Thursday, May 11, 2006

I Wanna Rock

I am slowly getting things packed up for my move in a little over a week's time. Putting in a couple hours a night, methodically going from room to room, making a million little judgment calls on what comes with and what goes to the dump. It is, at times, gut-wrenching; at others, delightful.

X was over last night to pick through the many boxes in the garage. Most of it is toys AJ has long out-grown/forgotten about, but there are also Christmas and other holiday decorations and some personal effects. I left her alone out there and told her to take whatever she wanted. Everything else is going in the trash. I'm borderline obsessive about getting rid of those little trinkets we acquired during our marriage, especially those gifts that, at one time, meant so much to me.


X had walked up behind me when I carefully pulled The Wooden Man out of the cabinet. It is basically a doll, six-inches high and made of geometric wood. It was the first gift she ever gave me, and it sat on my PC from the day I received it until the day I no longer used a PC, eventually finding its way to one of the many nooks that store our memories. I was turning it over in my hands when she said, "You're going to throw that away, aren't you?"

"I dunno," I mused, truthfully, quietly. "It kinda reminds me of a time when you liked me." Purposeful dig.

She didn't say anything and when she finally did, it was a wholly different subject. She left soon after and I dragged several trash bags out to the bin. And left The Wooden Man sitting on the cabinet.


I evicerated my closet, grudgingly throwing away a pile of old clothes, setting others aside for Goodwill. It's not that I wanted to hang onto some of the garments because I still wear them, but that many carried a certain nostalgia. Soccer t-shirts proclaiming me a Shakey's Cup champion, too-small sweatshirts from my high school soccer coaching days, my first plaid flannel from the Grunge Era. Good times contained in all, clothes I laughed in even before I met X. I let 'em go. Most of 'em. Some I folded longingly and put away in my memorabilia chest, itself a relic from my first marriage.

One such shirt is 24 years old. Yes, it still fits me. It's a little tight in the shoulders, so I won't wear it for fear of it hindering me during a random bear attack, but it went in the chest. It's a (formerly) black t-shirt with Mickey Mouse on the front. Its significance is that I stole it from The Disney Empire in June of 1984 during our high school Grad Night. A bunch of my friends stole the same shirt, which I suppose made it a symbol of our togetherness, as well as our typical teen-age invincible attitude.

Speaking of those guys, I also found something that I feared forever mis-placed. It's a cassette tape containing some live recordings of our hard-rocking and long-dead band.


It was September of 1990 when I first laid eyes on The Castle. I was nine months out of my childhood marriage, a time which I spent at several different addresses, including a recently-ended, summer-long stint at my parents' home. Like the desert where they lived, that time was desolate and dry. Donny and Salk had found the place, hidden at the end of a cul de sac in Canoga Park, the hot underarm of the West San Fernando Valley. The two-bedroom house couldn't be seen from the street, hidden first by a white wooden gate and later by a more-foreboding entrance in black wrought-iron.

The house itself was small, maybe 1000 square feet, but the triangular lot was massive and overgrown. At one time, it might have been inhabited by artisans, as the rear of the house had both an aviary and an embryonic vineyard. The front and side were mosaics of weed, potholes and gravel. The yard's hypotenuse ran along the flood control channel, separating us from Canoga Park High School, but not by so far where we couldn't sit on our roof--complete with sofa--on Friday nights and watch the Hunters get beat down on the gridiron.

The Iranian landlord owned the two houses nearest us, as well, and informed us upon arrival that he would be demolishing all three within the next year to build an apartment complex on the land. We took this news as an invitation to beat the Holy Shit out of the house. That mission was soon accomplished, but it was five long years before the last of us finally moved out.

