Kyle K. Mann

Kyle K. Mann

Staff Writer

Kyle K. Mann is the pen name of a grumpy old dude who lives high atop Topanga Canyon, CA. To support himself, since so far writing isn’t cutting the financial nut, he works as a locations specialist in the film and television industry. Named a staff writer at Gonzo Today in February 2015, much to his surprise, he creates commentaries and interviews as possible and as his irascible moods permit.

A survivor of the 60’s scene in the San Francisco Bay Area, Kyle finds much to criticize in contemporary America. He is a former sports radio broadcaster in Los Angeles, a volcano reporter and morning drive deejay in Hawaii, and a still-active musician. As he closes in on real-world retirement age, he remains determined to create words that are worth a shit, and get them out there to a mass audience.

He also finds writing about himself in the third person pretty goddamned freaky.

Star Wars, Star Trek and Virtual Reality

by Kyle K. Mann

 
Virtual Reality, or VR, has been out for six months now. There I am, unboxing and setting it up.

I had decided to start with Star Wars. My first time putting the headset on. A bit nervous.

That initial experience is mind-blowing: there is stuff all around you!

As soon as I looked up, way up, at the gigantic Imperial Walker thundering by in the intro, I was sold on everything. The size and scope, the immersion, the sense of wonder.

It’s way too astounding. It’s 100 times as intense as a normal video game.

The game: Star Wars Battlefront Rogue One: X-Wing VR Mission.

I already owned a PlayStation 4, so all I had to do was buy the headset and camera, which set me back about 4 bills, and the game, about 50 bucks. There are cheaper headsets, and more expensive.

Welcome to the future. The Star Wars game people do a great job of making you feel at home. The realistic “used” look is everywhere.

I prefer using my glasses, which the PlayStation VR headset accommodates. Plenty of room. But it takes a bit of adjustment to get comfy.

So, first some VR calibration exercises, looking around as you prepare to enter your X-Wing Fighter, during which your droid is rolling nearby and the ship is randomly venting steam. Ok, you enter the cockpit.

You can play as a male or female character. I find playing the female character disorienting. But, I’m a guy.

Looking around the cockpit, one has a friendly feeling, assuming you saw the first Star Wars. (Note: I did not see the movie Rogue One.) Everything seems a bit familiar.

We fade in high above the Galactic Plane. The stars are swirling below, though that isn’t at all realistic. But neither are sounds in space, which we hear when the Rebel Fleet joins us, so we suspend disbelief.

The ship controls, via the PlayStation controller, are simple and intuitive. I admit that it helped that previously I’d played No Man’s Sky, which has a space battle sequence.

If you crash your ship, or otherwise die, the screen fades to black for a moment, then resumes. Your deaths are tallied up at the end, which can be embarrassing.

You join your squad’s 3 other pilots, and the mission begins.

The way this plays out is cinematic, and by definition very linear. You dodge or blast meteors, escort a ship transporting a VIP, and attack enemy fighters and even an Imperial Star Cruiser, all to the wonderful John Williams soundtrack themes from the movies.

The excellent music is a huge factor. It’s like being in a Star Wars movie. It’s very helpful and comforting.

The mission is about 20 minutes long. There are other Star Wars games to play, but they are not VR.

I hate admitting this yet again in one of my articles, but I’m of retirement age. A senior. A goddamn old geezer, if ya like. But a proud survivor, and here’s why I mention this, I remember when we didn’t have video games!

There was a primitive arcade video game called Space Wars that came out in 1977. It was actually based on a precursor game from 1962 called Spacewar! But my memory goes back before Sputnik was launched in 1957, so my claim is valid. (Americans were upset about Russia, then as now.)

Think of it, kids, no video games of any kind. Hell, no personal computers or cell phones.

So, point being, for the spectacular spectrum of change, the virtual reality VR headset is a quantum leap.

I’m slow to adopt new technology. I refused to get a cell phone for years after they came out. Before that, in the 90s, slow to get a computer. So why did I get this damn VR headset?

Not for Star Wars, which I bought to ease into VR with, but Star Trek. There is a new game for VR called Star Trek: Bridge Crew that looks killer!

In this new VR game, the player assumes one of four roles: Engineer, Helm, Tactical (mainly weapons) and of course Captain. You can play with computer-generated players or real people online, and with the original old-school Enterprise ship as in William Shatner/Captain Kirk, or an updated craft. The game is due May 30, 2017. Yes, I preordered it.

Now you can actually be inside the Enterprise as a crew member! But will it be exciting and captivating? Only one way to find out.

I cheerfully admit to being a Trekkie. I’ve never gone to a convention, but I have worked on the shows Next Generation (the Insurrection movie) and Deep Space Nine (the Seventh Season.) Getting paid to work on Star Trek fills me with wonder and humor to this day.

So it was with great interest that I watched LaVar Burton waxing eloquently as he, the always-attractive Jeri Ryan and two other Star Trek cast members played the game in a promotional trailer. They appear to have loved it, and now I am looking forward to the experience.

All this of course begs the question, what’s next?

VR movies, I assume. Rock concerts, where you will roam the stage. New and crazier games, I don’t doubt.

There’s even already VR porn, which I haven’t tried. Nor am I likely to soon. Might not be good for your health.

As it is, I can only take so much VR at a sitting. An hour is a lot. The X-Wing swoops and turns like a bird, inducing vertigo. A couple hours later after stopping, mild queasiness is still noticeable sometimes. I’ve learned to keep an even keel with my X-Wing, as possible.

There’s another factor, and that’s how utterly cut off one is in VR. With headphones on, the immersion is nearly complete. I set my cell phone to vibrate one night when I was expecting a call. And if someone enters the room you are in, you are as helpless as a baby. Which can feel weird.

Still. It really is a ton of fun, and worth the dough.

Just be aware.

 

 

by Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

May 21, 2017

Mary Harris & Burleigh Drummond of Ambrosia: The Gonzo Today Interview

 

by Kyle K. Mann

 

“I remember exactly when I first wanted to become a musician,” Mary Harris says firmly. “It was when I was four years old and saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan sing ‘She Loves You, yeah yeah yeah.'”

“For me it was seeing John Lennon sing ‘Twist and Shout,’ Burleigh Drummond grins. “That’s what I remember.”

We are seated on couches in their beautiful Southern California home, armed with refreshing beverages. I’m taking notes, having decided it’s the most casual way to interview the two.

Neither look old enough to have seen the Beatles on Sullivan, that iconic moment that changed a generation and reverberates to this day. When I comment on their youthful appearance, they laugh. “I get up and run every morning,” Mary exclaims.

“I’m up at dawn doing yoga,” Burleigh adds. “The other thing that made me want to be a musician,” he continues, “was watching Turkish cymbal-makers at work. I can still see them spinning the shiny gold, spinning, making…”

Burleigh Drummond lived in various worldwide spots as a child, due to his father’s career as a full Colonel in the U.S. Army, and Burleigh discusses him. “He wrote speeches for JFK!” Burleigh’s grin is large, and I admit that blows my mind. I reflect as we sip our drinks, thinking about that. Yow, JFK! Could talk for a long time about just that. But, back to the music.

Mary Harris and Burleigh Drummond are current members of the rock group Ambrosia, founded in 1970 by drummer Burleigh, bassist Joe Puerta, keyboardist Chris North and guitarist David Pack. All sang with the group, with Puerta and Pack handling most of the lead vocals.

Ambrosia had their fair share of hits, several of which are still widely played. Pack left the group in 2000, which was when Mary performed with them for the first time onstage, eventually becoming a full member in 2012. The band also currently features their longtime guitarist Doug Jackson and guitarist/lead vocalist Ken Stacey, and their blazing live show tours widely, playing their hits and complex progressive rock album tracks, as well as new original songs.

“How many major bands do you know that have husband and wife teams?” I ask.

Mary and Burleigh look at each other. “Well, there’s Pat Benatar and Neil Geraldo,” Mary answers slowly. A pause.

I nod. It’s pretty darn rare. There’s a lot more on my mind about Ambrosia, including the Ralph Steadman cover, but I want to go to Mary’s years on the road with Jimmy Buffett, which included her being credited as the Vocal Arranger. I ask how she became a member of the infamous Coral Reefer Band.

“My friend Brie Howard was in the band, playing percussion and singing. She called and said he was looking for another singer to join up. I remember going to a place in Malibu, singing, and that was that… the easiest audition I ever did. Afterward we sat and Jimmy told me what was important to him: good singing, good personalities, and good camaraderie.”

