Brother John is Gone: Last May was one of those months when the Banshee screamed itself hoarse. We can start with Donald “Duck” Dunn, bassist for Booker T. & the M.G.’s who died age 70 on May 13th, then Belita Woods of Detroit funketeers Brainstorm on the 14th. Carlos Fuentes, grand old man of letters, breathed his last the following day, as did Doug Dillard of The Dillards and D.C. funk legend Chuck “Bustin’ Loose” Brown the day after and Donna Summer the day after that. Obituary notices on my Facebook feed for this boneyard ball made for suitably bleak counterpoint to grieving and memorial service prep for John “Lord Danger” Pedone. Author (and likely sole excuse for) the phrase “I’m kinda famous at Burning Man,” Pedone did his level best to inhabit an adventurous Steve Canyon-sized persona until the late afternoon of May 4, when the motorcycle he was riding smashed into a minivan making a U-turn across Coldwater Canyon. Capo of the long-running Mystikal Misfits camp at the Nevada festival, John was a guy I never got to know until my return to L.A. last year. He charmed the Playmate, who saw to it we went to every Misfits event. Clearly a fellow who is said to have once skydived over Black Rock City was a Man to Be Remembered with slaphappy reverence.
So it came to pass that slightly over one hundred gaudily dressed Misfits of every age assembled in L.A. State Historic Park late in the month to celebrate this aristocrat of the Burn. Most came decked in leopard prints, circus pancake, ruffled skirts, combat kilts and all the rest of the boutique explosion that is playa fashion. A few stiltwalkers and an elegant Chinese dragon lurched and weaved overhead as we all did a Bourbon Street boogaloo once around the Cornfield. Horns tooted, drums banged, and lungs distended in memory of one hell of a fellow; a damned sight better than many now upright at least as far as away as City Hall. An unarmed park ranger stood at a respectful distance nearby as we pranced and hugged and grinned and filed out well before sundown.
Next day, the death march resumed, with the commemoration at El Cid of the anniversary of the passing of Bianca Halstead, lead singer for legendary punk-metal howitzer Betty Blowtorch, who died in a 2001 interstate flameout in New Orleans. Outside a brief and welcome BB reunion set, the main attraction was in seeing how the last decade treated the old mob I used to see at Coconut Teaszer, the Garage and other metallic pestholes now defunct. It was like the chimes of other long-ago midnights turned up to somewhere way past twelve.
LIB is the Secret Life of Orange County: Despite this being her second visit, the Playmate still viewed Orange County as little more than a dubious abstraction. We spent most of Lightning in a Bottle 2010 in the very same tent, so coming out of it in 2012 was for her much like Dorothy’s first squint at Munchkinland. Up to 20,000 attended the four-day event put on by the Do Lab this past Memorial Day weekend at Oak Canyon Ranch, many in sore need of consolation after the en masse screwing of this year’s Burning Man ticketing disaster. Even these oldtimers wound up swamped by a giant influx of under-25 striplings, a curious set with few costumes, fewer inhibitions, more drugs and giant wads of cash to spend on a dizzying array of vendors. These kids have the party ethic down to applied science, debating drugs, effects and dosages well into the afternoon before busting down premeasured quantities with great washes of Jameson, this-minute’s peaty gurgle of choice. Despite killer peace vibes, we both felt a mite leveraged in this dissipation derby, so Baby upped her daily ration of champagne to two glasses. I leaned heavily on my hash pipe, toking up contemplative clouds of the stuff while gazing down on a brightly lit miniature Black Rock City replicated at one-third scale and nestled in Tustin dust.
These few dusty acres of damn-everything-but-the-circus throbbed with a reality-razing three-day musical score by Bassnectar, Shpongle, The Glitch Mob, Eoto, Android Cartel and dozens more. There were about three dozen good friends I never did manage to pick out of the horde estimated variously between fourteen and twenty thousand, but the people we did encounter were cut from the same familiar bolt of electric-pink paisley. Suddenly it was summer and within it a universe of possibility. Decided then and there to finally succumb to entreaty and finish the novel promised someone long ago, committing at last to a hideous Frankensteinian impulse I hope never to live down.
In short, LIB was a near-perfect rehearsal for Burning Man this August. Twinned Americas Through the Looking Glass, both contain elements of hedonic biathlon, art immersion, cop dodgem and beloved experimental community in cracked and uneven parts. That Orange County can contain that for half as long as that familiar patch of overpoliced Nevada desert is a miracle worthy of Ray Bradbury.
