I remember back in the 80’s hearing Donna Summer sound check for an hour while we were walking around the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee. We stopped to watch for a while and she was alone on stage listening to the backing track on headphones. Love to love you baby, she sang. She looked lovely and moved to the beat we couldn’t hear, quite oblivious to the small crowd collecting to watch the disco superstar. Love to love you baby she sang over and over. It was monotonous but she had a very nice voice. Then she began with the moaning and groaning and gasping and sighing. She was doing the extended long play version. No music was audible, just Donna Summer moaning and groaning and gasping and sighing over and over and over. It got embarrassing and we left to find a beer and you could hear her moans and groans and gasps and sighs halfway across the fairgrounds. Probably the loudest extended orgasm ever heard in Milwaukee. Teens were giggling. Mothers whisked their children away. Finally we settled down with beers and brats near a polka band and the way loud tuba drowned out Donna’s paroxyms of pleasure. I remember sitting through Beer Barrel Polka. I hate Beer Barrel Polka. It ended and the accordion player told a long joke in Polish. People laughed and Donna Summer had another orgasm.
We’d been at an all nite rock’n’roll party in a double wide outside Perris, way back in the hills, with dirt roads and recent rain and lots of mud. Car was filthy by the time we were back on the 215. We smelled Norco coming up–a lot of cows in Norco–and needed gas so we pulled off and filled up. The guy at the counter asked if I wanted a car wash with the gas. I’d never seen a drive-thru car wash in a gas station before so I said sure, the best. So after filling up, we made a tight turn and pulled into a miniature car wash tucked behind the station. All was silent for a moment, almost eerie, then whoosh, fwoom, clank, spritz, splash, and the car began moving through a tunnel with psychedelic suds and giant pummeling brushes and scrubbers and blowers and more psychedelic suds and more pummeling scrubbers and flopping squeegee windshield mop things and more colors–a lot of green and blue with streaks of pink and yellow–and more blowing till finally we emerged at the other end awash in air and the windshield alive with rinse water droplets trying to escape evaporation and we were back in the sunlight, gleaming. The car wash turned itself off behind us. All was silence.
Damn, missed a spot.
So we did it again, the whooshing and fwooming and clanking, the spritzing and splashing and the washes of psychedelic suds, the giant pummeling brushes and scrubbers and blowers and more psychedelic suds and more pummeling scrubbers and flopping squeegee windshield things and the greens and blues and pinks and yellows and more blowing and the droplets trying to escape evaporation. Then we were back in the sunlight again, and gleaming, and all was silence, all except Jimi Hendrix, who we’d cranked on halfway through, busily chopping down a mountain with the edge of his hand.
A few years later I was at work checking out the new site design. It was wild–colors and sounds and motion and music and was really cool. Overwhelming even. This virtual reality was a trip. I loved it. Afterward we were asked what we thought of it. I struggled for a comparison. Then it hit me. Virtual reality, I wrote, is like a drive thru car wash in Norco.
Which is another reason why I never made a million bucks in the Internet industry.
The 5 Star Jazz Band with Elvis impersonator Ben Johnson will be playing Coleman Hawkins Park in St. Joseph, Missouri this July 31. Coleman Hawkins, who I confess to idolizing somewhat, was born in St. Joseph a very long time ago. Someday I will visit the town just to go the park. But not this year. However, if you are in St Joseph this July 31, please let me know if the Elvis impersonator is actually performing with the jazz band, as the announcement on the Google News page was unclear.
Incidentally, this was the one of the four news items Google nicely suggested for me. Hillary Clinton discussing terrorism, Ann Coulter disparaging Jews, ISIS destroying Libya and an Elvis impersonator in Coleman Hawkins Park.
This didn’t happen before the internet.
But this happened before the internet–Coleman Hawkins with Sonny Rollins. Paul Bley on piano too.
