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.
Another way hip bash at Chuck Manning’s pad in Altadena last nite….zillions of jazzers—players, fans, scenesters, stoners, hipsters, physicists, lushes, artists, crazy Russians, identical twins and no writers almost—hanging and listening and insulting and playing and smoking stogies out to yar. Tales of clubs and players gone by. So long Jim Szilagyi. So many stories, some maybe true even. So many more opinions, some maybe stupid even. They talk, you ponder and soon you’re in the stars overhead with no idea how you got there. People talked of Mars. People who knew. I listened. Sometimes you just listen. At other tables egos were dragged through the coals and kicked across the yard, you’d better be prepared to talk at some of these tables, and be funny. Tequila flowed by the bottle. The longer the minds steeped, the more intense the banter. Hanging with the serious players is a contact sport mentally and beautiful. Not for the gentle. This ain’t no cocktail party shit. The music was amazing…for a couple hour stretch early on the jamming was intense and heavy and Zoubovian, or it swung hard, and you couldn’t believe you heard jazz like that at a party in Altadena or anywhere, just sitting outside yammering with jamming like that inside.We’d shut up for a minute and listen. Wow. But inexorably as the nite wore on the talent was diluted as drunker amateurs got up the nerve and the session went belly up in bad noodling. The heavies were getting pissed and were all set to bounce their talentless asses out of the room Joe Jones style, throwing people out the door bodily….but Chuck interceded and the noodlers split, smiling, unaware of how close they came. Non-confrontational, that Chuck Manning. No big lug he. No wonder everybody loves him. Big lugs were present tho’, ready for action. It got down to Matt Gordy, Chris Conner, Theo Saunders and Chuck Manning, and it was perfect and real again, and we sat and listened and thought of Charlie O’s and wondered where it had all gone.
From a Brick’s Picks, 2010….one of the great things about writing for the LA Weekly is that they let me write whatever the hell I wanted. No one there knew anything about jazz so they couldn’t tell if I was telling the truth or not, and they knew less about hockey. (I remember a copy editor thought Stanley Cup was a guy.) And since I never actually went to the office almost no one knew who I was or even what I looked like–so that made me even more unapproachable. If I said I flew to Vancouver for the Eric Dolphy Parade and a hockey riot broke out, who was going to argue….
When we heard that the city of Vancouver planned to commemorate both Eric Dolphy’s birthday and the Canucks’ Stanley Cup championship with a bass clarinet parade we made plans to be there. The game was a hard fought massacre. After someone’s grandmother put the last goal into the Vancouver net the mood began to get ugly. We slipped outside to get a good spot for the parade. But the mood on the street was just as ugly, and getting uglier. Not an ideal jazz crowd. Around the corner you could hear several hundred bass clarinets either tuning up or playing one of Dolphy’s more outside pieces. The cacophony grew louder as the parade came up the street. In a remarkable display of civic counterpoint the crowd chanted Bruins Suck! Suddenly one of the musicians broke ranks and swinging his bass clarinet like a hockey stick broke half a dozen windows. The other musicians followed, hundreds of them, smashing windows with their bass clarinets and wreaking havoc. The crowd went nuts, breaking windows, chanting, burning, looting. Fistfights broke out everywhere. This was not the true jazz spirit. We fled back to the limo, made a beeline for the airport, and got to LA in time for the third set at Charlie O’s. Soothed by the hard bop and a couple whiskeys, we stole the waiter’s pen, grabbed a stack of cocktail napkins and wrote this column.
Just heard that Don Waller died.
I met him at a party at Greg Burk’s resplendent pad in Los Feliz. I was already pretty well known in LA jazz circles by then, but this was like a coming out party with the local critic literati for me. All these intellectuals and poets and writers and music critics. Burk–my editor at the LA Weekly–introduced me to Waller. He trapped me by the table with all the Australian red and proceeded to lecture me on Thelonious Monk for what must have been two hours. Every time I drained my glass he refilled it. Even if I hadn’t drained it he refilled it. Drink up, he said. He was a font of quotes, opinions, insight, advice and wine. Things quickly got blurry, then hazy, then disappeared altogether. A couple hours later the wife and I were outside on the sidewalk waiting for a cab–brilliant move that turned out to be, taking a cab so to not worry about parking–and I realized that I was the drunkest I had been in forever. I could barely stand. The earth beneath me reeled. The red wine hangover was savage. That was the one and only time I ever hung out with the great Don Waller. I remembered wondering if all critics were like that. Sadly, they are not.
