Tuesday, January 31, 2012

1-31-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #29 (Tina Weymouth yaks years later with Lauren/La Trix)

Lauren & Tina; Jim Wolcott, L & T (other pic)

A real class act like her sweetheart, husband Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth still has it and is still a great role model. So, thanks again, Tina, for influencing me to fearlessly pick up a Fender Precision electric bass in 1991. . . and for being interviewed by me in 2011 as part of the FINDING BLISS tv show! (for Vimeo TW interview -- click here)

Here are some cool quotes from Ms. Tina:

“I didn’t grow up necessarily thinking I’d be a musician -- although I always loved music and I did music as well as art. I decided I was going to be an artist at the age of two. I remember it distinctly: I remember where I was, and it was very funny because I was so young, but I already had this idea in mind. And my parents knew I was probably going to go in some sort of artistic direction, and they were great, they were very supportive of it.”

“And I had a big family, so I could get all my sisters to work with me on puppet shows and circuses and various little music shows and plays that I would write and then we would put on. And we even had a talking head, which later popped up (smiles) in my future, after I met my husband, Chris Frantz, in college, when I was going to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISDEE).”

“I do blame my brother for introducing me to guitar and Bob Dylan; the rest was just finding great friends in school, especially when I went to art school. There I hit my stride.”

So, how DID the music start for you, Tina? “Well, I learned how to play folk guitar when I was 14, out of books. I was living in Iceland at the time. My life is kinda complicated. Yes, it was very cool, but it was far away from everything, so I had to learn from books. And it was very exciting to find out afterwards, ‘Oh yeah, I did do that song right.’ But I loved sitting in my room playing my guitar, and my sister, Danielle, would always be so studious and do her homework. And I was so bad (shakes head). I did my homework, but not to the sacrifice of my guitar (smiles impishly). I had to do that.”

“But the curious thing that was, while my husband, Chris Frantz, who is also a painter, and I, while we were sharing a studio, we would be listening to the radio while we were painting, and what kept coming back to us all the time was, ‘This music could be a lot better.’ OK, there were some good things on, but mainstream music at the time was kind of driving us crazy (in the early ‘70’s). It seemed to have gotten into a bad state. I mean, David Bowie and Mark Bolan of T-Rex were doing interesting things, and there were interesting things that were starting to brew in Germany. . . “

“But this was all overseas, while in America, the love of country -- nothing wrong with that, because we are big fans of Dolly Parton -- there seemed to be this plethora of blues-based American music. But it was always being pushed into something phoney. There was a phoniness going on which had to do with people wanting to be like and authentic bluesman, like Bob Dylan trying to do something of the authentic genre. I guess we thought--“

“It was really Chris’s idea. He kept saying, ‘I want to have a band. Why don’t you join my band?’ I said, ‘Look, I’ll drive you, I’ll support you -- but I don’t think I really belong in your band.’ First of all, he didn’t really like flutes, and I was playing flute at the time. And I said, ‘You’ve got two guitarists already; I really don’t think a third guitarist would work -- and I’m not a singer. Let me just be supportive of you.’ “

“And it took two years before I joined his band, and it was only by default. By that time, we’d moved to New York. I knew all the great painters at that point were living in NY. I thought, ‘I’ll live with them and I’ll still be a painter--‘” Tina smiles. “I’m still not painting.”

“Our first band was the Artistics -- also known as the Autistics, for good reason. You know, it was a great little band, it only played two or three times. It didn’t have enough momentum but it certainly impressed me that David Byrne is a wonderful guitarist. And, you know, he’ll do anything on a dare.”

“So, when Chris and I dared him (Byrne) to move to NY with us, he said OK. That’s how we started as a trio. I wasn’t in the band at that point, but we lived two blocks from CBGB’s -- that was Chris’s call -- he found the loft we lived in and he pretty much put everything together. David and I were not very practical, but we did have a lot of good ideas, I think.”

So, when did you pick up the bass? “I bought my first bass on my birthday. I’d been putting five dollars down on a Fender Precision on 48th Street (in Manhattan), every week. I had a job at Henry Bendel’s and I was lucky to have the job as long as I did, and it was a great experience, because I got to see what I didn’t want to do. . . “

Who were the bass players that Tina admired and emulated? “Well, the Beach Boys and the Beatles were the only ones I really knew. The bass in both of those bands was fantastic. And I hadn’t realized that I was listening to the bass. I just picked up the bass because they needed a bass.”

