hollywood, robes, berzerkistan, kreplachistan and ridgway, stan
All the leaves were gone (not brown) and the sky was grey the morning I loaded up the car and drove out of town. There were many tears shed in the days leading up to my departure but I was pulled away by the color blond and promises of a warm winter’s day. When the offer came up to move to LA with all expenses paid I resisted; but my friend Harold sat me down and explained all the reasons why I needed to do this. And so I did.
I had traveled through the seventies with granola, patchouli and the New Riders of the Purple Sage, bypassing disco and completely missing the Sex Pistols and points beyond. As the decade came to a close I was burnt out at twenty-eight, both personally and professionally. So with no job, no place to live, no friends and just a little money in my pocket, I pulled into Los Angeles.
Star Date: December-something, nineteen-eighty.
I’m living at the Universal Sheraton with tourists, movie stars and con artists. The record label with the famous bunny logo right down the street picks up the tab. In the mornings I usually bump into Kojac wearing his robe as he goes downstairs for breakfast or to pick up his mail. Nobody looked twice at Telly with the shaved head. It’s Hollywood and who loves you, baby…
First week in town I cruise Sunset and buy a map to the star’s homes that they sell on every corner. There are three different maps at different prices. I buy the cheapest one with the Playboy Mansion, Englebert’s pink home and the location where they shot the exteriors for the Beverly Hillbillies. And Brian Wilson’s house. I pull in front of his gates and park. He stands in the window looking sad and I wave. He waves back. I wonder why everybody in this town wears robes.
Within two months I’m out of money, living in a one room apartment off of Wilshire, about a block from the spot where one day in the future OJ will kill Nicole and Ron. I’m working in a telephone boiler room before the sun comes up with wannabe actors and actresses, and we’re selling copy paper and toner to folks back east before they’ve had their first cup of coffee and realize they’ve been ripped off. The week after I quit they’re raided and shut down by the FBI ,and my old boss does hard time on federal charges.
Through a friend of Harold’s I land a gig selling advertising for the LA Weekly, which is owned at the time by a few guys including Michael Douglas. He may be the first person I meet who puts a crease in his jeans, but at least no robe. Our office is in an old house on the boulevard near Western, and the staff is both transient and interesting, as is everything else in this city.
We’re all single and poor and hang together at an Italian restaurant long gone on La Brea ,where Eddie Zip and Sweet Magnolia play on Friday nights. There is an old man in a suit who stacks up about a dozen chairs and lifts them high off the ground with his teeth while the band plays. After a few times you hardly notice him and the pizza is good.
The soundtrack in this city has always been diverse, where in one night you can take a trip downtown to Al’s Bar to hear X ,and a short ride north on the 101 to the valley (or The Valley…thank you Moon Unit) for a little Jerry Lee at the Palomino. And bump into the same people at both shows.
And to the point now…this gratefully dead flying burrito type of guy here was being exposed to some new things. The bands bumping around back then at the clubs and bars ranged from skinny black tie types to the grittier east LA bands. Although I gravitated more to the Blasters and X than Fear or Black Flag, I could tap my toes to the Knack, laugh at the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, bounce to the Go-Gos and dig that song by the Suburban Lawns I was always hearing on the ROQ.
Possibly the most interesting thing I heard around this time was the self-titled EP that Wall of Voodoo put out. Their version of “Ring of Fire” is one fierce recording and still makes my spine shiver whenever I hear it. In a good way. The guitar work is oft described as being influenced by Morricone and the spaghetti westerns, but I remember thinking at the time that it was just some sort of mutant surf music.
But it’s Stan Ridgway’s voice…he is the game changer.
Truth be told, if I never hear “Mexican Radio” again I’ll die a peaceful death. It was great the first twelve hundred times, but it’s one of those songs that crawls under your skin, or maybe just mine. Not to say it isn’t in bad company, because there’s hundreds or even thousands of great songs I’m done with,. But I’ve always felt that Stan had something in there I still needed to hear, but I drifted away to a softer space where mandolins, acoustic guitars and unicorns dwell. The house of americana in the lower case.
Star Date: A week or two ago, two thousand and ten
Carol was my very first friend here at the No Depression online community. We have similar tastes in music and as it turned out, I think we also make each other laugh sometimes. And we’ve never met nor spoken. It’s the perfect po-mo social networking relationship in this new millennium.
So she sends me a message asking if I’ve heard the new Stan Ridgway album.
“No. Should I?”
“Yes” she writes. “You’ll like it.”
There are three Stan Ridgway pages on My Space. One belongs to an eighteen year old boy from Tennessee. The other two are both our Stan Ridgway, although one is not up to date and the other is maintained by someone other than Stan, although it’s notated as the “official” one. The latter has a picture of Stan holding an acoustic Gibson, the one with the flowers on the pick guard. It calls out to me.
The jukebox has a half-dozen songs to choose from and three knock me out. None are from the new album. It forces me to search high and low to find the albums they come from. And catch up on a long and incredible body of work.
I have now listened to his version of Dylan’s “Song for Woody” about two dozen times (still can’t find the album it’s on), sampled almost all the stuff he has up on Amazon and CD Baby, and discovered that he’s made some amazing music over the years. They didn’t write about him in the old ND magazine pages, but they missed Nick Cave as well for that matter.
Let us make amends here.
In Stans’ own words: “I’ve probably confused people with my music, my choices, the albums and the changes in direction from year to year. But I can’t help it. That term ‘eclectic’ fits me perfectly and there are just too many musical styles and songwriters and singers I enjoy to just involve myself in only one type of music. I try to bring all the things I love into the sound. There’s a weird old American jukebox in my head and it still plays everything that’s ever got under my skin.”
The official release date for Neon Mirage is August 24 but it’s been up on CD Baby for awhile and he sold some at his recent McCabe’s gig in Santa Monica. I’ve been sampling it this week on his ReverbNation page and have fallen in love with it. With Stan on vocals, guitar and harmonica, the players include his wife Pietra Wexstun on keyboards and longtime band member Rick King on guitar. Of special note is the work of the late violinist Amy Farris and the production work of Dave Alvin on several tracks.
If you would like to read a review, I can’t help you out. I’ve got no time nor inclination. All I can say is that Stan Ridgway has just made one mother of an album that you may think is the best thing you’ve heard in a long time. I do. Buy it or Pandora it or do whatever it is you do to get it these days…but just listen to it.
I wonder if Stan wears a robe around the house.