Wednesday, February 29, 2012

2-29-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #57 (Grandma Ethel’s Role in My Moving to the U.K. for Keeps. . .)

Reminiscing on the kindness of my Grandma Ethel:

When I was a hapless 10-year-old, I broke my collarbone in several places as the result of rolling too-quickly downhill on a faulty skateboard (obviously!). My grandma sent me a get-well card and a little book called “Captain Kitty.” No matter I was ten years old, practically reading Proust, and the card and the book were probably for kids who were just starting to read. It was the thought that counted, and the kitty was SO cute.

Every thoughtful, she’d written on the back of the card: “… I received Holy Communion for you last Sunday & asked God to make you well soon and to spare you as much pain as possible – I hear you are getting very good care and are being a real good patient.” There were riddles in the card, silly ones like “Why is a half moon heavier than a full moon?” (A: because the full moon is lighter.) or “What kind of bank has no money?” (A: a river bank.)

Grandma’s funny get well card concluded, “Try these riddles on your nurse or doctor or even your company. Lots of love from Grandma.” Ah, my grandmother, the card – who loved puns and cheery cards. Now I know where I got that trait!

Anyway, in order to pull off my big moving-to-London, England, scheme, in a carefully worded note (persuasive writing is my forte), I sweetly asked her to help fund my foreign travels. I didn't really think she'd agree, so the $500 check was a pleasant surprise indeed. At the time, it was like having $2 grand or so. It meant a lot and was very helpful to me. I paid it back – or meant to; can’t remember now. I don’t know if anybody else asked her for any help, monetarily. It’s not like I was her favorite or anything; in fact, I don't remember her ever seeming to favor any of her grandkids -- except for those darned Seattle cousins!

I was starting to pack up, reflect on where I was & where I was going. I learned some cool old country songs and was writing a lot of new songs on the piano and guitar. I sang them, too -- but playing piano was laborious for me at best. On my TEAC 4-track, I demoed a bunch of stuff that sounded pretty amateurish, but the harmony vocals were nice (I always do a good harmony or two) and the songs were as good as any others, really. I was on fire.

Seth, the young lead guitarist with Nervus Rex, joined me on electric guitar for a few sessions while I strummed away and sang, including a videotaped segment for a friend’s cable TV show. . . “Please Help Me, I’m Falling” was one of my favorite songs, along with “(S)He Thinks I Still Care.” Of course, I learned all the feisty Loretta Lynn and weepy Tammy Wynette songs, too. . . I was convinced I’d be part of the “New Country” wave out of London, England; be produced by Glenn Tillbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze; triumph musically, financially, and romantically, in England.

Oh what rose-colored glasses that little gal wore -- with the Guild guitar and several big suitcases in tow -- on the Freddy Laker flight that August night in 1981. . .

2-28-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #56 (“My Perfect Cousin(s)” role in my Preparing to move to the U.K. for Keeps. . .)

(this is my Grandma Ethel, a year or two before her death in 1984)

How did it come down to my asking a relative for a loan -- something I’d never do? Perhaps a quote from the New Testament had come back to me (I’d studied the Bible over the years on different occasions for different reasons). In the book of Matthew, that great quote Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask, and it shall be given you. . . and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” How could you not love such amazing, consoling words?

Anyway, by the time I was grown up enough to care and inquire about her and her really interesting but possibly unglamorous life, Grandma Ethel in general didn’t have much to say, didn’t tend to reminisce out loud, just kept more and more to herself. It really was rare to have a conversation with her, and she never seemed to mind, oddly enough.

One of the high points to her life was when she’d visit our cousins in Seattle, Washington, from time to time in the sixties and seventies. Grandma would return from trips out west with our “perfect” Von Der Linn cousins, simply raving about what nice, well-behaved children they were. The implication being, in my head, why can’t YOU, Barbara’s kids, be good like THEM? We definitely resented those Seattle cousins, thought of them as “goody-goodys” and wanted to prove to them that WE were better ‘cause we were cooler and smarter and all of that. And certainly we were hipper, 'cause we were older and urban and cool, and liked better music. Besides, New York was cool, and Seattle (at that time) definitely wasn't.

When the Undertones came out with the song, “My Perfect Cousin,” I sang along, loudly.

Being a "free spirit" like my cousin Karen, and also deemed the sensitive, artistic one in my family, I would get these urges for free-ranging wanderlust, doing adventurous things like moving to London, England in my mid twenties. I was in search of my heart's desire, of course, so I could not be stopped. Not that my family ever tried to talk me out of any of my schemes -- either they were too accepting, or too lazy, or my ideas just weren't actually too weird and dangerous enough to veto. I had to live with that disappointment of not being badass enough, so I sighed and got on with it. Another adventure, another experience to write about later on and embellish – like here and now!

