Friday 7 December 2018
One Suitcase, Two Guitar Cases And One Small Carry-On Item, synthesizers, luggage harvesting, the Carlton Vibe Hotel...
I had to leave for the airport at ten to seven to catch a flight to Melbourne. There’s been a lot of flying on this tour, that’s how it’s done here. The flight took two and a half hours. I was asleep before the plane took off. It’s getting to where I sleep better on airline seats than I do in hotel beds.
I met my new tour manager and sound engineer, a young man called Guy, at the baggage claim. Guy is a twenty something years old of Anglo Irish and Samoan descent, I found out these things by degrees. He speaks with an almost posh English accent. I liked him immediately. Another new friend. By the the time we left the baggage claim with my suitcase, two guitars and one small, personal carry on item, we’d invented the term Luggage Harvesting for the crime of stealing bags off the carousel. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen on a regular basis at domestic terminals all over the world - you just stroll into arrivals, go to Oversized Baggage, lift up someone’s guitar and stroll out with it. If everything goes wrong I think I might become a luggage harvester myself. A good part-time occupation for my retirement...
Guy was standing in for Bonnie, but more about Bonnie later. He’d been instructed by Bonnie to take me for a good espresso and something to eat before checking me into the Vibe Hotel and then driving us to Castlemaine for a show that night.
There’s a whole lot before and after that last part but this thing is either going to go in the direction it happens to go in, or not go at all, so to hell with the chronology....
I’m on a plane flying home from Los Angeles. I was in an Air B n B in Echo Park - I stayed there for five nights. It was downhome. It was a dump really. It had a porch with a swing chair but mostly it was too cold to sit out there so I put both switches down on the oil-filled radiator and sat at the piano instead. That was the best thing about this place I was staying in - it had a piano - a Korg digital piano with a full sized keyboard. I was able to turn it down so I wouldn’t disturb the owners who lived in the other half of the house, and who hopefully wouldn’t then be laughing at my rudimentary piano playing.
In between Ubering my way all over Los Angeles I wrote one and a half songs. It may have been one and a quarter songs or maybe one and five eighths of a song but there’s definitely one whole song in there. I recorded a lame demo on my phone and sent it to Amy and she said it was a good one and where did the piano come from?
I took an Uber to West Hollywood and strolled around. I spent a fun couple of hours in the Guitar Center trying out the synthesizers. Some of them didn’t appear to be working, either that or they were beyond my capabilities. I particularly enjoyed the Moog Sub Phatty though I wish they’d thought of a better name for it - Sub Phatty is quite unfortunate. If someone wants to donate one to me I’ll happily rename it the Moog Glorious which is what I think it should be called.
Contrary to what I imagine a lot of people might think I like synthesizers. I always have, not the hideous eighties ones like the Yamaha DX7, though I’m sure that given time I could divorce the sound of that from its hideous personal nineteen eighties associations and allow it to worm its way into my affections. The Sub Phatty / Glorious produced epic, beast like sounds. I wished I could have recorded some of the stuff I came up with on that thing.
Guy The Sound Guy and stand in for Bonnie The Tour Manager told me about a resource in Melbourne - a synthesizer library. They’ve got one of just about every synthesizer ever manufactured. You can go there and book time with a synthesizer of your choice. They’ll deliver it to your cubicle and you can work with it using your own software and laptop. It’s one more reason to love Melbourne. If it wasn’t so monumentally far away, and if I was living a somewhat different life, I’d move there in a heartbeat.
I was staying at the Carlton Vibe Hotel. There are several Vibe Hotels dotted around Melbourne. This one was modern, meaning it must have been quite up to the minute in about 1959 or 1962. I could just imagine Lady Penelope pitching up there in her pink Cadillac piloted by her loyal and trusted chauffeur, Parker. I can imagine her checking in at the reception desk over to one side of the breezy and spacious concrete and glass reception hall with its hints of orange and lime green. The swarthy yet suave receptionist and Lady P herself, their jaws moving up and down as they speak whatever words need speaking with their plastic faces.
And Parker collecting the luggage: ‘Yus m’lady!’
I could have spent whole afternoons watching guests banging their heads on the modern architectural entrance feature that swooped from dangerously low to just above average head height and spoke of...well, Vibe.
I kept coming back to the Vibe. It was my first destination in Australia when I flew in from Auckland. The tour promoter, David Laing, met me and took me straight there. It was his second time at the airport that day, earlier he’d picked up PP Arnold.