Last Night at McWorld: I’d meant to lead off with a long surreal analysis of the mindbending underground club scene now running far below media radar at a stretch of urban blight near you. Well, that will have to wait until next installment, for news McWorld was shutting down effective June 5 meant the Charlie Kane’s Xanadu of the whole movement was about to become one with Nineveh, Bodie and Acres of Books. If opening a DIY music venue in one of the abandoned retail spaces that now dominate the L.A. cityscape may be reckoned a positive act, then McWorld czar Jivin’ John Schoenkopf deserves a statue at least the size of Bullwinkle J. Moose and possibly a term as mayor. Sometime after the collapse of L.A. CityBeat in 2009, the ex-sales rep took up residence in this long-abandoned tire warehouse in east Culver City to further researches into “what it’s like to own nothing.” By year’s end, the place had metastasized into the most informal of artist’s squats and McWorld itself began the moment the first amps came rolling in. Closed months later, the venue reopened bigger, louder and gaudier last year. The doors of this pocket free-for-all could open on anyone from a film crew to curious locals to the LAPD, the latter reportedly serving notice the place must from now on either sport a guest list or padlock.
I’d like to be able to say McWorld’s big center room as packed to the sidewalk on its last public night, but the seventy or so that did wander through the twelve-hour hullabaloo went at it with a will anyway. Over twenty acts piled into the place to hold forth at top volume amid scenes as to goosepimple the hide of this distressed reviewer. If mere chair throwing and multiracial bonhomie are worth deploring on Yelp’s dime, then last Monday’s observances would no doubt curl his toes like a shotglass of antifreeze. Patrons threw not only chairs but drums, cymbals and their own torsos in fits of variably choreographed rage. Din Gle, a solo punk artiste from New Orleans, bellowed calamity through a mic shoved clavicle-deep down his face as most of his clothes fell off and feet slapped a spastic tattoo on the concrete floor. A nearby cymbal absorbed a vengeful beating.
After two or three such eruptions, the formality of a rock performance seemed as quaint as Grampy’s gaiters, but Take Pictures went ahead and killed anyway. In-house performers like Dithyramb and White Owl Brown were favorites with the cultists in the audience. But others weren’t so well-received, since hardcore punk and softcore rap are both reckoned by in-house standards as half as old as the dirt on Dracula’s neck and nearly as relevant. Despite John’s lazy Lord of Misrule demeanor, proof he ran an orderly house was as much evident in the twenty-minute set-times as in the simple, beautiful paucity of chumps, skeevies and waterheads I’ve encountered within his walls. There’s a small bilious assortment of longtime subculture vultures you’ll never see flap anywhere south of Wilshire and McWorld was hands-down greatest of these precious, dwindling anywheres. This haven in a headless scene began to twinkle out of existence in the very early hours of Tuesday, as one knot of sleepy undergrads after another limped away. This was only the second time McWorld’s shut its doors for good and John promised the place’s next resurrection as an invite-only venue as we wobbled off into the night. Rock is dead they say…
Zombie Folk: Clearly something had to be done to balance a column chockablock with the above mementos mori. Decline, dissolution and horror are all fine things and I do well by them in my writerly way, but not even rock critics may live by mayhem alone. The week after McWorld’s demise saw the two of us finally clamber into Echo Country Outpost to check out existence of Bloody Death Skull, a band known no more to me than a wonderfully gruesome moniker. Great was my pleasure at the Outpost’s sprawling midcentury coziness; greater still was finding out that BDS is fronted by multitalented L.A. Record prodigy Daiana Feuer. There she was- face done up in death’s head white, cradling a ukulele and cooing with winsome authority of crushing human skulls like china. Imagine Wednesday Addams all grown up and kicking Kate Bush all over the lot and you have a reasonable approximation of Daiana’s effect on an audience. The songs, gnomically funny treats of closely observed urban absurdity with much free-associational ad-libbing, benefitted from sensitive handling by in-house audio wizard Brian Hobart. Donna from Tommy Santee Klaws sat in with the band through a too-short set highlighted by the band’s mock-dirgey sockhop run at Paul Anka’s “Diana,” a two-straws-the-malt classic that only gained in dignity through winsome reinterpretation by such dovish-voiced undead. The frontlady bade us help ourselves to free monster makeup, but my unadorned Kinskioid mug scares too many in broad daylight so that left more for Barfth, the next band up. A power trio sporting a death metal perhaps best appreciated through intermediary concrete and plaster, Barfth’s death metal detonation proved quite enjoyable from the street as performers onstage smeared themselves with fake blood and other Guignol ick. The spirits of Karloff, Lugosi and both Chaneys glared happily from every niche of the merry room, kindly gargoyles only I could see.