"For years he's [James Brown] been honing this one riff which was reductive in the beginning, till now there's practically nothing left but the bareass minimum bone throb straight outa ancestral oree drums crossing the veldt in a whir of machees, and over that jussa little sketchy sizzle like a monotone-lashed guitar and saxo squiggles not hardly hot by now." [Lester Bang's review of James Brown's Soul Classics #2, Polydor Records, 1973, in CREEM, December 1973.] ss
I notice Lester uses "outa"--I use "outta" or "out'ta." Get outta heah.
So when Matty Quick told me Lester Bangs's Birdland had a lawyer, an entertainment lawyer, and now he's telling me they've got a booking agent, Holy Shit, and they're lining up a recording deal and he's tootin' away like he's on the verge of flying off to some rock 'n' roll corner of the world that ain't the corner of Spring Street and Greenwich Street in the BLOHO section of our little corner of triangulated existence, the environment our art was being thought up, rehearsed, and then recorded and performed in--that world, a world into which one day Mike Roddy gave me a book. It was by Werner Herzog; it was autographed to Mike from Werner Herzog. "I want you to read this," Mike said, "But don't you dare mess it up or flush it down the toilet or use to clean up after one of your seductions...it's quite rare and valuable." "You should talk," I said, remembering Lester Bangs jumpin' all over Matty Quick for getting the others in the band zippity-do-dahed, and he handed me this softcover book and turned on his heels and left the Ear.
The book was autobiographical and unspun a tale that featured young Werner in Berlin on a cold-ass Berlin winter, snow was everywhere (when I write about a German I have a tendency to do so thinkin' my words out with one of those Hollywood Nazi accents--ja vol und ach die lieber--oh, and Achtung!, too, then "Phere are yur pay-Pahs?"), and, as best I can remember, a woman in Paris had taught him everything he knew about acting and filmmaking, his maestra, was dying maybe, or something, and young Werner decided on a spur of the moment he was going to WALK to Paris from Berlin wearing only the clothes he had on his back at the moment. I'm probably way off on this; I'm fantasizing a la Herzog; it has been 30 years, come on--even Werner Herzog has forgotten this tale and to be honest with you, I don't even know if Werner's still on the mortal coil; but anyway, this book was all about this extreme journey Werner took to get to his Baba Yoga's bedside, the hardships he suffered, the snow, sleeping in barns, eating whatever he could forage, his shoes wearing thin, the freezing cold, but the desire to get to Paris burned so hotly determined in old Werner's Aryan chest he made it in the shade--though, F-ing A, I had to admit I enjoyed the book; it was pretty well written. Then later I came in the Ear one chattery evening and Roddy and Leah were sitting at a big round table in the Ear's Prohibition-setting dining room, the back area, with its floor bad-sagging toward the rear of the lower rear of the rear slide that would one day slide the Ear off into the underground abyss that lay deep beneath it unless and until Hatrack had to do excavation and some jacking up and retimbering down in the Ear basement--but anyway, Roddy came rushing up to me where I was at my regular seat at the bar all red-faced and pompous, "Come on, Wolfie" he said, "meet Werner." And there he was, Werner himself, sitting there wearing black, drinking starry-looking drinks of some kind, a Aryan-all-white babe sitting next to him, the Roddys, and some other foppish-looking dandies whose names I didn't catch ganged around Werner like he was a Teutonic god--and, hell, maybe he was. I shook hands with Werner and then went back to the bar; I had a book of romantic sonnets I just been given to edit by the Vantage Press and I needed the money, so I went back to the bar and left that tableful of "celebrities" to venture further into their night's debauchery or enlightenment, whichever--I knew Roddy had his purloined eyes on the Nazi chick--she was so F-ing white--maybe Leah had her eyes on the Nazi chick, too; I could see them in a threesome.
Matty came in a little later. "Werner Herzog's back there in the back." "What's that asshole doing here?" "He's having dinner with some of Hatrack's crowd--Pa-pa-pa-paco is back there, and Mike Roddy." "Mike Roddy; that little prick; Rick's pissed at him." "Why's that?" Matty told me the story. I didn't know whether to believe it or not. Yes, that was true; yes, that was true also; and, yes, I knew that, but, no, I didn't know the part that had made Rick so mad.
How related we are whether we know it or not.