“At first I thought, ‘Gee, because it only has four strings, how hard can it be?’ And then I found out how it’s really a whole other challenge than guitar. It took me a while, but Chris was a great teacher just in terms of being committed and sticking with it. You know, it wasn’t easy.”

“I’d been playing bass nearly five months when we did our first show.”

How’d you come up with the name, Talking Heads? “Talking Heads was a name that a friend of ours, an artist who was also from RISDEE, added to a list that we’d been keeping. We had a list of possibilities. I remember one was called, ‘The Vogue Dots.’ Another was ‘The Subway Tones.’ And you know, we kept saying we really need something that doesn’t convey anything like anybody else’s music because we’re trying to move away from 12-bar, blues-based rock, and we’re trying to do something that’s a little different. . .”

For the rest of the fabulous Tina interview, please visit Vimeo & Finding Bliss.

Until next time, your faithful blogger.

Monday, January 30, 2012

1-30-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – An Aside to Starter Job #28 (Chris Frantz yaks years later with Lauren/La Trix)

Thanks to South By Southwest and being invited to help Dave Rave do a 2010 showcase in Austin, TX, I reconnected with two old friends from the CBGB’s scene and my erstwhile life as the fabulous, poor-but-famous Trixie A. Balm. Seeing Chris and Tina, of Talking Heads/Tom Tom Club, talking at one of those big SXSW symposiums was a trip -- along with other now-famous “fixtures” from the scene (I blush to think of a possible indiscretion with one of them, years back, but then, I digress -- and I’ll stop there).

Friendly and open as ever, Chris gave me his cell number and an email to contact him & Tina with. Since they said they’re now also Connecticut residents, I figured, what the hey? It would be nice to chat again because I’ve only known reciprocal kindness, and it’s great to have some common history, even if one isn't married to the past (not me!).

This memoir-blogging is a hobby, I tell you -- I prefer working in the present and dreaming of the future, one where I’m not broke, not worried, eating leisurely and enjoying just desserts (in my favorite flavors!).

So, I asked Chris and Tina to be guests on a cable TV show I was doing, FINDING BLISS. I uploaded a bunch of episodes on Vimeo (click Link).

Here are some good quotes from Chris!

“Growing up, to have a band was my dream. I was a musician at a very early age, and I started in fourth grade. I started off on the trumpet, and it wasn’t really working out, so I had a very perceptive music teacher who noticed I had a good sense of rhythm, so he said, ‘Let’s start you out on the drums.’”

“When the Beatles came out I was in the 6th grade, and then I wanted to be like every other kid: we wanted to be the Beatles. All the Beatles were cool, and it was obvious that the girls really loved them. And they were playing great songs, and it was evident that they wrote a lot of them, themselves. They sort of set the bar, so my friends and I would practice in these little garage bands, or in the basement. One thing led to another, and I became a professional.”

But Chris attended art school at Risdee. “Music and Art go hand in hand. It’s the same impulse that makes you want to create a painting, or a sculpture, or a backdrop. So despite the fact that I wanted to be the Beatles, I didn’t really think I had what it takes to be one of the Beatles, but I do have what it takes to be a good painter, maybe sometimes having a little too much to drink, or having more than one girlfriend -- that kind of romantic aspect, living poor but an exciting life.“

OOhh la la!!

“I was very fortunate, I had an art teacher in high school who said I could do art after school instead of sports. I got to go to the art studio and do paintings. And then he said, I’m going to recommend you to the Harvard of art schools, the Rhode Island School of Design. I said, Oh, my parents are going to like that -- and they did. They weren’t sure about art school, but when they heard Harvard attached to it they were cool with it, bless their hearts. . .”

So how about Talking Heads -- and how it happened?

Back to Chris: “This is what happened: I went to art school, I loved it, I met great people there, but after four years, it was evident to me that there was this opening in rock ‘n’ roll music, a spot that nobody was filling. And so I got excited about playing the drums again, and I organized this band, The Artistics. I met this sort of odd character named David Byrne who was hanging around the periphery of this school at that time --“

“--Actually, what happened was a friend of ours named Mark Kehoe was making a student film and he needed music for the film. And he got David and I together in Tina’s carriage house. Tina was living in a carriage house and that’s where I kept my drums. She was really nice and she let me keep my drums there. And he (Kehoe) said I want you to make some music. The movie was about a girl that’s run over by a car, so he said I want you to make some really cacophonous music. So we said, ‘Oh, we can do that.’ We did it, he recorded it and he was happy.”