Mary pauses, thinking back to the early 90’s. “Jimmy said something I’ve never forgotten. ‘I may not be the best guitar player or singer, but I’m a great Jimmy Buffett.'” We laugh, it is indeed a quality line.

Burleigh chimes in, “Mary was under a lot of pressure. She lost 15 pounds and didn’t sleep for a week.”

“At first,” she continues, “I was expected to dance with the two other singers on the left. But I had almost always played keyboards on stage with my singing. That first week of rehearsals…” Mary sighs. “Charlie the tour manager, finally had me move over with Brie, and sing and play percussion with her. Then, we did a live album with [noted engineer and producer] Elliot Scheiner. Those two singers got canned. Elliot pushed me, and became a friend. I became the Vocal Arranger on the next 4 albums.”

But, how exactly did that happen?

“I just became the Vocal Arranger.” She smiles. “I don’t remember how it happened.”

I look over to Burleigh. “Was there any chance of you joining the band?”

He gets a prankish look. “The only way I would join Buffett’s band…” He pauses for effect. “…is if he asked me.” I laugh.

“Jimmy’s drummer has been with him forever,” Mary explains.

I ask what her reaction to playing in a big-time band for the first time was, but Mary shakes her head. ”I had been in ‘Animal Logic’ with [ex-Police drummer] Stewart Copeland, [jazz bassist] Stanley Clarke, [guitarist] Michael Thompson… that was pretty big, and before that I was in [the early all-girl group] Red Shoes, we played the Roxy, we were on TV, so I was used to being on stage.”

Then there is Pink Floyd, who Mary has recorded with. I ask her to elaborate. “Its backing vocals on a couple live videos, not on the record. We just saw [Pink Floyd longtime engineer] James Guthrie and we asked him about it. One was “Dogs of War” and the other…”

I lean forward.

“I can’t remember.”

I lean back. It flabberghasts me that Mary can’t remember. Pink Floyd is only one of the biggest groups in music history. Later, I listen to the video track on Youtube. Yep there she is. Wow.

Well, onward. What stories she can tell me about the Coral Reefer Band? The ones she can tell? She grins.

“We used to do “bus theater” where the two tour busses would pull up alongside, and people would act stories out through the windows. It would start that way, and, people would get crazy, mooning each other… of course, I didn’t do that. Our bus usually won.”

“You were with Buffett for years… why would you leave such a gig?”

“I needed to spend more time with [their son, and now touring musician] Micky… it was hard being away so much.”

I nod, marveling, but happy that it has all worked out. “Let’s go back to Ambrosia. How often are you doing gigs currently?’

Burleigh looks at me alertly. “60 to 70 gigs a year, and we want to get that up to 100.”

“You book the gigs, at present?”

Burleigh nods. “About 60 % of the dates, yeah.”

“You have an all-new album in the works?”

Mary brightens.  “There are a lot of song possibilities!”

“Mary wants to focus on Ambrosia,” Burleigh notes. “The new album… let’s really do what we’ve been promising the fans for years. Our last album of new material was 1982.”

“Our new songs are written by all members,” Mary says seriously.

Clearly there is a lot of creativity going on with Ambrosia!

The band live is outstanding, being tight, in tune, and enormously laden with vocal and instrumental talent. I can attest to that having seen them play venues in multiple states in this decade, in a wide variety of venues. With a fresh album of new material coming, the nearly 50-year-old group are at the top of their field. My mind turns to the origins, and I ask Burleigh how he came to join the Los Angeles-area band. He laughs.

“I was studying drums at Drum City. Musician’s Contact Service… I saw a 3×5 card from the rest of the band so I replied. They liked my name!”

At about this point the vodka kicks in, and I lose focus momentarily. Burleigh says something about his VW van being a factor, that the band liked that they could carry their equipment in it. And something about a “goatee down to your bongos.”

I snap out of it and resume taking coherent notes. “When we met up, we all talked for hours every day. You know, when you’re 18 or 20, you play records for each other, you’re excited.” He smiles at the memory, and I ask if he remembers the first time he heard Ambrosia on the radio.

“Holdin’ on [to Yesterday]… no, I don’t remember. But, I do remember we all gave 100% to do what we had to do.” He frowns. “Our manager was taking 100% of our publishing. I wrote 80% of the lyrics to ‘Make Us All Aware.’

“That’s a great prog song,” Mary comments. (Later when I get home I give it a listen. What an outstanding tune. Crazy difficult and utterly beautiful. I’m stunned and numbed.) Mary continues, “It’s one of the most creative piano parts [performed by Chris North] possible.”

Burleigh picks up the story. “So money was a huge issue. Everybody was scrambling for the scraps. By the time you get to the third album, Chris couldn’t hang. He left because the money, it wasn’t worth anything. I knew if I didn’t write anything I would suffer the fate of Chris.”

Ok, wow. I’m shaking my head, and ask Burleigh about the last album with the Ralph Steadman cover, titled ‘Road Island.’

“We created that album to return to our prog roots. We were fans of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’ we loved the book. Warners was happy with us, we had had some hits… Steadman hung out in the studio with us. We went to lunch and got shitfaced trying to keep up with him. He did caricatures of us all. Kinda struck a nerve, exaggerating some aspect of you that was not public but he made it public.”

Now we are listening carefully, this is intense.

“We took a train ride up to Ralph’s house. His studio was this huge room with tons of stuff in it. I looked up to see this thing spiked up on the wall. I kept looking and realized it was the hugest rat I’d ever seen, decomposing. Ralph said he was drawing it at different stages…”

We all have a sip of our drinks, and Burleigh continues “I think the cover of that musician screaming… it was some kind of primal scream. Everybody was unhappy. We were trying to break away from our manager. We all had angst, we were all accused of selling out.”

And the last single? “‘Feelin’ Alive Again.’ That’s David Pack trying to write a hit single.”

Which went nowhere. But there was a minor hit… Burleigh speaks. “‘How Can You Love Me.’ That one always bugged me, I didn’t like the first drum track. At one point I threatened to burn the master tape in the studio with a lighter if we didn’t re-cut it.”

Listening to the track back home, I am impressed. Solid tune! I carefully pay attention to the drums… seems pretty dang good to me. Also, that YouTube video of the band kicks my butt.

So, what are hard parts of being on the road, the terrible road?

“Burleigh gets more sleep on the road than home!” Mary says.

“Six [hours] if I’m lucky,” he counters.

We talk about hotels, hotel beds, hotel food… some better than others, of course. Airports, flying, riding… the numerous inconveniences. Then I turn to my favorite band of all time, Mary and Burleigh’s ‘Tin Drum.’

The super short version is that Mary and Burleigh’s family band is special, and has yet to gain wide recognition despite 3 stellar CD releases. “I still get inquires,” says Burleigh. “We had opportunities… I had a guy call me up when we had [their evocative ballad] ‘Surrender’ and say we could break the tune wide open, but it would take a million dollars.”

Mary: “We spent a lot of money on Tin Drum…”

I bring up the original five person band, featuring Brie Howard, bassist Marco Mendoza and guitarist Mike Hoffman. Burleigh just sighs. “I let go of this amazing thing.”

“Ambrosia has the clout,” Mary adds.

After seeing Ambrosia packing ’em in, with long lines of fans waiting after concerts to get their old legacy albums signed, I can’t disagree. But something tells me it’s not over yet, for the Tin Drum configuration of tunes and energy. For one thing, Mary and Burleigh’s talented children, Micky aka Burleigh and daughter Sierra, both incredible musicians, have played in the band in recent years. It’s very cool, and practically beyond description to see the kids and parents playing music onstage. In whatever configuration you see them, the entire Harris/Drummond family have an outstanding, unique chemistry.

Yep, as I make my goodbyes and head out the door it seems to me that, for these veteran musicians, who just happen to be married to each other and play in the same band, that the best is yet to come!

 

The Doors- 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition review

 

by Kyle K. Mann

Artist: The Doors

Album name: The Doors- 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

Label: Elektra/Rhino

Rating: 4.1/5.0

As the hype continues this bizarre year of 2017 over the 50th anniversary of all things 1967, on March 31 Rhino/Elektra released “The Doors: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” which is meant to be the last word on the self-titled debut.

Is this package worth the 60 bucks?

