Riding the Rails I

The 12:27 Blackpool North to Leeds.Train

We face backward, the scenery fading away from view.
As if we are rewinding an old 8 mm movie or falling back in time, reviewing our barely visible youth on the horizon.

Ant comes back from the bar car, cheese and onion sandwich and a Strongbow.  He tries to nudge Nick to let him back in the window seat, but Nicky just shifts in his nap and spreads out further.  Anthony shrugs at me and takes the empty row across the aisle.

Kimm taps on his keyboard to my right, Beanie is a few rows up, head visibly bobbing to whatever the earbuds feed his head.  I put on my own headphones now and Bluetooth the phone, shuffle songs by The Beautiful South.

I look behind to an empty row and tilt the seat back, a luxury I never claim on a plane.
I refuse to ever tilt the seat back a single degree in hilarious battle: a passive aggressive show of respect to my fellow man, a courtesy that is never rewarded back to me.
A 3 foot tall child inevitably gets the seat in front of me, his evil little legs unable to even reach the stained carpet.
As we reach cruising altitude, he proceeds to launch the seat back into my knees, the audible crunch of patella like a framed photograph destroyed beneath the boot of a jealous lover.

As the lilting strains of Bell Bottomed Tear come on, I slip on the Wayfarers.  Take a sip of Earl Grey and watch the  hills moving away from me.  Their green is deepened by the clouds above, an emerald carpet punctuated only by dots of sheep.

Fuck, I love a train ride.

And the stations.
In this day where banks are reduced to storefront ATM cages and churches pop up in abandoned industrial tilt ups, you can count on the train station still catching your eye on the horizon.
A spire or clock still standing defiant amidst the cranes that seem to infest every city, like a congregation of giant robot mantises just waiting to bend down for another bite.

Still lovely on the outside in granite and gilt, guarded by patinated gargoyles or saints.
And though usually garish inside with the tattoo of modern commerce, you can just squint past the Subway and Boots signage and see its stately history.

The small stations in the countryside, outposts of connection placed among outrageous green. 
Here, a pause in the journey, a garbled announcement on the PA system reads off a list of towns undecipherable. 
We stand, sit, and stand again, ask each other if this is where we transfer.  We put the guitars back in the racks and sit back down, only to repeat this comedy routine at the next stop.

Perhaps the best part of train travel is the absence of airport torture.
The lack of the TSA queue–or any of the overbearing corralling of the airport- makes us feel like we are finally grown ups, held accountable for our own scheduling.
Third graders finally allowed to walk to school by themselves.

The split-flap board scrolls yet again, and you gather up bags and rush toward your track with a delicious tinge of espionage.

Find the proper car class and simply get on,  grab a seat.
See? You did it all by yourself.

Who’s a big boy? You are!

Helsinki
Central Station Helsinki

Doors hiss shut and there is that exquisite moment of lag between pause and motion.
You move away, slowly, the high ceilings of the station finally surrendering to the gray skies above.

You can’t help but be reminded of black and white cinematic images, the bellowing steam giving way to a couple kissing farewell.
Pearls and overcoats, a final look back before handing a porter her bag.
There is a wave through an open window, and then distance between the two lovers.
Each now considering their new lives without the other.

Bourdained

We’re in the Pho joint right next to Til Two Club in San Diego a few months back.
Pho King….. get it?

It’s a good place, noodles with just enough surface tension, a bone broth deep in flavor with just that faint waft of urine that lets you know the place is legit.

I look up from my slurping and notice a little Vietnamese boy watching me intently.
I look away, but when I look back he’s still staring. I shrug to his Mom.

“He thinks that’s you,” she says.
She points with her chopsticks at the TV montior hanging above our heads.
I look up and there he is, Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown or maybe a rerun of No Reservations.

The kid looks up at the TV where Bourdain is also hovering over an Asian noodle dish, then down at me, and back to the TV again. He laughs.

Got Bourdained, we’ve grown to calling it.
Without fail, on our travels here and there, I inevitably get the double take and then it’s Hey, anyone ever tell you, you look just like….

I come back to the United lounge and sit down with the fellas.
“Got Bourdained again,” I tell Kimm. “That’s three for the day.”

I don’t see it.
I mean, am I really that grey of head?
I’ve always seen myself as more of the Wayne Newton doppelganger, or maybe an Osmond brother with gigantism.

