Loser's Lounge Bacharach Tribute, The Fez, New York City
From the moment the diminutive, smolderingly good looking Michael LeMonde hit the Fez stage to the raucous strains of "Always Something There To Remind Me" (perversely, the Naked Eyes version), two things were frighteningly clear:
December 12, 2003
Tenth Anniversary Show
My response: Uh-oh! Why, oh why did I insist on doing my song solo with only piano and steam-heated nor'easter cracking voice? In other words, artistically in the altogether?
- The silver lamé be-tuxed Joe McGinty's band was hot and huge sounding, belying the sometimes loungey source arrangements, and
- This would be of an evening of great big beautiful voices with note perfect soaring interpretations, stage craft a' go go, and personality to spare.
The show raced dazzlingly forward, with one fun-filled epiphany after another. Chris Anderson did "Liberty Valance" in a vintage '20 serape and a basso that was truly profundo and apt countrified inflections. Sean Altman's "Kentucky Bluebird" was misty-eyed gooseflesh inducing, the sweet melancholy enhanced as his smooth light vibrato effortlessly alighted on the most difficult notes like a dark velvet butterfly.
Countdown to me: Joe McGinty gave me a Schafer-Lite intro that recited some highs (and lows) of my resumé at enough length that I was sure I'd pee before he finished.
And then I was up there -- alone! again! On the stage just vacated by two backup singers, two horn players, congas, chimes, harmonicas, and Joe's unstoppingly rockin' core band.
But the sold-out show was generous, and I hit most of the notes of "Windows of the World" which I chose as a mournful tribute to the deplorable excesses of the Bush administration, especially the verse censored from the Pretenders' otherwise stately cover:
When men can not be friends
I introduced the song as "not the inventive coupling of sophisticated syncopation, odd time signatures, and Latin inflection, no! Not the juxtaposition of perky pop chiffon and alcoholically suicidal lyrics that David/Bacharach are famed for. Just a plain old straight out weeper!" And as my shivering fingers miraculously found the appropriate keys I could feel the message being accepted with the warmth and poignance intended -- what a relief! Raucous applause, shoulder clapping from my fellow singers (only one of whom I knew -- Scott Walker powerhouse David Driver) and I was free to indulge in home-made brownies, pink Rice Krispie treats, and generous helpings of Jack Daniels with the rest of the crowd backstage who remarkably were all more glitteringly attired then me.
The quarrel often ends
When some have to die.
For the rest of the show I marvelled and thrilled to spot-on renditions of all the fab chestnuts. Joe, ever the obscurist, had us laughing (and wincing) at "Sad Sack," a Bacharach composition for Jerry Lewis! Mark Rozzo's "Any Day Now" made Elvis' original sound tired, and guitarist David Terhune sang "Rain Drops" with a Busby Berkeley redux umbrella dance. Loads of magic, celebration, applause, and a genuine Mumps weisenheimer (see liner notes of Fatal Charm), showing up sans glasses, looking handsome and grown up.
It's getting awfully hard to reclaim my rote bitter glass-half-empty posture amid all this tribal musical bonhomie I've gotten high off since &, since London, since this show. Am I sinking in a quagmire of smarm? Maybe smarminess is not exclusive of soulfulness, but the soul made ripely manifest!
12 Bar Club, London, England
November 17, 2003
6:00 p.m. Standing in a narrow damp cobblestone alley at the locked door of the Twelve Bar Club, I felt fairly foolish in my '60s "Alexandre of England" Edwardian pinstripes and the usual satin explosion of fluffy ruffles I felt I owed my London public, should there chance to be any.
My feet were throbbing from the previous day's tramp through the fancifully Gothic campus of King's College with a friend who was sure she could find me a piano to practice on. No such luck!
So as I gazed through the drizzle at the posters all over the walls proclaiming "American Music Legend Kristian Hoffman" in a howl of bold-faced sans serif, I was at once flattered, embarrassed, and stricken with fear.
Criminally under-rehearsed, my clown suit wilting, without a single one of my dependably fabulous band, the Rock Gods, whose dexterity I could hide behind, I was going to be Alone! Exposed! Naked!
After about 45 minutes, it also dawned on my jet lag-addled brain that I was shivering at the wrong door!
I went around the corner to the Denmark Street café entrance, and was immediately transported into the bright steamy warmth of the proto '40s Commie Boho Coffee Bar, where bottle blonde fellow Angeleno Mike Randle beamed at me in recognition, his half plush puppy, half sex god smile blinding me like a rescuer's Klieg light to a drowning man. Andy, the proprietor, grasped my hand in enthusiastic welcome and I almost choked on my Hall's mentholyptus lozenge (the opium of neurotic singers everywhere) in dazzled relief.
Katy Carr, the statuesque songbird, composite of forbidden Druidic rites, Kate Bush, and that charismatically bitchy roommate on MTV's "Real World," ushered me over to the piano she was lending me, cooing "how lovely you look!" which put about 3.5% of my unforgiving self-scrutiny on hold for the nonce.
The small blackened brick forge room, with plaque proudly declaring its founding in 1637 (!), held the awkward stage, whose sightline directly addressed the floorboards of the tiny mezzanine, allowing the performer a clear view of practically nobody, and making those who stood while performing appear to be decapitated to the ground floor audience. Somehow this only amplified the casual hominess of the place, and besides, the midget height of the seat I was offered, which forced me into crab-like contortions to reach the mike, left my head at audience level anyway.