I’ll say yes, though I’m not as objective as some readers might like. As I’ve noted previously, the Doors are a band I saw at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom before they were famous, and I have a great deal of built-in affection for them.

Well. So, whaddya get for the dough?

In brief, two CD versions of the original mixes of the vinyl release, one stereo, one mono, and a third bonus CD of the band playing at San Francisco’s Matrix club, as well as a mono vinyl record album. The latter CD is live material released a decade back, but that is, according to the story, now taken from a first generation source. Indeed, this live CD sounds considerably better than the last version.

For me, the stereo CD version of the original studio tracks is stellar, with the attention to sonic detail staggering. Listening to the tracks using a new HP laptop and it’s bundled PowerMediaPlayer, and a pair of new audio-technica headphones, I’m noticing details I had never heard before. The crispness on the high end is breathtaking, including the marxophone hits on “Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)” and the astonishing cymbal tones John Densmore achieves throughout “The End” and especially at the conclusion of that track.

For this superb sonic excellence we have original producer Paul Rothschild (and engineer Bruce Botnick) to thank. Densmore complains in his first book about the many hours Rothschild spent tuning and tweaking the drum tones in the studio, in setting up to record. I’m willing to bet Densmore will agree it was all worth it now, because the drums are simply impeccable on the stereo mix. Again, as one example, the various tones of drums and cymbals on the percussion-driven “The End” are staggering. About the only thing I can compare it to is the clarity of the drum sound on the late 70s Steely Dan recordings, like ‘Aja.’

Rothschild famously insisted that he wanted the Doors’ music to still be listenable in 20 years. Here we are, a full half century later, and his triumph is complete. Rothschild, who died in the 90s, would have loved this release. Elektra Records owner Jac Holtzman was quoted as telling Rothschild when he assigned Rothschild the production, “…do NOT fuck this up.”

I would say Rothschild pulled it off.

Now, as to the mono recording. Frankly, the disc I have is subpar. Perhaps it’s this particular CD I have, but there seems to be something wrong with the audio, particularly the vocals. It’s breaking up, fuzzy, unclear. For something that is supposed to be an audiophile’s delight, this mono mix ain’t cutting it.

I never liked mono anyway, so again, I’m not truly objective. I want Densmore and the bass on the left, and Krieger’s guitar and Manzarek’s organ on the right, with Morrison in the middle. Everything all mushed together sounds unnatural to me, weak and thin, undynamic. Listening in the headphones is a diminished experience for me.

That aside, the mono CD I have breaks up when the music volume picks up. It’s clearly discernible. I won’t be playing it, it’s unlistenable.

The question then becomes, is the mono vinyl album (“180 grams” as the front album sticker proclaims) the same? I can’t answer, because my turntable is in storage. And most of you either don’t have an old-school phonograph, or have it stashed away in the garage, covered with dust.

So I don’t see much in the mono releases, either the unheard vinyl album or the CD.

Which brings us to the live Matrix recording, warts and all. In brief, this is what pushes my buttons to tell you that if you are a Doors fan, this 60 buck package is worth getting. What a great live version of “Soul Kitchen.” Even with no echo effects on the vocals and instruments, and the oddness of the sparse applause, this is a worthy effort, with the tracks ordered in the same way as the album, although 3 of the shorter tracks originally on Side Two are missing.

Yes it’s strange to hear “Alabama Song” without the jingling marxophone and the big group vocals. But the live track has some different magic to it. The stripped-down version shows both what a great live band the Doors were, and by comparison how much work Rothschild really did to nail the production into a classic.

I even appreciate the tuning up before “Light My Fire.”

This signature hit, delivered in a somewhat different arrangement from the album version that the Doors had already recorded and released, is refreshing because of the high energy of the hard-charging solos. Morrison is heard faintly, cheering Krieger on as Densmore slams away at his tubs with finesse.

“Back Door Man” live in this early version is pulsing, vital. The vocal is solid, even a bit restrained. Again, the cleanup on the audio is impressive, remembering that this version was not recorded by Wally Heider and his famous truck, but just a home reel-to-reel tape. Good stuff.

And then there is the over 14 minute version of “The End.”

“Fall down now, strange Gods are coming,” sings Morrison. What? There are lyrics here I have never heard. Like, a lot of of them. I’ll let you discover these improvisations for yourself, but I will say that 50 years later, the Doors, incredibly, have some surprises left. It’s a bit shocking, actually.

A note on the packaging: pretty cool, with a worthy booklet that includes different band photos and some clarifying notes from Doors engineer Bruce Botnick. Historic, I’d say… after all, he was there.

My rating? 4 out of 5 stars. If this package had been trimmed down to the stereo and live CDs, and the price cut accordingly, it would get that last star. But if you’re a true Doors fan (after all, nearly 17 million likes on FaceBook) then suck it up and spend the cash.

We still have some 50th anniversary packaging to come, because the Doors have announced that their second album “Strange Days” will also be getting a 50 year celebration later this year.

Start saving up.

 

*Related articles

The Doors First Album and Mary Werbelow: 50 Years on

Driving with the Doors

 

 

 

Musical Love Trip to Aspen

Musical Love Trip to Aspen

by Kyle K. Mann

 

“I hear Elvin Bishop is lookin’ for a harp player.”

“Oh yeah?”

I tried to act casual, but my heart was racing. Blues harmonica gigs were rare, and my money was running low.

“Yeah,” the guy laughed. He knew I’d been in Beefy Red, a mighty band that had played the Fillmore West and had broken up the previous year. I’d spent most of the intervening time since then on the Big Island, body surfing and lava watching. Now I had returned to Marin County, looking to kick my musical career back into gear. I smiled at the informant patiently, waiting for him to continue.

The dude chuckled, “Only one problem, he and his band just left for Aspen.”

I nodded. My fortunes had just turned, and a detail like that failed to trouble me. “No problem. White is there, and I can hang out with him.” White had been the bassist and a singer in Beefy Red. Now he was learning classical bass and playing in the Aspen Music Festival. The signs were right.

The guy laughed yet again, but with a look of wonder. “But you’re broke, right? No car? How you getting there?”

“I’m hitchin’ it, man. Thanks for the info.” I walked out of the bar and left him scratching his head, puzzled by my optimism.

Back in the early 70s hitchhiking was normal and surprisingly easy. People trusted each other more in those times, and gave rides without fear, even to a longhaired type like me. So it was that I set off the next beautiful June morning from my hometown of San Rafael, California on a mission, little dreaming what was in store.

I had reached White on the phone, and he was cool with me showing up. I’d also called my friends and family, and gotten mostly disbelief. The general consensus was that I was not thinking clearly. I politely scoffed at such notions. All was well! I would prevail!

In reality, of course, I was leaving Marin County with nothing but hope, a couple changes of clothes and a bag full of harmonicas. I’d been couch surfing in the weeks I’d been back from Hawaii, and my novelty value was wearing thin. I stuck out my thumb and promptly got a ride to Davis, nearly to Sacramento. Signs were good.

But the next couple hours I stood there at the freeway entrance, I was discouraged. Nothing. I was just starting to think I had indeed made a bad mistake when a nice guy in a late model car pulled over. “Goin’ East?”

“Yes sir!” I hastily loaded my pack in the back seat, introduced myself, and we were off.

The driver was a bit older than me, maybe thirty. His hair wasn’t long, but long enough to let me know he was hip. As we headed up the Sierras on the I-80 he sounded me out, and when he concluded I was ok told me he was going to Denver. Denver! I was set!

We motored over the mountains past Reno and a colorful sunset in the desert, cruising all night. I caught a bit of sleep, and sometimes chatted, exchanging life stories, and sometimes I mused to myself over my prospects. Was I that crazy, or was my belief correct? Only one way to find out.

Dawn found us at the Utah/Colorado State line. We had headed south at Salt Lake City in the night and were now on the I-70. Up we went into the Rockies, with me grinning in anticipation. I’d never been to Aspen, and looked forward to seeing the fabulous resort town.

We had breakfast in Grand Junction, with me spending some of my last dollars on pancakes and home fries. Delicious! My driving buddy was amused by my enthusiasm, and wished me well when I got out at Glenwood Springs, deep in the Rockies. 24 hours earlier I’d been standing forlornly in Davis, and now here I was, beaming like a loon, only a few miles from my goal.

A couple rides later and I was marveling at the green-clad peaks surrounding Aspen. I cautiously hid my back pack, walked into the lobby of the Continental Hotel and briskly asked the desk clerk for White’s room number.

