I feel I’m ‘king of the road,’ driving my rent-a-wreck to work at Universal Studios in the morning.
My driving skills barely handle Iowa streets. I quickly slow my speed as traffic streams past me in the LA rush hour stop and go traffic jam. I jump on the Hollywood Freeway, knowing it is just two exits to Universal Studios. It is a mistake, as the traffic is worse, and the drivers are more impatient with my lack of freeway driving skills. Somehow, I’m in the wrong lane for my exit. Desperate neck twisting and false starts do not help get me into the exit lane. I just turn the wheel and pray. It almost makes me religious when I find myself exiting the off-ramp. I approach the studio gate expecting to be waived through like I’m a regular. Blocking traffic, I am greeted by a cacophony of horns from the real stars behind me, while the guard tries calling Landis. I laugh when I see Jack Nicholson drive up the curb to get past. Oh, to be entitled. I am finally directed to another entrance, told to look for a sign saying ‘peon parking.’ It’s a long walk back up the hill. My only satisfaction is my rent-a-wreck takes up two parking spaces. Maybe I can switch cars with Tony for commuting. I’m a bit frazzled before even starting my day at work. Landis is not in yet, so I brew coffee and find my way to the employee canteen for donuts. I have to go back after I eat both donuts– breakfast for the working peon. I move a desk outside John’s office and fiddle with the phone lines until someone shows me where the phone jack is, just inside John’s door. The office assistant who is helping me, finds a line splitter. I have access to John’s line. I begin taking messages and dealing with staff who want my intern services. I politely decline to run errands as I must man the phones, telling all callers that Landis is ‘in a meeting.’ I relax, knowing everyone lies in LA. I have yet to learn the traditional ‘stuck in traffic’ excuse. I am blocking that line as too close to my own paralyzing traffic experience.
When Landis finally appears, he gives me back most of the messages, telling me to call them and find out what they want. He sends me to the props department to get a double line phone, so I can screen his calls and buzz him on the back line if it’s important. On the way back, I stop in the canteen and get two more donuts. With fresh coffee and donuts, we sit in his office and discuss the day’s business. I brief him on my discussions with Doug about auditioning local bands at the Troubadour. When Miller bursts in with some detail he wants to change in the script, Landis sits him down and explains that I am now in charge of the band casting. Miller gets red in the face, so I tell him to meet me at the Starwood that night so we can scout local talent together. We’ll schedule Friday afternoon at the Troubadour to hold auditions.
“You’re free to audition any disco band or DJ you like,” I offer as a sop to his loss of control.
He says he’ll get back to me. I give him Doug’s number at the club, telling him to ask for Tony. He storms out, forgetting what he wanted to tell John. We both laugh and high-five. We are a team.
I spend the day running errands and keeping Landis off the phone. We share lunch in his office.
“How much are we paying you?” he asks me at five o’clock.
What have I done to get demoted?
“$200 a week,” I venture.
“Well, you’ll get $210 now. I got more done today than all last week. Keep Miller out of my hair. You’ll get another raise.”
I’m such a good PA slave.
“How did the bank treat you?” he asks.
“They took my money and gave me $100 cash back until my Lampoon check clears.”
He picks up the phone, calls the bank. He tells me not to worry about waiting to spend my money. I have a promotion and $2400 more to spend. What 18-year-old cannot handle that?
“And get a different car. I got a note from security that they’ll tow you away if you don’t park in a regular space.”
Back to Rent-a-wreck, I guess. Maybe Tony will lend me the Datsun. And, maybe I can get my own place. My horizons are expanding. I can hardly wait to tell Tony.
“Can I park in the upper lot?” I ask John.
“Don’t push it. You need the exercise if you’re gonna be sitting at a desk all day.”
That isn’t my experience so far, but I’m not about to argue. He’s my new dad. He’s 26. I call PJ and tell him I’ve been promoted. Then I call Kurt and detail how I’ve taken over the casting of the movie’s band. Both say I deserve the promotion.
Tony insists we celebrate my promotion by going to Tommy’s Burger on Beverly and Rampart in East Hollywood, close to Downtown LA. It’s a step up from Oki Dog. I know it’s good, because there’s a dinner hour rush, with a line at the order window. Again, we eat outside at a picnic table. Al fresco dining rules LA. It costs $10 for the three of us. They ladle Mexican chili (refried beans) on a large burger. I still prefer greasy burgers, but Tommy’s Burger is a total meal. Cheese fries is another surprise. We sit there contemplating our night.