Back in the eighties we used to live on the route of the L.A. Marathon. Our place was on Edgecliffe just a couple doors up from Sunset Blvd. Perhaps you partied there. We threw one every weekend. We were very popular with the neighbors and it occurs to me that if the me now lived next to the me then, I would hate my younger self. Anyway, there used to be an empty lot at the corner of Sunset and Lucile, a block away, just perfect for a band. They gave away water and donuts too, but apparently runners like live music with their water and donuts. On the morning of the Marathon the band–high school kids, I assumed–would start warming up at 6 in the morning. We of course had gotten to sleep at 4 am after a night of punk rock and wantonness. You would be surprised at just how loud an electric bass can be playing top forty hits at six in the morning. And how it can turn you against runners, not to mention bass players. “What is Hip” they played three times, making it so very hard to go back to sleep. So I got up, made a pot of brutal coffee and staggered down to Sunset Blvd and joined the crowd of fools on the sidewalk staring at a completely empty Sunset Blvd. Eventually a guy from Kenya ran by. People cheered, which the band took that as a cue and played “What is Hip”. A few minutes later another guy from Kenya ran by. Then a guy from Ethiopia, a couple women from Kenya, and a cop on a bicycle. Finally scattered Angelenos appeared, then more, then a flood. The band ran through the entire high school band songbook. There was a Beatles tune I can’t remember. A Beach Boys tune I’ve repressed. Some Bee Gees (“How Deep Is Your Love?”), some Blood, Sweat and Tears, and “Vehicle” by whoever. By then there were hundreds and hundreds of runners. The band did “What is Hip?” again, but it was “25 or 6 to 4” that sent me back up the hill to our place again. I shut the door, shut the windows and put on something loud. By the time I was ready to face the daylight again the Marathon was long gone and Sunset was full of cars and buses exhaling great clouds of blue smoke. I breathed in deeply, coughed, and all was right again.
I haven’t been to Dodger Stadium since the early 70’s, and think that might have been the only time. My wife has never been there. We live only a couple hills over too, for decades now, and while these days the local urban forest blocks most of the view, the fireworks resonate incredibly here, echoing off the walls. Much louder in the back yard–sometimes with a distinctly metallic ring–than out front. Like a distant bombardment. It’s said that during the Great War, when the wind was blowing just so, you could hear the sounds of massed guns in Flanders across the Channel, and people would stand atop the white cliffs of Dover and wonder about their sons. I thought of that, oddly enough, when the Bee Gees played Dodger Stadium a decade ago and the atmospherics were such that there was an immense disco bass throb in the neighborhood. It was so loud I assumed there was a helluva rave going on down the street. We stood out of the sundeck in the warm night air and listened. When the cheers washed over us and I remembered the Bee Gees were at Dodger Stadium. The bass throb started up again as they encored, but I couldn’t make out the tune. Could have been Stayin’ Alive, could have been anything. I hate the Bee Gees my wife said. Yeah, I said, but the acoustics are cool. She shrugged and went inside. The bass throb ended and the cheering washed over us again, distant but immense. Fifty thousand voices condensed into a faraway roar. It was the strangest thing, this disembodied mass of human sound. I thought of the guns again, wafting on a cross channel breeze. After a few minutes the cheering ebbed and all was silent once more. For a big city, L.A. can have moments of near silence, and you can pretend you’re a million miles from anywhere.
Saw literally thousands of fireworks last night, 100% illegal. It was like an artillery bombardment that went on for hours for as far as you could see. Enormous roman candles kept exploding right over our heads. You had to yell to be heard. Even the car alarms seemed to give up. LA’s eastside is magic and anarchy on the 4th of July, and from a height it is hellishly, crazily beautiful, a vision, and you can sit and watch it for hours. It one of this town’s most extraordinary spectacles, and one almost completely unknown to the rest of the world, and even to the rest of the city. First time viewers are always flabbergasted. The whole sky is blown to smithereens. I don’t think there is an official fireworks extravaganza anywhere that matches the backyard pyrotechnics of Los Angeles. This is a remarkably well behaved city, with a crime rate about fiftieth among American cities, yet once a year it goes utterly mad, turning the skyline into art and children into scofflaws and police into mute observers. Independence day means independence day.