Friday, May 13, 2011

Chapter XII Thank you, Gene Sculatti



There is a need for some personal reflection at what may be the
half way stage of this life story; I wish to lay down a sense of
my bias in recounting these past events, with my sometimes
straying into the present. 

   
Now that I had made my grand entrance into the Los Angeles
underground music scene, it seemed that I managed in quick order
to be ostracized by half of its denizens.

Other than a cross word exchanged here or there, I never
found out why I was shunned by so many; yet, I managed
to collaborate with most of the important groups of the day.
I did not take any animosity too personally: it was evident
that here was a world wracked by petty jealousies and
people intriguing almost as a birthright. The experience
with Mario Machado of our exchanging perceived acts of
betrayal would have prepared me, if only a little, for what
would follow. Since most people’s vision did not extend
past the next important "gig" or party, it soon
became apparent who was with me or agin’ me.


There was a legacy, actually a lack of one, either because 
I was not taken seriously or fences needed mending which
I failed to do.

Other than the group I managed (F Word!) and its lead singer 
Richard Elerick (Rik L Rik), I never worked as a producer with 
any of the first wave of L.A. punk groups, the class of 1977, 
making my mark instead with San Francisco groups 
(The Nuns, U.X.A., Negative Trend inter alia) and the groups 
then forming in the L.A. suburbs.


(It has taken me decades to write the following music/press related paragraphs , added in May 2011)

I was 24 years old in 1977.  Earlier in my life I had considered journalism as a career. From publishing my own magazine at Westminster at 14 to editing the Holland Park School newspaper at 16, I was off to an early start.  If spending just 7 terms at Westminster was a goof, staying only 3 months at the Los Angeles Times in 1971 as an 18 year old copyboy was a greater one.  My excuse was to return to Britain to pursue a University education.  I did not listen to my father who felt that a higher education's purpose was to land the job I already had!

During the next 4 years at varsity and the 2 wandering years afterwards, I managed to have major interviews published (the actor Michael Caine, the footballer Rodney Marsh), have 2 articles published in the London Evening Standard reporting from the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Germany and learn certain of the techniques of being a freelance foreign correspondent, subsequently submitting numerous articles to the London press.

I came to the 1977 L A music scene still wearing my journalist's hat.
I wrote just one music article :  a critique of Eddie and The Hot Rods at The Whisky.

What I soon learned was that I should have been writing fawning pieces about groups I was interested in, interested in managing, interested in partying with, the fine art of plain vanilla sycophancy.

That definition of journalism, a more realistic one for Hollywood, did not sit right with me.  I actually found it more honest to work in public relations whilst the battle of hidden agendas played out in the L A scene.

I knew Robert Hilburn, the Los Angeles Times  pop music critic from my time in 1971 as a copyboy at the Times.  He even sent me out on "assignment", my taking an invitation no one else was interested in, attending Alice Cooper's "Coming Out" party held at the Ambassador Hotel.

Bob had drifted over to rock music from having been involved in country and western music. He was a genial sort, not exactly a rock 'n roller, more a doctoral candidate in bearing and quite even tempered unlike many he dealt with.  He managed to cultivate in his columns an authoritative voice on music matters as though speaking ex cathedra. But other than certain of his personal favorites that were relentlessly promoted, he came to rely on people in the industry and stringers not just for industry gossip but, more significantly, for artistic direction.  Now this trait of seeking others' views made him highly popular with those he consulted, less so with others ignored.

The scene at the Tropicana Motel, Joan Jett talking on the 'phone with pal Lisa "Devil Worship" Curland. Joan and Devil Worship were both very much part of the punk scene or the early punk scene was part of theirs. Photo: by kind permission of Brad Elterman

                              

In October 1977, after performing my own brief investigations, it became apparent that Bob was clueless about what was happening on the street; rather, he was still fixated upon the pavement outside the Troubadour on Santa Monica Blvd., a generation behind what was going on just down the street inside the Tropicana motel or at the other clubs around town.  By the time of the Elks Lodge Benefit concerts and riot, he was more tuned in, standing next to me the first day and asking about the dark haired girl on stage singing wildly out of tune, Exene Cervenka of X,  whom once signed to a major label, he would champion to the exclusion of the suburban groups.

It so happened that the sources Hilburn came to rely on for his punk intelligence were tied in with Slash magazine, a business venture underwritten by art entrepreneur Steve Samiof and investor Bob Biggs and edited by Claude "Kick Boy Face" Bessy.

Slash made a lateral move into the record business,  and it was highly synergistic for Biggs's then girlfriend Penelope Spheeris to make a film The Decline,  featuring the bands the magazine's writers were already members of, screwing or smoking dope with.

To be sure, there were some hugely talented people involved with Slash. The Chicano artist activist Mark Vallen contributed some truly astounding front cover illustrations which have endured as icons from that era.
"Come back to haunt you." Mark Vallen (c) Pencil on paper. 1980. Cover art for the last issue of SLASH magazine. Reproduced by kind permission of Mark Vallen/Art For A Change who adroitly noted  "I recall seeing you just about everywhere, and also the crap people would say behind your back". 

I was very much involved with Slash initially as they wrote about
F Word!.  But as time wore on, I felt unwelcome at their offices.

In any event, I had discovered Flipside fanzine, a rag ridiculed by the Slash crowd, but one whose do it yourself ethos I found refreshing.

Flipside was a bunch of young fans from the Whittier area, lead by marine biologist/surfer Al Kowalewski.  Starting off as xerox art the magazine did well to keep to a bi monthly print schedule for the next 20 or so years, eventually boasting 4 color glossy covers, gracing newsstands.

In a way, Flipside made me my fortune, for it was principally in its pages that the suburban punk culture was nurtured.  Meanwhile, fed dreck by his sources, Robert Hilburn completely missed the entire Orange County scene with barely a nod to the rise of Black Flag from the South Bay.

Even the O.C. music correspondent Mike Boehm could not get his outstanding pieces published beyond the O.C. local edition.