“Punk Night at the Starwood,” Jimmy declares.
Punk was just becoming known as a fashion style, from the music magazines coming out of London: kids mock Pete Townsend of the Who, by chanting ‘My Generation’s’ dictum, ‘before you get old,’ at him in the pub. He is now deaf and does not understand their taunts. From a musical point of view, the New York scene, with The Dolls and Ramones as progenitors, seems to be adapting the kids’ attitude that anything before 1975 is old. With disco capturing the Glitter scene of Bowie, T-Rex and Mott the Hopple, rock n roll seems to be splitting into opposing camps. I call Minehan a punk, more as an observation of his age than as a rock style. He hasn’t even heard the term in Boston. The mod Modern Lovers are style setters in Arrowsmithland. Old roots bury deep in New England. Jimmy likes punk because it fits his image as a kid selling himself on the streets to anyone with twenty bucks. 1977 is around the corner, to be exploited in the Clash’s breakout album of the year.
For kids, LA doesn’t seem to have changed from the Beach Boys heyday of the early sixties. Why were the kids going to change when all they want is to go surfing? What do I know. I like Roy Orbison.
Hanging out in the Starwood parking lot, the first thing I notice is there are so few actual kids. Maybe because it is a school night? Do punks obey the parental unit’s curfew? Best to keep an open mind. I have to wait for Chris Miller to show up.
“What are you looking for?” Tony asks.
“A guy from work. I told him to meet me here. He’s a disco queen.”
“We better tell the bouncers to keep an eye out. He’ll get beat on just by showing up,” Jimmy claims.
“That’s okay. He needs to know he knows nothing about music. I’m keeping him out of my boss’s hair.”
“You really have a job?” Tony asks.
“Yeah, for my sugar daddy.”
“I got a raise today – $10.”
“Woop dee woo,” Jimmy cracks. “I make that in 10 minutes at Oki Dog.”
“The way you’ve been slutting around, you should be charging the big bucks,” Tony remarks.
I shiver, thinking about my hitch hiking sign, ‘Blowjobs for McDonald’s.’
“Not for me, boys. I’m just a slut, having fun.”
“How many guys have you done since you left Boston?”
“I don’t kiss and tell,” but I do realize it has been quite a few – Bill Burroughs, Monte, Paul, even Andy (sort of), Doug, Tony, Jimmy, Jake, Cary. I refuse to be slut-shamed – a true indication that I really am a slut now. Life as an 18-year-old is so different from how I imagined it. I decide to hang out by the door, to keep Miller from getting jumped. Tony gets me an in and out stamp, after which he and Jimmy go inside. The bouncer is cool as we chat. When Miller shows up, they waive the cover charge. I’m one of Doug’s boys now.
“Hey, thanks a lot.”
“You owe me a drink,” I laugh. I’m relieved he isn’t wearing a leisure suit, although his hairy chest is over-exposed.
“I guess I should have dressed down,” Miller remarks, observing the jeans and tees crowd. The ripped knees and deconstructed tees fad has yet to arrive.
“There’s a disco room on the other side,” I point to a door at the right of the stage.
“I thought you hate disco?”
“Not really. I love dancing to salsa. KC & the Sunshine Band are from my hometown, Miami.”
“Yeah! ‘Shake shake, shake yer booty.” He actual starts shaking it, a lot.
It’s going to be a long night.
“I thought we’re checking out new bands,” he asked.
“Well, if the band on stage sucks, we can escape to the disco,” as I point out the terrible band now playing. I realize it is my new friend, ‘Safety’, running around mumbling while his groupies try to play.
There’s a black kid on guitar who tries to keep it together. At least they are young.
“Let’s go upstairs,” I drag him away from the bar where we’ve been planted after getting drinks. There’s a VIP area with seating in the balcony near the office and ready/green room.
No one stops us. We join Tony who has lost Jimmy. I see him in the scrum of punkers jumping around in front of the stage. Safety is exhorting their efforts with nonsensical lyrics, bending over to get his head at their level. The Starwood has a decent stage, rising two feet above the open floor. The only seating is in the balcony, so it’s all action everywhere, mostly bunches of people ignoring the band.
“What’s the name of Safety’s band?” I ask Tony .
“I don’t know. They don’t have a name yet. I think they call themselves ‘Forming.’
“Cool.” I like the lack of needing to call yourself something. They certainly are just starting. I wonder if they even practice. They are finally done.