White was stunned but pleased to see me. “Just don’t let the hotel people know you’re crashing on my floor,” he laughed. And indeed, no one ever questioned me or hassled me in any way in the days that followed. It was a remarkably cordial environment. Now, I had to find my gig.

Elvin Bishop is legendary, and was even in 1973, as one of Paul Butterfield’s great guitar players, the others being the superb Buzz Feiten and the all-time foundational master Mike Bloomfield. Bishop and Bloomfield were in the version of the Butterfield Blues Band that was elected recently to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So this was no schlub I was asking to hire me. Still, I felt sure it would happen.

The next night I approached the club Bishop and his band were playing in. I arrived between sets. Bishop was playing a pinball machine in a side room. Too perfect, I thought.

“Hi Elvin, my name’s Kyle and I heard you are looking to hire a harp player.”

Bishop grunted, shoving at the game to move the ball. He was good. “Now who told you that?” he asked in his Oklahoma accent.

Not a question I was expecting, but I plowed on. “I’ve been playing harp for years in bands, and I’m sure you’ll like my playing…” I wanted to pull a harp out and blow him a lick, but the background music in the club was too loud.

“Sorry man, but I can’t add anyone to my band.” He grunted again as he shoved the pinball machine just hard enough to sent the silver ball spinning into a lane that racked up points. He glanced at me sidelong. “See, it’s like this… we are already cutting the pie too many ways as it is.”

I stood there, crestfallen, feeling like a tub of cold water had been thrown on me. My dreams were in ruins. “Ah, yes… I understand,” I mumbled. I didn’t really, since I knew I could get an audience clapping wildly, given a chance. I’d done it plenty of times. “Well, thanks…”

Bishop looked over again, not unkindly. “But hey, good luck to you,” he said as I turned to go, crushed. I stumbled out of the club, blithered by the encounter. Damn, what a whipping.

White was sympathetic, and supportive. “Don’t worry man, something will come up. Why don’t you sit in with the Big Band and me at the Jerome Hotel? Gary Gray will love you” White was right, band leader Gray from UCLA’s jazz program was a Godsend for my morale, being extremely enthusiastic when White introduced me, and a few nights later I played one of the great gigs of my life at the storied Jerome, with a 20 piece horn section that blew the roof off. My solo over that horn section riffing had people patting me on the back and buying drinks. If only Elvin Bishop had heard that!

Still, I had a big problem… stone broke and no prospects to speak of. I woke on White’s hotel room floor in my sleeping bag. He was at a rehearsal, so I went out for breakfast with my last few dollars. Better go to the health food store and get some yoghurt and a muffin, I thought. It will go farther.

At the store I glanced at a bulletin board, then with great interest. A notice read “Harmonica Player Wanted.” I did a comical double take. Really?

Really.

It turned out to be the craziest job ever… walking the Aspen sidewalks blasting on a harmonica with a gigantic customized signboard. It came up to my neck in front, towered three feet over my head in back, was covered with squeeze horns, slide whistles, and real lanterns that lit at night. My boss turned out to be a fine fellow named Dan Arrow, and he advertised half the businesses in Aspen on his  unique sandwich board. The first day on the job I got 20 dollars in tips, plus what he was paying me an hour. In 1973, that was decent cash.

I’d play to the street crowds with a big chordal harmonica Dan gave me. Tunes like Wabash Cannonball and Oh Suzanna would do for a while until I’d start blowing some blues harp just to break it up. People would snap photos and give tips. Not quite what I was expecting, but now I had cash!

And now I could take White out to dinner and buy myself a nice shirt or two. I picked one up that was featured in the window of a fancy store. My luck had turned again, and that’s when I met Carol.

She was standing there with her friend in the game lobby of the Continental, this tall curly-haired beauty. I’d been playing foosball with White and a couple pals,when I noticed her. I started talking and instantly fell head over heels in love. A couple nights later she accepted my invitation, delivered in a mock-English accent, to engage in “a bit of light necking on the veranda.”

We went on a memorable date, thanks to White lending his car, in the Maroon Bell Mountians outside of town. Flowers were everywhere up there. In another week we were a couple, in three I’d convinced her to go back with me to Marin. Turned out she was a world class violinist. Yeah!

But as the weeks went past I realized I wanted to drive back with her. The season was almost over, August was getting on. What to do? Problem: no car.

Fate stepped up again. Dan Arrow had a running Plymouth Valiant in his yard he wanted to get rid of. “Call it a tip for a job well done,” he laughed. Completely illegal, and with snow tires on the back. Those little knobs made a clatter as we drove on the pavement. But what the hell.

We thanked and hugged everyone goodbye, White waving in the rearview until he was gone from view. Carol grinned engagingly as we set out, grinding up and over the Continental Divide where at the top a tourist took a fabulous photo of us, and down to beautiful New Mexico and Arizona to the Grand Canyon, where I only had eyes for her, and finally home to Marin.

Next problem: no home and low funds. A couple days of crashing with friends was enough… it was time for a miracle! So we are driving past an apartment in San Rafael and see a sign that said Free Rent. No, not kidding. The owner told us he was selling the complex and wanted to say he had full occupancy. He only asked for a deposit, and we had enough money for that. It was nice, had a pool and a view of Mt. Tamalpias out the back door.

We moved in at once. Remaining problem: no jobs.

I suggested Carol call the Oakland Symphony, but she laughed sweetly. “Oh no Kyle, you don’t understand. They will be starting rehearsals next week for the new season.”

Off my insistence, she phoned. Turned out they had three last minute openings and were auditioning in a few days. Bang, she landed third chair, right behind the Concertmaster. I loved that girl. Talented, lovely, funny… She was the center of my universe, the first live-in love of my life. We never had an argument that I can recall. What bliss!

As for me, I adopted Dan Arrow’s idea to toney Mill Valley, and sold advertising on a sandwich board and played harp strolling around. So I never did get a gig with Elvin Bishop, but I got something better…

A life.

Cut. It’s over 40 years later. Carol and I had broken up, sort of accidentally, after a wonderful, magical year together. Now in 2015 I’m planning to flee the USA and retire in Costa Rica. But… In the dentist’s chair, with a head full of nitrous oxide, a voice speaks. “Before you go south, you have to go north.”

I was aware Carol was living a thousand miles north of Topanga. Ok, I called. Next thing I know I’m driving up to see her.

And you know what? There’s no love like a First Love!
By Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

2/12/17

Upheavals in Washington D.C. and Facebook

By Kyle K. Mann

With Trump’s firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Monday, 1/30/17, the news cycle is now like a bull on crack cocaine. My Facebook feed is disrupted as well, and old friends are going completely berserk.

I joined FaceBook in 2009. For the whole time since then I have been warning about Obama, and have been for the most part completely ignored. What I was saying was, he was spying on us all, he had signed into law dangerous provisions such as the 2012 NDAA “indefinite detention” law that allowed him, or a successor, to secretly jail people, that he was killing thousands of people and even some American citizens overseas via drones, that his vicious crackdown on whistleblowers was immoral, and that he had deported more people than any president in history.

Now, those are facts. As I say, most people ignored my urgent messages. And interestingly, many of those same people have turned into frothing maniacs at Trump’s latest follies, which compared to, say, the bombing of Libya, have killed few people to date.

I despise Trump. He’s an obnoxious vulgarian, as only a reality TV host can be. That such a monstrous caricature can be in command of the U.S. Government is beyond appalling. Which leaves us where exactly?

Many people I know were Bernie Sanders voters. When Sanders was robbed (as many see it) of the nomination by the corruption of HRC, they just turned away and voted for her anyway. Many of these are the same outraged protesters now.

So, where were these people when Obama and HRC were raining drone bombs down on 7 Muslim countries? The same ones where a preponderance of the refugees are coming from?

Banning refugees, bah. You Obama/HRC liberals blew it because you didn’t speak up when you should have. Now you are freaked out. Freaked! (Note: I do not consider myself either liberal or conservative.)

Nobody likes a guy saying “told ya so.” So, I’m biting my tongue, though it’s too late, of course.

There are very few sane voices left in the political spectrum now.

Hunter S. Thompson saw this coming, of course. It’s doom, just as he predicted. Given his grisly demise, I can’t look to him for solace either. Humor, entertainment, even a bit of moral wisdom, yes. But we have to look within now. Deep into our spirits, the ageless being.