“So then David said, ‘You know, I can play stuff other than cacophonous music; I can play real music.’ And so we started this band in college, the Artistics, and one thing led to another, and we moved to New York. Tina was very encouraging to both of us. We had a friend, another Risdee graduate, who was living on Bond Street, and Bond Street led into the Bowery. It was cattycorner across the street from CBGB’s.”

“And the first day we were there our friend Jimmy Douglas said, ‘There’s this place, CBGB’s, and something’s going on there. This girl, Patti Smith, is going to play there. I think you really should go check it out.’ I went over there that night because I was chomping on the bit to find a place to hang out and meet people. Patti wasn’t playing that night but I did meet Arturo Vega in like a purple sharkskin suit with a Mexican wrestler’s mask on (laughs), shooting pool. There was hardly anybody there that night, but a few nights later, Patti Smith did perform and I went to the show and it was fantastic, just Patti and Lenny Kaye on guitar.”

“But it was mesmerizing, and the hair on the back of my neck was tingling. I thought, ‘This is it, it’s gonna be like the Cavern Club was for the Beatles, and I’m gonna camp out here and I’m gonna be a part of this.’”

For the rest, go to Vimeo link.

Next: Tina talks!

1-29/30-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #27 - 28 (Rock Writer Trixie Meets More Kindred Spirits in Downtown NYC, Pt. 3)

As before stated, there’s no shortage of kindhearted, kindred souls I’ve known, period. And like I said, if they were famous, I wasn’t intimidated because I believe people are more alike than not, and besides, who’s to say one person’s more valuable than another? Let’s enjoy life together and have a laugh, live and learn from each other. That’s cool!

Tina Weymouth had a way about her that was fascinating -- not self-conscious, she seemed intelligent and sophisticated; everybody had a crush on her and she wasn’t stuck up, or even aware of it. A real classy chick, Tina was everything I’d aspire to. I guess she could have symbolized a big sister to me. . . One night when we were all at a loud music party or somebody’s gig, Tina confided in me, earnestly sotto voce. I couldn’t quite make out everything, but I knew she’d gone through something very traumatic. . . I nodded reassuringly, I hope, but the music was so loud I wasn’t sure what she was saying or if I was being at all helpful.

I also was kind of clueless about the relationship between Chris & Tina. . . they were very careful to not be demonstrative in public, no PDAs. . . and I didn’t ask, they didn’t tell. Back when the Beatles started, the press really played down John Lennon’s marriage to Cynthia; I guess young pop rock musicians tend to carry on the illusion of sexual availability so their fans will continue being interested, thinking they might have a chance. . . (I was very conflicted about people knowing whether Shawn & I were in a relationship. . . in fact, all my life up to now, unless married, I have kind of liked to keep my “private life” private -- so I definitely understand where Tina & Chris were coming from.)

Fittingly, I think Tina was maybe one reason why I started playing bass in earnest in the Dave Rave Conspiracy in 1991. . .

Anyhoo, when I visited la maison T-Heads -- their loft on Chrystie Street -- Tina would often be practicing the bass. The band had their gear set up in the loft to rehearse, which is one big reason why they eschewed the comforts of a middle class home and lived in a rough industrial loft in downtown NY in the ‘70’s, before lofts became gentrified. The people who originally lived in these spaces were generally artists, musicians, or bohemians in spirit. By the ‘90’s, lofts became chi-chi and pricey, luxury open spaces with industrial-grade kitchens for people who only opened and closed a refrigerator to grab an Evian.

I doubt that the T-Heads had heat, hot water, and working showers most of the time! I sometimes would ask them to join me on a trip out of NYC to do something kind of fun and outdoorsy, like apple picking one autumn. We drove to upstate NY in my car, to one of the many picturesque apple orchards where they handed you bags and a “picker” and you could rove the rows of MacIntosh, Cortlands and Delicious apples. Afterwards, we went to a diner. It was really nice & fun.

Soft spoken and gentlemanly, Chris Frantz had a very natural, friendly manner and was great at putting people at ease. He was extremely well liked (and still is -- he & Tina, both) and really, there was nothing you couldn’t like about him. He radiated confidence, humility, warmth, and success. He treated Tina like a queen, a jewel, a cherished friend -- just a dream of a guy. Tina, I’m sure, agrees that she was lucky (and vice versa for Chris); I also believe that David Byrne was extremely lucky to be a college friend of his from RISDEE and get invited to NYC to join Chris’s band.

