, and without fail apologize for their tentative grasp on the language.

We are shamed: forcing our utilitarian phonetics upon these graceful generations.
In the name of goodwill, Anthony learns curse words and vulgar phrases at every stop.

He is able to ask someone to please go fuck themselves behind the knee in a fine Bavarian accent, for example.
A sincere if humble consolation to our hosts.

Jugendhaus, Roßwein

We visit with Jay in Hannover, our ex-patriot brother sensibly accustomed to the Euro lifestyle.
It occurs to me that Jay has always been a European at heart, his timing and gait far more in tune with the civility of this continent.
To bicycle to the market, to eat fine cured meats upon grainy breads.
Restaurant meals are eaten and then, amazingly, digested at the same table:
A third Kaffe ordered before a thought to request the tab.

He has found what was perhaps missing in Arcadia.

We sit impotently on the runway 40 minutes after landing, the GE turbines idly spinning in anticipation of an open gate.

We gaze out oval windows at the purple sunset over Los Angeles, the palm trees wilting in the shimmering haze of burnt jet fuel.
Home again after just a long weekend gone, really.

But the distance traveled and hours gone have little to do with the journey.
Though we have been awake for 23 hours we will wake up tomorrow on Greenwich Mean Time still.

We’ll stumble down to the curb in gray dawn light and search the horizon for a spire blackened yet defiant, survived against the will of the West.

Blue Diamonds

So this flyer pops up on the ol newsfeed now and again.
Understandably, people are amazed.

Whoa, dude! You guys actually played with The Ramones?
And then: so how old are you??

Yes, that gig happened, and before you ax,  no we didn’t get to hang out with them  as they were pretty much hustled in and out of the shed for their set.
I did, however, get a quick glimpse into their green room where – swear to God -I saw Johnny eating a slice of pizza.

I was thrilled to see an actual Ramone eating pizza, perhaps a gastronomic satisfaction on par with actually witnessing a lioness take down and feast on a gazelle.
Johnny looked up at me, then over to a roadie, then the door was slammed shut.

You would think this would be the absolute pinnacle of our career, the full-circle fantasy of playing alongside the very band that got us into, and finally out of, the garage.
But when I see this poster I am really reminded of the sad condition we were in as a band, and how the final days were telegraphed, if not tattooed in all of our inner eyelids.

That show was on a Monday, and just the day before we came home from an awful, decadent Midwestern tour.
We were alcohol bloated, burnt out, squeezed into mildewed leather pants: all aviator sunglasses & cowboy boots, trailing a cloud of AquaNet Pink responsible for a acre-sized hole in the Ozone layer.

 

My look, 1986.

It was the final lineup of CH3 before the reboot: I’m up there being a lead singer, for fuck sake. Kimm and Jay Lansford doing the  guitars, hillbilly madman Ron Wood on drums.
The new kid Mike Dimkich has been shanghaied into bass duty on this leaky vessel, wide-eyed and not yet drinking age.  That didn’t stop us from forcing him to get drunk nightly and pimping out the cute new kid to the local sluts.
As we swung through Chicago, Detroit, Lansing, Flint–all places that held a soft spot for us in earlier years, we were met with disdain, disgust-and worst of all-no recognition at all.

I imagine that’s how it is for a band like, oh say, SmashMouth these days.
They come back to town, but instead of playing in the decent halls they held court in the 90’s, they find themselves on the grassy outskirt sidestage of Temecula’s Wild Wine Week festival.
How can they not feel a bitter ache as they roll their own amps on stage, following the opener: ShrekMouth (a tribute to SmashMouth)

So when we finally regrouped after that tour and the Ramones gig, the calendar lay plenty empty before us, missing Kimm’s frantic scribblings that usually kept us busy on bandstuff.

And as it so often happens, that stage of CH3 came to a close not in some fiery ball of Gallagher-esque onstage fistfights, but a lazy disintegration as everyone goes off to explore other projects.

Jay regrouped with  Steve Jones in The Unforgiven,   the rousing Western-themed band that set off a Major label bidding war in the mid 80’s.  Another CH3 survivor Larry Lee Lerma later joined them in a pared down version of the group, just teasing us with a full-blown Stepmothers reunion.

