The marquee of Frogs in Lawndale (foul, defunkt, missing bulbs and letters like a toothless grin), promises Wed Female Mud Wresting.
That, and other poor sex surrogates starring stretch-marked strumpets swinging voluminous bathing-suited flesh in crude circles above a fan of currency to be tucked into their g-strings by sausagey fingered obesities cracking smiles for the blinking losers and winking sailors at the tables. Meanwhile the local alcoholics at the bar scowl, cower between the wall of chirping pinball machines and the gum-scummed carpet, then finally rise to the enterprise to expose shit-eating grins rotten as the marquee outside, raise their mugs, down their swill, then shrink back into their depressed slouches.
Says Dave, our drummer, "Right away soon as I saw the place I knew we had to play there!"
WHITE TRASH AU GO GO
I point out the marquee to Ed with a shake of the head as I begin to unload the equipment from the van and carry it inside. Now, instead of mud wrestling they're booking bands on Fridays and Saturdays and we're the bill --Undertoad!-- along with another band from Orange County, Gertrude.
Inside the place is empty, badly lit, dank. On the right is an area seemingly leftover from a carnival-themed candy store featuring a few games and a pool table. Perhaps it was the frog motif that first inspired Dave. The menu offers Frogdogs and Frogburgers but there is no kitchen anywhere to be seen.
On the left behind the rectangle of black-light-lit barstools crouches the obviously alcoholic owner like a stone gargoyle, lips pursed, belly bulging a sorry stained Izod out over the dam of his sagging belt. He hates kids. He glares at us and then goes back to making his pass at the woman nuzzling her highball glass and making solicitous eyes at him.
The room has a TV above the pool table where Janet Jackson blares her di-virginal booty from MTV's Roman Bathhouse Live! piped in as the new muzak. On the wall near the stage is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame painted in gross characture. Such greats of Pan's theon include as Jeury Perry, Rod Stewart and perhaps the Fugz.
Even the cobwebs have dried and the paint peels from the walls as we play. Next to the owner leans the waitress, a pock-scarred pokerfaced pale zombie clad in early eighties lucky star foxy lady ripped fishnets and bangles topped by a tease of greasy hair. The only people in the joint are the band and a few friends/fans who won't buy enough drinks to keep the place open.
We set up and play our set fast, hard and furious.
We're sweating, grinning at each other as we hit the stops, find the groove. There is something to be said about the sonorous euphony/cacaphony of plucked scritchy-scritch itchy scratching strum bash wristflick notes and amplified fuzztones; we choke our guitar necks and strings as if we were wrestling our modest talent down to the pavement; there is the coming together; it is to all of us to make more than we could alone. Ed locks his arms back behind his chair and croons and belts and I do my savanty chicken-with-his-head-cut-off aggro antics to keep up the intensity.
By the end of the set I've busted the jack on my guitar again. It's the pink thrash guitar and I love slamming the butt of it down on the stagetop to the beat of the four count turnaround in "TV Guide."
On the guitar I've scrawled the lyrics to "TV Guide," an anti-bureaucracy diatribe Ed and I do call and response to: "Democratic allegation/can't be uncovered by/federal investigation/will be supported by/legalized manipulation/will be assisted by/unrelenting regulation/that's killing you and me." I'm not so sure such songs really do any good so often I end up scat-singing the syllables.
The truth is, I know that if I really wanted to impact politics I would run for office (as Ed has) or do activist work for an organization.
Political songs remind me of a friend who does an imitation of Diana Ross at a We Are the World type gathering, purring, "Tell the world/ to tell the children/ to tell the chickens/ that we're on our way."
So for now we're running on the pop ticket as 'unheralded legislators.' The best part of "T.V. Guide" is when Ed and I sing the chorus: "If you believe in me/ I'll believe in you/And we'll take turns/Being God." We never fail to croon this bit of right light theology while looking deep into each other's eyes. I kneel before his wheelchair and spit the words and rattle my cage and think that this must be the beautific vision chatechismy word of God mantra rosary renge-kyo spiritual chant underneath cloak of din that we profess to each other. Ed remarks, "that's the only time we ever see Kevin on his knees."
