Monday, June 27, 2011
Expanding Our Horizons
Lately, a consistent theme of mine has been that we Fleshtones must expand our horizons, at least as far as places to perform. But I didn't know what our American agent Roggie Baer (http://www.rajiworld.com/) was even talking about when she told us she had snagged us an almost last-minute date for our current west coast swing in some place called Pioneertown, California. Little did I know exactly how much our horizons would be expanded, but before I get into that we'll have to back track a bit. Don't worry, not into the long past, just the day before -June 24, 2011. Bill Milhizer (as you know by now, The Fleshtones drummer) and I had spent the night at the cozy Santa Monica bungalow of Miles Barken, one of the well-intentioned people who have tried their hand (and patience) managing The Fleshtones. Amazingly, we are still good friends, and he is as generous and good-spirited as always. We were about to depart for San Diego and were sadly contemplating the thought that we would be unable to book a hotel in Tijuana, as has been our habit for years whenever we played that southern California city. The security situation south of the border has finally caught up to what Tijuana's ominous (and rather unmerited) reputation had always been. Besides, neither Ken nor I had our passports, the need for which is a recent regulation that has further put a damper on casual visits to Tijuana from the states. We were booked to play Bar Pink, which brought us into a part of San Diego we had, up till now, totally over looked (actually, we had overlooked all of San Diego since in the past we would spend all of our free time across the border in Tijuana). As we drove up El Cajon Blvd, we were greeted into the pleasantly hip (without being overbearing) North Park /University Heights neighborhood by the large deco-ish letters 'Boulevard' in the median, a relic harkening from the Golden State's days of promise. We pulled up in front of the somewhat out-of-place (in Spanish colonial mission-mad southern California), stately brick façade of The Lafayette Hotel (http://www.lafayettehotelsd.com/). Complete with a white columned portico, it looked much like the mansion pictured in the old opening title of David O. Selznick productions. The 71 room hotel had originally opened as the Imig Manor Resort in 1946. Its first registered guest was Bob Hope, and other Hollywood personalities like Betty Grable and Lana Turner would stay here on forays to the race track and other gambling establishments south of the border. Now the property is undergoing a non-invasive updating of furnishings and appointments. I couldn't believe our luck, our room, which had a John Lennon quote from one of my favorite Beatles songs (appropriately 'I'm Only Sleeping'), emblazoned with large letters across the wall, overlooked the large, two-foot short of Olympic-Sized swimming pool. Surrounded by two tiers of balconied rooms, the so-called 'Tarzan' swimming pool was designed by Johnny Weissmuller and is the center of a pleasantly low-keyed scene (and cocktails) during sunny hours. So, there were consolations to not being in Tijuana.
memorabilia, Lafayette Hotel lobby
Due to the terminally congested highways of the Los Angeles -San Diego corridor, we arrived too late to take advantage of the luncheon prices (liver & onions: $7.95) at the hotels venerable Red Fox Lounge, so walked a few blocks to the Bahia #1 Mexican Restaurant (1985 El Cajon Blvd, 619 542-0540). Despite its totally generic American strip-mall exterior, inside Bahia was a thoroughly Mexican luncheonette, right down to the large ceramic serving bowls of condiments and salsas, Norteño music on the radio and smiling girl behind the counter. Streng and Fox ordered lobster enchiladas and fish tacos. My substantial 'machaca & huevos' burrito came to $4.09 including tax. It was stuffed with delicious dried shredded beef and egg, and not a grain of the rice that is so often used to bulk out burritos back east -a shameless practice that would have hombres reaching for their 6-guns in the burrito's rough and ready home state of Sonora. I was so enthralled by my burrito that it wasn't until late that evening when we were leaving for the club, that I realized I had walked out of the restaurant without my jacket. I dashed back, and as soon as I appeared at the restaurant's door, the young counter girl smiled, disappeared into a back room, and re-appeared with my jacket.
Comfortably occupying a classic cocktail lounge, the Bar Pink (http://www.barpink.com/) turned out to be a great option for a place to perform, and I'd say, see music, in San Diego. Aero-touring on shoestring budget precludes us lugging along our own equipment like my Farfisa, and the Creepy Creeps responded with not one, but two vintage organs. The crowd is fun and the drink prices are conducive to having a good time ($2 cans of Tecate, that sure beats the $2 cans of Milwaukee's Finest that I so willingly swill). Even the 'monitors' were good, which is a real voice saver when performing night after night. The Fleshtones shall return!
A Rude Shock
Returning from The Bar Pink by !:30AM, we realized we had time to drop into the Red Fox for a nightcap before its posted 2 o'clock closing. We were most anxious to check out the hospitality as The Fox is claimed to boast a bar, panelling and other interior details from an 16th century English pub. The story is that screen star Marion Davies had it dismantled and shipped over to California to tone up her beach house. Somehow, it made it to the Imig Resort after her star had faded. Even though an employee hustled us in just as she was closing the door, the barmaid flatly refused us service. "Last call is 1:30" she unsympathetically intoned. "But it says you close at two!" I protested. "Do I need to show you a clock?" she testily replied as she turned to rummaged through the cluttered bar-back for a watch. This was totally uncalled for. "Don't bother -you've already said no" I quickly retorted. She was equally not impressed with my threat to give them a bad review. Quite honestly, I can't offer much of an opinion one way or the other regarding The Red Fox.
