Dad: “So how is it that at 15 year’s old, you like music that’s over 40 year’s old?”

Daughter: “Because most new music is crap, with all that auto-tune stuff. I could write better songs if I was having a seizure.”

The Weiss’: we loves us some hyperbole

.Trans Vinyl

Observations on quality time with my 85 year-old father: Racism edition

Its Memorial Day weekend here in the states and many people are writing about their family’s military history. As I come from a long line of cowards, I’ve got nada to say on that subject. Well actually, my uncle was in the army. He’s the only gay member of the family, which I think says something not only about the family, but him, the military, and this country. But that’s a story for another occassion. This story is about racism.

Race is a subject that seems to permeate all other subjects. Every week we hear about another person killed in a police shooting, with race at the center of the surrounding controversy, with protests to follow. Race can be a mine field as a topic of discussion but it’s there and probably shouldn’t be ignored. I don’t profess to have an answer to the issues surrounding race relations in this or any other country. But, as always, you can depend on Lou Weiss for a number of opinions on the subject. Through him I received an education which stays with me to this day.

When he got out of prison at age 72, Lou displayed new insights into race and social justice. He’d say things like, “You know, the black man doesn’t have a fair chance in this country.” I guess jail can change a man, because I remember as far back as 1968, during the presidential campaign, when he said he was going to vote for George Wallace. You know, the segregationist third party candidate. I was aghast at the time but I realized that it wasn’t that my dad was a racist. Well, not the cross burning, white sheet kind of racist. It was that he was fed up with Republicans and Democrats and wanted to cast a protest vote. I never said he was a reasoned thinker or that he couldn’t fall prey to demagogues. In fact I also remember him making a case for dropping nuclear weapons on North Vietnam. I was only eight at the time but even then I even knew that it was a bat shit crazy idea.

In his store on Canal Street he always hired what would now be termed a “diverse” staff. He wasn’t being benevolent. To him, it was just good business. He figured that if you have customers of color, it would make sense to have staff of color. In the 1950’s, when the area was mostly Jewish and Italian, his sales staff were Jewish and Italian. When the store started to have more Black, Chinese and Puerto Rican customers, he started to hire Black, Chinese and Puerto Rican staff. My goodness: Lou Weiss did something right!

By working there I learned a lot from his multi-cultural staff. I learned how to say “penis” in Pilipino, “butt” in Spanish, and “Mother F*cker” in Chinese, although I never did find out what dialect it was. I also learned the Spanish language phrase for a man whose wife is having sex with another man. And of course there’s the word “homosexual,” which I learned to say in Spanish too, although I sense it wasn’t used in a gay positive manner. Just a hunch. I learned mixed phrases like “I got a pinga for the chinga baby!” That was a way of informing a women that you possessed a male sex organ and could use it to have sexual relations with her. I heard that one a lot, although I had my doubts as to its effectiveness. I guess you’ve sensed by now that it was an all-male sales staff.

The Chinese and Malaysian guys hated each other with a passion, which I guess goes back centuries. This was news to me as were a whole set of hierarchies among ethnic groups. The Cubans thought the Puerto Ricans were “mountain men,” and all the Hispanics hated Brazilians because they wore Lacoste shirts. I must be part Hispanic, because in high school I also hated anyone who wore a Lacoste shirt. Maybe I’m really Sephardic?

Yeah, racism seems to be universal. As Victor, a sales person from Santo Domingo would say, “I’m not racist. I hate everyone equally.” But they all worked together, when they weren’t stealing each other’s customers. But, what’s most important was that they’d steal equally from any nationality. Yep, just another sign of what a great country this is. Equal opportunity hate.

My father would not only hire people of color, but also ex-cons, junkies, and illegal aliens. He implied it was his heroic way of helping the downtrodden but I learned the real reason when he decided he needed to hire another sales person. We put an ad in the paper and after sifting through applications and checking references, it came down to a choice between a twenty-something white guy and a nineteen year-old Puerto Rican. Perhaps I was showing my own biases, but I thought the white guy was the better choice. For one thing, he was more mature and could look you in the eye, unlike the other applicant who’d stare at his feet while he spoke to you. The white applicant was also more educated and his knowledge of the merchandise was superior. However, my dad favored the Puerto Rican guy. When I asked him why, he said it was because the guy had nothing better in his life and would therefore be beholden to him. Forever. To me, not only was he inaccurately stereotyping people, but to take advantage of someone like that was a notch above slavery. But, Lou Weiss was the boss and his choice was final.