But man, they keep coming up to me to point out the resemblance.
One chap actually cornered me at the back of the plane while we floated a mile above Duluth.
“Hey man, don’t want to bother you, but just wanted to say I love all your stuff!”

I am immediately inflated, thinking, ah, you meet CH3 fans in the strangest places! Now where is a pen for me to sign an autograph and make this mortal’s day special?

But then he takes a closer look and his face falls in disappointment.
“Ah, sorry about that, you’re not him are you? Anyone ever tell you ya look just like….”

What I’ve come to understand is people really love-loved- Anthony Bourdain.
It’s made me appreciate at least I don’t look like Mike Pence for fuck sake.

And for some reason they feel the need to tell me how much they enjoy the shows, can only dream of his lifestyle.
Man, if I could only live like that! I wish!

Now we learn of his farewell, and it hits you like a sock to the gut.
It makes you wonder at the blackest of holes that can lurk deep inside us all.
What deep despair pulls at a soul, no matter if they are lounging on a tropical beach with a Michelin rated chef or sucking cock for rock in the alley?

But besides this tragedy, and the show we will miss– that food, the smarmy commentary! —I think this hurts so hard because we all felt Bourdain was one of our own:
A punk.

My fave episodes of his shows are when he hung out with musicians.
I think he understood just how connected bands are to food and travel, the twin comforts and demons to any touring band.

There he is, in the city with David Johansen, cruising the backstreets of Helsinki with Sami Yaffa.
And when he sat down with Iggy, you could just feel the adoration Anthony had for the man and the music.

But my very favorite show was when he went to Montana and sat with fuckin Jim Harrison for a meal and a chat.
The grizzled lion of letters, croaking out his poetry in a cloud of American Spirits.
Anthony Bourdain sat, rapt and respectful, and I could only hope I could hold my own half as well in the presence of a hero.

And, damn.
Both gone?

In Kitchen Confidential he was open and honest about the drug use and fuckups, as well as his love of truly good music.
It made him that more relatable to our tribe.

The line cooks with their own demons, listening to the Dolls while blanching the Brussels Sprouts.
Smoking in the back alley before dinner crush, comparing their Cocksparrer tattoos blemished by yet another 2nd degree burn by a molten saute pan handle.

Punk rockers connecting the dots with food, rejecting corporate fast food to search the back alleys for a memorable meal after soundcheck.
Trying to capture the essence of a city by its food, where in the past it may have been a more lethal gluttony.
Now: Ingestion, not injection.

And when we saw him sitting down to noodles with Barack Obama, the graceful world leader meeting junkie punk, we could only feel it as somehow a triumph for all of us in the tribe.

On Damian Abraham’s excellent Turned Out a Punk  podcast he shows a respectful and deep history with the New York scene. No celebrity poseur with the 10 grand Crass leather jacket here.
The guy knew the food , the music, the places.

But now another one gone.
This tragic news we consume with resignation, seems like nearly every week.

I never met the guy, no connection at all.
I’m just a fan, just like the people that feel the need to come up to me and point out the resemblance.
They take a moment out of their day to tell me about their connection to Anthony Bourdain, and I can see their love for him even though they are disappointed they did not get to meet the man.

Sometimes, I tell them, “Hell, tell your friends you did, though, right?”

And they think about that for a moment and then nod their heads in agreement.
And they walk away, happy.

‘Tones and Gears and Flag……oh my!

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As surely as the Swallows return to San Juan Capistrano each year, as inevitable as the spike in domestic violence and gambling-related suicides on Superbowl Sunday, we await each June for the annual return of prodigal son Jay Lansford.

After the Summer Solstice stretches the day long, we find ourselves squinting into the Western sky—-not for a flock of lice ridden birds, ready to shit a new coat of guano on the mission bells, no.
We wait for Sir Jay to touch down upon the blazing tarmac of LAX, bringing back with him the wiry guitar leads and sensible hair products that have been missing, lo, these past 12 months!

OC Slam, 2010
OC Slam, 2010

Alex's Bar 2012
Alex’s Bar 2012

When we released Jay from his CH3 contract, what? almost 25 years ago?—to live among the storied beerhalls of Hanover, it was under the strict condition that he return at least once a year.