One memorable night Rodney Bingenheimer played 17 Posh Boy Recordings by a wildly dissimilar assembly of groups over the span of a 4 hour show;  but as far as the L A Times was concerned, my label did not exist.  This took a personal toll:

my father would not believe I had achieved any degree of success without reading about it in the Times

Unlike Hilburn's industry sources who might call him up screaming about some injustice in their universe I never confronted Bob about these slights, ever the 18 year old cub reporter.   But thank you, Gene Sculatti, the Chronicler of Cool,  who did write about Posh Boy, for showing me that at least one rock journalist in L.A. cared.

I would have loved to have worked with Darby Crash and half
expected to do so in 1981, after the fiasco of the Darby Crash
band at the Starwood in the autumn of 1980.

Darby had re-appeared in Los Angeles in 1980 after a summer in London with a new "pop" persona,
to go beyond the Germs cult. He needed a new hit record on Rodney's show for his launch, to bring in adoring fans. Instead he was faced by perplexed fans expecting 1977 all over again for whom a teased mohawk was a strange sight.

Darby was, at the time, still on Slash Records and needed to let that situation play out. Instead he took the needless permanent, final, step in the proverbial resolution of a temporary problem and achieved a deeply flawed immortality.

Instead, it was my taking The Adolescents into the studio that early Fall 1980 for a 2 hour session that proved the game changer in the L.A. scene.  Whereas before suburban kids had been spectators, now they and their bands took over.   The Adolescents knew they had the goods and struck a hard bargain with me:  all I could have was a single recording, not even a "B" side, but only to be used on the proposed Rodney On The Roq compilation (which the old guard bands were not interested in gracing).

It was a choice between Amoeba and Kids of The Black Hole.  I wanted both but was firmly denied, so it was Amoeba because we wanted a punk radio hit and we got it.  Amoeba soon crossed from Rodney's show to being played every hour during the day on local radio station KROQ.

It was a monster and made the first Rodney On The Roq album a monster seller in the suburban L A record stores.  Yes, it was a 2 hour session.  It helped that Tony B. did his vocals and overdubs in one take.  It also helped that the remaining members of the group continued to record after I rejected the song's co-writer's uncertain backing vocals.  It helped that the General,  maestro Rikk Agnew, was willing to listen to me and the 2 guitarists,  apprentice Jay Lansford and audio engineer David Hines, in the control booth.

But when a few months later in early 1981, again at The Starwood, I presented members of the group with "Gold" record awards, they were well received apart from Tony's who promptly threw his into the audience, expressing his disdain, thinking that I had actually conjured up a single release, against our contractual understanding.  Tony was undoubtedly upset at the time but I wasn't ... my feelings have always been of gratitude that I had the opportunity to produce them and chagrin at not getting a shot to record more from what was a very talented and inspired group of teenagers.


The same night in October 1980 when we tracked and mixed Amoeba at Unicorn Studio on Santa Monica Blvd using studio time that had been arranged through Black Flag who were, in my recollection, living on the premises, we also recorded lead and backing vocals for Wild In The Streets, as performed by the Circle Jerks.

It was a bitter sweet experience having singer Keith Morris in the studio again.  8 months or so earlier when I was really, really broke I had signed the Circle Jerks to a limited 1 e.p., 6 song deal.  I already knew Keith from his days singing with Black Flag and guitarist Greg Hetson as a 16 year old in the group Red Cross.  They invited me to see their new group at a club on La Brea.  Another type A personality was drummer Lucky Lehrer with Roger Rogerson on bass.  I think there were only 2 other patrons in the club that night, the band was simply not known yet.

In listening to their material I asked them to record a cover song by Garland Jeffreys which they had performed either that night or at an attended rehearsal.  They were not keen to do so and, in fact, only espoused the song as one of theirs after it had become a hit off the Rodney On The Roq album.

In any event, the group came in for a fairly easy recording session, but my ace engineer, David Hines was not working exclusively for me yet.  Unbeknownst to me, the session was soon spiraling out of control with secret drinking and within a few hours of rolling the tape, Keith Morris was not just drunk but legless, completely unable to sing.

For a month or two I kept hoping to re-schedule Keith for his vocals, to complete the half a dozen recordings sitting in the can.

Then, in May 1980, after completing The Nuns album with the very last of my resources, I left Los Angeles for London on an extended visit courtesy of a one way air ticket my mother had kindly provided for me.  Now it was the Circle Jerks' turn to grow impatient.

Upon my return to L.A. 3 months later, I met with Greg Hetson in his small pick up truck as he wanted to play me something they had recorded on a spec deal.  It was the 16 minute long Group Sex album, 5 of the songs he had already tracked for me.  He needed a modest couple of thousand dollars to pay his studio bill!

We had a frank discussion which remained friendly.  I told Greg that I had wanted to produce the Jerks and for them to sound more polished than what I was hearing.  However, I knew someone who was looking to put out a new record and who might have the money to settle his bill.  This was Lisa Fancher who, heretofore, had given punk a wide berth but who was enthusiastic and keen.  However, I could not get Greg to agree to finish my recordings, so I was sitting on a total loss.

So when the Jerks heard sometime later of the forthcoming Rodney On The Roq compilation they wanted in  and I agreed to their only concession of allowing me to finish the one song, which they felt they could spare as they hadn't written it themselves.

My production - and it can be contrasted with their own re-recording from a year or 2 later - proved to be another hit off the compilation, though not enjoying as extensive daytime radio airplay as Amoeba.  I managed to recoup my losses and the Circle Jerks built upon the airplay to become one of the bigger L.A. punk groups.  The original 16 track master tape with the other uncompleted recordings was stolen out of a different recording studio, either to re-use the tape or because someone wanted to make sure I did not fulfill my spoken jest of releasing a Circle Jerks karaoke e.p., "Sing In The Shower With The Jerks", or some such title.


Of course, with the Dickies signed very early to A&M Records and X
following in signing to Elektra, the Hollywood groups had their eye
on a bigger prize than signing to a pisher owned label, i.e., the upstart Posh Boy label, but now I made my name with first recordings from the Adolescents, Circle Jerks and Agent Orange with many, many others following, none of them Hollywood groups.

To be sure, there were betrayals to come with those I did work,
various of the groups creating a party line of malfeasance
attributed to me.  But over time, perceived betrayals played out.
Fighting off just one lawsuit from a group yet developing meaningful
friendships with its members decades later.

Was the experience of going to court on New Year's Eve worse
than being assaulted with fisticuffs, bricks thrown at my moving
automobile, hearing clearly enunciated death threats made (all by
the same beach group)?

