The most useful class I ever took

I took typing as a class in summer (high) school. We had to repeat the same exercise — a sort of fairy tale — over and over, presumably increasing our speed and accuracy each time. Before long, I was typing so fast that out of boredom I started supplementing the original story with my own additions.

Taking me aside, the teacher explained that while I was typing faster and more accurately than anybody else in the class, he’d have to fail me because I was still hunting-and-pecking. Graciously, he added that were it in his power, he would have given me an “A” in creative writing.

He let me drop out, giving me an incomplete, which didn’t work against me as a “fail” would have.

Which is why when I was drafted into the Army, I figured I’d wind up as a clerk-typist, as the required typing speed was something like 12 wpm. But that’s another story, with no typing — and a lot of floor-mopping — involved.

I’ll have to tell you, though: I have typed pretty much every day of my professional life and beyond. And, other than English (which was a series of classes), there isn’t another class I took that has rewarded me as much.

Published in: on October 29, 2014 at 5:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Crime Story, part 1: Robbed!

For once, I had made it far enough in the selection process that I was undergoing voir dire — the bit where the prosecuting and defense attorneys try to discover if a prospective juror might be unsuitable for some reason (this usually meaning some sort of prejudice that would affect his or her vote, regardless of testimony).

It was a criminal case, in the downtown Los Angeles courthouse. Some kid was accused of theft.

“Mister Everett,” the defense attorney asked — maybe I imagined the fire in his eyes and the accusatory pointing finger — “have you ever been robbed?”

“Not by this guy,” I wanted to say, motioning in the direction of the defendant.

Instead, I told him another truth.

“I live in Hollywood. The question isn’t ‘have you been robbed?,’ but ‘how many times have you been robbed?’”

In my case, the answer would have been four — or, maybe, seven, if you count thefts outside Hollywood.

The first time, I was parked on Wilcox Street, just north of Sunset Boulevard. I was visiting an office on the other side of Sunset. It was daytime, which didn’t deter someone from breaking into my Volkswagen Beetle and making off with the Rolodex I brought home every day from my trade-paper office to deter my co-workers from appropriating it or the hundreds of phone numbers it held, each on a little card with other contact information.

Another two blocks down Wilcox, as fate would have it, was the Hollywood Division police station. I went in to make my report. As I walked in, one of the officers greeted me: “Have I seen you here before?” No, I assured him, I had never dealt with the police other than the odd parking violation. He snorted and walked away as I approached the desk sergeant. “My car was broken into, just up the street,” I told him.

“Where?” he asked. I told him that it was in front of a liquor store and shady-looking hotel. The desk sergeant gave me one of those “well, what did you expect?” shrugs, and asked what had been taken. “A Rolodex,” I responded. “What’s a Rolodex?” he asked. “Like that,” I sighed, pointing to the one on a shelf behind him.

Not my Rolodex

There’s a happy ending to this story. Knowing that no thief would find much use for a Rolodex filled with names of record company publicists and personal friends, on a hunch I ventured into the hotel. “My car has been broken into,” I told the desk clerk, “and they stole my Rolodex. I’m sure nobody here would have done such a thing, but if maybe one of your tenants spots it in the trash or something, there’s a $25 reward” (this was about 1977).  Within the hour, my office phone rang, Fifteen minutes later, I had my Rolodex but my wallet was $25 lighter.

***

Robbers had broken into two different apartments. The first one was while I was moving from one place to another, and all that was left in my former residence was my record collection. The thief, whoever it was, selected (fortunately) for the most part, things that could be easily replaced — Beatles albums and the like. (In fact, I didn’t buy new copies until compact discs started coming in, and I bought my first set of Beatles CDs). A couple of hours after I reported the robbery — someone had broken the door in, and left quite a mess — a couple bored-looking police officers showed up (in fairness: it’s not like the robbers were waiting to be apprehended) and told me that taking fingerprints or any other such, you know, investigation would be pointless.