There were four of us to start: Me, Salk, Kool Breeze and Donny, divided in half into the two rooms. We paid $800 per month for the privilege. I was, at the time, entirely de-motivated and aimless, thanks to my poor choices in life and my continual self-flagellation for them. Nobody else was pointed in any certain direction, either. Donny and Kool Breeze had graduated from UCLA that summer, but neither planned on getting a job any time soon, at least not until after the World Series, which eventually matched mine and Donny's A's against Kool Breeze's Reds. Not only did Donny and I have to suffer the indignity of a sweep, we also had to see Kool Breeze's blinding white ass hanging out on repeated occasions, a ritual he was convinced brought good fortune to the Redlegs. Salk, a year removed from a history degree from San Diego State, was unenthusiastically taking classes toward a teaching credential at the local state college. I was ostensibly enrolled there, as well, but the combination of The Castle and my own malaise only kept me there a half-hearted semester before I dropped out of college for the second time.

About the only things any of us had any appetite for were drugs, beer and music. So, somewhere in our stoned, drunken haze, we started a band.


Donny and I had never played an instrument before. Kool Breeze had some training with the Ge-Tar and Salk had a shiny new set of drums. Donny took up the bass and I lent my classically church-choir-trained pipes to the ensemble, at least until we could convince Brick to do it.

Brick was a guy Salk and I met that previous spring. He lived around the corner from our dingy, furnished two-bedroom apartment near the college. We were introduced by Arve--the most oblivious dipshit either of us have ever met--one night because we needed a little extra dope to take on our annual spring break trip to San Felipe, Mexico. Brick came through, and we were soon spending most afternoons in the company of each other and 40 oz. Miller High Lifes. He was tall, a few years older than us, with an athlete's body beginning to crumble under the weight of rampant alcohol consumption. He had deep blue eyes, full lips and a curly mane of chestnut brown hair. He looked, for all the world, like a Rock Star. And when sober, when concentrating, he could fucking rip it like one.

Back at the Castle, Salk was beginning to get uber-frustrated; with his situation, with Los Angeles, with us, who routinely ganged-up on him during political discussions. He left just after the first of the year and that's when I became the drummer.


I've got rhythm, never been a question about that. But I've never really been musically inclined. Piano lessons at a young age were boring to me. I wanted to be outside playing. But things were different now. My ritualistic avoidance of growing up now had an added component of "coolness." As crappy as I was, I was in a band.

Brick bought me a nice Tama kit on spec and I set about learning how to play. We floundered around a few months, jamming mostly, banging out some three-chord rock embellished by Brick's hilarious and improvised lyrics. It was fun, creative, but ultimately not very focused. Then came Mondo.

Mondo had guitar chops galore and a penchant for writing epic, prog-rock anthems with multiple pace and meter changes, stops and starts, haunting melodies and high-speed riffs. And if most of our songs had at least three spots where he could solo, that was okay, because now we had arrangements for our odd minor-key noodling and punk-rock locomotives. Just like that, we were five.


Our debut was a brief affair, three songs at a party we held in our massive front yard, opening for another local band we'd recently met. We played "Pacing," our first completed song, "West End," three minutes of punky goodness and a blues-laden extended take on The Doors' "My Wild Love." I'd been getting high pretty much every day for six years, but I don't think I'd had a buzz like I did after that show in my life.

We befriended another local band, a fairly popular one on the scene at that time, and through them, started picking up some gigs. We opened at Coconut Teazers a couple times, trying out newer material. Salk's new San Diego band, who would go on to become minorly-famous indie band "Trumans Water," would come up to play shows with us at The Castle and out-of-the-way clubs we could talk our way into. It was a fascinating time. I never bought into the idea that rock stardom was somewhere in the future. I wasn't that great a drummer. I could keep us on beat the majority of the time, but I had no nuance, just a straight-ahead, hit 'em, hit 'em often and hit 'em hard attitude.

We went on this way for about a year (dates are awfully fuzzy for those days) before our two crowning achievements, Sunset Strip slots at The World Famous Whiskey-A-Go-Go and venerable Gazzari's, Ground Zero for the metal scene just a few years previous. We could boast of a dozen or so songs at this point and even a small fan base, who had favorite songs and would scream in between numbers. We also had a singer who was drunk 90% of the time and a lead guitarist who increasingly hated him. The Gazzari's show would be our last, as Mondo made his first of two exits from the quintet. He came back, increasingly demanding, but, in an odd twist, it was I who was the first to depart for good.