Anyway, I knew I'd need money and cash just wasn't my strong suit, being a musician and freelance writer. In writing, I nicely asked grandma to lend me $500 so I could make the trip. I wanted to go to England and make it as a songwriter and vocalist, just like Chrissie Hynde. It was 1981 and I admired her music & spirit in a huge way; we’d just met at my friend and bandmate, Dianne Athey's, apartment (as mentioned before, they were best friends in Akron, Ohio, at college), where the two old friends polished off a bottle of wine and pretty much entertained me. At one point in the evening I told them of my plans to move to London. Chrissie said to me, in her part Ohio, part Brit accent, in an offhanded drunk manner, "Sure, go to England, it’ll be good," so I figured it was the modern-day Delphic oracle predicting success and firmed up my plans.

Grandma, at this point a sweet tempered, forgetful old lady who daydreamed a lot, mostly communicated with me through the mail. I'd get a page-long handwritten note from her every now and then. She had a flowing, gentle scrawl, almost perfect handwriting but starting to taper off absentmindedly at the ends. . . .

Did the money from grandma come? What about those darned perfect cousins?

You’ll just have to read #57, next. . .

Monday, February 27, 2012

2-27-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #55 (Preparing to move to the U.K. for Keeps. . .)

(great pic of young Nervus Rex me by SF photog. who needs to remind me of his name & whereabouts!)

My leg had now healed from my great skiing adventure with Nervus Rex. We’d played a few more gigs, but signs were pointing to a parting of the ways with the group. Two years before, we were so hopeful; two years later, everything was an uphill effort, and people in the band didn’t even seem to like one another. We’d recruited a young lead guitarist, Seth, who was a wonderful musician and a sweetheart of a guy, but our musical arrangements onstage had become long and somewhat overblown, though brilliant (the intro to “There She Goes,” our opening number at the Peppermint Lounge in the spring of 1981, was pretty over the top. . . five minutes of spacey, then driving, guitar riffs with the Panther organ and synth sounds -- not exactly poppy any longer, which suited Shawn’s mood but not the audience’s expectations).

Around this time, Nervus Rex had gone into the studio with a young Mike Chapman protégé, a recording engineer named Doug. We recorded a demo of a few tracks for our second album that we thought were pretty cool: “Funky Surfer Boy,” “Out of Love,” and “What I Really Want” (“We Learn To Live With a Little Pain, My Dear” was the chorus of another song Shawn was writing at the time -- a song that Shawn did later on with his pop group, Burning Puppets). At any rate, the titles of those songs sure are telling, hm? Whatever was going on in his brain, Shawn wasn’t into the relationship, and I was fed up, too. The record company passed on our demo, and Nervus Rex was label-less, too.

Shawn and I had been fighting for a year, and after my leg broke, we had pretty much broken up -- there were other romantic interests and a lot of “flirtin’ and hurtin’” happening. I reacted a lot to how I was being treated (I got mad and kind of suspicious when I was not invited out with Shawn when he hung out with his druggie drinking friends, and assorted “midget models” -- ouch and ouch). One young man I was “seeing” briefly (probably to hurt Shawn back -- yup, that was bad) lent me his cool black leather motorcycle jacket and wound up giving it to me (I’m lucky, see?). Crossing 14th street on foot, he even said, “I’ll marry ya if you wear that leather jacket.” (Sadly, he was the wrong guy at the wrong time -- I was getting bored because he wasn’t real smart, just good hearted, which is good, just not enough for me.) After him, I was seeing a guy who was a real smooth talker and a big fan; he came from a well to do family in Connecticut (!!) but was kind of slimey -- of course hard drugs were involved. He was friends with a guy at Madonna’s record company who’d helped Madonna get a deal in return for sexual favors, so I thought all that inside info was quite titillating. . . anyway, it really was a mistake to date that guy but hey, I was young and had a right to make some pretty big errors in my life -- right? (just go with me on this!)

Above all, I’d wanted to move to England for some years. . . . and as if an answer to that prayer, I got a letter from my friend, Glenn Tillbrook, who knew I wanted that. He said, “Come on, move to England; you can stay in my flat in Blackheath for a few months.” He also hinted around that he and Chris Difford wanted to produce a recording project with me as the singer. Wow! Who wouldn’t jump at such an offer!

In the course of a few months, I sold my synthesizer, my Panther organ and a guitar or two (keeping my old acoustic Guild F-30), found a subletter for my apartment (and my mean- spirited calico cat, Claudette), and borrowed money from my sweet old Grandma.

Ask a relative for money? I really didn’t know how to do that, and was pretty scared and confused if it was the right thing. . .

2-26-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #54 (Part Four, Working Eldercare in Greenwich Village)

What can I take away from the survival job experience of working with Nadya? First of all, I have always liked seniors, and enjoyed their company, even though they can smell funny (my grandma had a strange, unpleasant odor from her person, generally) and look a little scary.