That first time I had a room overlooking the pool. It looked for all the world as if I could run from my room, dive gracefully over the railing and into the glittering blue water below. Except that I would have landed in a prickly hedge, most likely impaling myself on some railings that you couldn’t see from the floor to ceiling wall of glass separating my room from the outside walkway.
My room had a king size bed - larger than a king size - Emperor Size if that’s a thing. There was also a single bed that looked quite pathetic beside this monumental sex and sleeping dais. The Emperor turned out to be two singles zipped together on two separate bases that would probably have drifted apart had the bed seen any action, leaving the participants uncomfortably close to the floor in the ensuing bed base ravine.
I’d already decided that I was going to take the single bed because, as I’ve said somewhere before in these ramblings, there’s nothing more lonely than sleeping alone on the edge of a king size bed. You’re not going to sleep in the middle of it of course, even if it’s not two singles zippered together, because that’s where most of the action will have taken place and you really don’t want think about that. Especially when you’re facing another night alone.
The single bed was next to the floor to ceiling windows. There were nets and a big blackout curtain that shut out the impending daylight, but during the night and into the morning I could hear the occasional person next to me, a foot or two away, on the walkway the other side of the plate glass. And to other side of me that useless expanse of nocturnal playground...
I needed coffee. Carlton is very hip but the Carlton Vibe isn’t really in Carlton - it’s opposite a park somewhere between Carlton and some other bit of Melbourne. I scoped out the coffee options and found one within walking distance, a mile or so away. I decided to take a short cut across the park. It was Sunday so I weaved a jagged trajectory between games of cricket. I was very pleased with this even though it was a bit dangerous and big men kept shouting at me - I’d only been there a day and here I was having a very Australian experience.
Monday 3 December 2018
Three Days In New Zealand, a short interlude in a brothel, complaints about airlines and passengers...
Tuesday 20 November 2018
I was dreading the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland but in the end it wasn’t anything like as bad as I’d anticipated. I did the online check in and chose an aisle seat on the other end of a centre row of four. The other aisle seat had been taken leaving two unoccupied seats in the middle. I figured nobody was going to choose the seats seats in the middle and in the end the gamble paid off.
The person on the other end of the row was an older lady from Florida who was very nice. We had a pleasant conversation and lapsed into our own inflight reveries for the next twelve hours or so. I watched three films none of which I can recall. I listened to a Waylon Jennings compilation, Kris Kristofferson’s first album and Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill on my IPod. and in between I wrote some lyrics which may or may not be any good. At some point I even fell asleep but I couldn’t say for how long.
New Zealand immigration was really easy. I used the automated machine and was redirected to Special Assistance where I was greeted by a lady of Maori extraction who told me I was logged into the system and everything was fine. I collected my guitars, loaded them onto a trolley with my case and sauntered though customs and into New Zealand.
Or Auckland airport. I walked to the domestic terminal in pale sunlight trying not to think about the four hour wait for the plane to Wellington. There were a lot of people, angry, anxious and pushy. They filled the terminal as they queued for security and the delayed flights that awaited them beyond. I pushed through with my luggage cart and gained the sanctuary of the Gypsy Moth Cafe. It was vaguely homely - badly run by a huge staff of ill-trained and, I imagine, under-paid young women who got in each other’s way and muddled through while the manager took up the slack by taking food orders on tours of the premises before dumping them in front of diners.
I had something very bland to eat, principally to stop the airport from undulating beneath my feet. The mid-morning rush cleared and I made my way through to look at the rest of the terminal. There was a newspaper place, a coffee place and a large area of white chairs and tables. Everything was very clean. Announcements wafted over the tannoy - they were mostly unintelligible (to me at any rate) but they all seemed to end in the phrase report to the chicken. I felt as though I was in an episode of Flight Of The Concords. But the entertainment value wore off very quickly and I thought I might die curled up on the grey airport carpet with hawk eyed New Zealanders stepping over and around me on their way to and from who knows where.
In Wellington I was met by a man with a sign who chauffeured me too the hotel in a shuttle bus that had been designated for my sole use. It’s the closest I’ve got to limo treatment in years. I got to my room and collapsed on the bed thinking I might just close my eyes for a few minutes...
The phone rang.
I didn’t know where I was or why I was where I was.
It was the tour manager, a man called John Baker who I’d been in constant email contact with for weeks in conjunction with press and radio stuff. We’d even spoken a few times on the phone. He was on his way up to my room. I realised I didn’t know what he looked like and the thought entered my jetlagged mind that he might be a midget and I didn’t know how I’d handle that - it wouldn’t be polite to mention it: I can’t help noticing that you’re only er... three feet tall... but if I didn’t say anything it might be awkward, one of those Is Anyone Going To Mention The Midget In The Room? moments.