And I think that is the ultimate thought I have for us at this point. No matter what we believe, or who we support, inner optimism is needed, love within and without. Self-healing, creative expression.

It’s going to be a rough ride, but we can get through it. Hang in there, people.

We owe it to ourselves to survive, even thrive, in this Awful Age.

Facebook? Washington D.C.? Phooey.  Cheers!

 

Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

1-30-17

Seeing Hendrix on Acid

By Kyle K. Mann

The trick to coming on to LSD as you walked through the front door at Winterland was to take it at the perfect point on the drive in, which for us was the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We made it a bit of a ceremony.

It’s early 1968. I forget who drove, but it wasn’t me. I popped a full cap of the purple stuff, I remember that. The 250 microgram dose was a lot, but in those times it seemed normal.

Because we were going to see Hendrix, man!

We got separated soon after we went in. The Winterland foyer was packed. That was fine, we were all one anyway. Half or more of the crowd had taken the good acid we enjoyed in 1968. And what a bill, with Albert King and John Mayall opening the show.

Both warmed us up nicely. Mayall’s band was hot, and he was in fine form, singing and blowing blues harmonica with feeling and power. I particularly remember his version of Parchman’s Farm, with its frantic harp riff and extended solo. Mayall was a authentic blues fan who had had Eric Clapton as a sideman. Born in the late 30’s, he was a bit older than the average rock star. We didn’t care.

Albert King was even older, born in 1923, meaning he was an ancient 45 or so. Again, we didn’t care. “If you don’t love the blues, you got a hole in your soul,” he shouted at one point. Wow, what a voice, what a guitar player. I can still hear him on “Born on a Bad Sign.” Nasty, primal.

By now the acid was peaking, and I stood in a psychedelic maelstrom, both connected to everyone and alone in my selfhood. Ok, Jimi, show me, I thought. Or was it all of us?

He seemed shy, almost, that early ’68 show. We scrutinized him. In turn, he sized his San Francisco audience up, then slowly smiled. And we were sold, right there.

There were very few bi-racial rock bands in 1968. Arthur Lee and Love, Sly and the Family Stone, Paul Butterfield… The Chambers Brothers had a Caucasian drummer. That was about it. But the multi-racial unity of the three members of the Jimi Hendrix Experience was unquestioned that night. Didn’t matter who was black or white, we were beings wearing bodies who loved music and were free. We were Experienced, and it was time to party.

So Jimi started us off with Sgt. Peppers…

His version of the title track and opening song of the album was perfect. After all, in England he had played it with the Beatles in the audience. There is a great photo of the Fab Four in a balcony, staring in fascination. The shot was taken a couple days after the release of their magnum opus, yet Hendrix had mastered the album’s great beginning track, which they Themselves never played live, and made it his own. It wasn’t one-upmanship, it was Hendrix acknowledging who had got us all where we needed to be.

After that breathtaking opening, it was time to rock with the blasting, blisteringly-paced rocker “Fire.”

Nearly a half-century later, as I type, I’m smiling. What an incredible moment. The shattering opening of the power trio, with those landslide drum fills of Mitch Mitchell. And that grooving bass pattern on the chorus! Which that in mind, Hendrix let us know who was in charge, with the commanding line “Move over Rover, and let Jimi take over!” Followed by a simple but grinding guitar solo, featuring those doubled, bent notes.

We in the standing audience were in a frenzy, laughing, shaking (no room to dance, we were packed like sardines) and marveling at the sound. The volume was just right, as I can attest after later hearing the band Blue Cheer on the same stage. That was pain; I actually walked away and went behind the stage so those huge Blue Cheer speakers weren’t pointing at me. So, yeah, Jimi wasn’t the loudest of the rock bands, and thanks Jimi, because my hearing all these years later is still reasonably good.

I’m always glad to hear Fire, to this day. It’s what rock music is all about.

Next up was Hey Joe, the Experience’s first single. It wasn’t then, and isn’t now, my favorite song, because of the vindictive and murderous tone of the lyrics. “I shot her,” Hendrix yells, and I wince. Still, the solo is a delight, and the tune’s slower pace set us up for the next song and the redemptive celebration of femininity, Foxy Lady.

Masterful guitar work. With one’s neuoreceptors chemically propped open, mindblowing. Hendrix was unstoppable on this song, playing the guitar every way possible. Cartwheeling his strumming arm, then contrasting that by playing one handed in the neck, then using the microphone stand as a slide, then using his elbow as a slide. Laughing “Aw shucks” and making it work, an astounding mix of humility, humor, and complete confidence. A performer’s performer. You couldn’t keep your eyes off him.

Great dynamics on the tune, building that trill louder and louder, then punching through the sound with controlled feedback and then the swoop down the neck into the riff. Hendrix pioneered a lot of techniques, including wah wah and phase shifting, but when it came to feedback he was a sonic Van Gogh. It was something new under the sun. Hearing it, seeing it created live, was like a supernova between your ears.

Somehow he sounded like an orchestra on that guitar. He was one with the instrument, it was like an extension of himself. It was electric/organic, it was like a merging of meat and metal. It was just so Right.

Slowing it down again to cool out, with The Wind Cries Mary. Ahh, didn’t realize we need to relax a bit. Enigmatic lyrics, reflective and thoughtful singing. Soothing and tasty, a different flavor from the Hendrix chocolate sampler box. And dynamic chord changes, especially in the bridge with a flash of bright energy to remind us what’s up. Well sung, well played. Thanks.

Time to crank it back up with Killing Floor, the gigantic Howlin’ Wolf-written masterpiece that the Electric Fag had made their own. Hendrix had opened the Monterey Pop Festival with this ditty (introduced by Brian Jones of the Stones, no less) and here it was now, potent and punchy. Six tunes in, and we are exhausted, well I am anyway. More outstanding showmanship, but I’m starting to overload.

Thankfully, Hendrix slows it down yet again with Little Wing, excellently done of course. Stevie Ray Vaughn paid tribute to this one before he died, and yes, it too was superb, but we are paying homage to the Originator here. The creator, which is obviously vital. It’s a moving song, and sweetly amplified sonic magic. We in the audience were entranced, captivated anew, refreshed… the virtuoso strikes again.

And now the set capper, Are You Experienced? which was of course the title track of the first Hendrix album, as well as a reference to the name of the band. So then, here we went, listening to a song created in the studio with backwards tracks, bass, drums, guitar… and a hammering piano octave that sounds throughout the song. Could the Jimi Hendrix Experience pull it off live?

Yes.

Now, this is a song about taking acid. It doesn’t get much more direct than this. “Have you ever been experienced, well I have” he sings. Well, indeed!

So there we are, many of us on acid, grooving along to Hendrix, shuffling our feet a little, nodding our heads, realizing this is the psychedelic peak. Right here, right now. I’m standing about twenty feet away from the stage, and it’s the Electric Church, with Preacher Hendrix singing his sermon. And it is good. It is still happening, it will always be happening, and we were free, and are free, and always will be free to death and beyond into the spectrum we can dimly make out…

Thanks God, for the salvation.

That said, acid wasn’t for everyone. There were acid casualties, though how many of those were due to bad acid or not even, we will never know. An acid bummer was hellish, the flip side of the ecstatic union pure LSD could bring. I had two bummers in the sixties, and soldiered on because the benefits outweighed the risks.

I can’t find acid any more. For starters it is stunningly illegal. I don’t like to think about how long one can be put away for, for mere possession. But I will say, these days I wouldn’t take a pill someone said was LSD. There’s only one way to take acid now, and that’s blotters, teeny squares of paper. Because LSD is the only drug effective in microgram doses.

That itself is kind of a clue.

Cut to Winterland, that fall of 1968. A lot has happened, and changed, but by heaven there we are again, and even though the stage has been shifted to the opposite side of the hall, we are still loving this show. Here it was that I saw Hendrix, soloing wildly, start running across the stage with his guitar and do a complete forward somersault. While playing perfectly. Landing on his feet, still playing and ending the lick with a flourish.

For decades I thought I’d hallucinated it. Then I saw it on film. So! Not a hallucination after all. What a relief. Because it was a sharp memory, and really cool. Yeah, I’m experienced.

The Doors were psychedelic in a different way, and could absolutely knock your socks off just playing. Janis Joplin too. Earth, Wind and Fire put on an insane live show, though I’m not sure I’d exactly call it psychedelic. Talking Heads, great stuff but more ironic. There was an American 60’s band called the Kaleidoscope that was genuinely bizarre, though few remember them. Zappa’s band was post psychedelic. The Brazilian master Milton Nascimento, who I saw on acid in the 90’s… he was like jungle psychedelic.