By the end of the summer, the “beholden” Puerto Rican teenager had quit to go back to school.  In my mind, I can hear the old Yankees’ sportscaster Mel Allen: “How about that?”

© Curt Weiss 2015

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 23

By the summer of 1982 I was 22 years old. I’d played in front of my pre-band friends at our old haunt, the Mudd Club, the year before, after previously staring at that same stage. I used to read about Leee Childers in Circus Magazine when I was a 14 year old Mott The Hoople fan. Now I considered him my friend and drinking buddy. I used to stare at Bowie & Lou Reed record covers and now I’d had numerous photo sessions with one of their best known photographers, Mick Rock. I’d met Billy Idol, Glen Matlock and Ozzy Osbourne, and jammed with Johnny Thunders. I’d met industry veterans Richard Gottehrer, Jerry Brandt, Chris Blackwell, Mike Thorne and Tommy Mottola. I’d even met Leroy Neiman, he of Playboy Magazine, Sports Illustrated and handlebar mustache. I knew all of the Go-Go’s, and played on bills with the Clash,  the Romantics, the Cramps, Tina Turner and the original Pretenders (half of whom are now dead). I had a cute little, model girlfriend, and, as musicians were wont to do in the pre-AIDS early ‘80’s, an occasional something on the side. It should have been satisfyingly, mightily cool.

But I was also impatient, and arrogant. I’d gone to my old place of work to gloat. I’d ignored Alex Chilton in Memphis because I had no patience for his sad drunken state. I’d discounted a friend’s band’s lead singer because she had a retail job to pay the bills (sorry Cindy Lauper), made fun of Sylvia Miles (too long of a story to tell), and in a move worthy of high school, stopped being friendly with people my band mates didn’t like (sorry Ann Sadler).

But much of what’s classified as “cool” is fleeting. What’s in one year, is out the next. I was interested in other things besides rockabilly and onward I went. And anyway, my pink drums had been stolen, my pink pants were claimed by Dibbs (he says Jerry left them to him so I didn’t argue), and Jerry’s shoes just disappeared into the ether. Where the hell did they go?

Fast forward to 2007: Levi and the Rockats are having a reunion at a 50’s fest in a Casino outside of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Although I’d stopped making music or caring much about being cool years before, I went at the behest of Smutty who was living close to me in West Seattle at the time. I figured I’d see Dibbs, Danny, Levi, and Dig (formerly Buzz), and have a laugh about the old days. What I didn’t realize was that there were tens of thousands of people coming to this event from all over the world, who for three days would be living in an alternative 1950’s reality…just like I did in 1980. I thought this world had ended in 1984 when the Stray Cats faded from view but it must have just been in a lengthy hibernation period because now they were out in droves.

There were booths and stalls selling all types of retro fifties gear: hair pomades, creepers, cowboy shirts, pants and jackets, garter belts and fezs. One guy’s even selling fifties luggage and camping gear. And the people are dressed the part. There’s the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ look with glasses (Smutty called them “the Mayberrys”), the hot rod/biker look (occasional leather jacket which is the preferred choice of the Japanese standard bearers), there are also Mexicans with 40’s looking zoot suits, big hats and bow ties, the clean cut western suited guys who would have been welcome in Hank Williams’ band at the Grand Ole Opry, as opposed to the suited Brooklyn guys who look more like something out of the first 30 minutes of Goodfellas. Ladies have the sex bomb look, the bad girl look, the 40’s look, the 50’s poodle skirt look, and the Bettie Page look. Of course, if they wear glasses, it’s got to be cat eyes. And there are lots of tattoos. It seems everybody has a tattoo. These are tribes, tribes of which I am no longer a member.

