Essay- Free Ears Part 2

Free Ears Part 2

by Rick Potts

The Free Press Bookstore was boarded-up. It had been the local
 counterculture supermarket through the end of the 60’s. The local prime 
source for hippie small press, underground comics, rolling papers, expanded 
consciousness records by Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Father Yod, the 
writings of the Beats, Rod McKuen and more. Pasadena’s own little
 Greenwich/Haight-Ashbury had been centered here with like-minded boutiques
 scattered around it. Now, it sat derelict on the corner of Fair Oaks and 
Colorado. The crossroads had also been the heart of a happening downtown 
business and shopping district in the Twenties and Thirties. Since the end 
of World War II, the neighborhood went south (to the shiny South Lake 
Avenue zone) and then had slid into full skid row mode. By the time we were
 making the scene, the sidewalk around the bookstore’s empty shell was prime
loitering and encamping real estate for motley assortments of derelicts.
The bus stop on Fair Oaks was particularly dense with local color. These 
days it’s a popular Pottery Barn™! It’s also where every year the 
elaborately surreal flower-laden Rose Parade rigs float by.

 By 1976, a lot of Old Town was vacant. Rent was cheap and artists already
 had studios here and there. Above the bars, pawnshops and adult bookstores,
rooms were left pretty much the way they had been in the 50’s and 60’s when 
the last tenants moved out. Storefront junk stores had random collections 
of relinquished possessions largely acquired at post-mortem estates sales
 or donations from the surrounding ritzy neighborhoods. By then many of the 
rich folk who built mansions in the earlier years were kicking the bucket.
‘Antique’ shops had Art Deco silk ties, Hawaiian shirts, 78’s and hats from
the Jazz era on sale for mere quarters. Many a longhaired hipster wore a 
thrift store sport coat and a fedora. As time went by, Poobah Record Shop 
accumulated more and more bizarre knick-knacks from the surrounding second
hand shops. A strange & cartoony menagerie of funky figurines slowly grew
onto the increasingly cluttered counters and flat surfaces. Bright plastic doodads dulled with dust.

Spaghetti Workings

The first Los Angeles Free Music Society action was a show in an
abandoned theater above Poobah’s. The Spaghetti Works was a hippie pasta
house on the second floor and behind it was an unused theatre of a sort.
The building that housed these places was large sprawling and its many
tenantless rooms were dank & dusty. Weird objects like; manikin parts,
abandoned signage and flotsam from abandoned businesses were strewn about
the square footage and all of it was grimy.
Tom Recchion knew about the vacant spaces, got permission and invited Le
Forte Four along with a mystery band, Ace & Deuce, to join his Doodooettes
ensemble and put on a show. At this point we barely knew Tom and hadn’t
even met most of the people on the evening bill. This would be our first
real appearance since the misadventure at the Temple with Patients. I was
nervous but game.
The afternoon of Chinese New Years Eve, Joe & I drove into Old Town in
the parent’s avocado green Raunch (Ranch) Wagon filled with gear. After
climbing up the staircase next door to Poobah and back behind the Spaghetti
Works we arrive to check out the place. It’s a big wood paneled room with
built in pew-like benches running down the sides and a spiral staircase up
the back to a little alcove with a balcony that poked out the back wall.
The church-like space was dimly lit through arched windows that let in
little dirt-filtered light. It might have been the remains of a Masonic
meeting hall or Knights of Columbus auditorium. It was super dusty in
there. An artist had a studio in the upper reaches of the building. It felt
like a huge haunted house. Tom gave us a tour of the joint. There was a
room off of the theatre that was piled ten feet high with unbolted theatre
seats. We found giant sheet metal heating vent pipefittings that became
percussion instruments and discovered 2D plywood cutouts of a tree and kegs
of TNT from some sort of previous production that we also planted on the
stage.
We met Ace and also Deuce. Ace wore his light red hair long and his
eyes intense. He was devilish. Big Deuce was quiet while Ace talked. He was
friendly enough but he was also a bit little frightening. Deuce didn’t
talk. He usually went by the name ‘the Professor’ or more often ‘the Pro’.
The fact he didn’t speak made me nervous. It was somehow intimidating, but
back then I was pretty easily intimidated. Both wore vintage hats, looked
cool and acted cooler. They were somewhat comical yet menacing in a 70’s
Brier Fox and Brier Bear meets Fritz the Cat sort of way. By comparison, I
was an eighteen year old six foot four androgynous bean pole with pimples,
big glasses and my uniform; Penny’s dark colored pocket tee shirt, flared
corduroy pants (slightly long so the hem is frayed at the heel) brown Van’s
deck shoes and a wool Pendleton plaid shirt. Joe had a mustache, clothing
pretty much like mine and we both had long hair rubber banded in back. We
were pretty nerdy looking suburban geeks but the fact that we had an L.P.
commanded respect back in those pre-D.I.Y. days. People would act
differently when the found out you “had an album out”. The strange thing
was that we had done it for our own amusement. People would assume we
wanted to become rich and famous and taken seriously but we sure didn’t
look like rock stars. In retrospect, I reckon people were confused by that
fact alone. All the more so after they heard Bikini Tennis Shoes. Ace and
Deuce were cool but somehow we had accidentally trumped them. The
impression I got was an “anything you can do I can do better and with more
girls” vibe that could have been my imagination because it wasn’t
verbalized. I just felt it. Then again, I was a dork. We were sizing each other up. Joe asked Ace
what he wanted on the flyer he was making at the last minute to put
downstairs at Poobah Record Shop. (I think I’ve always said “Poobah’s “
even though that’s not really the name).
We didn’t get Ace’s moniker right either until he corrected us. He was a
bit peeved although it was an honest mistake. Ace of Space and the Deuce of
Juice was the full title. It made more sense then Ace of Spades, which had
us scratching our heads. Ace walked over and wanted an explanation. For a
second I thought we were in for some trouble. An embarrassed Joe apologized
and fixed the flyer. Meanwhile, cute beatnik girls had arrived to hang out
with Ace. The afternoon sunbeams lit floating dust.

