You may know of Led Zeppelin (and other bands as well) having had practice sessions in Clearwell Castle following Robert Plant’s personal tragedy, but you may not be aware of the band Helium Submarine and their lower-budget recording sessions high in the Rocky Mountains. As I complete my research and begin writing the script for the major motion picture based upon their story, I’d like to invite you to crack open a fresh bottle of whiskey and bring yourself up to speed on one of the greatest rock-n-roll fables never told.
The fabled band, having begun as a side project of three roadies from Black Sabbath, the next-door neighbor of an ex-girlfriend of a guy who changed the oil in Deep Purple’s tour bus, and a guy who knew the guy who scored the pot for a batch of brownies that never made it backstage to the band Sweet, Helium Submarine began as a cover band, but soon found their sound and inspiration via a shared interest in Pre-Columbian history, Biologist Trofim Lysenko, and Tesla’s third cousin Lepzig, inventor of the “Purple Nurple”. Composing such epic tracks as “Overcoming Gravity: The Pharaoh’s Phallic Pleasure Palace (The Ballad of Hefferendendanum, Stone Mason and Footballer Extraordinaire to the One and Only True Descendant of the Beer God, Pete)”, “Hybrid Turnip Yield Failure”, “Lysenko VS Mendel’s Giant Pea in the Lair of Common Sense”, and “Jacob May Have Had a Ladder, But I Have a Really Long Fireman’s Pole, But It’s More for the Chicks” (Parts I-VII), which in and of itself comprised three sides of the quadruple concept album …and a side of open-mindedness for my date, please (which tells the story of an astral-projection date gone terribly awry when one of the couple’s silver threads becomes entangled in the power lines following a time-traveling misadventure), the band was not getting commercial radio play, most likely due to the length of their songs (27 minutes on average). Or perhaps an affinity for screaming the word “pisspussy” repeatedly each time a cymbal would crash following a piccolo solo in an arrangement. By their second major release, “Captain Squeaky’s Sandwich Disaster”, the band was pursuing new roads, accidentally inventing “sampling” when they had a tambourine stolen, and the sole remaining recorded track of the missing membranophone was found to have, in the background, their neighbor, one Ms. Elsa Sheranislovsky yelling at her cat to stop peeing on the rug (and thus the birth of the aforementioned catchphrase “pisspussy”).
In any event, their A&R guy, Jerry Bettleford-Volume (heir to the Volume Family fortune – his great-Grandfather was one Chas. Whitwether Volume II, inventor of the volume knob, and who, having the foresight to not only Patent the device, but also managed to retain the forward rights for all future inventions, including what he described in 1904 as a ‘moving picture box” 1, was able to leave a very sizable empire and thus provide a comfortable life for his family to engage in pointless endeavors such as being an A&R guy) had suggested that the band try a more “radio-friendly” sound, and the band sought to head to the famed Clearwell Castle. Naturally the label denied the trip on grounds of “absolutely zero budget”, and as DoubleCross Records Senior VP Sol D. Seitowicz was quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t trust those morons in a garden shed, much less a castle.” Ever forward-thinking, Bettleford-Volume bartered with a neighbor to use a cabin that he had won in a game of high-stakes Hungry Hungry Hippos after-hours in the zoo he worked at, located in a remote area of the Rocky Mountains, deep in what is now known as Colorado, just slightly upriver from where Coors gets its water. The cabin, of course. Hippos cannot survive in the mountains. Not for lack of trying, mind you. We’ll cover that in a future post, “Noah’s First Ark: Big Waves Tend to Carry Things a Long Way From Home” (Scholastic Designation: “The Engineering of a Storm-Induced, Sea-Faring Vessel, While Having Obvious Similarities to a Regular Ship, Like Say for Instance a Barge or Something Like That, Would Logically Dictate Notable Structural and Functional Differences From One Designed to Endure a Storm of Sea-Making Potential While Carrying a Pair of Every Known Species for an Undefined Period of Time, Allowing for Storage of Fecal and Other Matter of an Undetermined Prior Mass in Advance of Setting Sail and Thus Begs the Question as to Just How Many Versions of Said Ark There May Have Been Before Noah Got it Right, and Just How Many Really Cool Animals Didn’t Survive to Make That Final Journey, Assuming That Said Animals Weren’t Just Complete Douchebags, and That Then Begs the Question of Whether or Not it Weren’t Simply a Case of Choosing the Wrong Animals to Bunk with One Another, as We Have No Record of an Official Bill of Lading for Any of Said Ark Versions, Or the Ship’s Crew, Most Notably the Social Director”; Remedial Title: “Big Animals on a Boat”).