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There’s not an Emo or a Goth in sight. No hip-hop, punk, crunk or funk, although there was a guy selling DVD’s that had some 60’s collections with James Brown on it. No spiky hair, Sketchers or long t-shirts under a short sleeved one. But make no mistake about it, these are the ultimate metrosexuals. They spend loads of time in front of the mirror getting their look just right for their tribal rights of passage.

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There are endless fifties and Rockabilly bands on multiple stages in multiple rooms. Most of the bands look just like the audiences although there are some acts to whom this is just another casino gig. They look like something you’d see on a PBS pledge special. The older guys who actually played in bands in the 1950’s use lots of hairspray and even have mustaches.

There are bands from all over the world. There was one three piece band who all wore overalls, flannel shirts and straw cowboy hats. They looked like total hillbillies. They played Hank Williams and Johnny Cash numbers note for note. Dibbs’ joked that they’re probably from Finland. He was wrong. They were from Denmark. I met Robert Gordon, Slim Jim from the Stray Cats and guitarist extraordinaire Chris Spedding. I ran into the Collins Kids in an elevator, although it took a minute to realize it because they were in their 60’s and no longer kids. And Lemmy was there too. I’ve read that he’s very approachable but I thought I’d leave him be. Now THAT guy is cool!

Now don’t for a second think I’m knocking the scene. I admire the dedication. I like some of the fashion and dig the original music too. I’m more stunned by it. Where do these people get all the time and money to live this life?

Me? I’m wearing faded jeans, track shoes, a jacket from a running suit and my hair is too long. Nonetheless I kind of like the outsider view. It’s a Jewish tradition. I admit I started to comb my hair back on the sides as the days wore on, and bought a motorcycle t-shirt to wear, but there was no way I’d fit in. Probably the only person more out of place was Levi’s original drummer Dean Thomas, who has a beard and a hippie girlfriend, and only agreed to do the gig because there was a Chinese herbalist convention nearby that he was going to speak at. Sweet guy and a solid drummer, but I don’t think there were a lot of of people at the casino concerned about the amount of sulfides in their ginseng.

I stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, somewhere on the trip Smut was ribbing me about not being cool anymore. But then, he stopped suddenly and said, “Ya know, you made the right choice. You’re taking care of your family and preparing for your future. You did the right thing.”

That’s right folks. There was no faking it or denying it. I gave up the cool. For family and future. I guess I did the right thing. The boring thing, but the dependable thing. And my shrink would be very proud of me for stating something that shows such healthy self-esteem.

You see I take a lot of pride in all of the records I’ve made. But the ones that I think are the best, really had the least amount of pretension. They weren’t part of a scene and didn’t have much of a look associated with them. They were just made by a few guys who cared deeply about making music they thought was great. We were our own little dedicated scene. So, maybe Ed Shaughnessy was right?

Oh, you’re probably wondering who Ed Shaughnessy was. He played drums with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie and Billie Holiday among others but is best known as the drummer with Doc Severinsen on the Johnny Carson show for over 30 years.

ed_shaughnessy

Ed stood out for more than just his drumming. He had large mutton chop side burns that competed with his equally large Swifty Lazar glasses and the giant medallion he always wore around his neck. I guess it was the only way he could compete with Doc’s loud jackets. He had a curly perm of a hair doo, two bass drums and basically looked ridiculous to me. But his skills as a drummer were without question. So, in 1977, during my one full semester at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, I jumped at the opportunity to see him at a workshop he was giving at a local drum shop.

Ed looked just the same as he always did. He talked about studying in India with Allah Rakah, the Indian tabla drum master who often accompanied Ravi Shankar. Ed told us how he learned to play 7 against 4 time from him and then demonstrated it for the audience. Now, at this time in my life, I was disillusioned with Berklee and Jazz and ready to leave to pursue drumming in the punk rock world. Studying how to play 7 against 4 from an Indian tabla master was not on my “to do” list. It was not cool in my world.

Begrudgingly, I stayed through the whole presentation. Ed finished up with a Q&A session and somewhere along the line a conversation started up as to what was hip or not. What Ed said has stuck with me to this day:

“People try to tell you what’s hip and what’s not hip. I’ll tell you what’s hip. Whatever you think is hip, that’s what’s hip!”