Secondly, because they ARE generally smart and experienced in life, I find it easier to have a conversation and relate to them. Thirdly, their manners are generally better than younger people’s -- and I dig the niceties of life, the little courtesies (thanks, mom).

Given the choice, I’d prefer working with seniors over kids. . . though of course, the individual child or elderly person is an important consideration, especially if working with them one-on-one.

Working with Nadya taught me that using psychology with others is probably as important as taking care of the plain old day-to-day necessities -- which I’m good at. Food shopping, cooking, light cleaning, keeping house (lightly!) is all pretty easy, basic stuff. And everybody needs that, especially people who are hiring you to be a caretaker. The other thing you need is to make quick decisions in panic or emergency situations. I keep a cool head in a crisis; I’ve never screamed and cried until after the critical time is passed and I have time to reflect.

In the end, the hardest part of a caretaker job is the finesse you need to convince your charges that they are in charge and making their own choices. Meanwhile, you’re pointing them to these choices, prodding them in a certain (good) direction. Even if it just comes down to choosing some eggs and toast instead of flavored sugary yogurts day in and day out; even if it’s choosing fruits instead of puddings and cakes; even if it’s taking out pizza or falafels instead of MacDonald’s burgers. . .

As a caretaker, I always tried -- and try! -- to be a good influence, maybe an amateur cognitive therapist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, either *-)

2-25-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #53 (Part Three, Working Eldercare in Greenwich Village)

. . . One day, the scene that greeted my eyes (and nose) was far more than what I’d bargained for in the course of “light caretaking” (and light cleaning -- never my favorite pastime or job). But before I continue, again, I presume you’ve returned to the blogsite for a continuation of this survival job section, #’s 51 - whatever. These are my dedicated blogs to my “Working Eldercare in Greenwich Village” episodes -- or adventures. Crazily enough, those “wild young things” of the flapper era in the roaring twenties were acting just as mischievously as ever, despite their growing old and demented. One might say at times they even behaved badly, on purpose -- another observation that ties the behavior of children and the aged, and makes them similar.

So, one day, I arrived at my charge’s home, this famed graphologist Nadya Olyanova’s, in the West Village and wished I hadn’t gone.

I unlocked her door to a unpleasant smell and even more unpleasant sight. She was mostly naked, spreadeagled on her bed with arms outstretched, smeared in her own feces. Muttering incoherently, shit smeared here and there around the apartment and on the walls, Nadya seemed pretty out of it.

Me, alarmed? I go into shock first, stop everything, assess the situation for a few seconds, then charge right in.

“Nadya! What’s going on? What happened?” After talking to her and covering her, neck down, with a sheet, I called my friend, Jack, who lived in the building. “Please, come down now!”

He looked at the situation and shook his head. “She does this kind of thing from time to time, spreading out her arms like she’s Christ being crucified on the cross. Some kind of persecution complex. She’ll be all right.”

Jack turned to Nadya and started scolding her: “Nadya, come off it. Lauren’s here and you need to get up and take care of yourself.” I believe he helped me clean up (I really hate fecal matter, shit, doo doo, whatever you call it -- one big reason I don’t have dogs). We got Nadya back into compos mentis (a sound mind) and corpore sano (a healthy body) little by little. . .

That was the negative side of caring for a partly demented, totally melodramatic old woman from Greenwich Village, who went from the queen of penmanship to the queen of (her own) shit -- not that there’s anything wrong with that!

Friday, February 24, 2012

2-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #52 (Elder Care -- Part Two, Working Eldercare in Greenwich Village)

(photo is actually one of my grandma, Ethel, circa 1925. The fashion and hairstyle is typical of women from that time; there are none of Nadya Olyanova that I could find online . . . )

I presume you’ve returned to the blogsite for a continuation of survival job #52 (perhaps -- I’m not great at keeping track of how many actual different jobs, though if each Nervus Rex gig counts, there’d be lots).

Welcome back to “Working Eldercare in Greenwich Village.” Those “wild young things” of the flapper era in the roaring twenties were growing old and demented by the early ‘80’s. One of them, a woman named Nadya Olyanova Carruthers (the latter, her deceased husband’s name), was in need of somebody to look in on her for a few hours a day, take her to the grocery store, on walks, etc. Some light housekeeping and cooking was a part of the deal -- and at the time, I was fine with the “light” side of cleaning house (and a tolerably good cook, actually).

Older generations (those born before the nineteen forties, say) were much enamored of alcohol and tobacco. I can’t say that’s what made their bodies break down or their minds susceptible to more of the geriatric health risks. . . but I somehow think the “bathtub gin” and suspicious blends of spirits from the Prohibition era, along with chainsmoking, might have not been the best thing, long term, for people like Nadya.