The sound was great, and Katy baby-sat me through everything with her off kilter pinball wit, until Mike's set started.
Mike was so at ease with his dedicatedly appreciative audience, and the simplicity of the acoustic guitar and his sweetly smokey voice made the familiar Baby Lemonade, solo, and Madonna (!) songs somehow even more entrancing. When his voice had an almost imperceptible momentary crack, he said "Sorry -- there's a cat where I'm staying, and I'm allergic."
"Eureka!" I thought. I'm going to steal that line and work it to death, true or not! Can you copyright an excuse?
He also rambled through a long story somehow involving me, Highland Grounds, Santa Barbara, and a bunch of other stuff, lecturing the whole front row in their "Love" t-shirts to stay for my set, to the guffaws of Rusty Squeezebox and his posse upstairs. His whole set was so lovely and seemingly effortless, but that didn't stop me from making it about me! me! me! and my boring fear that I might pale in comparison.
Thus I didn't really watch Daniel Rachel -- too self-indulgently nervous as my debut in the eastern hemisphere neared, even though almost everyone I'd met so far actually knew my music -- and liked it! Shouldn't I be at ease in this low pressure jamboree among friends? Wasn't this supposed to be fun? Tell that to my trembling hands and knocking knees!
But finally the time came, just as about eight of my closest friends from L.A. trundled in with scarves and gloves and a basil martini glow to augment the already respectable crowd. I accepted their good luck card (and condom!) and looked out at the faces, including friend and talented songwriter (from under-rated CBGB's era Trenton pop band "The Shades") Rob De Stefano, who'd come from Wales, and journalist Fernando Naporano, who'd arranged the whole gig as if by magic.
So, as Katy fluttered about me, offering to get me just about anything, I relaxed a little and advised the crowd, "If I make a mistake, just look at the clothes!" They had plenty of chances as I turned occasionally into Captain Bumbleton of the Clams, but that didn't stop the warm laughter, or the generous applause, or the howls for "more! more! more!" No, even my clumsy goofs couldn't stop the love!
I was scared of doing a rock-free set, because from behind the piano one can feel pretty songwriter-y, which is not always a good thing. But everyone enjoyed themselves, and listened so intently that I never had to use my emergency shtick: "Imagine the clanking bottles and cocktail chatter are the percussion overdubs on the hip hop 12" remix!" For trivia's sake, here's the set:
So the whole thing went swimmingly -- it was just as fun as it was supposed to be. Can't wait to go back! Thanks Andy, and everyone who worked there!
- Die 4 Cute
- Revert To Type
- God If Any
- Blackpool Lights (a new song about an obscure English tradition commented on by George Harrison in "Beatles Anthology." As an upstart Yank I feared it might alienate real English people, but they seemed to love it.)
- Could This Be Art? (Old Mumps chestnut)
- Out Of the Habit
- Little Brother (another bouncy song in the style of "God If Any." I asked "is there still a place for 'good time' music in the style of the Lovin' Spoonful or Ian Whitcomb? Is there even an excuse?" There was a bemused silence, but the line about drowning cats in a sack won everybody over.)
- Scarecrow ("the wedding of two lamentable American traditions: power ballads and gay-bashing").
- Palace of Corn (I got a couple of people to sing along about "semen that stains my dreams")
and the only song I could remember for the encore:
- Just In Time (Mike Randle kept yelling out "Do Ordinary Love!" which I thought meant "Endless Love," which would have been funny if I knew it, but I pleaded ignorance. "I don't know any songs!" "No, you know -- Rufus! Imaginary Love!" How I wished I still knew that Schubert inspired masterpiece! But everyone seemed to like my songs just as well -- lucky for me!)
As Katy warbled her lovely set, I just had to butterfly, drink in hand, through a thicket of (perhaps ale-inspired) tribal bonhomie, well wishers, and congratulations. Luckily for me (though it didn't seem so at the time) the habit of the English to dole out Jack Daniels in computer measured pinky finger width increments so paltry as to be un-American probably saved me from what could have been a debilitating hangover. I wished Mike R. a happy birthday as the clock struck 12, and he invited me to join him on a radio show the next day at noon. So in the wee hours me 'n' my peeps staggered out into the misty J.M. Barrie London night, and so to bed.
Next day I met Mike at the assigned door on Denmark Street, and we were buzzed into the mysterious elfin-staired stoop-ceilinged attic of (I believe) 104.4 FM.
There, greeted by the charming, articulate, politically astute Art Terry, I was taken somewhat aback, mentally sideswiped as it were, when he announced as they went on the air "Hello! This is Art Terry bringing you 'Is Black Music? An Examination and Celebration of the Experience of Black Outsiders in Music and Politics.'"
"Oops!" I thought as they adjusted my mike and handed me my headphones, "I'd better keep my mouth shut!"
Art continued, "I'm here with special guest Mike Randle of Baby Lemonade and Love, and also Kristian Hoffman who is an honorary soul brother!"
