A stream of kids starts coming in from the west. We set up on the side of the hot dog stand, where there is power for my amp. Nicky pulls a round plastic picnic table next to my amp for drums and Alice jumps up on the table. She is her killer Chola self in stiletto heels and heavy mascara. She sings the opening bars to one of her band’s songs, ‘We Don’t Need the English.’ I pick up the chords from her singing. She claims we must wear bags over our heads to play the Bags songs. Oki Yoki gives me plastic bags. I announce we are the Plastic People. I’m afraid we’ll asphyxiate ourselves trying to sing.
I open the show with a bag on my head. I mumble, “We’re the Bags Incognito.” Our song is ‘We don’t Need the English.’ After two muffled lines, she rips off her bag. Nicky and I stay incognito.
“Fuck this,” Nicky yells, ripping his bag off. I follow suit. He repeats drum rolls to the opening of Helium Bar. I tell Alice to repeat our own lyric: ‘Bob Dylan won’t bop tonight’ instead of the Weirdos’ line, so John Denny can’t complain. I figure punk is a throwback to 50’s bop shu bop.
The kids are already whipped up from the Whiskey show, doing the pogo in the parking lot. I retreat to the far side of the round picnic table, standing on a seat. Alice is bouncing on the table and Nicky sits across from me, banging on the hard plastic table top. We sound horrid, exactly what the crowd wants.
My new frenemy, Mark the shoplifter, is standing in the front.
“Wanna sing that song you got at Tower about kids? Com’n up.”
His eyes light up. Without a hesitation he’s up on the table top with Alice. He whispers for her to come in on the chorus, a real pro.
‘For once in my life I’ve got something to say
I wanna say it now for now is today
A love has been given so why not enjoy
So let’s all grab and let’s all enjoy!
If the kids are united Then we’ll never be divided If the kids are united Then we’ll never be divided
Just take a look around you What do you see?
Kids with feelings Like you and me
Understand him, he’ll understand you
For you are him, and he is you
If the kids are united Then we’ll never be divided If the kids are united Then we’ll never be divided
If the kids are united Then we’ll never be divided If the kids are united Then we’ll never be divided
I don’t want to be rejected
I don’t want to be denied
Then it’s not my misfortune
That I’ve opened up your eyes
Freedom is given Speak how you feel
I have no freedom How do you feel?
They can lie to my face But not to my heart
If we all stand together It will just be the start
Songwriters ALEXANDER WILKE, D. PARSONS, J. PURSEY
It’s definitely the song to get everyone singing along. I see George, the recently fired Van Halen bassist, with an arm around a Mexican kid, singing and jumping up and down. Our impromptu band, beating and jumping on a plastic table, is a hit.
Until the LA County Sheriffs show up. A hundred kids jumping and shouting in the parking lot doesn’t qualify for al fresco dining. We take a break.
“Let’s go to the studio,” Nicky is frustrated without high hat, toms and snare. Although he improvises a crash cymbal on the beat up Toyota parked next to us. I run over to Oki Yoki, who is gleefully telling a long line of hungry teenagers that all he is serving is the Sunday Special. He gives me the thumbs up. I ask for a dozen Oki Dogs, which he wraps up in a takeout bag. I figure they’ll be a hit at the Weirdo’s studio. We all pile into the Wreck, Alice and Nicky in front with me. An odd assortment of young punks, including OC Mark and OC Jim glaring at each other, in the back. I weave through traffic, which thins out once we clear the Oki Dog corner.
The studio is in an old, rundown office building on the corner of Hollywood and Western, in a square one room unit. We make all the kids wait on the corner while we ply the Denneys with Oki Dogs. They’ve been waiting for Nicky to show up.
“Where ya bin, Nicky? We bin waitin’ for ya.” Dix complains.
“Oki Dog,” he explains. I hold up the bag of treats for the boys. They dig in ravenously.
“It don’t take that long to get take-out,” John is suspicious.
“There was a long line. All the suburban kids from the Whiskey wanted to hang out on Santa Monica.”
“It’s a punk life in West Hollywood,” Alice pipes up. “We entertained them with a few songs.”
“Alice sang a Bag’s song, ‘We Don’t Need the English.” We had to wear bags over our heads,” Nicky defends her.
“When are we goin’ hear yer band, Alice?” bass player Cliff Roman asks.
