Sunday, September 4, 2011

4 million buys you shit

photograph by robert altman.

"It was cheap; cheap; cheap-uh," squealed Jonathan Richman at the age of 41, moved by the vaguely unclean spirit of Bubba-Ho-Tep. Mo Diddley. Blue Mask era Lewis Reed as dessicated hip priest. "Nowadays I hear the rents are steep."

I fell back on the futon, feigning a head cold. My wife busied herself in preparation of a Sunday morning expedition to the swimming pool. With our young son. My stepchildren. If I wasn't unspeakably selfish, I might never find the space to scribble.

Such is the routine loneliness - surliness - of the long distance sniveller.

I sheltered behind a paper shield. Saturday's edition of what was once a broadsheet.

Like everything else, it has diminished in stature somewhat.

"Mumbai's slums are being gentrified," writes their foreign correspondent, "as middle-class Indians... sell their flats in distant suburbs and purchase illegal shanties in the city's central areas."

Actually. It was the headline which glued my eye.


In a week which saw UK mobsters, RBS slapped with a writ issued in the US - for their part in the subprime confidence trick which all but crippled global faith in free market religion - India races one step farther in paying through the nose for a silk purse fashioned entirely out of a pig's ear. Stealing the show in staging a masterclass in the art of turning the other cheek.

In a country where it pays better to dabble in out-sourced customer 'service' from a US or European financed call centre, than to take the Hippocratic Oath, India's new wealth is defined by hard currency.

It is not immediately apparent just who is making a killing.

On the face of it, it is those people living in the heart of Mumbai's slums who stand to make a profit. Typically, investing in a slum dwelling may net the aspiring buyer a loss in straight 'trade'. A modest shanty in Sewri, for example, may fetch as much as "four million rupees". £50,000. The stench of human waste running freely in the gutter seals the deal; vermin openly feeding on untreated filth.

But as rents soar as a direct result, it is those families who settled there generations previously who are being squeezed out. To establish new illegal settlements in ever more harrowing no-go zones.

No schools. No community. Scant opportunity to make ends meet.

The scandal evolving, then, has less to do with the modern parable of playing pass the parcel with toxic securities than the age-old saga of slum landlords ruthlessly embracing token regeneration.

Lest one forgets. In the 1980s, the darkly comedic double act of Regan and Thatcher popularized the free market economy to a staggeringly gullible and avaricious electorate. Privatizing one industry after the other; peddling them back to the public at large in shrink-wrapped token stocks and shares.

Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, not so much asleep as intoxicated at the wheel, were impervious to the consequences.

In such a climate, social housing was auctioned off with the rest of the family silver. Many individuals turned a tidy profit. Others inherited negative equity.

A lot of people spoke quite often of "collateral damage". Laughing all the way to the bank. A newly entrenched underclass - in Detroit, Glasgow, Manchester - took on the mantle of India's untouchables, and never shook it off.

House prices rocketed. Entire inner city areas, too, turned to shit.

Of course, there will always be a vocal element who stand to profit from shrouding the great illusion in still more smoke and mirrors. Mumbai, they will argue, is on the up. What's happening in Sewri, Dharavi, is indicative of India's commitment to eradicating poverty.

Really ? I think we've heard word to that effect numerous times before.

The Commonwealth Games village in Delhi dribbling sewage on the white hand stitched leather uppers of its athletes' Nike Airs, while government shoots for the moon. And an estimated £1 Billion in International Foreign Aid which still can not be accounted for. Not this side of Bollywood's space race.

Jonathan Richman tells it more entertainingly than I, sibling.

At some time in 1972 I guess he relocated to Venice Beach. In the company of David Robinson, Ernie Brooks and Jerry Harrison. The original Modern Lovers. 

On the heels of an east coast session for Warner Bros., recorded at Intermedia Studio in Boston, Massachussets, the group secured two demo sessions in LA; the first overseen by one John Cale. The Venice they encountered then might just have been invaded by surfers operating out of Dogtown, a seedier bay area on the south fin of Santa Monica.

In 1972, Jeff Ho, in partnership with Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk, founded Zephyr Surfboard Productions in the decrepit heart of Dogtown. Stecyk, a local artist, invested Ho's board designs with a delinquent edge informed by graffiti tags seen all over the street; wholly at odds with those saccharine airbrushed sunbursts washed up on Muscle Beach. In Dennis Wilson's beard.

Dogtown's surfers were hard core. Digging in and occupying an abandoned amusement park on the Pacific Ocean Park Pier - the P-O-P - midway between Venice Beach proper and their home turf back in Dogtown. The P-O-P was a dangerous spot to surf, seemingly teeming with rotting timber pilings, an Iwo Jima fought for and defended with dogged enthusiasm, it is alleged.