Jay was soon out on those big stages that we never quite got the hang of inhabiting,  pulling off the outsized rockstar moves with ease.


Kimm and Mike paired off in Bulldog,  a tasteful pop rock group that included future Wool and Concrete Blondie Al Bloch on bass and vocals.   They were soon grinding it out on the Hollywood circuit, yer classic Coconut Teaser  type of act that got all the foxy Westside legal assistants out and dancing at Madame Wong’s on a Friday night.

I had the treat of being left with beloved knucklehead and future Facebook grammatician Ron Wood.  We started a little act called Stagger Lee with my old Artesia rock heroes Mike Eldred and Ron Davis, formerly from the band Metro Hotel.

 

Pettibon flyer!

I dunno, we were going for a sort of AC/DC rocky thingy, but somehow our hearts were not really in this new act.
You know when things feel right, and this wasn’t it.

Ronnie soon drifted off to God knows where, and we found ourselves practicing in rented rooms, hustling for gigs, picking up stacks of fucking tickets for a Wednesday night slot at the Troubadour.  ick.

One night after a sweaty practice session, we found ourselves at The Embassy Lounge in Artesia, the bar right next to our beloved Gold Brique. The Brique was just beer and wine, so it was next door to the Embassy if you really wanted to get into the hard booze and fuck up your morning.

We sat over buckets of Jack Rocks, drowning those typical sorrows of a band relegated back to opening slot on pay to play shows.
I guess every band has that existential crisis. What the fuck are we doing here–I mean, for what?
How far removed have we become from that kid who first plugged in a guitar and hit a shimmering open E chord that shook the house, if not the world?

What happened to that? That Joy.

The bartender came over and mercifully topped off the highballs, then stopped and squinted at us.
Let me guess, y’all are a band right?
We grunted into our glasses, almost ashamed to admit to being part of this sordid racket.

Well, hell, why don’t you guys get up and do some songs?

She gestured to a darkened corner, and there was a little bandstand I never even noticed before.

“Well, we’re not that sort of…act,” we started.
Every musician is used to this shameful spiel when trying to explain your oeuvre to a civilian who just wants to hear a nice number that they know.

But before we could go on, she chimed in.
Free booze rest of the night?

Nine minutes later we had a combo amp and snare drum on stage, Ron plugging his bass into the house organ’s Leslie speaker.
We knew we couldn’t blast them with our hoary rock shit, so everyone came up with an old standard we could stretch out for 15 minutes and capitalize on the open tab:
Roadhouse Blues? Kansas City? Hey, The Temps–My Girl!

We started with a shuffling blues number, amazed to be playing at a volume so low you could still hear Vin Scully’s melodious tenor calling out the 10th inning against the Giants.

An old soggy couple stopped their ongoing argument and looked at us playing.
They tapped their fingers to the beat for a bit then got up from their booth and actually started dancing.
Tentative at first, then the muscle memory kicking in as they picked up the swing. She threw back her head and hooted as her husband twirled her around, now doing their very own version of the Lindy Hop, a forgotten language of the far better days of their youth.

And they were dancing to music that we were playing.

We looked at each other and grinned at the absurdity of it all.
These people had never heard of The Roxy or soundchecks or opening slots.
They didn’t give a fuck who got a Palladium gig, or burned with jealousy when one of their friends landed a major label deal.

They were in a bar, a band was playing and they were dancing.

We brought the number home and he dipped her down low for a finish, and then placed a rare kiss on her cheek. The rest of the room clapped.

Then he came up to us, put a five in an empty pint glass and we were a bar band.

 



to be continued

 

 

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?”

Dammit.
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.”

Showtime!

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.

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:


You got that?  You know it’s VERY IMPORTANT BECAUSE IT IS TYPED IN ALL CAPS!
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.

 

FotoBlog: boston/NY/CT

5am touchdown, Logan International.

I fumble with my wristwatch to jump 3 hours into the future as we wait curbside for the Rental Car Shuttle to arrive.
It is dark. It is cold.

We’ve done this route before, the thought being we can save a few measly bucks & the early morning airport rush by taking that slutty stepsister of modern flight: The Red Eye.

But when the blast of cold air hits you (19 degrees?! Is there such a thing?) leaving the terminal you curse your former thrifty self.  And then the  unsmiling hotel clerk informs you the rooms will not be ready til 3pm, thank you very much.