Sage advice from the man with mutton chops and a medallion.

© Curt Weiss 2015

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 22

A few days after getting the crap kicked out of me, we played again with the Clash on Broadway. It was a matinee show on June 13th 1981 and I decided to wear the pink Sid Vicious/Jerry Nolan pants. They made me feel like the coolest cat on earth, so why not? It was our 2nd show during the Clash run, so I knew what to expect: no sound check and due to all of the Clash’s gear, I couldn’t fit my whole drum kit on stage without blocking Dibbs’ and Smuts’ dance path. So, the seat cushion had to go on the front of their drum riser so I could sit. As it was so high up off the ground I was practically standing behind the kit.

Rockats Clash

Now this next part is kind of foggy but I swear that as I was playing, blood from my head wounds started to mix with sweat and drip around my ear onto the snare drum. Red droplets would bounce with every thwack. I admit, I may be mixing this gig up with another gig I did with Beat Rodeo in ’86 after cutting a finger on a can of black beans, but surviving a holdup has more of a spectacular ring to it than a simple cut from a tin can. If I’ve learned anything in all of these years is that when in doubt always go with the myth.

I realized I had reached a new level of coolness by bleeding on stage. It made me feel an Iggy-like sense of authenticity and worthiness. I had sacrificed blood for the right to rock and roll. I had put my life on the line. I had earned my stripes.

Well, it sounded good anyway.

After the show, it was still day time. In my sweaty finery I walked a few blocks south to 1500 Broadway at 43d street, the first King Karol Records shop that I worked at a few years before. I went to the back of the store where the tapes were sold and there was Richard Mackler. Richard was older than me and a Jazz drummer. Like that Bowie/Mott song said (kinda), he never got it off on that rock and roll stuff. He had a long beard and hair like Bozo the Clown: bald in the middle but long on the sides. He was funny and friendly though. I admit I came in there not just to say “hi” but to gloat. I was in a Rock and Roll band wearing pink pants, making records and playing on bills with the Clash. I got out of the retail trade and I was on my way man!

Richard was taken aback by my appearance, which is what I wanted. We talked a bit until he noticed there was still some blood behind my ears. “You’re bleeding”, he said calmly.

“All in a day’s work man,” I said. “All in a day’s work.”

And off I went…

© Curt Weiss 2015

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 21

Somewhere during this whole episode the crooks decided to take my watch. Of course they couldn’t figure out how to get it off my wrist so I helpfully obliged. I assumed it was better than allowing them to pull out a hatchet and chop my hand off. It was a digital watch my parents gave me when I turned 18, before you could find them for $3 on Canal Street. I was hoping for a car at the time but if it made this bunch happy it was priceless as far as I was concerned.

Then, as suddenly as the whole drama began, it was over. They must have assessed that they’d gotten all they could and hightailed it. After realizing they were gone, I got up off of the floor in a daze of relief. As I took the worst of it, everyone inquired as to my physical and mental state. How was my physical and mental state? A few minutes before, I was one wrong move away from being a dead man. I was happy…happy to be alive! A little bloody, bruised and beaten, but happy to not have a hole in my head with smoke billowing out of it.

Soon after I made my way to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. It was not a pretty sight. Besides the caked on streaks of blood across my face, there was a scrape below my left eye via someone’s boot. Weeks later, I still had to put makeup over it for gigs and photo shoots. You can just make it out in the shot that appeared in FACE magazine later that summer. My hair would need work too….and we know how important that was. To this day, if I get my hair cut too short, there’s a bald spot on the back of my head thanks to the butt end of a shot gun.

After exiting the crapper I realize that Tim had been handcuffed to a radiator and everyone was searching around for bolt cutters to free him. Smutty had been held at gun point on a couch nearby while the crooks interrogated a disagreeable young lady who worked there. Every time they’d ask her where the drugs or money were, she’d tell them to “F*ck off” in a voice only a New Yorker could possess, although it’s possible she may have been from Jersey. Her refusals were followed by whacking Tim into the hot radiator. It was like a Rube Goldberg contraption, one unrelated action, followed by another, and another, resulting in a finality unrelated to the initial action. Unlike the board game of Mouse Trap, with this contraption, the mouse never got the cheese.