While we are playing, two brothers --one wearing a baseball cap that reads "Shit" and the other an autoparts logo-- take to the absolutely empty pit and start flailing around in mock mosh. They have the faces of a pitbull and a rotweiler, respectively.
They roll in the dirt and swing their arms like skankers as we crank out "Brown," a song about Anglo imperialism in Latin America. One sweeps low to cut the other off his feet. Stumbling, swinging, singing, hooting and humming like Lawndale floatsam big as treelimbs washed up onshore here from the last heavy rain, they circle each other in the tempered dance of aggression/choreography of kindness cut loose to bounce like free fun electrons in the frenzy of the atom, chaos.
As the song "Coffeehouse" rises to its crescendo and my guitar sputters out I jump into the pit, then so do members of the band that's going on after us, people pour onto the floor from nowhere, suddenly it's a moment of truth: we're all there bumping into each other like stooges and helping each other back up and tripping around and laughing like ecstatic transcendence.
I'm supposed to be shouting a satire on commodification in music: "Why are you buying this?/ Why are we selling this?/ Put me on TV!/ Don't you think I can sell my face to you?/ Are you a big enough sucker to buy us?/ We're whores..." leading up tp the song's punchline "These are the easy jokes!" But as it makes no sense following Ed's lyrics about community and equality I abandon it for the joys of the slampit.
I've got a camera that I'd hung around my neck earlier as a prop and I'm taking pictures for laughs while Ed does 360's in his wheelchair and when it ends satisfied with a furious firm thrummmm drubbing crash for cash or Efrainh for drumbeaten daily bread throbbing coda stop all I can do is laugh...at it, us, all, at true blue great to be alive joy joy joy euphoria giddy wrassling Undertoad glee.
Next was true punk by Gertrude. Outside, I knew, faraway in the Hollywood night, there was money changing hands; I knew there were people sneering in the shadows of viperous Sunset Blvd clubs famous for celebrity death; there were brats snorting their cocaine and writing checks to burn by the light of polished, teethy, work-those-molars and chew-down-that-cud privledge, the glow of an emerald fountain of light cracking open their wallets; there was pits full of prettyboys and cheeky girls backstabbing the major label dealers whoring slutty sellout queens to the nation by television.
Onstage was real music played not for money but for music by a Jewish stickboned looncapped sharkfaced screaming soulman, a devilishly goateed shirtless muscle-sculpted statue of a bass-thumpering chin man, a red-haired and smiling and smartly unsure-ish Stratocastered boyman of skill and dexterity, and a drummer bashing his skins like someone playing on the grave of raise the dead.
That they were unorganized and unrehearsed mattered not. Any musician, onstage anywhere, when unbridled, unleashed, uninhibited, undiminished, unhampered, undone, sweating, wailing out sung-note throaty hoarce fierce amplified and guttural shout, will dig up the bones of a rarely unearthed skeleton of angst to rattle and dance in the void, will touch with tounge and throat that circumference of where senses end and suspicion of God starts unnamed no locus or focus or foetus or force for understanding why we exist beyond that blowing bebellowing swing bop nodding to and for an audience onstage and so in the colored light of mythic greatness of human struggle of all time spoken and bespooking the crypt door open to free our buried bodies where fly the haunted house sonary bats of our spirit ears and how they peer out like eyes and what they hear here fearing silence and sonic blindness to pour out our mouths with shouting swaggering slamming bleating staggering sweaty soul grinning songs of spontaneously combusted soul spitting tounge-talking simple shot-forth in chords and tribe noble drumming humming holyness.
When Gertrude's set had started I had been outside helping Ed load up the van.
We were fending off the odd curiosity of the brothers Scareamazov --the twins of destruction/liberation and libation-- who had pursued us out to the car and were pressing questions on us like "You in a Christian band?" and "You the drummer?" repeating them even after our answers of yes; they were agitated, their faces looked as melted, dirtied and as rock-fraught as a ski area roadside, they were clearly wasted, popping off inquiries askew, shirtless and shiftless, clowning and bumbling into each other and us.