Ah but this trip, to save us the usual humiliation of laying about the lobby like shattered refugees, we have the bright idea to use trendy  Air BnB to see if we can salvage some of our dignity.

 

After rousing Anthony from his apneaed slumber, we make our way downtown for lunch at McGreevy’s with our pals Brian and Irene from SF:

A quick walk down Newbury street to visit the usual spots, and the sun is already surrendering to the icy dark.    We report to the Middle East and meet up with our mates in F.U.’s and Silver Screams.

The show goes off well, a surprising amount of hardy locals braving the chill to cheer us on.

It is a rare treat to sleep in without the maids pounding on the door at 10 am, and we lounge about in pajamas sipping coffee before getting back in the minivan and heading South.

The Fall colors do not disappoint, and we stop at charming little towns along the way for the multiple urination stops befitting our age.

One little town square looks so artificially quaint I half expect the giant hand of a 10 year old girl to swoop down and grab us out of her play set.

No such luck.

 

We arrive in Brooklyn and check into the next AirBnB, following the owners’ specific instructions on where to park, where to go, and with whom not to make eye contact.  It’s fine, and get this, parking is free out on the rat infested streets of Bushwick!

With plenty of time to slum around, we head over to  Williamsburg to see what the crazy kids are up to these days.

I am threatened with bodily harm for snapping a pic of a trendoid Supreme pop up store; they apparently do not need the publicity to sell their 75 dollar Hanes Tee shirts.

 

We wander down Grand til we find a bar with a decent bathroom, and are soon shamed into ordering outrageously priced craft cocktails.

We have surrendered completely to the hipster neighborhood now, all scarves and V necks and we sip at spiced hot ciders served in miniature pounded copper spittoons.

We must leave this strange place before  our hair climbs unbeckoned into tidy buns atop our heads.

Showtime at Goldsounds Bushwick, and the joint is packed.  We have the treat of playing with our brothers in The Krays , who in turn bring up Davey Gunner to rip out Kraut’s Unemployed!

It is just great, once again to catch up with all our NY pals.  We’re out at a decent 1am, but the night is not over yet.

Nick has spent the day with neck craned, spying the skyscrapers of Manhattan from a distance.

Nick admits he has never done the goofy loop of Mid Town, so we load up the van and head to Times Square and become the gawking tourists we were meant to be!

 

 

 

Sunday comes to us way too early but this is matinee day-back up the 95 to New Haven CT and our beloved Cafe 9.

On our way out of Brooklyn we stumble across  the diner used in  Good Fellas and proceed to have a hearty breakfast while coughing up lines from the classic.  The waitress rolls her eyes and sighs, as apparently we are not the first clever boys to geek out thus:

We knew we were never going to come back from Florida alive.

The shine box, it was got.

We get to New Haven in time to catch Damn Broads setting up for the matinee set.  The rip through the afternoon as do The Ratz  before we get and do the thing one more time.

 

There maybe 30 people in the room, that’s counting the bartenders, other band members and the 2 guys fixing the walk in freezer.

It is of no concern, though, as these people have sacrificed a fine Sunday of couch and football to come meet us.  We do it once again:

This room always leaves us smiling, a rare and warm little cove, and we get off stage and hang with the locals as long as possible.

Loaded up and back on the road, we have a quick stop at JFK to drop off Ant and Nick as they have foolishly agreed to work Monday morning.

Kimm and I, however, have other plans of the bovine variety in mind:

We sit there at 11pm Sunday night, chewing thoughtfully at hunks of cow, charred and basted of butter.
It is a momentary and shocking lack of movement, to be sitting here amid the butcher block and surly waiters, chairs being stacked as we are among the last of the diners.

It seems we have come to the end of another one of these brief adventures.

We stab toward the windows looking out at the city with stocky steaknives, as we tell each other stories we both know by heart.
We can’t help but reminisce on this city and what it has meant to us.

Dessert comes with coffee, then we push chairs back in submission.

Woozy from too much red meat and tired – finally, admittedly, tired –  we allow ourselves to act our age and look forward to sleep and home.

Put ’em up

….the crack in your heart let the light turn black, hope all turn to gloom
What will load each empty chamber?  Which caliber of doom?