I was as shocked by the vote of confidence as I was at the quaintly archaic, almost campy phrase. But as the show continued and they explored Mike's history as a part of Los Angeles pop music scene, I was comfortably included in the conversation, and even allowed one or two awkward, leaden, but well-intentioned comments on my experience of Mike's "race" -- the overriding topic of the show. Then Mike, after gliding through a few beautiful songs of his own, mercilessly pressured me to sing a song as well, against the seemingly dubious expression on Art's face. Even he finally acquiesced with the bemused disclaimer, "We don't usually have white people sing on here." So I muddled through a song I was pretty sure I could play on guitar -- "I Don't Love My Guru Anymore" -- with some morning crust on the high notes, while secretly wondering if there ever were a less appropriate showcase for my skills, but everyone applauded, including the omnipresent Fernando, and seemed very supportive even after I said, "You heard it here first! I'm finally coming out as a proud black man!"
Mike closed with a gorgeous rendition of "God Only Knows," and I interjected a couple of hopefully tuneful backing vocals in the fade. Then we all went for coffee and exchanged pertinent info at 12Bar. And I finished the musical portion of my London jaunt with a family feeling that mde me love my tribe of pop adventurers even more unapologetically.
L.A. Weekly Music Awards Ceremony
Got to be a presenter at the L.A. Weekly music awards ceremony at the Henry Fonda Theatre on June 26th -- poignantly enough, Lance's birthday. I had to swallow my unseemly bitterness at being a bridesmaid once again - just who was this songwriter-come-lately named Elliot Smith who cock-blocked my nomination category, anyway? Upstairs on the "VIP" terrace, three hundred thirsty musical adventurers sporting every stereotypical muso costume from dashiki and dreds to piercings and leather (... I myself was in my Austin Powers lite look - which I insist I was wearing before those damned movies made me look like a parody of myself!) -- anyway, 300 thirsty liquor-lovin' revellers were crowded sweatily into an immovable throng at a bar amply set up for for, oh, maybe 25 people. But it was a jovial rainbow of jostlers -- no ill will apparent. And we were all in for a ghostly treat. After gaping at California casual Hal Blaine, arguably rock's greatest drummer, and, given his work on the Mama's and Papa's LPs, a shoo-in for my vote -- the air was suddenly colored in the most head-swimming fashion with a vaporous cloud of fruity odor so intense it would surely have been puce if one were wearing goggles set on "night vision." And suddenly there he was, the great man himself, on 10 inch elevators -- Phil Spector! Closer than this, cadaverous, black clad, frizzy, grizzled, witha matronly bleach bottle blonde on his arm. What a magical vision! Everyone's mind immediately replayed in grisly technicolor the murder/accident/suicide that had taken place in his storied marble foyer, for which he had recently been cleared? What a rush! Music history, fabled eccentricity, and tabloid-ready life-and-death mishaps all at two feet distant.
June 26, 2003
High off this escapade, I went back stage, past the determinedly inclusive roster of rap, blues, rock, pop, and jazz musicians -- most of whom seemed to have some trouble relating to each other. My mind dallied with pointless theories -- was music, which had once been such a potent vehicle for creating a supportive, hopefully left-leaning, community, now more divisive than uniting? Or were these people just shy? And what the fuck did it matter?
I nervously fingered my crumpled notes, as I was ushered to the "landing strip" -- a spot next to the stage where the plexiglass L.A.W.M.A. awards were neatly arranged under black velvet, and awaited John Payne's, as usual, compliment-heavy introduction of me. What a gent! There awaiting their slot, were the impeccably garbed members of "The 88," the cutest -- and most talented -- bunch of locals in years -- with -- a string section! (Does everyone have one but me?) Then I felt a nervous little tap on my shoulder.
And there they were! Russell Mael with his shy lopsided grin, green shirt, and white pants, and Ron in a fabulous tailored pin stripe suit and either excessively dark or mirrored glasses. But I had to get on stage to introduce them and give them their lifetime achievement award. John Payne's voice had gone suddenly silent, but no one showed me how to get on stage from behind the imposing mess of curtains, so I bumbled out into the audience and clambered up gracelessly on my hands and knees to a smattering of applause from a couple of kindly souls.
And here's my speech, which I'm glad to say, received generous laughter, a few friendly catcalls, and some warming applause:
"Who is the band with a falsetto more chilling than Roy Orbison's?
The brothers are ushered onto stage in a much more seemly fashion than I was, and I handed them their lucite square, and I'm ushered off to where I can't hear their remarks -- but it doesn't matter -- I've got to rush over to Pat Loud's for the tail end of Lance's honorary birthday dinner, and I hear the catchy sounds of the wonderful 88 as I head for my car -- and for the moment everything is cool!
An outrageousness more striking than the Sex Pistols'?
A craft more refined than Noel Coward's?
And a gift for self reinventing more theatrical than David Bowie's?
Which band is so inscrutably influential that without them there might be no Britpop, synth pop, Eurodisco, or even, God forbid, rock rap?
Always on the move, one can safely say of Sparks that without them Music would not be nearly so Roxy, the Mode not nearly so Depeche, the League not nearly so Human; music would not be so Blurry or Pulpy, Radio wouldn't be so Heady, the Girls might not be West End, and They Might NOT Be Giants!