As we assembled in the waiting area, the people that ran the place wanted us all to get our stories straight before calling the cops for fear of them finding what the crooks couldn’t. We weren’t hanging around for the cops or the possible return of the villains. They did offer us some free rehearsal time though. We passed.

I finally got to ask Dibbs how he came upon the crooks and ended up back in the rehearsal space with me and Barry. “I was having a piss when I saw one of them. I said ‘Oy, mate’ and started to make my way past them?” “’Oy mate’?!?! What were you thinking? They had stockings over their heads for Crissakes”!! In what may simultaneously be the most absurd yet logical comment ever uttered by Dibbs’ in all of our conversations in over thirty-five years, his explanation was as follows: “I thought they were a Devo band.” Realize though that when Dibbs said it, it came out, “I FOUGHT ‘AY WUR a Devo band.” You see, when Dibbs’ first came to New York straight from London, it was Halloween night 1978. Seeing people walking around the west village dressed as life sized tampons was quite a culture shock. They didn’t have Halloween in England so he thought all Americans were nuts. As time went on he began to understand the culture and discern what the norm was. Sights like that were viewed as just another night on the town in the post-punk New York of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Frankly, the bathrooms at CBGB could be scarier than some guys in ski masks.

By this time I decided it was best to go home, shower and relax in my comfy bed. We had that matinee gig with the Clash in two days and I needed to be at my best. It was an understatement to say it had been a rough evening and I felt some time to just mellow out was the best choice. A few band members, being less bloodied than I, decided a night at the Mudd Club was a better choice. While there, they ran into my little red headed model friend. We had seen each other a few more times since our first “date”, but she was not jumping into the relationship with gusto. You might say she was playing hard to get. After Dibbs filled her in on that evening’s escapades, she found a pay phone and called me to see how I was. I convinced her to come over and nurse me back to health. Well, once again, just like the year before when I got mugged on the way to the bank and ended up with the cashier, this latest brush with death paid off in unexpected ways.

Like the song said, he hit me, but now I was glad…and I was cool with that.

© Curt Weiss 2015

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 20

After making their intentions known, I get up from behind the drums and move towards the center of the room with my hands up. In the process of getting down on the ground, Barry and I were pistol whipped and kicked a few times, both in the face and back. Your natural inclination when someone speaks to you, and points a sawed off shotgun at you, is to look at them. They didn’t like that. “Keep your head down!” they’d say, and then whack you with the butt of the gun again.  What is most disconcerting about being continually pistol whipped while being forced to keep your head down, is that the blood starts to run down around your ears, down across your face, over your cheeks and into your eyes. As we weren’t a Goth band, it wasn’t a good look.

In a few minutes, Dibbs joins me and Barry. He had been found coming out of the bathroom and forced back into the rehearsal space with us at gun point. They asked us where the drugs were. Dibbs said, “We don’t do drugs.” We suspected they were robbing the studio because the owners dealt drugs. We were caught in the figurative, and hopefully not literal, crossfire. They ask us for money. They’re told, “We don’t have any money”. In the stress of it all, I become the chatty Kathy problem solver. “Why don’t you just take the guitars?” I said. They responded with “If you give us their guitars what will they give us?” which was followed by another pistol whipping. Now, this causes a pause for thought: did they just remember that I was sitting behind the drum kit when they came in, or did they know the band and just reveal themselves as someone with a closer relationship? There was three of them so perhaps it was the Stray Cats? Nah, that’s a little too farfetched.

So, the misery continues…

They ask Barry how much money he has. After he answers, they tell him that if he has a dollar more or a dollar less, they will kill him. As they go through Barry’s pockets, my mind is racing: how much money did I have? What did I buy on the way here? How much was that sandwich and Pepsi? Did I include the tax? Meanwhile Barry’s pocket change is close enough to his pre-stated amount to satisfy the crooks. Now it’s my turn. After checking my pockets, whatever amount I told them was not within a dollar of whatever I had earlier calculated. I was at least ten dollars off. With the gun pressed firmly behind my left ear, I’m told, very calmly, “I’m going to have to kill you now.” While it was probably only a few seconds, it seemed like an eternity for the follow up question to be asked. “You don’t think I’d do it, do you?” “I think you’d do it”, I say calmly. From across the room another voice pipes up. “They got the message.”