Le Forte Four was ‘headlining’ (playing last) because of Bikini Tennis
Shoes. Unfortunately, we were a studio band and had almost no experience
at free improvising in front of a live audience. Even our second failed
attempted to back Patients, in the Busch Gardens parking lot after we
showed up too late for the Ted Mack Amateur Hour audition, couldn’t prepare
us.
Ace and Deuce played first and sounded like a real band. I remember them
pulling off a snazzy version of Beefheart’s “Click Clack”. The lighting
was dim and my memories are of silhouettes and shadows. Dennis Mehaffey
(Duck) was known as the Quackback Kid and he was already a pretty great
drummer. At some point, Ace screeched out a mutant musette solo.
Doodooettes played next but my memories are even vaguer still. I was
occupied with preshow jitters and was too nervous to hangout in the
audience. I remember the sheet metal venting was drummed on and abused.
Dennis hurt his foot kicking one. We ran into Chip’s sister Sue and her
husband John who had cold beer.
The worst thing about performing is waiting to go on. One’s brain brews a
special numbing cocktail that somewhat suppresses the stage fright. It’s a
milder version of ‘going into shock’.
I started getting nervous during the Doodooettes set and retreated to the
little balcony in the back of the room. A bearded guy, with several cameras
hanging off him, appeared on the balcony. He had a big full-grown beard,
long hair and a fierce, frightening look in eyes. He looked like a hip
Wolfman turned press photographer. He introduced himself; Fredrik Nilsen.
He told me years latter it was one of the worst nights of his life. He said
he was breaking up with his girlfriend at the time and he was practically
suicidal. When I asked recently, he didn’t seem to recall that part! So,
maybe I made that up, too. He was a bit heartbroken that he didn’t get
asked to play with the Doodooettes. All I know is that it was a pretty
intense first impression.
The rest is blurrier than that, even. The preshow fog suppresses some of
the fear, the fear of public humiliation.
Le Forte Four’s crappy gear was set-up behind the weird found set pieces.
We hid behind the cutout plywood tree, giant sheet metal vent pipes and
kegs of TNT. We didn’t really have a plan. The hiding part came
instinctively. Crouched down in the shadows it felt like we were kids
playing ‘War’, commando style. I whisper/yelled to Joe and Chip, “What do
we do?” They covered me while I crawled over to my tenor sax and squealed
from the floor. The audience held their fire.
Before long the three of us surrendered, emerged from the debris and
shrugged our shoulders. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to run off with
the cash box this time as we had at our previous gig. We started packing up
and dragging our stuff out the back into the alley where the station wagon
was parked. Dennis Duck was nice enough to help us out by carrying out a
Ralph’s brown paper shopping bag full of cords & such. I remember thinking
“How cool, what a nice, happy guy”. Dennis hummed a happy tune & made quiet
duck-like chortles as we went down the backstairs. When he set down the
top-heavy bag next to the station wagon, it tipped over and our new
Panasonic portable tape deck fell into the alley. I remember thinking,
‘Watch out, you idiot”. It had been a long day but the Los Angeles Free
Music Society was launched with a spirit of cooperation.