But the biggest gift is the Brothers Mael themselves, a couple far more startling and radical than Mr. and Mrs. White Stripe. For a lifetime of remarkable spectacular melodic and lyrical inventions, from which I have regularly tried to sneakily appropriate entire segments, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the fabulous, irreplaceable, magical musical Sparks!"
[a roar -- and some genuine teenybop screams!]
Madonna's single "In Hollywood"
My longtime friends, Paolo Cilione and Claudio Camaione (who produced "Series of You's" from &) for me and graciously included me on their recent CD Exploding Plastic Pleasure were hired to do one of many remixes of Madonna's single "In Hollywood."
Kristian as stealth session man, June 2003
I shamelessly pestered them to somehow shoehorn at least a smidgin of my keyboard work onto the track, envisioning the glow my résumé would take on when it read: "Madonna's 'In Hollywood' - additional keyboards by Kristian Hoffman"! Spent an afternoon noodling and riffing over Ms. M's vocal and clicktrack at Paolo's studio, and thought hopefully we'd come up with some pretty hooky snippets. So I wheedled and begged them to leave at least some of it on, to fulfill my stealth session man dream.
I ran into Paolo soon after the mixdown, and asked him how it worked out. He rather sheepishly replied, "Well, I think you can say we kept about one note of your stuff." Still, I think that one single note should act as a clarion call to Ms. Ciccione: Look out! Now there's only five degrees of Kevin Bacon between us!
The Strip, The Evidence Room, June 21, 2003
On Saturday, June 21, I had a thrill getting to perform in Justin Tanner's mock soap opera serial play "The Strip" at the Evidence Room, a production outlet started by a great L.A. theater company. "The Strip" has been running for about six months, and has accrued such wild outrageous comedic cachet that Lily Tomlin attended for three weeks running.
Justin plays Breezy, a matronly frustrated night club chanteuse and Dionne Warwick wannabe, who because of hard luck (or lack of talent) has been forced into a grueling life of prostitution made slightly more difficult by his house arrest for drunkenly plowing his Elantra into a vanload of born again teens on their way to a "Who Would Jesus Kill" war rally. Several complex subplots, including Breezy's seduction by her 8-year-old telekinetic murderess daughter Sunshine's lesbian blackmailing P.E. teacher weave throughout the tale.
But my luck began when Liza Weil (my favorite actress on "The Gilmore Girls" -- she plays Paris) got cast as Lucy Fir -- the Devil herself -- who took a hot young lesbian bodily form in order to stealth impregnate the affection-starved Breezy with the Antichrist. Breezy is just about to pop out with Satan's little dividend while Liza/Lucy is giving a rapturous speech about the impending cleansing of the Earth of the stench of the faithful, when she suddenly quips "But for musical numbers, I revert to my true physical form!" and with some well-timed blackouts, Ms. Liza Weil turns into -- me! I sang a rocking (if I do say so myself) "Having My Baby" with help from a backing track that had Mark Pritchard on guitar, Abby Travis on bass, and Chuck Mancillas on drums, and when I got to Paul Anka's shockingly ham fisted lyrical notion:
"You didn't have to keep it
I pulled out my faithful plunger and assaulted the crotch regions of the front row audience members (my time honored abortion schtick) to their squeals of protest (and sometimes lascivious assent) while the whole cast go-go danced behind me. It's not every day you get one of your favorite T.V. stars (as well as a generous soul, great talent, and good natured humoriste) to morph into you!!!
I wouldn't put you through it
You could have swept it from your life
But you wouldn't do it!"
'20s Cabaret Performance, Bricktops at the Parlour, June 6, 2003
The Bricktops date was a smashing success. I missed the usual Velvet Hammer contingent -- they were at the "Miss Exotic World" competition in Palm Springs. But Pat, Bill, and Michele Loud were there as moral support, plus old friend, party planner and media maven extraordinaire Bryan Rabin. The nattily attired audience of L.A.'s most comely people of all ages were a little reserved at first, but by the time I'd finished "Jazz Vampire" (from my own private 78 collection) and somehow explained that in 1908, pioneers in the fledgling discipline of psychology called homosexuals Uranians and considered them a third sex, the crowd was warmed up, and warming me up with generous applause. Joe Berardi, in 1920s Brooks Brothers tails, kept up a steady beat on the cocktail kit and an array of woodblocks, and did one wild calliope flute solo in "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." Debbie "Marizane" Shair tinkled the ivories in a fabulous rhinestone studded black evening gown. I switched the lyrics in "Slumming on Park Avenue" to:
But really, I was only joking! It's the duty of the arts to poke gentle, loving fun of our great leaders. Gotta laugh to keep from crying.
That house on Pennsylvania Avenue
To slay them the way they slew!
Anyway, by the end of the show, the wonderful people of Bricktops were showering us with huzzahs, and Dr. Vaginal Davis said in my ear, screaming to be heard over the din, they want more, more, more! But we didn't know any more songs. Anyway -- it was time for cocktails, and the bartenders there make a mean Manhattan! Also -- Andrew, the manager/soundman/helpmate/facilitator -- deserves thanks for being friendly, efficient, helpful, and kind. It's L.A.'s most fun club!
