1. Chewing on Bullets
The year I turned forty, I got a birthday card from my parents. On the inside my mom wrote, “This is going to be your year!” She couldn’t have known a cold blast of death and sh*t storms were headed straight for us, or how I’d become an abominable wreck and make my way back to the shackles of the R.J. Reynolds’s killing campaign, a.k.a. smoking. I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in over ten years. It felt longer, but who’s counting? I was!
A few years before I reached for the smokes again, I’d been estranged from my older brother, Mike. My life was more or less calm. I’d been fed up with his soapbox lectures about how I’d be going to Hell for being a Jew unless I recognized who my savior was. At this particular moment, we were stuck at a hospice facility in Las Vegas with our dying father. My only savior was a pack of Camels, because Mike and I were fighting about every aspect of our dad’s care.
Three weeks we stayed there. My dad hung on while Mike nearly drove me into a nut house. Two weeks into our stay, I frayed. I took off in my car one afternoon, screeching down Las Vegas Boulevard in rush-hour traffic like a lunatic jonesing for a special kind of crack.
The combination of losing my dad while being trapped in a room with my feral family members pushed me to a breaking point. Only my brother could drive me into levels of such nicotine rage. All those years of breathing clean and clear were for nada. Wasted and meaningless.
I turned my steering wheel to the right, pulling three lanes over from the left, and into the lot of a 7-Eleven. I parked and sat there for a moment to make certain I knew what I was doing. I didn’t.
Mike, who’d been ringing the crap out of my cell phone, was about to get an earful of angry little sister. He wanted to know where the hell I’d run off to.
“Fu** this sh*t!” I exploded through giant tears. “I am so ready to go back to L.A. Though my windows were closed, I’d managed to frighten a lady just outside my car. I watched her quickly skedaddle into the store.
Mike had experienced my outbursts before, but this one seemed to come from the underworld, blasting up out of the ground, like somebody stepped on an IED or something—the blast taking place in my Honda CRV.
I’d been holding it together and keeping my cool, but now I was certifiably losing my mind. He was the older one, yet for most of our lives I’d been the responsible one. Not that it could’ve, or would’ve, ever mattered. He was the goda*ned Golden Boy. My mother always kissed his sh*ts before they went bye-bye.
Several blocks away from the 7-Eleven stood Alliance Hospice Care, where we’d both been staying with my dad while he lay dying. Once the doctors gave Dad seventy-two hours to live, Mike went completely into denial. To him, the place was the Play-doh Murder factory. His plan was to nurse Dad back to health by shoveling gobs of tapioca pudding down his throat.
“Eat, Dad, eat. We gotta get you out of this prison!”
But the place wasn’t bad. It was bright and clean with a big tropical fish tank in the lobby where you could stare at the fish and think about death. The patients’ rooms circled around a pretty courtyard with nice-ish patio furniture, though some of the upholstery was ripped and faded, beaten by the Vegas sun. The staff, too, were super friendly and qualified. All of this was paid for by Medicare, by the way. No way could you find anything like it in Los Angeles.
He had a private room, palatial and homey. As if we were staying in a little cottage in a Thomas Kinkade painting. There were two extra beds, sort of: a daybed too short for Mike’s boney six-foot frame, and a trundle bed underneath. I slept in the trundle bed like a sweater in a drawer, but I spent most of my time in a chair next to Dad’s bed, working on a hand-sewn doll of myself (or a version of me anyway)—an autobiographical character I often use in my paintings and drawings, a thing I call Moppet. She’s a straggly little ragdoll. She looks disheveled and as if she’s about ready to collapse like a push puppet. Moppet usually wears a simple dress, something I’d never do. The dress has a kind of clown collar. “She” is genderless and shaped like a gingerbread cookie with rounded arms and legs, an oval-shaped head and eyes with pupils nearly filled black, like those sad, velvet puppy-dog paintings. She neither smiles nor frowns; her mouth, a straight black line, a lot like me: indifferent. Also like me, she is an awkward child. I suppose she represents my vulnerabilities, my fragility, and what I think of myself, which isn’t much. In fact, she used to wear a dunce cap, but after ten years of therapy it’s been removed…
27. Sleep Fighter
(Contains Very Strong Language)
…apparently our tape had been circulating around the A&R Department at Sony. Shawnbird did her best to push executives to send people to our shows. She worked on this for a long time while giving us updates on who was listening to the tape, and what they thought.
In the meantime, I sweated out a hogshead of perspiration in that hot-as-fuck tree house. I could’ve died up there. If someone happened to stick around while we were on a break, I’d come down that ladder and hear, “Dude, was a girl playing those drums like that? No way.” People who were so amazed by this were either gifted a sarcastic remark or cast out and shunned into a frozen tundra. I never realized how angry and mean I could be. Or I could’ve just been in a bad mood from bruising my elbows against the corners of the walls. A drummer’s nightmare all right, but we packed that place on Saturday nights and made pretty good money, rare for any L.A. gig.