Yes, God forbid he forget the taste of proper Chile Rellenos or lose his Southern California dude drawl completely to his adopted Teutonic crew.

Besides, creatures of habit and ritual are we, and it’s a grand thing to have this annual party to kickoff the Summer in proper fashion with The Simpletones!!

Beer and Sausages...bet ya don't have this stuff in Hanover, eh?
Beer and Sausages…bet ya don’t have this stuff in Germany, eh?

The night starts off in the usual fashion:
Icy schooners of Busch and salty fatty specials at Joe Jost’s down the street.
Between bites and burps we go over a tentative set list for the night:

Shall we play True West? Waiting for the Sun?

We shall!

Open with Lord o the Thighs?
Sadly no….not this time.

We are giddy with the possibilities of the 3 guitar attack as we skip back to our beloved Alex’s in time to catch the White Flag fellas ripping it up:

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Has it been that long since we were last kicked out of Alex’s?

The place has been spruced up, a bit of the dusty bric-a-brac stripped from the walls–is that a flat screen?– and I’ll be goddamned if LuLu doesn’t hand me an honest-to-God drink menu when I finally sidle up to the bar…..!

The Jack Rocks comes not in the flimsy urine sample receptacle we’ve grown so fond of, but in an impressively weighted highball glass with craftsmen-select ice cubes…..
ándale!—so hi-tone, Mijo!

...Karl gives us the oooh-la-la after checking our drinks....
…Karl gives us the oooh-la-la after checking our drinks….

Heh.
The night is rolling now, and the knuckleheads have come out of the proverbial woodwork to get in on this blast!

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....take a goat and smile like a drink!
….take a goat and smile like a drink!

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With LA Artist Kiyoshi Nakazawa
With LA Artist Kiyoshi Nakazawa

It’s a rare treat to have The Gears onboard the show, and they get up there before the red velvet and absolutely destroy!

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Ah, a night at Alex’s:
With each band the floor gets stickier, the drinks sink faster and the drunks get louder.

And with the crowd warmed up for the main event, the ‘Tones take to stage and ring in the Summer, proper!

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The crowd knows these songs, of course, and it’s as if they’ve been waiting the whole year to shout the lyrics out at the top of their lungs.

I can only imagine the puzzled passerby out on Anaheim blvd as they pass the cacophonous roadhouse on this night:

Is it a religious revival?
Military boot camp?
Cultists Karaoke indoctrination?

You wouldn’t be far off with any answer, brother.

For on this night we are all Simpletones, joined in song, a collective organism taking place of dear departed Snickers…..!

The fellas cap off the night with Rock and Roll All Night, a fitting theme to this marathon of sloppy rawk….but the night isn’t over yet!
Yes, once again, yer old pals have to go up and bat cleanup.

We untangle guitar cords and try to get 3 guitars within a semblance of tune before the loopy crowd abandons us for Tacos Mexico or Roscoe’s………
Downbeat? 12:30 am!

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I glance to my left, mid-Indian Summer, taken by surprise for a moment by the twin guitar players hacking away.
It is then that I allow my gaze to fall down , and upon the sight: Naked and pale, Euro calves and thighs twitching beneath the klieglights—Gahhh!

Jay has broken CH3 Cardinal Rule 6: No shorts on stage!!

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...what's next?  Shower shoes and bathrobes?!
…what’s next? Shower shoes and bathrobes?!

Heh.
It’s no matter–I guess we can be thankful Jay didn’t show up in a Hasselhoff-esque Speedo, am I right?

I regain composure and we play the stuff–short hair and long! stopping only to address the hecklers and allow people to try on the suspiciously free skate shoes that have been sailing through the air all night….don’t ask!

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...take your time buddy.  Not like we have anything better to do up here.
…take your time buddy. Not like we have anything better to do up here.

It is great fun–surely much more so for us than the crowd watching our shameless goofing.
Brings back the memories of a hundred nights just like this, thick Summer nights, playing loud guitars and not so much singing as laughing out loud.

And mid song, we each look and catch each others’ eye, and we smile:

It’s us back together, and where we should be:
On a creaking stage littered with empty cans and shot glasses, wrangling the rumble of the 3 guitars into the same general direction.

Standing on a stage, in a room full of friends who graciously allow us to act like, if not kids, then grown men half our age.