What was to come of that trip is now a part of Rock-n-Roll folklore. At nearly any festival, you can hear it being re-told in hushed tones over the hypnotic crackling of a campfire roasting Fritos and S’mores-flavored Hot Pockets… and the gasps for fresh air between breezes carrying the foul body odor of the attendees far along to the next campsite.
Following a two day hike to the cabin (which, had it not been for lead singer Ashton Mung’s severe leg cramps and the band’s insistence on using a place mat treasure map taken from a Denny’s near Loveland Pass as the only form of navigation, would have taken approximately nine minutes from the frozen lake their plane had set down upon), the band settled in, and began writing what was to be their first commercial album. According to the manic scratchings and crudely-rendered cartoon penises in bassist Paul-Jean-Pierre Gowenbrowski’s journals, many of the songs were of an absolute genius not seen or heard since the Beatles and their secret “K-Mart” sessions, which bred over 4 million hits worldwide. The band had truly found their stride. Drummer Steve “Ukulele” Marzipone was experimenting with new forms of rhythm, as well as time signatures based on the numbering system for describing sexual positions. Lead guitarist Todd “Lozenge” Lozengensen was discovering new sonic frontiers alongside the string section they had liberated from a Czechoslovakian cover orchestra (hailed in their time as “The Closest You Can Get to the Philadelphia Philharmonic Without Having to Deal With People From Philly”), and rhythm guitarist Jim Freuchelisnki was working to harmonize with synthesizer wizard Vinny “The Organ” Quinn. The lyrics were of a deep personal nature to lead singer Mung’s heart, but dumbed-down just enough to rhyme and repeat per and over again, making them ideal for radio and the idiots listening to it. Things were progressing beautifully. Even the dozen oil painters brought along to create cover art were finding inspiration in the spectacular views and many varieties of hallucinogenic plants growing in the area.
Then it all fell apart.
As storms blew in, the band refused to leave. While ninety four of their entourage sought refuge in the town at the base of the mountain, and the remaining seventy-seven musicians brought along left on planes over the next three days, the band pressed on, writing and arranging their magnum opus. During this time, the weather worsened, blowing in Arctic air and temperatures reaching 70 below zero… But not before dumping forty-nine feet of wet snow upon the tiny two-room cabin.
Over the next five days, travel was impossible, and the resulting horrors I will spare you here. Having burned all nine of the drum kits, Marzipone was close to a percussionary breakthrough, using the skin and bones of Quinn; it being decided that his services were no longer needed, especially with the power being knocked-out and all. Suffice to say that in a Donner-esque turn, only one band member was to survive the ordeal… although left an empty shell of the fun-loving poet genius he entered that cabin as.
The resulting solo album, 1-8-5 (the cover art was an assemblage piece; a collage of the surviving pages from the journal that escaped burning on day two, and released overseas as Wiping You Away) has been hailed as a “remarkable work of lyrical inventiveness and very unique arrangement, paying little, and at times absolutely no attention to things like music theory”, and rare copies can be found in the bargain bin at weird little record stores that you wander into named “Spinners” or “Deep Tracks-n-More”, thinking that they may have a public restroom you can use while attending local art fairs and drinking far too much lemonade.
1I should write a bit here about the controversy surrounding the demise of the volume knob, and the resulting drama surrounding that, more commonly referred to in scientific circles as “The Great Volume Button Controversy”, but let’s be honest here, and accept that this has gone well beyond where it needed to, and save that for another day, shall we?