There was a knock at the door and there he was, all six foot one of him.
‘Hello, I’m John’ he said.
‘Great to meet you John’ I replied ‘I’m so glad you’re not a midget!’
He sat on the chair, I sat on the bed, and we sized each other up. He was wearing a brown corduroy cap.
‘Look, we’re going to spend a lot of time together so I’ve got to ask - are you bald under that hat?’
He looked a little surprised but he took his hat off to show me. I’m not going to tell you the answer. I never saw him without his hat again.
I had a radio show to do - talk about why I hadn’t been to New Zealand in thirty eight years, how great it is to be the guy who wrote Whole Wide World (yes it is), and play a song. I played 40 Years from Construction Time & Demolition. They weren’t expecting that and they seemed pleasantly surprised. Before the radio we spent twenty minutes or so strolling around in search of a reasonable espresso which proved to be quite elusive. John took great delight in telling everyone we encountered how before I even said hello I told him how relieved I was that he wasn’t a midget, compounded this social faux pas by asking if he was bald under his hat, and then dragged him around Wellington for two hours criticising its slovenly coffee places.
He carried my guitars and suitcase from shuttle bus to trolley to check in, from conveyer to trolley to shuttle bus. He told me my system of folding my clothes was all wrong, I should roll them, and to prove his point he accosted random passers by in airports.
‘Excuse me, are you a folder or a roller?’
He was so disarming, so charming, that no one took offense.
‘See Eric, another roller!’
He strode across the top of the baggage carousel like some kind of colossus, retrieving and marshaling baggage. He checked us in and checked us out and did it all with no laptop, no briefcase, just a tattered sheet of paper covered in pencilled notes that he kept folded up in his top pocket.
Whenever we came to a stop he’d reprimand me for standing too close to him.
‘You’re doing it again, what’s is this? Have you no sense of personal space?’
I couldn’t help it - hardly realised l was doing it. I was as far from home as it’s possible to be and I felt safe under his care. The man is like a magnet. Planet Baker is a great place to be.
I’ll tell you more later. I’m just posting stuff as I write it - I don’t want it to slip away from because in spite of all my fears and missing Amy I’m actually having a really good time.
Wednesday 14 November 2018
It was strange to be adrift in Los Angeles. I arrived on Wednesday and took a taxi from the airport to the Air B’n’B where I was staying. I should have got an Uber - it would have been cheaper for one thing, but I’d never done it before, just downloaded the app, and I believed it when it said the driver wouldn’t be there for forty five minutes. Subsequently I’ve found that there’ll be a driver there within three minutes but I didn’t know how it worked and I was tired, so I took a cab.
Being the callow rustic that I am I asked the driver if it was possible to pay with a card. I was travel weary and I had a flashback to the days when cash was king and nobody I knew had a bank card. We’re talking about some time in the early eighties here. Actually I never had a bank card until the end of the nineties. Before then my bank account teetered on the edge of an overdraft and I subsisted from week to week or months to month on whatever money I had in my trouser pocket, cash I’d earned from playing gigs or recording desperate French garage bands.
So I regressed, asked if I could pay with a card, and the driver said sure, as long as I gave him a good tip - reason enough to give him a very small tip or no tip at all, but I gave him a decent tip which was more than he deserved though it shamed him into helping me with my luggage when we got to the Air B’n’B in West Hollywood.
The place was one of those tiny twenties or thirties studio apartment bungalows, very Spanish, it put me in mind of The Day Of The Locusts, one big room opening off a courtyard. The room was furnished with a bed, a chair and a tiny writing desk. It had a bathroom and a small kitchen off to one side. The kitchen was full of a large fridge. There was a tiny fold out table which would have been charming if it hadn’t been almost totally taken up with one of those Keurig coffee makers and hemmed in by a huge microwave perched on a stool with a toaster sitting on top of it. There was a sink, a few cupboards containing basic kitchen stuff and a gas cooker. None of this was of use to me during my stay because I never found anywhere I could buy groceries.
Once I was installed I sat in the room for a while wondering what to do with myself. Obviously I was going to do some of my best work ever while I was here - just me sitting on the chair with my acoustic guitar, my iPad and notebooks spread out on the desk - but for now I needed to eat so I looked at Yelp and found a restaurant one block away. I went out with some trepidation - I was sure I was going to be held up and robbed at gunpoint because I’d gone backwards in time to the days when these neighborhoods were ungentrified and not at all safe. It’s a long term habit - the first time we arrived in New York the band were all wondering what to do. It was pretty obvious to me that we’d head out to Max’s Kansas City and catch the Velvet Underground. Except it was 1978.