Well, the above animus on all sides has been washed away
through death and personal redemption.

In retrospect, I have felt far worse about the quite sudden implosion
of my relationship with the Black Flag/SST complex.  From
the closest collaboration to their believing that I had betrayed them,
cutting me dead, the past 30 years of hearing their threats and taunts.

A decade earlier, I had spent some years living in Germany and
Sweden.

I had been perfectly aware that I was skirting dangerous territory
by living in east Germany, having friends in significant places,
whether they be book editors, journalists, ballet choreographers
or photographers. When spirited inside a ballet company's casino
in east Berlin and someone pointed out the middle aged Agnes Nelken
lurking in the shadows, I already knew more about her Stalinist past
from my extensive reading of cold war era literature than her
co-workers at the Komische Oper. Such people were discretely identified to me as
those whose major function in life was filing reports; what few knew
was the scope of the reporting. With the fall of the east German
government we have come to learn that so many in that socialist
state had collaborated with the security services, as if half
the country had formed some collective firing squad, no one knowing whose rifle
had been armed with live ammunition rather than innocuous blanks,
yet that seemingly innocuous but dutiful observation to the Stasi had
the potential to wreak havoc in someone’s life.

I am eager to have access to my Stasi file; With a failed marriage
now behind me along with countless artist relationships gone sour,
it is hard to think I will be crushed emotionally by discovering I was
deceived by those I cavorted with. More worrisome is the real
possibility that it was I who caused injury to some of those I had met
in the former GDR. At the time, I knew I was taking advantage of my
status as a foreigner to enjoy myself in ways difficult back in Britain.
Without need of black market Ostmark, simply being a foreigner in a
largely closed society was currency enough, just as now my possession
of a modest foreign income is enough to live like a prince in Thailand.

I had been offered a desperately needed job in radio by a senior
official in the east German foreign ministry; it was obvious that this
was an offer to be politely declined. But that same official either
eased my unofficial journalistic activities or failed to take routine
action to obstruct them.

Was I an unwitting tool of the east Germans? Maybe of my own
American side, who had quietly re-opened an embassy in east Berlin,
in variance with stated U S policy at the time.  In such relationships,
if the people are professional, their betrayal should never be revealed
to its victim.

In Sweden, the most bureaucratic country I have known
where everything is detailed for the State to know, I experienced
the greatest year of my life enjoying the Swedes’ hospitality, teaching
school, training with the IFK Furuby football team and, most
importantly, the warmth of their women. Yet, some damning
statement may have been made about me that found its way to one
or other of the ministries dealing with my request for my denied work
permit and I would have never known the identity of the person who
had denounced me (or simply noted the truth :  I had worked illegally
and my Swedish language skills were still weak!) .

Consider insecure Hollywood: its players are forever using others
to unwittingly carry bombs into their enemies camps. The bombs will
explode, raining piercing untruths upon their victims. Now regard
fortress Israel : on my only visit there in 1984, I found the security
system oppressive; yet, I should have known better as a seasoned
veteran of many a cozy chat in a private east German interview room.

Consider the Israeli security forces' urgent need is to jostle their guests from their
complacency : many years later I carried undeclared a Mexican doll
aboard an American flag aircraft, given to me for my young daughter
by a lady whom naturally I would have never suspected of being connected with anything evil. Only afterwards at
home in California had I realized how complacent I had been in not
even giving the object a rudimentary inspection (does it tick?).

In east Germany it was well understood that my contacts with any
citizen would be reported. As I was not about to indulge in anything
untoward, I felt no danger. If anyone ever approached me to do
something of an illicit nature, I’d inform them that there was no
doubt that I was being watched so why would they want to get
caught? (And, yes, I did give thought that those approaching me
might themselves be security agents).

Years after the event, an admired friend, Stefan Orendt, originally
from Transylvania then living in a great apartment in the eastern
suburb of Koepenick, told me how he had been picked up near
Checkpoint Charlie whilst waiting for me to cross into west
Berlin before I walked right back to the eastern side moments later in
order to renew my Tagesvisum (25 hour visa valid only for east
Berlin, though no checks existed beyond the city limits).  By the
time I was finished with my business, he was finished with his but
he did not tell me about this encounter until decades later.

And why wasn't he hauled in? Possibly because he had proof on
him of his SED party membership or a special  contact ...

This is not to belittle the Hollywood intrigues. Quite the contrary,
for here in our little punk rock universe we were the principal
players, out to hump others or be humped. Back in the GDR,
we would be just one of literally millions of cogs in the machine,
generating the mountains of reports to be filed away in Stasi
archives and M.I.6’s and the NSA’s, for that matter.

My adopted home of Bangkok is a favorite retirement spot for
many an ex-CIA man or those who worked for the Company
on a contract basis; for the vast majority their function in the
greater scheme of things was no more than clerical, helping to
organize and route inconsequential information from outpost to
h.q. and back again. If there are those among us here responsible
for particular actions, I doubt we will be hearing much boasting from them.

However, Izzy Fishel who features in the later Nana chapter offers
invaluable advice concerning women : do not consider it a betrayal
by a woman when after showering gifts and affection upon her she
decamps for another bedroom. She has received a better offer,
that’s all.

My own wife left me after years of pleading in vain for a new white
Mercedes to call her own instead of the used Audi sitting parked
in our double garage. Did she betray me? I have come to learn that
it is a question not worth wasting the brain waves over. The more
interesting question is why did I want her, as the walls came
tumbling down, to think that I had betrayed her?

I could write several tomes detailing every slight received, every
proverbial stab wound etched in my back during my career in
Hollywood, but for what purpose?   Ultimately what counts are
the results of one’s endeavors; if my records did not crack the
Billboard 200, again, so what? I have been gratified by the continued
attention they have received decades later from ordinary music fans
besides the few scholars who have decided that my
efforts are worthy of study.

And does not each betrayal invoke a denial of
self worth? If my best friend from my late teen years could spike my
drink with LSD (acid), was that not an accurate estimation for me at
the time of my own worth to anyone as a friend? I have learned not
to hold hormonally enraged teenagers responsible for their
capriciousness but their assaults are not easily dealt with by their
victims. Sad to say, though many wounds heal, some continue to fester.