The second home robbery, several years after the first, I wasn’t home. It was daytime, they broke in, but were evidently pretty nervous — all they got was a camera and a tape recorder; maybe a couple other things.

Thoughtfully, they left about half a six-pack of beer behind them. The police who showed up, again an hour or so later, much have been the same ones who didn’t think it was worth looking for evidence. Some months later, I learned that a person who lived down the street, one of those older people why stand around seemingly aimlessly, had seen the break-in take place, but hadn’t wanted to get involved.

While I was still living in the old place, someone had broken into my car; then parked on the street, though I had a space in the garage. The thief’s main score was a couple of cassettes I’d made of old rockabilly records. I hope he enjoyed them. I hadn’t bothered the police with that one; I don’t think I even bothered my insurance company.

For the second car break-in, my car was parked in front of Jerry’s Garage, a few blocks away on Argyle, just south of Hollywood Blvd and half a mile or so from my apartment. It was Sunday, and I had left the car on the street so the mechanics could get to it first thing Monday morning. The thief broke in and stole a cheap OM car radio.

All four of those were in Hollywood. The fifth was when I was at a club downtown, enjoying some punk-rock act or another. Some more authentic punks broke into my car. I can’t remember what they got, but I do know I never went to Al’s Bar again.

Sixth, again downtown, was when I was working at the paper on a Sunday afternoon. My car was parked on the street; someone broke in and lifted a battery. This was before the Automobile Club got into the battery-delivery business, so I had to go to Pep Boys, several blocks away. There were other people working at the paper than afternoon; all of them were too busy on deadline to give me a ride. I forget how I got the new battery.

A couple of weeks later, someone broke into my car again. It was parked in the same place; this time, I suppose the thief knew, with a new battery. And that makes seven times while I was living in Hollywood.

Yes, I told the d.a., I’ve been robbed.

I was excused from service.

Published in: on October 27, 2014 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

The dog who wasn’t there

I heard barking from a nearby apartment for a couple of days before I corralled the super who opened the door. The occupant had skipped without notice, leaving the dog behind in an apartment that was empty, other than days’ worth of doggy-droppings and maybe a bowl of water.

I volunteered to watch over the dog, a long-haired terrier mix about the size of a shoe box. A week or so later, the woman came back, explained that her new apartment (a block away) didn’t allow pets, and said she’d pay for dog food while I kept the dog for her. I countered that it was now MY dog.

Time passed — maybe a year. The woman’s daughter, who was maybe 10, would stop by every once in a while and say hello to the dog. Then one day she knocked on my door and told me that her mother had said that the kid could borrow the dog for that night, her birthday.

The noive,” you say. As did I. On the other hand, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the new place, and I felt sorry for the daughter. So I let her borrow the dog, which she was to return before school the next morning.

Seven-thirty in the morning, the phone rang. It was the girl, in tears. The dog had got loose, she explained, and was hit by a car as she dashed across the street.

That’s terrible, I replied. I’ll come right over and pick up the body, so I can have her properly buried. As I’d expected, she said the body wasn’t available. The police said it was a civil matter (theft?), so I sued. The mother didn’t show up in court; later, the marshals said they’d been unable to serve her — though I didn’t get their fee back.

I finally said the hell with it; the kid has enough problems with her mother. But for many months, I would instinctively reach down to pet the dog who was no longer there.

It’s been twenty years, easily, and — thought there were always dogs, and for many years a cat, in my family home as I grew up — I’ve never had another pet.

Published in: on June 22, 2014 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thrills and (Stephen) Stills at the Granada in Santa Barbara

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I, at least, don’t go to a Stephen Stills show for the singing – at least it isn’t high on my list of priorities. When I see Stills, it’s first for his guitar playing, and second for his songs. Singing, which to me has never been his strong suit, comes in third.

That said, Saturday night’s two-and-a-half hour (plus intermission) performance at the 1,600-seat Granada Theater in Santa Barbara lived up to my hopes. It even supplied a fourth priority: showmanship. That, Saturday night, placed between “guitar” and “songs.”