“Let’s go to the disco,” Tony orders. Miller smiles.
The dance room is large with a DJ booth on the far wall. Rodney Bingenheimer spins the records on Tuesdays. On Sunday night, he hosts his own radio call-in show on KROQ, a new station where each disc jockey gets to play whatever they like. Boston’s WBCN is similar. Rodney recently closed his “English Disco,’ on La Cienaga, near the Design Center. He plays mostly Glitter bands and favors the Bay City Rollers, known strictly for their plaid outfits. Miller is distressed that more current disco is ignored. It doesn’t stop him from getting on the dance floor and shaking it by himself.
“This is work for you, babysitting middle-aged hipsters?” Tony remarks.
“Yeah. Working day and night.”
“He’s pretty boring.”
“He’s just a writer. Because the movie is his idea, he tells my boss what to do. My job is to cut him down a notch or two.”
“He’s twice your age. So, you blow him, he falls fer ya, and y’all break his little heart, his Hollywood dreams crushed like a million schmucks before him.”
I laugh. “I wish it was that easy. He’s absurdly straight. I have to convince him he knows nothing about music, so I can choose the bands for the movie.”
“Secret agent man,” we start singing the theme song.
Rodney must be watching, as he motions us over. We reprise our a Cappella performance from the DJ booth. All the younger girls surround us. Rodney calls several up and asks what they want to hear. Naturally it’s The Runaways. Tony and I join Miller, who looks impressed.
“We’re ch ch ch ch cherry bombs,” we shout. The girls stay with us, so we get them all dancing in the middle of the dance floor. Rodney keeps his groupies in the booth as he spins their requests.
It’s time for the main attraction on stage, the Weirdo’s. All the girls follow us, crowding the front of the stage. The singer, John Denney, puts on a great Iggy Pop act, singing some nonsense lyric, ‘Bob Dylan don’t bop tonite.’
He’s strutting around the stage, leering and lunging at the crowd. We lose all our new girlfriends in about 30 seconds. Miller goes after them as they disappear back to the disco room. Jimmy grabs us and we go crazy on the floor. Pushing those who are standing there, transfixed by Denney’s stare. Jimmy is bouncing up and down with his hands at his sides.
“It’s the Pogo,” he shouts.
Okay, but it reminds me of the Irish Step dancing we do at the Ritz in Boston, substituting aerials for the tap dancing.
“Here’s our 45, coming out soon,” Denney announces, “We Got the Neutron Bomb.”
Maybe they are the new Bob Dylan, pursuing peace through strength. We’re going crazy in front of the stage, pushing each other. Jimmy’s pogo is easily tripped up. He ends up on his ass while we push anyone near us into a big doggy pile. We call it doggy style dancing. John Denney just stares at a pile of twenty kids laying at his feet. They run off stage. We run upstairs and intercept them as they escape into the Green Room. Only their drummer, Nicky Beat, will talk to us. He looks more like a jock than a rocker, tall, muscular, with a big head and bigger nose. Both Denneys are scary looking. The long stare is their trademark way of connecting with the audience.
“We’re auditioning bands for a movie. You’re great. We want you, guys.”
He looks at me like the teenager I am. “We don’t do home movies, kid.”
“No. No. It’s a Universal Studios film, ‘Animal House.’
“That’s us. When’s the audition? Is there an adult involved?”
“This Friday afternoon at the Troubadour. Let me get Miller. He’s the main writer.”
That gets his attention. I run downstairs . I find Miller looking dejected after being rejected by all our groupies.
“Hey. I got the band interested in auditioning. They won’t talk to me ‘cause I’m too young.”
“That band sucks. All the girls ran out in the first minute.”
“That proves they’re great. Disco sucks.”
He looks offended.
“Just come meet them upstairs. I’ll tell them they’re great. Did your fraternity have girls.”
“See. Why should we care what girls think?’
My misogyny wins the day. The Mower 3D girls will kill me.
All four of us invade the green room. The Denney brothers are as manic as they were on stage. Miller makes the case to Nicki . “Whatever,” is his response. They aren’t busy on Friday. Tony is introduced as Doug’s manager of the Troubadour. The band goes into obsequious mode, which is disconcerting, considering they had just sung about ending the world as we know it. Mission accomplished: The Weirdos get their audition at the Troubadour. Maybe they can play there in 40 years or more.
Also hanging out are the openers, ‘Forming’.