Despite the enjoyment of being in the band, there was also a growing surety that this was not what I was meant to be doing. I'd gotten some of my guts back, was working two jobs and planning to return to school in the fall. Along with that new-found mojo, I decided I wasn't going to let Mondo take advantage of me any longer. So when he made one final obnoxious demand, I rebelled and Donny and Kool Breeze sided with Mondo. That hurt, quite a bit more than I've ever told them. Not because I wasn't in the band, but because they were my friends long before and long after, tethered only to Mondo because of where they thought he could take them and blind to my observation that they couldn't count on him for anything of the sort. Being right took away some of the sting.

I haven't thought about those days in a while. It was a confusing time for me. I have hilarious snippets of memory from those days and I wouldn't trade them for the world. I also would never want to re-live them. It illustrates both the best and worst of me, and everyone else involved.


The cassette tape I found has versions of songs throughout the history of the band. There's "Taken For a Ride," "Pacing" and "Castle West" from the Whiskey show. "West End," "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "You Never Know" from practice sessions in The Castle's living room. "Davenport" at Gazzari's. But one song captures it all. It's called "Sunny Jim," and Brick wrote the lyrics based on a toothless bum he saw on the street. It was one of our mellower numbers, but it kicks up a little after the solo/bridge, and there, in this long-ago version, we were perfect.

I think of Brick, his undeniable charisma and talent thwarted by a deep-seated self-loathing that manifested itself in alcoholism and bizarre explosions of violence. But at that moment, he was a Golden God. For eight bars, he ruled the world. Maybe that was the most he had in him. Maybe not. This is not about whether we reached our potential in life or any of that shit. No, it's about making that one moment. When I hear him hit it, I still get goose bumps. And I smile. He sings,

What I see is just a reflection of me
In thirty years. What will the future bring?
All I know, is that I'm doin' my best


At 4:33 PM, Blogger FatBaldGuy said...

Some stuff you can toss out and never think of it again. Some stuff will be with you forever. Outstanding post.

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Kel said...

The Way I See It #70

It's difficult for people to get rid of junk. They get attached to things and let them define who they are. If there's one thing I've learned in this business, it's that you are what you can't let go of.

-- Brian Scudamore Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

I like this quote - from the side of a Starbucks cup.

At 6:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all can't be Portnoy's or Lombardo's, Mr. Speaker. Glad you had some good band days. I treasure mine as well. Classic post.

At 8:15 AM, Blogger Poker Nerd said...

Good stuff.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger HighOnPoker said...

Two words: Audio Blog...

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Tennyson said...

Bring that tape by the house, and shoot it into cyberspace,like a modern message in a bottle.

Oh, maybe not for our time, but the class of 2045 will find it and you'll be legends.

Oh, and keep the toy, untill it can serve as a ceremony. Symbols can be powerful things if used correctly.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger BigPirate said...

I can only play the stereo and was almost desperate to be involved in the music business so I started "managing" bands after college. I spent five years driving arrested adolescents throughout the Southeast, eating gas station egg salad and trying not to get ripped off by bar owners before finally relaizing I was getting nowhere fast while my bank account got lower and lower.

Like you , I wouldn't want to relive it, but am damn happy I did it once.

Nice post.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger geewits said...

I hold onto goofy things too. I may get rid of them eventually, but memories are forever (even the enhanced dim ones).

You should post some castle pictures.

At 11:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is clear that salk was the key ingredient to your band. you guys blew it by running that dude out of town. who knows where you all would be today had you hung in there and followed this visionary individual...mtv, studio contract. who knows?

At 1:44 AM, Blogger iamhoff said...

Great post. Good luck with the packing and sorting...some things, even though the associations aren't the most positive, are still things to hold on to. And definitely get a tape deck hooked up to your computer, rip the tape, and share. We wanna rock!


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