Like I mentioned previously, when we met (through my friend, Jack B.), she had me write a page in longhand as a sample for her to analyze before deigning to hire me as a part time helper. She lived in the West Village, off of Hudson Street, maybe on Horatio Street.

When she was napping or otherwise engaged, I’d read through her handwriting analysis books, enjoying the additional pointers she made about specific handwriting traits. Cool stuff. She didn’t tell me that she’d analyzed Hitler’s hand. . . or had a big radio audience for her work back in the heyday of radio. She never mentioned studying with Alfred Adler, either -- but perhaps she didn’t think that’d be interesting to me!

Anyhow, in the day-to-day of working with her, I’d arrive in the morning with my own set of keys at, say, nine o’clock. Usually, Nadya would be up, and would act kind of cranky. I’d have to make sure she’d eaten something for breakfast, then clean up a little. I’d ask where we’d be walking today -- to which she’d usually balk and say she’d rather stay in. Having been given instructions to take a daily walk with my charge, I’d cajole and try to reason, I’d joke and play the toughie. I reckon she liked the attention, and that she also liked to argue. Almost every day, we did wind up going out after a session of major cajoling etc.. The usual destination was to the neighborhood grocery store or to the supermarket, the D’Agostino’s, probably. “D’Ag’s” was a pricier place to buy food than my local Grand Union on Bleecker and LaGuardia Place, so I felt a slight annoyance that we had to spend more money in the West Village (but it IS a pricier neighborhood, anyway).

More often than not, Nadya would buy flavored yogurts or stuff that wasn’t super nutritious, but tolerable to her digestion and tastebuds. Even though I offered to cook more complex dishes (ones that required actual cooking), Nadya refused anything that required a fuss.

I mentioned that I was seeing Dr. Anna Manska, a village fixture, an aged General Practitioner who was especially sympathetic to women and women’s problems (psychological as well as physical). It was well known downtown that Dr. Manska was an easy touch for valium prescriptions and renewals. I liked her brusque candor and willingness to help get to the heart of the matter when I was sick (not too often!). Dr. Manska also charged very little for office visits, a good thing because so few of us had any kind of health insurance (leading the thrilling bohemian life in Greenwich Village!).

At the mention of Anna Manska, Nadya sniffed, “I knew her,” and said she was also in medical school -- as if there were some sort of competition. In fact, back in the nineteen thirties, so few women went to medical school (and hailed from Mother Russia, like Manska and Olyanova), so probably Nadya did feel a little competitive.

One day, when she seemed pretty lucid and in a good mood, I asked her about the old days in the village, and if people back then ran around and fooled around a lot -- you know, had sexual relationships like they had in modern days.

“Oh yes, but it was on the Q-T.”

Um, huh? What was that? “Nadya, what’s a Q-T?”

She smiled mischievously. “It was on the quiet -- on the Q-T.” I was given to understand that people ran around and acted every bit as wildly as they did in the writings of Dorothy Parker. How cool was that?

But as cool as Nadya Olyanova Carruthers could at times be to hang out with, there were also the days that you wish had never happened. . .

Thursday, February 23, 2012

2-23-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #51 (Elder Care -- an Introduction to Working with Greenwich Village seniors)

How are Greenwich Village oldsters different from any others? I found that out when my friend, Jack Baittinger (now called Zach), asked if I’d be available to help look after an older woman who lived in the West Village. Part of her story was, she lived in the village during prohibition, and might have even met Dorothy Parker (!).

Or maybe it was Edna St. Vincent Millay. At any rate, my new elder-care charge was about 80 years old, and somewhat in the throes of dementia -- though at the time, we figured she was an ornery old woman who liked to get attention by doing outrageous things. This might have been one of the problems with getting a permanent assistant for her.

I was planning my trip to London and needed to do any kind of work to get by. . . the Nervus Rex income was drying up, and I was able to grab more freelancing and some good paying transcription work, as well (for Martha Hume, I think).

So I went to meet this legend of a woman, Nadya Olyanova Carruthers. A noted handwriting analyst (or graphologist), she was a pretty big deal for a while. In fact, when I met her, she had me write a page in longhand as a sample for her to analyze before deigning to hire me as a part time helper.

I passed the test -- for years, I had studied graphology informally and made sure I had all the good traits, or at least, I cultivated them. “Change your handwriting, change your personality, change your future,” was the idea -- and as a kid, I desperately wanted to change because I was one unhappy twelve-year-old. Of course, now I know that most 12-yr-olds are desperately unhappy, but I digress.

(from the NY Times obituary in ’91) Nadya Olyanova, a graphologist who analyzed the handwriting of Adolph Hitler before his death and said he showed strong suicidal tendencies, was a consultant to the psychiatric services of Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan. She was also a consultant to psychologists, psychiatrists and businesses.

Born in a small town near Kiev in the Ukraine, she was brought to the United States as a child and grew up in Brooklyn.

