Penultimate Sunday at Cafe NELA

So for I don’t know how many hours all these very creative types—some musicians, a writer, a couple artists, maybe some others—had settled in around a beat up table in an assortment of abandoned chairs at the very bottom of the Cafe NELA patio. Either gravity or our careers had left us there because you couldn’t get any lower than that table. We sat there drinking and smoking and laughing way too loud, the jokes were terrible and the insults mean and the stories were always old and sometimes true. Far nicer people than us gave us a wide circle, like plump eating fish warily eyeing a circle of sharks. Sometimes one would foolishly come too close and be devoured, chomp, in a swirl of cackles and humiliation. It was all rather merciless and totally enjoyable and we sat there for hours laughing and basking in our asshole exceptionalism. We knew we were it. We knew it did not get any lower than us. More dumb jokes, each more offensive than the last. Some bass players have no pride at all. Eventually three grown men were doing Jackie Mason impressions at the same time, though not quite in harmony. I’d never heard three bad Jackie Mason impressions at the same time. Probably never will again. Pipes went round. Holy vodka in a water bottle, Batman. Even friends were abandoning us by now. The Jackie Mason was getting weird, the sculptress was getting dangerously out there. We were starting to peak on our own delicious high. This is what I’m gonna miss, my painter buddy said, this. You can see music anywhere, he said, but this…. He gestured it in water colors, I saw it in words. This, he said, this is the life.

Agent Orange

At an Agent Orange show in Milwaukee, of all places, maybe twenty years ago. It was cold as fuck for our Southern California blood. We’d known bass player Sam since his days playing some terrific bass for the Lexington Devils in the ‘80’s, and known Mike Palm forever. Crazy venue too. It was near downtown on an ancient block of low brick buildings from the 19th century. You stepped down some stairs which opened into a basement, three basements really, with big holes bashed through the walls separating them to give the illusion of three adjoining rooms. There was a bar in one, while in the middle room Agent Orange played and it was a ball, especially Mike’s guitar playing that wonderful blend of punk riffs and surf chops and that stinging tone matched to his ebullient stage presence, and seeing them out there was just like seeing them out here except for the freezing temps. The Milwaukee kids were beside themselves, bands we take for granted living here are something thrilling and longed for in the Midwest where they live for rock’n’roll. And while I love visiting Milwaukee—it’s Fyl’s hometown—seeing a Southern California summer band on a frigid Milwaukee night was discombobulating. But it was a good discombobulating. Having your expectations jarred loose once in a while lets you know you’re alive, otherwise everything turns grey.

Anyway this piece needs some tightening up, but later, later.

Inside a punk rock bar in Milwaukee. Photo, if I remember right, is by Mike Palm.

AC3

The AC3 at the Garage, I think, a zillion years ago. Allen A. Clark III was all of three years old here and already quite the drummer. His pop, Allen Clark Jr and mom Zebra (aka Zaida Clark, that’s her legs) formed the trio when AC started syncopating before he could walk, taking after his old man (once the driving beat of the Lazy Cowgirls) who is playing guitar here off to the right. You have to imagine it, as he’s not in the picture. I remember carefully composing this picture to get the perfect balance of child and gams, but I didn’t bother with Dad. After you’ve seen a guy leap stark naked into your drum kit there’s nothing much else to see. But that’s another story, deep in the blog somewhere. And little AC the tyke drummer is now huge AC the monster drummer, and mom and dad and son are rocknroll lunatics back in Indiana. And if that ain’t a wholesome tale I don’t know what is.

Publik Enema

Formed in 1977 on a chicken ranch in Nipomo CA and quickly banned just about everywhere between Frisco and El Lay, Publik Enema was the greatest first wave punk rock band you never heard of. I saw their very last show, at George’s on Lower State in Saint Babs in 1979 and had my 22 year old mind blown. Still have a piece of that see thru guitar Ronnie shattered on the concrete floor at the end of the set in a fit of beauty, punk, pique and punctuality. And dig the crazed punk rock solo he plays on that guitar at the 9:00 mark of the Publik Enema Movie. This long lost film was shot in ‘78, at a bar in Goleta CA they were banned from soon after and in front of a terrified music appreciation class at a junior college in Santa Maria. Those were the days.

Mike Watt

Terrific Mike Watt & the Missing Men set last night in MacArthur Park. For some reason their take on Little Johnny Jewel was my favorite this time but the whole damn thing was great. Perfect even. And I had never seen Bastidas! before. Great three piece, noisy and dissonant and young enough to run all over the stage without hurting themselves. There was a biblical prophet or a fur trapper or maybe one of the lesser known members of ZZ Top spinning obscure 70s Europrogopsych and zany glam and fucked up bubble gum before sets. Don Bolles, he said, but I knew better.

Great night, saw a lot of pals. And standing there on a cane a nice lady brought me a chair. I could get used to this gimp shtick.

And thus began our summer concert season.

Brick

Pete Shelley

Pete Shelley, R.I.P. Those Buzzcocks records, that Buzzcocks sound, it blew my mind in 1977-78. I actually have a vivid memory of the first time I ever heard them. It was the opening of Fast Cars. No one had ever made rock music like that before. I was stunned. Wow. Saw them twice back then, and still have a Buzzcocks poster on our living room wall. A bunch of jazz LP covers and the Buzzcocks. Anyway, a big part of my life then, the Buzzcocks were, those big geometrically dissonant power chords and staccato elfin vocals, the hooks and hot drumming. Forty years later I’m still surfing on a wave of nostalgia for a wave yet to come.

Chris Stein

It’s just so cool to see Chris Stein (of the legendary Saccharine Trust and so many other aggregations) getting such a jazz man’s send off on Facebook, people talking about what a great guy he was and such a solid, inspired ensemble player. The grief is there, low and blue, but I think there’s no greater way to pay tribute to a musician who fought so hard against the inevitable than to talk about what a great guy he was and such a good player. He’ll certainly be missed in our crazy underground. He’ll certainly be missed on inspired nights at Cafe NELA. Bassists like him are a rare thing. People probably even rarer. A shame he’s gone but a treasure he was.

Chris Stein at Cafe NELA in another terrific live shot by Deb Frazin.