Saturday, September 18, 2004

Brushes With Fame

Whither PJ Soles?
I was watching ROCK ‘N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL last night, in honor of Johnny Ramone. Amid the visions of Dorothy Hamill hair, the glowing pink hot pants, and the slightly outlandish story premise that the Ramones had sex appeal, I began to reminisce.

Why, I Remember It As Thought It Were Yesterday....
My comedy group, Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre, opened for the Ramones when they first played in San Francisco. It wasn’t much fun then, but over time, grudgingly, it has become one of my fondest memories.

They did two shows, but the club didn’t turn over the house. Our first set was fine, if ignored, but after the Ramones did their first set, the audience was deaf as well as impaired. Tintinitis, drugs, and comedy do not mix. Small objects were thrown in our direction; luckily, punks do not possess much upper body strength.

Joey, bless his heart, acknowledged us with, “After seeing Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre… gimme gimme gimme shock treatment!” Dee Dee bawled out the trademark, “OneTwoThreeFour,” and they lunged into the song. Johnny stood expressionlessly, legs spread, flailing his instrument. He was my favorite. He didn’t make those stupid guitar faces when he played.

I smoked pot with their roadies after our set. They questioned the potency of my marijuana, which I thought was rather rude at the time, but they were punks from Queens after all, so in retrospect, their behavior was appropriate in the extreme.

There was also a drag queen on Quaaludes who kept trying to get backstage. But the club didn’t have a backstage, just a curtain in front of a brick wall. S/he would open the curtain, walk into the wall, turn around, turn back, open the curtain, walk into the wall, etc. It was way seventies.

Ramones Redux
Later, we ran into the Ramones again, at the Tropicana motel, hovel to the stars. The Ducks were making a futile foray into the sun-dappled Hades the world calls Hollywood in one of our fitful efforts to, you know, make a living.

Well, we didn’t actually run into all of the Ramones. They were making END OF THE CENTURY with Phil Spector at the time, and were pretty much prisoners at the Spector manse. But we did play poker with the drummer, Marky (I think) and their roadies by the pool, affectionately dubbed “the Black Lagoon.” Tom Waits was living there at the time, and we saw him once, getting up at the crack of noon. He waved at a maid, and said in his hoarse voice, “Buenas dias, Consuela!” She smiled and waved back.

A Ramones-Free Reminiscence.
Another time, another foray: we Ducks were dining at a Hamburger Hamlet on Santa Monica Boulevard. Dan Coffey remarked that he thought Charles Bukowski lived somewhere around there. Even as the words left his mouth, Charles Bukowski himself walked by, carrying groceries, and frowning at the ground. As we stared at him, driven slack-jawed by this evidence of Jungian synchronicity, a man rushed up behind us and yelled, “Remember me? I’m Wild Man Larry Fischer!”

We did indeed remember him, a crazy street singer from the late sixties discovered and recorded by Frank Zappa. Without prompting, Fischer launched into a semi-coherent rant against Zappa, who somehow had prevented him from scaling the full heights of fame. We put fixed grins on our faces, and slowly backed away. (We later ran into him again, outside a San Francisco club where we were playing; he didn’t remember us, and launched into pretty much the same rant, which caused us once more to put fixed grins on our faces, and slowly back away.)

I Believe We Have Time For Another.
Another time, another foray: Leon Martell and I were sitting backstage at an awards ceremony, idling in drag, waiting to perform our hilarious sketch, the Transvestite Farmers Association, when Jerry Lewis came through the fire door, in tuxedo, hair slicked back, tinted glasses. When he saw us, he actually did a double take. He also mumbled something jokelike, about hoping we find our dates. He may have been on Percodan at the time. Our sketch was cut, for time.

By Johnny.
I saw Johnny Ramone on the streets of New York once as well, sometime in the late eighties, still sporting the Dorothy Hamill hair and leather jacket, paying for something in a deli on the Lower East Side. I did not rush up to him, and say “Remember me? I was in the comedy group that opened for you in San Francisco? Your roadies sneered at my pot? We later relieved one of them of three bucks at a poolside poker game in LA?” The thought never crossed my mind.

The Ramones cracked up in '96. Johnny, Joey, and Dee Dee are gone. There’s nothing left now but drummers. And memories. And Phil Spector, of course, though I never met the guy.


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