“Only place we can play in Hollywood is on the street. You guys refuse to come to East LA.”
“And get shot by gang-bangers?”
“Better to grow up where things actually happen than to be surfer wannabees,” Alice doesn’t back down.
“So, you all wore bags?”
“Totally in disguise,” I affirm.
“What song did you do?” John is not my fan.
“We got a beach kid from OC to do ‘If the Kids Are United.’ Everyone sung along until the cops came.
“We changed the lyrics of ‘Helium Bar’ to ‘Bob Dylan don’t bop tonight,” Nicky confesses.
“Jesus Christ. That was your idea, wasn’t it, country boy?”
“Why not. It’s a one line song. I don’t really know the chords. I just stole your energy.”
“Show me what you played, so I can sue your ass,” John is feisty.
I pick up my axe and Nicky gets on the drums. Alice joins me on the mic, while Cliff picks up his bass. The Denneys look unhappy. As soon as we start playing, the kids who are waiting outside the door rush in and start thrashing in front of us. Dix forgets where his loyalties lie and joins in. His version of the pogo is to bounce on his toes and occasionally kick backward like a mule, whenever one of the kids gets too close.
It sounds a lot better with a full band.
John is apoplectic at the invasion of his studio. As soon as we finish, I announce we’ll do the Sham 69 song we learned from OC Mark
Dix again can’t resist the energy, grabbing his guitar and joining in. One of the kids sees the bag of Oki Dogs and attacks it, drawing over his friends. Dix throws down his guitar, causing a huge feedback loop. We all stop. John retrieves the remains of the Oki Dog stash.
John tries to shove the kids out the door, including Tony and Jimmy who followed us to East Hollywood.
“Com’n, John. Let ‘em stay. We never play better by ourselves. They make me drum faster than I ever do,” Nicky begs.
“When do you become in charge,” John is quick to assert his leadership. “Yer nothin’ but trailer trash from San Pedro.”
“Fuck you, rich bitch, from Santa Monica.”
I pull Tony away from the soon-to-be outcasts. “This is Tony. He does the booking for the Troubadour. You need him to play in Hollywood.”
“We ain’t gonna play the Troubadour. Do I look like Elton John?”
John turns dark red with everyone laughing at him.
“I don’t care what you think, John. I like your band. I’ll set you up as a regular at the Starwood. It’s up to you to bring in the fans,” Tony asserts.
“Yeah,” Nicky adds. “And, let’s play faster. That bomb song needs more energy.”
I put my guitar down and grab one of the remaining Oki Dogs. The rest of the band gets the last ones, and we take a break.
OC Mark and OC Jim are secretly finishing their dogs in the corner.
“See those two,” I point at them for John. “They hate each other, but Oki Dog unites us.”
He finally laughs. “Okay, slick. I ain’t never gonna stop hating you.”
‘Good. That’s a solid basis for our friendship.”
He hiccups and chili runs down his chin and across his tee-shirt.
After the break, they go through the songs they want to rehearse. The kids are into it. Because John keeps stopping in the middle of songs to make adjustments, their fans soon lose interest. I hope they’ll let me play some of my songs. I wait for the next break. John goes out for cigarettes finally. I pick up my SG.
“Wanna hear some Iowa attitude,” I ask. Nicky stays on the drums, while Dix and Cliff stand there, still hooked up to their amps. I plug-in.
“I wrote this song after we got jumped by the football team at a New Year’s Eve party. It’s called ‘Fuck Off’
‘Don’t fuck with me
Might take ya down
Gots ta be free
Hate makes me drown
Anger sees me seethe
Can’t seem to breathe
Yer arms on me
I gots ta be free.
Get outta my face
This ain’t the place
To make a stand
To be a man
Your nose I’ll crunch
My knockout punch
Will put ya down
La La Land bound.
With Nicky’s drumming, I have to speed it up so much that I decide to do it twice.
“You get beat up by them football players?” Dix snarks.
“No way. I knocked out two and put three down to stay,” which is the truth.
“Oh. So yer a redneck, too” Dix puts down his guitar and charges me.
I chest-bumped him. When he jumps back, I knock the legs out from under him. Down he goes. My foot holds him down by the neck.
“See. It’s easy if you don’t back down.
I pick up my guitar and start playing the Tom Petty/Heartbreakers song.
Cliff and Nicky join in, complaining it’s too slow while laughing at Dix under my heel.