As this is happening Jim runs outside and says "They slammed to us during our set, let's show 'em some love."
So we hustle in there like kids and I see them glowing with intensity and we set about toppling tipping careening pinball machine ball slampit dancing to their set and of course everyone's smiling, the singer's stagediving and the drummer wallops the toms amid a flurry of syncopated scree screech shower of scriddle dee-dee noise; then it's finally back to the table where Lance and Flaq and our friends who have come to see us sit and we sing along and carouse and touch and beam and nod.
After their set is done our friend Andy is itching to jam. He climbs up onstage and hooks up his guit so then it's a free-for-all after hours set that no one ever wants to ever quit.
Everyone's hanging on each other's shoulders like sailors, everyone's shaking, strutting and jumping off the stage to rustle in the dirt like russian men fur behatted and booted balancing on one foot to kick the other out in polkas low and swirling, body's spirit loosed and alive. I keep thinking we must be the expression of energy in Ed, we're seancing the spirit of life from deep up out of him. I say that later to him, that it's similar to faith healing.
Everyone's taking the mic for impromtu blues jam confession soulman bare howl whelpings, even Lance, we're all singing together, I can feel the Jewish soulman's breath on my face as we do a duet into the mic, I can hear our voices oscillate as we fall in and out of perfect pitch amidst modulations and waverings, punctuations. We punch the rhythm wringing the wry rye dry with hoots and hahs, we cull up spit or phlegm or better yet bile blue gut stomach wails and dank funk grunt spank! roostery cockcalls. Andy sings and plays guitar, elated, soaring, I'm playing drums and harmonizing howls saintly and celebratory, crowning the crowing crooning cooing clowning kingly crew of missed beats but exultant in what we have, all rollick, shaking our shanks in a circle.
Maybe all these pieces of wasted waterlogged wooden washed up on Lawndale whitetrash of shoreline club of failure and inconsequence nowheresville truckstop coathanger of the libido can radiate their own gravity like art to suck down the stars somehow and spit them out slobbery, exalted and glorious!
Afterwards it's gregarious parkinglotted load up the equipment talking at two am, we can't stop jabbering at each other about how fun it was and how it must be duplicated. Gertrude's guitarist asks me, "Can you feel my hands?" It's a question that makes sense, he wants to know he's not dreaming. He holds them up. He's numb with it all and grinning, sheepish. I put my hand to his for telepathic communication of fingertips.
Later as he's leaving I see him sitting in the backseat of their van, seemingly quieted, speculative, sad, somber, somewhere else, exhausted. I put my hand up to the windowpane and he smiles and does the same and we know that we've shared something together, that there has been a breaching of the mebrenous divide between peoples, poles, polarities, just by jiving on the blacktop parkinglot with the good natures of baseball hatted befriended sharkfaced good men tossing around notes and words like baseballs, a game of pickle, the music goes on in the language, we're still singing it in our goodbyes, or it's singing in us, we don't care what, it simply sounds and says what me mean it to say anyway by telepathic body-languaged promises of repeat performance improvisational bepunked prosody.
About this time the locals who have been loitering by their cars wander over to us and start telling us their stories. "Been here since '71...got an autoshop." They try and move their cheap weed, got a smoke, a light, a toke? It's ok. Hands pocketed, kicking the dirt, they talk with their tounges, chirping with words, clicks, clucks.
They don't finish their sentences but imply that if I want to buy they could move an ounce --twitcht-- like that. But we're not buying and the town is falling asleep, the neighbors in the apartment buildings behind Frogs want to sleep.
As we pull out into the night and head home to Miles Davis on the tapedeck we can hear them curse the club from their beds where they lie with their eyes open straining to catch a glimpse of the mudwrestlers emptying out of the parkinglot before the Lawndale dark swallows us up and the decrepit old smirking club marquee goes dark.