Digging through a folder of assorted notes I’ve written, and I stumbled across this gem:
“A cacophony of flip-flops, crying kids and a loose shopping cart wheel that goes clackity-clackity-clackity-click-click-thump-thump-thump-thump-clackity-thump.”
One might think I’d remember just what in the fuck that was all about; much less that at some point I was writing a Disney musical number. Phil Collins is going to have a hard time writing the score for this, but hey, that’s on him. Hit me if you’d like to purchase the rights to a brilliant idea for a Walter Mitty meets Toy Story meets Full Metal Jacket meets an Un Chein Andalou/Tarzan-esque animated spectacular.
A Merry Christmas to you and yours. Or those you may rent. Or happen to have on Lay-a-Way. Or may be thinking of purchasing soon.
…or should we say “Kiss-mas”?
Realizing that we’re officially eight months into the Christmas season (for those of you going by the decorations on display in your local Lowes), I thought it best to take a moment and reflect on the wonderous joy that listening to Christmas music brings me. If by “wonderous joy”, one means that it breeds to sort of feeling “similar to slamming my privates in a car door over and over again”. Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum.
It’s not that I hate this season. Far from it. I love the temporary feeling of giving that people have for a few short days, or watching morons brag about how they gave a buck to the Salvation Army Santa that one time. I hate (yes, “HATE” may be a strong word, but it feels nearly anemic in this case) the blatant commercialism, and made-up bullshit that surrounds it all, and we’re not even going to delve into another made-up holiday here. That would be like discussing the existence of UFO’s, and then expecting people to follow along as we turned to Godzilla and the possibility of giant mechanized robots taking over Tokyo and that a logical defense would be to create a super-human using gamma rays via an old microwave oven during a lunar eclipse while listening to Blue Oyster Cult backward. You can only stretch belief so far, and in my opinion, it stops at the whole gamma ray/microwave/BOC backward/eclipse thing, still many, many steps from “Kwanzaa”. You might find a richer history in “Festivus”, which shares an eerily similar point of birth of that other one there. 1966-67 must have been a hotbed of holiday manufacture. Strangely enough, How the Grinch Stole Christmas was released in… 1966. A YULETIDE CONSPIRACY! And let’s not even dare venture to the 1967 Bob Hope Christmas Special, which featured “Miss World”, Madeleine Hartog Bell, which was an obviously biased contest, as no formal invitation was sent to Miss Godzilla, spurring the alternate dimension battle ending with, as we all know, the great Microwave-Gamma-Ray battle which would propel Blue Oyster Cult to fame across all known realities, plus two additional ones we don’t yet understand.
But I digress. It’s not even a hatred for Christmas music in general. It’s having to listen to it from October through, well, whenever the heck the next commercialized bullshit begins… Which is usually Valentine’s Day, and you can expect those cards to hit shelves on 26 December. And it’s one shitty remake after the next. How many different ways can you sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”? At last count, seventy-three million, with eleven million of those coming from Whitney Houston alone. And don’t even get me started on the bullshit “It’s a CLASSIC!” ear worms like “Wonderful Christmas Time” by McCartney. This pile of reindeer shit from the guy who penned “Paperback Writer”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane”?! It’s nearly as annoying as “Last Christmas” by Wham!, or, well, anything else recorded after 1959. You can feel my pain, I’m certain. As a season of giving and all that, I hope that you’ll take time to give to those less fortunate, and continue that all year. And for you, in keeping with that theme from the start of the post, I’d like to make sure that you get a little Pussy this year. “Pussy with a CAPITAL ‘P’, Brian?!” you may be asking, “this must be high quality stuff! You shouldn’t have!” What can I say? I’m a giver.
And yes. “Pussy” was the name of one of the dogs in this masterpiece, which illustrates clearly just how terrible the music of the season can be. I would pay a lot to hear the studio out-takes from those sessions. “Come on Pussy! Louder!” It’s the Christmas music equivalent of watching your dog drag its ass across the carpet, yet, you’d probably stop this song long before yelling “STOP THAT!!” at poor Fido.