Elvis Costello Tribute, Knitting Factory, March 27, 2003
The Elvis Costello tribute at the Knitting Factory was a who's who of L.A. pop fiends, which included a temporary truce between those elite few who had been afforded the platform of Club Largo's built-in-cred career-boosting stage (M. Penn, A. Mann, and J. Brion who, admittedly, created the sensation) and those who, most pointedly, had not (everyone else). The show was sold out, and the audience lively and reverent - a good combination.
Highlights included Simon Petty's by-the-numbers but gorgeously lilting reading of "Shipbuilding" - what a voice! Andrew was the most ambitious with his string laden "And In Every Home"; Probyn Gregory nailed the complex trumpet part. Darian Sahanaja won for eclecticism with a selection from The Juliet Letters, EC's tony but numbingly hook-free experiment in academic pretension, and the combo of Darian's seductively smoky voice, his restrained piano, and Debbie "Marizane" Shair's harp (!) accompaniment made it a standout. Mostly people were just thrilled to play the fabulous songs, and rocked as if at the world's most articulate frat party.
My set came early, and my band of sometime El Vez cohort David Jones on bass, plus scene stalwarts Joe Berardi, Jonathan Lea, and Lisa Jenio provided their usual cushion of perfection for me to float or stumble on. Paul F. Tompkins, the comedian maitre d' ringmaster, gave a quick intro; being from the Largo camp, he had no idea who I was. But as the promised road crew to help me rearrange the stage gear never showed, and Jonathan whispered intensely to me I need a few minutes to tune!, I pleaded hectoringly for Paul to please come back and cover for us.
He reluctantly returned, sweating visibly in his tight fitting '40s suit, and started chatting on mike with me conversationally, since he had no facts to share. His first mistake! I immediately started telling him how cute he was (which he was!), and that I had never heard of him, but that didn't mean I wasn't attracted to him. Though he gamely responded with a couple Seinfeld-esque well at least someone likes me rejoinders, his momentary discomfort before catching up signalled he had somehow dropped the showbiz ball, and for reasons I don't quite understand the audience was suddenly mine. They howled adoringly at every ill-prepared burble I made introducing my songs (because of the set-up fiasco, I completely blanked on thanking Paul Rock and Greg Dwinnell for inviting me) and after I'd finished "Home Truth" and "Riot Act" (which even I have to say I sang more than competently) I was the only act from which the audience called for more! more! At my advanced age, it's nice to enjoy a moment of unmitigated triumph, fleeting though it may be. Of course it didn't hurt that, between my two numbers, my band and I backed up the ever vivacious and charismatic Ann Magnuson. She sang "Oliver's Army" in a no war tee shirt, and rap-sang a wildly anti-Bush rant in the outro that worked the crowd into something of a peace/love frenzy. Being apolitical is sooooo last millennium!
Meanwhile, backstage I cornered everyone I could with my Hello Kitty autograph book. Everyone was kind and accommodating. Mr. Tompkins was very sweet about my performance and genuinely friendly; even the reserved Michael Penn (who sang "Heathen Town" - one of my faves) wrote something nice, and the ukelele-totin' Jon Brion covered a whole page with a crazed scrawling doodle.
But when I dared hold the book out to Aimee Mann, she gave me an arachnid gaze of such imperious chill I knew she considered me a grotesque evolutionary misstep. Little did she realize that Jim (Bad Seeds) Sclavunos and I used to do a heartfelt if screechy a cappella rendition of 'til tuesday's classic "No One Is Watching You Now" in an orgy of genuine Mann-worship at our (then) band Congo Norvell's recording sessions. We'd be testing the limits of our vocal cords while dancing a mad "Bindy Skank" (Bindy being the pet name Belinda Carlisle's friends called her) much to the chagrin of our artsy cohorts. Long before Ms. Mann was an embryonic darling in every jaded critic's eye, we were carrying the 'til tuesday torch, proudly! She ultimately managed a polite rock on, dude - the most generic phrase in all ironica - in tiny repressed cursive. Then she went out to sing, as ever with crystalline beauty and power, "The World's Greatest Optimist" - and some guy harmonized with her with such ringing purity that, of course, I fell in love with her all over again. Maybe she's just shy. Oh Aimee, can you forgive me for crossing your line of dis-scrimmage?
Accompanying Abby Travis, The Parlour Club, March 7, 2003
I've been meaning to write a brief "tour diary" re Abby's and my cabaret engagement at Bricktops, but my tendency to over-verbalize, crossed with Abby's outrageous get-up, left me stumped.
This newspaper article resolves that issue with a well-timed picture -- although it neglects to mention who that fellow laboring in the shadow of La Travis is. But it does give a pretty good idea of the charms of the club -- which is astoundingly non-ageist in that cruelest of age-phobic communities, West Hollywood -- is pansexual friendly -- and basically likes it if you dress up and have a good time. What a novel idea! And that is exactly what we did.