 

Not sure what constitutes the family dinner table these days.

Perhaps you can get them all together in the same room for a meal, all gluten-free and  vegan approved, doled out by Blue Apron or UberEats.    We open the right app on a screen and are rewarded with nutrition, reduced to lab rats pushing the correct button after all.

Conversation is now replaced by the swipe and click of a half-dozen personal screens, each member of the tribe on a different episode of Stranger Thingsahem!

We were lucky enough to enjoy the last vestiges of the nightly hearth back in the 1970’s, modeled after the Bradys in their rancho deluxo tract home:  Dad at one side of table, mom at the other and grandma, Obaasan, hovering over us all.

We all somehow had a sense that the end of innocence was coming very soon, but for a brief golden moment each weekday evening, we could relax with our family as a whole.  Milk shooting out of nostrils upon punchline, curse words tested in front of the parents, inside jokes amongst brothers and sisters: living in a big family, this is the stuff you remember.

Now someone tips his chair backwards completely.
Mash potatoes splatter, undetectable upon the asbestos moonscape of the ceiling.
The Doctor would put down knife and fork and wipe his mouth.  He’d look around the table, bewildered by the savages he can barely still recognize, and ask, “What’s so funny?”

 

The modern day campfire, that’s where you learn the personal history of your family.   Dad’s earliest days on the frozen streets of Philly,  Grandma coming over from Hawaii to cook food for Ojiisan’s shady Yakuza-adjacent cronies.

And of course around that table is where we first heard the stories of the Internment Camps  of WWII.

Mom and her brothers being forced from home, bringing only what they could carry.  Grandpa burying his precious ceremonial swords to keep the hovering Oakies from grabbing them as they would ransack the house-a home!– that would be vacant tomorrow.
They would live along the pungent paddocks of Santa Anita before being shipped away.   Mom would tell of her adolescent years in a prison camp, the camp dances and boys, and it sounded almost quaint.

But  I recall that inexpressible rage.   It was history, but not in the History books.

That would come back to the surface when we first got into a recording studio for the track  Manzanar.

The connection between inspiration and the memories absorbed by your DNA, well, it’s about the best you can hope for when you get to the lyrics.   You hear those stories, that familial poetry often enough, and it becomes the very myth of your life.

A tale that has been left half written, awaiting you to come up with the ending.

Jerome Relocation Camp, Arkansas

 

We’d been working steadily on the songs the last month.  We had a pretty good handle on which ones would be recorded, which ones we’d let go.

In the strange transatlantic process we were now comfortable with, we would track each session and Dropbox the batch over to producer Jay.  He would peruse with his morning mug of Kaffee in Hanover as we slumbered through the  Pacific Standard witching hours.   He’d email his notes (Cheesy.  Cut in half.  The Producer will allow it-once!) and then we’d repeat the process.

Everyone had their own homework on the tasks that lay ahead.  Kimm gets to work on guitar parts, Nick comes in with new beats each session, whittling the parts into songs.   Anthony washes his DOA shirt in preparation for bass tracking day.

So now it was time for me start naming these new pets, baptizing some of the tracks with silly working titles, while others seemed to have the words jumping forth from the very subliminal code of their beat and key.

In the past I would have the songs complete, and report to recording Day One with notebooks of hilariously self important lyrics written down to the pompous semicolon.
Nowadays? Eh.
Let the songs tell us what they wanna be called, wot?

Still, gotta stay ahead of things.  You search your battered matter for inspiration, jot down a grip of song titles in the middle of the night that will appear absolutely stupid in the morning light.   
I drive around aimlessly blasting the rehearsal tracks over Bluetooth, screaming inane phrases into a digital recorder, hoping something might stick.

We had that one strange off tempo song, all minor key and empty space.  The stepping off point was of course London Calling, the rhythmic strike of guitar, the spare line of lead mirroring the Simononesque bass hook of the victim.

On the television, our new leader continued his frenzied hate rallies, as if he was unaware the election was over–and he won!

The chants of Build a Wall, of Put her in Jail!, well.

 

 

What we had here, apparently, was leadership built of bumper stickers.
The national discourse now reduced to slogans embroidered on red baseball caps.

Fuck you.  No, Fuck you.