Welcome to 35 South Raymond Avenue

The ‘Raymond Building’ at 35 South Raymond sat rotting a block over and
three down from Poobah’s and half a block north of the famous Castle Green
Hotel. The castle, a chaotic pile of Victorian, Moorish, and Spanish
architecture with its intriguing covered bridge to nowhere, resembles the
famous Winchester Mystery House. Originally built as an annex to an
existing Green Hotel on the other side of Raymond Avenue, the two buildings
were connected by the defunct pedestrian bridge, which now ends over the
sidewalk with a gabled dingus.
Across the street and once connected by the aforementioned elevated walkway
(and a tunnel), is creepy Stat’s, an interior decorators supply warehouse
nightmare that is all that’s left of the original Green Hotel. They knocked
down all but one corner of the first floor in the 1920s. Half way up the
block between the fantastic Castle Green and main drag Colorado Boulevard,
the dirty old four-storied brick office Raymond building was pretty trashed
and mostly vacant. Rows of cars lined up around it in parking lots. Faded
white lettering spelled out 35 So. Raymond on soiled brick. Building
manager Joe Patty’s junk & pawn was at street level, a sewing sweatshop
operation took up most of the old offices on the second floor. Harold
discovered the rooms were for rent and he told Tom. Tom and Harold soon
had a studio in the Raymond Building. Sixty-five bucks a month for the big
corner ‘office’ and they split the rent. Tom told us about the place and
suggested we rent a space there.
The Free Clinic had moved out of there awhile earlier. Tom saw a
therapist there for a time and Fredrik went from taking classes there (to
meet girls) to running the place, but that’s a whole other story. Aside
from the rooms rented to Mr. Recchion and a handful of others rented to
artists and musicians the majority of the third and forth floors were
empty. One night, Tom invited Le Forte Four to come to his studio and we
all recorded a meandering jam session with Tom and his pals Chuck, Dave,
Juan and others. Absolutely nothing had been done to this building in ten
to twenty years. The small offices had transom windows over their doors.
Walking the vintage linoleum hallways past doors with textured glass
windows and peeling gold and black decals made you feel you were in a cheap
detective paperback.
Chip was leaving Cal Arts and so he quickly rented a couple of adjoining
dingy rooms on the forth floor down the hall from Tom’s extra large corner
office. Dormant radiators, a new sight for this suburban kid, added
character if not heat to the rooms. In the corner a petite rust pocked
wall-hung sink caught the slow drips from a faucet. Chip painted ‘Nick
Danger-Third Eye’ on the frosted glass in the door. Dull checkerboard
linoleum on the floors and multilayered enamel in tan and grime completed
the décor. The building had an empty middle that let his inner rooms have
windows that opened out to the hollow center.

The day Chip moved in he and building manager Joe Patty encountered
I.N.S. agents rounding up illegal aliens who were making a home in the
abandoned Civil Defense basement shelter
For a time, Doodooette, Harold Schroeder hung out at the Raymond building.
His Steiner Parker Synthicon synthesizer amazed us. We borrowed it and I
was very disoriented. Ace and Deuce had a room. Other occupants who came
and went included Paul McCarthy, Kim Jones, John Duncan, Phranc (runaway
teenage Jewish lesbian folksinger) and Snotty Scotty who’s Hankies were the
regular bar band at The Olde Town Pub that’s tucked in the back alleys
across the way from the record shop. Their drunken after hours parties
across the hall kept Chip awake.
An unlit staircase connected the four floors. After a noise session we
would run down the stairs into the pitch-blackness before emerging onto the
sidewalk. The elevator worked sometimes, but was too slow.
We visited the roof one evening at dusk and a giant owl landed nearby on
the edge of the building. After a minute he flew off into the burnt orange
sky toward City Hall. Now the Los Angeles Free Music Society had a
headquarters…in Pasadena.