The article also does not show that Abby's and my outfits (hers including a genuine Victorian corset, mine a genuine '30s white tux) were a perfect harmony of ivory and cream hues, except for Abby's heart shaped red sequined pasties. The audience had the appropriate response to these -- howls of appreciative screams. In fact, the response to our entire cabaret set (which included versions of "Monster" and "Bottom of the Sea" from Abby's latest album, and "God, If Any" in duet with yours truly, natch) tempts one to drag out the shopworn Beatles in adjective form to describe the packed shrieking frenzy. Standing brazenly front and center with one of the most determined squeals of all was Miss Alice Bag, punk rock legend -- and off to the side with only slightly more circumspect responses were Donita Sparks (L7), Howie Pyro (Danzig, D-Generation, The Blessed), most of the cast of Velvet Hammer, and all manner of elegantly coutured revellers. Quite a welcome back for our little cabaret act that had been in hibernation for a year or more.
Afterwards Abby and I basked in the warm glow of communal wellwishing, abetted by a few too many lemon drops, and proceeded to flirt shamelessly in the grand tradition of Vaudevillian debaucherie. Our attention was momentarily sidetracked by a comely young gentleman, Benjamin by name, who was conscripted into wearing an old tyme long striped bathing outfit, and scrubbing himself with a long handled wooden scrub brush while seated in a big tin wash basin on one of the pedestals, by Ms. Davis who had promised him an interview and possible apprenticeship for Benjamin's college dissertation! It seems aeons since study has been a tool of seduction. So taken was young Ben with our performance that he soon abandoned his young date (female, I might add) in favor of sitting next to me, and between philosophical assertions, got progressively more -- affectionate -- as did I! But then he moved between me and Abby, and proceeded to use the self-same technique on her! I believe she triumphed in the last, for she manipulated him into buying her cocktails, and then left -- but he did give me two damp pecks by way of farewell, just like the rambling faun he was, mixing academia with arcadia. In all it was just enough of everything -- music, laughter, and titillation. And in war times like these, such resolutely human interaction is food for the soul! Even if I was used, to get to Abby!
Highland Grounds, February 20, 2003
The Highland Grounds show on Feb. 20th was oodles of fun with Lisa "Candypants" Jenio lending her distinctive Ronettes warble to "Get It Right," and Steve Stanley and Carolyn Edwards doing their by now expected terrific job on all sorts of songs.
A standout was an acoustic take on "Sometimes Will You Give Me Your Candle?" with Carolyn on lead vox and Steve on guitar. Originally done by "Daughters of Albion" -- an unjustly neglected LP from 1969 with an off-putting cover in grainy black and white of a scrawny bearded semi-nude hippie in a gangly awkward Axel Rose pose with his "lady" gaping blankly in the background. Not too promising! But what is inside is a fantastically weird hippie bubble gum with complex harmonies and deliberate musical non sequiturs -- sort of like the Cowsills if they had been raised on Spahn Ranch, produced by Leon Russell at his most "Asylum Choir" ambitious. "Candle" is as sweet a melody as any Carpenters song, but by the time we got to the (typical) line people silently begin to spank me, the audience didn't know whether to laugh, swoon, cringe, or just leap headlong into a patchouli oil wine 'n' reds stoner orgy.
Said audience was an indie-pop star studded cavalcade, with Rusty (Baby Lemonade), Nick (Wondermints), Jonathan and Dennis (Jigsaw Seen), record magnate cum laudae Gary Stewart, the ever lovable Pete Magdaleno, various "now" people, and right in the front row, Debbie Shair and Todd Jaeger from my new favorite band Marizane. (Check out their fab-tastic E.P. Hypercube Sideshow -- www.marizane.com; it's a glammer-than-thou semi-operatic rockfest -- everything that the Velvet Gold Mine should have been, and I loved "Whole Shebang"!)
Andrew played a stellar set with Jim Laspesa, Probyn Gregory and the ubiquitous (read: rock-whore-come-lately) Mr. Stanley, plus a small string section. They recreated the glorious arrangement of unsettling glissandos on his new song "Allyn White," which had me writhing in paroxysms of unseemly envy -- why didn't God let me think of it first? It's from Andrew's new CD Happy To Be Here which is full of strings, romance, and the best of Andrew's patented lovelorn unaffected sweet directness, the meeting of "Blaze" era Hermits with "Butterfly" era Hollies.
I knew I couldn't compete with Andrew in the Baroque arena, so I closed with "Mediocre Dream," a Madisons chestnut that my current combo (Joe Berardi, Ernesto Garcia, and Dave Bongiovanni) blazed through in a slinky fuzztone fashion. It was so loud and psyche-indelicate that the latte lappers seemed slightly baffled, but Nick Walusko told me he only barely resisted chiming in with a recitation of "Horse Latitudes" and we shared "mute nostril agony" aplenty in postshow bonhomie. Arthur Brennan said, suddenly moved, I never knew that song was so sad! and the lovely waitress insisted on buying me a drink -- so even though (sadly) there was no gratuitous Velvet Hammer stripping, it was another pleasurable evening in pop rock disarmaggedon.
Velvet Hammer Review, February 15 - 16, 2003
Up to San Fran to play Velvet Hammer at the
fantastic Belle Epoque Rococo "Great American Music
Hall". Meet tour bus outside Astro Coffee Shop in
Silverlake at 7:30 A.M. Greeted by sight of some 20-25
Burlesque queens in various stages of make-up, dyed
hair in morning hi-hat style, dragging a thousand
vintage battered ochre tweed thrift shop suitcases,
and tarp covered home-made props.