Originally written October 1998, updated May 2011
   
Postscript, written May 2011

In the late 1990's I did write the Gauck Office in east Berlin requesting my Stasi files.  What I received back clearly showed the existence of such a file but I was advised to re-apply at a later date.  Approximately 10 years later on a visit to Berlin, I visited the Gauck Office in person but received even less information.

I had 2 exceptionally good friends from my east German adventure.  One ceased communications with me  in the early 90's, the other had been smuggled to the West shortly before the Wall came down and never was at peace with himself subsequently and is now dead.   Other friends have gone on to really flourish in the post GDR world;  I am thinking of my dear friends the acclaimed photographer Helga Paris and the former leading ballet dancer, Roland Gawlik, now associated with the Friedrichstadtpalast in Berlin.
   
My best friend from my late teen years who spiked my drink is now an ueber Amerikaner with a global bully pulpit in a leading newspaper.

Greg Hetson became rich and successful after joining the re-invented early punk group Bad Religion.  Along the way he lost his hair, did not grow any taller but remained the same good natured guy.  In 2004,  I was privileged to be an invited guest of Kevin Lyman on that year's Warped Tour, managing to attend in Florida and Massachusetts.  Greg was there with Bad Religion and quickly adopted my children, the then 14 year old Stephanie and 4 year old Gordon whilst I tried hard to be adopted by his friends from Germany, Anja and Dana.

Tony B. did not become rich but has achieved a rich family life and sometimes rewarding career as a special education teacher when not touring with the reformed Adolescents after interim stints with the ADZ and Flower Leperds.   It was later revealed that it had been not been Tony's award that he had sent flying across the Starwood bouncing off the back wall and falling onto the staircase but another group member's.
Tony gave his award to his mother.

I can't think of anyone who experienced more of "Hollywood", the "Punk Scene" and "Betrayal" than my good friend Ginger Canzoneri who befriended me in September 1977 before either of us had set foot within the L.A. punk scene.  Ginger earned her "colours" as the manager of the Go Gos, taking them from a Hollywood back alley to number 1 on the Billboard charts.  I am so glad to say that Ginger and I are still close friends to this day, along with quite a few of the survivors from that "scene".

Work in progress

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chapter XXV The Nana


     
      Once again, one of my readers has requested 
      that I skip a few years and write about a 
      particular period in my life. This request 
      is the hardest so far to fulfill as I am asked to 
      write about the present, the here and now of 
      my life. I am not a diarist, though in many ways a 
      diary of my life with its many famous and 
      eccentric characters would be a fascinating 
      document. I have chosen instead to feature a 
      few characters and incidents from my past 
      and my reactions to those situations I found 
      myself in as a means to manifest some sort of 
      composite self portrait. For once I will identify 
      that reader making the request .
     
   
      George Lehner is one of the fascinating characters 
      to be found at certain times in the year lounging 
      in the lobby of the Nana hotel in Bangkok,
      one of the great hotel lobbies of the world.

      I am sure George's host, the Thai Chinese Mr. Ping 
      would be surprised to hear of such a rating since he 
      never intended his hotel to be considered in the same 
      class as other, more famous Bangkok hostelries as
      the Shangri-La, Oriental and Dusit Thani, let alone have 
      his lobby compared favorably by the author to that of 
      the Carlton in Cannes or the bar of the Plaza in New York. 
      And to be sure his hotel though almost always fully 
      occupied, low season or high, fails to compete on grounds of
      unadulterated luxury, it wins bottoms down in atmosphere.
   
   
      Some have described the Nana as nothing more than a
      whorehouse. To say so is to be both crude and inaccurate;
      to be sure, there are stories of gentlemen checking in for
      the fortnight and never needing to set forth outside its doors
      to satisfy their carnal desires nor any other. 
      But as any observer would note, there are families to be found
      dining in its notorious coffee shop, even the odd middle aged
      European couple to be found among the predominantly single,
      Caucasian male overnight guests.

      The women who visit vary in age from under aged nubiles
      passing as 18 year olds to veterans well past the age of
      menopause.  The older ones tend to be elegantly attired
      and fluent in at least one European language; the younger
      ones are fresh from up country, jean clad, predominantly
      farm girls seeking to make their fortune in Krung Thep,
      City of Angels, Bangkok. They are indeed walking
      cliches of how girls succomb to what is termed in Thailand
      the "easy life" of selling their "oyster": some claim
      to have been abandoned by their Thai husbands for even
      younger wifes after bearing children, others abused :
      the economic fact remains that a good factory job in
      the distant corners of Thailand may only pay monthly the
      equivalent of a modest night's work for a reasonably adept girl.
      Coupled with the reputation that western men enjoy for love
      making skill as compared to Thai men, and it is easier to see
      why there are smiles on both the faces of men and women as
      they leave the Nana lobby together.
        
      The action is non-stop; there are ladies sitting and chatting with
      one another in the coffee shop and lobby around the clock.
      They are expected to purchase a coffee or tea for about a dollar
      and are welcome to nurse it until good fortune strikes. As well,
      there's a TV lounge showing  recent Hollywood movies which
      attracts it own late afternoon and evening crowd. Younger
      ladies, more sure of their charms, tend to congregate
      there as a refreshment will cost closer to $2. The main attraction
      of the Nana is its in-house discotheque officially named Angels
      but known to all, Thai and farang alike as the Nana disco.
      By 11 p.m. of an evening 100 or so stunning young girls will be
      there, mainly freelancers, though a few will be on their own
      version of a busman's holiday, dancing on their nights off from
      their jobs as go go dancers in nearby clubs.

      It is with some surprise that the western males happening by
      for the first time come to realize that every single one of the
      girls dancing is available for extra curricular activities.
      Closer to 2 a.m., the room will fill up considerably with girls
      who, having been bought out of their clubs by a short time
      customer, will seek to enjoy themselves with some of their
      new found lucre and, perhaps, score again. Then after
      2 a.m., a veritable deluge of girls will rain down upon the
      disco as girls wander in from clubs all over the city. And where
      there are girls, men will surely follow …
   
      I should return to the Nana lobby, to its comfortable
      sofas and armchairs and its many gentlemen observing
      the fascinating comings and goings of the day and
      evening.

