Day 9: Koko CLub LONDON
Koko CLub LONDON (formerly the Camden Ballroom)
We're here to perform a concert featuring our classic (their word not ours) album: Gas Food Lodging. (I should point out though, that we are fans of that particular piece of work).
Don't remember too much about making the soulful, tasteful, and yes, brilliant Gas, Food, Lodging. One thing I do remember about El Dorado Studios where we cut our now classic, utterly inspired album is a gold 7"on the wall behind glass for "Willie and the Hand Jive" by Johnny Otis. I'll come back to Johnny Otis in a second.
Green on Red had bought me my guitar weeks earlier. Actually, Enigma Records wasn't big on giving cash, so they'd direct you to a music store way out in Whittier where they had an account. Besides, cash flow and indie labels, never the twain shall meet. Rode a bus east on Whittier Blvd. for what seemed like three days, only to find there were no Stratocasters. I was looking for one since mine had been stolen --at a Gun Club show no less—and I was hoping to replace it.
A 1984 Squire Telecaster was on the wall. So, I took it home. Yep, that damn guitar. Excalibur. I still play it to this day.
Precious metals... Johnny's Otis's gold 7". I'm a sucker for artifacts like that. Great song. Great record. Even inspired great rip off's like "I Want Candy". To this day I listen to Johnny Otis's radio show when I'm in town. It's broadcast only a few miles from where we live, Saturday mornings. Way left of the dial on KPOO.
His "Johnny Otis Show" band features one of his sons on drums and a nephew on guitar. His grandson, the son of Otis' well-known guitar-playing son Shuggie Otis, plays bass.
He's also an author, columnist, politician, actor, printer, painter, sculptor, and has even bred rare birds. Fuck yeah! And we're both from that James Ellroy other valley people don't talk about: The San Bernardino. The smog-bound fatherland. The El Monte, La Habra, Monrovia triangle. The least romanticized sliver of the basin. I think Otis also jars and markets his own Olive Oil or pickles or something if I recall. Been married over 50 years to boot. Cool dude, Johnny Otis. Following the clues, maybe.
Back to the present. After a brief domestic squabble back at the hotel, over the hang rights with his kid, Dan's wife Nuria says, "He'll be bored at the club."
Dan says, "No, YOU'D be bored".
Dan wins and Dan Jr. makes the hang while Nuria hits the cultural hot spots and museums. This comes in handy. It's nice to have a midget to crawl under the stage and retrieve things—not to mention sound check that kick drum mic.
I think to myself, see nothing wrong with Nuria's hips.
Daren on the other hand, doesn't look well. That lump. Is it growing a twin?
We arrive at the Koko mid day. I suggest Danny take his guitar to Denmark Street and have it set up to play in tune. The tuning thing—he seems to have taken a late interest in it. Much to my surprise, no second thought, he hops in a cab headed for Denmark Street. Taking suggestions. Now that's growth. Got some real affection for dude right about now.
With some time to kill. I get my mischief on. As the opening band (Gravenhurst) are setting up kind of nervously, I stroll out onto the dark stage to introduce myself.
I said, "Hey fella's, I'm Chuck."
"Oh yes, yes, yes. We know who YOU ARE", they replied.
I said, "I just want to take this opportunity to thank you guys for doing the support slot. It's going to be a great gig, but I do have to level with you on one thing... you weren't our first choice but..." They roll with it. At the end of the night I'm very impressed how they get themselves and all their gear and their girlfriends in a Honda Civic. These kids got game.
Actually, weeks earlier, our representation asked us for some parameters on choosing openers. After the band kicked around some loose guidelines, Danny suggested we ask for "bands that would hate Green On Red". Ya know, like Deerhoof, or the Deaf Mutes?
Damn, we always were the anti-social types. Paisley nothings. As a rule; Dishers are rarely takers. Hard to imagine those alleged backyard Barbeques where it would all come together, just like back in the 60's and Suzanna Hoffs would sit on Jack's lap. Oh the camaraderie!
The vibes ran out fast. They always do. Tom Stevens told me, "yeah, by 87 it got downright creepy..."
GOR called it quits around then. We never weighed our options as they disintegrated around us.
But now it's yesterday once more.
Barry Hogan is the impresario of this series. He's a young man with great taste, a big heart, high voice with an Australian accent. Just hope he has somebody else's money to spend. We insist that he introduce us and I'm touched that he seemed genuinely nervous. Maybe it's the lack of paying punters and the juicy guarantee he's contracted to pay that's making him nervous?
We surprise ourselves and overcome the ten songs with relative ease. But not without tangents. (I really should talk more about THE MUSIC, but that elusive shit is hard to melt down... really is...and other people do it so much better.)