Mr. Uncertain, Vaginal Creme Davis' adopted piano
protege, looks exactly twelve in his Oliver Twist
scarf and mismatched gloves, fighting a cold
with a dickensian rose hue brightening his nose. As they shuffle zombie style aboard the bus, none
of these squinting albinos seem suited to morning
Across the aisle from me, Hope (the Voodoo Snake
Charmer Act) and her boyfriend Drac (a fetching cross
between 30's matinee idol Wallace Reid and an Irish
thug) are settling into a hearty breakfast of Pringles
(pervy!) while Summer Peaches struggles to negotiate
an amorphous sack of sequins, feathers, scarves, and
half a case of mid-priced champagne into place on top
of the pet carrier containing Hope's ball python
("It's not mine! I just borrowed it!").
The whole bus erupts into a babble of magpie
quips just this side of shrieking which WILL NOT STOP
'til we're home again - mostly excited memories of
Thursday's "Lucha Va Voom" performance, YET ANOTHER
Velvet Hammer production involving legitimate old time
masked Mexican wrestlers, including flying midgets
("Los Minis"), cat fights, and typically lowbrow
Apparently Pleasant Gehman was dressed as a
wicked nurse, and two of the Mexican wrestlers just
HAPPENED to be dressed as evil doctors. I guess
Pleasant and a voluptuous cohort managed to unmask one
of the doctors, which "Los Medicos" took as carte
blanche to toss Pleasant ("Just like a matchstick!"
squealed Rita to an answering chorus of salacious
snickers) into the ring, each of the four wrestlers
holding Pleasant's limbs out cruciform style, and they
started to strip off her outfit with an intensity that
began to blur the lines between show business and
I guess it all ended okay BEFORE she was
smothered and probed by a thousand pounds of sweaty
Lucha Libre manflesh, because the laughter on the bus
was so piercing that I had to put on my headphones and
turn "The Daughters of Albion" CDR up to 7.
Anyway, famed loungecore pioneer DJ Senor Amor
prowled the aisles in his Anton LaVey cape ensemble,
and producer/star Michelle Carr kept tossing her
abundant raven hair so it regularly hit the back of my
neck like a swarm of gnats, while I caught snatches of
another tale of Pleasant and Michelle sticking their
feet (!) through a glory hole while the anonymous
shrimper on the other side put condoms on their toes -
("No! I MADE him put them on, cause he was eating me
out, and I was afraid he'd bring some cooties back up
from the toes with him!" Pleasant helpfully
Such is the demure behaviour on the five hour
bus ride to San Fran - after the de rigeur Michael
Jackson chatter dies down ("Is he still on Bubbles
III? Or is it Bubbles IV now?") someone says, "You
know I saw Minnie Driver in person and she's actually
really pretty!" The immediate chorus of disbelieving
guffaws is broken by the retort, "That must have been
at some awards ceremony, 'cause I saw her at 10:00
A.M. at the Hollywood Hills Coffee Shop and I just
COULD NOT EVEN EAT!"
We arrive at the Market Street Holiday Inn right
on time, which has everyone in shock, and of course
the promoter has not secured the rooms yet, so we wait
in the lobby for an hour or so, sardine packed
uncomfortably into an "only-in-S.F." crowd.
This is because it's not only Valentine's Day
weekend, but there's also a "Bear" convention
("Rendezvous 2003") taking place, so there's a hundred
grizzled paunchy bearded overalled inverts with their
"Cubs" (younger, somewhat more slender, but still
furry bears-in-training) and a few "Otters" (normal
looking bear chasers who share the aesthetic but not
its physical manifestations), all crowding their
imposing physiques up to the counter.
Also, there's some sort of "special" olympics
there, because there're about 100 special ed students
of all ages evincing an array of "challenges" that
defied casual diagnosis, each with a shiny red sack of
party favors; and there is ALSO a bevy of professional
looking sleek unflappable business suited young Korean
women attending a "gift" convention, the main product
of which seems to be two inch flowerpots with tiny
(fake?) philodendrons, which they carried proudly
aloft like torchbearers in a Leni Reifenstahl film.
Did I forget the 20 or so backpacked rag tag peace
activists? And then there's US - 30 bedraggled
exhausted Burlesque show crazies, looking, after the
bus ride, exactly as seedy and disreputable as the sin
mavens our parents warned us against. The much abused
word "surreal" comes to mind - and it's just about as
tired as we are!
Anyway, we didn't get into our rooms before the
show, so we departed the lobby holding tank for the
We didn't feel displaced for too long, because the
staff at the Music Hall was so fabulous they made us
feel right at home, with their traditional communal
meal, unflagging joviality and unaffected
The shows were great, sold out, with several
standing ovations. The Millionaire danced like the
closet dervish he is. The girls were on top of their
game, especially the tantalizingly arrogant Lola La
Cereza, with her Matador tease, and Vermillion with
her contortionist Exorcist-director's-cut spider walk.
Vag in his chicken suit and Doctor Mesmero were
missed, but Blaine made up for it with his new "We're
just kittens" act: a puppet basket of adorable kittens
that used the squeakiest mewling falsetto to urge
Blaine's foul mouthed 50's Hugh Hefner/ Rat Pack
swinger to "Keewill dat awwwwwfull geee-yorge
boooowush wid a pissed-tole!" to the appreciative
deafening howls of the crowd. The French maids peeked
out from backstage, warning, "You can't say that! The
FBI will come after you!"