      Not everyone is resident in the hotel; your author will
      travel a mile or so from his apartment of an
      evening to find the best social intercourse to be had
      in Bangkok; still others stay at the nearby J.W. Marriott
      and Landmark, 5 star hotels to be sure but with comparatively
      sterile lobbies; many of the denizens actually staying
      at the Nana are wealthy enough to stay in more luxurious
      surroundings but prefer the clubby atmosphere and are
      confident that no matter when they return to the Nana,
      year after year, good conversation will be had
      and old friends met.
   
      It so happens that one particular group of four
      gentlemen who regularly meet to exchange news and
      pleasantries, including your author, all happen to speak
      German, a somewhat anachronistic attribute for Americans.
      Prof. George (Friedrich Johannes) Lehner alone
      can claim German parentage, this sprightly 84 year old retired
      Professor of Psychology from UCLA and consultant to the
      U.S. Government's most secret arms on management techniques.
      Next in age would be the seventy something Izzy Fishel,
      born in Polish upper Silesia, educated in the camps,
      liberated 29 April 1945 from Dachau. Made his fortune in
      Houston, in the furniture business. Henry Abbott, at 59, a
      comparative youngster, born in Britain now officially residing
      in Connecticut with his German born wife, Gaby,
      a number cruncher for one of the ubiquitous Thai Chinese
      tycoons, formerly involved like many in Bangkok in more
      shadowy work, in more dangerous locales.

       At a comparatively juvenile 45 I, Robbie Fields, feel
      both filial in my affection for my older comrades and awed
      by their life experiences.
   
      Imagine our surprise to hear on a nearby sofa two
      particularly attractive Thai women chat away in fluent
      German. Upon investigation, we discover one to be married
      to a German and visiting Thailand; she appears to be teaching
      the younger one her new language as preparation for her
      own emigration. They are among the few females sitting
      in the lobby for the orthodox purpose of awaiting their
      kinfolk rather than seeking temporary employment.
 
      Of course, Izzy has seen it all. When in residence, say
      9 months of the year, he holds court for most of the day
      time hours.  He seems to prefer fixed arrangements with
      his female companions, their arriving sometime after 9 p.m.
      to accompany him upstairs to the room he maintains, even
      during the weeks he spends in nearby Cambodia, frolicking
      with Vietnamese girls.  Therefore, any single western male
      with a degree of civility will sometime or other come into
      Izzy's orbit and receive his home spun philosophy, a finely
      honed guide to living on an emotional even keel in Bangkok.
      Izzy will be quick to introduce a stranger to others living
      the good life. It may have been Izzy that provided the
      introduction to my good friend Henry. It was Henry, in turn,
      who introduced me just a few weeks ago to Dr. Lehner,
      or George as he insists on everyone calling him, in spite of
      his professorial bearing and status.
        
      I do not think anyone would guess by looking at him his
      birth year of 1914; unfortunately even with the Thais and
      their reverence for their elders, George has learnt to be coy
      about his revealing his age, such is the general bias against
      the elderly. The author, for his part, feels genuinely coy
      about committing to the historical record the extent of his
      emotional attachment to his good friends, Henry and George;
      suffice to say, Henry is big brother like, ever ready to steer
      me into mischief but equally prepared to rescue me; George,
      an amalgam of every teacher and professor that I have
      respected and loved, the surrogate parent I sought,
      his advice falling upon my ears as though I were a child sitting
      on Grandpa's lap and actually taking it in. Or is that role, that of
      grandfather, rightfully Izzy's? A man, who survived hell on earth
      and loves to crack a joke; the ideal Jewish grandfather I never
      had (both of mine died before I had a chance to know them and
      neither of them may have been so amusing a character).
   
      How fitting it was for the eclectic world of the Nana lobby for the
      younger man to present to the learned one in 1998, at the close
      of the last century, the recently remaindered memoirs of Gore
      Vidal, cautioning the professor of Vidal's propensity to drop
      names at every comma and semi colon. And to find Dr. Lehner
      clutching the tome for the next few days, marveling at how Vidal
      had the opportunity to write at length about George's own hero,
      the fin de si├Ęcle philosopher, George Santayana. And how Vidal

      had taught us all the worthless noun, palimpsest, a tissue of lies.
      And taking a leaf from my former hero Gore's restrained work,
      I will not go into details over the "how" of the ladies' business,
      always close at hand, here in the lobby.
   
      Studying that with an eagle eye, is a new addition to the Nana
      landscape. Khun Somchai; rather than a Thai, the gentleman
      in question is actually a 40 something Saudi, educated at UCI
      (University of California at Irvine), grandson of a Bedouin,
      on one of his frequent extended holidays in Bangkok and
      enjoying the Nana atmosphere. 

      In true Arab style, Somchai, despite his adopted Thai name,
      sits for hours on end, drinking his espresso and inviting
      passers-by, both male and female to join him for refreshment,
      as though still camped in his grandfather's tent. Now that
      Somchai has a steady Thai girlfriend, his interest in others'
      coupling and their negotiations to do so, provides him with
      an evening's entertainment in air conditioned comfort. Alone
      among my friends, Somchai smokes cigarettes; hospitably
      proffering cigarettes, his table by the hotel's main doors
      attracts the chain smoking crowd; on the few occasions
      when the haze abates, I am quick to sit down and share the
      Saudi's merriment with the world as seen at the Nana.
   
Originally written May 1998
   

Postscript May 2011

George was so determined to make it to the century mark
but missed by 7 years.  A great innings and he remained
sharp until the end, well cared for at The Nana.
 
So, too, was Izzy who has also passed.

Strangely, the first to go was "Somchai" who suffered
a heart attack at home in Saudi Arabia.

Henry Abbott managed to re-invent himself in his
dotage as a property appraiser in Greenwich, Connecticut.
He was there for the boom and the bust.  He is still with
wife Gaby as they plan to return to the Far East.