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Thanks for additional photos: Martin Wong, Deborah Runions, and anyone else ripped off from Facebook.

The CH3 Year in Review: 2010

Has it really been 365 days already?

You know that old saw about how things just keep speeding up as you grow older?
Word.

Oh sure, we’ve had our laughs.
But for the most part a year is made up of the mundane, the daily rituals that mark off one more day on this rock in the middle of this crazy cosmos, baby!

I look back on the past year and the images fly by, like a vhs porn tape pinned on fast forward until the dopey dialogue stops and the good stuff begins.
So let’s forget about the pizza guys and the lonely housewives, and get right to the money shots!!

uh huh.....and guess what topping is on that pizza!

The year began slowly enough, with a leisurely jaunt out to Phoenix for the first show of the year.

Hollywood Alley, Mesa AZ

We like to start things off out of town, the better to try out the new dance moves and dye the hair while we shed that holiday weight.
The usual hilarity ensues—food, booze, and male nudity, a strangely common theme of 2010!

Gaaa.....my friggin eyes!!

Onto March and House of Blues with Bad Religion. As you can see in this photo, combined age of the 2 bands is roughly equal to that of the LaBrea tar pits.

Ben Gay and Cialis, the backstage drugs of choice these days!

April now, and time for the first proper road work of the year, Pittsburgh and Cleveland:

All is right at Primanti Bros.

The welcoming front entrance of Now That's Class....

Punk Rock Bowling moved to the supposedly warmer month of May this year.

Punk Rock gone legit? Bowling gone decadent? Help me out here, will ya?

Yes, I suppose the temps were a bit higher than the old January freeze outs of past, but the gale force winds kept things interesting on the outdoor stage!

June saw Mr. Lansford coming back for a visit, and a gathering of bands in a public park in Costa Mesa–the OC Slam!

Simpletones and Crowd, along with CH3 and a Stitch, surround Slam Den Mother July Cleaver...!

What a great day that was.
Drinking out of plastic cups, eatin carnival food, getting to see an actual reunion of the goddamn Simpletones!!
Alfie doin time with the 'Tones

A Sunday afternoon in the park....

Late July had us out on the road once more.

Honestly, I am exhausted trying to explain the logistics of this jaunt: The nasty litigation that ensued, the trail of broken restauranteurs we left in our wake, the wound to Kimm’s head.
You can read all about it here: 2010 Summer Tour

We wrapped things up on the East Coast and skipped across the Atlantic for the Rebellion Fest:

Autumn saw a quick trip out to Vegas, and the christening of the new Shakedown Bar in San Diego.
Again, the night is marked by shameless male nudity!

Revised cropping on the dicknose clown. Happy now, T ??

Which pretty much brings us up to the recent past, the gala Christmas show at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach!

The office party was business casual this year, a change from the usual formal soirée the company throws.

As we held the stage for one final time in 2010, we looked out and saw the faces of family and friends.

Yes, perhaps there were a few more lines in the faces of loved ones, and the hair up top thinning and gray.

But isn’t this what it’s all about, really? To travel this crazy journey together?

We’ve become older now, and yes–wiser too. We say goodbye to our raucous pasts and take our positions now as the gentle elders.
Perhaps the wild old Demons have finally been purged and we can all grow old with the quiet dignity we deserve!

Uh oh.....

Goddamn it.
This is whay we can’t have nice things!!

Happy new Year's kids!

San Diego II

As the 5 freeway makes one more long curving dip Southbound, say around San Clemente, the Pacific suddenly appears over your starboard shoulder.

I love that part of the drive, when you leave the numbing concrete of the suburbs and you finally see the landscape give way to the vast blue ocean. Even better when yer in the back of the ol Blue and White Chevy, cold Coors Banquet in hand, 999 casette playing distortionally full blast on the Blaupunkt. Loud as the music plays, it is still no competition to the roar of the crew: Duane’s braying laugh, Kimm and Larry arguing out a set list, Chris yelling at all the backseat drinkers to keep their beers down on the fuckin’ freeway. A chick is screaming from somewhere in the gear compartment, begging for a bathroom stop. We’re going to San Diego to play with Black Flag!

The Blue and White....Home on the Road

After the call from Kimm, I went back out to the Fmart parking lot where Richard was still glaring at the stray cart lodged up against the Datsun. I stepped around him and pulled it back, wiped off the black scuff mark with a spit moistened thumb. No Harm Done. “Heh. Sorry about that Richard. No more calls, got it.”