Oh, didn’t you know? Talking Heads was the brainchild of drummer Chris Frantz, who recruited his semi-secret girlfriend, Tina, and their college buddy, David Byrne, to move to NYC and play in the band.

I can pull some quotes from an interview I did last year with Chris to add my next blog. . . so be sure to come back, y’hear??

1-28-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – An Aside to Starter Job #26 (Rock Writer Trixie Gets Around in Elenore, the Wonder Car)

(Imagine this car in Nile Green, and that would be my first car: Elenore, the Wonder Car)

I’ve just gotta say here and now that I have no idea how I afforded having a car back in the mid ‘70’s when I was living in Portchester, NY and “commuting” to the city to live my rock’n’rollsville life. Granted, it was a much-traveled four-door ’65 Chevy Malibu, Nile Green. I named her “Elenore,” the wonder car, after the Turtles song:

“Elenore, gee I think you’re swell/And you really suit me well/You’re my pride and joy et cetera.”

Sure, there were over 300k miles on that car, but my mechanic friend, Billy, checked her over and deemed it good. I mean, for $250 I got a solid classic car that was only 10 years old; it had a V-8 engine, there were no problems with it, and Elenore purred like a big kitty.

I think there’d been a problem with a fire in the back seat, but my friend found me a replacement bench style car seat for the back, it didn’t smell at all bad, and I was definitely cookin’ with gas. BTW, regular gas back then was about 60 cents per gallon, which would be roughly $2.50 in 2012’s economy.

When I moved to the city, I figured, I’d get rid of the car. . . if I’d been thinking straight, I’d have figured on leaving it in Queens at my mom’s house, but my mom was kind of unpredictable so I never knew if she’d be cool about something or make it a big “federal case,” so I didn’t push it, or even think about, keeping the car there. Maybe I wanted to save on paying insurance or something. . . money was SO tight back then.

Anyhoo, I did love driving my big, strong Elenore wonder car -- even though I only had her for maybe a year and a half. Back then, it wasn’t a big hassle to park on the street in the city -- remember, there were several million less people -- so I’d drive into the city to visit, every time. Parking on the upper west side wasn’t a hassle when I stayed with my boyfriend.

Parking downtown wasn’t bad, either. I could park very near CBGB’s, and go home if necessary. Usually I’d stay with my boyfriend, or occasionally with other friends. I did have some friends in bands and I recall how gracious they were to let me stay over every now & then.

Two of those friends were Chris and Tina, of Talking Heads. I’m not sure if we met by me going over to them, or if my boyfriend, JW (ha ha -- the mysterious JW!), introduced us. Whatever and however it happened, we really “clicked” and I thought Frantz & Weymouth were absolutely wonderful: sweet, charming, gracious, generous, and well mannered. I loved their music, too, of course.

At any rate, when I stayed over their loft on Chrystie Street one night, I remember listening with them to “Love Is the Drug” on the stereo (it had just recently come out & we all loved Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry) and really digging it. David Byrne shared the loft; he was very shy & not real communicative. The loft was a very primitive, unpretty space. The sleeping areas were separated by curtains made of sheets or blankets, and they had a place for a guest to sleep (me!). I can’t recall if it was a couch or a bed, but I slept just fine, no worries (never had too much of a problem there). There’s enough of the gypsy in me to not mind crashing out at somebody else’s place, so long as I’m welcome there.

The next morning, however, I found that a window in my car had been broken and a bag with my college textbooks had been stolen, while parked on Chrystie Street. Damn! It really was a tough neighborhood back then. . .

Like I said, I didn’t know what I’d do with the car once I moved into NYC. And so, wonder car Elenore obediently expired on the eve of my move to my first NY apartment in the middle of ’76. Oh well. They said it was the transmission. How could I have afforded getting THAT fixed back then? It never occurred to me to ask for help (especially not from mom -- who was dating a new guy after our dad died in ’74). A towtruck was called to haul away poor old Elenore’s carcass (or car chasse?) from the Hutchinson River Parkway south, and that was the last I saw of her.

But it wasn’t the last I saw of Chris & Tina. . . or the Talking Heads.