There is always that racist undercurrent to anything this guy says, and you get the sense that it is just a matter of time before he starts yelling Nigger! or Chink! to his frothing masses.  I am reminded of the spark, the inner twinge of pain that brought forth Manzanar and how, sadly, that bitter ember is stoked again.
I am back at the dinner table, listening to those stories of injustice. Acts of hate disguised as patriotism.

Fighting words, hurled like buckets of feces from both sides of a wall that is threatened  to grow ever larger.
And so we boil it down to its schoolyard essence, Put ‘Em Up.

 

 

 

Water & Time

….she pointed at her heart then she pointed my way   
She shook her head no, that was all she had to say….

January, and we gather on rainy nights and–would ya believe?-even Saturday afternoons!– to sift through the riffs (and raff) that have collected the past few years.

Now we are into that messy business of assembling parts into songs: throwing out the stuff that simply doesn’t come into form, coaxing out structures from disjointed bits.

I imagine an exhausted working mom coming home and staring into the fridge, wondering what sort of meal she can throw together from the chilled ingredients staring back at her.

 

It’s harsh business at times, you bring in a part that sounded just huge when you were playing it on the couch last night, but once you play it for the lads it is met with a shrug and meh.
You’ve brought the latest finger painted masterpiece home, but this one will not be hung on the refrigerator.

So you throw it out and move to something else, try to get a grip on how that can become a song.

 

 

There was one sketch that Jay sent me that kept coming back in each session.
4 derivatives of a D chord, played on the beat 1-3-5-7 simple and pure.
But what the hell we gonna do with that?

 

We hauled it out each time and stumbled along until giving up and throwing it back on the pile til next session.

But it only takes a small reflection to get a handle on a song, a different perspective.
A glimpse that reveals that thing, like a print or sculpture viewed from a side alcove of the gallery instead of from straight on: Ah.

The riff of course echoed Clash City Rockers, so we set about to basically rip that off, down to the very break (yeah yeah!) in verse two.
We call it homage, not plagiarism, by the way.

We’ve found that if you start with a song in mind, you’ve got a nice jumping off point, but it ends up somewhere else indeed.
Most people have this strange Déjà vu tingle when they listen to it, but they can’t quite place it, unless some asshole comes right out and explains the trick.

Oops.

So now we have a handle on what we’re gonna do, time to start putting the parts together on chart.
Of course we can’t read music, silly–much less write it!

So we jot down notes, making up names as we go along, anything to jog the battered memories for the next time we tackle the song in progress.

We come across a series of descending chords and a brief intellectual discussion on the actual musical term ensues:

What is that, what ya call it, a glissando? Opposite of crescendo?
Nah man, that’s a modulation redux! Look it up….
What? Get the fuck outta here, that’s what’s know as retardāre.
You’re the Retard!
No you are…!

Sigh.

We settle on calling it a dogleg, for lack of any better term, and move on.

 

 

 

 
When you write a new song, you can’t help but compare yourself to that 19 year old kid that so effortlessly made up a song that somehow connected way back when.

You come to the realization.  You are not going to write like that kid, you are not going to sound like him. 
There has been a lifetime of pain and boredom, a novel of hilarity and small index of triumphs. 

So better or worse, we are on the other side of that divide: can’t call it wisdom, pray it’s not cynicism, but we have become separated from the idealistic kids in the garage, and can only wave to them from other side.

 

Remember the Punks

We hit the ground San Antonio and try to remember the last time through this nutty town 82? 83? Never?

Kimm and I talk about crazy nights in Texas and correct each other:  em, no that was El Paso, had to be….no, no-  It was Austin, the girl with one leg…

We continue talking as if we have been here before, but our gray matter has been rinsed and squeezed one too many times to recall.

Punk bands in the “Veteran Class”--ahem, they tend to hold a few key items as badges of honor.
How many years since the first record released, how many shows still per year.
And most important, how many original members ya got?

That’s a tough one, as very few bands are able to count off on more than an index finger and thumb, some even less.

In our own case it’s always been me and Kimm sure, but we’ve been through an army of good lads who have contributed to past campaigns.
But that’s the very nature of this thing, isn’t it?

You almost dare each other, how many days are you willing to take off work, how many vacation days will you give to a sketchy tour in lieu of a trip-finally!– to see her folks back in Des Moines.