“Get back to work Magrann. You just lost your break.”
“Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that. What’s the chance of cutting out early tonight?”

He looked like I’d just asked to shit on his beard.

My work day-in fact my entire career in the food services industry- ended 90 seconds later with my vest and clip on tie draped over Richard’s fat head. As I waited for the blue and white to pick me up out on South Street, I looked back and saw Black Chuck walking out to the parking lot, his head hanging low, resigned to the task that was now his. Heh.

An hour 15 minutes later I was sipping that cold Coors Banquet and watching the sun being pulled into the blue sea, singing along to Titanic Reaction. And an hour after that we pulled into some rec center outside of downtown San Diego.

We're here!!!

The promoter was hopping around the parking lot, relieved we’d finally made it, yelling at the kids to throw away their beers and get inside the club. This was some last minute gig, and he thanked us for being able to make it down on such short notice—also, something about Black Flag trying out their new singer, some out of towner named Henry. Oh, and we were supposed to be onstage, like, now!

We loaded the gear in and up a flight of stairs, right onto a low stage facing a hardwood dance floor. We set up fast and tuned guitars with shaking hands, trying to look like we didn’t care in front of the SD punkers who didn’t know much about us. Maybe they heard the EP, but we looked a lot goofier than the record sounded-that’s true.

What the...? But they sound like they have mohawks!

You could smoke indoors back then, and the air was blue with Clove cigarette smoke. Kimm and I checked the stage volume, someone cut the Buzzcocks off the PA, and we turned to face the crowd. We kicked it off with Got a Gun.

Sometimes when you play a gig everyting goes wrong, and you remember that. Pants split on stage, someone kicks the mic right into your face and splits your lower lip in two. But truthfully, most of the time the shows are like the rest. You play the songs you’ve rehearsed a thousand times and you do the set on auto pilot for a bored crowd, then you pack it off the stage and look for a cold beer.

But sometimes, sometimes it all goes right.

On this night the crowd wanted to hear music, they wanted it, to connect their boredom and rage with loud guitars and drums. The guitars stayed in tune, Burton didn’t forget any countoffs, the pit grew with every song. Though the stage was low, the ceiling was maybe a standard 8 footer and covered with acoustic cottage cheese. With every windmill of my arm (because now we’re feeding off the boiling crowd and pulling off the rockstar moves that have been performed only for the bedroom mirror), I would hit my knuckles right up into the ceiling. With every song my knuckles grew bloodier, and the pickguard of the Rickenbacker was soon spider webbed in red.

We end the set, soaked in honest sweat and breathing hard. When we get the guitars back to the shared dressing room, Dez and Chuck actually come over and talk to us!

Understand- Maybe 13 months earlier, Kimm and I stood in the back of the Fleetwood and watched a Black Flag set.
It was a frightening and exhilarating thing to behold, and truthfully made us wonder if we had the sand to exist in this world.

Now, I’m standing there with Dez, and he’s shaking his head as he holds my bloodied hand in his.

Chuck and Kimm continued talking, a conversation that would lead to our first real tour of the Southwest. Henry Rollins came over and introduced himself, he seemed a little keyed up for the gig, one of his first with the band. He said he’d heard the EP and liked it.

Hey! Who's the new guy?

A loose and magical night. Later, when they went into Revenge, Henry tensed up those neck muscles like only he can, and screamed the words into the mic: It’s not my imagination, I’ve got a gun on my back! But the band didn’t kick in on cue, just turned to each other and laughed as Henry almost fell off the riser with the momentum unanswered. I don’t know…standing there on the side of the stage, we felt like we were in on the joke, musicians.

OKay-Again, Gun on my back!....Oh, c'mon guys!

We loaded out of the club early Sunday morning. Wet with sweat, gulping at the fresh air, dizzy with the promise of, well, anything! after a gig like that. The local punks were on our side, helped carry out the gear. One crusty even surrendered Burton’s cymbals that had been swiped and hidden in the pizza oven. Nights like this don’t come often to a young band, and I think even then we knew that.

The promoter was pleased and pledged more great gigs in the future.

He made good on his promise, but with the very next trip down to San Diego we fucked up everything.