Le Forte Four regularly played and recorded at the Raymond Building. We
often visited Tom and Doodooettes who now included, Fredrik Nilsen along
with Tom, Juan Gomez, Dennis Duck and Harold Schroeder. Often we brought
friends. We were working on recordings for more records.
We needed some equipment to keep going. Chip left Cal Arts and was
working full time at Cunningham Press. Chip and future Le Forte Four member
Susan Farthing were engaged for marriage that summer.
Meanwhile, I was out of High School but I wasn’t going to be attending
Cal Arts. I was working part time at N.W. Potts Company, my folk’s plumbing
supply store. I had bought a new Dokorder halftrack stereo tape machine and
on my days off I made art and experimented with my tape machine. I lived at
home and didn’t drive or have a girlfriend so I saved up money to buy
equipment. I wanted a four-track tape machine. Chip and I found an ad in
the Recycler listings. Back then their weekly list of ‘For Sale’ ads was
the best way to find used gear. We found a Dokorder four track for four
hundred and seventy five bucks. A woman answered the phone. She said the
deck was hardly used and that she was going to record in a studio rather
than figure out how to record her demos at home. The machine was a couple
of hundred dollars cheaper than it should’ve been. I just hoped it worked
OK.
Chip drove me out to Laurel Canyon in his families little white VW bug.
We wove around the hills to the seller’s quant bungalow. It was bright red.
In person the woman was a bit odd. Her voice was kind of nasally; she had
long bright red hair and wild eyes. She jabbered on while we tried to test
out the tape deck with the reel of tape, microphone and headphones we
brought. She repeated her saga about trying to record demos of her country
songs but frankly, she was starting to get on my nerves. I just wanted to
check out the tape machine, buy it (if it worked) and start multi-tracking.
Then she started talking about some microphone she picked up somewhere
and insisted we look at it. She goes into another room but didn’t stop
chattering. It was like she was talking to herself, or us, it didn’t
matter. She came back with a vintage air force cockpit mike that looks like
a Flash Gordon space gun. Yeah, that’s pretty cool, lady. She was nice and
all, even kind of oddly attractive but I was trying to focus on this big
important purchase and she just kept distracting us. Everything seemed all
right with the tape machine so I gave her cash that was burning a hole in
my pocket. We packed up and left with my new four track.
A couple of weeks later I found my brother, Joe, watching TV. It was this
new Norman Lear show that was controversial or something. I sat down and
started watching the show. Slowly, it dawned on me. The lead actress was
familiar. It was Louise Lasser in the surreal soap opera spoof ‘Mary
Hartman, Mary Hartman’. She was the woman I had just bought my tape machine
from. Weird.

Making Noise

When we were on our way out the door to head up to the studio Joe used to
tell our folks, “We’re going to make noise.” Sometimes we called it ‘Noise
Music’. We were breaking out of the constrictions of what was considered
‘music’. We were artists using sound as our medium, trying to find a
different approach by letting go of the musician part. It gave us the
freedom to work with sound rather then being musicians. In fact we started
calling ourselves ‘non-musicians’ which I suppose was inspired by Cornelius
Cardew and his Scratch Orchestra. We called it making noise.
It was a slot machine. Fixed to payoff the more we listened and tuned in
to each other. The random part was that we kept trying out new techniques
and ideas. The payoffs where those sporadic times that it all magically
meshed. Live shows were generally few and almost never. As time went on we
got better. We grew big ears. Listening emerged as the most advantageous
technique. After a few years it felt like we were sometimes breaking even,
sound-wise. Yeah, sound as music as noise, but we wanted to have fun, too.
We preferred improvising but occasionally used scores. One focus was
spontaneous sound and another was studio ‘music concrete’ tape music, which
combined and blended our improv sessions with homemade electronics and
found sounds. Later on after years of making noise I realized that our
skills as sound artist/non-musicians were improving. We were becoming
better non-musicians. That got to be confusing. As I got more confident I
realized that sound artist, musician, non-musician or noisemaker were the
all same thing to me and I didn’t care what you called it. I just liked the
experience of doing it and didn’t really worry much if other people liked
what we were doing or not.