06/25/11 Into The High Desert
The next morning, after a bracing plunge into the 'Tarzan' Pool, we headed up to the high desert country, blessed with incredibly clear skies, by way of the thankfully less traffic-choked inland highways towards Palm Springs. After a eastward stretch of I-10, we cut off the 29 Palms Highway in Morongo Springs, climbing into what seemed to be a blasted wilderness of sand and mountains composed of colossal heaps of those bizarrely-eroded boulders oddly familiar to anyone who spent a childhood watching the grade-C westerns and other ancient black and white movie 'serials' that had been economically recycled to TV.
After a rise in the road in a joshua tree-studded landscape, we came to a sign announcing our arrival in Pioneertown. It is not on the way to anyplace else. Soon the low, rambling adobe and cement block compound of Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace (http://pappyandharriets.com) came into view.
The cars and 'choppers' clustered around The Palace signaled that it was popular with the lunch crowd, a promising sign that left me wondering where they all came from. Talk about convenient accommodations, we'd be staying at the PioneerTown Motel (kitchenettes, no TV, 17 horse corrals, rooms from $70; www.pioneertown-motel.com), a long, low example of old west log-cabin rusticity that straggled right behind the dusty parking lot of Pappy and Harriet's. There wasn't anywhere else to stay for miles around. In fact, Pioneertown in actually a movie set, constructed for the filming of 'westerns'. I couldn't wait to brag about being here to that ultimate devotee of that American cinematic form, my Serbian pal Marko Petrovic. One day, Marko shall inspire me write my own wildly successful trilogy of almost-Scandinavian thrillers, the first title of course will be 'The Boy With The Warren Oates Tattoo' (he actually does have Oates' mug tattooed on his belly). The broad dusty main 'street' of Pioneer Town, however was never the haunt of his heros like John Ford or Howard Hawks, but Jock Mahoney was here -often. Starting in the mid 1940's, Hollywood's poverty row producers had been mightily busy here cranking out stuff like Cisco Kid and Gene Autry serials, many of which I had indeed sat through, glazed-eyed, as a child.
Quite honestly, I was having a little trouble 'getting' the place. We were, by definition, in the middle of nowhere. It was too hot for any sane person to attempt to take a walk in the blazing sun to explore. A swimming pool, like they have at The 29 Palms Inn, would have been nice. The word 'desiccated', as in 'a desiccated body of an unfortunate hiker was discovered…' kept popping into my head. Being resourceful, Bill and I turned the situation to our advantage, washing out as much of our sweaty laundry as we could after our nap.Shirts dried almost before our eyes in the bone dry air. So did we. After lunch at Pappy and Harriet's (I had what I thought was the best buy -a massive chili dog covered with congealed cheese served with rice and pinto beans for $6.95 -the instantly indigestible choice was my own doing, the fare at Pappy's proved to be very good) we all exercised our only reasonable option -a midday nap.
Back at Pappy's the dinner crowd seemed to meld with those arriving for the evening's music. It seems most folks arrive in time to dine before the show, Pappy's is extremely popular for steaks, chicken, ribs, burgers and even salmon, cooked damn close to perfection over an immense, smokey mesquite-fired barbecue pit out back.
Besides generously providing us with a 'back-line' The 4019s opened with a nice set of 'road house' tunes like 'Route 66' that seemed so appropriate for the time and place. It certainly put me in the mood. By the time we were playing, it seemed as if by magic a houseful of enthusiastic patrons were dancing before us. At least that's the way it looked from the stage. Bikers with gray ponytails, local families, tourists, artsy refugees from the LA sprawl and fans from as far away as Phoenix Arizona and Melbourne Australia all had a wonderful night in the high desert. "We never have to get rough with anyone here" said the husky dudes that serve as house security. Lingering at the bar after the show, it seemed a shame to let such an evening slip away, but as we stumbled across the parking lot's sands back to our rooms we couldn't help but gaze upwards. Miles from the lights of any big city, the Milky Way glowed in a broad, nebulous swath across the clear, night sky above our heads.
Main Street, Pioneertown
The next morning, I took advantage of the relatively merciful temperature to check out the old movie set 'town'. Besides a few scurrying lizards, I was the only person striding down a dusty street that had been the appointed site of many a celluloid showdown. Sadly, Pioneertown Bowl, one of California's oldest alleys, wasn't open yet. Having, I was told, only two manually operated lanes, its first bowler had been the 'King Of Cowboys' himself, Roy Rodgers. In my mind I hear Roy and Dale as if it were yesterday, singing at the end of each episode of their TV show - "Happy Trails To You -until we meet again...".
Who needs a swimming pool anyway?
I'd like to add more pix with this post when I get the chance, right now we've got to drive to Monteray... PZ
here's where The Fleshtones will be appearing on the rest of this week's west coast swing:
06/27 Alternative Cafe (http://www.thealternativecafe.com/)-Seaside (Monteray), CA
06/28 Bottom Of The Hill (http://www.bottomofthehill.com/)-San Francisco, CA
06/29 The Blue Lamp (http://bluelamp.com/rocks/?cat=1) -Sacramento, CA
07/01 Dante's (http://www.danteslive.com/contact.html)-Portland, OR
07/02 El Corazon (http://www.elcorazonseattle.com/)-Seattle, WA
for all of you who having been asking when we will be coming out this way, well, here we come.