I like looking at things from a decidedly different angle, and am often inspired to seek out the inspiration behind a trend, or a particular style… I’m a fan of mixing and matching themes, styles, whatever…and an even bigger fan of just having fun with whatever I’m doing, and often seek out things that reflect this attitude. Whether in friends, books, movies, or music. Occasionally, this leads me to seek out stuff that’s a bit off the beaten path. Such was the case here in the studio once again.
(Yeah, it’s gonna be another musical jaunt… and it’ll all wrap up nicely, as usual, with cars. Stay with me, I think you’ll dig this little side trip.)
Anyway, I got to thinking, of all things, about Herb Alpert (not Marv Albert. That’d be weird.), and gave a listen to “Whipped Cream and Other Delights”… A far cry from what I was listening to a week ago, to say the least…. and by far much stranger cover art (if not quite risque’, considering its 1965 release date):
Granted, this album was released before my time (granted, there may be another me in some other dimension, hanging out in a lounge giving this a listen back in an alternate ‘65…), but man… how cool were these cats? If you’re not familiar with the Tijuana Brass, here’s a quick history lesson:
Herb Alpert was a trumpet player who developed a unique sound that was a mix of south-of-the-border, mariachi and distinctly lounge-y sounds, probably best described as Ameriachi (as I learned from a few sources). If you’re really lost here, think of the theme from the TV show The Dating Game, called “Spanish Flea”, which was a Herb Alpert/Tijuana Brass tune, and you’ll have an idea… or their version of “The Lonely Bull”.
Anyway, the ‘Brass cranked out a few albums in the ’60’s (even a cool Christmas album! Find a copy, and mambo your way through a Christmas Wonderland…), until Alpert called it quits, and took his (and business partner Jerry Moss’) record label A&M, and signed some heavy talent, releasing a few albums of his own along the way (out-selling Michael Jackson in the late-’70’s, which says a lot for that era, I suppose), before selling the company to PolyGram in the late 1980’s.
So what’s this got to do with cars? Think traditional lowriders. Bellflower custom style(named after the city in LA county where the look spawned). A mix of the lowrider and custom car, and you’ll see where I’m headed.
Consider Watson’s Caddy:
It is the embodiment of the Bellflower look… the low stance, simple (if often ANY) body mod’s, the bold, yet somehow understated paint technique (much like his T-Bird that came before), and those killer pipes. The East LA style, mixing elements from two cultures (like the Tijuana Brass did!), and coming out the other end with a clean, cool style. It’s all about class, luxury, and style. Just like a lowrider, but with custom roots.
Lowriders embodied Mexican tradition. Crusing in a decked-out ride to impress the ladies, and show off your skills was more than just about the cars. Cruising may be traced back to the “paseo”, where singles would walk around in the central plaza of the village, basically checking one another out. The idea here was to impress. Put these kids in cars, and it sure looks a lot like cruising… Which brings us forward a few years to the end of the second world war. Hot rodding was booming as young men returned from military service, eager to make creative use of their new mechanical skills. On the other end of the spectrum, the Mexican immigrants were making their cars look luxurious. It was style over speed… lowered stance, different hubcaps, an accessories like spotlights, skirts, pipes… many items shared in traditional customizing.
Fast-forward a few more years, and combine this look with the growing custom scene, and well, you got some clean, mild cars that made the most of the new styling coming from the factory… Apply it to a luxury car, and you’re well on your way to a crossover look beyond compare. Imagine in late 1957 (coincidentally, the same year Bellflower was incorporated as a city), a young Larry Watson cruising into the Clock Drive-In in his panel-painted T-Bird…
I have a soft spot for this look… A number of years back, I sketched up a modern take on the look, combining it with the pro-touring look — note pinstripe whitewalls on a 5-spoke as a nod to the classic “Supremes and pinners” look (OK, and a mild chop, extended quarters, relocated and shortened trim…):
The idea behind the Bellflower look is clean lines, cool, vibrant and rich colors mixed with just enough chrome to keep your eyes happy…Make use of some ‘flake or pearl, some striping… In other words, think mild custom, but dressed a notch higher. It’s a fun style, to be sure, much like Herb’s band of session musicians belting out Ameriachi cover versions.