In 1972, too, polyurethane skateboard wheels emerged, and Dogtown's Zephyr crew slipped the leash, taking to the streets and sidewalks like punk Angels on a staggered run.

Zigzagginng as ferociously as hoodlum circus collies on rollerblades.

In 1972, this would have been a part of The Modern Lovers' Venice Beach. A part of the scene they stumbled into. Between the shabby rooming house inhabited briefly, and that studio session produced by Cale.

Who could have anticipated it ? 

Slumdog. Dogtown. Roadrunner, Once, Twice, Three Times.




Your driver said...

It's necessary that we recognize the realities of the market. In the case of mutts like ourselves the reality is that the market is a bunch of rich hoodlums wrecking our lives just 'cause they can.
I live in terror of real estate developers. I was nearly driven out of my little California hidey hole and forced to live someplace so squalid it failed to attract their attention. California was becoming unlivable as all anyone ever talked about was equity. As in "How much equity you got in that place?".
I'm so fucking glad the real estate market went to shit. I feel sorry for a few friends who bet their lives on the equity fairy dust but the truth is that my life has been vastly improved by the collapse of the real estate market. Bad for my friends who work in construction industry too, and I know a lot of those guys, but I could tell them stories about industrial collapse that would almost make them grateful for what they've hung on to.
I spent a winter, drunk on my ass in an apartment on Venice Beach. I had just turned 21 and I stopped off there on my way from the collapse of Detroit to the gentrification of Oakland. Actually, I was wandering back and forth from Echo Park to Venice while I waited a couple of months for a check to arrive in the mail. My Echo Park hosts were cranky old (like 30 years old man) Trotskyists who were content to leave me starving and lonely in abject misery. Periodically I would find a few quarters under a cushion then I would walk down the hill to Burrito King where I would gorge on plain bean burritos. Nothing in them but beans and lard. I longed to be able to afford the bean and cheese burrito.
That was the longest I have ever gone without eating; about three days as I recall. I was very depressed. Periodically my hosts, senior comrades, would look up from their reading (The philosophic and economic manuscripts of 1905- VI Lenin) and scowl at me. "Stop looking so goddam pathetic would you!". I don't recall them ever offering to feed me. (continued below)

Your driver said...

This was all part of some Trotskyist factional intrigue. I was supposed to infiltrate this other, equally tiny and irrelevant, group and report back to my scowling hosts in secret. They hatched this plan when I showed up, unannounced to them, from Detroit. I had been told by the senior comrades (also about 30) in Detroit that my coming would be announced in advance and that I would be welcomed in Los Angeles by friends who would be only too happy to help me to anything I needed. Instead I was met with suspicion and indifference that only let up a little when phone inquiries had been made to Detroit and New York.
The infiltration plot was hatched when the elderly Bolsheviks of Echo Park found out I had high school friends living in Venice. I would be shipped off to Venice where I would intercept the hated enemy faction and become part of their circle, reporting back in secret to the wise elders of Echo Park.
Does this sound fucked up? Yeah, well it was.
So off I was sent for a multi hour long ride across Los Angeles on the LARTD. It takes most of a day to get from Downtown to the beach by bus, stopping every block. I'm sure the senior comrades would have given me a ride but they had some important documents to review preparatory to the next faction fight.
My Venice Beach hosts were two goofy friends from high school. They had moved to Los Angeles with the intention of attending film school. They had gotten as far as renting an apartment when their ambition ran out. One of them was working nights in a donut shop while the other survived off checks from mom and dad in New Jersey.
They were happy to see me. They fed me donuts and introduced me to avocados. We bought bags of cheap produce that we stir fried in corn oil and washed down with quantities of real cheap beer. Brew 102 and Lucky Lager were our favorites. "It's Lucky When You Live In the West".
(keep going below)

Your driver said...