In the early 1930's she studied psychology in New York with the Austrian psychoanalyst Alfred Adler. She had a weekly radio show on WOR and analyzed the handwriting of thousands of people.

In the fall of 1939, six years before Hitler's death, she wrote in The Ohio State Journal in Columbus: "Characteristic of Herr Hitler's handwritings are three outstanding traits: indecision, depression and morbid introspection. It takes no handwriting expert to recognize the cramped, drooping uncertain signature as a manifestation of the Fuhrer's cramped, self-centered approach to life."

Now that we know more about this amazing woman, I’ll come back and talk about what it was like to care for her in 1981. . .

2-22-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #50 (further info re last blog & M. Henry Jones)

Ah, as our friend Shawn Krushenick Brighton, attests on that ever-friendly FaceBook: “Remember though, trying to finish that stop-animation actually caused Henry a nervous breakdown. He was working 24/7 on it and crashed big time.”

I responded with: Um, yeah, that's right. Too much stress. But I guess I don't (tend to) mention too much of the really difficult stuff when it comes to others. . . I don't know how Henry would feel about telling that, but you're right: he did crash, eventually, and partly because of his perfectionism and doing those kind of difficult things -- before computer graphics & programs that did it for you, he was the hands-on guy, literally! I'll add that in next blog. Thanks. . .

I find it way easier to say the good stuff about individual people, then generalize about the less-than-good traits or habits they took on, and lump that whole category into something that might sound close to moralizing (me, preachy? Never!). It’s just stuff I’ve learned along the way.

And I guess it comes down to philosophy. Do people change? Yes and no; I think, sometimes, if self-aware and motivated enough, people will turn to alternative choices that change them for the better (or sometimes the worse). But mostly, for the better (I just seem to know more positive people than not).

A shy person will always be that way, deep down. They may have altered their behavior along the way, but there you have it. Same with bullies: deep down, they’re always going to have that edge, but if something happens to change that in their lives, their awareness will help them blossom into something better.

I believe that chemical imbalances happen to many people, and many of them are the brightest, most creative, and sensitive people in the world. The artists, poets, musicians and writers who can function often have to overcome more obstacles than we’d like to know about. This is America, land of the rugged individualist and hero, the lone sheriff or lone ranger who sometimes has a sidekick, but no teamwork.

Pah! As with the many group efforts I’ve been a part of, we couldn’t have done it without the team. And because of individuals being different, each team member has/had its own quirks to deal with.

And if Henry had a nervous breakdown doing his work, I’m sure he’s stronger for it. I’ll bet he learned something from it. And you can bet many others have had breakdowns at one time or another -- the lucky ones recover.

The lucky ones, the lucky ones. . . just keep telling yourself, you’re one of the lucky ones.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2-21-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #49 (“Go Go Girl”)

Lauren dancing to M. Henry Jones "Go Go Girl" video

All right, those of you who knew me and some of the people back in “the scene” knew exactly who I was referring to in the last blog. I feel safer not naming names if the person is still living. Just don’t want to make anybody too uncomfortable, you know?

And besides, as long as I can make a “compliment sandwich” -- say two nice things with something objective or objectionable in between -- that’s cool, right?

I’m remembering a mutual friend of ours (that S&M expatriot & Miriam Linna’s), a real creative guy, an obsessively creative genius young filmmaker named M. Henry Jones. He loved the Fleshtones and Nervus Rex, and used to hang out at gigs. He was on the scene, and had a very clean cut, almost 1950-ish retro look. I guess maybe a new wave Clark Kent? He was tall, slender, wore thick rimmed eyeglasses, and sort of stammered when he talked, all excitedly.

“Henry” as we called him did a few early music videos that were animated. He was all about animation, claymation, anything cool that took an indecent amount of painstaking time to accomplish. His patience MUST be legend.

“Soul City” by the Fleshtones, and “Go Go Girl” by Nervus Rex were two of his pet projects that have been revisited a few times. When he asked me if I could dance the pony for a project he did, I made sure it was with clothes on (I’m a good Catholic girl deep down, remember!). The designer, Haruko, made the b&w striped vinyl jacket; I had the miniskirt and black Beatle boots, and the dyed black hair that swayed nicely to and fro while I frugged and ponyed and twisted away.

I’ll attach it to this blog and if it works, enjoy!

2-20-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #48 (“Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”)

Around this time, a lot of bands came out -- especially from the U.K. -- that were real cute, real pop, and adorable. I loved the Revillos (or Rezillos) who did “Where’s the Boy for Me?” I also loved the immensely amusing X-ray Specs and Poly Styrene who sang “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” Which reminds me. . .