Yep, nobody ever did what Jimi Hendrix did, and these days I can usually command a bit of respect talking about actually seeing it, mining these goddam old hippie memories.

But you know, I sit here laughing quietly, having written that.

I sit here laughing.
by Kyle K. Mann

Topanga

1/26/17

The Doors First Album and Mary Werbelow: 50 Years on

by Kyle K. Mann

January 4, 1967: Imagine it. It’s a new year, and there is some amazing music floating around, like nothing we had ever heard before. A million light-years from the teeny bopper music ruling the airwaves. Well, Top 40 airwaves. We had an occasional alternative in the San Francisco Bay Area called KMPX.

Actually, I was already aware of the L.A. band, The Doors, the previous year. Some older kids invited me to play poker, and one had some friend down there who had given him a dub tape of the band’s first album. So while those rascals were cleaning out my wallet, I was getting turned on to some seriously different sounds. It was the best money I’ve ever lost.

So those first few days of the first album’s release, I was ready with my trusty oversized pea coat. Yep, I swiped it! Once safely home with my prize, I examined the dark cardboard cover that encased the precious disc. Cool photo, these guys looked hip. Good back cover too. No phoney grins, just The Look of someone who’d tripped. You could always tell.

I’d taken my first acid trip a few months earlier, and another in December. A new world was dawning in my brain, in our beings, despite teachers, despite Vietnam, despite cops and nagging parents. And here was the soundtrack to the opening months of 1967. I smiled in anticipation, my memory of that poker-game tape still fresh. I put the needle onto the lead-in groove…

Side One, Cut One: Break on Through. This song was too hip then, and almost still is now. Come on. It’s about taking acid! Drummer John Densmore’s opening bossa nova beat simply rocks. It’s authentic and swinging, and then that damn keyboard bass of Ray Manzarek’s kicks in. Different indeed! The song builds fast, adding guitarist Robby Krieger’s riff, and then Jim Morrison’s sturdy, urgent voice, reminding you “The day destroys the night, night divides the day…”

Let the Sixties begin!

The lyrics don’t really advocate taking LSD, because they assume you are already Hip. And it’s a strange new world, with “an island in your arms, country in your eyes” but watch out for the “arms that chain, eyes that lie” because there are those, you see, that don’t get it. And some never would.

The track is “wet” with considerable echo, somehow sounding like they are playing in the dark, with a few candles. The organ solo is spare, clean, more Latin Rocky, Morrison yelling “She gets…” They couldn’t say “high” so Morrison just howls, but we get it. Good clean mix, as always with Paul Rothschild and Bruce Botnick. So why wasn’t this a hit single, released days before the album on the first day of 1967? Again, it’s just too hip. And it still sounds good.

Side One, Cut Two: Soul Kitchen

As opposed to the first track, listeners fifty years ago had no clue what this song meant. Gradually over the decades we discovered it was about Olivia’s, a special Venice Beach hang of the Doors before they were the Doors, when they were low on cash and wanted a big filling home cooked meal. I figured it was about some girlfriend being cajoled into cooking and sex, and indeed, there are some echoes of Morrison’s ex-girlfriend Mary Werbelow in there, with the “learn to forget” repeating lyric. We will get to her later.

Soul Kitchen starts with one of Manzarek’s crazy-making riffs, Densmore’s crashing, spooky rock drums (tuned to within an inch of their lives by Producer Rothschild) and a loopy, freaky guitar solo. Morrison doesn’t kick in with vocals until nearly a half minute of this power trio’s music, underpinned by an actual bassist, Larry Knechtel, who lays down an unspectacular if thoroughly solid funky bass pattern over Manzarek’s Rhodes Piano Bass.

This combination of funk and psychedelic rock, a half century later, still kicks butt. Soul Kitchen is a track I’ve played repeatedly over the decades, and it’s just as good as the first time I heard it. An incredible accomplishment!

Side One, Track Three: The Crystal Ship

Ballad time. More spooky stuff, with Morrison starting the cut alone with the unforgettable message to a lover, most likely Mary Werbelow again. What was it like for her these past 50 years, one wonders? She’s still alive, last I heard. She didn’t like The Doors, and didn’t think the band had a future, and while it’s not clear, it appears that her disbelief in Morrison was at the heart of their breakup around the summer of 1965. She was, of course, colossally wrong, epically mistaken, tragically incorrect… and then to have him turn into the Greek God of the 60’s, then die yet not die, living on and on… that’s Deep Karma.

“The days are bright, and filled with pain…” he sings, working to let her go but still gutted, reminding her that “the time you ran was too insane” and making us wonder what the hell it was that happened that provoked the running. The chords are strange, the mood brittle, yet it all works to perfection. He’ll “drop a line,” when they get back from the ride. Unexpected ending! Another great listen, all these damn years later. Bravo, Doors.

Side One, Cut Four: Twentieth Century Fox

A bit glib, and The Doors knew it, refusing to release it as a single. I don’t doubt it would have hit, but then the band would have been where they wound up with “Touch Me” except earlier. Still a fine listen, with the “nightmare carnival organ” and Krieger’s wacky guitar that rocks sarcastically yet supportively. And again Manzarek with that riff, that freakin’ early Doors organ riff.

The title dates the song, though I suppose it could be sung “Twenty First Century Fox” but, you know, I’m glad it isn’t, that I know of. I can listen now thanks to Densmore and Krieger, but this might be the weakest cut on the record. Which means it’s still pretty darn good.

Side One, Cut Five: Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)

In contrast, this cut is unreservedly stellar. Great tune, one of the few cover tunes the Doors would record, written by the legendary Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill back in the 1920s. Manzarek’s inner oompah takes over, not only on that tuba-like bass keyboard of his but on a truly bizarre instrument called a marxophone, the name of which sounds like something Harpo would play.

I had read about this instrument, which producer Rothschild brought into the studio for the quasi-merry tune, in the various Doors books. With it tinkling sweetly, we go bar-hopping with band, into a land that precedes Lucy in the Sky and is much, much darker, a morphing cross of psychedelia and alcoholism, that cheesy Vox Continental rock organ mixed with the mad son of a hammer dulcimer. Help, let me out, help, I don’t wanna get out.

To write this mad half-century-later review, I looked up “marxophone” on Wikipedia. A few minutes ago, I finally saw pictures of one. A marxophone! Scary looking little thing. Rothschild and Botnick did an impeccable job recording the creature. Nice generous expanded song track, with time to let it tingle along, Densmore’s tubs thumping away, and the entire band, even Rothschild, singing in the background. If childlike joy and Lovecraftian horror exist scrambled in a cosmic blender, this is our portal to that space. Mind-fryingly great, and Doors, I salute you.

Side One, Cut Six: Light My Fire

Ok. All right. Here’s the song that made, and later crushed The Doors. And all because of Paul Rothschild’s edit.

It was a razor blade, actually. There were no computer edits then, so the tape was chopped! See, The Song That Everybody Knows originally was over seven minutes long. Too long for an unknown band’s first hit single. So Rothschild cuts out the long organ and guitar solos and bingo! It’s the biggest hit of 1967.

Later, it came back to bite the band. Morrison was sick to death of singing it. It contributed to the final stage of Morrison performing it reluctantly, and resentfully. But that was then. It’s January 1967, remember, before my obnoxious neighbor Dianne Vitale across the street dreamed of The Doors. Later she’d be singing the song, but 6-7 months later. But I know right now, and I listen.

If anything, there is more echo on Densmore’s drums than any other track, but man does it work, from the opening snare whack on the four beat, and on. The birth of the signature intro is in the movie. Morrison’s slight addition to the tune’s lyrics, ditto. I always liked “funeral pyre” myself, it was different and dark, ironically. Probably another jab at Mary Werbelow. Whatever. Manzarek’s solo, meh. 50 years later, it’s a bit much. But I know what’s coming…

The great Krieger guitar solo. No sonic tricks, no fuzz, no wah, just notes. It’s a story, a cascade, with Densmore making comments and interacting. Magical, mystical. It stands up after 50 years of overplaying… “all right, the long version!” Always that tension hearing it on the radio, waiting to see if it’s cut. Sometimes they play it long. How cool.

Morrison for the win. Shoutingly gnarly delivery on the final lyrics. Good coda, well done. Cymbals crash fade. Silence.