With a few exceptions (surprisingly, maybe, in his upper and lower register), Stills seemingly approximated more vocal notes than he actually hit.

The old folkie in Stills made a strong appearance as he chatted with the audience between songs: cracking jokes, telling stories, making political comments and even imitating the speaking (!) voices of Tony Bennett and Fred Neil. In addition of the songs probably expected of him – he opened with, “Change Partners” and “Helplessly Hoping” and closed with “Bluebird” and “For What It’s Worth” – he tossed numbers from his Greenwich Village contemporaries Neil (“Everybody’s Talkin’,” Tim Hardin (“Reason to Believe”) and Bob Dylan (“Girl from the North Country”). He also performed songs identified with Graham Nash and – maybe the most powerful performance of the evening – Neil Young’s “Rocking in the Free World.”

Explaining the number of other people’s songs in his set, Stills explained that he’d been listening a lot to the upcoming Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young box set, and that “I’m sick of ‘me’.”

(Incidentally: I’m all in favor of acts doing outside material — they can often tell you more about the performer than his or her own songs do).

Highlight among his own songs were a relatively rocking version of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and, from the album he did with the band Manassas, “Johnny’s Garden,” preceded by a funny reminiscence of his long-ago residence in the UK.

While far from lazy, the energy level of most of the show was varying degrees of “relaxed,” with this version of “Bluebird” downright flaccid in comparison to the Buffalo Springfield original.

Backing was by a strong quartet of Todd Caldwell on organ, bassist Kevin McCormick, former Wallflowers drummer Mario Calire, and Stills’ young son on percussion. Mid-set, a cake was brought out to commemorate Caldwell’s birthday. David Crosby, who lives in the general area of Santa Barbara, showed up early in the show to duet on “You Don’t Have to Cry.” Caldwell was the only other soloist, and Stills played a lot of guitar.

From the look of it, the average age of the near-capacity audience was north of sixty; still young enough to rise from their seats several times during the show and greet “Love the One You’re With” as though they — and Stills — were still in their twenties.

What you won’t read in Darlene Love’s autobiography

I see that, as of a few months ago, Darlene Love’s autobiography has been reissued in paperback. She was strongly featured in the Academy Award®-winning film “20 Feet Fron Stardom”. And now, the autobiography is being made into a movie for Oprah Winfrey’s network.

One thing at least the original version didn’t include was the part I and a few of my friends played in her comeback c. 1981-’82.  I doubt it’s in the new edition, either.

It all began when I saw a small display ad in the Los Angeles Times, promoting an appearance by Darlene at Medley’s, a club fronted by the Righteous Brothers’ Bill Medley, in Southern California’s South Bay area.

I was amazed: to my knowledge, Darlene — one of the greatest singers in pop music — didn’t perform “live”; she was best known for her career as a background singer on hundreds at least) of recordings made in Los Angeles, and for a few records issued under her own name and produced by Phil Spector.

Ringers abound in club appearances by purported stars — I recall seeing “Ral Donner” at the Palomino several years after he’d died; and someone who falsely claimed to be Porter Wagoner’s son at another show. But I doubted that Medley would showcase a fake Darlene Love. As a member of The Blossoms, she’d performed on many of his and the Righteous Brothers’ records; and they were said to have had a love affair at one point. So it seemed like a trip south would be worth the gamble. A friend and I drove down.

It was indeed Darlene Love.

She was sensational; looking good, and singing at least as well she had on the records we all remember. But the songs were something else — a set of material that virtually any other singer might have done (I remember Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5″), with a brief medley of some of the records she’d made on her own.

What a waste!

As it happened, there were two ways in which I might be of help. First, though I was at the time jobless, I had contacts at various papers around town, and I decided to pitch a story.

The L.A. Weekly, for whom Judy Raphael and I were writing the country music club and concert listings, wasn’t interested. So I approached Robert Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times. I knew him socially, but hadn’t worked for him. But I figured the story was too good for him — well-known as a Spector fan — to resist.

He resisted.

