Brick Wahl is a former punk rock drummer turned ex-jazz critic and now just a writer, but then who isn’t. He did a seven year run as a popular columnist at the LA Weekly. A resident of Los Angeles since 1980, he’s lived in Silver Lake since before it was hip. Literary accomplishments include getting drunk with Quincy Jones, getting beaten up by a dozen cops, and being married forever, though not all at the same time.
Bands never break up anymore. Eventually every band ever will still be around. Their fans will bring their grandchildren to see them, and they will all sing the same old songs together until the band members wither and die and tribute bands replace them, playing all the songs exactly like on the album. That way rock’n’roll will never die, and people can stay young forever, even when they’re dead.
Back in 1978 I was hanging out with my pals Mike Oran and Ian Hill at KCSB, the UC Santa Barbara radio station. Jose Rizo–twenty years now with KKJZ–was program manager then, already doing the Jazz on the Latin Side thing. He took a little convincing (Beat on the brat with a baseball bat…what’s that about?) but let the guys have their show. Mike and Ian’s was maybe the first all punk/new wave college radio show on the West Coast, maybe in the whole country. It went beyond hip, this stuff was all so new, so edgy, so crazy and so unbelievably fun. Anyone lucky enough to be around then remembers that feeling. A revolution. Everyday something new, something different, something you had never imagined before. What a perfect age to be 21, the old world crumbling all around you and this new crazy music everywhere. It’s all we talked about, listened to, thought about, cared about. So being there in that little radio booth at KCSB was like being at the epicenter. I’d bring in records and they spun them. Stuff I liked, I bought, and now it was being played and you could hear it all up and down the south coast and out to sea, provided you were up past 2 am on a Sunday morning. Most people in Santa Barbara weren’t. But the right ones were. People who listened to punk and no wave stayed up all night anyway. Sunshine was for hippies, and we hated hippies.
Can’t remember where I’d bought the Tuxedomoon 12″. But the song No Tears was a knock out, a mind blower. My friends played the tune–I think I even back announced it later–and as it was jamming the phone lit up. A lady wanted to know what was playing. They handed the phone to me. I told her it was No Tears by Tuxedomoon, that they were from San Francisco. She said she loved it. We talked a minute. No idea about what. She sounded cute and wild. Then we said goodbye and hung up. I wondered who she was. It must have been four in the morning. No tears for the creatures of the night Tuxedomoon sang. No tears.
That was the first time I ever spoke to my wife. We met a year later. I’d kicked her boyfriend out–I didn’t know it was his place, actually, not that it mattered–and was pretty much living there. I brought along some records. We listened to the records and partied and talked a million miles a minute. I put on No Tears. I love song that song she said. I heard it on the radio. I called and asked who it was and some guy told me it was Tuxedomoon….
Someone said it was fate.
Been struggling with a couple new things, neither of which is yet fit to be seen, and since one is supposed to blog daily (I think that’s the idea) here’s an oldie I’ve cleaned up and annotated with this nice wordy preface. I’m not so crazy about the title I came up with when I first converted this into a blog post a year or so ago, but oh well. The piece (minus a paragraph or two) was taken from a Brick’s Pick’s column in the LA Weekly circa 2008. Alas, the thing never made it to print since my umpteenth editor was canned before he or she (they all blur together after a while) got a chance to look at it. I suppose this is the first time it’s appeared in public. It must have been a slow week in the clubs…when things were slow or shitty in the listings I’d wind up with all kinds of space to fill with pretty writing. I sure filled it here. Couldn’t get me to shut up, waxing deep and heavy and meaningful. I remember this party–though not why we threw it, as if it mattered–and I remember this kid. An artist and a horn player, trumpet, I think. Or cornet. The party was our usual handpicked boho wacko mix, and with the economy having sinkhole’d beneath our feet only weeks before there was a helluva lot of imbibing of booze–always a bad idea, hard alcohol, though watching grown men swill port from the pricey bottle was entertaining–and all the musicians seem to be suffering from aches and pains and depression and hangnails and were medicated accordingly, and had the cards to prove it. Somewhere between the gentle beers and the hard stuff the conversation below took place, and being the sober guy in the pad I remembered it. The next night I condensed it into this column, always one of my favorites, tho’ none of you ever saw it.
The kid was an artist, a painter, and consumed with all the passion and absurdity of his age. We were all talking, who knows what, and something was spinning behind us, the tenor breaking though the chatter and booze and smoke. The painter kid froze. We all kept talking. He didn’t move. Just some freak at a freaky bash, standing there and staring at sound. That’s Pharaoh Sanders, he said. He was right. He’d been taking it in, communing or reverberating or something quasi-mystical. Someone tried to talk to him. He absently waved him away. That tenor was roaring now, crazy whipsnake ups and downs on the horn. Listen to Pharaoh, the kid says, he’s speaking. We shut up and listened. The kid was right.