Chapter XI The Chinaman's Quarters



There was a palpable difference in standard of living between London and Los Angeles. Even London's main airport Heathrow seemed shabby in comparison with the modernistic LAX of 1977 at which I eventually arrived after a connecting flight. My actual departure airport of Stansted was little more than a large hut and a long expanse of asphalt; the 2 lane main access road was controlled by a traffic light as it crossed the runway to reach the Spartan terminal facilities. On the other hand, everything seemed gilded or, more appropriately, coated with the green sheen of affluence in Los Angeles. My father presented me with a Pinto station wagon, humble by American standards but several generations away from the Morris Minors and Austin Minis that I had been accustomed to owning in England. I was to live in the servants' quarters behind his Hancock Park manse; just having a self contained apartment with a private bathroom was a quantum leap in comfort from the shared bathroom of my London flat and its gas meter. And to think, the roof of my new apartment did not leak!

I had arrived thinking I would stay for an extended holiday; I still had my London flat and I had not given up hope of finally being called to start a career at the BBC. But just expending a fraction of the energy required in London to achieve any result, I found myself on a roll in Los Angeles.

After an absence of 5 years, there were people to look up, haunts to revisit. Upon arrival in Oakland in the northern part of California, I had telephoned my father to announce my homecoming. Within several hours of that call, I was stepping out of the bright Los Angeles sunshine through the portals into the timeless under lit ambiance of the Bull 'n Bush, my father's venerable restaurant in the mid-Wilshire district of the city. Essentially a steak house, upon entering the Bull one came upon the main drinking area, a fully fledged cocktail bar, customers often standing 2 or 3 deep, some awaiting table assignments for dinner. Everything seemed so American when I came back to the Bull; not only was the restaurant full of character, there were plenty of characters, too.

The waiters were worthy of being cast in a David Mamet play : Tommy Palma, the hard drinking 40 something illegal bets runner who took the fall in a federal gambling bust and later served time before dying from heart disease in his early 50s. Leo Egan, Auschwitz survivor, from a genteel upbringing in Poland who never lost his war-time hunger and slaved for every nickel he made. Merle, bald headed, straight out of 1930's L.A., lavished his money on his queen-like wife and the horses, seemed destined to die flat broke. Joe Roman, half Mexican and half German from El Paso, Texas, patriarch of a Chicano family that had made good.

All of the waiters had watched me and my siblings grow up, most having worked at the restaurant since soon after it opened in 1956; with his dyed black hair, Joe seemed to relish having known Gordie (my father) and Nancy (my mother) as a married couple. Since 1949, at the old Blarney Castle on Western Avenue, Joe had worked with my Dad. As recently as the early 1990's, well into his 70s, Joe was still waiting tables for my father at his surviving restaurant, H.M.S. Bounty.

Occasionally a waitress would work a shift and bitch afterwards how she made a fraction of what the pro's did. Many of my father's employees became financially secure from tips much of which they invested in southern California real estate, in that by-gone era of under reporting of gratuities received. Often, Marcy the restaurant's long serving bookkeeper (a Lebanese Jewess, she had taken me at my request to see Watts in 1968 - something unthinkable a few years later) would exclaim in examining the previous day's tallies, "Leo made $120 in charged (to credit cards) tokes". The implication being that these humble waiters were making as much as a bank manager might.

They were uncles to me and with the exception of Tommy's, I listened to their advice as a dutiful nephew might. Meanwhile they fought like a pack of ravenous dogs over the few walk-in customers who had not made reservations with a specific waiter in mind.

The customers were only slightly less entertaining. To be sure, the lunch time crowd was business oriented, but of those there were a bunch of ten martini drinkers, insurance executives, lawyers, advertising copywriters, who began their imbibing for the day in a booth in the back of the restaurant. Sadly, there were many characters who spent more time at the Bull's bar than with their families in the suburbs. Politicians, newsmen, sports figures would drop by; I met many Hall of Famers without any profound knowledge of who they were; I would soon spend half an hour being berated by Dick Butkus on the demerits of punk rock.

In case I had time on my hands over the next weeks, I knew where I would always be welcome. And this time I was able to enjoy the many proffered drinks, for now as a 24 year old it was legal for me to drink alcohol in California.

I was made keenly aware of the dark side of booze as I attempted to look up Larry Thor, associate professor in the UCLA film school, mentor from my 1971 and 1972 sojourns in L.A. . Thor, a 1950s character actor, contemporary and friend of Jack Kent Cooke, Lorne Greene and other Canadians who came south to Los Angeles was unmistakably of Viking stock, intensely proud of his Icelandic heritage. I had envied his Malibu beach life-style, his domestic bliss with wife Jean Howell, 3 children in tow : sons Cameron and Leifur, daughter Stina.

A year or so had passed without receiving one of Larry's frequent letters; I reached Larry's wife in a different house away from the beach in Santa Monica. Her husband had passed away the previous year, it was explained. After 20 years on the (temperance) wagon, he had fallen off for no particular reason and within a few months of drinking heavily had died in hospital, but not before inflicting a heavy emotional toll on his family. Stina was literally off the rails, crashing Larry's beloved Benz coupe that she was bequeathed. I was to meet Cameron (school mate of Jan Paul Beame a.k.a. punk rocker Darby Crash!) as he went through a stoner period in his life. A generation later, I was glad to see him follow in his parents' footsteps, the actor Cameron Thor making a cameo appearance as one of Peter Banning's associates in Spielberg's Hook and later becoming
one of Hollywood's top acting coaches. 


As Jaron Summers, another of Larry's disciples from UCLA, has written

http://www.jaronbs.com/stina.htm

there was no fairy tale ending for Stina, dying at age 44 in 2002. 

Gone too, was my beloved Aunt Lois (Pantages), having succumbed a few years earlier to liver cancer. On the bright side, my Grandma Dorothy (Lois' and my father's mother, born 1 May 1900 San Francisco, raised in Stillwater, Olkahoma) was now living in a Las Vegas mobile home park with husband former navy cook Frank Withers, playing poker most days in one or other casino.

I had to look up Mario Machado, another former mentor who had stood me up 3 years previously at the (soccer) World Cup in Germany. Still, I had landed on my feet, picking up experience as a stringer for the London Evening Standard, learning how to file a report by telex, then the foreign correspondent's main communication tool. I bore no ill will towards Mario, who for his part didn't seem to regard his misleading me as to his whereabouts (a studio in New York City as opposed to one in Frankfurt, Germany) as anything more than an unfortunate, unavoidable Hollywood change of plans.