And then Matty and I threw Werner Herzog back in the Rhine of his mind and I said, "Matty, what the fuck's the matter, man, you look aggravated." "Shit." "Shit, OK, shit." "That fuckin' Lester fuckin' Bangs. That bastard." "Hey, he's your bread and butter." Matty looked at me with one of his dumbass Brooklyn Jew stares, through his Buddy Holly black-rimmed glasses all these guys wore--I'm telling you, they all looked alike, dressed alike, were skinny alike, and liked the same kind of Debbie Harry-type slinky babes, Jersey babes were just fine with these guys--and all this time Matty had an ex-wife upstate with a Little Matty up there, too; Matty you son of a bitch; and I'd been married but I'd never knocked my wife up; she hated kids and so did I; Matty had never mentioned his past around me--not even the fact he'd been to Brooklyn College and had a music degree; Jesus Christ the guitar player was also reticent about his past--one day when I showed surprise that he had made a pretty fuckin' good arrangement of one of my tunes he'd rewritten--this was for a later band he and I didn't form but another dude formed, a drummer friend I haven't mentioned yet; in fact, he's really not a character in this tale--so he's deleted--though I do have to complete the thought and say he did later form a great band, a downtown cult band, that Jesus Christ and I were eventually reunited in--but when I showed this surprise, "Damn, man, that's damn good composition, man," he looked at me down his fucking nose and said, "I should be good at composition, I spent three years at the High School of the Performing Arts." "Get outta heah!" I'd never heard that. That's what I mean and have been meaning throughout this thing and what I meant when I gobbled up Debbie Harry's seeing her characters as on parallel lines and no matter how close they get to each other they never CONNECT--they never really know another person. Here I was so close to Lester Bangs and YET.
"So, Matty, what kind'a trouble you havin' with Lester?" "He's a freakin' Romilar freak, man; he's a god-damn stubborn fucking fuck up--I mean sometimes the son of bitch needs to have his tongue cut out." "So you breakin' up the band?" "Oh no, we have tons of gigs and we're making our record later, around the first of April." It was like March already. The dirty snow had all melted, turned back to its original amalgamation of god-knows what foul substances beside human, dog, rat, weasel, piss--surely there are weasels in Central Park; and the air though still chilled was blossoming like the Ghenko trees were trying to start putting on their tea-leaf-like leaves; it was windy, but nice, and I kept on working at my corner end of the Ear Inn bar and I kept seeing Matty and Mitch and David and Mike Roddy and I saw Lester a couple'a times, one time, he looked over at me and said, "So you think I don't know Parker, Coltrane, how about Gunther Schuller, man, how 'bout that son of a bitch, let's hear you scat me some Gunther Schuller, you bastard." That was it. My last conversation with the greatest rock 'n' roll critic ever--though I have to say he was one of the greatest writers around at the time and I didn't realize that until while I was writing this and reading Lester now. Isn't that too bad? I mean, wouldn't it'a been cool to have me and Lester and Mike Roddy and Werner Herzog and Debbie Harry get into a good ole writin'-talk bullsession, mixing our same-thought-nonconnectors as though in a Jack LaLanne Literary juicer, with Lester's automatic, machinegun writing splattering words all up against Debbie's parallel walls and Mike Roddy wadding himself up into a thrown away page out of Casanova's diary and Werner Herzog making Pilgrim's progress look like a Dick, Jane, and Spot adventure--all of us chewing the wads of literary swordfighting, using our pens as swords, having a writing war--"Here, here's some legal pads--and here's the topic, 'Torn and ravaged and thrown to the wolves'--so pens up---AND--BEGIN WRITING." And I'd be writing, "I sit here at a table of fools, foolishly fooling around with our fooling brains, toying with our wit's end, ESP-ing each other's bravest jumps into the cataract of faith, faith in myself as the greatest f-ing Flying A writer that ever jammed the stub of a #2 lead pencil in his stubby mitt and began writing a writing of rocketed words into the mirrored image of all the instinctual-driven hopefuls writing away like those hundreds of monkeys rewriting Shakespeare...'and in the still of the stillest of stillwaters she drowned as though thankful for the moonlight that showed she was smiling as she went under the black stagnant water that rather gulped her up whole, making no waves, just a gulp and then the stillness again'." Hell, I'm good, I was thinking.
Still to be continued...as is always being continued in a continuing sense....
for The Daily Growler