This was where you had to get up and turn the record over. It’s impossible to overstate how important this was. Get up. Trouble is, you were laying on the couch, or the carpet, for the past 25 minutes.

Arrrgh. One of the most fantastic opening sides of any record is over.

Side Two, Track One: Backdoor Man

We managed it, and the ominous beginning of Willie Dixon’s fine writing effort thrums out. Blues rock. I once read an interview with white bluesman Paul Butterfield, who Rothschild also produced, before The Doors. Butter didn’t like the way The Doors handled the blues. But, he was jealous. He broke a lot of ground, and never got the loot. He was a shouter, where Morrison was both a shouter and a crooner. And cuter. Sorry Paul. (He remains my biggest influence on blues harmonica, for what it’s worth.)

Well the track holds up, because Morrison channels his inner “Louie Louie” shouting self. Yah, his first song in front of an audience, according to Manzarek’s book. Ok, cool. It’s so close to parody, but it’s real. Because Morrison was already the Backdoor Man from those gigs at the Fog and the Whisky. Girls? Hell, he was living it for real, which even in the 60’s wasn’t that easy.

Putting this tune on was heavy, because you knew what was coming. “The End.” Were you prepared to hear it in ten minutes? Maybe. Maybe not.

Side Two, Track Two: I Looked at You

Now we get three short cuts, starting with this wonderful throwaway. “I looked at you, you looked at me.” Hmm…rocking track though. As close to bubblegum as The Doors ever got. Densmore’s fills are almost ironic, like the one after the organ solo.

It’s still a good listen, if you accept it for what it is.

Side Two, Track Three: End of the Night

Arg, it’s like foreshadowing the cut that hangs over this side of our very two-sided disc. “Realms of Bliss, Realms of Light” give way to the “endless night.”

Fine guitar solo. Melty.

Side Two, Track Four: Take it as it Comes

Fast cut, sexy, about making love and prolonging it, “Don’t move too fast” stuff, modal organ solo. Great group effort. But it’s a set up.

Side Two, Track Five: The End

Playing-wise, Krieger and Densmore command this epic work. That half-step interval Krieger keeps playing, those unpredictable blasts of perfect percussion from Densmore, both crucial, and that droning bass from Manzarek’s artificial bass player. Honed on the Sunset Strip, developed and expanded on acid, the song that got them a record deal and ejected The Doors from the womb of The Whisky. But more than any Door, a presence looms over this cut.

It’s Mary Werbelow’s tune. One of the most heartbreaking songs of all time, if you listen to the lyrics at the start and ending. It’s a sad world sometimes, and the pain is unbearable, unthinkable. Morrison sings the words he wrote for her, she who rejected him, who mocked him, his efforts, his dreams of their life together. This is pain we can all relate to. “Broken hearts are for assholes” Frank Zappa sang, but the other side of that is the bewildered hideousness of being rejected by a true love. What you thought was a true love, and now your life is ashes and dust.

“My only friend, the end, of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end, no safety or surprise, the end, I’ll never look into your eyes… again.”

Now, that, my friends, is pain forcing its way into poetry. It’s as real as it gets. It’s a big goddamn owy. We have all felt it, some more than others. It’s anger, self pity, some spiritual recognition, and never-ending grief. It’s The End. It hurts your soul beyond words. And yet, Morrison continues in a musical bridge that appears only once in this 11 minute long song.

“Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free, desperately in need, of some… strangers hand, in a… desperate land.”

“Limitless and free.” This is directed to Mary Werbelow, has to be, as she planned to be a model or movie star. No doubt about it, she was a knockout. And she left Morrison in the mire, stunned, angry, and finally homeless, sleeping on a friend’s apartment rooftop, taking acid, writing, writing. The End was not among the first songs rehearsed by the band in its early days, but I believe the words were in a note book. Waiting. Only two people, maybe three, know how that happened: the two surviving Doors, and possibly Manzarek’s wife Dorothy, a crucial component of the early band in terms of support and positive vibes.

The improvised sections, especially the Oedipal story, have been analyzed thoroughly. I’ll spare you, and me. Let’s move to the end of The End. “It hurts to set you free, but you’ll never follow me.” Yes, there it is. She’s turning her back on James Douglas Morrison, who not much later conquered the world, an Icon forever. They would indeed never see each other, and speak on the phone but once as Morrison, post fame, begged for another chance, only to be spurned yet again. (I believe that how it was anyway. Might be wrong.)

“The end of laughter, and soft lies.” Cover your ass, with the “soft,” but it’s ok.

“The end… of… nights… we… tried… to… die. This is the ennnnd.”

That The Doors could continue on after all that, for five more albums of sometimes great recordings that remained popular across generations, is their stupendous triumph.

This too will pass. Like a kidney stone.

 

by Kyle K. Mann

They make the drinks strong at Abuelitas Mexican Restaurant, and halfway into the first Bloody Mary I forgot which team jersey color was which in the Patriots-Seahawks game. Not that it mattered that much as I was merely watching occasionally in hopes of seeing my ex-classmate, that scummy cheater Pete Carroll, lose. But my foggy memory troubled me.

I’m on the lookout for signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease at this point in my life. After all, look what happened to my other Redwood High School classmate, Robin Williams. “Lewy body dementia,” brrrr. What a bummer way to go. No, I gotta arrange for a better exit than that. Something with a modicum of dignity.

Carroll is probably in the same boat. The coach hilariously responsible for the greatest choke in Super Bowl history, he’s gotta be wondering at 3AM about that horrid pass call from the one yard line. Such is life; one minute you’re on top, the next, you’re a reviled goat.

Which brings us to President-Elect Trump. Hard to believe I wrote that. The words look wrong, even cosmically weird. My editor, David Pratt, says we have all slipped into Bizarro World, and that’s as good an explanation as any.

I refused to vote in the election, and am taking a bit of flak on FaceBook for it. Oooo, FaceBook. It’s my own damn fault for standing up to those waving the flag about people having died for our right to vote and saying how angry they are at the nearly 50% who boycotted the noble cause of electing The First Woman President. Phooey!

Nothing on earth could have convinced me to cast my vote for that warmongering, cackling, over-entitled monster. Continue reading

The Shock of Trump

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 08: A group of women react as voting results come in at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 8, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is running against Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) Getty Images North America 681261599 621811656

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 08: A group of women react as voting results come in at Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s election night event at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center November 8, 2016 in New York City. Clinton is running against Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump to be the 45th President of the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

by Kyle K. Mann

Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. The Associated Press called Wisconsin for Trump at about 2:30 AM Eastern time, 11:30 PM Pacific

It’s not an easy thing to eat crow, but here it is: I was dead wrong about Trump’s chances.

I’m sitting up here in Topanga, California, on a warm fall night, musing over the meaning of his being the president-elect. President Trump. Wow, it’s unbelievable. Make America Great Again… really?

For 18 months I predicted that Hillary Clinton would win, and indeed for some time that Trump was a shill for HRC. The fix was in, Hillary Clinton was a scripted lock for the presidency, and we would be looking at massive Clinton-led foreign wars within a year, that we would have to fight and protest against.

But the Great Magnet had other plans, it seems. Though it’s hardly a landslide, Trump is now Da Man. The Democrats got their butts kicked, and kicked hard. It’s a full-blown disaster. This is what comes of letting that corrupt wretch Debbie Wasserman-Schultz run the Democratic National Committee. The Republicans are now in command, with the House and Senate under their wing. It’s a numbing shock, feeling like a blast of ice water all over

John Podesta’s non-concession speech was puzzling. The over-exposed emailer sounded like a school teacher dismissing class. This was after Pennsylvania went for Trump, making Trump’s victory certain. “Every vote should count,” Podesta bleated. What does that even mean?

And so, Hillary Clinton won’t even address her supporters on the most important night of her life? That’s cowardly, and weak. The fact is, she felt entitled. Americans said, instead, they didn’t want her to be president. And very few media figures at any level saw this coming. The polls were universally disastrously wrong.

Indeed, if there’s any consolation, it’s that I’m not alone. Nationally, there were few if any political prognosticators  willing to call it for the fuzzy-wigged (it is a wig, ain’t it?) billionaire. Trump has violated so many norms, starting with his stand on a Border Wall with Mexico, his hostility towards Muslims, his attacks on numerous figures — so to have this nutty dude win… it’s a big fat mind-job. I’m gobsmacked, flabbergasted and humbled.