We did. Well, I know I did.

…to be continued…

 

© Curt Weiss 2015

I Am the Coolest Man on Earth Part 19

After getting back from Texas, the whirlwind continued. The band, who already were on shaky ground with their record company after recording a whole album that went into the dumpster, now decide that their manager belongs in the same place. While I didn’t think it was the best move, I was the new guy. When you’re in a band for less than two months, and you don’t have a resume like Joe Walsh’s, you realize you don’t have much of a say in anything. Heck, even Joe Walsh couldn’t tell Frey and Henley what to do. “Hey guys, I don’t really think this “Hotel California” concept is too cool. Maybe I could write some stuff like ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and…” They probably gave him another beer and told him to sit down, shut up and noodle when told. He was probably happy with the beer. So, I sat back and let it happen. Trouble was, I didn’t really like beer.

 

We soon met with the record company, who except for Chris Blackwell, never understood the band. They were hoping for the next Steely Dan or Doobie Brothers and we weren’t that. Blackwell was at least a forward thinker. Since the band was known for their live act, Blackwell said he wanted to do a live album, and like he did with Toots and the Maytals, put it out in 48 hours to garner some press excitement. In the back of my mind I’m thinking, “This is a cheap way to fulfill the record contract and now we have no manager to say ‘Hold on there bub’”. But, being the low level Joe Walsh that I was, I shut up and hoped for the best. Still, I got to meet Chris Blackwell, which was pretty damn cool. And after thinking about it, I think I was more of an Ariel Bender. He joined Mott the Hoople after spending a few years in Spooky Tooth as Luther Grosvenor. He replaced Mick Ralphs who went onto Bad Company. And, no, I couldn’t be a member of Bad Company because they were all in bigger bands than me. Well, maybe Boz Burrell. He only played on some low selling King Crimson albums beforehand. Wait a minute: I played on nothing before the Rockats. Jesus, I wasn’t even a Boz Burrell! I was “Sub-Burrell”.

 

Meanwhile, in spite of being Sub-Burrell, I could still look my Bryan Ferry best. I met a cute girl out at a club who was in a modeling shoot that was in the Soho News. My kind of gal. Our eyes literally met on the dance floor and our heads turned towards each other as we stopped in our tracks and said “Hello” to each other. True, she was walking by holding another fellows hand, but that meant nothing in those days. We realized that we go to all the same spots, so we agree to look out for each other in the days to come. The second night of recording the live album there she is at the bar. She comes over to my place, yaddda yadda, we “hook up”… I begin to think to myself, “Maybe this live album thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all?

 

The record comes out the same week that the Clash start their historic run at Bonds. They have two bands open for them at every show, including a local act. We’re scheduled at the first show that’s cancelled, but we play another show after the run re-starts. Barry and I meet Clash mouthpiece Kosmo Vinyl afterwards who offers us one of the Sunday matinee shows a couple of weeks out.  Why Barry and I didn’t get an agent’s cut is one of the sad realities of the music business. I bet Boz Burrell made more money while in King Crimson.

 

With no shows in between, the band decides to rehearse the night before the matinee, so we don’t suck in front of all the pre-teens. At a break in the rehearsal, everyone else goes out for a pee and a smoke, except me and Barry. We are left alone with the equipment (doesn’t it always seem like me and Barry end up together in these situations?).

 

Now before I go any further, remember back in part 1 (https://curtweiss.wordpress.com/2014/10/11/i-am-the-coolest-man-on-earth-pt-1/) where I said “Not only did I bleed, but I was threatened with death”? That part comes now.

 

Two fellows with stockings pulled over their heads and sawed off shot guns in their hands, burst into the room and in voices devoid of emotion say “Get down on the ground. This is an armed robbery.”

 

This was no rock ‘n’ roll show.

 

…to be continued…

 

© Curt Weiss 2015