OK, he was crazy young. Kids get so overwrought sometimes, so into this stuff. Music becomes everything. Creativity is like oxygen in an anaerobic world. Breathe it deep, man. Suck on it like a big phat joint. Let the notes get into you blood, into your brain, into your soul. Forget all about your lousy job, or not having a job, or whatever’s really getting you down all the time, and ruining your life. Let a jazz musician make you realize that nothing matters but expression. Oh, those crazy kids.
Still, though, it’s not a bad way to approach things and music and life. Even if we’re older, more jaded, more realistic, less exciting. Yeah, yeah, yeah we have responsibilities and families to support; there’s gods to pray to, people to vote for, ruts to follow. But that feeling, like the painter kid there seized with stoned, inebriated focus that sucked him right into the core of Pharaoh’s mad playing….we all need to do that sometimes. The more miserable the vibe out there the more we need that jolt . The pure electricity of suddenly getting it and knowing what the player means. Hearing his message. Letting a solo talk to us, and speaking its language, if only for a few minutes in some dark, half empty club. Like Charles Owens this Sunday at Charlie O’s….blowing his smart soulful madness through some spontaneous suite that surrenders to the most lovely, devoted Trane, or out to lunch Eric Dolphy, a very down dirty blues, and electrifying Eddie Harris. Just sitting there stage side, and nursing a Jamesons and letting his groove turn your atoms inside out. Listen hard enough and it hits you….you get it! You really do. You can’t even explain it to anyone, let alone to Charles Owens when after the gig you sputter a man that was soooooooo cool and he nods and smiles. He knows. It got him too. Hell, he was playing it.
But you can get that vibe anywhere this week, not just Owens. Hell, at Charlie O’s there’s Rickey Woodard on Friday and Azar on Saturday, and that’s pretty nuts.
And you just won’t believe what you just saw, heard, and felt. But you know it got to you, grabbed you by your insides and shook you to your rattling bones, so you walk out of the club that night feeling different. Renewed. Blessed. So maybe it’s not like doing some deer in the headlights frozen trip at a party, freaking people out a bit with your intensity….you can’t get away with that past your twenties, I mean Jesus…. But you can still get so moved by some cat’s playing that your life just got better just by experiencing the right music at the right time.
Try it yourself. The music is in the clubs, playing. Go listen to it.
Staring at sound. I saw Gerald Wilson do just that a couple nights ago, staring right into the bell of a screaming tenor sax. Kamasi Washington was blowing like a freaking hurricane, just roaring, and Gerald stood maybe two feet in front of him, letting that crazy dangerous torrent of notes wash right over him. He watched and counted time almost invisibly, nodding ever so slightly for another chorus, and another, and another. Kamasi was loud, a big huge room filling sound, and Gerald, 95 years old, never flinched. I was sitting a few feet away, with a profile view of the scene and wishing so bad just then that I was a photographer and not a writer because I could see the picture, still can, and if I had taken that picture I’d stick it right here and cut out a thousand words. But all I have is that image burned into my brain, as perfect a jazz image as I’ve ever seen. And one I’m not likely to see again, not so close, not so perfectly framed. Gerald comes from a different time.
My bro Jon’s over at the pad now, listening to the test pressing of his new record. It’s an EP, five songs, on some very nice vinyl. Calls it The Angst Blues of Jon Wahl & the Amadans. I think it’s the best he’s ever done. Certainly knocked me out. Magnificent stuff, state of the art, lots of improv but never just a rock band fucking around. It’s a three piece recorded like a classic Blue Note session (with a bit of overdubbed guitar). That’s Jon’s long time drummer Bob Lee (of Claw Hammer) and Bill Tutton (of the legendary Geraldine Fibbers) on bass. Loud beautiful edgy swinging rocking strange righteous grooving walloping stuff. And dig that crazy Telecaster. Jon’s still a killer songwriter as well as player, with an ear for melody but never simpering powerpop shit or hokey rock’n’roll will never die crap. Not my brother. Can’t wait till it comes out.
And if that is a Nick Drake cover–“Pink Moon”–Nick Drake would never recognize it. He’d probably love it, though. And Jon swears that the intro to “Her Eyes Are Like Perhaps a Gem” is Beethoven’s string quartet Grosse Fugue, Opus 133. I couldn’t tell. But he says people do, live. People are so smart anymore. I did pick up on the Moby Grape licks, though. But then I turned him onto that album a zillion years ago. Older brothers, you know. But I didn’t know that “Her Eyes Are Like Perhaps a Gem” is an e e cummings reference. Little brothers are so smart anymore.