John comes back and sees Dix being held down. He attacks me. I let Dix loose and hold the two of them off while still playing the rock song. The other players keep going while the OC boys run up and hold John back. I have my own bouncers.
“This is fucked,” John complains. He storms off, with Dix following him.
“Sorry,” I apologize. “I didn’t mean to bust up yer rehearsal.”
“It usually ends one way or another,” Cliff remarks. “Ya wanna be our new singer and guitar player?”
“NO! man. I got a job remember?”
“Yer really a movie producer?”
“Assistant Producer. I just do the music soundtrack.”
“You seem to like our music. Why’d we not get hired?”
“I love you guys. I wanted to let you audition. We’re looking for a cover band to play 50’s pop.”
“John says you screwed us over.”
“I just wanted to promote you. Wait until a more modern movie needs your kind of energy.”
“We just wanna get signed.”
“Don’t be disappointed when you get what you hope for.”
“Why? We just wanna get paid as musicians.”
“We told Springsteen to stop tryin’ to be Dylan and change his song from ‘Runaway American Dream’ to “Born to Run.’ He cut his beard and hit the big time.”
“Yeah, before he was the Boss.”
“Yer a trip.”
We help them close up the studio, making sure no one steals Dix’s guitar. We are in East Hollywood. I drive everyone back to the Whiskey, with Alice and Nicky again riding in the front. The kids like the back seat but Santa Monica is dead late on a Sunday night. Driving past Oki Dog, the parking lot looks like Hiroshima. I beep and Oki Yoki waves while sweeping up. We made his night.
Alice and Nicky have that ‘we need to be alone’ look, so I leave them at their door.
“You goin’ to work in the morning?”
“Eight o’clock. Up with the cows. I’m still a country boy.”
“Hardest working faggot in rock n roll,” Alice observes. She never gives a guy any slack.
The only good thing about coming in on time in LA is that no one else is there. I make coffee, depositing John’s donuts on his desk. I decide it’s a new regime after the long holiday and leave his door open. If Miller resumes his obnoxious behavior, I still have my one-two knock-out punch. I draw a sketch of a trophy and title it “All Hollywood Ivy League Lightweight Boxing Champ.” I post it next to John’s door, just to the left of my desk. ‘All interlopers beware of the slugger.’
As I anticipated, the next person to show up is Miller. He sees my poster and looks ashamed.
“John won’t be in for a while,” I advise.
“It’s okay. I came to apologize. I’ve been a real jerk.”
Maybe he is being sincere. Still, my role is to undercut him.
“It’s okay, Chris. You didn’t know I have quite a few fights under my belt. Can I count on you to check with me before going in to see John?”
He looks confused. No one has told him that in the Hollywood pecking order, writers are somewhere below personal assistants.
“No hard feelings?” He sticks out his hand.
“Of course,” I manage a fairly manly shake. “Just don’t expect me to get you stoned again.”
“We never smoked pot at Dartmouth.”
“That explains why the script is not funny for stoners.”
“Huh?” It’s a news to him that he isn’t funny. “I never thought about how stoners think.”
All sorts of lights are going off in his head. He runs off to get it on paper.
When Landis finally arrives about eleven, I tell him that Miller apologized.
“Did you graciously accept?”
“Of course. I just told him his writing isn’t funny and suggested he study Mack Sennett to learn how to write comedy.”
“Sennett’s Canadian. I’m not sure that’s an improvement.”
“Chris ran off all inspired.”
“I was warned not to let you take control of my movie.”
“Now, that’s funny.”
“Thanks for the donut. Where’s my coffee?”
“Spoken like a true boss. It’s ready. What do you want for lunch?”
“We’re going out. I’m not ready for a full day’s work.”
“Now, that’s funny, too.”
We get down to work. While John answers calls and organizes future meetings, I come up with a list of 50’s pop songs, all dance-able. After he has been off the phone awhile, I knock and sit in his office.
“You know I have to go back to Harvard for finals next week. I’m planning not to return until after the holidays.”
“You just started and now you want a three-week vacation?”
“It’s the holidays, John.”
“We’ll talk about it. You have been working day and night since you started.”
“And I got Miller put in his place. That should save you several hours a day, not having to deal with him.”
“Okay. We’ll talk later. I just don’t want you leaving and not coming back. Let’s go eat. Debbie won’t let me eat anything but health food.”