Watched Woodstock last night on TCM. Hadn’t realized it’d been so long since I’d last seen it…I hadn’t even seen this Director’s cut yet. All those crazy 18 years old running through the mud are 65 now. Anyway, forgot how beautifully shot that flick was, amazed they pulled it off. You wonder what became of all the interviewees. And if everyone hawking their wares in the drug super market scene wound up in prison. If the Porto-San man’s kid got back from the DMZ ok. Or who wound up with Pete Townshend’s guitar. Just what that glop was the Hog Farm was feeding everybody? And whatever happened to those intricately beautiful hash pipes all the serious freaks seemed to have back then. It’s a long flick, endless, and you have time to wonder about these things. And about how everyone got home. And the psychedelics no one talks about anymore, like DMT, and how mesc was short for mescaline. And how fit everyone was back then. Trim and beautiful. I can’t imagine camera crews spending so much time on skinny dippers at a festival today. There’s a lot of beautifully shot scenes in the flick. There’s one night time scene and someone is on stage, a folkie, alone–maybe Joan Baez–and the shadows through behind on the stage are gorgeous and one of the camera men, no doubt stoned, focused on it for a luxurious several seconds, and it still fills my mind’s eye 24 hours later.
Amazing how different the mood is from Gimme Shelter–another extraordinary concert film–which was only four or five months later. Or from the Isle of Wight flick, less than a year later. Or from Monterey Pop, a mere two years before. Or from the contemporaneous Wattstax, which seemed a world away. And how vastly different it was from Jazz on a Summer’s Day, shot eleven years earlier, or The Decline of Western Civilization, ten years away. That’s a twenty year span, packed full of cultural revolution. Things seemed to move so fast then. They seem so slow now. If not slow, perhaps it’s just that the old never really goes away anymore. It always hangs around. Digitalization makes the dead seem completely alive. Long dead movie stars seem to walk and talk still. People love the Beatles like they never went away, or Miles Davis like he walks among us. Old releases are repackaged and released as if brand new. The long dead comment on new events–I just saw Kurt Cobain predicting Donald Trump; a lie, but that seemed not to matter–and we seem to live our lives shifting between eras as if we were there for all of them. But we weren’t. We only are where we are, and once were where we once were. And I can’t figure out it it’s good or bad that we can conceptually shift between eras like that–imagine how the tripping freaks at Woodstock would have loved the idea–but I do think the long dead should remain dead, the long broken up remain broken up, and we should live in the now, but that’s just me. I mean I love Hendrix and Coltrane and Monk and the Jefferson Airplane, but not they are still here. Meanwhile I’m watching hippies cavort half a century ago, and Jimi Hendrix frozen forever at 27 and the YouTube I’ve been listening to in the background flits through the jazz decades as if time itself was completely irrelevant. Time free like whatever that Albert Ayler thing just was, before this ancient Louis Armstrong thing or the brand new Ben Wendel thing I heard before. A hundred years of music randomly thrown together. Each video sets a mood, each brings out a feeling. Each make me feel like I am elsewhere, and this computer is a pad a paper and these letters my cramped, impenetrable scrawl that no one will ever see.
That fifth photo in the Melania GQ spread completely bewilders me. She’s in the jet’s cockpit, yes, but what the hell is she wearing? It looks like something she copped from Isaac Hayes’ wardrobe. Wattstax. Though I don’t think Donald was there. The headgear, though, I saw in Flash Gordon. No, Flesh Gordon. That was it.
Who was running that photo session, Ed Wood?
Hello green thing, my old friend. I’ve come to munch on you again.
For a dystopian planet overwhelmed with maybe fifty billion people, the world of Soylent Green is remarkably free of children. There are nearly none. Like the people had stopped fucking a decade or so before and now it was all adults. Which would take care of that population problem soon enough. Maybe soylent had been made out of babies. It’s left unresolved, abandoned somewhere behind Charlton Heston’s acting and Edward G. Robinson’s brilliant last performance. I think he was gone before the movie opened. Soylent green was Edward G. Mother of Mercy, is this the taste of Rico?
Leon Russell…I remember his moment of superstardom, maybe for a year or two, where he was all over the radio. There was a live record, mostly forgotten now, that sold a zillion copies and an endless, loose, all over the place Jumping Jack Flash, or was that from Mad Dogs and Englishmen? My early seventies is beginning to blur. His spell in the spotlight faded and he retreated back to the studio where he was quietly omnipresent, and his hits disappeared from the classic rock format (as did 90% of everything we used to hear on the FM in the free form days) and he became yet another forgotten superstar. Those were loose and wanton days, musically, a description my wife used once and I have never topped, and Leon Russell was as loose and wanton as it got, hippie Texas R&B rock and roll, piano driven, screaming back up singers, musicians and children and dogs and some of the best session cats in the business getting down, getting bad, getting fucked up. Leon does a lanky strut, picking bluesy hippie rock’n’roll notes from an electric guitar, a John Brown beard and John Brown eyes beneath prematurely gray locks tucked into a demented Uncle Sam chapeau. Then back on piano, and Leon is telling a story about his woman, a crazy Oklahoma hillbilly hepcat voice curling around the words, punctuating with piano, followed by the choir, the band poised, the crowd waiting, Jim Keltner (or Jim Gordon, or both) hinting on the high hat. Leon leaves it hanging. Seconds tick by in four. Rock’n’roll is in the air. We wait, audience, players, listeners, for the damn tune to resolve itself, it’s been endless. Leon lets us dangle, on a tight rope, waiting to see how he finishes this. It goes something like this here, he says, and out comes Jumping Jack Flash again on the piano, one two, one two three, one two three….