ROCK AND STOLE
By Suzanne Comeau
from San Francisco,CA
ROCK AND STOLE
We—or they, the band—are from up north, so we have dressed ourselves mainly in black leather, black hair dye, and black Doc Martens. This epicene dress is standard fare on Haight Street, along with tribal piercings, scarification, and the word “cool.” If you ask me, “cool” died an honorable death sometime back around 1971, but in San Francisco it is still on the tips of everyone’s tongues, and it reminds me of seventh grade. Not that my haughty observation stops the band from using it; they will be cool in LA or else they will die trying.
I am the semi-motivated publicist for this outfit, but not the booker. The booker is the singer, a man in his late thirties who really ought to know better than to wear jaundice-colored Coty face powder. He has booked a gig at the Coconut Teazer and has brought the band here in his fifteen-year-old van, which breaks down at Buttonwillow but valiantly makes the remainder of the journey the following day. All but the drummer ride in this automotive workhorse; the drummer is too smart. Ever since he was picked up to play drums with Paul Kantner, the drummer has been charging the band to play drums for them, and in this instance has also charged them for an airline ticket. He will fly in, do the gig, and then sit on the tarmac at LAX for four hours, sick from the fumes of jet fuel. Making the band pay for the airline ticket pleases the drummer no end.
This band is a bit older than what you’d normally find assaulting the Hollywood clubs, but this truth has not deterred them from excitedly planning their southern excursion. Hell, they are even old by San Francisco standards, by some ten years. It's rumored the singer is pushing fifty. Their music is awkwardly atavistic and so is their press kit, which mentions their one claim to fame: The brother of the guitarist once played on a record with Ace Frehley of Kiss. From this tenuous connection a band was born. Bands have been made of far less.
Because they are an out-of-town band with unknown drawing power, the Coconut Teazer has booked them for a Tuesday night. I have business on Rodeo Drive and use this sales trip to rent a room at the Chateau Marmont, where by way of greeting the maid has overlooked the flotsam from someone’s sick stomach and left it floating in the toilet bowl. The band crowds into this small, overpriced room and the singer takes over the vanity, asking me if I have any pink blush; he has forgotten his.
For two hours they primp. Two do not have enough hair to primp, but they attack their heads with Aquanet and rat-tailed combs anyway, attempting to construct what they believe to be a proper Hollywood pouf. You do this by back-combing the hair until it resembles a nest, and then you flatten it down a bit, spraying it six ways to Sunday and resistant to wind, weather, and marauding pigeons. Someone offers a can of something you spray over bald spots to coordinate the flesh to the hair color. My makeup case takes on an important role as the singer and lead guitarist realize I have several shades of eyeliner and a nice fat pot of undereye cover.
“What time is the sound check?” the drummer asks.
“Five, man, five,” the singer responds.
“Yeah. Rock and roll!”
The singer’s makeup this afternoon has been enlivened with a fuchsia lipstick he believes will look chic under the stage lights; he’s copied this look from an old Motley Crue video and this is his first opportunity to use it. Lipstick doesn’t go over so well in San Francisco, but here in Hollywood it is believed that anything goes. He hits his face repeatedly with the Coty powder, creating the dense canvas of a corpse. Even the bass guitarist, normally a person immune to cosmetic enhancement, has this once attempted an eyebrow pencil and a bit of contouring down the jowls.
Because the Coconut Teazer is but a few steps from the hotel, we set off eastwards on foot, sweating in the heavy leather ensembles. Already, people are staring. The high teased hair, the infernal black height of it, that ridiculous lipstick. No one is mistaking these guys for Kiss or Poison or anything that will one day end up a cautionary true Hollywood story. No, the boulevard citizens of that afternoon know that this group has lain on the pretend cool with a putty knife, even though it is only four in the afternoon.
The door to the club is locked. The singer casually bangs on it once or twice, and then hammers it desperately. “Hey man, hey, hey, open up. We’re the band from Frisco!” He actually says “Frisco” and earnestly at that. “Open up, we’re here for our sound check. Dude!” His makeup is brighter than a carnival on this hot afternoon, with the sun neatly hitting him straight on the cheekbones. The lipstick is particularly garish and the addition of thick, bug-eyed sunglasses makes him resemble a rock-and-roll mummy excavated from the time capsule of a teenage boy’s poster collection.
“Whaddaya want?” comes a voice from inside. The door opens a bit and a frazzled guy exhales with noticeable fatigue.
“We’re the Goon Janitors from Frisco,” the singer says, attempting to brush past the guy and into the club. “Soundchecking.”
“Who are ya?”
“The Goon Janitors. From Frisco.”
“Never heard of you guys.”
A lengthy debate follows; the singer insists that this ignoramus is the booker the singer spoke to a month earlier. The employee will not let them enter the club. They persist: They are indeed booked, and they have not come all this way not to play. “Come on, man, that’s so totally not cool. I even flew my drummer down especially for this gig. Mick Jagger came to see us the last time we were in town. We recorded at the same studio as Barry Manilow.”
He’s making every mistake in the book. Barry Manilow? I do believe that the employee is the person who booked this gig, and I believe that he is so horrified at how the band has presented itself—so uncool, man—that he has conveniently decided to deny the gig on the spot. He reels off the names of bands who have played there as if the singer is deaf: MOTLEY CRUE! VAN HALEN! WARRANT! He adds that they don't normally book bands from San Francisco, and for obvious reasons.
The singer insists. Man, we took out suites at the Chateau Marmont. Oh, man, this is so freaking unbelievable. We’re headlining. No, I don’t have it in writing. Gentlemen’s agreement, dude.
The booker is having none of it. In turn, he insists there was never an agreement, that he has never heard of the Goon Janitors, and that he thinks Mick Jagger is a pompous old git. He mutters something unprintable about Barry Manilow as well. Ace Frehley doesn’t work on this guy either, even though the singer claims he is using Ace Frehley’s microphone, but as the debate escalates a compromise is reached. Of sorts. They agree that the band can come in and set up and do their sound check, playing four songs, but then they have to leave. It is four-thirty in the afternoon. They can play from five until five-thirty, and then they have to clear out.
I’m not carrying any equipment for this exhibition, not this time. I sit in the deserted bar waiting for them to return with the van, and I wonder about how badly you have to want something to take it up the tail like this, and I ask myself if delusion has any limit or whether it is possibly infinite. This is a pleasurable inner dialogue that distracts me from feeling awkward or worse, like an over-aged groupie. I suspect this is what the club's employee thinks, so I avoid making eye contact with him. The band will come in, set up, and play their four songs to an audience of one, and then they will go back to “Frisco” and talk about how well they were received and how hot the chicks were and how it’s only a matter of time until they are signed. It’s the game musicians play, this being on the cusp of being signed; it’s the game actors play; it’s the game writers play. They play their four songs, strike a few practiced poses, thank the audience of one for coming out to see them, and then take the drummer out to LAX and get all the way to Modesto before they realize they have left Ace Frehley’s microphone back on Sunset Boulevard, where it will be stolen by another group to broadcast their own version of the same old song.