“It must not be good for you. It’s making you old.”
“You mean more of an adult.”
“Oh, the horror. I can’t work with anyone older than 25.”
Naturally we take the Wreck to Beverly and Rampart, about a mile north of MacArthur Park. Landis is inspired, as we ride down the Hollywood Freeway with the top down, to sing that depressing song ‘MacArthur Park’ by Richard Harris. He’s trying too hard to be cool
‘MacArthur’s Park is melting in the dark
All the sweet green icing flowing down
Someone left the cake out in the rain
I don’t think that I can take it
‘Cause it took so long to bake it
And I’ll never have that recipe again
Oh, no Oh, no No, no Oh, no’
Songwriter: Jimmy Webb
“That has to be the worst song ever.” I complain.
“I didn’t do it justice. You havta hear the music.”
“I’ve heard the music. It’s 50’s TV soundtrack.”
“Isn’t that what we want for the movie?”
“Only if you want Belushi to kill himself.”
I appreciate that he wants to sing with me. I turn to him and start singing Lulu”s ‘To Sir, with Love.”
‘And as I leave I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon I would try to make a start
But I would rather you let me give my heart ‘To Sir, With Love’
Songwriters: DON BLACK, MARK LONDON © EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
He laughs and starts up another 60’s movie hit, a trifecta of Swinging London ballads, ‘Georgie Girl,’ except he changes the lyrics to ‘Timmy boy.
‘Hey there! Timmy boy
Swinging down the street so fancy free,
nobody you meet could ever see
the loneliness there inside you.
Hey there! Timmy boy
why do all the boys just pass you by?
Could it be you just don’t try,
or is it the clothes you wear?
Songwriters: JIM DALE, TOM SPRINGFIELD
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
It’s great. We laugh and laugh, until we pull into the strip mall parking lot behind Tommy’s Hamburgers. As always, there’s a line for the chili and cheese smothered burgers. We’re in no rush; we’ve taken the afternoon off.
“What was the Lampoon like, when you were there?” I ask.
“What makes you think I went to college, let alone Harvard?”
“Everyone else, other than Miller, went there,” I guess.
“I started working at Fox in high school. I wasn’t giving up that opportunity for a vaguely glorified future as a college grad.”
“Jack says college prepares you for life. I’ve been living real life for the last two years, since we started the band.”
“This is the third movie you’ve worked on. Scorsese is probably the best director in New York. I don’t know what you did for him, but I know he’s not gay.”
“And now you’re working with the best director in Hollywood.”
“I won’t do otherwise.”
“No one gets that many breaks and blows them off.”
“Are you worried I’m staying at Harvard?”
“I’m not worried. The pleasure I get from eating greasy hamburgers is not anything like I got watching you destroy Miller in the ring last week. You are the champ. But if you start acting conceited, you’re fired.”
“And, look at your car.”
“I love the Wreck.”
“Don’t you want a Beemer?”
“I’s ridin’ my ten-speed at home this weekend ’til Jack showed up in his gay Cabriolet.”
“Is it pink?”
“And this country accent is for real?”
“I grew up in the military. They call me the Alaska Cracker.”
We keep carrying on, laughing at each other. I’m so happy my boss isn’t another Harvard twit. Our grease fix satisfied, I know how to top a perfect meal. We drive to Wilshire Blvd and take the elevator to the roof of our favorite office building. I know Jimmy was there recently, as two lawn chairs are spread out on the eastern side of the roof, a perfect view of Downtown LA. The thirteen story limit on all California buildings has recently been repealed. The Met Life/Interstate Bank building near the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) is the main landmark, with the circular Hyatt Regency going up as a precursor to the new LA. Sitting comfortably with our feet up against the outside railing, I take out the compulsory joint. We get toasted together.
“I know you’re always three steps ahead on everything,” John repeats what other adults have concluded, “but the kicker is, you plan it so life is always a fun trip.”
“Yeah. I always keep on a’truckin.’”
“You’re just too damned adorable, Tim. What’s your secret?”
“Last night I met these two kids from Orange County, who hate everything about their suburban lives. They even hated each other. We went and jammed with that punk band we rejected for the movie. Everyone hated each other, but we had the best time. Both kids got up and sang with the band. Dix, the guitarist, kept kicking everyone. Hate is such fun.”