The only furniture in the apartment was a card table, a folding chair and a tiny portable TV. We slept on the floor. The walls were decorated with front page headlines from the LA Herald Tribune. "BANANA KING LEAPS TO DEATH" was a favorite. An executive from United Fruit had committed suicide.
During the day we tended to stay inside. We were from New Jersey. The Venice Beach scene weirded us out. Sometimes we would walk up and down from Muscle Beach to the Santa Monica pier. It looked just like TV and we had absolutely no ability to relate to the muscle freaks, roller girls and drug creeps we ran into.
When we were thoroughly drunk, the night belonged to us. The surf was experiencing an episode of bioluminescence. We would stagger into the glowing waves and marvel as our footprints lit up in the wet sand. That was as close as I felt to happy during that dismal time.
I was allowed one friend in Santa Monica but what a friend he was. He was a comrade in our little cult who has gone on to become a public figure in Los Angeles. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Max, as I'll call him, had started the original FM underground rock show in Cleveland. He was a hero of the '60's Cleveland music scene. He had come west to make a name for himself in broadcasting. He ended up as one of Wolfman Jack's writers on The Midnight Special TV show.
That's right, the Wolfman did not spontaneously quip, "Outta sight baby" between acts on the show. Max and a crack team of LA writers had to confer and come up with that shit. Los Angeles. Show biz. What a pile of crap.
Nonetheless it paid the rent on a pleasant apartment in Santa Monica. At that time Jane Fonda was married to Tom Hayden and they were radically slumming it by living in a huge house in Santa Monica. It so happened that Max's apartment was right next door. I spent hours on the front porch, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ms. Fonda. It turned out she was out of town the whole time I was there. I never saw Tom either but it takes an enormous staff to be famous in LA. People were coming and going from that place all the time.
Max had a great record collection, a fantastic stereo and part time custody of a charming little boy named Martin. I got to babysit Martin a few times. I really enjoyed my time with him. He thought it was incredibly cool that I knew how to drive a city bus and he would ask me about bus driving. He was a great kid.
Max has gone on to become a well loved figure on LA Public radio and Martin has had success as a character actor. He specializes in playing creepy little guys. His most memorable roles were in "Drugstore Cowboy" and "Gummo".
(But wait, there's more)

Your driver said...

Finally, the time came for me to begin the planned infiltration of the enemy sect. I was put on yet another bus where I was driven across interminable miles of Los Angeles to some sort of radical event where I wandered up and introduced myself to the enemy youth group. They were, not surprisingly, a geeky, enthusiastic crew almost exactly the same as the young people in my own little cult. I ended up spending a day or two with them. I don't remember. I didn't learn any secrets. I doubt there were any to be learned. I did have one of my many brushes with fame when I was introduced to a cute young comrade, Susan. She was bright, energetic and insanely seductive. For a second there I thought we were going to start taking each other's clothes off, just by way of saying hello. Then she walked away. Man do I wish there was more to tell but there isn't.
Years later I came across the name Susie Bright. I love that woman, and I love her writing. One day I was reading her account of her time in a tiny Trotskyist youth group in Los Angeles. I realized that she was the Susan I'd met years before. I was impressed. Maybe you aren't.
About that time my overdue check arrived from New Jersey. I treated my friends to drinks in a phony English Pub that sat in a haze of smog between two freeways. I think I did anyhow.
I reported back to Echo Park and the wise elders determined that it was time to send me on to Oakland. For once they were nice to me. They drove me to the airport where I stood in line to board a bizarre California institution, the first come first served Midnight Special flight from LA to San Francisco. You showed up early and stood in line at the gate. When the gates opened you handed over ten or twenty dollars (I can't remember now) cash only to the man at the gate. The line filed on to the plane until all the seats were taken at which time the plane took off. Drinks were served, cash only, from take off to landing and I arrived, somewhat drunk in San Francisco. That's another story.
Brother Ib, I hope you don't mind me taking over your comments section. You know how it is when the spirit seizes me and I start writing. I have to keep going until I'm done. All of this was set off by the Jonathan Richman song and the picture of the young morons at the top of the page. I looked a lot like one of them back then.
Always a pleasure to hear from you. Expect to see this copied and reposted at my own blog.

ib said...

My god, if you didn't immediately copy and repost this I might mistake you for some kind of fool.

I was doggedly editing away when I caught the first instalment of your dissertation. Well, I thought, if there's more to come I best not interrupt the flow. My editing amounted to little more than observations on Dogtown and Santa Monica around this same time. Half-baked assertions from someone who has not so much as visited there.

Regards real estate and market trends. Well, yes, my main irritation is that house prices here appear to have stabilized at a level which remains scandalously inflated.

Of course, I say this as a mutt with nothing to gain from anything less than total collapse.

Your Echo Park hosts seem to have been those sort of individuals I ordinarily despise. Delusional activists overcome by a sense of entitlement. Chocolate bars stashed up their sleeves. Fuck them.

On the subject of "BANANA KING LEAPS TO DEATH", my own personal favourite is "ENGLISH TOURIST FELLED BY BELGIAN ROLLING CHEESE"; as the headline suggests, he was in fact crushed to death when the huge round rolled out the back of a delivery van parked on a steep incline.

The cheese may have been Swiss. My memory is shot full of holes.

I am vaguely disappointed to learn that Wofman Jack did not script his own copy.

I have always secretly lusted after Jane Fonda, circa 'Klute'. More obviously, 'Barbarella'.

As for Max's son. From those clues you dispense, I think I know exactly whom he might be. Cool. He reminds me of certain older character actors who similarly pulled off creepy personas with great panache. No physical resemblance, but, Bruce Dern; Don Stroud. The list goes on.

Brother Jon, it's good to have your presence reaffirmed here on the bleachers. It's been too long.

Your driver said...

I'm with you to the death pal. Posted.


