How do you like them tomatoes?

When the gardener came last Monday afternoon for his biweekly blowing the blossoms off the front porch, I took him to the back patio — where I virtually never go — and showed him a plant growing there, which looked to me like a weed and was taking over (with no care at all) like Audrey II in “Little Shop of Horrors.” I was going to ask him whether I (meaning he) should just remove the whole thing.

As we approached the growth, a big grin crossed the gardener’s face, and his exclaimed “tomato plant!” For the first time, I saw a few red fruit and many more green ones. As I say, I never go back there; and presumably those have been growing, untended, since well before I moved in. I feel so proud of my green thumb. I’m going to keep on doing nothing, so’s not to jinx the tomatoes.

I picked one of the few cherry tomatoes on the plant (there were several more, still green), washed it, and put it in the refrigerator. The next day I ate it. It was delicious and didn’t give me food poisoning. While picking the fruit, I’d learned that the resemblance to Audrey II was mainly physical; it didn’t talk with Levi Stubbs’ voice, and (more important) it didn’t eat me.

I left the plant alone for a few days, to give the fruit a chance to ripen.

When I returned to the back patio, the plant had grown — wider, and further up the back wall. I also sort of discovered why I’d never noticed the plant prior to that first time, sort of. There was a smaller version of Audrey II (as I’ll call it; she may yet have me for brunch) behind my neighbor’s place. Apparently some seeds had landed (a bird? Someone throwing a tomato over the back wall?), and now they were spreading.

 photo Tomatoes 2 July 15 2016 afternoon.jpg

Now I’m wondering if I should trim the plant back, which could become a weekly (if not hourly) ritual, or just uproot the whole thing and hope for the best. I’ll ask the gardener, but he won’t be back for another week.

I hope my place is still here.






Back to the till — er, beach

pet sounds

You’d think that the 1997 Pet Sounds Sessions box would have covered it. But then you’re underestimating the cravenness of the record biz. Take this barely-rewritten press release from the company that controls the Beach Boys’ masters.

“Capitol/UMe’s Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Edition will be released in June [2016], including a 4CD/Blu-ray Audio collectors edition presented in a hardbound book, featuring the remastered original album in stereo and mono, plus new hi res instrumental and 5.1 surround mixes, as well as session outtakes, alternate mixes, previously unreleased live recordings and hi res stereo and mono mixes; a 2CD and digital deluxe edition pairing the remastered album in stereo and mono with highlights from the collectors edition’s additional tracks; a remastered, 180-gram LP editions of the album in mono and stereo with faithfully replicated original artwork.”

Now, they’ve really exhausted the lode, right? Not so fast, seaweed-breath.

Some suggestions for future editions:

  • Capitol hasn’t yet reissued the ®Duophonic (i.e., fake stereo) version of the album. That’s be a nifty addition to the 60th anniversary box.
  • For the 75th anniversary edition, they could include a goat, like those on the cover of the original album.
  • For the 100th anniversary edition — a big one — perhaps they can include a vial containing some of the ashes of (buyer’s choice) Carl or Dennis Wilson.

Note that I don’t include Mike Love here — he’ll still be fronting the band.

Another side of Rod McKuen

Rod McKuen, who died earlier this week, is rightly celebrated as a poet and songwriter.  Less frequently noted in his obituaries, are his talents – instincts, maybe — as a businessman. As he became successful, McKuen formed his own Stanyan Records label; issuing albums by himself and by artists he admired including singers Greta Keller, Noel Coward, Chris Connor, Hildegarde, Dinah Shore, Felicia Sanders and several film composers.– either produced by Rod himself or leased from other labels. (The current Stanyan catalog is limited to several of McKuen’s own recordings, with a couple of exceptions).

He was clearly not doing this for the money – the artists weren’t well-known and the label’s distribution was largely by mail order – but out of his love of music.

Also less known is McKuen’s launch as a successful poet – not through an established publisher, but on his own, in what some people might consider a (harmless, to be sure) hustle. When I was writing the notes for a boxed set of McKuen’s RCA recordings (issued on the German Bear Family label and still available), I spoke with many people who had worked with him through the years, including singer Glenn Yarbrough. Once a member of the Limeliters “folk” vocal trio, Yarbrough embarked on a solo career.

