Jessica Lange screamed with authentic terror as King Kong’s mechanical fingers threatened to crush her to jelly.
“Get rid of that monstrosity, Cara Mia..” Dino De Laurentiis said to his associate producer, Anna Gropellius after the dailies were confirmed. Anna was a genius at solving problems on the set. She found a good home for the temperamental phalanges in a South American amusement park owned by associates of Pinochet. Another challenge for Anna was squeezing a giant rolled up Persian carpet into Dino’s private Leer Jet on a remote South Pacific Island where the film company ruined the pristine ecosystem with a cheaply built hotel sans plumbing, while filming an epic disaster flick. She flew in technicians who removed the windshield, slid the Persian carpet into the narrow fuselage then resealed the cockpit window. Taking a commercial flight back to Rome rather than taking a chance with Dino’s Leer jet, she wondered why great scripts turned into bad movies. She wanted to make meaningful movies; high production values, with a great cast and a fun production schedule. But currently she was facing a more personally challenging situation.
“I feel like they can see that I am Jewish…” She said under her breath to me as we walked down the underground concrete bunker filled with sneering punks in Nazi regalia. It was the punk event of the year. Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon, had a new band since the Sex Pistols had disintegrated, called PIL. Public Image Limited. He was acknowledging the crass commercialization of the music business. On stage, the opening power punk trio, local sensations, Tito Larriva and the Plugz, thrashed out a fierce version of La Bamba at 140 beats a minute sung in East LA Spanish at decibels surpassing any sane level of music enjoyment. The Summer of Love and Seventies arena rock music were definitely over for this next generation. No more songs about love. This was disillusionment with a vengeance coupled with offensive fashion. These grooves were faster than the previous generations of hit songs and more aggressive, but also more machine-like. This was a reflection of the technological influence on human creativity. In the Sixties the grooves had a swing to them that implied a glorious feeling of optimism and a trust in love. This was a condition that dated back to the music of the big bands after World War II. The bodies of the listeners could sway, relating to these organic tempos. When we move to a comforting groove our body and mind can heal by throwing off tension. Those grooves were based in a 6/8 time signature, that was originally derived from Delta Blues that got it’s cue from African Rumba and also the Irish Jig. It was felt and counted as a six beat pattern with the downbeat on the “One” every six beats. Now that was changing. Punk music was no longer allowing the swinging grooves to give us a sense of hope. Instead the mechanical repeated pulsing was unforgiving, insistent that the listener lock up to the incessant pounding. The rhythm simplified to a four beat pattern with busy sixteenth notes filling in any open spaces between the downbeat now hitting every four beats instead of every six beats. Things were definitely heating up. The only movement attainable for the listener’s body was an up and down “pogoing”; which became the only acceptable form of dancing in the mosh pit/ war zone down in front of the stage at punk concerts. The music industry could not adapt, still insisting on selling records that the older generation had bought. But eventually, because of economic necessity, thirty five years after this seminal concert, kids would be wearing T shirts with punk bands from this era emblazoned on them with titles like Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies, Circle Jerks, X, etc. The music industry eventually understood but they took quite a while to be convinced. Johnny Rotten sang there was “no future”. Punk music was the future.