Friday, January 27, 2012

1-27-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #25 (Rock Writer Trixie Meets Kindred Spirits in Downtown NYC)

There’s no shortage of great and kind hearted, kindred souls I’ve met through the years. Luckily, it started early on for me. If they were famous, I wasn’t intimidated because I realize that people are people and there’s always some common thread. Especially if a sense of humor, passions, or a goal can be shared.

Sometimes, their goal was more publicity. Oftentimes, my goal was to be able to write about stuff I love, and be paid for it . It was a very symbiotic world, for a while.

So when I’d meet musicians and I was in my Trixie A. Balm persona, I’d talk about anything that might be common ground: music, instruments, what they’re wearing, good places to eat, our families, places to play, whatever. And, of course, I’d get details about their projects that needed publicizing, be it a new album, a tour, a controversial incident onstage (or off).

You see, I was determined to be a friendly and well liked person. Early on in life, I thought I had a problem with making friends. I needed to change that; I was a lonely kid. I’d read self-improvement books about graphoanalysis (change your handwriting, change your personality -- I slanted my writing backward to become less “forward” in temperament!) and astrology. I read a book (Norman Vincent Peale?) that said, “Ask them about themselves! The sweetest sound in a person’s ears is their own name.” I read about Oscar Wilde, who was a wildly popular party guest because he was a “brilliant conversationalist” who just listened, and listened -- and occasionally threw out an apropos witticism. Cool.

That’s how I became a really good listener. I stopped discussing me, me, me. When people are nervous or egotistical, ill-bred or or coked up or just plain borderline psycho, they can’t stop talking about themselves. That’s kind of annoying, right?

Anyway, because of my listening skills and writing “power” (I freelanced for several music publications that were well known), I was accepted into the rock press and the musician circles. I was useful, and not too hard to be around. Although shy, I hid it and liked telling people’s stories.

How cool to be invited over to Lisa and Richard Robinson’s Upper East Side digs and rub elbows with David Johansen and Cyrinda Fox! Lisa was a famous syndicated rock writer, and she and her husband ran Rock Scene and other magazines. Richard Robinson enjoyed prestidigitation on the side (he was an amateur magician, and Lisa was a great yakker and schmoozer. She was kindhearted and very sharp. Her sister, Deena Schwartz, worked in the office and did some ghostwriting for her, I believe).

IN the mid ‘70’s, after the NY Dolls, David Johansen did a solo album or 2 and went into acting. He was very glamorous and good-looking, always in tight rockstar garb, and Cyrinda Fox (who later became the wife of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler?) was a beautiful, willowy, rock 'n' roll blonde. So sexy but cute, too. I don’t recall specific conversations, but the drinking and the laughter and the background music in smoky rooms made it a very heady environment -- I guess you’d call it garage-y ‘70’s rock, with New Wave thrown in.

I went to more than a few parties like that. Sticking to my yucky diet sodas or hot milky coffees, I never could get into drinking (not until one night at The Ritz at the age of 23 or so -- but I never overdid it). But certain kinds of smokables were helpful to fuzz the edginess for me. . . helped me to relax.

But the night I saw my writing idol, Tom Wolfe, make a cameo appearance at a party, I kind of freaked out. Even though I met and talked with many celebrities in Trixie days, the only time I was absolutely tongue-tied was when I met Tom Wolfe in person at at party on the Upper East Side, I think at Dave Hickey’s place. Wolfe walked in, resplendently white-suited and low-key. I could barely breathe or stand in the same room. Omigod my idol!! Another time I’d meet him, surely, but at that point I was very tired and unsure what I could possibly say to not sound like an idiot. Besides, I wasn’t well attired, and I could tell from his writing that he’d notice that and I might be crushed if he were to not be amused with me.

So I waited almost thirty years to meet him, at the Southampton Writer’s conference. That’s the picture you see of us, above.

Next: how Chris and Tina of Talking Heads became friends (my side of the story -- I can’t speak for them!)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

1-26-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Non-Job #24 (Being Trixie. . . Knowing Your Rock Writer Pt. 2)

Being Trixie A. Balm was pretty cool, as my writing voice was very assured, kind of glib, and maturer than my years (my vocabulary & powers of description were certainly advanced). My enthusiasm as the “ultimate fan” was definitely marketable according to Robert Christgau. And who can blame him? Having a “hook” is always valuable -- and that’s what many of us still strive for when writing, a hook to grab readers and a hook to grab listeners when making music.