And so every year we ask each other if we are ready to map out yet another year out there, the triumphs and humiliations, the hours of boredom interrupted by the jewel-like minutes of sheer joy, playing your music on a stage with friends.

 

Lazy tourists
And so it was a kick to the gut a couple years ago, when our dear Alfie decided to sit out the upcoming year. There were grandkids to think of now, a new interest in hoppy craft beers, Halloween decorations that took four months of planning.

We said our reluctant farewells and set off to find new drummers as we had done a dozen times before, but this felt much different.   Alf had been longer than any other chap in the CH3 trenches.

He had seen us from the garage dicks of the 90’s, just cranking the amps and drinking the beer for our own amusement, to bringing it all back to a touring act once again.  The wild memories we shared, the inside jokes that could bring tears to our eyes with a single word.

But Alf needed some time off and we wished him well.

And so it was a real treat to have a weekend out in San Antonio with the Spider crew who have somehow persuaded Alf to get back up on the stage once again.

We  check into rooms that we have the ridiculous luxury of being in 2 nights in a row!

Can’t remember the last time we were not chased out at noon by the cleaning ladies, and set about making the room into a home:

 

 

Playoff baseball on the road
Then its over to Korova for the Remember the Punks  pre-party Friday night,.

A few last minute venue changes have the bands confused and wary, and we wonder if this is going to be one of those weekends, a disastrous failure we’ve become all too familiar with over the years.

But promoter Angel handles it all in stride, getting us settled and directing traffic.  He never seems fazed all weekend, god bless him, as I can see his phone constantly vibrating like a pocketful of angry wasps.  The booking agents demanding to know what the deal is, the bands asking for their pay up front.

He and his crew handle it all with unflappable charm, and the weekend turns out a success.

We are there in plenty of time to see Spider play, and they do indeed rock it all out, Alf’s familiar ferocious drumming a perfect complement to the guys, Hector’s wild man front man gymnastics out front.

 

.….you’ll break yer leg, kid!
It’s our turn to get up there and do the stuff, and the set goes over well, some gray heads in the crowd nodding to the songs of their youth, some liberty spikes bouncing along as well.

 

Feel free to crop this yourself
It’s not long before Alf and Anthony are hanging off each other and arm punching like the 2 knuckleheads they are, and KImm and I are sure this will either turn to fisticuffs or homoerotic wrestling as it has so many times in the past.

Luckily, its been a long day for the Spider crew as they are in the midst of a week out on the road and they retire to bed.

We are left to scour the deserted San Antonio streets for melted cheese, and-finally-sleep.

Saturday:

On the advice of the locals we report to Pete’s Tako House for their flour tortilla masterpieces.

Legitimate.

We get back to the fest  in time for our late afternoon set, and play to a moist club.  It feels just right, playing these songs, many over three decades old, to a crowd packed into a sauna mid day.

It’s like we are back on that first swing through TX, what? 1982?!

Sweat pours onto guitar necks, salt blinds our vision, and we wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

 

 

Then it’s catch up time yet again, chattting the day into night with the lads from JFA and DayGlo Abortions, the sparkling Adicts crew and Starving Wolves.

 

 

With Khepi Ghoulie

 

These festivals have become such a nice convention of familiar faces, and we prod each other with stories of decades past, gigs in weird places, funny stories of terrible people we’ve all known.

 

We have a bit of time to kill before sundown, so we grab the crew and do that most touristy of San Antonio things and hit the Riverwalk!

It is like the Jungle Cruise at Disney,  but the wild animals are in the boat, and the guns are real–ammIright, people?   yee haw!

It’s back on dry land for the headliners now, and Adicts and Fear do a perfect job of capping the day.

 

FEAR!

It’s been hot as hell, confusing and loud, but ain’t that what it’s supposed to be?

We sneak to the lounge next door to see the fading hopes of a LA-NY World Series drift away, and are soon joined by the rest of the Spider crew, come to rest their weary feet.

After the Yankees finally surrender their post season to Houston I catch up to Alfie again, and he grabs me around the neck and smooches me a good one on the cheek.

“Ya know,” he shouts into my ear hole, “I love ya guys, love ya!

It’s just grand to see Alf out on the road again, and though we have the bittersweet perspective of having to watch each other from the audience now, it’s worth it just to be out here in America with the nut one more time.