We were scouting the Olympic auditorium for a location for our futuristic punk extravaganza. Susan Sarandon, Anna’s pal had committed to the female lead and Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys would be the actors/band in the indie flick. It looked like a go. But Anna was having some trouble with the menacing sense of humor these kids showed. It was all merely for show though. LA was not really as desperate as the London punks, or the New York Punks. That was impossible with Southern California’s shining sun and balmy beaches. After the LA punk scene’s initial fashion rebellion it was inevitable that the music business would eventually find a way to co opt the look, water down the sound, and sell it to the kids in a sanitized format without any of the political protest. But for a few moments, it felt like the real thing; dangerous, anarchistic, relentlessly aggressive music that often sounded pretty good. Some of it I liked; funny, loud and hilariously rude. In the middle of the maelstrom I spied a friend, Jan De Wolff, who ran security at previous punk concerts showcasing the Dils, Suburban Lawns with their very talented lead singer Sue Tissue, and the infamous Germs with the future guitarist of Nirvana and Foo fighters; Pat Smear. The lead singer for the Germs was Darby Crash who unfortunately committed suicide on the same day that John Lennon was killed becoming an undeservedly small footnote in musical history. But nevertheless, the Germs were amazing. A true LA creation that immortalized insightful drunken stupidity with innovative, brutish yet poetic musical sensibilities. The only moment of enlightenment for me was realizing that I was the only person in the concert who had witnessed Gene Krupa, Fred Neil, Duane Allman and Darby Crash all live and in living color in one lifetime. In some ways, the punk music had a familiar attitude to the true grit of the original Allman Brothers, of Tim Buckley and Bethlehem Asylum. Touring the US and England in the early seventies with Tim’s band we had pushed the envelope. In years to come he would be called the godfather of Punk and New Wave in the fanzines and voted number one male vocalist in London’s New Musical Express. Johnny Rotten and Chrissie Hynde both named him as their vocal inspiration. But I also recalled Bethlehem Asylum; dangerous, loud, creative, inspired, paving the way for British and American punk music. I had kicked up Tim’s tempos, easily matching these hardcore punk grooves, adding a hint of Afro/Cuban undercurrents reconstituted from Coconut Grove and the Asylum. My heart ached for the excitement of performing live music that was outside the mainstream, music that struck a chord in the hearts of diehard fans of whatever genre. But I stuffed my memories back down into the recesses of my fractured heart that was still hurting from Tim’s murder five years earlier and came back to this current music scene; keeping an open mind and trying to remember to use ear plugs. Later, the stories about the PIL concert appeared in Slash, the decisive underground zine of the LA punk music scene edited by an outspoken Brit calling himself, Kick Boy Face. His eloquent writing style galvanized LA punk music. Good music criticism is a necessary ingredient for any vital music scene, whatever the era. He also reported LAPD busting heads at the punk shows, but Jan De Wolff’s unique story never made print. While trying to maneuver her vintage VW out of the jammed up Olympic auditorium parking lot amidst the PIL traffic congestion, a parking attendant guarding a chained VIP exit, sensed an opportunity for conquest. He opened the VIP chained exit for her. Then he slid into her passenger seat, insisting on a treat for his cooperation. He reached across the gear shift and slid his hand into her bandolier belt she had tried to load with real bullets, then down inside the front of her torn black levis adorned with safety pins. She turned sideways, positioned her Doc Martins and kicked him in the crotch. He went sailing out of her beetle and she sped off. Arriving at her apartment in Silverlake, she undressed as her impatient boyfriend lay in bed watching her. The parking attendant’s wristwatch fell out of her panties. Real rock n roll will never die, it just invents a new look.
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm ©2014 all rights reserved
Doug Weston’s Troubadour
all through the 1970’s
Doug Weston looked like he was right out of “Rockie Horror Picture Show”. He was tall, gaunt, haunted eyes, long white blonde straight hair that flew around him as he sailed around his club like a black leather banshee in heat. Always screaming, always charming, schmoozing, then elitist. He had been an institution in rock n roll and in Hollywood for longer than anyone- and he knew it. No other club owner had more high profile panache and celebrity status than Doug Weston. How did he do it? The club is small. The bar in the front barely held fifty people and the concert room could seat maybe two hundred fifty people. Yet he charged relatively reasonable rates and he had the biggest acts. He flourished even though he was always complaining. He was a genius at survival. In a business where image was everything, Doug knew what to offer. Not to the public, but to the music industry. He had a platform that every new, aspiring artist coveted and craved. That small stage at the Troubadour had been the site of historic performances by every great artist and every great disappointment. It had been the arena for dramas including everyone from John Lennon with Nilssin getting thrown out to Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Steve Martin, the list goes on forever but the secret is how he managed to get it to pay when the business itself was intent on self-destruction. He knew he had the coolest venue and he dangled it like a carrot above the record companies. They came to him, hat in hand. Every management company with a new act approached him, begging him for a spot to break their new star. He could pick and choose, and he did. The deal is the art. Doug would listen to the managers pitching their new acts and the record companies promising to pack the house and pay the bar tab for every A and R guy and rack jobber on the West Coast. He knew they would. They would stuff the bar with industry hangers on that were the worst crowds to play for; jaded, snide, bored. Not even listening to their own record label’s new artist. They were there, making the scene, dressed in their satin record label jackets, snorting coke, drinking on an expense account that the unsuspecting performers would pay for out of their meager royalties for the rest of their indentured careers, even into old age, if they lived that long. The record companies’ accounting departments called this “miscellaneous expenses” on the poor artist’s royalty reports. Doug knew how it worked and he worked it, but his genius was that he could afford to sit and wait. When the management arrived from England, they would have a sit down with Doug in the afternoon, in his tiny office, upstairs in the back corner of the darkened performance room. Like a crow’s nest looking down on a small, new version of the coliseum where lions and various predators would nightly drink and eat while music acts sacrificed themselves onstage. The odor of cigarettes and stale beer hanging in the fetid air, reluctantly dissipating from the night before as the East LA kitchen help set up up for the upcoming night’s debaucheries. The British rock industry moguls treated Doug like he was the royal family. But his terms were what they didn’t see coming.