I found a place to eat one block away. It was pretty good and I didn’t get mugged either walking there or back. When I got back to the bungalow I didn’t know what to do so I watched a detective thing that I really couldn’t follow, listened to the Archers and fell asleep. I felt some sort of vague obligation to go out somewhere groovy but this being Los Angeles it probably would have taken an hour or two to get there so the feeling soon receded and I gave myself up to doing absolutely nothing in an uncluttered room.
I spent most of the next day walking around because I couldn’t think or anywhere I particularly wanted to go in an Uber. Do you go somewhere in an Uber? Or do you just Uber? Has it become a verb yet like Hoover? Or is it an Uber ride? I walked through neighborhoods of renovated bungalows, marveling at the plant life. I found my way to a coffee place, Groundwork’s on Sunset Boulevard.
I went to the Psychiatry An Industry Of Death Museum on Sunset Boulevard. I’d seen it before but never had chance to go in. It was a harrowing experience. The museum is founded and run by the Citizens Commission On Human Rights. They make the point that there is no medical or scientific basis to psychiatry and society’s belief in it is founded on a misguided supposition that psychiatry’s most eminent representatives are somehow experts in their field, even though it can be argued that they’ve never actually cured anyone, just made diagnosis upon diagnosis and prescribed a lot of very expensive drugs. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry.
I went back to the bungalow, did a Skype interview with a New Zealand radio presenter Kim Hill, who has a reputation for giving interviewees a hard time. We talked about my book, A Dysfunctional Success. She wanted to know how I remembered everything considering i was a drunk a lot of the time. I pointed out that much of the narrative took place in my childhood and at the age of nine or ten I certainly wasn’t a drunk, and for the rest I sat on walls and hung out in doorways, took notes and concentrated until the memories came back.
After the interview I got out my guitar and notebook but I didn’t do my best work, I fell asleep instead.
The next day I met my friend Jessica Espeleta for lunch over in Silverlake. We were wandering down the street in search of a coffee place when a car pulled up driven by a Mexican looking guy called Mark who was a friend of Jessica’s. He parked up and joined us for coffee. Jessica told me Mark was a good guy and had played with the Beastie Boys. It was Money Mark. I tried not to be star-struck but you know how it is. I’m sure he had no idea who I was and I doubt if he would ever have heard of me so I was cool, just a friend of Jessica’s. He was warm and friendly and we had a conversation about developments in electronic music instruments and how some of them are unfortunately just one trick ponies.
He told us about a mechanical electronic musical instrument he was working on involving piano rolls triggering synthesizers and took us to his studio just around the corner for a demonstration. He showed us some huge organ pipes he’d salvaged and some simple sound generators he was making for kids using magnets salvaged from old microwaves. We talked about guitars, and touring and stuff, and he seemed concerned that I wouldn’t be seeing my wife for a long time. What a nice man - it was worth the trip just for that afternoon.
Me, Jessica and Money Mark
I Ubered my way all over Los Angeles. Apart from Jessica I didn’t see anyone else I knew so most of my conversations were with Uber drivers. I was lucky because they were all friendly and disposed to talk about stuff - the Kinks, Lenny Kaye’s original Nuggets compilation, the odiousness of Donald Trump, healthcare in America... we covered all these subjects and more.
I spent my last day in Los Angeles wondering what to do with myself and basically killing time. I was booked on a fourteen hour flight leaving at eleven o’clock on Sunday night, arriving at nine thirty on Tuesday morning. What happened to Monday? I’ve missed a day and that’s the second time it’s happened. It’s just as well I don’t like Mondays. Actually that’s not true - Mondays are loaded with promise, they’re the start of a new week - anything could happen and some of it might even be good. It’s that Boomtown Twats record I don’t like - Tell Me More... No, please don’t, just put a sock in it Bob.
I rode to the airport in an Uber that had been used to transport the body of a murder victim. I was overwhelmed by the stench of a powerful toilet cleaner mixed with stagnant water and an undertow of something deeply sinister and a lot less wholesome. The driver was a less than friendly Latin American guy with a bad taste in pop radio. He kept switching from one vacuous pop station to another. They were all playing the same track, the one based on What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor that I discussed in my last post. I think he was using this all-consuming blandness to blank out the memory of the terrible thing he’d done. By the time we arrived at the airport I felt quite queasy.
Friday 2 November 2018
The silver haired old buffer with his Micofrets guitar (photo by Ted Barron)
Tuesday 30 October 2018
Photo by Ted Barron