Not surprisingly, most people disliked our records. There was no real
audience for us. Most people were simply confused. Those who got it usually
ended up playing with us. Our friends and family put up with it and
suffered on most occasions. Many times the sound was pretty torturous,
especially if you weren’t a participating noisemaker. In particular my own
parents were amazingly supportive in allowing us to use various parts of
the house as a recording studio. My dad had played jazz with his pals and
both parents thought the arts were important. I wonder if they thought that
our masochistic jam/torture sessions where a way for us to get the teen
angst out of our systems in a relatively safe manner. At least we were at
home making horrible noises and not out getting into ‘trouble’. One day, I
played our old beat-up trashcans, turned upside down, in the livingroom. (I
cleaned ‘em out and protected the rugs but it was a surreal experience).
Oops, that was a secret. Sorry, Mom.
Early on we had encountered displeasure if not downright hostility toward
our approach. First came the Hal Clark incident where he withdrew our tape
from the Norwegian Electronic Music festival. Then, before Bikini Tennis
Shoes came out Chip exposed some fellow students to our stuff.
At a Cal Arts tape listening concert put on by the Electronic Music
department we premiered some of our music. Ending an evening that featured
discreet drones that left Carl Stone snoring on the floor Chip’s musique
concrete Smix was played. It featured fragments from the ‘S’ section of his
record collection and electronics. Tacked onto the end of this composition
was Bongo Madness, a bombastic Le Forte Four playing along with a Joe Loco
bongo record. Some of the listeners awoke from their naps. Some voiced
their displeasure and one student, Walter Harvey, walked over and turned
off the tape machine halfway through our song. It seemed to especially
infuriate those people who were ‘avant-garde’. On the other hand many
animators from the school loved Bikini Tennis Shoes and some listened to it
repeatedly as they went about the tedium of making an animated film. Chip
made soundtracks for some of them. One pal of ours, David Blum, got the
Chapman treatment on his first two shorts, ‘Getting Ahead’ and ‘Orbit’. For
his film ‘Microzone’, a cartoon trip through the innards of an imaginary
unknown organism, Le Forte Four created an undersea inspired score. We also
made soundtracks for a couple of films by Sean Phillips, a buddy from our
San Gabriel High days, whose film won him a Student Academy Award.
For the most part people just didn’t get it. There was a haphazard
rawness that went against the virtuoso worship of the mid-seventies and the
sparse elegance of Minimalism. Some of the responses were pretty harsh.
Pasadena City College is down Colorado Boulevard a mile or two from Fair
Oaks and Electronic Music classes where taught utilizing a basement closet
of Moog modules. Several of us took advantage of this and when I was in
cute Ms. Louie’s class I brought in the first three LAFMS records for her
to hear. The following week she returned them and when I asked, “what do
you think?” she said, “Honestly, I think its crap”. I told her, “I could
see how she would think that”; I’d guessed she wouldn’t get it. Her
honesty hurt a bit but I was getting used to the reaction. Our records were
raw, fun and free. Other musicians might have been jealous that we had
records out. When they heard our makeshift sound art, with it’s goofy
sense of humor, I think they might have been annoyed that we had wasted an
opportunity to press ‘serious’ music. They didn’t get or like the jokes and
thought we weren’t sincere. It wasn’t Jazz Fusion, Herbie Hancock, Yes,
Pauline Oliveros or even Morton Subotnik but it really was a serious
attempt to create something good. We just weren’t playing by the same rules
and that might’ve rubbed some folks the wrong way. We were having too much
fun.