Great post as always, then I read the comments. Great story from Jon. Was going to leave a slight tale of my time in SoCal circa '72 but, enuff said is enuff said.
Thaks ib & Jon. Good read & tune (always loved that one).

ib said...

Thanks, NØ. Your perspective, 'SoCal '72 (A Slight Return)', would make for a welcome epilogue.

My own rumblings on the beach, such as they are, are three times removed. Distorted by feedback. I looked at the dates and put 2 + 2 together. All of it just 2nd hand news.

It was the Mumbai racket which got me to thinking. I've harangued on that one before, but it was those ludicrous figures bandied about in print which made me want to revisit.


As requested, "SoCal '72 (A Slight Return)'

Then Came the Last Days of May.

June 1969. I hit draft age for the Vietnam War. Only one thing to do. Further my education in Collegiate Partying. University of Pennsylvania. English major.

However, on February 2, 1972, this fun-time came to a seeming halt. A national drawing was held to determine draft priority numbers. No more college deferments. I pulled #30, so, as they say, my number was up. Travel time for this narco-anarchist pacifist. Southeast Asia? Canada? I decided to vanish into the vast Amerikan wasteland. I headed back to California, this time for the swallowing anonymity of gargantuan Los Angeles, city of lost angels.

At the end of May 1972 I was squatting at the Anti-war Resistance safe-house in Century City off Westwood & West Pico Avenues. I was washing dishes part-time at a Mexican-Thai hash house for cash. I was living on vegie Thai & bean burritos from work, dumpster diving, & thrift shops. I had found my niche.

One day I heard that KMET-FM was giving away free tickets to a ‘Warner/Reprise Celebration’ at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on May 31. Free was my price, so I made sure I got mine. I could hitch to the Aud. easily. Little Feat & Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band were playing.

Need I say more? Well, guess I will.

The Spotlight Kid had come out earlier that year & I had already almost destroyed the copy I’d liberated from Licorice Pizza by near-constant playing on my crappy portable record player.
The band was to be the Captain (Don Van. V.), Zoot Horn Rollo (Bill Harkleroad), Rockette Morton (Mark Boston), & Ed Marimba (Art Tripp) joined by ex-Mothers Winged Eel Fingerling (Eliot Ingber) & Orejón (Roy Estrada).

I missed Little Feat getting high & drunk outside the show, but slithered in in time for the Capt.

Don & the Magic Boys were in fine form. Capt. was wearing some crazy winged, caped Chinese robe & everyone was in psychedelic finery, feathers, & boas, & three foot drum sticks. Chaos abounded.

They ripped through “Click Clack”, “I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby”, & “Abba Zabba”. We all knew we were in heaven. At some point through the show, the band went off-stage for toweling, spliffing, drinking, & pissing. Don held down the stage now dressed in Spotlight Kid regalia. He did an a capella version of “Blacksnake” by John Lee Hooker that touched every heart & soul.

The end of the show was the instrumental “Peon” from Lick My Decals that went on & on into the never-ending night. The evening's entertainment dissolved into the Captain intoning the magickal words over & over...”Webcor - Webcor - Webcor”

Firesign Theater said “We’re bringing the war back home.” & indeed, we were.

ib said...

It is these exchanges - interjections - which make misadventure on the bleachers worthwhile. Peeling back the concrete skin to peek at what lies beneath and at its edges.

I have nothing more to add, except to convey my appreciation of that Cabbala of invasive surgery.

"Webcor. Webcor. Webcor".

I have no idea what the Captain may have been babbling about, beyond the crows reeling over a deconstructed injury.

Thanks, NØ.


Perhaps the first recording of Don Glen Vliet, Lost In A Whirlpool (Recorded December 1958 - January 1959, Antelope Valley Junior College, Lancaster, California)

Dating from 1958 or '59, this spectacular item, according to Frank Zappa probably marks the recorded blues-singing debut of the teenaged, yet-to-be-christened Captain Beefheart, Don Van Vliet. It was taped in an empty classroom at Antelope Valley Jr. College in Lancaster, California, with Frank Zappa on lead guitar (an instrument with which he had been acquainted for only about six months), & Frank's former guitar teacher, brother Bobby, on rhythm guitar. It was recorded on an old Webcor reel-to-reel that, Frank Zappa fondly remembered, "just happened to be sitting there waiting to be plundered...maroon, with the green blinking eye."

ib said...

Yay. Those "reeling crows" were on to something, after all.

Thanks, brother NØ. I have not heard this previously, and it is - as you rightly ascribe - possessed of the spectacular. I remember working up a song or two with accomplices in an empty classroom over lunchtimes. I think I was thirteen or fourteen. The school was not invested with the spirits of antelopes but had a park in its name. We did not come close to approaching the Captain's vital spark, though we tried.

Mr Fab said...

thx for the pal jonathan!