"No I can't!" grunted Blaine, "BUT THEY CAN -
they're just kittens!", while pointing to the puppets
to more wild screams.
It made it somewhat less regrettable that our
Burlesque commitments kept us from both the L.A. and
S.F. peace marches.
The promoter invited us to his house for a
well-stocked post show party and there was much casual
nudity in the hot tub, at least until a rather too
forward liberated "Frisco" lesbian inspired filmmaker
Augusta to protest, "Hey, get your FOOT out of my
Because of the regressive nature of the current
regime, I will not say whether the search was
successful, but there was talk of going to "Look for
Liza" - evidently a timely new metaphor for looking
for some blow.
After the show, the bevy of well-wishers backstage
included the elegantly (as always) accoutred El Vez,
and his friend Luis Illades from the Pansy Division.
Luis did a mock pout when I said I didn't
remember his name - he said he'd once come to see ME
play, and I fumbled for an excuse besides senility
(which is unfortunately a little too readily accepted
from me these days) - so I blurted: "It's because
you're so CUTE that I wasn't listening!" (which was
true) to which he protested: "But I'm HAIRY!" (which
was not in evidence.)
On the way back in the bus, the Velvet Hammer
girls lost all semblance of chic restraint, instead
seemingly aiming for a frat party ambience.
As Georgie Fame blared out of the speakers, they
passed a lukewarm dripping half gallon plastic bottle
of Trader Joe's utterly indigestible "Tequila of the
Gods" chanting with ear-splitting howls "CHUG CHUG
CHUG!" at whomever held the foul thing.
They engaged in all sorts of filthy hangover
punning, and finally Senor Amor cornered the poor
waif-like Mister Uncertain in his seat at the back of
the bus, pawing him just for the joy of experiencing
his discomfort, forcing reeking alcohol upon him,
while the whole bus screamed "TEA BAG, TEA BAG, TEA
BAG!" in hopes that Senor would make Mr. Uncertain his
otter. I did think that Mr. Uncertain's cries of
protest were somewhat muted in deference to how much
he was enjoying the attention.
Then as the revellers progressed to two bottles of
Cheap merlot and uncounted beers, Michelle spilled her
own drink on her chest to the unladylike squeals of
"Wet T-Shirt Contest!"
Soon both Pleasant and Summer peaches had their
tops off, drunkenly comparing black brassieres.
At Harris Ranch, near the stinking slaughterhouse
known afffectionately as "Cowschwitz" Senor Amor
bought a reflective faux snakeskin doo-rag (comedian
Jeremy Kramer buys the more conventional flourescent
type) which added a poignant hopeless gangsta wannabe
inflection to the uproar.
Then as the ride nears the end ("I don't want it
ever to end - can't we just go to a bar?" slurs
Michelle) and people weary of the ungainly orgy of
dryhumping to Van Halen's "Ride With The Devil", Bobby
Pinz thoughtfully ruminates over a puzzling barnyard
conundrum: "Why don't Bears just call themselves
And Pleasant has difficulty figuring out how we
can TELL that she's sneaking an illicit and much
protested smoke while crouching down behind a chair.
I'll say one thing: these girls have stamina.
But as the "party" devolves into something more akin
to falling off the cliff of acceptable behavior, it
becomes apparent that they also refuse to acknowledge
some of the more basic facts of Chemistry 101: when
it's 105 degrees outside and there are 30 sweating
drunks on one crowded bus, unrestrained constant use
of a portapotty designed for emergencies only, with a
door that barely closes, is bound to result in an
atmosphere that one might kindly characterise as
And it soon stops being quite so "funny". Inept
clawing at the windows and the small hatches in the
roof did little to improve circulation, and every
final jolt of the bus going over the interminable
grapevine brought wails of nauseous disgust - even
though these artisans WERE the authors of their own
poisonously odiferous destiny. I think a letter should
be written to whatever finishing school was
A personally poignant moment had occured for me
in transit to the S.F. soundcheck: We drove past Bill
Graham's Civic Auditorium and david gray's name was on
the marquee. So I knew Dave Nolte must be inside, just
blocks away from our venue. I wanted to invite him to
our 2nd show, but there was no way to get in touch
And I'll never forget the frightening snorkeling
garbage disposal slurp of the balloon shaped bears
making out brazenly in the elevator next to me as I
crawled back to the Holiday Inn at 4:30 A.M. I'm all
for liberation, but
that Ursa was MAJOR!
Spaceland, January 15, 2003
The show at Spaceland went really well. Stew showed up and was fantastic, and Laurie Metcalf and her Steppenwolf Theatre Co. crew came en masse and laughed heartily at some of my humble stage patter. I'm sure some web-readers were there as well. Did a brief under-rehearsed solo attack on "Lemons Never Forget" in memory of Maurice Gibb before a segue into an incongruously blistering "Hey Little Jesus, Get Out of That Hole," a silly but Raiders-rockin' Easter song from the Swinging Madisons catalogue. It was great to sing with Andrew Sandoval too!
2002 DIARIES ARE HERE: diaries2002.htm