“Don’t call me that. I’m Bobby Pyn,” he gives me a smarmy look.
“You prefer being stuck in a girl’s hairdo?” I looked at his coterie of chubby groupies.
He laughs. “Here, you refused my ciggie burn. You prefer safety pins?” he pulls a large one off the bleached Levi jacket he wears. He grabs me behind the neck and pulls me close enough for a kiss.
“No. Let’s see how much you like safety.” He grasps my right ear lob and punctured it with the pin.
“Ouch,” I exclaim. “I guess y’all ain’t no sissy.”
Tony and Jimmy rush over.
“How’s it look?” I pose for them. Their concern turns to amusement.
“You’re bleeding,” Jimmy notes, licking the stream of blood and winking at Safety.
“Tim’s blood is holy, consecrated by the Church. Better than the Eucharist,” Jimmy smirks. My descent from sainthood accelerates.
It was time for a parking lot joint. Miller comes with us.
“This is not the side of Hollywood I know,” he reflects from his Acapulco Gold high point of view.
“Standards are very low on Santa Monica Blvd,” Tony replies.
We all laugh. It is the story of my life. I have no interest in turning him gay.
It’s after midnight. With only gay bars to turn to, we opt to climbing the Hollywood sign. After another joint, Miller relaxes atop the W. “Someone should change the lettering to “Hollyweed.” He is a convert.
I get to bed around 4 am, barely able to make it to work at Universal by 9. Landis is not yet in. I place coffee and donut on his desk and man the phones. Miller shows up around 11, brushing past me, feeling entitled to disregard our budding friendship.
“Where is he?” Miller asks, disappointed that he crashed an empty office.
“Taking a comp day?” I joke. “A little grumpy yourself today?”
“Even though we hung out, you need to treat me with respect.”
“How much respect should I show you when you brush past me to interrupt my real boss.”
He gives me a dirty look and turns to leave.
“Any message?” I ask.
I get no respect. Looks like our writer had a little too much partying the night before.
I need to find a more appropriate band than The Weirdos, to actually fit a 60’s party scene. I call Doug at his house.
“I never see you,” he complains.
“Just the hardest working musician in rock n roll. I need your help and advice.”
“That all I’m good for?”
“If you’re going to be a whiny little bottom all the time.”
“Humf,” he wants to dispute his sexuality, but he knows I’m playing him. “What do you need?”
“An R&B band for the movie that can play soul but not so good they think they should be paid more than union scale.”
“That’s half the bands that besiege me to put them on a bill.”
“Can you chose two to do an audition on Friday afternoon?”
“And where will this audition take place?”
“Your club, of course.”
“Of course. Do I have to extort an evening with you to make that happen?”
“Tony’s easier to extort. I prefer to believe I’m not a rent boy. I’ll be sure to show up with him.”
“Whatever floats your boat. Sounds like another session in the hot tub.”
“I’ll bring my rubber ducky, Daddy.”
“You are so bad.”
We both laugh.
I’m bored taking the occasional call. I decide to read the current version of the screenplay. Not being a movie junky, it all seems inane and lacking in direction. Like a silent era Keystone Cops feature, it is all set-ups with little character development. It is the story of a bunch of college boys, unable to live up to frat boy misogyny. It has loser B movie written all over it. Maybe Marty’s movie aesthetic rubbed off on me. In an era where there is no ‘straight to video’ option, it seems destined to after-midnight television for terminally bored insomniacs.
I put a call in for Marty. His assistant sends me straight to a message machine. Marty is busy trying to garner award nominations for ‘New York, New York.’ Good luck.
Next I call my ‘john,’ Jake Stein. At least, he seems normal. When I complain about Chris Miller, he seems to understand.
“You have a music background?” I ask
“Just classical. I’m a composer.”
“Yeah. You seemed to play the flute pretty good.”
He laughs. ‘You’re a tramp.”
“And you are my Lady?”
“No. We’re both dogs. Wanna grab lunch. I’m not that busy.”
Nobody ever says that in LA.
“I’m over the hill at Universal. That too far?”
“Naw. We’ll go to Du-Par’s. They have great pancakes.”
Jake knows how to pick up my spirits. He gives me directions and says to meet him there at 12:30. Of course, Landis finally shows up. I brief him on the messages and Miller’s aborted visit.
“How did your evening out together go?”
“I didn’t get home ‘til 4am. I showed him all the low lights of Hollywood. He met all the low lives.”
“So you can keep him out of my hair.”