Which leaves us where? Trump burned so many bridges, even in his own party, that this strange character, this clownish dork now owes very little to anyone.

Domestically, Trump’s victory indicates that a big percentage of Americans are deeply sick of the status quo, so much so that they are willing to elect a buffoon reality-show actor to the highest office in the land. The Obama legacy is already in tatters, and the Democratic failure to take a third consecutive presidential term bodes ill for racial harmony, not to mention gender equality.

As for Trump’s promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton, this is where current events get fascinating. Whether you believe she’s committed crimes or not, this is an absolutely astounding moment in American history. You want drama, you’re gonna love the coming months. Continue reading

Driving with the Doors

art by Joey Feldman

by Kyle K. Mann

”The Avalon was one stoned gig… the crowd was more out of it than usual, more receptive to our surreal imagery. The psychedelized crowd wanted head music — they wanted to be transported. Their vibes encouraged experimentation. Jim was really coming into his own that night. We all were.”  – John Densmore, from his autobiographical ‘Riders on the Storm’

It is a night when legends become legendary.

March, 1967, and a wide-eyed, long-haired young lad watches in anticipation as the Doors take the stage at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. His seat, though a piece of dance floor with the rest of the audience, is only 30 feet away from the performers

The Doors don’t look like the other bands that play that night. The lead singer, for example, wears all black, in apparent defiance of the colorful hippie garb affected by most of the people on hand.

Jim Morrison at this point of his development is painfully shy, yet simultaneously defiant. The wild theatrical moves he would later become known for are still in the future.

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As he sings, his technique is simple. Morrison clutches the mic stand with both hands, closes his eyes, and cuts loose. His eyes stay shut, except when he looks at his band mates. Despite this, undeniable charisma radiates from him. In fact, Morrison crackles with waves of potent energy. The room is hushed.

The youngster in the audience puzzles briefly over the keyboard setup on stage left: a Vox Continental organ with a smaller keyboard on top. Sport-coated, Beatle-haired Ray Manzarek begins playing a boogie-woogie riff, but slowly, in a minor key.

The spooky effect of the organ notes is compounded by echo, and the deep hypnotic bass pattern Manzarek adds with his left hand from the smaller keyboard. We in the audience are stunned. Unique stuff!

Drummer John Densmore begins to add percussive bursts that deliberately stutter, and the two-man music lurches along until he rat-a-tat-a, rat-a-tat-a snare drum blast that brings in guitarist Robby Krieger, who wails on the instrument with distorted feedback.

As Morrison screams!

This is a scream to end all screams. The scream of a young man whose father, Admiral Morrison, helped start the illegal, immoral Vietnam War with a bogus action in the Gulf of Tonkin. The scream is of rejection from his ex-girlfriend Mary Werbelow, of alienation, of rage at what has happened in two short years. It’s a scream for the ages, a scream for us all. It shatters yet unites us.

We in the Avalon audience are now onboard with the Doors, in the hands of recently-minted masters who, at this stage of their careers have not yet enjoyed the massive success of their first hit single. They are uncorrupted, hungry and not yet fully aware of their powers. The Doors are fresh, they are transformative, and we are plugged in, as Morrison begins singing, in his deep clear tenor, “When the music’s over…”

Most of us have never heard this song. The first Doors album, slowly getting national attention but not yet a big seller, doesn’t contain this epic, so ours is a first-ever experience. A cosmic rush!

The song as performed is lengthy, and the edgy message profoundly different from the usual peace-n-love lyrics of the era. After the verses comes an exploding guitar solo, as the light show pulsates wildly. Oh yes, the light show. Man, the Avalon’s are the best. Oozing colors throb in time to the beat. They overwhelm the eye, complement the music.

The maddeningly repetitive, yet hypnotic, left handed keyboard bass line weaves throughout Krieger’s unpredictable guitar excursions, and then the song settles down and Morrison takes over again. The dramatic lowering of the volume creates a different kind of tension.

“Something’s wrong, something’s not quite right,” Morrison sings, repeating the line several times before adding “touch me baby, all through the night.”

Hmm. The lad watching in the audience is confounded. Interestingly weird, to say the least. What’s wrong? And yet… yeah.

“Con… fusion,” Morrison continues. He dwells on the word, and repeats it, then moves on. “All my life’s a… bright illusion.” Indeed, and as the seated youngster, despite his tender age a veteran of the Human Be-In a few months earlier and several LSD trips, gets that clearly. “All my life’s a… torn curtain.”

Yes. But, what’s happening? That fuzzy tone that roars like waves. The Doors pull back abruptly. The sound of a tape that goes faster and faster. The kid in the audience dwindles, the city below twinkles and vanishes and the planets and stars fade as we beam nearly a half century forward.

Ah, hmm. I’m in my car, listening to a CD of the same tune, “When the Music’s Over.” Woah, ok. Been rather obsessive about this one lately, in this gnarly year of the Great Magnet, 2016

The music still soothes me, takes me back to that rebellious 15-year-old youngster, a child really, who has snuck out of his parents’ house in Marin County and now still watches, and feels, the Doors at the Avalon in March ’67.

Of course, this album track I’m playing [Live at Matrix “San Francisco” 1967], recorded about six months after I saw it performed, is faster, and has different words in the middle section. I seldom get as far as “the scream of the butterfly,” which, as a lyric addition, does not do much for me. I always start the tune over by that point.

Still, the album version of the song works, especially, as I say, the first half. The legendary Paul Rothchild’s production sharpened the sound, with the drums tweaked to perfection, the keys and guitar clearly defined, and Morrison’s vocals brilliant.

And that scream on the cut is top notch, arguably the best one recorded in rock history.

Stopped at the light at Topanga Canyon and Mulholland, a young man on a motorcycle pulls up next to me. I’ve got the window down, and the opening notes of “When the Music’s Over” gush out. The rider, not much older than I was when I first heard the tune, turns his head and makes eye contact. It’s obvious he’s hip. It’s still the intro, Morrison has not started singing, but the dude nods approvingly and speaks

“Doors?”

“Yep.”

I nod back, the light changes, and we blast off into the future.

 

 

The Endless Bummer

 

by Kyle K. Mann

Ok, the debates are in the rear view. Ahead, the selection of 2016 and the Clinton Dynasty. Are we ready for Hillary?

I haven’t had the heart, frankly, to write much about this rigged farce of an election. It’s been scripted by pros to fool the rubes and has been effective. It’s been clear for decades that the majority of Americans are sheep ready to be sheared. The next stage, new repression and increasing slaughter, is being planned as you read this.

What really broke my will to write was how many decent, smart people I know bought the sabotaged Bernie Sanders campaign, stolen by the Democratic National Committee. Sanders said at the start of his bogus quest that he would “support the Democratic nominee.” What more did anyone need to know?

Sanders could have made a difference by running as a Green or independent candidate. Instead, he stabbed his supporters deep.

It’s been obvious since Nov. 22, 1963, what is going on in the USA. We have been taken over by thugs, who in the last half century have pulled off the greatest crimes in the history of the human race. The stolen trillions are just a symptom.

Even Stalin and Hitler didn’t contaminate swaths of the planet with radioactive depleted uranium, aka DU, toxic for thousands of years, or dioxin aka Agent Orange, both carcinogenic and mutagenic. This will guarantee suffering for many generations to come.

And instead of concentrating on the very real consequences of letting our insane politicians, generals and CEO’s get away with this darkest possible evil we focus on trivia like Madonna offering to give oral sex to Clinton voters.

Really?

Is this who we are as a nation? A bunch of spoiled, braindead pathetic examples of how not to be human beings, laughing stupidly as we edge towards either oblivion or a totalitarian state so far beyond Orwell as to be the Endless Bummer, described by writer Harlan Ellison in “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” — a future of perpetual torment?

So what do we do now? Lobby against the next war? Work to educate the masses regarding the larger issues? Flee to distant lands?

I’ve tried all three. And I’ll carry on, fighting my rising nausea, with the first two options and using the third as needed to refresh and restore my being.

Gonzo Today, now approaching 10k likes on Facebook, will continue to be a meeting place of the like-minded; aware of our debt to Hunter S. Thompson and the writers who inspired him, prepared to create into a future that he warned would be filled with Doom.

We will actualize the thoughts, fears and joys of our humanity, because we must. It’s what we do.

And to quote Gonzo Today’s Ron Whitehead: “I will not bow down.”

Topanga
10/2016