(2012 mostly but abandoned; found buried in my drafts and cleaned up in 2018)
Had the Animals’ We Gotta Get Out of This Place running through my head lately (which is a major improvement on Margaritaville). I’ve always loved the Animals but don’t have anything by them, not one record. Considering that Eric Burdon might be my favorite English singer ever, that makes no sense at all. Oh well. But Youtube has the song in spades. I could never figure out why people put up tunes that are already up a hundred times already but then most people don’t make any sense at all either.
The point is that I found out there are two versions of We Gotta Get Out of This Place, an American and an English version. Somehow the American was the wrong take. That was the version that we heard on the radio throughout the vinyl years here in the States. I think it’s on their Animal Tracks LP, too, and the greatest hits everyone stateside used to have. Then came CDs, and MGM made dead sure that it was the correct English version that got on all future CD releases. English band, English version, everything’s logical again. (Well almost, it was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and originally intended for the Righteous Brothers, but wound up in England instead.)
Watch my Daddy in bed a dyin’, Eric tells us in the first verse, see his hair been turning grey. He’s been workin’ and slavin’ his life away. Newcastle was a beat up, used up city by the time the Animals came together, as the Empire fell it fell too, coal pits closing, ship yards shutting down, ancient factories empty. London was far away. When the band played the blues you get the feeling it felt them for real, not like art school kids but the more like way they felt the blues in the tough bars in Chicago. Maybe the South side and Newcastle weren’t that far apart in a lot of ways, poor, cold, scuffling for money. Ignored. That is certainly the sound in Eric Burdon’s voice. It’s almost like he’s channeling some long dead singer in Chicago, someone struck down in a knife fight, maybe, or died, lingering, of consumption. The windows let in a sticky breeze. I can almost smell those TB sheets.
So with all those We Gotta Get Out of This Places to pick from, I selected one that was taken directly off a seven inch. You can tell because the guy picks up the single, shows it to us, both sides, and pulls the record from the sleeve and puts in on the turntable. The magic of digital cameras. He whisks the tone arm into position and then drops the needle into the grooves with perfect timing and the song begins on a bass note. Dum-da-dum-da-da-da-da Dum-da-dum-da-da-da-da Ting! then there’s a beat and another ting! and the drummer shifts the stick a couple inches back from the edge of the ride for the next ting!, less resonant, fainter, higher pitched and in comes Eric, over three more tings, In this gritty ol’ part of the city, where the sun refuse to shine…. and he owns you, he does, he’s got you, you’re listening. People are telling him there ain’t no use in trying, and there’s the rhyme, the shine, tryin’, dyin’, and it’s all downhill from there but listen to the edge in his vocal here. The anger. The girl, doomed, the Daddy, dying, his hair turning gray, working and slaving his life away. Eric knows. Working and working, work, work, the band chants, it’s a road gang work song, all rhythm, work, work work and suddenly Alan Price carries them into the chorus, we gotta get out of this place if it’s the last thing we ever do….. Entire pubfulls of voices ring that out when the jukebox spins it, girl there’s a better life for me and you. Not that they believe there is. You look in the mirror back of the bar as you sing and doubt that there’s anything better at all. Just this. This is it.
Watch my daddy in bed a-dying, Eric demands again in the second verse, his voice now cracking with pent up rage, watch his hair been turning grey. He been working and slaving his life away. He then slips out of the melody to say–not sing–yeah I know he been working too hard, a bit of jazz phrasing that startles, almost dissonant, then back into the melody again, you know I been working too babe, the band pushing behind him, I been working so hard….and then from the deepest depths of everything that was Eric Burdon in 1965 emenates this Chicago blues banshee wail utterly untranscribable, a sound the likes of which I’m sure had never been heard on a rock’n’roll record before then, and it roars above the band for several extraordinary seconds and must have scared the bejesus out of everybody.