Live at the Brand

The Brand Library looks like a domed Mosque nestled into the foothills in
Glendale. A blend of Spanish, Moorish and Indian styles built as a
Victorian mansion and left to the city when the owners expired. It was
converted into a library. A Middle Eastern palace set into the scrubby sage
and chaparral. In the late sixties a Modern styled Arts Center addition
that included a performance space was constructed.
We went there to check out 20th century avant-garde records from their
extensive classical record section. We ended up playing a show there. I
sort of remember Chip donating a copy of ‘Bikini Tennis Shoes’ to the
record collection and being invited. (Joe says we ended up sneaking one
in.) Having a fancy name like ‘the Los Angeles Free Music Society’ probably
helped. Le Forte Four and Doodooettes were scheduled to play the same week
as Chip and Susan’s wedding. They looked into getting married during
‘halftime’ between sets. The people at the Brand (Marilyn) and the bride’s
Mom weren’t keen on the idea so it was nixed. At least we had enough time
for proper preparations. We all took this opportunity seriously. This time
we wanted to be ready to put on a show.
The Doodooettes started rehearsing in pairs for a series of duets.
Improvisations morphed into compositions that they could reenact. Le Forte
Four decided to stick to tape. At this point we had a pretty big batch of
tapes from Chips Cal Arts sessions on the Buchla, our weekly sessions plus
the tapes I was making at home. We never reused tape. Even though plenty of
our recordings stunk, the fear was that we might record over something that
was actually good in retrospect. We found that sometimes a frustrating
noise session sounded better later on when you listened to it unencumbered
with the experience of making it. We would ‘dump’ fifteen inch pancakes of
tape onto seven inch reels by hand, spinning the empty reels on ‘Bic’
ballpoint pens. In emergencies we would use the funky ‘ConcertApe’ they
sold at Radio Shack. I was fond of the pricey Maxell Gold when I could
afford it. The hard part is editing out the good moments and sequencing
them in a way that is listenable.
We had a pile of tape boxes next to the coffee table that held our tape
machines in the living room of Chip and Susan’s soon to be honeymoon pad.
Chip was staying at the cute South Pasadena backhouse before the
approaching wedding day. Susan was starting to move her things into the
place while Chip and I sat on the floor and worked on a new collection to
play at the show and release as a record. Rather then just playing a tape,
Chip had conjured up a more interactive installation concept.
Chip built some cardboard pyramid headphone prototypes that held four small
speakers. The box-like structure was designed to be worn over one’s head
and deliver four-channel sound (beside blocking one’s vision). The final
model featured a flat-black spray paint job and a small LED light on the
top point.
The studio at the Raymond building became the site of our production line.
By now, Tom Potts, the elder Potts sibling, was a full Le Forte Fourer. His
participation became vital as we set out to mass-produce pyramid
headphones. Tom had masterminded the cardboard construction part while Chip
and Joe soldered the hundreds of speaker and lighting wires. It was a
laborious process that included testing and installing dozens and dozens of
speakers and lights, cutting and paper-taping all the pyramid boxes, and
final spray-paint job. It took weeks. We assembled forty-four of the units.
With this in mind we listened to and edited our reels of noise and
occasional magic. Early on in the first reel Chip spliced in the voice of a
fencing instructor. With a French accent he commands listeners to “…keep
that point up!” Pyramid point that is.
The week of the show started with the Forth of July Bicentennial
celebrations. We still had two more big events that week.
The performance space at the library Arts Center had a sparse décor not
unlike Cal Arts. We spent hours setting up our headphones. Fred’s buddy,
Jan Paulshus, brought his four-track and recording gear to document the
Doodooettes set. We borrowed four JBL speakers for any overflow audience
and as back up for the headphones. We had miles of speaker wire and one
hundred eighty speakers. My brother Tom and I helped set things up but Joe
and Chip sweated the wiring nightmare.
Friends and family started showing up as well as plenty of curious
strangers. Chip’s sister and brother in-law arrived with cold beer. The
hushed library environment gave the pre- show an Open House Night vibe.
Luckily, we had our headphones going in time.
The Doodooettes played and it was the first time I realized how great
they were. They were really focused and each improvisation had a unique
approach from dense drones on Mojave and delicate sparse smatterings (a
grand piano on stage) on Silver Hours to percussion freak-outs and insane
tape loops as their set continued with Fred and Tom’s duet Twenty-four(24).
It was also Fredrik’s Twenty-forth birthday. They sounded great and I was
impressed if not a tad jealous. They played live and pulled off a great
‘set’ of noise.
After a brief intermission people came back in and put the cardboard boxes
over their heads and the lights dimmed leaving a array of little lights
bobbing around. A metallic crashing explosion starts things off. A magnetic
field created when a space ship crashes into a power plant walks around
collecting scrap metal until it balls up into a rotund Goliath. This
creature is easily angered and when his rage flares up he pulls out the
large nose ring in his face and explodes (by reversing the polarity).
Largie Schrapnel was a monster I invented and this was a soundtrack. The
next part is four tracks of record skips off a Beatles bootleg demo for
‘Mean Mister Mustard’. There are several of my bedroom experiments
ncluding the semi-annual ritualistic Good Friday ‘Tape Dumb’ recordings I
made with Joe where we act like idiots and some doubled duets I did with
Tom Potts using marbles in pot lids and corrugated tubing. This was edited
together with some of our Cal Arts electro acoustic jams, Raymond building
recordings made with toys and silly vocals and something Joe made was is
magical and maybe even disturbingly prophetic. Joe’s home stereo had a
switch that selected the radio or the record player. He tuned in a local
classical FM station, cued up the Ballad of John and Yoko on the turntable
and started the tape machine. As the Beatles tune started he began
switching to the radio and back to the record in time to the music.
Snippets of a symphony cut into the pop song and there was a cosmic
synchronicity. The two become one. When the Beatles go to the bridge the
classical music changes, too. It gets darker and builds. On the last verse
the radio announcer comes in, his words clipped in time to the music. He
says, “…Stravinsky… killer” and”… assassins”. John Lennon sings, “the way
things are going, their gonna crucify me” as the song finishes. There is
some more lo-fi Raymond building rantings to the theme of “Meet the
Detectives” and ‘Telethon Returns” both TV inspired. Telethon Returns was
TV Guide inspired even though the listings were really ‘Telethon
Continues”. One fragment demonstrates Harold’s Steiner-Parker synthesizer
that we borrowed, going out of control.
By the time the second reel started up, the pyramid headphones were
dropping channels. Unfortunately, the web of wires had a fatal flaw, if one
wire came loose or shorted out the channel dropped out not for just one
headphone but for all the headphones. One channel cut out then another.
Good thing we had four speakers set up in the room that kept working.
Despite the technical problems the audience liked the show and it was
deemed a success.

