L.A. Chews You Up and Spits You Out. L.A. Story Part II

In the middle of 1999, I had a college degree, blue hair, and a job making genes at a lab in Alameda.  I longed for something a little more….glamorous.  My band Cameltoe had broken up, and I didn’t have a boyfriend. I needed a change. Let’s face it, I needed to reinvent myself.

That wasn’t possible to do in San Francisco. As a native San Franciscan, the city was a huge part of my identity.  I consulted my best friend and confident Jessie about moving to L.A. She was supportive as usual- this was probably the least hare-brained scheme I’d presented to her yet.

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(Jessie and I feign interest in someone’s photo album at the Bounty in L.A. The whiskey sour forshadows that night’s hare-brained schemes.)

She helped me get an interview with a new music production company that needed an “office manager”- their term for a receptionist.   Paul Robb was “the talent”- the person who writes the music. His claim to fame- he was a founding member of Information Society- a band who’d had a number one single on the dance charts “What’s On Your Mind (Pure Energy).”  I’d never heard of I.S.- but luckily this didn’t work against me in the interview. I got the job even though I couldn’t type more than twenty words a minute, and had no idea how to make coffee.

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My first day there I faced the coffee machine.  How hard could it be? I had operated PCR thermocyclers and DNA sequencers. I sat at the front desk reading the coffee maker manual while Paul waited…and began to go into caffeine withdrawal.  “Hey,” he yelled at me, “It’s not MOLECULAR BIOLOGY!!!” And then he walked me through the process- put filter in, load grounds on top, fill water, push button. Turned out that most of the time he’d run out to Starbucks, as we didn’t have an espresso machine (thank God because I don’t think I could have figured that one out either.)

Paul had a great sense of humor and was known for writing the music for BMW car commercials. The new company was owned by the man who wrote the jingle “The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup.” It was a long way from Mercedes Benz, and I remember one night hearing Paul screaming in his studio ,“I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M WRITING MUSIC FOR CAT FOOD COMMERCIALS!”

L.A was rough. I lived in a dive in Hollywood. I’d never lived with cockroaches before, and I suddenly became fastidiously clean, and skinny, as I was terrified to bring any food into the apartment. It didn’t matter really because I was too broke to buy food- my cat got poisoned by the previous tenant’s roach killer powder (left all over the apt) and it cost me $2000 for a week at the pet hospital to save his life.

The music company producer took pity on me, as most people in L.A. “choose” to starve themselves.  She recommended me as a bookkeeper for her husband’s set construction company. He was the original drummer of the Surf Punks, one the first punk bands in L.A in the 70’s, and was also Barry Manilow’s tour drummer.  I tried to get him to dish on Barry, but he never did- he said Barry was a righteous dude who would pay for the band to bring their wives and families on the road. Hammer of the Gods it was not.


(Manilow proves that he’s a righteous dude.)

I would sit at the front desk, sign for packages, answer the phone, do the boss’ husbands’ books, and play the banjo. I wasn’t in a band in L.A. so I needed to do something musical. My one splurge was taking banjo lessons twice a month at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica. But unease set in. While I was working at a “glamorous” place (I even got to meet the Folger’s jingle writer), I felt like my brain was starting to rot. I would call my friend Mari, who’d been my lab partner in college, and listen to her talk about her new great job as a technical support specialist at a biotech company. I liked hearing about the stupid mistakes her customers made, and how she helped them resolve the situation. I told her that I missed science. “Face it,” she told me, “you’re an intellectual.”

About six months into my stay in Los Angeles, I got a call from Shelley, who had been the guitarist for Bimbo Toolshed, one of my all-time favorite bands in San Francisco. “Hey,” she said, “I’m putting a new band together and I need you to play bass. When will you be back?”  She knew I’d been in L.A. for six months, and estimated it would take about that long for me to crack. “Um…let me think about it.” I hung up, and almost immediately my cell phone rang again. It was Mari.

“Hey, they just announced another position open for a tech specialist. You should interview for it. They’ll fly you up here on their dime.”   I emailed H.R. my resume, and they called right away to schedule an interview. When I got home from work, I thought it over. I missed fog, San Francisco style burritos, and walking. The only thing I would miss about L.A. would be the ability to see Jessie just about whenever I wanted. We’d have to go back to a long distance friendship, but we’d already proved we could handle that. I called Shelley back that evening.

“Don’t audition anyone else…..I’m coming home!”


(Technical support in pit crew lane! My rescuer Mari salutes, as Geoff and I stand by while Jodie warms the engine.)

“We Love L.A!” L.A. Story, Part 1

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Los Angeles. Most musicians have a love/hate relationship with the place. Love it because of the opportunity- the music business, the club scene, the artistic community. Hate it for the dream-crushing reality of competition, scarce resources, and compromised integrity.

Short Dogs didn’t play L.A. on our first tour because we couldn’t get a gig. The closest we came was Isla Vista and Bakersfield.  Danny Sites, the artist responsible for the RKL logo, booked us in both towns with Beyond Possession, a metal band from Edmonton.  The bands spent the weekend at Dan’s house- one long party. I remember one hanger-on young woman smoked some pot and kinda flipped out. She said drinking beer would make her fat, so she started running laps outside around the house.  Each time she passed by the living room window we’d give her a cheer. She was still out there running when we finally passed out. It was my introduction to Southern California, or at least California south of San Jose.

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(A taste of So. Cal- eating Pac-Man soup out of the can..1st SDG tour.)

