Showcase in hell
An L.A. diary as read by Joe Friday
Note: Dan Cohen is a local musician who contributes periodically to the CN&R and also claims to be the legitimate father of punk rock, having recorded titles such as “Kill Your Teacher” as early as 1961. Cohen currently records for Tzadik, the experimental label of legendary New York avant-garde musician John Zorn. The following is a portrait of modern-day Los Angeles as seen through Cohen’s surreal journal entries recorded while he was in the City of Angels for a concert of his music intended as a showcase for the Epitaph record label.
A low-life is swigging “Peaches ‘n’ Cream” from a Fresca bottle; he arrogantly hits on train teens. I daydream through his life story, imagining my impending showcase at Al’s Bar—the fantasy begins with 1,000 screaming girls and my phony British stage accent, to a flashback of fat Roberta’s kitsch-strewn living room. “It’s a showcase!” the realtor triumphantly proclaims.
The main library downtown has become a theme park with galleries, gift shops and restaurants. There is a tram down Angel’s Flight, where someone has just been killed. It’s free after 5 at the Mocha Museum. I talk my way in early—citing undue exhaustion—and see lots of dead trees and debris. At the neon-festooned Grand Central Market, I get a cat food burrito, halved like sushi. A businessman joins my table, only to witness nasal drip, gristle spits, and trembling hands dripping with watered sour cream. The repairman refuses to reset my guitar’s bridge gratis (he put it on wrong 15 years ago). My buddy is too late with the L.A. Weekly promo piece for the gig.
I breakfast at Phillipe’s, famous for its 10-cent coffee (people order nine cups at a time) and biscuits. Senile guys talk to the neon swordfish and sawdust.
On Olvera Street, I try a salt-centered aloe lollipop (salitos), assured it isn’t meat. I’m intrigued by niños eyeballing toe-rings, frenching skeletons and money-drawing incense—while a family in Aztec regalia does a bongo dance in the plaza.
Chinatown is a 3-mile strip mall. Live ducks, bunnies and quail wait in cages. Pig, dog and (perhaps) monkey carcasses hang on hooks in the BBQ, by a combo shoe and CD store (that has nudie-bopper posters and electric waterfall dioramas on sale).
An owner fears I will flee from the Japanese restaurant and gives me the check mid-meal. She stands behind me as I dig for money. The pink chicken (and prior foul shrimp) means no tip. She mutters, “You chip … you chip.” I put my ear to her mouth. “You pay dollah mo'. … It’s dollah fo’ teep.” I almost lodge a complaint with the cops who are watching us. Later, at rehearsal, my acoustic pick-up mount breaks, and a famed guitarist (Elliot Ingbar of The Mothers/Beefheart) can’t improvise!
Over at Al’s Bar, there are poseur/wanker bands with shades and fruity malevolence. Bleached gay punks stage a fight and fall on me. I pick up a table to retaliate. One runs onstage and bites the singer’s nipple. I get “moshed” during Crack (whose fat, gyrating singer has no butt). A cute brunette asks how I shoot pool like that. (I think she refers to my 45-degree slant, due to a wall, and I make a hand gesture.) She thinks it is a masturbation mime and tells a pal I’m “cuckoo.”
A bum asks if I can spare $100, then $50, then a dollar. He follows me into a bookstore, wanting a bill for his change. I decline. “Wait till I have to help you someday!” he yells. I browse naughty teeny-bopper Manga. At a pharmacy/botánica, I buy “devil spray” near the enchanted bath dyes, organic Viagra, Catholic trading cards and porn novels.
The observatory is closed, as is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock house and the Barnsdall Museum (both for two years). There is graffiti on the house and on the palms at Dante’s View—blackened from fire or smog resin. Three gays are perched in a tree. On a steep trail, three Latinos escort me down. They are what Don Juan called “allies” (inhuman purveyors of knowledge).
At the library, a patrolman wonders why I sit on the floor at the back of the stacks (there is sunlight from a picture window). He misses the oily squat woman with half a hand down her pants facing an office building.
Arcane movie palaces are converted to cheap import clothing outlets. Coroners enter dank hotels; a derelict throws crumpled paper in my face, a poor slam dunk.
Finally, it is the day of the showcase. All my “industry” invitations have come back “no such address.” Both Epitaph label reps and the publisher are no shows! (Tom [Waits] would call and write to say that they were out of town due to a Courtney Love court battle). Only my Ventura biker pals arrive, in a customized ‘59 Caddie (card carrying members of the Ventura chapter of the Sons of Lee Marvin.) Another consolation is that a duo from Ohio is playing for only two people. “Toast” (the promoter) is burnt. She threatens a double cover for “industry” types.
My seven-piece band prevails. Snaggle-tooth barflies and punks want CDs. Though we could return, I sense the fatalistic pall of the high note, like Lennon’s comeback death.
The driver on the No. 4 is talking to himself over the P.A. It is his last day. I get off at Highland, where a bum with a black eye panhandles at point blank. “Don’t touch me,” I warn him. He thinks I’m the guy who struck him.
There is a Maria Montez film fest at the Egyptian. The gay president of her fan club stands to berate organizers for lack of advertising. A 5-year-old wins the look-alike contest. After Cobra Woman and Arabian Nights, they show Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures (a supposed homage). The audience squirms as brides masturbate themselves and adjacent transvestites.
On the subway, a bum goes from seat to seat muttering inanities. Too stressed to absorb his secret wisdom, I guzzle a Coors in the Amtrak commode.