And speaking of cover versions, consider how just a few fresh chords, or an alternate take on a solo in a cover song can change things up drastically, consider the lowrider style, versus the custom car style. One change can send the car from one camp to another… For instance, this pickup is pure lowrder-feel:
Yet, this ’50 has a distinct hot rod/custom feel:
Straddling that line, and walking a bit closer to contemporary style (yet still working-in some retro-style mods) is this unibody Ford:
Consider the Impala and Rivieras of the early (and even mid-to-late) 1960’s… the kind of cars that walk between street machine, muscle car, custom, lowrider… And never seem to get lost along the way:
Simply adding or removing an accessory can dramatically change things up (sort of like adding a horn section to your punk band can suddenly change things to sound much more like Ska…) :
Imagine swapping wheels on this beast… it can go from mild to menacing, and be equally at home almost anywhere:
A wheel and tire combo change on any of these could easily change the look and overall feel in a matter of minutes. It’s all in the vibe the vehicle sends… if you pay close attention to that, magical things start to happen, and soon enough, you’re leaving any ‘theme’ behind, and heading into that wild territory of making it your own. Take one thing, and spice it up with another influence, and man, you can’t help but feel the vibe, and nod your head approvingly as you smile.
And that’s how my mind works: From whipped cream to salsa, stopping in between for some quick history, and leaving you to consider mixing up some styles on your project…
Some moron once said that it takes a village to raise a child.
I say “bullshit”.
What’s the first word that comes to mind when someone says village?
Exactly. Do you want an idiot raising your kid? I certainly don’t. And I don’t want one raising mine, either.
Henceforth, we have decided that our children will be raised in a progressive way, using music. Granted, there’s a lot to be decided here, at first glance, anyway. As we looked into potential sources for musical wisdom, we found that, for the most part, great songwriters are like philosophers and teachers, each expounding knowledge on situations you or I may run into every day. Bernie Taupin is a great example, as is Harry Chapin, Springsteen, and Dylan… All have a lot to offer in our musical child-rearing idea. However, amongst the good, we found some real crap, too.
Enya, for instance. No way I’m allowing my kids to grow up thinking that world is made up of moody-ass sailors and stars and whatever the hell else this broad sings about in a mix of what might be French, might be Klingon. Any pop performer? No. Nothing you can learn about life from anyone like that. Lady Gaga? She wears ducks and telephones on her head, and even mentions her own name in songs as some kind of lyrical element. Any boy band? That’s just made-up shit there. My kids will have a sense of reality. Rappers? Let’s not go there. So we hunted high and low. Blues? Yes. There will be Albert and Buddy, and BB and Stevie Ray and others… loads of great information to be gleaned from their experiences. But we needed more… and in this modern age, it needs to be in one package, and FAST.
And then we found it.
In the bargain bin at the used record store.
Motley Crue is the band we have chosen. Their lyrics are incredible when you’re a teenager in the ’80′s…. And oddly cryptic now. We selected their “Dr. Feelgood” album as the new “Dr. Spock” of our home, and I’ll explain why (above and beyond the price, and excepting for a slight crack in the jewel case):
First, the album teaches music appreciation. Any band that yells “guitar!” before a solo is a huge help. Prior to hearing this album, whenever I heard a guitar solo, I’d think “harpsichord? tuba? bongos, perhaps? Convection oven? Auto-tuned tire noise from a freeway on-ramp?” Yelling the instrument name (and occasionally, the name of the dude playing it) pays dividends later on.
Next, we learn about lyrics, mainly via bad examples. For instance, hoochy-cootchie is a phrase best left in the hands of Muddy Waters. In Crue Land, the women are beyond simple hoochy, and their cootchies are, apparently, legendary. In fact, they are basically cootchie squared. (…which led me to ponder the sheer logistical terror of any woman equipped with a square cootchie. I mean, beyond the simple “holy crap, what happened THERE?!” moment you’d certainly experience, is the nightmare of, well, for lack of a better description, pounding a round peg into a square hole. That just has bad night – or, at least, interesting YouTube video – written all over it. Moving along, let’s take this song-by-song. See that? we’re learning already! Rhyming is fun.)