I actually knew a girl at this time who dabbled in S&M work for good pay. A versatile girl, she did bondage as both a submissive and a dominant. That was an interesting survival job, but the burnout rate and psychic price was way high. Her memoir, “I Was For Sale,” was a real page turner -- not sure if it’s around as a mass market or even available, but this gal was really cool and kind of crazy. But really, who wasn’t? She always had great boots and clothes, and was very secretive, cool, and scary smart.

She was just a little more over the top than most. For a while, she lived out in Brooklyn, near Park Slope, in a cool big old apartment with a guy she married who was certainly interesting. They had a party one time and showed an album of pictures from the wedding and honeymoon. There was a picture of him holding his, shall we say, impressive penis or massive hard-on, sitting back on the bed.

I quickly flipped the page over, thinking they hadn’t meant to leave that in the album. But no: that was a proud memory they shared. She came over, flipped the page back, commented on it, and laughed. Oh well.

Togetherness sure has some interesting connotations; every couple has its limits -- or no limits, in this case. Maybe a little TMI, you know?

That same visit, along with several other friends, we went horseback riding in the Park on some overworked animals who were capable of a brisk canter when least expected. How I held on for dear life with my knees and arms (leaning over on the horse’s neck, holding its mane while holding the reins), I’ll never know. Just glad I didn’t fall off & get hurt. . . horses are big, beautiful, nervous, scary animals!

I still won’t name this nutty girl because I’m not sure she’d want me to. At any rate, she was a hoot and wound up making a lot of money on Wall Street, then moved to France (always a smart girl) where her failing health is aided and abetted by a great social welfare system. She’s still coming up with creative projects and probably some more scams, too.

Here’s to making that smart life choice, like she did. . . and getting your pony AND cookie in life!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

2-19-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #47 (“Labelled With Love”)

(photo of me circa '81 by SF photog R. . . please help get this guy's name, it's a great shot!)

Real Squeeze fans know about original bassist Harry Kakoulli breaking his leg. So when Glenn called me a few weeks after I broke mine, inviting me to hang with them at their gig in NY at the Palladium, opening for Elvis Costello and the Attractions, I winced and lamented into the phone:

“Oh, Glenn, I did a Harry Kakoulli!”

“Ohhhh. . . sorry!”

“But hey, I can get around OK. I have crutches and there are lots of cabs, you know?” A feisty gal such as I won’t be held back by a silly thing like a 20-pound full leg cast -- right? So, I got all gussied up, hopped down the five flights of stairs one step at a time, and arrived at the Palladium on 14th street, bedecked in my New Wave best, plus. My boyfriend had all but deserted me, and I was a free gal out on the town -- which suited me fine, as I am madly independent of action and thought.

I went backstage before the show, and was cleared to sit in the wings during both the Squeeze and Costello sets. Sweet! Even if my broken leg was throbbing, I was feeling no pain and very happy to be there, hearing my favorite songs one after the other. Then again, I probably wanted to dance my lil’ ol’ ass off. . . and I doubt I tried it, considering the full leg cast & crutches.

Backstage, Elvis C. was in a great mood, and when I asked him to sign my cast, he gladly did so -- as did the rest of his band and the guys in Squeeze. Of course, would YOU save such a gross thing as a big, dirty old plaster leg cast from 1981? I did, for years -- then one day, I probably came across it and saw the terrible shape it was in and tossed it. Oh well.

I also saw Bebe Buell backstage -- she was madly in love with Elvis Costello, and quite the beauty. I always thought “Girls Talk” was about her. . . anyway, I’d seen her at the Peppermint Lounge, also, maybe it was the year previous? She was chasing after one of the guys from Echo & the Bunnymen. The layout of “the Pep” was a large circle, and I was sitting on a barstool in the bar area. Bebe and the lad must have come through three or four times. It was like a Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoon. . .

Liz Derringer hung out with Bebe sometimes. . . anyway, the funny things you remember, the visuals! I tend to recall comical scenes -- and maybe a few tragic ones, too.

Anyway, having a broken leg didn’t much slow me down. . . because I played gigs with that leg cast (then they re-set the bones with a half cast), and went out on the town. I got great at hopping up the stairs, pulling myself up with one arm, crutches under the other armpit.

One day, I went up to the hotel where Squeeze was staying to hang out. They had a large suite, and in the middle of this afternoon, quite the party was going on. At a table in the room, Nick Lowe sat with Carlene Carter, his then-wife (or fiancé?). They were both charismatic, warm, sweet, very attractive people. Nick was drinking heavily, and probably she had a few, as well.

At this time on the music scene, the drug of choice was cocaine. For some, they chose heroin, or speedballed both. As a rule, I knew few junkies but a lot of people I knew snorted enough coke to make them foolish, stupid, and rather broke. Coke’s an expensive habit that makes you feel great at first, then you come down, need more, feel great, drink copiously, smoke like a fiend, need more coke, babble like a mad fool with nobody listening, then your teeth start to grind and chatter, then you need more coke, more vodka, more cigarettes. . . then you’re up all night and a total wreck long after daylight. You need a valium or two to get to sleep, and after all that drinking, do you really want to be taking a valium??