“Sure. I can let your new act come in here and perform.” He would reel them in slowly like a hooked tarpon. “You name the date. We can arrange it.” He would gesture magnanimously. “Tell you what..” He would add as an afterthought, “Let’s book them twice. Get your act in here twice. That should do it. That’ll get everybody’s attention. “
The labels and the management agencies couldn’t believe their luck. TWO shows at the world famous Troubadour for their new act. What a coup! The contract was signed right there. The first date was set and the second date? Well…..
“Tell you what.” Doug was slowly, so slowly turning the screws. “Let’s just leave that open and I’ll get back to you with a date. Okay? And we’ll make the same price for both of their appearances. Since they’re a new act, I can’t pay them very much. So let’s say…a hundred and fifty dollars…per show.”
The management and the labels jumped at the deal.
“So what’s the name of your new act?” Doug asked innocently,
“His name is Elton John.” The Brit replies, all agog with being on the inside of the LA music scene.
“I’m sure he’ll be a big star.” Doug grinned and filed his copy of the contract. “I’ll get back to you about the second date.” They left and the rest is history. This happened with David Bowie and every act that went on to become world class. Doug would just lay back and wait. When their star was at it’s zenith, Doug Weston would call in his tickets. The performers were working hard, every concert they did was sold out. Their price climbed steadily. They were soon starring at their own mega concerts at the LA forum, the Greek Theater, Universal Amphitheater. Then the superstar’s management would get a call from little ol’ Doug Weston at the Troubadour on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“Time to book that second gig, fellas.” He would love to say. “Oh yeah. The price?…. Well, that’s still the same as what we originally agreed on in our signed contract…. One hundred and fifty dollars…”
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm all rights reserved ©2014
Timothy Leary and Sensory Saturation
“You seem like you would be a friend of Bill Burroughs..” Tim Leary said conversationally across the large Chinese dinner table at Oriental Gardens; the exclusive restaurant located just below the Chateau Marmont Hotel on Sunset Strip. Suzie Sartre and her current beau, director Luigi Marmenton were situated next to Tim and his smiling wife. Luigi and Suzie had just wrapped Cutie Baby and were looking for properties to develop and on the table tonight was a script that would be a surefire followup to her cult hit, Rockie Mountain Oysters.. At the other end of the lavish spread was the erstwhile producer who was intent on getting us all together on his movie project that I had penned; a futuristic punk rock extravaganza that none of them realized was actually going to come true. I had that curse when it came to writing in the future. It had happened before. Sitting next to the producer was Anna Gropillie, staunch associate producer with Dino De Laurentiis who was the only one, other than the producer, who had actually read my script. She knew it was a great movie. She also knew that Tim was baiting me. I wanted to ignore Tim’s casual smarmy remark. William Burroughs was a notorious chicken hawk and I did not want to be included in his stable. Although I had certainly heard him hold forth at art gallery readings in the downtown LA art ghetto. I was an artist, but I wasn’t desperate for fame or glory. It seemed to always come with a price tag that had a greasy, high mark up on it. I decided to take the offensive.
“I’ve never met Bill.” I said flatly. “But I actually did a lot of dolphin communication research based on Doctor Lilly’s work. You know….Like with his sensory isolation tank.” That sidelined him and shut him down for a moment. He recovered quickly, eyes twinkling from so much LSD, he regained the high ground immediately, lifting a white wine glass.
“I propose a toast!” Dr. Timothy Leary intoned, “..to Sensory….” He paused for effect, “… Saturation!” He was quite pleased with his turn around of phrase and counter thrust. Everyone obediently raised their stemware and clinked accordingly. I swilled then reposted.
“Let’s drink to genetic mutation.” I stared directly at Tim Leary with the challenge of a young buck intent on putting a dent in the old sedan’s fender. Tim showed fear in his eyes. He saw that I really meant it. Everyone muttered inconclusively. The producer, who had been a trial lawyer knew a verbal assault when he heard it and laughed out loud to defuse the confrontation. I eyed Tim until he answered my toast. After that he left me alone.
excerpt: “History of the Groove” Russell Buddy Helm all rights reserved ©2014