"THEY WERE LITERALLY EXPLOSIVE WITH ALL THAT PENT-UP LUST AND FEAR AND GUILT AND DREAD AND HATE AND RESENTMENT AND CONFUSION. And it gave them a kind of anarchic power, which can still move us."
I still found Debbie Harry's "Parallel Lines" poem-never-set-to-music's concept that none of the characters on Blondie's first big-winner album Parallel Lines--produced by totally bubble-gum rock producer Mark Chapman (not Marc David Chapman now--don't get them confused, though they were on parallel lines) [ed. note: the Wolf Man missed the boat on this one--the first guy's name is "Mike" Chapman--not Mark Chapman--libelous, we assume--See our lawyers--what lawyers? We put this note in, disclaimer like, but also because we hate to ruin the Wolf Man's coincidence here--he's so intrigued by that--so we leave it wrong in the story and hide behind our paralegals's skirts--poetic license, there ya go, our defense]--could connect, thereby the idea in Debbie's poem that led to this album and especially "Heart of Glass" is that all of the characters in these songs can't connect; can't connect over the telephone, even though they're in the same building even the same hallway; nor can the Sunday Girl connect--like the Euclidean theory of parallel lines--they can never meet; they never come together (oh is that insinuating) no matter how you try and bend them into cohabitual imposition--left on their own, they pop back into their parallel imprisoned geometrical positions.
And I relate this to everyone of importance or on the other side of the fence in the Ear Inn, or with Matty Quick or with Jesus Christ the guitar player or with Rick Matty's roommate or the chick I saw Matty with that day and he told me I could have her body by just mentioning around her that I had pot, or with Robin Rothman, dear sweet Robin.
And so Robin Rothman started booking Jesus Christ's and my band, which by then was openly called The Fabulous Swilltones. The whole premise for the band was the "swill" aspect of the name. Our mascot was a prancin' pig, in the swill of pig luxury, and we became prancing pigs on stage and Robin booked us into some joint on Bleeker Street that's no longer in existence and then she booked us into a loft party and then she booked us into Tramps and then she got hit by a bus.
So while Matty Quick, Mitch Leigh, and David Merrill were forming their new band so was I with the Fabulous Swilltones. We brought Big Jon Mackewicz into the band; Big J was a 30-year-old boy still living at home with his elderly bitchy Polish parents in Jersey City where he just sat around all day drinking bourbon and playing his guitar and rehearsing the lyrics to hundreds of tunes he'd memorized or written (he couldn't remember which) though he and Jesus Christ had written a couple'a splendid hits that I eventually incorporated into my solo act (much later, during my stardom-time (the Andy Warhol type) in the 80s) and sometimes building filling stations and shit like that out of Popsicle sticks, something most of the Swilltones laughed about but for which Big J became artistically famous years later in his "pits of Jersey City" existence--Jon had a wonderfully bodied and spirited and talented sister who became the official photographer for the Fabulous Swilltones--and created our posters and telephone pole tack ups that we sent out trying to attract crowds for our gigs.
Besides Big Jon and his guitar and vocals, there was Jesus Christ on Fender guitar, me on piano (or Farfisa or later a Rhodes electric (it weighed so god-damn much carrying it around gave me a hernia--but what sweet tones off tines Brother Rhodes put into those fabby old pianos) and then I started singing, too, but not as seriously as Big J--joke songs like "The Signifyin' Monkey"--the Reverend Johnny Otis's version first played for me by the Swilltones fabulous alto player, Little Richie Rich, up in his room while we were drinking French Market coffee laced with Emerald City--and Dirty Underwear played the tenor with us, with Twinkies on the drums and Matty Quick's roommate Rick on the bass. Rick and Twinkies had an ongoing hatred affair for each other and during gigs Twinkies would sometimes take his foot and kick Rick's amp plug out of the wall socket. Then Rick would accidentally swing his big long jazz bass around real fast and knock over Twinkies's hi-hat. Sometimes they would start loudly arguing right in the middle of a tune. That was a scene that went on during every one of our dire Swilltones gigs.