The last time I had seen Mario on his home turf was during the summer of 1972, he an up and coming news reporter and noontime anchorman for local CBS affiliate station KNXT, channel 2. I had watched and observed carefully the processes of the TV newsroom, been instructed as how to write formatted copy, even been guided to the former studios of KMEX TV, the local Spanish language outlet, next to Paramount and been amazed at a bi-lingual broadcast of an international soccer match, with the English language and Spanish language commentators taking turns to describe the action in their respective tongues.

Now, in 1977, Mario had moved onto other things. Fortunately for me, Mario had one particular scheme, Sports Ink, that needed cheap, talented labor and I and a highly experienced female soccer journalist were recruited as writers to develop a pilot issue of a soccer magazine. At least that was the general notion of what we were supposed to be doing in some newly re-painted offices located within a printing plant in the crime ridden west Adams section of Los Angeles.

There were liberating moments for sure. I had been enlisted to be part of my first entourage, someone whose sole function was to amplify the importance of the man in charge, a job for which I had received no training in the generally understated business climate of pre-Thatcherite Britain. Perhaps, had I been cast as a schoolboy actor in some Moliere farce, I might have had some grounding in being a courtier.

This is not to say there were no rewards : I received the princely sum of $325 every two weeks plus the benefit of my very first expense account; through Mario I was able to meet the greatest footballer of our generation, Pele; accompanying Mario on his missions throughout the L.A. area was like living an episode of a television dramatic series, one moment roaming the deserted Los Angeles Coliseum, the next dropping in on a Vicki Carr recording session. As our artwork was out-sourced, the most frequent and pleasant of my gofering (go-for-it, to run an errand) was visiting the art studios of Rod Dyer, a transplanted South African graphics arts entrepreneur. Under his tutelage were some of the most brilliant, up and coming illustrators to work in the L.A. entertainment business : Vartan, Mike Fink and a shy girl called Ginger.

Rod's Hollywood studio was always a hive of creativity, a welcome change from the deathly quiet of our too funky surroundings on the other side of town.

The greatest reward I received for my dutiful service was being invited by Mario each week to assist him in the commentary booth at local PBS affiliate KCET, where he would add U.S. commentary to English football matches being re-broadcast on a minimum one week time delay basis. Previously, in 1972, Mario had requested me as a 19 year old to negotiate a package in London with the very show's owner, Lew Grade's ITC; amazingly Lord Grade's people had taken me seriously and we negotiated a package to include something like 6 months' royalty-free rights to broadcast their weekly Star Soccer shows throughout the USA; the main area of difficulty was finding a mechanism to reduce the incredibly high cost in those days of converting the PAL colour signal to the U.S. standard NTSC (Never The Same Color) array. While I had visited Los Angeles that summer of 1972 I had written a pilot script for the Americanized version, using the raw English footage. Incredibly all my reports back to Los Angeles from London resulted in no perceptible activity and I continued with my master plan of obtaining a British university education.

Now, 5 years later Mario had been enlisted as the soccer commentator for the very same matches. Mario, part Portuguese, part Cantonese, had spent the early part of his career at IBM; endowed with a rich, sonorous, speaking voice he made his way into TV News and show business. His soccer commentary was perfectly American in tone and as a counter weight to its inflection, Mario liked to have someone more English alongside him in the voice-over booth to add "color". Armed with my detailed knowledge of every English football stadium, the fans and the Game, I felt I could help the realism of our commentary as Mario would want to create the illusion of our actually being present at the matches as they were played. As for my identity, Mario knew perfectly well that I was not English but with my plummy accent, I was told to assume the role and Mario never ceased introducing me to people as a "young English gentleman". I was too naive to know that my success in Hollywood would lay in being what other people wanted me to be, honesty and genuineness be damned.


R.F. moonlighted as a soccer correspondent in the 70s. He hitch-hiked around Germany in the summer of 1974 covering the World Cup as a freelancer for the London Evening Standard. The soccer magazine never materialized but this guide to soccer did, written by R.F., illustrated by Mike Fink.


I also looked up some of my former overseers from my time in 1971 as a copy boy in the old View section at the Los Angeles Times. The food writer, Rose Dosti had always taken a keen interest in my well-being and was to prove a wonderful friend for the next 10 years, always generous with professional and personal advice until her own life was engulfed by personal tragedy. One of my fellow copy boys, James Brown had stayed the course and made good as the radio critic. It was together with James that I had huddled with writer Bob Hilburn the August morning in 1971 when news had arrived from Paris of rock singer Jim Morrison's death. Bob had wondered as to the lasting impact of Morrison's demise, a fair question for the day considering we may have been the only 3 people in the then staid L.A. Times organization who were even aware of the alive Jim.

Now I returned to Bob's office, passing by Martin Bernheimer's, wherein the serious music writer had once tried to share his interest in pornography with me. I suppose Bob may have been relieved that I was not there to ask for a job. I wanted to know what was happening in the L.A. music world. To my bemusement, he mentioned the unfamiliar name of Tom Waits and the continued success of the Troubadour club as the place to hang out.

The visit was to prove pivotal for my life : on the drive back from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood, I stopped to pick up a hitch hiker. Her name was Lori Fay, a runaway from Toronto with pre-Raphaelite, long flowing, dark red curls. I posed the same question to Lori that I had to Hilburn : this time I received the excited response that the place to be that night was the Whisky for the appearance of Lori's heartthrobs, The Dickies, to be sure, an unusual and also unknown name to me.

I felt I had everything to gain by going to The Whisky that October night. Just weeks after beginning at Sports Ink I felt a creative prisoner : I wanted to explore another realm of Hollywood. And sure enough upon entering the dark confines of the Sunset Strip club, I happened upon an other worldly scene of a group with 2 dark male lead singers, counter-balanced at one end by a statuesque blonde, singing at a Farfisa type keyboard, staring coldly off into the audience. Not The Dickies, this was San Francisco's Nuns making one of their first L.A. appearances at the zenith of their creativity. To be sure, The Dickies received greater adulation that night from their hometown audience, but their cartoonish, sped up music had none of the dark, enticing foreboding that much of the Nuns music communicated to me that night.