A few days later Chip and Susan got hitched and their wedding was groovy.
Shirttail relative and Cal Arts friend, Roland Kato, provided the string
quartet that played at the reception. The shindig was at the old Grapevine
near the San Gabriel Mission. It was a great place to get tipsy on
champagne. Afterward, Roland and a bunch of us went to the local Japanese
restaurant and I miraculously mastered using hashi (chopsticks) while
inebriated.
A loud rock band moved in under L-44’s (Le Forte Four’s) studio. Years
later, when I lived at 894 Pasadena Ave, ‘Foundation Boo’ house, Anton
Kaprow moved in next door. He had played drums in some of Ace’s ensembles
and in talking I discovered he and his friends had been the one’s in the
>tudio below us.
Anton would leave his drum kit chained to the radiator because he didn’t
>eel they were safe. They had big rock band amps down there, too and on our
‘Noise’ night they were blaring away with their windows open. We couldn’t
hear our toy instruments. To retaliate we cranked up our twenty-watt St.
George amp with backwards Daffy Duck cartoons that they heard between
songs. I did the world’s greatest Martian Toonsnootek solo out into the
building’s open central area, which their studio shared. Joe’s one inch,
thin wall, station wagon length white PVC pipe with alternate bands of
black electrical tape was swung out the window as my mournful horn bleating
echoed in the alcove. We swung a cardboard pyramid headphone prototype into
they’re window. It had a loud battery power buzzer alarm in it. The loud
band never stopped playing. It didn’t faze them. It turns out Anton’s dad
was the Father of the Happening, legendary artist, Alan Kaprow. I guess he
was used to such nonsense.