The next tour we actually did play L.A.  We opened for our friends The Leaving Trains at the Anti –Club, a well-known punk club on Melrose.  Erik, their bass player, looked like he’d just stepped off the cover of the Replacements’ album Let It Be.  He gave me this sage advice: “People don’t care about pedestrians in L.A., so don’t jaywalk. Up in San Francisco, people just wander into the street without looking. That will get you killed here.” Their singer Falling James was on acid and spent most of the show crawling around the stage in a dress, singing into a light bulb. It was the best set I’d ever seen by the Trains, and unfortunately we didn’t play with them again. Falling James kept in touch tho’, and attended most of the gigs I played in L.A.

Tom and I continued playing together after Short Dogs imploded, in a band we called Creep, later Heart Pumpin Bourbon. We paid a local booker to get us some shows in L.A.- thinking we might be able to get some small labels to check us out.  It was a horrible time in L.A.  Guns N Roses were at their peak,  and most clubs were doing cattle call shows- 15 backlined bands a night. Your set was about 20 mins, no soundcheck, no guest list, no drinks, no pay….no fun.  The cover charges were ridiculous.  Coming from the punk scene, we had no idea what we’d gotten into. We did a few of these- the last one at the Whiskey. I sat at the bar,depressed, drinking a $10 beer, and looking at the glass portrait of Jim Morrison hanging above the liquor bottles. I wanted to throw my beer at the portrait and shatter it, and I think Jim would have approved. In fact, he probably would have tossed the first glass.

On that visit we went to see some of Tom’s friends from Vancouver, B.C. who were in a band called Copyright. The band included former members of the legendary band, Slow-check them out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFIRdq-2Vas and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_urOddVku94 ). Copyright was signed to Geffen and were living in Geffen’s trashed band mansion in Malibu. We thought they would be the next big thing, but after spending a million dollars recording in L.A. and mixing in Wales, album sales were slow, and they were dropped. That’s L.A. for you.


(Back of Slow’s Single)

I cooled on L.A. until I joined a band called Cameltoe. The band already had some So. Cal shows booked before I joined, so a couple of weeks in I was playing at Dragonfly. It was a mediocre gig, but not a cattle call.The soundman dropped a microphone on his sandal-covered foot, and jumped around screaming, “My Toe! My Toe!.” We copted his moves and screams later into a dance, replacing My Toe! with Cameltoe!  Fun shows ensued at San Diego’s Casbah and Costa Mesa’s Club Mesa. I softened a bit towards So. Cal.

The next time we went down, we played the Casbah, Club Mesa with The Drugs, who later become The Forty-Fives, and the Doll Hut, the Reverend Horton Heat’s hangout. I liked the Reverend until I was wheeling my bass cab into the club, and he yelled at me to get out of the way of his pool shot. Thanks dude, the amp only weighs like 300 lbs. Our last stop was  L.A. -a Sunday afternoon gig -Club Sucker at The Garage-  7 ft tall drag queen Vaginal Crème Davis’ (or Vag for short) punk rock matinee.

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(Vag walks among us. Note how small the mucisian behind her looks)

The crowd was rowdy and into music.  After we played a band called Woodpussy took the stage. They were dressed in camouflage and had decorated the stage with nets and branches. A couple of songs in, the singer asked the crowd, “Has anyone seen Bigfoot?” Then the club’s side door opened, and 10 Bigfoots rushed in and started moshing with the audience. Mayhem ensued.  Next up was The Upper Crust, a Boston based band who dressed like Louis XIV- tall white wigs and makeup with eighteenth century clothes. They looked kinda fey, but man they rocked. They are still rocking today – check em out at http://www.theuppercrust.org/index.html.

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(Mark McMurtry of The Drugs and the Forty Fives poses with “Bigfoot”)

Woodpussy asked us to play again, this time just the two bands, separated by a magician and his goat. Catherine found out the theme of the show was “winter”, so we dressed in white.  Woodpussy invited us to stay at their house and promised a pre-show bbq. They were originally from Norman, Oklahoma, and just about every Oakie in L.A. was there.  After the bbq we went to the club, and saxophone “player”, Josh rigged some palettes to the ceiling.  Midway through the set, he pulled on the rigging ropes, and plastic snow started falling. Yes, it was snowing inside the club via the magic of Hollywood. Snow was everywhere- in our beers, cabinets, underwear. I found little flakes for years after in my car, amp, and gig bags.

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(Hell freezes over in Los Angeles)

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(Jason Hadley, mastermind of Woodpussy, sports a Cameltoe jumpsuit)

The next day we all went to brunch in Silverlake.  With our name on the waiting list, we ran across the street to check out a clothing shop owned by Exene of X. Our waiter turned out to be a surly fellow who recognized our parched state and kept the water flowing. I needed to flush the fake snow out of my throat.  After we ate, Catherine said “I love L.A! Last night we had someone from the Flaming Lips doing the lights for our band. Today we got to shop at Exene’s store, and have our breakfast brought to us by the singer for the Circle Jerks.” I hadn’t noticed that the surly man was none other than Keith Morris.

We wound up having more adventures with Woodpussy- another show included a giant pillow fight which filled our beers with feathers.  A trip to Burning Man was spent in their camp fusing fireworks to helmets, up to my elbows in gunpowder.

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(Fusing fireworks, and working as safety crew, Burning Man 1998)

They played a gig in San Francisco, all members garbed only in plastic Saran wrap and fake blood. A shower stall was installed onstage which sprayed the unsuspecting participant with freezing cold blood.  Some band members stayed at my house, and the next morning my bathroom looked like a crime scene.

It was all fun and games until I decided to move to L.A….