“He was a different person in the morning, probably hung over. Keeping him out of your office is a work in progress.”
“Do your best.”
“I’ve got a lunch date at noon. Is that okay?”
“’Course. How’s the band search going?”
“On Friday, we’re auditioning a band we heard at the Starwood. And Doug’s lining up some hungry bands he knows, to be at the audition.”
“Yeah. I’ve known him forever.”
“They said you have connections. I want to finalize the band as soon as possible.”
Marty calls before lunch.
“I’m coming to LA, but it’s strictly business. How’s your movie career working out?”
“My role is to line up music talent. But the script is a bomb.”
“You haven’t changed. Jesus, can’t you stop interfering.”
“My job is to show these LA types they need Harvard guys like me to add class to shitty work.”
“Yer worse than ever.”
“No doubt. Can you spare time when you’re out here?”
“I’ll be at the Beverly Hilton. I’ll call you when I have a break.”
“Thanks, Marty. It meant a lot to me when you came to St Patrick’s.”
“Don’t get a big head. I wasn’t gonna miss the Beatles.”
I laugh. “Tell Bobby I said hi.”
“No way. Stay away from my stars.”
“Thanks, Marty. Say hi to your mom.”
“Jeesuz.” He hangs up.
Jake is right about the pancakes. I feel like a little kid, pancakes for lunch. Jake only finishes one, watching his middle-aged waist line. I eat what he doesn’t want. We grin at each other. We discuss shop – the movie and music biz. He’s done scores for arty movies. I tell him he’s too good for my movie. I laugh when I call it that. I am so LA. We plan to get together for dinner soon. He isn’t into physical contact in public – a different generation. It leaves me wanting him – good tactic.
I bring Landis a BLT and fries from Du-Par’s. I had recommended a patty melt but he knew it would be cold by the time I returned. I hand him back the script I read. He isn’t sure I should be taking things from his desk.
“I just want to be able to tell people what’s going on when they call.”
“Okay. But ask next time.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t busy. I just grabbed it.”
In marches Miller, ignoring me, and speaking directly to Landis about some location issue. He wants it shot at his old Dartmouth fraternity. Landis says they need a building that’s unoccupied. They go back and forth.
I go back to my desk, still able to hear their argument.
Landis asks, “How did your night with Tim go? I understand you lined up a band for an audition.”
“That’s another thing. You didn’t tell me he’s a homosexual and drug addict.”
“He told me you got the lowlife tour of Hollywood. How long have you been out here? You don’t know gay people?”
“I avoid degenerates.”
“That explains why you write about the 50’s.”
“My script is set in the 60’s.”
“Not the 60’s I know. So, you won’t work with Tim?”
“Ya got that right.”
“Then from now on, you are no longer involved with the movie’s music, including the soundtrack and the band that will be cast.”
Landis goes to a file and pulls out Miller’s contract.
“You see that sign on my door. It says ‘Director.’ This is your contract. It says you are a screenwriter. It doesn’t say you have artistic control. It says you are paid to put your ideas on paper and to change the story as the Studio sees fit, specifically how the Director wants them.”
“These are my ideas. I lived them. Without me, you’ve got crap Hollywood fantasy.”
“Truthfully, your ideas are crap. I’m sick of listening to you whine about every detail. You see that gay man sitting by my door. If you want to see me on anything, you will ask him nicely if I am available. You will wait until he tells you to come into my office. Do you understand?”
Miller sputters, unable to get a word out. He turns around, red-faced, and storms out.
He gives me a nasty look. “Get that stupid thing out of your ear,” referring to the safety-pin. He is a slow learner. He marches off to other battles.
I peer into Landis’ office.
“You heard all that? Sorry. But what did you do to him last night? You said he had a great time.”
“He did. I think he smoked too much pot and has a hangover. I didn’t hit on him, for god’s sake.”
“It’s alright, Tim. You were just doing your job. And what is that in your ear?”
“Just a safety-pin. It’s a trend from England, to show you’re tough. I forgot that the right ear means you’re gay, but you already know that.”
“No big deal. Just don’t hit on straight guys.”
“They usually hit on me, some without realizing it. Can I really keep him out of your office?”
“That’s exactly what I need. He was never going to make decisions about the music.”
He smiles and shakes his head. “Keep a record of any time he tries to enter.”
We win that battle. I hope it is not the start of a war. I log Miller’s earlier visit as entry number one. Office politics is such fun.