‘Twas a vicious cycle at best. Several friends of mine, gifted musicians, were in the grip of that cokefiend weirdness. Eventually they stopped, but the wreckage that behavior left behind was never pretty, and certainly sad.

Because Glenn got preoccupied with band business and a certain Rockette named Sunny, John Bentley, the great Squeeze bassplayer, and I started to hang out. We developed quite the rapport. . . he became a good friend, indeed.

I told the guys in Squeeze that I dreamed of moving to Blighty -- as that’s all I thought about, laying around my little NY apartment, thinking about the great new songs I was writing. I wanted to try to move to England and go solo -- and Glenn and Chris thought that would be cool.

Lo(we) and behold, in a few months, that dream would unfold -- thanks in part to Freddy Laker and his cheap transatlantic flights. . . .

2-18-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job # 46 (“Mystery Achievement” into “The Wait”)

(Photo by the famous Moshe Brakha, circa '79, of the glam new wave poppers, Nervus Rex)

One of Dianne’s great talents was as an amateur athlete. Besides being a swimmer and a golfer, she was an ace on the slopes, a really good skier. She and Jonathan knew people (Jon’s relatives?) who had a place up in Massachusetts at Mount Brodie ski resort, and we were all invited there for a long ski weekend in the winter of early 1981.

At this point, as a band, we were rather dispirited -- with no management, no booking agents, and a record company who were fast losing interest after sitting on our debut album for a year, then releasing it to meager attention and lukewarm reception. Our personal relationships within the band were approaching an all-time low as well. Shawn and me, Jonathan and Dianne were bickering and at odds.

At any rate, I was happy to be on that “break” and keen to learn to ski because I love ice skating (which is similar, balance-wise to skiing), and a new challenge is always fun. I may not be greatly coordinated, but once I get a rhythm going -- on an instrument or dancing around -- I’m all right. So, Dianne dressed me in one of her cool ski outfits and we went to the ski rental place to get me outfitted.

One thing that the people running the rental place forgot to mention to me (and Dianne didn’t check) was the importance of the ski boot releasing from the ski when the ankle bent at a certain extreme angle. That release prevented bone breaks. At least, that’s what I understood after the fact. I didn’t know about it beforehand, and everybody was so busy nobody checked my boot and rental skis for the release.

So, I spent three marvelous days skiing downhill on an easy slope (I did the side to side or “S” pattern skiing down to be safe -- no straight down skiing for me!) but on my last run a real game-changer happened: I broke tibia & fibula while my brain switched Pretenders songs in the jukebox in my head: from “The Wait” into “Mystery Achievement.”

‘Twas a mystery, indeed, how my ski slipped and crossed over in front of me JUST ten yards outside the First Aid Station at Mt. Brodie! Truth told, I had music in my head that slipped and the thought of some yummy hot chocolate by the fire at the ski lodge. Oh well. The boot didn’t release from the ski and BOOM! I went down, hearing the SNAP! of my brittle bones (not helped, no doubt, by years of near-starvation). Ouch.

Dianne rushed over on her skis, seeing me. “Laurie, what happened?”

“My leg broke,” I gasped.

“No!! No, you couldn’t have!” Dianne gasped back in disbelief.

“I heard it! Ow, it hurts. Help!” With help from the First Aid station, I was rushed there, then rushed to the nearby hospital, where they x rayed and set my leg, putting a real kibosh on the first and last Nervus Rex ski trip. I remember the Iranian Hostage Crisis -- and the release of the hostages -- was televised in the background, so we must have been away in 1981 between January 19th & 21st.

I remember the Presidential elections a few months earlier, where Reagan won and I felt sick to my stomach (I was eating dinner with Shawn at one of our favorite little Italian Restaurants at the corner of Spring and Sullivan streets). That kind of resolved me to leave the country -- I was so ashamed to have that bozo, Reagan, as our leader!

So, the Nervus Rex ski trip was a bust, and I went home to a fifth floor walkup on Thompson Street in Soho with a broken leg and no elevator (yet), a broken band, and a boyfriend who ran after “midget models” and had acquired an expensive habit that kept him up nights and upped his cigarette and vodka intake.

1981 was shaping up to be a real doozy. . . but I still had friends in bands like Squeeze. . . so one night in February, I got a phone call from good ol’ Glenn Tilbrook. . . .