Here’s an excerpt from those liner notes.

“I had just become successful on my own,” Yarbrough explains, “and had ‘Baby The Rain Must Fall’ and several hit albums. I’d recorded one or two of Rod’s songs – ‘Isle In The Water’ and ‘The Lovers’ among them. I’ve forgotten now how I got them, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know him at the time.

“One day he came walking down my driveway in the Hollywood hills, dropping sheet music and all sorts of stuff. He didn’t drive, so he’d taken a cab up there. He wanted me to hear his material. I prefer to have songs sent to me, but I couldn’t just turn him away. He sang some songs for me, and I offered a three-year contract to work with him exclusively. We set up a publishing company together, and he lived in a cottage on my property.”

Yarbrough decided to record an entire album of McKuen songs. “I was going through a bitter divorce, and was kind of down and out anyway – well, down, but not out. The songs on ‘The Lonely Things’ were so depressing, I didn’t think anybody would want to hear them. It turned out to be the biggest album I’d ever made.” A highly productive partnership was born; and the success of his songs had persuaded RCA to follow [RCA a&r man Neely] Plumb’s urging, and sign the songwriter to his own contract.

Something else happened, according to Yarbrough. “The album was put together and released while I was in Europe. When I came back, I discovered that he’d written on the album cover that the lyrics were from a book, and gave an address. I asked him what book he was offering, and he replied that he didn’t have a book yet. I told him to sit…down and start writing. We started a book publishing company. And before long I had 20 secretaries sending books out.”

The book‘Stanyan Street And Other Sorrows’ was also available through some stores, Rod explains. “My [half] brother Edward used to drive up the California coast, selling them to bookstores. We went through 70,000 copies before we sold the title to Random House. They gave me a $350 advance for ‘Listen To The Warm,’ which has now sold 31,000,000 copies, worldwide.”

No beard, no job

I can’t remember the year, but I had finished my first job in The [music] Industry, as a copywriter at the Capitol Record Club. The label had sold the club, whose new owners relocated them, but not me, to New York.

Having no prospects, or even any contacts outside the Club (which at the time was located about 45 minutes from label headquarters), I went to an employment agency in what became the Record World building, a high-rise on the southeast corner of Sunset and Vine. I choice it because Sunset & Vine was as much in the center of Hollywood as you could be, and because I was ignorant of the kind of trade publications (MAC was one) that could point me to jobs in advertising.

After a long talk, during the course of which I outlined my credentials (such as they were), the salesman  career counselor said he couldn’t do anything for me until I shaved my beard. “But,” I sputtered, I want to stay in creative, in the entertainment industry — lots of people have beards!”

He remained adamant (I suspect he was thinking of sending me to loan offices, where there was a high turnover, rather than advertising agencies or whatever). I had grown the beard soon after departing from the Army; in part (well, in great part) to try to disguise my weak chin. I liked my beard, and I didn’t much like this guy. So I countered with what I thought was a point that couldn’t be argued. “But,” I pointed out to him, accurately, “YOU have a beard!”

“Yes,” he replied, applying the coup de grace. “But I also have a job.”

So I left the office with no idea for the future other than that I was under no conditions going to write loans to poor people, counting on them to default and surrender their collateral. While in the neighbodhood, I decided to go cater-corner to see what was up at at the hallowed retail outlet Music City. Then I noticed another door in the building, with the sign “Dot Records.”

(A historical note: Capitol Records had been located above Music City before relocating up the street to the Capitol Tower. Dot, a feisty independent, now occupied the former Capitol offices).

Thinking I had nothing to lose, I went in and spoke to the receptionist, downstairs. “Who handles your publkcity?” I asked. “Norman Winter,” the woman told me. “Can I speak with him?,” sez I.

Amazingly, she (and he) let me upstairs. The sign on the office door read “Norman Winter and Associates”/”Joe X. Price and Associates”, Joe being an independent publicist sharing the space. As it happened, there were only three people in the office: Norman, Joe, and office manager Patti Wright. The sign might have as accurately added “Patti Wright and Associates.”