To be true Swilltones, before each gig we chipped in and bought a fifth of Old Grandad 100 proof bourbon--or one-time we bought a jug of 100 proof Old Fitzgerald--but mostly we stuck to Old Grandad, our official swill--and before every gig, usually as we were all balled up together in the van we hired to carry us around, we passed that bottle around and by the time we got set up and the show started, we were all almost fall-down drunk--but then that was the idea of the band--drunk musicians trying to bend their parallel lines into one tune--and we did "Good Rockin' Tonight," and one of those Ry Cooder songs about "When You Got a Good Thing," and we did Freddie King's "Going Down"--"Goin' down, down, down, down, down...." and we did a couple of Jesus's tunes, several of his tunes I did, like "Please, Listen Darling"--and it was an odd show--on some tunes we were geniuses and then on the very next tune we were like zombies, so serious, like serious drunk guys. In one of our finest Swilltone hours, at Tramps it was, Big J who worked on a high stool got to getting into the god-damn swinging tune we were playing to the point he jumped up off his stool, sat his bottle of Heineken (what we all drank on the houses we worked in) on the stool and began whamming out a hell of an acoustic guitar solo which ran up until the coda of the tune, which we all hit on the nose and the band wound down to a big Las-Vegas-type finish, and Big J bent down almost to the stage with his "thank you" bow and when he came up, right on the ending beat, he whipped open his arms like Jesus on the cross and SLAM-BAM he hit that bottle of Heinken, it was full, too, with his flying-open left arm and it went spinning out over the audience and ended up slamming down hard and spewing beer all over a tableful of Japanese businessmen. They thought it was part of the act and one of them ran up grinning like a Cheshire Cat and threw a twenty-dollar bill on the stage. "Get me another Heineken, please," Big J rapped over the microphone.
That was the Fabulous Swilltones--always on time and 100% drunk--all of us high, too; I mean we didn't just stop with 100 proof Old Grandad. Hell no; we also might do several lines of brown heroin, I snorted it, but a couple of guys in the band actually mainlined. I was sitting backstage somewhere one time when one of the boyz came over to me and said, "Wolfie, you wanna leave the room?" I said, "Wha the hell for?" "In case you got a moral thing about what we gotta do, dude." "Wha's that?" He took out his works, a spike (a needle), a tie-off, a spoon, and then he proceeded to tie off his arm, just above the bend above the elbow, and then he poured the brown heroin into the spoon and then took a kitchen match and started cookin' it. I watched. I was fascinated. I'd gone with a heroin addict in college, a great jazz singer with a promising career (she worked with Red Garland at the Pink Mink in Dallas for awhile) and she admitted she had the habit but she would never let me watch her shoot up, so I was curious, though not really thinking about doing it myself; hell no, I hated needles...and after he'd cooked the stuff, he loaded it in the syringe, and then, holy shit, he stuck the spike in his big swollen vein in the crook of his arm and blood shot up sky high out of that puncture and as he released the shit into his vein the syringe filled up with blood.
"You wanna try it?" "No thanks, man, but carry on if you dig it." "Man, you can skin pop if you don't wanna stick it all the way in a vein--you know, just prick your skin with it--you get a ride, but not like the ride you get mainlining." That's why they called it "horse," that ride. "When you mainline, man, the effect leaves you feelin' like a god-damn king without a worry in the world." And soon this guy was out of his gourd in his high world and then again soon he was noddin' out. He then snapped to. "You nodded out, dude." "Yeah, but after the first nod I'm safe until after our first set." And the guys that hit the heroin did play their asses off, off in their parallel world to mine--all of us walking our own parallel lines, all of us going in the same direction though, just with space between each of us--the same direction as Matty Quick's new band, the same direction as Blondie, the same direction as Big Bunny and the Echomen (we knew the Big Bunny, too)--and, yes, like I said, heroin later got Dirty Underwear and sent him off to some parallel universe way ahead of his time. And Dirty Underwear overdosed one cold winter's night up in Connecticut--at least that's what I heard after meeting Jesus Christ again several moons worth of years later when we were once again forming another band, this one called the Sweet Nothin's Band, and with the exception of Little Richie Rich, it was all new musicians--we made one recording with that band but the master was never bought by anybody--and that band hit the wall after only one gig.
So Debbie Harry's "parallel lines" poetic idea got me to thinking about what I'm writing about as being a perfect example of a bunch of people so closely related yet never being able to bring themselves together to form a true musical unit a la Cecil Taylor's "Unit" concept of jazz--which is kind'a parallel to what the Punkers, the Noise Rockers, the Glammers, and New Wavers were up to, too.
And one day I went in the Ear Inn and there were Matty, Mitch, and David sittin' at the bar drinkin' and actin' boistrous and happy and shit and there's a guy with them, a big snotty, sotty looking guy with an Arshile Gorky moustache, who looked like he hadn't slept in a hundred days or more, eyes sagging, tongue hanging out like a thirsty dog's on a hot panting day, hair akimbo, clothes ratty looking--he looked like slop. "Hey, Matty, dude, and Mitch, hey, Davido," and then I got to the big dirty guy--"Lester Bangs," he said, and I said, "So do I," and he said, "Fuck you, you prick," and turned around on the bar stool and faced the bar. "Pay Lester no mind," Matty said, "he just needs to get laid. He can't get laid to save his ass. Even Robin rejected him when I hooked him up with her--Robin'll fuck anything in pants but not Lester."
And that's how I met Lester Bangs.
Lester Bangs...he could very well be on a Romilar high here.
for The Daily Growler