The song finishes up in a catchy afterthought. Girl, there’s a better place for me and you, Eric sings. I found a live version from some goofy pop music show, the band dead serious performing a dead serious song, and as the second verse builds to its cataclysmic finale the idiot director gives us a close up shot of the guitar player. Eric’s bloodcurdling howl is unseen by everyone except the mash potatoing kids. I never found another televised version that did the American take. But no matter, by next year everyone was dropping acid and loving everyone and a primal scream would have just bummed a thousand trips. Heaven’s above, it’s a street called Love, Eric explained, when will they ever learn? Though I like that song too, and Sky Pilot, and Monterey, and his psychedelic freak out River Deep, Mountain High too. But none contain that bone chilling howl heard on the American release of We Gotta Get Out of This Place. I guess they’d finally gotten out of that place after all.
The last time I took a bath was in this beautiful Victorian tub with cast iron feet in a fabulous apartment in the Castro. Later that night we were out of our minds on psychedelics as beautiful boys in leather copulated madly all around. Rushes of color, swirls of sound. We woke up in a vast bed to the sounds of the streets coming through an open window. We dressed, she shimmered. Everything shimmered. Everything vibrated. Touches had colors. She took my hand and we took a long walk though the city streets, smoking a furtive joint and looking, just looking. What a beautiful analog world it was then. Words came and disappeared unrecorded and unworried about. As last we piled into the car and took the long ride down the 101 back to Santa Barbara, punk rock screaming from the cassette player. It was an unusual courtship, ours.
Went to the Desert Rose tonite to see saxophonist John Altman with the Mark Z Stevens Trio (Mark on drums, Chris Conner on bass and Jon Mayer on piano.) Alto Kim Richmond sat in for a stretch, always a joy, and the superb Mike Lang sat in for a pair of tunes on piano at the beginning of the second set, playing beautifully as always. While Lang played, Jon paced the room like a mountain lion smelling blood. He wanted to be back up there. After his second tune Mike Lang returned to the bar as the crowd applauded warmly. Jon sat down at the bench, an evil gleam in his eye, like it’s the 1930’s and it’s a cutting contest and it’s his turn now. Altman counts down and Jon went instantly mad on the piano, crazy comping, big fat angry chords with all kinds of Monkish space in between, and when it was his turn to solo he did so with a vengeance, grabbing the melody with both hands and whirling it into submission…building and building, each run more intense and impressive than the one before, beautiful figures and shards of melody and turning the old chestnut–damn I can’t remember the tune right now, but you’ve heard it before–turning it into something stunning, muscular, and intensely creative, just absolutely fearless improvisation. When he resolved it and dropped back into the head the crowd burst into loud, sustained applause, the kid behind me whooping like it was a rock concert. What an absolute treasure this cat is. Learned his art in NYC in the crucible of the fifties, brilliance and self destruction going hand in hand. He dropped out for a couple decades, wound up in L.A. No one here plays like Jon Mayer, and yet somehow he remains in the shadows. No one said jazz was fair.
John Altman is back at the Desert Rose (on Hillhurst at Prospect) wth the same stellar trio (the house trio, in fact) next Saturday. And if the crowd is lucky someone will sit in on the piano for a couple tunes, and then Jon will explode with pure creativity again. The purest.
Everyone I know complains about the changes in the city. Part of it is, of course, that we are all getting up in years. People our age said the same thing when we were in our twenties, and we laughed at them. Like they laugh at us now.
And when we moved in the opposite was happening, neighborhoods were going to hell. Gentrification is just a sign of cities in flux. When I moved to LA the city was going to hell. Hence punk rockers like me could afford to move into neighborhoods where once movies stars lived. Bohemia thrived. Now the movie stars are moving back. I remember watching the Wilshire corridor go from middle class to drive bys in a decade. Change can come brutally fast in a city, and there is barely anything that can be done to stop it.
Apparently Jimi does not live today. Even amid all that feedback and rollicking rolling drums, he does not live today. He knows for sure, he says. Well, actually he doesn’t. Not anymore. Not in a long time. But I know, wasting my time existing, that there ain’t no Jimi nowhere. Feedback, cataclysmic drums, handclaps and chanting and fade. Damn, man.