Norm was Dot Records’ publicity guy. He was also doing press, gratis, for the Recording Academy. It was Grammy season (1969, as I recall), so he was especially busy with his pro bono job, which doubtless contributed to his hiring me me on the spot.

It was part-time, he explained. I’d work a couple days a week writing press releases and such. The rest of the time would be mine; I could use the office and phones for whatever it was I was doing on my own. Plus, I could spend that much more time in the company of the lovely, personable and smart Patti. I didn’t spent a long time pondering my decision.

Which almost* moved me from “advertising” to “publicity” (or dealing with publicists) for the rest of my life. Of course the job turned out to be much more than a couple days a week, and I had no time to do anything else — or to look for something else to do. But it was interesting work; Norm and Joe were good guys; and of course there was Patti.

That job didn’t last long — I couldn’t afford to work for Norm — but he and I remained friends, and to this day his widow, Joy, and I are Facebook friends.

* I also worked in the advertising department of Liberty/UA Records, also in Hollywood, for about a year; brought in by Jim “Vit” Novy, whom I had worked with at the Record Club.

Crime Story, part 2: Mugged!

I was once held up in the parking lot of a Las Vegas hotel.

In town to interview Mel Tillis for something-or-another, I was staying for the night at the hotel (Frontier?) he was playing. Set to leave the next morning, I decided to load most of my luggage into my car during the commercial break between Johnny Carson’s monologue and the rest of the Tonight Show. So that’s what I was doing in the parking lot, suitcase in hand and trunk open, when the young man approached me.

His hand was in his jacket pocket; holding, he told me, a pistol. I chose not to dispute him, and he told me to get into the car, where we wouldn’t be seen. Once there, he asked for my wallet and emptied it.  Fortunately, me being me, there was only $80 or so, plus some minimum-limit credit cards. He ran.

Within seconds, a car carrying two of  the hotel’s parking lot security people rolled by. I flagged them down, described the guy and told them what happened, and motioned in the direction of his escape. They directed me to the security office deep in the bowels of  the hotel and drove off.

Before long, the radio in the security office came alive, with the patrolmen reporting that they’d caught a suspect and were bringing him in. “Before they do,” I told the officer in charge, “let me describe him.” For a mugger, he wasn’t too smart: wearing an easy to remember, easy to identify, red windbreaker (maybe he was a fan of James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause”).

artist's poor rendition(artist’s poor simulation of mugger)

(Sometimes this picture — James Dean — shows; sometimes not. If you have to, use your imagination)

I gave them a few other identifying signs, and told them how much money he’d taken. Sure enough, he was wearing the same jacket and had the same amount of money. And, as I’d suspected, no artillery; the “pistol” had been his finger in his pocket. Security didn’t keep the cash as evidence, thankfully; they Xeroxed it and handed it back to me.

I was back in my room in time to catch the end of Carson.

Crooks love tourists, because we tend to go home and aren’t available to testify against them. On the other hand, Las Vegas casinos want your money, and don’t encourage competition from amateurs. With that in mind, the Las Vegas district attorney offered to fly me back and put me up in a hotel if I’d testify. This would be in a few weeks.

One day, my home phone rang and it was…the mugger. Somehow he’d got my name and number, and was trying to get me to withdraw charges. He was a young guy, never did it before, had a wife and kid to support, yada yada.

I was terrified: if he had my name and address, odds are that he had — or could get — my address. Even though my phone was unlisted.

I returned to Vegas. The hotel wasn’t, shall we say, Caesars Palace. Not even the Frontier. Rather, it was a nondescript (but clean) motel somewhere out of the way of anything even potentially interesting. I didn’t go out that night.

The Las Vegas courtroom was very small, and I wound up sitting, unwittingly at the time, next to the guy’s wife. We didn’t exchange pleasantries. The whole thing went by pretty much as quickly as this paragraph.

The mugger pled out, so I didn’t have to testify. But from then on, I made sure that I kept my doors at home locked, and never did discover how he had got hold of my phone number.


(part 1 here)