Being high is totally absurd. We sit there and enjoy our time without Miller, the Studio, or anyone else bothering us. Until a security guard comes up to bust us. Except Landis convinces him he works in the building, so the guard leaves us alone. He’s another Mick, just like at the Ritz in Boston. I start to light up another joint to share with the guard, until Landis warns me not to push our luck.
“Let’s go to the Beach,” Landis decides. It’s about 2 pm. We have to beat the rush hour traffic. Taking the 10 Freeway west and south on the 405, we exit on Washington and go west to Venice. Wandering the boardwalk, which is more of a bike path, I pull out another joint. We lean against the wall around the Muscle Beach workout area and smoke out. This bronzed Michelin Man with a bubbled up body and a South African accent comes over and smokes with us.
“Yah, dis is gud shit,” he pronounces. “Much betta than local weed.”
“Only the best for you, Arnold.”
We wander and mix with the crowd. This chick on skates in a string bikini likes us, or, at least our weed. When she asks us to come back to her ‘pad,’ we both giggle. I tell her we’re gay. John gets all red.
“Now you can tell Debbie what we did today and not havta lie.”
It’s totally funny. But, it reminds him that our afternoon is coming to a close. We sit in the swings and watch the sunset. It comes early in December.
“What do you think about the opera themes for each character in the movie?” I ask.
“The only thing I liked about that whole discussion is using bed sheets for the toga party.”
“You are a cheap son of a bitch,” I laugh. “My composer boyfriend will be disappointed.”
“I knew something was up with you two. He’s twice your age.”
“He’s interesting. Trouble is he’s kinda serious about me. Jack showing up was not part of the plan.”
“Okay. I see you have it under control, like everything else. What else don’t I know about you.”
“Oh, I’m so complicated at 18.”
“Tell me,” his stoned brain demands.
“Okay,” I confess just part of it. “I have to write a business school case study about the movie for Harvard.”
“You going to write about everyone getting stoned with you?”
“Only if it affects the outcome.”
“You think our movie has a chance? It’s so different from regular Hollywood films.”
“You mean all those unfunny comedies?”
“Can Miller write a comedy?”
“I told him he needs to write for the stoner audience. He ran off with a whole new perspective.”
“Maybe we better get back to the office.”
“Too late. Just give him a few days to rally the writers. I think he’s the only straight writer on staff.”
“I think I’m coming down.”
“I got more joints.”
“No. Take me home to the Valley. I wanna crash.”
I deposit him in Woodland Hills. Debbie insists I spend the night, so I can drive Landis to work in the morning.
“He’ll have to get up early so we get in by 8 am.”
“That’ll be his punishment for getting high.”
“I have more joints,” I offer her.
“Let’s go smoke out those hillbillies at the motel. I have many ideas about how they should dress.”
It turns out less than exciting. Debbie shows them how to upgrade their look. The fashion show over, I drive Debbie to the studio so she can drive John’s car home. I tell her we should go to Oki Dog to eat. We compromise by hitting the Formosa, next to Paramount Studios on Sunset and La Brea. I eat three entrees of Chinese food with unlimited white rice. Debbie sits there feeling like my mom as I eat. She only eats the spring rolls, sharing with me between main dishes. The place is another Hollywood landmark, with autographed head-shots of long forgotten movie stars. I drive home and fall asleep on the floor with a bulging belly. I wake up about 10 pm. Naturally I’m hungry again. Off to Oki Dog. It’s dead. Oki Yoki makes me pay that night – $1.25. He’s exhausted from the run on his product the previous night.
“Me sick of boys never pay,” he complains.
“Success breeds contempt,” I quip. He understands and laughs.
“Maybe you play again next week.” I’m fired from being the house band. ‘Fashion – one day you’re in, the next, you’re out’ – Heidi Klum (age 3)
I’m at work by 8 am. Miller comes by shortly.
“He’s not in yet, Chris,” I’m being nice.
“I came to see you,” he hands me several sheets of script revision. “Tell me if stoners find these funny.”
“I’m not stoned right now. You’ll have to wait.”
“You’re not leftover stoned?”
“You mean hung over?”
“When you got me stoned,” he still blames me for his actions, “I wanted it to be over the next day but I was still totally messed up. That’s why I was so mean to you.”
“That’s what I hated.”
“I’ll get my stoner friends to read the revisions and let you know tomorrow.”
“Cool,” he turns and walks away.