We ended the year with an all-nighter at the Raymond building in the
empty front room on the forth floor. We planned on playing music but the
windows were stuck open. By midnight it was too cold to do anything but get
numb. Later when it came time to pass out, I crawled into my down sleeping
bag. Chip and the others headed back to his rooms with the electric heater
and closed windows. I was losing consciousness, when Chip pushed open the
stuck door with his shoulder, breaking the window in the door and cutting
his down coat. “Shit” he hissed. I glanced over and saw no one was hurt and
thought, “ hmmm, broke the window…that’s nice…nightie-night
zzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. Two hours later the sound of marching bands woke me up. I
didn’t feel so good. Bright sunlight flooded the room. I lay paralyzed for
a while thinking I was going back to sleep.
One building over Colorado Boulevard was hosting the annual Rose Parade
extravaganza. “Hey, stop the parade I’m trying to sleep up here! “ A
million or so people lined the streets. With the window in the room open it
was happening so close-by I finally got up and looked out the window. When
a band was heading down Colorado you would hear it echoing down the alleys
between the buildings. I listened to them approach and then as they marched
out from behind the next-door building the sound would blare down Raymond
Avenue. I watched the overblown floral procession on wheels go by.
Beautiful old buildings framed each float as it passed through the
intersection. It was a fantastic tableau. From above came a loud, low hum.
It was the blimp. I put on my shoes and peed on my way to the roof. At some
point the door was kept locked so to get on the roof you went out onto the
fire escape and up a rusted rickety ladder. It was a crisp bright New Years
Day with a swarm of people on the streets and my head hurt. From my vantage
point I could see other people running around on the rooftops. I went out
to the front corner of the roof and propped myself on the ledge to watch
the show. Things got shaky and I really didn’t feel so hot. Minutes later,
the party people from downstairs showed up on the roof. They were all
talking about the earthquake we just had. “Oh that’s what that shaking was”
I said as I headed back away from the ledge. I had been perched on top of
the old building’s overhanging ornamental façade when the small trembler
hit.
One day someone supposedly went insane and threw junk off the roof
smashing up the cars parked down below. Presumably, it was the owner of the
building who sent henchmen to kick the riff-raff out. Juan and Dennis’s
band, Monitors (no, not Monitor), was rehearsing one night when out of
nowhere, in mid-song, their door was kicked open. In stepped a tough guy
with two huge black dudes who formed a wall behind him. He told them they’d
have to pack up and leave immediately. Bass player Sheri questioned the
validity of the demand. The explanations included flashing a gun and
pushing Sheri against the wall. Juan impulsively moved to defend her but
was saved from dismemberment by fellow guitarist Billy Bishop who held him
back, seeing that no good would come from it. Juan’s better idea was to
negotiate permission to run to the Poobah’s and borrow Jay’s van to move
their stuff. The cops were there when he returned but they took sides with
the thugs! They were buddy-buddy with the bad guys, laughing at the band as
they hauled everything out. Hence, the revitalization of Old Town began.
Pretty soon Poobah’s was forced to move. The entire block and the block
behind it was going to be leveled to make way for the huge new corporate
headquarters of the Parsons engineering and construction firm. We made one
last visit. One night, Tom escorted us into the boarded-up building. The
place was all set to be demolished. We rummaged around a bit pilfering some
of the junk we had used on stage at the Spaghetti Works show. It was really
eerie in the dark abandoned building. Afterward, Tom let us into what was
left of Poobah’s, which had moved into a cool old craftsman house a mile or
so down on Walnut Street. The place was trashed with broken records and
album covers strewn about. I looked into the little backroom where Tom and
his friends had played music before the days of the Raymond Building. The
place was where the legendary nighttime jam sessions erupted and became the
hub of the pre-LAFMS Pasadena free music scene. Rock posters ripped off the
walls and broken objects littered the floor. The room was destroyed. This
was end of Olde Town for the Los Angeles Free Music Society. Years later,
after the Dream Syndicate disbanded, Dennis got a permanent day job. He
still works at the Parsons building in Old Town.
The Raymond building’s interior was gutted and a big skylight was put in
over the top. They added an exposed elevator and iron railings, thus
mocking the Bradley Building (a beautiful downtown Los Angeles architecture
landmark which was featured in ‘Blade Runner”). Now, they call it ‘the
historic Brailey Building’ but not because we had anything to do with it!
It contains the offices of Congressman Adam Schiff who receives campaign
donations from the Parsons Corp. whose headquarters was built at the old
Poobah’s address.
Before long they knocked out a section of swell old buildings on Colorado
to put up a hideous mall. The next revitalizing faze for Old Town was to
>estore the old buildings instead of leveling them, stripped away the many
decades of accumulated crap from their facades and dolling them up with
subtly tasteful paint jobs. Turning the funky dives into corporate chains
like Barnes and Noble, Victoria’s Secret and Jamba Juice. While this
thankfully saved the neighborhood from the wrecking ball and post-modern
architecture, the funky charm and connection to those old days was all but
steam cleaned away. All but one stubborn pawnshop at the corner of Colorado
and Raymond that refuses to die and remains virtually unchanged.
We lost our playground.
35 South Raymond has recently started it’s new life as Pasadena’s Scientology Center.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Roxane Marek on February 21, 2017 at 6:42 am

    Hi fellow Otis/Parsons alumni. I hung out at the Free Press Bookstore 1968&1969. You left out a lot of other funk businesses like Tequila Sunrise, The Happenstance vegetarian restaurant,The Museum, David’s Sandals . I shopped at Disabled American Veterans Thrift store and Salvation Army thriftstore for my hippie garb .I met my first serious steady, boyfriend there. He was eight years my senior, a radical black man who, lived in ” little pink” a tiny house in the parking lot on DeLacy Street. We panhandled in front of the Free Press Bookstore with the local hippie movement. I read all of the radical publications and incorporated them into my junior high school reports. I earned the nickname Foxy Roxy there. We frequented the Rose Palace and the Museum music venues and heard Ike and Tina Turner, Chuck Berry and other locals I can’t recall. It was an incredible time and one to cherish.

    Reply

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