So last nite I flipped on the TV and it was the BAFTA Awards so I watched a while, searching the crowd, looking for John Altman, who was there with the Queen or the surviving Beatles or the Prime Minister or some Sri Lankan cricketers or somebody, he always is. I thought I kept seeing him but there was always a mustache or beard. After watching a series of Englishmen hand out awards to people from Hollywood, I gave up and switched on The Producers. The original, funny one. John Altman wasn’t in that either, but he could have been. Some guys are like that. And some guys take their wives to Philippe’s on Valentine’s Day, which isn’t quite the same,but it was less crowded than the BAFTA awards, and I imagine the parking was easier. Plus we got to keep the beer glasses, which was almost like getting an award.
The only Awards ceremony I can ever remember attending were the Grammy’s, but not those Grammy’s, the famous ones, but the Jazz Grammy’s, which is kind of like going to the Academy Awards, but not those Academy Awards, but the Educational Film Academy Awards. The first one was the best, it was at the Biltmore and was dull but the Indians were throwing a victory bash across the hall for the proposition that let them build casinos up the wazoo and you have never seen such perks. Food in vast piles. Drinks to the brim with good whiskey. I followed the TV crews–they always know where the free grub and booze is–and soon most of the other reporters were there too (you can always make up shit in your review, no one will know the difference) and then half the players. They’d get their grammy, thank Bill Cosby (who wasn’t even supposed to be on stage half the time) and then hightail over to the Indians to celebrate, since the Grammy’s were so cheap with the drinks. I came back in time to see an unfortunate scene involving a world famous and infinitely patient jazz player not getting the treatment he deserved, and wondering if some famous people drink too much. It pissed me off so bad I split for Mr T’s Bowl in Highland Park to watch Joe Baiza.
I think I went to another Jazz Grammy or two, but they’d moved them to the Nokia, a venue I hate, actually. There’s something profoundly wrong about the place. I can’t put my finger on it, but I can step in it. The mainstage was room was packed with people, none of whom I had ever seen at any jazz event anywhere, and whose notion of jazz I suspect was somewhere between Kenny G and the Tijuana Brass. I had press perks, of course, and wandered up to the exalted Green Room several floors up, past several lines of bouncers. Drinks were free. The buffet was pathetic. The crowd was show biz–they are everywhere in this town–and there were booths with curtains and plush pillows reserved for jazz royalty, there really being such a thing. Herbie et al. They looked like movie stars which, considering the state of jazz, verged on surreal. There were gorgeous dames everywhere, leggy, decked out, bejeweled, eyes aglow. Scarcely anybody I recognized from the scene, though. Clubs laid empty, yet the jazz grammy’s were like a small but overcrowded and vaguely hip city. Bored to tears I wanted to split. The grammy press rep caught me and introduced me to other grammy press reps. I politely broke away to head back to the mainstage to see Chalie Haden get his lifetime achievement award. The crowd was too busy yammering away to notice. Somebody gave Charlie Haden a quick introduction and handed him an award. He began to thank people, but thirty seconds into his brief remarks a couple suits come out and bum rush him off the stage. The curtain opens and some shitty contemporary jazz band starts up a dance tune. The crowd cheered and danced. Charlie stood offstage, looking bewildered, angry, disgusted. At that moment my inchoate distaste for the grammys crystalized into pure hatred.
Back to last night, during a commercial break I switched back to the BAFTAs. How much respect those awardees were being given, by the crowd, the staff, the television cameras. Poor jazz, I thought. It can be the most amazing music, a room full of perfect improvisation, sheer beauty, delight, heartbreak…and it gets the bum’s rush every time.
Actually I do remember attending the LA Weekly Music Awards. I had no intention of being there but my editor insisted. We went. It was packed, but the crowd seemed hipper than the jazz grammy’s, and it wasn’t quite so bogus. I hung around till they gave the jazz award. I’d had inside information that it was to be a very hip player from Detroit. I dug the guy. They announced his name. Announced it again. Apparently he was a no-show. So they put the award aside and went on to the next category. But actually he wasn’t quite a no show. He was actually outside but the bouncers wouldn’t let him in. Your name is not on the list, they said. But I’m winning an award, he told them. I can’t do anything about that the door guy said, now please leave. So he left.
Funny how I’ve never been to a jazz awards ceremony that wasn’t fucked up.