 

 

“Love ya,” he says yet again, as he has been drinking since their noon set.
“Ya know, I was a fan before I joined the band , and I’m a fan again.”

And I take that back with me, through the night and all the way home, one of those  little moments in time that keep us going.

The Model Citizen

All day long we hear him cry, he says that he was framed….

 

 

 

 

When we start a new project it’s like staring at a blank wall, paintbrush in hand.

You can’t quite believe you are going to end up-some time, somewhere-with a fully painted upstairs.  But you gotta start somewhere.

Jay had been on me for  five years at least.  Sending tapes in the mail, actual cassettes recorded in his home in Hanover, Germany.    Then reluctant concessions to the binary technologies, emailed wav files of song snippets.

C’mon man, he would message in the middle of the night.  You guys need a new record—you hear anything here?

Kimm would show up to practice with a riff or two.  I kept the usual journal full of lyrics and song titles, scribbled down in those odd moments of inspiration that strike in traffic jams or upon awaking from feverish dreams.

But somehow, it just never seemed like the right time to lay down a new album.
Truthfully, you  ask yourself, why?

If our most notable achievement has been to just continue playing, well, you can’t really blame the people who come to see us for wanting to hear those songs.

Oh, you know.  That first EP,  Fear of Life, that’s the stuff we are known for.

And you have to be goddamn grateful that you can travel around and have a handful of people know some songs you wrote alone in your bedroom, a whole lifetime removed from the creaky old guy who’s onstage tonight.
The set list inevitably reflects that:  We hit em 1-2-3!, Fear of Life, Catholic Boy, Manzanar–boom.

You see a 50-year-old man in the crowd come alive, see this former 16-year-old kid somehow awaken by the gleam in his eye.   He hands his beer to his frowning wife and pulls up his pants by the belt loops before jumping headlong into the pit.  He shows the kids how to open this goddamned thing up! and he’s singing along with the lyrics I have honestly forgotten and mumble, winging it.  The song ends and he raises his arms triumphantly, lets out a whoo! towards the ceiling.  He looks expectantly to the stage for the next song:

Got a Gun?  Maybe fuckin’ Separate Peace! Love that one!

Now, this one here, here comes a new one, I’ll say,  just recorded last year……,and the light goes out.

He tucks his shirt back in and grabs his beer, swallows it down and guides the wife outside for a smoke.

You’ve lost the momentum started by 35-year-old songs and the people catch their breath, make their way to the bar for a refill.  Or – worst of all-peer down, faces illuminated by the tell-tale glow of cellular phone and check their Facebook messages while you stumble through a new one.

Yeah, every veteran band knows this routine.   Do you stick to the safety of the crowd favorites, or feed the creative soul and throw out some new stuff?

Some artists refuse to play the songs the crowd loves *cough* Paul Weller *cough*  for fear of living in that past, no matter how glorious.

In Bob Mould’s awesome The Descent:

I didn’t want to play the song
That gave people so much hope
I turned my back and turned away
Here’s the rope that made me choke

But earlier this year, finally, it was back to work.

We had an unusually rainy winter, perfect for getting together on the weekends and woodshedding some ideas.    And then you have fuckin Mike Love as Commander -in -Chief  now, so some of that teen indignation is resurrected, embers from yesterday’s campfire brought back to glowing red by the breeze.

Jay set a hard date-Superbowl Sunday!- to come out and start pre-production, so we started working backwards.  Set a recording date,  brought out all the tapes and notes.

And began.

 

 

The CH3 Eye on TV: Rick and Morty

vietnamg1-posterfinaljpg-e1505839848171 (1)

I switched off the Vizio and sat there a moment in the quiet.

I’d just been filled with 18 hours of heartbreaking imagery, stories from people still shattered by a world’s shameful actions.  I looked down at the dog, and she looked back at me but would not come close for a scratch:  probably pissed that she, too, had to endure those horrific images painted by an inferior breed.

That was some necessary Television, once again reminding us of the very power that the glowing screen can have.
But later that night sleep is impossible, and I whisper for Alexa to play Straight to Hell  for the eighth time in a row before giving up and switching on the tube once again.

Let’s tune into SportsCenter, see what’s going on in the good ‘ol NFL for some lighthearted fare, shall we?

