Van Dyke Parks introduced me to Peter Ivers

Van Dyke Parks introduced me to Peter Ivers

excerpt “History of the Groove, Drummer’s story” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved

Van Dyke Parks took me under his wing when I first arrived in LA, introducing me to Peter Ivers, a singer/songwriter and Harvard grad in dead languages. He played a mean blues harmonica, jamming with John Cale and that New York Art scene. Peter was with the literati crowd including National Lampoon movie makers, Doug Kinney, creator of Animal House, Harold Ramis creator of GhostBusters. I was somewhat overwhelmed by their snappy repartee. Peter could write really odd songs that eventually came to be called New Wave music. His biggest song was for David Lynch’s underground classic black and white nightmare movie, ‘Eraserhead’. The song, ‘In Heaven, Everything is Fine’ was covered by the Pixies.  We also recorded the soundtrack for a Linda Benglis/ Stanton Kaye art movie in the Whitney Museum collection called, “The Amazing Bow Wow”, about a dog that could talk. I played a saw…He was quite an entrepreneur and got budgets for soundtrack sessions with Ron Howard; I played drums on “Grand Theft Auto”, Ron Howard’s first feature.  Peter was an underground celeb opening for the New York Dolls at the Hollywood Bowl, wearing only diapers and a harmonica. His live shows usually had a big band. I was acquiring the persona of shaman drummer, playing percussion with strange handmade instruments as well as congas. It was proving to be a better fit for me, since the really funky drumming style I had so meticulously developed in the deep south was not understood that well in LA.  Peter usually had an audience full of movie people. His girlfriend, Lucy, also from Harvard, produced Alien, Elephant Man and became the first woman executive VP of Film at Warner Bros. This was all pretty heady stuff for me. I felt like a redneck even if I was from Coconut Grove, but Peter liked my drumming. “You’ve got an infectious beat!” Peter would remark. “Shut up and play.” I would usually respond.  Peter wanted street cred and that was his undoing. He asked me to get him a loft in the downtown LA art ghetto in the early eighties. I told him it wasn’t safe, him being a Harvard grad and all that; that he should stay in safe and green Laurel Canyon. Downtown LA  was some pretty mean streets. But he insisted, so I hooked him up with an art director who had a big loft to sublease just two blocks from my space. Peter and I went on to shoot several TV shows, “New Wave Theater” on USA cable featuring local punk and New Wave bands in LA like Suburban Lawns, Germs, X, Go Go’s, Fear, etc. It was shot live. I had blond hair, playing percussion in his band, Vitamin Pink. This era was not easy to listen to the music, but it was a lively scene. I also shot a pilot that Peter guest hosted called ‘At Sunset’ which was the precursor for MTV.

I’m in the sear sucker sportcoat in the meat locker at the end of the video.

Peter was unfortunately bludgeoned to death in the loft I had found for him. The pain of his loss was compounding the sense of futility and frailty I was feeling about music and art, especially in the big city. I felt very guilty for Peter’s death as well as for Tim Buckley’s death eight years earlier, and also for my father’s death, but I didn’t know that yet…even though I had only been four when he was killed. Loss and grief have no boundaries.

excerpt “Drummer’s History” Russell Buddy Helm copyright 2013 all rights reserved

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