During the show, Dan makes an aside about blossoming into a full-on card carrying grown up since we made the record. Chris throws out into the mike, "Say what? You of all people, grown up?" And we enter into a debate right there on stage. How do you define grown up? How low does the bar go?
You have a valid driver's license. Car insurance. No outstanding warrants. No outstanding student loans. A place to live. Anything beyond would be gravy— bourgeois even.
We Shall Overcome was the last track on Gas, Food, Lodging... (still is actually.) It's a spiritual closely associated with the civil rights movement. Dan allegedly tore the song out of a hymn book—none of us were really all that familiar with the song when we originally recorded it in 1984, 1985 or so. But in the Reagan era, it took on a new meaning to people. We like to think.
I'm not really sure.
Well it did, it took on a new meaning. Just ask George Pelecanos. Or we could ask my Quaker pals, hicks, who marched with the orator, people who grew up singing that song. Toughest guy I ever met can sing that one, can't hit a note, but he knows the words.
We'll be closing the show with the song tonight. Of course we will. Somewhere along the line, we came up with the idea of producing a slide show to accompany the song.
Besides, this is a theatre man. Nervous theater, but theater. Chasing the clues.
Initially, I push the dada absurdist approach. Springtime For Hitler! Tristan Tzara toothpaste! Milk and Cookies for everyone! Bandying concepts around, I suggested that if the Misfits hadn't already dumped grape-flavored Flavor Aid on the audience, mocking the Jonestown Massacre back in 1978 maybe we could do something like that.
Fun fact: Jim Jones was such a wacko that he bought the budget version: Flavor Aid not Kool Aid. Kool Aid will not hesitate to roll out the lawsuits I'm warned. Come and get me, I could use the publicity.
Kidding aside, there's an opportunity here to take the focus off of us while we're playing the song and point it somewhere more—dare I say? meaningful. And we know it.
Hooded Abu Ghraib prisoners and war images spring to my mind. We continue to riff lightheartedly. I suggest we invite the audience up to hold hands during We Shall... get a couple hundred people up there. Turn off all the lights, run the slide show, Dan can hold a candle or better yet, a flashlight—stick the flashlight in his mouth. Dan joining in on the fun, says, "Pictures of babies with their faces ripped off, tanks rolling over Grandmas! No one's overcoming anything, anytime soon. Then I spray the audience with my Uzi... think of the residuals."
(Lowbrow? Maybe, I don't call it anything, but this is the way we talk when there's no one around, by the way).
And so do you.
Confronted with the never before seen grotesque war images—these weren't in my issue of Time magazine—on our computer screens, we sober up right quick. Clearly, the no flinching, straight from the heart approach, is the way to go.
Dan points out "it's not like we won't provide the yuks that we're known for before we get to it".
The Kool Aid deal might be overkill. It's possible people will be throwing up in their curry as it is. Either way, something to look forward to. The mystery. How will it go down?
Dan further points out that the combination of a sickeningly idealist song together with images of the worst man can offer might stand on its own sans mocking. And that "heart is the hardest". Word. Now that's leadership, George.
After we pay $700.00 to a kid with connections to Marilyn Manson—or was the Manson family? (I forget) to assemble the slide show. (actually, his name is Kevin and he's the brother of the guy with the connections), the DVD gets stuck at UK customs. After all our self imposed wind up, it's almost all a BIG NOTHING. No problem, Kevin resends the slide show as an attachment at the zero hour.
And I boot up the G4 and pull it out of the air.
Even with the occasional uplifting image of hope scattered in there if you look hard enough, the slide show is a grotesque display. It's pretty fucking disturbing. A bit of a downer really. We'll make our point for sure. The war? Yep, make no mistake, we're against it.
After attempting to rehearse the song with the slide show, it becomes clear that it would be hard to mug in front of those images. We'll play the song straight faced -- and start the slide show after the last chorus, while we head into some apocalyptic feedback in the key of A minor. In the dark, all the stage lights off—Horrible feed back. Purposeful feed back.
The slide show ends up repeating in a loop setting. We can't stop it. It goes on and on.... Not exactly how we planned it.
The feedback was unpleasant too. We hope.
We made our point.
Not a bad gig really. We tried to do some good.
We visit with a lot of old friends backstage afterwards. Chris Carr and his lieutenants show up sans Crossbows and mace. Unfortunately, a few friends are held back by the gorilla staff. It gets loud, smoky, weird. It gets heated back there. Dan Jr. stares on taking it all in. Is he in heaven? Or is that just me projecting?
CURIOUSITY KILLED THE CAT. MEET ME AT THE OL' MOUSE HOLE.