 

 

 

Whaaaaat?
And then it seems Dear Leader has taken to the airwaves yet again, like a drunken Uncle commandeering a Thanksgiving table with his vast repertoire of racist knock-knock jokes, and turned our mindless escapism into a political shitstorm–Nice!

I’m in need of some comfort food from the Cathode Ray at this point.
What I wouldn’t give just to see Lucy stomping grapes or Gilligan getting bonked on the head with a coconut, yeh?

Gilligan-Gets-Bugged-gilligans-island-29860835-802-616
This week: Walt and Jesse cook up a new batch

Television has changed to the point we can’t even call it TV any more.

We are now all isolated in our own video bubble, with personal playlists backing up the DVR, Netflix series watched in narcotic marathon sittings.
The next episode starts in 10,9,8–o shit.
Well, maybe just one more episode, just one more hour of life surrendered to the couch.
Might as well order up some fucking Papa Johns and give up the last of the dignity.

We haven’t watched a commercial at normal speed in four years, and suffer the anxiety of being left far behind if we’re not careful, ashamed we haven’t even watched a single episode of Game of Thrones.  

Gone are the days of reporting to the den on the hour for a shared evening of family entertainment.  Just try to make your daughter sit down and finally watch Caddyshack with you as it is rerun yet again on TBS. 

….so I’ve got the going for me, which…Hey! Where’d you go?

It’s not 25 minutes into it, you cracking  each golden quote aloud in sync with Carl the Groundskeeper, before you turn to get a reaction and find you are alone on the couch.  She has silently escaped upstairs to catch up with her beloved Housewives on Bravo on Demand.

I get it.
It’s a real commitment of time and effort to take on a new show with all this content, but there’s something you need in your life, one golden corner of actual cable that is punk rock in animated form:

rick-and-morty

Awwww yeah!   Rick and Morty, son!

We finally have the anti hero we need in these dire times.

Forget about Tony Soprano and Walter White, the central characters with Character, who you gotta root for regardless of their horrors.

It’s an animated show, sure.  And the late night time slot on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim may have you writing the show off as just another crudely drawn yuckfest for the dabs and Jack in the Box crew.  But it is a lot more.

Rick and his goofy grandson Morty have taken us along on a magical journey all right, though a lot of the realities we visit seem to have a lot to do with fart jokes

But Rick Sanchez does Not. Give. A. Fuck.

While we think we need the answers to the daily problems that seem to be cursing us all, the racial strife, the world disorder brought down on us by dotard maniacs, Rick has bigger fish to fry.

Rick stands guard over the very construct we call reality, and is probably the only thing that keeps us from being absorbed by some grasshopper corporation or slipping  into a dual reality where people have butts for faces, but what ya gonna do?

Rick stands on the very ledge of the existential void, has seen and done it all.

And it apparently is not pretty.  He stays drunk most of the time, not wanting to ponder the meaninglessness of each reality, the horrors of every plane of existence that he visits or creates.

He is GG Allin with portal gun.  Take a shit on the floor, indeed! 

Besides, Rick has that hair favored by so many of your more mature punk rock stars. Hell, put him in a Propaghandi tee and cargo shorts and he’s ready to rock the RiotFest yo!

Each episode finds some nugget to melt your mind, and will have you feeling along the drywall as you walk the hallways, lest you fall through a portal to woogy oogy land or some goddamned Cronenbergian nightmare.

 

We are dealing with the very fabric of time and space here, but that doesn’t keep R&M from also dealing with very Earthbound issues like family dynamics and haunting regrets.

And fart jokes. So many fart jokes.

….everyone’s got one, but how is it made?

Can it really be time for the Season 3 finale already?  Oooo weee!

But what will we do without Rick’s bitter lessons, how will we get through the madness of this absurd existence without his reluctant leadership?
Are we left alone to make sense of a war fought for so little that costs us so much? Can we really be this close to global destruction again, the fates of innocent youth in the hands of egomaniac imbeciles?

Perhaps it is Morty who put it all in perspective for us, finally, with this heartbreaking speech to Summer from Season one.

I’m better than your brother. I’m a version of your brother you can trust when he says “Don’t run.” Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.

And with that, I turn off the box and finally sleep.