But, once people met me in person, most of them were kind of shocked. I wasn’t the image of the Trixie they imagined. I looked like a teenager for years (baby face, sure), and strove to be as skinny and tough and funny as possible: a 110-pound waif with long, light brown hair and big brown eyes. I dressed like a hippie prepster, and had a predilection for loud, melodic rock & roll (Mott the Hoople, Jefferson Airplane, The Zombies, The Buckinghams, The BoxTops, Left Banke), baroque music (Bach), and vintage country (Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline).

But, as a music writer, I was sent all kinds of releases and I listened as impartially as I could to so many elpees (on vinyl!). I heard reggae, “boite” music (or cabaret), heavy metal, celtic, R&B, and so much new stuff -- including a poppy rock band called The Dictators, who seemed pretty jokey but the songs were good and the Turtles (!!) were one of their more defined influences.

My editor at Creem Magazine sent me the album and asked for a review. Now, Sandy Pearlman (who worked with Blue Oyster Cult) was involved with The Dictators, so I was predisposed to like them. Sandy Pearlman was a real character, a tall guy with thinning sandy hair who wore perpetual dark shades and tried to look tougher and cooler than he was, I reckoned. A very intelligent, sharp-witted humorist, too.

Anyhoo, The Dictators debut, Go Girl Crazy, had so much attitude, so fun & kind of silly. I had to laugh. So I wrote the review in a tough greaser chick voice, like a true Queens girl (I was actually a defecting Queens girl, as I worked on improving my accent and never hung out with “the gang” -- I was a busy, creative loner). That Creem review inspired Adny Shernoff to come to Purchase, NY to visit me in my summer rental (with a house full of hippie-ish college students). Then he invited me to come to the Bronx to meet the guys: Handsome Dick Manitoba, Ross “the Boss,” and Scott “Top Ten” Kempner.

I recall feeling kind of shy around them, and tried to talk guitars and stuff. They liked the Beach Boys and the Stones, and they liked to drink beer. I don’t remember if we smoked anything together, but I was probably relieved when I went home because I felt kind of socially awkward. . . truth was, I battled with social anxiety most of my young life.

Writing, being alone, was very easy for me -- as was transcribing interviews. I do believe I have a knack for putting people’s words into words, sentences, paragraphs, stories. Hard to think that people actually like working, but for me, retreating into writing mode was such a relief.

Isn’t it almost unfathomable that my career took a turn to the public when I joined a band and started playing out? People can be such walking contradictions (or oxymorons)!

I’ll talk about some of the other rock writers & more of the people I interviewed next, I promise.

1-25-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Non-Job #23 (Being Trixie. . . Knowing Your Rock Writer Pt. 1)

I love hanging around young people; their sense of self importance usually makes me giggle, although when in a darker mood I just want to roll my eyes and walk away. . . taking long walks are very therapeutic indeed.

I remember being young(er), but I don’t think I had too much of a sense of self importance, as my Catholic upbringing cautioned against thinking too much of yourself. Humility was a virtue; as was patience, compassion, and a vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience: none of these virtues were mine, and I’m still working on a few of the more appealing ones.

Do these kids want to hear about me playing pool with a very tall, shy, gangly Joey Ramone at CBGB’s? Or playing pool with a rather drunk Alan Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult in an Atlanta, GA, hotel barroom? Or watching/hearing Jonathan Richman jamming in a basement in Boston before he hit it big as a beloved solo cult artist? (I’m not a hotshot pool player but it does pass the time, and as for the Boston visit with Jonathan Richman, I felt awkward and excited and after having a small Greek salad and cranberry juice in a little dive diner with him, I threw up, in a bathroom.)

Ah, well, it all depends on who the audience or person is -- some younger people dig that whole “Spirit of ’76,” which is cool. Some people -- whatever their age -- are wiling to stop talking for a few precious minutes to let others get a word in edgewise, even to listen and learn a little something.

Most of my life, I ask the questions (I’ve done over a hundred interviews, mostly with music people) and I feel comfortable as the questioner. Still, it’s very flattering when others ask ME questions. In fact, I am indebted to people who are curious about others & their lives; I am especially indebted to younger people who ask me what NYC in the ‘70’s was like & that whole music scene.