Anyway, this will be coming out on Elastic Records and will be vinyl only and the initial run is 500 copies so when it hits the stores the middle of March be there. You are gonna play this one to death.
This was the song going through my head over and over when I first met my wife. She was tough too, so tough. Scary tough. Scared the hell out of most guys. We went at it tooth and nail, everything, just wild. That was 1979. Damn, man, going on 36 years ago. She’s still tough, too. And everytime I hear this song, I think of her, and us, and back then. And everytime I think of us, even now, I hear this song. Poor Willie DeVille’s gone, though, fucking cancer…….but I wish I could have told him what I just told all of you.
“She’s so Tough”
(from the magnificent Mink Deville debut album, 1977)
And there’s one more, this one also for the November 11, 1979 show:
Looking at the handwriting, it appears this was made by several very stoned people. I can recognize Al Poe’s, Edwin’s, Chuck’s, Ron E’s…I doubt people recognize handwriting anymore. And I just noticed that George called his band the Livewires on this one, as opposed to the Lives Ones that appeared on the other flyer….must have been a last minute name change, Livewires to Live Ones, easy to do when you only had only practiced once or twice, barely, and had only just started playing your instruments.* Those were the days. It was expected. We liked it raw. It seemed more real that way, less plastic, less what the seventies had turned into. George eventually became a solid and inspired guitar player, a natural, but these flyers take me back to that first gig. And yeah, the flyer’s not pretty but that “Create Your Own Future” line they found somewhere and pasted on onto the edge is perfect, as that was what it was all about. We did, too. Didn’t realize it at the time, but we were, inventing it as we went along, having a blast, never ever giving in. I think maybe George never ever gave in a little more than most.
Anyway, here’s to our Al Poe aka George Davison who was such a blast to be around but damn if he didn’t break our hearts in the end. You just can’t trust anybody. RIP, George, or maybe raise hell in peace, whichever groove moves you. Just don’t be normal, and never ever grow up.
Brick & Fyl……
* Actually, when you think about it a far more likely explanation is that George had nothing to do with this flyer and Ron E just got the band name wrong….
Wow…I made one New Year’s resolution, which was not to make fun of dead people. I’ve been doing that lately. Not real dead people, but iconic ones. People get all dippy when a famous person dies and before you know it another Facebook saint is canonized. Even people who absolutely despised them in life find wonderful things to say about them post-mortem. Drives me nuts. If you hated somebody while they breathed, why love them once they’ve stopped? Anyway, to get back to my story, I saw some weirdness by Beach Boys fans on Facebook this morning. Now I like the Beach Boys well enough….like some of their stuff, but I hate some of their stuff too because it’s truly awful, which by definition makes me not a Beach Boys fan, who like everything they ever did, even Student Demonstration Time, and who see nothing unusual about spending your adult life in a sandbox also utilized by the cat. I see a piano in a litterbox and I think something’s wrong. Not so the Beach Boys fan. In fact the only thing that gets them riled up is a picture of Mike Love. It certainly did this morning. He was pouring champagne and wishing them all a Happy New Year. Bad mistake. They hated him. Really hated the guy. I had no idea anybody could hate Mike Love or hate anything Beach Boy. Hate seems like such a strong word for such a slight topic. And when one of the angry fans called him the original Abominable Snowman I was completely bewildered. Abominable Snowman? A Beach Boy? One was from the Himalayas, the other Hawthorne. One is covered with hair and the other wears a bald guy hat. How does that make sense? But it all made sense to the Beach Boys fans. Some kind of in-concept, that I was not in enough to understand. It was weird and cult-like and creepy. A harmless kind of creepy, maybe, but still creepy. So, of course, I had to go and write a nasty comment, all about how strange and disturbing Beach Boy fans are. It was uncalled for, I admit. But irresistible. I’m weak, I gave in, got very literary and sarcastic. And now perhaps a few Beach Boy fans are listening to Pet Sounds and feeling self-conscious as they get all moon eyed humming God Only Knows. Maybe I dampened the innocence of staring at the album cover and thinking wouldn’t it be nice if they were feeding one of the goats too with Brian and Dennis and Carl and Al and Mike Love (who isn’t actually feeding the goats, which is why goats as well as Beach Boys fans hate him). Subtextually, of course, I was actually making fun of the iconic Brian Wilson…if you make fun of Beach Boys fans you are making fun of the Beach Boys and by default making fun of Brian Wilson. Who isn’t dead, I know, but might as well be. Which is how New Year’s resolutions go right out the window.