George Lucas looked up and asked me, “What do you do for me?”
excerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm ©2103 all rights reserved
1978. George Lucas looked up at me and asked me, “What do you do for me?”
“I write the Star Wars comic strips. ” I said as nicely as I could. This was one of those situations where my delayed stress could trigger an inappropriate remark.
“Good. Good.” He said. I was trying to slide down the edge of the kitchen counter so I wouldn’t be so tall. It is not good to be taller than the King.
My editor had been at Motown, and asked me one day, “I got a job offer from a film company. They’re not big, but they’re growing. Should I take it? ”
“Never turn down an offer to gain power.” I said as wisely as I could. She took the job and hired me.
I loved the idea of writing about The Force. Since reading Wilhelm Reich’s lab reports defining his discovery of the life force, calling it Orgone, back in Coconut Grove, I had studied esoteric energy systems, trying to understand what our higher human potentials were. I was starting a novel about a young psychic spy. But my children’s science fiction stories got me the job with Lucasfilms. George didn’t want me to write about the Force though. He had copyrighted that term and was keeping it all to himself. So I cranked out weekly episodic comic strips that ran daily in over three hundred newspapers around the US, the Sunday ‘splash panel’ was a lot of fun to create with our artist, Russ Manning, a famous artist from Marvel comics. George borrowed my ideas putting some of my characters into the second Star Wars movie. No one at Lucas knew I was a drummer but my editor. It was still considered questionable behavior to be a drummer.
Steven Spielberg was getting the angel food cake out of the oven. They were having a baking session at the Egg Plant, George’s secret enclave across the street from the Universal Black Tower. The kitchen was as high tech as the bridge of the Millenium Falcon, there were a few other employees and George asked them, “What do you do for me?” One said he was an account, and that really pleased George. They had some cake.
My editor handed me a script. “Don’t tell anybody about this script. Just give us your report.” I read it and it was kind of dumb. “Saturday morning matinee kind of cliffhanger sequences with lots of special effects that you’ll have to invent the technology for. The women character isn’t real; sort of a man in a dress. ” It was ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark.’
They nodded. They came back to me. “We liked your coverage on this. Tell us what you think will be the sequel if we go with this.”
“Wellll…” I suddenly felt important. “You’re going into metaphysical territory; sword and sorcery stuff like Conan the Barbarian. ”
She frowned, “What is that?”
“The Hyperborian thief King? You don’t know?” Charlie had turned me on to all this science fiction/fantasy literature back in Coconut Grove with the Bethlehem Asylum. He had a full collection of science fiction and fantasy paperbacks, including all the Zap comics and every Hit Parader ever printed. Jim was a walking sword and sorcery hero in his everyday life; the grove was his perfect fantasy kingdom.
I wrote the Star Wars comics for a few years and was invited to move up to San Rafael to Skywalker ranch but it was too cold for me. I was used to Coconut Grove weather. I had given up on mainstream music, it was hollow and meaningless, and my style of playing was too funky for most groups. A producer convinced me to get into the punk music scene even though I wasn’t interested and write some screenplays based on that world. I met Rodney Bingenheimer, the DJ on KROQ. I designed a Star Wars character after him called, “Rodno”. I recorded a Doorsish/Joy Division love song on a tiny Casio with a rudimentary drum machine and called it ‘Dancing on the Titanic’. Rodney still plays it on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The bass player from Tim’s last band paid me to come and play with Diana Harris and the Tuftones, and we got voted best New Wave trio in LA. I wrote several punk comedy sci fi music screenplays, “War Zone, and “Saint Sid” that didn’t get produced but set the tone for the future. “The Dead Boys” a famous punk band in New York was the band for the movies with a new actress named Susan Sarandon. Stiv Bators, the lead singer turned the scripts into his new band, “Lords of the New Church” and sold a lot of records in Europe. He was friends with Sid Vicious. John Herron, the keyboard player from Tim Buckley posted a sign on his front door; “Wanted: drummer with a sense of humor.” My days as a happy go lucky drummer seemed to be over. “Decline of Western Civilization” was a documentary about the LA punk music scene. I appear at the beginning, standing perfectly still in the middle of the mosh pit, wearing a stingy brimmed hat with buttons on my lapels, while everyone else is frantically pogoing around me. I showed up at most of the punk concerts, some of it was fresh and vital and reminded me of the drive and energy the Asylum had live, and Tim too, but I didn’t feel like I fit in. I edited the first video music award winner for the country rock group Alabama, edited Missing Persons’ videos, also a video for Sammy Hagar. I shot and interviewed David Lee Roth, Bananarama, Clive Davis, and other celebs in an after hours club on Sunset Strip, with Ron Sill my old film making pal from Coconut Grove, creating MTV, using a unique rhythmic editing style with jump cuts. Music video editing was easy for me because I was a drummer; I understood intuitively that rhythmic cuts would intrance the viewer. That became part of the drumming therapy concepts decades later. Some of my nightclub interviews ended up in the Kennedy Center Festival for the Arts in nineteen eighty three. I was witnessing life, but I didn’t really enjoy much of it. Ron, my writer friend who knew Fred Neil suggested I see a therapist. I did, but that seemed fruitless. I was a drummer, and what therapist could understand that? It was like Jim Lovell had told me only seven years earlier, “I’ve been to the moon, Buddy. How can you explain that to someone who hasn’t been there?”
excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm © 2103 all rights reserved