2-17-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job #45 (“Another Nail in My Heart”)

Some other bands Nervus Rex double-billed with back in the seventies/eighties: Bloodless Pharaohs (Brian Setzer’s band), The Erasers, Richard Hell & the Voidoids (“You look like you got BLOOD on your lips!” Hell pointed out to me one night when he was blitzed, between sets), Milk & Cookies (Sal, the bassplayer, is still out there rockin’ & I bump into him occasionally), The Sic F*cks (or at least, I remember them, playing -- Russel Wolinsky, Tish, Snooky, Andy Bale & Jason), The Foolish Virgins (had a thing for Jim Morrisson and the Doors), and some other cool combos I’ll remember soon enough. We played CBGB’s, Max’s, Club 57, The Space, The Mudd Club, Hurrah, Peppermint Lounge, and more. . . I’m not remembering every place, every club, every band, but that was a strange way of paying my way through a few years.

I probably felt guilty I wasn’t doing more, but between rehearsals, promoting, gigging, and schmoozing with lots of the inevitable “hanging out” in between, it was a real bohemian living, all right. Of course I finished college and graduated in 1978, and kept writing freelance, too.

But if you ask, was that a “survival Job,” being in a working band who actually made a (meager) living, making music? Sure!

Another English band that Nervus Rex double-billed with -- and I just loved; they were my favorites: SQUEEZE. Their amazing lyrics, melodies, vocals & musicianship gave them the early albatross (‘cause it’s hard to live up to, consistently) of “The New Lennon & McCartney.” Difford & Tillbrook were two very different personalities, South London boys who had a great time thrashing out intelligent pop songs onstage and having fun with it. They became a great hit in England, and also in our musicianly “New Wave” circles, circa ’79 - ’81, especially.

Managed by Miles Copeland (of the FBI agency, who also managed and booked The Police), they toured the U.S. often and made a splash with airplay and record sales. Being very pop & fun, Nervus Rex was a good double bill, and we had a great time sharing the stage.

Squeeze’s music was so uplifting and fun, I couldn’t stop dancing and singing along to every single song on Argybargy. What a great pop album! Few others come close, even today. . .

Anyhoo, because we worked together, I got to hang out with Squeeze & became friends with Glenn, especially. Chris Difford had an American girlfriend who became his wife, Cindy. So it was kind of hard to hang with him. . . though my designs on those guys weren’t anything more than platonic -- and perhaps wanting to work with them. After a bit, Jon Bentley became a great friend. . . he was sweet, cute, and so funny.

While in town and not into other shenanigans (he DID have a girlfriend, Jo, back home on the first tour or two), Glenn T. came over my Thompson Street apartment to play my rinky little studio piano and sing songs like “Paper Roses” with me. We even recorded a little on my TEAC 4-track. It was a riot, and such fun. We both loved classic, old country music. This was around the time they were working with Elvis Costello, who was writing “Good Year for the Roses.” Glenn & Chris wrote and recorded “Labelled With Love” with Squeeze, and that country ballad hit the British charts.

But one of the best feelings, ever, was to hear “Another Nail In My Heart” or “Vicky Verky” live, with all that adrenaline, the octave-unison double vocal of Glenn and Chris, with Gilson Lavis pounding away on drums, Jools Holland finessing on keyboards and Jon Bentley on melodic but driving bass. What a band! I still smile to think about how awesome they were at The Ritz & all. . . the levitating kind of energy from a band in top form.

But that’s not all! Stay tuned for more Squeeze stories whilst scraping by in seventies New York, just stayin’ alive and surviving in the belly of the beast. . . .

2-16-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Job # 44 (Corrections! My Memory Might Falter -- But My Instincts Are Intact)

Dianne Athey gave me some input after my C. Hynde/Pretenders blog. She (kindly) pointed out that Nervus Rex did indeed open for the Pretenders: at Maxwell’s in Hoboken and at the Ritz in NYC. I imagine those places were packed. . . I don’t know how I toughed it out, as I have an aversion to crowds & crowded places.

Maybe that’s why being onstage -- and backstage -- is bearable. You’re not in the crowd, that way! I’m not a tall person, and too much humanity is just too much, dig?

Another thing: it seems that some people have an exaggerated opinion of themselves, and others -- like me -- do the reverse and downplay. I’m hoping to not be boastful, ever, but be “truthin’” on the whole. Always trying to learn how to toot my horn without blowing it. Anyway, yup, we did play on two bills with The Pretenders back in the day!

I’m gonna look for that silly cartoon that Chrissie did of “the Rex” -- you could tell she had a fondness for Dianne & Jon from the way she portrayed them, a tone one step beyond teasing. Shawn and I got off lucky, considering!

(One more thing: Jon Gildersleeve taught me a very valuable thing when I was in my early twenties. I’d arrive late to something he or the band was a part of and start apologizing and making excuses. From the git-go, he cut me off, saying, “Don’t be sorry, just BE THERE. Don’t give me excuses, just BE THERE or don’t be there. No excuses.” Or something along those lines. It made an impression AND it me a much more credible, reliable grown-up to not keep prattling on with babyish explanations and excuses! Thanks, Jonathan . . .wherever you are. . .)