Even though it was a Thursday evening, I was in no hurry to catch an early night before a work day; rather, every minute that I mingled with the crowd in the club I felt that these were the people in the know that I had to get to know. It may have been Lori Fay or any one of the many cognoscenti there that let me in on the open secret : once The Whisky emptied, sometime after 1 a.m., most of its habitues would drive the several miles into the heart of the old Hollywood, into an alley off Cherokee, behind Hollywood Boulevard itself. There they would descend literally into an underground club - The Masque - where more music could be heard, more people mingled with.

This time, the music took on a more avant garde nature : it was hard to see where there might be any distinction between audience and performers. Among the audience were the members of the two groups that had played the Whisky. The group playing on a low riser were being joined seemingly on a random basis by members of the audience, sweating profusely in the poorly ventilated confines. I struck up a conversation with Jeff Olener, one of the Nuns' lead singers. In my exuberance I compared his stage presence at the Whisky to that of Jim Morrison whom I had seen perform in London a generation earlier. That comment seemed to please him; my entreaty to him to perform again at The Masque did not. He was dismissive of the notion, in a way befitting the jaded New Yorker that he was.

Soon, taking the stage was the power trio known as the Dils, the 2 Kinman brothers, Chip and Tony then accompanied by drummer Rand McNally. Now suddenly this was the best group I had seen in a long time, setting the crazy pattern for the next 5 years of my and many others' club going, constantly falling in love with a new group only to find something more enticing the next week, the next night or just 15 minutes later. The Kinman's were Navy brats from San Diego and their upbringing as a senior officer's progeny aided by their genetically bestowed tall stature never failed to allow them to pull rank on me, to make me feel less than competent in their presence. Even in those early days, they had a manager, the apparatchik-like Peter Urban. At the time he seemed knowledgeable about the music business to one as ignorant as I. Just a year later, Peter would be his self important best as he allowed me to obtain an unconscionably good deal with another band in his stable, Negative Trend, for my new label.

The real businessman that night was the elf-like Brendan Mullen, a ne'er do well Scot, product of a minor English public (private) school. As a tenant, Mullen had come into possession of the basement area, partially divided into rehearsal rooms. Without benefit of any of the requisite city permits, Mullen proceeded to populate his realm with the numerous groups, the Go Gos and The Motels (Martha Davis) among them, wandering Hollywood searching for affordable rehearsal space and in some cases, like that of Geza X, a place to unroll a bed mat. By the end of my 2 hours or so, that first night at the Masque, I had button holed Mullen and offered my services in any way he saw fit.

Within the week, I had been entrusted to act as mid week doorman to collect the token few dollars required of each person entering the club. The only other person so entrusted was Paul Collins, of The Beat, then in The Nerves along with Peter Case (Plimsouls) and Jack Lee (writer of Hanging On The Telephone, a hit for Blondie). This would prove an ideal way to meet all and sundry, despite alienating a few scene makers by insisting on their paying to get in.


(L to R) - Robbie Fields, Dan or Dave Kessel, Rodney Bingenheimer, Dave or Dan Kessel, Trudie Arguelles, Connie Clarksville, Brendan Mullen. The Kessels are best known for being Phil Spector's bodyguards. 1978. (Photo - Jenny Lens)

Now I would discover that some of those deserving complimentary admission would be members of groups playing the Masque, including one infamous one that never quite managed to perform on stage, that is, playing their instruments. The Plungers, were a collection of girls who hosted the party after the Masque which was in itself after The Whisky or Starwood, depending on the main attraction in clubland some particular evening.

Plunger House was a dingy apartment, located behind a gay bookstore on a seedy section of West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard. There was Trudie (Arguelles) who soon became the face of L.A. punk as the cover girl for an early issue of Slash magazine; less comely, but also photogenic was Helen Killer; Trixie was the innocent looking one, nonetheless with cropped hair and safety pins decorating her face and clothes. Mary was almost too docile to be a Plunger. Theirs were the parties to be at, the Sex Pistols' newly released album Never Mind The Bollocks played over and over again to everyone's delight. The pictorial book California Hardcore recounts an infamous scuffle that took place at Plunger House on the one double bed, crowded with various inebriated souls, between your writer and the emaciated English writer Mark Plummer.

Mario Machado had introduced me to the heady atmosphere of Dan Tana's restaurant, located on a more fashionable stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard; Tana was a Yugoslav sometime movie producer and sometime owner of London football club Brentford. His restaurant offered straightforward Italian fare which was for the 1970s was slightly exotic for innately conservative L.A.. One of the more unusual dates I had that year was inviting Trixie Plunger to gorge herself on Veal Piccata at Tana's ... I dressed in a fashionable London suit, she in clothes copied straight off the King's Road punkettes.

Back at the office, no slouch for work, I failed nevertheless to understand the essential requirement that I live and breathe Sports Ink 24 hours a day, to the exclusion of all else. There was a cultural difference between boss and employee that I was not to bridge. Mario wanted to confide in me, to have me as a trusted lieutenant. I should have been flattered by his estimation of my intellect; instead, I felt at once suffocated and put upon. I was not prepared for the highly charged work ethic of Hollywood, of what was once described to me as "the need to kiss ass until you could afford to kick it".

My emotional inability to handle my subordinate position was put to the test as I discovered my fate in a scene so typical of the town : I was working late one Friday afternoon when Mario on a rare visit to the wilds of west Adams requested that I keep my door open to the hallway outside. Some minutes later, I could hear his magnificent voice booming from within his open office : he had confirmed with someone else their taking over my spot in the commentary booth for that weekend's taping of a Star Soccer match.

I used my remaining time that afternoon to fire off a petulant letter of resignation to Mario's financial backers. No doubt, I broke the news of my liberation from corporate America to my new confidant Brendan Mullen as soon as I could drive over to his upstairs office, located across Cherokee from the basement. That may have been the fateful day when Brendan first dubbed me "Posh Boy". What with my still plummy English accent and my penchant for wearing a suit and tie during this period of my life the name seemed appropriate. And just about everyone seemed to have a nom de guerre in those days.

Armed with my new moniker, I soon hatched my first 

venture : Posh Boy Services, Posh Boy servicing the publicity 
needs of the under publicized bands of our scene. 

My career in alternative Hollywood was now set : it was a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, the unemployable 24 year old, drunk with adolescent ambitions, stumbling from club doorman to label owner within 8 months. 



Updated June, 2011