Thanks to Lenny Kaye for interviewing a jejune young Trixie and using Lauren Agnelli in print. That was so sweet of him to make me “Know Your Rock Writer” in Rock Scene magazine (and for Stephanie Chernikowski to take that, and many other, cool pics of me back then).

Sure, my perspective is personal AND flawed, and I admit it! But it’s at least entertaining to me and, possibly, to others. If it’s good for YOU, thanks again for reading.

I’ll continue on 1-26-12 with a story about what it was like for me as Trixie A. Balm . . . and why I had to write.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

1-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Non-Job #22 (Being on the Dole or Unemployment, ‘70’s style)

Ugh. What a dire thing that was -- to be collecting unemployment in NYC in the late ‘70’s. First of all, as depressing as it is now, it was probably worse then because you had to show up every week in a local unemployment comp office and get on a long line with a whole bunch of other demoralized people.

Before computerization, everything was done by hand & sorted by the city-employed clerical minions. They gave you a little book with graph lines (I think it was green) that the date of each visit was written in and stamped by the worker you were waiting on line for,

The unemployment book sort of resembled a bank book, like a savings account or Christmas account thingie -- which is ironic, because, of course, it concerned money but there was really no way you could save it. The pittance you received was always about half of what you earned while working, and for people like me -- struggling students who were also writer-musicians -- it was tough.

Sometimes, the people who you talked to at the end of the line gave you attitude; very rarely were they kind or sympathetic. They were almost as tired and discouraged looking as us unemployed workers!

Then again, being unemployed for me proved that I’m able to be more resourceful and forceful when it comes to getting myself and my work out there. I probably looked for more “under the table” and entrepreneurial jobs at the time. . . including waitressing at Spring Street (tips weren’t declarable income then), and possibly even started signing up for Temp work at Kelly Girls or something.

But really, that unemployment line on the given day you had to be there every week (every Tuesday for me?) was a real drag. There was, of course, no way you could avoid that if you wanted to get a check, and another thing: you had to really prove you’d gone out every week and tried at least three (?) places for a new job, too.

Compared to how relatively simple and automated today’s unemployment process goes (I collected from March 2009 until March 2011 in Connecticut, at times having partial employment and declaring it, of course), the seventies NYC process was tortuous.

But no matter where or when, collecting unemployment is always a dispiriting drag that may be helpful in one way, but is also a double-edged sword. Best to use it, not abuse it, and be thankful it’s there for times of emergencies. . .

But again, as my sagely dad would say, “As you go along in life, my friend, and try to reach your goal/ Keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

1-23-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #21 (What I did for the Porn Industry in ‘70’s NYC)

Now, don’t get too excited -- or horrified -- by this entry down sweet ol’ memory lane (LOL -- nothing was that pretty back in the day, so it’s ironic). I worked for a few kind of raunchy magazines -- as a writer and a proofreader.

Yes, I created and facilitated content for magazines whose pictorials were beyond suggestive; they were XXX rated. I had to laugh, though, because it seemed so stupid to me that people would fetishize sex to the point of it seeming unappealing and downright disgusting. Sex should be healthy, playful, intense, loving, and pleasurable, in my mind.

At SUNY Purchase, one of my creative writing class colleagues, Mara, told me she was editing copy at a place called National Screw Magazine (a sideline to the National Screw paper and Midnight Blue cable TV Adult show with the very unappealing Al Goldsstein) and wanted me to write for them.

In writing class, we would quietly share a laugh at the instructor, who called hyperbole “Hyper Bowl.” (He was definitely an autodidact). At first, I wasn’t sure it was the same hard-core porno pub that peeked out of the newsstands at Gem Spa and the like, but when she confirmed it she said, wryly, “Gotta find work that pays, and it’s not always easy.”

Later on, when I discovered another friend of mine was secretly turning tricks as an S&M prostitute (she did both/either -- versatile girl!), I didn’t bat an eyelash, either. Somehow, very little surprises me, but I always look at the absurdist angle because, let’s face it, in every predicament, in every bummer, there’s something blackly humorous if you look hard enough.

For National Screw, I wrote “Talkin’ BunkMate Blues,” a semi-fictional story of being a tough chick who shunned living with roommates because of dissenting tastes in music and a need for privacy (to bring over boyfriends and have sex was the implication -- though I didn’t have to write about sleazy sex acts, thankfully).

