Hef was on the red phone
excerpt from “History of the Groove, a drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved
1984. Hef was on the red phone, I let the video editor take the call in the Playboy Channel video editing/screening room that had a real, wrinkled, grey twelve foot long elephant hide couch. I didn’t like to go in there, let alone sit on that horrendous piece of furniture. Besides, I was busy looking out the window from my office at Playboy Enterprises. Actually, it was a narrow window in the hallway on the sixth floor, right outside my office. I could look down the hill onto La Cienega. This was a daily habit. The entrance to the Le Parc hotel and a section of the pool was the only thing I could see from this angle. It was the legendary rock star hang out in West Hollywood. Aerosmith was disgorging from a limo, groupies in tow, soon they were lounging, near naked around the pool drinking Mai Tais and playing grab ass with groupies in bikinis. I had watched lots of different acts, even Charlie with Hall and Oates when they had ten singles in the top one hundred on Billboard. Charlie didn’t play grab ass. He was a family man and kept to himself.
It was very hard for me to even listen to music, let alone play it or witness others playing. I could not understand what had happened. I had stayed clear of all the pitfalls; the drugs, the wild escapades, the bad business deals. Yet I was still in shock from Tim Buckley’s murder, and the brutal beating death of Peter Ivers. Anyone I wanted to play with said things like, “I’m not playing with you, man. Everyone you played with is dead!”
I tried to do it right, and here I was; traffic manager at the Playboy channel. Everybody but me thought it was the coolest job. My new wife had insisted I get a job with benefits, so I had called up Merv Griffin’s Transamerica Video, the post production house where I had just finished editing music videos. Terry Bozio, the drummer for Missing Persons and I got along pretty well in the editing bay; we both had a sense of timing and we both had played with Frank Zappa. I called Playboy Enterprises and told them I was qualified for their position of achivist/traffic manager and the head of post production at TAV would vouch for me. Every morning, I emerged from our hobbit like Lookout Mountain bungalow hidden among the old oak trees up in Laurel Canyon just below Paul Rothchild’s land he bought with proceeds from producing the Doors and Janis. I would crank up my green mint condition Sixty Six Mercury Parklane with the breezeway rear window, put it into neutral and coast all the way down out of The Canyon, past Three Dog Night’s house, past Frank Zappa’s old house, downhill past the Countryside grocery store, past Van Dyke Park’s old house on Penny Lane, timing it to take a right turn onto Sunset Boulevard, still in neutral, and ease it past the Chateau Marmont, where Belushi recently shucked off his mortal coil, trying to keep enough momentum going to pass the Hyatt House, or the “Riot House”, aptly named by the rockers tossing TVs off of the upper story balconies. The Nineteen Sixty Six Mercury Parklane was the longest production car ever made by Detroit, and the heaviest, with the most chrome on it, with a massive four hundred forty cubic inch V8 and four barrel carb, considered by many to be the ugliest car ever made by Ford; it made the Edsel look charming, and by now it was rolling very slowly down Sunset Boulevard. The Mazeratis and Porsches screamed around me. I eventually would put it into drive before turning left onto La Cienega then coasted into my parking space in the lot at the Playboy Enterprises twelve story edifice across Sunset from Tiny Naylor’s, the greasy spoon where Rodney Bingenhiemer the KROQ DJ would hold court. My mother back in Florida, thought I had finally settled down and gotten a good job. Scott, the president of the Playboy Channel liked me. I was making him look good. He would soon jump ship to run the brand new Fox TV as a result of my good work organizing the notorious Playboy Channel. I was putting together a computer management and production system on their IBM mainframe at a fraction of the projected cost. My sojourn up at Stanford Research Institute had served me well. I could talk to the programmer when no one else could. He had worked for NASA, so all I had to do was show him a photo signed by Commander Lovell who had taken it from Earth orbit showing the Eastern Seaboard from Coconut Grove all the way up to Cape Cod and he had signed it “To Bethlehem Asylum”. This really impressed the Playboy programmer and he made up a showcase program where all departments could access the Playboy archives. It was the talk of Hollywood production; all the Playboy Jazz festivals, Playboy After Dark kinescopes with Lenny Bruce hosting, featuring live performances by Sarah Vaughn, Ike and Tina Turner, Count Basie, and many other greats. But they could not air any of it because they had not paid musician’s union dues at the time, so they would have to pay the current rate, and they felt that was too much. This is a great loss to the world. I listened to amazing Playboy Jazz Festival live performances by so many great artists which would never be heard by anyone else. There were twelve cold storage vaults full of decades of Playboy footage; more smut than anyone could imagine, and one very creepy, sacrosanct cold storage vault reserved for footage of Hef’s deceased lover; Shannon.
We had to archive all the titles of the films from the cold storage vaults into the new computer program and the vaults were a mess. Film and tape strewn around on the floor. So I hired the only people with strong enough stomachs to view the smut and who were dressed warm enough to survive the freezing temperatures in the cold storage vaults; Punks. The Ramones were in town, playing at the Whisky A Go Go. Instead of going directly inside, I talked to Paul, the doorman/bouncer, fashion horse with rubber bands in his spiked hair. He was taller than me but not as tall as Terry the Tramp and he was scary. Paul and his friends wore leather jackets even in the sweltering LA sun. They were perfect for documenting all the strange films; even sicko super eight smokers from the Sixties.They came into my office with frost on their black studded leather jackets and frozen spiked hair, showing me a list of titles from the vaults, “We want to see these!” They had highlighted the most outrageously pornographic films that Hef was going to contribute to the Kinsey foundation upon his imminent passing.
I fit the Playboy image; tall, thin, pale. If they had asked me to smoke a pipe and wear a sportcoat with leather elbow patches like the other guys, I probably would have by then. Although the elbow patches reminded me of the CIA; one of the guys trying to impress me when I was nineteen was an operative with suede elbow patches on his hounds tooth sport coat. He and the Farah Fawcett clone smiled huge toothy grins at me in the Chinese restaurant back in Georgetown saying, “Sorry we’re late for dinner. We just flew in on a military transport from Marakesh where we broke up a hashish ring.” That was the last straw for me back then. I would never work for someone with suede elbow patches. Their fashion sense offended me then more than anything else. But now I suppose I was eating my share of crow.
My secretary was a young, gorgeous, statuesque African American woman from South Central LA. When she walked by, all conversation stopped. She was very sweet and a good worker. One day, I saw the parking lot attendant, an African American young man, hitting on her hard. He wouldn’t leave her alone, so I called her into my office. She explained that he would block her car as she was trying to leave the parking lot at the end of the day. She did not know about sexual harassment. I hand wrote a memo to the building superintendent explaining the situation and that we did not want a sexual harassment suit against Playboy Enterprises, so he had better do something immediately about the young man; preferably not fire him, but get him into another position where he would not bother my secretary. When she read my handwritten notes as she typed up the memo she realized it was about her and she came in, thanked me and hugged me gratefully, and kept thanking me profusely. She was a little too energetic and I had to ask her to stop hugging me. She was incredibly grateful; she had never been shown that her sexuality could be defended by legal means. Now she could hold her own against this stalker. He was transferred to another job. She went on to become another executive’s secretary when I left that smut factory. But she had a new self attitude and I was glad about that. One less victim in the world is a good thing, even if it’s at the Playboy Channel.
They asked me what the password should be to get access to the fabulous new computer program. I told them, “Kama Sutra”, which I thought was appropriate. “Too complicated.” The administrator said. “We already have it: It’s your name.” Great…