Then, a long shot: I called the city’s second (in terms of circulation) paper. I didn’t know anybody there, so asked for the features editor. Caught him at the right time; he talked to me. And he went for the idea.

More or less concurrently (I can’t remember the timing), I alerted some friends who’d been producing an annual New Years’ Eve party. A private affair, admission was charged ($35!) and “name” acts were booked. Good ones, including r&b singers Roy Brown and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I had nothing to do with the organization of the party, but knew the people who did (in no particular order: Art Fein, Bill Liebowitz, Bob Merlis, Gene Sculatti and a few other friends). And I suggested Darlene. After another trip to Medley’s, this time with a couple of the party’s organizers, things were set up.

My friend Billy Cioffi, whom I’d met when he was working with Gene Vincent, came in as bandleader. He assembled a group of people he’d worked with and shared his love of ’50s and ’60s material.

We created a set-list; Billy had new charts made for all the Spector songs she wasn’t performing (which was, virtually, all of them); and she debuted at the party, held at Hollywood’s Starwood club.

That clip is the first time she ever performed “Christmas” outside the recording studio.

With no agent involved, we had her booked on a series of live shows including the Roxy, where Bruce Springsteen, Dionne Warwick and Robert Mitchum (!) were in attendance. Darlene Love played Club Lingerie in Hollywood on Valentine’s Day. Another gig resulted in the “Darlene Love Live” album on Rhino. Then she ditched us all; within a couple of months she was back playing on cruise ships and lip-syncing in gay bars.

We were kind of dumbstruck, even though, we never intended to run her career — just take her to the point where someone who knew what they were doing could. And, to various degrees, we lost money on the project — Darlene always got paid, though of course nowhere near what she’s worth.

She never officially fired us — just started accepting gigs on her own, and asking “our” sax player to lead the band. After, I think, one gig, the sax player didn’t want to work with her, either. She asked an old friend to manager (fine with us); unfortunately for her, he had a full-time job and had evidently lost many of his former show-biz contacts.

Just to make things clear: we were all thrilled to work with Darlene and proud of what was accomplished during a maybe six-month period. My guess is that she was just overwhelmed by the whole thing, and didn’t know how much she could trust us. Though she was very nice and easy to work with at the time.

On a commercial basis, she wasn’t all that old; nor, though, was she a teenager. That was probably a factor. And you’ll still that while she still makes the occasional record, she never did develop a career that involved hits, touring and that kind of stuff.

What she did do was move to New York City, co-star in “Leader of the Pack”, a jukebox musical based on the life of composer Ellie Greenwich, play Danny Glover’s wife in three “Lethal Weapon” movies, appear in Broadway musicals “Carrie” and “Hairspray,” and sing “(Christmas) Baby Please Home” on David Letterman’s last show before the holiday every year for the last couple of decades. In other words, she’s done pretty well without selling millions of records under her own name.

In her own telling these days, she’d given up singing to work as a housekeeper until one day she heard one of her records on her client’s radio — and was moved to return to music. Forget about us; she doesn’t mention Dionne Warwick, who hired her as backup singer for her live shows for many years. She doesn’t even mention Medley, who is the real hero of this story.

As for me, I wen to work for that paper — the Los Angeles Herald Examiner — for several years; moving from free-lance to staff “music guy.” Billy Cioffi, the bandleader, kept the backing musicians and worked for many years with various personnel changes doing their own shows, working as house band for oldies revues, and suchlike. He also worked as musical director at times for acts including Del Shannon and Chuck Berry. Some years ago, he moved to Arizona to further his education and continues to write, perform and produce music professionally, regularly.

One more thing: for several years, Darlene groused about Spector’s not paying her the royalties she “deserved.” While we were working with her, she claimed several times, quite proudly, that she’d taken a triple-scale (I think) buyout, because she had a family at home and was making plenty of money as a studio singer. Also, of course, there was no guarantee that she would become a big star as a result of those records. Off the top of my head, only the Righteous Bros. did, and they were an established act before signing with Spector. But that’s another story.

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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