Then, I was sent on assignment as the National Screw “Punkophile” to write about the great New Wave band, Television. I quoted -- or misquoted -- a lyric from a TV song, “I Don’t Care”: “’Cause when she whispers in my ear/I get so hard, I get so hard. . . “ Was that really the lyric? I don’t care (ha ha). It sounded like the words, and it made sense, and I knew they’d want to bold face that line in the story, so I went with it. Sorry, Tom Verlaine, if that wasn’t right -- maybe it would work, don’t you think?!

My greatest -- and last --job in the porn industry was as a proofreader for a XXX rated glossy mag called Cheri. Diana from New Wave Rock Magazine was the editor, and I think my friend, Fran, recommended me for the position of proofreader there at Cheri.

The receptionist was a sweet girl from Georgia named Rusty, whose alias was “The Cherry Bomb” at Cheri, a cover girl for this really raunchy magazine. She had the hugest tits you ever saw -- just mammoth -- and she would pose any old way they asked her to in addition to being the receptionist at the magazine. One pictorial showed her frolicking with a one-legged also-naked woman who had a pegleg that was strategically positioned on the Cherry Bomb’s ass -- as if pegleg lady was buttfucking her.

As my dad might have sarcastically commented, “Mmm, deLIGHTful!” Other than Rusty the Cherry Bomb, there were a few other characters in the office, though the rest of us looked kind of dorky and we’d NEVER be good pictorial material.

As proofreader for Cheri, I went to the copy editor to ask questions like, “SO, in this story, are we using c-u-m or c-o-m-e?” or “What caption do you want for this sex pirate pictorical, ‘Pardon my buccaneers?. . . ‘” It was surreal. I think I made about $150 per week, net.

That job, as a proofreader at Cheri in midtown, paid all right but only lasted a few months. When they downsized, I was history. Luckily, I was eligible for unemployment and got paid a princely $75 per week, about half of my previous earnings. Oh well.

Unemployment in the 1970s -- another surreal experience. . . NEXT time!!

1-22-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #20 (Shawn gets equal time to make an aside re Nervus Rex in ‘70’s NYC)

This memoir writing is really funny when it’s shared on FaceBook because people who were THERE have different memories. . . and as much as this blog is about ME recounting personal history -- with a twist -- sometimes, I have to agree to disagree and if it’s interesting enough, share what other people say. I’ll include some of my retorts, too.

From Shawn Brighton on FaceBook: “Lauren, here's history for ya - you're not quite correct. That invite (to play a loft party on Mercer Street) didn't occur until we (actually I) already knew the 52's. The first NYC gig they ever did was co-headlining with Rex at Max's and it was awkward. I talked to Kate beforehand and told her that we weren't opening for them but, rather, co-headlining as we had already played there many times. . After that gig, I became good friends with them - took them on a tour of Goodwill stores, thrift shops, and rag bins to find them vintage clothes for their onstage outfits, then we'd hang out at Eno's apartment on 8th Street which they were subletting, and I spent a week getting them acquainted to the NYC scene. One of my fondest memories is of you, I, and Ricky going to Coney Island and riding the Mighty Mouse, a rickety wooden roller coaster. As the thing was chugging up 1000 feet in the air and we were just about to take our first plunge, Ricky turned to me and, in his thick Georgian drawl, said "Shawn, I think we made a mistake." And then we plunged to, what at the moment, we considered our last moments on Earth. Poor Ricky. I was really fond of him. A really decent, unpretentious, giving human being who died way before his time.”

My reply: “Well, Shawn, maybe at this point I have to agree to disagree because I do not remember the B-52's gig, THEN the party (I thought loft party was first, then the gig). . . and I NEVER ride roller coasters; they're much too dizzying for me and I'm terrified of getting a migraine in public from dizziness. But I'll take what you wrote and put in my blog for equal time, OK?? It's certainly interesting, and cool to have different POVs. Love, L. PS - I thought Ricky was a real sweet guy too, but didn't know him real well. We also played the Mudd Club with the B's, right?

Shawn: YOU didn't ride the roller coaster. It was just Ricky and me. Now I know why.

Ricky was a great guy. It was a tragedy when he died. . . I'm not sure we played with the B's at Mudd. I remember that we played there a couple of times and I remember seeing the B's with, of all people, Richard Lloyd (of Television) hanging around on stage and riffing and screwing up their set. It was like listening to 2 different radio stations at the same time. I wish there was a recording of that. Strangest thing I'd ever heard.”

Anyway, to use another of my dad’s favorite phrases, “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”