Even though we played the Amazon regularly, we continued doing our typical monthly shows. We began headlining on Friday and Saturday nights at the Whisky, Roxy, House of Blues, Viper Room, et al. Sooner or later, when you play these places, any band is bound to cross paths with the infamous Kim Fowley. I mean he’s not known as a mainstream figure, but within the music community, and especially the Hollywood music scene, he was an anomalous cult icon—and monstrous prick, since the early 1960s. After his success managing and producing the Runaways, he gravitated toward the poor, unloved young rock ’n’ roll hopefuls of tomorrow’s amnesia.
In the film, The Runaways (2010), Kim is portrayed, true to form, with his many whack-a-doodle qualities he unapologetically and flamboyantly held dear—that obnoxious confidence, the sickening false empathy, his tenacity and ambition, as well as his punk-rock, I-don’t-give-a-shit style, and outlandish, award-winning vulgarity. Yet it’s still difficult to describe him accurately.
There’s also a documentary by former Runaways’ bassist, Victory Tischler-Blue, Edgeplay (2004), that offers more perspective on Kim’s character, and his capabilities of being strangely abusive to young musicians—girls in particular. But anyone vulnerable would do. Artists at formative ages have often been so desperate to make it in the music business, they’d do just about anything to get there. Desperate enough to work with Kim Fowley.
If you had any buzz happening on the music circuit, Kim would be right there, ready to swoop in on you like a hungry, bacteria-infested pigeon, because all you were to him was a cold and wasted McDonald’s french fry, waiting to be plucked from the Hollywood gutter.
But he did have a way of empowering you. He’d take you under his wing of twisted love and school you with his fantastical music business tales. He’d make you part of his lonesome family, one that included everybody, but nobody who wanted to work with him. Most executives in the industry assumed he’d remain a legendary curiosity. We had yet to learn this. Jen received cryptic calls from him late at night. He’d introduced himself after a Roxy show, and she’d given him our info. It seemed like we became his prey. Jen was willing to hear what he had to offer us, and he made us curious too.
Kim lived alone in a small, one-bedroom hotel-like apartment just below Wattles Park near the Hollywood Hills. We started going there after gigs and rehearsals for Music Industry 101, Fowley style. We wouldn’t arrive until 2:00 a.m. sometimes. I really don’t think we were prepared for it though. We had no idea who he was. Allegedly, he taught Mick Jagger every one of his moves. He secretly wrote all the songs for the B-52s, and he had the juice on everyone running the industry from as far back as Jan and Dean. We visited him several times, staying up until sunrise, none of us on any coke, even Kim. As far as I know.
His apartment hardly had any furniture, and we never saw the bedroom. I always imagined a sex swing hanging from the ceiling in there. The central object in the place was his giant desk, on which were piled stacks of papers and headshots, cassette tapes, a Rolodex, and a phone. The walls were jam-packed with gold, silver, and platinum records in frames—so many, in fact, there wasn’t enough wall space to hold them all. More were stacked on the floor, leaning against walls and chairs. I think a love seat may have been back there, but covered in so many gold records it was virtually camouflaged into invisibility.
At first, I thought they were fakes. I don’t think anyone in the band, other than me, had ever even seen a gold record before. They ran the gamut of dates from the ’60s to the 1990s, and we hadn’t heard of 98 percent of them. A few, however, we had. Nirvana’s Nevermind album was there, and he’d co-written songs with Alice Cooper and KISS. All of the records were real, many were inconsequential, some went gold in other countries, most were promotional. I’ll give him his props where due though. Kim had a brilliant mind. He was a kind of mad, promotional genius. Not so much a musical genius, despite several number-one hits in Guam. These were the ones he’d performed himself, which were utterly unlistenable. That didn’t stop him from playing them for us anyway. He also sang for us live while he played these records, a form of torture as far as I’m concerned.
As we got to know this man-thing, we learned that he loved being lewd and getting under people’s skin. Some of us were wildly fixated on him for a couple of months, Jen and I especially. He’d speak his mind freely, sometimes in riddles, mostly just frank. We heard stories of famous bands and record deals gone bad, and he’d often be the cause. I thought he had predatory and manipulative intentions, and quite possibly could have been a psychopath. He’d tell the head of Warner Bros. to fuck a dog if he felt like it. In many ways, he stood for punk rock, but I don’t know if it completely worked for him. I really didn’t know what to think of him.
He had me pegged within an hour of meeting him. I sat behind everyone else in the room. I couldn’t have said but a couple of words the whole night. He did all the talking; he was a fucking motor-mouth. By then, Kim had seen us perform multiple times, and through watching us, and perhaps studying us, he had each band member summed up. I believe it wasn’t very long after the Gunter incident either, so I’d been withdrawn and quiet, rather than the joke-cracking sarcastic Carol. When he made eye contact with me, he told me my “deal,” in a nutshell.
“And you! The brooding one in the back there. You are the oldest and the band should promote you as the youngest. You probably read Bukowski and feel sorry for yourself, because you’re so ‘deep and dark,’” he said, his voice rising in a teasing falsetto. “You probably paint pictures and write poetry about your terrible, piss-stained childhood.”
Wow, am I that obvious?