It kicks off with “Terror in Tinseltown”, and drifts into the title track. Right there, you have your “drugs are bad” speech. It’s further defined in the title track, as we learn about a dope dealer and his tough times. He drives a shitbox, hangs with lowlifes and eventually meets his fate, imprisoned or shot, maybe both. Good lesson in there. Don’t be a douchebag.
Next on the list: “Slice of Your Pie”. Here we have a nifty metaphor about eating right, with a subtext that can be used for the “birds and the bees” talk. We learn about moderation, as Vince simply asks for one more slice… not three or four. We learn that even plain girls deserve attention in high school, because the gal in question apparently turns out to be quite attactive later on, and almost causes a neck injury when our narrator sees her later on. We also learn to appreciate women from all directions (“…always walk behind you for the rear view”). Powerful stuff.
“Rattlesnake Shake”. Beats the shit out of me. Could be exercise. Lots of posterior motion in this one. Good for the glutes. OK, then: “Physical fitness = long life”, even for hard-drinking, shallow, heroin-addled pop-rock bands. Works for me.
Moving along, we have “Kickstart My Heart”, which basically says “get yourself hobby that involves cars, and go fast a lot.” Amen. (until they use it in a Kia commercial, and ruin everything you ever hoped for with this song. WTF, guys??! At least it’s not for a Prius. And it has a grandstand full of bikini-clad women, which reinforces the concept that having a car will attract the ladies, even if it is, apparently, a foreign-made sedan. Chicks like the cars, apparently.)
“Without You”. Appreciate the people in your life. Otherwise, they’ll leave, and you’ll write a shitty song about it. Spare us that, at least.
In the catchy “Same Old Situation”, we learn that, in the opinion of a dude who just got dumped, and that you may find yourself thinking that all women are basically the same whorish succubi. We learn that some women, namely those in the life of this songs’ protagonist, anyway, say one thing, and do another. And we learn the value of safe sex, and that when you meet your lovely new bride’s old “friend” with the tattoos and long hair, that she probably didn’t learn that thing with her tongue from reading Cosmopolitan, and that if you forgo wrapping your little monster, that you’ll most likely catch hepatitis from that low-life, tattooed circus freak.
“Sticky Sweet”. Again, moderation. But we learn that a “fire in my pants” perhaps isn’t always a good thing, and that longevity in the sack is a part of any healthy relationship. (furthermore, replace the lyrics with “she’s got stinky/got stinky/she’s got stinky feet”, and we learn that parody is fun, too)
In “She Goes Down”, we learn that, sometimes, life is misery, and the grass IS, in fact, greener on the other side. We also learn that any girl who goes down this much will sleep with all of your friends. Sure, they’ll appreciate it, but see “Without You” above for the generally accepted outcome.
“Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)” teaches us that not everything lasts forever, and that hanging out with your buddies can solve any relationship issue (unless, of course, the little lady in question is the one from the previous song, and she’s doing what she does while you’re in the same room.) It teaches us that, in a delicate, nowhere situation, it’s OK to say “fuck it, just please get out”.
Last in line, we have “Time For Change”. This will be left off of our “Crue Raising Mix Tape of Life”, as we cannot begin to fathom what idiot kid would have been telling Vince that they “lost all faith in the world”. Unless they mean “there are no more hot chicks to discover, you had them all during your ’87 tour”, or that ‘holy shit, you got really fat, dude… and that means if a heroin junkie can get puffy and weird looking, so can anyone. Look at Val Kilmer… maybe not so much heroin, but he was Batman. The fucking BATMAN!!! Of course, HIS Batman is now fat, and looks like a hamster…’ then we could understand. But, instead, they act as if this guy, at one near-bottom point in his life was going to solve the world’s problems. Perhaps. Just maybe, if we all head to the bar and land some hotties, it’d be a better place. Time to change the track, if you ask me.
In summary, this is our choice. What have we learned? That it takes a Crue, not a village to raise my kids. And at just under $4, it’s money well-spent, being just shy of seven dollars cheaper than a Dr. Spock book.
And that by golly, you may just want to keep your children away from ours a little later in life, should you choose some other, less testosterone-driven alternative.